Writings and observations

One of the best lobbyists Idaho has ever seen was asked some years back for the secrets of his success, and one of them was this: Don’t give up on a bill, don’t consider it dead, until the session is done. And then, it’s only dead for the session. An advisory worth remembering …

Last night, Idaho House Republicans held a caucus to consider what to do about the ticking bomb tossed into their laps from the Senate – Senate Bill 1387, the abortion ultrasound bill that has abruptly become a national news topic. A hearing in the House State Affairs Committee was scheduled for the next morning. Out of the caucus meeting came this decision: The hearing was cancelled, off the agenda. Under usual circumstances, that might mean the bill had reached its end, since legislators are talking about adjourning the session next week.

This morning, as word of that spread, the bill’s many critics, who have developed a political firestorm in Idaho and beyond over the last week, seemed to explode with joy: We won!

A word of caution: It’s not dead till the session is adjourned, and then only until the next session.

Dennis Mansfield, who has some years in the trenches on abortion-related legislation at the Idaho Legislature, writes this today at his blog: “I may be in error, but the legislative response of halting the proposed House hearing on the bill, now being reported by the national press, may well be a tactical time-out rather than a strategic stop. The national press will go home. And the Idaho House of Representatives will also prepare to go home. But my call is that prior to the close of the session the House will quickly take up the matter, pass it and let the Dem’s in the House and Senate bear the weight of this bill at the polls.”

He may be right. A bill can be passed in minutes, even on the day of final adjournment, if the votes are there to pass it, and the desire among Republican members of the Idaho House is probably quite strong.

Assume nothing.

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Idaho

In Curry County, in Oregon’s far southwestern corner, political rhetoric could soon spring into actual life.

Curry is a long way from the Portland area, geographically and philosophically. Coincident with its influx of retirees from California, it is one of Oregon’s most anti-tax counties, and its property taxes are among the lowest in the state. For decades, the county budget has been pumped considerably by federal forest funds, the money alloted to counties in place of property taxes that the federal government doesn’t pay on its properties, which are large in Curry (as in much of Oregon, and the Northwest).

But those funds have been faltering, and are likely to vanish entirely before long. The county budget has gotten tighter and tighter.

In political theory, some theory at least, this should be a plus. You hear about lower taxes being better, ever-smaller government being the goal, the less the better – there being no specific floor? In Curry County that rhetoric is more than just talk: It is playing out in real time.

From the Curry Coastal Pilot: “… officials are planning to continue operating at the current level through November, then shutting down at the end of November if additional funds are not found.” When one county commissioner asked for which county departments they should seek state help – that would be the state that is also in a tight budget squeeze – the answer was: “All of them. “Who are we kidding? We don’t have enough money to run any of them.”

That could mean shutdown of the sheriff’s office and jail, no taking of county records – no records of property transactions, among many other things.

Unless the county residents reverse traditional course and raise their taxes. (A number of options, even local sales tax, are on the table.)

But hey, the experiment might be interesting, although the people of Curry County would have to pay a steep price to learn some hard lessons about rhetoric and reality.

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Oregon