One phrase for it, from a member of the family, was "death by poverty," but you could also say "death by legislature." This account comes by way of Boise Weekly, which some months back "spoke with Idahoans who anxiously watched as Idaho GOP leadership pushed away two separate recommendations from a bi-partisan committee to pursue an expansion of Medicaid as soon as possible. It's estimated as many as 78,000 Idahoans are in the Medicaid gap." That means those 78,000 make too little money to afford health insurance - and, so, health care. But those are just numbers. On Sunday, the paper noted, the Post Register in Idaho Falls reported on the specific case of Jenny Steinke, whose battle with asthma started about 10 years ago. As Boise Weekly recounted, "The cost of insurance coverage for her and her husband was just out of reach, yet they were ineligible for care through the state health insurance exchange or for Medicaid. On September 1, Steinke's inhaler wasn't working and when she suffered a severe asthma attack, she was rushed to the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Three days later, she died of a brain herniation." She died, in other words, in large part because the Idaho Legislature wouldn't do what many other states do, and expand Medicaid coverage, which would have allowed her to get her condition under control. A dozen angry, snarky closing sentences suggest themselves; please add your own here. - rs
Posts published in October 2015
Is testing becoming less central to Idaho education policy?
Not so long ago, at least in Idaho political circles and very often at the legislature, all the discussion about schools seemed to center around making them “accountable.” In a general sense, of course, they have been accountable for many decades, with records of many kinds kept: Graduation rates, SAT scores, attendance records, grades and much, much more. You won’t easily come up with a major institution in our society much more accountable than schools traditionally have been. But what was really meant, in this discussion from, say, a decade ago, was aggressively scheduled and high-stakes testing.
The exact structure of testing on the table has changed some over the years, from “no child left behind” (ironically named, since the way it was structured it did leave behind whole schools that didn’t score well enough) to Common Core. Budgets and salaries were on the line when students put pencils to paper.
The idea that parents and taxpayers, not to mention citizens in our society who need an educated public as a broader matter of social good, should have an idea of how well schools are doing their job seemed reasonable. It still does, but those of us outside schools and setting policy (as voters or in some more direct capacity) never figured out the metrics - another way of way of saying we haven’t been clear about what we want schools to accomplish. I’ve long thought, for example, that serious civics education should be a core part of the public school experience. But we generally have never had discussions about things like that, political discussions since this is a logical subject for our politics. We’ve wound up with basic-level testing on math and English, teaching to the test, and a compression of what students learn (goodbye arts, for example) and what we emphasize in class.
Over-emphasis on this kind of accountability can and does short-change students.
Gradually, some shaking up seems to be underway.
Last week, the Idaho Board of Education said it would waive two key requirements for a big Common Core test that was tried this spring but whose results have proven hard to compile, even five months later. The test has been administered in many states, but criticism of it has grown, and some Idahoans even have filed a federal lawsuit to quash it. The lawsuit has an iffy states-rights basis, but it may cause a number of Idaho political people to take second and third looks at the testing regime.
And nationally, the number of states running the tests has dropped from 18 to 15, according to Idaho Ed News.
And IEN points out that the Boise School District board last month “unanimously approved a resolution calling for working alongside the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Legislature and the State Department of Education to “consider adopting other testing measures in lieu of the SBAC that will have the primary goal of improving instruction without overburdening Idaho classrooms.” If Boise’s proposal gains momentum, it could serve as the catalyst to a major policy and testing debate during the 2016 legislative session.”
The dialogue is changing. Testing won’t go away, nor should it, but its role at the center of education policy may get some adjustment in years to come.
People who hadn't met Ken Pursley - I can't claim to have known him well, but did have a number of good talks with him over the years - probably would have a different sort of impression of the kind of person he was from this shorthand description: Lead founder of one of Boise's highest-profile law firms, political activist and adventurer in some of the world's most remote places. You'd get the sense of a Teddy Roosevelt sort of personality from that, and maybe there was some of that hidden within. But Pursley, whose most public visibility came with a run for the U.S. House in 1976 (he took a respectable 45.4% of the vote), was a calm, quiet, friendly guy. There was no bluster about him. "High-powered" didn't seem to be something he projected, just something that must have energized him within. When he died this week at 75, he was fishing in the upper reaches of the Amazon. We here were sorry to hear of his death, but would say this: It was of a piece with his life. - rs
From the Oregon Secretary of State:
“The Secretary is Oregon’s chief elections officer, auditor and archivist. Additionally, the Secretary of State promotes job growth by streamlining the creation and expansion of business, authenticates documents for travel or study abroad, and offers notary training and listings. Oregon is the only state where the secretary of state is responsible for auditing public spending. In addition, the secretary serves with the governor and treasurer on the Land Board and manages and oversees Oregon’s Common School Fund.”
The chief duties of the Secretary of State are regulating and bettering our Democratic process as the chief elections officer, maintaining the registration and filings for corporations, notaries, and security interests, and auditing the functions of the State. A less important, but vital job is to act, along with the Governor and State Treasurer, as a Board of Directors for investment of the Common School Fund.
There are three Democrats who want this job. Here they are, along with their priorities as expressed on their announcements and their websites.
I went to Mr. Avakian’s website for Secretary of State to see what issues he lists as important in his campaign. But there are none that seem related to the office that he’s running for. He does cite a long list of work and his record on enforcing labor laws and equity in the workplace. He is particularly proud of his work in wage theft issues. So I looked elsewhere for information on why exactly he is running for Secretary of state and found this in his announcement for Secretary of State:
“Oregon deserves a Secretary of State who will be a champion for a fair economy, healthy environment and a strong democracy. Increasing corporate accountability in the workplace, using a wider range of tools to create good jobs, and combating climate change are just a few of the areas where this office can lead the way.”
So, as far as I can tell, either Mr. Avakian thought he was running for re-election as Labor Commissioner – a reasonable mistake to make given our State’s recent history on the timing of Labor Commissioner elections – or based on his announcement only he may have thought he was running for Governor.
From Richard Devlins website under his “Priorities” tab, his content is a laundry list of Democratic priorities. A Summary:
Prioritizing stable and adequate funding for schools
There are many vulnerable individuals in our communities – abused and neglected children, victims of crime and domestic violence, and many others – and we have the duty to help them however we can.
Richard believes [that we need] a strong and improving economy and ensuring that the Oregon workforce meets the needs of employers.
In difficult financial times, state funding for public schools, health care, public safety and services for seniors are on the line, but these critical services must be protected, while at the same time protecting taxpayers’ interests. Richard believes that government should live within its means and be transparent to Oregonians, and that government officials and legislators must make difficult decisions. is committed to not only balancing the budget but also ensuring that the budget is reflective of Oregonian’s priorities
Sen. Devlin is all over the map here. And there was a lot I left out of this summary – for brevity’s sake. While some of his priorities touch on the duties of Oregon Secretary of State, he seems to have no focused idea on how he would use the power of the office, or improve elections and audits, or streamline and protect business filings and data bases.
From Rep. Hoyle’s announcement and website. Her Priorities are:
“Reduce barriers to voting and make it easier for every eligible Oregonian to have access to the ballot;
Look for new ways to streamline government by getting the most out of every tax dollar while protecting critical services;
Be a champion for small businesses and entrepreneurs in Oregon; and
Bring a renewed commitment to improving ethics and accountability.”
Now here we go. Rep. Hoyle is talking more about how she would use the tools of the office of Secretary of State to achieve policy. It still over promises, but at least the promises are directly related to the power of the office. She has obviously sharpened her message and knows what she’s running for.
What’s going on?
All these candidates know that the winner of the Democratic Primary has a close to 100% chance of being our next Secretary of State and Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin have decided that the best way to win the office in a partisan primary in 2016 is to just be a solid Blue candidate and not address the nuts and bolts of how they’d run the office of Secretary of State. In effect, Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin campaigning as if it’s for the office of “The most Democratic Democrat in Oregon”.
Why should this be troubling? After all, this is just a Democratic primary race. It’s troubling because the Democrats have a tight hold on statewide office, so the Democratic closed primary is the de facto general election for statewide office in Oregon. And the fact is, the Democratic and Republican parties are moving further to the extremes as moderates leave these two parties. So If Mr. Avakian and Sen. Devlin are correct, that Democratic Primary voters care more about a candidates orthodoxy than they do about how a candidate would perform their duties in the office they seek, then the most partisan will be rewarded in our closed primary system and we will continue down the road of hyper-partisanship.
Rep. Hoyle in contrast is speaking to the office and how she would use the power of the office to achieve some Democratic goals. And while I wasn’t invited to the recent Democratic Summit, I did see an email from Rep. Hoyle touting her position on campaign finance reform. Particularly her opposition to the idea that money equals speech. This position is contrary to the position of the Democratic Financial base (The Democratic dark money group Our Oregon is opposed to overturning Citizens United), and could represent a candidate who is more independent and able to represent all Oregonians. Rep. Hoyle has not been overly kind to the growing independent movement as represented by the Independent Party of Oregon. But she doesn’t seem as hostile to the election reform movement as she seemed during the last session. Her emerging/evolving thinking on democracy reform, and her campaign that actually talks directly to the power of the office of Secretary of State is a clear step up from the campaigns of her challengers.
Independents need to watch this race very carefully. The winner will likely be the point person for at least the next 6 years on the very important issues of campaign finance reform, election reform, and voter registration issues. All of these should be at the top of the list for voters who would like to assure that every vote counts. Not just Democratic votes. Not just Republican votes.
As of today, it appears that – to my utter surprise and astonishment – Rep. Val Hoyle is the best candidate for the job of Secretary of State. Go Val.
A little nature video today - video recently released from the Idaho Department of Fish & Game. The subject is the conservation of fur-bearing animals, but the highlight about halfway through is a parachuting beaver.
Canada’s election was one for the history books: A third-place Liberal party won enough seats to form a government; Aboriginal voters cast so many ballots that in some areas they ran out; and across the country people demanded a reversal of a decade of Conservative policies.
Not that elections fix everything. In Canada, like the U.S., there is no ideal representation for Native voters. One phrase I heard on Aboriginal People’s Television Network last night summed it up well: A lesser of three evils. (Canada has five major parties, three of them with a chance of forming a government.) And, like the U.S., Canada’s elections are not exactly democratic. More about that shortly.
Aboriginal voters appeared to have turned out in record numbers, electing ten Native people to Parliament (up from seven). But if that sounds like a lot, consider this sentence from the Canadian Broadcasting Service: “While there were a record 54 indigenous candidates running in this election, Indigenous people will end up occupying just three per cent of the 338 seats in the House of Commons.” Of course that compares to the United States where the two American Indians in Congress make up 0.37 percent of that body. At least in Canada there are enough Aboriginal voices to form a caucus; there’s the potential to raise voices for and against significant pieces of legislation and budgets.
That brings me to Lesson One from Canada: You gotta run to win.
As the Indigenous Politics blog pointed out there were 54 First Nation, Metis and Inuit candidates running nationwide. The New Democratic Party had the most, 22 candidates, and only two of those candidates won seats, Georgina Jolibois, Dene, in Saskatchewan, and Romeo Saganash, Cree, in Quebec.
So apply this lesson to the United States. What if we had candidates running in every state where there is a significant population of American Indians and Alaska Natives? Start with Alaska’s only congressional district, the seat held by Don Young. I know it’s been done before. But there should be a Native face of opposition running for that seat every election. Same for Arizona’s first congressional district and on and on. Oklahoma. Montana. New Mexico. South Dakota. North Dakota. Washington. Oregon. California. You can’t win without a candidate. Indian Country needs more candidates for key races as well as for some of the unlikely districts.
Just from a tactical point of view the Liberals did this brilliantly. Five years ago the party was all but dead. As a piece from CTV News said in 2011: “Canada’s Liberals were arguably the most successful political party in Western democracy in the 20th century. They are starting the 21st century on the cusp of irrelevance at best, and facing extinction at worst.”
You gotta run to win.
Second lesson from Canada. Yes, mainstream politics do matter. I know, and respect, the argument that Native people should stay out of general politics. That’s there is no difference between any of the parties. Factually that is not true. The Conservative Party under Stephen Harper is a textbook case showing the problem with that premise. First Nations were only “consulted” when there was already an agreement for more resource extraction. If the answer was no, well, that was ignored. And, when there was a widespread demand for a government inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls the answer was a hostile no. The new government will not be perfect but it will be good. And the new government will at least investigate and try to do something about the epidemic of violence against Native women.
One powerful story that Canada has is that of Elijah Harper. More than anyone else the late member of the Manitoba provincial legislature showed what one vote could do, ending a constitutional process that would not have served First Nations.
Third lesson from Canada. Turnout is key. Again, as pointed out often, if Aboriginal voters had voted in previous elections there would not have been a Conservative government. Not voting is a powerful statement. It’s the same in the United States. American Indian and Alaska Natives are pretty good voters during presidential election years; then we disappear. That’s backwards. We’d have far more pull in a low turnout, off-cycle national election. Of course if we have fifty-something candidates running for Congress, that could change for the better.
The fourth lesson from Canada. Elections are not the end of the process, but they do offer a new beginning. The Liberal Party has many strengths but it’s probably not going to be the leader on climate change, stopping the Keystone XL pipeline, or even rethinking energy in a big way. Like U.S. Democrats there is a lot of corporate influence and money that’s directed their way. (I think market forces will kill Keystone anyway.) But all that means is you keep pushing. Elections are only one step.
You gotta keep running to win.
And the final lesson? Canada like the United States needs a better democracy. This election is considered a huge win for Liberals. But they only won 39.5 percent of the vote. The Conservatives had 31.9 percent and the New Democrats earned 19.7 percent. The Green Party captured 3.5 percent — and yet only ended up with one seat. (That’s not as bad as the U.S. where Republicans won 52 percent of the votes for the House, controlling 57 percent of the seats.) The reason for this in both countries is the district system or first past the post. It’s a system that most of the world has rejected in favor of elections that are more representative of all the citizens in a country.
If Canada’s elections, for example had been held in a system with proportional representation, today the Liberals and the New Democrats would be working together to try and form a government. Then that would be a government that would actually represent most Canadians. We can’t have that. It would scare the hell out of Washington.
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.On Twitter @TrahantReports
For all the talk in recent weeks that Vice President Joe Biden would jump into the presidential race, I haven't thought he would - as a matter of practicality. His interest in becoming president was certainly real, as witness by his own previous runs for the job, and he had a base of support. A lot of people like Joe Biden, and think he would be a good president. But start with the fact that Biden has had the opportunity since 2009 to gradually lay groundwork for a presidential run - lining up fundraising, bringing supporters and campaign operatives on board - and he never did. If he wanted to get into the race, he could have done it a year ago, or up to early this year, and would have had a reasonable shot at the nomination. He and Hillary Clinton might have been serious competitors, and Bernie Sanders might have stayed out (that last depending in part on how the campaigns were being structured). If he had wanted that badly to do it, in other words, he could have. Now, too much of the financial and personnel you need to run (on the Democratic side) has been absorbed by other candidates, and the practical amount of time needed to mount a serious campaign in the early states is really too little. And to run for president you have to want it very badly indeed. Biden took the wise course. - rs
Kudos to Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Watching him last week on Idaho Public Television’s program devoted entirely to the issue of nuclear waste and the Idaho National Laboratory’s research mission, it is clear he gets what is at stake in the debate over Idaho abrogating the Batt agreement which bans the importation of any additional commercial nuclear waste material -- even if the pretext is “research.”
General Wasden gets that he is charged with upholding the law and the Batt agreement is part of that law. He gets it that there’s an added layer in that the agreement was overwhelmingly approved by the people of Idaho.
Candidly, his show of resolve is encouraging. He reads the agreement correctly: It puts the onus on the federal government to solve the issue of 900,000 gallons of dangerous high level liquid waste stored above the Snake River aquifer. Some form of calcification permitting removal has to have been achieved and removal underway BEFORE any discussions can take place on the importation of any other radioactive material, including material allegedly for “research.”
The attorney general also noted that even in the short time he has been involved, the Energy Department keeps shifting the date for resolution on this critical matter. It is a classic example of an agency continually moving the goal posts.
It is no exaggeration to say General Wasden is a modern incarnation of the legendary ancient Roman hero, Horatio, who stood at one end of a narrow bridge and single-handedly defeated an enemy invading force. Folks, it is no exaggeration to say today that General Wasden is realistically the only person standing in the way of Idaho becoming the nation’s de facto nuclear waste dump.
Wasden gets it that with no national repository for highly radioactive material on the horizon, any material brought into Idaho even for so-called “research,” will NEVER leave.
In general the TV program, hosted by Melissa Davlin and Aaron Kunz, was balanced with some notable exceptions: the hosts never challenged former Idaho Senator Larry Craig’s claim to have been responsible for the Batt agreement in the first place, an agreement he now wants to discard. Pure baloney, as was Craig’s poor analogy equating nuclear waste to library books.
Nor did they challenge the obfuscation Energy Assistant Secretary-designate John Kotek brought to the program by his conveniently ignoring the series of broken promises by his agency. They should have asked him why any Idahoan, given that track record, should ever believe the agency or trust it?
Finally, what the program brought out was the strategy now being pursued by all the state’s top Republicans, except Wasden, in their craven desire to get the 30 pieces of metaphorical silver. So there is a problem with the Batt agreement?
Well, the solution is simple, my friend. Behind closed doors we’ll just renegotiate and “update” the Batt agreement. After all, it’s over 20 years old. Follow this logic being espoused by Senators Crapo and Risch and we’d be redoing the Constitution every 20 years. So, why should Idaho even agree to these “negotiations?”
The Energy department is already out of compliance because of repeated failures to meet key deadlines. Rather than updating the Batt agreement, Idaho should vigorously enforce it because there is a fundamental question DoE is refusing to answer.
If Idaho were to agree to allow this supposed minor amount of commercial spent fuel into the state for “research,” where will the material (not to mention the some 20 metric tons of spent fuel rods lined up behind) eventually go? The answer is, given the absence of Yucca Mountain (Nevada), nowhere. It will stay here indefinitely.
So will the toxic liquid waste even after it is solidified, BECAUSE THERE IS NO OTHER PLACE TO SEND IT. DOE, however, does not want to admit this which is why they redacted the answers to specific questions posed by former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, who has sued the department for failure not only to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act but also the Freedom of Information Act.
If there is one minor complaint regarding General Wasden, given his well-known commitment to transparency in governmental decisions and compliance with Idaho’s open meeting law, it is he has not joined Andrus’ suit to force DOE into FOIA compliance.
In the meantime all of Idaho’s top Republicans will stand arm in arm with the Idaho Falls Chamber in trying to peddle this pig in a poke about just a small amount of waste for research purposes being allowed into Idaho.
What they really will do is to open Idaho to an entirely new generation of wastes to join the significant waste already here, while hoping the public won’t focus on failures to meet long-ago agreed to clean-up deadlines.
These boosters, these Judas’ who risk a future they’ll not have to live with, are right now being thwarted by one man of integrity and courage, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Pray that he remains strong and resolute.
The proposal was filed before the shooting at Umpqua Community College, but in a couple of weeks voters in the county to UCC's coastal southwest, Coos County, will consider the "Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance." After a bunch of constitutional rants and quotes, it supports a right to "Keep and bear arms as originally understood; in self defense and preservation, and in defense of one's community and country. [From whom or what it does not say.] Freely manufacture, transfer, sell and buy firearms, firearms accessories and ammunition, which are designed primarily for the same purposes." Where the traction hits is this: "It shall be the duty of the Sheriff of Coos County to determine as a matter of internal policy and county concern per ORS 203.035, whether any federal, state or local regulation affecting firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition, that is enforceable within his/her jurisdiction, violates [the constitution] articulate herein. The sheriff will use pro bono legal advice as available." So the sheriff and his/her free legal advice is apparently supposed to trump the county's commissioners, prosecutors, judges, state officials, federal officials including the Supreme Court - the sheriff rules over all. On this issue (and if this is actually precedential, why not others too?). Absolutely incredible. Wallowa and Wheeler counties have done similar things; in Coos County, probably passes. - rs