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Posts published in December 2009



Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy

Definitions for wherever needed: A progressive tax structure taxes somewhat higher those whose incomes are higher, on the idea that more income is disposable, than those whose income are lower. A regressive tax policy hits the lower-income people harder.

In this study (hat tip to Horse's Ass for noting it), the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy concludes that Washington's tax setup, with its heavy reliance on the sales tax (which proportionately hits lower incomes harder), is the most regressive in the nation.

The use of the income tax in Oregon and Idaho make those states a lot less regressive.

Goldy at Horse's Ass puts it this way: "If we were to totally eliminate our state and local sales tax, property tax, B&O tax and various excise taxes and fees (gasoline, alcohol, tobacco, etc.), and replace the revenue with a single graduated income tax that levied a 2.9% rate on our wealthiest households (those with an average income of $1.8 million), and a 17.3% rate on our poorest (those earning an average of $11,000), with those in the middle three quintiles paying between 9.5% and 12.7%, it would have the same exact impact on Washington families as our current tax system does now. Can anybody reasonably argue that such a system would be fair? I don’t think so. But that’s exactly what we have now."

The December Oregon Digest


Our December 2009 Oregon Public Affairs Digest is out, with reports on unemployment developments, and in Oregon political races (including upcoming federal and other races), congressional actions and much more.

There's a substantial list of state rules and regulations just out, along with a number of congressional actions. And the usual rundown of important court decisions (quite a few of those this month), federal 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 Oregon month by month, going back to 2006.)

Just send us a mail at

ID: A Democratic response

A response from Idaho Democratic Chair Keith Roark, to the December 11 post Grant and the percentages. A short note about one point follows.

Randy, there is no observer of Idaho politics that I trust or admire more than you. Nonetheless, I fear you suffer from an affliction common to men and women of the Fourth Estate: inability to recognize the deliberate use of irony by a politician. Larry Grant is not going to run for Walt Minnick’s seat as a Democrat or a Republican. His comment was clearly intended to be humorous and ironic.

Moreover, Keith Allred’s emergence as a candidate for the Idaho Democratic Party’s nomination for Idaho Governor belies nothing in the way of compromise by either the party or the candidate.

At the state and federal levels, Idaho Democrats have traditionally put good government well ahead of raw partisanship. We are not the party of litmus tests or doctrinal purity. We are not the party that favors closed primaries. We are now and have been for many generations the party that believes in quality education for all children, a tax system that fairly allocates the burdens of taxation and the party that believes that organized labor and collective bargaining raise the standard of living for all Idahoans, union members and non-union members alike. Keith Allred, Walt Minnick, and Larry Grant all embrace these values as did Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, John Evans, and Richard Stallings before them.

Idaho’s Governor is not the leaders of his/her party, titular or otherwise. I head the Democratic Party and Norm Semanko heads the Republican Party. The Governor’s job is to steer the ship of state government on a course that runs true for all Idahoans. Idaho Democrats run for office in an effort to make government work for the people of our state - not to “oppose” Republicans for the mere sake of such opposition. Cecil Andrus was a master at bringing legislators together even though he never had a majority of Democrats in the legislature at any time during his four terms in office. Butch Otter enjoys better than 2/3 majorities in both chambers of the legislature and has a difficult time getting them to agree on anything more important than the color of the bathrooms in the restored Statehouse. Keith Allred fits the Andrus model and is the polar opposite of Otter.

Idaho Democrats don’t agree with every vote Walt Minnick has cast since his swearing in. We won’t agree with every decision Governor Allred makes either. But our tent is large and we have long since learned to disagree without being disagreeable. I personally welcome Keith Allred’s decision to run for governor as a Democrat and I’m proud that Walt Minnick is representing his district as a Democrat – but I expect them to be men of conscience and sound judgment first and foremost. “Putting practical solutions ahead special interest and partisan politics” is exactly what Democrats expect their candidates and office holders to do. That is not a “conflict” Randy; that is exactly the philosophy that Frank Church, Cecil Andrus, Ray Rigby, Chick Bilyeu, Bruce Sweeney, John Peavey and so many other Idaho Democrats have preached and practiced throughout the years.

A quick note in response: Grant has (as an update in that Friday post points out) said he isn't serious about the idea of running as a Republican. The initial Grant comment, as the post also said, came by way of a blog post by Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker; the tenor of his post indicates he didn't perceive it (at the time) as entirely a joke. Presumably it was less than obvious to the Congressional Quarterly reporter writing in followup about Grant (see also that post), since questioning about it was posed in a serious vein.

Take the test

Hereby seconding the editorial in today's Coeur d'Alene Press, suggesting that Americans find out how literate they really are on civic matters.

Developed by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the multiple-choice test covers a range of topics relevant to understanding government, politics, American history and political philosophy. a few of the questions are a little subtle or open to misinterpetation, but a civically-literate person ought to be able to answer the bulk of them without difficulty. The CdA Press editorial writer claimed a score of 88.7%. (Your scribe scored 100%, answering all 33 questions correctly.)

The editorial went on to say: "more than 70 percent of the people taking the test fail it, with scores of 59.9 percent or lower. According to Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Fewer than half of all Americans can name the three branches of government. Only 54 percent of college graduates can correctly identify a basic description of the free enterprise system. Almost a third of elected officials do not know that 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' are the inalienable rights referenced in the Declaration of Independence. Folks, we've got some work to do."

The December Idaho Digest


Our December 2009 Idaho Public Affairs Digest is out, with reports on the November local government elections, in Idaho political races (including the rapidly-changing picture in the 1st congressional district), congressional actions and much more. We also take a look at how area businesses are holding up in the recession.

This was not a big month for publication of state rules and regulations. But the usual rundown of important court decisions, federal actions, calendar of upcoming events and much more is in full review.

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

Just send us a mail at

Cold still


Ice on the North Fork of the Yamhill River/Linda Watkins

Brr. Water bodies are freezing over, and that's happening even in places like those west of of the Cascades, where the temperatures aren't quite as cold as they are farther east.

Cold enough though. With some hopes for relief this weekend.

Grant and the percentages


Larry Grant

Larry Grant was the Democratic nominee for the 1st district U.S. House seat in 2006 and wanted to be again in 2008, but agreed to step aside in favor of Walt Minnick. On one hand, Minnick won; on the other, Grant could be (based on what he had to say in 2006) one of those Democrats less than pleased with him, who consider him a Republican House member in every way but officially. (Please note here: That's speculation, albeit with some basis.)

A Rocky Barker (of the Idaho Statesman) blog item today brings Grant up to date. Yes, he said, he's been getting requests from other Democrats to challenge Minnick in the primary. He's been turning those down.

Then he told Barker, “I said I was going to run for Congress as a Republican.” He figures the conservatives among the Republicans will split deeply between candidates Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador, and might split deeper yet if another gets in. Grant figures: "All I need is 35%."

The party picture in Idaho could hardly get much more fuzzed at this point. The Democrats are likely to nominate for their standard bearer for governor, and their de facto state partisan leader, a man who has spent the last six years as Mr. Nonpartisan, the lets-work-with-everyone mediator, who has yet to express any interest in advocating for Democratic ideas as such. Adding that to Minnick, the top Democrat on the ballot next year, and Idaho Democrats seem to have quit the idea of forming anything like an actual opposition to the majority Republicans. If you want to do that, Grant seems to be suggesting, you need to run as a Republican.

The numbers don't suggest that's likely to work either. The strategy Grant is suggesting is the same one pursued in 2006 by an actual Republican (from somewhere around the moderate-conservative divide) named Sheila Sorensen; running against five avowed staunch conservatives, she theoretically only needed 21% to win. She came in third with 18.3%.

FOLLOWUP ON GRANT Grant may not be - probably isn't - serious about actually running as a Republican. Congressional Quarter reports that "Grant laughed it off as 'pretty much tongue-in-cheek.' 'I did say that to a person as a joke,' Grant said, adding that his point is that 'the moderate Republicans in this state have no place to go in their primary.'" Still doesn't change the quite serious point he was making.

AND, ALSO What you just read may have come off as a little snarky about the Allred candidacy, and it isn't entirely meant so. Allred and Common Interest have generated a good deal of praise, from a range of quarters (from his future opponent, Republican Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter among others), and this isn't to take away from that or from his and its accomplishments.

But running for partisan office under a partisan banner means that you're a partisan, and if you're not, then you're not doing the job, and that's especially true of a candidate for governor, because that person is the party's top spokesman. By running for governor, Allred is committing to being a spokesman for Idaho Democrats. But will he take on that role? Or will the party have no spokesman for itself as a partisan entity? Certainly the Republicans do.

Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review summarized Allred's letter to the CI members "saying the Democratic Party had convinced him it would adopt his Common Interest approach rather than expect him to be partisan." Does that mean Idaho Democrats have decided to quit being partisan - that is, to quit being a political party? Quit opposing Republicans?

From the letter: Democratic recruiter Betty Richardson "assured us that her expectation was that I would campaign and govern just as I had led The Common Interest. She said that it was that work that attracted the party to me as a candidate and that they didn't want me to change that. Rather, she said, the party wanted to embrace that approach. Honestly, this was a surprise to me. When Dan Popkey was doing his piece on us for the Idaho Statesman in 2006, he asked me if I had any interest in running for office. I told him that the core motivation that drives me is the independent-minded pursuit of putting practical solutions ahead special interest and partisan politics. I explained to Dan that I could see no way that either party would embrace such a candidacy and that I saw no realistic way to run as an independent. If there were a way to run and win with my approach, I said, I would certainly be interested."

Evidently a number of Democratic leaders don't see the conflict here. But you have to suspect that a goodly number of party members around the state, already irked by Minnick, will be raising questions about what their party is going to be expected to become next year, and whether as a consequence they want to participate in a non-partisan or partisan political organization.

Allred’s entry


Keith Allred

With word out about the entry of Keith Allred, founder and leader of the Common Interest group, into the race for governor as the first substantial Democratic candidate, some scattered thoughts come to mind. (More collected thoughts will follow, later.)

bullet It may go without saying but should be noted that Allred is the nominee-in-waiting. All the major eminences of the state Democratic party (Cecil Andrus, Bethine Church, legislative leadership, others) already are lined up behind him. His announcement grows out of a specific search for a candidate by the party. Allred will be the nominee barring some unusual or unexpected development. He will be trying to unseat a governor, Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter, something not done in Idaho since 1970.

bullet He will be the fourth Democratic nominee in a row who doesn't currently hold public office, and third in a row who's never run for any office before. Businessman Jerry Brady, nominee in 2006 and 2002, had never run for office before. Attorney Robert Huntley (1998) had been a Supreme Court justice and legislator, some years before.

bullet Name ID will be a factor: Allred is well-enough known in political circles, but not much outside of them. That available blank slate is both advantage and liability, depending on who takes best advantage.

bullet He will need a bumper-sticker message to complement his existing messages. And there are existing messages via Common Interest; Allred will be tightly associated with them, and even seems to encourage identification with them in a letter to Common Interest members (as: wouldn't it be great to have a governor who can get all this done?). How the Republican members of CI respond will be worth watching. So also the picking-apart of CI's long and wonkish white papers on various issues; they are thoughtful and interesting and few Idahoans probably will read them.

A quote from Kevin Richert's Idaho Statesman blog: "If Otter is a populist's populist, then Allred is a wonk's wonk." That may be what Otter is counting on.

bullet Allred's background does not grow out of any rooted connection to Idaho Democrats. Will the base be wary, in an election when many in the base will be struggling with what to do about the one Democrat they did elect to major office, Walt Minnick. And how will Allred relate to Minnick? From day one, this will amount to walking a thin line.

More to follow.

Defining unsupportable

Each December, the governor of Washington has to release a proposed state budget. (Earlier there than in Oregon or Idaho, and probably a better schedule.) Those budgets have to work within expected state revenues. Usually, that's not much of an issue, even if the governor is proposing a tax increase. This year . . .

Governor Chris Gregoire's proposed budget (supplemental, for the latter part of the 09-11 biennium) reflects the $2.6 billion spread between the money available and the money which has been expected for spending, through huge cuts:

"Among the programs targeted for elimination are the state Basic Health Plan, which provides health care coverage to nearly 65,000 individuals ($160 million); Apple Health for children, which provides health care coverage to 16,000 low-income children ($11 million); and the General Assistance Unemployable program, which provides cash grants for 23,000 adults and medical services to nearly 17,000 adults ($188 million). In education, funding would be eliminated for 1,500 3-year-olds participating in the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program; the kindergarten-through-4th grade staffing enhancement that reduces class size in the early grades; and levy equalization, which provides extra support to districts with a lower than average property tax base."

Gregoire is expected to propose tax increases of some sort, but the idea appears to be that she wants the effect of the cuts to start to sink into public consciousness first. That could change the feel of the either-or decision.

Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News-Tribune writes today: "If that was the plan, it worked. Within 90 minutes of the press conference I’d already heard from the Friends of Basic Health Care Coalition, the Washington State Budget and Policy Center, the Washington State Hospital Association, the state nurses union, AARP and University of Washington President Mark Emmert."

The battle is on.

Baird out; competition in the 3rd?

3rd district

Brian Baird

To this point, just one Northwest U.S. House district has had the look of being seriously competitive next year - the Idaho 1st. Add one more as of today: The Washington 3rd.

That is because Democrat Brian Baird, who has held the seat for six terms, says he won't run again. Baird has developed into an entrenched officeholder, even when he seriously ticked off his base over Iraq and was threatened with a strong primary contest (which didn't really materialize). He has held more than 300 town hall meetings and has worked the district hard. He probably could have won re-election easily. But, with him out, you can't say the same about Democratic chances for holding it.

Not that they can't; but that it's by no means a given, a win that should be taken for granted. Baird's own wins have masked the reality of the 3rd, which is that it is as it has been, a competitive area. Baird's last four wins have been landslides, over 60%, but he won the seat in 1998 with 55%, and narrowly lost to incumbent Republican Linda Smith in a close race the election before. Smith held the seat two terms, and before that Democrat Jolene Unsoeld held it for three.

There are solidly Democratic bases here, in central Vancouver, in Olympia and in the old union areas along the Pacific coast. But the Vancouver suburbs, which hold a lot of the population, are mixed or lean Republican, and many of the rural districts are very Republican. Cowlitz County in the middle of the district leans Democratic slightly but can go either way. The region's state legislative delegation is a real mix, from fairly liberal members to some quite conservative.

There's a real conservative streak in many of the nominally Democratic areas. For example, all of the counties in the 3rd except for Thurston County (that would be Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, Wahkiakum and Pacific) voted in favor of Initiative 1033, the Tim Eyman tax/budget measure on the ballot last month, while it got only 42% of the vote statewide. And that same group of counties, six of the 3rd's seven, voted to reject Referendum 71 - taking the conservative side on the "everything but marriage" domestic partnership measure, while it passed the state with 53.2%. Yes, a Republican could win here.

Expect some candidates in both parties to materialize soon. With the better mousetrap, either party could take this district.

This seat ought to jump toward the top on the priority list for both parties.

Pick a party


Wilson's logo

The Oregon governor's race now has six contenders officially filed, though one (Democrat Steve Shields) has dropped. There are also Democrats John Kitzhaber and Bill Bradbury, and Republicans Chris Dudley and Allen Alley.

And there's Jerry Wilson.

Wilson, of Hillsboro, launched the Soloflex exercise business and evidently made a pile. Yesterday, he set up a web site and sent a press release announcing his campaign for governor of Oregon as a Republican. Whatever else, the guy sounds lively and probably has a fine sense of humor - by all means take a moment and read. His press release take on political parties, for example: "If elected I will ban them from the state. Should any agents of this criminal enterprise show up to do their dirty work here I’ll have them tarred and feathered."

Still, he decided to run for for a major party nomination because "he decided against running in a minor party because he didn't think that gave him enough of a platform." His press release said he flipped a coin and it came up Republican. So.

Except . . . Wilson turns out to be a registered Democrat, and to run in the May primary you have to a member of the party whose nomination you seek for 180 days, and that deadline has passed.

When the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes pointed this out to him, he said, "I guess I'll just run as a Democrat."

Okay . . . except that's not the end of it either. A check today shows the secretary of state's database lists him as a candidate of the Progressive Party. (Yes, a minor party, of the sort that hadn't seemed to interest him.)

Minor parties nominate through party conventions in June, not in the May primary. The Oregon Progressive Party didn't offer much comment other than to offer a link to Wilson's web site.

Three parties in a little over a day may be a record.

Labrador’s announcement, interrupted


Raul Labrador

Campaign opening day announcements are usually cheerful points of non-controversy, a positive opening to the campaign, unless the candidate screws up and makes it controversial. In this case, Raul Labrador, running now for the U.S. House in Idaho's 1st district, didn't screw up, but controversy poked in anyway.

That came from state Senator Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden, who "called on Raul Labrador to withdraw from the 1st Congressional race" - on the day Labrador entered it! (That would undoubtedly have been a first.)

His cause: "Raul Labrador is an immigration attorney and admits to defending illegal immigrants in his law practice. He has been on retainer as an immigration attorney to the Idaho industries that support a 'free flow of labor across America's sovereign borders' while at the same time serving as an Idaho State Representative. Labrador has defended individuals who have smuggled illegal immigrants into the United States and who have committed document fraud. He voted to give illegal immigrants Idaho taxpayer funded benefits, supported several Congressional bills that would grant the precious gift of citizenship to people who are residing in our country illegally and has fought to keep illegal immigrants in Idaho by refusing to support a bill with mandatory employment verification . . . His pro–illegal immigrant stances are wrong for Idaho taxpayers and Idaho’s unemployed . . . In this economy Idaho families can’t afford Labrador’s liberal plans."

Liberal! You know this is getting hot when that accusation gets thrown around an Idaho Republican primary.

Calling Labrador "liberal" is beyond a stretch; fellow Republicans regard him as among the more conservative state legislators, which is saying something. You can tell in part from Labrador's tart response: "You know, Sen. Jorgenson is usually a person who doesn’t have a lot of friends . . . So I wouldn’t worry too much about what Sen. Jorgenson has to say.” Zing!

Labrador's take on immigration seems to be pretty centrist: (paraphrased) enforce the laws and the borders, and work out some form of guest worker program that works for the nation's economy and society and protects U.S. workers.

Centrist and totally defensible, yes, but not red meat in a Republican primary. Jorgenson or no, could this create a problem for him. Voters in that primary may be interested more in protest and culture war than in governance, a reality and a conflict Labrador may have touched off on Day 1 of the campaign.