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Posts published in March 2010

Three on the environment

Well worth watching, this three-way Oregon debate among two Democrats (former Governor John Kitzhaber and former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury) and one Republican (businessman Allen Alley). Partly because of the thoughtful talk about the environment - three distinct views, all rendered with some reflection. All three sound more than conversant with a wide range of sometimes wonkish topics, though the subjects range from forestry to liquid natural gas to transportation policy

There is, of course, this too: Two of these three candidates very well may be on the November election ballot, and there's not often such a good opportunity to consider the head to head merits of the candidates this far ahead of the primary.

In this meeting, set up by five environmental groups, the dynamics led the candidates to specific approaches. Alley came across as particularly likeable - blustery at Dorchester, he seems more like a nice-guy almost-centrist here - his statements leaning toward market solutions would be recognizable from Dorchester, but his attitude and manner were more easy-going, and he wound areas of common ground with this group too. Bradbury was earnest, real earnest, which may be okay before this crowd but might strike others as too intense. Kitzhaber's approach was in the middle (which was where he was physically), efficient, informed, sleekly organized. (Wisely, probably, he didn't veer back very often to his previous governorship, but focused on the forward-looking.)

ID: The session now past

id sths

About the 2010 Idaho Legislature more later, but a few thoughts as the sine die gavels reverberate . . .

Foremost, of course, is that if you like minimalist government, the 2010 session should be much to your taste.

It lasted just 78 days; the 2004 session was the last as short (it was just 69 days), and the last previous to adjourn in March. It broke a general pattern of longer sessions lasting reliably well in April, or beyond.

One reason it didn't become a super-long session was that there were no line-in-the-sand battles between governor and (one house of the) legislature, which was what caused the two superlongs of the last decade. But its shortness was attributable mainly, it seems, to other factors.

One: Overwhelming control by one party and one basic philosophy (though that's been the case since 1995). Two: The view that revenue and budget were what mattered, and anything else was secondary. Three: Common views on how to treat the real and acknowledged difficulties in that area - lots of cuts, just a smidge of no-new-tax revenue increase; nothing else would be allowed a serious place at the table. Four: Willingness to compromise rather than get into another embarrassing superlong.

And that was essentially it. The only question, worked out within the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, was where precisely the cuts would be made.

Beyond that, a few tidbits to throw the tea party (notably but not exclusively, the health care fed-jabs at session's end), to help protect some of the incumbents. And done and out.

Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter called it an "efficient" session, and in some respects he's right. But efficiency suggests getting a lot done in relation to time and effort expended. The Idaho Legislature got done what it had to do (resolving the money issues is all it ever strictly has to do) without much wastage of time. Whether that really qualifies as efficiency, though, may be a more subtle question.

The optout-position

The Facebook group "Washington Tax Payers OPT OUT of Rob McKenna's lawsuit", formed in opposition to Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna's joining in a lawsuit over the new federal health care law, is roaring ahead. For a one-state group (its title probably provides some discouragement for non-residents to participate, though doubtless some do) it has grown past - to just shy of 19,000 so far, in a few days.

It's a busy group too, as you can see on Facebook.

This is the tightest political walk McKenna has had since running for state office. The demand conflict between base and larger electorate are increasingly severe.

The dwindling of a myth

A whole lot of the west still gets described as cowboy country. Wyoming has one on its license plates, and Idaho's governor still goes out of his way to get described that way, but eastern Oregon and Washington fit the description too.

Or they have. Just how many cowboys in the usual meaning - that of handlers and managers of livestock and range areas, and not in practice usually referred to as "cowboys" - are there?

In Oregon, apparently, somewhat fewer than 2,500, in a state of somewhat over three and a half million people.

So says a new (and strongly-recommended) piece in the Oregonian about unemployment in the trade, how many ranchers who not long ago would often provide jobs for quite a few cow hands now can no longer do that. And that's despite marginal pay: An estimated $10.26 on hour.

An icon, it seems, that doesn't get paid much anymore.

Question: What's the cowboy population in Idaho?

Some Alley mo, maybe

The Republican primary in the Oregon gubernatorial has been a curious contest: Its participants don't include anyone who really looks likely to win. Someone will, of course. But none of the contenders look like a logical prospect: Someone well-organized, well-funded, experienced in Oregon politics and representative of the party's base.

For a good deal of this year a lot of the discussion seems to have centered around former NBA Trail Blazer Chris Dudley, more recently an Oregon businessman. He has raised substantial money, and he has a public profile (albeit not one, until recently, in politics).

But over this month attitudes seem to be adjusting. His performance at the Dorchester conference early in the month was not strong, and he came in second to businessman Allen Alley, who ran for treasurer two years ago and was a staffer for Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski before that. (There are other candidates too, but Dudley and Alley currently look like the major players.)

This post from Coyote at Northwest Republican is worth a good look as the race reaches the two-month mark. He cites a number of problems facing Dudley, and notes this:

"I am hearing from folks who have seen him in meetings, debates and endorsement interviews that he just does not seem to have a grasp of the issues. Speaking in platitudes seems to be his motus operendi and that just will not cut it in the general election where he will not be able to 'run out the clock' with money."

Not quite an Alley endorsement, either. But then quite a few Oregon Republicans may feel less than thrilled with their options.


The Washington Legislature is dithering. Close to a finish - so the leadership said - at the conclusion of the regular session earlier this month, it now has put in two more weeks of a special with little to show for it. Its statewide favorables are likely to be dropping about now - and not, yet at least, for anything much they've done.

This came in today from state Senator Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville a member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee:

From a Senate perspective the second week of overtime produced even less action than the first week: eight bills adopted over seven days, with no votes taken at all on four of those days. No employer who wants to stay in business would put up with such a pitiful level of productivity.

What we’re seeing here is the cost of inaction. The governor and the majority party could have taken significant steps to reduce state spending after the June and September and November revenue forecasts, each of which was worse than the one before. They didn’t. Maybe a plan to pursue tax increases this year had already been hatched, maybe it was just a gamble the economy would recover quickly despite the signs to the contrary. Either way, taxpayers have ended up on the hook.

The squabble


Vaughn Ward


Raul Labrador

Idaho Republicans seem to have become focused in recent days on what would seem to be a minor dustup that improbably has been gaining rather than losing force.

It grew out of this event during the candidate filing period, when former 1st District Representative Bill Sali showed up at the Idaho Statehouse not to file for election (which had been speculated in some quarters) but to endorse a candidate, fellow Republican Raul Labrador. The other major Republican contender in the 1st (which is now held by Democrat Walt Minnick, who defeated Sali in 2008) is former congressional staffer Vaughn Ward, who also served in the military in the Middle East. (The video is from

At about four minutes in, Sali says of Ward: “Vaughn has served our country with distinction and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that, as we do all of our veterans. But I have to tell you, sending Vaughn Ward to Washington D.C. is a little bit like sending a Boy Scout to Iraq. He doesn’t have any experience casting votes. He doesn’t have experience in the political arena.” He described Ward as "a fine man and I wish he was running for the Idaho Legislature."

The point is reasonable enough, and a fair response to Ward's own statements about gaining leadership experience in the military: It may be valuable, and demonstrate useful capabilities on Ward's part, but working as an elected official, especially at a high level, is a different kind of experience and would involve a learning curve for someone who hasn't done it before. In essence, Sali here was offering up a bullet point in favor of his endorsee, Labrador, who has been a state legislator. (Ward would contend, also not unreasonably, that his military background offered intensive training in decision-making and leadership, likewise not a bad point, but not entirely overriding Sali's contention either.)

It was not really much by way of an attack of Ward, and it didn't seem intended to be, but evidently was taken as such. The rapid response from Ward's campaign was this: “No decision in Congress will be tougher than the decisions Vaughn made in combat. Vaughn is a proven combat leader who has spent his life in service to Idaho and our country. Bill Sali and Raul Labrador are politicians who represent a failed establishment that has given us higher unemployment, increased spending, and a record deficit. Vaughn will not stand idly by and watch our politicians in Washington continue to jeopardize the future of our children and grandchildren."

That more or less racheted things upward, and they moved up another notch when the Ward campaign released a string of statements from veterans, including former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa. There was this from retired Major General Ben Doty (a former Veterans for Sali chair): “Bill Sali’s comments were incredibly insensitive and inappropriate. Bill and Raul’s attempt to degrade Vaughn’s service and leadership is disrespectful to all the members of the U.S. Armed Forces and the Boys Scouts of America that have served our country for generations. I hope Bill and Raul will issue an apology and let Idahoans know how deeply they appreciate Vaughn’s and his fellow veterans’ service to our country.”

Except that there wasn't really any degradation here; Sali praised Ward's military service. Sali has a history of making remarks that tick off people, including some people who logically would be allies, but this one was closer to a dispassionate analysis.

The debate goes on. It has turned into the hottest discussion topic so far in this primary campaign. (more…)

Holding back

We're now just a little over seen months from the November general election, and by this point in the cycle, some things became practical even if not legal near-impossibilities. You could, maybe, realistically still launch a campaign for some lower-level offices, for example. But launching a campaign at this point for a higher-level office, especially one being defended by a prepared incumbent, is getting into distant longshot territory. Even if you have some assets to bring to the table.

Which is one reason Washington Republicans ought not to count on former twice-nominee for governor Dino Rossi as a contender for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat Patty Murray. The time to launch such an effort was months ago. (When he ran the second time for governor, he announced his intentions and geared up hard a year before the election.)

This comes to mind too with new polling results, giving Murray a 52%-41% win in a hypothetical race between the two. (Also shows that a Murray-Dave Reichert matchup would yield a 51%-43% Murray win; Reichert, however, seems to be focusing directly on retaining his 8th District House seat.)

Dorn’s arrest

This could be a major problem that won't go way easily.

Any number of public elected officials have had charges or convictions on driving under the influence - an offense that has been taken ever more seriously over the last generation.

Somehow, the impact may be a little higher for a superintendent of public instruction, the top education official in the state, than for some other offices. Washington's superintendent, Randy Dorn, has been charged with just that after an arrest early Sunday.

Watch carefully how he handles this . . .