Writings and observations

Obama office

Obama office

Clinton office

Clinton office

The comedian Lewis Black has a great bit about how he discovered the end of the universe, and it came to mind today.

He said that the end of the universe has a specific location on this planet – in Houston, Texas, on a street corner in its downtown. There, one day, he paused on a walk and noticed that he was standing in front of a Starbucks. Then he looked up and saw that directly across the street, on the same block, directly facing the Starbucks, there was another Starbucks! [Pause to catch breath.] And that, he told the audience, is the end of the universe.

Prowling around the political websites today, we saw the startling news that the Barack Obama campaign was opening a campaign office in McMinnville, Oregon, one of 19 (at last count) offices around the state. This was actual news; presidential campaign offices often have appeared in Portland, but not in the smaller communities. McMinnville is a city of 30,000 people, and only 45 minutes from either Portland or Salem. So far as a number of long-time residents we’ve talked to know, McMinnville has never had a presidential campaign office. This assertion had to be verified.

A stroll downtown, on the city’s attractive Third Street, confirmed it. Hand-crafted Obama signage was out on the sidewalk and on the doorway, and on the stairway that led upstairs to an office suite where a clutch of Obama backers (most or all volunteers) were at work, and other volunteers came and went. The square footage there was generous, and the space was donated. It was not especially fancy, but it was quite functional, and more important, busy.

The Obama list of Oregon offices includes some unlikely places – St. Helens, Tillamook (a third the size of McMinnville), Pendleton, North Bend, Oregon City. (And, two in Portland, and Beaverton, Hood River, Corvallis, Salem, Roseburg, Forest Grove, Eugene, Medford, Astoria, Bend, Gresham.)

The Hillary Clinton Oregon office list is a roster that would be mind-boggling impressive under any other comparison: Portland, Asotoria, Beaverton, Corvallis, Bend, Gresham, Medford, Salem, Springfield. No McMinnville.

But on exiting the Obama office and glancing to the left, a familiar-looking sign appeared off the sidewalk. And there it was: Just down Third Street, barely 100 yards, just a block away, on the same side of the street – a Hillary Clinton headquarters, just being opened this very afternoon, boxes being unpacked and signs being posted.

We’ll not call this the end of the universe. But something significant is going on.

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Oregon

One of the places where political contests traditionally have been influenced by individual judgments, community by community, has been the relatively low-key judicial race. If a contest – whether local or for a state supreme court – becomes a cause celebre, it tends to run on normal political tracks. But the low-key ones: How can most people realistically tell whether a judge is doing a good job or not, or whether a challenger might be better?

The traditional rule there is, a lot of people seek out or pay attention to what an attorney they know thinks about it.

That principle may just have gotten a big expansion. The Idaho State Bar has taken an unusual step into a judicial race, which judge may or may not like but which has some real public benefit: They polled attorneys to find out what they think about two contenders for the Idaho Supreme Court this year incumbent Joel Horton and challenger (and 2nd District Judge) John Bradbury.

That race has been quiet, though there are elements of interest: Bradbury, for example, would like to see a prohibition on judges who are appointed to the office – which is most of them – from running for a full term from the position of incumbency. (Bradbury’s web site includes a fine YouTube clip in which he simply explains his reasons for running.) But few voters probably know enough about either candidate to have a basis for judging.

The Bar survey, which is available on line, doesn’t come with analysis: The Bar (wisely) withheld an assessment. It did note that 4,130 surveys were sent and 437 came back from attorneys.

And what did they conclude? The difference between the two was not drastic, but Horton’s numbers were generally better, almost across all categories and regions of the state.

As the incumbent, he probably has an edge anyway. But the survey may give Idaho voters at least some basis for making a decision – some basis that has something to do with the work a judge does.

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Idaho

We’re among those thinking the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination is strategically over – all that’s needed is for the next steps, over the next few weeks, to play out. (Actually, we’ve thought that for a couple of months; only the precise percentages in specific contests, not the overall structure and dynamic of the race, has been in doubt since early March.)

So what does May 20, Oregon primary election day, mean in that context?

Spokesmen for the Barack Obama campaign have said they see it as a big milestone. And it may be, to a point. The Democratic procedure for apportioning delegates, giving both major candidate similar numbers of delegates out of each state whether they win or lose (Pennsylvania did not massively wipe Obama in the delegate count, nor did North Carolina cost Hillary Clinton much margin). Rather, once one candidate early on was able to establish a majority of delegate votes, that majority would become almost impregnable thereafter if both candidates had comparable strength. And since early March, that scenario – no matter all the hoorah in the headlines – has been playing out smoothly. In the next few weeks it will play out again. At this point, Obama has collected enough pledged (elected) delegates that he needs just 38 more to have collected more than half of all pledged delegates – a major marker other delegates are watching closely.

After next Tuesday’s election in West Virginia (which Obama likely will lose decisively) he probably will gain another 10 or so delegates. Week after that comes Kentucky (which Clinton will probably win) and Oregon (probable for Obama), which between them should yield to Obama another 45 or so delegates. Which crosses the line.

This whole thing is psychological, though; Obama will need to continue trudging on after that. And getting the majority of pledged delegates will not translate to the nomination: He will need additional superdelegate votes for that.

But after May 20, those superdelegates may become easier to get. And that may be a mark the Obama forces will want to celebrate.

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Oregon

Today’s recommendation toward more informed voting and citizen participation: Turn off your cable TV news – C-SPAN and some special events like debates excepted. Really. Put a block on those channels. You too can recover from past exposure to this trash masquerading as news: Your take on the world as it actually is will rapidly recover from the endless distortion those operators purvey.

The reasons for that rant are enough to fill several books (and several have been written). Today it is brought to you by one particularly trashy, idiotic and hateful stunt pulled by one of the worst offenders, Bill O’Reilly, one that has a distinct Northwest connection.

It starts [and see this post too from Firedoglake] with two men, business consultants, from the European Union who flew to Seattle to transact business. They’ve been described as appearing as if they might have some Middle Eastern background (to our eyes, based on the photos, they could’ve come from a whole bunch of countries round the globe, including this one). After their business wrapped in Seattle, they decided to have a look around, and hopped a ferry ride.

Their appearance was enough to draw the attention of another passenger, who in turn notified Washington State Ferries officials. Someone followed the two men around, snapped pictures of them (this should start to get a little spooky right about here), and someone apparently concluded they “showed an inordinate interest in the operation of the shipboard systems.” (Tip to ferry passengers: Avert your eyes from the machinery, not that this will be easy since it happens to be all around you.)

The men flew back to Europe, unaware they even been watched. But in the meantime, pictures of the two were printed, and an international manhunt was on. Bear in mind, as Joel Connelly writes in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer today, that “No crime was committed. No illegal act by the two men was ever alleged or attributed. No effort to sabotage Washington’s marine highway was ever found.”

In that context, some news organizations were handed the photos and asked the publicize them because, well, these seemed like suspicious people, not that we have any idea what those suspicions are. Among those rejecting the request was the Post-Intelligencer. For all the paper knew, the two men – accused of nothing at all – might be in the area and might turn up after the wrong person saw the pictures, and decided to exact her or her own sense of justice. (We do know the Seattle Times and Fox News, likely among others, did run them.)

Such was the situation (minus the actual identity of the two men) put before O’Reilly, who handed it with just the kind of judgment and insight we’ve come to expect from cable TV news. He sent a producer to Seattle to ambush the P-I‘s publisher and ask, “Are you proud of that decision, sir? I mean, they still haven’t found those guys.” They were, he warned America, “still on the loose.”

O’Reilly’s concluding question: “Why is the far left putting the military and all Americans in danger?”

Word of the uproar crossed the pond and got back to the two men, who walked into an American embassy and – concerned they might be arrested (for no reason) the next time they flew to the United States – explained the details of their trip. The FBI concluded there wasn’t, and hadn’t been, a problem.

Connelly was in full lather in today’s column: “It may be Fox News’ goal to whip up hysteria: It’s good for ratings. Our town, by contrast, is a ‘Hate Free Zone.’ Fox News also has a record of broadcasting stuff that turns out to be untrue, such as the claim that Sen. Barack Obama attended a madrass (Muslim religious) school as a boy in Indonesia. CNN actually visited the school, checked out the rumor, and verified that it was false. Does Fox ever apologize for this stuff?”

It was a rhetorical question. Hence the rant at the top of this post. Once again: The best way to deal with this nonsense is to turn it off.

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Washington

The announcement by Areva corporation that it wants to build a uranium-enrichment plant, estimated to cost $2 billion, west of Idaho Falls, could be a good thing for eastern Idaho. The mere possibility that it might not seems not to have been discussed, pretty much at all. Idaho’s elected officials seem in a permanent come-hither mode as regards businesses moving in; often the news really does signify something good, but the blanket assumption can cover a range of problem areas.

Enthusiasm over the possible plant construction has been ongoing for months, even before the Idaho Legislature passed and dangled a major tax break – let’s be plain, that means a shift in taxes to other, already-present Idahoans – to lure it. The announcement press release went out under the cover of the governor and the region’s congressional delegation – all wanted to get a say in. “Phenomenal news,” “a natural fit,” and so on.

This may be a good thing. Some hundreds of jobs will be created, and they are likely to pay well, no small consideration.

But the public hasn’t seen a whole lot more than that; a lot of obvious questions haven’t been much asked. (Here’s one from the underground.) Areva will be engaging in uranium enrichment; what exactly will be entailed? Might more tasks be added, or changed? What are the implications of Areva’s ownership – which is, in an area not culturally thrilled with France in recent years, the French government? What are the environmental considerations; where will the waste go?

(A shorthand description from Wikipedia: “a French public multinational industrial conglomerate that deals in energy, especially nuclear power. It was created on 3 September, 2001, by the merger of Framatome and Cogema (now AREVA NC). Its main shareholder is the French owned company CEA, but the German company Siemens also retains 34% of the shares of AREVA’s subsidiary, AREVA NP, in charge of building the European Pressurized Reactor. The parent company is incorporated under French law as a société anonyme (SA – public corporation). The French State owns more than 90%.”) It does have close ties to the Bush Administration, which we know because its U.S. subsidiary is now led by former Bush Administrator Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham. What implications all that may have, we don’t know.

Guess we’ll find out.

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Idaho

Calling $2.26/gallon gasoline “cheap”, as the Walt Minnick campaign does, seems a little odd to those of us accustomed to filling our tanks for a lot less. But then, these things are relative.

Which means he’ll probably get plenty of takers. From a Minnick press release:

Tomorrow Bill Sali will sit down to a $1,000-per-plate fundraiser for his campaign, a fundraiser hosted by oil lobbyists.
While Bill is busy raking in money from the very people getting filthy rich off high prices, Idahoans are spending their hard-earned paychecks on high prices at the pump!
“Idahoans are being pummeled at the pump while their congressman ishobnobbing with the very people who are getting filthy rich from high gas prices,” Walt said in a press release today. “Sali should be taking a tough stance with the oil lobbyists, not looking to them for a handout.”
It’s an egregious example of what’s wrong in Washington. That’s why, while Sali is lunching and lounging in D.C. with “big oil,” Walt will be pumping gas in Boise.
Regular gasoline at the Cole Village Chevron is currently $3.59 per gallon. From 10 to 11 a.m. on Tuesday, the station will sell regular for $2.26 a gallon, the price it was when Sali first took office. The Minnick for Congress campaign will pay the difference.

One of the things you can do if you have, as Minnick does, an ample campaign treasury.

Sali is not one of the top recipients of oil and gas money, but he has received substantial funds from that sector. In addition to individuals in the field, he’s gotten money in the 2008 cycle from the American Gas Association ($1,000), Chevron Corp. ($2,000), Exxon Mobil ($2,000), Halliburton Co. ($1,000), Independent Petroleum Assn of America ($2,500), Koch Industries ($2,500), Marathon Oil ($1,000), Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association ($1,000), Occidental Petroleum ($2,000), Valero Energy ($2,000), Williams Companies ($1,000). In fact, opensecrets.org lists oil and gas as Sali’s top business sector for contributions.

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Idaho

The brief Seattle Times editorial on executive compensation at Fisher Communications pretty much says it all, but we can’t help pointing it out here.

Call it a small, but encouraging, indicator. If others do in fact take enough notice.

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Washington

The editorial page at the Lewiston Tribune has been – has been literally for decades – one of the region’s newspaper treasures: Uncommonly sharply and brightly written editorials, two of them a day, and a solid roster of columns. They’ve been a mainstay of ours since the early 70s.

The paper’s editorial output (it’s behind a pay wall, which is why we’re not linked to it) will still be a mainstay, but it will be diminished. The page’s editor, Jim Fisher, ran today what he described as his last column. The page’s staff, which has been two people these many decades (not many papers the Trib’s size have had as many), has been cut in half – Fisher’s workload is abruptly increased, though his column is going away, as are half of more of those superbly-written editorials. Editorial writer Tom Henderson (previously of western Oregon), is departing. It’s the widespread story: Industry cutbacks, bad finances. And this wasn’t some greedy out of state corporation doing it, either: The Trib is locally owned, family owned, and the man in charge (A.L. “Butch” Alford) is the same man who’s been proudly running it for a very long time. You can only imagine how he feels about this, or what conditions must be that it had to happen.

What’s happening to newspapers has a real cost. Here’s one of them.

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Idaho

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:

*incumbents

SENATE

9 – D – Bob McDonald, Steven Frank
9 – R – Sarah Arcune, Herman Joseph Baurer, Fred Girod*
23 – D – Jackie Dingfelder, Sean Cruz [D open seat, Gordly]
27 – R – Chris Telfer, John Robbins [D open seat, Westlund]

HOUSE

2 – R – Jim Fox, Tim Freeman [R open seat, Morgan]
4 – R – Dennis Richardson*, Ronald Schutz
7 – D – Nick McKibbin, Donald Nordin
17 – R – Bruce Cuff, Cliff Wooten, Marc Lucca, Sherrie Sprenger*
23 – D – Jason Brown, Wesley West [R open seat, Boquist]
23 – R – Jim Thompson, Craig Pope [R open seat, Boquist]
24 – R – Jim Weidner, Ed Glad, Jim Bunn [R open seat, Nelson]
38 – D – Linda Brown, Chris Garrett [D open seat, Macpherson]
42 – D – Jules Kopel-Bailey, Teddy Keizer, Gordon Hillesland, Regan Felice Gray [D open seat, Rosenbaum]
45 – D – Michael Dembrow, Cyreena Boston, John Coney [D open seat, Dingfelder]
49 – D – Nick Kahl, Barbara Kyle [R open seat, Minnis]
52 – D – Suzanne Van Orman, Steve Richkind
52 – R – Matt Lindland, Phyllis Thiemann [R open seat, Smith]
58 – D – Ben Talley, Barbara Ann Wright
60 – R -Tim K. Smith, Cliff Bentz*

Of these, let’s look at seven that seem most likely to generate some kind of interest or another.

bullet 17 – R – Bruce Cuff [a real estate site, but listed on Orestar], Cliff Wooten, Marc Lucca, Sherrie Sprenger

Are you conservative enough? And what does that mean, anyway? Sherrie Sprenger, a small telecom business operator and former sheriff’s deputy who was appointed to the House seat earlier this year, offered this as a definition http://www.statesmanjournal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080430/STATE/804300487/1042 : “One gentleman piped up and said we want to live here in freedom and dignity. That stuck with me, and I am beginning to use that as a filter for how I look at issues and how they affect people in this district. It’s not a platform for issues, but it’s a foundation for what is important.” How that differs from most candidates – either Republicans or Democrats – isn’t very clear. And that (and not in particular her record in this year’s session, which seems to have generated marginal controversy) seems to be what has motivated her three primary opponents into the race. Cuff is a real estate broker who once lobbied the legislature for the Oregon Association of Evangelicals. Lucca has been a Polk County Republican chair and a former staffer for several Republican legislators. (His web site touts, “Principled. Conservative. Experienced.” Note the order.) Wooten is a Linn County commissioner (and of the group most emphasizes his resume as a voting rationale).

bullet 24 – R – Jim Weidner, Ed Glad, Jim Bunn

Three very distinctive candidates http://www.newsregister.com/news/story.cfm?story_no=234450
running here, and there’s a fair chance any of them could win: Bunn – a former U.S. representative – is best known, but he entered at the last minute and the other two seem to have been outworking him. Bunn, who also served terms in the state legislature, was elected to Congress at a financial disadvantage but in the Republican sweep year of 1994, and (after something of a scandal involving a divorce and subsequent marriage to his chief of staff) lost the seat two years later, and for most of the last decade has been working at the Yamhill County Jail. (Okay, to be clear: As an employee of the sheriff’s department, not as an inmate.) He’s most-known (he has a fair number of campaign signs around the county) but is his background more hurt than help? Weidner has been picking up strong alliances on the social conservative side; Ed Glad (though not far from the others philosophically, and pro-life and anti-gay marriage) has political organizing and work background, but through the carpenters union of which he’s a member and has been a lobbyist; he will attract those who might be called the pragmatics. Glad has the endorsement of the main local paper, the McMinnville News-Register. http://www.newsregister.com/news/story.cfm?story_no=234475 Our guess is that in a low-turnout Republican primary, Weidner will pull ahead. But this is not an entirely predictable race.

bullet 49 – D – Nick Kahl, Barbara Kyle

This one could be of significance, because this East Multnomah seat is going to be hotly contested. Part of that is psychological: This is the seat Republican former House Speaker Karen Minnis is retiring from, and Republicans seeking to keep down Democratic numbers in the House have got to retain it. They have an apparently solid candidate in John Nelsen, but the district has been shifting Democratic. Kahl has much stronger labor backing; Kyle (who has been on the Troutdale city council) was recruited by Democratic organizers. Kahl is said to have run much the more energetic race, and got editorial endorsements from the Oregonian and Willamette Week. We’ll figure him to take the primary. Would he be the stronger in this district? He’d run the stronger campaign, probably; how the district would react to it, as as opposed to Nelsen, is a tougher read.

bullet 23 Sen – D – Jackie Dingfelder, Sean Cruz

As in many of these primary districts, issues here aren’t distinctly philosophical: The 23rd is a solidly liberal Democratic district, and both contenders fit well within that framework. But they are insiders of two distinctly different stripes. Dingfelder, a four-term state representative from this area, would have to be considered the establishment choice, getting the larger share of key endorsements and contributions (and editorial endorsements, including the Oregonian and Willamette Week). But Cruz is not an outsider, either; he is retiring Senator Avel Gordly‘s chief of staff, is well informed, has her support and the support of her backers. His campaign has hit rough patches but may also be more interesting to some of the primary voters. Cruz is edgier; Dingfelder more easy-going. You have to figure the edge is with Dingfelder, but bear in mind that central Portland doesn’t always go the conventional route.

bullet 60 – R –Tim K. Smith, Cliff Bentz

The roots of this Republican primary go to veteran Representative Tom Butler‘s resignation early this year, and the race for appointment to the position. Bentz of Ontario (an attorney highly active in civic matters in Malheur County for some years) got the appointment, and Smith , a geologist at Hines, was one of the other contenders. Both have strong interest in resource issues, especially water rights (the subject of some back and forth). But we’ll be interested to see the geographic break out of the votes: Butler, who also was from Ontario, held down this seat for a decade. Will other parts of the district demand theirs?

bullet 9 – R – Sarah Arcune, Herman Joseph Baurer, Fred Girod

All right, the question is: What kind of vote will Girod, just appointed to this senate seat, draw? Last cycle, he was a late appointee to the Republican tcket, but still won with a convincing 59%. Against two opponents (who aren’t even represented in the voter guide), you’d expect him to win; the margin will be watchable.

bullet 9 – D – Bob McDonald, Steven Frank

Either of these guys will have a hard time winning in the fall; this is a tough district. Makes this list because they come off so differently: Frank, a Stayton Cty Council member (and ironically the elected official of the two) coming off like a grassroots insurgent, and McDonald as “your family doctor in the Senate,” a physician whose big issue is health care, but also deeply involved for years in community activities – but also a late entrant to the race. Two distinctly different directions (and both credible candidates) which should say a good deal about what Democrats in the 9th are thinking.

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Oregon

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 . . .

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Washington