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Posts published in December 2015

First take/another bubble

New population estimates, for mid-decade, are out from the Census, and there's some real indication here that Oregon could be headed for an additional congressional seat.

That would put Oregon in a select category, since only six states now are on track to gain seats (and electoral college votes). Texas would gain three and Florida two, and the single-seat gainers would be Arizona, Colorado, North California - and Oregon. From the looks of the chart, Oregon is the closest to the edge. A population slowdown in the rest of the decade could cause it to fall off, but this is the strongest position it's been in for a while.

(Nine states each are projected to lose one seat.)

Oregon was close to a pick-up at the start of this decade, but it didn't gain one, and Washington did. That seems to have used up Washington's pickup options for this time.

From a report on this in Daily Kos:

There are only minor changes from EDS's projections last year, when the firm predicted (albeit with less confidence) that California and Virginia would both gain seats. This time, interestingly, EDS says that whether you look at the longer-term from 2010 to 2015, or whether you use a shorter-term trend such as from 2013 to 2015 or just 2014 to 2015, all of their projections now come out the same way—something that wasn't true a year ago.

Incidentally, if these forecasts hold, the net effect on the Electoral College would be quite small: States that Barack Obama carried in 2012 would lose three electoral votes, while states he lost would gain three. However, two major swing states would see their fortunes continue to diverge, with Ohio losing yet another electoral vote and Florida gaining two.

In Oregon, which party would tend to gain from an additional seat? A question to ponder that just might get relevant. - rs

Doing it right

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Every once in a while I see something that restores my faith in democracy.
I witnessed such last week in Coeur d’Alene when I attended State Representative Luke Malek’s town hall meeting held at a Coeur d’Alene Fire Station.

Over 60 people were present, many standing in the too small conference room. A Malek aide said they had expected 10 people, based on a previous meeting, and were as surprised as any one.

Remarkable to this observer was not one word was heard regarding national issues, whether immigration reform, or President Obama Middle East strategy, or presidential preferences.

To top everything off, it was all civil. People listened respectfully and though one or two folks briefly mounted soap boxes to vent about a personal issue. Even this was short and sweet with the speaker showing sensitivity to time. All this is a tribute to Malek, a young attorney who though a solid conservative has been challenged and is being challenged again by the Republican’s Tea Party faction.

To these wingnuts because Malek does not decide issues on their narrow ideological view of the world but rather listens to people and tries to solve problems, he is a RINO (Republican in Name Only) and has to be replaced with one of their own.

To some observers, of the the three state senators and six state representatives who represent Kootenai county in the Legislature, Malek is the only one that has a lick of common sense and dares to speak forthrightly.

Under the GOP-instituted closed primary moderates like Malek are vulnerable to a challenge by the hard-line right wing because they do get their voters out in the primary.

Last time around Malek won his primary by 187 votes. This time around he is being challenged by another Coeur d’Alene attorney much more to the liking of the Tea Party. Others being targeted for removal in the primary in north Idaho include ten-term State Senator Shawn Keough who twice rebuffed primary challenges.

In district five the “Constitutionalists” in the Tea Party are putting a challenger up against first term State Representative Caroline Nilsson Troy, another intelligent conservative who is not conservative enough.

Malek has many admirable traits but in particular his candor stands out. In his brief opening remarks he explained how he had changed positions on the Horse Racing issue and voted to over-ride Governor Otter’s veto once he recognized the televised “historical horse races” were remarkably close to slot machines.

He told the audience more funding for education would be a top priority. He admitted he had not read the Washington Supreme Court ruling overturning state support for charter schools and said he was sure if there was a basis to challenge charter schools in Idaho someone would do it,

He said the Coeur d’Alene Charter School was one of the best examples of how charter schools could work. He conceded a bias based on his own home school education (until his last year of high school when he attended and graduated from Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep).

Asked by an obvious supporter of an unrestricted second amendment proponent as to whether he would sponsor or support a “constitutional carry” law, Malek replied with a firm no, not at this time.

He explained that while he had concealed weapon permits issued by Idaho and Utah he nonetheless felt that it was not needed nor until society got a better handle on how to keep firearms out of the hands of the mentally ill should the subject be raised.

He easily fielded and answered questions concerning a variety of local issues, from Coeur d’Alene’s new crisis center, to a push for a sales tax reduction on food, to over sight of the State’s judiciary, to delivering broad band to Idaho school districts, to Medicaid expansion.

It was a fine example of a solid legislator working to keep his constituents well informed. Here’s hoping they know how lucky they are.

First take/Star Wars

In 1977 I walked into a movie theater to watch Star Wars, a few weeks after its release, to check out the movie the world seemed to be talking about. I liked it, as many did, not as passionately as some viewers did. But I liked it enough to turn up at a theater, in another city, when its successor, The Empire Strikes Back, was released.

Since then it's become a pattern, and for me an unusual one. Few things will pull me into a movie theatre these days. Viewing at home is a strong enough technical marvel that I don't miss the bigger screen. The high cost of "going to the movies," so much higher than in years past, is a disincentive. But so are so many of the movies: Some years ago I passed my fill of movies based, one way or another, on comic books. When I went to a theater for the first time in a couple of years (then, to see the terrific Lincoln), I sat through five previews, three of which were comics-based. Yawn. And another was an animation, which actually looked like the best of the lot, but which I'd be happy to watch at home.

Somehow, though, the new Star Wars movie had to be watched in theater. It wasn't just that I've established a routine through its six predecessors, which were of varying quality. It was also that I sensed I wouldn't be giving it a fair shot at entertaining me, in the way I was entertained before, if I didn't see it in that context. So I walked in, so as not to battle crowds, on a weekday afternoon.

And it was enjoyable. It was one of the better pieces in the series. And I look forward to watching the next one. In a theater.

The Christmas dead

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Christmas presents a number of challenges for me. The first is I’m not a shopper. I’m a buyer. Need new jeans? Go from car to Men’s Department - find my size - go to cashier - back to car. Ten minutes flat! Now that’s buying. Anything more is painful.

Except Christmas. Because, personally, there’s one significant difference this time of year; something that makes the pain of “shopping” more bearable. And that’s listening to the sounds of all the dead singers coming over the sound system at the mall. Really brightens things up.

Think about it. Listen for it. Bing Crosby - Rosemary Clooney - Karen Carpenter - Perry Como - Eddy Arnold - Sammy Davis Jr. - Nat Cole - Mel Torme - Burl Ives - Ella Fitzgerald - Frank Sinatra - Dean Martin - the Andrews Sisters - Andy Williams - Patti Page - Margaret Whiting - Elvis. All dead. Except at Christmas. At the mall.

These people were recording Christmas songs before most of today’s shoppers were born. Now they’re gone. Except at Christmas. Then we - pardon the words - dig ‘em up. All of ‘em. Every year.

I’m a child of radio. I listened to Ed Murrow from London in the early ‘40's on my little bedside Philco while doing grade school homework. All the mystery shows, the comedies, variety shows and the news. Those were my childhood friends. I knew ‘em all.

For about four decades, radio and television provided me with a fine life of earning a living, travel, one-of-a-kind experiences and making friends. TV was a large part of it but radio was where I felt most at home. Television “is.” What you see is what you get. But radio was “whatever-you-wanted-it-to-be.” Nobody else in the whole world - nobody - visualized the Green Hornet exactly the way I did. When Superman leapt over a tall building, mine was the tallest that ever was!

When you had such deeply ingrained memories of what was possible with radio, who wouldn’t want to grow up and be a part of it? I sure did. Until radio, as I knew it - as it was intended to be - died. Starting in the ‘80's.

My last broadcasting job was in radio. And one day - I just quit. Cold turkey. Radio was gone. Time for me to go, too. Listen now. Pick anyone of three major content categories and listen. Really listen. All sound alike.

Radio is primarily a for-profit product these days. And most of the stations - too damned many of them - are not owned by professional broadcasters any more. Now, majority ownership is “chains” - some with hundreds of outlets. They’ve got investors and stockholders and bean-counters with ex-time salesmen for managers. Bottom line determines programming - not originality. Medford radio - Eugene Radio - Boise radio - Olympia radio. Run up and down the dial and you won’t find any real differences.

It’s not good. It’s not bad. It just “is.” When “The Gipper’s” Federal Communications Commission deregulated radio, it became a Monopoly game with buyers hoarding radio licenses. Buy ‘em. Sell ‘em. Trade ‘em. Pile ‘em up. It just “is.”

So, I go to the mall at Christmas because that’s where my “friends” are. Bing, Ella, Rosemary, Frank, Andy and all the rest. There’s almost no place for them in today’s fractured radio world that’s looking for the 18-to-28-year old demographic of the ratings services.

Well, my “friends” may be as dead as yesterday’s Limbaugh flatulence on today’s airwaves. But they’ll always be at the mall. I’ve tried to picture “Jingle Bells” done by Pink Floyd. Doesn’t work. How ‘bout “Let it Snow; Let It Snow” by Miley Cyrus? No? Maybe “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem” by Led Zepplin?” Ugh! Or “Silent Night” by Madonna? Guess not.

Every generation’s “musicians” make Christmas albums. You hear a new one once in awhile. Or more likely catch one of their videos. Usually country/western. They’re out there. For a year or two. Then gone.

They’ll never be played on background music at the mall any time soon. They won’t be purchased for our personal music collections in anything like the numbers of “White Christmas” recordings by Ol’ Bing. So my question is this. How long can these dead-but-talented-spirits be resurrected each year? Digitally “dug up,” as it were? Even with all those contemporary “flash-in-the-pan” folks recording soon-to-be-forgotten Christmas noise, will we be hearing Rosemary and Mel and Nat for the next century or so?

The answer is, I think, yes. Because there is a quality of permanence in what they did. Because they did it once. They did it simply. They did it right. No echo chambers. No multi-track overdubbing. Except for Les
Paul. It was “Christmas lightning” in a bottle.

Well, off to the mall. Ella and Frank are going to “be there” from 2 to 2:15 this afternoon.

(This column originally appeared in 2013. But some other “ mall listeners-to-the-dead” asked for the repeat. So we dug it up.)

First take/weird politics

The year 2015 was what's known as an off-year in politics - that is, in most places no elections and (presumably) campaigning is slight. Didn't quite work out that way. Apart from a few specific locations and on lower levels, there weren't a lot of ballots cast during the year. But 2015 felt plenty political.

One place to get an entertaining feel for the overall is CNN's list of the 10 weirdest political stories of the year.

It told about unfortunate civic events in Birmingham, where "According to a statement given to police by Mayor William Bell, City Councilor Marcus Lundy trapped him in a private room, repeatedly slamming the door shut when Bell tried to escape, before putting the mayor in a "chokehold." Reporters and witnesses could hear Bell yelling, "no, no, no," as the altercation unfolded during a break in a Birmingham city council meeting."

There was the local election won by a dead man. The strange gubernatorial race of Louisiana Senator David Vitter, whose years-old scandal finally bit him after all this time. A pig running for mayor in Michigan.

Wierdest thing of all: None of these stories were even about the presidential race. Wouldn't have seen that coming. - rs

Commanded

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When, unless you were in the Armed Services, were you ever "COMMANDED" to do anything?

I don't think even bully policemen use such phraseology.

But when a biped who managed his or her way through law school, then sucked up to enough political turds to become a Federal - or might one say, Feral - Judge, is allowed to COMMAND(ED) our behaviour, something is wrong.

Weather un-permitting, to show up and testify at a Federal Hearing in which one does not have a dog in the fight and for this, one is recompensed the federally-ordered princely sum of $20 per day, disregarding gasoline, oil, tire wear and the major trauma of driving 120 miles through an Idaho blizzard to comply.

Civic duty my ass.

Coupla rich bastards suing some other rich bastards, and I have to be a witness for them?

For $2.50 an hour?

I tried to beg off, given the weather and the 20-year-old nature of our car, but such was not to be.

It would inconvenience the $500-an-hour lawyers who flew in to Spokane the night before and whined about the 30 miles of flat roads they had to endure in their knock-new and fully or doubly reimbursed rental cars from the airport to their comfy hotel rooms?

As meantime we were scraping ice off the windshield and shoveling snow just to get out of the driveway, just hoping not to die on Fourth of July Pass courtesy of some relocated Californian in his or her brand-new 4-wheel drive, which we all know are invincible in Idaho weather.

Does this invasion of my sentient human rights make me a Tea Partier? No. Those poor people have been duped into thinking that anything Idaho does affects the Constitution of the United States. Gun control? Abortion? And an Idaho takeover of federal forest lands – as if you could pay for it. Nope. Talk to your federal Congressman. Meanwhile, let your school children starve until God provides. Shame on you.

Does it make me a Republican? Nope, for the reasons listed above. You Rs became one and the same with the Toilet Paper party. Cowards, the lot of you.

Does it make me a Democrat? Even a Shoshone County, Idaho Democrat? Nope. You back a national party that would shut down mining, logging and any other leg-up a working person might need. Your magical minimum wage stunt has just created computers to replace them and now all those hopeful kids are out of work. Splendid effort on behalf of the working man.

So who's left? Ronald Dump with his hair-trigger on the nuke button? No way, no matter how much Putin likes him.

Sure looking for advice here. Meantime, I don't need no stinking lawyer-judges.

First take/e-sessions

In conversation this morning with KLIX radio host Bill Colley, he raised the concept of online legislative sessions. Interesting thought.

Technologically, there's no reason it couldn't be done. (The changes that would be needed to accommodate it would be in rule and law.) You could go so far as to have all the legislators for a given state - in Idaho, the 105 - meeting by way of Skype or some similar method. Votes could be cast online. The public could sign in to watch. Legislators could even attend from their homes, though meeting places like city halls or county courthouses could also be designated.

Lobbyists probably would hate it because there'd be no effective way to schmooze. And lot of legislators, recalling how often personal relationships are in the legislative process, likely wouldn't much care for it either.

That might be a reasonable answer, one day, in the case of special sessions and the like. It's another tool to think about. But it may be a while from arriving. - rs

Learning curve, tamed

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I shouldn’t let the year end without following up on a column from one year ago last week, intended then as a bit of advice and also as a cautionary note.

My column probably had nothing to do with it, but the two newly-elected Idaho officials I wrote about – Secretary of State Lawrence Denney and Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra – have turned out better than a lot of people, including me, were expecting.

Both had given good reasons for low expectations.

Denney was a former speaker of the House whose track record was so widely criticized that House Republicans did what no majority caucus had done to a speaker in generations: Booted him from the office. A lot of Republicans in official positions, including the last SecState, Ben Ysursa, signed up with one of the other primary contestants. Concerns were that, in this office where careful record-keeping and down-the-middle fairness were essential (and had been observed for a very long time), Denney would staff up with political hacks and turn the office sharply partisan.

None of that has happened.

Denney has not been a notably controversial figure in 2015, and his office appears to be running on track. He took some flack for his handling of a bill that passed in the legislature, was rejected by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter but appeared to have missed the veto deadline. Denney sided with Otter; the Supreme Court ruled the other way, but the case was intricate, and Denney adhered to the court’s decision. His handling of this may not have been perfect, but was reasonable. His bigger test will come in the upcoming election season, but year one set a positive tone.

Ybarra was an unusual case of an out-of-nowhere candidate, with little visible organized support, winning first the primary and then the general, surprising a lot of people both times. While she had sound professional background as an educator, she had little to none in the world of education administration, state finance and politics, and ran a campaign that seemed out of touch with almost everyone. The job of a state superintendent is not teaching in a classroom; it has to do with managing budgets, mucking around in the arcane world of education policy, crafting and shepherding legislation and effectively working with a range of interest groups. The Idaho school superintendent doesn’t have a lot of power. Mostly, that person has clout to the extent it can be projected with persuasion, alliances and analysis. Ybarra showed little of that capability in the campaign.

Once in office, though, she began to do that. In the last year, a superintendent’s office formerly highly ideological has moved into working smoothly and professionally with educators and others around the state, taking a lead in solving a string of inherited problems (school broadband, a really tough nut, maybe most notable) and finding more broadly acceptable policy choices.

Why did they do so much better than expected?

A year ago, I made five suggestions. First, keep most of the existing staff in place so the office keeps running. Second, spend plenty of time in the office to get a feel for how it operates. Third, collect a group of people with expertise in the area from outside and set them up as an informal sounding board. The last two applied most strongly to Ybarra: reach out to the constituencies concerned with your office, and reach out to the public on any policy directions you’re planning.

But both of them seem to have done these things, to one degree or another. Both seem to have taken the work of their offices seriously and not used them as personal or ideological soapboxes.

Sometimes, now and again, what you elect turns out better than you expect.

“Go on”, or not

A guest opinion from Caldwell educator Levi Cavener on current ballot initiatives that would lower Idaho's tuition and increase the general fund.

There is some irony in the precarious position the Gem State has found itself in. Despite setting a goal in 2010 for 60% of Idaho’s young people under age 34 to attend postsecondary education, the Idaho legislature then decided the way to encourage young people to attend college is to significantly inflate the tuition costs for those would-be students in the subsequent years that followed.

This objective was coupled with a comedic “Go-On” and “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign courtesy of Idaho’s Albertson Foundation designed to prod would-be students into higher education despite the increasing costs to attend tethered together with lackluster job prospects in the Gem State to find employment.

And while it appears Idaho’s leaders would rather not acknowledge that the economics courses actually being taught in the Gem State’s universities could have precisely predicted the result of pulling the rug on funding higher education at exactly the same time Idaho’s families were struggling--never mind tuition costs--to simply put food on the table, Idaho’s young citizens do seem to understand those basic behavioral economics.

Dangling red herrings such as 21st century content standards, more school choice, and greater STEM focus as the solutions to Idaho’s lackluster college enrollment misses the crux of the issue in entirety. While these topics are worthwhile discussions in the their own right, they miss the fundamental problem young people are facing.

This discussion need not be that complicated: if Idaho continues to ignore rising tuition costs, textbook costs, lab fees, and student housing then the Gem State should also be equally prepared to expect stagnated postsecondary enrollment and a continued brain drain of our most talented young people for greener pastures outside the state.

The Albertson strategy of admonishing young people into postsecondary attendance is as equally cruel as it is ineffective. Young people living in a state dead last in the nation for wages, a state with exploding tuition costs, and a state with negligible public scholarship opportunities are making a rational economic decision for their future when they decline to enroll in higher education upon graduation.

While our state’s leaders may continue to ballyhoo other reasons for this outcome, Idahoans are becoming increasingly inpatient in addressing the fundamental problem facing high school graduates. As the price of public postsecondary enrollment continues to rise, the value of attendance in our higher education programs continues to decline in the eyes of Idaho’s young people.

The two ballot initiatives currently circulating in our state are evidence that citizens have become disillusioned that their elected leaders actually plan on making any tangible changes to this status quo. The first petition circulated by the group Stop Tuition Hikes has proposed a modest increase on tobacco tax to use the generated revenue in lowering Idaho’s tuition by 22%. The second initiative sponsored by Idaho’s League of Women Voters, similarly, seeks to end tax exemptions coupled with reducing the sales tax to generate additional funds for our state’s budget.

And there is a very real chance that one or both of these initiatives will generate the signatures required to get on the ballot; there is an equally real chance Idaho’s voters will happily vote to reduce their sales tax and decrease the cost of sending their children to college if they are given the opportunity to vote on such a measure.

If Idaho’s leaders and the Albertson Foundation are truly interested in improving the rate of postsecondary enrollment, I wholeheartedly expect to see them give us the gift of gushing endorsements on both ballot initiatives. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Scandal at DOE

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The scandal is exploding. For several months, information has dribbled out about how Oregon’s Department of Energy ignored the regulations regarding the resale of BETC tax credits. Now, in a Oregon GOP leaders have sent letters to Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, the state’s U.S. attorney, the FBI, the IRS and Marion County District Attorney Walter Beglau demanding a probe of allegations that employees at the Oregon Department of Energy and Department of Revenue violated state law on energy tax credits, engaged in favoritism and allowed some people to evade capital gains tax.

Governor Brown and AG Rosenblum have not responded.

But just a few hours ago, Democratic Senate Leader Peter Courtney and Democratic Speaker Tina Kotek demanded an “overhaul” of the Oregon Department of Energy.

Unlike the Cylvia Hayes scandals which involved a few hundred thousand dollars and a lot of personal ugliness, this new DOE scandal looks like it could involve tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidy’s to recoup bad investments from insiders or favored constituents as well as violations of the law by top government officials in the Department of Revenue and the Department of Energy.

Make no mistake. Mr. Courtney and Ms. Kotek were quick to get out of the way of this moving train. Something they were quick to do when the Kitzhaber scandal finally erupted as well.

There will be pressure to not make the names of the BETC tax credits public. There will be pressure in the February session to quickly amend the DOE rules regarding retroactive authorization of the illegal discounting of the BETC tax credits. There will be pressure to blame Kitzhaber alone.

The GOP needs to resist the urge to blame Kitzhaber and Hayes and focus on the crony capitalism that the Democrats engaged in. (Unfortunaetly, the GOP will be pressured by its own financial donor base to not go there. Since they also enjoyed the benefits of the BETC credits).

As pressure builds on the AG to investigate or if the District Attorney or Feds decide to investigate, how will the scandal be used by the Carbon Industry in it’s 2016 Ballot Measure that would terminate the Oregon Clean Fuels Program?