"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)

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 . . .

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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That may sound simply ideological, but Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has one of the best rundowns yet of the impact of Initiative 1033, the Tim Eyman special that’s been sold as restraint on government but does oh so much else.

Westneat delivers lots of specifics. They come down to this: “He could have targeted his tax relief, to help those who most need it. But he didn’t. This is the rotten core of his initiative. Forget all the caterwauling about spending cuts. At its heart this is a massive giveaway to the rich that does little to nothing for the poor.”

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The long-term move of consumers from trading in small towns toward the mega-commercial centers in urban areas long has been one of the most serious problems small towns face (in the Northwest and elsewhere).

Here’s one approach for encouraging buying local, from an article on the city of Emmett (about 20 miles from Boise) in the Idaho Statesman:

“Last summer, a local non profit group called the Shadow Butte Development Corp. used an unusual approach to induce shoppers to buy locally. For every $100 they spent in local stores, the corporation gave them a $20 gift certificate. The result: $75,000 worth of gift certificates in July alone. ‘People found local mechanics and laundromats and other businesses they hadn’t even known about,’ said Wisti Rosenthal of the Gem County Chamber of Commerce. ‘For that $75,000, $2 million was spent in local businesses.'”

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Dave Reichert

The only Northwest Republican left representing an area west of the Cascades, Dave Reichert of the district located roughly east and southeast of Seattle but west of the mountains, has been through the political wringer.

He was elected in 2004, in a fairly tight race, then re-elected more closely in the Democratic year of 2006. Through this decade, his one-Republican district has been trending firmly Democratic in legislative and other races. And then, in 2008, the opposition to Reichert looked as if it had jumped the shark. His Democratic opponent, Darcy Burner, in her second race against him, did not quite as well as she had the election previous, in an election year even better nationally for Democrats. 2010 seems unlikely to be a comparable sweep year for Democrats. And the historical norm is that once a member of the U.S. House has passed the first re-elect, or maybe two, they generally settle in to easy returns.

And maybe that happens with Reichert. But our attention was snagged today by a Tacoma News Tribune article on Reichert (and Representative Doc Hastings of central Washington, a different situation since his is a very strongly Republican district) and his response to the health care debate. In Congress, Republicans have been hanging in very solidly on health issues, absolutely opposed to public options and other key elements of Democratic proposals. Operating in a politically marginal district, Reichert has been hanging in with his caucus.

The story notes, for example, “Reichert said, ‘it’s exaggerated to say it will put a federal bureaucrat in every doctor’s office, but the government will have a role.’ Both are also absolutely convinced the Democratic proposals to rein in Medicare spending by more than $500 billion over 10 years will result in cuts in care for the elderly, an allegation Democrat’s dismiss as an outright lie.”

Not only many superhot issues where the partisan divide has been so deep have found Reichert so firmly planted with his caucus; in some other cases, he seemed to try to have at least toe in both camps. But not so in this one.

When he draws an opponent next year, as he will, what role will this play? And will there be cost exacted?

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Sid Leiken

Sid Leiken

You remember the case of Sid Leiken, the Springfield mayor who said he planned to run for the 4th U.S. House seat presumably against incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio. In the month since candidate filing has opened Leiken hasn’t, maybe because of the August 21 tearful press conference announcement of an “error in judgment.” That concerned a $2,000 payment his campaign made to his own consulting firm, a payment that ordinarily wouldn’t be legal; Leiken said it was actually just a reimbursement to an outside contractor who conducted a poll. The outside contractor was his mother.

Which sounded a little odd, but also seemed to end the story, partly since Leiken’s campaign seems to have ground to a halt since. But state investigators from the Secretary of State’s office have kept poking at it. And this tidbit from the blog by David Steves, of the Eugene Register-Guard, posted a few days ago, seems to call out for more attention. It refers to a response letter from Leiken’s mother to the state officials:

Most recently, investigators have requested evidence that there really was a poll. That’s where the letter put out today comes in. In it, Glenda Leiken explains that, beyond a memo summarizing the poll’s results and methodology, which she submitted this summer, “no other documentation exists.” She doesn’t have any notes or computer spreadsheets used to track the results. She doesn’t have phone records, either, Leiken says.

“I used a disposable/single use phone to retain my privacy, as my cell phone is my only personal phone line,” she wrote. “The cell phone account was closed over 5 months ago and the phone company does not retain phone records for closed accounts, therefore phone records are not available.”

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protect marriGE

On R-71

Say you’re pushing a socially conservative concept is a state where the population is, as a majority, socially liberal or moderate at most. How do you do it? You might try a pivot to a non-morals-based argument, something relating to finance, legal complications or some other area.

What you don’t do, as the group Protect Marriage Washington has done, is something like this: A video that comes out of Sunday School and never leaves there, guaranteed to turn off all those people unlikely to support your view in the first place. (There’s no embed code for the video, hence the link to the home site.) The video’s view being that marriage itself is being violated by Senate Bill 5688, the measure that famously gave same-sex couples most of the rights of married couples but not the formality of marriage.

The guess here has been that Referendum 71, which seeks to repeal that legislature-passed law, won’t collect the votes it needs for repeal. Videos like this one do nothing to alter that sense.

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