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Posts published in June 2011

Carlson: On Andrus and I

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

For readers who have been entertained or, hopefully, intellectually stimulated by my musings for more than a year, I have some news: Idaho’s oldest publishing house, Caxton Press of Caldwell, will be publishing a book by me.

Entitled “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” the book recounts an insider’s view of events that happened in the 10 years I worked for the “good, great former governor.” Elected to four terms covering 14 years with a 10-year break between the first six years and the second eight years, Andrus is without question the longest serving, most influential political practitioner to ever hold Idaho’s reins.

He is the standard against which all previous and subsequent governors will be measured. His total tenure will never be exceeded, nor will his margin of victory in the 1974 election (73 percent) ever be topped. He is considered by many to be one of the five best persons to ever serve as Secretary of the Interior.

The book describes the governor’s early years on the family farm outside Hood River, Oregon, where he was born on August 25, 1931. It also describes his teenage years, early marriage (he was 18), and service in the Navy on board a P2V Neptune patrol bomber and intel gathering aircraft during the Korean War. Few know, for example, he survived a potentially disastrous air crash.

His years as a gypo logger in northern Idaho and his election in 1960 to the Idaho State Senate from Clearwater County at the age of 29 (then the youngest person elected to the Legislature) and his years serving in the Senate also are recounted. Little has been written about these formative years and experiences.

Throughout the book I recount anecdotes from our years working together when he was governor and then Interior secretary, as well as during our business relationship at the Gallatin Group in his post-political office years. I try to help the reader understand how such an extraordinary politician emerged from such ordinary circumstances.

When a reader is finished with this book, I can only hope those that know him will say “Yup, that’s Cece.” Those that don’t at least will feel they have met and gotten better acquainted with him. Even 16 years after leaving office, according to almost all polls, Andrus remains the most popular and best known hunter/ fisherman in the state. Many believe he could easily win the governor’s chair again. (more…)

Dealing with details

Big, sweeping changes are never simple - one reason why legislation that is of large import is so often so large. Consider the education overhaul bills in Idaho this year; the bills themselves offered only an outline, and many of the details have yet to be filled in.

A Dan Popkey piece in this morning's Idaho Statesman made the point. He talked to Alan Dunn, superintendent of the Sugar-Salem School District in eastern Idaho, who saw in the new law, among other things, the requirement that school provide new distance learning for their classes, through the Idaho Education Network. He got together with several other superintendents in the area to put together some regional distance learning programs. That, he figured, would satisfy the requirements.

Then he had a conversation with an aide to Superintendent of Public Insutruction Tom Luna, who said that no, it didn't meet the terms of the law. Dunn came away with: “That wasn’t our understanding as we went through this. That may change the things we were planning to do.”

This could become ... complex.

Ron Sims returns

Ron Sims, the former King County executive who has spent the last couple of years as a top executive at the Obama Administration's Department of Housing and Urban Development, says he's leaving to return to the Puget Sound.

Specifics were few, though he said he is "retiring from public service." What exactly that translates to, we'll see.

Certainly Sims is one of the more charismatic candidates - strong campaigning skills - in the area, and he'll be watched as a potential candidate for something. Evidently, though, not right away.

ID remap: the hearings

Tonight, the Idaho’s Citizen Commission for Reapportionment gets started on its public hearings around the state. The first is at Rexburg (evidently not streamed, though we're told that plans are for at least some of the others - maybe half of them - to be streamed).

The others will be at Idaho Falls (June 15), Pocatello (June 15). Soda Springs (June 16), Coeur d'Alene (June 22), Sandpoint (June 22), Lewiston (June 23), Moscow (June 23), Burley (June 28), Twin Falls (June 29) and Hailey/Ketchum (June 30). Two in Boise and Caldwell already have been held. The commission's schedule for July evidently hasn't been worked out or set yet, and may not be until the hearings are done.

There's always some virtue to hearing from the public, and this mass of meetings should provide more than if the commissioners just stayed in Boise.

At the same time, we'll be curious to know what the turnout is. Oregon completed its redistricting hearings not so long ago, and turnout ranged from moderate to low. Only a handful of spots led to actual large audiences, over 100 of, say, actual local participants and witnesses. Most of the smaller cities drew far fewer - mainly county commissioners and mayors saying their official piece.

What they have to say in Idaho will be worth watching.

Gregoire is out

So far, the recent widespread predictions about the Washington governor's race 2012 - Republican Rob McKenna in, incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire out, Democrat Jay Inslee in - are holding up, two for three. And indications are that the third will materialize as well within a few days.

They're linked. McKenna's announcement put immediate pressure on Gregoire to clarify her intentions - if she wasn't running, she had to clear the decks for another Democrat to gear up. That could have come any time in the next few weeks, but maybe the seriousness of McKenna's candidacy prompted the speed - her announcement today that she will not seek a third term following on his by less than a week.

Don't expect to be kept long waiting for Inslee, either.

Will there be others? Maybe ... but the widespread presumption that this will be the core of the field seems to be having a pretty solid track record so far.

When your bank bets against you

Merkley
Jeff Merkley

A couple of months ago Senator Jeff Merkley met with a group of political-writing bloggers (this writer among them) to talk about various subjects. Merkley had one specific topic, though, that he wanted to address: Mortgage reform.

He outlined a half-dozen proposals on mortgage practices, most of which sounded as if they would be good business for banks and other lenders. (His most recent amendment was proposed on Thursday.) Some of them made you wonder, why don't the banks just do some of those things, absent a law? They can't benefit, can they, by the fact that houses by the millions are being foreclosed upon, driving down the value of their own assets?

The housing market may not; homeowners may not; but yes, it turns out that many of the lenders can. How?

Read today's Steve Duin column in the Oregonian, focused on a foreclosure case in which a soldier based in Iraq may return to Bend on leave to ... somewhere other than his family's house, which may have been foreclosed on by then. His father (the owner) has been making payments and thought he was on a loan modification path until he abruptly learned, after paying for months and years in good faith, like so many others, that he wasn't.

Merkley, has gotten involved in the case: "It has parallel elements to hundreds of stories we've heard. Families think they're involved in modification, then suddenly discover they're on the path to foreclosure. ... This is not an accident."

How so? Duin: "Many of the worst mortgages are pooled in trusts. The banks are selling securities that bet against those trusts. All too often, everyone but the homeowner gains "if the mortgage is dysfunctional.""

In other words: Your banker may be betting that your loan will fail, and make money if it does; and if it can mislead you, jack you around, withhold or deliver false information so that you lose your home - the bank wins. In the short term. Big picture, of course, the economy and homeowners, and the country, lose.

Merkley has been, from the evidence, pursuing the mortgage legislation steadily, but encountering plenty of resistance. A suggestion here: He (or, more practically, a staffer) should start a daily blog, detailing exactly what is happening with the legislative and from where, exactly, the resistance is coming. This whole area could use a much brighter spotlight, and Merkley would be well positioned to provide it.

Two and out?

Oregon last year just busted a record. Never in its 160 or so years had it elected the same person as governor more than twice. Both of the newer states Washington and Idaho have done that, but Oregon, never - not even Tom McCall (who sought a third term in 1978) could pull it off, until John Kitzhaber finally did last year.

Idaho has had one four-term (elected four times, in two separate runs) governor, Cecil Andrus, and two elected three times (Robert Smylie and C. Ben Ross). Washington has had just two: Daniel Evans (the only person to serve three consecutively) and Arthur Langlie, both Republicans (and each breaking the record for the youngest person in the state's history to become governor). Both, at this point, go back a ways - Langlie in the 40s and 50s, and Evans in the mid-60s to mid-70s. Other governors, even though a number were still popular at the end of their second terms and probably could have run successfully again (Gary Locke probably could have), have generally passed.

Is the two-term thing a jinx or some sort of informal limit, or maybe an indicator that most governors just wear out their welcome after a couple of terms?

On such answers some people probably will be reflecting when the current two-term Washington governor, Chris Gregoire, announces her plans. She is going to have to do so soon. With a strong Republican, Attorney General Rob McKenna, now in the field and running hard, Gregoire cannot hold off on her intentions for very long without beginning to impair her party' ground work.

The thinking that she will not run again is widespread and seems to be an operating presumption. She won by half a hair in 2004 and did better in 2008, but whether she could pull it off a third time is uncertain. Gregoire's polling numbers - those publicly reported anyway - have been poor, her numbers low enough to suggest that she'd have trouble hanging on. (Some other Democratic possibles, such as Representative Jay Inslee, seem to be better-positioned.)

Another indicator, maybe, of the unnecessity of term limits, at least for some offices: In the case of some offices, like governor, voters seem to ordinarily impose their own.

McKenna enters

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Rob McKenna

The 2012 campaign for Washington governor has been launched, with Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna's entry this evening.

He may be starting with the best odds of any Republican seeking the job since the last one who won it, then-King County Executive John Spellman in 1980 (with the advantage of his King base and a deeply unpopular Democratic incumbent, running within a Republican surge; but even the 1984 Republican surge couldn't save Spellman that year). He had three terms on the King County council, and retains some clear support there (how much in a governor's race against a Democrat remains unknown). He was elected AG in 2004 in a heated campaign, and strongly in 2008 in a very Democratic year. He has a reputation (which more than a few Democrats have and will contest) as a moderate, which would be helpful in the general. There are no obvious substantial opponents in the Republican primary.

In early-heat matchups, he polls closely with the presumed leading Democratic contender (not yet announced), Representative Jay Inslee. Notwithstanding the razor-close race of 2004, a lot of Republicans have long seen this as their best shot at regaining the governorship they last won more than 30 years ago. And that long run of Democratic control, the longest in the nation, is sure to be a big point of discussion over the next year and a half.

Against some of that are a series of land mines that should evoke to comparisons of Indiana Jones in the cave at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He has already been treading carefully, stepping this way and that, so as not to tick off the conservative base while alienating the middle - an uncommonly difficult task this cycle. Democrats, well aware this has been in the works for a long time, have been firing shots in a variety of ways for quite a while; and comparisons to other Republican governors around the country have been in the air for some time now. (You can get a good overview of that at the Democratic site called Rob McKenna for Governor.)

ID: A crack at the legislative districts

As the Idaho redistricting commission moves deeper into its mission on its second day, a quick shot - here - at a legislative redistricting plan, with the idea of isolating where the stress points and idiosyncrasies may be.

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Stapilus legislative plan (1)

The map as developed is available at the Idaho Maptitude site under the user stapiluscarlton, as "My Current Legislative fast." The latter referred to my intent of doing it quickly, with an eye to keeping the deviations between district size as small as possible, but political considerations (such as legislator residences) to a minimum. It started from the current districts, and held to population equality as a main principle, along with keeping counties and cities and general communities intact where possible.

The norm in Idaho remapping is to start from the north and working south, since the panhandle districts are more dictated by the narrow geography. Here, I followed a piece of advice offered Tuesday morning, to start both there and in the southeast - another mostly lightly-populated area - working toward the big Ada-Canyon population center, where shifting lines would be most easily accomplished. The other advantage, and the one specific district bias I had in drawing it, was to eliminate the ungainly district at the southeast corner of the state running from Preston to north of Driggs, often through country without a highway serving the widely scattered communities. It is the poorest district in the state at present, and I simply concluded the people there shouldn't have to put up with it for another decade.

The end result is not perfect (there are a number of small oddly-assigned areas, which don't change the bigger picture but were hard to remove). But the highest deviation for any district was 4.7%, pretty low, and most were much lower than that. It probably could pass legal muster. (I think.)

Here are a few things that became clear in the process of drafting it.

bullet Lewiston and Moscow always have been united in their own separate districts, and anchored them. That may simply not be possible this time. This map splits Lewiston, and it may be hard to redistricters to avoid doing something like that. That's just the nature of the population shifts.

bullet The long-running big district in the east, long anchored at the southeast by Rigby and running off to Salmon and Challis, would logically this time be split up. A district tossing Lemhi and Custer counties in with Blaine would make redistricting sense - and a real pot boiler of a district.

bullet Because the current Democratic/competitive districts of Ada County (16, 17, 18, 19) lie toward the middle of a large population area, many outcomes are possible. But absent heavily political maneuvering, this seems most likely: One district (19) with an ongoing Democratic advantage, and the other three with infusions from precincts which have had strong Republican advantages. Of the three districts, 16 (or a rough equivalent) seems most likely to give Democrats some advantage, and 18 least.