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Posts published in February 2013

Third senator

carlson CHRIS


In his wonderfully entertaining memoir, Joe Miller tells an incredible story about Bethine Church, the widow of Idaho’s four-term Democratic U.S. Senator Frank Church.

Miller was for 40 years a top lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but early in his career he was paid a then princely sum of $25,000 a year by the United Steelworkers of America to organize and run campaigns for the U.S. Senate. In his first outing, 1956, one of his winning “horses” was a young, political neophyte, Boise attorney Frank Church.

What Miller did not know but came to know, was the Senate and Idaho were getting two for the price of one. Had Miller known that he might not have crossed Bethine the first time he met her.

In his book Miller tells about flying to Boise shortly after Church had won a narrow victory in the August 6th primary over former U.S. Senator Glen Taylor, the singing cowboy. He recounts meeting in U.S. District Judge Chase Clark’s home. Judge Clark was Bethine’s father, Frank’s father-in-law, a former governor of Idaho and as Miller puts it “a shrewd old hand in Idaho politics.”

Also present was the Democratic national committeeman, Harry Wall, a movie theater owner from Lewiston; the state party chairman, George Greenfield; attorney Carl Burke, Church’s boyhood chum who managed all of the campaigns; and, Bethine. (more…)

First take: Insurance exchange, guns


IDAHO INSURANCE EXCHANGE BREAKTHROUGH? It has the feel of a fig leaf, but it could generate the Idaho House votes that the health insurance exchange proposal backed by Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter wouldn't get and might need. It is a "trailer bill" (meant to be an addendum) to the exchange bill working its way through the Senate, backed by a coalition of Republican freshman led by Representative Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. It seems to include some additional oversight, including legislative participation on the panel governing the exchange. It doesn't sound as it it will change much, but it may provide enough rationale to draw more votes on the closely-split issue. (This also has the potential to turn Malek into a pivotal figure in the House.)

GUNS, GUNS, GUNS The Washington House Judiciary Committee is considering - and preparing to act on - a bunch of gun-related measures, including background check and safety measures, and some aimed at juveniles. One coming up today: "House Bill 1096 aims to punish juveniles for carrying guns before they have the chance to use them in a serious crime, said Democratic Rep. Christopher Hurst of Enumclaw, who is sponsoring the bill. Right now, juveniles can carry guns and receive no jail time the first four times they are caught ..."

Read more here:

A North Star toward growth

trahant MARK


Let’s jump right to the big questions: Did President Barack Obama’s State of the Union do anything to resolve the deep differences in philosophy and policy on Capitol Hill? Was there any common ground? Did he lay the groundwork to find enough votes to stop the sequester, or better, to find a real budget solution?

I don’t think so. What’s more: I don’t think there is agreement on the nature of the problem, let alone any of the solutions.

As far as speeches go, it was a good one. The president pitched his case for where the country should go in terms of both philosophy and policy. My favorite line was this one: “A growing economy that creates good, middle-class jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts. Every day, we should ask ourselves three questions as a nation: How do we attract more jobs to our shores? How do we equip our people with the skills needed to do those jobs? And how do we make sure that hard work leads to a decent living?”

This line should be inspirational: “A growing economy ... must be the North Star that guides our efforts.” Yet it represents the deep divisions in U.S. politics because a growing economy cannot occur in an era of austerity.

A great example of this divide surfaced when Florida Sen. Marco Rubio gave the Republican response. “Unfortunately, our economy actually shrank during the last three months of 2012,” Rubio said. “But if we can get the economy to grow at just 4 percent a year, it would create millions of middle class jobs. And it could reduce our deficits by almost $4 trillion dollars over the next decade.”

But if you dig into the numbers, there is no evidence for that kind of statement. Economists for the Bipartisan Policy Center say the sequester will cost over a million jobs in 2013 and 2104. The total economy will likely drop from north of 4 percent GDP -- the number Rubio used -- to under 2 percent.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says it will be worse. He says a sequester will send the country into a new recession.

But even the nature of the sequester is a dividing line. The president put it this way: “In 2011, Congress passed a law saying that if both parties couldn’t agree on a plan to reach our deficit goal, about a trillion dollars’ worth of budget cuts would automatically go into effect this year. These sudden, harsh, arbitrary cuts would jeopardize our military readiness. They’d devastate priorities like education, and energy, and medical research. They would certainly slow our recovery, and cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. That’s why Democrats, Republicans, business leaders, and economists have already said that these cuts, known here in Washington as the sequester, are a really bad idea.”

But for Rubio and many of his Republican colleagues the sequester is only about one thing, the military, calling them the “president’s devastating cuts to our military.” (more…)

First take: Police, bridge, hunting


POLICE DISCIPLINE Seattle and Portland both have an issue, apparently, with making discipline of police officers stick. In Seattle, the police chief is complaining that the city attorney isn't moving on complaints against an officer. In Portland, a second case of an attempt by the chief to discipline an officer ran into the brick wall of an arbitrator. (The second of those, the Oregonian said, involved "an officer who smoked marijuana off-duty, gave one of his prescription pills to a fellow officer and then drove drunk while under investigation.") The system as is seems to allow little possibility for discipline of those officers who should experience (a situation that doubtless aggravates too most of the better-behaving officers). The day will come when stronger measures will emerge from the public, if this keeps up.

BRIDGE TOLLING Counterpart stories too on bridge tolling. In Seattle, a citizen movement based on Mercer Island against tolling on I-90 (it would hit many residents there directly); they now have a website up. And opposition seems to be growing rather than fading on the Columbia River Crossing I-5 bridge at Portland-Vancouver. Suggestion: Sunset the tolls when the bridge renovation is paid for.

HURLOCK DEFEAT A Dan Popkey blog post on the Senate floor defeat 19-16 of Joan Hurlock notes something of a rural-urban divide in the vote. (Hurlock was gigged as insufficiently enthusiastic as hunting, which may or may not be true, and may or may not be the reason for the defeat for appointer Governor Otter.) The post notes a gutsy acknowledgement from Senator Patti Anne Lodge of Nampa: "She’s given up hunting, and likes to see deer, quail, pheasants, ducks and geese roaming her land on Sunnyslope near the Snake River. She added a reminder for what she called the “great white hunters”: many citizens see critters as more than just meat." She is correct, and that number, in increasingly suburban Idaho, is growing.

Little and the economy

brad little
Dave Smith, a certified public accountant, right, converses with Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little following a City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon. (photo/Mark Mendiola)


mendiola MARK


Idaho Lieutenant Governor Brad Little says the crushing federal debt that has burgeoned from $4 trillion in 2000 to $16 trillion in 2013 and existing future obligations most concern him when considering challenges for Idaho’s economy and how the Legislature will tackle them.

“Today we’ve got new challenges. As always, you’ve got the international economy and what kind of curves that’s going to throw America and Idaho,” Little said, commending the downward trend in Idaho’s unemployment rate. “But we’ve still got … way too high an unemployment rate, but even more critical an underemployment rate.”

Unfunded future liabilities such as Social Security and Medicare have gone from $20 trillion to $80 trillion as the U.S. population ages, Little said. Average retirees have paid $110,000 into Medicare, but will take out $350,000 at a rate of 10,000 retirees a day, he noted.

“So, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that that’s unsustainable,” he recently told the City Club of Idaho Falls. “Unfortunately, the president and Congress … have kicked the proverbial can down the road. ... The problem with that can is it’s getting a lot bigger and a lot harder to kick in the fact that they haven’t addressed it.”

Little said Idaho’s congressional delegation has been in the forefront of addressing the deficit crisis, but the task is not easy. If Congress tomorrow were to eliminate every federal employee, it would not cut the annual operating deficit by half. “That’s the magnitude of just the cash deficit that’s out there. So, there are going to be hard decisions that are going to need to be made on the federal level.”

That’s important to Idaho because 30 percent to 40 percent of the money appropriated by the Legislature comes from the federal government. A large percentage of the money used by Idaho cities, counties and highway districts also comes from the same source.

“So, when Congress inevitably does the right thing, we know there’s going to be consequences.”

With the exception of oil-rich states like North Dakota, Montana and Oklahoma, Idaho has led the nation in recovering from the last recession, the lieutenant governor said.

It did so by prudently setting aside rainy day funds, not raising taxes, cutting spending by 20 percent and adhering to a structurally balanced budget, which essentially means one-time money is not spent on ongoing programs, Little said.

“I can tell you even though 40-some states require balanced budgets, there’s very few of them with the exception of those energy states that are in the same position we are.”

What’s even more critical is budget issues cannot be resolved in Idaho or the nation if the economy does not grow. “So that’s a delicate balance that has to take place on both the national level and the state level.”

Retaining existing businesses, recruiting new ones and diversifying the economy are crucial for resilience, he said. “The status quo as far as business is not going to be adequate for us to grow to where we’ve got that shock absorber when those waves of whatever it’s going to be come to us from the federal government. We don’t know and frankly they don’t know, but I think all learned souls back there will tell you it’s inevitable.” (more…)

A tragedy to avoid repeating

rainey BARRETT


Got an email from a friend the other day – a friend who tries my patience on a regular basis with right wing B.S. from the Internet. He doesn’t originate it. He just “passes it on” like millions of other folk. Most of the time, I hit “delete” and go on about my business.

But this one got through. And I can still feel anger clear to the bottom of my old feet.

This latest spurious screed was meant to instantly alarm all who received it that “Obama appoints two devout Muslims to Homeland Security posts.” One of the reactions this specious piece of crap was supposed to stir up was “My God, we’ve got Muslims in key government places.” The other – as so many of them have been the last several years – was to perpetuate “I-hate-Obama-no-matter-what-he-does-because-he’s-not-really-our-president-and-just-look-at-what-he’s-done-now!”

Funny, those are not the reactions such garbage creates in me. Or, most others I know. No, we feel revulsion. Disappointment. Shame. Anger. Emotions you feel when someone of otherwise obvious intelligence does something really stupid and really hateful without thinking.

The gist of this phony alarmist missive was that two men of Muslim heritage and faith had been appointed to key jobs in the Department of Homeland Security. Kareem Shora – born in Damascus, Syria, and Exec. Director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee – is now a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council. The other fella, Arif Alikhan, son of Pakistani immigrants and a seven year federal prosecutor in California – then Los Angeles Deputy Mayor of Homeland Security since 2006 – is now Asst. Secretary for Policy Development for Janet Napolitano.

At this point, I could take several paragraphs to describe educational and professional accomplishments of both men. Suffice to say, they’re two excellent examples of citizenship, educational and personal achievement who’ve made outstanding contributions to the old U.S. of A. in many ways.

The email from my friend charged – among other things - “Devout Muslims being appointed to critical Homeland Security positions? Was it not men of the “Devout Muslim Faith” that flew planes into U.S. buildings not too long ago? What the heck is this president thinking?”

Well, for openers, I’d guess the president was “thinking” nothing about these appointments made by a cabinet secretary with the power to do so. I honestly doubt the thousands of appointments made by cabinet secretaries cross his desk. And, if he did “think” about it, he probably told the Homeland Security Secretary “good job.”

No, the real purpose of this email was to inflame. It was meant to criticize a president – of mixed race – that the originator of this crap hates and can’t accept as a twice duly-elected head of this country. It was meant to ridicule, anger and divide. It’s been passed on millions of times. By people of little to no real intelligence. (more…)

Security options

From an opinion piece submitted here last week; the source is a security firm.

In the wake of the recent tragedies in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary, gun control has resurfaced in the public eye as a controversial issue.

Should everyone have the right to bear arms, as mandated by the second amendment?

Or should the government step in and regulate the sale of firearms?

When it comes to self-defense, many states have extensive laws that allow a person to use deadly force for self-defense. The law, sometimes referred to as the “Castle Doctrine,” stipulates that deadly force is legitimized if a person reasonably feels they are in grave danger, in their home or anywhere else they feel they have the right to be.

There is also another element to self-defense law that involves the “duty to retreat.” In jurisdictions where this component exists, the defense must prove that a criminal defendant took reasonable steps to avoid conflict before ultimately using force. Essentially, it requires that a person is only permitted to use deadly force in self-defense only when retreat is not possible, or when retreat poses an imminent danger to the victim.

Regardless, it’s imperative that you are familiar with the laws in your particular state if you own a firearm for self-defense purposes. Several states have a “stand-your-ground” law, which means there is no duty to retreat, regardless of where the attack occurs. Meanwhile, a number of other states legislate that there is no duty to retreat only if the attack occurs in the victim’s home. Furthermore, a few states may rely on case law instead of specific legislation to determine the validity of a self-defense claim.

Currently, Idaho relies on case law to interpret justifiable homicide. The state doesn’t have a stand-your-ground statute or duty-to-retreat statute, but allows a person to use justifiable homicide as a defense. Idaho’s case law, under State v. McGreevey, decrees that “One may stand one's ground and defend ... oneself ... by the use of all force and means which would appear to be necessary to a reasonable person in a similar situation and with similar knowledge.”


The costs of sequestration

trahant MARK


Tuesday night President Barack Obama will lay out his case that Congress ought to reverse the $1.2 trillion worth budget cuts that are beginning March 1.

The White House message is that there should be a debate about the long-term deficit, but that Congress should “permanently turn off the sequester.”
That package should have balance and include spending cuts and revenues. As Dan Pfeiffer, a senior advisor to the president, wrote: “And over the long-term, we need to find a solution that does this in a balanced way. The president has already reduced the deficit by over $2.5 trillion, cutting spending by over $1.4 trillion. And he's willing to do more. And we can't just cut our way to prosperity. Even as we look for ways to reduce deficits over the long term, our core mission is to grow the economy in a way that strengthens the middle class and everyone willing to work hard to get into it.”

Grow the economy. Those three words should be the heart of the debate because the economic evidence is that the sequester will do just the opposite. (The Congressional Budget Office calls this a “subdued” economy. And, according to The Washington Post, the administration has started preparing to reduce the number of federal employees. “The memo also told agencies to “identify the most appropriate means to reduce civilian workforce costs,” including with hiring freezes, by releasing temporary employees and through early retirement or voluntary separation incentives. In other words: Think hard about how to get rid of people,” The Post said.)

Friday the White House released new details about the stark nature of those cuts, including deep cuts to food safety, mental health, head start, teaching jobs, workplace safety, in other words, across virtually all platforms of the federal government. The total tab: $85 billion, half from defense and half from domestic programs.

“Tribes would lose almost $130 million in funding from the Department of the Interior,” the White House said. Native American program “reductions would be necessary in many areas including human services, law enforcement, schools, economic development and natural resources.”

The White House said “Indian Health Service and Tribal hospitals and clinics would be forced to provide 3,000 fewer inpatient admissions and 804,000 fewer outpatient visits, undermining needed health care in tribal communities.” (more…)

Journalists inside/outside

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

In 2001 I contracted with the Lewiston Tribune, then inconveniently between political reporters, to cover that year's Idaho legislative session. I handled some aspects of it, though, differently from the years before when I'd covered for other daily papers. I worked out of my home, for example.

And declined to join the Capitol Correspondents Association. I had been a member of it for more than a dozen years up through 1990, and my decision not to apply surprised a few people. But I had reasons.

This is inside baseballish stuff (my non-membership was never mentioned to Tribune readers, for example, and no one saw any need to) but the latest blasts involving the CCA and writers for the Idaho Reporter web site, carry implications worth sharing outside the Statehouse echo chamber.

The correspondents association, one of many similar organizations at statehouses around the country, is an odd beast. Its members are journalists who cover the legislature. A group aimed at letting people meet and associate is not a matter for controversy (Idaho lobbyists, by the way, have one too) But the CCA also has an official standing with the legislature, it negotiates, for example, where and when on chamber floors, and some other office space, journalists – not the public, and not lobbyists – can go.

All this had more significance once than it does now. I started covering the legislature using manual typewriters, and had to have needed a dedicated land line phone at a desk in the Statehouse. Now, the excellent and extremely productive Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell (for years head of the CCA) jogs with her wireless computing devices from meeting to meeting, filing stories from events as they happen. The Statehouse has a good wireless system. That clunky comm of yore is irrelevant.

Even in 2001, I found no practical disadvantage functioning as a member of the public rather than a CCA member, and I see less difficulty with it now. (more…)

Failure is an option

mansfield DENNIS

Welcoming the first of occasional columns by Dennis Mansfield, a veteran of Idaho Republican politics. His book "Beautiful Nate" will be published next month.

America’s future is found in its children, the saying goes. We must center our lives on them. All children must be allowed to succeed. And if we truly love our children, such individualized formula will work, the saying continues. Each of us feels this to one degree or another. As parents, Americans have ensured the success of their progeny via a highly controlled environment and well executed plans.

What if we’re all wrong?

In my own case, as evangelicals my wife and I raised our oldest son, Nate, in an atmosphere of faith-based formulae. Cocooning is too strong a phrase, but not by much. And it didn’t work. In time, he became a drug addict; arrested several times, placed in jail and ultimately he went to prison. His drug of choice was oxycodone and other prescription opiates, until they ran out and then heroin became the suitable substitute.

The result for a family, steeped in formulaic fear-based living, is often that we’re surprised and shocked by the teen that emerges.

It should all work, right?

But again, what if we’re wrong? Apollo 13’s famed comment that “failure is not an option” may in fact be incorrect. Learning from failure changes all of our lives. Why would we exclude our own children from that truth?

When something jars us from our formula and the unthinkable happens – our child gets high, she crashes a car, he physically hurts people, they rob a store, he escalates his drug of choice, becoming an addict.

Or as in the case of my son Nate, he dies from his involvement in drugs.

The child-centeredness of a fear-based parenting model can create the exact opposite of what we wanted, of what we planned for. My reliance on formulae was convenient, but invalid. Rather than the joyful smile of our little 4th grader at the table we began to stare into the surly, self-focused, uncaring and arrogant face of our young adult.

You too? And at twenty, or thirty-something, many adult-sized children still demanding the keys to the family’s car.

What in the world happened? (more…)