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Posts published in November 2015

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.

Why Alley won’t run

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Will Allen Alley run for Governor in 2016? Here are the reasons he won’t.

Oregon GOP is a distinct minority today: Running for a statewide office in Oregon as a Republican is already an uphill battle. T he GOP now makes up just 30% of the voting population. Democrats are at 38%. NAV and Independent Party together are 29%. The NAV/IPO voters typically break 55% Democrat and 45% GOP. Minor party candidates and “others” typically make up 2- 3% of the vote. That means the Democrat is going to start off with a 10% advantage (Dem: 53%, GOP: 43%, Other 3%.) And, meaning that a GOP candidate will have to get some Democratic crossover voters, hold the GOP vote, and win the i/Independent voters by over 20% (At least 60/40)

The GOP vote is declining: And it isn’t getting any better. For the period from May 1, 2014 until February 1, 2015 (9 months), 101,892 new voters (never before registered) registered in Oregon. I am assuming this largely represents younger voters and new to Oregon voters.

But Alley Represents a different GOP: Yes, he does. He is pretty moderate, has solid business background and hasn’t risen within the GOP ranks based on his orthodox political views. He has proven he can work cross aisle in Salem. Of course that means he also won’t get the wholehearted support of the most important GOP base, the social conservatives. The GOP has built it’s GOTV and small grass roots on social conservatism and nativism. They will work for Alley, because they despise Gov. Brown and all she stands for. But they won’t go to the mats, and once it becomes apparent Alley is a long shot, they will regroup and devote themselves to either their local rural candidates or one or more ballot measures that feature the red meat conservative issues.

Gov. Brown has had few missteps: Democrats like Gov. Brown, and other than her temporary waffling on clean fuels, are pleased with her leadership. She has done little wrong to incur the wrath of most Democratic voters. And she has done little to surprise i/Independent voters. Not that they are all in her corner, but consistency and lack of surprise goes a long way with less motivated voters.

The Independent Candidate: Here is probably the straw that will stir the drink for Mr. Alley. The Independent Party of Oregon is now a major party and it’s nominations will be on the May primary ballot, giving all it’s candidates a real boost in the arm. The only current announced IPO candidate for Governor is Cliff Thomason, a rural Oregon businessman who is putting together a campaign based on rural agriculture, green jobs and local control. Thomason will definitely attract disaffected Democrats who won’t vote GOP because of social issues and many rural independent voters. These are the exact voters a moderate GOP candidate will need to defeat an incumbent Democratic Governor. If polling shows that an IPO candidate on the ballot can attract even 5-10% in a three way contest with Mr. Alley and Gov. Brown, the math gets worse for Mr. Alley. Likely much worse.

While Mr. Alley is probably the strongest GOP candidate for Governor, all these factors will likely make Mr. Alley decide to opt out of the 2016 race.

Alley may be looking ahead. In 2018 there will be another election for Governor. That race will be after a 2017 legislative session where Gov. Brown will either have signed brutal budget cuts or have handed out the $5 billion in tax increases if the Our Oregon ballot measures passes in 2016. And importantly, with Motor Voter the IPO will likely have lost major party status and lose the primary ballot access. This will be the analysis for all GOP candidates of course, including Knute Buehler and Julie Parrish, should they desire to run for statewide office.

So while 2018 may be a busy D versus R election, the 2016 race for Governor may be equally interesting if it comes down to a three way race between Democrat Gov. Brown, Republican Dr. Bud Pierce and Independent Cliff Thomason. In fact, if that’s the lineup, the IPO candidate may do much better than 5-10%.

First take/cities

Here's another report from Tuesday's election on a topic that wasn't much reported at the time, this one from the Daily Kos election sheet: "Yakima, a town of 91,000 residents in the agricultural part of central Washington state, is 41 percent Hispanic according to the 2010 Census. It, however, had previously never elected a Hispanic to its city council, in large part because all seven city council seats were elected at-large, essentially letting city's (mostly Republican) white voter majority pick all seven. The ACLU brought a lawsuit against Yakima under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, claiming that the at-large council system impermissibly diluted the Hispanic community's voting strength. In 2014, a federal court agreed, forcing the city to switch to a system of electing councilmembers by district. And lo and behold, in this year's elections, Yakima voters elected three councilors from the districts where the city's Hispanics are heavily concentrated." (photo)

Oregon and the EITC

From a report from the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

Oregon is in last place nationally when it comes to the share of families qualifying for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) who claim it. That is costing the state's economy about $124 million a year in foregone federal dollars, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

About a quarter of eligible Oregon working families do not claim the federal EITC, said the Center in a paper that analyzed the most recently available data, dating from 2012. This tax credit helps low-income households make ends meet, and enjoys bi-partisan support as an effective anti-poverty tool.

"Working families missing out on these federal work-support dollars have a harder time getting by," said Tyler Mac Innis, a policy analyst with the Center. "It also means fewer federal dollars ultimately flowing into businesses in communities throughout Oregon."

Oregon's poor performance in 2012 was not unusual. In the five years of available data (2008 through 2012) Oregon ranked no better than 48th among all states and the District of Columbia in terms of its EITC participation rate.

While the precise reasons why Oregon ranks so poorly are not altogether clear, research has shown that certain categories of working families are less likely to claim the credit, Mac Innis said. They include families who live in rural areas, are self-employed, do not have a qualifying child or are not proficient in English.

"It should be a priority of Oregon policymakers to make a state agency responsible for promoting the credit," Mac Innis said. "This is costing the state's economy millions in federal dollars and needlessly making life more difficult for families who are already hurting."

First take/pyramids

It's not directly relevant to the 2016 presidential race, but it does indicate the nature of the mental processes of a major candidate. The candidate is Republican Ben Carson, and the statement about the great pyramids in Egypt is this: “My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain. Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.” The only real-world statement in all that is "all the archaeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves," and they have reason for that: What was found inside. And what was found inside doesn't allow storage space for grain. And the massive scope of the project, over a long period of time, precludes a single person such as Joseph (of the Bible) being behind their construction, and almost requires that the actors be the kings of Egypt (the pharaohs). What does it say about the mental processes of this candidate that he has to make this kind of leap, over the long-standing judgment (which he acknowledges) of professionals who have studied the matter for so many years? Nothing good, when you're talking about a candidate for a job who would be reliant on assessing the professional views of people who know more than he could about the specifics of making the country work. You could fairly put this bit of pyramid power in the category (all by itself) of a disqualifier from the presidency. - rs (photo)