Political races are decided in part by the nature of the candidate, in part by the nature of the campaign – but more, usually, by the nature of the place where the campaign is run. Ordinarily, and especially in recent years, places tend to vote R or D, red or blue, up and down the ballot, with ever fewer exceptions. Exceptions remain, but they are fewer now than they once were.

That’s key to the recent analysis behind the political prospects of Oregon state Representative Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point.

Oregon House District 4

Richardson has unleashed several controversial comments of late, notably one which compared passage of the Oregon domestic partnership and gay anti-discrimination measures to the massacre at Virginia Tech. (He later said he “didn’t intend” to make that linkage.) The discussion arose: How might Richardson be defeated in 2008?

The response from some southern Oregon observers was, won’t be easy. The core of the reason being that Richardson’s district is very conservative and very Republican. John Doty, who has run for the legislature in that region, noted, “The district he represents (Northwest Jackson county and a sliver of Josephine… with Central Point being the largest city (along with the towns of Rogue River and Gold Hill) is solidly red – so much so that getting an opponent to step forward at all is like pulling teeth for the county dems.”

Always a point to consider.

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Oregon

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Two strains have been running in the first few months of Idaho Representative Bill Sali‘s tenure in Congress. On one hand, to a degree, he has positioned himself as simply another member of the conservative Republican Idaho delegation, alongside Senators Larry Craig and Mike Crapo and House member Mike Simpson. He’s had regular lunches with Simpson, patching up a contentious relationship from years past, and he’s had his place in statements “from the delegation.”

He hasn’t, yet, done much that seems likely to hurt him among the operating majority of 1st district voters, and there haven’t been any wild explosions from afar (that we’ve seen reported).

But there is a growing body of votes marking him as different from the other three, and it’s starting to become noticed. The national satiric web site Jesus’ General posted a sort of open latter to Sali as one “of only seven to oppose helping torture victims, one of twenty who is willing to defund science, and one of a very few who supports enhancing our oceans with chemicals and our leisure time with cockfighting and dogfighting.”

Yes, these have been documented, in part due to the watchfulness of the Mountain Goat Report blog, which has been tracking his votes. Its most recent post concerns the Torture Victims Relief Act of 2007, which passed the House 418-7, Sali being among the minority.

Sali’s hasn’t posted his reasons for the vote on his web site. One of his supporters, though, does take on the subject:

The anti-Sali socialist over at The Mountain Goat Report is trying to claim that Rep. Sali’s vote against the so-called “Torture Victims Relief Reauthorization Act” is a bad thing, or that the fact that he is one of only seven brave Congressmen to stand up to Pelosi is somehow wrong. The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it. It’s just like liberals to try to throw money at so-called “victims” who should be taking responsibility for their choices instead of whining for government handouts.

This – because we suspect the attitude is broader than one blogger, regardless whether it matches’ Sali’s own take – calls out for some error correction.

That Mountain Goat is a Sali critic seems clear enough; “socialist” is not, and constitutes only simple(minded) name-calling. MG never actually says the opposition vote was a bad thing; instead simply offering the official summary of the bill, and letting us draw the (easy) inference for ourselves. Why the seven opposition voters are de facto “brave” is unexplained; were they supposed to be afraid of being stalked by torture victims? The reference to “stand up to Pelosi” is pro forma but ridiculous. In voting against the bill, Sali was voting in opposition to not only Pelosi, but also the official position of the House Republican caucus, and against Craig, Crapo and Simpson. If money was being thrown, it was being thrown not only by “liberals” but by nearly all other members of the House Republican caucus, including Idaho’s delegation.

There’s also the matter of the bill’s primary sponsor: A Republican, Christopher Smith of New Jersey. Said the Republican representative, ““The agony and suffering endured by victims of torture leave lifelong physical, emotional and psychological scars. However, proper treatment can help torture victims overcome these effects and lead normal, productive lives within their families and communities. We can—and must—continue to support programs that mitigate the long-term effects of torture.”

What’s a lot more troubling about this post is: “The fact is that no one goes around torturing people just for the fun of it, and these people who have been tortured probably did something to deserve it.” Stalin’s apologists, or those of King George III, could not have put it better. The American Revolution, not to mention the many expansions of freedom and justice in this country since then, was fought in large part in direct opposition to just such attitudes. There’s simply no way to square this line of thinking with anything we’ve come to know as freedom, justice or democracy.

We can’t and won’t attribute it here personally to Sali, of course. But it does seem emblematic of where some of his strongest supporters are pushing him. And so far, he has not given them much cause for disappointment.

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Port of Seattle

Port of Seattle

Not something we’ve paid great attention to up to now, but maybe should: A range of issues at the Port of Seattle (maybe other ports, too) that seem to be accelerating.

There’s a good quick overview, with links to the Seattle Times and elsewhere, in the Slog. The immediate trigger has to do with a big severance package where none seemed to be indicated, but other issues bob up nearby. We’ll be back in this territory again, no doubt.

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Washington

Maybe the fact that Ohio Representative Dennis Kucinich spent more time in Oregon in 2004 than any other presidential candidate led to the inquiry at the Oregonian. Which was: Why no news coverage of Kucinich’ introduction of articles of impeachment against Vice President Dick Cheney? (At least, until after a bunch of readers inquired.)

The answer is, basically, that national wire services and other news sources had little if anything to say about it: “No wire service purchased by The Oregonian filed a story on Kucinich filing the articles of impeachment. Not one wrote an article about it, or budgeted it.” The editor’s blog item is worth a scan about how these things work.

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Meridian School DistrictThe high cost of growth is essayed in a new post at the Boise Guardian, by way of pointing out that Meridian residents will choose, on May 15, whether to approve a new school bond.

Write Mike Hawk points out that the district is

asking us to pony up a $30 million dollar bond to build four new schools, purchase twenty school buses and other items essential to the education of the children.

New schools will be built right in the middle of new subdivisions—full of kids— and older schools are cast to the back of the line for funds. A little known fact is that Lake Hazel Elementary is still on septic and the system has failed in the past two years. Past bonds didn’t fix the problem—that money went to growth.

Meridian’s City Council has taken initial steps to charge higher impact fees for roads that facilitate growth. Schools need the same authority. We should not be forced to subsidize the development community. We can take little comfort knowing the Zone 2 representative is a real estate agent.

The growth is real enough. The Meridian district’s web page says “Once again this year, the district has experienced unprecedented growth in student enrollment, with more than 1,700 new students enrolling at the start of this school year. Since November, enrollment has increased by an additional 400 students.”

Comments on the bond range across varied ground, from residents saying they haven’t been notified of the proposal (parents and school personnel, of course, have been) to the ongoing cost that Meridian’s wild, unrestrained growth has engendered.

Another commenter: “Voting for the last school bond was so much fun we can continue to do it year after year. M3, the behemoth developer our of Arizona, that Eagle is wooing to build in the foothills, will provide land for FOUR–yes 4–schools that they’ll expect Meridian School District to build, and Dry Creek Ranch has proposed TWO elementaries, and one combined Middle & High School. Again, they’ll provide the land, but taxpayers must pay for the buildings. One guess as to who gets to pay for it.”

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cigarettesThere was a moment, early in the debate yesterday on the children’s insurance fund/cigarette tax legislation (House Bill 2201), of startling eloquence harkening back to a famous speech of old. It came when Representative Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass, warned that “we should not place our children’s health on the altar of a nicotine addiction.” It echoed the brilliant 1896 speech of Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan: “You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

Bryan, of course, lost that election, and the Oregon Republicans who stood (and walked) with Maurer on the health/cigarette bill are likely to lose, in the larger picture, as well. Bryan’s wilver issue eventually fell apart; the Oregon Republicans’ stance on the bill could do them some damage as well.

The bill essentially does two things. It creates a program and fund aimed at greatly expanding health insurance coverage for now-uninsured children in the state; the bill has been haggled over for months and has been significantly amended through that time, but not enough to draw substantial Republican support. Its backing has been almost entirely Democratic (and it is a primary project of Democratic Governor Ted Kulongowski). Because it involves an increase on cigarette taxes (raising the level roughly to that in neighboring Washington), it needs a 60% favorable vote in the Oregon House. To get it, five Republican votes are needed, and that’s more than it could get.

The House floor debate Thursday on the bill has been described as “the most wild day ever seen on the House floor,” which (after reviewing the couple of hours of activity there on the bill) is exaggeration.

The unusual activity consisted mostly of a series of procedural challenges to House Speaker Jeff Merkley (who remained tangled up in them for some time; you could only imagine how the more experienced Washington Speaker Frank Chopp would have sliced through the knots with a swift axe). The other element was the walkout, at one point, of just about all of the House members, leaving the chamber, for a few minutes, without a quorum. They included former Speaker Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, who must have forgotten her words from June 2004, when Democrats failed to show up for a special session she had sought: “I can respect a worthy adversary if they choose to disagree with my position and vote against me. I cannot however, respect those who use their absence from the body to which they have been elected as a strategy to obstruct a vote which could result in the passage of something with which they disagree. It is a cynical rationalization, a dereliction of duty and an insult to the voters of this great state.”

But the fact that all this occurred at all is striking, since logically it should not have. These sort of activities, the guerilla warfare of legislating, is ordinarily a last resort when hopelessly losing, or else when a majority is almost violently beating down on the minority. Neither was true in this case. The issue at hand was on the floor for an ordinary vote, and the debate was proceeding in ordinary fashion; until the Republican technical questions (which did not relate to any ability to debate or vote properly) the floor status was normal. More striking was this: The Republicans essentially were guaranteed to win the vote, which in the end they did.

We can only suppose here that they did what they did because it was the winning that constituted the problem.

We’re struck here by the debate of Republican Representative Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, who said that he would like to see state help for insuring children for health care, and would favor an increase in the cigarette tax, but diapproved of linking them. Possibly the best argument against the bill related to just this, as Maurer alluded: That the cigarette tax probably is, long-range, a diminishing revenue source, and taxes a limited number of Oregonians for a broad-based program. (There were substantial counters to these arguments, too.) When he asked advocates for cigarette tax funding why they were determined to stick to that source rather than some other for funding, he said, the reply was that the cigarette tax increase “polls well.”

He probably did hear that, and we’d guess the polling is correct: This bill probably would be popular among the voters statewide. Bruun went on: “It’s always difficult to balance constituent sentiment and constituent passion, if you’re not convinced the policy is right. It’s something we all grapple with all the time. . . . I need to help shape public sentiment … I owe my constituents more than just pushing the popular button. I owe them my best judgement.”

Fair enough; he sounded serious and sincere on the point. But as a matter of politics, looking over a chamber split into caucuses of 31 and 29 members, this bill had to make Republican leadership exceedingly nervous.

In rejecting the bill (it failed overall 32-24), the House Republicans left themselves in a difficult spot. A replacement bill could reach the legislature later, but right now the likelier scenario seems to be a ballot measure – on an issue that (we are told) has already been polled and tested, and has emerged with good numbers. In opposing it, as they would have to, the Republicans can and will argue that they opposed a tax increase. But you can imagine the TV ads on the other side, pitting cigarette manufacturers against the health of little children – the images even more than the text automatically suggest themselves. Oregon’s smoking population is estimated at 18.5% (slightly slightly higher than Washington and Idaho, which are nearly identical); a clear majority will likely vote in favor.

That’s not where Republican candidates in swing districts will want to be, from a political standpoint at least. You could hear it in Bruun’s debate. You may have picked it up as well when Representative John Lin, R-Gresham, took maybe the single most unusual action of the day when he said as the vote was being tallied, “Mr. Speaker, I am not going to vote on this issue.” (Later, he said, “I am going to vote, but not right now.” He did not say when; and he was declared in violation of House rules.) Lim’s district, like Bruun’s, is politically marginal.

So why the uproar over procedure and walkouts? The best answer seems to be: To obscure the cigarette tax/children’s health argument. But that only worked for a day, on the House floor. A statewide campaign may be a different matter, and it may not do much good for Republican efforts to regain the House.

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We have a hard time absorbing the logic against the current plan for Oregon House Bill 3540 – the bill that would amend the land use initiative Measure 37.

There is always an understandable argument against legislative amendment of an initiative: The people have spoken; how dare legislators overturn their will? We have some sympathy for that view, but only up to a point. Legally, laws are laws whether passed by the legislature or by initiative, and either can be amended – changed and hopefully improved – as the years go by. It happens all the time. And there’s an especially good case for amendment of an initiative. Voters acting on ballot measures don’t have the opportunity, as legislators do, to fine tune the language and add language clarifying intent. More cleanup work is apt to be needed where gray areas exist, and Measure 37 is absolutely packed with gray areas.

The measure, as used so far, has resulted in thousands of claims by land owners to develop massive residential areas, shopping centers and even casinos on farm and timber land. Many of the proposals may never be pursued, and many others may prove impractical, but at the moment a lot of Oregonians may have their breath taken away by what they’ve unleashed.

Did the voters, who passed Measure 37 in 2004 by a big margin, intend all this, or were they simply expressing frustration at a land use governing system that had become too rigid, absolute and sometimes remote from human and societal needs and concerns? The voters never got a chance to say, then. Polling since has suggested that a majority now would repeal 37 but, of course, polls aren’t elections.

Legislators who wanted to change Measure 37 – and this has become a mostly partisan issue, Democrats favoring change and Republicans mostly standing pat – have been trying for a bipartisan legislative proposal since the start of the session. That likely was always a loser proposition, since those in favor of the measure (basically Republicans) had only to frustrate any change to accomplish their goal. So now, as we suggested a few days back, the best outcome seems likely: Put a proposal for revising Measure 37 back in front of voters.

Under the terms of HB 3540, which likely will hit the ballot, “We are not going to have major subdivisions in our state out in our farm and forest ground. That is not what Oregonians voted for in my opinion” – said Senator Kurt Schrader, D-Canby. Maybe he’s right about what they voted for, maybe not. But a vote on the new measure certainly would be a clear decision of the public.

But when Senator Larry George, R-Sherwood, remarks, “I think it’s an unfortunate turn and one of the worst efforts to overturn the will of the voters,” he’s simply wrong, if this measure is decided as a ballot issue. The voters will be heard, and will get a chance to vote up or down on something other than Measure 37. If George and his allies on this are right, and the voters got what they wanted out of 37, they will reject the new proposal. If they wanted merely a loosening of the rules rather than the sweeping effects of 37, as Schrader and his allies on this think, they can say that too. And we’ll know for sure what the voters want.

Vox populi, either way.

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Washington courts Amajor dump of significant Washington Supreme Court decisions today, including a decision sure to get lots of political attention; and another we think worthy of more consideration and thought.

The flashy ruling came in the oddly-named San Juan County v. No New Gas Tax, that radio political commentary is not a “campaign contribution” under the state Fair Campaign Practices Act.

We hold that the radio broadcasts at issue fall within the statutory media exemption (RCW 42.17.020(15)(b)(iv)) because they aired during the content portion of a regularly scheduled radio program, for which the broadcaster does not normally require payment, on a radio station that is not controlled by a candidate or political committee. Because the media exemption applies, the radio broadcastsare not a campaign “contribution” within the meaning of RCW 42.17.020(15)(a). Accordingly, we reverse the trial court’s CR 12(b)(6) ruling, which was based on the trial court’s incorrect determination that the FCPA required reporting of the radio broadcasts as campaign contributions and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

That may be the result that had to be: To draw the line anywhere other than between paid and unpaid air time would amount to opening an almost impossibly unclear boundary between contribution and commentary. (And if talk radio can be a contribution, why not blog entries? And if so, which?) There’s messy territory here, when – as happened in this case, where a couple of Seattle conservative talkers basically spearheaded the (failed) campaign against the 2005 gas tax increase; putting their activities, which stopped just short of overt political organizing, in the case territory as editorials and news reports seems not quite right. But it will have to do.

The more fascinating read, however, was in Washington v. Timothy Jorden, which centered on a law officer’s viewing of a motel registry.

The facts are clear-cut and not in dispute. In March 2003 a Pierce County deputy sheriff stopped by the Golden Lion Motel at Lakewood, whose guests over several years had a history of criminal activity. The officer was welcome, though, ad his visit was not unusual, because the motel participated in a cooperative anti-crime program, part of which allowed officers to look over the guest register. The officer saw a familiar name, and in his car’s computer confirmed the hunch: Timothy Jorden, listed as a guest, was wanted on two outstanding arrest warrants. The officer called for and got backup, then knocked on the door. A woman answered; she was pulled outside. The officers entered and found Jorden in bed, and a stash of crack cocaine visible nearby. Jorden was arrested.

The case turned on a question of illegal search. We’re not talking about a search of the room, because the officers entered not to search but to arrest Jorden. Police review of the motel register is allowed under federal law (there are federal cases on that point). But the Washington state constitution is more restrictive, and Jorden’s attorney argued that a random review of a motel register by law enforcement is a random search, not a reasonable – relying on a specific reason – search, and should therefore be thrown out.

An immediate thought might be that a motel register isn’t really a private matter, except maybe to the motel (and it had no problem with show it). The court suggested,

Our most important inquiry then becomes whether a random and suspicionless search of a guest registry reveals intimate details of one’s life. We first consider that here there is more information at stake than simply a guest’s registration information: an individual’s very presence in a motel or hotel may in itself be a sensitive piece of information. There are a variety of lawful reasons why an individual may not wish to reveal his or her presence at a motel. As the amicus American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) points out, couples engaging in extramarital affairs may not wish to share their presence at the hotel with others, just as a closeted same-sex couple forced to meet at the motel also would not. Br. of ACLU at 11. The desire for privacy may extend to business people engaged in confidential negotiations, id., or celebrities seeking respite from life in the public eye. One could also imagine a scenario, as Jorden’s trial attorney pointed out during the motion to suppress, where a domestic violence victim flees to a hotel in hopes of remaining hidden from an abuser.

Additionally, we note the sensitivity of the registry information in and of itself. Not only does it reveal one’s presence at the motel, it may also reveal co-guests in the room, divulging yet another person’s personal or business associates. See McKinney, 148 Wn.2d at 30. Thus, it appears that the information gleaned from random, suspicionless searches of a guest registry may indeed provide “intimate details about a person’s activities and associations.” McKinney, 148 Wn.2d at 30n.2 (holding that DOL records do not reveal such details).

Therefore, the information contained in a motel registry — including one’s whereabouts at the motel — is a private affair under our state constitution, and a government trespass into such information is a search. We hesitate to allow a search of a citizen’s private affairs where the government cannot express at least an individualized or particularized suspicion about the search subject or present a valid exception to a warrantless search. A random, suspicionless search is a fishing expedition, and we have indicated displeasure with such practices on many occasions.

We’ve never much considered motel registries to be especially “private” recordings. How many times have any of us, while checking into a motel or other lodging that still has a written register instead of or in addition to a computer, run our eyes up and down it? Or looked at the historical register of a place – some tourist motels play up the historical record and continuity as part of the appeal of staying at the place.

At the same time, in an age when privacy seems to erode like a wall of sand against a tsunami, there’s some relief in knowing that at least some courts do respect the need for privacy. And as for law enforcement and motel cooperation, that should be able to continue, though, probably, with a little change of rules and procedures.

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Washington

In a more normal cycle, Robert Vasquez wouldn’t have even entered the race for U.S. Senate this early. As it is, he’s not only been in but now, also, out.

He was quoted as saying: “We have been unable to meet the funding goals, which are required to run a viable campaign. I cannot in good conscience continue to raise funds, without the viable chance to run a winning campaign.”

Okay. (Though his web site doesn’t yet make reference to the withdrawal.)

We’ll note here too the flurry in the last couple of days about Boise City Council member Alan Shealey, a Republican, making reference to entering the race. He may be well advised to consider the hurdles much as Vasquez has.

Meantime, incumbent Republican Larry Craig will let everyone know his plans in due course.

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In the last few months we’ve seen a spike in comment spam, and finally hit a point where manual management of it was becoming a pain. So we tweaked the system a bit and yesterday added a new spam-killer to the architecture.

It appears to be working correctly, killing out the junk while letting through the genuine stuff. But let us know if you try commenting and nothing shows up. The spam-killer does not seem especially over-eager, but it may need some adjustment as time goes on so that it doesn’t harvest the good stuff along with the bad. (You can mail on this, or whatever, to stapilus[at]ridenbaugh.com.)

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Norm Semanko
Norm Semanko

Toward the middle of today’s guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman by Norm Semanko, who leads the Idaho Water Users Association, was this bit of deliberate non-provocation:

Idaho’s Prior Appropriation Doctrine, embraced in its constitution and statutes, has worked well for Idaho for over 100 years. Augmented by additional water supplies including storage reservoirs, it has provided certainty and stability during times of shortage for farmers, cities and businesses alike.

The governor’s water summit was not a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws. There will be no constitutional convention or other revamping of Idaho’s water laws.

The guest opinion was a statement of support for Governor Butch Otter’s recent water summit at Burley, which did not result in any immediate resolutions but did, as Semanko notes, have the virtue of bringing many of the players face to face. The fact that such a meeting might have real usefulness (and why followup meetings probably would be a good idea) is testament to Idaho’s gradually growing difficulties with effectively managing its water supply.

The summit wasn’t, as Semanko says, “a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws.” But left unsaid was this question: Should that be considered? Should, for example, the prior appropriation doctrine (first in time, first in right) be tossed in favor of some other principle?

That would mean thinking outside of long-standing tradition. But some of the emerging water issues are non-traditional, too. Some large-scale careful consideration might be in order.

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Those in the waiting period between the Defazio and Novick announcements and whatever comes next, might check out the thoughtful long take in today’s Eugene Register Guard on Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith – his political stances and his political prospects. Much time has been devoted to the issue of who will run against Smith; probably less has been to Smith himself. This piece is a good overview, with useful ideas and commentary strewn throughout.

Said not because (disclosure here) your scribe was among the people quoted therein.

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