Idaho was one of the places where former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was most popular during his presidential run, and there’s a lot of preference among Idaho Republicans for Republican nominee-presumptive John McCain to name him as running mate. Possibly; national reports say Romney’s in the mix; though we’d put odds at less than even.

Still doesn’t explain the issues page on the campaign web site of Julie Ellsworth, a former Republican legislator from Boise defeated for re-elected in 2006 and trying for a return this year. Have a look. (Hat tip to one of our readers.)

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We don’t much cover criminal cases here, on the thought that not many of them say much about the larger scene – just the sad, unfortunate or sometimes bad behavior or incidents in specific cases. But a personal note in the fine blog run by Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review points out the impact they can have.

She has been covering the Joseph Duncan trial in Boise; the Duncan case, which has been very big news in Idaho and the Spokane area, involves a truly horrific swath of murder, kidnapping, torture, rape and more, is well set up for generation of nightmares. She makes the case for thorough coverage, but also notes this.

On Friday night, after three days of intense immersion in the blood-drenched reality of the Joseph Duncan case, I came home from the courthouse only to find blood smeared all over my bathroom floor. I couldn’t help it; I screamed. It turned out the cat had killed a mouse in there; my husband kindly cleaned up the mess while I freaked. Then, last night, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. to a strange noise on the back patio, followed by the sound of our back patio door softly sliding open, then back shut. I froze. Lying petrified in bed, my first, half-asleep, panicked thought was that someone had come for our kids.

Of course, that wasn’t the case. My teenage daughter, who was leaving for college in the morning, was still up, and had gone out back to spray-paint a shelf she’s taking for her dorm room. The strange noise was her shaking the spray-paint can.

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This may be one of the biggest news stories of the month in the Northwest that you never see or hear of through the mass media – because it concerns the key news pipeline of the mass media, the Associated Press.

Editor and Publisher (the newspaper industry’s trade publication) reports that the Idaho Falls Post-Register has given notice to the AP that it will drop the service in two years, in August 2010. Anyone familiar with how the mews media actually work will know this to be a shocker, and maybe an indicator of one of the places where newspapers are going in years to come. The Post-Register is independently and locally owned, which on one hand mean its financial pressures (still quite real) probably are less than at many chain newspapers. But it also means the paper is more flexible, and may be looking at options still burbling through some chain bureaucracies.

Most of what you see in most daily newspapers comes by way of the AP, a news cooperative; the newspapers share content between themselves (are contractually obligated to) and also get material generated by AP writers and editors, which work at offices in all larger cities and cover statewide and regional matters as well. The AP has offices in such places as Seattle, Olympia, Spokane, Portland and Boise. Years ago, it had serious competition from another wire service, United Press International, but UPI’s local and regional coverage essentially has disappeared. The AP has become, for American newspapers, an obligatory monopoly.

Or is it obligatory? Post-Register Publisher Roger Plothow seemed to indicate in his letter that a different rate plan, that more closely reflects the specific services his paper uses from AP, might persuade him to stay. (The dropout letter comes on the heels of a new rate plan that would cost the paper $114,000 next year.) But if he carries through on his stated intent to drop AP service, he will be exploring new territory in terms of coverage – even reinventing what a local newspaper does, and how.

From his letter to AP President Tom Curley: “I’ll put my cards on the table – I’m not sure how we’re going to pull this off. While the AP’s value to us has been severely diminished over the years, it still does provide a handful of services that we haven’t been able to find elsewhere – yet. I’m betting, however, that it’s only a matter of time. More likely, we’ll use that time to become essentially 100 percent local, which is probably where we’re headed eventually anyway. . . . Of course, my greatest fear is that 24 months from now I’ll have found no antidote to the AP and come crawling back to you, and you’ll either send me away or offer me an even worse deal. On the other hand, this might be just the motivation we need to really come up with a workable alternative.”

Up close and personal with the newspaper industry, as it’s going through its time or troubles, and re-evaluation.

FOUR MORE Three more papers in the Northwest (and a California paper at Bakersfield) also say they will drop out: The Spokane Spokesman-Review, the Yakima Herald-Republic and the Wenatchee World. Spokesman editor Steve Smith is indicating that his attorneys think that paper may not have to wait two years to drop service.

This is an enormously big deal – the transformation of newspapers and news as we have known them. What that will mean, we all have yet to find out.

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Idaho Washington

The Washington state top two primary seems not to have made massive changes, so far as early returns indicate, in the kind of results you might have expected from more conventional primary approaches. In case after case, where it could happen, voters wound up picking conventional Democratic-Republican matchups for November.

In U.S. House District 7, there’s been the talk about maybe Democratic Representative Jim McDermott facing off with a Democrat in November. Maybe another time, but not this year: He pulled 73.1% of the vote and put Republican Steve Beren (at 15.1%) in second place. The two other Democrats on the ballot were far behind.

Similarly, 3rd District Democrat Brian Baird (51.7%) will face Republican Michael Delavar (19%) instead of anti-war Democrat Cheryl Crist (13.3%).

The old-style wide-open Washington primaries used to be taken as rough mass polls – if the primary field wasn’t too drastically different from that of the general, you could often get a sense of the voting patterns from the primary, when voters were about to choose evenly among all the candidates. Will that work out this time?

We’ll get a chance to see.

In the 8th House District, one of the hottest congressional races in the region, incumbent Republican Dave Reichert (47.8%) can maybe take a little heart from finishing at least ahead of Democratic challenger Darcy Burner (44.5%). But not ahead by much, and short of 50%; and about 5% of the vote unaccounted for between the two of them went to two minor Democratic candidates. So Burner has some legitimate talking points here too. The takeaway is that, yes, the 8th looks as hot as everything has thought it was – based on the primary numbers.

Our long-running sense that Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire is ahead, though not massively, of Republican challenger Dino Rossi, also gets some support. She pulled 49.2% to Rossi’s 45% – enough that she can claim an advantage, but well short of a lead that would put Rossi away. He appears to be behind but in striking distance, were silver bullet found. (He appears not to have found it yet.)

Similarly in the attorney general’s race, incumbent Rob McKenna took 55.7% to Democrat John Ladenburg‘s 44.3% – not enough to put Ladenburg away, but enough to show a definite lead (and some challenge for Ladenburg by way of catching up in time).

Elsewhere among the statewides, the most interesting number may be in the lands commissioner race. Incumbent Republican Doug Sutherland pulled 50.3% to Democrat Peter Goldmark‘s 49.7% – which suggests one heck of a race for November.

Not a game-changer of a primary, as it turns out, but replete with pointers for November.

BTW A caveat here: Voter turnout, at 24.4%, was low – lower than expected, and of course much lower than the general will be. So some of these results could shift significantly as large numbers of people vote in the fall.

THE TIE A tied vote on Tuesday between the two top finishers doesn’t really matter, since both advance to November anyway. Still. Veteran incumbent Republican state Senator Mike Carrell of Lakewood tied (at late Tuesday night’s count) with Democratic challenger Debi Srail. Quoth the Tacoma News Tribune: “Incumbent Sen. Mike Carell, R-Lakewood, might be feeling a little tight around the collar about now.”

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What was that old line or political counsel (applicable elsewhere too), that when you’re in a hole, stop digging?

A rather deep hole is what Oregon 5th District Republican candidate Mike Erickson was in even before this weekend’s Oregonian account of his travels to Cuba. (Description from Jeff Mapes’ blog: “The problem for Erickson is that the trip’s itinerary was heavy on cigar dinners and other pleasure activities (cock fighting was even offered as an option) and silent on anything of a humanitarian nature.”) He’d have done about as well as he could it he’d delivered a quick dismissive line and let it go.

But no. Check out this for viewing a political mistake in motion.

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Rather than tonight, since we’re on the road. But with luck, we’ll get some of the reviews and stats up early. And the races ought to be pretty much settled by late tonight.

Although, of course, that’s what people expected going into general election night 2004 . . .

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Abit parochial, maybe, but it’d be a heck of a deal of those few of us in the country west or south of Hillsboro, Oregon – a commuter rail that could run between Forest Grove and Cornelius and (this is the key part) could link p with the MAX line at Hillsboro. That would effectively extend MAX’s reach a dozen or so key miles out of town, to Pacific University and to the wine country.

The talks for so doing are evidently underway, and that could be a highly useful development for the country west of Portland, and might even given the Tri-Met system a useful shot. Although considering the increase in ridership owing to high gas prices, that may be only partly needed . . .

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There might be a good deal more of this sort of thing, not just in Boise but nationally, though Boise’s recent raft of corporate departures my make it a good study . . .

The story is that Larry L. Myers, formerly a vice president at Washington Group International, is suing URS Corporation – which bought WGI – for $2 million. The reason: Myers, who put in 31 years with the company, says his work agreement provided for substantial compensation if the company changed hands and he thereafter lost status or pay in the organization. And when the URS buy went through, he says, he did encounter some loss, but not the compensation part of the deal.

We may not have heard the last of this.

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The initial easy reaction to the Oregonian Sunday story about Mike Erickson‘s Cuba travel may be either that it’ just a piling on, or too peripheral at this point to matter.

But it may matter, some.

The story in Sunday’s Oregonian is about trip that Erickson – now the Republican nominee in Oregon’s 5th U.S. House district – made for six days in 2004. He has describe it as a “humanitarian trip,” and there’s apparently no dispute that he provided a substantial donation (the precise amount is in some dispute) for Cubans, and traveled there in the process of delivery.

What’s new, in the Oregonian‘s report, is a description of the trip that puts it in a very different frame: A pro forma (albeit real) donation delivered just sufficiently and directly enough to give the donors, who included Erickson, legal clearance from the United States to travel to Cuba; after which, most of the time and energy went into Havana night clubs and other tourist spots. Nothing illegal or unethical here, other than that this description of the trip clashes sharply with Erickson’s. (And still does.)

This might not have much to do with the 5th district race (in which Democrat Kurt Schrader now is favored) except that it reinforces a growing string of disputed and controversial statements Erickson has made about himself and his background: It deepens and enhances the narrative.

And since that narrative is the biggest reason he’s now likely to lose a race he once might credibly have won, that does matter.

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Most news reports on the housing bubble burst focus on stats with the occasional real-person anecdote thrown in. Recommended Sunday reading: A piece in the Eugene Register-Guard that takes a more extensive look at one big local collapse, and what it has meant.

Such as: “At Lenore Estates in Santa Clara, a roofing business that the company stopped paying quit work and left a dozen pallets of shingles in pieces on the ground. The bare, oriented-strand-board shells of the houses were pelted by the winter and spring rains. Summer grasses grew tall and dry around the project; neighbors worried about a fire hazard until city crews took matters in their own hands and cleared away the grass. The man behind the project, meanwhile, is facing two civil lawsuits from 50 Oregon investors who say they’re out $6 million. Oregon builders have filed 31 construction liens against the Santa Clara project and another in Florence, seeking payment for work they did a half-year ago.”

Ever-expanding ripples, clearly documented.

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Alitte belated, but if you’re looking for a good general introduction to Northwest political blogging – and why not? – there’s a good three-part series at the Crosscut site you’ll want to check out.

Running through both many of the mass media sites (mainly at newspapers) as well as online-only players, it offers an overview of that growing part of the political world. (This site isn’t specifically reviewed, but is included among the also-recommends in part 3.)

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Steve Novick

Steve Novick

What happens after a savvy political operative launches himself into a major campaign, loses, and then thinks back on it? Here’s a good answer, courtesy of former Senate candidate Steve Novick. (And the hat tip to Loaded Orygun.)

Novick’s own analysis of his race, based around the development of his “brand” as a candidate, is well worth the read. He points out that “we lost, so apparently branding isn’t everything. But I think it’s fair to say that we did better than expected. As a first-time candidate running against the speaker of the State House, I was outspent by roughly 2-to-1, and lost 45 percent to 42 percent. Compared to other recent “progressive underdog vs. moneyed establishment candidate” Northwest races, that’s not bad. In 2000, Maria Cantwell outspent progressive underdog Deborah Senn in Washington’s Senate primary by about 2-to-1—and won the race by an even larger margin.”

Money matters, he says – but points out too that it’s not all that matters. Novick’s campaign came a lot closer to a win than many people had expected when House Speaker Jeff Merkley (who did win) first entered – a good many had thought it a slam dunk. It wasn’t, and the reasons why are a useful read.

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Next week’s Washington state primary election has, in truth, drawn only limited interest for its politics – much more for its new procedure, which effectively puts party lines to the back of the bus and lets voters send their two favorite candidates, of whatever persuasion, on to November.

The wide-open feel to the thing, though, is expected to draw a solid electorate – Secretary of State Sam Reed has estimated as high as 46%. And if the primary-level contests are not, for the most part, cliffhangers, a number of them will be of interest.

The statewide executive offices probably will not be among them, at least all that much. Probably a lot will be made out of the percentages in the governor’s race – the vote received by Democratic incumbent Chris Gregoire against Republican challenger Dino Rossi. But there’s no meaningful doubt those two will advance to November. Most of the other state executive races also should resolve into conventional Republican/Democratic contests for November.

Some races are more interesting, though, and could evolve in directions different than would have been possible, or at least likely, under a system other than top two. Here are some of them.

One race for the U.S. House definitely will be different this time. In District 2 (northwest), incumbent Democrat Rick Larsen is up against two other Democrats on the ballot. So he will be opposing one of those two in November (presuming, as is overwhelmingly likely, he is the top primary finisher).

Two other House races are worth watching at primary level, for longer shot possibilities. In District 3 (southwest), Democratic incumbent Brian Baird faces anti-war Democrat Cheryl Crist and two Republicans. Might the Republican vote be split enough to allow a Baird-Crist contest in November? We’d guess not, but it’s worth a look. And in District 7 (central Seattle), long-time Democratic incumbent Jim McDermott will get the most votes, but second place could go several ways. It may go to the one Republican on the ballot (Steve Berean). But so Democratic is this district that one of the other three Democrats on the ballot might slip through to second place.

Most seats in the legislature probably will resolve simply to either D-R contests or a single candidate will be unopposed (a significant number are).

But three Republican departures have created some interesting contests. In the House District 4 position 2, where Lynn Schindler is opting out, you have a long-time Republican district (basically north of Spokane, with suburbs) with a currently all-Republican delegation. But just how Republican is this district? The filers include five candidates – three Republicans (Matt Shea, Ray Deonier and Diana Wilhite) and two Democrats (Tim Hattenburg and Anthony Honorof). What are the odds one or even two Democrats could slip through given the candidate number disparity? This could be a useful case study.

In District 7, also very Republican, a different situation occasioned by Bob Sump‘s departure. There’s no partisan issue here: Only five Republicans filed, no Democrats or anyone elsse. So two Republicans will face each other in November.

In nearby District 8, Shirley Hankin‘s retirement also led to entry by five candidates, but one of those is a Democrat. So that one probably will get to the November ballot, while the Republican vote splits four ways. On the other hand, the November winner almost certainly will be the Republican.

In District 11 (the Renton-Tukwila area), Democratic Senator Margarita Prentice faces two fellow Democrats, Juan Martinez and Scott McKay – no Republicans or other.

District 17 House seat 1 probably turns into an R-D contest, in this politically marginal district (the senator is a Republican, the other House member a Democrat); but it bears watching, since the present three-way is less than predictable. The Republican incumbent is Jim Dunn, who has has had awful headlines and handslaps from his own caucus leadership. He is being strongly challenged by fellow Republican Joseph James, who might or might not surpass him in votes. And there’s the Democrat, Tim Probst, who has been running hard too. The numbers will bear parsing here next week.

In District 40 (the great expanse running through the San Juans over to Anacortes, Mount Vernon and north to Bellingham), Democratic Senator Harriet Spanel has opted out, creating a fun situation, not much of a true party contest. There are four Democratic candidates, plus one that prefers the “True Democratic Party”. And one from the Salmon Yoga Party. And, oh, yes, a Republican. Probably this turns into an R-D battle, but you look at the rundowns and the voting patterns, and it’s hard to be sure . . .

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The latest shot in the press wars involving Representative Bill Sali – or should that be spokesman Wayne Hoffman? His current guest-op to the Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune (largely in response to this, which was in response to earlier writings), a paper for which he once worked and which over the years has backed numerous conservative causes and candidates, closes with this:

“. . . the Press-Tribune has, regrettably, joined the chorus of shrill news lemmings all marching willingly to a sea of liberalism, filth and innuendo.”

Talk about a quote ready to go viral. The IPT’s new editors blog is getting off to a highly readable start . . .

OTHER REACTION The Spokesman-Review‘s Dave Oliveria gets into the point referenced by our post’s title: “I’m beginning to wonder if aide Wayne Hoffman is becoming a bigger liability than asset to Congressman Sali. I’ve been at the receiving end of one of these diatribes, when Hoffman felt I was incorrect in my criticism of Sali’s vote against Craig-Wyden bill reauthorization. He also lectured me via e-mail re: how newspapermen collected facts in his day. Which was sometime way after I began my career. He’s also sent at least one blistering e-mail to Jill Kuraitis/New West Boise. So my question is: How effective are you if you have thin skin as a communications director and burn the ones you’re supposed to be communicating with?” Worth noting that Oliveria long has been self-described (and by others) as a conservative; his is not a “liberal response”.

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Pat Davis

Pat Davis

Politics watchers will want to keep a lookout for the just-out Washington Supreme Court case in re Recall of Davis, in which the court does a careful parsing of the standard of “sufficiency” for recalling Seattle Port Commissioner Pat Davis.

Washington’s approach to recall strikes us as far superior to most states, and to those in Oregon and Idaho. Beyond the usual petition gathering, Washington law requires specific charges be brought and that a court review them for sufficiency; as the Supreme Court said, “The recall process is governed by statute, RCW 29A.56.110, which provides the charges must: (1) set forth the name of the officer subject to recall and the title of his or her office; (2) recite that the officer subject to recall has committed an act or acts of malfeasance while in office or that such person has violated on oath of office; (3) state the act or acts complained of in concise language; and (4) give a detailed description of each act. Recall petitions must be both legally and factually sufficient, and courts must ensure that persons submitting the charges “have some knowledge of the facts underlying the charges.” Some serious legal offense needs to have occurred, and the bringer of the charges actually has to know what they’re talking about – two conditions that alone would wipe out most recall elections in Oregon and Idaho.

The Davis case grew (most directly) out of a memo: “On October 10, 2006, Comm. Davis signed a memorandum discussing the ‘transition away from the organization’ of M.R. Dinsmore, Chief Executive Officer of the Port of Seattle. The memorandum appears to assure Dinsmore up to a full year’s pay upon his resignation from the Port. No dispute exists as to the existence of this memorandum and that Comm. Davis signed it.” From there, it’s a matter of interpretation. According to the petition:

1)Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by signing an agreement to
provide a “gift” of public money to an individual outside the employee contract
approved by the Port of Seattle Commission.
2) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by obligating the Port of Seattle
to pay monies not voted on or approved by the Port of Seattle Commissioners at a
regularly scheduled public hearing.
3) Comm. Davis committed an act of misfeasance and malfeasance by using her
position as Port Commissioner to provide a “gift” of public money to her personal
friend and political ally Mic Dinsmore.
4) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by voting on an issue in an executive session on or about January 10, 2006, in violation of the Washington
State Open Meetings Act.
5) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by voting on an issue in an
executive session on or about June 8, 2006, in violation of the Washington State
Open Meetings Act.
6) Comm. Davis committed an act of malfeasance by knowingly violating the
limited context of the executive session exclusions of the Open Meetings Act to
improperly negotiate and vote on a “gift” of public money.

Not all of those allegations survived trial court, and the Supreme Court rejected others. (The whole analysis is worth reading.) Crucially, though, the Court upheld one of them: “We find, when read as a whole, the petition is legally sufficient in charging Comm. Davis with an act of malfeasance by signing an October 10, 2006, memorandum addressed to then chief executive officer of the Port of Seattle, Dinsmore, which had the potential effect of obligating the Port of Seattle to pay Dinsmore, an outgoing Port of Seattle employee, at least $239,000 outside of his employment contract. Additionally, we find these additional moneys were not voted on or approved by the Port of Seattle commissioners at a regularly scheduled public hearing and conclude charge one of the ballot synopsis is legally sufficient.”

The lines set by the Supreme Court in this case should clarify for the next round of recallers what is enough and what isn’t, even if that’s a little hard to quantify.

Davis has been on the commission since she was first elected to it in 1985, but the Port has become unpopular in recent years. Davis, last elected in 2005, is in mid-term. This could be a hot recall election.

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