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Posts published in “Year: 2009”

Idahoans, D.C. and the Kempthorne bathroom

No, this is a different bathroom story. But is there something about Idahoans who go to Washington and, well . . .

There was some rumble a few days ago about this, and we held off comment until the Washington Post, which first wrote about it, got together a more complete account. Today they have, in "Flushing Out Interior's Bathroom Spending," about the price tag for construction of a new bathroom in the office of the secretary of the Interior. Who has been, for the last two and a half years, former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne.

What got everyone's attention was, in contrast to another famous occurrance, not what happened in it, but rather the price tag for the remodel: $236,000. The article points out that as of late last year, the median price for a house in Boise was $187,000.

An inspector general is looking into it.

Probably not the last - as a Bush Administration official - big headline Kempthorne might have wished for.

ALSO The Idaho Falls Post Register brings up a point that should have come immediately to mind. When Kempthorne was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992, his key campaign television ad - the one most often mentioned and thought to have given him much the biggest boost - showed ordinary Idahoan touring D.C., angered and seemingly surprised to find paid elevator operators and a Capitol Hill subway system: "Well, it sure looks like a lot of spending around here to me."

Seattle: About to rumble?

Greg Nickels

Greg Nickels

When Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels was first elected to that job in 2001, the campaigning was tough. First there was the matter of outpolling a sitting mayor, Paul Schell (and dispatching of a bunch of sliver candidates), but that turned out to be the easier part. In the runoff with City Attorney Mark Sidran (just recently cycled off the state utilities commission), it's easy to forget now that Sidran raised and spent far more money, probably had a broader range of support, and got most of the media endorsements. In the runoff, Nickels won with 50.1% of the vote, likely the closest major race in Washington until the governor's contest three years later.

It's a sign of how readily office holders can establish themselves - and Nickels did, forcefully - that re-election in 2005 was an easy walk, not a run, prevailing with a 29% lead over his nearest opponent. And there's some thought that this year - and Nickels evidently will seek a third term - may be more of the same, as demonstrated in the decision by City Council President Richard Conlin not to run for the job.

And yet it's not that simple. Over at Crosscut, editor David Brewster makes a persuasive argument that this election still may turn into a snorter. Odds favor his case.

The key point is Nickels' favorability ratings in the polls, which long had held to a generally sound level but in recent months have taken a serious hit. The recent no-road-salt dispute in the city - the decision not to salt snowy Seattle roads, a decision later apparently reversed - may have been a contributing factor in Nickels' 28% favorables in one recent poll. Such a low number likely will rebound, at least somewhat. Even so, some core vulnerability is evident. (more…)

The biggest evacuation?

Is this the biggest single evacuation of people from an area that the Northwest has ever had? There's case to be made for what's going on now in Pierce County:

Rob Harper of Washington Emergency Management: “This is the largest evacuation in scope and scale. We haven’t dealt with something like this before. It’s hitting more populous areas and an industrial area – it has a much more devastating impact on the economy.”

The raw numbers: About 40,000 people being strongly advised to leave, whole communities including Puyallup and Orting. Everyone living in the Orting Valley, which was being flooded by the Puyalup River, was being asked to leave their homes.

Lewis flooding

Flooding in Lewis County

And that isn't even the heaviest flooding, which seems to be around the Centralia-Chehalis area. Again. for the second year in a row, in an area (about halfway between Portland and Seattle) that historically is a little drier than most parts of western Washington. The flooding is so severe that Seattle and Portland effectively are cut off from land transportation.

Indications are that skies are clearing and the precip may be slowing. Couldn't come too soon.

Broder on Minnick

Washington Post columnist David Broder's latest column is on new Idaho Representative Walt Minnick, who (he points out) has a back story more unusual than that of most incoming members of Congress.

Nothing especially new of note, but it does put Minnick into some perspective. And Minnick says he will be back in his district weekly - and why.

The Wal-Mart flow

National in scope, but you can see the effects in the Northwest too: Take a look at this flowing map showing the growth, store by store and year by year, of Wal-Mart since its founding.

WalMart

Wal-Mart in 2007

Easy to forget now that this is a relatively recent phenomenon, that the Northwest had no Wal-Marts at all until the 90s, and how much ore heavily populated with them is the east rather than the west. But see if it doesn't give you creeps just the same.

Lieutenant Governor Little

Brad Little

Brad Little

In these days of controversial appointments to high office, here's one that (overwhelmingly) won't be: state Senator Brad Little to lieutenant governor of Idaho. And while you so often see many politicians grappling for higher office, here's one just the opposite: The surprise here isn't that Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter wanted him for the job, but that Little agreed to take it.

For the better part of a couple of decades, Brad Little has been maybe the foremost name on the Republican bench - the logical candidate for whatever office, or higher office, you're probably talking about. That has in smaller part to do with his pedigree (one of the big southern Idaho ranching families, and a very politically prominent father) but more his personal qualities. He is a rancher and businessman in Emmett, very much a part of the older Idaho, but also highly plugged in to the new and technical West and a bit of a policy wonk. He's considered relatively moderate on social issues. But he's not a Republicrat; Otter surely wanted as lieutenant someone he could work with comfortably, and Little will likely be a solid fit. His political skills are very highly developed. And almost all the way across the political spectrum in Idaho, he's very highly regarded.

(You'll not hear many Democrats bad-mouthing him; he is not an ideologue, seeming to have a more practical frame of mind. There are some Republicans, from the hard-core activist crowd, who have blasted him. But the better measure is that Senate Republicans have elected him to leadership.)

For years, the talk has been that Little be an automatically major candidate for almost any office, and at times might clear the field of serious contenders. (Had he wanted the first district House seat in 2006, the betting here is that he would now be entering his second term there, without breaking a sweat.)

But he has been reluctant. People were pleading with him for years to run for the state legislature, before he finally agreed to do it - the kind of thing lots of politicians like to be able to say, but that Little honestly could. Plenty of other Republicans would have been happy to see him run for high office since, but he's not pursued any of those opportunities. Why? The general understanding has simply been his responsibilities to the family business and his preference to stay where he is. He seems to have no hunger for the title.

So, as noted, the bigger surprise may be that he was willing to move up. Part of it may be that lieutenant governor is a part-time job. But it does raise the question anew of whether Little might be willing to go for a major (full time) office down the line. It now enhances his position on the bench.

New members, new sites

Official congressional sites for the four new members of Congress - just now sworn in - from the Northwest are up, more or less. We'll see how long it takes the offices to get those pages fully up to steam

FOn the Senate side, you'll see at the moment only preliminary teaser pages for just-sworn senators Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Jim Risch of Idaho. Mostly just bio information here.

On the House side, preliminary office pages are up, though they're mostly boilerplate. The sites for Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Walt Minnick of Idaho are up, though, in a fashion.

Longevity, at the outset

Walt Minnick

Walt Minnick

The new Congress, most of it at least, is sworn in tomorrow, and for many that will mark the start of a new career, in some cases an extended period. The two new Oregonians in Congress likely will be there a while. Senator Jeff Merkley will be there for six years anyway (re-election that far out is too hard to predict as yet); and Representative Kurt Schrader looks, for now anyway, to be well positioned for re-election. The same should go for the new Idaho senator, Republican Jim Risch - as matters sit, a strong prospect for re-election if he seeks it.

However, the Hill newspaper today ranks another Northwesterner as the second most endangered new member of Congress (after Louisiana Republican Joseph Cao, whose political difficulties probably are greater than anyone else's in the new Congress). That would be Democratic Idaho Representative Walt Minnick:

Minnick won in large part thanks to outgoing Rep. Bill Sali’s (R) inability to play nice even with members of his own party. The incoming Democrat will attempt to hold down a district that voted 69 percent for President Bush in 2004, and he has shown the fundraising prowess to do so. Minnick would be well-served if Sali ran again, but, even in that case, the GOP primary would be no cinch for the one-term former representative.

The Hill correctly nails the early interest among Republicans in the seat, throwing in the names of Sali, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (who was interested in a U.S Senate seat last cycle) and state Senator John McGee of Caldwell. (more…)

One of a kind

Bill Grant

Bill Grant

Once, just as the idea of Republicans getting elected from within Seattle was an ordinary and normal thing, there were Democrats - usually relatively conservative, but Democrats - getting elected from the parts of rural Washington east of the Cascades. But there hasn't been one of those - the rural Democrats from eastern Washington - in many years now, with one exception. Bill Grant, a Democrat who has representd the Walla Walla and surrounding area for 22 years, has been the last of his kind. (Even back then, he was unusual - the legislative seat he won had been held by Republican Doc Hastings, now a U.S. representative.)

Until now. Grant, diagnosed with lung cancer only last month, died on Sunday at Walla Walla.

There will be the usual laudatory remarks following his passing. I his case, they will generally match with the favorable descriptors he tended to get from around the political sphere. They also match up with this: A person who could get elected as long and convincingly in such strong territory for the opposing party, must have been doing something right all those years.

The Bell page

One of the Web's utilities, in addition to moving information quickly, is its use as a standing reference sheet. We've used it for that purpose here, with information about subjects ranging from candidates for office to whatever happened to former journalists.

We ran across another use a short time ago: A tracking location for keeping up with radio announcer Zeb Bell.

Posted by the editors of The MountainGoat Report and The Political Game, the page about Bell - actually Ronald Zebell - is of note as provider of one of the more extreme radio voices in southern Idaho. The bloggers describe him: "an ultra-conservative talk radio host who leases time on a Rupert, Idaho AM radio station owned by Lee Family Broadcasting. His show, 'Zeb at the Ranch' currently airs four days a week on KBAR which he hosts from his home in Murtaugh, Idaho and which is broadcast throughout the Magic Valley and Mini-Cassia areas and online through a live stream. Bell's show is a call-in/talk format where topics range from political to agricultural to promoting community events. "

It is, of course, not the agricultural or community events discussion that tends to bring the outside interest. The tracking page and Bell's own site provide plenty more background, better digested at length there than by summary here . . .