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Posts published in “Day: January 26, 2010”

The big yes

Is the idea of raising taxes dead in this political climate? No . . . and that was one of the points you can draw from the decision in Oregon tonight.

Last year, the Oregon Legislature passed two tax measures which were challenged. After a ferocious campaign, the voter verdict was in favor. With the great bulk of the votes in (what remains are widely scattered and unlikely to drastically change the percentages), yes on 66 stood at 54.4% and yes on 67 at 54%.

We'll have more on this in the days ahead, but for now, a few points to bear in mind.

bullet One aspect of this genuinely is historic: Oregon voters have not approved a new tax or a tax increase in 80 years (when they okayed the income tax). This is a truly remarkable reversal.

bullet The vote is a huge blow to Oregon Republicans. It brings to mind a parallel from 2005 in Washington state, when Democratic legislators passed a controversial gas tax and Republicans challenged it on the ballot. The voters upheld the gas tax, and in the 2006 election swept out a bunch of Republicans. The partisan dynamic in Oregon has just changed: If Democrats were on the defensive in the state in recent months, that's no longer true. Republicans are going to have to scramble - and come up with some new rationales.

bullet This will provide a powerful incentive for Washington Democrats to come up with some form of new tax or other revenue source to patch their budget holes. This current experience in comparable (and even more tax-averse) Oregon, coupled with their 2005 experience, likely will be encouraging. And assuming whatever they do is reasonably well crafted, Washington Republicans may be wary of trying another ballot challenge only to risk more voter blowback.

bullet Counties passing 66 and (with present incomplete numbers) were the same list: Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Hood River, Lane, Lincoln, Marion, Multnomah, Polk, Tillamook, Washington; third-largest Clackamas was on the bubble. There was a line of thought that 66 might pass while 67 failed; not only was the vote very much the same for both, but it was very much the same for both almost everywhere. The vote also matched pretty closely the partisan split in the state, with one area of special vote: Marion/Polk, an area with lots of state employees but also an area traditionally resistant to money issues on the ballot.

bullet You almost feel, many miles away, that exhale of relief from many Oregon legislators. Next month's session abruptly became vastly easier.

bullet Did this provide a bit of a message nationally? Might it have a little impact on the Washington on the east coast? Just might.

Taking wings

If you're following the Idaho 1st district campaign, you'll want to check out the just-posted piece by the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey, outlining the emerging breaks among Republicans as they separate into support of the two (current) candidates for the U.S. House, Vaughn Ward and Paul Labrador.

Specifically, he described Republicans as "separating into camps representing the Idaho Republican Party's establishment and libertarian-conservative reform wings" - backing Ward, a former staffer for former Senator and Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and state Representative Raul Labrador.

No quarrel here with the basic structure Popkey lays out, but two other points also should be borne in mind.

One that Ward originally positioned himself as as sort of reform/outsider in running against Ken Roberts, who was in the state House Republican leadership. (Roberts later dropped out.) Of course, he could hardly have gotten the kind of financial and organizational support he got without backing from some well-placed people, but that early positioning allowed him to gather some backing from those disaffected with the party establishment as well. (Some critics within the party see him, rightly or wrongly, as the candidate of the Kempthorne and Jim Risch crowd.) His high-profile support this week from both Kempthorne and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (who was very much on the same side as Labrador in some of the internal party battles of recent years) is an indication of that.

The second point is the cross-currents in the Republican Party, the mini-ripples of personal and policy conflicts within a party which for so long has been in a position of dominance, mean that loyalties among elected officials and party people don't always fall exactly where you think they will.

And there remains the outside possibility of a return of former Representative Bill Sali into the contest. This will be a battle of some interest for the next several months.

A big special election

Might as well be said now, before the votes are counted: The voting ending in Oregon today is taking place in a substantial election. Special elections often aren't so big a deal, except maybe locally. This one is different.

The first election in the Northwest in this new decade, it will likely have a decisive effect on how Oregon pays for its state and local services - but also much more. Last legislative session lawmakers imposed two tax increases: Is that a permissible thing? What are attitudes toward government, and toward the parties?

Not only Oregonians but political people around the country are watching. Notably, policy makers in Washington, where legislators are trying to figure out what to do with the massive hole in their budget.

Jeff Mapes at the Oregonian noted,

Whatever happens, Tuesday night will be historic. If the Yes side wins, it would be the first voter-approved income-tax increase since Oregon voters approved the income tax back in 1930 (and that was after they voted it in and then quickly repealed it in the 1920s).

If the No side wins, it will be a huge repudiation of the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature and an expensive failure for the public-employee unions that largely bankrolled the pro-tax campaign.

All true, of course. The Oregonian's page should be a good place to follow this; we'll be back shortly.