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Posts published in May 2008

ID: At stake

We'll be back tonight with review of the Idaho primary election results; the polls close at 8 p.m. (same clock time both in Mountain and Pacific), and results usually begin to kick in an hour or so later. For the moment, a couple of advance thoughts.

First, this is - to be honest - probably a relatively inconsequential primary election. Not in all races or for everyone, but the real issues are likely limited. If you look at the six major party ballot lines for congressional office - Republican and Democratic for Senate and the two House seats - there's not much doubt about what's going to happen. Although, if something unexpected does - let's say that, as the last poll indicated, Matt Salisbury actually does pull a shocker and upends incumbent Bill Sali in the 1st district Republican - we'll have to backtrack pretty hard from that. So we'll see.

And the presidential is less than massively significant, what with the Democratic decision already made in February and the Republican nomination already settled. Though we will note the votes received by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Ron Paul - they may be worth watching, just to check on the divergences.

You have to look a level down, to the legislative races, to find contests and matters of import that look to be realistically at stake. And those are scattered around the state.

WA Gov: What works

Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Quick observations on the front web page of Dino Rossi's campaign for governor of Washington, a couple of which are indicative and one of which is instructive.

We'll call indicative the dominant element toward the top of the page, one word that overwhelms everything else: "Change." Yes, it's the catchword this cycle, but it has a context - principally based around the other Washington's federal politics, and aimed in large part at the Bush Administration. But who knows?

Then just below it is a link to Rossi's transportation agenda, recently released. What got our attention was the adjective in the headline of the link: "Dino Rossi's Progressive Transportation Plan." Progressive? Well, that's interesting.

The third piece, just to the right of the transportation link, is eye-catching in a different way. It's a three-minute (roughly) video showing Rossi at Auburn, in a car headed to a house. In the house was the individual campaign contributor who pushed him over the total number of contributors to his gubernatorial campaign four years ago, and the last couple of minutes is devoted to a conversation between Rossi and the couple (the wife was apparently the specific contributor) there.

The first part sounded a bit staged (this was supposed to be a completely surprise visit, but it didn't come off that way). Later, especially when the husband got into discussing why he was backing Rossi, it seemed quite natural. Suddenly, it seemed to be a very unusual thing indeed: Something approaching an actual conversation between a candidate and a prospective voter. Pieces of it looked like reality video - the best kind. Both Rossi and his supporters came off pretty well.

It was, of course, selected video - the Rossi campaign (or any other) isn't going to be posting negative encounters on the web site. But the natural give and take, seemingly unforced, was a lot more compelling and persuasive than all but a handful of carefully produced video spots. There's something here other campaigns, and not just those scrimping for bucks, might pay attention to.

The Paul crowd

The Washington state Republicans could have a fun old time in Spokane this weekend at their convention - fun, that is, for Ron Paul supporters. For the party establishment, its mainstream and its backers of party presidential nominee-in-waiting John McCain, maybe not so much.

Because it turns out that about 40% of the delegates at the convention will be Ron Paul - anti-war, libertarian and distinctively different from the average McCain backer. What exactly they can do with what still would be less than half of the floor vote isn't totally clear. But if the estimates we're seeing are anywhere near right, the convention could be explosive.

Got your weekend political headlines for Washington right here.

Possible upset alert; or not

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

Matt Salisbury

Matt Salisbury

Hard to be sure what to make of this: The evidence consists of a poll conducted for a campaign, and we all know to be leery of such things. It's offered here as information to stick in the back of your mind until the election returns arrive on Tuesday, in Idaho's Republican primary. Just in case.

The race is between incumbent U.S. Representative Bill Sali, running now for a second term, and challenger Matt Salisbury, a 34-year-old salesman from Nampa with recent military service in Iraq on his resume. Not a lot of attention, locally (in media reports) or beyond has been given this contest, largely because of a broad assumption that Sali will easily win it. While Salisbury has, his limited campaign budget, run a few ads and achieved some limited visibility, Sali appears to be husbanding his resources (which from recent reports are poor for a significantly-challenged incumbent) for what is probably viewed as a serious contest in the fall against well-funded Democrat Walt Minnick. And that has seemed to be sound strategy.

Is there is a chance it isn't - that Salisbury might represent a larger threat than he's given credit for?

Enter the poll - again, as noted, a Salisbury campaign poll, so bear that in mind. But we do know it was run by a professional polling organization, Greg Smith & Associates; they didn't just make it up.

The poll was conducted May 15-19 of 300 likely Republican primary voters. Conclusion: "If the election was held today, 31% of likely GOP primary voters in Ada/Canyon Counties would vote for Bill Sali (25% “hard” support, 6% “soft”), with 28% supporting Salisbury (15% “hard” support, 13% “soft”). Forty-one percent (41%) remain undecided."

If Republican primary voters really do think that way, then Sali is in big trouble: Undecideds typically break strongly against incumbents. The poll suggests, in other words, that Salisbury will win.

An early warning of a major upset (or at least a closer call than anyone expected), or a bunch of hooey? We don't have long to wait - a little over 48 hours from post time - before we know . . .

J.R. Simplot

J.R. Simplot

J.R. Simplot

The last of the Idaho tycoons: The passing, today, of J.R. Simplot puts a period on the passing of a time in Idaho business, and commerce and society and politics too.

A couple of generations ago, there they were - Jack Simplot, Joe Albertson, Harry Morrison, several others who created a whole substantial community of highly successful big businesses in little, out of the way Boise, Idaho. Boise was a government town too, of course, even then - in the 50s, 60s, 70s - but also despite its small size a place where a string of varied big businesses held sway (Simplot in food processing, Albertson in groceries, Morrison-Knudsen in construction, Boise-Cascade in timber and so on). These businessmen were true entrepreneurs, innovators and creators. As important, these businessmen were local guys, from and resident of (and they would never consider living anywhere else) Idaho. Simplot himself came from the small town of Declo; though he would do business around the globe, Boise was always his place.

Idaho business was chiefly home-grown, and people like Simplot were its local success stories, the Horatio Alger hero you might run into on the sidewalk or down at Elmer's. Lots and lots of people did. If he was also a tycoon, in the true original sense of a merchant-prince (and never underestimate the clout he had in Idaho government and politics), he also was once very much a part of plain-spoken, home-town Idaho. His house might have been (as it was until recently when he donated it to the state) a stately place up on a hill, but he also was also very much a part of, integral to, his community. If Idaho has long been one of the most business-enthusiastic places in the country, you can attribute a part of that to those local kids made good, like Simplot and Albertson.

Simplot, 99 at his passing, was the last of them. He lived to see a different kind of business community, one mostly owned from afar, in many cases dismantling or downsizing his contemporaries' creations. His own operations, the Simplot Company (still privately owned and run by the family) and Micron Technology (of which he was a key early financer), now are the only really large-scale exceptions to that. Simplot probably would have fought fiercely, even to the end, any attempt to do with the businesses he founded or underwrote what happened to Albertson's and several of the others. And maybe, quietly, he had occasion to.

Now comes another generation. And some time from now, we may reflect on what Jack Simplot would have thought of what it does. Whatever that is, we know this: There would be nothing shy about his opinions.

Caution signs

Quite a bit to beware of in the business of not only fundraising, but even simply speaking to a group. Certain kinds of groups, at least.

Case in point here is Washington gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi's talk this week to a group once called the Christian Businessmen's Connection, currently Connecting Business and the Marketplace with Christ. (You get the idea either way.) Rossi spoke to them at a Wednesday luncheon.

Catch, according to the Tacoma News Tribune's political blog, is that the group is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, around which the law is quite restrictive when it comes to politics. The ban says they are "absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office." Even if no money was raised for a candidate.

The blog quoted Daniel Borochoff, president of American Institute of Philanthropy, as saying, "Yeah, they're not supposed to be doing that."

At the precinct level

The current battle over open vs. closed primaries in Idaho is a party structure battle - a conflict between people active in the state's Republican Party. That in-party set-to is having effect: It could change the way primary voters in the state, vote. Put another way, control of a party's structure can have real effect, in the type and personality of candidates, the way they express themselves, the structure of elections. And eventually, even on the laws we live by.

This is by way of saying that one of the key set of races on the ballot in Idaho on Tuesday will be those hardly noticed outside the party structure, the contests for precinct committee chair. (College of Idaho professor Jasper LiCalzi is one of the few in Idaho recently to reference it.)

Most often, parties struggle most just to get someone to serve in all those spots, and often fail to get them all filled. For those reasons among others, Idaho Democrats aren't facing many conflicts on the precinct level. But in some parts of Idaho, the Republicans have significant contests going on. Who fills those precinct spots, voted on precinct by precinct, will affect county parties, which in turn will affect the state party and state convention. And among Republicans, at least a couple of things are happening. There's a struggle over the primary status, between the more establishment group and those for whom closed primary advocate Rod Beck has been a spokesman. At the same time, there's an insurgency out there (probably small, but maybe larger than we think) for presidential contender Ron Paul.

In Ada County, we count 40 Republican precinct contests, meaning in more than a quarter of all the county's precincts. Beck himself is in one of those precinct contests (precinct 28). Some of these Ada contests have drawn three or four candidates in a since precinct. There are, we should note, far fewer in Canyon County, only about five contests there.

At a time when the Republican Party nationally is at something of a crossroads, the Idaho Republican Party could be on the edge of remarking itself too. One way or another.

Selective information

Jim Risch

Jim Risch

The trick in evaluating statements - from print ads and TV spots to brochures - from political campaigns isn't in searching out the lies. Candidates, at least the smarter ones, don't do a lot of that: Lies are too easily uncovered. What happens a lot more often (and you hear it daily in the political radio talk shows) is selective release of information, telling you just part of the story.

So Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco isn't right in saying, as he does of probable Republican nominee Jim Risch's new tax-focused video spot, that "It's a lie." But it isn't entirely honest, either.

In 2006 Risch served as governor and called a special legislative session to address taxes, especially rising property taxes. Against some odds, and with considerable skill, he persuaded legislators to pass a bill addressing that. His video spot says that "As governor, I delivered the largest tax cut in the state's history," on property taxes, and this year supported a grocery tax cut as well. (Check out the spot; it's neatly made.)

This is accurate, even if the largest-in-state-history part is debatable, depending on what sort of metric you use.

What he doesn't say, and what you have to know to evaluate this properly, is that the tax cut was effectively paid for with a sales tax increase - the reason Idahoans now pay six cents on the dollar instead of five.

Even that doesn't perfectly explain the situation, because after accounting for both tax changes, a cut of somewhere around $30 million probably resulted. (The chief state economist, Mike Ferguson, was quoted in the Idaho Statesman: "In general, looking at overarching policy, [tax shift] is probably closer to the truth.") Except - here's round four - that some tax deductions for property taxes probably were lost in the shift, so the actual number is probably less than that. And - round five - that the tax change hit different people very differently: Some people wind up paying more taxes, and some less, depending on their income, spending and the value of the property they own.

We have no idea how you properly incorporate all that into a 30-second spot. One more reason not to settle for what you learn from the spots spun out by a candidate, any candidate.

The unity show

democrats unity

Senate nominee Jeff Merkley (left) talks with House Majority Leader Dave Hunt/Stapilus

The Oregon Democratic unification road show did its thing this morning, pointing up the key participants in such a gathering: The primary election losers. It is their joining in, after all, that becomes the key random factor internally.

Just that was rendered finely clear on the Republican side this morning, as the Oregonian reported on the fallout from the GOP contest in the U.S. House 5th district. There, businessman Mike Erickson won the primary but may lose the war, as important components of his own party - starting with his main opponent, Kevin Mannix, and going on to Senator Gordon Smith and Representative Greg Walden among others - declined to endorse, and warmly welcome him to the fold. (They had their reasons, which should be evident to readers of earlier posts.)

The Democrats, convening first at Portland State University (where we watched) and later at Eugene, seemed to have fewer such problems. A number of primary losers (such as Greg Macpherson for attorney general and two of the contenders in the 5th district even though new nominee Kurt Schrader wasn't there) showed up.

The hottest Democratic primary contest in Oregon was for the U.S. Senate nomination, narrowly won by House Speaker Jeff Merkley over attorney Steve Novick. Some of the respective backers may stay mad for a while. But at the unity event, where part of the point was to give Merkley a cheering general election sendoff, Novick was present, circulating socially, delivered a strongly-worded and characteristically well-organized rally speech for Merkley, and shook his hand on stage. And Merkley responded in kind.

Merkley's road ahead against Republican Senator Gordon Smith won't be easy, but he will not likely have to contend with internal party problems.

The Burner resume

Darcy Burner

Darcy Burner

The issue of Darcy Burner's resume is apt to come up again before long, and this seems a reasonable time to address it. Especially after reading an article about Barack Obama's campaign in the last issue of the Atlantic Monthly.

(Don't worry, the connection's coming up.)

The article is about the campaign's mega-money machine, how it has managed so effortlessly to raise unheard of amounts of money. It pinpoints much of the credit to a group of Silicon Valley financiers who early on signed up with Obama's presidential effort. On of the most telling bits in the article was this:

Furthermore, in Silicon Valley’s unique reckoning, what everyone else considered to be Obama’s major shortcomings—his youth, his inexperience—here counted as prime assets.

I asked [John] Roos, the personification of a buttoned-down corporate attorney, if there had been concerns about Obama’s limited CV, and for a moment he looked as if he might burst out laughing. “No one in Silicon Valley sits here and thinks, ‘You need massive inside-the-Beltway experience,’” he explained, after a diplomatic pause. “Sergey and Larry were in their early 20s when they started Google. The YouTube guys were also in their 20s. So were the guys who started Facebook. And I’ll tell you, we recognize what great companies have been built on, and that’s ideas, talent, and inspirational leadership.”

Back to Burner, running in a near-analogue to the Silicon Valley, as well as in a year when being an insider or the establishment candidate is very bad medicine. And with the mediation of running a second race - as someone who has in fact accumulated a degree of relevant experience. (Yes, running a serious campaign does constitute a piece of training for an office.) And as lead mover of a national policy proposal on Iraq - which is more than almost any incumbent members of Congress have done.

Goldy at Horse's Ass visits the subject again (this race and this aspect of it are not new for him) with an additional reasonable point, that the track record of the Republican incumbent, Dave Reichert, needs at least as much review as that of the challenger.

Our point here is that increasingly, we're inclined to think the whole Burner-experience question is likely to devolve into diminishing circles of significance this year.