Writings and observations

In the three states of the Northwest, the magic – or witching – hour is 8 p.m. That’s when the polls close and, soon after, numbers start to roll. (In Idaho, where most people are in Mountain Time, numbers usually do not much roll until
9 p.m. Mountain time, in consideration for the people up north whose voting deadline is an hour later.)

polling place image - Washington Secty State officeWe will, of course, be getting a sense of the national trends before that, since many eastern polls will be closing around 4 p.m. or 5 p.m. Northwest time.

Expect that Oregon numbers will be among the first out; its vote counting procedures allow the count to begin on Tuesday well before the polls close. (And remember, only ballot in the hands of county officials by 8 p.m. today will count – in contrast to Washington, where a Tuesday postmark traditionally has sufficed.) Of some interest: With its new heavy reliance on mail voting, how early will be the Washington votes?

Of course, be sure to check back here: As per usual, we will be tracking results mostly on line. In between a short TV appearance and a stop at a political event, our regular stops this evening will include:

IDAHO

  • The Secretary of State’ s office did a fine job of updating on primary election night; it’s our top stop in the Gem State.
  • KTVB-TV traditionally has some of the best and fastest election night results in the state.
  • The Idaho Statesman will have information posted on its front page.
  • In eastern Idaho, try KIFI-TV.

OREGON

WASHINGTON

A VIEW FROM CONGRESS Also, this could be interesting: Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) says he plans to blog regularly during election night. Could be interesting to pull the take from his angle.

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We on this site usually don’t get into flat predictions, preferring to deal in odds and probability for events which haven’t yet occurred. But for those interested in predictions – something to tide you over till polls close, Punditology has just the thing.

Around Oregon 346 politically involved and interested people filled out a survey on Monday on how they think the election will go (not to be confused with what they’d prefer), in Oregon. It seems to be the largest and most detailed late-date prediction set in the region, and it probably does constitute a late-game conventional wisdom. Check it out, and then this evening watch it get variously upheld and overturned.

OTHERS David Postman’s Seattle Times blog offers a prediction contest, and some commentary is attached in comments. A thread of Idaho predictions can be found at the Democratic Red State Rebels.

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Funny business becomes possible anywhere you have the point of decision on how to spend money. A fresh insight along these lines, from the office of Washington’s insurance commissioner, Mike Kriedler.

title insurance reportLast month Kriedler released a report, “An Investigation into the Use of Incentives and Inducements by Title Insurance Companies.” Title companies? You usually think of them – and most of us rarely do, other than when buying or selling real property – as stolid, staid, boring, nondescript. (Which is what they should be; and isn’t in any event meant as a swipe: Your scribe’s sister worked at title companies, in Washington and Idaho, for a number of years.)

But because of the way the marketplace in title insurance is structured – and like much else in the “free marketplace” the structure has evolved in coordination with governmental law and regulation – shady business actually is made much more likely.

Here’s the background.

From the report:

The title insurance market in Washington consists of a dozen carriers, ranging in size from regional companies to national affiliates. The market itself, while varying from region to region within the state, is dominated by four groups of affiliated companies who, combined, sell about 97 percent of the title insurance policies sold in Washington.
Title companies, in marked contrast to property, casualty, life and other traditional insurance carriers, do not market their products directly to the consumers who pay for them. Instead, the title insurance industry operates on what is termed a “reverse competition” model. Reverse competition means that title companies solicit business from the other major players in the home sale scenario – real estate agents and agencies, banks, lenders, builders, developers and others. Call them middlemen or go-betweens.

Reverse competition, as the term suggests, isn’t a model that benefits consumers through market-driven forces. In fact, consumers are bypassed completely as title companies spend nearly all of their marketing budgets “wining and dining” real estate agents, banks, lenders, builders, developers and others in an effort to convince these middlemen to steer their home-buying clients to their companies for their title insurance needs. These incentives, which some might call inducements, are strictly limited and regulated by state law through the Office of the Insurance Commissioner.

But things sometimes get out of hand, as they will. The report goes on to describe how they became interested in title insurance marketing.

During the summer of 2004, the Colorado Department of Insurance was in the midst of an investigation into marketing abuses within the title insurance market there when it uncovered a questionable scheme involving a number of large, national title insurance companies. Colorado authorities successfully lobbied the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to coordinate a multi-state survey of companies participating in this questionable practice. Here in Washington, the Office of the Insurance Commissioner joined the inquiry after it was determined that several of the companies under investigation were authorized to conduct business here.

Basically, the scheme involved title companies “purchasing” reinsurance policies from companies variously owned by builders, real-estate agents and lenders. Reinsurance is the practice of an insurance company spreading or transferring some of its insurance risk to a secondary insurer. Under the scheme uncovered in Colorado, the title companies would “purchase” reinsurance from builder-owned companies in return for title insurance business steered to the title company by the builder-owned entities.
Although reinsurance is an accepted business practice in the insurance industry, in this case, the reinsurance scheme did not meet even a basic, straight-face standard for several reasons:

• First, the reinsurance was not needed from a financial perspective, as the premiums paid for the reinsurance greatly exceeded the amount of risk being transferred.

• Secondly, the investigation disclosed that title companies paid premiums worth
millions of dollars to the so-called reinsurance companies, yet the reinsurers never paid a single penny on a claim against the policies.

The end conclusion: “The 10-month investigation disclosed that the use of inducements and incentives by title companies to obtain title insurance business in Washington appeared to be widespread and pervasive. While some companies made no apparent effort to comply with state law and regulations, others were found to be at least attempting to comply with statutory requirements while nevertheless committing violations. The bottom-line conclusion is that violations occur throughout this industry, ranging from egregious breaches to relatively minor transgressions.”

It’s always the quiet ones . . .

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You hear the phrase on trailers for action movie sequels when it comes to battle scenes. Here’s an instance where it applies to politics.

Comments from Idaho Senator Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, on lasy-gasp radio ad from Laird Maxwell’s pro-Proposition 2 organization:

Once again, the promoters of Proposition Two have taken the low road in an effort to deceive voters. But this time it is personal.

I debated promoter Laird Maxwell on two different Idaho Falls radio stations for an hour each time regarding Proposition Two. Obviously, I was opposed to it and he was in favor. Now his group is taking quotes out of our debate and using them in their mail-outs and actually using my recorded voice on their radio ads to make it sound like I am in favor of Prop. 2. For instance, I said somethng to the effect that, “We are on the same page on this one. Proposition two should not affect existing planning and zoning ordinances.” I was referring to the fact that the proposition is not retroactive like the one in Oregon, but they are quoting it as if I were supporting the whole Proposition.

I have had a number of people call saying they heard the radio ads and were disappointed that I was supporting Prop. 2. You can imagine how angry this makes me. I trust people to be honest in presenting their positions and now I find that some cannot be trusted. It is disheartening to me.

I want to make it clear to my friends and constituents that I am against Proposition 2. I believe it would damage the vitality and economic health of Idaho. I have actively opposed Proposition 2 and urge you to do the same.

It should be personal, at well, to the people the ad was intended to deceive.

UPDATE A reply from Laird Maxwell:

For the record, Sen. Brent Hill was clearly identified as an OPPONENT of Prop. 2 in our radio ad.

Below is the script and attached is the radio ad.

Lastly, we sent out a bulk mail letter where we again quoted Sen. Hill and identified him as an opponent. Here is the excerpt of that letter:

Let’s give credit to one politician who’s opposed to Prop 2, but who admitted the truth on the air.

Last Tuesday on KZNR Radio in Blackfoot, state Sen. Brent Hill said: “I think that (Prop 2 supporters) and I are on the same page on this one. …This should not affect any planning, zoning, or other land use laws that are already in existence.”

Senator Hill is right . By its own clear language, Prop 2 will not affect existing zoning laws. That includes, by the way, the current zoning laws that make it illegal to “turn any Idaho property, including farmlands, into junkyards, power plants, or high rises.”

In other words, he confirms that that TV spot you’ve been seeing is a lie.

I know that Sen. Hill is a square shooter, unlike Nampa Mayor Tommy Dale. I have a deep respect for Sen. Hill and we were square with his quote by identifying him as an opponent. I also believe that by clearly identifying Sen. Hill as an opponent in made our point stronger, in contrast, that many of the other opponents, like Tommy Dale were lying.

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Polling tells us that the conflict in Iraq is top of mind for Americans as they vote or prepare to. That suggests we might take a minute to peruse the congressional rankings of what may be its single most relevant private organization, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

They are self-described as “Founded in June 2004, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is the nation’s first and largest group dedicated to the Troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the civilian supporters of those Troops and Veterans.” And it says that “The IAVA Rating is based on this legislator’s voting history on issues that affect US troops, Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and military families.”

Like other interest groups, they track legislation and congressional action, and also like many, they rate the members of Congress, in this case by letter grade. Here is how they rate the members of Congress from the Northwest.

office Idaho rating Oregon rating Washington rating
Senate Craig (R)
Crapo(R)
D-
D
Wyden (D)
Smith (R)
B+
C-
Murray (D)
Cantwell (D)
A-
A-
House Otter (R)
Simpson (R)
C
C
Wu (D)
Walden (R)
Blumenauer (D)
DeFazio (D)
Hooley (D)
B
C+
C+
B
A-
Inslee (D)
Larsen (D)
Baird (D)
Hastings (R)
McMorris (R)
Dicks (D)
McDermott (D)
Reichert (R)
Smith (D)
B+
A
B
C
D
A-
C-
D+
A-
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The odd ness just keeps on coming. In fairness, Washington state Senator Brad Benson, R-Spokane, spoke on this subject – Planned Parenthood condoms – last spring, not last week, so he apparently isn’t trying to . . . (oh, hell, verb your own entendre) this into the campaign. But it’s pretty reflective anyway.

Brad BensonSeattle’s The Stranger weekly newspaper has posted on its web site a clip of Benson, a former state representative who was appointed to the state Senate last year to replace newly-elected Spokane Mayor Jim West, speaking to a group of backers. In his talk he said that condoms distributed by Planned Parenthood have an 80% failure rate. This is, apparently, deliberate: “They have an interest in the follow-on product. That’s why they give out 80% failure rate condoms.” The “follow-on product,” presumably, would be abortions.

Wonder which brands those are? And whether Benson has filed a complaint about the manfacturers with the attorney general’s consumer protection office? (And where, we wonder, is Idaho’s Bill Sali on this? Sounds like his kind of turf.)

Planned Parenthood, naturally, has replied that “The condoms we use are as effective as any other condoms.” Absent something resembling evidence, we’ll assume that they are.

Political question: What’s the impact now in Spokane? There, the Spokesman-Review‘s newspaper blog has noted the discussion and one poster inquires, “This seems worthy of a Spokesman-Review follow-up story for Monday, no?”

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Of the six legislative chambers* in the three Northwest states, just one appears to be seriously up for grabs – in partisan control – on Tuesday: The Oregon House. So what are the odds Democrats will wrest control of it, for the first time in 14 years, from the Republicans?

Oregon HouseWe think: Slightly better than even, with a distinct chance of split chamber control such as the Oregon Senate had the term before last.

[*The Oregon Senate might be next in rank order, but Republicans appear to have realistic shots at just two Democratic Senate seats, and their odds of picking up either are no better than even; while Democrats have at least an equal chance of unseating one Republican senator. The chance of a chamber flip in either Washington or Idaho, in this election, seems remote.]

In the 60-seat House, Republicans currently hold 33 and Democrats 27 seats. All are up for election. The math is simple: If Democrats manage a net gain of three seats, the House will be under split control; if Democrats gain net four or more, they take control.

The bulk of the 60 seats are opposed by a candidate of the major opposition party, but (as is usually the case) only a minority are so seriously contested as to merit close consideration: In the vast majority of cases, seats will be held by incumbents. Counting those seriously contested seats is the core of the question, and a difficult matter: Good analysts can come up with different numbers.

Start with the prospects for Democratic seat losses: Every Democratic seat lost adds to the total they must win from the other side to cross the 30 total.

The problem is, there aren’t many. Chuck Riley at Hillsboro has a serious race with the mayor of Cornelius, Terry Rilling, but our take is that the persistent controversies in Cornelius city government (not that Rilling is at fault, but with which he may be associated) could undercut him; beyond that, Riley has become an adept campaigner at this point. Larry Galizio at Tigard similarly is i a close race for a second term in a marginal district, but here again he seems to have entered well prepared and to have matched his opponent, newcomer Shirley Parsons, in hard work. We think these seats are unlikely to flip, and they seem to be closest to the edge among the 27 Democrats.

Turn now to the Republican caucus. Let’s start by examining where opposing sides agree.

The Oregon House Democrats noted late this week that “We’re pulling out all the stops. Over the past two weeks we’ve made significant NEW financial investments in the following races.” They name seven:

  • District 10 (central coast), Democrat Jean Cowan against Republican incumbent Alan Brown.
    District 14 (Eugene area), Democrat Chris Edwards against Republican incumbent Debi Farr.
    District 21 (Salem), Democrat Brian Clem against Republican incumbent Billy Dalto.
    District 24 (central Yamhill County), Democrat Sal Peralta against Republican incumbent Donna Nelson.
    District 25 (Salem to Newberg) Democrat Charles Lee against Republican incumbent Kim Thatcher.
    District 30 (Hillsobor area), Democrat David Edwards against Republican Everett Currey; open seat.
    District 49 (east Multnomah), Democrat Rob Brading against Republican incumbent Karen Minnis (the House speaker).
  • Compare this list against one from across the fence. Republican blogger Ted Piccolo (I Am Coyote), from a week ago today.

    We’ll note here that since he wrote about the House races, Piccolo has argued that the John Kerry comments of last week will generate a backlash favoring Republicans (a view we don’t share, and which hasn’t been picked up in polling that’s been in the field since those remarks were made). But his views on which seats are at least relatively vulnerable seem worth noting; Piccolo’s take on such matters has a good track record.

    His words: “Republicans who are in real trouble are: Alan Brown (Newport), Billy Dalto (Salem), Everett Curry (Hillsboro, formerly held by Derrick Kitts), Debi Farr (Eugene) and as of yesterday Donna Nelson (McMinnville). Of course Speaker Minnis is in trouble but that is more due to the Democrats really really trying to make a political point.”

    That list of six (counting Minnis), coming from an opposing source, suggests that these seats are indeed where the contest centrally lies – all six overlap with the Democrats’ top races assessment.

    Is there evidence that Democrats might be ahead?

    Not much public evidence (we’ve been told of internal Democratic polling showing Democrats ahead), but there is a little.

    The new Inside Oregon Politics blog – proprietor anonymous – is saying that two polls in the speaker’s race (District 49) show Minnis dropping and Brading rising. The blog comments: “Still several ‘X’ factors in play here, but I don’t think it’s looking good for Madame Speaker for a couple of reasons. In my experience, in the last days of an election it’s the trend that tends to be the most reliable predictor of outcome, and Minnis is trending down. I have said all along that turnout would be the key to victory in this election, and right now the D’s are winning the turnout battle.”

    That seems to be the case. The Associated Press reported late Friday: “As of Friday, 240,000 Republicans had turned in their ballots, compared to 278,000 Democrats, according to figures tracked by the Oregon GOP. That has state Republicans a bit on edge. Democrats outnumber them in Oregon, but Republicans traditionally turn out in higher numbers. ‘The Democrats are turning out,’ said Amy Langdon, executive director of the Oregon GOP. ‘We are telling our people, We know you are working hard, but you have to work harder. Apples to apples, us versus them, we are not where we need to be.”

    An analysis by a Democrat broke that down to the legislative district level, reinforcing Langdon’s comments. In the Cowan-Brown race, for example, Democrats lead in voter registration in the district 14,442 to 11,171, but by even more (proportionately) in ballots returned – 3,842 to 2,580. He found similar patterns in several other close races.

    Based on that analysis, he threw two other less-noted contests into the mix: District 39 (Oregon City/Canby), where Democrat Mike Caudle is opposing Republican Majority Leader Wayne Scott, and District 52 (Hood River/East Multnomah.NE Clackamas), where Suzanne Van Orman faces Republican Patti Smith. In the former, Republican voter registration is cnsiderably higher than Democratic, but Democratic vote returns as of Friday are actually ahead (4,601 to 4,105). In 52, the Democratic registration edge this time is matched by higher turnout.

    Depending on how you count, that’s eight or nine very serious races at a time when national and regional winds are blowing Democratic. Can Democrats win at least four of them? We think the odds are better than even.

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    Avery funny take on an overused word of the season, at Dave Postman’s blog on the Seattle Times. Yet another demonstration of the power of Google (or some search engine), and the increasingly short shelf life of trendy language before it calcifies into cliche.

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    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%.

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    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.

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