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Posts published in August 2015

A ‘top one’ primary

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In Oregon and nationally the independent movement continues to gain momentum which, here in Oregon with its closed primary, presents a real challenge to democracy.

In 2014, some voters rights activists got the Top Two primary Measure 90 on the ballot, which if passed would have changed Oregon’s closed primary to an open top two primary. It failed after the Democrats and Republicans joined forces to argue it was an infringement on their right to have their members select their own nominees.

But Oregon could have a primary system that protected a political parties right to select it’s own representative, allowed minor parties to preserve their place on the November general election ballot and still gave independent voters an equal vote and meaningful participation in the state financed May primary elections.

The Top One Primary wouldn’t replace Oregon’s closed Democratic and Republican Primaries. It would supplement it. Democratic and Republican party members would be allowed to vote for their party’s nominee in a closed primary with the winner moving onto the November ballot as their party nominee. Democrats and Republicans should be satisfied.

However, along with the closed major party primary, the state would also conduct an open Top One election.

Who would vote: The top one would be open to all non affiliated voters, and to any minor or major party voters whose political party opted into the top one election. So all voters in Oregon would be able to participate in the Democratic or Republican closed primary, in the top one primary, or in their minor party’s nomination process. All Oregonians pay for the primary election. All get to vote. An equal right to participate for all voters, without having to join a party they don’t want to belong to. And party unity is preserved for those major and minor parties who decide to hold their own nomination processes.

Who Could be candidates: Any registered voter would be able to run in the top one primary. Regardless of party affiliation or lack of affiliation. While there is a valid argument that a party should be able to decide who gets to vote for their nominee, there is no valid reason for a party to be able to say which of their party members can stand for election before the voters through an alternative nominating process. And, an optional provision would be to allow a candidate for their own party’s nomination to be a candidate in the Top One open primary as well. This would provide for cross nominations that are now allowed in Oregon. So, the winner of the Republican Primary may also be the winner of the top one open primary if they chose to opt into their party election and the Top One primary.

The benefits:

All voters feel like they have an equal voice and equal vote.
All taxpayers who finance the primary election would be able to fully participate
It may be less expensive and more predictable to run elections with a Top One than under current law which allows each major party to open or close their primary.
Political parties could protect their right to nominate their own candidates
A Democratic or Republican who felt they stood little chance of winning their primary (a pro choice Republican, an PERS reform Democrat), could opt to run in the top one primary without having to re-register.
If we also allowed a candidate to be included on both their party closed primary ballot and the top one open primary, then they couldn’t just run towards their base. They would have to appeal to the moderate independents if they wanted both their party and the top one nomination.

Imagine a Ballot in November that included the Democratic nominee, representing 38% of Oregon voters preference, a Republican nominee representing 29% of Oregonian voters preference, and the Top One candidate representing 29% of Oregonians preference. Imagine if major party candidates were allowed to be on the open top one primary ballot as well as their party closed primary ballot. In a swing district where the predominant party nominee generally wins by 8% the primary campaigning of both the dominant and less dominant party candidates may change because both would have to campaign and communicate with the independent voters in their district, not just their partisan bases.

Preserve Party prerogatives and rights. All voters have meaningful participation. Encourages consensus campaigns, not just campaigns to the partisan base. Provides a path for moderates from both major parties a chance at securing a major nomination, major media coverage. Most importantly, it provides real options in November for not only independent voters, but for Democratic and Republican registered voters who prefer consensus to confrontation.

Whats not to like?

(For purposes of this article, my reference to major party includes only the Democratic and Republican Parties and not the Independent Party of Oregon which just recently reached major party status)

First take

The idea of Joe Biden entering the presidential contest hasn't seemed especially plausible for some months now, if just because so much oxygen seems to have been consumed already in the Democratic side - so much of the establishment side by Hillary Clinton, so much of the insurgent side by Bernie Sanders. What's the very large niche Biden would fill if he entered? If Clinton recovers from her current email malaise - which would seem to be a recoverable situation, though she's been doing a poor job of it lately - that would be a limiter. And if Sanders, who has never sought a Democratic nomination until this year, turns out not to have a low ceiling and actually is able to match or exceed Clinton in partywide support - that would be a limiter too. But if Clinton's campaign really is faltering, at this early stage, and if there turns out to be a low ceiling on Sander's enthusiastic support, that could be different. Biden could bridge the sides. He has long-running establishment and party cred, but he also could have cred on the activist side; his meeting a few days ago with Elizabeth Warren seemed to be a hint in that direction. This could be a challenge to Clinton and Sanders: Can you two overcome your challenges? If not . . . - rs (photo/Daniel Schwen)

James Earl Carter

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For anyone with an honest interest in the true profession of politics, the name James Earl Carter has been on your mind for the past week. If you’re fortunate to have access to any form of media expression, coupled with that sincere interest in all things political, you’ve been wrestling with what to say about the Carter story - and how to say it.

The best regional piece I’ve read is from friend Marc Johnson in Boise, on his blog “Many Things Considered.” To read something political - with heart and substance - take a minute right here and go to http://manythingsconsidered.com/. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

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So much for the well-written, scholarly approach to the Carter story. My response is far more visceral.

Historians will debate the Carter presidency as they do those of all temporary occupants of the Oval Office. The good - the bad - the important - the trivial. That’s their job and they’re welcome to it. I possess none of their scholarly credentials. So don’t look for any of that here.

But, I’m an adult American male with some longevity and understanding of what I admire in someone of the same description. And, politics aside, I can think of almost no other public figure who rises to the common definition of role model and just plain decent human being as does James Earl Carter.

With some training in matters of hospice care, I’ve also watched Carter’s public discussion of the very private issue of impending death with interest. In sum, those few minutes embodied what nearly every hospice professional looks for in someone in their care - thoughtfulness - perspective - reflection - understanding. And humor. Humor from - and directed at - the human experience that death is a part of living. If religion is part of someone’s life - as it certainly has been with Carter - invoking one’s faith is not only relevant but crucial in how matters of fate can be accepted.

But, within a few hours, matters of politics soon interrupted this moment of witnessing humanity at its best. It took less than a day for one of the cretins running for president to take a public shot at the Carter presidency. A shot that was not only ill-timed but factless. Embarrassment and personal humiliation don’t exist in the Cruz world.

But Cruz and others - whoring for dollars and votes - offer the most glaring examples of how far our national politics have fallen when compared to the humanity and moral stature of a Jimmy Carter. I include all but two in the current crop. Trump is not prostituting himself for big bucks. He’s whoring on his own campaign tab. His prostitution is selling himself for public adulation and to gorge his own billionaire-sized ego. I also don’t include Sanders because he’s not looking for big donors and not running the kind of “selling-your-soul-in-the-marketplace” campaign of the others. Including Ms. Clinton.

Try to simultaneously hold in your mind the kind of life lived, and the contributions to humanity made by Carter since his White House years, while also considering our current presidential choices. Pick one of the strident voices from the entire pack - just one - from whom voters could expect a future personal life of humanitarian service, public dignity and selfless contribution. With the possible exception of Sanders, I can’t.

Our moment in political history is befouled by money, lies, unfounded fears of government spread by callous but well-paid voices, wide-spread willful ignorance, candidates far, far exceeding the “Peter Principle” and scores of office holders not qualified to do the jobs to which they’ve been elected.

The National Republic Party is reaping a harvest of shame from years of accepting the lowest denomination of unqualified candidates. This scrum of flotsam has been propped up by billionaires determined to set our country’s agenda for decades to come. In Democrats, the leading candidate is someone whose run has long been “ordained” but who’s not been sufficiently publically challenged and who’s become profoundly rich at the public trough.

And it’s our fault. We’ve accepted all that. We’ve accepted people who’ve disdained educating themselves or participating in the conduct of their government as having some sort of personal right to do so. They don’t! We’ve not been involved enough with a selection process that puts names on the ballot - the names from which we have to chose to set our national course. We’ve stood at the polling place too often and cursed while making a choice of “the lesser of two evils.” By our careless and uninformed vote, we’ve allowed office seekers - and holders - to become whores chasing dollars while rewarding big donors with favoritism. We’ve failed to demand high standards and have allowed incompetence to be perpetuated and accepted. We’ve allowed elected office holding to be perpetual employment.

Then, a former peanut farmer from Georgia displays the grace, dignity, acceptance and guts of someone you can’t help but admire, whatever his politics. He does it in our living rooms, face-to-face, showing us how to deal with our own mortality by offering the finest of ourselves.

For centuries, travelers have navigated by the North Star because of its reliability and stability. Future presidents would do well to navigate their own courses using the same personal qualities of James Earl Carter.

First take

A little sad to see the selling out of Dave's Killer Bread in Milwaukie, Oregon. It' been an independent for about 60 years, starting as Nature Bake. It has one (large) bakery in Oregon. It came by its current name after its co-founder, Dave Dahl, ran into some legal problems; but the bread long has been considered to be of high quality, and holding to high organic standards. That's what led Flower's Foods of Georgia to seek it out and buy it: Customers are much attuned to the kind of bread Dave's produces. Sales price was reported at $275 million. Of the sale, Dahl said, "It is bittersweet but I've been working on getting my head right for the baby to grow. It's happening. And now I'm just going to kick back, and watch it grow and enjoy my life." He's straight up about it. - rs

Idaho on fire

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The InciWeb site (inciweb.nwcg.gov) lists wildfires around the country, and as of late this week it showed 27 of them - or, to be more precise, 27 groups, in Idaho. Depending on how you count the number of Idaho fires probably could be listed well into three digits.

A number of them are listed as being fires in a “complex”, the Lawyer, Clearwater, Motorway, Middle Fork and others being among those. Several national forests, maybe lacking time for listing all the bits and pieces for Inciweb, just list “miscellaneous fires,” of formally zero but almost certainly undetermined acreage.

The biggest of them, the Soda fire in southwest Idaho, was more than 30 miles from Boise but so vast that skillfully shot pictures taken from the Boise foothills showed the fire and the city in one image, as if the city was about to burn. Much of the area burned by the Soda was lightly inhabited desert country, but it did serious damage enough to farm and ranch land and livestock. Fires to the north did cause a series of residential evacuations.

So much fire is going on out there it’s evidently become hard to manage even statistically. Looking down the numbers at a glance, you could see last week wildfires in Idaho covering as much as a half-million acres. And that’s not all that has or will go up in smoke this year.

Is this Idaho’s biggest fire year?

No. Not close.

Only three years ago, 1.75 million acres burned in the state, a level we may not reach this year.

But the biggest was more than a century ago, the great fire of 1910. It was the biggest recorded burn in American history, covering several states and more than three million acres (about three times the size of fires in the comparable region this year), killing at least 86 people, and hitting notably hard in northern Idaho. At least two entire Idaho communities, Falcon and Grand Forks, were wiped from the earth by the blaze. The New York Times writer Timothy Egan devoted an excellent book in 2009 to its causes and after-effects: The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.

There were big aftereffects, not least at the U.S. Forest Service, whose lands were especially hard hit. Wikipedia summarizes what Egan and others have pointed out: “The Fire of 1910 cemented and shaped the U.S. Forest Service, which at the time was a newly established department on the verge of cancellation. Before the epic event, there were many debates on how to handle forest fires; whether to let them burn because they were a part of nature and were expensive to fight, or to fight them in order to protect the forests. After the devastation of the Big Blowup, it was decided that the U.S. Forest Service was to prevent and battle against every wildfire.”

Since then, debate has risen and grown about how to deal with wildfires - and if the history of recent years is a decent measure, we’re not on the declining side of them. Should they be fought with prescribed burns, a preferred approach for many professionals? Should forests be thinned through logging? Should some fires just be allowed to burn? Are there other approaches that might forestall more years like this one, or keep a future year from turning into another 1910?

After all, it could get even worse.

And will there be more emphasis in addressing these questions in the coming winter than there usually is after snow begins to fall?

If the snow begins to fall.

First take

More and more in politics, I get the urge to reply back that "no, that's not self-evident," when I hear a politico delivering a seemingly axiomatic platitude about something or other. For example, there's the matter of (federal) government debt: People have to balance their budgets, shouldn't the government? And especially: Having big, long-running government debt is wrong and dangerous and wrecks the economy and will crush our grandchildren. (I've seen a long string of Idaho politicians in particular build careers around that case.) But it isn't true. As no less than semi-libertarian Rand Paul has remarked, the United States government has carried a debt since 1835 - and we seem to have done well in the nearly two centuries since. Great Britain's government has been in debt since before the Industrial Revolution, and managed to create a world empire nonetheless. In his latest column, Paul Krugman takes on the subject, noting (in contrast to so much of what you hear) that "Believe it or not, many economists argue that the economy needs a sufficient amount of public debt out there to function well. And how much is sufficient? Maybe more than we currently have." Check out his argument, and then take a fresh look at the debt worriers. - rs (photo/Andrew Magill)

First take

Well, this is comforting as I take my usual sip of coffee this morning: "Italian researchers who looked at a group of adults ages 65-84 found that "moderate and regular" coffee drinkers were at a lower risk of developing cognitive problems than those who rarely or never drank coffee." That, they said, translates to one to two cups daily being in the positive range. But this is one of more those cases where moderation is a virtue: Much more than that, and risk of cognition problems rises. Okay: No more coffee in the afternoon. - rs

Alaska, Andrus and Carter

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Former President Jimmy Carter, the best ex-president this country has ever had, is suffering from liver cancer and could be crossing the Jordan River soon. He is now 90 years old and just finished his 25th book. The Carter Center at Emory University in Atlanta has become a model for the good works a former president can do both in this country and around the world.

Without question the top achievement legislatively from the four years President Carter held the wheel was passage of the Alaskan lands legislation which overnight doubled the size of the National Park system and the Fish and Wildlife system of bird refuges. Almost 100 million acres, including entire ecosystems received protection.

I have a new book out, Eye on the Caribou, published by Ridenbaugh Press that tells the inside story of the critical role played by former four term Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus in securing the historic legislation while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s Secretary of the Interior.

I’ve long thought that Governor Andrus has never been given the full credit he deserved for the critical role he played in leading the way to passage of the greatest single piece of conservation legislation in American history, so I set out to make sure the history books properly reflect this excellent piece of his legacy.

This new book joins a well reviewed biography (Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor) on the governor published in 2011, and a book of 13 essays (Medimont Reflections) in 2013 that covered other issues and political figures Governor Andrus and I worked on during my 40 years of public involvement.

Andrus has always been quick to say that “success has a thousand fathers and mothers” and has especially singled out the Alaska Coaliton and the critical role played by Chuck Clusen, Brock Evans and Doug Scott for their contribution to successful passage of the legislation.

Future historians will find some heretofore little known jewels of information in this latest book. For example, during the summer of 1978 when Andrus and President Carter spent four days fly fishing and floating the Middle Fork of Idaho’s Salmon River, they settled on the fall back strategy of President Carter using his authority under the Antiquities Act to make the largest national monuments in history. They guessed correctly this would bring the Alaska delegation back to the bargaining table to undue the more restrictive form of protection monument status requires.

Other examples of anecdotes in the book include a heretofore unreported 1979 secret meeting between Alaska Governor Jay Hammond and Secretary Andrus in which the two by themselves spent a day fishing at some of Hammond’s favorite fishing sites in and around Lake Clark and Lake Iliamna. The two would set aside their fishing rods from time to time, get out their maps and pretty much settled on the boundaries of the soon-to-be new additions to the Nationl Park Service and to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s system of bird refuges.

The book also details the massive cross-over vote in 1980 orchestrated by the late Senator Ted Stevens to defeat in the Democratic primary his senatorial colleague, Mike Gravel. Stevens held Gravel directly responsible for the circumstances leading to his wife Ann’s death in a plane crash on December 4th, 1978.

The book also details the adverse impact the legislation had for the owner of a properly proven up mining claim owned by a partnership that included a Spokane exploration geologist, Wallace McGregor.

Even universally acclaimed legislation can still have adverse impacts on some people, and while Mr. McGregor’s dispute with the Park Service over his inholding is complex the fact remains that 40 years have gone by without any compensation to them for a de facto taking.”

The book retails for $16.95 and is now available directly from the publisher, Ridenbaugh.com, or Amazon.com, or directly from the author, or at your nearby Hastings outlet in Idaho and at Aunties in Spokane, as well as The PaperHouse in St. Maries.

First take

There's been the sense over the last couple of years that the economy has been improving gradually, and it has, but now for the first time in a long time we see the B word - for "boom." It's being spoken of in Oregon, though, even as the unemployment rate bumped last month to 5.9 percent from 5.5 percent the month before - the reason being that the labor market is growing rapidly, with more people arriving in the state and otherwise entering. The key bit of news was that Oregon picked up 4,600 new jobs, just about doubling the number from the month before. Yet to be seen: Thorough breakdowns of where and what they are. - rs

First take

The Washington Secretary of State office reports a runoff election for an open seat in a House district bordering Idaho: "The 34 counties that conducted a primary this year certified their returns on Tuesday. Statewide, about 818,000 ballots were counted, or 24.4 percent, about average for an off-year primary with no statewide races or issues on the ballot. One interesting angle is that an automatic recount shaped up in the special election in the 9th District House race in six Eastern Washington counties (Adams, Spokane, Asotin, Garfield, Franklin and Whitman). Richard Lathim, R, finished just 47 votes ahead of Kenneth Caylor, D, for the second runoff spot for the General Election. The difference of 0.48 percent triggered the state’s automatic recount law (if it’s under 2,000 votes and less than one-half of 1 percent separating two candidates for either the first or second place spot). Secretary Wyman will certify the election on Thursday, and the recount will be ordered at that time. The recount can begin as early as Friday. If Lathim retains his lead, he would face Mary Dye, a fellow Republican who was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Susan Fagan. Under the Top 2 system, occasionally two people with the same party preference make it through to the General Election, usually in one-party districts such as Seattle or Eastern Washington. Last year, the 4th Congressional District also had an all-GOP final." Two considerations: one, that the Republican remains highly likely to win in November; two, that a Democrat was actually able to make it something of a contest this time. - rs (photo/Charles Knowles)