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Posts published in April 2008

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.

The suit is on

Over the course of a lot of years, we've talked to a lot of Republican Idaho elected officials who in no way wanted a closed primary (of the sort Oregon has, where you have to declare party affiliation to vote in a party's primary). The fat is now burning. From an e-mailed state GOP release on Friday:

The Idaho Republican Party filed suit late Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Idaho against the Idaho Secretary of State, in an effort to close the party’s primary elections process, so only registered Republicans would be allowed to vote in Republican primaries.

“The party presently has expressed its choice to implement closed primary elections, and we have taken concrete action to carry out these wishes,” said Sidney Smith, Executive Director of the Idaho Republican Party. “We hope this suit will move quickly through the process and lead to an effective structure that respects the rights of our party members.”

This session, the legislature did not implement an appropriate closed primary system such as the “call for ballot” process. The Idaho Republican Party urged the legislature to approve closed primary legislation this year, in order to avoid litigation, but several proposals were unsuccessful.

Therefore, according to the resolution approved by the party Central Committee in January of this year, the party was required to file suit within 10 days of adjournment of the legislature, thereby making this suit unavoidable.

Won't affect this year's primary, the calendar being too late for a serious change now. But it could - who knows? - have some effect on this year's politics . . .

Ammons is out?

Well, this is going to be the real news of the season at Olympia: Dave Ammons is leaving the Associated Press to go to work for the secretary of state's office.

We've not had the pleasure of meeting Ammons, in person; but years of reading his weekend columns on Washington politics for so many years makes that seem a detail. Political reporter at Olympia for the AP since 1971, he may be one of the handful of truly key statehouse reporters in the country, in place so long as to develop an overwhelming memory of what has been (with insight into what will be), and the best news platform of all, the AP. For those outside the news business: Most news used by newspapers and broadcasters gets there via the AP, and the AP's coverage of stat events and politics is what most people around a given state read about it.

David Postman of the Seattle Times wrote a 2001 column on Ammon. It's worth a read, and a reflection on how little point there would be to such a column at all if the subject were most journalists. But Ammon - the source, certainly, of a large chunk of what we've come to learn about Washington politics - is one of the exceptions.

Three to two to one

Former Governor Cecil Andrus, who in 2006 supported Larry Grant for the U.S. House and this year supports his primary opponent, Walt Minnick, for the job, played master of ceremonies at the downtown Boise press conference at which Grant announced he is pulling out of this year's race. With the earlier departure from the contest of Rand Lewis, that gives Minnick the direct shot at the nomination.

Andrus mentioned in passing that he'd just learned of Grant's decision today, but thin rumors were floating around Boise yesterday. There were matters of timeliness. One was that, as Grant said, the time was about to arrive when the candidates would need to get into doing comparatives against each other - some sort of attack, direct or subtle. If Democrats wanted to avoid that, now would be the time for dropout. There's also word that Minnick's fundraising - expected to be released within a few days - has gone well, crossing the half-million line and running ten times or more what Grant has raised so far. There's also the point, raised at the press conference, that the national Democratic Party has targeted the Idaho 1st this year, but couldn't get involved while the primary contest was ongoing. So this could bring them in earlier.

A piece of this probably does have to do with joining forces; Grant could have done a separate withdrawal rather than the joint appearance and endorsement he did do. (After the press conference, Minnick and Grant and for a while Andrus repaired to a nearby coffee shop and spent a considerable time in apparently detailed discussions.) That would seem to suggest that, rhetoric notwithstanding, the Democrats do recognize that their target, Republican Representative Bill Sali, will be very tough to take out. And he will - barring some sea change in the ground-level structure of Idaho politics, there's not a lot of good reason for thinking Sali will fail to at least match his vote results from last time.

But there is, evidently, a certain amount of discipline on the Democratic side, which would be a first step toward shifting the environment. That and focus: Minnick vs. Sali, a battle of extremely different people.

The Way It Was with Glen Taylor

Glen Taylor

Glen Taylor

You can still run into Idaho people who recall Glen Taylor, a U.S. senator from 1945-51, who will write him off as an embarrassment or worse. Cecil Andrus, who years later would enter politics and become governor, recalled that as a young man he saw Taylor come through town and do his stand-up campaigning bit, and thinking that if this was what politics was, he wanted no part of it.

Taylor was by profession an entertainer, a singer and dancer and skit player in the old traveling show circuit that began to die out with the coming of talkie movie theatres. But he was also substantive, a true ideologue (probably the closest to a true socialist Idaho ever sent to Congress) and surprisingly substantive. And politically courageous besides.

Which is by way of seconding College of Idaho Professor Jasper LiCalzi's suggestion of Taylor's memoir, The Way It Was With Me, as a good read. Taylor was as entertaining a writer as he must have been on stage, and he includes tales that could only have been told by someone who knew his political career was far behind him, and who had moved for good from the state where he ran. LiCalzi remarks in his blog post that "This is the most enjoyable political memoir I have ever read but it is the person that is most fascinating." Not hard to feature (even if the book may not be especially easy to find).

When do we get to February?

April snow

Snow in the Blue Mountains Tuesday/Stapilus

So when is this winter thing supposed to be over? Heading into the Blue Mountains Tuesday - and yes, this is the Blues but still, this was April 8 - was heading into snow, then slush, then snowpack, and for about a quarter-hour near the top, genuine blizzard with the snow solidly horizontal. The trucks were spooked. So ws most everyone else.

So much for a nice pleasant April drive.

First chore headed out this morning in Boise was to scrape an inch-plus of snow off the car. (After hearing reports about rough travel to the northwest through Snoqualmie.)

The snow hasn't stuck. But hey. This is supposed to be April.

One acknowledgement

Some credit to Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, for owning up. Some governors in his position might bluff through, saying the last legislative session was just fine; or might fuzz over the fault in lack of progress in a long list of key areas (transportation being a big one Otter was working on directly).

Otter acknowledges that he - his relations with the legislature - are part of the reason for all that. And in fact, the fault is best spread around; there's a tendency to focus on one easily identifiable person when large-scale things happen, but usually a lot of people are involved. As here.

Having said all that, Otter has been going public recently with quite a few statements blasting away at legislators. And you have to wonder, with two rocky sessions now under his belt, if session 3 is going to be a lot different.