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Posts published in November 2011

Gregoire on the occupation

Governor Chris Gregoire said her takeaway from the Occupy protests at the statehouse boiled down to: "not an all-cuts budget, some revenue." She took issue with a few people (who refused to leave the building) who she said distracted from the issue at hand, but backed most of what they said. (Some of them were tasered and arrested.)

"What I think is regressive and mean spirited," she said, is to cut human services, children services, public safety.

She figures that a decent budget will mean taking it to voter decisions by referendum.

Independent Party goes to Bonamici

It can be noted, and will be, that not a lot of people voted in what amounted to a straw poll conducted by the Independent Party of Oregon - evidently about 100 or so, out of a universe of potential voters of well over 20,000. That's small turnout.

Regardless, the result is in, and it may matter for the more definitive election to come.

By a margin of just under two to one, the party's 1st district members voted for Democrat Suzanne Bonamici over Republican Rob Cornilles. The two had just appeared together at an Independent Party-backed debate in Portland, on Sunday night.

The district has a strong Democratic edge, giving Bonamici a natural advantage. A line of reasoning we've heard recently even in some far-flung areas of the state went like this: Bonamici didn't need the party's endorsement (which could, possibly, translate to a two- to three-percentage point help) to have a good shot at winning the election which ends on January 31. But Cornilles, running in difficult terrain, did need it, badly, and would have to be considered a serious underdog if he lost the bid for the Independent nomination.

Both candidates had sought the endorsement, but neither seemed to fight for it very hard. Party leaders report that no more than a direct mail flyer or two from each side was seen. A more intensive effort by either candidate might have mattered considerably, and might have been inexpensive campaigning with potentially high return.

For Cornilles, anyway. As it stands, Bonamici wound up where she doubtless wants to be, with large advantages looking toward the general election, and having just blocked her opponent from gaining a potentially strong asset.

Carlson: This really smells

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s self-congratulatory Thanksgiving Day column (The New Normal) claiming a number of highly debatable “successes” for Idaho on his watch reminds one of a story his idol, former President Ronald Reagan, liked to tell.

It’s the story about the guy digging madly through a huge pile of horse manure convinced that there has to be a pony in there someplace because there’s so much horse s___. With all due respect to the office he holds, Butch is just plain wrong in almost all he claims.

It’s hard to believe he can look at his mismanagement of so much and claim success. This goes beyond rose-colored glasses, beyond the normal p.r. spin one has come to expect of so many of today’s officeholders. This is pure, unadulterated horse manure which anyone with an understanding of factual information can smell from far away.

Here’s just a sample of what smells on his watch:

*Governor Otter deliberately underestimated revenue this past fiscal year by $100 million so he could rationalize real cuts in state support for public education across the board, creating chaos in many school district budgets, necessitating over-ride levies to make up the difference and then had the unmitigated gall to claim he held the line on taxes. All he did was shift the tax increase for many from a state tax to a local levy.

*Governor Otter came within an eyelash of having the federal government impose a one-size fits all health insurance exchange by political posturing against the mandates within the Obama Health Care legislative reforms. He could have cost the state the loss of a billion dollars in federal funds in needed programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Only the sleight of hand of granting exemptions kept Idaho from a folly that would have constituted a gubernatorial dereliction of duty.

Governor Otter and State Superintendent Tom Luna, after not saying word one about educational reforms as part of their re-election agendas in the fall of 2010, showed contempt for the voters by rushing a series of ill-conceived reforms through their one-party legislature that lined the pockets of firms, particularly purveyors of computers and computer programs, who were campaign contributors. They appear to seriously believe computers can replace teachers which is simply mind-boggling. (more…)

Probably no pepper spray in here

And the Washington legislative building - which it seems to be, as opposed to the legislative meeting room buildings - is Occupied.

They'll need an option other than pepper spray to clear it out, since that could make the building uninhabitable as the legislative assembly commences. Which occurred, um, today.

It's a special session, with the aim of closure before Christmas. But some Republicans are calling for this session to replace the regular 2012 session, which would put a lot more pressure on.

And pressure, they've got plenty of.

OR CD 1: The Independent debate

Here was something unusual: a Democratic congressional nominee, and a Republican congressional nominee, appearing at a debate where the ostensible purpose is to gain the support of another party: The Independent Party of Oregon.

The Independents aren't nominating their own contender, but are - present tense - sending in ballots to determine which of the contenders, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles, their party will endorse. This may have been the first televised debate - it was aired by KATU 2 Portland and staged in its studio - the party has had. It's a turning point. It may be a turning point for the candidates, though to what effect isn't yet clear. There's some view that, given the Democratic tilt of the 1st congressional district, Cornilles will need the Independent support to win and may not be able to win without it, while a Bonamici backing by the party could nearly foreclose a Cornilles win.

Either way, neither candidate seemed to conclusively seal the deal tonight: There were no serious body blows or major gaffes. (The station has posted it in full online.)

There were missed opportunities, though.

Cornilles reiterated the debunked argument that the Affordable Care Act (which he took care to call by its correct name, as opposed to Obamacare) would cut $500 billion from Medicare; the lowered budget amounts refer to savings from efficiencies and other improvements rather than diminished benefits, a point Bonamici could have made but didn't. (She noted the claim had been blasted by Politifact, which is true, but probably wasn't much absorbed by many viewers.) When Cornilles cited a statistic about how Bonamici, in one survey, voted with her state Senate caucus 98% of the time, she responded that the statistic isn't fairly representative of the work or votes done there - which is also true, but could have been turned into a stronger point about Cornilles' lack of legislative experience.

Bonamici was asked about illegal immigration, and spent her answer talking about how she's like to get people around a table to hash out an answer. That table made its appearance several times; Cornilles could have hacked away at that crutch, but didn't.

Cornilles' best line, which he'd surely like to be a frame for his argument, came when he said "My opponent wants to defend the system; I want to fix it." Piece of his debate fit into that frame; other parts didn't.

Bonamici's best moment came in a question about the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling on campaign spending, after a detailed response from Cornilles (which avoided the core impacts of the decision). She had time for a 30-second rebuttal, but smartly limited it to one memorable reposte: "I don't happen to believe that a corporation is a person."

Independent Party voting is supposed to conclude on Tuesday, and we should know the winner within a day or two after that.

What looks like a likely outcome

A couple of polls in recent months seemed to show Barack Obama at serious risk of losing Oregon in next year’s election. But the questions were a little sideways and hard to read, and we’ve been awaiting a national poll to check in on the state, to find out how the numbers are reading more directly.

What emerged in the new Survey USA poll on the presidential race is very much what might be expected in Oregon, and likely reflective of what the state will do next year:

11 months till ballots are mailed in the election for President of the United States, incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama is poised to hold Oregon's 7 electoral votes, according to a poll for KATU-2 TV news in Portland.
Today, in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups between the two Republican front-runners, it's:
 Obama 48%, Romney 40%.
 Obama 51%, Gingrich 37%
If Romney is the candidate, Obama leads among men by 5 points. If Gingrich is the candidate, Obama leads among men by 12 points. If Romney is the candidate, independents split. If Gingrich is the candidate, Independents break for Obama.
Romney has a Minus 20 favorability rating: 21% see him favorably, 41% see him unfavorably.
Gingrich has a Minus 30 favorability rating: 20% see him favorably, 50% see him unfavorably.

It was a survey of 600 Oregon adults, and included cell phone users.

A show of passion

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, who in the last few years has had to make enormous cuts in state spending, has said repeatedly that those cuts have grieved her. But the strong feeling behind didn't seem to show up a lot, as she has focused on rounds of cuts rather than revenue increases.

A corner of some sort has been turned, though. Gregoire is proposing a tax increase in her just-unveiled revised budget plan (the new one dealing with further expected revenue shortfalls). There are more cuts in this budget, but she seems now to be reaching a point of saying, no more.

At one point in her press meeting on the proposal, she was asked, "Why should the voters be willing to sacrifice themselves if the state worker unions are not willing to do the same?"

And a switch seemed to flip. She grabbed a large budget pie chart, and delivered her response with a passion probably not a lot of Washingtonians have seen before:

"Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I don't know how you can say that. Look at this.
Ten and a half billion dollars, y'all. Ten and a half billion dollars. 26 percent, has come from K through 12. 19 percent of that has come from state employee K-12 compensation. We can't assume they haven't stepped up. They have. They have stepped up.

"But at some point you need to understand that you have to have people do the job. You hsave to have people do the job. They are a demoralized work force. I've told this to CEOs in the last two weeks: How'd you like to lead a work force that is demoralized as they are? They have given. They have given on the benefits, they've given on their pensions, they've given on their salaries. They have done furloughs. And yet - and yet - they are constantly being bashed about the head and shoulders. No one says 'thank you' for them doing the work that no one else can, and no one else will.

"I have over the last few weeks worked with some of the finest people in state government. They don't get overtime. They do the work. That's what's going on in state government. It's time for us as a state to step up and understand. If we want protection, we need parole officers. If we want to educate our kids, we need teachers. And we can't afford to continue to undermine the very fabric of our state. Time for us to spend one-half penny to invest in the future of our state."

The video (fro TVW) is posted at the Slog.

Kitzhaber: No more executions on my watch

In his third term, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber has taken one large step after another, but this may be the most dramatic. From his statement on the scheduled execution of convicted killer Gary Haugen, and his "temporary reprieve" of it:

"I refuse to be a part of this compromised and inequitable system any longer; and I will not allow further executions while I am Governor."

It was a dramatic statement, and not widely expected (at least, not among us), partly because he did allow two earlier executions. His longish statement - it's here in full after the jump on this post - is remarkable. It's all worth reading.

Kitzhaber notes that in the last 49 years just two people have been executed in Oregon, both during his first two terms in office: "I was torn between my personal convictions about the morality of capital punishment and my oath to uphold the Oregon constitution. They were the most agonizing and difficult decisions I have made as Governor and I have revisited and questioned them over and over again during the past 14 years. I do not believe that those executions made us safer; and certainly they did not make us nobler as a society. And I simply cannot participate once again in something I believe to be morally wrong."

He said, though, that he didn't intend his judgement unilaterally to change policy for the state: "I could have commuted Mr. Haugen’s sentence – and indeed the sentences of all those on death row – to life in prison without the possibility of parole. I did not do so because the policy of this state on capital punishment is not mine alone to decide. It is a matter for all Oregonians to decide."

This will create something of a roar in the next legislative session, moving the issue to the front burner. The move to oppose Haugen's executive was not as large as some we've seen around the country (in part because he sought to end appeals and get the sentence over with), but it's not been nonexistent, and some legislators have been taking about bringing up the issue.

It's a good bet that the next legislative session will see some action in this area.

Here's what Kitzhaber had to say: (more…)

Death reflections

A thought about the death penalty just imposed in Idaho, and the next coming soon in Oregon.

Mainly, this: There's no assertion of doubt that they did what they're convicted of, and that their actions really were awful.

It's a weird parallel. Idaho has not executed a convict since 1994, and Oregon since 1997.

Paul Ezra Rhoades, who was executed in Boise on Friday, took all the shots he could at appeals and legal arguments, over a stretch running for more than two decades. There was no real argument that he committed the crimes, which formally were first degree murder and first degree kidnapping, and which he acknowledged. Three women were killed, kidnapped and shot to death in the Idaho Falls area, which was terrorized during the search for the killer.

This is the kind of guy who helps a death penalty advocate make the case. He deserved more, and harsher, than the state could mete out.

Much the same goes for Gary Haugen, the Oregon convict scheduled for execution (by lethal injection, as in Idaho) on December 6. Haugen has not fought the sentence - he has dropped appeals - or evidently denied that he killed his girlfriend's mother more than 30 years ago, the event which put him in prison since he was 19: "the murder of his then-girlfriend’s mother, Mary Archer. Prosecutors say he broke into Archer's house, raped her, then beat her with a hammer and baseball bat." He has denied that he killed a fellow inmate, for which he also was convicted.

These are not, like some in the last few years, cases where the guilt of the convict was in some doubt. There's really none here.

That may be one reason these cases seem not to have gotten the national attention some others have. Not that they cut into the anti-death case: That argument applies whether the prisoner is guilty or not.

But these Northwest cases are unlikely to be the kind of turning point cases that have been popping up elsewhere.

A redistricting hierarchy

The challenge to the new Idaho redistricting plan led by Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs (joined in by a bunch of other jurisdictions) is in, and there's been some review of it - and some support in places like the Twin Falls Times News editorial page. There is no perfect way to predict what the Idaho Supreme Court might do; it has a way of surprising on redistricting cases. But from here, the core argument before it doesn't look especially solid.

The Times News describes it succinctly, and it goes like this. The parameters of a redistricting are bound by three sets of terms. There's the U.S. Constitution, at the highest level, which requires (according to Supreme Court interpretations) adherence to the "one man, one vote" principle - meaning that districts should have as close as practical the same number of people (or at least electors). Second, there's the state constitution, which has a similar requirement calling for as few counties as practical to be split. And third, there are a series of laws (and legal cases, which the editorial doesn't make clear) which also have to be considered - things like maintaining communities of interest, not overtly benefitting specific parties or individuals, no overt gerrymandering, care not to disenfranchise certain minority groups (notably Indian tribes in Idaho's case), and others.

The editorial: "If you accept the fact that a state law can never trump the state constitution, the map becomes a lot easier to draw. The current plan that was created by the redistricting commission carves up counties more times than they needed to be. This is where Loebs’ suit makes its stand, and it’s an approach we have a hard time arguing against."

Maybe you already see the logical problem here.

If redistricting is simply a case of absolute trumps, then the state constitution need not apply at all. Rather, you adopt - as a matter of requirement - whatever plan you can draw that split's Idaho's population into 35 equally populated districts. Because, if Loebs' trumping argument is right, then only "one man, one vote" comes into play. Anything else would dilute the mandate of the U.S. constitution.

As a matter of history, the courts haven't looked at it that way. Reasonably and practically, they've allowed for a degree of give and flexibility in the system. As an informal guide, redistricters have found that courts will usually accept plans that have about a 10% or less deviation in population between the most and least populous districts. That means a number of plans could be considered reasonable and practical. That's what allows us to even get to a consideration of what the state constitution says.

The same principle seems to apply to splitting counties. If you split too many counties, that could be a basis for rejecting a plan. But how many is too many? Consider this from the reapportionment commission's report on its plan:

a. 1 county has a population that it can constitute a single district by itself without combining with any other county or portion of another county. It is Bingham County.Bingham County occupies a unique position within Idaho because it is surrounded by counties that must either be split or combined with other counties and contains a portion of a Native American Reservation, the remainder of which is located in three other counties (Power, Bannock, and Caribou).   
b. Two counties could be divided into districts wholly within that county that meet the one person/one vote requirement without having to combine any portion of that county with any other county or portion of another county. They are Ada County
and Kootenai County.
c. Four counties are of such population that one or more districts can be created solely within the county, but a portion of the county must be combined with other counties to meet the one person/one vote requirements.  They are Bannock County,
Bonneville County, Canyon County, and Twin Falls County.
d. The remaining counties are so sparsely populated that they must be combined with other counties to create districts of sufficient population to comply with the federal constitutional requirement of one person/one vote. One of these counties
(Bonner) must be divided and combined with contiguous counties because one neighboring county (Boundary) is not contiguous to any other county."

There is no way, in other words, to split fewer than five counties in crafting a plan, the commission said. It could do that (which seems to be where Loebs is headed). But are the current plan's 11-county splits (of 44 counties, remember) really too many - if it means you rapidly start throwing out all the other considerations a redistricting plan should include? It seems here, probably not.

There's some gray area, as so often the case in this mathematical-based exercise. But the Supreme Court may wind up considering this as well: If it gives such strong primacy to a plan that places such strong emphasis on just one reapportioning goal, it's apt to generate more lawsuits on the basis that others were not considered. And lawsuits on those kinds of bases have worked, from time to time, as well.