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Posts published in April 2010

Why 1077 may pass


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.

They’re upset; could that mean upsets?

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.

The warehouse

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.

Tops in census

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.

Some were there


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.

Terrain in soreloserland

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. (more…)

And now . . . the ad parade

In Oregon and Idaho we're approaching the mark of one month before the May primary election, so time has arrived for heavy-duty video cycles.

Herewith, a few quick thoughts on some of the ads emerging. Overall impression: You might have expected more overt negativity in this season, but these are basically run-positive ads. Of course, that may be in part because they're introductory.

(Embeds and comments below the fold - to help with speedier loading of this page . . .) (more…)

A distinctive threat

Just this from a lead paragraph on an Astorian story, datelined Long Beach, but quite a breath-taker:

"A Peninsula hotel manager offered Pacific County an ultimatum Tuesday night: If he didn't get his way on preventing pesticide spraying at his property he would sell it to the Aryan Nations for a new Northwest headquarters."

UPDATE More on this from the Longview Daily News. The dispute actually has to do with, oddly enough, herbicide spraying on oyster beds.

WaMu as toxic

Here's a striking quote: “Washington Mutual built a conveyor belt that dumped toxic mortgage assets into the financial system like a polluter dumping poison into a river.”

That comes from Michigan Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, and it suggests pretty clearly what will emerge from the Senate banking scandal hearings starting today, which will be focusing on Washington Mutual.

But before absorbing the usual well-coached responses from the lineup of banking execs, give some thought to what was going on here. The press release announcing the hearing is so clear in its smackdown that we really need little else . . . other than some way of ensuring this sort of thing isn't allowed to happen again . . .

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, under Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Ranking Member Tom Coburn, R-Okla., will launch a series of four hearings in April examining some of the causes and consequences of the 2008 financial crisis.

The first hearing will focus on the role of high risk mortgages, and feature Washington Mutual Bank, which was the nation’s largest thrift with more than $300 billion in assets, $188 billion in deposits, and 43,000 employees. Washington Mutual specialized in mortgage lending until it was seized by the government and sold to JPMorgan Chase in 2008. It was the largest bank failure in U.S. history. The Subcommittee investigation found that the bank contributed to the financial crisis by making hundreds of billions of dollars in shoddy, high risk mortgage loans, packaging them, and selling them to investors as mortgage backed securities.

“Washington Mutual built a conveyor belt that dumped toxic mortgage assets into the financial system like a polluter dumping poison into a river,” said Levin. “Using a toxic mix of high risk lending, lax controls, and destructive compensation policies, Washington Mutual flooded the market with shoddy loans and securities that went bad. Examining how Washington Mutual operated, and what its insiders were saying to each other, begins to open a window into the troubling mortgage lending and securitization practices that took our economy over a cliff. As the debate on financial reform begins, it is critical to acknowledge that the financial crisis was not a natural disaster, it was a man-made economic assault. Our hearings on the financial crisis will help provide a public record of what went wrong, who should be held accountable, and the ongoing need to protect Main Street from the excesses of Wall Street.” (more…)