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Posts published in December 2007

Making the competitive cut

District 10

District 10

Legislators in Washington and Oregon have been dropping off almost too fast to post on each one, but some of the carry larger implications. Let's take a moment to consider politics in the wake of Washington Representative Chris Strow, R-Freeland.

Strow is leaving to go to work as principal economic policy analyst with the Puget Sound Regional Council. He has been an assistant Republican floor leader.

Our interest here is in the future of his House seat. He serves in District 10, which is anchored by Whidbey Island and includes chunks of Puget Sound-facing Skagit and Snohomish counties. This has mostly been assumed to be Republican territory. The large military presence on Whidbey has made Island County generally more Republican than most of what surrounds it, and Skagit often has a Republican tilt.

And Strow was re-elected unopposed last year.

Dig a little deeper and you find more of interest: When legislative seats here are contested by both parties, the results are often quite close.

When Strow ran in 2004, he won with just 50.1% of the vote over Democrat Nancy Conard (47.1%). The other representative here, Republican Barbara Bailey, took just 51.5% in 2006 over Democrat Tim Knue. In 2004, she won with a stronger 58%, but her take in 2002 was 51.5%.

And the senator here is a Democrat, Mary Margaret Haugen, who also last won (in 2004) in a tight race, taking 50.3% over Republican April Lynne Axthelm (47.1%).

Looks like this district may go on the short watch list for '08.

Parsing a pitch

Risch letter

The Risch letter

The campaign fundraising pitch letter from Idaho Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, running for the Senate, has been out on the web for a couple of days now. It arrived courtesy of the Democratic opposition, the Larry LaRocco campaign. (We'll presume it's legitimate and untampered, other than with underlinings and other edit marks, since there's been no outcry to the contrary from the Risch campaign.)

The LaRocco campaign suggests comparing it with a fundraising letter former Governor Cecil Andrus wrote for LaRocco, and the difference is considerable. But we were more struck by a simple reading of the letter itself. Leaving aside that it didn't capture Risch's personal voice - he's more crisply articulate than the letter's text, for example - the message in it is stark, and a little startling.


Money, maybe

Those hard-hit Oregon counties that have been slicing into the bone because of loss of federal timber funds - some of these places even harder-hit with the recent storms - may have a little hope.

Congressional leadership has worked out a deal for continuing funding of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self Determination Act, a package worth $1.8 billion, of which a big chunk - close to half - would go to Oregon. To some of the currently neediest parts of Oregon.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who worked on it, said, “Today’s announcement will mean nearly $740 million for Oregon schools, public safety, roads, and other essential county services. More importantly, this deal gets these counties off of the fiscal roller-coaster and back to stable funding so that they can focus on the real work of planning for the future.”

Sounds good, if it materializes. There's also word that the bill may be vetoed by President Bush.

The contours of a flood

Chehalis flood

Flooding at Chehalis/Washington DOT

No part of the Northwest hit by this week's megastorm was hit harder than the Centralia-Chehalis area. That area is so thoroughly underwater - still - that Interstate 5, which runs through, probably will still be inaccessible to traffic well into Friday. Maybe longer.

The disaster is so massive that you wonder what that area will look like when people do rebuild their lives there. And what their attitudes toward things may be.

With that in mind, this section of a flood roundup in the Seattle Times jumped out.

The flooding surrounded much of the recent development along I-5, which includes a Wal-Mart, Home Depot and others.

Some residents believe the development may have helped divert the floodwaters in new directions — and toward homes.

"A lot of people are complaining because they raised the ground in that area," said Agnes Swanson, a longtime Lewis County resident.

Merlin MacReynold, Chehalis city manager, said the development complied with all state and federal regulations, but acknowledged there has been an ongoing debate about the construction.

Eagle: Conventional win

Phil Bandy

Phil Bandy

The final vote in Eagle Tuesday was a vote for a general continuation of city policy, and a vote for a conventional choice. What's noteworthy is how close the unruly opposition got - shy just 153 votes of 4,557 cast (which is why even commenting on this Tuesday night was too problematic).

Phil Bandy, who won the mayoralty in the runoff, is the conventional choice, and he was endorsed by a string of business organizations and also by a number of independents, such as the Idaho Statesman. He has city council experience and has been a planning and zoning commissioner, and serves on the Ada County Air Quality Board, among other things; he was even president of his homeowners association. He has worked for quite a few years as a mid-level manager in several Idaho state departments. He is said to have a fairly smooth and cooperative working style and approach, a large part of what the Statesman, for one, found appealing.

His opponent, Saundra McDavid, has been in Eagle fewer years, has never been elected to office or served on the kind of boards and commissions he has. An attorney, she and her husband have run a newish business near downtown called the Rib Shack (we've lunched there, and had pretty good BBQ eats) which itself has been occasionally controversial in town. McDavid led a slate of candidates - the two council members were elected last month - but otherwise is apparently new to politics and struck some observers as having rough edges. In a guest op in the Statesman, she noted that "Some have criticized me for my passion on this issue, calling me stubborn and uncompromising" - and yes, "some" have.

Eagle is a suburban city, politically and culturally conservative (relatively, a closer match overall to Bandy than to McDavid) and with loads of new residents, not especially easy for an outsider to ride into. And yet McDavid came within 153 votes of becoming mayor. How did that happen?

There's no mystery in town; everyone there knows: "Growth."


An OR transport package

Pay attention, we're shifting states on this one: Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski is proposing - or did in a speech at the Oregon Leadership Summit - a big transportation funding package, and said he would be willing to spend plenty of his "political capital" on it.

Over here, the red lights started blinking. Politicians who talk about spending political capital on something (remember President Bush and Social Security?) often wind up with sticker shock. More than that, we're reminded of the mixed experience Kulongoski's Washington counterparts have had on the subject: Pluses and glory in 2005, but their heads handed to them this year. A Kulongoski-Gregoire meetup on the funding of transportation with political capital might be used.

None of which is to deny the need, which is real in Oregon almost as much as it is in Washington. But caution signs would be advisable on approach.

Idaho nuke 2: Weightier

We have tended to be dismissive, for now at least, of the reported plans for for nuclear power generation from a to-be-built plant near Bruneau. The whole thing simply has looked unrealistic: A coalition of backers that easily could fall apart over time; unrealistic expectations about how quickly the work could be approved and completed; and so on.

Word today about a proposed nuclear plant in northern Payette County, on the other hand, looks a good deal more solid.

The big reason is the financing. Nuclear plants ain't cheap, and a super-solid financial base has to be a prerequisite for one. In this case, it would be there: The builder would be MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co., which is new but which is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings, controlled by Berkshire Hathaway - which is to say, Warren Buffett, who is on the very short list of the richest Americans. MidAmerican Energy, which is based in Iowa, has assets of almost $35 billion. So we're talking about realistic financial capacity.

Their language is a good deal more modest, too, than what we heard about of Bruneau. A quote in the Idaho Statesman was that "We're in a very preliminary due diligence process to look at a potential energy project in Payette County" - which seems a fair take. It is undertaking some tests, but hasn't bought land and won't decide whether to proceed until some time next year. (So it may or may not be pursued at all.)

It sounds deliberate, the way a nuclear plant builder might be expected to sound.

Heck yes it’s a storm

flood in the park

The area visible beyond the branches usually is dry; today, a lake/Stapilus

Our headquarters on the east side of the Coast Range has been fortunate enough to evade damage and even any power outages (though the broadband has been off for some hours, sending us to area wifi outlets). But we've been lucky.

Word is that the whole of Clatsop County - the greater Astoria area - is without power, and the damage on the Oregon and Washington coasts from tremendous winds is large and ongoing.

We're bunkered down.

Into the immigration minefield

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

There must be a temptation for Republican politicians to want to keep their heads down and go small and quiet when it comes to immigration. The Republican base is so thoroughly split that even the party's presidential candidates have been tearing each other, and themselves, into pieces on the subject.

Maybe such a situation is a call for nuance, which might in turn explain Idaho Representative Bill Sali's entry into the arena. He said at a business meeting last week that he plans to introduce a bill. Which is of only so much interest, since there are a lot of bills. What's interesting is that there doesn't seem to be any bomb-throwing in it. A description from the Idaho Business Review:

The bill would combine border security, increased immigration law enforcement and a temporary worker program with controls to prevent foreign workers from flooding the market and displacing American workers.
The key to immigration reform is to combine groups that want to see the borders protected and groups that are concerned with the effects on the economy – particularly the agriculture, construction and hospitality industries – that a loss of immigrant workers would create, he said.
Sali said he tends to fall into the first camp, but he sees the effects of a lack of immigrant workers on agriculture.

Nuance. From Bill Sali. Will be interesting to see how he explains this to the bumper-sticker crowd.

Still more Craig?

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

The Idaho Statesman has a batch of additional items about Larry Craig and his once-private life, filling out the subject perhaps but to an unclear point.

There are five of them (and do not include the much-detailed sting encounter in the Minneapolis restroom). Two, one said to have occurred in Washington, D.C., the other in Denver, are detailed descriptions of actual sexual encounters; both of these stories appeared around the web a couple of months ago. The other three are descriptions of what the men interviewed said seemed to be propositions by Craig. Reporter Dan Popkey said that checks of such external information as was available (such as, was Craig in town at the time?) did not rule out any of the stories. But neither was there any corroboration that was conclusive.

That backchecking of details of the stories already published on the web could have some value. But the outlines of the story are pretty well set at this point: A minority will go along with Craig's famous assertion that "I'm not gay," and (so far as we can see) a large majority will continue to conclude that he's been covering up a hidden life. Those outlines haven't changed since late August, or maybe early September.

In a statement on why the Statesman continued pursuing the details, Executive Editor Vicki Gowler indicated that it was because his credibility was in doubt. Problem is, that ship sailed months ago, while the credibility of any number of other political figures in and around Idaho has gone relatively unchecked.