Writings and observations

We’re not far away from the onset of Washington governor’s race 2012 – probably not six months. If, as is broadly expected, Attorney General Rob McKenna enters that race, he will enter as the Republican frontrunner, and a very strong contender in the general election. (No one knows yet for sure whether current Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire will seek a third term, but the betting is running strongly against.)

The Stranger, via writer David Goldstein, has a piece that may wind up summarizing the Democratic case against McKenna – in essence, that he’s not the moderate he has appeared to be, that he is Washington’s edition of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Key paragraph:

“This is a politician who is no friend of labor, who has used his office to work against the interests of workers and their right to organize, who has accused state workers of bankrupting the state, and who has even labeled the very institution of the public employees’ union as “dangerous.” But nothing is more indicative of McKenna’s far-right, anti-union, pro-teabagger philosophy than his aggressive leadership in attempting to kill organized labor’s decades-old, number-one policy agenda: Obama’s health care reform act and the benefits it would bring to millions of Washington citizens and businesses.”

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This will be of high interest. The long-awaited opinion from Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill out today says that the Idaho Republican Party can insist that only declared members can participate in their primaries.

This case presents the question whether the State of Idaho’s use of an open primary system to determine nominees for the general election violates the Idaho Republican Party’s First Amendment rights. Because the open primary permits substantial numbers of independent voters, as well as voters associated with other political parties, to “cross over” and participate in the Republican Party’s selection of its nominees, the Court concludes that, by mandating such a nomination process, the State violates the Party’s constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of association.

The Idaho Republican Party and its Chairman, Norm Semanko, brought this action against Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, to challenge the State of Idaho’s use of an open primary to select candidates for the general election. Several interested groups have been permitted to intervene, including: (1) a group of Idaho registered voters who do not align themselves with any political party, and who consider themselves independents; (2) the American Independent Movement of Idaho, LLC (“AIM”); and (3) the Committee for a Unified Independent Party, Inc. (“CUIP”). Motion to Intervene, Dkt. 3. Neither the Democratic Party nor the Libertarian Party, both of which have had nominees selected using Idaho’s open primary over the last 5 election cycles, have sought leave to intervene in this suit.

This isn’t a surprise; we’ve remarked in this space about the realistic possibility the case might go this way. It may come as a shock to quite a few Idahoans accustomed to voting in whichever primary they like. And it is likely to worry a lot of Republican elected officials, who have not been among those pushing for this – conservative activists in the Republican Party have been.

While the point of a members-only approach can be dealt with on a freedom of association level, which is what Winmill seemed mainly to do, some other arguments didn’t hit a high enough threshold. There’s been the argument, for example, that allowing in non-Republicans may have altered the outcome of a number of Republican primaries. The evidence is limited, but he did accept the simple, on-its-face evidence (from the defendants) that crossover voting does occur, in volume, as a matter of common sense in a state so heavily dominated by one party.

He also pulled up a fun chart showing the number of contested Republican as opposed to Democratic primaries, election by election. In 2010, there were 31 contested Republican primaries, and two Democratic; in 2008, 28 Republican and no Democratic; in 2006, 27 Republican and one Democratic, and so on for the last two decades.

And, “Thus, even if we use the most conservative estimate of 10% crossover voting, with only a small number of partisan raiders, the effects can be devastating to a party.”

The ruling appears to apply only to a political party that declares that it wants to limit participation in its primaries to declared members. Idaho Democrats and Libertarians evidently are not so bound.

The GOP activists who sought a closed primary got their wish. Interesting now, come the next election cycle (and there is of course plenty of time to implement this by 2012), how the results shake out. How many Idahoans register as Republicans? And what of those who, despite casting routine Republican votes up to now, choose not to?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


This column has been running for a year and it’s appropriate to update a few issues I dissected during that time.

ITEM: They never go back to Pocatello.

Former Democratic First District Congressman Walt Minnick demonstrated anew this old saying about politicians once they leave office. After auditioning for a post with the Obama Administration as comptroller of the currency, Minnick and his partners formed – you guessed it – a lobbying firm called The Majority Group.

While barred by law from any direct contact with his former colleagues for one year, there is nothing that prohibits Minnick from directing others on whose ear to bend and arm to twist. As a former member of the House, he still has floor access privileges to boot.

Minnick’s mid-February move followed by only a few days the announcement by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) official Steve Israel that he would be forming an alumni association of the many former “Blue Dog” Democrats defeated in the last election by Republicans who may try to retake their old seats.

The thought is to stick together, try to influence the House Democratic caucus, share polling and fund-raising information to the extent the law allows, bank on the Republicans over-reaching and charge back.

Minnick did not return calls to his new office nor an e-mail request, thus leaving some obvious questions unanswered. Is he planning for a rematch? Most folks doubt it, but those bitten by the bug never say never. Is his wife, “A.K.” (a former tv newscaster and former Democratic state chair) and their children taking up permanent residency inside the Beltway? Will there be a business tie between Minnick’s new firm and the alumni association? Is there a particular market they will target? Does the firm already have a contract with the DCCC? Time will tell.

Don’t be harsh on Walt. He joins a large group of former Idaho elected officials and staff who once they tasted the D.C. power elixir cannot remove themselves. That list includes former Senators Steve Symms and Larry Craig, former Senate Sergeant of Arms Greg Casey, former Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey, and former Idaho Congressmen Orval Hansen and George Hansen, to name only a few.

ITEM: Congressman Mike Simpson reinserts provision on primacy of state water rights for non-navigable waters.

Kudos to Idaho’s Second District congressman for using his new position as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment to reinsert language into a resolution that would prohibit the EPA from using tax dollars to try to remove from the Clean Waters Act language restricting EPA’s authority only to “navigable waters” in a state.

Anyone who cares about the primacy of state water rights and state management of groundwater and non-navigable waters should recognize the threat posed by this naked federal power grab by an agency increasingly operating as a law unto itself. State water rights are critical to the arsenal of arms folks in the Silver Valley can utilize to combat EPA’s attempt to cram a 50-year, $1.8 billion plan for unnecessary extension of clean-up efforts there.

The continuing reluctance of Gov. Butch Otter to support Simpson and state water rights is most puzzling.

ITEM: Sen. Mike Crapo finally introduces legislation to limit presidential authority to create national monuments. As first reported in this column last summer, Crapo introduced a Senate version and California Congressman Devin Nunes a House counterpart of a bill severely limiting the authority of presidents to set aside public lands for higher and better uses under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Presidents of both parties, starting with Theodore Roosevelt through Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have used this law often when a recalcitrant Congress refuses to enact needed legislation to protect some of the many special places on public lands. It has become an important bargaining tool for proponents of more protection as a means of forging compromises because national monuments are far more restrictive than wilderness or national recreation area designations.

Some feel Simpson’s 10-year process of negotiating an acceptable compromise to create the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness will only become a reality if President Obama designates it a national monument. Congress would then undo that by passing Simpson’s bill.

Even if Crapo’s bill were to get to Obama’s desk, it is guaranteed a veto. It’s pure political posturing.

ITEM: Sen. Crapo and The Gang of Six.

The senator deserves kudos for his “Profile in Courage” action in joining five other colleagues in support of the Bowles-Simpson Commission’s set of recommendations to address the nation’s deficit crisis through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending reductions and tax increases. – Chris Carlson

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