Writings and observations

carlson

Listening to President Trump’s rambling, meandering rant against the media and its allegedly dishonest coverage of his Administration last Thursday, as well as his claim that he had inherited a mess, reminded me of an old political story. It also led me to conclude that the POTUS is due for a refresher media training course.

The old story goes thus: A newly elected young governor was paying a courtesy call on the older veteran governor he had defeated in the November election. He was smart ernough to ask the veteran whether he had any counsel to impart.

The veteran governor said “as a matter of fact I do. I’m going to pass along to you the same package of three letters my predecessor handed me. When you first run hard into a sticky-wicket of an issue open the first letter. And when you run into a second crisis, open the second and if you have a third crisis open the third one. Then follow the advice in the letters.”

Sure enough, about one year into the new administration the new governor ran into a seemingly insoluble problem. Remembering the packet with the three letters he went to his desk, opened a drawer, took out the first letter and opened it. It simply said “ blame your predecessor!”

So he called a press conference and kicked the living daylights out of the previous governor. And it worked.

Another year went by and the governor ran into another, complex and complicated matter. Remembering the packet he went to his desk and extracted the second letter which he immediately opened. It simply said “blame the Legislature!”

So he called a press conference and ripped the Legislature. And it worked.

Another year passed before the governor hit the biggest bump in the road, a seemingly intractable matter with no solution in sight. Remembering he had one more letter he went to his desk, grabbed the last letter and ripped it open. It simply said “prepare three letters!”

The moral of this story is that executives, regardless of whether they are a president, a governor, a mayor or the chairman of a county commission, all are elected to solve problems and meet challenges head on without blaming anyone else. President Trump ought to take note.

He also should schedule and commit to taking a media training refresher course. Being the Donald, I’m sure he thinks he doesn’t need such training, but he clearly does.

The first rule is “never, ever lie to the media.” Rather than say he can’t say or he’ll get back to you, he shucks and jives media reporters. He continues to erode the one true sine qua non for any president or governor: the public trust. Without the implied consent of the governed a leader can never really govern. That he lies is incontestable; that he seems to get away with it is debatable; that he is rapidly losing the public trust also seems incontestable.

President Trump has to relearn how to stay on message and how to avoid the negative. Rather than deny his administration is so far a chaotic organization, he should block the thrust of the question and bridge to a positive message. So, rather than deny the chaos, which is manifest to all, he should not implicitly accept the premise of the question.

He should have said, “The premise of your question is wrong. While we’ve encountered a few bumps in the road here and there, we have taken on more campaign promises than any previous administration. We’re getting things going which will become more clear to you down the road.”

Notice, one does not repeat the negative in the question, but rather quickly says it is incorrect and then bridges to their message of the day.

The fact that neither the President nor his abused press secretary, Sean Spicer, understand this is one of many reasons they are coming off as rank amateurs.

Look for the Republicans in the House and Senate to recognize that by the mid-term elections in 2018 they had better impeach and remove Trump from office or they’ll suffer catastrophic losses.

The first rule of politics is the imperative to survive and riding the wooden rocking horse of Trump is not going to pave the way. Here’s hoping the Republic can survive the turbulence coming down the road.

Share on Facebook

Carlson

jones

It is time for the Legislature to repeal the faith-healing exemption to Idaho’s statute prohibiting the injury of children.

Section 18-1501 of the Idaho Code penalizes conduct by “any person” that is likely to endanger the person or health of a child. This applies to parents but the statute has qualifying language that limits violations to rather egregious conduct. It was carefully crafted to limit governmental intrusion into the family setting.

However, the statute includes an exemption that has allowed some parents to refuse to provide readily available health care to their children, resulting in needless suffering and death. The exemption says that the “practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.” This language should be eliminated in order to protect some our most helpless and vulnerable citizens.

Adults can decide for themselves on healthcare matters. If they decide to forego medical intervention for themselves for religious reasons, that is their prerogative. The state has an interest in safeguarding the health and safety of minors who cannot speak for themselves. Our laws have numerous protections for children without religious exemptions – marital age, child labor, ability to contract, and the like. In my estimation, the right to have basic life-saving healthcare trumps those protections.

A courageous young woman, Linda Martin, recently spoke out in a Statesman ad to urge the repeal of the faith-healing exemption. As a former member of a group that denies basic medical care to its youngest members, she spoke with eloquence and authority about the injury inflicted on sick children in the group. She closed with this statement: “This is not a freedom of religion issue: this is a right to live issue.” Amen.

Since at least the 1980s, when I served as Idaho Attorney General, the Legislature has passed numerous laws intended to support the right to life by using the power of the government to require women to carry a fetus to term. To my knowledge, none of those measures contained a religious exemption.

The question arises as to whether the right to life of some children in our great state ceases upon birth. It is time for the Legislature to stand up for our children and to require that faith-healing parents provide basic healthcare to their children.

Share on Facebook

Jones

trahant

Federal Indian programs have been added to the “high-risk” category by the Government Accountability Office. That designation could not come at a worse time.

The details. This is how the GAO defines its high risk identification: “The federal government is one of the world’s largest and most complex entities: about $3.9 trillion in outlays in fiscal year 2016 funded a broad array of programs and operations. GAO’s high-risk program identifies government operations with greater vulnerabilities to fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement or the need for transformation to address economy, efficiency, or effectiveness challenges.”

The GAO said it added federal Indian programs to its high risk category because “we have found numerous challenges facing Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education and Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Indian Health Service in administering education and health care services, which put the health and safety of American Indians served by these programs at risk. These challenges included poor conditions at BIE school facilities that endangered students, and inadequate oversight of health care that hindered IHS’s ability to ensure quality care to Indian communities. In addition, we have reported that BIA mismanages Indian energy resources held in trust and thereby limits opportunities for tribes and their members to use those resources to create economic benefits and improve the well-being of their communities.”

More from the GAO: “Congress recently noted, ‘through treaties, statutes, and historical relations with Indian tribes, the United States has undertaken a unique trust responsibility to protect and support Indian tribes and Indians.’ In light of this unique trust responsibility and concerns about the federal government ineffectively administering Indian education and health care programs and mismanaging Indian energy resources, we are adding these programs as a high-risk issue because they uniquely affect tribal nations and their members.”

The three agencies are lumped together as one in this report, yet the causes of what makes the agencies high risk are considerably different, requiring solutions that go well beyond what the agencies themselves can accomplish.

So let’s break it down.

First: GAO complains that the BIA has a problem quickly approving energy projects. This is Congress’ favorite problem. Congress can’t wait to solve this one by making the approval process faster than filling your car with a tank of gas. But the solutions ahead will also have unintended consequences for the very notion of trust lands, tribal control of energy projects, and the challenge of global warming. What happens when a tribe says, “hell no!” to say, the Keystone XL pipeline? That is a policy question that this Congress has all but answered.

Next the GAO says the Bureau of Indian Education “improves how it manages Indian education … including that Indian Affairs develop a strategic plan for BIE that includes goals and performance measures for how its offices are fulfilling their responsibilities to provide BIE with support; revise Indian Affairs’ strategic workforce plan to ensure that BIA regional offices have an appropriate number of staff with the right skills to support BIE schools in their regions; and develop and implement decision-making procedures for BIE to improve accountability for BIE schools.” My translation: Measure what works. Make better hires (with the right skills). And improve the decision-making process. Easy, right? Only hiring for BIE schools is easier said than done and the decision-making process is complicated by community priorities.

There is another problem at play: Conservative think-tanks have targeted BIE as operating “failing schools” and would replace them with a whacky scheme to create Education Savings Accounts. (Previous: Day One. Dramatic restructuring of government.) This whole notion is written by people who have no understanding of the geography of Indian Country or the makeup of the Native students. The BIE has unique challenges and there are many, many improvements that could be made. So adding to this discourse a GAO high-risk warning is, well, not helpful.

The third high-risk agency identified by the GAO is the Indian Health Service. The report says: “To help ensure that Indian people receive quality health care, the Secretary of HHS should direct the Director of IHS to take the following two actions: as part of implementing IHS’s quality framework, ensure that agency-wide standards for the quality of care provided in its federally operated facilities are developed and systematically monitor facility performance in meeting these standards over time; and develop contingency and succession plans for replacing key personnel, including area directors.” My translation: Measure what works. Make better hires (with the right skills). And improve the decision-making process. Easy, right? Again, it’s not as if the IHS is not trying to hire people. The problem is funding and a hiring process that is both cumbersome and required by law.

What I don’t get is why the GAO doesn’t see that the IHS mission has changed dramatically. One part of the agency is a funding mechanism, directing resources to tribal, non-profit, and urban health care facilities. The report alludes to that fact with this recommendation: “To help ensure that timely primary care is available and accessible to Indians, IHS should: develop and communicate specific agency-wide standards for wait times in federally-operated facilities, and monitor patient wait times in federally-operated facilities and ensure that corrective actions are taken when standards are not met.” The key phrase here is “federally-operated” because many of the tribal and nonprofit centers have solved this problem. GAO should have said this and focused on what works and why.

Another GAO recommendation about IHS might be the most tone deaf. It says, “we recommend that IHS realign current resources and personnel to increase capacity to deal with enrollment in Medicaid and the exchanges and prepare for increased billing to these payers.”

Clearing my throat here. Umm. Congress is going in exactly the opposite direction. The serious questions — the one that Congress ought to be answering — are how much will it cost IHS when Medicaid is turned into a block grant? What replaces Medicaid expansion funding at the local unit level? And, will states even fund a federal health care delivery system?

The GAO report makes a big deal about IHS developing a fair method for how it spends money on purchased and referral care. What the report should have said is that Congress is to blame. The problem is not the architecture; it’s the funding. No federal agency. No state agency. Hell, no private medical system spends less than the Indian health system. The real problem here is that it’s impossible to defy gravity.

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. On Twitter @TrahantReports (see TrahantReports.com)

Share on Facebook

Trahant

rainey

REPRESENTATIVE:
“a: Standing or acting for another through
delegated authority;”
“b: …(c)onstituting a government in which the many
are represented by persons chosen…by election”

It’s no secret an “un-representative” majority of the U.S. Congress doesn’t give two hoots in Hell about what the constituency thinks or expects from their Potomac residency. Despite what the good folks at Merriam-Webster have to say.

That comes as no surprise. But, never has it been so brazenly and gutlessly demonstrated as in recent weeks as the most intellectually vacant and outrageously unfit nominees for a President’s Cabinet were paraded before congressional committees.

Even the most unbiased observer would have to admit the more egregious examples of un-representative votes in those hearings came from Republicans far more than Democrats. In overwhelming numbers, folks at home – voters who elected the un-representatives – told them how they felt on one nominee after another. And, with a consistency rarely found in politics, those elected “un-representatives” – Republicans mostly – ignored them.

It’s widely accepted that, when considering a new President’s appointees, a lot of latitude is given to the Chief Executive to have the crew he wants. Often, this means swallowing hard because of a nominee’s tenuous talents to serve in a particular post. But this batch! Front to back – top to bottom – monied fools whose “leadership” abilities stopped far short of the vaguest qualifications. One, in fact, didn’t know for two days after appointment what his new job would be – believing it was to travel the world to promote this country’s oil and gas industries. A Dallas reporter had to “‘splain it” to him.

But un-representative members of Congress bellied up to the bar to approve everyone that reached the Senate floor.

Idaho had to look no further than Sens. Risch and Crapo to find what voters wanted them to do wasn’t worth a damn. Neither would meet with constituents – wouldn’t talk to them at district offices – wouldn’t come to the phone or return emails. In fact, neither would even make public what the public said about the list of unqualified nominees. Finally, one clerk in Crapo’s employ let slip that opposition to the Dept. Of Education chief was over 95%! Still, you know who ol’ Mike confirmed. Yep, he went with the 5%.

In state after state – district after district – across the nation, members of Congress “holed up.” Wouldn’t meet – wouldn’t talk – wouldn’t be interviewed – wouldn’t answer mail or phones. Some locked office doors – doors voters pay for in federal buildings we own. It was in your face. Our face. Locked doors and unanswered phones.

One flat out lie came from un-Rep. Cathy McMorriss Rogers, the highest ranking woman in the GOP in the House whose home office is in Spokane. She told voters she’d meet last week but only two at a time since the fire marshal had written her that was the most people that could be in her office at once. “Safety,” you know. Except he didn’t write. In fact, he said her office could “safely” handle 30 people.

Two reasons for this chicken-heartedness, I think. First, lobbyists with pockets full of money. Oil and gas people turned on all the money spigots for the new EPA chief, for example. Big bucks flooded in to D.C.. Textbook publishers and private charter school companies trucked in loads of greenbacks for the most unqualified billionaire ever to buy the Secretary of Education’s job. And so it went. Voices of greed outweighed voices of voters and filthy lucre supplanted “the right thing to do.”

Second, our un-representatives – mostly Republican – are scared to death of the President. Terrified of retribution – of having a primary opponent at home – of having their continued employment ended by a guy not worthy of his own elected position. They lack the guts to do their jobs for fear they’ll be violently ripped from the public trough in an act of Trump pique.

It’s doubtful the dollars will stop rolling in. So, there’ll likely be that obstacle between voters and members of Congress until that Citizens United decision is overturned. But, the fear factor may soon be ended. Especially in the Senate. When six or eight members – enough to sway the balance of voting – decide to do what’s right, Trump/Bannon will cease to be an employment or career threat. Then we may begin to see some semblance of independence.

There’s also the possibility a numbers/reality change in that same Senate could lead to a vacancy in the White House. You can already get betting odds in Vegas and Reno on impeachment. And those odds are slipping closer to 50-50 as we go along.

However all that may turn out, there’s a lesson here we voters must not forget. While 2018 is still a ways off – and some members won’t be up for re-election even then – we must remember who the un-representatives are. We need to clearly recall that, when we needed them to do the job we gave them, they didn’t show up. When we, in large numbers, needed to talk to them about what we wanted, they locked their doors and took their phones off the hook.

We were paying them to do their jobs. Others paid them not to.

Share on Facebook

Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Bureau of Land Management Challis Field Office and U.S. Forest Service Salmon-Challis National Forest are developing a draft plan for the Jim McClure-Jerry Peak Wilderness and are soliciting public comments.

Citing the stress on many rural county budgets, Idaho Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch joined 78 of their colleagues in sending a bipartisan, bicameral letter to the Office of Management and Budget calling on it to provide funding for the Secure Rural Schools program in the President’s upcoming budget request that will be submitted to Congress.

The Sawtooth National Forest is soliciting public comment in response to a proposal by the City of Ketchum, the City of Sun Valley, the City of Stanley, Blaine County, and the Idaho Conservation League to establish the ‘Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve’ on both public and private lands within an area that includes the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, portions of the Ketchum Ranger District, and the cities of Stanley, Ketchum, and Sun Valley.

The State Oil and Gas Regulatory Exchange, an innovative regulatory improvement program created under the States First Initiative by two state-based organizations, finds Idaho’s oil and gas regulatory structure to be mostly in line with the regulatory practices of other oil and gas producing states, and provides guidance for Idaho as its regulation of oil and gas exploration, drilling and production continues to evolve.

Senator Jim Risch, chair of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, released the following statement regarding the Senate confirmation of Linda E. McMahon to serve as the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.

(photo/Homestead Ministries, the Boise Rescue Mission and The Ambrose School in Meridian at their Feed the Need event on February 10. This event incorporates crops grown in the Pacific Northwest and packaged by 500 students in one day. (photo/Governor Otter)

Share on Facebook

Digests

Water rights weekly report for January 9. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A special master on February 14 sided with Georgia in its dispute with Georgia over water rights in the Apalachicola River, Chattahoochee River and Flint River.

Despite objections from many water suppliers that drought conditions have ended, the State Water Resources Control Board this week voted unanimously to extend emergency water conservation regulations throughout California.

Dropping water levels in Kenya’s Lake Turkana following the development of dams and plantations in Ethiopia’s lower Omo Valley threaten the livelihoods of half a million indigenous people in Ethiopia and Kenya, Human Rights Watch said on February 14.

The Idaho Senate has voted to confirm four members of the Idaho Water Resource Board who were reappointed to new four-year terms by Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Idaho Water Resource Board Chairman Roger Chase of Pocatello was confirmed for a third term; Albert Barker, a Boise attorney, was confirmed for a second term; Vince Alberdi of Kimberly, retired, was confirmed for a third term; and John “Bert” Stevenson of Rupert, retired, was confirmed for a second term.

A measure that would have let Wyoming state agencies negotiate for water rights in Lake DeSmet failed on February 15 in the state Senate.

Share on Facebook

Digests

stapiluslogo1

Lest Donald Trump’s use of the phrase “enemy of the American people” – to describe the news media – be dismissed as just another rhetorical flights by an incoherent president, put it into some context.

The phrase has a long and deeply chilling history.

First, what he said on Friday, was wrapped in a criticism (vague and unspecific, which is not unusual) of the news media. Presidential complaints about news organizations is nothing new; that goes back all the way to Washington, with examples available from all or nearly all presidents since. Richard Nixon famously considered the press his “enemy.”

The phrase “enemy of the people” is something different, and far more toxic. And if there’s one “enemy of the people” out there, other similar designations won’t be far behind.

The phrase was used in ancient Rome, though there it tended to be applied to one person, and to one person in power (in the best documented case, by the Roman Senate of Nero).

The French Revolution made significant use of the phrase, this time to apply to categories of people, as in this 1793 quote from Maximilien Robespierre: “The revolutionary government owes to the good citizen all the protection of the nation; it owes nothing to the Enemies of the People but death”.

Vladimir Lenin adopted the usage during and after the Russian Revolution. From Wikipedia: “The Soviet Union made extensive use of the term (Russian language: враг народа, “vrag naroda”), as it fit well with the idea that the people were in control. The term was used by Vladimir Lenin after coming to power, as early as in the decree of 28 November 1917: ‘all leaders of the Constitutional Democratic Party, a party filled with enemies of the people, are hereby to be considered outlaws, and are to be arrested immediately and brought before the revolutionary court.’ … An enemy of the people could be imprisoned, expelled or executed, and lose their property to confiscation. Close relatives of enemies of the people were labeled as ‘traitor of Motherland family members’ and prosecuted.”

What Lenin did, his successor Josef Stalin did more. During his long reign in the Soviet Union, “enemy of the people” designations got a massive workout, covering dozens of categories of people – anyone, really, Stalin didn’t like, whether or not they were a threat to him. And as University of Pennsylvania professor Mitchell Orenstein notes, “What it basically meant was a death sentence. … The formula ‘enemy of the people’ was specifically introduced for the purpose of physically annihilating such individuals.”

Mao Zedong picked the lesson for China too. There, as Chinese writer Li Yuan pointed out, “every dissenting voice was ‘the enemy of the people’ under Mao.” People so designated got under Mao about the same as their counterparts in the Soviet Union under Stalin.

Trump surely is no great student of history, but some of the people around him have looked into some these precedential areas enough to understand the meaning of the phrase. (Top presidential advisor Steve Bannon was quoted as saying in 2013, “I’m a Leninist.” Some context for the phrase “enemy of the people” would undoubtedly be familiar to him.)

Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein tweeted after the Trump statement: “The most dangerous ‘enemy of the people’ is presidential lying – always. Attacks on press by Donald Trump more treacherous than Nixon’s.” Unlike Nixon’s, which were dismissed widely as personal animus, this new attack by a president easily could lead to murders to journalists, even aside from direct state action. (In mirror image to the scene in Russia under its latest autocrat, another Vladimir.)

One addition to that is merited: What a president, or other national leader, does can be even more dangerous than what they say.

Share on Facebook

Stapilus

stapiluslogo1

After describing in a recent column annoying cell phone service gaps in the Idaho Statehouse, the Lewiston Tribune’s William Spence remarked how that serves as a metaphor for this:

“I can’t count the number of hearings I’ve attended where the testimony is skewed entirely one way or the other and the committee votes the opposite way.”

In my days covering the legislature years ago, that happened seldom. If the testimony was strongly weighted in one direction, that ordinarily was how the committee would vote. Apparently not so much these days.

I crowdsourced the question of whether Spence was right. The crowd told me that he was.

The legislative examples cited most were guns on campus, Medicaid expansion and “add the words.” Large crowds showed in support of the the latter two and against the first; few people countered; the committees involved wasted little time siding with the few. (They did at least, it should be said, hear out the public first.)

Holli Woodings, a former state representative, offered: “Guns on campus. I listened to an entire day of testimony against it, and still was in the committee minority voting nay. There were two, maybe three folks who testified in favor, and dozens against, including law enforcement, educators, students, administration, and others who actually had a stake.” The proposal won approval.

Activist Donna Yule: “Happens all the time in the Idaho statehouse. It’s extremely frustrating to all the people who take the time to testify. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the GOP Chairs of the committees already have their minds made up, and they care more about their base voters than the people of Idaho. But I still think the testimony matters. Even though they ignore the people testifying, it still makes them uncomfortable, and maybe eventually the people will get angry enough to rise up against them and vote in some new people who WILL listen.”

Do your representatives listen? Actually listen, or just sit there with minds made up?

Idaho’s United States senators have been barraged with comments and protesters in recent weeks, but there’s been little response from them.

After Senator Mike Crapo’s office rebuffed media requests to find out how Idahoans calling in on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos stood, a staffer let slip to the Payette County commissioners: “DeVos is the one we’re hearing the most about … and I think 95 percent are against her.” Crapo, and fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, voted for DeVos’ confirmation, and said little or nothing about what they were hearing from back home.

Okay. It’s possible not every protesting call or visit came from a constituent (though I’d bet the great bulk of them did). It isn’t the job of a representative to vote in the popular direction every time. Yes, it’s those in opposition who usually are most motivated to step up, more than those in support. Sometimes the majority is wrong; it happens.

But when this kind of dissonance happens as often as it seems to (and yes, Idaho is not alone in this), something is wrong.

In saying this, I’m looking most directly at the voters. Are you not being listened to? Are your concerns not being met? Are your representatives not doing what you want them to do?

If you think so, then: Are you getting organized and out to the polls? That’s the message that will be heard without a doubt.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

schmidt

Idaho conservatives are proud that the state runs a balanced budget and doesn’t do deficit spending like “the Feds”. But I have long maintained we do sustain deficit spending in three areas, we just don’t put these figures on the balance sheet, so they are easy to ignore.

Our infrastructure maintenance deficit for just our roads and bridges amounts to about $190M a year; further, deferred maintenance on state owned buildings adds another $500M, not annualized. I don’t consider it a conservative value to neglect what you own.

The second running deficit not on a balance sheet is the constitutionally required investment in public education. Governor Otter even acknowledged we weren’t sustaining this obligation a couple years back, and we are paying the costs of this deficit in our low wages. The symmetry of Idaho being 49th in the nation in education spending and 50th in average household wages is not just a coincidence.

But two articles in our local paper this week highlighted the third area where we run a deficit: governance. In two separate incidents, two employees of different small water or sewer districts have been charged with misuse of public funds. One seemed a pretty clear case of fingers in the cash drawer, but the other made me think of a slowly crumbling stone wall, falling down out of neglect.

The commissioners of these small districts are elected officials, thus responsible to their constituents. They should have procedures in place to maintain the integrity of entrusted funds. Such procedures require work and deserve reward. But I doubt the small towns have many citizens clamoring for this thankless responsibility. I know how hard it is to get people to run for school boards, but think what happens to institutions that aren’t supported: they crumble.

One of the employees charged with misuse had been the treasurer for 16 years, after all the other board members resigned. She collected payments in a jar by the register in the small town’s café. She employed her son to do maintenance work because she couldn’t physically do it at the age of 80.

I am hearing all the time from folks in our rural areas how things would be better if “the guvmint would just get out of our business”.

This sentiment ignores the fact that we, the people are our government. And if you have an institution you rely on be it water from the tap, the waste you flush, the power in the socket, the roads or the schools, if you aren’t willing to contribute something, your valuable time or some of your wealth or income to that institution, it will crumble. But even more insidious is the growing belief that our elected officials are all corrupt or incompetent or self-serving. When or if this proves true, prosecution is in order. But if we citizens have failed to invest in our civic duty and we let the institutions we value degrade, there is some blame looking back at us in the mirror.

Finally, if you have a neighbor who does donate some of their time to city council or cemetery district service, thank them and maybe wonder what they deserve for such effort besides your generous gratitude. If you expect such service for free, you will probably get what you pay for, maybe worse.

Public service deserves our respect, our vigilance and our gratitude. It is a debt we owe.

Share on Facebook

Schmidt

jones

Please welcome our new columnist – Jim Jones, former Idaho Supreme Court chief justice and a former Idaho attorney general.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch expressed what many judges around the country were likely thinking when he commented that the President’s criticism of judges and courts was “demoralizing” and “disheartening” to the judiciary.

Whether such comments were rehearsed or spontaneous, they were on the mark. Not that judges have tender feelings – they often are criticized by unsophisticated litigants who lose in court. The disparaging criticism here came from the chief executive of our country, a person who has personally resorted to the courts of this country thousands of times to seek redress for perceived grievances.

Our system of justice is unrivaled in the world. One reason the United States became such an economic powerhouse is that we have a court system that is honest and even-handed. Litigants know that they will be listened to and treated fairly. Not every judge is perfect but the overwhelming majority are dedicated to the rule of law, both in state and federal courts.

The U.S. District Judge in Seattle who ruled first on the travel ban case was not a “so-called” judge. He was appointed by former President George Bush and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. The Ninth Circuit Court panel that heard the case on appeal acted as an appellate court should – it reviewed the record carefully and asked searching questions of both sides. The hearing was not “disgraceful” but conducted with fairness and dignity. The problem for the Government was that it provided no factual basis to support the ban, relying instead on the mantra that its decision could not be reviewed.

That argument might well prevail in Russia, where Putin gets everything he wants from his courts. It does not work so well in a country where wise founding fathers set up a system of checks and balances to keep government from overreaching. As part of that system, three co-equal branches of government were established – the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. It is the responsibility of the judicial branch to call the balls and strikes when executive action is challenged as being in violation of statutes or the Constitution. This has occurred many times over the years in previous administrations.

It is fair game for a president or governor to criticize a court decision. But lambasting judges or courts for the decision is hurtful to the integrity of the judicial branch. Judges are ethically limited from speaking out to explain or justify a decision or to defend themselves against accusations made by disgruntled litigants. Unfair attacks on judges or the court system as a whole undermine public confidence in the courts.

I served 12 years on the Idaho Supreme Court and was impressed with the work of judges throughout the State–magistrate judges, district judges and appellate judges. I can’t recall any instance where a colleague made a decision based on ideology or personal beliefs. I can recall numbers of times when each of us decided a case contrary to our personal beliefs in order to be true to the law. That happens every day throughout the country. Our legal system is not “broken,’ or “disgraceful,”or “politically motivated.” Our court system is dedicated to the rule of law and will remain so unless it is eroded away by uninformed and unfair charges.

Three of the members of Idaho’s Congressional Delegation are lawyers and members of the Idaho State Bar. They should step forward to defend the integrity of the courts and judges.

Jim Jones served as a Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court from 2005 through 2016.

Share on Facebook

Jones