Writings and observations

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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Oregon

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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Idaho

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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Idaho

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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Washington

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