Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has issued his order asking the party leaders in the Idaho Legislature, and the state Republican and Democratic chairs, to name new members to the Idaho Redistricting Commission, the six previous members being ineligible for a rerun.

A new meeting might occur, and the process resume, late in the month.

It might be a creative interpretation of the law (snd probably impermissible, in truth, since he’s an elective officeholder), but consider this – suppose all six appointers name the same person to the commission: Ben Ysursa. Or all six new members simply agreed, sight unseen, to pass whatever Ysursa came up with.

The idea of Ysursa drawing the map has been circulating around. Boise consultant Marc Johnson blogged on it a few days ago. I’ve spoken with some Republicans and some Democrats about it, and all gave the idea a thumbs up. Ysursa is a nearly unique quality: He’s a Republican, but people in both parties, broadly, say they would trust him to do an honest job fair to both sides. After decades of much praise and remarkably scant criticism (from either party) in overseeing Idaho elections, that comes as no surprise.

It goes with the type of person Ysursa is, however, that he almost certainly will want nothing to do with the idea …

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Political news in the last few years has been full of reports, nationally, about how far to the right state (and the national) Republican parties have been moving, many taking on messages tht heavily overlap Tea Party and similar groups.

But … not in Oregon. This year’s Oregon legislative session, when Republicans could have (if they’d followed the trend in some other places) brought work to a halt and locked Salem into furious trench warfare, emerged as something different and in the national context unusual: Cooperative, productive, often centrist-looking.

Was that a fluke, and a repulse of the state party organization? Last weekend suggests not. The state Republican central committee met in Bend, and revised their party platform, generally leftward.

The Oregonian reported, “Wording that essentially condemned same-sex marriage and civil unions, and that stated such couples were unfit to be parents, was removed from the official party platform during a weekend convention in Bend. “We want the public to take another look at the Republican Party and our policies,” said Greg Leo, spokesman for the state party. “It’s fair to say we’re more centrist.” ”

The question arose about how a larger group of active Republicans will respond to that next year. And, of course, other Oregonians as well.

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Everyone laughed when someone asked, during the Washington Redistricting Commission‘s press conference period after the formal meeting today, where Dennis Kucinich’s congressional district was. (In Ohio, someone suggested.)

And Democrat Tim Ceis spoke up to agree with Republican (former Senator) Slade Gorton to say that their maps of congressional districts are really a lot more similar than many people probably assume.

All that said, the Washington remap group, which released its individual-member (four of them) individual maps today, clearly has a lot of work ahead of it.

There is, for example, the matter of majority-minority congressional districts – districts in which minorities actually make up most of the voting population. The Republicans on the panel, as one reporter noted, seem to be a lot more interested in creating maj-min congressional districts than the Democrats were. Which on its surface sounds a little counterintuitive.

Or not. Put aside Gorton’s contention that this simply represents communities of interest compact sizes; it also means that more Democrats are bunched together into fewer districts, giving Republicans more of a chance in the districts that remain. Republicans currently have four of nine U.S. House districts; one issue is whether the new map gives them an edge in winning five or more.

Key in this will be how Olympia is deployed within the new district structure, how King County is split and where – not if – one or two districts jump the Cascade Mountains. (Population considerations are going to make at least one trans-Cascades district highly likely.

The current District 8, closely balanced between the parties but long held by Republicans (now Dave Reichert) and also the mot overpopulated of the state’s nine districts, might become “slightly less marginal” – that is, more Republican, Gorton said. Ceis, a Democratic commission member, said thst he’s seen plans in which that area’s district has a largest city of Issaquah, and second-largest of Wenatchee. Most plans do, however, have something like a new District 3 that’s “more Cowlitz-Clark centered.”

Then there’s the proposed district that takes in the San Juan Islands in the far northwest, and Chelan on the east side of the Cascades. Asked to justify that linkup, Gorton said “they’re both rural, not metro Puget Sound,” and unique San Juan County is almost inevitably going to be lumped in with areas unlike it. Didn’t sound like a sale among the Democrats, though.

There were issues among the legislative districts as well. Spokane Spokesman-Review reporter Jim Cmden said that a look at the three Spokane-area districts in one Republican plan suggested all three would be Republican districts, compared to the one-D, one-R, one-competitive mix at present. (He was told the Republicans saw them as “three competitive districts.” Probably no sale among the Democrats there, either.)

The next meeting, and some of the hardest negotiations, will come October 11.

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In the

One of the usually-obscure state agency rules changes in Idaho last week concerns something that could be of life-altering concern to some Idahoans: The rules covering external review of denials, policies and other details of health insurance provider consumer relations. The changes, many coming at the request of insurers, provide for reviews “to include denials based on appropriateness, health care setting, level of care and effectiveness.”

The reviews mean that when a policy holder has a complaint, an external review can be undertaken to sort out the situation, rather than the highly expensive resort to a lawsuit. This grows out of federal health care law; the general provisions were put in place in Idaho last year, covering policies issue or renewed since the start of 2010. State generally have been doing this; Idaho is among the states which have received a federal approval for its program, run through the state Department of Insurance.

Considering the numbers of complaints people have had about health insurance, one might expect this to be a very busy area. But in Idaho, not so much. Eileen Mundorff, who works on the program, said that in the first calendar year of the program (2010), the department received 13 requests for external review; of those, two company denials were overturned by independent review organizations. So far in 2011 the department has received 22 external review requests, and as of September 8, an estimated $284,821 was recovered for policyholders. Idaho has been approved by the federal government as meeting requirements for external reviews.

Not a lot of requests, though the money recovered when inquiries are undertaken can clearly be substantial.

Oregon, whose insurance division has been tracking all insurance complaints though differently (more comprehensively and for more years) reports in 2010 that there were 912 total complaints and 555 “confirmed complaints.” (Of the 912, Regence BlueCross BlueShield accounted for 162, which may be one reason Northwest stat regulators had a recent sit-down with the firm in Salem recently.)

Similarly, the Washington insurance commissioner’s office reports that for 2010 (as in Oregon, the most recent figures available) health insurance complaints totaled 562 (of which the Washington and Oregon Regence organizations accounted for more than half).

Are these somehow apple and orange comparisons? If not, what accounts for the difference in numbers of complaints? Is there a reason Idahoans are much less inclined to report health insurance complaints?

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Idaho Oregon Washington


Oregon’s allowance of early candidate filing allows for some really early warnings of campaign strangeness to come. The first two days of filing, on Thursday and Friday, were enough to provide one.

Most of the filings (and remember this is the opening of filing – the deadline is many months away) were by incumbent legislators, with a smattering of judges and district attorneys. Just one for Congress, so far. But what a filing it is.

Remember Art Robinson, the Republican candidate for District 4 – against Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio, from 2010? Well, he’s back for another go-round in 2012.

He gave bloggers and others much to work with in 2010. We reported on him on several occasions (on notable quotes, on education views and a good deal else. His interview – if you can call it that – with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC was something of a classic.

And this time he’s getting an early start.

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grizzly bear

For some weeks now, Idahoans have been hearing howls of anguish in a bvear shooting case – howls from their elected officials, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and the congressional delegation among them. “Many, including me, feel Mr. Hill did what a concerned parent would do. Now, Jeremy and his family must endure the cost of a trial,” Otter remarked last month, after sending a letter to the Obama administration decrying the prosecution. The case became a conservative cause celebre.

What was known at the time essentially was this: A grizzly mother and two cubs had wandered onto Jeremy Hill‘s property at Porthill, and he shot one of them. Shooting an endangered grizzly is against the law, although you’d naturally want to cut some slack to someone acting to defend himself or another person.

Because of that, any useful assessment of Hill’s case needs to turn on the specific details, on exactly what happened. Because the case was in litigation, with possible criminal charges involved, Hill wasn’t saying much publicly – we had little basis for working out the right and wrong. But on Wednesday, he and the feds worked out an agreement. Hill agreed that he violated the Endangered Species Act and paid $1,000 fine, and any criminal case was dropped.

At that point, he released his description of what happened:

After having family over for dinner on Mother’s Day, I was outside at the basketball hoop with four of my children. I went into the house to take a shower. When I finished showering and was getting dressed, my wife, Rachel, looked out the bedroom window and saw three grizzly bears at the edge of our yard, but very close by, standing near a small pen that held the children’s 4-H pigs. The last time I saw my children they were outside. I grabbed a rifle and ran out on the deck. I yelled for the children, but did not hear a response. The bears did not move away from the pen as I was yelling. Fearing for the safety of my children, I shot the bear that was closest to the house. The other two bears ran across part of the lawn and into the brush. The wounded bear followed into the yard, but stopped and turned toward the house. I shot the bear again. About this time, Rachel told me that the children were safe inside the house. The bear I shot was badly wounded, and I believed at that time that it would be very dangerous to leave the bear wounded, possibly posing a threat to others. I also thought the humane thing to do was to put the wounded bear out of its misery.

We do not live in the wilderness. We live in a rural farm community. I have never seen grizzly bears near our home before. I shot the grizzly bear because I was fearful for the safety of my family. I thought I was doing the right thing to protect them. Once I shot the bear, I immediately called Idaho Fish and Game to report the incident.

Impressions will vary. Ours, assuming the accuracy of the story and nothing important left out (the size of yard, the amount of time elapsed), is that Hill was more justified than not. There are gray areas. Since the bears were not near or attacking anyone at the moment, and he was some distance away, presumably he could have waited them out for a few minutes to see if they went away. Or he might have fired a warning shot to see if that would scare them off. That said, he evidently didn’t know quite where his children were (might shooting one have driven the others in his children’s direction?) and – this is critical – grizzlies are extremely unpredictable and dangerous, and fast, and he was inexperienced with dealing with them. All of these points are easier to contemplate at a distance and in hindsight. Might Hill have acted in a way that would have preserved both bears and safety? Maybe. But his actions were certainly not unreasonable either; a danger was clear and present and foraging in his back yard.

Something like the resolution that emerged seems reasonable. Criminal charges might be fitting for someone headed out into the woods to hunt grizzlies, but surely not in a defensive case like this. At the same time, Hill had options, and okaying simply killing grizzlies on sight doesn’t seem right either. The tone of the statements coming out of both sides on Wednesday seemed subdued, and that feels generally appropriate.

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On this day when not one but two lawsuits – both aimed at doing the same thing, which is re-cranking the Idaho redistricting process – were filed at the Idaho Supreme Court, may be a good time to pause and ponder the question of partisan advantage. Just how much partisan advantage were the Republicans and Democrats on the just-disbanded Redistricting Commission really wrangling over?

Prompted in part by a tweet just up this afternoon from John Foster, the one time Walt Minnick campaign manager: “Dear Idaho Redistricting Commission Democrats: Take the ***ing deal! This map is GOOD for you.”

He appeared to be referring to the congressional district plan C38, one of the Republican plans submitted, which creates two U.S. House districts which look a lot like those at present, with the same roster of counties in each district, and with Ada County split just a little differently (a few precincts bumped) to account for population differences.

And why not? Creative proposals were offered that would keep Ada intact – we drafted ad posted one ourselves, before the process even started – but they make no practical sense, butting together vast regions of eastern and northern Idaho that are divided by immense wilderness and mountain areas and historically have had nothing to do with each other. Of course Ada was going to be split; as a practical matter, it’s what has to happen. And given the vast disparities between the two parties, neither Democrats nor Republicans gain a tremendous lot however the line is specifically drawn. Something fairly similar to C38 is almost certain to become law, one way or another.

The legislative plans (which didn’t seem to be Foster’s point) are a different matter. Because Republican majorities in the state are so strong, it would be possible (though it would take some genuine gerrymandering) for Republicans to eliminate Democratic advantages in any of the 35 districts. In their appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, the three Republican commission members touted four of their last legislative proposals: L68, L76, L77 and L82, as having notable merit. Let’s take a look at L82, which was submitted in the commission’s last hour Tuesday afternoon.

Critical to the Democrats are the places where they have been running competitively, if not always winning, in the last few cycles. Those would include: central Coeur d’Alene; Shoshone County; Moscow; Lewiston; the city of Boise; Blaine County; Pocatello; and debatably, central Idaho Falls. The small-population Indian reservations also are Democratic. Democrats would be disadvantaged when these areas are split up, diluted, between districts. Their problem is that these areas generally have not grown as fast as most of the rest of the state, making it harder to avoid dilution.

L82 keeps Shoshone County intact and maintains a central Coeur d’Alene district. It divides Moscow, but links one part of it to Shoshone and the Coeur d’Alene Indian Reservation, and the other part to Lewiston, which generally appears to be maintained intact. In Boise, Democrats have a strong majority in current District 19, which would be maintained in an analogous District 19. Three others (15, 16 and 18 in the proposed plan) could be competitive, which matches to the current three-district-competitive picture in Boise. Democrats could make out unexpectedly well so far under that plan.

Much of the last-minute debate at the commission on Tuesday concerned the eastern Idaho districts, and for good reason: This is where Democrats would have a tougher time. The Blaine County-based district, where for nearly 30 years Democrats have been competitive or (more recently) dominant, would be shaken up, with more conservative territory added to it. A review of the numbers suggests, though, that Democrats still could win there, though the margins would be much closer. And the hottest debate concerns Pocatello, which three decades ago anchored three Democratic districts, then two, currently one and debatably two, and under the new plan … probably one, conceivably two, or maybe none – all the seats in the Bannock County area would be highly competitive. Pocatello itself would be split into three districts.

You can see why that might be a sticking point for the Democrats on the commission. But otherwise, this look at L82 also suggests that the two sides might not be all that far apart – as commission members kept insisting on Tuesday – and that Democrats might no do as badly even under Republican proposals as they might have.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Odds are heavily against it happening soon. Stars would plausibly all have to align perfectly to create a first ever in Idaho politics—the election of a woman as governor.

Looking around the northwest, though, one quickly realizes odds are growing that a qualified female will someday lead even Idaho. Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Montana and Utah are neighboring northwest states that have had female chief executives.

In Idaho, each party possesses at least one talented, intelligent, articulate, qualified female who, while they might have to be “drafted,” could plausibly run for and win the nomination of their party to be governor, as soon as 2014.

On the Republican side the nominee could be veteran Sandpoint State Senator Shawn Keough. On the Democratic side the nominee could be freshman State Senator Michelle Stennett, from Ketchum.

While there are clear differences between them, they share much in common: both are smart, tough, knowledgeable, non-ideological, pragmatic problem solvers. They share an abiding belief in the importance of education as well as its priority place Idaho’s constitutional writers said it should have.

Senator Keough has an edge in understanding how Idaho’s budget works because of long-standing service on the budget writing Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. Senator Stennett, however, worked closely for many years on legislative and budget matters with her late husband, Clint, who she succeeded upon his death last year.

Keough’s possible candidacy would be more intriguing and surprising for it would throw a major monkey-wrench into the plans of extreme far right Republicans trying to impose ideological purity tests on any who dissent from their views on issues. Even such whacky notions as repealing the amendment that put the election of U.S. Senators in the hands of voters instead of the hands of a Legislature is considered a litmus test in order to call one’s self a Republican.

Both State Senator Keough and neighboring Cocolalla State Senator Joyce Broadsword have been subjected to GOP county party censure resolutions for not being pure enough defenders of right-wing orthodoxy, especially on the issue of education.

Senator Keough’s concerns about proposed Otter/Luna reforms as well as what turned out to be unnecessary cuts in education funding because of political posturing and gamesmanship, could make her candidacy very attractive to the many members of the Republican party, as well as Idaho’s independents, that still support the primacy of adequately funding k-12 education, paying teachers competitive wages and also keeping higher education funding at responsible levels.

While this is all pure speculation, and would be considered at best terribly premature by both (the governorship is not on the ballot until 2014) if either has even given any thought to it, both are astute enough politicians to recognize real obstacles that would stand in the way of such a contest happening.

For Senator Stennett it would be the continuing disarray of the Democratic party itself and its inability to recapture the Cecil Andrus/John Evans formula for attracting enough Republicans and Independents to carry a Democrat into statewide office.

For Senator Keough, she would not only have to withstand a primary challenge sure to come from the right wing in 2012, she would have to hope the “crown prince,” Lt. Governor Brad Little, would be challenged by two hard-core, tea party favorites, and southern Idaho LDS conservatives—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and First District Congressman Raul Labrador. While there is growing evidence Luna is seriously considering the race, lately some Boise political observers speculate Labrador is also taking a long look at the governorship.

If all three males were to get into the fray, though, it is a safe wager pressure would increase on Senator Keough to take the plunge, especially if the state’s teachers and university educators were to line up in support of her. Then, she could easily emerge from such a fractured primary.

The bigger obstacle though for her may be the effect of Republican Party led changes in Idaho’s primary system. These changes are clearly designed to make party nominees more pure in the eyes of the tea party as well as designed to keep independents from voting in the Republican primary, as well as Democrats from crossing over.

So the stars really will have to line up correctly. It is possible though Idaho could see a rarity of rarities: two highly qualified women leading their party’s ticket in 2014. Idahoans will be the winners regardless of who emerges in such a race, which can’t be said if the GOP selects one of the two possible male candidates who are the only ones that can pass the purity test of the GOP’s wing-nut faction.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson 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

“In five minutes, we don’t exist as a commission,” Chair Evan Frasure said. It felt a little surreal, as if an anti-bomb were ticking.

Another motion came up, and then the commissioners voted on C50, a Democratic-backed congressional redistricting plan. It failed on a tied 3-3 vote. (At no point, evidently, did any commissioner from either side break with their party.)

“And we are dissolved here in about three minutes,” Frasure said.

Frasure, who has been probably the most dominant figure on the commission (and was a major figure in the last two reapportionments), said that if the commission is called back by the Idaho Supreme Court, he may not be back, owing to health concerns. He and others said their goodbyes.

And then at 5 p.m. mountain, they turned into a pumpkin. More than two months of effort, review of more than 100 congressional and legislative map proposals (the highest-numbered legislative proposal was 82), came to an end. The commission’s deadline expired. Next, it gets sued for nonperformance, a case that goes to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The need for new congressional and legislative maps will not go away, of course, and now either the Supreme Court will draw its own maps or – more likely – call the commission back for another shot.

It has been an intensive, sometimes emotional and angry, effort. On the last day flashes of anger and accusation cropped up. (Frasure, for example, essentially accused the Democrats of “holding hostage” plans containing only minor differences between the sides.)

In the end, the differences were not enormous, but they were instructive: They seemed to center around those few areas of the state where Democrats are at least somewhat competitive.

A northern Idaho piece of the legislative plan seemed to have won support that was unanimous or nearly so, and did elegantly resolve the Moscow-Lewiston problem: Those two cities traditionally each have, intact, anchored a legislative district, but no longer have the population to do so as they once did. Lines were skillfully drawn keeping Lewiston whole and Moscow nearly so.

But arguments over the lines in Ada County proved less tractable. Democrats were pushing for proposals which would keep Ada County whole (Republicans submitted one that did so, in nine districts), but keeping as many competitive districts as at present is tougher. Democratic Blaine County was a problem area too, as Republicans and Democrats each wanted to match it up with a different collection of nearby Republican counties to form a districts. And the Pocatello area, and the southeast rural areas near it, led to lots of inconclusive back and forth.

The problem, of course, is that any single change reverberates around the rest of the map. Someone winds up getting nailed.

So, next stop: The courts.

ANOTHER THOUGHT So, in Northwest redistricting, we so far have the following results: In Oregon, the legislature produces maps with bipartisan support well ahead of deadline; the Idaho redistricting commission deadlocks on partisan lines and runs out the deadline. Washington’s (commission) up next.

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Along one of the main streets of our nearst commercial center, McMinnville, there’s a yellow-front storefront offering payday loans. It has been quietly going about its business for some years, after a big batch of others folded tent a few years back, in the wake of a new Oregon law limiting how much such lenders could charge for their loans.

A state fact sheet from 2006 said that “In Oregon, the number of locations increased from 184 in 2001, when the “short-term personal loan license” was created, to 323 as of Dec. 31, 2004, and 360 as of Dec. 31, 2005. The dollar volume of payday loans in Oregon increased from $63.8 million in 1999 to $250 million in 2004. The number of Oregon payday loans extended annually increased from approximately 285,000 in 1999 to 747,542 in 2004. Charges or fees for these loans, when expressed as an Annual Percentage Rate (APR), can often exceed 500 percent.” It said that of 1,221 borrowers examined, 59% took out five or more payday loans in the previous year – were using the service repeatedly.

That was shortly before the legislature passed the law limiting how much the payday loan businesses could charge. The law limited the annual interest rate from 528% to 156% and drew out minimum loan duration from 14 to 31 days, along with some other changes. After the limits, most of the businesses left Oregon – an indicator of how much they were charging – though some remain, and evidently thrive.

All this was before the massive economic turndown, and you might expect a call for more laxity in payday loan regulation. But there hasn’t been much, save for an August 31 blog post by the Cascade Policy Institute.

Ready, Fire, Aim for Oregon’s Payday Lending Policy” make the argument that “Legislators have jumped the gun in banning traditional payday lending in Oregon. They aren’t protecting vulnerable consumers as much as denying a necessary service. Furthermore, there has not been a major push to provide consumers with a convenient, viable alternative.”

This seems worthy of note, because of the economic environment, on several grounds.

First, the service isn’t being denied – payday loan operations are active businesses in locations around Oregon (as elsewhere); they evidently can function under the current limitations. More could set up shop if they chose; but evidently few have chosen. That may speak too to demand for the service.

There are other peculiarities. Angela Martin, executive director of Economic
Fairness Oregon
, noted one: When the lending rates at these shop dropped per the state law, the norms of supply and demand would suggest a spike in the demand to take advantage of the lower numbers. The spike never happened. Martin suggested that some of the activity in payday lending represented a “false demand” of consumers borrowing from one payday lender to pay off a loan from another, and similar activity.

In any event, even in the wake of the bum economy, “they can’t point to any evidence that usage has gone up.”

The Cascade post also pointed to an October 2008 Dartmouth University study on the Oregon loan rate cap, and said “The results suggest that restricting access to expensive credit harms consumers on average.” The study, commissioned and paid for by the industry (a red flag), surveyed comments made by customers of payday loan operations (from lists provided by lenders), but there wasn’t much look-behind – and such customers are naturally likely to rationalize their choices.

A January 2009 University of Washington critique of the study (which seemed to be longer than the Dartmouth study itself) said that “relies on a single, small-sample survey fraught with methodological flaws. Moreover, survey results do not support the claim that Oregon borrowers fared worse than Washington borrowers on any variable that can be plausibly attributed to Oregon’s 2007 payday-loan (PL) interest-rate cap legislation. In short, Zinman’s claim is baseless. In fact, Oregon respondents fared better than Washington respondents on two key variables: on-time bill payment rate and avoiding phone-line disconnects. On all other relevant variables they fared similarly to Washington respondents.”

There are also out of state lenders, and Cascade does note a news report saying “there already has been a rise in complaints against out-of-state online payday lenders conducting fraudulent and illegal business practices.” But does that suggest in-state operations would be better?

The ironic concern about the out of staters Cascade expressed was that “These are the real risk to consumers because the Oregon Attorney General’s office has little control over them.” Actually, the state has been going after them. The state Department of Consumer and Business Services said on July 13 that it had “issued a cease-and-desist order against online lender Global Payday Loan LLC and fined the company $90,000 for violating Oregon’s payday lending laws. The unlicensed Utah company loaned seven Oregon consumers between $100 and $500 each through its website, The company then charged the consumers interest rates between 353 percent and 2,737 percent.” In March, it “issued a cease-and-desist order against online lender E-Payday-Loan and fined the company $10,000 for violating Oregon’s payday lending laws. The unlicensed Utah company loaned an Oregon consumer $350 through its website and then charged the consumer approximately 842.31 percent interest on that loan over a 52-day period.”

Not a real ringing endorsement for deregulation, in this arena at least.

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I the pilot episode of Mad Men, the ad firm is challenged with developing an ad campaign for a tobacco company just as new health warnings about cigarette smoking had been released – and companies could no longer advertise on the basis that their product was safer. In fact, all the products were the same. So how to differentiate this company’s product?

Creative director Don Draper asks how the cigarettes are made. When told that, as part of the process, the tobacco is “toasted,” he stops and circles the word on a blackboard. This company’s cigarettes will be toasted. Never mind that everyone else’s is, too. This particular brand will be sold as having that favorable attribute, and will be identified in the popular mind as such.

Not to be overly flip about the just-kicking-in Democratic primary in Oregon’s 1st House district, but something of the same applies, pointed up by the arrival of Labor Day: All three main Democratic candidates, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, state Senator Suzanne Bonamici and state Representative Brad Witt, all hope for support from unions. And each can make a case for being a logical recipient.

And it’s why this paragraph in the Associated Press’ new profile of Avakian (profiles of the others will be following) jumped out:

“Avakian has a unique challenge to differentiate himself from Witt — another Democrat named Brad courting support and money from unions. Bonamici calls her opponents “The Brads,” and she stands to benefit if they appeal to the same constituency and split the vote.”

Who are Avakian, Bonamici and Witt as distinguished from each other, in terms that matter and make sense to Democratic primary voters? We’re about to see the process – or the attempt at least – of differentiation take hold.

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Donna Nelson
Smoke at Eugene/Linda Watkins

Smoke from the wildfires in central Oregon jumped west a couple of days ago, leading to smokey skies across the Willamette Valley.

Some of that has cleared up in the northern valley, but to the south – such as Eugene, here – the smoke persists. The bridge span in this picture ordinarily appears red; the smoke today caused it to be grayed out.

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Former Idaho state economist Mike Ferguson probably was best known, among Idaho news junkies at least, for his state revenue estimates – a task which was part of the job, and which also brought him into bumping heads with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. He retired 11 months ago and has maintained a low profile since.

That will change shortly. Ferguson is becoming the head of the new Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy (web site coming in the fall), an entity set up at the at the Mountain States Group in Boise, which has worked till now on health, refugee, and welfare-related issues. Ferguson will not be working (much at leat) on reveue projections, but rather on other parts of what used to be his job – tax policy, how budgets are set, and more.

The Center’s main purpose, Ferguson said, “is to provide fact-based information with clarity, that can help people make more informed decisions about appropriate public policy.” He said he’ll focus on the revenue side initially, at “basic principles” – a tax system that is efficient, adequate and stable.

That’s actually a way of looking at taxes and budgets quite different from how most legislators do. The usual approach and focus (and Idaho is part of the norm in this) is: Estimate the amount current state taxes will bring in for the next fiscal year; apportion that money among the usual recipients; and maybe, on rare occasions, consider increasing the income if trouble seems to loom otherwise.

Three problems with that method.

One is that it bypasses a key point, that the exact amount of tax money coming in a little arbitrary, and logically depends on how much is needed – how much needs to be spent to pay for whatever the legislature decides (and constitution requires) the state should do. That may be less than the current level of tax revenue, or it may be more, but the revenue-first approach takes things backward.

Another is, “one of the thigns that happens during the legislative session when the greatest focus on budget occurs is an enormous amount of attention given to the general fund, as if the general fund were the budget.” The general fund, which is the part funded by state taxes, in fact makes up only about half of the money the state spends. Federal funds, fees and other sources provide a big chunk of the income.

The third is the de-emphasis on the budget itself – what the money is actually spent on, and how it impacts the state. The narrow focus on the general fund, Ferguson said, means legislators and others miss the overall breadth of effect Idaho state government has on the people in the state. Analyzing that effect, he said, is part of what he hopes to be doing. “One of the things I’m going to try to do, is to show tht the budget has a pretty big impact on the economy,” he said.

Budget primers and tax analysis will be another part of the work. And he does plan to provide some critical analysis of the tax structure as well.

The effect of changes in the sales tax on property taxes, for example. In Idaho’s economy, as elsewhere, there’s been a gradual shift away from goods and toward services – formerly more money associated with the former, recently more associated with the latter. Idaho’s sales tax, with a few exceptions, goes after goods but not services, which means income from it has been strained. A lot of the pressure has been gradually shifted toward the property tax, especially where schools are concerned. The revenue structure, he said, has proven volatile.

“We’ll be carving out specific kinds of issues,” Ferguson said, “trying to lay it out in clear concise ad objective terms.”

The valuer of an independent organization “that is not part of the execuive brach of government or the legislative branch of government, is that it is a bit more free to raise issues that are of concern, that may be somewhat uncomfortable for people in the political world.”

The reports and analysis will be aimed at the public too. But the response at the Statehouse ought to be especially enlightening.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

In sports, as it is in the equally brutal world of politics, it is all about relationships. And in the long journeys involved in comebacks, sometimes the relationships one never knows about are crucial to the outcome.

Today, under weather forecasters predict to be almost perfect for fall football — clear skies, a cool breeze and glaring sunlight – a less than capacity crowd in Martin Stadium, will see Idaho State University begin the long march back to football respectability under the watchful eye of Mike Kramer, one of the best football coaches ever produced by the Big Sky Conference.

There will be a bittersweet undertone to the contest for both Kramer and Washington State coach Paul Wulff have been friends for years, having helped each other at critical times over the years.

Kramer, knowing much more about the vastly improved Cougars than Wulff knows about the largely unknown Bengals, may be able to engineer a respectable showing for his undermanned squad. After all, he has been a very observant assistant to Wulff the last two years at WSU. ISU, a 27 point underdog, is expected to not provide much competition for the PAC-12 team, but Kramer engineered Montana State’s stunning upset of the new PAC-12 Colorado football team a few years back, something Wulff is sure to remind his Cougar squad about.

Once the game is in hand, Wulff is also expected to liberally substitute, not wanting to rub it in on a friend, so it will very surprising if the final score is one of those embarrassing, 87 to 14 blowouts.

The Cougars clearly should not be looking past the Bengals, remembering all too well also last year’s game against Big Sky conference co-champion Montana State – game in which the Cougars had to come from behind in the last minute to pull out a victory, 23-22. Some of the Bobcats on that team had been recruited by, yup, you guessed it, Mike Kramer.

The relationships, nurtured and developed over the years, are also far more than just the two coaches. Indeed, if there is a seldom mentioned but critical participant and the common denominator in several rings of relationships, it is the tall, prematurely gray-headed Associate Athletic Director for WSU, John Johnson.

Johnson, a 1978 graduate of Spokane’s East Valley High School, initially attended Montana State on a football scholarship but then switched to Eastern Washington University. Following a solid playing career there, after obtaining his degree, Johnson moved into the administration side of athletics.

He showed a talent for the work and rose quickly to become EWU’s Athletic Director. One of his first hires for football coach was that of Mike Kramer. Kramer in turn brought Paul Wulff onto his staff following Wulff’s career as a lineman at WSU and a brief fling at professional football.

In the mid-90’s for a variety of sound reasons Johnson decided it was time to move on and initially sought the vacant Athletic Director’s position at Idaho State, where he was a finalist but lost out to Irv Cross, the sports broadcaster who could be most

Recognizing ISU’s mistake, rival Weber State shortly thereafter reached out and snagged Johnson who performed admirably for the Wildcats during a seven-year (1997-2004) tenure.

While at Weber State, Johnson met and was very impressed with one of the Wildcats track stars, a young man out of Pocatello’s Highland High by the name of Jeff Tingey – yup, the one who now is the Athletic Director for ISU.

Johnson gave Tingey an internship in his AD office which lead to an assistant marketing director’s position and started the young man on his way in athletic administration. A couple years back, when Tingey thought about the Bengals playing an up-scale game, he looked at a struggling Cougar team and placed a call to Johnson who put him in touch with the Cougar schedulers.

And when it came time for Tingey to fire ISU’s football coach last year, and then hire a new one, Tingey almost surely placed calls to John Johnson and Paul Wulff to get their read on his inclination to hire a coach with a proven record of winning in the Big Sky.

Johnson, by this time was of course well ensconced at WSU having been wooed back to the Inland Empire, where he has been ever since. Opportunities have come Johnson’s way but he has been content to remain at WSU. His wife, Lisa, is the women’s golf coach at the University of Idaho, and they have 13-month old twins, a boy and girl, who keep them busy as only twins can. They take the twins with them, wherever they go and they enjoy living in Pullman.

It would take a special opportunity to get them to move. Having watched his friend, Bill Byrne, move from MiniDome Facility director to alumni director at Idaho State and then onto the lofty positions of Athletic Director at the University of Nebraska and now Texas A & M, Johnson knows where he can find a guide should he seek that “special opportunity.”

While this may all sound too much like good old boys taking care of one another, there is another common denominator that makes their relationships all the more special. The world of football is primarily all about winning, but also about winning within the rules and doing it the right way.

All these men have enjoyed some degree of success, enough success to keep them in the game. Whether it is John Johnson, Jeff Tingey, Bill Byrne, Paul Wulff or Mike Kramer, they all know it takes hard work, sacrifice and discipline to win the right way without cutting corners or incurring the condemnation of the NCAA.

When one thinks about it, there are actually very few who do succeed over the long-haul doing it the right way. All the rare Mike Kramer’s and Paul Wulff’s of the world ask of the John Johnson’s, Bill Byrne’s and Jeff Tingey’s, who are their bosses, or a school’s fans, is a little bit of patience while they take the time to build winning programs the right way, one step at a time.

ISU takes that first step back today, and regardless of the final score, it is a step in the right direction.

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Coming up Monday in the Washington, Oregon and Idaho Public Affairs Digests, stories about:

How wolves may be helping another predator species, the Canada lynx.

The meaning behind the new yelloweye rockfish efforts.

The impact of the significant auto fabrication plant opening in Moses Lake.

The abrupt launch of wildfires around the region.

The big Hanford contract just given to a local Richland firm.

Studies of how the middle class in Oregon, and wages overall in Idaho, are fast losing ground.

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