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Posts published in “Idaho”

Boise: Plenty o’ sleep tonight

David Bieter

David Bieter

The count at this hour has only about a quarter of Boise's precincts reporting, but there's no reason to hold off: David Bieter has been easily re-elected as mayor. It was expected to be a romp, and it was, even if its size - his percentage now is 68.6%, and it should stay well above the 60% level you need to call it a landslide - is a little greater than most people probably would have guessed.

We were thinking a percentage of 60 or thereabouts might be a reasonable call, though. To say the campaign of challenger Jim Tibbs (who will retain his Boise council seat) never caught fire is, well . . . there was never even really a spark, never a point at which he seemed to lay a glove on Bieter. Why that is, remains a little mysterious. Tibbs is a smart enough person, well liked around town, and his depth of background in Boise could fairly be described as second to none. He's not hard to imagine in the mayor's office. He just never gave the voters a very strong reason why he should be there, and Bieter shouldn't.

As for Bieter - who did offer concrete justifications for his mayoralty throughout his campaign - he now has a big win. His first in 2003 was relatively close, just a bit above the 50% he needed to avoid a runoff. Today's win is a community endorsement.

And the council races, as widely expected, were all snoozers too . . .

Recalling recall

We got our ballots in the mail today, again, and voted, again. No, this wasn't "vote early and often" - these new ballots arriving in our mailbox were not the better known statewide ballots (which we submitted some days ago) but instead had one local city issue on them: The recall of our mayor, in the city of Carlton, Oregon.

We'll not spend much space in this post about the specifics of the recall (the "grounds" make little sense) or whether the mayor should be retained (we strongly think she should). But it does seem like fair occasion, at this mid-point between two even-year elections, to revisit the whole subject of recall elections.

The primary point is that there are altogether too many of them, and they are the bane of many communities, especially small communities.

Recall was one of the direct democracy reforms Oregon helped pioneer a century ago, and we do not suggest getting rid of it: It has a useful purpose. On occasion a public office holder becomes destructive, seriously damaging the community, to the point that the community would face important loss if that person continues in place; or else, the office holder becomes corrupt, or criminal, and can't be allowed to stay on the job. Such cases exist, but they are rare. In the last 25 or 30 years of recall cases in Northwest communities, we can think of just one where these standards generally were met, in the larger city of Spokane, where Mayor Jim West was recalled in December 2005. And even that had some gray area to it.

Small cities almost never have the kind of crisis situations that require a recall, yet that is where almost all recall elections are held, maybe in part because the threshold for forcing an election is so low. In Oregon, Ashland, Oakland, Willamina, Aurora, Sheridan, Newport, Turner, Lafayette (notoriously), Florence - and those are all recent, in the last year or two - have been torn up by recall elections. A number of Idaho communities (over the years, Homedale, Wendell, St. Anthony, Spirit Lake) are notorious for them as well. (Not so much in Washington, as we'll explain.)

For a couple of decades, the city of Garden City, adjacent to the northwest side of Boise, was wracked by endless recall elections featuring the same revolving cast of unappealing characters. During that whole time the city stagnated, depressed and shabby-looking, while its better-run neighbor Boise advanced smartly. Then a new regime came in, led by a well-regarded local banker, and the recalls stopped. The city took off, and - clean and sober now for almost two decades - Garden City has prospered.

Too many recall cities take many years to break out of that cycle, with the result that city governments never become stable enough to do the jobs they're supposed to do - police and fire and sewer and water and streets and so on - with the result that the city fails to grow, discourages new businesses, misses opportunities, and heads into tailspin. Garden City, Idaho, was like that for many years while a few dozen people squabbled in their endless feuds; Lafayette, Oregon, fast-growing and terribly unprepared for it, is a lot like that now.

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Downward

New newspaper circulation figures are out, and they aren't painting a cheerful face. Could be that some bloggers smirk at the news; we're not mong them. Newspapers still are the bet single source of information about what's going on in the world, and we should all be chilled by the idea that declines in newspaper circulation too often means increasing numbers of people are learning about the world around them (and casting votes based on that knowledge) from television. Which, speaking in general, is appalling.

Closest thing to good news here: The rates of decline seem a little smaller than in the last couple of years.

The Sunday Oregonian now has a circulation of 371,386, down 1.2% from a year ago. Weekday circulation is at 309,467, which is .4% down.

The Sunday Seattle Times/Post-Intelligencer combo sits at 420,587, or down .6% from a year ago.

At the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the paper's blog reports that "daily circulation dropped about 2% and Sunday circulation dropped about 3%."

ADDITIONALLY Just saw this line, from a Dave Oliveria post at the Spokesman-Review's Huckleberries blog: "With our decision to cut staff in the North Idaho news operation, the [Coeur d'Alene] Press becomes the dominant print media in the region. How does that make you feel?"

The concession from the Spokesman side is stunning. And comments from Oliveria's readers weren't happy. It's all worth a read.

Down in the roots

In their so far struggling efforts to become a competitive force in Idaho politics, the Idaho Democrats lack a number of things. But foremost among them, perhaps central, is one that doesn't get near th other attention some other deficiencies do: A lack of local, precinct-level and neighborhood-level, organization.

Republicans for years - decades - have had this advantage over Democrats, and it has mattered. (Former Republican Governor Phil Batt long has told Democrats that the best single thing they could do for themselves is to organize better at the local level, and there's a lot of truth to that.) You can do semi-official comparisons: The number of Democratic versus Republican precinct committee leaders. (Who has more, by a long shot, in Idaho? You get one guess.) When Republicans have visible people around the neighborhood, and set about defining who and what Democrats are, and Democrats have no local counterbalance - well, what you think is going to happen?

There's a bit of news here, in an email from the Idaho Democratic Party: "State Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings today announced that Democratic activists across the state are gathering at more than 85 house parties today to launch the Democratic Party's new National Neighborhood Leader Program. With exactly one year before Election Day 2008, this unprecedented national grassroots organizing effort will provide our candidates the resources they need to win in 2008. Today, Idaho Democrats are recruiting hundreds of Neighborhood Leaders who will pledge to contact at least 25 voters in their communities three times between now and Ele'ction Day, and recruit at least two more Neighborhood Leaders who will do the same.

How well they do with this, will show in the results. But it does sound like a move in the right direction.

Where they come from, where they go

Just how tight with the larger businesses in Idaho is its state government? Well, consider today's bit of personnel news.

Jeff Malmen, who has been chief of staff for Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, announced his resignation today. (Word was when he joined up with Otter at the Statehouse that he would help with set-up, but even then intended to be gone within a year.) He is going to work for the parent company of Idaho Power Company, transitioning into the role of its chief area lobbyist, a role Greg Panter has held for some years.

Who will be replacing Malmen? That will be Jason Kreizenbeck, who long ago (the Phil Batt era) worked in the governors office, but for some years has been handling government relations for Micron Technology.

Bombastic, in a good way

Chick Bilyeu

Chick Bilyeu/Idaho State University

Some descriptive words go negative over time. "Bombastic" - you typically associate that, especially when linked to someone involved in politics, with self-importance, arrogance, self-righteousness, humorlessness . . .

But that's where you have to be careful, because you could fairly, sort of, describe as "bombastic" the style employed by Charles E. "Chick" Bilyeu, and yet none of those associated descriptors came close to fitting him. His oratory in the state Senate or on the stump often went beyond "hearty," sometimes approaching full roar. But it wasn't expression of ego, or affectation, either; it was a carefully crafted device, a tool he used for bringing the particular kind of attention he wanted to the points he was trying to make.

Bilyeu, who turned 90 not long ago, died Tuesday, was one of the beloved figures of Pocatello-area politics, and had been for half a century. A Democrat, he came up in the era when politicians knew which side they were on, and knew who the opposition was, but also knew enough not to turn either into saints or demons. Bilyeu was a politician partly because of interest in public affairs but also because he simply liked people.

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EZ on

We've suggested before that the threshold for many of the direct democracy activities - initiative, referendum, recall and so on - is much too low. Not that these things shouldn't be available, but that they shouldn't be easy. We'll revisit this again soon.

If you're inclined to think otherwise, consider this from the Spokesman-Review blog by Betsy Russell:

In today’s Twin Falls Times-News, reporter Jared Hopkins reveals why it’s the Wood River Valley city of Hailey that’s voting next week on four pro-marijuana initiatives. The measures’ sponsor, Garden City resident and activist Ryan Davidson – who fought all the way to the Idaho Supreme Court to win the right to put the measures before voters, regardless of the legal complications if they were to pass – told Hopkins that he lived in Hailey for a few months in 2004, and picked it for the initiatives because it was one of the “easiest places” to get on the ballot.

The reason? Getting a measure on the ballot takes petition signatures from voters equal to 20 percent of the turnout in the last election. In Hailey’s last city election in 2005, only unopposed candidates were on the ballot – so the ho-hum balloting drew a total turnout of just 85 people. That meant Davidson needed just 17 signatures to qualify his measures for the ballot.

Reaching out in NW churches

About halfway through a fascinating New York Times Magazine piece today called (a little in contrast to its thematic points) "The Evangelical Crackup," comes a reference we decided to follow up. You might, too.

The article's point was not that the evangelical community is diminishing or disintegrating, but that its once near-monolithic support for President George W Bush and Republican candidates is fracturing. Reporter David Kirkpatrick cited quite a few instances, most from the south (such as Texas) and plains (notably Kansas). One of the most interesting is Bill Hybels.

Hybels, founder of the Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, is very possibly the single-most-influential pastor in America; in the last 15 years, his Willow Creek Association has grown to include more than 12,000 churches. Many invite their staff members and lay leaders to participate by telecast in Willow Creek’s annual leadership conferences, creating a virtual gathering of tens of thousands. Dozens of churches in Wichita, including Central Christian and other past bastions of conservative activism, are part of the association.

As his stature has grown, Hybels has seemed more willing to irk Christian conservative political leaders — and even some in his own congregation. He set off a furor a few years ago when he invited former President Bill Clinton to speak at one of his conferences. And the Iraq war has brought into sharp relief Hybels’s differences with conservatives like [Focus on the Family's James] Dobson.

We decided to check and see whether the Willow Creek Association has much link with churches in the Northwest. Indeed it does: According to its list, it has 192 member churches in Washington, 83 in Oregon and 19 in Idaho. Substantial in all three, though to different degrees.

The larger proportions in Oregon and Washington are of interest; could it reflect a variably changing evangelical response in the states to changing conditions?

Issues more than candidates

Not, on the whole, a massively significant election night coming up a week from Tuesday, but it will have its moments. Recapping briefly, here, what we're paying attention to in the Northwest numbers.

Most significantly, ballot issues - there are no candidate races to match the significance of the major ballot issues.

Oregon has two of importance (and many voters, your scribe among them, will makes choices on nothing but these). Both can be seen from a big-picture view as intermediate steps, because neither Measure 49 on land use nor Measure 50 on cigarette taxes/child health are likely to be for-all-time end-alls on their respective issues.

But each could mark an important turning point, especially over the next three or four years. If Measure 49 passes (we suspect it will) then the center of gravity on land use in the state goes back to somewhere between where it has been under Measure 37 (under which a mass of development has been applied) and where it was before that (much more restrictive); it could evoke a period of negotiation and compromise. Measure 50, together with the upcoming restrictions on smoking places, would change the state's cigarette culture significantly (making it much less friendly to smoking), and could send substantial money to child health care, at least for some years. If the measure fails (and we're unclear about its prospects, uneasily leaning toward passage) a brake would be slammed on both developments.

The most sweeping measure in Washington probably is Initiative 960, a Tim Eyman special, which generally would require two-thirds approval in the legislature for increases in taxes or fees (even minor administrative or licensing fees) or, in many cases, a vote on a statewide ballot issue on each one. It sounds from here like a recipe for chaos, but it would surely be impactful. The campaign on 960 has been lower-key than you might expect given the stakes, and with a relatively low voter turnout, there's a good chance it will pass.

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