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.

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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.

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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 …

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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.

Neither did it come as a surprise when the early contracts regarding implementation as well as providing technology and software came from firms high on the contributors list of those giving to the Otter and Luna campaigns. You can bet not only do they feel betrayed; they also feel they’ve been lied to and their role as teachers denigrated.

They watch with bemusement as the legislature wrangles with Luna’s pathetic attempt to buy back their good graces by restoring funds for pay cut from last year’s budget. They look at the slick brochure produced by the state superintendent and know a campaign spin job when they see one. They think the “Students Come First” is nothing but a cynical slogan by two politicians who in their view care little for students and even less for teachers.

One would think these four would be shock troops ready to hit the battlements hard in the run-up to November—-but one would be wrong. None of them belong to the IEA, and two resigned from the union last year.

Why? In their view the union is off message more concerned about protecting the weakest link rather than offering its support for reasonable reforms reflecting input from and work with teachers and their hands on knowledge of what helps students most.

Yes, they intend to vote no in November, but that does not mean they will campaign actively for repeal. They want to see a message and a strategy that looks forward, not one that looks back. They want the union to understand the repeal is not about bad legislation and bad policy; it’s about not trusting teachers to be a constructive part of planning and complementing collaboratively established change.

They want to see a message that says “Trust Teachers to Know What’s Best for Kids in the Classroom,” not a message that says protect union rights and the need for unions to protect incompetence in the ranks.

They understand that in order for the IEA and repeal supporters to obtain the kind of money it will take to defend against the support the reform ads garner that will be bought and paid for by vendors and suppliers who stand to gain from selling the instruments of reform, the Idaho campaign will have to tie into some of the national “support the union” campaigns. They hope however those running the Idaho repeal campaign will be smart enough to “Idahoize” the campaign here.

They also want to see their community awarding the respect that is their due for serving in a state near the bottom of the list when it comes to per pupil support costs in the nation. They feel they have chosen to take much less in pay in exchange for living in a great place, but there is little appreciation for how much many spend out of their own pockets for supplies and other items.

The sad irony is this is a classic Catch-22. If teachers are NOT galvanized enough to speak up and actively campaign there’s a real risk that others in the community will read that as indifference to the outcome and in effect resignation to the inevitability of these misbegotten pieces of legislation being fully implemented no matter how poorly written or unclear they are.

Right now, they are standing on the sidelines, waiting to see if the IEA gets it. “Sailor, take warning.”

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Just directing a little attention back to Senate Bill 1235, which would put in Idaho law a kind of lobbying restriction – a limitation to the revolving door – in places in many states. And yes, it would have (or would have had, if already in effect), a clear impact on a number of current lobbying situations.

Its purpose:

The purpose of The Lobbyist Restriction Act is to clarify that current executive of ficials and legislators cannot register as a lobbyist or receive compensation (beyond that received in their of ficial capacity) to influence legislation, rulemaking or any ratemaking decision, procurement, contract, bid or bid process, financial services agreement, or bond issue. The legislation also puts in place a one year “cooling of f” period before an executive of ficial or legislator can register as a lobbyist after his or her departure from public service.

Introduced on January 20 (the Democratic caucuses are the backers), it has not progressed beyond its initial committee, the Senate State Affairs Committee, since.

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Like Oregon, Washington has a lands use regime stricter than most states (in a whole different world from, say, Idaho). But it isn’t exactly the same. One of the key elements in Oregon’s is the policy of protecting farmland. Development can, and often has been, blocked if it means changing the use of farm land to something else.

Washington may be moving that way. Senate Bill 6082 has a bipartisan list of sponsors, most of them rural, who don’t seem to be local advocates of increased land use regulation. And the bill really isn’t. But it does make a telling addition to the 1971 State Environmental Policy Act.

From the bill report:

The Department of Ecology must add the following questions to the SEPA environmental checklist, and the checklist form must be updated in the administrative rules at the next update of those rules.
Is there any agricultural land affected by the proposal?
How much agricultural land will be converted to non-agricultural use as a result of the proposal?
Would the proposal affect the ability of adjacent agricultural landowners to continue farming?
Would the proposal affect existing agricultural drainage?
Would the proposal affect or interfere with normal agricultural operations?
Would the proposal result in placing or removing agricultural soils from the site?
Describe any proposed measures to preserve or enhance agricultural resource lands.
Lead agencies must evaluate the checklist to determine whether a proposal will affect or be located on agricultural land.

The bill’s title is, “An act relating to the preservation and conservation of agricultural resource lands,” and just adding the questions could well do that.

The bill is on track for passage. It cleared the Senate (unanimously) and is moving speedily through the House.

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carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There’s an old saying some may recall: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely! That so applies to Idaho’s Grand Old Party. Power has gone to the heads of many who drive the flashy Republican car model down the road. The road though is leading to a helluva crash and inevitable voter rebuke.

One cannot absolve the Idaho Democratic Party from its complicity. Failure to follow the tried and true “lunch bucket” approach led to the Idaho D’s drifting away from common sense conservation, balanced budgets, continuing investment in Idaho education and protecting the values which make Idaho such a great place to live. Instead, being on the correct side of hot button issues such as abortion, guns and more wilderness became the goal of what other Idahoans perceived as a party growing out of touch and into the hands of the “wine and cheese” liberal set as represented by multi-millionaires living in Blaine County.

From the mid 90’s on Idaho Democrats have appeared hell bent on narrowing their base of support. The voters noted and duly administered rebukes which should have awakened the D’s but so far haven’t.

Now it is the GOP hell bent on narrowing its base. In their zeal to eliminate anything that even smacks of “democrat,” these impervious believers now driving the GOP car have gotten the upper hand. Through adroit tactics that come down to good old grass-root organizing and getting their people elected to numerous vacant precinct committee positions they are in the process of solidifying their hold on the party structure.

Pardon the tortured pun but it seems like the phrase “democratic process” has itself become a target of the reformer’s zeal to take over because there’s a “democrat” in that there phrase, it’s got to go. So onto the very anti-democratic notion of purging those who aren’t true believers from being able to impact the right wing agenda.

A step in this process is to limit those who vote in a Republican Party primary to those who truly are members of the GOP. If one ain’t a registered member he’d best declare he is right there on Election Day or go home and watch for results on the television. If you’re an independent and prize your independence, tough luck. You are welcomed, however, to vote in a Democratic primary which is open to one and all.

Here’s the glitch the R’s aren’t advertising: once you say you’re an R you’re going to have to file a formal written renunciation of that affiliation by March (the filing deadline for the coming year’s elections) of the following year if you want to vote in a Democratic primary of any sort.

Not only do they restrict access to their party’s prospects, they will keep many independents from being able to vote in a D primary contest the following year.

To further underscore how they have figured out that the best way to ensure their ideology prevails is to also require a loyalty oath to any aspirant for office who wants the R behind their name. In some counties where these tea party purists have seized control this means in order to be able to call yourself a Republican candidate you have to buy into and swear support for every facet of their wacky platform/agenda.

Not good enough to be supportive of 90 percent, but want to demure from supporting repeal of the constitutional amendment that made election of U.S. Senators subject to a public vote rather than leave it to the scandalous vote-buying that went on when state legislatures named senators.

Apparently, direct election of senators is another one of those vile democratic practices that have to be eradicated! There’s that root word “democrat” again.

Such arrogance knows no bounds. It reached new heights of stupidity when the House Speaker, Lawrence Denny, and the current GOP State Party chair, Norm Semanko, tried to dump two of the GOP’s three nominees to the State Redistricting Board because they appeared not to be paying attention to partisan implications. My gawd, their appointees were following the law and not dictums from party leadership. Can’t have that, can we?

Several phrases come to mind like “they’re cruisin’ for a brusin’.” Perhaps the most apt though is the classic expressions: “pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered!” The Idaho GOP elephant is morphing into a Wooly Mammoth right before our eyes, and like the mammoth is headed for the extinction it deserves.

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

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Ron Wyden at Newberg town hall/Randy Stapilus

Two to three years ago, turnout at Senator Ron Wyden‘s Yamhill County town hall ranged upward of 100, to 200 and more. Big crowds that filled large rooms. Not so much this weekend, when Wyden came to Newberg; only about 20 county residents showed up. (The lower turnout levels is evidently part of a pattern this year.) Those who came had specifics on their minds, but the tone overall was more easy going than in some past halls.

This was number 611 among Wyden’s Oregon town halls, and the senator’s approach to it was easy and relaxed; he’s had plenty of practice. The residents did call for some explanations on a string of tough topics, for example.

The county Democratic chair said she’d been asked by a number of local Democrats about Wyden’s cooperative venture on health care policy with Republican Representative Paul Ryan; it sounded to many of them, she suggested, as if Wyden was giving up ground on the health care fight. Wyden’s response was that he wasn’t, that the effort with Ryan was very preliminary, far from the point of drafting a bill, at more an exploratory point, to find out what ideas they might have in common. He cited a few but suggested that the conversation is only in early stages.

He expressed hope that diplomacy and sanctions may accomplish enough in dealing with prospective Iran nuclear weapons, and he advised the Occupy movement (through one local McMinnville Occupy activist present) to start getting more specific on what they want.

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