Larry Craig

Larry Craig

This, the Larry and Suzanne Craig interview on NBC by Matt Lauer, came a month after Craig hired heavy crisis control guns, and so it had a carefully defined purpose. It was the same purpose as the famous early 1992 interview on 60 Minutes with Bill and Hillary Clinton: Rehabilitation on a personal level.

It may have worked to a point. To a point.

That point is that the hour-long program gave exposure to not a punchline, not a caricature, but an actual human being. He strikes as humble; his typically strident speaking style is muted, he seems calmer and more reflective, and he comes off as more likable for it.

Did Craig’s claims of innocence convince? Probably not. Most minds long since have been made up about that – too many weeks have passed – and the string of what Craig argues are fluke coincidences surrounding the Minneapolis incident are just too many.

But it may soften some attitudes, especially among people who would like to feel better about Craig. It could make some difference in D.C.; it may help Craig a bit when he travels around Idaho. Somewhat the way the Clintons interview did them. (That interview didn’t, after all, convince many people that Clinton hadn’t philandered.) And Craig did pretty well in the interview; he is naturally articulate, and doubtless extremely thoroughly prepped on top of that.

One other thing, can’t help it. Matt Lauer and Steve Carrell: Separated at birth, right?

VIEWS Probably the program didn’t change many views of people who had strongly-held views beforehand. The Idaho Statesman followed up with an editorial reiterating its call for Craig’s resignation. At New West/Boise, Jill Kuraitis wrote, “The stunning miscalculation that more exposure for Craig would ‘set the record straight’ defies common sense. It’s that when-you’re-in-a-hole-stop-digging thing. The predictable over-rehearsed impression made by the skillful politician put Craig’s unctuous speaking style on display for a whole hour. It was two hours for those of us in Boise who first watched an hour of KTVB’s anchor Mark Johnson interview Craig with mostly softball questions, which also didn’t help Craig. Obvious is obvious.”

That sounds about right, in part at least, but consider also the response from Talking Point Memo’s Josh Marshall: “I watched a portion of Larry Craig’s chat with Matt Lauer. And his denial was so thorough and complete that I had moments where I was almost lulled into the thought that the whole thing was just a misunderstanding.”

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The Northwest’s congressional delegation has run strongly in favor of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. On the crucial House side, just three of the region’s 16 House members seem to be against it: Bill Sali and Greg Walden.

Sali is easy to figure, is an opponent generally of social services spending: “This bill is very harmful. It takes money from hardworking Americans while opening the door to provide health insurance to undocumented foreign nationals, including gang members, drug cartel operatives and terrorists. Further, it taxes Idahoans to provide health insurance to people already covered by private insurance or can afford to get it.” (The other Idaho representative, Mike Simpson, who had been a dentist in private life, went the other way on SCHIP.) Washington’s Doc Hastings has similarly anti-spending views.

But Oregon’s Greg Walden is a more complex case. A post on Blue Oregon had this useful background:

In 1993, after Oregon received federal approval to implement the Oregon Health Plan, then-House Majority Leader Greg Walden negotiated the political deal to jumpstart the plan with a 10-cent tax on a pack of cigarettes. Through these negotiations, Walden demonstrated that he was not an ideologue. To the contrary, Walden was a skillful pragmatist. The deal served his interests since, as commentators at the time noted, Walden had his eye on a future Governor’s race.

Fast forward to 2007 and the present debate between Congress and the Bush Administration about extending and funding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Walden began the year lending his name to a letter to the House budget committee arguing for more money for CHIP in the budget. But something happened to Walden by the time the reauthorization and appropriations bill came up for a vote in the House – he backed the President and opposed the CHIP measure. When the compromise conference committee version came back to the House floor, he voted against kids’ health insurance, again.

The next key House vote on SCHIP, veto override vote, comes on Thursday.

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We were sort of noting, repeatedly, back when Idaho Senator Larry Craig was supposed to have been planning to resign, that if he didn’t, he would be in the unusual position of being able to say what he really thinks about people and politics, including many of those at the highest levels.

He has some reasons of loyalty for not bashing some of those Idaho Republicans, such as the other members of the state’s congressional delegation, who haven’t turned on him. But a whole lot of other Republicans may have to watch out.

That was our thought today when we saw Craig’s quote, to NBC, about presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “I’d worked hard for him here in the state. I was a co-chair of his campaign on Capitol Hill. And he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again.”

Having established some cred with that quote – because what that metaphoric depiction is what happened – you wonder what observations are next.

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Can’t recommend holding your breath in waiting for this, but the political stars in favor of the Pioneer line just might be calling into place for the first time in a lot of years. Idaho Senator Mike Crapo is on board with it again, as he has been in years past, as are the two Oregon senators, but perhaps in the next few years the political environment will be less daunting than it was.

A new Senate billS. 294, Amtrak reauthorization – which, among other things, would do a preliminary Pioneer evaluation, moved out of Senate Commerce in May, and now may be getting some of the floor push it needs – the list of co-sponsors is approaching 50 names. An evaluation might or might not pass this year. But if the Senate moves increasingly Democratic after the next election, as seems likely, public transit ideas already in the pipeline may get considerable push. And there’s excellent prospective support in the House, where Oregon’s Peter deFazio is the go-to guy on transportation funding these days.

A lot of this has to do with the standards used to maintain transit lines. Pioneer, which once carried passengers (your scribe, periodically) on a line that included a run from Ogden to Pocatello to Boise across Oregon to Portland, shut down 10 years ago; it was reported to have lost $20 million in its last year. But, of course, that depends in part on how you count.

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Idaho Oregon

Last year while running for governor of Oregon – he would take second place in the Republican primary – Kevin Mannix made a history-based argument to those in his party worried about whether he was electable. Mannix had, after all, lost not only the race for governor the election before in 2002, but also two runs for attorney general against a less-than-charismatic opponent (Hardy Myers, who’s retiring this year).

Mannix’ counter was this: You don’t get to be governor of Oregon without losing a race or two before getting there.

The point’s barb doesn’t hold perfectly – you have to overlook John Kitzhaber, Barbara Roberts and Neil Goldschmidt, who (so far as we can recall) never lost a race – but it does have a point. Oregon’s current governor, Ted Kulongoski, lost a run for the job in 1982, which followed by two years a failed run for the U.S. Senate. The three governors pre-Goldschmidt – Victor Atiyeh, Robert Straub, and Tom McCall – all lost bids for major office before winning the governorship. (Their predecessor, Mark Hatfield, was lossless, but it may be worth noting that he became governor by defeating incumbent Democrat Robert Holmes, who in turn won the job by defeating his Republican predecessor, Elmo Smith.) No binding rule, but some precedent is available.

The argument didn’t work for Mannix; he lost the Republican primary in 2006 to a man he’d defeated in it four years earlier. But the idea at hand – building a winning campaign on the rising ground of earlier defeats – has some pertinence in next year’s Northwest major office races.

As noted here yesterday, the region’s sole governor’s race likely will rematch Democrat Chris Gregoire, now the incumbent, and Republican Dino Rossi. The two Senate races in the region would not be reruns, though in Idaho the probable Republican and Democratic nominees for a presumably (presumably) open seat, Jim Risch and Larry LaRocco, have run against each other twice before.

Moreover: Early energy in U.S. House races have focused so far on three districts in the region, one in each state – and each one featuring, evidently, a rematch from 2006. In the Washington 8th, Republican Dave Reichert likely will re-face Democrat Darcy Burner; in the Idaho 1st, Republican Bill Sali probably will again be challenged by Democrat Larry Grant; and (although this is less settled) in the Oregon 5th, Democrat Darlene Hooley may again face Republican Mike Erickson.

Yesterday we looked at the recent history of taking out incumbents (spotty at best). Today: How do candidates do when they run again? Do reruns often work?

Examine the regional results over the last generation, and you find an answer: Sometimes, but usually when something important enough changes about the race from one election to another, usually something that has to do with the incumbent more than it does the challenger.

There are a number of instances around the Northwest of losing a run for an office before winning it.

Governor’s offices are rich with these cases. Like Oregon, Idaho has plenty of precedent. The Gem State’s governor now, C.L. “Butch” Otter, placed third in the 1978 Republican primary for governor, before he ran for lieutenant governor in 1986 and launching a since-unbroken string of wins. His immediate predecessor, Jim Risch, hasn’t lost for major office but was bounced out of his state Senate seat in 1988 and lost another state Senate race after that, before his comeback in the 90s. Phil Batt, governor from 1995-99, lost a run for the job in 1982. Cecil Andrus, the state’s only four-term governor (1971-77, 1987-95) and one of its most popular, managed to lose two runs for governor in the same year – 1966, once in the primary and then, weirdly, in the general too – before his eventual election. (Andrus has maintained he’s the only person ever to lose a governorship twice at the polls as a ballot-named candidate in the same year; he may be right.)

But because of the four-year gap between elections for governor, or six-year for U.S. Senate, these tend to be fluky cases – and because of the passage of time, many things can change. What about the two-year U.S. House cycles?

On that level, here are the cases we can spot of those who win after losing for the same office:

bullet Brian Baird, Democrat, Washington 3rd. Baird ran a close race, photo-finish, against incumbent Republican Linda Smith in 1996. Two years later, Smith ran for the U.S. Senate instead, and Baird won in his second race, as an organized and known quantity for an open seat.

bullet Jack Metcalf, Republican, Washington 2nd. Lost in 1992 to incumbent Democrat Al Swift. In 1994, Swift retired, Metcalf launched well-organized in a very Republican year, and won. (He retired after 2000.)

bullet Doc Hastings, Republican, Washington 4th. Ran against Democrat Jay Inslee, a strong campaigner, for an open seat in 1992, then beat him in the Republican tide of 1994, after Inslee had become tightly linked to Clinton Administration policies in a very Republican district. Hastings is still there.

bullet Mike Kopetski, Democrat, Oregon 5th. In 1988 Kopetski ran against incumbent Republican Denny Smith, holding him to a virtual draw. In 1990, Smith ran for governor (unsuccessfully), and Kopetski had the campaign and visibility to win the House seat. (This is the Baird scenario precisely, eight years earlier; Kopetski retired in 1994.)

bullet Richard Stallings, Democrat, Idaho 2nd. Stallings launched a seeming long-shot bid against Republican incumbent George Hansen in 1982, losing but with a respectable percentage. Two years later, they rematched, and this time Stallings narrowly (this is super-fine photo-finish) won. What changed? Mostly, that a few months before the 1984 elections, Hansen had been convicted of four felony counts related to finance recordkeeping.

Those five are all the cases we know of in the last generation where a candidate runs for the House the second time in a row, and wins the second time. In three of those cases, the win happened in large part because the incumbent opted out, and the returning challenger was well-set-up to go after the opening. In one other (Stallings) the incumbent had extraordinary legal problems.

And in one (Hastings) case, the challenger was able to take advantage of newly-developed – developed during the term in Congress – changes in issues and political environment, to oust an incumbent. Hastings (in a race that both parties might do well to study this year) is the only recent classic example of defeating a House incumbent on the basis of track record and district political compatibility.

It’s a rarity. Election after election it’s tried, but rarely succeeds. Up against the success stories, consider these:

bullet Jim Feldkamp, Republican, candidate for U.S. House (Oregon 5th), 2004, 2006. His percentage of 37.6% against Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio was almost precisely the same both times, despite a much earlier and more organized start in 2006.

bullet Doug Cloud, Republican, candidate for U.S. House (Washington 6th), 2004, 2006. After take all of 31% against the super-established Democratic incumbent Norm Dicks, he returned to take 29.4% the second time.

bullet Jerry Brady, Democrat, candidate for governor (Idaho), 2002, 2006. Defeated both times, first against incumbent Dirk Kempthorne, then for an open seat by Republican Otter (though, following the norm rule, his percentage improved slightly the second time when the seat opened).

bullet Carol Cassady, Republican, candidate for U.S. House (Washington 7th), 2002, 2004. Talk about a thankless job, running as a Republican in the heart of Seattle, and she did it twice, going from 21.9% the first time to 19.3% the second.

bullet Brian Boquist, Republican, candidate for U.S. House (Oregon 5th), 2000, 2002. Improved his percentage by two points to 45.1% the second time, but still didn’t come close.

bullet Robert Lawrence, Republican, candidate U.S. House (Washington 6th), 1998, 2000, 2002. Co-winner of the regional “glutton for punishment” award: Ran three times against the impregnable Norm Dicks, and his percentages (in order): 31.6%, 31.1%, 31.3%.

bullet Heidi Behrens-Benedict, Democrat, candidate U.S. House (Washington 8th), 1998, 2000, 2002. The other glutton for punishment winner (and maybe she gets the edge because she actually sought the nomination a fourth time). Her percentages against the immovable Jennifer Dunn (in order): 40.3%, 35.6%, 37.3%.

bullet Dan Williams, Democrat, candidate U.S. House (Idaho 1st), 1996, 1998. Running against Republican Helen Chenoweth, his percentage dropped from 47.5% in the first election to 44.7% in the second.

Our conclusion, as suggested earlier: Something very significant, usually involving the winner of the previous election and generally outside control of the challenger, has to change if the results in the second election are to significantly change.

We’d also suggest this, as an opening salvo in election analysis. The question such 2008 prospective challengers as Burner, Grant and Erickson have to ask is: Has enough changed (in the right way) in connection with Reichert, Sali and Hooley to render them drastically more vulnerable in 2008 than in 2006? And if so, what is that?

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Drive around downtown Medford, as we did a few weeks ago, and there’s a tendency to smell stagnation – not a downtown of death or decay, as so many have had, but one that doesn’t seem to be forging ahead. (Much smaller Ashland’s downtown seems more energized.)

This seems to have been recognized locally, and efforts toward ignition seem to have been made with new commercial centers. But the new building could become the spark plug the downtown needs.

It will be anchored by the new corporate offices for Lithia Motors, the large auto seller which is based at Medford; the corporate building will rise 10 stories, the tallest in the city.

And, the Medford Mail Tribune reports, “The headquarters building will anchor The Commons, a nine-block redevelopment project that will fill the blocks roughly between Central and Riverside avenues and Third and Sixth streets. In addition to the 10-story building, The Commons will include residential buildings, retail stores and restaurants, a parking garage and three urban park blocks. Lithia, the city of Medford and the Medford Urban Renewal Agency formed a partnership to create The Commons.”

Medford could have a different sense of itself five years from now.

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Only but so many seriously-contested major-office races – we’re defining “major office” here as congressional and gubernatorial – are in the offing in the Northwest for 2008, as matters sit, and that makes sense considering how few incumbents are losing these days. Also striking: The number of candidates in these particular races who, having lost once, are determined to give it a second shot.

Second runs by losing candidates of course aren’t unprecedented – and we’ll get to some of that history shortly – but this time, many of the key races seem to be dominated by reruns.

The one governor’ race in the region appears likely to be rematch between Democrat Chris Gregoire, now the incumbent, and Republican Dino Rossi (though Rossi could still shock us all and drop out). The two Senate races in the region would not be reruns, though in Idaho the probable Republican and Democratic nominees for a presumably (presumably) open seat, Jim Risch and Larry LaRocco, have run against each other twice before. Rumors and sighs about actual battles for U.S. House seats so far have focused on three districts in the region, one in each state – and each one featuring, odds appear, a rematch from 2006.

Prompting us to take a quick two-part look at, first, the record in recent times of beating incumbents and, second (in a post tomorrow) the track record of candidates who run a second time.

Actually, we can dispose of the incumbent-beating track record pretty quickly. Simply, it doesn’t happen a lot.

Over the last 20 years, no governor has been defeated for re-election in Idaho, Oregon or Washington: The last was Washington Republican John Spellman in 1984. You have to go back to 1970 in Idaho and to 1978 in Oregon to find a gubernatorial incumbent loss (though at least a couple of other governors, in Oregon in 1994 and in Washington in 1996, were at severe risk of loss and retired instead).

During this same time, just one U.S. senator was defeated for re-election – Washington’s Slade Gorton, in 2000 (who also happened to be the last one in the region defeated for re-election prior to that, in 1986). The last senator ousted by the voters in Idaho was Democrat Frank Church in 1980, and in Oregon Democrat Wayne Morse in 1968 – nearly four decades ago. Senatorial losses are not commonplace in the region, either.

There are a few more in the U.S. House, but the overall record there still isn’t a lot more challenger-inviting.

There are 16 House seats in the three Northwest states (15 before 1992), so in the 10 general contests from 1988 to date there have been 158 elections for those seats. Some of those contests (about a couple of dozen) were for open seats, where an incumbent had retired or run for something else, but the great majority featured an incumbent. And how many times did voters choose a challenger rather than an incumbent?


There’s also this.

Six of those turnouts occurred in the same year, 1994, the year of a massive national Republican sweep, especially of U.S. House seats. Districts that for some time had been largely Republican swung hard to their party roots, and Democrats were cut little slack, and in a bunch of swing districts sympathy went to the Republicans as well. In Idaho, out went Democrat Larry LaRocco from the Republican 1st. In Washington, Democrats Tom Foley (the House speaker) and Jay Inslee were tossed from basically Republican districts, and Democrats Jolene Unsoeld, Maria Cantwell and Mike Kriedler from swing districts.

The two other incumbent losses in Washington came in the next two elections when two of those new Republican House members, Rick White and Randy Tate, were ousted by (respectively) Democrats Jay Inslee and Adam Smith. (Democrats retook the third seat when the incumbent, Linda Smith, left it in 1998 to run for the Senate.)

The last incumbent loss in Oregon was semi-related: In 1996, when Republican Jim Bunn, battling both personal issues and anti-Gingrich backlash, lost to well-connected Democrat Darlene Hooley. Before that in Oregon, you have to go back (unless we missed one) to Ron Wyden’s Democratic primary defeat of Bob Duncan in 1980.

And before 1994 in Idaho, you have to go back to 1984 (when Republican Representative George Hansen only barely lost re-election despite his recent conviction on four felonies), and before that to 1974 (when Hansen knocked out a fellow Republican incumbent in his primary – the most recent major office primary loss by an incumbent in Idaho to date).

Unless we’ve missed one, in fact, 1980 appears to be the last time a major office incumbent has lost a primary election – Duncan in Oregon and Washington Democratic Governor Dixy Lee Ray.

Getting a sense here of what a challenger’s odds are like?

Next: What happens when you run again.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

You gotta love this about a two-newspaper town: endorsements for everyone. Not that this is unusual for the Seattle Times, where endorsements lean Republican, or Post-Intelligencer, where they tend Democratic. But fun anyway.

So who you gonna vote for in the King County prosecutor race, in a choice between two candidates – Republican incumbent (recent appointee) Dan Satterberg and Democratic challenger Bill Sherman – each considered at least capable and adeuate choices?

PI endorsement: “A clearer desire for change sets Sherman slightly but promisingly apart.”

Times endorsement: Sherman “is up against a wall of experience, and he does not make enough of a case to knock it down. . . . Satterberg, interim King County prosecutor, deserves election to the remaining three years of the term of the late prosecuting attorney, Norm Maleng. His experience in the office gives him the edge . . .”

The Times‘ David Postman, who interviewed both candidates Wednesday, has posted the audio and his short comments on the encounter. His thought: “The Cliff Notes version of that would be: Satterberg: Norm; Sherman: Democrat.”

And that seems to be what underlies this, in a case where two reasonably qualified attorneys are up against each other: Regard for long-time Prosecutor Norm Maleng against the county’s Democratic tilt. (Although, consider as well this rundown by the PI‘s Joel Connelly.)

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College of Idaho

College of Idaho

The private College of Idaho at Caldwell, founded in 1881, achieved some renown over the years as a liberal arts institution, helped along to a considerable degree by substantial donations from an alum, supermarket founder Joe Albertson (and his wife Kathryn). He gave those gifts quietly, usually anonymously, partly because he was not a man who insisted on public applause for every good thing he did, but maybe also for some cannier reasons, too.

In 1991 the institution’s name was changed, to the Albertson College of Idaho. Quite a few people – we were among them – disliked the change. Not, certainly, because of anything against Albertson, who really had helped the college and may have forestalled closure once or twice. Rather, because it just sounded tacky. It sounded as if the college was another department in a supermarket. It had a crass we’re-for-sale feel to it. And because we were convinced that if Albertson were still alive – he had died a few years before – he would have vetoed the idea. Sharply.

Today, college President Bob Hoover said the college is changing its name again – back to College of Idaho.

It stems partly from the corporate selloff of the Albertson’s company to Supervalu; but that sounds like the lesser part of it. It follows on the heels of another Albertsons donation – this one $50 million from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, one of the largest private college donations ever; there’s certainly no Albertson repudiation here.

Instead, as the Idaho Press Tribune described the rationale: “The decision was made partly because some College of Idaho alumni didn’t feel connected to the school after the name change, officials said, and partly because some people believed the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation was fully supporting the college. That made it difficult to raise money, officials said.”

And this: “The private school has long been the subject of jokes referring to its shared name with a grocery store, including zingers such as, ‘What’s your degree in — paper, or plastic?’ . . . Current students and alumni cheered when Hoover announced the name change. ‘I think it will put us a little higher in the college rankings, because it just sounds more prestigous,’ said Joelle Cote, a 20-year-old junior majoring in health sciences and nursing at the school.”

Joe Albertson was a shrewd guy. He may have understood all this long ago.

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There’s probably not a lot to say about the KIVI-TV poll (by Greg Smith & Associates) released this morning on Senator Larry Craig, saying a majority (51%) of his Idaho constituents would like to see him . . . elsewhere. And 21% thought he should hang in.

Our basic thoughts ran much like those of the Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell, who among other things concluded: “Anyone who’s been reading letters to the editor pages in Idaho might have expected a much larger number wanting Craig to quit… And as far as the 6 percent the poll found unaware of the situation, wow! How do they do that? Is it possible to completely avoid hearing about this?”

(Commenters noted that the 6% is nearly within the poll’s 5.6% margin of error. On the other hand, consider the number of Americans who couldn’t tell you who the president is . . .)

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We were hazarding a guess that Oregon Senator Gordon Smith‘s fundraising for this cycle would run to about $5 million, or a little more; his actual reporting of $6.1 million probably exceeds most expectations.

The Oregonian‘s Jeff Mapes quotes on his blog from a Smith press release (why aren’t they putting these things on their web site?): “The campaign has raised approximately $6.1 million during the current election cycle and has $4.035 million cash on hand.”

With a year of fundraising yet to go. Any guesses how high this number will go by then? $12 million? $16 million?

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Richard McIver

Richard McIver

No immediate guesses on what the fallout may be for Seattle Council member Richard McIver, arrested early this morning, jailed for invesitgation of misdemeanor domestic violence assault.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported, “McIver’s wife, Marlaina Kiner-McIver, had called 911. She told responding officers he was drunk and grabbed her throat and arm during an argument. She says that’s the first time that’s happened in their 33-year marriage.”

McIver has been on the council for a decade, often one of the less-controversial members. The council member he replaced, John Manning, a former police officer, resigned in 1997 following his guilty plea to fourth-degree misdemeanor domestic-violence; attempts at a council comeback in 2003 and this year failed. Too soon to be say, especially since the case is in early stages, but will bear watching.

Does that presage what may happen in McIver’s case?

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Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

Steve Novick

Steve Novick

The back to back talks by Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley and Portland activist Steve Novick, both running for the U.S. Senate, at this week’s labor conference at Seaside, may have shown off the coming state of the Oregon Democratic Party in microcosm. They certainly ought to have given the party’s leaders something to think about.

Merkley and Novick were cordial and focused their fire on Republican Gordon Smith; and their line of argument against him, and their descriptions of their own philosophies of governing, were similar in content. Theirs was not a “left vs. moderate” sort of thing: Wherever they are on such a scale, they’re not far apart ideologically.

But there was a difference, and it wasn’t subtle.

Merkley made only one quick, glancing reference to Novick, simply acknowleding their joint appearances, nothing substantive. (His speaking, by the ways, seems to have gained in smoothness and strength since last we saw him.) He seemed to take little notice of him.

Novick, while focused on Smith (coupled, of course, with the Bush Administration) and his own views, did carve out a couple of minutes to discuss Merkley, planting one substantial barb along the way.

He softened it with this opening: “Here I have to tell you that I am the only Democrat in the race that can beat Gordon Smith, for two reasons. Gordon Smith is a highly talented traditional politician. You’re not going to beat him with anything remotely traditional. You’re going to have to beat him with something a little different. I’m little, and I’m different.” That drew laughs, of course, but effectively set up his main point: Merkley’s vote in 2003 for a state legislative resolution supporting the Iraq war, President Bush and the troops.

That vote, he suggested, fatally undercuts any effort by Merkley to attack Smith, whose stance on Iraq changed dramatically last December, on the war. (“So, Speaker Merkley, you changed you mind on the war? So did I . . . Oh, you only meant in that vote to support the troops – well, that was my intent too . . . Or does it mean you’ll vote for something you don’t believe in? . . .”)

The point is powerful, and Novick implanted it effectively. It has some power because it can resonate with all those Democrats furious at a Democratic Congress which has not made much change in Iraq policy. Would Merkley, for all his talk against the war, join in that crowd?

This isn’t really a left-center debate, but more an insider-outsider think: Note that Novick set up his argument with the implicit description of Merkley as a “traditional” politician. That has some resonance, too: Just to look (or for that matter, to hear) the two of them is to reinforce the point.

All of which might be a semi-significant campaign tactic, except for another stray comment, not about Merkley, that Novick made for the taping of last Sunday’s Outlook Portland television program.

There (after some of these same points about Merkley came up), host Nick Fish asked Novick about several other upcoming races, including one other with competing Democrats: Attorney General, sought by state Representative Greg Macpherson of Lake Oswego and law professor John Kroger, a former federal prosecutor. Macpherson has emerged as, more or less, the “establishment” choice – like Merkley, endorsed by Governor Ted Kulongoski and other top names – and Kroger, less known, as sort of an outsider choice, and in interviews seems to be emerging as a boat-rocker and activist, moreso evidently than Macpherson.

Novick might have been expected to stay out of another primary, but he didn’t, endorsing Kroger. Part of it comes from their shared background as Department of Justice attorneys, and his description of Kroger’s record in Enron, Mafia and other cases. Electing such as activist attorney, he suggested, “will help in bringing good people to the [state] Department of Justice, and give those people who are already there a little extra spring in their step.” A question, in other words, of degree of activism and assertiveness.

Some of that distinction of style and attitude seems to be a good bit of what separates some of the Democrats these days (and not just in Oregon). In the months rolling out to the primaries and beyond, we’ll be watching to see whether this is a widening or narrowing divide.

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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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