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The primary rules: Watch this decision

Proceed at risk any time you presume to extrapolate a final ruling from an oral argument and discussion at the U.S. Supreme Court. But today's oral argument on Washington's "top two" primary election law, already posted, is well worth the read - particularly if you're interested in primary election law either in Washington or in Idaho.

One point that jumped out: The justices remain highly concerned about anything that may force people in a political party to associate themselves with someone they'd rather not. (We'd be very interested to learn if there's actually any practical way to do this.)

Consider this comment from justice Antonin Scalia: "We don't know the exact phrasing on the ballot, but we do know that a candidate is allowed to associate himself with a party, but a party is not allowed to disociate itself from the candidate. I am less concerned about the fact that the candidate can't say I'm the -- I'm the no-taxes candidate, than I am about the fact that he can associate himself with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party on the ballot and that party has no opportunity on the ballot to say, we have nothing to do with this person. That it seems to me is a great disadvantage to the parties. . . . And what this system creates is a ballot in which an individual can associate himself with the Republican Party, but on the ballot the Republican Party is unable to dissociate itself from that candidate."

The parties are showing some signs here of trumping the voters.

A quick side note: Judging from the transcript, Attorney General Rob McKenna appeared to show a great deal of grace under pressure. And there was a good deal of pressure.

A dollar too many

We're surely not alone in being a bit thrown by the sheer size of Proposition 1, headed for voter decision next month. It's enormous, but not only that: It's so enormous, and covers so massive a scope of space and time, that estimates are almost useless.

Most often you see $47 billion - that is, yes, billion with a "b" - but depending on how you count, it could amount to as little as $18 billion (that trifling amount) to $160 billion. The proposition's backers estimate $17.8 billion (or $28.5 billion if you factor inflation). Some perspective from a Seattle transit blog: "I know I feel like I'm beating a dead horse here, but we don't know inflation with an accuracy over 50 year periods! The number makes no sense because three years of no inflation could shrink the end number by 20%, and three years of massive inflation could raise it by 50%. We don't know inflation."

And last week, King County Executive Ron Sims - one of the most active public transit backers in the region - threw a bomb into the discussion with his critical guest opinion in the Seattle Times:

If approved, we will see the largest tax increase in state history. Starting in January, car-tab taxes will triple, and the sales tax will be 9.5 percent (10 percent in King County restaurants).

I look at this package with the knowledge that in 50 years, my oldest son will be 80 when it's paid off. My granddaughter will be 55. Their ability to make public investments relevant to their lives and times will be severely limited by this package. Should I be so lucky, I will use my pension until I am 110 years old to pay my share!

The benefits of this package are far from immediate. Even if on schedule, 60 percent of new light rail won't open until 2027. Light rail across Lake Washington is at least 14 years away. The Northgate extension is 11 years away.

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Snohomish free for all

Political activity and convolutions in Snohomish County run about as complex as they do anywhere in the Northwest - not a new thing. The players are many, the competition between and within parties is serious, and there's an unusual amount of back-and-forth in movement between state and county posts, certainly more than in most counties. (The county's executive since 2004, Aaron Reardon, was a state senator and representative previously.)

For the latest mindbender, chec out "Dems may play musical chairs" in the Everett Herald today. You can get a hint of where this is going from the outline of Democratic strategic thinking; the paper reports that "what they don't want is for the current Snohomish County Council to make the appointments for fear those selections wouldn't be the top choice of Democrats. It happened in 2004. When an opening emerged in the 38th District, Democrat precinct leaders sent three names to the Republican-controlled County Council. While Mike Sells garnered the most support from activists, the council appointed David Simpson. Sells unseated Simpson in the following election."

Now, there's concern something similar might happen if state Representatives Brian Sullivan and John Lovick move over to the county side later this year, opening their House seats. Summary beyond that would be problematic; if interested, the whole thing is recommended.

A preservation society

Preserve Eagle

Michael Huffaker, Saundra McDavid, Al Shoushtarian

Candidate slates are an underused political tactic in places, such as cities in the Northwest, where candidates officially run as nonpartisan. Many voters have trouble keeping straight which candidates stand where. Slates can help do that, if the issue the slate is presenting is clear enough. (It was, for example, in 1983 and 1985 Boise city elections, when a group advocating a specific planning and growth change and endorsing a slate of candidates took over every elective office at City Hall.)

In the ballooning city of Eagle (around 21,000 population now, ten times what it was only a generation ago), growth is the obvious issue on the table. City leaders in recent years have struggled with it, but in the end seem generally to have accommodated to the desires of developers, leading to some jaw-dropping results. If you're in the area, travel sometime north of town on Highway 55 to the under-construction Avimore development, miles north of Eagle separated by mountains and open desert, but which Eagle is seeking to annex.

Not everyone in Eagle is in agreement. Three candidates - attorney Saundra McDavid running for mayor, and attorney Michael Huffaker and investor Al Shoushtarian running for the council - are campaigning under the banner of "Preserve Eagle." We'll be watching to see how well they do.

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With the passing of R-Day . . .

This was the day by which Idaho Senator Larry Craig said he intended to resign. There's been, of course, no such yet. As of midnight tonight, we're officially off into uncharted territory. Will Craig stay another day or into early 2009? No one knows, maybe not even Craig himself.

The Washington Post is reporting today that Craig's fellow Republican caucus members, having failed to ease him out by suasion, are plotting tougher measures:

"Worried that the disgraced lawmaker intends to remain in the Senate indefinitely, they are threatening to notch up the public humiliation by seeking an open ethics hearing on the restroom scandal that enveloped Craig last month. The Senate hearing would examine the original charges in Craig's case, including the allegation of 'interference with privacy,' for peeping into the bathroom stall occupied by an undercover police officer. One senior Republican aide imagined 'witnesses, documents, all in front of the klieg lights.' The committee also could look for 'a pattern of conduct' - which means combing court records in other locales to discover whether Craig had prior arrests that haven't come to light."

Maybe they will. Or this could be more bark than bite, because the klieg lights might shine uncomfortably. The national political effect of the Craig story has hurt Republicans; now that the intensity of the story is easing back, would they really be wise to stoke it up again? The facts of the Craig story are already pretty much out there, and would only be reiterated. (Unless there are more legal cases buried elsewhere around the country; though we tend to doubt that, since odds are they would have surfaced in the last month-plus of intense scrutiny.)

The other possibility, if they landed really hard pressure on Craig, might be an explosion from the Idaho senator. Craig has, after all, 17 years in the heart of the Senate, and there's probably not a lot about the dark underside of the membership he doesn't know. The caucus might be wise to re-think the rough stuff; they may not know exactly what kind of explosive they're dealing with.

Nightmares of the Giant Worm

the giant worm

the giant worm

The chatter by stevenl on Olyblog about designating the mountain beaver as Washington's state rodent - and please don't tell anyone in Oregon that the beaver is a rodent - is one thing.

But we can tell you right now why this second idea is a political non-starter: What politician would want to give his constituency nightmares?

That may be why newspapers seem to have been a little wary in their coverage of newly-found cases (first in a couple of decades) of the giant Palouse earthworm (Driloleirus americanus). This charming creature is reported to grow as long as three feet (though usually half or less of that), and "is albino in appearance, and when handled it gives off a scent similar to that of the lily flower. It is reported to be able to spit in self-defense." (The worm is listed as somewhat threatened, officially "vulnerable." Some people may feel better knowing that.)

stevenl offers, "The beauty of making both of these uniquely Pacific Northwest animals official state symbols is that they will represent both sides of the state, mountain beavers on the wet side, giant Palouse earthworms on the high and dry side."

Hmm. Wonder what the people in Colfax and Pomeroy would say about that. One of Olyblog's commenters wrote, "That's one frightening worm. I'm going to have nightmares tonight." (Ever seen the movie Tremors?)

Down in Jackson

Oregon politics watchers need to read a Thursday piece in the Ashland Daily Tidings, taking a look at the shifting politics in Jackson County (the Medford/Ashland area).

And they do seem to be changing, matching with our vote tracking. The Tidings piece doesn't overstate - Medford, and Jackson County as a whole, still has a Republican registration advantage and elects overall more Republicans than Democrats. But the percentages have been changing, and Medford has been gradually moving increasingly in the direction that other Northwest urban centers have, to the point that Democrats have become competitive in the county.

Consider this from the story: "Brian Platt of Medford, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, agrees that the local GOP has seen a deflection locally, but argues that just because some voters might have left the Republican Party officially does not mean that they are now voting Democratic."

But if they've gone to the trouble of formally cutting off from the Republican Party, that certainly can't be taken as much of a sign that they're planning to continue voting for Republicans as they traditionally have. (Hat tip to Blue Oregon.)

REGISTRATION STATS Statewide and in most counties, the number of registered voters in Oregon declined from January to July (the most recent numbers available) - mainly, presumably, as voters were cleared off the rolls because of moves, deaths and so on. Maybe notable, though, is that while Democratic statewide registration fell by 10,021 to 756,108, Republican registration fell 11,676 to 691,450. The Democratic registration advantage seems to be gently expanding.

Postman, then Mapes

We've been enjoying among regional political blogs those by Statehouse reporters; so far, the largest paper represented in the group has been the Seattle Times, where Dave Postman has been blogging steadily for months. Now the Oregonian is joining in.

We just noticed the new Jeff Mapes political blog on the Oregonian site, and looking forward to see where he takes it. (Before long, we can get into some fun comparisons . . . ) He starts early on with a little self-description, alongside an already-significant batch of substance. Guess we'll have to add this to our regular stops . . .

Frohnmayer’s contribution

John Frohnmayer

John Frohnmayer at the Statehouse

There are ways of looking at John Frohnmayer's Oregon Senate candidacy - any candidacy, for that matter - other than in the political calculus of polls and vote probabilities. One of the those is in the calculus of structuring the debate.

He is running as a candidate of the Independent Party of Oregon (not yet, presumably, though likely as its eventual nominee), and we've suggested before that his odds of pulling in more votes than the Republican or Democratic nominee is not good. Putting that aside, he may have other kinds of effect.

Formerly both a Republican and a Democrat, Frohnmayer has a statesmanslike sense to him, particularly Oregonian in style, affable but serious. (Counterparts in Washington would be more aggressive, and in Idaho a little earthier.) Unlike independent efforts of the past, this one is starting early, already has covered large swaths the state and, Forhnmayer says, will hit all 36 counties before very long.

It's enough to get a message out and affect the discussion, especially if the tools of the digital age are put to work. And they have been. He's already been visible on YouTube, and his staff (which he already has) also is busy finding ways to gain visibility, sometimes in unlikely places. This morning we watched as he did that in the press conference room at the Salem Statehouse, drawing only a small local media contingent - but that didn't matter. His remarks, captured on video, were headed for YouTube, where he's already been drawing a substantial audience. (His clip on impeachment has drawn about 3,000 views so far.)

All this could turn into enough to work its way into the Smith-Merkley-Novick discussions. And the substance could be strong enough to affect its structure and tenor.

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The Mayfield decision

The decision in the Brandon Mayfield case by Federal District Judge Ann Aiken at Portland seems not to have been widely linked directly; but it has strong merit and should be read, if only as a set of reminders in basic civics.

The decision aims to strike down parts of the Patriot Act having to do with search and seizure - basically, the sections that ignore constitutional restrictions on search and seizure. A sample passage:

Finally and perhaps most significantly, In re Sealed Case ignores congressional concern with the appropriate balance between intelligence gathering and criminal law enforcement. It is notable that our Founding Fathers anticipated this very conflict as evidenced by the discussion in the Federalist Papers.

Their concern regarding unrestrained government resulted in the separation of powers, checks and balances, and ultimately, the Bill of Rights. Where these important objectives merge, it is critical that we, as a democratic Nation, pay close attention to traditional Fourth Amendment principles. The Fourth Amendment has served this Nation well for 220 years, through many other perils. Title III, like the Supreme Court's pronouncements in Katz and Berger, recognizes that wiretaps are searches requiring fidelity to the Fourth Amendment.

Moreover, the constitutionally required interplay between Executive action, Judicial decision, and Congressional enactment, has been eliminated by the FISA amendments. Prior to the amendments, the three branches of government operated with thoughtful and deliberate checks and balances - a principle upon
which our Nation was founded. These constitutional checks and balances effectively curtail overzealous executive, legislative, or judicial activity regardless of the catalyst for overzealousness. The Constitution contains bedrock principles that the framers believed essential. Those principles should not be easily altered by the expediencies of the moment.

Despite this, the FISCR holds that the Constitution need not control the conduct of criminal surveillance in the United States. In place of the Fourth Amendment, the people are expected to defer to the Executive Branch and its representation that it will authorize such surveillance only when appropriate. The defendant here is asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.

We'll see whether common sense continues to prevail on appeal.