Writings and observations

Rick Dancer

Rick Dancer

Oregon has some back history of television newscasters running for public office, successfully. The most emblematic Oregon politician of recent decades, Tom McCall, a reporter and analyst at KATU in Portland for years, was one of them, until he ran successfully for secretary of state. He did, though, have some political experience, including staff work in the Oregon governor’s office and a failed run for Congress in 1954, as well as sundry Republican Party work, under his belt by that point.

Will lightning strike again? Oregon Republicans may be banking on it. On the 11 p.m. news program at KEZI in Eugene, anchor Rick Dancer announced he’s leaving his job and will run for secretary of state, as a Republican. He becomes the first Republican to specifically announce for any of the three constitutional offices (attorney general and treasurer are the others) up for election this year. Four Democrats are running for sec-state.

Dancer is well-known in the Eugene area; he has been a reporter or anchor at KEZI (which broadcasts north to Corvallis, south to Roseburg and west to the coast) since 1989. He’s a familiar figure, but not especially identified with specific issues. (His station does note on a descriptive page that he’s been “especially interested in children’s issues.”) In McCall’s day, in the late fifties to mid-sixties, local television was active in a wide range of issues, and long-form and even investigative reports – McCall did a number of those over the years – were an ordinary part of newscasting. Local television news, as anyone who watches it knows, is a lot different now. Dancer – for reasons certainly not his doing – has by necessity to enter the race as more of a cipher.

Politically, that could be good or bad. Dancer starts as a blank slate, so much can depend on how he defines himself.

But unlike McCall, who drew on political alliances and networks from early on, Dancer is starting from scratch. And Dancer evidently understands that; his announcement on his personal web site concludes, “Agreement on Dancer’s departure from KEZI-TV was not reached until last week. Because of his position as a TV journalist, Dancer has not been able to assemble his campaign team or make arrangements for organizing his campaign prior to Sunday night. Further details will be announced as they become available.” The four Democrats in the race have been organizing, campaigning and fundraising for months. That difference isn’t minor.

Coyote at NW Republican has been tapping at the idea of a Eugene Republican as a strong statewide contender, and cheered on Dancer’s entry: “Rick Dancer will pose a real problem for any Democrat interested in SoS and poses and GREAT opportunity for the GOP to take this seat back.” The Lane County location, he suggests, will be an asset, along with Dancer’s back visibility through the region; as a television personality, he should already have well-developed media skills.

And state Republican Chair Vance Day drove to Eugene to welcome him into the field.

On the other hand, Oregon Rino Watch has already taken a swipe at him: “If you didn’t hear Lars Larson’s interview today with Republican Oregon Secretary of State candidate, Rick Dancer, you missed hearing from a TOTALLY uninformed and Weak candidate. Dancer’s answers to Lars questions were pathetic regarding this: Lars: ‘Should Oregonians have to prove their US Citizenship to register to vote?’ Dancer: (after a pause) ‘Gee don’t we have to already? I thought that is already the law’ …… Sorry folks, Rick Dancer ain’t the guy for Republicans . . .”

Not a lot comment yet from Democrats. Though there was this snark in a comment on Blue Oregon: “Damned liberals in the media…now they wanna run for pub…er uh, er uh, sorry.”

What it all adds up to . . . Dancer starts from serious disadvantage, help from his party’s structure notwithstanding. But the Republicans can at least say they now have a candidate for secretary of state.

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Our take on the policy argument is that Idaho’s Joint Finance-Appropriations (budget) Committee’s action restoring $10.7 million to the Office of Drug Policy – money that would be aimed at maintaining drug treatment services at existing levels, rather than being sliced to ribbons – was the right move. But it also had a secondary beneficial side effect: Exposing why the cut was proposed in the first place, and maybe revealing more even than that.

Last year Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter brought together several anti-drug state efforts under one roof, the ODP, and put former legislator Debbie Field in charge. The office handled significant funds, including a large $21 million federal grant. That money is going away, leaving the substance abuse treatment efforts with a measly $3 million. In preparing the proposed budget for this session, she proposed replacing much of it. In making his budget decisions, Otter eliminated the backfill, drastically cutting drug treatment programs.

Policy note here: He was doing that at the same time he was calling for major stat rampups on prison spending. That would suggest he’d rather spend vastly more money on warehousing people who have gotten deeper and deeper into trouble than spending fewer bucks working to keep them out of trouble and productive in the state’s society. But that wasn’t the argument he made.

The Idaho Statesman reported on the governor’s rationale – inadequate paperwork:

“Debbie’s budget was no different than anybody else’s,” Otter told me. “They were spending 7 million bucks a year and not takin’ a single note. … I just couldn’t in good conscience say, ‘Well, OK, just because the feds walked away from it, we’re gonna pick it up.'”

“I don’t disagree,” said Field, who missed by 10 weeks her deadline to justify her spending request. “People couldn’t give me data that I asked for.”

This made little sense. Most governors, faced with a subordinate who had failed to develop the necessary information to determine proper funding levels for a program, would have ordered the information be developed, or find someone else who would get the job done.

But now we have a little more information to evaluate with.

Today, JFAC added in $10.5 million for substance abuse treatment, deeming it a sound use of state money. What was interesting was the response to that from Otter’s budget chief, Wayne Hammon. He said, at one point, that “Yes, we need to do something about drug treatment, but this is a lot of money.”

But then there was this, noting also that legislators had approved less than Otter wanted for state employee pay increases: “Is their priority state employees? No, it’s drug users, that’s their priority.”

It isn’t, of course; drug treatment, with the idea that it might be a sounder way of spending money, was. But unless we’re much mistaken, the real rationale from the governor’s office was just given away this morning.

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We’ve held off rolling out poll results for a while, but the new University of Washington poll – its 5.6% margin of error notwithstanding – seems a fair spot to jump back in. It is, after all, an academic rather than a partisan poll. Detailed results and specs are in powerpoint. Of interest here are the numbers developed for presidential and gubernatorial races. It was conducted between the caucuses and primary this month.

In common with polling in a number of other places, this one said that Republican John McCain polls slightly ahead of Democrat Hillary Clinton (48.6%-45.1%) but significantly behind Democrat Barack Obama (40.3%-54.9%). Where came the difference? Well, Clinton and Obama drew equally well among fellow Democrats, but while Clinton got no – literally zero – Republican crossovers, Obama got 9.7% – drawn straight out of McCain’s percentage. He also did better among independents.

In the gubernatorial, this poll showed a wider gap than some other polls in recent months. Most others have given Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire a small edge, but within the margin of error, over Republican Dino Rossi. This one has a bigger margin for Gregoire – 53.7%-42.1%. What notable here is that the last time the UW polled on this, in October, the Gregoire lead was 42.4%-42.1% – essentially a tie. The change mainly reflected improved Gregoire numbers primarily among independents, and secondarily among her fellow Democrats. Rossi’s numbers remained close to the same from last fall.

We’ll be watching to see if other polling reflects the UW.

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