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Posts published in November 2006

Beyond the Tide: ID 1

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

Those Idahoans - some Democrats and some Republicans - convinced at the end of May that the nomination of Bill Sali would open the door to a Democratic nominee in the 1st congressional district of Idaho, obviously were shown on election day to be . . . not entirely right.

close districts mapNot entirely wrong, either. We've become convinced that an opening did exist, but the Democrats did not wind up taking advantage of it. That was not for lack of an appealing candidate or energetic campaign, both of which they had. Whether a similar opening will reappear in future elections is uncertain, but Idaho Democrats would be wise to focus a good deal of attention in this area.

Before going further, we should restate the outlines here. In its recent voting patterns, Idaho is as blood red a state as any in the country, laying reasonable claim this year to the top of the list. It elected no Democrats at all above the level of state legislator. In the first congressional district, Republican Sali defeated Democrat Larry Grant 50% to 45%; in the race for governor, Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter, a veteran elected official, defeated second-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady 53% to 44%. Those were not massive wins, but a few local Republican disabilities should be noted. Otter's campaign was relatively weak and accumulated bad headlines from the beginning of the year all the way through to about election day. And Sali was poorly regarded by a number of fellow Republicans, insulted and even threatened by two state House speakers of his own party and was blasted during the campaign by other Republicans, notably the candidate who came in second to Sali in the Republican primary for the House seat. Atop that was the hope generated by what looked like, and what in many places was, a national Democratic tide in the mid-term elections.

The easy response to these races and some others (such as those for state controller and superintendent of public instruction) is: A working majority of Idaho voters look for the "R" by the name and vote accordingly, and no other considerations enter in. And in most recent elections there's been little evidence to the contrary.

This time, some evidence of a more complicated story does exist.

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A meta suit

Almost anything can become grist for a lawsuit, apparently. Not least the courts themselves. Or even - in effect - one court suing another over who has control of a legal case.

Washington courtsThat may be a slight twisting of the legal realities in City of Spokane v. County of Spokane, which made all the way to the state supreme court (which released its opinion today). But it isn't far off.

At the end of 2004, then-Spokane Mayor Jim West (yes, him again, but not about that) sent the word to the Spokaken County offices: Municipal court would go it alone. State law allows, quirkily, a municipal court - which ordinarily is under management of the court district court - to break off and become its own separate entity. That is what West was proposing in the case of Spokane.

Litigation arose when the city and the county disagreed over whether the city or county would be responsible for certain cases which were still active in the court at the time of transition. (The Supreme Court mostly sided with the city.)

It's what they call meta.

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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