Writings and observations

There may be all sorts of fallout from the Washington Senate power-share arrangement.

There will be the overtly political, including re-elect races of Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, the two Democrats who crossed over to help Republicans gain control. (Any thoughts of a recall, though, probably are dismissable; Washington has tough recall laws that require either a legal or major ethical violation for a recall, and this kind of power change certainly doesn’t fall into that category.)

Some of the more interesting effects may be on the Republican side, where the party will be more or less ostensibly in control, but not in any absolute way. Presumably to get Tom and Sheldon ob board, they had to give up overall leadership of the chamber to those two, plus half of the committee chairs.

And today’s national Daily Kos report notes, “Republicans and Democrats will each chair one-half of the chamber’s committees, including some that will be co-chaired—although it’s worth noting that some of the most moderate first-term GOPers, Andy Hill and Steve Litzow, will head two of the most important committees, leapfrogging over much-more-senior conservative members. One other consequence that shouldn’t be overlooked: Seeing as how every vote needs to count in order to make the coup work, the Republicans were also forced to accept loose-cannonish (emotionally more so than ideologically) Pam Roach—whom they kicked out of the caucus—back into the fold.”

That point about needing every vote is critical. Let one senator on either side go south on you, and it’s a tough go. That’s one reason coalitions of this sort can be so unstable. – Randy Stapilus

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The power grab announced. (photo/Secretary of State’s office)

 

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Two years ago, Oregon Democrats and Republicans hit what might have been a tremendous problem. To the 60-seat House chamber, exactly 30 members of each party had been elected. how could control of the chamber be managed?

Carefully, it turned out. There was some chatter about someone in the caucuses splitting off and winning control for the other side, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the party leaders worked together and named co-chairs, who cautiously avoided land mines and worked through what became a productive term, in a professional way. It took a long series of compromises, good will and fair bargaining.

What has happened in the Washington Senate is unlikely to lead to so well-regarded an end result.

The November elections left the Washington Senate with a narrow majority, 26 to 23 Republicans, but a majority nonetheless. Preliminary organizational work began, including naming new committee chairs.

Then today, two of those Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon (who for many years has been a split-off vote among Democrats) said they would join the Republican caucus for organizational purposes, with Tom and Sheldon taking the top two leadership positions, and committee chairs split between the parties. (That latter part sounds more egalitarian than it is; most of the major chairs would be held by Republicans.)

The remaining Democrats have protested, but whether they have any options to stop the coalition is unclear.

Coalitions have run legislative chambers across the country from time to time, over the years. Alaska has had them in the not too distant past; going back a good deal further, so have Oregon and Idaho. they tend not to work very well, and by their nature are unstable.

Because there are questions of loyalty and advantage-taking, the emotional tenor of this session is likely to be strained to say the least. There will be fury in some quarters, and cooperation may be hard to find. The metaphorical long knives will be out, soon.

The challenge Washington will face this term – getting productive work out of its upper legislative chamber – is probably much greater than the challenge Oregon faced the last couple of split-control years.

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It doesn’t seem so awfully difficult west of the Cascades.

Federal conditional approval came in today for the Oregon and Washington health insurance exchange proposals. That means some details remain, but the outlines have been approved. Washington and Oregon were two of the first six states to get approval.

From a release description of the Oregon proposal:

Cover Oregon is a central online marketplace where individuals and small businesses can shop for and compare health coverage options and access financial assistance, starting in October 2013. Coverage for plans purchased through Cover Oregon will be effective January 1, 2014.

Through Cover Oregon, individuals and families will be able to easily compare plans, see quality grades for carriers and plans, and access financial assistance to help pay for premiums. Oregonians can find out if they may qualify for financial help by visiting the calculator on the Cover Oregon website, at http://www.coveroregon.com/calculator.php.

Small businesses will be able to offer more options to their employees through Cover Oregon, and some will qualify for tax credits to help pay to cover their employees.

From here, it really doesn’t sound a lot like tyranny. – Randy Stapilus

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Representative Lawerence Denney did not lose the Idaho House speakership this week to Scott Bedke over questions of who was more “conservative,” which would have been a pointless argument. Their world view, to judge from their stands on issues, is pretty similar.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Idaho, and the rules it lives under, won’t be affected by the change.

Here’s one indicator: A legislator suggested to me, post-vote, that the change in speakers might add three weeks to the session.

That wasn’t meant as a criticism. Idaho (or any state) is better off with a longer but more thoughtful session than a shorter but less useful or more reckless one. It was Denney’s style, in his three terms as speaker, to keep things under wraps, to bottle up or shut down legislation or other actions (such as moving against former Representative Phil Hart, when Hart got into tax trouble). There’s some indication, speculation at least, that Bedke’s style may be more free-flowing and open. He already has shaken up the committee assignment picture. Of course, there’s some uncertainty in what Bedke’s ascension may mean too, since the speakership can look a little different from the inside than from the outside.

Again, none of this is ideological, and it could mean both that the House has a more open and responsive feel, which could generate positive headlines, and that it takes up even more controversial legislation than in recent years – which, as legislative observers in Idaho know, would be saying something – and that could cut the other way.

At least a couple of specific decisions, during the just-concluded organizational legislative session, indicate that the House and maybe the Senate too aren’t yet done with their ideological journey to the right.

One is the unusually large number of new House members.

Still another is the composition of the new Idaho Senate. On one hand, the Senate Republicans stuck with the status quo in their leadership crew; a serious challenge to long-time Majority Leader Bart Davis didn’t pan out. But the new Senate includes a whole lot of former House members, and the speculation is (as it has been for some months) that the Senate will begin to look and act more like the House, seconding more of its controversial legislation than it has in past sessions. The Senate is also getting a mostly-new crew of committee chairs, many more at one time than in decades, and that’s likely to change its character too.

Heading into 2013, the Idaho Legislature isn’t in so tough a financial bind as in the last few years – it has a little more room maneuver – and it doesn’t have to go out on many limbs. If it doesn’t want to.

But the changes we saw in the organizational session may be just enough to encourage more freelancing than in the last few years. There’s a good chance the seeds have been planted for a session packed with hotly-debates legislation and quotable quotes.

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carlson
NW Reading

One of the Republican Northwest blogs we check out has been MooCountyNews, based in Tillamook – a politically competitive area. But blogger Jim Welsh seems to have gotten turned off politics after the November election, to judge from his most recent – and last, to judge from the headline – post, “I will write no more forever.”

From it:

So where to now for those of us who are conservatives in Liberal America? Well, if you have nothing else to do, you can continue to fight a losing battle skirmishing as you retreat and occasionally getting off a lucky shot and electing a conservative. But let’s face it, the jig is up. With a national debt that will soon be 20 trillion dollars, with tens of thousands of baby boomers coming onto the Social Security rolls each month and also onto Medicare for the next 15 years, and, in Oregon, an Oregon PERS liability that will never be addressed until entire budgets of counties and school districts are consumed by retirement payments, and a national and state economy that will not have the ability to grow due to the above situations, does anyone really think that the decline of America can be reversed?

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Now that Nate Silver has achieved the title of “Most Accurate Pollster To Ever Poll A Poll,” I’d guess he’s deeply involved in negotiating a new, well-earned deal at The New York Times for considerably higher wages. Wonkish to the top of his little bifocals, he called 49 out of 50 state congressional races and gave the Obama administration reason to sleep well during the late stages of the presidential run.

With campaigning over for awhile, young Nate should be taking time off to peddle his book or teach advanced statistics at Columbia. But, NO, not the Prince of Polls. He’s writing his almost-daily column and still digging around in discarded reams of other people’s polls on the campaign floor. His findings are interesting.

Mitt and many of his former gang are in various stages of seclusion. A few – at the top of what has to be the least informed and least effective presidential campaign staff in history – are speaking out about their hammering. Some are proving conclusively – on Faux News and CNN and in various op-eds- that they were bad at their jobs. Likewise, the GOP is searching blindly to see what it all means. So far, it’s clear they don’t know. All of ‘em should be talking to Silver. He knows exactly.

It’s important to remember Nate doesn’t do polling. He carefully selects data from those who do. Not all of it fits his needs. Sort of like scoring at the Olympics – throw out the top and bottom – take your numbers from the middle. Plus some mumbo-jumbo only Nate understands while adding his own “secret ingredients.” As he has said, “avoid the passion and stick with the numbers.”

While Mitt was contributing almost daily to his own electoral demise, Neal Newhouse and his other polling elves were blindly assisting. They were living in a data “cone of silence” exclusive of outside information. When that happens, and you have even one error, it becomes a part of the base data and is perpetuated in everything that comes after. Simple as that. Like getting ALL your news only from Fox. Or MSNBC. Any one source.

Also, consider this from Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, testifying under oath at last year’s federal trial of his former boss, John Edwards. Hickman on his own interior campaign polls: “I didn’t much care if they were accurate. I didn’t necessarily take these as for – as you would say – the truth of the matter. I took them more as propaganda for the campaign.” That from a political numbers guy who’s been around for years. How?

Campaigns – aside from being susceptible to bad information – can also fool themselves, according to Silver. “Our self-perceptions are very often more optimistic than reality. For instance, 80% of people think they are above-average drivers.” Perception versus reality.
Silver adds, “Honest self-assessment for business is one reason outside management consultants are engaged – at considerable expense – to provide corporations more objective data.” Romney, Ryan and their own people admitted they disregarded outside polling in favor of their own “internals.”

Silver also blames “group-think.” Pollsters in campaigns face many perverse incentives competing with their ability to produce accurate results. They may worry about hurting the morale of a candidate – worry about telling the candidate bad news – may be worried that bad news could end their services if the candidate feels the race is hopeless.

A political campaign shielded from reality – accepting only its own data and operating without independent information – is doomed from day one. The Romney campaign believed all the outside “independent” polling showing Obama in the lead was flawed because its own internal numbers were so different. So strong. So consistent. Political hubris and ignorance were significant contributors to the campaign’s downfall.

I’ve posited for a long time those on the right – true conservatives all the way out to the funny hat crowd – who get their news ONLY from Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, Larson, Medved et al – are oblivious to reality. Particularly political news. For those of you whose feelings I’ve just hurt, throw in MSNBC or CNN or any other single source you perceive to be left of your position. Same thing. Any omission of fact – deliberate or not – any misstatement of fact – deliberate or not – then becomes part of the “truth” – the “true facts” for the “true believers.” It’s self-perpetuating. Guaranteed!

Without checks and balances of other facts – other realities that may make you uncomfortable – you’re operating in the same “cone of silence” as the Romney campaign. In the end, the value of your thinking will be just as faulty as Mitt’s polls.

Trusted professional political friends on the national scene tell me they’re doing a complete “autopsy” of Obama’s team and tools. Already they’re in awe of the depth of data, the expanse of information acquired about supporters and voters-at-large, the motivating tools used to keep volunteers in their base interested and involved, locations of their grassroots workers network and how all of this was compiled into such an excellent, useable product. In “real time.”

What the professionals are discovering is that our just-completed campaign has broken all the old molds and set a standard for any politician who wants to be successful from now on. Data. Hard data. Reliable data. “Real time” data. Useable data.

So, believing their own “facts,” were Mitt and his minions staying in touch with reality? Or were they simply drinking the Kool-Aid of their single source “experts” while feeling completely informed of their own “reality?”

Which begs the question – “When you turn off Faux News, are you in touch with things the way they really are? Or are you simply – well, you know – drinking that stuff? What’s in your reality “glass?”

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carlson
NW Reading

As the Washington out east ponders budget balancing, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group is suggesting some ways to raise $150 billion, painlessly for most us, by hitting offshore tax dodges. Regulatory devices that are legal (the lobbyists make sure of that), but that many taxpayers probably would deem unfair.

From OSPRIG’s email this morning …

With Congress scrambling to agree on ways to reduce the deficit, OSPIRG released a new analysis, pointing out a clear first step to avoid the “fiscal cliff”: closing offshore tax loopholes. Many of America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals use accounting gimmicks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens, where they pay little to no taxes. This tax avoidance costs the federal government $150 billion in tax revenue each year. OSPIRG’s new data illustrates the size of this loss with 16 dramatic ways $150 billion could be spent.

“When corporations skip out on their taxes, the rest of us are left to pick up their tab.” said Celeste Meiffren, Consumer and Taxpayer Advocate with OSPIRG. “Right now, this kind of tax dodging is perfectly legal, but it’s not fair and it’s time to put an end to it.”

At least 83 of the top 100 publically traded corporations in the U.S. make use of tax havens, according to the GAO. American companies like Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, and Pfizer – which benefit from our educated workforce, infrastructure, and security – keep more than 70% of their cash offshore. Thirty of America’s largest, most profitable corporations actually made money off our tax code between 2008 and 2010 by avoiding taxes altogether and receiving tax rebates from the government. By using offshore tax havens, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, forcing us make up the difference through cuts to public services, a bigger deficit, or higher taxes for everyday citizens.

To illustrate the size of the revenue lost each year to tax havens, OSPIRG presented 16 specific ways it could be spent, in a fact sheet released today, titled “What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens.” Examples include:

Provide Pell Grants for ten million college students every year for four years;
Bring transportation into the 21st Century by funding construction of 15 commuter rail lines, 50 light rail transit lines and more than 800 bus rapid transit lines.
Provide a tax cut of $1,068 for every person who filed taxes in America

Perhaps most strikingly, reclaiming the $150 billion lost to offshore tax loopholes would more than cover the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts that will take effect in 2013 if Congress fails to avert the “fiscal cliff.” In fact, over ten years this lost revenue would be enough to achieve 37.5% of the $4 trillion debt reduction goal for that period favored by bipartisan leaders in Congress.

“There are some tough budget decisions ahead, but closing the offshore tax loopholes that let large companies shift their tax burden to the rest of us should be an easy one.” Meiffren added
To download the fact sheet, “What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens,” go here: http://ospirg.org/reports/orp/what-america-could-do-150-billion-lost-offshore-tax-havens

A Few Ways some of America’s largest corporations drastically shrink their tax bill:

· Google uses techniques nicknamed the “double Irish” and the “Dutch sandwich,” involving two Irish subsidiaries and one in Bermuda – a tax haven – that helped shrink its tax bill by $3.1 billion between 2008 and 2010.
· Wells Fargo paid no federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010 despite being profitable all three years in part due to its use of 58 offshore tax haven subsidiaries.
· Microsoft avoided $4.5 billion in federal income taxes over three years using sophisticated accounting tricks to artificially shift its income to tax-friendly Puerto Rico. The American company pays its Puerto Rican subsidiary 47% of the revenue generated from selling products in America that were developed in America.

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Idaho’s House speaker for the last three terms, Lawerence Denney – derided in many editorials around the state as “Boss Denney” – is out as the top House leader. He lost to the assistant majority leader, Scott Bedke. (Ironically, Denney has been AML before he won the top spot.)

This was mainly a contest over personality and management style more than stands on legislation; Denney and Bedke haven’t had discernably different voting records. Still, management style can matter: Legislation may surface, or get to the floor, depending on that style. An early take from one observer: The session may run a little longer now than it would have if Denney had prevailed.

No other changes of major note in the leadership races. More in this weekend’s column. – Randy Stapilus

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carlson
NW Reading

From a note to editors by the Washington State Patrol, concerning new state law on marijuana going into effect tomorrow …

However, it is unlikely that we will have much to report tomorrow regarding immediate effects of the new marijuana law. In particular, there will be no way to tell how many people troopers might have contacted with less than an ounce of marijuana and who were NOT arrested. It’s fundamental that we don’t keep tabs on people engaged in legal conduct.

It will take a month to six weeks to have completed trooper time sheets that might indicate a change in the number of arrests for possession. However, trooper timesheets only indicate “drug arrests,” they do not indicate the type of drug involved. So even this might not be definitive.

With respect to impaired driving, we hope you’ve all heard our mantra by now: We’ve always arrested impaired drivers regardless of the drug involved. It has always been a crime to drive while impaired by drugs whether they be illegal, legal or even medically prescribed. This new law does not change how troopers will determine impairment at the side of the road.

The THC level in a suspect’s blood will not be known for days or weeks after the roadside contact. That will be an issue for prosecutors and defense attorneys not troopers.

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Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

A magician’s best weapon to fool you is “misdirection – a word, a gesture or a movement to make you think or look at something different from what the guy’s actually doing. When the really good ones master the concept, you’ll be fooled every time. Works well in politics, too.
All our national media is awash in “fiscal cliff” hysteria. Will we go over? Will we be saved at the last minute? How bad will it be? Who’ll be to blame? All this “cliff” business is drowning out just about everything else. To me, all that noise is misdirection. You gotta keep your eye on what they’re doing – not what they’re saying.

Both sides are dug in. Really entrenched if you believe the talking heads. “Absolutely no way they’ll get together on anything before the end of the year” all the “experts” say. Maybe. Maybe not. A little piece of news out of the U.S. House this week may have more to do with that “misdirection” analogy than the media thinks.

Speaker Boehner jettisoned four of his soggy tea baggies off two important committees. Huelskamp of Kansas and Amash of Michigan are no longer on House Budget. You remember that group? Paul Ryan chairs that one. He of “Ryan Budget” fame. Medicare vouchers and all that. The other two – Schweikert of Arizona and Jones of North Carolina – no longer have keys to the House Financial Services Committee men’s room.
All four were abruptly dropped – apparently told by the media before being officially informed – for what House leadership said was “failure to be team players.” And what had these miscreants done? Well, three voted against the Ryan budget in committee or on the House floor. And Jones openly challenged leadership by opposing the war in Afghanistan. Defiance of orders to “get in line and go along.” Plus – he’s a budget “hawk.”

While such punishments are not normally worth noting outside the inside pecking order, these four get my attention. They share a common connection – three contaminated by tea baggerism and a fourth spouting anti-war sentiments. All are bedrock hard opposing new taxes. Of course, they’re not the only ones in the House. But – when pushed to a vote in the “official” House budget process – these four have been among the loudest naysayers. They want more and much deeper cuts in the national debt and no – absolutely NO – tax increases of any kind. Not likely they’re going to change. For any reason. These are not the kind of guys you want in positions of authority behind your back if you’re Boehner and trying to compromise with the rest of your caucus and the White House.

That’s why I label this interior shuffling “misdirection” and give it some importance. Boehner’s team is going to lose some votes on the House floor no matter what the final meeting-of-the-minds compromise turns out to be. He knows that. He also knows if he can’t get enough votes from hardliners in his financial committees to get any compromise out for a full vote, all Republicans are going to get pounded in the 2014 election because the public already perceives them as obstructionists. Polling in recent days has run as high as 58% against them if there’s no deal.

Boehner – who’s been a real underachiever in the Speaker’s job – wants desperately to compromise. But, to do that, he has to do some House “cleaning” or any agreement he signs onto will die before it’s born.
At the same time, in the Senate, eight members from both parties have been secretly trying to build a budget deal. Idaho’s Mike Crapo is one of ‘em. Using the Simpson-Bowles report as a starting point, this little group has been cutting, shifting and whittling numbers for a couple of months. And – with rumored “unofficial” input from the White House. Scuttlebutt is they’ve made significant progress. Enough so their discussions have turned to how to get whatever their final plan is through the House. If this group of “four+four” is successful, odds are good their compromise will be approved by the full Senate. But, what about the House? What if all their work winds up dead in some House committee because the extreme minority of goofy tea baggerists can keep it bottled up?

Despite public chest pounding and ultimatums, I think Boehner’s trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. He’s got to be aware of details that Senate group is talking about. He has to. And you can bet there’ll be some “revenue enhancements” – read “tax increases” – because nothing works without ‘em. It’s his job to make sure whatever lands on his desk gets a true “up-or-down” vote. He’s got to count each nose in his caucus to find the necessary “yes” votes. About 218 total – give or take a nose.

But take all this guessing one step further. The budget deal is just the first step. There will be many more very important issues/votes in the early days of the new Congress. If Boehner can isolate some – not all but some – of the baggers, the House may be open for business. And if Harry Reid can get those filibuster rules changed, a simple majority will remove the logjam in the Senate. You accomplish both those things and a congress – now rated lower than used car salesmen by the public – may be able to do business.

Is all of this conjecture? Maybe. Maybe not. But Boehner, Reid and all the others in leadership positions didn’t get there because they showed everybody at the poker table all the cards in their hands. A little bluster. A little bluff. And, often, a good helping of misdirection. Watch for yourself.

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