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Posts published in March 2011

Idaho Republicans get closure

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?

Carlson: Review and clarify


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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. (more…)

Wu, ahead

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David Wu

Today the daily Oregonian banner headline on Representative David Wu was relegated to the metro section, something of a step back. For about a week and a half, stories about Wu there and in Willamette Week have been dominant features, and a narrative has been left in their wake: That something is seriously wrong with Wu and he is not longer fit and able to serve as a member of Congress.

It's a remarkable blizzard of fierce coverage measured against the severity and volume of the facts. The facts are a series of incidents, most of them dating from last fall and most of them seemingly unrelated, and Wu's reaction (which have included some interviews, mainly on television, in response) to reports about them. They include odd behavior (which he's acknowledged) at the Portland airport and elsewhere shortly before the election, and external indicators such as the abrupt departure of about a third of his staff, including some key personnel, shortly after the November election.

The facts are enough to say that something troubling was going on. But the picture is still, after all the banner-level articles, largely unfilled; there's still no clear picture of what has been happening and why. The explanations offered so far, in articles and from Wu, feel thin and unsatisfying. The best move Wu could make to reassure constituents, a series of personal town halls around the district, haven't been forthcoming and seem unlikely to be. Wu's response apart from TV interviews has been defiance: Hiring a new campaign treasurer, filing for re-election in 2012 (very early even under normal circumstances, and highly premature given reapportionment). He's given no indication whatever of resigning, as several newspapers have suggested.

Given all that, there's some logic now to looking ahead to 2012, and what the future may hold for the first district. With that in mind, a few thoughts.

First, the 1st district - which runs from downtown Portland through Washington County, south to Yamhill County and west to the Astoria area - won't exist in its present form in 2012. Like all other districts, it will be reapportioned, and though there will be a northwest Oregon district configured in some way, it will have to be substantially changed. The 1st has been growing faster than any of Oregon's other congressional districts (voter registration there rose by 61,307; the next largest was the 3rd, at 48,234), so some large piece of it will have to be lopped off and united with another district to the east or south. No one now knows what piece that will be.

Or whether the district remains as Democratic as it has become. (In November 2002, the Democratic registration there was 38%, Republican 36.9%; in November 2010, Democratic was 42.6%, Republican 30.3% - a change from a slight edge to a very large one.) It has, however, turned into a Democratic stronghold, and its successor districts seems likely to stay in that category.

Wu's situation understandably is lighting an interest among Republicans. Rob Cornilles, the organized, funded and skilled - strongest Republican nominee there in a long time - Republican nominee against Wu last year, has been reported as interested in rematch. The Hill newspaper also quoted state Senator Bruce Starr, who has a developed base in the Hillsboro area: "Rob's a good guy, he's a good candidate. But he came up significantly short — 13-14 points — in what may be the best Republican year we've had probably since 1994. When and if my family and I make the decision to run, I'll have a conversation with Rob and we'll figure that out. I'm not worried about it right at this point." (more…)