You can’t say Idahoans opposed to the public schools overhaul bills passed this legislative session aren’t going after them aggressively: They’re running down just about every avenue of challenge available.

They’re trying to recall the Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna who is principally behind them. They’re trying to recall a couple of the legislators who voted for them. They’re trying to place the measures on the ballot as a referendum, to possibly throw them out by voter action. And they’re challenging their constitutionality in court, with a lawsuit filed by leaders of the Idaho Education Association on April 27.

Any options they’ve missed?

Of course, they’re not all equally likely to succeed. The one with the best chance, though not necessarily a probability of success, is the referendum. There, the bar to ballot placement is not massively high, and if the negative public attitude really is as strong as it often seemed in recent months, and if it remains negative after more than a year of implementation (the election would be in November 2012), then the prospects for overturn are reasonable. Which is not to say it would be easy.

The recall efforts are very difficult, especially the statewide for the superintendent. And there, the greater problem isn’t even getting the recall to the ballot, so much as gathering enough votes in a special election against Luna to surpass the votes he got (in a near-landslide win) in a general election. A win there would be an extraordinary achievement.

The new lawsuit looks to fall somewhere in between. On their face, the substance of the three bills at issue don’t seem to violate the constitution. The most interesting argument for an overturn would be the “too many subjects” argument. Idaho laws are supposed to be limited to a single subject, and the argument is that at least one of the bills covered so much territory it violated that requirement. That could be so; in recent years, the Idaho Supreme Court has killed other legislation on just such grounds.

In any event, from a strategic view, there’s this: If you try everything, the odds improve that something will stick.

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David Wu
David Wu at Newberg/Randy Stapilus

At Representative David Wu‘s second town hall meeting of the season, in Newberg, a considerable local political story was in the background: Wu has been described (by the Oregonian and others) of exhibiting strange behavior and driving off key staff, and the negative narrative was strong enough that last week a prominent Democrat, Brad Avakian, entered a primary contest against him.

In fielding (by my count) 14 questions from area residents, via tickets chose from a plastic container, in the course of questions mainly supportive but sometimes critical on various issues, Wu was never asked about any of those headlines or the upcoming contest, and he didn’t offer any thoughts about them. He appeared a little uneasy at times, but the questions and answers from the crowd of about 70 people were in the normal range for a congressional town hall.

Subjects? The federal budget, options for taxing and spending, and the deficit. (One questioner made clear that he likes the progressive budget plan, for which Wu has voted, and another argued that cuts have to be far more massive.) The Patriot Act and other security-related measures. Military spending and the wars. (Wu suggested that President Obama will have to come to Congress for support for ongoing activities at Libya, if still active after 60 days of engagement.) Outsourcing. Health insurance and health care (a number of individual horror stories emerging). Unemployment and the need for more job creation. Planned Parenthood spending and abortion (the second hottest topic).

Immigration (the hottest topic, sharply dividing the audience): Some people in the audience insisted that immigration laws should be enforced fully, meaning that all 13 million (or so) people in the United States illegally should be departed, immediately. Wu remained polite but his language was in sharp opposition – even were such a mass deportation possible (“Let’s be realistic about this”), he said, it would amount to “the ethnic cleansing of America.” He did turn a bit political on this (as on a few other topics), asking the anti-immigrant parts of the audience to watch and see whether the Tea Party-backed members of Congress endorse any legislation to do such a thing. He said he thought they would not.

Wu said that he plans to hold another round of town halls in the summer or fall.

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Washington courts

Four years ago, in the case Washington v. Timothy Jorden, the Washington Supreme Court threw out a conviction because it happened after a search that was part of a broad dragnet (and had no warrant). The facts:

“In March 2003 a Pierce County deputy sheriff stopped by the Golden Lion Motel at Lakewood, whose guests over several years had a history of criminal activity. The officer was welcome, though, and his visit was not unusual, because the motel participated in a cooperative anti-crime program, part of which allowed officers to look over the guest register. The officer saw a familiar name, and in his car’s computer confirmed the hunch: Timothy Jorden, listed as a guest, was wanted on two outstanding arrest warrants. The officer called for and got backup, then knocked on the door. A woman answered; she was pulled outside. The officers entered and found Jorden in bed, and a stash of crack cocaine visible nearby. Jorden was arrested.”

The Court threw out the conviction as the result of a search and seizure beyond specific reason, the issue being “whether a random and suspicionless search of a guest registry reveals intimate details of one’s life. We first consider that here there is more information at stake than simply a guest’s registration information: an individual’s very presence in a motel or hotel may in itself be a sensitive piece of information. There are a variety of lawful reasons why an individual may not wish to reveal his or her presence at a motel.”

This site approved of the decision and the logic, although a Court critic might argue that basically bars cops from making use of motel registries. But not so. Today we have the decision In Restraint of Glenn Gary Nichols, which throws some shading on the idea.

Here’s the background of the new case. A Seattle police informant went to the home of a person in the southern part of the city to score some cocaine (with $50 of Seattle drug buy money). The seller had none but was about to get some, at a nearby motel, where her supplier was. The two of then went to the motel, where the intermediary knocked and was admitted to room 56. When she returned, cocaine was delivered to the informant. Shortly after, the informant called police with the information. Soon after that, police came to the motel and asked the desk clerk who was in room 56. The information was provided – Nichols was registered there – and when police saw him drive up to the door, they determined his identity, then arrested him (initially for a driving-related offense, later on drugs).

Naturally, the Jorden decision came up, and was central, as appeals in the case arose. Here is what the Supreme Court said about it in the new case:

“A fair reading of our opinion in Jorden is that motel guest registries are ‘private affairs’ only to a limited extent. Indeed, in Jorden we recognized that in prior cases we have recognized that hotel or motel guest registries were not historically considered private when police officers had an individualized and particularized suspicion regarding a guest. Such a tiered understanding of what is a private affair under article I, section 7 of our state constitution is not without precedent. In a number of cases we have expressed displeasure at random and suspicionless searches, “fishing expeditions,” while at the same time recognizing that searches of the same person or property with individualized suspicion can pass constitutional muster. In that regard, see, e.g., City of Seattle v. Mesiani (1988), in which this court held that a program involving “random” road block sobriety checkpoints violated article I, section 7 because it lacked particularized and individualized suspicion, and York v. Wahkiakum School District No. 200 (2008), in which we struck down a school district’s program of urinalysis drug testing of student athletes where the testing was done without any individualized suspicion of drug use.”

In this case, in other words, they had a specific drug buy, and they had room 56. A lot different from rousting random motel guests.

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Check this out from 1950, and what’s changed and what hasn’t. The things mentioned, and the things not yet conceived of.

A short video, but a fine history lesson.

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Washington


carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


Idaho’s Second District congressman, Republican Representative Mike Simpson, is visiting northern Idaho over the next few days and people of all political persuasions ought welcome him.

On April 28 the seven-term House of Representatives member had planned to tour Shoshone County to observe why so many residents are justifiably concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s $1.2 billion, 100-year Phase II clean-up plan. Residents wanted him to see firsthand the excessive intrusion of federal bureaucrats, who in their zeal to eradicate the last small increment of historical pollution, are threatening the ability of the region’s rebounding mining industry to survive.

Out of deference to the family of the miner killed in the accident at Mullan’s Lucky Friday Mine he understandably postponed that portion of his north Idaho visit.

The visit of the former Blackfoot dentist and Speaker of the Idaho House is important because he now chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees the purse strings for the Department of the Interior and for the Environmental Protection Agency.

From that position alone, he exerts influence, already signaling to EPA that there is a new sheriff in town who will stand up to an agency that many believe is out of control and oblivious to the damage it does to legitimate businesses, small and large.

Many consider Simpson to be the single-most effective member of the House this state ever sent to Washington because he knows how to get things done legislatively, knows he is elected to solve problems, and knows that compromise is not a dirty word.

He is a fiscal conservative, but not an ideologue who believes it is his way or the highway. He is not someone who votes “no” simply to take a blindly stupid stand to create a temporary headline somewhere.

He is what the late Arizona congressman, Mo Udall, would have called a workhorse, not a showhorse. The two of them would have gotten along well because just as Udall worked well with the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona for their constituents, so Simpson works well with Democrats.

Exhibit A is the pain-staking, 10-year process to come up with a compromise that will provide Idaho’s majestic White Clouds and Boulder Mountains with the wilderness designation they merit. In leading the effort, Simpson gained respect from environmentalists and conservatives alike for the even-handed way in which he worked with all interest groups to devise balanced solutions.

When President Barack Obama uses the Antiquities Act to declare the area a national monument, it won’t be because of any failure on Simpson’s part. Idahoans should lay blame for the far more restrictive designation squarely at the feet of Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, who, showing little respect for the years of work by his Republican colleague, has kowtowed to one narrow, unsatisfied interest group and placed a hold on Simpson’s legislation.

Exhibit B is the recently passed budget bill containing a modest $38 billion down payment to curb spending and begin reducing the national deficit effort by cutting funds from this year’s spending plan. In a pure showmanship, Simpson’s colleagues made a grand stand of voting no, saying the cut wasn’t enough.

It was especially disappointing to see the opposition of Senator Mike Crapo, who is a member of the Senate “Gang of Six,” the bi-partisan group of three Democratic and three Republican senators gallantly struggling to reach a true compromise on deficit reduction that includes changes in the sacrosanct entitlement programs.

It had to gall the hell out of Simpson. He used legislative skill to work with Democratic Senator Jon Tester, a Montana rancher/farmer, to attach language to the bill that successfully delisted wolves from the endangered species list and returned management to the state fish and game agencies of Idaho and Montana.

This was a significant victory and Simpson had every right to expect his colleagues to be there, but they weren’t.

Simpson also defends a judicious and more transparent earmarking process that is so anathema to the nay-say Tea Party types of the world. He’s the only member of Idaho’s congressional delegation to vote for the State Children’s Health Insurance Plan (often called CHIPS) because, as a dentist, he recognized that taking care of children’s teeth is a classic saver of taxpayer money in the long run.

In short, Mike Simpson is the kind of effective legislator all too rare in Congress. Some believe he may one day be speaker of the U.S, House. He’s truly that good.

It should surprise no one he is a key member of House Speaker John Boehner’s core of advisors. He stays sane by driving golf balls a country mile and is a fine painter of water colors. Idahoans should be proud to have him represent the state. Join me in welcoming Mike Simpson to the north country.

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Carlson

From Politics 101, a few basic principles. Elections are about incumbents more than they are about challengers. Incumbents usually have a fairly definite corps of supporters. Challengers, as a total, therefore have a limited pool to draw from; the more challengers deeply divide the anti-incumbent vote, the more likely the incumbent is to win. A weak incumbent may lose to a single challenger; two reasonable strong challengers in the field greatly improves the incumbent’s odds (excepting in cases of runoffs).

That has relevance in the case of the Oregon 1st district, where incumbent Democrat David Wu is facing a strong challenge from state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, who announced last week. (One indicator: Facebook page is up to 845.) If those two are in the Democratic primary, Wu may lose to Avakian. If more strong candidates appear, Wu may prevail.

It’s a basic calculus that probably has been on the minds of quite a few Democrats – and Republicans, since a weakened Democratic nominee could open the seat for a Republican candidate.

The point is spelled out with more detail in a Jon Isaacs piece on Blue Oregon, noting as well that several other Democrats are also considering entering the 1st district race. If you see fast moves by Avakian in the next couple of weeks, toward gathering endorsements and support, bear this in mind: His chances may depend heavily o whether any of those other prospects in fact jump in.

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bridge
The Columbia River Crossing design/CRC site

It may look a little plain, but just how much are you willing to shell out of your pocket for a prettier design? If it works – if it gets traffic movig at a better speed – at a lower price, most people are probably going to be satisfied. Or at least accepting.

This is the design the Washington and Oregon governors, Chris Gregoire and John Kitzhaber, released on April 25. If as billed it has a good chance of getting built at somewhere close to budget, it will be noted as a major positive development.

That of course may be a while coming. Ground isn’t supposed to be broken until sometime in 2013, and you could expect a couple of more years to pass before the whole of it is done. But you have to start somewhere.

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[From the Barrett Rainey blog, Second Thoughts]

Several weeks ago, I had a brief conversation with the city manager of our little Southern Oregon community. He’s an affable fellow, who’s earned high marks for his job performance. He’s well-schooled in city affairs and dealing with city officials. I told him of a bill in the Michigan Legislature, at that time, that concerned me. I thought it might concern him. A “heads up” if you will.

The bill in question would authorize Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to send one of his self-appointed “financial managers” into any Michigan city of his choosing. It allowed that “manager” to remove the elected mayor and city council from any authority whatsoever, leaving them with no power to do anything. Further, the “manager” could unilaterally break any contact with any entity, void any agreements with city employees or anyone else and take any action he deemed necessary for any reason. Or no reason. Power unrestricted. He’d be God.

Neutering elected officials really bothers me. I thought it would bother our city manager, too. It apparently didn’t. His response was something like “Well, that’s interesting.” Conversation over.

Fast forward to Monday of this week. (More …)

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Rainey

This week, the Washington Legislature, having run out of time – as so often it does – in its short regular session, will return for a special.

Not so terribly special, really. Their job (still fairly complex) is to pass a budget, and adjust a series of laws that the budget affects. But revenue increases? Evidently not on the table – and that (the debate over that, anyway) is what should probably be a genuine cause for an overage.

A simple, plain and clear summary of the situation was posted today in the Spokesman-Review.

A suggestion: Make the odd-year sessions in Washington longer, along the lines of what Oregon now does – in what is looking like a useful approach to scheduling.

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Washington

How about this for a closing line: “In other words, in his zeal to strike a political blow again President Obama’s most important accomplishment, [Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch”] Otter has endangered the health of over more than 200,000 Idahoans and forced financial ruin upon his state.”

What? Could such a statement be justifiable?

On April 20, Otter vetoed the “son of nullification” bill (House Bill 298), which was aimed at blocking Idaho from going along with any provisions of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. His reason was not its near-certain unconstitutionality, but rather that the state might not be able to set up a health insurance exchange. Not to disappoint the backers of the bill, however, he issued an executive order saying that “No executive branch department, agency, institution or employee of the State” could take any action toward implementing the ACA.

Circle back to a letter dated February 8 from the Idaho Attorney General’s office, on the subject of ACA nullification. It cautioned about such an attempt’s “effect on existing and future Idaho participation in the Medicaid Program. As a purely voluntary program, Idaho’s refusal to comply with the expanded provisions within the PPACA could potentially result in Idaho exiting the program and losing the existent federal matching funds. This could create a situation where individuals presently covered would no longer be covered, yet still require medical treatment, which likely would be required to be provided for and paid for through some non-federal means. This situation, in turn, could create an intense burden on the State’s budget. In sum, the Legislature may wish to consider whether its adoption of RS 20315 has the practical and legal effect of opting Idaho out of Medicaid and its attendant federal funding.”

Good-bye as much as a billion dollars for treating the ill in Idaho. The choice presumably, unless a waiver were allowed (by Otter), would be to raise state taxes by a billion dollars or let about 223,000 people reliant on public health funding sicken and die. (Considering that this is Idaho 2011, which of the two scenarios would seem more probable?)

The national political web site ThinkProgress (the source of the quote up top) argued, “Otter’s executive order forbids state agencies from implementing “any provisions” of the ACA, and it provides that “[n]o executive branch department, agency, institution or employee of the State shall accept or expend federal funds to implement the provisions of the []ACA.” The reason why this is problematic is because, starting in 2014, the ACA requires states participating in the Medicaid program to offer health coverage to all persons under the age of 65 who earn up to 133% of the poverty rate. In return for expanding Medicaid, the federal government will provide each state with the lion’s share of the funds required to do so. Otter’s order forbids his state from complying with these new requirements to remain in the Medicaid program, and it also forbids Idaho from taking the federal funds that will allow it to pay for expanding Medicaid.”

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Idaho

Did your employer tell you who to vote for in last November’s elections?

Employees of Koch Industries – that is, the Koch brothers who have picked up the spotlight of late – were so informed. At least in Washington state, and presumably elsewhere as well.

The Nation magazine got hold of a mailer on the subject sent last October to Koch employees (in Washington they would include employees of such businesses as Georgia-Pacific). Although a preface notes that “it is the policies and actions of politicians – not their personalities or political parties – that matter most,” political party does seem to matter: Every endorsed candidate in the brochure was a Republican.

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carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


What’s that old saying about facts and folks tendency to believe what they say even though it just ain’t so? Or that other expression: “denial is not just a river in Egypt.”

Both phrases should come to mind as any thinking person reads Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s recent post-session comments. He gave the just concluded session of the Idaho Legislature a letter grade of A. Seriously, Governor? Can you be that far removed from reality?

Many Idahoans like the Governor. His ability to discharge the duties of the office, however, is deplorable. He is doing serious long-term damage to the state and its citizenry. Most thoughtful Idahoans never dreamed it could be this bad. I sure didn’t. Where to begin?

How about the incredible insult to all Idahoans by signing the bill that paid the Republican Party $100,000 of your tax dollars to cover the Republican Party’s legal fees to overturn the state’s primary law and deny independents, as well as other mug-wumps sitting on the political fence the chance to vote in the GOP primary?

If the Democratic Party had brought such a suit and won, he would have gone stratospheric. He knows it. You know it. Apparently he doesn’t subscribe to the axiom about what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

Or how about his lame reasoning on signing the legislation that added “emergency clauses” to the educational reform bills State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and he pushed through the Legislature? These “leaders” of the people believe citizens shouldn’t be given 60 days to get signatures on petitions to establish a referendum that aims to overturn their questionable “reforms.”

Thus, the self-described penny-pinching Republicans once again will have wasted precious state dollars, but who’s watching and who cares? They are the super-majority and believe they can do as they please because they are never wrong.

The biggest canard the Governor uttered though, was saying his proudest achievement was balancing the budget without raising taxes. Seriously, Governor? You well know that one of the fallouts of your draconian, fear-based budgeting is that most school districts around the state will seek over-ride levies to make up for funding losses.

That’s a tax increase, pure and simple. You are responsible for that, and you ought to be man enough to own up to it. Your actions are going to result in more money being taken out of most every taxpayer’s pockets for a service the Constitution mandates be the priority for the state. Don’t play games. Don’t parse words like a Bill Clinton. You fool no one but yourself — and maybe not even that.

(Incidentally, Governor Otter is going to lose a wager former Governor Cecil D. Andrus made with him on revenue projections for the coming year. For transparently political reasons, Butch deliberately underestimated the figure. Andrus called him on it and came much closer. We’ll see whether he pays the $100 he owes.)

The Governor also tried to justify his signing a bill further restricting abortion. He is a practicing Catholic (as am I), but no one believes if one of his daughters had been raped, or was told at 20 weeks that the child she was carrying would be born with no brain, he would look her in the eye and tell her she had to carry the child to term because that was the law.

Yes, we should err on the side of protecting life from conception to natural death, but reality can have circumstances less than ideal where compassion for the mother and her private right to decide an extreme and rare set of circumstances is between her, her family, faith and doctor.

Once again, the state will spend precious diminishing resources on an ideological foray into the never-never land of right wing social policy.

If Governor Otter is truly concerned about protecting the lives of Idahoans, especially from unnecessary risks, he should have thought more carefully about his unfathomable signing of an amendment to the 1995 Nuclear Waste agreement the State worked out with the Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy to restrict the importation of nuclear waste into Idaho.

The disaster at Fukushima demonstrated how easily cooling ponds that hold spent fuel rods can be ruptured, lose water and cause a radiation release. Yet with Idaho getting absolutely nothing in return for amending the agreement, Idaho is accepting for the first time ever nearly 1000 pounds per year for twenty years of commercial nuclear plant spent fuel rods .

Lots of phrases come to mind: dereliction of duty, misplaced priorities, drinking the kool-aid, believing your own rhetoric.

The governor gave the Legislature and, by implication, himself a grade of A. By his standard the voyage of the Titanic would have gotten an A plus. History and the passage of time will assign him the F he deserves. Sad.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho