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Posts published in January 2014

Three strikes and –

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

No holder of high public office in Idaho could have been happier to see 2013 end than U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, the senior member of the state’s four-member, all Republican delegation.

Counting Christmas of 2012, in slightly more than 365 days the normally quiet workhorse (as opposed to a show horse) made the headlines on three occasions that can only be described as embarrassing and mortifying to a senator long known for his probity and sense of propriety.

First there was his arrest for driving while impaired in northern Virginia just before Christmas of 2012. Few reporters bought his story about deciding to go for a late night drive. The rumor mill churned into over-drive but the senator is justifiably held in such high regard that no one in the media chose to pursue speculation regarding where he may have been headed or where he was coming from.

His years of good conduct and solid, stolid work got him a “move along” card. Strike one, however.

A few months later another story hit the headlines regarding the mishandling of $250,000 in campaign money that appeared to have been loaned to one of the Senator’s campaign staffers. This brought a rebuke from the Federal Election Commission. Strike two.

And just a few weeks ago the Senator appeared on the Senate floor with what looked to most observers like a “shiner” below his right eye more commonly associated with a left hook. Why he chose to display the black eye, allegedly the result of a fall while moving furniture, instead of stopping by the Senate’s television studio to have a little make-up applied to cover up the shiner, is a complete mystery.

The shiner led to the kind of jokes and one liners that no politician likes to be the butt of and no Idaho politician had been the recipient of since former Senator Larry Craig’s toe-tapping incident in one of the restrooms in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. Strike three, Senator Crapo.

In baseball, three strikes and you’re out of the game. The same should also prevail in the political arena. Unfortunately, that is not the case and when one comes to the Senate from the most Republican state in the nation, Senators Crapo and Risch can pretty much count on staying in the Senate as long as they wish including right up to their dying day.

There is just one answer left to the Idaho voters: pass an initiative limiting service in all the statewide offices and the federal offices to a maximum of 12 years. Thus, a U.S. Senator could only serve two 6-year terms, a member of the House could only serve six 2-year terms, and a governor could only serve three 4-year terms.

Something seems to happen to even the best of office-holders after 12 years. For lack of a better phrase it can be called the “been there, done that” syndrome. Yes, it is a form of arrogance but the person starts thinking he or she has seen it all, know it all and they stop listening. (more…)

A look ahead in Indian country

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

It’s a new year -- and a new story. There is nothing more important to political discourse than a good story. It shapes our thinking, sets the rules for the debate, and, sometimes, warps reality. Stories matter. We humans think in terms of story. We dream, tell, and remember stories. We live stories.

So what’s Indian Country’s “story” for 2014?

Before I answer that question, let’s look back at recent narratives.

The first story goes like this: Congress broke promises made to Indian Country by cutting federal budgets beyond all reason, especially through the sequester. This made reservation life far more difficult, removing children from Head Start, scaling back educational opportunities, severe funding for healthcare delivery, and basic government infrastructure.

The New York Times, in a July editorial, captured this storyline. “It’s an old American story: malign policies hatched in Washington leading to pain and death in Indian country. It was true in the 19th century. It is true now, at a time when Congress, heedless of its solemn treaty obligations to Indian tribes, is allowing the across-the-board budget cuts known as the sequester to threaten the health, safety and education of Indians across the nation.”

This is an important story to know. And to tell. But it’s also important to know that the story already has its ending. There are only two ways to change what happens next, vote out Congress or limit the damage. (More about both of those scenarios in future columns.) The second alternative is remote, but possible in 2014, with measures such as Montana Senator Jon Tester’s bill to fund Indian health programs a year in advance.

Another story told this year is about changing the name of the Washington NFL team. This story is important because it’s a success story (I know, the issue isn’t resolved. Yet. But it’s inevitable. The question is how long the team owner will fight on, not the outcome.) Forget the merits of the mascot debate for a minute and just think about the storytelling aspect.

This story is all about the long view. Suzan Shown Harjo, Raymond D. Apodaca, Vine Deloria, Jr.; Norbert S. Hill, Jr.; Mateo Romero; William A. Means; and Manley A. Begay, pressed a case calling for the cancellation of the team’s trademark protections. It’s step-by-step litigation that’s built a through record about “pejorative, derogatory, denigrating, offensive, scandalous, contemptuous, disreputable, disparaging and racist designation for a Native American person.”

The velocity of change picked up in February when the National Museum of the American Indian held a public symposium on the mascot issue. This was a story told in the heart of Washington, challenging and burying status quo.

So much so that Harjo and her allies have already won the tides of history and public opinion. The NFL doesn’t see it that way. Yet. But it will will. And if not, the litigation continues in a new form, the case now known as Blackhorse et al v. Pro-Football Inc. This is a story that’s ready for an ending.

A third story -- another one about success -- is the signing into law of reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, including provisions that recognize tribal jurisdiction. This law is a tribute to the power of story. It probably would not have become law until Deborah Parker, Vice Chairman of the Tulalip Tribes, told her story to Sen. Patty Murray and then in a Senate news conference. Parker’s narrative changed the politics. The law’s supporters built a successful coalition that trumped the politics of the ordinary, especially in the House of the Representatives. This Violence Against Women Act story, though, needs an ending. It’s not enough to pass a law, there has to accounts about how this law has really made a difference in the lives of women are abused. (more…)

Janus years

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Reviewing the top Idaho news stories of 2013, the Associated Press settled on the big fires of the fall, the monsters that burned and smoked so much of southern and central Idaho, as the biggest. It's a reasonable choice.

The AP may do a repeat at the end of this year. One of the most important factors driving fire ferocity is how much water is on the ground, which depends heavily on how much snowpack developed the previous winter. As 2012 ended (three month's into the standard “water year”), Idaho seemed not to be in bad shape. All but one of its 22 main river basins were running above, mostly well above, the normal precipitation for that time of year – the Salmon River at 126%, for example, the Little Wood at 147%, Henry's Fork at 111%.

At the end of this year, every Idaho basin was running below average, below 100%. The Salmon was at 65%, the Little Wood at 47%, Henry's Fork at 84%. Those are spooky numbers.

The precipitation could still turn around – and Idahoans had better hope it does. If not, Idaho could face not only more really bad fires, maybe a round of fires worse than last year's, but significant drought as well come this summer.

As with water, so with much else: Many of the big stories of last year will have counterparts in 2014. Even the Boise State University football coach transition; from the fans' perspective, definite eras ended last year and will commence next season. And the closing out of the Corrections Corporation of America management of a prison at Boise, which took a turn last year (as the state seemed to move away from private management of the prison it has operated) and is likely to reach its destination this next.

The area of Obamacare and health insurance exchanges will see a real mirror image, since up to this new year, everything was in the realm of preparation and transition, and that was a big story in the last few months. Now the practical effects of the new system come home, and that will have its own distinctive effects, on people's lives and on politics.

And then there's politics, where 2013 was in large part a prep for 2014.

More major candidates than usual announced full-throated campaigns well before 2013 was done, to the point that the shape of many of the major races next year in the state already are startlingly clear. The Tea Party and allied activists used 2013 as a major development period, and the battle for the Idaho Republican Party, between that group and what might be considered mainstream conservatives, is well set in place. At year's end we're set for significant Republican primary contests for a whole range of offices, from at least one congressional seat to governor, secretary of state and likely a good many more. Idaho Democrats too have a number of major candidates lined up.

We can't yet know for sure how this will play out. In recent weeks I've repeatedly asked the question of which side likely will prevail on primary election day May 20 (and we certainly will get an answer then if not before). The overwhelming response I heard was that the Tea forces would fall well short of the mainstreeters, and some pointed to the November election results in Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls as evidence.

They may be right, but there's often a disconnect between downtown Boise and activists outside. We still have months to go between here and there.

Let the tale of 2014 start to spin.

Stories of two wages

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Washington

Two directions as to worker benefits were among the top stories of the last couple of weeks in Washington.

One was the SeaTac $15 minimum wage story, which has gone through lots of twists since the ballots were turned in a couple of months ago. It was a close race, finally narrowly passing after close review, and then facing a series of legal challenges. The last challenge resulted in a judge concluding that the SeaTac municipality could not (by virtue of an act of the Washington legislature) dictate much to the area covered by the SeaTac airport, which is where most of the city's workers work. Still, the measure has survived at least in principle, covering some people, and making the declaration that full-time pay ought to equate to a decent standard of living.

Then there's the Boeing machinists agreement, which is a rather different part of the territory.

The workers involved in that dispute and eventual agreement tend to make a lot more than the minimum wage; some reach into six figures. There is this, though: The union members supporting the deal seem to have done so because of concern that had they not, Boeing might have carried through on its not very subtle threat and moved a lot of highly-paid 777 activity out of the Northwest. They were not negotiating in an arms-length fashion, in other words; they were knuckling under to pressure. But only barely, with just 51% in support.

The principle of substantial work wages and benefits may be as strong around the Puget Sound as anywhere in the United States, and these two care are part of the edgy battleground.

Do not expect that as 2014 unfolds, this battleground will remain unvisited. This is some of the most sensitive policy territory people in this country will be considering over the next few years, and Washington seems to be right in the heart of it.

Benefits

oregon
RANDY STAPILUS / Oregon

The idea of a benefits company seems at first like little more than a feel-good deal, except that if emphasis really is eventually put in its terms, and if strong incentives start to develop for their designation, something important could emerge.

The state report on them describes the concept this way: “Benefit Companies enjoy legal protection to create value for society, not just shareholders, while meeting higher standards of accountability and transparency.”

Imagine for a moment that a large portion of the businesses, let's say a lot of the major ones, started to operate under those kind of terms? Suppose they were given strong incentive to pay attention to and operate within the interests of the communities where they do business? Suppose that they way they treat employees, other businesses, customers and the general citizenry has to factor in the interests of those parties – not just the owners of the central business?

Given the way so many national and multinational companies operate today, that sounds like something from a discarded verse of John Lennon's “Imagine.” But it doesn't have to be fantasy. Corporations, in this state and country and in the rest of the world, operate according to rules set up at governmental levels. Suppose strong incentives were brought to bear to require they behave in these ways? How different would our society be?

The new Oregon law on benefits companies is only a micro step in that direction. But it does dare to ask the question.

New Year’s on the beach

140101pacificcity

New Year's was temperate, sunny and not even very windy on the Oregon coast - perfect incentive to draw people from inland out to the water.

Here, people are enjoying a campfire at Pacific City on the night of New Year's, as the holiday season comes toward an end. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

A new minimum?

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

Idaho front-page headlines on Day 1 of the new year took note (Idaho Statesman, Idaho Press Tribune, Idaho State Journal) of the group trying to raise the Idaho minimum wage to $9.80 an hour. The deadline for getting petition signatures is April 30.

The Raise Idaho backers, who include Anne Nesse of Coeur d'Alene, point out that Idaho has the most minimum-wage jobs, per capita, of any state.

There will be heavy pushback on this. Although the initiative process operates outside the legislative, look for a legislative reaction - one that's not, of course, in favor of the initiative.