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Posts published in “Day: February 4, 2009”

Still not enough

Sherril Huff

Sherril Huff

You have to wonder what the Republicans were thinking about the elective office of King County elections chief. Were they thinking they'd somehow easily win it and thereby gain the keys to the kingdom (as it were)?

State Senator Pam Roach, R-Auburn, who ran for the job, seemed to have thought so. Her reaction to the candidacy - and Republican Party endorsement - of another Republican, former King County Councilmember David Irons, was: "It's almost like they have a death wish," and called him a "spoiler." (Which seems ironic, since it was Irons who came in second place, substantially ahead of Roach.)

The fact that King County is majority Democratic certainly helped the appointed elections director - and winner of the election on Tuesday, Sherril Huff. She was appointed in 2007 by Executive Ron Sims, a Democrat, and got support from the county's Democratic organization. The guess here, though, is that this was less important than her incumbency and her background in elections, at Kitsap County as well as King. Voters tend not to oust incumbents unless they have a strong reason to; the Seattle Times concluded, "Huff is credited with cleaning up the operation and dramatically improving organizational and cultural climate in elections. The proof was in the latest election. King County produced a much smoother election in 2008 than it did in 2004 and Huff gets a lot of credit."

If you assume a Huff v. single Republican result, that wouldn't have done the job; Huff took 44.0% (not shabby for a marginally-known first-time candidate in a six-way race), while Irons and Roach together took 36%. the rest went to three minor candidates.

It's hard not to look on this result as a referendum on whether King County elections are being run decently. The voters, at least the 15% of registrants who voted Tuesday, seem to have concluded they are.

The case for Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

UPDATE Kitzhaber is quoted as saying he wouldn't be interested in a cabinet-level job, though he might be willing to serve as a health policy advisor in some other capacity.

Among the many names circulating to replace Tom Daschle in the key Health & Human Services/health care reform position, many are well-known (from Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney to Howard Dean and Kathleen Sebelius). One of the lesser-known to the national audience, but mentioned repeatedly as a prospect, is former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber.

Every candidate mentioned so far has a set of assets and liabilities. Does Kitzhaber make sense for HHS?

He might make excellent sense, if a number of conditions - some applying to him, some to the situation in D.C. - hold true. So, the case for Kitzhaber:

First, on the D.C. side. Part of the appeal (for Barack Obama at least) of Daschle is that the South Dakotan has been tight with the new president: They could work closely together. Another asset is Daschle's experience in Washington, as a majority leader in the Senate: He knows how Washington works from deep inside, and presumably would be a power player in moving health policy. If those points are requirements for the position, then Kitzhaber isn't a fit.

But Obama could look at it another way. His administration already has plenty of D.C. insiders. His party has solid control of the Congress - legislation could be rammed through, if need be, if it has broad support. Building that support would be at least as important, and probably more important, outside Capitol Hill than it would be on. And while having a close friend in this key spot would be a nice thing, it shouldn't be necessary. Being president means developing a lot of relationships with a lot of people. And one other thing: Obama seems much more intent on the broad goals of health policy - such as getting everyone or nearly everyone insured - than on the details, which seem to be more negotiable. He might find it helpful to have in place someone who has worked through the implications of what's happening, and can make effective judgements on policy from a solid knowledge base.

And: There are members of Congress who have health care ideas of their own, and probably no one is more centrally based to push them than Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who already actually has bipartisan support for a large bill that actually would do quite a lot on health care.

Looked at that way, how might Kitzhaber fit? (more…)