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Posts published in October 2006

Farm structure

Best be careful what you sow; the reaping can be unpleasant. Consider this picture from rural Oregon, which today went national and is likely to get a lot of circulation soon around the home state.

migrant housing

That's a picture from the web site of the Polk County assessor, which posts pictures as well as statistical information about places it appraises. It shows a farm building at Rickreall, a small town east of Salem, at a farm which has been owned by Oregon gubernatorial candidate Ron Saxton (Republican). The building apparently has been used as housing for migrant farm workers.

This creates a couple of problems for Saxton. One is that a number of people might disapprove of the conditions workers lived in at Rickreall. But that could be the lesser issue.

Saxton has been making a big issue of illegal immigration, flooding the state with TV spots proclaiming that the number of illegal immigrants - 175,000 of them, he said, no more and no less - would constitute the second-largest city in Oregon. They are, he suggested, an imminent crisis, costing Oregon taxpayers millions of dollars. (None of this is well substantiated, despite requests for same from this site and others; the 175,000 number, which did appear in the Oregonian, is only an estimate, a raw estimate.)

So comes now the picture of the farm where Saxton employed migrant workers - many of whom presumably were there illegally - which is sure to get wide circulation.

The Daily Kos liberal site gave that a big boost today, front-paging the story and posting the picture. It also included this couplet of quotes, the first from a Portland Lars Larson radio show:

In January of this year, Saxton told radio show host Lars Larson, "I owned a farm for years, and we used farm labor, we had migrant camp and everything involved. I've got a lot of personal experience involved with that."

When asked on a radio interview on KLCC on Oct. 3 if he had ever hired an illegal immigrant, Saxton said, "Not to my knowledge."

Up to now, Saxton has been beating Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski over the head on immigration. He may want to put on some protective headgear to deal with what could be coming next.

If the tide rises

We're still 25 days from election, but talk nationally continues along the line that a Democratic wave is coming. If so, what effect might that tide of blue have in kiln-dried red Idaho?

We're inclined to think Idaho generally is one of the places where the impact will be relatively slight. But that doesn't mean nonexistent. If the 1st district congressional race continues to close, for example, it might be enough to switch that seat Democratic. (It would take a high tide.)

In August, we listed 10 state legislative seats where the contests appeared competitive; those too could be affected. And among others, a correspondent suggests, let's add a couple of state House seats in an unlikely place: Idaho Falls.

We're talking about the House seats in District 33, which is central Idaho Falls - the most urban area in Idaho (along with central Nampa) that hasn't demonstrated a substantial Democratic base. But even in central Nampa, you can find a significant number of Democratic voters, if not quite enough to elect someone to a legislative district. In District 33, the number has seemed to be just below that threshold. This year, there's the possibility it may poke above.

The Republican House members here are Jack Barraclough, who's been there for 14 years, and Russ Matthews, elected two years ago as a from-the-right challenger to Representative Lee Gagner. This part of Idaho Falls looks and feels not so different from parts of Boise's North End or the upper Lewiston bench, and you have to wonder if the right kind of Democratic campaign might appeal there.

We may find out, as an article in the Idaho Falls Post Register (no link available) suggests. It notes that John McGimpsey, running against Matthews, has substantially out-raised Matthews, and (independently) we have heard he is substantially outworking him as well. Jerry Shiveley's advantages against Barraclough in those categories are lesser, but he is a well-known figure in the area, a retired teacher whose students are voting. The Post Register: "Barraclough’s a successful campaigner, but Shively was an unusually popular music teacher at Skyline High School — and a proven vote-getter on the Idaho Falls School Board. Can a Democrat’s personal popularity trump Republican Party loyalty?"

Both have several issues at hand, notably the recent legislative special session on property taxes which, polls suggest, has not gone over well.

In an ordinary year, these races might be a footnote. This year, they are no slam dunks. But if you see the tide lifting them up on November 7, you'll know it's high indeed; it could get there.

Canary on the campaign trail

The initiation of negative campaigning is a sort of canary on the campaign trail: When it sings, the campaign has some problems.

Most candidates, most of the time, prefer to campaign positively, to talk about their wonderful selves and their wonderful plans. They tend to turn negative, most of the time, when they find that going positive isn't enough to clinch the deal. Going negative can (does not always) work; they wouldn't do it if iit didn't. From this you can draw some conclusions. When you see a campaign heading down the slash and burn highway early on, it's probably one that needs to close a big gap. A late start on going negative can mean the campaign is close but not quite making the sale, or a little ahead but watching the other guy catch up. It's a sign of a campaign scrambling. And add a layer of concern to that if someone other than the candidate is doing the deed - that suggests concerned parties are worried the candidate can't afford to be associated with it.

In Oregon, voters watched as the trailing Ron Saxton (Republican) campaign for governor unleashed a mass of negative ads aimed at Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, who was running warm-n-fuzzies on his own behalf. Then, as polls showed the race closing, Kulongoski started firing back at Saxton.

In Idaho, the 1st district congressional race (in the general election, not the primary) has been mostly positive, surprisingly so. But it made some sense. The Bill Sali Republican campaign seemed, a while back, to conclude that voters would simply come home to the Republican candidates by election day; and the Larry Grant Democratic campaign seemed to sense gradual building which might take them over the top.

That's gradually changing. From highly cordial initial debates and campaign materials, the heat is starting to pour on, and coming more from Sali than from Grant. There's a distinct change in tone since the last Majority Watch poll showing Sali ahead, but only by 49-43, hardly confidence-inspiring.

Thursday's Nampa candidate forum saw Grant take after Sali for misstating his position on immigration, and ask him to correct it. Sali declined, with this quote: “politics is a contact sport.” (Even real contact sports do have rules.) At almost the same time came reports of massive robocalls, not from Sali's campaign but from the Republican National Campaign Committee. The Grant campaign said there are two message, one starting, “When you go to the polls on Nov. 7 you’ll see the name ‘Larry Grant’ on the ballot. Let me tell you a little about Larry Grant…”; and the other, “Larry Grant needs a lesson in Economics 101…”

The tone is changing. That suggests a level of concern absent earlier.

The Rich project

Ae we've been saying for some time, the recent spate of land use and state finance initiatives are an abuse of the initiative process. More evidence of that today, from the Center for Public Integrity.

Center for Public Integrity

From their story:

"The Idaho group that’s pushing Proposition 2 is being kept afloat by large infusions of cash from out-of-state organizations controlled by Howard Rich, a wealthy political activist in New York. Records released yesterday by the Idaho Secretary of State’s office show that This House is MY Home, the chief proponent of Proposition 2, received $75,000 of its $76,764 in contributions from June 3 to September 30, 2006, from America at its Best, a Rich-funded organization."

Prop 2 is a New York idea, not an Idaho idea.

UPDATE Our usual practice is to run here emails sent to us only after communicating back, but in this case no name was attached to the mail - it was addressed simply as freedomworks(at), the latter being an ISP rather than a political site - its sender remains anonymous (not usually a good sign). The message:

Randy, re: your citation of the Center for Public Integrity's focus on Prop 2 funding by Howie Rich...

In the interests of balance and full disclosure, ever occur to you to ask who funds Center for Public Integrity?

Just wait a few days. It's a lot bigger (and wealthier) name than Howie Rich. And the Butches of the world are gonna wish they could go crawl in a hole somewhere...

Actually, just call up Laird and ask for his news release. AP is already on it.

By way of response: (more…)

Top 10 WA Xgr: Premier Races

Washington has more legislative seats up for grabs than either Oregon or Idaho, yet the field generally feels considerably less competitive than Oregon (which has the fewest seats up) and no more than Idaho (where the geographic range in play is barely smaller). With all of the 98-member House and half of the 49-member Senate up, you'd think there'd be more to play with. But 38 unopposed incumbents puts a drag on things.

The Moderate Washingtonian blog, which has been tracking progress on these races, is currently predicting a gain of four Senate seats for the Democrats (to 29-20) and one in the House (to 57-42). That site says it will be revising its spreadsheet soon. Presently, we'd look in the neighborhood of about a Democratic gain of two or three in the Senate, and about two in the House. Chances of a Republican takeover of either chamber seem slim.

With that in mind, here are 10 races we'll be watching as markers for what's going on and what lies ahead. These races (as in Oregon and Idaho) are listed for a mix of their probable closeness, their intensity, and their larger significance. Our Oregon list and our Idaho list appeared in September; we waited for Washington until after the September primary election, and the general election races had a chance to settle a bit. The races are listed here by office and district number, not by priority. (Colored dots indicate the party now holding the seat.)

red glass District 6 Senate, incumbent Brad Benson, R-Spokane; challenger Chris Marr, D-Spokane. This list isn't in priority order, but this contest would be as good a pole choice as any if it were. The Spokane area is represented mainly by two districts, two senators, one of which in recent years has been fairly securely Democratic (held by Majority Leader Lisa Brown), the other marginally Republican. That Senate seat has been held, into this last term, by Jim West, a legislative veteran and Senate Republican leader, who left to win election as mayor of Spokane. And there ended his political career amid recall and a sex scandal echoed somewhat by the recent congressional scandal of Floridian Mark Foley. Benson, who had served in the House before hisappointment to replace West, had nothing personally to do with any of that. But as West's successor, and a Republican at a time when the label has been tainted, he has automatic problems. And his Democratic opponent, Marr, has campaigned hard and at last report had substantially outraised Benson - in all, bad indicators for the incumbent. Prevailing view is that Marr will take this seat Democratic, making it only the second such in recent years for Democrats, and greatly strengthening the Democratic presence in Spokane. Did we say Spokane as a clear Democratic base city? A Marr win would be a significant step in that direction. (more…)


We like to make the case that any reasonably literate American can read the law - the constitution, the statutes, the court cases - and make some understandable sense of them. In a great many cases, you can do just that, and when you can, that means the legislators or jurists wrote well, in plain English. Sometimes they do not, and that is almost never a virtue.

That point is illuminated in the just-released Washington Supreme Court case Karen Wright v. Milan Jeckle, a case involving medical care which turns on the interpretation of a statute. In a footnote, the court adds: "More precisely, we are asked to interpret a 156 word sentence. We are up to the task."

That's good. (more…)

Crashing Prop 2?

Not to go too far out on a limb here, but there seem to be some growing indications that Idaho voters may turn down Proposition 2.

Yes, it has had winning margins in past polls, but then Idahoans have changed their minds on ballot issues before during the course of a campaign. We're making no specific predictions, but we would suggest the ingredients for such a shift are in place.

Prop 2 is the land use ballot issue proposed chiefly by activist Laird Maxwell and several out of state interests who are funding him. (Yes, there is some in-state support, but it would not be on the ballot but a New York businessman named Howard Rich.) The measure has two parts, one blocking eminent domain proceedings intended to seize from one private owner to give to another, the other a rewrite of Oregon's Measure 37, intended to freeze land use regulation retroactive to the time of a property's purchase. The first is an empty shell, since the Idaho Legislature already has done the same thing. It was put there to cover the Measure 37 rewrite, which is intended to weaken local land use planning and throw a whole lot of decisions into courts, as has happened in Oregon (where the land use system is so different as to be beyond easy comparison).

The whole is being sold under the concept "protect your property rights." A lot of voters never investigate further than the nearest handy slogan, and the big-buck backers of the measure have been happy to pay for the advertising which has slammed out that slogan over and over. This accounts for the early poll results.

Opposition from people with credibility on the conservative side of the land use debate, however, may be taking its toll. Newspapers and Democrats arguing against it, as they have, is one thing. But there's more. Chamber of Commerce and the state's top business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, have come out against. Governor Jim Risch, who ought to have good credibility on this, has released his concerns.

But the capper on this is Mr. anti-Regulation himself, Republican gubernatorial candidate C.L. "Butch" Otter. (more…)

Civil, yet boatrocking

Our list of 10 legislative races to watch gave the District 24 (central Yamhill County) House contest between incumbent Republican Donna Nelson [no campaign site found] and Democratic challenger Sal Peralta a honorable mention status. But in the pattern of national congressional races, where the number of serious contests seems to have grown rather than expanded in these latter campaign days, this one has been taking on an increasingly serious tone, albeit in unconventional ways.

Donna Nelson
Donna Nelson

One of those is the absence of rancor or scandal. Those two candidates, together with the third in the race, Libertarian David Terry, faced off at the McMinnville City Club over lunch (in front of a substantial crowd of maybe 100 people). And the sparks didn't fly. The closest may have come after Peralta delivered an effective windup against the over-influence of key lobbyists in Salem and the favors they dispense. Nelson responded almost as if the comments were aimed at her; she said she takes her orders from the people back home, not from the lobbyists. But it was just an exclamation point; Peralta hadn't aimed the comments at her, and she didn't maintain that he had.

Sal Peralta
Sal Peralta

This is one of those classic civil political races which nonetheless holds real possibility of an upset come election day.

Again, we note "possibility," not certainty. Nelson has a lot of advantages. She's been community-active a long time, and a lot of people know her. Her biggest asset may be simple likeability; there's a natural gregariousness and friendliness. (A hard-core frontal attack probably would backfire.) Yamhill County is mostly Republican and tends conservative, which is what she is. Her electoral track record, though, while good, is less overwhelming than commonly thought. From a 55.2% win in 2000 she picked up to 59.3% in 2002, but then pulled just 53.6% against a lower-key challenge in 2004. That last may be a warning sign. (more…)

Does negative go?

Among the ideas political types will ponder post-November 7 is this: To what extent is "going negative" advantegeous?

We have no definitive answer now, only a few clues, some notable case studies and - in one case - a serious and practical debate. The answer to that question stands to tell a lot about many of the most critical campaigns upcoming.

The debate can be found on the conservative Wahsington group blog Sound Politics , where participating Republicans are discussing what to do about the foundering Senate campaign of Republican Mike McGavick. In mid-summer he seemed to be catching up to incumbent Democrat Maria Cantwell, but since then he has stalled and possibly lost ground. (He now seems to be somewhere around eight to 10 points behind.) That may be connected in part to the ground Republicans nationally have been losing in the last couple of weeks. The posters on Sound Politics evidently accept that as the current situation. The question: What to do about it? (more…)