Writings and observations

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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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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