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Posts published in May 2008

OR: The legislative primaries; seven picks

The primary season in Oregon this year has its real points of interest toward the top of the ballot - Democratic presidential, Democratic Senate, both parties in the 5th U.S. House district. But less so down ballot.

There are some notable city and county races; the Portland mayor's office could be decided in this primary (there's a growing sense that businessman Sho Donozo's one-time balloon has burst and Councilor Sam Adams, rising steadily, with good media and heavily endorsed, just might clear the 50% mark in the primary despite the multiplicity of candidates). On the legislative front . . . not so much.

The differences between a lot of these legislative candidates are subtle and stylistic more than on policy. (You probably could say that about Adams and Donozo, too, if Donozo's views were expressed more clearly.)

There aren't even all that many legislative primaries: 19 in total, for 75 legislative seats on the ballot with potential for 150 ballot slots. And some of those look, simply, minor, contests in which one candidate clearly will roll over the other. (See for example, in District 4, veteran incumbent Republican Representative Dennis Richardson against Ronald Schutz, a retiree whose political background seems to consist one failed run for the Grants Pass City Council.)

Let's take a quick look at the contested legislative primaries in Oregon this year, the 10 Democratic and nine Republican (two each in the Senate, the rest in the House: (more…)

The district, or the candidate

Geoff Simpson

Geoff Simpson

Alot of political calculation probably is going on about now in and around the 47th House district, on the subject of Representative Geoff Simpson, D-Covington. He's got some trouble, the kind that might not be politically survivable.

Only but so many details are publicly available; we do know the case involves an evidently bitter divorce, a meeting between the legislator and his ex-wife, a call to local law enforcement, and Simpson charged in King County District Court with fourth-degree assault and interfering with a domestic violence report. (A police report has bee posted via Sound Politics; sounds like the case in question, but the names have been blacked out.) Simpson has predicted exoneration. Meantime, we learn today, House Speaker Frank Chopp has removed Simpson from his committee chair.

The political issue here involves Simpson's house seat. So, just a bit of background.

District 47

The district is in rural southeast King County, east of the Renton area; the main communities are Black Diamond and Covington, where Simpson has been a visible figure (in city government, too) for some years. Traditionally, this was part of the Republican King County east side, and Republicans did represent it for a long time. In 1996, for example, Republican Suzette Cooke took seat 1 with 62.4% of the vote; two years later another Republican, Phil Fortunato, took it with 52.6%. He lost the seat to Simpson two years later in 2000, in a 50.1%-49.5% squeaker.

In this decade, here is how the Republican percentages for that seat have gone: 49.5% in 2000, then 48.5% (Fortunato losing a second time to Simpson) in 2002, then 46.2% in 2004, and 40.3% in 2006. The trend line is matched on the other side. It's roughly matched by the other House seat and the Senate seat in 47 as well; in 1998 the district was all-Republican, and today it's all-Democratic.

Other conditions being more or less equal, you'd expect this House seat would remain Democratic this year. Depending on what emerges next in the Simpson legal case, though, Simpson may or may not be able to maintain that party advantage - this could be the kind of candidate-specific problem that could overcome partisan advantage.

Catch is, there's not long to decide. Filing time in Washington is just a month away. Simpson has, in other words, some political reason to try to resolve the case in his favor (if he can) by then. Otherwise . . .

Paid here, paid there

Mark Emmert

Mark Emmert

The theory behind paying those high executive salaries and compensation packages, like the $905,000 for University of Washington President Mark Emmert, usually carries the explanation that top talent needs top pay. Needs it, the theory goes, both as incentive to do a good job (though if they were so good, would such incentive be needed?) and as a loyalty encourager and enforcer: You wouldn't put any other obligation before the one that pays you so well, right?

Which raises a question of what degree of loyalty two of Emmert's newest employers - they are paying him for services rendered - might expect. They're both board positions, but Emmert will be compensated substantially for them: By Weyerhauser $70,000 a year and $70,000 in stock, and by Expeditors International $200,000 a year in stock.

Where exactly does that put him in any dealings those corporations might have with UW?

The story has broken all over the Seattle media; we were taken by this tag on a Post-Intelligencer blog post: "It isn't untypical for highly paid university leaders to sit on boards. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported earlier this year that the only two public university presidents earning more money than Emmert in the 2006-2007 school year both sat on corporate boards."

A closing thought: What if we offered to pay university presidents, say, $50,000 a year and reasonable expenses? Might weed out a lot of the money obsession; and our guess is that the level of executive talent wouldn't change much.

OR: Novick-Merkley’s endorsement race

They've both got their backers. But in the newspaper endorsement race - for the Democratic nomination for the Senate - attorney Steve Novick is leading House Speaker Jeff Merkley. (Merkley did finally get today a positive story in the Oregonian, but that's one of the few media breaks he's gotten in months.)

How the endorsements, so far at least, break down:

Novick: The Portland Oregonian (this is by far the big one), the Medford Mail-Tribune, the Pendleton East Oregonian, the Ashland Daily Tidings, Willamette Week (weekly), the McMinnville News Register, the Portland Mercury (weekly), the Portland Tribune.

Merkley: The Eugene Register-Guard, Salem Statesman-Journal, Bend Bulletin.

Advantage: Novick. His advocates seize on his unconventional style, political and policy smarts and passion; Merkley's point to a strong record in the Oregon House. Actually, most of the editorials make both sets of points about these candidates, the difference coming in where you put the emphasis. But this has to be said: More often than not, newspapers will go with the more conventional, establishment choice, and the one with the longer resume of public offices. This time, even while offering few criticisms of Merkley, they didn't. The newspaper editorial boards (at the primary stage at least) should have been a Merkley audience.

ALSO Seems in our review that Illinois Senator Barack Obama has swept the newspaper endorsements in Oregon so far. Or has Hillary Clinton picked up one we missed? (Among the majors and others, we know the Oregonian, the Register-Guard, the Willamette Week have endorsed Obama; the Salem Statesman-Journal plans a presidential endorsement on Sunday.)

UPDATED Edited to add two recent Novick endorsements. And to note here that we're considering only endorsements by general-interest news publications aimed at a broad community, not a specific interest (and some of those have endorsed in the Senate race too).