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Posts published in September 2013

Complexity in the resignation

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

There's something about Multnomah County's process of replacing members of its commission that, it would seem, could use some work.

The county's top office holder is its commission chair, a position specifically elected by the public and not chosen from among the commission members or rotated around. (In that, there's some similarity with Portland's mayoral job.) But what happens when that person leaves?
For most elective positions, the idea would be that other elective office holders would make the decision about filling it until the voters do. In many instances, in many states, governors do a lot of that sort of thing, and Oregon does it in some cases (most often, judges). But not in this case.

In the case of Jeff Cogen, the chair leaving under heavily embattled conditions (people in Portland know about the infamous affair with a county employee), the replacement will be – his chief of staff, a person unknown to most people in the county and not named by anyone external.

Then the job will be filled in two steps. An elected replacement will be picked after the primary election next May (yes, that's the better part of a year away). But that will be for a temporary term. Coinciding with that, campaigns and elections will go on to fill the job for a regular four-year term; the election to settle that will be held in November 2014. So there could be four county chairs (starting with Cogen) over the next year and four months.

You'd think there'd be a more logical system than this. But then, Portland Multnomah County do like their peculiar systems in governmental organization.

Don’t do it!

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

For several weeks, I’ve been trying – really trying – to come up with a solid justification for risking more lives in Syria. Theirs and ours. I’ve tried – really tried – to find reasons to smack ol’ Bashar Assad up-side-the-head for killing and maiming thousands of his own people. I’ve tried. And failed.

If the president of this country authorizes any military action against Syria, I truly believe he’ll be wrong!

As citizens living in this freedom-loving country – citizens who value life, liberty and all that goes with them – citizens who’ve buried more than their share of loved ones who died protecting others all over the world – we’ve shown we put a high value on all we have. We put a high value on – our values. But those values are not the same in the rest of the world. And we’ve had our national butt kicked in several other countries when we tried to impose ours over theirs. For whatever seemingly humanitarian reasons we had at the time. History – and reality – tell us we were wrong.

Assad Junior has been killing his fellow countrymen and women and children for many years. His father – who killed hundreds of thousands in his own time – taught the kid well. Pick a means of death and it’s likely been used by one or the other. Or both. For many, many decades.

And we’ve watched for those same decades without doing anything about it. We’ve recognized the Syrian regimes as they’ve been torturing and killing. And we’ve even given – or sold – them arms of all kinds. They kept killing. We looked the other way.

Now – now Junior may have used chemicals to kill even more. And suddenly we’ve become incensed because he did. Or MAYBE he did. We know gas was used but we don’t know definitively who pulled the trigger. But because it was gas and not bullets or bombs, we’re all upset.

Why are we upset? What’s the difference if you die by bullets, bombs, knives, swords, starvation – or poison chemicals? Why have we become so nearly irrational in our hatred of Junior that our president wants to lob some missiles into the country? To hit what? To hit whom? And we’re not even sure it was Junior who authorized the deadly deed or some nutcase field commander or even one overzealous private who set it off. Or the “rebels.”

So, one of our tidy naval vessels is supposed to fire off a few Cruise missiles, turns to the open sea and the crew goes back to normal duties. For the rest of us – for the president who seems hellbent on pulling the trigger – what then?

President Obama made the first mistake when – without proof-in-hand – he very publically warned Assad he crossed “a red line” if reports of chemical weapons use were confirmed. For a man gifted as few others with the ability to express himself on camera, he certainly put himself – and maybe the rest of us – in a verbal “political box” for no reason. (more…)

Polite power

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

On the one occasion when Louise Shadduck ran for office, this being for the U.S. House in 1956, she lost, and later dismissed the experience as “a fit of temporary madness.”

On that this insightful and politically skilled woman was wrong.

Elective office – and running for it – would have suited her well had she tried again, and she likely would have handled it expertly.
Read the new book Lioness of Idaho: Louise Shadduck and the Power of Polite, by Mike Bullard (who for some years was her pastor at Coeur d'Alene) and you get both a sense of what politics ought to be, and what kind of attributes you should look for as you consider who ought to be elected to represent you in office.

Louise Shadduck had a whole lot of those qualities.

The Bullard book, you should know, isn't a hard-edged inquiry or tough investigation; it was written more in appreciation. But the appreciation is understandable. Louise Shadduck was one of the most productive people in Idaho public affairs, notably around the 1950s and 60s, heading up the state's economic development efforts during a a critical period and becoming involved in a wide range of governmental activities. She was a solidly loyal lifelong Republican (though she grew up in the Coeur d'Alene area back when it was strongly Democratic), and worked on Republican campaigns for decades, apart from her own run for office.

That one campaign didn't sit well with her, and when she said “never again,” she meant it. The irony was that she had all the qualities you'd want in a candidate. She was one of the best networkers in the state, long before the term was invented. She took the time to understand the state and its people and their needs and concerns; she understood the “issues” quite well. She favored cooperation and working toward solutions that would be broadly acceptable; building coalitions was a big part of what she did. She listened to people, and she didn't pigeonhole them; for her, Democrats were people on the other side of elections, and with whom she might agree less than with her fellow Republicans, but people nonetheless who she easily worked with. The Bullard book's subtitle, “The Power of Polite,” is totally apt in her case. (more…)

Voices in the forest

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I’ve written a number of times about the politically goofball part of the northwest in which I live. Each time, somebody responds, “Oh, Rainey. Cool down! It can’t be that nutty.” Oh, yeah?

Comes now the County of Siskiyou just south of our Oregon border with California. Beautiful place if you’re talking scenery. Sliding slowly off the right edge of your square world if you mean politically.

The Supervisors of Siskiyou County – yep, the ones previously elected on the intellectually shaky platforms on which they stood – voted this week. And the official count was 4-1 to secede from California. Further more, they’re inviting several counties in Oregon to join them.

They’re proposing – yet again – the creation of a new state to be named “Jefferson.” I can’t tell you how that would “protect” them from the “extreme burden of state and federal laws” they’re all agitated about. Seems to me the Jefferson “utopia” would have to put up with EPA, OSHA, the Departments of Education, Human Services along with Obamacare and all the rest. Maybe their “thinking” hasn’t gone that far at this point.

More than 100 local folk jammed the courthouse hearing room to demand supervisors open the secession door. By 4-1, they did. Typical of the “thinking” represented was one Gabe Harrison of Happy Camp – a tiny hamlet just south of the Oregon border.

Said Gabe, “We need our own state so we can make laws that fit our way of life. Many proposed (state and federal) laws are unconstitutional and deny us our God-given rights.”

I’ve not done the apparent homework of Mr. Harrison to find out how many “proposed laws” are “unconstitutional. Normally that’s a function of the U.S. Supreme Court – after a law has been enacted. But Gabe sounded so certain in his claim that he must have figured out some new way of telling.

Talk of the “State of Jefferson” is not new in this part of Oregon. It’s been around for years. Hang around any local bar long enough and you’ll eventually find someone boozed up enough to open the discussion. Jefferson is, after all, a popular name hereabouts. Even our regional Oregon Public Broadcast operation is called “Jefferson Public Radio.”

I don’t know if this Jefferson craziness started in California or Oregon. We have a porous and heavily forested border through which people from both states travel the pathways largely unnoticed by the rest of us. Sheriffs in local counties know lots of drugs move to and fro in those woods. By the way, Ol’ Art Robinson – Oregon’s new square earth Republican Party Chairman – lives just a few miles this side of the border. Speaking geographically. He crossed other borders years ago politically. (more…)

Lioness?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

In Chapter 5 of my recently published book, Medimont Reflections, I posed the question that if Idaho’s great senator, William E. Borah, was known as “the Lion of Idaho,” what historical female practitioner of the political arts should we award the title “the Lioness of Idaho?”

The chapter cited several worthy contenders, but drilled down on the case for Verda Barnes, Senator Frank Church’s long-time chief of staff, and Louise Shadduck, the long-time chief assistant to two governors, a senator and a congressman.

For retired former Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene pastor, Mike Bullard, the choice was easy - hands down he believes it should be the former member of his last congregation, Louise Shadduck. He has written an enjoyable and informative 240-page biography of the multi-faceted, talented Shadduck, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, cut her teeth in journalism and was a longtime member and former president of the National Federation of Press Women.

Always torn between a love of writing (she wrote and had published five books) and a love of politics, Bullard makes it clear she never really resolved the conflict. A creative tension always existed for her as she tried to balance feet in both worlds. Her love of politics eventually led her in 1956 to challenge First District congresswoman Gracie Pfost. It became the first race for a congressional seat in the nation ever between the major parties where each nominated a woman to carry the banner.

Despite losing, Louise never regretted making the race and called it one of her life’s great learning experiences.

During an interview with Bullard about Louise, who I had known since 1972 (I did a profile from Washington, D.C.), I mentioned that I was calling one chapter “The Lioness of Idaho” and essentially the answer in my mind came down to Louise or Verda. I mentioned also that I thought there were actually two classes of contenders for the title, those that had served in Congress, and those that had not.

Of course neither of the “finalists” served in elective office so it turned out to be a moot question.

After pondering it for awhile, Bullard decided to call his book Lioness of Idaho. He kindly asked if I minded and also said he would like to copyright it. He did both with my full blessing.

His subtitle though quintessentially highlights one of the attributes that distinguished Louise during her rich and full life. Bullard’s subtitle is “The Politics of Polite,” and that was a key ingredient in her long 93 year span. (more…)

The complexities of the exchange

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

It’s been a tall order. The new Idaho Health Insurance Exchange’s 19 board members were given only 4½ months to launch an enrollment period in compliance with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare,” which officially takes effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Idaho is getting late into the game. Most other states have been working out details for more than two years to comply with the mandate by either joining the federal exchange or creating their own exchanges. Insurance companies argued strongly in favor of an Idaho-based exchange.

All Idahoans 18 and older will have six months to enroll (from Oct. 1, 2013, through March 31, 2014) and choose among 79 plans from five insurance carriers to get mandatory health care insurance. If they don’t enroll, they face penalties. The exchange covers all 44 Idaho counties.

How Idaho would comply with Obamacare turned into one of the most bitterly debated issues in the final weeks of this year’s legislative session, pitting Republicans versus Republicans, causing a delay in the enactment of an Idaho-based exchange. The Legislature adjourned on April 4 after agreeing in March to establish the state-based exchange.

Weeg
Stephen Weeg

When he named the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange board members on April 10, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced that Stephen Weeg -- a veteran health care professional from Pocatello who retired in July 2012 after eight years of directing Health West Inc. -- would chair the Gem State’s exchange. The members met for the first time on April 21.

In addition to rigid time constraints, also complicating matters for the exchange board is the fact about 190,000 Idahoans find themselves below the poverty level and 222,000 have no health insurance; the state’s median family income is among the lowest in the United States; the average hourly wage in Idaho in 2012 was 46th in the nation, and the state’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour -- making it difficult for people to afford health care insurance. Idaho has the highest number of per capita minimum wage earners.

Although their travel expenses are reimbursed, the exchange board members do not get paid and do not have a staff.

“Other than that, it’s been a piece of cake,” Weeg remarked to Rotary Club of Pocatello members when he explained the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange on Thursday, Aug. 29, noting only 35 days remained before the enrollment period would start. Weeg spent 40 years in health and human services administrative positions.

“I did try to retire a year ago,” Weeg said, noting he got a call at the end of March from the governor’s office urging him to take on the major challenge of chairing Idaho’s health insurance exchange board. “I asked, ‘Can’t anybody in Boise do this?’”

Weeg emphasized that the exchange board consists of Idahoans engaged in small business, health care and health insurance. Three legislators and the directors of the Idaho Departments of Insurance and Health & Welfare also serve. (more…)

An opening door

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Since Washington and Colorado voters last year chose to create a legal marketplace for marijuana, and other nearby states like Idaho watched closely – or, like Oregon, positioned themselves to follow suit – the big question has been: What will the federal government do?

Marijuana is still banned under federal law, and nothing in the law stops federal officials and agents from swooping into Washington and Colorado (and any followup states) allowing for legal consumption, and imprisoning, at least in theory, a whole lot of people for doing something their states have okayed.

There's also this, however: Law enforcement officials, and prosecutors, always have made choices about which laws to enforce, and how. There are far too many laws on the books, too many infractions, misdemeanors, and even felonies to even consider trying to enforce them all with equal force. (I once asked a veteran Idaho legislative staffer how many felony offenses are on the books in Idaho, and he had no idea.) Talk privately to a cop or a prosecutor, and they'll probably acknowledge a kind of triage: usually, they enforce strenuously laws aimed at protecting people from some kind of specific harm. Murder and other violent crime, for example, are very high priority, which seems to make sense.

When Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday issued his department's policy on marijuana in the age of state legalization, he seemed to bear that concept in mind. As an operating principle, he said, the department would let Washington and Colorado (and other states) do their thing on “marijuana-related conduct” – but he also provided a collection of eight red flags that might draw in federal responses.

Those “enforcement priorities”, listed in a “memorandum for all United States attorneys”, include keeping pot from being distributed to minors; keeping money from marijuana sales out of the hands of criminal elements; keeping pot from seeping out of smoking states to non-smoking states; keeping legal market activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity; preventing violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution; preventing drugged driving; avoiding grows on public lands; and barring marijuana use on federal lands.

In deciding whether the feds should jump in, the memo said, “The primary question in all cases – and in all jurisdictions – should be whether the conduct at issue implicates one or more of the enforcement priorities listed above.”

The point might be made, though it wasn't explicitly by the department, that all these things already have been happening under prohibition, and that a legal market regime might be best judged not by absolute compliance but by improvement.

Still, while the new federal rule is a long way from an open free-for-all – a totally free marketplace? - it has set down for the first time a set of rules under which states could legalize without risk of federal pre-emption. That may be important.

It's likely, for example, to increase the odds (already favorable) that Oregon will vote for legalization next year, since the terms of federal cooperation now are a lot clearer.

And for Idaho, the question will arise: How can Washington (and maybe Oregon, and conceivably Nevada too) draw the line at their border so that legal pot doesn't cross to the Gem State? Does the border at Idaho, totally porous without any slowdowns to the west now, start to sprout checkpoints and enhanced law enforcement?