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The Frohnmayer effect

John Forhnmayer

John Frohnmayer

The entry of independent John Frohnmayer into the Oregon Senate race will have an effect - to some degree, in some way. But how much, and what kind of effect?

He has backers who do seem to think that a well-regarded independent might win a Senate seat these days - that both political parties are so thoroughly discredited that could happen. As a matter of theory, sure; but the circumstances have to be really special, and real independents are scarce in the winner's box. The U.S. Senate has two independents at present, but one is a virtual Democrat, and the other is a virtual Republican. Frohnmayer seems to be earnestly trying to be neither.

We suspect the push to seriously shake up the two big parties today (and we have some sympathy with the idea) is going to have to wait: The stakes over control of power in Washington in this decade simply are too high. Not many Republicans or Democrats or even many independents are in much mood to experiment. Our guess would be that - because of this, not his personal qualities or positions - Frohnmayer's vote may be on the slim side. (We think it's also one of the reasons that, last year, Ben Westlund's independent campaign seemed to hit a low ceiling in the polls.)

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Primarying Baird?

Brian Baird

Brian Baird

At the Brian Baird August 27 town hall on Iraq (see the last post and the original), you could hear some muffled talk among some of the disaffected Democrats there - that Baird's call for staying in Iraq awhile longer had drawn specific interest in a primary challenge, presumably from a future member of the Out of Iraq caucus.

They might be interested in a conversation that has drawn some national media attention, about the specific idea of launching Democratic primary contests against members of the party unwilling to support an out-now approach.

It emerges from an August 29 conference call (a transcript is on line) among a group of anti-war activists, two of whom are Democratic members of Congress, Lynn Woolsey of California and Jim Moran of Virginia; it was organized by Rabbi Michael Lerner. The speakers generally were frustrated that the U.S House, which is majority Democratic, has not pushed much harder toward getting out of Iraq.

Woolsey remarked at one point to the activists on the phone, "Well, maybe you folks should go after the Democrats" - meaning the moderates unwilling to vote to cut Iraq funding. At one point Tim Carpenter of the Progressive Democrats of America remarked, "if there are Democrats who are on the wrong side of this one, that there will be primary opposition when they seek their own renomination as the Democratic candidate for Congress." To which Woolsey - a member of the Democratic caucus - responded, " think that’s a good idea, Tim. I’d hate to lose the majority, but I’m telling you, if we don’t stand up to our responsibility, maybe that’s the lesson to be learned."

Neither of them mentioned any names at that point. But later in the conversation, the activists started talking about specific members of the House. In that discussion, Moran said, "I found it difficult to believe in my friend Brian Baird, too. . . . I’m going to sit down and talk with Brian [Baird]. I hope that some of his remarks were somewhat mischaracterized. I can’t believe that he fell for the spin of the generals and the sheiks and the Iraqi government when he was over there."

National Democratic activists, including members of Congress, talking about primarying Democratic House members, and Baird's name is mentioned prominently in the conversation.

We're not done with this.

They all spoke

Not to over-revisit the infamous Brian Baird town hall meeting at Vancouver . . . but apparently a revisiting, from one who was there, may be useful in forestalling some revisionism.

Joel Connelly of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer has a bullet-point column out today on how "Freedom of speech takes a beating." Exhibit one was the August 27 Baird town hall, at which the Democratic congressman, who recently spoke in favor of keeping American troops in Iraq for a longer time, took strong criticism from several hundred of the folks back home.

At it, Connelly writes, "the congressman [was] shouted down by an angry anti-war crowd. After a trip to Iraq, Baird had deviated from the party line by suggesting that the 'surge' is showing results. Baird is now being bombarded in radio spots aired by MoveOn.org. . . . Didn't Baird have a right to make his case?" Later, he wonders, "Consider, for instance, had Baird been challenged by an intelligent question from the crowd, along the following lines" - having to do with the persistence of the insurgency in Iraq, and ending with, "What's your answer, Mr. Baird?"

The column doesn't make clear whether Connelly was there. We were, and can say this much:

Baird did make his case, outlining it in some depth in the opening 15 minutes or so of the meeting, and expanding on it in response to questions; the audience sat quietly as he made his initial points, and only occasionally hooted at him later.

He was shouted at on several occasions, usually by individuals barking a short slogan, but he was not silenced; he handled the meeting with skill and grace (both tested severely) and maintained control of the proceedings. When he had something to say, he spoke; when he wanted to cut off a rambling monologue, he did (on several occasions), and the crowd accepted that. A number of questions were asked, and Baird answered them. The session was highly emotional, and emotions were expressed along with more intellectual responses, but it did not degenerate into chaos.

The sloganeering was accompanied by some intelligent questions, and comments too - remember that town hall meetings are supposed to be occasions not only for questioning the congressman, but also for telling the congressman what one thinks, even if in a less than perfectly formulated style. Baird accepted both kinds of discussion. And when the scheduled time ran out, Baird extended it to continue the talking. And emoting.

In fact, everyone got a chance to say their piece. It was hot and intense, but at core it was a congressman having a serious heart to heart with his constituents, reporting back to the district and getting comments from the voters. How that constitutes a case of beating up on freedom of speech is simply perplexing; it seemed to us then and still does more like a case of freedom of speech in action, exactly the sort of thing the nation's founders would have hoped for.

With Potter out

Tom Potter

Tom Potter at his announcement

Maybe the beard really was the tipoff that Tom Potter was ready for a change. Now - with Potter's announcement that he won't seek a second term next year - Portland will have another open-seat mayoral contest; will it draw 23 candidates like the last one did, or was that just pent-up ambition? (We suspect the latter.)

There's another comparison to be drawn, what with Council member Sam Adams' widely assumed candidacy for mayor, and presumed front-runner status. We recollect how four years ago another council member named Jim Francesconi was the presumed mayor-in-waiting, far better funded and substantially better organized than anyone else, and wound up getting his clock cleaned by the long-ago police chief who'd never run for office before, but who charmed the city over the months of campaigning. so we think it wise to presume nothing but that, a year and a half from now, someone new will be in the mayor's office.

Potter probably could have won a second term in a walk, despite some criticism for being too laid back, not aggressive enough in pursuit of a larger vision. There's something to that; but maybe those political and policy pieces have gone together. But cities (states, nations) go through phases, and need different things at different times. Potter's campaign in 2004 didn't suggest a wildly ambitious program, but rather some re-commitment to rebuilding linkages with people around the city, to avoid the ambitions of city hall from rolling over people and groups around town. He has maintained largely that kind of atmosphere - along the lines of what he had proposed - and it may have given the city something of a welcome breather after 12 years of the harder-charging Vera Katz. Maybe the time is cycling around again for something a little more ambitious.

Nice idea. From Potter's no-run speech: "I also want to make it easier for others to run for elected office. I will be working with the rest of council to establish City Hall 101, a series of classes to make the process less mysterious by helping candidates understand how City Hall works and the basics of establishing effective campaigns, including public financing."

How the Spokesman caught hell

Harry Truman out west

Harry Truman riding west

Political historians - this is directed toward those of us - will get a kick out of a piece in the Spokesman-Review, about the history of a remark: The comment by President Harry Truman that that newspaper was, along with the Chicago Tribune, one of the "two worst" newspapers in the United States.

It sounds like an apocryphal comment, something drummed up in the regional lore - maybe dreamed up.

But the Spokesman piece by Jim Kershner has the details, describing exactly how that comment came to happen, and how it almost backfired badly on a then-new Washington senator named Warren Magnuson. And how it was a banner the paper wore proudly for years, and how other regional papers rose to defend it - with at least one notable exception . . .

“The Democracy Papers”

We're a few shades short of clear about what, exactly, the Seattle Times has in mind with its newly-announced project, "The Democracy Papers."

As described so far, though, it has a meritorious ring to it. The idea seems to be a months-long, broad discussion about communications and news media and their role in a free society - anchored by the legal and economic changes we've seen in recent years, from technology and regulation change to media consolidation. An attached editorial spins through some of the points under consideration:

The government's penchant for bigness is obvious. Radio has been consolidated to minuscule numbers of owners who favor generic play lists. Adding to the corrosion of American creativity is the loss of radio news — too expensive for the big companies. The gutting of local radio has also blocked minorities and women from the most accessible entry point to media ownership.

Television news has devolved into a cliché. Weather, crime and car accidents fill airspace that was once the domain of substantive reports from city hall and the capitol. The trends have not been much kinder to newspapers. The majority of readers need a score card to keep track of which corporation owns their newspaper.

The press is going through a radical transformation. The old way of doing business is dead. Press opponents know this, and are spending a lot of money in Washington to transform the news into a commodity every bit as purchasable, and salable, as toilet paper.

The federal government has largely failed to protect an independent press. Instead, policies have been tailored for big corporations that are blindly beholden to the market, and increased quarterly profits.

Promising stuff. We'll be watching to see where they take it from here.

A Treasurer quietude

Had looked like a race of considerable interest between two candidates of opposing parties but not so far apart otherwise, and both with some deep background and respect in a range of quarters. Talking about the run for Oregon state treasurer, which seemed headed for a matchup of state Senator Ben Westlund, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat of rural Tumalo, and moderate state Representative Vicki Berger of Salem.

An update in the Salem Statesman-Journal, however, reports that Berger won't be running for treasurer after all. One factor, she suggested, was that if she departed, Democrat Paul Evans - the former Monmouth mayor who made a strong impression in a Senate run last year - might file for it. That and "The fact of the matter is, I didn't want to give up my seat for it. I like what I do." There appear to be no likely Republican candidates for the office hustling around.

Westlund still appears on track to file for the job, though his formal statements so far still have him undecided between the Senate and Treasurer. (The latter seems a lot more likely.) He's moving on it slower than might have been expected, partly because of family issues (his mother's illness and death this summer). At this rate, if he jumps in formally this fall and starts to work, he could rapidly turn into a presumptive favorite.

Qualifying as

Deborah Boone

Deborah Boone

Candidates for partisan office love to trumpet support from members of the opposition party, but only occasionally - even rarely - does it mean a great deal. To really mean something, such support has to include elected officials from the other party, or substantial office holders in the other party's structure. That's where "Democrats for" or "Republicans for" organizations really count: When they're getting the hard gets, hard because such people ordinarily are loathe to publicly back an opposition candidate.

We've made that point with "Republicans for" groups in Idaho, which included people who may have been Republicans but weren't elected office holders (present or past) or substantial party figures. Turn now to Democrats for Smith - Oregon Senator Gordon Smith - and consider that list.

There is a former Democratic U.S. representative on the list, Elizabeth Furse. Her presence in the group probably had more impact last time around, in 2002, than now, because she left Congress after three terms in January 1999, and hasn't been very politically visible since. (She was David Wu's predecessor's in the 1st district.)

The next most significant name on the list, and the most significant now, is state Representative Deborah Boone, of Cannon Beach. She is quoted on the Democrats for Smith site as saying, "exactly the type of Senator Oregon should have representing us."

But today, she's saying she's instead supporting for Senate House Speaker Jeff Merkley, saying "he has demonstrated the kind of leadership Oregon needs in the U.S. Senate." She has withdrawn her support for Smith.

There are other Democrats on the Democrats for Smith group, but Boone's departure seriously thins the ranks of officials elected as such. The announcement of the group in 2002 (then at a key juncture in the race) may have had some impact that year. Barring a fresh infusion, it seems less likely to have as much effect this time.

Red, SUSA said

The SurveyUSA will, it seems, poll almost anything political. For example this one, conducted Thursday and released this afternoon, comparing the prospective votes for various possible fill-ins for the Idaho Senate seat now held by Larry Craig, against the Democrat already announced for the seat in next year's election, Larry LaRocco.

Here's how it goes.

Republican prospect his vote % LaRocco % undecided
Jim Risch 52% 36% 13%
Mike Simpson 54% 34% 12%
Dirk Kempthorne 55% 36% 9%
David Leroy 42% 39% 19%
Dane Watkins 40% 41% 19%
Lawrence Wasden 46% 36% 17%

.
Short response here: Not too much should be made of it. Risch, Simpson and Kempthorne perform substantially above the other three, but that's doubtless in part because they are - currently - much better known around the state. (Bear in mind that Simpson specifically is not in contention for the Senate appointment, and Kempthorne seems to be a remote prospect.)

The main difference here is in the undecideds: The LaRocco percentage remains steady between 34% and 39% in each case except that of the pairing with Dane Watkins, an unusual case not only because many respondents may not have known who that was, but because many of those (in eastern Idaho) who did recognize the name may have been confused (there's a like-named father and son, one a now-elderly former congressional candidate, the other a current Bonneville County prosecutor).

The distinction between this and the inevitable SUSA poll after an appointment will be somewhat interesting to check. But mark all of this down as really early.

No satisfaction

Darlene Hooley
Darlene Hooley

Acommenter had some questions about our account of last week's Brian Baird town hall meeting at Vancouver - it didn't seem so raucous to that person. It certainly did to us.

By way of comparison, we'd suggest viewing a town hall meeting at Salem yesterday, held by Representative Darlene Hooley.

Around 100 to 150 people attended, and mostly they were a good deal more supportive. But that's relative: There was a little shouting here and there - related to one kind of weaponry there, she was (after saying she was unfamiliar with some of the allegations) angrily asked, "how can you not know?"

Unlike Baird, Hooley remains staunchly anti-war, from her initial vote against the war to more recent votes for an exit from the country. "I won't allow another blank check for this war," she said. "I'm in favor of a rapid end to this war . . . We need to bring our troops home," and drew some applause on that.

Even so, this was a roiling audience. One Vietnam vet said that "I am more angry now than I have ever been with my government," and added that "I am angry with you" - for not being more visibly anti-war, for not delivering more speeches and showing up in the papers more often on the subject.

Several people called for impeachment of the president and vice president, and seemed no more than marginally appeased when she said, "impeachment is in the constitution and should never be off the table for any president." An attempt to invade Iran would probably result in impeachment action, she suggested. The crowd - and it seemed to be mostly uniform in view - did not seem to entirely think that was good enough, but she fended off open revolt.

Should note again, here, that this was in Salem, a place traditionally conservative and Republican (less so these day, true); and Hooley's district is politically marginal, maybe a little more Republican on balance than Democratic. But she's no doubt getting a good feel for where things are these days.