Writings and observations

Acouple of things came out of the Burley water summit Idaho Governor Butch Otter called for this week. Neither was what he probably was hoping for.

One was a raft of bad headlines for holding the key parts of the conference behind closed doors; the critics included not only newspapers but also the chair of the Senate resource committee, Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow: “I don’t think that my constituents want me involved in any type of situation in which public policy is decided behind closed doors.” And, consequently, he declined to go to Burley.

Otter’s rationale for closure was that deals might be more likely struck if no one had to couch their language in careful, quotable terms; if they could speak freely. Sometimes it works that way; that’s how the massive (and useful) Nez Perce/Snake River deal was crafted. But that was a discussion of private interests and options in the context of a lawsuit; the water summit was intended to address more conventional policy-making about water distribution. In this case, everyone present was prospectively on the opposite side of possible lawsuits or regulatory actions – not the place to let your hair down. On top of that, anyone outside the room was likely to become immediately skeptical about whatever deals were struck inside, which is a bad place to start policy making. (There were also issues about who was and wasn’t in the inner ring of negotiators – for example, Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, whose city has been an important factor in water law in recent years, was bumped off the central group, in favor of the new mayor of Idaho Falls.)

In the event, the second thing that came of it is that very little did:No sweeping agreements were reached. The governor’s spokesman, who would have the most incentive for spinning any results positively, said that “I think we’ve got a basis for moving forward, but I don’t think I’d call it an agreement.” A basis for moving forward might mean not much more than that no physical violence occurred in the closed room.

In the next round of efforts toward resolution (there never was any way this would get settled all at once), a more open approach – making clear to everyone the varied stakes involved, and that there really aren’t any villains here – could yield more general understanding, which ought to result in some solutions. At least, after Burley, it might be considered as an alternative that could result in no less progress, and certainly in fewer bum headlines.

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Today wasn’t Income Tax day (that would be tomorrow), but it does mark release day for round 1 of the 2008 campaign finance cycle, covering the first three months of this year.

You’ve been hearing about the fundraising on the presidential level; but what about the Northwest’s House seats?

A run though the Federal Election Commission’s database this morning suggests a few observations.

bullet Should note, first, that we weren’t able to locate Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio’s filing: it didn’t pull up under standard searches. That doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t filed; if anyone has spotted it, drop us a line. FOLLOW DeFazio raised, in the last quarter, $24,065 – less than anyone else in the Oregon House delegation (or Washington or Idaho, for that matter). The Oregonian politics blog notes the significance: If he were to run against Republican Senator Gordon Smith next year, he would have to get hevily into fundraising mode; to date, clearly, he hasn’t been.

bullet The ace Northwest House fundraiser of the quarter was Washington Republican Dave Reichert, who not coincidentally had one of the toughest races of the last cycle (and might have the toughest regionally in this next). He raised $184,722, more than anyone else (and we might note here that less than a third of it came from PACs); but because he spent down in the last campaign and was still paying it off this year, he didn’t wind up with a lot on hand – $47,584.

bullet A bit in contrast, then: Reichert’s 2006 challenger, Darcy Burner, who has said she’s running again, raised less than a tenth as much ($17,368) in the last quarter, but has comparable money on hand ($38,088).

bullet Eastern Washington Representative Cathy McMorris, who was pressed a little harder last year than originally expected, was also a substantial fundraiser, pulling in $165,108 (just $60,000 from PACs). Like Reichert, she seems to want to take no chances this time. She has $107,783 on hand.

bullet Who has big money on hand? Among the top treasuries: Washington Democrats Brian Baird ($763,820), Jay Inslee ($762,028), Jim McDermott ($454,120) and Adam Smith ($425,743), Oregon Democrats David Wu ($515,887) and Earl Blumenauer ($405,248) and Oregon Republican Greg Walden ($408,903) top the list.

bullet New Idaho Republican Representative Bill Sali kept on raising money in the first quarter, less than Reichert or McMorris (who had the other two hot House races last year), but at $86,731 substantial anyway. (In contrast to the Washington Republicans, the bulk of that Sali money – $69,861 – came from PACs.) But then, Sali has to scramble, financially; he spent hard in the last race, and his cash on hand is still just $69,861, and he is sure to draw a significant challenge this cycle. His opponent in 2006 and prospectively in 2008, Democrat Larry Grant, reported no income for the quarter, but has $10,079 cash on hand. The other Idaho representative, Mike Simpson, raised $35,900 last quarter, leaving him with $36,644 on hand.

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Jade Riley

Jade Riley

Boise Mayor David Bieter has had a generally blessed run in office so far: No huge blowups or bitterly intractable issues, which is one reason we’ve figured (and still do) he’s in the favored position for re-election this year. Not much at City Hall has tested him hard.

Here’s something, though, that might. Jade Riley, one of Bieter’s key assistants – not exactly but nearly chief of staff – was charged late Friday night with driving under the influence. Bieter took action promptly, suspending Riley without pay for two weeks. The arresting agency was the Boise City Police; its officers may win some plaudits for not letting one of the mayor’s top aides off the hook.

Riley, a former executive director of the state Democrats, has been a key figure in Bieter’s office from the start of his mayoralty, a valuable player. What exactly, though, should Bieter do now?

No obvious answers from this quarter; but quite a few people probably will be watching.

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Jim Risch
Jim Risch

Probably not a lot more than what’s on the surface should be read into Idaho Lieutenant Governor Jim Risch‘s remarks to the Idaho Statesman today, that he’d be interested in running for the Senate seat held by Larry Craig, if Craig doesn’t.

Craig and Risch aren’t especially close, so – for example – this shouldn’t be read (as some might) as an indicator Craig isn’t planning to run again. Craig’s intentions remain unknown.

But a few other thoughts might be worth mention.

In 2005 Risch had in mind a run for governor, and (so we read things now) he might have made that run except that, by the time he was moving toward announcement time, the bulk of money and support had been soaked up by now-Governor Butch Otter. A fine political strategist, Risch doubtless has no intention of erring the same twice.

At the same time, Risch is doing more than expressing interest: “Should [Craig] decide not to run, there is a reasonable likelihood that Vicki and I will get into that race.” That’s just short of a conditional announcement of candidacy.

It also may suggest that any plans to run for governor in 2010 – certainly Risch enjoyed the job, and got a lot of good reviews, when he held last year – could be fading. And it certainly should quash the around-town talk (which we never took very seriously) of a Risch race against freshman Representative Bill Sali.

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The Idaho Supreme Court’s annual report on court activity over the last year (actually, with a year-end that stopped in 2006) is mostly unremarkable, except for a few numbers we’re at some loss to reconcile.

From the report:

A total of 20,992 cases were filed in the district courts of Idaho, an increase of 1.5% from 2005. The total number of district court cases in 2006 indicates a 26% increase in filings from ten years ago. A total of 471,478 cases were filed before magistrate judges in 2006, a 4.1% increase from 2005.

Felony DUI cases increased by 26% over the number filed in 2005. Misdemeanor DUI filings were up 14.7% from the last year. Overall, the number of juvenile cases rose to 13,669, a 5.2% increase from the previous year. Showing a steady decline for the fourth-consecutive year, the number of domestic violence petitions filed in 2006 dropped 8.6% from those filed in 2005.

From 2005 to 2006, district court cases overall increased 1.5% – which seems about right for a single year – but felony DUIs (which would be heard in district court) were up 26%. That’s an enormous jump for a single year. But at the same time domestic violence petitions, which so often show up somewhere in the neighborhood of alcohol abuse, were down.

Thoughts on this will be welcome.

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What with the lines between politics, culture and other societal elements blurring in recent years, we were immediately intrigued by the name of a blog we just spotted: A Seattleite in Idaho.

It is run, it turns out, by a graduate student now at Idaho State University, and who happens to be Mormon. The perspective is sometimes striking. Worth a look.

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Larry LaRocco
Larry LaRocco

Democrat Larry LaRocco‘s statement (not yet formal announcement) from various places (apparently originating from an interview with The Hill yesterday) that he plans to announce for the U.S. Senate next week has been prepared for; LaRocco has mentioned the possibility more than once, and even during his race last year for lieutenant governor. Assuming that materializes as expected, the former U.S. representative instantly will be the presumed Democratic nominee, likely drawing little or no serious challenge in-party.

What he faces on the Republican side, of course, is another matter.

Though there’s ample question about who that will be. Our presumption for the moment is that incumbent Republican Senator Larry Craig will be back for another run; we hear from people who’ve known him well that Congress is too much his life to simply step away from it. Until a stronger argument comes up, we’ll go with that.

But it’s not a done deal.

In his blog today, the Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert (who also has a reasonable take on the race’s prospects) also posts transcript from an interview the paper did with Craig last fall when he was asked about his ’08 plans. It’s very much a one hand/other hand thing, but he did offer a pile of reasons he might not run again. There seemed to be some emphasis on age (Craig will be 63 next year – certainly not old for a run for the Senate, but time to get out if he wants to ever do anything else). And he focused on the negativity of modern campaigning, something his races never have much been (but could be in the modern environment, even apart from a prospective rough primary from former Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez).

After reviewing the transcript, Richert remarked, “if Craig ultimately decides not to run in 2008, I won’t be the least bit surprised.” We wouldn’t count ourselves stunned, either.

House side. There had been some talk about former Micron attorney Larry Grant, who ran a well-regarded race for the U.S. House last year, might try for the Senate in 2008. The Hill checked after talking with LaRocco, and Grant now says he will run for the House again “unless something extraordinary changes.”

Also not a surprise. His campaign web site, still up, seems to proclaim as much.

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The Idaho Statesman‘s web site poll today asks the question: What grade do you give the just-concluded state legislative session?

With 514 votes in (at this writing), the self-selected poll says: A 1%, B 6%, C 24%, D 29%, F 32%.

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Butch Otter
Butch Otter

Afew weeks back Idaho Governor Butch Otter, who tends to be a bit more candid than the average successful politician, acknowledged a couple of weeks ago, “There’s a lot of things that I pointed out in my State of the State that haven’t passed. Unfortunately, I can’t think of one that has.”

A couple of weeks later, another marker cropped up: A quick, substantial string of six full (plus one line-item) vetoes in rebuttal to a legislature firmly controlled by lawmakers who are a philosophical and partisan match for the conservative Republican governor. Vetoes are a part of the process and they can be useful or even necessary, but in an important respect they are a trouble sign: They are what happens when things haven’t been resolved through more peaceful means.

So you can’t really call this a successful session for the still-new governor. (Of course, leaving aside areas of gubernatorial involvement, it was a session unusually light on accomplishment.)

But we’ll hold off grading the governor’s efforts until we see how he does next time. That will tell whether he’s learned the right lessons from this year’s efforts. First sessions are often tricky for governors; and this one tried to do some large things without laying the proper groundwork. The year ahead will give him that opportunity.

The veteran lobbyists understand this: You’re trying to convince 105 people, for many of whom status quo is often not a bad place to be, to change something. That’s not an easy proposition. Bill Roden, a Boise attorney who has been one of the most effective lobbyists in Idaho over the span of a couple of generations, has lost, in specific sessions, many of the more ambitious legislative projects his clients have sought. That doesn’t seem to have particularly bothered him; he knows that the big stuff often takes a while to work through, both in building alliances and “buy-in” and in sanding off the rough edges. He may fail decisively in year one on some big effort, come closer in year two, and by year three slide the sucker on through. Successful lobbying is time-intensive.

Otter, who has significant legislative experience – six years this decade in the Congress, four in the 70s in the Idaho House – seemed to have forgotten this. He didn’t do much to prepare legislators for what was coming ahead; his calls for efforts of substance didn’t show up in early pronouncements last year or even in his inaugural or state of the state speeches, where they logically would have appeared. Instead, they were discovered, like unearthed land mines, as legislators and reporters perused the governor’s budget books. They were caught by surprise, and that didn’t help. The end result was more confrontation and less legislative passage than might have been otherwise the case. (We’re thinking here, for example, of the proposed rearrangement of administration and human resources offices.)

This means there really wasn’t a legislative determination that Otter’s ideas were bad or unacceptable, just that the case for them hadn’t been well enough made.

Otter has some fine skills at doing that sort of thing, and he didn’t take advantage of them before the session got underway. Now, with the first rush of administrative and legislative action over, he can take a breather and get about that work. A good deal of what Otter didn’t get passed this session, probably could the next, or the one after, if he approaches the work of lobbying a little differently.

We’ll be back to review his larger-picture level of success, then, in another year.

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The Idaho Legislature has just adjourned for the yearsine die (properly, that’s see-nay dee-ay, though no one says it that way). The last bit of business was a compromised (and apparently somewhat straightened out) highway bonding bill.

Reflections tomorrow on the session and Governor Butch Otter’s relationship to it.

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