We love lists, and this one was irresistable: The 50 most influential political people in Oregon, leaving aside the actual officeholders and candidates.

Topping out: The governor’s chief of staff and the staff chief for the senior senator – sensible enough. Of the former, Chip Terhune: “If you want the attention of the governor, Terhune is the only in.” Of the latter, Josh Kardon: “When it comes to Oregon political strategy, no one does it better. That might explain why U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign tapped Kardon to head up her Oregon team – even though he didn’t have much to work with.”

Elsewhere, labor accounts for a bunch of top names, and top staff people, along with pollsters and campaign operatives, account for another large group. Oregon’s richest man, Phil Knight, checks in at #19. It’s a good read.

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Nah, not expecting that they will. But be it noted that the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (which for some time has, of course, had a web site) has launched a blog.

No, nothing too exciting yet; the main post up so far reviews the reasons why self-serve liquor isn’t legal in Oregon. And the writer ends his post, “respectfully.” But we’ll check back in from time to time.

Notable quote: “Alcohol is a drug that impairs judgment. People who are consuming alcohol can’t be expected to monitor their own service and behavior.” But don’t we expect just that, what with DUI laws and such? Ah well.

Hat tip to the Portland Mercury Blogtown.

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There are three U.S. House races in the Northwest this year which bear serious watching, one in each of the three states. And now the national Democratic House organization – the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – is dumping $2.6 million into those three seats.

There will be (and to a small extent have been) contributions from the Republican counterpart, the National Republican Congressional Committee; but the NRCC has been badly outraised (the Ds had $55 million at end of June, and the Rs $8.5 million), and has to spread its money more thinly because so many Republican incumbent nationally are threatened this year.

Of the three key Northwest seats, one is open, the Oregon 5th, now held by Democrat Darlene Hooley. A few months back Republicans were looking at this district, where the party balance is close, as a realistic pickup; now, with a damaged nominee in Mike Erickson, the odds are favoring Democrat Kurt Schrader, a state senator who already has a solid base in the district. Erickson is, however, well ahead in money – his receipts are at $1.9 million – because he can and does self-fund his campaign ($1.6 million of those receipts are from himself). Schrader has raised a little over a half million, a respectable but far smaller amount, raising some worry about being swamped by Erickson’s money, which he showed in his 2006 race for this seat he’s willing to spend freely.

Enter the DCCC, which said July 11 it is tossing in (at least at present) $1.2 million for media buys, presumably mostly TV. That, with Schrader’s own money, would level the field. (The buy hasn’t actually happened yet and could be amended, though probably it would adjust downward mostly if Schrader wound up raising a lot more money quickly, so he needed less.)

The dynamic is a little different in the other two races: There, the national Democrats (they announced today) are feeding Democratic challengers who actually have been outraising Republican incumbents (which isn’t something you saw a lot of before this year, and still don’t see in many places).

In the Washington 8th District, the DCCC is marking $949,000 for Democrat Darcy Burner, running her second race against Republican incumbent Dave Reichert, and this time outraising him already. This donation gives her a clear, marked financial advantage in the race.

And in the Idaho 1st, where Republican Bill Sali‘s financial situation has been surprisingly bad (weak fundraising, slow debt payoff, still-high debt from the last campaign, difficulty getting proper reporting done), the national Democrats weighed in too. Democrat Walt Minnick has had solid fundraising (he ended the last quarter nearly doubling Sali’s cash of hand, and Sali’s debt amounted to about half of the cash on him). To that, the DCCC has added $349,000 for media, which at the moment would mean that Minnick has an unencumbered $800,000 or so, while Sali has an unencumbered (debt-free) $125,000 or so. It makes for a hell of a disparity.

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Washington’s top-two primary leaves some issues for newspaper endorsers, among which, do you endorse one candidate or two? Some of the thining behind what we may see in the next few weeks showed up today on the Vancouver Columbian‘s editorial page.

Their conclusion seemed to be, take the races one by one, and go where the clearer opinion leads: “The Columbian will be making single endorsements in some races where strong, single candidates have emerged. After all, we know that each voter gets one vote in each race. But in other races, we’ll acknowledge two strong candidates, knowing that two will advance to the general election. The glorious, wide-open top two primary allows us that flexibility.”

So in the governor’s race, where there are 10 candidates, but two that in the end will between them draw practically the votes, the paper endorsed Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire and Republican challenger Dino Rossi. There, the winnowing to one will wait for the fall.

There was no hesitation, however, in offering single endorsements in a batch of other statewide races, all for incumbents – lieutenant governor (Democrat Brad Owen), secretary of state (Republican Sam Reed), auditor (Democrat Brian Sonntag), superintendent of public instruction (nonpartisan Terry Bergeson). But none of them have really serious contests; all are likely to be easily swept back in. In two other races (attorney general and land commissioner) that may be serious races, the paper held off on choices.

Will this be the pattern for other papers around the state?

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The new Oregon voter registration stats, for June, are similar to the recent rounds in that Democrats have been making persistent gains. (There’s currently a Democratic advantage of more than 200,000 voters over the Republican numbers.)

But what do those translate to locally?

We did a couple of things with the breakdowns. First we compared the counties in June this year to June of 2004 – same point in that cycle. Democrats then had a statewide voter advantage, but much slimmer (about 52,000, compared to four times that now). Most counties didn’t flip in partisan registration preference, but those that did were significant. Four years ago, Republicans had a narrow lead of about 7,000 in the state’s second-largest, Washington County; now Democrats lead there by 20,000. In Clackamas County, Republicans were in the lead for years ago by a narrow 3,000; now Democrats do, by 10,000. Maybe most strikingly, Marion County, long a Republican base, had a Republican lead of about 8,000 four years ago, and now Democrats narrowly lead there.

When you add in enhanced leads in Multnomah County (Democrats did lead about about 2-1, now it’s closer to 3-1) and Lane County (a narrow lead in 2004, now approaching 2-1), that gives Democrats a sweep of the five largest counties.

We also took a look at the legislative districts.

If legislative districts were held this year entirely by whichever party, Republican or Democratic, now has the edge in voter registration, the legislature would look like this:

Senate: Democrats 21, Republicans 9 (districts 1,2,9, 12, 13, 27, 28, 29, 30).

House: Democrats 39, Republicans 21 (districts 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 15, 17, 18, 19, 23, 24, 25, 26, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 60).

Which is more Democratic, in other words, than just about anyone currently expects the legislature to be after the November elections.

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The Oregon Senate campaign overall seems to have developed a more energetic and edgy feel in the last month or so, maybe either reflecting or influencing some of the polling suggesting a tightening in the race. A lot of that has to do with the Gordon Smith campaign, but there’s been an internal change on the other side of the fence, not much publicly noticed in Oregon, that maybe also bears some watching as events unfold.

That is the arrival into the Democratic Jeff Merkley campaign of a new advisor, Paul Johnson. He bears note because of the number and range of state and national campaigns he’s been involved with, over a lot of years. He’s well-connected nationally, and outlets like the Washington Post have made more reference to his hiring than media in Oregon.

Earlier this cycle, he worked on a Democratic Senate campaign in Nebraska for businessman Tony Raimondo, who lost the primary to Scott Kleeb. Raimondo was dissed hard by party activists, some calling him a DINO. Even so, a Nebraska political blog said, “Say what you will about the man, but Paul Johnson knows how to win elections. Most importantly, he knows how to win elections in Nebraska. We’re talking Kerrey ’88, Kerrey ’94, Nelson ’00, Fahey ’01, Fahey ’05, Nelson ’06. If Johnson has joined Raimondo’s campaign – even in a seemingly unofficial capacity – that’s a very big deal.”

Nebraska is just a small piece of Johnson’s background, though. In late 2003/early 2004 he was a presidential campaign manager for Wesley Clark (one of the candidates knocked out early on the Democratic side that year); he also did work for the Walter Mondale campaign in 1984. He led nationally the Democratic Senate campaign committee, in 1996 and 1998. He worked on campaigns for Bob Graham in Florida, Tom Daschle in South Dakota and Mark Pryor in Arkansas.

On basis of resume he qualifies as a bigfoot, though there’s also this in quotes from a CNN profile when he joined the Clark campaign: “I don’t view myself as a great guru who’s going to dispense great thoughts . . . I don’t presume to have any great scheme for this, other than to go in, make an assessment and take things from there. There are a lot of talented people there. They’ve made great progress already.”

Doesn’t sound like a shock-of-electricity type. But there does seem to be a subtly shifting change in attitude in the D.C.-based reportage about the Oregon Senate race, and we’d not be surprised if Johnson’s involvement has something to do with that.

This stands to be a tight, tough race. All the factors matter. Even campaign staff.

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This site has for some time taken a more skeptical view than some that Idaho politics will be upended this year, that Republican dominance in the state will be seriously cracked. The reason is not so much the candidates or the headlines, but rather the attitudes of the people who cast the votes.

This was captured recently in fine focus on the Idaho blog the unequivocal notion, who included a report of the blogger’s conversation with another gas buyer, evidently at a Canyon County service station.

“Have to take out a loan just to fill up your gas tank anymore”.
“Yep”.
“Don’t know when they are going to quit raising the price.”
“I dunno…”
“Well, they won’t until we get these Democrats out of office.”
*Silence*
“My son told me that the Democrats were all buying stock in the oil companies and not letting us drill for our own oil so that the price keeps going up and they keep getting richer”.
“I hadn’t heard about that”.
“Yeah, he said that’s why gas is so expensive; we need to get them out of Washington”.
“Have a good day…”
“You too, have a great day”.

The job Democratic candidates have in getting past misinformation like this (from what we’ve seen, the misinformation about Barack Obama that’s been ladled all over the country is a rich stew in Idaho) is simply mind-boggling. It would be hard to know where to start. Democrats are buying up all the oil company stocks so the price keeps going up? Where do you even begin a response to something like that?

(The whole unequivocal notion post linked here, by the way, is a thoughtful take and well worth the read.)

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The Starbucks list is now out – the list, that is, of hundreds of Starbucks around the country the coffee giant, based in Seattle, plans to close before long.

A few words about the Northwest selections.

For the most part, the numbers aren’t all that large. In Idaho, just two Starbucks will close – one in Boise on University Drive (take a look at the area and you can see how that location might not have worked out), and one at Meridian on Fairview. Not a massive impact, especially since in both cases there are other Starbucks available in close range.

Not much larger in Oregon, where six locations are slotted for closure – three of them in Portland, two others in nearby Beaverton and Hillsboro. (One relatively remote, in Tillamook.) The Portland stores, and to a degree Beaverton and Hillsboro too, are located near other Starbucks and loads of other coffee places.

Proportionately, many more in Washington state – 19. But more than half of those are in or near Seattle – seven in the city (several, we know from driving by, in real close proximity to other Starbucks), plus Kent, Federal Way and Tukwila. The remaining nine are widely scattered (Aberdeen, Burlington, Wenatchee, Orting, Port Angeles, Spokane Tacoma, Vancouver, Yakima). Suggesting, again, some thinning of the overpopulated herd (not only in Seattle but in most of other cities too).

Conclusion – little economic impact, and more than that just a size-of-marketplace correction.

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National politics has the New Yorker Obama cover, but th Inland Empire, apparently, has a dustup of its own.

At least, we presume the Coeur d’Alene Press was being satiric in its editorial response to a letter to the editor from a resident of Bismark, North Dakota, complaining that in the course of a 3,700-mile vacation, “By far, the people of Coeur d’Alene were the most rude, awful people. We took the fireworks cruise and again were confronted with rude, pushy people. People at the RV park were also unfriendly, drunk, loud and rude. Even the people at the service stations were unfriendly.”

The Press replied that the locals were not the problem: “That was the drunken hordes who migrate to Coeur d’Alene from 30 miles west every summer weekend, holiday and any other day they’re being sought for outstanding warrants and/or child-support payments. These Spokane invasions do far more than put ill-manners on public display. They are to North Idaho what the locusts were to Pearl Buck’s ‘The Good Earth,’ with one notable exception. Locusts have the decency not to leave their trash behind. We endure them because the law does not allow us to ban them, put up blockades at the Washington-Idaho border or shoot them. We’ve thought about charging them for these free fireworks shows, but that’s not logistically feasible. Too many Spokanites would further tie up the tumultuous traffic by bartering warm beer and cheap cigarettes for passage.”

Which of course led to some commentary from the Spokanite point of view . . .

Everyone does realize this is a joke, right? Or do they?

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We’ll be getting much more into wildfire-related posts later on, but beforehand a little review of where we are and how we got here – the real-world as opposed to the political versions – would be in order.

With that in mind, some recommended reading: A new post by Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker, which provides one of the most useful short-form sumups we’ve seen anywhere recently. A good baseline for the discussion ahead.

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Not to drop in on every poll that comes along, but this one feels a little notable. Could be an outlier (the possibility that warns us against too many poll notices), but – given some other recent trends – could also realistically be a marker of something new.

This is a Rasmussen poll of the Oregon Senate race, and what’s new here is that it shows Democratic challenger Jeff Merkley leading Republican incumbent Gordon Smith – the first poll to do so. It’s a marginal thing, since it gives Merkley 43% and Smith 41%, and if soft supporters are added in, they tie at 46%. But every poll up to this point has given Smith a fairly clear lead (last month’s Rasmussen put Smith ahead 47%-38%), so this is something new.

Now we watch to see if it’s the first of more like it, or not. If it indicates a change, that together with Merkley’s newly-displayed fundraising prowess could change the dynamic of the race.

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Gets easy to forget exactly what some of those federal health programs do; in light of two key congressional votes today, let’s review on Medicare. Medicare is a big program, which specifically “is a federal health insurance program for people 65 years or older and for people with certain disabilities or kidney failure. It covers about 39 million Americans.” In Idaho 162,984 people (or 13.3% of the population) use it. In Oregon, the number is 492,890 (15%). And in Washington, 737,168 (13%). About as many people as live, in all, in the state of Idaho.

Today’ event was an unusual veto override by Congress, on a bill (HR 6331) which directly concerns how Medicare financially will be continued over the next year at least. The bill has multiple elements (as will any about such a large program) but the core of the thing is simple enough. Because of various financial triggers already in place, Medicare has been scheduled to cut pay for doctors by about 11%. As anyone familiar with Medicare payments knows, a lot of docs around the country already refuse to take Medicare patients precisely because payment already is so low; an additional 11% cut would drive away so many as to make health care inaccessible for many of the people who rely on Medicare. The bill passed by Congress and vetoed by President Bush would avert the 11% cut by, as one news story noted, “cutting payments to big insurers, such as UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Aetna Inc., which have contracts with the Medicare program.” That, in other words, is whose ox gets gored by the bill.

The vetoed bill returned to Congress today for override votes, and both chambers did vote to override, so the bill will become law. A number of organizations (AARP, for example) are sure to highlight the override votes, but we thought a look at the Northwest pattern was merited here.

The Senate voted 70-26 to override. In the Northwest delegation, two of the Northwest’s six senators voted against override – Idaho’s Larry Craig and Mike Crapo, neither facing re-election this year. Oregon Republican Gordon Smith, facing a rough re-election fight (noted in passing, not as mind-reading), broke to vote in favor of the override. The region’s three Democrats all voted to override.

The House voted more lopsidedly, 383-41, to override. As you might expect, all of the region’s Democrats voted to override. But so, it turns out, did five of the six Northwest Republicans – all from Washington and Oregon along with Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho.

The lone Northwest House member to vote for the veto, for the 11% cut in payments to doctors: Idaho Representative Bill Sali.

Sali has addressed the legislation, and his take on it is available on his website. It speaks for itself generally, though we should note that Sali’s concern seemed focused on the 1.7 million or so participants in one subsidiary program, Medicare Advantage, rather than the 39 million who would be affected by the cuts in Medicare generally.

Politically, we’re in the position of having yet to see much evidence of a partisan sea change in Idaho, of the sort trumpeted by the Wall Street Journal today. But in Sali’s case, a vote like this, which has good reason to infuriate (and even frighten) somewhere close to 100,000 Medicare participants, plus friends and family, in his district alone, could provide some real raw material.

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