Writings and observations

Horman
Representative Wendy Horman (center) at the Idaho Falls City Club. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

For Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, the controversial health insurance exchange, education reform and Medicaid issues tackled by lawmakers this year made the 2013 Idaho legislative session one of the most challenging he has experienced. For Wendy Horman, it was her baptism by fire.

Republicans Hill, a Rexburg District 34 senator, and Horman, an Idaho Falls District 30B representative, gave their takes on the recently concluded session as a veteran and a rookie, respectively, at a recent City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon.

This past session was the 12th for Hill, a CPA who serves on the Local Government & Taxation and State Affairs committees, and the first for Horman, a small business owner who serves on the Education, Judiciary, Rules & Administration and Local Government committees.

Hill said the Legislature’s Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee is the envy of many states because of its efficiency. It was informally decided about 25 years ago as part of an unwritten power sharing rule that if someone sat on JFAC, he or she could not chair a committee or be a member of leadership, he said.

“That spread the opportunities around,“ Hill said. “Being in the Legislature is exciting, and it’s frustrating. It’s rewarding, and it’s stressful. There’s always drama.”

Horman said intensive three-day legal training in ethics and procedures enabled freshmen legislators to “hit the ground running. That was not an accident. There’s a very good correlation. … I’m telling you right now, the freshman class were not ninth graders.”

The magnitude of responsibility as a legislator is almost overwhelming, she said, but 11 years on a Bonneville school board helped prepare her for the task at hand.

Horman said process, policy and people had to align as guiding principles when she was a school board member. As a new legislator, she said she had to add a fourth “P” as a principle — politics.

“The partisan world is not something you can overlook or you do so at your own peril,” Horman said, adding a “crud filter” must be applied when processing information as a legislator. She said she was an “abject failure” in answering hundreds of messages flooding her e-mail box.

Many of those e-mails addressed gun control. Hill said legislators resisted pressure to impose gun restrictions and called Idaho one of the most Second Amendment-supportive states in the union.

Hill noted that the percentage of new legislators set a record this past session. Eleven of 35 senators were new; 30 of 70 House representatives were new or about 43 percent. “They didn’t feel as intimidated,” he said of the newcomers.

The 2013 Legislature followed the most contentious primary election season in about 30 years, Hill said, noting the health care exchange dispute was “a wedge driven deeper and deeper right down the middle of the Republican party.” He called it the Legislature’s most contentious and difficult issue.

Legislators rejected a federal health insurance exchange and reluctantly embraced a state-based exchange instead.

“It won’t work as good as now. It will work better than a federal exchange, but your health insurance premiums are going to go up,” Hill warned, adding Republicans do not favor health insurance exchanges. “I’ve never seen the federal government run anything better economically, efficiently and capably than at the state level.”

Because of the time consumed by health insurance exchange debate, Hill said it is unlikely a bill expanding Medicaid would have passed. It has a better chance of being enacted next year, he said. Horman said she was surprised that a Medicaid bill was introduced only about 48 hours before adjournment.

Both sides of the education reform issue also took criticism, Hill said. Voters repealing education reforms enacted by the Legislature caused unintended consequences, he said.

Despite disagreements, Hill said the working relationship between Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, the Senate and House was the best he has seen in years.

“Now as dysfunctional as you may think we are, I’d say we’re a lot less dysfunctional than our old colleagues in Washington.”

The Legislature adopted a balanced budget and increased appropriations by 3 percent as revenues slowly climb back up, but they remain below pre-recession levels.

Individual and corporate taxes were reduced during the session, Hill said. Ninety percent of businesses saw their personal property taxes eliminated at a modest cost to the state, he noted.

The Senate pro tem said Idaho is losing between $120 million to $180 million annually in lost Internet sales tax revenue, which hurts brick-and-mortar companies.

When asked by moderator Karole Honas, a KIFI-TV news anchor, about why the Legislature has reduced financial support for higher education when it is so important for providing good jobs, Hill conceded that is a big concern.

“Quite frankly, when the economy went south, higher education took a much, much greater hit than K-12,” he said. “We have one of the highest high school graduation rates in the nation, but one of the lowest college graduation rates in the nation.”

Mark Mendiola is a writer at Pocatello.

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Mendiola

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Saw a news item a few weeks ago that could be exhibit A regarding
what educators are calling a Common Core of Knowledge that a student
graduating from any high school in the country should have mastered.

The multi-millionaire superstar of the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant,
was telling a reporter about the entire Lakers team having gone to see
Daniel Day Lewis’ exceptional performance in the movie Lincoln.
Asked to characterize his and the team’s reaction to the film, Bryant
said they all thought it was a pretty good movie but were shocked and
surprised by the ending.

Really? These gazillionaire basketball players, most of whom
supposedly are college graduates, none of them including Kobe, knew
that Lincoln had been the first president to be assassinated? That folks is
what developing a Common Core of Knowledge for students to master is
all about.

It is not a plot by the Federal government to usurp local control of
our public schools. It is not a conspiracy to brainwash our students
into becoming liberal leaning robots who will look to Big Brother for
everything. It is not a conspiracy.

It is a long overdue effort by educators at all levels to define a basic
body of knowledge every student should master if they are going to be
awarded a high school degree and proceed out into the labor force to
become a responsible, accountable productive citizen able to function
reasonably well in a society full of those all too ready to exploit the
ignorant and the uninformed.

Put another way, it is just plain common sense for this country to
develop and require the mastery of a common core of knowledge.
Every state’s superintendent of public instruction is participating in
developing some aspect of this effort working with the U.S. Department of Education.

Idaho’s Tom Luna is a practicing member of the LDS Church and is
about as conservative as they come. He is as sensitive and as attuned to
guarding against infringements on “State’s rights” and “local control” as
the most ardent Tea Party type could wish. He has Idaho participating
in a coalition of states developing recommendations in math and the
language arts for what they believe should be the common core.

He still has his common sense about common core. As any reader of my
columns knows, I was highly critical of the proposed Luna Laws and the
top down process he and Governor Otter engaged in to foist their vision
of education reform off on the Idaho electorate.

Both learned from their mistake, however, and adopted the common
sense approach of putting together a task force of the interest groups
to travel the state and listen to the grass roots regarding what reforms
consensus can be built upon.

Capably led by State Board of Education member Richard Westerberg,
the task force has been traveling the state taking testimony. Despite
Westerberg’s thoughtful “scene-setting” presentation, some of the
hearings appear to have been hijacked by the conspiracy theorists of the
world that see a dastardly federal government plot of some sort in the
effort to define a common core of knowledge.

Do these conspiracy types not have a lick of common sense? Do
they not understand that Idaho’s high school and college graduates
are competing for future jobs in an international market place against
Chinese students, Indian students, Swedish students, all of whom have
mastered more knowledge than most American graduates?

Do they want to condemn their children to a new form of indentured
servitude to the worlds better educated? How do they expect employers
to differentiate and hire the best qualified for future jobs based in part
on the mastery of knowledge and the ability to be life-long learners
mastering ever more if not through some kind of national standardized
test?

It is just common sense to require a well defined common core of
required knowledge.

Every time I see one of these conspiracy types stand up and with great
zeal launch into their harangue I’m reminded of something I heard a
former Idaho State Superintendent, Roy Truby, once say: “I have a hard
time understanding these people who say they love their country but hate
their government.”

So do I, Roy. So do I.

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rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

A lot of people – especially media types – have been hyper-excited in recent days about the announcement by a professional athlete that he’s a gay man. In fact, national reaction got so heady even the President of the United States called to wish him well. Here – in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods – the best emotion I could come up with was one of “so what?”

Jason Collins and all play-for-pay athletes are usually judged by the statistical record created during their years in any sport. As they should be. In Collins’ case, the best that can be said is he’s a good, workmanlike guy who holds up his corner on a basketball court as he’s hired to do. Certainly not a star in the manner of a Michael Jordan or Larry Bird. Just a guy who does his job.

At the age of 34, Collins is close to the end of a moderately successful career. In fact, a lot of sports fanatics believe, had he not made his sexual orientation announcement, he’d probably not have been back next year. But now that he’s done so, predictions are media/public pressure on NBA Commissioner Stern will probably result in one or more teams offering him another year or two of playing. For the wrong reasons.

After Collins’ announcement of his homosexuality, I really didn’t have a reaction – just a sense of blah – and “Well, O.K.” I wasn’t sure why until I read a comment from the aged Dr. Ruth Westheimer saying she was “sad.” That I could relate to.

Psychosexual therapist Dr. Ruth has been around for many, many years. At just under five feet tall – with the demeanor and huge smile of a marvelous Jewish grandmother to the nation – she’s been a fixture on late night TV shows for decades and published several books dealing with nearly every possible topic related to sex and our sexuality. I only point out her size, heritage and grandmotherly appearance because those attributes have given her a lot of freedom to say things sexually explicit other professionals would never have gotten away with. Starting in the late 1950′s with Jack Paar, Dr. Ruth has charmed the nation.

And what’s the reaction to Collins’ news from this noted liberal, sexual therapy professional? “I find it very sad. I have mixed feelings we even have to talk about it. In my opinion, this is a private matter and everybody should be respected for who they are.” Dr. Ruth said she fears Collin’s “coming out” will put pressures on other athletes to “explain their sexual orientation and they shouldn’t have to.”

She’s right, of course. No one – male or female – should have to explain their sexual makeup to the world. That Collins or anyone else today feels the need to do so is unimportant. We are what we are. We are who we are.

As in many things, women in sports got to the public sexuality identity arena first. Billie Jean King in the ‘70′s. Martina Navratilova “came out” in ‘81. Neither world ended. In fact, Navratilova’s career continued professionally for more than 20 years. Since then, more tennis players, golfers, soccer players and other professional sports participants have publicized their sexuality. For reasons apparently known only to mental health professionals, front office business types and jock males, no man in our world of professional team sports has “admitted” his gayness.

I don’t mean to discount some of the “reasons” that have been advanced – bad for business, clubhouse reaction, team unity, etc. I’m sure there’s some validity to those and other observations. The question is: why? Why should there be?

In a world awash with public sexual activity all around us – living with majority attitudes of openness and too many instances of excess – entertainment and other media filled with sexual orientations of every imaginable kind – what’s taken our national community so long to accept gay male athletes? Did we think homosexuality didn’t exist in the world of jock straps and open showers before this week? Did we believe only women were capable of same-sex lives?

Yes, a segment of our society will be outraged. So what? That segment lives in a permanent case of outrage over things that don’t conform to their narrow view of the world they already see. Politics. Abortion rights. People of a different race or ethnic origin. Any religion beyond their own version of Christianity. Sexuality. Again – so what?

A lot of folks hope other gay male professional athletes follow the example of Jason Collins and put their sexuality on the public record. I hope they don’t. It changes nothing in their contributions to their various sports. It doesn’t make them less valuable to a team. In this day and age, it shouldn’t be important. Because it’s not.

And, frankly, it’s none of our damned business!

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Rainey