Writings and observations

Republicans in Idaho seem to have made their choice for president. Not only an overwhelming number of elected officials but, indications are, plenty of other Republicans as well seem to be in the Mitt Romney camp. However many other states he may have, the former Massachusetts governor evidently has Idaho locked down.

But what about Idaho Democrats?

Supporters for John Edwards and Hillary Clinton can be found, but indications now are that Barack Obama seems to be surging. The candidate himself was recently nearby, at a rural issues conference at Elko, Nevada, and drew a strong response there (considering that Elko is, after all, heavily Republican).

Red State Rebels has an enlightening report on a recent Obama staffer appearance in Boise: “Pengilly’s was packed Monday afternoon to greet Raul Alvillar, Western region political director for the Barack Obama campaign. Fresh from Obama appearances this weekend in Salt Lake City and Elko, Nevada, Alvillar said that although no Idaho campaign stops are certain, he’ll be working hard to get Obama to Boise. Close to 100 people showed up at the historic Boise saloon to welcome Obama’s emissary. People bought Obama Ts and signed up to volunteer on the campaign (see below). At one point, organizers asked people inside to move up so people waiting on the sidewalk could get in.”

The site quoted Alvillar as saying “I want to have an event here for Barack with 10,000-plus,” noting the heavy recent turnout for former Vice President Al Gore.

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Idaho

Tom Butler

Tom Butler

The tally of Oregon House Republicans opting out – well over half a year before the filing deadline – rises now to six (that’s six out of a total of 29), with the upcoming departure of Tom Butler of Ontario.

Unlike some of the other Republican departures, this one has only a slim chance of affecting the partisan balance in the chamber. His district 60 is the southeastern part of the state – Malheur, Harney and Baker counties and the remote southeastern part of Grant – and this is solidly Republican territory, all of these counties running 2-1 (or better) Republican. Butler, elected five times to this seat, was solidly entrenched. But since this is an open seat, in what is looking like another Democratic cycle, Democrats may be encouraged to run a candidate to try to pull higher than normal numbers here, as an added push for local and statewide Democratic candidates. Still, Butler’s successor will highly likely be a Republican. (One side note there: Baker City’s Chuck Butcher, who has run for the U.S. House, probably would make a strong Democratic nominee here.)

His departure has another impact at the Statehouse. Butler has been one of the leading figures on tax issues in the legislature, and the mix of discussion and pressure points is likely to change with his departure.

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Oregon

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Today’s poll numbers on Idaho 1st district politics have a parentage that makes them difficult to bypass: Ordered and distributed by Democrat Larry Grant‘s congressional campaign, but conducted with analysis by Republican pollster Greg Smith. An unusual kind of combination, regionally, but one suggesting solidity in the results.

The issue at hand is the numbers for the man who last year beat Grant for the U.S. House seat, Republican Bill Sali; and little wonder Grant wanted to note them, since Sali’s support doesn’t look especially strong from an incumbent who hasn’t yet stepped in any major hornet nests. Not yet posted on the Grant web site, here’s the summary from Smith:

The poll was conducted July 11-13 among 253 randomly selected and statistically representative Idahoans eighteen years of age or older (who live in Regions 1, 2, or 3) who are either very or somewhat likely to participate in either the Democratic caucus or Republican primary election in February and May, 2008, respectively. These respondents were interviewed utilizing the most modern CATI (computer assisted telephone interviewing) techniques. . . .

Among those with an impression of Larry Grant, the ratings are quite positive. For instance, 28% of Idaho voters in Regions 1/2/3 have a very/somewhat favorable impression of Grant, whereas only 13% have an unfavorable impression. This results in a 2:1 favorable/unfavorable ratio, which is quite positive. The challenge, however, is to create and/or enhance Grant’s image among the approximately 60% of Region 1/2/3 residents who either have heard of him but have no impression, or say they are unaware of him (about 30% in either case). The aware/no opinion concern is particularly present north of the Salmon River (Regions 1/2), where about 40% of respondents give this response.

In some ways, Bill Sali has similar impressions to Grant. He has an equally high level of “favorables” (29%), with 15% having a somewhat unfavorable impression. However, fully 31% of Region 1/2/3 voters have a very unfavorable impression of Sali, which is even slightly higher in Region 3 (38%). The resulting data have a margin of error of + 5.7% at a 95% confidence level.

A bottom line impression is that many of the negatives, or at least concerns, significant numbers of 1st district voters developed about Sali last year, appear to remain in place. And that may demonstrate the difficulty of changing impressions once formed, because the impression you could reasonably get of Sali during last year’s campaign are fairly different from those of the last few months.

The biggest rap on Sali (apart from philosophical or policy viewpoint) long has had to do with behavior – a generation of the kind of aggravation that translates to “does not play well with others.” Since going to the U.S. House, though – it has to be said – we’ve seen little evidence of that: Any blowups or bad behavior have not surfaced. True, he’s on the other side of the continent, and maybe much is happening that isn’t surfacing in news and feature reports; but the reportage we have available has painted a picture of a conservative Republican congressman fitting fairly comfortably into his caucus. Not what we anticipated based on prior history, but there it is.

In the last few months, the topics Sali has been associated with have had to do with such matters as hydropower, the farm bill, wildfire control, funding for transportation and West Nile projects. His first piece of passed legislation was a standard service-honorific measure having to do with Idaho Special Olympics. His output looks so far to be around the norm for a member of Congress.

He has complained about the sometimes irrational congressional process. But he also has been specific enough to seize on one of the most often-abused (abused for many decades, by both parties) pieces of the process, the ability craft Christmas-tree legislation which forces lawmakers to vote up or down on many subjects at once, denying them the ability to cast clean votes and often getting stuck with “supporting” things they opposed. Sali is the prime sponsor (with 27 others, at present) of House Resolution 565, which would amend House rules to divide such subjects (as, say, most state legislatures do). It may not clear the House, but by most external standards it’s a worthy effort.

None of which is necessarily conclusive or the whole story. But we find interesting that the mostly favorable headlines Sali has had in recent months so far appear to have only dented the impressions left from last year.

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Idaho

Darlene Hooley

Darlene Hooley

Hillary Clinton hasn’t so far made a lot of headway in the Northwest; among the Democratic presidential contenders, John Edwards and Barack Obama (and maybe Bill Richardson too) seem to have made more progress in the region. All of which seems a little odd for the candidate generally considered the Democratic front runner.

But on June 21 she picked up Washington Representative Jay Inslee as a supporter in that state, and now in Oregon Representative Darlene Hooley, who also was named as a co-chair of the campaign’s rural issues group.

Showing that Clinton is beginning to pick up a bit in the Northwest. (Wondering, though, who in Idaho will dare to lead the Clinton march?) But considering the start her rivals have had, she’s not yet to the point of pulling even in the region.

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Oregon

We’ve been uneasy about the state of the national economy for – well, pretty much the whole decade. In recent years some of the normal leading economic indicators look good, but underneath we note the persistence of termites chewing away at the foundations.

Recommended Sunday reading today has to do with one of those batches of termites: The steady transition from well-paid to low-paid work. A Seattle Times analysis says that “Observers suggest several reasons for the shift toward lower-paying new jobs: the long-term move away from manufacturing toward services; higher-wage jobs being outsourced overseas; and workers in a globalized economy having less leverage to negotiate raises. . . . In any case, working full time in an in-demand occupation no longer guarantees financial stability — particularly in a pricey area such as central Puget Sound.”

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Washington

Would be worth knowing more of the background of what is going on at KOPT-AM in Eugene, a liberal talk radio station which this week dropped all of its local-based programming. A one-time news staff of nine had been cut back and this week the last three staffers’ jobs were eliminated. Oregon Media Insiders noted that “Their news department had just come off winning best news for the 2nd year in a row, and nabbed all kinds of other awards as well.”

KOPT will continue airing national Air America programs; Insiders said that the station is up for sale, and presumably might change format if sold.

The Eugene Register Guard‘s editorial on this had some useful background: “KOPT has a curious corporate lineage. It is owned by Churchill Media, the president of which is Suzanne Arlie. Arlie’s husband, John Musumeci, first became widely known in Eugene as a principal of the Gang of Nine, an initially anonymous group that lampooned liberal members of the Eugene City Council in a series of sometimes funny, sometimes cruel cartoons published as paid advertisements in The Register-Guard. It seemed odd – to some, suspicious – that Churchill would launch a radio station aimed at the very audience whose toes were still sore from being trod upon by Musumeci.”

All sorts of conclusions are being drawn out of all this. Some look on it as a local business conspiracy to drive out liberal talk. Insiders argued the transition is “proving that even in a liberal town like Eugene, you can’t sell Air America.” (There’s an intense debate over this worth reading on the Insiders’ post on KOPT.) Neither argument really sounds entirely right; in fact, they almost seem to cancel each other. (Should be noted that Air America has a fairly solid roster of 60 stations nationally carrying broadcasting, and its Portland outlet, KPOJ-AM, is one of its most successful.)

The Register-Guard pointed out that there’s no locally-based conservative talk either, and concluded: “The core problem is not one of ideology, but of economics. That makes the problem worse. If KOPT’s local format had failed because its political orientation was rejected by the market, another station could succeed with a different political mix. The sad fact is that stations with local broadcasters reporting local news and taking local calls have trouble selling enough ads to sustain themselves.”

Odds are, given today’s standard economic model for radio, they’re right. Just maybe, we need a new economic model.

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Oregon

Jim Tibbs

Jim Tibbs

This week’s attempt at a Boise mayoral campaign attack – which didn’t go over very well – was a case of failure to fully engage mind before opening mouth. It has set Council member Jim Tibbs back in his effort to unseat Mayor Dave Bieter, and not just in this instance: His effort this time went over so poorly it likely will undermine his next attempt too.

The Tibbs press release said this:

. . . Tibbs presented documents outlining Mayor Bieter’s proposal to pay the Gallatin Group over $65,000 in taxpayer money while failing to disclose his personal campaign business relationship with the company.

“This is a case of political payback and graft like I have never seen in Boise.” Said Tibbs “To have The Gallatin Group on Dave Bieter’s payroll and ask for $65,000 in a city contract on their behalf is outrageous- it doesn’t come close to passing the smell test.”

Jim Tibbs has asked the Ethics Commission report by August 15th.

“Mayor Biter [sic] has made a thinly veiled attempt at ethics that I don’t think the citizen of Boise will buy.” Tibbs added

This has already been effectively parsed in an Idaho Statesman editorial (which is worth the read) and elsewhere; here we’ll try not to cover all that ground again, but aspects of it do call for a wider view and an exclamation point.

An internal problem with the release (apart from proofreading – we reproduced the text here verbatim) is that it doesn’t indicate a conflict. A conflict of interests might occur if, for example, Bieter were being paid by Gallatin for outside contracting work and then proposed it receive a city contract. That could be a conflict between private interest and public responsibility. Instead, in this case, he spent campaign money with Gallatin, and also recommended it for city work. That indicates some closeness, perhaps; but where’s the conflict?

It is true (though unnoted in the release) that Gallatin’s president, Boise’s Marc Johnson, has a volunteer role on the Bieter campaign. A small deal, but you could make a case for some limited conflict. At the same time, Gallatin was being considered to do lobbying work for the city (that’s the $65,000 contract Tibbs refers to). So you might ask the question: What should Bieter have done?

Approval of such contracts rests with the Boise City Council, which essentially a legislative body. How do legislative bodies handle conflicts? Typically, members are required to openly declare potential conflicts, and then either abstain from voting or debating or go ahead and participate. Here are a couple of examples. In the Idaho Legislature, a declaration is conflict is in the rules, and members can abstain. In Oregon, the stringent rules require legislators to declare a conflict – as they did an uncommonly large number of times this year’s session – but does not excuse them from their obligation to vote.

Bieter did propose the Gallatin contract to the council, in effect a recommendation. But he told the council, and the public, that he had a relationship with Gallatin, and recused himself from debate or action on the recommendation. That certainly would fit within the legislative-type framework.

At the time all this was happening, Tibbs was one of the council members responsible for making the decision on the contract. But he didn’t. Saying he had a medical appointment, he skipped the council action on the contract, and had nothing to say about it to other council members either before the vote or after, until now. In the heat of campaign. So who, Bieter or Tibbs, more properly acted within the scope of their official responsibility?

Tibbs now has gotten into a squabble with other council members over this, and some of his language – talk about City Hall as a “Gallatin playground” – is sufficiently over the top to make some hitherto independent voters wary.

The general reaction to Tibbs’ announcement seemed to be critical. At this point, he’s going to start with an uphill walk when he makes his next blast against Bieter. He will have to pick his next material more carefully: If he doesn’t, he may get little attention for the blasts he makes after that.

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Idaho

Jerry Krummel

Jerry Krummel

As in other instances, not a shock, the announcement today that Oregon Representative Jerry Krummel, R-Wilsonville, will not run again in 2008. Not a shock, but maybe the sheer number of departing legislators is beginning to startle. (Merkley, Minnis, Brown, Gordly, Scott, Deckert – due to employment change – probably Nelson . . .) By comparison, few retirements have been announced in either Idaho or Washington. And bear in mind that retirements need not be announced for most of another year.

Krummel has served five terms and been elected five times. He won in 2006 with 58.8% over a desultory Democratic challenge, and the same percentage in 2004 – solid enough albeit not an indication of prohibitive partisan strength. If 2008 is another Democratic wave year, might this be an open seat Democrats could realistically target? Very possibly.

Over on the Republican Oregon Catalyst blog, comes the concerned comment: “Hmmm… are any Democrats retiring?” Answer is, yes, but evidently not as many, or in as many sensitive locations.

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Oregon

Put this in the realm of what-if more than prediction. But those of us looking for a clear metric of the political stance of western Ada and eastern Canyon counties in Idaho – these being a central pivot to the state’s politics – might in 2008 possibly have one of the best such measures in years.

Disclaimers first: These places are Republican, solidly so, with scant evidence of more than tiny scraps of partisan opposition in recent years. A strong operating majority will self-describe as “conservative.” But that’s not near the end of the issue, because there are all sorts of conservatives in Idaho.

For these purposes, we might call them “anti-fund” and “limited invest” conservatives, as measured by their stands on such things as the new College of Western Idaho, mass transit and other urban projects. For some of these conservative Republicans, these projects and others make sound business and planning sense; for others, they’re tax and spend and simply anathema.

Representative Mike Moyle, R-Star, the House majority leader (and influential in the caucus beyond the title), is a clear-cut member of the “anti-fund” group. Now, we’re hearing, there’s a move afoot among Ada Republicans to primary him next year – with Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill. The insurgent case would be that Moyle represents a rural perspective that’s increasingly out of line with his ever-more urbanized suburban district. If she ran (and we have no information that she plans to, though she’s evidently getting encouragement) that would be a contest between two locally strong figures offering a clear distinction, and answer to a question: What is the nature of west-Ada conservatism?

ADDED THOUGHT We’re pondering also the effect that a change in Idaho’s Republican primaries – that is, prospectively closing them – would have on the race. Would it have the effect you might initially expect, or something quite different?

CORRECTION To refer to the College of Western Idaho (somehow, we errantly wrote “Treasure Valley Community College,” which is a different and currently existing institution at Ontario). Thanks to a reader for noting the error.

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Idaho

Maybe it feels more extreme in Idaho, since Idaho is so overwhelmingly the center of big, serious wildfires (so far) this year. But we suspect the point Idaho Statesman writer Rocky Barker is making on his blog does have broader application.

After an interview with a manager at the National Interagency Fire Center (at Boise), Barker was prompted to write this: “With six out of the eight years among the worst 10 fire seasons since 1960, firefighters are living, he said in a new world. It’s a world where every year is what we call a bad fire season. The indefinitely bad season, he called it. I am hearing fire experts tell me they are seeing fire behavior they’ve never seen before. That’s scary. The last time I heard that was in late August, 1988 when fire bosses told me the same thing.”

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Idaho