"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

Watched this 30-second ad three times, and its points race by so fast they’re hard to grasp. Could the main object here simply be to try to raise vague negatives against Representative Kurt Schrader? He’s accused a of vague “reckless spending,” for example, but what does that mean? “Billions in new taxes and trillions in crushing debt” – sounds ominous, but definitions of such things get pretty dicey these days.

More useful to know, probably, is that this is one of a series of 10 ads around the country aimed at Democratic representatives in politically marginal districts, put together by the Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies. A useful description of who they are, from Sourcewatch:

Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies, also known as Crossroads GPS, is a secretly-funded 501(c)(4) conservative political group created in June 2010 by right-wing political operatives and “advised” by Karl Rove and former RNC chairman Ed Gillespie to support Republican candidates. It is a spin-off group of American Crossroads, a 527 Political Action Committee under the same leadership.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, Crossroads GPS spent $17 million in the 2010 midterm elections without disclosing their donors. NBC reported in 2010 that “a substantial portion of Crossroads GPS’ money came from a small circle of extremely wealthy Wall Street hedge fund and private equity moguls, according to GOP fundraising sources who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity. These donors have been bitterly opposed to a proposal by congressional Democrats — and endorsed by the Obama administration — to increase the tax rates on compensation that hedge funds pay their partners, the sources said.”

A little early in the cycle for attack ads, but then this is the era of the perpetual campaign.

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Read through the news summary fast and you might get the impression that a measure passed by the Idaho Republican Party this weekend calling for replacing its presidential primary elections with caucuses might be an extension of the party-limiting wave the Gem GOP has been working on the last couple of years. The party-registration to vote in primary efforts, for example (which is going to go into effect) and the idea of allowing county Republican party officials decision which candidates can go on the ballot in Republican primaries (dropped for now, but it may be back).

The proposal to end Idaho Republican Party use of the presidential primary, and likely cancelling that specific election altogether, is another matter.

Idaho’s Republicans have for decades been shut out of the mainstream of party presidential decision-making because their primary election – and it would be costly to hold a separate, earlier one – is held in May, long after the party’s nominee is almost certain to have already been determined. Idaho Democrats some years back opted out by holding February caucuses, which have had a little more impact. Idaho’s Democrats in 2008, for example, gave an extra boost to Barack Obama at a point when it was useful to him. Idaho Republicans would have been understandably frustrated at getting no similar shot during their own critical contests. Under the proposal endorsed by the party, the Idaho GOP would do what the Idaho Democrats already do, fairly early in the process.

This move may give it to them. It probably means goodbye to the state’s long-standing presidential primary. But in the real world, was there a choice?

From the Republican email out on the subject:

“This should be considered an open invitation to all Republican Presidential candidates who are interested in securing the Republican Party’s nomination in 2012,” stated Chairman Norm Semanko. Semanko continued, “The Idaho Republican Party welcomes all Republican candidates to visit our great State, to discuss issues important to Idahoans, and to campaign for Idaho’s 32 delegates to the Republican National Convention.”

The Idaho Republican Party Executive Committee also voted in support of a motion to conduct a Straw Poll in conjunction with the Winter State Central Committee Meeting the weekend of January 6th and 7th in Boise, Idaho. More details will follow in the coming months.

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Reports are out from Bloomberg News that Lee Enterprises is scrambling to refinance its debt – seen as an indicator it is moving to avoid bankruptcy.

And: “Lenders will also be asked to approve a prepackaged bankruptcy, which the newspaper owner will pursue if an out-of-court restructuring doesn’t gain enough support, they said.”

The Northwest significance is that Lee is one of the major newspaper owners in the region. It has a near monopoly on newspapers in the Magic Valley area (after buying up what were 20 years ago a bunch of independently owned businesses). And in Oregon, it owns the papers in Albany, Corvallis and Coos Bay, and in Washington the paper in Longview.

Following up on additional weak circulation reports in the newspaper industry, including serious downtowns at a number of Northwest papers. Newspaper troubles aren’t getting the attention they were a few years ago, but they haven’t gone away – or, apparently, slowed.

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A comment worth revisiting in the Oregonian about the next Oregon 5th district U.S. House race, now that district lines are settled, on the subject of a Republican challenge to Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader.

The 5th, which includes the Oregon City-Salem area and a piece of the central coast, has been and is the most competitive of Oregon’s five districts – one (the 2nd) is very strongly Republican and the other three are definably Democratic. The closest call of those three, the 4th, just got more Democratic in the new reapportionment. And the 5th probably just got a shade more Republican.

Last year, Schrader got a challenge from possibly the strongest candidate Republicans could have pitted against him – then-state Representative Scott Bruun, a well-skilled and experienced candidate conservative enough to win party loyalty but with enough moderate leanings to make him a reasonable fit for the district. It looked like a close race, and it was the closest of the five, but still not a nail-biter even in a strong Republican year – with Schrader winning 51.3%-46%.

So, next time? Bruun evidently was asked about the idea of a rematch, and he appeared to demur, saying that he wasn’t the strongest prospective challenger. That, he said, would be Chris Dudley.

Dudley is the former pro basketball player who came close to beating Democrat John Kitzhaber for governor last year. As Blue Oregon points out, Dudley won the 5th district’s voters in his race.

But Dudley too apparently is taking a pass – and wisely so, we’d think. In 2010 he was a fresh face riding a tide that was heavily rewarding non-governmental fresh faces. He had the best set of advantages he could have, and he came close but didn’t quite cross the line.

So the question: Who can, or will?

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A while back, we posted a congressional redistricting plan for Idaho that kept the Ada-Canyon metro area in one congressional district, at the cost of – well, a real mess. And concluding that it wouldn’t happen because setting up a dumbbell second district consisting of the north and east made no sense.

A bunch of other people have submitted plans along similar lines, and they’ve been posted on the redistricting commission’s site. Have a look.

The takeaway here: Our original point stands.

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More notice ought to be taken – more headlines, even – when you see press releases like this one from Idaho Regence Blue Shield:

Regence BlueShield of Idaho announced today that Shad Priest, deputy director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, will be joining Regence [emphasis added] as the director of legislative and regulatory affairs in Idaho. Priest will begin his new role on August 15.

“Shad’s strong background in insurance, coupled with his experience in working with legislators, industry members and the public on insurance-related matters will make him a valuable member of our team,” said Scott Kreiling, president of Regence BlueShield of Idaho. “He has a track record of developing consensus-based regulatory policies that blend consumer needs and insurance industry priorities, which is especially important in a post health care reform world.”

In a “post health care reform world” – we’d dispute that we’re actually there – or is that intended to mean a world in which reform has come and gone already? – the insurers and the state agency officials who are in theory regulating them would have a tense and standoffish relationship, punctuated with sharp differences of opinion and an uneasy relationship. You might even see as evidence public events (like the contentious June 2 rate hearing Oregon Regence had before Oregon regulators, not that they’ve historically been very tough either) that throw a sharp spotlight on rate setting and practices, this being a world (the world we see) in which fewer and fewer people can afford health insurance because rates keep on rising while coverage scales back.

Don’t hold your breath.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Jack Briggs died at 3 p.m. July 7 in Steele Memorial Hospital in Salmon, Idaho. While his death will be little noted other than by family, neighbors and friends, his passing brought to an end, at age 81, the life of one of those remarkable, vanishing breeds of Idahoans.

He was everything a man should be.

He possessed country wisdom born of experience, was incredibly well-read but largely self-educated. He was an excellent mechanic and worked in the family business, Pocatello’s National Laundry and Dry Cleaning, maintaining a large fleet of delivery trucks while in high school and several years thereafter before moving to Salmon in the fall of 1963.

We always could bring a smile to each other’s face by recalling the scene of his father, Fergus Briggs, Sr., a devout Baptist, holding a rake in hand extended toward the garage ceiling and jumping up in an attempt to hook that early Playboy Magazine pin-up of Marilyn Monroe in a diversion Jack had stapled to the ceiling where he could view it as he rolled out from under a vehicle on which he was working.

Within a few years of moving to Salmon with his wife Lois, a nurse by profession, and their daughter, Theresa, Jack purchased a ranch a few miles up Indian Creek which flows into the Salmon River. He became an outfitter and guide having purchased, with the ranch, rights to the Saddle Springs Area which straddles the Idaho/Montana border.

The family also turned the spread into a successful guest ranch that attracted people from across the United States, even some from Europe. Jack’s hard work, quick wit and ability to tell a good story while puffing on his beloved pipe charmed all with whom he came in contact. Most guests became repeat clients.

He loved to pull a person’s leg to see how gullible they might be, and he suckered many a “dude” with his dead-pan statements one took for gospel, including me, his adoring nephew.

As a resident of “The Canyon,” he was involved in the lives, follies and fortunes of his neighbors, most of whom were noted for eccentricities but all of whom, despite professed independence, were somewhat dependent on each other.

The Canyon has several historic distinctions, but the most noteworthy one was its status as the last hand-crank operated telephone system in the United States, the Shoup Telephone Co-op. Jack was its long-time president. There was one line strung down the Canyon and, of course. it was a large “party line” eliminating any secrets.

When dial phones came to The Canyon in the early 90s Jack, who was used to calling the operator in Salmon for connection to whomever he needed to talk, was bemused and befuddled for awhile by the challenge of mastering the direct dial.

As president of the co-op, his 15 minutes of national fame came with his appearance on a national network television program answering questions about the transition. One would have thought he had been media trained, so smooth was the interview.

He kept the ranch for a few more years following the both premature and belated death of his wife, Lois, in 1989. Lois, on a trip to Idaho Falls, several years earlier, had been in a horrible car wreck from which she never fully recovered.

Jack kept a small parcel of the ranchland and lovingly hand built a log home which he named Berry Creek, the name bestowed on the creek by Clark when he explored down the Salmon on the historic Lewis & Clark expedition in 1805. A true history buff, Jack read everything written about the expedition, including the journals, and possessed a set of maps detailing the expedition.

He could pinpoint key places the explorers had been at in Lemhi County. Active in the county historical society, Governor Cecil Andrus named him to the State’s Lewis & Clark Bicentennial Commission. When the governor called to inform him of the appointment, he tried to decline, citing the fact he had no college degree. Andrus would have none of it, saying simply, “Neither do I, Jack, and it hasn’t stopped either of us, has it?”

Jack’s passing is particularly emotional because he took a paternal interest in me. He will be laid to rest next to Lois later this week in the quiet, tree-lined cemetery on a hill just outside of Gibbonsville, for a brief time Idaho’s first territorial capital before it moved to Lewiston, then to Boise.

With apologies to Will Rogers for the paraphrase, God just ain’t making people like him anymore.

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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Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan has an excellent piece out about the impacts of multiples candidacies and the top-two primary election. Among other things, it makes the clear point that the sheer number of (substantial) candidates who run can make a lot of difference.

He cites the 1996 governor’s race, and the primaries in it. In that case, six substantial Republican candidates fought it out, with the plurality win going to Ellen Craswell, a Christian conservative state legislator who had enthusastic support which was limited to a relatively narrow ideological band. The Democrats had three major candidates, the winner being King County Executive Gary Locke, who had a broader base of support. Locke crushed Craswell in the fall.

But that wasn’t the only point. Callaghan: “Republicans so divided the primary vote that even though Craswell got the nomination, she finished third behind both Locke and Rice. If the current top-two primary had been in place, no Republican would have made the general election.”

Even long in advance, Republicans ever since have been trying to rally, early on, around one major candidate (like a Dino Rossi in three major elections, and now Rob McKenna for governor) to avoid that problem. And yet that hasn’t been working out so well either.

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There’s a good deal of discussion in King County about prospective cuts to the King County Metro bus service – major cuts, as plans have it. But what would it actually look like? What would the cuts mean? Is there a way to picture it?

Even if the King bus system isn’t a top priority for you, check out the video put together by a blogger at Communications from Elsewhere. It shows, in dynamic fashion, where the buses run, and which runs are likely to be retained, which cut entirely, and which may be modified in some way. It gives you a good idea of what the real, practical effects may be. (Especially, it turns out, on the east side.)

Becomes almost hypnotic if you stare at it more than a few seconds.

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When you live in a one-party area, you tend to get just one point of view – from your local officials – on the subjects of the day. Here, an atetmpt to break that mold; we’ll try to do this from time to time: Contrasting views about the same thing from different members of Congress, including the arguments made by each.

Topic today is the budget bill marked up – amended – on Thursday by the House Interior and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee; the budget covers that subject area.

Idaho Republican Mike Simpson, who chairs the subcommittee, had this to say about it:

The Act provides a responsible level of funding for the Department of the Interior, the EPA, and related agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, by saving $2.1 billion from the current fiscal year’s level and focusing on proven, core programs.

“We are living at a time when the federal government borrows over 40 cents for each dollar that it spends. We are also living at a time of record deficits and debts,” Chairman Simpson said during the subcommittee markup. “This committee is taking meaningful steps to help put our country’s fiscal house in order. While reductions in discretionary spending alone will not erase the deficit, the bill before us this morning is a step forward in that direction.”

The FY12 Interior and Environment Appropriations Act funds agencies under the bill at $27.5 billion, a 12% cut from the President’s budget request. The EPA will see an additional $1.5 billion in cuts from the current level. Between this bill and the FY11 Continuing Resolution passed in April, EPA funding has been reduced by 31 percent during the current calendar year.

“Some naysayers will no doubt try to portray Republicans as not supporting clean water, clean air, and a clean environment, but such assertions are simply untrue,” said Simpson. “The reality is that the EPA has received unprecedented and unsustainable increases in recent years. In an environment of historic budget deficits and reduced spending, it should come as no surprise that the agency that saw the greatest increases will inevitably see the greatest cuts.”

The bill also shifts funding away from unproven programs and government growth and focuses it on agencies’ core missions and programs that have demonstrated value to taxpayers. The Chairman’s mark drastically reduces funding for new land acquisitions but provides adequate funding for priorities like National Park Service operations and resource management. The bill cuts funding for expensive and uncoordinated climate change programs by 22% but enables the government to meet its trust responsibilities to Native American communities.

(Follow the link, and you’ll find some additional points Simpson makes.)

Here is Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, also a member of the committee, criticizing the budget:

“The Interior-Environment Appropriations bill being marked up in Subcommittee today represents an abdication of responsibility on the part of the federal government. Not only does the bill cut funding for clean air, clean water and protection of public lands, but in numerous areas it actually undermines the role of the federal government in protecting our nation’s environment and public health.

“The devastating cuts to the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Funds (SRFs), the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the National Park Service, EPA’s operating budget, the Interior Department’s oversight budget for offshore oil drilling and more will leave communities around the country struggling to provide services to their citizens and even to comply with federal laws.

“In Oregon, the cuts to public lands funding in this bill could mean missed opportunities to protect special places in the Columbia River Gorge and elsewhere in the state. In many cases, these cuts will also cripple local economies – studies have shown that every $1 billion invested in water infrastructure creates between 20,000-26,000 jobs. This bill cuts almost $1 billion from the SRFs, which help states finance federally mandated upgrades and repairs to water and sewer systems. It will put additional pressure on already tight local budgets as well as potentially increasing water and sewer rates, which would be an extreme hardship in cities like Portland that have already seen water rates skyrocket in recent years.

“The policy riders in this spending bill can only be described as fulfilling special interest wish list. From blocking clean air regulations and oversight of mining to preventing Federal action to clarify the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act to a new moratorium on listing wildlife under the Endangered Species Act, this bill implements what polluting industries have been asking for. The bill would even allow new hard rock mining around the Grand Canyon.

“If this bill comes to the Floor, I will strongly oppose it and urge my colleagues to do the same.”

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Idaho Oregon

A group called the Coalition for a Working Oregon, a group made up of leaders in such Oregon industries as restaurants, nurseries and others, is at work in Washington (D.C.) trying to oppose a piece of legislation which would require nearly all businesses to use the E-Verify system to determine whether the people being hired are in this country legally. The Coalition is forthright about its situation: Its businesses hire people who aren’t. They do it because there’s not much other way they can get needed work done, within their ordinary budgets.

Many of those people are Republicans, and their efforts appear likely to be setting them on a collision course with other Republicans. To which one nursery executive told the Oregonian, “If you’re 80 percent our friend but the 20 percent puts us out of business, we will have a problem.”

This situation is nothing new in the case of immigration law; Republicans have been dealing with the internal difficulties there at least since President George W. Bush tried to rationalize the system, and couldn’t get enough support.

Consider now, though, the situation in Idaho: Ordinary trade development efforts are becoming enough to rouse concern of foreigners too.

On July 16, at its annual convention, the Idaho Republican Party will be asked to demand the legislature investigate the state’s current efforts to expand trade with China.

It’s a real peculiarity. Trade expansion with China has been something the state has been pushing for a great many years, and it’s one of the initiatives Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter appears to be (with some justification) proudest of. He has worked on a number of agreements, some of which have brought business to the state. There’s been talk of setting up a free-trade zone. There’s been nothing especially secret about this; Otter has enjoyed trumpeting his efforts in these areas.

But the effort before the state GOP would ask the legislature to “inquire 1) how does this not violate our own state Constitution, 2) if this is a security risk to Gowen Field, Mountain Home Air Force Base, the State of Idaho, or the U.S., and 3) why are we not internally developing our own natural resources.”

Try Googling “otter china free trade zone idaho” and you’ll find some peculiar stuff: CHINESE INVASION OF IDAHO « The Radio DetectiveIdaho to be first Chinese stateWhy has Butch Otter invited Communist China to Idaho? … And this goes on, and on.

Is the next step kicking Otter out of the Republican Party for not being rigorously conservative enough?

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The big Tea Party-related event of the season in Idaho has been slated to be “Arise and Awake America: A Solution,” on July 8 in Nampa. It has gotten some attention, some local participation and some name speakers. Evidently, it has not, so far, gotten much by way of confirmed attendance.

Probably one reason for this is that Tea Party events this year nationally have been falling into a pattern: Rather than growing from the energy many had in 2009 and for a while in 2010, they have been cratering – handsful of people showing up where hundreds or thousands did not so long before. And that’s at the free events; you have to pay $10 to get into this one (or $15 for the two-day version, running into Saturday).

But there’s another factor here that the groups own backers acknowledge in an e-mail, as the Idaho Statesman has noted. Seeking more ticket-buyers, the backers launched a recent email with this:

“It has been brought to our attention that the turnout for the Awake and Arise America event has been much less than expected. As one scheduled speaker says “there may be frustrations about religious affiliations or the fact that the speakers may speak on controversial issues, but are we really not then just looking for excuses to not attend? As many of you know, what we once knew as mere conspiracy theories today have varying degrees of truth. Are we willing like so many other people today to turn our head thinking if we ignore the possibilities that these problems will just go away?”

That the organization’s own backers use the phrase “conspiracy theories” should tell you something. So who are the speakers? The keynoter is Stephen Jones, founder of Scholars for 9/11 Truth and Justice, which suggests that the Bush Administration and key industry people knew about but declined to stop the 9/11 attacks. The Statesman described another keynote speaker, Jack Monnett, as “a historian and author of, “Awakening to our Awful Situation: Warnings from the Nephi Prophets.” Monnett explores the Book of Mormon’s account of “Secret Combinations” and how they infiltrated government at the highest levels, and argues such conspiracies are afoot today.”

You can see where the broad numbers of Idaho people, conservative as they may be, aren’t jumping on board with the event.

More interesting is who in Idaho did jump on board and stay there – who is listed as a speaker at the event (meaning, of course, that even if they didn’t originally know who would be keynoting, they could have backed out later but didn’t). These Idahoans include Paul Venable, chair of the Constitution Party of Idaho; Tom Munds, a Constitutionalist Idaho state candidate; state Representative Pete Nielsen; Dale Pearce, area coordinator for John Birch Society; Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation; and Idaho State Senator Monty Pearce.

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