Chick Bilyeu

Chick Bilyeu/Idaho State University

Some descriptive words go negative over time. “Bombastic” – you typically associate that, especially when linked to someone involved in politics, with self-importance, arrogance, self-righteousness, humorlessness . . .

But that’s where you have to be careful, because you could fairly, sort of, describe as “bombastic” the style employed by Charles E. “Chick” Bilyeu, and yet none of those associated descriptors came close to fitting him. His oratory in the state Senate or on the stump often went beyond “hearty,” sometimes approaching full roar. But it wasn’t expression of ego, or affectation, either; it was a carefully crafted device, a tool he used for bringing the particular kind of attention he wanted to the points he was trying to make.

Bilyeu, who turned 90 not long ago, died Tuesday, was one of the beloved figures of Pocatello-area politics, and had been for half a century. A Democrat, he came up in the era when politicians knew which side they were on, and knew who the opposition was, but also knew enough not to turn either into saints or demons. Bilyeu was a politician partly because of interest in public affairs but also because he simply liked people.

It might not have been quite that way. He could have been more defensive or closed in (or less likable); he was an academic (speech and drama at Idaho State University) with background in national television work, who lost a string of races in the 60s, after which wife Diane tried running the state Senate in 1968 and won. She didn’t run in 1970 and he (using many of the same elect-Bilyeu signs) replaced her that year. The following years Republican leaders informed him that, nothing personal, he’d be losing his Senate seat in the upcoming reapportionment, the districts were being re-carved in such a way he’d never survive. But when Bilyeu eventually did lose his Senate seat to a Republican, it happened a couple of decades later, in 1994. His constituents seemed to like him too.

He took politics and his Senate work seriously (many of those years he spent on the budget committee), but what sticks in memory is sheer enjoyment he seemed to take in the people and the work around him. The combination was important, because while Bilyeu was a well-trained orator, he was not one of the Senate’s most frequent speakers; when he set his talents to a subject, serious purpose lay behind it. He was a fine comic speaker when he chose, and capable of evoking the drama of an important situation just as well.

(He was also a speech instructor to a couple of generations of Idaho Democratic politicians, though the style seemed to wear best on Bilyeu himself.)

Back in the 50s, as a young instructor at the Pocatello college, Bilyeu took a liking to one of his young female students, and a romantic relationship ensued. We have some dark phrases to cover that sort of thing nowadays, too. But that’s where you have to pause, again, and remember that we’re talking here about a different world. Chick and Diane Bilyeu soon married and were still married on the day he died, somewhere around a half-century later, the year after she had made her return to the Idaho Senate.

Condolences to the Bilyeu family, and to eastern Idaho’s political world. But the memories will be there in bold, dramatic strokes – Chick saw to that.

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Idaho

UPDATE We presumed in the post below, from this morning, that Curtis would resign “before long.” He certainly did: Has already, as of this afternoon.

We’ve seen more than enough of the lurid – almost unbelievably lurid – story of Washington Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, which (as one blog commenter wrote) has become strange enough to redefine downward that of Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

There is another matter to consider here, though, and that is the nature of the legislative district Curtis represents, and its political future – because an earthquake like this is going to have repercussions. Curtis personally is not among the most prominent of Washington legislators, and he hasn’t been there especially long – he’s in his second term. Before that, he served on the La Center city council, but that’s the extent of his political record. We’d guess that, unlike Craig, who had invested his whole adult life in politics before scandal hit, Curtis will depart public office before long.

If he does, that would trigger an appointment of a new Republican legislator for the seat. And there’s a line of thought that might end the story. But maybe not.

District 18

District 18

District 18 covers the bulk of Clark County outside of Vancouver proper, which means it takes in Camas and Washougal east of the bigger city, and skips north to take in Ridgefield and the white-hot growth areas around La Center and Battle Ground. (Drive any of the major roads in that area and you’ll see one new subdivision after another, even well outside city limits.) There’s also a piece of rural eastern Cowlitz County, around Kalama, though that’s the small-population piece. This is traditionally rural country which has moved increasing suburban over the last 20 years and now – especially around central Battle Ground but in some other places too – is taking on a more urban tinge.

It is, or has been, a consistently Republican district. But . . .

The senator for this area for more than a decade has been Joe Zarelli, R-Ridgefield, a figure of enough political strength in the area to run a substantial race for the U.S. House in 2002 against Democrat Brian Baird. But not enough to win (he took only 38.3%). Zarelli has won his Senate seat in four elections, but except for 2000 general election (which he won with 58.6%), he has squeaked by, falling short of 54% in 1995, 1996 and 2004. He’s up for re-election next year. Those are not powerhouse numbers for a veteran incumbent under any conditions, and certainly not one running in a reputedly solid Republican district.

Since the current district was configured for 2002, all the House members from 18 have been Republican as well (this area has elected only Republican legislators since pre-1994). But there’s a pattern to consider. In 2002, Republicans Tom Mielke and Ed Orcutt won with 63.5% and 53.2% respectively. In 2004, Curtis won with 56.5% and Orcutt with 59.9%. In 2006, the numbers were Curtis 58.3%, Orcutt 56.5%. As in Zarelli’s case, these (excepting maybe Miekle’s in 2002) are soft numbers, nothing like the routine landslides Republicans can expect most places east of the Cascades.

Part of the reason may be that the area has been growing so fast that political allegiances have been hard to develop – the local political culture probably hasn’t been keeping up. That may also suggest it’s open to new impressions (like those it’s getting now), especially as some of the more concentrated parts of this area move toward a more urban mindset.

Some of the local turbulence may be Democratic, growing out of Representative Brian Baird’s shifts on Iraq. Talk a while back about a possible primary battle for Baird seems to have muted (with recognition of how difficult a successful primary contest would be), but the anger and energy level is there. Curtis already has an opponent for 2008, Democrat VaNessa Duplessie, but we’re hearing about in-party concern about Duplessie’s stands on social issues (notably abortion and home schools). That pent-up developing energy may yield a second Democratic entry, especially if Curtis’ seat comes open, but with all the peculiar vibes still attached to it. The resulting contest could become a fury to watch.

In a district where people are really stunned by what they’re abruptly learning about one of their apparently-staid down-home legislators – and may be shaken into considering their options.

In a district usually written off as uninteresting.

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We’ve suggested before that the threshold for many of the direct democracy activities – initiative, referendum, recall and so on – is much too low. Not that these things shouldn’t be available, but that they shouldn’t be easy. We’ll revisit this again soon.

If you’re inclined to think otherwise, consider this from the Spokesman-Review blog by Betsy Russell:

In today’s Twin Falls Times-News, reporter Jared Hopkins reveals why it’s the Wood River Valley city of Hailey that’s voting next week on four pro-marijuana initiatives. The measures’ sponsor, Garden City resident and activist Ryan Davidson – who fought all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court to win the right to put the measures before voters, regardless of the legal complications if they were to pass – told Hopkins that he lived in Hailey for a few months in 2004, and picked it for the initiatives because it was one of the “easiest places” to get on the ballot.

The reason? Getting a measure on the ballot takes petition signatures from voters equal to 20 percent of the turnout in the last election. In Hailey’s last city election in 2005, only unopposed candidates were on the ballot – so the ho-hum balloting drew a total turnout of just 85 people. That meant Davidson needed just 17 signatures to qualify his measures for the ballot.

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Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

The Richard Curtis story, of which only scattered bits of data were available yesterday, is rapidly filling in. Alongside that is evaporation of doubt that this is becoming a Big Story.

The basic Spokane police report on the incident, now in reporters’ hands, outlines a clear narrative. It says that state Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, was in Spokane to attend a meeting of Republican legislators, staying separate from most of the group at different lodging, the Davenport Tower Hotel. He visited a local porn shop and there met a “young white male,” later identified as Cody Castagna. The two of them left together, along with a couple of rented gay videos, for Curtis’ room. The police report said that a sexual encounter, and Curtis’ willing donation of $100 to Castanga, followed. Later, Castagna left, along with Curtis’ wallet, and negotiations for its return led (apparently) to Curtis’ call to police with allegation that Castanga was blackmailing him for $1,000.

Curtis so far has denied that a sexual encounter occurred, and said the $100 was for “gas money.” ($100 for gas money?) Most of the details appear to be nailed down by police, since they have talked with people who saw Curtis and Castagna together, heard what apparently was a Curtis/Castagna phone conversation, and have gone after security camera video. (Doubtless coming soon to Action News.)

The story has gone national (at Wonkette at least), and Castagna has started talking too.

When Curtis says, as he has, that he’s committed no crime, he may be right – there seems to be no charge of any sort in the works. But there will be political fallout. You have to wonder: What will Northwest Republicans, recently brutalized over the Larry Craig implosion (and if there was a crime in that case, it was a minor one) make of this – and how will they react?

UPDATE The Columbian adds still considerably more detail to the story this evening. The additional details will not help Curtis.

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Washington

Aweek before election deadline, while the ballots are in the midst of mail-in, polling is out on how the Washington state ballot issues are doing.

Mostly passing, it appears.

Two constitutional amendments (simple majority on school levies, rainy day fund ) look like slam dunks. Referendum 67, the treble-damages for insurance bad faith, looks like a probable but not certain pass.

And, get those votes in: The two biggest issues, the legislative supermajority for tax/fee increases (Tim Eyman’s 960) and the Puget Sound transportation finance issue (Proposition 1) both appear to be within the margin of error.

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Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

There’s too little information yet to know what to make of this, and whether it will turn into a big deal or nothing much at all. But you might do well to keep a watch on the name of Washington state Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, over the next few days.

That’s because of an odd-sounding legal situation, of some sort, emanating from the other end of the state, at Spokane. Curtis is the lawmaker referred to in this lead from a Spokane Spokesman-Review story this morning: “An alleged extortion attempt involving a state lawmaker and a reputed male prostitute is under investigation by Spokane police.” Curtis’ local paper, the Columbian, is also on the case, though not much new has developed yet.

As indicated, not much by way of detail yet; it may turn out to be nothing much. Meantime, best to keep watch.

UPDATING Spokane KREM-TV is reporting, “Detectives tell KREM 2 News at some point Thursday Curtis had a sexual encounter with a man, who police have not identified. A Spokane Police Dept. spokesperson says Curtis and the man were spotted at several locations across the city that evening. The next day, someone filed a police report alleging that Curtis was being extorted.”

Late this afternoon, Curtis talked with Columbian editor Lou Brancaccio, saying, “I am not gay . . . I have not had sex with a guy.” He said that extortion was involved in the case, however.

This will not end quickly. There will be much more about this, soon.

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Not that it matches entirely with our take on the race, but Joel Connelly’s overview today of the Washington governor’s race (it’s in the P-I) is a should-read stand-back picture of where things stand as the race gets (semi-)officially underway.

Among his thoughts: “Gov. Chris Gregoire is projecting nervousness about her political prospects. The governor has been holding fundraising events at a non-stop pace, appearing at carefully choreographed town meetings, and staging an autumn version of a spring cleaning of top staff.” (Of course, the failure to campaign strongly enough was thought to be a key reason she didn’t do better in 2004; we’d be more inclined to see it, strategically, as simply not making the same mistake twice.)

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About halfway through a fascinating New York Times Magazine piece today called (a little in contrast to its thematic points) “The Evangelical Crackup,” comes a reference we decided to follow up. You might, too.

The article’s point was not that the evangelical community is diminishing or disintegrating, but that its once near-monolithic support for President George W Bush and Republican candidates is fracturing. Reporter David Kirkpatrick cited quite a few instances, most from the south (such as Texas) and plains (notably Kansas). One of the most interesting is Bill Hybels.

Hybels, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, is very possibly the single-most-influential pastor in America; in the last 15 years, his Willow Creek Association has grown to include more than 12,000 churches. Many invite their staff members and lay leaders to participate by telecast in Willow Creek’s annual leadership conferences, creating a virtual gathering of tens of thousands. Dozens of churches in Wichita, including Central Christian and other past bastions of conservative activism, are part of the association.

As his stature has grown, Hybels has seemed more willing to irk Christian conservative political leaders — and even some in his own congregation. He set off a furor a few years ago when he invited former President Bill Clinton to speak at one of his conferences. And the Iraq war has brought into sharp relief Hybels’s differences with conservatives like [Focus on the Family’s James] Dobson.

We decided to check and see whether the Willow Creek Association has much link with churches in the Northwest. Indeed it does: According to its list, it has 192 member churches in Washington, 83 in Oregon and 19 in Idaho. Substantial in all three, though to different degrees.

The larger proportions in Oregon and Washington are of interest; could it reflect a variably changing evangelical response in the states to changing conditions?

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Not, on the whole, a massively significant election night coming up a week from Tuesday, but it will have its moments. Recapping briefly, here, what we’re paying attention to in the Northwest numbers.

Most significantly, ballot issues – there are no candidate races to match the significance of the major ballot issues.

Oregon has two of importance (and many voters, your scribe among them, will makes choices on nothing but these). Both can be seen from a big-picture view as intermediate steps, because neither Measure 49 on land use nor Measure 50 on cigarette taxes/child health are likely to be for-all-time end-alls on their respective issues.

But each could mark an important turning point, especially over the next three or four years. If Measure 49 passes (we suspect it will) then the center of gravity on land use in the state goes back to somewhere between where it has been under Measure 37 (under which a mass of development has been applied) and where it was before that (much more restrictive); it could evoke a period of negotiation and compromise. Measure 50, together with the upcoming restrictions on smoking places, would change the state’s cigarette culture significantly (making it much less friendly to smoking), and could send substantial money to child health care, at least for some years. If the measure fails (and we’re unclear about its prospects, uneasily leaning toward passage) a brake would be slammed on both developments.

The most sweeping measure in Washington probably is Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman special, which generally would require two-thirds approval in the legislature for increases in taxes or fees (even minor administrative or licensing fees) or, in many cases, a vote on a statewide ballot issue on each one. It sounds from here like a recipe for chaos, but it would surely be impactful. The campaign on 960 has been lower-key than you might expect given the stakes, and with a relatively low voter turnout, there’s a good chance it will pass.

The legislature has put on the ballot other substantial finance constitutional measures (Senate Joint Resolution 8206 on a budget stabilization account, Senate Joint Resolution 8212 on prison inmate labor, House Joint Resolution 4204 on eliminating supermajorities on school property tax excess levies, House Joint Resolution 4215 on investment of higher education funds), which mostly should be uncontroversial (the supermajority measure maybe excepted) . . . although their outcome will be interesting to watch if 960 passes, especially if it passes by a strong margin.

Of all these measures, we’re watching closest the prison inmate measure, which “would authorize state-operated inmate labor programs and programs in which inmate labor is used by private entities through state contracts, and prohibit privately operated programs from unfairly competing with Washington businesses.” The situation is a little tricky, changing the constitution substantially but only in certain ways – albeit important – different from historic practice. We’ll return to this, win or lose (and we suspect it will pass).

And then there’s the insurance treble-damages measure (Referendum 67), which we addressed a couple of weeks back (and which seems likely to pass). And in the central Puget Sound, there’s the very significant Measure 1, involving billions of taxes and construction for highways and public transit; its outcome seems unclear.

These measures and others seem to overwhelm the relatively few candidate contests around the Northwest, which are almost all at the local government level. Washington state has a couple of contests for state Senate, for partial terms, but a loss by either Democratic Senator Brian Hatfield of Raymond or Republican nominee Curtis King (who defeated an incumbent in a Republican primary) of Yakima would be close to unimaginable.

On the local level, though, we will be looking at these (in order of interest, from top to bottom):

bullet Spokane mayor. The region’s whirligig this season: The battle between appointed and incumbent Mayor Dennis Hession and council member Mary Verner has been a real ride, a serious clash of both personality types and world outlook, even if the issues – some of the really substantive – raised do only a muddy job of drawing the distinctions. (There’s a very useful backgrounder online about the issues, from the Spokesman-Review.) The campaigning has been fierce, and when you have a challenger accusing an incumbent of lying about her and running an over-negative TV campaign against her (both of those propositions are debatable), you know you have a hot race. After the primary in August, we concluded that Hession had the uphill road to run, since his vote total in that four-way fell far short of 50%, a serious danger sign for an incumbent. We’re still inclined to think he’s behind; but so strong and visible has been this campaign that voter reactions are tougher than usual to predict. Whatever the result, this one will cry out for precinct analysis.

bullet King County Council 6. The race between two candidates neither of whom really ought to win: Republican incumbent Jane Hague, a once-formidable vote-getter now trapped in the Year of Horrors (DUI, swearing at a cop, false resume, etc.) enough to crush her political prospects. A strong Democrat probably would take her out, but the opposition turns out to be Richard Pope, a perennial candidate who’s lost more races (generally overwhelmingly) in King County than you have fingers, and who has no real support from other Democrats (who remember that he’s also run over the years as a Republican). If “none of the above” were on the ballot, there’s your winner, but it isn’t, so . . .

bullet Port of Seattle 2. Call us unconvinced that this battle between incumbent Bob Edwards and challenger Gael Tarleton is as clear-cut an incumbent/insider vs. reformer/outsider contest as it gets billed around Seattle. Consider this lead from a recent Seattle Times piece on the race: “Bob Edwards and Gael Tarleton agree on most issues, but you wouldn’t know it listening to them bash each other in their race for Seattle Port Commission.” But what Seattle voters will be voting on, an endorsement of current practices or a desire to upend them and rock the boat, seems clear enough, and these two candidates seem to have emerged perfectly as stand-ins for those ideas.

bullet Seattle City Council 3 and 7. There’s a temptation to shrug these off as quirk-driven races. Or maybe not. Council member David Della (seat 7), who got there by ousting former council member Heidi Wills, has generated reviews as being ineffective and low-energy on the council, which doesn’t seem to be brief against his challenger, Tim Burgess. The argument against Burgess is that he’s done a range of professional work for social-right groups, on abortion and other issues, the sort of thing that would sell just fine in Grants Pass or Idaho Falls but not so much in Seattle. (Della has been pounding on Burgess as a Trojan horse for the far right.) As to what Burgess’ own views are: That has generated ferocious debate all over the place, not least in liberal arenas (such as at The Slog, where the subject of Della-Burgess has gotten rehashed most every day.) And then there’s the open seat (seat 3) where most of the endorsements and energy seemed directed toward Venus Velazquez (running against attorney Bruce Harrell); but then came the evening of October 17, just about the time ballots were put in the mail for marking, when she was stopped for speeding and then charged with driving under the influence. She has pleaded not guilty, but uproar has predictably ensued. Both races seem wide open.

bullet Eagle (Idaho) mayor. If you move beyond the Northwest’s larger metro cities, you might have to settle on Eagle – immediate northwest of Boise – as the roiling place to look for electoral significance this year. Eagle is growing, hard and fast, and how you feel about that and how well it’s being handled is Topic A (as it should be) in this year’s elections, when Mayor Nancy Merrill is opting out. There are four candidates, and the stances they take (too complex for summary here) say a lot about local attitudes. The edge may go to former council member Phil Bandy, who also may be the closest in outlook to Merrill (and has the Idaho Statesman‘s endorsement); but the situation here is turbulent and not especially predictable.

bullet Boise mayor. You never know; Boise voters could shock us all and elect the challenger, Council member Jim Tibbs, as mayor. But we see no basis for thinking they’ll likely do other than re-elect Mayor David Bieter. Not that everyone’s thrilled with Bieter, or that you couldn’t make a case against him. But Tibbs’ campaign hasn’t, at least not successfully – its few efforts in that direction have tended to backfire; and he’s made a surprisingly soft case for himself, considering his deep civic background. Very interesting here, if Bieter loses, but that seems improbable.

In all, plenty to look out for, a week from Tuesday.

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Josh Marquis

Josh Marquis

Clatsop County District Attorney Josh Marquis periodically has come to political notice recent years whenever a substantial major-office set comes open, or Democrats are hunting for a challenger (as, earlier this year, for the U.S. Senate): His name winds up, a little mysteriously, on the list of possibilities. Which tends to generate questions, such as, who is this small-county prosecutor who keeps getting these mentions?

Turns out that this election is giving us some unexpected answers to that question.

Marquis has been DA since 1994, when he was appointed; in the way of many smaller-county DAs who’ve wanted to keep the post, he’s been routinely re-elected (four times) since. He has some knack for visibility, making a name as a death-penalty advocate (and quoted on the subject by the U.S. Supreme Court).

There’s also, however, some contention surrounding him at home in Astoria. Base pay for prosecutors is paid by the state government in Oregon, but counties have the option to add to that base, and many of them do. When they don’t, the main reason is severe financial hardship (as in Coos County, where the DS has taken a pay cut). In Clatsop County, the commissioners this year have withheld the local add-on, mainly at the doing of Commission Chair Richard Lee. Lee and Marquis have a hard-core battle going on.

The underlying reasons may have to do with decisions about which and how many cases Marquis files, or to do with Marquis’ wife’s 2006 campaign against Lee (which almost unseated the commissioner), or a dog-licensure case Marquis filed against Lee, or maybe something else. Its latest manifestation is a local ballot issue (Measure 4-123) whose sole purpose, if it passes, would be restoring the county bonus to Marquis’ pay. (It has a heck of campaign, and a heck of a multi-media web site too.)

From Marquis’ web site, here’s some of what he has to say about it, giving the flavor of how feelings have developed there:

The commissioners don’t want a fair and impartial system of justice. They want a revenue stream.

I refuse.

Their response? Personal attacks on me and my family. Using your tax dollars to fight an enormously popular ballot initiative. Lying in the paper, at meetings and in glossy mailers.

You are probably sick and tired of this fighting. So am I. Since April I’ve invited them to come to the courthouse any day, or to meet with me in any forum they prefer. They refuse. They’ve even hired a Portland law firm, again using your tax dollars, to represent them so that I cannot even approach them at a public county commission meeting.

The only resolution these commissioners are interested in is one that forces me to resign my principles or to simply go away.

Unseating a veteran DA such as Marquis would be a rarity in a small county like Clatsop – it’s hard to tell from the re-elect numbers what the voters in the county really think. The returns on this ballot measure ought to provide a pretty good idea.

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Sam Adams

Sam Adams

The very ugly community of trademark barracudas strike again, and maybe in a really bad place this time: They’re trying to tell a candidate for office he can’t use his own name in the process of campaigning!

Maybe this will be one of the cases that helps break the back of a really foul trend in our legal system.

What happened in this case is that Portland City Council member Sam Adams has said he plans to run for mayor. His advocates include KEX radio hosts Mark and Dave, who obtained two web domain names for the candidate, samadamsformayor.com, for use in the campaign, and mayorsamadams.com if/after he’s elected.

If you click on those links you’ll see a notice that “Due to pending legal action these pages are now unavailable.” The reason for that is a cease-and-desist letter from Helen Bornemann, intellectual property manager for the Boston Beer Company. “We believe that the sale of any services or products under this name will cause confusion as to the source, sponsorship or affiliation of such services or products and/or dilute the distinctiveness of our famous trademarks and trade name.”

It is true that Adams himself didn’t file for the domains. But this action is aimed at barring him from using them anyway, and beyond that, if those two domains were a problem, presumably any domain in which Adams uses his own name would be a problem. And, as one commenter at Willamette Week asks, “Will historians have to use the little TM symbol every time they mention the real [historical] Samuel Adams now?”

The Portland Adams, no slouch at a retort: “They say they’ve been using this trademark since 1984. I’ve been using it since 1963.” Ah, but he didn’t get a lawyer to file a trademark action at the time, did he? Maybe the lesson is that we all need to, if we want to be able to use our own names without having lawyers sicced on us.

Boston Beer may wise up and withdraw; we sort of suspect they will. But we sort of hope they don’t. May the intellectual property crowd break their picks on this one.

LATER They may be backing down, in part. At a Wall Street Journal legal affairs blog: “A spokeswoman for Boston Beer called the Law Blog and said they never had an issue with the mayoral candidate using his name but they do have an issue with the radio station using Sam Adams for its own business purposes.” That’s an allegation of something that wasn’t happening to begin with.

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How does Oregon Senator Gordon Smith’s race for re-election next year fit into the national picture of Senate races? Clearly, this is not a seat as at-risk for the Republicans as those up next year in Virginia or Colorado (or probably for the Democrats in Louisiana), but it’s definitely on the watch list.

Chris Cillizza, of the Washington Post‘s Fix report, took on just that question (if not exactly the one he was asked) in a Q&A released today. Here’s that part of it:

Arlington, Va: Collins, Smith, and Coleman: Tough incumbents. Collins is in the more liberal state facing a pretty tough opponent, but is the most liked among the three. Smith is still somewhat popular, but facing only a second-tier opponent. Coleman isn’t well-liked, but likely is facing a polarizing opponent with high negatives. If you had to guess, how many of these seats do Democrats pick up? You don’t even have to guess which ones!

Chris Cillizza: Great question.
I would throw New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu (R) into that mix as well. All four GOP incumbents sit in states carried by the Democratic presidential nominee in 2004 which makes them ripe targets.
Sununu is clearly the most vulnerable of the group as he faces former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen.
Judging from the body language of national Democratic strategists I would probably out Smith as the next most vulnerable; polling shows voters don’t have a firm view on the incumbent and are more than willing to consider and laternative [sic].
Collins and Coleman are tougher nuts to crack. Both are quite savvy politicians who understand the challenge before them. But, if 2006 tauight me anything, it’s that a national environment that strongly favors one party can overrwhlem even the most capable of incumbent campaigners.

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This is hindsight now – we didn’t see it coming either, so none of this is we-told-you-so – but, in hindsight, you can understand why there’s such uproar and outrage about the North Idaho Adjudication, to the point that bagging it is a consideration on the table.

Our view has been and is that the NIA would be a real asset to the Panhandle, as over time the Snake River Basin Adjudication will be for most of the rest of the state. The Panhandle legislators who got the NIA pushed through – partly in return for their regional support for late-running issues in SRBA – understood that. Now the whole effort could come undone, but if it does, it will be a loss for the area and a distinct failure for the Panhandle’s local political leaders.

But you can see why it’s happened. On this issue of water, the North simply isn’t as sophisticated as the South.

The North Idaho Adjudication was launched by the Idaho Legislature in 2006, aimed at doing what the SRBA has been doing in almost all of the rest of the state. What that is, is a formal determination of water rights: Who has what, whose rights are superior to whose, and under what conditions and circumstances. It’s complex stuff, and the 20 years since the SRBA was launched has been a busy stretch at the SRBA Courthouse (it has its own building, and occupies space beyond it). But it’s been productive. Unlike most western state adjudications, which tend to bog down halfway to forever, the SRBA is actually nearing completion. More than 130,000 water rights have been defined and assigned. When it is done, there’ll be a lot more certainly about where everyone stands. Not only a massive achievement, it will be a landmark in regional social and economic stability. On top of that, when the drought hits, as it may next year, the region will be far better prepared to deal with it (unfortunate as the results still may be). The NIA was designed to give this same set of advantages to the Panhandle.

However. There’s a crucial difference between the Panhandle and most of the rest of the state, which is that most of the rest of the state has a lot less water – the Panhandle is comparatively moist and rainy, albeit not by Pacific coast standards. Part of what that means is that southern Idahoans long have had to deal, very consciously and very deliberately, with the subject of water rights. They’ve had to. They’ve developed canal companies and irrigation districts and a cadre of water lawyers. The idea of what a water right means is almost carved into the DNA of some of the more rural residents.

Not so in the north. While most water users in the south long had been operating off of specific water right claims and filings (however flawed, in some cases), many Panhandlers never bothered to trouble themselves with such things – water’s plentiful, right? So the estimate is – we see it again most currently in the Spokesman-Review – that only about a third of Panhandle water users actually have water rights. From their perspective, something they’ve long taken for granted is about to come under a bureaucratic microscope, complete with files of paperwork and the prospect of losing what has long been assumed theirs.

So when Dave Tuthill, the director of the Department of Water Resources, conducted a couple of information meetings in the region in June and July: “Both of these meetings contained significant opposition to the NIA, which did not concern me because I recall attending meetings during the commencement of the SRBA where water users opposed the adjudication.”

And there was southern Idaho opposition to the SRBA, from a number of people and for a long time, as Tuthill recalls; but it was generally minority opposition, because most of the water user community understood what was going on and what was at stake. Our suspicion is that, in the Panhandle, most don’t.

(There was also a foulup, for which Tuthill took responsibility, concerning a water basin boundary, that stirred some anger; but that looks more like a subsidiary issue, or even an excuse, than anything else.

For now, Tuthill is asking legislative leaders for advice, and advising them that for now he’s holding off on a formal commencement of the NIA (which was planned for this year). The region’s political leaders are split, both county commissions and legislators.

This is a point where leaders could step in with some serious education coupled with soothing. (State leaders could usefully play a rule here too, but the local leaders have a special connection to the constituency.) Their initial impulses, that the NIA could be a real asset to the region, were on track. Comes now the question of whether they throw away something they bargained hard for only a couple of years ago.

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Idaho

the raceway at Boardman

Raceway at Boardman/Pacific NW Motorsports Park

We motor through Boardman (Oregon, that is, in case you’re unfamiliar) periodically, and ordinarily it has not been among the high points of those trips. Nothing against the city or the people there, it’s just that . . . there’s a lot of flat, scenically empty miles on any side of Boardman, and we’ve found the area most notable for the dust storms which, to the area’s credit, are duly warned about in area traffic signs.

People do live and work there, mainly in crop process and port activities, but for most of us the Boardman area isn’t a destination. Or hasn’t been. But that may change, because of something that happened at 2 p.m. today.

Boardman now seems poised for a long-awaited development as a racetrack destination point. From the management of the Pacific Northwest Motorsports Park: “Boardman’s motorsports speedway development will officially make the leap from dream to reality on Thursday, October 25th at 2:00 PM, when state, regional and local officials join the developers of Oregon International Speedway to break ground for Pacific Northwest Motorsports Park at the Tower Road site just off I-84, exit 158. The first motorsports country club in the Pacific Northwest is expected to open to members and enthusiasts in the fall 2008.”

They’re talking about a massive development, including hotel space, other entertainment options, condos, golf and more.

Very ambitious. You have to keep your fingers crossed on this one, because what’s needed is a large response – a substantial customer base – which would have to come from a considerable distance away. Boardman is quite a distance from a large population center – close to halfway between Portland and Boise, which in total is a full day’s drive.

But it’s worth crossing fingers. If it works as a business proposition, it could establish a real gem in a part of the Northwest that could use it. And in this kind of area, this kind of development really doesn’t have any obvious downside.

It also could give the region’s racing community something to cheer for, after their double rejections in the last few years around the Puget Sound. NASCAR may not have gotten very interested yet, but if the early economic signs look good, that could change.

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Oregon

Dino Rossi family

Dino Rossi family

In today’s long-awaited announcement that he will run again against Democrat Christine Gregoire for governor, Republican Dino Rossi met the first two bars any challenger of an incumbent – for that is their respective roles now – has to do. But look through what he has to say, and you’re left with the simultaneous impressions of, “is that all there is?” and, “we’re drowning in data, what’s your point?”

What we’re left looking for for is this: The one or two really compelling arguments for why you gotta fire the incumbent and hire this guy. Rossi’s statement was loaded with critiques of the Gregoire Administration, and included a list of his own proposals. But will voters find any of them strong enough to reverse the direction they’ve taken the last four years?

We’re not easily finding the political version of the “killer app,” instead reading through a list of arguments that can too easily bog down in details – stuff that doesn’t seem very likely to grab voters by the throat, rivet them enough to get their attention.

Here are is the Rossi brief against Gregoire, from his descriptive press release on te announcement:

* The governor promised to blow through the bureaucracy and control state spending. She has since added 6,000 new state employees and increased state spending by 33 percent – or $8.2 billion. This sets the state up for a huge budget deficit.
* The governor promised not to raise taxes. Shortly after being certified governor she said, “I never really said ‘no taxes.” She has since raised taxes on gas, many families who have lost loved ones, and in other sectors. The governor also told a newspaper in April that she supports a state income tax.
* The governor pushed through the largest gas tax increase in state history and promised to reduce traffic congestion. Democrat State Auditor Brian Sonntag recently released a performance audit saying her Department of Transportation is not focused on congestion relief. Her agency director said that safety is the number one priority, yet the state’s two most unstable transportation infrastructures – the Alaskan Way Viaduct and 520 bridge – are as dangerous today as they were when she entered office.
* The governor promised to protect communities from dangerous criminals. Her Department of Corrections then released thousands of felons from prison early – including high-risk sex offenders and people with a history of violence. Many of these early release felons went on to commit more serious crimes.
* The governor promised to take care of children in state foster care. Yet state foster children have been killed, raped and even tortured as she points the finger at her agency director and others. A recent report shows the state does not even have the current contact information for around 1,000 state foster parents.
* The governor promised to establish a stable education funding formula for our K-12 public education system and to demand accountability in schools. Her education funding task force failed to recommend a new, valid funding formula. The state is now being sued. She also delayed the math and science portions of the WASL as graduation requirements, saying the problem is with the curriculum. She’s had three years to improve what is being taught to students. Meanwhile, more students are not prepared for the global economy that awaits them.

In parsing these points, we’d agree generally with some arguments and disagree with others but mostly – in a lot of places – what you see are statements that cry out for further explanation (and doubtless will get it from the Democrats). Some of these issues are problems of long running, long standing, that will not be entirely resolved four years from now whoever is governor. Some almost beg for easy rebuttal – he should be leery of using the gas tax increase against Gregoire, since it was the state’s voters after all who locked it in place, rejecting arguments against from Rossi’s allies. And does Rossi think he’s going to get voters stirred up in an abstract argument over school testing formulas?

His own proposals:

• Use the same priorities of government approach he led as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. In 2003, Rossi worked across party lines to pass a state budget that did raise taxes or cut services to vulnerable people – despite a $2.8 billion deficit. He would control state spending, not raise taxes and is opposed to the governor’s idea of a state income tax.

• Focus on traffic congestion and use transportation performance audits as drivers for reform and efficiency. He believes voters were misled and deserve what they promised.

• Not release violent, dangerous felons early from prison. He would also provide community corrections officers the resources and tools they need to properly monitor people released from prison on community supervision.

• Push for stronger punishment of sex offenders who fail to register and require them to disclose their Internet activities.

• Focus on children in state care and bring accountability to the state’s role with foster parents.

• Establish a stable and responsive K-12 public education funding formula that meets the state’s constitutional “paramount duty.” He would also hold school districts accountable for consistent failure and make it easier for talented people outside the teaching profession to teach subjects like math, science and computers.

Sounds fine, except that what he’s saying and what Gregoire will say out on the stump won’t be significantly different. Rossi says he wants to address these things; Gregoire will argue that she has been working on them and wants to do more in a second term. So where in that is the compelling argument for replacement?

An opening statement isn’t, of course, a delimiter; Rossi’s campaign message can evolve over the year to come. He and his managers may be bearing that in mind, and see this opening as a relatively non-controversial opening shot. One way or another, an evolution may be in the air regardless as the campaign takes further shape.

A LIST Rossi’s campaign website has one item on it we don’t usually see, a link to “Call Talk Radio.” Click there and you get a wonderful little resource: A list of talk radio programs across the state. It’s a list we at least will be taking advantage of (for purposes of listening, though, rather than calling in . . .)

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Washington