"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Question came up during conversation yesterday with a journalist from D.C. of whether Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley‘s likely entry into the U.S. Senate race would mean a withdrawal of some or many of the other names mentioned as prospects. Conclusion seemed to be that yes, likely it would.

That’s not the explicit reason given today for the statement that Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, won’t after all run for the Senate. After expressing some interest in the idea, he told the local Daily Tidings today that he’ll stay where he is: “At this point, my family, my patients, and legislative work for universal health coverage for all Oregonians takes precedence over a bid for the U.S. Senate.” (Pointer via Blue Oregon.)

Okay; but one has to suspect that the news about Merkley wasn’t entirely irrelevant.

We suspect more decisions-against will be following before long.

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Over a generation our collective response to crime and other social ills has been largely this: Get rid of it, get it out of my sight, I don’t want to be bothered with it. For crime, the simple solution: Lock ’em up. There’s still someone out there doing something bad? Lock ’em up longer. Mandatory minimums. Three strikes and you’re out. With the result that this country, and some parts of it in particular, have bulging prisons, enormous bills for corrections, and all the rest.

And a lot of those people we’ve locked up, out of sight and out of mind, are beginning to return to society, sentences partly or fully complete. Now what do we do?

We’re jointly responsible for this mess, and over time we’re all probably going to have to give a little as we work our way out of it. There’s going to be a lot of conflict, and some of it will become political. Some of what’s coming in many more places, emerged at a meeting this morning in Boise. The people involved there included the mayor and two former opponents for a state Senate seat, along with neighbors, attorneys and others, but in the end we’re all involved.

[This is a long post, continued overleaf.]

Start with Dennis Mansfield, years ago a Republican candidate for Congress (and more recently for the state Senate), very clearly of the social-conservative sector, whose views were very much what you’d expect from that shorthand description. But since the arrest, conviction and prison sentence of one of his children, many of his views have been deeply shaken and stirred. In recent years, for example, he’s spent a good deal of time volunteering social work in Idaho prisons and jails. And his take on crime, criminals and incarceration have undergone a big change.

There’s this, for example, from a recent e-mail he sent here: “Those in the GOP who seem to believe the bla-bla of ‘3 Strikes and you’re out’ for felons, are nuts. It’s crazy. My personal experience over these last many years with my son, his cellmates, our work in Ada County Jail and now in the Prison is this: 85% of all felons should not be incarcerated. Neo-cons live in a world of fear-based ‘word clutter’ and tend to traffic in promoting confusion and vetoing positive ideas, to assuage their own fear and belief system(s).”

Out of the behind-bars work came New Hope Community Health, which its web site says “began as a result of two years of Bible studies in Ada County Jail, as well as a practical demonstration of God’s love for those of our community that have been discarded & forgotten, showing them honor and love, and treating them with dignity.” It has developed so far four residential homes for about eight former inmates apiece, funded through grants and other sources.

This is not the only program of its sort in the Northwest; there are quite a few others, and they have been smacking into controversy, often with neighbors, with some regularity. Near our base, a highly-regarded program called ThugzOffDrugz at McMinnville, Oregon, was bounced from various locations – a church was even central to one ouster – before finally finding a stable home. (Its stated goal: “Thugz Off Drugz is a community effort to deal with crime. We will accomplish this by reaching out to the active addicts\alcoholics in our community. We provide a genuine opportunity to change by creating access to housing, food, clothing and structured living. We provide support and resouces by networking with other agencies to provide counseling, identification, schooling, and job placement.”) No one wanted to live near one of these homes. Neither could anyone deny that, well, they’re going to have to live somewhere.

Mansfield’s attempt has generated some uproar. His first move was to open a house before telling the neighbors about it. “It’s a Catch-22 for us,” he wrote. “If we tell the neighbors that we’re bringing a Staffed, Safe and Sober Home into their tract, they immediately think of sex offenders, et al. If we do not tell them (a la our very first house) we can theoretically remain under the radar. However, should a disgruntled Realtor unveil our plan (ala our second house) the ‘fit hits the shan’. Still working on the best way to tell folks without causing undue probs.” The work doubtless is becoming increasingly urgent, as, he writes, “We are on-target to possibly meet our goal of 30 homes by 12/31/07.”

The radar has quickly refocused, of course, and soon letters like this one appeared in Boise Mayor Dave Bieter‘s hotline: “I was calling to voice my concern on the new Christian Hope or whatever Mr. Mansfield’s organization is called. They’ve opened the house on Astor Place that has what I believe put my children and family at risk, and I would appreciate any opportunity I could get to discuss this with the Mayor.”

The dispute has emerged into the Boise news media; the Idaho Statesman has delivered an editorial strongly endorsing Mansfield’s efforts. It points out: “Idaho has about 1,000 convicted felons in jail or prison who could leave, saving taxpayers $50 per day, because a judge has granted them permission to move into a half-way home. But the Valley’s half-way homes are full.”

This morning Bieter hosted a meeting on the dispute, including Mansfield and several people working with him, neighbors critical of the project, city officials and others. State Senator John Andreason, R-Boise, who lives in the area and represents some of the angry neighbors, was also there; we should note here that last year Mansfield challenged (unsuccessfully) Andreason in the Republican Senate primary. Here’s Mansfield’s description of it.

The mtg went as well as any “angry” neighborhood mtg could go. Met the folks, talked with them, listened to the Mayor and his staff. Good people, all. Heard the City Attorney reiterate to all of us at the table that programs like New Hope assist a federally protected group (through the 1988 Drug Addiction Bill – Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended) and, though we may not approve of who lives next to us, none of us have the right to protest them or extract them for our neighborhoods. (Substitute “assisted living” or “abused women” and see if it is any clearer…even try substituting “minorities” and watch the obvious reactions.)

From this 1st meeting at Boise City Hall, we agreed to further communicate on any future issue. The Mayor’s staff did a favor to all concerned by bringing us all together for better communication.

Then a grenade was thrown….

Without apparently knowing what was ahead of us all, Mayor Dave Bieter graciously gave State Sen. John Andreason the last few minutes of the mtg to address the whole group. The Senator acknowledged the Mayor and the neighbors and then looked me square in the face and said this: “I want to congratulate you, Dennis, on making huge profits off of your son’s drug addiction.” I was so taken aback, that at first I didn’t know if he was serious. (Oh, he was serious alright.) I think I even haltingly said, “Are you being honest?” or something to that effect. He had an agenda and he had the floor…only for a short while, though.

(No kidding, he actually said those words….15 or so people’s jaws dropped, I think even the Mayor’s jaw. Rep. Lynn Luker [R-Boise] was there, as were key members of the Mayor’s staff. I could tell that all were stunned…and many were incensed.)

I wanted to react harshly; but the better angels of my nature prevailed. My staff and I interrupted the Senator and immediately stood up, I thanked those in attendance, and then spoke briefly but passionately to all about the hell my bride, Susan, my other kids and I have lived through for the past 7+ years with Nate’s addiction — and how honored we are to help ex-inmates today. Then I simply turned to John and addressed him personally: “Shame on you, John.” And with that my New Hope staff and I walked out of the meeting.

By phone this afternoon, Andreason said the account of his comment was essentially accurate, quoting himself as saying, “I want to congratulate you on your ability to come up with a plan that will enable you to make a lot of money out of your son going to prison for drug addiction.” Reflecting, he said, “I thought he pretty much earned the statement I made.” The number of houses Mansfield has planned, he said, would generate a lot of income. Andreason said he has heard from neighbors about a number of disturbances, noise and cars coming and going at all hours, at the houses. He cited one man who says he wants to sell his house as a result. And he said he’s been fielding complaints for weeks.

He cautions that how you feel about this kind of thing can change when it’s them moving into the house next to yours. True; but that doesn’t necessarily change the right or wrong of the matter.

We haven’t examined the houses; we can’t testify to what sort of disturbances may or may not be happening there. Mansfield does have both an obligation and an interest in keeping these to a minimum, and getting compliance shouldn’t be especially difficult. (This much at least – adherence to standards of neighborhood behavior and avoidance of nuisances and obnoxious activities – is something the neighbors can insist on.) And the stealth house buys and openings Andreason and Mansfield both describe are problematic: At best, the debate is simply being forestalled, not avoided, and it has a feel of being underhanded.

But Andreason’s comment to Mansfield is the sort of personal attack that would be gaveled down in the state Senate; if it generated some negative response, little wonder. And beside the point as well.

And two other points are worth considering.

One is substitution. Forget that it’s Mansfield and the ex-inmates; as he says, “Substitute ‘assisted living’ or ‘abused women’ and see if it is any clearer … even try substituting ‘minorities’ and watch the obvious reactions.” This isn’t the reach it might seem: These residents are not violent killers or sex offenders, and are deemed by the courts safe for release.

And this: These people are going to have to go somewhere. We can’t all get away forever with saying “not here.” You can try sweeping them under the carpet, but sooner or later, that carpet is going to be yours.

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Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee

Washington Representative Jay Inslee has abruptly become the lead congressional figure on the prospective impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

There’s no reference to it yet on his congressional website, but it’s all over news media: He’s taking the initial step toward an impeachment, formally asking the House Judiciary Committee to look into it. His resolutions says:

Directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.

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So often this kind of thing happens, and so often they get away with it. Might have in this case, but for the side effects of a lawsuit.

In his column, Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune writes about a group called Associated Casino Employees for Survival (ACES, of course). The city of Tacoma has been trying to ban or at least cut down on its proliferation of casinos, and a 2006 initiative (which failed) sought to overturn it. ACES was the public face of the attempt to overturn the ban.

ACES presented itself as a group of casino employees – notably, as Callaghan writes, single moms trying to earn a living and keep their jobs. That presentation wasn’t enough to pass the initiative. But just now has it come completely undone, thanks to the firing of Mike Purdy, who ran the campaign, and his followup lawsuit for wrongful termination. In it, he described how the corporations which ran the casinos were the real backers of the initiative.

So you see an initiative – or something similar – on the horizon backed by jes’ plain folks? Look carefully before you take them at face value.

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Following up our July 8 post “Old Dog Leaves the Porch,” on the fierce Republican primary in Washington Senate district 14, we’d note here that the local paper, the Yakima Herald-Republic, has weighed in.

Its editorial endorsement today went to Jim Clements, the incumbent, over challenger Curtis King. Clements, a veteran House member, was appointed to the Senate seat last December to fill a vacancy. King also had applied, and now is challenging him in the primary for election to the seat.

The paper said the decision was close but tipped by what was described as effectiveness in the last session, on Clements’ part, in several important pieces of legislation. And added, “Since there are only 17 Republicans in the 49-member state Senate, you don’t have the kind of success Clements did unless you have earned the respect of your colleagues. That’s something Olympia insiders report the folksy Clements certainly has done.”

Election is next month.

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In downtown Pasco

Walk or drive around the city of Pasco, and the Hispanic feel of the place is clear, and strong. You’ll see more than small traces of Hispanic communities in many other communities in the Northwest, in Hillsboro or Woodburn, Oregon, or Caldwell or Rupert, Idaho, to cite a few examples.

But not to the degree at Pasco, where you could wonder for a moment or two if you’ve accidently slipped south of the border. On our last trip there a few weeks back, we were strcuk more than usual by the number of Spanish-language business signs dominant almost everywhere except the main drags, where the national chains were still most visible.

All of this might have sunk in more strongly if we’d noticed the latest Census figures for Franklin County (of which Pasco is the seat), and its neighbor to the north, Adams County. Those two have become the Northwest’s first counties where the Hispanic population is an absolute majority – about 57% in Franklin and 52% in Adams, which is much smaller.

A useful Associated Press piece on the Hispanic growth at Pasco outlines some of the ways the city, and the local area, is changing. (It’s worth noting that of the cities in the Tri-Cities, Pasco appears to be much more Hispanic than Kennewick, Richland or West Richland.) The raw numbers are substantial: Census estimates put Pasco at 34,022 in 2000, and very nearly at 50,000 now – growth of almost 50%, about 16,000 people, in six years. As the AP story indicates, nearly all of that growth seems to be in the Hispanic population. And, of course, this growth is not new; the growth spurt started in the late 90s.

The social and cultural effects of all this are various. Here, we’ll take a quick look at the political.

In 2000, Franklin County cast 13,614 votes for president; in 2004, they cast 16,158. In 2006, Franklin County voters cast 13,034 ballots. We haven’t, in other words, seen an increase in voting that matches the increase in population. Put another way, the Hispanic voting base hasn’t been turning out. True, some may not be voting because they’re not in town legally. But that surely doesn’t account for it all, or for most.

Franklin’s voting patterns have remained fairly constant up to now. It has been a solidly Republican county for a long time – on the presidential, congressional and gubernatorial levels, it has been firmly Republican for more than a quarter-century. (Before that, back into the 70s and prior, it split ballots with some regularity.) But what will happen if many more of those prospective Hispanic voters register and vote?

You may get some indication from the precinct voting patterns, which we checked through on our last visit to town. While Franklin overall is strongly Republican, a Democratic base has developed and is growing in central and southern Pasco, a particularly Hispanic area of town. Those precincts run strongly counter to the county overall, and we saw some indications they are growing.

South-central Washington is one of the areas around the Northwest where the immigration debate has been especially heated. Part of the reason may be the local increase in Hispanic population – change generates reaction. But anti-immigrant rhetoric can easily breed a counter-reaction, and the raw materials to make it matter – a large and till-now untapped Hispanic vote in Franklin County – are available.

Republicans and Democrats alike may need to keep watch on Pasco. Both parties may be sitting on a significant political time bomb here.

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Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

This would seem to fall into the “helluva story” category, although the Northwest news media silence about it has been almost absolute – the Eugene Register-Guard (in a useful and telling editorial), Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and out of region, the Federal Times and Forbes) seem to have been almost alone in delivering even succinct reports about it. So consider: This is about Oregon’s senior senator asking questions about what may be important ethical issues in a major federal agency with important importance to the Northwest as well as with national import – an agency led by a well-known northwesterner.

In the case of some senators this might be business as usual, but Senator Ron Wyden is usually low-key and diplomatic. So some attention should be paid when words like these show up in one of his press releases (from July 19):

“Mr. Limbaugh’s switch from water regulator to water lobbyist is ominous, in part, because of the Department’s recent history of scandals involving industry players moving through Department ranks while serving industry interests,” wrote Wyden, identifying Ms. MacDonald and recently convicted, former Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles as examples. “Frankly, it’s not always clear where these Department leaders put their loyalties.”

Wyden wrote that, on July 20, directly to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Here’s some background.

When Kempthorne, who had been Idaho’s governor, took over at Interior in May 2006, he was headed into a troubled agency laced with scandals ranging from from its Indian tribe section to oil lease management. Those were of course not Kempthorne’s doing, and there’s been some indication since that some of the problem areas have been improved.

Not necessarily eliminated. On April 30 this year, Julie MacDonald, the department’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks (for a year under Kempthorne), resigned after indications of scandal. A detailed report by the California Contra Costa Times said that “In an apparent conflict of interest, a former high-ranking Bush administration official helped remove a fish from the list of threatened and endangered species in a decision that eased an economic threat to her farm near Dixon. Julie MacDonald resigned . . . a month after the department’s office of inspector general issued a scathing report that accused her of altering scientific reports in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species programs and improperly leaking internal reports to industry groups and friends. The report said nothing about MacDonald’s participation in the decision to remove the Sacramento splittail from protection under the Endangered Species Act. But documents show she edited the decision on the fish, at one point softening scientists’ conclusion that the species ‘is likely’ experiencing a population decline to say it ‘may be’ in such a decline.” (Her involvement with the farm is not small; disclosure reports say she earns as much as $1 million a year from it.)

In May, Representatives George Miller of California and Nick Rahall of West Virginia launched a House investigation into the MacDonald situation and into a review of how endangered species decisions have been made.

President George W. Bush nominated Lyle Laverty of Colorado to replace McDonald. Wyden promptly placed a hold – freezing Senate action – on the Laverty appointment, because of concerns arising out of the MacDonald situation, and “until he was convinced that ethics were being taking seriously at the Department of the Interior.” (That in itself is strong language for Wyden.)

On June 27, Kempthorne wrote back to Wyden, saying efforts were underway to investigate the MacDonald situation and ensure adherence to proper ethics. To that end, he told Wyden that a fellow Idahoan, Mark Linbaugh, the assistant secretary for water and science, would be in charge, and would chair the department’s new Conduct Accountability Board.

Problem: 16 days later, Limbaugh resigned from Interior, to go to work as a water industry lobbyist. He will work for the Ferguson Group, which remarked that his “invaluable experiences on the ground, combined with his policy knowledge, will enable Mark to provide unique strategic guidance to a broad range of our clients.”

All of this, understandably, got Wyden’s attention. Here’s the text of his next, July 20, letter to Kempthorne:

Thank you for your June 27 letter regarding the much-needed ethics reform you’re implementing at the Interior Department in the wake of several scandals.

In your letter you identify Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Mark Limbaugh as one of the Department officials charged with reviewing the ethics issues raised in the Inspector General’s report on Julie MacDonald. Your letter and the accompanying summary of your “10-Point Plan to Make the Department of the Interior a Model of an Ethical Workplace” also identify Mr. Limbaugh as chairman of a newly constituted Conduct Accountability Board. The Board is described as being responsible for “ensuring consistency and fairness in the management of conduct and discipline cases” and Mr. Limbaugh is referred to as “a person of impeccable integrity.”

This sounded promising, but I since have been informed that as of July 13, literally within days of your letter, Mr. Limbaugh resigned from the Department to take a job with the Ferguson Group. The Ferguson Group represents local and state water agencies with interests before the Interior Department, the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress. As the firm states on its Web site: “We represent more irrigation districts, water districts, and local water agencies than any other Washington firm.” Mr. Limbaugh’s hiring represents a good catch for the Ferguson Group, which promises to “build client relationships with top agency officials.” He was the senior appointee in charge of water issues at the Interior Department for two years.

However, Mr. Limbaugh’s departure raises two sets of questions to which I’d like answers.

How will you replace Mr. Limbaugh as a key official in your ethics reform plan? In his absence, who will be responsible for the Department’s response to the Julie MacDonald scandal, including rectifying the damage done by her political interference in scientific advice on Endangered Species Act decisions? Who will take his seat as chairman of the new Conduct Accountability Board? How often did the board meet under Mr. Limbaugh and how often has it met since he resigned?

Also, Mr. Limbaugh’s switch from water regulator to water lobbyist is ominous, in part, because of the Department’s recent history of scandals involving industry players moving through Department ranks while serving industry interests, such as energy lobbyist J. Steven Griles, who became Deputy Secretary before committing the corrupt acts that led to a felony conviction and prison sentence. Additionally, one of the revelations about Ms. MacDonald, whose family owns an agricultural business in California, was that she secretly leaked internal Department records to agricultural business groups in California currently suing the Department. Frankly, it’s not always clear where these Department leaders put their loyalties.

Federal ethics regulations place a variety of limits on contacts that former senior employees like Mr. Limbaugh may have with the agencies in which they served. Mr. Limbaugh is expressly prohibited from all contacts for one year and then from a variety of other contacts regarding matters in which he was personally involved at the agency. What steps has the Department taken, or will it take, to identify matters Mr. Limbaugh is restricted from being involved in on behalf of the Ferguson Group? How will the Department ensure that Mr. Limbaugh is not involved as a lobbyist in any issue he was personally involved in while working at the Department?

Thank you for your continued attempts to address this matter.

There’s apparently been no response yet. Will be interesting to see what if any response does emerge; in the meantime, Wyden is maintaining his hold on Laverty.

Story here, anyone?

ALSO The department’s ethics web page may be of interest. It appears not to have been updated this year.

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Some Indian tribes which have gotten into casino operations have settled for milking the cash cow, however long that may last. Others have used the money as leverage to get into other things, and are developing strong economic engines.

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which has made good money from its casino, has plowed a good deal of it into other kinds of activities. Last year it bought most of Berg Integrated Systems, which manufactures large pieces of equipment. The Coeur d’Alene Press reports today that Berg appears about to receive a giant military contract (giant in the context – $300 to $500 million) to build big fuel storage units.

Tribe Chairman Chief Allan was quoted as saying. “It means new jobs and new money for North Idaho, not just recycled money. It’s very cool.”

That it is.

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haying season

Haying season is on the Northwest; where we are, in rural Yamhill County, farm equipment is in full use. The people running the machinery have been working hard hours after the recent spate of rain, which was timely and more than welcome for most of us, but a problem for some in agriculture – it left some area wine producers grimacing.

Harvest approaches. (Photo/Linda Watkins)

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Ian Johnson

Ian Johnson

We missed it till now because the item broke in a sports column in the Idaho Statesman. Caught it now because it is showing up in national media – Sports Illustrated, national blogs and more. Mention it here because the implications could take it much further.

Started with a much-celebrated moment – the January win of the Boise State University Broncos over the Oklahoma Sooners. One of the BSU players centrally responsible for scoring the final winning points was running back Ian Johnson, and just after the game ended the fine day went on for him and one of the cheerleaders, when he proposed marriage, and she accepted.

The fact that he is black and she is white, however, wound up unearthing some serious racist ugliness. In news reports, Johnson said that he has fielded “phone calls, 30 letters and, in some instances, personal threats.” And the wedding will be the scene of increased security.

From the standpoint of Boise and Idaho, this too now has become a sad but undetachable part of the Fiesta Bowl story.

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Ashland editorial

The Editorial Page at Ashland/RVTV

Here is something very neat that we’ve not seen before, in quite this fashion: A sort of editorial page discussion program with room for reader comment. On community access TV, backed up with YouTube online access.

The Editorial Page is a weekly cable access program featuring three editors of the Ashland Daily Tidings newspaper. Each Wednesday, the three editors go on camera and – they’ve gotten refreshingly loose and informal – talk about three editorial subjects of local import. These may be the merits of the recent 4th of July parade, or city government, environmental issues, or something else. They spend about seven minutes on each topic, and then invite viewer (/reader) response.

They’re now in season 2. (That’s right, we just happened on to it.) Archived video is available from as far back as last October, when the three talked about their city council endorsements.

This is not a bad idea. And easily hijackable elsewhere.

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Part II of the Chris Vance analysis on Crosscut of why things went so wrong for Washington Republicans, and what they should do about it now, is up. And like part I worth the read, though the argument has . . . issues . . . scattered throughout.

There are, however, useful points of interest throughout. (And as noted in our last post on Vance’s part I, other minority organizations – Idaho Democrats, say – might pay attention.)

bullet On the subject of a presidential standard bearer (pointing out, rightly, that the wrong one can drag down Republican candidates down-ballot): “it pains me to say this, but it is critical that the Republicans nominate someone next year who represents new leadership, someone who can redefine and reposition the party. Rudy Guiliani would clearly be such a nominee. Until recently, the same was certainly true of John McCain. Can Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson appeal to secular west coast moderates? I think that is a major question mark.”

There is, of course, a huge issue implicit in this: Can (or should?) the Republican Party nominate someone drastically different than the people it has happily supported up to now? What would that say about its principles? What kind of enthusiasm would such a partisan leader generate? And yet his point about the impact of such a nominee (a real successor to George W. Bush) on Washington Republicans is obviously realistic.

Beyond that, Vance warns, “If the Republican [presidential] nominee writes off Washington early, an uphill climb for state GOP candidates gets even steeper.”

bullet Vance seems ready to place a lot of chips on a Dino Rossi gubernatorial candidacy. There’s some sense to that. You can’t argue with his point that a Rossi governorship – that key win alone – instantly would return Republicans to the table as key players in Washington. And polling has shown Rossi running close to his 2004 photo-finish opponent, Democrat Chris Gregoire, in a prospective rematch.

We remain skeptical that Rossi would do as well the second time around. (We’ll get into that in more detail in a later post.) But Vance’s arguments suggest what may be a key line of Republican strategy for ’08: Throw everything into the Rossi pot. (Assuming he runs, of course; as we’re presuming for now he will.)

bullet Thirdly, he suggested, Republicans need to sheath their (internal) knives. Discussing the sharp fall in numbers of Republican state House members, Vance notes that in Washington, state legislative contest efforts are mostly lead by party caucus leaders. When a party has a strong leader, such as Democrats have now with Frank Chopp and Republicans had with Clyde Ballard, they can do well. But Since Ballard’s retirement from the House in 2002, Vance wrote, “his successors have had to spend more time watching their backs than they have working to win races. Since Ballard left, the House Republicans have gone from one leader to another. From Cathy McMorris to Richard DeBolt to Bruce Chandler and now back to DeBolt. One acrimonious leadership election after another. Constant turnover among top legislative and campaign committee staff. A caucus at war with itself is in no position to challenge the Chopp machine.”

He makes a sound point here, of course. Party organizations frought with internal strife – and this sort of thing happens a lot more than most people realize – are hobbled before they reach the starting gate.

bullet Finally, Vance has a few words on candidate recruitments, especially in the (pivotal) suburbs. Most importantly, they need to get serious and systematic about recruiting high-quality candidates. Rather than simply allowing GOP activists to become candidates in winnable races, DeBolt and company need to identify and meet with Republican-leaning suburban city council members and mayors, school board members, PTA presidents, and other civic leaders. Those are the folks who need to be persuaded to run for the Legislature.”

Speaking generally, that’s sound recruitment strategy for either party, and in many cases both parties often follow it.

The catch with all of this is the nagging sense that it still isn’t enough. The election of 2006 was more dramatic in Washington than most that had gone before, but the erosion of Republican votes had been going on for a decade, since the mid-90s. The suburbs weren’t lost to Republicans in 2006 alone; that had been going on, seat by seat, through this decade. There are deeper problems here than simply the organizational, and even a single spectacular win (such as Rossi’s) would be unlikely to resolve them all at once.

Bottom line: Good suggestions, as far as they go. Added thought: Take another step or two back, and look at the picture more broadly.

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