Writings and observations

Looks like the Idaho 1st district Democratic contest will in fact be a three-way: Walt Minnick, the Boise businessman who ran for the Senate in 1996, evidently is about to announce his entry.

An emailer advises us of an alert about a campaign announcement next Wednesday at Coeur d’Alene (we assume this would be one of several) for the Minnick campaign kickoff, “to attend and hear why Walt Minnick wants to be your next congressman!”

We note also that a number of web domains with word variations on “Walt,” “Minnick” and “Congress” have been swept up by a Boise administrator; appears that the web name will be “waltforcongress.com.”

Larry Grant
, who ran for the seat last year and lost to Republican Bill Sali, also is in, seeking a rematch. (Notable: According to the mail we received, Minnick’s announcement will be attended by – and presumably supported by – former Governor Cecil Andrus, who was a key Grant supporter last year.) And Rand Lewis of Moscow also has been in for several months.

No immediate thoughts on how this will play out . . .

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Tacoma courthouse

Tacoma courthouse

In his ruling Thursday saying that Washington pharmacists have a right to choose whether and how to fill prescriptions based on their religious beliefs, Federal District Judge Ronald Leighton summed his point this way: current state pharmacy rules “impose a Hobson’s choice for the majority of pharmacists who object to Plan B: dispense a drug that ends a life as defined by their religious teachings, or leave their present positions in the state of Washington.”

That would be true. And exactly as it should be.

The situation has to do, of course, with the refusal of some pharmacists (specifically in Washington, though the issue is national) to dispense some prescribed contraceptive and other drugs, on grounds that their religion is offended by their use.

If a pharmacist believes that filling a prescription which has been approved by a physician – and therefore determined to be medically proper and possibly necessary – is contrary to his or her deeply held beliefs, then that’s a conflict, all right. But the pharmacist is not the only person in this equation: The person seeking the medication has rights no less. And a pharmacist licensed by the state is presumed to provide service consistent with other pharmacists in the state (at least until we start licensing different types or grades of pharmacists).

Put another way: If you beliefs get in the way of doing, to societal standards, a job on which people’s lives, health and safety depends, then you’d better find another job to do.

If Leighton’s decision stands, we probably don’t have to wait long for the lawsuit from a person who was damaged by a pharmacist’s refusal to provide ordinarily expected services. And they’d have a hell of a case.

ALSO Two other quick points. One is that if a pharmacist really wanted to evoke change, really wanted to stand up for their beliefs, then go the civil disobedience route: Push the case all the way to the point that he’s imprisoned for following his conscience. That would be an impressive show of moral fortitude; but we’re not holding our breath waiting for it to happen.

The other is a recollection from a coupe of decades ago, a conversation in eastern Idaho with a political activist who owned and operated a convenience store. He was Mormon, and observant, which meant among other things that he did not drink alcohol or smoke tobacco, but in his store he sold beer and wine and cigarettes. Asked if he was bothered by that, he said he wasn’t; his beliefs proscribed their use as far as he personally was concerned, but other people would have to draw their own lines according to their beliefs, and it wasn’t his job to serve as their moral regulator. He drew a bright line, as many observant people do: Doing it yourself is one thing, providing a service is something else.

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That elections can serve to define places in people’s minds has become increasingly clear. Consider this bit of analysis from Bryan Fischer of the social conservative Idaho Values Alliance, following the Tuesday elections at Boise:

“. . . now the city is firmly in the grip of those who oppose the public acknowledgement of God and support the right of sexually confused men to wear dresses to work and use the ladies’ room if they want to. And the die seems to be cast. Outsiders moving to Idaho because of its family values may want to look to places other than the City of Trees. Boise certainly is no longer the friendliest place in Idaho to raise a family.”

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Measure 49

M49 yes – blue; M49 no – red

There’s a more detailed map (showing percentage breakdowns) at Blue Oregon, but this one should give you the general picture of where the land use Measure 49 did well, and didn’t.

The did-well turf is a little broader than you might have thought, even recognizing the landslide vote in its favor.

The only heavily-populated pieces of the state where it didn’t win were Jackson (Medford/Ashland, no 59.7%), Douglas (Roseburg, no 57.1%), Josephine (Grants Pass, no 65.6%) and Coos (Coos Bay, no 57.1%) counties, in the southwest. Is there a reason the southwest, more than other areas, was more resistant to 49, or more supportive of 37?

A large portion of Jackson is strong-growth conservative territory, to be sure. But so is Deschutes County (Bend), and it went for 49 by 54.4%.

Of the half-dozen counties where the “no” vote topped 60%, three – Grant, Harney, Lake, Curry – were among the state’s least populated, and the others (Josephine and Klamath) are on the small side.

Multnomah, of course, was a sure bet to pass it, along with Benton, Lane and a few other usual suspects. But the yes counties include some places you might not ordinarily suspect: They aren’t all liberal Willamette Valley counties. Umatilla (Pendleton) and Union (La Grande) voted in favor. So did conservative Crook and Jefferson. And in the Willamette, counties like Linn and Polk usually tend to the more conservative and Republican side of the fence, but showed up in favor of 49.

Also of note: The counties where 37-related land issues were especially high profile tended to vote decisively for 49. In Yamhill County, historically conservative and Republican, the yes vote was 63.1%. In Washington County, it was 67.7%. In Clackamas County, 65.5%.

But this wasn’t a case of three or four counties in one corner of the state forcing their will on the rest. This was a broadly statewide result.

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Mary Verner

Mary Verner

Too many ballots remain to be counted to nail conclusively the result in Tuesday’s Spokane mayoral runoff.

But in checking the numbers we have, we’re reminded of a post from August 21, where we said – after citing the political assets of incumbent Mayor Dennis Hession – “That said, we’d right now give odds that in November Spokane’s voters will replace him with Council member Mary Verner, who fits none of the traditional criteria but maybe satisfies where a lot of Spokane is headed.” (Bearing in mind this is a reference to Spokane city, not the county or wider region – much the same as in Boise.)

The most current totals we see show Verner at 18,064 and Hession at 15,172, with thousands more ballots to be counted, we know not how many. So we’ll hold off extended discussion for a while. But this will be worth some extended discussion.

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Preserve Eagle

Michael Huffaker, Saundra McDavid, Al Shoushtarian

The Idaho elections of note Tuesday were in Eagle, where the key local issue – or what should be – of rapid growth was squarely on the table. And the voters there did something remarkable, shifting direction and even attitude sharply; whether sharply enough to invoke major change in the short haul, we’ll know soon.

Growth really is the only serious issue in Eagle, a city just northwest of Boise. As recently as 1990, its population was 3,327; now, it is somewhere north of 25,000. And about to grow dramatically again, since the city is involved in annexing some mass chunks of the foothills to the north, and if it succeeds eventually could add maybe another 10,000 people to its population base. (Some of those people from the foothills apparently showed up at Eagle City Hall intending to vote, not realizing they weren’t city residents. Yet, at least.)

The city’s policy generally, as you might expect, has been open doors to development, in dizzying amount. This year, Mayor Nancy Merrill is opting out, and after a good many years of a mostly-stable crowd in place, newcomers are scrambling for the mayoralty and council seats. The key point distinguishing them is their positioning on growth.

First takeaway from Tuesday’s election is that the candidates favoring least growth came out ahead. But the point will be revisited when the city holds a runoff on December 4 between its top two mayoral contenders.

Of the candidates for mayor, three – attorney Saundra McDavid running for mayor, and attorney Michael Huffaker and investor Al Shoushtarian running for the council – stood out because they ran united under the slate “Preserve Eagle.” Their statements were nuanced (you can get a flavor from our earlier post on this) but they were positioned as growth critics or at least skeptics – either anti-growth or very slow growth, depending on how you view them. Ten years ago, their positioning would have gotten them dismissed in Eagle, and in most of southwest Idaho, as fringe cranks. But no more.

Dan Popkey’s Idaho Statesman column today neatly gets at why, containing quotes and viewpoints from people around Eagle whose tolerance for growth (or change, depending on how you see it) is reaching a limit: “I spoke with about three dozen voters . . . My impressions are anecdotal, but there’s no question the slow-growth agenda is gaining traction. People who chose Eagle for its Western storefronts, Rocky Mountain Oyster Feed, open spaces, large lots and roaming livestock lament the transformation to a place where every other vehicle is a tricked-out SUV driven by a pushy driver on a cell phone.”

He didn’t have vote totals in hand when he wrote that, but the numbers out now back him up. In Eagle, both Preserve Eagle Council candidates, Huffaker and Shoushtarian, won easily, swamping the other two candidates. In the four-way mayoral, McDavid took 1,532 votes, and second-place Phil Bandy got 1,201; the other two were way behind. Bandy’s view may be a somewhat stronger take on planning than Eagle generally has had, but his positioning would be that of a mayor who sees the growth as inevitable, simply to be managed as best as possible. McDavid would see it as not inevitable and, if not entirely stoppable, then to be blocked where practical.

The December 4 runoff, likely to be hard fought and no kind of foregone conclusion, will say a lot about where Eagle goes over the next few years. And if Eagle does decide to change course, and its attitude toward growth along the way, that may become a sea change with a much broader ripple effect.

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cigarettes The decisive failure of Oregon Measure 50, which sought to raise cigarette taxes with most of the money to go to child health care, is getting attributed in the early reviews to the most obvious fact of the campaign over the issue: The massive, swamping, super-expensive campaign by tobacco companies against it. Bill Lunch of Oregon State University was quoted in the Oregonian as saying, “It’s an example of an election being bought. It’s as simple as that.” The Oregonian‘s editorial on the subject this morning suggested a similar view.

Except that it’s not quite as simple as that. Look at 50 in the context of where it came from, what else the voters did in Oregon yesterday, and the face of money issues on the ballot recently otherwise, and you get a more complex picture.

To put this in context: We’re absolutely not arguing that the most expensive single campaign (by far) in Oregon history, one that rained endless TV ads for months and that drowned out its opposition with a 4-1 spending margin, wasn’t an important factor. Obviously it was. But some other factors had to be in play that allowed it to succeed as strongly as it did, and a bit of compare/contrast throws some of them into relief – and may help suggest what child health care advocates might want to do next.

To begin, reel your mind back to April 26, described at the time (by a Republican blogger) as “the most wild day ever seen on the House floor.” On that day Democrats were pushing the cigarette tax/child health legislation – the legislative version of Measure 50 – on the House floor, and the Republican caucus reaction to it was startling. It wasn’t just that the Republicans were opposed; they struggled this way and that in fierce determination not to vote on the bill. When it did come up for a vote, one Republican, John Lim, for hours declined to vote at all.

The reason for all that emerged in the debate of Representative Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, who favored state help for insuring children for health care, and could back a raise in the cigarette tax, but disapproved of linking them. He opposed the bill, he said, because “I owe my constituents more than just pushing the popular button. I owe them my best judgement.” The cigarette proposal, he said, “polls well.” And in fact it had been heavily advance-tested by its Democratic advocates, and found it winning easily. (One of the great ironies of this year is that Measure 49, on land use, was supposed to be the one that would have a hard time passing.)

Were the Republicans and the Democrats both wrong about the public’s likely take on what became Measure 50? Doubtful.

But then, when the idea was tested early this year, it was laid out in specific, all its pieces – and there were several moving parts – clearly delineated. An increase in the cigarette tax didn’t seem that objectionable. But what emerged months later before the public, in the course of the industry campaign and otherwise, was a tax increase, positioned as such with the add-on that although it might be narrow now, it could easily expand later. What also happened is a certain vagueness in where exactly the money would go: The idea was that it was supposed to help kids, but how exactly was that supposed to work? Where would the money go, and who would get it?

Remember that the same people who voted so strongly for Measure 49 – also backed by Democrats, and which logically should have drawn support from many of the same quarters – killed Measure 50. One key difference is that Measure 49 could be described as a “dial-down,” a reduction of activity (growing out of 2004’s Measure 37) that had generated a good deal of negative reaction; Measure 49 was complex too, but it was a new phase in an already-existing story. Measure 50 asked voters to buy into something new, and when that happens, especially where money is involved, voters want the details. They want to know – and rightly – exactly where all that cash is headed. The answers to that on 50 were available, but they were more complicated than most voters would want to readily deal with, or trust.

Put this in the context of another vote Tuesday, across the Columbia and then some, in the Puget Sound. One of the big problems in that area – nearly everyone there seems to recognize it as a huge mess that badly needs resolution – is transportation. A couple of years ago state voters did approve a big gas tax increase on that subject. But Tuesday they rejected a mega-billion funding proposal for transport (highway and public transit both) which had been backed by much of the governing Democratic establishment. That vote wasn’t, as Oregon’s 50 was, the subject of such massive campaigns that the advertising would have been decisive. But they rejected it anyway, however obvious the problem it was intended to solve. Why? We’d suggest a big part of it was uncertainty and confusion, by which we don’t mean voter ignorance: There were differing opinions about how much money would be raised, what the costs would be, what would be done under the program and what wouldn’t, what the environmental and other impacts would be.

There were too many moving pieces: Not the whole explanation for Proposition 1’s loss, but likely one piece of it.

A bunch of financial issues failed on Tuesday around the Northwest, even as a number of significant non-tax issues passed. That was probably not coincidental. And many of those money issues had some built-in complexity. In future, their advocates could take a lesson from Tim Eyman, who passed an initiative Tuesday (making legislative tax increases tougher): His proposals are simple enough to slap on a bumper sticker. Tax raise measures have to be just that simple too. Maybe more so.

One other thing. Voters have become aware who is in charge these days in Oregon and Washington: Democrats. And the thing that Republicans have most warned voters, especially independent voters, about Democrats, is that if you put them in power, they’ll raise taxes. It’s not too great a reach to see, as a slice of what happened in these money ballot issues, a little bit of pushback – “Careful what you’re doing with these money demands, buddy.” Not that Democrats can’t raise taxes at all, or can’t win support for doing that (and they got just that support for the 2005 Washington gas tax, for example), but that they need to exercise great care in this area.

Campaigns, even expensive ones, work mainly as accelerants; they usually can’t create a public mood or attitude completely from scratch. The Measure 50 campaign might have been enough to turn the tide as the central element, but not without a little help.

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The loss of Proposition 1 – technically, two ballot measures – on Puget Sound transportation, the Godzilla funding measure, was pretty widely anticipated. We thought it likely too, though the reasons why may be worth some ongoing exploration.

On October 1, we started a post by saying this: “We’re surely not alone in being a bit thrown by the sheer size of Proposition 1, headed for voter decision next month. It’s enormous, but not only that: It’s so enormous, and covers so massive a scope of space and time, that estimates are almost useless.” In fact, the estimates of how much money ultimately would be involved ranged from $18 billion to (admittedly this one sounds unlikely) $160 billion.

The point is that probably few Washingtonians probably felt confident that they had a real handle on exactly what this proposal would amount to. (And the concerns and questions ranged up to pro-public transit figures like King County Executive Ron Sims, with whom this defeat is likely to be closely associated.) Lacking that, a defeat would be little surprise. Was it a vote as well against tax increases? Maybe, but that doesn’t seem obvious as yet, one way or the other.

(Bear in mind that the percentages were decisive but not a runaway – at this writing the percentages against were about 56% to 44% for.)

The larger question, though, is the policy question – what do the people in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties want in terms of transportation? Certainly few probably are happy with conditions as they are; but what should be done? This result doesn’t really offer much answer to that, except maybe that whatever else is proposed to the voters, the details had better be clear.

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David Bieter

David Bieter

The count at this hour has only about a quarter of Boise’s precincts reporting, but there’s no reason to hold off: David Bieter has been easily re-elected as mayor. It was expected to be a romp, and it was, even if its size – his percentage now is 68.6%, and it should stay well above the 60% level you need to call it a landslide – is a little greater than most people probably would have guessed.

We were thinking a percentage of 60 or thereabouts might be a reasonable call, though. To say the campaign of challenger Jim Tibbs (who will retain his Boise council seat) never caught fire is, well . . . there was never even really a spark, never a point at which he seemed to lay a glove on Bieter. Why that is, remains a little mysterious. Tibbs is a smart enough person, well liked around town, and his depth of background in Boise could fairly be described as second to none. He’s not hard to imagine in the mayor’s office. He just never gave the voters a very strong reason why he should be there, and Bieter shouldn’t.

As for Bieter – who did offer concrete justifications for his mayoralty throughout his campaign – he now has a big win. His first in 2003 was relatively close, just a bit above the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff. Today’s win is a community endorsement.

And the council races, as widely expected, were all snoozers too . . .

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The conventional wisdom has held, on Oregon’s two big ballot issues (49 on land use, 50 on tobacco tax/child health insurance). We haven’t seen complete statewide numbers yet, but the figures from the Portland metro (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) are clear enough to tell the tale: 49 is passing, easily, and 50 is failing, though by how much is still unclear.

A big win on 49 has been foreshadowed for some time. 50 was wide reputed to be close, with the weight of opinion, generally including ours, that it would go down. Over the last week we began modifying that, partly out of a thought that a really strong yes vote on 49 might add to the 50-yes tally, and partly out of speculation – really no more than that – that the tobacco-industry-backed TV campaign against it might have been too much, and might backfire. (That’s not a complete flyer: Last year just that happened in a couple of Washington state elections.) So in the last few days, we uneasily leaned that way.

But the affirmative campaign on 50 seemed too weak, and voters in Oregon as most places need a strong argument to make a change. They got it with the strong 49 campaign, but not on 50. What they got on 50 was not really a strong argument against, but enough generated doubt to block its passage.

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