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Posts published in June 2009

Unhelpful labels

In Idaho, the Democrat holding the premier elective office in the state was, for a couple of years, David Bieter, the mayor of Boise - which is a nonpartisan office. We have Bieter's Democratic background on conclusive record because he served as one in the state legislature, not any other way. The fact of the mayor's office being nonpartisan probably was a help to Bieter's election and re-election.

The office of King County executive is also officially non-partisan, but here too the partisan background of most of the contenders isn't a big secret. Of the five candidates, four have been elected to office before, and their background as Democrats (in Fred Jarrett's case, of recent vintage, but nonetheless) is well established.

Susan Hutchison, the fifth candidate and a former news anchor at KIRO-TV, is a different matter, because she hasn't run for office, partisan or otherwise, before, and there's no party registration in Washington. So where does she fit into the picture?

She's been described as the Republican and the conservative in the race, which may not be helpful right now in King County - “I don’t think labels are helpful,” she told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (in a story that highlighted how little she has specifically said about her views).

But the article also pointed out (while mentioning some prominent Democratic backers) her very close ties to Republican and conservative organizations.

The site PubliCola has been digging in further, pointing out "FEC records showing that Susan Hutchison’s campaign manager, Jordan McCarran, has worked for Mike Huckabee and Sen Sam Brownback."

Unhelpful to Hutchison (who because of her years on local TV might be the be the best-known of the five candidates) or not, looks like the labels may be going to stick.

Did someone co-opt someone?

"Strange Bedfellows" indeed.

A must-read piece in that blog by Joel Connelly (Seattle Post-Intelligencer) about how happy with the Building Industry Association of Washington - the most ferocious big-funder among conservative activist groups in the state, the top backer of Republican gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi in both his races - is, after reviewing the way the 2009 state legislative session went. Practically everything, the group says, went its way.

It's a mind-bender. More explanation is clearly needed . . .

Over-value

How much is something worth? goes the old question. However much someone will pay, goes the traditional answer - except in recent years, as we know, in the case of the housing market, where prices ran up massively higher than people (viewed in aggregate) were able, at least, to pay; an increasingly, willing, too.

Washington and Oregon were among the relative latecomers to the mass housing price rampup, and they apparently are a little slower than some to slide back down. They have been sliding down, but indications are that they have a ways to go.

The consulting firms IHS Global Insight and The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. today released studies indicating which housing markets around the country remain most overvalued, and Washington and Oregon are high on the list.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pulled out the numbers and said that of 330 metros analyzed, Seattle ranked 35th in the country, although "The report put the average house price at $366,500 in the Seattle area, down 1.6 percent from the previous quarter. Wenatchee and Longview were third and fourth on the overvalued list, with Bend, Ore., Bellingham and the Portland area (including Vancouver) seventh, eighth and ninth. Others in the top 26 were Mount Vernon (18th), Spokane (20th), Yakima (23rd) and Olympia (24th), in Washington, and Eugene (12th), Salem (16th), Corvalis (25th) and Medford (26th), in Oregon. The Tacoma area was 31st."

The Fischer transition

Bryan Fischer, the executive director of the Idaho Values Alliance, will be moving this month from Boise to Tupelo, Mississippi, there to take over a radio talk show (this being a major source of employment in this country for conservative - not other - activists). Just what impact this may have on social conservative activism in Idaho is turning into a considerable subject of discussion.

Fischer's own comment on that: "My departure will create, at least for a time, a bit of void on the pro-family front in Idaho. Since 2005, the IVA has been able to be a voice for our shared values in public, in the media and at the statehouse, and we have played what I believe has been a necessary role in promoting and defending the sacred values of religious liberty and the sanctity of life and the family. But I am also convinced that God cares too much about Idaho and Idaho families to leave this void unfilled for long, and I am sure that a new and effective pro-family voice will arise to carry on the work."

Fischer has been in Idaho since 1980, and a highly visible figure for more than a decade; it's that visibility which is key here. As the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert remarked, "Fischer was the type of person with an opinion about anything, and a penchant for getting ink and airtime." And he got ink and airtime: He turned into the go-to guy whenever media reporters wanted a comment on something that might relate to social conservative issues.

Who exactly he was a spokesman for, though, is a more complex question. He has had allies and supporters, certainly, but news reports would often seem to suggest that he spoke for a monolithic social conservatism, which isn't close to true. Within that community, attitudes are grayscale: Strong backers on out to others who, while sharing varying numbers of Fischer's views, had little use for him.

The socially conservative community in Idaho is large, large enough to (for example) elect a Bill Sali and Helen Chenoweth to Congress (it was instrumental in both). Depending on how you define it, this is a group running somewhere in the hundreds of thousands. The reach is the IVA is a good deal smaller than that; Fischer refers in his goodbye piece to "Hundreds of you [who] have signed up to receive daily Scripture readings and prayers," which seems to indicate a modest direct reach, maybe not a lot more than a fair-sized church. He seems also to have a fine e-mail network, but his overall reach may have as much to do with media exposure over the years as anything else.

There's another indicator in his statement that "I am sure that a new and effective pro-family voice will arise to carry on the work" - suggesting the lack of a succession plan or solid network within the IVA, an indication that it may fold when he departs.

But he's probably right that a new voice will appear. Reporters will find someone who will speak on social conservative matters, and activists will want to carry on much of the activism Fischer has; the environment isn't changing. As yet, so far as we can see.