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Water clarity

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Like other western states Oregon has a water department - the Department of Water Resources - and extensive water law and regulation, and there’s a reason for this. Water is an essential resource, our lives depend on it, and ensuring we have water available means regulating it intelligently.

To do that, we need information, and high on the list of data points we depend on is this: Who uses the water - the largest portions of it - and what that means for other water users. You could say that’s a question of essential public interest.

It’s also a question for lawsuits, current Oregon lawsuits that may portend whether we have enough information to manage our water.

In many places around the west (and around Oregon), water use is easy to track. Most western states operate under the prior appropriation doctrine - first in time, first in use - which allows the first person to put a claim for a specific source and amount of water to use, to have priorities over other users. This system of priorities is carefully recorded in public records. A 2015 report from the U.S. Geological Survey relied on that information in estimating, for example, that 42 percent of freshwater withdrawals are used for irrigation agriculture.

But some users of water, who get theirs in subdivision from primary water right holders, aren’t so openly recorded, and these can account for some big water uses.

Last September, a reporter from The Oregonian requested information from the city of The Dalles about how much water the tech giant Google was using at its operations there. The city refused to release the information, saying it amounted to “trade secrets” considered confidential under state law. Residents in the area, including farmers and businesses, have raised questions and expressed concern about how much water Google may be using.

That argument was rejected by the Wasco County district attorney, who reviewed the case and concluded that although a trade secret might be considered confidential, the city hadn’t shown that information about raw water usage qualified; he said the information should be turned over. (The situation was linked to a $28.5 million agreement between the city and Google, so city officials had some interest in the arrangement.) The city of The Dalles fired back with a lawsuit against the Oregonian. The case continues.

This year, another effort to find out who is using scarce water has surfaced at Bend. But while the case at The Dalles centers on information kept by a public agency, the Bend dispute concerns a private company. Maybe.

The Source Weekly newspaper had decided to look into water use in its mostly dry east-of-Cascades area, and said what started out as a basic records request has evolved into an inquiry about oversight for this community's most precious and basic of resources.”

With that in mind, it asked leading water utilities for information (including addresses) about their major water users. In many parts of the state information like that could be gleaned from state water records. The cities of Redmond and Bend complied. (The records turned up many cases of major water leaks that led to water loss and bloated bills.) But Avion Water, which serves about 8,000 households and others in the Bend area by contract, is a privately-held business, placing it typically outside the reach of the state’s public record laws. Avion rejected the request, saying the public records laws didn’t apply to it.

The issue here too went to the county’s district attorney, in this case John Hummel. He took a similar tack as his counterpart to the north, while noting that Avion is a private company. In its article, the Source described his take this way:

“Hummel sided with the Source and ordered that Avion must release the records, because it is ‘the functional equivalent’ of a public body, according to Hummel’s decision, meaning it would be subject to public records laws. To support this, he cited that Avion currently has a franchise agreement with the city of Bend and is regulated by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. He also stated that Avion did not provide enough evidence that the addresses of its customers were exempt from disclosure.”
The DA added, “Because Avion failed to convince me that residential addresses of their water users constitute a type of personally identifiable information … I find that these residential addresses are not exempt from disclosure.”
What a court will make of that is unclear. Many private organizations cearly exempt from public records laws are regulated, as Avion is.

In many areas public oversight of information can be and has been limited when services move from public to private control. Is water a special case - or should we rethink what’s really public and what’s private?
 

What Idaho was

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Just about 10 years ago, after blogging for some years, I was invited by a Twin Falls editor to return to writing some of them as weekly newspaper columns. At the decade mark of doing that, I’m reminded how things were back when.

That first column, from May 2012, just ahead of that year’s primary election, seems pertinent for review now (especially with the primary election just past and the state party conventions ongoing). Some of the names and roles have changed, but the basic points seem to hold up after a decade.

Does that mean Idaho is what Idaho was? Maybe not entirely, but in part, with some yawning distinctions and more similarities. You decide. Here’s the column from a decade ago:

Whatever else this season's Idaho Republican civil war may be, it is not about "conservatism" - whatever that word may mean. It is not about "philosophy."

Just about all of the Republicans on the ballot this year for legislative office or higher in Idaho are small-budget, low-tax, strict Christian-oriented, business-backing candidates. In the scheme of things, their differences are far fewer than those between, say, mainstream Methodists and mainstream Presbyterians. There's not a lot of daylight.

Even if the view here is that the term "conservative" has been so thoroughly abused as to be beyond any coherent meaning or repair (almost like "liberal" in that sense), the people running for the Republican nomination in Idaho this year are, overwhelmingly, a consistent group - more internally, ideologically, consistent than, say, the comparable cadre of Republican candidates in Washington or Oregon. As a matter of agenda, they all ought to be allies.

But this turns out to be an ugly season of internal bomb-throwing, in which incumbent legislators of the same party - even co-members of the small leadership group - are throwing (money) bombs aimed at politically destroying colleagues with whom they almost always vote in agreement in committee and floor. How to make sense of this?

A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that there are so many of them, that Democrats are such a minor opposition that they find it hard to get worked up about them any more (on a state level, that is). And those personal dislikes are weighing large. Also the likelihood that primary turnout may be smaller and it may be possible for activists to have even more sway than they have had.

There is, for example, a concerted (and complex) effort by House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Majority Leader Mike Moyle to defeat their fellow member of leadership, Ken Roberts. (That is made clear more by way of campaign money donations than by public statements.) Moyle's comment: "My goal is to make Ken's life miserable because he's making my life miserable."

It certainly isn't because the issue positions and voting record of Roberts is more than microscopically different from Moyle's or Denney's. It's easier to declare that the opposition is somehow "less conservative;" but don't expect anyone to explain what that actually means.

This is happening by way of a series of interlocking PACs, which by some reports include the Victory Fund, Idaho Land PAC, Gun PAC, Free Enterprise PAC, Idaho Association For Good Government (aka Nonini PAC) and Idaho Chooses Life.

And, says a Spokesman-Review blog entry, "Endorsements are being given and withdrawn, two Kootenai County GOP groups are clawing at each other's right to invoke the name of Ronald Reagan, and independent groups are mounting their own campaigns, either boosting or bashing various GOP incumbents under names like Free Enterprise PAC and Idaho Prosperity Fund."

This is a serious conflict, in that a number of political contests are on the line. But what have they to do with ideology?

Only this, apparently: Some activists seem to be all out, searching for the extremes and interested in throwing bombs wherever possible, especially from within the legislature; and others are more interested in relatively stable governing. A difference in approach and world view, certainly, and attitude as well.

But conservatism? Not unless a whole new definition is developed and commonly accepted for a word already degraded almost beyond meaning.
 

Ground zero

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June is when most of the Pride parades, around the United States and the world, are held, and there are a lot of them, hundreds at least. One list of the relatively major events affiliated with an international organization counts 152. The parade in Coeur d’Alene, on June 11, didn’t make the list.

The Coeur d’Alene event was comparatively small and ordinary in its context. It got some attention locally, but little from people more than a few miles away - with some notable exceptions.

At first the Panhandle Patriots Riding Club, a culture war group which had scheduled a Gun Coeur d’Alene event on the same day, seemed to be watching it closely. According to one report, a poster for that event proclaimed, “If they want to have a war, let it begin here.” It decided to reschedule, however; in a statement it said that “due to instigation from local media sources, our event has been hijacked by extremist groups.” It named some groups, but not the one that showed up: the Patriot Front.

Coeur d’Alene law enforcement officers were tipped that a group aimed at disrupting the pride event was headed toward it in a U-Haul. They intercepted it en route and arrested 31 people from 12 states. Coeur d’Alene’s police chief, Lee White, said, "It is clear to us based on the gear that the individuals had with them, the stuff they had in their possession, the U-Haul with them along with paperwork that was seized from them, that they came to riot downtown.”

Documents and clothing items made clear that this group was associated with the Patriot Front; that group’s founder and national leader, Thomas Rousseau, was among the arrestees.

That raises the question: Why Coeur d’Alene?

When a police officer remarked to one of the would-be rioters that he had come a long way to Coeur d’Alene from his home in Alabama, the man responded, “We go where we’re needed.” But why was he needed in Coeur d’Alene?

And why to a Pride event that didn’t have much to do directly with the kind of racial issues that usually have been the Front’s focus?

Second question first. For the Front (and likely for any number of other similar groups) this is not just racial war, but broader culture war. Anti-abortion is a big part of their agenda too, and the culture war ethos you hear from much of the Idaho Legislature is reflected in many statements by Patriot Front group members. Like this one: “Those destroying the American family can only have the intent of destroying the American people.” That varies only a little in tone from the talk of many state legislators.

Still, why Coeur d’Alene and not any number of other places?

Here we come into some speculation, but we can safely say the Idaho Panhandle has been thought of for half a century in race-war circles as a special place – for culturally conservative white people. When Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nations, moved to the Hayden Lake area in 1974, it’s because he identified the area a white homeland, and used that as a sales point for others of similar persuasion. In the quarter-century or so his activities took root there, the area became famous for them. The region became a magnet for many thousands of people from other places, attracted not necessarily by the specifics of Butler’s message, but by the cultural direction in which they pointed.

If you’re an organization like Patriot Front, that makes northern Idaho a ground zero for your kind of people, a place that has to be protected against anyone who doesn’t fit in. People of color. People of other sexuality. Certainly - gasp - liberals.

That’s why the incident and the arrests in Coeur d’Alene were more than just a dramatic event, and should be taken seriously.

Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County is a place many white nationalists see as theirs, specifically. And they well may, in time ahead, come from across the country to, in their view, “defend” it.

Be ready.
 

Who discriminates

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Here is a pivotal sentence from a just-released Oregon Supreme Court decision concerning a case of alleged prisoner mistreatment:

“Buildings do not discriminate; people do.”

That simple point twists from there in unexpected directions, reflecting partly that it comes from a dissent in the decision, and which in turn came not from an Oregon court case at all. The Oregon Supreme Court was not reaching a binding decision but simply offering an opinion about Oregon law to an uncertain Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

But the implications of the court’s advisory, and even its dissent, could run wide - well beyond cases related to jail conditions - the trigger for the discussion - and bear some second and third thoughts by Oregonians and their state legislature.

The underlying case is Andrew Abraham v. Corizon Health, and it grew out of Abraham’s stay in the Clackamas County Jail, where in October 2015 he was incarcerated after an arrest (the decisions don’t mention the reason). Abraham is deaf and communicated through American Sign Language, which no one at the jail apparently understood. He appears specifically to have been misunderstood, because he was placed in isolation in suicide watch. This was a special problem in his case, not only because of his deafness but because he also is diabetic, and was unable to communicate his immediate medical needs.

Abraham filed a case in federal court on grounds of discrimination in “a place of public accommodation” because he is “an individual with a disability” - but he didn’t sue the jail (or county). He sued Corizon Health, which provides healthcare for the jail.

Here is where the case turns: Is either the jail, or its private health provider, a “place of public accommodation” as Oregon law understands the term?

The Ninth District Circuit Court of Appeals apparently was confused about that. So they asked the Oregon Supreme Court what it thought. And the Oregon high court, which did deliver an answer, turned out to be sharply divided on the question.

The court was united on one part of this: The jail is not a public accommodation. Oregon law explicitly says a public accommodation is “[a]ny place or service offering to the public accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges whether in the nature of goods, services, lodgings, amusements, transportation or otherwise.” Originally, the law was set up mainly to ban racial discrimination by places such as motels and restaurants. At the same time, correctional facilities like jails were specifically excluded. But the definition of accommodations changed over time.

So the Ninth Circuit’s question was, “Is a private contractor providing healthcare services at a county jail a ‘place of public accommodation’” under Oregon law?

The Oregon Supreme Court majority (in a decision written by Chief Justice Martha Walters) said it was: “If defendant qualifies as a place of public accommodation because of the services that it provides, it does not matter whether it provides those services at a physical location that independently qualifies as a place of public accommodation.”

And went on: “When we focus, as we must, on the legislature’s definition of a ‘local correction facility’ as ‘a jail or prison,’ we cannot conclude that defendant—a private entity that contracts with a jail, but that is not a jail—is exempt from the provisions of the Act.”

The dissent, written by Justice Christopher Garrett, noted, “Under that analysis, if the Clackamas County Jail provides medical care, food, and other basic services directly, the exception for correctional facilities applies, but if the jail contracts with any other entity to provide those services, the exception does not apply to that entity.” (That matches with the bottom line of one federal judge who threw out Abraham’s case in lower court.)

Let’s consider this for a moment. Your rights may vary depending on whether a public entity does something through its own employees or whether it is contracted out to someone privately - and the private contractor is actually held to a significantly higher standard.

There’s also another significant question here. Which contractors for governments in Oregon might be held to the “public accommodation” non-discrimination standards under the terms set out by the Oregon court? Some, surely (such as medical and other jail contractors). But how many others? And how might the legal definition of the term change?

The question of what is and isn’t considered a “public accommodation” has been a quiet issue ever since the nationally famous wedding cake case involving a Gresham bakery. There’s a good chance that aftereffects of the new Oregon Supreme Court opinion may give it another kick into public awareness.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

A process for banning books

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The Nampa School Board has decided to spend time - its staff’s time - developing a process for banning books.

But why bother? They already know how to do that. They’ve done it already.

On May 9 the board decided to throw out 22 books (that is, 22 separate titles, which probably means several times that number of actual copies) from the district’s libraries. And classrooms, probably. They were in other words banned by the district.

True, not much rationale was attached to the choices. The main point seemed to be that someone at the district, whether a parent or board members or staffer, didn’t like them.

The quality or usefulness of the books, as something educational or otherwise of help to students who might have sought them out, apparently wasn’t at issue, or at least not much considered. One of those books was written by a laureate of the Nobel Prize for Literature. (Sounds dangerous for kids; it might encourage them to think, as it did to me when I read it.) The Kite Runner is an international best seller, massively acclaimed worldwide for its exposure of the effects of war (a subject of some current utility). The Handmaid’s Tale has won scads of awards, become a bestseller worldwide and a cultural touchstone and dystopian classic belonging on a shelf with 1984 and Animal Farm. (Are those slated for bans next? It wouldn’t be the first time.) You can understand, of course, why some people in Nampa might consider these books politically incorrect.

Not all of the banned volumes are major sellers or award winners, but all are thought-provoking.

That may be the through line. We don’t actually want kids to learn to think in school, do we?

Of course, a school board can’t actually say this (well, better pause on that: we’re in the 20s now) so presumably it needs some sort of, you know, rationale for what it’s doing.

That apparently is not easy, hence the search for a process.

At its May 9 meeting, the board simply did what its members - a majority of them - wanted to do; the why largely was left hanging. That didn’t stop the board then and in fact seemed to be an incentive, because the new board president, Jeff Kirkman, acknowledged that the board’s procedure for dumping books “was all over the place.” (Actually, the district’s librarians already had a book review committee to examine the contents of their collections.)

At its June 6 meeting, the board asked its interim superintendent (the last one had effectively resigned in protest when the new board took over) to develop over the next two to three months a process for getting rid of books the board, or maybe certained listened-to parents, disapprove.

To be clear here: Parents - all of them, not just the loudest voices - should be heard when school boards make decisions of any kind. Schools and school districts with strong parental involvement almost already are stronger and more helpful to their students.

But there’s a difference between parental involvement and allowing one segment of parents to shut the door on books and ideas that other parents find useful, and that’s what seems to be happening here.

Besides that, book bans generally, in this country at least, are an exercise in futility.

Try keeping the Nampa kids from downloading books off Amazon or other online sellers. Locally, Boise book seller Rediscovered Books has underlined the point with its “Nampa Banned Books Giveaway,” in which it has been giving away free copies - by the hundreds - of the banned books; it held one large event at a coffee shop in Nampa. The books are getting a lot of free attention and readers they might not otherwise have had.

The store added on its website: “Books matter. Access to books matters. Books are tools for understanding complex issues. They develop empathy, they expand our perspectives. Limiting young people’s access to books does not protect them from dealing with life’s complexities and challenges. People, and especially young people, deserve to see themselves reflected in a library’s books. Their stories matter, they matter.”

No process developed by the Nampa School Board will change any of that. A process is just an indicator of this: It’s only the beginning.

Note: This column was edited to remove the name of one book which may not have been on the banned list.

 

A gun strategy

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Oregon may see in the coming months an extended dustup over curbing gun violence in Oregon, first this fall at the polls when two gun regulation initiatives may appear on the ballot, and then at the legislature in response to the results - pass or fail.

And don’t be surprised if Nicholas Kristoff, whose effort to run for governor was legally rebuffed this year, doesn’t figure in that discussion.

About 40 percent of Oregon adults live in a household with a firearm, close to the national average. Oregon politically is more amenable to gun regulation than are many of the states to its east, but it isn’t at the top of the list for tough gun laws nationally. The Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun legislation nationally, gives letter grades to the states and ranks Oregon at “B-.” It ranks Oregon at 35th among the states for the rate of deaths from shootings, and 15th among the states for “gun safety strength.” Gun critics are organized in the state.

There’s been a degree of compromise here. Oregon’s roots are in rural cultures and resource industries, and guns have had a welcome home in much of the state. (A provision in the state constitution says “The people shall have the right to bear arms for the defence [sic] of themselves, and the State.”) Advocates aren’t just the National Rifle Association; there are local groups like Oregon Gun Owners, which reports more than 10,000 members.

Oregon is urban and suburban enough that some gun regulation has passed and been accepted without much difficulty, but political people have been uneasy about leading the charge in that direction.

So, for example, Oregon has had since 2015 a law in force “requiring private or unlicensed firearm sellers to conduct background checks on private or unlicensed purchasers. Oregon law also requires a prospective purchaser to undergo a background check before buying a gun at a gun show.” Oregonians can ask a court to temporarily block a person’s access to firearms, with a showing of necessity.

But the state doesn’t limit sales of military-type weapons like an AR-15, or the number of rounds in a magazine (other than for hunting), doesn’t require a gap of time between buying and taking possession of a gun, or require safety standards for the weapon or safety training. Concealed carry permits generally are allowed unless local law enforcement has a reason to think that person will constitute a danger to others. A lack of gun buyback efforts is considered a weak spot.

This suggests a pro-regulation but centrist balance for Oregon. But the ongoing string of mass shootings, most recently at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, may return the issue to a front burner. In Oregon, it may revive memories of incidents in places like Clackamas and Roseburg. So might the gubernatorial campaign.

All this could light a fire under two proposed ballot initiatives, numbered 17 and 18, which already have made progress in the last year. Both have obtained enough petition signatures to obtain a ballot title, which is due for publication by June 24.

Number 17, called the Reduction of Gun Violence Act, would require buyers of guns to obtain a legal permit, and law enforcement would create a state database around those filings. It also would ban magazines that include more than 10 rounds.

Number 18, the Reduction of Harm from Weapons Act, would aim to ban “manufacturing/ possessing/ transferring many semiautomatic firearms; criminal penalties; limited exception if existing firearms registered.” It would ban manufacture of semi-automatics, and require registration by people who already own them.

The advocates have rationales built into the preambles of the initiatives, and critics could (and surely will) point out the limited ability of the measures to actually stop mass shootings. More broadly, they are reactive; they don’t fit into a larger systematic approach to diminishing shootings.

Is there a framework for looking at guns that makes sense of Oregon’s near-centrist kind of approach, and maybe charts a direction for future action?

A Yamhill, Oregon farmer named Nicholas Kristof has suggested one. In 2017 when he was a columnist for the New York Times, he wrote about gun violence that, “Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.”

Explaining that: “We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them — and limit access to them — so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven to less than one-seventh of what it was in 1946.”

Seen through the lens of regulating guns rather than banning them, the Oregon Legislature might have a useful frame of reference to “do something” about gun-related violence whether or not the initiatives pass. At least a common frame of reference, like the one Kristof suggests, would help keep the discussion from devolving into a battle against the evil opposition.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

The monster

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This isn't a movie review, not least because the movie in question hasn't been released or even finished yet. But it is a review of sorts about the fact that it is being made - or thought of.

Planned for release next year, The Legendary Bear Lake Monster - A Major Motion Picture is, its producers said, "Like a mix of The Goonies and Jaws, this action-adventure feature film will captivate audiences of all ages." And maybe it will. The monster has been the subject of … something, discussion at least, for a long time.

I researched the Monster for a book called Idaho Myths and Legends, and found the larger story seemed worth telling in print as well as (now) visually.

It started more than 150 years ago, not long after Mormons dispatched by Brigham Young had begun to settle the area around the large Bear Lake, which is split between Idaho and Utah. At that time the settlement seemed a little remote from the more established communities in Utah, and local interest in persuading people to look north was growing.

One day in 1868 a startling letter appeared in the Deseret News at Salt Lake, over the signature of Joseph Rich, the leader of the Bear Lake pioneers and settlers. It declared there was a monster in the lake: “now it seems this water devil, as the Indians called it, has again made an appearance. A number of our white settlers declare they have seen it with their own eyes. This Bear Lake Monster, as they now call it, is causing a great deal of excitement up here.”

Newspaper articles around the region kept the tale alive for years. It seemed to fade after a quarter-century or so, when in 1894 Rich admitted that the story was “a first-class lie” intended to stoke interest in the area for visitors and settlers.

That might have ended it. But it didn’t. In 1907 a person submitted a letter to a paper in Logan, Utah, saying he had been camping by the lake and was attacked by the monster, and his horse injured. There were reports, by children, about monster sightings in 1937 and 1946. In 2002 the operator of a local boating business (who did, to be sure, have an interest in tourism) said he saw the monster, or something that looked like it might be.

There’s been plenty of artwork and merchandising over the years, and even songs, like the folk tune from a century ago that began: “Climb a tree, quick, here comes the Bear Lake Monster; with Joseph C. Rich astride, acting as sponsor.”

And the story goes on.

One of the movie makers remarked, “If we’ve done our job right, audiences will walk away with a taste of the magic of Bear Lake and a belief in a world in which the legendary monster exists.”

Fair enough, and a worthy goal for an entertainment vehicle.

Our problem today is that, in the realm of politics and economics and managing the real world around it, we seem all too eager to believe and even embrace Bear Lake Monster tales.

There’s a lot of disinformation about these days, and the motivation behind much of it is far less well-intentioned than Rich’s was. Too much of what’s spread around now fosters hate and violence, while Rich was only aiming for interest and curiosity. Fantasies have become a weapon of choice in attacking our systems of health, education, elections, environmental protection and more.

And as we know, these fantasies can have real staying power, long past the point when they should have been dismissed, by one and all, as lunatic. Sometimes, the fictional monster can become so all-enveloping it can consume us.

The final kicker?

Bear Lake really is a pretty spot, and plenty of tourists and recreationists come there regularly and enjoy it.

In the real world of tourism and settlement, the monster turned out not to be needed.
 

Meanings in the split

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With 19 distinctive - not to say sometimes colorful - candidates for governor, Oregon Republicans should have told us something about themselves by their choices in the just-ended primary election.

They did: They are split. Many seem driven by abortion or other culture issues, some are powerfully drawn by regional preferences, but a plurality just want to win in November.

No single overriding motivation appeared to apply overwhelmingly to Oregon Republicans.

Former legislator (and House Republican caucus chair) Christine Drazan was the clear winner from early on, and she won a majority of Oregon’s counties. She led (decisively) in the three Portland metro counties, and her four best counties (in order; Wallowa, Curry, Klamath and Benton) were widely scattered across the state. Her win cannot be called narrow.

What drew Republican voters to her? Likely not the media endorsements (her website’s endorsement page didn’t even link to them). But she was endorsed by a slew of Republican elected officials and a number of GOP-leaning organizations. She had an extensive county organization, and it seems fair to say she was the closest thing to an (informal) candidate of the statewide Republican organization. That helps a lot. And she was presentable, articulate, and likable.

She did not emphasize hard-edged messages. Her website’s tag lines called out “lower taxes, safer neighborhoods, brighter future, better schools” - something Democrat Tina Kotek could use as easily (maybe with some tweaking of the first one). She did offer some specific policy proposals, but she was not among the candidates with quotable lines on abortion, stolen elections and similar subjects. Was this a vote for the candidate seen as best equipped to fare well in November? Probably that was part of it.

Remember though that she received just 22.7 percent of the Republican primary vote, a support level that looks better only in the context of her 19-person field. Her nearest competitor, former state Republican Chair Bob Tiernan, was not terribly far behind with 17.8 percent. Seven candidates received more than five percent of the vote.

If there’s another contender who might logically be called a Republican establishment candidate - because of service in elected office and as chair of the state party - that would be Tiernan, who won six counties (Clatsop, Coos, Columbia, Douglas, Lane, and Tillamook). His second-place vote actually may owe to some of the same factors as Drazan’s.

Candidates who lost past major races, like Bud Pierce and Bill Sizemore, underperformed.

So there’s a good chance electability was heavily on the minds of close to half of the Republican electorate, maybe reflecting both desire to win and a sense that 2022 might not be a good Democratic year.

But that still leaves a majority of the Republican primary voters apparently signaling other concerns.

What powered Sandy Mayor Stan Pulliam to a third-place showing with 10.4 percent of the vote? There are a few possibilities, but a good bet might be abortion, high profile during the voting period. Though not endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, Pulliam got attention for the edgiest abortion stance in the campaign, criticizing his competitors as being wimps on the subject and saying without qualification he would as governor sign any “pro-life piece of legislation.” His vote may be a reasonable measure of the abortion-driven segment of the Republican vote.

That seems a little bigger than the climate change and anti-masking approach of Marc Thielman, the Alsea school superintendent who won a straw poll at the Dorchester event. He had backers statewide - he had more than a few signs in eastern Oregon - but still managed just 7.8 percent of the vote.

If you’re looking for a candidate testing the salience of rural and anti-metro appeal, look at Baker City Mayor Kerry McQuisten. She won seven counties, more than anyone but Drazen, carrying most of the land area of eastern Oregon (Baker, Grant, Harney, Malheur, Sherman, Union, and Wheeler). No candidate got a higher percentage in any single county than McQuisten did in Grant (44.6 percent). Of course relatively few voters live in those counties, and McQuisten wound up just sixth in the results - but she left a stronger marker of the east-west and urban-rural gap in the state.

Some messages seemed not to catch on. Nick Hess, who pressed for a traditional conservative style (and was nearly alone in the field to do so), got only 1.1 percent of the vote.

And if there had been more “electable” candidates and fewer “message” candidates? This primary could easily have seen different results. The instability of the parties - Democrats too but especially the Republicans, even in a time of polarization - may be one of the primary lessons of this year’s Oregon primary.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.
 

Shifting goal posts

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Abortion this year, birth control next year. And the year after that, something else.

That appears to be the agenda for the culture-social warriors in Idaho, after the likely overturning, sometime in the weeks ahead, of Roe v. Wade, which established a legal right to obtain an abortion.

That overturning is something many legislators and other anti-abortion activists in Idaho have been calling for decades: A prime target, one of their key reasons for the political activism they have pursued. In the meantime, awaiting the promised land of a Roe reversal, they’ve been busy drafting one law after another, some attempts to challenge Roe or push the envelope on it, or else take effect if Roe is overturned. But always the finish line was presented as an end to Roe and the illegality of abortion in Idaho.

If the U.S. Supreme Court soon does what almost everyone expects it will do, then, presumably: Mission accomplished, right? The anti-abortion activists have been calling for a return to state-by-state legislating on abortion, and for Idaho to take a hard line against it as soon as that’s possible. The Idaho Legislature has done what it could (and beyond that) to get it done, preparing for a post-Roe Idaho.

Having gotten to that point, you’d think they’d now be happy and, you know, sort of give it a rest. They got what they wanted.

Of course, this assumes that what they actually wanted was what they said they did: A state ban on abortion. (Generally, anti-abortion activists also tended to call for exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother, but those exceptions seem increasingly to be forgotten.)

But far from being the end of the story, the odds are we’re closer to the beginning.

Earlier this month, state Representative Brent Crane, R-Nampa, who chairs the House State Affairs Committee (whose committee rather than Health and Welfare handles abortion and related measures), spoke on Idaho Public Television about what comes next. He said that he plans in the next session to hold hearings on bans of abortion pills and emergency contraception, and possibly more. “IUDs, I’m not for certain yet on where I would be on that particular issue,” he added (which strongly suggests that subject also will make legislative agendas next session).

News reports said that he later also said he supports legalized contraception generally. And that he had safety concerns about some of the drugs, presumably the same concerns addressed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more than two decades ago. (The whole idea of which is preposterous: Imagine if you can what kind of intensive medical expertise you could expect out of the Idaho Legislature? Would you rely on it for your medical care?)

But come on: The door has now been opened, and given what we know of the Idaho Legislature (and how few Republican elected officials dare to let themselves be outflanked on the right), how long will it be before someone is tempted to walk through it? Explosive battles over contraception almost surely are just around the corner at the Idaho Statehouse, not to mention elsewhere.

There’s more reason than Crane’s interview remarks for thinking so. Consider: A whole large wing of political Idaho has based a large chunk of its activism, organization, fundraising and political candidacies on the back of a subject that soon would appear, in Idaho at least, to be settled. If you’re one of those politicians or activists or hangers-on, are you going to simply declare victory and go home?

Oh, hell no. What you do is find another, related, battle to fight in the culture war a few yards past the presumed finish line.

And they definitely will find it. There’s a lot of pent-up fury and energy that won’t be sated by a simple Supreme Court decision. It needs new material to chew on; the search won't take long.

Next year, look out for contraception regulation in Idaho.

Wonder where they’ll go the year after that …