Writings and observations

Are you about ready to give up on polls after having seen their performance in the presidential contest so far this year? Our inclination is to bag early-early poll numbers; to many people seem to hold off a lot of decisions until close to election day, and too many of those turn out to vote alike, to allow for easy early projections.

But you still may find some readable thoughts in Peter Callaghan’s column today in the Tacoma News Tribune, on the most recent numbers on Governor Chris Gregoire‘s approval ratings (close to two to one favorable) versus her numbers in opposition to Republican challenger Dino Rossi (47% to 42%, an at-risk figure).

Reconciling the two is Callaghan’s subject. It also may be Topic A in Washington this year.

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Over in Kitsap County, a former (2004) state legislative candidate accused of identity theft.

From the Kitsap Sun: “Frank W. Mahaffay, 35, is believed by sheriff’s deputies to have paid about $1,400 worth of his wireless phone bill with another man’s bank account information, sheriff’s office documents say.”

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ALarger Question: Is there too little water in the Northwest – referring here mainly to the drier parts of the region? Conflict over water use and supply has been rising steadily. Are we about to hit a wall?

The Larger Picture answer seems to be: We’re hitting a wall on water only to the extent that we continue to use the way we do. Somewhere upwards of four-fifths of the region’s water, for example, goes to irrigated agriculture; change our agricultural practices, take a little desert land out of cultivation, and water supplies soon look a lot more adequate.

So, the story today about water rights held by Washington State University at Pullman. The university has won a decision, being sharply contested by critics, on its water use. The decision only gives WSU the right to use as much water as it is already using (from a critical regional aquifer which, by some reports, is in decline). But significance is that the university has been finding efficiencies in many of its water uses, and the permission has to do with tripling the water it uses to keep its golf course green.

So what do we use our water for? That may be the key upcoming question.

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There’s what’s become an article of faith in Idaho that things would be great if only government would get out of the way and let the free market do its thing.

So you wonder what consternation there may be in the area on reading this paragraph today in the Idaho Statesman, about the recent super-heated growth followed by slowdown in the new city of Star, in northwest Ada County:

“One of the last major Valley towns with no planning and zoning commission and no design review committee, Star has a free-market mayor who didn’t want government to stand in the way of private development. The boom and bust have left the city with unsold homes, half-built neighborhoods and even dangerous holes in the ground that developers abandoned without filling or covering.”

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Not much more to add here to the Oregon Senate Democratic campaign business of the Progressive Democrats of America, except about the way it seems to have ratcheted up the intensity and hard feelings in the race.

Short version: The PDA is (as indicated) a national Democratic group. There has been no Oregon chapter, but an effort just lately has been made to establish one. That effort was made by a paid staffer for candidate Steve Novick; within hours of seeking to set it up, she launched an endorsement process in the Senate race. When the Jeff Merkley campaign was informed of it and sent inquiries to the national PDA organization, things started coming unraveled. There’s a piece on this in the Eugene Register-Guard political blog and a distinct version in Blue Oregon. The comment section at Blue Oregon gives a clear feel for how the campaign’s partisans (not necessarily the candidates themselves; we haven’t heard from them) feel about it.

A sample from Kari Chisholm (an editor at Blue Oregon and also working with the Jeff Merkley campaign), in the Blue Oregon comments section: “This is the dirtiest thing I’ve ever seen from a Democratic campaign in Oregon. The Novick people and the Oregonian went nuts when the Merkley campaign did a few still-legal robocalls. This is 1000 times worse. Someone needs to be held accountable.”

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Matt Wingard

Matt Wingard

From a political standpoint, the Matt Wingard question seems to come down to, is it hypersensitivity or ideologial opportunism? Either way, it looks like a question to be asked not of the media or of Democrats (Wingard being a Republican candidate for the Oregon House); it’s very much an inquiry among Oregon Republicans, and one (phrased in different ways) some of them are asking each other.

Wingard is running for the House in District 26, based around the Wilsonville area, a Republican-leaning district which has been represented by Republican Jerry Krummel of Wilsonville. Wingard, who has been a Republican operative and activist for some years, told Willamette Week that in 2001 he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor that followed his striking his son, who was then seven, on the head. (He said he’d heard private investigators, on whose behalf was unclear, had been looking into the case.) Evidently the incident was a one-time occurance and resulted in no lasting injury. The mother and son apparently have reconciled with him and have endorsed his House campaign. The conviction was later expunged from court records, and he seems to have had no legal problems since.

This is, of course, not exactly the kind of news a candidate wants. But it doesn’t seem fatal, either, on political or judgmental grounds. We’re talking about a single incident seven years back, a misdemeanor considered sufficiently marginal to be erased from official records, and with which the participants have long since made their peace. Wingard was apparently open about it when asked; given the expunging, he might have tried to hide it, but evidently did not. He seems contrite about it, with indications that he learned his lessons.

And there’s a useful character reference online from Rob Kremer, who ran for superintendent of public instruction in 2002, and who hired Wingard as campaign manager: “So I lived through it with him at the time. Before I hired him, he told me what happened and what he was going through legally. I hired him, and we basically spent 80% of our waking moments with each other for the next nine months. You get the full measure of a man when you spend that kind of time with him in the pressure cooker of a statewide campaign.” He maintains that though the facts alleged were accurate enough the misdemeanor charge was “pretty badly trumped up” (On that we have no information, but domestic law is often a treacherous place to search for definitive fact) and shouldn’t be any kind of disqualifier for Wingard now. And he said he flatly supports him for the legislature. (Krummel also apparently is continuing to support Wingard.)

There hasn’t been much chatter from Democrats on this (though there is a Democratic candidate in 26, Jessica Adamson). But there has been from Republicans, and therein lies the story.

Some Republicans have jumped Wingard hard. Wingard has a long list of endorsers, and some have pulled their support. House Minority Leader Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) even asked for his $1,000 contribution back. There’s talk about party people trying to prssure Wingard out of the race, or finding a primary opponent for him.

Kremer put it this way: “I don’t relish or seek out political battles against Republican leadership, but it seems to happen almost every session. I’ve been involved with several. The House leadership was very angry when we helped Kim Thatcher beat Vic Backlund in the Keizer-area House seat.”

Coyote at NW Republican has this take: “the issue at play here is this: The Republican caucus, or the “establishmentarians” are never comfortable with solid conservatives. They will ALWAYS look for someone who is prone to deal making to support and include in the future caucuses. Remember the names, Lynn Lundquist? Lane Shetterly? Mary Gallegos? Rob Patridge? Max Williams? And of course Ben Westlund? This kind of behavior from establishmentarians was evident when they closed ranks to stop Larry George and attempted a personal smear campaign against him. . . . One Wingard supporter has already informed NWR that ‘if we have to pull a Kim Thatcher and hand the caucus another Vic Backlund then we’ll do it.’ So now the cat is out of the bag. The conservative community has sent word to the establismentarians that, we see your bet and now we are going ‘all in.'”

Looked at from the outside, this seems an unlikely and almost perverse development. Republicans are down in the House by a single seat, and they can afford no mistakes and certainly no internal battles as they try to recoup. But internal battles seem to be the way of things anyhow.

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Vicki Walker

Vicki Walker

We caught up with state Senator Vicki Walker, D-Eugene, one of the four Democrats running for Oregon Secretary of State, at Cornerstone Coffee in downtown McMinnville. Fresh from one stop with the local paper’s editorial board and just ahead of a meeting with county Democrats, she had water, rather than coffee. She said she hasn’t drunk coffee (or smoked cigarettes) since the 70s.

That’s probably a good thing. Vicki Walker not on coffee does a fair impression of someone rolling fast on their quota for the day; Vicki Walker on coffee might be a little scary.

That’s not a criticism, just noting that while most successful candidates (which she has been so far) cultivate a degree of casualness, Walker doesn’t especially try: She hits the floor, and the conversation, running, and she doesn’t slow down. We’ve seen some of that in action in her Senate work – the intensity, the determination to soak up details, striding into territory many of her counterparts would as soon leave alone – already; it shows up as well in campaigning.

So does the substance. Most candidates bring up horse-race elements, most often in making the case for their own viability, as a matter of routine; Walker glosses over them, though she does project a sense of confidence. (In our talk, she didn’t argue for how or why she’ll win the primary.) Her focus is on her legislative projects – past and upcoming this session, and she has been a very busy and often successful legislator – and on what she’d like to do as secretary of state. The legislative work covers a surprisingly broad range, from education to details in the legal system to open records. She’s almost relentlessly substantive, in a plain non-wonkish way.

Secretary of state, which in many ways is a ministerial office, would seem to offer less opportunity for someone of her jump-into-the-subject approach. Or maybe not. Unlike counterparts in Idaho and Washington, Oregon’s secretary of state is in effect the state auditor as well, and it was when we talked about getting into the auditing function that Walker seemed to light up especially – or was that an almost predatory look? Bringing up the idea of auditing state agencies that could use it, she seemed ready to pounce immediately. And her history of publicly considering an insurgent primary run against a governor of her own party and outing the personal history of former Governor Neil Goldschmidt (you certainly couldn’t credibly call her a party hack), among other things, suggest an audit function in her hands could generate some fascinating results. Not to mention being highly entertaining. To call her a boat-rocker (as we have, among others) is probably true enough, but doesn’t really cover it.

Walker is one of four candidates so far for secretary of state, like her all Democratic state senators: Kate Brown of Portland, Brad Avakian of Bethany and Rick Metsger of Welches. All bring distinctive qualities, a significant assets, to the contest. Brown is the leading fundraiser, but there’s no prohibitive frontrunner here; you could make a reasoned argument for any of them taking the primary.

Walker may be the one who most compulsively draws your attention.

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Following up on the last post, we ran across an I Am Coyote post at NW Republican that offers an idea to the Republican problem of running and winning statewide. Comments on the theory are welcome.

He calls it the Jack Roberts Model, after one of the last Republicans (Senator Gordon Smith aside) to win statewide, for labor commissioner), who happens to hail from Eugene. (He makes clear that Roberts says he has no plans at present to run for anything.)

The common GOP model in Oregon, recently, has been to nominate Portland area moderates to run in the state-wide elections. That model has not worked. Quite frankly I have never liked that model and that has caused some PDX area GOPers to be slightly uncomfortable with me.

There is another model however that has shown to be effective. That is to find a Republican that runs strong in the Eugene/Lane County region. A Republican that may not be a Yamhill County conservative, but is also not a PDX moderate. It is a model to gain a strong base of support and even win in Lane County while also winning the rest of the state.

In the standard state-wide GOP model a Republican must take about 32% of the Portland area vote in order to win state-wide. The thinking is, and the numbers constantly bear this out, that the rest of the state is so disconnected with Portland that a reasonable candidate will win a state-wide election while losing Portland. It is possible and Kevin Mannix’s first run against Kulongoski almost got that done.

However the other population center in the Willamette Valley is Lane County. Jack Roberts won his Labor Commissioner race with a base of support in Lane County. The thinking behind that model is that winning the population center of Lane county will offset even greater losses in PDX.

Would the home turf issue be enough to kick a Republican over the top? We have doubts. But Coyote is surely right that the approach of running a Portland moderate (Ron Saxton in 2006, for example), with the hope of cutting into the Democratic vote in Multnomah County, seems not to have worked. Or does the large vote in the suburbs – in Washington and Clackamas – which have been tilting Democrat, render the Portland/Eugene formula beside the point?

Good material here for discussion. Coyote also notes that he knows of a possible candidate for a major office who would fit his criteria. Interesting: The theoretical could become quite practical.

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What’s the appropriate medicine for a political mired deep in the dumps of second place? Another discussion group – for Oregon Republicans, the Oregon Leadership Council highlighted in the Oregonian today – doesn’t offhand seem the answer.

The concern its co-founder, Portland investment broker Tim Phillips, expressed is certainly legitimate enough: “We have to do something because right now it is not looking very promising. If we don’t do something, there is a risk we will see a multigenerational decline in the Republican Party in Oregon.”

They’re talking about undertaking research into the question of why the decline (remember, Republicans controlled the legislature in 2002 and nearly won the governorship that year) has occurred, and how to reverse it. If they go at it seriously, the results would be fascinating to see; certainly Washington Republicans and Idaho Democrats also would like to know.

Our guess is that the reasons (in all three cases) are broad and not susceptible to a simple list of easily-implemented bullet items; after all, the Republicans in Washington and Oregon and the Democrats in Idaho got where they are as a result of a lot of decisions and actions over a lot of years; and the impressions they have left on the electorate about who and what they are, or good or ill, won’t be undone in a cycle or two. Dan Lavey, a Republican consultant, was quoted as saying simply, “The most effective way you can position a political party is to have quality candidates who run quality campaigns.”

Hard to argue too far with that analysis – but it begs a lot of questions nonetheless. We’ll be curious to see if the new researchers have much luck answering them.

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Chris Gregoire

Chris Gregoire

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Short of, and up to the point of, the actual debates for the candidates for governor of Washington, we got an early version of that today in some ways superior to what may show up later.

The major event, and the larger headlines, will go to the institutional event, the state of the state address to the legislature by Governor Chris Gregoire. Those always get strong news coverage (more, we started to think over the years, than they really merit – referring here to SOSes generally, not Washington’s in particular).

With some wisdom, Gregoire’s probable Republican opponent, Dino Rossi, posted on his web site what amounts to a counter-SOS speech. (Warning: no telling how long the video will remain posted there.) It seemed to be posted before Gregoire delivered hers, and didn’t constitute direct rebuttal as such. But it did cover much of the same territory – education, law enforcement, transportation and budgeting were highlighted – and watching the two back to back you can get a sense of where the policy battlegrounds are, and how the two of them stake them out. (Click on the video for the full deal; the text link only includes a shorthand description.)

Gregoire’s speech generally was a conventional SOS speech (with a few uneasy moments at the beginning about family matters, including her daughter’s wedding), but a bunch of statements scattered through jump out as useful campaign fodder. Rossi’s was almost the reverse: A campaign talk on its face, but often with the sound and feel of a formal address.

The Gregoire talking points were clear enough. Among the quotables:

We have recorded a very important first – the first constitutionally protected Rainy Day Fund in Washington history. And in 2006, we set aside one of the largest budget reserves in state history.

Speaking of our hard working families, after the Supreme Court overturned the one percent cap on annual property tax increases, I asked you to come back in special session to reinstate the cap.

Media across the state have called my budget frugal. It is. Just like families, we are making wise investments for the future and saving for less prosperous times.

That’s an example of our Plain Talk program where we are making government communicate in a way you and I can understand. What a concept!

The bottom line: we’ve created 218,000 new jobs in the last three years. That, my friends, is the population of Tacoma and Moses Lake combined.

I launched Operation Crackdown. For the first time, the state provided funding so that local law enforcement can partner with the Department of Corrections and track down and arrest sex offenders in violation of their parole. In the first two weeks alone, we arrested 50 sex offenders.

Rossi turned out to be talking about many of the same things, though of course he saaw them much differently. His web site’s shorthand description: “Christine Gregoire only told half of the story tonight. She continues to ignore her massive increases in state spending, the looming deficit, our transportation crisis, failures in education, and the inability to keep children in our neighborhoods and state care safe. The incumbent proved she knows how to talk as though she’s a fiscal conservative, but actions speak louder than words. She also keeps punting on important issues until after the next election. People are tired of waiting. Dino Rossi will bring real leadership to Olympia, change the culture of state government, and make Washington stronger for future generations.”

And he iterated and reiterated the idea that the same group of people have been in power at Olympia for a long time: “The people running state government lost the goal of customer service . . . I want to change the culture of state government.” He closed with a phrase that may or may not catch on, given the kind of year it is: “Our journey toward change.”

Still, there weren’t a lot of new proposals on deck. On education, he seemed to be pushing toward more accountability by way of the WASL tests, a topic much battled back and forth for years now; backed merit pay, a long-running issue; more math and science instruction, also not a new thought; and bringing in more non-certified people into the classrooms, a thought that while not exactly new could use a stronger political push than it’s gotten before.

On law enforcement, he remarked that “the incumbent always seem to be playing catchup,” which has some validity, though only up to a point. he zeroed in on the much-debated subject of early release of violent offenders, a subject she has addressed but which seems sure to generate a lot more talk in the months ahead. Rossi seems to have taken this one to heart.

He also blasted her on transportation, talking about promised efforts to cut congestions that “are already drastically behind schedule and over budget.” Her take on this same subject: “At the end of 2004, just 12 highway construction projects were completed. Three years later, we have completed 128 highway construction projects – from the Tacoma Narrows Bridge to the widening project on I-405, and from a new State Route 17 Interchange in Moses Lake to new lanes to speed up traffic on State Route 543 at the Canadian Border in Bellingham. Ninety one percent of them were on time and nearly as many on budget.” Rossi does have some clear shots available on transportation, though, notably concerning Gregoire’s ever-changing thoughts about dealing with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. You can expect a battle on the details on this one.

And the budget? Gregoire: “Media across the state have called my budget frugal. It is.” Rossi: State spending is up by a third in the Gregoire years, and taxes by $500 million, and “she has blown through the largest surplus the state has ever known” – that last being a pretty good campaign line. And a Perot-like simplicity to his capper: “Here’s my solution – control spending.”

There it is. Two speeches, than an hour’s time – and a solid nutshell of what these two are likely to be talking about in the next 10 months and change.

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