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Posts published in March 2007

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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Stopping Teton growth

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.

Tibbs v. Bieter

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).

Will Gonzales envelope Rossi?

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?

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Bad numbers

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%.

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Drawing positives from a double negative

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.

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Consolidate

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:

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Breakdowns by party

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

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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?

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The notable exceptions

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.

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