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Posts published in April 2013

“How Congress would behave in a parallel universe”

With all the talk about Montana Senator Max Baucus leaving Congress at the end of this term, there's talk in some quarters about his prospective replacement as chair of the Finance Committee: Ron Wyden of Oregon.

It's a little remarkable, since the senator Wyden replaced - Republican Robert Packwood - also held the job, and waited longer for it than Wyden has. It made Packwood a major-clout senator, and would do the same for Wyden (considerably more than his current chair, significant as it is, at energy and natural resources).

What might that mean? There's a fine Ezra Klein (Washington Post) blog entry from a year and half ago, newly re-posted, profiling Wyden, that gives some sense of that.

It keys off his account of a joke Wyden staffers periodically tell each other: “You got a problem? Ron Wyden has a comprehensive, bipartisan solution to fix it.”

Further down, Klein's observation: "Wyden’s office is a small outpost where the natives imagine how Congress would behave in a parallel universe."

The meaning of the numbers

This Idaho Weekly Briefing this week carries some unsettling numbers: The tuition increases for students at Idaho colleges and universities.

A correspondent, a a usually reliable source who has followed the issue for four decades, did some analysis to show what's happened in that area over time.

Using the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics CPI, I estimated that tuition has increased over 200 percent above the CPI inflation rate.

I used the "remembered" figure of $400/year in 1972-73 (I think it was actually about $360); using the CPI, this would have been about $2227 in 2013, instead of $6524. (And out-of-state tuition was then ?perhaps $1000 a year? Now it's $13,000 for undergraduate.)

I also figured that it now costs over $10 per "class contact hour" (one hour/50 minutes of attendance). That should make cutting/sleeping late/etc. a real financial decision (albeit something I never took into consideration until very late in my student career).

[18 credit-hours per semester X 17 weeks per semester X 2 semesters = 36 credit hours X 17 weeks = 612 contact hours for $6524 tuition = $10.66/class].

In the Briefings

osprey
OSPREY HATCH: Transportation Department crews placed an osprey nest atop a high platform; soon an osprey flew by to inspect their work. ITD environmental planners were concerned that relocating the nest from the Del Rio Bridge on the U.S. 20 business loop east of St. Anthony would drive the birds away. Twenty minutes after ITD workers left the site, however, an osprey landed, apparently ready to homestead.. (image/Idaho Department of Transportation)

 

This week's Briefings were heavy on legislative and post-legislative activity, but there was plenty of resource news too ... such as the posting of a nest of Osprey in Idaho.

Justice for all

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The Boston bombing-identifying-chase-capture portion of our latest national horror is over. With our global informational reach to instantly deliver sights and sounds of such a tragedy, nearly all of us were swept along as it played out. Over those five days. Even back here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods. Emotion and information overload.

Now come two steps certain to follow such events: the slow gathering of facts; the lemming-like rush of some politicians to make damned fools of themselves in pursuit of self-service. Chalk Lindsey Graham up as the first little animal over the cliff.

Some background on the junior Senator from South Carolina. Law degree in hand, he joined the U.S. Air Force in 1982. Stayed right there in South Carolina, he did. But on his bio sheet, he calls himself a “Desert Shield and Desert Storm veteran.” Fact is, he never left South Carolina. Just happened to be in the service and living at home during those campaigns. Like most of the rest of us. In the Senate, his best public statements have been made as he moves his lips – channeling John McCain.

Without waiting for more of the aforementioned facts to be discovered, and within only a few hours of capture of the surviving suspect, Graham simply dumped the American court system and our Constitution by demanding the young fella be labeled an “enemy combatant” and tried militarily.

In previous Senate committee hearings, Graham has notoriously said Americans accused of terror-related crimes should be denied due process and when they say “I want a lawyer, you say ‘Shut up! You don’t get a lawyer’.” It’s in the record.

Two other facts Graham turned his back on. First, suspect Dzhokhr Tsarnaev is a naturalized American citizen. He has the rights you and I do. Second, there’s never been a court decision about whether the Constitution permits the government to hold American citizens arrested on American soil as “enemy combatants.” That issue, itself, is a whole different can of legal worms. Unless you’re Lindsey Graham. But you have to remember. He’s up for re-election in 2014.

Of course, McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Chuck Grassley, Saxby Chambliss and Peter King – among others – jumped right off the same lemming-killing verbal cliff. All within hours of capture and with no more facts than we got in our collective living rooms. Babbling about “no Miranda right,” “need to know about future attacks,” “no right for Tsarnaev to remain silent” and other uninformed political garbage. (more…)

Austerity and termination

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

If you look at the failed history of termination - the idea of ending the federal-treaty relationship with tribal governments - there were two distinct motives. Some believed it was the next logical step for Indian progress, an economic integration. While others hated government and used termination as a method to shrink and attack government.

National Congress of American Indians President Joseph Garry, a member of Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said at the 1958 convention, that Congress adopted the termination resolution in good faith ... “believing it would be good for Indian people” even though it was clearly dangerous and a disaster. That’s why nearly everyone, friends and foe alike, were at least partial supporters of termination policy.

Utah’s Republican Senator Arthur Watkins was from the shrink-and-attack government camp. He was zealous about termination, badgering tribal witnesses when they came to Capitol Hill, refusing to even consider alternatives. He dismissed treaty obligations outright. Indians, he said, “want all the benefits of the things we have – highways, schools, hospitals, everything that civilization furnished – but they don’t want to help pay their share of it.”

This story should have a familiar ring to it. The same forces are at play when it comes to austerity. One camp sees the problem -- the country’s demographic imbalance -- and opts for austerity as a solution or at least a partial solution. While the other camp hates government and sees austerity as a tool to shrink and attack. Arthur Watkins would be at home in a Tea Party crowd.

The practical problem with austerity, however, is that it does not lead to growth, especially over a short period of time. But from those that hate government, there was an evidence that too much debt also made it harder for an economy to grow. A pair of economists, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, published a paper in 2010, that found that public debt slows growth when it reaches or exceeds 90 percent of a country’s Gross Domestic Product. This work became the intellectual rallying cry for austerity. As House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan put it: “Economists who have studied sovereign debt tell us that letting total debt rise above 90 percent of GDP creates a drag on economic growth and intensifies the risk of a debt-fueled economic crisis.”

But last week another paper found Excel errors in that Reinhart and Rogoff paper (based on the work of a graduate student) and reached a conclusion that “contrary” to Reinhart and Rogoff, namely that the “average GDP growth at public debt/GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different than when debt/GDP ratios are lower.” (more…)

Resume and performance

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

A few words here about the Idaho Statesman's new editorial page editor, Robert Ehlert.

Some correspondents have had some snark to point his way; they surely aren't alone, so let's put it out there. Ehlert has had a few years since working for news media (including several metro-level newspapers), during which time he first worked in the office of a congressional office - a natably partisan, conservative and ambitious Californian named Dan Lundgren - and then as head of Robert Ehlert Associates, the nature of whose consulting work remains a little hazy. The argument goes like this: Ehlert was hired by the Statesman to make nice with the state's conservative Republican political and business establishment and serve as its apologist.

I mention this not to join in that line of argument but, for time being at least, quite the opposite.

It could be true. Or not; the evidence of what Ehlert will do with the editorial page will be visible soon enough, starting with a column in today's paper (which doesn't really mark out a direction). Assessments can be based on that clearly enough, in the weeks and months to come.

In his introductory column, Ehlert writes, "I do not regret one moment swimming in the channels and tides of policy and debate, because the experience was like getting an advanced degree in How Things Work And Occasionally Get Done In Government - Or Not." That's totally fair, and many journalists who cover government and politics might be better at it with some hands on experience.

When I came to Idaho and started in journalism school, probably the most highly regarded reporter in Idaho was Jay Shelledy of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, aggressive and (in some quarters) even feared. At the time, he was less than two years out from work on as press secretary on a Senate campaign. He surely learned a lot in the experience.

A little over a decade ago, I was campaign manager on two statewide campaigns in Idaho. Afterward, I returned to writing about politics, and I think I was able to approach it with a little more understanding than I had before.

Perry Swisher, the veteran and (by many) revered Idaho public figure who died last year, was in and out of both politics and journalism over a period of decades, and maintained strongly that both endeavors were enhanced by the joint experience, and scowled at journalists who tried to hold themselves rigidly apart from the rest of society.

At this point, Ehlert begins with a clean slate. Now let's see what he writes on it.

The snoozer asterisk

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

In Idaho, one election cycle out of every three qualifies as a big campaign year for Idaho – highlighted by races for both governor and senator – and 2014 will be one of them.

Those aren't the presidential election cycles. General election presidential campaigning in blood-red Idaho just doesn't happen anymore, although it does see some occasional some pre-nomination stumping, which Idaho did get in 2012. And election of all the statewide state offices are on the off-cycles, the mid-terms, away from presidential years. But only some of those have elections for the U.S. Senate; 2010, 2004 and 2002 did, but 2006 and 2000 did not. 2014 will feature one of those double headers.

That year Idaho gets a senate race, a governor's race, the rest of the statewides and the regular two-year offices (mainly legislature). In some years that's been enough to grab all kinds of attention around the state.

It might nonetheless be a snoozer. But for some of the same reasons it might be dull and almost ignorable, it could turn into a lively scrap at the primary level.

Last week Senator Jim Risch said specifically he plans to run for re-election next year. Risch knows the value of early announcements; that part of how now-Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter got the jump on the Republican nomination for the office, despite initial interest from Risch, in 2006. By announcing early, odds are that Risch has cleared the field of serious opposition. If, say, Representative Raul Labrador had been interested, the time for a push would have been before a Risch announcement. Now the state's Republican organizations and alliances will have time to coalesce around him, leaving few scraps for any in-party opposition. (more…)

How it plays

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

When a party takes over a legislative chamber, especially by a modest margin, the incentive ought to be to play it cautiously, stay relatively moderate, and not overstep. That's even more the case if you're in the position the Washington Senate Republicans hold today: In effective control of the chamber (with crossover help from two conservative Democrats), even though the voters didn't give them a majority at the ballot. Stepping carefully, and cooperating with the opposition, would seem to be in order.

That's not been happening. You needn't buy all the Democratic spin to get that the Senate Republicans have been operating more as if they had a large and secure majority in the chamber. This may come back to bite them.

How that may happen is suggested by an April 17 press release from Democratic Senator Nick Harper, which seems to outline clearly Democratic talking points next year:

Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, released the below statement following Wednesday’s cutoff to consider bills from the opposite chamber.

“When the Republicans took control of the Senate, they said their style of governing would be one of ‘policy over politics.’

“Four months later, their policies have proven to be purely political.

“They have operated in lockstep with the National Republican agenda, rolling back rights of working families, denying women access to reproductive choices, preventing aspiring Americans education options and doing absolutely nothing to prevent gun violence, most recently refusing to vote on HB 1840, which would have helped protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“This bill passed the House with bipartisan support and was further amended in the Senate to address concerns raised by organizations such as the NRA. This is a yet another piece of common sense firearm legislation left to rot on the vine by the Republican majority.

“Their values are not the values of the majority of Washingtonians and they have demonstrated that every misstep of the way.

“This ‘Coalition’ of 23 Republicans and two ‘Democrats’ is firmly in the hands of a few far-right ideologues who have threatened to walk should any legislation that doesn’t line up with their FOX News-view of the world advance to the Senate floor.

“One session after seizing control, Washington state has at best been stuck in neutral and at worst been thrown in reverse.”

Time for a Senate coup

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The pros will tell you there are many “reasons” for the cowardly political end of that most minimal gun legislation in the Senate this week. They’re right. As far as they go. But none I’ve seen go far enough. So, let’s take the next step. Four words. Harry Reid – Senate Democrats.

Red state/blue state – the NRA – re-election fears – guaranteed defeat in the House of anything the Senate had the guts to pass – the most common “reasons” offered in the bars on Capital Hill. Excuses all. If you wanted to paint a verbal picture, those are the word “colors” I’d use, too. But the “artist” behind that portrait would be – Harry Reid.

Reid has repeatedly failed to lead. It’s Majority Leader Reid that sets the agenda and the ultimate legislative agenda of the U.S. Senate. Short of a very rare open majority vote to force a particular bill from committee, Reid controls nearly everything else. Support him, you live. Cross him, you might as well go home. He’s not the first with such power. He won’t be the last.

So saying, Senate Democrats – all of ‘em – should have forced their leader to use his sizeable parliamentary power to end the filibuster in the first days of the new Congress in January. They did not. He did not. Rather, Reid said he had a “handshake agreement” with Minority Leader McConnell that Republicans would be “responsible” in their use of the legislative poison pill. Well, here we are three months later and we know what McConnell’s word was worth.

Whenever someone talks about ending the filibuster, there’s always one response: “But if we do that while we’re in the majority, we won’t have it for protection when we’re in the minority someday.” While true, it’s also pure B.S. Majorities and minorities are what national elections are for. Neither party – neither – should have continuously assured status in either. It’s gotta be earned. Legislatively.

Since President Obama was elected in 2008 – from day one – McConnell and his minions repeatedly said they’d do nothing to help Obama succeed. In anything. Indeed, McConnell couldn’t have been more plain spoken. “Our goal (the GOP) is to make him a one-term President.” So which McConnell do we believe? The “one term President” guy or the other one who shook hands? One’s a liar.

Still, the 2008 and the 2012 elections not only put Obama in office and renewed his contract, they also gave Democrats the Senate majority. We – you and me – we decided the matter. It was our vote – our instruction – to give Democrats majority status to do what we expected a majority party to do – what all of ‘em said they’d do.

That’s how you get to be a Senate majority. We do it! You and me. That’s how you get to be a Senate minority. We do it! And we did it. Our instructions were not to turn a majority party into a minority, then use parliamentary maneuvers to undercut the new majority. The one we created. The one we wanted. Our votes – yours and mine – have been negated by an irresponsible minority from day one. Because Reid would not lead. (more…)

One of the best

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

One of the great traditions of the Idaho Legislature is the day they set aside each session to memorialize former members who passed away during the previous year. With the relatively high turnover of members, most of those who are memorialized are unknown to the current members. But it is a time for the departed former members to have one last day in the legislative sun. Families of those being memorialized are invited to sit in the visitors’ gallery while one of the current members recalls the years of service and accomplishments of the former member.

And, in those instances where the legislator doing the memorial actually knew the deceased, there are anecdotes, often humorous, about the individual.

I have always felt it unfortunate that once a person leaves the Legislature they are usually so quickly forgotten. But, with the exception of the highest ranking elected officials, such as governors and U.S. senators, once you leave office, all of the effort you made and your occasional accomplishments, no matter how significant, are forgotten. Well, the accomplishments may well be remembered, but not the fact that you were responsible for them. The same is even more true with elected local officials with cities, counties and school districts.

All of this brings to mind the passing, forty years ago this week, of one of Idaho’s most dedicated public officials, Edward V. Williams. For many who recall the name, it will most likely be associated with the Edward V. Williams Conference Center at Lewis Clark State College. For those who don’t recall Ed and his many years of dedicated service to the people of Lewiston and the state of Idaho, let me take this opportunity to bring him back, even if briefly, into the public spotlight.

I first met Ed Williams in April 1960. I was a seventeen year old junior at Clarkston High School and had received my parents’ approval to join the Idaho National Guard. Ed Williams, or Captain Ed, as he was known in the Guard, was battery commander of Headquarters Battery of the 148th Field Artillery. The night I joined the National Guard, he administered the oath. It was the beginning of a great friendship.

Ed was also an educator with the Lewiston School District and was extremely dedicated to his profession. Between his activities with students, teachers and administrators, and his service with the National Guard, he was a well-known and highly respected member of the community.

So much so that in 1963 he was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Ed was a popular legislator and was elected House Minority Leader by his Democratic colleagues. This is the same position that nearly fifty years later is now occupied by Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston. (more…)