Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest

What’s it like to live in Idaho on the minimum wage?

The people who actually have to do that don’t get a lot of media attention; they don’t heavily populate the ranks of broadcast spokesmen and interview subjects. We don’t hear from them much.

Should be the job of news reporters to fill some of that gap, though that too seldom happens.

It has, however, in the case of a series of reports by the NPR-affiliated group State Impact, which has released online a series of stories under the heading, “Bottom Rung: Living On Low Wages In Idaho.”

The cover page lead: “The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country.”

That should give a taste of why this is important. Read the rest to get a fuller sense of it.

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carlson CHRIS


“Where have you gone. . . .?

Hum these lines to the tune of the Simon & Garfunkel song that became the theme music to that 60’s classic movie, The Graduate:

“Where have you gone Junketing Jim?/

Idaho turns its needy eyes to you?/

What’s that you say, Junketing Jim?/

Hard workers have up and gone away/

So those that stay might as well play?

Heh, heh, heh; heh, heh heh.

That, my friends, is essentially what Idaho’s junior senator, Jim Risch, told Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey in a story that appeared May 6: nothing gets done in the nation’s capital, and everything is stalemated, a senator may as well sit back, not work hard, enjoy international travel, and coast along.

And, oh, by the way, that seven months he was governor, now that was hard work, especially shifting more tax burden to those that pay the sales tax but providing additional property tax relief to his big corporate supporters. I’ll grant you that Risch did do more in seven months than Dirk Kempthorne did in seven years, but apparently being a U.S. senator is so much easier it makes you wonder why he didn’t skip being Lt. Governor or Governor and run for the Senate years ago.

Most senators and congressman catch “Potomac fever” eventually. As Oregon Senator Richard Neuberger wrote in an article in the Saturday Evening Post in the late 50s, “they never go back to Pocatello.” Most get captured by that “inside the beltway” mentality which falsely believes they live in the center of the universe and everything that is important takes place inside the beltway that surrounds the nation capital.

Even after they leave office, many do not return home but stay and become lobbyists or join prestigious law firms or ideological think tanks for which they are paid handsomely. Truth be told, two of the five highest per capita income counties in the nation are just outside Washington, D.C. It’s the money that captures many, but it is also the money that serves to create the huge disconnect between those within the beltway and those outside.

Money, however, is not the reason Senator Risch and wife Vickie have so quickly been captured, and so quickly lost touch. Senator Risch is already one of the wealthiest members of Congress with a net worth that may be as much as $50 million.

No, in Senator Risch’s case he has fallen for the siren song of foreign travel, paid for either by the taxpayer or by special interests. Rather than travel home to Idaho for most of a congressional recess he is off to places all over the globe.

Sometimes he travels with Vickie, sometimes with chief of staff, John Sandy, who also appears to travel overseas by himself as well.

Senator Risch, though, you see, is the second ranking minority member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee and it’s important that he get around the world. And he is an important man in a city that does nothing but still try and get an appointment to see him either when on the rare occasion he’s actually in the state or when he is D.C. It is nigh on impossible I’m told.

Curious as to just what all his foreign travel entailed I pulled at random a trip the Senator and Vickie took to Israel in 2011 and one his chief of staff took to Erbil, the capital city of the semi-autonomous province of Kurdistan in northern Iraq in 2012.

Granted the trip may have tangentially had something to do with the subcommittee he chairs on near eastern affairs but the itinerary had plenty of nice meals and time for sightseeing. The expenses appear to have been paid for by the American Israeli Education Foundation, an off-shoot of AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbying groups in the city.

Total cost for the five day trip was $8,000 for the two of them, so obviously first class all the way. More troubling was the sponsor certifying that there was no relation between them and any registered lobbyist or any agent of a foreign government. If Senator Risch believes AIEF is not a wholly controlled subsidiary of AIPAC and that the Mossad was not monitoring his trip every step of the way, he doesn’t belong in Congress. Why the Senate Ethics committee insists on this fiction is beyond me.

As to John Sandy’s trip to Erbil, let’s just say the fact that it was sponsored by something called the Humpty Dumpty Institute (seriously) and some company called Aspect Energy says it all. One really does have to ask just what is in these trips for the citizens of Idaho.

Given the Senator’s arrogant attitude I doubt he’ll bother to answer. One can only hope the Democrats come up with a credible alternative in 2014 for he and Vickie might just discover even in solidly Republican Idaho one cannot so take for granted an office bestowed by the people. They that give can taketh away.

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