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 second of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We’ve spoken over the years from time to time with Roll Call, the newspaper which covers Capitol Hill, about Northwest politics and politicians – members of Congress and their doings are Roll Call‘s subject matter. Vastly less well known than the Washington Post, it is much more focused, closer to – but still less known than – the Congressional Quarterly, but more immediate in its reports. it may be closest in feel to The Hill, also a newspaper focusing on Congress.

All of these publications are professional, solid and serious. They are not supermarket tabloids, and none of them are where you ordinarily would expect to see an expose about bathroom sex. Yet there it was, on August 27 – Roll Call breaking the political story of the week (month? season?). When it did, it did so not the way some others might: It arrived with police and court reports in hand. This was a story about a senator’s run-in with the law, a run-in hidden from view for more than two months.

But the intersecting subjects of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, gay sex and news reporting has a long and varied history, fit for consideration in college journalism schools coast to coast. (College preferably, since some of the details probably are R-rated.) Eventually, and maybe not too far off, we’ll all see lots of hand-wringing by the usual hand-wringers about how the Craig story was handled over the years, then days and hours after it hit. While events still are fresh, let’s check off a report card on the rights and wrongs.

bullet Pre-2006 non-reporting by Idaho media: Right. This could come off as self-serving – since your scribe, an Idaho newspaper reporter and editor from 1976 to 1990, is among those covered by this first category. Nevertheless: The corps of Idaho news reporters in the three decades before 2006, who were well aware of the rumors about Craig, were right to pass on the story. Part of the reason was simply the common standard of the time, that the public had good reason to know whatever public officials do that affects the public, but not what they did in private – unless you could draw a short and direct line from the private activity to the public. And most of the time, such cases involved business or legal conflicts of interest, not private sexual activity.

This wasn’t squeamishness – some of the reporters certainly would not have minded going after the private lives of some politicians. (Your scribe recalls once an interview with a congressional candidate, well known in reporting circles for his extramarital activities; a question that included only a subtle and glancing reference to them drained the blood from his face.) It was also a recognition of some barrier between public and private. It provided some rationale and reason for why news reports are or should be worth reading: They are or ought to be of general public, not private, use. It also grew out of recognition that some limits, even if self-imposed, are needed so that First Amendment protected speech doesn’t degenerate into . . . what we see at the supermarket checkout. At least on the part of news organizations that try to bear the public interest in mind, in what they do.

Nor was that all. Craig’s private life (along with other political private lives) may have wandered into the rumor mill, but one reason it never went further was that there was no evidence, nothing to turn rumor into established fact. Or even into a case that could be established beyond some reasonable doubt.

One argument, and it went back to at least the late 70s in media circles, echoed something from more recent years: The hypocrisy argument. Craig presented himself as a family man, a backer of family and sexual traditions in opposition to gay rights arguments and legislation. We’ll revisit this point in another essay, but for now we should note something about Craig that moderated our take on this. Craig aligned himself with the political right and with social conservatives, but as a conservative he was focused on business, regulation and finance, and the bedroom issues were not a focus in his campaigns, speechmaking or legislating. He is not a Rick Santorum or Sam Brownback; his manner might seem arch, but he didn’t specialize in holier than thou talk. He didn’t invite the scrutiny into his private life through his public statements. That may be hard to belief after all the recent media short-handing of Craig and his Senate career, but it’s nonetheless true.

bullet The Blogger of Fall: Wrong. Last October, the Craig rumors went public when Mike Rogers, a blogger at www.blogactive.com, reported on that site and later on the Ed Schultz radio program he was “100 percent solid” Craig had engaged in gay sex, and that he had first-person confirmation from partners. Some previous Rogers outings were later confirmed as accurate: He had a track record.

Our reaction was two-fold, and it grew out of the points guiding most media coverage in years past. First, Rogers offered no connection between what he described as Craig’s private life and his public responsibilities: This was a simple outing, of a private life, without any indication of how the public had a stake. Second, he offered no evidence – only allegations. He said he had talked with people who knew, personally, but he did not offer up any names. He offered no possibility for corroboration or double-checking. We noticed the report (which did, after all, echo from years before), but were left unimpressed.

bullet Reporting on the Blogger: Right. The Rogers report created a difficulty for news media in Idaho (and regionally, and including this site): How to deal with it? Our take on it was quick, and paralleled that of several Idaho news organizations. To completely ignore a report broadcast nationally and into Idaho (as it was through the Schultz program) would amount to unwillingness to acknowledge a political thunderclap that had in fact occurred. The initial report may have been deeply flawed, but it was there, it had entered the political environment, and had affected it. It had to be given what a court might call “cognizance”: The bell had been rung, and couldn’t be unrung.

So this site concluded, and ran a short blog item noting the report and also Craig’s quick denial of its allegations; and a statement that we wouldn’t revisit the subject at least until some actual evidence had been proffered. That was similar to the approach taken by some newspapers in the area, including those at Spokane, Pocatello and Lewiston: A short acknowledgment of the report, together with the Craig denial. It was an imperfect solution but, we think in hindsight, the best available.

bullet The Statesman’s Blog Response: Wrong. The Idaho Statesman at Boise took a different approach, wrong in two ways.

First, head-in-sand: Recognition that the Rogers story was short on evidence but no recognition that a great many Statesman readers quickly learned about it, though not from their daily newspaper. In a poorly-reasoned attempt to (apparently) be fair to Craig, the Statesman‘s editors decided to run nothing, obviously including not running Craig’s denial, which means that many Statesman readers heard about the evidence-less allegations from Rogers but not the senator’s response. The silence from the paper was so striking that it eventually drew inquiry from around the industry.

The Statesman‘s eventual response: Try to determine for itself, as conclusively as possible, whether Rogers’ allegation about Craig gay sex activities was true or not. One e-mail to a national gay publication described it as “our significant effort to be thorough and comprehensive and determine the truth before we report.” http://www.pridedepot.com/modules/wordpress/?p=967

We take conceptual issue with this. What was ordered up was an investigation into a person’s private life, without any particular conception that any public interest – other than base curiousity – was involved. The investigation was centered on the question of whether Craig was gay or not. And as we’ve seen in some quarters (including from at least one editor at the Spokane Spokesman-Review, in a comment now deleted) there’s some real and legitimate concern about what may happen when news media decide that investigations into private lives, in and of themselves, are fair game. How many people would feel safe? What does it do to the concept of public interest in the news media? What are the barriers, what are the lines? What can ever be private? A lot of people normally accustomed to support for news organizations and their efforts (such as those manning this site) are likely to be deeply concerned about this conceptual approach.

(Not to mention the obvious news judgment question, even if you throw out all the foregoing: Is an inquiry into the private sex life of an elected official really a useful way to spend more than six months of a reporter’s time?)

bullet Deep Research: Right. If you’re going to do a job, do it right, and this they did: The research into Craig’s life – albeit launched on poor premises – by reporter and columnist Dan Popkey, was exemplary. It hit all the appropriate professional marks, made every stop we could think of and some we wouldn’t have thought of. Popkey estimated he talked with around 300 people; we don’t doubt it.

It was so extensive an investigation that it was no secret at all. We heard it was underway sometime back in the holiday season last year. We had no intent or interest in tracking its progress, and made no attempt to, but in the ordinary course of talking to political and politically-connected people around Idaho, we wound up inadvertently (unavoidably) following its progress in some detail. We talked with a number of the people Popkey talked with, who told us the sense of their interviews. Various written reports from Washington, Boise and elsewhere confirmed progress in various locations. Assigned to find out the truth of Larry Craig’s sex life, Popkey did about as thorough a job as seems imaginable, and took it to a professional appropriate confrontation interview (with other Statesman personnel present) with Craig. The end result: Inconclusive, clear proof one way or the other still elusive.

bullet The Withholding: Wrong. On one level, you have to give credit. Most newspapers which put such massive resources into a single investigation feel duty-bound to report, to issue something showing what they did find (even if only to justify externally the use of resources). The Statesman‘s editors decided that the investigation, while turning up some interesting material, was ultimately inconclusive, and therefore decided not to run a story from it. They were right about the inconclusiveness, and in many other cases would have been right to make that hard decision not to publish. This time, they were wrong.

They were wrong for many of the same reasons they were wrong the previous fall. So extensive was Popkey’s investigation that his direct work had the virtual effect of publication. The hundreds of people he talked to talked in turn to hundreds or (more likely) thousands more. Craig himself remarked that after the first couple of months or so, he could hardly talk to anyone in Idaho who hadn’t been aware of or experienced directly the Statesman‘s inquiry into whether Craig was gay. The sheer size of the investigation had the effect of taking the whole issue public, in every way except on the Statesman‘s printed pages.

Certainly it was public elsewhere. Blogs wrote about it, of course, but so did the Boise Weekly, other national publications, gay publications and more. In this day of Google, a search for something like “Larry Craig gay” would have turned up a batch of hits by early summer from a wide range of sources, more of them generated from Popkey’s work than from Roger’s original blast. The story was public already; the Statesman simply refused to acknowledge it. And by – in that backhanded way – stoking the rumor mill, any opportunity Craig had to tell his side was denied, for a second time.

Given that the investigation was inconclusive, how might it have been reasonably handled? Could have been run in a regular Popkey column, in which he wrote – in abridged form – about the direction and scope of the investigation, what it involved, how it failed to determine positively what it set out to, and what Craig said in response. A perfect answer to a difficult situation? Of course not. But it would at least have offered some facts instead of rumor, and would have been fairer to both readers and to Craig.

bullet The Roll Call report: Right. As suggested at the top: The Washington newspaper Roll Call was right to report Craig’s Minneapolis run-in with the law. Hardly any of the concerns applying up to this point applied once that happened. Any time a senator bumps heads with the law, down to and including a speeding ticket, that’s news, even if only a short blurb. No rumor or speculation was involved, only a police report and a guilty plea.

bullet The Circus: Wrong. Yeah, yeah, there’s been no lack of entertainment out of all this, a good deal of it brought on by the senator himself. But at what point does it overwhelm compassion or humanity? Or even common sense?

We may have passed that point, some time ago . . .

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Not long after our first post on Washington Representative Brian Baird‘s August 27 town hall meeting at Vancouver, we fielded a comment from a reader questioning whether the local response there – to Baird’s urging for more time for the troops in Iraq – was as harsh as we portrayed it. (We weren’t clear in reading it whether that person had attended or not.)

We definitely think it was. Today, we saw an item in the Olympian, about a Biard town hall at Capitol High School at Olympia on Friday, that sounds like a rerun of Vancouver.

The Brad Shannon article started: “It started with a few chants of ‘bring them home.’ And for most of the next four hours, U.S. Rep. Brian Baird did what he could to explain to a sometimes-boisterous crowd why he favors keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for a longer term. . . . Several people in the crowd of more than 200 at a town hall meeting at Capital High School said they had supported Baird but probably won’t in the future. And they weren’t convinced Baird had outlined a valid, continuing U.S. interest in Iraq.”

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Ararity – an advertising campaign that’s fun to explore, from Pemco Insurance. The ad campaign is “We’re a lot like you. A little different.” And adds, “Because around here the skies are sometimes gray but the people are colorful.”

Worth a look. Hat tip to the Tacoma News Tribune‘s editorial page blog.

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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 first of four essays considering the case, its causes and its effects.

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

It would be an early, and easy, response on the part of many Idahoans that it’s just an oddity, a fluke, that the now-infamous Larry Craig came from Idaho. His arrest happened a thousand miles away. He could have come from anywhere, right? Idaho itself had nothing to do with it, you dig – it was just the state that happened to get caught up in something that happened far away . . .

Or not. Maybe it’s no coincidence that al this happened of and to a guy from Idaho – maybe there’s reason it happened the way it did, and that Idaho may have something to do with it. Maybe politics, Idaho politics, had something to do with it. Maybe there’s something here beyond the scandal as such that a Northwest blog like this really ought to address.

Our recollections of Larry Craig go back to the Idaho State Senate in the 70s, a time when the two major political parties were a lot more similar than they are today, when the philosophical lines blurred, when Democrats on the right and Republicans on the left often crossed over in their voting, when a number of senators around the chamber were considered unpredictable votes, near-free agents, willing to come up with their own ideas and operate accordingly. Caucus loyalty was there, but less enforced than today. It was a different time.

Craig was one of the mavericks. The reporters and lobbyists knew him as an interesting thinker, no routine spouter of caucus rhetoric but someone who worked out his own positions. (We’ve heard a story, unconfirmed but from an excellent source, about a day back in the 70s when Idaho’s top labor organizer visited Craig to deliver a substantial campaign contribution – which Craig, aware the political realities involved, declined to accept.) He also articulated them well – one of the youngest senators, he was one of the best speakers in the chamber, his voice sounding eerily at times like that of the similarly-skilled Democratic Senator Frank Church. Craig’s Republican credentials were in order, but his independent streak surely played into his two losses for leadership position, for majority leader, both times to a senator elected the same year (1974) he was, and was much more a strict conservative caucus loyalist: Jim Risch (who may become the next senator from Idaho). There were Statehouse rumors back then that Craig might be gay, most people around the building heard the talk, but nothing concrete was developed and nothing much was ever made of it.

Then Craig changed.

In 1980 he filed for the U.S. House, for the seat being vacated by Republican Steve Symms, who would go on to beat Church in the state’s high-profile contest that year. Symms was by background a libertarian in philosophy, but over the years he became a Republican caucus conservative, rarely breaking with Republican party leaders, and very much in line with the developing presidential candidacy of Ronald Reagan. Upon announcing for the House, Craig served immediate notice – startling many of those who had watched him up to then – that he would follow directly in Symms’ steps.

And he did. His big issue became, and would for many years remain, a balanced federal budget (on which subject he championed a constitutional amendment), and he lined up hard and fast with the resource industries that supported Reagan and the Sagebrush Rebellion. The positioning he assumed then has defined him, as a matter of political philosophy, voting patterns and legislation, in unwavering fashion, ever since.

A matter of conscience or political convenience? Only Craig truly knows.

We can fairly say, though, that Craig profited politically from it.

He entered that 1980 Republican primary as an underdog, against former Attorney General Wayne Kidwell. Kidwell’s campaign was poor (as he has since acknowledged), but Craig was able to ride, in primary and general elections that year, along the political grooves by then deeply worn by Symms and his predecessor, James McClure: A base of supporters, contributors and voters which constituted a reliable and almost unshakable working majority, first in the district and later (as he ran for the Senate) statewide. Craig became one of the conservative Republican crew, easily defined and understood by conservative Idaho voters. Mavericks have lots of ‘splainin’ to do to voters; from 1980 on, Craig never had much to worry about that. Less government, lower taxes, keep government off your backs, oppose gun control and support Reagan: What else did anyone need to know? And particularly as Idaho Republicans hit their sweeping stride in the mid-90s, Craig’s political armor became exceedingly difficult to crack. He never developed the kind of intensely likable persona some politicians (such as Idaho’s current governor, C.L “Butch” Otter) have. But he stuck with those who brought him along, and they stuck with him.

Craig has not been an inactive or inconsequential senator, but you’ll have to search hard to find anything in his federal record that runs counter to the terms under which he was elected in 1980 or since: The consistency has been solid. Only with true rarity (apart from the normal constituent defenses of Idaho interests) has he bolted from the majority Republican position, or from Republican presidential administrations. (The most striking example that comes to mind is Craig’s criticism of, and efforts to reform, the Patriot Act; we can’t think of another nearly as significant. Craig’s role on the immigration issue, which surely is highly contentious, doesn’t count; the Republican Party is split on it, and Craig has largely lined up with the current Republican president.)

As political careers go, Craig’s has been a smooth ride. He has not been an electoral underdog since that 1980 primary. He has never had a truly close call since, or even a really competitive election since 1982 (when he was held to 54% by Democrat Larry LaRocco, who – that’s right – is running again for the Senate in Idaho now). His last re-election, in 2002, was a landslide. Nor were any of these races, aside from closeness, really contentious. Most were cool matters, aloof with discussions of philosophy and the like. When Craig remarked, as he did in an interview last May with the Idaho Statesman, that he’s never gone harshly negative on an opponent, he is right. It’s also true that none of his challengers really whaled hard on him. Over his decades in Washington, he saw at close range plenty of scandal and controversy, but little of it ever touched him.

Once, it came close.

In 1982, scandal erupted in the U.S House on reports that several male pages, high school students, had been sexually propositioned by congressmen. Craig wasn’t, and never has been, among the congressmen accused; but unlike other members of Congress, he reacted publicly by declaring that he wasn’t guilty. That raised immediate eyebrows. As a matter of politics, it was a foolish move: Even if he had nothing to do with the page scandal, it suggested that Craig might be hiding something. Craig himself acknowledged later that he’s made a mistake. Why had he, alone among the 435 members of the U.S. House, made that mistake? He had panicked. Crisis had arisen and, in the pressure of the moment, he had lost the ability to deal with it rationally.

Coping with crisis – of various sorts – seems to be mostly a learned ability, developed through experience. A soldier in an ongoing battle situation doubtless deals with action under fire better the fourth or fifth time than on the first or second. A politician under fire, whether because of an issue or because of party identification or something else, develops seasoning, a thicker skin, and greater coolness under fire.

In the political world of Idaho, Larry Craig rarely experienced any serious career-threatening fire. For a quarter-century after that 1982 page incident, Craig was of the right party and philosophy and voting pattern to keep him where he wanted to be. There was no fire from Idaho: He had easily ascended the ranks, and the steps needed to defend his place were no more than ministerial. Would a Democrat from Idaho have responded as Craig did? Probably not. Or a Republican, we suspect, from Washington or Oregon – places where Republicans have to bear in mind that the opposition is real and serious and will strike hard on sensing weakness.

Some of the origins of the Larry Craig story, as we’ve known it for the last month, do seem political.

Not all. Of course not all – his personal life, whatever the full story there may be, obvious mattered a great deal in how the airport incident and its aftermath have played out. Because we suspect, strongly, that had Craig handled the situation differently from the moment of his arrest, his political positioning now might be stronger than it is.

If Larry Craig had happened to come to the Senate from another state, maybe this thing would have played out otherwise.

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Jane Hague

Jane Hague

This is trouble, of the sort that has done damage to others before: The claiming of an adornment to one’s record that doesn’t actually exist. If you’re running for office in Washington, and you formally claim it, it can be worse.

When Jane Hague (who nearly ran for the U.S. House a couple of years back, and was reckoned to be a strong contender) ran for the King County Council in 1993 – she was elected – she B.S., Business and Economics, W. MI Univ. (Western Michigan University). In fact, though she attended there from 1964 to 1968, she never graduated.

The Seattle Times reported all this on its front page today. And said, “Hague was asked multiple times this week, by phone, e-mail and in person, to explain the discrepancy. She declined to do so. Several publications, including The Seattle Times, Marquis Who’s Who, the Municipal League and the National Association of Counties, published profiles between 1991 and 2000 that stated Hague had earned a bachelor’s degree.”

She is up for election this year, and until recently she’s been highly likely to win. She’s had a strong enough record on the council to be considered a realistic possibility for higher office, Congress and otherwise. Her Democratic opponent this year is Bellevue lawyer Richard Pope, a flukish situation – a perenniel (10 times) candidate who has run more often as a Republican than as a Democrat and has gotten little support from his party.

But then came June 2, when not only was she arrested for driving under the influence, but took after police with what she acknowledged was “rude and abusive behavior.”

Now the bio reports (see also the reporting on Horse’s Ass) are complicating her situation considerably. Whether enough to cause to lose to Pope is so far uncertain. But you can sense the tone in the quote from former Republican legislator Toby Nixon, who started by loyally saying, “I completely expect Jane to get re-elected,” then adding pragmatically, “Maybe it won’t be as huge a margin as it otherwise would have been.”

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Sam Adams

Sam Adams

You’d be well within reason saying that this is awfully early to start handicapping the Portland mayoral race, especially since no one seems to have announced candidacy yet.

Maybe not too early, though, to take an initial run at it – one suggesting that City Council member Sam Adams is strongly positioned to take over when a new mayor is installed at the beginning of 2009. Thing is, opponents are falling by the wayside before the announcing even begins.

Not that Adams has announced, or even been notably visible since Tom Potter said he won’t run again, opening the office for next year and presumably firing up interest. (After all, candidates last time totaled 23.) Adams is only presumed intending to run, though the presumption looks solid.

This is a little remarkable, because Adams’ actual electoral record isn’t spectacular. He’s run for and won office (on the Portland city council) once, in 2004; there, Nick Fish (now a TV talk show host) beat him 47.7% to 37.1% in the primary, opening a lead that at first looked like too much ground for Adams to make up; running very strong that fall and helped by a string of endorsement, Adams bounced back in November, winning 51.4% to 48.6% – a win, sure enough, but hardly the makings of a political titan. He had been a mayoral chief of staff – centrally involved in city hall but not the front guy – for 11 years (after a decade in other jobs in the building); his issues expertise was unquestioned, but his role as a political personal leader of people was.

No longer. He’s developed into maybe the most charismatic of Portland political figures, a powerful speaker (we watched that at his speech Monday endorsing Democrat Jeff Merkley for the Senate), even an entertainer. You get the sense that today, he could out-campaign just about any other candidate for Portland office. From an excellent recent Oregonian profile: “As a city commissioner, Adams has become the leading voice for transparent government and an enthusiastic publicity hound. He invited a TV crew to film his surgery, brought cameras along as he manned a Burgerville drive-through and strutted the stage in a local charity version of ‘Dancing With the Stars.'”

There may be quite a few next year, but this week the number of prospects seemed to drop.

One of the best prospects was a businessman, Roy Jay, a leader in the city’s black business community and in other ways; he’s an untested candidate, but the prospect of a Jay candidacy drew praise from both left and right. He will remain untested for a little longer, though. Not long ago he had moved to a new house and only recently discovered it was just outside of Portland city limits, barring him from a mayoral run (this time, at least).

Then there’s Bob Ball, a major-league developer in the high-end Pearl District, also interested in running for mayor.

Some weeks ago, Ball started conversing, quietly, with other political figures in the city, about what he suggested might be a case of child abuse – by Adams, who is gay, and openly, as is Ball. Adams acknowledged that he has had a mentoring relationship with a 17-year-old boy who was dealing with coming out of the closet; they and others of their acquaintance, however, have sharply denied anything improper was going on, said that none of it was secret, and Adams has said that he’d do nothing different in hindsight.

The quick and open response seems to have turned the issue around, and soon turned into the “smear campaign” against him – by Ball. The Oregonian wrote, “Gay on gay political smearing?” – and the story began going national. By which point the backfire began roaring in on Ball, including an editorial (which included a cautionary note or two as well for Adams) in Thursday’s Oregonian.

Two down, looks like. Next?

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Is there any way – we’ve not found one, but maybe exists – to track changes in Oregon party affiliation? Would be highly interesting to track.

As it is, we just have case by case. An intriguing one today in the Eugene Register Guard, which notes that one of the top Republican state Senate candidates of 2006 – former Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey – recently has changed party affiliation from Republican to Independent (as in, the Independent Party of Oregon, the one under whose banner John Frohnmayer is running for the U.S. Senate).

Torrey said he has no plans to run statewide for any office.

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Oregon

Some people will never believe it, but we long have thought that spending too heavily – which so often is spending wastefully or worse – can be as politically damaging as spending much too little. (Paging Ron Saxton . . .)

Consider this from the Oregon Measure 50 (tobacco tax/health spending) advocates Healthy Kids Oregon: “Big Tobacco is headed toward setting a spending record in Oregon. R.J. Reynolds and Philip Morris have already spent $4.5 million on television and radio, potentially the largest media buy in the history of the state of Oregon for a ballot measure.” (Hat tip on this to Blue Oregon)

Two corporations spending – so far, with plenty of time to go – $4.5 million on a single state ballot issue in Oregon? Doesn’t that massively break all kinds of records?

Is there much way this won’t, to some extent at least, backfire?

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Those who know the veteran Idaho social conservative will recheck their calendars to see if this is April 1. But no: Dennis Mansfield has some more-than-kind things to say on his blog about the former Democratic president.

Those have to do with an article in the current Atlantic magazine, “This is not charity,” describing how the Clinton Foundation is working with for-profit businesses to help accomplish larger social purposes (against AIDS and global warming, for two). This actually meshes with Mansfield’s ongoing work in rehabilitation of ex-convicts, and related activities.

Mansfield writes: “At New Hope we call it “Social Entrepreneurism”. Apparently the concept is starting to take on a following across the nation – GOP and Dems, conservatives and liberals. Gee, should I say it … Dennis Mansfield and Bill Clinton? Yep. I want to see what works … and then implement that type of solution.”

Both the magazine article (which, we should note, we had suggested to Mansfield’s attention) and Mansfield’s post are highly recommended reading.

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Never, never is it safe to predict conclusively who will get the nod when there’s an appointment, by a governor or president or some other official, in the works. Such as today’s appointment to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The Idaho Supreme Court, with its most recent departure – Justice Linda Copple Trout – lost the last justice who is a woman, and who has strong legal and personal experience in the northern part of the state – anywhere north of Boise. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter had before him four candidates, two of whom were women (both, Darla Williamson and Juneal Kerrick, experienced district judges) and a veteran a well-connected attorney from the Panhandle (Kenneth Howard of Coeur d’Alene). We’d have guessed one of those three for the slot.

Otter’s choice: The fourth, an Ada County district judge, Joel Horton.

Not that we have a problem with that: Horton is a well-regarded judge, and we’re of the opinion that such qualities as geography and gender should take back seat to professional considerations.

A message to all those angling to figure who Otter will (likely) pick as the new U.S. senator from Idaho: Good luck.

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streetcar Yeah, that’s the acronym, because that’s what the new trolley in Seattle is called – it being a trolley and it running south of Lake Union down to downtown at Westlake Center . . . and Lake Union being, after all, a much more useful designator of location than downtown (or Cascade, which the private developer – Vulcan, Paul Allen‘s company, which being local ought to know better – insists on calling the area even though no one else does) . . . even though officialdom tried calling it not the Trolley but the Streetcar. (Contractors said that any effort to specifically avoid the acronym was just urban legend, but who knows?)

So the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports today, “in the old Cascade neighborhood in South Lake Union, they’re waiting for the SLUT. At the Kapow! Coffee house on Harrison Street, they’re selling T-shirts that read ‘Ride the SLUT.'”

Starts running in December.

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Jeff Merkley at Portland

Jeff Merkley at Portland

Ten minutes or so before Senate candidate Jeff Merkley arrived to speak tonight at his campaign kickoff, Portland City Councilor Sam Adams delivered his endorsement and introduction. He was sharp, quick, funny, energetic and articulate; even absent any other evidence, you could see right off why his political skills are so highly regarded; he was very easy to envision as a big-city mayor.

He was followed by Barbara Roberts; her energetic and happy delivery made it easy to see, right there, why she had done well enough in politics to get elected governor.

Merkley himself – after rolling in a little late but also a little dramatically in his blue-green campaign bus (all properly painted and ready to roll) – seemed a little less fully-formed than those two. There is in his voice a halting quality, a little catch, that for a second or two (no more) periodically makes you wonder if he forgot what he was about to say – except that he then continues and rolls on, and builds. He lacked a certain smoothness those others have (and Gordon Smith does, and Steve Novick). Something about his delivery seems subtly to undercut some of the emotion he builds; something in his style suggests a modesty calling into question whether he should be doing all this.

Such matters of surface style, though, are quibbles – the kind of thing that can be smoothed out in the months that will follow campaign Day 1, and may be. The larger requisites for a senator were there for Merkley, as he launched his first campaign swing. (It will continue south and around toward Medford, out to the coast, and elsewhere this week; a few weeks from now, it will be continued east of the Cascades.)

He had rationale, to one thing: A reason for his campaign, one that didn’t simply rely on opposition to the incumbent (though he didn’t shrink from blasts in that direction either). He focused in his talk on opportunity, talked at some length about his father and the difference between a society of opportunism as opposed to one of opportunity; it created a sound frame for much of what he wanted to say, and he seemed to bring considerable passion to it. Merkley has often seemed a little diffident, not notably passionate, but he easily breaks through that. Passion, rationale and coherence are there.

Energy and connection seemed to be there, too. Candidates for major office need vast supplies of energy, and Merkley did not appear lacking. The crowd (of 200 or so, gathered by sunset in the parking lot of the labor building behind Madison’s Grill on 11th Street) was obviously sympathetic, of course, but some of them wanted to be wooed – one woman held a sign saying simply “impeach.” (Impeachment was not a subject Merkley raised or alluded to, though he doubtless knows that his fellow Democrat in the race, Novick, plans to do so tomorrow – and it would have been a crowd pleaser, in this central Portland location, if he had.) Still, he showed some ability to reach out into the crowd and work it effectively. Campaigning skills are evidently there.

About eight months will pass till the primary election, and (if Merkley is the nominee) close to six more till the general against Smith. Merkley has a lot of what he needs; he has plenty of time to develop the rest.

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Oregon

The attempt by Idaho Senator Larry Craig to withdraw his guilty plea in Minneapolis has picked up a major ally. But will he thank the American Civil Liberties Union?

The ACLU’s amicus brief (a copy is posted on the Spokesman-Review web site, and probably elsewhere too) actually has a strong case to make against the Minnesota law under which Craig was convicted. It starts this way.

The Minnesota law under which the defendant in this case was charged, and to which he pled guilty, applies both to speech protected by the United States Constitution, and to speech which is unprotected. That is true of the very words of the law, and it is true of its application in the context of this case.
The First Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution require that a law which covers both protected and unprotected speech:
1. not be so overbroad as to pose a real and substantial threat of ensnaring
protected as well as unprotected speech;
2. provide clear standards, to law enforcement and to the public, about where it
may be legitimately applied and where it may not;
3. be well crafted to serve the legitimate regulation of speech and not to ensnare
protected speech.
It is very doubtful that, on the record as it appears so far, the prosecution in this case can meet any of those requirements. Given that, there is a very real possibility that this defendant pled guilty under circumstances in which the Constitution would not have permitted a conviction. That strongly suggests that in the interests of justice, the defendant should be able to withdraw his plea.
But there is an even more powerful reason to relieve the defendant of his plea
here. Almost 30 years ago, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the law involved here was unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. It preserved the law by restricting its application to “fighting words,” a restriction which would almost certainly make any conviction in this case a near impossibility.

Changes nothing politically. Could be very interesting legally.

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Idaho

We won’t guess at what may come of this, or why it happened to launch in Walla Walla, but the new project called Blue Washington TV, up and running on line, does seem worthy of note.

The “blue” in the name gives you the hint as to political angle. The programming it offers comes from such sources from public broadcasting (Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, NOW) to Comedy Central (shows from the Daily Show). Not a lot of regional content, so far, but we wouldn’t be surprised if some eventually appears.

Maybe the need in Walla Walla was a little greater . . .

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Washington

Susan Morgan

Susan Morgan

There’s some ambiguity about whether Representative Donna Nelson should be counted as an opt-out for another term in the Oregon House. Depending on how you count her, the current number of dropouts from the House Republican caucus of 29, so far, is either seven or eight – about a quarter.

The latest to announce, this last week, was Susan Morgan of Myrtle Creek, who has five terms in the House.

That seat probably is not in partisan jeopardy: Her Roseburg-based district (many of the people in it live near I-5 around Roseburg south to Canyonville and beyond) votes strongly Republican. And a replacement, Roseburg City Councilor Tim Freeman, is already lining up to replace her.

But open seats even like this one are more effort to deal with than are safe incumbent seats. So you can understand what lies behind the comment when a House Republican spokesman was asked by the Oregonian about the prospect of further retirements, and responded, “God, I hope not.”

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Oregon