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Posts published in March 2011

This week in the Digests

Canyon County
Idaho Democrats speak at a Canyon County event. (photo/Idaho House Democrats)

Washington and Idaho legislative sessions moved toward their climaxes, with major budget structuring underway in Washington and a couple of major bills - the last of the Tom Luna overhaul bills, which cleared the Senate, and the guns on campus bill, which died there - moving toward final action.

Economic indicators in Oregon and Washington continued to point cautiously upward.

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

bullet Prison safety initiatives planned

bullet Tacoma port volume triples

bullet Seattle allows park and ride options

bullet Island farming

In the Oregon edition:

bullet CenturyLink-Qwest merger approved by PUC

bullet Representatives urge small-county payments

bullet SEIU proposes state budget shifts

bullet Commission offers global warming report

In the Idaho edition:

bullet Third bill in Luna proposal passes

bullet Personal income growth in Idaho dips

bullet Wolf litigation sans Idaho

bullet Idaho State enrollment drops

Where ideology smacks into personal experience

Probably for most of the people who do argue that Idaho college campuses should be open to packing heat, as House Bill 222 would provide, the issue is philosophical or ideological: Guns should be allowed. For some, there may be a matter of speculation: People packing might stop some incidents. And for some, there's a matter of knowing people who pack and are sane, rational, thoughtful people.

At the Idaho Senate State Affair Committee meeting this morning, that latter thought at least (maybe the others as well) seemed to animate University of Idaho student Jonathan Sawmiller, an Iraq war veteran who described himself as a "mature, responsible, law-abiding citizen", as he may well be. And he blasted the impression of gun owners on campus as “nothing more than drunken frat boys who would stumble about campus firing indiscriminately."

Okay, to that point. But then state Senator Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, had his say. Davis has a specific interest in the issue: At a Boise State University-related party eight years ago, his son was shot to death.

Davis: "To you and the other presenters here today, my 23-year-old son was shot, eight years ago last week, by a concealed weapons permit holder. Both BSU students. Off-campus at a college environment. I know for you that you served our country nobly. I thank you for it. I trust you. But there are others that I have concerns about. This is not an intellectual exercise for me and my family. To you and your successors who speak today, please be sensitive in couching your remarks."

The bill, one of the most controversial this session but which passed easily in the Idaho House, was held in committee - effectively killed for the year.

Role models

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.

Passing the third Luna bill, barely

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.

Who’s safer?

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.

How much in taxes can we afford?

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.

Wu on the record

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.

Carlson: United Idahoans Stand


carlson
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. (more…)

Inslee edging closer

Inslee
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.

A strange kind of tyranny

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.