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Posts published in May 2010

Maryanne v Maryellen at Government Camp

A great small-town story in the Oregonian about the political debate going on in Government Camp. It's a matter of governmental policy, even a technical matter - whether the community, which clings to the side of Mount Hood to the southeast and uphill from Portland, should become an incorporated city. The issue is on the ballot, and the results will be (or should be) out on Tuesday.

There are wonkish pros and cons to such things - tax considerations, regulatory control, legal mandates and liabilities. But here is where politics gets personal, especially in smaller communities:

"The future of one of Oregon's oldest communities comes down to a referendum this week on a decades-old rivalry: Maryanne vs. Maryellen. The two women – Maryanne Hill and Maryellen Englesby – have spent a combined 163 years in the alpine enclave on the southern shoulder of Mount Hood, more often than not taking opposing sides of community issues. And now, with the question of whether Government Camp should become Oregon's newest city on the May 18 ballot, they are leading the respective charges for and against incorporation."

Anyone who lives in a small town will get this. (In our small town of Carlton, the city was enmeshed not long ago with a debate over whether to maintain its police department or contract for police services with the county; the course of the debate had less to do, as a matter of raw politics, with the very real financial and other issues involved than it did with the people at city hall and a group of their persistent critics. Thus is it ever.)

For anything not familiar with small-town politics as it is, this story will provide some entertaining enlightenment.

The problem of an anti-leadership organization

This site has been among those arguing for some time that the influence of the Tea Party groups have been heavily overrated. For your consideration today . . .

On Friday, the Boise Tea Party sent out word that it had endorsed candidate Raul Labrador in his Idaho 1st district Republican primary, over the other major candidate, Vaughn Ward. But it turns out, according to the Idaho Conservative Blogger, that the Tea people are far from unified on this. He cited a number of emails including this striking one:

“The Tea Party made this endorsement of Labrador with NO polling of its members or supporters. We have been active and financially supportive of TPB since it's inception and we are appalled at this endorsement. By their very actions, they are behaving like the elitist, tyrannical Washington insiders they purport to be fighting against.”

Tyranny and elitism seem to get defined pretty far downward, pretty quickly, these days. But then, to read the sloganeering involved here, there is no floor: Anarchy is the next stop on that elevator. And anarchists make for poor group organizers.

Authenticity problems

If the matter of authenticity has become a serious issue in the Idaho 1st District Republican campaign, this latest constitutes yet another load of bricks dumped on the Vaughn Ward campaign.

Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review made a major catch in tracking the original sources for half of Ward's position statements not to Ward but to other sources on line.

Examples: "The apparent duplications included a reference to “my roadmap legislation,” which actually was introduced by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, whose campaign website contains an identical paragraph. Others include Ward’s statement on tax relief, which is a repeat of a statement on the campaign website of third-term U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, R-Kentucky."

In an interview with Russell, the campaign seemed to describe what happened as a technical glitch - raw material intermixed with new stuff. But the campaign was also quick to disable links to what's been there for a long time - a sign they knew something was wrong.

When have you ever seen a major Northwest campaign on which so much bad news has been rained in the last two to three months before a primary? This is looking almost spooky. But a whole lot of it sure looks self-imposed.

A firing and a reassignment

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Adams (left) at the firing and reassignment/Portland city

The firing of Portland Police Chief Rosie Sizer by Mayor Sam Adams today was the obvious top-line headline of the day in Oregon. (His replacement, for now anyway, is Michael Reese.) But a bureaucratic component of this is almost as significant, and telling.

You have to assume that the immediate trigger was Sizer's press conference on Monday, when she said that the budget cut plan Adams had outlined - which included Police Bureau provisions - would mean slicing 25 sworn officer jobs, something Adams had said he would not do. The conflict between the two of them has been growing.

But there's a lot more underneath this. Under usual circumstances, Adams wouldn't have fired her at all, because he had given up supervision of the Police Bureau. Under Portland's (ungainly and peculiar) commission system, the mayor assigns oversight of the various city agencies to council members. Usually, for the last several decades at least, the mayor has kept personal oversight of the police. Adams, dogged by scandal at the beginning of his term, chose to hand it off to Commissioner Dan Saltzman instead. (He made that choice public well before his swearing-in.) Saltzman has brought some assets to the situation during a time when police conduct and labor relations have become intensely controversial. But he isn't the kind of big-presence-in-the-room that might take firm control. So various players, including Sizer, union leaders, and others, have been flinging around.

The guess here is that Adams, though not eager to jump into this, may have recognized what a lot of observers (including the Oregonian) argued from early on: That the police are simply too hot a subject, and too challenging to ride herd on, for anyone other than the mayor to do it.

Adams: "As police commissioner, my first charge is to establish the bureau leadership necessary to get us back on track. Like it or not, our social safety net has been disintegrating for years. The City of Portland slowly--but surely--finds itself inheriting more and more of the community’s social service needs. The fact is, our 1200 officers on the street have become our community’s social service first-responders." He seems to be want to find a way to integrate the police into the range of social services, which evidently is closer to his core areas of interests.

What happened was much more than a personnel matter. The axis of Portland government changed. And that will take a while to sort out.

In error/a slip

Going after slips in newspapers (and those I've worked for have sometimes let a few show) isn't a major focus of this site, especially in these days when papers are so hard pressed. But this one isn't easy to pass up . . .

This morning's Oregonian story concerns John Minnis, who resigned last fall from leading a public safety training agency after charges of sexual harassment of a female employee. The new story notes that charges in his case have been filed. But then, you might guess that from the picture's cut line.

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Minnis caption

ID: 1st district fluidity

All that attention on the Idaho 1st district campaigns seems to be pretty well placed, to judge from the new poll out by Greg Smith. (See the pdf release for the specs; it was fielded last week.)

In the Republican party, long-time front-runner Vaughn Ward is at 34%, state Representative Raul Labrador 16%, with an even 50% undecided. Ward has a 2-1 lead here. But considering Ward's long run for more than a year, and his massive advantages in organization and money, 34% isn't too impressive. Smith suggests what this seems to indicate: A whole lot of people will be making up their minds in just the next two weeks.

This spring is the period when, theoretically, the Republican organization should have been bearing down and starting to come together. The mass of bad headlines in recent weeks, mostly at Ward's expense but some splattering onto Labrador as well, may have had some long-range effects.

Smith's poll gives incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick 50% against an unnamed Republican at 20% - a good showing. Of course, once there's a name on that Republican, the numbers close up quickly. But Minnick has generated little controversy this year, and you'll hear plenty of conservatives around Idaho say they like him. That's not necessarily enough for re-election, when he may still have great trouble rounding up Democratic troops, and Idaho Republicans who express kindliness toward the occasional Democrat still have a way of coming home in November. But that presumes a Republican nominee they can like, and they haven't been seeing a lot of that in recent weeks.

At two weeks out from the primary, then: The Republican nomination is up for grabs, and so is the general - meaning among other things that Minnick is looking stronger now than he has for most of the last year.

The weekly Digests

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weekly Digest

Here's something unusual - a publication moving from monthly to weekly. But that's what we're doing with our Public Affairs Digests - for Idaho, Washington and Oregon - moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what's happening. And we're taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That's $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook.

Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 - in printed book form - and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you'd like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here's a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you'd like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

Constitution, TARP and so on

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Mike Simpson

Large chunks of the debate among the Republican candidates for the Idaho 2nd district House seat - incumbent Mike Simpson and challengers Russ Mathews and Chick Heileson - are well worth a review. It was in the main, though, a conflict between Simpson and Heileson, who probably let not a sentence go by without including the word "constitution" and making very clear that he, and not necessarily anyone else to include the Supreme Court, knows what it means.

Maybe the key topic was the federal payout, in late 2008 and early 2009, in the TARP (banking) and other programs. Simpson was among those voting in favor, and that is a big part of why he has two energetic opponents this year. His take on why he voted as he did is worth running here (and worth reading) in full:

Given the same circumstances and the same knowledge we had at the time, I don't think we had a choice. I think everybody believed something had to be done. You right: I knew we would get to this tonight because both of my opponents have criticized that vote, as have many people. But I will tell you when you're standing in a room, or sitting in a room, with the secretary of the treasury and the chairman of the federal reserve, and they're speaking, and their lower lip is shaking, and you can look in their eyes - and they're scared. Because they see the economy going off the cliff. Literally going off the cliff. They see economic Armageddon coming if something isn't done. Now whether TARP was the right thing to do or not, if other things could have been done - no one has proposed what else we could have done.

Some people have said it is unconstitutional. No: It is tied to the constitution. It is tied to the first Congress tht employed these powers in 1791 to incorporate and charter the first Bank of the United States. This is what the Supreme Court said in McCullough vs. Maryland, when they reviewed that case. They said in upholding that [action], they said that although no provision in the U.S. Constitution expressly authorizes the chartering of a national bank, doing so was necessary and proper. There is a "necessary and proper" clause in our constitution. Incident to the powers to lay and collect taxes, to borrow money, to regulate commerce, to declare and conduct war and to raise armies. The financial system depended on this.

This was not a bank bailout. This was a financial and credit system bailout. We had credit being frozen in this country. We were looking at potentially, and I think most economists will agree, probably 25% to 30% unemployment in this country if we did nothing. I am unwilling to accept that. So we did what we thought was necessary. If there are other ideas out there that we could have done to free up this credit situation, we would have looked at those options also. But to just sit back and say, "let them fail," that was not an option I was willing to accept.

(more…)

The wonders of election law

There's some chatter about the idea of Washington Governor Chris Gregoire getting an appointment as national solicitor general assuming the incumbent, Elena Kagan, is confirmed in her nomination today to the Supreme Court.

Pretty premature as speculation. But the Tacoma News Tribune political blog has a great bit about what would happen if Gregoire should resign:

Katie Blinn at secretary of state's office says a resignation prior to May 31 would trigger a primary AND a general election for the office. But a resignation after May 31 but before October 3 would set up a winner-take-all general election with everyone who files on the ballot together. Then it gets even more strange because if Gregoire resigned AFTER Oct. 3, Owen would serve until the regular 2012 election even though his vacant lieutenant governor spot would appear on the 2011 ballot.

Presumption

Creating and joining civic groups to encourage people to get active in politics and civic life is a good thing, period. But some groups seem almost to be asking for some qualifiers to that - often, these days, when they presume to be speaking for people they're not really speaking for.

Case in point today is We the People Vancouver, a politically-oriented group operating in Clark County. There's some overlap and issue congruence with the Tea Party groups - the viewpoint generally can be described as conservative ideological, not greatly different from the Tea Party - but this one is distinctive on several levels, indicates an interest in a broader range of issues, and has gotten active in interviewing and presumably backing candidates. (Mainly Republicans show up; one of the founders is himself a Republican candidate for office.) About 80 to 100 people show up at a typical meeting.

All of which is just good civic activism, save for this: Their name. "We the People Vancouver" as a group name carries a presumption that this core of 80 to 100 people are acting and speaking on behalf of - or in concert with - all of the people of Clark County. Politically, Clark is deeply split, home to elected officials both liberal and conservative. How could any group with a clearly-defined point of view claim to speak for them all?

Toward the bottom of their website, you'll see this organizational note: "We The People of Vancouver / SW Washington are part of the coalition forming www.WashingtonPatriotHub.org." Go there, to the "Washington Patriot Hub," which describes itself as a "communications hub" for conservatives, and you get another variation of this: Presumably, those whose ideology matches up with the groups involved are "patriots," and those who see things differently are . . . not.

Sooner or or later, the whole matter of saying that only believers in an often extreme ideology are patriots or "we the people," ought to be addressed more broadly. A lot of very patriotic Americans are being deeply insulted, day in and day out, by this kind of thing. And many of them don't even know it . . .

Some good ideas

The opinion section in today's Oregonian was packed full of good ideas about how to improve the public schools. Actually, the question uniting the comments was narrower - how do you make needed improvements at our weakest schools? - but the answers really seemed to apply to all. Parents, educators, students and others were asked for their ideas. The results are well worth reading.

A whole lot of what was offered includes concepts rarely heard around campaigners for office.

A superintendent at a rural school district suggested, "First, year-around school. . . . Retention would improve as students wouldn't have to be "re-taught" material the first month of school. Secondly, promotion from grade to grade would be based on meeting state standards and testing, instead of "social" promotion." Why aren't these concepts pushed more?

There's this: "Stop "reforming" schools every year based on the latest fad or political sound bite. It creates a lack of instructional and curricular continuity, and wastes precious resources."

From a student, on why declining schools get into a death spiral: "The main reason that students do not choose to go to a lower performing school: electives. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof. When not enough students go to one school, the government pulls funding from it, forcing the school to cut the electives." (Here's someone who understands how systems work.)

Some political figures came up with some good stuff. Senator Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg: "Teachers need to have the freedom to teach and motivate their students. As it is now teachers have to spend too much time filling out reports to comply with any number of mandates and too much class time simply teaching for test scores that in many cases are probably not a true measure of education."

But the weakest comments came from the two candidates for superintendent of public instruction: Both of their answers almost seemed to suggest they didn't understand thw question.

Rubber hits road

So when you talk about cutting back government, here's one little example of what that means.

When cuts like this one are imposed, legislators and other policy makers speak of them in terms of inevitability - there was no other way. That is, of course, not true: Additional money could have been raised, one way or another. There was nothing inevitable about this; it was a policy decision. The decision in Idaho was this:

In order to meet a $1.1 million deficit in a cash assistance program, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is reducing or eliminating payments to approximately 1,250 Idahoans. The reduction affects approximately 9% of people participating in the Aged, Blind and Disabled (AABD) program, which pays monthly cash assistance to participants.

“We regret having to take these actions, but we simply do not have the funds to continue the program at the current level,” says Russ Barron, administrator for the Division of Welfare. “We carefully looked at all types of assistance offered by the AABD program to determine what payments could be trimmed to meet our reduced SFY 2011 budget and better align Idaho’s program with other states.”

AABD provides cash assistance to individuals who are 65 or older, blind or have a disability. Eligible individuals receive a certain amount of cash each month to help pay for everyday living expenses. Most Idaho recipients will continue to receive a cash payment of $53 a month.

Over 14,700 Idahoans receive cash payments through the AABD program, which has grown more than 40% over the last ten years. Compared to other states, Idaho has provided some of the most generous cash assistance benefits, with all of the AABD payments funded by State dollars. Given the current budget situation, the State cannot continue current payment levels to the growing number of AABD participants. Without this change, the program would grow by a projected $500,000 of state general funds annually. The program is expected to cost $9.1 million this fiscal year.

Payment reductions range from $33 a month to almost $200 a month. The most significant change is for approximately 300 participants with developmental disabilities who live in certified family homes. Certified family homes are typically homes that provide care for one to two people with disabilities, providing room, board, and help with daily living requirements such as dressing or personal hygiene.

This group will no longer receive $198 a month in AABD payments, although they will continue to receive their Social Security Income payments of approximately $674/month as well as medical coverage through Idaho’s Medicaid program. All Medicaid benefits will remain the same, which includes a payment of $1,600 a month to the certified family home provider for helping a resident with daily living requirements.