If Idaho Supreme Court Justice Linda Copple Trout was looking for confirmation that she would have been targeted with another attack campaign, she need wait no longer: It showed up clearly on the Idaho Values Alliance blog in a post by its executive director, Bryan Fischer.

Trout, who has served 15 years on the bench, is opting out this summer in part because, she said, she doesn’t want to go through another ugly campaign for re-election; her court seat is up for election next year. In discussing that, she said that elections probably are not the best way to choose judges. She reasoned: “I think the public feels frustrated because they don’t know how to judge a judge. All of the standard things that people usually use as a measure when they go to the ballot box are not there for judges, because judges don’t take stands and aren’t for something unless it’s something like justice, or timely justice, or something like that. That’s really hard for the public, to judge whether or not somebody really would do a good job.”

Our view is (and has been) that judges should be elected, at least on a retention basis, because they are officials whose job centers around making independent judgments, and that’s the criterion we ordinarily use in considering whether a job ought to be elective or appointive. That said, we agree with Trout’s point: Few voters have a good, clear basis for deciding whether a judge is doing their job well, or whether a non-incumbent would do it well. The major actions of a governor or of a major, or even of many legislators, county commissioners, members of Congress or city council members tend to be more visible and easily grasped than are the actions – collectively – of judges. Too often, one or two actions or decisions becomes the basis for assessing a whole career. A good many thoughtful voters we’ve talked with over the years (and by no means just in Idaho) see the problem. What’s needed, we would argue, is an improved system for tracking the work and decisions judges produce: Better oversight. Idahoans should be encouraged, too, to read Supreme Court decisions for themselves – they’re not written in Latin, and most are actually quite easily understood. With that can come the education voters need to make informed choices.

Probably we shouldn’t be surprised at the headline on Fischer’s commentary today: “Justice Trout: Idahoans are too stupid to pick their own judges.”

She said, of course, nothing of the kind.

But how much does Fischer think Idaho voters actually know about the work of their judges and justices – beyond the smattering of bumper-sticker slogans and two or three high-profile issues? How well-informed does he think the electorate really is?

Part of Fischer’s complaint here apparently has to do with the shutout among the 19 applicants for an opening on the Supreme Court (not Trout’s, but also-retiring Justice Gerald Schroeder) in responding to a Values Alliance questionnaire. Fischer writes, “we want candidates who will let the public know whether or not they agree with Idaho’s state constitution.” Does he realize the eventual successful applicant will be required, before taking office, to swear to uphold that document?

Another part evidently has to do with Trout’s reluctance to serve as a punching bag for the right next year. He quotes David Ripley as saying, “Now Justice Trout confirms that there is, in fact, a conspiracy within the state’s judiciary to effectively ignore the Constitution. These elites have decided to simply amend the Constitution without so much as a public court opinion or legislative act.”

Hardly: The appointive process goes way back (the first two Idaho Supreme Court justices to be appointed were chosen in 1914), and if a conspiracy it’s a big one. Of the current five justices, three originally were appointees. Of the 25 justices who hav served since 1950, eight reached the court by election, 17 by appointment. The appointments go through an extensive and fairly public process. People close to the courts we’ve spoken with over the years say they see little difference in quality between elected and appointed judges and justices. And the low voter rejection at the end of terms – Trout’s replacement will, after all, be up for election next year – suggests that the public tends not to be dissatisfied with most of the judges they get.

There was more; see also Kevin Richert’s blog for a useful take on the questionnaire.

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Steve Novick

Steve Novick

The nascent Steve Novick campaign for the Senate picked up some useful support this week. During an interview on the Thom Hartmann talk show on KPOJ, the host disclosed he had donated to Novick’s campaign and urged listeners to do likewise, as some evidently did. Not a bad early hit.

Today, he picked up backing from a clutch of Oregon attorneys, a substantial group – a useful starting point. Not everyone in the Democratic sector, apparently, is holding back and waiting for a better-known figure to enter the Democratic contest against Republican Gordon Smith next year.

Count these among indications that Novick is developing his campaign methodically, alongside demonstration of his trademark communications chops. On the attorney endorsement: “And yes, I know what the Republicans will say. ‘Novick’s in bed with the trial lawyers,’ they’ll say. And I say to them: ‘I’m proud of my friends. They help real people. They protect consumers. They fight for justice. Who are you in bed with? The cigarette companies, the drug companies, the insurance companies, the criminally careless manufacturers.'” No Democratic defensiveness here (that being a lesson some other Democrats might learn from).

The Senate announcement by Novick, who has deep history as a Democratic issues and communications operative (his resume apart from that is worth a review, too), came with the feel of something akin to a demonstration project – it was preceded by a provocative cover story in Willamette Week (“If I Ran”), which in the main consisted of the case against Smith – or maybe like a prompt to others to run. Whatever Novick’s original thinking (his seriousness about taking out Smith never has been in doubt), it is now a perfectly serious campaign, and Novick could well be the Democratic nominee next year.

The fact of all those Democratic turndowns – Kitzhaber, DeFazio, Blumenauer, Kulongoski, Hooley, Wu, Castillo and more (too many to recite full names here) – is part of the reason, but only part. (Yes, there are other elected officials who remain prospects; none sound right now like probable entrants.)

Another factor is the flip side, that Novick, unlike any other substantial figure, has personally shown up in the arena – he’s running a race. He’s actively raising money and building support networks. Yes, some of the other prospects who have already run campaigns before could have entered with a head start on some of this; but they’re not running, are they?

Novick could become an intriguing mix of political tough and personal appealing. Over lunch Tuesday he outlined some of his campaign steps so far and some of his campaign subject matter, the issues substance, and is nothing if not clear about that. His campaign rhetoric can come across, as indicated in the quote above, as take-no-prisoners. But Novick personally did not seem hard-edged; he may emerge as a likable personality with an unusual and compelling story. This isn’t a given. Novick doesn’t, in some ways, sound or act like a candidate. (You still get a feeling that you’re talking to a very savvy political pro, more than a candidate.) But that may come; as he settles into the role of candidate, probably will.

Leading to the other factor: Time. Novick is getting started early, he’s the only one who has, and time is a real, valuable, currency in campaigns. A better-known candidate entering this race in, say, late summer may turn out to be behind the curve. Novick is pulling his race together, and after a certain point other candidates may find themselves too far behind.

Two months ago our snap thought about the Novick campaign was that it was an interesting effort in the absence of a “bigger/better known” candidate, who probably would soon own the field. Looks now entirely possible that in the months ahead Novick may become that candidate.

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Oregon Senator Gordon Smith shouldn’t be understimated as a political force; he’s no pushover. But the recent spate of passes on a Senate race against him by so many of the state’s leading Democrats shouldn’t turn him into a tougher target than he is.

With that in mind, consider the just-out Survey USA numbers on Smith (and other senators): Now at 48% approve, 39% disapprove. That’s down from late 2006 numbers giving him approval in the upper 50s.

Democrat Ron Wyden stands at 60% approve, 28% disapprove.

Just a matter of perspective.

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Linda Copple Trout

Linda Copple Trout

There was a point in the 90s when all the members of the Idaho Supreme Court were appointees of Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus. Of the other four, three were appointed by Republican governors and the other elected, unopposed, to the seat.

Now the last of them will be leaving the court. The Spokane Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell reports today that Linda Copple Trout, who also is the only woman on the high court, will resign from the court effective in August, partly so that she won’t go through election to the seat, which would occur next year.

You can understand that. There were fierce elections in 2000 and 2002 over the judicial seats, in which Andrus appointees were targeted; Trout prevailed but another justice (Cathy Silak) did not. A quote from Trout: “The fear really is from soft money. It’s from third parties, which is something I never considered until it happened to her and then it happened in a big way to me. I truly thought I would run on my record and my merits and my opponent would as well, and people would judge as best they could on that basis. I never dreamed that I would see ‘Liberal Linda Trout’ on TV.”

The Idaho Supreme Court, back in the 90s and since, never has seemed especially liberal, or strikingly conservative for that matter. Through the years, there have been (as she noted) a lot of unanimous or near-unanimous votes, even on hot issues. Still, a certain kind of perspective may go missing when Trout leaves the bench this summer.

AHEAD Look for the prospect of a second supreme court justice being in effect picked from the group applying now for the Schroeder vacancy.

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Dino Rossi, the 2004 gubernatorial candidate who may do it again next year, is in the news again – after a long drought, he seems to be appearing regularly now – with announcement of the Washington Idea Bank. Which is a project of the Forward Washington Foundation, which is, basically, Rossi and backers.

From the bank’s web site:

When there is a lack of leadership in Olympia we see the business climate worsen, out of control spending and a return to huge deficits. The same people with the same failed policies operated this state. Therefore, ideas must come from regular Washingtonians who live outside of the Olympia “beltway.”

The elected representatives in Olympia seem to have forgotten that ours is a government of the people and that our ideas must be part of the public debate. Whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, we all need to come together and make Washington the home of innovation once again.

The Forward Washington Foundation, a non-partisan, non-political educational foundation, is taking the first step by asking Washingtonians to submit their ideas of how government should work and where to focus its priorities.

In coordination with local civic organizations, Forward Washington will be hosting Idea Forums across the state, a schedule of which is available here. These forums will give all Washingtonians the unique opportunity to share new and dynamic ideas in a public setting.

So, the leadership in Olympia – which is to say, Rossi’s former (and again?) opponent Chris Gregoire – has lost its way, has been spending out of control and needs to be reminded that this is a government of the people. But the “non-partisan, non-political educational foundation” will work to set things right.

Why the game? Why not Rossi touring the state at town halls, saying he’s interested in running for governor and soliciting ideas for governing Washington if he does?

Secondarily, Adam Wilson at the Olympian points out, “et’s be fair here. The idea bank isn’t the first idea in getting citizen input. Rossi’s former and likely future rival, Gov. Chris Gregoire, made a point of signing a bill in April that creates the ‘state government efficiency hotline.’ You can call in and give suggestions, report abuse or even give kudos.”

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Longview crime

Police calls at Longview

Significant changes without an obvious matching significant cause are always worth note, and you can see a good case in the odd spikings of crime statistics at Longview.

The Daily News story on the recent police statistical report on recent shifts in reported crime. In 2003, it spiked – way up – and now has dropped fast, by 24%.

That’s speaking generally. The department’s presentation on the crime stats also notes what look like some anomalies:

–- Since 2003, overall Part 1 crimes [“such as homicide, forcible rape,aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, larceny, motor vehicle theft, and arson”] have been reduced by a significant 24%.
–– Since 2003 Arrests for drug offenses are up by 16%. Since 2003 drug arrests have increased by 106%.
–– DUI arrests are up to 158 in 2006 from a previous 105 in 2005.
–– Arrests for vandalism are up 65% compared to 2005.
–– Arrests for liquor law violations are up 69% compared to 2005.
–– Traffic citations are up 95%.

Not sure how all these pieces fit.

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Here are the points against which to measure tonight’s community college vote in Ada and Canyon counties:

The need for the college is fairly clear. No money was being asked for (in this vote – that would come later); this vote concerned only creation of a two-county community college district. It had strong bipartisan support from a lengthy string of leaders, including most of the mayors in the counties and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. It had strong corporate support. Substantial money was raised for its passage, and substantial organizations were put together for its passage. By all accounts and evidence we’ve seen, the campaigns were intelligently and energetically run, in part using some sophisticated mail ballot approaches. (The mail ballots appear to have done their job very well, drawing in somewhere around 90% favorable votes.) No organized opposition appeared to exist; only a few people spoke out publicly against the proposal.

With all those advantages, the college (the College of Western Idaho) looks as if it just – just – cleared the bar, the two-thirds vote needed to create it. The district fell short in Canyon County (62.2%) but did better in Ada County (70.5%). (Returns from Ada were very slow coming in.) It appears to have gotten about 68% or maybe a hair less overall, just enough to pass.

Next challenge comes when the new board has to ask for money.

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If any doubt remained that Mitt Romney is sweeping the Idaho Republican Party, be it noted that to the previous list including Senator Larry Craig and Representative Mike Simpson add (among others):

Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, state Controller Donna Jones, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Senate President pro tem Robert Geddes, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Senate majority leader Bart Davis, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, and a long string of other state legislators as well. (They’re noted on our presidential support page.)

The only major gets remaining are Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter (governors usually stay out until nominations have been decided), Senator Mike Crapo, Representative Bill Sali and three other statewide public officials. Romney’s roster of endorsements in Idaho would be dominant even if everyone else went for another candidate.

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Idaho

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi sure sounds like a man who wants to run for governor again next year. His quote to moderate Republicans at Wenatchee was, “I tell you what, if we did do this again, theoretically, we’re going to need you and everyone you know. You and everyone that you know.”

A piece about his near-campaign in the Tacoma News Tribune also says he plans to announce his plans by year’s end. He may need to quit hedging before that. This cycle is speeded up, weirdly so, to the point that in many major races, candidates are being pressed hard to fish/cut by Independence day at the latest. That would be absurdly early in most cycles. In this one, with so many candidates entering so early, a lot of money and support is likely to be tied up long before year’s end. Under those circumstances, Rossi would be hobbling his campaign by waiting so long, if he does ultimately run. And because other Republicans are awaiting his answer before making any moves of their own, he’d be hobbling campaign campaigns if he opts out.

That he wants to do it seems clear enough, but he also seems held back. And that may be because the race would be tough – not impossible, but tough. In 2004 he benefited from a number of factors unlikely to repeat next year: A Democratic Gregoire campaign that fired on only half its cylinders, that didn’t spend time or money especially well and took too much for granted, that could dovetail with an absolutely top-line Republican organization (not likely, on the evidence of 2006, to be fully matched in 2008), and his own almost mistake-free campaign that took Attorney General Christine Gregoire by surprise. There’ll be no surprising her this time, or any underestimation, considering Gregoire has raised a large pile of money already. Opposing an incumbent governor is never easy. And Rossi, a fresh face in 2004, would be a rerun candidate next year. And 2008 still looks to be a strong Democratic year, more like 2006 than 2004. And the state’s political environment has changed: The King County eastside, still mostly Republican in 2004, now – considering the last round of elections – is mostly Democratic.

None of this necessarily is fatal to a Rossi candidacy, or to say that he won’t run. But we suspect these are some of the considerations that may be giving him pause at least.

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Aquarter-century or so ago in another life, your scribe was writing editorials for the Pocatello Idaho State Journal, and on one occasion blasted – sarcastically – at the then-sheriff of Bingham County, who was trying to persuade county officials of his need for a collection of Uzis. For security. Doubtless needed, we suggested, to battle back against all those counter-insurgent forces at Firth.

Still, small and rural community law enforcement isn’t always a simple matter, and it can become as violent as the urban variety, as the shooting spree at Moscow last weekend demonstrated.

And certainly we were struck by the report delivered last week by Rupert police officer Sam Kuoha to his city council, of gang activity around Burley and Rupert. From the South Idaho Press: “Though he said he was not at liberty to name specific gangs, Kuoha said those in area gangs fall into five basic categories: southern California, northern California and Chicago Hispanic gangs; motorcycle gangs; and miscellaneous groups that have not been designated as gangs but are cause for concern, such as white supremacist and eco-terrorist groups. Kuoha said activities commonly associated with each group vary somewhat. For example, he said, Hispanic gangs are known for vandalism and burglary while motorcycle gangs take part in prostitution and murder for hire.”

Five categories . . .

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Idaho

Swan Falls Dam

Swan Falls Dam/BLM

The last time Idaho Power Company butted heads with the state of Idaho over water rights at the Swan Falls Dam – this was in the first half of the 80s – the results rocked the state. Many of the results have worked out reasonably well; the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which was a direct result of that last conflict, probably will be a long-term benefit for southern Idaho.

The new lawsuit filed by Idaho Power Company, filed now as then in protection of 1905-dated water rights at the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River roughly south of Boise, has a more dangerous edge. Back then, Idaho Power, in protection of its water rights (which it uses to generate cheap electric juice), did serve notice to thousands of southern Idaho water users that their water might be cut off. But at the same time, the utility was negotiating, trying to find a way to protect its rights while avoiding damaging and alienating its customer base. And, more or less, they and state and federal officials made it work. They guaranteed a minimum water flow for Idaho Power in return for state control and distribution of water flowing through the Snake above that minimum.

But water has been getting tighter in recent years, and now Idaho Power maintains there isn’t any more beyond their guaranteed minimum and that, to meet its rights, many water users (mainly of ground water) will have to be shut off. In contrast to the 80s, the room or inclination to negotiate seems considerably less.

The room has to do with the physical realities of the situation, which could upend large parts of southern Idaho agriculture.

The inclination could come from somewhere else. Our suspicion for some years has been that once work on relicensing the three Hells Canyon dams to Idaho Power was complete, that corporate vultures would swiftly circle and dive-bomb at Idaho Power, which so far has been Idaho-based – but might not be for a lot longer. The new Swan Falls lawsuit feeds into that scenario.

Here’s how, deep inside an Idaho Statesman analysis by Rocky Barker of the legal action: “Idaho Power provides irrigation customers lower, subsidized power rates to run their pumps. Putting those customers out of business would give Idaho Power more low-cost power to sell to customers who pay higher rates. Critics say this is Idaho Power’s real intention and would make the company a more attractive buyout target.”

A buyout was a lesser consideration a quarter-century ago. Today, it seems more a matter of time, and an Idaho Power based not in Boise but across the country might be a very different animal. Southern Idaho irrigators might be wise to give that careful consideration as they plot their next moves.

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Tom Potter

Tom Potter

Portland Mayor Tom Potter doubtless could have another term for the asking. His popularity is all any politician could hope for; he likely would not draw serious opposition in a run for a second term. Whether he wants to run is another matter.

After reading today’s Oregonian update (“For Potter, success is doing by not doing”) on the Potter mayoralty, we’d weight the odds against a run next year for a second term.

And we’d take him at his word if he suggests, as he likely would, that this month’ defeat of the strong-mayor city charter change would have nothing to do with it. Some of the reasons are relatively concrete: He will be 68 next fall, would be 73 winding up another four-year term; he has a history of moving on from key jobs (like police chief) after relatively short stretches.

And such ambitions as he has expressed have largely been fulfilled. The Oregonian put the matter this way: “After 12 years under Vera Katz, a sharp-tongued whirlwind whose to-do list was taller than she was, Potter offered himself as a straight-talking stoic more interested in building relationships than esplanades.” And he has been building relationships and opening the city government more than it was before – the things he talked about in his campaign. If he left after a term, he could say he’d done what he set out to do. Our guess now is that is what he will do.

NEXT So who would run? Council member Sam Adams is presumed in the race almost automatically if Potter isn’t. But don’t assume even a well-organized council member would have it in the bag; former Council member Jim Francesconi presumed so too, until Potter walloped him three years ago. More names are bound to surface, like the proposal a week ago by blogger Ted Piccolo of businessman Roy Jay.

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