Writings and observations

The whistleblower report from Idaho Tax Commission auditor Stan Howland has been posted on this site.

We won’t excerpt or summarize here, other than to say that the whole thing – which in effect alleges a conspiracy at the Tax Commission to covertly waive payment of millions of dollars in taxes they should have been paying – ought to be read in full. It may have been written by a tax auditor, but it’s still pretty stunning reading.

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Yes, the Washington state Republican Party convention at Spokane could be a lively deal, what the prospect of 40% of the delegates being supporters of Presidential contender – sort of, still? – Ron Paul.

Liveliness could be a useful attribute for a Republican gathering these days, though not everyone is enthusiastic. From a Sound Politics post: “The Ronulans are going to make trouble in Spokane this weekend. Jim Camden’s piece, as run in the P-I, does a better job of explaining the situation than the headline writer. In most cases, Paul supporters are not regular GOP activists. Just like an Internet comment thread, however, they have come out of the woodwork at caucuses and county conventions just as the now decided GOP nominating contest left others with little motivation to compete in the same process. Mercifully, the Ronulans have usually been better behaved in person than online…though who knows what will happen now that their motives are a little more out in the open.”


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Examination of Idaho elections has become something resembling an expedition of researchers digging up fragmentary and very subtle clues about an ancient civilization. The clues being sought after following an Idaho election concern this question: Is Idaho’s “conservative” politics changing, or not?

Not in a decade and a half have the answers changed dramatically. Occasionally you spot something here or there to indicate alteration at the edges, but nothing to suggest a sea change.

Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey latched onto a useful metric for his piece today on the election: The primary battle between Senator Shirley McKague and her challenger, Representative Mark Snodgrass, in fast-growing Meridian. It’s a clear and undiluted metric between two Republicans but of clearly different sorts. McKague is described (fairly) as “a self-professed ‘firebrand conservative’ and ‘lapsed’ member of the extremist John Birch Society. A reliable vote against change . . .” Snodgrass is “pro-life and pro-business,” but also considered a relative moderate in the Idaho House (he’d probably be considered in the middle or slightly to the right of the Republican caucuses in Washington or Oregon); he has also worked on regional infrastructure and other needs, the sort of changes McKague routinely opposes. Both candidates were backed by solid organizations.

A clear contest, all right. McKague prevailed, 53%-47%. Not a big margin. But she won. The close margin suggests some softening in the appeal of the hard-line message; the final result indicates it still has enough appeal to win.

The District 14 House battle between Majority Leader Mike Moyle and write-in Nancy Merrill, a former Eagle mayor, indicated something similar. Write-ins rarely generate significant numbers of votes and almost never win above the small-town level, and uncommonly even then. Merrill lost decisively, of course, but the 31% she did get indicates something serious, some genuine feeling of revolt, is bubbling out there is west Ada.

Can you find a few scraps of evidence that something may be going on to change the situation? Maybe, a few. But the point doesn’t bear pressing very far.

But it’s still not enough to win. Further evidence of that? In the District 14 Senate race, incumbent Stan Bastian was unseated, but not by the anti-growth insurgent – Saundra McDavid – but rather by Chuck Winder, very much an establishment candidate backed by much of the state Republican establishment. In that race, the primary voters had a chance for revolt, but decided otherwise.

And you can look in southeast Boise, where Julie Ellsworth, the long-time legislator tight with the Statehouse crowd, easily beat hard-campaigning Gail Hartnett. Or in District 9, up in the Hell Canyon county, where Otter appointee Diana Thomas was ousted in favor of one-time Helen Chenoweth staffer Judy Boyle, of the old-style resource industry (Sagebrush Rebellion) movement.

1st District Representative Bill Sali, essentially without campaigning, pulled 60% against his little-known challenger, Matt Salisbury. On one hand, that’s not an especially impressive incumbent result. But . . . that’s still a strong majority in-party, a much stronger result than he had going for him two years ago. And any thought that there might be a reaction brewing against Republican Senate nominee Jim Risch – against the Republican establishment that’s happily supported Larry Craig all these years – runs up against Risch’s primary win of 65% in a field of eight candidates: A very strong win by any reasonable standard. Where’s the evidence of voter outrage?

If there’s a growing push for change in Idaho, it’s growing slowly. Democrats hoping for a different-than-usual result in November need to find some way to speed it up, or be swept under once again as they have in every general election for the last 16 years.

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The final tally shows four Idaho legislators losing their primaries. One (Stan Bastian) was a two-term senator running against one of the best-known and solidly-backed political figures in the Boise area (Chuck Winder). Another was in a low-key race – freshman west Ada Representative John Vander Woude defeated by Richard Dean Jarvis. The third and fourth were appointed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter: Representative Curtis Bowers, losing to former state Agriculture Director Pat Takasugi, and Representative Diana Thomas losing to Judy Boyle.

Fewer Otter appointees going down than seemed to be the case for much of Tuesday night. But Senator Shirley McKague and Representative Steven Thayn, both Otter appointees, had close calls.

And we should point out the 69%-31% result in House 14A, where Majority Leader Mike Moyle defeated former Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill. On first glance that looks like a solid win for Moyle. But that’s only if you ignore the context: Merrill was running as a write-in, and had launched that write-in effort only a couple of weeks before the election. 31% for Merrill under those conditions is unusually high. (You have to wonder what would have happened had she carried through her earlier idea of simply filing conventionally for the office, and then campaigning seriously for it.) It’s an indicator that something is going on here, bubbling under the surface.

Elsewhere: The Barack Obama-Hillary Clinton spread was 18 points, pretty solid and decent news for Obama as he gets ready for this weekend’s national party rules committee meeting. . . . Ron Paul’s 24% on the Republican side is enough to continue in the game, sort of, though it formally means little for that nomination at this point . . . We’ll reiterate that Republican Bill Sali‘s 60% win for the nomination was, under the circumstances, on the weak side and could portend problems . . . There’ll almost have to be a recount in that hairline-close Supreme Court unofficial result, which gives incumbent Justice Joel Horton a win over challenger John Bradbury by 324 votes out of more than 150,000 cast. . . .

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This was a low-interest primary (granting some interest in a handful of races) and so the turnout was relatively low. In a year when around the country turnout has busted long-held records, it stayed low-key in Idaho. But then, looking at the ballot, why would it be otherwise?

Republican Dennis Mansfield has a couple of observations tonight on his blog worth some reflection:

“Crossovers happened- there is no question about it. The GOP has a right to close its primary and SHOULD. Watch the GOP convention this summer. It’ll be key to uniting conservatives – not just for Nov. ’08, but for May ’10. This is a forward thinking fight.

“The thin crowd at the GOP victory party was interesting to watch. Saw a bunch of lobbyists and political hangers-on. It was like watching a 1970’s disco band reunion – you knew the faces, you kind of knew the music – but weren’t sure you liked either.”

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The legislative results are incomplete at this writing – we’ll do updates – but the most immediate, first, thing to focus on in situations like this are any legislators who may be losing their primaries. So, are there any?

Well, yeah, in the early-early results anyway – quite a few of them in fact. With the caveat that this is early yet: Take none of it to the bank yet.

In Senate 14, incumbent Stan Bastian is trailing (34%-45%) behind Chuck Winder, the former candidate for governor and mayor of Boise and long deeply involved in transportation issues, and in planning and building for years ahead. If he does go on to win this, he could be the lead figure on that subject in the next legislative session.

In Senate 20, incumbent Shirley McKague, one of the hard-core anti-tax absolutists, is (this is early again) losing to challenger Mark Snodgrass – a significant outcome if it holds, because Snodgrass would fall into the category of a conservative Republican willing to work within a framework of urban planning. We’ll watch this closely.

In House 10A, recently-appointed Curtis Bowers – he of the culture wars invoking the spectre of communism – is losing to the more mainstream Pat Takasugi, the former state Department of Agriculture director.

In House 11A, freshman Steven Thayn, who may be the most out-there legislator in Idaho (his alliances indicate a very strong antipathy, for example, to any public schools), is locked in a close battle with two challengers. At the moment (28% of the vote in) the results is two close to call, but Thayn’s two challengers are each at 35% of the vote, and he’s at 30%.

These Ada-Canyon contests all suggest mainstream contenders doing better than their more extreme-spoken opponents.

Less clear is the House 9B race between newly-appointed Diana Thomas and long-time activist (Weiser River Cattlemen, Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, National Rifle Association) Judy Boyle. Boyle is way ahead at present, and her stances over the years suggest appeal at least from the more conservative activist (especially on environmental matter) slice of the party.

Notable, maybe: Three legislative appointees by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter – McKague, Bowers, Thomas – all trailing in these early returns.

We’ll be updating.

UPDATE The McKague-Snodgrass vote has tightened considerably – will be a while before we know how it emerges. But we also missed another legislative incumbent in trouble – Senator Russell Fulcher in District 21 (western Ada), now losing to retired lawyer Steven Ricks; the two seem not far apart in their views or approach.

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The early returns from around Idaho – about a sixth of precincts in so far – show more or less what you’d expect in the major office races around Idaho. More or less.

The presidentials were a little closer than the candidates’ status might have suggested, though not drastically. In February, Barack Obama absolutely mopped up – Idaho is one of his very best states so far. That was in the caucuses (which attracted an unusually large number of participants, it should be noted). So far in this primary – at a time when he’s closing in the nomination, a very different picture from February – he’s winning over Hillary Clinton but by a far smaller percentage (54% to 42% at this writing). Something similar happened in the Washington state caucuses/primary. Still not a bad win. In lily-white Idaho.

Both U.S. Senate primaries turned out to be done deals the way they were widely expected to be, Republican Jim Risch and Democrat Larry LaRocco both winning with something around or approaching two-thirds of the vote in their respective contests.

Last weekend we noted a poll suggesting that in the 1st District House Republican race, Matthew Salisbury might be competitive with incumbent Bill Sali. Seems not to have materialized, with Sali running ahead 65%-35%, a decisively enough win. And yet one that should give some cause for concern for the general. Over in the second district Republican incumbent Mike Simpson, who had two primary opponents, was winning with 85% of the vote. Quite a difference.

And in the Supreme Court race, incumbent Joel Horton is leading challenger John Bradbury, a district judge from Lewiston, 52%-48%. But keep a watch on that one: Bradbury’s numbers could get better as the northern (meaning Pacific time zone) votes come in. So we’ll see.

Not much excitement on the major office level. Back in a moment with the legislature . . .

UPDATE The numbers have widened a bit in the Democratic presidential – Obama now has a 57%-39% lead, 18 points – while the Republican has held steady, with Ron Paul holding at 22% against nominee presumptive John McCain.

But they’ve tightened up considerably in the 1st District Republican, 60%-40%. (Simpson: Still 85%) Does Sali have some lingering internal problems?

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The national gay and lesbian Republican organization, Log Cabin Republicans, has a limited list this year of Republicans they’re endorsing (at least to this point) for congressional office – just six nationwide. There’s just one from the Northwest: Oregon Senator Gordon Smith.

Their comment on Smith: “Senator Gordon Smith is one of Log Cabin’s strongest allies in the U.S. Senate. He has fought for basic fairness for gay and lesbian Americans—leading the fight in the Senate for hate crimes and HIV/AIDS legislation. Smith co-sponsored the Early Treatment for HIV Act and the Matthew Shepard (hate crimes) Act. He has also led the way in fighting for basic fairness in tax legislation, recently introducing the Tax Equity for Domestic Partner and Health Plan Beneficiaries Act and the Domestic Partnership Benefits & Obligations Act.”

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We’ll be back tonight with review of the Idaho primary election results; the polls close at 8 p.m. (same clock time both in Mountain and Pacific), and results usually begin to kick in an hour or so later. For the moment, a couple of advance thoughts.

First, this is – to be honest – probably a relatively inconsequential primary election. Not in all races or for everyone, but the real issues are likely limited. If you look at the six major party ballot lines for congressional office – Republican and Democratic for Senate and the two House seats – there’s not much doubt about what’s going to happen. Although, if something unexpected does – let’s say that, as the last poll indicated, Matt Salisbury actually does pull a shocker and upends incumbent Bill Sali in the 1st district Republican – we’ll have to backtrack pretty hard from that. So we’ll see.

And the presidential is less than massively significant, what with the Democratic decision already made in February and the Republican nomination already settled. Though we will note the votes received by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Ron Paul – they may be worth watching, just to check on the divergences.

You have to look a level down, to the legislative races, to find contests and matters of import that look to be realistically at stake. And those are scattered around the state.

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Dino Rossi

Dino Rossi

Quick observations on the front web page of Dino Rossi’s campaign for governor of Washington, a couple of which are indicative and one of which is instructive.

We’ll call indicative the dominant element toward the top of the page, one word that overwhelms everything else: “Change.” Yes, it’s the catchword this cycle, but it has a context – principally based around the other Washington’s federal politics, and aimed in large part at the Bush Administration. But who knows?

Then just below it is a link to Rossi’s transportation agenda, recently released. What got our attention was the adjective in the headline of the link: “Dino Rossi’s Progressive Transportation Plan.” Progressive? Well, that’s interesting.

The third piece, just to the right of the transportation link, is eye-catching in a different way. It’s a three-minute (roughly) video showing Rossi at Auburn, in a car headed to a house. In the house was the individual campaign contributor who pushed him over the total number of contributors to his gubernatorial campaign four years ago, and the last couple of minutes is devoted to a conversation between Rossi and the couple (the wife was apparently the specific contributor) there.

The first part sounded a bit staged (this was supposed to be a completely surprise visit, but it didn’t come off that way). Later, especially when the husband got into discussing why he was backing Rossi, it seemed quite natural. Suddenly, it seemed to be a very unusual thing indeed: Something approaching an actual conversation between a candidate and a prospective voter. Pieces of it looked like reality video – the best kind. Both Rossi and his supporters came off pretty well.

It was, of course, selected video – the Rossi campaign (or any other) isn’t going to be posting negative encounters on the web site. But the natural give and take, seemingly unforced, was a lot more compelling and persuasive than all but a handful of carefully produced video spots. There’s something here other campaigns, and not just those scrimping for bucks, might pay attention to.

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