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Posts published in November 2011

Watch 6: A Democratic win in Clark

It came in a normally Democratic district, so the win today of Democratic incumbent (newly appointed) Representative Sharon Wylie over Republican Craig Riley (a Republican legislative nominee in this district last year) isn't a shock - it's more or less what you would expect. That would be fair to say, too, about the 56.56% of the vote (at last count) Wylie has collected. (Riley has come closer to election than that a times in the past, however.)

Maybe what you could fairly say about that, is that the political norms in Clark are holding - no massive shift at the moment. Maybe a little less reflective, though, of 2010 than of some of the elections that preceded it.

This was, by the way, the only legislative race in the Northwest today featuring candidates of opposing parties.

Watch 8: Long-timer prevailing

A few days ago, we wrote about the Senate 4 race in the Spokane area, which featured two Republicans facing off: "This race has some interest, since it features a new incumbent (Jeff Baxter) against a veteran legislator and judge active in office starting in 1981 (Mike Padden). Long-time experience or the new incumbent (“Jeff is not another career politician satisfied with the status quo”)?"

Who won? Padden did, with about 55.58% (at last count) of the vote. He was an experienced office holder, a legislator in the 80s and a judge for some years after that. Baxter was a relative newcome, albeit the incumbent.

An indicator maybe for next year's legislative elections, so often interesting around Spokane? And how to balance against Spokane voters' narrow ouster of their mayor?

Watch 3: Verner out in Spokane

The guess here is that three months ago, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner would have won a second term - but then, campaigns are often won an lost in the final few weeks. And that, as we suggested a few days ago might happen here, did happen. Verner did not become suddenly unpopular, but the campaign around her opponent, David Condon, really seemed to coalesce.

Condon won the backing of the local Republican organization (though this is a non-partisan seat - but in so many cases around the Northwest, in all sorts of cities, who are we kidding?) and the Spokesman-Review, and pulled in big contributions toward the end. There were allegations of what sound like push polling. In the last week, maybe two, this outcome - a close one, with Condon pulling ahead at the end - isn't a surprise.

How much it may indicate beyond city hall, say in next year's legislative races, is less clear. But then, we might draw better clues from the District 4 Senate election (which see).

Watch 2: Bonamici and Cornilles in OR 1

A while back, around the start of voting in Oregon 1, we threw out a kind of alternative scenario - what seemed like a plausible option to the general view that the major party nominations would go to Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles. We thought the alt view was less than likely, but - hey, you never know. Upsets happen.

But it was no great surprise in the Oregon 1st, as it turns out - not a surprise at all. The polling, which we did think seemed a little off-kilter, wound up correct in projecting a big win for state Senator Bonamici. (There was less public polling on the Republican side, but a Cornilles win was widely expected.) Despite low voter turnout, the races on both sides wound up not dominated by party activists.

With about two-thirds of the vote in, Bonamici was taking about two-thirds of the vote; her closest competitor, state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, was at about 20%. It was a widespread win. But for the favorite-son vote in Columbia County for contender Brad Witt, she would have pulled upward of 60% in every county in the district. Cornilles' win was similarly uniform.

The primary was not super-heated or especially high profile. As the contest moves into the general stage, with election in a little under three months, that looks likely to change.

ADDED NOTE The number of votes in the Democratic contest was 56,580. The Republican candidates combined got 40,933. That means the Democrats took 58.02% of the votes cast in the two primaries. This is not a predictor or a super-clear indicator - the contest on the Democratic side was more visible and organized than on the Republican. But it's still worthy of note as an indicator of what sort of terrain the 1st is.

Watch list

Contests to watch on Tuesday night (and in Washington's case, maybe a bit beyond). This isn't one of the hottest off-year generals around (and for the most part quiet in Idaho, with fewer heated city elections than usual). But here's some of what you should keep your eyes on Tuesday night. (We will.)

1 - WA: Initiative 1183, on privatizing liquor sales. By a long shot the hot contest in Washington this season - it has even grabbed the attention of a lot of people in Oregon (which may take up a similar contest soon if this one passes). Polling has indicated it's ahead - meaning that liquor sales in certain private stores may be in the cards. But the issue is so heated little is certain.

2 - OR: U.S. House 1 primary. The Republican side appears all but foregone - Rob Cornilles, a skilled candidate, has run another solid race in the primary. But will the Tea Party roar up against him at the last? You can't entirely rule it out; if they do, they have a contender in Jim Greenfield. On the Democratic side, polling has given a large lead to state Senator Suzanne Bonamici. But keep a watch: state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian may be closer to the activist crowd who will be sure to vote in an otherwise low-turnout election. And watch too the percentage of the other major Democratic candidate, state Representative Brad Witt. Cornilles will be a strong Republican candidate; it matters who the Democrats nominate (and what sort of campaign that nominee runs).

3 - WA: Spokane mayoral. First-term Mayor Mary Verner, who had a complicated path to the job four years ago, seemed for most of this year to be a clear prospect for re-election. That's now in question: Challenger David Condon has the backing of the local Republican organization (this is a non-partisan seat, but still) and the Spokesman-Review, and is running on a small-government, cut-city-pay platform. Allegations of what sound like push polling are in the mix, and there's a poll result (of some kind) indicating fast closure. This has turned into a heated and complex race, and it has become hard to call.

4 - Initiative 1125, on transportation tolling and light rail. It's been surprisingly low-key for a Tim Eyman special, but this one is pretty impactful. Ballotpedia describes it this way: "The initiative would prohibit gas tax and toll revenues to be diverted to non-transportation purposes. It would also require that lawmakers approve toll rates. According to reports, the proposed initiative would require that tolls end on a road or bridge once the project's construction is paid off. Variable tolls rates that depend on the time of day truckers and drivers use the road or bridge would also be outlawed." It has also been described as a subtle but effective attack on light rail and mass transit generally. There are so many details packed into this one; how many voters will grasp them all? And what will they think if they do?

5 - ID: Meridian mayoral. Even just a few weeks ago, this looked like a slam dunk for incumbent Mayor Tammy De Weerd, a two-term incumbent who has seemed relatively uncontroversial even as her city has grown explosively to become Idaho's third-largest. (There are no indicators that Boise's mayoral race, where David Bieter also is running for a third term, will be anything other than an easy incumbent win.) She's had fairly broad community support, and the advantage of not one, not two, not three but four challengers to split the opposition vote. One of those, however, clearly is the major alternative candidate: former state Senator Gerry Sweet, who also worked briefly for one-term U.S. Representative Bill Sali. He has become the candidate of the hard right Tea Party people, who make up a large portion of the active Meridian electorate. (This is a very, very conservative city.) Normal political dynamics would argue against a Sweet win in such a fractured field. But there's some serious activism and organization behind him, and he's not looking like the longshot he seemed to be a month ago. If he does win here, there will be shock waves, certainly across southern Idaho.

6 - WA: House District 49. There are two legislative elections in Washington this year, owing to resignations and appointments. In District 49, new Democratic Representative Sharon Wylie is running as "an independent voice" (always a good idea in Clark County) is facing Republican Craig Riley, who lost a race for the other House seat here last year (and lost a 1990 run as well; both races were fairly close). (Wylie actually is also a former Oregon legislator.) The Columbian has backed Wylie, but this looks like a tight, tough race. It's a Democratic district, so a Riley win would send some shock waves.

7 - ID: Eagle mayoral. So you say city elections in the Northwest are non-partisan? Hmpf. Here we have state Republican Party Chair (also a private practice attorney, head of the state water users association - when does he sleep?) Norm Semanko (who's also - almost forgot - on the Eagle City Council) running for mayor. Against the incumbent, James Reynolds, who's lower key, and retired. The Idaho Statesman, endorsing Reynolds, argues: "After years of drama and turnover, City Hall needs more stability and less political theater." Issues? Well, there's the Greenbelt, city spending, municipal relations - but you've got the picture.

8 - WA: Senate District 4. In the Spokane area, two Republicans face off; this race has some interest, since it features a new incumbent (Jeff Baxter) against a veteran legislator and judge active in office starting in 1981 (Mike Padden). Long-time experience or the new incumbent ("Jeff is not another career politician satisfied with the status quo")?

NOTE: The last of these, in Washington District 4, is a race for the Washington Senate, not House, as was originally noted. The reference was corrected.

A more conservative Clackamas?

Oregon City
Oregon City (when Blue Heron was still active)/Randy Stapilus

Over the long run, Clackamas County, the southern of the three Portland-area metro counties, has been a competitive place.

For several decades until 1994 Democrats held a small edge in party registration; the 1994 sweep broad in a Republican lead in party registration, when Democrats took higher numbers again. Its voting record is more varied, though. On the presidential level, it supported Democrats only when they won nationally (since Lyndon Johnson in 1964, only Bill Clinton twice, and Barack Obama in 2008). It voted in governor's races Republican in 2010, Democratic in 2006, Republican in 2002, Democratic from 1990 to 1998 but nearly always Republican before that.

Sop you could say that shifts in Clackamas do happen: Its voters, as a whole, are not a lock.

An Oregonian article today makes the case that Clackamas is seeing a conservative surge ("Frustrated conservatives in Clackamas County gain momentum"), and on the evidence there's something to it, but only to a point, and with a lot of asterisks.

"For some, the resurgence is simply part of the natural political rebalancing. But regardless of the cause, many county political leaders agree that the current resurgence - at times combative and uncivil - has real teeth," the article notes. And there's some reason for thinking so. Republicans did well in Clackamas in 2010 - its legislative elections were central to the Republican gains that year - and there's an anti-Portland edge alive and well that isn't really replicated in Washington County, its suburban counterpart to the northwest. In Clackmas, streetcar and rail developments from Portland south are controversial - not so much in Washington - and what might have been a modest and quiet $5 fee to repair a key bridge many county residents use (the Sellwood) was defeated at the polls. Conservatives and Republicans are highly active in Clackamas. (more…)

Bank Transfer Day, for this official

Quite a few elected officials have joined in with the Occupy movement, if only to say that they sympathize with its concerns. On the National Bank Transfer Day, in which depositors are asked to move their funds from large national banks to locals or credit unions, fewer have been willing to go very public.

Here's one: Seattle Council member Mike O'Brien, who made a media event of his deposit into the Verity Credit Union Wallingford branch. From his statement:

Councilmember Mike O'Brien and his family will participate in National Bank Transfer Day and he encourages other city residents to do the same. The O'Brien family joins more than 650,000 Americans in transferring their bank accounts to local banks or credit unions.

Said Councilmember O'Brien about National Bank Transfer Day: "I got sick of all the fees and hassle of the big banks, making life difficult for customers while reaping record profits. My family and I are excited to be members of a credit union founded here in Washington. I believe City Council should also take a look at where the City puts its money and makes its investments. Hopefully, the resolution we are introducing on Monday will help start that conversation."

Washington capital gains?

Washington state policy makers often feel boxed in when it comes to taxes - hold on a minute, Tim Eyman - in that the state doesn't use income taxes. That eliminates a good deal of the relative flexibility Idaho and Oregon have, especially since the big single remaining tax, the sales tax, is regressive. There are a range of other taxes and fees, but a good deal of upper-level income remains untouched.

The Washington Budget & Policy Center (a private, not public organization) has a suggestion: Tax capital gains, that is, on sale of stocks, bonds, precious metals and property. Ordinarily, it is taxed at rates lower than wages. It also is the source of much of the income, at upper income levels, at upper income brackets.

Partly because taxing of capital gains is usually linked to income taxes (though they're not the same thing), Washington hasn't taxed capital gains - at all. Only six other states likewise do not. Idaho taxes capital gains at 7.8%, which is above the national average, and Oregon's CG tax, at 11%, is the high such state tax in the country.

The Budget & Policy Center, in a report out today, called for a Washington state 5% capital gains tax, which would still be lower than its neighbors. It said, "Depending on the structure, a tax on capital gains could generate up to $1 billion each year in much needed resources. The tax would improve our entire revenue structure, making it a more robust and sustainable system of financing important public priorities. Wisely devoting up to 50 percent of the resources created under the proposal to our state Rainy Day Fund would lessen the severity of future recessions by maintaining vital public health and family support systems when they are most needed. Finally, resources from a capital gains tax could be used to lower taxes for the majority of Washingtonians – especially lower-and middle income families."

Blowback from the anti-tax crowd and the business lobby can begin forthwith.

Big and hard to call

The still-emerging Democratic primary in Washington's 1st district looks like ever-more of a hot race.

The latest indicator is the entry today of Darcy Burner, who ran two losing but strong - very well organized and financed - campaigns for the U.S. House in the current 8th district. Anticipating her home turf will be in the new Washington 1st, she's throwing in.

But she's by no means the only strong Democrat in the field. There's
Laura Ruderman, a former legislator and former statewide candidate, and highly capable as well. (Last finance reports - Receipts: $182,675. Disbursed: $33,881.)

There's Roger Goodman, an incumbent legislator. (Receipts: $162,127. Disbursed: $102,220.) And two more incumbent legislators: Steve Hobbs (Receipts: $53,674. Disbursed: $4,672) and Marko Liias (Receipts: $48,887. Disbursed: $23,463), all three successful vote-getters.

And Darshan Rauniyar, who notes that of the candidates as of the last reporting period, he raised the most from individual contributors (Receipts: $110,982. Disbursed: $11,044).

Given Burner's powerful fundraising track record, none of this is to suggest that she's going to run uphill - she may not have to. But this does look like a highly competitive contest.

UPDATE A commentary from the liberal Daily Kos site, of the Burner entry: "she's setting herself up for a very difficult primary where there are already four big names, and where her entry seems likely to only further dissipate the liberal vote shared with state Reps. Marko Liias and Roger Goodman, increasing the odds that sorta-moderate ex-Rep. Laura Ruderman or moderate-to-the-point-of-being-major-pain-in-the-ass state Sen. Steve Hobbs gets through."