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Posts published in “Northwest”

NW . . .

It's a ballot issue - two of them - in Oregon, for early next year. Signatures submitted for 301, personal tax increase (129,500 unverified signatures submitted, 55,179 required), and 302, corporate tax increase (126,183 submitted, same number needed), almost certainly enough for ballot status. . . . Clackamas County Commissioner Lynn Peterson says (a recent Facebook page to the contrary) she won't run for governor . . . Owing to budget cuts, former state Senator Vicki Walker won't take the job as chair of parole board, instead an administrative job at lower salary, at least temporarily . . . Seattle Times endorsement schedule announced . . . Spokane report on a parking lot scam . . . Mount Vernon struggles to deal with Glenn Beck Day (which is Saturday) chatter; media access (expected to be limited) has become a hot topic.

NW . . .

Boeing continues to scramble for that air tanker business, but the Pentagon says it is opening up another round . . . A fine first-person blog post from Chuck Sheketoff, getting very specific on how people are being misled about the actual impact of this year's pair of Oregon tax increases . . . Oregon Representative Chip Shields named senator in a Democratic Portland district . . . Democratic Senator Rick Metsger won't run again, in what has been a close-margin district, which will lead to GOP targeting in that area . . . King County animal control going away, transitioning, or something . . . A Chicago Tribune editorial touts Boise State President Bob Kustra as a prospect for University of Illinois presidency . . . Twin Falls Times-News opines, "The governor needs $159 million to make the budgetary pot right. He'd already have most of it except for all those tax incentives the state gave away recently, to the likes of Micron Technology and Albertsons. How'd that work out for Idaho, anyway?" . . . Boise continues battle over air traffic control, may lose some of those functions to Salt Lake . . .

NW . . .

Traffic fatalities in Washington lowest (in raw numbers) since 1955 . . . A driver-texting ban may happen in Idaho. From Kevin Richert's blog: "Boise Democratic state Sen. Les Bock is taking another run at the texting ban; a similar bill stalled earlier this year. He has some key allies: Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell; and House Transportation Chairwoman JoAn Wood, R-Rigby. Wood's support, touted by Idaho Democrats last week, isn't just laudable. It's shocking. Her history on safe-driving legislation, frankly, has been awful." . . . From a Mount Vernon (WA) Herald newspaper editorial: Mayor Bud Norris, re his key to the city to be offered to cable talker Glenn Beck, "recently mused that it would bring some attention to Mount Vernon if he could bring the city’s famous (some say “infamous”) son here. Well, unfortunately, mission accomplished." . . . New Oregon legislator: "Oregon House Democrats welcome Val Hoyle to the House of Representatives after she was unanimously chosen by Lane County Commissioners to succeed former Rep. Chris Edwards in Lane County’s District 14 representing West Eugene, Santa Clara and Junction City. Edwards is now a State Senator who was recently chosen to replace former Senator Vicki Walker." (from emailed press release) . . . And another newbie: "Margaret Doherty as Oregon’s newest State Representative. Doherty was unanimously chosen by county commissioners in both Washington and Multnomah counties on Monday to replace Larry Galizio in Oregon’s House District 35." . . .

A shout from the past

Three decades ago, when I was covering politics in eastern Idaho for the newspaper at Pocatello, the most conservative of the local Republicans (a few office holders, and a few additional candidates, and all or nearly all Mormon in faith - that being the other characteristic they had in common) were members of the John Birch Society and other groups toward the right edge, and cheerfully offered to share their favorite readings and authors. Probably no author was then in stronger circulation in this group, in the very conservative LDS community in the Intermountain area, than Cleon Skousen.

Skousen has been, for me, a true name from the past; I've not heard it for a long time, and since he died in January 2006, has seemed unlikely to resurface. But he has. The TV talker Glenn Beck (scheduled to appear at a rally in Seattle on Saturday) has led a Skousen resurgence, pushing hard on air and at appearances an old Skousen book (The 5,000 Year Leap, for which he wrote a foreword and which he called "divinely inspired") and a number of his ideas. Skousen may have been the biggest single influence on Beck; which, once you know something about Skousen, explains a great deal. The line from the most-conservative LDS group of the 60s and 70s (the church distanced itself from Skousne by the 80s) to Beck (an LDS church convert) looks direct and clear; know one, you know the other, except that Beck has a national megaphone.

Rather than run through the whole Skousen story, which includes a scattershot law enforcement meshing into more strident and conspiratorial outlooks, we'll suggest some reading of our own, a new piece in Salon by Alexander Zaitchik, "Meet the man who changed Glenn Beck's life." It'll give you most of the background you need to understand how the the strangest public figure with a real (if misguided) following got to where he is. Call it a cautionary tale.

A piece of Zaitchick's description: "'Leap,' first published in 1981, is a heavily illustrated and factually challenged attempt to explain American history through an unspoken lens of Mormon theology. As such, it is an early entry in the ongoing attempt by the religious right to rewrite history. Fundamentalists want to define the United States as a Christian nation rather than a secular republic, and recast the Founding Fathers as devout Christians guided by the Bible rather than deists inspired by the French and English philosophers. 'Leap' argues that the U.S. Constitution is a godly document above all else, based on natural law, and owes more to the Old and New Testaments than to the secular and radical spirit of the Enlightenment."

Obama out west

A good on the ground report about Barack Obama's visit and town hall at Bozeman, Montana, by a veteran reporter - Ray Ring - who lives there.

Ring: "Obama tells several of the skeptics, 'That's a legitimate question.' He tells one guy, Randy Rathie, a proud National Rifle Association member worried about costs of health-care reform, 'I appreciate your question and the respect with which you ask it.' He keeps using one of his own downhome words - 'folks' - to refer to just about anyone. He completely abandons his Harvard and Columbia degrees to intentionally misuse the language for a moment - 'got to be careful of them cable network shows.' He points to another woman who's wearing a cowboy hat and says, 'If I'm in Montana, I've got to call on someone with a cowboy hat.'"

A Utah prescription


Utah Health Care Initiative

Several readers of the recent post here on health care and costs have pointed to a just-delivered speech at the Boise City Club by Utah physician Joe Jarvis, of the Utah Health Care Initiative. The speech is available online.

The speech is called "Too much market, not enough care," and Jarvis' points overlap greatly with those that have been made here. Have a listen. There's a lot of useful material here: "Medicine has once again become a business opportunity. Our body politics has become paralyzed by a market oriented health policy."

From the initiative's web site: "The conventional wisdom about health care is that we should fear socialized medicine (the name offered by those with a proprietary interest in the status quo health system for anything that might threaten their business model) and instead embrace market-based medicine (the notion that health care is a commodity and that unfettered market forces can improve health care delivery). The conventional framing of the health reform debate is bogus. The pretense of a market makes wasteful spending due to a combination of inefficient financing and poor quality care inevitable. What should be feared is not the 'socialization' of American health care. No one, not even the most liberal advocate, is proposing government owned and operated hospitals and clinics in the US. Instead, fear the effects of poor quality health care. The fifth leading cause of death in the US is preventable hospital associated injury. Fear the loss of needed revenues through corporate welfare paid by the taxpayer into the coffers of for-profit insurers and pharmaceutical firms. It is time to change the debate about American health system reform. Rather than worry about coverage, we need to focus on waste. Waste elimination is politically difficult, but essential if sustainable health system reform is ever to happen."

We're en route, just now, to a congressional town hall where the topic do jour is expected to be health care.

Your money or your life

Political speech on health care, quite a bit of it, doesn't match up well with reality on the ground.

Some of the most critical votes in Congress when time comes, presumably some weeks hence, to vote on health care, will be those of the more skeptical Democrats. One of the Democrats most reluctant to accept the various health plans pushed in recent weeks through committees has been Idaho's Walt Minnick.

He's made a number of statements on health care; one (arriving in email) that seemed to need clarification was this: "Third, no 'socialized medicine.' The health care system of insurance must be private – not run by the government." In Minnick's use of the term (exact definitions can vary by person), what does socialized medicine mean? His press secretary responded:

He is firmly opposed to a public option. We of course have Medicare and Medicaid, and while people who use those services like having the benefits of some healthcare, most people very clearly do not like the process associated with those programs. So that partially informs his thinking.

The other key thing to understand is the reasoning by most proponents of a public option. The proposed plan and its proponents on Capitol Hill very much want a single-payer, single-provider system of health insurance – that is a poorly kept secret in Washington, D.C. They view the public option as a way to not just compete with insurance companies, but drive them out of business. The public option would so effectively kill competition in the marketplace, that the proponents would likely be successful in that endeavor.

For Walt, competition is at the heart of this part of the healthcare discussion. A public company would not have to pay taxes, it could bond without restriction, it could go into debt without being beholden to banks or shareholders and would not have to worry about losses. It could just add those losses to the national debt. Most importantly, it would not have any real incentive to drive down costs, because it would quickly become the dominant, overwhelming force in the marketplace. It would be the largest insurance company in the country, run by the federal government and subsidized by taxpayers at enormous cost. That is socialized medicine.

Walt said something interesting the other day as an off-the-cuff way to oversimplify and explain this. Let’s say you sell bikes. And the bike industry is an absolute mess due to poor standards, a lack of accountability, out-of-control costs which are due to a wide variety of complex factors, and wide spectrum of regulations differing from state to state, etc. The government decides it is critical that the industry be reformed so the cost of bikes stops spiraling out of control. Is the way forward for the government to start its own bike company?

Fairly clear as explanation of philosophy. Now, an explanation of how the matter looks as a matter of governing philosophy, from here:

We have laws, generally accepted across the philosophical spectrum, that prohibit someone from walking into your house (or your convenience store), pointing a gun at your head and demanding "your money or your life."

That is what our health care system is doing to us, right now, and on an immense scale. It is extortion at the least, robbery at the most. Governmental activism is needed to stop it.

That may sound harsh or extreme. It isn't. That way of looking at American health care today could be backed up by any number of statistics or studies, but, as Minnick drew on his experience to inform his take on health care, let me draw on some personal events that occurred about 13 months ago. Individual experiences differ widely, of course, but here's some of what informs my thinking on this: (more…)

With one exception

Can you statistically measure how "liberal" or "conservative" a member of Congress is? Can you even define those terms with language both side would accept?

Maybe. An academic review at the University of California-San Diego (where it's now located; earlier versions of the project were elsewhere) has taken a stab at it with this review: Of "694 roll calls cast in the 110th House (not counting quorum calls). Of these, 485 had at least 0.5% or better in the minority and were used in the scaling. The rank ordering is based upon these 485 roll calls. Note that tied ranks are allowed." The rankings probably shouldn't be taken as gospel, but they are telling.

In the Senate, the regions' four Democrats were well inside their caucus, with the two Oregonians (Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley) ranking a little more liberal than the two Washingtonians (Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell). The Northwest's two Republicans, Idaho's Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, scored (almost identically) in about the middle of the Senate Republican caucus. In each case, about what you might expect.

Numerically, in the House, the rankings run from 1.0 for California Democratic Representative Bob Filner to 436.0 for Arizona Republican Representative John Shadegg. The two parties split nearly perfectly, with all Democrats (blue dogs included) scoring 257.0 or less, and all Republicans 258.0 or more - all, that is, but one.

Among Northwest Democrats, the most liberal was Washington's Jim McDermott (23.0); among Republicans, the most conservative was Oregon's Greg Walden (349.0).

But here's the stunner: The most "conservative" member of the Northwest delegation turns out not to be a Republican at all, not Idaho's Mike Simpson (281.0) or Washington's Dave Reichert (263.0), Doc Hastings (312.0) or Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (341.5).

Rather, it is the only Democrat in the House to score more conservative than the "least conservative" Republican - Idaho's Walt Minnick, at 359.5, which puts him just about in the middle of the House Republican caucus, and more "conservative" than, for example, Simpson. No other Democrat or Republican scores across the line at all.

UPDATE Minnick's office has taken a look at the numbers, and emailed us a comment on them:

First, it's no secret that Walt has the most independent voting record in Congress. Not "one of the most" but THE most, according to CQ and the Washington Post. [Editor: The chart makes that point pretty conclusively.] He is already more "conservative" (if that's the word you choose to use) than any other member of his caucus. And this data shows he is more conservative than some members of the other party, which I think is reflective of the District.

All that said, we were surprised by the raw numbers you linked to -- until we looked at the data. I can explain most of the disparity with two words: Jeff Flake. Flake is a GOP representative from Arizona who has made it his personal crusade this session of Congress to introduce hundreds of amendments to strip earmarks from appropriations bills. Many of those amendments ultimately make it to the floor. The vast majority of Republicans and almost all of the Democrats vote against those amendments. However, Walt has joined a handful of folks who refuse earmarks to vote with Flake, on principle, for each amendment.

Our legislative director looked at the data this morning for me, and confirmed that Flake's amendments and similar anti-earmark votes are the cause of the disparity.

Who said what

Politics wonks will spend hours of great fun on this site, Congress Speaks.

Some of what's here - based on detailed analysis of speech in Congress (I'm assuming here, from the Congressional Record) - is interesting from the point of view of regularity of speaking, and what topics they're speaking about. (Quick - in the last term, did Oregon's Ron Wyden or Gordon Smith speak more?) But it's also go some real entertainment value. Check it out.