Writings and observations

Dennis Hession

Dennis Hession

Mary Verner

Mary Verner

The Spokane mayoral race has become increasingly heated, but it seemed to take a distinctly new, and fierce, turn on Monday. That came during one in a lengthy series of debates (another was scheduled for tonight) when Mayor Dennis Hession said that Council member Mary Verner, who is running against him, proposed establishing an Indian casino in a downtown building. (Verner, we should note, is staff director for a regional inter-tribe organization.)

The exchange (audio is available online) was launched with a question from Hession to Verner: Last year, “you approached me on behalf of one of the gaming native tribes about purchasing the Rookery block for the purpose of developing the area as a gaming site. What is your position about gaming in the downtown area and the city of Spokane?”

Verner: “First, I unequivocally deny that I ever approached you on behalf of any of the tribes regarding a gaming facility in downtown Spokane, and I defy you to produce any evidence that I did so.” She said that so far as she knew, none of the tribes she works with has ever approached the city with such an idea. (Hession acknowledged that he had no concrete record of the conversation.)

Here we have some high drama, of a sort you only occasionally see (less often than many people would say) in political campaigns. This isn’t a difference of opinion of a matter of interpretation: Only one of these candidates can be telling the truth.

They’ve got some interesting debates ahead of them, don’t they?

Spokane voters may wish they’d been issued a lie detector along with their ballots.

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There’s a sensible political idea among some Democrats that they might be well advised to enter into the ballot issue arena, turf where so many of the Northwest’s recent issues have been right-originated. That can make some sense for either side.

Assuming, of course, one chooses one’s issues wisely. On that front, Democrats might want to take a deep breath before they choose what they want to be identified with.

Ted Blaszak of Democracy Resources posted the general idea at Blue Oregon, along with responses to a question his group posed at the recent Democratic gathering at Sunriver: “Do you have a good idea for a progressive ballot measure?” He got responses. Some of them may be fairly unobjectionable: “Increase tax incentives for homebuilders who use sustainable methods”. Or just intriguing: “Fusion voting.”

But there are some others here – and to be clear, these were only suggestions from individuals, not endorsements from any Democratic group – but worth noting here since Blaszak went quit public with them at Blue Oregon – that Democrats might want to think about carefully before aligning with:

bullet “Abolish the kicker”

bullet “Fine adults who don’t vote”

bullet “Increase the gas tax to pay for local public transportation”

bullet “A progressive sales tax”

bullet “Require a supermajority for tax cuts in the legislature”

You can just see the counter-storm clouds forming . . .

THAT SAID Check out the Blue Oregon post linked above, and read through the comments. you will be find a slew of fascinating ideas and useful policy discussion. Useful ballot issues could easily come out of this kind of back-and-forth.

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Jim Risch

Jim Risch

Talk many years ago about Jim Risch, a couple of decades or so back when the subject came up about what the then-state senator might one day run for, didn’t center on governor. The word was that the job he’d really be interested in above other things was a seat in the U.S. Senate.

He may become one of the few Idahoans ever to do both. With his announcement today for the Senate, Risch becomes the presumptive Republican nominee and the immediate frontrunner for the job.

Idaho politics having recently gone through such a, ah, peculiar time this last month and a half, it’s worth stepping back and taking stock here of what’s not been upended (yet, at least) as well as what has.

The path to Risch’s announcement was most immediately cleared by Senator Larry Craig’s announcement, alongside his declaration of sticking in the Senate, that he would not run for re-election in 2008. Risch months ago had said he likely would run for the seat if Craig didn’t, so his announcement is in line with that. But it also had two other effects, which he must realize. The state Republican establishment must realize it too, which helps explain the high-level on-site support Risch got today (from Senator Mike Crapo, former Governor Phil Batt and even the theoretically impartial state GOP Chair Kirk Sullivan). One is that it puts a big obstacle in the way of any decision-changing by Craig on the subject of running again. The other is that it may foreclose candidacies from other major figures in the party – the establishment has closed ranks and made its decision, and it will be hard to buck.

There’ll probably be something in the way of small-scale candidacies, like that of elk farm owner Rex Rammell (who has indicated some delight at the idea of running against Risch). But we’re guessing there won’t be one; Sullivan’s support for Risch seems a real indicator. Absent a major figure such as Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the nomination likely will go to Risch without much difficulty.

And the general?

Well, yes, there are the unknowns, and eventually the Republican presumption in Idaho statewides will run aground. 2008 looks like a strongly Democratic year generally, and even in Idaho Republicans have been badly shaken. We can’t yet know fully what the political fallout from the Craig scandal will be. (Might it actually cause substantial numbers of Idaho Republicans to drop out or switch parties? We’re doubtful such numbers would be significant, but it could happen.)

And Democratic candidate Larry LaRocco, who was elected to the U.S. House twice (1990 and 1992), has been in the field for half a year and has been hustling. His campaign is far ahead of the normal schedule for Democratic challengers in Idaho. Will 2008 be the year Idaho voters, so rigidly consistent for so many years in their Republican voting, break the pattern?

Possible. But.

There’s been no evidence yet in the last couple of years, outside the city limits of Boise, that substantial numbers of Idaho voters are changing voting patterns solidly in place for 15 years: From where exactly will the Democratic-majority votes come? Democrats remain not nearly as well organized as Republicans in Idaho, so they may have a hard time taking advantage of a national sweep, if it happens.

We’ve never considered Risch, whose intelligence and energy is obvious at first glance, to be an especially appealing retail handshaking candidate; his strength is not as Mr. Warmth. But his skill has grown steadily, and he generated strong good will statewide from his much-praised performance as governor, for seven months. And his smooth resumption of his lieutenant governor duties after holding the top spot probably won him some affection too. Risch may be as popular as any politician in Idaho right now, likely at a career peak – what better time for a Senate race? LaRocco has run against him twice before, for the state Senate and for lieutenant governor, both on occasions when he was less strong politically than he is now; and Risch won decisively both times.

Change comes to all things, Idaho not excepted, and we’ll be watching for counter-indicators. But the state of play today is this: Risch is a strong favorite to win this Senate seat in another year.

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