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Posts published in May 2009

Risch and the Middle East

Sometimes new jobs will throw a different light on people. For a political career going back decades, Idaho's Jim Risch has been involved with state issues, and the international scene just hasn't been part of what we've seen from him, publicly anyway. There wasn't much call.

Now, Risch is in the U.S. Senate and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which might not have seemed the most obvious choice. But he seems to be settling in, and his interchange at a committee meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair shows a grasp of Middle East subtleties and comfort with international politics many Idahoans might not have suspected. (Risch's appearance comes toward the end of this C-SPAN program.)

A hat tip on this to Nathaniel Hoffman of the Boise Weekly, who was in Washington for the meeting (and appears himself, briefly, at the end of the clip), and has a few more comments on Risch's time in D.C.

The new ghost dance

ghost dance

1890 ghost dance/from Wikipedia

In the early 1890s, military conflicts between the United States and the native populations were largely over, and settled. That doesn't mean the Indians, mainly situated on reservations by then, were fully accepting of the situation. Around 1890, the teachings of a religious man (then Wovoka, later Jack Wilson) spread through the western tribes. One of its components was a variation on an ancient dance, which came to be known (externally) as the ghost dance. The idea was that if Indians undertook a number of practices and rituals including the dance, white settlement of the west would slow and cease and might reverse, and other good things would come to pass. It didn't work out. The best-known incident related to the ghost dance activism was the massacre, of 153 Lakota Sioux, at Wounded Knee. Later, the revival effort faded.

This comes up now in metaphor, not involving Indians but rather some of those who displaced them: Significant numbers of western ranchers, whose way of life seems to be, for a variety of reasons, fading. The Idaho Statesman's Rocky Barker writes that it was used in a reference point to Idaho legislation this year on bighorn sheep. As a metaphor, the ghost dance seems a powerful image for what's going on in much of the ranching community - notably the family ranching community, which is caught in ever-diminishing circles.

As Barker points out, all ranchers are not the same, and quite a few are adapting creatively and usefully to changing realities. (We know a few of those.) But they're not the part of the community who are ghost dancing, and of those, we may see more in the next few years.

Tuthill departs


David Tuthill

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill said on May 26 that he plans to retire from the department as of the end of June.

He has been director since January 2007; previously, he had led the water management division and for some years before that was the adjudication bureau chief, the IDWR official most directly involved in overseeing work on the SRBA. Tuthill's departure signals a major development in Idaho water, though what that may mean won't become clear for a while.

In that capacity, he was central in setting - from the department's point of view, across the aisle from the SRBA Courts - the pattern for researching and resolving water claims and the state's review of them. Mont by month, those numbers have dropped dramatically, and the number of basins reviewed increased. The SRBA has some resolution in sight, a situation unknown when Tuthill moved in more than a decade (and three SRBA judges) ago.

Water resource directors in Idaho ordinarily are appointed by the governor (with state Senate confirmation) for four-year terms (roughly matching those of the governor). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter will appoint a replacement to fill the rest of the term; that appointee will need Senate confirmation in 2010.
From Tuthill’s departure memo: (more…)


One of the peculiarities of Idaho elections, ever since three decades ago primary elections were moved from late summer to late May, is that nearly half the time, primary elections were held the day after Memorial Day. Just when people are most focused on such things as candidates, government and issues. And inclined to undertake another chore, like going to the polls and voting (Idaho being the one northwest state still not moving to mail-in voting, which would make this discussion superfluous).

The Memorial Day part of this, at least, is coming to an end. One of the last two or three bills signed into law after this year's Idaho legislative session consolidates a number of local elections and moves that May primary date to the third, rather than fourth, Tuesday in the month. Which seems like a logical shift.

And Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review points out that "this year is the last that Idaho will hold elections the day after Memorial Day. That’s because next year there are five Mondays in May – Memorial Day falls on the last Monday, while the Idaho primary election will fall on the fourth Tuesday."

Now all they need is mail-in . . . eventually . . .

Portland hate

Interesting singling-out of Portland in a recent blog post by the economist Paul Krugman:

"As I noted a while back, a lot of anti-environmentalism in America these days is about symbolism. And I think the same thing is true about pro-sprawl commentary. Consider the case of Portland, Oregon. Conservatives really, really hate on Portland; examples here and here. Aside from the tendency to engage in factual errors, the hate seems disproportionate to the cause. But it’s an aesthetic thing: conservatives seem deeply offended by anything that challenges the image of Americans as big men driving big cars."

Partying in a no-party place

The already interesting five-way contest for King County executive has been gradually getting more interesting, and takes another step with the reports just out of state Senator Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island - until recently a Republican - hiring a key Republican consultant for his campaign.

This isn't a primary contest, and the battle for the office isn't even partisan at all: The office is non-partisan. But political standings are going to be watched closely.

Paradox Politics, 2nd edition

Paradox Politics
ORDER IT HERE and now on

After 21 years, a second edition of Paradox Politics, the history of Idaho politics . . . up to when it was published, in 1988. This is a new edition of the book, with some glitches cleared and corrections noted, but including the text of the original. It isn't intended to cover the two decades since, but it does bring some of the stories and political circumstances up to date with more than 100 notes throughout the book. A lot of what happened then, looks a little different now. (Certainly Idaho has changed a lot.) If you're interested in Idaho politics and never read the original, this is now the edition to get. If you've read the original . . . this one will put a lot of it in more perspective than was available those many years ago.

The Oregon corporate minimum

Through a quirk - a perversion, some might say - of interpretation of the law, corporations are in many ways given the standing of human beings before the law. The reverse doesn't always work out; people, for example, tend to pay income taxes much higher on average than many corporations do.

That was once less true than it is now. In Oregon, state House Revenue Chair Phil Barnhart notes that “Corporations now pay less than 6% of income taxes paid in Oregon. It used to be closer to 18%. But now over 2/3rds of Oregon corporations pay the $10 minimum.”

Some of that is worth remembering, since the argument that these are tough time for businesses - which they are - will be flashed prominently in argument against the new proposed raising of corporation taxes in the state. But the background needs some bearing in mind: The point of comparison is almost absurdly low.

The tax battle - now that much of the discussion about budget cuts is winding up - already is solidly partisan.

The Republican argument sums up this way: "Democrats in the Oregon House of Representatives announced plans last Thursday to pay for spending increases by raising taxes on Oregon small and family owned businesses. The plan to create a new tax bracket of 11% on filings greater than $125,000 targets Oregon LLCs, sole proprietorships, partnerships and s-corps, the typical organizational structure of Oregon small businesses."

The Democrats describe their proposal differently: "new revenue would come from increasing taxes on profitable corporations and increasing the top tax rate for households making over $250,000 per year. . . . The plan has several components, including increasing the state’s corporate minimum to $100, up from its current level of $10. A second change to the corporate minimum would apply only to C-Corps which earn gross receipts over $500,000. Those corporations would pay an additional marginal rate of 0.15% up to a cap of $60,000. For those companies paying more than the corporate minimum, the bill retains the 6.6% tax on the first $250,000 of net income. But it raises the rate to 8.2% on net income over $250,000."

Pick your details, and discuss.

The greening of Idaho Power

Yesterday we receive a personal phone call from the communications office of Idaho Power Company (more properly, IdaCorp), inquiring after possible attendance at today's stockholder meeting and offering open lines of contact concerning the meeting's substance, and a pointer to a webcast of the meeting. It was nicely handled outreach, and welcome, but also unusual; corporations don't typically go so far out of their way to bring stockholder activities to public notice. Unless, of course, there's a reason.

This meeting provided some reason, though the situation was unusual here too: The key topic of discussion concerned a proposal that utility management had opposed: Steps intended to green the company, reducing the company's carbon footprint and moving toward more renewable power sources. More precisely: ""BE IT RESOLVED: Shareholders request that the Board of Directors adopt quantitative goals, based on current technologies, for reducing total greenhouse gas emissions from the Company's products and operations; and that the Company report to shareholders by September 30, 2009, on its plans to achieve these goals. Such a report will omit proprietary information and be prepared at reasonable cost."

One activist involved in the effort sent out an e-mail today saying he would have been pleased had even 15% or 25% of the votes come down in favor; instead, the vote was a decisive 52%. "One of my most proud moments as an environmental extremist," he wrote.

It was a stunning shift.

As always with Idaho Power, though, things get run through the filter of: How will this affect eventual takeover efforts? Make the company look more attractive in the current environment? Suggest that it is handcuffed more than some investors would like? Or something else?