Writings and observations

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin

You can see why, today, Idaho Republican Chair Norm Semanko said (on his new blog) he was of this mood: “Just minutes after hearing the news, I received a call from Dee Sarton with Channel 7 news in Boise. She asked how I was doing and my immediate response was ‘ecstatic’. That has been my response all day. I’ve got an extra hitch in my giddy-up as I head to Minneapolis for the Republican National Convention with my fellow Idaho delegates.”

This was on account, of course, of the selection by presumptive (he isn;t quite yet) Republican presidential nominee John McCain of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The Idaho reaction was totally logical: Palin is a native of Idaho (of Sandpoint), though she moved away as an infant; and she is a graduate of the University of Idaho, studying journalism. (Your scribe should note that he too is a Vandal – how soon before the media picks up on that college name – and also studied journalism in that same program. Semanko notes that he was attending the UI in the late 80s at the same time Palin was.)

She is the first Idaho native and the first Idaho resident (as opposed to, say, Jimmy Carter, who was briefly assigned to the state in the military) to be nominated for president by a major party. (At least, we’re assuming she will be.) She’s basically an Alaskan, but it’s something of a landmark for the Gem State, too.

Semanko again: “From the national perspective, this is a bold, strategic masterpiece. I’m pretty sure the Obama camp never saw this one coming; certainly not Idaho Democrats.” It comes as a surprise, no doubt (not least to a bunch of fellow Republicans). From an Idaho perspective, she will doubtless go over fine – think roughly in terms of a smoother Helen Chenoweth.

From a national perspective, we’re a lot more skeptical about how this will play out. Palin’s viewpoints generally will please the Republican base, but she’s not been in a place (either Willow or Juneau) where her ideas have had to bounce against alternatives, and that way could lie trouble in other parts of the country. Playing politics in small, insular communities is vastly different than it is on the national stage. (A question: How thoroughly was she vetted? We’ve had occasion to monitor the Alaskan media regularly in the last few months, and got no sense in what we’ve seen of any serious vetting going on – and how would you keep it a secret in Juneau or Willow?) A whole host of difficulties are easy to imagine, but you can never be sure what ideas will catch fire and which won’t.

And so, one way or the other, Idaho and the University of Idaho go to the show.

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Idaho

Remember all the talk about Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith doing some linkage in one of his ads to Democratic presidential candidate (now nominee) Barack Obama? And none to his own party’s nominee (and Smith’s good friend) John McCain?

Well, make room for Dino Rossi – the Republican nominee for Washington governor. Check out this spot which cheerfully name-checks Obama, doesn’t mention McCain, and happily tries to jump on the change train (in his case, he says, in the western Washington as well as the eastern one).

Can anyone recall this sort of thing happening before? This doesn’t just signify being in a tough political spot; this signifies seeing a massive storm coming, and frantically trying to build some shelter against it.

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wa courts

Washington Supreme Court

Get this from the decision today in Michael McKee v. AT&T Corporation by the Washington Supreme Court: “AT&T’s Consumer Services Agreement is substantively unconscionable and therefore unenforceable to the extent that it purports to waive the right to class actions, require confidentiality, shorten the Washington Consumer Protection Act statute of limitations, and limit availability of attorney fees. We emphasize that these provisions have nothing to do with arbitration.”

It’s too bad more people don’t read appellate court decisions, because a lot of telephone ratepayers would really enjoy this one. Here’s the court’s description of where the case started:

McKee lives near Wenatchee, Washington, and signed up for AT&T
long distance phone service in November 2002. His monthly bills included a Wenatchee city utility tax surcharge, even though he lives outside the
Wenatchee city limits. When he called AT&T to resolve this issue, at first,
the various operators merely tried to sell him a new long distance package.
Finally, he was told that taxes were assessed by zip code. Unfortunately,
McKee’s zip code includes people who live both inside and outside the
Wenatchee city limits. McKee contends that AT&T collects the tax from all
of its customers who live within the zip code, whether the customers owe the
tax or not. A late fee of 1.5 percent applies if the customer does not pay all
charges on time. The charges McKee challenges amount to no more than $2
in any given month, less than $20 total in a year. But McKee notes that after
many years and many customers, small amounts add up to very large sums.
After his individual attempts to resolve his billing issues with AT&T
failed, McKee filed this class action lawsuit, alleging violations of
Washington’s Consumer Protection Act, chapter 19.86 RCW, and
Washington’s usury statute, chapter 19.52 RCW, as well as negligence and
breach of contract. AT&T removed the action to federal district court,
claiming McKee had raised federal law in his complaint. After the complaint
was amended to omit any reference to federal law, the federal court remanded the case back to Chelan County Superior Court.
AT&T then moved to compel arbitration under its Consumer Services
Agreement. At the time McKee agreed to use AT&T as his long distance
provider, he did not sign any agreement with AT&T and was not informed of
any terms and conditions associated with AT&T service. After he began
using AT&T, it sent him mail, which may have included a contract. He had
not retained any of the mail and did not know the terms of his agreement with AT&T. In support of the motion to compel arbitration, AT&T employees
Howard Spierer and April Morlock filed declarations averring that a specific
agreement was sent to McKee in November as part of his “fulfillment
package” and attached a copy of that agreement to their declarations. We
detail the specifics of the declarations because AT&T later repudiated the
declarations it filed and the agreement it sought to enforce.

Yep, sounds like dealing with a phone company. And that, the court says, essentially is “unconscionable.”

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The just-out Greg Smith Associates poll on the Idaho Senate race shows a 23.3% undecided in the contest between Republican Jim Risch and Democrat Larry LaRocco. In that lies a quandary: How undecided and how up for grabs are they?

The topline numbers give Risch 40.8% support, LaRocco 29.5% and independent Rex Rammell 3.2%. If those numbers hold, Risch would need just a sizable chunk of the undecideds to win, while LaRocco would need to sweep them. Although the situation isn’t quite that simple, either.

The winner may not need an outright majority, for example. Rammell, who has been a virtual unknown until recently among many Idahoans, is getting better known with his TV ads and debate appearance – we’d not be shocked to see his numbers rise substantially. Not polled in detail are other candidates on the ballot, including “Pro-Life” and a Libertarian; all three of these non-majors are apt to draw from the Republican base, meaning from Risch. If a sizable chunk of these candidates pick up from “undecided,” LaRocco’s chances may be enhanced.

Another interesting bit from the crosstabs, comments by pollster Smith: “Not surprisingly, years having lived in Idaho has a fairly strong correlation with candidate preference. For instance, those having lived in Idaho for about 15 years of less voice roughly equal levels of support between Risch and LaRocco (with perhaps a slight Risch preference), whereas those who have lived in Idaho from about 16 years to as many as 40 years more heavily favor Risch. This years of residence finding, combined with that of respondent age, suggests to us that there are two particular groups of support that show heavy support for Risch: Natives/long-time residents who are either rather young (18-29) or ‘Baby Boomers’ (50-64).”

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Oregon Senate candidate Jeff Merkley hadn’t long to speak Wednesday at the National Democratic Convention, but he did get off a quotable line he may continue to use: “My opponent talks like Barack Obama but votes like George Bush.” A neat summation of the general argument his campaign is fueled on (though not one that would fit all Senate campaigns around the country).

Merkley was sandwiched between Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Tom Allen of Maine, two other Democratic challengers of Republican Senate incumbents – the Democratic challenger segment.

C-SPAN We haven’t had a lot to say about the conventions (though we’ve been watching, and will again next week). But we will say this, emphatically: if you possibly can, watch it (and every other major political event) on C-SPAN, where you can see the whole unadulterated thing and draw your own conclusions without having your own thoughts driven out by the chattering heads that dominate all the other news channels.

You want the straight stuff on TV? C-SPAN. Accept no substitutes.

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We tend not to focus heavily in individual poll results; having said that, Idaho is polled lightly enough that you tend to take them when they come.

The presidential poll released today by Greg Smith Associates (no link available) does put Idaho, in the national perspective, more or less where you’d think: Lagging behind only Utah and Wyoming in support for Republican John McCain over Democrat Barack Obama. Idaho (51.% McCain to 29.2% Obama) would likely be one of the last red states to turn blue.

Some of the cross-tabs are a little unexpected, though. That Obama would do better in southwest Idaho (32.3%, where there’s a strong base in Boise) than most of the state would be expected. Comparable levels in the Magic Valley are not. And stronger McCain support among women than men seems off the beaten track, too.

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Idaho

There’s a limit to how closely lessons ought to be drawn from the vote numbers in last week’s Top 2 primary election in Washington. Although not a partisan primary in the usual sense, it probably drew a disproportionately partisan electorate – Democrats and Republicans eager to choose among their own, even if only imperfectly. Still, the thing was wide open to all, and it will stand as the best indicator of public attitudes until November.

Looking to the legislative races, there did seem to be some drawable conclusions. A lot of legislative districts behaved in the primary exactly as you’d expect – heavily R or D districts delivered almost all their votes for their partisans, for example. Extending that: We so few indicators of major shifts in voting patterns away from those established in the last few cycles.

Beyond that, here are some odds and ends we noticed.

bullet District 2 (Pierce, Thurston). Reinforcement here, really, of just how split this district is – and no indication that, unlike some suburban-type districts, this one is moving in the Democratic direction. While Democratic Senator Marilyn Rasmussen held on to 50.7%, the two Republican House members in this district took 55.8% and 61.6% against a total of five Democrats. Rasmussen may have her hands full.

bullet District 5 (rural east King County). One of the few still-Republican slices of King County, the question gets raised: Will it stay Republican? The two House races here, each featuring a Republican incumbent, seem to offer different prospects: Jay Rodne pulled a solid 58.8%, but Glenn Anderson only 50.8% – in a possible danger zone.

bullet District 8 (Benton). This is Republican territory likely staying Republican, but the numbers were still interesting. While the swarm of Republicans for the open seat took a combined 61.1%, fairly sound for the general, Larry Haler got just 55.6%, not massive for this slice of the state.

bullet District 26 (Pierce, Kitsap). Democrat Patricia Lantz has held one of the House seats here for years; at its opening this year, Republican Jan Angel took 54.2% over Democrat Kim Abel‘s 45.8%. Might this one switch?

bullet District 28 (Pierce, mainly suburban). Not really a change, but notable: Republican Senator Mike Carrell has had close races here before (52.3% in 2004), and it looks close again this time: He took 51.5% to 48.5% for Democrat Debi Srall.

bullet District 35 (Mason and parts of neighboring counties). This could be considered an old-fashioned conservative Democratic district, making it problematic for many newer-style Democrats. Democratic Representative William Eickmeyer has held it for a decade, now opting out, and the seat looks up for grabs. Randy Neatherlin, who Eickmeyer defeated last round, in the primary took 32.1% to Democrat Fred Finn‘s 36.7%. The parties are close split here.

bullet District 41 (King, Mercer Island and surrounds). In recent years, there’s been talk that the only kind of Republican who could hold a seat here was one like Fred Jarrett, a moderate who has succeeded here but this cycle opts out. In the two-person primary, Democrat Marcie Maxwell got 53.1% to Republican Steve Litzow‘s 46.9%. Looks close, but with a Democratic edge.

bullet District 44 (Snohomish). The seat long held by Democrat John Lovick now looks close: Democrat Liz Loomis pulled 50.6%, and Republican Mike Hope 49.4%. This may be a tight battle indeed.

bullet District 45 (King, eastern). When Republican Toby Nixon, a fixture in eastern King in his House seat, ran unsuccessfully last time for the Senate, his House seat was won by Democrat Roger Goodman. Now Nixon wants the seat back. Can he win it? With Goodman getting 50.9% in the primary to Nixon’s 49.1%, there’s no easy answer yet.

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This looks to be an improvement of the Oregonian‘s web site, which has taken a lot of flack over the last few years. But we’ll see for sure once installed.

Pre-launch page says: “Our new home page is wider, less cluttered and loaded with links to all of the great content featured on our site. We’ve chosen type-style that’s easy to read, and bright and bold, without overwhelming the page.”

BTW Note the new, revised, site for the McMinnville News-Register.

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This feels as if it has some significance, the piece in the Oregonian sports section on “Sticker Shock at the Stadium,” about the increasingly high price of college football games.

It quotes a price of $75 to get into the Civil War game (aka, University of Oregon v. Oregon State). And at Oregon: “In 2008, the minimum per seat annual contribution ranges from $50 for the cheap seats to $1,750 for box seats — plus another $1,000, at least, if you’d like to park a car.”

The counter argument probably will be that if ticket prices don’t go up, costs will shift around and bite something else in the system. Which may be. But we suspect some subtle yet real changes will happen too as people get priced out of the game . . .

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One of the most interesting of Washington legislative races remains so, after the primary results and concession – by an incumbent – are in.

That is in Clark County’s 17th District, a close-margin district where the state senator is a Republican and the other representative a Democrat. Representative Jim Dunn, who has been a legislator from the area for a long time (since 1996 save for a term out from 2002-04), ran into trouble last and this year over what were called “boorish” statements to women, serious enough that his party’s leaders took away his committee assignments.

In the top-two primary election, Dunn faced fellow Republican Joseph James and Democrat Tim Probst. Voters in the district, notably the Republican voters, must have taken the leaders’ hint about Dunn, giving him just 18.5% of the vote – a real crush for an incumbent. James got 33.2% and Probst 48.2%; considering that the Republican vote generally should consolidate around James in the fall, this provides an early suggestion of a tight general election.

This is another case, though, where the top-two approach to Washington primaries wound up making no difference. In a Republican primary, James clearly would have defeated Dunn – the margins are too wide to allow for any othr interpretation – and James and Probst would have faced off just the same.

One of the top Washington races to watch a couple of months from now.

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