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Posts published in December 2007

Larson and Novick

Toward the end of his interview this morning with Democratic Senate candidate Steve Novick, Portland radio host Lars Larson said he'd like to invite Novick back. Sounds like a plan: Given time, this could turn into a neat point-counterpoint.

This morning's had its awkward moments. That may be partly because Novick was on phone rather than in studio (and it does make a difference; these kind of conversations can flow better when you have the visual cues in front of you). Probably too these two strong personalities were still getting the hang of having a discussion.

But they were right on the edge of something pretty good, real engagement between distinct world views, put by two highly skilled talkers.

Some of it was just some easy jousting: Novick tagging Larson for calling it the "Democrat" party instead of its proper name; Larsen saying he'd be glad to put the "ic" back in; Novick rejoinding the he wouldn't want to start calling Larson's party the "Repubes."

Most of the talk, what Novick came on to talk about, was Republican Senator Gordon Smith's praise of Senator Trent Lott for his praise of former Senator Strom Thurmond (specifically, Lott's statement that the country would have been better off if Thurmond's 1948 pro-segregation campaign had won the presidency). Larson didn't seem to take great issue with a lot of Novick's comments on this, though he did say the complaints would have more resonance with him if Lott himself had a segregationist past. To which Novick responded with some relevant background about Lott's close relationship with a number of white supremacist groups over the years.

Other subjects got less discussion. (On global warming, Novick: "Oh, good Lord, get with the program!" Larson: "I think I am with the program.") More would be good.

Ah, thinking about immigration

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

We're among those apt to be irritated by people who deliver an extensive case for some proposition or other and end it with the tag line, "don't you think?" Gee . . . thanks for inserting a whole litany of your thoughts and ideas into my mouth.

Idaho Representative Bill Sali has done something like that with his latest letter to constituents - this was an official and franked mailing - on immigration-related policy. (It is headlined: "An urgent message from U.S. Congressman Bill Sali: We must secure the borders - without amnesty - and make English the spoken language of the United States of America.") There's a survey (a two-choice response possible) at the end, but that follows three pages of single-spaced outline of Sali's position.

Sali, like many Republican political figures, has a difficult time right now with immigration and people who are in this country illegally: The Republican base is split on the subject. His letter tries to come off as definitive, but pause for thought and questions arise almost by the paragraph. Much of it is the usual mix of strengthening the borders, increasing enforcement while "ensuring that the U.S. has access to the temporary workers that its industries need" (while not turning employers into bureaucratic proxies and paper-shufflers) and streamlining the process of immigration. These pieces are most part of the broad conventional wisdom; what no one seems to have figured out yet is how to make them work together rather than in opposition. After reading the letter, it seems no one has yet.

The most distinctive element of this seems to be H.R. 997 (the "English Language Unity Act of 2007"), which would "to establish a uniform English language rule for naturalization, and to avoid misconstructions of the English language texts of the laws of the United States, pursuant to Congress' powers to provide for the general welfare of the United States and to establish a uniform rule of naturalization under article I, section 8, of the Constitution." It was introduced by Representative Steve King, R-Iowa, and isn't new; earlier versions (carrying the same bill number) were introduced, and died, in each of the last three terms of Congress, and in terms before that. Currently, it is lodged in the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

What goals does Sali set for it? "As part of a broader package to secure our nation's borders - without granting amnesty - I'm working on a proposal that would help make English the spoken [emphasis in original] language of the United States."

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“We knew what he meant”

Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

Among the many words spoken over a career in politics, departing Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi probably would include some of those he said back in late 2002 in praise of Senator Strom Thurmond, that the nation might have been better off if Dixiecrat (and ardent segregationist) Thurmond had been elected president in 1948.

Among the many words Oregon Senator Gordon Smith has uttered, he may come to regret a few he said this morning on the floor of the Senate, on occasion of Lott's leave-taking:

"I watched over international news as his words were misconstrued, words which we had heard him utter many times in his big warm-heartedness trying to make one of our colleagues, Strom Thurmond, feel good at 100 years old. We knew what he meant. But the wolfpack of the press circled around him, sensed blood in the water, and the exigencies of politics caused a great injustice..."

(His comments are available on UTube.)

Note that "we knew what he meant." And contrast it with Smith's public comments on the matter, to the Oregonian, in late 2002: "However they were intended [emphasis added], Senator Lott's words were offensive and I was deeply dismayed to hear of them. His statement goes against everything I and the people of Oregon believe in."

"We knew what he meant . . ." But what, then, did Smith mean when he spoke to the Oregonian five years ago? Did he mean it at all? (Smith became a key manager in Lott's eventual return to Senate leadership.)

We're not much interested in "gotcha" quotes or incidents. This wasn't just a misstatement or a misstep; this opens the door to something larger. Gordon Smith may have a time trying to circle this square.

The geography of the uninsured

Uninsurance report

Uninsurance report

Haven't seen a lot of visible response so far to last week's status report from Washington's office of the insurance commissioner, which may be partly because on its face - the preceding description - it doesn't sound like hot stuff.

The content is, though, or should be. And for the politically-minded among us, there's some terrific resource material packed in toward the back.

The main thrust of the report ("Threatening the Health Security of Washington") ought to be disturbing, if not especially surprising (for those who've paid attention to the woes of the medical care system these days). Except maybe in the details.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has pulled together a strong case for getting covered those who have no health insurance, and the very large additional number who are drastically underinsured. He means to take the case to the 2008 legislative session, and if he makes serious headway at all it could be the biggest single thing the legislature does this session, or maybe this term. Among the pieces:

Guaranteed coverage for all Washingtonians • All Washington residents would have a guaranteed benefit plan that provides catastrophic coverage for unexpected health emergencies and guaranteed access to basic preventive care such as immunizations, cancer screening, and annual check-ups. All residents would be able to purchase additional coverage for the more routine health care not included in the guaranteed benefit plan. Premiums would be more affordable due to the plan, and subsidies would be available, on a sliding-scale, to help individuals and families purchase additional coverage.
Managing risk instead of avoiding it – changing insurance company behavior • The costs for insuring all Washington residents – regardless of their health status –would be covered through combined pooling and better managing risk, rather than avoiding risk by making coverage unavailable and unaffordable for some.
Personal responsibility • All residents would contribute according to their means and be encouraged to live healthy lifestyles, in part through guaranteed access to preventive care.

Is something like this doable? It's no slam dunk. But Washington legislators may be influenced by the example south of the Columbia, where Oregon officials already are busy setting up a health system approved by that state's legislature earlier this year. Handled with great care (as it was in Oregon), something like this might happen.

The report points to the urgency. After a description of the problem of the uninsured (about 700,000 or so Washingtonians), there's this on the insured: "Despite digging deep into their savings, raiding their retirement accounts and running up credit card balances, 27 percent of underinsured residents said they were still in debt to doctors and hospitals. Forty nine percent of all U.S. residents, and 43 percent of residents with insurance said they were “somewhat” to “completely medical emergency over the coming year."

The problems have ballooned all over the system. Increasingly, hospitals are eating medical costs, and the operative word is "increasingly." In 1996, Washington hospitals wrote off $160,347,281 in "uncompensated care"; exactly a decade later, the figure was $493,143,147 - tripled. That ought to be a number to conjure with at the statehouse.

Politics watchers can also find some juicy chart data here.

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Starrett for Senate?

Mary Starrett

Mary Starrett

Maybe nothing comes of this, but we'll note here the possibility of a U.S. Senate candidate that could tip a balance if things are close in November: Mary Starrett, who ran for governor last year on the Constitution Party ticket.

From the Senate 2008 Guru site:

I engaged in a little investigative journalism and simply contacted Ms. Starrett. I mentioned the rumor and asked if a 2008 Senate bid was something she was considering. Her response by e-mail:

Anything's possible...and let's face it Gordon Smith needs a spanking, don't you think?

First off, that certainly isn't a "Nope, not considering a bid." And it certainly sounds like she's no fan of Gordon Smith. Like I mentioned on Saturday, she got 3.6% in the OR-Gov race, so her entry could cost Gordon Smith two or three percent.

Starrett's percentage in the governor's race was somewhat above that of most minor-party candidates, probably because she was a good candidate: Very presentable with strong candidate skills. She probably wouldn't get much more than that 3.6% in a Senate race, but then, depending on how things go, that could be an important 3.6%.

In favor of sending tax money out of state

The one-time diversion of corporate kicker (Oregon income tax refund) money this year drew little opposition, even from the business lobbies and corporations which were going to be losing the bucks. General public support seems substantial, since somewhere over four dollars out of five paid out in the corporate kicker go to businesses based out of state. So the opposition to removing the corporation kicker altogether (which would take constitutional and statutory changes), an effort begun last week, should be minimal, right?

Not necessarily. You can gauge an early sense of it from a post today by radio host Lars Larsen (shorter: it's all about liberal money-grabbing) and the comments following, on Oregon Catalyst.

Whither the GOP

Just spent the last hour reading the comments section on the Sound Politics post, "Another one bites the dust" - reference to state Representative Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island, who this week changed his party identification from Republican to Democratic.

The torrent of comments about what that says or doesn't say about the Republican Party, including some pertinent thoughts from former Chair Chris Vance, is well worth a review.

Tolling for thee

Blunt talk from southwest Washington legislators this week, on the subject of a (badly needed) new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River.

We're talking here about a super-expensive project, deep into the billions. So how to finance?

The Vancouver Columbian reports that at a legislative pre-session breakfast, Representative Bill Fromhold, D-Vancouver, said "Tolls are going to be part of the mix." On pretty much every big transport project, henceforth.

And Representative Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver: "If we want the bridge, we're going to have to pay forward."

This thing - it's coming, eventually - is going to be wildly costly. Tolls are one option. But if that doesn't sound like the right idea, the time for activism on alternatives is sooner rather than later.

Timing the kicker

There's no coincidence to the fact that Oregonians are getting their income tax refund-extras - "kickers" - just in the midst of holiday season. It could have been timed in other ways (such as building it into the following year's tax obligation), but no . . . The timing was a real consideration.

So too with the effort gone visible this week to do away with the corporate kicker, the refund (made available when the state collects 2%-plus in revenue compared to what it had budgeted to spend) which also goes to individuals. The individual kicker is sacrosanct, a true Oregonian third rail, and no one is talking about touching it.

Both kickers are enshrined in the state constitution, which makes either of them difficult to amend. But the corporate kicker has much less support than the individual, and it is vulnerable to change. This year the corporate kicker payments were diverted (by legislative action) from their business recipients to various state needs, and that action drew notably little opposition; even many of the business interests which might have been expected to raise a fuss went along with the idea. A large part of the reason is that most of the corporate kicker money (the estimate runs around 85%) would simply go out of state, not befitting Oregon or its resident businesses at all. A permanent elimination of the corporate kicker would seem to be the next step. But because it is enshrined in the constitution, that will be a little complicated.

This week, a group aiming at shepherding that process over what may be four or five years filed its ballot petition and unveiled itself, and its web site.

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East King, another turning Democratic

Fred Jarrett

Fred Jarrett

No point in re-running through the thorough David Postman post on this, but has to be noted here. State Representative Fred Jarrett, R-Mercer Island, one of the handful of Republican legislative survivors on the east side of King County, is doing a Rodney Tom: Switching parties and planning a run for the state Senate. Jarrett's route there may be easier than Tom's, since he would be replacing a retiring Democratic senator (Brian Weinstein).

Tom, you'll recall, defeated Republican incumbent Senator Luke Esser last year, in a neighboring district.

Just a little further background here. District 41 (and its predecessors), the area running from around Mercer Island to Issaquah near I-90 east of Seattle and including parts of Bellevue and Renton, was in the 90s a generally Republican district. The elections of 2002 gave it two Republicans, the senator (Jim Horn) and one of the House members, Jarrett, who was unopposed that year; the other was Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, who is still there. In 2004 Weinstein defeated Horn, and Jarrett's percentage slipped to 54.6%; in 2006 it slipped to 53.1% (while Clibborn won with 64.5%). In the past six years, this has become a Democratic district.

Jarrett has been a relatively moderate GOP caucus member, and the switch isn't especially shocking. Postman did pull an enlightening quote from Jarrett: ""I felt there was a strong tradition in the Republican Party that really couldn't be lost. So what I've been doing as long as I've been in the Legislature is trying to articulate that moderate Republican, progressive Republican, viewpoint, and what I found is I may have a lot of ego, but I don't think I have enough ego to think anymore that I can do it."

Pocatello’s big employer – sold

AMI Semiconductor

AMI Semiconductor

The semiconductor manufacturer AMIS, based at Pocatello, has been that city's economic rock for more than a decade now. Up until its strong growth through the 90s, Pocatello was an economic struggler, watching the number of jobs at its old business mainstay - Union Pacific Railroad - gradually diminish. AMIS, that high tech firm on the hills north of town, has been the city's biggest single source of strength since, by a considerable margin its biggest private employer.

After today, what happens in that regard is anyone's guess. ON Semiconductor of Phoenix said today that it has bought AMIS, in a stock deal worth close to a billion dollars.

The rationale (and with some small side impact over in Oregon): "AMIS will immediately contribute exciting new products and capabilities in the medical and military/aerospace markets and will complement our existing automotive and industrial businesses,” Jackson said. “Over time, we plan to leverage the advanced sub-micron capabilities of our Gresham, Oregon, fabrication facility to achieve operational synergies and extend AMIS’s high voltage and low power offerings.”

ON said that "a significant presence" will be maintained in Pocatello. You can imagine that Pocatellans will be spending a lot of time in the weeks ahead trying to discern exactly what that will mean for Pocatello.

Kulongosi > Clinton

Surprise here is less in who he chose than that he chose: Till now, none of the three Northwest governors have publicly backed any of the competing candidates in their parties' presidential primaries. For whatever reason, Oregon's Ted Kulongoski has become the first, saying today he would support Democrat Hillary Clinton. (This according to an email from the Clinton campaign; the press release isn't posted yet on the Clinton web site.)

His statement: "At a critical time in our history, Hillary Clinton has the strength and experience to restore hope and opportunity to working Americans and deliver the change America needs. No one is better equipped to repair the damage of the last seven years and repair our standing in the world."