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Posts published in April 2008

Undecided disparity

What jumped out first from the new SurveyUSA poll on Oregon's 5th U.S. House district is the undecideds, and the disparity between those on the Republican and Democratic sides.

Among the Republicans, the bulk of voters (according to the results) seem to have made of their minds, not that the race seems yet settled as a result. The main candidates are 2006 Republican nominee Mike Erickson and former legislator (and former gubernatorial candidate) Kevin Mannix; this first run shows them at 44% and 40% respectively, with 17% undecided.

Is that an indication that, among Republicans at least, the two are well-known? That Mannix - a major statewide figure on the ballot for major office for years - would be makes sense. But did Erickson really become that well known off his 2006 TV ads for the House seat? Who knows; maybe he did. There's been a presumption that the nomination here is highly likely to go to Mannix, but maybe (especially bearing in mind the short run from here to voting) that assumption has been unwarranted.

On the Democratic side, the situation is a little different: The voters don't seem to know who these guys are. The main contenders are state Senator Kurt Schrader of Canby (who ought to be fairly well-known in the Clackamas part of the district) and former governor's chief of staff Steve Marks, who has some good ties but logically isn't a known quantity at large. Support for them ws noted at 23% and 20% respectively, suggesting they're starting almost from similar points, and the race is up for grabs. That the race is open, though, should be clear from the 57% who said they're undecided: That's a big portion of voters who have no idea who these candidates are.

Shall we say there are no foregone conclusions in the 5th?

Heating in WA H17

Jim Dunn

Jim Dunn

Toss this one near the top of the list of most contentious Washington state House seats this cycle: District 17, the seat now held by Republican Jim Dunn, R-Battle Ground.

There was some talk that Dunn might not run again, which might have changed the character of the contest this year. But word now is that he is running, so things are getting interesting.

Dunn isn't a newcomer; he's been a state rep from the rural Clark County area (including some of the Vancouver area) since 1996, apart from a term out in 2002-03. He lost in 2002, and his margins have been less than impressive overall; his races have been much more competitive than those of the typical incumbent. And that was before late last year. The Washington House Republican caucus had just been reeling over difficulties including a resignation and preceding scandal, at which point Dunn made remarks to a female Republican staffer considered so inappropriate that his fellow Republicans took away his committee assignments and cut his expenses. Those remarks were, apparently, not considered entirely unusual, either; presumably, most of the Republican caucus would rather see another Republican replace him.

And that might happen, but there are questions and issues.

Another Republican, Joseph James, has entered the race (possibly hoping that Dunn would opt out), and has been at work: Among other things, reporting campaign fundraising of $74,000, considerably more than either Dunn or the Democrat in the race, Tim Propst. However, Chris Mulick at the Tri-City Herald reports some unusual aspects to that large number: "Since January he's counted about $3,000 a month as an in-kind donation from himself for use of personal space for a campaign office and another $700 a month for use of a personal vehicle. He's also listed lots of other in-kind contributions from himself for things such as gas and meals. The Public Disclosure Commission database doesn't appear to be quite caught up with incoming reports yet but it appears only a bit more than half of James' total contributions have been cash donations. James has filed two summary reports recently and I can't tell which one is current. But either way it appears he has less than $10,000 on hand."

So how does he fare against a well-known Dunn in the primary? Or against Probst (we've met him, and he appears to be an energetic and presentable candidate) in the fall? This race is very much up in the air.

SEE ALSO an additional review of James' background at this Clark County political site.

Tamarack signifies

Financial shifts, and even reversals, sometimes can hold more than one interpretation. Shifts in funding streams and debt repayment can just relate to changes in business conditions; even bankruptcy can simply be a tool used toward rebuilding a troubled business into a sounder one (which happened at one point with the business that used to be Morrison-Knudsen at Boise). So we've held off saying much, not being pricy to the inner workings.

The news today that Tamarack Resort is shutting down its Boise operations - substantial, since about 20 employees are directly affected - is another matter. We're seeing here an unambiguous indicator of serious trouble.

For more on the developing attitudes, check out the Idaho Statesman's comment section on this.

“We got conned”

This sort of thing can happen easily enough anywhere, and you have to give Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa credit for stepping up, declining to prevaricate and declaring simply: "We got conned."

That was done by a federal prison inmate in Texas named Keith Russell Judd, who filed a notorized form and $1,000 to secure a place on the Idaho ballot - for president, on the Democratic side.

It doesn't matter practically much, as Ysura pointed out: Idaho Democrats register their choice for president by caucus, and the primary vote will be irrelevant anyway.

But maybe this does help make the case for a suggestion we've mulled for some years: Require that all candidates for the ballot have to submit at least some reasonable number of petition signatures along with the declaration form and filing fee. Might cut down on the number of California residents (see the ballot in the 1st district) and prison inmates hitting the Idaho ballot. As a news story on the Judd case said, "A key reason Judd was able to make the ballot was a recent change in state election law that eliminated a requirement under which he would have had to get signatures from more than 3,000 Idaho citizens."

Another Senate round

Taken generally, there wasn't a lot of news out of the one televised Oregon Senate primary debate tonight - excepting a reference to a primary winner endorsement (more on that below). But it did offer a few indicators, just a couple of weeks or so out from the start of balloting. (The debate, we should note, was sponsored by KGW-TV and the Oregonian.)

There are four candidates in the Democratic primary; three were present this evening - House Speaker Jeff Merkley, Portland activist Steve Novick and Eugene realtor Candy Neville. Neville presumably was there largely on the strength of a recent poll showing her in a close second place to Novick, with Merkley trailing distantly. That result feels like an outlier, and the larger probability is that Merkley and Novick are in a fairly close race. But Neville's passion for certain subjects, primarily Iraq and veterans, came through as in earlier encounters.

She seemed nervous going in; in the first half of the program her answers were halting, and she blew at least one question (on bringing legislative bacon back to Oregon) completely. But she toughened as she went. Merkley seemed cautious and stiff at first, loosening up as he went. Novick was his usual blunt self and came across effectively throughout (his gift for converting wonkish data into plain speech was fully in evidence), though he seemed to exercise a little more caution tonight than on some earlier occasions when his sharp tongue caused him grief (as on bloggers and some other subjects).

Their issues answers were, overall, strikingly similar. (Just one question seemed to elicit genuinely distinct answers, a query on the proposed Cascade Locks casino: Neville was generally in favor, Novick leaned against, and Merkley wasn't sure).

And there was little attack mode. About halfway through, Merkley brought up some Novick snark against Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and others, but that was about the only explicit direct shot fired. (There were some subtle shots back and forth, here and there.)

The most striking moment, though, was a reconciliatory note. A few days back, Novick was quoted after one encounter as suggesting he thought more highly of independent Senate candidate John Frohnmayer than he did of Merkley, that he "would be a better senator than Jeff Merkley" (although he did say he would endorse Merkley if he were the Democratic nominee). The resulting storm among Democrats may have given Novick pause. Tonight, he went somewhat out of his way not only to specifically throw his support to the Democratic nominee but also to encourage Frohnmayer to drop out of the race, and his supporters to back the Democrat. It felt like a sharp pivot, and it's not hard to imagine the reasons.

No great excitement or news. But suggestive of a race that's highly competitive as the final lap approaches.

Kitz on health care

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

The doctor was in today at McMinnville: John Kitzhaber, physician, former governor and current medical system activist, had diagnosis and a fair amount of prescription. And it put the rest of the health care talk and activity - by the presidential candidates and within Oregon's government - in some perspective.

Kitzhaber, now on the road a lot spreading his message well beyond Oregon as well as occasionally inside, leads the Archimedes Movement, aimed at sweeping, systemic health care reform. His take (which we don't entirely share) is that the new Healthy Oregon program recently underway, and proposals by presidential candidates (presumably mainly the two Democrats, though he didn't get into a lot of detail on this) are useful in terms of getting people into the system, covered by some sort of insurance, but that's a limited benefit. Kitzhaber's focus, on the other hand, is on changing the system fundamentally.

His presentation makes a case hard to argue with - and most people probably would implicitly recognize most of it as true. Of the factors contributing to a person's health, he points out, only about 10% is health care - the rest has to do with things such as a person's inherited biology, environment and manner of living. Those factors are little addressed in health care, he notes. He points out too that an overwhelming portion of the costs in the health care system is spent in treating people with chronic conditions (such as diabetes, circulatory disorders and others); but all the system's financial incentives are aimed at treating acute conditions. There's no financial incentive to treat conditions and health factors while they're small-scale, easy to handle and inexpensive; the real money only comes into play when they become massive and life threatening. You'll search in vain, he points out, for new and expensive substance abuse or obesity treatment wings at hospitals, while heart wings and cancer centers are everywhere. "The system is set up to reward acute cases," he said.

On top of that, the system is horribly inefficient in other ways, notably the lack of automation which keeps doctors from sharing patient information, and makes information handling enormously more expensive and drives up error rates.

Looked at this way, a picture of the system as it ought to be begins to move into focus: A realignment of incentives and efficiencies.

Our impression, from watching the development in Healthy Oregon (which Kitzhaber endorsed, and approves as far as it goes), is that it does start to move in some of these directions, and pieces of the Clinton and Obama plans do too.

But Kitzhaber's unique contribution may be in the way he thinks about health care wholly and systematically. If universal health care coverage of some sort really does materialize in the next couple of years, that could be step one in making more sense of the system. Some of where Kitzhaber is going may be step two.

A side note: Kitzhaber has lost none of his flair as a speaker, and someone encountering him for the first time now would have no trouble imagining how he became a two-term governor still popular even as he declared Oregon to be ungovernable. If he chose, he'd still be the strongest political campaigner in the state. Not that he gave the slightest signal of any interest in a return to that arena.


Question arose in comments a couple of days ago which suggests something more than a quick reply: "I’d just be interested in any history you have on the chances of a challenger beating a weak incumbent in a rematch (as a Grant-Sali race would have been) versus a new candidate taking out the incumbent."

That had to do with a post on the 1st district U.S. House race, where the Democratic field shrunk from two candidates to one. The departed was Larry Grant, who ran against Republican Bill Sali two years ago and was hoping for a rematch. Still standing, and now the presumptive Democratic nominee, is Walt Minnick, who has not run for this office before but did run for U.S. Senate in 1996.

The question breaks into two parts, one having to do with beating incumbents, the other concerning whether rerunners might be better positioned to do it.

It's hard to get scientific about this because the data is pretty small - in most places around the country in recent years, and certainly in Idaho. The reality is that not many incumbents lose anymore, either in primary or general elections. Some do, as a number of Republican U.S. House members found out in 2006 (or Democrats in 1994). But it's unusual. (more…)

The last game

The chant wasn't something on the order of, "Go Sonics!" - although, as the Seattle Sonics happened to win last night's game against the Dallas Mavericks, the crowd was certainly supportive - but rather - "Bennett sucks!"

Bennett being Clay Bennett, leader of the group which owns the Sonics and plans to move the team to Oklahoma City.

We'd guess that before long, someone will launch a new basketball team at Seattle, likely not major league but something professional. The audience for basketball clearly is there; money can be made. Question: Is that good enough? Or is it that the idea of major league, as opposed to basketball, is what's important here? And if that is, why?

Spokane’s Iraq revolt

You have to wonder whether this will be picked up on elsewhere. Maybe it won't. But that it has happened in a place like Spokane, well . . .

The story is that the Spokane County Republicans, the Spokesman-Review reports, "formally rejected the Iraq policy of their current president and their party’s likely nominee, saying American troops shouldn’t be on overseas missions for more than six months without a formal declaration of war. At a county convention that some party leaders said may have set an attendance record for Republicans in Spokane, supporters of presidential candidate Ron Paul Saturday handily defeated an attempt to scale back the platform’s stringent limitation on using American troops on foreign soil."

Aha! It's those Ron Paul people checking in again; and they did show some substantial strength in Spokane during the February caucuses. Still, they had similar strength in a lot of other places around Washington too. And the Iraq battle at the Spokane organization means that although their candidate won't be a Republican nominee (though they still sent a pile of Paul delegates to the state convention), they may not yet be done in pursuing his agenda.

WA Gov: Price tags

Is the Washington governor's race a big deal? Of course. Is it competitive? The polling generally indicates as much, and - this is a reasonable indicator - both Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire and Republican Dino Rossi are raising piles of money, what could amount to somewhere around $20 million between them by the time it's over.

But we've not felt for a long time that this is an evenly-balanced playing field. Some comments from Goldy at Horse's Ass outline some (and there are others too) of the pertinent reasons why.

The big difference, in my opinion, will be the lessons learned from 2004, a race in which an overconfident Gregoire allowed Rossi to get away with running as an amiable tabla rasa, on to which voters could project a fanciful image of the Rossi they’d like him to be.

First rule of political campaigning: . . . define your opponent. And you can be damn sure that a substantial chunk of Gregoire’s (and her surrogates’) war chest will be spent doing exactly that. Rossi is simply too conservative for WA state, on both social and economic issues, and this time around he’s not going to get away with refusing to talk about issues that don’t poll well for his campaign. There are also character issues regarding Rossi — his dubious business ethics and his documented reputation as a downright mean spirited campaigner — and in 2008, voters are going to be informed of that too.

Since Rossi’s near miss in 2004, David Irons, George Nethercutt and Mike!™ McGavick have all tried to duplicate the Rossi model — a low-key, likable, issue-less run toward the middle — and all with disastrous results. That strategy simply won’t play here anymore… at least not if your Democratic opponent is awake.

Without here passing judgement on the validity of each of the arguments against Rossi, we don't have a lot of doubt that they'll be made. And the point about Irons, Nethercutt and McGavick ought to be food for mulling.