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Posts published in August 2010

Leveraging the debate debate

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: (more…)

E-mail exclusivity

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 -

Lynn

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.

This week in the Digests

digest
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.

The reporter from somewhere

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 . . .

Theme song

Have you seen or heard (depending on whether you've caught the video version) of the theme song for Senate candidate Clint Didier?

It's on his web site, and although he's not the singer it probably expresses about as well as anything where the appeal is, and why the caution among quite a few conservatives.

Key lines, from the chorus: "I won't be be polite/cause I'm looking for a fight/There's gonna be hell to pay."

The candidate, in other words, of the angry thrash, and not a lot else.

The future of roads?

While Idaho's politicians debate about transportation costs, they might pause for a few minutes to look over this video - part of which comes from a keenly innovative business at Sagle, near Sandpoint - describing what the next generation of roads across the nation ought to look like.

Their case goes beyond compelling; this is a vid everyone should see. Just four and a half minutes long.

Hat tip to Barrett Rainey.

Oh, those bureaucrats

If you're of the government-never-does-anything-right frame of mind, the headline in the Oregonian this morning had to be just the thing: "Multnomah County chief apologizes for health inspectors who shut down 7-year-old's lemonade stand at local art show."

A 7-year-old's lemonade stand? What a perfect video clip to demonstrat the point . . .

Except that if you move past the headline into the story, the picture is good deal muddier than that.

Technically, selloing any food or drink - even a child's lemonade stand - even in front of your house requires a city permit in Portland. As a practical matter, the regulators said, they don't enforce stands by children in their neighborhoods.

What did get their attention was the case of the 7-year-old from Oregon City, who with her mother's help decided to set up shop (selling Koolaid) not at home but at a large commercial arts and food event in more of the most bustling parts of Portland, during a festival. Where everyone else selling their wares on the street had to buy a permit.

Which isn't to say that an exception might not have been reasonable. But if you're heading directly into commercial competition, as part of something that's an actual adult business place rather than the place of children's hobbies, you place by the rules of where you are.

Not as simple as this is likely to be made out to be.

Why the odds are with Minnick

minnick
Walt Minnick (center) gets the associated contractors endorsement on Wednesday/Minnick campaign

Walt Minnick, Idaho's 1st district Democratic representative, must be living right. Four months ago, this space had no serious doubts that he was unlikely to win re-election. Today (and really for the last month or two), he looks to have a clear path to re-election.

That's not a change of mind. It's a change of circumstance. And today, as the the Associated General Contractors of Idaho deliver their endorsement for Minnick, seems as reasonable a time as any to talk about that.

Some things from four months ago have not changed, or changed a lot. Minnick's status as an incumbent has undoubtedly helped; Idaho voters don't lightly toss out major-office incumbents, even Democrats - ousting no major-office Democrat since 1994, while re-electing several of them in the years since. And Minnick and his campaign people have been aware since election day 2008 that the re-election campaign had to start right then, and they've been at it aggressively ever since. Their campaign has made hardly any slips. Also, Minnick may not be Mr. Charisma, but he makes a positive impression, and a lot of people around the district like him. That includes a lot of Republicans.

The problems have been - and if Minnick does lose, still are - larger-picture. A whole lot of Idaho Republicans and a lot of independents - who in Idaho lean strongly Republican - simply are loathe to vote for a Democrat and would hesitate to do it with a gun at their heads; our estimate is that 45% of the 1st district electorate is in this category. The political atmosphere this year, magnified somewhat in Idaho, should make that even more true. And while Minnick has taken great care to not upset Republicans, he has upset a lot of Democrats. Some of them will be less inclined to work as hard for him. Some of them - we've talked to a number of veteran Democratic activists - say they simply will deny him their vote in November.

That's a formula for a Minnick loss. But since late winter, the calculus has changed in a big way on the Republican side. No election is ever won or lost for just one reason; but that change now looks to be the biggest reason Minnick probably will win this year.

Last winter, the Republicans had in Vaughn Ward a candidate well positioned for the race. Several components went into that. He appeared to have come out of nowhere, and a year ago effectively dispatched an established state legislator (Ken Roberts) months before the primary. He did that partly on the basis of sounding like the kind of Republican firebrand taking off around the country.

But two things happened. (more…)

Well, uh, that Tea Party

One of the more powerful video takedowns of an opponent so far in this year's cycle. And it could be replicated in a lot of places outside of Washington's 2nd district, which - Democrat Rick Larsen's consistent wins there notwithstanding - is leans Democratic only a little, and could readily elect a Republican.

Probably not, though, one like the local voters think of in the way Republican John Koster is portrayed here.

Hat tip/Horse's Ass.

A QUOTE A reader sent, a few weeks ago, this quote about the Tea Party and similar aggregations, which synthesizes some of what this ad seems to be getting at, maybe a little more pungently (but no less usefully):

"A new strain of populism is metastasizing before our eyes, nourished by the same libertarian impulses that have unsettled American society for half a century now. Anarchistic like the Sixties, selfish like the Eighties, contradicting neither, it is estranged, aimless, and as juvenile as our new century. It appeals to petulant individuals convinced that they can do everything themselves if they are only left alone, and that others are conspiring to keep them from doing just that. This is the one threat that will bring Americans into the streets. Welcome to the politics of the libertarian mob."

Oh, and this: "They are apocalyptic pessimists about public life and childlike optimists swaddled in self-esteem when it comes to their own powers."

This week in the Digests

digest
weekly Digest

A number of cultural indicators turned up in news last week. Some were physical: The revived blasts over the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel, a subject that had been apparently resolved not so many months ago, but takes on new life in this time of budget cuts and worries of cost overruns. And there's the much-remarked comments of Boise State University President Bob Kustra, aimed at the University of Idaho - a subject guaranteed to generate a lot of hot discussion.

Elsewhere, life goes on. A major new report on the practicalities of rebuilding the Interstate 5 Columbia River crossing hit via the governor's offices; and a new major solar power business announces a ramup at Gresham.

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.