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Posts published in June 2015

First take

How about this as a principle for ballot issues: It should be difficult enough to place a ballot item that real support needs to lie in back of it, but money should not be a factor in that - that, for example, a single wealthy person couldn't in effect buy a ballot slot (to which we're very close right now). Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times gets at some of this in his column today, writing "There will be two “citizen” initiatives on the election ballot this fall. I can say that with some certainty because that’s how many petition-gathering campaigns have been blessed by the superrich." That includes one by Tim Eyman (who has millionaire help this time, unlike last time, when he didn't make the ballot). Weatneat goes on, "The rule of thumb is if you have about a million dollars, your idea is by definition strong enough to qualify for a vote. If you don’t have a million, then it isn’t good enough and usually it won’t make the ballot." Surely we can structure the ballot process better than this.

Another thought as we move toward the campaign season: Is something an extremist stance if a majority of the population favors it? And what does it say if a (clear) majority of the country wants something, but a specific state does not?

JFAC stability

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The co-leadership of Idaho’s JFAC is closely watched in the statehouse and little noticed elsewhere, partly because it gets fewer headlines than its role would warrant.

One reason for that is that it has been a relative rock of stability: It hasn’t turned over a great deal. Now, this year, it will turn over, partly, though overall it probably will stay stable.

JFAC is the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the 20-member (as it long has been) panel that drafts the state budget. It uses data provides by the governor, the agencies and sometimes others, and its decisions aren’t final until they’re passed (ratified, really) by the floors of the House and Senate, and signed by the governor. But the budgets written in JFAC are only rarely altered afterward.

It is led by two people, co-chairs, one each for the House and Senate, who almost always have risen through the ranks by seniority. These leadership spots are as important as any in the legislature, including floor leaders, and an active co-chair (and sometimes, the vice-chairs as well) does a lot to shape the way the state spends its money. When I wrote a book some months ago about the most influential people in the state, both co-chairs were in the group.

Since 2001, the same two people have led JFAC – Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Representative Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. For a decade they represented the same Magic Valley district, too, though in this new decade. Spend that much time on the budget panel and you tend become something of a budget expert, and – it happens to most – temperamentally an advocate for stability.

Last week came the announcement that Cameron will resign from the legislature to lead the state Department of Insurance. (Cameron is an insurance agent in private life.) By seniority, his successor as JFAC Senate co-chair should be vice-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who has been closely aligned with Camerons’s work on the committee. Her likely move up (the decision will be made by Senate Republican leaders) would place two women at the top of JFAC, for the first time.

The general continuation of stability – Keough has been a vice-chair since 2005, which is a couple of years before C.L. “Butch” Otter first became governor) – may be the more significant point. And that would be a continuation of the way JFAC has long been run.

Cameron’s predecessor on the Senate side was Atwell Parry, R-Melba, from 1987 to 2000, another long stretch. Bell’s House predecessor, Robert Geddes, was in the chair just four years, though he spent 24 years in the Idaho House. But before him, Representative Kathleen “Kitty” Gurnsey, R-Boise, was the House budget leader for eight terms, from 1981 to 1996. This is known as slow turnover.

Gurnsey died last week at Boise, well remembered by people who spent time around the legislature in her years there, which prompted a number of thoughts about the changes, and non-changes at the committee over the years. She was the first woman to co-chair the budget panel, but her strong hand on the budget process was most memorable. She served across from three Senate co-chairs, and was at least as decisive as any of them in directing the committee. (The relationships between the two co-chairs generally has been amicable, but there’s no requirement that it has to be.)

She was also something of a political centrist among the Senate Republicans of the time, at least of the time when she became chair. As the Idaho Legislature, and JFAC with it, moved toward the right over the years to come, their chairs did as well. During the short period when Gurnsey and Cameron overlapped on JFAC, she would generally have been considered the more moderate of the two. Today, Cameron is one of the more centrist Republican in the Senate caucus.

So we wait for word on the chair succession, and see if the long tendency on this important committee will continue a few more years.

First take

The background of the abortion case that led to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals throwing out an Idaho abortion law, well told in a Slate article, makes for great reading - and pondering. The pregnant woman involved, Jennie Linn McCormack, "a single mother of three living off child support checks," had given herself an abortion in the fall of 2010, "mostly out of desperation: There were no abortion clinics anywhere in southeast Idaho, and an abortion in Salt Lake City, 138 miles away, could cost $2,000. So McCormack procured abortion pills online and took five. She hadn’t realized that her fetus was between 19 and 23 weeks old—and that she was much too far along in her pregnancy to have a safe nonsurgical abortion." That incident made its way by word of mouth to local police, who arrested her, and local prosecutors, who took her to court. Had they won, she would have been subject to imprisonment for five years. The case was ultimately dismissed (for lack of evidence). A question for supporters of the Idaho law: Would the state have been safer had this mother of three been imprisoned for five years?

Question to ask, with Florida Senator Marco Rubio's appearance at Idaho Falls, is how much support within the party he has. Based on quotes from prominent people there, that seems a bit unclear. Frank Vandersloot of Idaho Falls (and Melaleuca) was co-sponsor of the event, said “Rubio can make the average guy understand,” VanderSloot said. “We need to elect someone as a party that can be re-elected.” But that may be an endorsement (over other Republican prospects), or not. Quotes from Senator Jim Risch and Representative Raul Labrador (who has joined up with Senator Rand Paul) fall into a similar territory. Speaking more generally, and less optimistically, former gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher said, “I think the GOP is going to beat each other to death.”

The charter school regs

A guest post from Liv Finne of the conservative Washington Policy Center, on new rules about charter schools by Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

They say that if you want to make an announcement that won’t be noticed, post the notice on an obscure website and schedule the hearing the day after a holiday weekend. That’s just what Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn did when he issued his plan to impose 119 pages of administrative rules on public charter schools and the families that support them.

Superintendent Dorn targets families at nine new charter schools set to open this fall in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Highline, and Kent. The Dorn Rules will hurt these families and those that will eventually attend up to 31 other charter schools in the future.

Washington’s voter-passed charter school law is so popular with parents that space limitations have forced the new schools to place hundreds of students on waiting lists. Young teachers in particular are flocking to take exciting new jobs at charter schools because of the freedom they provide educators to design and implement lessons that help many hard-to-teach students succeed.

Superintendent Dorn wants his charter school restrictions approved by this Friday, May 29th, which is light-speed in the world of government. It is interesting that the education bureaucracy will take years to implement a reform bill passed by the legislature, but blocking families from charter schools takes only weeks.

The Dorn Rules would cut funding to charter schools (WAC 392-121-299) compared to what is provided under the charter school law (RCW 28A.710.220(2)), impose hiring quotas, (WAC 392-127-004 and 006), reject their budgets (WAC 392-123-0795 and 080 and 095), restrict how they serve special education children, transitional bilingual children, and other categorical program funds (WAC 392-122-910), and limit the types of bonuses they provide their teachers (WAC 392-140-973 and 974).

Superintendent Dorn is well known for his opposition to letting families access charter schools. In 2012 he fought passage of the state’s break-through charter school law, lending his name to the “No on Initiative 1240” campaign.

As a top defender of the traditional public school monopoly, Superintendent Dorn seems to view charter school parents as a threat. He certainly represents the status quo, and he now appears to be working to weaken the growing popularity of these new public schools in Washington.

The Dorn Rules also represent a significant power grab by a state regulatory agency. Superintendent Dorn says his supervisory role over public schools should give him the power to impose cuts and restrictions on charter schools and the families they serve. This is not true, however. As state superintendent his power is limited. He is supposed to fairly deliver state and federal funds to school districts and to charter schools according to the law, and to report on how well Washington children are learning. The Dorn Rules go far beyond what the law allows, and deny basic educational rights to children who attend charter schools.

An accurate reading of the statute shows Superintendent Dorn is misusing his regulatory power to prevent parents from choosing an authentic charter public school for their children. The obvious purpose of the Dorn Rules is to force innovative charter schools to conform to the traditional and restricted public school model, which are exactly the kind of school from which so many Washington families are trying to escape.

First take

Oregon Governor Kate Brown is now linked in a significant way to Hillary Clinton. It's not just that both women are running for top executive offices in 2016 (well, presumably Brown will be doing that; she's not yet formally declared). Remember the universal motor voter measure Brown proposed when she was secretary of state, and signed into law this year as governor? Clinton is proposing something not far from that: "I am calling for universal, automatic voter registration. Every citizen in every state in the union should be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18 - unless they actively choose to opt out." She made that the centerpiece of her speech Thursday at Houston. (Presumably, she would allow for some exceptions - imprisoned felons and certain others.) And an article on this in Bloomberg.com pointed out that Clinton mentioned Oregon's example, and "Signing her state's registration law, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, said, “I challenge every other state in this nation to examine their policies and find ways to ensure that there are as few barriers as possible in the way of a citizen’s right to vote.”" With the rash of efforts in red states to make registering and voting more difficult, this could be a powerfukl part of her argument for president. And Oregon stands to be the foundation of that.

Very sad about the fire at Idaho City last night, which ripped through five businesses in the city center - Calamity Jaynes and Sasparilla Ice Cream Parlor among them. (Fortunately, no one was hurt.) Several of the business owners said they will rebuild, which would be a good thing - an important thing too, in this remote town with only a few businesses around. But for Idaho City there's an extra element. This is a rare community that is not only one of Idaho's oldest but also has retained the look and feel of a frontier town (as you can see in the picture). Here's hoping the rebuild takes care to try to preserve as much of that as possible.

The Puget Sound Business Journal has been running a neat series of "list" articles on the most influential business executives in the area in the last 35 years. I've checked in occasionally and found some enlightening stories, like the one today on Rich Barton. Not familiar with him? Maybe Expedia and Zillow will ring a bell. He's at number 11 on their list; I'll be watching for the top 10.

A brokered convention

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Here is a possible but not plausible prognostication regarding the 2016 presidential sweepstakes: The person taking the oath of office in January of 2017 will not be Hillary Clinton, nor will it be Jeb Bush. Odds makers favor those two and they may well be correct. Here is a long-shot hunch - the next president of the United States will be Mitt Romney.

Impossible one might say, but if a student of political history, one knows it is not implausible. The key of course is the Republican National Convention will convene in late June or July of 2016 without any one candidate arriving with the nomination already sewn up.

Pundits are saying that the Republican field could have as many as 20 contenders and conventional wisdom is the ability to attract dollars and supporters will quickly narrow the field. That’s probably correct but if the field is narrowed to just the top ten that last month’s Quinnipiac University national poll identified, as well as the five having a support level of 10 percent of the party faithful, a brokered Republican convention becomes much more likely.

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A quick look at the presidential primary and caucus schedule shows what the problem could be: It is easy to forecast “favorite son” candidates through out the schedule, especially if one can hang on until his home state has its primary.

Much of course depends on whether individual state party rules specify a winner-takes-all the state’s delegates or delegates are apportioned based on who wins each congressional district. For now let’s say that’s an even offset.

Looking at the schedule suddenly makes a brokered convention look a bit more plausible. Forget the jockeying between Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as to which state goes first and anticipate it will the Iowa’s caucus first, followed by the New Hampshire primary followed by the South Carolina primary.

Guess what, sports fans? There’s a different winner in all three. Religiously conservative Iowa carries former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee across the line, or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who actually won Iowa four years ago but by the time the media learned that they were long gone having declared Romney the winner.

In New Hampshire the winner is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, but with only 23% of the vote. The following week in his home state of South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham wins in a walk. Three days later Kentucky Senator Rand Paul takes the Nevada caucus.

Super Tuesday arrives on March 1`with nine states or more holding elections and/or caucuses. The big prizes are Texas, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina but again the results are mixed. Senator Ted Cruz takes his home state of Texas knocking former Governor Rick Perry out of the race. For arguments sake let’s say Governor Huckabee takes North Carolina and Senator Rubio takes Georgia and Jeb Bush takes Virginia.

And so it goes. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal takes his home state on March 5 and on March 8 Ohio Governor John Kasich takes his state. On March 15 the showdown in Florida is won by former Governor Jeb Bush over Senator Rubio.

On April 5 Governor Scott Walker wins Wisconsin. April 26, former Senator Rick Santorum wins his native state. May 17, Senator Paul takes Kentucky and on ay 24 Governor Huckabee takes Arkansas. On June 7, if he is still in the race, Governor Christie takes his home starte, New Jersey.

So, all you pundits and sages out here, tell me if any of those so far mentioned will arrive with the nomination in-hand? Or, for the first time since 1952 will there be an open convention?

Here’s why I think Mitt Romney has sniffed out the likelihood of this happening. First, as a student of history Romney is aware that it took Ronald Reagan three tries before he was embraced by the GOP. Second, he’s a known quantity and has passed muster, receiving millions of votes in 2012. A little known fact is that if voters have pulled a lever for you once, they usually do so again.

Third, he is wisely playing the party game---he’s lent people from his campaign organization to other campaigns and is making appearances. Fourth, he is courting the media and portraying the “real Mitt” to them.

If lightning strikes, Mitt Romney will be ready, and this time he wins.

First take

The train isn't here yet, but you can hear it chugging down the track. Oregon Representative Earl Blumenauer's amendment to specifically give states authority to legalize marijuana - to end federal prohibition where states adopt an alternate regime - failed Wednesday on the House floor. But it failed by a narrow vote of 206-222. Four years ago, the margin would have been much greater; a few years from now it likely will pass easily. While the vote in Oregon was a partisan split (the four Democrats were in favor, Republican Greg Walden against), and split on party lines in Washington as well, a significant number of Republicans did support the measure, alongside most Democrats. (If half of the Democrats who voted against switched their votes, the amendment would have passed.) Among the most interesting of the Republicans, from the Northwest viewpoint: Raul Labrador of Idaho (though not fellow Idahoan Mike Simpson). But while that general amendment failed, another measure aimed at specifically allowing medical pot where states permit it passed by a strong 246-186 margin. Can you hear it down the track? (photo/Carlos Cracia)

Good article in Foreign Policy asking the question: Why has not the tremendous advance in technology over the last couple of decades delivered more democracy around the world? (I would suggest, though the article doesn't highlight it, this country.) Seven reasons are offered, including persistent negative on-ground conditions, the ability of authoritarians to use technology for their ends as well, and some evidence of advances more on the local than on the national level. One sentence: "Technology does not drive anything. It creates new possibilities for collecting and analyzing data, mashing ideas and reaching people, but people still need to be moved to engage and find practical pathways to act. Where the fear of being beaten or the habits of self-censorship inhibit agency, technology, however versatile, [it] is a feeble match." - rs

Damned elected scoff laws

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Most of us were raised to believe the basic glue of democracy is the rule of law. You can refer to our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, federal and state laws, local county or municipal ordinances or that large stack of regulations some spend a lifetime complaining about. They’re rules. Our rules. All of ‘em.

We’ve learned to live with them. Or change them. Amend them when time or other conditions require - void them when courts decide they’re invalid or unnecessary. Rules, we’ve always believed, have separated us from the uncivilized or the lesser nations that live without them or under “rules” made by some dictator.

More than just having rules, we expect those in public leadership to know the applicable ones and to live by them. Be guided in the conduct of public business and in the conduct of their own lives. Which is why we get angry when they don’t. Like a Dennis Hastert. Or a Newt Gingrich. Or a Bill Clinton. Or a Bob Packwood. Or - well you get the idea.

More troubling to me than these and other public figures who befoul their own nests are the other ones - those in the current crop of “leaders” who know the law, but won’t uphold it, or have vowed to take actions that will directly break one or more laws.

Here are some examples. In Nebraska, the multi-millionaire governor knowingly, secretly and illegally purchased chemicals with which to enforce the state’s death penalty law. He bought them from a foreign country - action which U.S. laws expressly forbid. The Nebraska legislature subsequently passed a bill to eliminate the death penalty which the governor vetoed. Legislature overrode. Now, the governor says he doesn’t give a damn and will proceed with both the illegal poison purchase and what will now be illegal executions. Damn the legislature. Damn the laws he swore to uphold.

Take that goofy teapartier governor of Maine. Please! He’s been flouting numerous laws of his state for the first two years of his term. And now, with the legislature refusing to pass his irresponsible tax reduction bill that would severely damage Maine’s economy, that same nutball has promised to kill any legislative-passed bill that hits his desk - no matter the subject and no matter the consequences - if that bill was originated by Democrats. Damn the laws he swore to uphold.

Then, there’s that little bitty governor of Louisiana who wants to be somebody. Anybody. Even his own party leaders have publically said he should not be president. Well, Bobby has set out to prove his fellow Bayou State GOP brothers and sisters correct. Now, he’s promised to ignore the upcoming decision from the U.S. Supreme Court if said decision upholds the Affordable Care Act, as is expected. The dreaded Obamacare. Bobby says he’ll never let his state be a participant despite SCOTUS. Damn the laws he swore to uphold. Damn the Supreme Court of the land.

Rick Santorum. Removed from the U.S. Senate by voters in Pennsylvania and twice since rejected in bids for public pay. Now, he’s one of the more unqualified among the totally unqualified running for his party’s presidential nomination. He sides with that l’il Louisiana fella against the power - much less the wisdom - of SCOTUS. In his case, the issue is gay rights. Ricky says “SCOTUS is not the final judgement” on the subject, calling the court “a set of liberal judges.”

Rickie scores a Palin award on that one - twice wrong on a single issue. SCOTUS is not full of “liberal judges” and SCOTUS IS the final voice in our system when it comes to the constitutionality of our laws.

There are far too many ignorant scoff laws in our public life. Rather than master a system which has served this country’s legal needs for centuries, they’d sooner play to small constituencies for their own purposes. Rather than conduct themselves in accordance with laws, their personal and professional lives often run counter to them. Is it any wonder so many Americans are “turned off” to politics - that so many won’t participate even as voters - that ignorance and self-service have given us political office holders with little regard for the work to be done while doing and saying anything to preserve their places at the public trough?

These “damn the laws” and “win by saying anything” attitudes are also creating another very real problem for our nation. Good people, who might be outstanding leaders, look at this bunch of political heretics and decide against public service. People with intellectual, academic and personal skills that could restore common sense and civility to our badly abused system of government won’t put themselves forward because they don’t want the abuse. Because they see other good people walking away in frustration. Because they see the public’s disdain for politicians and politics in general. Because they don’t want to risk their futures and their family’s futures in a public service career held in lower esteem than hookers.

Election to public office is the voter’s extension of a contract to the winners. Conduct of those offices is governed by law. If the elected flout those laws - break those laws - or promise such conduct regarding those laws - they should be removed. Quickly.

Our body politic has been badly damaged by the cancers of ignorance, self-service, intemperance, malfeasance and personal greed. Those in public life who renounce the laws by which we are governed are unfit to serve. There’s just too damned much at stake.