Writings and observations

With the latest news that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is becoming one of the two Senate “liaisons” (Utah Senator Bob Bennett is the other) for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, you get the sense that most of Idaho’s top-tier Republicans are headed into the Romney camp.

We’ve thought that likely for a while. Locally, Romney has been talked up more than any of the other contenders. And there’s the Utah connection (through Romney’s work on the Olympics several years back) and as a member of the LDS church, to which something like a third of Idahoans also belong. His personal style is probable more appealing, too, than that of his two leading competitors, John McCain (whose sometimes a “maverick,” sometimes not manner may not sit well) and Rudy Giuliani (who among other things may simply be too New York for Idaho tastes).

Not that all Idaho Republicans will necessarily fall into line. We’d not be surprised if Representative Bill Sali signed on with the longshot campaign of Tom Tancredo; that association runs deep into the early part of Sali’s campaign last year, if not earlier. But in the main, for now, Romney seems to have the main Idaho track.

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Alot of attention focused in the last few years, among those tracking the Idaho Legislature, on (now former) Representative Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, who for years chaired the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, from which tax bills originate. She, it was said or implied, was the bottleneck that kept a lot of wide-desired legislation from making its way through the process.

She was without doubt an impactful legislator, but the story was never that simple. The evidence has come in the record of the committee this year, as it has rejected various tax proposals, some of them backed by the libertarian-conservative governor, Butch Otter. On Wednesday, the committee rejected a proposal to reduce form 66.6% to 60% the vote needed to establish a community college district, something loads of advocates in the Ada-Canyon area have been pushing for. Rev-Tax has, in other words, behaved this year, under its new Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, not very differently than it did under Crow. (Albeit that Lake is a much smoother, less abrasive and more numbers-comfortable chair)

Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert has delivered two highly pertinent posts, both worth reading, about this on his new blog, after watching the committee in action for a while.

In the first, yesterday, Richert noted that the committee’s vote of 8-10 against the community college measure would have been reversed had two Republican House members sitting on it – Representatives Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Robert Schaefer, R-Nampa – voted the other way. (Other committee members from the area voted in favor.)

He cites the measure’s support: “By voting against this bill, here’s who Moyle and Schaefer voted against. Gov. Butch Otter. The State Board of Education. Chambers of commerce in Boise and Nampa. A newly formed Idaho Chamber Alliance, an umbrella business group representing some 10,000 employers statewide. The influential Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business group not exactly known as a bunch of tax-and-spenders. A legislative committee that spent the offseason studying the state’s glaring community college shortage.”

Richert doesn’t say he was surprised by their votes; having watched Idaho legislators a good many years, he probably wasn’t. The votes by Moyle, who is probably the lead movement conservative in the House, and Schaefer, who has been one of the more conservative members there since his first election more than 20 years ago, was entirely in keeping with their records. A positive vote from them would have been a reversal. The same would be true of the others who voted against.

Richert must have reflected on this before writing his post today, “Rev and tax: same old same old.” Here he points out that almost all of the House Republican leadership (all save House Speaker Lawerence Denney, who ex officio has no specific committee assignment) are committee members. That Lake, while a more polished chair, is “probably not much different on tax issues than Crow.” That the committee has a solid majority of very conservative members.

And he concludes: “This panel is going to take a dim view of anything that makes it easier to vote in a tax increase (the community college vote cannot bode well for the perennial issue of local-option taxes). And this panel is going to push the envelope on tax cuts and let the budget fit around it.”

About right. The election results from last November (and biennium before that, and before that, and before that) effectively set it in place.

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John McKay
John McKay

Confirmation today that suppositions from early last month [on this site among other places], that former U.S. Attorney (for Western Washington) John McKay was forced to resign – was fired – were on target.

McKay at first had little to say about his abrupt departure, other than in what he didn’t say – that he he was leaving for another job, for health reasons, for family reason, and so on. (He has since taken a job as a law professor at Seattle University.) Now he’s on record:

“I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department. … I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues.”

Nor were any evident externally. Robert Lasnik, the chief federal judge in McKay’s district, offered: “This is unanimous among the judges: John McKay was a superb U.S. attorney. For the Justice Department to suggest otherwise is just not fair.” The last performance review of McKay by the Justice Department’s evaluation board (which the Seattle Times obtained and released] said “McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the [U.S. attorney’s office] and the District’s law enforcement community.”

It may be that what finally brought McKay to speak out was a Wednesday remark by Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that “performance-related” matters were what led to the simultaneous dismissal of a string of western state attorneys.

Light is continuing to crack open on this.

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The Red State Rebels blog (proprietor, Julie Fanselow) has nominated state Representative Steven Thayn as the best choice, for the moment, as “the most extreme legislator” in Idaho. The farthest out to the edge, that is, on his side of the philosophical divide, which probably would mean the farthest out (on his side of the face) among the northwest’s 347 state legislators.

She has good evidence. Her assessment seems the sounder when you add to the material she already provides.

Which starts with a snippet of committee debate quoted in today’s Idaho Statesman, suggesting taxpayer money could be saved if school hours were cut to four hours a day.

She goes on to a nice find, a website apparently set up for Thayn (nicely designed by a Nampa web company, Impact Design Studios). The Committees of Correspondence site (with the quite different url http://www.reclaimidaho.com/) suggests a larger organization, but Thayn is the only person mentioned. If there’s more to it than the web site, that’s not made clear; and most parts of the web site are empty, apart from several pages of philosophizing and a plea for $25 contributions. A newsletter is on offer, but samples are not. Red State Rebels has links to a number of quotes from it.

To that, we have some additions.

A Laird Maxwell web site quotes “a letter by Steven Thayn of Emmett, Idaho, who has started a group named the “Committees of Correspondence” (www.reclaimidaho.com); a revival of an effective American Revolution group. He is engaging to prevent a bloated school bond from passing in his area.” Part of it says, “A deregulated system would improve education. If they were really interested in the children, they would call for the children to stay home with their parents until they were 10 years old. I am tired of the same old retoric.”

This gets more explicit where he signs on as a supporter of the Alliance for the Separation of School & State!. His statement there says, “I am a school teacher, farmer, lover of freedom. I cannot see how freedom can long exist if the government has the power to determine what the people should know. Why I Signed: Freedom is dependant upon the people telling the government what to do. If the government controls what the people should know, this upsets this relationship and the state becomes all powerful.”

To put in context, you need to know a bit about the Alliance. Wikipedia describes it as “one of the largest U.S. advocacy organizations supporting an end to government schooling. Since the early 1990’s, the group has been gathering signatories to their proclamation, which states ‘I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education.'” We reviewed the signatories in Idaho (262), Oregon (654) and Washington (921) and found no other state legislators or major office holders.

Most of them probably don’t want to go on record as advocating the destruction of the public school system.

On its website, its list of lead supporters is headed by Ed Crane, president of the Cato Institute. If he and it sound familiar, they should: They’re involved with a wide range of hard-right organizations, including the Americans for Limited Government, the group that last year tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to foist an array of hard-right initiatives on states across the country. The Alliance is, in other words, part of the network.

The clincher, though, may be this.

From a report on the United Vision for Idaho site: “New District 11 Representative Steven Thayn reacting to the report from the Idaho Summit on Hunger (in an e-mail): ‘Hunger is not always a negative as the report indicates. Without hunger or the threat of hunger probably half of humanity would not get up in the morning and go to work. Hunger is one of the great motivators of humanity. It is one of the tools that I used as a parent to encourage my children to do their choirs [sic] as young children. When used properly, hunger can motivate people so they can experience the joy of work and accomplishment.'”

A take on people and society, we suspect, that may strike even most Idaho legislators as just a bit . . . different.

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Kitsap Map/WSDOTFor a time there seemed to be some doubt about where the people of Kitsap County stood on the prospect of a NASCAR track and associated facilities located on their peninsula. Their – it has to be said – transportation-strapped peninsula, where major bridge access is about to get costly, where ferry services seems to be a matter of increasingly intense negotiations.

So maybe the report today in the Tacoma News Tribune about the unveiling of 20 legislative backers of state funding which would be key to development of the track, a group led by Representative Geoff Simpson, D-Covington, shouldn’t come as a surprise.

The key point wasn’t that 20 signed on. (Remember, in Washington that’s 20 of 147 – 13%.) It’s that no one from Kitsap County, or anywhere especially close to the proposed track location, is among them.

The paper notes: “Nearly all of the Kitsap County legislators are actively opposed. State representatives from Pierce County have been cautious at best about the idea. Tacoma Rep. Steve Kirby said a lobbyist for the track tried to get his support. He told the lobbyist the proposed site near Bremerton is a bad location because of access problems. Track opponents have said traffic getting to the peninsula racetrack would choke the Tacoma Narrows bridges and Puget Sound ferries.” And, he said, the track doesn’t seem to be locally popular.

Take that as a sign.

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Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

The Northwest has not jumped early or hard into the presidential contest, in either major party, though all indications are that anyone who waits significantly longer to enter (with the theoretical exception of Al Gore, among the Democrat) will probably be shut out. For all that, not many major political figures in the Northwest have hopped anyone’s train as yet.

Idaho Representative Mike Simpson just has, with his endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. (He may be the first major Idaho political figure to endorse. ) In an e-mail sent out today under his campaign logo (sorry, no direct links as yet. Romney’s campaign blog lists Simpson on his “congressional whip team” in a campaign blog post today); he is the only northwesterner among its 22 members.

Simpson: “Mitt Romney has the clear momentum among Republicans and I hope to help him expand his base in the Pacific Northwest. I’m convinced he is our Party’s best candidate and is ideally equipped to be our nation’s next President.”

Romney seems to be developing clear support in Idaho and Oregon; Washington seems a little less clear at the moment.

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Our second weekly Wednesday chat is on for tonight at 6 pm Pacific, 7 pm Mountain, accessible off this page. (Scroll down to the right to the “nickname” box, enter your name, click the button, and you’re in.) It lasts about an hour, give or take.

We had a good discussion on a range of topics last week, so we’re off to a good start.

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Northwest Job Gap studyTime again to draw attention to one of the Northwest’s (not that we’re alone) most powerful indicators, found in the annual job gap study by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. And it has quite a bit to say about family values.

In the report, the group does two things. First, it works out in four Northwest states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho plus Montana) what a “living wage” is, bearing in mind the number of people to be supported by it – a single adult, a single adult or couple with a child, or with children. Then it determines how many jobs – and especially, how many jobs of those coming open – will support people at or above that level.

The group’s reports in recent years have not been encouraging, and neither is this one.

The report covers the year 2005, which is the last for which all the data streams are available.

How hopeful or bleak the picture is depends in great part on whether you’re supporting one or more children, or not: The income needed grows with the addition of children. Here is how pay per hour looks by state by state:

Configuration Idaho Montana Oregon Washington
Single adult $10.41 $9.83 $11.38 $11.16
Single adult, 1 child $17.89 $16.21 $18.48 $17.54
2 adults (1 working), 2 children $20.98 $20.83 $22.34 $21.77
2 adults (2 working), 2 children $29.30 $26.96 $30.38 $29.95

Note: Pay for “two adults working” is the combination of their pay.

In the Northwest overall, 242,801 jobs opened in 2005, and there were 563,300 – a little more than twice as many people looking for work as jobs for them to fill; something like quarter million people left standing when the musical chairs ended (reduced somewhat by those working more than one job). But most of those jobs, about three-fourths, don’t pay a living wage even to a single adult with no one else to support (just 159,176 do).

If you’re a single adult, then, that means just 66% of all open jobs will pay enough to adequately support you – not great, but not awful. If you’re a single adult with a child, though, that number drops to 35%. If you’re in a household with two working adults and two children, it’s 24%. If you’re a single adult supporting yourself and two children, it’s 20%.

These job gap ratios vary somewhat around the region. The worst ratio in the region is in Oregon, where a single adult with two children will note just one job among 20 that came open in 2005, that will pay a supportable wage. Idaho’s ratio in that group is 14 to one, and Washington’s nine to one. That means, in Idaho for example, “For each job opening that pays at least the $22.23 an hour living wage for a single adult with two children, there are 14 job seekers on average.”

Pertinent stuff.

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Gordon Smith
Gordon Smith

We remarked after Oregon Senator Gordon Smith‘s December 7 speech on Iraq – which had a very anti-Bush policy tone to it, and which dropped the word “criminal” – that it didn’t scan, didn’t cohere, didn’t add up to anything specific in particular. That’s in considerable contrast to the mass of reviewers who ran with Smith’s tone and declared him an anti-Bush Republican.

The speech was nothing of the kind. It may have been an attempt at nuance, it may have been simply confusing, but it was not a declaration of on which side of the Iraq ramparts he stood.

Which is why, after his recent talk of supporting a resolution (the bi-partisan one, crafted by Virginia Republican Senator John Warner) critical of the administration’s Iraq policy, we are unsurprised that he wound up today voting for a filibuster to oppose even discussing it. (The other filibusterers, almost all Republicans, not only included Idaho Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo – no great surprise, since they’d not been central to the resolution discussions – but also – wait for it – Warner, whose proposal ostensibly it was.)

The degree of fallout always depends, of course, on the extent to which people pay attention, and we’ll find out about that in the next few days. But it could be considerable: This vote could do Smith a great deal of damage in 2008. For all meaningful purposes, the vote for a filibuster (as Smith’s was, and which Senator Ron Wyden opposed) was a vote in favor of, an endorsement of, President George Bush’s escalation of American troop levels in Iraq.

Democratic blogs from Loaded Orygun to the national Daily Kos have brought up the four-day-old quote in an Associated Press story (that ran widely across the state) saying: “Smith’s spokesman, R.C. Hammond, said the senator ‘has been helping forge a middle ground in the Senate, and he believes this resolution sends a strong and responsible message that the status quo in Iraq is unacceptable.’” So why, one might ask, vote against even debating it?

Leading Kos to opine, “Smith is a coward and a puppet of Mitch McConnel and George Bush and the extreme right-wing of the GOP.” And a bunch of commenters to that post, quite a few of them from Oregon, unleashing anti-Smith vitriol well beyond what we’ve seen before.

Facing election from a state that really doesn’t much like either President Bush or the Iraq war, Gordon Smith has entered dangerous territory.

NUANCING A comment on Blue Oregon’s piece about this adds transcript from a recent interview of Smith by Portland conservative talker Lars Larson. Toward the end of the interview, the point was put with precision:

Larson: Just so I understand, you don’t oppose sending the additional troops in, but you don’t believe it is going to do what the President believes it will do?

Smith: That’s correct. I mean, I would not do it…uh, I don’t think it gets him where…see, to really fight an insurgency, you have to take the entire city of Baghdad and make it a Green Zone. That takes a lot more than 160,000 of our folks. That takes more like a half a million. That’s my guess…

One wonders how many troops it would take to secure Iraq. Not to mention why Smith supports (or will not stand in the way of) something he believes will not work.

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DOMA is constitutional because the legislature was entitled to believe that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples furthers procreation, essential to survival of the human race, and furthers the well-being of children by encouraging families where children are reared in homes headed by the children’s biological parents. Allowing same-sex couples to marry does not, in the legislature’s view, further these purposes.
Washington Supreme Court, majority opinion p. 6, Anderson v. King County (2006)

Okay. If the Supreme Court’s interpretation is correct, then the initiative proposed by the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance should pass muster, if it can pass the voters. It does already have initial approval from the secretary of state’s office.

Despite what you might think, this DOMA is not a supporter of the other DOMA – the state Defense of Marriage Act of 1998, upheld for constitutionality by the Washington Supreme Court (in the opinion producing the excerpt above). Quite the contrary, and it makes an emphatic point in response.

For the sake of argument, it argues, let’s take the court’s logic seriously – that the point of marriage is procreation, and this is a legitimate concern of the state. It draws out the implication in three proposed initiatives. (They need a large number of valid signatures to qualify for ballot status; their ability to get them may turn on just how much the voters of Washington embrace irony.) The first of them, I-957, is the most striking.

It would limit marriage only to male-female couples “who are capable of having children with one another,” specifically barring marriage – in case anyone missed the point – “when the parties are unable to have children together for any reason.” After getting married, the couples would have three years to produce (and not by adoption) at least one child, after which they would file with the county a “certificate of marital procreation.”

The initiative continues: “All couples married in this state shall have three years from the date of solemnization of the marriage, or eighteen months from the effective date of this act, whichever is later, to have filed with the state registrar of vital statistics or designated deputy registrar at least one certificate of marital procreation as described in section 11 of this act.” If a married couple moves into Washington, the husband and wife have up to three years to comply and produce a native child.

And if not? The marriage will be “unrecognized,” and no marital benefits of any kind will be allowed. And:

(1) When the state registrar of vital statistics determines that a marriage solemnized in this state has failed to produce offspring as described in section 5 of this act, he or she shall file a petition in the superior court of the county wherein the marriage license was filed requesting that the marriage be annulled on the grounds of failure to fulfill the purpose of marriage. This petition shall include the names and last known address of the husband and wife, the date of their marriage, the date of the deadline described in section 5(1) of this act, and a statement declaring that no certificates of marital procreation have been filed as required by law.

(2) The court shall have thirty days to make a good faith effort to contact the couple and allow them to contest the annulment of their marriage. If the couple can have filed with the state registrar a certificate of marital procreation as described in section 11 of this act showing the birth of a child before the deadline described in section 5(1) of this act, the petition for annulment shall be dismissed. If a certificate is not filed within the time allowed, the annulment shall be decreed.

The remaining initiatives are almost anticlimactic: They “would prohibit divorce or separation when a married couple has children together, and make having a child together the equivalent of marriage.”

Probably some people will sign on thinking this kind of approach is perfectly sound. It follows directly, after all, from the logic the Washington Supreme Court spelled out.

The initiative backers themselves have no such illusions: “Absurd? Very. But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about the many misguided assumptions which make up the Andersen ruling. By getting the initiatives passed, we hope the Supreme Court will strike them down as unconstitutional and thus weaken Andersen itself. And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric.”

Petitions will be made available Thursday.

[And a hat tip here to the Slog. In the comments section, one of the initiative proponents discusses it with several commenters, some of whom seem not to quite gotten the point.]

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