Writings and observations

Bonamici
Representative Suzanne Bonamici (left) fielding a question from a constituent at her town hall meeting at Yamhill on October 20. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

   

The period after a federal government shutdown and near-default, both fomented by extremists, might seem to be a time when cooler heads might dominate the discussion and raise the questions. The situation seems to be more mixed at congressional town hall meetings, however: tin foil was amply in appearance.

At this afternoon’s, hosted by Representative Suzanne Bonamici at the high school at Yamhill, there were conspiracy theory audience questions about trade agreements, the Affordable Care Act, Sharia Law, child sterilization and concerns from one woman who could not understand why President Obama has not been impeached, given all the high crimes and misdemeanors he’s committed. She thought.

Bonamici, who has been getting increasingly adept at handling the town halls, had to comfort at one point: “Nobody’s trying to take your guns away from you.”

She’s gotten more diplomatic but also maybe a little more direct in dealing with nonsense. And after one long such stream from one Newberg man on Obamacare (well, the country really would be a terrifying place if half of what he contended really was true), she coolly remarked, “There’s a lot of misinformation about the Affordable Care Act.”

Bonamici’s approach seems lawyerly (understandable, given her profession), but also determined to keep the heat turned down. Given plenty of opportunity to blast the House Republicans over the shutdown, she passed, and said she’s trying to stay civil and not encourage conflict. She acknowledged the circumstances don’t allow for that in any easy way. Often on the floor, she said, “I’ve heard, ‘We need to stand and fight. This is an epic battle. We must not surrender.’ … To set it up like a battlefield is really counterproductive to working together.”

She acknowledged being an optimist, predicting in earlier town halls several months back that the talked-about shutdown wouldn’t actually happen. She said she doesn’t think they’ll happen again early next year … but she wrapped that more in the sense of hoping it wouldn’t.

We’ll know by the time her spring round of town halls comes around.

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idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The setup to Idaho politics 2014, on the congressional level, hardly could be clearer after the October 16 round of votes ending (for now) the federal government shutdown and the threat of federal debt default, not just because the congressional votes but because of the markers it set.

Both of Idaho’s senators were in the small group of about one-fifth of the Senate who voted against the measure who opposed the bill taking that step, but in their chamber they were part of too small a group to much affect the outcome. Most Senate Republicans voted in favor.

The House was different. There, the crisis-over bill passed with only a minority of Republicans plus all the Democrats; most House Republicans voted against. And unlike the Republicans in the delegations of Washington (all voting in favor) or Oregon (voting against), Idaho’s two House members split their votes. Raul Labrador of the first district voted against, and Mike Simpson of the second in favor.

This sets up and expands the gap between the two (Labrador has declined to back Simpson in his primary contest), and could point up contrasting types of races.

Simpson’s press release immediately after the vote got right into that, acknowledging explicitly (this is actually unusual) the politics of the vote. The second paragraph said, “While acknowledging his vote in favor of the bill might be unpopular with some of his constituents, Simpson said the potential economic consequences of continued stalemate outweighed any political consideration.”

In the next paragraph: “The easiest, most politically expedient thing for me to do would have been to vote NO and protect my political right flank,” said Simpson. “Doing so, however, would have been the wrong thing to do for my constituents and our economy. My vote today was about the thousands of people facing layoffs at INL, the multitude of businesses across Idaho that have told me their livelihoods are at stake, and the millions of folks across the country who can’t afford the devastating impacts of default on their investments and retirements. There has to be a way to address our nation’s fiscal problems without making them worse in the process.”

There’s his campaign argument for next year.

It’s gutsier than it first seems, because here’s what Simpson is implicitly saying about the other three members of the Idaho delegation: That they did the wrong thing for their constituents, that they cast aside the people whose lives and livelihoods were at stake, that they would make the nation’s future worse by their actions. It’s quite a critique, but implicit in any self-defense Simpson would offer.

The statement in Labrador’s release that most nearly serves as a counterpoint says this: “Like nearly all of my colleagues, I promised my constituents in 2010 and 2012 that I would fight ObamaCare – not just cast symbolic, meaningless votes – but work hard to roll it back whenever and wherever possible. I also promised that I would oppose raising the debt ceiling without meaningful cuts to government spending.” The reference to politics here was implicit, but just as clear.

Simpson’s “right flank” already is alive with serious primary challenge, in the form of Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, newly boosted last week with endorsements from Republican state legislators. Simpson is keenly aware that his vote would make that contest all the hotter.

And Labrador? He has a Democratic challenger, but within the Republican party only a university student is challenging him. If there’s a substantial group of first district Republicans who think Simpson rather than Labrador had the right approach here, their window to mount a serious challenge won’t be open much longer. If a serious candidate from the direction of the center did surface, the mirror-image races in the two districts next year would make for quite a spectacle.

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