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Posts published in “Year: 2016”

The uncertainties of 2017

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A year ago, looking to 2016, I had more questions about the prospects than I did any flat predictions.

Now, at the edge of 2017, that’s even more true.

A new administration is about to take office in Washington, but anyone certain about what exactly that will mean – other than something a lot different from the last eight years – is kidding themselves. Think instead in terms of a range of possibilities, many possible things that might happen. Be surprised by none of what actually does.

Focusing more locally, and revisiting some thoughts from a year ago, here are some ideas to keep watch for in the next 365.

The Trump reaction. When Idaho Republicans were given the presidential primary election choice, they went decisively not for Donald Trump but for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the general election, of course, they went for the nominee, but how will they react to whatever it is that Trump does – recognizing that we really have no way of knowing what he will do. In some scenarios, Idaho Republicans may happily jump on board with a familiar Republican presence. In others, Trump may be something very different.

Boise downtown development. 2017 is supposed to be the big year Boise’s downtown redevelopment all comes together. Some pieces, like the JUMP center, already are done or nearly done. But large elements of work remain, and it was only in September that ground broke on the largest single piece of up-graded downtown property. Not everything will be finished then, of course. A new hotel will await, and Boise activity won’t come to a standstill. But 2017 should mark the point when Idaho gets to see what the capitol city’s downtown looks like for some time to come.

Less-wild fires? Idaho has been the scene of some massive, powerfully destructive wildfires in recent years. 2016 turned out to be a relative reprieve from those. (There were fires of course, but the biggest of them were generally fewer and smaller.) A year ago I suggested there would be some reason for hope because of a strong snowpack developing around the state by New Year’s. The snowpack now on average is looking not too different from a year ago. Call it a hopeful sign.

More of the same at the Legislature. Whatever you thought of the 2016 legislative session, you probably can bank on 2017 being similar but maybe more so. Returning issues probably will return, but if they got little traction last session, they’ll have trouble picking up speed in the next.

Even fewer Democrats. Nationally, Democrats found silver linings in congressional or state contests; in Idaho, you’d need a microscope to find them. The number of Democrats in the legislature actually fell, to the point that Idaho from north of Boise to Canada now has just one Democratic legislator. Democrats had a few serious shots in 2016 at making inroads in Ada County, with a county commission race and a District 15 House race, both involving strong, intensive campaigns. Both fell short. Where do Idaho Democrats go now?

Health care prospects dim. Efforts to try to push a Medicaid expansion through the Legislature next session now seem evaporated, and health care and insurance for a large number of Idahoans will be at increased risk this coming year. No realistic Idaho solutions are in sight.

In all, don’t expect any startling changes.

For all seasons

carlson

There is a book that those who follow Idaho history and politics must read if they want to garner more insight into people who have helped shape what the great state is today. Entitled Climb the Mountains, it is the memoir of one of Idaho’s fine public servants, former Second District Congressman Orval Hansen.

Now 90 years young, he has written a fascinating account of his remarkable life that provides not only insight into some the historic issues he had a hand in shaping while a member of the Idaho Legislature from Idaho Falls and then Congress, but also demonstrates there are still decent dedicated public servants who can and do render real service to their constituents.

There are nuggets of gold and pearls of political wisdom throughout the book. For example, the young Hansen already having been defeated in 1962 by Democrat Ralph Harding from Blackfoot in a bid to win the Congressional seat, expresses ambivalence about seeking the seat in 1968 when incumbent George Hansen (no relation) leaves the post to challenge Frank Church for his Senate seat.

Orval receives encouragement, but also some unsolicited advice, the best of which comes from a Democratic friend, former State Auditor Cal Wright, who had run with out success for governor in 1950 against one of Hansen’s political idols, former Governor Len B. Jordan.

Wright wrote, “You got where you are by being who you are. Don’t change.” No truer words have ever been written. This memoir, without coming across as egotistical or narcissistic reveals well just who this quiet, understated person is. In doing so it offers a map to others who may want to pursue a career in politics.

The book’s title is taken from a favorite John Muir quote, and references what is a metaphor for Orval Hansen’s life. Turns out that the author, along with some of his brothers and some of his children, has climbed and summited mountains all over the globe, from Kilimanjaro in Africa to South America to Nepal. Indeed, it says much about his independence that he doesn’t hesitate to quote one of the saints of the American environmental movement.

The book begins with a description of a climb with two of his brothers in the Tetons. He concludes the chapter by writing, “I learned a lot about life from climbing mountains. . . .In many respects my experience climbing in the Tetons that day was a metaphor for my life.”

He distills what he has learned into six dictates:

· Set a goal
· Carefully plan
· Work hard
· Be adaptible
· Make sacrifices
· Be lucky

Much of the book shows how he applies these to his life. What really comes across to a reader, though, is what a decent, honest, modest, sensitive, kind and intelligent person he is.

This may explain in part why he appears to feel he accomplished much more as a State legislator than as a member of Congress. He is fully justified to cite as among his life’s accomplishments the establishment of the Office of Legislative Council, legislative reapportionment, reform of banking laws, and his role in 1965 as a member of the historic 38th Idaho Legislature which passed the first sales tax to pay for fully funding public education.

Among his colleagues in this endeavor were several who went onto further notable public service: Cecil D. Andrus, Jim McClure, and Perry Swisher.

He gives credit for much of his political success to three political mentors - former Governors Len B. Jordan and Robert Smylie, and Louise Shadduck, first a colleague when both worked for Henry Dworshak, and then his administrative assistant when in Congress.

Other chapters cover his Scandinavian heritage, growing up on a farm and the discipline it instilled, his involvement with the Future Farmers of America as well as Rotary International, and his two years as a Seaman Second class on the carrier Saratoga while in the Navy at the end of World War II.

He modestly cites his education at the University of Idaho, his law degree from George Washington University in D.C., his graduate work at the London School of Economics, his meeting and subsequent marriage to his British actress spouse, June, travels to other countries, running marathons in his 60’s and his love of reading and the out-of-doors.

His devotion to family and to his LDS faith come through actions, not so much in written words.

It is a good and enjoyable read that well tells the life of a remarkable Idahoan, a real life man for all seasons who is the living definition of a nice person and a superb public servant.

For sale …

frazier

News to some and “old news” to others, the hometown paper without a printing press will be searching for a new home if the building at Curtis and Irving sells.

Don Day at BOISEDEV first broke the story several weeks ago. A reader offered us a “breaking news” tip today and it appears after reading BoiseDev it is about as breaking as the evening news reports on TV.

The facility was built in the early 1970’s on six acres of land. The building is being offered for $6.9 million by multiple realtors including John L. Scott Realtors at 3.5% interest over 30 years. A sign on the property lists Colliers as the agent. There is no mention of the Statesman and the image on the Scott website does not include the logo of the legacy newspaper.

Newspapers in general have fallen on hard times and the STATESMAN has stumbled along in recent years with various owners, numerous redesigns, elimination of the printing press (the Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa prints the Statesman), amateurish attempts at video clips on the website, and a strong tendency to offer up “magazine-style” coverage.

Daily local news is often limited to press releases from government agencies, cops, and charitable organizations. The news staff produces some quality coverage, but only when there is no deadline and the stories are not timely.

More than 10 years ago we posted THIS. About the only real change has been the dominance of TV and the decline of the printed word. Of course, SMARTPHONES have been a major cultural and social change along with Tweets and Facebook. Just ask the President-elect who doesn’t have much use for newspaper reporters.

Sale of the building makes good sense from a business perspective. With no printing press and no need to store paper, there is no reason to have a plant and warehouse facility on six acres of prime industrial land.

We are awaiting word on what is included in the sale as well as where the Statesman plans to relocate.

Back to the future?

mckee

In an astonishing turnabout on the world stage, it appears to be Vladimir Putin and the Ministry of Commerce in China who are advancing the cause of reason and common sense into the chaos of Trumps’ meanderings. Consider:

In a startling series of tweets and off-hand comments, Trump topped almost ten months of confusing and contradictory statements about his approach to nuclear weapons on Thursday by releasing a tweet which declared an intent to “greatly strengthen and expand [U.S.] nuclear capability, until such time as the world comes to its senses….” In the firestorm of comment that followed, Trump’s staff and hangers-on tried to circle quickly to explain that he didn’t really intend to restart the cold war. What he really meant, they suggested, was the continuation of the program to modernize the existing nuclear launching systems.

Under the START treaty, both the United States and Russia are on track toward reducing their total number of missile launchers and deployed warheads, but are engaged in modernizing the existing nuclear weapons systems – some of which are more than 50 years’ old. Sean Spicer, recently named as Trumps’ press secretary, suggested that this was what Trump was talking about, rather than any total increase in nuclear capability.

But Trump stepped back in and promptly doubled down on his original tweet, declaring that that starting a nuclear build-up was exactly what he meant. On Friday’s
“Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough quoted an off-air telephone conversation with Trump where he said he was fine with the country taking part in an arms race if it puts the U.S. in a stronger position against foreign adversaries. Rachel Maddow tried her best on her show to pin Kellyann Conway down, but received nothing but double talk. Although expressed in bumper-sticker tweets, the Trumps’ declaration has the entire world on edge.

Vladimir Putin, speaking at his annual marathon news conference, promptly released word that Russia had no interest in getting into an arms race with the United States. According to the New York Times, Putin said that Russia would continue to modernize its nuclear weapons, but would not seek new arms or develop new nuclear warheads. Any new Russian nuclear weapons would stay within the limits of existing treaties. Although Moscow and Washington have taken to rattling sabers more than in the past, the architecture of previous nuclear arms treaties has so far has seemed to have held.

Concerning China, Trump has named an economist with strong, controversial views on trade with China, to be an advisor to a newly formed trade council. Peter Navarro, an economist on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine, is the author of a number of books including the gloomy “Death by China: How America Lost its Manufacturing Base,” which appears to blame the loss of all manufacturing jobs in the rust belt and elsewhere on unfair trade practices and currency manipulation by China. The T.V. documentary proclaims in broadly stated and oft repeated generalities that nothing but woes and evil are in store for us unless we mend our ways in trade with China.

Navarro’s views are not widely shared among economists, most of whom opine that the shifting of labor intensive manufacturing resources away from the United States is caused by many factors, including expanding markets, dramatically improved shipping capabilities, automation and high technology, labor costs, and consumer demand. The concept that the singular problem of job loss in a given industry can be fashioned into a two way street between the United States and China, and thereby brought under control with a simple traffic device or toll both is a simplistic, naïve approach to a vastly more complicated set of interrelated circumstances.

Navarro’s book and the video ignore completely the actual statistics and overall burgeoning wealth of the United States. While there are certainly problems to address, and it is essential that trade with China be maintained with a wary eye, the gloomy, dystopian picture painted by Navarro is difficult to translate into reality. Worse, the clear indication from Navarro is that a trade war is inevitable, and needs to come sooner rather than later if American manufacturing is to survive.

The reaction from China has been immediate. Shen Danyang, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, said. "Regardless of what changes happen in the U.S. government - president, commerce secretary, trade representative - common interests (between the United States and China) are greater than differences." Reuters quotes a Chinese editorial: "The new administration should bear in mind that with economic and trade ties between the world's two largest economies now the closest they have ever been, any move to damage the win-win relationship will only result in a loss for both sides."

Our fervent hope, once the reality of Trumps’ election settled in, was that in the area of foreign policy at least, his bumper-sticker statements and late night tweets would subside during the transition; that Trump would take advantage of this time to assemble some individuals with knowledge and experience, particularly in the area of foreign policy, to guide him in these critical time. This prediction has gone the way of every single other prediction we have made so far.

Instead, Trump continues to confound and astound as he crashes and stumbles towards his formal inauguration, ignoring history and tradition and with no apparent concern for the immediate and potential consequences of his actions.

Who in their wildest dreams would imagine that we would look to Russia for solace?

Carolina cancer

rainey

Before we get to the subject at hand, let’s deal with several matters.

First, a confession. Though an Independent, I really now lean to the left a bit. But, compared to how far in the briar patch the national Republican Party is currently, I’m still a bit right of center. I started out as a Republican. So I know the spoor. They moved. I didn’t.

Second issue: for the purposes of this opining piece, I want us all to move to the middle. Shed your political leanings. Forget your party registration. Swallow hard and step out here in the barren middle with the rest of us - completely unclothed, politically speaking.

Now, focus on one of the four tenets of Rotary International: “Is It Fair?” Or, if you prefer, biblically speaking, think along the lines of “Do Unto Others.” Alrighty, now. Let’s get to work.

The subject at hand is either Cuba - or North Carolina. Unless you look really close these days, it’s awfully hard to tell them apart. Keep in mind, a Democrat won the governorship. Voters turned the GOP lifetime Dow Chemical employee out. Not decisively. But out. The GOP kept the legislature. Decisively. But not the governorship.

What that headed-out-the-door governor and the lame duck legislature have been doing in the last eight weeks passes neither the Rotary example nor the biblical admonition. Not by a long shot.

The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) is a non-partisan outfit that grades democracies worldwide on a 100 point scale. That scale is based on many factors but, among them, are voter access to polling places, influence of state-controlled media and the potential that an election was rigged. EIP rates all kinds of places and elections.

For 2016, North Carolina received a score of 58/100. So did Cuba, Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Got that picture in mind? And that was just the election - not these last eight weeks.

UNC-Chapel Hill political scientist Dr. Andrew Reynolds wrote an op-ed for the Raleigh News & Observer in which he said “If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table - a deeply flawed, partly free democracy only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.” Wow! In America? Yes, Virginia, in America.

Gov. McRory and those legislative sore winners have about gutted the duties of the incoming governor. Oh, he still gets a staff car, a new credit card and keys to the executive bathroom. But that’s about it. He won’t be able to appoint his own state cabinet officials without approval of that Republican-dominated Senate - which ain’t likely to occur. The number of state appointive positions to be filled by the governor has been cut by about 80%. So the holdovers he’s forced to accept will be what? Republican appointees, that’s what.

The number of members of the State Board of Elections has been increased from five to eight. But - the GOP legislature gets to appoint four so that’ll assure a tie vote and effectively deadlock things. There are some other new “handcuff” laws but you get the idea.

One other note. The NC Legislature had rigged voting districts so badly - to shut out Democrats - that a federal court struck down the map as “unconstitutional” as of Nov. 9th and ordered new lines and a special 2017 election. EIP found North Carolina has the “least democratic redistricting in the world.” Yes, the world!

EIP also noted the USofA is the only nation that allows politicians who run by district to design the districts they run in. Only one!

I’d guess, about this point, all who were able to shed your partisan feelings to stand out here politically naked with the rest of us can see why you were asked to do that. Whatever your leanings - whatever your political sensibilities - what’s happened in North Carolina is just plain wrong. And totally unfair. Winning is one thing. Breaking the rules - and the law - is a whole new ball game.

The issue of political redistricting has been considered an “inside-the-park” issue for too many years. It’s often done only by political insiders who, too often, set lines to assure their own or their party’s survival. Very little public input is allowed and most of the public hasn’t cared. But, if war is too important to be left to the generals, creating political districts is too important to be left to the politicians.

The only way out of this morally reprehensible practice is to allow the courts to create independent redistricting panels. Take the crayons out of the hands of self-serving partisans and put them in the hands of “civilians” so to speak. North Carolina has gotten so far in the swamp a federal judge has trashed all state redistricting and not only ordered a new plan but also a whole new state election.

I remember a longtime Idaho pol once telling me “When we’re out, they do it to us and, when we’re in, we do it to them.” That really does happen everywhere to some extent. But North Carolina - and a couple of its neighbors - have gone far beyond just “tit-for-tat.” Voters are being rejected, disqualified and ignored. Voting district gaming has broken federal and state laws. The voter’s choice for governor has been handcuffed so he can’t deliver what the voters said they were buying.

Anyone who thinks Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee and a few others aren’t standing in that North Carolina shadow haven’t been paying attention.

The issue of fair and proper redistricting is more important now than ever. With a dead-in-the-water Congress, the Koch boys and other zillionaires are going directly to the states for the political candy they want. They’re changing our laws, endangering our welfare and trying to design the kind of nation they want one state at a time.

North Carolina has become a political cancer. It’s time for some major surgery.

Lobbyists from all over

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The Blaine County School District split deeply – the board’s vote was 3-2 – when it came to deciding whether to hire a lobbyist to represent it at the next state legislative session in Boise.

The vote went in the “yea” direction, with the support of the superintendent, who noted that such vital matters as the school funding formula, which determines how state money will be apportioned to the districts, already have been under discussion. The person hired was Phil Homer, who has been a lobbyist before, working for the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

Blaine is so far the only individual school district to take this step, and there’s been some commentary about whether it should. (There are also questions about whether various other governmental organizations, local and state, should hire lobbyists. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other school districts consider it. A lot of lobbyists prowl the Statehouse in-season, more of them than there are legislators. And they represent some fairly unexpected interests and organizations.

You can see the most current list for yourself (dated November 16) on the secretary of state’s website at https://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/lobbyist/2016/emplob.pdf. As you look at it, remind yourself that this is the Idaho Legislature, not Congress.

Plenty of local Idaho organizations are represented on the list, of course: The list includes the Associated General Contractors of Idaho and the Association of Idaho Cities, the Boise Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Charities of Idaho (yes, charities hire lobbyists too), the College of Western Idaho, the Flying B Ranch, Idaho Power Company and the J.R. Simplot Company, the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Micron Technology and Melaleuca Inc., St. Luke’s Health System, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Nearly every organization of substantial size in the Gem State has someone at the Statehouse looking out for them.

But they’re not alone. Remember, a number of these and other organizations also are connected to national counterpart organizations. Some of them designate staffers as lobbyists, and others hire contract lobbyists; the mix changes periodically.

None of these should come as a surprise. But you may be interested in some of the national names that seem to find it worthwhile to spend money on Idaho lobbying.

There’s Wilks Ranch Idaho LLC, for instance, based out of Cisco, Texas, but recently a big landowner in Idaho.

There are many more, large and not so large. Wal-Mart has a designated lobbyist for Idaho. So does Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, United Parcel Service, Uber Technologies (of San Francisco), Johnson & Johnson, Two Jinn Inc. (Aladdin Bail Bonds), Chevron USA, K12 (an education company), the Humane Society of the United States, Scion Dental, Pfizer Inc. (on of the world’s biggest pharma companies), MillerCoots LLC, Bayer Corporation and even the Bank of New York Mellon.

And many more.

What have they all to do with Idaho? What do they want, or not want, in or from the Gem State? And how might that relate to you?

Good questions, and not just for the Blaine County School District.

Lobbyists often get tagged as nefarious actors and that’s generally unfair. We all have a right to seek redress of grievances, whether directly or through someone paid to help us. And bear in mind that lobbyists are not a monolith; they often do battle with each other. Will their work benefit the rest of us, or not? The answer to that will depend on where you sit.

The next session begins in a couple of weeks.