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Posts published in November 2009

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…)