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Posts published in “Day: January 27, 2007”

Assessing the problem

Luke Esser
Luke Esser

After the vote which removed Diane Tebelius as chair of the Washington state Republicans and replaced her with former state Senator Luke Esser, the new chair issued a statement in which he remarked, "The first step towards recovering from our defeat in 2006 is recognizing that we have a problem, and today we did that."

There are layers of meeting involved in that simple statement. The collected Republicans may indeed have recognized that they have a problem; but did they understand what it was? If they think the problem was Tebelius, then they have some more thinking to do.

That's neither particular endorsement of Tebelius nor criticism of Esser, just recognition that party chairs - while a visible person on whom to take out frustrations - has only a limited amount to do with a political party's larger fortunes. Several of the key arguments against Tebelius (the suggestion that she withheld state party money from candidates) seem to fall apart on examination. The party organization doesn't seem mismanaged, which would be the logical argument against her if it were the case.

The Seattle Times' David Postman quotes Esser after the meeting saying that 2006 "It was a terrible year and people are looking for a way to make sure that never happens again." What way would that be? One significant reason for the Democratic push was the national scene, not in control of the state party. Another was a continuation of the trend of Seattle suburbs edging Democratic; that had been a development underway for a decade. The Republican candidates were, in many cases, just the sort of strong candidates the party wanted to run; recruitment was not a big problem. (It could be tougher in some places in 2008.) Nor was 2006 fundraising all that bad, under the circumstances.

We're not suggesting Esser doesn't recognize all this; he well may. As one of the Republican state legislators who lost his seat to a Democrat last fall, Esser's understanding of the party's problems may be both painful and personal and well as detailed. Esser likely will be an aggressive chair, maybe more so than Tebelius was, so he may be the right choice for the time. But the problems facing the organization run a good deal deeper than simply whoever is running it.

Private power

roadcam on I5Toll roads generally are not a good idea; roadways are community assets that should be available to us all, and we should all pay. However did we manage to build the interstate road system without (for the most part, and exclusively in the West) tolls? We did it the old-fashioned way: We raised the money and paid for it. Granting that some of the new road projects being contemplated in the Northwest are likely to be highly expensive, that generally remains the best approach. The best cases we can see for tolls would be bridges - discrete projects - provided that the tolls come off when the project is paid for.

One of the glories of our country has been the easy transportation around it; we have a wonderful ability to come and go as we please, subject only to how much gas we can put in the tank. (That being, we suppose, a related but separate issue.)

Much worse that government toll roads, though, are private ones - which simply should be prohibited in this country. We had private toll rolls in many parts of this country early in our history (many early roads were hacked out that way). But we got rid of them when we could, and we mostly did. No private entity, non-accountable to us, should have power over our ability to get from Point A to Point B, which the private manager of a toll road would.

In Oregon, the big private player in the toll road arena has been an Australian firm, Macquarie Infrastructure - and it is perhaps the largest player in that arena nationally and internationally. With the recent boom in interest in tolling roads (Washington Governor Chris Gregoire has expressed interest in a couple of such projects) its services have been in demand. From Wikipedia: "MIG has a 100% stake in the M6 Toll road in the UK, which was constructed to relieve congestion on the M6 motorway—one of the UK's busiest motorways. Additionally, as part of a consortium MIG has taken over operations of the Indiana East-West Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway, both part of Interstate 90 in the United States; and by itself has a 100% interest in the Dulles Greenway and the greenfield South Bay Expressway, scheduled to open in mid-2007, also in the United States." Among others.

Lately, it has developed studies on the feasibility of tolling a road out to a fast-growing part of Clackamas County, and two roads (including Highway 99) in Yamhill County. It has recommended against proceeding with the first, and its stance on the second seems a little ambiguous in that what it has recommended probably is not politically feasible. That feasibility may be blocked for good if two Oregon legislators pass their legislation seeking to block a Highway 99 toll.

Oregon may consider it a bullet dodged. It is a basic tenet of this site that concentrated power should be viewed with suspicion; and in this case, maybe more than that.