"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Asingle instance of some kind of reading can always be a fluke, an outlier. Get a similar reading the second time, and it starts to look a little more solid. Certainly makes you interested in whatever comes around in reading number three.

In the U.S. Senate race in Oregon, between Republican incumbent Gordon Smith and Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley, we’ve seen a couple of singular indicators that were interesting, but possibly outliers. Now, today, we have a couple of seconding confirmers.

One is in polling. Most polling this year has given Smith the lead, but on July 16 came a Rasmussen poll putting Merkley up, narrowly, 43%-41%. Interesting, but you have accept a number of caveats: It was the only poll to show such a result, the numbers were well within the margin of error, and so on.

Today, however, comes a Zogby poll putting Merkley ahead 38%-29%. There are some automatic question marks associated with it, notably the presence of Independent John Frohnmayer, recipient of 8%, who dropped out of the race several weeks ago. Against that, however, is news out today that the organization whose banner Frohnmayer represented, the Independent Party, has given Merkley its nomination. So, albeit in some limited ways, the Rasmussen poll finds some support here.

The other is in advertising. A few weeks back Smith ran out a much-touted ad pointing out how he has worked jointly, in the Senate, with Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate. There being no advertising touting his close relationship with Obama’s Republican counterpart John McCain, this was widely taken as an effort to distance himself from the national Republican Party, or maybe from Republicans and Republican positions generally. (A bunch of recent votes show Smith breaking from his caucus majority.) But maybe that was just an outlier.

Except that today comes an ad in which Smith talks about his work on helping homeowners deal with the threat of foreclosure – and about his work on that subject with 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. First Obama, now Kerry . . . can Gore be far behind?

Expect to see more interesting advertising in the next few weeks, as Smith’s campaign tries to correct what looks like a rough course.

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We’re unfamiliar with the basic source (an Idaho blogger named Byron Yankey) but it was related as a first-person account. If it needs to be rebutted, contact here and we’ll take note. But this from what Yankey described as a converation with Idaho Representative Bill Sali, if accurate, merits note:

Congressman Sali informed us that a solution to the high price of gasoline was to make petroleum from “all those trees in our forests.” Stunned by the comment, I suffered a momentary regret for not taking that high school chemistry class those many years ago. He continued by saying there ‘”could be up to 40 barrels of oil ” in a single tree.

UPDATE (reedited): From Sali spokesman Wayne Hoffman, came after the Spokane Spokesman-Review Huckleberries blog also posted the Yankey quote; Hoffman responded a little differently to it but also passed that along here: “I wasn’t in the meeting. But I have heard Bill talk about using wood sources for cellulosic ethanol. He has discussed and promoted using Idaho forest products as part of that effort.”

FOLLOWUP: The blog Unequivocal Notion points out that Sali made reference to oil/trees in the 2006 campaign. From an October 8, 2006 report in the Spokesman-Review by Betsy Russell (whose track record for accuracy is solid): “Sali said, ‘The answer clearly is that we’ve got to get the value off of the land if we’re going to have a sustainable system, and what that means, most people would say that means we’ve got to engage in logging. I don’t think it necessarily stops there.’ Sali favors tapping into forest timber for biofuel. ‘Forty percent of the mass of every tree in the forest is crude oil,’ he said. Going after that, he said, ‘could put Idaho in the oil business for the first time’.”

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Gordon Smith

Gordon Smith

The implosion of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, now facing seven felony indictments (and increasingly long odds against being sworn into the next Congress) has thrown shrapnel in al manner of directions, including those congressional candidates (mainly incumbents) Stevens supported financially. At least five Republican senators – John Sununu of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine, Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina and Pat Roberts of Kansas, and Oregon’s Gordon Smith – all facing serious election challenges this year, have quickly divested themselves of Stevens-derived money.

More interesting, though, are the contributions from senators to Stevens. Here, the site PolitickerOr.com has found something interesting: A $10,000 contribution (in two equal parts) to Stevens from the political action committee, Impact America, associated with Smith. More of interest: The donation came just three weeks after Stevens publicly acknowledged (in the Washington Post no less) that the FBI was investigating him, for just the sort of activities for which he was later indicted.

Sort of throws into question how appalled Smith is at the Stevens indictments, when his PAC delivered a big donation to him just after his legal issue went irrefutably public.

The whole Stevens issue aside, a scan through the Impact America paperwork and filings is worth a look too, throwing as it does some light on some otherwise obscure corners.

There is, for example, a long list of Impact America donation recipients; Stevens is just one among many. Most of the recent Republican members of the Senate have been recipients, and so has President George W. Bush, July 2003 for the 2004 campaign, in case anyone was looking for a formal, official expression of personal support. There’s also a $5,000 contribution to Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman. And $10,000 (in March 2007) to John McCain’s presidential campaign. There’s $105,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and $20,000 to the Oregon Republican Party. Impact contributed to Republicans across all ohilosophical lines, from former member Lincoln Chaffee to former member Rick Santorum.

Its 188 contributors make a fascinating list too. It is a very national list, dominated by D.C.-area names (with a number from New York and Los Angeles), and relatively few from Oregon (there are 30, but a lot of them are family relations, so the real number is less than you might think; there are five Pamplin family listings, for example, each contributing $5,000).

A look at the Impact America filings gives some idea of just how wired into national politics Gordon Smith is. And there’s at least one more way to look at it.

Smith’s name doesn’t appear on the main filing documents; its treasurer, and the most visible name, is Lisa Lisker. She is a partner in Huckaby Davis Lisker, a Virginia firm which specializes in accounting for political organizations, basically Republican. It has done extensive work for the national Republican Party, even contracting for large work with the party’s national conventions. Fellow partner Keith Davis has been treasurer for McCain’s presidential campaign, and for former Republican Senate candidate Katherine Harris, among many others. Lisker has been custodian of records for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s House campaign committee, and worked with a number of other PACs as well, including Purdue Pharma Inc PAC.

The ties and connections run almost astoundingly deep. Punch another link, and a whole new world opens up.

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Check out this neat little device, made available by way of Maplight.org – updated stats on campaign fundraising by candidates for Congress. (Sorry, Washington’s governor’s race would be good to add in, but isn’t included.)

Here’s a quick rundown, with the area’s two Senate contests and three major House races included. We may try for a permanent posting if we can figure out how to fit them into our space limitations . . .

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Idaho Oregon Washington

There is a SoDo (as in South of Downtown) district in Seattle – south of where the Kingdome used to be. (Part of the theory was that the acronym referred to South of the Dome, but that never really seemed right, even when the dome was there.) But by the time the name was used there, it was also used in lots of other places, including some not especially noted for their downtown areas (Orlando, Florida, say). And places much noted for them, such as the most famous of all in New York City.

A few years ago, a substantial commercial development was launched in Boise, also called SoDo (and also, properly, just south of downtown). [UPDATE: A commenter correctly notes that the Boise area is usually known as BoDo, but the other nickname has cropped up occasionally as well.)

Point being, there are SoDos all over the place. So why is the near-downtown area in Spokane, working to build a unique identity, fastening on SoDo to identify itself?

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You have to wonder if the bags will become a kind of tipping point, one way or the other: Either they tip people in the direction of reuse and recycling, or they tip a revolt.

Its just that this new plan, adopted today in Seattle, of requiring a fee (small, at 20 cents a bag, but still) for each bag obtained at a store, really is a daily-invasive kind of thing. It’s inescapably in your face, in a way most recycling-type activities aren’t. Attitudes could harden on this one.

It feels like a big thing, too, in whatever direction. Seattle is just part of the wave. San Francisco adopted it a while back, and if statements in the last few days from Portland Mayor-elect Sam Adams are any indicator, the Rose City will be on board before long. Nor is that all. Really notable was a sidebar story in the Oregonian indicating that a bunch of mayors and council members in the suburbs ringing Portland also are interested in launching these fees.

We don’t yet know how shoppers are going to react. But we should know before long.

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Oregon Washington

Here is the Dino Rossi profile story that probably a good many people have been waiting for, for some time: What has he done over the last three and a half years, since he narrowly lost the 2004 governor’s race?

Today’s Seattle Times piece has no explosive revelations. His activities with the Forward Washington Foundation (which, in an interesting update, seems now to be nearly defunct – more evidence that it really was just a shell for the campaign?) were mostly reported months ago. And his professional, real estate, activities are generally of a piece with his pre-2004 business activities, though in one or two cases on a significantly larger scale.

Mostly, the review is useful as a piece, giving some sense of what occupied Rossi’s attention in lieu of the governorship. Recommended.

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Pam Roach

Pam Roach

If you’re a Washingtonian, your top means of following the Olympics in Beijing is here: State Senator Pam Roach is about to start blogging from China.

No doubt she (and family; fellow legislator and son Dan Roach will also be there) will be simply taking in events, but she’s also there on an official mission:

“Representing Gov. Gregoire, on August 7th I will present the leaders of Sichuan Province, our sister state, with the promise of a new, privately-funded school building. Chengdu was largely spared, but the very poor rural area was hard hit. Hundreds of schools will be rebuilt.”

If you’ve followed the senator’s many adventures in and around Olympia, you’ll know: Must-read for the days ahead.

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In most places around this country, the political facts as they now line up in Idaho’s 1st district would mean highly probable catastrophe for Republican incumbent Bill Sali. Here we have a Republican incumbent massively behind in the campaign finance race, rarely a positive sign. (By one analysis, only three House races in the country put an incumbent at a greater financial disadvantage.) The Democratic nominee, Walt Minnick, has been running an energetic and (from all we’ve seen) a capable and visible campaign, on top of that ace fundraising. Sali recently has delivered himself of sundry quotes and votes (timber funds and Madicare among others) that offer great material for the opposition. And this is, again, about as strong a year for Democrats as this nation has seen in a generation.

As matters sit, though, we still think Sali has the odds. The reasons have to do not with the candidates or the campaigns, but with the voters.

You can get some of this from a post by Dennis Mansfield, himself (in 2000) a former candidate for the Republican nomination in the 1st district. Writing in part about the announcement of a planned $350,000 ad buy in support of Minnick by national Democrats, Mansfield had some thoughts:

. . . many, many Idahoans love that certain “Helen Chenoweth/Bill Sali” quality in their Congressman. These folks are fighters and Idahoans who vote, completely enjoy that. No offense to Larry Grant but he didn’t capture that spirit, even though he was a gentleman and refused the DC “stuff”. He lost because he was Larry Grant…and because he had failed to bottle that “Chenoweth/Sali” scent…ultimately ’cause he didn’t have it to bottle.

Now, Walt Minnick is running. Those who read this blog know that I respect the daylights out of Walt. He’s no lefty-liberal “wacko” (as Limbaugh so disrespectfully puts it)…he’s a good man, potentially swimming in some turbulent political white-water.

The problem is that the DCC (and the RCC, too) swoop into Iowa, er Ohio, ugh I mean Idaho (yeah that’s it) and simply cause unbelievable (and unneeded) tension, disrespect and dishonor. They don’t know how our rivers flow…

We’d agree with the Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert that “the Democrats’ money does come with the risk of a backlash.” But let’s drill down a bit.

In thinking about this, rewind to last cycle, when Bill Sali was virtually underwritten, and in very big way (and very visibly), by the Club for Growth, a D.C.-based conservative group whose money went a long way toward seeing Sali through a tough primary and a tough general election – and which, though its out of state activities were widely reported, seemed to do him no harm. (The Club seems to be a lot less active in Sali’s race this time around.) The Club doesn’t sue kid gloves in its efforts, certainly no less than the national Democrats do; and they’re unlikely to be any more familiar with “how our rivers flow.”

So Mansfield’s conclusion that “Bill Sali will not lose this race, because Idahoans will not let the national guys win,” seems a little lacking, if only for this: Whoever wins in Sali-Minnick, some of the national guys have won, and some other national guys have lost. Realistically, the race doesn’t pit some national interest against some local interest; both Sali and Minnick are supporters of separate and different national interests.

You can square the circle, though, if (and only if) you adopt this premise: The national powers that be are all Democrats; the Republicans are not, haven’t been and won’t be in power. That requires you to bypass among other things a Congress controlled by Republicans from 1995 until last year, a White House controlled by Republicans since 2001 and a judiciary which has been moving much more in the conservative direction over the last decade. But ask Idahoans who are the powers that be and who are rebelling against them . . . well, Mansfield’s “Idahoans will not let the national guys win” works for Republicans because President George Bush and the till-last-year congressional leadership weren’t “national guys.” Somehow. But we’d suggest that just this is part of the mindset of a whole lot of the people who form Idaho’s electoral majority.

And if your preference is that “Chenoweth/Sali quality” – and there’s no denying it has sold consistently in the 1st – then part of your thinking has to be that your representative is there simply to raise hell, not to rack up accomplishments, because the very idea of practical accomplishment by a member of Congress is a ridiculous notion on its face. (Wander around the Northwest and you’ll see very different notions, in the various districts, about what members of Congress are supposed to do back there.) Which play into the whole matter of who has the real power, and who doesn’t.

Read Mansfield’s take on this closely, and you’ll get into part of the reason Sali is stronger than many conventional campaign metrics would have him be.

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The Building Industry Association of Washington has no obvious counterpart as a political action organization in Oregon or Idaho. There are, of course, plenty of politically active organizations in those states on left and right, and plenty of others in Washington too, but the organization’s size, willingness to throw in serious money and act directly – not through regulated political action committees – make it unique. No other single organization in the region plays such a large, direct role in major races as the BIAW does. Two years ago, the state Supreme Court races stood out; this year, the governor’s race.

Its politics are rough and tumble (you can get some feel for that from the web site), and increasingly the opposition is biting back. A group including two former state Supreme Court justices (Faith Ireland and Robert Utter) are demanding regulatory crackdown, or in lieu of that a lawsuit.

From a summary: “Washington’s public disclosure law stipulates that any organization soliciting money for the purpose of achieving of influencing electoral goals must register as a political committee with the Public Disclosure Commission, and records such as contributions and expenditures must be made available to the public. The Building Industry Association of Washington and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish County (MBA) are not registered as political committees, nor have they disclosed the sources of their campaign money. The plaintiffs have obtained evidence (including meeting minutes and internal emails) that the BIAW and its affiliates misappropriated trust funds to build a campaign war chest totaling at least $3.5 million, intended to sway this year’s gubernatorial race.”

They could of course set up a separate political committee, as lots of other organizations do, to create a kind of wall between the core purpose of the BIAW (advocating for and assisting the building industry in the state) and its political activities; right now, there seems to be no such wall, no such division.

The BIAW’s Tom McCabe described the new action as “just one more attack … to try to shut us up.” He might not think so, but from here it looks like an attack that might do just that.

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Joel Haugen

Joel Haugen

The campaign web site for Joel Haugen, the Republican nominee running for the 1st U.S. House district in Oregon, has a FAQ which leads with this question: “I’m confused. You’ve endorsed Obama, you’re anti-Iraq War, you’re an environmentalist… and you’re a Republican?”

With a question like that, do you necessarily need the answer? It tells you quite a bit right up front, such as that Haugen is probably not super-close to most of the area’s Republican organization.

Sal Peralta, the 2006 Democratic candidate for the state House in Yamhill County, and now an Independent Party member, recently interviewed him and described him as “a poster-child for progressive Republicanism.” Haugen himself likes to harken back to former Governor Tom McCall.

Haugen did win the Republican nomination (to oppose incumbent Democrat David Wu), and did it by defeating a social conservative much more in tune with the party activists, Claude William-Chappell. But area party leaders say, simply, that Haugen isn’t really a Republican, and they’d much prefer he just . . . go away. The party isn’t giving him any help.

Today, the McMinnville News Register reports that Haugen is talking to Independent Party leaders about possibly switching over to their group.

Which could mean that the Independent Party has a candidate in the 1st District race, but the Republicans do not. At least, the Republican Party as it is today.

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When 11 years ago Oregon voters approved what called “death with dignity” – aka “assisted suicide” – an unanswerable concern was in the air: Do we really know what the effects might be? In fact, no one could be entirely sure. That ma y be true of most new laws, of course, but the consequences in this case were a little higher than most.

All these years later, we do pretty much know what the effects are, and they have been of smaller scale that most people who voted up or down probably anticipated. The law “allows terminally-ill Oregonians to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose,” and the state has collected detailed information on what has happened as a result. In those 11 years, 341 people have died using physician-assisted medications, about 30 a year. (The number of prescriptions is somewhat higher, showing that not everyone who asked for the assistance made use of it.)

Voters in Washington, now that Initiative 1000 – that state’s physician-assisted suicide measure – has qualified for ballot status in November, have an advantage over those Oregon voters. They don’t have to guess what the effects are likely to be. Unless something about the terminally ill in Washington is somehow a lot different from those in Oregon, the effects are likely to be similar. Smaller in scale, in other words, than a lot of people who work themselves up on this issue are likely to think.

Not unimportant, of course – this is a matter of life and death. But no massive sweep of deaths around the state, either.

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