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Posts published in October 2008

Gas up

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 . . .


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%

On and off the bus

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 . . .

OR: Attention from Obama

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.

The I-985 opposition

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.

An unusual way to put it

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?

Previewing Idaho post-election, part 1

The general election is a week and a half out and many of its eventual results are yet unclear. But we can begin to see some of the outline of post-election Idaho, and it is likely to be different political place.

That's likely to be true whatever happens in the unfolding contests at least somewhat up for grabs - U.S. House (in the first district), U.S. Senate. When the votes are tallied a week from Wednesday, even if a Walt Minnick or a Larry La Rocco do manage a win (possible albeit difficult), Idaho will remain a very Republican place. All of the state officials (none up for election this year) will remain Republican. The legislature will stay overwhelmingly Republican - there seems little prospect that more than very few seats of the 105 will change parties. (If more than are countable on the fingers of one hand actually do, that could mark a truly massive and rare national wave akin to 1932.) Most of the courthouses will be little changed.

Two highly significant changes, setting a stage for ongoing development of Idaho politics, could develop out of this election, though. And over the next few election cycles, there's a real chance they could change the state in big ways. (more…)

Another newspaper gone

The Wood River Journal, the weekly newspaper at Hailey, is ending publication effective today. Its assets (including its archives) have been sold to its long-time rival at Ketchum, the Idaho Mountain Express.

Call this one a little surprise, and a really short term in newspaper ownership. The Post Company (publisher of the Idaho Falls Post-Register) bought the Journal in April; the in-state ownership sounded at the time like a new life lease for the Hailey paper.

The Journal (and predecessors) had published for 127 years. From one of its last articles:

Faced with a deteriorating economy and falling real estate market, the Journal's owners have reluctantly concluded the Valley cannot support two newspapers. The assets of the Journal have been sold to the Idaho Mountain Express.

“We are deeply saddened by this,” said publisher Jerry Brady, president of the Journal and Post Company, which has been managing the newspaper since May 1. “All of us who tried to save the Journal and its long tradition gave it our best shot. However time and capital ran out on us. Sale to the Express was the best course open at this time.”

Minnick at Republican levels?

Two weeks from now we'll have a much clearer idea of how well the various pollsters did, which will be notable in some races. In the case of the Idaho 1st House District, where Republican incumbent Bill Sali is being pressed by Democrat Walt Minnick, polls are all over the place.

But one out today in that race, from SurveyUSA, has some especially interesting crosstab information - if it pans out. (The poll was conducted last weekend; 4-point margin of error). From the descriptive sheet:

For Sali, the problems are acute, and assailing him from several directions, with the numbers suggesting that the freshman Congressman is his own worst enemy.

Despite the fact that Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) led Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in Idaho’s 1st district, 57 percent to 37 percent, Sali not only trailed Minnick in the horse race, his net favorable rating was the same as Obama’s: minus-14. The survey found Sali’s favorable/unfavorable rating to be 33 percent/47 percent, and revealed Obama’s to be 37 percent/51 percent.

Conversely, Minnick’s net favorable rating was a solid plus-22 — the same as McCain’s. The poll showed Minnick’s favorable/unfavorable rating to be 45 percent/ 23 percent, and McCain’s to be 53 percent/ 31 percent.

Furthering the narrative that Minnick’s position in the lead might be more a function of Sali’s negatives than the Republican Party’s problems nationally, the GOP was still seen as “best equipped to handle the economy” in this poll by a margin of 54 percent to 37 percent.

Among the survey’s additional findings: Bush’s approval rating in the district was 35 percent, with 56 percent disapproving; Congress’ approval rating is an abysmal 9 percent, with 78 disapproving — the lowest in any poll conducted for Roll Call this year.