Writings and observations

Harry Truman out west

Harry Truman riding west

Political historians – this is directed toward those of us – will get a kick out of a piece in the Spokesman-Review, about the history of a remark: The comment by President Harry Truman that that newspaper was, along with the Chicago Tribune, one of the “two worst” newspapers in the United States.

It sounds like an apocryphal comment, something drummed up in the regional lore – maybe dreamed up.

But the Spokesman piece by Jim Kershner has the details, describing exactly how that comment came to happen, and how it almost backfired badly on a then-new Washington senator named Warren Magnuson. And how it was a banner the paper wore proudly for years, and how other regional papers rose to defend it – with at least one notable exception . . .

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We’re a few shades short of clear about what, exactly, the Seattle Times has in mind with its newly-announced project, “The Democracy Papers.”

As described so far, though, it has a meritorious ring to it. The idea seems to be a months-long, broad discussion about communications and news media and their role in a free society – anchored by the legal and economic changes we’ve seen in recent years, from technology and regulation change to media consolidation. An attached editorial spins through some of the points under consideration:

The government’s penchant for bigness is obvious. Radio has been consolidated to minuscule numbers of owners who favor generic play lists. Adding to the corrosion of American creativity is the loss of radio news — too expensive for the big companies. The gutting of local radio has also blocked minorities and women from the most accessible entry point to media ownership.

Television news has devolved into a cliché. Weather, crime and car accidents fill airspace that was once the domain of substantive reports from city hall and the capitol. The trends have not been much kinder to newspapers. The majority of readers need a score card to keep track of which corporation owns their newspaper.

The press is going through a radical transformation. The old way of doing business is dead. Press opponents know this, and are spending a lot of money in Washington to transform the news into a commodity every bit as purchasable, and salable, as toilet paper.

The federal government has largely failed to protect an independent press. Instead, policies have been tailored for big corporations that are blindly beholden to the market, and increased quarterly profits.

Promising stuff. We’ll be watching to see where they take it from here.

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Had looked like a race of considerable interest between two candidates of opposing parties but not so far apart otherwise, and both with some deep background and respect in a range of quarters. Talking about the run for Oregon state treasurer, which seemed headed for a matchup of state Senator Ben Westlund, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat of rural Tumalo, and moderate state Representative Vicki Berger of Salem.

An update in the Salem Statesman-Journal, however, reports that Berger won’t be running for treasurer after all. One factor, she suggested, was that if she departed, Democrat Paul Evans – the former Monmouth mayor who made a strong impression in a Senate run last year – might file for it. That and “The fact of the matter is, I didn’t want to give up my seat for it. I like what I do.” There appear to be no likely Republican candidates for the office hustling around.

Westlund still appears on track to file for the job, though his formal statements so far still have him undecided between the Senate and Treasurer. (The latter seems a lot more likely.) He’s moving on it slower than might have been expected, partly because of family issues (his mother’s illness and death this summer). At this rate, if he jumps in formally this fall and starts to work, he could rapidly turn into a presumptive favorite.

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Deborah Boone

Deborah Boone

Candidates for partisan office love to trumpet support from members of the opposition party, but only occasionally – even rarely – does it mean a great deal. To really mean something, such support has to include elected officials from the other party, or substantial office holders in the other party’s structure. That’s where “Democrats for” or “Republicans for” organizations really count: When they’re getting the hard gets, hard because such people ordinarily are loathe to publicly back an opposition candidate.

We’ve made that point with “Republicans for” groups in Idaho, which included people who may have been Republicans but weren’t elected office holders (present or past) or substantial party figures. Turn now to Democrats for Smith – Oregon Senator Gordon Smith – and consider that list.

There is a former Democratic U.S. representative on the list, Elizabeth Furse. Her presence in the group probably had more impact last time around, in 2002, than now, because she left Congress after three terms in January 1999, and hasn’t been very politically visible since. (She was David Wu’s predecessor’s in the 1st district.)

The next most significant name on the list, and the most significant now, is state Representative Deborah Boone, of Cannon Beach. She is quoted on the Democrats for Smith site as saying, “exactly the type of Senator Oregon should have representing us.”

But today, she’s saying she’s instead supporting for Senate House Speaker Jeff Merkley, saying “he has demonstrated the kind of leadership Oregon needs in the U.S. Senate.” She has withdrawn her support for Smith.

There are other Democrats on the Democrats for Smith group, but Boone’s departure seriously thins the ranks of officials elected as such. The announcement of the group in 2002 (then at a key juncture in the race) may have had some impact that year. Barring a fresh infusion, it seems less likely to have as much effect this time.

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The SurveyUSA will, it seems, poll almost anything political. For example this one, conducted Thursday and released this afternoon, comparing the prospective votes for various possible fill-ins for the Idaho Senate seat now held by Larry Craig, against the Democrat already announced for the seat in next year’s election, Larry LaRocco.

Here’s how it goes.

Republican prospect his vote % LaRocco % undecided
Jim Risch 52% 36% 13%
Mike Simpson 54% 34% 12%
Dirk Kempthorne 55% 36% 9%
David Leroy 42% 39% 19%
Dane Watkins 40% 41% 19%
Lawrence Wasden 46% 36% 17%

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Short response here: Not too much should be made of it. Risch, Simpson and Kempthorne perform substantially above the other three, but that’s doubtless in part because they are – currently – much better known around the state. (Bear in mind that Simpson specifically is not in contention for the Senate appointment, and Kempthorne seems to be a remote prospect.)

The main difference here is in the undecideds: The LaRocco percentage remains steady between 34% and 39% in each case except that of the pairing with Dane Watkins, an unusual case not only because many respondents may not have known who that was, but because many of those (in eastern Idaho) who did recognize the name may have been confused (there’s a like-named father and son, one a now-elderly former congressional candidate, the other a current Bonneville County prosecutor).

The distinction between this and the inevitable SUSA poll after an appointment will be somewhat interesting to check. But mark all of this down as really early.

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Darlene Hooley
Darlene Hooley

Acommenter had some questions about our account of last week’s Brian Baird town hall meeting at Vancouver – it didn’t seem so raucous to that person. It certainly did to us.

By way of comparison, we’d suggest viewing a town hall meeting at Salem yesterday, held by Representative Darlene Hooley.

Around 100 to 150 people attended, and mostly they were a good deal more supportive. But that’s relative: There was a little shouting here and there – related to one kind of weaponry there, she was (after saying she was unfamiliar with some of the allegations) angrily asked, “how can you not know?”

Unlike Baird, Hooley remains staunchly anti-war, from her initial vote against the war to more recent votes for an exit from the country. “I won’t allow another blank check for this war,” she said. “I’m in favor of a rapid end to this war . . . We need to bring our troops home,” and drew some applause on that.

Even so, this was a roiling audience. One Vietnam vet said that “I am more angry now than I have ever been with my government,” and added that “I am angry with you” – for not being more visibly anti-war, for not delivering more speeches and showing up in the papers more often on the subject.

Several people called for impeachment of the president and vice president, and seemed no more than marginally appeased when she said, “impeachment is in the constitution and should never be off the table for any president.” An attempt to invade Iran would probably result in impeachment action, she suggested. The crowd – and it seemed to be mostly uniform in view – did not seem to entirely think that was good enough, but she fended off open revolt.

Should note again, here, that this was in Salem, a place traditionally conservative and Republican (less so these day, true); and Hooley’s district is politically marginal, maybe a little more Republican on balance than Democratic. But she’s no doubt getting a good feel for where things are these days.

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Washington courtsThere will be a temptation on the part of Washington I-960‘s supporters – where is that email from Tim Eyman; they’re running late – to make of today’s state Supreme Court ruling a larger endorsement than it is. You can hear it coming: Court backs I-960! Court upholds I-960!

What the court said in Futurewise v. Reed is that the initiative can go on the ballot. That’s pretty much it.

The court’s conclusion:

Appellants challenge the constitutionality of I-960. Such a challenge is not subject to preelection review. While the disputed sections of the initiative may be subject to constitutional challenge, if passed, the initiative does not exceed the scope of the legislative power. The initiative therefore may be placed on the general election ballot.

Elsewhere, the court specifically says that in this decision “we do not review the validity of I-960.” And seems to leave open, almost to suggest, several lines of attack if it passes.

Will it pass? It might; but we suspect the public hasn’t formed much of a view of it yet, since it sounds like an arcane procedural thing. Procedural it may be, but far from arcane, and it merits a spot near the top of the heap for serious political discussion in the weeks ahead.

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The perils of second-guessing what any individual may do: This morning’s take from D.C. runs, “Sen. Larry Craig has all but dropped any notion of trying to complete his term, and is focused on helping Idaho send a new senator to Washington within a few weeks, his top spokesman said Thursday.”

Maybe so. We’ll just watch and see. Would you really want to bet on what happens next?

LATER IN THE DAY A few more odds and ends of note, as we watch all this play out.

bullet 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson, who also today took himself out of the running for a Senate appointment (or was he already out by then? We may never know) had a pungent but totally pertinent remark about the way Craig has been thrown overboard by his Senate caucus leadership. Speaking to The Hill, he said, “I hope I never stub my toe and they throw me under the bus. It kind of makes you wonder what party you want to be a member of . . . If that’s how they treat their own, that tells me they’re more interested in party than individuals, and the party is made up of individuals. How you treat them says a lot about your party . . . They have people over there [in the Senate Republican Conference] in far worse trouble that they haven’t said a thing about.” Simpson, we should note, always has been about as loyal a Republican as you could find; does this fit into a sense that he may be better off where he is?

bullet From that same Hill article: “Reflecting the scandal’s unpredictable nature, however, one member of Craig’s legal team said he believes Craig should stay in office ‘for as long as it takes in Minnesota.’” See also this, from Politico: “‘My view would be if something is proceeding on a good-faith basis, don’t quit until it gets resolved — whether it takes 15 days or 50 days,’ said Stanley Brand, a Washington attorney who is part of a high-powered legal team assembled by Craig. ‘Come Sept. 30, if you don’t have a resolution, wait for one. If the ethics committee wants to open a Pandora’s box, bring it on.'”

bullet Today’s consensus take is much like that on, oh, Sunday, that Craig will in fact be leaving the Senate at the end of the month. There are alternative views. Here’s one we received from someone in Idaho who knows Craig fairly well: That Craig will “say he ‘can’t’ leave office – that the arrest was ‘unconstitutional’ and that he has a duty to keep serving (at least though Jan 09 – and most likely w/o a re-election need). It “deletes” the smudge on his record (at least in his mind) and would free him to stay there…retiring unsullied. Odd as it may seem, I’m leaning toward the possibility of this happening.”

bullet Finally, in the unexpected consequences department, there’s the case of the Craig daughter who, it turns out, had an Ada County bench warrant out: A point exposed when she went on national television in defense of the senator. All of this comes by way of the superlative Boise blog Boise Guardian.

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Larry Craig

Larry Craig

The state of play – in this game most people thought had ended Saturday morning – over Senator Larry Craig is, if anything, intensifying. It is probably a lesser deal now for the talk show comics, but it has become more intriguing – by orders of magnitude – as a matter of politics.

What handicaps any evaluation is that we don’t yet know what the end game for the central player – Craig himself – is supposed to look like; we can only guess. (Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman made that point in his blog today.) But we can speculate that it is evolving. And his role is crucial. Having lawyered up, and having an objective that remains obscure, he is driving this thing now, just as – a week ago – he was being bashed into the ground, in the couple of days after the Roll Call report about his men’s room arrest and guilty plea in Minneapolis.

Last Tuesday, when he delivered his first (widely panned) defiant press conference, Craig was being buried under; he was entirely on defense, and the Alamo had been breached. He seemed and probably was at that point still in a mode somewhere between panic and shock, and probably thought that his friends and allies would help him through this. And then they did not – they joined the attacking the forces, led the attacking the forces.

Somewhere around last Wednesday or maybe Thursday, Craig began to come around and think strategically. And since then he has reversed position with his assailants in the Senate Republican caucus – he is consciously executing an extensive and complex strategic plan, while his one-time allies are being thrown back into confusion and panic mode. You get the sense, in sifting through the quotes from Republicans in Washington, that he can’t be doing this. A pertinent quote following today’s Republican Senate Policy Committee (which Craig once chaired), from an unnamed senator: “If he has the [courage] to fight this, then the least he could do is come here and feel the heat we’re feeling.” As an expression of mood, that one seems to tell it all.

True: Craig may resign at any point, including September 30; and we don’t need to re-recite here why that may happen. You could even call it probable. But there are alternatives, and we don’t really know right now toward which of them Craig is headed.

Let’s review the sequence, and see what that suggests.

As noted, as of last Tuesday Craig probably had the sense that he would get help from most of his party; by mid-Wednesday, he had to have realized what direction that was taking. He probably also began to realize that the whole question of his personal life was a gone issue; as he said at one point, he couldn’t control what people chose to believe. He may have decided to let that go (for evidence of that, consider the topics he didn’t address at all in his Saturday press conference), and focus instead on other goals. What those are exactly, remain unclear.

Whatever they were, he decided he needed big guns to achieve them. He brought on board a top-rank disaster management crew, fully lawyering up in the process. (A question not much asked yet, though some people have begun to: These hired guns are powerfully expensive. How is Craig, not a wealthy man, paying for it? Prospective book deals, maybe?) He entered into discussions inside the outer rings of the Senate Republican caucus (with Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, we know now, by Friday at least, and we strongly suspect one or more others as well). The heat was so intense that a means had to be found to divert it, at least for enough days to go on the offensive. Thus the Saturday press conference which sounded at first like a simple and apparently final resignation announcement; in hindsight, it clearly was diversionary. We were gotten to take our eyes off Craig for a couple of days, thinking the deal was done . . .

Then Craig changed the terms. Instead of a resignation on September 30 (he did not qualify that plan last Saturday), he now said he would resign only if he could not get exoneration by the end of the month. Those terms were quickly seized on in Boise and Washington – there’s no way he can get that done in less than a month, goes the common thread – but what a lot of people missed was that if Craig can change the terms of his resignation once, he can do it again. Our bet is that, within days, those terms will change again.

Craig, you see, holds some cards here, high cards, the presence of which he may have realized early on and that his high-priced counsel undoubtedly did.

One is the near-desperation with which most of Republican Washington wants him gone, yesterday, with the name of Larry Craig scoured from the face of the earth. But Craig’s departure, as we have pointed out before, is reliant on him. Senators can be forced out only by being expelled, which isn’t going to happen. (The majority Democrats wouldn’t go for it, even if all the Republicans did, and some probably wouldn’t.) That’s leverage of a serious nature. Craig could continue to hold down that Senate seat for the next 16 months and never set foot in Washington, or Idaho for that matter – if he chose. But every day he remains, he’s a sore spot for the Republicans, a political liability that grows day by day.

Coming days are especially critical. Next week is when the big Bush Administration Iraq testimony is scheduled before Congress, and the administration’s hope clearly is that all eyes will be on it. The last thing they, or their allies in Congress, want, is the Larry Craig story still on the stage, rattling its chains.

There is more. Craig retains some Senate prerogatives which could do damage to some other legislators and their efforts. But the possibility that must strike serious fear into the heart of the caucus is the damage Craig could do if he wanted to play real hardball. The distinction Republican leaders have drawn between Craig and the scandal cases of some other senators is that Craig was convicted of a crime, albeit just a misdemeanor. That was about the only distinction available (a weak piece of sophistry) but also dangerous. One of Craig’s attorneys, speaking on television today, causually noted that other members of the Senate have been convicted of misdemeanors without having to resign. Consider that easy comment a fierce shot back: Craig has been in the Senate almost 17 years, plenty long enough to know all about the dark side of the members there. If he decided to begin unearthing secrets – well, that’s not a place the Republican caucus wants to even think about.

You think Craig would never play hardball with his fellow Republicans? Then maybe you missed the back-and-forth today when Craig’s attorneys asked the Senate Ethics Committee to dismiss its investigation of him; the committee responded that it was moving ahead with the inquiry as long as he was a senator; and Craig responded that he was gearing up to fight back, big time. This saga is by no means over.

So what exactly does Craig want? What does he hope to achieve at this point? That’s what’s hard to say – we’d be off into the realm of guesswork. Maybe he does intent to resign, but he wants to do it on less humiliating terms, and has conditions which he wants met. Maybe positioning himself so he could stay in the Senate, but as a true freelancer, cut free from conventional loyalties. Maybe something else.

Maybe tomorrow will give us a few more clues.

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Looks like the Reichert-Burner rematch in Washington’s 8th is – barring some really odd event between here and there – definitely on.

We’d suspected Darcy Burner likely would win her primary election next year against state Senator Rodney Tom, on the basis of a strong emotional backing from a goodly number of supporters. (Blogs have been an important part of her support, and they have delivered in serious fashion.) When Tom filed, he did so saying he might be more electable, and noting that Burner (the 2006 Democratic nominee for the seat) didn’t take out Republican Dave Reichert, in a very Democratic year. He seemed to be moving into a position as a moderate and establishment Democrat, a “safe choice” to take on Reichert.

But this morning, in dropping out of the primary contest, he delivered a tribute to Burner’s campaign so far: “Our fundraising was going great, but Darcy Burner’s campaign has been phenomenal. Darcy has over 3,200 contributors, an incredible statement to her broad base of support.”

That also suggests she won’t be getting any more (serious) primary opposition. The rerun match appears to be set. And evaluation can reasonably proceed on that basis . . .

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