Bonamici
Suzanne Bonamici

Annals of a congressional district that knows what it is and what it wants:

Winding up a special congressional campaign that started last summer – last spring, really, when the first challenger got in – Democrat Suzanne Bonamici was elected Tuesday, over Republican Rob Cornilles, to the U.S. House from the Oregon 1st district.

It was not close, and reasonably mirrored the results from most of the public polls in recent weeks. (As often recently in federal races, the pollsters have gotten it more or less right.) It was not a surprise.

Here’s something of note, though. In this special election, where the vote was substantially smaller than in a typical general (somewhat more than half as many voters, less than two-thirds as many), Bonamici’s percentage Tuesday was close to exactly that of Democratic predecessor David Wu‘s in November 2010, a little over a year ago: 54.36% for Bonamici, 54.82% back then for Wu. (It should be noted that Bonamici’s campaign this year was a lot stronger than Wu’s in 2010.) Cornilles ran in both races, and (notwithstanding running a second well-organized and energetic campaign) got 39.14% Tuesday compared with 42% in 2010.

This is a Democratic district. Since 1974 it has been consistently in Democratic hands, and Bonamici becomes the fourth consecutive Democrat to hold it. She will not likely face much difficulty for re-election in November; this is probably a seat national Republicans will write off then.

If they do, their logic would be understandable.

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Oregon

The Seattle Times has a roundup of presidential campaign activity in Washington state, which often – with its relatively late March 6 caucuses – isn’t a big factor in presidential nominations. If the battle for the nomination is still alive then, though, Washington could be a hotbed.

In some ways, it’s a national mirror. The highest-ranking Republican official to take a major role with one of the campaigns, 5th District Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is a leader of the Mitt Romney effort. (Her brother is also heavily involved.) Electability is a key argument there.

The story notes, “It is [Ron] Paul, however, who may have the deepest grassroots organization. Paul, who has not won in any state, has said he’s focusing his campaign on caucus states such as Washington.” And Washington caucuses have some history of veering off to the ideological corners, so there’s basis for a serious Paul effort. And he’s the one Republican presidential presidential candidate with a campaign office in the state (at Bellevue).

And the other two, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum? So far, apparently way behind. Santorum has virtually no activity in the state. Gingrich has a little, but his fundraising has been minor and his major supporter is the periodically controversial Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor of the evangelical Cedar Park Church in Bothell.

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Washington

L93

Every decade, it’s the same: As population crowds into urban areas, legislative (and congressional) districts that cover rural areas have to stretch into larger and larger areas. It’ll happen again after 2020.

Even so, I’ve been looking at the Idaho Redistricting Commission’s L93 map (yes, that means there have been that many formally submitted) adopted on Friday, my eyes drawn to districts like 7, 8 and 32 – districts large enough that even on the small map on this page, you cam make them out clearly.

District 7 touches U.S. Highway 95 just southeast of Sandpoint, high up in the Panhandle, but not again until near Cottonwood, something like three hours south if you could drive it on 95. But you can’t drive it all on any single highway, or any highway. It might be possible to cover it all on forest roads, but even that’s debatable. In Oregon they used to call districts like this “helicopter districts,” since that’s what you’d need to traverse them all the way through without going far afield.

District 32 (a close analogue to the existing District 31) covers Teton County near Jackson, Wyoming, south to the Utah line, and then east past Malad. This too is a “helicopter district,” and the subject of many local complaints a decade ago. Its similar creation this time seems not to have generated as many; they may have given up.

But District 8, the one that runs from the Montana border near Salmon south and west pst Emmett nearly to the Oregon border, and which technically is not a helicopter district, is the one that really gets my attention. There is a certain logical common interest; vast amounts of this area are forest or wilderness lands, and much of it economically concerns either natural resources or tourism.

But the breadth of it … From Lolo Pass on Highway 93 north of Salmon down to Salmon is the better part of an hour. From there to Challis another hour, and close to another from there Stanley in western Custer County. Another hour, or more, from there through Lowman up the extremely twisty mountain roads on Highway 21 up to Idaho City. Crossing over to Highway 55 via Lowman or Idaho City is another half hour or more, and then north up to McCall, or west through Emmett to Letha another hour or so. Pretty drives, but long and sometimes stressful, especially in the winter. (Part of that Highway 21 run is commonly called Avalanche Alley, for good reason.)

Give a slice of sympathy to the legislators who eventually do represent districts like these.

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Idaho

After spending a little time with the Idaho redistricting commission, things look a little more upbeat than earlier this week for the prospects of it completing its task sometime soon – possibly Saturday (they’re prepared for a Saturday session), maybe sooner, but likely not a whole lot later.

This was the commission called back to work when the Idaho Supreme Court rejected its submitted 35-district legislative plan for creating too many districts that cross county boundaries. We’ve opined that the minority view by Justice Jim Jones was closer to the mark – and so today did Commission Co-Chair Ron Beitelspacher – but that’s past. Beitelspacher’s attitude, and that of the other commissioners, seemed workmanlike: We’ve been given instructions, now we have to finish the job.

They almost didn’t get the chance. You’ll recall that Republican state Chair Norm Semanko and House Speaker Lawerence Denney tried to fire and replace two of the three Republican commissioners, for not strongly enough backing Republican interests. The Supreme Court yesterday blocked that attempt. Had it succeeded, the commission almost certainly would have deadlocked.

As it is the probability is that it won’t. The commissioners seem to have a good chemistry, and since the success of something like this depends on good will, that’s important.

One other point. We made the point a few days ago that it may be too late after another couple of weeks to get the redistricting work done in time to allow for the May primary, forcing a move to August. After a few Statehouse conversations today, we came away with the sense that it’s already too late, and that at least some county clerks won’t be able to get everything done in time for the May balloting. Expect to hear more about that before long.

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Idaho

A significant change in status that doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention yet.

To this point, when Washington state officially talks about its “state universities,” it means the University of Washington and Washington State University – those two and no others. (Similarly, the only official “state college” is the Evergreen State College at Olympia.)

House Bill 2703 would change that. It would include Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, and Western Washington University as formal state universities alongside the larger two.

What’s not totally clear is what that would mean as a practical effect. Most of the governance, rules and regulations surrounding UW or WSU are made either by the institutions’ separate boards, or sometimes by the legislature. Is this just a point of pride, or is there something more? This could be worth a watch.

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carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

A former newspaper editor and sometime reader of this column recently asked who I thought, other than Cecil Andrus, were great Idaho governors.

A bias I have is this: The best governors almost always first served in their State’s Legislature. Why this contributes to success is obvious. Having served in the legislative branch they inevitably have greater respect for their former colleagues prerogatives and unless totally ham-handed have built up alliances and friendships with key legislators—often on the other side of the aisle.

This can come in handy especially if a governor needs to sustain a veto but lacks one or two votes. Andrus could usually count on State Senator Dean Summers (Boise) and State Senator and future governor Phil Batt, (Wilder) when in need.

Additionally, a state legislator has to learn how state government works if he/she is to vote intelligently on agency appropriations. Thus, legislators who have become governors inevitably have mastered the arcane of the budget process. They know what the blueprint that drives each agency is.

Smart legislators also cultivate friendships with key talented civil servants who can be called and provide their governor with an insider perspective that can validate or invalidate what the agency head may be saying to the governor.

When one looks at other northwest states, inevitably the really successful ones that stand out were also former legislators——-Dan Evans in Washington, Jay Hammond in Alaska, Mark Hatfield in Oregon, Ted Schwinden in Montana, Mike O’Callaghan in Nevada to name a few.

My ranking of Idaho governors since 1946 (year of my birth) rated in order of greatness (the first four), above average (the next three), and mediocre to poor (the final three) follows:

1) Cecil D. Andrus, 1971-1977, 1987-1995. Regular readers of this column or my book know the reasons why he was and is the best so far produced. Andrus served in the State Senate from Clearwater County from 1961 to 1967 and from Nez Perce County from 1969 to 1971.

2) Dr. C. A. Robins, 1947-1951. The first of the modern era governors, he set the state on the correct course forcing substantial consolidation of school districts, paying teachers more, removing patronage from the Highway department, establishing the Department of Labor, and the Workman’s Comp program, obtaining separate status for Idaho State University; the list goes on, but you get the picture. He was a doer. Doc served as State Senator from Benewah County from 1939 to 1945 and was Senate Pro Tempore during his last session.

3) John V. Evans, 1977 to 1987. Smart enough to continue along the path Andrus chartered. Brought a congenial collaborative style to the office that enabled him to get along with solidly Republican legislatures. He had served in the Legislature as the State Senator from Oneida County before becoming Andrus’ Lt. Governor in 1976.

4) Robert E. Smylie, 1955-1967. The former attorney general continued the path blazed by Doc Robins including creating a Department of Commerce, and to his great credit supported establishing a sales tax to provide better state support for k-12 and higher education.

5) Phil Batt, 1995-1999. His hallmark includes concluding the states’ negotiations with the Navy and the Department of Energy for the removal of all nuclear waste at INL by 2035.

6) Jim Risch, 2006-2007. Smart, tough, well versed in politics and state government, during his seven months though he gave away the store by reducing property taxes for big corporate contributors at the expense of the general citizenry.

7) “Butch” Otter. 2007-?. Universally liked but ideology has ham-strung his ability, given his experience as Lt. Governor, to create a legacy of improving the camp site better than he found it. So far it is just the contrary.

8) Len B. Jordan, 1951-1955. A better senator than governor where he was a notorious penny-pincher. Lewiston will never forgive his closing Lewis-Clark State and even his admirers questioned his support for High Mt. Sheep dam in Hells Canyon which would have destroyed incredible scenery as well as the ranch that supported his family during the depression.

9) Dirk Kempthorne, 1999-2006. Should have stayed in the U.S. Senate. Many still puzzled why he sought the governorship then did little to nothing with the office. Some opine the real governor was chief of staff Phil Reberger, who made many of the day to day decisions while a diffident Kempthorne rode his Harley and seemed only to enjoy campaigning.

10) Don Samuelson, 1967-1971. Another nice guy who never should have been governor. In the right place though as the only challenger in 1966 to a “worn out his welcome” Smylie, and then handed Andrus his second gubernatorial defeat in the same year in a fractured four-person race.

There’s my list.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

In an Idaho Statesman piece, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who’s co-chair of the Mitt Romney campaign in Idaho, remarks that “I would have bet you a month ago that this would have been over with by the first of February. But things have changed.”

He’s certainly not alone in that, or in moving to the logical conclusion that Idaho’s Republican presidential nominating caucuses, scheduled for March 6, may play a larger role in deciding the nominee than appeared likely, say, just after the New Hampshire primary. Testimony to how things can change.

Let’s advance this a step further and ask: If the contest as of March 6 is still competitive between Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which of those two would win at the Idaho caucuses?

Asking the question today (informally) of a number of people, I got one answer (that I happen to agree with): Despite the mass of endorsements of top Idaho Republicans for Romney, and the near absence of an organization or visible support for Gingrich, the answer is – Gingrich. Check out the Idaho Republican base, and what it responds to, and the match seems pretty clear.

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Idaho

There seems to be an ethic in our politics these days that lengthy pieces of legislature are only lengthy to provide loopholes and work for lawyers: if it’s worth doing, surely it can be expressed in a sentence or two.

Legislators who’ve been around the circle a few times come to understand that things rarely are so simple. The world is complex. Sometimes law has to be too, to keep up.

Generally, for example, information about children who are under the protection of the state Health & Welfare services is kept confidential. That’s usually a good practice, for obvious reasons.

But not always. Read the statement of purpose to Idaho Senate Bill 1255 (sponsor is Senator Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home), which opens an exception to the rule:

This legislation will allow the Department of Health and Welfare to disclose information about children who are under the jurisdiction of child protective services. Under current law, information vital to the health and well being of children, even medical information, routinely is not shared, and in many cases may not be shared, from one foster parent to another or by other decision makers. Females removed from a home where abuse has occurred from male siblings might well be placed in a home where males reside and the foster parent is never told. This legislation will allow Health and Welfare to better define, in rule, the information that will be disclosed and made available to foster parents, adoptive parents, guardians, and other legally responsible parties.

Another case where a few more words in the law really would be helpful.

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Idaho

The Idaho Legislature, which has before it a bill that would move the state’s long-running May primary election to August, might as well go ahead and pass it. Candidates and election officials will need the time, because the odds now are that no new legislative redistricting plan will be adopted in the short term – and that it will be done not by the redistricting commission but by the Idaho Supreme Court.

It didn’t seem that way for quite a while. But here we are – or likely soon will be.

This becoming a long and tortured story, let’s recap. Redrawing of legislative and congressional districts in Idaho is the job of a six-member (three from each party) redistricting commission, which was appointed last spring and got to work. After many hearings, work sessions and other activities, that group did approve a congressional redistricting (which only barely changed the current districts) but did not quite manage to agree on a legislative plan. It came close; most of the issues were resolved. But just a few were not, and the commission’s deadline passed without a plan formally approved. (Informally, they approved one a couple of weeks later, but it had no official effect.)

So a second commission, made up of new members, was appointed to replace the first, with the first meeting held in September and the deadline clock reset to December 13. As with the first, the commission members were appointed by the state Republican and Democratic state party chairs and highest ranking officers in the state Senate and House. Much of the research and public hearing work already done, this half-dozen got directly to the maps and made a bipartisan agreement on a legislative map, and then adjourned.

That might have been the end of it. But monkey wrenches appeared. The plan became the subject of lawsuits (two, one from North Idaho and one based around Twin Falls County), and last week the Idaho Supreme Court decided the Twin Falls argument had enough merit to throw out the commission’s map and order the commission back to work to draw a new one.

New problems arose from this. One, not much mentioned but possibly significant, is that the state law should seem to indicate that the last redistricting commission became defunct as of December 13. (The Supreme Court did not address that question about whether a current commission even exists.)

Assuming, however, that it still does, a meeting has been called for it this Thursday at the Statehouse, to include its existing six members. But here too there’s a problem. Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney and Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said last week that they want to replace two of the Republican members of the commission (Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen, both conservative Republican former legislators) evidently on grounds that they were insufficiently protective of Republican Party interests.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office then issues an informal report saying that Denney and Semanko lacked legal authority to fire Crow and Hansen and replace them. Today, Denney and Semanko released a private informal legal opinion arguing that they do have such authority. This too looks to be destined to be a Supreme Court case.

That brings us up to date, so let’s game this out.

The odds seem to favor new commission members. Whether Denney and Semanko will prevail on their view of the law is unclear, but there’s a fair chance that either they will, or that the current commission will be held to have been disbanded by the December 13 deadline, and so six new members have to be appointed anyway. If they are, the odds are that they will not be in a compromising frame of mind, which will make producing any plan (which needs votes from both parties to pass) more difficult. Even if it wasn’t dealing with new Supreme Court mandates. This whole cluster of issues is unlikely to be settled within the next few weeks.

It may not be settled at all, in terms of a commission-produced plan. If it does not deliver a plan, the job will go to the Idaho Supreme Court, which will.

This is in all not a super-speedy process. It will take a couple of months at best, and maybe more.

Probably the commission, whatever its composition, would be best off to throw up its hands and say: “Justices, it’s all yours.”

And get the candidate filing and primary election schedule moved back a few months accordingly.

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Idaho

There was probably a time, back in the day of William Borah, say, when there was almost a certain amount of above-it-all classiness to say that you didn’t drive a car – as it’s said he did not – and maintained a bit of elevated distance from such things as traffic signals, speed limits and road conditions. And if you were a senator at the time, that could probably work. But when almost everyone began to drive, and we all were exposed to road rules and conditions every day, and the federal government was in the middle of building the interstate highway system, that kind of stance really didn’t cut it anymore. You wanted a senator who had the same kind of awareness of road traffic that most of us have. If he’d lived another 20 years, Borah might have appreciated that, and learned to drive.

It comes to mind this week with the unfortunate situation Idaho Senator Jim Risch is in over the newly deceased Protect IP Act, of which he had been one of the sponsors.

The Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert noted in a post today that “When he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2007, Jim Risch was proudly computer illiterate. After spending the better part of three decades in public life — and making a small fortune as an attorney — Risch all but boasted about being unplugged from e-mail, the Internet or the blogosphere.”

Which wouldn’t matter much except that after getting into the Senate, Risch is in the position of having to help make policy concerning the Internet. After hearing about intellectual property theft over the Internet – a problem that is quite real – Risch signed on to what was billed by Hollywood interests and others (and, it should be noted, these are among the biggest and most effective lobbies in the Beltway) as a solution. Except that it was more problem than solution.

Seen from the outside at least, Risch seemed taken by surprise – seemingly becoming aware just in the last few days that problems with the bills have cropped up. In a statement out today, Risch’s office said that “At the time of introduction and at the hearings, there was no opposition to the legislation (you may recall the Internet community was all on board with this, then a big split happened” – except that’s certainly not our recollection. A Google search will turn up opposition not only from the blogosphere but from Tea Party and many other sources going back for months, not to mention Senator Ron Wyden‘s once-lonely stand promising a filibuster if necessary. The problems have been evident to many computer-savvy people for a long time – since introduction.

The Congress need not consist of 535 computer geeks, but the people we send there should be conversant with these new rules of the road if they’re going to make policy about them. A suggestion for Senator Risch, who (and I sure wouldn’t say this of every member of Congress) is more than smart enough to program a computer were he to devote himself to the task: Get online. Surf the web. Leave comments. Get on Facebook. Get on – God help us all – Twitter. Drive the information superhighway for a while. You’ll be better prepared when these issues come around next time. Which they will.

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Idaho

The snow, then ice, then rain, then power outages at the legislative building – the very religiously inclined might almost wonder if someone is trying to keep the House Committee on Education today from holding a hearing on the charter school bill. Considering how short the session is, the delay could be fatal.

The bill, House Bill 2428 and sponsored by 16 legislators (most Republican, but including Democrats as well), would put Washington in the majority of 41 states which have charter public schools. Idaho has had them more than a decade, and has been recently expanding their numbers, even while some run into some bad headlines. Oregon has a more limited program. Charter schools are public schools receiving public funds, but operate free of most of the rules governing most public schools. The bill would allow the state board of education to authorize up to 50 of them.

The Washington experience is more complex. As the bill analysis says, “In Washington, Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295 was enacted and signed by the Governor in 2004 to establish charter schools. However, Referendum 55 was filed as a result of collected signatures to prevent the bill from taking effect. Referendum 55 was rejected by the
voters in the November 2004 general election, 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent.”

The thinking evidently is that attitudes have moved on. It also is an example, from another side of the fence, of the legislature taking another crack at an issue turned down by voters. If it does pass this time, what will the response be?

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Microsoft Corporation, the most successful big business in the Northwest, spoke out yesterday on a piece of Washington state legislation (which is within a single legislative vote of having enough for passage) which it said would help its business, and it got five other businesses to go along in the announcement. The legislation happens to be something a number of other states, including Idaho, could adopt if they chose.

Here’s what Microsoft said:

“Microsoft is joining other Northwest employers Concur, Group Health Cooperative, Nike, RealNetworks and Vulcan Inc. in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. This position builds on our history of supporting corporate and public policies that promote inclusion and equality. Microsoft’s greatest asset is a talented workforce as diverse as our customers. As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. This legislation would put Washington employers on equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Passing the bill would be good for our business and for the state’s economy.”

Think Idaho will approve this economic development measure?

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