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Posts published in May 2010

Prepare for a walk-back?

The Arizona immigration law has come up for some initial discussion in Idaho (as noted here a few posts back), and now apparently in Oregon.

This arrives via Republican gubernatorial candidate (and widely-presumed front-runner) Chris Dudley - although he sounds more confused than definitive on the subject. Guesting on the Lars Larson radio program, he fielded a question from the host on what he thinks about the new law, and responded (audio here):

If they have reasonable suspicion, and I think that is probably the key word here, is uh, then I think they should be able to, to look into that –um – and I and that’s uh – it’ll be int – obviously the –courts are gonna take a look at how the Arizona law has been written. I –uh - have looked at it, but the courts will decide whether it’s uh constitutionally uh um uh whether it works in that regard and if it does I think it’s uh- it’s something that we could look at uh, obviously we don’t have quite the same uh –problems that Arizona does with-with the border – um that is we don’t have a border – but we don have a problem with illegal immigrants and we need to look at solutions there. And I think that as a state we need to look at making sure that all the laws are enforced, I also think we need to look into technology um-and I think a uh uh prime – uh uh – prime uh source there would be businesses being able to determine whether their uh employees are legal or illegal and I simply think we should look into areas such as E –verify uh and in in order to get a get a hold of this problem.

(Transcript from the Oregon Democratic Party, but reviewed here for accuracy.) He sounds caught unawares (though why that would be is unclear, and Larson certainly wasn't trying to trap him).

But however vaguely, he's now opened the door to the subject in Oregon campaigns. His main competitor, Allen Alley, is flatly opposed to the Arizona law, as are the Democratic front runners. But if Dudley survives the primary, you can expect this to be a top issue, and a major wedge splitting him off from the independent centrists.

A comment from Sal Peralta (once a Democratic legislative candidate but now a leader in the state Independent Party) on the Blue Oregon post about all this put the point firmly:

"See, this is a problem with candidates who have zero experience, limited knowledge, and no track record. When the Oregon Farm Bureau endorsed Dudley they probably didn't know that he supports police crackdowns on latino workers. If Rick Hickey and his buddies at OFIR had known that Chris would be this quick to attack brown people, they might have given his candidacy a more serious look."

Such a line of thought may well resonate in Oregon.

What everyone knows

Seems as though the commonly-received wisdom in a bunch of quarters around Oregon is that in the Republican gubernatorial primary, former basketball player Chris Dudley will beat businessman Allen Alley, and the other candidates will be minor factors.

Maybe so. This space isn't up for bucking what seems like the consensus view: Speculation here remains that Dudley will win the nod . . . and yet . . .

Dudley's appeal is in large part simply that of an outsider celebrity. He comes cross as smart but not well educated in the wonky details of substance and process of Oregon government. (Could he give a good answer if asked simply, what is it that the governor does?) His support feels mostly like a calculation, this cycle's algebraic result for the Republican puzzler of how to win the governorship. In the end, how many votes will that bring? Enough? Maybe; but does anyone really know?

Does anyone really know, either, what kind of number legally-troubled Bill Sizemore may get? Not only may he be the best-known name in the race, but he also has the strongest claim to straight-line conservative voters, who are dominant in the Republican Party. No, we don't expect him to win. But might he break into double diget percentages? Maybe. And if he does, what might that do to Dudley-Alley? Does anyone have any idea?

Alley, on the other hand, has campaigned much longer and harder and has delivered a lot more meaty substance. He is even a better public speaker, and his personal presence may be better on every ground other than sheer physical height. A lot of the key endorsements have gone to him, including most of the media endorsements (with the main big exception of the Oregonian).

And he keeps winning straw poll-type events. Yes, they're often self-selecting and statistically they don't mean a lot, but they do add up. Today, as the ballots start to come back in, the Portland Business Journal is conducting a (self-selecting) online poll of its readers on the Republican gubernatorial candidates. With 2,095 votes in, Alley was ahead at 51%, Dudley at 30%, John Lim at 6% and Sizemore at 3%.

Lessons of some sort stand to be learned out this primary. As to what they may be . . .

OR: (A few) legislative primaries to watch

Today, as Oregon voters begin contemplating those voting spots on their primary election ballots, they'll likely focus on the governor's primaries mostly, then some of the other major offices. Only in a few places, at this point, will there be a lot of call to focus on the legislative races.

There aren't a lot of contested primaries among the 75 legislative seats up. Republicans have primary contests for only about a fifth of them, and Democrats have contests in fewer than half that many. And most of those aren't really major races. Some are contests between little-known candidates running against an incumbent who has a strong edge either in this election or in November.

But a few of these races will merit some discussion, and may let us draw some larger conclusions, after the numbers roll in. In order or interest (not competitiveness), here are five.

1 - District 58 House, Republican: Bob Jenson v. Michael Mathisen. Two very interesting primaries in northeast Oregon, in strongly Republican country, this one and in District 57 (see below). Jenson's may be slightly more interesting because the contrast of candidates is so totally stark. Jenson is the incumbent, in fact the longest-serving House member, and though a Republican now he has been elected as a Democrat (in 1996) and an independent (in 1998) as well. Jenson's ties in the Pendleton-centered district run deep, and his politics - as his party record shows - has tended conservative but is no rigid lock. That point came to a head in the 2009 legislative session when he and District 57's Representative Greg Smith voted with Democrats for what became the Measures 66 and 67 tax increases. That drew a strong rebuke from party leadership together with explicit political punishment: A primary challenge for each of them.

Jenson's challenger, Mathisen, has lived in Hermiston just three years - a newcomer by comparison, who has gotten his key support from Salem and Portland rather than in-district. But Jenson's tax votes were a matter of controversy locally, too; and if the anti-tax crowd wants to make an example of a Republican legislator who crosses over, Jenson would be a classic case study. For Republican leadership, the risks are high: If Jenson survives, they may be exposed as toothless.

Presumption here is that he will survive the primary. But either way, there'll be some significant lessons in it.

2 - District 57 House, Republican: Greg Smith v. Colleen MacLeod. The outlines of 57 are those of 58 - Smith and Jenson made similar votes (not exactly the same; Smith voted against one proposal). Smith, like Jenson, has been elected with slight competition for some years now, and he too is well-established, maybe a little less so. His opponent, MacLeod, is a former commissioner in Union county - herself better established and with her own base of support in her district than Mathisen in his, and she's received a string of endorsements from conservative interest groups. This may be a more competitive race. But its implications are as real as in 58. (more…)

Taking the 17th

That Tea Party questionnaire delivered to Idaho candidates, and signed by a number of them, has all sort of peculiar entries. Maybe the most peculiar of all has gotten little attention, but it should for what it says about the real nature of the Tea Party, and the forces behind it.

It came up, though, when the two main candidates for the Republican nomination in Idaho's 1st congressional district, Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador, appeared on an Idaho Public Television weekly program in a near-debate. One of the questions (at just past the 13-minute mark) that may have seemed obscure to many voters came from analyst Jim Weatherby, who had noticed that the Tea Party form indicated support for repeal of the 17th amendment, and that both Ward and Labrador had said they supported repeal.

The 17th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1913, and it changed a procedure in place since the nation's founding. Up to then, U.S. senators had been chosen by state legislators. The amendment, which was enacted as part of the progressive movement, changed that to provide that the voters of each state would do the honors.

The state legislatures idea grew out of the caution that the nation's founders had about placing power directly in the hands of ordinary voters; those voters, remember, were once far more limited (by gender, property ownership and otherwise) than they are now. As the right to vote expanded, so gradually did demands that voters rather than politicians choose their own senators.

Eventually, problems associated with legislative selection made the case ever stronger. In some cases, legislatures deadlocked over choices, and states went without senatorial representation for years. Worse than that were the many cases of bribery and corruption; a seat in the U.S. Senate was something worth bribing and corrupting over. Popular election of senators has hardly been a perfect thing, but it has worked a lot more smoothly than its predecessor approach.

So why would the Tea Party, which likes to present itself as a movement which takes power away from politicians to give it to "the people," be so enamored of this idea that specifically and clearly does the opposite? Ward and Labrador were at best incoherent in delivering sort-of answers, making reference to states rights. "I think it's important that the senators be beholden to the people of Idaho," Labrador responded at one point; but this change would make them directly beholden not to the voters but to fellow-politician legislators. Under either plan, senators are chosen within the various states; the question is whether they are beholden to the state's voters or to a majority of the state's legislators. (Ward said that he agreed.) Could it just be a general disapproval of every reform enacted in the United States since the dawn of the 20th century? (If so, there go the initiative, referendum and recall too.)

Maybe more specifically: Who benefits from such an approach?

Presumably, the same people who tended to benefit way back then: Those who have the big bucks to corrupt state legislators with, and to buy Senate seats - which often is exactly what happened in the 19th century.

Good plan, guys, for taking back government for "the people." You just have to be clearer about which people would be getting the government under their control . . .

UPDATE In his blog, Adam Graham refers to the televised exchange on this: "Weatherby called this out as some big problem.In reality, it’s one of those conservative wish list items that Ward and Labrador won’t spend one minute thinking about if elected to Congress. It’s because moments like this that the issue won’t be addressed, because the argument is not given a serious treatment." There's a bit of news, actually, in that: Since when is taking away election of senators from the voters and giving it to the legislature a "conservative wish list item"? Can't recall seeing it in years past; maybe missed it. But if in any event it is now, why is that? What's the appeal in it for conservatives, even if they (Graham, at least) consider it a long-shot preference?

A lot of banks

The state of George has gotten some attention for being the home of a bunch of banks that have failed. But Washington state seems to be catching up.

Frontier Bank of Everett is gone now, absorbed - via regulatory action - by Union Bank of San Francisco. (How much more concentrated will banking be at the end of all this?)

But the list is getting long. On April 16 City Bank was closed. On february 26, Umpqua Bank (of Oregon) bought out Rainier Pacific Savings Bank. On January 29, Columbia State Bank bought American Marine Bank. One week before that, Umpqua bought Evergreen Bank. Two weeks before that, Washington Federal bought Horizon Bank. And of course there have been many more, back to and beyond the mega-failure of Washington Mutual.

The numbers, even allowing for the larger size of state and larger overall numbers of banks, are larger than in Oregon or Idaho. Has there been something more deeply wrong in Washington banking? Is it going to continue for a while: Are we anywhere near done with the closures?