Writings and observations

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.

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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.

We’ll make the concession here that fundraising letters typically, as a matter of practice, seek to instill a little fear in the recipient (contribute now or this horrible thing will happen); that’s almost boilerplate, almost everyone does it. But even those like of appeals have to suggest consequences that might seem (to the recipient at least) to be a realistic possibility.

The letter says, “for the last several months the national Democrat Party has been targeting Idaho’s US. Senate race. [Note: A stretch.] They think that because Senator Larry Craig is retiring in 2008, they can funnel enough money from left-wing donors in Democrat bastions like New York City and Hollywood to steal this U.S. Senate seat from the GOP. [Note: Stolen? Republicans have a property interest in it?]

“. . . And sadly, I’m afraid that with the Republican ‘brand’ in D.C. facing an identity crisis and decline in public support, this battleground U.S. Senate seat could easily be lost.”

That last is a truly remarkable sentence. In terms of location, it mentions “D.C.” but not Idaho, so it tiptoes around the point it seems to suggest, that the “decline in public support” being referred to is in Idaho. Or is it? – the sentence isn’t perfectly clear. But the only way the Idaho seat could be lost is if Idaho voters choose to vote for a Democrat instead, presumably because of the “brand’s” “identity crisis.”

Later in the letter, there’s this: “Republicans across the board are having one of its [sic] worst years ever raising funds due to donor anger and frustration with the deficit spending coming out of D.C. [Note: Well, on whose watch did that happen?] . . . I cannot run the risk of letting liberal money from New York and Hollywood buy this U.S. Senate seat for the Democrat Party.”

So after a decade and a half of nearly unbroken across the board wins, usually by big margins (including that landslide win last for lieutenant governor that Risch does also allude to), Idaho politics are tenuous enough that a pile of ads from New York and Hollywood will turn around Idaho’s voting patterns.

It’s quite a thing to say, an analysis well beyond any the LaRocco campaign would make for itself.

Three other things deserve quick note here.

One is Risch’s own antipathy to fundraising, something that – despite a long and successful political career – he’s not had to do a lot of up to now. His letter says, “If there is one thing I am not very good at in politics, it is asking people for money. I realize this is a necessity of my job and of seeking elective office, but I hope you understand it is not something I truly enjoy.” That rings true. And it raises its own interesting questions should the Idaho contest become a bigger-money deal.

Second is Risch’s bit on immigration, not a topic he has made a particular personal cornerstone over the years: “I am steadfast in my opposition to granting amnesty to illegal aliens and consider that proposal to be one of the most dangerous public policy ideas ever voted on by the U.S. Congress.” His positioning is clearly staked.

The other is an omission. Risch spent more than half of last year as governor of the state, and though the time was short he got lots of high praise across the board for his work (we’ve dispensed some of that here). In the letter, Risch disposes of the fact of his governorship in one sentence, simply noting that he held the office – no mention of any of his quite real activities and accomplishments.

Evidently, those aren’t a basis for obtaining campaign contributions these days.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Eagle has grown wildly in recent years, moving from 2,000 or so a couple of decades ago to well upwards of 20,000, and probably approaching 25,000. McDavid probably spoke for a lot of people in Eagle (the majority?) when she also told the Statesman, “My family and I chose to live in Eagle because we loved the small-town feel, open spaces and beautiful views. My husband and I wanted to raise our children in a place they would feel safe and in a city they would be proud to call home. As a mother and a member of this community, I still want the same things.”

So McDavid’s slate, Preserve Eagle, is aimed simply at very-slow growth, or maybe none. The sense a number of Eagle people had was that it would throw roadblocks in the way of fast growth, however it could. Which the current city government – including Bandy – has not done.

There is a counter-argument that also recognizes the issues of growth: Eagle cannot expect to stem the tide by itself. Much of the heat around growth at the moment has to do with massive residential growth north of town, which the city has been taking step to annex. But what’s the alternative to city acceptance of the projects through annexation? Ada County has allowed them to be built, and they evidently will be; the only question is under whose jurisdiction.

Bandy does not seem likely to blithely allow any and every proposal through the gates; there’s a more judicious sense to him than that. And he acknowledges McDavid’s campaign struck a very real nerve: “Her platform … and superficial discussions of the issues really resonated with a lot of people.”

Still, had she won, that might have amounted to a useful revolution, in some ways. She might have been a lonely, and sometimes ineffectual, voice against the tide of growth. But it would have been a voice, and not many local government people in Southwest Idaho do have that kind of voice anymore.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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