Writings and observations

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Some years back we toured the Statehouse at Mississippi and got a courteous tour of the place from one of its legislators. He asked where we were from and, told Idaho, replied that he knew little about the state other than references to its famous potatoes and famous neo-Nazis.

A week ago, Charlottesville, Virginia took the spotlight on the neo-Nazi front, but Idaho is not out of the racial extremist picture. The 24/7 WallSt. website compiled data on hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center – which for decades has been tracking such organizations – and found Idaho has the second largest number of such groups in the nation, per resident. (Montana was first, but it has a smaller population; Mississippi was in third place.)

Back when the Mississippi legislator offered his perspective, I felt obliged to clarify something. The neo-Nazis he (and so many other Americans) had heard of did exist, and then still had their compound in Kootenai County. But never were there more than a few hundred there, and usually no more than a few dozen. They were never popular in the state. On the few occasions when someone associated with them ran for public office, they always lost by overwhelming margins.

It would be more comforting to stop there and suggest that there may be a few bad eggs in every basket, but it’s only a very, very few.

Still. Reputations can feed on themselves; prophecies can self-fulfill.

Idaho, especially (not exclusively) northern Idaho, became known as a place where white supremacists or separatists or nationalists might feel comfortable.

That isn’t entirely about attitudes. Idaho is relatively remote from big population centers. As a matter of demographics, it is more homogenous than most of the country: Low percentages of minorities, ethnic, religious and otherwise.

It evolved in a certain cultural mythology as part of a region where people uncomfortable with multi-cultural environments could go to withdraw from the rest of the country.

According to 24/7 WallSt., we get to this: “There are 7.1 hate groups for every 1 million people in Idaho, nearly the greatest concentration of any state considered. One of the least diverse states in the country, some 91.5% of the state’s population identifies as white, nearly the largest share of any U.S. state. Despite the state’s relative racial homogeneity, or perhaps because of it, one of the dozen hate groups operating in Idaho is a KKK chapter based in Hayden.”

Listen to state Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, in a statement (from radio host Dave Hodges) she reposted about Charlottesville: “The way the media has set this up, the mention of white nationalist, which is no more than a Caucasian who (sic) for the Constitution and making America great again, and confusing it with term, ‘white supremacist’ which is extreme racism. Therefore, if one is ‘guilty’ of being white, one is clearly racist. And if one is white AND loves America, they are a white supremacist capable of carrying out violent acts against nonwhites.”

The terminology may be slippery, but the attitudes, and stances, are not. The message gets out. Idaho’s top elected leaders, including many of those in current posts, have for many years denounced racism in the state. Idaho has its Anne Frank memorial and plenty of leaders who fight racism in the state.

But the lower-level, sometimes underground, message often is more welcoming – to white race-based groups, and often not so much to everyone else.

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Stapilus

richardson

For those of us who recall the duck-and-cover drills of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the president’s recent remarks directed at North Korea were a chilling reminder of a time in which nuclear war seemed an ever-present possibility.

I remember when the family who lived across the street began building a fallout shelter in a vacant lot next to their house. I had only the vaguest idea of the purpose of a fallout shelter, but it seemed like a good idea to have one in the neighborhood.

Adults talked in hushed tones about the missiles in Cuba and discussed exactly how long after a nuclear attack it would be safe to emerge into broad daylight. More often than not adults talked over us, not to us, about the headlines on the evening news.

I remember hearing my mom talking on the phone with a friend. She didn’t know I was listening. “The neighbors said the girls and I could come to the shelter, but Fred wasn’t welcome – because he was born in Denmark. They said he wasn’t really an American.”

I couldn’t make sense of what I heard. Was mom really saying that someone thought my dad, a naturalized citizen who had served in the U.S. Army and loved his chosen country beyond words, wasn’t really an American?

Mom was furious with our neighbors even while wondering aloud if, should it come to that, she should go to the shelter with my sister and me, or stay with my dad in our home. Mom didn’t approve of eavesdropping so I never asked her about what I had heard. But I thought about it – a lot.

In time, the threat of nuclear war subsided. Our neighbors never did build a fallout shelter though they went as far as digging a very large, very deep hole in their vacant lot. And, thankfully, Mom never had to make an impossible choice.
All this has come back to me as I watch coverage of the escalating rhetoric between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump. I recall the fear I felt as a child when the possibility of mushroom clouds lingered in the national consciousness.

Hearing the president talk, almost casually, about unleashing “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” was more than unsettling. After all, the world has seen some pretty devastating “fire and fury” We need only remember Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Of course, in WWII, the U.S. was the only nation to have the A-bomb and President Truman ordered it be used to stop a terrible war, not to start one. Imagine if the world had as many nuclear armed nations then as it does now.

As I reflected on these things, it occurred to me that adults who loved me and wanted to spare me worry in fact created more anxiety by avoiding honest and calming conversations. In the 60s, there were only three news channels and the evening news with its ominous headlines played but once a day. In today’s 24-7 news cycle, saturation coverage is the norm.

Whether we know it or not, our children are watching – and listening. And adults need to find age appropriate ways to talk to them, to help them make sense of the news. That’s more easily said that done. It is difficult to explain to a child something that is almost impossible to comprehend as adults. But it is important we make the effort.

We need to teach our children the lessons of history in words they can understand. We must encourage them to ask us questions that they may be afraid to ask. And we must model resilience by showing our children that, in a republic, citizens have agency. We have the power to write letters to the editor and to our senators, members of congress, and other elected officials. We can attend rallies, speak our truth, and campaign for candidates who will work to stop the saber-rattling and promote civil discourse. And we can prepare our children to hear false narratives from people who are ill-informed or indifferent to the truth. We can show them where to find reliable sources they can trust.

When I wrote the first draft of this essay, I was focused on tensions with North Korea. Now, the violence and racism on display in Charlottesville weighs heavily on my mind. It seems that each day’s news reminds us of the danger and destruction so easily unleashed in the world. But this is all the more reason to have those difficult, critically important conversations with our children and, not only with our children, but with each other.

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Richardson

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On occasion there are quirks of history one should pay attention to because they are accurate predictors of the future even in the face of conventional wisdom. For example, virtually every political pundit in Idaho takes it as a given that whoever wins the Republican gubernatorial primary next May is a lock to become Idaho’s governor in January 2019.

Probably so, but maybe not. There is an historical factoid that says otherwise. In modern times the Idaho governorship has changed party hands every 24 years twice in a row. In 1946, C.A. “Doc” Robins, a state senator from Benewah County and a medical doctor, defeated incumbent Democrat governor Arnold Williams. This began a string of Republican governors in Idaho for 24 years.

The string ended in 1970 when the Democrat state senator from Nez Perce County, Cecil Andrus, defeated incumbent Don Samuelson. This began another string of 24 years in which Andrus and his successor, John Evans, a former state senator from Oneida County, held the governorship.

In 1994, with the victory of Republican Phil Batt, a former state senator from Canyon County, the governor’s chair again changed hands after 24 years. If history is an accurate guide this should tell the pundits two things: Idaho’s next governor will be a Democrat and a former state senator.

There’s the rub one might say. There is no such politician on the horizon. Au contraire. There is a former Democrat state senator from Latah County, Dan Schmidt, who also is a medical doctor, and is reportedly seriously considering entering the gubernatorial race.

On the basis of history alone Democrats should encourage him to run. Set aside the fact that he is extremely competent and established a reputation for doing his homework and was especially knowledgable on health care issues during his six years in the Legislature. He knows the issues and he knows the state.

He also reportedly believes a contested race for governor among Democrats will keep Democrats home and minimize the tendency of some to register as Republicans for the primary because of the mistaken belief that is where the action will be and will determine who the next governor is.

Reliable sources report Schmidt has already talked to A. J. Balukoff, the Boise businessman and the Democrat’s gubernatorial nominee in 2014 who spent $3.5 million of his own money in a losing race to incumbent Governor C.L.”Butch” Otter. Balukoff is set to announce he is again seeking the office in early October. Schmidt may surprise and announce his candidacy in September.

Of all the candidates running for governor Schmidt willl have the least resources. He is not personally wealthy like Balukoff or Republicans Tommy Ahlquist or Lt. Gov.Brad Little. Nor does he have a government job like Rep. Raul Labrador that pays him while he is seeking another office.

None of them will outwork him and he believes the fact that he is not trying to start at the top and buy the office will work to his advantage. He also believes Republicans will nominate First District Congressman Labrador as their nominee. He sees Labrador as far and away the most conservative of the Republicans, but thinks many in the GOP are tired of Tea Party conservatives and some of the extreme views they hold.

He reportedly believes he can capture these disenfranchised Republicans and that he will also be more attractive to independents than will Balukoff. Furthermore, Schmidt reportedly says one should not underestimate the ability of Labrador to show his lack ocompassion for the needy, the homeless and those he would kick off medicaid.

In other words Schmidt thinks the Democratic nomination for governor is well worth purusing because Labrador is quite capable of losing the race. Is history on Dan Schmidt’s side? Time will tell but it just might be.

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Carlson

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The Pentagon is shamefully breaking its word to some non-citizens who joined the military for the purpose of gaining U.S. citizenship. A number of legal aliens who stepped forward to serve the United States are being denied the expedited citizen status they were promised.

The Pentagon initiated a program in 2009 to recruit non-citizens with skills considered to be vital to the national interest, including doctors, nurses, and persons with specific language expertise. The Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program started as a pilot program for up to 1,000 recruits and was expanded to 5,000 based on its success. It has been open to asylees, refugees and certain legal aliens. Service members recruited through the program become citizens upon completion of basic training.

The program was closed last December but service personnel who enlisted before that time have been left twisting in the wind. The Pentagon has asked the Homeland Security Department to stop processing their applications and has implied they might not receive their promised citizenship. This could result in about 1,000 service members being at risk of deportation. Can’t we do a better job of keeping our word to people who step forward to serve our country?

We have a long history of relying upon non-citizens for our national defense. Indeed, one of my ancestors came to America with French forces to fight in the Revolutionary War and was injured in the Battle of Charleston in 1780, according to family history.

My first duty assignment in the Army was as executive officer of a transportation battalion in Okinawa. The commanding officer was a German national who was serving to gain U.S. citizenship. One could hardly have imagined a more patriotic person than Captain Dietmar W. L. Zurell.

The Pentagon says that over 109,250 members of the armed services have become American citizens through their service. The Army has enlisted 10,400 persons through the MAVNI program since 2009.

The program has included some exceptional people, including a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, a 2012 Army Soldier of the Year, and a winner of the Marine Corps Marathon in 2012. About 30% of the individuals entering the armed forces through MAVNI have served in special operations units in foreign countries because of their language skills. This is a critical role, given the number of conflict areas around the world where U.S. forces are currently serving.

Although it seems to be short-sighted, the Pentagon has the right to terminate the MAVNI program. But, those who enlisted and have not yet received citizenship should get what they were promised. People who are willing to risk their lives to serve this country deserve honorable treatment.

A number of the MAVNI recruits who were caught in the pipeline have filed suit to force the government to honor its commitment to them. They should not have had to do so. Perhaps our Congressmen could help them get their citizenship.

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Jones

rainey

All military services have boot camps – the entry period of weeks or months in which unsmiling drill instructors in perfectly pressed uniforms try to blend a lot of sows’ ears into a functioning silk purse.

The D.I.’s most abiding point – made in many verbal and physical ways – is that each recruit is to become part of a team that always – ALWAYS – follows orders. Makes no difference what branch of the military you’re talking about, the absolute adherence to order-taking is the most basic element in each. From slick-sleeved private to four-star general, receiving an order comes with the expectation you’ll carry it out, is the basis of military discipline.

While military history has provided a number of instances when an order was questionable and should not have been followed, the vast majority of that same history points heavily to the responsibility of each member of a military unit to act when and as told.

In recent week, we’ve witnessed some worrisome events as some military voices have been raised in objection to following orders. Not privates or corporals. We’re talking voices from the top. Where stars and gold braid sit atop the chain of command.

First, it was members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff openly objecting to the Commander-in Chief’s announcement he wanted transgender troops out of the military. Now. While Trump’s decision – proclaimed by tweet – was widely reported as new policy, the Chiefs representing all branches of service responded with a unison voice “Not so fast.”

For them to act, they intoned, the order had to come through proper Pentagon channels and be accompanied by written policy changes detailing how removal of transgender personnel was to be accomplished. Without such channeling and documentation, the “order” would not be obeyed. There was no White House response. The Commander-in-Chief’s voice was ignored.

Within a few days, the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard said his branch of the military had no intention of identifying and removing anyone on the basis of transgender identity. Period. Again, no White House response.

Even more concerning, in these six months of Trump’s ruinous reign, there have been numerous insider reports of conversations among the most senior officers of whether to act on a presidential order to use military force. In other words, if some sort of attack is ordered from the White House, what will be the miliary’s response?

A month or so ago, that sort of discussion might have been a bit less important. But, now that Trump has threatened North Korea and Venezuela with possible military action, the subject of “will we comply or won’t we” has been moved to the front burner.

As Trump has thrown his bellicose verbal weight around with threats, there’s been no apparent eagerness of military leaders to get into a new war. Far from it. John McCain, John Kerry, former defense secretaries and other politicos with extensive military experience, have cautioned against such action and recommended diplomacy. Even our inexperienced (Exxon) Secretary of State has not endorsed his boss’s threats, preferring talk over shooting.

In about 230 days, Donald Trump has managed to break or screw up much of our national government. In ignorance and/or deliberately. We’re seeing damage inflicted in nearly all federal departments. Good, professional people cashing out and leaving. Hacks and administration spies being sent into nearly all agencies and important vacancies across the board being left unfilled which further weakens the system.

Some disagreements at the top of the Agriculture or Human Services Departments are one thing. But, dissent regarding orders from the Commander in Chief expressed in the highest echelons of the Defense Department are quite another.

Millions of lives are at stake. Nuclear bombs, creating nuclear wastelands across the globe, are launched from there. The very issue of who survives and who doesn’t is decided there.

If the American military is having discussions at the very top of the organization about what to do with a presidential war order, that issue had better be decided promptly. And publicly. Your life and mine are riding on how that seemingly gray area is resolved.

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Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Idaho State University President Arthur C. Vailas on August 9 announced his plans for retirement. The announcement was made to the Idaho State Board of Education during its monthly meeting.

Construction of a non-motorized trail between the Redfish Lake recreation complex and the City of Stanley will soon become a reality, according to the Sawtooth National Forest.

The Bureau of Land Management on August 9 said livestock grazing will continue on BLM-managed portions of the Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

Major General Gary L. Sayler (pictured) announced on August 10 that he will retire October 31 after more than seven years as Adjutant General of the Idaho National Guard, capping a 45-year military career.

The Department of Finance announced on August 10 that financial regulators from five states, including Idaho, have reached a joint settlement agreement with two subsidiaries of IQor Holdings Inc. for failure to comply with federal and state consumer protection laws related to debt collection practices.

PHOTO Six thousand tons of alfalfa containing elevated levels of bromide could soon be bioenergy thanks to a collaboration between the state of Idaho and Idaho National Laboratory. (photo/Idaho National Laboratory)

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Briefings

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A line of argument in politics in recent years, as in the great Lyndon Johnson books by Robert Caro, has held that the old saying is a little off: Power doesn’t so much corrupt, as it reveals. Power can make the doing of things easier and with less consequence, so we can see more clearly what lies underneath.

It turns out that a solar eclipse can do the same thing.

Friends of ours, who live in the upcoming eclipse totality zone, are hosting a couple of out of state eclipse-interested friends. (Our house, six miles away, is merely in 99.8 percent totality.) They’re not charging their friends any rent or room fee. As matters sit today, I call that a passed character test.

The eclipse, to be sure, is an understandable business opportunity, and there’s no harm and nothing immoral in taking some advantage of it. But at some point, somewhere along the line, it turns into greed, and totality areas all over the country have seen some ugly behavior and sad exposures of character.

There was, for example, the news story about a woman formerly from Idaho, now living near Washington, D.C., who booked an Idaho Falls hotel room back in October 2013. They had an agreement (for a fairly high room rate based on normal Idaho Falls levels). Some months ago the hotel said it wanted to raise the rate by $60; the couple reluctantly agreed. Then, earlier this month: “[The manager] started questioning us and telling us that our rate was way too low for this event and he wanted to raise our rates. My husband said, well you have already raised our rates once and we have a contract with you.”

That hotel in the news story now reportedly has rooms listed at $700 during the eclipse period. If you’re familiar with Idaho Falls lodging, you know this is not just a slight price increase. It is not even an outlier increase, or among the highest. Quite a few establishments regionally have been shooting far over $1,000 a night for rooms that ordinarily would rent for a tenth as much. (The Idaho attorney general’s office has fielded a number of complaints about room rentals.)

Okay: Room rates are, as a normal and reasonable matter, marketplace-flexible. They vary with seasons and holidays and location popularity, and they can sometimes be negotiated by late arrivals (at places with plenty of empty rooms that same night) or by third-party deals. There’s nothing holy about a particular rate.

But when rates rise abruptly, even during times of high popularity, by factors of seven or ten or more, you have to think something in the system, and in people’s willingness to simply take advantage of others and throw conventional rule books out the window, is wrong. There are human consequences. Good luck if you need to travel then for business, or visit a relative. Good luck if you’re not wealthy.

I don’t mean here to focus over-heavily on the lodging industry; lots of private homeowners are renting out their houses for a couple of days for almost unbelievable amounts. And I don’t mean to focus either just on rental rooms; the urge to suck up stray bucks seems to have become notably intense with this particular phase of the moon. (Airbnb reports an explosion of both requests for homes, and homes on offer.)

Consider what this kind of grasping reveals not only about our willingness to take advantage of others.

There are people in the totality zone who should, in bright light, take a good look in the mirror.

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Stapilus

trahant

September is going to be a mess. Congress must sort out some really complicated fiscal issues. There is the budget, an increase in the debt limit, how much to spend on federal programs and services, and, if there’s time, tax reform.

This should be easy in a one-party government. Republicans only need to come up with a budget plan. Then the House acts, the Senate does its thing, and President Donald J. Trump signs the idea into law. Easy. Except there is no Republican majority in Congress (other than the R listed by members’ names.)

The House is made up of at least three factions, or parties, and no majority. (The three groups are: Republicans, Democrats, and the more conservative House Freedom Caucus.) So in order to gather enough votes to pass a budget, or any other of the challenges, at least two of the three factions have to agree on a plan.

The Senate has its own divisions within the Republican Party. (The very reason why a Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act has not yet become law.)

And the White House is not on the same page either. The president proposed a stingy budget that’s been pretty much rejected by members of the House and the Senate (except the more conservative elements such as the House Freedom Caucus.)

For example the Trump proposed budget calls for $4.7 billion for the Indian Health Service, a cut of some $300 million or 6 percent of the agency’s budget. But a House spending plan calls for an increase of $97 million over last year’s levels. Indeed, the Appropriations Committee that funds IHS and the Bureau of Indian Affairs plans to spend a total of $4.3 billion more than the president requested on programs under its jurisdiction. (In general: The president’s budget reflects significant budget cuts across Indian Country, according to analysis by the National Congress of American Indians.)

The Senate will come up with its own spending plan. Then, in theory, the two houses will resolve their differences and agree on how much the federal government should spend next year (and the president can go along or veto the legislation and start all over).

But no. That’s not how Congress is actually legislating these days. More often Congress agrees to a temporary spending measure based on last year’s budget, a Continuing Resolution. That’s an easier sell to members even if it does represent a last minute, throw up your hands, and do something approach. The other alternative is a government shutdown. That could happen. President Trump tweeted in May that “our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ in September to fix mess!”

Yes, the budget is a mess. Period. Even take the word, “budget.” That’s a proposal from the president. But in Congress a “budget” is a spending limit that Congress imposes on itself. It sets a ceiling that each of the 12 Appropriations subcommittees have to live with. And, more important right now, the budget sets the rules for debate so the Senate can pass some legislation (such as the health care bill) with only 50 votes. (Most bills need 60 votes to stop a filibuster from stopping the process.)

Back to the congressional budget. Last month the Budget Committee approved a plan that would cut domestic spending by $2.9 trillion over the next decade. The full House will vote on this plan when it returns. It’s a bleak document that would end up slashing many of the programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives. Remember the appropriations committees would still figure out how to spend the money; but the budget would act as an overall cap. Less pie to divide.

This budget plan starts off with historically low federal spending that is compounded by even more severe budget cuts between now and 2027. To show how out of touch this budget is, it includes program cuts for Medicaid that were a part of the failed health care legislation. (What’s changed? Nothing.) This bill tips action toward the conservatives who want deep spending cuts to be sooner, as in right now.

That makes the problem political. There are probably not enough votes to make this budget so. A few Republicans don’t see this harsh approach as good government. And even if the votes are found in the House, the Senate is another story. Think health care.

And if this budget cannot pass, it’s not likely there is another one that would. Democrats in the House say they want to spend more money: “Congress cannot continue to underfund these crucial investments … (and) without relief from these spending caps, vital government programs are facing significant cuts for fiscal year 2018 that would have significant effects on American families all across the country.”

And the budget is only one fiscal crisis. Another issue that is immediate and serious involves the debt limit. That’s the amount of money the federal government can borrow and it’s currently set at $19.85 trillion (federal debt exceeds that level now, but the Secretary of Treasury can basically shuffle money from different accounts). Conservatives want spending cuts as part of any deal to increase the debt limit. As Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and a member of the Chickasaw Tribe, told MSNBC. A debt limit increase without spending cuts is “like having a credit card and saying, ‘I’ve reached my limit, I’m just going to change the limit higher without changing any of my spending habits.’”

But, like on the budget issue, the votes are not there. (Especially in the Senate where 60 votes will be needed.)

This is tricky because the Republican administration understands what failure could do to the country. Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, is now supporting a debt limit increase. But when he served in Congress, Mulvaney said he was willing to risk a default to force a discussion on spending.

Key point here: Votes from Democrats will be needed in both the House and the Senate to pass an increase in the debt limit. But will there be enough Republicans?

If Congress does not pass the debt limit, the impact would be “catastrophic.” And, almost immediately, this failure would hit federal budgets because interest rates would spike upward. Interest rates are already the fastest growing part of the federal budget and a sharp increase in rates would add significantly to the total federal debt. In other words: By voting against a debt limit increase, Congress would make the debt problem worse. Far worse.

But Republicans have campaigned against a debt limit increase for a long time. So it’s going to be one tough vote.

In case you’re keeping score: Republican leaders plus Democrats will be needed to increase the debt limit. Most Republicans including the House Freedom Caucus will need to vote for the budget and appropriations bills. Or, those budget and spending bills will have to include more Democratic priorities to win that party’s support.

So yes, September is going to be a mess. And after the budget, spending bills, and debt limit is complete, there’s still tax reform on the agenda. Yet another mess.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes.

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Trahant

carlson

It was a small news item and it escaped public notice which is a shame because it speaks volumns about the fundamental basic intelligence of America’s body politic.

The item was a report on Maine Senator Susan Collins’ return home for the August recess following her vote against repeal of the “ObamaCare” health plan without anything to replace it. As she deplaned the commercial airliner she had flown into Bangor, Maine, there was a good sized crowd stacked up waiting to board the plane.

Almost instantly, Collins was recognized and as she walked into the terminal and down a causeway spontaneously every one stood and applauded the Senator as an expression of appreciation for her courage. For any political officeholder it doesn’t get better than that.

Senator Collins along with Alaskan Senator Lisa Murkowski, who also cast a courageous no vote, are just two of the women reshaping the Senate and their respective political parties. On both sides of the aisle women are showing men what leadership is about.

Most people are familiar with old cliches like “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Such condescending statements reflect shallow thinking about a woman’s influence being exercised behind the scenes. It may have had some validity 70 years ago but it sure as heck isn’t true today.

It is safe to say that the future of the Democratic party, as well as the Republican, rests in the hands of the increasingly talented pool of women governors, congressional representatives and senators. In the not too distant future one may see a woman as the presidential candidate of each party.

Idaho holds a unique place in American political history as the first state in the nation where each party’s standard bearer in a race for a congressional seat was a female. The year was 1956. The incumbent in the First Congressional District was Gracie Pfost, a Democrat and a former Canyon County official. The challenger was Louise Shadduck, a former journalist, the state’s first female chief of staff for a governor, and the first head of a cabinet agency, the Department of Commerce and Economic Development.

Despite Dwight D. Eisenhower winning a second term easily, he proved not to have any coattails in Idaho. Shadduck lost, but many pegged her to become Idaho’s first female governor or U.S. senator. However, while remaining politically active she never sought office again. The glass ceiling for those two offices remains unbroken.

It is almost too obvious to say that the future of both political parties is tied to which one does the best job of addressing issues the woman voter determines to be most important. Their agenda is more practical and less ideological.

According to many national polls, women voters care most about economic issues and health care matters. Regardless of party, women voters strongly support “equal pay for equal work.” Access to affordable health care is another critical issue which more and more is seen as a fundamental right, not a function of privilege and income, and access to higher education without incurring crippling debt brought on by too easily obtained stuent loans.

Women are more attuned than men to the homeless issue, the opiod crisis, and the lack of enforcement of laws against spousal abuse and child abuse.

Each party caucus in the Senate has some outstanding veteran female legislators as well as some rising stars who bear watching. On the Democratic side Caucus chair Patty Murray from the state of Washington is a classic “work horse” who gets things done. Noted for her common sense, excellent staff, and an ability to work across the aisle, she could emerge as a future majority leader.

Many thought with the retirement of Nevada Senator Harry Reid, Murray might challenge New York Senator Charles Schumer for the minority leader post. Murray, however, recognized that minority leader was a thankless job with little upside and wisely took a minor position while biding her time. She enjoys broad support among all the female senators and counts Senator Murkowski as a real friend.

Murray incidentally has constantly ben underestimated over the years. She holds the Sente record for having defeated the most members of the House in her re-elections—having defeated five.

Looking down the road it is easy to see that the rising stars in both parties, and the key to whether they can expand their base by attracting more of their gender, rests in the hands of new, young and energetic senators like California’s Kamela Harris on the Democratic side and Joni Ernst on the Republican side. Keep your eye on them.

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Carlson

jones

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about the rift between the President and Attorney General Sessions. President Trump apparently feels that Sessions should have stayed with the Russia investigation and nipped it in the bud. While I disagree with much of what Sessions has done, he was absolutely justified in recusing himself from issues related to Russia and the campaign. The attorney general is the person charged with upholding the rule of law. He should not be a political operative. This applies at both the federal and state level.

An attorney general must have some independence from both the executive and legislative branches. Whether at the state or federal level, an attorney general swears an oath to support the constitution and laws of the jurisdiction. He or she swears no oath to any individual in the government. The attorney general is responsible to the citizenry to see that the laws are carried out and that law enforcement is even-handed.

Browbeating the justice system, whether the target is an attorney general or the courts, erodes public confidence in the system and the rule of law. If the attorney general were to act as a political lackey, we might have a replay of the Watergate fiasco where President Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, was convicted for his participation in the Watergate cover-up. Think how different things might have turned out if Mitchell had exercised some independence and advised Nixon to let the investigation move forward without obstruction.

Sessions correctly recused himself because of an apparent conflict. The President seems to feel that Sessions had a professional obligation to him. That is simply not the case. However, officeholders in the legislative and executive branches often have a similar misconception about the attorney general being their personal lawyer. When I served as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s, some members of my party had the idea on occasion that my official decisions should favor the party. I had to advise them that my responsibility was to follow the law.

That is not to say that an attorney general cannot engage in political activity. I certainly did and almost all other Idaho AGs have done so—attending party functions, taking stands on legislative issues, supporting political candidates, and the like. But, there must be a distinct division between political or policy matters, on the one hand, and interpreting and enforcing the laws, on the other. Allowing political considerations to influence the manner in which justice is administered is an injustice in itself.

Idaho’s current attorney general is a good case study. While I may have disagreements on some policy matters with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, I admire his courage in correctly following the law. He has been unfairly criticized by members of his party for not toeing the party line on certain hot button issues. His record of being vindicated by courts of law indicates that he was right and the critics were wrong. The State has paid out a lot of money in attorney fees to private parties by disregarding his advice.

When Wasden said the State Land Board was violating the Idaho Constitution by failing to get the maximum long-term return from State cabinsite properties, his advice was not heeded. He filed suit against the Board and was upheld by the Idaho Supreme Court. This precipitated action by the Board to get greater economic values from those lands. This is what a good attorney general does–faithfully follow the laws, regardless of friendships or politics. Presidents, governors and legislators should understand that an attorney general must have independence in order to fulfill that important role. Sniping, obstruction and interference are detrimental to the rule of law, which is the foundation of our system of government.

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Jones