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Posts published in “Stapilus”

The what-ifs of an inquiry

The name of Idaho’s former Senator Frank Church has re-emerged this year and last in a connection useful mainly for comparison purposes. But it also opens some lines of thought about the presidency, what it takes to get there, and what might have been.

The new impetus for this is a just-released book, The Last Honest Man, by James Risen. It almost functions as a biography, though not quite: Its essential subject is what’s been called the Church Committee (formally the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities), which investigated wrongdoing by American intelligence agencies. The Risen book is shaped to report both what that committee did and to provide context for it and how Church came to lead it.

Bottom line on the book (a note here: I talked with the author in the final stages of his research): It’s a fine read with lots of new and contextual detail. It gave me much better insight into the committee’s work, and specifically why it was so useful. (Secondary disclosure: I’m publisher of the major general-view biography of Church, Fighting the Odds, by LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer, which was referenced in Risen’s narrative.)

Church, who was ambitious and planning a run for the presidency at the time, did ponder the possible campaigning benefits of leading the committee. He earlier had chaired another subcommittee looking into corruption by multinational corporations, and in the shadow of Watergate a reformer with Church’s street cred looked to have a good shot for the presidency, especially if he were investigating something with even larger implications.

For the candidate, it didn’t work out that way.

In recent years, Church’s committee has had a positive enough reputation that even some current Republicans have used it as an example of what they’d like to do in their investigations. (The last surviving member of Church’s committee, former Senator Gary Hart, has blasted the comparison.) But that was not always so. Church’s panel was often attacked, usually but not exclusively from the right, back in the day, and it probably was a factor in his failed bid for a fifth Senate term in 1980.

Through part of the Risen book, a sub-issue about an alternate history possibility recurs.

Church almost wasn’t chosen to chair the intelligence committee; Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield instead wanted Senator Phil Hart to do it, and Hart passed on it only due to illness. Suppose Church had not chaired the committee?

He then would have been free to launch his presidential campaign almost a year before he actually did, and that could have mattered. Church promised in taking the chairmanship that he would not run for president until (at least) its work was done, and generally held to that commitment. He entered the race in March 1976, running a “late-late” campaign by which time former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was an almost prohibitive favorite.

But in, say, late summer 1975, the picture would have been different. Carter was then a near-unknown, and Church had a much higher national profile. The other major contenders in the Democratic primary then included Alabama Governor George Wallace, Representative Mo Udall and Washington Senator Henry Jackson. Church had the profile, campaign skills and available resources to match and maybe surpass any of them.

He also probably would have dominated the liberal side of the contest and with the campaigning groundwork he could have put in, likely would have scored well in the early New England primaries. When he did actually enter the campaign - late - Church fared well in most of the late primaries he entered.

We’ll never know now, of course, but the odds of Church actually winning the presidency in 1976 seem highly realistic in hindsight, had he launched in 1975. Which leads to other unknowables, such as what kind of president Church would have made.

And what kind of world we might now be living in.

Warning signals

The political signage telling you everything you needed to know about the McMinnville School District election this season came in the form of multiple yard and field signs, clearly expensive and featuring soft pastel designs with attractive candidate portraits – all visibly from the same sources.

And the signs were only the most obvious part of a heavily funded school campaign different from those in McMinnville’s past, with a lot of campaign money poured into a de facto slate of conservative? candidates aiming at a takeover of the McMinnville school board.

Observers in western Yamhill County watched this closely, some with alarm, because they’ve already seen a similar kind of takeover in the neighboring Newberg School District. Voters may have been watching Newberg, too, and not just in McMinnville. What has happened in Newberg over the last couple of years may have affected some of the school board results in Hillsboro, North Clackamas and other communities where conservatives appeared to have lost?

That unusual ripple effect would at first seem unlikely, except that for many months the Newberg story has bounced around the state and even the nation.

Two years ago, control of the Newberg board shifted from a centrism board to an activist conservative slate of trustees, running as supportive of parental rights. It quickly fired its superintendent Joe Morelock (who was as quickly tapped as superintendent in the Woodburn School District and then this year on May 8 to lead the Willamette Education Service District).

His firing was without cause, coming after he refused to issue directives he said were illegal. The board’s choice for a replacement was on paid leave pending investigation – into what hasn’t been made public – at the Jewell school district, where he landed after a forced resignation at Beaverton in 2018 “after retweeting an offensive remark about undocumented immigrants.”

The board drew a lawsuit from the Newberg Education Association after a decision banning all political signage, one among many controversial actions. In the last year, the district has seen a heavy exodus of administrators, teachers and students, which has cost the district state funding.

Recall attempts were tried in early 2022 against the board chair and vice chair, but those fell short, after the board members benefitted from well-funded anti-recall campaigns.

Much of this and more has been reflected in news stories across Oregon and far beyond.

At McMinnville this month, four school board seats were up for election, sought by two veteran centrist incumbents seeking reelection, who were joined by two allied newcomers. They faced a slate of candidates –  whose faces were on those expensive signs– backed by many of the same people and organizations who have supported the board in Newberg.

Those challengers appeared poised to take the district in the same direction.

In a May 8 article, the McMinnville News Register showed how local races for school districts, and some other local governments, that normally attract little campaign money are becoming dominated by a few large contributors, notably the George family of Newberg. The article said that family alone has spent more than $35,000 on the May elections in Yamhill County, a highly unusual amount for those contests.

That support has led some local observers to wonder whether a Newberg-style activist slate might prevail in McMinnville. It didn’t. When the votes were counted, the two incumbents won in landslides, and their allies won decisively. The Newberg style didn’t sell in McMinnville.

This isn’t the story of just one county, however.

Three school board candidates in Canby who ran as parental right proponents and who supported book banning efforts there lost decisively. In the North Clackamas School District, a slate backed by Basic Right Oregon, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, easily prevailed over more conservative opponents. Wilsonville expanded its board’s left of center majority. Hillsboro saw social conservative groups, including Communities for Sensible Schools and Oregon Right to Life, raise more than $80,000 this year for local races, fall short too.

The most striking result of election night, though, was back in Newberg. Five board seats were up for election, three held by conservative activist incumbents and two open seats sought by allies of theirs; as of late Wednesday, all five were losing their bids to moderate challengers, who were backed by the group Oregon CARES, which had support from the Oregon Education Association. The board will shift effective control.

Every election is different, each campaign has its own logic, and some of these races may be reverberations of some national political trends or in a few cases individual campaigns. And among the school board races statewide there were some right-leaning exceptions – Crook County School District being one of the clearest.

But the Newberg case overall, and some of its counterparts in other places, seems to have generated lessons absorbed by voters across the region.


A not-too-early start

When should a challenger to an Idaho legislator, or an outsider seeking to overcome the odds in running for a major office in the state, start their campaign?

It’s an easy answer: Yesterday.

By which I mean, a lot earlier than most candidates tend to get started. In the case of a legislative candidate, there’s a case to be made for waiting to go public until after the off-year legislative session is complete. Since that session is done for the year (well, maybe not, but at least so far as we know) there’s no reason not to get a campaign in order.

For statewide office, the time frame for an effective outsider campaign should be much longer. Much.

The work of a challenger – that mostly means Democrats in Idaho, of course, but also to a degree Republican primary challengers – is more vast and difficult, if the serious objective is to win, than most candidates imagine at first. Lots of time is needed to research the political situation (in microscopic detail), to develop local support and organizations and through all that, funding and external support. There is such a thing as local and grass roots support and campaigning, but people who lack the advantages of fame and money need a lot of what else can make that happen: Time.

Which is why some note ought to be given to a gubernatorial candidate who did launch her campaign, in a formal sense at least, this month. For governor. In the election to be held in 2026.

If that sounds wildly premature, reread the above paragraphs.

The candidate in question is Terri Pickens, who was the Democratic nominee for Idaho lieutenant governor in 2022. An attorney (and you pick up her professional demeanor quickly), she was born and raised in Pocatello, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow, and has practiced law in Lewiston and Boise. Running for lieutenant governor last year, she was unopposed in the Democratic primary but lost the general election to Republican Scott Bedke, taking 30.5% of the vote.

In the long tale of Idaho general election contests, none of that is especially remarkable.

What she’s done now, starting with filing paperwork to run in an election three and a half years out, is unusual. So is her ambitious plan to start work on building that campaign right away, and through the next three years: She has said the filing is not just a statement of intent to run, but the beginning of a campaign to be built out over the next thousand days or so.

She has a statement of intent that sounds strong enough to represent a starting point and call to action: “This year, we saw some of the meanest, most extreme, cruel laws proposed and enacted in Idaho. Lawmakers are dead set on taking away our freedoms. I am taking time to see how much support is out there for a governor candidate who understands that freedom isn't just a word on a flag. With enough support to give me a credible shot at winning, I will run for governor and I will win.”

Of course, the unknowns for that far out are considerable. There’s no certainty, for example, who the Republican nominee will be. Will incumbent Brad Little run - and if he does can he hold off Attorney General Raul Labrador, who’s widely presumed to be a candidate then? Or might someone else materialize? We’re talking about years into the future, after all. A lot of water will pass under bridges between here and there.

None of this is a prediction that Pickens will win: Democrats have lost eight straight elections for governor of Idaho since their last win, and none were even very close. There’s not a lot of recent history to back up a favorable prediction.

But trend lines never last forever. And if someone eventually is going to break this one, then this is how you do it: Starting far earlier and campaigning overwhelmingly. Keep a watch on this.


A letter and a reply

The letter, a remarkable document, was a serious cry of desperation wrapped inside a legal argument. What kind of response it will or should get is something people all over Idaho should think about.

The message dated May 1 came from Tarie A. Zimmerman, a member of the elected governing board for North Idaho College, and addressed to the state Board of Education:

“During my brief tenure on the NIC Board, it has been controlled by a three-member majority that appear to be determined to destroy NIC. I have worked, to the best of my ability, to combat these efforts, but to no avail. We are at a critical point and without intervention from Idaho State Board of Education … I believe accreditation will be lost forever.”

That strong language is not hyperbole. The only way the actions of the governing majority on that board make any sense is if they specifically are intended to demolish the 90-year-old community college. The whole gory story of those activities is book-length at this point.

Conditions - caused not by administrators, teachers, students or finances but rather specifically the extremist majority on the governing board - have reached the point that NIC’s accreditation may be yanked within a few months, which could mark the effective end of the college. (A speculation: It might also allow the beautiful lakeside campus to be sold off for commercial development, making someone a mint, but that’s another subject.)

Zimmerman asked: Can something, anything, be done to keep the college from being deliberately driven off the cliff? Her words: “this letter is a request that the Board take action to intervene in the governance and affairs of NIC to prevent NIC’s impending loss of accreditation.”

The state board apparently has not even responded to the letter, much less acted on it.

The usual rule is that elected officials (like the NIC board) have more authority than appointed ones (like the state board) because theirs comes right from the voters. The campaign to elect the extremists on the NIC board didn’t argue in favor of killing the college, but given the dynamics of the races and the board’s recent history, what has happened should be no surprise. Would it be reasonable to say that if the voters want to destroy the college, they should be able to?

How about a K-12 counterpart, if a local school board majority wanted to do what the NIC board has done, and basically end schools in a school district? (That isn’t an implausible scenario these days.) State takeovers of local public schools have happened, starting in New Jersey in 1989, with more than half of all states later passing laws allowing for state takeovers.

Short of that, Zimmerman suggested (in a well-crafted legal argument) the state board take over NIC administration at least while accreditation is under review, on grounds the board is responsible for “general supervision of the state educational institutions” per the Idaho Constitution.

What exactly “general supervision” means may be harder to say. In December, a statement from the board opined, “By statute, Idaho community colleges are governed by locally elected boards of trustees, not the State Board of Education.”

But beyond the legal question sits something larger: Does a group of people in Idaho, through their election choices, have the right to put the torch to education in the state? Should state government, charged with overseeing education in the state, simply stand by and do nothing?

The Idaho Constitution (Article IX, Section 1) says “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” The reference specifically is to public schools, not colleges, but surely the principle applies to higher education as well.

Will the constitution and the statutes be read as the enabler of an education suicide pact?


An election afterthought

Our courts tend to be afterthoughts in our politics and elections, barely considered compared to the higher-profile elected legislators.

Many voters in Oregon pick up their ballots and voter guides at election time, marching through their votes for offices like president, governor, senator and representative, but pause when they hit judges and justices up for election.

Many are unopposed: Should they simply check the box? If they’re opposed: Who to vote for? The campaigns are usually low-key and often the candidates say little that would help voters choose between their options.

But those options do matter, nationally and notably in Oregon, and the evidence is all over the headlines.

The most significant election of the year nationally may have been last month’s state Supreme Court contest in Wisconsin, unusual in the attention it has gotten, the money spent on it and the political impact it may have. But its political contours – a technically nonpartisan race between candidates openly supported by Democratic against Republican interests – are clear.

In Texas, a single federal judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, has claimed the authority to pull a drug from use nationwide, which inserts him into the center of national politics while that claim is heavily disputed. Oregonians can find the impact of local judges closer to home.

Last year, on a close vote (50.6% approval), Oregon’s voters passed Measure 114, which provides for limits on gun sales, ownership and transfers and related activities. It was challenged swiftly in federal court in Portland, where the Oregon Firearms Federation and Sherman County Sheriff Brad Lohrey sued, arguing the measure violated the Second Amendment to the federal Constitution. On Feb. 20, a federal judge gave the measure a legal go-ahead with some delay so some provisions could be properly carried out.

The measure’s critics have not stopped there, however. Long before the federal judge ruled, on Dec. 2, the Gun Owners of America, the Gun Owners Foundation, Gliff Asmussen, and Joseph Arnold went to state court. They did not file in Portland or in Salem but in the state’s 24th judicial district, which covers Harney and Grant counties and has one elected judge, Robert S. Raschio. Three hours after the federal court ruling cleared a path for the measure, Raschio blocked it – statewide – at his court in Burns.

You didn’t have to read too carefully between the lines of the decision to find an attitude more attuned to Burns than to Portland. Raschio wrote in his Jan. 2 decision, “The court finds that there is less than a one in 1,000,000 chance of a person being a fatality in a mass shooting in Oregon. And even less with an offender who is using large capacity magazines.”

State attorneys have asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, but it has declined, so far. The measure has sat in the Burns courthouse for several months.

The latest effort to overcome the judicial blockade has been a measure in the Oregon Legislature, Senate Bill 348, now working its way through the Senate, which seeks to implement (with some adjustments) the terms of Measure 114. It also includes a striking additional provision: A requirement that any legal challenges to it would have to be run through courts at Marion County in Salem. (This isn’t the first time such a provision has been added to legislation.)

All of this should put to rest the mythology that judges simply and dispassionately apply the law to whatever is brought before them. In the case of Measure 114, one group of plaintiffs, dissatisfied with the results from one court, shopped the case around to another. Another interest, dissatisfied there, determined that the case must go to a third venue.

Courts are powerful. In Oregon appellate court decisions – properly decided or not – effectively have set state policy on issues from public employee retirements to campaign finance to the limits of free speech. And as the recent decisions from Harney County demonstrate, the Supreme Court isn’t the only one that matters.

But we know little about the judges or where they’re coming from. Rachio’s opinion seems to have adopted a number of broad arguments and language from gun rights advocates (somewhat like the federal judge in Amarillo, Texas, seems to have done in the case of the abortion pill). That suggests background steeped in particular social patterns of thought found outside of legal case books; possibly you could find something similar –  though from a different perspective) in the case of judges based in Portland or Eugene.

This may be inevitable; whatever professional training we may have, we all bring some of our own social and experiential baggage to what we do.

But in the case of judges, it may mean we need to take a closer look – and inquire more closely when appointed or elected – so that we know what we’re getting. Because that will vary.


Something new at Twin Falls

Touring around southern Idaho last week, I wandered through places I hadn’t visited in a while to check on their progress. For better or worse, I didn’t observe a lot of surprises.

Until I got to downtown Twin Falls, and it gave me pause for thought.

For some years, mainly in the years before and after the turn of the century, I made my way regularly to Twin, mainly for watching updates in the Snake River water adjudication. The city itself I noticed in passing as not changing enormously, other than gradually expanding commerce along Blue Lakes Boulevard - the northern entryway into town from the Snake River Canyon - and along a few of the commercial arterials along it.

Twin Falls never seemed to decline or stagnate, and it never seemed less than at least reasonably prosperous. But for much of the time I watched it, it didn’t seem to change a lot either. It didn’t develop or change, at least from what I could see on the surface. You could see some of this in the population stats for much of the twentieth century. Twin’s population in 1960 was 20,126; in 1990 it was 27,591, a reasonable increase but nothing earth-shattering.

Now - as of 2020 - three decades on, the population has abruptly exploded, to 51,807: It is, roughly, twice the city I generally was accustomed to years ago.

I hadn’t stopped by for some years but last month I stopped in downtown for a coffee visit, and exited my car in what seemed like a city that hadn’t existed not so long before.

Downtown in Twin was years ago pleasant but low-key and a little old-fashioned, and areas along its periphery were starting to go quiet or even vacant. No more. It’s now packed with new businesses - and older ones that have upgraded. Downtown is loaded with new restaurants, shopping and more. There’s new downtown residential development, in part to service the corporations that have been developing offices nearby. There’s a large, open civic area, home now to various civic events, overseen by a great statue of one of the area’s pioneers.

City hall, rebuilt out of an old department store building, has - without being extravagant - become one of the most innovative and even flashy public buildings anywhere in the state.

Twin Falls still has issues, of course. Currently, many of those - stresses of traffic, resources, and within the lives of people - seem to be issues growing out of rapid growth. It also has found some advantages it is trying to exploit.

Some of where this growth came from is clear enough. In the last generation, population centers within regions have typically come at the expense of the region’s smaller communities, or rural areas. (The Magic Valley minus Twin Falls County - but including Elmore County - grew in population by 37.7 percent from 1990 to 2020, while Twin Falls County grew by 66.4 percent). Changes in agribusiness, in dairy and other products, have helped, as have good roadway networks; much of this in the Magic Valley has become increasingly centralized around Twin Falls. Local civic advocates would point out other advantages as well.

Where all this goes is another question. Does Twin Falls become an urban center in a way it hasn’t to now - maybe beyond what Idaho Falls and Pocatello do in their regions, more like what Boise is becoming in the context of Idaho overall? Hang around the downtown and you might start to think so. Consider this idea: The nature of Twin Falls is breaking away from, growing apart from, the nature of the Magic Valley around it.

Twin Falls, its ongoing struggle with air transportation notwithstanding, is becoming more diverse and even more cosmopolitan. It may become a different kind of creature in the years ahead. As such, it could become something of a template for other Idaho

No place ever stays the same forever. Twin Falls once seemed as if it might. It doesn’t seem so now.


Simple error, complex reasons

Brent Regan, the Kootenai County Republican chair who has pushed some of the most extreme politics in the state, correctly nailed a key problem with an important bill passed and signed into law during the last legislative session, and very much needs a fix.

House Bill 138 was intended to merge into one date the state’s primary elections. Putting aside the merits of that basic idea, what the bill was not intended to do was to eliminate the state’s presidential primary election. The way it was written, however, that is apparently what it did.

How did this happen?

Regan outlined the situation in a recent comment: “The stated intent was to move the presidential primary to May but what ACTUALLY happened is the March presidential primary was stricken from the law but NOT added to the May primary. Even the definition of what ‘Presidential primary’ means was stricken from the law. Oops.” Oops indeed.

And he added, “This is what happens when you rush legislation (through) the process without first building consensus and support.”

Well, yes on that too, and his comment was effectively seconded and expanded upon by Governor Brad Little (with whom Regan has had more than a few issues). During the legislative session, the governor said, bills for a long time didn’t start appearing in number - “My bill box was empty for the longest period of time” - and when they did show up, they came in a big pile, which didn’t allow as much time for reviewing them as the governor should have had.

Why did this happen?

It’s partly a management issue and partly a resource issue.

Legislative leaders are in charge of making sure work is pushed through the system in an efficient and effective way, and getting that done each year (it’s an age-old leadership challenge) takes specific planning and intent. But blaming what happened this year, with the primary bill and other things,  on the legislative leaders seems narrow and facile: These are the same group of leaders, mostly, that the Idaho Legislature has had for many years.

The situation is not entirely unusual, and it feeds to a degree on human nature. Part of it is structural. Toward the beginning of a session, time for getting things done seems to spread out almost limitlessly: Why rush? Until you get to the (somewhat arbitrary) end line, and some approaching panic starts to kick in.

If enough bills aren’t dealt with - either passed or killed - early on, you wind up with what the legislature encountered and the governor complained about this year: A too-big mountain of bills handled in a rush, allowing for all too many errors to make their way through the process.

But this session that too may have been exacerbated by the number of potentially significant (meaning here, incipient statewide controversies) pieces of legislation bottled up in committee levels, notably in the House Education Committee. You can see angry discussions of House Ed surfacing as some of the more extreme House members recap the session, in terms suggesting that committee may itself be a target for conflict in the next session. During the last session, the splits among members of the House Republican caucus may have led to a variety of unexpected outcomes - not all of them necessarily bad - in the last session.

There’s a tendency to think that when one group has overwhelming control of an organization, things flow smoothly and according to plan. That construct suffers from the unwritten rule that the larger a majority is, the more it tends to split - and the Idaho House Republicans surely have become a great example of that.

Which is a long way of saying that while the errors in the primary election bill, which may be serious enough to result in a special session, are relatively simple, the reasons they happened are anything but simple, or easily resolved.

The campaign for open primaries

The 2024 campaign has begun for at least one item that may be on next year’s general election ballot: a constitutional amendment that would change the state’s primary election of 2026.

I saw the early shot in this campaign in my email in-box, in a missive from the group All Oregon Votes. The “Big endorsements for All Oregon Votes!” were significant enough to draw attention, including former legislator and gubernatorial candidate Betsy Johnson and the group Veterans for Political Innovation. Johnson’s comment was, “Damn near half the state’s voters are independents. They ought to have an equal voice in our democracy.”

The campaign’s web page leads with an arresting statistic. In last year’s primary election, the top two candidates for governor, Democrat Tina Kotek, now in the office, and Republican Christine Drazan, together won votes from just 12.3% of all the registered voters in the state. Of course, other competitors in the party primary won several percentage points more, but only about 30% of the voters were even involved in selecting those two nominees. Most registered voters were on the outside looking in as either non-aligned or members of other parties.

In many ways, Oregon,  with its almost automatic voter registration and its vote by mail system,  has some of the most open voting processes in the country. It is in the minority of states, however, that allow only Democrats to vote in Democratic primary elections and Republicans to vote in Republican primaries.

The proposed Petition 2024-16 would apply to all state and federal offices except president and vice president, and would allow all candidates to appear on the ballot “regardless of whether the candidate is or is not affiliated with a political party.” It would also and allow all voters – whether or not members of a party – to choose any single candidate for each office. That could mean, for example, voting in the primary for a Republican nominee for the U.S. House, for a Democratic nominee for governor and a non-aligned candidate for the Legislature.

It’s not an unprecedented approach. Washington state operated under a somewhat similar system that allowed for each major party (with a candidate appearing in the primary) to be represented on the November ballot by its top primary vote-getter. That system was ended by a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

This cycle isn’t the first time the idea of changing this has come up. A similar proposal was offered in 2021 for the next election, but it came up short and never reached the ballot. Oregon for decades has had closed primaries, and neither major party has made any move toward changing that.

Might voters approve the idea next year?

The Betsy Johnson endorsement, along with some significant group endorsements early on – the deadline for submitting enough petition signatures isn’t until next summer – gives it a decent chance. Neither major party has expressed any interest in opening their primaries.

If they did, they might see some improvement with what has become a persistent problem for both: the need to appeal to the philosophical edges of their parties and away from the centers. Johnson’s gubenatorial campaign last year directly addressed that point, and although she wound up in a distant third place, the point about a lack of appeals to the center did hit home for quite a few voters.

Oregon also is one of the states with the largest portion of voters not a member of either party, and that portion is growing. All Oregon Votes points out that while just over a third of voters register as Democrats, and just under a quarter as Republicans, 41.7% register as something else – and so have no involvement in the critical phase of selecting party nominees. And that percentage has been growing.

Several states have seen significant debates over this. Idaho for decades allowed all voters in a primary election to choose any party’s ballot (but just one) for voting. In 2010 the state Republican Party decided to limit voting in its primary to people registered as Republican, and a federal court decision the next year held the party could impose the requirement. That rule has been the subject of contention since, even as a number of Republican activists have loudly complained about Democrats and non-aligned voters registering as Republicans to influence its primary results. (Analyses of votes have suggested those crossovers exist but their numbers are small.)

Those debates implicate the question of what a major political party is, whether simply private aggregations of voters or semi-public, though technically private, organizations that effectively control the channels of representative democracy. It may also raise the issue of how well the two major parties are representing the mass of Oregon voters.

If All Oregon Votes and its allies push their case more firmly this election cycle than in the last, the opportunity could align for a decision on that.


The law doesn’t reach me

In May last year, St. Luke’s Health System filed a lawsuit against then-candidate for governor Ammon Bundy and several of his organizations, alleging harassment and defamation.

The cross-accusations need no recounting here, but the progress of the lawsuit - or the lack of progress - does.

The point of complying with the terms of a lawsuit was set out clearly enough last year, when St. Luke’s CEO, Chris Roth, said, “It is important for us to stand up to the bullying, intimidation and disruption, and the self-serving and menacing actions of these individuals, for the protection of our employees and patients, and to ensure our ability to serve our community. St. Luke’s has not been the only target of these individuals and believes that no one should be subject to such abuse. Inaction would signal this type of behavior is acceptable in our community. It is not.”

A lawsuit like the one his organization pursued would be the legally appropriate way to right the balance.

Not much forward motion has been made on that case in the near-year since, though, since Bundy hasn’t shown up in court or apparently even responded to the lawsuit at all.

Law requires that county deputies serve legal papers like those filed in this case, but Bundy would have none of it. One news report gave this account of an encounter from a sheriff’s deputy from the viewpoint of Bundy himself: “I came out the door near him and chased him out of the storage area demanding that he get in his vehicle and leave. He did, but the second deputy wanted to confront me. Nose to nose I demanded that he leave my property immediately and never come back.” Private companies that handle process serving which were engaged by St. Luke’s apparently haven’t gotten through either.

In another account posted online, Bundy said he, “did tell deputies to get off my property and not come back,” but didn’t threaten violence. But local law enforcement seems to have gotten a clear contrary message. Gem County Sheriff Donnie Wunder apparently was spooked by the ferocity, and initially declined to send out another deputy: “My concern is with the safety of process servers and my deputies. I do not want to risk harm over a civil issue.”

Finally, on Tuesday, Ada County Judge Lynn Norton apparently had enough, declaring probable cause that Bundy had committed contempt and ordered him held in custody under bond. The sheriff evidently has agreed to return to Bundy and get the job done.

The case is scheduled for trial on July 10.

And here we have the candidate for governor who, had he been elected, would have been responsible for upholding the laws of the state. Can you imagine how that might have gone?

True, he didn’t come close to winning. But Bundy has become a significant cultural figure. In last November’s election he received 101,835 votes - far shy of the number needed to win but enough to show that, in Idaho at least, he has a significant following. If he could get away with defying the law as he has, how many more cases of direct defiance will Idaho have to cope with in the months and years ahead?

An attorney representing St. Luke’s remarked at a recent court proceeding, reflecting on Bundy’s no-shows at court, “I think it’s impossible not to conclude that, absent Mr. Bundy having some consequences for his actions, it will just continue.”

He was right.

No one wants another Randy Weaver incident - the memory of that 1993 standoff doubtless has some people concerned - but if we want to live in a safe society, one governed by law rather than by waving guns (or the threat of same) in each others’ faces - then this kind of behavior has to be brought to an end.