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Posts published in June 2009

Recording who gets what

Not all the decisions in the effort to do something useful about health care are necessarily easy. But some of them - a considerable number - simply seem to be no-brainers, proposals whose downside is awfully hard to find.

Consider Oregon House Bill 2376, passed today by the House, which "requires manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and other medical products to report to the Department of Justice gifts, fees, payments subsidies or other economic benefits the manufacturer provides to purchasers, providers or dispensers of the manufacturer’s drugs in the state. The bill also requires the Department of Justice to establish a readily searchable database and website for the public to search the database."

In other words, it says that if your hospital or physician is being given drug samples or other goodies by pharmaceutical companies, you should be able to know that . . . so you can determine if, for example, there's some relationship between a company's sales efforts and the drugs you're prescribed.

The House Democrats said in a release that "citizens today are acutely aware of the pharmaceutical industry’s efforts to market prescription drugs directly to the consumer. However, most people are not aware that pharmaceutical companies spend billions more dollars contracting with, and marketing to, doctors who, in addition to prescribing drugs, also advocate for their use at medical conferences and in medical journals."

There are some legitimate questions of details (at what monetary amount do you have to report?) but the point seems painfully obvious.

There was House floor debate against. (It passed 34-25, not a huge margin.) As the Oregonian reported:

"We're going to drive jobs out of the state of Oregon," said Rep. Ron Maurer, R-Grants Pass.

Rep. Jim Thompson, R-Dallas, said the bill would have a "chilling effect on our ability to attract research dollars to Oregon."

The bill, of course, has nothing to do with research. And jobs lost are those of drug pushers who are making ever more expensive and distorted our health care, then the problem doesn't seem significant.

ID: Polling Otter and Minnick

Idaho's Greg Smith Associates polling is also actively pulling up numbers for leading political figures and - considering how static and one-sided things often are in Idaho - some of them ought to be of broader interest.

The strongest numbers among the major figures belong to 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson - his favorable/unfavorable is a very strong 56/8, or +48; as a benchmark, Simpson (now in his sixth term) typically wins general elections with two-thirds of the vote or a little higher. Senator Mike Crapo (59/17, or +42) is close to that, and freshman Senator Jim Risch (49/19, or +30) isn't far off.

That's all about what you expect; what's been less clear is what sort of numbers the new Democrat in the delegation, 1st District Representative Walt Minnick, would draw. Turns out that his numbers (47/20, or +27) are closely comparable to those of Risch, the other new member in the delegation. Those are sound, strong numbers for a Democrat; they suggest Minnick is well-positioned at least for now. There is one distinction: Minnick has a higher number of people saying they have "no opinion," meaning that he (and his opposition) has more room to sketch in a narrative about him between here in November 2010.

The other numbers of interest concern Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, whose favorable/unfavorable now sits at 47/35 (+12), not terribly strong, and a clear decline from previous polling. Smith's comment on that: “On one hand, Otter certainly took some popularity hits due to the Legislative session. His insistence on desiring to raise gas/transportation-related taxes for road improvements, along with a negatively perceived Legislative session these tax stands contributed to, certainly caused some perceptual damage to Otter. But, recognize that these perceptions were measured only about a month after the Legislature ended – in other words, while memories are still fresh and haven’t had the time to 'mellow'. Potential Otter opponents who smell electoral blood would be wise to consider this, and ask themselves who specifically is ‘out there’ sufficiently perceived positively, ably, and credibly enough to be elected Governor in 2010.”

Still, sometimes these early results help make their own realities, as prospective campaigns come together, or fail to.

OR: Early-early gov polling

Daily Kos/Research 2000 has out a fairly thorough set of polling on the 2010 Oregon governor's race, which yet remains far from filling in clear contours. Just two substantial contenders - Democratic former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury and Republican businessman Allen Alley - are declared at this point, but there's little sense that the field on either side is near closed. Alley, for some reason, doesn't even figure in the polling, maybe because his chances of winning the Republican nomination are not great.

That still leaves the pollsters in the position of polling mostly possibilities rather than actual candidates, which could have some results skewed. Still, there plenty here of interest.

The prospects polled were, on the Democratic side, Bradbury, former Governor John Kitzhaber, Representative Peter DeFazio, and 2008 Senate candidate Steve Novick; and on the Republican side, former Senator Gordon Smith (who may have taken himself out of contention), Representative Greg Walden (who seems likely to have done likewise) and state Senator Jason Atkinson, the one person polled who ran for governor in 2006. (Most frequent guesses seem to run against a DeFazio candidacy too, though that's more speculative.) President Barack Obama also was polled for favorability.

A few observations.

bullet Obama seems to be far more popular (favorable/unfavorable 62-31, or +31) than any of the Oregonians, and practically everyone had an opinion (just 7% didn't). The Oregon name who really stuck out in terms of everyone having an opinion was Smith, whose "no opinion" was just 13%; but that's of no help, since his favorable/unfavorable gap is -9, into unpopular territory, no a good place from which to start a campaign. The two candidates with best standing were Kitzhaber at +20 and DeFazio at +25; the difference probably is more or less erased by Kitzhaber's larger name familiarity around the state (28% had no opinion of him). Bradbury and Novick were in net positive territory, but the more than half of Oregonians polled had no opinion of them, so they would be virtually building from scratch in campaigning terms. Atkinson's numbers (+10) were in the Bradbury/Novick range, and Walden's a little better than that (+11) but a favorable still only at 36%.

bullet In head to heads, Kitzhaber and DeFazio were polling at winning not massively but solidly over all three Republicans. Bradbury was seen as winning but within the margin of error in matchups against Smith or Walden but substantially ahead of Atkinson. Novick was polled as losing to all three Republicans.

Of course, all of this is pre-campaign, and these numbers can and do change once campaigns commence. The high no-opinion factor also matters. Even two-term Governor Kitzhaber (who left office back at the end of 2002) will still have some re-introduction to do, to newcomers and some others. But as this begins, the strongest opening hands likely would be those of Kitzhaber and DeFazio; the next question is whether either of them run.

Seattle v. Vancouver (BC)

A little compare & contrast never hurts when figuring out what works and what doesn't. Seattle and Vancouver have a light rivalry of a sorts - both have similar ideas about what constitutes civic virtue - that can make such a thing useful.

Knute Berger at Crosscut has a report on a meeting that put one up against the other, the spokesmen being Seattle council member Peter Steinbrueck and Vancouver council member Gordon Price - each speaking up for the other city. Some of the points of praise were interesting (and notably, the points of praise for Bellevue, which tends to get more than its due share of knocks from the other side of the water).

It's all worthwhile. Here's a slice for flavor:

Price praised Seattle as a "great American city," which made folks in the audience laugh, apparently thinking the word "American" was a qualifier, as "great for an American city." But Price, wearing an American flag tie, quickly corrected the impression. Vancouver, he said, has not nearly had the impact on Canada that Seattle has had on America, or Canada for that matter. Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Costco: these are Seattle originals that have been widely influential in a way Vancouver is not and never has been.

On the other hand, Steinbrueck rates Vancouver much higher on the livability scale, in part because the city's more consistent and integrated planning has resulted in a denser, more people-oriented city that is more family friendly than Seattle and has a larger slice of its middle class living in the core. In short, for all of Seattle's protectiveness on livability, Vancouver is doing a better job.

Upstream: Adjudicating the Snake River

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The Snake River Basin Adjudication is one of the largest water adjudications the United States has ever seen, and it may be the most successful. Here is how it happened, drawn from the pages of the SRBA Digest, which for 16 years has been tracking the details of the massive case - the advances, the slips, false starts and unexpected leaps. The Digest is the key independent source for anyone watching the SRBA.

Those U.S. products

In Coeur d'Alene, there's a company called U.S. Products, which manufactures commercial carpet cleaning equipment, portable heated carpet extractors, and related equipment. It declares itself "Quality made in the U.S.A.," and "Keeping America clean for over 30 years." Its web page also notes that "Since our products are manufactured in our Coeur d’Alene, Idaho factory we are able to keep tight control over product quality throughout the manufacturing process."

All of which sounds good. Until you get to the business section of the Coeur d'Alene Press, which reports that the company which owns U.S. Products, Nilfisk-Advance, has decided that within a few months it will move U.S. Products' manufacturing operations to Queretaro, Mexico. (Some administrative staff will remain in Coeur d'Alene, which you might think will hamper the logic expressed on the business' home page.)

A question: Will they still call them U.S. Products? And if so, will they try to do it with a straight face?

Never say die

There's a tendency among people watching - or even involved in - political activities to throw efforts and initiatives into the "win" or "loss" column too quickly: A natural tendency to analyze and work out who the winners and losers are. The problem is that politics isn't a one-shot over and out; it is ongoing, an evolution. Wins are hardly final, because so often they can be reversed later. Same for losses.

Today's case in point is Oregon House Bill 2398, the bill classifying the Metolius Basin near Bend as an Area of Critical State Concern, drastically limited development there. It has been one of the hardest-fought bills of this year's legislative session, and closely-fought. Environmentalists have supported it, but the Democratic caucus has been split, partly out of concern that the bill would undermine local planning and zoning efforts. (House Speaker Dave Hunt was among the nays. Republicans have been solidly opposed.)

Last week, the bill - which has cleared the Senate - narrowly failed in the House, and the storyline was that Democrats were sacrificing environmental issues this year to make up for their string of tax increases. And that seemed that.

Today, the bill was brought back up on reconsideration, and Representative Larry Galizio, D-Tigard, switched his vote from last week - enough, just enough, to pass it.

A veteran and highly successful lobbyist in another state often counseled: Never give up till the session ends; and even then. Good advice all over the place.

CEO pay dropping

Maybe call it a lagging indicator - we're approaching a year when pay indicators for many classes of employees started to skid - but come now a report that pay for CEOs, in the Northwest at least, is dropping.

A Seattle Times study out today said that "Median pay for the chief executives of publicly traded companies in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho region dropped 6 percent to $1.18 million, reversing several straight years of steep increases."

Top pay for any CEO in the region in 2007 was $38 million (which by itself might have skewed things a bit that year), but this year peaked at $13 million.

Numbers in decline

Washington's Economic and Revenue Forecast Council said on Thursday that revenues for the next two years have been recalculated and adjusted downward, by more than $500 million.

An indicator for around the region? Possibly. Consider that the Oregon Legislature is still around, and still working on budget bills, and still debating over those numbers.

A good rundown of reaction to the Washington revisions shows up on the TVW Capitol Report blog. The main official reaction from Governor Chris Gregoire involves a 2% budget cut from previous levels.

The budget conflict

Up to this (late) point in the Oregon legislative session, the legislature's majority and Governor Ted Kulongoski seem to have been on the same page on almost everything. But now that the last of the budget decisions are coming in, that's changing.

The school budget will either larger - because a rainy-day fund was heavily raided - or smaller - because it was only lightly raided - at the end of this. Right now, indications are that Oregon's legislators are in favor of a heavy raid, while Kulongoski is flatly opposed, to the point of veto. The full scale of the conflict is likely to showdown next week.

Who prevails? No certainty, but legislators are likely, for now, to reflect the difficulty of making the more conceptual case for a low raid. It's a good case. But harder to get through to people on a gut level, at a tough time, just after a string of tax increases already have been approved . . .