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Posts published in January 2013

Not a coup, though it could blow up

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS

 
West
of the
Cascades

We'll concur here with Peter Callaghan of the Tacoma News Tribune in hauling out the dictionary and declaring that talk - like that of Democratic Seattle Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles - that the new management of the Washington Senate amounted to a coup, is excessive.

It i certainly unusual, at least in the Northwest, for two members of one party (Democrats) to break away and join with the opposing (Republican) caucus to form a new operating majority, after the general election apparently had left the Democrats in charge.

But they did it according to the rules - the majority rules. Which they changed, as well, on Monday, opening a tasty assortment of changes that could wind up benefiting either side.

If the "coup" talk among some Democrats was a little much, so too was the talk among some Republicans that theirs was a "bipartisan" coalition. Not really. When the two Democrats who shifted over were a former Republican legislator (Rodney Tom) and a near-Republican breakaway of long standing (Tim Sheldon), that's hardly the case. When a Democrat came up with the label for their governing caucus as BINO - Bipartisan in Name Only - that sounded like a joke destined to stick, because there was truth in it.

But the governing caucus is legit.

This majority does however has the look of a highly flammable coalition. The demands of a single member could throw it into question, which is why one-vote majorities always have a hard time keeping effective control. If the caucus is closely cohesive and not given to firey displays of personality, it can work. But it only takes one to create a serious issue, and there are some distinct personalities in this caucus.

They're running a high-wire act. All the Senate Democrats have to do is sit back and watch ... and comment.

The next agenda

carlson
NW Reading

Excerpts from Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber's State of the State address today.

The Oregon Business Plan, which has guided our work over the past two years, is built on three pillars: creating 25,ooo jobs per year through 2020; raising Oregon’s personal income levels above the national average by 2020; and reducing Oregon’s poverty rate to 10 percent by 2020. These three pillars recognize that private sector job creation is the foundation of an enduring prosperity – but they also recognize that prosperity must lift people in every community in every corner of our state; and that without reducing poverty, all Oregonians will not have their shot at the American Dream.

And that means that over the next two years, our commitment to these second two pillars must be no less than our commitment to the first.

Far too many Oregonians continue to struggle with unemployment, debt and the rising cost of health care. That is the urgency you bring with you to the 77th Legislative Assembly. And that sense of urgency is at the core of the budget I sent you last month – a budget that reflects the priorities that have guided us over the past two years: putting children, families and education first; investing in jobs and innovation; and reducing the cost of government. It is also a budget built on the assumption that even with constrained resources, we cannot wait to begin reinvesting in children, in families and in education.

When I first came to the Legislature in 1979, kids could drop out of Roseburg High School in the 10th or 11th grade and get jobs in the woods and the mills with good wages and benefits. Those days are long gone – and over the past few decades, the economic benefits of education have steadily grown. In 1979, the average college graduate made 38 percent more than the average high school graduate. Now, the average college graduate makes over 75 percent more. And more than 60 percent of the jobs in the next decade will require at least a technical certificate or associates degree – yet only 67 percent of our students are graduating from high school, taking them off the path to economic security. ... (more…)

In the Briefings this week


A rendering of the planned patas monkey exhibit at the Boise Zoo. (image/Boise Zoo)

 

An advance look at the new exhibition buiilding for Boise Zoo's patas monkeys, expected to be unveiled this summer. Efforts toward the new building were launched last year after one of the monkeys was killed by a human intruder.

Economic and legislative stories dominated the news in the Briefings across the three Northwest states, as legislators prepare to do their thing for 2013.

The emerging split

Last week's Idaho column was about the two sides that Idaho's U.S. House Republicans - insurgent Raul Labrador and establishmentarian Mike Simpson - have taken in the new Congress. A piece in the Idaho Statesman (paywalled) today aggressively underlines that.

A split between the two has become direct and personal, Simpson calling Labrador "irresponsible" and more for his role not only in the fiscal cliff battle, but also for his decision to withhold his vote for John Boehner as speaker. That, he said, will hurt him down the road - severely damaging his credibility. Simpson added, "As anyone who's ever been in a legislative body will tell you, you've got one thing going for you and that's your credibility. And once you lose that credibility its gone and gone forever."

Labrador shot back, calling Simpson a "bully" and "an old-school legislator who went to Washington, D.C., to compromise."

In backing up his side, Simpson told a story about himself, one I saw unfold years ago, when he was in the Idaho House. Back in the early 80s when Simpson joined the Idaho House, he was known as an ideological hardliner, and he was considered well to the right of House Speaker Tom Boyd, with whom he was in leadership in the later 80s. In 1990 he ran against Boyd to oust him, and an in the caucus vote Boyd won.

Simpson recounted how, in the floor vote to formally elect a speaker, he joined the other Republicans in voting for Boyd. But there's more to the story. In the following 1991 and 1992 sessions, Simpson didn't sit back and sulk, and he didn't trying to engineer an angry guerrilla war. Instead, in the sessions that followed he became a more productive legislator than he ever had been before, pushing through a batch of significant legislation, from a "Truth in Taxation" measure to legislation amending mandatory minimum sentencing laws, bills that crossed ideological lines and marked him as a serious legislator. The upshot was that when Boyd retired from the House in 1992, Simpson easily won the speakership. And eventually, put him in good position to run for Congress.

Labrador has taken, so far, a rather different route. We'll see where it gets him.

Ethics options

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As Idaho legislators come into session with, for the first time, a review on the table of how legislative ethics are managed, they needn't re-invent the wheel: They could grab one lying on the ground nearby, and modify to Gem State purposes.

Most of the 50 states have gone much further than Idaho is setting up some form of standard approach for overseeing legislator ethics, and they've tended not to be as controversial as you might think.

Among Idaho legislators, the whole subject often is taken personally: Of course I can be trusted. Arguments for ethical oversight usually are taken as personally insulting. They shouldn't be. Taken as a whole, and over time, Idaho's legislature has been generally clean, serious ethical breaches usually ranking low among its various faults.

But no group of people is perfect, which is why Idaho has, for example, a process for reviewing performance and possible ethical problems on the part of judges, a group that mostly holds itself to strong standards but now and again will find a less-than-worthy member in its ranks.

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the professional organization that tracks legislative activities around the country, notes that all state legislatures have some means for internally reviewing legislator problems (or, problem legislators?), but that 41 states also have ethics commissions. Idaho is one of the few without one. Wyoming is the only other state in the region that has none. (more…)

Teachers make lousy killers

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY
 
Second
Thoughts

Inside the typical second grade classroom, 25 kids are working in several places. Nobody uses four rows of fixed, old-fashioned desks anymore. At a small table, six kids are doing an art project. At the computer keyboards across the room, five others are busy. The rest are scattered, working on today’s assignments. The teacher – as she does daily – is walking around, stopping to encourage or offer a prompt. Just the daily routine.

A guy in camouflage clothing, a bullet-proof vest and carrying an assault rifle steps into the room and starts firing immediately. The teacher – 20 feet from a locked cabinet – is stunned. She’s also among the first to die.

But, had she lived, she would have had to cross 20 feet through panicked children going every which way, find her purse, find her key ring, find the right key to the cabinet – which must be locked at all times to keep kids from accidentally getting hold of a firearm in the classroom - put the key in the lock, open the drawer, reach for the pistol, make sure she has it in her grip, unlock the safety, find her target and fire.

I tried a simulation. My best time for doing that is 40 seconds. A semi-automatic rifle can discharge about 90 large, flesh-ripping, bone-breaking bullets in the same period. So, how many died in those 40 seconds? Besides the teacher?

Or, consider this. An armed guard stationed at the school is called to the gym where a teacher has found an unlocked door. At that moment, the shooter – who earlier opened the gym door – comes through the school’s main entrance on the other side of the building. He turns left to the office which is always located near the front door and sprays it with 40-50 bullets – killing whoever’s there. And anyone on the other side of the now shredded thin wall. Then he fires off a dozen or two rounds down the hall – hitting anyone there. He replaces the empty clip with another 100 rounder and steps into the first classroom – about 50 feet from the office – spraying it with another 50 bullets. My best time for that was 40 seconds.

For the armed guard on the other side of the building to recognize the sounds of firing, decide which direction it’s coming from, draw his pistol and sprint to the right location, line up a shot – with no kids between him and the shooter – well, that would take over a minute. Easily.

So how many died in those 60 or so seconds? (more…)

Wyden at Newberg

wyden
Senator Ron Wyden at Newberg (photo/Randy Stapilus)

 

This time, they wanted answers about guns. And when they didn't get answers as specific as they were seeking, they asked again.

The economy seemed to take a back seat on this visit by Senator Ron Wyden to Yamhill County, one of his year's batch of town halls he has conducted (as he has for 16 years). Held at Newberg High School, it featured some questions about education policy (Wyden made a point of noting federal payments, related to land ownership, that has gone to Oregon schools, and his "know before you go" bill for college students). But guns and matters related to the "fiscal cliff" tended to dominate - both matters that haven't figured so heavily in other recent visits by Wyden.

At the sessions, the senator doesn't start with a discussion of any particular topic, and doesn't do much to steer the subjects of discussion. (He did ask toward the end, "No questions about gay marriage or marijuana?" He quickly got both, responding that he was in favor of the first and "not there yet" on the second - language suggesting, as President Obama did on gay marriage, that he's on a road heading there.)

One student did ask about the new federal health care laws, and Wyden singled out praise for the provision banning insurers from blocking people with pre-existing conditions. But he also noted the difficulty of reaching broad-based agreements, citing his efforts last year with Representative Paul Ryan on Medicare: "I still have the welts on my back from that one."

Guns seemed a preoccupying issue, but while Wyden set out general ideas he eased back from some specifics. He said he didn't yet know enough to decide whether large magazines should be banned (limited to military or police). He said he didn't like the idea of arming teachers (in response to a question about that from one student).

Next Yamhill senator town hall (with one with Jeff Merkley): Thursday, at McMinnville.

Our family concerns may be yours

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

For several years, I’ve occasionally written somewhat lightly of concerns about our burgeoning personal electronics revolution. – what effects it may have on society in general and personal relationships in particular. Now, some recent developments in our extended family are raising those concerns to the next level – high alert!

For the record, I’m a computer and cell phone user. Daily. They’re very useful tools. I’d hate to be without either. At my late stage of life, I’m better informed, have examined greater amounts of information I’d never have been exposed to without them and have valuable links with people that would have otherwise been lost. I’m an electronics believer.

We all know the basics. Computers can elevate learning – expose us to art, music, education, entertainment experiences for a lifetime – give us access to a truly international learning opportunities. All good.

Smart phones are similarly valuable. Quick, personal links to family and friends, worldwide access to quick information sources and very helpful in most emergencies. Yep. Good things. Glad we got ‘em.

No, my increasing concerns aren’t for the effects of this battery-powered revolution on you and me. It’s for those effects on my grandkids. Your kids and grandkids. Everyone’s grandkids. What my experience tells me it’s doing to them. What it’s doing to interpersonal relationships. Or – how it’s eliminating such societal interactions.

Use of these tools can be addictive. At Christmas, I gave my mostly well-adjusted teacher-wife an iPad. I did so after a lot of forethought. And some personal angst. Knowing her constant pursuit of knowledge – her vast world of friends, associates and interests – I had some fear she would dive into her new electronically-expanded world and wouldn’t be seen again.

Well, though I still see her from time to time, I’m seeing her less post iPad. Often, when she would otherwise be reading, she’s searching for new “apps” or taking pictures of the cat. Watching TV, there’s this intermittent absence as she uses the little screen in her lap to watch or do something else. Go somewhere else. Find something else. Talk to someone else. Learn something else. Read something else.

“Nothing wrong with that,” you say. “Sounds fine with me. So what’s your problem, Rainey?” (more…)

On LINE and nuclear, con’t

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

(continued from last week)

There are plenty of other problems with the LINE Commission’s progress report and wish list. Candidly, it looks like the proverbial Christmas Tree with new baubles being added all the time. Congress used to concoct these when at the end of a session they would pass a catch-all appropriation bill to keep government running and add pork chop after pork chop.

The first question that cries for an answer is where is the money going to come from, whether federal or state funds, to pay for all these wish list items? At a minimum a budget impact or estimate ought to be attached to each item and potential sources of funding identified. Then, the list ought to be prioritized with the Commission’s view as to what is truly feasible. Keep in mind this is just in reference to items not dependent on amending the agreement.

Secondly, where INL boosters get the notion that the site can avoid the budget cuts coming for most every federal department and program is beyond me, but it sure appears some may be trying to set up the agreement as the cause for these inevitable cuts. That’s both disingenuous and deceptive.

Third, INL Site boosters in southeastern Idaho make much of the fact that a couple of counties in New Mexico have responded with an initial positive response to becoming the final repository for nuclear waste. The implication is that they could steal away much of the Lab’s work because they are being more cooperative with the Feds.

The fact is though no other state has given even a tentative yes and such a decision to being a permanent repository will not be a local only decision. (more…)

Surplus, in some places

From a release out today from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler:

With two of the state’s largest health insurers sitting on surpluses totaling $2.2 billion, Washington’s top insurance regulator wants to use some of that money to lower costs for consumers.
According to the companies’ most recent financial statements, Regence BlueShield’s surplus has grown to $1.05 billion. Premera Blue Cross’ surplus is $1.15 billion.
“These are non-profit companies,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s hard to square their billion-dollar surpluses with the fact that families are struggling to afford health insurance.”
Kreidler is proposing legislation that would allow his office to consider surpluses when reviewing nonprofit health insurers’ proposed rates. As things stand now, his staff must ignore them.
“As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to ignore an elephant in the room,” Kreidler said. “And the elephant’s getting bigger.”
The surpluses of both Regence and Premera have more than doubled in a decade. In the first nine months of 2012, Regence’s grew by $60 million. Premera’s grew by nearly $182 million.
“It’s important to remember that these are not reserves, which are set aside to pay future claims,” Kreidler said. “These billion-dollar surpluses are in addition to their reserves.”

How independent on K-12?

The most interesting Idaho political development today wasn't the mostly pro forma state of the state speech but rather an announcement out of a new web site called Idaho Ed News, described as a non-profit which will focus on statewide news kindergarten through grade 12. The specific news was the addition of two prominent Idaho newspaper journalists - Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin of the Idaho Falls Post Regisgter - to the existing staffer Jennifer Swindell, formerly of the Statesman.

On Facebook, the comment about that has been lively. My attention came to it with a comment from former Idahoan Julie Fanselow (formerly of the Idaho Education Association) who remarked, "Jennifer Swindell is involved, too. She's another former Statesman reporter turned Caldwell schools PR person who followed her boss - Luna backer Roger Q - over to BSU last year. The BSU connection gives this all a whiff of impartiality, but the Albertson backing probably neutralizes that. I expect that longtime Idaho political and media observers including Randy Stapilus will find this all most interesting."

And that followed discussion of Superintendent of Public Instruction tom Luna touting the outlet in a tweet: A new, independent news service focused on providing comprehensive information about education in Idaho launched today: Idaho Ed News."

The question batted back and forth is: Just how independent is, or will be, the Ed News?

A suggestion from here: Wait and see.

Not that there aren't tea leaves, and you do have to wonder. But tea leaves can mislead, and we'll all be able to judge the site soon enough based on its actual content. (Swindell is already on staff, and Richert and Corbin are scheduled to join on January 21.) Their actual product will be the best basis for judging them.

Another, side question: Was there a reason richart chose to jump from the Statesman now?

The conservative Republican split

idahocolumnn

If it's a major-office Idaho elected official, it's a “conservative Republican,” for whatever that may mean. (Republican, as a party member, is at least specific enough.) But is it possible to make more precise distinctions?

The New Years Day vote on the Biden-McConnell proposal is a good indicator of this – there are others, and there will almost surely be more to come. And the best way to think about it as not ideological. (Once again: What does “conservative” mean?) One national article suggests drawing the line between “establishment” Republicans and “insurgent” Republicans, at least within the House Republican caucus, and that may be as useful a dividing line as any. John Boehner, the House speaker, is an establishment Republican. Eric Cantor is an insurgent.

In Idaho, then, there's this: The senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are establishment Republicans, as is Representative Mike Simpson. 1st District Representative Raul Labrador is an insurgent.

These descriptions draw from the votes on the bill, as establishment Republicans – a big majority in the Senate but a nearly 2-1 minority in the House – favored the measure, while the insurgents opposed.

The difference is in perspective. (more…)