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Posts published in November 2015

First take/Trump

The race is a long way from over, but this Donald Trump speech in Fort Dodge, Iowa, may be one of the most referenced candidate speeches down the road. Appalling and strange, sometimes effective, sometimes weird, it's a real moment. What will Fort Dodge mean down the road? - rs

First take/Haggen

It's been a rough, sad and peculiar ride for Haggen, the west coast supermarket chain that briefly seemed about to dominate the field in the western states. The small chain, which has run high-quality stores (I've shopped in several of them) from a base at Bellingham, Washington, was a small operation until not too many months ago. Then it's eyes got bigger than its stomach. When shifts in the Safeway and Albertsons world forced those companies to do a massive selloff, Haggen bought. Like so many small fish trying to consume large fish, indigestion resulted, and the company has been trying to back off elements of that sale for a while now. Now it is auctioning more than 130 stores, and apparently even its original stores are up for sale - which may mean the end of Haggens. That would be a shame, but there's a lesson here for the ambitious. - rs

Political resurrection

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It won’t be an unrecorded miracle of the Lord. Nor will it be a modern-day Houdini act, but one can bet in six months the herd mentality that dominates the news of the nation will be talking about the political resurrection of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s presidential candidacy.

Remember that fella a few years back written off because of bimbo eruptions? He surprised the media by running second in the New Hampshire primary, and thus became “the Comeback Kid.”

So pervasive is the view that Jeb is roadkill one shouldn’t be surprised if those institutions of collective wisdom---the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal---don’t editorialize that Governor Bush should withdraw to help clear the field.

Jeb ought to print up a greeting card to send to all those writing him off with that famous Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain, his nom d’plume) quote embossed on the outside in both English and Spanish: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”

Twain, ironically, was responding to a reporter’s inquiry about his health and had written the reporter back. His response was published in the June 2nd, 1897 edition of the now defunct New York Journal.

There are at least two prominent Idaho Republicans who think it is too early, before even one ballot has been cast, to be reading Jeb’s obituary.

They are Boise attorney and former Idaho Attorney General, Lt. Governor and almost Governor David Leroy; and, Emily Baker, the office managing partner for the region-wide Gallatin Public Affairs firm.

Both can be called Bush loyalists as each has worked for either Bush “41” (George Herbert Walker Bush) or Bush “43” (George W. Bush). Neither, though, is a designated spokesperson for the Jeb Bush campaign. They are, however, members in good standing of the extended Bush family, and both articulated why it is way premature to write Jeb’s obit.

First, is the “competency and qualified” issue, which both think will matter when voters actually step into voting booths. They reason even many Tea Party Republicans will come back to their guy - it has been fun to flirt with the two major outsiders - but voting for president is serious business. Most folks will want the experience and qualifications of someone who has actually run a large government bureaucracy.

In the current Republican field only two have: Jeb Bush and Governor John Kasich of Ohio. Asked to respond to speculation that to jump start his campaign (and get past the debacle of the “Jeb Can Fix It” slogan) Bush might try to entice Kasich to be his “running mate” now. The thinking is there would be a clear perception that together they can deliver their home state’s electoral votes (Florida has 29 and Ohio has 18) in November, 2016.

Jeb knows the Republican ticket has to carry their home states to offset the lock presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton will have on California’s 55 electoral votes.

This is a version of the second argument against counting Jeb down for the count. Jeb can win in November and he is the only Republican in the field that national polls have shown can run even or even defeat Mrs. Clinton.

Third, Jeb has the money (reportedly around $110 million) to stay in the game right to the convention . He has raised the most, still has the most (the exception being billionaire Trump who is self-financing), and more importantly the “money boys” on Wall Street are standing by him because they know those that run the RNC know the party is headed for extinction if its nomnee is an outsider, or an inexperienced senator.

One may ask just how can the national party manipulate the process to ensure a brokered convention?

The answer is GOP powers will mandates changes in the process of selecting national convention delegates. States will have to forego any winner-take-all-the-delegates primaries and caucuses. The party will mandate proportional to the vote allocation of delegates and/or whoever receives the most votes in a congressional district. The result regardless will be a brokered convention.

Then, in a back room behind closed doors “Wall Street” will dictate either the Bush/Kasich ticket, or give Mitt Romney another shot. Most intriguing, though, would be a “draft” of House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Fifth, and finally, there is a tenacity to the Buahes that they mask, but its there just beneath the skin. It is best exemplified by the matriarch, Barbara Bush. Quite simply all the Bushes know politics is a contact sport. They play to win, a simple fact one should never underestimate. They may forgive, they never forget.

Leroy and Baker make a compelling case reports on Jeb’s political demise if not exaggerated, are certainly premature.

First take/most expensive

No surprises here - in the list, that is, of the 10 most expensive communities to buy a house in Washington state. The Puget Sound Business Journal released its list of such places, and none of the places on the list are unexpected: Kenmore, Shoreline, Issaquah, Seattle itself, Edmonds, Kirkland, Sammamish, Redmond, Bellevue, Mercer Island. (No Medina?) What was a little striking in the accompanying pictures was the ordinariness of many of the houses - pleasant enough, but some looked like standard issue suburban tract houses, places you might expected to find in the 100K to 250K range, running instead in the high six figures or even beyond. And the averages are striking:: If you're thinking of moving to Redmond, for example, be aware the average home price is $767,603. It's enough to give you the sense of another incipient housing bubble. - rs

Oregon’s F for integrity

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Oregon ranks 44th in overall integrity and a miserable 49th in integrity in political financing in a new study published by the liberal Center for Public Integrity.

Oregon’s highest rating came in the category of Electoral Oversight where it rated 11th best among all states.

The Kitzhaber scandal was seen by the study’s authors as a bellweather of the weaknesses of Oregon’s integrity laws.

“For many in the state, Kitzhaber’s resignation is a thing of the past. But the scandal that ensnared the former governor highlighted a wobbly legal framework in Oregon’s government, where good behavior is taken for granted rather than enforced.”

“[T]his year’s failing grade suggests, lines are easily blurred in Oregon government, and ethical lapses and partisan abuses of power – while often not criminal – have been smoothed over by both political maneuvering and etiquette.”

In the prior integrity survey done in 2012 Oregon achieved a C-. But this time Kitzhabers resignation and the surrounding scandals lead the Center to give Oregon an F in the category of executive accountability. The scandals also exposed weaknesses in the Oregon Government Ethics Commission, and highlighted Oregon as one of the worst performing states with regard to access to information – where it received an F and was ranked 34th.

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) is an American nonprofit investigative journalism organization whose stated mission is “to reveal abuses of power, corruption and dereliction of duty by powerful public and private institutions in order to cause them to operate with honesty, integrity, accountability and to put the public interest first.” With over 50 staff members, CPI is one of the largest nonpartisan, nonprofit investigative centers in America. It won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.

First take/presidential

Hmm. Maybe time again to buy a little stock in the Donald. Consider the situation, as it stands a few hours before the next Republican presidential debate (tonight). Polling - the most recent available, anyway - shows Donald Trump and Ben Carson close to co-sharing a lead in the primary contest, in the mid-to upper 20s, with Trump probably a little ahead. But that's before the last week of sour Carson headlines over his background (not to mention the likelihood of more to come) have had a chance to settle in; those are not likely to crater his candidacy, but they are apt to take some of the juice out of his rise, and set him up for a rougher patch. Next rung down, most of the buzz is about Marco Rubio, with a fast-growing number of news items about him; the guess here is that he's next to experience the media microscope, with possibly difficult results. Trump may be the beneficiary of all this. For the moment anyway. - rs

There is a better way

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Alright. Here’s the deal. Don’t read another word if (a) you’re a Democrat and can’t put that aside or (b) if you’re a Republican and can’t do the same. I’m gonna say some kind - and some unkind - things here and I don’t want a lot of hate mail saying what’s being written is biased in either direction.

Now do it! Or quit right here.

At our house, we sat through what have euphemistically been called Republican “debates” and we’ve now watched the one joint appearance of Democratic presidential candidates. The former was a waste of time - theirs and ours. The latter was both engaging and informative - for all.

The difference wasn’t in the candidates or their political party affiliation. It was in the presentation. It was in the format. It was in the substance. Ignore who sponsored what or who asked what question or who attacked whom or any other extraneous B.S.. The experiences were very, very dissimilar. For good reason.

Fact: there hasn’t been a political “debate” on TV since William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal savaged each other in the ‘60's. Not one. The closest to that term might have been the Kennedy-Nixon appearances in 1960 but, even then, what little “debate” there was, seemed overshadowed by the personalities. The media needs to get over this “debate” label and find something more descriptive. (Mud wrestling comes quickly to mind.)

The Republican appearances - regardless of sponsor - have been colossal failures. No issues addressed. No inkling of any participant’s thought processes revealed. No presidential qualifications discussed or displayed. Lots of carping. Some useless bantering. Nonsense questions. No meaningful follow ups. Junk. So far.

Now, the Democrats. Separate one-on-one questions - more like conversations - each person talking with a single host/moderator. Each made his/her points without interruption. Each responded to questions and situations designed to bring out some knowledge of their character or where they stood on foreign aid, immigration, budgeting, cross-party relationships, wars this nation is involved in, voter discrimination and other subjects. There was substance, real information and a more personal view of candidates thinking “on their feet.” While sitting.

Now, some Republican partisan is going to quickly and loudly claim you can’t do that with 15 candidates. Yes, you can! You could do it just as well and produce the same realistic, personal appearance by each one. Can do!

The MSNBC show ran 90 minutes. Each candidate got about 20 minutes with timeouts for commercials, scene-setting, open and close. If you recall, the first GOP “debate” ran three hours. Twice 90 minutes. A couple of the participants - two who won’t be on any Republican Party general election ballot in 2016 - complained three hours was too long and they wouldn’t “play” anymore if future appearances ran longer than two hours. So, the broadcast networks caved.

But, let’s consider this. Three hours or 180 minutes, with commercials and other network business deducted, would leave some 140 minutes open. Now, if you use the current polling percentage qualification, you’d have probably nine people. If you want to lessen the field - as it will be eventually - raise the polling qualification bar to 8-9%. That would likely give you six candidates and more time for each.

But, even with nine participants, each would have 15 uninterrupted minutes with one person asking questions. That would give each person a lengthy period to answer, make statements, work in campaign positions and take the time necessary to make their points. No interference or side-tracking. If they wanted to wander off into the swamps of bitching, complaining about their fellow candidates or make wild charges, that would come out of their allotted time. With that format, each would have total control of what he/she said, what he/she thought was important and be able to literally make their own case. Uninterrupted. Direct. And you could rotate moderators for each period if desired. (Six candidates would have 20+ minutes. Each.)

The GOP “debates” so far, have given us - the voters - nothing! The candidates are unhappy. The viewers are both unhappy and poorly served The Republican National Committee is complaining. We’ve had lots of excuses from all involved but nothing proposed to get it right.

I think MSNBC did it right. We follow politics more than the average bear(s) at our house. And even we learned some new things from each of the Democrats using this different approach to dealing with candidates.

This is not a Republican thing nor a Democrat thing. It is a production thing. A process thing. Staging. Making the most of limited time for each candidate while giving viewers better insight to thought processes, individual knowledge of the job being sought and a better look at each one.

The Republican Party is in a total mess by its own making. Wounds on the GOP body politic were self-inflicted. The predominance of totally unqualified presidential candidates is the result. At the moment, two of the “unfittest” are drowning out a couple who should be more prominent and given an unfettered chance to make their cases. One more travesty like the CNBC fiasco and people will begin tuning out big time. That’s not fair to the qualified candidates or the voter. Not when it can be fixed!

First take/merger

To a degree not seen since the early days of timber in the northwest - and even then, probably, since the scope of it then was smaller - private timber production in the Northwest is about to become very heavily dominated by one company. That is the Weyerhaeuser Company, which had just announced its merger with Plum Creek Timber; the size and scope of that merger can be indicated by the $8.4 billion dollar amount attached to it. (The merger is expected to be complete sometime in the first half of next year.) Weyerhaeuser has been the big name traditionally in Northwest timber; Plum Creek has been a major player in the inland Northwest for many years. (Both are based in King County.) What will the merger mean in the structure of the Northwest economy? Hard to be sure, immediately. But it does turn the unified firm into a giant player in the region. - rs

Record breaking

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In 1985 one of Boise’s most significant mayors, Richard Eardley, was wrapping up a record 12 years in office, his third term, and mulling whether to run for a fourth. He didn’t.

Those were the days of the downtown mall wars, and Eardley had been through the wringer. He was no doubt getting tired of the conflict and the stress, and his long-held vision for developing Boise was being overturned. But there was also this: He probably wouldn’t have won, and he likely knew that. In that year’s mayoral election, a city councilman allied with Eardley lost decisively to a first-time candidate named Dirk Kempthorne, who was aligned with an opposition group.

Last week, Boise did what it never has done before in electing a mayor to a fourth four-year term. (Long-ago Mayor James A. Pinney won five terms, but those lasted just two years each.) David Bieter, first elected in 2003, not only won for a fourth time (breaking Eardley’s record for tenure) but won big, with more than two-thirds of the vote, against an experienced opponent who herself had won local elective office several times.

What accounts for Bieter’s track record?

It isn’t that all of his proposals or policies have been popular, though some have. Mention “downtown streetcar” and even many of Bieter’s friends will back away. But many of his efforts have been popular enough. The Boise foothills levy, also on the ballot Tuesday, won almost three-fourths of the vote.

Bieter seldom has gotten very far away from what most of the voters in Boise find acceptable. He has been a likable and presentable face for the city. And while he has accumulated some complainers over time, they have never amounted to numbers large enough to take him out. He may make proposals, but he doesn’t go on crusades; he has been active in office, but nothing seems to have worn him down, or out. And while he has never been a great orator, Bieter does have solid political and campaigning skills.

Next door to Boise, in Meridian - Idaho’s third-largest city - Mayor Tammy de Weerd was re-elected, by a margin even greater than Bieter’s (though her opposition was slighter). She too was first elected in 2003, and last week won a fourth term. She too has been an active mayor - could hardly be otherwise in a city growing as fast as Meridian has - but rarely has been very controversial.

Is a fourth term the limit? Is a still longer run realistic?

In many smaller cities, where the bench of prospective candidates may be smaller, mayors sometimes serve for several decades. In larger cities, shorter runs are the norm, if only because many more people may be interested in the job.

Still, cast your eyes a few miles over, to Caldwell, where Garret Nancolas is now in the middle of his fifth term as mayor, having won that term two years ago with 65 percent of the vote.

A dozen years would seem to be plenty to hold such an office, much less 16. But in the end, it’s up to the voters, and to candidates who continue to find ways of appealing to them.