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Posts published in May 2015

First take

Daily Kos is reporting on polling numbers (from Public Policy Polling) on the 2016 Washington governor and Senate races, and showing both incumbents with clear leads over a string of Republicans. The best showing among Republicans was from Rob KcKenna, who held incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee to a close win in 2012. Inslee's approval rating isn't high and is actually underwater by a hair (41-42) but such ratings seem standard these days even for politicians who go on to win. And the poll showing him best McKenna by five points, and three others by double digits. Results are similar for Democratic Senator Patty Murray. If there's excitement in Washington politics next year, you'd expect it to center on the governor's race, but Inslee seems to be settling in.

The Idaho Department of Administration isn't or shouldn't be an especially exciting agency; the name more or less reflects what it does, which is to handle paperwork, contracts and bureaucracy. Usually it's a quiet place; it was during the many years Pam Ahrens was director there, and that's because she ran it at least reasonably well. But it has had one high-profile director after another in the Butch Otter years, and that high-profile description is a result of trouble. Mike Gwartney, Teresa Luna - the department was repeatedly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Will the new director, Bob Geddes, put an end to this? Maybe. The Geddes I knew when he was president pro tem of the state Senate was an unassuming guy who managed the chamber with surprising smoothness; that would indicate a fair possibility of success now. He then quit to join the Tax Commission during a period of trouble and instability there; things quieted down during his tenure there, a good sign, but he left after a short time. And he hasn't been at his current work with the Fsrm Bureau for very long. There are question marks here, but possibly also the opportunity for getting the house in order.

Where are the jobs?


Al Link is a vanishing breed: a labor leader born and raised in a union household. He defies the stereo-type, however. There’s no cigar or dark glasses, no four-letter word laced talk.

He wears a suit with tie or a sport coat, is soft spoken, articulate, and a great advocate for unions. He possesses a sense of humor, is organized, disciplined and accountable. His father, Roy, was for many years the president of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 329, and his mother, Mary, was the long-time COPE Director for the Spokane County Central Labor Council.

Link is proud to be a second generation union member, and proud of the role unions played in the 20th century that helped America become the industrial power envied by the rest of the world.

Unlike some labor leaders, Link does not hate “management.” In the early 1980s, when I was the regional vice president for northwest public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum and Link was the vice president of the USWA Local 329 at the Mead Smelter, he and I co-chaired a Labor/Management communications committee that tried to save 14,000 good-paying union jobs held by men and women employed by the nine facilities operating in the northwest.

The job multiplier for such good-paying manufacturing jobs is two for every one manufacturing. In other words, close to 50,000 pay checks were derived from the industry.

They first came to the region prior to and during World War II, attracted by the cheap hydropower generated by federal dams in the region. One-third of the cost of a pound of aluminum is the electricity. When one holds a beer or pop can in hand, they are holding fused electricity.

When the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power from the federally-built dams, went off on a binge of financing construction of nuclear power plants to meet projected load growth that did not factor in price elasticity, the cost of this power soared 900% overnight. Almost all the aluminum companies, especially Kaiser, began to hemorrhage.

The industry response was to advocate that BPA adopt a “variable power rate:” the price companies paid would be tied to the price the metal would fetch on the London Metal Exchange. If the price of metal was low, the price for power would reflect that. Of course if the metal price was high, so would the price of power.

The labor/management committee ran a classic campaign and Link was everywhere. We traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby the members of the northwest state’s Congressional deleggations. Majority Leader Tom Foley put out the red carpet, not because the Kaiser regional pooh-bah was seeking an audience, but because he was accompanied by the union leader who helped to provide campaign volunteers and dollars.

Link delivered union members who testified forcefully at BPA hearings. He delivered thousands of union-made yard signs as well as workers to handle the phone banks set up across the region. He delivered.

We won that battle. BPA adopted the variable power rate. The first year it kicked in Kaiser’s power bill was reduced by $105 million. It wasn’t enough, however, to save the industry. Like big business everywhere, the companies began to build more modern facilities overseas where costs, especially labor costs were less.

Link went on to become in 1994 the highly regarded secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and has held a number of prominent posts within the still influential in Washington state labor movement. When Kaiser was taken over by the corporate raider, Charles Hurwitz, I left and founded the Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs firm.

It was my privilege to introduce Link as the speaker at the 13th Annual North Idaho Democracy dinner last weekend. Both of us are supposedly retired, but still active .

Link delivered thoughtful comments on an all too familiar theme - the movement of jobs that helped make America great overseas. In particular he, like his colleagues in Labor, denounced the effort being led by President Obama for the United States to adopt “fast trade, free trade” rules that can only lead to even more jobs going overseas.

My friend is of course correct. The major problem, however, is that train left the station years ago. Powerful as Labor still is, and as influential as Link still is, both of the state’s pro-labor senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, are supporting fast trade.

When organizations from Boeing to MicroSoft to the Washington Wheat Growers care more about international market share, protecting American jobs all too easily is forgotten. Our grandchildren are already paying the price.

First take

Those were some startling pictures, of Idaho Governor Butch Otter happily sharing the podium with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell - announcing a partnership on improving sagebrush landscapes for reasons including protecting the sage grouse. Jewell remared that “We now have a fully integrated Strategy among federal, state, tribal and community partners that provides a set of actions to take now and in the future to fight rangeland fires across the West,” and Otter's assent put a significant exclamation point to that. Otter ordinarily is happiest when fed-bashing, but he seems to be fully on board this one. Could this lead to more cooperation? Better not press the point too far.

Varied results in the local levy and school elections around the Northwest yesterday. Maybe the most significant was one not school-related: Measure 8-81 in Curry County, where voters rejected (57.2% no) a law enforcement bond issue, aimed essentially at retoring the almost wholly eviscerated law enforcement operations in that eviscerated county. Sheriff John Ward was quoted as saying, "It would be an understatement to say we're disappointed with the results." So too must be the other residents of the county contemplating the drain this sad county is circling.

How serious the recalls?


Some gun activists are pretty PO’d about the mandatory universal background check bill (SB 941) – and now law.. In April some Bill opponents announced that they would seek the recalls of Representatives Val Hoyle and Susan McLain, as well as Senator Chuck Riley. And today, BlueOregon reported that the same group was going to file a recall petition against Senator Floyd Prozanski, the chief sponsor of the bill.

How serious are these various recall efforts?

The Signature hurdle: First, keep in mind that the to get the recalls on the ballot, petitioners must submit about 3,000 signatures in the case of a Representative, and 6,000 signatures in the case of a Senator, within 90 days of filing their petition.

That’s a lot of signatures, and a short period of time. And my guess is that getting people to sign a petition to recall an elected so shortly after the election, and for the reason that they voted for a bill the elected always supported, could be more difficult than getting people to sign a petition for legalizing weed. (One possible exception – Rep. Hoyle seems to have been less than candid with gun activists when she sought their support during her election) But, there is just a lack of general widespread outrage. I understand that some people are very outraged, but the unhappiness with the background check law isn’t widely shared. Outrage that’s an inch thick and a mile deep could just as easily repel, not attract, widespread support.

The Money : The petitioners success will depend on organization. Which means money. Lets review ORESTAR and check on their fundraising and spending.

Rep. Susan McLain: Someone wasted $100. Because that’s all thats been contributed to this recall effort as reported by ORESTAR. The petition was filed April 15th.

Rep. Val Hoyle: Raised $4,596, and spent $2,814. Current balance $1,681. Sound more robust. But drilling down you see that $2,734 of the contributions was in kind. Setting up a website. (Note to webmaster. The recall Val Hoyle website doesn’t work on Chrome browser). Petition filed April 14th.

Sen. Chuck Riley: Petitioners raised $2,775, and spent $581. Balance of $2,193. $1,000 contribution made by Timothy R Knight, a Colorado gun activist who helped spearhead the Colorado gun law related recalls. Petition filed April 13th.

Senator Floyd Prozanski: No petition appears on ORESTAR as of today. So nothing to report.

The Petitioners are Serious, The Threat is Not.

The scatter gun approach of going after four officials when they lack sufficient financial support to fund a single recall, and the lack of public outrage that could make up for the lack of funding does not bode well for any of these recall efforts. The petitioners are 30 days into their 90 day campaign and have little to show.

First take

Idaho's governor and legislative leadership got the job done on Monday, managing to work an extensive open-public committee hearing into the proceedings about the child support agreement bill. That the session took 11 hours (without a break) rather than three or four reflects not on them but on the relative handful of holdouts and activists still somehow convinced the bill is unconstitutional (some thought it improperly has the state sign a treaty with foreign nations, which it doesn't) or that it brings foreign control over Idahoans. All of this should have been thoroughly debunked by now, and has been for most people. But what source of information about this bill is so much more compelling for these people than the state's attorney general, officials who actually deal with support issues, and so many others? Also: Which of the many inter-state agreements to which Idaho is signatory are likely to come under attack at the next session?

Institutional loss


Though our lives are different in many ways, we all share experiences of growing up with - and becoming reliant upon - certain communal foundations. Call them institutions. Always there - always relied upon - constants as we aged.

My institutional list includes family, schools, media, government, religion, the bank downtown - things denoting permanence used as points of reference as I grew up. Constant and familiar. We relied on those constants and familiarities as our worlds expanded. They just - were. Maybe, for you, those characteristics of permanence continue. They don’t for me.

Take schools. Education. Teachers taught. Proof of learning was required before moving up a grade. Without it, you went nowhere. For kids, fear of failure was often a real motivating pressure to keep up with everyone else.

Is that true today? Do teachers “teach” or do many “teach” to the next test? Are they free to teach or hamstrung by “educational standards” laid on by mandates from outside? Are kids moving through public schools by merit or just being shuttled up a year - deserved or not? Is education - the process and assurance of children gaining knowledge and new skills - the constant you remember?

Banking. Most banks were local. They did business with a personal relationship between lender and borrower. A call or a handshake usually got the deal done. Banks were stable. Employees were part of the community. Trust, service and solvency were inseparable. And taken for granted.

Are those institutional memories accurate today in your relationship with banks and other financial institutions? Solvency? Stability? Security? Service? Trust? With few exceptions, banks and other financial companies have become remote, lacking in personal service, fee-burdened to meet expectations of boards of directors and shareholders. Some seem to operate with impunity from laws and regulations. We’ve attached the false label “too big to fail” and, while allowing outright criminal activities to go unpunished, have granted them status - above the law - that was never intended. Firm foundations? Trust?

Media - the most important parts of it - was local. Print media and, eventually, broadcast started where they lived, conveyed a permanence to readers or listeners - a usually reliable source for what was going on - which continued for a long, long time. Until deregulation. Until, dominated by huge amounts of money, newspapers and broadcast operations were relegated to a status of just so many pieces on a national chess board. Often sensationalized. Too often unreliable.

Much of today’s media output is suspect for truth and accuracy. Some sources have become tools of ideologues. Monopolies have been created to deliver profits rather than to publish or broadcast reliable and comprehensive information. News has become “what sells” rather than “what is.” More people are suspicious of media bias or deliberate disinformation than ever before. Sensationalism - formerly found in grocery store magazine racks - now blares at us from oversized TV screens - being passed off as “news.” Is it the community “foundation of trusted information” you remember? Or has it failed, too?

Government. Ah, yes, government. We’re a nation built on unchanging documents guaranteeing permanence and sound institutions - a stable base upon which to grow and prosper. For all of us. Not just the few. We learned the Bill of Rights and Constitution were the bedrock of our Republic. Today, we still hold the authors of those documents to some sort of higher - often mythical - standards than those we choose to live our own lives by. Good fiction.

But is government still the foundation? Is it still responsive to the governed? Does it protect the weak - defend the defenseless - assure all are treated equally? Is it representative of who we are as a nation? Is it still reliable? Is it fair? Is it trusted? Does it “provide for the common good” as designed?

The reason for posing this - for asking questions - is a current feeling abroad in this country of helplessness when, as individuals, we interact with our institutions. Rather than being served, we often feel we’ve been tolerated at best - ignored at worst. It’s been years - many congresses and many presidents ago - since I felt “served” by a bank - had trust in media. Decades have passed since feeling my kids and grandkids were “well-served” by our educational system - that our civic and structural needs were being met by government.

We live in a world with the best communications tools in history. But we’re more poorly informed, more removed from national relationships, more cutoff as individuals, less valued as customers/clients of businesses we rely on which - during the same period - have grown large, impersonal and distant.

Civic, fraternal and even some religious communities have disappeared to be replaced by impersonal and often changing electronic “communities.” Those that are left seem to be diminished in both membership and relevance.

Political, civic and economic foundations are not as close to us nor as responsive to our needs as they once were. Basic national infrastructure of roads, bridges, transportation, water and electrical systems is in rotten shape - being ignored by a government whose prime responsibility it is to maintain and improve all of them.

We have a national malaise. Distrust, anger and violence are directed at authority. Usually governmental authority. Our basic institutions have been under sustained attack for so long a new generation is growing up with those traits ingrained in their lives as natural emotions.

We’re a wandering nation starting - and losing - wars for no purpose. We’re ignoring basic human needs and problems important to our sense of national purpose. Our national political system has become an employment source for too often unqualified participants. Our leadership in world affairs has been undermined by poor decision-making and failure to focus - and fund - those things that have made us great.

It just doesn’t feel like home anymore.

First take

The Mad Men conclusion did the job, which wasn't especially easy. It had to put some manner of conclusion on a story line that sprawled widely over a number of characters and ideas, there being no tight story spine here (in the manner of Breaking Bad or Sons of Anarchy). It also had to make some kind of commentary on a whole decade, the sixties; Mad Men began just before it and ended just after, and a statement of some sort seemed needed. (photo: "Mad Men season 5 cast photo" by Source (WP:NFCC#4).) The Sunday finale did both, giving us a clear sense of where the major characters were headed, with hints back to their trajectory over the course of the hottest an most day-glo decade we've ever had. Many of the things people do, their opportunities and senses of possibility, changes, the show seemed to say, but the cores of people did not. Much of the attention will go to the changing role of women (the Peggy and Joan threads), and reasonably. But don't lose track of the final scene with Don Draper, at an oceanside meditation group, searching for answers, which had great resonance in two directions. One was the first scene in the series, when Don tried to understand the perspective of a black man working in a bar, and his motivation for smoking his brand of cigarettes; that was a mental journey too, of a sort. And the other point of resonance, the final scene: A clip from the old Coca Cola commercial "I'd like to teach the world to sing." Was Don - who appeared to have been assigned the Coke account at the ad firm he'd abandoned - going to be implicitly using his new meditative approach for the new ad? Or is the ad a counterpoint to where Don is going? Mad Men was always a bit open-ended and, while offering a satifying finish, it stayed so to the end.

It's been 35 years since the Mount St. Helens eruption, and news reports are looking back and, to a degree, taking stock. Apart from a change in the mountain, and a new visitor center nearby, it's hard to point to massive changes in the area resulting from it. Most of the debris was brushed away long ago. (I still remember though walking outside my newspaper office in Pocatello, hundreds of miles east the mount, that day, and finding a clear coating of volcano dust on my car.) But the Seattle Times does have an interesting piece on its front page about how the volcano changed - in some ways for the better, economically - the small city of Castle Rock, which received a mass of sediment from the volcano, and has been making use of it since.

When to run


From a May 16 delivered to a youth group at Eugene.

Conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience. That was certainly the case when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s.

However, I’m no longer convinced that this is true.

My particular perspective was shaped by the many years I spent as a small-town newspaper reporter in places like Rogue River, Cave Junction and Estacada. In that role, I covered a half-dozen different city councils. The vast majority of the city councilors I encountered were dedicated, sincere, and served because they loved their communities.

It wasn’t always that way, though. And by the time I reached my 30s, I could say that I had spent a great portion of my adult life watching people twice my age behave like people half my age.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience, and those guys certainly fit that description.

Well, a couple of my friends decided to challenge that conventional wisdom back in 2010.

We knew that our state representative was planning to run for a statewide office, leaving his seat open. There was also an incumbent county commissioner who was up for re-election and vulnerable because he was out of step with his constituency.

We all got together one night at my place for dinner and made a plan. Shortly thereafter, one filed for state representative and the other filed for county commissioner.
My friend who filed for state representative drew no Republican opposition for the primary election, and no Democrat filed, either.

My other friend had a race on his hands, as the incumbent wouldn’t go down without a fight. The results were the same on election night, with both of them being swept into office by a constituency that was twice their age.

A peaceful transition of power had taken place. Members of the older generation passed the torch of leadership down to them, as both of my friends had the support of some of their predecessors and other pillars of the community.
Once they got into office, the real work began.

The rural communities that they represent have been unnecessarily impoverished by federal mismanagement of lands and other resources, along with decades of no-growth policies at the state level. Theirs are among the local governments throughout the state that are struggling to fund basic services like law enforcement.

My friend has served with no fewer than six other commissioners in the four years he’s been in office. One got recalled. Another resigned mid-term. Others were voted out.

He’s also had to oversee the replacement of many department heads during that time.

Six months after he took office, I asked him if the experience was any different than he thought it would be. He told me that the county was in much worse shape than most people realized.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

A lot of what I’ve seen over the years confirms what I’ve suspected for most of my life.

Believe it or not, I was kind of a wiseass as a kid. It sometimes seemed to me that the grown-ups didn’t always know what they were doing and were maybe even making things up as they went along.

As soon as I started paying attention to the news, I remember seeing religious figures embroiled in scandals for the very behaviors they so often condemned.

The baseball heroes that kids my age looked up to back then were guys like Jose Canseco and Mark McGuire, the famed Bash Brothers who took the Oakland A’s to the World Series.
It turned out that these guys weren’t heroes at all. In fact, they were cheaters who used steroids.

Throughout my childhood, into my teenage years and throughout my twenties and half of my thirties now, I’ve also seen my fair share of political scandals. I got a really good up-close look the historic final days of John Kitzhaber’s administration, and it was every bit the train wreck you think it was.

Then there was the complete collapse of our entire economy back in 2008. I think it became clear to a lot of younger people, right there and then, that the grown-ups had made a real mess and someone had to clean it up.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.

That conventional wisdom only made sense if you knew time was on your side, if you had decades to wait for someone else to step in and solve these problems.

But you don’t, and I think you know this.

Our nation is now $18 trillion in debt. The people who are responsible for that debt have already retired or are hoping to do so soon. Who gets to pay the bill for that? I’ll give you a hint—it isn’t them!

I don’t have to tell you that your future has been mortgaged, but I’m going to anyway, because I think it’s important for you to remember.

Because, after all, conventional wisdom has always been that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience.



I’ve learned over the years that leadership does not exist in a vacuum. If there is no leadership, then someone, somewhere, has to step up to the plate.

Ours cannot be a generation without heroes. And if there are no heroes, then maybe it’s time for YOU to be the hero.
The theme of this event is “Passing the Torch.” You’ve spent all day in classes learning how to become effectively involved in the political process.

So here’s my challenge to you: I want you to take everything you’ve learned at this conference and take it back to your communities. If you aren’t ready to run yet, maybe you will be in two years. Maybe it will be four. But in the meantime, maybe there’s someone who is ready who could use your help. You should go help them.

Whenever possible, it’s probably preferable to have the torch passed down. But if the people who hold the torch are doing a bad job, and you think you can do it better, and they won’t give it up, then you need to take the torch! The future quite literally depends on it.

That is my challenge to you. Because the conventional wisdom that you shouldn’t run for office until you’re older, wiser, and have more life experience hasn’t served us well, and probably never will. It’s time to get out there and become involved, because time is not on your side if you’re going to wait for someone else to be the hero and save the day.

But if you’re willing to be the hero, then we might just stand a chance after all.

First take

If all goes according to plan, the Idaho Legislature should be done with its special session tomorrow within a few hours - out by mid-afternoon or so, in time for nearly all of them to get home by car the same day.

Here's what to watch for. Shortly after the chambers convene, either the House or Senate will get the bill that brings them there, the measure aimed at linking the state together with national and international efforts on collecting child support payments. Last time (in the regular session) the Senate started it and passed it, before it died in the House Judiciary Committee. The way to push this thing right through would be to send it to the committee where it died last time - House Judiciary - and get that vote out of the way quickly, thereby putting some high octane behind it and demonstrating that the measure will pass.

That is . . . if the votes are definitely there this time to pass it through House Judiciary. Last time it failed by just a single vote, so a couple of earnest promises to change this time might be enough to send it there. But if that cannot be had watch the bill take a different path . . . Because they're not going to take a second chance on bill failure this time.

An unknown, sure winner


Now that the presidential contest has begun to fill out, some of the probabilities for Idaho’s role are filling in, though one big element remains a vast mystery.

Least mysterious is the end result next year: No matter who the Republican or Democratic party nominate for president, Idaho’s four electoral votes are a near slam dunk to go to the Republican. That much is about as certain as anything can be in Idaho politics.

The next highest probability is that Idaho’s Democrats will wind up supporting Hillary Clinton for their party’s nomination. That shouldn’t necessarily seem like a given if you recall what happened in 2008: A weak Clinton organization in Idaho was swamped by a thoroughly-organized Barack Obama crew which drew huge numbers to party caucuses and around 14,000 people to hear their candidate campaign at Boise.

One of Clinton’s big mistakes in 2008 was bypassing the smaller, and mostly Republican, states along the way to the nomination. These states contribute delegates too, and states like Idaho allowed Obama to rack up delegate totals ahead of Clinton’s, allowing him to win the nomination nationally not by knockout but by steady accretion. Several news reports indicate the Clinton campaign has learned from that experience and will not be ignoring the Idahos around the country. Clinton forces already are on the ground, and you can expect her to have most of the Idaho organization – all she needs to secure Idaho’s delegates, at least – locked down and in place by Labor Day. By the time any other contenders (Bernie Sanders or Martin O’Malley, for example) arrive, they may find not many resources left for them.

[polldaddy poll=8871652 align=right]

So much for the readily foreseeable. Now the harder question: Who will Idaho Republicans like for president?

In most past years, the answer was easy. Idaho Republicans absolutely loved Ronald Reagan, and in the last two contests their clear preference was for Mitt Romney. A laundry list of reasons for those preferences was obvious then and now. While the Republican nominee, whoever it is, will almost certainly get the state’s support in November, it’s less clear who they will prefer within this large and still-growing Republican field.

Last week, the Idaho Politics Weekly poll asked this question (it was unclear whether Republicans only were polled), and no one topped 13%. That percentage was held by the two prospects with family ties to previous Republican presidential candidates who did well in Idaho: Jeb Bush, brother of George W. and son of George H.W., and Rand Paul, son of Ron, who picked up a lot of northern Idaho support in 2012 and 2008. Scott Walker, nationally the hot Republican flavor this month, was third with eight percent, and others including Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Chris Cristie and Ben Carson were well below that. Note too that the Bush and Paul early advantage doubtless comes in part because of the historical connections; they have yet to solidify such limited Idaho backing as they have on their own.

Where will Idaho’s preferences go? My guess at the moment would center on Rand Paul, partly because of the affection in many quarters for his father, and partly because there’s a certain type of rebellious streak in him that evokes the sense of an anti-establishment candidate like those who often appeal to Idaho Republican voters. But that sort of aura is fragile, and it could fade in the months to come. A second possibility, if he catches on enough nationally, might be Mike Huckabee. Marco Rubio will get to make a pitch when he speaks to a state Republican event this summer.

But really, Idaho’s Republican voters may be very much up for grabs.

Republican candidates did not ignore Idaho voters, in the fight for the nomination, in 2012; most of the major contenders campaigned in the Gem State. Don’t be surprised if that happens again.