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Posts published in June 2012

Private prison II

Years before a private prison company was even selected for Idaho - but just after the concept was adopted by the state - this space predicted that the future for that prison held news stories about scandal and lawsuits.

An accurate prediction: After high-profile news stories about the Corrections Corporation of America-run prison at Boise described it as a "gladiator school" and worse after violence and injuries, the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit in March 2010 "that alleged deliberate indifference by CCA officials, inadequate staffing and supervision, and a failure to investigate acts of violence." About a year and a half later the case settled. (CCC did not acknowledge wrongdoing but did agree to make a number of procedural changes.)

Since then, Idaho's prison population - the state has one of the highest rates in the nation - has continued to grow, according to the Department of Correction: "Idaho’s inmate population is 8,099 and has grown by more than 500 inmates since the fiscal year began on July 1, 2011. Idaho is managing its prisons at capacity and also houses more than 800 inmates in county jails statewide."

So how is it resolving the difficulty? By entering into a new contract with CCC:

"Idaho has selected a Colorado prison to help house Idaho’s growing inmate population. This week, the Idaho Department of Correction notified Corrections Corporation of America of its intent to award a contract to house Idaho inmates at the Kit Carson Correctional Center in Burlington, Colorado. Idaho issued a request for proposals for beds in April. Two companies offered a proposal. The CCA proposal won based on an overall score of criteria that included bed availability, security practices, inmate supervision, and experience managing medium custody inmates. ... The Department expects to finalize the bed contract in early July, and will send 250 male medium-custody inmates out of state in late July or early August. IDOC has already notified the inmate population, asking for volunteers for out-of-state placement."

Note that the respondents were two companies - private companies.

Yeah, this sounds like another winner of a proposition.

The other side on Holder

While the Republican arguments against Attorney General Eric Holder, leading to a House vote to charge him with contempt, have gotten wide play around the region - new Idaho Representative Raul Labrador was one of the leaders of the effort - the other side of the argument has gotten little.

There was a good article, nearly the only piece of digging journalism on the subject, in the magazine Fortune providing one of the few good perspective pieces on the Fast and Furious issue.

More succinctly, maybe, Oregon Democratic Representative Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog, said: "The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform found no proof that Attorney General Holder authorized or condoned gunwalking, a program started under the Bush Administration. After the release of more than 7,600 pages of documentation, testimony by an agent involved in Operation Fast and Furious denying Holder had any knowledge of the program, the committee's refusal to check past abuses or interview the Attorney General under President Bush, Chairman Issa went forward with a contempt vote having no solid evidence of impropriety by Attorney General Holder."

Worth factoring in.

Supreme Court and the ACA (I)

Two posts here on the Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act (aka "Obamacare"); one on Oregon and Washington, the other (to follow) on Idaho, these two areas living in separate worlds on the subject.

Oregon and Washington each have been moving actively on a track to try to change and, officials hope, improve the health care system in their states. How successful they will be we will know only a few years from now, but the effort at least is being made. And these haven't been entirely partisan affairs; much of the Oregon health program, in particular, has gotten significant Republican as well as Democratic support.

Many of those efforts in both states have had some reliance on passage and enactment of the ACA, so you can sense some real relief in the governor's offices (among other places) in these states.

From Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, who may have been moving more aggressively on health reform than any other governor the country:

And a statement from Washington Governor Chris Gregoire:

“I applaud today’s Supreme Court decision. Since the Affordable Care Act was signed by the President, we have worked tirelessly to implement it in our state, with my firm belief that it was constitutional and would ultimately withstand legal challenge. I’m extremely pleased that the majority of the Court agreed on the merits of the law highlighted in the briefs that I and others submitted on its behalf.

“The real winners today, however, are the millions of Americans and Washingtonians who have and will now continue to benefit from this Act. Among them are more than 50,000 young adults in our state who have gained insurance coverage through their parents’ plan, our more than 60,000 seniors who’ve annually received assistance to purchase needed prescription drugs, and the millions here that are no longer subject to unfair practices by insurance companies. And with this cloud of legal uncertainty removed, I look forward to the day not long from now when more than 800,000 people in our state will be able to use our Health Benefit Exchange to get the health insurance that they need but currently must go without."

Both states are far from done on the work in the area, but the decision today will probably give them a boost to accelerate their efforts.

Carlson: Definitions of party

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“You’re really a Republican, you just don’t want to admit it,” my publisher said to me the other day.

“I’m a business Democrat,” I countered, “if you insist on trying to label me.”

“No such thing,” he replied, adding “and just what the heck is that?”

Back and forth we go, having fun by trying to put each other on the defensive and deliberately distorting what the other says. We take our politics seriously and often disagree without being too disagreeable (at least in my case!). At the end of the day, though, we both say a pox on the houses of each party for being enthralled to their particular special interests.

Neither of us has ever voted a straight ticket and both of us sometimes despair about the future direction of both Idaho and the nation. We are both dismayed at the inability of the two parties to work together for the common good.

One of several reasons I would never subscribe to being allied with the Republican Party can best be explained by a recent Pew Research poll. Three out of five self-described Republicans disagreed with the statement that government has a responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. For Democrats, by contrast, three out of four agreed with the statement, and that number has remained fairly constant over the last 25 years.

Significantly, even with Independents there has been a slight decline, with 70 percent agreeing in 1987 but today it has dropped to 59 percent.

Twenty-five years ago three out of five R’s accepted the notion of societal obligation to help the weak, the infirm, the mentally challenged, the homeless, the drug addict, the child of a single mother trapped in poverty. No longer is that the case.

This is a “social Darwinistic” attitude to say the least. Frankly, I don’t want to believe my many Republican friends no longer care about others. Many of them do and many are generous in their donations to various charities.

Rather, I choose to think this appalling factoid reflects that a considerable number of R’s are more concerned about the efficiency of the programs being delivered than that they want to stop the programs. Pew’s research indicates this attitude may indeed be part of the shift away from recognizing there are legitimate needs amongst many of one’s fellow citizens. (more…)

Rainey: Should they be driving?

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

I’m not anti-Republican. I’m not. I swear. I have friends who are… well, you know. But – from precinct to national level – more and more stories dealing with Republicans are filled with examples of ignorance of politics in general and the workings of all levels of government specifically. They’ve elected some goofballs to Congress who’ve proven THEY don’t know how it operates, either State groups continue to advocate party positions with no forethought of reality. All in all, what’s left of Grand Old Party leadership, in many states, is some old John Birch types with official titles they worked so many years to get.

The near-rabid GOP stalwarts in Idaho have provided the latest evidence of such ignorance, meeting in Twin Falls this month in state convention. As they do each session, they created a party “purity” platform with the usual impossible planks of going back to the gold standard, taking away the vote for U.S. Senators from fellow citizens, etc. But they topped themselves this year. They really did. Here’s just one example.

Idaho Republicans continually express contempt for all things federal. So, last week, convention delegates renewed their bid to blow up the federal Department of Education. Get rid of it. Officially. “Get out of Idaho; let us teach our own kids our own way and leave us the Hell alone.” Or words to that effect.

“So, what’s wrong with that?” you ask. “Several other state Republican parties feel the same way and, even though it probably can’t be done, what’s the big deal in Idaho being on that list?”
Well, here are some facts. Distasteful as it may be to make the point here, they’re federal facts from that damnable bunch of federal ‘liberals’ in the Bureau of the Census. (Public Education Finances: 2010) They may be feds but I still trust ‘em. (more…)

Reviewing the (attempted) recalls


Idahoans may be famous for their skepticism of government but they’ve made little use of the recall. It’s available, as Coeur d’Alene people well know. We’ll return there in a moment, and why their recent failed try is something relatively new.

Idaho is one of 19 states allowing; from the constitution: “Every public officer in the state of Idaho, excepting the judicial officers, is subject to recall by the legal voters of the state or of the electoral district from which he is elected.” (Members of Congress are not, as activists learned in 1967 when they tried to recall Senator Frank Church.) The numbers needed for petition signatures and votes at election are significant, but no particular reason is required; in some states like Washington, specific causes are needed, and not only the voters but judges have to agree that they are legally strong enough.

Thousands of officials at any one time are subject to recall, and considering the critics they inevitably accumulate, the remarkable thing may be that recalls are so rare. There may be a feeling it should be used sparingly, that regular elections are where changes ought to be made. In this season’s Wisconsin recall elections, exit polls showed 10 percent of the voters thought recall elections are never appropriate, and 60 percent thought only clear misconduct was reason enough.

No statewide official in Idaho has ever been recalled. An attempt some months back to recall Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna fell far short. Just two Idaho legislators, Aden Hyde and Fisher Ellsworth, have ever been recalled, both in 1971; a recent effort targeted at Boise Republican Senator Mitch Toryanski failed. The last county official recalled (in my memory and that of a long-time Idaho Association of Counties staffer) was Latah County Commissioner Mark Solomon in 1994.

Those successful recalls turn out to have been about the same thing: Elected official pay. Hyde and Ellsworth had supported a legislative pay increase. Solomon and two fellow commissioners (who narrowly survived their recall election) had converted the commission from part-time to full-time (with a pay raise). Little wonder Idaho elected officials get so nervous about raising pay for their offices.

Turning then to the partisan hotbed Coeur d’Alene, where (in the central city district) Democrats can be competitive, but also home to a highly energetic and vocal collection of Republican activist groups, a half-dozen or so. Some Coeur d’Alene city elections, formally non-partisan, have turned into partisan battles. In 2009 Council member Mike Kennedy, a Democrat, won on election night by five votes over Jim Brannon, a Republican. Not only a recount but a court case (reducing the margin to three votes) lasted a year.

That was the backdrop for this month’s recall effort, targeting Kennedy, Mayor Sandi Bloem and two other council members; recall backers failed to get enough valid petition signatures to force the election. The ostensible rationale was a council upgrade (using no tax funds) of a part of the city’s waterfront, but there was much more to it. This was a partisan battle of partisan sides, and it may be the first serious Idaho recall effort (unless you count Luna’s) waged in that context. Republican state Representative Kathy Sims was one of the leading activists. Jeff Ward of the Reagan Republicans remarked in a blog post, “Many of us are quite disappointed that we do not have a recall campaign to wage in August or November.”

Less partisan Coeur d’Alene voters may be less disappointed.

A couple of useful ideas

Daily we get the reminders of just why Congress is held in such poor esteem. But that doesn't mean there are no good ideas there.

Here, a couple from two first-term members of the Northwest congressional delegation.

One grew out of need pointed up by a recent audit by the Oregon secretary of state's office, that even in this time of high unemployment many employers had some trouble finding the workers with skills and training suitable to positions opening - and not just low-wage positions, either. The audit suggested one basic problem is a communications gap between businesses and colleges, especially community colleges.

So, days later, on June 21, this: Democratic Representative Suzanne Bonamici proposed "H.R. 5975, the Workforce Infrastructure for Skilled Employees (WISE) Investment Act today to help identify local skills gaps and put Americans back to work. This is Bonamici’s first major piece of legislation since she assumed office in February. The WISE Investment Act establishes a pilot program that will provide grants to eligible workforce investment boards, community colleges, and other vocational institutions to hire local business liaisons. The liaisons will identify and analyze existing skills gaps and find ways to appropriately address them."

Could be highly useful helpful to businesses and employees both, unless it's derailed by the ideology that government can never do anything helpful.

The same day, Idaho Republican Representative Raul Laborador introduced a measure looking at another problem faced in the Northwest - most emphatically, in fact, in Oregon. The Secure Rural Schools program, providing federal funding for rural schools, is expiring and doesn't seem likely to be extended.

Labrador has proposed something to help fill the gap, the Self-Sufficient Community Lands Act of 2012. It "would establish a program intended to generate economic activity for local governments and counties with National Forest System land through a management-focused approach. The legislation would create ‘community forest demonstration areas’ to allow the governor of a state to appoint local boards of trustees to assume management of selected federal forest acreage. The governor would then petition the Secretary of Agriculture to cede management of the demonstration acreage to the appointed board."

Not ownership, but management of specific tracts, and under fairly strict guidelines, and not a sweeping change, but pilot programs to explore whether the idea might work on a larger scale, or under what conditions. A useful idea, prospectively, if not derailed by concerns of making any changes at all in federal land management.

A couple of new tests for Congress, in other words.

Why print?

The race for the Washington secretary of state's office, which is open due to the retirement of Republican Sam Reed, doesn't seem to be a logical hotbed of controversy, in part because Reed has handled the job so capably.

But this week, there is this: The appearance of this year's voter guide to Washington candidates, or rather the fact that it is appearing on line rather than in print.

Democrat Kathleen Drew, a former legislator from east King County, who won her party's convention endorsement earlier this month, has been critical of that. The Tacoma News Tribune reported that "She says Reed failed to ask for funding from the Legislature this year, and like other candidates she says she will make this a priority if elected.

Certainly voter guides like those in Washington and Oregon (Idaho never has gotten into them, as a state publication) are a good thing, and the more they're used the better. (Our elections would be a whole lot better if voters paid attention to the voter guides and ignored completely all the commercials.) But is there real need to print and mail the hundreds of thousands of copies needed to cover the electorate? A couple of decades ago, maybe even 10 years ago, the answer might have been yes. But so few people now have no access to online guides that maybe an opt-in approach would be as advisable. And cost-effective.

And there's even this: If something in a voter guide needs to be changed, use of an online guide would allow for the change. Once something is printed on paper, well, it's printed on paper.

A 400-page manifesto


The old Mark Twain quote about writing, that "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead," was a reflection the idea that concise writing often takes more serious thought than does unleashing a mass of undisciplined verbiage.

So what should we make of Art Robinson's new 410-page tome, Common Sense in 2012?

Robinson is running, a second time, as the Republican nominee in Oregon 4, against long-time incumbent Democrat Peter DeFazio. His campaign hasn't been as visible, yet, as it was in 2010, but that may have changed this week as his book landed - he calls it a "liberty book bomb" - around District 4. One correspondent there said it arrived at his house, "Professionally shrink-wrapped. Color cover. The works. A card inside said it cost $2.09 to print and was mailed by volunteers. Also "In all, about 6,000 contributors and volunteers participated." Whatever that means. Very professional looking. ... This was expensive. Full of his crap though toned down a bit for other-than-nut-case consumption. But somebody somewhere put some big bucks in this."

Someone did; as of late April Robinson reported collecting upwards of $400,000 for his campaign. (DeFazio was a little north of $600,000.) But the cost need not have been high. He helpfully made the book available both via Scribd, an online document storage and viewing service, as as a pdf file; out of pocket costs for doing those things would be not much more than nothing.

The message overall is easily boiled down to Twainian levels: Congress and the federal government are bad, whatever they do is counterproductive, the market place will solve all, and no one outside government entities seems to have contributed to our problems. It's a rather familiar message, and some of the rough edges from Robinson's past have been smoothed off in this publication.

410 pages may be a longish read for the average voter, though. Maybe for good reason.