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Posts published in May 2011

OR 5: Hazardous for marriage?

Modest headlines came out last week about a divorce between two prominent Oregon political figures: Kurt and Martha Schrader, married in 1975 and both active politically over the last couple of decades.

We're noting here an odd (and maybe disquieting) bit of trivia Twittered by Nathan Gonzales: This divorce marks the fifth in a row for the occupant of the Oregon 5th district House seat, while holding that office. But not only that: Every person who has ever held the seat has gotten divorced while holding it.

The first was Republican Denny Smith (1982-90), whose second divorce occurred in 1986. (Smith had held the second district congressional seat when in 1982 reapportionment turned part of it in the new 5th, which he then won.) He was narrowly ousted by Democrat Mike Kopetski, also divorced during his two terms in the House. Republican Jim Bunn, who won the seat in the 1994 Republican wave, was divorced during his one term. That one had political impact when he soon after married his chief of staff, contributing to his loss to Democrat Darlene Hooley in 1996. In the course of her dozen years in the House, she too was divorced. And she was followed by Schrader.

Jump shot

Jay Inslee
Jay Inslee
Rob McKenna
Rob McKenna

Before long, the race for Washington governor in 2012 ought to get a lot clearer. Campaigns - to the point of declaration for office - for that level of office have to begin fairly early, and the ticking clock will get loud soon.

And there remain unknowns about the field. Incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire could run for a third term; she's been silent on the subject. But she probably won't. Democratic Senate leader Lisa Brown of Spokane might run. There remains talk of Republican Representative Dave Reichert, a recurring winner in a King County-based district, as well.

But take this maybe as an indicator: The main polling has concerned Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and Democratic U.S. Representative Jay Inslee (who ran once for governor before, unsuccessfully). A just-out result from Public Policy Polling shows the two of them nearly tied:

The most likely match up for Governor of Washington next year looks like it would be a barn burner, with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna starting out with just a 40-38 lead over Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee. With 23% of Democrats and only 13% of Republicans undecided at this point that looks like a sheer toss up.

The main reason McKenna is ahead of Inslee at this point is slightly higher name recognition. 60% of voters know McKenna well enough to have formed an opinion about him, while that is true for only 51% when it comes to Inslee. The two have similar net favorability ratings with Inslee at +9 (30/21) and McKenna at +8 (34/26).

McKenna and Inslee would clearly be their party’s two strongest candidates. Christine Gregoire remains quite unpopular with 38% of voters approving of her to 48% who disapprove. She would trail McKenna 49-40 in a hypothetical contest.

Likewise Congressman Dave Reichert would not be nearly as strong as McKenna. His statewide favorability is 25/36 and he trails Inslee by a 42-36 margin and even Gregoire by a 45-41 spread.

McKenna has been a governor prospect since his first election as AG in 2004 (he had an easy and sweeping re-elect in 2008); 2012 was always the logical point for him to take his shot. His background on the King County Council gives him a strong base in a key, wing population zone. Inslee is well-positioned too. He had two defeats in the 90s (for a U.S. House seat in the Republican wave of 1994, and governor in 1996). But he did get elected once in the usually solidly Republican 4th district in central Washington, and since his 1998 return to the House in the 1st district (getting there by beating a two-term Republican incumbent), he has won solidly - his lowest recent score was 58% in the Republican year of 2010.

Could be a hell of a contest.

Why there’ll be no Ada-Canyon congressional district

ac district
An Ada-Canyon based district

Idaho redistricting is approaching; the reapportionment commission is expected to be called together on June 7, with meetings to start soon after, with an eye toward developing plans within three months.

Unlike Oregon, where there's already some partisan battling going on, and Washington, where there soon will be, Idaho's maps are likely to have less at stake. The Republican advantage around the state is so sweeping that the only real concern will be incumbent protection. The Democrats are vulnerable in a few places, but that mainly translates to whether the Boise area will continue to have four legislative districts in which Democrats can realistically compete, or whether the number drops by one (or possibly two, if Republicans get very creative).

The two congressional districts are almost sure to look very much as they have for a generation, with Ada County divided between them. That's not a requirement, and it could be done in other ways. But it probably won't be.

Submitted as an example of why: The map here, drawn with the state's publicly-available and easy to use Maptitude software. Suppose you start with the premise that Ada and Canyon counties will be united in a single congressional district; what does that imply for what the districts would look like? This map shows you.

The problem is that there's only enough population for two districts, which means the other district would have a population base in northern Idaho and another in eastern Idaho, with no useful linkages directly between them - the Boise area is the real link between northern and eastern Idaho. You could do it, but you'd have a hard time justifying it to the people in the north or the east (or the unfortunate representative trying to cover it all).

The software, however, is highly recommended. Visit and have fund with it, especially with legislative districts, which is where most of the attention is likely to go.

Carlson: Governor Patty Duke?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Approximately eight years ago, Coeur d’Alene city councilman Mike Kennedy approached friends to assess whether his aunt, Anna Pearce, also known by her stage name as Patty Duke, could develop a second career as a successful public officeholder in her adopted state of Idaho.

One’s initial reaction might have been to wonder if he were serious? He was and with reason.

His aunt is not only a talented member of the nation’s acting community, who achieved stardom at an early age with her unforgettable role in “The Miracle Worker,” she also has long cared about public policy matters, is intelligent and can carry on an articulate conversation on almost any political subject.

Duke already had held the most challenging “political” office in Hollywood, that of president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. One of her predecessors, a B-grade actor by the name of Ronald Reagan, used the post as his springboard into public office. By all accounts Duke carried out her role as a union president successfully and, indeed, it had whetted her political appetite.

Her nephew, Mike Kennedy, is not the only member of the family bitten by the political bug. Her son, Sean Astin, star of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is up to his eyeballs in a friend’s race for a congressional seat in California. Politics runs in the family.

While still in the process of becoming one of the few widely acknowledged talented members of Idaho’s declining Democratic Party, Kennedy did not want bias for his aunt to color his assessment. He also felt it was imperative he offer his aunt a process for evaluating her prospects without diminishing her acting career or exposing her interest prematurely.

For several weeks, Kennedy and friends discussed the challenge. Had his aunt been a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, the decision would have been much easier. Duke made it clear that if she were to run for any office it would be in her adopted state of Idaho, a state with which she and her husband have become deeply taken.

Anna Pearce (a.k.a, Patty Duke), though, is fundamentally a Democrat. She cares passionately about protecting the environment, and about the state fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role to fully support public education. Idaho, however, was well into its rightward drift at the time. (more…)

OR: Playing whack-a-mole

Software at the redistricting hearing/Stapilus

The first two - and they are only the first two - sets of Oregon redistricting maps, from legislators Democratic and Republican - already have drawn ome disapproval. The Oregonian pronounced itself ("Back to the drawing board") dissatisfied with the opening shots on both sides - impractical and unlikely, it said. The two plans visible so far are, pretty clearly, partisan plans.

Lots of people have issues with the plans (each of which in a reasonable shot at protecting one or the other party). The hearing today started out with two of those critics: A Democrat and a Republican.

State Representative John Huffman of District 59, one of those large districts east of the Cascades (taking in Wasco, Sherman Gilliam and other counties); he noted that the plans call for splitting the area around The Dalles, splitting small counties - and that would be an issue for people in that area. The take from Representative Deborah Boone, in District 32 on the northern coast, had a similar complaint: The plans, she noted, split Tillamook County, and "of all my counties, that's one of my most cohesive counties." She wound up showing a map of the northern coast, "if I were queen for a day".

There was some purely partisan commentary; one witness blasted away at the Democrats as having created a divisive and generally awful plan.

Some of the most interesting and pungent commentary came from Sal Peralta of the Independent Party, pointing out that both plans reduce the number of competitive legislative districts (of which there aren't all that many to begin with). "Currently, there are only 10 of the 60 House districts with a voter registration differential of 6% or less between the two major parties," he said. "Broadly speaking, this means that 83% of House legislative districts are non-competitive between candidates of the two main parties." Competition isn't one of the main criteria redistricters are required to consider, but maybe it should be.

"What I've seen in the press in the last week is not healthy," he said.

He also suggested that the parties move out of their "silos" and try developing maps working together.

"It's been an interesting week since the map were released," Representative Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego. "Every day in this busines we gt critiized for trying to do business out of the bupublic potlight ... We're going to proceed to take public reaction - it's been messy but I'm not sure there's a better way to do it."

Redistricting may be a math-based process, but there are no perfect answers.

Technology on abuse

One of the complaints about direct-assistance programs is the potential for abuse: Give someone money to buy food, and how do you know they won't use it to buy liquor? There are laws addressing some of this, of course, but slips happen.

Enter technology, as a bill in Washington takes note. There, the state offers electronic benefit cards to help the needy with basic costs. Then, as the Capitol Record blog notes, "The bill will make it illegal to use the cards for certain nonessential expenses — and will require those businesses to disable their ATM machines from accepting the EBT cards. What businesses are affected? Liquor stores, bail bond businesses, erotic entertainment venues, tattoo shops, taverns, casinos and other adult-only establishments. Cardholders who violate the law will be subject to a civil infraction."

Resolvable, in large part, via computer programming.

It seemed like the right thing to do

A post or two back, Recall Cause, told about a Washington Supreme Court case involving Dale Washam, assessor-treasurer at Pierce County. The Court let stand a move to force a recall election aimed at Washam, who was first elected in 2008 - just two and a half years ago.

Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune writes today how he was among those who voted for Washam back then: "All I can say is, it seemed like a good idea at the time. The piece, together with the Supreme Court's decision, is worth reading as a meditation on some of the reasons we choose the people we do, and why those reasons, even well intended, can be wrongheaded enough to force extreme measures, like recall, later.

A “Low-Skill, Low-Wage Jobs Trap”

Anyone who wants to talk about tax and economic policy in Idaho needs to have a look at a report just out this week at the University of Idaho. The summary release on it has the provocative title, "Study Suggests Idaho Caught in Low-Skill, Low-Wage Jobs Trap."

Not too hard to intuitively understand, but this report nails the point with careful study.

Here's Bill Loftus' summary of the report, posted on the UI site:

Idaho's workforce earns nearly $11,000 less for each employee than the national average. That hurts both workers individually and the state, which suffers lower tax revenues to support basic services, a retired University of Idaho agricultural economist's analysis shows.

Economic data suggests that Idaho is caught in a low-skill, low-wage trap, said agricultural economist Stephen C. Cooke, who retired from the University of Idaho in December. He began studying the issue a decade ago.

"Why are wages so low in Idaho? That's the question I'm trying to answer," Cooke said. The answer is complex, he added, but key components include lack of a priority on educating the state's workforce and a failure to recruit enough highly paid jobs.

The consequence, Cooke said, is that Idaho's 660,000 jobs, essentially lose out on some $7.2 billion a year in wages each year compared to the national average. Idaho lags nearly $8 billion behind Colorado, where workers average $12,000 more a year.

The economy of the Rocky Mountain region in general can be characterized as caught in a low-skill/low-wage economic gap, Cooke wrote in the journal "The Review of Regional Studies" with co-author Bharathkumar A. Kulandaisamy, an agricultural economics graduate student. Their article was published earlier this year. (more…)

Recall cause

Not all that often could you just take a court decision out to the public, print off copies, and have all the reasons you could want to oust a public official - in this case, by recall.

But here we are, in the case of Pierce County Assessor-Treasurer Dale Washam. In Washington, remember, you have to meet certain legal standards for recall (a good idea) - you have to demonstrate serious wrongdoing by the person in the course of their job. (The allowable reasons: "malfeasance, misfeasance, and violation of oath of office.") Those reasons are ordinarily reviewed by a court, and - if appealed, as was unwisely done in this case - the Supreme Court, as happened in the just-released In recall of Dale Washam.

Washam is the assessor-treasurer of Pierce County, and the recall advocates allege he "violated whistleblower protections, retaliated against his employees, grossly wasted public funds, failed to cooperate with discrimination and retaliation investigations, and violated his oath of office."

If that sounds like an office politics situation, the Supreme Court decision adds some information that puts it in perspective: "Washam is no stranger to the recall process. In 2005, he filed a recall petition against his predecessor in office, Ken Madsen. After Washam was elected Pierce County assessor-treasurer in 2008, he continued to doggedly pursue his predecessor. In his first few months in office, he asked the Pierce County Prosecutor, the state auditor, and the state attorney general to investigate, file charges, or take other action against his predecessor in office for relying in part on statistical modeling. All declined.”

The battles between Washam (who was elected in 2008) and the staff sound as if they just went on and on. The Supreme Court wrote of one part of the long-running narrative, "Another independent investigator found that Washam had violated various Pierce County Code provisions protecting the confidentiality of people filing complaints, had retaliated against employees for protected conduct, and had identified and posted derogatory information about the complaining employees. An investigator found that Washam's "dogged unwillingness" to stop pursuing his predecessor and office staff resulted "in a gross waste of public funds." Staff complaints against Washam have resulted in at least three outside investigations of Washam, all finding misconduct."

The most interesting piece of this may have been in the question of Washam's long pursuit of his predecessor. The trial judge in the case, Thomas Felnagle, had an uneasy time with this. Given the nature of the job, he wrote (and the Supreme Court affirmed), there was maybe some legal allowance for going after some of the issues involved. But:

The next question becomes, was this intention or was it just a question of bad judgment. You know, that's a hard line to draw, but I liken this, when I thought about it, to the novel Moby Dick. And in Moby Dick, Captain Ahab is obsessed with getting the white whale, and he's obsessed with getting the white whale to the extent that he's willing to take down his ship and his crew in the process. And what we see here is an allegation that, when warned about the lack of legal basis, the argument goes that the elected official continues on seeking out his white whale, in this case, his predecessor in office, even to the extent that it's going to jeopardize his crew, in this case, the tax-paying public.

Coming to a recall vote sometime soon in Pierce County.