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Drat, no excitement

The usually sharp Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn seemed a bit scattered in today's post-Kitzhaber-announcement column. Could the reasons have to do just partly with the nature of Kitzhaber and more with the nature of politics?

Kitzhaber had for the last three months or so held out the possiblity of running for governor. He was considering it, he said, as a way of promoting his health care plan for Oregon, which he may turn into a ballot issue. Put over-simply, it appears to contemplate taking the billons Oregonians now pour into the health care and reshuffle its use in more efficient ways - an appealing prospect if politically a tough proposition.

One suspects Kitzhaber knew all along that a governor's race would be a lousy way to do that, and dangled the possibility of a race to draw attention.

Sarasohn's column (no link available yet) seemed to want to suggest Kitzhaber was rejecting politics as a means to his end. The columnist pointed out that after all, Kitzhaber was able to push the Oregon Health Plan ahead while he was a leader in the state Senate and while he was governor.

But Kitzhaber apparently never has said that the effort ahead would be apolitical, only that seeking political office doesn't seem to be the best way to get this job done. Sarasohn edged toward suggesting that was wrongheaded, and a rejection of the political process. He stopped short, though, because saying that would raise a problem: The implication that the only meaningful participants in our political process are those with important-sounding titles in front of their names.

Ask a Washingtonian which single person in the last decade (or, hell, make it two) has had the biggest impact on policy in that state, and the likely poll winner would be Tim Eyman - a private citizen, never elected to anything, a pusher of initiatives: A man whose influence many decry as negative, but whose policy impact has been nonetheless enormous. Oregon has had its counterparts, and Kitzhaber may be displaying shrewd political sense if his thought is to marry his political cachet and charisma to the power than can come from playing the role of a populist outsider. Which he likely could do to Oscar caliber.

With the right issue, the right approach and the right support, you don't even need to be a Kitzhaber to have political impact. That may be, in the end, what Kitzhaber has come to realize.

Church and charity

[Maybe we're just grumpy today. But what will follow is three posts on three separate opinion items in Northwest daily newspapers which merit a rejoinder. Was there something in the rainwater that just fallen around the region that loosened the thinking processes?]

What follows is not a slam at churches, and it also is not - in the main at least - any kind of slam at charitable giving. But today's Oregonian piece "Give more, get more, Oregon," by Ronald B. Davies, cries out for counter point.

The piece notes that Oregon's richest man, Phil Knight (founder of Nike), is in the process of giving massively to Oregon charitable organizations - a fine act, beyond simply commendable. Davies (an econmics professor at the University of Oregon) then worries, "Is Oregon, not the richest of states, setting itself up for a fall when the last of Knight's estate disappears?" He notes accurately that Oregon is home to fewer (per capita) very rich people than a number of other states, and a sidebar says that "the rich make up just 16% of our economy" compared to a national average of 22%. Who constitute "the rich" and how their specific impact on the state's economy has been determined to within a percentage point is left unsaid; but that's a lesser matter.

More important are two other points the piece makes, one specific and statistical, the other philosophical. (more…)

Kitzhaber’s effect

You have to be careful when you predict what a politician will do, so the wariness of Oregon's prognosticators in figuring that former Governor John Kitzhaber wouldn't enter the race for his old job this year is understandable. But probably few of Oregon's prognosticators were actually surprised that he didn't.

John KitzhaberKitzhaber's passion, after all, is his health care plan, and running for governor would be a lousy way to promote it. He would be drawn, most of the time, onto other issues; he would lose focus. He could not very directly champion the health care ballot measure he wants to push. On top of that, odds were at least even (probably higher) he'd lose the primary and risk splitting his party in two, in a state where the parties are closely matched. And if he wanted to start a full-fledged gubernatorial campaign, mid-January is awfully late to get in the game, even if you are a former governor.

He certainly accomplished his mission so far, though: Health care options have moved from back burner at least halfway to front burner. He is getting people talking, and that's a start.

Beyond Kitzhaber, what other impacts are likely from today's announcement?

The winner was incumbent Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski, who now has a straight shot to the nomination. He has competition, of course, both existing in the former of Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson, and prospective in the form of state Senator Vicki Walker of Eugene. But Sorensen appears to have gained little traction, and Walker, who has some profile in the Willamette Valley at least, has been waiting on word from Kitzhaber before making an announcement - giving her a very late start. (She may yet reconsider.) Unless the discontent within the Democratic Party with Kulongoski runs a lot deeper than the activists who have been frustrated with him, the governor should ace his primary.

That would give him improved momentum for November. He's no sure shot; Oregon is too closely divided for that.

But all in all, Friday was a good day for the governor. And maybe for the prospects of a serious heatlh care debate in Oregon.

Back to the block

We probably were thought a little churlish when Albertsons last month announced it was calling off its attempt to sell itself off, and going back to business, with the implication of status quo for the foreseeable future. Our post headline was that that sale was off - for now.

So here we are, less than a month later: News reports both local and national are noting that Albertsons is resuming sales talks, after shareholders complained about the backoff from its near-sale last month. We said then that Boise had no cause for comfort; and, obviously, it doesn't.

Land sale

This seems not to have gotten a whole lot of attention, but southwest Idahoans might want to take note of a large land sale being proposed by the Bureau of Land Management.

A posting in today's Federal Register spells out the proposal, which concerns "approximately 2,056 acres of public land north of Star in Ada
County, around Pickles Butte and north of Lake Lowell in Canyon County,
east of Payette in Payette County, and within the city limits of
Cascade in Valley County. The purpose of a portion of the sales in
Canyon and Payette Counties is to provide land for purchase by the
respective counties for important public objectives including expansion
of the landfill at Pickles Butte, further development at Clay Peak
Motorcycle Park, and various other recreation and public use
opportunities. The other lands will be evaluated for sale as the tracts
are difficult and uneconomic to manage as part of the public lands,
some of which will serve to expand communities or provide economic
development opportunities."

There's not necessarily anything wrong with this. BLM lands are, historically, lands which were intended for dispersement to private parties, and which no one ever wanted. Does sound, though, as if the number and variety of uses these lands would get could change significant parts of rural southwest Idaho. The agency is open to comments.

Politics of dereg

Just a quick heads-up on a fine summary of the development of Montana politics in the last few years - through the lens of electric power deregulation, which that state, about a decade ago, embraced.

The results have been calamitous, but are still defended in some quarters. Mike Dennison's column for the Billings Gazette spells it out.

Practical economy

As the governors talk about the wonderful economies in their states - and in their state of the state speeches, both the governors of Washington and Idaho talked about them - the relevant numbers were those of business and job creation.

Those are reasonable numbers, but they tell only a part of the story, and not the part of the story that most people in those states directly experience. For most people, a more relevant measure would be the growth, or not, of personal income, and how that compares to the national picture. And here, the tales of the states diverge. (more…)


They're still coming. The map from United Van Lines' study this year of states where people are mostly inbound or outbound shows Washington as neutral, but the text of the study says Washington is still basically inbound, and that the rate picked up more than 2% in 2005 over 2004.

United migration study

Oregon and Idaho, on the other hand, are more definitively inbound states - they're still a-coming.

Washington SoS: savings time

The logical answer to a state budget surplus has not, historically, been to spend it all, even on one-time projects: It creates an unsustainable level. (A little one-time stuff may work.) Nor have the tax cut proposals worked out well: Cuts in taxes one year tend to lead to ugliness, and often tax increases, later on.

Christine GregoireRainy-day funds, at least up to a point, seldom go too far wrong. If stability in government finance is a good thing, then such funds are easy to defend. And usually not wildly hard to sell - if you practice the right kind of diplomacy.

That's the challenge ahead for Washington Governor Christine Gregoire as she proposed putting the largest chunk of the state's anticipated revenue surplus into a rainy-day account. Her proposal of it - a massive $900 million - is not a hard sell in the context of a state of the state speech, and the virtue of it is easy to intellectualize. But when it comes down to passing out the dollars, hands will be out. And the issue isn't entirely clear-cut, because Gregoire has weighted her budget plans with a handful of spending proposals of her own. (more…)

Clackamas’ choice

The pivot county in Oregon p0litics, the place with the most true swing votes up for grabs - the kingmaker county of Oregon - is Washington County. But if there is a secondary key Oregon county, that would be Clackamas - and it may face a major local test of its loyalties soon.

Clackamas County lies southeast of Washington, and south of Multnomah (Portland); the three together are the core Portland metro area. But of the three, Clackamas (the smallest, but still the third most populous county in Oregon) probably still has the most rural feel, even if the bulk of its people now live in suburban subdivisions. There are plenty of still-rural communities here, like Canby and Mollala, in the gradual process of absorption into the metro.

Its development seems more truly suburban than high-tech driven, as it is in Washington County. But there are some other similarities. (more…)