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Posts published in July 2011

Seattle council curiousities

It's been a very quiet time in the races this year for the Seattle City Council. Some perspective on why from the Stranger Slog, this from a short but provocative post today:

Did you know that this is the first Seattle City Council race since 2005 in which not one incumbent stepped aside and left his or her seat open to all comers? It's true!

And did you know that at this time in 2005, three of the four incumbents trying to win re-election were trailing their challengers in the money race? Yep. (Way unlike this year.)

And, did you know that since 2003, just two incumbents have pulled off the rather impressive feat of holding their seats while facing challengers who out-fundraised them?

Entertaining while drinking

Do you know that in Washington state, it's been illegal for an entertainer in a bar - say, a singer or band - to consume alcohol while working on the premises.

We're totally confident, of course, that rule has been vigilently enforced in every drinking establishment in the state up to now.

But that's changing. A rule in today's Washington Register says: “This rule making is the result of a stakeholder request to allow entertainers to consume alcohol while performing on a liquor licensed premises. This activity is currently prohibited in WAC 314-11-015.”

Welcome to the real world.

Carlson: Filling in the forms

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Indulge me in a rant about interest group questionnaires and the absurd length contained therein to ensure a candidate is a purist before he or she can receive the group’s nod, its mailing list and a donation from its PAC.

Were we not taught in civics classes that we are a republic with the people electing representatives “hired” to use their intelligence and commonsense to weigh complicated matters most of us don’t have time to study and then decide what the greatest good is for the greatest number?

Instead, many interest groups only want an automaton, a robot that will vote their way on issues of import to their agenda 100 percent of the time. Use your own judgment? Heaven forbid. Our representative is supposed to be bought and paid for, according to various interests across the spectrum, and stay bought and paid for.

A friend running for a municipal office in the state of Washington recently sent me the questionnaire from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the political action committee that doles out contributions to those it views sympathetic to its women’s health and reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion.

Instructions made it clear every question had to be answered, that “yes” or “no” had to be circled on every question, and incomplete responses would be interpreted as “refused to respond.” Where do these people (I’m referring to all such groups) come off thinking that intensely personal, private issues influenced by one’s value system and beliefs can be reduced down to black and white “yes” or “no?”

The late baseball commissioner, Barlett Giamatti (a former president of Yale), said it best: “There are many who lust for the simple answers of doctrine or decree. They are on the left and right. They are not confined to a single part of society. They are terrorists of the mind.”

He points out many people have a hard time dealing with the tough ragged edges of life, the many gray areas that confront one. But that’s the real world, and he is politely saying “deal with reality.” Don’t take refuge in ideology and demagoguery.

Interest group zealots also are fond of falling into what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called the “fallacy of the either/or,” as in you are either “with us or against us,” most recently spouted by President George W. Bush in telling the rest of the world his view regarding the war on terrorism.

How hard is it to understand and gird ourselves against taking refuge in such simplicities? Because our mind boggles at the increasing complexity of daily living, we begin to imagine a simpler time, to yearn to make life, which increases in complexity each day at screeching hyperbolic rate, into simpler fare we think we can handle. So we categorize and pigeon-hole with generalizing labels that miss the nuances that are part of this challenging world.

Interest group questionnaires are one such manifestation of this. For example, what does one’s position on President Obama’s health care reform law have to do with running for mayor or city council? What does running for a municipal office have to do with whether one supports or opposes sex education in public schools? Isn’t that a matter for parents and/or school boards?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney deserves an “atta boy” from all for refusing recently to sign a gay-bashing group’s pledge asking for undying support for marriage as between one man and one woman. As a devout member of the LDS Church that, of course, is his belief, but he refused to sign the Tea Party led pledge because of its intemperate language, which he correctly said was beneath the dignity of the office he seeks.

The “Tea Party” zealots of the Republican party, especially as it's reshaping Republican politics in eastern Idaho, are spearheading a new, even kookier form of “the Pledge” which demands that any candidate for any office in Idaho promise absolute and complete fealty to every plank in the party’s platform. (more…)

Lines of attack

Watched this 30-second ad three times, and its points race by so fast they're hard to grasp. Could the main object here simply be to try to raise vague negatives against Representative Kurt Schrader? He's accused a of vague "reckless spending," for example, but what does that mean? "Billions in new taxes and trillions in crushing debt" - sounds ominous, but definitions of such things get pretty dicey these days.

More useful to know, probably, is that this is one of a series of 10 ads around the country aimed at Democratic representatives in politically marginal districts, put together by the Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies. A useful description of who they are, from Sourcewatch:

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, also known as Crossroads GPS, is a secretly-funded 501(c)(4) conservative political group created in June 2010 by right-wing political operatives and "advised" by Karl Rove and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie to support Republican candidates. It is a spin-off group of American Crossroads, a 527 Political Action Committee under the same leadership.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, Crossroads GPS spent $17 million in the 2010 midterm elections without disclosing their donors. NBC reported in 2010 that "a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls, according to GOP fundraising sources who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity. These donors have been bitterly opposed to a proposal by congressional Democrats — and endorsed by the Obama administration — to increase the tax rates on compensation that hedge funds pay their partners, the sources said."

A little early in the cycle for attack ads, but then this is the era of the perpetual campaign.

Caucus logic

Read through the news summary fast and you might get the impression that a measure passed by the Idaho Republican Party this weekend calling for replacing its presidential primary elections with caucuses might be an extension of the party-limiting wave the Gem GOP has been working on the last couple of years. The party-registration to vote in primary efforts, for example (which is going to go into effect) and the idea of allowing county Republican party officials decision which candidates can go on the ballot in Republican primaries (dropped for now, but it may be back).

The proposal to end Idaho Republican Party use of the presidential primary, and likely cancelling that specific election altogether, is another matter.

Idaho's Republicans have for decades been shut out of the mainstream of party presidential decision-making because their primary election - and it would be costly to hold a separate, earlier one - is held in May, long after the party's nominee is almost certain to have already been determined. Idaho Democrats some years back opted out by holding February caucuses, which have had a little more impact. Idaho's Democrats in 2008, for example, gave an extra boost to Barack Obama at a point when it was useful to him. Idaho Republicans would have been understandably frustrated at getting no similar shot during their own critical contests. Under the proposal endorsed by the party, the Idaho GOP would do what the Idaho Democrats already do, fairly early in the process.

This move may give it to them. It probably means goodbye to the state's long-standing presidential primary. But in the real world, was there a choice?

From the Republican email out on the subject:

“This should be considered an open invitation to all Republican Presidential candidates who are interested in securing the Republican Party’s nomination in 2012,” stated Chairman Norm Semanko. Semanko continued, “The Idaho Republican Party welcomes all Republican candidates to visit our great State, to discuss issues important to Idahoans, and to campaign for Idaho’s 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention.”

The Idaho Republican Party Executive Committee also voted in support of a motion to conduct a Straw Poll in conjunction with the Winter State Central Committee Meeting the weekend of January 6th and 7th in Boise, Idaho. More details will follow in the coming months.

A paper bankruptcy?

Reports are out from Bloomberg News that Lee Enterprises is scrambling to refinance its debt - seen as an indicator it is moving to avoid bankruptcy.

And: "Lenders will also be asked to approve a prepackaged bankruptcy, which the newspaper owner will pursue if an out-of-court restructuring doesn’t gain enough support, they said."

The Northwest significance is that Lee is one of the major newspaper owners in the region. It has a near monopoly on newspapers in the Magic Valley area (after buying up what were 20 years ago a bunch of independently owned businesses). And in Oregon, it owns the papers in Albany, Corvallis and Coos Bay, and in Washington the paper in Longview.

Following up on additional weak circulation reports in the newspaper industry, including serious downtowns at a number of Northwest papers. Newspaper troubles aren't getting the attention they were a few years ago, but they haven't gone away - or, apparently, slowed.

Who’s the strongest?

A comment worth revisiting in the Oregonian about the next Oregon 5th district U.S. House race, now that district lines are settled, on the subject of a Republican challenge to Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader.

The 5th, which includes the Oregon City-Salem area and a piece of the central coast, has been and is the most competitive of Oregon's five districts - one (the 2nd) is very strongly Republican and the other three are definably Democratic. The closest call of those three, the 4th, just got more Democratic in the new reapportionment. And the 5th probably just got a shade more Republican.

Last year, Schrader got a challenge from possibly the strongest candidate Republicans could have pitted against him - then-state Representative Scott Bruun, a well-skilled and experienced candidate conservative enough to win party loyalty but with enough moderate leanings to make him a reasonable fit for the district. It looked like a close race, and it was the closest of the five, but still not a nail-biter even in a strong Republican year - with Schrader winning 51.3%-46%.

So, next time? Bruun evidently was asked about the idea of a rematch, and he appeared to demur, saying that he wasn't the strongest prospective challenger. That, he said, would be Chris Dudley.

Dudley is the former pro basketball player who came close to beating Democrat John Kitzhaber for governor last year. As Blue Oregon points out, Dudley won the 5th district's voters in his race.

But Dudley too apparently is taking a pass - and wisely so, we'd think. In 2010 he was a fresh face riding a tide that was heavily rewarding non-governmental fresh faces. He had the best set of advantages he could have, and he came close but didn't quite cross the line.

So the question: Who can, or will?

Many more plans

A while back, we posted a congressional redistricting plan for Idaho that kept the Ada-Canyon metro area in one congressional district, at the cost of - well, a real mess. And concluding that it wouldn't happen because setting up a dumbbell second district consisting of the north and east made no sense.

A bunch of other people have submitted plans along similar lines, and they've been posted on the redistricting commission's site. Have a look.

The takeaway here: Our original point stands.

A thin divide

More notice ought to be taken - more headlines, even - when you see press releases like this one from Idaho Regence Blue Shield:

Regence BlueShield of Idaho announced today that Shad Priest, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, will be joining Regence [emphasis added] as the director of legislative and regulatory affairs in Idaho. Priest will begin his new role on August 15.

“Shad’s strong background in insurance, coupled with his experience in working with legislators, industry members and the public on insurance-related matters will make him a valuable member of our team,” said Scott Kreiling, president of Regence BlueShield of Idaho. “He has a track record of developing consensus-based regulatory policies that blend consumer needs and insurance industry priorities, which is especially important in a post health care reform world.”

In a "post health care reform world" - we'd dispute that we're actually there - or is that intended to mean a world in which reform has come and gone already? - the insurers and the state agency officials who are in theory regulating them would have a tense and standoffish relationship, punctuated with sharp differences of opinion and an uneasy relationship. You might even see as evidence public events (like the contentious June 2 rate hearing Oregon Regence had before Oregon regulators, not that they've historically been very tough either) that throw a sharp spotlight on rate setting and practices, this being a world (the world we see) in which fewer and fewer people can afford health insurance because rates keep on rising while coverage scales back.

Don't hold your breath.