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Posts published in February 2010

D.C. connections

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.

Shoring up the levies

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."

The February Idaho Digest


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

The words he can’t say

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.

The nature of the protest

The Idaho House this morning passed 52-18 House Bill 391, which isstructured essentially as a protest to whatever the federal government might do by way of health care policy. (Several of the supporting legislators acknowledged, accurately enough, that they don't yet know what that might be.)

The bill "codifies as state policy that every person in the state of Idaho is and shall continue to be free from government compulsion in the selection of health insurance options, and that such liberty is protected by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Idaho. The bill removes the authority of any state official or employee from enforcing any penalty which violates the policy. It also tasks the office of the Attorney General with seeking injunctive or other appropriate relief , or defending the state of Idaho and its officials and employees against laws, enacted by any government, which violate the policy." It's highly unlikely to survive a court challenge.

Two points of discussion by its advocates during debate, though, are worth a quick highlight.

Bill supporter Representative Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, said the issue was simple: This bill was supportive of the constitution, and "Either you believe in the constitution of the United States or you don't," and either you take your oath of office seriously, or not. A Democratic representative objected: The clear implication was that anyone who voted against the bill was trashing both the constitution and their oath of office. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, a conservative by any definition who voted for the bill, agreed that Barrett's characterization amounted to hashing the character and motivations of the opposition (impugning the motives of another legislator in debate is counter to House rules), and asked her to withdraw her statement. She wouldn't - she made completely evident that trashing the opposition and its motivations was entirely her point.

There's a world of commentary in that.

The other point of interest came from Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who took a distinctly different tack. We need health care reform, he said, just not on the federal level: "We need to have state reform."

A question, then: In Idaho, where is it? And what does Labrador propose the state do to insure the uninsured, keep the sick and previously-ill insured, and cut costs of both insurance and health care? What has any sitting Idaho Republican legislator done along those lines?

ADDED THOUGHT This morning, at the same time the Idaho House was debating and then passing a measure blocking federal health care reform, the Oregon House was debating and then passing, unanimously, House Bill 3631:

"The House today unanimously voted in favor of a bill brought forward by Representative Suzanne VanOrman (D-Hood River/Sandy) that prohibits insurers from discriminating against victims of sexual violence by treating that victimization, or physical or mental injuries sustained as a result of that victimization, as a preexisting condition that would exclude or limit coverage."

Would the Idaho Legislature pass that one? (No such bill has been introduced so far this session.)

Truck, meet loophole

The idea is to increase security around the act of ballot casting - ensuring that only actual Idahoans who are legally qualified to vote actually do so. (The political point here doubtless has to do with the unlikely prospect of votes by people in the country illegally, but it would apply to anyone who legally can't vote.)

The plan, in the bill by Idaho state Representative Mike Moyle, R-Star, introduced today, is that when people show up at the voting place, they have to show a valid picture ID before they get their ballot. On its face, that sounds reasonable enough, provided voters get ample warning of the requirement before they travel to vote.

The catch is . . . well, there are several. What about people who vote absentee, or by mail - military personnel, or Idahoans spending time in another country? Or what about elderly people, or others, who don't have a drivers license or other picture ID? In such cases, apparently, the prospective voters would just have to sign a form saying they are who they say they are.

Considering that there seems to be no great problem of fraudulent voting in Idaho (or in most other states, either), the whole idea comes down to blocking what might be a handful of instances. Would those really be stopped by the high hurdle of having to sign an affidavit? A fence, after all, is only as strong as its weakest links . . .

Benton v. Murray


Don Benton

There is this to say about Vancouver Republican state Senator Don Benton's prospective run - which he said today he's planning - against Senator Patty Murray: He would be the lead Republican in the field, and as matters stand would be well positioned to win the primary over six other prospects.

There's that. But you have to suspect Murray's not losing a lot of sleep tonight; at least not yet.

The move is in line in some respects: He has been raising his profile lately, especially with his testimony and argument against amending Initiative 960, aligning himself with Tim Eyman's backers and the Tea Party people. So he could be starting with a base.

Benton has lots of political experience. He was a state Republican chair in 2000; he departed after eight months, a period the Seattle Times called "short and troubled." He has been a legislator for a while now - elected to a term in the House in 1994 (a good year for Republicans), and to the Senate in 1996 (51%), 2000 (53.1%), 2004 (56%) and last year (51.1%). You can more or less tell from the numbers that Benton hasn't been a towering vote-getter, and his run of wins isn't unbroken: He was the Republican that Democrat Brian Baird beat in 1998 (55%-45%) to win the 3rd U.S. House seat he's held since.

He's had periodic bad headlines over the years. Some of the most interesting came in 2005 when he tried to launch (no, you won't find it active), a web political report evidently related to Washington state politics. The Tacoma News Tribune reported his pitch (apparently aimed in part at Statehouse people including lobbyists) said to connection with the $565 annual fee, "What will it cost you NOT to subscribe? That could be a princely sum indeed! . . . If you want to continue to be the best informed and highest paid, frankly y’all better pony up quickly, to ‘put your money where your livelihood is.’ Otherwise, I’ll have to say: I told ya so, and you’ll be back to wondering why you were the last to know everything.” (Got harsher at the Seattle Weekly.) Then there was the hot exchange with state ethics officials in 2001 over campaign contributions (his campaign committees were fined by the Public Disclosure Commission). And there was the occasion in 2002 when he made the ethical but impolitic argument in favor of the state Senate keeping, during a budget crunch, a private chef and dining room. Don't imagine this is the last you'll hear of those items if the race actually heats up.

The items in the preceding paragraph, by the way, were noted in a scathing post at Sound Politics, a Republican-oriented blog. (The comments on the post continued in the scathing direction.)

Murray's campaign people may even be looking forward to this.

About those jobs

In Oregon, the campaign against two tax measures on the ballot - which passed - was centered around the idea that those taxes were "job-killing." In Idaho, the very notion of a tax increase of any sort is way off the table, in large part because of that same assumption, that taxes imposed on people and businesses will kill private sector jobs. (There's probably a grudging acknowledgement that public sector jobs would be saved, but that appears to be a lesser factor.)

But consider this point from the latest Idaho Reports program from this weekend, reviewing the state of the budget-setting Idaho. The matter of jobs may not be quite so simple.

The subject was the state budget and jobs, as discussed by three members of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Here's Democrat Wendy Jaquet:

"What bothers me as we lay people off because we don't have this revenue, or we think we don't have the revenue, then we have kind of a multiplier effect. I asked the director of the Department of Health & Welfare how many private sector jobs would be lost [under current budget proposals] because most of our [services] are done by private providers. And he estimated on the worst-case scenario, which is where we're headed, it would be about 8,000 private-sector jobs. So its like we're creating a downward spiral, and that's what I find really worrisome."

From * to politician

The Oregon gubernatorial candidacy of Chris Dudley has prompted Salem Statesman-Journal Executive Editor Bill Church to ask whether athletes can make good politicians.

Best reply, from Tim Pfau:

Do investment bankers make good politicians?
So Union organizers?
Do porn stars?
Do editors?
Do aluminum window salesmen or ministers, or teachers, or unemployed factory workers?

Goofy questions, aren't they?

Does Dudley? That's a better question and maybe what you meant to ask.

Not so far.

So far, he's just delivered canned, and remarkably empty speeches.

I have no more idea what his policy positions are now than I did when he played semi-pro basketball for the Blazers.

Jim Campbell

Jeff Kropf

Jim Campbell (left) and Buckskin Bill on the Salmon, 1980, shortly before Bill's death/Judy Lemmon

The river guide and travel business in Central Idaho's River of No Return-Frank Church Wilderness seems as though it has been around forever, but floating and guest ranch activity is actually fairly young as a major tourist business. It kicked into high gear in the 70s when a number of central players figured out how to make it work in a very effective way. With float permits in Hells Canyon, the Middle Fork, Main Salmon, Owyhee and Lochsa rivers, the Wild Rivers Idaho business that Jim Campbell created and developed was one of the handful of businesses that contributed to building float trips into a mainstay.

Campbell was a researcher at what is now Idaho National Laboratory in the 60s before the backcountry drew him in. With two of his work associates, he started river trips which grew into operations in river running and resort ranches, and those were among the central activities in turning the region into such a popular visiting location. With his love of the country and its history he gathered a group of premier river guides outfitter/ranchers who taught him the back country history. (Two of the people in that group were Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley, who went on to tell those stories in a series of books about that area.) Few guests departed the rivers or Shepp Ranch without an appreciation of those who originally settled that rugged, inaccessible area.

After selling Shepp Ranch, Jim moved across the river to the Polly Bemis property where he built what he'd planned as a retirement home - but retirement was not on his agenda, and he began the development that became the Polly Bemis Resort. He left the backcountry in the 90s, and spent time after that in Las Vegas and Phoenix before settling, in this decade, in Costa Rica. He died there this week.

Linda Watkins, who spent time with Campbell in the backcountry in the 70s and 80s, has a recollection.

It's hard to know where to start, or what to say about Jim Campell's death last Thursday. He's been a part of my life for over three decades (more than 2/3 of my life) - in some ways, more of a family member than most of my own blood relations. I think of his death as I did of my father's: Relief that he's finally free of the pain and frustration at growing old that he's lived with for the last several years. (more…)