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Posts published in April 2011

Opting out of Medicaid – and its billion dollars?

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.”

A little help with the voting

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.

Carlson: Who’s he trying to kid?

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. (more…)

A chart of Idaho conservatism

Interested in a statistical chart of who's most conservative in the Idaho Legislature - and what conservatism currently is taken to mean in Idaho?

Here's a pretty good one-page chart, showing how Idaho legislators voted on a collection of flashpoint issues in the last session (with session rankings for 2010 and for career included), courtesy of the Idaho Conservative blog.

Neither the descriptions of issues (or, certainly, the stance on them) that the blog takes would be the same as ours, but you can easily work out what's under discussion. And then you can discuss.

OR 1: Avakian’s in

We got the word on Sunday night about Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian talking, this morning, about whether he will run for Congress. Sounded like a last-minute deal; maybe he'd be announcing an exploratory committee. The campaign semi-apologized for the late word, and the room it had obtained for the announcement was small, suggesting they didn't expect much of a crowd.

The indicators were misleading. Avakian turned out to be all in - this was an announcement that he's running for the House seat held now held by fellow Democrat David Wu. He had campaign staff at the read, even a campaign logo on the handouts - and a large stack of envelopes of campaign contributions. And the small room was packed with 60 or so people; discounting for maybe a dozen media types, that was a fairly large and enthusiastic turnout for a primary challenge.

He had a solid group of endorsers present, including Metro President Tom Hughes (there was a cute story about how Hughes was teaching the high school class where Avakian met his wife), and Roy Jay, the president of the area African American Chamber of Commerce. And, maybe most notable (in this challenge to Wu), Stephen Ying, executive director of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association. A longish list of endorsers also included people like House Majority Leader Dave Hunt and a number of local government officials. Such a long roster of endorsers isn't usual for an in-party challenger of an incumbent officeholder.

But the situation is unusual. Wu has had a series of personal problems and incidents over the last year or so, unusual or hard-to-explain behavior, and a high number of departures of key staff, and all of it very visibly reported (especially in the Oregonian). He has made little progress since putting those concerns to rest. The Avakian announcement was a clear indicator that many of the leading Democrats in the area aren't conmfortable with Wu continuing as the 1st district flagbearer.

Ad the early announcement sounds like a signal that many of them have decided to sign on with Avakian, probably foreclosing the possibility of a splintered field of major challengers.

Avakian and his endorsers didn't much mention Wu at all, saying only that the district was in need of "tough and effective" representation, not just the right decisions on floor votes. (Probably wouldn't be a lot of daylight between Avakian and Wu on those.) The closest to a shot at Wu was when Avakian said he planned to hold plenty of meetings around the district, everyone was welcome and "you won't need an appointment" - a reference to Wu's recent one-by-one, by-appointment series of meetings with constituents.

The decision not to has on Wu at the announcement, or likely in upcoming events, is easy enough to understand: Avakian is seeking support from many of the same people who have been voting for Wu, and wants to talk about his own agenda, which he outlined effectively this morning. There's also the possibility that Wu might opt out if he isn't pushed too hard (though his recent announcement of substantial campaign contributions last quarter would argue against any soon opt-out).

That kind of a hard to head may be coming, though. Avakian is now asking his fellow Democrats to fire the Democrat who has represented them in Congress for more than a decade. At some point, if Wu stays in, he's going to have to deeper into the sticky question of why they should do that.

UPDATE: Avakian's web site is up.

RO remap: Point, counterpoint

Redistricting at Albany/Randy Stapilus

Saturday's last of the road trip public hearings on Oregon redistricting brought to mind an old newspaper story.

Some years ago the company that owned the two daily newspapers at Albany (the Democrat Herald) and Corvallis (the Gazette Times) decided that the two papers, located only 10 miles apart on opposing sides of the Willamette, should be merged. Not an unusual idea; the Northwest has plenty of such examples. But in this case when the idea was announced, both communities erupted into such uproar that the company actually backed off, settling for a merger only of the Sunday edition.

Corvallis - as witness after witness noted at the hearing at Linn-Benton Community College at Albany pointed out - is a university and high tech town, while Albany is blue-collar, a farm and manufacturing town. And never the twain should meet in a legislative district, apparently (notwithstanding the irony of meeting at an institution called "Linn-Benton"). Although both cities are located in one Senate district.

As everywhere else, no one wanted their own community divided between districts. But also as everywhere else, almost every value judgement was countered by another. The hearings demonstrate that, among other things, it'll be possible to offer some kind of justification to almost any map that emerges.

One witness complained about Linn County being split into three districts; another pointed out that meant a larger legislative delegation. One liked the idea of including Oregon State University (Corvallis) and the University of Oregon (Eugene) in a single congressional idea, as a community of interest; another (on the OSU faculty) urged they be kept separate, on grounds that "two voices are better than one" and that a single member of Congress for both might be put in the position of advocating for one of them at the expense of the other. Is Philomath, a small town about five miles west of Corvallis, more aligned with Corvallis, or with the rural timber and farming communities to its north and west? Both sides were argued.

It was not a heavily attended meeting, and one of the shorter (about 90 minutes long). But as at the others, it did not lack for developing ideas to chew over.

OR remap: Kinds of community

On the way out of Tillamook after a legislative redistricting hearing, I stopped for lunch at Main Street Pizza (near the cheese factory on the north side of town). The back of the menu said this was one two same-owner pizza places; the other was near the far end of a road I'd just traveled, at the small city of Banks.

That had an odd resonance: People had been spending the morning talking in considerable part about whether coastal communities like Tillamook (and Astoria, and others nearby) ought to be grouped together into as few legislative and congressional districts as possible, but together. The alternative view was that there are plenty of economic and other tie reaching inland, away from the coast. Wonder what the Main Street Pizza people would say about that?

On this rainy morning in Tillamook - is that redundant? - the people who showed up (about two dozen) for the legislative road show on redistricting mostly had the normal concerns: Don't split our community; keep the coast intact ... but as often happens, the problems of compliance have to do with the hard requirements. Such as the limited number of people in those areas, and the large numbers needed for congressional and legislative districts.

The hearing was held in Tillamook but by video (and there were some glitches) joined in Astoria, Lincoln City and Newport.

The majority view, upheld in testimony by the senator, Democrat Betsy Johnson, whose district runs from Tillamook County north to Astoria and along the Columbia past St. Helens and to the edge of Portland. "This district has a genuine feeling of community," she said, and made a clear case for it. Told that her district is below the population level that will be needed for Senate districts in the new map, she had a ready answer for where to get the additional people: On the Portland outskirts, around Linntown.

Almost no point anyone could make came without its counters. A few people testifying railed at Portland and how its population diluted the districts occupied mostly by people in much more rural areas. One speaker from Astoria said that "sending these little fingers into Multnomah and Washington counties is unjust and unfair."

A majority view seemed to call for concentrating representation on the coastal counties. (The coast is currently represented by three Senate districts, 1, 5 and 16, and about twice as many House districts.) "We have very unique interests here on the coast," said one witness.

But there was a strongly-worded counterpoint. The coastal legislators have formed a Coastal Caucus who in recent sessions have become a fairly effective force for coastal issues in the Legislature. Would it be wise to cut the membership of the caucus? No clear conclusions emerged.

Nor on some other basic issues. One House district, for example, runs from just south of the Astoria city line to take in its next-door neighbor of Warrenton, and then south to Tillamook County; Astoria, and communities east nearly to Portland, are in another district. Astoria and Warrenton are all but one community (Astoria has the downtown, the restaurants and tourist center, and Warrenton and the big box stores.) Committee members asked: Is this split-up of Astoria and Warrenton a good or bad thing? Overall, people seemed to hedge. But one local speaker said the two-district approach is better: We effectively have twice the representation in the House than we otherwise would. Again, no definitive answers.

Next hearings, tomorrow: Eugene and Albany/Corvallis.

(A side note: This one was at the smallest community college in Oregon - one newly-built building - though the president said there's room for two more, and some plan for expansion.)

Federal enforcement?

One key difference between the "nullification" bills some states (Idaho, for one) have been playing around with, and the marijuana proto-legalization efforts in some states, is this: The pot law proponents aren't making the argument that (much as they might like to) they're able to overturn federal law in the statehouses. They know they can't do that. They can only change state law.

But there is that question: What effect would an overturning of a state law on the subject have on federal enforcement? Signals have been mixed: Sometimes saying the feds will enforce federal anti-drug law, other times seeming to say that state law preferences will be respected.

Both chambers of the Washington Legislature have passed versions of Senate Bill 5073, which expands the legality (under state law) of medical use of marijuana and limits law enforcement action against possessors.

Which brings us to the letter Governor Chris Gregoire this week sent to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The key paragraph:

"Within the next week lawmakers will be considering the differing versions of this legislation and determining what provisions of state law they will enact and forward to me, as Governor, for approval or disapproval. It would be very helpful to receive clear guidance on the Department of Justice enforcement position ... Also, it would be helpful if the guidance addressed whether state employees involved in inspecting the premises, auditing the records or collecting fees from the licensed dispensers, producers or processors would be immune from arrest or liability when engaged in the enforcement of this licensing law."

Something says we're approaching a turning point here. The response, whatever it is, should be highly illuminating - and provocative.

What’s in a name

Among the more peculiar pieces of legislation at the Oregon session this year is House Bill 2442 - "Prohibits use of word "independent in name of major or minor political party."

It seems an odd and arbitrary choice. You could as well ban the use of the words "Democratic" or "Republican" since those are basic descriptors of our form of government. But those are the parties in power, and the Independent Party of Oregon, while growing at a rapid clip (and it may have had some effect on some major-party races last year), is still well shot of major-party status. And has few shields against snipes form the major parties, including shots aimed maybe at its heart.

The House Rules Committee held a hearing on the bill this afternoon. One Republican candidate who won the party's cross-nomination last time, in opposition to the bill, said there are reasons people are attracted to other than the major parties - including a lot of younger people.

Linda Williams of Portland, one of the founders of the Independent party, pointed out that her group has explicitly described itself as a party, not as a category for non-affiliateds. "I'm a little skeptical if people who tell me that's very confusing," she said. The party has invested a lot of time, money and publicity, after all, in promoting itself under its banner.

But the new bill may be specially problematic because of the likelihood that it's unconstitutional.

Sal Peralta, one of the party's organizers, said he wasn't sure how seriously to take the bill since it seemed so clearly unconstitutional. (Two former secretaries of state suggested that it probably ran afoul of the constitution.) "This bill is cynical political mischief at its worst," Peralta quoted. (He also pointed out that the current Independent Party isn't the first with that name in Oregon; one set up by Ross Perot did so as well.)

"There is no apparent proponent of the bill signed up to testify," the chair, Representative Dave Hunt said, and the backing of it remains a little unclear. No legislator visibly supporter it as a sponsor. (There was some suggestion that it came from an interim committee, but that idea was spiked by a member of the interim committee.) Hunt acknowledged that the lack of visible support was a little unusual.

Representative Chris Garrett D-Lake Oswego said it was "inherently confusing" that the party called itself "independent" in the face of lots of voters who consider themselves independents. Might a quarter of the party members really think of themselves as lower-case independents?

Williams said that the party ran surveys to that effect - to try to sift out people who didn't think of themselves as member of an Independent Party. They simply didn't find a significant number of them. "People make mistakes with forms all the time," she said. "If someone had intended to be nonaffiliated voter," she said, they would not have been deprived of any voting opportunity. Where, exactly, is the harm?

A committee decision on the bill still lies ahead.