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Posts published in “Year: 2011”

Pushing it to the edge

NOTE: Oops - the commission had one more day, January 1. (There had been some confusion about whether midnight January 1 applied to the beginning or end of the day.) It's still rolling, as of midday still unsettled. The remainder of the comments in this post still apply ...

Give a schoolchild a deadline of Wednesday morning to deliver a paper, and you can bet they'll be jamming on it Tuesday night and into the a.m. Reapportionment commissions seem the same.

As it stands, as this is written, the Washington commission is eight hours and change away from turning into pumpkins. They're scrambling, and maybe they'll get it done. They're close enough, they might. But it's hard to know. The first Idaho commission seemed on the verge of getting it done, and it didn't. By the time it actually submitted a commonly-agreed on plan, their deadline had passed.

Hope rose last week when the Washington panel appeared to have settled on a congressional map, on which just about everyone weighed on, and candidates entered races. It seemed to be a done deal, especially since no one was strenuously objecting and the only hitch in getting the legislative map done was a minor disagreement in the boundaries of a single Yakima-area district.

And here we are. That one minor disagreement has ballooned, and now everyone seems to be withholding approval. And evidently, if the legislative plan isn't approved as well, the congressional map is just so many wasted pixels as well - both have to be provided at once.

Will the Washington Supreme Court get to pull out its marking pens? A few hours from now we'll know.

You can by the way watch the remaining action live. At this writing, they were supposed to return at 3 p.m., and they're 22 minutes late ...

Alcohol and the Idaho legislator

whiskey

Scott Andrus, a Twin Falls resident described in an Idaho Statesman article as a former driver under the influence who has turned sharply against alcohol consumption, is pitching a pledge to Idaho legislators. Not, thankfully, a policy pledge - this one wouldn't require a vote for or against something. Rather, it's a request that legislators pledge not to drink alcohol during the session.

This seems to call for reflection on what's likely the premise here: That legislators come from their hometowns to go to the big city, where they get into spending nights out, get drunk, and proceed to do stupid things when they write bills and cast votes at the Statehouse.

This is probably not a rare image or presumption, and every so often some specific instance comes along - the Senator John McGee case in Idaho earlier this year, for example - to give some weight to it.

What people should know is that cases like McGee's are pretty unusual. And more now than once was the case.

Your scribe recalls, in the 70s and 80s, considerably higher levels of nighttime tippling than in the years since. At a peak back then, maybe a dozen legislators, probably fewer, might have been considered problem drinkers. That's out of 105 total. I can recall no more than two or three under the influence while working at the Statehouse. A large portion of them, as now, didn't drink at all. (There are as for many years a lot of Mormons in the Idaho Legislature, and over the years I've not seen many violate the rule against alcohol.) Legislative nightlife seems for whatever reason to have dulled down considerably over the last generation. Hang around the legislature any time in the last couple of decades and you'll find it's a pretty sober bunch, as least as regards chemical stimulants.

I'd make the argument that those harder partiers of years past tended to be better legislators as well (though whether alcohol had anything to do with it might be an open question).

Andrus apparently has gotten 13 or so legislators to go along with him. Since the number of teetotallers in the chambers is considerably higher than that, his numbers stand to grow a little more.

WA plans drop: The congressional

wa congressional

The deadline was New Year's, and the Washington Redistricting Commission seems to have hit the end line just barely before it. Today (as was promised yesterday), they unveiled their new remaps for congressional and legislative districts.

A look at the congressional first.

This was complicated a bit by the need to add a tenth district, which meant a little more shifting of boundaries than usual, and inevitably some district in which none of the nine current U.S. House members reside. That district will be centered, as was most widely speculated, on the Olympia area.

At first blush, these look like five Democratic and four Republican districts

Let's move from east to west as we consider what's changed and what the implications may be.

District 5, which has been roughly the easternmost fourth of the state from Canada to Oregon, is smaller and is now more like the easternmost fifth - it loses Okanogan, Adams and southwestern Walla Walla (but not that city itself) to the 4th district. These are all very Republican areas, and should move the district a little closer to competitiveness. It will clearly remain Republican overall, however; incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris-Rodgers should have no trouble with it.

District 4, which has taken in the rural country north of Wenatchee south to the Oregon line, and including both the Tri-Cities and the Yakima area, gains Adams, Okanogan and the slice of Walla Walla, but loses Chelan (Wenatchee), Kittias (Ellensburg) and, facing the Columbia River to the south, Klickitat County. It becomes a more ungainly district, its population centered more directly on the two big urban centers with the substantial Okanogan population left far to the north. It should not change much as a partisan district; it has been very Republican, but the swaps are of Republican territory. Not much change there; and again, Republican Doc Hastings should be untroubled. (more…)

Carlson: Two of service

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Two of Idaho’s finest non-elected public servants, Darrell V. Manning and Marty Peterson, retire soon with a combined 100 years of service to the state between them. Their nature is to slip quietly into retirement, but Idaho owes them a hearty “job well done.”

Their service exemplifies the best and brightest rising to the top in the Gem State. Their works provide them with the satisfaction of knowing they helped improve the lives of many who will never know how much they owe these fine public servants.

Every governor from Cecil Andrus to Butch Otter would heartily agree.

Manning is retiring as chair of the Idaho Transportation Board, but his resume reflects how indispensable governors have found him to be. It includes director of Idaho’s Aeronautics department, the first director of the reorganized Department of Transportation, adjutant and commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, chief of the Bureau of Disaster Services, administrator of the division of Financial Management, executive director of the Idaho Board of Education as well as a member of that board and a regent for the University of Idaho, acting director of Health and Welfare, and special assistant to several governors.

Peterson is retiring after 20 years as the special assistant to the president of the University of Idaho in charge of coordinating the university’s government affairs programs That he served seven different presidents over those years speaks to his ability to earn respect and achieve results for the state’s land grant university.

Peterson’s career includes serving on Senator Frank Church’s staff, as the executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities, and stints as budget director for both Andrus and Governor John V. Evans. Andrus also tapped Peterson to be the planning and administrative director of Idaho’s highly successful Centennial Observance in 1990.

An avid Idaho history buff, Peterson maintains a summer home in historic Silver City, is a sought after speaker on Ernest Hemingway, serves on several boards including the Idaho Humanities Council, and like Manning, though a “business Democrat,” has adroitly served governors of both political parties.

Both cut their teeth on politics early: Manning, a graduate of Utah State, came right out of the Air Force in 1960 ran, and won a seat in Idaho’s House of Representatives from Bannock County at the age of 28. He became friends with a newly elected State Senator from Clearwater County, 29-year-old Cecil Andrus. After four terms in the House, Manning joined Andrus in the State Senate in 1968.

Besides working on Senator Church’s staff, Peterson, a native of Lewiston and a graduate of the University of Idaho, was a “loaned” campaign worker to the 1970 Andrus gubernatorial campaign.

Both Manning and Peterson have a reputation for probity. Both at one time ran the Division of Financial Management. Both have charming wives.

Few will recall though how close both came to meeting their Maker early in their careers.

In April of 1973, Darrell and Rochelle, Marty and Barbara, and Dr. Sam Taylor, from Nampa along with his wife, Jean, who was Governor Andrus’ appointment secretary, undertook the 36 mile backpacking trip through Hells Canyon from Idaho Power’s Hells Canyon Dam downstream to Pittsburg Landing where they would be picked up by a jet boat and taken the 76 remaining miles back to Lewiston.

Picking them up would be Eddie Williams, a former state legislator from Lewiston who was then Andrus’ chief of staff, along with Ed’s good friend, Jack Bowman.

Disaster struck in the Imnaha Rapids, the boat swamping with all eight being tossed into the incredibly cold waters of the high flowing Snake River. Swollen by the spring run-off, the river was fast, full of whirlpools and even with life jackets on, one could still be swept under the surface.

Years later Manning would recall the anxiety he and Rochelle experienced being swept under several times, caught in whirlpools they could not seem to get out of, and helplessly floating seven miles downstream to the river’s confluence with the Salmon before making land and safety.

As they were swept along Manning did note how the Taylor’s and Peterson’s managed to get out and upon several rocks at various spots in the middle of the stream. With night coming on hypothermia was an immediate concern but fortunately another boat came along able to pick up the survivors.

Unfortunately, neither Eddie nor Jack had life jackets and were last seen clinging to seat cushions as they too were swept away. Bowman’s body was recovered a few days later but the river never yielded Ed’s. Andrus, devastated by the tragedy, personally searched the river by helicopter.

Manning and Peterson still acknowledge how fortunate they were to survive. The state of Idaho has been the true beneficiary of their survival. Join me, please, in saying to them both “thank you for jobs well done.”

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andurs. He lives at Medimont.

Lonely at Christmas

For the Idaho connection, take note of the Los Angeles Times article on the sole staffer manning the Mitt Romney headquarters in Des Moines, Iowa, on Christmas Day: Jacob Fullmer, a native of Rexburg, son of a Sears franchise owner there.

Two points. One is that the stereotype is almost too obvious. Even if the article didn't say so specifically, Fullmer's background notes him as a fellow member of the LDS Church - in Iowa, rather than take an apartment, he's staying with a member of the church. A question comes to mind: How much of the active Romney organization has church connections? There may be a church-related angle to the Romney story that speaks to matters other than theological.

The article was mainly about the Christmas loneliness of those stuck in Iowa in prep for the January 3 caucuses. Something it did not say, and would have been interesting to know: How many staffers, compared to Romney's one, were on hand at campaign headquarters for Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and the others? Might have been a useful indicator to know.

Another rate case, another enrollment drop

Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon, which only five months ago (on July 19) was granted by Oregon regulators a 12.8% increase, today filed for a 4.5% average premium increase, effective in April. It's an adjustment of the rate increase already granted earlier this year, a change Regence said actually amounts to a 2.2% reduction from the earlier-granted increase (because of lower than estimated usage of medical services). Despite that, for some ratepayers, the increase could amount to as much as 8.5%. (Some may see a decrease in payments.) A hearing is planned for January 5.

The Oregon State Public Interest Research Group, which has been acting as the consumer advocate in recent health insurance cases in Oregon, noted that the new case affects 47,806 Oregon workers with small-employer-sponsored coverage. Then notes: "Regence appears to have lost over 11% enrollment in its small business plans since the insurer’s last filing in March of 2011, when it reported enrollment of 54,299."

Between 2007 and the summer of 2011, Regence enrollment, in a period of ongoing rate increases, fell by 40%.

How many more rate increases will it take to knock Regence down to 30,000 insurance, to 20,000, to 10,000? As the risk pool gets ever smaller, the rates will shoot ever higher. Where is this going to leave us all a few more years down the line? What will it take to fix a system so obviously broken?

Preventable error

And sometimes it really is just the one more straw that breaks the camel's back.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn seemed to be hanging in there with the Seattle Police Department after the highly critical report by the Department of Justice, which said the department has had a bad practice of using excessive force. In the early part of this week, he seemed to be taking their side fairly consistently.

As of today, no more: He has specifically ordered Chief John Diaz to execute the recommendations in the DOJ report. The tone, certainly, has changed. Maybe the policy too.

What happened is something only McGinn can say specifically. Speculation here is that it may have something to do with this:

Acknowledgement by a police spokesman that the police department (on Diaz' orders) paid a laws firm $12,000 to find out who leaked information about (the Seattle Times reported) "the department's internal investigation of an incident in which Officer Shandy Cobane threatened to beat the 'Mexican piss' out of a prone Latino man."

Apparently the police department wasn't able to conduct its own investigation.

For $12,000. Just wait for the Facebook items to detail what else $12,000 could have bought in these tight economic times.

It's enough to generate a little irritation in a mayor's office.

Carlson: Reflections behind and ahead

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As 2011 closes, some disparate items of passing interest:

Best apocryphal item. Heard that a prominent businessman had bumped into Jesse Jackson early one morning just after breakfast in a downtown Chicago hotel earlier this year. He asked Jesse what he was doing up so early? Jesse replied he’d just come from a private breakfast with the next president of the United States------Mitt Romney! Given Chicago politics, and Jackson’s personal pique at not getting his due for paving the way for Barack Obama, it’s plausible.

Best GOP challenger to the President. Hands down it is former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr. Fiscal conservative with compassion who knows there is a proper role for government in people’s lives and the only one who understands the growing threat of Chinese plans to dominate the world by 2050. Unfortunately doesn’t stand a chance of being nominated. The process is driven by the extreme right of his party---folks more concerned about ideological purity than having a moderate win because of an ability to attract the independents. Only plausible scenario for Huntsman is to wait. If Ron Paul forms a third party independent candidacy, Huntsman should follow suit. He could win a four-man race.

Best GOP challenger from the D standpoint. Hands down, Newt Gingrich. Most women voters hate him. If they know one thing they know he went to the hospital bed of his dying, cancer-stricken first wife to tell her he was divorcing her. “You can’t win a horserace with a dog.”

Best small college in the nation you’ve never heard of. Helena’s Carroll College, and not just because of its incredible string of NAIA national football championships. This small, diocesan-owned college continues to produce outstanding graduates with well-formed character, values and a solid work ethic along with creative minds capable of adapting to the changing economy in a dynamic world. Only the NCAA bias against NAIA schools has kept Carroll football coach Mike van Diest from taking his winning ways to a larger school where his formula would work its magic as well.

Institution most likely headed for a major fall. The aforementioned NCAA. Too many inconsistencies exist for it to last. The joke that is the BCS system is going to be changed to a play-off either by congressional or judicial mandate. The NCAA’s ability to maintain the fiction of scholar-athletes is going to be exploded and the rights of collegiate athletes to profit from the use of their name and image will be upheld by the courts. Collegiate athletes will be paid above the table in a market-driven manner. Schools in major media markets will be the winners and those in minor markets will be the losers.

Saddest commentary on American life. Most people will care more about all that meaningless sports stuff than the harder to grasp more life-threatening social and political issues swirling about them. A perfect storm is converging on a frightened body politic that takes refuge in the opiate of sports because it is at a loss to understand the complex forces driving change. Nor does it grasp the significance of greed and selfishness at play in an ever-increasing survival of the fittest Darwinian world. Rather than try to understand those forces too many take refuge in simplistic political bromides that only exacerbate issues and rarely deliver solutions.

Political predictions for Idaho in 2012:

1) Governor Butch Otter quits “mailing it in.” Citing health reasons, he resigns, which passes the governorship to Lt. Gov. Brad Little. (more…)

The roadkill caucus and 2012

If the Washington state special session that just ended seemed to have ended with a whimper, and little major action, there's a reason ... that's pretty much what happened. As the highly popular saying goes, they "kicked the can down the road." To January, when they come back to town for a regular session.

(Might some of the Republicans calling for no regular session next year have had a point: That an inability to kick the can might have forced more action this year?)

Well. The new pressure seems to be coming from the conservative side of the Democratic side - the "roadkill caucus."

Recommended reading: A preview what the "roadkill caucus" may be up to in January, from Austin Jenkins of public radio.

"They call themselves the "Roadkill Caucus" because they've often felt run over by the left and the right. Now they're standing up," Jenkins reports. Their proposals: "Repeal two popular, but expense voter initiatives to reduce class size and increase teacher pay. Require state employees to pay more for their health care. Suspend the "1/2 of 1 percent for arts" program. Then there's the proposal to appoint an outside commission to recommend ways to shrink the footprint of state government. Senator Brian Hatfield, another "Roadkill Caucus" member, suggests putting that proposal on the ballot along with a tax hike."

Watch this closely.