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Posts published in October 2006

Bleeding the media

Used to be that reporters and editors in the news media tended to stay in those jobs; they had picked a field and stayed in it. For various reasons, which we'll enter into one of these days, the news media is less and less a place where very many people can build a career ... as journalists, at least.

Consider this from Dave Frazier's Boise Guardian blog, about one of the few Idaho broadcast journalists to actually break ground in public affairs reporting in recent years:

Guv candidate Butch Otter won’t have to worry about KBCI-TV 2 reporter Jon Hanian doing any expose’ stories about him. Taking a lesson from George Bush, Otter made a preemptive strike: He hired Hanion away from the news game.

Otter already had former Associated Press reporter Mark Warbis on the payroll. If he gets Dan Popkey he will be untouchable.

Spokesman for Grant

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has been one of the less easily predictable endorsers in recent elections. Its endorsement in Idaho's 1st congressional district race, though, comes as little surprise.

Associate Editor Dave Oliveria, an editorial writer for the paper who lives in Kootenai County - and therefore has a key role on Idaho endorsements - is a self-described conservative but has made clear for some time in the Huckleberries blog his concerns about Republican House nominee Bill Sali. He was one of the questioners at the Coeur d'Alene debate between Sali and Democrat Larry Grant, where both candidates put on their best face. But his view, evidently, is unchanged.

From the editorial (linked to here at the Grant site, since the Spokesman is behind a pay wall): "With only two seats in the House, Idaho can't afford to send another conservative flamethrower to Congress. Not only will Grant be in a good position to help Idaho if the Democrats regain the House, but he would work better with Republicans than Sali would if they don't."

A scam, not a marketplace

Quite the con some categories of professionals have going these days: Pay anything less than obscene amounts of money to attract "top talent," or your institution will crash to the ground. CEOs of corporations. Coaches of football teams. Presidents of universities.

Washington State UniversityFrom Peter Callaghan's column in today's Tacoma News Tribune:

But last week WSU echoed the words that UW leaders had voiced just 18 months ago. If Cougar Nation wants a world-class leader, it will have to pay well above the half-million-dollar pay package [retiring President V. Lane] Rawlins will leave behind.

“I think that’s the market for the type of president we’ll be looking for, and the top presidents in the country,” WSU regent Rafael Stone told The Spokesman-Review in Spokane.
It’s an unquestioned truth in the boardrooms of the nation’s biggest universities that it is not only OK to pay presidents up to 10 times what they’d pay a full professor, it is necessary. It is not only OK to coax the presidents of other schools to leave their jobs, it is the first rule of how the game is played. It is not only OK to provide your president with pay and benefits packages in the half-million to million-dollar range, it is the only way to keep him or her from being raided by other schools.

The language resembles nothing so much as the obscene “market” for college coaches, where a contract is good only until a better one comes along.

What makes more sense? Pay a president something like 100K - providing a little more assurance that your winning candidate will be applying to do a job at a university, not simply to enrich himself.

A couple of truths that should be apparently to anyone as presumably well-educated as a member of a university governing board should be:

1. The choice of top executive at any institution - with the exception of the founder - is only one factor in its success or failure, and ararely decisive. Pick a good one, sure: But perfectly good talent usually can be found locally, often inside the institution. (Hey: There's a good way to build some real institutional loyalty.) But nationwide searches and big bucks salaries also make no sense for another reason.

2. You never, never, know what they're going to be like until they start work, track record and earnest sentiments be damned. We think we put presidents of the United States through a vetting process, but the George W. Bush who in 2000 pledged to reduce the size and scope of government and avoid nation-building certainly isn't what we got after he entered the White House. Look around the country and you will see universities headed by high-priced presidents, picked after extensive national searches. And you will find that some of them are good, some are fair, and some are bad. If you filled the jobs by lottery, you likely wouldn't do a lot worse: Most job categories, including those filled on impulse, are occupied by job holders who are variously good, fair and poor.

More locally, Callaghan points out that while University of Washington President Mark Emmert pulls in $602,000 a year, ranking him eighth nationally for highest university president salary, most institutions comparable to UW or WSU pay considerably less.

It's enough to justify some student protests: How about spending some of those big buck on our education, not the enrichment of one guy in one office?

Crossover undervotes?

Some county elections offices do and some don't make specific counts of "undervotes," which is the difference between the number of valid ballots counted and the number of votes in a particular race - the number of voters who bypassed a particular race. The undervote most commonly gets larger - which is to say, the vote gets smaller - as you move down a ballot. In presidential years, the undervote for president is usually microscopic, while the undervote for sewer district commissioner might be substantial.

The Spokane Spokesman-Review site has a provocative post on the undervote in last month's primary election - Republican division - for the office of sheriff. You might usually expect the undervote there to run rather high. In this case, the race was heated - signs and billsboards and letters to the editor about both candidates, Ozzie Knezovich and Cal Walker, were visible all over - so that logically would diminish the undervote. (Knezovich recently had been appointed sheriff, and was facing in the primary an incumbent Spokane Valley police chief. He is considered highly likely to win the general election.) But the Spokesman's Jim Camden checked the numbers and found it was unusually small, only about 3%. By comparison, the undervote in the U.S. Senate primary was about 10% (a fairly normal level for such a race).

Camden also, however, noted something else:

"The Democratic sheriff’s primary has the largest drop-off of voters, with nearly one in four not voting for newcomer James Flavel, or writing in someone else’s name. That’s more undervotes, by far, than any other Democratic primary in the county. What this suggests is that voters who took Republican ballots just for the sheriff’s race are either Democrats who are likely to shift back to their candidates in November, or independents who aren’t yet sold on the rest of the GOP ticket."

Another piece of the puzzle, as Spokane County works out what it will do when the parties compete on November 7.

Doc’s diagnosis

We're now into newspaper endorsement season, which we'll be following with some closeness over the next couple of weeks. We don't do this because newspaper endorsements have an especially large impact on election results: In our experience, they usually don't. But these endorsements often tell quite a bit about both the newspapers and the candidates they endorse, and those they don't.

Yakima Herald-RepublicAn October 3 editorial in the Yakima Herald-Republic, which was not an endorsement at all but rather about an incident in the endorsement process, makes the point.

Like many other newspapers which endorse (not all do), the Herald-Republic customarily interviews the candidates first, often and preferably with both in the room at the same time. That paper has done these interviews for a long time, apparently decades at least, and none of the candidates solicited has turned down an interview, until now.

That declinee would be incumbent Republican Representative Doc Hastings, seeking his seventh term in Congress. He sent the paper a note outlining his reasons: "I'm certain you understand that during each election year candidates for public office are approached by a wide range of organizations and media outlets desiring to make endorsements in their races. Of course, common sense dictates that candidates decide on a case-by-case basis which media and other endorsements to seek. In my case, since I'm not seeking the Herald-Republic's endorsement, it won't be necessary to include me in your endorsement interview schedule this year."

The Herald-Republic mused, "Instead, Hastings is apparently more comfortable with an Oct. 31 session with his hometown Tri-City Herald, which endorsed him two years ago - while we endorsed his opponent, Democrat Sandy Matheson. Surely that development wouldn't influence Hastings' decision to turn us down this year. Or would it?"

The paper then concluded it would: "His statement indicates he'll pick and choose those he will grace with his presence. And, while that is certainly his right, that's a shame, too, because it could tarnish by implication the endorsement process of other organizations and media outlets. Do his actions suggest he will only meet with those he thinks will rubber-stamp his re-election bid?"

In Hastings' previous runs, the Herald-Republic endorsed him twice and his opponent four times. Especially in this year's environment, when Hastings' new role as House ethics chair is getting increasingly tough to defend, Hastings' Democratic opponent Richard Wright (a decent candidate who still seems a longshot to win on November 7) looks like a fair bet to win the H-R nod.

Still, as the Yakima paper noted, all this has a tendency to degrade the political conversation, forcing even newspapers which make a real effort at neutrality into a partisan corner. That's not a positive note in an increasingly harsh campaign season.

Doc, then and now

Not especially by way of suggesting that Doc Hastings is barely holding on to his House seat, but quick review of the central Washington congressman's ethics world less than a month, as opposed to now, may be instructive.

Doc HastingsOn September 10 the Seattle Times ran a piece overviewing Hastings' re-election bid this year. Of the state's three Republican House members, he has the most favorable district, he has had the most time to become entrenched (the other two both were first elected in 2004) and has drawn the least-organized Democratic opposition (a fact related to the first two). What people reported liking most about him was his accessibility in district and his attention to local concerns and projects.

And of his role as chair of the House Ethics Committee? The Times noted how the New York Times has called the ethics panel under Hastings "a stunning still-life study in Capitol casuistry and partisan standoff"; newspapers have called Hastings personally "a leadership stooge" in referring to the committee's quietude. One of the Democrats running against him said Hastings "has done all he can to protect ihs colleagues from indictments."

And in Hastings' district? The Times notes: "the reaction among voters in Eastern Washington seems to be a collective shrug."

By all evidence, both within the article and from other sources, that conclusion seems about right - as of September 10. But would the Times be well advised to send a reporter back to central Washington for a post-Foley update? (more…)

Fusion: Candidates in multiplicity

In Oregon today, as in most states, you got your Democratic candidate for governor, your Republican candidate for governor, your minor party candidates for governor - and no sharing, please. Each candidate picks one party, and each party picks different candidates.

Was not always thus, as Lou Jacobson, a deputy editor at Roll Call (the D.C. Capitol Hill newspaper), points out in his latest column. For a century and more, until about a century ago, multiple political parties often cross-endorsed candidates. (The candidate who was the top vote getter ever among Idaho candidates for governor, Frank Steunenberg in 1896, was one of them, collecting endorsements from five of the six parties on the ballot.) The practice is uncommon now in most of the country; occasionally it still happens in New York.

Jacobson points out that an initiative to allow fusion voting is on the ballot now in Massachusetts. The idea is to allow smaller groups to become part of a joint process in nominating and electing candidates.

We note that here because he also says this: "Already, Oregon's WFP [Working Families Party] is trying to enact fusion voting through the Legislature. If that fails, it may try to circulate a ballot initiative, said Ben Healey, communications director for the Mass Ballot Freedom Campaign, the group that is sponsoring the Massachusetts initiative. Other states where activists have been trying to promote the idea include Ohio, Missouri and Washington."

This could be transformative for some minor parties. We'll be watching.

Vasquez rides again

Robert Vasquez, th Canyon County commissioner whose focus on illegal immigration has become his calling card, came in second place earlier this year in the Republican primary for the 1st congressional district. Wednesday, he delivered an announcement suggesting that is his rationale for running in 2008 for the U.S. Senate, against incumbent Republican Larry Craig.

Robert VasquezA note of caution should be inserted before we go any further. Underdog candidacies announced so early, even before the two-year election system begins (that won't happen for another month), have a way of not materializing: The candidate comes to appreciate the difficulty of the task ahead, and bails, quietly. That could happen here, but we think probably not. Vasquez is a man on a mission, for one thing, and for him the campaign is worth running even absent success. Besides that, he just got done experiencing the realities of a U.S. House race. He wouldn't be going into this unawares.

The question then becomes, how seriously shold Vasquez' candidacy be taken? The core answer is, somewhere between earth-shaking and dismissable. It stands to become a factor, if he does stay in.

There is the matter of Craig's future, for one thing. Vasquez is contending that Craig has lost touch with Idaho after so many years in Congress. (He first joined the U.S. House in 1981, so it's been more than a quarter-century.) But then, there's some question about whether Craig necessarily will run again anyway. In 2008 he will have had 18 years in the U.S. Senate, a long stretch, and if he has any interest in doing something else (such as making a larger amount of money), this would be a logical time. There's another consideration. Craig has spent much of his time, and most recent years, in the majority. Odds seem about even right now who will be the majority after this year's election, and because of the nature of seats up in 2008, Republicans might not keep their majority then even if they retain it this year. Craig could be factoring that into his thinking, too; being in minority after having been in the majority isn't nearly as satisfying.

Vasquez has been nearly a one-issue candidate, and that usually doesn't sell well. But in a field of six Republican House candidates, it was this year good enough for second place.

He could be strong enough to pose an issue for Craig. And if Craig opts out - he wouldn't on account of Vasquez, but might for other reasons - Vasquez starts out as the early contender.

Worth bearing in mind as we move beyond this cycle, as soon we will.

Big spenders

Pardon the long post, but in this case the detail is the point: What follows is a summary of top spenders in the Oregon legislative races this year.

Specifically, we looked at every race where either contributions or expenditures hit $100,000 or more, and a few other races of interest besides. The result seems a useful snapshot of where some things are headed, and where others might be.

Details below the fold. (more…)