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Posts published in July 2008

Where the line is crossed

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.

A latter-day McCall?

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.

Death/Assisted qualifies

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.

A list to conjure with

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.

They could have fun with this

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.

$2.6m in three slots

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.

Mapping out the endorsements

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?

If registration told all

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.

Merkley and Johnson

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.