Archive for October, 2008

Oct 31 2008

The political press, expanded

Published by under Washington

This site would be remiss, as a reporter on politics in the Northwest, not to take note of the decision of at least one major campaign to bounce two bloggers from a press conference.

Goldy of Horse’s Ass (one of the bouncees, from a Republican Dino Rossi press conference) on the point involved: “we are a legitimate part of the media, and it is in the public interest that we be treated that way. For as more and more traditional media moves online while blogs like mine expand the quantity and quality of our coverage, the line between the two will continue to blur, making any effort to ghettoize mere bloggers nothing more than a convenient excuse to deny access to journalists who produce unflattering coverage.”

Horse’s Ass is an explicitly liberal/Democratic site, but it also produces a lot of useful, original information – dare we say original reporting. It is as useful a political site (as long as you remember where it’s coming from) as any in the region, including the large corporate variety.

Our guess is that this sort of bouncing will be happening less and less in future cycles.

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Oct 31 2008

ID: At the courthouse

Published by under Idaho

The Idaho Democratic Party sometimes has to grab on to whatever slices of good news it can find, even if the news doesn’t objective look all that great. (You do what you have to.) But this is of interest for non-obvious reasons:

A party article by Julie Fanselow highlighting county commission candidates around the state, “42 Idahoans running for county commission seats as Democrats this fall, an unusually high number.”

On one level, that’s an admission of a problem, since in any given general election year, 88 county commission seats are up for election in Idaho’s 44 counties. Democrats are contesting fewer than half of those seats; the rest will be snapped up by unopposed or virtually unopposed Republicans (apart from maybe one or two independents). And of the 42, just 15 are incumbents, an indication of how lightly represented Democrats are at the courthouses.

There is another way to look at this, though. Let’s run through recent election history and see how Democrats have done earlier this decade in Idaho county races.

bullet 2000. In this presidential year, when Democrats lost a number of relatively high-profile incumbents at the courthouses, the election record shows 39 Democratic candidates for commission seats. Of them, 12 – fewer than a third – won.

bullet 2002. A slightly more Democratic year, but not by much, saw Democrats nominating 36 candidates to the commission. That number was down a little, but their wins rose to 17, close to half.

bullet 2004. Another rough presidential year for Idaho Democrats, nominating just 31 for commission seats (a low in recent times). Still, 16 of them won, more than half this time.

bullet 2006. Democrats filled their candidate slate this time to 35 (again, out of 88 total seats). Not a great ballot presence, but the win-loss ratio was little noted: Democrats won 24 of those races, more than two-thirds.

There could be something of a pattern here.

These races are not all created equal. The Democrats in Benewah County, for example (where Democrats have held two or three of the commission seats for many decades), are simply a conservative group who have little to do with Couer d’Alene or Boise Democrats. (One of those Benewah Democrats is Republican Representative Bill Sali’s highest-profile Democratic endorser.) But taken as a whole, they’re a bit of an indicator.

How many seats do they win this time with 42 candidates? It’ll be another number to watch on Tuesday.

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Oct 31 2008

OR: Early advantages

Published by under Oregon

The early indications of a Democratic blowout in Oregon on Tuesday are there in ballot numbers that have been released so far. Not votes, of course: Those won’t be out until Tuesday night. But we do know now how the early voting is going for the two parties according to returns by registrants of each party. And those numbers are clear.

One comparison already pretty widely noted is that registered Democrats – of whom there are about 220,000 more in Oregon than Republicans – have been turning in their ballots at a faster clip than registered Republicans, 49% to 41%. (If the rates were even, that would still be a big Democratic advantage, given their higher registration numbers.)

Not only that, the Democrats have outpaced Republicans in ballot returns so far in all of Oregon’s 36 counties.

ballot return advantage But in looking at the Thursday afternoon ballot numbers (helpfully posted on Jeff Mapes’ Oregonian blog) you can also work out how some of the voting may go, to the extent that registration matches up with voting patterns, based on the raw numbers of ballots submitted. That’s not (as TorridJoe notes in his Loaded Lrygun post on the returns) the same as rate of returns, since counties have varying portions of registered Ds and Rs. (The map shows which counties have generated so far more Democratic than Republican ballots in raw numbers.)

A cautionary note: There are ancestral party registrations, people who have been registered with one party or other for a long time but have in practice migrated over to the other. And you also have to factor in the nonaligneds, and independents (who between them have leaned Democratic in the last few cycles).

Still.

You have here places like Clackamas County, the third largest in Oregon (Portland suburban) which broke narrowly for George Bush in 2004; as of Thurday it has returned about 45,000 Democratic ballots to 32,000 Republican. Deschutes County (Bend), very strongly Republican for – well, always – so far has returned more Democratic ballots than Republican, 16,648 to 15,660. Yamhill County, traditionally Republican, is running 8,320 Democratic ballots to 7,163. Polk County (Dallas), even more Republican traditionally, is at 7,716 Democratic to 6,753 Republican. Jackson County (Medford/Ashland), the anchor of southwest Oregon and long a Republican stalwart, is at 23,142 Democratic to 19,745 Republican – in a county with a 2300 or so Republican registration advantage. Marion County, Republican for ages (until a registration flip a few months ago), is at 27,850 Democratic to 22,842 Republican, in a county where the Democratic advantage still is only slight.

You can imagine what the Democratic counties look like – running near 4-1 in Democratic ballots in Multnomah (Portland), nearly 2-1 in Hood River, about the same in Clatsop, and more than 2-1 in Benton.

Some of this, of course, may be reflective of enthusiasm and better Democratic efforts to get out early votes. But is there any reason to think the trend is just going to hit a wall in the next three days?

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Oct 30 2008

Who pays?

Published by under Washington

hydrant

So often with public services the issue isn’t even whether the service is needed – it’s that I don’t want to be the one paying for it. But someone has to . . .

In the recent decision in Lane v. City of Seattle, the Washington Supreme Court had to settle what seems a prosaic question: “In this case we must decide who will pay for fire hydrants in the city of Seattle and its suburbs.” A boring question rapidly turned into farce:

Seattle Public Utility (SPU) used to pay for them, passing the cost along to its ratepayers. The ratepayers object and want Seattle to foot the bill. If Seattle has to pay for its hydrants, it wants Lake Forest Park to pay for the hydrants in Lake Forest Park. Lake Forest Park, in turn, wants fire districts in Lake Forest Park to pay. The fire districts want someone, anyone, else to pay. On top of all that, the ratepayers want interest on improper past hydrant payments they recover and want Seattle’s new tax on SPU declared illegal. Finally, the fire districts claim they are no longer even parties to the litigation.

So it goes when the thinking is that taxes are evil . . .

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Oct 29 2008

The low turn-in puzzle

Published by under Oregon

Around the country, election watchers are being stunned by the large numbers of early voters – in Florida, North Carolina, lots of other places.

Not so stunned in Oregon, home of the mail-in early vote as an institutionalized practice. The stats as of today are that about 24% of eligible voters have turned in ballots, compared with 30% four years ago at this point in the process.

Why the lower number, in a year when interest in the election generally seems to be running so high?

At Blue Oregon, Jeff Alworth asked readers for any pet theories about this. To which one reader replied, “Conservative felines in Los Gatos emailed their Oregon counterparts to chew up owners’ ballots. You wanted a pet theory.”

He adds, “Jeff Mapes suggests either the lack of a hot-button ballot measure or indecision in the Senate race might have suppressed enthusiasm. Could be. My pet theories are these: 1) although there is great interest in the election this year, Oregonians are not getting the kind of attention we got in ’00 and ’04, and are therefore haven’t stirred ourselves to vote, and/or 2) the polls so strongly suggest an Obama win that voters are complacent about getting their ballots in.”

At fivethirtyeight.com, Nate Silver draws some linkage between counties that vote more Republican and lower ballot turn-ins, and converse. But as Alworth suggests, the linkage seems a little thin.

Could it be that the estimate of how many eligible voters there are, is simply higher this year? That some of those many newly-registered voters aren’t showing?

Consider the history, which seems a little over the map. Here are day runups from the general election results over the last decade.

year 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
2006 1 2 6 10 14 19 25 34 40 45 58 72 100
2004 1 3 9 15 21 29 35 45 53 60 73 84 100
2002 0 1 5 10 14 18 24 32 38 44 52 72 100
2000 - 1 6 9 13 17 23 32 39 46 55 76 100
1998 - 3 8 12 16 20 27 36 42 49 57 74 100

The variation this year? They’ve been variable for a while.

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Oct 29 2008

A line or two too far

Published by under Idaho

Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali has piled up a mass of items useful for his Democratic opponents to dig into, and they have been. The state party has been releasing, one by one, “30 reasons Idaho votes don’t want Bill Sali,” and quite a few are solid and substantive; most are policy driven, and relate to what he’s done as a candidate and congressman.

So you have wonder about the impulse to release Sali’s, and his wife’s, social security numbers on a statewide attack flyer, sent and approved by the Idaho Democratic Party.

As reporter Betsy Russell describes it: “The flier faults Sali for past financial problems, including state and federal tax liens filed against him in 1988, and his continuing campaign debt. The flier shows parts of two tax liens; on one, both Social Security numbers are visible.”

The ongoing campaign debt is certainly fair game. But personal liens from 1988, as in two decades ago? (If he’s had no similar problems since then, most people probably would consider the matter closed, especially since those particular debts apparently were paid.) And Social Security numbers? At the least, those could have been blacked out, and the public learned nothing with their disclosure. His spokesman Wayne Hoffman suggested, “I think the party bears a certain responsibility if Mr. or Mrs. Sali’s identities are stolen following this.”

These are rugged political days. But they don’t have to be this rugged.

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Oct 28 2008

WA 8: Segregating it out

Published by under Washington

More, it seems, than in most races (short of the presidential) there’s been a lot of bad information running around about the contest in Washington’s House District 8, where Republican incumbent Dave Reichert is defending against Democratic challenger Darcy Burner.

Check out this Wall Street Journal sum-up of the race, which is (to be sure) laded with corrections already at the bottom.

And the items that didn’t make the corrections section. District 8 is defined here as having a “rural heart,” being “mostly rural.” Well, the acreage is, maybe (though even that’s debatable); what this really is, is suburban, and rapidly identifying with the big urban center a few miles west, Seattle.

Nor did the article well describe the (now-famous) techy t-shirt art () Burner wore at the site of her burning house.

It’s a race wirth the highlighting, though – as close as any, with shifting dynamics. As ith so many congressional races around the country, in the last couple of weeks there’s a loss of Republican ground and a gain by Democrats; three weeks ago, Reichert seemed narrowly ahead, now Burner seems to have a little ground. And since Washington voters already are casting ballots, that shifting turf makes prediction ever more dicey. But sitting here a week out, it’s looking more as if Burner will turn around the results from two years ago . . .

If we’ve got our information straight.

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Oct 27 2008

Romney v Palin

Published by under Idaho

Apost from a few days ago suggested that, post-November 4, Idaho Republicans may informally start choosing between standard-bearers, or at least standard-bearer types: Sarah Palin on one side, and Mitt Romney on the other.

Which was brought back to mind from this item today in a column of the American Spectator:

Former Mitt Romney presidential campaign staffers, some of whom are currently working for Sen. John McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin’s bid for the White House, have been involved in spreading anti-Palin spin to reporters, seeking to diminish her standing after the election. “Sarah Palin is a lightweight, she won’t be the first, not even the third, person people will think of when it comes to 2012,” says one former Romney aide, now working for McCain-Palin. “The only serious candidate ready to challenge to lead the Republican Party is Mitt Romney. He’s in charge on November 5th.”

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Oct 27 2008

The O, deflating

Published by under Oregon

The stunning decline in newspaper circulation continues, with the reports out today about the losses at practically all of the larger papers around the country.

At the Northwest’s largest, the Oregonian, the drop is precipitous over the last six months, 8.4% down. But what is this equating to over time? Let’s compare with the figures from earlier this decade.

Daily circulation fall 2008: 283,321

Daily circulation fall 2005: 333,515

Daily circulation spring 2002: 348,000 (approx)

Online is rising (and the O’s website is improving). How this will pencil out remains the issue.

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Oct 27 2008

Gas up

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

Take note of the current regional gas prices a little farther down this page – Oregon lowest, Idaho a little higher, but all much lower than they were three or four months ago.

Suggestion: Gas up on election day.

Unless you think it’s just another weird coincidence that, once again, market forces are driving gas prices right before the general election . . .

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Oct 27 2008

Published by under Idaho

Usual rule is that high school students vote a lot like their parents, so the results of the Idaho Student Mock Election, which collects preferences from thousands of high school students around the state, might generally be expected to conform reasonably closely to the actuals next week.

If so, there could be some real interest here. Among the Idaho high schoolers, Democrat Barack Obama managed a slight win for president. And while the three congressional choices all went to the Republicans, the result in the 1st congressional district (where polling has been all over the map) was close.

Here’s what it showed:

Total Number of Schools 54 . . . Number of Ballots Cast 4,704

United States President
CON Chuck Baldwin 46 (1.0%)
LIB Bob Barr 73 (1.6%)
REP John McCain 2,135 (45.6%)
IND Ralph Nader 189 (4.0%)
DEM Barack Obama 2,240 (47.8%)

United States Senator
DEM Larry LaRocco 1,593 (34.7%)
LIB Kent A. Marmon 184 (4.0%)
IND Pro-Life 324 (7.1%)
IND Rex Rammell 300 (6.5%)
REP Jim Risch 2,186 (47.7%)

United States Representative – 1st District
DEM Walt Minnick 1,337 (47.2%)
REP Bill Sali 1,497 (52.8%)

United States Representative – 2nd District
DEM Deborah Holmes 585 (34.1%)
REP Mike Simpson 1,131 (65.9%)

Proposition 1 – Lower Drinking Age
Yes 2,441 (53.0%) . . . No 2,165 (47.0%)

Proposition 2 – Exempt groceries from Sales Tax
Yes 3,380 (73.5%) . . . No 1,221 26.5%

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Oct 26 2008

On and off the bus

Published by under Idaho

Two different political stories of the bus, from Oregon and Idaho. From Oregon, a story of a triumph of sorts: The Oregon Bus Project, founded in 2001 as a progressive voter registration and education effort, is about to see a kind of culmination (though far from a conclusion) as founder Jefferson Smith, unopposed on the ballot, will be elected to the Oregon House next week.

A rather different bus story in Idaho, where a successful political bus effort came to a halt.

How far back they go may be an issue on which long-run memories can differ, but our suggests that at least as far back as the mid-70s Idaho Republicans were running their election year fall bus tours. The idea was for Republican candidates to spend a large chunk of the last five weeks or so before the election on a bus (usually accompanied by several other vehicles as well) visiting most of the communities in Idaho. Republican candidates, from statewides down to county level, would get on and off the bus as need arose, but major candidates spent a lot of time on. And when the bus hit those smaller communities, that constituted a major community event. The bus may have been one of the levers that moved some of those rural and remote communities (and it sometimes hit dirt roads to reach some of the more obscure) from conservative Democratic over to the Republican side.

Reporters rode on the bus, too, and memories remain clear about the (pre-cell phone) day in 1980 your scribe was attempting to phone in a story back to the home office in Pocatello, missed the departure of the bus, and fortunately caught a ride to the next stop with the parents of then-Senate candidate Steve Symms. The bus rides were real human and sometimes unpredictable trips.

They’ve continued on for years, but not this year. Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman blogs that “There is no statewide bus this year. Four dollar gas prices, the internet and perhaps a changing Republican Party in Idaho have driven this campaign tool off the road and into the ditch.”

Our guess would be that gas prices were not the primary factor. There may have been some thought that Idaho’s population is not as widely dispersed as it used to be: It is much more consolidated now, than it was in the 70s or 80s, in the larger cities and suburbs – a radius of about 50 miles around Boise now takes in not far from half of the people of the state. And you have to wonder too whether the personalities might be a little more combustible now: To stay on the bus with a bunch of other politicians over a long haul, even those of those your own party, requires a fair amount of getting along.

Count the end of the bus as a loss, for Idaho’s political culture anyway. And a suggestion that maybe it be re-upped, as conditions change, later on . . .

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Oct 24 2008

OR: Attention from Obama

Published by under Oregon

When Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith ran those TV spots earlier this year invoking the names of Democratic senators he’d worked with, he may not have quite grasped what he’d unleashed. He was clearly trying to attach to the prevailing tide; but ever since, the prevailing tide has been shaking him off. (Democrat Jeff Merkley now seems to have a narrow edge in what’s still a breathtakingly close race.)

Even Ron Wyden, who took Smith to task for his appearance in a Smith TV spot, has shot back from the usage.

Now, maybe most damaging, presidential candidate Barack Obama. This is the first time Obama has appeared personally in a TV spot for a Democratic Senate candidate, and while the fact that the Smith-Merkley race is very close was doubtless a factor, you have to suspect that Smith’s earlier invocation of Obama’s name had a lot to do with it too.

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Oct 24 2008

The I-985 opposition

Published by under Washington

There are sound enough reasons for opposing Washington’s Initiative 985, the Tim Eyman-backed proposal which would shake up the state’s transportation system. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (one of the majority of papers to endorse against it) summarized that it “invites Washingtonians to encourage red-light running, make the streets more dangerous, demolish a good option on the financing of a new Highway 520 bridge and rob the state of the ability to provide for schools and other general fund responsibilities. This inanity, nastiness and shortsightedness are being presented as a guise to reduce traffic congestion.”

Okay. But you can understand why there’s some sympathy for it out there: Parts of the system are dysfunctional, borderline corrupt, and 985 does at least shine a spotlight on some of them.

This slice from an e-mail send out today by Eyman suggests some of that point:

“Photo Red companies top anti-985 donors” reads the jump on today’s homepage of the Spokesman Review. Over 1/4 of the total money raised from I-985′s opponents ($160,000) has come from a red light camera company: Signal Electric $40,000 so far. “Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions” has donated $10,000 so far.

But their political contributions to the No campaign weren’t business-related; they contributed for altruistic reasons.

As the story notes: “Jerry Vosberg, vice president of Signal Electric, said the company’s $40,000 contribution was not motivated by the potential of lost profit.”

The same selfless reason explains the other contribution: “Josh Weiss, spokesman for American Traffic Solutions, said the company contributed money in solidarity with communities it serves.”

How admirable. Note the rhetoric from these companies matches what we hear from politicians: it’s not about the money, it’s all for the “greater good.”

Just because these companies profit millions of dollars every year from these cameras, that’s not why they’re in business. Just because cities profit millions of dollars every year from these cameras, that’s not why they’re putting them up. Just because EVERY camera contract has a provision that allows the company to move the cameras to a different intersection if revenue isn’t being maximized, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong, it’s not about the money.

I-985 removes the profit motive for photo red light cameras and photo speeding cameras. As a result, we read comments like this from Wenatchee’s mayor: “(Mayor Dennis) Johnson said the city’s incentive to install cameras is gone if I-985 passes.” Oops, looks like the ‘no’ campaign hadn’t distributed its talking points in time for that Wenatchee World story.

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Oct 24 2008

An unusual way to put it

Published by under Idaho

Got an election e-mail from the Bill Sali congressional campaign that looked, and mostly was, a totally normal such missive: An endorsement from a fellow Republican in the Idaho congressional delegation, Mike Crapo.

The endorsement as such (of one party member by another) is standard. Till this line, midway down: “Bill’s opponents are trying to put him in a negative light, but let’s face facts: Bill is Serving Idaho well.”

Let’s face facts? That’s what you normally say when either (a) the facts are really ugly and unpleasant, like a Wall Street meltdown, or (b) when the reality isn’t something very widely believed. Which is it in this case?

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