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OR M49: Cruising?

Almost never do you hear a primary backer of either candidate or ballot issue publicly acknowledge near-certain loss before election day; if it isn't a foregone conclusion, it's either idiotic or political malpractice.

Oregon State Senator Larry George, R-Sherwood, is neither an idiot nor untutored in political communications; he knows what he's saying. George is a top backer of the opposition to Measure 49, the land use issue that would majorly revise 2004's Measure 37. So when we take it as a near-certainty that the deal is done when we saw he told the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes, on the record, this:

"We're at a point where we absolutely can't win this thing," said George, who is running the advertising campaign against 49. He's also the former head of Oregonians in Action, the property-rights group leading the anti-49 effort. "We're going to get crushed."

He attributes the ballot title, which is the first and main thing voters see on the ballot when they vote, and which was crafted by its Democratic sponsors, as being crucial. It's no doubt a factor, but we suspect other considerations as well.

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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Curtis and the 18th

UPDATE We presumed in the post below, from this morning, that Curtis would resign "before long." He certainly did: Has already, as of this afternoon.

We've seen more than enough of the lurid - almost unbelievably lurid - story of Washington Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, which (as one blog commenter wrote) has become strange enough to redefine downward that of Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

There is another matter to consider here, though, and that is the nature of the legislative district Curtis represents, and its political future - because an earthquake like this is going to have repercussions. Curtis personally is not among the most prominent of Washington legislators, and he hasn't been there especially long - he's in his second term. Before that, he served on the La Center city council, but that's the extent of his political record. We'd guess that, unlike Craig, who had invested his whole adult life in politics before scandal hit, Curtis will depart public office before long.

If he does, that would trigger an appointment of a new Republican legislator for the seat. And there's a line of thought that might end the story. But maybe not.

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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.

The Curtis situation

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

The Richard Curtis story, of which only scattered bits of data were available yesterday, is rapidly filling in. Alongside that is evaporation of doubt that this is becoming a Big Story.

The basic Spokane police report on the incident, now in reporters' hands, outlines a clear narrative. It says that state Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, was in Spokane to attend a meeting of Republican legislators, staying separate from most of the group at different lodging, the Davenport Tower Hotel. He visited a local porn shop and there met a "young white male," later identified as Cody Castagna. The two of them left together, along with a couple of rented gay videos, for Curtis' room. The police report said that a sexual encounter, and Curtis' willing donation of $100 to Castanga, followed. Later, Castagna left, along with Curtis' wallet, and negotiations for its return led (apparently) to Curtis' call to police with allegation that Castanga was blackmailing him for $1,000.

Curtis so far has denied that a sexual encounter occurred, and said the $100 was for "gas money." ($100 for gas money?) Most of the details appear to be nailed down by police, since they have talked with people who saw Curtis and Castagna together, heard what apparently was a Curtis/Castagna phone conversation, and have gone after security camera video. (Doubtless coming soon to Action News.)

The story has gone national (at Wonkette at least), and Castagna has started talking too.

When Curtis says, as he has, that he's committed no crime, he may be right - there seems to be no charge of any sort in the works. But there will be political fallout. You have to wonder: What will Northwest Republicans, recently brutalized over the Larry Craig implosion (and if there was a crime in that case, it was a minor one) make of this - and how will they react?

UPDATE The Columbian adds still considerably more detail to the story this evening. The additional details will not help Curtis.

Polling the issues (WA)

Aweek before election deadline, while the ballots are in the midst of mail-in, polling is out on how the Washington state ballot issues are doing.

Mostly passing, it appears.

Two constitutional amendments (simple majority on school levies, rainy day fund ) look like slam dunks. Referendum 67, the treble-damages for insurance bad faith, looks like a probable but not certain pass.

And, get those votes in: The two biggest issues, the legislative supermajority for tax/fee increases (Tim Eyman's 960) and the Puget Sound transportation finance issue (Proposition 1) both appear to be within the margin of error.

A Curtis watch?

Richard Curtis

Richard Curtis

There's too little information yet to know what to make of this, and whether it will turn into a big deal or nothing much at all. But you might do well to keep a watch on the name of Washington state Representative Richard Curtis, R-La Center, over the next few days.

That's because of an odd-sounding legal situation, of some sort, emanating from the other end of the state, at Spokane. Curtis is the lawmaker referred to in this lead from a Spokane Spokesman-Review story this morning: "An alleged extortion attempt involving a state lawmaker and a reputed male prostitute is under investigation by Spokane police." Curtis' local paper, the Columbian, is also on the case, though not much new has developed yet.

As indicated, not much by way of detail yet; it may turn out to be nothing much. Meantime, best to keep watch.

UPDATING Spokane KREM-TV is reporting, "Detectives tell KREM 2 News at some point Thursday Curtis had a sexual encounter with a man, who police have not identified. A Spokane Police Dept. spokesperson says Curtis and the man were spotted at several locations across the city that evening. The next day, someone filed a police report alleging that Curtis was being extorted."

Late this afternoon, Curtis talked with Columbian editor Lou Brancaccio, saying, "I am not gay . . . I have not had sex with a guy." He said that extortion was involved in the case, however.

This will not end quickly. There will be much more about this, soon.

WA Gov: Connelly’s overview

Not that it matches entirely with our take on the race, but Joel Connelly's overview today of the Washington governor's race (it's in the P-I) is a should-read stand-back picture of where things stand as the race gets (semi-)officially underway.

Among his thoughts: "Gov. Chris Gregoire is projecting nervousness about her political prospects. The governor has been holding fundraising events at a non-stop pace, appearing at carefully choreographed town meetings, and staging an autumn version of a spring cleaning of top staff." (Of course, the failure to campaign strongly enough was thought to be a key reason she didn't do better in 2004; we'd be more inclined to see it, strategically, as simply not making the same mistake twice.)

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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