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Posts published in October 2010

“We can just stay angry …”

Now this one is remarkable - one of the more remarkable political spots of the season, and it doesn't even mention the opposing campaign. It is - dare we say it? - intelligently motivational.

The spot, by Denny Heck - the Democrat running for the House in Washington's 3rd, against Republican Jaime Herrera - is about the economy and jobs, and takes full note of the public anger about those subjects. But it provides some appropriate direction for it: To those people who created the mess, as opposed to those who are trying (at least) to solve it.

One of the best Northwest spots of the season.

The few, the competitive

Washington state seems to have an abundance of competitive legislative races this year; Oregon ... less so. The Oregonian Sunday offered a list of 16 races - 10 in the House and a half-dozen in the Senate - worth a close watch. It matches up generally with what we've seen and heard, but a few additional words seem in order.

First, there's the relative closeness of the chambers. In the Senate, Democrats control 18-12 (with half the seats, mostly Democratic up for election); in the House, it's 36-24. That means Republicans could pull to a tie in the Senate picking up three seats and in the House picking up six. Those are not enormous numbers. Even closer striking distance is the number they need to pick up - one in each chamber - to eliminate the Democrats' 60% control in each chamber, the level needed to approve tax increases and some other measures.

The 60% level, hinging as it does on a single seat, could be at risk in any year. But if there's little talk of a realistic prospect of Republicans taking over either chamber in Oregon this year, and there's not been much such talk, the reasons have to do with the nature of the individual races.

Simply, a number of seats could flip, but the odds seem to favor both sides doing some gaining and losing. So the second point is that these 16 races (and it reads like a good collection of significant contests) are not all made equal.

The six Senate seats in the Oregonian list, in districts 3, 8, 15, 19, 20 and 26, show as much. Four are now held by Democrats, two by Republicans; Republicans would have to run the table of winning all of those Democratic seats and losing none of their own. (more…)

Chipping at the brick wall

Steve Berch
Reed DeMordaunt

Legislative District 14 in Idaho is one of those places in the Northwest familiar to both both parties: An easy get for one party, seemingly impossible for the other. Think of central Portland or Seattle for Republicans; so District 14, which takes in much of northwest Ada County, has been for Idaho Democrats.

There's just very little meaningful data to suggest that this suburban area, which includes Eagle and suburbs near and northwest of Boise, will give Republicans anything less than a big landslide. You might ordinarily figure that a Republican candidate in a general election, any Republican, will get two-thirds of the vote; less would be mediocre.

One of the legislative seats here, the one held by Republican Raul Labrador - now running for Congress - is open, and a busy primary was held. The nominee, Reed DeMordaunt, might be considered the representative-in-waiting.

What's interesting here is DeMordaunt actually has serious opposition, in what might be the strongest Democratic legislative campaign in Idaho this year. Steve Berch, a consultant formerly of Hewlett-Packard, is running a well-worked-out contest in what looks like an impossible situation. How well he does, however well that is, is going to be studied closely. And should be.

The larger point is this: If Idaho Democrats are ever going to become even competitive with Republicans, one of the prerequisites will be winning in the Boise-area suburbs; the population center around Boise is not far from half of the state's overall population, and if it turned Democratic the parties could be competitive in the state.

There's ample Northwest precedent for this, of course. The switch of the Seattle and Portland suburbs from generally Republican to generally Democrats transformed Washington and Oregon politics. (Of course, we'll see what happens this year.) Could it happen in Idaho too?

District 14 may be one of the tougher districts in the Boise area for Democrats to crack; there's little apparent constituency for them. On the other hand, Democrat Walt Minnick won District 14, narrowly, in 2008. Does that indicate some willingness to look at a Democrat running a serious campaign?

Berch has been running hard, and outlined his campaign over coffee in Boise last week. He has been campaigning full time since May, focusing on carefully targeted door to door campaigning, and on conversing at some length with the people he sees. He's not folksy; the technocrat in him shows through. But so does his seriousness and willingness to study what he's doing. His decades of living in the district, and years of work on neighborhood projects, and connections at HP (its main Idaho plant is in the district), could help. This may be the most serious, well-planned and thoroughly-executed campaign by a Democrat this district has ever seen. (more…)

Strangeness in the 4th goes national, again

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Watch this clip from the Rachel Maddow show of her interaction with the ... unusual, would that be a reasonably neutral word? - congressional candidate in District 4, Art Robinson, the Republican trying to unseat Democrat Peter DeFazio.

Interaction, in that what you'll see here isn't anything like an interview, notwithstanding Maddow's attempt to conduct one. (We've read enough of Robinson's newsletter postings on line to know that the quotes Maddow cites are reasonably representative of the material.)

Then try to imagine actually conversing with this guy - or try to imagine him actually working with other people to get anything done in Congress. The mind boggles.

Meantime, take specific note of his dodge, minute after minute, of the basic and simple question about massive amounts of anonymous money pouring into the district. The fast avoidance footwork says all you need to know.

Even in a surreal political environment filled with Christine O'Donnells, Sharron Angles and Joe Millers, Robinson sets some new standards.

Check out this article from AlterNet backgrounding Robinson, noting that "he has proposed dumping radioactive waste and crude oil waste at sea. But wait! There’s more. For a the better part of a decade at least Robinson has been reprinting, marketing, and selling a virulently racist 19th Century English boys’ adventure novel that suggests Africans are like retarded children."

Read through, and you'll also find the links Robinson has to particularly extreme Christian Reconstructionist activists, through his home-schooling curriculum (it is aimed at "parents concerned about socialism in the public schools"); be sure and read all the way to the end.

ALSO We might note here that most active scientists are associated with organizations which help support research, most often higher education institutions, corporations or nonprofit organizations. Robinson's recent (as in, the last few decades) association seems to be largely with this one, which he created, about seven miles from the nearest small town, Cave Junction. Its sources of income are unclear.

Beginnings and endings

You always know, when the mandatory candidate voice comes on an ad right at the beginning, that it'll be harsh. And this one, by Senator Patty Murray doing a "comparative" against Republican Dino Rossi, is.

Except that so is this other one, in which Dino Rossi placed his audio mark at the end. The thinking would be interesting to know. In any event, both give you a sense of the state of play in the race right now. Surely at least, fairly close (or they wouldn't both be running negatives).

The election is over

The 2009 election that is, for one of the seats on the Coeur d'Alene city council.

It was close, to be sure. Incumbent Mike Kennedy has led over the last year over challenger Jim Brannon by fewer votes than most of us have fingers. For a long stretch during the hearings, recounts, court actions and so on, Kennedy led by about five. After all was done, he won by three.

Just another reminder, as we head into another voting season, that your vote counts.

A new green eyeshade

The complaint here with the crowd griping about government spending isn't that there isn't a point there - does waste exist in government agencies? are there bad calls on spending? of course there are - but that it is lazy, generic and non-specific. To get serious on the subject, you have to get serious. You have to get dirty with the numbers.

Oregon state has some useful tools for getting up to speed with a good deal of the information about the state budget. But it isn't notably interactive.

So we'll be highly interested to see what comes of the new project led by former gubernatorial candidate Allen Alley and Republican state Representative Dennis Richardson, which got some play in the Oregonian this morning.

Called Oregon Transportation, it is nicely detailed (much of it seems to be drawn from state documents, but that's not a problem) and it appears to offer numerous and useful was for readers to make specific suggestions about line items and priorities.

It doesn't seem to be yet complete. But it could become a useful tool if enough people take the time to deal with the information in a practical, rather than an ideological, way. We'll keep watch.

Tuning out

Aaron Brown, the former CNN reporter now teaching journalism in Arizona, had some crisp things to say about the state of TV news when he returned to his old haunt in Seattle. Brown, who used to work for KING-TV and KIRO-TV, spoke this week to the Municipal League of King County.

In his column on the speech, Joel Connelly (of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) quotes him, "Do you realize that 90 percent of what's on news today is embarrassing, not only to Mrs. Bullitt [long-time owner of KING] were she still alive but to those of us who worked in the business."

And: "How should viewers respond to demagoguery on their screens? Turn off your TV, Brown advised."

That advice gets some space here whenever it is made.

Common sense?

common sense
In the mail

It says important, highlighted in red, so it must be. Now if only they'd tell us why.

It's an unusual come-on. It breathlessly urges the recipient (our household got two, one for each registered voter) to detach and return a card showing which of our two local state House candidates we'd support. The two in our district are the incumbent, Republican Jim Weidner, and Democratic challenger Susan Sokol Blosser. (An analysis aside: In this year, Weidner has to be considered the favorite, but Blosser is well-known and has run an intensive campaign, so the contest has to be considered competitive.)

The sheet says, "Your opinion matters. That's why we're asking you to review your two choices for State Representative and send in the card of the candidate you favor. It only takes a few second and postage has already been paid." Well ... my opinion as a voter may matter, but what follows from that is that I should vote. Our first question was, how many people may think that in doing this, they've already voted?

The other immediate question was, who is Common Sense for Oregon (their logo but not their mailing address calls them a political action committee) and what do they want the cards for? They don't say.

There are clues.

One is in the description of the two candidates, which is a work of some subtlety. The first sentences describing Weidner and Blosser are bland family statements. But Blosser's goes on to say she is "endorsed" (not nominated, which would be the correct term) by the Democratic and Independent parties; that she "supports abortion and same sex marriage" without qualification; supports a string of tax increases; that she has hired illegal immigrants; and so on. Weidner, in the description, opposes tax increases and abortion and illegal immigration, supports "traditional marriage," and "owns a small business that helps large production plants run more efficiently." You get the idea.

The second is the filing in the Oregon Secretary of State's office for Common Sense for Oregon PAC, which lists as its directors Ross Day and Kevin Mannix. Mannix is the former Republican candidate for governor, attorney general and the U.S. House, and former state GOP chair. Day previously led Oregonians in Action, which (like Mannix) was heavily involved in conservative ballot issues, most notably the land use Measure 37. Its web site emphasizes opposition to government waste.

So back to the questions: What does this partisan group plan to do with the cards? Why did it send out the mailing with no indication of what its leanings or intentions were? Why this race? What's going on here?

Among others ...

This week in the Digests

weekly Digest

Politics heated to a high pitch as election day neared to within about a month - and voting in Oregon and Washington gets seriously under way within two to three weeks. A key gubernatorial debate was held in Oregon, others were about to get underway in Idaho, and newspapers in Washington and Oregon unleashed their first major round of endorsement editorials.

The backdrop for all this was ongoing economic hard times, but the picture was mixed. Word about a number of new federal programs was released, along with a string of new state projects, and some new business ventures getting underway. But numerous social indicators continued to project an ominous tone.

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.

He’s ba-ack

When you want to organize a no-subtlety-about-it hate-a-thon, who you gonna call?

That's right: Pastor Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, based in Topeka, Kansas, but quite often on the road. And headed to eastern Washington and northern Idaho on October 21 and 22, presumably with their signs saying "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," "God Hates America," "God Hates Fags" (have you seen the sharp deadpan parody of that one in the opening credits for True Blood?) and others of similar ilk.

This undiluted hatred is so far out that the acceptance level for it has to be miscroscopic. Phelps and company will turn off more people than it turns on.

At the Spokesman-Review, Dave Oliveria asked those on his Huckleberries blog: "Is it best to ignore these hatemongers? Or stage a counter-protest?" Good question, about which the audience was split.

Another question, though: Suppose the news media declined to give Phelps any coverage - not an inch of print, not a second of air? That might be the most effective response of all.

Recommended: R-G on the 4th

Reading the mass of newspaper endorsement editorials in this season you get a sense of mass-production in a lot of cases. The candidates come in for interviews, are evaluated by certain criteria - broader or narrower depending on the paper - and emerge with one chosen over the other, sometimes with a strong recommend and some as a closer call. The newspapers in this region that do endorse, we should note, mostly take care to endorse both Ds and Rs, which sometimes looks like a determined attempt to look impartial.

Not many such editorials are really lengthy and detailed in their evaluation, especially in cases where the choice is clear-cut. Because there are so many endorsements, papers couldn't d that in many cases as a practical matter.

But anyone interested in regional politics or endorsement editorials ought to take a look at today's in the Eugene Register-Guard, which makes its call in the suddenly heated 4th U.S. House district race between long-time incumbent Peter DeFazio and Republican challenger Art Robinson. It's the finest endorsement editorial we've seen in the Northwest this year.

It quickly makes an unusual admission: Robinson didn't even respond to a request for a meeting with the largest newspaper in the district where he's running, and the paper said that, he "may have judged such a meeting to be a waste of his time, and maybe he’s right."

What follows is an extended look at Robinson's background, drawn from publications and public record and most of it in language Robinson probably wouldn't dispute, through his years in scientific research and bitter fights with other scientists, to his contention that students in public schools are systemically abused and "mentally handicapped." From there: "Robinson has backed away from such statements during the campaign, perhaps realizing that they imply a belief that a vast majority of his would-be constituents are unqualified for citizenship. As a candidate, Robinson represents the new style of conservatism that departs from a defense of American institutions, and instead demands that they be dismantled or abolished. Many of the federal government’s programs, he believes, including Social Security, Medicare and environmental regulations, bring a socialist intrusion on personal and corporate freedom."

The editorial evokes with crystalline clarity who Robinson is, and also who DeFazio is, and isn't: "... attempts to depict DeFazio as a drum major in the Obama administration’s march toward socialism are distortions. The word “socialism” is used with gross imprecision, but if it is to be employed, DeFazio would emerge as a consistent enemy of the only type of socialism practiced widely in the United States — lemon socialism, the public takeover of debts and other obligations of failing enterprises with no corresponding public claim on their profits."

It concludes with a roundhouse endorsement for DeFazio. The editorial is a model of powerful and informed endorsement.

Read it all.