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Posts published in September 2010

OR gov: Debate night

John Kitzhaber
Chris Dudley

The happiest thing about what may be the only general election gubernatorial debate in Oregon this year was, each candidate invited the other to at least one more event. Democrat John Kitzhaber proposed next week's City Club in Portland; Republican Chris Dudley proposed a venue in Medford. Our recommendation: Compromise by doing both.

This evening's KGW-TV/Oregonian one-hour event, fast-paced and wide-ranging though it was, only scratched the surface, and Oregon voters would be a lot better served by seeing more.

No knockouts or massive gaffes seemed immediately apparent. Kitzhaber's command of detail and analysis was, as usual, instantly apparent, and his answers seemed generally stronger. His deep experience as well as skill in doing this sort of thing was obvious. The downside was a certain chill, a technocratic coolness. Dudley wasn't overrun - he projected energy and intelligence, if not depth of knowledge - anywhere. He held his own. (Both men proved capable of commanding the screen.) He said nothing very extreme or controversial (though he seemed at some times to be dodging). Here and there he seemed to veer toward anger, but mostly held himself in. The may also have meant he couldn't much use a personal charm that might have been a valuable asset.

Dudley did not really lack facts and figures, and against another opponent he might have looked more knowledgeable. As it was, he seemed to fall back on ideology and sloganeering - Do you want more of the same? We need a new direction - without much explanation or detail to back it up. Asked about his lack of governmental experience, Dudley took a shot at those who had served and said of himself, "What I offer is a vision." (Try getting a business loan, or selling a non-celebrity book proposal, based on that.)

Asked what was the biggest difference between himself and his opponent, Dudley said he wouldn't do "the same old thing." In this year, that might be a saleable line, but he was thin on what exactly would replace the "same old thing," or how his new thing would make things better. Kitzshaber several times (at the beginning and end and in between) filled in the gaps, saying Dudley would adopt George W. Bush-style policies and ideas and open up yawning revenue gaps. "There's a difference between a new face and a new idea," he said - a strong line.

Dudley's best answer came in a reply on a question about the state kicker (tax rebate) when he smoothly combined details with some philosophical analysis about tax policy. But to maybe a third of the questions, you could watch him paddling - repeating talking points going round in circles, chewing up the clock. This wasn't just a matter of technocratic knowledge. One question concerned the idea of eliminating Oregon's closed primary system, allowing non-party members to vote in primaries. Dudley seemed altogether flustered by the question, barely delivering an answer; going next, Kitzhaber swiftly jumped in, explained the subject and the basis for a definitive answer.

Kitzhaber did one other thing that may pay some dividends. Dudley spent a good deal of time talking about poor Oregon rankings in schools, hunger, employment, this, that and the other; he had little good to say about the state, in fact, not even delivering many of the traditional nods to the wisdom of the voters or the state's fine businesses or work force. Kitzhaber sprinkled a few of those things through his debate, but then returned to it in his closing, throwing in the pitch to how fine the state is, and offering a grace note of optimism. Dudley didn't deliver a lot of optimism; Kitzhaber the technocrat outdid him there.

Kitzhaber prevailed on points; Dudley, who did considerably better than simply not blowing it, exceeded some expectations.

Another debate, anyone?

The Dems for Dudley are …

The idea of setting up a "Democrats for ..." or a "Republicans for ..." a candidate of the opposing party is a perennial, and not a bad idea if you're running as the nominee of the minority party in your area (a "Democrats for Mike Crapo" in Idaho would be, tactically, kinda pointless) and if you've got some significant names to throw out there - some well-known, identifiable people who have had some elective office or party organization background.

Such names aren't often easy to come by. In Idaho, the Keith Allred Democratic campaign did a pretty good job rounding up a string of fairly prominent former Republican legislators (no current ones, though) and others from the local level. How much help that will be isn't clear, but it doesn't hurt, and a message is conveyed.

So, turning to the Oregon gubernatorial campaign, it makes sense - in this leaning-blue state - for Republican Chris Dudley to round up some opposition-party people on his behalf. His campaign site has a page of Dems for Dudley.

Two names are listed there. One is Don Alanen of Beaverton, is a third-generation logger who wrote a book called "The Logger's Encyclopedia: A Road to the Past," but who so far as we can tell seems not to have been much involved politically. About the other, Sue Diers, we couldn't find any public profile at all. There is also a video on the page showing a few more endorsements, but those aren't exactly politically prominent names either.

That's not to criticize them or make light of their support of Dudley. But does it offer much of a case to suggest a significant core of Democrats are signing up with Dudley? For that, you need some political and party activist people.

A measure of party strength?

We'll know in a little more than a month just what this year's election looks like on a Republican/Democratic scale. But aside from polls (which for the last few years we've generally gotten more skeptical of), are there other measures of party loyalty, and possible shifts? Unlike Washington and Idaho, Oregon has party registration.

What follow are a few numbers charting some of this, focusing on party registration numbers from August this year and the same month in 2008 and in the last break-even year in Oregon for Republicans, 2002. What we've worked out here is the percentage each group has within the total number of registered voters.

Group 2010 2008 2006 2002
Democratic 42.1% 43.2% 38.8% 39.0%
Republican 32.1% 32.2% 35.9% 36.3%
non-affiliated 20.3% 20.0% 22.0% 21.4%
Independent 2.8% 1.3% - -

Between the two major parties, you see here an uptick for Democrats from around 39% early in the decade, to 43% in 2008; and among Republicans, a loss from around 36% early in the decade to between 32% and 33% toward decade's end. Where did the Democratic good fortune in the latter part of the decade come from? That swing of about 7-8% in registration is probably enough to account for a lot of it.

What about this year? As of August, compared with two years ago, registered Democrats account for a little less of the electorate (2.1% compared with 43.2%) than they did in 2008. There's been some softening, but their position isn't drastically changed: They are still well above where they were as recently as 2006.

And the Republicans? Their share of the overall voter universe has declined too, albeit very slightly, to within a tenth of a percentage point. They've lost less but still not gained anything. (The one area with gains has continued to be the Independent Party.)

Does this break down similarly around the state? Generally, it seems to.

Look at Washington County (Oregon's second-largest), which has accounted more than any other one place in the state for the political changes over the last decade. In August 2010, the Democratic/Republican percentages were 41%/32.1%; in August 2008, they were 41.5%/33.2% (actually a little better for Republicans in 2008 than now). In 2002, the last close statewide D/R year, those numbers were 35.5%/39.3% - a substantial Republican registration lead.

In Clackamas County, the August 2010 D/R break was 40%/35.5%, and in 2008 41%/35.9% - drops for both parties, only a little greater among the Democrats. In 2002, the comparable was 37.7%/38.7%.

Multnomah County has long been Democratic, but the overall 2002 registration percentage for Democrats was just 48.7%. In 2008 it rose to 57.2%, and in August was 56.3%.

So on it goes, county after county (at least among the larger ones).

Of course, there's the possibility than the softening in numbers in 2010 could be the start of another trend. We'll know more about that in another couple of years. For now, the Oregon electorate looks structurally a lot like that of 2006 or 2008. Of course, whether the winners and losers reflect that depends a lot on who gets out to vote.

Divisions within divisions

Two candidates in a U.S. House race in the year 2010; the subject of illegal immigration comes up, one bashing the other as being in effect soft on illegal immigration. Then perhaps the most iconic figure in the nation on one side of the subject, Maricopa County (Arizona) Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a Republican, shows up to speak at a Republican event - at Coeur d'Alene, for the Kootenai County Republican Women. Seems uncomplicated.

And here's where it gets sticky. The basher in question was a Democrat, incumbent Walt Minnick, and the recipient of the bash, Raul Labrador, an attorney whose practice consists in considerable part of handling immigration and naturalization cases, and could be considered a moderate on the issue, is his Republican opponent.

What's a good Republican gonna do?

The Labrador/immigration issue cranked up during the Republican primary this year, when the once-frontrunner Vaughn Ward mentioned Labrador's law practice and seemed to question just how much he really wanted to tighten up the borders. Minnick's slam-pow video took this another step or two further.

That last line especially - "Illegal immigration may be good for Raul Labrador, but that makes him wrong for Idaho" - can hardly be read other than as an appeal to bigotry. (And led to plenty of national attention, not least the headline on the Daily Kos blog, "Walt Minnick (D), bigoted ass."

Minnick got partly off the hook when Labrador responded with what was in effect a defense of his profession, noting that he once worked at the same law firm Minnick hired when he was working on adopting one of his children, who came from China: "The level of hypocrisy he has stooped to is callous in the extreme." It was a fair and logical rebuttal on the substance, but by mentioning his opponent's family he generated some sympathy for Minnick.

And Labrador probably wounded himself with another campaign event - a fundraiser in Puerto Rico - on Thursday. PR is where Labrador was born and spent some childhood years, and (maybe some Idaoans' surprise) it is American territory, but news of it isn't likely to help his campaign.

And on Monday, Arpaio, the human flashpoint on immigration issues, comes to Coeur d'Alene.

At the Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries site, Dave Oliveria reports that "Labrador didn’t help matters by going directly to Arpaio’s PR machine in an attempt to get face time for a possible endorsement with Arpaio during his Lake City visit. As is, he will be allowed to join other political candidates for an event to mingle with Arpaio. Not meet privately."

This is messy and will get messier.

An outside finger on the scales

The closest thing the Northwest has to a truly unpredictable major contest - probably the one toughest to estimate with any reasonable confidence - is the Washington 3rd district House seat. There are two solid and experienced candidates, Democrat Denny Heck and Republican Jaime Herrera. The district has elected Democrat Brian Baird for the last six elections, but overall the district's politics are a close balance.

The year is trending Republican, to one extent or another, and Herrera is positioning herself well to take advantage. But Heck has had a few advantages. One that he cleared the field of major opponents among Democrats much earlier than did Herrera, who had to keep battling them up to primary election day.

Another is campaign treasury. Heck is independently wealthy and has a massive rolodex, and the most current campaign finance reports (though July 28) show him raising just over $1 million, to $410,627 for Herrera.

Ah, but that's not all there is to the campaign story. In his column today, Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes about how Heck is being massively outspent by people outside the campaigns:

"The American Future Fund has plunked down $875,000 to defile Denny Heck, the Democratic nominee, to the benefit of Republican nominee Jaime Herrera. AFF is not alone. Americans for Prosperity spent $282,000 on anti-Heck ads that began running the day after the August primary. The outfit was founded and fueled by oil billionaire David Koch. Not surprisingly, it specializes in attacking clean energy legislation and launching fake "Astroturf" grassroots groups."

Your congressman (in whatever district)? How sure are you of that?

Matching the numbers

The most interesting parts of the multi-newspaper poll in Idaho released last week are less the answers to individual questions, than answers when compared to one another.

There was, for example, the 59% to 23% margin in favor of the core revenue decision made by the Idaho Legislature and Republican Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter this year - to not raise taxes.

However, 56% said that school spending in Idaho was too low, compared to 12% too high and 23% "about right". This session’s cut of public schools funding similarly was opposed by 59% to 27% in favor. Since public schools make up about half of the state's general fund, where did these voters think the money was supposed to come from?

One of the basic questions in a political poll (this one, by the way, was conducted by the reputable Mason-Dixon Polling and Research company) has to do with party identification. This one showed statewide respondents at 47% Republican, 22% Democratic and 31% independent or other. Not shocking numbers (though underscoring the structural difficulty Democrats face in Idaho).

Now consider a few other items. 59% opposed the 17th amendment repeal backed by the state GOP; a plurality of 40% opposed (to 36% in favor) a prospective amendment to seek state authority to take over federal lands.

Asked if they "generally support the agenda of the Tea Party movement," 48% said yes (to 37% no). But how many Idahoans in the group considered themselves members of the Tea Party? Just 7% - and even among self-identified Republicans the number rises only to 11%.

There's a term called "cognitive dissonance." Idaho political strategists may want to familiarize themselves with it.

In the shadows

Who exactly is behind all those TV campaign ads - not those from the candidates themselves, but the others, from bland-sounding organizations that typically put up some of the worst and most misleading of the bunch? Reporting sometimes digs that out, well after the fact - after the election. That kind of transparency has been spiked in large part by one of the worst U.S. Supreme Court decisions of recent times (Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission).

More candidates should do about that what Representative Peter DeFazio did - confront these people directly. As directly as possible, at least.

An ad running in the Oregon 4th district, which DeFazio represents, attributed to the Concerned Taxpayers of America, blasted DeFazio for a number of things, including being a loyal puppet for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. That last at least is patently false, but it makes for an effective talking point. And who is Concerned Taxpayers? Well, that's something of a mystery. Huffington Post remarked that "Very little is known about Concerned Taxpayers. The group's treasurer is a man named Jason Miller, who, according to the FEC report, is with a Republican political consulting firm called Jamestown Associates."

DeFazio decided to do something about it. He decided to pay Concerned Taxpayers of America, whose listed headquarters in Washington is only a few blocks from his own congressional office, a personal visit. He invited news organizations (the Washington Post and Huffington Post for two) along.

The visit didn't settle a lot, since the man answering the door denied knowing much about the organization, though that clearly seemed to be untrue. The whole picture surrounding CTA looks increasingly like a pack of lies.

DeFazio to Huffington Post: "DeFazio believes that more politicians should be confronting these groups face-to-face. "We've got to take it to them," he told HuffPost. "I'm an activist, always have been my whole life, and I'm going there to confront them and say, 'Who are you, and why are you so afraid to disclose where your money come from? Would it totally discredit your attacks on me and other Democrats? Would it totally discredit your organization?' We don't know who they are. And as I said earlier, how can we enforce existing law, which does say it can't be a foreign government, a foreign entity, a foreign individual, but if we are allowed no disclosure, how will we ever know who funded these campaigns?""

Others should join him.

Robinson’s notable quotes

Art Robinson
Art Robinson

Via the campaign for Representative Peter DeFazio, some choice quotes by his opponent this year, Republican Art Robinson, are making the rounds. Most notably this one:

Public education (tax-financed socialism) has become the most widespread and devastating form of child abuse and racism in the United States. Moreover, people who have been cut off at the knees by public education are so mentally handicapped that they cannot be responsible custodians of the energy technology base or other advanced accomplishments of our civilization. These ignorant people vote, and their votes are beginning to destroy our way of life.

Can this problem be corrected? Yes. Can it be corrected by improving the public schools? No - only by abolishing them. There are over 2 million reasons (aside from the fact that socialism does not work) why public education cannot be improved - two million education bureaucrats and educators who belong to the powerful teachers unions. These people are firmly ensconced on the over-taxed backs of the nation's property owners and have no intention of changing.

Its source is a 1997 edition of a newsletter Robinson produced called Access to Energy, and the quick quote could be called an aberration. But it isn't, as a review of the publication makes clear. The front page notes that it "goes into effective action for the causes it espouses. The latest instance of this is the Petition Project - an anti-global warming petition signed by over 17,000 scientists - which exposes Al Gore's "scientific consensus" on global warming as phony."

On the basis of a bit of reading there and on Robinson's campaign site, DeFazio seems to have plenty of material to work with. Of course, that may be only in the opinion of the "mentally handicapped" who attended public schools . . .

Those invest, and those who beg

A fine broader-picture post in the Slog, pointing out the relative effects of Seattle's publicly-owned electric power utility on Seattle and on the place where its major dam is located, Pend Oreille County.

The benefits have been mutual, in general, but now Pend Oreille has come begging - needing more money than it originally was getting. Check out the whole story; several useful lessons can be pulled from it.