One of the touchier issues candidates for office have to deal with is the interest group questionnaire – not the kind of questions that newspaper usually will ask, which generally allow for open-ended explanations, but rather the yes/no type: “Do you agree or disagree with this?”

Back when advising candidates, our usual counsel was: Don’t answer those, even those of your allies. It’s an invitation to allow other people to put words in your mouth. Better (even safer) to insist, generally, to explain your own views in your own way.

A mini-squall (just one of the most recent) in the Republican primary for the Idaho 1st U.S. House district concerns one of these surveys, this one issued by the Tea Party Boise. Some federal office candidates answered to the group’s satisfaction, others partly or not at all. In all cases, what was asked was whether the candidate agreed with the statement presented, or was allowed to present a numerical score – no room for clarification or expansion allowed.

So what was asked? Some sample statements with which to agree, or not . . .

Mandate a force reduction of federal employees of 25% across the board, except for the military and Homeland Security

Return our currency to the gold standard

Eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Vote “NO” on any bill or measure that allows one state to gain
advantage over another

Immediately launch a full investigation of the payoffs, special
deals and outright bribes used by the President, Speaker and
Majority Leader

Vote to repeal the 17th Amendment to the Constitution,
effectively returning the selection of U.S. Senators to the
individual state legislatures

Vote to withdraw the U.S. from the United Nations

Vote to repeal the Hate Crimes Law

Vote “NO” on any bill that uses terms like “Social, Economic or
Environmental Justice” to justify the provisions of the bill

Our rights are granted by our Creator, NOT by men, or by the
government

Our progressive tax system needs to be replaced with a “fair,
“flat”, or “consumer” tax

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Idaho

The Washington case over whether names on ballot issue petitions must be kept private or are public record went to oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court today. Read through the transcript, and you’ll probably see a leaning toward the public-record side of the debate.

Here are some pieces of the transcript, from the Supreme Court web site. (Should be noted here that it wasn’t just the Washington attorney general’s office putting in an appearance, but AG Rob McKenna making the argument personally, something that doesn’t always happen with state AGs.) What follows is a large chunk of the Q&A with Bopp.

JAMES BOPP, JR., ESQ., Terre Haute, Indiana; on behalf of Petitioners. ROBERT M. McKENNA, ESQ., Attorney General, Olympia, Washington; on behalf of Respondents.

MR. BOPP: Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: No person should suffer harassment for participating in our political system, and the First Amendment protects citizens from intimidation resulting from compelled disclosure of their identity and beliefs and their private associations.
JUSTICE SCALIA: What — what about requiring disclosure of campaign contributions?
MR. BOPP: Well -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: Do you think that is unconstitutional?
MR. BOPP: This Court has upheld the disclosure in Buckley v. Valeo in 1976.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Right. Now, why doesn’t that fall within your principle that no person should be exposed to criticism for -­
MR. BOPP: Well, it could -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: — his political beliefs?
MR. BOPP: It could potentially, and — but this Court subjected those requirements to the appropriate constitutional First Amendment analysis, found that there was sufficiently important governmental interest, some of which are not present when we are talking about a referendum or initiative, and then also created an exception from even a generally valid statute where there is a reasonable probability of harassment of that particular individual or — or group. So the First Amendment analysis regarding the privacy of association, the privacy of identity and beliefs, the potential of — of intimidation, are all elements of the analysis that was employed by the Court in Buckley.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: I’m trying to separate out the harassment aspects of this case from the working proposition that there is some sort of freedom of association of privacy. Your theory, putting harassment aside, would invalidate all of the State laws that require disclosure of voter registration lists, correct? All of those States like New York that permit public review of voter registration lists and party affiliations, et cetera,that’s illegal?
MR. BOPP: No.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: That’s unconstitutional?
MR. BOPP: No. We believe they would not. They would certainly be subject to First Amendment analysis. But in — in those — in the instance of voter registration, there are other governmental interests that are not present in petition signings for referendums.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Explain to me the difference. And if — well, one other aspect is the legislative. I can only work from New York because I know it intimately, but it is a State that also permits or requires that petitions for candidate listing on the ballot be public as well. New York relies in part, as this State does, on the public reviewing those petitions. Would that be invalid as well for a candidate’s running?
MR. BOPP: Well, we believe it would be subject to First Amendment analysis. But again, there are different governmental interests when you have candidates involved.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So explain to me what the difference is in those three situations.
MR. BOPP: Well, one is you have candidates involved -­
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: With — with the State’s interest.
MR. BOPP: One is you have candidates involved. And this Court recognized in Buckley that there were disclosure interests that related specifically, and actually only, to candidates. For instance, people who contribute to a candidate, that information, to the voter, can signal the interest that the candidate, once he or she takes office, will be responsive to. When we have an initiative, we know what the law is that is being voted upon. It’s not a matter of — of electing a representative.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: You don’t think that -­ putting aside this kind of referendum, just a hypothetical referendum having to do with a certain tax scheme — you don’t think the voters would be interested in knowing what kinds of people in what occupations are interested in that particular tax benefit or not?
MR. BOPP: Well, a few — few might be, but we think this is marginal information. First, they are adopting a law. And so we know what the law is. And – and while it might be marginal information for a few people, once the measure qualifies for the ballot, this is only — the petition signature and distribution is only for a very limited governmental interest. . . .
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Now, counsel, the responses you have given to a couple of the questions has been that the First Amendment analysis would apply. But given have you a facial challenge, is that enough? Don’t you have to indicate that the First Amendment analysis would prevail in either all of the other cases, most of the other cases, significant portion? This is a facial challenge. And if the challenge is going to fail in some of those other cases, I think your facial challenge fails as well.
MR. BOPP: Well, we are only challenging the application of the Public Records Act to petitions and referendum petitions. We’re not challenging it as it would be applied to petitions to put people on the ballot.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So we have to decide in assessing your claim that no matter what the referendum issue was, that there’s a significant intrusion on First Amendment rights?
MR. BOPP: Yes.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: So that if, for example, the referendum involves a bond issue as to which people may have particular views, but they are not going to get entirely excited about it, we still have to say that that is protected under the First Amendment?
MR. BOPP: Well, actually, under — with modern technology, it only takes a few dedicated supporters and a computer who are willing to map — to put this information on the internet, MapQuest it, as they did with respect to the contributors of Proposition 8 which resulted in — and then encouraged people to harass them, which resulted in hundreds of -­
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Well, my point is, though, you are not likely to get that with respect to, you know, a debt issue, raising the debt ceiling from 0.8 percent to 0.9 percent. You are not going to get a crowd outside your house because you signed that petition.
MR. BOPP: Well, it may not manifest itself in — in any particular initiative. We agree with that, but we think the potential is there. And there is usually a group of supporters of any measure that, you know, are passionate about that particular issue. . . .
JUSTICE GINSBURG: May I — may I ask you one — something that was not in your brief, but was in the secretary’s brief. Is this list available to Project Marriage? And specifically on page 34 of secretary Reed’s brief, the statement is made. The sponsoring organizations sometimes sell or trade these lists. They use them for fundraising purposes. So that would be the end of a person’s privacy, at least on one side. Is that true, that the initiative sponsor uses these lists?
MR. BOPP: Yes.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Yes?
MR. BOPP: Yes, this is an act of private association. . . . .
JUSTICE SCALIA: Mr. Bopp, do you have any case in which we have held that the First Amendment applies to activity that consists of the process of legislation, of legislating or of adopting legislation?
MR. BOPP: Yes, Buckley II.
JUSTICE SCALIA: What is that?
MR. BOPP: Buckley II, you struck down the requirement that the person who is soliciting signatures self-identify.
JUSTICE SCALIA: That is — soliciting signatures is not taking part in the process of legislating.
MR. BOPP: Well -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: The person who requests a referendum is taking — when there’s a certain number of signatures required to achieve it is taking part in that. And in light of the fact that for the first century of our existence, even voting was public — you either did it raising your hand or by voice, or later, you had a ballot that was very visibly red or blue so that people knew which party you were voting for — the fact is that running a democracy takes a certain amount of civic courage. And the First Amendment does not protect you from criticism or even nasty phone calls when you exercise your political rights to legislate, or to take part in the legislative process. You are asking us to enter into a whole new field where we have never gone before.
MR. BOPP: Well, with all due respect, you have already opined in Buckley II that the person on the other side of the clipboard is protected by the First Amendment.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: I don’t think that’s -­- that’s true of Buckley II. What was — what this Court said could not be done is that the solicitor could not be made to wear a badge that says “I am a paid solicitor,” but that the solicitor’s name had to be identified for the State. Certainly the solicitor — there was an affidavit, and there was the filings with whatever was the State agency So what was — what this Court said could not be judged was this kind of in-your-face big button that says “I am a paid solicitor,” but the solicitor’s name and address certainly had to be disclosed.
MR. BOPP: That is true. You’ve correctly described Buckley II. But as we can see in the facts of this case, the public disclosure of the petition names in this case, there was a planned harassment and intimidation of these voters.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, let me — let me ask you, could the opponents of a particular ballot measure organize a boycott for — and picket businesses whose managers had supported that boycott.
MR. BOPP: Yes.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Had supported that initiative?
MR. BOPP: Yes.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, if that’s — if that’s so, then under Claiborne Hardware, which I — I notice you didn’t cite in your brief, but if — if that’s so, then it seems to me that the State’s — or that — that the signers’ interest in keeping their names private is somewhat diminished.
MR. BOPP: Yes.
JUSTICE KENNEDY: It’s a First Amendment activity.
MR. BOPP: But what we’re — but what is involved here that is not involved there is the requirement by the government that you publicly disclose your identity and beliefs on a matter that then -­
JUSTICE GINSBURG: But — but just -­
MR. BOPP — subjects you to the boycott.
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Let me stop you there, because I think your — your own brief, I think you said twice that you cannot tell anything about the signer’s belief from the mere signature. You said it could be support for — for the proposition or it could be just support for letting the people decide.
MR. BOPP: That it -­
JUSTICE GINSBURG: Or it could even be, you say, that this solicitor is pesky, and in order to placate the solicitor, to get rid of the solicitor, we will just sign. So you — you have said that — that the signing itself is ambiguous. You don’t know what the reason is. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the person is a supporter of the proposition.
MR. BOPP: With all due respect, we do not say the third. We did say the first and the second. And — but either of those are political statements. . . .
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Counsel, if we create this right of — this constitutional right of association in the manner that you are describing it, why is it limited to the voting area? Would we be inviting review if a group of citizens get together and send a letter to an agency that says: Please pass X regulation, or rescind Y regulation? Would the agency be prohibited from making that letter public.
MR. BOPP: Well, potentially. And — and this Court — I — because it would be required to be subject to a First Amendment analysis. It’s this Court that created, in the NAACP case -­
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: So you’re — you’re suggesting -­
MR. BOPP: — the right of private association.
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: — that when the petitioner or a person engages in political discourse with the government, that they — and they choose to do it, because the government is not compelling them to write to it, it is not compelling them to sign the referendum. It’s just -­
MR. BOPP: And they are not compelling Ms. McIntyre to distribute her brochure, either. But this Court held that -­
JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: But it’s — but Ms. McIntyre wasn’t asking the government to engage its process in her favor. She was asking for political reform, but she wasn’t asking to engage the government process on her behalf.
MR. BOPP: Well, the government, you know, has a lot of options. For instance, they don’t have to conduct elections for the election of judge. But if they opt to do that and provide that procedure, well, then, the First Amendment applies to the political speech.
JUSTICE ALITO: Well, to follow up on Justice Sotomayor’s question, do you think an agency could say, if you want to comment on proposed — on a proposed rule, you have to disclose to us your name and your address and your telephone number and your political affiliation, and all sorts of — your marital status and your income level and all sorts of other demographic information?
MR. BOPP: And your employer, as in this case here.
JUSTICE ALITO: Could they do that?
MR. BOPP: No — no, because there is no sufficient governmental interest that would justify it.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Not even just your name, so they can check that this thing isn’t phony, and that all the names on it aren’t — aren’t made up by one person?
MR. BOPP: They, of course, can — can check that.
JUSTICE SCALIA:Of course they can. So they can get your name, right?
MR. BOPP: Yes, they can get your name -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: Okay.
MR. BOPP: — and we are not objecting to filing of the petition.
JUSTICE SCALIA: But you are objecting to the public being able to check whether the agency is indeed finding out whether this is a genuine petition or not, correct?
MR. BOPP: No. No, I’m not objecting to that.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Right?
MR. BOPP: They have procedures to check and verify these signatures that do not involve full disclosure.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Didn’t you have some options, too? Have you started a referendum to repeal the — the California law that requires disclosure?
MR. BOPP: California law does not require disclosure of the petitions, and that has been upheld by the courts of California. And you can verify these signatures.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I don’t understand. I thought that is what you are challenging. The -­
MR. BOPP: Well, but you asked about California.
JUSTICE SCALIA: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Washington. I got the wrong State.
MR. BOPP: Okay.
JUSTICE SCALIA: Can you go — the people of Washington — the people Washington evidently think that this is not too much of an imposition upon people’s courage, to — to stand up and sign something and be willing to stand behind it.
MR. BOPP: In a sense -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: Now, if you don’t like that, I can see doing it another way. But — but the people of Washington have chosen to do it this — this way.
MR. BOPP: Actually -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: And you are saying that the First Amendment absolutely forbids that.
MR. BOPP: Actually, for a century, they chose not to do this. It wasn’t until 2006 -­
JUSTICE SCALIA: That’s fine. Proving my point.
MR. BOPP: They did not publicly disclose the petitions for a century.
JUSTICE SCALIA: It might have been a good idea.
MR. BOPP: Well -­

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Washington

emmert

Mark Emmert

Let’s see now, once again: A large part of the rationale behind paying university presidents such ever-increasing salaries is the concern that if they weren’t so paid, that they might leave if they turned out to be good in their job . . .

So here we are, as University of Washington President Mark Emmert, who has gotten a good deal of praise over the last several years (and surely deserved it for his strong fundraising skills, another other positives), and was given a compensation package amounting to $906,500 . . . splits for a new job, as president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

You could say of Emmert, fairly, that the fact such a major national organization scooped him up says something about his reputation as a university president. But the practical reality is that a super-intensive (and expensive) search effort won’t guarantee a great president, and high pay won’t either do that or make a good one stay.

In this case, the departure does look linked to the fiscal cuts UW has taken in the last few years. While Emmert has maintained a firmly diplomatic face for the institution, his wife has let loose with what sounds like dinner-table conversation at the Emmerts’, as in this from an e-mail to House Speaker Frank Chopp: “It [UW] had bigger cuts than any University in the country, including in California! The state is starving your district’s golden goose and yet you DON’T even mention it as a concern?!!!! … I need to know why you do not seem to care.”

None of this showed up in any of the official statements by Emmert, the board of regents, state officials or the NCAA – none of them would have any interest in saying so now. But you wonder: Might Emmert have simply decided to hang in at UW if the funding picture for the next few years looked a little brighter?

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Washington

Remember those Family circus cartoons showing a broken vase on the floor and a frantic-looking toddler telling mom: “It wasn’t me! It was Mr. Nobody” – while the ghost of a mysterious Mr. Nobody scampers past . . .

This being campaign season, well, here we are in Facebook from the Vaughn Ward congressional campaign: “Over the last few days the liberal media has begun attacking us. Please donate today to ensure the we have the resources to combat these liberal attacks. A $5 dollar donation goes a long way in helping us fight the liberal media.”

Liberal, liberal, liberal: One per sentence. A piker (Kevin Richert notwithstanding): Surely Ward can up his booga-booga rate to two per sentence next time. There is a problem here: Since Ward is in a competitive primary election, the beneficiary of his troubles would be another Republican candidate, Raul Labrador, who’s more or less about as conservative as he is. And, anyone complaining that their attackers are a pack of liberals might want to pause at least before implicitly including Dennis Mansfield, wo has aggressively seized on most of these points, in the group.

What’s really happened here is poor campaign management: Most likely, a conclusion months ago on someone’s part that uncomfortable stuff could simply be closeted until after the election, with the result that items easily addressable earlier have turned into political trouble later.

Sooner or later, someone was going to ask and make public where the Ward household income was coming from, since Ward – who isn’t independently wealthy – is spending the year as a full-time candidate. In many a campaign the opposition would have raised the question long ago. (The answer is Ward’s wife, who works for the financial entity Fannie Mae.) From one source or another (in this case, the local newspaper), sooner or later, the question was headed their way. A smarter campaign would have made it visibly public, put it up on their web site, months ago, giving it their own spin.

Property taxes (in Valley County) overdue? Not a huge deal, in one sense. The taxes have apparently been paid since the report came out, the campaign said. But why was this not vetted? Why didn’t someone check to see if the candidate’s taxes were all paid up?

Overuse of Marine imagery without a disclaimer that the military wasn’t supporting the candidate? The rules are standard and candidates all over the country deal with them; did the campaign not check the requirements?

A borrowed truck in Ward’s “truck” TV commercial? Wouldn’t have been a problem had they, in announcing the ad, snuck in a quick word of thanks to the vehicle’s owner in the press release or commercial, instead of uncomfortably trying to explain away the pickup’s real ownership later.

So on it has gone in the last few weeks: This isn’t gotcha stuff, this is campaign management 101. None of these Ward problems in recent weeks were massive issues inherently, but they became bigger because they blew up in the end game, which is what unaddressed political issues, even picayune ones, tend to do.

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Idaho

Well, okay.

The state-operated systems so many states – including the three in the Northwest – use are cumbersome and seem simply unnecessary. They’ve functioned well enough, though, that there’s been not a lot of public outcry for revising them – regulating liquor but turning over sales and distribution to private companies.

How best to wrap up a case for that? The operating narrative of the Washington state group planning to give it a try via initiative is to argue that what’s being proposed is a modernizing of the system. (And the descriptor here seems reasonable.) Their web site has an eye-catching and clever approach to sinking that in. We’ll keep watch to see how well they do.

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Washington

One point relating to the just-signed Arizona law on illegal immigrants that almost everyone ought to be able to agree on, maybe the only point, is this: Its impact is extremely likely to spread far beyond the borders of Arizona.

One impact could come in Idaho, another state where (though to a lesser degree than in Arizona) illegal immigration is a hot topic. One state legislator involved in it is state Senator Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, who has worked with the Arizona law’s sponsor (Senator Russell Pearce), champions the law and would like to see Idaho do something similar.

The Coeur d’Alene Press quotes him as saying, “I’m just tickled to death with what they’re doing. One of these days I think Idaho’s going to look back and say ‘I wish this had happened sooner.'”

Watch for it in the bill filings of the next legislative session. (Jorgenson is opposed in the primary election but not in the general; he is highly likely to be back in Boise next January.)

The view from here is that the new Arizona law is a moral abomination and lunacy as a practical matter, and extremely likely to be tossed out in court. As a political matter, it also could have the effect of energizing a latino voting base that often has been under-represented and under-organized in many western states, including Idaho. The repercussions may go far and wide.

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Idaho

The Eugene Register-Guard has a comprehensive rundown of the terms and conditions that former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s handlers have imposed for her visit to Eugene – fairly extreme even by rock star standards. Among other things, they essentially block anything resembling serious news coverage of her appearance there.

Given which, the responsible response from the Register-Guard and the rest of the news media ought to be: Under these conditions, no news coverage of the event. Period. Other than how sealed off from the public it is, and how much money it makes – and who gets it.

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Oregon

Well, yes, it is fair subject matter.

It’s a gray line sometimes in the area of political candidates when it comes to what’s properly public information and where the drapes of privacy should run. You can pretty reasonably say, though, that the higher the office, the less privacy you can expect (to the point that in the case of the presidency, your expectation should be not far from zero).

And most people probably would agree with this: That by the time you become a credible candidate for Congress, you should expect to disclose where your household income comes from, and in rough terms how much it is. Members of Congress have to make a lot of decisions that favor or damage people, and the voters who send them there – the voters being the boss – ought to know what sort of financial background is involved.

That’s the problem with the complaint by Republican congressional candidate Vaughn Ward, that yesterday’s Idaho Statesman story was an inappropriate attack on his wife, Kirsten, who has been a tech manager for the federal-backed (and fedreally bailed-out) Fannie Mae. During last year and this when Ward is spending nearly all his time running for Congress, her pay has evidently been the main income for the family. Ward complained (on KBOI radio) that the wives of Idaho’s senators haven’t been similarly scrutinized; but then, they aren’t and haven’t been the main breadwinners in those households.

The source of Ward’s income had puzzled quite a few people, since he evidently isn’t independently wealthy and seems to have had no employment for more than a year other than his part-time Marine reservist work. Had he, for example, been living off loans? If so, from who? Had someone just been donating funds to him personally? The reality turns out to be a lot better than some of the scenarios that could come to mind.

The Statesman‘s editor, Vicki Gowler, said that “Our interest in this story was not Ward’s wife, but the disparity between candidate Ward’s criticism of federal bailouts while his livelihood depends on an institution that had to be rescued by just such a bailout.”

Which may be fair enough on its merits, but just as fair would be this: For the same reasons that voters have available campaign finance reports, they should be informed – in general terms at least – where the candidates for high office get their personal money. The fact in this case that it had been a mystery to so many people for so long is telling by itself. And the nature of Ward’s response to it suggests too that it is having some political effect at the ground level.

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Idaho

ward

Vaughn Ward

labrador

Raul Labrador

Some weeks ago, a friend – an Idaho Republican – speculated that some interest and political significance might attach to the matter of Vaughn Ward‘s income. His speculation then didn’t seem to have any specifics associated with it. But with an article out today, he may turn out to be right.

Ward, a Republican, is running in the 1st U.S. House district now represented by Democrat Walt Minnick; he is opposed in the Republican primary chiefly by state Representative Raul Labrador of Eagle.

A month out from the primary, Ward has most of the advantages over Labrador. He has a lot more money (having crossed the half-million mark, he probably has between five and ten times as much as Labrador). He has near-official support from the Republican infrastructure in Washington, and the lion’s share of endorsements within Idaho from elected Republicans, including a lot of the legislators with whom Labrador serves. Much of the state’s Republican establishment has coalesced around Ward. In what is for practical purposes a two-man race, history says that Ward should win and that it won’t be close.

We’re not placing any bets against that, either. But in the last couple of months some discordant notes have struck, and one from today could resonate.

A story by reporter Dan Popkey in the Idaho Statesman today answers the question our Republican friend posed some time ago: How Ward is supporting himself during a solid year spent campaigning. The answer is that – apart from a modest income from the Marine reserves – his wife Kirsten has been working as a technology manager. Her employer is Fannie Mae (the Federal National Mortgage Association), which is a congressionally-sponsored corporation – semi-public, semi-private – set up “to purchase and securitize mortgages in order to ensure that funds are consistently available to the institutions that lend money to home buyers.” And yes, Fannie Mae has been smack in the middle of the mortgage crisis of the last couple of years.

And as Popkey noted, “Fannie Mae was spared bankruptcy by federal bailouts. It has received $76 billion since being taken over by the Federal Housing Financing Agency in 2008. Taxpayers are on the hook for an additional $125 billion, according to Fannie Mae.” A short leap takes you – or maybe Labrador – to the idea that Ward’s candidacy is effectively underwritten by a federal finance bailout.

It wouldn’t be a fair formulation; Kirsten Ward’s job evidently has had to do with keeping the computer systems running, not with packaging mortgages. But the politics involved could be treacherous.

Popkey points out, for example, that Ward has railed consistently across the big bailout payoffs and said in January, “We’ve watched the federal government spend billions of dollars on huge bank bailouts while our community banks fail.” That potent point of outrage stands to get undermined by household employment at Fannie Mae.

There’s something more fundamental here, though, that goes to the core dynamics of the race.

If you’re running in a Republican primary election this year, you want to position yourself as an outsider – one of the protester, someone scaling the ramparts. Many are the veteran D.C. Republicans from John McCain on down receiving in-party blasts for being part of the insider crowd. Ward clearly has recognized this. Last year, running against state Representative Ken Roberts, he took care to position himself with the outsiders: Ward was just another working guy, a veteran who’d been out on the front, someone who talked the language and expressed the emotions of the had-enough Republicans who disproportionately turn out in Republican primaries (and maybe this year more than usual). Eventually Roberts, who in contrast had played up his state legislative and leadership experience, dropped out.

From the time Labrador has entered, shortly after Roberts dropped, he has challenged Ward from the populist side, appealing hard to the Tea Party crowd, pulling in some support from former Representative Bill Sali (who has a support base still within the party) and generally playing the role of the scrappy underdog. How much support he’s been picking up is unclear; his campaign manager recently departed because fundraising has been weak. But within the activist part of the party, Labrador has caught some of the tone.

Meanwhile, the counter-narrative details on Ward have been accumulating. The D.C. support and connections run counter to his narrative as an outsider. So does the big campaign warchest. So does the long, long roster of top-line party endorsers. As does the word of the house the family still owns in the D.C. metro area while renting its place in Idaho. Item by item, Ward the outsider has morphed into Ward the Republican establishment guy.

It’s a matter of piling on to the narrative – the one Ward doesn’t (or shouldn’t) want. So you get things like the Ward campaign blasting away at Sali for a minor verbal slip that ends up outraging the Sali contingent. Things like what’s called on one blog “truckgate” – the trivial fact that a pickup truck used in a Ward commercial isn’t his personal vehicle (what? something staged in a political commercial?) – which would be completely ignored as it should be except for how it feeds into the morphing narrative.

And now, the Fannie Mae material.

Betting here still runs on Ward to win the primary – the key signals all say he should. But if Labrador does pull an upset . . . well, just link back right here . . .

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Idaho

optout

1077 splash sign on web

Whatever your other views of Tim Eyman, there is this: The man knows something about running ballot initiatives in Washington state. No one is more experienced at doing that than he is. (He is even in the process of running a new one now.)

So when asked about Initiative 1077, the just-filed proposal to raise new revenues by increasing taxes on certain income, his analysis carries some weight: Yes, the backers of the measure, who have some money at their disposal, probably can get it on the ballot. No, it probably won’t pass.

The reason is compelling: “I just don’t think the voters are going to go for it. I think at the end of the day it’s an enormous leap of faith to think that this is actually going to go to what they say it’s going to go to because initiatives can be changed after two years.” Speaking as the backer of an initiative mostly thrown out by this year’s legislature, the argument has some force.

Of course, that’s true of all initiatives. And as the campaign begins, the guess here is that its odds are – even if not by a lot – better than even.

The backers of 1077, who include Bill Gates Sr. (not the Microsoft founder but rather his father, long prominent in Washington public affairs), have worked through the politics to a considerable degree. They may have observed how carefully crafted tax measures in Oregon managed to pass at a time when, for a generation, the wealthiest in America got regular tax breaks while the rest seldom did.

So the slogan: “Help put middle class tax relief on the ballot. Tax cuts and job creation PLUS dedicated funding for quality education and health care.” That might sell.

And if it does, look for it to be tried elsewhere.

UPDATE A first round of polling lends some support for the idea of the measure’s popularity. A SurveyUSA/King5 poll conducted shortly after the announcement said that the proposed measure got support from 66% of those polled and opposition from 27%, with just 6% undecided. Support was substantial (and in the majority) across a range of demographic groups.

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The Washington Federation of State Employees this weekend did something rare for them: They decided to withhold support for many Democratic candidates this year, especially many in the state legislature.

Here’s what their statement said: “The delegates, meeting in Seattle, evaluated the performance of state senators and representatives and concluded most of them have waged a systematic campaign to dismantle human services and inflict extraordinary and unnecessary sacrifices on state employees. . . .

“it was the discussion of the legislative races that generated the most discussion and anger. “We’re tired of being under constant attack,” said Dennis Eagle, the Federation’s director of legislative and political action. The delegates endorsed House incumbents they concluded had gone the extra mile to delay and mitigate the furlough bill, fight for the $65 million needed to keep out-of-pocket health costs level and support vital institutions and safety net programs. “Our lunchbox depends on decisions made by elected officials,” Eagle said. And with 25 percent of the state budget wiped out by the global economic crisis, that lunchbox is much lighter. State employees had already given up $1 billion in wages, benefits, pension funding and layoffs before the 2010 session. So delegates weren’t interested in endorsing incumbents who pooh-poohed state employee concerns about saving the safety net or who seemed to relish finding new ways to make state employees sacrifice.”

The usual thought here is that legislative races are binary and zero-sum: That which harms or diminishes the efforts of one side helps the other. Is the Federation really interested in switching the seats of Democrats to Republicans? Probably not; more likely, this simply is an explosion of anger at Democrats who haven’t been as supportive of their agenda as they would like.

But Washington Republicans looking at dismantling that big Democratic majority in the legislature – and to some degree or another, it is very likely to be dismantled this year – have go to be enjoying this.

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If you think marijuana smoking ought to be the serious crime it is treated as in the law books, you probably should be demanding action after reading today’s report in the Salem Statesman-Journal.

It described a warehouse in northeast Salem where, about twice a month, a group approaching 100 in size gather to smoke marijuana. One of the organizers was quoted as saying, “There are people up to 90 years old there that have given up traditional medication because they realize they’re being poisoned by the doctors. We aren’t a bunch of young hippies. We really have a need for medicinal marijuana.”

Are they legal? The story seemed to leave that up in the air. As it did the exact location, though the building owner’s name was mentioned, so it shouldn’t be hard to find.

Of course, if you’re of the mind all this should be illegal, you may want to urge the city to knock down the doors. If you’re so inclined, though, you might first be well advised to inquire what if any harm is being done at present. And dwell on that thought for a moment or two.

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As of today, about 69% of census forms have been returned, or places accounted for, nationwide. (We contributed to that number with ours, although it meant we had to go hunt for it – a result of getting mail not at our street address but at PO box.)

So where would you guess, in the Northwest, the highest return rate would be?

It isn’t what we might have guessed.

The Census has listed the top 50 places with estimated populations of 50,000 or more by their returns. They’re disproportionately around the upper midwest and Great Lakes areas, and the Northwest doesn’t show up until number 28: Meridian, Idaho, with 81% returns. And it’s the only one in the top 50.

Overall, Idaho is at 72%, Oregon 70% and Washington right at the national average at 69%.

In Idaho, the highest county participate rate is Jefferson County’s 81%, and the lowest is Valley County’s 30%.

Oregon’s highest returns are out of Benton County (75%), and the lowest is lightly-populated Gilliam County (54%).

In Washington, the highest-return county is also Jefferson (77%) and the lowest is on the other side of the state, Pend Oreille County (48%).

Would like to find some common thread to draw out of the data, but any commonalities are pretty elusive.

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Tea Partiers in McMinnville, Oregon/Stapilus

National hype notwithstanding, our observation of local Tea Party events over the last year has been not a rise but rather a gradual slippage. This isn’t a national survey, of course, but local observation seems to bear that out.

Last summer, when Representative David Wu held a town hall meeting in McMinnville, Oregon, hundreds of Tea Party people jammed a city center and made themselves furiously heard. About the same time, in larger communities often reached the thousands. Each event we’ve seen since then, though, has been a little smaller, and a little more sedate.

Today was a beautifully sunny and temperate spring day – perfect for an outdoor event – and it was of course Income Tax Day, and the Yamhill County Tea Party group had set up at 4:30 p.m., just in time to catch the maximum number of people for the upcoming event to participate or observe, in front of the city library.

They drew about 50 people, maybe 60 depending on how far from the main group you go, along a city block. About half held signs.

Apart from the numbers, what else was missing was the sheer fury of last year. There were no Hitlerized pictures of President Obama this time (the only specific reference to him was a sign saying, “Impeach Obama for Treason”). There wasn’t anything violence-tinged, and there wasn’t any conspiracy-theory stuff. Were they concerned about the Tea Party “infiltrators” – had a message gone out to tone things down a bit? Or were they just toning down naturally? Or, had some of the more extreme folks drifted away?

The signs were almost all simple and generic: “One nation under God,” “Save Our Constitution,” “Invest in America – Buy Congressmen,” “Free markets not free loaders,” “Tea Party patriot.” There were a few signs for Republican candidates, mainly for local office, and a few blasting Democrats (“Wyden consider this your going away party”). Few had much issue orientation; one urged “Not another 1 cent for bailouts,” but there was nothing about health care – a remarkable shift from a few months ago.

Just wasn’t last year’s tea party.

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Close elections seem to bring out the desperation especially, in some cases, in those on the wrong end of them. Maybe here’s one way of thinking about close calls: When a race turns out to be really close, ask whether anyone else on the ballot – someone not in a close race – is making a strenuous argument that something in the election process went seriously wrong. If not . . . that probably tells you something.

In the Coeur d’Alene city council election of last November, incumbent Mike Kennedy was challenged by Jim Brannon (though only lightly mentioned in most accounts, there is a partisan subtext: Kennedy is a Democrat and Brannon a Republican). The result was extremely close, giving Kennedy a lead of five votes. There’s a legal avenue for doublechecking such small margins: The recount, which would have been entirely appropriate in a case like this.

Except that Brannon concluded that “The recount would run the same ballots through the same machines by the same people,” and so went on a hunt for other glitches in the system which might reverse the result.

Elections systems are not perfect, no more than any other human endeavor, but Idaho’s generally and Kootenai County’s specifically for many years have not been the scene of any significant allegations of election fraud, and the other results in the Coeur d’Alene elections of last fall have not been challenged. Brannon hired an attorney (Starr Kelso) and even a private investigator to find out if someone may have cast an improper vote. A few scraps have emerged, but nothing systemic, and there’s no indication how the election might have been affected if at all. It’s nowhere close to the “Coeur d’Alene Watergate” one blogger would like to conflate it to. (The case Republicans made after the 2004 Washington gubernatorial contest, probably even closer than this one statistically, was likely stronger than this, but still pretty weak and ultimately dismissed in court.) The case has gone to court, has gone through a series of judges each recusing from the case (the count now seems to be at judge four), and the legal bills are piling up. You have to sympathize with Kennedy on that: “I regret the process in which a person can be sued personally just for winning an election.”

Therein is a risk, and a reason for people outside of Coeur d’Alene to take note: In the case of close elections, deeper pockets (whether those of the candidate or the candidate’s allies) can keep the legal cases coming, with the very real risk of eventually driving out of the process those with less money to spend. The election process itself looks at this point not perfect but essentially clean, but the challenge to it is raising some dark issues.

Brannon has also called for re-doing the election, an option that he should know is no option at all: There’s no provision for it, no legal way to do that. (Just as there wasn’t nationally in 2000, when a lot of Democrats would have like that presidential election re-run.) You run an election, you count the numbers, and that’s that.

On a (self-selecting) web poll, the Spokesman-Review asked, “Why is Jim Brannon pursuing his election lawsuit against Mike Kennedy?” “Sour grapes” pulled 78% (74 votes), and “Wants to correct election problems” 22% (21 votes). Brannon’s plea that “I’m not a sore loser” seems to be getting less traction.

After close to half a year of this, that’s not hard to understand.

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