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Posts published in November 2010

Another OR gov review, from the R side

An interesting stat-based review of the recent governor's race turns up on Oregon Catalyst; some assessments in it may be questionable, but overall it strongly merits a read.

The former includes lines like this, about the Democratic voter registration advantage in Oregon: "The current 200,000 advantage is a holdover from the unusually high Obama bump of 2008 and could vanish as easily as it was created depending on national events and what happens in Oregon." Sounds a little optimistic for Republicans; the gap was built over several elections, and it largely persisted through this year.

It does make some other useful points. One (mentioned elsewhere too) is that the third party field in Oregon has gravitated to the right. The largest "other" party, the Independent, seems to draw from both Republican and Democratic leaners, and the largest remaining minor parties draw mainly from the right. That's a structural problem for Republicans.

And notes that "Democrats were able to get out more direct mail reminders, phone calls and personal door visits for voter turn-out than Republican efforts." That seems clearly true.

The post doesn't try to make the argument that Dudley was a bad candidate or that he had a bum campaign; neither was really true. It notes that "The campaign slogan 'Join Oregon’s Comeback' was the most original in a decade," and that may be true. But there was also this tart comment: "The overuse of out of state consultants and staff was a serious handicap for the campaign. It was an inside joke that when you visited the campaign headquarters you entered a sprawling oversized building filled with a dozen people you have never seen before and you knew you would never see them again (because they leave the state after the election)."

Probably more significant, this on the matter of experience for the office: "Moore information polling showed that Dudley could not breach the experience gap. It is not just that Dudley had no experience, it is that he had no experience against a man who held the office twice. A Moore Information poll showed that this was an 11% penalty for Dudley." Our sense has been for some months that this was a critical point, and Moore's number puts a tag on it.

Wyden’s service to the net

Here's an arresting lead paragraph: "It's too early to say for sure, but Oregon Senator Ron Wyden could very well go down in the history books as the man who saved the Internet."

There's justification for that. What Wyden did was simple enough: He put a hold a piece of legislation. That was important because of what the legislation, the Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act, would do. It would, at base, allow state attorney generals to shut down Internet web sites at will.

Here is what the Electronic Frontier Foundation says about the bill:

The "Combating Online Infringements and Counterfeits Act" (COICA) is an Internet censorship bill which is rapidly making its way through the Senate. Although it is ostensibly focused on copyright infringement, an enormous amount of noninfringing content, including political and other speech, could disappear off the Web if it passes.

The main mechanism of the bill is to interfere with the Internet's domain name system (DNS), which translates names like "" or "" into the IP addresses that computers use to communicate. The bill creates a blacklist of censored domains; the Attorney General can ask a court to place any website on the blacklist if infringement is "central" to the purpose of the site.

If this bill passes, the list of targets could conceivably include hosting websites such as Dropbox, MediaFire and Rapidshare; MP3 blogs and mashup/remix music sites like SoundCloud, MashupTown and Hype Machine ; and sites that discuss and make the controversial political and intellectual case for piracy, like, p2pnet, InfoAnarchy, Slyck and ZeroPaid . Indeed, had this bill been passed five or ten years ago, YouTube might not exist today. In other words, the collateral damage from this legislation would be enormous.

The bill has gotten a lot of support in Congress, and has been heavily (if quietly) lobbied. This pernicious little time bomb could easily have been passed into law had not someone stopped it. That turned out to be Wyden, who has been an open-Internet backer from early on.

Bears saying again: A system of copyrights and intellectual property protection originally intended to help foster creativity and communications is being perverted, in ever worsening ways, into restrictions on speech. One of those may just have been headed off at the pass.

Plain language

"I plead not guilty, your honor, because regardless what the law on the books actually says, it gets described as something else in some places, so I shouldn't be held to it ..."

Nothing not far from that was the argument in in the recent Washington Supreme Court case of Washington v. Matthew J. Hirschfelder. And the Washington Court of Appeals bought it.

The facts of the case, as the Supreme Court set them out, are clear enough: "Matthew Hirschfelder was employed as a choir teacher at Hoquiam High School. He had sexual intercourse in his office with a member of the high school choir, A.N.T., several days prior to her graduation in 2006. At the time, Hirschfelder was 33 and A.N.T. was 18. Hirschfelder was charged with sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree."

That was the name of the crime, which seem to suggest that it refers to having sex with someone under 18. But that's not what the law actually says. It says this: You've committed the offense if "the person is a school employee who has, or knowingly causes another person under the age of eighteen to have, sexual intercourse with a registered student of the school who is at least sixteen years old and not married to the employee, if the employee is at least sixty months older than the student."

Take out the "or knowingly causes" element, and you have these pieces which aren't disputed: (1) the person charged is a school employee, which Hirschfelder was, (2) the other party was a registered student at least 16 years old, which the student was, (3) and the two have to be not married to each other and at least five years apart in age, both of which they also were.

You could argue, maybe, that this shouldn't have been a criminal offense. But how do you argue that all of the elements of it, clearly set out in the law, and given that the facts were undisputed, weren't there?

Reading it over a couple of times, our heads are still shaking. Although, it should be noted, that Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals on this one, and did uphold the law. As it reads on the books.

Other kinds of splits

Be wary when you see news reports about a vote that pits "liberals" against "moderates" (or "conservatives" against "moderates" for that matter). The U.S. House vote for Democratic leader, won by Nancy Pelosi, the outgoing speaker, ought to be evidence of that.

The vote has been widely billed as one pitting the more liberal Pelosi against the more conservative Heath Shuler of North Carolina. Run through the available information about who supported who, and you find some basis for that. But:

Two of the key Democratic votes seeking a delay on the leadership vote, to December 8 - a move viewed as helping Shuler - were Oregon's Peter DeFazio and David Wu, both considered part of the liberal wing. But neither terribly close to Pelosi.

DeFazio's crossways with Pelosi has been clear for some time, and the Astorian reports today "that Wu was one of those voting for Rep. Heath Shuler of North Carolina, who mounted a campaign against her."

Ideology can define one agenda in politics. But it is only one.

Carrying the trend below

Not to keep stomping on this, over and over, but the recent set of posts at interstates (h/t to Betsy Russell on this) rally cries out for mention.

This space has talked about the diminished Democratic turnout in Idaho toward the top of the ticket, with the unstated point that much the same seems to have happened downticket as well. Well, it did. Interstices took a look at results on the legislative district level in the Boise area, and voter turnout there:

Every district in Boise had fewer total votes in 2010 than in 2006. More remarkable is across Boise the decrease in total votes from 2006 to 2010 came mostly from the Democratic column. Republican votes were largely unchanged, with the exception of the increase in the District 18 Senate race that changed parties.

Cumulatively the Republican Senate candidates amassed a relatively unimpressive 870 more votes in 2010 than 2006. That’s only an average increase of 175 votes per district, but enough to flip to seats in District 18.

The real story is the total vote for Democratic candidates dropped by more than 8,300, an average loss of 1,650 Democratic votes per district. So much for the “wave election.” The asymmetry in numbers shows this was not a case of swing voters going the other way, or a significant increase in voter turnout like happened in 1994 when compared to 1990.

What happened appears to best be described as a systemic failure on the part of the Democratic Party to put on a campaign at the top of the ticket that would help drive voter turnout at the lower races such as for State Legislature.

Among other things; but the point seems well made.

Party leaders on Elm Street

What do Bob Tiernan, Jim Hansen and Luke Esser have in common?

For one, they're all leaders of northwest state political parties - the Oregon Republicans, the Idaho Democrats and the Washington Republicans - whose parties did not especially west in this month's elections. (Hansen is executive director, the other two chairs.)

For two, they're all under fire. And one of them, Jim Hansen, has just been fired. Not the word formally used, but when Hansen writes on Facebook, "The chair of the Idaho Democratic Party asked me to step down as Executive Director on Dec. 31," yeah, that's what happened.

That Idaho chair, Keith Roark, said the move (after a decision by the party's executive committee) was not a scapegoating and adds, correctly, that "Jim Hansen is in no way to blame for the results of this past election. The IDP has little or nothing to do or say about the individual campaigns of our candidates and Jim is no more responsible for a losing campaign than he is for a winning campaign." All true. But a dismissal two weeks after the losses Idaho Democrats sustained, with no other reason given: What other conclusion should people draw?

Tiernan and Esser have taken some heat, certainly in the blogs, since the election too. While Democrats suffered across the board losses in Idaho, Republicans made some gains in Washington and Oregon, but well below those in many other states.

There's some tendency in all three of these parties to point to specific personnel - often as not candidates or staff people of one sort or another - as the change that must be made. It's rarely that simple; the three people in these tough spots all are fairly talented. And it's hard to see who, moving into any of these ED spots (maybe Tiernan and Esser, who is close to the probably 2012 GOP gubernatorial nominee, stay put) would be the guy to turn things around. Look deeper, guys.

Who writes the history

You really can't blame Larry Grant.

He was the 2006 Democratic nominee in the Idaho 1st congressional district; ran a strong race against a flawed Republican nominee, Bill Sali, and wound up narrowly losing. The next year, a batch of comments began surfacing around Democratic circles that, well, Grant lost because he was a bad candidate. With the implication that all the Democrats needed to win next time was a better one. Was there some basis for arguing that Grant was an imperfect candidate? Probably. But then, try finding a perfect candidate, anywhere.

Grant started a second run at the seat in 2008 but dropped out after businessman Walt Minnick entered the race. In some respects, Minnick was a less presentable candidate than Grant had been (a matter of style - a little more diffident in manner), but ran about as strong a campaign overall. This time Sali, who had a knack for irritating people (especially fellow Republicans), had a little more exposure to the district, and he lost a little support, and in 2008 there was a somewhat stronger than usual Democratic get-out-the-vote effort. Minnick very narrowly won.

Any fair evaluation of the candidates involved in these races has to start with facts like these. But history gets rewritten a lot, and Minnick's good 2008 campaign eventually got some grade inflation. Some of that may have helped his fundraising; in 2008 he ran what must be the most expensive campaign Idaho has ever seen for the U.S. House, involving probably twice as much money raised as anyone else ever has. But there were limited to its effectiveness: A couple of weeks ago, Minnick lost decisively.

From a comment by Grant on the Spokesman-Review Huckleberries blog:

So let me get it straight: when I lost, I was a bad candidate, when Walt loses, there was nothing anybody could do, even though he was an incumbent with a conservative voting record with a $2 million dollar war chest who loses to an underfunded R who doesn’t have the support of half his party or groups like IACI.

The race was Walt’s to lose. But don’t get me wrong, I’ve known Walt for 30 years and know him to be a good man. I place the blame where it belongs, directly on his campaign staff and advisors.

He delivered a comment here too, to a post on election vote totals in the 1st:

Of course more interesting to me, was the 2006 vs. 2010 Congressional numbers. Total votes were 247,422 in 2010 vs 231,974 in 2006, about 15,000 more total votes. However, Walt actually got fewer votes than I did in 2006 with his 2010 vote count at 102,130 and mine in 2006 at 103,935, while Labrador got 126,231 to Sali's 115,843. So, Labrador only got about 10,000 more votes on a 15,000 increase in total votes. The rest went to 3rd party candidates, with Dave Olson getting 7,508 more votes in 2010 than he did in 2006. Pretty clear evidence that a significant number of Dems either stayed home or shifted to Olson.

Was the race "Walt's to lose"? That's a little hard to conclude definitively, since the margins in the 2010 contest were so large. But his point in comparing the 2006 and 2010 vote totals is pretty solid. Did a bunch of Democrats simply decline to vote for Minnick? The closer you look, the more it looks that way. Next question - one for review among Idaho Democrats - why was that?

Hint: It wasn't that Minnick turned from a shining campaigning star in one cycle to a campaigning dunce in the next. We won't rewrite history here to suggest that's what happened. But watch for it; some Idaho Democrats will be riding that explanation again soon enough.

ADDITIONAL There's another thoughtful piece, running though additional numbers, on 43rd State Blues - it's also worth a read. Its conclusion: "Most Democrats would rather go down swinging, standing up for who we are, whether right or left, but as proud Democrats, with pragmatic and successful solutions, not self contradicting platitudes. Moreover Democrats should offer independents in this state a real choice other than Republican and Republican lite. In contrast, joining Republicans in running against Democrats will just assure a significant portion of the rank and file will stay home. losing elections, and leaving the party apparatus worse off than if Democrats fielded a Brittany spaniel."

Washington with 10: 6+3+?

wa house districts
Washington House districts/Washington Secretary of State

As we start to look at reapportionment, which will be a recurring topic here in the year ahead, a piece today in Crosscut by Dick Morrill, a geographer emeritus from the University of Washington, was an immediate grabber. It started in a logical spot: Working through some of the necessary changes that would occur if Washington gets, as it may, a tenth congressional district for this decade.

What he didn't follow through on was, what might the political import be? Herewith ...

You start an analysis like this at the edges, where population is thinnest and where the choices to add or subtract territory and people are the fewest. In Washington that means the east, the 5th district centered around Spokane. Morrill figures that because of population gains, the 5th will have to shed territory, most logically Okanogan and maybe Adams counties, both very strongly Republican areas. Since Spokane itself is politically split (the city itself is mostly Democratic now), and there are a couple of smaller Democratic centers there, the effect would be to make the 5th a little more competitive. That may not matter in the shorter run, since Cathy McMorris-Rodgers seems to have a very solid lock here, and would even with these kinds of changes. But in the case of an open seat or a close race, in a different climate, it could matter. Still, overall a continuing Republican district.

As would be for the near term the neighboring fourth, which has centered around the Yakima-Tri-Cities area. Its configuration may change a little, adding more territory to the north and maybe losing (Morrill estimates) about half of growing Yakima County; presumably, that slice would have to be meshed with the population base to the southwest in Clark County. (The fourth, like the fifth, would continue as a strongly Republican district, probably the strongest Republican in the state, an easy continued hold in future as in the recent past for Republican Doc Hastings.) There are other ways to make this work, really creative ways of stringing counties, but Morrill is probably right if you're interested in creating realistically compact districts.

So in that case, you'd combine part of Yakima with Klickitat County, southwest to Skamania county and into Clark, and probably somewhat beyond. Clark is a close-split county, but the combination of it with the Republican base at Yakima County would result in a clear Republican tilt in this newly-configured district. New Republican Representative Jaime Herrera presumably would have little trouble holding this one.

From there, Morrill's speculation - which matches with what's been in the air elsewhere - is that the pieces of a new, tenth, district probably would center around the Olympia area, around Thurston County - which has been joined with Clark County to its south to form the current third. In this projection, those two areas break apart. The new Olympia-based district would include mostly Democratic territory (Thurston itself is strongly Democratic, though countered by the much smaller Lewis and moderated by Mason), and probably would be a Democratic district.

To the north, in district 2 (running from the Everett area to the Canadian border), Morrill figures a large chunk of Snohomish County will have to be expelled, probably to District 1 (though there are options). Depending on which precincts are shifted, this may make District 2 even more closely competitive. Or not.

That's five districts. And what of the other five?

And here's where we start to reach the end of geographic necessity and start to enter the question of sheer political calculation. A whole lot of Washington's population lies in that area west of the Cascades, from Olympia to Everett. Most of it is Democratic, except for some large suburban pieces, mainly in eastern King and Pierce counties and in scattered parts of Kitsap. How do you choose to arrange them? It may be possible to develop as many as two genuinely competitive districts out of this material; it could also be possible to slice the pie so as to make them all Democratic-tilted.

The odds favor creation of at least one district with enough of the Republican suburban areas to make it competitive or slightly Republican. Hence the formula: In a 10-district Washington, the most likely outcome from here looks like six generally Democratic districts, three generally Republican, and one up for grabs with probably some Republican edge.

But it could be difference. The reapportionment commission meetings could be notably interesting next year.

Relevant factors

Not strictly Northwest - the article is about last week's election from a national perspective - but the points made in a Washington Post piece a week ago (which I just got around to reading) seem so spot on in this region as well as elsewhere that they called out for some more attention. So, herewith.

Especially this, at article's end:

The percentage-point margin by which Americans who blamed Wall Street for the nation's economic problems favored Republicans over Democrats in the national exit poll of Tuesday's voters. The poll asked voters whether they blamed Wall Street, George W. Bush or Barack Obama. Those who blamed one president or the other, not surprisingly, voted overwhelmingly for the opposite party, but those who blamed Wall Street (a plurality of respondents) gave 56 percent of their vote to Republican candidates and 42 percent to the Democrats.

If Democrats want to know why they lost, they should ponder this number and the 9.5 percent unemployment rate. The president's decision to defer financial reform until 18 months after the bank bailouts, and his decisions not to press for a bigger and more visible stimulus or to keep his focus on job creation were fateful mistakes that cost his party dearly.