"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

When Jerry Brown, who is running for governor in California this year, ran for that office the first time in 1974, he spoke of “moving left and right at the same time.” Is Snohomish County taking that to heart 36 years on?

First, and most significantly, the 2nd congressional district – which runs north to the Canadian border but gets close to half of its votes from Snohomish County – showed signs of being competitive in November. It used to be highly competitive, and in the 90s even Republican-leaning, before starting to elect Democrat Rick Larsen, now seeking his sixth term. Larsen took a solid 62% in his last election, and 64% in each of the two before that. In his first two, he won closer, 50%-46%. In the first of those, he faced Republican John Koster, who is running – hard – this year.

In yesterday’s primary results, Larsen leads Koster but just barely, 42.8% to 40.9%. Slipping that far below 50%, against an opponent who’s running as close, is a clear danger sign. While none of the other Washington U.S. House incumbents showed signs of serious danger in the primary numbers, Larsen clearly will have to run seriously in the couple of months from here to there. His edge is not overwhelming.

Their strategists may notice something of interest in those primary results: The two candidates didn’t fare equally well everywhere. Of the five counties in the district, Larsen won five, three (King, Skagit and San Juan) strongly, two narrowly (Island and Whatcom). He narrowly lost one: Snohomish (43.2% to 41.5%).

Then there’s this.

The most central of the several legislative districts in Snohomish is the 38th, which includes Everett and various points north and south of it. What happened there on Tuesday is also notable.

The Senate seat there is held by Jean Berkey, an Everett Democrat who ran afoul of several unions and other interests for her centrist votes in the last couple of sessions. Unwilling to go along, they backed an insurgent candidate from the left, Nick Harper, who also collected a batch of support from assorted liberal organizations. While Tea Party insurgencies in Washington largely faded out, this run from the left worked: Harper took 35.3% of the vote to Berkey’s 33.6%, meaning that those two Democrats will go on to November (shutting out the Conservative candidate Rod Rieger).

There are indications, especially in some of the suburban districts that Democrats won initially in the last few cycles, that Republicans likely will gain some pushback this year. But the results from Tuesday also show a more complex picture than just that.

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Did the primary election results in Washington say a lot we didn’t already know about what to expect out of the November election?

Not a tremendous amount, although the results should give everyone some reason not to get comfortable.

In the Senate race, incumbent Democrat Patty Murray took 46% to Republican Dino Rossi‘s 34%. For Murray, her portion of the vote is less than she should have wanted; there’s a line of thought that anything under 50% for an incumbent in a generally open primary like this one is dangerous. Certainly the figure suggests some vulnerability. But Rossi’s task is formidable. While he will surely get a lot of the Republican vote that splintered off in other directions in this election, he’s also going to have to appeal powerfully to the independents. Rossi’s climb here is steeper than Murray’s, though both have some work to do.

In the U.S. House 3 race, which is open, Democrat Denny Heck led as expected with 31.5%, to Republican Jaime Herrera‘s 27.2%. If you add the votes from all the Democratic and all the Republican contenders together, though, you get 43% for the Democrats and 53% for the Republicans – which suggests an edge for Herrera. Balance that against financial and other structural advantages Heck has, and you get a highly competitive race. This one can truly go either way; a lot really will depend on how well each of these (highly polished and articulate) candidates, and their organizations, perform, not least in the area of November voter turnout.

One other factor should be considered: Most of the competition in these and other major races around Washington was on the Republican side, which may have helped inflate Republican turnout, compared to Democratic, a bit. How much? Hard to say.

Regional. Among the Republicans: Didier won just two counties, Benton and Franklin, doing well enough in the latter to give it to Murray in a Murray-Rossi faceoff. Which won’t happen in November. But check out the overall state map for the election and you’ll get a familiar-looking picture: Murray won a plurality or better in all counties west of the Cascades except Lewis, plus Spokane and Klickitat. Against a Republican unencumbered by splinter candidates, Murray likely cannot win as many. But then, she wouldn’t need so many to win. And she has an opportunity to pick up more votes in the Democratic precincts that didn’t turn out this time. Chances are good, for example, that she can improve on the 58% she got in King County today. (In 2008, Barack Obama got 70% there for president, and Democrat Chris Gregoire, running for governor against Rossi, took 63.9%.)

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Consider for a moment the subject of the media political frenzy – that supposedly powerful, big grassroots movement going by the name of the Tea Party.

To judge from Washington primary results, they don’t look so big and powerful tonight. They look, rather, like minor players – the establishment favorites carried the day. (Or at least have so far, but the results seem decisive enough that reversals in the week to come are highly unlikely.)

In the U.S. Senate race on the Republican side – not the “Republican primary” since this is a top-two, all comers considered election – the establishment, non-Tea candidate was Dino Rossi, the former state senator and twice a gubernatorial candidate. He was much better known, had much more organizational and financial support than his opponent, and his win Tuesday wasn’t a surprise to much of anyone.

But here’s the numbers (as of this evening): Rossi 33.9%, Tea Party (and Sarah Palin) favorite Clint Didier 11.95%, and Tea second-runner-up Paul Akers 2.5%. For all the splash Didier made, and he made a lot of splash, the votes weren’t there – not nearly. Voters taken as a whole didn’t seem to have a problem with Rossi the (conservative) establishment candidate, as such. So much for the tsunami insurgency which Rossi, to his strategic credit, seems to have recognize was overrated (though, yes, he did cater to it more in the last two to three weeks than he had before).

The other key race was for the one open U.S. House seat, in Washington’s 3rd district (southwest Washington, from Olympia to Vancouver to the coast). All three significant candidates ran as conservatives, but of different shades. State Representative Jaime Herrera, widely considered the front runner, was probably the most establishment of the group in overall approach. David Castillo, who also had some backing from highly visible party people but also had some Tea support, was more or less in the middle. David Hedrick, a newcomer, ran full steam on Tea concentrate (privatize Social Security, for example).

The result? Herrera outpolled the other two put together (27.2% to 12% for Castillo and 13.8% for Hedrick). The perils of being flanked on both sides may have weighed down Castillo. But the overall strength ran heavily to Herrera.

Not a good night for the hard-core insurgency. We’ve had the suspicion for more than a year that it has been overrated. And for the most part, it seems to be, except when actual voters weigh in.

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The matter of the giant trucks that want to use Idaho’s slice of Highway 12 – a thin, twisting road that tests even drivers of compact cars – might yet turn into a genuine political issue.

The point was laid out neatly in a comment on an Idaho Statesman story today about a lawsuit filed to block the truck traffic. The comment says in part: “So let’s get this straight: one of the largest multi-national corporations – with no ties to Idaho, wants to block both lanes of an Idaho highway, create an extreme traffic and environment hazard in our state, to haul South Korean made equipment, on the way to harvest oil in Canada? ..then we get to pay to rebuild our torn-up road when they are done with their 200 oversize loads? did I get that right?”

Have a look at Fighting Goliath, an energetic web site on the subject.

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weekly Digest

Washington was coiled tight for its primary election on Tuesday – a primary unlike most primaries since it won’t choose party nominees but will decide who goes on to compete in November. In that atmosphere, economic indications remained downbeat; officials across the three states including the governors warned that though recent funding from Congress was helpful, it will not avert large cuts in services. In Idaho, rural incomes were reported as down. In that environment, a new study of Tea Party views and attitudes turned into useful reading.

Still, an array of other indicators offered types of messages. A Hynix plant sale in Eugene appeared to be moving toward reality. Tax credits have helped home sales in Washington, and some other new economic developments seemed to be just on the horizon.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the 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.

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Denny Heck
Denny Heck
David Castillo
David Castillo
David Hedrick
David Hedrick
Jaime Herrera
Jaime Herrera

Tuesday’s election day in Washington will be one of the first real Northwest indicators of how November’s elections will play out. One of the best places to examine for clues may be the Washington 3rd district: An open House seat – incumbent Democrat Brian Baird is retiring – in a district closely split between the parties, and strongly competed for by both parties.

A quick reminder: This is not a normal primary election, where party nominees are chosen, but rather a “top two,” where the two best vote-getters proceed on to November. They could even come from the same party, though in the case is of the 3rd, the odds are strong the finalists will be one Democrat and one Republican.

Not a lot here by way of outright predictions, but some thoughts on what to watch for.

This much is pretty easy: One of the candidates to clear the top-two bar almost certainly will be Denny Heck. Heck is not the only Democrat on the ballot – Cheryl Crist, who has run for the office before without accumulating many votes – is running, and to his left, which will likely mean some peel-off. How large that is may be an indicator of just how well Heck, who has run as a Democratic centrist, has been able to bring his party’s base on board.

One other point to watch: What is the combined Democratic percentage, compared to the combined Republican percentage? That may be a useful indicator for November. To be noted: Heck has a hefty financial advantage, according to the most recent reports, $707,840 cash on hand, which is more than six times as much as anyone else.

The biggest interest, though, is on the Republican side, where the results seem less clear than on the Democratic, and where the race is much harder fought.

The weight of opinion has given an informal frontrunner status to Jaime Herrera of Ridgefield.

There’s a case for this. She has connections, worked for U.S. Representative Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, who has backed her campaign and attracted additional help. On her own, Herrera is a state representative, first appointed and then easily elected in 2008. She is articulate, photogenic (not a knock – it’s an asset) and energetic – a solid candidate on her own merits; the external help is just a plus. She has amassed what are probably more substantial batches of endorsements than her Republican rivals. She also has raised more money ($410,627) than any of the other Republicans, and has more on hand ($113,838). She’s been spending, and is alone in running spots on cable TV.

Still, the cautionary notes abound: Don’t write this race off yet. David Castillo of East Olympia has raised competitive amounts of money ($257,815) and spent the bulk of it; David Hedrick of Camas has raised and spent far less, but has had a highly energetic campaign and gotten attention.

Castillo especially merits some attention. Like Herrera, he has gotten backing from a cadre of well-placed Republicans including Attorney General Rob McKenna and state House Republican leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis – a key figure in Republican politics in the district, and personally representing a district that’s a part of the Republican core.

Another indicator of sorts: Castillo has done very well with newspaper endorsements, winning those of the Seattle Times, the Vancouver Columbian, the Longview Daily News and the Centralia Chronicle. (The Columbian was the only one to endorse two Republicans – Herrera was the other – for the top two.) Point here is not that endorsements make winners, but that – like campaign contributions – they often do reflect a candidate’s viability.

If all of that sounds like an argument for tossing the third Republican, Hedrick, off the train, well, not quite. And that is partly a reflection of this particular year.

Hedrick’s web site calls him a “constitutional conservative Republican” (“patriot” and “Christian” show up a lot too), and this is a dog whistle you can hear. All three Republican candidates call themselves conservative, and fit the description by any usual standards, but Hedrick’s message sounds distinctly different, much more Tea Partyish – and his appeal is aimed squarely in that direction. He seems to have aligned himself loosely, for example, with Senate candidate Clint Didier, who has lots of Tea Party support; but while the Senate race has two TP candidates and one establishment Republican (Dino Rossi), the 3rd district Republican scene has two more establishment Republicans (Herrera and Castillo) and one partier – Hedrick. And Hedrick doesn’t mind some boat-rocking. In a radio forum last week on Oregon Public Broadcasting, Hedrick came out flatly for privatizing Social Security, which left Heck in definitive opposition and the other two Republicans scrambling.

Consider this from Matthew Trent, a blogger, a council member at Centralia and himself a Tea Party backer: “I was already a supporter of local tea party icon David Hedrick. So I am biased, but I’m going to say he dominated the 3rd district speeches to the assembly Saturday. Fellow candidates Herrera and Castillo lacked Hedrick’s fire and substance. It felt like they were telling us what we wanted to hear, while Hedrick spoke with conviction about the liberty he loves. The delegates (almost 1200 of them this year) responded much more vigorously to Hedrick than his competitors.”

So how large is the Tea Party impact in this week’s election? We may find out, and more clearly here than in the Senate race. Watch for this on Tuesday.

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The train at Rockaway Beach, one of the local coastal attractions/Linda Watkins

Is this what a sort of perfect travel storm looks like?

This weekend, hot temperatures hit the Willamette Valley, including the Portland area, for just the second time this summer. The coast was cool – quite cool, and even foggy in a lot of places. Plus, Portland was being hamstrung by road construction and various sorts of weekend events. Out on the coast, Astoria had a regatta and various other communities were in full summer attraction swing.

So the coastal highways were absolutely jammed. Slow travel almost everywhere. Good economic news, though, for the people on the coast.

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Wer’ll be getting into looks at the legislative situation, but for the moment an overview from Governing magazine, where veteran Louis Jacobson has taken a look at prospects in all 50 states.

No reason here to quarrel with the assessment, which ranks Idaho “safe Republican” and Washington and Oregon “likely Democratic.” A fair number of states are teetering in party control, but these three don’t seem to be among them.

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Idaho Oregon Washington

Whenever one candidate (ordinarily the one behind) wants to debate more often than the other (usually the frontrunner), there’s an attempt to turn it into an issue aimed at telling the voters something about the two candidates. An attempt to create a narrative. (Your scribe makes that observation partly out of personal experience.)

That usually has limited effect, partly because it often is written off (and often reasonably) as a trailing candidate scrambling to find arrows to throw at the guy in front. Another reason for its limited efficacy is that, more often than not, the leading candidate has little to fear in a debate. The leader usually is leading because he (or she) is well established, has experience in such faceoffs, is running in an area favorable to his party, and so on. And there’s this: Usually, the effort to crank up more debates has no one pushing hard for it other than the trailing candidate.

Taken together, this is why the latest debate push by the Oregon gubernatorial campaign of John Kitzhaber, the Democratic former governor, may matter more than most. Kitzhaber has been jabbing away at his Republican opponent, former basketball player Chris Dudley, for missing the traditional opening midsummer faceoff in front of Oregon’s newspaper publishers, which Kitzhaber attended and Dudley (who was schmoozing business lobbyists in Aspen at the time) missed. Newspapers took notice.

Dudley has been pushing for fewer debates and Kitzhaber more. The normal logic would be that this is because Kitzhaber is clearly trailing Dudley, but that isn’t the case: At most, polling shows the two running closely together, although our estimate remains that Kitzhaber has something of a lead. The other parts of the normal equation don’t fit either. Dudley has only slight experience in head-to-head candidate debates, and when he did them during the primary campaign, he came across as unimpressive. Kitzhaber, extremely well-informed, crisply articulate and sometimes witty on top of that, could be expected to mop the floor with Dudley – in fact, he has more to lose on the expectations front.

But by pressing the case now, Kitzhaber has Dudley on a defensive in part because he has pre-agreed to a string of debates around the state. The Kitzhaber campaign sent a letter (released publicly, of course) to Dudley’s campaign, to drive the point home. From it:

On July 9 I sent you a letter on behalf of John Kitzhaber in an effort to agree on a debate schedule for the general election. In that letter I proposed seven issue-based debates around the state.

Events since that time have made it clear that Chris Dudley is purposefully avoiding opportunities to debate.

First, the lack of any response to a letter you received over a month ago indicates the level of interest Mr. Dudley has in allowing Oregonians to compare the principal gubernatorial candidates side-by-side. This is, of course, disappointing to anyone who believes that offering and defending one’s plans and positions is an essential part of the democratic process.

Second, the incidents surrounding the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association debate on July 16 have been well-documented, and do not need to be elaborated upon in this letter. This was an important debate that has not been missed by a major party candidate for nearly a quarter century. Suffice it to say his unwillingness to appear – and the shifting reasons provided for that failure to appear – offer further indications of his intent.

Finally, we offered to defer to Mr. Dudley’s schedule so that the candidates could debate before the Oregon Mayors Association on July 30, but our offer was refused – even though our offer was to join him at the time and place that Mr. Dudley was actually scheduled to appear.

Taken together, these events provide a clear indication that Mr. Dudley is either unwilling or unready to debate. John Kitzhaber is ready, willing and able to do so, and continues to believe that it is important for Oregon to move forward. Out of respect for the more than 40 organizations that have contacted our campaign to host a debate, I have confirmed John for the debates listed below. These debates provide voters across the state with the opportunity to hear from John on a variety of issues important to Oregonians.


9/9 Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance – Burns
Topic: Economic Development in Eastern Oregon

9/23 Urban League of Portland/African American Alliance for Homeownership – Portland
Topic: Economic and Social Justice

9/24 Eugene City Club
Topic: Early Childhood Education

9/25 League of Oregon Cities – Statewide Representation in Eugene
Topic: State Budget


10/8 Portland City Club – Portland-Metro Area
Topic: All

10/18 KOBI TV – Medford
Topic: All

10/24 KATU TV/League of Women Voters/AARP – Broadcast Statewide
Topic: All

Please know that this list is inclusive and we will be planning John’s remaining campaign schedule around these dates.

We hope to see Chris Dudley there.

A very sharp hit.

For one thing, there’s now a string of people and organizations, including news media, who will be leaning on Dudley, and putting him on the defensive.

The shredest jab of all was the very first debate listed – in Burns, out in the heart of conservative Republican country, a place that likely has never ever held a gubernatorial debate, much less the first one in the campaign. A Dudley refusal there, at an even where Kitzhaber still shows up, could make quite a splash.

This is not the first really effective use of the debate lever in Northwest politics. But it looks like the most effective in many years.

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We get e-mail by the hundreds every day. We get e-mail we don’t want. We also get a lot of e-mail from places where we sought it out, from governmental offices, corporations, sundry organizations. Some of it is useful stuff, and we’re glad to get it. (We also, may as well note it, use e-mail to deliver our weekly Digests.) We’ve seldom had much difficulty getting ourselves added to e-mail lists. Why should we? Costs nothing.

On the other hand David Frazier, of the Boise Guardian blog, recently got this in his mail, from the Boise Police Department:

Dave –

FYI – You are no longer on the “media” email list. The list is for media only. Feel free to call me at my desk on this or any other issue.

take care –


He wasn’t dropped from the list because he asked to be; he was dropped because, well, he evidently isn’t considered to be “media.” So here we go again: Someone who wants to limit the circle of communications so as to define someone as outside.

And apparently a growing list. Frazier wrote that “The Police and Fire departments have now fallen in line with the rest of Boise”s information manipulators in denying us access to routine announcements and updates. We don’t claim any special status since we really represent the public’s ‘right to know,’ but we should not suffer discrimination at the hands of our government either.”

Why the Boise agencies shouldn’t include anyone who asks for the public news releases – the point of which is supposed to be to disseminate information as broadly as possible – would be a good question. And, in this day of changing means of information delivery, more manageable anyway.

And the city may find it more time-effective if, as we’d suspect, Frazier’s response is to step up rather than ease back on his requests for information. One way or another.

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weekly Digest

Congressional funding for state program was a key story during last week, but led to widely disparate reactions around the northwest. In Washington, much of the reaction focused on the celebratory: The money stands to patch up much of the chasm between available revenue and spending needs, discussions of calling back the legislature seemed to fade. The reaction was more muted in Oregon, where the money would help fill close to half of the gap but not much more. In Idaho, the political reaction ranged toward negative, critical of the congressional spending.

An overturning of the federal/state wolf management program dominated much coverage in Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon. Problems with a Medeicaid payment provider was large news in Idaho during the week, while in Washington a major state transportation plan was released, and in Oregon a new tribal casino in the Columbia Gorge moved closer to reality.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the 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.

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death andlife

The new book The Death and Life of American Journalism, by Robert McChesney and John Nichols, does quite a bit of tap dancing around its subject, meditating on what bad news it is that America’s mass news media are in such dire straits, and what bad news that is for democracy.

All of which is something most of us already know. At the book’s core, though, McChesney and Nichols do present several ideas for renewing American journalism and making it stronger. Besides making improved use of the Internet, and moving more toward non-profit or low-profit organizational structures, they also suggest a number of proposals for explicit governmental support or subsidies for news media. (Northwest connection: The author’s main research assistant was R. Jamil Jonna of the University of Oregon.)

This is less radical than it sounds, even in the United States. (A number of other countries, especially in Europe, do provide governmental underwriting for man news organizations, and the news environment generally is livelier than it is here and no less critical of its governments.) American support of news media goes well beyond the first amendment; it also includes special cut rates for media postage and contracts for printers.

You wonder what else it might include, though.

The tri-county (Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas) Oregon entity called Metro, which manages a number of regional services, probably isn’t covered as much as it should be by local news media whose reporting ranks have been thinning. So, although itself financially pressed, it has decided on a new job opening:

Metro is seeking to fill a temporary position for a part-time news reporter. The reporter will attend a variety of community meetings and events about growth management and community investment priorities and provide objective, written news coverage of those meetings and events. The reporter also will take photographs, and when appropriate, may be asked to produce short, simple video clips of people offering short comments. Metro will provide for use of cameras and computer equipment if needed.

The announcement says specifically that the agency won’t edit for content, and that it expects some of the reports will be critical of it. It says, at least, that it wants to hire a neutral reporter.

Why? The agency’s communication director Jim Middaugh, was quoted in the Willamette Week, “There’s nobody watching us really. The goal of this is transparency … The intent is to get out information even if it’s critical.”

The future of journalism? Is this the first of many more? And what will it mean?

Haven’t seen anything about this in the Oregonian yet . . .

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