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Posts published in October 2009

Indications of allegiance

The usual rule here is that we'll refer to people with the name and indentifiers - such as profession or political party - of their choice. But we won't make that an absolute because of the occasional, if unusual, cases in which people are simply deceptive about such things. Clarity and honesty ought to trump deceit.

King County executive candidate Susan Hutchison has in the current campaigns positioned herself as a political independent and moderate, a stance that's been bought by at least some of the regional mass media. (The Seattle Times, in endorsing her, described her simply as "a political outsider.") But that's disingenuous at best. Washington has no political party registration, but you can tell where a candidate stands by their friends, and Hutchison's are from Republican and conservative circles. Not a point to play up in a King County race, perhaps, but such are the facts.

With that in mind, consider the close alliance between Hutchison's campaign and the Building Industry Association of Washington, which in recent years has been the prime engine in Washington state for Republican and conservative campaigns. Horse's Ass has outlined the most recent connections, ranging from contributions to recent rounds of robocalls around the county. If doubt remained about the nature of Hutchison's independence, that should be enough to erase it.

The real bill

Never enough any more, apparently, to argue on the actual merits or demerits of a specific idea: The obligation seems to be to press it beyond the point of reason. Even when the core issue seems to be on your side.

So we have Idaho's two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Republicans, tagged (along with 28 other senators) as "rape nuts", uncaring about whether women are sexually assaulted. The hook for that is their votes against a defense spending amendment, backed by Minnesota Senator Al Franken, aimed at barring military contracts with companies that limit employees to arbitration rather than other measures (such as lawsuits, or going public) to resolve claims "related to or arising out of sexual assault or harassment, including assault and battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false imprisonment, or negligent hiring, supervision, or retention."

The amendment came about because of a particular actual case in which an employee of (in effect) Halliburton, working in Iraq, was gang-raped and injured. After many procedural efforts, she has gotten her case, not yet settled, to court and public. The Franken amendment would have allowed her sue directly.

A Kevin Richert (Idaho Statesman) blog post out today outlines the situation, and Crapo's and Risch's responses to it, in some detail. But a couple more points seem in order.

What the amendment does is set a requirement and limitation on companies that seek to do work for the Department of Defense; it was not, at core, a referendum on whether rape is a bad thing.

Crapo and Risch have, as they have pointed out, ample public record (through state and federal legislative votes) for cracking down where they could on sexual assault; accusing them of being uncaring about that pushes the case beyond sense. Because the charge is so over the top, there's a temptation to stop with that observation.

But what about the point of the amendment: That companies accepting federal contracting dollars should have to adhere to certain basic standards of decency? Look again at the language of the amendment, and what it is designed to prohibit - roadblocking the ability of victims to push back when they have been sexually assaulted, a requirement that they give up their basic rights as victims of crime. That would seem a shocking thing for Risch especially, as a former prosecutor who has prosecuted sexual assault cases, to endorse. The senators suggest (in Richert's piece) that some time and efficiency advantages could accrue through use of arbitration; but nothing in the amendment bars the use of arbitration if the victims want to avail themselves of it - it simply prohibits making it mandatory. Such policies exist solely for the financial and public relations benefits of the contractors, not because of military security or because they do anyone else any good.

So draw your own conclusions here about who logically falls on which side of the debate here.

There's a reality here that merits some open discussion. Overreaching accusations of rape-coddling don't much help.

Suspension in absentia

Jason Atkinson

Jason Atkinson

State Senator Jason Atkinson, R-Central Point, who ran for governor in 2006 and emerged third in that Republican primary, has indicated he expected to run again this year. That was expected and made sense. He displayed strong campaign skills during his governor run, he has a strong constituency among active Republicans and especially among social conservatives, and seemed likely to become the immediate frontrunner for the Republican nomination. Because his Senate seat is mid-term next year, he would not be putting it at risk.

So his announcement that he will "suspend" activities - you can't call it a campaign, because he has never actually announced as a number of other contenders have - changes in a big way what had been the expected dynamic for next year. (As a note: From all appearances, Atkinson seems not to have shut and locked the door to re-entry, but as he's situated now it doesn't sound likely.)

The Oregon Republican Party is dominated by conservatives, but it now faces a peculiarity: The probability, for the moment anyway, it will nominate a moderate who will get little backing or enthusiasm from conservatives. There are two Republicans in the field now, businessman Allen Alley and former legislator John Lim, both from Portland and neither with any great backing from most of the party core. Between them, Alley may have the edge, but either way a lot of conservatives may be wondering: Is this it? Have we slipped to the point that we can't even generate a candidate for governor?

There is one other name circulating as a possible Republican contender for governor: State Senator Frank Morse, R-Albany. He could be an impressive general election candidate: He has some broad respect across the board (no one could credibly describe him as fringe or uninformed or incapable), but it's far from clear whether he runs, and seems not to have made any major moves in that direction. And one other thing: He too is relatively moderate, and will not excite the Republican base. And when time comes to vote, you do need your base.

For a lot of Republicans, it has to feel like: Back to the drawing board.

Not enough title

Nothing unusual (or Oregon or Washington) on the face of this: Someone's unhappy about the title being placed on a ballot issue, and don't be surprised if a lawsuit develops.

What we have here is actually two ballot issues, Oregon Referenda 66 and 67, both referring to the voters the question of whether to sustain or repeal two tax increases (one on income tax for incomes over $250,000, the other on the minimum corporate tax) imposed by the last legislature.

A post on Oregon Catalyst, "Ballot titles new partisan low," by Senator Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, argues that the titles are written with bias toward passage: "The committee didn’t just skew the language to favor the tax increases, they left out important information that might reflect negatively on the tax increases, like the fact that these tax increases are retroactive to the beginning of this year. The ballot title also ignores that very important fact that these tax increases are permanent, not a temporary fix that expires after two years."

The problem is that you could always run through items to add or subtract in a title, but the title isn't there to make a comprehensive case either way - there'll be room for that elsewhere in in the voters guides - and these don't.

The Eugene Register-Guard, which weighed in on the titles, said in an editorial today that "Fights over ballot titles are a routine feature of the political maneuvering that precedes a vote on ballot measures in Oregon, just as challenging referees’ calls is part of the game of basketball. So it is with the ballot titles a legislative panel has drafted for the two tax measures that are up for a statewide vote in January. Both, however, are exactly what ballot titles are meant to be: concise summaries of the measures and their effects." Each does with some accuracy say that what's at issue is a tax increase (that being the key red-flag language anyway), each described with some clarity.

Or almost. One of the points of squabble has to do with what exactly the results of repealing the taxes would be. Ferrioli has a reasonable point in this area: "The ballot titles are also quick to include statements that are purely speculation, such as what type of cuts would have to be made if the tax increases are defeated. Unless the committee has a crystal ball, there is no way they can know what the specific cuts would have to entail."

So, herewith a proposed constitutional amendment for Oregon (and Washington) concerning ballot issue which have fiscal impact, whether on the tax or spending side:

All ballot issues should have to account (as legislatures do) for both sides, revenue and appropriation. If the main point of a ballot issue is to reduce (or increase) revenue, then it should also provide how that reduction (or increase) should be handled on the spending side. If a ballot issue is aimed at the spending side (as has happened in Washington on teacher pay, for example), then it should also provide for where the money to pay for the expense would come from. In other words, ballot issues should have to balance the books, the same as legislators do.

Which would seem on the surface to be what Ferrioli is calling for . . . one would think . . .

An electronic voter sheet

In pre-electronic times past, political machines would give their voter backers the ticket - a sheet of paper showing how the voter ought to vote, up and down the line. Political parties in effect do that, naturally, as a matter of course, but more broadly, voters tend to be on their own.

So, something interesting in Washington: the Progressive Voters Guide, aimed at providing something like that ticket in web form. It runs through the issues, arguments for voting a particular way, links. It breaks down races by region, down to (for example) the Yakima City Council.

Endorsements include, understandably, Dow Constantine for King County executive. Interestingly for mayor, no endorsement but rather this:

"Vote for [Joe] Mallahan if: you think business management experience is important, you prefer a more pragmatic approach to politics, you want to replace the Viaduct with a tunnel, and/or you are less concerned about his lack of experience with Seattle issues. . . Vote for McGinn if: you believe a track record of civic leadership is important, you prefer a more pointed and grassroots-oriented progressivism, you oppose replacing the viaduct with a tunnel, the environment is your top priority, and/or you are less concerned about his lack of management experience."

Will we see something similar from the right?

A wheelie

This is the sort of thing you do if you're in trouble, in an election where the dynamic is different from the one before: You change basics about what got you this far. And if that sounds on its face like a risky maneuver, you're right.

Referencing here Mike McGinn, one of the two finalists for mayor of Seattle (and narrowly the first-place finisher in the primary). He has been until recently not especially well-known across the city, but what he has been most known for is opposition to the tunnel alternative as a replacement for the Alaskan Way viaduct. (His preferred options is improvements to surface roads.) The whole subject is highly divisive in Seattle, but that stand clearly is a big part of what got him to the finals against businessman Joe Mallahan, who like Mayor Greg Nickels is a tunnel backer.

The tunnel proposal has been backed not only by Nickels and state officials but by the city council, and it is on track for development. That has put McGinn in a problematic spot - should he throw roadblocks in front of an already-greenlighted project?

Today, in the wake of another city council action backing the tunnel, he decided no: He said he still thinks the tunnel is the wrong approach, but he would carry it out and see it through if he's elected.

As a political matter, this is problematic. How would you feel about this if you were an anti-tunnel (and environmentalist, most likely) activist who push McGinn with that as a key object in mind? How would you feel if you're relatively agnostic on the subject (as some Seattlites are)?

Mallahan's quick response shows he grasps the dynamic: "My opponent has spent the last eight months campaigning on one issue - stopping the tunnel and our economy from moving forward. Now he's changing his position because he's seen the poll numbers and is fighting for his political life. His flip-flopping clearly demonstrates that voters have a choice between a political opportunist or a principled leader and effective manager, like myself, to lead this city and our economy forward."

Tight polling in the straw

It may be that former Governor John Kitzhaber winds up running away with the 2010 governor's race, primary and general, but stray indicators have been floating by suggesting the contrary - maybe that Kitzhaber very much still has to make his case.

One of the most interesting emerges this weekend from the annual Democratic summit at Sunriver, where a straw poll was conducted among the Democratic activists, politicians and supporters: Who's you're choice for governor?

Kitzhaber came in first, with 39.7%, but former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (who was in the race earlier) came in a close second at 36.4%. (The vote was 83-76.) Bradbury's people were cheering the results, understandably.

Jesse Cornett, who was a poll organizer, noted at Blue Oregon that "supporters were out in full force and with bright blue shirts, hard to miss. While Bill Bradbury’s supporters were less ubiquitous, Bradbury himself took the entire weekend to be in Sunriver, likely helping his vote count."

Side note: Representative Peter DeFazio, who has mentioned interest in the race, took 2.8%, best interpreted not of popularity but as an indicator of how likely DeFazio is to enter.

Hutchinson’s hold


Susan Hutchinson

Dial back a couple of months to the August primary election for King County executive, and the results carried a clear portent - noted here - for the way things were likely to go in the November general.

The first place winner was former local news anchor Susan Hutchinson, a familiar face but new in local politics (never having held a public office), and a little more subtly the candidate from the right - the conservative; she got 33.1% of the vote. Second place, at 27%, was Dow Constantine, a liberal/moderate Democrat and a veteran on the county council. The next three vote-getters, whose percentages total to 35.2%, were all (speaking roughly) near-clones of Constantine politically: liberal/moderate Democrats with substantial elective experience in the county. The logical conclusion, assumed here, was that in rough terms Constantine's support would merge with theirs, yielding enough for a win in the head-to-head with Hutchinson; none of the other minor candidates were close reflections of Hutchinson. That's the way these kind of races ordinarily, structurally, work.

That conclusion, though, was built on an assumption: That in relatively liberal King County, in this non-partisan race, voters would draw the distinction in viewpoint and types of support between Constantine and Hutchinson. Two months on, with polling results showing Hutchinson in a lead, its unclear they have. Around the northwest in nonpartisan races, for such reasons, a number of jurisdictions elect Republicans in Democratic jurisdictions and Democrats in Republicans ones. King County just might do it this fall.

The campaigns are one reason for this. Constantine has only lately begun making the clear distinctions between himself and Hutchinson. And the telegenic Hutchinson has been doing a good job of fuzzing over the differences, sounding during this runoff campaign more like a moderate Democrat than anything else. And that may be working.

One real indicator of that is the endorsement today by the one general daily newspaper left in King County, the Seattle Times, for Hutchinson. It concludes: "But this election is about change. King County government must change the way it operates. The days of big-ticket projects and budgets are finished. The time is perfect for a political outsider to shake things up."

Veteran readers of Times endorsements will find missing the paper's usual reliance on experience and depth of knowledge as key bases for endorsement; good reason, since this case those assets aren't there. And the history she does have should have had enough red flags to warn them off - if she wins, they may have a lot of 'splaining to do in the next few years. (Take another look at that August post, and project the personality in the job of King County executive. You can see the train wreck coming.)

Comment from Horse's Ass ran this way: "I actually thought the Seattle Times wouldn’t endorse Susan Hutchison because whatever the ideological affinity, even they couldn’t bring themselves to endorse a candidate who is so spectacularly unprepared and unqualified to serve in such an important office. I was wrong. I often speak of the Times ed board as a single entity, but I know this decision wasn’t unanimous, so if those ed board members who opposed Hutchison’s endorsement retain at least a shred of self-respect, they will make public who voted for whom, or whether the decision ultimately came mandated from union-busting publisher Frank Blethen himself. But institutionally, they should be ashamed of themselves."

It may be another indicator, though, of the direction this race is going. It's all about definition, and so far Hutchinson has done a fine job of keeping it fuzzy. Constantine has only a little time left to sharpen the focus.

Where Idaho is

A concise summary of Idaho's present governmental financial woes, on Betsy Russell's blog:

"One in five Idaho school districts has declared a financial emergency. State prisons are managing 500 more offenders than a year ago, with $28 million less in funding. Part-time state employees already hit with furloughs and other cutbacks will face sharp increases in their health insurance premiums. And Idaho’s Medicaid program could see a shortfall so extreme it’d have to eliminate 23 percent of the health benefits it provides to the state’s poor and disabled."

Tax increases are of course off the table.