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Posts published in November 2009

The November Washington Digest

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Our November 2009 Washington Public Affairs Digest is out, with rundowns of the conviction of Tacoma judge, pre-election activities, developments in Congress, health issues and much more.

There's an except on the efforts to pull ballots from younger voters. And the usual rundown of important court decisions, regulatory actions, calendar of upcoming events and much more.

Interested in subscribing, or seeing a sample copy? (Subscribers also get access to the full archives, a detailed recent history of Washington month by month, going back to 1999.)

Just send us a mail at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Minnick’s split

Minnick

Walt Minnick

One more obligatory note, political, on the health care votes last night on the U.S. House floor. It was the occasion of one of Idaho Democratic Representative Walt Minnick's tougher votes, and what he did may have some significant political repercussions. The votes may simply have been votes of conscience, in which case he may have done what he felt he had to do. Whatever his motivation, there will be political results.

First, he voted against the main House bill, arguing that it doesn't adequately cut costs in the system. The vote against the Democratic health bill will cost him with a Democratic base (and yes, even in the Idaho 1st, there is one) increasingly sensing in Minnick a Republican wearing a Democratic label. The health care vote might have been one of the few remaining major opportunities for building bridges back to the base.

Before getting to that vote on the full bill, there were other votes, and the most notably was on the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which was aimed at barring use of federal funds for abortion-related payments. The amendment came from and was backed by a number of Blue Dog Democrats as well as Republicans, but Minnick voted against it; in a statement, he said he does “not want a government bureaucrat denying a medical procedure ordered by a woman’s physician.”

Okay, but in casting that vote he handed Republicans the big emotional divisive talking point they need. The Idaho Choose Life site had this devastating formulation: "After standing-up for free abortions as an essential health care right for women, he went on to vote against the broader health care bill. One could understand Mr. Minnick’s priority to be abortion, but not basic health care."

On Idaho Conservative Blogger: "I think Mr. Minnick just opened a huge winning issue for whoever gets the Republican nomination to challenge Minnick next year."

If these were votes of conscience, then he did what he had to. But they will come with price tags.

The incumbent rout

Among the various major national returns on Tuesday, one of the more notable and less-discussed is the close re-election win by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has been popular (at least according to polls and surveys), widely regarded as competent, setting policies that have been widely acceptable in town. Although polling showed him in a lead of 15 to 20 percentage points, he set up a terrific campaign apparatus and funded it to the level of six figures - unheard of for such a race. And he drew for opposition relative unknowns who didn't campaign hard or well. Exit polls on election day put his approval rating among voters at about 70%. He was expected to win in double digits, easily - this logically should have been a landslide. Instead, he won by only about four points. But for his extraordinary campaign, he probably would have lost.

New York evidently was no aberration. Incumbents did not have an easy time on Tuesday - and the key point seemed to be, throw out the insiders.

One of the most surprising Northwest results on Tuesday was the ouster of popular (or so was widely thought) Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, who lost to a challenger who campaigned only lightly and seemed as surprised at his win as everyone else in town. There were more mayoral ousters in Idaho, too. The the Magic Valley, well-known names were turned out in Burley, Buhl and Minidoka. The veteran mayor of fast-growing Ammon was bumped out. A lot of council members lost their seats. Some of this happens every election, but the ratio this time seemed a little high.

In Washington, one of the most consequential mayoral races resulted in popular (yes, again) Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard bounced by Tim Leavitt (a council member, but positioned as an outside). In Seattle, voters first (in the primary) left the incumbent two-term mayor Greg Nickels in third place, then in the general, faced with two newcomers, gave the nod to the contender (Mike McGinn) who was least aligned with Nickels, the downtown power structure, or anything resembling incumbency. Two incumbent council members lost at Spokane.

Incumbents didn't do badly everywhere, of course. But there's another side-operative point here. To repeat a slice from the Betsy Russell blog (at the Spokesman-Review): "After the Idaho Republican Party took the unusual step of passing a central committee resolution backing party involvement in non-partisan city races, one county’s GOP central committee endorsed a challenger, Alex Creek, in a city council race in Idaho Falls; some party activists portrayed a Boise City Council race as partisan because one candidate, T.J. Thomson, was a key organizer for Barack Obama’s Idaho campaign; and a non-official GOP group endorsed and campaigned for a city council challenger, Jim Brannon, against councilman Mike Kennedy in Coeur d’Alene. The result: Creek lost 2-1; Thomson won handily; and Kennedy won by five votes."

The logical conclusion here doesn't seem to be an anti-Republican pattern; rather, it looks as though endorsement by insiders (even if those endorsed are challengers) didn't come off well.

The mood seemed to be not ideological, but rebellious. A consideration to think about as the next year, with its mid-term cycle concluding next November, begins to unfold.

Pungent

The problem with getting so many tweets on Twitter (hold your comments for a moment, please) can be that you miss a lot of the periodic good stuff for the dross.

Had missed, for example, Representative Earl Blumenauer's tweets about this weekend's health care voting activity.

There was "Trial Lawyers are the only group the Republicans dislike more than immigrants!"

And notably (h/t to Talking Points Memo) this: "I wonder if Michele Bachmann wearing a lei (on the Floor) means she has recognized that Hawaii is a state and President Obama is a citizen?"

The House vote on the House health care bill, by the way, seems to be nearly partisan but not totally. All the Northwest Republicans voted against, and all the Northwest Democrats for, except for two nays: Representatives Brian Baird of Washington and Walt Minnick of Idaho. The latter not at all a surprise, the former a little more so.

McGinn the activist

Mike Mcginn

Mike McGinn

Well, now. For a second time, the attorney and environmental activist Mike McGinn has edged past businessman Joe Mallahan in the race for mayor, and this time it seems likely to stick: After several days of leading by only a few hundred votes, with the returns in today (giving him a lead of 2,384), the odds have become very strong that McGinn will be the next mayor of Seattle.

Could be an interesting mayoralty. Or maybe not so much.

The interesting potential comes from that background as a Sierra Club activist, someone schooled in the harder edge of issue advocacy more than the governance universe where compromise and conciliation - either that or ultimately not get far at all - are dominant.

Not only that. Mayors in Seattle, who sometimes have been liberal and sometimes a little less so, have tended to have a fairly close relationship with the downtown business and organizational power structure. The city has not elected many true outsiders as mayor, and when the widespread presumption ran (yes, in this space too) that Mallahan had the edge, that was one less-often stated part of the reason. McGinn came from outside. Put this Times thumbnail of him in your head: a "former Sierra Club leader who quit his job at a downtown law firm two years ago to run the nonprofit he started, Great City. He rode his bike to most campaign events and passed out 'Mike bikes' stickers featuring his helmet-clad head."

So there's that possibility of an actual boat-rocker taking over in city hall.

Or maybe not so much. Remember his ease-back on the viaduct tunnel deal, how he didn't vow guerrilla warfare against it after his election (though campaigning consistently against it). There's also good reason to think he'll want to take it cautious.

This will be interesting to watch.

Concurrance. A few days ago we made the call here, again, for Washington to adopt the Oregon system of mail-in ballot deadlines - to require that ballots actually reach the courthouse by election day if they're to be counted. Washington, instead, just requires they be post-marked, which has created no end of problems.

Secretary of State Sam Reed has proposed the change. Now the Seattle Times has joined in: "Voters deserve a more modern and speedy ballot-processing system." Is the mo building?

Bradbury, Gore – and Kitzhaber

Gore Bradbury

It may be that no one in Oregon's campaigns in this next cycle gets a bigger national drawn than Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bill Bradbury has: former Vice President Al Gore. Gore will be doing a fundraiser for Bradbury in Portland on November 19.

There's some background involved these two, of course. Bradbury was, as his web sites notes, "one of the first 50 participants in Vice President Al Gore’s Climate Change training sessions and has given more than 200 Climate Change in Oregon presentations." That's been no secret; Bradbury has been big on the issue for some time, back to during his years as secretary of state. So a visit from Gore (and who knows, maybe another next year too) makes sense on that basis.

There is also more to it than that. Former Representative Les Aucoin writes on Blue Oregon about what he calls an "intriguing subplot" involving former Governor John Kitzhaber, the front-running Democratic candidate for governor:

"Gore’s move is the continuation of a decades long feud with Oregon ex-governor Kitzhaber, Bradbury’s leading primary opponent, dating back to Gore’s bitter battle against Kitz’ innovative Oregon Health Plan when Gore was a U.S. Senate. John K. won that fight, but he never forgot his nemesis from Tennessee; when Gore ran as the presumptive favorite for president in 2000, Kitz backed Bill Bradley early and conspicuously. Twisting the knife, the Guv criticized the Clinton Administration — and implicitly Gore, the “green” VP — for inept handling of the NW salmon crisis. I'm not saying it was Kitz's sole rationale, but it was one."

But that view has also been challenged, on Blue Oregon and elsewhere.

Has the look and feel of a real primary contest, doesn't it?

Angles on R-71

As of this afternoon, the vote on Washington Referendum 71 - whether to sustain the state law providing "everything but marriage" for same-sex domestic partnerships - continues close but has been holding steady, at 51% yes, 49% no. The potential for a flip remains, but the odds are growing that the voters will have upheld the law.

What that vote means depends on a considerable degree on what lessons you can to extract. One lesson, for example: The fact that "everything but marriage" was so close suggests that a vote on actual marriage would have lost, though probably not overwhelmingly, but much as it did in Maine.

What lessons might be drawn on a larger scale?

Oregonian political writer Jeff Mapes blogs that "Tuesday was a pretty good day for opponents of same-sex marriage." Bearing in mind that Oregon gay rights activists are planning a gay marriage measure for the 2012 ballot, and the indication that domestic partnerships may be more acceptable territory than marriage, Mapes suggests that "Tuesday night's returns will, at a minimum, throw up a big yellow caution flag for gay-rights advocates."

Maybe more compelling, though, is the reaction this morning from Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat, who sees a different significance in the vote: "It appears Washington state will be the first in America to approve a gay-equality measure not by court fiat or legislative action, but by the direct will of the people. It's never happened before. If the slim lead holds for the gay-partnership law Referendum 71, it would be a landmark. Huge. . . no state has ever approved a pro-gay vote."

He points to the example of a 1997 Washington state vote rejecting - with 59.7% majority - a ban on discriminating against gays. (The ballot title was: "Shall discrimination based on sexual orientation be prohibited in employment, employment agency, and union membership practices, without requiring employee partner benefits or preferential treatment?") After yesterday's vote, you suspect that such a ballot issue would have gone decisively the other way this year.

Westneat: "The take-away: The gay-rights movement has won over to its side 10 to 12 percent of this state in the past dozen years. That's about 1 percent per year. That may not seem like much. But sweeping political change occurs when the center 5 or 10 percent shifts to the other side."

ID: The partisan/non-partisan thing

There might be some useful lessons drawn (for both parties, really) from the first paragraph of this post today from Spokane Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell:

After the Idaho Republican Party took the unusual step of passing a central committee resolution backing party involvement in non-partisan city races, one county’s GOP central committee endorsed a challenger, Alex Creek, in a city council race in Idaho Falls; some party activists portrayed a Boise City Council race as partisan because one candidate, T.J. Thomson, was a key organizer for Barack Obama’s Idaho campaign; and a non-official GOP group endorsed and campaigned for a city council challenger, Jim Brannon, against councilman Mike Kennedy in Coeur d’Alene. The result: Creek lost 2-1; Thomson won handily; and Kennedy won by five votes.

Not that one expects the lesson will be quickly learned.

ID: A Pocatello shocker, non-surprises elsewhere

So far as we can see, there's one big shocker in Idaho elections today: Two-term Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase ousted by newcomer Brian Blad. The margin was around 53%-47% - not large, but enough to decide.

That we didn't see coming. On a recent visit to Pocatello, the word from local political people was consistent: It's a quiet nothing of a race, Chase will cruise to a third term. So much for assumptions. So also, add Pocatello to the collection of Northwest cities (Seattle, Vancouver) where multi-term, established mayors who seemed a lock this year . . . weren't.

As to why: Generalized dissatisfaction, maybe? Turnout was very small, and the critics often are disproportionately represented in such elections, and that may have been critical. More to come on this.

But fewer surprises elsewhere.

We'd figured that in some of the hottest race of the day in Idaho - that for the Boise city council, which tells you something - the de facto incumbent slate (including newcomer T.J. Thomson, who's aligned with the mayor and the incumbents) would prevail. And they pretty clearly have.

Holding true to the frustrating tradition of slow vote counting (voters in Washington state don't even have to mail their ballots till election day, and counting doesn't start for an hour later, but Ada County is still way behind them), barely a third of Boise city's votes are yet counted at close to midnight Mountain time.

But the results so far are decisive enough that the winners seem clear. With those partials in hand, incumbent Vern Bisterfeldt is at 77.5% (against two challengers), incumbent Maryanne Jordan is at 63.1% (also against two) and Thomson is ahead 60.3%-39.7% over attorney David Litster. The main opposition slate was positioned as a conservative/Republican group (the state party ED even posted on Facebook today his plans to vote for the three), so you could loosely take this result as a further indication that Boise is now a majority Democratic city. Not a point to be pushed too far (and not applicable to the non-Boise parts of Ada County), but there nonetheless.

One more note: With 15% of the vote in, Nampa Mayor Tom Dale had 71% of the vote. The most distinctive of his opponents, Melissa Robinson, was at 2%.

UPDATE The Boise results were completed somewhat past midnight. The winners were indeed Bisterfeldt (71.4%), Jordan (61.1%) and Thomson (57.4%).

WA: Tales of two issues

We'll make that recurring pitch again: Washington, do what Oregon does and require that ballots be at the courthouse on election day, not merely postmarked. You'd save a lot of blood pressure that way, among other things.

Indications so far are that Washington voters (1) decisively are rejecting the severe tax and budget restrictions in Tim Eyman's Initiative 1033, and (2) narrowly are upholding the legislature's "everything but marriage" law (Referendum 71) on same-sex domestic partnerships.

If the second one holds - and the results at about 51%-49% thus far, with lots of ballots still out, are not certain - it makes for a pretty clear benchmark on the whole subject of gay marriage. Maine voters appear to have, fairly narrowly, rejected gay marriage there. In 2009, "everything but marriage" is about where that subject has migrated to in terms of electoral acceptability, quite a shift from just a few cycles ago. (The Oregonians looking to put gay marriage on the ballot in 2012 may be calling it just about right for a 52% or so win that year, if the trends of the last decade continue.)

r71

green yes, yellow no

That said, whatever the upshot, R-71 does look to be on the social cutting edge. Look at the map (from the secretary of state's office): R-71 won only around the Puget Sound, and not everywhere even there (the late Pierce County votes, where the measure was losing, could be the element that yet defeats it). If it wins, a huge margin in King County will be the reason.

Tim Eyman, on the other hand, will need some creative spin to explain the loss of Initiative 1033, the latest of his tax/budget measures to crash and burn. The loss was not overwhelming; at present it was losing 44.5%-55.5%. But it seems decisive enough. Compare the I-1033 map below to the R-71 map above (remembering that to track the conservative/liberal sides, you need to reverse the yellows and greens).

i1033

green yes, yellow no

Admitting here to a little puzzlement over some of the conservative Republican eastern counties voting no - Yakima? Columbia? Whitman? The explanations from those places should be fascinating - the overall picture nonetheless looks a lot different from R-71. Eyman pointed out tonight that he was outspent; but so what? The point of the initiative was clear enough, and it wasn't accepted.

How long will Eyman keep on doing this? Is the point coming when his initiatives start getting commonly regarded simply as exercises in futility?