Writings and observations

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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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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Americans for Prosperity – a group founded (inter-shell) by the hard-right Koch brothers, and highly active in support of Tea Party activities – has released its list of approval and disdain of members of Congress.

Whatever your view, it can be considered indicative: You may consider an A or an F from these guys a badge of honor, but it does give you a realistic idea of who the new hard right really likes and really doesn’t, and in relative terms. There are no low-graded Republicans, or high-graded Democrats.

Here’s the Northwest results (from their results page):

A+ – Representative Raul Labrador, R-Idaho (the only Northwesterner with a “lifetime” A+, though the fact that he’s in his first term helps some); Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

A – Senator Jim Risch, R-Idaho

B – Representative Doc Hastings, R-Washington; Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington; Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington.

C – Representative Mike Simpson, R-Idaho; Representative Greg Walden, R-Oregon; Representative Dave Reichert, R-Washington.

D – Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington; Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington; Representative Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon; Representative Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon; Representative Rick Larsen, D-Washington.

F – Representative Earl Blumenauer, D-Oregon; Representative Norm Dicks, D-Washington; Representative Jim McDermott, D-Washington; Representative Adam Smith, D-Washington; Former Oregon Representative David Wu.

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If you’re moving to Idaho, put this on your to-do list: If you’re planning to buy a car pre-move, do it more than 90 days before you hit the state line. Explanation in a moment.

House Bill 359 is, in itself, not especially noteworthy. It comes from the state Tax Commission – ordinarily the source of a number of bills during the legislative session. This one, its statement of purpose says, would “allow non-resident students, temporarily residing in Idaho, an exemption from use tax for vehicles registered in their home state.”

Noted here not because there’s anything wrong with that, but because few such out of state students probably would have thought of owing the use tax on their car to begin with. The use tax, which most sales tax states have on their books, is an obscure cousin tax meant to levy taxes on things the sales tax doesn’t get. Live in Nampa and troop over the state line to Ontario to buy a household appliance or even a magazine in hopes of avoiding the sales tax in Idaho? Sorry, you’re now on the hook (legally at least) for the use tax. Not that the number of honest use tax payees in Idaho (or elsewhere) is necessarily all that large. (As former Idahoans, we’ll take the 5th.)

If you bring a car into the state, though, there’s another consideration. Presuming you’re going to stay in the state long enough to establish residency, you have to register your car. Suppose you bought it in another state? That fact will be placed in front of registration officials as soon as you produce the title. Do you owe the state a 6% ding?

The answer is, maybe. The Tax Commission points to state law (it’s in Idaho Code 63-3621) in drawing the bright line. If you bought the car more than 90 days before moving to Idaho, it’s presumed to be personal property, not purchased basically for use in Idaho, and exempt from the use tax. If you bought it within 90 days before coming to Idaho, you probably owe the tax.

A point maybe specially relevant to incoming college students.

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In case of crisis, in case of emergency, who’s in charge?

That could be the debatable question inherent in House Bill 2382, introduced by Washington Representatives Jim McCune, R-Graham, Jason Overstreet, R-Blaine, Matt Shea, R-Mead, Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, John Ahern, R-Spokane, and Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick.

The bill concerns state authority in times of emergency, and its main section amends the section of state law concerning the governor’s emergency authority. Specifically, it strikes the governor’s ability to prohibit “The possession of firearms or any other deadly weapon by a person (other than a law enforcement officer) in a place other than that person’s place of residence or business.”

And it says that “During the continuance of any state of emergency, neither the governor nor any governmental entity or political subdivision of the state shall impose any restriction on the possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display, or use of firearms or ammunition that is otherwise authorized or guaranteed by law.”

Quite a limitation on emergency authority here (and remember, we’re talking here about emergency situations). Let’s say some major natural disaster has occurred, and the governor calls out the national guard to help deal with it. And the guard proceeds to the hard hit area, and encounters roving groups of armed people, all of whom have their own ideas about who and what is in charge … And they are without authority (since the governor is) to tell them to put their weapons down …

You craft a nifty dystopian novel out of this one.

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People who do lawmaking know after a while how important process is. You can do the same thing in different ways, and it can have drastically different effects.

In Washington, where the sales tax is relatively high statewide (with some local add-ons as well), there is a limited exemption on the sales tax to non-residents. Only residents of certain areas qualify: Oregonians do but Idahoans do not, because it applies only to jurisdictions that do not themselves impose sales taxes. At their discretion, retailers can make exempt sales, but do not have to. (A lot of Vancouver residents make them to Oregonians, for example.)

That exemption has been a matter of just not paying when you buy. But that may change if Senate Bill 6061, introduced today by Senators Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, and Ed Murray, R-Seattle, is passed. Technically, it keeps the exemption in place, but requires that it be imposed at the time of sale. The buyer would then write to the state and ask for a refund.

Think in terms of that $50 rebate you can send for when you buy a electronic item. Maybe you forget about it, or lose the paper – generally what the manufacturer hopes will happen. Now, the state of Washington will be hoping for the same thing.

The exemption, of course, was sought by border retailers who didn’t want to be too severely disadvantaged (especially by Oregon). Wonder how they’ll react to this?

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Bill of the day is regular short highlight of a new legislative measure – some good, some bad, others just interesting.

The first new substantive bill of the Idaho 2012 session, HB 354, by Representative Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, is not likely to go far. You might think it would if you focus on the part of the sales tax reduction. But then you realize the negative pile-on when that is paid for by extending the sales tax to a bunch of goods and services currently exempted.

What’s notable is the list of goods and services exempted – and this is just the list needed to make up for the tax reduction by a penny or so: “eliminates ten exemptions (broadcast equipment, commercial aircraft, railroad rolling stock and remanufacturing, driver’s education automobiles, trade in value, ski lifts and snow grooming equipment, heating materials, utility sales, precious metal bullion, and telecommunications equipment), and extends sales tax to nine categories of services (professional, personal, business, construction, transportation, repairs, lottery and pari-mutual betting, media measurement, and miscellaneous).”

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The first invitation to tour the Kroc Center was tendered by long-time friend Sandy Patano. I have worked with her on a number of issues for more years than either would want to acknowledge. The former state director for Senator Larry Craig, Ms. Patano was the one indispensable aide and a key reason why he served as long as he did.

She made sure the state offices diligently worked to solve constituent problems, regardless of one’s political affiliation, while also keeping a sharp eye on Republican political machinations. Always a class act guided by a keen mind, common sense, solid character and an infectious laugh, many felt the First District congressional seat could have been hers for the asking when Butch Otter vacated the post to run for governor in 2006.

Since the Senator’s retirement she has kept busy in local and state affairs serving on boards and engaging in some consulting. One of her pet projects was bringing her considerable talents to help secure the Kroc Center for Coeur d’Alene. She rightly feels that the almost $1 million pledge by the Coeur d’Alene Tribe was the critical component to the community winning the facility. I have no argument with her view.

She, like the Salvation Army’s Major John Chamness (who tendered an invite to tour in a response column in the Coeur d’Alene Press) felt that my column cast an inappropriate and unfair cloud on the Kroc Center. I implied it was not a qualifying recipient for the 5 percent “give back” funds gaming tribes committed to provide as a quid pro quo for Idaho approving Indian gaming by initiative in 1992.

The tour on January 10th was indeed interesting and informative. The Salvation Army clearly does conduct a variety of educational offerings, as Major Chamness said, “from health education to swim instruction, and the Kroc Center also provides more traditional educational programs in line with more traditional instruction.”

The course offerings cover a variety of subject matter attractive to a wide variety of ages from toddlers to senior citizens. It is incontestably engaged in education. Since money is fungible, whether the tribe’s dollars actually go for educational instruction or are allocated to the budget for salaries or to pay down debt is all irrelevant.

What is still relevant is whether this meets the definition contained in the initiative which clearly states a preference that the give back be targeted towards surrounding school districts. I will gladly concede the tribe discretion in deciding how close to the spirit of the initiative their donations are. I’m not the one charged with monitoring this, so it’s easy for me to say “great, this does meet the criteria.”

The point in raising the questions was as I said not to question the generous giving spirit of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; rather, it was to say that the state is not fulfilling the monitoring duties laid out in the initiative. The executive director of the lottery does no independent verification; he just accepts what the tribe says.

This lack of independent review is a disservice to all Idaho voters.

The tribe further clouds the issue by claiming it has no obligation to disclose publicly who the recipients of the 5 percent are. Apparently the office of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden agrees, as does the Spokesman-Review. However, the Lottery’s first ever director, Wally Hedrick, disagrees and states the public’s right to know and judge whether tribes are indeed complying was a critical element in passage of the initiative.

Hedrick told the Gazette-Record that the information should be public and to claim that it is a privileged part of their operations information that competitors could make use of is patently ridiculous. For the Spokesman Review to buy this bilge water given its history of strongly opposing almost all claims by governmental entities to privileged withholding is tortured reasoning totally inconsistent with its commendable historic guardian of the public right to know role.

Bottom line is the Review is guilty of gullibility at a minimum for not asking for a breakdown of the $130,000 annual Tribal contribution to Gonzaga University. What portion of that donation goes for the luxury suite the tribe has at GU’s basketball games? Whatever portion it is, accountants most surely consider an entertainment expense, not a 501-c-3 charitable donation. But then maybe they have figured out a way to have it credited all as a donation to a charitable foundation.

If so, that is what full public disclosure is all about, letting the public know the details and then decide whether one may be engaging in artful accounting.

Set aside that the Kroc Center may fit into a loose definition of an “educational” contribution, the five questions I asked in the earlier column remain unanswered and are deserving of answers from the State, the Spokesman Review and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

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

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