"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)

By way of David Postman’s blog, some blogosphere speculation is arising that the firestorm around Attorney General Alberto Gonzales could do some long-range damage to gubernatorial prospects for Republican Dino Rossi.

During the endless aftermath of the 2004 Washington gubernatorial election, the time of the count and the recount and the re-recount, no one on the Republican side was more doggedly energetic than Sound Politics writer Stefan Sharkansky in pursuing theories of election counting malfeasance. His posts hit the point over and over, and he was an activist on the subject as well. Probably at least as much as anyone on radio or in the party structure, he kept pushing the idea that something was seriously wrong in the King County elections office.

So how does that tie in to Gonzales and Rossi?

Gonzales is in trouble largely because of the firing of a string of U.S. attorneys, one of whom was John McKay, whose territory covered western Washington. There’s some gray area around this, but indications that McKay was getting pressure to do something about the King County elections; and the appearance is that was why McKay was fired, and why he was left off a short list for a federal judgeship.

The homesteadbook.com blog posts, “It is now clear that Sharkansky’s obsession led to a call to the office of Congressman Doc Hastings, who had one of his lackeys phone the U.S. Attorney John McKay to ask when he was going to start investigating the election. This eventually led to the firing of McKay and now will lead directly to the resignation of Alberto Gonzales.”

Well, presumably, along with the cases of a number of other U.S. attorneys. But this whole argument stretches another step, according to a Washblog post: “Now with the latest Bush scandal being connected directly to the 2004 gubernatorial election, can Rossi shake the McKay firing, or is he way to close? Shoephone (who has been doing one hell of a job covering this if anyone noticed) points out the connection between a Rossi adviser and the politics surrounding McKay. Rossi may not have been personally involved in getting McKay fired, but the situation is starting to surround him to the point that he at least has some explaining to do.”

The liberal blogosphere seems to be picking up and running with this line of thought. (Check out some of the comments on the Washblog post for the tenor.)

In his post, Postman sounds a somewhat skeptical note, which is understandable. There’s a bit of a reach here. It’s not conclusive. The pieces do hold together, though, if not as a finished case then as a line of inquiry, as blogger shoephone (responding to Postman) summed: “1)Vander Stoep [a top Rossi advisor in 2004] was instrumental in the Rossi campaign, 2) Rossi lost, due to lack of proof of voter fraud that Republicans hounded McKay to investigate, but that Dale Forman utterly failed to prove existed, 3) State Republicans went on the warpath for McKay, and then 4) Vander Stoep said “no soap” on Mckay for the judges short list . . .”

Last December, when we first posted on the McKay firing, we suggested this story wasn’t over. As of today, we think it’s still not.

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We’ll start by suggesting not only the “appropriate grain of salt,” but also a real-world reality filter: We’re talking here about a partisan poll measuring something that seems unlikely to ever happen.

Okay? It still may be worth some consideration, at least to chew over, as what we think is the first head to head (sort of) for the next Senate race in Oregon.

This concerns a poll conducted last month by Rove Insight for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, aimed at Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith. (Information about it has begun popping around the web; the most detailed posting we’ve seen on it was the post at Daily Kos.) The question asked was, “If the November 4th, 2008 general election for U.S. Senate were held today and the candidates were: Peter DeFazio, Democrat or Gordon Smith, Republican, for whom would you vote or are you undecided?”

The results: Smith 38%, DeFazio 42%.

It also did a right track-wrong track measure, with wrong track prevailing 61%-27%.

Polls paid for by parties or candidates, this one included, should always be treated carefully. Several of the non-race numbers, like right/wrong track, do match fairly closely with our sense of where Oregon now is. And if they’re reasonable, then the matchup numbers could be in the ballpark too.

There’s another immediate objection: DeFazio, the Democratic representative from district 4, has said he’s not interested in running for the Senate next year. (Was the poll done partly to try to persuade him to enter?) And while you never say absolutely never, that seems definitive for now at least.

Even so, the low Smith number in this hypothetical looks dangerously low. DeFazio s plenty strong in his own district, but he’s only moderately well known elsewhere around the state. (His district is 100 miles or so from the Portland metro area.) If the Smith-DeFazio numbers are solid, we’d take it a step further and say that they would reasonably reflect as well a matchup between Smith and any reasonably strong, well-positioned, Democrat.

Whose move is next?

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Alaskan Way viaduct
Alaskan Way viaduct/City of Seattle

Some of the wiser observers saw this prospect coming, the double-no vote that materialized on the Alaskan Way viaduct issue. The city’s construct of the ballot – allowing voters to consider the proposed viaduct tunnel or elevated rebuild options and approve or reject either or both – allowed for several unreadable results. If voters approved one and other rejected the other, fine; but what if they approved or (as actually happened) rejected both? What should be read from that?

The Seattle debate over that interpretation having gone on unabated for approaching three weeks now, we thought we’d take a swing at it.

There is at least a patch of common ground on which to start. Only about 29% of Seattle’s voters voted in favor of the tunnel option, which means about 66% voted no on it. That seems a clear rejection of that concept at least.

The argument focuses on the 41% yes, 55% no vote on the proposal to rebuild the elevated highway, and the way it compares to the tunnel vote.

Sound Politics’ Stefan Sharkansky is a good example of one perspective: The elevated was the most popular alternative available. “There’s absolutely no basis to claim a ‘NO-NO’ victory. The Viaduct has the strongest claim as the most popular choice. Those who misread the voters’ statement as an endorsement of surface-gridlock do so at their own political peril.”

For one thing, he notes (implicitly at least), the third option – to move the viaduct to ground level and build there – wasn’t on the ballot. He then tries to work out how many voters specifically voted “no-no”, supporting neither option, and figures that at a small number – most likely, he suggests, 21.4%. (The math here gets pretty intense.)

And he relies too a bit on the precinct maps developed by the Seattle Times and Post Intelligencer, which do seem to show that the geographic areas of greatest support for the elevated (the far south, West Seattle, and the northwest) are also the areas of least support for the tunnel. And the one area where the tunnel did relatively well, the downtown and central-east area, was the area of weakest support for the elevated. Suppose, in other words, that only an up-or-down vote on the elevated had been on the ballot: Might it have gotten enough central-city support to pass?

An intriguing notion. But in fact people had the option to vote for both, and some doubtless did – Sharkansky acknowledges there’s no way to know how many did – and the central city opted to vote against the elevated. And just as there’s no way to know clearly how many voted “yes-yes,” so the number of “no-no” voters is uncertain. They could be as many, in the aggregate.

The contrary point of view is that a large number of voters – some indeterminate but large number – favors the surface option, and a number of Seattle-area politicians have seemed to be moving in that direction.

Maybe. But again, the statistical questions start chasing their own tails: To what extent, for example, is a surface build the second choice for tunnel or elevated advocates?

Then there’s this: David Goldstein at Horse’s Ass seems to be arguing that a lot of Seattle people would most like to see serious expansion of public transit (which could be true, but still seems off the issue).

There’s this comment to Sharkansky’s analysis: “I voted NO-NO: No to big megalomania and no to lesser megalomania. I meant yes only to taxpayers.”

A middle option to reviewing the vote was suggested by Mark Wainwright, president of the Admiral Neighborhood Association – in the west Seattle area that was strongest in favor of the elevated – who told the Seattle Times, “People want to put the same thing up there because anything new is different, and people are concerned because it would be different.”

You can see where this is headed: The Seattle ballot was so abominably put together that you can’t draw any solid conclusions from it, because so many interpretations are possible, or at least plausible. How many would rather turn the central city waterfront into a waterfront park? (This is Seattle; there must be some.) How many people opposing both options may simply not be convinced that the viaduct has to be fixed/replaced/demolished?

On second thought, hold that last for a moment. Although we don’t know exactly how many yes-yes voters there were, it does seem likely that the number of people who voted for the elevated, voted for the tunnel, or for both, amounted to a majority. That’s a majority in favor of a fix of some kind. In the weeks leading up to the vote, the tenor of public discussion leaned heavily toward the elevated as the “realistic” option and the tunnel as “unrealistic.” The central city, which leans toward idealism, went one way, while all the grittier parts of the city went for realism. Not hard to understand . . . but both wanted something done.

Okay, that may be a little simplistic too. But it does suggest a path toward resolution: If a single fresh, credible option were put to voters, there’s a fair chance they’d go for it. But political people would be well advised to work out what they think – seriously think – that should be, before putting the question. And to not expect voters to settle their sandbox disputes for them, next time.

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The Idaho Legislature likely will adjourn this week (shouldn’t take longer to work through the remaining veto and other matters that remain), which means the question soon will be discuss: Was anything of value accomplished this year? Surely, the session has been more notable for the many ideas, a number of them worthy, rejected, than for the ideas pushed through to fruition. But that doesn’t mean the pluses were altogether absent.

Let’s point here to something of possible substantial benefit: Senate Bill 1067.

Floor sponsored by the top Senate Republican (Robert Geddes of Soda Springs) and the top House Democrat (Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum), it has to do with school district consolidation. To make the point: As in many other states, Idaho has many more school districts than it needs, and many public schools could run more efficiently (and save some bucks) with some consolidation. The bill’s statement of purpose says, “This is especially true in areas where multiple districts, in close geographic proximity, serve small student populations. In these cases, money is spent duplicating administrative functions that could otherwise be spent in the classroom.” True enough.

External attempts at persuasion or pressure usually have resulted in blowback. The current total of 114 school districts has been almost exactly static for decades.

So 1067 does this:

This legislation provides four new or expanded incentives for school district consolidation:
1. Increases the amount of state money available for school districts to conduct consolidation plans and studies, from $10,000 per study to $10,000 per school district involved.
2. Because consolidation results in the opportunity to eliminate the duplication of certain functions, this legislation makes one-time employee severance payments available to a maximum of 10% of the employees, on a willing-employer-willing-employee basis.
3. Increases the amount of state subsidies paid on any bond passed within three years after the successful consolidation election.
4. After the 7-year post-consolidation funding protection period has expired, the new district would get to keep half of the funding formula savings resulting from consolidation (the state currently receives 100% of the savings from consolidation after 7 years).

Could be a win-win. If local districts don’t pick up on it, at least there’s no loss.

Might work.

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The new Pew Research Center report on social and political attitudes has gotten considerable national blog attention for its take on Republican and Democratic trend lines. But for this Northwest blog, we were most intrigued by one chart tucked away inside.

It reported on a survey on the components of self-identified Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, the categories being white evangelical Protestant conservatives, other conservatives, and the moderate/liberal cohort. What got our attention was that this rundown, unlike most others in the report, was broken down by state. Here are a few of those results:

State Evangelical other conservative mod/lib # surveyed
Idaho 23 47 28 148
Oregon 26 37 34 285
Washington 28 33 37 477
National 26 35 37 22,054
Utah 1 62 32 270
California 19 39 40 1,896
Montana 27 36 36 112

The Oregon and Washington numbers match closely, as you might expect, and both are a close match for the breakdowns nationally.

Idaho is a more complex case. On the surface, you notice the somewhat lower number of moderate/liberal Republicans than in other states (compare it, say, to California). And on the surface, the evangelical percentage seems not especially high. But glance down to Utah, and you’ll quickly realize that the Mormon component of Republican support is included under “other conservatives” (or maybe, rarely, under moderate/liberal), and not under “evangelical”.
If you included the conservative LDS vote with the evangelical vote, you’d likely see half or so, maybe more, of Idaho’s Republican vote belonging as well to those two groups. Given that, the 23% evangelical vote the survey noted seems larger than might have been expected – an enormous factor in Gem State politics, maybe bigger than most people there have realized.

And the Democrats?

The survey is a little less useful for Northwest purposes when it breaks out Democrats and Democratic-leaners – more limited since Pew said Idaho and Montana were among the states which “had too few cases to analyze.”

State Liberal Moderate Conservative # surveyed
Oregon 44 42 12 374
Washington 44 40 13 477
National 31 44 21 24,687
Utah 38 37 22 117
California 38 44 15 2,427


The results do suggest, though, that Oregon’s and Washington’s Democrats are more liberal and less conservative than nationally, to a greater degree even than in California.

A bottom line: Oregon/Washington Republicans have a makeup similar their counterparts nationally; those states’ Democrats are somewhat to the left of their national counterparts.

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Portland peace demonstration
Portland peace demonstration

Doesn’t take but a few people to miscast the larger number. In Idaho, the Aryan Nations never attracted but a handful of members, yet the entire state wound up besmirched by it. And so, apparently, with last weekend’s peace march in Portland.

We follow up here because our report from last Sunday, when we watched the demonstration, reported nothing of the incidents now making the rounds on (mainly conservative) cable talk shows. What we saw seemed almost institutional.

Several linked to this description from an editorial in the Portland Tribune: “This splinter group of protesters showed its support for “peace” by burning a U.S. soldier in effigy. It exhibited its supposedly pacifist nature by knocking a police officer off his bike — an action that brought out the police riot squad. Perhaps the most disturbing scene of the afternoon, however, involved the man who pulled down his pants in front of women and children and defecated on a burning U.S. flag.”

Not defensible (we’re disgusted by this, just to be clear), and hardly anyone has tried to defend it. It has also provided ammunition for flame-throwers from the right; Michelle Malkin, for example, snapped: “A few fringe actors? Not.”

She’s wrong: We were there, and while we don’t particularly doubt the accurate reporting of the incidents (we’d be interested in seeing more substantiation, though, than we have so far), they were sufficiently isolated and small in scale that we saw nothing like them in a half hour-plus of watching the march from a variety of angles. Out of somewhere in excess of 10,000 people involved, the objectionable actions came on the part of between a dozen and two dozen people.

Since the Portland Tribune editorial has gotten so much national attention, perhaps we should look as well at the online comments it has received. Some were from march supporters (one, noting how damaging the images were asked, “It makes you wonder who paid them to do this”). A slug of others were critical of the protesters – not just the extremists but the marchers, and anti-war Americans, generally. But to say “critical” of many of these comments doesn’t nearly cover it. Some samples from the comments:

“. . . we all know what the ‘peace’ movement is all about– hating America, and taking sides with anyone against us. . . . . a front group for marxist/communists (yes they are still around) and which is funded by North Korea and George Soros . . . It is time to cleanse our nation of this scum.Let’s take ’em on! NOW! . . . 2007 Portland has more animals than the 1800’s fur trade! . . . They are all traitors, cowards and/or perverts. . . . these leftist brownshirts are something far less than human. . . . Imagine admitting that you are a leftist. I’d rather die. . . . I dare any of those fools to try some retarded stunt like that in front of Rolling Thunder. Come on, MAKE MY DAY! . . . They were commie traitors then, and they still are. The only thing that has changed is the level of hatred. This time, I fear these nutcases (and most of them are) are going to reach too far, and when they do, someone is going to react. Can you say ‘civil war’? . . . What most left wingers dont realize, this behaviour is what their ideology breeds, this is the result of the anti-Americanism taught by the left: total anarchy. . . . The Democrat party is home to all manner of people who hate the US. It is the one legitimate vehicle available to those who want to see the US in ashes. . . .”

A question, then, for Michelle Malkin and others of her persuasion:

Should we take these calls for “cleansing” of “far less than human” traitorous opponents of the war, who “want to see the US in ashes” – that is, the majority nationally at this point – as typical of pro-war conservatives?

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Here are three disparate pieces of Idaho legislation, all House measures, that between them say something about the way Idaho legislators look at government and at themselves. Two are law; the third is awaiting action by the governor (and that action might go either way).

The first, House Bill 54, fixes a law that falls into the category of something that might have made sense a century ago but these days is a train wreck coming. It bars agencies issuing drivers licenses from giving them any who is a “habitual drunkard” or “addicted to the use of narcotic drugs”.

Wisely enough, the state transportation department proposed striking the language because, it noted, “If left unchanged, the statute creates a concern about Department liability for acts of such persons. The Department has no way of identifying these persons.” Never really did, of course, but in these days when the only time you’ll probably ever see your license issuer is at the counter, less than ever. It is, obviously, a law that hasn’t been enforced – hasn’t been followed by the state – for decades at least, if ever.

Which leads you to wonder about whether the law to be fixed by House Bill 126 was followed either.

This one concerns the serving of subpoenas by county sheriffs. Its statement of purpose sums: “Idaho Code 9-704 currently mandates sheriffs to break into homes and other buildings and boats to serve subpoenas when ordered by the person issuing the subpoena. This 1881 law contravenes current state and federal law pertaining to civil rights and privacy, and subjects a sheriff to significant liability should he or she engage in the conduct contemplated in the statute.”

Should the sheriff or deputy follow the law, in other words.

Good candidate for elimination.

The third bill that caught our eye during a scan of low-profile legislation is in a different category altogether. It changes the law, but here it’s the nature of the change that merits a mention.

House Bill 218 says “The legislative department shall determine the use of the space on the first, third and fourth floors as well as the basement, which basement shall include the underground atrium wings. All space within the first, third and fourth floors and the basement shall be allocated by the presiding officers of the senate and house of representatives.”

It does just that. What the statement of purpose doesn’t say is that this bill gives legislature control over the 1st floor of the statehouse, which they have never had – executive offices currently occupy it and control the space. Most of that space is used by the attorney general, the governor’s Division of Financial Management and the State Treasurer, with a small slice used by legislative services. We haven’t noticed in earlier reports on the future, post-remodel, statehouse, whether the use of the first floor is expected to change, but this bill would seem to contemplate that it will.

The bill has been sent to the governor. Governor Butch Otter’s veto swing has gotten a workout of late, so we give this one even odds of survival.

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Jeff Kropf
Jeff Kropf

The post headline is striking enough, coming as it does from Portland conservative talk show host and former Republican legislators Jeff Kropf: “Listeners: Bushs incompetence makes him a horrible President.” The headline does not mislead.

Last weekend, Kropf decided to ask his mainly conservative listeners what they think of President George W. Bush. Here’s what Kropf writes about the results:

“First, surprisingly I learned that most callers, emailers and quick poll respondents would feel better about supporting our efforts in Iraq if they saw progress and believed that there was a reachable goal that was articulated by this President. Even though I have always supported the effort in Iraq, it has been increasingly clear that Bush and his advisors are incompetent in the ‘politics of perception.’ Secondly, in response to Sunday’s quick poll question, I learned that most of our audience believes that Bush is a horrible President (66%). While unscientific, it is significant once you realize that 70% of our show’s audience is conservative to moderate politically. This tells me that Bush is in big trouble with the public’s perception of his Presidency as a whole.”

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NW population changes
Top NW counties for gaining population (green) and losing population (tan)

Census estimate releases are always good cause for some spreadsheet runs, and since the mid-2006 census estimates by county came out today, we decided to take a regional overview. (Stories about the state views are in most newspapers; if you know of anyone else doing a northwest-wide view, let us know.)

The region’s 119 counties are a varied lot, from King’s estimated 1,826,732 people (still many more than live in all of Idaho, and nearly half of Oregon’s total population) down to Idaho’s Clark (not to be confused with Washington’s Clark) with 920 people, now the only county in the region under 1,000 people.

All of the most populous counties in the region have been growing. In percentage since 2000, the fastest growing has been Washington’s Clark, at 18.8% since 2000 (adding 53,694 people since then, more than any regional county but King, which added 71,401).

Idaho’s Ada County, now at 359,035 people, grew fastest among big counties in the last year, but since 2000 ranks sixth for total population added (46,127), behind five counties all larger in population regionally (King, Snohomish, Pierce and Clark in Washington, and Washington County in Oregon).

To find mass runaway growth among Northwest counties, skip a little further down the list. Canyon County (Nampa-Caldwell), Idaho, the 17th most populous, grew by about 30.2% the first six years of this decade, and Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond), Oregon, ranking 19th, by about 27.9%.

In fact, of the top 19 counties for raw number addition, all have estimated populations of 130,000 or more, except one surprise: Franklin County, Washington (its county seat is Pasco), which added 15,707 of its estimated current 66,570 people in the last six years. The Tri-Cities should be getting a lot more attention as a growth spot; its larger neighbor Benton County (now at 159,463; the biggest city is Kennewick) added 15,707 people during the period too.

But the fastest percentage growth county in the region over the last year is not one of the largest, and one few outside southwest Idaho might have guessed: Valley County, the McCall-Donnelly-Cascade area, adding about a 1,000 people its small cohort, driven largely by the growth around the Tamarack ski area. (It was followed by Franklin County, Washington, and then Deschutes.)

This isn’t a rural vs. urban thing – or even broadly geographical. On the map, see how the big population gainers and losers often jostle next door to each other.

There is, of course, the aspect of population losses, overshadowed as they may be by growth.

The county with the biggest reported loss since 2000 may be a little misleading. Elmore County, Idaho, is home to – is anchored by – the Mountain Home Air Force Base, and base-related population shifts likely account for the bulk of the county’s population drop of 985. Less simply explained is the 527 from smaller Harney County (think Burns), Oregon, or the 517 from third-place Minidoka County, Idaho (think Rupert).

What do the population losers have in common? They’re all rural, but then so are some of the big population gainers. The difference seems to be that the decliners aren’t places where people are moving to for lifestyle purposes, or (generally) buying second homes. Or where, if those things are happening, they’re swamped by declines in older industries (such as in Idaho’s Shoshone and Custer counties).

Our spreadsheets are posted on this site.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Oregon Blue Book coverThe covers of the Oregon Blue Books have for many years featured breathtaking photography often originating from some of the unlikeliest places. There are maybe few more striking cases than in the picture gracing the Blue Book released today, from the Oregon Secretary of State’s office.

We’ve been to Terrebonne, which is located in the high desert near Bend, and we’ve never considered it one of the great beauty spots of Oregon. Goes to show that you can find beauty in all sorts of places if you look for it – or maybe have some inside knowledge. Jim Gardner, who won this year’s contest among photographers for the cover photo, shot “Cattails at Sunset Over Teal Lake” at Ranch at the Canyons, a preserve he operates near Terrebonne. He knew what to look for.

(Re the other states: Idaho’s blue book features a blue cover with the state seal design but no photo or other image. There is, alas, no Washington blue book.)

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No particular comment on this, yet at least, but we do think it should be noted that Idaho turns out to be a leader in animal cloning not only at the University of Idaho (where one of its leading researchers recently left) but also at the Boise-based J.R. Simplot Company.

cowA recent Business Week article focusing on Scott Simplot, now the chair of the company, points out how he is promoting cloning as a core part of the Simplot cattle-related business. The business already has at its operations the offspring of cloned cattle.

From the article: “This is the beginning of a grand experiment at the Boise-based J.R. Simplot Co., a producer of food, fertilizer, and livestock that was founded by Scott’s father in 1923 and has become one of the largest privately owned companies in the U.S. Simplot is one of the first large beef-producing companies anywhere to clone cattle and then breed them on a commercial scale. Neither clones nor their offspring are in the food distribution system now. But if the Food & Drug Administration gives its approval as expected, Simplot plans to bring beef from the offspring of clones to market by next year. No other company has been nearly as aggressive in the controversial effort to clone animals for supermarket shelves.”

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Tonight once again, our regular Wednesday chat is on for 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; feel free to jump in or out any time.

So far we’ve had enjoyable discussions with an eclectic group of people. Greg Smith, a co-founder, should be back on board this evening. Along with, well, who knows who.

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