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Posts published in May 2006


You've seen the headlines about the Republican Party, nationally and on many state levels, coordinating with a number of religious leaders to generate votes through the congregation.

The Democrats have certainly taken note. Check out this notice, posted on the web in advance of the Oregon Democratic Party's convention at Eugene this weekend:

The Republicans have spent decades cultivating relationships with religious leaders and communities and Democratic candidates and our state’s party must do the same. To help accomplish this, the Democratic Party of Oregon is offering a workshop on religious outreach from 3:00 to 6:00 PM, June 2, at the state convention in Eugene.

The workshop’s instructors, Mara Vanderslice and Eric Sapp, have pioneered successful religious outreach strategies across the country. Mara served as national director of religious outreach in the Kerry-Edwards campaign. Eric is a candidate for ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA), handled faith and politics issues for Rep. David Price (NC), and helped staff the House Democratic Faith Working Group.

Participants in June 2’s event will receive basic facts about major religious groups within Oregon, practical tips about connecting with communities of faith, and suggestions about how to reach out to religious voters in general. There will also be a review of how different faith traditions view key issues, advice about religious polling, canvassing and organizing, and significant time for questions and answers.

What kind of response might they get?

Efficient and pointed

Jim Risch has been one of the distinctive personalities in Idaho politics for a generation now, and his first substantive press conference as governor today demonstrates several of the key facets of that personality, both as reflected in years past and what's likely ahead in his next gubernatorial months. Even a read of some of the reports filed from it are enough to note the indicators.

Jim RischThere was efficiency. On the first regular working day of his governership, Risch had his staff in place: Chief of Staff John Sandy, and four deputies, in a thoroughly reorganized office. No sluggishness there; he was set to roll.

There will be no policy advisors in his office, he said - that position would be ended. Instead, the key staffers would be structured as constituent workers: A brilliantly sharp redefinition that reflects both on his predecessor and on the way he wants to define himself and his office.

Kempthorne was big on ceremony, was much noted for it. Risch gave off indications that ceremony is a lesser deal for him, and that should come as a relief. Holding an inaugural ball as a relatively private, campaign finance event seems entirely right under the circumstances, as does (for a variety of reasons) the decision not to try to move into the J.R. Simplot house donated to the state as a governor's mansion. (They will use it for an inaugural party on Friday.) There's an aspect of human scale and - can it be said of Risch? - even humility in those calls that many Idahoans likely will find appealing. (more…)

Cantwell: A portrait from the inside

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell has put some emphasis on her time as an upper-level type at RealNetworks, and there could be something relevatory in that. We have no particular insight into the management at Real, but many leading high-tech companies are led by people who are, to put it simply, difficult to work for or with. A description by a former staffer running in this week's Seattle Weekly suggests Cantwell picked up the industry's executive ethos in spades.

The piece was written by a former press staffer, Mike Seely (who has also been a staffer for the Weekly). Its basic point was that critics from the left who have blasted Cantwell for being insufficiently anti-war should bear in mind that the alternative in this year's election, Republican Mike McGavick, would likely be a loyal vote for Republican President Bush.

By way of establishing bona fides for his position, he makes clear that the reasons for his support for Cantwell - he calls her "a brilliant, driven public servant who rarely lets political expediency enter her sphere of consideration" - didn't result from personal charm.

"The seven months I spent in her charge felt like seven years," he wrote. "The campaign, larded with her RealNetworks stock windfall, spent more money on Red Vines than most candidates spend on direct mail. And conspicuous consumption during happy hour became all but a necessity, as it was invariably better to be half in the bag when Cantwell, a paranoid hellcat of a boss who rolls through staff like toilet paper, would make her daily sweep through the office, berating everyone in sight. On the trail, Cantwell often handled small groups of constituents in closed settings well. But she was not what you would call warm—a trait that should be preternatural for politicians of her stature. Her stump speeches were uninspiring and her grace with would-be donors flaccid at best. Most of the people who helped guide her to victory were motivated almost exclusively by their disdain for her opponent . . . Essentially, we worked for Maria in spite of Maria. Yet if you were to ask Cantwell, the only person responsible for her victory over [Slade] Gorton was the person who stared back at her in the bathroom mirror each morning. Her lack of gratitude and common human decency were simply repulsive."

This election, Cantwell still seems to be massively out-fundraising and spending McGavick and has loads of advantages in what looks like a solidly Democratic year, and yet has maintained only modest leads in the polls that have surfaced. Might Seely's portrait be touching on some reasons why?

Another check at Brightwater?

Building projects that have to go through an environmental impact statement process, and more besides, presumably have a solid track record for safety in place before construction. That still doesn't mean something ugly can't slip through.

Put another way, if Washington state Representative Toby Nixon's concerns about the underway Brightwater sewage treatment plant are even close to on target, some important officials in King and Snohomish counties might one day wish they weren't in such a hurry to build.

Brightwater schematic

Brightwater is a planned sewage plant planned for the Woodinville area, near the King-Snohomish county line - north of the line, in Snohomish - on the east side. This is fast-growing country, and you can get the concern about planning ahead for it. The plant is basically King's project, though a few weeks ago the Snohomish County governing board, after some controversy, agreed to a bilateral deal that eases the red tape in pressing forward. Ground was broken in April.

Getting to this point hasn't been an overnight thing. King county people started work on planning in 2000, and its proposal for siting happened in December 2003. Then there was the EIS and related research work, which as anyone familiar with the process knows is extensive. (The project people even have posted a library on line - that's their term, and when you see the roster of documents you'll think the description reasonable.) And there are, by the way, seismic and geologic studies in the pack.

That said, you can always still miss something. (more…)

Just go away: Immigration, the issue

You can never tell conclusively what has legs and what doesn't, but you get the growing impression that for major candidates and political leaders, immigration is increasingly looking like the obnoxious party guest you'd really rather went away.

For the moment at least, it remains a hot button. It was enough, in Idaho, to vault Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez (it was his only substantial issue) into second place in a field of six; but it wasn't enough for a win. It was enough to interest the candidates for governor of Oregon a couple of months earlier, but the candidate who initially seemed to make the big splash with it - Republican Ron Saxton - used it but little toward the end, and it felt more like an unwanted appendix on the scene as election day drew near.

There's a constituency there, a group for whom illegal visitors to this country is topic A. But it is a piece of the electorate only, and too direct an appeal to that group - put another way, too blatant an assault against those here illegally - can put off and turn off larger groups of people. It's a delicate line. Saxton in Oregon and congressional primary winner Bill Sali in Idaho managed it, each probably picking up some support from that interested crowd without seeming cruel or bigoted.

Will Washington manage the challenge?

The delicate line was something party leadership clearly had in mind as it met for its convention and platform decisions, both this weekend. The issue is toughest for Republicans, because Republican President George W. Bush has proposed a relatively open program which could lead to citizenship, while a significant piece of that party is appalled by the idea. If Washington Republican Chair Diane Tebelius could dictate, she probalby would seek a party plank that smoothed over the differences, or tried to.

No go. The Washington Republicans passed a proposal calling for no citizenship for babies of illegal immigrants born within the United States (which, as state Attorney General Ron McKenna pointed out, runs counter to the federal constitutions). More significant than that was some of the debate, which got ugly in places. Consider this items from David Postman's blog:

When another delegate said it would be impractical to deport all those workers, the sponsor of the amendment said, "We let them take themselves back. They brought themselves in. If they want to be legal we let them do it the right way."

On babies, a Spokane delegate told the convention that in Southern California hospitals are "flooded with illegal aliens trying to have babies." She said the problem is spreading to Washington. "They are called anchor babies and once they are born they can get welfare and all sorts of stuff." She later said that people who are white are being denied benefits given "to people who are brown."

Some at the convention suggested none of this would hurt the party with key Hispanic voters. The guess here is that some of this, some of the quotes especially, may not go over very well.

Why the dog didn’t bark

On Oregon's primary election night there was a mysterious dog that failed to bark in the night-time. Some explanation comes in an Oregonian story today, outlining a strategy and mindset - equal parts both - that could serve as a useful model for a number of growing jurisdictions.

The organizational dog was Metro, the planning and regional management organization for the three main metro counties of the Portland area (Multnomah, Wahsington and Clackamas). It's human representative is David Bragdon, its elected president (its first, in fact, elected in 2002). Metro runs the region's public transprotation (such as Tri-Met buses and MAX trains), some parks and other public facilities, and is in charge of region-wide planning: How and where and when, precisely, growth occurs and things are built, or not. Working in a visible position for Metro, in other words, is not a place to be if you're easily upset by having people get mad at you: It seems unavoidable.

David BragdonAnd Metro is not exactly universally popular, but its work in the last few years has been vastly more widely accepted and approved that you might think. The hard evidence of that came in the primary election, when President Bragdon was not only re-elected, he was unopposed for re-election. And the two other commissioners on the ballot, who were opposed, won re-election overwhelmingly.

The tradition in matters of planning is work silently and present the opposition with a conclusion - an all but accomplished result. That tends to be true whether the clout resides more with development or conservation interests. In the case of Metro, the clout is pretty well divided. There's a substantial development community with considerable force, but also a strong voter populace with (especially in Portland but some other places too) a strong environmental ethic.

Bragdon won election originally as the environmental candidate running against development interests. But he evidently concluded that trench warfare would lead to no progress for anyone. The Oregonian's sum-up of his approach at present: "Using incentives, Metro councilors intend to stay true to a vision of a vibrant, green metropolis without aggravating cranky voters. They hope it will break stalemates over land use and environmental protections that have stalled the Legislature and divided Oregonians. If successful, their methods could be copied elsewhere. The movement has gained a little traction. Metro recently persuaded builders to support a construction tax that jump-starts planning in new suburbs. New transportation money has been tied to economic development. And instead of banning construction on sensitive land, Metro officials are staging an eco-friendly design competition and doling out cleanup grants."

More challenges are around the bend, including a large bond issue for land purchases. But the fact that Metro isn't a whole lot more controversial than it is a remarkable feat by itself.

Secretary Kempthorne, Governor Risch

Transition day is here. For a second time, Idaho has sent to Washington a new Interior secretary, and at the same time got a new governor.

Kempthorne confirmed, with Crapo, wife Patricia, Craig, Frist

(photo from office of Senator Larry Craig; Senator Mike Crapo, Kempthorne, wife Patricia, Craig, Senator Bill Frist)

Figure on much celebration in the two spheres, of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne and new Governor Jim Risch. But expect action to be deliberate for the time being.

And don't figure on a special legislative session on property tax law revision right away, if at all. The terms for one set down so far by Risch (sound terms, similar to those which ruled the recent successful six-hour special session in Oregon) are not easy to meet, oculd take a while to reach, and might not be met at all.

Banned in . . .

Northwest blogging has arrived: A blog has been formally banned, albeit only in a courthouse. That appears to be the case, at least, in the case of the Spokesman Review's Huckleberries Online, run by Dave Oliveria, which evidently has incurred enough wrath from the Kootenai County Commission, or at least a commissioner, to be cut off from the courthouse's Internet roster.

This sort of thing never ends well. For the banner, that is.

Prediction here is that this is the Huckleberries' page views from Coeur d'Alene shoots through the roof in the next few days.

Sali and the Democrats

The Democrats were overjoyed. One campaign aide was almost literally dancing down a Boise street, so happy was he about the choice the Republicans had made of who would represent them in the general election for the 1st congressional district seat. Worst candidate of the bunch, he said; others would have been tougher, but this one was so bad that the election would be a slam dunk. Big sigh of relief.

That's right: I'm talking about May 1994, when Helen Chenoweth was nominated by the Republicans for a seat in Congress. She went on, as we know now, to serve three terms before leaving of her own volition (in honor of a campaign pledge). She turned out not be an easy mark at all: She defeated incumbent Democrat Larry La Rocco.

This is worth bearing in mind as we hear, today, the terrific opportunity being placed before Idaho Democrats with the nomination of Bill Sali to that same seat, and of a highly presentable Democrat, Larry Grant, to oppose him.

And that word is being spread far and wide. You see is in emails and blogs. And you see it implied in quotes like this one from Idaho Democratic Chair Richard Stallings: “The Republicans have made a lot of mistakes in recent years, but nominating their 1st Congressional District candidate last night was a serious misstep. They have chosen a nominee who is despised within their own party – and with good reason. Bill Sali is one of the most divisive personalities in Idaho politics."

A Daily Kos web site diary post about the race (which otherwise includes quite a few useful bits and pieces) actually includes the line, "The only problem for Grant currently is money."

Well, no. It isn't his only problem. This could be the most competitive race in the 1st since at least 1998 and maybe earlier, which means a Grant win is viable - could happen. But the odds still run the other way, and Democrats would not be well-served to ignore the obstacles before them. (more…)