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Posts published in September 2009

Kitzhaber takes the plunge

Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber

John Kitzhaber, governor of Oregon from 1995 to 2003, thought about running for governor in 2006 and the Senate in 2008, but he couldn't quite pull the trigger on either. (As running for the Senate was an untaken option in 2002, too.) So until he actually announced, there had to be some inevitable weighing of probabilities. It happens when it happens, and not before.

What Kitzhaber announced today was actually somewhat less than a formal announcement; technically, quite a bit less. But it was sufficient as a statement of intentions. As a matter of practice, the Hamlet period is over, and he's in the race.

As a strategic concern, a key matter is to what extent he clears the field, on both sides of the fence.

You can start on this with the KATU-TV/Survey USA poll just released showing favorable and unfavorables for Kitzhaber, incumbent Ted Kulongoski, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury and Republican Allen Alley. It does not indicate any overwhelming strengths for anyone, and Kitzhaber's 33%/36% favorable/unfavorable is less than commanding. But it's better than anyone else's. And once his visibility starts to rise, odds are it will improve.

State Representative Brian Clem, who has been exploring a run for governor, is likely to drop out by week's end. Bradbury sounded as if he plans to stay in, but who knows? Kitzhaber is simply going to be a formidable presence in the Democratic primary. It's hard to see him not winning it strongly.

There's some talk that former Senator Gordon Smith, defeated for re-election last year, may take a run at this race. A Kitzhaber-Smith contest would be high-profile and a lot of fun to watch. But Smith's path in a governor's race doesn't seem very clear. He emerged from last year's race not only defeated but also somewhat damaged, his nice-guy persona battered and identified with the distinctly minority party in Oregon. He would have serious recovery work to do if he wants to run for a major office again. The idea of running against Kitzhaber may make it less appealing.

Other prospects, from Alley (who is in the race) to Jason Atkinson (who might be), seem murkier still. Any Republican running statewide in Oregon starts from the double-bind of a need to appeal to the right in the primary and the center in the general, a problem that looks to be getting worse this year instead of better. Will an Atkinson run? Guess here is, maybe, but odds are less than even.

The unexpected happens, from here to November 2010 is a long opportunity for just that. But Kitzhaber enters this with a better than even chance of election next year.

Two sides, sort of

Business interests ordinary get a lot of respect and leeway in Idaho, so count this - the Dispel the Myths/Squash the Fear Rally in Boise today - as something of an unusual case. Here we had owners of small and medium sized businesses making both a business and human interest case that was being shouted down, literally, by a flash crowd from their philosophical right.

The rally had to do with health care reform, which drew the business people because they want provide health insurance for employees - or at least would like their employees to have it - but prices and conditions are putting it out of reach. They made the case compellingly, and one would think this is a serious problem worthy of address.

The 80 or so at the Dispel the Myths rally were met by 50 or so protesters, who (in Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell's account) shouted down the speakers and tried to keep them from being heard.

One paragraph from Russell's account: "Wendy Somerset, owner of Furniture and Appliance Outlet in Twin Falls, said her employees won’t take the insurance she provides because of the cost: 'It’s groceries or health insurance,' she said. 'We need reform and we need it now.' As she spoke, flag-waving protesters in back yelled, 'Take your socialism!' and 'Read the Constitution!' and a woman shouted, 'We’re not going to pay for your abortions!' When rally organizer Nancy Snodgrass of the Main Street Alliance appealed for quiet and respect from both sides, protester Lucille Verdolini shouted from the back, 'Let’s pray that you don’t get breast cancer and die.' The group in back then chanted, 'Obama lies, Grandma dies.'”

It would be nice, in writing about this subject as in many others, to describe the sides as if they are simply both saying their piece, and both sides have something useful to offer. But there's no realistic case these protesters are offering anything useful. Their repertoire extends to slogans, falsehoods, narrow ideology and purveyance of hatred. They'll deserve to be taken seriously when they offer (as the business people asked them to do) something resembling solutions and a willingness to behave like adults.

Culture war time

The speculation here (and elsewhere) has been that attitudes toward same-sex marriage have been changing considerably through this decade. When Washington's legislature passed its Defense of Marriage Act in 1998, that seemed like the clear majority-popular thing to do. When the legislature this spring passed the "everything but marriage" bill (Senate Bill 5688) to allow state-recognized same-sex partnerships, that was by then thought to represent a majority (if, obviously, far from universal) view. And now?

Well, now, we sort of get to find out where the public stands. Referendum 71, which would repeal the "everything but" law, was just declared ballot-qualified - it got barely enough signatures to clear the bar, just over the 120,000 or so signatures it needed. It was a close enough call that for the last couple of weeks the outcome was unclear.

That suggests the proponents have an uphill battle ahead of them. A little over two months, and Washington should be an interesting test of where the public stands now in this front of the culture wars.

Vouching for Kristof

Some skepticism of unnamed sources as the basis for news stories is understandable, and sometimes warranted. But in the case of Nicholas Kristof's Sunday New York Times column on health care - which revolves strongly around the story of a woman called "M" - we can personally vouch for the story. We happen to know personally the people in question, have followed this story for some time, and can affirm to you that Kristof got it right.

If you've not read the column yet (and please do), the story has to do with a woman and her husband who has progressive dementia and has begun racking up large medical bills, which are likely to get larger. As she sought out financial answers, the piece of advice offered her repeatedly and strongly was: Get a divorce. Fast. Her hospital told her that, and so did her lawyer.

They are certainly not the only married couple in this boat.

Remember that the next time you hear one of the irrationals talking about how America's health care is number one: We have such a wonderful health care system we're forcing happily married couples to divorce. We lead the whole rest of the world on that metric.