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Posts published in February 2012

Trail to the right

Trail
Tom Trail

An indicator that the Idaho House Republican caucus next term may lean, astounding though it may seem, yet a little further to the right.

That is because of an email sent today by Representative Tom Trail, R-Moscow, announcing that he would not run for re-election to the House this year, but instead for the Latah County Commission. The realities of redistricting, which made his path to re-election a lot more difficult, may have played a part in that.

But there's more to the story. Trail has been for some years the most moderate Republican in the Idaho House, by a fairly long shot. He noted in his e-mail that in 2011 he "broke party lines on several votes, including education reform, closing the Republican primaries, and the tobacco tax. At the end of the 2011 session, House Speaker, Lawerence Denney stripped Trail of his agricultural committee chairmanship, though Trail indicated that move didn’t factor into his decision to seek re-election to the house."

Trail may wind up replaced by a Democrat. But the Idaho House Republican caucus will now lose the closest thing to an alternative point of view in its midst.

ID: Quote of the session

The Idaho legislative session probably is only somewhere around half over, but it's unlikely to see a quote to surpass this one, from Representative Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett.

He was speaking of House Bill 530, which would provide that in Idaho insurance companies could not be required (as per the Affordable Care Act) to cover contraception in their policies.

While explaining his views on the matter, he said, “When I think it is wrong, it is wrong whether you like it or not. That is for you to judge.”

How can you argue with that?

VanderSloot, Romney and the big shield

By all means read this new article (high recommend) by Glenn Greenwald on Salon, about Idaho Falls businessman Frank VaderSloot's key fundraising role with the Mitt Romney campaign, and more importantly how he and his business (Melaleuca) have reacted to reports about them ... and about other subjects they'd rather not see raised.

Greenwald: "Numerous journalists and bloggers in Idaho — who want to write critically about VanderSloot’s vast funding of right-wing political causes — are petrified even to mention his name for fear of these threats. As his work on the Romney campaign brings him national notoriety, he is now aiming these tactics beyond Idaho. To allow this scheme to continue — whereby billionaires can use their bottomless wealth to intimidate ordinary citizens and media outlets out of writing about them — is to permit the wealthiest in America to thuggishly shield themselves from legitimate criticism and scrutiny."

There is, as this suggests, a larger lesson to be drawn from this article than just the local.

UPDATE VanderSloot has a response out. It cries out for some critiquing, but for now make of it what you will.

Idaho into the contraception battle

That saying about Idaho being what America was gets some increasing resonance these days, especially at the Idaho Legislature. The fifties, or so, maybe. Or maybe early in the last century, when passing out brochures on family planning was a ticket to jail.

Today's exhibit is House Bill 530, proposed by Representative Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, which got a speedy hearing after introduction. Its stated purpose: It "limits benefits for substances that induce an abortion, sterilization and contraception in disability
insurance policies ..."

It's a response to the now-famous Obama Administration rule, which isn't actually much different than what's been on the books for a long time.

But now, Bilbao said, that federal rule "is an attack on my rights of conscience." (How a state law would manage to overturn a federal regulation is left unclear.)

When the committee resumes hearing on the bill next Monday, it may hear from a number of women who and what they think the bill is an attack on. That said, expect the committee to pass it easily.

Teacher attitudes by the numbers

It's one thing to say, as Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr has, that “Teachers are demoralized all over the state,” after passage last year of sweeping now education laws proposed by state Superintendent Tom Luna, and previous years of state-level budget cuts.

It's another to come up with statistical evidence, but the Associated Press has done just that.

It looked first at the number of teachers departing Idaho public schools. The number of teachers fired or laid off has actually been fairly stable. The number of teachers leaving the profession "for personal reasons" (which could include a wide range of motivations) was 314 in 2010. But it spiked drastically to 697 in 2011. The education bills were passed early in 2011.

Meantime, what about teachers from out of state seeking licenses to teach in Idaho? Those applications amounted to 661 in 2010. Given the exodus the following year, you might expect that number to rise to help fill the gap. But no: That number fell in 2011, to 633.

Why the change? The AP quoted Luna as saying, “I think what you're seeing is because of the economy.” But wouldn't a bum economy encourage teachers to hang onto their jobs? Wouldn't this be the most difficult time to quit?

He pointed out that fewer Idaho teachers, in 2011 compared to the previous year, have gotten teaching certificates in other states. But that could, and probably does, have an economic cause: Most states have been scaling back on their school budgets and trimming teacher rolls where they can.

What this really seems to speak to is teachers too discouraged to keep on teaching. It's what seems to pass for education policy in too many places these days ...

Carlson: Lessons from St. Maries teachers

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Those supporting repeal of the Luna/Otter Educational “Reform” package in general, and the Idaho Education Association, in particular, might want to take note of comments and attitudes gleaned from a recent sit down with three teachers at St. Maries High School.

The comments not surprisingly reflected a similar earlier sit down with a teacher in the Challis School District.

All four said without hesitation they intended to vote to repeal the three items on the ballot in November. Like many they are offended by the lack of due process alone. In their eyes it was a betrayal of trust for Governor Otter and State Superintendent Luna to have campaigned for re-election in 2010 and not to have said word one to any involved in education about what they were planning to introduce a scant seven weeks later when the 2011 Legislature convened.

To them it was deliberately deceitful, reflecting a lack of trust by these officeholders in teachers’ ability to thoughtfully analyze and provide valuable input into ideas for reform. To have it steamrolled through a compliant state legislature was just adding insult to injury. Invoking the “emergency clause” to force early implementation before all the unintended consequences had been worked out was just the frosting on the cake. (more…)

Inmate death corrections

The Oregon Department of Corrections says on its website "Oregon's prisons are safe, civil and productive so inmates can pursue the goals specified in their corrections plans." An important lack of candor may be throwing some clouds on that.

The Salem Statesman-Journal released a powerful report today on deaths at the Oregon prisons. One norm among most prison systems is that deaths internally are noted by a press release; DOC has issued one such death notice in the last two years. But there was not just one death, there were 79 of them. By itself, that seems like a large number. (The Oregon State Penitentiary at Salem alone accounted for 31, and Snake River Correctional Institution outside Ontario another 23.) And the nondisclosure may make Oregonians queasier.

And beyond that, the methods of death, by no means all natural causes. There was at least one drug overdose, several suicides (one "cut his wrist, swallowed a razor blade and repeatedly banged his head on a radiator"), one who injected into himself an "undetermined drug or toxin."

And in the larger picture, you have to wonder exactly how this happened: "A 98-year-old sex offender who died of old age after a parole violation put him back behind bars in 2002." 98 years old? Was he really so much of a serious threat to the rest of us that he had to be held in lockup? Was there no better solution?

The legislature should have some useful material to cover after reading its in-town paper today.

Note: A look at the DOC website does show a second inmate death news release on February 7, that the paper may have overlooked. The article's point remains, however. And the department apparently hasn't yet issued a response.

Lobbyist lineup

The Idaho Press Tribune has out a general piece on lobbyists at the Idaho Legislature, an evergreen but useful subject. (Your scribe wrote two or three of them for newspapers back in the day.)

Most specifically interesting, as was usually the case, was the legislators' ranking of the groups. The exact criteria to be used weren't noted, and regardless it probably reflects what it often does: Foremost the relationship many legislators have with the lobbyists under considerations; but excluding the contract lobbyists - the hired guns - who represent as many as a dozen (or more) separate organizations.

Not especially surprising, the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho was on top. That probably reflects in part the very seasoned status of its executive director, Randy Nelson, and the organization's role as a watchdog skeptical of taxes (although Nelson takes care to do more precise reporting and statistical analysis rather than lobbying of the putting-the-arm-on sort).

The city and county associations ranked, which may surprise people accustomed to hearing little non-critical about government from this legislature. But the lobbyists there too are of long standing and highly seasoned.

The highest ranking groups among the commercial groups are the Food Producers of Idaho, the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry and the Idaho Association of Realtors. The Farm Bureau was on the list, as expected; many would rank it in the top three or so, but it ranked number eight here.

Implications from the Ninth

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Tuesday invalidating California's Proposition 8 - effectively a ban on same-sex marriage - got plenty of attention nationwide. But some of the implications, if the decision stands, may not yet have been fully digested.

Before that day was out, Oregon Attorney General John Kroger sent a letter to Governor John Kitzhaber and legislative leaders with some initial thoughts on the decision. He promised a detailed followup, which hasn't yet materialized (publicly at least), but his initial letter had some provocative things to say about its impact on Oregon. (And we would suggest, following the logic out, on Idaho as well.)

Here's some of what Kroger said:

This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held in Perry v. Brown that California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates the United States Constitution. Ninth Circuit decisions apply to all states within the circuit, including Oregon, which has a similar state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. There are important differences between how this legal issue has developed in Oregon (where the constititional provision did not remove an existing statutory right to marry) and in California (where the constitutional provision took away that existing right). Neverthless, the Ninth Circuit’s decision will inevitably raise questions about the constitutionality and legal viability of Oregon’s state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

We are currently studying the decision and will be ready to provide the Governor with a complete analysis of the decision and its implications for Oregon law within forty-eight hours.

If the decision stands, then, there seems to be at least a credible chance that Oregon's constitutional amendment against gay marriage, adopted in 2004, may be invalidated, and Idaho legal provisions as well.

Boquist’s tangle

Boquist
Brian Boquist

It's not everyday your own state senator makes the national news. But Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, senator for District 12 (a sprawling area in northwest Oregon), has.

The issue concerns not a legislative bill or a fiery statement, but business operations he and his wife are involved with. From today's Talking Points Memo (the story is lengthy and detailed):

The issue revolves around a private military training facility that he and his wife help operate in Cheyenne, Wyo., and which is complete with live mortar and car bomb training as well as actors dressed up like radical insurgents.

Two of their longtime partners in the business recently accused the Boquists in federal court of mismanaging the facility and redirecting its profits to the couple’s favorite Republican candidates and causes back in Oregon.

The article noted that Peggy Boquist said the political contributions were proper and not wrongly taken.

But as with many lawsuits involving political figures, the central legal issue may be a lot less politically pertinent than the surrounding background.