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Posts published in March 2007

Otter’s session

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.

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Idaho xgr: done for the year

The Idaho Legislature has just adjourned for the year - sine 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.

Best places

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.

Facing Smith, from the right

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.

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Road revenge

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.

On Sali ’08

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.

Opposition options

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:

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The Oregon trail

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.

Chat . . . next week

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 . . .

Work patterns

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.

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