Don’t know why it is that Washingtonians in particular seem to be sending this signal. But the signal seems, basically, clear enough; and it comes from two Democratic superdelegates, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell and King County Executive Ron Sims, who have announced support for Senator Hillary Clinton.

On Monday, Cantwell told the Vancouver Columbian‘s editorial board that

“If we have a candidate who has the most delegates and the most states,” the Democratic party should come together around that candidate, Cantwell said. The pledged delegate count will be the most important factor, she said, because that is the basis of the nominating process.

That essentially is an argument for Illinois Senator Barack Obama, who has an apparently insurmountable lead in both categories.

Today, Sims was a guest on the KUOW Weekday program (a limited transcript is up at the Slog), and spent a chunk of time talking about the presidential – but not by way of advocating for Clinton. He remarked, for example, that “I’ve watched this campaign. I’ve seen two people who I really like. And it just seems, if you look at the polls now, [they] are inflicting great damage on each other and that’s really gotta stop. To have people who support Senator Obama say, ‘I’m not going to support Senator Clinton,’ and to have people who support Senator Clinton say, ‘I’m not going to support Senator Obama’—my issue is, that should not be the national debate. I think we have an opportunity to head in a different direction, and we need to do that, but obviously this campaign is not doing that. And I think more of the superdelegates are beginning to say, ‘Stop it.’ And that’s being heard by the campaigns and the candidates, because they’ve got to stop this madness.”

When the host suggested “that you are wavering and considering that your candidate maybe should withdraw in the interest of unity in the party,” Sims responded, “Oh, I didn’t say that.” Which doesn’t sound like much of a flat rebuttal – that he wouldn’t, period. Second later, he retierated that, “Yeah, I’m not changing it yet.” Yet.

The Slog’s conclusion: “He’s wavering.” That’s two.

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Washington

There are candidates around Oregon this year, maybe most notably but not exclusively state Senator Vicki Walker of Eugene, who have showed some interest in doing a significant renovation of the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The department is oddly shaped, including both such things as tourism and boosterism and also management of infrastructure grants for local governments, such as water and sewer money. The combination, goes the argument, has led to problems.

Had sounded as if action on that might get underway next year. But apparently, things are moving more quickly. An Associated Press piece today says that efforts to break up the agency are rolling, and a review of its operations may be going ahead too. Nancy Hamilton, a staffer in the governor’s office, was quoted, “These have been two cultures that should not live under one roof, a Legislature that tries to see them as one piece, and everything goes downhill from there.” So it would seem.

So the legislature and officials in place in 2009 could be presented with a fait accompli, rather than a task to undertake.

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Oregon

If state Senator Kate Kelly is reporting accurately, she has been receiving a number of inquiries from Idahoans about Senate Bill 1302, inquiring, “Why isn’t it being voted on this year?”

The answers solicited from the people who control the flow of legislation in the Idaho Senate – Republican leadership and committee chairs – give the sense that, well, it was just caught up in procedure. State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, for one example, said on the Senate floor that “The bill has been called for on the 79th day. I don’t think it is appropriate to pull a bill out from committee at this late date. … We have a committee process. … The committee process is important to getting our business done.” Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “We simply do not have enough time to hear every bill and to vote on every single bill.”

No, but there’s not the level of interest and timely pertinence attached to every bill that there is in this case. SB 1302 is the “revolving door” bill, the one “to prohibit lobbying and
registration as lobbyists by former executive officials or legislators for a period of one year from termination of office.” A concept in force (in similar fashion at least) in many other states. And a revolving door Idahoans have been seeing swing a lot faster in recent years.

There’s nothing especially unusual procedurally about what has happened to it. Introduced on January 18 in the Senate State Affairs Committee, it never was scheduled by the chair (McKenzie) for hearing or an up or down vote. Senators from the floor have the option to “call” the bill from the committee, and a majority vote of the Senate can do that. Senate Democrats’ attempt to do that, unsurprisingly, failed.

A number of the senators who voted in opposition argued for the sanctity of the committee system. But that’s really not good enough. What the vote really was, was a vote on whether the Senate should go on record formally supporting or opposing the bill; and a majority of the Senate decided not to go on record. In effect, the vote was an up or down on the substance of the bill.

The vote may have been procedural, but the effect was just that substantive. As a practical matter, the majority of the Senate doesn’t want legislation to stop or slow the revolving door; they know took many people who have taken that trip, or may before long. There’s no surprise in any of this, but what’s being described as just part of the process is certainly more than that, and ought to be treated as such.

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Idaho

Ben Ysursa

Ben Ysursa

Voter confusion does happen, and a guy immersed for a third of a century in running a state’s elections certainly would be sensitized to that. And to attempted end runs around the system, too.

So Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa seems right in his proposal – which looks likely to fly this week through the soon-ending legislature – to require that when a person legally changes his or her name to a political slogan and then runs for office, that the ballot include (just as record store rack jobbers did with the musician Prince) a note that this person was formerly known as, whatever. In this case, the candidate name “Pro-Life“, formerly known as Marvin Richardson. Ysursa pointed out that some voters may check off “Pro-Life” thinking they’re supporting an issue, and another candidate for the Senate as well, resulting in an “overvote” – invalid balloting.

Richardson’s – ah, Pro-Life’s – response was predictably negative: “It’s pretty stupid, really, to say that a voter doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

The problem is that Richardson’s name-change gambit has to be premised on just that kind of confusion: To encourage a voter to approve him based on approval of an issue. Why else would Marvin Richardson, running as Marvin Richardson campaign on a pro-life platform, not be good enough? You periodically see candidates with unusual names on the ballot (say, the perennial Mike the Mover in Washington). Most of them don’t generate any real confusion, though. “Pro-Life” does. If ballots should be clear and simple, and they should be, the added bit of information Ysursa calls for ought to help.

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Idaho

The candidate filing deadline still is months away in Washington, but there are indicators that Republicans in the Evergreen state may be as troubled in their candidate recruitment this year as they were south of Columbia, where a bunch of challenge-able Democrats were left with a free ride.

The Tacoma News Tribune has been tracking some of the fallout from internal disputes in the state Senate Republican caucus growing out of allegations against Senator Pam Roach, who was described as abusive toward the party’s caucus staff. (And there have been issues with her own staff too, but that’s another story.)

Something else the paper ran into was a letter sent last week to fellow caucus members from Senator Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who is disquieted at the level of Republican candidate recruitment so far: “This is a sad commentary on the effectiveness of our whole team in recruiting candidates. Think about it seriously, 16 Democrat seats up, seven where we stand a good chance … and only two candidates. Holy cow does anyone see a problem here?” And the Republicans are pretty far down as it is; the Democratic 32-17 edge is near to two-thirds control.

On one hand, candidate recruitment is far from done; the deadline is June 6. But the reality is that legislative candidates challenging incumbents have been running and organizing long before that; five months ordinarily isn’t enough to pull off such a major effort. Legislative districts in Washington are large enough, especially on the Senate side, that serious work on such an effort should be underway toward the start of the calendar year.

Benton’s concerns seem solidly based.

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Washington

And right after the Claude Dallas story from Boise, which has as its theme a governmental coverup of incompetence, read this column from Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times, which is about how that same government is watching us, all of us ever more closely.

The whole thing is chilling, from the opening lines about checking citizenship records on domestic ferries, but reaches a peak with the story of a federal monitor for radioactive material on I-5 so sensitive that “the government now has the ability to detect radiation in a cat inside a car going by at 70 miles per hour. And wow at this world we live in, where we feel compelled to sniff, at random, inside the traffic coming out of Bellingham.”

Not all of us feel so compelled. But those in power evidently do, which should be more than a little frightening. The closer quote from San Juan County Councilman Kevin Ranker: “I think it’s fair to say many people up here have been left wondering just what kind of country it is they’re living in.”

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Washington

When information is locked away by government entities, the reasons sometimes have to do with legitimate reasons such as safety or privacy of private citizens. But a whole lot of the time, it has more to do with avoiding discomfort for someone in public employ.

That thought might be borne in mind in reading the fascinating story out today in the Idaho Statesman by Dan Popkey, which makes the case that what we thought we knew about convicted killer Claude Dallas’ escape in 1986 from an Idaho penitentiary was, in important ways, a fabrication. It isn’t conclusive, but it makes a strong case: “Prison officials faked the fence-cutting to cover up the fact Dallas outsmarted his keepers and simply walked out the front door with a group of visitors shortly before 8 p.m. on March 30, 1986.”

A good Sunday read, and worth considering alongside the question of why so much information gets withheld when and how it does.

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Idaho

We see them all around and visit them regularly; convenience stores are ubiquitous. But did you ever wonder who owns them?

The answer mostly has been too complicated to contemplate. A lot of them are still owned by individual shopkeepers; it’s one of the businesses not yet swept up into a handful of megachains. And yet there are some shifts.

So we read with interest today’s story about the takeover of 62 convenience/gas station outlets in the Portland and Vancouver area by Idaho’s Jackson Food Stores, based at Meridian. Jackson has been a successful and fast-growing operation mainly in southern Idaho, but gradually expanding elsewhere. The stores had been operated by Shell Oil Products, and entered into a deal with Jackson on their management.

So in a sense it’s not really a consolidation of business. But it may be another of those subtle threads linking the Northwest together.

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Idaho

Larry Craig

Larry Craig

This is a little odd, a news story – in The Hill, the capitol newspaper – that a politician who had said he would retire this term, didn’t file for the office. So how does that become news?

But the politician in question is Idaho Senator Larry Craig, and given his recent history, you can sort of understand.

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Idaho

Idaho candidate filing, now done (save only for write-ins at the primary), turn up not a lot really remarkable – a fairly normal portion of seats left uncontested, a normal number of primary contests. And a good many familiar faces from past go-rounds.

The sheer number of candidates for the U.S. Senate, for the seat held by Republican Larry Craig, is 13 – suggesting the whole thing is a lot more competitive than it really looks to be. The conventional wisdom, which we won’t argue with, has it that Republican Jim Risch, the lieutenant governor, is odds-on favorite in primary and general; and if there’s a major upset, if for example there were a huge national Democratic tide or some such, then Democrat Larry LaRocco, who is a known quantity and has been running a long-term and energetic race, would have a shot. You have to wonder what motivates the other 11 – those being seven Republicans, two independents, one Libertarian and one Democrat – to do this. (We’ll acknowledge that the independent running under his new legal name of Pro-Life has more or less an implicit explanation.)

Democrats did this time field candidates for all three congressional seats on the ballot – in fact, they fielded two for each.

Of the 105 legislative seats, 34 are uncontested – those incumbents have a free ride (with the asterisk that a write-in at the primary could change that). Of those, nine are Democrats – a high portion of the total number of Democrats (26) in the legislature. Democrats are making out better with free passes than the Republicans are. A handful of additional seats, however, have primary contests featuring Republicans only.

Familiar names surface through the filings. In Canyon County, Democratic candidate (experienced through several runs at this point) Dan Romero is running against Senator Patti Anne Lodge. In District 16, a legislator from a couple of decades back, Republican Elizabeth Allan Hodge, makes a return run (in five-way Republican primary for an open seat now held by Democrat Les Bock, who’s running for the Senate). In Weiser, former state Democratic Chair Wayne Fuller runs for the Senate against Republican incumbent Monty Pearce. In Twin Falls County, Democrat Bill Chisholm (well, he’s running as a Democrat this time) is on the ballot again – is this somewhere around his tenth run for the legislature? Democrat Allen Anderson returns in Bannock County to take on Republican Ken Andrus for – we think – the fourth straight time, including one win and two losses. Over in Idaho Falls, Democrat John McGimpsey, who ran a strong campaign in 2006 against Republican Russ Matthews and came close to winning, is trying again.

Odds and ends to be checked on. Soon.

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Idaho

Obama in Salem

Obama in Salem/Stapilus

Three Oregon stops for Illinois Senator Barack Obama today and another tomorrow, on what turned out to be his best campaign day in a while. At his first stop in Portland, he got to unveil a substantial endorsement, by New Mexico Governor and former candidate Bill Richardson. The most recent polling indicates a rebound from the Wright debacle, and new headlines indicate financial trouble for his opponent, New York Senator Hillary Clinton. At his appearances in Portland and Salem, he seemed relaxed and in a good mood; so, maybe for some reason.

The Portland event, near the Rose Quarter (which probably was the venue that should have been used there), was swamped with people. Your scribe wanted to catch the activity but (like some other people we encountered) passed on PDX in favor of Salem, where the crowds were smaller and were a close fit to the venue there, the national guard Armory Auditorium by the state fairgrounds, seating somewhat over 3,000 people. Inside, the space was set up somewhat like an oversized high school basketball gym, which had the virtue of giving nearly everyone a good view, and no great distance from the speaker.

A few observations from that scene:

The crowd was mixed, a thorough range of ages and other categories, not overwhelmingly young or old. Signs from outside were not allowed inside, limiting expressions by groups, but t-shirt signage indicated labor unions were well in evidence, to judge from SEIU shirts and red shirts proclaiming “You estoy con la union.”

Security was substantial (and there were plenty of uniforms around), but considering the nature of the event, not overbearing. Cameras and cell phones were allowed in, and were used heavily – seemingly one person in three or four had a camera, a cell or both (or a combination; iPhones were around too).

Scheduled for 1 p.m., the event started an hour late. Obama addressed that, apologizing but noting that the news media at Portland had considerable interest in the Richardson announcement. It seemed a plausible explanation.

A local campaign worker was first up, noting that a Salem Obama office would be opening shortly. Representative Earl Blumenauer did the introduction of Obama in Salem (as he had in Portland), declaring that Oregon could be the state that puts the candidate over the top with delegate votes. (Which theoretically could happen if enough superdelegates broke for him over the next couple of months.)

Obama’s talk was in two parts, about a half hour each. The first was a somewhat abridged version of his current stump speech, very much like the one he delivered in Portland, heavy on rundown of issues but certainly not lacking in applause lines. Which, in Salem as in Portland, got the intended response – despite the delay, the audience was plenty revved for response when the candidate took the riser (a small square area; he was speaking 360 degrees to people all around him). He pulled a strong response with lines on the economy, on veterans care, on energy policy and other matters, but the largest roars were reserved for his promises to withdraw troops from Iraq.

The second part was – in keeping with the “town hall” description of the event – a question and answer period, fielding seven or eight questions (depending on how you count). They covered a range, from immigration to North Korea to offshore jobs to race relations. None seemed to present Obama any difficulty. He sounded as if he was working his way carefully through (or maybe it was just artful delivery) a question from a Salem woman who said she had friends who were supporting Hillary Clinton – how should should she make the case for Obama instead? “Sp you need bullet points,” Obama mused. He wound up with the conclusion that Clinton, while capable and not far from him on many issues, doesn’t have a feel for transparent and interactive government and operates from top-down, meaning that many of the problems about how Washington functions would be left unsolved by her. “It’s not enough to change the political parties,” he concluded. “You have to change the culture.” That, he said, he would do.

He did enter into a line of thought we’ve not heard in his speeches before, and which sounded as if it could be expanded and used more widely. In describing his political beliefs, he said he adhered to a number of specific ideas, such as equality, broad participation in governing, upward mobility, and others. But these constituted goals rather than an ideological construction; he said he is more interested in pragmatism toward solving problems than he is operating within an ideology. That could prove an effective rebuttal to discussion later on of where he fits on a “liberal-conservative” scale – it could have the effect of lifting him above that.

No fainting spells were observed. The crowd did not seem raucous. But it did seem energized.

AND IN CORVALLIS A first-person account posted on Daily Kos from Corvallis, where Obama stopped in at the American Dream pizza place (which we can personally attest makes good pizza).

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Oregon

Rob McKenna

Rob McKenna

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna is making a notable suggestion: That Washington’s tort laws cost its state government far more than neighbors Oregon and Idaho. That is to say, in relative terms, not just “more than it should . . .”

In a lengthy interview with LegalNewsLine, the Republican attorney general said his state annually pays out ten-times as much in tort settlements than in Idaho, and six-times more than Oregon does.

“There are basically no boundaries or limits on claims that are brought against state taxpayers by a tort claimant,” said McKenna, adding that the state has paid out about $500 million in tort claims over the last 25 years.

“That is money that is not available to improve services such as foster care and transportation,” he said.

Additional financial strain, he said, is placed on the state by Washington’s doctrine of joint and several liability, where even if a co-defendant is found to be as little as 1 percent at fault, a co-defendant can nonetheless be held 100 percent liable for an award if the other co-defendant is found to be an empty pocket.

We’re not in the rank of those blaming tort laws for the full range of social ills, but if the laws vary widely state to state, it doesn’t take much imagination to see where that will lead an inventor litigator.

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Washington