Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT


“From sea to shining sea” across our national landscape, we are awash in unnecessary, racist, homophobic and outright despicable efforts to legislate against us and our neighbors – to control what we think and do. It’s being done in the name of someone’s “God” or someone’s corporate interests or others with self-serving, underhanded – often dangerous – attempts to prolong their worthless political lives at the public trough.

We’ve been inundated by media coverage of one of the worst of the crop that made it to a governor’s desk. A piece of legislative trash – sponsored mostly by a Colorado group calling itself “christian” – to allow “religious beliefs” to trump citizenship rights of those whom the “believers” disapprove. While the media made it mostly a matter of sexual orientation, it was, in fact, an effort to legislate absolutely any person’s activities if those activities ran counter to someone providing a public service or product. That’s all of us.

The governor vetoed the bill. Not, I think, because it was the right thing to do. Which it was. Remember, this is someone running for re-election. I’d bet she suddenly realized overwhelming public – and corporate – opposition was a prime indicator of Arizona political winds and that she’d be better off temporarily angering her right-wing base than running afoul of possibly a much wider – and likely corporate “contributor” – constituency.

But her political fortunes aren’t the issue here. What IS the issue is eight other states are dealing with the same piece of phony moralistic garbage. Legislatures in Oregon and Idaho appear to have bottled up those bills in committee. For now. But they’ll be back. You can count on it. What the other six states will do is anyone’s guess.

This is just one area in which wrong-headed, narrow-minded, moralistic minorities are trying to do through law what they can’t do any other way – infringe on the rights of the rest of us by making our conduct in various issues illegal if our conduct flies in the face of their “moral beliefs.” There are many, many more similar legislative land mines out there..

Whether it’s gay rights, voter rights, abortion rights, access to medical care, privatizing schools or the post office or prisons or other public institutions of choice, a network of these ideologically vacant “moralists” has been created to raise havoc with our society. We hear and read so much about their efforts that it’s hard to keep in mind they’re minorities. But they are.

It’s no secret who’s behind them. James Dobson and other fundamentalist church leaders, the Koch brothers and their various 501(c)3 and (c)4 fronts, the John Birch Society, Family Forum, the NRA, Heritage Foundation and dozens and dozens of small, tin-hat groups and billionaire self-appointed keepers of the national moral flame. Some are new- some aren’t. But the Internet and other recent technologies have given them the means of spreading their societal undermining so they seem much larger and more important than they really are.

I tangled repeatedly with the little Idaho nest of the Birch Society in the 1960’s. The message then was the same as the message now – this country is “going to Hell in a handbasket “ because of (insert your favorite conspiracy). The focus 50 years ago was mostly on “Communists” hiding in our government. But abortion and subjugation of the rights of minorities were – and are – also Birch menu items.

Back then, they were isolated. Now, with the push of a computer key, they flood the Internet with hundreds of thousands of email messages of hate, suspicion, conspiracy and nut-ball fantasies. Their presence is so much more noticeable because of the ease of access to the rest of us., But, if you pull back the electronic curtain, you’ll likely find the same scared little people – resistant to change – unable to cope with our quickly moving technologies – afraid of the government bogeymen they still see in every dark corner – frightened of the “Communist infiltrators” of years gone by.

But there have also been at two very real changes for these small, disparate groups of haters and conspiratorial nuts. First, largely by years of hard work in mostly local and state Republican central committees – coupled with the normal political indifference of most Americans until it’s one of theirs in the wringer – they’ve captured party nominating control and, in some cases, frozen out otherwise normal candidacies. Our political zoos are now filled with the likes of Bachmans, Ghomerts, Brouns, Cruzes, Issa’s, Lees, Kings, etc.. Check your local legislature for carbon copies.

The second change is the proliferation of dangerous front groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Sponsored by the Koch’s and other corporate interests with a right wing agenda, ALEC and others are clearing houses used to create sample bills for introduction into the 50 legislatures and Congress. The current rash of anti-gay, “religious freedom” and voter suppression garbage can be traced back to these various sources. They’re “one-size-fits-all” copies intended to flood statehouses and Congress. Some die Some don’t.

For those who want additional proof – check out what’s happened to the anti-gay bills signed into law in nearly a dozen states. As one federal court after another strikes them down one by one, the wording in the decisions is almost as uniform as wording in what’s being tossed out.

Something dangerous is afoot here. As state after state passes this junk – and as court after court cancels much of it – judges are in the position of making law rather than deciding it. They do so by overruling legislature after legislature. One state loses and ten more lose as well.

There’s also the issue of those few bad laws that might survive lower federal courts moving up to the U.S. Supreme Court. That puts SCOTUS in the position of not just deciding federal constitutional questions but also state laws by the handful. So, what happens to the balance of power among the three branches of government? Or the sovereignty of states? Or, if SCOTUS refuses to hear the appeals, then what?

There’s much more at stake in examples like the Arizona Legislature making bad law. Or Idaho. Or Oregon. We’ve got a cancer of single-minded minorities shoving self-serving agendas through the 50 states – agendas that don’t respect the rights and privileges of the citizenship the rest of us enjoy and are entitled to by law.

You may be comfortable on your pillow at night with having SCOTUS and Chief Justice Roberts acting as freedom’s backstop for this legislative effluent. Me? I’m not sleeping nearly as well.

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carlson CHRIS


Idaho Senator Jim Risch’s cruise to easy re-election just may not be the lock Republicans would like to think.

A poll of 773 Idaho voters (the margin of error is +/- 3.5%) during late February by Public Policy Polling revealed some potential problems for the often acerbic, staunchly conservative senator who is the 15th most wealthy member of Congress.

The numbers have to be heartening for Risch challenger Nels Mitchell, a successful Boise raised attorney seeking his first public office.

There are two key numbers that incumbents, pundits and lobbyists give careful scrutiny: the favorability number and the re-elect. Both in the case of Risch signal potential problems.

Risch’s favorability number was 47% (22% very favorable, 25% somewhat favorable). An old and venerable political rule of thumb is that anytime an incumbent’s number is below 50% there’s trouble on the horizon.

Even more troubling for Risch was the so-called re-elect number. The question can be posed several ways: “If the election for the U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Senator Risch?” Or, “Given what you know today regarding Senator Risch and his record, would you return him to office or would you consider someone else?”

According to the PPP, only 36% of Idaho voters are solidly committed to Risch while 48% think it is time to consider someone else. Like many Republicans, Risch is especially in trouble with women voters, particularly independent women voters, as well as Democratic women voters and pro-choice Republican women.

Almost half the respondents to the poll (45%) said they were less likely to support Risch because of his vote against the Violence Against Women Act. Some 31% said they were more likely to vote for him because of that vote.

Many Idaho voters also are critical of the Senator’s mishandling of Republican House colleague Mike Simpson’s proposed Boulder-White Clouds legislation. Some 46% of those responding said they were less likely to vote for the Senator because of his meddling obstructionism, while 25% said they would be more likely.

The poll appears to confirm anecdotal evidence that Risch has laid some seeds that could result in a huge upset come November. The Senator’s comments to Idaho Statesman political editor Dan Popkey a year ago last December regarding the easy path he was pursuing because nothing was getting done in gridlocked Washington, D.C., and that he could in effect put it on cruise control forever, in contrast to the hard job he found his seven months as governor to be, still rankles many.

His globe-trotting, often with wife Vicki, because he is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, does not appear to relate to or benefit Idaho business interests. His boastful pride in being designated the most conservative member of the U.S. Senate, a veritable abominable “No” man regardless of the merit of various legislation, his insensitivity to the less fortunate in our midst who aren’t sheltered from the vicissitudes of life by the millions he has – all of these combined could spell trouble in November.

The key will be whether Nels Mitchell can raise the money to get his message out that it’s time for a change and that Idaho needs a senator who will work constructively for the citizenry. Reportedly, Mitchell has been working hard at tapping an extensive network of friends across Idaho and from New York to Los Angeles for the kind of money it will take to exploit the cracks appearing in the Risch armor.

Time will tell, but there’s a glimmer of hope in these numbers for Mitchell, and a clear “stormy seas” ahead message for Risch.

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Carlson Idaho


Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Otter’s role in straight-to-video western (Boise Statesman)
Guns-on-campus passes House (Boise Statesman, Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News, Lewiston Tribune, Pocatello Journal, Moscow News, Sandpoint Bee)
Tribal police can go after a little more (Lewiston Tribune)
Clarkston developing business park (Lewiston Tribune)
WSU forum considers tobacco ban (Moscow News)
Albertsons-Safeway merger ahead (Nampa Press Tribune)
Juvenile Corrections suit moves ahead (Nampa Press Tribune)
Payday loan regulation bill advances (Nampa Press Tribune, TF Times News)
Muslim invication at Pocatello council (Pocatello Journal)
NIC-Sandpoint gets some state expansion funding (Sandpoint Bee)
Inquiry done on shooting of Filer dog (TF Times News)

City, union make agreement (Corvallis Gazette Times)
Albertsons, Safeway merger ahead (Eugene Register Guard)
Obama budget has Eugene bus funds (Eugene Register Guard)
Strong salmon run in Klamath (KF Herald & News)
Legislature hit final budget items (Portland Oregonian, Salem Statesman Journal, KF Herald & News)
SOU faculty make no confidence vote (Ashland Tidings)
Zoning issues threaten port development (Pendleton East Oregonian)
Senate rejects class action bill (Pendleton East Oregonian)
National labor board blasts longshoremen (Portland Oregonian)

Machinists get new leader (Everett Herald)
More radioactive waste found from tanks (Kennewick Herald)
More surface water set for Odessa area (Kennewick Herald)
Debate over huge fish catch by Pasco man (Kennewick Herald)
Albertsons, Safeway merger ahead (Spokane Spokesman, Tacoma News Tribune, Longview News)
Work on Olympic dam delayed by rain (Port Angeles News)
LaPush harbor may get dredging funds (Port Angeles News)
Boeing pensions plan adjusted (Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune)
Veteran tuition bill may fail despite broad support (Seattle Times)
March rainfall hitting record (Tacoma News Tribune)
Commissioners review state of Clark County (Vancouver Columbian)
Inslee weighs on teacher reviews (Vancouver Columbian)
More water for Yakima basin (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take