Political activity and convolutions in Snohomish County run about as complex as they do anywhere in the Northwest – not a new thing. The players are many, the competition between and within parties is serious, and there’s an unusual amount of back-and-forth in movement between state and county posts, certainly more than in most counties. (The county’s executive since 2004, Aaron Reardon, was a state senator and representative previously.)

For the latest mindbender, chec out “Dems may play musical chairs” in the Everett Herald today. You can get a hint of where this is going from the outline of Democratic strategic thinking; the paper reports that “what they don’t want is for the current Snohomish County Council to make the appointments for fear those selections wouldn’t be the top choice of Democrats. It happened in 2004. When an opening emerged in the 38th District, Democrat precinct leaders sent three names to the Republican-controlled County Council. While Mike Sells garnered the most support from activists, the council appointed David Simpson. Sells unseated Simpson in the following election.”

Now, there’s concern something similar might happen if state Representatives Brian Sullivan and John Lovick move over to the county side later this year, opening their House seats. Summary beyond that would be problematic; if interested, the whole thing is recommended.

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Washington

Preserve Eagle

Michael Huffaker, Saundra McDavid, Al Shoushtarian

Candidate slates are an underused political tactic in places, such as cities in the Northwest, where candidates officially run as nonpartisan. Many voters have trouble keeping straight which candidates stand where. Slates can help do that, if the issue the slate is presenting is clear enough. (It was, for example, in 1983 and 1985 Boise city elections, when a group advocating a specific planning and growth change and endorsing a slate of candidates took over every elective office at City Hall.)

In the ballooning city of Eagle (around 21,000 population now, ten times what it was only a generation ago), growth is the obvious issue on the table. City leaders in recent years have struggled with it, but in the end seem generally to have accommodated to the desires of developers, leading to some jaw-dropping results. If you’re in the area, travel sometime north of town on Highway 55 to the under-construction Avimore development, miles north of Eagle separated by mountains and open desert, but which Eagle is seeking to annex.

Not everyone in Eagle is in agreement. Three candidates – attorney Saundra McDavid running for mayor, and attorney Michael Huffaker and investor Al Shoushtarian running for the council – are campaigning under the banner of “Preserve Eagle.” We’ll be watching to see how well they do.

Here’s some of what they had to say to the Ada County Association of Realtors:

1. Why are you a candidate for this office?
We are seeking these positions in order to preserve Eagle. This is the Eagle of a few years ago, where home values were increasing, our schools were not over capacity, our traffic was not congested, there was plenty of water for everyone and we were assured of open space and a healthy community. We are not against growth in the Eagle area. We do believe that growth should be managed in a way that will preserve the quality of life in Eagle. All of us have been approached by members of the Eagle community and asked to run for these offices, as our vision is shared by a great many people.

2. In your opinion, what are the three most critical issues facing the City at the present time? Which is most important to you?
The three most critical issues facing Eagle are
– Infrastructure: whether our streets, schools, fire and police protection, libraries, water supply, sewage facility, etc. are sufficient to accommodate exponential growth;
– Budget: whether our finances are sufficient to accommodate a growing city, and
– Comprehensive Plan: We need consistent, reliable and predictable comprehensive planning. . . .

4. What do you think causes growth? How should growth be planned and paid for? Market conditions play a role in our growth. We experienced a surge of opportunistic development during the last two years and now are experiencing a market correction with an oversupply of homes on the market. Eagle’s comprehensive plan for the large tracts of undeveloped land to our west and north should be reviewed, and an emphasis put on quality, not quantity. We need to set our focus back on the Eagle heritage of open spaces and preserve the water, air and natural places that enhance our quality of life.

Growth can be planned by creating a well conceived, forward looking comprehensive plan and following it in our development decisions.

There’s a real question of whether you can preserve what’s already left the train station. But these three do seem to have a clear lode star. A fair amount of politics in the area (not to mention the area itself) could center on whether they’re in the majority or minority.

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Idaho

This was the day by which Idaho Senator Larry Craig said he intended to resign. There’s been, of course, no such yet. As of midnight tonight, we’re officially off into uncharted territory. Will Craig stay another day or into early 2009? No one knows, maybe not even Craig himself.

The Washington Post is reporting today that Craig’s fellow Republican caucus members, having failed to ease him out by suasion, are plotting tougher measures:

“Worried that the disgraced lawmaker intends to remain in the Senate indefinitely, they are threatening to notch up the public humiliation by seeking an open ethics hearing on the restroom scandal that enveloped Craig last month. The Senate hearing would examine the original charges in Craig’s case, including the allegation of ‘interference with privacy,’ for peeping into the bathroom stall occupied by an undercover police officer. One senior Republican aide imagined ‘witnesses, documents, all in front of the klieg lights.’ The committee also could look for ‘a pattern of conduct’ – which means combing court records in other locales to discover whether Craig had prior arrests that haven’t come to light.”

Maybe they will. Or this could be more bark than bite, because the klieg lights might shine uncomfortably. The national political effect of the Craig story has hurt Republicans; now that the intensity of the story is easing back, would they really be wise to stoke it up again? The facts of the Craig story are already pretty much out there, and would only be reiterated. (Unless there are more legal cases buried elsewhere around the country; though we tend to doubt that, since odds are they would have surfaced in the last month-plus of intense scrutiny.)

The other possibility, if they landed really hard pressure on Craig, might be an explosion from the Idaho senator. Craig has, after all, 17 years in the heart of the Senate, and there’s probably not a lot about the dark underside of the membership he doesn’t know. The caucus might be wise to re-think the rough stuff; they may not know exactly what kind of explosive they’re dealing with.

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Idaho

the giant worm

the giant worm

The chatter by stevenl on Olyblog about designating the mountain beaver as Washington’s state rodent – and please don’t tell anyone in Oregon that the beaver is a rodent – is one thing.

But we can tell you right now why this second idea is a political non-starter: What politician would want to give his constituency nightmares?

That may be why newspapers seem to have been a little wary in their coverage of newly-found cases (first in a couple of decades) of the giant Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus). This charming creature is reported to grow as long as three feet (though usually half or less of that), and “is albino in appearance, and when handled it gives off a scent similar to that of the lily flower. It is reported to be able to spit in self-defense.” (The worm is listed as somewhat threatened, officially “vulnerable.” Some people may feel better knowing that.)

stevenl offers, “The beauty of making both of these uniquely Pacific Northwest animals official state symbols is that they will represent both sides of the state, mountain beavers on the wet side, giant Palouse earthworms on the high and dry side.”

Hmm. Wonder what the people in Colfax and Pomeroy would say about that. One of Olyblog’s commenters wrote, “That’s one frightening worm. I’m going to have nightmares tonight.” (Ever seen the movie Tremors?)

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Washington

Oregon politics watchers need to read a Thursday piece in the Ashland Daily Tidings, taking a look at the shifting politics in Jackson County (the Medford/Ashland area).

And they do seem to be changing, matching with our vote tracking. The Tidings piece doesn’t overstate – Medford, and Jackson County as a whole, still has a Republican registration advantage and elects overall more Republicans than Democrats. But the percentages have been changing, and Medford has been gradually moving increasingly in the direction that other Northwest urban centers have, to the point that Democrats have become competitive in the county.

Consider this from the story: “Brian Platt of Medford, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, agrees that the local GOP has seen a deflection locally, but argues that just because some voters might have left the Republican Party officially does not mean that they are now voting Democratic.”

But if they’ve gone to the trouble of formally cutting off from the Republican Party, that certainly can’t be taken as much of a sign that they’re planning to continue voting for Republicans as they traditionally have. (Hat tip to Blue Oregon.)

REGISTRATION STATS Statewide and in most counties, the number of registered voters in Oregon declined from January to July (the most recent numbers available) – mainly, presumably, as voters were cleared off the rolls because of moves, deaths and so on. Maybe notable, though, is that while Democratic statewide registration fell by 10,021 to 756,108, Republican registration fell 11,676 to 691,450. The Democratic registration advantage seems to be gently expanding.

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Oregon

We’ve been enjoying among regional political blogs those by Statehouse reporters; so far, the largest paper represented in the group has been the Seattle Times, where Dave Postman has been blogging steadily for months. Now the Oregonian is joining in.

We just noticed the new Jeff Mapes political blog on the Oregonian site, and looking forward to see where he takes it. (Before long, we can get into some fun comparisons . . . ) He starts early on with a little self-description, alongside an already-significant batch of substance. Guess we’ll have to add this to our regular stops . . .

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Oregon

John Frohnmayer

John Frohnmayer at the Statehouse

There are ways of looking at John Frohnmayer‘s Oregon Senate candidacy – any candidacy, for that matter – other than in the political calculus of polls and vote probabilities. One of the those is in the calculus of structuring the debate.

He is running as a candidate of the Independent Party of Oregon (not yet, presumably, though likely as its eventual nominee), and we’ve suggested before that his odds of pulling in more votes than the Republican or Democratic nominee is not good. Putting that aside, he may have other kinds of effect.

Formerly both a Republican and a Democrat, Frohnmayer has a statesmanslike sense to him, particularly Oregonian in style, affable but serious. (Counterparts in Washington would be more aggressive, and in Idaho a little earthier.) Unlike independent efforts of the past, this one is starting early, already has covered large swaths the state and, Forhnmayer says, will hit all 36 counties before very long.

It’s enough to get a message out and affect the discussion, especially if the tools of the digital age are put to work. And they have been. He’s already been visible on YouTube, and his staff (which he already has) also is busy finding ways to gain visibility, sometimes in unlikely places. This morning we watched as he did that in the press conference room at the Salem Statehouse, drawing only a small local media contingent – but that didn’t matter. His remarks, captured on video, were headed for YouTube, where he’s already been drawing a substantial audience. (His clip on impeachment has drawn about 3,000 views so far.)

All this could turn into enough to work its way into the Smith-Merkley-Novick discussions. And the substance could be strong enough to affect its structure and tenor.

His talk – his eventual clip – was his critique of where Republicans have gone wrong. He said he’ll later cover the Democrats too but did say of them in this talk that “he Democrats, again, turn to spin – that I am a shill for Gordon Smith to take votes from the Democratic candidate and assure a Republican victory. My candidacy offers a clear choice and I will get votes from both democrats and republicans but, particularly, from Republicans.”

His rationale covered six or seven main points, and is worth reading in detail. He started by identifying himself with such Republicans as Dwight Eisenhower and Theodore Roosevelt, and Oregonians Tom McCall (he likes to make a regular swing by the big McCall portrait at the Statehouse when he visits) and Mark Hatfield, and Republican traditions as they expressed them.

I became politically aware during the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, and worked for Mark Hatfield.s election in the early 60s. Eisenhower believed in investment, but today investment has been supplanted by greed. And it is greed, above all else, that has caused the Republican Party to lose its way. . .

Here are six ways in which traditional Republican values, traditional republican principles have been spun, jettisoned, disregarded, all to our detriment.

First, Eisenhower’s investment in our roads and national infrastructure has been neglected. Interstate 5 has ruts like a slalom course. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation approximately 25% of the bridges in Oregon are structurally deficient, and 1,200 are functionally obsolete. More than 350 roads in Oregon are rated as poor by the Federal Highway Administration. But most importantly, we need a transportation system that is coherent and connects the various transportation entities: water, rail, road, bike and pedestrian so that we can move people, and materials, and products efficiently. Investment isn.t sexy. It seldom gets political attention, but it is the DNA of a successful economy.

Second, Ike warned against the military industrial complex. His greatest fears have been realized. Last month, the present Republican administration announced that it had signed a deal for 30 billion dollars in military aid to Israel, and 20 billion dollars of military aid to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. How could that possibly make the Middle East safer?

Third, investments and deficits: Vice President Dick Cheney has told us repeatedly that, “Deficits don’t matter.” They don’t matter if you don’t care about your children or your childrens childrens children. Somebody has to pay for deficits sometime. Republicans used to spend wisely. Now they just spend.

How about education? That’s number four. I benefited hugely from the G.I. Bill that was available to me after serving in Viet Nam. I also benefited from the State G.I. Loan program so I could buy my first house. We are spending, according to the latest Pentagon Bill, 480 billion dollars a year on the military. wouldnt it be wiser if educated 50,000 children so that they could understand Farsi and Arabic and the Indian continent.s languages and Chinese and could therefore reach out to other cultures, learn their desires and motivations. Wouldn.t that make the world safer than building more bombs and planes and aircraft carriers? Military power works best when it is a deterrent as opposed to the political tool of first resort. This administration.s saber rattling about Iran should chill every American to the bone. It certainly does me. . . .

Fifth, what about investment in our manufacturing base? What manufacturing? Under this administration and, indeed, the Democratic administration that preceded it, deals such as NAFTA, WTO, CAFTA, have led to the flight of capital to other countries – China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Guatemala. We have traded quality (a very traditional Republican value) for cheap goods, throwaway items that pollute our planet, satisfy no one, and are not even utilitarian because they break. This is a frontal assault on the middle class. The quest for cheap labor and big profits has undermined the middle class and the family wage jobs upon which it has always depended. Republican leadership claims to stand for family values, but families that can.t afford to put food on the table, a family where one major car repair is an economic disaster, a family that can’t afford to support its kids in school is the kind of disinvestment that national Republican policies have brought us. Hard work, honest wages, the dignity of those people who work – those are Republican values – or at least they used to be. Education in professional industrial technology has been disregarded, ignored, stripped from school curricula. Here I’m talking about electricians, carpenters, masons, mechanics, machinists, all noble professions. How many schools in Oregon have auto shop, wood shop, or what we used to call home economics?

And sixth, in this non-exclusive list of Republican values that have washed away like the tide, is stewardship. I’m talking about stewardship of Oregon – our beaches, our forests, our plateaus and plains, our river basins. Tom McCall, a great Republican leader, was the author of the beach bill and statewide land use planning. That has given way to, “let me get mine and the hell with the rest of you.” We need to work together to create jobs, a sustainable environment, and preservation of our forests, our fisheries, our economic base and our wonderful environment. Working together used to be a Republican value. Now it.s partisan bickering, a tax system whereby the rich get richer, some corporations pay virtually no tax, and the middle class bears the burden.

We are in a national malaise. Since 9/11 we have bought a line of hokum that suggests that in order to be safe, we have to be compliant, our civil liberties curtailed, our initiative dependent upon leadership from Washington. That.s not Oregon, that’s not traditional Republican values, that.s just baloney. The very phrase “the war on terror” requires us to ask all the wrong questions. It’s not a war on terror any more than World War II was a war on blitzkrieg. The struggle that we are involved in is a struggle to reestablish values, to recognize that sacrifice and hard work and articulated goals are how we succeed as a state and as a country. We can be excellent in everything we do. We can produce the best timber, the best fish, the best wheat, the best electronics, the best wine. It.s not the war on terror. It’s the struggle to establish enlightened democratic principles throughout the world. We can, through the strength of our character, the determination of our workforce and the quality of our society include everybody, make a place for everybody, and return to a respect for the rule of law as our guiding principal as a society, as a nation, as a state.

He didn’t include the conservative religious component in the modern Republican Party, although he does on the front page of his campaign website: “If you think unifying religion and politics is a good idea, just look around the world at where people are killing each other and you will find governments who are trying it.”

There’s a substantial slice of the Republican Party which responds to the kind of talk Frohnmayer is making here, and Gordon Smith has to bear it in mind. Some of this overlaps with the ongoing development of message in the Democratic camp too – you can imagine Steve Novick or Jeff Merkley agreeing with much of what Frohnmayer has to say, phrased perhaps a little differently. But the emphasis might be different.

A lot of political dialogue has to do with what you choose to talk about, and what you choose not to. Frohnmayer may be putting some ideas on the table that others could find hard to ignore.

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Oregon

The decision in the Brandon Mayfield case by Federal District Judge Ann Aiken at Portland seems not to have been widely linked directly; but it has strong merit and should be read, if only as a set of reminders in basic civics.

The decision aims to strike down parts of the Patriot Act having to do with search and seizure – basically, the sections that ignore constitutional restrictions on search and seizure. A sample passage:

Finally and perhaps most significantly, In re Sealed Case ignores congressional concern with the appropriate balance between intelligence gathering and criminal law enforcement. It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers.

Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights. Where these important objectives merge, it is critical that we, as a democratic Nation, pay close attention to traditional Fourth Amendment principles. The Fourth Amendment has served this Nation well for 220 years, through many other perils. Title III, like the Supreme Court’s pronouncements in Katz and Berger, recognizes that wiretaps are searches requiring fidelity to the Fourth Amendment.

Moreover, the constitutionally required interplay between Executive action, Judicial decision, and Congressional enactment, has been eliminated by the FISA amendments. Prior to the amendments, the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances – a principle upon
which our Nation was founded. These constitutional checks and balances effectively curtail overzealous executive, legislative, or judicial activity regardless of the catalyst for overzealousness. The Constitution contains bedrock principles that the framers believed essential. Those principles should not be easily altered by the expediencies of the moment.

Despite this, the FISCR holds that the Constitution need not control the conduct of criminal surveillance in the United States. In place of the Fourth Amendment, the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate. The defendant here is asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.

We’ll see whether common sense continues to prevail on appeal.

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Oregon

This candidate-in-action but not in announcement thing has worn pretty thin. Republicans no less than Democrats seemed irritated by it in the case of now-presidential candidate Fred Thompson. In the case of the Washington governorship, it seems no less peculiar.

Dave Postman of the Seattle Times took that on in a post (“My skepticism on the slippery slope to cynicism” – wow, a new verbal word game?) taking on the two prospective candidates for governor next year, Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger (?) Dino Rossi:

“Incumbent Gov. Christine Gregoire has nearly $3 million in her re-election account but says she’s not a candidate. She won’t announce, she says, because that would politicize her work with the 2008 Legislature. . . . Meanwhile, Republican Dino Rossi has resigned as president of his non-profit but is taking a lump sum payment as severance that will give him what he would earn through the end of October. That’s just about the time he says he’ll decide whether or not to run.”

Both of them say they’re not announced candidates. Yet, at least.

They aren’t entirely equivalent cases (we’ll make that point, even if Postman left it hanging). Gregoire’s stated intent to run (and it’s obviously more than a Larry Craig “intent”) is evident; she draws the line at a “formal” announcement of candidacy. Rossi’s line is further back. For public consumption, at least, he says he honestly hasn’t decided whether he will run, though for weeks and months Republicans around Washington high and low have maintained there’s no doubt that he will, and the state party would be shocked into cycle-long coma if he didn’t.

It’s silliness, yes. So we’ll cut the knot.

By recognizing this: Both Gregoire and Rossi are already registered as candidates for governor in 2008 in the records of the Public Disclosure Commission.

And wise they both were in doing that, because the PDC is stringent in its requirements about when a candidate has to file with them:

A person becomes a candidate for PDC purposes when he or she

    first

does any of the following:
• receives contributions, makes expenditures, or reserves space or facilities with intent to promote his or her candidacy;
• purchases commercial advertising space or broadcast time to promote his or her candidacy;
• authorizes another person to take one of these above actions on his or her behalf;
• announces publicly that he or she is seeking office; or
• files a declaration of candidacy with the appropriate elections official.

That “first” is bold-faced and underlined in the PDC instructions. Both Gregoire and Rossi doubtless are listed with the PDC because either one or more of those actions have been taken, or might have been taken – and why risk the legal issues? (There are also, by the way, two little-known filers for governor as well: Republican Javier Lopez and Democrat James White.)

The PDC says they’re candidates. Henceforth, and until we see reason to do otherwise, so will we.

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Washington

This is a story that just refuses to tamp down. That September 30 deadline by which time Idaho Senator Larry Craig said he “intended” to resign seems – seems – to have been blown away, with no new deadline in sight.

He may be there a while.

Craig’s effort to overturn his plea and conviction in his Minneapolis disorderly conduct case went before a Minnesota judge today; the judge heard arguments and said he would take several days to consider them before ruling.

Craig’s response: “Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name. The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea. For now, I will continue my work in the United States Senate for Idaho.”

For now and for how long? A thought: Every additional day Craig stays in office, and continues voting and otherwise working, is a slight improvement on the odds that Craig decides he won’t resign after all.

A maybe significant response, from Representative Mike Simpson: “I believe he can still be an effective lawmaker for Idaho should he decide to continue serving in the U.S. Senate.”

Craig just might be sticking.

ALSO And some similar comment from Senator Mike Crapo, though a little less explicit.

AND Bear in mind Craig’s reported comments to CNN, that he’s staying put until “legal determinations” are concluded. Any decision next week (if it appears then) by the Minnesota judge could result in an appeal, either by Craig or by Minnesota prosecutors. Adjudication of that appeal could take months, even many months . . .

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Idaho

On Wednesday, Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s disorderly conduct case returns to a Minnesota courtroom; there, he is attempting to withdraw his plea of guilty, and service of his sentence, on the charge. Within a few days, the Northwest’s senior senator (and its second most senior member of Congress) may – or may not – resign from the Senate. This the last of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

Senator Larry Craig has said he probably will resign after a court hearing on September 26, Wednesday, but by September 30, which is next Sunday; if he does what he and his spokesmen have said is probable, then you could imagine a formal announcement coming on Thursday or Friday, with resignation to take effect two days later. Shortly thereafter, within two or three days we imagine, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter would appoint a replacement. (On Friday, maybe, if Craig announced on Thursday; but probably on a weekday, and we’d guess not on the same day.)

There’s been no end of talk in Boise about who Otter might appoint, and a very long list of possibles – somewhere around 30 names, the last time we counted – has been released. The focus has been on Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, who is broadly considered the single most likely prospect. When conversation moves (as it often does) to, “Well, what if it’s not Risch?”, then the name of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden tends to arise. And then, after that, a broader list.

We’ll get to some of that in this post. Before we do, we thought we’d discuss for a bit a question hardly posed at all in any public venue: What qualities or qualifications should the next senator from Idaho have?

Should be, in a realistic sense, a replacement for Craig. The voters of Idaho chose Craig (last, in 2002), and their choice – in what they thought they were getting – logically ought to be honored. That’s probably a pretty easy one for Otter to deal with; as a conservative Republican, Craig was in line with most of the governing structure and the front bench of Idaho politics. Most Idaho statewide officials and legislators could fit the mold. If Risch or Wasden or any of most of the others on the long list were chosen, nearly all would position themselves not far from where Craig has. This criterion doesn’t much help narrow the list.

Second, should be someone who could get up to speed quickly and energetically. The fastest might be someone who currently or previously has served in Congress, but none of those names are on the publicly-released list, and the one seemingly most logical, Representative Mike Simpson, has taken himself out of consideration. Among the others, several may have the ability to do that. But the edge on this may go to Risch, who last year demonstrated for the state his quick and effective assumption of the governor’s office, running it effectively for a short stretch. (Many, really a majority, of the long list of prospects would have such a steep learning curve they couldn’t meet this standard, even for those who probably could learn well enough on the job. Maybe a half-dozen of the group could conclusively do so.)

Third, should be someone who can bring some stability to the office even during such a transitional period. That’s a tough job, and who might best handle that is unclear.

From a public standpoint, there’s no obligation on Otter to fulfill any partisan preferences; but from a standpoint of political ethics – you dance with those who bring you – there’s some call to not damage Republican prospects by his choice. Street word in Boise is that Risch, who has expressed interest in the Senate if Craig is out, may run for the seat in 2008 even if someone else is appointed, and that Otter is well aware of that prospect. That could be a factor. (It could cut in either direction.) So might the idea that a younger appointee (such as but not limited to Wasden) might get a head start on substantial seniority in the Senate. (Though we think that ought to be a lesser factor. The added year-plus of seniority the appointment would bring likely wouldn’t make much long-range difference in terms of Senate clout.)

Who might it be?

The consensus view in Idaho runs about like so: The single most probable choice is Risch, partly because of his depth of background in Idaho government and politics, his track record from last year as governor, his energy (he’d hit the ground running), the probability that he could easily retain the Senate seat for Republicans next year, and the opening of a lieutenant governor appointment for Otter. If that didn’t happen, talk goes, Wasden would be the second-most-likely choice. And the selection of someone from outside the announced list (such as, if he proves interested, Senator Brad Little), shouldn’t be eliminated from consideration.

The consensus view is reasonable; as a matter of probabilities at least, it makes senses. But it does come down to possibilities and probabilities. Otter’s options are much broader. And it doesn’t consider what we don’t yet know: What factors will be the most decisive as Otter moves toward his selection.

But if Craig out sometime, say, later this week, we’ll know before long.

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Idaho

Points of transition are often opportunities for wider-angle perspective, and the Associated Press’ David Ammons, based at Olympia for many years, takes advantage of it in his current column. His column, he says, will move from a regular weekend fixture (a number of Washington papers, such as the Kitsap Sun, have run it as standard practice then) to occasional appearance. The column has been a regular feature since 1991.

Reflecting on 16 years of Washington politics, the rapid-fire changes are what stand out. Understandably so: “In those earliest columns of 1991, you could see hints of the 1992 Democratic juggernaut shaping up. It turned out to be the “Year of the Woman” when Patty Murray and Chris Gregoire were first elected to high office and Democrats took back the White House and all but one congressional seat here. . . . After all that we-love-Democrats what happened? In the very next election? The Republican Revolution, of course.”

And so on. Politics is change, a point to bear in mind in other states too.

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Washington

On Wednesday, Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s disorderly conduct case will return to a Minnesota courtroom; there, he is attempting to withdraw his plea of guilty, and service of his sentence, on the charge. Within a few days after that, the Northwest’s senior senator (and its second most senior member of Congress) may – or may not – resign from the Senate. This the third of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

You’ll see the question posted quite a bit, sometimes in the most unexpected place: What, exactly, was the offense here? What was it that Larry Craig did that was so horrifically wrong as to generate the kind of ferocious reaction, the nearly instant calls for resignation, that it has? And are they justified? What kind of response from Craig is warranted?

Don’t jump to a conclusion. This is more complicated than it seems, and not only because so many people – when you pin them down – give so many different answers. It’s because some of the answers may lie in the recesses of our souls, back in places few of us like to visit or even contemplate.

And some of the reasons have a good deal of validity, too.

One that makes no sense:

bullet Being convicted of a misdemeanor. There’s a reason you got your felonies and you got your misdemeanors: One is considerably more serious than the other, and one is taken as an indicator of a person really not to be trusted, while the other is simply a significant mistake. Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell used Craig’s misdemeanor conviction in Minnesota as rationale for why he should resign from the Senate. This is a complete crock: By that standard, the nation’s president and vice president should be gone too. (Which many people might say should happen anyway, but not for that reason.) Get convicted of a felony, and you’re out of the Senate, all right, but lesser offenses aren’t, in and of themselves, quite so weighty.

bullet But he pleaded guilty to a crime. Under the law, pleading guilty to a crime and then being convicted is really no different than pleading not guilty and being convicted anyway: Either way, you are formally determined by the law of the land to be guilty. There seems to be considerable difference between the two in the minds of some people, though why exactly is less clear. Is it that the guilty plea more or less removes all doubt that he actually did it? Except, of course, that he now is denying it anyway.

There’s also a real question about the seriousness, though, of exactly what Craig did. If you point a gun at someone and demand their money, there’s no question what were the specific things you did that violated the law. But tapping a foot on the floor – what’s that? Is that a crime? Should it, could it be? What sort of innocent behavior might be snared into something like this? Who knows what’s criminal?

Some good questions here. The Minneapolis prosecutor’s office provided some clarity in their filings late last week responding to an American Civil Liberties Union filing in the case.

Prosecutor Christopher P. Renz: “The defendant invaded the sanctity of the officer’s bathroom stall, first by repeatedly staring into the stall, second by moving his foot over in a controlled and deliberate manner until it was on and touching the officer’s foot within the officer’s stall, and third by stroking his hand from front to back along the stall divider three times with increasingly greater amounts of the defendant’s hand being exposed on the officer’s side of the stall divider with each swipe. . . .The Metropolitan Airports Commission began its plain clothes detail of the men’s restroom at the airport on the heels of an incident in which a private citizen was seated in the stall, the individual next to him invaded the space of the adjacent tall and looked up under the stall divider. The victim was so upset that he waited for that defendant to come out of his stall and took him to a security checkpoint to call the police. This kind of conduct . . . angers and alarms people. It is hardly a stretch to understand that many peope attempting to use a public bathroom stall for the purposes for which it was intended, purposes which are personal and intimate to one’s hygeine and which require disrobing parts of one’s body generally considered private, and who experience this kind of conduct, would be prompted to fight or otherwise immediately breach the peace as to the offending individual.”

This, he argued, is disorderly conduct. We’d have to agree there’s a rational basis for that.

And: “In interviews of defendants arrested on similar charges, as well as reusltat reviews of websites, it is clear that sexual relations for which people had been communicating in the restroom were relations that occurred in the public restroom, not elsewhere. Therefore, the suggestion by the amici curiae that the defendant’s conduct was an invitation for private sex (which Defendant denies) and therefore cannot be criminalized is not only legally flawed but is at odds with the experience of the airport police officers in other cases involving similar conduct.”

You can never be sure what a judge will do, but we suspect the Minnesota judge will side with the prosecutor in Craig’s attempt to throw out his guilty plea, partly because of the explanations he offered here. And the ACLU’s argument that the state law is flawed seems worthy of our consideration (whether or not the court’s).

Still. Was there a real offense, something unmistakable for random behavior that just anyone – visiting a rest room for the conventional purposes – might engage in? We’d say so, that the prosecutor’s argument here is rational on both legal and common sense bases.

Assuming all that, is this cause for, say, expelling a senator from the Senate? No. It does not indicate corruption or inability to do the job, the normal kinds of reasons people should be bounced from public office.

bullet Trying to wiggle out. Craig’s defenders (they still exist) make the case that he is absolutely entitled to pursue what he sees as justice in the court system. Fair enough, as a matter of process. But does it make any sense, and should it be applauded? We’d turn thumbs down on both of those counts.

On the first: Craig’s standing in the legal system is far less important than his standing in the political, and before the public, and the disconnect between the legal and the public/political is almost absolute. Remember how O.J. Simpson was declared not guilty of murder in criminal court, and then consider how many people in America think he probably didn’t do it. If Craig does succeed in pulling his guilty plea, and if he then managed to escape an eventual guilty verdict at trial (which likely would follow, in the category of “be careful what you ask for”) – how many Americans, how many Idahoans, would think of a sudden that what happened in that bathroom was just a misunderstanding? The headlines, the calls for resignation, the jokes – none of what has happened in the last four weeks would or could be retracted. That ship has sailed. The public, and the political world, has made up its mind about Larry Craig. And that’s a lot more significant than the picayune fine-plus-probation supposedly at stake.

On the second: Craig may be underestimating the anger he has generated by heading back to court, undercutting his own political standing and robbing himself of any opportunity for sympathy. One Idaho Republican we talked to last week cited this – his attempt to wriggle out of something he’d already admitted to – as her particular point of anger at Craig. She’s probably not alone. And anyone interested in issues of hypocrisy might seize on the distinction between Craig’s general law-and-order policy record and this frantic effort, using some of the highest-paid crisis management hired guns in the country, to find technicalities for absolution.

The Lewiston Tribune this weekend points out that last Wednesday, shortly after his return to Washington, Craig voted for denying court appearances to detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He voted – let’s put a point on this – to refuse even an appearance in court, in other words, to people who have been locked away thousands of miles from home for months and years despite being neither convicted nor even charged with any offense, at a time when Craig is demanding court hearings and action to throw out a guilty plea he willingly made after weeks of thought and consideration. We doubt much of the anger at Craig is being generated from any of this, but understandably some of it could be. A firing offense, though, or righteous cause for immediate dismissal? By itself, doubtful.

bullet Failing to level with . . . anybody. The Tribune‘s primary beef with Craig, and one that probably underlies some of the anger at him from his fellow Senate Republicans, is his silence on the arrest and conviction from the time the case began, until it was exposed in Roll Call.

That’s a justifiable complaint. Any public official who runs into trouble with the law – criminal or civil, whatever sort of offense it is – should immediately bring it public. Most professionals will tell you this is good PR crisis management practice anyway, since it;s a lot easier to shape the perception of an issue if one has control of the dissemination of facts from the beginning. (That was Craig’s best option, from the moment of his arrest, to escaping all this with a relative minimum of political damage.) It also is the right thing to do: If a public official is being seriously encumbered (as Craig was, in this case, by the criminal justice system) we all have a right to know about it. And there’s an ethical responsibility political people have to their political allies, to not toss them short-fuse bombs unaware.

It’s a fair criticism. A firing offense? Again, doubtful.

bullet Is he no smarter than this?, or, the poor judgment argument. It’s a Clinton/Lewinsky argument: If the guy is so stupid as to pull something like this, at any time but especially when he had to know he was being watched, how can he be trusted with important decisions . . . and how could he imagine an arrest or guilty plea like this would never get out? Should someone with such poor judgment be in the U.S. Senate?

What he did was stupid enough. But just as Bill Clinton, who also did a stupid thing, is not a stupid man, neither is Larry Craig – people who know him or have talked with him know better than that. We’ll assert it right here, from our observation of him over the years. (When will someone publish a book called “When Smart People Do Stupid Things”?) Most if not all senators probably have done stupid things of some kind over the course of their lives; most everyone has. Those who never have probably haven’t ventured very much. The big difference here is that Craig got caught, in a spectacular way. Doesn’t mean, in itself, that he is incapable of exercising judgment in the Senate.

bullet Ineffectiveness. Most of the newspaper editorials calling for Craig’s resignation from the Senate (especially those, like the Idaho Statesman, in Boise) focus on ineffectiveness – the argument that Craig inevitably will be swamped by the bathroom issue for the next year and odd months, and that he can’t do the job properly. He may be preoccupied by his case. Other senators won’t want to work with him. He has lost leadership roles on committees. And so on.

There’s something to this, certainly. Without doubt, Craig’s standing in the Senate has changed, has gone from a leading member of the Republican caucus to one only grudgingly allowed in the room at all. But the whole case isn’t that simple.

We’re not talking about five years left in the term – we’re talking about a little over a year. Craig retains a vote, in a closely divided Senate – valuable currency. He retains, for now, committee seats, also valuable currency. He retains Senate prerogatives such as the hold. And what he lost in personal standing with other senators he may have picked up in another way: National celebrity. That’s been a negative trade so far, of course. But suppose that after this week he closes out his legal case, and decides that he’s going to focus on the Senate and on issues of concern to him (maybe some new ones). He could generate more headlines for them than he could possibly have done before.

And he’s already been back to Washington, already looked into those angry faces: In some ways, the worst is over. Watching a movie channel a couple of nights back we were reminded of a quote from Alfred Hitchcock to the effect that terror comes not from the firing of a gun, but from the suspense of waiting for it to go off. For Craig, the gun already has been fired. The rest is aftermath; the horror already has been unleashed; he’s in the anticlimax. Now that the crisis is behind him, why leave?

He may, of course – probably will. But time is suggesting that the ineffectiveness argument isn’t enough, either, to ethically mandate a resignation.

bullet But what about all of these things taken together? Add it all up: The conviction, the hiding, the wriggling out, the foolishness, the hypocrisy, the loss of Senate status – take it together, and is this enough to say, “Larry, you gotta go”?

Maybe. This is a deep gray area, because while we’d argue that no one of these is enough by itself, there’s a fair case for saying that in all, they do. It teeters on the edge.

We also think this: That none of these things, or even all of them taken together, account for the reaction the Craig case has generated – the immediate calls for resignation, the ferocious dismissal from allies of decades’ standing, the endless and mind-wrenching jokes, the mass attention and the fury. Especially the fury.

The only accounter we can conceive of for that, for the emotional response, is that what we’re talking about here, the subject matter – the res, as lawyers would say – is gay sex.

That’s what no one seems to want to admit, and what gets regularly denied: “It’s not that he’s gay, I don’t care about that, that doesn’t matter”. So they say. So almost everyone says. But think about this: Suppose Craig were caught in a misdemeanor offense, pleaded guilty, was found out weeks later – but the offense was something else? What would have been the public reaction then? Would there be calls for his resignation? Would he be a fixture on late-night talk shows, would people in Japan and South Africa know who Larry Craig was? Is that, at base, why so many people want Craig gone, immediately, now?

Questions for wider pondering, in front of the mirror.

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Idaho

Clark plan

Clark plan

Traveling around Clark County weekend before last we were struck again by the wild growth in unincorporated suburbia – subdivisions all the way from the old riverfront of Vancouver to the outskirts of Battle Ground and La Center. It’s visual confirmation of the census and other numbers: Clark County has been growing fast. And the governmental and political backdrop for all this has been the war over planning between the city of Vancouver (which wants massive annexation) and the county government (which would rather not).

Some of this will probably inevitably fall into place over time. For now, there seems to be the root of a compromise between the two governments. Maybe. Tomorrow morning, Clark County will consider adopting a revised land management plan, developed in part with city officials – there are elements of compromise. But city officials are not necessarily convinced; there is some talk of suing to overturn.

We may be coming toward a turning point – things are pressing into collision, or cooperation.

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Washington

There’s been some perplexed talk among Idaho Republicans about a string of decisions and initiatives on the part of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter , a man long known as a lower-case libertarian – a person strongly disinclined to have government to anything that a private person or entity prospectively could do. And to oppose, as a general principle, anything like an expansion of government.

So what to make of many of Otter’s recent decisions? There’s the support for a new Ada-Canyon community college. Support for pursuing some kind of medical school for the state, prospectively a big investment. Support for public transportation initiatives. And some of these things quietly done.

Now comes the report that Otter is setting up a state Office of Energy Resources. Which may only add to libertarian wonderment . . .

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Idaho