"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

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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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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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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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Kathleen Parker is one of the finest syndicated columnists writing today. Thoughtful, analytical, practical, non-ideological, she offers an always insightful and informative perspective. Recently she wrote a sensitive, moving eulogy on the passing of Christopher Hitchens, the talented, prolific, iconoclastic English writer who died at age 62 from esophageal cancer.

The literary cognoscenti of the English-speaking world universally mourned his loss. His last book, a voluminous collection of essays on an incredibly broad range of subjects, was listed at year’s end by the New York Times Book Review editors as one of the ten best “must read” books for 2011.

Hitchens could clearly be a charming personality. Never having met him, like many one lets the view of another we respect influence our own. In the case of Hitchens, though, there is cause for pause, and ample reason for the Kathleen Parkers to separate image from the real person.

Hitchens was obviously a gifted writer. One might even say he was blessed with God-given talent, except he was a militant atheist and would be highly offended. For many his in your face militancy made him an unpleasant person.

Kathleen Parker will never meet Joe Peak. It’s a shame because he too is an iconoclastic, one of a kind character. For years Joe has operated a well-known watering hole a few miles off of I-90 up the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, a former bordello called the Snake Pit. Full of ambience and odd historical relics, as well as Joe and wife Rose Mary, it has been a must stop for years for thousands of fly fishermen seeking a burger and an adult beverage, along with advice on where to find the wily cutthroat.

In recent years additional hundreds of bicyclists traveling the 76-mile Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes from Plummer to Mullan have made it a must pit stop.

Joe is the epitome of Will Rogers’ old saying that he’d never met a man he didn’t like. Always gracious, the Wyoming native and intrepid follower of his Wyoming alma mater’s football team, the Cowboys, he is as good a listener as he is story teller. Joe and Rose Mary walk the talk of “faith, family and friends.”

It came as a great shock then when Joe recently announced he was closing the Snake Pit. He and his wife have contracted different deadly forms of cancer. Rose Mary is in the hands of the local Hospice, and devoted husband that he is, Joe is walking the journey with her every step of the way, knowing full well he too will soon travel the same path.

Not even the news a few days later that the Hecla Mining Company would be closing for at least a year the valley’s last operating silver mine, the Lucky Friday, cast as big a pall over the valley. Company officials privately say the closing is due to an over-demanding and unreasonable set of orders from the Mine Safety and Health Administration and some 250 well-paid mine workers will be out of work. Many will move away, some responding to ads that Barrick Gold is already running on KWAL radio to come work in their Nevada mine.

Throughout their ordeal Joe and Rose Mary will be sustained by their faith, something that Hitchens could not fall back upon. Joe and Rose Mary are devout, bead-carrying, Mass-going Roman Catholics. One of their sons, Jimmy, is a priest serving as an Army chaplain and just finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

They all walk the talk of quiet witness; they are what we Idahoans call “good people.”

Many would say and some have said Hitchens was not a good person, and not because he espoused communist views and called himself a Trotskyite in his youth. Rather it is because he made a career out of attacking people like Mother Theresa, and if he’d known him, Joe Peak. Other targets included Presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan. He ridiculed people of faith and was always anti-religious.

With malice aforethought he called his 1995 biography on the Blessed Mother Theresa The Missionary Position. As he grew older though he started defending the rich, the secular elite who bought into his views and paid for his books.

No portrait of Hitchens would be complete without mentioning his heavy drinking and his libertine sexual mores. If one does not believe in the Hereafter, it’s easy to rationalize selfish indulgence—eating, drinking and being merry.

Father Peter Daly, once a target of Hitchens’ ire because he challenged the portrayal of Mother Theresa, concluded his commentary: “Unlike Mother Theresa, he (Hitchens) never cared for the sick and the dying. He never lifted anyone up from the gutters of the world. He never rescued children from abandonment or cared for the mentally ill or the elderly. He did not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, nor bury the dead.”

In contrast Joe Peak has done most if not all those things. When both stand before the Maker at the Final Judgment I know who I’ll wager will hear “Well done thou good and faithful servant” and who won’t.

And I can’t help wishing Kathleen Parker had known Joe Peak so she could have placed Christopher Hitchens in a more balanced context.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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This site has opted not to be among those striking in protest over the SOPA and PIPA measures in Congress; we chose to explain our view here instead. But we do strongly support the effort, and agree that those two measures – billed as anti-piracy but carrying a prospective reach much broader and much more dangerous – must be stopped.

Some of the leading figures in working to stop these measures do come from the Northwest, including Senators Ron Wyden – one of the first to stand up on it, bring national visibility to it, and the prime backer of a filibuster-if-necessary – and Maria Cantwell. Most members of the Northwest delegation haven’t yet made a clear statement of support or opposition to the bills. A request from here: Urge them to oppose the bills, and soon.

A good but simple introduction to the problems involved is available. The strike’s page is online (at last check).

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So far 26 Washington House members (all Democrats to date) have signed on with House Bill 2463, which would impose a capital gains tax – but with a twist: Just capital gains over $10,000, amounts below that being exempted.

Washington doesn’t have a capital gains tax at all, which sets it out from the other Northwest states – Oregon has an upper bracket at 11% (high nationally) and Idaho at 7.8%. It’s generally tied (as in those states) to income taxes, and since Washington has no income tax, there’s no capital gains tax.

Except that this bill would add one specifically. The Washington Budget and Policy Center, which supports the bill, offers this case for it:

Capital gains are the profits people accrue from selling stocks, bonds, real estate and other assets. The proposal would create a new 5 percent excise tax on capital gains above $10,000 per year ($5,000 for single filers).
The proposal does not tax all capital gains. The first $10,000 of anyone’s yearly capital gains would be exempt from the tax. The profit from the sale of anyone’s primary residence also would be exempt.
Under the proposal, for 97 percent of Washington households there would be no tax increase at all. In fact, the richest one percent get three-quarters of all capital gains generated in the United States (see graph below).
This tax on profits from high-end financial transactions wouldn’t affect retirement savings, the sale of farmland, charitable giving, or assets left to family members as part of a will.
The idea of taxing capital gains is not new: 42 states have already figured out that capital gains are a revenue resource that makes sense. Oregon taxes capital gains at 11 percent and in Idaho the rate is 7.8 percent.

There will be a big fight, and the odds are against it. But since the day of taxes-are-off-the-table seems to be ending, it may get more of a hearing than usual.

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Tom Trail

The Idaho medical marijuana bill has been introduced, by Representative Tom Trail, as he had said last year he would do. House Bill 370 does not have much chance of passage, or of clearing its first committee vote – if it gets one. (If it does, we’ll be curious to see who else votes for it.)

Proposals along these lines, or further down them, have either become law in Washington and Oregon or have been strongly discussed for years. Outright state legalization (which still wouldn’t mean federal legalization) is likely on the Washington ballot this year. But the subject has gotten no traction in Idaho.

How little traction? For some years, Trail has proposed (last year, along with Representative Brian Cronin, D-Boise) resolutions backing legalization of industrial hemp. Though biologically related to marijuana, it cannot be used to get high: Its uses are industrial, and many. It could be a major crop in Idaho, as Trail has noted. Many of the founding fathers, including George Washington, grew it. But last year it failed in the House Agriculture Committee.

Still, the rationale language in the new medical marijuana bill is strong: “Compassion dictates that a distinction be made between medical and nonmedical uses of marijuana. Hence, the purpose of this chapter is to protect from arrest, prosecution, property forfeiture, and criminal and other penalties those patients who use marijuana to alleviate suffering from debilitating medical conditions, as well as their physicians, primary caregivers and those who are authorized to produce marijuana for medical purposes.”

We’ll see how far compassion gets this bill.

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Among the more obscure enthusiasms of much of the Tea Party and some of its acolytes (including freshman Idaho Representative Raul Labrador) is the repeal of the 17th amendment: The one providing that U.S. senators be elected directly by the voters of each state, rather than by state legislatures, as had been the scandal-ridden procedure until about a century ago. Various Republican Party organizations have signed on to the idea as well.

Not a lot of attempt has been made to offer a public justification for taking away popular votes on senators. When the question was raised, the main response was along the lines of: It’s not really a major priority; it’ll never happen; move along, nothing to see here.

Cut to the Washington Senate today, where Senate Joint Memorial 8013 has been introduced by Senator Val Stevens, R-Arlington. The memorial proposes amending the U.S. constitution the subject of choosing and removing senators:

Section 1. The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, selected by the legislature of each State. Each Senator shall serve a six-year term and may be reappointed. Each Senator shall have one vote.
Section 2. Senators are subject to removal by the State Legislature. Removal of a Senator requires a majority of each House of the State Legislature.

So there it is: A formal proposal in a state legislature asking that the people no longer be allowed to vote for their senators. By all means read through this, affording as it does a fuller explication for the change. Among the bedrock thoughts underlying it: that “peculiar care and judgment” would be given to selection of senators by state legislators, as opposed to the voters; that “A Senator’s general responsibility is to represent state government and the State Legislature” as opposed to the people of the state; and that “The Legislature of the State of Washington finds and declares to be defective the current process of electing United States Senators” – in other words, the voters – the same people who selected the state legislators – are defective.

With such rationale, the measure isn’t likely to go far. And Stevens is well to the right even within the Senate Republican caucus – she’d probably have trouble getting most of them to go along. (A notable line from one of her fundraising letters: “Are the homosexuals finally going to take control of our culture and push their depraved lifestyle on our children and families?”)

But is the 17th repealer just a chimera? Not any more it isn’t.

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Our household, which is located in the Oregon 1st congressional district, has voted in that race – the first general election congressional race this year in the country.

It was a fast process. The ballot area only occupied a small part of one sheet of paper, since there was only one contest on it. Ten seconds to make sure the rectangle was blacked in, and that was it.

Deadline: The 31st.

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Thanks to John Runft, for offering in a comment the opportunity to address a few items – widely various, but still – worth noting all at once.

His comment, first, came in response to a post by blogger Barrett Rainey, “American democracy is drowning in a sea of money,” critical of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and its effects on politics. Runft, who is a Boise attorney long active in Idaho politics, took issue with Rainey:

In re Barrett Rainey’s “American Democracy is Drowning in a Sea of Money, let me suggest that the solution is not to blame SCOTUS’s decision Citzens United and call for more repressive regulations. The decision is sound and complies with your above “Our Stance” # 7 regarding freedom. As you imply in # 7, the corollary to freedom is responsibility. The rationale of the decision is correct, as the Court explained, on grounds of individual freedom. Now, the next step which appertains to individual responsibility needs to take place to create the balance reflected in # 7. That next step could possibly be accomplished by bringing suit against one of the PACs on the ground that it cannot qualify for immunity, because of its inherent anonymity, as a “public persona” under the N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine. Subjecting the PACs and their contributors liability for their slanders will solve much of the problem (similar to Great Britain where there is no N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine – although there are other problems in the reverse in G.B). Regrets for the foregoing ” 30 sec. shorthand.” John L. Runft

Three points here.

1. Rainey’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily mine (or Ridenbaugh Press’); we give free range to the resident bloggers who are or have been here, including including Chris Carlson and (formerly Chuck Malloy and others. We don’t always agree with any of them, which hopefully makes the site more interesting. So they may or may not in any given piece match up with “our stance”, and aren’t required to.

2. In this case, I generally agree with Rainey, and I think Runft misread the “our stance” – which is to say, this is where Ridenbaugh Press is coming from – item. Assuming here that we’re referring to the same item, it says:

Freedom in society is zero-sum, not prospectively infinite. If you create more in one place, there’s a real possibility you’re diminishing it somewhere else, and the equations should be watched closely. A guiding principle: Freedom generally should be spread widely rather than narrowly. Corollary: Among the most important things to understand about our society are what things are, and are not, zero-sum. Additional corollary: Concentrated power, wherever it may be found, should be viewed with the deepest of suspicion and should ordinarily be met with a pick ax to break it into pieces. Further corollary: Power is inherently relatively diffuse in republics, concentrated in empires.

Runft is bringing external ideas into the equation noted here, altering its intended point. The concern in our paragraph above is about concentrations of power, and while we don’t buy the idea that money equals speech, we do accept that it equals – or at least can buy – power. The problem with Citizens United is that it opens the door to concentrations of money (and power) on behalf of relatively few people, creating just the kind of power – and freedom – imbalance warned about. If, as I suggest, “Freedom generally should be spread widely rather than narrowly,” Citizens United allows for greatly massed money to cut precisely in the other direction.

3. That said, I’m fascinated by Runft’s suggested remedy: “That next step could possibly be accomplished by bringing suit against one of the PACs on the ground that it cannot qualify for immunity, because of its inherent anonymity, as a “public persona” under the N.Y. Times v,. Sullivan doctrine. Subjecting the PACs and their contributors liability for their slanders will solve much of the problem.” While I doubt it would come close to solving all the problems of Citizens United, I do think there’s some prospectively highly useful legal ground there, and his suggestion might be useful in constraining at least some of the abuses.

Thanks for the comment.

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Rainey website


I-502 co-sponsor Salvador Mungia addresses the media while pro-502 campaign director Alison Holcomb (left) and Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (middle) listen. I-502 opponents hold signs in the background. (Photo/Washington Secretary of State)

Here’s a hot procedural fight in the making: House Bill 2500, introduced by 10 House Democrats, is intended to put a leash on the initiative process. It’s as in-your-face as anything likely to hit big in the session.

The rationale is laid out in section one: “The legislature recognizes and supports the constitutional right of the people to pass laws through the initiative and referendum process. However in recent years, corporations have hijacked the initiative process to advance their special interests. The total dollar amount raised for initiatives between 2001 and 2010 averaged nine million eight hundred thousand dollars per year. In 2010, the total amount of money raised for initiatives was sixty million dollars, and in 2011 that total was forty-one million dollars. A single corporation contributed over twenty-two million dollars to support Initiative Measure No. 1183. Less than one thousand dollars for that same initiative was received from individuals. Therefore, the legislature intends to return the initiative process to the people by setting a contribution limit for ballot measure committees.”

And how? In section two:

“No person may make a contribution to a political committee formed to support or oppose a ballot proposition in excess of one thousand six hundred dollars in the aggregate in a calendar year. No political committee formed to support or oppose a ballot proposition may accept a contribution from any person in excess of one thousand six hundred dollars in the aggregate in a calendar year.”

They must not have enough Tim Eyman down at the statehouse; they’ll certainly have enough when this hits the road. But it may provide the opportunity for a useful question for him: How well would he fare getting his initiatives on ballot and passed without sugar daddy help, relying entirely on the network of supporters he does have around the state? No automatic answer to that question offered here.

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Presumably a cost-saving measure, House Bill 362 is apt to be something reviewed again in a year’s time, given the trajectory of the U.S. Post Office.

The bill concerns the sending of certain legal notices – “notices of deficiency determination and notices of levy and distraints” – which traditionally have been sent by certified mail; the bill would allow for use of first-class mail instead. The bill sunsets after a year, so it would have to be revisited in any case.

But especially because of what’s happening to first-class mail as we have known it.

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