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Posts published in “Day: November 3, 2006”

Catching on

The increasingly worn initiative come-on of something for nothing really does seem to be wearing thin this year. Several Washington initiatives which would seem to have generated plenty of support in years past are encountering static this year (foreshadowed, maybe, by the failure of the 2005 gas tax measure). In Oregon, the most recent poll projects failure for the TABOR and term limits measures.

Jim Risch
Jim Risch

And in Idaho, polls show the land-use initiative, Proposition 2 - the followup to Oregon's troubled Measure 37 - riding on the edge, where once it might have been a presumptive winner. Part of the reason may be the breadth of opposition to it.

Consider today's press conference (we followed on conference call) set up by Governor Jim Risch at his office. The point it sought to make was made, really, even before anyone spoke. The range of people there present to declare opposition was startling, from business groups to environmental groups to quite a few others. Reflecting on a history of publc gatherings on one side or another of major issues (and Risch has been doing this more than a third of a century), he remarked, "I've never seen one as diverse as this group is." (The next two speakers after him were Republican Senator Brad Little and Democratic Senator David Langhorst.

Risch's own stance as a backer of private property rights is too extensive to seriously question, so his stance on Prop 2 carries weight: "This proposition does not enhance that . . . I can say that with a considerable degree of confidence." His main point was that the initiative would destabilize established land and planning practices, deeply upsetting property rights - and that has been precisely the case where Measure 27 has impacted Oregon.

Another bit drew laughter. One question at the conference noted that Proposition 2's backers said that opponents to the initiative were "liberals."

Which drew a big laugh from Risch: "I've been accused of a lot," he said, "and now the list is complete." Which may be one of the more compelling arguments the Pro 2 critics can make: Any movement so detached from reality that it argues Jim Risch is a liberal . . . well, . . .

WASHINGTON ISSUES Idaho's Proposition 2 still looks like a fairly close call - though momentum seems to be running against it - but as noted above, polling has been showing several key Washington state issues failing. For a solid overview of this, check out the latest University of Washington polling, which projects losses for both Initiative 933 (property rights and land use, comparable to Oregon's Measure 37 of 2004 and Idaho's current Proposition 2) by 51%-39%, and Initiative 920 (to repeal the state estate tax) by 53%-32%.

Battle of the write-ins

Election afficianados may want to cast a glance toward a race little noted around the region but abuptly heated and highly unusual, in Oregon's Benton County, for the office of sheriff.

Diana Simpson
Diana Simpson
Randy Hiner
Randy Hiner

The office there is nonpartisan, and currently held by Jim Swinyard, who is retiring from it. His undersheriff, Diana Simpson, is running for the job. For a while after the filing deadline, she had an opponent, but he dropped out last summer. Since then, however, three more candidates have emerged - as write-ins.

The impetus seems to be in part issues of morale and keeping up to date on patrol and investigative operations, and the fact that Simpson rose to the number two spot through the probation office, not through patrol. For her part, Simpson acknowledges improvements are needed, and says she will work on them, and that the sheriff's office does, after all, cover a number of divisions (civil and jail too), as well as patrol.

All this might still be of limited interest outside the county but for the very high-profile campaign one of the challengers has raised. Randy Hiner, an animal control officer, has been running an unusual write-in campaign - high-profile, with loads of ads on Corvallis radio (we heard one as we wrote these words), loads of signs all over the county, and even billboards. Significant money has entered this race. That's a little unusual for a sheriff candidate at all (though Spokane and some other places have seen it this season); it's extremely rare for a write-in.

We'll check back on this unusual race.

The decline of television (political advertising)?

Could it be that technology may be bringing toward a close one of the central problems in American politics that earlier technology helped create?

The large problem is money - the massive amounts of money raised and spent in political campaigns, and which this year have broken all sorts of new records in the Northwest as elsewhere - most expensive governor's race in Idaho, most expensive Senate race (almost certainly) in Washington, most expensive House race ever in Idaho . . . on and on. Where money is a problem in politics, we clearly still are in the belly of the monster.

How is all that money spent - or, put another way, what do they need it for? The big component is broadcast, mostly television, advertising. For a generation, the political theory is that a candidate who can heavily outspend an opponent - which translates to, air many more TV spots than the opponent - will often win. (Of course, you have to factor in that many well-funded candidates get well funded because they are considered strong prospects to win.) Campaigns use money for other things too, but if you struck TV advertising off the budget, the size of many of those warchests would shrivel.

So: What if it turns out that TFV ads are simply becoming ineffective as opinion drivers, are no longer helping candidates win elections?

We'll get a more definitive read on that next Tuesday night. But if, for purposes of this discussion, we can assume that recent polls are reasonably predictive, then we may be seeing the early stages of decline in political TV advertising - which could turn out to be one of the best developments for years in the conduct of politics in this country. (more…)