"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Is the clout of talk radio diminishing?

Political people certainly act as if it is powerful enough, considering the bows and scrapes given to Rush Limbaugh from anyone on the right who momentarily crosses him. But as with broadcast television, it may be a lesser influence now than it was, given the competition from the web and elsewhere.

Seattle’s Blatherwatch recalled how “KVI was at the forefront of the 1994 Republican resurgence, the pre-Waco militia strutting. John Carlson and Kirby Wilbur organized and ran initiative signature campaign on-air and almost single-handedly got a measure on the ballot (later rejected by the voters) that defunded roads. The US Supreme Court upheld their right to wage that campaign on public airwaves, a huge win for talk radio. Wilbur’s now gone, and Carlson is talking to the crickets in the toughest time slot in town (3-6p). . . .

“Talk radio was in its heyday back then – the talk pie has shrunk. Conservative KVI at its peak was often in the top 10, in the market now it’s languishing at 27th. Despite KIRO’s right turn in the last few years, what was once an AM news-talking blowtorch perennially (it seemed) at no. 3, is now a wimpy FM at 18th in the market that can’t be heard in many corners of the city, much less the rest of the region.”

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Nothing like a hanging in a fortnight, the saying goes, to concentrate the mind. Or, maybe, prompt a fundraiser.

For all the Democrats’ problems nationally, there’s little indication (outside of a couple of polls that look like outliers) that the major Democratic figures in Washington or Oregon are in big trouble. The extreme rhetoric does show up in places, but the guess here it will mostly boomerang.

Like the blast by the TeaPartier at Asotin, unsatisfied with simply declaring Senator Patty Murray as wrong on the issues – no, she declared she wanted to hang her. (You can see this in the clip at about a half-minute in. The female speaker says: “”What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd? What happened to Jake when he ran with the wrong crowd. He got hung. And that’s what I want to do with Patty Murray.”)

How can this kind of garbage appeal to the majority of voters? Reality is, it probably won’t; and we keep seeing indicators that it’s wearing progressively thinner month by month.

Meanwhile, Murray’s campaign is using the Asotin incident as another lever for fundraising. Makes sense.

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If you’re in favor of having medical practices at what may be the only hospital in your region determined by the doctrine of a specific religious organization, than you may find what happened in Bend to be unfortunate.

The rest of us may see it as a hopeful harbinger for the future.

The Catholic Diocese of Baker, which has been the church’s sponsor for the St. Charles Medical Center at Bend, said this week it will end that relationship:

Recently, hospital administrators and Baker Bishop Robert Vasa have “respectfully disagreed” on the meaning of some of the directives. In particular, St. Charles offers patients tubal ligations, a form of permanent female reproductive sterilization, which, Bishop Vasa says, goes against the church’s teachings.

“It is my responsibility to ensure the hospital is following Catholic principles both in name and in fact,” Bishop Vasa says. “It would be misleading for me to allow St. Charles Bend to be acknowledged as Catholic in name while I am certain that some important tenets of the ethical and religious directives are no longer being observed.”

Bishop Vasa asked St. Charles in 2007 for an audit of the hospital’s compliance with the ethical and religious directives. The hospital openly provided the bishop with the information. Since that time, Bishop Vasa and hospital officials have had a number of discussions about the future of the hospital as a Catholic institution.

In the context, this seems amicable enough – an agreement to disagree and a logical move forward. The two organizations seemed both saddened by it, and no doubt some people are: St. Charles has been a Catholic hospital for close to a century. A tradition is ending.

(In many respects, the changes may be subtle: “Mass will no longer be celebrated in the hospital’s chapel and all items considered Catholic will be removed from the hospital and returned to the church. The St. Charles name will remain the same and the cross will remain on top of the building.”)

Others from the Bend area, probably plenty of Catholics included, may see this as a tradition worth ending. The connection between religious organizations and hospitals never seemed entirely logical (in the modern era), except maybe in the sense of fostering a general sense of unifying medical provision with charitable work – and we all know how well that’s worked out. Catholics in Bend will still be able to manage their own health within the constraints of their church’s doctrine, if they choose to; but there’ll b no pressure now for non-Catholics to do so.

There are plenty of other Catholic hospitals, at present, in the Northwest. This move may reverberate.

(H/t for the post headline, to Bend or Bust.)

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Probably doesn’t feel that way right now to the Boise advocates – Mayor David Bieter among them – of a downtown streetcar, but in denying federal money to the city for that project, the feds may have done those advocates a big favor.

This marks the opportunity, which maybe some of them have been quietly hoping for, to back off.

No doubt Bieter was very serious about creating such a project; it would much change the look and feel of Boise’s downtown, and some positives likely would have come of it. But the questions about how and why it would work, and whether it was the right priority for the area, were almost overwhelming. We’ve been struck by the number of Boiseans who have been long-time passionate supporters of mass transit who could not see their way to supporting this one, even if most of the money for it was federal. Polling suggests that Boiseans overall are highly skeptical.

Streetcars are not necessarily a bad idea. Portland has a good streetcar system (linked to its light rail and bus operations), and picked up $23.2 million today for its program. Tucson and Dallas got money for streetcars too.

And for now at least, Boise city officials indicated they won’t be giving up.

But they may be well advised to see today’s decision as an opportunity to take a pause, step back, and rethink.

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Idaho Oregon

Here is what health insurers would have you believe: That the free market works best when when the sellers of a product get to withhold virtually all information about it, and the consumer are best served by being left in the dark.

The Oregon Insurance Division has “finalized changes to its health insurance rate review process that make all information submitted as part of an insurance company’s rate request open to the public.” (Note that this applies only to some individual, small business and portability plans; most health insurance in Oregon is not regulated by the state at all.) The rule changes follow up on 2009 state legislation.

You might wonder that this information hasn’t been public all along. You might wonder how Oregonians could possibly assess the work of its insurance division when much of the information submitted by insurers is sealed away from public view.

There’s no wondering on the part of the insurers: They are furious at the new rules, and are threatening everything from lawsuits to pulling out of the state in response.

The Lund Report, a fine Oregon health care blog, reported:

Oregon’s five largest health insurers along with the national trade group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, argued in comments to the Division that the new rules would expose trade secrets, harm competition and increase rates.

Several implied they might sue. A representative for LifeWise called the rules unconstitutional, but none put it quite as succinctly as Theresa Neibert, manager of regulatory advocacy and consulting for Kaiser. “These new rules will invite instability, confusion, uneven treatment of carriers and litigation,” Neibert wrote. “This may embroil the division in costly litigation.”

The Insurance Division basically called their bluff.

Lund also notes that in theory, “Rate filings were made public starting in 2006, but consumer advocates who’ve tried to challenge premium increases since then have faced difficulties because insurers were allowed to redact key information. A case against a 26 percent increase on Regence individual health plans in 2008 is still ongoing.”

You have to know that something dark is going on when the fight to keep information – that affects our health and even lives – under wraps is this ferocious.

Kraig E. Anderson, vice president of underwriting and actuarial, ODS Companies (odious?): “We believe that larger competitors, with greater capital resources, could price their products in such a way to gain market advantage. This type of predatory pricing could lead to higher rate increases for consumers, or a situation where it is necessary for ODS to leave the market.”

Ah yes, the great threat to leave the market, should the public ask for basic information about what it is that requires insurers to pump up their premiums so massively every few months, kicking people by the millions off of health coverage and running our country fast over the cliff into bankruptcy.

Sounds from here like the insurers are making an airtight argument for a public option.

At a time when so much fear is mongered about a public health insurance option, what realistic defense of our current health insurers is even possible? There’s only one realistic answer: Health insurers have money, tons and tons of money. And money talks.

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The primary poll numbers in the Oregon Democratic gubernatorial, conducted and released by the John Kitzhaber campaign, are about as you might expect from that source: Kitzhaber 55%, Bill Bradbury 21%, Jerry Wilson 2%, and undecided 22%. (There was a released split by congressional district, which among Democrats said Kitzhaber was strongest in the 4th and weakest in the 2nd.)

The response from Bradbury, the former secretary of state who has been running as underdog (though with some strong out of state endorsements, like Al Gore and Howard Dean), might have been to dis the poll. Instead, the emphasis was this: “This Kitzhaber poll is actually good news for our campaign. For a two term Democratic Governor to be polling barely over 50% in his own party shows a real weakness and an opportunity for us to get our message out that Bill Bradbury is THE democratic candidate in the race.”

It’s a sounded geared at hopefulness rather than irritation, but if you assume the numbers are somewhere close to realistic, they don’t bode well for Bradbury. Other numbers from the poll give Kitzhaber a 69% favorable among Democrats – not super-strong certainly, and now what he should want if running against a strong Republican, but good enough for a solid base at this point among fellow Democrats.

Three months to go for Bradbury to turn it around.

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Look at all the protests – the anti-tax and the countering anti-cut protests at Olympia and Salem this week.

The two sides would seem to be totally opposite in motivation. But look again – turned down the volume and squint at the signs, and what do you see? Anger, simply. This is a time of anger, all over the place.

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Oregon Washington

There’s no perfect answer, and there are always situational answers, to the question of whether elected officials should rigorously follow the polls in deciding what to do. Veer too far from what the public wants, or will accept, and you’ll be thrown out of office, and maybe should be. But the questions facing voters are often different from those facing their representatives.

Public attitudes can be hard to gauge, and they aren’t always what you think they are. Have you seen the recent articles about the polling on whether gays should be allowed to serve openly in the military? A CBS poll says that 51% of Americans favor allowing “gay men and lesbians” to so serve – but just 34% of “homosexuals.” Draw what conclusions you will from that.

Ballot issues should in theory be a more solid base for assessing opinion; but the questions they ask typically are narrow. Would you like lower taxes? You probably would. How about this: Would you prefer a tax cut of x amount with a cut in public services at x level, or not? That result might be a little different, especially depending on the variables.

Washington legislators are grappling with this as they deal with cutting ot the most stringent portions of Initiative 960, which said that “for the Washington State Legislature to raise taxes, the legislature would have to approve any tax increases with a two-thirds supermajority vote or submit tax increase proposals to a statewide vote of the electorate.” It passed in 2007 with 51.2% of the vote (a lot less than it would ask of the legislature to transact conventional business).

Initiatives ordinarily are considered close to untouchable – the people have, after all, spoken directly in those cases. But they periodically are adjusted, in many states (Washington has amended them before), and ordinarily there’s less political blowback than you might expect. (A notable case from Idaho in 2002, when voters passed a term limit initiative aimed in part at state legislators themselves. The legislators swiftly and overwhelmingly repealed the voter-passed limits, with votes so strong they overrode a governor’s veto. The whole subject hardly even came up in the next election.)

When Tim Eyman, I-960’s key backer, tells legislators that there’s strong support for keeping a limit on taxes, he’s undoubtledly right. But consider that point in context.

You can consider, for example, the anti-tax rally at Olympia today, which drew 3,000 people – a substantial crowd. But then, there were also the 6,000 people who showed up at the anti-budget cuts rally.

Then there was the Elway Poll (403 Washingtonians, January 29-31, margin of error 5%) for Eldercare Alliance released today, indicating 47% favoring for lawmakers who “voted to raise taxes in order to maintain services for elderly and disabled people;” 24% disapproved and the other 24% said it would make no difference. Complicating the situation: If a legislator voted to increase taxes “to maintain statewide public services,” support drops to 23% and opposition rises to 37%. In other words, there’s empathy and willingness to pay for specific needs, but not for bland, generalized government – although a large chunk of what government does as an ongoing matter is providing those services.

What seems to be at issue, as a matter of politics, is not whether legislators are upholding an initiative; it is a somewhat broader picture of what legislators are doing. What people think of what their legislators are doing seems to depend a great deal on how you paint that picture.

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Candidates for Congress stress any and all connections they have in the home district and shuffle off to the side their links to money and connections in D.C. But those money and connections often (not going to say always) play a big role in just how well a campaign comes together, and whether it ultimately wins, and what directions it takes (at campaign level, or in office).

So a blog post by former Boise City Council candidate Lucas Baumbach is worth note for some of the ties that might, or might not, come into play in the Idaho 1st district race.

Baumbach has had some issues with the 1st District Republican front runner, Vaughn Ward; his primary opponent is legislator Raul Labrador, and both are seeking to unseat incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick. In a look through Ward’s campaign finance reports, he frequent crossed the name of Erin Casey, a Washington-based fundraiser.

To pause here: Consulting fundraisers have in the last couple of decades become a big part of the scene for both political parties, and a lot candidates use them. (The distortions in politics their trade has led to, for both parties, are serious, but the subject of some other post.) Ward’s federal finance reports show his campaign paying her $17,570 last year (for fundraising), in monthly payments starting in late spring. Baumbach writes that “It’s clear that without her his campaign would be as broke as it was last April.” Maybe: Looking at the campaign from the outside, we’d suggest that’s impossible to know for sure.

But there are a couple of other things we do know.

Casey started her fundraising and events company last spring – just about the same time Ward hired her. A great leap of faith in a newcomer, perhaps. But her most recent job before that may also have been relevant: Before starting her company, she was director of special projects for the National Republican Senate Committee, and before that was field finance director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, and before that was the NRCC director of finance events.

This falls into focus when you wonder about Ward’s early de-facto (if unofficial) endorsement by a number of key national leadership Republicans. The architecture of connections and funding were being built in from an early stage. Very early.

To pick up again with Erin Casey: A job or two before the NRCC, she was working on campaigns for former U.S. Representative Chris Chocola, R-Indiana. He is of interest here for this reason: In April of last year, he was named president of the Club for Growth, which was the key national group that helped power former Representative Bill Sali through his primary and general elections in 2006, when he won (but did not provide support in 2008, when he lost). The Washington Times has reported Chocola “has become the ‘go-to guy’ for endorsements and money for a growing clientele of fiscally conservative Republican candidates for Congress.” There’s been no visible link of Club for Growth to Ward’s campaign so far, but you wonder if it may be coming (some positive notes from them about Minnick notwithstanding).

Sali, we might note again, has not publicly ruled out a race again in the 1st, but has made no active moves toward it, either.

All of this is only part of the story. But a relevant part.

QUOTE OF NOTE In rummaging through the web record, we ran across an interview Casey gave with National Journal magazine, and this Q&A: “If you could only watch one TV news show, what would it be? None – I prefer to read news clips and stories online than watch the news shows. All the TV shows seems to slant one way or the other.” Bravo. Take her counsel: With uncommon exceptions, most news on the tube isn’t worth watching.

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Mostly, we don’t take great notice of school finance and bond levies (other than our own), because often the issues involved are local and not very indicative of wider trends.

But. In the context of the economic downtowns, and passage of two statewide tax measures in Oregon, and widespread assumptions (weakly based, in our view) that the country has turned anti-tax, the latest election news out of Washington state merits some attention:

In the Seattle Times: “Voters were showing their support for most area school districts, with partial returns from Tuesday’s special election favoring passage of billions of dollars in levy and bond measures to operate, maintain and build schools. According to unofficial results released shortly after 8 p.m., ballot measures in 20 of 23 King and Snohomish County school districts were winning approval, although some by very narrow margins.”

In a comment on this at the Horse’s Ass blog: “I did a quick look at election results around the state last night, and most levies were being passed by wide margins, even in very conservative counties in Eastern Washington. Coupled with the results from OR a few weeks ago and the defeat of 1033 last year and populist voter anger over bailouts of big banks, maybe it is time for our elected leaders to look at the creation of a progressive income tax in WA.”

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Our February 2010 Idaho Public Affairs Digest is out, with reports on the opening of the new legislative session, the governor’s proposals for the state, a Tea Party event at the Statehouse and much more. We also take a look at how area businesses and employees are holding up in the recession.

This was not a more substantial month for publication of state rules and regulations. And we include 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 [email protected].

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Last year the Oregon Legislature passed a bill imposing a 1% tax on certain health insurance premiums; the money from it would be used to pay for health insurance for 80,000 Oregon children who were uninsured. The governor’s office described it when it was signed last summer: “House Bill 2116 provides the funding to cover all children under the age of 19 through the Oregon Health Plan, a cost-share model with employers, or through a newly-created state sponsored private insurance option.”

This session it’s been targeted in House Bill 3603, a simple repeal, prime-sponsored by Representative Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, and co-sponsored by a dozen other Republican House members. It has virtually no chance of passage, but it was granted a hearing before the House Health Care Committee. And there, Chairman Mitch Greenlick, D-Beaverton, asked Weidner the question about the bill: Are you okay with kicking 80,000 Oregon children off health insurance?

Weidner’s inartful, sheepishly grinning dodge to that question – repeated several times (mercilessly) – has almost to be seen (see the clip above) to believed. Of course, the only honest answer, short of coming up with another way to fund the insurance, would have been: “Sure, kick em off. Opposition to taxes is more important than the lives or health of thousands of children . . .”

There may be a reason that it was a first-term legislator who got stuck as the prime sponsor of this bill.

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