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Posts published in August 2011

Twittering to Congress?

For all the snark about Twitter as a communications tool (Sarah Palin famously using it, but many others too - Portland Mayor Sam Adams has burn up the Twitter lines in the last few years) there's nothing wrong with it when used in the right way. It can be used well, or abused.

Consider the post from Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt: "Leavitt for Congress?"

Before that, he hadn't been widely considered a prospect. So why the tweet? “It was a simple question and Twitter is a simple media. Frankly, all I wanted to do was put a question out there to garner some response.”

It has worked, and then some. It's generated a lot of response and commentary, and no small amount of news media coverage. The decision of whether to enter a race for the U.S. House - against freshman Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler - may have a lot of components, but in the end it's binary: Go or not. Twitter could help with that.

Probably has.

One other cautionary note about the prospect, however, should be raised: No one knows what the Vancouver-area district may look like on the other end of reapportionment, a process which is far from over. But Leavitt will certainly be in one district or another.

Murray on stage

Patty Murray

There was some implication - maybe more than that - in the last Senate contest in Washington, that the state's senior senator, Patty Murray, was something of a lightweight. You could make a clear argument to the contrary (she was, after all, a member of majority leadership), but there was also some resonance to it. How exactly is she really a national figure? What major initiatives would you attach to her?

That characterization, at least, is now done, with Murray's appointment as co-leader of the congressional "super committee" on the federal deficit. For the next few months a hard spotlight will shine on it, and Murray will be one of its most visible figures.

There's some real challenge here - the difficulty of actually getting an acceptable fiscal product. And maybe the bigotry of low expectations too; how many people really expect a meaningful result? On the other hand: If she and the others on the panel actually do succeed, they will have blown past expectations and struck a blow for the idea that maybe, possibly, Congress can function.

In one respect, that would have unusual resonance for Murray, since she also is head of the Democratic Senate campaign committee - in charge of holding and adding Democrats in the Senate, technically making her the chief Democratic partisan in the Senate. In that role, she has blasted Republicans; on this committee, her job would be to try to find common cause with them. (Not easy this year under the best of circumstances.)

There was this in the New York Times:

"Her selection to lead the new panel raised eyebrows among some Republicans because she is also chairwoman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In that role, Mrs. Murray recently assailed Republican candidates, saying they wanted to “end Medicare as we know it’’ and “turn it into a voucher program run by for-profit insurance companies in order to pay for more giveaways to oil companies and the very rich.’’"

No holding of breath here waiting for the middle-ground compromise. But stranger things do happen ...

Immigration hard line

Maybe the Tri-Cities is where you'd expect to see this kind of thing first. After all, Pasco is the Northwest's first fairly large majority-minority city, the Hispanic population in the Tri-Cities generally is growing fast, and there's even a large (more than 50 members) Tri-Cities Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

So maybe we shouldn't be surprised at what's emerging in the city council race at Kennewick, where one of the challenger candidates is Loren Nichols.

In October 2009, Nichols went to a city council meeting asking that the city establish policies to ban illegal immigrants and actively work to expel them. After city officials responded that was a federal and state, not local, job, Nichols departed, unsatisfied, and has launched a campaign for the council.

With that platform, he's expanding a bit on his ideas. Not only should the city go after any illegal immigrants, but it should make Kennewick an "English-only" city - not that English is the official language, but that it's the only one that can be used in any public signs or communications. And not only that. Illegal immigrants, he said, ought to be "shot at the border." If he became mayor, he would seek to order all illegal immigrants out within 30 days, and "If they value their lives, they would leave."

And further, to the Yakima Herald-Republic: "I know that is a very drastic stand, but let me put it this way: I expect illegal invasion of our country by foreign entities to be met with deadly force. That's how I expect to see my country protected, and I feel the same way about our city."

How many votes do you think he gets?

Carlson: Robins in context

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

So why do students of Idaho political history, and the 30 men who have been its governor, rank the former town-doctor of St. Maries, C.A. Robins, so highly?

To put the answer in medical terms, he wrote needed prescriptions that are still bearing results 60 years after his single four-year term (1946-1950) that governors were then allowed. Many of the advances and reforms he pushed came out of his first legislative session as governor in 1947, a session that long-time Idaho political player and observer Perry Swisher ranks along with the 1965 session as the most accomplished in Idaho’s history.

For openers, take his solid support for public education where he achieved comprehensive reforms, unlike several of his Republican successors, including current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. Governor Robins found Idaho bursting with 1,118 school districts in 1946. With the help of the Legislature, hundreds of small school districts were consolidated into less than 200, saving property taxpayers money in unnecessary overhead costs.

In 1947 he also obtained a significant increase in pay for teachers, appalled that Idaho’s teachers were then the poorest paid in the nation. (Some things, though, don’t change, with Idaho teachers again being ranked near the nation’s bottom in base pay.)

He was a major driving force for the transformation of the University of Idaho-Southern Branch into a stand alone Idaho State College independent of the University of Idaho. That set the precedent for the emergence of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and the stage for the transformation of Boise Junior College in the early 60’s into Boise State College.

One could argue that with 20/20 hindsight Idaho would have been better off to have stayed with a one university system structure, but that opportunity is long gone.

The politically savvy governor obviously had a great bedside manner. Having been the Senate president during his third legislative term from Benewah County, he knew how to work constructively with lawmakers to achieve passage of needed legislation. He was elected to a fourth term and surely would have been returned to the Senate presidency but resigned before the session commenced rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor. The other doctor in town had left during the time between his election to a fourth term and the beginning of the session in January of 1945.

As Idaho’s governor, he was the force behind the creation of the Department of Labor, the State Tax Commission, the first State Building program, and reformed and modernized the worker’s compensation system. He also abolished the Board of Pardons and replaced it with the three-member Board of Corrections with the purpose of providing more professional management of corrections. (more…)

The Otter model

In some states governors and legislators have been distressed over their recent budget cuts, which in various ways and to various degrees have hit nationwide. Not so in Idaho, where Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter maintains that's the right way to go.

Idaho, he said, was a "model for what the nation ought to do ... “There wasn't anybody thrown out in the streets. People became more responsible for their own needs."

As to how the rhetoric translates into specifics, the Spokesman Review's Betsy Russell, in noting the interview, also took the trouble to spell out some what Otter was talking about:

"Idaho cut $34 million from its Medicaid program this year, including new co-payment requirements, big new assessments on hospitals and other care providers, and trims in provider reimbursements. There were also cuts to services: More than 42,000 poor or disabled Idahoans lost their non-emergency dental coverage on July 1; dozens of patients are being discharged from nursing homes to home-based care; treatments like chiropractic care, podiatry, vision coverage and hearing aids were cut; and the state is revising programs to move to more of a managed-care approach. A federal lawsuit has halted one move, to a single residential habilitation agency for developmentally disabled patients in certified family homes, that would have driven dozens of existing agencies out of business and drastically reduced oversight of the treatment of those patients."

The Idaho model in practice.

Cutback comments

To the news that Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is asking agencies to come up with contingency plans for yet another cutback - sometime this fall, depending on what the economic projections look like then - there's been some comment.

A useful cross section appears with the Seattle Times story on the prospective cuts. A sampling:

Here is what I "expect" Gregoire to do. Cut services that hit hard to the taxpayers, including schools, healthcare, transportation and the like. I see little if any reduction in force of government employees.

We need new taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations to improve our revenue stream. There's nothing for us to lose in doing so: these elite aren't hiring anyway.

What an idiotic statement, this state collects taxes differently than the Federal Government. Anyone with a computer can look at state spending and see there are NO CUTS, they are only talking about rolling back spending increases. We are spending more every year, it's a lie that Gregoire says we need to "cut", and it's ashame that she and the D's have cut things like education to continue to pay the premium benefits to the state unionized workers, of course she gets a benefit too, another four years.......

In reading the comments it's interesting to me that so many people on here want education cut & state jobs cut. Why? Sure there are jobs that could be cut, but there seems to be such hatred for State Employees.

Mark Hatfield

Mark Hatfield

You hear it still, often, in conversations in Oregon about politics, by a wide range of people: What's needed is more sensible people like a Mark Hatfield. What the Republican Party needs, many people say (Tea Partiers would not), is more Hatfield Republicans.

There will be many such thoughts expressed in the next day or two, after the Hatfield's passing today, at 89. Those kinds of comments necessarily obscure some things but clarify others.

He was a politician, and for all the broad approval of him in later years, the approval was not always universal. People often speak of "Tom McCall and Mark Hatfield Republicans," as though the two of them were terrific friends and allies who always thought alike; in fact they disagreed about many issues, their styles were very different and they evidently didn't much like each other - in fact, their political clashes could be fierce. (Their relationships with their fellow moderate Republican contemporary, Robert Packwood, was apparently about the same.)

His success came very early in life, running through the state legislature to secretary of state and governor and then senator (no one since in Oregon has held both of those last two offices), holding the Senate seat through five terms. His power in the Senate (as chair of appropriations, which goes a long way to explain many of Oregon's major transit and other projects) came later, but he was a national figure almost from the beginning. In 1968, Hatfield was on the short list when Richard Nixon was considering his vice presidential options. What did Nixon see in Hatfield? Something that gave him pause? (Hatfield was already known by then as dove on Vietnam.)

But there was also this: How different might a Nixon Administration have been if Hatfield had been there to play a significant role in it?

Certainly, Hatfield's style of Republican politics was a lot different from that of today. The back cover of Against the Grain, Reflections of a Rebel Republican, a 2001 memoir, says it "details his opposition to the Vietnam War, successful drafting of the Soviet-American nuclear freeze legislation with Democrat Sen. Ted Kennedy, and his strong stands of conscience on health reform, the death penalty, and the balanced budget amendment that typically ran counter to the Republican mainstream."

Well, yes. They don't make 'em like that anymore. And we haven't been electing a lot of them, either.

Idaho’s future in District 3

Today's regional must-read is in the Spokane Spokesman Review, a piece by Betsy Russell about a north Idaho legislative district.

It's more pertinent than it first sounds. District 3 has elected what probably is the farthest right - the most anti-tax, anti-federal, etc. - legislative delegation in the state, which is saying something. The veteran legislator there is Representative Phil Hart, R-Hayden, well-known statewide for his disputes with the state over paying taxes, among other things. He was joined in the last election by two other Republicans of very similar ideological persuasion, Representative Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and Senator Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens.

The point is, if the organizational and election efforts to drive the Idaho Republican Party further to the right are successful, District 3 and its delegation very much represent what may be Idaho's governmental future. You could hardly pick a better case study.

The whole thing is worth the read. Particularly striking, of immediate statewide import, was this observation:

"When Hart first ran for the state Legislature in 2002, he ran on the Constitution Party ticket and lost with only 32 percent of the vote. But two years later, he beat the late Rep. Wayne Meyer of Rathdrum in a low-turnout GOP primary, targeting Meyer for not voting a hard line against abortion, and sailed to victory in the general election. It’s a move increasingly seen around the state, as third-party members shift to working within the GOP. Former Libertarian Party Chairman Ryan Davidson of Boise, for example, is now a vice chairman of the Ada County Republican Party. “I really like to consider myself a Ron Paul Republican,” Davidson said. “I just decided that the third-party movement wasn’t really going anywhere, and that maybe if we tried to reform the two major parties we’d have a better chance.”"

Free market sustainability

Put the phrases "free market", "less regulation" and "environmental sustainability" together in the same concept ... well, it's not that they can't work together, but you don't see it a lot. But here's a case that can easily bridge the divide.

It comes from the Sightline Institute at Seattle, with the unlikely subject of taxis. Taxi cabs, it turns out, are a "sustainable" type of business, partly because they provide the means for people to use cars and other vehicles less. "Plentiful, affordable taxis facilitate greener urban travel. They help families shed second cars, ride transit more often, and walk to work on could-be-rainy days. They fill gaps in transit systems and provide a fallback in case of unexpected events," Sightline said.


It turns out out too that Seattle and Portland are, relative among the nation's larger metro areas (with large taxi fleets), over-regulating them - diminishing their numbers and use, increasing the cost of using them, and harming sustainability.

More specifically:

In the Northwest’s largest cities, however, local ordinances enforced by taxi boards suppress the entry of new cabs onto the streets. They impose arcane and ultimately farcical management principles reminiscent of Soviet planning. Imagine teams of pizza regulators pawing through discarded receipts and pizza boxes to determine whether demand for pizza delivery markets are “oversaturated,” and you won’t be far from the truth. Restricting taxicab licenses undermines passengers’ mobility, local economies, and—by encouraging driving—our natural heritage; uncapping cabs would allow market competition to bolster all three.

As shown in the figure above, at present, the Northwest’s largest cities have fewer cabs per capita, and higher fares, than many US cities. Seattle’s 1.4 cabs per 1,000 residents is twice Portland’s 0.7, and well above Vancouver’s 1 cab per 1,000. But all our cities lag. Washington, DC, has more than 12 cabs per 1,000 residents; Las Vegas has almost 6; and San Francisco has 2. Meanwhile, the cost of a typical, five-mile trip is $16.50 in Portland, $17.25 in Seattle, and $21.57 in Vancouver. Washington, DC’s typical fare is just $11.50.

Consider the efforts of Portland’s Transportation Board of Review, which has the power to issue new taxi licenses but is also charged by city law with monitoring “market saturation factors.” It is supposed to avoid market oversaturation, something every other market—from pizza delivery to home remodeling—manages to do just fine on its own, without benefit of a board. In Portland, the rules actually require applicants to prove that a new taxi license is needed. Imagine if Pizza Hut had to demonstrate to the Pizza Delivery Board that it needs another driver for the Super Bowl.

That's not an argument that holds up on every regulated business, the markets-are-flawless crowd notwithstanding. But Sightline makes a good case for it in the case of taxis. And it'd be interesting to see counterpart studies elsewhere.

OR CD 1: An election, and a campaign shape

The Oregon 1st congressional district now has a vacancy, with the resignation last night of Representative David Wu. It also has a pair of elections coming up - Governor John Kitzhaber has set November 8 for the primary and January 31 for the general, to fill the seat. (Meaning that the 1st won't have a representative in Congress for six months, though constituent services will continue.)

And, as if today, it has a dramatically reshaped set of campaigns for the seat.

Up to today, our presumption has been that the first major candidate in had a clear front-runner status. That would be Democratic state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who entered in April, amassed a large number of solid endorsements (suggestive of strong organization ties) and by the end of June had raised a solid $195,197. A second candidate, state Representative Brad Witt, apparently was well behind, but gathering up such support as remained out there.

Suzanne Bonamici

This didn't seem to leave a lot of space for state Senator Suzanne Bonamici, from the Beaverton area - but that assumption was wrong. She said she had raised (some of it in pledges) $240,000 in the week before her announcement of candidacy today - enough to raise eyebrows in Washington, an amount sure to generate still more. (What does that suggest about what she'll raise in the next month or so? She could have both primary and general paid for before long.) And she unveiled a list of endorsers comparable to Avakian's, including former Governor Barbara Roberts and Attorney General John Kroger.

She has, in short, closed the gap with Avakian on her announcement day. This has abruptly turned into an extremely competitive primary race.

Then there's the Republican field, empty of more that possibilities until today.

Rob Cornilles

The announcement today by Beaverton businessman Rob Cornilles, who lost the run for this seat in 2010, gives Republicans a good get. His loss was in no way on account of personal or campaign inadequacies; he campaigned skillfully, and and his organization was genuinely impressive. He is endorsed by a bunch of Republicans already, including former Governor Vic Atiyeh. He will be able to hit the ground hard, and he may not have to worry about major primary competitors. (That last could remain uncertain for a while.)

For now, the 1st is turned into a place where no one in politics can lightly afford a misstep.