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Posts published in September 2010

Murray, Rossi

Dino Rossi
Dino Rossi
Patty Murray
Patty Murray

Neither Republican Dino Rossi nor Democrat Patty Murray, the candidates for the Senate, looked especially comfortable or happy at the Seattle Times endorsement interview - they were getting through it. (Both have been endorsed in various past races.) Neither gaffed terribly or scored a knockout.

A lot of it had to do, as most candidate debates do, with the issues of the moment - the economy and federal spending. Neither said anything terribly new or out of character, but in that same way the session would be a useful voter primer.

There weren't a lot of direct attacks either, though Rossi let fly some points doubtless honed on the trail. He said that all congressional earmarks should be banned (hitting directly Murray's bacon-bringing, probably a wise tactical move but risky anyway). He said on the tax cut extensions - on the split between taxes for those over or under $250,000 a year - "Senator Murray is going to play the class warfare game" - although, in this matchup anyway, she didn't ... And there was a point, unspoken by Murray, that the federal tax burden has been steadily moving away from the wealthy and on to the middle class and below for a generation now, and the cut expiration for the upper income levels would be at most a minor corrective. But that went unsaid.

And there was Rossi's reference to the "death tax" - which doesn't exist: It's an estate tax - and the often-debunked argument that great masses of small business people would be heavily impacted by it. (That was an argument that will, though, no doubt hit directly with the Times, whose owners would love to see it abolished.)

Murray also didn't address directly Rossi's argument that families would face an effective $1,800 energy tax if a cap and trade bill is enacted. Murray didn't note that there are varied bills in the wings and none has been brought out for a vote, and she hasn't voted for any. A casual listener would get the sense that she supports an $1,800 tax increase.

She made the argument - but indirectly and in circular fashion - that if Rossi is going to tag her with the current deficits, that she ought to get some credit for the federal budget balancing in the 90s. Rossi, of course, is always quick to point out his own role as a state senator in developing a balanced state budget seven years ago. (more…)

Wu and Cornilles

Cornilles and Wu
Rob Corbilles (left) and David Wu at Portland/Randy Stapilus

Watch the (admittedly uncertain) evidence of yard signage around Oregon's 1st district, and you'll see a lot of it for Republican Rob Cornilles, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat and maybe the toughest challenger Democratic Representative David Wu has faced. Some of that is the Tea Party atmosphere of the day, but some of it probably has to do with Cornilles too. He's pretty good at presenting himself (that's not a knock, just an essential candidate asset), a task which - as this business consultant must know - starts with understanding your audience, and relating to it where it is.

On Friday Cornilles debated Wu in a conference center just south of downtown Portland - lockdown Democratic territory. He, and his campaign, did two things to make the best of the situation. One is that his campaign pushed to get a sizable number of backers to the event; despite a prohibition on cheers or boos, you could tell they were there, and that they outnumbered the Democratic opposition in the audience of 150 or so. The other thing he did, which he might be doing elsewhere around this mostly Democratic district too, was to carefully modulate his message.

The task was eased by the core subject at hand: The weak economy, and the federal government's spending and taxes. Broadly, there wasn't a lot of disagreement between the candidates that those were the big subjects, and that better work needs to be done on them. It fit with Cornilles' own backgrtound, as owner of a consulting business called Game Face, and with staying way from some of the more overtly ideological stances and statements many Republican candidate make this year. At the same time, he presented himself as a mainstream Republican; the line was carefully drawn. (more…)

Picky, picky

If insurance companies may be generating less and less trust these days - this concerning companies whose business it is to provide and whose advertising promotes a sense of security and peace of mind - there may be some good reasons for that.

Look at the Washington Supreme Court case out today in Laura Holden v. Farmers Insurance Company of Washington. Here's the Washington Supreme Court's summary:

Laura Holden purchased a renter's insurance policy from Farmers Insurance Company of Washington. In the event of property loss due to fire, the policy provides coverage for the "actual cash value" of the damaged property. ACV is defined as "fair market value" at the time of loss. FMV is not defined. After a fire at her rented home damaged some of her personal property, Holden sought coverage under the ACV provision, which states that payments will not exceed the lesser of either policy limits or "the amount necessary to repair or replace the damaged property." Farmers refused to account for Washington State sales tax when calculating the value of the damaged property. We are asked to decide whether, under the terms of this policy, the ACV provision unambiguously supports Farmers' interpretation, or if instead it is subject to a reasonable interpretation that accounts for sales tax in calculating the FMV of damaged property. Because the ACV provision is ambiguous and accordingly must be construed in favor of the policyholder, we reverse the Court of Appeals and reinstate the trial court's order granting Holden's motion for summary judgment.

There wasn't any question that the policy was in force, and that it covered the burned items. But the company was determined to contest any payout it could - up to and including the relatively minor sales tax component. Our personal experience with insurers in years past hasn't been so negative. But it seems to be getting that way, more and more. Just read the appellate court decisions that keep coming down on topics like this.

Count your fingers when you sign their contracts.

Ralph Smeed

Back in 1976, when I started work at the (then) daily newspaper at Caldwell, one of the regular visitors to the newsroom was a bolo-tied local businessman named Ralph Smeed. He came for several reasons. One was to drop off a copy of his weekly column. Another was to visit with his friend the managing editor. But he didn't rush, and he generally made a point of visiting with other people too, such as the just-out-of-school new local government and cops reporter.

Smeed was what might now be a true oddity, not because of his politics but because of his person. He was a man of very specific political philosophy; it could fit easily on a bumper sticker, or even in a single word: anti-government. It did not adjust to facts; the world, rather, bent around to the philosophy. At the time, the young reporter suspected for that reason his views would not have an especially long shelf life. And the views Smeed held from the 1960s right up to his death yesterday in Boise, at 88, seem to have changed not in the slightest over the course of a half-century and more.

In fact, they have had a lot of impact. By 1976, Smeed's good friend and co-philosopher Steve Symms already had been elected to the U.S. House, and four years later he would reach the Senate. In 1974 the third man in the Caldwell libertarian troika, Bob Smith, had given Democrat Frank Church a strong run for re-election in a Democratic year. Much more would come. Smeed was a strong influence on a long roster of libertarian-oriented Republicans, not limited to but especially around the Canyon County area, for three more decades. They include, not least, the present governor of Idaho, C.L. "Butch" Otter.

That would make Smeed part of a large Idaho crowd these days, but only a small one back then. And this is what would make him unusual now: Smeed was a happy warrior, a smiling missionary, not an angry man. (For all the large philosophical overlap, it's hard to imagine Smeed at a Tea Party event.) You might guess from his billboards and from many of his writings that the man was a flinty, suspicious, angry dude. But he wasn't; he seemed to enjoy just fine talking with any number of people who didn't agree with him, and he did not often leave a negative personal impression. He maintained a lot of friendships for many years, an unusual thing for a hard-core ideologue, which he certainly was.

Idaho has been moving in a conservative direction for some decades, and no one person made that happen. But Ralph Smeed provided a critical bit of leverage as some critical change was happening; he and some of his early compadres effectively bought low and sold high. If you look at the list of people most influential in Idaho over the last 50 years and extract from it those who have held public office (which if memory serves Smeed never did) or got them elected, who have run major businesses, who have run major religious or non-profit organizations, you might have to put Ralph Smeed at the top of the list. A pretty powerful result for a guy who, 35 years ago, seemed to be part of a remote fringe group shouting in the wilderness.

A campaign ad for . . .

One of the smoothest Republican campaign videos of the year - anti-Washington, anti-government programs and spending, and so forth, all the right buttons pushed. And very down-home in attitude.

By Walt Minnick, running as a Democrat for re-election to the House in Idaho.

This week in the Digests

weekly Digest

As summer moves into fall, the Northwest's weather remained cooler than usual, and not very rainy; and its political atmosphere remained angry, its economic environmental continued low-key and mostly flat.

Jabs continued at a strong pace in the region's two gubernatorial races, where in Oregon the two major-party candidates reached an agreement on one debate and one other joint appearance, though discussions about more continued. And in Idaho, a series of roundhouses continued over Democrat Keith Allred's role in a 2006 tax bill which some Republicans initially said was signed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - except that Otter was in the U.S. House, not the governor's office, in 2006.

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.

Considering the source

Not to overwork the subject, but this opinion was remarkable for where it came from.

John McKay just a few years back was the well-regarded (and Bush-dismissed) U.S. attorney for the western district of Washington, and responsible among other things for prosecuting federal drug laws. Now, he says that - while he still thinks marijuana users "are idiots" - the law making the substance illegal is so counterproductive that it should be repealed. Marijuana should be regulated and taxed, he said, the way alcohol is now.

And this: "I'm not afraid to say out loud what most of my former colleagues know is true: Our marijuana policy is dangerous and wrong ..." Many who don't speak out, he said, are afraid of being cast as soft on crime.

McKay is not soft on crime, and neither is his position on pot.

Watch list: The Idaho Legislature

Not much of up for grabs, really, in the Idaho Legislature this year - certainly nothing resembling control of either chamber. The Democrats nearly ceded that by keeping blank their line for most of the 105 seats, all up for election, if little else, this year.

Of those contested with major party candidates, not a lot show serious signs of competitiveness. This cuts both ways: Republicans aren't seriously contesting a number of Democratic seats that could, logically, be at serious risk.

Here's a quick run-through of contests that have caught our attention, not many but a few looking closely competitive.

bullet District 6 Senate. This ought to be, by a long shot, the Democrats' best chance for a legislative pickup, anywhere in the state. And they may get it. That happened because in the Republican primary Tea Party-oriented Gresham Bouma beat long-time moderate Senator Gary Schroeder, one of the last few moderates in the Senate and the kind of Republican this university district likes to elect. (House member Tom Trail, also a veteran in this district, is another.) Democrats were fortunate in having fielded a solid candidate, Dan Schmidt, a physician, a former county coroner and long active in civic affairs; he would have lost to Schroeder, but against Bouma his chances are good. According to the last finance reports on file, neither has a lot of money on hand. But then, money isn't likely to be decisive here.

bullet District 14 House B. This is the House seat Republican congressional candidate Raul Labrador is leaving behind, and it shouldn't be competitive: This territory around Eagle has been a Republican lock for a long time. Still may be worth watching. Democrats are bullish about Steve Berch, who is running hard, is apparently well organized and has raised substantial enough money ($16,455, with $11,191 on hand as of June) to indicate serious effort. We've made the point repeatedly that if Idaho Democrats are to break through, they probably will have to do it first in the Boise suburbs, in places like this one. The Republican, Reed DeMordaunt, had to run through a tough primary and spend most of his funds. A longshot for a Democrat here, but the results will be worth revisiting. (more…)

Disagreeing with yourself

This has started to pick up some traction on Facebook and elsewhere.

Oreong gubernatorial candidate Chris Dudley offered last week an interesting idea for boosting the state's commitment to higher education: full-ride scholarships to the state's higher ed institutions, for the top-scoring high school students in the state.

A lot of people probably like the idea, save for one thing: Paying for it. Dudley acknowledges he doesn't have an idea for that part.

And then the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes points out this - the part that's getting some traction: "What he didn't do was follow the advice of his own "26-point Plan to Control Spending and Reform Government" that he had released a few weeks before."

Consider that a little more food for the meme Dudley shouldn't want fueled.

Checking out a challenger

Hans Zeiger
Hans Zeiger

If 2010 does turn out to be a year when a lot of incumbents get tossed out, it's also likely to be a year when a number of problematic - poorly vetted, little-understood - candidates get elected, or come close. Today's case study is in Washington's District 25 (eastern Pierce County), where incumbent Democrat Dawn Morrell is being challenged by Republican Hans Zeiger.

In the primary election, with six candidates on the ballot, Morrell got 40.3% of the vote and Zeiger scored an upset among the Republicans with 35.9%; another Republican, Steve Vermillion, was thought to be Morrell's likely opponent, and the Tacoma News Tribune described him "as qualified a political newcomer as we’ve seen this year." Zeiger was only lightly reviewed. But by the standard math of Washington primaries, this looks like a highly competitive contest.

Zeiger's website is generic and says nothing most any challenger might not say, and makes little reference to Morrell. He remarks there, "That is why I am running for State Representative in the 25th District: for jobs, tax relief, and educational excellence."

Start Googling Zeiger, though, as David Goldstein of Horse's Ass has, and another picture emerges.

Notably on the very conservative WorldNetDaily site, where Zeiger is a regular contributor. (Zieger is also on WND's speaker's bureau, and their description of him there makes clear that he is highly plugged into the more ideologically-driven parts of movement conservatism.) This, for example (September 2005), writing about "the Girl Scouts USA national convention will be held in Atlanta. It will be a gathering of radical feminists, lesbians, and cookie peddlers ..."

Not that he's ignored the Boy Scouts. He is described as a spokesman for the Scouting Legal Defense Fund, and has written a book (which WND sells) called Get Off My Honor; the net's description of it notes, "Hans shows how those who wish to destroy the scouts are attacking it for what it represents at its core – Christian values." Doesn't seem to be much mention of those sexual abuse cases that are what have gotten a lot of people's attention.

Ideological as political attack? Another example, from Intellectual Conservative: "We speak much of terror networks in our time, and here is one of the vilest, for it has made greater progress in the tearing down of American institutions and ideals than Iraq or Al Quaeda have. NEA and GLSEN are not the only groups in the network; the ACLU and NARAL and Planned Parenthood and Americans United for Separation of Church and State and others come to mind. They mean to wage war on the most sacred and most enduring things of our civilization: our faith, our heritage, our character, our self-government, and our family structure."

It's not a reach to call this an appeal to hatred. Another sad case, in other words, of trying to set Americans against each other as if organizing a dog fight.

There is much, much more - it goes on from there. Jobs? Tax relief (other than the routine calls for tax cuts)? Educational excellence? Among these mass of high-profile, exceedingly ideological writings, there's previous little to indicate those subjects gave him a moment's pause. Until, maybe, filing for the House.

Now the question is: How much will the voters know about Zeiger before they cast their votes in Washington's 25th?

UPDATE AND RESPONSE Just received an e-mail response from Zeiger, and it is well worth quoting in full and reading in context with the post above:

Just came across your post tonight re: my campaign. I had a chance to look a bit through the site and it's a well-constructed, thoughtful digest. It looks like you and I share an interest in Northwest history. You can see my own blog with a lot on local history in the Puyallup area at

I wanted you to know that the articles mentioned on Horse's Ass blog and a prior Democrat press release were written in 2003 and 2004, when I was 18 and 19. Since then I have graduated from college, graduated from grad school, and moved into the worlds of work and relationships. I am still growing and learning, but I can tell you that I have come to see the world as a far more complex and beautiful place than I once assumed it to be. I have also come to realize that I don't have a monopoly on truth, nor do I know all the answers to the world's tough questions. I quit writing for WorldNetDaily and other sites when I was still in college.

I hope that's reassuring to you. I hope that I can be truly fair-minded if afforded the opportunity to serve in our legislature. You're welcome to quote any of this in your blog if you'd like. All the best,