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Walker: Longshot to tough call

Today's decision by Eugene Senator Vicki Walker not to go after incumbent Governor Ted Kulongoski in the Democratic primary maybe leaves both of them relieved, but still only a short gap to rest.

Kulongoski's re-elect bid just got a little bit easier. A month ago he was facing the possibility of a very tough primary against former Governor John Kitzhaber, and, failing that, Walker; the talk was of how the whole Democratic party seemed to be in revolt. Times have changed. Kitzhaber opted not to make the run, and while he hasn't been boosting his sucessor much, he hasn't criticized him, either. Walker would not have done as well in the primary, but she might have inflicted more damage: Her criticisms about PERS, Neil Goldschmidt and other matters have been more than pugent. Some of them have cut deep, and repeated exposure around the state would have hurt Kulongoski. As it is now, the governor still has a primary challenger (Pete Sorenson of Eugene), but little trouble.

Vicki WalkerWalker, on the other hand, still has a high challenge before her: A tough opponent in her run for Senate re-election. For all that Eugene has the reputation of being a Democratic stronghold, there are plenty of Republicans around, and plenty of votes for moderate Republicans. Exhibit A is her opponent: Jim Torrey, the still-popular former mayor of Eugene (for about a decade), and a moderate Republican.

This has abruptly turned into one of the premier legislative races in the Northwest. (And it is abrupt: She had a Walker for Governor web site up and running for months, and on it she declared she was running for governor.) She has a compelling story, of a mother who became an activist, of an exposer of ugly realities. But just how compelling will it be against Torrey? She could have no stronger general election opponent.

Something of a lightning rod, she has faced strong opponents before. In 2000, when was running for re-election as a state representative, she faced another former mayor of Eugene, Jeff Miller, and she won, 53%-47%. But as that vote (and her only other Senate run, in 2002, when she won with 54.3%) shows, she's been successful at racking up wins but not big wins.

Jim TorreyTorrey was twice elected mayor of Eugene, and when he decided in 2004 not to run again, the general assumption was that a third term would have easily been his if he'd wanted it. He has been raising money (famously, with some help from one of Kulongoski's tightest political allies), and he will surely be able to call on a solid organization. (No web site yet, though, oddly.) But he's out of office now, and comebacks in such circumstances are always problematic.

This will be of the handful of general election races to watch in Oregon this year. Right alongside the gubernatorial general.

Idaho 1st, revised

Full wiki report to follow, but with campaign finance reports in hand (all but one, anyway), there's no reason not to revise our running order estimate. Consider this latest a half-fudge, since we're not ranking the Republicans as numbers one through six. But we do feel comfortable in placing them in two tiers: Top tier and lower tier.

The top tier is the "S" candidates: (in alphabetical) Bill Sali, Norm Semanko, Sheila Sorensen.

The lower tier: The other three (in alphabetical) Keith Johnson, Skipper Brandt and Robert Vasquez. (more…)


More and more do you see the idea that legislators should be barred, for some extended period of time, from drafting or passing laws in the wake of some screaming headline. The emotional, panicked responses usually wind up as troubling pieces of law that have to be dealt with later, usually after creating unintended mischief. Splashy criminal cases are notorious for generating that kind of reaction.

The Joseph Edward Duncan case from last year - most of which occurred in Idaho, but was heavily covered in Washington as well - was a natural example. This is a case awash in not only murder but also sex abuse; Duncan had been convicted earlier elsewhere on sex abuse charges. The case probably does call into some question whether parts of the sex offender system are working as they should, and especially if offenders are evaluated, and then handled, correctly. But those are subtle and technical matters, and legislators tend to haul off on another track altogether. (more…)

In other words

If we're up to the responsibility of a pure democracy, which is deciding directly by popular vote on all policy matters, then the rationale for Tim Eyman's latest - which would seek to overturn the gay rights bill just passed by the Washington Legislature - would make some sense.

But doing away with representative government altogether never has been much on the agenda. Do all of us have time to educate ourselves and carefully consider the hundreds of policy decisions that come to legislatures, councils, commissions and the rest every year? In initiative-heavy states, not many voters even do so dandy a job of self-education on the issues. (Don't get us started on self-education re the candidates.)

So here we have Eyman delivering a statement to the press saying this: "Politicians are deciding based on special interest group pressure and their own reelection calculations ... The voters have watched this disgusting display of arrogance and selfishness for weeks."

Putting his point in different words: Politicians have been listening to people who petition their governmental policymakers (something encouraged in the federal constitution) and have been bearing in mind "their own reelection calculations" - which means they are bearing in mind whether their constituents will favor or oppose their actions. Horrors!

Eyman is even more explicit, though, in his actual initiative, numbered 927. (more…)

Matching chairs

So curious that not only did Washington state's two main political parties both elect new chairs on the same day, but - even more - that essentially the same underlying logic informed both choices.

Dwight PelzNew Democratic Chair Dwight Pelz (replacing Paul Berendt, who held the job for a decade), is no insurgent or boat-rocker. He's been around, as a community activist, a labor organizer, a state senator, a member of the King County Council (replacing Ron Sims on that panel). he just ran and lost a race for the Seattle City Council, but had no lack of Democratic-based interest group support in the effort.

Endorsed by such fellow party members as Governor Christine Gregoire, Senator Patty Murray and Sims, you can expect that Pelz will keep things rolling very much as they have been. If you wanted major change within the Democratic establshment (from a Democratic standpoint), you probably supported the other candidate, natural-born boat-rocker Laura Ruderman. But Washington Democrats have been doing pretty well; there's a good argument for staying the course.

The parallel with the Republican selection is not precise, since Republicans do need to change something about their act; in a state where the partisan split is precariously balances, Republicans have been losing (a little) more than their share of elections. Consequently, any candidate for the Republican chairmanship had to run as something of a change agent.

The longer shot but more interesting choice here was Fredi Simpson, the state party's vice chair and by various accounts an aggressive partisan. She was endorsed by Dino Rossi, who so closely lost the governorship last year. Her loss in the bid for chair may say more about Rossi - whose name failed to work magic in an intraparty contest - than anything else.

Diane TebeliusBut a word is merited too for the winner, Diane Tebelius. She is, like Pelz, a safer, more establishment choice; during her unsucessful run for Congress last year, she was often compared to former Representative Jennifer Dunn, and not just because of appearances. Both passionate in her views and articulate in expressing them, she is unlikely to fall into some of the rhetorical traps to which outgoing Chair Chris Vance was occasionally prone: A former prosecutor, she is likely to plot her moves carefully.

Rational choices on both parts, with chairs who will have to hit the field hard just as the campaigns gear up.

Trish & Halli: A quietude

You could say that the Trish & Halli show, formerly on KID-AM 590 at Idaho Falls, was at least a local outpost of political talk on radio dials dominated almost exclusively by national canned chatter. Of course, you also would have to say that its replacement by conservative talker Laura Ingraham will not change the philosophical tenor of the time spot, or the station, or talk radio in Idaho, much at all.

Still, Trish Oak and Halli Stone got their critics' nickname of "Trash and Holler" by going after, on a very personal level, people in Idaho - people like House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, memorably, among many others. In their prime, they got people talking. But the kind of talk was often of the sort that tears communities, and neighborhoods, apart. Valuable as is locally-produced material (and business), Trish & Halli pushed the point, hard.

Lobby (v)

When the laws on lobbyist filing and registration were passed, the idea was throw light on some of the dark corners of government policymaking, so that - if we care to find out - we can know who is working on what, and who is spreading whose influence in which directions. We can't either know or understand how our government works, as a practical matter, without such information.

That's why the February edition of the Idaho Public Affairs Digest will include (as it has before) a full list of registered lobbyists in Idaho. That list in itself tells almost as much about the way Idaho government works as anything brought to your attention in campaign season.

Phil RebergerBut not all of it. One of the names curiously absent from that list is that of Phil Reberger, a former chief of state for Governor Dirk Kempthorne. Reberger is a campaign manager of legendary skill, but he also has turned to other employment since leaving state government. In contrast to so many people in politics, Reberger has a positive aversion to the limelight; if his name never showed up again in an Idaho newspaper until it runs his obituary, that would doubtless suit him fine. But he is deeply involved governance and policymaking in Idaho.

Some of the evidence for this is concrete. Since 2003, according to records in the Secretary of State's office, he has been a partner with (registered) lobbyist Pat Sullivan, who is one of the very busiest lobbyists in Idaho today, in the firm Sullivan & Reberger. (more…)

Central Willamette in the balance

Jackie WintersState Senator Jackie Winters, the Salem Republican, has quite a bit going for her as she seeks a second term this year (after two in the House). She's a warm, engaging and smart candidate; she knows details and background without seeming overly wonkish. Her community service pushups are extensive and of long standing. Her district is mostly Republican, according to party registration at least (42.5% Republican, 34.5% Democratic). She lost a 2004 primary race for the U.S. House, but campaigned well - her reputation did not suffer.

And yet her run for re-election is worth closely monitoring this year. Her electoral strength has been less than overwhelming in the past. (She won in 2002 with just 54.4%, less than commanding for an incumbent legislator in a party-favorable district.) And this year, her Democratic opponent, announced yesterday, has the potential to be formidable.

This could be one of the most interesting, and impressive, contests in Oregon this year. (more…)

Gay rights, and now what?

Backers of the gay rights bill (HB 2661) which cleared the Washington Legislature on Friday, after more than a decade of effort, were heavy into celebration Friday afternoon. That's understandable enough after disappointments through the years, but two significant points should not go unnoted. Taken together, they point out the road ahead: Passage (and the certain signing) of the bill are only early steps down this path.

Bill FinkbeinerThe first point is what changed between last session, when a similar bill failed, and this one. Nothing much changed in the House, where it passed both times. Only a little changed in the Senate, where it failed by a single vote in 2005 and passed by one this time. The difference was one senator, Kirkland Republican Bill Finkbeiner, who voted against last year and reversed his stand this year.

This was expected (and already announced), which is why Senate approval was expected. Finkbeiner was the only Republican (he is a former Democrat) to vote in favor (two Democrats voted against), but he carries some significance, for two reasons. One is that last year, he was the Republican floor leader but resigned from that post between sessions; you can't escape the speculation (though he hasn't said so) that Finkbeiner resigned from leadership so he could cast this particular vote. And why would that be so significant? Gets to the second reason: (more…)

Threats, real and unreal

The case of Washington v. Tracey Johnston revolves around the subject of spoken threats, and whether the threat is "real" or not.

Washington courtsThis may sound either esoteric or like the trickery of a clever defense lawyer. It's not. How many times have you muttered a desire to wreack bodily harm on someone - maybe, for example, a driver on the highway - with no practical intention to follow through? (When I was in college, the phrase "he ought to be taken out and shot" popped up from time to time, usually for minor offenses.) Death and injury feature regularly in metaphor. Should all that be actionable as a felony offense?

On its face, Washington law (RCW 9.61.160(1)) seems to contemplate something like that. It says, "It shall be unlawful for any person to threaten to bomb or otherwise injure any public or private school building, any place of worship or public assembly, any governmental property, or any other building, common carrier, or structure, or any place used for human occupancy . . ."

The first amendment does come into play here, because courts have ruled that speech can be circumscribed only under extreme circumstances. The legal principle is that while most speech is "protected," one of the categories of unprotected speech is that of a "true threat" - a threat issued with apparent connection to actual or intended behavoir. The Washington Supreme Court has defined it, "in a context or under such circumstances wherein a reasonable person would foresee that the statement would be interpreted . . . as a serious expression of an intention to inflict bodily harm upon or to take the life of {another individual}."

So what to do about Travey Johnston, who blurs the lines just a tad? (more…)