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Posts published in November 2006

Beyond the Tide: WA 5

Second of four posts on competitive congressional contests in the Northwest.

Our clearest tipoff that the Washington 5th district contest was getting close came through inadvertence.

close districts mapRepublican Representative Cathy McMorris, seeking her second term in the Republican district, was checking into a telephone conference call with Republican Senator Larry Craig and a group of constituents, on the subject of veterans benefits, a hot topic in the 5th. Before entering the general call, she had what she thought was a private two-way talk with Craig, and said she was concerned that the race in her district was becoming very tight. Craig remarked that polling numbers looked bad all over. Neither of them knew a reporter for the Spokane Spokesman-Review was also on the line, blocked from announcing his presence but able to hear every word.

That was confirmation - since there hadn't been much objective evidence, such as polling - that Democrat Peter Goldmark was in fact closing on McMorris, putting her re-election at genuine risk.

It was a late-blooming race; Goldmark was more or less universally seen as a longshot when he entered earlier in the year. The seat once held by Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley was securely held by Republican George Nethercutt for a decade; having beaten Foley, Nethercutt was never again in serious jeopardy in the 5th. When he left to pursue (unsucessfully) a Senate seat in 2004, Democrats had high hopes that their candidate, a well-liked Spokane businessman who was well-funded, had a strong shot. McMorris, emerging from a three-way primary, clobbered him with 59.7% of the vote. In this Republican district, where the state legislative delegation was all Republican outside central Zpokane (and one Walla Walla representative), McMorris looked like a solid bet to hold the seat easily. In her first term, she engendered no major controversy or scandal, and seemed reasonably well liked personally.

Goldmark, though well known in agricultural circles, had never run for office before and had to introduce himself to the district. This proceeded slowly, especially since mass news media showed little interest in the contest, and since Goldmark was far behind McMorris in fundraising. (Fundraising picked up toward the end; he ultimately raised about $900,000 to McMorris' $1.5 million - money was probably not the deciding factor here.)

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Beyond the tide 1: OR 5

The concession Tuesday by Darcy Burner in her congressional race in Washington's 8th congressional district had to come as deep disappointment to her and her backers. But let's put a little edge on that. This was one of the seats, after all, that Democrats had a really high hope of picking up, long before those hopes started sprouting in far less likely places. There are new Democratic U.S. representatives-elect in places like Kansas and Nebraska and both seats in New Hampshire. The Democratic candidate for the at-large seat in Wyoming - Wyoming - came closer than Burner did to knocking off first-term Republican Dave Reichert.

close districts mapBurner's race was not the only case where Democrats were hoping for a big win last Tuesday: They were sensing the wave too in Idaho's 1st and Washington's 5th districts.

In this batch of posts we'll consider why the wave didn't lap up quite high enough in the Northwest, and what that suggests for the next cycle . . . which is, incidently, underway . . .

Let's begin with the other district that was, somewhat, in play in this last election: Oregon's 5th district.

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Frontline and the thickness of skin

The Tuesday night Frontline documentary on PBS did a respectable job of overing last year's Jim West tragedy in Spokane - casting it, reasonably enough, in a classic tragic form, of a man brought down by flaws from within. It did not seem to constitute, as some at the paper apparently had suspected, a sustained blast at the Spokesman-Review, the newspaper whose reporting eventually led to West's recall as mayor.

Frontline West programThe paper nonetheless seems to have a hard time dealing with it. In the process, it seems to be considering changing an aspect of its own operations that, ironically, allow it to deal more effectively with reports such as this one.

The case, for those unfamiliar with it, concerned Jim West, a long-time Republican state senator elected mayor of Spokane in 2003. (One of the elements left out in the show is that West was generally deemed to have been a good and effective mayor, up to the point the storm hit.) In May 2005, the Spokesman-Review reported that West had been leading a double life, that he had been visiting gay chat rooms and - the paper said this was its main reason for the reportage - had used his position of mayor to further that social life. Somewhat separately, the paper's reports also linked him to the sexual abuse of minors from years before, when he was a scout leader.

The stories, and they were ongoing for months, created a firestorm in Spokane, and led to a recall election which ousted the mayor. West died of cancer (for which he was being treated during the scandal months) earlier this year.

We followed the story as it unfolded, and read a substantial portion of the related materials the Spokesman posted on its web site - and it posted there not only the many stories in the case, but also many of the raw materials associated with them, including transcripts, tapes, documents and more. This extensive posting was not unusual behavoir for the Spokesman, by the way. Although much of its news content lies behind a pay wall, the paper prides itself on being unusually open in letting the public in on its editorial process and newsgathering. No other Northwest paper is nearly so open; we know of none elsewhere that entirely match it, and we're big fans of it.

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Conference in tennis shoes

This probably makes Washington Senator Patty Murray the most powerful member of the Northwest delegation in the next term: She has been named secretary of the Democratic Conference [that is, of the caucus], the fourth-ranking person in Democratic leadership. Incoming Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement was that "As Secretary of the Conference , Senator Murray will play a critical role in helping shape and set the Democratic agenda."

Murray with leadership
Patty Murray, second from right; Majority Leader Harry Reid on her right

In the last decade, Idaho Senator Larry Craig chaired that caucus' policy committee on the Republican side; that would be the last time someone from the region rose to a similar level in Senate leadership.

The appointment gives Murray considerable clout in the Senate. It also links her tightly to however well the Senate, and the Congress, do in the next few years.

Exile on Boise Avenue

You know it's a new century when the Rolling Stones play Boise - no, wait, excuse us, Nampa - as they do tonight.

You know it's an even newer century when you get to follow the report on the concert by blog - and newer yet when the blog to watch will be that of: Dennis Mansfield.

The social conservative, Republican candidate and church activist will be there and will be blogging. From a Mansfield e-mail recently received: "Yes it is true. I will be blogging the Rolling Stones Concert in Boise tomorrow night (11/14/06), as it unfolds. Though, not on the stage (something about my yodeling style not meeting certain standards...) I will be in the seats way high up near where the air may not be too clear....hmmmm.

"Why blog it? Because, as my website, www.DennisMansfield.com says: Business and Culture do Matter. Visit the site now for some pre-game warm up notes....and add your own. Visit the site tomorrow as the concert begins in the evening, around 6 pm or so MST. Have fun, make comments, join in the event...if only by blogging."

We're not able to make the concert, but we'll definitely be reading the blog. (Though you might take with a wink and nod the case there that the Stones are "conservative.")

Walden for gov?

Once an election is past, the next cycle begins - yes, even if it's a four-year cycle, as in the case of such offices as governor. And Republican blogger Ted Piccolo (I Am Coyote) is throwing in an intriguing prospect for the next-up.

Greg Walden
Greg Walden

As the field developed for the Oregon governor's race in 2006, one of the Republican prospects who opted away was U.S. Representative Greg Walden, whose constituent turf includes the Medford area and everything in Oregon east of the Cascades. Walden is popular enough in his own district that, if he does what he's done up to now, he presumably could keep the seat as long as he wants it. (His re-elect precentages range from the high 60s to the low 70s.) He's shown signs of interest in other things, though, and a some time early this year he didn't seem to discourage talk of a run for governor, even after the Republican field was filling with other contenders. (He even joked about it, with a semi-serious edge, at last winter's Dorchester conference, where he moderated the debate of the three Republican gubernatorial candidates.)

And there's a new inducement since then: Life in the minority in the U.S. House, which has to be a downer to the many Republicans there who have only known life in the majority.

Piccolo mentions that a lunch meeting was held some weeks back to move toward a Walden run. Now, he writes, "Here is what I think will happen. I think Congressman Walden will make this his last term in Congress. I think he steps down to allow someone (Sen. Jason Atkinson? Ted Ferrioli?) else to run for his seat. He works to help a Republican win the 2008 Sec. State seat. He then spends two years campaigning. If this is the case then one would have to consider Congressman Walden as one of, if not THE, frontrunner for 2010."

Of course (as Piccolo notes) four years is a long time off, which cuts both ways. The political atmosphere today would not be favorable for a Walden statewide run, but who knows where we'll be in 2010? As the smarter Democrats demonstrated this year, you only get to take advantage of opportunities that do arise if you're prepared for them.

Whence independents

Iif you did an Oregon politics version of the celeb mag standby "the most fascinating people of the year," Ben Westlund would have to be right up there. He probably was more charismatic than anyone else who ran for governor this year, but more than that he is trying to do something new: Found a new political movement.

Ben Westlund
Ben Westlund

His departure last winter from the state Republican Party seemed part of the machinery of his gubernatorial bid, announced around the same time. But the governor's race is long gone, abandoned last summer, as is his neutrality in it: He wound up endorsing Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, which should win him some points with the second-term executive in the months and years ahead. (That could and probably will manifest in ways other than an appointment of Westlund to something or other, which the senator indicates he wouldn't want anyway.)

Equally, it likely will not with the members of his old Republican caucus. As the Bend Bulletin remarked today in a profile of Westlund's prospects, "When Westlund launched his independent campaign for governor, Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, said Westlund would be invited back into the Republican caucus if the campaign didn't pan out. At least for now, it appears the welcome mat is no longer out."

All of which matters now because Westlund will have to go back to work in the Senate, a Senate dominated not by independents like himself - though those ranks have been added to the addition of former Democratic Senator Avel Gordly of Portland - but by Democrats and Republicans. And he is now headed into the last half of his Senate term: In 2008, if he wants to remain in the Senate, he will have to run for re-election, in a heavily Republican district, presumably as an independent.

How all of that will go over will likely depend on what Westlund does next.

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Ballooning Twin

The larger areas of growth near Boise and Coeur d'Alene get most of the attention and remarks, but there are others of note. Today's Twin Falls Times News has a good roundup of growth and development at that city - substantial, too, suggesting continued expansion of a city already growing plenty in the last decade.

A question, though: To what extent is Twin expanding at the expense of other Magic Valley towns (a number of which have lost people and businesses to the regional center) and to what extent does it mark an expansion of the region?

WA legislature: A count, with notes

Apart from one early count on Sound Politics (which has held up pretty well), there hasn't been much rundown of exactly where Tuesday's elections left the Washington legislature, other than that Democrats did really well and Republicans didn't.

Here's what we take away from the election results so far, recognizing that not all votes have been counted but also that, in most cases, at least enough have to nail down results. We see only two Washington legislative races still in realistic doubt.

Chamber 2004 Dem 2004 Rep 2006 Dem 2006 Rep 2006 undec
Senate 26 23 32 17 0
House 57 41* 64 32 2

.

*House numbers are thrown a bit by the Rodney Tom party shift.

About the two seats we single out . . . Both are currently held by Republicans who were running for re-election. Incumbent Republican Barbara Bailey in District 10, as of the end of last week, held a 172-vote advantage over Democrat Tim Knue; she's favored for re-election, but this is still too close to definitely call unless (and this wasn't clear) all votes are in. On the other hand, Republican incumbent Jim Dunn in District 17 is behind 144 votes, losing to Democrat Pat Campbell; but again, we're not clear on what ballot remain out there. If one went Democratic, the House split would be 65-32 - a more than two-thirds margin, which could have significance in some House procedural or other actions.

For a good many years, most of the last decade at least, Washington's statehouse could reasonably have been described as closely split (especially bearing in mind the case of Tim Sheldon in the Senate). That is no longer true: Democrats now hold the most decisive margins in both chambers that either party has enjoyed in a long time.

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Deccio: Politics had nothing to do with it

ARepublican whose departure from elective office takes effect in January, and word of it comes out on election day. But for Washington state Senator Alex Deccio of Yakima, the reason isn't politics - he's in mid-term and wasn't up for election this year. It's health. He's dealing with prostate cancer, and it needs his attention, and he so informed the appropriate officials (the lieutenant governor and his party's leaders) on election day.

Alex Deccio
Alex Deccio

Doubtless his party's leaders were sorry to see him go, but at least he will be replaced by another Republican, in contrast to some other Republicans that day.

There's a certain other irony here. Some legislators are generalists, and some specialists. While Deccio certainly looked after his district (the Yakima Herald-Republic story on his departure attached a picture of him at the Yakima SunDome, development of which he played a key role), his legislative specialty was health.

Deccio looked at it broadly. You might not expect a Yakima Republican to lead work on AIDS-related legislation in the country, but he did. He did that work while never becoming an outlier in his party's caucus, a notable achievement. (He did also, it should be noted, take some anti-stem cell research stances as well.)

Democrats looking to work on health issues next session at Olympia may want to review his record; some useful pointers may be found there.