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Posts published in November 2006

“Condomnation” (per The Stranger, and stranger)

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?"

Flipping the House

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.


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…)

A state on the bubble

Asecond Idaho poll - this one by Greg Smith, for KTVB-TV and the Idaho Business Review, shows almost exactly what last week's Mason Dixon did. About the only thing different was the degree of the most important factor: The undecided.

A surface reading in the governor's race shows Democrat Jerry Brady leading Republican Butch Otter, 41% to 36%; and in the 1st congressional district, it shows Democrat Larry Grant leading Republican Bill Sali, 38% to 34%. The closeness is absolutely startling; these figures, reflecting last week's poll (and following up in some ways from Smith's last poll in August) are unusual, different for Idaho than any polling result in the last dozen years.

And yet you'd be mistaken to shorthand these results as suggesting a probable razor-close finish. What's more likely is that one side or the other will win decisively. We just don't know which.

During those dozen years, since Idaho politics has been frozen in place - almost everything went to conservative Republicans, usually by big margins. Our observation during that time has been that matters would eventually change; politics does not remain static forever. When that change would come, has always been less clear.

Is this the year - in this year of failed local Republican candidacies against a backdrop of larger national Republican failures - the year of the Big Melt?

There's no perfect answer, because that depends on a good many Idaho people who haven't yet decided what to do about these races. In the governor's race, 20% of the voters call themselves undecided between Otter and Brady, and in the congressional, 25% between Sali and Grant. Those are unusually big undecided numbers for so late - this poll was conducted this week - in a campaign.

What they will do, we don't know. But the similar opinion patterns suggest that many of the same factors are causing that indecision; and we know that historically, late undecideds tend to break strongly one way or another, often because of some factor emerging in the last few days before an election.

Add the bulk of the 20% to either Otter's or Brady's numbers, for example, and you wind up with a big win - which, right now, seems more likely than a super-close result.

The catch is that there's almost no way to know - now - which way they will go. (more…)

Intensity central

After rolling around western Washington and Oregon in the tail end of this campaign season, we can isolate the geogrpahic area where politics has gone into overdrive: Bellevue, Washington.

signs at Bellevue

We've watched the action around Oregon and Idaho and other parts of Washington, nothing seems to match the visibility and intensity of politics on the east side of King County. Our runaround on the Eastside in the last couple of days was startling for . . . well, for the signage, to start with.

On major roads, there seem to be large areas of Bellevue where political signs probably average one for every five or six feet. On road islands (like this one) they're planted so thickly only the tall plants can see the sun. And there's no lack of yard signs in yards, either. Turnon the TV here (well, anywhere in the Seattle area) and you're swamped by political ads - clearly a heavier load of them than in Oregon or Idaho, or eastern Washington.

Part of all this no doubt comes from the mashup of close and hot races in this area. The hottest congressional race in Washington, probably in the Northwest, is here - based around Bellevue - in the Washington 8th district. On top of that, about a half-dozen of the dozen or so top legislative races in the state are based within a half-hour drive of Bellevue, to its north and south. The margins in the U.S. Senate race - which in contest isn't a tossup but in which margins are still at stake - will be settled to a considerable extent here. (more…)