Writings and observations

John Nelsen

John Nelsen

The short list of Oregon House seats sought after for ’08 by Democrats includes almost as a matter of course the seat in District 49, which sits on the northeast edge of the Portland metro area – Fairview, Gresham, Wood Village.

There are good reasons. It’s part of the Portland metro area, after all. While more Republican than most of the Portland area, it votes for some Democrats, including its current state senator. It has been the home district to Representative Karen Minnis, R-Wood Village, but in 2006, while she was House speaker, she had a close call even while spending and organizing very hard; and a somewhat close call two years before that. And Minnis has had some reservoirs of personal popularity. This has the look of a district that could switch sides next year.

Responsibility for making sure it doesn’t apparently will fall to John Nelsen, chair of the school board in the Reynolds School District (at Fairview), and a program director at Mount Hood Community College. (Running for re-election this May, Nelsen was unopposed in the district.) His announcement press release was home-based, focusing on schools and crime in east Multnomah; not a bad approach.

First impression is that he’s a strong candidate. Two Democrats – Troutdale City Councilor Barbara Kyle first, then law student and former county commission staffer Nick Kahl – already have gotten in, an indication of the high interest Democrats have here. District 49 featured as among the hottest races of each of the last two cycles in Oregon, and the announcements so far suggest it could make it three in a row.

COMMENTARY We were really struck with the mindset of two commenters on the Oregon Catalyst post launching Nelsen. (This is not, of course, something Nelsen is in any way responsible for.) The first commenter said, “East county, especially Rockwood needs to start rounding up the illegals and sending them home. I think everyone would be amazed at the drop in crime that would occur!” The second said in reply, “I am shocked that a hispanic man is not running for this posistion in little mexico, I mean hillsburito, I mean rockwierd, I mean gresham.”

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Oregon

There’s never – really, going all the way back – been the sense that Idahoans have been a politically contended electorate, that they’re happy with government the way it is . . . or has been, at most any point.

Which makes fascinating the question Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco highlights in this recent speech to partisans, a question he said his wife urges him to lead with: “The question is, Do you want change, or not?”

In his speech, LaRocco says he expects to have day-worked about 30-40 jobs around the state during this campaign; he’s already clocked many of them. He notes that his two terms in the House would give him some automatic seniority on entering the Senate, and that unlike the opposition (presumably Republican Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch), he’s a veteran.

But this thing comes down to that matter of whether Idahoans are simply dissatisfied and let it go at that, or whether they choose to act to change their political environment.

In most places, when voters are dissatisfied and want change, they vote for the party not in power, to shake things up. In Idaho, that would seem to mean a shift from time to time at least from the Republicans who have been in near-total power in the state for the last 13 years, to Democrats. Such shifts have happened in recent years in Montana and Colorado, among other places. But not in Utah, and not in Idaho. While the city of Boise (up to the city limits) has shifted blue, there’s been to this point remarkably little evidence of significant shifts elsewhere. (A little, at McCall-Cascade, at downtown Idaho Falls and Coeur d’Alene, debatably at Lewiston, but still scant.)

Up to now, the evidence has been that the operative voting majority would rather complain passively – would rather, in the old phrase, point a middle finger at government rather than try to use it to change anything wrong or to accomplish anything useful. (The usual, and very frequent, rebuttal to that idea is that government is never useful – you hear that a lot in Idaho, and it’s an important part of what’s going on.)

LaRocco’s gamble this campaign has to be that a significant group of Idaho voters moves this time from passive to active. If they are, he has a real shot. But that will mean breaking with the patterns that have been ever more firmly locked into place.

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Idaho