Archive for March, 2010

Mar 30 2010

Three on the environment

Published by under Oregon

Well worth watching, this three-way Oregon debate among two Democrats (former Governor John Kitzhaber and former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury) and one Republican (businessman Allen Alley). Partly because of the thoughtful talk about the environment – three distinct views, all rendered with some reflection. All three sound more than conversant with a wide range of sometimes wonkish topics, though the subjects range from forestry to liquid natural gas to transportation policy

There is, of course, this too: Two of these three candidates very well may be on the November election ballot, and there’s not often such a good opportunity to consider the head to head merits of the candidates this far ahead of the primary.

In this meeting, set up by five environmental groups, the dynamics led the candidates to specific approaches. Alley came across as particularly likeable – blustery at Dorchester, he seems more like a nice-guy almost-centrist here – his statements leaning toward market solutions would be recognizable from Dorchester, but his attitude and manner were more easy-going, and he wound areas of common ground with this group too. Bradbury was earnest, real earnest, which may be okay before this crowd but might strike others as too intense. Kitzhaber’s approach was in the middle (which was where he was physically), efficient, informed, sleekly organized. (Wisely, probably, he didn’t veer back very often to his previous governorship, but focused on the forward-looking.)

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Mar 30 2010

ID: The session now past

Published by under Idaho

id sths

About the 2010 Idaho Legislature more later, but a few thoughts as the sine die gavels reverberate . . .

Foremost, of course, is that if you like minimalist government, the 2010 session should be much to your taste.

It lasted just 78 days; the 2004 session was the last as short (it was just 69 days), and the last previous to adjourn in March. It broke a general pattern of longer sessions lasting reliably well in April, or beyond.

One reason it didn’t become a super-long session was that there were no line-in-the-sand battles between governor and (one house of the) legislature, which was what caused the two superlongs of the last decade. But its shortness was attributable mainly, it seems, to other factors.

One: Overwhelming control by one party and one basic philosophy (though that’s been the case since 1995). Two: The view that revenue and budget were what mattered, and anything else was secondary. Three: Common views on how to treat the real and acknowledged difficulties in that area – lots of cuts, just a smidge of no-new-tax revenue increase; nothing else would be allowed a serious place at the table. Four: Willingness to compromise rather than get into another embarrassing superlong.

And that was essentially it. The only question, worked out within the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, was where precisely the cuts would be made.

Beyond that, a few tidbits to throw the tea party (notably but not exclusively, the health care fed-jabs at session’s end), to help protect some of the incumbents. And done and out.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter called it an “efficient” session, and in some respects he’s right. But efficiency suggests getting a lot done in relation to time and effort expended. The Idaho Legislature got done what it had to do (resolving the money issues is all it ever strictly has to do) without much wastage of time. Whether that really qualifies as efficiency, though, may be a more subtle question.

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Mar 29 2010

The optout-position

Published by under Washington

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The Facebook group “Washington Tax Payers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna’s lawsuit”, formed in opposition to Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna’s joining in a lawsuit over the new federal health care law, is roaring ahead. For a one-state group (its title probably provides some discouragement for non-residents to participate, though doubtless some do) it has grown past – to just shy of 19,000 so far, in a few days.

It’s a busy group too, as you can see on Facebook.

This is the tightest political walk McKenna has had since running for state office. The demand conflict between base and larger electorate are increasingly severe.

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Mar 27 2010

The dwindling of a myth

Published by under Oregon

A whole lot of the west still gets described as cowboy country. Wyoming has one on its license plates, and Idaho’s governor still goes out of his way to get described that way, but eastern Oregon and Washington fit the description too.

Or they have. Just how many cowboys in the usual meaning – that of handlers and managers of livestock and range areas, and not in practice usually referred to as “cowboys” – are there?

In Oregon, apparently, somewhat fewer than 2,500, in a state of somewhat over three and a half million people.

So says a new (and strongly-recommended) piece in the Oregonian about unemployment in the trade, how many ranchers who not long ago would often provide jobs for quite a few cow hands now can no longer do that. And that’s despite marginal pay: An estimated $10.26 on hour.

An icon, it seems, that doesn’t get paid much anymore.

Question: What’s the cowboy population in Idaho?

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Mar 26 2010

Some Alley mo, maybe

Published by under Oregon

The Republican primary in the Oregon gubernatorial has been a curious contest: Its participants don’t include anyone who really looks likely to win. Someone will, of course. But none of the contenders look like a logical prospect: Someone well-organized, well-funded, experienced in Oregon politics and representative of the party’s base.

For a good deal of this year a lot of the discussion seems to have centered around former NBA Trail Blazer Chris Dudley, more recently an Oregon businessman. He has raised substantial money, and he has a public profile (albeit not one, until recently, in politics).

But over this month attitudes seem to be adjusting. His performance at the Dorchester conference early in the month was not strong, and he came in second to businessman Allen Alley, who ran for treasurer two years ago and was a staffer for Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski before that. (There are other candidates too, but Dudley and Alley currently look like the major players.)

This post from Coyote at Northwest Republican is worth a good look as the race reaches the two-month mark. He cites a number of problems facing Dudley, and notes this:

“I am hearing from folks who have seen him in meetings, debates and endorsement interviews that he just does not seem to have a grasp of the issues. Speaking in platitudes seems to be his motus operendi and that just will not cut it in the general election where he will not be able to ‘run out the clock’ with money.”

Not quite an Alley endorsement, either. But then quite a few Oregon Republicans may feel less than thrilled with their options.

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Mar 26 2010

Dithering

Published by under Washington

The Washington Legislature is dithering. Close to a finish – so the leadership said – at the conclusion of the regular session earlier this month, it now has put in two more weeks of a special with little to show for it. Its statewide favorables are likely to be dropping about now – and not, yet at least, for anything much they’ve done.

This came in today from state Senator Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee:

From a Senate perspective the second week of overtime produced even less action than the first week: eight bills adopted over seven days, with no votes taken at all on four of those days. No employer who wants to stay in business would put up with such a pitiful level of productivity.

What we’re seeing here is the cost of inaction. The governor and the majority party could have taken significant steps to reduce state spending after the June and September and November revenue forecasts, each of which was worse than the one before. They didn’t. Maybe a plan to pursue tax increases this year had already been hatched, maybe it was just a gamble the economy would recover quickly despite the signs to the contrary. Either way, taxpayers have ended up on the hook.

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Mar 25 2010

The squabble

Published by under Idaho

ward

Vaughn Ward

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Raul Labrador

Idaho Republicans seem to have become focused in recent days on what would seem to be a minor dustup that improbably has been gaining rather than losing force.

It grew out of this event during the candidate filing period, when former 1st District Representative Bill Sali showed up at the Idaho Statehouse not to file for election (which had been speculated in some quarters) but to endorse a candidate, fellow Republican Raul Labrador. The other major Republican contender in the 1st (which is now held by Democrat Walt Minnick, who defeated Sali in 2008) is former congressional staffer Vaughn Ward, who also served in the military in the Middle East. (The video is from IdahoReporter.com)

At about four minutes in, Sali says of Ward: “Vaughn has served our country with distinction and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that, as we do all of our veterans. But I have to tell you, sending Vaughn Ward to Washington D.C. is a little bit like sending a Boy Scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting votes. He doesn’t have experience in the political arena.” He described Ward as “a fine man and I wish he was running for the Idaho Legislature.”

The point is reasonable enough, and a fair response to Ward’s own statements about gaining leadership experience in the military: It may be valuable, and demonstrate useful capabilities on Ward’s part, but working as an elected official, especially at a high level, is a different kind of experience and would involve a learning curve for someone who hasn’t done it before. In essence, Sali here was offering up a bullet point in favor of his endorsee, Labrador, who has been a state legislator. (Ward would contend, also not unreasonably, that his military background offered intensive training in decision-making and leadership, likewise not a bad point, but not entirely overriding Sali’s contention either.)

It was not really much by way of an attack of Ward, and it didn’t seem intended to be, but evidently was taken as such. The rapid response from Ward’s campaign was this: “No decision in Congress will be tougher than the decisions Vaughn made in combat. Vaughn is a proven combat leader who has spent his life in service to Idaho and our country. Bill Sali and Raul Labrador are politicians who represent a failed establishment that has given us higher unemployment, increased spending, and a record deficit. Vaughn will not stand idly by and watch our politicians in Washington continue to jeopardize the future of our children and grandchildren.”

That more or less racheted things upward, and they moved up another notch when the Ward campaign released a string of statements from veterans, including former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. There was this from retired Major General Ben Doty (a former Veterans for Sali chair): “Bill Sali’s comments were incredibly insensitive and inappropriate. Bill and Raul’s attempt to degrade Vaughn’s service and leadership is disrespectful to all the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the Boys Scouts of America that have served our country for generations. I hope Bill and Raul will issue an apology and let Idahoans know how deeply they appreciate Vaughn’s and his fellow veterans’ service to our country.”

Except that there wasn’t really any degradation here; Sali praised Ward’s military service. Sali has a history of making remarks that tick off people, including some people who logically would be allies, but this one was closer to a dispassionate analysis.

The debate goes on. It has turned into the hottest discussion topic so far in this primary campaign. Continue Reading »

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Mar 25 2010

Holding back

Published by under Washington

We’re now just a little over seen months from the November general election, and by this point in the cycle, some things became practical even if not legal near-impossibilities. You could, maybe, realistically still launch a campaign for some lower-level offices, for example. But launching a campaign at this point for a higher-level office, especially one being defended by a prepared incumbent, is getting into distant longshot territory. Even if you have some assets to bring to the table.

Which is one reason Washington Republicans ought not to count on former twice-nominee for governor Dino Rossi as a contender for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Patty Murray. The time to launch such an effort was months ago. (When he ran the second time for governor, he announced his intentions and geared up hard a year before the election.)

This comes to mind too with new polling results, giving Murray a 52%-41% win in a hypothetical race between the two. (Also shows that a Murray-Dave Reichert matchup would yield a 51%-43% Murray win; Reichert, however, seems to be focusing directly on retaining his 8th District House seat.)

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Mar 24 2010

Dorn’s arrest

Published by under Washington

This could be a major problem that won’t go way easily.

Any number of public elected officials have had charges or convictions on driving under the influence – an offense that has been taken ever more seriously over the last generation.

Somehow, the impact may be a little higher for a superintendent of public instruction, the top education official in the state, than for some other offices. Washington’s superintendent, Randy Dorn, has been charged with just that after an arrest early Sunday.

Watch carefully how he handles this . . .

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Mar 23 2010

Health care challenges

Published by under Idaho,Washington

mckenna

Rob McKenna

A bunch of states – the final number may not be clear for a while though at least 11 have joined out of the chute – have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the newly-passed federal health care law.

Putting aside the merits, the political effect could vary according to state.

Oregon Attorney General John Kroger (the one Democrat among the three northwest attorneys general) has not given any indication he will join the multi-state suit. Like he won’t.

On the other hand, joiner by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden probably was close to foregone. The Idaho Legislature had already specifically said that it wanted to challenge the federal law, and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed a law to that effect. Left to act independently, Wasden’s moves might not have been especially predictable. But adding his name and Idaho’s to an already-existing case was probably too easy to do to resist. In Idaho, there’ll be no political negatives coming out of the action.

Wasden’s statement on rationale: “Our complaint alleges the new law infringes upon the constitutional rights of Idahoans and residents of the other states by mandating all citizens and legal residents have qualifying health care coverage or pay a tax penalty. The law exceeds the powers of the United States under Article I of the Constitution and violates the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. Additionally, the tax penalty required under the law constitutes an unlawful direct tax in violation of Article I, sections 2 and 9 of the Constitution.”

Washington state has a different political calculus, though, and when Attorney General Rob McKenna joined the case, he was immediately set upon by Democrats starting with Governor Chris Gregoire.

She came out roaring: “I’m disappointed that the Attorney General would participate in a lawsuit to repeal a law that would help 1.5 million Washingtonians get access to affordable, quality health care. I completely disagree with the Attorney General’s decision and he does not represent me. He doesn’t represent the people of Washington who would get assistance so they could afford quality health insurance. He doesn’t represent the thousands of small businesses that would benefit from tax credits to provide coverage for their employees. He doesn’t represent the thousands who will no longer be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition. He doesn’t represent the half million young people in our state who would be covered under their parents plan until they are 26. He doesn’t represent our state’s Medicare recipients. He doesn’t represent the taxpayers of Washington.”

Note the language McKenna uses as his reason: “I’m concerned that the measure unconstitutionally requires all Washingtonians to purchase health insurance and places an extraordinary burden on our state budget by requiring Washington to expand its Medicaid eligibility standards in violation of our state’s rights guaranteed under the10th amendment.”

It sounds a lot less combative than Wasden’s, and for reason. McKenna has not come across as a particularly partisan Republican, and that seems to be key to his substantial appeal, a part of the reason he is such a strong prospective gubernatorial candidate for 2012. Keep watch on this and see how well he is able to maintain that stance in the hurricane of this issue.

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Mar 23 2010

Top-two for everyone?

Published by under Oregon

Former Oregon Secretary of State Phil Keisling is going national, in the New York Times, with a proposal to do what Washington state and a few others now do: Provide for an open top-two election at the primary level, and a runoff in November.

There’s a real logic to this, on two levels.

First, the traditional primary system (as used in Oregon and Idaho), which is used by the political parties to choose nominees, turns the primary election into partisan events. But a lot of activity gets done in those elections apart from intra-party selections: local government elections, ballot issues, judicial choices. In Oregon, at least one nonpartisan statewide office (superintendent) will be filled in the primary, since there are just two candidates – in an election billed as essentially a partisan event.

Second, this approach would allow all voters to participate throughout the process. Since no party nominees are being chosen, all voters can vote in all races in the top-two. This has the effect of weakening party structures, somewhat. But in current conditions, that may not be a bad thing.

[Belatedly, a hat tip to Jack Bogdanski.]

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Mar 21 2010

The health bill: NW votes

Published by under Northwest

And how did the Northwest delegation vote on the health care bill? Well, it was party-line, with one exception.

The yes votes:

Washington: Inslee, Larsen, Baird, Dicks, McDermott, Smith.

Oregon: Wu, Bluemenauer, DeFazio, Schrader.

The no votes:

Washington: Hastings, McMorris Rodgers, Reichert.

Oregon: Walden.

Idaho: Minnick, Simpson. Minnick was the one Northwest Democrat to vote in opposition; all Republicans from the region did so.

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Mar 21 2010

A Washington difference

Published by under Washington

The Oregon Legislature last year passed tax increases proposed by majority Democrats, two measures of which were placed on the ballot and upheld by voters in January. The political upshot of all that seems likely to lend some political support to the legislature’s Democrats; they seem unlikely, as matters stand, to lose many seats in November.

Will that hold true in Washington state this cycle (as it did there too in 2006)? Jim Camden of the Spokane Spokesman-Review has a useful observation on that:

“They’re going to raise taxes, which ranks high on the list of things that get a politician removed from office. They may be right that they have almost no choice in the matter, but the way that they’ve gone about it – holding a quixotic hearing on an income tax, requiring repeated votes on bills tailor-made to wind up in GOP commercials, suspending rules – does little to mitigate the expected damage. Then there’s the $18,300 per day special session – at least that was the cost before a rush to refuse legislative per diems – that was supposed to be done in seven days.”

A few differences. Washington Democrats may be doing themselves some damage for later in the year.

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Mar 21 2010

A health pretzel

Published by under Washington

The extent to which thinking about health policy has gotten twisted, on this day when a sweeping bill might be passed in the House, can be inferred from this quote from Representative Dave Reichert of Washington’s 8th, like all other congressional Republicans a no vote:

“As an old Sheriff I know that if you arrest someone, they get free health care. So once we arrest these people, they’ll have free health care. And then we’d have to release them because they’d be in compliance with the law. And then we’d have to rearrest them again. So this law makes no sense whatsoever.”

There are all kinds of problems with this. But in his column today, the Seattle Times‘ Danny Westneat offered this one: “Good grief. What you get in jail is a doctor, not what is required by this bill, which is insurance. So his critique is what makes no sense whatsoever.”

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Mar 19 2010

The Idaho rundown

Published by under Idaho

No great shockers in the final closeout of candidate filings in Idaho – which ended at 5 p.m. today.

The closest thing to actual news on the last filing day probably was the announcement from former 1st District U.S. Representative Bill Sali, who had not enturely ruled out running for another term, that he will not, and will instead endorse state Representative Raul Labrador for the position. As indicated, no big surprise there, but that endorsement does clarify a bit further which portions of the Republican Party that Labrador and front-runner Vaughn Ward are appealing to.

The other U.S. House seat, which had lacked for a Democratic candidate, has gotten one in the form of Mountain Home resident Mike Crawford. All three congressional seats do have at least one Democrat filed for the office.

And Republican incumbent Mike Simpson will face not just two but three challengers (which statistically should advantage Simpson). In the 1st District, Democrat Walt Minnick has no primary opposition, for all that he has irritated many of the party faithful.

There are 11 candidates for governor. That’s a lot.

There are no Democrats running for lieutenant governor, state treasurer or attorney general.

In Idaho’s 105 legislative seats . . .

Republican incumbents (there are now 80) are seeking re-election in 77 seats. (Senate 28 – all of the incumbents are seeking re-election, House 49 of 52). Incumbent legislators, Republicans especially, have had a strong track in Idaho in the last couple of decades.

Democratic incumbents (there are now 25) are seeking re-election in 18 seats. (Senate 5 – incumbents Kate Kelley and Clint Stennett are opting out, House 13 – incumbents George Saylor, Anne Pasley-Stuart, James Ruchti and Donna Boe are retiring, and Brandon Durst is running for the Senate). Put it this way: Republicans have more than four times as many legislative seats as Democrats do, but more than twice as many Democrats (in raw numbers) are not running for re-election. What does that suggest about Democratic gains in the legislature this year?

Republicans have filed for 102 of the 105 seats – they are conceding three seats (those held by John Rusche of Lewiston, Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum and Elaine Smith of Pocatello). Even by recent-cycle standards, that’s a strong showing.

Democrats have filed for 59 of the 105 seats – conceding 46 of them.

There are, we should note, procedures (such as primary election write-in) which could allow the parties to fill some of those vacancies. And likely some will be filled that way; it happens. But these numbers should give you a pretty good picture of how this election year is shaping up in Idaho.

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