Jeff Kropf

Jeff Kropf

Forner state Representative Jeff Kropf, who left that post to move more deeply into Portland talk radio, is continuing to move more deeply into Portland tlk radio: He now has a consistent Monday-Friday talk show. To this point, he’d been mainly filling in, notably for Lars Larson on KXL; Kropf’s take is conservative and Republican.

The show will be on KUIK-1360 AM, in the mornings. Some commentary and analysis – sympathetic but clear-eyed – shows up in the linked post on Oregon Catalyst.

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Washington Representative Brian Baird has scheduled a town hall meeting at Vancouver on Monday, and it stands to be one of the most notable such meetings on Iraq in the region this season. The reason is his change of tack on the subject. For quite some time basically anti-war, he has shifted course (probably less than 180 degrees, but substantially); his release today sums up his current view:

“The invasion of Iraq may be one of the worst foreign-policy mistakes in the history of our nation. As tragic and costly as that mistake has been, a precipitous or premature withdrawal of our forces now has the potential to turn the initial errors into an even greater problem just as success looks possible.”

Hotter subjects have we none, and Baird’s meeting is likely to be incendiary; at least one protest effort is already under plan. (Remember the the recent boiling point town halls of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who consistently has been nearly as anti-war as most of the people who attended.)

This is one of those subjects on which you’re better off being up front about your perspective, so, while this is a regional and not a national news blog, here’s ours: We thought in 2003, as the invasion was being launched, George Bush was absolutely correct on Iraq. George H.W. Bush, that is, in his calm, reasoned and intelligence/history-based analysis in 1991 (and later) on why American troops should not push on to Baghdad in the first Gulf War: The end result would far greater bloodshed, immense cost, a long-term American occupation of a large foreign country, regional instability, civil war and other demons by the host. He was right then, and right now, and day after day he is being proven prophetic.

Probably few minds will be changed at this point by either that last paragraph or much else anyone says: Opinions on Iraq seem to be hardening, if anything.

But – this being a Northwest blog – we would suggest a listen to an hour-long KUOW speaker’s forum recording, of a talk by Washington Post military reporter Thomas Ricks, consistently one of the better reporters on Iraq, about the Big Picture over there, with some focus on where we’re going.

In sum, he suggests the course seems almost locked for some time to come. He wouldn’t argue with Baird that withdrawal of troops carries a big risk of violence and instability; but then, he said, any option before us carries that risk – there are no good options at all. Whether the level of violence or instability worsens or improves over the coming months, he said, our response will be the same: A year from now, we’ll have half as many troops over there as we do now, because we won’t be able to support any more. “This war rapidly is becming not a problem for [Bush] but for the next president” – and the next president probably wouldn’t be able, whatever he or she wanted to do, to pulled troops and equipment out inside a year or two.

“I don’t think this will end well,” he said. We’re in act three of a five-act Shakespeare tragedy, he said, and the fourth act will be bloody and the fifth “messy.”

We tend not to be quite as pessimistic as Ricks. But his analysis is more clear and compelling that almost anything you’ll hear at a town hall, as calmly and clearly thought out as H.W.’s, and it’s recommended for some pre-meeting perspective.

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McClure of Idaho, by William L. Smallwood, Caxton Press, Caldwell ID (2007).

reviewIn thinking back on James McClure, who was a senator from Idaho for 18 years through 1990 and a U.S. representative six years before that, you don’t recall either an overwhelming personality or riotous controversy; the mental picture can seem a little blurred, some of the normal shorthand – that he was a “conservative Republican” – doesn’t quite seem to cut it, especially for what the terms mean in this decade.

McClure bookThe new – release is set for September 1 – biography, McClure of Idaho, brings some focus. Get hold of two basic points and you have a fair sense of this guy who, improbably in some ways, has been one of Idaho’s most successful politicians.

One is this: He never really left the small, socially conservative, rural town of Payette where he grew up and established himself professionally. Politicians like to say such things about themselves, but in McClure’s case it seems generally true, generating the range of positives and negative you get from that background.

The other, less obvious to most of the public but clear to those who worked around or across from him, is implied by this passage: “You need to know that Jim McClure fancies himself as the consummate do-it-yourselfer. He did all the wiring and plumbing and heating installations in his Payette house during the years when it was undergoing remodeling, and he did the same thing in his cabin on Payette Lake outside of McCall. There isn’t anything around a house that he thinks he can’t install or repair.” McClure was (is presumably), to a degree unusual for a legislator, a highly focused detail man, happier working on the precise language of legislation or on a stubborn electrical wiring job, than in blasting off on the ills of the world.

Put the two pieces together, and you have a basis for evaluating McClure. This book, too – in an analogous sense, it too has these qualities. It is very much an “authorized” biography, and its mood and attitude is suffused by McClure’s and the community of family, friends and associates around him. But its 485 pages are also packed with loads of detail, and it’s an easy recommended read for anyone interested in one of Idaho’s leading political figures and the impact – considerable – he has had on the state.

Your writer should note here some background. I covered McClure as a newspaper reporter and editor during his last dozen or so years as a senator, and held him in some regard (and still do) as a highly capable public servant. (Should note too that the publisher, Caxton Press, also published a book I wrote called Governing Idaho, which can be located on the right-hand column of this site’s main page.) Linda Watkins (the managing editor here) worked at his Boise office as an intern for several months in the early 80s, and left with a favorable impression of both the senator and the office.

Externally, McClure was a classic example of “working up the steps” in politics: From Payette County prosecutor, to state senator, to Senate leadership, to the U.S. House, to the U.S. Senate, and came respectably close to becoming Senate majority leader. All of this suggests a grasping ambition, and in many politicians it would be, but you never got that sense from McClure. From him you got interest and energy about the job, but also an amiability that almost seemed diffident. You can imagine him walking into a room filled with people and just handing out by the wall, waiting for someone to walk up and talk; that’s not really an accurate image, but mainly because he trained himself to push out and campaign. Not many politicians clearly understand their personal assets while maintaining genuine humility and a personable style; McClure was a rarity in that. (Another way of putting it is to say that he had no personal charisma, an assessment he’d likely accept.) While a senator, he never seemed so smitten with the Beltway as to have any trouble giving it up, which he did in his mid-60s. (A fourth term in 1990 would have been his for the asking.)

That may be in part because he was always, in some important part of his mind, a small-town lawyer in a conservative, insular, religious community that viewed a lot of the outside world with some suspicion. For example. The upheaval of the 60s can be described in many ways; when writer William Smallwood characterizes much of it as a period of runamuck federal regulation and spending as the streets ran foul in unkempt hippies (all of which, he writes, was “generating outrage among the concerned citizens in the hinterlands” – so that we know which Americans were the concerned citizens and which were not), we’re getting a sense of many of the people of Payette, and McClure and the people around him, saw it. And how he saw the world, in the big sense, didn’t seem to change enormously however much detailed knowledge he accumulated (which he did) or however much he traveled around in it.

All of this alone might have made McClure a so-so legislator at best, but he also had this gift for detail, and that was transformative. Possibly no other member of Congress from Idaho has ever had it the way McClure did, and it gave him real value in every legislative job he held, and he held them continuously for three decades. Occasionally, the big picture notwithstanding, it would lead him into interesting places, such as his long-running enthusiasm for electric cars, one of which he owned for many years. Detail is the underappreciated heart and soul of legislating, and McClure was a natural at it; this book has the level of specificity to tell what that meant, on a range of levels.

In several ways, this book’s approach is entirely appropriate for McClure. It is thorough, but not to the point of obsession; it is cleanly told, and the key episodes are rendered well. We’d question emphasis and characterization in some places (and there are a few niggling errors), but no glaring omissions.

McClure of Idaho has the kind of plain title that ordinarily seems offhand, but actually earns itself (as, say, Borah of Idaho never did or could have) from the narrative. If either of those subjects are of interest, it’ll repay reading.

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Just a quick but striking quote here, from Oregon Senator Ron Wyden‘s review of his recent Iran-centered town hall meetings. This was on the subject of impeachment of President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, which a number of people at those meetings (at Portland, Eugene and Medford) insisted upon.

I finished by saying that we should extend the same due process to President Bush that was extended to President Clinton, and that it shouldn’t matter whether you are Independent, Democrat or Republican when it comes to due process. A significant chorus of “no” came from the audience, including cries of “he doesn’t deserve it!” When passionate liberals argue in opposition to due process, you know that good and decent people have long ago exceeded their boiling point.

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Greg MacPherson

Greg MacPherson

Representative Greg MacPherson wasted no time – barely a day after incumbent Democratic Attorney General Hardy Myers said he would retire, fellow Democrat MacPherson formally said he’s in the race. Not only that, his web site is already up – the man was prepared.

That may not be enough to scare off all primary competition; word still is that law professor John Kroger will join in shortly. But there is a sense here of hitting the ground running here.

For now, we’ll make only the suggestion that MacPherson’s campaign may be tied to some extent to the Measure 49 (the Measure 37 land use scaleback) ballot issue. His links to the issue run deep, not only in his own legislative career, but also that of his father, former state Senator Hector Macpherson, who was one of the creators of the land use law Measure 37 took on. And make the note that his Lake Oswego-based House seat, which has held solidly enough till now, may become hotly competitive next year – one of the few uplifting pieces of political news Oregon Republicans have gotten this year.

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We more than you might expect with Bryan Fischer’s latest argument on Idaho legal/education/sex policy. Let’s open with excerpts from his Idaho Values Alliance blog:

In many states, including Idaho, sex outside marriage is against the law, and that includes consensual sex between teenagers. Sex outside marriage, whether “fornication” or “adultery” from a legal standpoint, is punishable by both a fine and imprisonment.
Yet educating teens about the legal risks they run if they become sexually active before marriage is a topic that is rarely if ever discussed in sex ed classes. I’m guessing educators show less restraint in making students aware of the legal risks of drunk driving or possession of drugs, but common sense dictates that making young adults aware that their behavior is not only dangerous but also illegal ought to be a part of a thorough education. . . .

Most teens and many parents in Idaho are most likely unaware that consensual teenage sex is a crime. Idaho lawmakers adjusted our sex offender statutes to include a “Romeo and Juliet” exception that keeps a young man who is a statutory rapist from being required to register as a sex offender, but when a male of any age – including a teenager – has sex with a girl under the age of 18 he is guilty of rape under Idaho law, whether the sex was consensual or not. Idaho law requires that he be sent to prison for no less than one year.

Fischer’s point that sex outside marriage violates Idaho law is correct (see most specifically the law against fornication), also that the law is rarely enforced (there have been a few occasions) and he probably is right too that relatively few Idahoans know any of this.

We have strongly believed for a long time that a basic crash course in law – civil and criminal, law as it affects ordinary people moving through society – for a semester or two ought to be a basic component of public education at the high school level. The idea that we’re supposedly educating a corps of citizens who derive most of what they know about the law from TV shows is appalling. We’d not argue at all with Fischer’s suggestion that the law as it relates to sex might be a slice of that course.

We have the suspicion, though, that a good many educated Idahoans would likely react rather differently than Ficher anticipates: They might be inclined to repeal the laws. (Some of which might be constitutionally defective anyway; we suspect the fornication law, for example, probably would not survive a federal court challenge.)

We also suspect something else, that Fischer might do well to take look westward to the town of McMinnville, Oregon, which is just starting to emerge from a recent statewide controversy. The controversy has had to do with boorish behavior on the part of a couple of middle school boys, swatting several girls at school on the rump and otherwise acting up. That activity (part of a pattern of “party boy” activity) got the attention not only of parents and school officials but also the Yamhill County prosecutor, who proceeded to charge the boys with felony sexual harassment violations. The community and then the state (the story has been heavily reported statewide) erupted in outrage. The very broad consensus was that the boys acted badly and should have been punished, but that this should have been a matter for parents and educators, not prosecutors and courts. Under intense pressure, the prosecutor finally (after months of negotiation) dropped the case on Monday.

There’s also the point the Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert brings up: “Does anyone really want to pay additional property taxes to hire cops and deputies to work the sex beat and pay the county prosecutors to take these cases through the courts? Does anyone really want to pay to build the jail and prison cells needed to carry out the maximum sentences Fischer extols on his blog — a six-month term for ‘fornication,’ or a three-year hitch for adultery.” (If enforcement were “consistent,” we’d have to be locking up a very large piece of the population.)

So when Fischer concludes, “Perhaps classroom education and consistent and visible enforcement of existing Idaho law would have a wonderfully salutary effect on sexual mores and sexual conduct in the Gem State,” we would tend to . . . agree. In the long run, that is, which is not in the way Fischer would intend . . .

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Idaho

Dennis Hession

Dennis Hession

Mary Verner

Mary Verner

Spokane two or three decades back likely would have slam-dunked Dennis Hession in his election to hold the job of mayor to which he was appointed a couple of years back.

He looks and sounds like a mayor. He appears to have done a creditable job (from the Spokesman-Review‘s endorsement: “The city is performing well, and re-electing Hession would promise political stability under a capable hand.”) Not Mr. Excitement, but steady and solid. And – significantly – one of the downtown professional/business crowd, an attorney comfortable with the community’s power structure. All of that would seem to be plenty to win election.

That said, we’d right now give odds that in November Spokane’s voters will replace him with Council member Mary Verner, who fits none of the traditional criteria but maybe satisfies where a lot of Spokane is headed.

That conclusion emerges from the early returns (we’ll be back at this to look at the detailed numbers later) from the Tuesday primary. Three substantial candidates were running for mayor. As of this writing (with about 98% of ballots counted), Hession (a former council member) took 10,666, Verner 10,286 and fellow Council member Al French 9,206. Next step is the November runoff for the top two.

Hession has been a reasonably visible mayor and (in normal fashion) has trumpeted his activities at City Hall, but – maybe in reflection of the ongoing angry voter mood – all three incumbent city officials wound up loosely trying to position themselves as outsider insurgents. That was most problematic for Hession who is, after all, trying to say at the same time that the current team is already doing a good job.

Verner’s second place finish may result from the sense that she seems least like a downtown insider. Two months ago we wrote 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.)” Professionally, Verner is like Hession an attorney, but there the similarity ends; she is executive director of the Upper Columbia United Tribes.

In looking ahead to a Hession-Verner showdown this fall, two dynamics jump to mind.

One is traditional political calculation: An incumbent who falls well short of half the vote against several opponents in round one, will usually lose to a single opponent in round two. Most elections featuring incumbents are shaped fundamentally by the incumbent, and votes tend to shake out on that basis. Hession is falling far short of half the vote – about 33.6%. He may be able to pick up some of the Al French vote, but the primary numbers indicate Spokane voters are in a kick-em-out mood. He may have a much tougher time than will Verner in getting to 50%.

The other indicator is partisan. Spokane’s city races, like most in most places, are non-partisan, but the partisan colors and hues here are unmistakable: For quite a few voters, Hession likely will be the surrogate Republican, and Verner the surrogate Democrat. (There’s a similar dynamic in Boise and some other places.) That means the mayoral race has partisan implications for a traditionally Republican city which has been (notably in the last couple of elections) trending Democratic.

Of course, odds are not a lock on the future; much can happen between here and there. But the Hession campaign has some serious work to do.

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Hardy Myers

Hardy Myers

In the extensive roster of departing electeds in Oregon, put Attorney General Hardy Myers in the “expected” category; he cites age (he’ll be 69 in 2008) and longevity – 12 years in the office.

As a candidate for re-election, Myers has had the assets of staying out of trouble and sound legislative experience (as a former House speaker), but a firey ball of charisma he isn’t; in that, he’s a fair argument for the natural head start Democrats have in running statewide these days.

That may be why immediate interest seems to settle on two Democrats as prospects for the race: state Representative Greg MacPherson, D-Lake Oswego, a major figure in the last session (a significant player on land use), and John Kroger, a law professor at Lewis & Clark College who has never run for office but has a fascinating professional history. Reportedly, both have some interest in the race.

No Republicans yet; don’t expect that field to remain empty for long.

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As Washington voters wrap up their primary voting today (almost wrote, “head to the polls,” that now be nearly an anachronism), we’ll be paying most attention to the city elections in Spokane and the port election in Seattle. (Seattle council looks to be an incumbent-heavy snoozer.)

And we may note the discernment of voters in a couple of Spokane instances.

The Spokesman-Review’s Hard 7 blog has a pointed post about the paper’s local endorsements. From the original editorials:

Council District 1

Donna McKereghan: This council seat, which represents northeast Spokane, calls for a change from incumbent Councilman Bob Apple, who too often finds himself isolated from other council members. Going against the tide has its place, but public interests would be better served by a council member with the energy and savvy to dig into issues and help craft collaborative solutions. Challenger Donna McKereghan has shown herself eager and able to take on that role. …

Council District 3

John Waite: Legislative bodies need at least one voice that can be counted on for an unorthodox contribution to the conversation. John Waite, seeking the northwest Spokane seat being vacated by Rob Crow, represents that and more. …

Meaning the criteria for endorsement are . . . what exactly? Hard 7 suggests, “Um, maybe in the next election, the board can endorse Apple as a challenger in his district and call for Waite’s removal in his.”

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Afew quick thoughts on the just-posted Riley Research Associates statewide Oregon poll on presidential, Senate and ballot matters around the state. (Happily for analysts, crosstabs are included.)

bullet The size of the undecideds in the presidential and Senate contests. After all these months of intensive headlines, we’re struck by the large number of people who have yet to make of their minds, maybe most notably in the presidential contest – on both sides. (Maybe the Republicans especially: Nine polled-for candidates and 35% – among women, 46% – can’t express support for any of them? Not that the Democrats are so very much stronger.) That suggests some serious fluidity in the two contests; a lot is up for grabs and can happen. We’re not quite sure what to make of the seeming runup in former Senator John Edwards’ numbers.

bullet The low Smith numbers. Out of context, the matchup of Republican Senator Gordon Smith and Democrat Jeff Merkley (no Steve Novick numbers, unfortunately) at 38% to 19% looks not bad for Smith. But add the context. Merkley has just entered the race, and remains hardly known outside his Portland-area state House district. (His best numbers are in the Portland metro.) The polling does include Independent John Frohnmayer (7%, which sounds high), who may or may not enter. The undecideds are at 35%, which ought to be a huge red flag for Smith – undecideds usually break for challengers. Smith’s 38% isn’t good. And don’t get us started on his 44% in central and eastern Oregon, which usually runs 65%-75% for upper-ticket Republicans. This has the look of a highly competitive race.

bullet Backers of the ballot measures, 49 (land use) and 50 (tobacco tax), have work to do. We’ve suggested from the start that these measures are passable if a solid campaign for them is staged. But they are not done deals, and the current 58% for the first and 53% for the second, with substantial undecideds, isn’t strong enough to allow their supporters to coast.

UPDATE Should have noted here some of the difficulties with this poll and for that matter with any poll so early – none of them would be suitable for taking to the bank. We find the numbers interesting, but no more than that – very far from conclusive. There’s a useful detailed critique of this one specifically on the MyDD blog by Oregon blogger torridjoe.

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Pat Takasugi

Pat Takasugi

When you have a primary challenge to an incumbent higher-level elected official – U.S. representative, say – from someone who has yet to be elected to anything and isn’t really a public figure, there’s a usual tendency to shuffle it aside as a matter of attention. And, usually, for good reason: Such races only rarely go anywhere.

Matt Salisbury of Nampa, who has said he will run in the Republican primary against Idaho 1st District Representative Bill Sali, has fit the criterion; after a small flurry of attention in early July when he announced, we’ve not heard much more (nor been able to locate a campaign web site, we should add).

We have not been given a lot of rationale for Salisbury’s race, mostly what can be implied from some early comments to the Associated Press, that he “described himself as a ‘Lincoln Republican’ who believes politicians should stay ‘out of your bedroom and out of your social mores.’ ‘Idahoans deserve a candidate who doesn’t represent social engineering, who doesn’t represent anything other than carrying out the public trust.'” (Which seemed to set him up as running to the left of Sali, at least as assessed by Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance: “These phrases, of course, are right out of the playbook of secular fundamentalists, who do not want to give religious convictions any place at all in public policy debates.”)

We do now, however, have a more visible public figure associated with the race: Former state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi, who also is a former chair of the Canyon County Republicans, who has signed on as campaign chairman. Interviewed by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, Takasugi (like Salisbury) didn’t much get into specifics about why Sali ought to be ousted.

What we’ll have to watch at this point is whether he is able to pull other prominent Republicans into Salisbury’s race. That’s not a given; but we’d have to put the Salisbury campaign into a new category at this point.

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Last week Oregon Senator Ron Wyden held town hall meetings in-state about Iraq. Wyden was among the minority of senators opposed to war in Iraq from the beginning, among those most consistently critical. He seemed to barely escape with his skin intact from the Portland event (more than 300 during a noon hour), and Eugene wasn’t a lot kinder: Wyden wasn’t nearly critical enough of the Bush administration to suit these Oregon crowds.

Said one: “Do you have any idea how angry we are at the Democrats?” – for not being sufficiently fierce in opposition. He went on to ask: “How do you sleep at night?” Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn suggested that “the audience members demanding impeachment were the moderates.”

We’re not suggesting here that those 300 were typical of all Oregon voters. But we do think there’s a change in the political center of gravity, that some ideas and concepts not quite mainstream even a few months ago may be becoming so.

Call that preface to today’s announcement from the new Jeff Merkley Democratic campaign for the Senate (against Republican incumbent Gordon Smith) calling for the impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. (Specifically, he’s supporting the resolution introduced a few weeks back by Washington Representative Jay Inslee.)

“Only through impeachment proceedings will we be able to hold the Attorney General accountable for his actions. I applaud Oregon’s four Democratic Congressional Members for their early leadership in co-sponsoring the Inslee resolution in the House,” he wrote.

Three or four months ago, you might have called that daring. Today, it’s a signal that Merkley’s aiming for the Oregon Democratic mainstream.

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