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Posts published in March 2012

Theory brought to life

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.

Memo to Oregonian re: Doonesbury

The Portland Oregonian was among the 50 or so newspapers around the country that last week declined to run the scheduled Doonesbury cartoons, which had to do with abortion and the proposed, in some places, transvaginal ultrasound procedure.

You'd think the strip would have little problem in the pro-pro-choice Portland area, and most of the letters to the editor printed on the subject were critical of the decision not to publish.

The editors might also want to take a little at a blog post today by Kevin Richert, editorial page editor of the Boise Idaho Statesman. The Statesman runs Doonebury on its editorial page, but it did run last week's strip intact. It did that in a state that was just undergoing a massive local debate about a law on the ultrasound, in an area far more socially conservative than Portland. (The fact that was happening at the same time, Richert said, was one factor in deciding to run the strip.)

Here's what else Richert wrote: "The reader response was startling. I expected complaints, even some cancellations. I didn’t field a single complaint (and we actually did have a subscription cancellation over our Sunday editorial on the ultrasound bill). Instead, we heard from readers who thanked us, sometimes effusively, for running the cartoons. Here’s an excerpt from one e-mail. “Once again, Trudeau makes us squirm and confront our society’s demons. And once again, The Statesman has the journalistic courage to let us, the readers, make our own decisions about reading it — or not.”"

Carlson: Best left unsaid

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Been rolling “life” matters through my mind of late. I always do this time of the year because March marks the third anniversary of the implementation of Washington’s physician assisted suicide law. I was among the leaders in the fight against Initiative 1000 which allows doctor assisted suicide especially if one is deemed to have less than six months to live.

I took exception to the state getting involved in such a personal issue and encouraging premature suicide as an answer.

In periodically reviewing “life,” I am struck anew by how complicated, ambiguous, highly emotional and personal these issues are. I am supportive of protecting “life from conception to natural death.”

Life begins at conception: All one’s possibilities are present in the embryonic child. There is a constitutional right to life and society has a responsibility to protect it, especially the weak, the infirm, the disabled and the innocent within the womb---those that are most vulnerable.

One, however, also has a right to privacy. Despite the tragedy, in cases where the life of the mother is at stake, a woman’s right to make that decision in consultation with her doctor trumps the child in the womb’s right to life and society’s interest in the child. There are few dads in the real world that aren’t glad the law recognizes their daughter’s right to make that call.

Additionally, in cases of rape or incest most dads are glad daughters have a right to choose innocent though the child in the womb is.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Ours is full of messy, tragic struggles between conflicting rights. Bill Clinton’s “formula” about abortion is correct: It ought to be safe, legal and rare. The problem is abortion is not that rare and pro-choicers have a hard time dealing with the fact that some women use abortion as contraception.

That’s just plain wrong.

People also should be held accountable for consensual choices. When one engages in heterosexual sex there is a possibility of a new life for which they should be held accountable. Society sends a horribly mixed signal to young people. It says be responsible, but you can abort that mass of protoplasm because it is inconvenient to you.

That’s just plain wrong also.

So modern medicine comes up with the morning-after pill, forcing one to deal with whether taking it is comparable to an abortion.

There is not one simple morally correct answer. Access to the morning-after pill can and has provably saved the life of distraught, suicidal women victimized by rape. To be denied that pill can be tantamount to sending a person over the edge. Does the pharmacist really want to be responsible for someone’s death? (more…)

The Winder comments, and blowback

Donna Nelson
Chuck Winder

Most likely a number of Idaho Democrats are at this point discussion the idea of a legislative race that, a month ago, probably wasn't much on the radar - a challenge to Republican Senator Chuck Winder of Boise. When candidate filing ended, Winder was among the minority of incumbents without a challenger in either primary or general, understandable since his vote-getting record was solid and he's in a very Republican district.

Not that he was, or is now, an easy target. But conditions have changed, and even if Winder doesn't turn out to be beatable, a number of Democrats might be considering if a challenge to him would in fact be worth some extra effort. In Idaho, a candidate can mount a write-in campaign at the primary by declaring intention in advance, and then will get ballot status in the fall if they get enough votes at the primary election.

That's a little more work than the norm. But Winder has made of himself a major target - a national-level target. Stories about not just his sponsorship of the Idaho abortion/ultrasound bill but also his comments about it have gone national and viral. One of the biggest web stories on ABC news today is about Winder.

It started with some of his closing debate comments (just ahead of the Senate's 23-12 vote to pass the bill, which now is in the House). Winder: "Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that's part of the counseling that goes on."

That was a little convoluted, and you could read it several different ways. A Planning Parenthood spokesman, saying her office had fielded lots of calls about the statement, said "I hope that he did not mean to say that some people use rape as an excuse to receive abortion care."

Probably he didn't, but his winding and twisting explanations of whatever he did mean didn't help. Such as: "I used a married woman, the idea being that as a woman or a couple, whether they be married or unmarried at the time, would want to find out if the pregnancy occurred as the product of the rape, or whether the pregnancy was unknown at the time. There was never any intention on my part to question the honesty of a woman in cases of rape."

Huh? Teasing a clear meaning from that one would not be easy.

Those ready to launch a new political gender battle have in Winder, at this point, an ideal target and symbol. It's hard to imagine Idaho Democrats will pass up the opportunity to challenge him in this cycle, something they still have the opportunity to do.

Idaho ultrasound

Senate Bill 1387, the Idaho ultrasound bill, passed 23-12.

Likely result: Passage in the House by a larger margin a few days from now, and signature by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter some days after that. And this likely will be the piece of legislation for which this session is most remembered. Don't be surprised if a number of legislative campaigns center around it.

Of the debates, the strongest may have been that of Senator Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who is apt to be in the political whirlwind surrounding this - "my primary opponent has made it her number one issue."

She said that "I keep in my focus the unborn and the right to life," but noted that the senators (with one exception) aren't physicians. A state requiring a mandate like this, she said, "that is not a civil society in my mind. What about the mother who got pegnant by rape? Do we as a government double the pain on that crime by inserting ourselves in that room with that doctor and that patient? That's really in my mind not our place to be." It is, she said, "misguided legislation."

Her primary race will be one to watch.

Senator Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle (and who isn't running again this year), went further, saying the bill is there because some senators are pushing "their own personal ideology and their own personal agenda."

Sponsor Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said that a transvaginal ultrasound was not needed to comply with the bill; but the one physician in the chamber, Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said that in many cases, other ultrasounds wouldn't be effective. Make no mistake: This is a transvaginal ultrqsound bill, and it will be debated outside the Statehouse on that basis.

In the Briefings

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Another round of federal approval to go after sea lions, which have been going after fish (as is their wont), has gotten federal approval, and we're more likely to see stepped up activity along that front in Washington and Oregon.

In Washington and Idaho, meanwhile, legislatures continue on. Budget battles are the big issue in Washington, as a coalition of Senate Republicans plus a few Democrats have began to face off against the larger-majority House Democrats. (Will they use up the rest of their special session time on this?) In Idaho, budget issues are mostly resolved, but others still abound as legislators hope for adjournment soon - from the ultrasound bill in the Senate to the ethics issues involving Senator Monty Pearce.

More on all this and more in this week's Washington, Oregon and Idaho's weekly briefings. Write us (stapilus@ridenbaugh.com) for more information or a sample.

1990 redux?

Because leaders in the Idaho Senate opted on Friday to adjourn for the day, so some members could get going back home for the weekend, they ran out of time for voting on one of the most contentious bills of the session - a bill requiring an ultrasound before a woman, including victims of rape and incest, could terminate her pregnancy. That means the Senate floor vote, on the measure sponsored by Senator Chuck Winder, R-Boise, likely will happen this week, after members have had a chance to hear about it from constituents.

They are likely getting an earful.

Similar measures have popped up in legislatures around the country, and a lot of them are stalling or being walked back after infuriated reaction has set in - a lot of it, though by no means all of it, from women. And by no means all in liberal areas. The Twin Falls Times News has a poll up on its site asking readers whether they support the bill. With about 1,400 responses in (as of Sunday evening), the vote was 68% no, 32% yes. The Times News is not based in a liberal part of Idaho.

And we'd probably not be reading too much into noting that Winder's legislative blog, which this session has been kept regularly up to date with fresh posts, has been silent since March 9 - just before the ultrasound measure surfaced. Winder's campaign page on Facebook has been swamped by critical comments over the last week.

All of this has been bringing back to mind the session of 1990, the bitter legislative session when lawmakers passed, and then-Governor Cecil Andrus vetoed, what would have been the nation's most restrictive abortion law. For years after that legislators stepped gently in the area of abortion, because of what happened in the elections in Idaho later that year: A batch of legislators who were key backers were defeated or nearly lost for re-election, in some of Idaho's most conservative precincts. The bill's main Senate sponsor, Roger Madsen, who represented one of the most conservative Republican legislative districts in Ada County, was defeated that year by a Democrat. The abortion debate wasn't, probably, the whole reason for the results that year, but clearly it was a key factor.

Could something like that happen this year? We can't really know for quite a while; the elections are a ways off yet. But we can say this: The legislative setup for such a perfect storm, the prerequisite, is certainly in place. The anger over the requirement set up in the bill is larger and getting larger, rapidly. And we can also say this: The candidate field for legislative offices this year is unusually large.

Something interesting might be happening.

What they want to get rid of

Material from a White House press release - about Idaho - seems worth quoting at some length, as a usually unspoken counterpoint to a pounded and re-pounded political point within the state.

There's little counter-article in Idaho to the idea that the Affordable Care Act - "Obamacare" in political-speak - is a tyrannical horror. Few specifics about the horrors are ever offered.

The White House press release does have some specifics about the counter point of view. (It'd be interesting to hear how these specifics constitute freedom-robbing terrors.) From it:

Health reform is already making a difference for the people of Idaho by:

Providing new coverage options for young adults. Health plans are now required to allow parents to keep their children under age 26 without job-based coverage on their family’s coverage, and, thanks to this provision, 2.5 million young people have gained coverage nationwide. As of June 2011, 11,736 young adults in Idaho gained insurance coverage as a result of the new health care law.

Making prescription drugs affordable for seniors. Thanks to the new health care law, 16,559 people with Medicare in Idaho received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole in 2010. In 2011, 14,963 people with Medicare received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole. This discount resulted in an average savings of $579 per person, and a total savings of $8,665,605 in Idaho. By 2020, the law will close the donut hole.

Covering preventive services with no deductible or co-pay. In 2011, 153,007 people with Medicare in Idaho received free preventive services – such as mammograms and colonoscopies – or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor. And 54 million Americans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing, including 283,000 in Idaho. (more…)

Not so open

Washington has three open - meaning no incumbent running - U.S. House seats this year. (Could be more, theoretically, but probably not.) In one, the 1st district north and east of Seattle to Canada, lively primaries seem to be developing in both parties for what looks like a competitive congressional district.

In the other two, early indications are that one contender in each, Derek Kilmer in the sixth district and Denny Heck in the new 10th, both Democrats, may become slam dunks and start rehearsing their swearing-ins.

Businessman and TVW co-founder Heck, ironically, was defeated in 2010 running in the third district, an Olympia Democrat running in a districts where the political weight was in Clark County to the south. This year, Heck is running in a new district weighted around Olympia, a district so favorable for him he could almost have drawn it himself.

The new sixth district is not so terribly different from the old one as to be a preclusive lock for a candidate. But Kilmer, a state senator with a solid electoral track record in a marginal legislative district, seems to be emerging as the one major candidate to replace retiring Democrat Norm Dicks, the northwest's most senior member of Congress. And many cycles have passed since Dicks has been seriously challenged.

Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan, while not criticizing Kilmer at all, put some finer points on this in today's column. He points out that since 1932, when the district was created, it has been "open" just twice, most recently 36 years ago. On that occasion, he writes, "Democrats picked from six candidates and Republicans from three. The fixers probably see that primary as a case study for what not to do because voters, not insiders, made the choice. But that’s the kind of thinking that has left Washington voters with an uninspiring primary this year. So far we have an open state governor race with no primary on either side and an open state attorney general race with no primary on the Democrat side and a marginal one on the Republican side."

Sometimes even open seats aren't really all that open.