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Sali II: The return?

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

There's probably a sense among a lot of organization Republicans in Idaho that the state's congressional delegation would be all-Republican again this year were it not for the Republican House member who lost his seat two years ago - Bill Sali. After all, the other two Republicans running for Congress in Idaho last year, Jim Risch and Mike Simpson, won their seats with great big margins. A Republican running in the first district who was closer to their model than the highly controversial Sali, they might reasonably figure, would have won. As it was, Democrat Walt Minnick narrowly won the seat, and doesn't seemed to have made any political mistakes so far.

With Sali's filing for another run at the seat, all this becomes pertinent fodder again.

Often, a candidate for a major office who either is ousted from it or only narrowly loses it will at least win his party's nomination for another run, if he (or she) wants it. In the two other House seats seriously contested in the Northwest last year, in Washington's 8th and Oregon's 5th, the outside party (Democratic and Republican respectively) each nominated for another go their candidate from 2006; both, it might be noted, lost. In the run for Washington governor last year, Republican Dino Rossi - who just barely lost in 2004 - had the Republican nomination for the asking; and he proceeded to lose as well.

But could Sali get the nomination? You can't rule it out. He has a known name and organized support. But he also has a big campaign debt (about $120,000 at last count), and several prospectively solid Republican candidates (Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Senator John McGee have expressed interest) could in the field. Sali won in 2006 in a deeply fragmented field that advantaged him almost perfectly. There'd be strong pressure in the Republican hierarchy to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

He would at least, though, have the opportunity to get a lot of that debt paid off . . .

NOTE: Edited to correct reference to Mike Simpson, from Crapo.

UPDATE: Sali is quoted as saying that he hasn't actually decided yet whether he will run. That's worth bearing in mind; the filing of paperwork is prerequisite, but not the same thing as a declaration of candidacy. He also says his campaign debt is all the way down to $117,000.

ID: One of the last five?

We'd say this overstates the case - in a good many states, there are lots of self-described Democrats who vote mostly Republican. And it seems to misstate the case in the South and in parts of Appalachia.

Gallup map

Still, you now have the pollster Gallup concluding that just four states (Idaho, plus Utah, Wyoming and Alaska) are "solid Republican" states, and just one more (Nebraska, which gave up one electoral vote last year to Barack Obama) as "leans" Republican. (The actual ranking for Republican-ness is, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Nebraska, Kansas and Alabama.)

Washington and Oregon, as you might thereby expect, are listed as "solid Democratic."

The Peoria plan

Nick Licata

Nick Licata

In this time of weakening newspapers, as lots of people start looking for alternative models, the situation has gotten so serious that public officials are holding public meetings on the subject of "who will report the news?"

Specifically, in Seattle, where one daily newspaper - the Post-Intelligencer - is near certain to end printing and may or may not remain in some online form, and the other - the Times - is also in perilous financial shape. It's where tomorrow Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata will convene a council Culture, Civil Rights, Health, and Personnel Committee meeting, and devote most of it to "a panel discussion about the importance of maintaining diverse media outlets, the future of daily newspapers, and the potential roles and responsibilities that a community can take to keep public discourse healthy and thriving." (It is supposed to be streamed.)

That's noteworthy right there, since it means the search for news alternatives in the Northwest now has its first substantial public elected official taking point.

The meeting already seems to have had one effect at least: Discussion of what's being called the Peoria Plan. A piece today in the site Crosscut describes it: In Peoria, Illinois, where the daily paper also is in serious trouble, there's talk about creating and using a new type of business structure to encourage news operations.

This blog generally has become increasingly wary of new business structures, but if limited and defined properly this one, called the LC3, has com promise. It's described as a hybrid, with some allowance for limited profits, but also some status as a charity, making possible tax-deductible contributions, which could allow some newspapers to become something akin to non-profits (a term which is in itself a term of art).

The Crosscut piece is worth reading. And the meeting tomorrow should be worth watching.

Stimuli in the states

So what are the prospects for states - the three in the Northwest, specifically - to get from the current iteration of the federal stimulus package?

The Center for American Progress has put together some general information. It's limited in details, but some of the interactive maps do provide some useful material.

Overall, Oregon seems to make out marginally the best. But results vary . . .

bullet Oregon - total $6.3 billion. Of that, 11.9% goes for balancing the state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $2 billion (or $529 per person), $1.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $50.7 million for EITC increases, $153 m for child tax credits. Spending for unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.3 billion ($330 per capita), $835 million for those who lost jobs, $75 million for housing, $312 million for food stamps, $30 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

bullet Washington - total $10.4 billion. Of that, 12.8% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $3.6 billion (or $550 per person), $3.2 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $85.8 million for EITC increases, $288 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.5 billion ($232 per capita), $935 million for those who lost jobs, $135 million for housing, $398 million for food stamps, $49 million for miscellaneous poverty efforts.

bulletIdaho - total $2.5 billion. Of that, 13.3% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs, tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: about $900 million (or $566 per person), $.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $23.9 million for EITC increases, $79.4 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $312 million ($205 per capita), $198 million for those who lost jobs, $34 million for housing, $66 million for food stamps, $14 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

New thinking?

Wayne Hoffman, the unusually high-profile spokesman for former Representative Bill Sali, has launched a new effort, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, self-described as "the state’s only think tank dedicated to finding free-market solutions to the challenges facing our state."

Remarkably, it may more or less be, if you parse carefully. There's been a long string of pro-free market think tanks (bear in mind, that's a term of art) in Idaho over the years. Former Idahoan Laird Maxwell contributed a bunch all by himself (Idahoans for Tax Reform, This House is My Home, among other efforts). More currently, there's even the Free Market Duck, although you may have some difficulty describing exactly what that is. There are also no lack of organizations from outside the state with national outreach including the Free Market Foundation of Plano, Texas, "dedicated to protecting freedoms and strengthening families in Texas and nationwide."

Ever since the days (amounting to four decades now) when Ralph Smeed and Steve Symms co-founded the Idaho Compass at Caldwell, and pushed for a chair of capitalism at the University of Idaho, the state has not lacked for free-market advocates and organizations - there's been quite a crowd of them over the years. If those had consisted only of legislators, that would still be quite a crowd.

A question keeps arising about many of these efforts, though. All or nearly all refer to "free market solutions" to whatever ails you - an established determination. So: If you already know the answer to whatever question may be asked, how much thinking do you really have to do?

We'll credit Hoffman with taking as his initial shot a run at pushing for transparency in government: "In Texas, the state spent $300,000 developing a transparency Web site, and Comptroller Susan Combs believes the program has saved millions of dollars. Among other things, the effort brought to light unnecessary duplication in contracts and produced cheaper ways of meeting government goals. In Idaho, I would imagine that a transparency project could have prevented some agencies from loading up on equipment, bonuses and travel in a mad dash to spend year-end cash, as I witnessed over and over, even in lean years."

The point and the approach of really transparent government are clearly worthy, though the implementation is neither automatic or simple. To get it done and done right, it may even take a fair amount of actual thought.

Afterthought: By way of transparency, who are the IFF's benefactors?

Adams: Staying, for now

Word this afternoon that Portland Mayor Sam Adams is hanging in there, scandal notwithstanding, brings to mind a structural comparison with a politician from another state, former Idaho Senator Larry Craig.

Yes, there's the common element of disputes related to gay sex, but there are numerous differences besides that - and the point is a different one. The point has to do with the supposed inevitability of scandal>resign, or be thrown from office. The point is that the inevitability is not always there.

public affairs digest

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It happens that way, of course, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer being maybe the most spectacular example. But what first looks inevitable sometimes looks less so with time. A decade ago, the resignation of Bill Clinton as president after the Monica Lewinsky affair was widely thought to be inevitable, and ouster by impeachment was considered a very serious prospect. But he finished out his term.

The Craig comparison may be more pertinent. Think back to August 2007, to the explosion that greeted news of Craig's "disorderly conduct" arrest in the Minneapolis airport. Within a day or so, the common wisdom was that Craig would quit. This blog bought into that, briefly: "Our initial thought (on hearing the news reports 24 hours ago) was that, since his arrest in a Minneapolis airport mens room had little to do with his work as a senator, he might be able to ride it out, at least through this term (though re-election seems a lot cause). We no longer think so: While Craig is very unlikely to be forced out, conditions are deteriorating so quickly that his staying may soon become impractical."

But we also wrote not long after that Craig could stay if he chose. After all, there are no recall provision for U.S. senators; the only way he could be thrown out was to be expelled by the Senate, and since he broke no major laws (just a misdemeanor), that was highly unlikely. And while his clout in the Senate would be diminished if he stayed, he retained his vote, his grasp of how to work in the Senate, his staff and his public platform. That apparently is how Craig read it, when days later he announced that he would finish out his term. Which, earlier this month, he did.

Mayors, those in Portland included, can be recalled - the only way an elected official in Oregon can be made to leave. But not until six months have passed following a swearing-in, and weeks would pass after that before an election actually would be held.

Will the current Adams fury last that long? If Adams turns out to be a pretty good mayor in the months from here to there, will the anger be hot enough for the voters to fire him?

Maybe. But in the meantime, while circumscribed and while suffering some diminished clout and reputation, Adams would retain the prerogatives of office, his highly sophisticated grasp of how things work in Portland, and some (albeit not all) of his useful political relationships. (Of course, as Steve Duin's Thursday Oregonian column suggested, Adams would be wise to not stand in the way of any attempt to recall him, and should - at least publicly - welcome the verdict of the voters later this year.)

Taken as a whole, Adams' call on this sounds not so drastically different from Craig's, and from Clinton's. How well will it work? Check back in six months . . .

Across the board

One of the startling aspects to the economic mess we're in is the sweeping nature of it - it seems to be affecting a massive range of business, and presumably others as well.

Cuts of 5,000 jobs at Microsoft (and most of those at Redmond). About 1,000 at Starbucks (a lot of those at Seattle - a third of headquarters). South of the Columbia, Intel is cutting about 1,000 jobs in Oregon (out of 5,000 overall).

And there's this rundown in the Oregonian (itself wafting through waves of cuts): "A thousand at Intel. Up to 1,000 at Oregon Health & Science University. More at Harry & David, Xerox, Mercy Corps, Medical Teams International, Precision Castparts, Hollywood Entertainment, Daimler Trucks North America and others. And that's on top of 174,000 Oregonians -- double the entire population of a city such as Gresham or Beaverton -- who were jobless at the end of December."

Rough.

Kempthorne for president?

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Don't count on this one happening. But in some ways there's not a shock in seeing it - the notion being floated about Dirk Kempthorne, former interior secretary and former Idaho governor and senator, running for president in 2012. (To be clear, there's no specific indication that any of this has come from Kempthorne himself.)

A few thoughts . . .

One is that having such trial balloons floated isn't an especially bad idea, even if you never follow up on them. The idea that you might become a real national figure, in the top=rank way that presidential contenders and few others are, gives you heft and prominence in whatever you're doing right now, whether that is serving in Congress, as governor of Alaska or even if you're in the process of nailing down ongoing employment.

Another is that there's some reflection here of the thinness of the national Republican bench. Looking to 2012 there are such names as Romney and Palin and Huckabee, but their actual campaign history in 2008 exposed serious weaknesses for all of them, and many Republicans may be looking elsewhere. But where? Going back decades, there's always been at least one and maybe more plausible major figures for Republicans headed into the presidential cycle; who would that be now? Lesser-known figures might realistically enter seriously into the mix.

Third: Kempthorne? interior secretary is a national post, but he's hardly a household name, and connections to the Bush Administration may be politically toxic for a while. He's been a down-the-line standard conservative, as the term has been understood in recent years; but how is that likely to help in 2012? He does have good campaigning skills, though, and as the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out, he is close to the natural resource industries, which could help fund the early stages of a campaign.

Would he try to do it? Not likely. The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert noted that "He has never said that to me and in recent talks with his associates no one made any suggestions that he was looking at it." This is probably a trial balloon being lofted for other purposes. But then, that's partly what trial balloons are for.

A tax review?

Last May Stan Howland, a veteran corporate income tax auditor for Idaho Tax Commission, delivered a startling 17-page report on what he argued was an inappropriate activity at the commission: Making secret (as in not disclosed to the public) deals with out of stat corporations that allow them to pay to the state a fraction of the taxes they owe. The argument in favor of this approach is that the legal action needed to collect the taxes might, at least in some cases, exceed what could be collected.

The report caused a flurry of discussion, most of which seemed to lead to three conclusions: (1) the activity he describes does in fact go on; (2) it appears to be legal; and (3) nothing more seemed likely to come of it, since the commission is arguing it is doing the right thing, and no one else in a position to impose their clout seems interested in forcing them to do otherwise.

But is the current economic crunch, alongside the crunch in state revenues, leading to a reconsideration of that outcome?

The subject came up Thursday at the state Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, and the upshot didn't look so good for the commission. From the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert blog post on the meeting: (more…)