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Posts published in “Year: 2010”

The words he can’t say

Last year the Oregon Legislature passed a bill imposing a 1% tax on certain health insurance premiums; the money from it would be used to pay for health insurance for 80,000 Oregon children who were uninsured. The governor's office described it when it was signed last summer: "House Bill 2116 provides the funding to cover all children under the age of 19 through the Oregon Health Plan, a cost-share model with employers, or through a newly-created state sponsored private insurance option."

This session it's been targeted in House Bill 3603, a simple repeal, prime-sponsored by Representative Jim Weidner, R-Yamhill, and co-sponsored by a dozen other Republican House members. It has virtually no chance of passage, but it was granted a hearing before the House Health Care Committee. And there, Chairman Mitch Greenlick, D-Beaverton, asked Weidner the question about the bill: Are you okay with kicking 80,000 Oregon children off health insurance?

Weidner's inartful, sheepishly grinning dodge to that question - repeated several times (mercilessly) - has almost to be seen (see the clip above) to believed. Of course, the only honest answer, short of coming up with another way to fund the insurance, would have been: "Sure, kick em off. Opposition to taxes is more important than the lives or health of thousands of children . . ."

There may be a reason that it was a first-term legislator who got stuck as the prime sponsor of this bill.

The nature of the protest

The Idaho House this morning passed 52-18 House Bill 391, which isstructured essentially as a protest to whatever the federal government might do by way of health care policy. (Several of the supporting legislators acknowledged, accurately enough, that they don't yet know what that might be.)

The bill "codifies as state policy that every person in the state of Idaho is and shall continue to be free from government compulsion in the selection of health insurance options, and that such liberty is protected by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Idaho. The bill removes the authority of any state official or employee from enforcing any penalty which violates the policy. It also tasks the office of the Attorney General with seeking injunctive or other appropriate relief , or defending the state of Idaho and its officials and employees against laws, enacted by any government, which violate the policy." It's highly unlikely to survive a court challenge.

Two points of discussion by its advocates during debate, though, are worth a quick highlight.

Bill supporter Representative Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, said the issue was simple: This bill was supportive of the constitution, and "Either you believe in the constitution of the United States or you don't," and either you take your oath of office seriously, or not. A Democratic representative objected: The clear implication was that anyone who voted against the bill was trashing both the constitution and their oath of office. House Speaker Lawerence Denney, a conservative by any definition who voted for the bill, agreed that Barrett's characterization amounted to hashing the character and motivations of the opposition (impugning the motives of another legislator in debate is counter to House rules), and asked her to withdraw her statement. She wouldn't - she made completely evident that trashing the opposition and its motivations was entirely her point.

There's a world of commentary in that.

The other point of interest came from Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, who took a distinctly different tack. We need health care reform, he said, just not on the federal level: "We need to have state reform."

A question, then: In Idaho, where is it? And what does Labrador propose the state do to insure the uninsured, keep the sick and previously-ill insured, and cut costs of both insurance and health care? What has any sitting Idaho Republican legislator done along those lines?

ADDED THOUGHT This morning, at the same time the Idaho House was debating and then passing a measure blocking federal health care reform, the Oregon House was debating and then passing, unanimously, House Bill 3631:

"The House today unanimously voted in favor of a bill brought forward by Representative Suzanne VanOrman (D-Hood River/Sandy) that prohibits insurers from discriminating against victims of sexual violence by treating that victimization, or physical or mental injuries sustained as a result of that victimization, as a preexisting condition that would exclude or limit coverage."

Would the Idaho Legislature pass that one? (No such bill has been introduced so far this session.)

Truck, meet loophole

The idea is to increase security around the act of ballot casting - ensuring that only actual Idahoans who are legally qualified to vote actually do so. (The political point here doubtless has to do with the unlikely prospect of votes by people in the country illegally, but it would apply to anyone who legally can't vote.)

The plan, in the bill by Idaho state Representative Mike Moyle, R-Star, introduced today, is that when people show up at the voting place, they have to show a valid picture ID before they get their ballot. On its face, that sounds reasonable enough, provided voters get ample warning of the requirement before they travel to vote.

The catch is . . . well, there are several. What about people who vote absentee, or by mail - military personnel, or Idahoans spending time in another country? Or what about elderly people, or others, who don't have a drivers license or other picture ID? In such cases, apparently, the prospective voters would just have to sign a form saying they are who they say they are.

Considering that there seems to be no great problem of fraudulent voting in Idaho (or in most other states, either), the whole idea comes down to blocking what might be a handful of instances. Would those really be stopped by the high hurdle of having to sign an affidavit? A fence, after all, is only as strong as its weakest links . . .

Benton v. Murray


Don Benton

There is this to say about Vancouver Republican state Senator Don Benton's prospective run - which he said today he's planning - against Senator Patty Murray: He would be the lead Republican in the field, and as matters stand would be well positioned to win the primary over six other prospects.

There's that. But you have to suspect Murray's not losing a lot of sleep tonight; at least not yet.

The move is in line in some respects: He has been raising his profile lately, especially with his testimony and argument against amending Initiative 960, aligning himself with Tim Eyman's backers and the Tea Party people. So he could be starting with a base.

Benton has lots of political experience. He was a state Republican chair in 2000; he departed after eight months, a period the Seattle Times called "short and troubled." He has been a legislator for a while now - elected to a term in the House in 1994 (a good year for Republicans), and to the Senate in 1996 (51%), 2000 (53.1%), 2004 (56%) and last year (51.1%). You can more or less tell from the numbers that Benton hasn't been a towering vote-getter, and his run of wins isn't unbroken: He was the Republican that Democrat Brian Baird beat in 1998 (55%-45%) to win the 3rd U.S. House seat he's held since.

He's had periodic bad headlines over the years. Some of the most interesting came in 2005 when he tried to launch (no, you won't find it active), a web political report evidently related to Washington state politics. The Tacoma News Tribune reported his pitch (apparently aimed in part at Statehouse people including lobbyists) said to connection with the $565 annual fee, "What will it cost you NOT to subscribe? That could be a princely sum indeed! . . . If you want to continue to be the best informed and highest paid, frankly y’all better pony up quickly, to ‘put your money where your livelihood is.’ Otherwise, I’ll have to say: I told ya so, and you’ll be back to wondering why you were the last to know everything.” (Got harsher at the Seattle Weekly.) Then there was the hot exchange with state ethics officials in 2001 over campaign contributions (his campaign committees were fined by the Public Disclosure Commission). And there was the occasion in 2002 when he made the ethical but impolitic argument in favor of the state Senate keeping, during a budget crunch, a private chef and dining room. Don't imagine this is the last you'll hear of those items if the race actually heats up.

The items in the preceding paragraph, by the way, were noted in a scathing post at Sound Politics, a Republican-oriented blog. (The comments on the post continued in the scathing direction.)

Murray's campaign people may even be looking forward to this.

About those jobs

In Oregon, the campaign against two tax measures on the ballot - which passed - was centered around the idea that those taxes were "job-killing." In Idaho, the very notion of a tax increase of any sort is way off the table, in large part because of that same assumption, that taxes imposed on people and businesses will kill private sector jobs. (There's probably a grudging acknowledgement that public sector jobs would be saved, but that appears to be a lesser factor.)

But consider this point from the latest Idaho Reports program from this weekend, reviewing the state of the budget-setting Idaho. The matter of jobs may not be quite so simple.

The subject was the state budget and jobs, as discussed by three members of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Here's Democrat Wendy Jaquet:

"What bothers me as we lay people off because we don't have this revenue, or we think we don't have the revenue, then we have kind of a multiplier effect. I asked the director of the Department of Health & Welfare how many private sector jobs would be lost [under current budget proposals] because most of our [services] are done by private providers. And he estimated on the worst-case scenario, which is where we're headed, it would be about 8,000 private-sector jobs. So its like we're creating a downward spiral, and that's what I find really worrisome."

From * to politician

The Oregon gubernatorial candidacy of Chris Dudley has prompted Salem Statesman-Journal Executive Editor Bill Church to ask whether athletes can make good politicians.

Best reply, from Tim Pfau:

Do investment bankers make good politicians?
So Union organizers?
Do porn stars?
Do editors?
Do aluminum window salesmen or ministers, or teachers, or unemployed factory workers?

Goofy questions, aren't they?

Does Dudley? That's a better question and maybe what you meant to ask.

Not so far.

So far, he's just delivered canned, and remarkably empty speeches.

I have no more idea what his policy positions are now than I did when he played semi-pro basketball for the Blazers.

Jim Campbell

Jeff Kropf

Jim Campbell (left) and Buckskin Bill on the Salmon, 1980, shortly before Bill's death/Judy Lemmon

The river guide and travel business in Central Idaho's River of No Return-Frank Church Wilderness seems as though it has been around forever, but floating and guest ranch activity is actually fairly young as a major tourist business. It kicked into high gear in the 70s when a number of central players figured out how to make it work in a very effective way. With float permits in Hells Canyon, the Middle Fork, Main Salmon, Owyhee and Lochsa rivers, the Wild Rivers Idaho business that Jim Campbell created and developed was one of the handful of businesses that contributed to building float trips into a mainstay.

Campbell was a researcher at what is now Idaho National Laboratory in the 60s before the backcountry drew him in. With two of his work associates, he started river trips which grew into operations in river running and resort ranches, and those were among the central activities in turning the region into such a popular visiting location. With his love of the country and its history he gathered a group of premier river guides outfitter/ranchers who taught him the back country history. (Two of the people in that group were Johnny Carrey and Cort Conley, who went on to tell those stories in a series of books about that area.) Few guests departed the rivers or Shepp Ranch without an appreciation of those who originally settled that rugged, inaccessible area.

After selling Shepp Ranch, Jim moved across the river to the Polly Bemis property where he built what he'd planned as a retirement home - but retirement was not on his agenda, and he began the development that became the Polly Bemis Resort. He left the backcountry in the 90s, and spent time after that in Las Vegas and Phoenix before settling, in this decade, in Costa Rica. He died there this week.

Linda Watkins, who spent time with Campbell in the backcountry in the 70s and 80s, has a recollection.

It's hard to know where to start, or what to say about Jim Campell's death last Thursday. He's been a part of my life for over three decades (more than 2/3 of my life) - in some ways, more of a family member than most of my own blood relations. I think of his death as I did of my father's: Relief that he's finally free of the pain and frustration at growing old that he's lived with for the last several years. (more…)

Who lobbies

Idaho law says that lobbying generally means trying to influence the crafting of law or some other official action in the legislative or executive branch, and that in general, anyone who does is a lobbyist - even you or I, if we write a letter to a legislator expressing a point of view on an issue.

Not a big deal, though - nothing to worry about if you've not registered with the state as a lobbyist. The state has a number of exemptions from registration, and one of them is this: "Persons who do not receive any compensation for lobbying and persons whose compensation for lobbying does not exceed two hundred fifty dollars ($250) in the aggregate during any calendar quarter, including persons who lobby on behalf of their employer or employers, and the lobbying activity represents less than the equivalent of two hundred fifty dollars ($250) of the employee’s time per calendar year quarter, based on an hourly proration of said employee’s compensation." Simplified, that means if you're not paid more than $250 to lobby, you don't have to register. (Sometimes you don't even if you are paid more.)

If you scan through the monthly reports of Keith Allred's lobbyist filings (like this one), then, you have to wonder: Why did he file at all? He was busy in the last few years at the legislature, trying to influence legislation (on behalf of his group the Common Interest), but he wasn't getting paid for it. He didn't have to file. Presumably, he filed because he felt like it; he remarked today, "I chose to do so in the interest of full disclosure."

He didn't, as it happens, file an annual report for 2009, as must-lobbyists have to do. That led to a press release from the Idaho Republican Party today: "Democratic Candidate for Governor Keith Allred missed the deadline to file his 2009 annual lobbyist report with the Secretary of State. Allred registered with the Secretary of State as a lobbyist in 2009 for The Common Interest.
According to Idaho Code, any lobbyist registered under Section 67-6617 is required to file an annual report with the Secretary of State’s Office. Failure to file a report could result in a penalty of up to fifty dollars a day, at this point according to statute Allred could be subject to hundreds of dollars in fines. The Secretary of State office’s confirmed earlier today that Allred missed the filing deadline."

Since he's never had to file at all, any fines would seem problematic. Allred, as the presumptive Democratic nominee for Idaho governor, is a logical target for shots from the Republican, but this particular blast seems ill-aimed.

Allred filed a report, post-deadline, on Friday, and "expressed regret" for the late filing. But why express even regret for filing late a report he didn't have to file at all?

A simple revision

Quite the knockdown drag-out in Washington Senate Ways and Means today: initiative organizer Tim Eyman and Senator Adam Kline, D-Seattle, blasting off at each other. And it wasn't personal: It was policy.

Eyman: "citizens are watching arrogant Democrats decide rules don't apply to them ... The taxpayers have to follow the law but this bill exempts you from it."

Kline: "I'd like you to talk about the other side ... the necessary expenditures that deal with people's lives that we don't have enough money to pay for."

Maybe most pertinent: "We have to deal with both sides of the equal sign."

(You can see the action via the TVW blog. Eyman comes on at about the 27-minute mark.)

Both, in fact, had a fact-based point to make. The object of the bill in question, Senate Bill 6843, calls for "Preserving essential public services by temporarily suspending the two-thirds vote requirement for tax increases and permanently modifying provisions of Initiative Measure No. 960 for improved efficiency and consistency with state budgeting." It modifies 960 all right - pretty heavily, by eliminating the requirement of a two-thirds legislative approval for a tax increase (which would be effectively nearly impossible in the current climate) through 2011, returning to simple majority, and some other changes as well.

Eyman seems to be convinced enough it will pass to propose a new measure, I-1053, to counter the bill that hasn't even passed yet: "The 2/3's requirement is the only thing saving struggling taxpayers and our fragile economy from recession-extending, job-killing tax hikes from Gregoire and the Democrats who control Olympia. It has saved taxpayers BILLIONS OF DOLLARS over the past two years and we need to keep its protections in place. Their arrogant effort to take away Initiative 960's policies - which have been approved by the voters 3 times and which have survived 2 court challenges - is the reason the 14 of us are sponsoring I-1053, the "Save The 2/3's Vote For Tax Increases Initiative."

Kline's point seems worthwhile too, though, and to the extent that the public is going to become involved in directly setting fiscal policy for the state, maybe this ought to be a rule to adopt:

If you're going to call for changes in the tax laws, then you have to account - in the initiative - for the spending on the other end. If you're calling for a tax cut, and that tax cut will have the effect of lowering revenue by (whatever amount - say $200 million), then you have to say specifically what cuts will be made on the other end.

If you're going to ask the public to make legislative decisions, then they should have to behave like legislators - balancing both sides of the books.

Wonder what Eyman would think about that?