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Posts published in September 2015

The Stuck Pendulum

We've made a few low-key mentions about it, but now we're running it out formally - our new eBook, The Stuck Pendulum, about Idaho's political history over the last quarter-century.

And it's free, as you can see from this visual. Best place to immediately grab a copy for your e-reader - pretty much any e-reader - is at It'll be up on too, soon, but Smashwords allows access to all readers. And the book is, for now at least, free.

A quick notes about what it is and isn't. Although it works as a standalone book, it's aimed mainly at readers of Paradox Politics by Randy Stapilus, a book about Idaho politics published in 1988 and covering several decades of history leading up to that point. Things have changed a lot since, and copies of Paradox continue to sell, so this book was intended to bring the story up to present. It isn't hugely detailed or a source for a whole lot of new information for people who have been tracking the state closely in the last couple of decades; for those who have, much of what's here will be familiar. For those who haven't, but are interested in the subject, we think it may be helpful.

And it is, after all, free. At least for a while.

Dear Apple


Apple Inc.,
c/o General Delivery
Cupertino, California

Dear Apple:

We have gone through our biennial wireless contract renewal with Verizon, and in process decided to upgrade our coal-powered 4s iPhones to the less-obsolete pellet-burning iPhone 6s. This we were able to accomplish without great expense by promising to consign our great-great-grandchildren to a Verizon contract.

Verizon's service has been for the most part reliable, being the only cell-phone carrier to operate seamlessly during Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in Florida and Louisiana, and during fire, flood, snow and heat in northern Idaho. "I can't get a signal," is a frequent whine of the urban-dwelling tourist visiting Wallace. "Here, use this. It even works at the back of the bar," we say as we hand them ours.

We're also umbilical-corded to Verizon by virtue of its virtual phone book. Who wants to hand-transfer 1,200 contacts to another carrier?

That said, the most disagreeable aspect of the "upgrade" is Apple, Inc.'s insistence that it redesign, for every iteration of the iPhone, the bloody charging jack. That $160 you've got invested in cords and wall and car chargers from the last time you bought a new phone? Worthless, all because of a two-bit jack.

Maybe Apple makes its trillions by engineering into its phones this no-backward-compatibility feature. There's certainly precedent for it. Every time Apple does a major operating system upgrade, the iMac you've been happily using is rendered suddenly an unsupported boat-anchor.

There are five pin-outs on each end of a micro-USB cable. You only need two to charge the damn battery (plus and minus, just like a car), and those DC charging connections can carry a totally unrelated alternating current signal on top of the charging current. That leaves three pin-outs for whatever nefarious uses Cupertino has in mind.

C'mon guys, I know there's been a drought down your way but torturing your international clientele with new incompatible connectors isn't the way to make it rain.

Quit jacking us around.

Bill Gates

First take/the sheriff

It really is a little different when a law enforcement officer is accused of impropriety. This is from an Oregon attorney general's press release from Friday:

The Oregon Department of Justice today announced the indictment of Klamath County Sheriff Frank Skrah in Klamath County. The Klamath County Grand Jury charged Sheriff Skrah with a total of nine counts, including three counts of harassment, three counts of official misconduct in the first degree, one count of attempted assault in the fourth degree, one count of assault in the fourth degree and one count of strangulation.

At today’s arraignment, Sheriff Skrah appeared with counsel and he did not enter a plea. The conditions of his release include, but are not limited to, no patrol and no conducting of or participating in traffic or criminal stops. He can also have no direct physical conduct with suspects or inmates.

“All law enforcement officers, including Sheriff Skrah, are sworn to uphold the law in Oregon. The grand jury has determined there is a basis to bring charges based on his actions, including the use of excessive force and the failure to perform required duties. As with all persons charged with a crime, he is innocent until proven guilty,” said Attorney General Rosenblum.

Sheriff Skrah was arraigned on the indictment in Klamath County Circuit Court at 1:30 P.M. His next court appearance will be October 19, 2015.

Given what Skrah is barred from doing, and what the nature of his office is, shouldn't there be a way of placing him on leave and turning the office over to someone else? Seems like a gap in our structure of office holding. - rs

Closure unavailing


“But they’re closed on Saturday!”

And not there on Friday either.

The Idaho Supreme Court decision last week throwing out Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s veto of the bill to ban instant horse racing at Les Bois Park, an action which has split pieces of the state executive and legislative branches down the middle, reads like a complex and abstract piece in most news reports. Attorney David Leroy called it a “sweeping and significant precedent.” Otter said he was certain the the veto he signed was valid.

What the court decision mostly was, was a recital of the law.

Let’s break it down.

Late in the afternoon of March 30, a Monday, Senate Bill 1011 (the racing bill) was physically carried to Otter’s office. He then could sign it into law, if he chose, or do nothing, in which case the bill would become law automatically. (Governors sometimes but not usually do this.) Or, he could veto it, but if he wanted to do that, he had to act promptly. The Idaho Constitution says: “Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor to the legislature within five days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it,” unless the legislature has already adjourned for the year. Which it hadn’t.

Otter’s choice was a veto, and he may have signed his veto message on April 3, a Friday. That’s within the five-day period. But the Constitution says the vetoed bill had to be returned to the legislature, specifically to the Senate, within those five days - that is, by Saturday afternoon. There was a complication: That was Easter weekend, and the legislature had adjourned on Thursday to take three days off.

Whether because of sloppiness or over-confidence or some other motivation, Otter or his staff must have thought it would be all right if the vetoed bill went back to the Senate the next Monday morning - which was more than five days (with Sunday not counted) after the bill was presented to him. What’s a few hours among friends?

And besides, what choice did he have? The legislature wasn’t there on Friday, right? The office doors were closed. How could he return the bill?

But the Idaho code actually covers a case like this. It says (in Section 67-504), “If, on the day the governor desires to return a bill without his approval and with his objections thereto to the house in which it originated, that house has adjourned for the day (but not for the session), he may deliver the bill with his message to the presiding officer, clerk, or any member of such house, and such delivery is as effectual as though returned in open session, if the governor, on the first day the house is again in session, by message notifies it of such delivery, and of the time when, and the person to whom, such delivery was made.”

In other words, the veto could have stuck if the governor’s office had on Friday or Saturday tracked down any state senator and handed him or her the vetoed bill - and then formally notified the Senate on Monday.

It helps if you know how things work. And what the law says.

The Idaho Supreme Court did make an interesting and possibly new point about “standing” when it held the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had standing to bring the case. But when it came to deciding this convoluted question of whether the veto was valid or not, it simply recited the law.

First take/Perry

If you were among those wondering who would be first out among the Republican presidential crowd, you can thank Rick Perry for putting your wondering to an end. He opted out on Friday, four months or so before any real votes were cast, but a couple of months or so after he clearly was stuck on the kids table for the debates - no Carly Fiorina moment for him. Gail Collins of the New York Times reacted, "His departure is a crushing blow for those of us who have already put in the time to read “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save America From Washington,” in which Perry announced that Americans were tired of being bossed around and being told “how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house” and “what kind of cars we can drive.” I will not even have the opportunity to point out that Washington doesn’t actually tell us any of those things." Now . . . who's next? -rs (photo/Gage Skidmore)

Indian Country’s rep


Tired of hearing about Hillary Clinton's email server? Donald Trump's obnoxious phrase of the week? Or Rand Paul argue the benefits of assimilation to American Indians and Alaska Natives? So much nonsense.

Yet this week is the unofficial start to the 2016 campaign. So we'll be getting more debates, more absurd policy pronouncements and more theater.

And at the same time as the election contest picks up, we'll also be witnessing a new round of idiocy from the United States Congress.

Congress has about three weeks left to fund the government. As President Barack Obama said over the holiday weekend: "As always, the deadline for Congress to pass a budget is the end of September. Every year. This is not new. And if they don’t, they’ll shut down the government for the second time in two years. At a time when the global economy faces headwinds and America’s economy is a relative bright spot in the world, a shutdown of our government would be wildly irresponsible. It would be an unforced error that saps the momentum we’ve worked so hard to build. Plain and simple, a shutdown would hurt working Americans."

This makes no sense because Indian Country will be disproportionately impacted by a government shutdown. I'll have more to say about that soon.

But let's swing back to the political season because the only way to improve Congress is to elect new people. We need members of Congress who are willing to be politicians and govern by making choices about the options ahead.

We should start by focusing where there are the most Native Americans: Arizona’s First Congressional District. There are twelve tribes located within this district, including the Arizona side of the Navajo Nation. (Navajo doesn’t have quite enough people for its own district, even if you include Utah and New Mexico.

Arizona’s first congressional district is the nearest thing to an American Indian majority district. (Arizona did all it could to prevent Native Americans from voting. It's only been since 1970 when a court opened up election rolls.) The population of the district is 724,868; and 23.2 percent of that is American Indian. Four years ago that number was about 22 percent and unless the district lines change, those numbers will continue to rise.

Two Native women have already run for this seat, Mary Kim Titla in 2008 and Wenona Benally Baldenegro in 2012. Titla, San Carlos Apache, is now the executive director of the tribal youth organization, UNITY, INC. Baldenegro is a Navajo and a Harvard-educated attorney.

Both lost in the primary - and that’s the challenge for this district.

Statewide only 11.9 percent of those eligible cast ballots (and less than 29 percent of registered voters). But if the Native vote could turnout in higher numbers during primary elections, then the results will be different. That sentence is easy to write, and yet so difficult to do.

However in last the general election Native voters did turnout successfully. Some ten million dollars were spent trying to win this “swing” district for Republicans. It was the top House district for so-called “dark” money or third-party spending that ran mostly negative ads. Two groups alone spent roughly $2.6 million supporting Republicans, the American Action Network and Young Guns Network. But big money lost. The Native vote trumped and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick won re-election by rolling up significant margins in precincts with Native voters in Apache and Navajo counties.

However Kirkpatrick’s win stirs another issue and that’s the disappointment many feel after she supported the sneaky transfer of forest land for the Rio Tinto mine. (She’s now running for the U.S. Senate; Sen. John McCain is running for reelection and he engineered the mine transfer by attaching it to a must-pass bill.)

And that’s exactly why a Native candidate is needed. It will take about 35,000 votes to win the primary next August and probably about 120,000 votes to succeed in the general election.

Expect a lot of candidates to run because it’s an open seat. Roll Call lists the Arizona district as one of thirty "toss up" seats. There should also also be a long list of American Indian candidates for this race, there are lots of people who could put together the resources to win. This is the ideal moment for Arizona’s tribal communities to have a representative in Congress - and so every obstacle should be removed to make this so.

It's time.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. For up-to-the-minute posts, download the free Trahant Reports app for your smart phone or tablet.

First take/Biden

One thing you reasonably can take from Vice President Joe Biden's interview on the Stephen Colbert late show last night is this: He's not running for president. He didn't say that in exactly those words, but he said again, if anything even more clearly, that when you run for president you have to give it everything that's in you, and "I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I'm being completely honest. Nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they're willing to give it 110 percent of who they are."

In some ways, maybe he wishes he were there. He's run for the office, after all. But he's right. If you aren't there, fully and completely into it, you shouldn't do it. - rs

Schedule abuse

From an open letter by Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick:

Across the country, retail firms are using new scheduling technology to squeeze every last dollar out of their workers—at enormous cost.

With constant, last-minute schedule changes and shift combinations that allow less than 7 hours of sleep, it’s throwing low-income parents into lives of perpetual crisis, as they struggle to arrange for childcare, plan their lives, and stay healthy. In the Oregonian, Steve Duin says it’s turning “low-income parents into the Walking Dead."

I call it abusive scheduling, and it has to stop.

One of the proudest moments of my service on the City Council was our unanimous vote to guarantee some paid sick leave to every employee in Portland. We provided the leadership the state of Oregon needed on that day, and I want to do it again for this pressing issue.

We can solve this problem. One example we could use was set by the City of San Francisco, where they passed a law that requires workers to be given at least two weeks’ notice of their shifts, or get extra pay for short-notice shifts.

But there’s a catch—as part of some deals that were struck in the last legislative session, the Oregon State Legislature voted to prohibit local governments like the City of Portland from acting on scheduling protection until July 2017.

This is where I part ways with some people in my own party. Because low-income families can’t wait until July 2017. They need help now. Our state government should either protect low-income parents right away - by enacting statewide legislation in the 2016 short session - or at least repeal the preemption and let the City of Portland lead.

Over the coming months, I’ll be raising my voice and working with my colleagues at the City of Portland and in the state legislature to get this resolved.

So please, call your legislators (get contact information here) and ask for action on abusive scheduling in February. And if you or a person you know is being hurt by scheduling practices like this, please respond to this email with your story. I’d love to hear from you.

First take/Wheeler

Usually, the presumption for re-election goes an incumbent when the incumbent hasn't done a horrible job or isn't mired in scandal. Portland's Charlie Hales, who is up for re-election next year and expected to seek a second term, has neither of those problems, and has been more or less what he was sold as the first time: A stable, workaday mayor. And he could be re-elected against any number of other contenders. His odds for next year don't look so good against Ted Wheeler, though. If Governor John Kitzhaber hadn't flamed out earlier this year, giving the 2016 gubernatorial advantage to now-incumbent Kate Brown, State Treasurer Wheeler would likely have been the front-runner for governor in 2018 (even though he would have been termed out of office by then). His work has been praised as both competent and innovative at each of the offices he has held so far, as treasurer and as chair of the Multnomah County Commission (his easy election to which showed the already-existing depth of his local support). He has expertise in financial management and a policy palette that makes him appealing to a range of Democrats, a strong combination for Portland. When he announced, he said this: "I’m running for Mayor because I don’t believe we can be a progressive city unless we’re making real progress for the people who need our help the most. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening today. I know we can do better and when I’m Mayor, we will do better." That may sound like boilerplate for a campaign announcement, but his background and track record actually put some meat on those bones. A good many Portlanders recognize that already, which is a big reason Charlie Hales has abruptly become the guy in second place scrambling to keep his job. - rs