Archive for January, 2012

Jan 31 2012

Bonamici (D) in the OR 1st

Published by under Oregon

Bonamici
Suzanne Bonamici

Annals of a congressional district that knows what it is and what it wants:

Winding up a special congressional campaign that started last summer – last spring, really, when the first challenger got in – Democrat Suzanne Bonamici was elected Tuesday, over Republican Rob Cornilles, to the U.S. House from the Oregon 1st district.

It was not close, and reasonably mirrored the results from most of the public polls in recent weeks. (As often recently in federal races, the pollsters have gotten it more or less right.) It was not a surprise.

Here’s something of note, though. In this special election, where the vote was substantially smaller than in a typical general (somewhat more than half as many voters, less than two-thirds as many), Bonamici’s percentage Tuesday was close to exactly that of Democratic predecessor David Wu‘s in November 2010, a little over a year ago: 54.36% for Bonamici, 54.82% back then for Wu. (It should be noted that Bonamici’s campaign this year was a lot stronger than Wu’s in 2010.) Cornilles ran in both races, and (notwithstanding running a second well-organized and energetic campaign) got 39.14% Tuesday compared with 42% in 2010.

This is a Democratic district. Since 1974 it has been consistently in Democratic hands, and Bonamici becomes the fourth consecutive Democrat to hold it. She will not likely face much difficulty for re-election in November; this is probably a seat national Republicans will write off then.

If they do, their logic would be understandable.

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Jan 30 2012

A battle in WA, if there’s one nationally

Published by under Washington

The Seattle Times has a roundup of presidential campaign activity in Washington state, which often – with its relatively late March 6 caucuses – isn’t a big factor in presidential nominations. If the battle for the nomination is still alive then, though, Washington could be a hotbed.

In some ways, it’s a national mirror. The highest-ranking Republican official to take a major role with one of the campaigns, 5th District Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, is a leader of the Mitt Romney effort. (Her brother is also heavily involved.) Electability is a key argument there.

The story notes, “It is [Ron] Paul, however, who may have the deepest grassroots organization. Paul, who has not won in any state, has said he’s focusing his campaign on caucus states such as Washington.” And Washington caucuses have some history of veering off to the ideological corners, so there’s basis for a serious Paul effort. And he’s the one Republican presidential presidential candidate with a campaign office in the state (at Bellevue).

And the other two, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum? So far, apparently way behind. Santorum has virtually no activity in the state. Gingrich has a little, but his fundraising has been minor and his major supporter is the periodically controversial Rev. Joe Fuiten, pastor of the evangelical Cedar Park Church in Bothell.

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Jan 29 2012

L93’s big helicopter districts

Published by under Idaho

L93

Every decade, it’s the same: As population crowds into urban areas, legislative (and congressional) districts that cover rural areas have to stretch into larger and larger areas. It’ll happen again after 2020.

Even so, I’ve been looking at the Idaho Redistricting Commission’s L93 map (yes, that means there have been that many formally submitted) adopted on Friday, my eyes drawn to districts like 7, 8 and 32 – districts large enough that even on the small map on this page, you cam make them out clearly.

District 7 touches U.S. Highway 95 just southeast of Sandpoint, high up in the Panhandle, but not again until near Cottonwood, something like three hours south if you could drive it on 95. But you can’t drive it all on any single highway, or any highway. It might be possible to cover it all on forest roads, but even that’s debatable. In Oregon they used to call districts like this “helicopter districts,” since that’s what you’d need to traverse them all the way through without going far afield.

District 32 (a close analogue to the existing District 31) covers Teton County near Jackson, Wyoming, south to the Utah line, and then east past Malad. This too is a “helicopter district,” and the subject of many local complaints a decade ago. Its similar creation this time seems not to have generated as many; they may have given up.

But District 8, the one that runs from the Montana border near Salmon south and west pst Emmett nearly to the Oregon border, and which technically is not a helicopter district, is the one that really gets my attention. There is a certain logical common interest; vast amounts of this area are forest or wilderness lands, and much of it economically concerns either natural resources or tourism.

But the breadth of it … From Lolo Pass on Highway 93 north of Salmon down to Salmon is the better part of an hour. From there to Challis another hour, and close to another from there Stanley in western Custer County. Another hour, or more, from there through Lowman up the extremely twisty mountain roads on Highway 21 up to Idaho City. Crossing over to Highway 55 via Lowman or Idaho City is another half hour or more, and then north up to McCall, or west through Emmett to Letha another hour or so. Pretty drives, but long and sometimes stressful, especially in the winter. (Part of that Highway 21 run is commonly called Avalanche Alley, for good reason.)

Give a slice of sympathy to the legislators who eventually do represent districts like these.

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Jan 26 2012

Renewed drawing

Published by under Idaho

After spending a little time with the Idaho redistricting commission, things look a little more upbeat than earlier this week for the prospects of it completing its task sometime soon – possibly Saturday (they’re prepared for a Saturday session), maybe sooner, but likely not a whole lot later.

This was the commission called back to work when the Idaho Supreme Court rejected its submitted 35-district legislative plan for creating too many districts that cross county boundaries. We’ve opined that the minority view by Justice Jim Jones was closer to the mark – and so today did Commission Co-Chair Ron Beitelspacher – but that’s past. Beitelspacher’s attitude, and that of the other commissioners, seemed workmanlike: We’ve been given instructions, now we have to finish the job.

They almost didn’t get the chance. You’ll recall that Republican state Chair Norm Semanko and House Speaker Lawerence Denney tried to fire and replace two of the three Republican commissioners, for not strongly enough backing Republican interests. The Supreme Court yesterday blocked that attempt. Had it succeeded, the commission almost certainly would have deadlocked.

As it is the probability is that it won’t. The commissioners seem to have a good chemistry, and since the success of something like this depends on good will, that’s important.

One other point. We made the point a few days ago that it may be too late after another couple of weeks to get the redistricting work done in time to allow for the May primary, forcing a move to August. After a few Statehouse conversations today, we came away with the sense that it’s already too late, and that at least some county clerks won’t be able to get everything done in time for the May balloting. Expect to hear more about that before long.

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Jan 25 2012

WA Bill of the Day: House Bill 2703

Published by under Washington

A significant change in status that doesn’t seem to have gotten a lot of attention yet.

To this point, when Washington state officially talks about its “state universities,” it means the University of Washington and Washington State University – those two and no others. (Similarly, the only official “state college” is the Evergreen State College at Olympia.)

House Bill 2703 would change that. It would include Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, and Western Washington University as formal state universities alongside the larger two.

What’s not totally clear is what that would mean as a practical effect. Most of the governance, rules and regulations surrounding UW or WSU are made either by the institutions’ separate boards, or sometimes by the legislature. Is this just a point of pride, or is there something more? This could be worth a watch.

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Jan 25 2012

Carlson: The best governors, my list

Published by under Carlson,Idaho

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

A former newspaper editor and sometime reader of this column recently asked who I thought, other than Cecil Andrus, were great Idaho governors.

A bias I have is this: The best governors almost always first served in their State’s Legislature. Why this contributes to success is obvious. Having served in the legislative branch they inevitably have greater respect for their former colleagues prerogatives and unless totally ham-handed have built up alliances and friendships with key legislators—often on the other side of the aisle.

This can come in handy especially if a governor needs to sustain a veto but lacks one or two votes. Andrus could usually count on State Senator Dean Summers (Boise) and State Senator and future governor Phil Batt, (Wilder) when in need.

Additionally, a state legislator has to learn how state government works if he/she is to vote intelligently on agency appropriations. Thus, legislators who have become governors inevitably have mastered the arcane of the budget process. They know what the blueprint that drives each agency is.

Smart legislators also cultivate friendships with key talented civil servants who can be called and provide their governor with an insider perspective that can validate or invalidate what the agency head may be saying to the governor. Continue Reading »

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Jan 24 2012

Romney, Gingrich and Idaho

Published by under Idaho

In an Idaho Statesman piece, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who’s co-chair of the Mitt Romney campaign in Idaho, remarks that “I would have bet you a month ago that this would have been over with by the first of February. But things have changed.”

He’s certainly not alone in that, or in moving to the logical conclusion that Idaho’s Republican presidential nominating caucuses, scheduled for March 6, may play a larger role in deciding the nominee than appeared likely, say, just after the New Hampshire primary. Testimony to how things can change.

Let’s advance this a step further and ask: If the contest as of March 6 is still competitive between Romney and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, which of those two would win at the Idaho caucuses?

Asking the question today (informally) of a number of people, I got one answer (that I happen to agree with): Despite the mass of endorsements of top Idaho Republicans for Romney, and the near absence of an organization or visible support for Gingrich, the answer is – Gingrich. Check out the Idaho Republican base, and what it responds to, and the match seems pretty clear.

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Jan 24 2012

ID Bill of the Day: Senate Bill 1255

Published by under Idaho

There seems to be an ethic in our politics these days that lengthy pieces of legislature are only lengthy to provide loopholes and work for lawyers: if it’s worth doing, surely it can be expressed in a sentence or two.

Legislators who’ve been around the circle a few times come to understand that things rarely are so simple. The world is complex. Sometimes law has to be too, to keep up.

Generally, for example, information about children who are under the protection of the state Health & Welfare services is kept confidential. That’s usually a good practice, for obvious reasons.

But not always. Read the statement of purpose to Idaho Senate Bill 1255 (sponsor is Senator Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home), which opens an exception to the rule:

This legislation will allow the Department of Health and Welfare to disclose information about children who are under the jurisdiction of child protective services. Under current law, information vital to the health and well being of children, even medical information, routinely is not shared, and in many cases may not be shared, from one foster parent to another or by other decision makers. Females removed from a home where abuse has occurred from male siblings might well be placed in a home where males reside and the foster parent is never told. This legislation will allow Health and Welfare to better define, in rule, the information that will be disclosed and made available to foster parents, adoptive parents, guardians, and other legally responsible parties.

Another case where a few more words in the law really would be helpful.

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Jan 23 2012

Toward an August primary

Published by under Idaho

The Idaho Legislature, which has before it a bill that would move the state’s long-running May primary election to August, might as well go ahead and pass it. Candidates and election officials will need the time, because the odds now are that no new legislative redistricting plan will be adopted in the short term – and that it will be done not by the redistricting commission but by the Idaho Supreme Court.

It didn’t seem that way for quite a while. But here we are – or likely soon will be.

This becoming a long and tortured story, let’s recap. Redrawing of legislative and congressional districts in Idaho is the job of a six-member (three from each party) redistricting commission, which was appointed last spring and got to work. After many hearings, work sessions and other activities, that group did approve a congressional redistricting (which only barely changed the current districts) but did not quite manage to agree on a legislative plan. It came close; most of the issues were resolved. But just a few were not, and the commission’s deadline passed without a plan formally approved. (Informally, they approved one a couple of weeks later, but it had no official effect.)

So a second commission, made up of new members, was appointed to replace the first, with the first meeting held in September and the deadline clock reset to December 13. As with the first, the commission members were appointed by the state Republican and Democratic state party chairs and highest ranking officers in the state Senate and House. Much of the research and public hearing work already done, this half-dozen got directly to the maps and made a bipartisan agreement on a legislative map, and then adjourned.

That might have been the end of it. But monkey wrenches appeared. The plan became the subject of lawsuits (two, one from North Idaho and one based around Twin Falls County), and last week the Idaho Supreme Court decided the Twin Falls argument had enough merit to throw out the commission’s map and order the commission back to work to draw a new one.

New problems arose from this. One, not much mentioned but possibly significant, is that the state law should seem to indicate that the last redistricting commission became defunct as of December 13. (The Supreme Court did not address that question about whether a current commission even exists.)

Assuming, however, that it still does, a meeting has been called for it this Thursday at the Statehouse, to include its existing six members. But here too there’s a problem. Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney and Idaho GOP Chairman Norm Semanko said last week that they want to replace two of the Republican members of the commission (Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen, both conservative Republican former legislators) evidently on grounds that they were insufficiently protective of Republican Party interests.

The Idaho Attorney General’s office then issues an informal report saying that Denney and Semanko lacked legal authority to fire Crow and Hansen and replace them. Today, Denney and Semanko released a private informal legal opinion arguing that they do have such authority. This too looks to be destined to be a Supreme Court case.

That brings us up to date, so let’s game this out.

The odds seem to favor new commission members. Whether Denney and Semanko will prevail on their view of the law is unclear, but there’s a fair chance that either they will, or that the current commission will be held to have been disbanded by the December 13 deadline, and so six new members have to be appointed anyway. If they are, the odds are that they will not be in a compromising frame of mind, which will make producing any plan (which needs votes from both parties to pass) more difficult. Even if it wasn’t dealing with new Supreme Court mandates. This whole cluster of issues is unlikely to be settled within the next few weeks.

It may not be settled at all, in terms of a commission-produced plan. If it does not deliver a plan, the job will go to the Idaho Supreme Court, which will.

This is in all not a super-speedy process. It will take a couple of months at best, and maybe more.

Probably the commission, whatever its composition, would be best off to throw up its hands and say: “Justices, it’s all yours.”

And get the candidate filing and primary election schedule moved back a few months accordingly.

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Jan 20 2012

Not really quaint anymore

Published by under Idaho

There was probably a time, back in the day of William Borah, say, when there was almost a certain amount of above-it-all classiness to say that you didn’t drive a car – as it’s said he did not – and maintained a bit of elevated distance from such things as traffic signals, speed limits and road conditions. And if you were a senator at the time, that could probably work. But when almost everyone began to drive, and we all were exposed to road rules and conditions every day, and the federal government was in the middle of building the interstate highway system, that kind of stance really didn’t cut it anymore. You wanted a senator who had the same kind of awareness of road traffic that most of us have. If he’d lived another 20 years, Borah might have appreciated that, and learned to drive.

It comes to mind this week with the unfortunate situation Idaho Senator Jim Risch is in over the newly deceased Protect IP Act, of which he had been one of the sponsors.

The Idaho Statesman‘s Kevin Richert noted in a post today that “When he began campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 2007, Jim Risch was proudly computer illiterate. After spending the better part of three decades in public life — and making a small fortune as an attorney — Risch all but boasted about being unplugged from e-mail, the Internet or the blogosphere.”

Which wouldn’t matter much except that after getting into the Senate, Risch is in the position of having to help make policy concerning the Internet. After hearing about intellectual property theft over the Internet – a problem that is quite real – Risch signed on to what was billed by Hollywood interests and others (and, it should be noted, these are among the biggest and most effective lobbies in the Beltway) as a solution. Except that it was more problem than solution.

Seen from the outside at least, Risch seemed taken by surprise – seemingly becoming aware just in the last few days that problems with the bills have cropped up. In a statement out today, Risch’s office said that “At the time of introduction and at the hearings, there was no opposition to the legislation (you may recall the Internet community was all on board with this, then a big split happened” – except that’s certainly not our recollection. A Google search will turn up opposition not only from the blogosphere but from Tea Party and many other sources going back for months, not to mention Senator Ron Wyden‘s once-lonely stand promising a filibuster if necessary. The problems have been evident to many computer-savvy people for a long time – since introduction.

The Congress need not consist of 535 computer geeks, but the people we send there should be conversant with these new rules of the road if they’re going to make policy about them. A suggestion for Senator Risch, who (and I sure wouldn’t say this of every member of Congress) is more than smart enough to program a computer were he to devote himself to the task: Get online. Surf the web. Leave comments. Get on Facebook. Get on – God help us all – Twitter. Drive the information superhighway for a while. You’ll be better prepared when these issues come around next time. Which they will.

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Jan 20 2012

WA Bill of the Day: House Bill 2428

Published by under Washington

The snow, then ice, then rain, then power outages at the legislative building – the very religiously inclined might almost wonder if someone is trying to keep the House Committee on Education today from holding a hearing on the charter school bill. Considering how short the session is, the delay could be fatal.

The bill, House Bill 2428 and sponsored by 16 legislators (most Republican, but including Democrats as well), would put Washington in the majority of 41 states which have charter public schools. Idaho has had them more than a decade, and has been recently expanding their numbers, even while some run into some bad headlines. Oregon has a more limited program. Charter schools are public schools receiving public funds, but operate free of most of the rules governing most public schools. The bill would allow the state board of education to authorize up to 50 of them.

The Washington experience is more complex. As the bill analysis says, “In Washington, Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295 was enacted and signed by the Governor in 2004 to establish charter schools. However, Referendum 55 was filed as a result of collected signatures to prevent the bill from taking effect. Referendum 55 was rejected by the
voters in the November 2004 general election, 58.3 percent to 41.7 percent.”

The thinking evidently is that attitudes have moved on. It also is an example, from another side of the fence, of the legislature taking another crack at an issue turned down by voters. If it does pass this time, what will the response be?

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Jan 20 2012

An economic development thought for Idaho

Published by under Idaho,Washington

Microsoft Corporation, the most successful big business in the Northwest, spoke out yesterday on a piece of Washington state legislation (which is within a single legislative vote of having enough for passage) which it said would help its business, and it got five other businesses to go along in the announcement. The legislation happens to be something a number of other states, including Idaho, could adopt if they chose.

Here’s what Microsoft said:

“Microsoft is joining other Northwest employers Concur, Group Health Cooperative, Nike, RealNetworks and Vulcan Inc. in support of Washington State legislation recognizing marriage equality for same-sex couples. This position builds on our history of supporting corporate and public policies that promote inclusion and equality. Microsoft’s greatest asset is a talented workforce as diverse as our customers. As other states recognize marriage equality, Washington’s employers are at a disadvantage if we cannot offer a similar, equitable and inclusive environment to our talented employees, our top recruits and their families. This legislation would put Washington employers on equal footing with employers in the six other states that already recognize the committed relationships of same-sex couples. Passing the bill would be good for our business and for the state’s economy.”

Think Idaho will approve this economic development measure?

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Jan 19 2012

ID Bill of the Day: House Bill 392

Published by under Idaho

It’s a little unfortunate that election schedules have to be uprooted because of legal battles over things like redistricting. But that’s what seems to be happening in Idaho.

House Bill 302 (introduced by Representative Tom Loertscher, R-Iona) may be an inevitability, and is certainly something legislators were wise to get into the pipeline sooner rather than later. Probably wouldn’t be necessary or wise to pass it through in the next three to four weeks. But if the Idaho Supreme Court hasn’t signed off on a new redistricting plan by the end of February, it should be ready and positioned for quick action, since the candidate filing period will not then be far off.

Maybe 10 years from now, could the redistricting process be altered so that any approved plan is automatically forwarded to the Idaho Supreme Court for final disposition? We know it will be appealed there anyway, and in these cycles (in contrast the usual more extensive period the justices have for review of most cases), a few weeks can make a lot of difference.

In the meantime, an August primary wouldn’t be so bad. Idaho’s had them before. Washington has them still. They do have the virtue of cutting down the campaigning season, and they need not be held before national party conventions for presidential elections any more, since both parties have gone to the caucus system.

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Jan 18 2012

ID: Back to the redistricting board

Published by under Idaho

Was said here that the legislative redistricting map produced late last year by the Idaho redistricting commission looked reasonable and ought to pass constitutional muster. That opinion doesn’t change.

Has also been said here, from time to time, that you can never conclusively predict what a court will do. That one too remains valid: The Idaho Supreme Court has just thrown out the redisticting plan. C’est la vie.

The summary says, simply, “This is a petition challenging the constitutionality of Plan L 87, a legislative redistricting
plan adopted by the commission for reapportionment. We hold that the plan is invalid because it violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho Constitution by dividing more counties than necessary to comply with the Constitution of the United States. The commission for reapportionment is directed to reconvene to adopt a revised plan.”

The issue is division of counties. The appeal of the commission was brought by Twin Falls County, which is divided into three pieces (politically, we would say, more an advantage than not), and which argued that the 12 divisions of counties were too many and unnecessary to comply with other requirements. The Supreme Court: “Plan L 87 divides twelve counties. The commission considered and rejected other plans that comply with the Federal Constitution and divide fewer counties. Thus, Plan L 87 does not divide counties only to the extent that counties must be divided to comply with the Federal Constitution. It likewise does not avoid dividing counties whenever possible in violation of Idaho Code section 72-1506(5). It therefore violates Article III, section 5, of the Idaho
Constitution and the statute. We are not holding that the commission must adopt any particular plan. The plans submitted to the commission show that there are different ways to draw legislative districts that comply with both the State and Federal Constitutions.”

Even with that said, this is a bit of an unusual decision in the more limited discretion its gives the commission. That’s not our lone opinion; it also shows up in a strong dissent from Justice Jim Jones:

I read Article III, §§ 2 and 5 of the Idaho Constitution to grant the Commission a good deal of discretion in developing its redistricting plan, and I believe this Court should, as it has in the past, grant substantial deference to determinations made by the Commission. In my view, the Commission performed in an exemplary fashion in developing Plan L87. It made detailed findings of fact, clearly explaining how the plan was developed, the steps it took to comply with one-person, one-vote requirements, its rationale for dividing or splitting counties, and how it applied the legislative guidelines in I.C. § 72-1506.

On the other hand, the Petitioners, although disagreeing with several of the county splitsmade by the Commission, failed to present any competent evidence to cast doubt upon the validity of the Commission’s findings. Petitioners presented no competent evidence showing that a lesser number of splits could be accomplished, while observing the requirements of the federal and state constitutions, as well as the Legislature’s guidelines. Petitioners do not refer in their papers to any plan in the record that contains a fewer number of splits than L87. Petitioners proffered a plan that they claim would accomplish reapportionment with just six county splits but, when viewed based upon the criteria in the record for determining splits, their plan contains eight county splits. That compares with twelve splits for Plan L87. Petitioners did not submit their proposed plan to the Commission, so it is not a part of the Commission’s record. Petitioners’ plan is not authenticated, there is no indication of who prepared it, what criteria were considered, or who determined where and why splits should be made. Therefore, it is not competent evidence before the Court.

But, the court’s take is dispositive. Back to the maps.

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Jan 18 2012

WA Bill of the Day: House Bill 2594

Published by under Washington

Here’s a thought for how to deal with street gangs: Sue ‘em.

Okay, sounds like a joke. But House Bill 2594 is actually an interesting idea, providing (with rules-style specifics on how it operates) the ability for a state or local prosecutor to ask a judge for a specific street gang injunction, intended to put a spike into especially hazardous street gang activities.

When the judge agrees to consider an incumbent, papers go out to the gang: “Service of the summons and complaint on the criminal street gang may be made by representative service of process on at least five associates or members of the criminal street gang, at least two of whom occupy a leadership role in the criminal street gang at the time of filing. The court shall order an evidentiary hearing on the complaint. The hearing may be held whether or not any person served in a representative capacity appears to contest the issuance of the injunction.”

Such a hearing – if the gang decides to show up to contest an injunction – could be a fascinating thing by itself. You can imagine a few cases at least where it leads to a mediation type session. Where it doesn’t, at least everyone’s talking. The bill is based on ideas tried elsewhere and – they argue – successfully.

The bill has 35 House sponsors, including plenty from both parties.

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    It Happened in Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
    order here

    Camping Idaho
    by Randy Stapilus
    Globe-Pequot Press
    order here