"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
carlson CHRIS


On September 29 Pete Cenarrusa, died in Boise at the age of 95. The longest serving secretary of state not just in Idaho history but in all of American history, the former Speaker of the Idaho House and state legislator, a farmer-sheep rancher from Carey and a staunch conservative Republican, never lost an election.

Blaine County voters first elected him to the House in 1951, and re-
elected him seven more times until Governor Don Samuelson appointed him as Secretary of State on May 1, 1967, to fill a vacancy created by the death of Edson Deal. In November, 1970, he was elected in his own right and re-elected until he chose not to run again in 2002. That’s 35 years.

Despite his conservative political views, he was well known for his fairness, honesty and decency. He worked well with the two Democratic governors that served during his tenure, Cecil Andrus and John Evans.

It was this sense that a man’s word was his bond that leads to the many stories surrounding what was known as “the Little Wood River” list.

Few, if any of the obituaries rightly praising Cenarrusa for his public service will even reference this item, but it provides an excellent insight into Pete’s sense of propriety and emphasis on one’s word.

Some folks thought the list referred to the six or seven legislators who allegedly said they would vote for Pete, but did not, when he sought and won the Speakership over Boise legislator, Bill Eberle, in 1963.

Some think the list refers to successfully withstanding a challenge in 1965 from another Boise legislator, Larry Mills. It is neither. In his memoirs (Bizkaia to Boise, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada at Reno, 2009) co-written with former AP Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, Cenarrusa explained that it was a list of legislators who had not helped him pass in 1953 a modest $10,000 appropriation to fix levies and build some small dams to control flooding on the Little Wood River in his county. Because he had earlier crossed some party pooh-bahs, he was punished by having his bill killed and the appropriation redirected to a project in eastern Idaho.

Pete vowed then and there to become Speaker someday and to get even with those he felt betrayed him. It took ten years, lots of patience as well as tenacity, but in 1963, to the great good fortune of Idahoans especially concerned about the state’s parsimonious support for public education, he was elected Speaker.

Thus it was that he played a key role in wielding the gavel during two of the most important legislative sessions in Idaho – the 1963 and 1965 legislatures.

Along with the legislative session of 1947, during C.A. “Doc” Robins first year as governor, these three sessions are considered by most Idaho political historians to be the most important in the state’s history. These were the legislative sessions that voted to put a three-cent sales tax on the ballot to provide much needed and heftier support of public and higher education.

Other noteworthy accomplishments while Pete was Speaker included creation of the Permanent Building Fund to underwrite construction of “bricks and moater” on school and college campuses; creation of the state retirement system fund, PERSI; and, legislation creating the Idaho Water Resources Board and a Department of Water Resources as well as creation of a Department of Parks and Recreation.

Much will be said about Pete’s deep love for his Basque heritage and for the Basque country, as it should be. For my part I just want to salute the man.

Perhaps it is because early in his career he taught and coached at a rural high school, as I did. Perhaps it is because he was a Naval aviator in Corpus Christie, Texas, where my father washed out. Perhaps it is because he was a Marine for I have a son who is a Captain in the Marine Corps. Perhaps it is because he personified love of family, devotion to children and grandchildren, love of country.

I suspect though it is because he always manifested his love for Idaho and Idahoans by placing what was in the people’s best interests, the greatest good for the greatest number, ahead of partisan politics. He would not have passed most of the Tea Party litmus tests. However, he always passed with flying colors the voter’s periodic reviews.

As he stands now before St. Peter, rejoined with his beloved son, Joe, killed in a 1997 plane crash, I’ll wager anyone he is hearing the words “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy prepared by Thy Heavenly Father.” Well done indeed.

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idaho RANDY

UPDATE: This column was written before news broke earlier today that former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa died at Boise. Condolences to his family and many friends, and to Idaho too: Public servants of this caliber aren’t so easy to find these days, but at his passing his long-time chief deputy and successor, Ben Ysursa, was – as this column strives to point out – upholding the tradition.

In 1976, a deputy to the Idaho Secretary of State resigned after becoming the target of charges that he had improperly been selling copies of the Idaho state code. To the best of my memory, that’s the last time – 37 years ago – the Idaho Secretary of State’s office has been the center of a serious controversy.

Considering that this is the office overseeing, among other things, elections across the state, that’s a remarkable record of cleanliness.
My most regular interaction with the office is on its website, which offers access to loads of records. I can tell you that in most cases those records are more extensive, useful and easier to access than on the web sites of the counterpart offices in high-tech Washington and Oregon.

Absence of malfeasance and quality on-line records may be tangential in evaluating the office and its longtime chief, Ben Ysursa. But they indicate work properly and consistently well done, in an office where the consequences of shoddiness can be a little frightening. Idaho has a long history of clean elections, and capable state oversight has surely been a contributor to that. The office also manages a lot of other records, such as business filings and many other documents, and a good deal of commerce could be thrown into chaos if the unglamorous work of the office were steered into a ditch. It also oversees lobbyist filings and records.

The secretary of state’s office, then, is one of those places you seldom see in the headlines when things are going well, only when they go badly. Take it as a compliment, then, that the office has been largely invisible for decades, the quiet broken most notably on those occasions when Ysursa and his crew went after someone, without any evident favor for any side, for failing to stick to the law.
This comes up became the 2014 race for the office has taken a turn, and Idahoans would be well-served in paying attention.

Ysursa has been almost synonymous with SOS for about four decades, for many years as chief deputy (and in effect the day to day manager) for Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa, then after 2002 as holder of the top job. He may run for it again next year – he’s 63 now – but hasn’t said yet whether he will. There’s some chatter around Boise that he may not.

Another candidate has surfaced, apparently interested in running whether or not against the incumbent. He is Lawerence Denney, the state representative from Midvale who was speaker of the House until last December when, in an unusual move, he was toppled by his own caucus. Denney has submitted paperwork to run for the statewide job.

The most persistent complaints about Denney had to do with favoritism, spiking a key legislative ethics proposal, backing ethically-challenged legislators (such as former Representative Phil Hart, whose tax problems became epic), retaliating against opposition and doing battle with the independent citizens reapportionment commission (which drew him into some conflict with Ysursa).

Denney may have lost his speakership, but within some Republican circles he still has support and allies, and certainly could mount a credible race for the job. He also is starting early, which usually is an advantage.

The norm has been that the incumbent cruises to another win. But if not, Idaho could encounter a stretch of bumpy road in an area they usually don’t have a lot of cause to think about at all.

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Idaho Idaho column


This is an excerpt from the Ridenbaugh Press book Transition, by W. Scott Jorgensen. More will be appearing over the weeks to come. The book is available now from Ridenbaugh Press.

The parking lot was full when I pulled up to Elmer’s Restaurant, the usual meeting place for the Josephine County Republican Women. The November 2010 midterm election was days away, and many of the cars at Elmer’s had bumper stickers endorsing various candidates.

I was there to speak, and it would be my farewell to Grants Pass. I had just quit my job at the local weekly newspaper and my last radio program had just aired. All of my worldly possessions were already packed.

I had several things to say. But first, I had two good friends to talk with, and about.

Josephine County Deputy District Attorney Wally Hicks was the first of the two to show up. He had been a friend for a few years, and had run unopposed for a seat in the state House of Representatives in the May primary election.

Wally’s resume was so impressive that nobody wanted to run against him for the Republican nomination. The Democrats couldn’t field a candidate, and his only opponent in the general election was from the Constitution Party.

I rose to shake his hand, at which point Wally took the seat immediately to my left. Typically in politics, you don’t have friends, only allies. But Wally was a remarkable exception to this rule, and I was actually quite fond of him.

Wally’s mother had been a reporter for several years while he was growing up, so he attended various political events at a very young age. This undoubtedly left a big impression on my good friend.

We had met a few years back at the Dorchester Conference, a statewide gathering of Republicans held each year in Seaside. That town is located on the Northern Oregon coast, a couple of hours west of Portland. Back then, Wally was attending law school at the University of Oregon. He came to Dorchester with a friend who had interned with a Congressional campaign that I worked on in 2004.

I was immediately impressed. Within a few hours of meeting Wally, I and many of my Dorchester friends were clamoring for him to run for office.

For a moment, it seemed that we had convinced him to take on the longtime incumbent Congressman that we had failed to unseat. But in the morning, Wally did not share our recollection of his commitment to the race.
Wally joined the U.S. Marine Corps straight out of high school. He even celebrated his 18th birthday at boot camp.

In 2004, Wally served in the Iraq War. He returned to the states and worked as a volunteer law clerk at the U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Immigration Litigation before going to law school.

Once he graduated from law school and arrived in Grants Pass, Wally immediately began prosecuting high-profile cases involving child arsonists and juveniles who had broken into the local animal shelter and killed some puppies. He had impressed enough of the right people to garner tremendous support after announcing his candidacy for state representative.

My father had been a Marine, like Wally, and I was a reporter just like his mother. I think this is part of why we connected so easily and seemed to understand each other so well.

A few minutes after Wally arrived at Elmer’s, we were joined by Simon Hare.

Simon grew up in Cave Junction, a small town located about half an hour west of Grants Pass, and left after graduating from Illinois Valley High School. He went to Washington D.C., where he interned at the office of U.S. Senator Gordon Smith and spent several years working as a lobbyist for the National Rural Electrical Cooperative Association.

After moving back to Josephine County, Simon wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but at the time, an incumbent county commissioner was up for re-election. The local Republican Party was eager to replace him, but didn’t have any particular candidates in mind.

I remember receiving the call at my newspaper office that they had found their guy, at which point Simon and I were put in touch with each other. We met at a restaurant in Cave Junction, along with his father Denny, to discuss his candidacy, and became fast friends.

Both Simon and Wally launched their campaigns shortly after we all met for dinner at my house one night. On his way out to my place, Wally had received a call from the outgoing state representative for Grants Pass, and was informed that he had the man’s blessing to pursue the position.

Shortly after we met to discuss both races, Wally and Simon filed their paperwork and began their races in earnest, and I dutifully reported on it all.

It was nice for both of my friends to show up at my farewell address, and it meant a lot to me. They were, after all, the primary subjects of my speech, which was entitled “A New Generation of Leadership.”

We talked among ourselves and mingled with the other attendees for a while. Then it was time for me to say a few words.

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manning TRAVIS


Idaho’s largest virtual charter school, with approximately 3,500 students, has outsourced student essays to India for review in the grading process.

The revelation that K12 Inc., the world’s largest online charter school provider, sent thousands of student essays overseas was revealed back in 2008 by Arizona blogger David Safier. But it wasn’t until September 2013 that K12 verified at least one Idaho charter school was also involved. After being pressed, K12 admitted that Idaho Virtual Academy (IDVA), Idaho’s largest virtual school and operated by K12 Inc., had outsourced student essays.

“This was a pilot program offered by K12 to give teachers additional support,” said K12 spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski in an email. “Reviewers provided initial feedback, but teachers assigned grades.

Teachers could use the service at their discretion. It was used by some schools, including IDVA, until the pilot was discontinued.”

Records I have obtained indicate that between August and December 2007 IDVA outsourced over 3,000 essays to India. A Sept. 10, 2008, Education Week article reveals K12 eventually settled into a business relationship with TutorVista, a tutoring service in Bangalore, India. In so doing, IDVA may have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) which protects student work and private information.

K12’s “pilot” project highlights an important issue within for-profit charter schools: adequate oversight. Private companies like K12 are not subject to open meetings laws or public records requests.

Ironically, K12’s website claims, “We must foster a culture of professionalism, service, transparency, accountability….” Difficult to hold a company’s board of directors, CEO’s and shareholders to this standard when their business practices, products and services are considered “proprietary.” There is no reason to believe the “pilot” project would have ever been discontinued had an investigator not unearthed the practice and dragged it into the sunlight of parental scrutiny. The IRS is also investigating.

There’s more. IDVA’s 2013 Annual Update also reveals that, “There appears to be potential for conflicts of interest to result from IDVA’s administration and management staff being K12 employees.” And, in a 2012 study by Western Michigan University, 27% of K12’s schools in 2010-11 reported making adequately yearly progress, compared to 52% for brick-and-mortar schools. Perhaps K12, which donated 44K to Superintendent Tom Luna’s 2010 campaign, shouldn’t also get transportation costs for “bring(ing) the school to the children.”

Kase Capital hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson, also co-founder of Democrats for Education Reform, eviscerates K12’s business practices. Tilson reminds us that online schools are good for children who need flexible schedules, or who have highly involved parents, but they are not for everyone. He exposes K12’s aggressive recruiting tactics to enroll at-risk and special education students, often from poor, single-parent households where the parent has little time to be the requisite “parent coach.”

Jeff Shaw, former Head of School of K-12-run Ohio Virtual Academy told Tilson, “After the IPO, I got discouraged because the company’s priority seemed to shift from academics to growth…. Eventually, it seemed as though K12’s enrollment strategy was to cast a wide net into the sea of school choice and keep whatever they caught regardless if the catch was appropriate for virtual learning or not.”

One former English teacher from Pennsylvania’s Agora Cyber Charter School (2010-12) said of K12, “There was no teacher-to-student ratio. When I started, I was assigned 300 students, which was very, very overwhelming. I would try to read each of the essays students turned in … but I was really struggling with that. I couldn’t keep up. I was told to skim over the papers and grade with a rubric.” K12 CEO Ron Packard says, “It’s just K12’s culture.”

Travis Manning is Executive Director of The Common Sense Democracy Foundation of Idaho and can be reached at [email protected]

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rainey BARRETT


Balance in life is a wonderful thing. The yin and off-setting yang of things can bring joy – balance – warmth – satisfaction. Such a moment of perfect equanimity has touched my life. A moment when two disparate thoughts arrived at the same time – quietly nestling down next to each other.

One was that moment when the U.S. Senate’s biggest educated fool – Tex Cruz – shut his Harvard-educated mouth and voted for the thing he’d been talking against for 21 hours. The other was “BREAKING NEWS” that county commissioners in California’s Siskiyou County had voted to join neighboring Shasta County in a desire to secede from the Ol’ U.S. of A..


There it was. They want to get rid of us. We want to get rid of him. The immutable balance of life. I tell you, such a moment of harmony just doesn’t come along every other day. You’ve just gotta just stop. Savor it.

Ol’ “Texas Crude” wants desperately to be somebody. Anybody. At the moment, he wants to be president. Of anything. Siskiyou commissioners want to form a new state and – along with fellow commissioners next door – are in search of a new state which will need – wait for it – a new governor!

Now “governor” isn’t “president.” I’ll give you that. Cruz would have to back up a bit. Just a step. For only a little while. But, in the meantime, he WOULD have an entire “state” to run. And if Shasta County joins to create the new “State of Jefferson” they’re talking about, well, it would be a much larger “state” and only a matter of time till Teddy could find himself way up the ladder – living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Take a tip from that Palin woman. Follow her success. Run for governor – then quit. A couple of years at most. He wouldn’t be the first Harvard president of the country. But he’d certainly be the most disliked Harvard grad to get the job.

All that may seem weirdly improbable to you. But around here – in the nearby old-growth forest shared by Oregon and California – you could get even money at any logger bar. Really! They’ve been talking about Jefferson and their great plans for telling the rest of us to “Go To Hell” for a long, long time.

The problem with all this is that neither plan is going to work out. Shasta and Siskiyou will continue to be California real estate. And Cruz will remain in the Senate to taunt political reality and intelligence for just over five more years. Neither dream will come true. Ever.

But while we’re talking about dreams, I have one. I dream that Sean Hannity, Wolf Blitzer and the other broadcast “political experts” will stop calling Cruz a “ brilliant, Ivy League-educated” Senator. He may have gone to an Ivy League school. It may even have been Harvard. But Tex Cruz is not brilliant by any political measurement. In fact, when looking at his chosen path to greatness – adopted during his college years, – most political professionals will tell you this guy is on a self-destructive rant.

There’s nothing “brilliant” or “bright” or “long-lasting” about Cruz. He’s a driven self-promoter, putting even that Palin woman to shame. His “slash and burn” self-serving style offers nothing in terms of making a contribution to this nation. He has no interest in building – only destroying. In just this one week alone, he has demonstrated he fails to understand why he’s in Washington and has no appreciation for the “give-and-take” of how successful politicians have enjoyed their success since before the glory days of Rome. He has no idea how to operate within a system that’s broken better men than him. He is “my-way-or-the-highway” to the core.

Cruz is often compared to Joe McCarthy – the Red-hunting, alcoholic demagogue of the 1950′s. Maybe. I clearly remember those days and the torturous Senate hearings designed – not to get to truth – but to spread a giant lie that McCarthy and his sick supporters wanted to believe was truth. The lives destroyed – careers ended – the celebrity sycophants who kissed the McCarthy ring and carried him around on their shoulders.

And I remember watching Ed Murrow. The craggy-faced, chain smoker at CBS who ripped the scabs off McCarthy and showed him to be the cancerous, drunken corpse he really was.

But times have changed. When Murrow exorcized McCarthy from the body politic, he was alone. Even his CBS bosses tried to tone him down. But we no longer must rely on traditional national media to deal with such miscreants in our system. In just the past few days, we’ve seen even those in his own political party go after Cruz by unloading reams of “opposition research” – read “political back stabbing” – to stop him before he becomes a major problem for thinking Republicans. That won’t end. It’ll increase.

Cruz will not – can not – be more than he already is. A loud voice of lies, half-truths, distortions, character assassination and underhanded political gamesmanship. He serves neither true Republicans nor true Democrats. He serves only Tex Cruz. When he finally is shown to be the despicable, politically soulless animal he is, the death blow will come at his own hand.

God, I hope it’s soon.

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carlson CHRIS


Memo to Don Soltman, President, Idaho Board of Education:

With all due respect allow me to bring to your attention the most recent ranking of universities and colleges in the United States put out annually by U.S. News and World Report. Please note that Idaho’s land grant university, the University of Idaho, despite the reduced rations the board and legislature have had it on, still is ranked 161list of national universities.

The faculty, the administration, boosters, alumni and students are all to be congratulated on this accomplishment for it comes despite your and Governor Otter’s systematic starving of its budget and your increasingly burdening students with more fees and charges. This ranking puts it in a tie with defending national basketball champion the University of Louisville and fellow western universities like the University of Wyoming.

Boise State is listed as #65 on the list of best REGIONAL universities in the west. Idaho State made the list of “also rans” (somewhere between 200 and 300) among NATIONAL universities. Spokane’s Gonzaga University is listed as #4 on that list of best western regional universities.

U.S. News has a very defensible list of criteria for its rankings, with key criteria being factors such as funding levels and endowments, percentage of those admitted in relation to the number of applications, research grants, grade point average of those admitted and attending, scores of students on national entrance tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and strength of faculty as well as classroom size.

Of course there are many critics of the news magazine’s criteria and this month’s latest Atlantic Monthly carries a good article on why one should ignore this annual exercise in bloviating by colleges claiming superiority especially in view of no serious effort being made to measure “outcomes” from the various schools. Nonetheless. . . .

Surely it is time for the Board to acknowledge its error in forbidding the only University referenced in the Idaho Constitution to call itself the state’s “flagship” university for in point of fact and by all measurements it is indeed the state’s flagship institution of higher learning.

These latest rankings ought to give the board cause for pause and for righting the wrong they have perpetrated.

Other rankings for public NATIONAL universities in the west were:

University of Washington, #52; University of Oregon, #109; the University of Utah¸#121; WSU, #128; Oregon State, #142; University of Nevada-Reno and the University of New Mexico, #181; New Mexico State, Utah State and North Dakota State, #190; Montana State and the University of Montana were also tied at #201.

Indeed, every public university in the Mountain West conference ranked higher academically than did Boise State. Despite all the spin and p.r. about BSU being an urban research university by the criteria that matters, whether it be the Carnegie Institute’s reviews or the U.S. News rankings, all say unequivocally BSU is not even close to having “made a mark” in the world of academia.

The board should review the news magazine’s material and then set about doing some reprioritizations that reward Idaho for its success despite great odds and incentivize ISU and BSU to do more to improve their professional academic standings.

The board unfortunately, with the exception of former utility executive Richard Westerberg, from Preston, has done nothing but rubber stamp the increasingly draconian budgets put forth by Governor Otter.

Westerberg set himself apart as a thoughtful commentator on the state of Idaho education with his outstanding work on the commission Governor Otter finally put together to draw up a set of reform recommendations with a broader base of support.

And what was the almost unanimous first recommendation of this citizen commission? You guessed it—-that the funding pared away over the years be restored both for higher education and K-12. Whether a Legislature noted for its parsimony goes along remains to be seen.

A real sign that the board has finally obtained a modicum of common sense would be for it to end its search for a new University of Idaho president and confirm the acting president, Law School Dean Don Burnett, as the next president.

A Pocatello native, the Harvard-educated Burnett makes a fine president and the board won’t find anyone better. Furthermore, the board should end all efforts to build a new residence for the new president. Don’t hold your breath, however. The board has proven time and again to have a tin ear when it comes to anything smart or reflective of forward educational thinking.

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mendiola MARK


Pocatello companies were hard hit by the nationwide recession, and the Gate City is taking longer than Idaho in reaching pre-recession employment levels, an Idaho State University economics professor told a large crowd attending Bannock Development Corporation’s 22nd annual economic symposium.

Dr. C. Scott Benson and Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little gave the economic and state keynote addresses, respectively, on Monday, Sept. 9, at the impressive ISU Stephens Performing Arts Center.

An ISU professor for more than 20 years, Benson has been preparing legislative economic forecasts about the state’s general fund revenue for nearly 30 years. He also has been preparing Idaho personal income forecasts for the Idaho Tax Commission for more than 10 years.

“I would like to come here and tell you that happy days are here again, but you know better than that,” Benson said, calling the economic recovery anemic. He concluded, however, that Idaho, Bannock County and Pocatello should continue to add jobs and see accelerating growth after several harsh years.

In July, Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose two-tenths to 6.6 percent for the third consecutive monthly increase in the rate, which has risen half a percentage point since April. Total employment dropped for the second month in a row, falling 800 to just above 723,000 – the lowest total employment since October 2012.

The Pocatello Metropolitan Statistical Area’s unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent in July, down from 7.0 in June and 7.3 percent in July 2012. The city’s personal income grew 2-3 percent in 2012 and is projected to grow 4.5-5.5 percent this year and in 2015, slightly faster than the state’s personal income growth rate.

Benson said Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s goal of generating $60 billion in state personal income could be achieved “hopefully sooner rather than later” in Fiscal 2015.

“Idaho and the Pocatello MSA were harder hit than most states,” Benson said, noting Idaho’s unemployment rate tripled while rates in other states doubled. While the recession was severe, the recovery has been slow. “Manufacturing employment is not a pretty picture.”

Benson estimated 9,000 to 10,000 people are employed in Pocatello’s government sector or up to 25 percent of people working in the city, including those employed at ISU and the state women’s prison.

Education and health services picked up jobs during the recession, he said. Construction, natural resources and mining once represented up to 7 percent of total jobs, but that has declined to 4 percent, Benson said. Leisure and hospitality provide jobs, “but they don’t pay all that well.”

The area retail industry has encountered tough times, he said, estimating Bannock County generates up to $28 million a year in annual sales tax revenue for the state.

Meanwhile, Pocatello area housing prices doubled from 1994 to 2007, followed by a negative trend with declines of 20 percent in purchase costs. “There’s an upturn now as traction is being sustained,” Benson said.

Transportation and manufacturing were huge in Bannock County during the 1970s and 1980s with Bucyrus-Erie, Union Pacific Railroad and Garrett Freightlines going strong and wages were above the national average, he noted.

“Jobs in those sectors have disappeared,” Benson said, pointing out that major employers tied to solar and wind — referring to Hoku and Nordic Windpower — also have left the community. He noted there have been years when Pocatello added 3,000 jobs or lost up to 750 jobs.

“What is the identity of Pocatello? As soon as we know, the much easier it will be to brand and grow,” Benson said. “Pocatello has gone from a town with a university to a university town. That’s a very positive direction.”

Addressing national economic issues, Benson ventured it will be 2015 before interest rates start to rise as the Federal Reserve potentially reduces its monthly purchases of bonds from $45 billion to $30 billion. Its massive bond purchases or “quantitative easing” have stimulated the national economy. Interest rates could rise, however, if inflation exceeds 2 percent, he cautioned.

Despite predictions of doom, federal sequestration budget cuts did not cause the national economy to “go to hell on a sled,” Benson said, adding that states cannot expect federal spending to continue going up. “We’re not heading off some cliff.”

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” could cause health care costs to increase to 20 percent of Gross Domestic Product within 10 years, he said.

Little told those attending the symposium that the burgeoning health care costs and the federal government’s $17 trillion budget deficit are double challenges confronting Idaho. When U.S. House Speaker John Boehner recently visited Boise, he told Idaho Republicans that lawmakers can no longer stand idly by as the nation’s fiscal solvency deteriorates.

The lieutenant governor also stressed the importance of education for economic development. Only 35 percent of Idaho students get college degrees or certificates. The State Board of Education hopes to boost that percentage to 60 percent by 2020, Little said, commending ISU College of Technology’s high graduation and placement rates.

Another challenge for Idaho is the fact it is surrounded by states without sales and income taxes, plus Utah, Wyoming and Montana get significant tax revenue from oil, natural gas and coal developments, making it more difficult for Idaho to compete.

Idaho, however, has one of the best operated tax systems in the nation, which helps attract business and jobs to the state, Little said. It also ranks as one of the five top most solvent states in the union.

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trahant MARK


Watch out for fights coming from the Capitol. The Senate versus the House. Republicans opposed to Democrats. And, of course, the most intense battle, Republicans against Republicans.

I grew up with the Spy versus Spy comics from Mad Magazine. Week after week a white clad spy would deliver some sort of lethal device (think exploding toilets) to a black suited spy. The scenarios were always outlandish and neither character ever really won. It’s that way in DC right now, except most of spies in combat are wearing Republican Red.

The Spy versus SpySpy versus Spy battle is alive and well on Twitter where there’s a #dontblink campaign to try and convince those squishes to support the filibuster. It’s not going to happen, but it does increase the possibility of a government shutdown simply because Congress is running out of time to meet the October 1st deadline. (The Senate has rules about how much time is allowed for a debate after cloture.) That means any vote for a temporary budget to fund the government cannot occur until the end of the week, Friday or Saturday. Then it will go back to the House. Perhaps with changes. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will send a “clean” resolution to the House, hoping that body will pass it without changes just to keep the doors open. But probably not. Then the process will start again — with the government officially closed. (On Tuesday, Senator Reid announced the measure will only fund the government until Nov. 15, leaving open the possibility of a regular order budget.)

This is as goofy as Spy versus Spy. And just like the comic strip, there’s no real winner in sight. The games just go on and on.

There is a bigger problem for Indian Country, however. Actually two issues. First, any “resolution” of this crisis is completely temporary. The same debate will surface again over the debt limit in a couple of weeks and then again when this Continuing Resolution expires. The House bill only pays for government operations until December 15. So, even if the Senate’s shorter version passes, the whole mess will repeat.

The second issue is that neither the House nor the Senate are ready to remove the sequester from the spending bill. That means that the budget will continue to shrink for the federal government — and tribes, schools, clinics, any agency that relies on appropriations.

Ideally the House would have sent over its budget bill — and then the Senate would have added dollars to key programs, such as those that benefit Indian Country, and negotiations would have begun. But the focus on the Affordable Care Act has made time the enemy. In order to avoid a shutdown, the Senate’s leadership is trying to send back to the House a bill that might quickly pass.

The sequester has reduced federal spending for domestic programs by 17.8 percent compared to 2010 levels (including adjustments for inflation), according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. That means the sequestration cuts in 2014 will total $109 billion, ] evenly split between defense and non-defense programs. Congress should not ignore the significant funding gaps in critical public services on the non-defense side of the discretionary budget,” say authors Joel Friedman, Richard Kogan, and Sharon Parrott. “Congress should replace sequestration with a sound package of balanced deficit-reduction measures that take effect as the economy strengthens.”

But debate is not even occurring; the entire conversation is about the Affordable Care Act and what it will take for Congress to keep the doors open.

This past spring, the National Congress of American Indians said Congress should find a way to hold Indian Country harmless from this round of budget cuts. “The sequester cuts pose particular hardship for Indian Country and the surrounding communities who rely on tribes as employers, where the recession struck especially hard,” said the report, A Call to Honor the Promises To Tribal Nations in the Federal Budget. “Tribal leaders urge Congress to protect the federal funding that fulfills the trust responsibility to tribes in the face of difficult choices.”

The list of programs impacted by the sequester are in every corner of Indian Country, on reservations, in Alaska villages, and in urban centers. It ranges from health care delivery to education at all levels, representing a basic federal investment in the future (and in fulfilling solemn promises).

But the sequester isn’t even being debated. Congress is too busy playing Spy versus Spy.

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rainey BARRETT


In recent days, several readers have responded to these irregular musings with decidedly different views – most of which are quite welcome. We keep putting words and thoughts on the old computer machine in hopes of getting readers to think about various issues. Think their own thoughts – not necessarily the views and opinions on the screen. So when others give feedback, I’m exposed to different – mostly welcome – views.

Notice the “mostly welcome” exception. The “un-welcomed” aren’t such because they aren’t well-expressed or vastly different. No, the most aggravating are those that jump to assumptions not written or indicated – assumptions that if I’m not “this” then I’ve got to automatically be “that.” Attempts to label. Which are wrong much of the time.

Two fallacies show up a lot. One is that what’s on the screen with my name attached is necessarily fact – which it sometimes is. But often, it’s opinion. My opinion. The second misconception is if I’m castigating Democrats then I must be a Republican. Or, if I’m chewing on the GOP, I’m automatically a Dem. As a registered Oregon Independent, neither is true.

One reader wrote awhile back that he wanted to be taken off the “subscription list” because “if I want a Democratic Central Committee newsletter, I’ll subscribe.” Needless to say, he was responding to a piece that was highly critical of Republicans. Not all Republicans. Just the 50 or so trying desperately to gut our federal government.

He noticed – as have many others – that GOP members of Congress – at least some of them – are often cast in these musing as cancerous growths on the body politic. Since that depiction is not an unusual occurrence – and not entirely wrong – the “obvious conclusion,” is that said scribe is a “bad ol’ Democrat.” Ironically, the critic was a professional journalist, too.

Well, this scribe found it interesting that – on the very same day as this latest mislabeling and faulty logic was emailed to me – Mitt Romney was talking to a group of Eastern Republican donors and party officials. His message was very clear. And very similar – though maybe more muted – to thoughts expressed here a day or two earlier.

Romney, following his election defeat some months before, was warning those 50 or so Republicans wanting to shutter our government that – if they succeed – the GOP will lose badly in 2014 national elections. He wisely said the Party should return to its traditional roots of support for business, lower taxes and the rest. Further, Romney predicted, if his Party didn’t support immigration reform, “Democrats will win big.” Again.

Romney’s not alone. Many top Republicans are forcefully carrying the same message to the same obstructionists. Knock off this right-wing suicide mission and get behind the elephant you used to get yourselves on the ballot. Romney and his peers are doing what House Speaker Boehner won’t. Shut the idiots down and get to work on a real Republican Party agenda. Stop the 42 efforts to kill Obamacare which will never succeed. Stop screwing over women, Hispanics, Blacks and other minorities. Stop playing to an ever-diminishing old, white base while ignoring a racially evolving electorate. Hear! Hear!

To be critical of the Republican Party these days doesn’t automatically make one a Democrat. If that were true, 86% of Americans fed up with what’s happening – or NOT happening – in Congress would be called “Democrats.” They’re not, of course.

Even thinking Republicans are fed up with the crazy ideologues – and others like them – dragging the Party off the right-most edge of their square earth. It’s not that Democrats are doing everything right or being entirely responsible or providing superb leadership. They aren’t. But loudmouth Republican crazies in Congress aren’t being challenged – or even disciplined – by their own party elders. The good works both parties could be doing are being mucked up by a small group that needs to be exorcized. Banished!

Republicans control the U.S. House of Representatives. At the moment. And that’s where you’ll find the bulk of our political mess. To intelligent folks, criticism of what’s happening there can come from a thinking Democrat – or a thinking Republican – or even a thinking Independent.

There’s no need – or excuse – for misplaced labels. Which are most often wrong anyway.

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A Seattle Times editorial suggests that the majority Republicans in the U.S. House are descending into chaos. Φ Also in the Times, Danny Westneat writes about a Seattle woman who’s being priced out of her Bank of America checking account. (What’s happening: She doesn’t have enough money to get gouging monthly fees waived; if she had a much larger bankroll, there’d be no fees.) Φ Where does Washington state store the money it gets from marijuana fees, taxes and so forth? Having a bank big enough to defend itself against possible federal activity seems to be a prerequisite.

The ocean’s chemistry has been changing significantly, and Northwest scientists are look into it, and how those changes have been doing serious damage to much of the life within the ocean. Φ There’s a significant industrial center in northwest Portland, close by the Columbia River; so what happens to it (and the river) if an earthquake hits? It won’t be pretty, a new study says. Φ The Phil Knights are offering the Oregon Health Science University a half-billion dollars for cancer research – if they can match it. The push is on … Φ Eugene is considering establishing more than one camp for the city’s homeless, since the need seems to be so large.

St. Luke’s is working on a major push in the Nampa market, and there’s some serious pushback in the form of a lawsuit from other providers. At what point is competition squashed, and at what point does a large enough ability to buy goods and services allow for price containment? There’s material for a serious round of thinking on this. Φ A new study suggests that the number of jobs in agriculture in Idaho (still the state’s predominant industry overall) are down, although there’s some growing demand for certain types of specialized work.

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First Take


The Intermediary, the fascinating and remarkably detailed story by Orofino historian Lin Tull Cannell of William Craig and his unique role in the development of the early Northwest, came out a couple of years ago when it was published by Ridenbaugh Press. Now we’re pleased to offer a couple of additions.

Lin has developed two more pieces available for free download. You can get them on the Intermediary web page or right here.

One is an index to the book, which Lin had contemplated earlier and now is available. (Note: the Index is based on books with print date 20 August 2012. The pagination is different in the earlier versions.)

The other is an errata sheet.

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idaho RANDY

Last year the Idaho Department of Lands swapped out the University of Idaho Science Campus at McCall, which it managed as part of the state endowment lands used to generate money for public schools. It obtained in exchange an office building and about three associated acres in Idaho Falls, owned by the private firm IW4 LLC; the Idaho National Laboratory lead contractor leases space there.

Were this being done exclusively by private businesses, no one outside the parties involved would know or care; and probably not much either if only government entities were involved. The business deal gets more complicated when public and private entities both are involved, and this one shows why someone outside the process ought to oversee such exchanges.

The McCall property was estimated to be worth $6.1 million, and maybe it was since, after the Idaho Falls firm IW4 LLC obtained it, it flipped the property to another buyer for $6.1 million. However: The buyer was the University of Idaho, a state agency. So you could say the state sold the property to a private buyer for $6.1 million, which paid in the form of another piece of property, and then bought it back for $6.1 million. Or: IW4 LLC used the state to convert its Idaho Falls property into $6.1 million, rather than just sell it to a cash buyer themselves.

Huh? This still might make some sense if the Idaho Falls building and land was in fact worth, and salable for, $6.1 million. But here’s the catch.

Last week a group called the Tax Accountability Committee, whose spokesman is Boise attorney John Runft, together with state representatives Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, threw some additional light on the situation. They had developed their own appraisal and concluded the Idaho Falls property was worth $4.5 million, which would mean IW4 LLC effectively cleared an easy $1.6 million on the overall deal. (Boise blogger David Frazier, who has been tracking state property purchases closely, said that Bonneville County has assessed the property for as little as $2.2 million.) Vander Woude and Burgoyne said they plan to introduce legislation in the next session to require review appraisals.

The question of what the Idaho Falls property actually was worth has led to a round robin of squabbling. The Idaho Department of Lands has replied that is did a proper review, and pointed out that while both properties generate rental income, McCall’s amounts to about $250,000 annually while Idaho Falls’ comes to $538,000 (although, since these are income properties, such rentals should have been factored into the appraisal valuations). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who chairs the land board which approves such transactions, said that full appraisals could be expensive.

Burgoyne countered that, “When doing a $6.1 million transaction or any other transaction involving endowment land, the cost of a review appraisal is not, as IDL contends, excessive; it is simply prudent, will save money by avoiding over and under valuations, and bring IDL into conformity with business standards of care.”

Determining exactly how much a piece of property is worth can be a matter of pinning mercury, as anyone who has bought or sold a house can testify. When it comes to exchanging – or in effect, selling – its endowment lands, that slipperiness becomes a difficult issue for the state. (That’s in addition to the issue, also relevant, of the state becoming an active player and competitor in the private real estate industry.)

To be clear: No one is suggesting illegality here. But absent broader oversight, you can see how few steps it would take to get from here to there.

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Idaho Idaho column