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Posts published in November 2010

Why Sanders is losing

sanders
Richard Sanders

Only scattered Washington state writers about politics are taking note of this one, but it's of some significance: A Washington state Supreme Court justice, Richard Sanders.

Sanders, who got to the court in 1995 after defeating an incumbent appointed by the liberal Governor Mike Lowry, has been a mostly consistent libertarian on the court. He could find common cause with the left on some social issues, but allied with the right on less visible but more frequent and often more crucial regulatory and economic matters.

Sanders had seemed to be headed toward another win, but his opponent this year, Charlie Wiggins, drew fairly close on election day, gained ground steadily since, now has taken the lead and seems likely to prevail. That has happened in large part because Wiggins, whose support came mostly from Democratic quarters, has done so well in King County, where many of the later votes have been counted.

This may be the first successful challenge to a state supreme court justice from the left in the Northwest in a very long time.

The best piece of detailed writing on this so far may be a longish analysis in the Slog. It is worth a read.

Why Washington’s GOP didn’t do better

For Republicans in Washington state, this was their best election since at least 2004, and probably a few cycles before that. They made progress: They picked up a U.S. House seat (they had not flipped a single Democratic House seat in the state since 1994, when they flipped six), and seats in both the Senate and House, albeit falling short of control of either. But with visions of 1994 dancing about, they'd hope for a lot more.

And some other voter indicators, notably the passage of a couple of anti-tax measures, gave hope that there would be more.

So, useful reading today in a post in Red County, by Byron Myrick, mulling over why the red tide last week did - as some Democratic politicians said - crash and recede against the left coast.

There's no one single or simple answer for that, and Myrick isn't offering a lot here. But several of the points he does make have a common theme.

He has a specific and logical point in one strategic area: The sending of lots of resources to two Republican congressional candidates, incumbent Dave Reichert and newcomer Jaime Herrera, both of whom wound up winning with substantial leads, while other options were less-funded. The notable case was in the 2nd district, where Democrat Rick Larsen evidently has been re-elected but by only a tiny margin; more money to Republican John Koster might have made the difference there. (Myrick's suggestion that another race, in the 1st district, might similarly have been turned seems less likely.)

His other major complaint concerns Republican state Chair Luke Esser, where he focuses not on what was said before the election but after it:

On Friday morning, Esser broke the calm and spoke with radio talk show host Bryan Suits on KVI 570 AM. His explanation to Suits for why Washington had not followed the national trends for Republican gains: Washington State’s economy was just not quite as bad as the rest of the country. According to Esser, a serious but comparatively mild recession in the Northwest was to blame for dashed Republican hopes. Esser’s rationalization was as hopeless, demoralizing and misplaced as if Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll had blamed the team’s monumental loss this past Sunday on better-than-average weather.

The same day, Esser repeated the analysis to David Boze on KTTH 770 AM, confirming amazingly low expectations for the Republican message and implying that GOP wins in Washington can only come against Democrats who have been handicapped by desperately poor economic conditions.

Here Myrick gets at something of real possible significance: The underlying idea that Washington Republicans are simply doomed unless a perfect storm comes along to rescue them - a storm that would have to be even more perfect than the one in 2010, which might not happen for a long time. Myrick: "Having predicted failure – as Esser implies by defining such narrow conditions for GOP victories – it is not only permissible but rational to avoid risks, play defense, and celebrate holding ground as if one were gaining it."

Keep coming up short over and over, and it does make sense to rethink what you're doing. (That applies as well to Idaho Democrats and Oregon Republicans.) But the concern Myrick seems to be getting at (whether or not Esser is properly guilty of it, an assessment we'll not make here) is also legitimate: Presume you're a loser, and you probably will be one; spend your time in risk-avoidance, and you shouldn't be surprised if you're not putting a lot of numbers up on the board.

Evidence of interest

In 2008, in Idaho's 1st U.S. House district, Republican Bill Sali lost his office to Democrat Walt Minnick. In 2010, Minnick in turn lost it to Republican Raul Labrador. Question: Which of these Republicans, Sali or Labrador, would you suppose won about 45,000 more votes than the other in these elections?

You can guess where this is going: Sali, in losing, took 171,687 votes, while Labrador, winning this year - in a strong win by a strong margin - took 126,231 votes: Far fewer.

Look closely at the vote totals in the two elections and you find what sure looks like evidence in Idaho of that vaunted enthusiasm gap: A relatively larger number of Democrats not voting in 2010 who had in 2008. The closer you look, the more it looks that way.

For example. While the general election vote for the Republican nominee dropped from 2008 to 2010 by 26.5%, Minnick's own vote fell by 41.9% (from about 176,000 to about 102,000) - same guy, running from a position of incumbency on a core platform not all that different from what he'd campaigned on the first time. A whole lot of people who voted for him earlier, took a pass this time.

Of course, that was true to some extent across the board: Idahoans cast fewer votes in 2010 than 2008, since turnout always declines in non-presidential election years. Overall in Idaho, it dropped by 32.8%. The Republican drop in the 1st district was less than that (26.5%), and Minnick's was more (41.9%).

This also seems to be true in the governor's race, which provides in some ways a cleaner comparison since in Idaho all governor's races are off-presidential. The actual vote received by Democratic nominee Keith Allred this year (148,300) was down by 25.4% from that received four years ago by Democrat Jerry Brady (198,845). But Republican C.L. "Butch" Otter, who won, saw his vote total moderately rise from 237,437 to 266,992 - up by 12.4%, even as all sorts of anecdotal evidence had seemed to show his popularity in decline. The 2010 Republican "tide" might account for some of Otter's boost, but should it account for such a massive drop among Democratic-leaning voters?

You can find lots of other examples among other candidates, notably among Democrats.

From election to election, of course, some people may change their minds, or their sides. But that happens less often than a decision to simply sit this one out. Look at the numbers again, and see what conclusions you draw.

We'll revisit this later.

Who voted

Take a look through the CNN exit polling data posted on their web site - there's plenty to see for Northwest analysis. Not much for Idaho; none of the races there were exit-polled by the organization. But Washington Senate, and Oregon Senate and governor, were.

The distinctions between the genders on the two Oregon races are notable. In both cases men voted much more strongly for the Republican candidates than did women. Democrat John Kitzhaber lost men 36%-60% to Republican Chris Dudley, while winning women 62%-36% - a decisive difference for both genders. Both genders went for incumbent Democrat Ron Wyden in the Senate race (which overall he won more sweepingly), but while he won the female vote 64%-34%, he won men by just 49% to 47% over Republican Jim Huffman. (Might Dudley's sports background have affected the numbers just a little?)

CNN did not break down the various ethnic sub-groups in Oregon, but it did note that Dudley got more of the "white" vote than Kitzhaber did.

Given that, the breakdown in Washington was not unexpected: Women voted in majority (56%) for Democrat Patty Murray, men (53%) for Republican Dino Rossi.

One of the interesting bits: CNN asked whether anyone in the household belonged to a labor union, and then how the person voted. Among those who said no one in the house was a member, the Senate candidates split their votes evenly. Among those who reported "yes" (this amounted to a fifth of the respondents) Murray prevailed, as you might expect - but just 53% to 47%.

This week in the Digests

digest
weekly Digest

The elections last week - recounted in detail to the legislative and judicial level for Washington, Oregon and Idaho - were dominant elements of Northwest developments in the new Digests. The results moved Washington and Oregon closer to the center, and Idaho more Republican than it already was.

Elections aside, the week was busy on plenty of other developments, in area from the economy (some continuing bad news, but not entirely) to education and arrival of still more federal programs that got little press attention.

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.

Resolving the Oregon House

A time of many phone calls (no point leaving unfortunate text messages lying around) as the members of the Oregon House, apparently split 30-30 for the next cycle, trying to figure out how to organize themselves. (The Senate appears to have narrowly averted a tie, with Democrats barely controlling 16-14.)

The most logical approach, and the one you might think would win out, is to mirror what the Oregon Senate did after the 2002 election when it was tied 15-15. In that case, leadership was sort of split between two veteran legislators who each were respected in the opposition's caucus as well as their own, Democrat Peter Courtney and Republican Len Hannon, who were chosen senate president and president pro tem, respectively. The two were good friends, and the leadership of the chamber was divided between the parties. From all external appearances at least, it seemed to work pretty well. Of course, getting it to work that way depends on finding just the right combination of people for the key jobs.

When the Washington House was evenly split a few years back, Republicans and Democrats each elected a speaker and other top leaders who would take turns in the chair. It was an ungainly system with many flaws, though it ultimately did get the job done.

There are other possibilities too. But the one that should make people most queasy is one being talking up at present among some Oregon House members: persuading one member of one of the caucuses (names on both sides are under discussion, and apparently at least one person has come forward with the prospect) to switch sides, and maybe be given a key spot in return - maybe the speakership.

Doesn't sound like a good way to build trust; more of less the opposite of the model the Senate worked out a few years back. But we should be hearing more about this next week.

Dudley lost because …

Totally predictable, but this contention didn't take long to surface. From the conservative Oregon Catalyst blog, by KYKN radio talker Bill Post:

"Instead of trying to please the middle, instead of trying to sound like you are not going to make any waves and play nice with the folks who have dug Oregon into this hole, what the Dudley campaign should have said is: “this State requires a complete makeover and I will be the one to do that even if it means only one term, I will stick to Conservative principles and will surround myself with strong Conservatives and I will not sleep until Oregon is the back in the condition it deserves to be in. That means that some old pictures are going to fall off of the wall.”"

Probably is true that Dudley didn't excite the core of the base as much it would have liked; but at least as many votes would have peeled off the center had Dudley campaigned as suggested. There's not a lot of objective evidence that Oregon voters are eagerly waiting for an ideological conservative to elect. (About as much evidence as that Idaho voters are breathlessly waiting for an ideological liberal.) The more logical answer should be to reframe the arguments between the parties. But few of us will hold our breath waiting for that.

Post did offer one very interesting insiderish bit as well: "All the way back in February and March of 2010, several people, very prominent in the Conservative movement and the Republican Party, met with Chris Dudley and his campaign staff. These people spoke very clearly to Mr. Dudley. He was advised, urgently, to “get rid of those people”. Of course “those people” were the Gordon Smith insiders including Dan Lavey and Kerry Timchuck. Later, Brittany Brammel and LeRoy Coleman and other “outsiders”. To their faces, they were told that they could not win this election, that Chris had to surround himself with Oregonians, and especially Oregonians who understand Oregon, not just the Portland Metro area. Chris was told during several long meetings, before the primary mind you, that he had a real chance to win if he listened now! Chris chose to go with the plan they had laid out for him and now we see the results."

All candidates for major office are heavily reliant on a strong infrastructure for support, but Dudley, who had never run for anything before and whose detailed knowledge of Oregon and its government was not especially detailed (in contrast to an extremely wonkish opponent), was more reliant on help than most. And it should be said that, while he did lose, he came very close, closer than any Republican since the last one elected governor in 1982, Vic Atiyeh. That's not exactly a shameful result.

The larger point is that in a race this close, any one of a hundred factors could have turned it; you can take your pick about which were most crucial. I'd rank the Democratic get out the vote effort maybe around the top, but you could make an argument for others too.

But there is this question (probably not one Dudley personally should agonize over, but other Republicans might consider for future reference): Is there something else Dudley could have done that might have added to his vote totals while not subtracting from the votes he did get?

One suggestion:

The day after the primary, he should have challenged Democrat John Kitzhaber to a series of debates, one every other week from early June through October, and gone so far as to cave in on matters of time and place but require that all must be televised (if only on cable) and streamed as well.

Kitzhaber might have taken him up on it; it would have looked enticing. And it would have been a risk. But Dudley would have gained instant credibility and sympathy for his willingness to take what would have been presented as a huge risk. The guess here is that by going up against Kitzhaber over and over, even if losing some of the early rounds, he would have become a far more effective debater by the end, and Kitzhaber's advantage as the sharp and experienced guy would have begun to erode. By the time of the last few debates, which would be the only ones still in people's minds at voting time, he probably would have struck many of the voters in the middle as a more credible governor.

Maybe. But next, we get to see where the Oregon Republican Party goes after having turned in one of the least-impressive results in the country in the best Republican year in years.

ONE OTHER THING. After delivering his concession, a reporter asked Dudley when he was going to do next. He was standing in front of a Mexican restaurant; he said he thought he would go inside and have a margarita. That sounded like your or I, or any normal person: An open human moment. It didn't sound scripted. Dudley, a disciplined candidate, could have used a little less script in this campaign.

Ballot messages

The rhetoric will have it in some quarters that the voters in Tuesday's election were casting voting for reduced government spending and reduced government, generally. They'd have to base that argument on the the talking points of many of the candidates who won, but as we know, people vote for or against candidates for many reasons apart from their "philosophy."

Attitudes toward policy get a clearer expression - somewhat clearer anyway - on ballot issues. So what might be the philosophical takeaways from the ballot issues around the Northwest on Tuesday?

OREGON Some local governments (notably around liberal Portland) encountered disappointment in funding measures, but that message didn't seem to apply so much to the state as a whole.

Oregon voters approved (57%) Measure 73, extended sentences for people convicted of DUI and some sex crimes, and (69%) Measure 76, which purports to guarantee a money stream for state parks and wildlife. Voters rejected two measures which would have added to private enterprise and diminished some governmental control: Measure 74 (no 57%) on a medical marijuana system, and Measure 75 (no 68%) on a proposed private casino east of Portland.

IDAHO Idaho voters expressed several types of faith in government on their ballot issues, all constitutional amendments.

They passed: Senate Joint Resolution 1 (64.1%) ending the since-statehood ban on tuition at the University of Idaho; House Joint Resolution 4 (63.5%), allowing for easier acquisition of of hospital debt (can anyone say, "Rachet up those health care costs"?); HJR 5 (53.3%), which gave similar license for public airport development; and HJR 7 (57%), a rough counterpart for publicly-owned electricity production facilities - those operations that actually do meet the dictionary definition of "socialist". The state Republican Party had opposed passage of the latter three.

WASHINGTON Washington voters did pass some tax and budget restriction measures. There were four such of some substance: Initiative 1053 (65.2%) requiring a two-thirds vote on passing many of them and Initiative 1107 (62.3%) reversing some tax increases on some food and candy materials. They rejected a proposed income tax on upper-income residents (no 65.2%), possibly in part because of a strong campaign declaring that it would be followed up (extending the tax to lower levels) by something it explicitly did not do. And it approved a measure (SJR 8225) limiting the state debt, though that was something passed by the Democratic legislature.

That's not the whole story, though; it's mainly just the tax side. The full picture is less conclusive.

Washington voters also rejected Initiative 1082 (no 58.3%), which would have broken the current state monopoly on providing industrial insurance and allowed private insurers into the market, the way Oregon and Idaho do. And they rejected two measures (Initiative 1100, no 52%, and Initiative 1105, no 63.6%) which would have ended the state's monopoly on liquor sales. The loudest arguments against the measures seemed to have to do with loss of state revenue and loss of state employees.

The Tuesday message, as always, is more complex than some people would have you believe.

Democrats in … Idaho

While Democrats all over the country had a rough night, pause a moment to consider the Democrats in Idaho.

Going into this election, they had one major office holder, Representative Walt Minnick. Votes are still being counted, but he looks to be headed to a clear defeat, after doing almost everything possible to endear himself to Republicans over the last two years, and after drastically outspending his opponent, Republican Raul Labrador. While operating from a position of power in Washington. At this point, Minnick's loss doesn't even look to be close.

They had high hopes for Keith Allred, who had spent years bridging gaps between Republicans and Democrats, described himself not as a Democrat at all but as an Independent, even appeared on on Fox News and surprised the conservative hosts with how conservative he sounded. He was a highly presentable campaigner who worked hard, came across well - no rough edges at all - and drew support from a bunch of prominent long-time Republicans. With more than half of the precincts reporting, he was losing to a Republican governor who has been fielding a wide range of shots all year, by 60.5% to 31.7% - almost two to one.

They thought that pitting the retiring Boise school superintendent, a knowledgeable and articulate man, against the Republican state school superintendent, might do the trick. He is losing by 61.4% to 38.6%. Democrats are losing all the other major offices as well, in general by percentages even more stark.

Democrats probably will maintain their seven seats (of 35) in the state Senate, picking up one in Latah County to compensate for a loss in southeast Boise. But their House caucus is likely to fall from 18 members to 13 (out of 70). Cracks are showing in the Boise legislative districts they have held the last two cycles. Two high-energy legislative campaigns in the west Boise suburbs yielded results not markedly different from the norm.

The point is this: Idaho Democrats are going to have to figure out a different way of doing things if they want to move beyond fringe status. Will they?