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Site of note

Many are the candidates who complain that they just don't have enough money. Few are the candidates who take advantage of one of the best low-cost ways of communicating: The web.

One of the most notable Northwest campaign web sites - notable now especially since it may or may not survive next week's primary election - is that of Dennis Mansfield, candidate for the Idaho Senate in West Ada County's District 15. Here's a site showing some of the possibilities of using the web to commicate effectively as a candidate.

There are the usual issue statements, photos, donations opportunities and links, of course, that you find on most campaign sites. Mansfield has a blog, for one thing - no, correct that, several blogs, to cover several areas of the campaign, and there's plenty on them. There's an RSS news feed (this is, to be sure, becoming more commonplace, but still far from universal). He has an electronic image, a banner, that supporters can place on their web sites. He has started communicating directly through a multimedia tool called skype - something approaching a conference, scheduled periodically. There are videos. And more - the site keeps on adding new material, even new media. You're pulled in: you start coming back to see what they're adding next.

None of this had to, or probably did, cost much at all, but it adds up to a lot of ways to reach people, and beyond that to interact as well. A site worthy of your attention as the primary days wind down.

Loren Parks and the meaning of money

In many states you could not do what Loren Parks and Kevin Mannix have done. Oregon, however, appears to have accepted the concept that money equals speech, and therefore can't be constrained - only reported - in a political campaign.

That has allowed Loren Parks to contribute something approaching a million dollars on behalf of a single candidate for governor of Oregon - $731,000 directly to Republican Mannix, and another substantial sum to a third party (Greg Clapper) who produced and promulgated negative ads aimed at Mannix' main primary opponent, Ron Saxton. Parks has contributed more than half of all of Mannix' campaign funds. He has contributed about one dollar out of six in this year's Oregon governor's race. So far. No one in Oregon history, at least since contributions have been publicly recorded, has ever contributed nearly so much to a single candidate.

That's remarkable. As is this: Parks' efforts, probably more than those of any of the seven major candidates now in the race for governor, are more directly responsible for the negative tone that has clouded the contest in the last couple of weeks. His buys of independent negative ads, together with his funding of a Mannix campaign that went very heavily negative toward the end (notwithstanding a disavowal of that approach recently), were the most important trigger in the darkening of the late air war. (more…)

No high ground left

With four more voting days to go, a sudden shift in tactics in the race for Oregon governor: Kevin Mannix says he will end his negative TV spots - aimed mainly at Ron Saxton, a fellow Republican in the primary - and go positive.

The whiplash leaves you momentarily stunned, since it was Mannix and others on his behalf who have been the leading practitioners of going negative in this campaign. Will it gain him points? History indicates it might. An AP story on this notes that "Mannix's announcement comes straight from the playbook of Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat, who made a similar reach-for-statesmanship during the final weeks of his bitter special election fight in 1996 with then-Oregon Senate President Gordon Smith."

Not that Mannix isn't doing comparatives at all. Consider this quote from press release on his decision to end his "comparative" ads:

"Given the current projections for a low voter turn out, it's important that Oregonians cast a ballot and make sure their voices are heard," said Mannix. "When I heard Ron Saxton's personal attacks on an 80-year old man, I knew it was time to lead by example in an effort to change the tone of the campaign."

It just might have some effect, because of the relatively high quotient of negative ads swamping Oregon TV in the last couple of weeks - higher than normal, and seemingly (feels this way at least) overrunning the positive spots. even candidates like Democratic incumbent Ted Kulongoski, who in past years has even fielded heat for not going after opponents, has gone negative. We are not among the critics who disapprove of comparative ads as a matter of principle: Talking about why the other guy isn't a good choice is a useful and important part of political campaigns, not something to be ashamed of. On the other hand, overwhelming negativism imposes an undeniable price.

So that could mean the catch with Mannix' approach may be an already pervasive cynicism: They all do it, every one of them, and someone who tries to claim absolution from guilt minutes ahead of the electric chair is just too little, too late.

If so, it's late in the game for everyone.

Freshening the blood

In this season of races for governor and races for senator, we forget about the races down ticket - we will confess, in our county, to having paid too little attention to the office of county surveyor, for which we were entitled to vote. But you can dig down deeper and go to the offices of the off-elections: The special elections for those little districts usually ignored but theoretically - and that is the right word - controlled by the people.

Pierce County Conservation DistrictSuch as the Pierce County Conservation District, three of whose commissioners are elected, and which controls a $2.4 million budget fed by a small property tax payment. Despite some suggestions that the district hold its election on one of the main days, such as primary or general election day, it doesn't. That would make an election held for the little district, which covers an area with hundreds of thousands of eligible voters, prohibitively expensive, except that it is allowed to send ballots only to people who request them. And since few Pierce Countians have ever heard of the district, few do - just 342 in the election about a year ago.

As Peter Callaghan explains in his excellent column on this in the Tacoma News Tribune, this was the impetus for Rose Ehart of University Place to take on the system. The election system, she said, “seems to be designed to keep whoever is there, there.” As indeed it does.

She figured out the soft underbelly of the entrenched system, though, and went right at it. She persuaded 220 people to request ballots and presumably to vote for her, and her effort seems to have prompted other people to join the parade as well. In all, about 800 people voted in this year's election, and Ehart easily won.

She told Callaghan that "I think there needs to be fresh blood all the time so you don’t get stale." But she did more: Not only did she provide some fresh blood, but she laid down the path for other people to provide more in other places.

A biodiesel center?

The west coast of Washington state long has been a low-key place, small in population, modest in ambitions, limited economically- now facing the loss of about 250 jobs at the Weyerhaeuser mill at Cosmopolis, slated for closure this year - and socially, with a remote feel to it despite no great mileage from nearby population centers.

Plant at AberdeenForget Tom Cruise and his stopover at Aberdeen: here today, vanished tomorrow (even if he did have some nice things to say about the area). Today comes news that a little-known stretch of Washington's cost may become a center of cutting-edge energy technology.

That has to do with the firm called Imperium Renewables, whose properties include Seattle Biodiesel, already one of the larger biodiesel companies around, at about five million gallons of biodiesel annually. Imperium is looking to build a plant in between Aberdeen and Hoquiam that would process as much as 100 million gallons of biodiesel per year, which would more than double the total biodiesel produced now annually in the United States. (Should be noted that work has begun on another massive plant as well in North Dakota.)

That has to be qualified, because much of the trade involved with the new plant has to do with markets and resources in Asia, not in United States or even the Northwest. But the start of such a large facility in this location is apt to expand interest rapidly among other entrepreneurs; Paul Allen already is interested in the future of this one. It will not likely stand alone for long. And that could make Aberdeen a regional or maybe national center for one of the most promising petrol replacements now on the scene.

Republicans for Hill?

How does it go: The enemy of my enemy is . . . well, figure it out from this:

On Blue Oregon, there's a fascinating Kari Chisholm post about a recent and highly-visible TV spot apparently promoting Democratic primary candidate Jim Hill, against incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, on the subject of the Cascade Locks casino proposal. (Which Kulongoski has endorsed, and Hill opposed.)

The first part of Chisholm's unearthing, that the Grand Ronde Tribe (in western Yamhill County) is behind the ad, is no surprise. The Grant Rondes operate Spirit Mountain, the biggest tourist draw in Oregon and the tribal casino now closest to Portland, a situation that would change if the Cascade Locks casino is built.

The interesting part follows, when Chisholm notes that $25,000 of the money for the ad went (evidently for production costs) to a New York company called Mercury Public Affairs, a company, a division of Fleishman-Hillard, whose client roster is solidly Republican. (Only four days ago its staff was augmented by the addition of Terry Nelson, former political director for the Bush-Cheney '04 Campaign and an adviser to Senator John McCain.) It does substantial corporate work too, but its political web page lists a number of Republican candidates and committees, but just one from a western state: Oregon Republican Senator Gordon Smith.

Chisholm's question: "Why does Gordon Smith's political team want to boost Jim Hill? Why are they getting involved in the Democratic race for governor? What do they have to gain?"

One possible answer: Smith might prefer to be running for re-election in 2008 with a Republican rather than a Democratic governor in office; might make life a little easier. But all of this does raise some intriguing questions.

Chickens

It must be the Season of the Chicken. In Oregon, one of the TV spots in high rotation is one from the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Mannix aimed at his main primary competitor, Ron Saxton, accusing him of flipping on position after position and using a chicken in the background footage (with chicken vocals as well) to drive home the point. (Right about now, you can't miss it on Portland TV.)

Dan Adamson and Jerry Brady at the coop

In Idaho, most of the gubernatorial candidates haven't that kind of TV money, but two of them did have the wit to employ the fowl as a visual.

The springboard was the withdrawal a few days ago of Republican gubernatorial candidate C.L. "Butch" Otter from a primary debate (originally set for Thursday, and now cancelled) with his main primary opponent, Dan Adamson. Otter is the presumed easy winner of the race, but his pullout set him up for what he got on Tuesday.

Which was a highly unusual joint press conference featuring Republican Adamson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady, both urging that if Otter failed to show up, Brady be allowed to speak in Otter's place. Not a bad thought: There should be some kind of significant penalty for doing what Otter did.

That won't happen, of course, even if it probably should. But Adamson and Brady did manage to drive home the point with a visual, by holding their press conference in front of a chicken coop. (Originally misspelled in a press released as "chicken coup," which probably wasn't what they had in mind.)

Chickens are going to get a bad reputation this way . . .

Why the backout

Does anyone really believe an incumbent politician who complains that they'd love to participate in that debate but gosh darn it, their schedule just isn't going to allow it?

Barring a demonstrable emergency - which is a little difficult to demonstrate weeks or months out - such an excuse doesn't even reach the "my dog ate my homework" threshold. It didn't work when Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski (or rather his staff) said he was just too busy to debate his Democratic primary opponents - a situation that changed, with the governor added to two primary debates, after a raft of bad publicity ensued.

Will it change in the case of C.L. "Butch" Otter, the U.S. representative now running for governor of Idaho, who has pulled out of Thursday's primary debate? Probably only if enough people get vocal enough about it. But if the outcomes of the primary and general elections seem a lock - as to many people they seem to be - will that be enough in Otter's case? (In Kulongoski's case, the outcomes seem not nearly so locked.)

It is true that Otter's primary opponent, Dan Adamson, has only the most distant of odds of winning; Otter will probably crush him in the primary. Adamson's campaign has been imaginative and shown some energy, but Otter is the heavyweight favorite. Otter could have said, with some honesty, that the Adamson campaign simply wasn't rising to the point of serious contention, and he's not going to debate every sliver candidate in the field. If that was the concern.

Or maybe the concern is that while Otter is on track for an easy primary win, a primary debate might raise some embarassing issue or idea or fact that could haunt him later. Or maybe he simply didn't want to bother prepping for a debate in a race he knows he'll win easily anyway.

What's reasonably certain is that calendar conflicts did not underlie the pullout, since he was offered three different dates for the event, and none were suitable. If appearing at the debate was a priority for Otter, he could and would make it happen.

We've said before and we'll say again: No official duty should take precedence over reporting to the boss - that would be us - and explaining one's work on the job face to face with the boss's alternative for handling the job in the next cycle. If sitting presidents can find the time to do it - as every one of them has over the last 30 years - surely a member of Congress could manage to show his employers the same courtesy.

Never too early: ’08 Senate kicking in?

Yes, we too saw the Earl Blumenauer Tv spots last week. That's not entirely a stunner. He does, of course, have an almost perfectly safe district - Oregon's 3rd (which takes in most of Portland and some surrounding area east of the Willamette) is about as secure for a Democrat as the 2nd (east of the Cascades) has been for Republicans.

Earl BlumenauerStill, if he's going to raise campaign money (he has raised $354,743 as of the end of March), he'd better spend some of it 0n something. Even if he has no substantial opposition, which he doesn't (and no Republican at all to worry about in the fall). And the ads were nice, pleasing, good-government type ads. Nothing controversial.

Or could there be more to the story?

Tucked away in a column item, the Portland Tribune is reporting that "The most likely scenario, according to informed political observers, is for the U.S. Senate, namely the seat currently held by Republican Gordon Smith. There has been speculation over whether Smith will run for re-election in 2008; even if he does, he will be a major target for the national Democratic Party. This explains why Blumenauer’s fundraiser last week at the Oregon Convention Center had a statewide, bipartisan feel to it, focusing on issues like agriculture, popular votes on how to spend the kicker, and favoring the open primary that lets anyone vote in either main party’s primary election."

Unmentioned but possibly notable: Bluemenauer's predecessor as 3rd district representative was fellow Democrat Ron Wyden, who is now Smith's colleague in the Senate.

UPDATE: A reader in Bend notes that the Blumenauer ad is running on local stations there - quite some distance from his 3rd congressional district but smack near the geographic center of the state . . .

Culture by Barbie

For a satiric look at the cultural variations around the Northwest, you could do worse than Barbie.

Someone around the web, somewhere, got hold of the idea that Barbie dolls, which long have had different versions based on profession or interest, could as well be described differently according to geography. Amd so they have. Available on the web now are well-developed lists of Oregon and Washington Barbies (Portland's KPAM radio has one of the best for Oregon, and STAR 105 radio has a good list for Washington. Be advised that some locale descriptions appear to have been plagarized from some others - although even those choices are indicative.

The Washington list is west-of-Cascades only. Bloggers at the Spokesman-Review web site, notably Dave Oliveria at Huckleberries, are at work remedying that situation, having already developed proposals across the Idaho line for Coeur d'Alene, Sandpoint, Moscow and even Athol Barbies.

Oregonians will easily get the point of the Eugene Barbie: "This Barbie is made out of recycled plastic and tofu. She has long straight brown hair, archless feet, hairy armpits, no make-up, and Birkenstocks with white socks. She does not want, or need, a Ken doll. If you purchase the optional Subaru wagon, you will receive a free rainbow flag sticker. Available at REI."

Or the Salem Barbie: " Comes with a bland wardrobe and sensible shoes. The navigation system on her white Jeep Cherokee is preset with her favorite destinations: Target, Big Lots, Tin Tin Buffet, Lancaster Drive, and the Four Square Evangelical Church of Jesus the Redeemer. Customize her ride with included bumper stickers: 'Support the Troops,' 'Stop Abortion Now,' and 'My Child is a Honor Student at Christ the King Bible School'.”

Looking for a quick cultural shorthand? You could do worse.