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Posts tagged as “Oregon”

Tea parties, then and now

Jeff Kropf

The Boston Tea Party, 1846 Nathan Currier depiction

The 1773 incident now known as the Boston Tea Party was a truly spontaneous demonstration of immediate anger. It stemmed from the imposition of a royal tax on the tea, and was the result of a situation specific to Boston. Taxable tea was arriving from Britain in all 13 American colonies, but in the other 12 colonies protesters sent the tea on a return trip with their visible protests alone. It was a less simple matter in Boston, where the governor of Massachusetts had an insider business arrangement with the providers (two of them were his sons). And so a standoff. A meeting to consider options was called by the rabble-rouser Sam Adams, and in the midst of it some of the fed-up simply stalked out and (there are differing reports over how many were actually dressed as Indians) boarded the ship and tossed the tea into the harbor.

Some contrast with what's happening in terms of current "tea parties," aimed as criticism of the Obama Administration's financial policies, is worth a note. A string of tea party events are scheduled - for the 15th, of course - in Idaho (Boise, Coeur d'Alene, Council, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Priest River, Rexburg and Twin Falls), in Oregon (Astoria, Beaverton, Bend, Coos Bay, Corvallis, The Dalles, Enterprise, Springfield, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Klamath Falls, La Grande, McMinnville, Medford, Milton Freewater, Newport, Oregon City, Portland, Reedsport, Rogue Riven, Roseburg, Salem, Tillamook) and in Washington (Anacortes, Bellevue, Bellingham, Colville, Everett, Grays Harbor, Issaquah, Kennewick, Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Oak Harbor, Okanogan, Port Orchard, Pullman, Olympia, Shelton, Tacoma, Port Angeles, Redmond, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima).

That's a lot of scheduled spontaneity.

Some of what's happening is coming out of conservative blogs and networking. But there's a good deal more going here.

The central Tax Day Tea Party web site is well equipped with Resources, Media/Press, Team Wiki, Media Wiki, Social Networking and Store functions. Someone centrally put this up and organized rapidly and at considerable cost.

It turns out to be a lobbying astroturf project of Freedom Works and Americans for Prosperity. The liberal site Think Progress pointed out how

– Freedom Works staffers coordinate conference calls among protesters, contacting conservative activists to give them “sign ideas, sample press releases, and a map of events around the country.”

– Freedom Works staffers apparently moved to “take over” the planning of local events in Florida.

– Freedom Works provides how-to guides for delivering a “clear message” to the public and media.

– Freedom Works has several domain addresses — some of them made to look like they were set up by amateurs — to promote the protests.

– Americans for Prosperity is writing press releases and planning the events in New Jersey, Arizona, New Hampshire, Missouri, Kansas, and several other states.

Freedom Works was "founded in 1984 and described as a 501c4 "grassroots organization," is chaired by former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey. . . . FreedomWorks was formed in 2004 when Citizens for a Sound Economy merged with Empower America." It has worked on a number of policy matters, notably on Social Security, closely with the former Bush Administration.

There's nothing wrong with any of this - free speech is everyone's right, and everyone has the responsibility to protest government actions they disapprove of - but the parties shouldn't be described (as they are in some quarters) as an uprising from below. That would be a significant mischaracterization.

Side note: A distinction of core message. The message behind the first was, "No taxation without representation." Today, we pretty much have the "representation" part covered, which leaves the new message a tad unfocused. (The national tea party site doesn't focus on a specific message; the words on its core graphic are, "Silent Majority No More." That may give a clue as to the point and purpose.)

Amtrak hopes

In the southern Idaho-eastern Oregon area there's been hope, for a long time, of restoration of the old Pioneer trim passenger line on Amtrak. It's been a distant hope, even as legislators such as Idaho Senator Mike Crapo have pushed for it. But now comes a sign that maybe, possibly, it might happen.

Financially, the line was a loser ($20 million a year) when it was shuttered in 1996. But times are changing, and prospects - especially in the new economic-political environment - are changing. Last year Congress ordered a rethink on passenger lines in Amtrak, and the Associated Press is reporting now that Pioneer is currently under evaluation.

Cards and letters time.

A red light

stop light

Red-light cameras, designed to catch drivers who run red lights, have been developing some value in the cities around the Northwest which have taken to using them. Red-light runners are menaces on the road, and these catchers have some safety utility. Problems arise when they're used not for safety but as ATMs.

This space has ranted no lack of times about the trouble inherent in letting a government agency - whether law enforcement or something else - build its budget off regulatory fines. We're also highly skeptical of any place in public law enforcement for private corporations: The temptation to hand people fines or to lock them up to boost the quarterly bottom line is just too great.

A measure in the Oregon Legislature, House Bill 2701, is aimed at exactly this point. Ashland Senator Alan Bates has been its prime sponsor in the Senate.

Medford, which is part of his district turf, has a red-light camera program, and Bates said that "I would not have sponsored HB 2701 if its passage would end Medford's photo red-light program, nor is that the purpose of the bill." He said he is backing it because:

First, the bill would prohibit cities that use red-light and photo-radar equipment from compensating manufacturers and vendors of red-light and photo-radar equipment based on the number of citations issued or on a percentage of monies collected from payment of fines. Six U.S. cities (Dallas and Lubbock, Texas; Union City, Calif.; Nashville and Chattanooga, Tenn.; and Springfield, Mo.) have been found guilty of shortening the yellow-light cycles on intersections equipped with cameras meant to catch red-light runners. According to the National Motorists Association, when Virginia officials added 1.5 seconds to the yellow light at an intersection with red light cameras, the number of violations went down 94 percent.

Second, the bill would prohibit any city that uses red-light and photo-radar equipment from collecting more than 5 percent of its annual budget from the citations issued using it. Tim George, deputy chief of the Medford Police Department, is quoted in the article as saying "We don't come anywhere close to generating 5 percent of our budget from the red-light cameras or the two speed vans." It is my understanding that the most recent statewide average for revenue generated from traffic citations is 3 percent; however, there is no cap in place. HB 2701 seeks to remedy this incentive: Public safety should be our goal, not generating revenue.

The bill isn't moving fast; it's still in House committee. But there's still plenty of time.

The public involvement way

Idaho Power Company has taken a whole lot of heat locally in communities in far eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho - over its plan to string a high-power transmission line roughly between Boardman, Oregon, and Murphy, Idaho.

You wouldn't think such a line would generate that kind of conflict, since there's so much wide open space in that country, and a tremendous amount of public land where the line presumably could go. Instead, significant pieces of the siting have been located near communities, and a number of them have been protesting.

Now, apparently, Idaho Power has backed off, at least in part. One of the hotly protesting cities has been Parma, and a state senator from there, Melinda Smyser, is quoted as saying that Idaho Power will relocated its line proposal for that stretch, and will bring in public involvement.

That seems a likely model for where this may be going. The opposition hasn't been to a long-run transmission line in the area, but only to where it specifically is being located. This looks like an issue amenable to a negotiated solution, albeit one that may take a little longer to develop.

Trends continuing

By way of followup tracking, here's where Oregon has gone since the November election in the area of voter and party registration . . .

The grand total in registered voters has hardly budged, as of the end of February stats: 2,154,384 - up 491, hardly a blip.

But there were some changes. The biggest is the increase in numbers for the Independent Party - up 2,328 to 45,358, a bigger increase than anyone else got in that period. (Non-affiliateds increased by exactly 100.)

Both Democrats and Republicans dropped in registered voters. While Democrats dropped 669, Republicans fell by 1,979 - extending the registration gap between the parties by more than 1,000, to 238,039.

Semi-fusion voting

If the Oregon Senate follows the track of the Oregon House (which in this case voted 52-8 in favor), Oregon may make one of the more interesting changes in Northwest election laws in years, but which once was commonplace: Something resembling fusion voting.

A century and more ago, many parts of the country (and the Northwest was prominent in this) had two major and a number of minor parties which often would split support of various candidates. Seldom would a candidate get both the Democratic and Republican nominations, but they might also pick up support of one or more smaller parties, and these levels of support could be enough to make a difference. (The Idaho governor who got the largest-ever voting percentage, in 1896, was a Democrat - but he got it with the support of a batch of splinters as well.)

Some states (New York, for one) still do remnants of this kind of voting but the Northwest has not for a long time. But Oregon, for one, has always allowed candidates to pick up the nominations of more than one party in a single election. It just hasn't placed more than one party's support on the ballot - you have to choose.

Now that seems likely to change, if House Bill 2414 passes - "will allow candidates for partisan office the option of listing the names of more than one nominating party on the general election ballot (i.e., Ben Westlund Democratic, Independent or Vicki Berger Republican, Independent)."

You may have picked up a trend line there; the new Oregon Independent Party did quite a bit of cross-nomination last cycle and probably will again, and the joint listing on the ballot could substantially increase the value of the joint nominations. (Some other smaller parties have done likewise; the Independent's press release on the subject today notes that bill co-sponsor Representative Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, in 2008 got both the Democratic and the Working Families nominations.)

There's a good chance, by the way, that the Senate will go along: Nearly half of the members of the Senate already have put down their names in support.

OR5: A possible contest?

Kari Chisholm has a forward-looking Blue Oregon piece on prospects in the Oregon 5th House district, one of two in the region (the Idaho 1st is the other) where a freshman will be doing defense.

5th district

As Chisholm notes, political wisdom is that the first run for re-elect is the best shot at taking out an incumbent; after that, it tends to get difficult. (A first-term takeout is how the Idaho 1st just changed hands.) So new Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader, who won by a substantial but not overwhelming 54.5%, is likely to be mid-level on the Republicans' target list.

He's logically on it partly because of his freshman status, because because White House parties tend to lose House seats in the mid-terms (as 2010 will be), and because the 5th district has plenty of Republicans and no lack of ambitious prospects. Some of them don't make a lot of sense, notably Mike Erickson, the businessman who has lost twice and imploded last year amid scandal-type headlines. Chisholm lists such other Republicans as a former failed congressional candidate (Jim Zupancic) and a slew of legislators (Vic Gilliam, Scott Bruun, Vicki Berger, Fred Girod) and one who has done both - former congressional candidate and current state Senator (mid-term in 2010) Brian Boquist, who just might be the overall politically strongest of the group. (We'll get into defending that evaluation later if it seems to have relevance.) But most of these people, and some others, could be credible congressional contenders. Schrader himself was a legislator too, a year ago.

Our sense is that Schrader will not be an easy target, though. The 5th district has a historically Republican cast, since its main population centers - Marion and Clackamas counties - have voted generally Republican in most elections for decades, up to the last few cycles. In the last two cycles, Clackamas seems to have moved clearly into the Democratic camp, and for a year now Marion has had a Democratic voter registration edge, a remarkable flip there. And while the the 5th voted for George W. Bush, it turned in 2008 to Barack Obama, whose percentage here almost exactly matched Schrader's.

Of course, all that can flip again, depending on how the news runs over the next year-plus. But at the moment, Republican prospects are reliant more on changing the dynamic than hoping to ride it. And that may influence the nature of the candidates ultimately interested in the race.

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

The hall in McMinnville

Jeff Merkley

Jeff Merkley at the McMinnville town hall/Stapilus

Town hall meeting number four for new Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, held (like Senator Ron Wyden's most recent in the same county) at the McMinnville Police Station, had some push and pull within the audience. Maybe there's something reflective of politics generally there: A majority of the crowd of about 100 who wanted to talk about the economy, finance reform and health care, and a smaller (albeit determined) group out to talk - as opposed to question or listen - on illegal immigrants and the citizenship of Barack Obama.

Merkley set up his town hall to run a lot like Wyden's; he was still new at it, and there were kinks to work out. The basics remained the same. There was the relatively nonpartisan nature of it, for one thing; Merkley gave over the floor for while at the beginning to Republican state Representative Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill. (His big topic, and a large one in the area, is the Highway 18 Newberg-Dundee bypass, a road improvement which has been sought after for a couple of decades and may be pursued for quite a few years yet.) Merkley opened with a description of his committee assignments, and what he was doing on them; much of the interest ran to his most recent appointment, to the banking committee, a slot he'd wanted but originally thought he might not be able to get. And the thing was dominated by questions. The audience for the most part seemed to center on the topics of economic recovery and health care.

And on that front he seemed well aligned with the audience, which probably leaned Democratic but wasn't monolithic. (Asking how many favored a single-payer health plan, he drew about 30-40 raised hands; just one raised a hand in opposition.) When he asked, "Did you see that outrageous story about AIG?" he drew an appreciative response from the group, or most of it, which was loaded for bear on the subject. What exactly Congress can or will do about the outrage, however, remained a little less clear.

The inevitable difficulty with the open format - which has the great advantage of fostering open discussion, which it did - is the ease with which it can be hijacked, which happened twice.

First was a person evidently suckered in by the web chatter that Obama was born in Kenya and wasn't a U.S. citizen. The other, longer, case involved a group determined that illegal immigrants were ruining the country and costing taxpayers massively; one called out, "Congress is the problem! You are the problem!" One seemed to argue in favor of an American equivalent of the Great Wall of China (apparently sufficiently unaware of history to know that it didn't work out well there either). That group seemed to want no other subject addressed. Merkley kept cool throughout, though, and pulled the discussion onward, over to health care.

Keeping the debate focused, and the facts in order . . . always a challenge . . .