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Posts published in August 2008

Top 2 legislative lessons

There's a limit to how closely lessons ought to be drawn from the vote numbers in last week's Top 2 primary election in Washington. Although not a partisan primary in the usual sense, it probably drew a disproportionately partisan electorate - Democrats and Republicans eager to choose among their own, even if only imperfectly. Still, the thing was wide open to all, and it will stand as the best indicator of public attitudes until November.

Looking to the legislative races, there did seem to be some drawable conclusions. A lot of legislative districts behaved in the primary exactly as you'd expect - heavily R or D districts delivered almost all their votes for their partisans, for example. Extending that: We so few indicators of major shifts in voting patterns away from those established in the last few cycles.

Beyond that, here are some odds and ends we noticed.

bullet District 2 (Pierce, Thurston). Reinforcement here, really, of just how split this district is - and no indication that, unlike some suburban-type districts, this one is moving in the Democratic direction. While Democratic Senator Marilyn Rasmussen held on to 50.7%, the two Republican House members in this district took 55.8% and 61.6% against a total of five Democrats. Rasmussen may have her hands full.

bullet District 5 (rural east King County). One of the few still-Republican slices of King County, the question gets raised: Will it stay Republican? The two House races here, each featuring a Republican incumbent, seem to offer different prospects: Jay Rodne pulled a solid 58.8%, but Glenn Anderson only 50.8% - in a possible danger zone. (more…)

O: Fewer hands, but revised web

This looks to be an improvement of the Oregonian's web site, which has taken a lot of flack over the last few years. But we'll see for sure once installed.

Pre-launch page says: "Our new home page is wider, less cluttered and loaded with links to all of the great content featured on our site. We've chosen type-style that's easy to read, and bright and bold, without overwhelming the page."

BTW Note the new, revised, site for the McMinnville News-Register.

“Stadium sticker shock”

This feels as if it has some significance, the piece in the Oregonian sports section on "Sticker Shock at the Stadium," about the increasingly high price of college football games.

It quotes a price of $75 to get into the Civil War game (aka, University of Oregon v. Oregon State). And at Oregon: "In 2008, the minimum per seat annual contribution ranges from $50 for the cheap seats to $1,750 for box seats -- plus another $1,000, at least, if you'd like to park a car."

The counter argument probably will be that if ticket prices don't go up, costs will shift around and bite something else in the system. Which may be. But we suspect some subtle yet real changes will happen too as people get priced out of the game . . .

Tight indicators

One of the most interesting of Washington legislative races remains so, after the primary results and concession - by an incumbent - are in.

That is in Clark County's 17th District, a close-margin district where the state senator is a Republican and the other representative a Democrat. Representative Jim Dunn, who has been a legislator from the area for a long time (since 1996 save for a term out from 2002-04), ran into trouble last and this year over what were called "boorish" statements to women, serious enough that his party's leaders took away his committee assignments.

In the top-two primary election, Dunn faced fellow Republican Joseph James and Democrat Tim Probst. Voters in the district, notably the Republican voters, must have taken the leaders' hint about Dunn, giving him just 18.5% of the vote - a real crush for an incumbent. James got 33.2% and Probst 48.2%; considering that the Republican vote generally should consolidate around James in the fall, this provides an early suggestion of a tight general election.

This is another case, though, where the top-two approach to Washington primaries wound up making no difference. In a Republican primary, James clearly would have defeated Dunn - the margins are too wide to allow for any othr interpretation - and James and Probst would have faced off just the same.

One of the top Washington races to watch a couple of months from now.

The Gilbert measure

Jim Gilbert

Jim Gilbert

The prospects for the Independent Party of Oregon seemed to take a hit a few months back when its lead candidate, its candidate for the U.S. Senate, John Frohnmayer, dropped out. Or maybe that evolved into an opportunity. The Independents (capital I) still are running some candidates of their own this cycle, and they are growing, now the third largest party in the state. But their more significant role could be in their cross-endrosement of major party, Democratic and Republican, candidates.

They have endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Jeff Merkley (Democrat), 1st District House candidate Joel Haugen (Republican), and others. In some close races, and in races where the middle of the electorate is at stake, their participate could matter - how much, we have yet to see. But maybe the most interesting measure could come in state House District 18, where the endorsee - just announced today - is a Democrat named Jim Gilbert.

District 18 is a rural region in eastern Marion and Clackamas counties, historically strongly Republican, and by most evidence remains so: End of July voter registration there ran Republican 13,660, Democratic 11,319. The Republican incumbent, Vic Gilliam, has served almost the whole current term, but was appointed to the seat in December 2006, to replace Mac Sumner, who was ill. In the 2006 general election, Sumner defeated Gilbert, a Mollala nursery owner, with 53.9% of the vote. Not a big percentage considering that Sumner was an incumbent, and had beaten Gilbert in 2004 with 56.9%. Put another way, Gilbert improved his track record from 2004 to 2006.

His race now against Gilliam is not much on the radar screen - doesn't seem to be making the short lists of races to watch most closely, maybe because of the still-Republican tilt of the district and maybe because he's run unsuccessfully twice before.

But the district, like many other places in Oregon, is less Republican now than it was in November 2006 (there were then 14,114 Republicans to 10,445 Democrats - a larger gap than this summer). Another indicator of change in the district: In the May primary, Gilbert got 5,494 votes and Gilliam 5,141, a sharp reversal from May 2006 (when Gilbert got 3,070 votes and Sumner 4,056 and two other Republicans 1,085 - or, Democrat 3,070 versus Republicans 5,141). Taken together, this suggests a Gilbert win isn't entirely out of reason.

And, this time, there's the Independent Party endorsement of Gilbert, which means more money but also, maybe more important, some cover and other backing to suggest that Gilbert is the centrist candidate, in a district with 281 Independent Party members and 6,358 non-affiliated voters.

If Gilbert does win, this race could put the Independent Party on the radar screen right alongside its endorsed candidate. And candidates.

Downward (inside) numbers at the O

The lousy newspaper news just keeps a coming: Mass layoffs, of 100 full-timers and some undetermined number of part-timers, at the Portland Oregonian.

Full documentation available at, of course, Willamette Week. And maintains that about half, maybe more, of the full-time departures will be coming out of the newsroom.

Must like Mitt

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.)

Getting rattled

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.

From AP to . . . something else?

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.