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Posts published in February 2008

A TV announcement

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. (more…)

This is your budget on drugs

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. (more…)

The UW poll

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.

Obama/Clinton in Spokane

Just a pointer here to a fascinating precinct map of Spokane County on the Spokesman-Review web site. In last week's Washington primary election (which was for Democrats, remember, a beauty contest only and not contested by the candidates), Spokane County split closely between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Obama apparently gained a thin lead in the most recent counting, but thin enough it could easily switch back.

The map shows where Obama and Clinton led. In Spokane itself, Obama did best on the south side (south of I-90, generally) and Clinton best to the north. Obama did well in most but not all of the rural areas. Clinton did well in many of the developing suburban communities such as Airway Heights, Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake. Have a look.

Vanishing records

Not so very many years ago, a dozen maybe, Idaho had a state library, a solidly-staffed agency which managed a lot of books, documents and other resources. It served a while range of missions, from serving as a check-out and research library for the general public to providing information and reports for state agencies to serving as a repository for a official records from state agencies. And, on top of that, it served as a coordinating and assistance service for public libraries around the state.

Then, over a period of years, the Idaho State Library was gradually dismantled, and virtually destroyed. Comparatively little of it - mainly the library-assistance function and a few other things - is left. And so too has gone much of the reference and state recordkeeping function: Just gone. Poof.

We've made a few notes of this over the years. Today, a Betsy Russell article in the Spokesman-Review takes a more thorough look at some of the impacts. The eventual up side may be that agencies moving toward digital documentation may be able to easily develop storage in large databases; and that could resolve some of the ongoing problem. But the issue is too complicated for that as a simple resolution.

The Weiland donation

Not too often do you see a single donation that realistically could become a significant political game changer. But the Seattle Times has a story today about one such that could have real impact over time.

The background to that is the heated political battles over gay rights issues, from anti-discrimination to same-sex marriage to other matters - a hot political topic.

The news is a donation from Ric Weiland, who was one of the first five employees at Microsoft and consequently, wound up with a lot of money. After his suicide in 2006, most of his estate, $160 million, went to charities. (Most of the time since has been spent in sifting through the many legal details.) More than $19 million is going to a group based in Seattle called the Pride Foundation.

The Pride Foundation works in the Pacific Northwest, based around Washington, Oregon and Idaho (and somewhat beyond); its website says it "connects, inspires and strengthens the Pacific Northwest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in pursuit of equality. We accomplish this in rural and urban areas by awarding grants and scholarships and cultivating leaders." It has done this actively, apparently, but on midest scale; it operates in part off a $3 million endowment. Up to now, that has made it not so different from a range of many other social interest organizations.

Weiland's donation increases that endowment to $22 million - an order of magnitude at least. As for how the money will be used, the Times summarizes, "The money will support anti-discrimination campaigns and programs to help youths, develop future leaders and provide scholarships."

This not a small deal. And it will have an effect on politics, gradually but clearly over time, all over the region.

OR 24: Worth watching, again

Al Hanson

Al Hanson

In mid-2006 we suggested some attention be paid to Oregon House District 24, a Republican-leaning area where the seat was held by apparently entrenched Republican Donna Nelson. Turned out she wasn't quite so entrenched: In November she won, but only barely, her usual margin trimmed to a sliver.

Next cycle on, we'll suggest again that attention be paid to this district: It looks to be up for grabs, though for reasons somewhat different. This time, Nelson apparently is not running for re-election. (She's been less that completely conclusive on that, but her own caucus is presuming she's out.) Instead, two little-known candidates have emerged on the Republican side: Ed Glad, a carpenter who has done some statehouse lobbying, and Jim Weidner, a restauranteur and software developer. Both come from the small community of Yamhill; neither is a local household name. Since their announcements of plan to run, neither has been especially visible. But either, presumably, would have a significant boost from their party's nomination, since this central Yamhill County district is more Republican than Democratic.

However, the just-announced Democratic candidate could have the assets to counter that. He is Al Hanson, an attorney and an eight-year member of the city council at McMinnville, which is the district's population center; people in about half of the district, in other words, have been voting for him. He also has a long list of civic activities, and in this tightly-connected community Hanson has the local establishment (including at least some of the local Republican business establishment) behind him. (more…)

A run that wasn’t dry

Oregon statehouse Reading yesterday a few hours before the Oregon Legislature adjourned - late on Friday night - about what the session did and didn't accomplish, a blunt assessment jumped out: "As the February session winds down, there is an emerging consensus that a month-long supplemental session doesn't work."

That showed up at the Conkling Fiskum & McCormick Insider blog, and carried the weight of opinions from some skeptical legislators about their experimental session. The second paragraph added, "To the relief of Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, and others who championed the experiment with annual sessions, the February session hasn't been a disaster. But virtually no one thinks it has been very productive, either."

Hmm. That would depend on your perspective, and if the perspective lies in comparing a session that ran 19 days - just two-thirds of the shortest month in the year - with the traditional half-year model, then no, it wasn't very productive. But that's not much of a comparison.

The suggestion in the Insider piece, and in blogging by the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes, is not so much that the annual session idea is bad but that the experimental session may have been too short. There's something to that. Washington state has a regular truncated election-year session but gives it about two months to do its work, and a tight series of deadlines are imposed through the process to help guide lawmakers to getting things done. Part of the problem with the one-month - pardons, three-week - Oregon session is that the time frame wasn't institutionalized, so lawmakers and others probably weren't well set up to handle the specific requirements of it. But two months, or maybe three, might be a better option. Mapes reports that he's heard just this sort of things from legislators and others: "But I have been struck by how out-of-sorts many legislators and lobbyists feel. They're used to certain rhythms and it's hard for them to figure out something that is neither fish nor fowl. This is not a one- or two-day special session with a rigid agenda, nor is it a wide-open regular session where you have months to develop ideas."

So some tinkering probably would be helpful. But before calling the experimental session a failure, it might be helpful to look at what Oregonians did get out of it. (more…)

Annexing the problematic

Drive in Eugene from the University of Oregon area directly east over the Willamette River and you'll soon land in the city of Springfield. But before you get there you will have passed over, and probably not even noticed, another community, called Glenwood.

Not often would a local daily newspaper call one of its home communities "problematic," but the Eugene Register-Guard is using the word to describe the unincorporated Glenwood area, and it makes some of the case for the city of Springfield's plan to annex the area. There are a number of reasons, but one of them is visible for those who take the look: A growing homeless community along the riverfront.

Just down the hill from the popular panhandling spot sit about 10 more men, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and drinking beer at the base of the north bridge.

These are the men who pester passers-by for money. Who sometimes fight and go to jail after downing one too many underneath the bridge. And who have long posed a dilemma to local officials stymied over how to deal with the Eugene-Springfield area’s most visible homeless camp.

Springfield officials responsible for planning Glenwood’s future say the situation has dragged on long enough. Following years of watching county and state agencies struggle to keep the bridge area safe and clean, the city is now ready to take the lead.

That isn't a fair description of all or most of Glenwood. Some of it is a long-running, traditional blue collar community with real traditions of its own. But as the article suggests, it may need some help.