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Posts published in April 2010

Questions and answers

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

R-71: Whose privacy?

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. (more…)

Emmert and the vacancy

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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?

It’s them liberals again

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.

Liquor reform as modernizing

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.

Will Idaho demand your papers?

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.

Terms and conditions

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.

Fit subject matter

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.

Family ties

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. (more…)

Why 1077 may pass

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.