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Posts published in May 2012

OR: Rugged times for the timber counties

Early results are showing results sure to make a lot of local government people - and a lot of business people, civic leaders and others too - cringe:

The public safety levy in Josephine County is failing, decisively, with 57% of the vote.

We wrote about this one in a post on May 11, and why this is more than just another local tax levy. Briefly, Josephine (the seat is Grants Pass) is one of those counties heavily reliant on federal timber money which is now, largely, gone. Several other counties nearby, including Curry and Coos, are in a similar boat.

Josephine (and Curry, and Coos) do have the lowest property tax rates in Oregon, so that might suggest where some replacement revenue might come from. Josephine backers put it in a frame that would seem to be hard to resist. County law enforcement would be cut to almost nothing without new revenue; the jail could hold hardly any prisoners. Not some liberal group but a conservative Republican state legislator (Wally Hicks) and local Republican elected officials were helping lead the effort to pass a small-scale tax increase that would be dedicated exclusively to law enforcement. Quite a bit of the local business community, and other activists, seem to have signed on.

But 57% thought otherwise. Might be interesting to see what they think, say a year from now, about what their decision has wrought - not only for themselves but also, likely, for Curry and Coos.

OR: AG Rosenblum

The weight of indicators seemed to be pointing toward a win for Attorney General in the Democratic primary - which may be determinative - for Ellen Rosenblum over Dwight Holton, and so it seems: She has 63.3% of the vote as this is written.

A lot of the discussion, as efforts ran to find distinctions between the candidates (who didn't seem to differ on a whole lot of things), centered on medical marijuana, of which Rosemblum seemed to be somewhat more supportive. The weasel words are intentional; the perception may or may not be close to reality. Maybe that issue accounts for some of the result, and surely the pro-pot contingent will take heart from the result.

Another factor may have played in as well, though, and one watcher suggested in the last few days. Holton is a close friend of outgoing AG John Kroger, who has had a string of problems and wound up dissatisfying a number of people in various arenas of law, from criminal to political-related investigations. And the matter of leaving office this summer, before his term is up, may be excusable but may not sit too well. Maybe some portion of the voters were also calling for a sharp break from the current administration.

OR primary: Hales and Smith for the fall?

Well, now we have a little better idea which polls not to watch.

Tonight's Portland mayoral race, which technically features about two dozen candidates, really comes down to a matter of two out of three, the three being former Council member Charlie Hales, legislator Jefferson Smith and business executive Eileen Brady. Since none have been likely to get as much as 50% of the vote, the question is which two of the three progress on to November.

Some polls, going back more than a week, suggested that Hales seemed to be losing steam (which fed our post of May 13). Several polls since then seemed to show him in much stronger position.

Those later polls seem to have caught it: Hales is in a decisive first place position, with Smith in second and Brady trailing.

Brady has spent on the campaign more money (about $1.1 million, according to recent estimates) as the other two candidates combined. You can call that another blow to the idea that campaign money is all when it comes to election results.

Then there's this: Brady was the one woman running against two men, and the one political newcomer against two candidates with ballot background in the area. She seemed to get no more negative publicity than the other two. These factors might logically have resulted in at least a second-place finish, but not in this case. This will be pondered over for a while.

OR primary: Reardon knocks off Schaufler

We begin sifting through this evening's numbers with our first-check among the Oregon races: state House 48 (eastern Multnomah), in which Democratic Representative Mike Schaufler, who has cast some key votes with Republicans and otherwise has irritated a number of other Democrats, lost to challenger Jeff Reardon. To go by the early numbers, it isn't close - more than 2 to 1.

This wasn't really unexpected; we'd thought this result more likely than not. One tell may have been the large number of fellow Democratic legislators who backed Reardon; they wouldn't have done that for a longshot.

A Republican, George Yellott, is also running, but Reardon seems well positioned for the fall. And Democratic caucus leaders may feel a little better.

ID: Primary dead ahead

Tuesday will mark Idaho's first try at a partially-closed primary election. That means Republicans will allow only people declaring themselves to be Republicans to vote in that party's primary. Democrats will allow anybody.

We've talked with a number of people who, disgusted at the idea of publicly declaring a party affiliation, said they won't participate in this primary. How many of them there will be is unclear, especially since some of the early numbers are showing participation is up.

Anyway, these are some of the Idaho primary contests we'll be watching most closely Tuesday night.

1 - House 2B (R) - Phil Hart (inc), Ed Morse (ch), Ron Vieselmeyer (ch), Fritz Wiedenhoff (ch). The Idaho Panhandle is a place of real intra-Republican ferment in this season, and this is one of the reasons why. Hart, who has a number of, let's say issues, with the State Tax Commission (more specifically, it with him - and the IRS too), has a substantial core of defenders in this extremely Republican district. His opposition is split three ways, with Morse getting support from a relatively moderate organization (though they would not call themselves that) and Vieselmeyer, a former legislator, from some other conservative activists. (They have a lot of conservative Republican organizations up in the Panhandle.) Everyone's watching this one.

2 - Senate District 5 (R) - Gresham Bouma (ch), Barrett Schroeder (ch). The winner here gets to face Democrat Dan Schmidt, who in this moderate district last cycle easily defeated Bouma, who was allied with the Tea Party - who had in the 2010 primary defeated Republican incumbent Gary Schroeder. Now Barrett Schroeder (that's right) and Bouma are having it out - and Barrett's campaign material is the most eye-grabbing of the season. The centerpiece of his campaign front page is worth quoting at length, as he proclaims himself: "A Peacemaker, Not a Troublemaker. Idaho MUST reject Extremism and Hate. Education is an investment in our future. I support the University of Idaho and our schools. Government of Laws and Accountability, Not Conspiracy Theories and Secret Militias. A Pro-Business Conservative: 10 years as Chair of Latah County Republicans, Manager of family business, Moscow Hide and Fur." Bouma's web page is a lot less interesting; he "pledges to support Constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, fiscal responsibility, and states' rights."

3 - Senate District 20 (D) - none on ballot. This is the odd case of the group, because there isn't a primary contest here. Republican incumbent Chuck Winder currently is unopposed in either primary or general election. But Eagle resident James Mace filed in March as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination; if he gets 50 write-ins, he qualifies for a spot on the November ballot against Winder. He has the usually notoriously low Democratic turnout in that district to contend with, but quite a few people think he can manage the 50-vote threshold, and make for a lively contest in the fall. The first step, if it happens, has to be cleared on Tuesday. This write-in is apt to get unusual attention, if it succeeds, because Winder was the highly visible sponsor of last session's intensely controversial (nationally as well as in the state) transvaginal ultrasound bill.

4 - Senate 1 (R) - Danielle Ahrens (ch), Shawn Keough (inc). All three Republican legislators in District 1 are being challenged as being insufficiently conservative. Such defining is awfully slippery, and probably seriously disingenuous. Keough, the senator of the three, has for some cycles held the vice-chair spot on the Senate side of the Idaho Legislature's budget committee; such a position doesn't go to anyone whose conservative cred is considered seriously questionable (by legislative Republicans, unless you consider them liberals). So, what this challenge means or amounts to isn't totally clear, other than that it has been energetic. But there is this: If it succeeds, it would send some shock waves.

5 - Presidential primary (R). Yeah, yeah, the nomination is sewn up for Mitt Romney. But the Ron Paul people in Idaho (and in some other places) are making loud noises, and this would be a logical place for them to try.

6 - Senate District 23 (R) - Bert Brackett (inc), Tim Corder (inc.). Yes, this is one of those post-redistricting contests throwing together two incumbents, and although both are fair exemplars of this rugged and rural southwest Idaho range land, Brackett and Corder are quite different in legislative outlook. Corder is the more independent and free-ranging in his outlook, Brackett is the more business-oriented and closer to state Republican establishment (his backers include Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter and Senator James Risch, as well as the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry).

7 - House District 7A (R) - Shannon McMillan (inc), Rex Rammell (ch). Remember Rex Rammell? If not, then go here. Well, he's back, in a brand new legislative district where the incumbent lives in, and has previously represented, just the northern end of it. Of course, Rammell is fairly new here too (he previously ran for the legislature around Rexburg), but this is quirky territory. We'd tend to figure McMillan takes it, but who knows for sure?

8 - U.S. Representative District 2 (R) - M.C. "Chick" Heileson (ch), Mike Simpson (inc). Last year this was a lot hotter than now, and Simpson's renomination doesn't seem anywhere near in danger. But it will be a good metric for evaluating the Tea influence this year: Heileson's voice is a fierce one.

9 - Senate District 28 (R open) - W. Rusty Barlow, Jim Guthrie. This should be fascinating. Guthrie, now a representative from a Pocatello-area district, has been a Bannock County commissioner and has developed a campaigning style that keeps him in conservative territory but makes him acceptable to just enough Pocatellans. Barlow, who served in the House from 1976-82, is of a different style entirely - he was one of the most bluntly conservative legislators back in his day. This is quite a contrast, and the results should be fascinating.

10 - U.S. Representative District 2 (D) - Jack Wayne Chappell (ch), Nicole LeFavour. The general expectation is that LeFavour, a state senator and Idaho's only openly gay legislator, will get the nomination easily against perennial candidate Chappell. Probably (though we don't consider it a lock). But this will be one of those cases where it will pay to watch the details of the local returns.

OR: Primary dead ahead

Tuesday night, the last of the ballots are scooped up, and the results (most of them anyway) are announced. Except for very close races, the results will be known soon after the 8 p.m. deadline passes.

So what to watch for? Here's where our attention will be focused on Tuesday night.

1 - House 48 (D) - Mike Schaufler (inc), Jeff Reardon (ch). This must be the hottest legislative primary in Oregon this year, a fierce and intensively fought contest in, roughly, southeast Portland - in a district quite a bit different than the one the incumbent, Schaufler, is used to. About a dozen other Democratic House members have lined up for Schaufler's opponent, Reardon, in an unusual display of determination to oust him. The Oregonian notes that "The Oregon League of Conservation Voters is cranking out mailers attacking Schaufler's environmental votes as well as an incident involving Schaufler and a female lobbyist that led to the loss of his House co-chairmanship. One flier features him in league with Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh." But Schaufler, who has held a seat here since 2002, is not without friends of his own, or campaign skills. Our betting edges toward Reardon, but not by much: This ranks as the most interesting primary contests in Oregon this year.

2 - Portland mayor (np, open) - Eileen Brady, Charlie Hales, Jefferson Smith, 20 others. Writing about this a week ago, the uneasy prediction was that Hales will be the odd candidate out, and Brady and Smith proceed to November. We're not changing that view yet, but this is a fluid race, and any of the three could realistically wind up third.

3 - Jefferson County Measure 17.43. This is a public safety ballot issue, and also a proposal to raise property taxes in a county that hates property taxes - and where almost all other options to keep the most basic of county services funded have been exhausted. Win other lose, this ballot issue will have statewide resonance.

4 - Clackamas County chair (np) - Dave Hunt (ch), Charlotte LeHan (inc), John Ludlow (ch), Paul Savas (ch). What a contest this has been, and it speaks to the rapid growth in Oregon's third-largest county, its currently eruptive anti-tax Republican activism, and what has been a longer-term Democratic shift. The oddity is that it features an incumbent, Charlotte Lehan, who on her own seems not to have been especially controversial (though one blogger describes her "deaf ear for public sentiment," for which some evidence is available). But her opponents come from all over the board: Former Democratic House speaker Hunt, who has drawn support not only from Democratic quarters but also an Independent Party endorsement; Paul Savas, a commission member who has gotten a lot of the conservative support (though the Oregonian, in endorsing him,m described him as a centrist); and Wilsonville Mayor John Ludlow. Political hacks will be poring over these results for weeks.

5 - Attorney General (D, open) - Ellen Rosenblum, Dwight Holton. It's a statewide office, and has gotten some attention, but the main excitement seems to have been over which of them is more receptive to medical marijuana law (the thinking is Rosenblum, but the evidence is ambiguous). A moderately interesting race, but what will it teach us, other than (maybe) some reflection of attitudes about pot?

6 - Senate 27 (R) - Chris Telfer (inc), Tim Knopp (ch). It can't be said - or rather, it shouldn't be said, since it has been said - that Telfer is anything other than a loyal Senate caucus Republican, who only very occasionally breaks from the pack - no more than several others do. But the challenge from former legislator Knopp in the bigger picture has the look of a coalition of conservative forces (which does include two state representatives from the area) operating on loyalty politics - some of his backers describe Telfer as a Democrat. This is the premier party-loyalty battle in Oregon this year. (The guess here: Knopp wins.)

7 - Lane County Commission, seat 4 (np) - Rob Handy (inc), Pat Farr. Referencing back here to our April 29 piece on this contest between, in a race for a nonpartisan seat, a hot battle between a functional Democrat (that would be the incumbent, Handy) and a functional Republican (Farr).

8 - Portland city council seat 1 (np) - Amanda Fritz (inc). Mary Nolan (ch). You have an incumbent and a challenger, but even that is a little misleading here. Both Fritz and Nolan have views that you might expect of mainstream Portland city candidates, but their structural roles are a little different than you might expect. Fritz, closing out her first term, was the only candidate so far to win Portland city office using public financing, and in some ways seems to have been an outsider since. Nolan, on the other hand, woud be a new council member, but has been a veteran Idaho House member (since 2001), and has been majority leader there. It looks like a close race.

A lot more interesting as a contest than the race for seat 4, which is open. There, attorney Steve Novick - who would become overnight the most interesting member of the city council - is almost certain to win election, and probably will win outright on Tuesday; there are no other strong candidates in that race.

9 - House 36 (D, open) - Sharon Meieran, Jennifer Williamson. After Schaufler/Reardon, this race - to replace Mary Nolan, now running for the Portland council - has become one of the highest-profile of Portland-area legislative races, and its core debate subject is highly pertinent: health. Meieran, who has been a lawyer, has been more recently an emergency room physician. Williamson was and is an attorney, with some expertise in education, including for state entities (Department of Education, Portland State University) and appearing before the legislature: Lobbying. Williamson's campaign got proactive on the definitional front, saying in one mailer, "Insurance companies are ready to spend a fortune to smear Jennifer Williamson as a 'lobbyist.'" Meieran forces shot back, decrying the implication that she was an insurance-backed candidate. So we have a doctor (who used to be a lawyer) against a lawyer (who has lobbied), in a campaign that could be an interesting test of which definitions resonate better. The lessons may not be a lot broader than that: They're both running as left-of-center Democrats in a left-of-center Democratic district. (Meieran seems to have gotten the weight of the endorsements.)

10 - U.S. House 3 (R) - Ronald Green, Delia Lopez. There's a notable lack of suspense this year in the primaries for Oregon's congressional offices (and may be again in November). The temptation to include one was too great to resist, though, and this one - the race for the apparently worthless Republican nomination in District 3 (that would be the overwhelmingly Democratic district anchored by Portland, the seat held by Democrat Earl Blumenauer). One of the candidates, a first-timer, was Green, a TriMet bus driver; the other is Lopez, who has run for this seat (and been Republican-nominated) twice before - from the small rural community of Oakland, a couple of hours away from District 3.

Lopez is personable, but, well, she doesn't live even close to the district. Green has no great credentials for Congress, but he does live in the district, and he has a platform (mainly relating to higher tariffs) that relate to economic conditions and action Congress might take. Question: Are the few District 3 Republicans so dispirited that they vote by rote, and give Lopez the nomination again?

Perils of prediction

In working on next week's Washington Weekly Briefing, we ran across this from the "1 year ago" file ...

The Washington State Republican Party, meeting at Bellevue, for an annual dinner on May 6, ran a straw poll to assess the support there for the various presidential contenders.
357 ballots came in, and split deeply among 17 named candidates (and nine “others”). The “winner” with 54 votes – 15.1% of the total – was businessman Herman Cain, outpacing former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney by two votes.
The next two highest finishers included one person who might or might not right (Mitch Daniels, Indiana governor) and one who has flatly said he will not (Chris Christie, New Jersey governor).

Remember that the next time a presidential cycle comes around.

A tax levy, and much more


Could be that the most significant event in Oregon on Tuesday passes clear outside the view of most Oregonians, partly because it will be happening in Josephine County, far from the big population centers, off in the southwest corner of the state, around Grants Pass.

It will be not a hot race for high office, but a local county tax levy, Measure 17.43. From its description in the voter guide: "Should Josephine County impose $1.99 per $1,000 of assessed value for criminal justice system operations for four years beginning 2012-2013? This measure may cause property taxes to increase more than three percent."

Voters in Portland might hardly blink at something like that, but it is earth-shattering for Josephine County. Josephine is one of the most tax averse counties in Oregon. It has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of federal forest funding, and with that in hand, kept its property taxes so low that Josephine's are the lowest in Oregon, a fraction of what people in the Portland metro area are accustomed to.

As those federal funds have been disappearing, and they are virtually gone now, the county government has moved into a crisis mode. With much of its funding gone, the logical move would be an increase in the property tax, but that has generated intense opposition as well. (As it has in other Oregon counties similarly situated, like Curry and Coos.)

Still, local county backers have proposed 17.43, which is tightly focused: On local law enforcement and related services. If the property tax increase is approved, that is where the money most specifically will go. Absent any new influx of money, those agencies will be gutted. This county of 83,000 people will have but three sheriff's deputies (on contract) and space for just 30 prisoners (the norm has been 120), both amounts only a sliver of what the county has had - barely more than no sheriff's office at all, and no more than the shell of a county government. Only the hardest cases will remain behind bars. (The local Daily Courier has summed up budget cuts now expected locally. It has endorsed passage of the levy.)

This prospect (and related issues) has begun to worry much of the Grants Pass business community a lot more than a modest tax increase, and it has generated levy support from a number of public officials who would never, under ordinary circumstances, be considered pro-tax, starting with the county commissioners and the mayor of Grants Pass.

And then there's Wally Hicks, a Republican state representative from Grants Pass, a former deputy district attorney and generally described as a conservative - and also very concerned about what might happen to law enforcement in his county. He has turned into a leader in support of the levy.

As significant as the vote is for Josephine County, its impact could be much broader. Money borrowing costs for southwest Oregon counties, not just Josephine, could shoot much higher if it fails, since the possibility of an outright failed county would be on the table. A no vote could start, as the children's story has it, "A succession of unfortunate events."

While much of the attention goes to Portland mayor and the race for attorney general, throw a spotlight over to Grants Pass on Tuesday.

Internal slaughter

Whatever else this season's Idaho Republican civil war may be, it is not about "conservatism" - whatever that word may mean. It is not about "philosophy." Just about all of the Republicans on the ballot this year for legislative office or higher in Idaho are small-budget, low-tax, strict Christian-oriented, business-backing candidates. In the scheme of things, their differences are far fewer those between, say, mainstream Methodists and mainstream Presbyterians. From the way the rhetoric is running, you'd think they're (metaphorically) Christians Buddhists. There's not a lot of daylight.

Even if the view here is that the term "conservative" has been so thoroughly abused as to be beyond any coherent meaning or repair (almost like "liberal" in that sense), the people running for the Republican nomination in Idaho this year are, overwhelmingly, a consistent group - more internally, ideologically, consistent than, say, the comparable cadre of Republican candidates in Washington or Oregon. As a matter of agenda, they all ought to be allies.

But this turns out to be an ugly season of internal bomb-throwing, in which incumbent legislators of the same party - even co-members of the small leadership group - are throwing (money) bombs aimed at politically destroying colleagues with whom they almost always vote in agreement in committee and floor. How to make sense of this?

A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that there are so many of them, that Democrats are such a minor opposition that they find it hard to get worked up about them any more (on a state level, that is). And those personal dislikes are weighing large. Also the likelihood that primary turnout may be smaller and it may be possible for activists to have even more sway than they have had.

There is, for example, a concerted (and complex) effort by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle to defeat their fellow member of leadership, Ken Roberts. (That is made clear more by way of campaign money donations than by public statements.) Moyle's comment: "My goal is to make Ken's life miserable because he's making my life miserable."

It certainly isn't because the issue positions and voting record of Roberts is more than microscopically different from Moyle's or Denney's. It's easier to declare that the opposition is somehow "less conservative;" but don't expect anyone to explain what that actually means.

This is happening by way of a series of interlocking PACs, which by some reports include the Victory Fund, Idaho Land PAC, Gun PAC, Free Enterprise PAC, Idaho Association For Good Government (aka Nonini PAC) and Idaho Chooses Life.

And, says a Spokesman-Review blog entry, "Endorsements are being given and withdrawn, two Kootenai County GOP groups are clawing at each other's right to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, and independent groups are mounting their own campaigns, either boosting or bashing various GOP incumbents under names like Free Enterprise PAC and Idaho Prosperity Fund."

This is a serious conflict, in that a number of political contests are on the line. But what have they to do with ideology?

Only this, apparently: Some activists seem to be all out, searching for the extremes and interested in throwing bombs wherever possible, especially from within the legislature; and others are more interested in relatively stable governing. A difference in approach and world view, certainly, and attitude as well.

But conservatism? Not unless a whole new definition is developed and commonly accepted for a word already degraded almost beyond meaning.