Writings and observations

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Many life or death problems face America today, including possible nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, clean-up from three massively destructive hurricanes, a horrendous mass shooting in Las Vegas, horrible and deadly wild fires in California, a break with the rest of the world’s powers over the Iran nuclear deal, and whether NFL players disrespect American service personnel when they take a knee during the national anthem.

During this time of crisis, much news coverage has been devoted to the last issue.

Being a war veteran, I believe I have the credentials to give an opinion on that issue. That is, I voluntarily entered the U.S. Army in 1967, despite leg injuries that would have exempted me from the draft. When the Army did not honor my request to serve in Southeast Asia, I requested a transfer to Vietnam. Although I had a law degree, I chose to serve in an artillery unit. I served 407 days in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Province, most of it living with South Vietnamese soldiers. I did all of this to honor and respect American values.

One of the most sacred American values is the right to protest what we Americans regard as injustice. Our nation was founded in protest. Many Europeans came to America, having gotten in hot water in their homelands for protesting governmental or religious practices. Americans fought the Revolutionary War to protest British governmental oppression. Ever since, we have taken it for granted that we can protest practically anything the government does, so long as we do it peacefully. My service in the military was partly motivated to protect that right.

The NFL players and others say they are protesting to raise awareness of racial injustice. They have a valid point of view in that regard, although I think there are better ways of focusing attention on the issue. I have not heard any of them say that members of the U.S. military are not worthy of respect. I would recognize military disrespect if I saw it. While I was not personally subjected to disrespect when I got back from Vietnam, many of my brothers in arms were–raw, awful disrespect.

What does disrespect men and women in the military is to characterize swastika-toting neo-nazis as good people. They certainly have the right to brandish their flags and torches, while they utter anti-semitic chants, but let’s remember that many American service personnel, not to mention millions of European Jews, died at the hands of people who cherished the swastika and nazism. For that matter, many Americans died fighting secessionists who worshiped the confederate battle flag.

What also dishonors veterans of all wars is to demean an American prisoner of war like John McCain who served his country with distinction and who comported himself with honor and dignity while being subjected to inhuman treatment at the hands of his captors.

I would never fail to stand with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played, but I certainly would not condemn a person who chose that form of protest to bring attention to perceived failings of the government. The right to protest is deep in the soul of America and is among the rights that I and many other veterans went overseas to protect.

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Jones

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 16. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Congress was mostly out this week, so despite big news from Washington there was little to connect to Idaho. A number of significant social subjects come up, though.

A former Republican legislator has helped form a new political action committee, Moderates are Taking Hold, aimed at encouraging independent and Democratic voters to participate in the 2018 Idaho Republican primary.

The Department of Homeland Security will continue to allow the use of current Idaho driver’s licenses and identification cards at federal security checkpoints, such as courthouses, military bases and airport TSA screenings.

Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo, Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Risch, and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide resources to assist communities recovering from damaging wildfires.

A national search has gotten udnerway to find a new president of Lewis Clark State College.

Micron Technology, Inc., on October 10 announced that it intends to offer, subject to market and other considerations, approximately $1 billion of shares of common stock in an underwritten registered public offering.

Harvest season for adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead will open Sunday, Oct. 15 on the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers.

A section of the Boise River Greenbelt in east Boise will be closed by Ada County starting October 25, 2017 through June 22, 2018 in order to install irrigation pipe for the Penitentiary Canal and build a wider, safer, smoother asphalt pathway for Greenbelt users.

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Briefings

jorgensen

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participated in a roundtable discussion with students, teachers and administrators from McMinnville High School (MHS) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11.

The discussion followed a tour that DeVos took of the school, as protesters and supporters gathered outside in the rainy fall weather. There were no such protests at the museum, which is a private facility.

It also came hours after the announcement that Oregon’s chief state schools officer, Salem Noor, resigned abruptly and immediately and was replaced on an interim basis by Governor Kate Brown’s education innovation officer Colt Gill. Brown was out of the country participating in an Asian trade mission.

DeVos sipped coffee, listening intently and smiling as students shared their success stories.

MHS Principal Tony Vicknair told DeVos about the 17 pathways that the school provides for students in an attempt to tie learning to career opportunities. He said the school encourages students to try multiple pathways, and that it’s just as important for them to know what areas they don’t want to pursue as careers.

A male student described how his father’s career in construction and his own passion for welding helped inspire him to pursue the school’s fabrication pathway. He said he had a “good experience with it.”

“It’s fulfilling to work in that area,” he said. “It’s an experience I probably wouldn’t trade for anything else.”

Another student had been tasked with building a business as part of his coursework, and has used that experience to establish his own clothing brand. Still another said he has been working with local farmers to use unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance the productivity of their fields.

One student, whose father is a plumber, said he enjoys working outside and with his hands. His focus has been on woodshop and construction, and said he’s confident he will be able to make a good living without having to take out student loans.

Multiple students talked about the financial hardships they had growing up and how the school and its programs and staff have helped them overcome those challenges. A common theme of the talk was the ways in which more opportunities in school create more opportunities in life, as students receive hands-on experience working with employers in the area.

Vicknair touted the school’s status as the best in Oregon at utilizing a state program that allows students to earn college credits before they graduate. He added that MHS has 17 advanced placement (AP) classes, and that more of its students took AP tests last year than ever before.

The second round of the discussion involved a panel of teachers and administrators. Vicknair said that when he first took over as principal, the school only had four pathways. Administrators worked to expand those options for students.

“We’re pushing kids to grow,” a teacher told DeVos.

DeVos said the discussion was “very inspiring” and praised the pathways concept.

“It’s very clear you have a special school,” she said. “You each have important stories to tell.”

Vicknair characterized MHS as the best high school in Oregon. One would expect him to say such a thing, but it was obvious that he truly means it, and none of the students in the room seemed to disagree.

Overall, it was a much more productive discussion than any of the shouting that took place outside of the high school during DeVos’ visit or on social media in the days leading up to it. That kind of demonization is far too common in these divisive times.

So much of politics in the modern era has become about personalities, instead of policies and their eventual outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to education and a system that everyone seems to agree hasn’t been working as well as it could or should, including those who wonder what there is to show for the decades that the federal Department of Education has been in existence.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about President Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos—it’s about teachers encouraging students to pursue their hopes, dreams and passions, which is everything our education system should be about. It’s something that the staff at MHS appear to be doing rather well, which begs the question of whether that kind of success can be duplicated at the national level.

If DeVos’ trip to McMinnville is any indication of what she plans to do in her position, then perhaps her critics’ fears will prove to be unfounded and petty.

A young man stood alone outside the museum yelling his disapproval of DeVos as the event concluded. However, his slogans went unheard by the various students, teachers, administrators, school board members and other officials who sat inside dining at a reception honoring the school and its impressive achievements.

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Jorgensen

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I’ve taken to describing the already long-running Idaho Republican primary for governor as “fluid,” meaning that it’s yet to be won, that campaigning will matter, and a number of important constituencies are not nailed down.

With three major candidates in the race – Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist – there are nine plausible outcomes, as each of the three realistically could come in first, second or third. The dynamics are intriguing to watch, though maybe agonizing to be a part of.

To highlight some of the pieces in play, I thought I’d direct this column, and the next one, to two alternative prospects, about one of the candidates – whose fortunes seem the least predictable of the three – and consider what might result in his top-ranked win or last-place loss.

That candidate would be Ahlquist, the Boise downtown and metro developer, a newcomer to Idaho – after background as a physician in Salt Lake City – and at present a highly active campaigner. The next paragraphs consider why he might come in third; wait a week for why he might come in first.

He could lose partly for reasons so many businessman candidates for higher office – who have little or no experience running for or serving in office – do. Politics can look easy; he’s been a success in complex business (and other) spheres, so running for office should be a piece of cake, right? In fact, the skill sets for candidates and for many other things, including business leaders and physicians, are distinct. In some people they overlap, but often they don’t. Cecil Andrus was a highly effective campaigner and governor, but he didn’t light the world afire as a businessman. The skill sets were different. Sometimes the stronger the skill set is in one area, the less well they transfer to a different arena.

Compared to many gubernatorial candidates, Ahlquist is not a long-timer in Idaho. He has been civicly active in recent years, but his ties are recent. Little and Labrador have connections and networks built over decades (in Little’s case, over many generations). Both have been able to draw on extensive campaign structures, fundraising, community help, volunteers and much more, created over a long time; Ahlquist had to start from scratch.

Ahlquist is less well known around Idaho than his competitors, and generally has polled well behind them. That can be a solvable problem; name identification can be built in the way he has been developing it, through ads, news reports, campaigning and so on. But there are other problems associated with being a newcomer.

Little and Labrador have established identities. Those don’t work completely in their favor, but they do carry the advantage amounting to a known quantity: A level of trust in knowing who this guy is. (Some aspects of that problem, such as Ahlquist’s past support for some Democratic candidates, already have emerged.) Ahlquist has yet to be fully defined. He’s working on it, but much of that kind of definition is (as ever) not fully within his control. And, as Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff probably could tell you, too much advertising will wear on people over time; it can start to grate, even if it’s well done.

Ahlquist has supporters around Idaho, but he’s overwhelmingly identified with Boise – not necessarily the best place in the state to be overwhelmingly identified with.

And who or what is Ahlquist’s base? Little has the establishment Republican base (which, remember, did extremely well in the 2014 Republican primaries), and may be augmented by crossover independents and Democrats. Labrador has a well-established, and substantial, activist base, notably in the first congressional district. Where is Ahlquist coming from? Is he seeking out the Donald Trump-oriented support? Or something else? Remember, in the 2016 presidential, Ahlquist was a backer of Marco Rubio, not Donald Trump. We haven’t heard the last of that.

And there’s more. But there’s also a flip side: Ahlquist could win this primary. Next week I’ll get into why that might happen.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

jones

Although I have not been a big fan of publicly-financed elections, I have come to believe that public financing would work well in contested judicial races. Judges are not politicians and they should certainly not be. The problem is that a contested election for a district or appellate court position costs money and raising money to finance such an election looks unseemly.

Judicial candidates are prohibited from personally asking for campaign contributions. So, they must ask others to shake the bushes for campaign money on their behalf. Even though the candidate is somewhat removed from the fund-raising activity, it just does not look good. It gives the appearance of justice being for sale.

In my twelve years on the Supreme Court, I saw no hint of any decision of any Idaho court having been influenced by a campaign contribution. However, we are dealing with public perception of the impartiality of the judiciary. If people see fund-raisers hustling on behalf of persons who want to be judges, it tends to diminish confidence in the judicial system. Public financing could help shore up public confidence in the judiciary.

Public financing would not be that costly for taxpayers. Although election contests have become more common in recent years for Supreme Court positions, there has been only one contest every other year for that court since the turn of the century. I cannot recall an election contest for the Court of Appeals. If public financing were to cover district court races, there would be an average of 3-4 contests in each four-year election cycle (an average of one per year).

A cost of $150,000 per candidate for Supreme Court elections and $50,000 per candidate for district court would be in the general ballpark. That would mean legislative funding of about $300,000 every two years for the Supreme Court and $400,000 every four years for district court races.

Public financing could be limited to candidates who commit to forego any other source of financial support and who are interviewed by the Idaho Judicial Council and receive a rating of “qualified” or better. The Judicial Council does an outstanding job of evaluating candidates and is in a position to determine those who possess the qualifications for a judicial position. Public funds would not be available to those determined by the Council to be unqualified.

Public confidence in the justice system would be enhanced by relieving candidates of the drudgery and indignity of fund raising. There does appear to be public support for the concept. In a citizen survey conducted in 2002 by Rachel Vanderpool Burdick, 60% of voters who responded said they would support public financing of judicial elections. West Virginia and New Mexico have had good success with public financing and perhaps the time has come for Idaho to give it a try.

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Jones

carlson

Tommy Ahlquist, the 49-year-old medical doctor turned fabulously wealthy developer who wants to be Idaho’s next governor, lacks neither passion nor raw ambition nor confidence that he’s got the answers and should be Idaho’s governor.

He’s got all the answers, just ask him. He’s charming, articulate, intelligent. He’s also terribly arrogant and naïve about what it is to govern a state. He thinks it just takes leadership and a plan, sort of a blue print for progress. He could use a strong dose of humility.

He was peddling his formula like an old snake oil salesman last week in St. Maries as part of his “Visit all 44 Idaho counties in 44 days” tour. Let’s start with the fact that he has stated flatly he will spend whatever it takes of his fortune to be governor—“one dollar more than is necessary to win.”

That one you can take to the bank. He has already spent thousands of dollars on tv advertising in the Treasure Valley (the great state of Ada as he likes to say when outside the largest county). He has signs up everywhere, has hired top-notch staff, has sophisticated polling and intends to buy the govrnorship.

His basic pitch is he has ideas and the leadership ability to lead Idaho through improvements in education without costing more, achieving an Idaho based solutions to health care challenges, taking care of small business and oh yes tax reform. So he throws out simple solutions to complex challenges and while his tour is supposedly a listening tour he clearly isn’t listening much, he already has the answers, so just elect him.

Unfortunately, rather than provide real specifics, he loves to use gimmicks, such as 44 counties in 44 days or claiming that in the first100 days he’ll find $100 million of pork in the state budget that he’ll cut out. Count on it.

Another gimmick—he promised to disclose his wealth and makes much of demanding other candidates follow suit. Trouble is he’s too cute by half. Instead of truly disclosing how much he is worth or who his partners are in some of his ventures, he released the names of 25 businesses he owns and 29 investments he has. His disclosure was to say they are all worth more than $5000.

Somehow one suspects most Idahoans won’t see that as true transparency. As the AP pointed out, he also did not list his liabilities therefore it is impossible to determine his net worth.

Another gimmick is his trite phrase regarding education reform. He says he will create a “line of sight between Idaho kids and Idaho jobs.” What the heck does that mean? He talks about goals for education, about abolishing the department of education, and says it can be done by spending less money.

He fails to see that part of the problem is Idaho’s system of education is failing to produce enough graduates that have a real work ethic. Ask any job recruiter and they’ll tell you how hard it is to find kids today who know they have to be to work on time and to work hard. He said not a word about how he would instill such a work ethic. And of course he does not support the Common Core initiative—you know, that pesky interference by the Feds to usurp local control and try to measure how well our students will compete with the rest of the world.

He also pitched tax reform at the state level, though Idaho businesses appear fairly comfortable with Idaho’s pretty predictable balancd three-legged stool (income, sales and property taxes). He also conceded that until one knows what will happen with tax reform at the fedeal level it will be difficult to effect state reforms.

While he talked knowledgably about the challenges of health care and its reform (he is after all an m.d.), until asked about the role of the constantly rising costs of pharmaceuticals and the role they play in driving costs, he had not said a word. Reminded by the question he denounced the industry (to his credit) but admitted he had no answer.

Saying he didn’t necessarily have an answer was the most refreshing thing he said for it did show he has an inkling that there are some challenges that don’t have simple solutions.

The biggest challenge for Tommy Ahlquist when all is said and done is he has to overcome his own thinly disguised sense of entitlement to be crowned governor. After all he has invested $300 million in Idaho and the least Idahoans can do to show their apppreciation is to hand the governorship to him. Don’t bet on it, Tommy.

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Carlson

mckee

Tillerson is an enigma. Most of the comment, from both sides of the aisle and all of the media, is that he is proving to be the least skilled and most ineffective Secretary of State in history. He has an inadequate staff and little support from those within his own department. He has developed no reliable connections in Congress. He has completely isolated himself, by his own choice, from the press. And he has more recently managed to wall himself into a corner with the White House.

In any ordinary times, his resignation would be inevitable. If General Kelly were not insisting that Trump make no more major staff changes until next year, he would probably be gone by now.

But these are not ordinary times. The world is on the brink of nuclear disaster unlike any presented since the height of the cold war, brought to a head by an ongoing volley of insults between Trump and the dictator of North Korea. Tillerson, alone in the Trump administration, advocates a diplomatic solution. He has expressly declared that a military solution would not be tolerable. His efforts are not, however, in line with the tenor of comment coming from the Whitehouse and elsewhere.

Trump, and the cabal of sycophants he has surrounded himself with, are far more inept and ill qualified to meet the international challenges than is Tillerson, as inept as he may be. Of all of the other voices within the administration weighing in on this matter, the most reliable sounds come from three hard edge military generals, who can only see military solutions to any problem, and a former hill-billy governor, who is trying hard but is already in way over her head.

The military solution does have a seductive appeal. So long as China stays out of it, the U.S. would probably prevail in any conventional military action on the Korean Peninsula, albeit at a horrible cost. Unless China comes to its aid, which it has said it will not do, North Korea does not have the economic capacity or the industrial substructure to sustain extended, full scale warfare. In the long run, this would mean success under the military approach, but a cost of potentially millions of lives in South Korea and perhaps Japan and Guam. Most objective commentators see this cost as too great to warrant the risk. Also, despite its promise, there is no guarantee that China would stay out, which would dramatically change all odds.

A diplomatic solution is not an off-the-wall pie-in-the-sky. North Korea was a full party to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty from 1984 to 2003. Kim Jong-il, then dictator of North Korea, walked away from the treaty obligations following the hostile remarks of President George W. Bush, who lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq in what he termed the “axis of evil.” When Bush launched the U.S. attack against Sadam Hussain and invaded Iraq, Kim Jong-Il disappeared into hiding for over two months, convinced that the U.S. intended to pursue him and invade North Korea next.

Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and currently the dictator in sole control of the North Korean regime, has repeatedly stated that his buildup of nuclear and missile arms is for defense only, intended to prevent outside influences from attempting to overthrow his government. He is convinced that the United States intends to oust him from office, collapse the North Korean government, and bring about a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This fear is neither surprising nor unreasonable, for this is exactly what every President from Dwight Eisenhower forward has declared to be the United States’ policy objectives for North Korea.

In response to world efforts to convince North Korea to return to the non-proliferation movement, the North Korean leaders have repeatedly stated five requests to be considered at any such discussion: (1) that the West stop promoting regime change or regime collapse; (2) that the West stop advocating reunification of the peninsula; (3) that the U.S. withdraw all forces from South Korea; (4) that the economic sanctions against North Korea be extinguished; and (5) the U.S. and its allies complete and ratify a formal peace treaty to formally end the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

Up to now, the United States has refused even to discuss any of these requests. Instead, the U.S. has established what it terms is a non-negotiable, non-debatable condition that before any discussion of any issue with North Korea can occur, North Korea must first and immediately surrender all of its nuclear weapons. The United States insists that North Korea capitulate to this demand in its entirety before any discussion on any other topic will even be considered.

Every expert who has studied the issues and is familiar with Far Eastern cultures has expressed the view that this demand makes any accord impossible; no Far Eastern leader would willingly accept the loss of face and mark of disrespect that the capitulation demanded by the United States would entail.

Currently, Tillerson is the only voice actually advocating diplomacy. As long as he can hang on and weather the firestorm swirling around him, there exists the Pollyanna hope that he may prove to be the shining knight, due to arrive in the nick of time with a true solution. While Trump and Kim Jong-un are continuing to exchange insults and accelerate threats of disastrous consequences, Tillerson, according to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is quietly working in backchannels, silently and away from the spotlight, to craft a broad diplomatic strategy to resolve the crisis. His plan is aimed at persuading China to take charge and lead a multi-national conference on the issue.

Most experts believe that for any diplomatic solution to succeed, participation by China is essential. China has a strong economic interest in sustaining a peaceful, diplomatic solution, as it has a common border with North Korea of almost 900 miles, shares a cultural history with the Korean people going back thousands of years, and has no desire to be dragged into a land war on the Asian Continent. The deep and long standing relationships between the two countries put the Chinese well positioned to understand, draw out, develop and implement the cultural underpinnings necessary to the success of any diplomatic resolution with the North Koreans – something the United States has repeatedly proven itself incapable of accomplishing, even with competent leaders running the show.

The huge problem Tillerson faces is convincing foreign officials that he speaks with any authority in light of the barrage of contradictory statements and twitter messages emanating from the Whitehouse, and Trumps’ demonstrated penchant for cutting the legs from under his cabinet officers. While Trump initially appeared to support allowing China to lead in the search for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, he almost immediately clouded the issue by first criticizing Xi Zenping in the manner of his approach and then threatening to impose sanctions upon China, because Trump did not believe Xi was acting swiftly enough. Trump appears to be incapable of keeping his nose out of it, but insists on continuing to direct and criticize, even when the outcome is in the control of others.

Tillerson, in his discussions being held behind the scenes with both Chinese and Russian resources, has indicated an interest in at least opening discussions with North Korea along any lines, just to get talks started. He is looking for China or Russia to broker and manage the beginning of any discussions, with the United States staying out of the way. He seems to indicate an understanding that any solution with North Korea will have to afford an acceptable degree of respect for the regime and its leader, and will have to be structured to allow Kim Jong-un the opportunity to save face.

An appropriate response to these proposals seems obvious to many onlookers: why not? Get the players around a table somewhere and get the talks open. See where it goes. Listen to the other side. Find out what they want. There is no necessity for an extensive pre-condition to just opening talks. No deal will happen without everyone’s agreement, but that agreement does not have to be pre-ordained to make the conference productive.

So far, Trump’s provocative tweets, and the formal statements emanating from the generals and others to explain Trump’s tweets, have all looked towards the military solution. Nevertheless, despite the firestorm of bad press, Tillerson is still at it, and has recently declared that he has no intention of quitting. Trump has declared that he has complete faith in Tillerson, and no intention of firing him. If this latter part is true, and Tillerson can keep from getting his rear end fired, he just might be able to find the way out.

He will, of course, have to stop calling Trump a fucking moron.

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McKee

rainey

Bolstered by a series of recent events, I’ve come to a new theory about where this nation went wrong – politically speaking. That was when employment in Congress was allowed to become full-time.

Over the years, many events pointed to this fact. Created some thought. Created some talk. But the Las Vegas massacre- and the absolutely blank stare coming out of Washington in its aftermath – really drove it home.

While even the NRA felt moved to say SOMETHING post-Vegas, congressional Democrats – damned near all of ‘em – have kept their collective mouth shut. The best the Republicans have come up with is “Now is not the time to discuss this.” “NOT THE TIME?”

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, was our political response “Now is not the time” to talk about our new “relationship” with the Japanese empire? When London was bombed in ‘39-40 did Churchill say “Now is not the time to discuss it?”

With the streets of Vegas still wet with blood and the cries of the wounded filling the air, there was no better time. The Vegas mass killing was not the first in the last 50 years. Or even the 40th or the 105th or any number up to about 600. To most members of Congress, it was – ho hum – just another bad day on the streets. Pure B.S.

When those guys in Philly in 1776 were writing our most important founding document, they were “part-timers.” A lot of’ em had to take some occasional time off to go home and tend the crops or do store inventories or see if the church flock was still O.K.. They all had full-time responsibilities at home while sitting in a sweltering meeting room arguing about taxes and slavery. They intended the next Congress be part-time as well. And the Congress after that. And the next. And the next. Legislating was supposed to be something you did for a short time each year. Volunteer, as it were.

No more. For far too many years – far too many decades – the first concern of members has been job security. Not the needs of the country. Not dealing with the issue(s) de jour. Not tending to the real needs of the constituency. No. The topmost concern and the reason behind nearly every action taken – or inaction – has been continued employment.

I’ve fought tooth-and-toenail for years against term limits. And I’ve backed up that strident opposition with hard facts about the dangers of such a monumental shift in governance. I believe – with all my heart – service by anyone of no more than eight years in D.C. would open us to a whole new set of problems.

BUT………………..

If we continue with this open-ended employment, we are going to further inbreed the political species with even less concern – much less contact – with the constituent. Us!

To the current denizen of the marble halls, lobbyists and billionaires have become THE “constituent.” Indeed, some members of Congress flat out refuse to meet with the folks at home. If you can’t flash a big check, many won’t even answer the phone. And, if your combination of cash and clout are large enough – say the NRA for the purposes of this discussion – no one at home who cast a ballot in the last election will even get a conscious thought. The “continued employment” autopilot will take over.

There is currently no issue – up to and including fulfilling the legal responsibility for declaring war – that can get the legally required attention of enough members to get the issue to the floor. We’re now in at least three undeclared wars without the constitutionally-required congressional authority. One of ‘em goes back 15 years!

Yes, there are still a few members who think and speak for themselves without the hands of a lobbyist up their backside. Good folks trying to do good jobs against an overwhelming tide of self-service. To suddenly go to term limits would certainly mean throwing out both the bath water and the baby. Damned shame.

But, if we don’t get control of this situation, continued electoral inbreeding will result in ever-distant governance and a “ruling class” with little to no concern for those ruled. Congress will become a self-perpetuating, intellectually vacant body from which voters will be separated.

I’ve been wrong on this issue. The time has come to apologize to the bathing youngster, open the nearest window and give a large heave ho.

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Rainey

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 9. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of Deputy Attorney General Jessica Marie Lorello of Meridian to the Idaho Court of Appeals vacancy created by the June 30 retirement of Judge John Melanson.

The Pioneer News Group Co. on October 5 announced that it is selling its media division assets to family-owned Adams Publishing Group, including several major properties in Idaho. The sale will include 22 daily and weekly newspapers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah along with a newspaper and commercial print facility, various shoppers and websites. The sale is expected to be finalized on November 1.

Justice Warren E. Jones announced he will be retiring from the Idaho Supreme Court, effective December 31, due to personal and family health circumstances.

Following numerous discussions among Western Senators Mike Crapo, Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), Jim Risch, and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado), and Administration leadership and agency officials, initial federal funding to begin fixing shortages in fire-fighting efforts known as “fire borrowing” are now being included in hurricane disaster budget recommendations.

Jayco®, Inc., a subsidiary of Thor Industries, Inc., said on October 3 that it has decided to expand their manufacturing footprint in Twin Falls.

PHOTO The Idaho Museum of Natural History on the campus of Idaho State University will open its “BISON” exhibit on October 14. “BISON” is a traveling exhibit exploring the past, present and future of this great North American mammal. The exhibit creates an interactive environment that combines history, artifacts and hands-on activities to bring to life the story of this great North American mammal. The exhibit is made possible by National Buffalo Foundation and the Kauffman Museum. “BISON” is available to museums across the United States and Canada to tell the tragic history of this majestic animal, its rescue from near extinction, and the story of people across North America working to preserve the bison as a vibrant part of our future. The museum will also host Spirits & Skeletons, Oct. 13. (Idaho State University)

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Briefings

stapiluslogo1

Circle October 11 on your calendar. It may be a critical date in Idaho’s economic future, because that is when Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Dam relicensure settlement conference is scheduled at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

It may not seem notably critical at first. The three Idaho Power dams on the Idaho-Oregon border, in Hells Canyon, have been operating and supplying an immense amount of power for a very long time, almost unnoticed (out of sight, out of mind) for many Idahoans. They were the subject of fierce controversy back in the 50s, but since have been recognized as one of the big drivers of Idaho Power’s tremendous growth in the mid-twentieth century, and through it a lot of the explosive growth of the Boise area. The dams have kept electric power reliable and cheap, no small factor in business development over the years.

When the dams were first built they were constructed under a 50-year license, which expired a dozen years ago. Today they’re running on what amounts to extensions of extensions (no one wants to shut the dams down), and work on formal relicensure continues.

That’s not a comfortable position for Idaho Power or for a lot of regional power users. But this is a matter as much of dilemma as of frustration. Idaho Power remains an independent local power company, based in Boise (albeit that its stock is publicly traded). It long has provided some of the lowest power rates in the country.

While lots of other utilities in recent decades have been gobbled by bigger corporate fish, Idaho Power has not. And evidently, one of the big reasons is that renewal of the licenses has remained unsettled. Much could change in southern Idaho if Idaho Power is bought. Usually in such cases low power rates tend to be jacked up after a purchase – sometimes jacked up a great deal.

There’s not one single reason the relicensure has stalled, but one seems to be a disagreement between the states of Idaho and Oregon, both of which have to sign off for major dam activity, over fish runs in the area.

An Associated Press story on the situation summarized, “Oregon officials are refusing to agree to the re-licensing until salmon and steelhead can access four Oregon tributaries that feed into the Hells Canyon Complex, as required by Oregon law for the re-licensing. But Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving federally protected salmon and steelhead upstream of the dams, which could force restoration work on Idaho’s environmentally degraded middle section of the Snake River.”

This seems to be the primary relicensure hangup right now.

If Oregon’s requests are agreed to, significant changes could be required, and ratepayers might be stuck with paying another $220 million for the work. On top of other possible increases. On top of, if the company were taken over, higher rates otherwise down the road.

When I’ve been asked what economic risks Idaho faces in upcoming years, I’ve generally mentioned the Hells Canyon dams situation as one of two or three to watch out for.

On October 11, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold a conference on what do next. What it does could be among the most important decisions the PUC has made in a generation.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus