"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Primary election day in Washington, and tonight everyone will have the attitude that of course it was all going to turn out that way.

So this morning, hours ahead of any numbers release, let’s take a look at a set of predictions.

The Seattle Times has a poll up asking readers who they think will win (not necessarily their preferences) in three contests, for Seattle mayor, King County executive, and the 20-cent bag tax.

Results have not been massive (only 41 to 45 votes), but –

For executive, 50% figure Susan Hutchinson will clear the runoff, and 19% figure Council member Dow Constantine will be the other finalist. The rest of the votes were deeply split.

For mayor, another clear consensus about who makes the runoff: incumbent Greg Nickels and businessman Joe Mallahan, each with 39%. No one else breaks 12%.

And 71% figure the bag tax will fail.

These all seem like reasonable consensus assessments, the results that would have to be marked down as “unsurprising.” It’s easy to say after the fact that a result was expected; here we have a benchmark.

See you tonight.

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The advocates for Washington’s Referendum 71 didn’t do a spectacular job of getting petition signatures. They got enough to teeter, for day after day, on the thin edge between winning and losing ballot status in November.

The final decision on that isn’t in yet. But Darryl at the Horse’ Ass site, which has done some fine statistical work on political matters in recent years, has been closely following the review of petition signatures. In all petition events, some signatures are ruled invalid for various reasons and thrown out. If all of the R-71 signatures were valid, the proposal would get to the ballot; but if too many were tossed, it would fail. The question has ridden on the failure rate.

Figuring it has been dodgy, but today Darryl was able to put together statistical analyses that seem to nail the results: “The V2 estimator projects the number of valid signatures to be 121,648 giving an excess of 1,071 signatures over the 120,577 needed for the referendum to qualify for the ballot. The projected (duplicate-corrected) rejection rate is 11.65%.”

In other words, the referendum is highly likely to just barely make the ballot.

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Barrett Rainey, whose posts appear in another section of this site, has up a nice reflective piece on a disappearing part of the community landscape: The civic club hall. And all that goes with it.

From his post:

In Bend, my parents were lifelong members of Elks, Masons, Eastern Star and Amaranth. In high school, I was a DeMolay. No choice. That’s how you were brought up. That was expected. I went. I resisted. I was wrong!
Traditionally, when you walked into a lodge hall or a club room, you immediately, and without introduction, were in “community.” Whether you personally knew anyone else there was not important. Whoever was there would likely share many of your values, have about the same level of volunteer and civic participation as you and would know others of similar interests locally and in surrounding towns.
You probably knew their kids, saw these folks in church, helped build the new bleachers at the high school together, gave blood, pulled the float in the homecoming parade, shared vegetable garden excess, cut and stacked wood for someone who needed help, went fishing or hunting together, chopped and dug out stumps to clear land for the new church wing.

Part of what we’re losing in our increasingly hostile politics is that sense of community.

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A good on the ground report about Barack Obama’s visit and town hall at Bozeman, Montana, by a veteran reporter – Ray Ring – who lives there.

Ring: “Obama tells several of the skeptics, ‘That’s a legitimate question.’ He tells one guy, Randy Rathie, a proud National Rifle Association member worried about costs of health-care reform, ‘I appreciate your question and the respect with which you ask it.’ He keeps using one of his own downhome words – ‘folks’ – to refer to just about anyone. He completely abandons his Harvard and Columbia degrees to intentionally misuse the language for a moment – ‘got to be careful of them cable network shows.’ He points to another woman who’s wearing a cowboy hat and says, ‘If I’m in Montana, I’ve got to call on someone with a cowboy hat.'”

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/Boise National Forest

We’ve gotten the sense over the last generation or so of a decline in common courtesy, a rise in rudeness – a growing lack of concern, even unawareness, about impinging on other people. We probably see this emerge in other places in some of the uglier sides of our politics.

Read the first letter to Idaho Statesman outdoors writer Pete Zimowsky in this Q&A column, and see if it doesn’t ring a bell.

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Didn’t make it (did consider it) to Seaside for Oregon Senator Ron Wyden‘s town hall there. Wyden has done a mass of town halls (more than 500), is very experienced at handling them, and watching his approach to it would have been of interest by itself.

As it happens, Wyden’s staff chief, Josh Kardon, was there and live-tweeted the preceedings, question by question and answer by answer. Even bearing in mind that this was done by an advocate and not a neutral, the results are worth reading.

Overall impression is that this was not a raucous event; the impression comes in part because health care and federal spending weren’t the only topics discussed; liquid natural gas and forest policy came up too. But here’s what some of the health discussion looked like, according to Kardon’s tweets (and the quality of the conversation is a lot better than the more typical promoting of/debunking of outright lies):

First Q – why are the extremes in the health reform debate dominating all the media attention?

Wyden – I’m fighting for common ground. My party won in ’08, but we are supposed to bring people together and represent everybody.

Q – insurance companies seem to “run the show” in US, but lived abroad in Europe; can we pass single-payer ever?

Obama killed single payer, but Wyden bill allows states to enact single payer.

Q – Why not just expand Medicare? Isn’t that easier?

Oregon Medicare already in trouble; overall facing solvency problems.

Q – when can we get past 5 different bills and have one bill to fight for?

A – Going to take time because none have passed either house of cong. Mine is only one with bipartisan support.

Q – Retired physician thinks health shouldn’t be tied to profit. Why do you want health reform delayed? Why do you take health money?

A – My bill has 100% subsidy for coverage for poor people.

A- I end the tax breaks for gold-plated health policies

A – I proposed canceling the August recess to work on health reform.

A – Campaign finance system stinks. Doesn’t affect my fight for health reform.

Q- Mass. is having 3 – 9 month waits for specialists. How are we going to handle new people who are insured? How about getting more docs?

A – Clearly not enough docs, nurses, and PA’s. Need to leverage job training programs to create the work force.

Q – US is spending and borrowing too much. How are we going to do this in a fiscally-responsible way?

A – My proposal does not add to the federal deficit. Every monied interest will have to give something up. Ought to be bipartisan.

Q – My uninsured god-nephew didn’t seek care until too late and died, but system wound up spending hundreds of tho.

Agree. The system is wasteful and inhumane. We need to all have choices.

Q – Can we have more immediate care facilities so we don’t have go to to the ER if we are out of town or after hours?

A – Question is whether the fed govt. should mandate those types of services. Real competition will create those type of after-hour choices.

Q – Did you read these bills?

A- I not only read my bill, I wrote it.

Q – Passionate single-payer supporter upset RW not currently advocating national public option. Will you support t..

I am open to national public option, but EVERY American should have access to the public option, not just the curr..

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Got an inquiry from a friend (in the conventional sense) about becoming a friend (in the specialized sense) with someone on Facebook. He and the other person have had political differences, but he got the invitation to be “friended.” What to do?

Each to their own tastes. But – and yes, we here are on Facebook, and Twitter too among other things – the basic take here is that being someone’s “friend” on Facebook is a little different than the traditional type. A friend on Facebook is someone you choose to keep in touch with, and may or may not be more than that. The question: But would I throttle back on my opinions if I know that so-and-so might see them? Response: If they’re on line anywhere, they may be seen. A whole generation of politicians, among others, is about to learn that the hard way. (The rule here: Write nothing, post nothing, anywhere, that isn’t essentially open to the world at large. You’ll find your desire to keep it private is in inverse proportion to the likelihood of its emergence into unwanted hands.)

Facebook and Twitter do raise a variety of questions for certain categories of people. A question for bloggers and other writers (journalists included): To what extent is a Facebook post or a Twitter tweet “on the record” – quotable elsewhere? A point not yet really resolved.

The next blog post here will make use of Tweets someone else has posted. Probably, those tweets were intended to shared with the world at large. If not, we’ll probably find out soon enough.

Via a Facebook post, a link to a pair of essays by two Idaho journalists, Kevin Richert and Marcia Franklin, on the ethical and journalistic issues of social communications. The main takeaway: There’s a lot yet to be worked out.

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There hadn’t been any certainty about it beforehand, but Oregon Representative David Wu has been getting generally good marks for his town hall performances (in McMinnville, much noted here, and comparably in Portland). And so are others.

Washington Representative Rick Larsen drew a very favorable editorial in the Seattle Times for his Everett event, before a crowd of 3,000: “So there is Larsen, D-Lake Stevens, gently, cautiously guiding his crowd through hours of discussion. The size of the audience, the decision to proceed, took fortitude. Larsen did what he had to do in a high-minded manner. The event at Memorial Stadium in Everett began with the singing of the national anthem. Get it? We are all Americans who love this country. Common ground. From there, Larsen deftly led the crowd, acknowledging arguments on all sides. By conceding all sides have a point, he neutralized some heat in the stadium.”

Representative Brian Baird, who had bagged out on live events in favor of telephonic, has changed course and scheduled some live events.

These things help. The craziness can be defused. Sanity can prevail. And maybe will.

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Just a few years ago one of the big issues in Oregon was the low number of state police on the roads – a number considered low per capita, and too spread out to provide realistic 24-hour service around the state. The concerns were real, and the legislature and governor have, in the last three years or so, increased the numbers of troopers. They are stiller lower than a level most Oregonians would like, but better than they were.

In Idaho, the number of state police hasn’t been so big an issue. But maybe it will. From Betsy Russell’s Spokesman-Review blog:

“Col. Jerry Russell, chief of the Idaho State Police, just presented stats to lawmakers in response to questions last month about the ISP’s staffing. When compared to the six surrounding states – Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Utah, Washington, and Oregon – Idaho ranks dead last for its number of troopers per citizen, with 11,288 citizens for every state trooper. Washington’s at 8,874. When compared to states of similar size – New Mexico, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Nebraska and Maine – Idaho again ranks dead last, by a huge margin.”

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Seems worthy of comment when an Idaho congressional candidate is bringing in, in support, the father and father in law of former Alaska governor Sarah Palin. Difficult to say, though, exactly what.

The candidate is Vaughn Ward, who was the first Republican in the field for the 1st House seat now held by Democrat Walt Minnick. Is a Palin connection really an asset? If so, how much? And why?

The generic-sounding quote on Ward’s site from the Alaska duo (Heath Palin did live in Idaho for a time back in the 50s and early 60s) raises an immediate question. The quote is, “Vaughn is a proven leader that will stand up for the people of Idaho,” Palin and Heath said. “We are proud to stand behind Vaughn Ward’s incredible record of public service.” Ward’s resume is certainly respectable, as an aide and a staffer and service in the military; but so far as his own web site indicates, this campaign is the first thing he’s ever led. That no bar to running for office, but “proven leader” doesn’t seem an applicable description.

We’ll watch and see what comes next.

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At the Wu town hall

The man directly behind us in line at yesterday’s McMinnville town hall meeting, held by Representative David Wu, was an 84-year-old retiree, attending with his wife. He was mad as hell (he’d surely agree with that description) and he knew what he planned to ask Wu if he got the chance. He told me, partly in rehearsal: “Is your federal death squad going to gas us, or shoot us in the head?”

He was totally serious. And deeply worried, which makes sense if you think that scenario is just around the bend. His wife, next to him, was using a walker: Would they be coming for her?

I told him that scenario was not true. It is a widely-disseminated lie based on a radical twisting of a relatively minor bill amendment proposed by Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer, having to do with payment for doctor consults. Death squads are not in the bill. No one is proposing them. And the Medicare he and his wife have been relying on would not change much at all.

Where he got his information originally was unclear, but as he absorbed some of the details, the tension and the anger drained away. Inside at the meeting, he turned out to be among those called on to ask a question. When he did, the basic subject was the same, but his question was calm and dispassionate: I’ve been hearing about seniors not getting care under this plan, or worse. What can you tell about that? Wu’s response, in different words, was about the same as much. The man nodded, and sat down. He looked as if he felt a lot better.

There’s an impulse to ask some of the people who talk about death squads and such: How is this even credible to you? Why is it even believable? But cable TV is powerful, and the widespread spread of lies is readily managed – is being managed. The path out from this morass comes not to isolation but from open conversation. The energy level of the relatively few un-civil people at the Wu meeting seemed to flag as the meeting went on and more people, and Wu, had their say.

In the context, the banner headline in today’s Oregonian, “Hostile questions fill Wu’s town hall,” seems a little off-point. Not that there weren’t hostile questions, statements, mumbles and grunts; there were. But by no means all the questions were hostile, many of the pro-Wu people didn’t pick up ticket numbers to ask questions (many of those were there to listen, or maybe deny a seat to an anti-), and most of the people in the room (you could tell from the timing of applause and other factors) were in the reform group. Outside, there was a protest of sorts, but the crowd there too was mixed. There was no violence, and no one was blocked out.

Jeff Mapes’ Oregonian story – keyed around the lead’s “mostly hostile questions at a packed town hall Monday evening that brought a political circus” – was accurate but feels incomplete.

Incomplete in part because the context of the meeting, and standards for assessing it, are a little unusual.

By the norms of most town hall meetings, yes, this was highly unusual, and the level of criticism and hostility far higher than most. We’ve attended a bunch of town halls by members of Congress over the years, and seldom seen anything like this.

But that’s not a realistic standard for comparison. Compare instead this one to the town hall explosions around the country, experienced by some legislators, who were shouted down, saw their meetings disrupted, people unable to talk other than in a yell – in other words, other recent town halls this year where the subject was health care and organizers got busy trying to raise the temperature. The McMinnville event, by comparison, was civil, and the points of view widely varied. (Did anyone make any note of the people inside and out carrying signs advocating for single-payer?)

Another comparison comes to mind: A Vancouver (WA) town hall meeting held a couple of years ago by Representative Brian Baird. That one was in a school auditorium, attended by more than 500 people, and the people there were almost entirely opposed to Baird’s revised stay-awhile Iraq policy. You could tell from applause and other indicators that no more than a handful of people there were supportive of Baird (or the Bush Administration); the anger in the room was almost visible. Baird was much more on the hot seat, hearing his constituents saying their piece for about three hours, taking far more consistently furious questions in that Vancouver auditorium, than Wu in McMinnville.

There’s an irony here. Baird, who has done more than 300 town halls in his district during his decade-plus in Congress, isn’t doing them now because (he’s quoted as saying) “there’s a lynch mob mentality out there.”

Maybe there is, to a degree. But Wu’s McMinnville event demonstrated, more significantly, that the extreme aspects of the atmosphere can be controlled to the point that civility can be had. And it also showed, in the face of an 84-year-old constituent and many others besides him, the real value and usefulness of trying.

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