Writings and observations

As a Republican looks at the Oregon congressional redistricting picture, the question at hand is this: Is there a way to move the probable partisan split of the (now and future) five House districts from a 4-1 Democratic majority, to just 3-2?

It would seem not too difficult a task, in the sense that Oregon’s voting population is close enough that control of 40% of the state’s congressional districts ought to be out of reach. It proves a slippery goal, though.

Consider this map, posted on the Republican-leaning RedState site (not recently – this was in 2009) as a GOP option for getting from one to two districts out of five. (H/T here to the correspondent who pointed it out.) A larger version and a close-up of the metro area are available at the link.


The population split looks more or less reasonable, recognizing that it was drawn before the 2010 census was conducted.

One clearly-Republican district is, as now, easy to come by – draw in Oregon east of the Cascades and a slice of population on the west end (that would be the green district). The tricky part is the four districts on the west side. The drafter here was able to craft a district that credibly would be majority-Republican. That yellow district looks Republican and probably would be (the drafter estimates a 9% Republican advantage there). The other three districts would be solidly Democratic; there are no swings.

But see how strained the yellow district looks – using a tiny isthmus to connect interior northwest counties (such as our home of Yamhill, which is close to Portland) with the California border country. It can do that only through bypassing Lane and Benton counties and their mass of Democratic votes – a too-obvious gerrymander.

Study that map for a bit and the difficulties of moving Republican House seats in Oregon from one to two come ever clearer.

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tricounty districts
Districts in the three counties

As Oregon’s legislative reapportionment hearings moved last week toward the Portland metro area, an obvious point – in legislative redistricting, if not congressional – came up: What about all those partial Multnomah districts?

Two points are most relevant to the critics of the current lines, and they raise reasonable questions. One is the political leaning of Multnomah County, Oregon’s largest – and overwhelmingly, as a whole, Democratic. The other is the plainly visible fact that a good many districts which include territory in the two neighboring suburban counties, Washington and Clackamas, reach into Multnomah for more voter-equalization population. Politically, Washington overall leans gently Democratic now, and Clackamas is a close call. So are these infusions of Multnomah people making more Democratic a bunch of Washington and Clackamas legislative districts that might otherwise be electing Republicans?

And there are a number of such districts. In the Oregon Senate there are four districts including parts of Multnomah and Washington, three with pieces of Multnomah and Clackamas, and one that has slices of all three counties. In a Senate of 30 members where the majority party maintains control by one seat, that matters. In the Oregon House, which is evenly divided between the parties, you can roughly double the number of seats split between the big three counties.

If you’re an Oregon Republican looking for avenues of improvement – or reasons why your party hasn’t done better recently – these are serious considerations.

A closer look at the vote totals of the legislative districts involved suggests that while the idea isn’t groundless, it also hasn’t made much practical difference. The reason is that the various parts of the three counties do not find the parties evenly scattered. In Washington County, for example, the rural western parts of the county are strongly Republican, but the eastern precincts – those around Beaverton and close to Portland – are nearly as Democratic as those across the line in Multnomah.

A second point is that most of these split-county districts are heavily based in just one county, and the small number of votes in the other would be enough to influence only the closest of races.

Did the Multnomah pie-slice lines alter any 2010 legislative elections? If you examine the numbers, it’s hard to make an argument that they did.

For a little more clarity, here’s how this plays out in the districts involved, using the voting results in 2010.

Senate 16 – Democratic Senator Betsy Johnson won here overall 28,182 to 22,657 for Republican Bob Horning, and she won Multnomah County. But MultCo’s contributed only 503 votes in grand total to the race: It made only a sliver of the difference; Johnson got most of her winning margin in Clatsop, and won four of the five counties in the district (Washington, a rural western slice of it, being the exception).

Senate 17 – Well over 80% of this district is in Washington County; there’d not be enough Multnomah County votes available to save a Democrat decisively losing in Washington. But Democratic Senator Suzanne Bonamici didn’t need the assist. While she did win the Multnomah piece of the district heavily, almost 3-1, she also won the Washington County portion by 3-2.

District 19 – In this district, with elements of Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, there’s a little better argument than in most for a “Multnomah effect.” But not by much. Democrat Richard Devlin won re-election over Republican Mary Kremer boosted by a 2-1 margin in the Multnomah section, but he also more narrowly won both Washington and Clackamas.

Senate 24 – Another district heavily based in just one of the counties – this time, more than 80% of the voters are in Multnomah, and just a small slice in Clackamas. Democrat Rod Monroe did lose the Clackamas portion, decisively, but his win in Multnomah was not overwhelming (taking 16,355 to 13,375 for Republican Rob Wheeler). This is basically a Multnomah district with a little Clackamas infusion.

Senate 26 – In this three-county district (Hood River along with Multnomah and Clackamas) Republican Chuck Thomsen won all three counties, and by comparable margins.

House 27 – Here as in a number of the other districts, Multnomah is only a small piece of the overall district – it contributes about a tenth of the voters here. And Democrat Tobias Read got similar margins in both the Washington and Multnomah areas, taking both decisively.

House 33 – An unusual case of a district split fairly closely between Washington and Multnomah. Democrat Mitch Greenlick cleanup in Multnomah with a 3-1 win there, but he won Washington by a healthy (if smaller) margin as well.

House 35 – A case somewhat like 33, where Democrat Margaret Doherty won more strongly in Multnomah (which is much the smaller part of the district) but prevailed in the Washington precincts too.

House 38 – In this three-county (Mult/Wash/Clack) district, Democrat Chris Garrett got his biggest margin (more than 2-1) in Multnomah, but won the other two as well.

House 41 – Democrat Carolyn Tomei won most strongly (about 4-1) in the smaller Multnomah section of the district, but she also won by about 2-1 in the larger Clackamas portion.

House 48 – More than two-thirds of the vote here is in Multnomah, which went decisively to Democrat Mike Schaufler. He lost the smaller Clackamas portion, but not by a lot.

House 51 – Republican Patrick Sheehan, who won here, did lose the Multnomah part of the district while winning (about 4-3) in Clackamas. But Multnomah’s voters amount to only about 5% of the voters here, hardly enough to make a difference except at the margins; and this is one of the more politically centrist parts of Multnomah.

House 52 – Includes Hood River County as well as Multnomah and Clackamas. Republican Mark Johnson won all three (including Multnomah) by similar margins.

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Most of the larger rallies we’ve seen in the last few years that are ideologically-based have been on the right. But check out this one Friday in Olympia, apparently drawing upwards of 7,000 people:

“Thousands of union members from all over Washington have poured into the state Capitol to demand an end to corporate tax breaks and painful cuts to public programs,” says the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. “The rally is the largest of four days of boisterous demonstrations in Olympia over spending cuts lawmakers are considering to help close a looming $5.3 billion operating budget deficit for the next two years, The Associated Press reports.”

More on this at the Washington State Labor Council site.

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If Washington County is the largest pivot in Oregon electoral politics, Clackamas County to its southeast – and, roughly, south of Portland – would be the secondary pivot. It is more Republican than Washington County, but its voting base – the third largest in Oregon – is closely enough balanced that it’s a major target for political strategists. Its legislative districts are closely enough balanced that they’re also often battlegrounds. Ad it is a growth county – changes will happen.

The reapportionment hearing here this afternoon drew an audience of 50 or so in addition to the legislators, some locals, plus the committee members. Most of them spoke.

Representative Bill Kennemer, the Republican from District 39 (which includes Oregon City, where today’s hearing was held) and also a former Clackamas County commissioner, suggested that in some ways Clackamas has been “regarded as the stepchild in the urban area”, its legislative districts interstiched with Multnomah County. (Similar arguments came up about Washington County on Friday.) But he did say that his own district, centered on Oregon City and Canby, has a distinct internal community of interest.

Not all of the areas of Clackamas fit in. A speaker from the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce pointed out some relevant anomalies about it: Fast population growth (almost 40% in the 00s) but also that much of the business development has been apart from the population base. It’s a very different kind of place than Oregon City or Canby, which are not far away. To what should it be linked – Tualatin and Sherwood, or somewhere else? The Wilsonville speaker said that there are contacts with Washington County even closer, in some ways, than to the rest of Clackamas (though a piece of Wilsonville is in a far-flung part of Washington). The connection to Sherwood and Newberg are fairly tight, he suggested. (The city of Wilsonville is split between both two House and two Senate districts.)

That led Representative Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, to muse about the difficulty of using any one standard as the basis for drawing lines. County lines are often considered important boundaries, but they may not be the most important in all cases.

Representative Patrick Sheehan, a Republican representing a large chunk of the fast-growing northeast Clackamas area (Damascus, part of Happy Valley), noted that the communities in his area are often split by lines, and asked an attempt be made to keep them together. But he also noted that the parts of the district that bump up against Portland are a lot different from the newly-growing areas of unincorporated Clackamas.

Not everyone drew the lines and distinctions the same way. Jill Thorn of Lake Oswego said that “Clackamas County is not an island. We are part of the metro area, though it is a very diverse area.” Look at what the districts have in common, not in which county the area is located. (Seems here that the split of Lake Oswego and West Linn, which invisibly bump up against each other and have common transportation and other links, into separate legislative districts makes little sense. But some speakers see very distinctive differences between them and argued they’d best be kept apart.)

And a speaker from Tualatin said that linkages there are much stronger with communities to the west – Sherwood, Tigard – than those along I-5 like Lake Oswego or Wilsonville.

Another interesting idea arose: Keeping some unity for informal areas. There is a region, south of the Lake Oswego-West Linn area, called the Stafford Triangle – a partially developed region which retains a rural feel. What should be done with it – develop it or keep it more or less as it is? Whatever the choice, the decision will be made with the involvement of the communities around it (those two, Wilsonville, Canby). Should those areas be kept together?

Few seemed particularly to want to just be lumped in with Portland, though. A fair amount of knowing laughter, for example, for one speaker: “Let Portland keep themselves weird,” said one.

But even that was not unanimous: One couple in northern rural Clackamas felt kinship to southeast Portland, and wanted districts that linked to that area. “We head north from where we live, and most of our friends are in the Portland metro area.”

There won’t be any pleasing everybody.

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Redistrict hearing at the Portland Community College campus at Rock Creek. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

Washington County, which has a bunch of legislative districts, will have more when redistricting is done. How that addition will be made, and how the current lines will shift, is wide open, though. And there are political implications, both because Washington has plenty of both Democrats and Republicans, and because some of the districts have some odd qualities.

Washington County, the suburban county west of and abutting Portland, is the biggest single wild card in Oregon politics: Its shift from majority Republican not so long ago to majority Democratic in recent elections has had a lot to do with the changing fortunes of the parties in the state. But the margins still aren’t enormous for anyone, and there are plenty of Republicans as well as Democrats. The exact contours of the legislative districts here will matter a lot after 2012 in a legislature now split nearly evenly.

The redistricting committees know it, too. The Senate redistricting chair (Democrat Suzanne Bonamici) and the two House co-chairs, Democrat Chris Garrett and Republican Shawn Lindsay) all are Washington County legislators; half of the House committee members and a third of the Senate members are from Washington. The fine points of redistricting in that county will not go untended.

And at present, there are some peculiarities. If you drive north on Highway 47 from our home base of Carlton and about 11 miles on cross the line into Washington County, you encounter, the space of 15 miles or so along the road, the communities of Gaston, Dilley, Forest Grove and Banks. You also pass through four Oregon House districts driving that distance.

One of those districts, as Senator Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, pointed out, runs from Gaston to Newburg to Keizer. An eastern Oregonian might sniff at that, in terms of raw square mileage; but this district (the senator is Larry George, R-Sherwood) includes at least three totally distinct community areas that have little to do with each other, an odd mashup from the perspective of anyone who lives there.

At today’s redistricting public hearing at a community college campus near Beaverton (more or less; it’s hard to be sure in that area whether you’re actually in the city of Beaverton or not), those concerns arose loudly, from a string of witnesses pouring in from North Plains, Gaston, Forest Grove and nearby points. Some made the complaint about the 1st congressional district that their rural regions have little in common with Old Town Portland, which is also in to the 1st; but then, congressional districts are big enough that they necessarily have include some varied terrain. (Garrett did offer the idea, likely to pick up some steam, that Portland ought to be in a congressional district of its own.) But most of the talk was about the legislative districts.

Figuring out which parts of the Beaverton/Hillsboro region ought to be kept together isn’t an especially easy task either. Witnesses pointed out that there’s a large Latino community in Hillsboro, and it’d be legally inadvisable to split it. Some argue that the Tanasbourne area (north of north of but between Hillsboro and Beaverton) should be kept together.

Representative Chris Harker, a Democrat attending the session though not a committee member, said he has a Portland mailing address and his nearby business has a Beaverton address, but both locations actually are in unincorporated Washington County. The question of linking west Portland with eastern Washington County came up repeatedly; a Beaverton Chamber speaker argued that Beaverton looks more toward the west, to the rest of Washington County, than it does east to Portland and Multnomah. Beaverton was described at one point as “patchy” and looking like a be-tentacled octopus, its boundaries very hard to describe.

But the “communities of interest” can be awfully slippery here. Senator Mark Hass, a Democrat also from the Beaverton area, pointed out that the Beaverton farmer’s market, the largest in Oregon, is one of many attractions across from Portland that draws people from all over; and he pointed out that the neighborhoods along the Multnomah/Washington county lines aren’t all that different. A number of speakers pointed out the heavy commuter traffic (most notably on the often-clogged Sunset Highway, U.S. 26) between Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro. It’s not only heavy, but heavy in both directions, in morning and evening rush hours.

Another point made repeatedly was that a lot of people in the Portland area consider the Willamette River to be a truly major community divisor, between east and west Portland.

One other comment that no doubt got attention was one by Jeff Duyck, in 2008 a candidate for the Oregon House and winner of the party’s primary election. Duyck had registered and filed as a District 29 voter for years, and had gotten mail ballots from the county clerk to that effect, but a close check found that he was actually in District 26: In a weird development, the district line ran through the tax lot where he lived, and he was on the 26 side of it. So, having won his primary election, he was thrown off the ballot.

His comment to the committee: “Don’t cut [divide] tax lots.” he got no argument on that.

Perhaps the coastal range should be considered a general split between districts. There again, can it be? A Senate district has to include more than 120,000 people, and all of the Oregon coast counties taken together (exempting the slice of Lake County containing Florence) won’t reach to that.

Starr made the point that Larry George’ distict 13 runs from Gaston over to Newburg down to Keizer. It’s not a district that would throw legislators from east of the Cascades, but it’s surely an odd district from the perspective of the people in the area. The Gaston area has little to nothing to do with Newberg, and it has little to do with Keizer.

Bonamici also remarked on the upcoming schedule, that distribution of map proposals may start toward the end of April or early May, and decision-making time may come in the next few weeks after that.

One other note: The Rock Creek campus is a pretty location, but not a good one for this purpose. Parking was $3 – in effect, given the location, an entry fee to attend a legislative meeting – and the machines dispensing tickets either were variable in their functionality or highly counterintuitive. Easier access places in future, please …

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A few notes on the adjournment for the year of the Idaho Legislature.

In an editorial titled “And in the end, hysteria triumphs in Idaho Legislature,” the (traditionally conservative) Twin Falls Times-News notes an online poll run on the blog of the (generally conservative) Dave Oliveria of the Spokane Spokesman-Review: “What scares you more: the Idaho Legislature in the Statehouse or wolves in the forest?” Legislature 74%, wolves 10%.

The editorial concluded that “our Legislature has completely abandoned reasoned discourse. Under every speaker of the House and president of the Senate we can think of — extending back to Pete Cenarrusa and Jack Murphy — lawmakers took pride in not wasting their constituents’ money on hysterical nonsense. That’s not the case anymore.”

It was, after all, a session dominated by such subjects as federal law nullification, allowing guns on campus, radical and high-speed changes in the public school system and deep stabs at the state’s already weak unions, and dismembering of basic health and social services relied on by tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of Idahoans. In which the ending was spiced by birtherism and Obama-is-a-Muslim talk (described by the legislators involved as, you know, just a joke).

Right toward the end, on Tuesday, there was Senate Bill 1165, which bans abortion for any reason (other than the life or physical health of the mother) at the 20-week mark; no exception for rape or incest. Having already passed the Senate 24-10, it was on the House floor for final action. It passed there 54-14.

One of the speakers in opposition was Representative John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired pediatrician – speaking, then, with some professional expertise – who offered a number of arguments against, one of the most central being this: Determination of severe fetal problems and deformities, often at the point of not allowing a fetus to be carried to term, aren’t usually made until then. “These diagnoses were made right at about 20 weeks. To knowingly force someone to carry a baby to term when they know it’s not going to survive, I think, is cruel.”

The counter to that concern about state-imposed cruelty toward a pregnant mother?

State Representative Brent Crane, R-Nampa: the “hand of the Almighty … His ways are higher than our ways,” Crane said. “He has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples.”

Sine die, meaning “without day,” except not really. They’ll be back next January, to do it all again.

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Bryan Fischer, the conservative social activist well-known in Idaho for a variety of issues, has been active since he left the state. Every so often, some off the wall comment emerges from him and shoots around the country.

You can see an update on that at the Raw Story site.

But note this also, the prime reason for taking note: He has a radio program (he meets the national central requirement for having one, since he’s conservative), and his guests have included presidential prospects Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Michele Bachmann and Haley Barbour.

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This got a lot of attention in Washington state:

A general new policy at the University of Washington to accept many more out of state students – those who pay higher tuition and fees – than those from in state, locking out many in-state students with good grades and other advantages. A lot of Washington kids won’t be able to go to their leading state institution.

Why is that? Well, the out-of-staters pay more. They help the university’s bottom line more. The university is operating more, in other words, like a prosperous health insurance company.

Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times put it succinctly: “For decades now we’ve heard the demand that government needs to be more like business. Can’t it be more self-sufficient, more attuned to the bottom line? Well, yes it can. This is what it looks like.”

Pretty, ain’t it?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

One of many political verities in politics is that it is always your friends who get you in trouble. Jimmy Carter had his Bert Lance, Bill Clinton his Webb Hubbell and George W. Bush his Karl Rove.

From one’s enemies a public officeholder expects animosity and treachery. From one’s friends, though, there is an assumption of loyalty and that loyalty should preclude stupidity and/or treachery. More often than not, however, when controversy arises, an officeholder has let his or her reverse loyalty blind them to the folly a friend is exhibiting. And when the smoke has cleared, it is the friend that has been the cause of the downfall.

The Idaho Statesman’s political editor, Dan Popkey, prompted this reflection after reading his excellent March 22 column regarding Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s recent pattern of dodging the press and minimizing contact now that he no longer has to face re-election. After 28 years in the public eye, Butch apparently will be taking off the spurs and not be on the ballot in 2014.

Popkey ends his column deploring this turn of events and the attitude that undergirds it by pointing out that the Governor, while not available for the media, can and does make time for his lobbyist friends. He references the photo that appeared recently on their business website.

The picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, and one need look no further than that to know the Governor has received only encouragement from those three to diss the media and disregard their existence. If the idea did not originate with one of those three, it certainly has been reinforced by them.

Of the three, Phil Reberger, an ex-officer in the military and the former chief of staff to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Steve Symms, is a likely candidate for either originating or encouraging the idea of cutting off the media’s access to the Governor. After all, that’s pretty much what he did when his horse was governor.

Not even Kempthorne, though, was foolish enough to bypass the annual invitation to address the “Headliner” luncheon of the Idaho Press Club. After all, the media is both an interest group and a power center. Like all “influentials” it expects to be courted, considered and respected.

Popkey correctly recalls the traditional annual appearances by a Governor started with then-Gov. Cecil D. Andrus in the early 1970’s. To be more precise, it was 1973 and Andrus addressed an issue near and dear to the hearts of the media: whether Idaho needed a “Shield Law” to provide further protection for the media from law enforcement demands that in some instances sources had to be revealed and notebooks turned over.

There were strong and conflicting views within the media on this subject, with some reporters and editors holding the view that the Constitutional guarantee under the free speech amendment was sufficient protection. Showing his deft touch for sticky wickets, Andrus took the position that the media should answer the question and give him a consensus view. If they wanted it, he would sign it. If they didn’t either he would work to see that it didn’t come before him or veto it as unnecessary if it did.

The point is Andrus recognized the critical role the media plays in informing the public, and fully respected the role they play in our democratic society. Sure he has chaffed at coverage, at times had his disputes, but he never deliberately embarked upon a strategy of cutting off access or hiding out. In the end, he has always recognized that answering questions is part of the job and more to the point not only shows respect for the media’s role, but respect for the public both politicians and reporters serve.

It is all the more appalling that at a time like this, the Governor’s friends choose to brag about their access when the media is being cut out. They do a disservice to Butch just as he is doing a disservice to the public.

One cannot help speculating that uber lobbyist, Roy Eiguren, is also cheering Otter on in this misguided course. Eiguren, according to some, feels the media badly mistreated him over the issue of his multiple and conflicting client interests that came out in the course of the debacle over the University of Idaho’s Boise Center complex a few years back and the ensuing lawsuits.

It is said that Eiguren never met a conflict he didn’t think he could tap dance around. In politics, however, a perception of a conflict is a conflict. It should be noted that as recently as February, Eiguren resigned from the board of Spokane-based Avista Utilities, reportedly because the utility felt he was conflicted by his representation of a major wind energy client. Wind energy legislation has been a big issue this session that may require Otter to pick among his lobbyist friends n Eiguren representing wind energy producers and the governor’s former chief of staff, Jeff Malmen, working for Idaho Power.

For people as bright as Reberger, Eiguren and Pat Sullivan, one wonders if they really just don’t understand rules of the game that call for respect for all the interests, but especially the public interest. Or perhaps they are so besotted with their influence that they can ill-serve a friend and patron like Governor Otter.

There is another political rule violated at one’s peril: don’t pick a fight with folks who buy ink by the barrel.

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Not a huge practical change for most voters, since nearly all have been voting by mail anyway in the last few elections.

But the vote-by-mail system hasn’t been uniform across the state until now. Today, that changes, and Washington joins Oregon in that (we believe more advanced) system.

From a statement by Secretary of State Sam Reed:

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday signed Senate Bill 5124, requiring all counties to use the popular vote-by-mail system. As a practical matter, it won’t be a change for most voters, since 98 percent of the statewide vote is now conducted by mail. It will, however, mean that Pierce County, the lone holdout, will need to end use of polling places.

Vote-by-mail gained traction incrementally in Washington. In 1993, the Legislature authorized voters to sign up for permanent absentee voting, meaning a ballot would be sent out automatically for each election. Well over half of the electorate eventually signed up. That same year, a new law authorized nonpartisan primary elections to be handled by mail.

In 2005, six years ago, counties were allowed to decide whether to switch to all vote-by-mail, with the decision to be made by the County Auditor and the County Commission or Council. Counties soon signed up, with some also holding public advisory votes. King, representing 1 voter in 3, was the last major county to switch. That left Pierce as the lone outlier; the County Executive and Auditor supported the change, the County Council did not.

For several sessions, the Legislature declined to mandate that Pierce join the rest of the state, citing the state’s tradition of local control. As more and more Pierce voters themselves switched and as the participation rate for pollsite voters lagged and the price tag rose, Secretary of State Sam Reed, Auditor Julie Anderson, Executive Pat McCarthy, County Auditors and others again turned to Olympia for help. Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, sponsored the bill and it passed both chambers.

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