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Posts published in September 2006

Another live one

Among the 10 Oregon legislative races we highlighted a few weeks back, one of the more problematic was the race for the district 39 House seat, now held by House Majority Leader Wayne Scott, R-Canby. Scott is a central leader in the Oregon House, a formidable personality, and apparently well-entrenched in his district.

Wayne ScottOr maybe the entrenchment is more apparent than concrete. Scott won with 56.8% in 2004, and only eked out 51.5% in 2002, hardly powerhouse numbers. The senator whose district includes House 39, Kurt Schrader, took 55.6% in his last run, in 2002. Schrader is up for re-election this year, but is unopposed - not a good situation by itself for Scott, since Schrader has some direct reason for preferring to see him ousted. Scott and Schrader were the co-chairs of the legislature's budget committee last session, and things didn't exactly go smoothly.

The district has been changing too; the region around Oregon City and Canby has been shifting fast from its exurban and agricultural roots to a more clearly suburban mix. That doubtless has been affecting the politics of the area too.

Mike CaudleWith these points in mind, we checked out a Saturday campaign event by Mike Caudle, the Democrat running against Scott. He seems to have entered the race initially with the idea that he'd be a longshot, but since then several things have changed. Some of them, including blog questions about Scott's business, the incumbent seems to have gotten past without trouble. But Caudle has been organizing hard, raised upwards of $20,000 by September 1 - enough to do some serious campaigning - and points to internal polling suggesting Scott is vulnerable. (The early polling gave Scott a 46%-25% lead, Caudle said, but much less after various specific issues are raised.)

And then came the string of Oregonian headlines last week about the batch of legislators who took a relaxing trip to Hawaii on the dime of the state's beer and wine distributors, and then failed to report it as they should have. Caudle, whose case against Scott has for some time been that he's too close to established interests, said that his phone has been running hard since those headlines hit.

The event itself, held in the ballroom a remodeled older Oregon City building, attracted just a modest crowd, two dozen or so. (It did conflict with a key Oregon State football game.) That was largely made up for by the passion in the room, where the speakers also included a group of local Democratic legislators (including Schrader) and Governor Ted Kulongoski.

This looks like a live race.

OR Senate 7: The partisan box

Eugene City ClubOn his campaign website, Jim Torrey, the Republican nominee for the Senate in district 7, has posted four video/television spots. The one that gets the most attention is the last, "Outside the box," an animated spot. It shows (a younger and slimmer) Torrey being chased by a woman (his Democratic opponent, incumbent Vicki Walker) who is "trying to put him in a partisan box. But Jim has always thought outside the box. Jim leaves party politics at the door."

Weren't left at the door today, though, when Torrey met Walker for their big debate, at the City Club of Eugene. Not that that was Torrey's doing, or that he wanted it.

The debate made three things clear. One is why Torrey, twice elected mayor of Eugene, is such a well-regarded political figure in town, and beyond. A second is that Walker is no pushover. The third, which we're starting to think may be decisive in this close and pivotal race, is that partisan considerations may prove decisive in the outcome - to Torrey's detriment. (more…)

Knowing it by its fruit

We can readily track political ideas entering the environment when they arrive from politicians, from the media, from interest groups, but some of the sources, while intuitively evident enough, are harder to track.

Goldy at Horse's Ass located one in a post today, in noting material which has been removed from a church's web side. This is the Cedar Park Church (Assembly of God) at Bothell - a megachurch, with around 2,000 members - led by Pastor Joe Fuiten. We should all be watching him and it, closely (we're adding it to our regular check-list). The Seattle Weekly reported in November 2004 that, operation through the Washington Evangelicals for Responsible Government, "the pastor sent 2,700 such voter registration boxes to churches across the state, netting what he estimates to be 45,000 to 90,000 new voters. Those are huge numbers that are impossible to verify; he says they come from a sample survey of churches that received the boxes." We have no reason to doubt the numbers.

The church has redone its web site, and some of the old material isn't visible. That drew Goldy's attention, and a reply from the church that the old material will be reposted soon. Meantime, courtesy of Google's caches - where would we be without them? - some material from an October 20, 2001 sermon.

It is absolutely necessary that we compare one religion with another. The old idea was that it didn’t really matter what a person believed. What we discovered on September 11th was that religion does matter. A person’s beliefs are not just private because we all have to share this planet. As long as we all share the Christian concept of doing good to your neighbor, then what particular brand of that belief a person holds is not so important. But when people hold religious views that allow them to kill their neighbor, when war against unbelievers is a core tenet of their faith, then we have a bit of a different situation.

We now know that the old secular idea that religion is not relevant to the public square wasn’t true. We now have to evaluate religion by its fruit. What kind of results does that religion produce? If one of the fruits of Islam is the rubble of the World Trade Center then we need to get some answers about this religion.

Risch’s ratings

And how do Idahoans view Governor Jim Risch a month after his signature event - the property tax special session?

According to this month's Survey USA polling, not so well. His favorable/unfavorable numbers were 53% to 32% a month ago - pretty good. This month? 44% favorable, 38% unfavorable - a net fall of 15% in the margins.

OR: the ed debate

Afew quick observations about the hour-long debate on children's issues, most notably education, between the Oregon candidates for governor: No slam dunks, with two contenders gradually warming to the topic and running in a few good shots.

Ron SaxtonRepublican Ron Saxton was probably a little smoother; public education clearly is a topic he feels comfortable discussing. The subject matter was interesting; compare him to a typical Idaho Republican or even many Washington Republicans and he sounds off-the-charts moderate for his party; such subjects as charter schools and home schooling didn't even come up.

He moved fluently through some of the specific organizational topics, including school spending procedures and foster child programs. His fluency had a slight cost, though; the smoothness gave him a bloodless, policy wonkish aspect, even on subjects where his words make clear that he feels very strongly.

Ted KulongoskiTed Kulongoski, the Democratic incumbent, was a little less smooth but conveyed a lot more passion. His answers on a range of policies were tethered a little took often to the idea that "the government has an obligation," but his pitch about the needs at stake was involving.

In strategic messaging, Kulongoski had a somewhat more interesting debate. Saxton has been pushing the idea that Oregon can oeprate better with more efficiencies, and he pursued that idea solidly. But Kulongoski had the more pointed barbs. He hammered in the message - which he's been using in TV ads - that "I'm on your side," conveying the sense that Saxton is not. By itself, that's a little vague. But elsewhere in the debate, he clarified what he means, and you have to wonder if this is what's coming next in the next round of Kulongoski spots: Saxton, he charged, is interested in looking out for "the privileged few" and "the corporate elite." (The recent story about Saxton's school residency, not mentioned at all in the debate, would be a perfect tie-in to that.) There was no similar heads up - if that's what it was - on the Saxton side about what new may be coming.

Scratched: liberty, freedom, justice

The United States Senate today passed what is euphemistically called "the detainee bill" (S. 3930 As Amended) on which the Northwest Senate delegation was split. The three Democrats, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon, voted against, and the three Republicans, Larry Craig and Mike Crapo of Idaho and Gordon Smith of Oregon, voted in favor.

With that vote, the latter three have entered, and may be leading us down, a dark back alley in history. They forfeited any moral right to describe their public positions or efforts in terms of freedom, liberty or justice. They have just voted against these principles as decisively as it is possible to do. (At last check, they do not appear to have noted their votes, or reasons for them, on their web sites.)

This assessment is not too harsh: Their votes enabled the single most stunning slash at civil liberties in this country since the days of slavery. The mass of power handed over to the president is of the kind more typically handed over in countries whose form of government is not described as either "free" or "democratic."

Here is what Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman said about it in today's Los Angeles Times:

The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.

Not to worry, say the bill's defenders. The president can't detain somebody who has given money innocently, just those who contributed to terrorists on purpose.

But other provisions of the bill call even this limitation into question. What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials.

The Washington Post's Andrew Cohen remarked: "Of all the stupid, lazy, short-sighted, hasty, ill-conceived, partisan-inspired, damage-inflicting, dangerous and offensive things this Congress has done (or not done) in its past few recent miserable terms, the looming passage of the terror detainee bill takes the cake."

Before harsher denunciation followed: "Do you believe the Administration has over the past five years earned the colossal expanse of trust the Congress is about to give it in the name of fighting terrorism? Do you believe that Administration officials will be able to accurately and adequately identify so-called 'enemy combatants' here at home so as to separate out the truly bad guys from the guys who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did you want your legislative branch to abdicate so completely its responsibility to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances upon executive power even in a time of terror? You might have answered 'no' to all three questions. But your answer doesn't matter. And neither does mine. To Congress, the answer is 'yes, sir.'"

And torture? Oh yeah, got that too - the president pretty much gets to define whatever he thinks is okay. There's even been analysis suggesting that the bill could legally authorize the rape of detainees. That's been disputed. Sorta. (We're old enough to remember when torture was something the bad guys did - and when we were better than that.)

There is much, much more.

A commenter to Cohen's post: "The fact that we - mere citizens - have allowed Congress to reach the brink of passing one of the most reckless and foolish laws in decades is astounding. Congress is set to gut the Constitution of one of the central rights our Founders fought for, and we are all asleep. Shame on the Republican majority for going lock-step with the President. Shame on Democrats for fighting for what's right in order to avoid looking 'soft' on terrorism. Shame on us for not saying this is wrong."

The core is this: The United States Senate today did its part toward turning this country into the kind of place we always thought we were better than.

Remember who did this to you, and to your country.

WA 8: Tossup

Indications of this have been coming for a while, but it seems time now, with three consecutive polls showing the candidates within a couple of percentage points of each other, to call the Washington House District 8 contest a clear tossup. Among major office contests in the Northwest, it now appears to be the only such.

We won't say, yet, that Democrat Darcy Burner is poised to defeat Republican Representative Dave Reichert. But we will say the momentum is hers, and unless she stalls in the next month - maybe even then - he will have to find a way to turn things around, quick, if he's to survive.

A year ago, such a situation seemed maybe not wildly improbable, but less than likely. Reichert had just been elected by not a big but a significant margin, is a very well known figure in the area, has endured no big scandal, and faces a candidate who started out not only virtually unknown but also without ever having run for office before. And bear in mind that almost all congressmen who run for re-election win.

So what has happened to shift the balance? (more…)

The home office

Typically, we don't report much here on technical election complaints to either the Federal Elections Commission or to state elections offices. While some may be serious, many are simply attempts to barb an opponent with an embarrassing "gatcha!". But now from Michigan, of all places, comes one worth more attention.

The local background to this is in Idaho's 1st U.S. House race, where Republican Bill Sali won his primary campaign in considerable part because of the help of Club for Growth, a supply side/tax cut group based in Washington. The Club's money was the biggest reason Sali's finances were well ahead of everyone else's in the primary and have continued so large. Sali has, in debates, acknowledged the group is an important part of his support, and said they simply believe the same things he does.

The FEC complaint just filed by Michigan Republican Representative Joe Schwarz, however, takes this to another kind of level. (more…)

Character study

We'd not suggest that the Portland Tribune's report Tuesday about Ron Saxton double householding 10 years ago rises to anything in the area of scandal. But it does seem to offer a useful insight into the mind and impulses of this man who seeks to be, and might be, governor.

Ron Saxton Saxton maintained that he got thorough legal advice at the time, did his proper disclosures at the time and that nothing illegal or unethical has occurred. A surface reading of the situation indicates that's about right, although the Tribune raises a string of useful questions about the matter of residency. But there are other levels of propriety, and different people may reach different conclusions about them - and they call into play the sort of dynamics that governors often deal with.

The Tribune's summary of what happened: "Saxton and his wife, Lynne, wanted to enroll their son at Lincoln [High School]’s competitive International Baccalaureate program — the only one in Portland at the time — for the 1996-97 school year. But when they tried to transfer their son, Andy, into the program, he was turned away because Lincoln was overcrowded. In response, the family decided to move from its Mount Tabor home to an apartment on the South Park Blocks for a year to establish residency there, so Andy could enroll at Lincoln as a neighborhood student. It was perfectly legal as long as it was their primary residence for a year, according to the school district’s policy. The family moved back to its Mount Tabor home at the end of Andy’s freshman year, in the summer of 1997 — shortly after Saxton was first elected to the school board by the district where the family’s permanent home is located."

Operating inside the law and inside policies, people still have a good deal of maneuvering room, and what they do with it says quite a bit. It's called gaming the system, and it means that people with money and connections can outmaneuver people without them, if they choose to. There's certainly no headline news in that. (more…)