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Posts published in February 2008

Talk from an AG contender

John Kroger

John Kroger

No particular thoughts yet on how the Democratic primary for attorney general will come out (that being of significance since there are no Republicans yet in the race). But some interesting reading about one of the candidates is newly available.

John Kroger, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School, has a limited pedigree in Oregon politics but a longer and more interesting in various other areas in and around the law. (His AG opponent is state Representative Greg Macpherson, D-Lake Oswego.) He worked on a fairly high level in New York and Washington, and has some soundly-grounded things to say.

Loaded Orygun has just run a three-part series based on an interview with Kroger, then followed that with an endorsement. Not a bad place for a good overview of what Kroger is about; he seems to be a blunt-spoken guy.

An example in quote in which he reviews the new increase-the-sentences crime proposal from Kevin Mannix: "If you want to tackle crime in Oregon - and I do - the way is not to throw a first property crime defendant in jail for three years, which is incredibly expensive and in most cases counterproductive. When you're talking about a third offense, OK - prison time is appropriate. But when you've got someone on a first offense, almost all of those people are committing crimes because of substance abuse problems. You want to get them on probation and get them into drug treatment. And that's how you reduce the crime rate. I just know that, factually. And that's why I think this measure is just incredibly reckless. I'd love to see it disappear."

Craig’s Letter of Admonition

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

The Senate Ethics Committee action on Idaho Senator Larry Craig is over, with a middling response - somewhere between quietly dropping it and taking any action that would have a practical effect.

In that middle, the panel issued a Letter of Admonition that said several of Craig's actions were improper, chastising him for them, but went no further. It concluded: "The Select Committee on Ethics resolves this matter through your public admonition so that, on behalf of the United States Senate, it may make known clearly that the conduct to which you pled guilty, together with the related and subsequent conduct discussed in this letter, is improper conduct which has reflected discreditably on the Senate."

What was it exactly that brought the discredit? First, apparently, the conviction at Minneapolis of "disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor," which the committee decided meant that Craig was in fact guilty, his protests notwithstanding. Craig's display of his Senate business card to the arresting officer, which the panel said Craig should have realized could be easily seen as an attempt to use the office to evade legal action. They said his use of campaign funds for his legal defense was ethically questionable at best.

Maybe most interesting was a distinction the Ethics panel drew about Craig's conduct of his legal case. Since Craig's conviction on the disorderly conduct charge, he has tried to persuade courts to let him withdraw his guilty plea in the case. The Ethics Committee said that is a legal tactic ordinary citizens "may take," but "it is a course that a United States Senator should not take. [emphasis theirs] Your claims to the court, through counsel, to the effect that your guilty plea resulted from improper pressure or coercion, or that you did not, as a legal matter, know what you were doing when you pled guilty, do not appear credible."

The committee essentially declared Craig thoroughly dishonest in his handling of the whole situation. It was a considerable blast. But in the context, not much more than Craig has gotten from other quarters, and nothing to shake him from his course of hanging in there till the end of this year.

A beauty contest-plus

Don't dismiss the Washington intra-party voters just yet. They're not done - they have a February 19 primary election to consider. That point is clear enough for the Republicans, who select half of their delegates (to the national convention) pledged to specific candidates based on the primary outcome. So McCain wants a more decisive win, or Huckabee wants to prove he wuz robbed? The primary is the opportunity.

But Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune makes an excellent point that the Democrats might want to pay some attention too. February 19 will be a relatively quiet period in the critical runup to contests between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in Ohio and Texas, and either side can use any ammunition available. A primary win in Washington will assign no delegates - those were all swept up in the caucuses - but it could generate some bragging rights. And even those have suddenly become pretty important.

Money where it belongs

Our central gripe with many of the tax issues that come up as initiatives is that they only deal with one side of the equation: They cap, or reduce, taxes, but have little or nothing to say about how services are supposed to be maintained at the same time. But it has to be said: Washington's Tim Eyman may have something in Initiative 985, which offers a clear whole-picture proposal, in a structure that makes a great deal of sense.

I-985 has to do with road construction, maintenance and finance. Part of what Eyman's after here, as usual, is tax suppression, but this approach takes a thoughtful look at the subject. From Eyman's description:

ReduceCongestion.org, the official campaign name for the Reduce Traffic Congestion Initiative, will be filed with the Secretary of State's office in the Capitol Dome in Olympia at 11 am, January 4th, the first day initiatives to the people can be filed. Petitions for ReduceCongestion.org will be sent out to everyone in mid-February. We'll then have until early July to raise the funds and gather the 224,880 voter signatures to qualify ReduceCongestion.org for the November 10th, 2008 ballot.

Not surprisingly, the focus of ReduceCongestion.org is reducing traffic congestion. The measure:

* Opens carpool lanes to everyone during non-peak hours (midday and evenings on weekdays and all day and all night on weekends -- peak hours defined as Mon-Fri 6-9 am, 3-6 pm) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow;

* Requires cities and counties to synchronize traffic lights on heavily-traveled arterials and streets (with benchmarks and accountability provided by the State Auditor) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow; and

* Increases funding for emergency roadside assistance to clear out accidents faster (with benchmarks and accountability provided by the State Auditor) -- which reduces traffic congestion and increases traffic flow.

Okay, so where does the money come from? Mainly, the revenue or a portion of the revenue of a string of existing taxes or fees. One he mentions in a recent e-mail with clear delight is fines generated by red light traffic cameras:

"We're putting up red light traffic cameras throughout the city to make our streets safer; we're not doing it to make money."

That's all we hear from local politicians nowadays. Red light traffic cameras, and their $124 automatic tickets (they take your picture and mail you a huge ticket), are popping up throughout the state of Washington in large and small cities. The costs for the cameras are mostly paid for by the company that contracts with the city -- the company makes a 'commission' on every ticket -- and the profit from the cameras goes into the city's general fund. It's a huge cash cow for them.

But with a straight face, they say it's all for safety, it's all for the children.

Under I-985, the profit from red light traffic cameras is instead dedicated to a new state fund called the "Reduce Traffic Congestion Account." The city doesn't get the profit anymore, it instead goes to the state to implement the policies in the initiative (opens carpool lanes to everyone during non-peak hours, requires local governments to synchronize the traffic lights on heavily-traveled arterials and streets, and increases emergency roadside assistance funding to clear out accidents
faster). So the money that currently goes into the city's general fund will now go toward reducing traffic congestion for everyone.

We'd quibble with some of the details. But on the larger canvas, he may have something here.

OR 5/R: Two to start?

Brian Boquist

Brian Boquist

Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson

We're entering a rapid early shakethrough on candidates for the suddenly-open Oregon 5th, to be vacated by six-term Democrat Darlene Hooley, and some of the first focus seems to be arriving among the Republicans.

Mike Erickson, the Clackamas businessman who opposed Hooley in 2006 (spending a pile of money and getting clobbered nonetheless), had been making moves toward a rematch, had indicated interest (though there had been some talk of a state treasurer run), and now seems to have all but declared his candidacy for the newly open seat. Understandable, and also understandable if he was hoping that would mean a quick gathering of support from other Republicans.

Some support he'll doubtless get, but he almost certainly will not have the field alone.

Highly interesting was today's report that state Representative Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who had been readying himself for a run for state Senate, is "looking at the 5th District, and dusting off campaign plans, but no decisions will be made until March" - meaning, until the legislative session adjourns.

Which on its face sounds inconclusive until you read the rest of the story: "He said he would not be deterred by the plans of Mike Erickson . . . Erickson was making the rounds of the Capitol on Monday in the company of Vance Day, a Salem lawyer who is the Oregon Republican Party chairman."

In related developments, Kevin Mannix (twice for governor, twice for attorney general, many initiatives) is on the fence about whether to run. Nor, of course, are these three the only options; at least a dozen other names are floating around.

Looks like a highly watchable primary. And we don't even have a clear picture yet of what the Democrats will come up with.

WA caucuses: Ascribing meaning

Luke Esser

Luke Esser

The Washington Republican caucus situation gets ever stranger, even as new information comes to light. (A little like the plot of Lost.)

There's a highly useful post on Sound Politics from a Republican caucus participant describing how the process went, and why the much-discussed results Saturday night mean "nothing." Most precisely, in both the Democratic and Republican caucuses, precinct participants were voting not for president but for delegates to the county convention (who in turn would vote for delegates to the state, etc., etc.). In the Democratic caucuses, backers of Clinton, Obama or otherwise split up within each precinct, and county convention delegates were chosen proportionately from within each group. in that way, you could extrapolate support for the various candidates which should play out, at least fairly closely, all the way up to the national delegate level. Apparently, it didn't work quite the same way on the Republican side:

"In my caucus, and in many others in my pooled caucus, presidential preference never even came up. Only two people wanted the two delegate spots, so we nominated them and elected them. At the precinct caucus next to ours, there were far more participants than delegates, but a similar story: they all knew each other and just said, 'well, who wants to go?,' and they picked two to nominate and that was it. Presidential preference never even entered into the equation. Other caucuses were different: a few active Republicans at a precinct caucus a few tables away didn't get elected, because they were outnumbered by Huckabee supporters. So to portray this as an election for presidential candidates is a complete misunderstanding, worsened by the fact that your stated presidential preference isn't even binding."

From that - and we're not especially doubting this clear description of the situation - anyone who showed up at the Republican caucus expecting to weigh in on the presidential nomination had been misled. And yet, about half of the delegates - pledged delegates - to the national convention from Washington were supposed to be selected through the precinct/county caucus structure. How could that be done if the delegates weren't being apportioned by candidate?

Equally, how could the state party rationally have reported at all results by candidate that afternoon and evening (and up to the present), as they have done?

The Sound Politics description suggests that it doesn't really matter whether any more counting of the McCain/Huckabee/Paul results is done or not. But it doesn't explain why the results, having been started to the 87% mark, was abruptly halted, with no indication whether it would ever be completed. (Which the party now seems, anxiously, to say will be done. Eventually.)

And if the voting was as content-free as the Sound Politics post indicates, why did state Chairman Luke Esser deliver his pronouncement - only an analysis, we hear today - that Arizona Senator John McCain had won? Even apart from the closeness of the race, how could he have had reliable figures for any analysis?

This thing gets stranger as it goes.

ANOTHER VANTAGE And this, from I Am Coyote at NW Republican, from his viewpoint in north-central Washington: "Apparently Esser's premature declaration is more about HIS preoccupation with the media than anything else. I know for a fact that Esser was calling around to various county chairs, pressuring them to give him some kind of loose vote count so that he could make a declaration. And I know at least one county chair who said 'you are NOT getting my results until I have counted and certified them.' So Esser made his declaration without the certified results and in the process has opened him and his office up to the Huckabee people putting pressure on him and... AND from what I have heard there are Ron Paul people also mad as hell that Esser and the gang have tossed some of their votes as well."

The PAC is closed

Hadn't seen much reference to this, but (and a hat tip to a correspondent who suggested it) the closure of Idaho Senator Larry Craig's political action committee, Alliance for the West, seems worth a note here.

Federal Election Commission reports show the PAC as zeroed out, with no debts and no cash on hand, at the end of last year. It spent $127,909 during the year, much of it for consulting and for fundraising (the latter seeming a little odd). It contributed to four Republican senators (Pete Domenici, not running for re-election; Susan Collins; John Sununu; and Norm Coleman) and $5,000 to the Idaho Republican Party. Which, according to Roll Call, sent the money back to Craig; after which Craig, in turn, re-sent it. Who has the money now - presumably the Idaho Republicans - isn't totally clear.

Roll Call also said the PAC "received PAC contributions worth $2,500 each from Federal Express on Oct. 2, Entergy on Nov. 7 and Duke Energy on Dec. 6."

Vote counting questions . . .

So ironic: After all the many, many complaints by Washington state Republicans about vote counting in the state - after the super-close 2004 gubernatorial race - that the single most peculiar vote-counting situation the state has seen in years should come in the state's Republican Party caucuses.

It didn't seem peculiar at first, though the results were of high interest: A thin lead swapped back and forth by Arizona Senator (and widely presumed Republican presidential nominee) John McCain, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, with Representative Ron Paul in a respectably close third place. Just as we were all waiting for the last of the results to come in and nail the situation, vote counting stopped, at 87.2%. A super-thin lead of 1.8% by McCain was then in place. State Chair Luke Esser called McCain the winner in Washington. And there matters essentially have stood - incomplete and seemingly inexplicably so.

The 2004 election situation was weird mainly because it was so very close. This one is weird because - well, we're still not even sure why. Maybe there's a good reason, but we've not been able to track one down yet.

Huckabee's campaign has, understandably, been on to the situation, and is lawyering up. From a press release today:

The Huckabee Presidential Campaign will be exploring all available legal options regarding the dubious final results for the state of Washington State Republican precinct caucuses, it was announced today. Campaign Chairman Ed Rollins issued the following statement:

“The Huckabee campaign is deeply disturbed by the obvious irregularities in the Washington State Republican precinct caucuses. It is very unfortunate that the Washington State Party Chairman, Luke Esser, chose to call the race for John McCain after only 87 percent of the vote was counted. According to CNN, the difference between Senator McCain and Governor Huckabee is a mere 242 votes, out of more than 12,000 votes counted—with another 1500 or so votes, apparently, not counted. That is an outrage.

“In other words, more than one in eight Evergreen State Republicans have been disenfranchised by the actions of their own party. This was an error in judgment by Mr. Esser. It was Mr. Esser’s duty to oversee a fair vote-count process. Washington Republicans know, from bitter experience in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the terrible results that can come from bad ballot-counting.

“Frankly, I am disappointed in the way that Mr. Esser has handled this urgent matter. So I call upon Mr. Esser and his colleagues to cooperate fully with the Huckabee campaign—and all Republicans, everywhere, who care about honest and transparent vote-counting—to make sure that every vote is counted and that all Republicans in Washington have the chance to make their votes count. Attempts by our campaign to contact Mr. Esser have been unsuccessful. Our lawyers will be on the ground in Washington State soon, and we look forward to sitting down with Mr. Esser to evaluate this process, to see why the count took so long, and why the vote-counting was stopped prematurely.

Will this be an issue when the Washington primary - which will select half of the presidential delegates from the state - come around? That may depend on what Esser and other party officials do next.

Caucus level

Jeff Kropf

Evergreen High School; outside signage/Stapilus

Count the outside signage for presidential candidates Saturday, around Clark County general and especially around the caucus centers, and you'd figure Ron Paul was the overwhelming selection. Even near the Republican caucus areas: At Evergreen High School, where a half-dozen precincts were caucusing, Paul had a table staffed by five or six enthusiastic volunteers, more than ready to pass out literature and tout their candidate.

Of which was a little misleading, of course. Paul was spending Saturday explaining how he was planning to run for re-election for the U.S. House as a Republican, even while somehow remaining active as a presidential candidate. Turnout in the Republican caucus was relatively small, maybe a third (to our observation) in the Democratic, though there were good reasons for that - a nearly decided GOP presidential contest, and the fact that Republicans in Washington get a second apple bite, a meaningful vote in the upcoming primary election. For Democrats, where the Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton contest is still quite live, the rules are different: The primary ballots mean nothing; the decision came out of this afternoon's caucuses.

In Clark County, a bunch of locations (mainly schools) houses caucus gatherings, where a half dozen or so precincts each were gathered to vote and select delegates to the county convention, which in turn would select delegates to the state convention, which - that's right - will select delegates to the national. Which makes this extremely preliminary except for this: The number of national delegates Obama and Clinton get from Washington will be extrapolated directly from these precinct caucuses, which made them significant indeed.

The overall picture is that Obama won all three states up for balloting today - Washington, Nebraska and Louisiana. None of these were a surprise, but Washington was assumed to be the most competitive of the three. After all, Hillary Clinton had the long-time support of much of the core Washington Democratic establishment, endorsements from most of the major Democratic political figures in the states (key recent exception being Governor Chris Gregoire). Louisiana turned out to be the closest, and Washington is a blowout - with nearly all precincts reporting as this is written, the percentage is 67.5% Obama to 31.2% Clinton. (Obama took every county in the state but one, Douglas east of the Cascades, and the results weren't even close in more than two or three others.)

After watching and listening for a while at Evergreen, some of the pieces underlying that seem clear. (more…)