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Posts published in November 2009

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.)


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).


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?

WA: As alliances become clearer . . .

For a while, conservative-under-wraps Susan Hutchison seemed to be pulling off enough of a play-to-the-middle campaign to hang on to enough votes to win as King County executive. But in liberal King County, it was always a tall order, and in the end the task was too much, and the Democratic organization - which was under no illusions about her - too strong.

So we get to the second paragraph here before mentioning the newly-elected (or so it looks, with 57% of the vote this far and most ballots counted) executive, Dow Constantine. His campaign was not especially decisive, though it did seem to become more clarifying as the race went on. The guess here, though, is that the range of outside organizations made ever clearer the nature of who was what - the Democratic organization, labor and others on Constantine's side, and the building owners and other Republican-based groups on Hutchison's. The alliances may have mattered a lot in this case.

In the other Washington candidate races of note . . .

bullet In Vancouver, a lot of people (not only there, but in Portland as well) are holding their breath: Council member Tim Leavitt is at current count 1,750 ahead of incumbent Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, with 7,000 votes out - giving Leavitt a good probability of winning. It would be a stunning end to Pollard's run as mayor; only months ago, he still looked all but unbeatable. And it raises questions at least about the Columbia River Crossing bridge. (And that's true even if, as the point has been made, many of the key decisions are made at the state level - local jurisdictions can still throw in big roadblocks if they're so inclined.) There'll be some scrambling and frantic phone calls on Wednesday morning if the numbers hold.

bullet The Seattle mayoral is too close to call tonight; attorney Mike McGinn has a slight edge just over 50%, but not enough for anything resembling a safe call over businessman Joe Mallahan. This one could be up for grabs for a few days.

bullet There were three legislative races today, all in eastern Washington, and they resulted in lowering the Democratic count in the House by one. Bill Grant, who represented the Walla Walla area for more than 20 years and was the last rural Democrat in the Washington legislature from east of the Cascades, died earlier this year. His appointed replacement was his daughter, Laura Grant, but she couldn't hold the seat in the very Republican territory: She is losing in a 58%-42% contest to Republican Terry Nealey, who had lost to Bill Grant in 2008. A quiet race generally, but a landmark.

Power savings

There's a tendency to think that conservation is something that helps only at the edges, if there. But it can amount to more than that. What's more surprising is how much it evidently has amounted to already.

From the Northwest Power & Conservation Council, which recently oversaw a study on electric power conservation in the region:

Improved efficiency reduced demand for electricity in the Northwest in 2008 by an amount equal to the power use of about 148,000 homes, the highest annual accomplishment since recordkeeping began 30 years ago, according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.

The 2008 efficiency improvements — energy conservation — totaled 234 average-megawatts (an average-megawatt, a unit of electricity measurement, is 1 million watts delivered continuously for a year). That is equal to the output of an average-size natural gas-fired power plant.

Efficiency improvements have a cost, but it is lower than the cost of building new power plants. In 2008, the average cost of efficiency for the region’s electric utilities was just $20 per megawatt-hour (2 cents per kilowatt-hour), or approximately one-fifth the cost of power from a new generating plant fueled by either natural gas or wind. Total spending by the region’s electric utilities to achieve the improved efficiency was $251 million or just 2.2 percent of regional retail electricity revenues.

The report isn't absolute: It comes from 64 reporting electric utilities, to 51 that haven't reported yet. (You didn't think there were that many in the Northwest, did you?) But pretty indicative of the potential.

ID: Watching for Tuesday


Tuesday will be an election day in Idaho, but not a big election day. When the most interesting elections in the state are apt to be city council races, you know you're scratching.

The top rank races in a sense will be mayoral. But Boise's mayor isn't up this year, and the next couple largest city mayors who are, aren't especially controversial.

In Nampa, the second-largest city, there's something of an interesting race, but there's a problem: Mayor Tom Dale, running for a third term, appears to be generally popular and uncontroversial, and no one seems to have made a compelling case for why he should be fired (which is what any challenger to any incumbent has to do). Not only that, he has four challengers, who likely will split whatever opposition vote there is. One of them seems most worked up about traffic roundabouts. Another has drawn some interest for entirely different reasons: Melissa Sue Robinson, who has been a transgender activist, has gotten attention in large part because of that part of her background. If Dale doesn't win decisively, something unusual is going on in Nampa.

In Pocatello, the third-largest city, Mayor Roger Chase also is after a third term. There seems little doubt he'll get it; his one opponent is little-known.

Beyond that, top interest has gone to the Boise city council, where most of the candidates have divided into two generally clear groups: One close to or siding with a liberal/moderate council and mayor (David Bieter, previously a Democratic state representative), the other being a more or less conservative insurgency.

Three seats are up. Two are being defended by incumbents: Vern Bisterfeldt (a long-time local elected official, who has been elected in the past as a Republican) and Maryanne Jordan. The third seat is open, and is being sought by T.J. Thomson, who last year was one of Barack Obama's main Idaho organizers. Thomson has endorsements from Bieter, Bisterfeldt and Jordan, among others. Loosely (very), this could be considered the Democratic side.

The other side is what amounts to the Republican slate: attorney David Lister for the open seat (against Thomson), Lucas Baumbach against Jordan and Daniel Dubham against Bisterfeldt. (A couple of other sliver candidates are also in the field, but outside the main equation.)

Some of the issues involved are parochial, notably a streetcar proposal which Bieter has been pushing and may be politically problematic. But the main candidates seem reasonably well defined, and many of the voters are likely to see them through a larger lens. Boise has been migrating toward a city with a slender Democratic majority, which suggests the incumbents and Thomson (who has run a massive and intensive campaign) have the edge. If it doesn't turn out that way, some re-evaluation of Boise politics will be in order, because something significant will have changed.

We'll know soon enough.

WA: Watching for Tuesday


Tuesday will not be a big political day in Oregon; only a few scattered local races, few of much significance, will get attention, and then not much. Tuesday will be an election day of a little more import to the north and east, though, most notably in Washington.

The real importance and indicators in Washington state are likely to come from the results on two ballot issues, one launched by social conservatives and one by tax conservatives, and both treading somewhere near the lines of acceptability on their respective fronts. The results for both will be indicators, markers, for where Washington is politically now, and where it may be next year.

Referendum 71 was launched with the idea of repealing a law passed by the 2009 legislature to expand the terms of non-marriage domestic partnerships, to include almost all of the legal standards marriage has under state law. It marks a flash point in the culture wars, and what Washington's voters do about it will say quite a bit. Not only liberal groups but also many of the state's largest corporations (Microsoft and Starbucks, for example) have signed on to keep the law intact.

Initiative 1033 is another Tim Eyman tax measure, to (as a secretary of state blog item summarized it) "limit revenue growth for state, county and city general funds and use excess money for property tax relief." It is not far off from the kind of TABOR measure that caused so much grief in Colorado a few years back, and was defeated at the polls in Oregon in 2006. But there's also a good deal of push behind it.

Results released late last week from the Washington Poll at the University of Washington suggest that both ballot measures are close enough that the outcome is in some doubt. In the case of 71, voters 56%-39% seemed to favor keeping the domestic partnership law in place. Eyman's measure pulled 41% yes-46% no - realistically, too close to call. A lot, simply, depends on who gets out. Turnout may be pretty good for an off year (it's been estimated upward of 50%), but there'll be some nail biting going on.

Three executive office elections ought to get some attention too, though only one will necessarily have a clear story to tell. (more…)