Dennis Hession

Dennis Hession

Al French

Al French

Mary Verner

Mary Verner

The last time Spokane voters re-elected a mayor was 34 years ago – 1973. (Compare that to the re-election-as-norm in Seattle, Portland, Eugene, Vancouver or Boise.) The incumbent mayor who is running this year, Dennis Hession, was appointed to the job in the middle of the current term, not elected, meaning both that he wouldn’t necessarily have to beat history to win, and also that he’s untested in a run for the top job.

Which may sound like an either-or, but we have some ease in suggesting the odds favor him.

One reason is the math of conventional political calculation. When an incumbent is on the ballot, the race almost always centers first around that incumbent – whether that person should stay or go. Hession, who is a former city council member (its president at the time he was chosen mayor, by a vote of the council), is opposed by two current council members, Al French and Mary Verner. Incumbents are ordinarily best-served by a divided opposition, and there’s a good chance that will play out in this case.

There are other considerations, a few of them countervailing.

bullet An era of good feelings. Hession’s predecessor was Jim West, who was for the most part a highly capable mayor but whose final months were swamped by scandal, and who was recalled by the voters. City politics was poisonous. Hession had the disagreeable task but political advantage of draining the swamp, and he benefits by comparison with what came before. Hession has had some missteps, but nothing that looks especially horrible in context.

bullet Similar backgrounds. Three years ago, all three of these candidates were on the Spokane city council, and they were not at war with each other. All had plenty of civic pushups under their belts, all were reasonably well known in the city, and all were operating on the inside of city hall; none is so easily definable as a “change” candidate. All are prominent professionals: Hession an attorney with a downtown law firm, French an architect fairly prominent in the business community, and Verner is an attorney and executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes.

bullet Hession and French seem more “alike” than either is with Verner. And it’s not just the gender thing (not to entirely discount that). Hession and French seem to have more a downtown business perspective, while Verner’s seems more shaped by policy activism, such as the environmental and resource staff work she did earlier in her career. (Echoes of it continue to show up – consider the long list of policy interests on her web site.)

bullet Verner has also had more negative headlines. The key here is a complaint filed with the new Spokane Ethics Commission (which is still in formative stages) saying Verner should have recused from voting on a city contract on archeological services, which went to a company endorsed by the Spokane Tribe, which is a member of the Upper Columbia United Tribes. Verner has called the complaint a smear, and the Spokane Spokesman-Review pointed out that the Spokane Tribe isn’t the same thing as the regional tribe organization Verner works for. Politically, in a scandal-sensitized Spokane, any bad headlines can hurt, however valid the charges. And that said, we may not have seen the end of filed complaints.

bullet The firefighters like French. The city’s firefighters Local 29 has donated big to French, $5,000, and – though interviewing both him and Verner – didn’t even invite Hession to a sit-down. (They’ve amassed a list of complaints against him.) French is undoubtedly glad to have the money, but to what extent could Hession counter by saying he’s a tough manager and negotiator?

So, in all, there’s some interest here, plenty of time for more twists and turns, and indications that the race isn’t a runaway.

For the moment, we’ll stick with the presumption of incumbency. Even if it Spokane.

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Washington

We should not leave unnoted – how could we? – the reports this week of the Virgin Mary siting at Twin Falls.

From the Times-News: “Late Monday night, a man left a message at the Times-News saying he’d seen an image of the Virgin Mary on a rock at Shoshone Falls. He did not return calls made on Tuesday to the number he’d left. However, along the winding road leading to the falls, a handmade cross rests against the base of a massive basalt slab – on which appears a human-like figure. It’s under the only tree along the road.”

The paper posted a picture of the rock in question (it appears at the link above); to our eyes, it simply looks like a colorful stain.

But perhaps it depends (as the Roman Catholic clergyman at Immaculate Conception Church at Buhl suggested) at least in part on what you’re looking for.

On the front page of the Times News site is a list of the most recent reader comments, which suggests area topics of concern: “On this parade controversy [concerning a gay orgainzation’s float]: Can we stop the hatred?; Accepting discrimination like this is outrageous; Religious miracle or natural phenomenon?; Push for homosexuality support worth fighting; Becoming ‘pobody'; Being homosexual is not a choice; DOE’s rich tapestry of broken promises; People at heart of parade angst are your neighbors . . .”

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Idaho

Friday may have been a landmark day in Oregon public policy, not to mention the health of Oregonians, with passage of Senate Bill 329 – the comprehensive health bill. When Governor Ted Kulongoski signs it, as he has said he will, prospects for a whole different health system in the state will start to take form.

Only by steps, and not immediately. First will come appointment of an executive director to oversee the effort, and then a board. In 2009 will come the toughest step – money, to be raised by the Oregon Legislature. All of these steps have the potential to become more contentious than SB 329 was this – and that was, in truth, not nearly as contentious as it might have been.

Still, partly because the first step is so often the most difficult of all, it’s entirely possible that Oregonians will look back on June 22, 2007, as an important day.

ADDITIONAL NOTE All that said, by all means check out these comments at Blue Oregon on the evidently impending loss of Senate Bill 27, which apparently will be left hanging at session’s end. Just how key is it to the success of 329? Our sense is, considerable but less than some of the commenters indicate. But by all means read for yourself – there’s a passionate debate here.

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Oregon

Hillary Clinton at diner

from the Clinton ‘Sopranos’ ad

The Democratic frontrunner, New York Senator Hillary Clinton, finally has a Northwest public figure in her camp. So, of the top three candidates on each side in the race (Fred Thompson isn’t formally in the race yet – though he does have blog/radio support), all now have someone backing them in the Northwest.

She has not, until now, in any of the three Northwest states. But today came word that Washington Representative Jay Inslee has signed on, and was named chair of her energy committee.

Of Washington’s 11 members of Congress, just three – Inslee for Clinton, Democrat Adam Smith for Barack Obama, and Republican Dave Reichert for Rudy Giuliani – have declared support for a candidate. How long will the other eight hold out?

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Washington

Afew months back, 2006 Democratic congressional candidate Larry Grant, who lost to Republican Bill Sali in Idaho’s 1st House district, seemed to be rolling unopposed for the nomination to a rerun in 2008. (He has not formally announced, but is broadly presumed to be in the running, and has not discouraged the presumption.)

Matters have changed. An educator at Moscow, Rand Lewis, said last winter he plans to run in that primary as well. Then came last Sunday’s blast from Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, who recounted a string of self-induced problems from Grant’s campaign last year along with his determination that the campaign was run, essential, just right. That seems to have jogged loose some additional Democratic interest.

The New West site is reporting this afternoon that Walt Minnick, a Boise businessman who in 1996 ran against Republican Senator Larry Craig, is interested in the 1st district Democratic nomination, at least to the point that people on his behalf are calling around to gauge interest. That doesn’t mean he’s necessarily running, of course. But it does tell you something about the present mindset of Idaho Democrats, as regards the Sali race.

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Idaho

The reach of the Internet is such that tactics that may have worked well once might not work so well now. Case in point, Kari Chisholm’s amusing find on the Oregon legislative press release depository, showing identical press releases – identical, including quotes, except for the name of the senator – giving credit for a bill to each of a number of Republicans.

Problem being that none of them (none of those listed in Chisholm’s piece at least) floor sponsored the bill, or even signed on as formal sponsors.

(A question for Republican readers: Can you find a counterpart case for Democratic legislators, in Oregon or elsewhere? No instance comes to mind, but we wouldn’t be surprised if one or more exists. There are, however, variations: Members of Congress of both parties routinely proclaim how they delivered money and projects back to their districts, or performed various other herculean tasks. Maybe they did, sometimes. But many are certainly, how you say, exaggerations.)

News media reporters really should be catching, and reporting on, this kind of stuff.

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Oregon

Culture battle commentary of the week turns up in the Ontario Argus Journal, where a story on the Fruitland School District’s decision to adopt a dress code and school uniform has drawn a mob of responses.

The most immediate trigger seems to have been this quote from a parent, Terence Eastburn, a recent immigrant from California: “They’re (the students) not able to express their individuality except through their clothing while they’re at school, and they’re trying to take that away. It’s against our children’s civil rights under the 14th amendment, called freedom of individuality. That’s what this is about.”

Yes, we’re tempted to jump in on that, but we’ll refer you instead to the comment section in the link above; the argument there will not bore.

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Idaho

Before leaving behind this year’s edition of the Willamette Week‘s legislator review, we thought one mostly unexamined aspect of it should be noted: The frequent references to interest (by legislators) in running for higher, or at least other, office. (And note here too: The WW survey covered only lawmakers from the three-county Portland metro area.)

The article noted, in the case of one reputedly ambitious lawmakers, that he is interested in stepping up, just “like about half his colleagues.” So who was noted as on the bench, waiting for the call (or opportunity)?

bullet Senator Kate Brown, D-Portland, Senate majority leader. Was thought to be interested in the 3rd district U.S. House seat, but not now since incumbent Earl Blumenauer seems to be headed nowhere else. WW: “Her next move is up in the air.”

bullet Senator Ryan Deckert, D-Beaverton. Said to be “pondering a run” for state treasurer. (So, word has it, is Senator Ben Westlund, D-Tumalo.)

bullet Senator Rick Metsger, D-Welches. Thought to be considering a run for secretary of state, when incumbent Bill Bradbury is term-limited.

bullet Representative Jeff Merkley, D-Portland, House speaker. Considered a prospect for a wide range of possibilities, including governor.

bullet Representative Dave Hunt, D-Gladstone, House majority leader. Interested, WW said, in the U.S. House 5th district come the day incumbent Democrat Darlene Hooley retires.

bullet Representative Greg McPherson, D-Lake Oswego. Said to be interested in attorney general.

There are of course fewer Republicans than Democrats in the Portland metro. But still: WW mentioned not a one as interested in moving on.

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Oregon

On the Klamath River

On the Klamath River

As we keep learning about federal policymaking in recent years, the picture consistently darkens, sometimes just by shades at a time. In point, a 2002 decision of consequence for the Northwest, and its origins.

The decision concerned water flows on the Klamath River, in southwestern Oregon and far northern California. The aridity was damaging the farm economy in the region centered on Klamath Falls. It also was damaging prospects for the area’s environment, and especially the region’s Coho salmon. The Bush Administration ordered the water given to the farmers, a locally popular decision and one you might expect the administration – given its philosophical stance – to make.

What emerged a while later was something suspected by the administration’s critics, that White House political director Karl Rove had intervened in the policy decision. More has been emerging since.

The subject of the Klamath policymaking came up in a deposition, released Monday, by former Department of the Interior official Susan Ralston, to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. It is best seen in context of the testimony developed from a number of angles. In a piece on line today, reporter Jason Leopold summed:

According to Congressional investigators Rove used the PowerPoint presentation at the West Virginia retreat to solicit Republican donors. But Rove’s priority was to ensure that farmers in Oregon got the additional water they wanted from the Klamath River, so Senator [Gordon] Smith would be reelected. President Bush lost Oregon by less than one percent in the 2000 presidential election to Al Gore, according to polling results from the Associated Press.

Laying the groundwork to get Smith reelected, Rove set up a cabinet-level task force on Klamath River issues to specifically study whether diverting water from Klamath River to farmers would hurt the endangered Coho salmon population. The task force Rove set up gave the impression that the administration was going to take an unbiased look at the situation.

According to Michael Kelly, a National Marine Fisheries Service biologist, that wasn’t the case. Kelly spoke out publicly in 2003 alleging that he was subjected to political pressure and ordered to ignore scientific evidence that said the plan would likely kill off tens of thousands of Coho salmon, and to support the Klamath River low-water plan Rove wanted enacted to help farmers, who Rove saw as a crucial part of the Republican constituency in the state.

In March 2002, in a sudden reversal of a long standing policy, then Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton and Senator Smith held a joint press conference in Klamath Falls and opened up the irrigation system releasing thousands of gallons of water to 220,000 acres of farmland.

Connecting the dots.

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Oregon

Pushes for disclosure – and disclosure of what – can vary depending on where you are. Provided fair standards and reasoned accuracy, this one – from Washington Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers – sounds like a useful part of the mix.

Her proposal (observed via NW Republican) is the Endangered Species Transparency Act of 2007, “The bill requires Power Marketing Administrations, including the Bonneville Power Administration, to estimate and report the direct and indirect costs associated with the Endangered Species Act to each wholesale power customer on a monthly billing basis.”

There are costs, of course; how much gets into dispute, and becomes political. This sounds as if it could – properly managed – put some fact into the situation.

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Washington

Washington Corrections employment

Washington corrections employment

The point isn’t quite as clear in this graphic from the employment page at the Washington State Department of Corrections as it is on the image in the Slog – that one, using mostly the same graphic elements, showing an ad on the side of a bus in Seattle. The slogan on the bus ad reads: “Department of Corrections – Opening the Doors to Success – 900+ jobs open.”

The bit about “opening the doors” is, of course, too good pass up. But there’s something else to say here too.

And not diminished by the fact that, when you get to the Corrections job site, you see the offering of “300+ jobs.”

The job categories you see are more varied than you might expect. Plenty of correctional officer slots, sure. But also: Human Relations Consultant; Senior Contracts Attorney; Dentist; Recreation Therapist; Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator; Religious Program Specialist; and – coming soon – a batch of positions in information technology.

All in one of the most expansive growth industries around. A look at the list gives you fresh appreciation for just how much growth and how big – not to mention how influential – all this is becoming.

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Washington

So – what has the sound of a pivotal moment in Boise mayoral race, and it appears not courtesy of a candidate or reporter but in the comment section of a website. My how things change . . .

The candidates are incumbent David Bieter and his challenger, Council Member Jim Tibbs. It has been a quiet race so far, in part because Tibbs hasn’t been saying much about the current direction the city has taken, other than to be supportive. (Beiter has pointed out that Tibbs hasusually supported the council’s direction, and his, on most issues.) Which raises the question: Why kick out the incumbent? Tibbs hasn’t yet answered that question.

In an indirect way, though, he hinted at an answer in an interview last week in the Boise Weekly. In talking about his intent to improve relations with nearby local governments, Tibbs remarked, “We’re the capital city, does that make us more important? What makes Boise so great is its surrounding communities.”

We’d be hesitant to over-estimate the importance of that line – it can easily be explained, in part at least, as an olive branch. But . . .

Julie Fanselow of Red State Rebels (supportive of Democrats, hence of Bieter) commented: “Is anyone else troubled by Tibbs’ comment that the thing that makes Boise great is its surrounding communities? I want a mayor who will work with our suburbs, but who puts Boise first.”

Drawing this – and here comes the pivot – reply: “When you and Dave Bieter refer to the cities of Meridian, Kuna, Eagle, Star, and so on, as the “suburbs” of Boise, you are the exact problem we face and the reason why Tibbs is running for mayor. If you haven’t noticed, tens of thousands of the citizens of those cities come to Boise every day to work, shop, eat and play. Without them our city would wither on the vine. Let’s cut to the chase here. The leaders of the other cities think Dave Bieter is a jerk. The ACHD thinks he is a jerk. The police department thinks he is a jerk. And a whole bunch of people who live in this city think he is a jerk. Jim Tibbs will be a great mayor for our city BECAUSE he understands that cooperation and positive relations with our surrounding cities is absolutely vital to our continued prosperity.”

That writer is identified only as cyclops388, and we’ll not assume any connection to the Tibbs campaign – that he or she isn’t speaking for it. But those comments probably do cut to the heart of the brief (strongly felt in some quarters) against Bieter – it is reflective of what his critics have to say.

The problem with it, from Tibbs’ standpoint, is that it works strategically much better for Bieter than for Tibbs. Central to the complaint is the idea that Bieter is a Boise-firster – and for most Boiseans, that’d be just fine. The populations of Boise and the surrounding communities have been sifting out; they are increasingly culturally and politically different. A political dynamic emphasizing that, and identifying Bieter with the Boise side, is a political winner for him.

A loser maybe if he were running countywide, but his voters all live in city limits. But this and related matters are so close to why some Boiseans want Bieter out, that this subject may nevertheless return, in bigger ways, in the months ahead.

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Idaho

Today’s must-read about how the Northwest’s economy has been remade in recent years, and continues to be, in an essential overview in the Seattle Times.

We’ve been watching in recent months the long list of publicly held Northwest companies being swept up in asset management buyouts. This piece puts some of that into perspective: “All told, about one of every eight publicly traded companies in the Northwest has been sucked up by the wave of deals since the beginning of 2006. Ten were bought or merged in 2006, six more have been bought out so far this year, and four more deals are pending.”

Where it doesn’t go, which a future article should: What happens then to all these companies, and to the communities that rely on them?

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Washington

Larry Grant

Larry Grant

Noteworthy material in today’s Dan Popkey piece in the Idaho Statesman about the Larry Grant congressional campaign from last year, in which he lost to Republican Bill Sali, and prospectively about the next one as well. Those following politics in Idaho’s 1st House district will find some useful background here.

The core point was that Grant hurt his on campaign in several significant ways. Popkey reported that “Democrats are grieving and resentful. Folks close to Grant don’t want their names attached to criticism, but they want this story told in hopes he’ll reform. They told me he’s ‘a hard guy to help,’ and ‘a pain’ who ‘knew everything’.” That would be a recipe for trouble, all right.

A couple of specific instances certainly sound damning. In one, Grant was on the verge of winning support from the Associated General Contractors, ordinarily a very Republican group, but he “lectured the contractors on unions, the minimum wage and a gas-tax hike, and said his aim would be to clean up Congress. ‘You may hate unions, but that’s the way it is, guys,’ Grant recalled telling AGC. ‘I’m not afraid of being on the side of the working guy.'” In a second, he didn’t even reply to an offer of no-cost media work from Bryant Reinhard, formerly of WRC Advertising, whose experience in working for successful Idaho Republican congressional and statewide campaigns goes back a couple of decades at least.

Popkey also quotes Grant as saying, “I really do believe that we did almost everything right in the campaign.” There’s a fair implication in this of trouble ahead for 2008, when Grant is planning a rerun against Sali.

We do disagree on a couple of other points.

One mistake he attributes to Grant is his decision to use local help rather than national (one reason he didn’t get as much national party financial help as some other candidates). Maybe; but having seen parts of the national party/consultant world up close, we’re very hesitant to conclude that it was a bad call. Over the years, the Idaho track record of Democratic national operatives is spotty at best – take that as a generous view. (There’s a fine big-picture view of this point in the book Crashing the Gate by Jerome Armstrong and Markos Moulitsas Zuniga; their take on the Democratic consulting world is spot on.) Not knowing enough to evaluate the specific personnel in this case, we aren’t concluding that Grant made the right call there. But he may have.

Popkey suggests that Grant could have won this race save only, presumably, for his mistakes. We see no reason to think so. In an extremely close race, small things – a TV ad that technically was better or worse, or the shift of pockets of voters, could shift the results; anything could. This race wasn’t that close. Grant’s vote total was about 12,000 short of Sali’s, too much to make up with small-scale alterations. There is also the fact, not often mentioned, that Sali’s race, primary and general, was cannily run, and little was left to chance. The race was monitored intensively by Sali’s money backers (the same people, Club for Growth and associates, who had been with him since he entered the primary), and it was pouring in funds in the final weeks. So what if Grant missed out on a few hundred thousand from the Democratic party? The Club would have truck-loaded in much more than that in compensation. Most of the internal Republican issues that Sali faced post-primary were healed within a couple of months, and there’s little Grant could have done to change that. And this is a very Republican district that, up-ticket and down, continued its Republican voting patterns last year as they had been doing. There’s no evidence in the voting record that this race was so closely up for grabs.

Just as there’s no evidence the next one is, either. Popkey suggests that Sali, now an incumbent member of Congress, will tougher to beat next time than last year. We agree (and have written as much). If Grant thinks that rerunning last year’s campaign would be enough to change the outcome next time (as one quote in Popkey’s column seems to suggest), he’d be wrong. As to what Grant could do to improve on last year’s outcome . . . we’ll be curious to see.

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Idaho

Dave Reichert

Dave Reichert

The 2008 presidential campaign has been going on for a long time now, and from a Northwest perspective one of the most notable things about it has been the thinness of many of the presidential campaigns in the region.

That’s not true of all the campaigns. But while our presidential support page, in which we’ve been citing all the public-figure backers of presidential candidates we can locate around the region, has plenty of names in a few places, many others are empty.

Two candidates, one on each side, has amassed some strong support in the Northwest, though even then limited. Democrat John Edwards has an impressive collection in Oregon, though not so much in Washington or Idaho. And Republican Mitt Romney seems to have all but sewn up Idaho, and has a strong endorsement list in Oregon too; we’ve not seen anything comparable in Washington.

This is recounted by way of this week’s announcement that Dave Reichert, the U.S. House member from Washington’s 8th district (Bellevue area), will be the lead local figure in Washington state for the current (still?) Republican frontrunner, Rudy Giuliani. Not a bad catch, but it drew out the thought that Reichert is the first public figure – so far as we’ve heard – so far in the Northwest to endorse the frontrunning Republican.

Among the other candidates: Democrat Barack Obama has a small contingent in Washington and Idaho (plenty of individual Oregon supporters, but no public figures we’re aware of). Republican John McCain has backing from Oregon Senator Gordon Smith and former Washington Senator Slade Gorton, but that seems to be it in the region. Democrat Bill Richardson has one Idaho name. We’ve seen no reports of a regional endorsee for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

We could, of course, always have missed some announcements; if you know of endorsers beyond those on our page, please let us know. But for the moment, with a couple of exceptions, the regional efforts look a little thin.

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