"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
Butch Otter
Butch Otter

Afew weeks back Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who tends to be a bit more candid than the average successful politician, acknowledged a couple of weeks ago, “There’s a lot of things that I pointed out in my State of the State that haven’t passed. Unfortunately, I can’t think of one that has.”

A couple of weeks later, another marker cropped up: A quick, substantial string of six full (plus one line-item) vetoes in rebuttal to a legislature firmly controlled by lawmakers who are a philosophical and partisan match for the conservative Republican governor. Vetoes are a part of the process and they can be useful or even necessary, but in an important respect they are a trouble sign: They are what happens when things haven’t been resolved through more peaceful means.

So you can’t really call this a successful session for the still-new governor. (Of course, leaving aside areas of gubernatorial involvement, it was a session unusually light on accomplishment.)

But we’ll hold off grading the governor’s efforts until we see how he does next time. That will tell whether he’s learned the right lessons from this year’s efforts. First sessions are often tricky for governors; and this one tried to do some large things without laying the proper groundwork. The year ahead will give him that opportunity.

The veteran lobbyists understand this: You’re trying to convince 105 people, for many of whom status quo is often not a bad place to be, to change something. That’s not an easy proposition. Bill Roden, a Boise attorney who has been one of the most effective lobbyists in Idaho over the span of a couple of generations, has lost, in specific sessions, many of the more ambitious legislative projects his clients have sought. That doesn’t seem to have particularly bothered him; he knows that the big stuff often takes a while to work through, both in building alliances and “buy-in” and in sanding off the rough edges. He may fail decisively in year one on some big effort, come closer in year two, and by year three slide the sucker on through. Successful lobbying is time-intensive.

Otter, who has significant legislative experience – six years this decade in the Congress, four in the 70s in the Idaho House – seemed to have forgotten this. He didn’t do much to prepare legislators for what was coming ahead; his calls for efforts of substance didn’t show up in early pronouncements last year or even in his inaugural or state of the state speeches, where they logically would have appeared. Instead, they were discovered, like unearthed land mines, as legislators and reporters perused the governor’s budget books. They were caught by surprise, and that didn’t help. The end result was more confrontation and less legislative passage than might have been otherwise the case. (We’re thinking here, for example, of the proposed rearrangement of administration and human resources offices.)

This means there really wasn’t a legislative determination that Otter’s ideas were bad or unacceptable, just that the case for them hadn’t been well enough made.

Otter has some fine skills at doing that sort of thing, and he didn’t take advantage of them before the session got underway. Now, with the first rush of administrative and legislative action over, he can take a breather and get about that work. A good deal of what Otter didn’t get passed this session, probably could the next, or the one after, if he approaches the work of lobbying a little differently.

We’ll be back to review his larger-picture level of success, then, in another year.

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The Idaho Legislature has just adjourned for the yearsine die (properly, that’s see-nay dee-ay, though no one says it that way). The last bit of business was a compromised (and apparently somewhat straightened out) highway bonding bill.

Reflections tomorrow on the session and Governor Butch Otter’s relationship to it.

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This should be good for a Friday afternoon laugh . . . if, of course, you don’t live in Seattle.

The new edition of Seattle Metropolitan magazine is out with, as is typical of such magazines, a rundown of the best places in the area to live. (Portland’s counterpart did one on special neighborhoods in this edition.) And it determined the best Seattle place to live.

The Slog announces: “Do you know where Seattle Metropolitan says the best place to live in Seattle is? Kent. Kent is the best place to live in Seattle. Thank you, Seattle Metropolitan! See you next month!”

The comments section is priceless.

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We’ve been viewing the subject of a from-the-right primary challenge to Republican Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, a topic arising periodically on blogs both left and right, with interest but not with the thought that anything critical is happening, yet. At least one name has surfaced – activist and initiative organizer Bill Sizemore – but even that prospect has simply been in the kicking-it-around stage.

Club for Growth Oregon Until now. Now, a post on Blue Oregon points out, Club for Growth is getting into the picture, notably with the establishment this month of Club for Growth Oregon. And that could change everything.

Oregonians haven’t seen it a lot, but Club for Growth may be the single most serious player nationally in support of hard-conservative campaigns. It’s not too much to say it is the biggest reason that, across the border in Idaho, Bill Sali is now in the U.S. House – Club for Growth threw in masses of support for him, millions of dollars and much more backing besides. When he seemed to be in trouble, they redoubled their efforts for him and against his opponents, Republicans and Democrats. The Club’s role in the Sali campaign was the topic of much discussion, brought up even more (in debates, speeches and elsewhere) by Sali’s Republican opponents than by Democratic. The story was similar in Club-backed races elsewhere; it is, for example, why Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee nearly lost his primary to a much more conservative challenger in what may be the most liberal state in the country. And there were a bunch of additional cases in 2006. The Club is solidly Republican, but it sees Republicans who violate its definition of conservatism as no better than Democrats, maybe worse, and ripe for attack.

The Oregon site so far mentions only statehouse politics and legislative actions, and it may become somewhat involved on that level. But the Club for Growth has only one credible reason for paying serious attention to Oregon in this cycle, and that would be going after Gordon Smith.

Smith’s Republican apostasy is limited mostly to his changing views and votes on Iraq, though there are some other elements to it, such as support of an increased cigarette tax. (For the most part, Smith has been a loyal Republican caucus member and on other matters usually supportive of the Bush Administration.) He has also does such things as question the pace of gas price increases (which the Club dismisses as “crazy talk”); he is one of two Senate Republicans in the Club’s “economic hall of shame”.

But as he has emerged on the national political radar in recent months, the publicity has painted a bright target on his back – a red flag in front of the charging bull that is the Club.

As Kari Chisholm notes on Blue Oregon, the Club’s annual winter conference is underway now – just as all the primary challenge talk is gearing up (these factors likely not being coincidental). An additional tidbit from the Club’s description of the event: “Joining the Club for Growth for its policy forums are declared or potential presidential candidates former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney; former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani; Kansas Senator Sam Brownback; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. Arizona Senator John McCain was invited to attend, but declined.” Recall, please, that Smith has endorsed McCain for president.

Up to this point, we’d regarded a Smith primary as a possibility, and maybe of interest, but speculative. Today, we’ll say flatly: Smith will be primaried from the right, and the attack will be ferocious.

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There was the case in the last session of the Oregon legislature where leadership of one party tried to quash a transportation project pursued by a member of the other party. And denial of legislation and pet projects to minority members is not especially unusual in any legislature.

But what emerged on the floor of the Idaho Senate today is something else – punishing an entire region because the people in it voted against the candidates of the majority party.

This came up on what was supposed to be the last day of the Idaho Legislature this year (still might be), as the Senate was getting ready to consider what was to be its last big decision of the year – approving authority for issuing GARVEE bonds for highway construction. It was the subject of concern and negotiation for some time (there was a reason it was held off until the end), and a final draft of Senate Bill 1245 was presented to the Senate only today, after several leaders in the House had worked on it.

Which is when the senators found out what had happened in the guts of the bill: One of the half-dozen big highway projects in it had been eliminated. This project concerned work on Interstate 84 at Boise from Orchard Road to Isaac’s Canyon – central and southeast Boise. The precise area, in other words, in which voters in the last couple of elections have thrown out their Republican legislative delegations and gone Democratic.

We might be willing to chalk this up to uneasy coincidence; spending priorities will differ according to one’s viewpoint. Except that by legislators’ own accounts there’s no debt that this was the precise reason the project was dropped. Betsy Russell’s Spokesman-Review blog has the quotes that nail it. Start with Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the budget committee, speaking on the Senate floor: “There was one of those six projects that was removed altogether. Why? Because the senator and the representatives from that district were from the wrong political party. . . . It’s time for us to step back.” Drilling down, he later said it happened “because it’s in Elliot’s backyard,” referring to Boise Democratic Senator Elliot Werk.

There were some sort-of demurrals, though House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, seemed to distance himself: “I was never in a meeting where that was discussed” (though he said other House leaders did discuss the GARVEE plans).

The Senate spent almost two hours debating the bill; afterward, it decisively killed it, 23-12.

There may be more to this, and we’ll keep watch. But if Russell’s reportage so far is accurate (and it’s rarely not) and if Cameron is right (and his statements would be extraordinarily out of character if they weren’t), then this is a dark passage: A message from legislative leadership that you’d better vote Republican, or else.

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Those following the political track of Idaho 1st District Representative Bill Sali may want to take note of a Congressional Quarterly piece appearing today, centering on an interview with a man planning to try to take him out next election.

Rand Lewis
Rand Lewis

That would be Rand Lewis, a retired Army colonel who lives at Moscow who appears to be leaving no doubt he plans to run, as a Democrat. (This is not entirely new; his name was floated around the blogosphere floated in 2006.) He says that Larry Grant, who lost to Sali last year 50%-45%, plans to run as well, though Grant has not said so publicly.

Lewis is talking about the need to prepare and fund-raise early, and that’s no doubt true. In this district which has chosen Republicans for the U.S. House in every election there since 1966 (save two), Sali starts the 2008 run with a distinct advantage. And it may as well be said now too: To this point, he’s done nothing since taking office in Washington that seems likely to hurt him politically back in the district, and at least some of what he’s done seems likely to improve his standing. Anyone thinking him an easy target in 2008 will need to do a rethink.

Notes: Link to CQ article revised; blogosphere link noted from 2006.

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Two recent opinion pieces about this year’s legislative session, and its new House leadership, merit attention. They take off from two entirely different angles; and their implicit suggestions are quite different.

One is by Dennis Mansfield, the conservative Republican activist in Idaho, is currently touring around Israel, and has been blogging about it (interesting stuff too), but before he left he delivered a provocative Idaho political post.

It takes off from a March 18 article in the Idaho Statesman about how this has been a session of discontent for the dwindling number of moderate Republicans in the Idaho House, and about how several of the members (moderates among them) who supported the losing candidate for House speaker have had rough sledding in the House this year. At one point in it, House Democratic Leader Wendy Jaquet is quoted as saying, “I feel sorry for the moderates in the majority party of the House that they’re having to vote the way they don’t want to . . . At some point, the folks that are moderates are going to have to stand up and say, ‘We won’t support that.’ ”

Mansfield has an alternative suggestion:

Though I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rep. Jaquet, I think she is in utter error about what the moderates within the GOP “should” say and do. Having been in GOP politics for many years, I think the real issue is what Dem leaders of Idaho “should” say and do to help the whole political system – simply recruiting the moderate GOP members to switch parties could be the healthiest thing in Idaho’s recent political history.

The GOP moderates tend to be pro-choice, anti-death penalty, pro-tax increase, pro-gay, pro-tax and spend…etc, etc. And the Democrat’s should welcome them with open arms, shouldn’t they?

It would also force the GOP platform to either mean something…or not. Political parties’ philosophies either direct public policy…or it’s all a sham, isn’t it? We either debate the issues of our times or we simply revert to high school…posing, positioning and pretending.

I am proud of the Speaker’s leadership. He has always said who he was….and quite frankly, that’s why the moderates lost. The Speaker is the real deal. Quiet, calm and deliberate. No posing. No pretending.

There’s one view.

The other takes off from another incident, when Speaker Lawerence Denney suggested to business advocates of a tax deal for the Cabela’s sports retailer that he not use his current lobbyist (former legislator Jerry Deckard, who supported Denney’s opponent for the speakership) but replace him with, well, former state Representative Julie Ellsworth, who left the House last December, and is now doing some lobbying of this same chamber, might be a good choice. That discussion led to a lot of discussion around the state.

But none of that discussion stands have more significance than the commentary in today’s Idaho Statesman from former Governor Phil Batt, who is rarely inclined to speak ill of fellow Republicans. He did this time:

Now in the Idaho House of Representatives, the fate of legislative proposals seems to be gauged by the level of support given to the speaker in his contest for the job. It has even come to the point that no legislator or lobbyist can expect his bills to have a fair chance if he supported the loser in the speaker’s race.

This is outrageous. The people of Idaho are entitled to have their representatives base their votes on the merits of a bill, not on who backed the loser in a speaker’s contest.

A statement like that coming from some places around Idaho would be ordinary. Coming from Batt, it is stunning. And from someone of his history and credibility in the party, a significant blast.

(On the suggestion we’ve seen that Governor Butch Otter orchestrated Batt’s commentary: We think it highly unlikely. Anyone who’s known Batt over the haul knows that he speaks very much for himself, and no one else; his agenda is his own.)

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Noted here for calendar purposes (and via the Oregon Democrats site) a string of Democratic presidential types and campaigns are headed to Oregon in near future. So noted:

bullet The Barack Obama campaign is doing a mass of home events, and Oregon has a slew of them; Washington a large number as well, and smaller number in Idaho. They’re scheduled variously on Saturday, but generally aim at taking advantage of a webcast planned for that time.

bullet Former North Carolina Senator John Edwards has slated an Oregon trip for May 2, though without indication so far of exactly where that will be.

bullet Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich, who spent so much time in Oregon in 2004 (a month or more, getting good press though few votes), plans an April 2 visit to Eugene and Corvallis.

bullet Former President Bill Clinton (with a hand in the current campaign) has a speech set for April 17 at the World Affairs Council of Oregon International Speakers Series in Portland.

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One of those schedule conflicts deals has arisen . . . with the result that our regular Wednesday night chat is off this week. We’ll return for another next Wednesday.

Meanwhile, of course, posts continue . . .

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Lonnie Roberts
Lonnie Roberts

If you hang round government long enough, you’ll see cases like this: The elected official who got there and stays there because he’s liked, but not because he does much work. In relatively fortunate cases (like this one), there’s at least an energetic staff that helps make up for it. But still . . . these are guys not really earning their keep.

Cases like that often become local political lore and not much beyond, because they reflect patterns of behavior that can be hard to document. Except that in this cases, the Oregonian‘s Arthur Gregg Sulzberger did just that in the case of Multnomah County Commissioner Lonnie Roberts.

Sulzberger’s story begins: “When Lonnie Roberts shows up to work — after a 7 a.m. wake-up call from his top aide — he plays computer solitaire, listens to conservative talk radio and banters with staff. But Roberts, who earns $80,000 a year as a Multnomah County commissioner, doesn’t even set foot in his office on nearly half of work days, records show. One door down, [his chief of staff] Gary Walker, who arrives each morning about 6 a.m., reads Roberts’ e-mails, returns his phone calls, writes his speeches, deals with other commissioners and pushes pet projects forward.”

And so it goes on, interspersed with occasional and pathetic-sounding defenses from Roberts. (An on-line report is headed, “Powerful chief of staff pulls county commissioner’s dead weight.”) But which does help explain the recent and controversial $35,000 bonus Roberts recently awarded to Walker.

Years ago, Roberts was by profession a trucker and salesman, a member of the Teamsters Local 81; his connections were good enough to win a seat in the Oregon House, for 18 years after his first election in 1980. He was elected to the five-member Multnomah commission in 2000, representing the eastern part of the county – the Gresham and Troutdale vicinity (close to 160,000 people).

In 1998, he lost a primary contest for the state Senate to Frank Shields, who went on to hold that Senate seat until last year. In 2000, Shields decided to run for the county commission, and Roberts filed as well; this rematch went the other way, Roberts winning 41.6% to 36%.

Since then, the politics have been a little smoother. In 2004, he had an easy run (he won with 82.2%). The Oregon Blog’s endorsement take (it endorsed him) at that time: “Of all the commissioners, Roberts has the fewest successes to cite. Lucky for him, he also has the least competition. I actually think [opponent Lonnie] Stout, a retired trucker, might do a decent job. He’s got an interesting mix of experience. But as the election nears, Stout has effectively withdrawn from the campaign due to the death of his father.”

But Willamette Week pointed out that year, even while also endorsing him, “County insiders worry about Roberts’ work ethic and susceptibility to the influence of his much more conservative staffer, onetime Oregon Citizens Alliance compatriot Gary Walker.”

He is the most conservative of the commissioners (relatively; and considering thagt he’s representing the most conservative sector of the county), the one who in 2004 did not go along (was left out of) the commission’s ill-handled decision to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. That made electoral life a little easier.

But will it remain so? Roberts’ seat comes up for election next year, and the accelerated attention to his work patterns have cast a sharp spotlight on him. Discussion and debate ranges across a number of places (Blue Oregon has a good sample). Might the hours spent at work turn into a hot political issue?

Will Roberts, for that matter, be inclined to run again under those circumstances?

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Teton County
Teton County density (red, orange, yellow high density)

Little Teton County, one of Idaho’s smaller both geographically and in population, is about to teach itself some lessons about growth. And we’ll all be interested to find out what those lessons are.

The county may be small but, owing to its location a few miles from fast-growing Jackson, Wyoming, it has been growing, as fast as more celebrated parts of the state. That growth has been causing increasing pressures, to the point that the county lost (by resignation) its third deputy planner in three years, a result of overwork – a doubling of work load in the last year. Two of the county’s commissioners, Alice Stevenson and Larry Young, responded to that and other pressures by proposing a sweeping six-month moratorium on growth in the county.

They and the third commissioner, Mark Trupp, who opposes the moratorium, held a hearing on it Monday night. The hearing drew about 100 people (a big crowd for Driggs) was so intense it went on until 2 a.m. today, finally resulting in a 2-1 passage of the proposal.

Opinions are bitterly divided over it. One news post commenter who was there remarked, “The discussion was fired up- definitely some very pragmatic and concerned new comers were pitted against some of the most pissed off ranchers I’ve ever seen. A few ranchers got up and flat out threatened the commissioners for bankrupting their family and trashing their retirement(overstated!). One old timer’s sale tanked as a result of the proposal. He was angry. It’s a well intentioned issue and development in Idaho is definitely disfunctional, but the way it was handled is pretty backwards.”

Next up, apparently, is a recall effort against Stevenson and Young.

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Jim Tibbs
Jim Tibbs

The battle for mayor of Boise is joined today: Council member Jim Tibbs is in the race to try to take out incumbent Mayor David Bieter. (He is preparing to announce as this is posted.)

Tibbs is a serious candidate with real political assets to bring to the table. He won a city council seat two years ago, showing some political capability and support. He has a significant base of personal support. And a lot of all that grew out of his community roots, decades serving on the city police force (quite visibly, in the later years), and his and his wife’s other varied community activities.

He might win; but we think (and we know this will draw rebuttals) his remains an uphill attempt.

Incumbency is a hard thing to beat, and incumbents ordinarily lose only when some sweeping move or series of bad mistakes work against them. Neither seems to be the case with Bieter. The political mood of the city seems to be moving more in his direction than otherwise; and while we won’t argue he’s run a perfect city hall, we get no sense that Boiseans have a compelling reason to fire him – which is what you usually need to oust an incumbent.

For his part, Tibbs’ statement on his web site is all positive and about himself. It makes a plausible case for Tibbs as mayor, highlighting his depth of background locally and his range of experience. But there’s no indication of why the incumbent needs to be fired, and that’s almost always a prerequisite for defeating an incumbent.

Of course, the race can take on new colors as it goes on. (And there’s no guarantee the race will be limited to these two.) It’ll be worth a watch, and it may have something to say about where Boise is headed in the next few years.

UPDATE Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert links to this post on his blog: “Northwest political writer Randy Stapilus offers a good early take on a Bieter-Tibbs race, making a good argument for why Tibbs faces an uphill struggle. I agree with Stapilus: the burden of proof is on the challenger to make the case to fire the incumbent, and that’s the essence of what Tibbs will have to do. I’d add one more proviso: I think Boise’s politics are evolving more to the left, and this favors Bieter, who served in the Legislatuire as a Democrat. Bieter is always the first guy to point out that city races are nonpartisan — and they are. But those voters who swung last fall to elect five Boise Democrats to the House are likely Bieter voters.”

We’d agree with that last point (and would note that we’ve made it ourselves on earlier occasions).

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