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Wayne Scott out

Wayne Scott

Wayne Scott

What a sea change in Oregon legislative leadership - Kate Brown, Jeff Merkley, now Wayne Scott, leader of the House Republicans. The legislature is going to be a different place.

Scott is a major figure - was more so in the last term (when he was not only House majority leader, but also co-chair of the budget committee) than this (when his tight caucus discipline still shaped a good deal of what the House did, and didn't do). But still one of the key figures at the Statehouse.

Announcement of his departure - next month from leadership, but not till term's end from the House - brings to immediate question the matter of who replaces him as caucus leader. We're more intrigued, though, about what happens to his house seat. Scott is a formidable enough figure to remain strong for re-election, but the district has become marginal enough to allow for a closely-contested fight in 2008. (Democrats last year offered a young but energetic scrapper, Mike Caudle, against Scott; will he be back?) With control of the chamber hanging on a single seat (and this district is more marginal than either Brown's or Merkley's), this is another place to pay attention.

Merkley’s entry

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley

One of the political assets attributed the Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley, the just-in candidate for U.S. Senate, has to do with his ascension to the office he has now - in other words, Democratic control of the Oregon House. When he became House minority - Democratic - leader in September 2003, there were 25 Democrats in the 60-seat chamber. Now, there are 31, just enough to take control. As leader of the House Democrats, Merkley can reasonably take some credit for that. The question arises: How much credit?

It's a subject that may be revisited and recalibrated over the next year - just how strong are those political skills? - as Merkley rolls the dice on a big move. He looks ahead, as this begins, toward favorable odds toward winning the nomination (we'd not call it a done deal, as some may) and some great unknowns in the general. He has substantial assets to call upon, and incumbent Republican Gordon Smith has serious liabilities. But the path is long and twisting.

We can say with greater confidence that the Senate contest is taking on a definable shape, after seeming for months something like an amorphous blob. It starts to look, on the Democratic side, like a probable two-man contest probably - from what we've seen of both Merkley and already-in candidate Steve Novick - energetic but not bloody. (The Novick-offered and Merkley-accepted proffer of a series of debates suggests as much.) These two could emerge from a primary unsullied by each other, and (one of them) stronger in the general for the effort.

(A comment on Blue Oregon reflects an inquiry we've heard elsewhere already: "Would it be fair at this point to identify Merkley with the "centrist" branch of the Dems, and to identify Novick with the 'liberal' branch of the Dems?" Our basic take: Pending fuller descriptions of viewpoints once of the two of them get started, we think such distinctions would be splitting hairs, and that the two overall probably aren't very far apart.)

On the Republican side, we continue to watch for a primary challenge to Smith: We think it more likely than not to emerge at some point.

That sounds like a lethal prescription for Smith, but it may not be. The limits of his residual strength in Oregon may be uncharted. And a number of independent Oregonians may be hit by a stark element of the choice in this Senate race - the election of a Democrat to this seat will eliminate Republicans completely from the ranks of statewide office holders and move the state hard toward one-party dominance; and some significant number of independents may wind up blanching at that.

Or not. A lot will depend on attitude in 2008, and we aren't there yet. And if this sounds like a waffly post, that's because we figure waffly predictions are the right kind, in this case, for now.

A MERKLEY CATCH We'll not waffle on this, however: Merkley's campaign picked up strong help today for its web activities in bringing aboard Carla of Loaded Orygun, one of the strongest political blogs in the Northwest. Call it an early indication that somebody over there knows what they're doing.

Diminishment of interest?

Question came up during conversation yesterday with a journalist from D.C. of whether Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley's likely entry into the U.S. Senate race would mean a withdrawal of some or many of the other names mentioned as prospects. Conclusion seemed to be that yes, likely it would.

That's not the explicit reason given today for the statement that Senator Alan Bates, D-Ashland, won't after all run for the Senate. After expressing some interest in the idea, he told the local Daily Tidings today that he'll stay where he is: "At this point, my family, my patients, and legislative work for universal health coverage for all Oregonians takes precedence over a bid for the U.S. Senate." (Pointer via Blue Oregon.)

Okay; but one has to suspect that the news about Merkley wasn't entirely irrelevant.

We suspect more decisions-against will be following before long.

Under whose carpet?

Over a generation our collective response to crime and other social ills has been largely this: Get rid of it, get it out of my sight, I don't want to be bothered with it. For crime, the simple solution: Lock 'em up. There's still someone out there doing something bad? Lock 'em up longer. Mandatory minimums. Three strikes and you're out. With the result that this country, and some parts of it in particular, have bulging prisons, enormous bills for corrections, and all the rest.

And a lot of those people we've locked up, out of sight and out of mind, are beginning to return to society, sentences partly or fully complete. Now what do we do?

We're jointly responsible for this mess, and over time we're all probably going to have to give a little as we work our way out of it. There's going to be a lot of conflict, and some of it will become political. Some of what's coming in many more places, emerged at a meeting this morning in Boise. The people involved there included the mayor and two former opponents for a state Senate seat, along with neighbors, attorneys and others, but in the end we're all involved.

[This is a long post, continued overleaf.] (more…)

Inslee on point

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee

Washington Representative Jay Inslee has abruptly become the lead congressional figure on the prospective impeachment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

There's no reference to it yet on his congressional website, but it's all over news media: He's taking the initial step toward an impeachment, formally asking the House Judiciary Committee to look into it. His resolutions says:

Directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, should be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors.
Resolved, That the Committee on the Judiciary shall investigate fully whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to impeach Alberto R. Gonzales, Attorney General of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.

The ruse organization

So often this kind of thing happens, and so often they get away with it. Might have in this case, but for the side effects of a lawsuit.

In his column, Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune writes about a group called Associated Casino Employees for Survival (ACES, of course). The city of Tacoma has been trying to ban or at least cut down on its proliferation of casinos, and a 2006 initiative (which failed) sought to overturn it. ACES was the public face of the attempt to overturn the ban.

ACES presented itself as a group of casino employees - notably, as Callaghan writes, single moms trying to earn a living and keep their jobs. That presentation wasn't enough to pass the initiative. But just now has it come completely undone, thanks to the firing of Mike Purdy, who ran the campaign, and his followup lawsuit for wrongful termination. In it, he described how the corporations which ran the casinos were the real backers of the initiative.

So you see an initiative - or something similar - on the horizon backed by jes' plain folks? Look carefully before you take them at face value.

Tracking the old dog

Following up our July 8 post "Old Dog Leaves the Porch," on the fierce Republican primary in Washington Senate district 14, we'd note here that the local paper, the Yakima Herald-Republic, has weighed in.

Its editorial endorsement today went to Jim Clements, the incumbent, over challenger Curtis King. Clements, a veteran House member, was appointed to the Senate seat last December to fill a vacancy. King also had applied, and now is challenging him in the primary for election to the seat.

The paper said the decision was close but tipped by what was described as effectiveness in the last session, on Clements' part, in several important pieces of legislation. And added, "Since there are only 17 Republicans in the 49-member state Senate, you don't have the kind of success Clements did unless you have earned the respect of your colleagues. That's something Olympia insiders report the folksy Clements certainly has done."

Election is next month.

The streets of Pasco

Pasco

In downtown Pasco

Walk or drive around the city of Pasco, and the Hispanic feel of the place is clear, and strong. You'll see more than small traces of Hispanic communities in many other communities in the Northwest, in Hillsboro or Woodburn, Oregon, or Caldwell or Rupert, Idaho, to cite a few examples.

But not to the degree at Pasco, where you could wonder for a moment or two if you've accidently slipped south of the border. On our last trip there a few weeks back, we were strcuk more than usual by the number of Spanish-language business signs dominant almost everywhere except the main drags, where the national chains were still most visible.

All of this might have sunk in more strongly if we'd noticed the latest Census figures for Franklin County (of which Pasco is the seat), and its neighbor to the north, Adams County. Those two have become the Northwest's first counties where the Hispanic population is an absolute majority - about 57% in Franklin and 52% in Adams, which is much smaller.

A useful Associated Press piece on the Hispanic growth at Pasco outlines some of the ways the city, and the local area, is changing. (It's worth noting that of the cities in the Tri-Cities, Pasco appears to be much more Hispanic than Kennewick, Richland or West Richland.) The raw numbers are substantial: Census estimates put Pasco at 34,022 in 2000, and very nearly at 50,000 now - growth of almost 50%, about 16,000 people, in six years. As the AP story indicates, nearly all of that growth seems to be in the Hispanic population. And, of course, this growth is not new; the growth spurt started in the late 90s.

The social and cultural effects of all this are various. Here, we'll take a quick look at the political.

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Wyden, Kempthorne and endangered species

Ron Wyden

Ron Wyden

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

This would seem to fall into the "helluva story" category, although the Northwest news media silence about it has been almost absolute - the Eugene Register-Guard (in a useful and telling editorial), Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (and out of region, the Federal Times and Forbes) seem to have been almost alone in delivering even succinct reports about it. So consider: This is about Oregon's senior senator asking questions about what may be important ethical issues in a major federal agency with important importance to the Northwest as well as with national import - an agency led by a well-known northwesterner.

In the case of some senators this might be business as usual, but Senator Ron Wyden is usually low-key and diplomatic. So some attention should be paid when words like these show up in one of his press releases (from July 19):

“Mr. Limbaugh’s switch from water regulator to water lobbyist is ominous, in part, because of the Department’s recent history of scandals involving industry players moving through Department ranks while serving industry interests,” wrote Wyden, identifying Ms. MacDonald and recently convicted, former Deputy Secretary J. Steven Griles as examples. “Frankly, it’s not always clear where these Department leaders put their loyalties.”

Wyden wrote that, on July 20, directly to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

Here's some background.

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