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Posts published in “Day: May 27, 2009”

Kitzhaber in?

The idea of John Kitzhaber once again seeking the job he once seemed to argue was undoable - governing Oregon - just simply hasn't seemed like a starter. He could have run for the U.S. Senate in 2002 or 2008, but passed; considered a run for governor in 2006 but passed. Why should the idea of a run in 2010 be taken seriously now?

A new piece by the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes suggests the outline of a case for taking it seriously. It says (on occasion of the unveiling of his picture at the Statehouse) that he's thinking about running. Fine; he was thinking about running all those other times, too. But there are a few new factors.

He would likely have a Democratic legislature to work with, rather than the Republican one he fought with the whole time he was governor. He has been pushing his ideas on medical reform, but visibility has been intermittent, and as governor he could go much further to make things happen. His personal circumstances have changed.

What hasn't, probably, is how formidable he would be if he does run. There's no overwhelming favorite in the field right now, and Kitzhaber (whose polling numbers remain excellent and campaign skills remain sterling) would enter as the formidable frontrunner and likely next governor.

But be wary of placing any bets just yet.

Spider to fly

Jan Drago

Jan Drago

You sorta get the feeling that the Greg Nickels forces have been preparing for this. In Crosscut, the headline was, "The Mayor 'welcomes' Jan Drago to the campaign," and you get the sense of a puzzle piece calculatedly falling into place. Even though this means he now actually has not a possible serious opponent, but a real one.

The Seattle mayor should, by rights, be in trouble. His polling borders on horrendous; the Seattle Times reported a couple of weeks ago that Drago is positioned to win by 21 points. Drago is no unknown; she's been on the council since she was first elected in 1993, longer than anyone else now on it.

And there are some structural reasons for thinking Drago might pull it off, including a primary contest which may favor her kind supporters.

But there's also no sense here that Nickles, twice elected (and the first time after two close and tough contests) is on the run. From Crosscut: "It's clear that Mayor Greg Nickels' political Swat team is trying to cut Drago down early in the campaign, before she can get much momentum. There's a press release a day touting Nickels' achievements in his most vulnerable areas: getting stimulus funds, getting favors from Olympia, the pesky snowstorm. The media is peppered with pointed questions to ask Drago: about her absenteeism (code for getting too old), her Nickels-like voting record. Nickels is playing a tough Hillary to Drago's Obama-like message of consensus. It's meant to rattle her (she is eminently rattleable) and to freeze Nickels' supporters from any thought of defection."

A challenger to a veteran incumbent ordinarily has to play one of two cards: Either make the case that a very different policy direction is needed (not useful here, because Nickels and Drago aren't far apart) or hammer the incumbent as too bad to keep in place (which would upend the consensus style Drago likes and which has helped her in the past). She has strategic options available, but they're apt to be unpalatable, and Nickles' people seem to have assessed as much.

Her problem, in other words, seems to be strategic more than anything else. It may be solvable. Should be fascinating to see how she tries to do it.

A mega-OR transport project

Major transportation projects were hard to come by in Idaho this legislative session, but easier in Washington (see Alaskan Way and the 520). And now Oregon seems to be about to set in motion a truly enormous effort of its own. The House today voted 38-22 in favor, enough to win support for the revenue-raising components (which need 60% support in each chamber). Since the odds in favor probably are better in the Senate than they were in the House, and since Governor Ted Kulongoski has backed the plan, it looks close to done.

That doesn't mean there's no controversy, and it comes from both left and right. On the left, there's concern both about the structure of the spending (exact projects and amounts are laid out) and concern that not enough is going for mass transit. On the right, there's concern about the hundreds of millions of dollars involved and the substantial increases in taxes and fees - a six-cent gas tax increase, substantial car registration fee increases and more.

But it seems to be slipping through with less angst than you might think. And less than in either Washington or Idaho. How good a thing that is, may depend on where you sit.

From our point of view . . . we'd be pleased to see the new Newberg-Dundee bypass (on Highway 99) put in place; the new bill funds a third of the expensive effort. That stretch of wine country road, smack between Portland and some of the most popular coast areas, can turn into a parking lot at times. The bypass - bypassing most of the cities of Newberg and Dundee - could help. And turned dirt within the next few years could be considered, locally, as miraculous.

Risch and the Middle East

Sometimes new jobs will throw a different light on people. For a political career going back decades, Idaho's Jim Risch has been involved with state issues, and the international scene just hasn't been part of what we've seen from him, publicly anyway. There wasn't much call.

Now, Risch is in the U.S. Senate and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which might not have seemed the most obvious choice. But he seems to be settling in, and his interchange at a committee meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair shows a grasp of Middle East subtleties and comfort with international politics many Idahoans might not have suspected. (Risch's appearance comes toward the end of this C-SPAN program.)

A hat tip on this to Nathaniel Hoffman of the Boise Weekly, who was in Washington for the meeting (and appears himself, briefly, at the end of the clip), and has a few more comments on Risch's time in D.C.