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Booze, bucks and buyouts

schmidt

Idaho territory was a rugged place. While LDS settlers were diverting streams and cultivating fields in the southeast, the mining camps in central and North Idaho were raucous, unruly and not ashamed of it. But the drafters of the Idaho Constitution in 1889 were feeling the wave of temperance rising: Article 3, Section 24 reads:

PROMOTION OF TEMPERANCE AND MORALITY. The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home. The legislature should further all wise and well directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.

Idaho went on to establish a Prohibition amendment to our state Constitution in 1917, two years before ratifying the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution which established nation-wide prohibition.

But then came repeal in 1933 and Idaho, somewhat reluctantly followed suit. The Idaho Liquor Act was passed the legislature in 1939 and its framework exists today with some modifications. It’s an old, complicated system of regulating liquor licenses controlling the manufacture, sale, distribution and serving of alcoholic beverages. It has created an artificial market for liquor licenses that means for some regions they are dear, expensive or unattainable. Other markets they go unclaimed. Make no mistake, this law has created winners and losers. And the winners aren’t about to embrace the losers.

You see, the State Alcohol Control Board (ABC) limits licenses in cities based on their population. But if there are no licenses available from the state, you can buy someone else’s license or lease it. Here’s a broker where you can shop.

A license that cost you $200 from the state, if you put your name on the waiting list and bided time, is now worth $200,000 on the “liquor license market”. You can’t just sit on a license, you have to operate a real functioning bar for at least 6 months or you lose your $200 fee and the license. But if you “season” your license, it becomes very valuable. Last year a license in Coeur d'Alene was worth $300,000. Add to this, the state collects a 10% fee on any liquor license transaction. Throw in the changing populations of towns and this amplifies the obscurity of this system. The people who paid a lot don’t want to see their investment devalued should some crazy legislator want to shake up the 80-year-old system. I don’t see how this promotes temperance and morality.

I respect any legislator willing to address this mess. Many have. Governor Otter tried in 2009. But he gave up after his bill died in the Senate that year. Issues as tough as this require perseverance. A couple years ago Representative Luke Malek (R, Couer D Alene) brought a bill but again it died; then he decided to run for Congress. This year Senator Jim Rice (R Nampa) has brought a bill very similar to Malek’s. It got killed in a Senate committee last week.

I applaud Senator Rice. I hope he’s willing to stick around and see it through. He might have to hand this one off to someone younger; I suspect it will take a few years. And he’ll have to have tough skin because lots of liquor license owners think their ox is going to get gored.

Probably the only solution will be for the taxpayers to buy out all those over-priced liquor licenses so we can start over. I doubt Senator Rice can promise us that Mexico will pay for the buyout. That one’s getting sour.
 

A President’s Day protest

richardson

I’m writing this on President’s Day and can think of no better way to celebrate the executive branch of our government than to protest President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on our southern border.

In his first inaugural address, one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, called upon his countrymen to find the “better angels of our nature,” and in his second inaugural address, Lincoln returned to this uplifting theme urging “malice toward none with charity toward all.”

Sadly, our current president seems hell-bent on flipping those famous words on their head as he calls upon the most craven impulses and shows malice toward all and charity toward none – unless perhaps one is a member of Club Mar-a-Lago.
Indeed, it would be hard to imagine two more different presidents, both Republicans, than Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump.

Two years ago, Mr. Trump took a sacred oath to “faithfully execute his office and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." By declaring a national emergency with respect to circumstances on our Southern border and announcing his intent to shift billions of dollars to fund his border wall, the president is violating that oath. His policy is unwise, ineffective and inhumane. And his most recent actions to implement that policy are, I believe, unconstitutional.

Our founding fathers wisely divided federal power among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Among the powers given to Congress is the exclusive power of the purse. Article I, Section 9 states: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” Thus, the executive branch cannot spend money unless the legislative branch has passed a law authorizing the spending.

Congress has given the president broad authority in the 1976 National Emergencies Act to declare a state of emergency, but the Act doesn’t define what “emergency” means. Even so, it would seem a monumental stretch to conclude that it means whatever the president says it means. There must be sideboards of reasonableness and reality.

It would be absurd if a president who was frustrated by Congressional inaction on a funding initiative could – regardless of the facts – simply declare a national emergency to achieve his ends. What Mr. Trump labels a “national emergency” is but a pretext, a manufactured scenario to enable him to get his way. A reasonable person can assess the situation on our nation’s southern border and conclude that it presents serious problems, but no reasonable person could conclude that those problems rise to the level of a national emergency.

An actual emergency would seem to demand urgent action. But the president conceded that he “didn’t need to do this” and acknowledged that, having an eye to the 2020 election, he merely wanted to speed up the process.

An actual emergency would likely be identified by the intelligence community in its comprehensive threat assessment to Congress. But there was not a single mention.

And an actual emergency would be supported by objective data permitting the reasonable inference that an emergency exists. Such data is utterly lacking. Mr. Trump’s assertions regarding the purported “emergency,” were gross exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies.

But let’s assume for a minute – just for the sake of argument – that the southern border presents a national emergency for purposes of the Act. Where can the president turn to find the money to fund the wall? Under the National Emergencies Act, a presidential declaration of an emergency unlocks other provisions. One provision allows a president to spend already appropriated money for “military construction projects.” Another provision allows him to divert money from already appropriated disaster relief.

Only twice before in our history have presidents relied on emergency powers to spend funds on something other than that for which Congress had appropriated them. The first time was when George Herbert Walker Bush made his Persian Gulf War emergency declaration. The second time was when George W. Bush declared a national emergency after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In both of these instances, however, the transfer of monies funded projects that Congress had considered and rejected. In contrast, Congress has clearly considered and rejected the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding. Instead, it provided $1.4 billion for steel fencing. Thus, the situation before us is unprecedented.

Can Congress do anything to prevent this executive overreach? It certainly can. This National Emergencies Act allows Congress to reject a president’s emergency declaration by a joint resolution passed by a majority vote in each house.

We can predict that the House of Representatives will comfortably pass such a resolution and, since it is deemed privileged, it will be guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot reach into his bag of tricks to stop that vote.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the president can veto the resolution. And, in order to override a presidential veto, the joint resolution must pass both houses with a 2/3 super majority.

In Federalist 47, James Madison wrote: “[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Madison and other founders reasonably expected that each branch would be vigilant in protecting their own rights and responsibilities. The dual and complimentary concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances only work if members of each branch actively protect their branch, if they tack to the Constitution and not the agenda of any party or president.

So, we are compelled to ask: Will Congress step up? And, closer to home, we ask: Will Idaho’s congressional delegation capitulate to Mr. Trump’s power grab or will they defend Congress as a separate and equal branch of government? We must ask them to grow a spine and stand up for the rule of law; we must urge them to protect our founders’ bedrock principles; we must demand that they rise to this singular and critical occasion.

I began this piece by quoting our Sixteenth president, and I will close by again quoting Lincoln. In his famous address at Gettysburg, the Great Emancipator saluted the service of those who gave their full measure of devotion so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” It seems that throughout our nation’s history, each generation has been called to save our republic, this people-focused government of which Lincoln spoke. We have resisted forces from within and without that would undermine and destroy us, that would cut short our long-standing experiment as a constitutional democracy.

Now it is our turn. It is our turn to stand for the rule of law. It is our turn to resist tyranny. And it is our turn to do what this president seems utterly unwilling to do – to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.

May we rise to the occasion; may we be equal to the task.

It ain’t broke

jones

After much partisan wrangling in the Legislature and lengthy fighting through the courts, Idahoans voted to fix Idaho’s legislative redistricting system by removing it from raw politics. In 1994, the people approved an amendment to the Idaho Constitution empowering an independent panel to divide the State into legislative districts. The two major parties were each to appoint three members to the six-person panel.

The system has performed its work in two reapportionments--following the 2000 census and after the 2010 census. It has not been perfect, but it has reduced the partisan rancor and endless litigation that caused the voters to approve it. Plus, it has reduced the possibility of pernicious gerrymandering that can dilute the votes of city-dwellers in Idaho’s more-populous counties.

What brought the people to demand that partisanship be kept out of redistricting? It was an ugly situation and I had a front-row seat as Idaho Attorney General. In 1981, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a reapportionment bill which Governor Evans vetoed. The next year, the Legislature passed a bill that was signed by the Governor. It was challenged in court and found unconstitutional by a district judge in Sandpoint.

The Idaho Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling in June of 1983 and sent the case back so he could adopt a new apportionment plan. That court approved a plan devised by a North Idaho College professor. The plan called for 21 additional legislators and established seven large, overlying districts called floterial districts, as well as six multi-member districts.

In January of 1983, as I was stepping into the AG office, the Supreme Court ruled that the plan would go into effect, unless the Legislature adopted a constitutional alternative. The Legislature approved a plan that the Governor signed, but the Court found it inadequate.

I asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene but it declined. The Republican legislative leadership sought help in federal court but was rebuffed. They then drafted a revised plan, but the Governor refused to call a special session to consider it. So, the odd plan drafted by the professor went into effect.

The lawyer representing those who challenged the Legislature’s plans throughout the lengthy litigation collected $145,000 from the State for his work. It would have been north of a million dollars at today’s rates.

These things can produce unexpected results. The Democrats thought the professor’s plan would benefit them, while my fellow Republicans were scared to death of it. It turned out they were both wrong because the plan slightly favored Republicans--the law of unintended consequences. And, the majority party does not always remain in the majority—what comes around can often go around, as they say.

Now, there is a move afoot to re-inject partisan gerrymandering into the redistricting process. It is proposed that the majority party in Idaho have an extra vote on the panel and that decisions be made by a simple majority vote rather than the currently-required two-thirds vote. That would return us to the pre-reform system where raw politics would give an unfair advantage to the party then in the majority. The proposal, House Joint Resolution No. 2 (HJR 2), would be an invitation to more litigation, with the risk of court-imposed reapportionment plans.

There is one other fact to consider. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely issue a major ruling this year on the permissibility of partisan gerrymandering. It has two cases currently before it--one from Maryland where the Democrats gerrymandered and one from North Carolina where Republicans benefitted. Why not wait to squabble over the issue until there is guidance from that court?

As we commemorate George Washington’s birthday on Presidents Day, let’s remember and heed his prescient warnings against political partisanship. I suspect that Abraham Lincoln would also disapprove of partisan gerrymandering. Historian Allen Guelzo has observed that Lincoln may have lost his 1858 Senate race because of gerrymandering. At that time, Senators were selected by state legislatures. The majority Democrats in the Illinois legislature selected Lincoln’s rival for the Senate seat, even though Republican candidates had received more votes in the legislative election.
 

Don’t impeach Trump

rainey

Words I never thought I’d write. Or say. But, to all members of Congress, “Please, don’t impeach Donald Trump!”

While growing evidence is proving Trump to be a consummate full-time liar, multiple adulterer, proven deadbeat and much, much more, “Please don’t impeach the bastard! Please!”

Though he appears to be a lawbreaker, a lousy president and a collaborator with the Russians, please keep Trump around till the 2020 general election so we voters can put an end to him and his entire cadre of self-dealers, misfits and crooks. Please!

In defense of my plea, I offer the only two words for keeping Trump in place until 2020: Mike Pence.

While Trump appears to have woven a web of lies, double-dealing, debauchery and massive money manipulation before, during and after his election, “Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” We know the devil we have and many steps are underway to deal with his miscreant - and possibly criminal - ways.

Pence’s history strongly indicates voters in Indiana only had him for governor for three years but were preparing to throw him out in his re-election bid in 2016. Campaign polling showed he would have been a “one-termer” when Trump reached down and pulled him off the highway before he became political roadkill.

In only three years as governor, Pence continually fought losing battles on just about everything he tried to do. Like the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” in his first year. It was definitely anti-LGBTQ. Pence tried everything to get it through but, in the end, he had to strike some of the prejudicial language. He still found himself losing votes of some GOP legislators. Upon eventual passage, several large companies either cancelled plans for Indiana expansion or trimmed back existing operations.

He signed a doomed anti-abortion bill which would have - had it survived an inevitably successful court challenge - made Indiana the first state with a nearly complete abortion ban. Two court decisions killed it.

Pence tried to create a state media propaganda network called “JustIN.” He wanted state employees, paid by taxpayers, to write material for “small media that couldn’t afford news staffs.” Even Indiana politicians and the media didn’t buy that. The reaction from one major newspaper was a headline reading “Pravda In The Plains.” “JustIN”died.

He signed bills he wanted cutting $15-billion from colleges and universities, social services and corrections in just one budget year. Several major corporations, citing a bad business climate, left Indiana for other climes. Better business climes.

Pence had a number of his vetoes overridden in the legislature. In one, nearly all Republican members voted against him.

He tried to have the NRA contract to train Indiana teachers and other state employees to use firearms. Again, even Republicans in his heavily Republican legislature stopped him cold.

He lost two congressional House races but eventually served for 12 years, quitting to run for governor. His congressional sponsorship “successes” amounted to little besides naming a couple of post offices. He was nearly always tied to some ultra-conservative effort and found most of his support coming from right-wing groups.

Pence’s oft- pronounced Evangelical views have made him a target for controversy and even ridicule when solidly backing Trump. He’s managed to be an outspoken supporter though Trump’s lifestyle, moral vagaries and proven sleazy business practices are an anathema to many Evangelicals.

In short, Pence’s limited political experience, his proclivity to nearly always support far-right people and causes, past rejection by even his own party leaders, his hypocrisy of proclaiming high moral standards while backing a president seemingly devoid of such doesn’t auger well for successful presidential material.

There are indications Pence has been a subject of some of the Mueller investigation involving Russian political activity. So far, no public indication one way or the other. But, some Republicans have expressed the thought that, should Pence be tied to such, HE should be impeached.

Now, that could make some sense. Especially if you’re O.K. with a President Nancy.
 

Emergency overreach

johnson

The only conceivable path Donald Trump has to re-election next year is to continue to fire up faithful fans by invoking his dystopian view of a nation threatened by an immigrant horde determined to storm the southern border and wreck havoc on America. It is the one constant theme of his presidency and the overriding theme of his State of the Union speech this week, a speech laced with words like bloodthirsty, sadistic, venomous and chilling.

Trump has perfected the politics of resentment, fear and scapegoating that Republicans have been shoveling ever more aggressively toward their “base” since Barry Goldwater invoked “extremism in defense of liberty” more than fifty years ago.

That the image of the “lawless state of our southern border” is at odds with the facts hardly seemed to bother cheering Republicans in the House chamber Tuesday night. Republicans have largely embraced Trump’s resentment theory of politics, which is exemplified by his demonization of refugees and immigrants, while they have simultaneously tied the party’s future to Trump’s frayed coattails.

The overheated rhetoric about border threats, of course, also clashes with Trump’s claims about the strength of the American economy and his calls for unity, the issue that members of Idaho’s congressional delegation chose to emphasize in their reaction.

By general consensus of fact checkers the biggest whooper in Trump’s speech was his claim that a border wall built during the George W. Bush administration had reduced violent crime in El Paso, Texas. But, the actual statistics show that violent crime in El Paso – one of the safest larger cities in America – had actually plummeted before the barrier was constructed. Such twisting of reality helps explain why those who represent the border, Texas Republican Will Hurd for example, reject Trump’s wall as a waste of money, an ineffective simplistic symbolic fix for a complex problem.

While Trump did attempt the rhetoric of bipartisanship in the face of another looming government shutdown over funding the wall he offered no path out of the political dead end he himself has created. He avoided mention of the declaration of a national emergency, a tactic likely illegal and surely to be immediately challenged, but he left that explosive option on the table.

That Republicans actually tolerate talk of a declaration of national emergency over Trump’s failure to secure a policy objective that he could not accomplished when his party controlled Congress is Exhibit A in how completely the GOP has abandoned common sense, old fashioned conservatism and the Constitution. South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently actually said Trump “must” invoke emergency powers to construct a border wall “if the White House and Congress fail to reach a deal.”

Idaho Senator Jim Risch also seems resigned to a Trump strategy that will include a national emergency. Risch predicted recently to KBOI radio’s Nate Shelman that the president’s Constitutional overreach was likely to happen, and apparently that is just fine with him.

“I think that the President has figured out that (House Speaker) Nancy (Pelosi) is not going to give the President a dime for the wall,” Risch said. “They hate this president so badly, that they won’t do anything for him, or give him anything that makes it look like a victory, so they are not going to vote for it. They’re happy with the shutdown.”

That is typical of Risch’s constant partisan gaslighting – the super partisan blaming others for partisanship – as well as his acquiescence to all things Trump and it begs the question conservative columnist George Will asked recently about Graham and could have asked about Risch.

“Why do they come to Congress, these people such as Graham,” Will wrote recently. “These people who, affirmatively or by their complicity of silence, trifle with our constitutional architecture, and exhort the president to eclipse the legislative branch, to which they have no loyalty comparable to their party allegiance?”

Once again history provides some perspective if we’re willing to understand what is at stake. In the early 1970s, in a true bipartisan effort, Senators Frank Church of Idaho, a Democrat, and Charles Mathias of Maryland, a Republican, worked for months to craft legislation – the National Emergencies Act – ensuring that Congress and not a president will define and supervise a true national emergency. The two senators co-chaired a Special Committee on the Termination of National Emergencies, determined to unwind generations of presidential emergency declarations dating back to the Great Depression. In their view such open-ended exercise of one-person power created vast opportunities for Constitutional overreach by the kind of president the nation now suffers. Their subsequent legislation passed overwhelmingly in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

Senators Frank Church of Idaho Church and Mathias, apropos of the current moment, were, as constitutional scholar Gerald S. Dickinson wrote recently, “acutely aware of and sought to prohibit a future president from taking advantage of the emergency powers for partisan and policy purposes.”

In testimony before a Senate committee in 1976, Church said the president “should not be allowed to invoke emergency authorities or in any way utilize the provision of [the National Emergencies Act] for frivolous or partisan matters, nor for that matter in cases where important but not ‘essential’ problems are at stake.” He might have been talking about “the wall.”

Church, as his biographers note, believed containing a president’s ability to invoke a national emergency was one of the Idahoan’s proudest moments, an affirmation that Congress, armed with the Constitution, can and should stand against the overreach of a would be autocrat.

We shall see where all this is headed, but make no mistake Congress can halt the national emergency nonsense and doing so would be a profoundly “conservative,” not to mention Constitutional thing to do.

As for Risch and others like him in Congress, don’t expect them to protect congressional prerogatives or stand up to a demagogue. When he recently became chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, a position Church once held, he proudly proclaimed that he would be no Frank Church. On that much, at least, his is absolutely correct.
 

The whole pie

stapiluslogo1

Last year the voters in Wisconsin elected Democrats to the U.S. Senate and the offices of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer - a sweep. In that same election, in the state Senate where 17 seats were on the ballot, Democrats won six, or about a third; and in the House (or, Assembly as it’s called there), Democrats took 36 seats compared to the Republicans’ 63.

Might that at-variance legislative result have happened because of a mass of split tickets - more Wisconsin voters opting for Republicans down-ballot after checking off all those Democrats above? Nope. In the Assembly races, for example, Democrats won 1.3 million votes compared to the Republicans’ 1.1 - while losing seats at a rate approaching two to one.

How could that happen? It’s what can occur when you get clever, and unscrupulous, about how you draw the legislative district maps. Similar stories can be told in other states in recent years, including Pennsylvania and North Carolina; Democrats have done the same in Maryland.

Idaho has managed to evade this sort of thing, mostly. It might not much longer.

The number of legislative seats held by each party should theoretically resemble - at least very roughly - the vote for statewide offices. In many states it does. In Oregon, where a Democratic governor won last year by about six percentage points and the state’s congressional delegation kept its four Democrats and one Republican, the legislature has 56 Democrats and 34 Republicans, a Democratic majority falling between half and two-thirds. In Washington, which has been steadily electing Democrats to top offices for the last couple of decades but sometimes by close margins, the legislature has 84 Democrats and 62 Republicans (one of those an “independent Democrat” who caucuses with Republicans). The splits in those states resemble the overall partisan votes in the state.

In Idaho, there’s also some resemblance, but it’s thinner. Consider the 2018 election, when Republicans won all of the major offices decisively, generally a little above or below the 60 percent mark. (Governor was 59.8 percent, first district U.S. House 62.8 percent, second district 60.7 percent.) So you’d expect Republicans to control the legislature, as they do, and have ever since the election of 1960. So what is the percentage of Republicans in the Idaho Legislature today?

80 percent. That percentage in this cycle actually is the lowest Republican percentage of control at the Idaho Legislature in a couple of decades.

But controlling four seats out of five, a lot more than the three out of five voters would seem to support, apparently isn’t enough for some members of the Idaho Republican caucuses. In some quarters, there’s a perceived need to press the finger a little heavier on the scales.

To be clear about something: Idaho doesn’t today belong the list of gerrymandered states. One reason is that a generation ago, the legislature gave up its reapportionment tasks and, through a constitutional amendment, set up a reapportionment commission (approved by the voters in 1994) evenly balanced between the parties. It has worked, albeit a little messily at times. But the fact that some signoff is needed from both parties has kept the district lines from going too far astray, even if a few of them look a little odd. In a state shaped like Idaho, a few of them always will.

A new piece of legislation, House Joint Resolution 2, was being rushed - not too strong a word - through the legislature to redesign the commission and upset that delicate balance. The proposed constitutional amendment, which still would need approval of the voters to pass, would in effect give Republicans outright control of the redistricting committee, and probably temptation too great to pass up - to clearly gerrymander the legislature to wipe out as many Democratic-leaning or marginal districts as possible. Designing a map with that in mind could cut the number of Democratic districts down to three or two, depending on how the Boise districts were split up.

The resolution got to the House floor last week but then, when uproar ensued, it was kicked back to committee. That may mean it’s dead for the session; “returned to committee” is often another way of killing something. But not necessarily.

If it re-emerges and passes, that could readily give Republicans upwards of 90 percent of the Idaho Legislature. That wouldn’t much resemble the Idaho electorate, but then, that probably would be the point.
 

Pain and suffering

schmidt

Idaho can’t say we’re winning the war against accidental opioid deaths, but we’re fighting a good fight. As you can see, the numbers are climbing. If you want a very in depth and excellent analysis of the situation, read this from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. I will focus on two points.

Idaho has a higher rate of prescribing opioids than the national average. We as a state have a long way to go in educating prescribers on best practices to avoid overdose deaths. We have made education available for prescribers through both the Board of Medicine, the Board of Pharmacy, the DHW; many resources are available. Indeed, there’s education but also sanctions. The legislature has made it possible for the two independent Boards (Pharmacy, who keep the data on prescribing and Medicine, who has the power to sanction) to communicate about prescribing practices. The BoP maintains an accurate data base of controlled substance prescriptions that can be accessed 24/7 by prescribers and pharmacists. The legislature has made this access easier, but not mandatory. Use of the data base has steadily increased. Still, the number of narcotic prescriptions continues to rise.

Of interest, the highest rates of prescribing narcotics are in our rural and frontier counties. I don’t think it hurts more to live on the frontier, but the association between chronic pain and poverty and rural or frontier life is real. Caring for chronic pain is a demanding task and resources can be limited for a rural practitioner. Still, with this information, with proper education, incentives and support, I believe this can improve. We shall see.

But we can only see how we are doing if we have good information; that gets to the second point. Idaho is quite likely underreporting accidental overdose deaths from prescription narcotics. Of all reported overdose deaths in Idaho only 2/3rds had a drug listed as a cause on the death certificate. Overdose deaths without a drug listed as the cause don’t get counted as narcotic overdoses. Some weren’t; some were. We won’t know unless we investigate and report.

Overdose deaths are investigated and reported by the county coroner. Idaho has 44 county coroners and I can tell you, they all don’t have a CSI lab. Heck, many don’t even have an official vehicle; I didn’t. You’d think the counties most likely to have lax reporting would be the rural ones, and indeed some are. In Ada County about 90% of the overdose deaths designate a drug; but Bonneville County reported just 40%. Canyon County only hit 35%. Maybe we have a faulty system. Studies of death investigations nationwide have shown that states that have a county coroner system (as opposed to a Medical Examiner system) are much lower at determining which drug caused the overdose death.

Ever since I was the Latah County Coroner for 15 years I have wondered about the wisdom of the county coroner system for the state of Idaho.

I write this as a practicing physician who prescribes controlled substances and as a former County Coroner. I appeal to my physician colleagues: we can do a better job prescribing narcotics, treating pain, preserving the health of our communities.

To all the County Coroners, ask yourselves, are you happy with the system you have for investigating deaths? Are you doing a good job? Are there ways this could be done better? Just because it’s the law we have now doesn’t mean we can’t improve the system. Think about it.
 

Simpler lines

stapiluslogo1

Portland is not the only political jurisdiction to be governed the way it is, but it does have an unusual structure, and it can be confusing and hard to describe.

It has a mayor and a council, which run and make policy for the city, which is normal for most cities, but it gets confusing after that. Most cities with a mayor and council have either a "strong mayor" who acts as the chief administrator and manager, or a "weak mayor" who serves ceremonially and helps with policy setting but leaves the day to day management of the city to an appointed city manager.

There's a reason most cities operation along those lines: It works. When our national government was founded the drafted figured out that splitting the administrative and policy-making making functions (and, thirdly, the judicial functions for settling disputes) into mostly cleanly-divided portions of the government was a good idea. The federal executive and congressional divisions to get involved in both functions, but mainly that's intended as a check to keep anyone from getting out of hand. The core idea is that policy is created over here, and executed over there. It works pretty well.

Portland is one of those places (there are some small communities that do it too) that doesn't do it that way. Portland does not have a city administrator as such, or at least not a single one. Instead, in what is called "commission government," the city's sprawling agencies are divided between the mayor and the council members (the mayor gets to make the assignments), and then each of them, in addition to working on city policy and hearing from constituents, is also the top administrator for a gaggle of city agencies. Those assignments periodically get shifted around, too, and often don't match up with the backgrounds of the council members.

It has never seemed like a very well-oiled approach to management. But reconsidering the structure of Portland city government is something that has come up remarkably seldom. It did re-emerged last week, though, in a new advisory report by the Portland City Club.

Some of the report concluded that the council has not, historically, provided an especially broad representation of types of demographics - most members, over time, have been prosperous white men - though that is changing, and Portland has hardly been unique in that description.

The report also offered a number of other structural points with some useful ideas for Portlanders to consider:

* The current allocation of responsibility to the mayor and the city council appears to result in poor bureaucratic performance.

* Portland has long since outgrown the size of its current city council and would be better served across many different arenas by increasing the number of members.

* Changing to a form of preferential voting for city council members is urgently needed to deliver more equitable representation.

Committee Recommendations
* Executive authority should be centralized in the office of mayor, but delegated in large part to a city manager.

* Portland should have a professional city manager selected by the mayor, subject to council approval. The city manager must be a qualified professional with relevant training and experience.

* The mayor should serve as the permanent chairperson of the city council and cast tie-breaking votes where applicable, although this is a moot point as long as the total number of city council members (“regular” members plus the mayor) is an odd number.

* Portland should stop electing city council members in at-large elections, opting instead for district-based elections, preferably with multiple commissioners per district.

* Portland should further explore alternative systems of voting, using an appropriate equity lens to decide which system is most likely to produce the best results for Portland. While it was beyond the mandate of this committee to develop a definitive recommendation as to voting system, it is clear from our research that traditional “first-past-the-goalpost” voting is not the best system in terms of equity.

* The size of the Portland city council should be increased to at least eight commissioners, plus the mayor.

I could quibble. But the approach outlined here, which would bring Portland closer into line with many other cities locally and regionally (Seattle, say) make a lot of sense. We'll be watching to see if this proposal was a temporary ripple in the pond or actually picks up speed.

Which, to judge by the regular complaints in the city about the nature of municipal government, would make sense. And which Mayor Ted Wheeler, who seems to be more frustrated in his current job than in his previous postings at Multnomah County and the state treasury, might want to embrace.
 

Guidance from Honest Abe

jones

As we observe the 210th anniversary of the birth of America’s greatest president on February 12, we should reflect on Abraham Lincoln’s reputation for truthfulness. After all, we fondly recall him as “Honest Abe.” He first gained that nickname as a young store clerk in New Salem, Illinois, and carried it through his entire life.

Lincoln famously said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” He was absolutely right - the solution of any crisis depends upon knowing the true facts. It is the sacred duty of our leaders to tell us the truth.

This great country has developed a reliable infrastructure for gathering intelligence from around the world in order to advise our leadership of threats to our national security. The U.S. intelligence community is not perfect or foolproof. It has been wrong in the past but I would submit that most of the instances where it appears to have erred were the result of presidential pressure or obfuscation.

When intel reports were privately warning him of trouble ahead in Vietnam, President Johnson ignored the cautionary advice and substantially increased our troop commitment. The public was not provided with the true facts about what was happening in Vietnam and was not able to critically evaluate his policy. President Nixon also had trouble telling us the truth about Vietnam.

President George W. Bush jumped into a disastrous war in Iraq based on cooked up intelligence. The CIA tried on several occasions to convince the administration that Saddam Hussein posed no threat to the United States, but was ignored. After unrelenting pressure brought to bear on the agency by Vice President Cheney, the CIA gave in and said Iraq probably possessed weapons of mass destruction. So, we went to war on faulty intel.

The present obfuscation by President Trump is every bit as troubling and dangerous to America’s national security. The President has rejected the intelligence community’s assessment of the serious threats posed to the U.S. by Russia, North Korea and the Islamic State. Instead, he has ridiculed the Director of National Intelligence and the heads of the CIA and FBI for speaking truthfully to him.

It is no secret that North Korea does not intend to give up its nuclear weapons and the intel chiefs made that clear to Trump. His rejection of their assessment puts Kim Jong-un in the driver’s seat. Knowing he has the President’s trust, Kim can continue to lead Trump down the primrose path to more concessions.

The intel community knows that the Islamic State will be a serious danger to the U.S., even after the terrorists have been dislodged from their remaining enclaves in Syria. The intelligence experts had little success in disavowing Trump of the misconception that ISIS has been defeated. Ignoring the truth in Syria will come back to haunt us.

Of course, the President continues to disregard the intelligence community’s warnings about Russia’s malevolent actions. Rather than treating Russia like the enemy it is, Trump continues to do favors for Vladimir Putin. The U.S. has just disavowed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that was negotiated by President Ronald Reagan—something that has been near the top of Putin’s wish list.

Vladimir must also be tickled pink that Trump blasted the veracity and competence of our intelligence establishment for all of the world to hear. Rather than discrediting our intelligence professionals for speaking the truth, he should be praising them. We have the right to expect our President to follow in the footsteps of Honest Abe and speak the truth to the American people on important national security issues.