Writings and observations

Monday candidate filings for office in Idaho yielded a few nuggets worth note here:

bullet There are now two Democrats filed to take on Republican Senator Mike Crapo, so he won’t be unopposed again in November as he was six years ago. But which will it be? Tom Sullivan of Tetonia, an unknown factor in state politics? Or maybe a guy who did get some headlines a few months back: William Bryk of Brooklyn, New York?

bullet There’s a Supreme Court contest: Justice Roger Burdick is being opposed by 2nd District Judge John Bradbury. Loads of hard feelings lie in back of this one. In 2008, Bradbury ran against and came very close to ousting Justice Joel Horton. Last year, Bradbury was the subject of a complaint that he didn’t live enough in his formal county of residence, Idaho County – a complaint the Supreme Court snarkishly upheld (in which we view as one of its weaker recent decisions). And there’s more back of all this. Could be lots of snark unloaded in this one between here and the May primary. [Note: Corrected to refer to Bradbury, rather than Burdick, as subject of a complaint.]

bullet Only a few more Democrats filing for the legislature. Maybe notable: In Idaho Falls, Jerry Shiveley, who in 2006 became the first Democrat elected to the legislature from that area in decades, won a central-city seat, which he lost in 2008, and now is filing for again.

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Idaho

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Brian Baird

Outgoing Washington Democratic Representative Brian Baird was among the Democratic “no” votes on the House comprehensive health care bill some months back. Now he’s one of the critical four voters House Democrats leaders hope to flip on the upcoming House health care vote – needed because of prospective losses elsewhere.

Baird’s public statement on the subject is a little cagey, although he does say, “The legislation that is currently being discussed in the House of Representatives is far different from the bill I voted against in November 2009.” He seems to be leaving room for voting in favor.

Meanwhile, the Democratic representative from the district immediately north – Adam Smith – says that “It’s possible I vote for the Senate bill and against reconciliation.”

Even so, the pieces appear as though they’re coming together. Those two seem to be, at this point, the only two northwest members of Congress whose votes (whether up or down) look seriously in doubt.

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Washington

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Special session announcement/TVW

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire got off a pretty good line – “There was nothing regular about this regular session” – although it may be twisted considerably for comic effect before long . . . in announcing the special legislative session coming up this week.

The revenue shortfall remains $2.8 million. They have a week now to fill it (starting Monday at noon).

Or presumably another round after that if need be. But the guess here is that the prospective embarrassment will limit them to one.

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Washington

An Oregon Supreme Court decision in the case Klamath Water District et al v. United States, a case referred to it (partially) from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, is being roundly praised by water user advocates.

The Oregon court said the referrals “ask whether, as a matter of state law, the farmers and irrigation districts that use water from a federal reclamation project have an equitable property interest in a water right to which the United States holds legal title and whether an equitable property interest in a water right is subject to adjudication in the ongoing Klamath Basin water rights adjudication.”

In background, the court said “The Federal Bureau of Reclamation manages the Klamath Project, which stores and supplies water to farmers, irrigation districts, and federal wildlife refuges in the Klamath River basin. The plaintiffs in the underlying federal litigation are farmers and irrigation districts that use water from the Klamath Project for irrigation and other agricultural purposes. As a result of drought conditions in 2001, the Bureau terminated the delivery of water to plaintiffs that year in order to make water available for three species of endangered fish. Claiming a property right in the water, plaintiffs brought an action in the United States Court of Federal Claims, alleging that the United States had taken their property in violation of the Fifth Amendment and, alternatively, that the United States had breached its contractual obligation to deliver water to them. The United States asked the federal claims court to abstain from deciding plaintiffs’ takings claim until an ongoing state water rights adjudication determined what, if any, property rights plaintiffs had in the water from the Klamath Project.”

In response, the court concluded:

In summary, in answering the Federal Circuit’s questions, we have assumed that the United States appropriated the right to use the waters described in its notice and that it presently holds legal title to that water right. We also have assumed that plaintiffs are asserting only an equitable or beneficial property interest in the water right to which the United States holds legal title. Who presently holds legal title to that water right and the scope of that right are questions for the Klamath Basin adjudication, and we express no opinion on those issues. Given those assumptions, we have answered the court’s questions as follows:

1. The 1905 Oregon act did not preclude plaintiffs from acquiring an equitable or beneficial property interest in a water right to which the United States holds legal title. Moreover, under the 1905 act, a formal written release from the United States is not necessary for plaintiffs to have acquired an equitable or beneficial property interest in the water right that the United States appropriated.

2. Under Oregon law, whether plaintiffs acquired an equitable or beneficial property interest in the water right turns on three factors: whether plaintiffs put the water to beneficial use with the result that it became appurtenant to their land, whether the United States acquired the water right for plaintiffs’ use and benefit, and, if it did, whether the contractual agreements between the United States and plaintiffs somehow have altered that relationship. In this case, the first two factors suggest that plaintiffs acquired a beneficial or equitable property interest in the water right to which the United States claims legal title, but we cannot provide a definitive answer to the court’s second question because all the agreements between the parties are not before us.

3. To the extent that plaintiffs assert only an equitable or beneficial property interest in the water right to which the United States claims legal title in the Klamath Basin adjudication, plaintiffs are not “claimants” who must appear in that adjudication or lose the right. As a general rule, equitable or beneficial property interests in a water right to which someone else claims legal title are not subject to determination in a state water rights adjudication.

Nancie G. Marzulla, lead counsel for the Klamath water users, remarked that “We are thrilled with this decision. The trial judge obviously was wrong on Oregon law and plainly misapprehended how federal reclamation law operates. We are glad that we now have some definitive guidance and direction for the trial court as we go forward to complete this litigation.”

The firm also said in a statement, “The Oregon Supreme Court held that the Oregon legislature in 1905 did not give away all of its water rights in the Klamath Reclamation Project to the federal government. Further, the Court stated that whatever rights the federal government did acquire in 1905 were for the benefit of the water users: ‘[I]n acquiring water rights under the aegis of the Reclamation Act, the United States was not acting for its own benefit, but for the benefit of the persons who Congress intended would put the water to beneficial use reclaiming the land’ — in other words, the farmers who are the plaintiffs in this lawsuit. Finally, the Oregon Supreme Court held that the Klamath Basin adjudication that is currently underway does not deprive the water users of the ability to pursue their taking claim in federal court, explaining that ‘[a] person asserting only a beneficial or equitable property interest in a water right is not a ‘claimant’ who must appear in the Klamath Basin adjudication and file a claim to determine that interest.’”

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Oregon

It’s gotten a good deal of attention in Idaho, some in Washington and a little in Oregon. But from any of those angles, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter‘s “Love Letter to Our Neighbors” merits a little thought.

The core of it is business solicitation, specifically going after businesses in Oregon and Washington which are seeing their states raise taxes, while Idaho is not: “We now are reaching out to hundreds of Oregon businesses, and will do the same with those in Washington if the legislature there follows Oregon’s lead. We aren’t offering many bells and whistles, but what we can offer is a business-friendly State government, a highly qualified and motivated work force, and communities where people understand that while government cannot be the solution to their problems it can and must be a champion for their own solutions.”

On Monday, Otter wrote that “Last month, for example, Oregon voters approved their legislature’s decision to raise taxes on the wealthy and on many businesses by $727 million. The immediate result was that my phone started ringing – and so did phones over at our Department of Commerce. It seems that word has spread about our Project 60 initiative, and that we are open for business, including theirs! The businesses that have called are emotional about this subject, and they have every right to be. Rising costs – especially during a recession – could put some employers out of business, or at least prompt layoffs. More than 2,000 Oregonians joined a Facebook group to protest the tax increase and commiserate about the repercussions. No less an Oregon business icon than Nike’s Phil Knight calls it ‘Oregon’s Assisted Suicide Law II’.”

On Tuesday, Washington Governor Chris Gregoire fired back. She said that “I’m not an expert on Idaho,” but pointed out “It looks like they have a corporate tax of 7.6 percent, a sales tax of 6 percent, an income tax ranging from 1.6 to 7.8 percent,” she said. Washington doesn’t have an income tax (though it has a comparable business and occupation tax), and its sales tax isn’t a lot higher. She mentioned (as she often does) the Forbes business rankings of states: “We’re now the second best state in the country and they went from seventh to 11th. They’re going down in the rankings. Regulatory environment we’re ranked 5th, they’re ranked 35th. You get my point?”

(Otter’s letter refers to studies ranking Idaho lower in tax rates than the others. Note to all: If you want to go state tax-survey shopping, you’ll find you can get whatever ratings you want if you look hard enough.)

Oregon’s officials by and large haven’t expressed terrific concern over this, though House Republican leader Bruce Hanna of Roseburg (who opposed the tax measures) did say in an Oregonian opinion piece today that “As a business owner, I recently received a letter from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter inviting me to bring my company and my jobs to his state. Although I have no intention of leaving Oregon, I’m deeply concerned when other states and cities are actively courting our businesses.”

A whole lot of posturing going on. But is any of this likely to make much difference in terms of business opens, closes or moves?

Not likely.

Comes down to a point the Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert made in a blog post about the subject: “Otter’s pitch — and Gregoire’s public response the next day — is largely about tax rates. Not much talk about schools or public safety or parks. Do businesses only want to talk taxes?”

A few very ideological business owners may, but most – those more broadly concerned about their businesses and their future – have a wider range of concerns. What’s the marketplace for what I sell or provide? Are the people and materials I need readily obtained? What are the overall costs – not just the taxes, but the cost of utilities, land, and the costs of dealing with other people and businesses? What is the infrastructure like: What about those roads, schools, public safety agencies, health care? Is the community overall prosperous and stable – do people want to live there? And so on. (For that matter, what would be the cost of uprooting and moving to another state? How many years of tax breaks would be needed to pay that back?) Taxes are a concern, but for most business people just one of many.

Idaho’ legislature (along with its governor) is making the decision to cut, substantially, in areas of education, health care, public safety (in its broad sense), lands, infrastructure including but not limited to roads, environmental cleanup, culture (with proposals for cuts in public television and human rights oversight among other considerations) and beyond. The tradeoff is that small, incremental tax increases – which is what those passed in Oregon and under consideration in Washington are – are bypassed.

As for assets other than an argument for lower taxes, Otter’s comments were limited to a quick reference to quality of life but also acknowledging, “We aren’t offering many bells and whistles.” Really, that sounds like quite a give-up: If you’re looking for advantages here other than on taxes, well, let’s talk about taxes.

We’ve seen no indications yet of any big shift of businesses from any of these states to another (occasional moves happen all the time in the normal course of things), and we don’t expect any. There wouldn’t be a lot of business sense to it.

Although. If there’s a bet to be made here, we’d put our markers on Washington and Oregon.

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Idaho

UPDATE He has: Otter filed for re-election this (Friday) morning. What follows may still be food for thought, though.

This post may be rendered useless speculation tomorrow or next week, and odds are it will be. Can’t help posting it, though, just because it seems to shine some light on a political dog that didn’t bark in the night-time. [see edit at end of post]

That would be C.L. “Butch” Otter, the governor of Idaho who is widely expected to run for a second term. He has nowhere said he won’t, has indicated he will, and has six filing days left to do it. But when asked about his campaign, he has sounded reluctant to the point of diffidence. Yeah, odds are he will.

But it’s quite a contrast with the last cycle for the office, when Otter, just re-elected in 2004 to the U.S. House, made clear he wanted to run for governor. Hardly had his re-election to federal office been certified than he was on the run, the happy warrior doing everything he could to lock down at least the Republican nomination for governor. Then-Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch, who also wanted the job, was simply out-maneuvered, and in November 2005, after strongly suggested he was in the race, dropped out. It was the logical move: Otter had moved very aggressively to sew it up.

Compare that to this cycle: What looks very like an oh-I’ll-get-around-to-it sort of approach, almost an unwillingness. The contrast couldn’t be much greater.

So what if Otter – and the decision is singularly his – decided: To hell with this garbage everyone insists on putting me through? What if he decided not to file?

What a fun time we’d have. Well, some of us.

There are presently five filed candidates for governor, including two Republicans (Rex Rammell and Walt Bayes) and one Democrat (Keith Allred). If Otter were out, the Democratic field might not change much, but the Republican surely would.

On an emergency call-in, you might figure Lieutenant Governor Brad Little (who, interestingly, hasn’t filed for election yet) would run for governor; he has been a close ally of Otter’s since his appointment to LG. But there’s also developed an angry cadre of Republicans who have disapproved of the Otter approach, who consider not especially conservative at all (we get into some peculiar definition-making here, but so it goes). Otter seems likely not to get much more of an in-party challenge than Rammell, which is to say not much. But if Little shifted in? That might trigger someone a little more formidable.

Or might someone else get in? This could turn into a fierce rollercoaster for a week or so, as people file and withdraw and file as prospective offices come up. (Oregon just went through something like this, earlier this week.)

The upshot, sitting where we are, is that Idaho politics 2010 could become less predictable than it now seems to be.

See you back at the filings tomorrow . . .

EDIT The word “useful” in the first paragraph was a mis-type – it’s been changed to the originally intended “useless.”

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Idaho

Monday was a deluge, the rest of the week a trickle, in Idaho candidate filings. That’s not unusual; the pace doesn’t ordinarily pick up again until near the end, which is a week from tomorrow.

No posts on this the last couple of days because there wasn’t a lot to say – the fitful filings have been mostly as expected.

Following up on a Kevin Reichert post yesterday, though: The bulk of the legislature does seem to be running for another go-round.

Unless my count was somehow side-tracked, I’m now counting 82 current legislators having filed for another run at the legislature. That includes Democrat Anne Pasley-Stuart in District 19, currently a House member running for the Senate seat, but not Senator Nicole LeFavour, who plans to swap offices with Pasley-Stuart, but hasn’t yet filed. o you can bump that up to 83.

Since there are just 105 legislators, and since six more filing days (out of a total of 10) remain, that gives good odds the next legislature will, as Reichert suggested, closely resemble this one.

There is also this:

Total number of legislative seats (out of 105 total) for which Democratic candidates (including incumbents) have filed so far: 20. Seats for which Republicans (including incumbents) have filed: 79.

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Idaho

Candidate filing in Oregon is done for this cycle, barring unusual circumstances, and not counting appearances from the minor parties. Now we can take a quick first run at what’s emerging among some of the 306 candidates . . .

U.S. SENATE Ten candidates for the U.S. Senate this time, including one overwhelming favorite – incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden – and a cast of lesser-knowns. Two – Loren Hooker and perennial Pavel Goberman – are primary contestants. Among the seven Republicans, most of whom list no previous governmental experience, the most likely nominee will be former law school dean Jim Huffman. Although, in what’s apt to be a low-key primary, you’d be hesitant to post a flat bet on any result.

U.S. HOUSE 1 All five House seats wind up contested, and more candidates filed in the 1st than any other. Democratic incumbent David Wu seems, again, strongly positioned (the Oregonian actually put a positive-spin headline about him on the front page this week) – he’s been underestimated in most of the last few cycles. David Robinson of Beaverton will opposed him in the primary. Four Republicans filed here – Stephan Andrew Brodhead, Rob Cornilles, John Kuzmanich and Douglas Keller; Cornilles seems to have developed the best organization and campaign effort so far, but all are newcomers to campaigning and the primary outcome is far from certain.

U.S. HOUSE 2 Republican incumbent Greg Walden seems unassailable in this strongly Republican district, but the Democrats did come up with a candidate, Ashland writer Joyce Segers. Those two will proceed to the general.

U.S. HOUSE 3 Earl Blumenauer, the Democratic incumbent in this strongly Democratic district, has another low-key primary challenger (John Sweeney) and – second time around – Republican Delia Lopez, who lives a couple of hours south of the Portland-based district in the small city of Oakland. (Yes, she can legally file for the seat, but expectations of victory ought, of course, to be modest.)

U.S. HOUSE 4 Only a few months ago, Republicans were looking at this seat with some realistic hopes, back when veteran Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio was considering a run for governor instead, and Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken looked like a strong nominee. Neither circumstance came to fruition, and now DeFazio is back as an extremely-hard-to-beat incumbent, and Republicans have two little-known challengers (Jaynee Germond of Dillard and Art Robinson of Cave Junction) headed to the primary. Doesn’t look like a lot of excitement here.

U.S. HOUSE 5 This could be the one really hot congressional race in Oregon this year. Democrat Kurt Schrader is in his first term in a district still pretty closely balanced between the parties (though Democrats have been picking up). Republicans have their strongest congressional challenger anywhere in the state (and probably their strongest challenger in Oregon period above the legislative level) in state Representative Scott Bruun, a relatively moderate and strongly articulate and knowledgeable legislator from West Linn. Bruun has a Republican primary with Fred Thompson of Salem, which may help him organize earlier around the district. Unless Thompson delivers a shocker in May, the Schrader-Bruun contest will be one of the best to watch in Oregon this year.

GOVERNOR No fewer than 13 filers for governor this year, and so few with any realistic shot of getting past May. Among the Democrats, there’s former Governor John Kitzhaber, who has the best odds, and of it isn’t him, it’ll be former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Two other Democrats – Steve Shields (thought he’d pulled out?) and Roger Obrist – are in the primary too. And then there are nine Republicans; of them, five are little-known, one (Bill Sizemore) has some name ID but not in politically helpful ways, and then there are the three invited to speak at the Dorchester conference: Allen Alley, Chris Dudley and John Lim. The race upcoming seems likely to revolve heavily around either those three, or maybe evolve into a de facto two-way between Alley and Dudley.

STATE TREASURER The unexpected race (noted in previous posts) will feature three Democrats: new incumbent (and former Multnomah County chair) Ted Wheeler, state Senator Rick Metsger, and former Treasurer Jim Hill. We’ll start with an incumbent’s presumption, but there’s plenty of room for surprises here. Republican state Senator Chris Telfer of Bend will face one in November.

LEGISLATIVE Not many stunners here – we’ll cut short this too-long post before getting into the details – but will note generally that Republicans have improved their candidate filings for legislative seats, a roster than sank to mediocre levels in 2008. In fact, if an initial check is right, Republicans have filed candidates for all but one of the 60 House seats, which means more ballot lines filled than the Democrats have done – a real achievement. And they’ve done not badly with filling slots on the Senate side too.

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Oregon

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Ted Wheeler

And with the speed of superglue – hastened by the 5 p.m. candidate filing deadline – a whole section of Oregon politics for the months ahead is snapping into place.

The reason, as noted here earlier, is the combination of a candidate filing deadline today, plus the death on Sunday of state Treasurer Ben Westlund. He was probably one of the most-liked people in Salem, but the law didn’t allow for time to pause and grieve, only time to decide and file.

The first key action today was Governor Ted Kulongoski’s appointment to treasurer for the period from here until after a new treasurer is elected. That went (in what felt like a small but not large surprise) to Multnomah County Chair Ted Wheeler. Wheeler hadn’t been much involved in politics on the state level up to now, but he has gotten good headlines at Multnomah since he took office there in January 2007, leading a commission which had been a trouble spot for some years, and smoothing out and broadening its activities. He was already running for re-election to the county office this year, and had drawn only slight opposition. The appointment is likely to get positive media attention.

It is professionally defensible. From Wheeler’s own statement on the appointment: “I imagine in some corners of the state, people will ask: ‘Who is Ted Wheeler?’ The short answer is that I currently serve as the chief executive officer of the largest county in Oregon, that I was a senior manager of an investment firm in my private sector career and that I have graduate degrees in government and business. In short, I’ve got a good resume for this job. Frankly, I’ve thought for some time that I might run for Treasurer at some point in the future. I never expected it to be this soon.”

He is also running for it, and as an incumbent is likely to be well-positioned. His ties to the Portland business community are likely to generate a large campaign treasury, and he probably will be able to look to labor for substantial support too.

Not of that is stopping other candidates from entering, two of them state senators: Democrat Rick Metsger of Welches and Republican Chris Telfer of Bend. And there’s former state Treasurer Jim Hill, who can point to his past experience there. Al three can be considered serious candidates, but our guess is that Wheeler will enter as front-runner.

Wheeler’s departure at Mulnomah leaves open his seat at the chair, and another commissioner, Jeff Cogen, and a former state senator, Margaret Carter, are in for that.

More on candidate filings once the deadline is past, later today.

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Oregon

Some of them, anyway. This is the first official day of campaign ’10 in Idaho, because it’s the first day candidates were allowed formally to file for office. (In Oregon, they’ve been doing it since last fall.) A good many of them did that on Day 1, but the deadline for filing isn’t until a week from Friday.

The names listed so far on the sheet released twice-daily by the secretary of state offers no big surprises so far. The biggest Day 1 splash was the filing by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred, and three others – Republican Rex Rammell, independent Jana Kemp and Libertarian Ted Dunlap – also filed for the office. But the incumbent, Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter, who generally is expected to run, hasn’t shown yet.

No U.S Senate candidates yet (Republican incumbent Mike Crapo hasn’t turned in yet), but both U.S. House incumbents have filed. And while no one is in yet for lieutenant governor or superintendent of public instruction (where both incumbent are expected to run), the incumbent secretary of state, controller, attorney general and treasurer all filed their papers, and all were unopposed (as of the end of day 1).

Nothing yet by way of judicial challenges, though a couple have been rumored.

If my count is right, 49 of the current 105 legislators have filed for re-election – close to half on day one, a strong showing. But (will this hold up?) only a few challenges, primary or general, materializing as yet.

More as it comes.

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Idaho