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Posts published in October 2007

Such nice guys

Two of the region's significant ballot issues coming up next month - Oregon's Measure 50 and Washington's R-67 - ought to be watched closely by marketing professionals. The point: Can sheer weight of money, Niagras of dollars, do the job of winning the public over to the side of two of the least-liked institutions in the country over to their side of an issue?

(Are you watching AMC's excellent new cable series Mad Men? Have you seen the movie Thank You for Smoking? If not, you should.)

Target point for Measure 50 is tobacco companies, and for R-67 insurance companies - who better if you could choose your opposition in a popularity contest? That doesn't mean either will necessarily pass; the outcome of both is in some doubt. The biggest reason for that is that these fat-pocketed targets aren't sitting still. They're throwing major bucks into these campaigns.

Their strategies are somewhat different, befitting the availability of their targets.

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In a name

Biggest issue in Portland right now is a proposal to change the name of a street. And it's not a small thing.

The place is Interstate Boulevard, which doesn't seem a likely spot for social controversy. It is a road in northeast Portland running (very) roughly parallel to Interstate 5, mainly north of the downtown area. Because of hills and freeway ramps and bridges, we got stuck on it a time or two navigating around the area, and it's mostly not an especially memorable stretch. Much of it is industrial, and most of the rest fronts a range of businesses. Residential areas are nearby and peek through here and there. It's not one of the gentrified areas of Portland, but along with the rest of north Portland, it's moving gradually upscale.

Mayor Tom Potter has gotten behind the plan to rename Interstate Boulevard - a pretty generic name, to be sure - as Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Evidently recognizing that not everyone was going to agree, he noted on his web site, "I urge all Portlanders to learn more about this project and what it means the Latino community. Take the time to listen – and I mean really listen – before making a fearful reaction to the idea of change. More importantly in this debate, let’s respect one another. For when we do this, we are really saying to one another 'I respect your right to be here.'”

Fair enough, though respect has to run in all directions, and there are quite a few directions on this. So many, in fact, that we've gotten e-mail inquiries about the subject from as far away as Idaho.

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In the hall of fame

Idaho Senator Larry Craig will be inducted on October 13 into the Idaho Hall of Fame. He apparently is scheduled to attend the ceremony.

The selection, along with others who will be inducted, was made in March, before Craig became so well-known nationally. But there's certainly less doubt now than there may have been before that the senator is among the most famous of Idahoans.

The final arbiter

Washington courts The core sentence in today's Washington Supreme Court decision in Marilou Rickert v. Washington seems unassailable, and it is: "The notion that the government, rather than the people, may be the final arbiter of truth in political debate is fundamentally at odds with the First Amendment. Because RCW 42.17.530(1)(a) rests on the validity of this erroneous assumption, it must be struck down."

Here's the background:

In 2002, Ms. Rickert challenged incumbent Senator Tim Sheldon in the election for state senator from Washington's 35th Legislative District. During the campaign, Ms. Rickert sponsored a mailing that included a brochure comparing her positions to those of Senator Sheldon. In part, the brochure stated that Ms. Rickert "[s]upports social services for the most vulnerable of the state's citizens." Admin. Record (AR) at 10. By way of comparison, the brochure stated that Senator Sheldon "voted to close a facility for the developmentally challenged in his district." Id. In response to the latter statement, Senator Sheldon filed a complaint with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), alleging a violation of RCW 42.17.530(1)(a). RCW 42.17.530(1) provides, in relevant part:

It is a violation of this chapter for a person to sponsor with
actual malice:
(a) Political advertising or an electioneering
communication that contains a false statement of material fact
about a candidate for public office. However, this subsection
(1)(a) does not apply to statements made by a candidate or the
candidate's agent about the candidate himself or herself.

The law put a state agency, the PDC, in the position of deciding which candidates are telling the truth and which aren't. At best, that might logically be a job for a court; but more logically still, it ought to be a job for informed voters to discern. The strike-down of this law, on conceptual as opposed to technical grounds, is significant.

Craig: I’m Staying Put

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

We suspected this as an end result, and we weren't alone; Bryan Fischer of the Idaho Values Alliance delivered a sound analysis suggesting the same thing. We were wrong to a point, which is that we didn't think Idaho Senator Larry Craig would say conclusively that he will stay in the Senate until his term ends in January 2009. But now, today, that's what he's done.

The prompt for the statement was the decision out of Minnesota on his attempt to withdraw his guilty plea; Hennepin County District Judge Charles Porter said Craig's original plea was made "accurately, voluntarily and intelligently." In a release from his office, Craig said he was disappointed, did not indicate whether he would appeal (we're guessing now that he won't) but added this:

"I will continue to serve Idaho in the United States Senate, and there are several reasons for that. As I continued to work for Idaho over the past three weeks here in the Senate, I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively.

"Over the course of my three terms in the Senate and five terms in the House, I have accumulated seniority and important committee assignments that are valuable to Idaho, not the least of which are my seats on the Appropriations Committee, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Veterans' Affairs Committee. A replacement would be highly unlikely to obtain these posts.

"In addition, I will continue my effort to clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee - something that is not possible if I am not serving in the Senate.

"When my term has expired, I will retire and not seek reelection. I hope this provides the certainty Idaho needs and deserves."

Of course, the Senate Republican caucus could always try to take away the committee assignments too. But there's a real chance (especially since that hasn't happened yet) they won't, if only because that would give Democrats some significant leverage against them.

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Once, they’d have burned it

And we keep wondering how many affronts to our dignity as citizens we'll continue to put up with in the interest of fake "security" . . . against, for example, the bra-the-could-be-a-weapon.

The Spokane Spokesman Review is reporting on an incident at the Coeur d'Alene federal courthouse, when a wire in a woman's bra set off a metal detector at the front door. The Bonners Ferry resident said, "When I walked through, the gentleman said, "'Do you have an underwire bra on?' I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'You have to remove it.' "

So she did, then and there, "while her husband tried to shield her from view of others in the crowded lobby by holding up his coat."

And we can all feel so much safer now.

Measure 37’s reach

Measure 37 Yamhill

Measure 37 claims in Yamhill County

We'll be getting more into Measure 37/Measure 49 before long, but for the moment thought we'd point out a series of maps on the pro-49 group's website, part of one of which you can see above. (Oregon's Measure 37, speaking roughly, allows land owners to develop their property under the state of land use law and rules in effect when they or their family bought it.)

There's a collection of these maps on the Yes on 49 site, showing where and how large (in terms of land size) the claims are. They should come with an asterisk, in that what the land might prospectively be used for could vary a lot, and many claims would never, even if fully exercised, not reshape the landscape in a big way.

Still, the number of claims and their effect - however you look at it - is substantial.

Westlund’s entry

Ben Westlund at the treasurer announcement

Ben Westlund at the treasurer announcement

Overdue, in a way, since candidates for the other partisan Oregon statewides of '08 - secretary of state and attorney general - already are in the field. Maybe it's an argument that Ben Westlund's decision to run for state treasurer (expected for a while, announced this afternoon), leaving behind the legislature where he's been for a decade, really wasn't automatic.

Treasurer, most of the time in most places, is a relatively ministerial job. Most times, most places, if you don't hear about what your state treasurer is up to, that's good news; if you do hear, the news is apt to be bad. For some political people of a technical bent, that's good enough. It would seem not for Westlund, who has been among the most productive legislators (not only in Oregon, but in the Northwest) in recent years, on subjects as disparate as health care, environmental protection, support for the arts and renewable energy. His energies, skills and dispositions would seem to fit more nearly something like governor or member of Congress - not so much because they're "bigger" offices but because their scope is larger and more varied, and they're more involved with creative policymaking.

But sometimes, the scope is what you make it.

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Impeachment fever

What with so many people in the Northwest calling for impeachment of President Bush - albeit that most of them are on the west side of the Cascades - there shouldn't be a surprise at the new web site calling for impeachment of Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

What they want - not that they're going to get this either - is expulsion. Impeachment, though rarely undertaken at all, generally applies to officers of the executive and judicial branches. No member of Congress ever has been kicked out via impeachment.

Wikipedia does have some useful history on the subject, though, pointing out that there's some constitutional question of whether members of Congress are impeachable at all. In the nation's history one senator, William Blount of Tennessee, has been impeached by the U.S. House. But it was a very long time ago, the circumstances were peculiar, and seem to have set a precedent against impeachment of members of Congress. Here's the background:

In 1797 his land speculations in western lands led him into serious financial difficulties. That same year, he also apparently concocted a plan to incite the Creek and Cherokee Indians to aid the British in conquering the Spanish territory of West Florida. A letter he wrote alluding to the plan fell into the hands of President John Adams, who turned it over to the Senate on July 3, 1797. Five days later, that body voted 25 to 1 to expel Blount. The United States House of Representatives impeached him, but the Senate dropped the charges in 1799 on the grounds that no further action could be taken beyond his dismissal, which set an important precedent for the future with regard to the limitations on actions which could be taken by Congress against its members and former members.

So, these guys can call for expulsion, if they want. But don't hold your breath on that happening either.

The primary rules: Watch this decision

Proceed at risk any time you presume to extrapolate a final ruling from an oral argument and discussion at the U.S. Supreme Court. But today's oral argument on Washington's "top two" primary election law, already posted, is well worth the read - particularly if you're interested in primary election law either in Washington or in Idaho.

One point that jumped out: The justices remain highly concerned about anything that may force people in a political party to associate themselves with someone they'd rather not. (We'd be very interested to learn if there's actually any practical way to do this.)

Consider this comment from justice Antonin Scalia: "We don't know the exact phrasing on the ballot, but we do know that a candidate is allowed to associate himself with a party, but a party is not allowed to disociate itself from the candidate. I am less concerned about the fact that the candidate can't say I'm the -- I'm the no-taxes candidate, than I am about the fact that he can associate himself with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party on the ballot and that party has no opportunity on the ballot to say, we have nothing to do with this person. That it seems to me is a great disadvantage to the parties. . . . And what this system creates is a ballot in which an individual can associate himself with the Republican Party, but on the ballot the Republican Party is unable to dissociate itself from that candidate."

The parties are showing some signs here of trumping the voters.

A quick side note: Judging from the transcript, Attorney General Rob McKenna appeared to show a great deal of grace under pressure. And there was a good deal of pressure.