"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is widely presumed to be a likely candidate for governor next year, made it quite definite – in a Seattle Times interview just before a state Republican event – that he doesn’t see embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker as a role model (our phrase, not his).

McKenna did on the other hand seem to give enough compliments to the evening’s speaker to suggest he sees that person as what amounts to a gubernatorial role model. That would be Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. Speaking to fellow Republicans, he called Idaho a “business nirvana,” among other compliments.

Might be time for Washingtonians to take a closer look at what’s been happening this year in the state government to their east. Democrats particularly.

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Reform is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, as is this formal description of Senate Bill 1184: “To ensure the state can educate more students at a higher level with limited resources, the state must reform and modernize the educational system. The Students Come First legislation reprioritizes statutory requirements to strategically invest in Idaho’ s educators and technology, and increases transparency for Idaho’ s public school system.”

The specifics for this measure, set up as the third of three major bills backed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, are a devil, though. The Senate floor vote on this bill split somewhat along partisan lines – most of the Republicans voted for, and all the Democrats against – but the strong debate came from the Republicans in opposition. They were the senators who burrowed most into the details, and their implications.

The best probably was from Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of the legislature’s budget committee. The bill will “disrupt” public school budgeting for years, he warned: “We will put the major portion of our public school budget on autopilot.” He found a string of budgetary and fiscal issues in the bill, and came up with a string of other specific problems too. He had conservative arguments against it: It creates new entitlements. There was this fascinating nugget: The bill allows (as part of the formal course requirements) students to take any accredited (term not much defined) on-line courses, with or without approval from the local school board. (You can imagine what might happen.) There were also some fine takes from Senators Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Denton Darrington, R-Declo. (In brief comments, Senator John Andreason, R-Boise, remarked that his constituents had urged him to vote against the bill by a margin of 95-5; and so he did.)

The passion was on their side.

The pro- arguments centered on the need to bring more technology into public education, but that was a point no one disputes (certainly not here). The details were more typically glossed over.

The bill passed, somewhat closely, 20-15.

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In the legislative discussion about requiring that guns to allowed on Idaho college and university campuses everywhere but in undergrad dorms (an odd exclusion by itself), Representative Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, had this to say:

“It’s one of the basic facts that keeps America safer today than any other nation in the world. It’s because the citizens are armed.”

Problem is, it’s not a fact. It’s a falsehood. We’re plenty armed all right, but we’re nowhere close to the safest.

Here’s one statistical example of the point: “Given the virtually unregulated access to guns in the US, it’s actually surprising that there aren’t more than 80-90 gun deaths and 200-300 injuries everyday. There are an average of 30,000 gun deaths and 100,000 gun injuries each year. The average US annual firearm fatality rate is 10.6 per 100,000 population which is more than the entire industrialized world combined.”

And in the Idaho State Journal, of the safest-in-the-world remark: “It must be a world that doesn’t include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Denmark or Sweden, among others. The overall homicide rate in those nations is about eight times less than the U.S. per 100,000 people. Murder rates involving firearms are five to 16 times lower in those countries.”

But no. It’s not politically correct these days to admit that we can ever learn anything from someone else in the world.

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That’s often the question at state legislative sessions – certainly those in the Northwest – though it’s usually stated as a definitive answer: We can’t afford more taxes!

That’s posed as a purely emotional or ideological statement, of course. Surely there’s some reasonable range for taxes as a piece of our economy, and some point at which they’re demonstrably too high – too disruptive of the flow of money in the economy. But what exactly that is, doesn’t get much mention.

Meantime, there’s a neat chart on the Seattle Slog showing the portion of the overall economy taxes in Washington state consume. Take a look. The trend lines aren’t what you might expect.

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This may wind up being as close as we get to an in-depth interview of Representative David Wu about the odd cascade of problems he’s had over the last year. Not in the Oregonian, which may not get him to sit for such an interview, but at Blue Oregon, the left-leaning blog.

The interview is still in the process of being released – as it’s being transcribed, say the two interviewers, Kari Chisholm and Carla Axtman. But the questions are certainly on point. Among them:

Where was the Congressman during the final 72 hours of the campaign? Had he been sequestered by his staff, away from the public?
After having an extraordinary allergic reaction to prescription drugs in 2008, what was Wu thinking when he accepted an unknown painkiller from a donor in 2010?
A lot of senior staff left shortly after the election, even though the reporting thus far doesn’t seem to add up to anything quite so dramatic. Why did they leave?
Why aren’t his former staff and consultants speaking on-the-record to media? Are they under a legal obligation to stay quiet?
Why did his pollster send an email saying that his staff needed to be “protected”? Protected from what?

Chisholm and Axtman drew no definitive conclusions as the series started. This will be worth watching over the next few days.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

If there is one issue that unites a majority of Idahoans, it is opposition to the reintroduction of wolves into Idaho and the dictatorial way the federal government handles the issue.

Defenders of Wildlife and others that support the reintroduction are rapidly learning that without public support this forced program will not succeed. There are too many Idahoans who carry rifles in their pickups or side-arms when they hike. The law of “shoot, shovel and shut up” supersedes whatever ruling a federal judge in Helena might dictate.

Most Idahoans are sensible enough not to get caught up in the time-wasting arguments over so-called “nullification,” for which the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, has made state management of wolves a symbolic issue. One can understand what the law says, but if it is ignored by everyone and the authorities make it a last priority of enforcement, it soon becomes worthless and eventually gets stricken.

Being a fairly practical lot, Idahoans rightly applaud the efforts of Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Second District) and Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-At Large) to undo the August 2010 judicial ruling that put the wolves back on the endangered species list and under federal management.

Almost every Idahoan who hunts or fishes feels the state had rightly taken over management of the wolves and had a sensible program in place to manage their predatory habits. Simpson supports both measures Rep. Rehberg introduced last year: one that would delist the wolf from the endangered species list and the other to return management of the wolf to the states’ fish and game departments.

Many Americans romanticize wolves, seeing them as large, lovable, husky-like dogs. They have no idea what large, efficient killing machines they are, nor do they understand how devastating their appetites can be on elk and deer.

Most folks subscribe to popular myths: such as wolves never attacking people (disproven last year by a fatal wolf attack on a jogger outside of Anchorage); or, that wolves never kill more than they can eat (disproven by numerous wanton attacks on sheep and cattle).

While the howl of a distant wolf when one is sitting around a campfire at night enjoying a Middle Fork of the Salmon River float trip indeed is romantic, it is quite another thing to encounter a circling pack as one walks from his mailbox 200 yards up to their home without a weapon (which has happened all too close to St. Maries).

I carry a Glock 21 with me when fly fishing on the St. Joe and the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene. Once, while on a walk up the Indian Creek Road to the old ghost town of Ulysses a few miles from North Fork, I witnessed the incredibly swift attack of a young wolf on a large buck. Only the deer seeing us and having the instinct to circle down the hillside and down stream caused the wolf to break off the attack. It lasted all of 20 seconds.

Several years back, a fly fishing buddy of mine, was fishing up the North Fork and watched with stunned amazement as an elk came charging down a steep hill while being pursued by a wolf, stumbled and broke its legs as it tumbled into the stream in front of him. The wolf then moved in for the kill before seeing the fisherman. The wolf actually seemed to think about charging him, he said, because he wanted his kill. Only a shot over the wolf’s head from the pistol he carried sent the wolf packing.

Most wolf lovers and urban dwellers have no comprehension of how truly large wolves are. They read about wolves weighing 125 lbs to 140 lbs, which doesn’t seem that big until one sees a picture of a wolf kill being held up in the arms of a six-foot hunter and the wolf’s length is taller than the hunter.

It is easy to see wolf pelts that stretch eight feet from nose tip to tail tip. Family members have seen wolves while walking in the Harrison Flats area. One flashed across our access road early one morning last summer and was later spotted just up Evans Creek romping with five pups all already larger than coyotes.

We have had neighbors’ dogs disappear, so we observe a rule of thumb: When we hear the coyotes howling at night, as they often do around Cave Lake, we know wolves are not around. When we don’t hear the coyotes, we think it is a safe bet a wolf or two is roaming through the area.

I believe wolves were coming back naturally. The last thing we needed was introducing the Canadian wolf, which has significantly increased in numbers. I don’t pretend to be a wildlife expert, but I understand the law of unintended consequences.

I sincerely hope the Federal law code is changed to allow the state to carry out its management responsibility. The vast majority of Idahoans agree on this point and rightly so.

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Carlson Idaho

Jay Inslee

There’s been a wide presumption that Representative Jay Inslee, of the Washington 1st district based around Snohomish County, is aiming at a run for governor 2012 – the job that eluded him in 1996 run (when he lost in the Democratic primary to the King County executive, Gary Locke). The indicators have been growing.

The latest, just pointed out in the Everett Herald, is his upcoming fundraiser, invitations for which pointedly said this: “We know it’s early in the cycle, but the Congressman is trying to put some funds in the bank early for his Congressional race and also if there is an opening to run for Governor.”

Presumably, there will be, unless incumbent Democrat Chris Gregoire surprises a lot of people and runs for a third term.

Inslee isn’t the only Democrat who’s made noises about such a run. Senate Majority Lisa Brown of Spokane has been reported as interested, and so have others. But Inslee could be the major entrant on the Democratic side.

A contest against Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna, who’s widely presumed to go for it in ’12 (and has to be considered the Republican heavyweight if he enters), could be a battle to behold.

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As the effort to run the health care nullification bill ramps up again in the Idaho House, amid cries of how the 2010 law is imposing tyranny on the country, maybe a look – one year hence – at some of the actual impact is in order.

Here’s a White House summary of the effects on Idaho, specifically. One point not mentioned, to be sure, is the provision on buying insurance – not a mandate, by the way (one of the many routine misstatements about the law) but rather a relatively modest tax incentive to be insured.

Don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time finding tyranny in a health law that doesn’t take over health care or insurance, only extends some regulations in a badly broken system. (Before you take any issue with that, you might read one of the latest slices of evidence of that in Steve Duin’s column today in the Oregonian, about how wonderful private health insurers can be, and how effective we’ve been at reining in their many abuses.)

Here’s the “tyranny” the health law has imposed on Idaho:

Reducing costs for seniors and strengthening Medicare. More than 16,265 Idaho residents who hit the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “donut hole” received $250 tax-free rebates, and will receive a 50% discount on brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole this year. By 2020, the law will close the donut hole completely. And nearly all 44 million beneficiaries who have Medicare, including 211,000 in Idaho, can now receive free preventive services – like mammograms and colonoscopies – as well as a free annual wellness visit from their doctor

Offering new coverage options. Insurance companies are now required to allow parents to keep their children up to age 26 without job-based coverage on their insurance plans. An estimated 5,800 young adults in Idaho could gain insurance coverage as a result of the law. Additionally, most insurance companies are now banned from denying coverage to children because of a pre-existing condition. An estimated 99,000 kids with a pre-existing condition in Idaho will be protected because of this provision.

Lowering costs for small businesses. The law provides $40 billion of tax credits to up to 4 million small businesses, including up to 28,219 in Idaho to help offset the costs of purchasing coverage for their employees and make premiums more affordable.

Improving the quality of coverage. All Americans with insurance are now free from worrying about losing their insurance due to a mistake on an application, or having it capped unexpectedly if someone is in an accident or becomes sick. The law bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on health benefits – freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment because of their lifetime limits. The law also restricts the use of annual limits and bans them completely in 2014. This will protect 934,000 Idaho residents with private insurance coverage from these limits.

Providing flexibility and resources to States. The Affordable Care Act also gives States the flexibility and resources they need to implement the law in the way that works for them. Under the law, States have received millions of dollars in Federal support for their work to hold down insurance premiums, build competitive insurance marketplaces, provide insurance to early retirees, and strengthen their public health and prevention efforts. So far, Idaho has received $27.9 million from the Affordable Care Act. Grants to Idaho include: $1 million to plan for a Health Insurance Exchange; $1 million to crack down on unreasonable insurance premium increases; $15 million to support capital development in community health centers; $3.6 million from the Prevention and Public Health Fund; $100,468 for Medicare improvements for patients and providers; $784,503 for Maternal, Infant and Childhood Home Visiting; $6.5 million for the Money Follows the Person demonstration project.

Note: The White House release typo referred to “934,000 million Idaho residents” corrected here.

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Idaho Oregon

Tsunami damage at Brookings harbor. (image/Department of Energy)

Tight state budgets continued as a leading thread in Northwest news this week; Washington reported an enormous $778 million drop in anticipated revenues. Cuts rather than revenue increases appeared to continue to be the preferred alternative at all three legislatures to dealing with the shortfalls.

Economic indicators in Oregon and Washington were pointing up, with Oregon posting its largest one-month gain in jobs in 15 years. And in Idaho, two major public school laws were signed into passage, and another was under revision in the Senate.

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

bullet Revenue estimate: A $778 million drop

bullet Washington job numbers improve

bullet Constantine proposes stimulus

bullet Worker compensation bill signed

bullet Cantwell: Crack down on gas speculation

In the Oregon edition:

bullet Major job additions in February

bullet Two wilderness areas proposed

bullet No radiation from Japan

bullet Tax credit information still hard to get

In the Idaho edition:

bullet Otter signs two Luna plan bills

bullet Wolf litigation partly resolved

bullet Senior water rights upheld over juniors

bullet Otter signs geothermal leasing bills

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When Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was running for governor last year, and before that, his campaign office had in the window a “Code of the West” – “live each day with courage,” “take pride in your work,” “be tough but fair,” “when you make a promise, keep it,” “ride for the brand” (aka, Be True to Your School, or loyal to your community and country). Concepts that, doubtless, you’ve never heard of before. It came up during the campaign and Otter has pushed them as governor, even reciting then when talking to school kids.

Nothing particularly wrong with them, either. But what wasn’t clear then, seeing the “Code” posted on a campaign window or website, was that it wasn’t the idea of Otter, or of some Idahoan.

It’s popped up again this session at the Oregon Legislature, in the form of House Concurrent Resolution 14 (a hearing is set for Monday), to approve of the “Code” (because, remember, it has to do with the mythical Old West, not the real one) as a sort moral guideline for the state.

It has also appeared, the Oregonian noted in writing about this, in other places: Wyoming has adopted it as state policy (to accomplish what exactly is unclear), and the Montana legislature is considering it.

So it didn’t just pop up as one local lonesome cowboy’s thought.

It came from one James P. Owen, who has made substantial bucks from a series of books. The first one was Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West, and when it sold well, was quickly followed by two sequels. Getting a marketing boost for his book from governors and legislators surely didn’t hurt. And he set up a non-profit corporation as well, The Center for Cowboy Ethics and Leadership. The approach of the New West wrapped in the mythology of the old: Quite a mashup.

If you’re wondering where that reference to Wall Street came in, you need to know something about Owen. He is not a cowboy (though the fringe-sleeved jacket he wears on his non-profit’s web page conveys the impression). Owen’s background is on Wall Street, as an investment professional; he has even been linked to investor Bernie Madoff’s operations (though he has said the financial connection occurred after his left his firm). The cowboy principles do not come from any study of the old west, or life on a ranch, but – he has said – from recollections of his childhood, watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

A 21st century philosopher of the American West. Truly.

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A woman, named Smith, who farms near John Day describes the isolation of the John Day and Canyon City area – which is to say most of the people of Grant County – in terms of mountain passes. You have to climb through two or three of them, she said, “to get anywhere that is somewhere.”

This came up at the second redistricting committee road hearing today, a later-afternoon and light-attended session based at Burns but with video feeds at John Day and Ontario. Tomorrow’s hearing is at Bend.

She said she testified a decade ago when reapportionment was last done, with the idea that Grant County should be kept intact. By the time the map was drawn (by the secretary of state, not the legislature), the county was split down the middle between two state House districts. They do share state Senate and a U.S. House district.

What counties should be united with Grant (which is far too small to form a legislative district by itself) into a House district? Mrs. Smith suggested that similar resource counties be fitted, like Harney and Malheur, more than “anything up along the Gorge.”

No one in Ontario testified.

Of all the eastern Oregon counties, Grant may be the one that has the most – and logically so – interest in reapportionment.

Cliff Bentz, the House member who represents much of this vast area, was ironically in Salem but participated by video feed. He noted that “the need to add 8,300 people [to his current district] is a sad commentary on my corner of Oregon,” another indicator of the need for economic development there.

He added that he wanted “to make sure that the committee does not carve Ontario off into Idaho. That would be an unfortunate event.”

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Unanimously, the Idaho Supreme Court yestrday upheld a judgment of District Judge (and former SRBA judge) John Melanson, protecting senior decreed water rights in the Thousand Springs region and dealing a blow to groundwater pumpers to the north and east.

The ruling, authored by Chief Justice Daniel Eismann, put the onus directly on the groundwater pumpers. It followed directly on the age-old appropriation principle of “first in time, first in right.”

The case, Clear Springs Foods Inc. and Blue Lakes Trout Farm Inc. v. Idaho Department of Water Resources, is available on line.

The decision, about 40 pages long, was a thorough rundown of the conjunctive management situation and legal changes in recent decades.

Adapted from opinion and related documents:

Clear Springs Foods, Inc., and Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc. have decreed water rights in certain springs in the Thousand Springs region of the Snake River Plain. Appellants Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., North Snake Ground Water District, and Magic Valley Ground Water District are users of the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer ground water across southern Idaho. Groundwater Users pump groundwater from the Aquifer, primarily for irrigation purposes. The decreed ground water rights of Groundwater Users are junior to the surface water rights of Spring Users.

In the spring of 2005, Spring Users sent letters to the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources requesting that the Director administer water rights. The director treated these letters as calls for delivery under the Department’s Rules for Conjunctive Management of Ground and Surface Water Resources. The Director found that the Groundwater Users’ diversions were materially injuring Spring Users’ senior surface water rights and issued curtailment orders. An administrative hearing was held in November 2007 and the hearing officer approved the curtailment orders. The Director thereafter entered a final order, based on the hearing officer’s recommendations but substantially affirming the original curtailment orders. On judicial review of the orders, district court affirmed the Director’s findings. The Groundwater Users appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court, arguing that the Spring Users should be denied their requests for water based on the economic impact that would result from curtailment.

Seven issues were proposed for consideration; the court resolved four – agreeing with the district court – and declined to cnosider the other three.

Six were proposed by the groundwater users:

A. Did the district court err in holding that the curtailment orders do not violate the Swan Falls Agreement? [The court held that they did not.]

B. Did the district court err in holding that the curtailment orders do not violate the full economic development provision of Idaho Code § 42-226?7 [The Supreme Court did not find that it had.]

C. Did the district court err in upholding the Director’s determination that the ground water depletions caused material injury to the Spring Users’ water rights? [Again, no error was found.]

D. Did the district court err in upholding the Director’s determination that the Spring Users’ delivery calls were not futile? [The court considered this to be, in part at least, an issue raised on appeal for the first time, so not ripe for its consideration.]

E. Did the district court err in upholding the Director’s findings based upon the ground water model? [Again, a finding that the district court did not err.]

F. Did the district court err in failing to set aside the curtailment orders because the Director did not give the Groundwater Users a hearing before issuing the curtailment orders?

One was raised by the spring users:

G. Did the district court err in failing to order the Director to curtail more ground water pumping? [The court declined to consider it on appeal.]

On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court held that the statutory and constitutional law of Idaho protects water according to the priority of appropriation. The Court rejected the Groundwater Users’ arguments regarding economic impact.

The Court found that the optimum development of water resources is protected by Idaho law by requiring the means of diversion to be reasonable, and that Groundwater Users did not challenge the reasonableness of Spring Users’ appropriations on appeal. The Court also construed the Swan Falls Agreement and the application of the Department of Water Resources’ ground water model. The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the District Court’s judgment, upholding the orders of the Department of Water Resources.

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