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Posts published in December 2006

Vacant bench

No doubt you can find similar cases elsewhere, but here's something striking about politics in Idaho's counties these days: That is, the absence of it.

unopposed county offices
Dark green - all partisan offices unopposed; light green - just one partisan office contest

By which we mean: So many seats to be held by partisan elected officials, and so many unopposed candidates for them.

This year, counties typically had six seats up for election: two for the commission, plus clerk, treasurer, assessor and coroner. (Local vacancies or appointments vary the number slightly in some places, but generally Idaho's 44 counties had about partisan 264 seats, all of them (at least on initial read-through) won by either of a Republican or a Democrat. But in 14 counties, only one person filed for each of those seats - about a third of all Idaho counties. (We're excluding last-minute write-ins.) And in another 12 counties, of the six or sometimes seven partisan races, only one was contested.

That means only a little over a third of Idaho counties had a genuinely contested set of elections for courthouse offices this year (in many cases, just two or three seats contested).

There are a lot of implications for this. Here's one: That's not a way for parties to build their "bench," their farm team of candidates who will one day run for higher offices. Here's another" No one has a real motivation to provide serious oversight at all those courthouses.

Kitz out, apparently

The Ben Westlund Senate scenario we just posted abruptly looks a little more plausible. Former Governor John Kitzhaber seems to have taken himself out of consideration for the Senate in 2008.

Kitzhaber is a guest on the KWBP interview program Outlook Portland with Nick Fish, to air Sunday morning at 6:30. A clip from it has been posted on the Willamette Week site. It shows what looks like the closing seconds of the program, when Fish asks Kitzhaber, "If the Archimedes Movement is successful and there's something to be done at the federal level, would you consider running for the Senate?"

A smiling Kitzhaber replied, "No."

You could parse the question and maybe find a trap door or two, but the speed and abruptness with which the former governor answered seemed to say it all.

On to other prospects.

Weighing Smith/Westlund ’08

Premature the speculation certainly is, premature in every way. Still, the idea intrigues too much to let go, and this closer from commentator Ben Sadler's latest column begs for a followon:

Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith
Ben Westlund
Ben Westlund

"Given the voters' rebuke of the Republican Party and Smith's orthodox partisan voting record, Smith can no longer hide in Mark Hatfield's maverick cloak. Smith is no maverick. Ben Westlund is. And Oregonians love their mavericks."

They do, and you saw it in the initially enthusiastic reaction of a lot of Oregonians when Westlund, a state senator who had just switched his affiliation from Republican to independent, announced for governor. Westlund would bring some important assets to such a race, along with some big questions.

Before going any further, some caveats we've visited here before. We don't even know, for example, that Smith is running again. The single best candidate against Smith would probably be former Governor John Kitzhaber, but his plans if any are so far an enigma and likely to stay so for a while. Next in line, we think, would be U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer and Peter de Fazio - either would likely get the nomination easily absent Kitzhaber and each other; but here too, intentions are obscure, the more so because these legislators are just moving into a majority. After that, there's likely no one whose entry would clear the field.

Except maybe.

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Who the client is

The issue is clear - so that there is no issue - when private citizens like you or us, or a private business or other private entity hire an attorney, converse with the attorney and get advice from the attorney. Those kinds of communications are confidential. Only under the most extreme of cases, such that there are hardly any, can those communications be legally pried loose. (Or such has been the standard in this country.)

Now let's say you're a member of a city council, and you and the other council members agree to hire an attorney to look after the city's interests - not yours personally, but the city's.

Under the norms in open meetings and public records law, those communications are considered confidential between the city attorney and the city officials: The council and mayor, say, and whoever else they allow in. The people on whose authority the attorney was hired and on whose behalf the attorney is acting - that is, the residents of the city - typically are shut out. And if you suspect that from time to time, the advice the attorney is giving council members under such conditions may be aimed more at keeping the council members out of trouble, than at doing the same for the city - and those interests do not always perfectly coincide - you could be right.

Those are the kind of suspicions the Oregon Supreme Court will now leave to fester in the case of an attempt to more fully expose to public scrutiny the financial management of the Klamath County school district.

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