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Posts published in March 2011

Chattin’ with the Czar

The Seattle Times blog post yesterday on their hour-long discussion with Gil Kerlikowske, informally called the "Drug Czar," is well worth reading as an indicator of attitudes and shifts in attitudes.

The Times, you'll recall, broke sound ground among larger regional newspapers on February 20 by editorializing in favor of legalizing marijuana. That was apparently enough to prompt Kerlikowske to ask for a sit-down with the editorial board. If he had any thought of changing the paper's direction, though, it seems to have fallen flat: "As it turned out, he was cordial and almost laid-back. At one point he steered the conversation to prescription drug abuse, which had nothing to do with our editorial. When we asked him about legal marijuana he did disagree with us, but so gently that some of the attendees wondered why he had come at all."

He did offer, the post says, a couple of arguments in favor of the criminal ban, but they were so weak as to be easily swiped away, and were by the blogger. (The reference is toward the bottom of the post.)

More telling, maybe, was this description of the Obama Administration's stance: "The Obama administration’s “middle position” on drugs that leans toward treatment but requires penalties also, he said, because about half the users who go into treatment “have to be encouraged.”"

This sounds a little like the kind of thing the Clinton Administration tried do, concerning gays in the military, back in 1993 with Don't Ask Don't Tell: A policy that is all-but-openly just an interim step. It has that kind of sense to it.

OR: A remap in outline

Here's one quick analysis of how districts are going to have to shift in Oregon, based on the numbers talked about in today's Oregon reapportionment committee meeting, as it tries to do what no legislature has done successfully in 50 years:

The northwest part of Oregon, roughly what is now congressional district 1, will have to be split into more legislative districts. (Washington County added 84,364 people in the last decade, more than anywhere else, about two-thirds of the number needed for a whole Senate district.) The Portland area may need some additional districts, but not so much since population growth in the center of Portland was much less than on the outer ring of it. Eastern Oregon more or less should hold its own overall, though there'll have to be a number of shifts, and the eastern third of Oregon (geographically lost population). The mid- and southern Willamette Valley may have to shed a legislative district or two, and the southwest region (roughly, congressional district 4) has fallen farthest behind, almost a mirror image of district 1, and will surely have to give up districts, spreading its districts more widely.

You can kind of visualize how the district shift, generally, is going to have to happen.

Since the last decade, minority population has "dispersed," one witness said, more moving into the suburban area. "There are places where there is more Latino growth than other areas, but it's hard to generalize," one witness said.

Communities of interest. Bernie Bottomly of the Portland Busines Alliance Multnomah is a very heavy economic-based county; it accounts for a quarter of Oregon's public sector employment, while Clackamas and Washington (which together have more population) account for 15%. Multnomah accounts for half of the state total in the area management of companies. Multnomah looks at urbsn interests much differently. So, Bottomly suggested, districts drawn in the area should recognize the difference between Multnomah (read, mainly: Portland) and the suburbs. "In terms of economic communities of interest, Multnomah has remained pretty stable," he said.

The point came up that the suburbs are becoming increasingly diverse and complex places, including a spreading-out of the state's racial and ethnic groups, and Bottomly acknowledged that, most notably for Washington County.

Chair Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, offered a little "push back" as a legislator from a district straddling Multnomah and Washington, saying that the area of Washington bordering Portland had a lot of similarity to Multnomah and looked to it as part of its urban area.

The whole subject of "communities of interest" - which generally are supposed to kept together where practical as districts are drawn - is more complex than you might think. Speakers at the reapportionment committee today covered lumber communities of interest (some interesting talk about how the lightly-populated Willamina area is split between districts), developer experience with communities of interest, Latino restauranteur views on communities of interest, and nursery and orchard owner communities of interest. They made the point that economic communities of interest are a part of the mix, and that urban and rural people can be considered to have very real differences in type of interest.

Remap hearings all over

Reapportionment hearings

With Census raw data in hand (since February 23), the Oregon Legislature's reapportionment committees say they're ready to hit the road.

At their press conference today, the tone was amicable, acknowledged that reaching a common agreement on maps will not be easy but expressions, at least, of confidence that it could be done. There was no sniping.

Senator Chris Telfer, R-Bend, said that "the communications are great and we're on the same page. and I hope we continue that."

The road hearings are expected to run through April, with more hearings after that at the statehouse. And then, the drawing begins in earnest.

The schedule: (more…)

Taking away the people’s rights … really

Last fall during the campaign, one of the odder policy ideas associated with a lot of Tea Party candidates (including new Idaho Representative Raul Labrador) was the repeal of the 17th amendment. That was the change that allowed the voters, as opposed to state legislators, to choose the United States senators from the states. You might think that a movement purportedly concerned with individual liberty would have a problem with that, but evidently not.

When the subject came up during congressional debates, Labrador's basic response was to brush it aside as something that would obviously never happen - it was no more than a hypothetical.

So. On Tuesday just such a proposal - nonbinding, but calling on Congress for action - was proposed to the Idaho House State Affairs Committee by Representative Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home. And it was not a wishy-washy statement; it said that “The electoral process for choosing a United States Senator has devolved into a chaos of pettifoggery, populism, bribery, cronyism, demagoguery, outside influences and outside money that unfairly favors the rich or connected.” It said that “A Senator no longer is responsible to his State, nor to the populace that elected him.”

But would be, presumably, if the legislators and not the voters had sole control. What actually happened, of course, when the system was set up that way, was massive corruption in legislatures from coast to coast, and in the Senate as well. But there are moneyed interests who'd prefer it that way.

The State Affairs Committee declined to introduce it. But six Republican legislators voted in favor. (The minutes, for determination of who they were, unfortunately isn't yet available.)

Keep this in mind the next time you hear talk about "freedom and liberty" from these people.

The rap on McKenna

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."

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

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

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…)