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Posts published in January 2016

First take/tax match

One of the routine bills at the Idaho Legislature every year - every year for decades at least - is the tax match bill.

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service changes the rules, in ways large or small, for federal income taxes. And each year, reliably, Idaho follows suit, for the same reason other states imposing income taxes do: If they did not, residents and organizations would have to cope with far more complicated bookkeeping, trying to deal with two different tax standards. Are taxes a hassle for you? Failing to keep state rules in step with the federal would double the hassle factor.

Sometimes those changes do result in revenue changes for the state, either up or down. This year, a newly-allowed federal deduction on equipment buys by small businesses apparently could cost the state $22 million next year. It's not a huge ding in the context of the state budget, but it was enough to get mentioned when the IRS compliance bill came before the House tax committee.

Three committee members voted against the bill because of the change allowing joint filing by same-sex married couples.

Actually, in the current environment there's a little surprise that this normally routine bill doesn't become a cause celebre, with protests and nullification and all. After all, this is an issue with "federal" and "tax" written all over it.

Maybe though some legislators reflected on just how difficult filing their own taxes could become if the state doesn't fall in line. - rs (image/efile)


This is from the Bernie Sanders campaign, but the key part isn't Sanders (though the camera stays on him). He asks what it's like to live on $12,000 a year - and he gets some answers.

Sticks and stones


The predictions of everyone claiming any expertise were unanimous that Bernie Sanders would never be a viable Presidential candidate because as soon as the fact that he is a socialist sinks in, his standing in the polls will plummet into oblivion. Trump, to accelerate this expectation, has been referring to the senator not only as a socialist but also as a communist.

All were wrong, obviously. Sanders’ numbers have continue to improve. The revelation of Sanders’ economic philosophy, even with Trump’s help, is having little effect. The outcome is far from certain, but the senator from Vermont who proclaims himself to be a democratic socialist is clearly a viable candidate. What happened here? How did the predictors miss the mark by so much? As is readily apparent, the labels of socialism, or even communism, no longer appear to strike fear in the heart of the mainstream voter. The increasing reaction to such labels is a mild shrug and casual “meh!” A brief look at history reveals what has probably happened.

Everyone of age at after the end of World War II, and continuing into the 1980s, lived in the shadow of the former Soviet Union, the bastion of what was called international communism and the dedicated enemy of the free world. Although Joseph Stalin had been an ally by necessity in the war, he was considered by the western powers only slightly preferable to Adolf Hitler. After Germany surrendered, Winston Churchill even advocated that the western allies preemptively invade Russia to depose Stalin for good. Instead, a Cold War resulted that lasted for close to 40 years. One brutal Soviet dictator followed another as our nation endured Korea and then Viet Nam, all the while believing we were at risk for immediate nuclear annihilation. Because of the dreadful circumstances of all of this, the term “communist” with all its variations, and to some extent the term “socialist” with all its variations, acquired the same pejorative connotation as the term “Nazi” had earned during the war.

It used to be that to call someone a “communist” anywhere, or a “socialist” in those regions which did not carefully distinguish the meaning of such terms, was to accuse the individual of treachery, high treason, incitement to overthrow the government, conspiracy to murder and perhaps grand theft – all rolled into one word. Even though the actual meaning of the words pertain to benign economic theories, and even though the economic theories were of no relevance to the cruelty of the totalitarian Soviet regime, nevertheless the words became powerful insults capable, often unfairly, of wrecking the reputations and destroying the dreams of many. Branding anyone as such, and making it stick, was considered the ultimate disenfranchisement one could impose upon a political opponent.

Time passed. Suddenly, in the mid-1980s, the Evil Empire crumbled and the Cold War ended. The fear of mutual nuclear annihilation dissipated. As one generation passed on to be replaced by another, the electorate began to fill up with voters who came of age after the Cold War ended. With the imperialistic Soviet Union no longer, and the fear of nuclear attack evaporating, the provocative nuances of the terms “communist” and “socialist” began to dissipate. Furthermore, the United States economy, which had been edging away from capitalism since the beginning of the century, had, in the post-war years, turned into a true amalgam of socialistic and capitalistic mechanisms. The distinctions between democratic socialism and regulated capitalism became differences being of degree in application rather than of philosophy.

With this background in mind, we come to the present day. For the first time, with the elections of 2016, a majority of the electorate will belong to generations born after 1960 and coming of age after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. To these individuals, the attempts by Trump and others to slur Sanders by reference to his economic philosophy provoke only blank stares. The pejorative connotations of calling one a “socialist,” or even a “communist,” simply no longer apply. If anyone is curious, and looks the terms up, all that will be found are the definitions of benign utopian philosophies.

Today, anyone in the category of a grandson listening to his sage grandfather try to explain socialism as a disabling factor in modern politics would simply roll their eyes.

The times they are a changing.

First take/early indicator

A week away from the Iowa caucuses, a lot of people other than presidential candidates are wondering what effect the presidential race may have on races down below.

That's true in both parties, where discussion about exactly that topic has ramped up as talk of which candidate will do their party the most good, or harm, roars on.

Here's a report in the Daily Kos site about a race in Alabama that may suggest an early indicator of things to come. - rs

Over at the National Journal, Kimberly Railey profiles a March 1 GOP primary we haven't talked much about. In this solidly Republican Montgomery-area seat, third-term Rep. Martha Roby faces an intra-party challenge from Becky Gerritson, who heads a local tea party group.

On the surface, it doesn't look like there's much to see here. Unlike Eric Cantor, the tea party's most famous primary victim, Roby actually appears to be taking her race seriously. The incumbent raised a solid $310,000 over the last quarter of 2015, and she holds $884,000 on hand. While Gerritson brought in a non-trivial $105,000, she burned through most of it and only has $31,000 in the bank. And while a few minor tea party-friendly groups have endorsed Gerritson, major organizations like the Club For Growth haven't gotten involved yet. It's very hard to beat a scandal-free incumbent in a primary, and Gerritson just doesn't look like she has what it takes to defeat Roby.

However, there's another level to this race that could make things a bit more interesting than it seems. Alabama is one several states that will hold its downballot primary on the same day as its presidential primary. Normally, incumbents like Roby benefit from this arrangement. Presidential contests tend to draw out more casual voters who don't care much about the other races on the ballot, and will often just select the incumbent because it's the name they recognize.

But as Roll Call's Eli Yokley recently noted, there's a good chance that Ted Cruz and Donald Trump will turn out voters who utterly despise the GOP establishment and will lash out at their incumbents. Cruz and Trump should do well especially in Deep Southern states like Alabama: In 2012, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich took a combined 64 percent of the vote, while Mitt Romney only won 29 percent.

Still, in the words of Dr. Horrible, sometimes there's a third, even deeper level, and that one is the same as the top surface one. Even in this caffeinated age, most tea party candidates still fail to unseat establishment Republicans, especially without any major outside help. While ultra-conservatives across the country will try to replicate Dave Brat's victory over Cantor, Cantor was the only congressional Republican to lose renomination to a tea partier last cycle. Most Republicans have learned to take their primaries seriously, and they're often very good about portraying themselves as solid conservatives who are fighting the good fight against liberals.

Ultimately, it's very difficult to see Gerritson prevailing on March 1, at least without help from well-funded groups like the Club for Growth. But this contest is worth keeping an eye on just in case. Roby is a bit of a canary in a coal mine: If she wins without much trouble, it'll be a good indication that the crazy presidential primary isn't about to cost GOP incumbents renomination. But if Roby has an unexpectedly tough time or even loses, a lot of Republican congressmen are going to get nervous very fast.

Different sessions


In theory, there isn’t much difference in Idaho between the first session of a legislative term, and the second one – like the one just started.

The differences are not exactly subtle but, if informal, they are real, and they can affect the laws the state lives with for years to come.

Many states differentiate clearly between the “odd-year” session, the one (like 2015) right after election year, and the “even-year” session held early within an election year. Washington, for example, has a 105-day limit (a limit often violated anyway) on its odd-year sessions, but just 60 days on its even-year. Until recently Oregon had regular legislative sessions only in odd years; now it allows 160 days in the odd year and 35 in the even. (Idaho has no formal limit on its session length.) There are also some differences in what is routinely considered in those sessions, and what isn’t.

The length difference you notice between those sessions reflects the idea that most of the subject areas that need to be addressed need not be addressed twice in a two-year period. The bar is set relatively low in Washington and Oregon for introducing legislation in the odd year, but only financial matters and higher priorities typically make the cut in the even.

For people in Idaho who wonder if efficiencies can be found in the time legislators spend in session, those examples might suggest one. Idaho could run a longer session in the odds, and a shorter money-oriented session in the even.

It’s not hard to figure out why this approach has happened, and it has to do with elections. In the odd years, legislators are new in their terms, hot off the campaign trail, and want to pursue some of the ideas they talked or heard about. In even years, a primary election is just around the corner, and most legislators would rather get back home early if they can.

Idaho, which went to biennial session in the ate 60s, does not formally differentiate between the two regular sessions – legislation can be considered in one as well as the other. Sometimes advocates of failed legislation in an odd year come back in the even to give it another try, before the same group of legislators. Occasionally it works; more often it doesn’t.

There’s an attempt being made this year, for one example, with the “add the words” legislation, on civil rights. A bill was proposed last year, given several days of committee hearings, then rejected at the committee level on a party-line vote. Democratic Senators Grant Burgoyne and Cherie Buckner-Webb have brought it back, with some amendment reflecting concerns expressed in testimony from a year ago. Its future is unclear. Will Republican legislators be willing to give it another hearing after last year’s marathon, much less send it to a chamber floor? Maybe, but Burgoyne and Buckner-Webb will have a tough job convincing them.

If they do, the reason would be that a number of members, reflecting on last year’s session and the arguments they’ve heard then and sense, may simply have reconsidered their views.

If you think, as many people do (and as Washington and Oregon do) that a second session should be limited and fiscal-oriented so time isn’t spent on retread issues, you may have a point. It works pretty well in a number of states.

But a full-on session in the even years does have its benefits: The chance to reconsider decisions made the year before, sometimes in haste or under pressure. We’ll see soon enough how this session does with this year’s version of decision-making.

Party switch


People who are members of a party always reserve the right to change them. That's happened too tho the Oregon Independent Party, as this release shows. - ed

An announcement by David S. Taylor Jr. , who had previously filed as an Independent Party candidate for Oregon House District 30 (Hillsboro).

Saturday, January 16, 2015

It has been a great experience for me to learn more about the political process over the last few months. In that time I met some really great people and learned a lot about what matters to Oregonians.

I have always considered myself an Eisenhower Republican, meaning that like Eisenhower I believe that: “In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human. In all those things which deal with the people’s money or their economy, or their form of government, be conservative”. I believe strongly in individual liberty but also in the responsibility to safeguard those most vulnerable.

I have said from the beginning of my campaign that I was a reluctant Independent. I am appreciative of the avenue of opportunity the IPO offered me to take part in the political process, however after careful consideration I have decided to take a different direction for myself, my family, and my community.

Recently, I have been inspired by the Republican idealism of Marco Rubio and he has renewed my belief in the American system and Republican Party. I have decided to become more involved in his mission for a New American Century.

As such I am suspending my campaign and will be registering as a Republican. This is not the end, this is only the beginning and I am optimistic for what the future will bring to my district and the state of Oregon.

Very respectfully,

David S. Taylor Sr.

While Mr. Taylor isnt eligible to file as the GOP candidate, he could seek the GOP nomination for HD-30 as a write in candidate. So far, there are no Republican candidates for that nomination. Democrat Joe Gallegos now holds that seat.

Taylor is a poverty fighting, pro marriage equality candidate. If elected as a Republican, he could join with Rep. Knute Bueller to form the core of a more modern Oregon GOP.

Coal in the ground


It’s tempting to think of Indian Country as a “singular” voice. The vast majority of Native Americans agree that the United States should live up to its treaty promises. Most of us think that tribes are the best mechanism for governing our lands and people (all the while watching a steady stream of our citizens moving from reservations to cities and towns across America). And, we share a deep respect for the land, Mother Earth. Add it up and it shows that if we all vote together, our voices will represent a powerful bloc.

Except, that is, when we disagree.

That should not be a surprise. The phrase “tribal politics” earns an instant nod from folks who understand that Native people have the same divisions - philosophical, tribal, and familial - that surface in any governing structure. Generations ago this was an easy problem to resolve: Leaders who found themselves in a minority, just left camp, and followed their own way. Today tribal people who have different ideas about the future live and work in the community and use elections to determine the governing coalition.

Perhaps the greatest division within Indian Country is the debate about the environment and the extraction of natural resources. There are Native people on all sides of this question and it’s already an election issue.

Earlier this month the Crow Nation announced that some tribal employees “will have to be furloughed for some time during this quarter.” A Facebook post quoted Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying that “because of revenues reduced by the Obama’s “War on Coal,” we are faced with a shortfall to our operating budget under the general fund. Our Cabinet Head and Directors are faced with reducing their budget to make it through this quarter. We do have funds out there but, will not be available in time. As a result, there will be wage reductions, and other steps taken to make sure the furlough will not last long.”

Crow is rich with coal - one estimate shows a reserve of 17 billion tons - and it’s the primary source of tribal revenue as well as jobs for more than 13,000 tribal members. Last year Old Coyote told a Senate hearing in Montana: “I simply desire for the Crow Nation to become self-sufficient by developing its own coal resources and to provide basic services for the health, hopes and future of the Crow people. With help from you – our historic treaty ally – in leveling the energy development playing field, we can achieve my vision and both benefit immensely.”

Obama might get the blame, but the coal industry has been collapsing on its own. Its use as an energy source in the United States is being replaced by natural gas which is both cheaper and cleaner. That leaves China as the major market for coal. But China is giving up on coal too. A report by Clark Williams-Derry from the environmental think-tank Sightline sums it up this way: “Many folks still believe that China has an unlimited appetite for coal and that the country’s industries and power plants would be delighted to buy any and all coal we send their way. But in reality, China’s coal consumption peaked in 2013, fell by about 3 percent in 2014, and fell another 4 to 5 percent over the first 11 months of 2015. All told, China’s cutbacks have totaled some 300 million tons per year—the equivalent of one-third of total coal output in the US, the world’s second largest coal producer. So while China still has a huge appetite for coal, the country has slimmed down impressively.”

The sharp decline in the Chinese stock market will likely speed up this trend.

But proponents of coal continue to promote plans that would make it easier for coal to reach Asia. Cloud Peak Energy Company has the option to lease 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow lands. That company, and the Crow Nation, are investors in two new shipping terminals in Washington state. If completed, this would be the biggest coal export terminal in North America and account for nearly 500 sailings of ships transporting coal to Asia.

Northwest tribes are adamantly opposed to the terminal. Swinomish Chairman Brian Cladoosby told The Seattle Times last week: “Coal is black death … There is no mitigation.” He and other tribal leaders say that the project would be a clear violation of treaty fishing rights. Cladoosby is president of the National Congress of American Indians which in a 2012 resolution called for a full, transparent environmental review.

Then again, as The Times put it: “Burning coal creates pollution that harms human health and the environment. In addition to particulates, burning coal generates more carbon dioxide emissions than any other fuel, implicated as the number one source of human-caused climate change.”

The politics of coal remain a dividing line in U.S. and tribal politics. The Obama administration has stepped up environmental regulations of coal and just last week the Interior Department announced a review of coal leasing on federal lands.

“Given serious concerns raised about the federal coal program, we’re taking the prudent step to hit pause on approving significant new leases so that decisions about those leases can benefit from the recommendations that come out of the review,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “During this time, companies can continue production activities on the large reserves of recoverable coal they have under lease, and we’ll make accommodations in the event of emergency circumstances to ensure this pause will have no material impact on the nation’s ability to meet its power generation needs. We are undertaking this effort with full consideration of the importance of maintaining reliable and affordable energy for American families and businesses, as well other federal programs and policies.”

This action comes at a moment where there is a worldwide push to leave coal and other carbon-based resources in the ground as a way to hit the UN targets limiting C02 emissions. New data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says nearly 90 percent of the world’s coal is “unburnable.” Coal is considered the most polluting type of fossil fuel.

“The implication is that any fossil fuels that would take us over-budget will have to be left in the ground,” writes Roz Pidcock for CarbonBrief. “Globally this equates to 88 percent of the world’s known coal reserves, 52 percent of gas and 35 percent of oil.”

So the tribal bets on coal are coming at a bad time, both in terms of market-prices and meeting international agreements to reduce emissions. Neither the Congress nor a future president can change this fact. Markets are not going to suddenly come back for coal and the rest of the world has already made a decision about the future of energy.

Of course, the Crow are not the only tribal government or Alaska Native corporation that’s sees a future in coal. The Navajo Nation purchased a coal mine in 2014. And the Tyonek Native Corporation has plans to develop the Chuitna Coal project with the PacRim Coal Company. The village corporation favors the project, while the Tyonek Native village, a tribal government, is opposed because of the mining’s impact on rivers, salmon and the community.

The impact of climate change is a huge concern for many tribes. But even before climate change the Northern Cheyenne - also a coal rich tribe - decided on a different route.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Northern Cheyenne demanded that its trustee block leases with Peabody Coal. Then the Northern Cheyenne successfully set higher air quality standards. According to the Bureau of Land Management: “The Tribe became concerned that, because of prevailing wind patterns, air pollution from these massive plants would pollute the Reservation airshed. Under prevailing legal standards, the powerplant was not obliged to minimize such pollution … The Tribe decided to become the first unit of government in the Nation – Federal, state, local or tribal – to voluntarily raise the air quality standard within its territory to the most pristine standard under law. Specifically, the Tribal Council moved to raise the Reservation air quality standard to the highest permitted by law – Class I – a standard which theretofore applied only to National Parks and Wilderness Areas.”

When I was a young reporter, during the late 1970s, I had several interviews with the late Alan Rowland who was then Northern Cheyenne’s chairman. He joked that you cannot breathe money. He said clean air and water were essential to his tribe’ health. Jobs come and go, but not water or air. When I think back, it’s almost as if Rowland saw the challenges of climate change ahead.

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

Devil’s due


Idaho’s junior senator, James Risch, finally appears to be stepping up to fulfilling the responsibilities of the high office he holds. Even Republicans expressed surprise and disappointment when a couple winters back Risch told the Idaho Statesman what an easy job being a senator was compared to being a governor.

Whether intentional or not, Risch came across as one coasting along enjoying the perks of the office (such as tickets to the Kennedy Center) and not doing much work because it wouldn’t do any good given how partisan and polarized the environment within the Beltway is.

One suspects the senator soon became bored and started sinking his teeth into the job and his committee assignments. Like most of the few professed Democrats in Idaho, I’m hardly a fan of Risch. That doesn’t mean I don’t acknowledge his political skills, intelligence, charm when he wants to display it, and sheer energy.

I first met Risch in 1975 when he was in his first term as a state senator. A mutual friend, then State Senator Kerm Kiebert, a Democrat from Bonner County, had us both, along with our wives, out to dinner. It was clear Risch was an ambitious state senator. Even more clear was his better half, Vicki, was a true co-partner.

Despite his reputation for partisanship, Risch and Kiebert remain good friends to this day. Risch served in the State Senate for 20 years and quickly rose to leadership, serving at different times as majority leader and president pro tempore. Even some Republican colleagues felt power went to his head and he developed a reputation as somewhat of a bully. One had to think twice before crossing him.

There were few tears shed when he was upset in a re-election bid in 1988 by Mike Burkett. Risch is resilient though. During the hiatus in his political career he won a major law suit for which he was handsomely rewarded and he and Vicki worked hard at operating their successful ranch and several businesses they own.

Today, they are one of the wealthier couples in the Senate but one should not begrudge them their wealth. They earned it, they did not inherit it. It would have been nice when Risch was governor if he had acknowledged up front his gambit of switching a decrease in property taxes for a 1 percent increase in the sales tax was going to modestly benefit him (about $5,000), but no law required disclosure.

Risch is a true survivor and while his politics are far too conservative, he reflects what a majority of Idaho voters want.

In recent weeks two things indicate he is no longer coasting, if he ever was. Last week, for the umpteenth time CNN’s veteran political analyst, Wolf Blitzer, interviewed Risch on Iran. Risch sits on the Foreign Relations committee and the Intelligence committee.

Risch was measured in what he said. Twice he side-stepped when Blitzer tried to bait him into harshly criticizing President Obama’s handling of Iranian issues. Blitzer was trying to get Risch to speculate on why the Iranians had released the ten American sailors they were holding.

Risch pointed out the obvious: the nuclear agreement was about to become effective and Iran could use the $100 billion that was due them with the lifting of sanctions and taking down a couple notches their nuclear program. One also suspects Risch had been briefed on the imminent “prisoner swap.” Whatever, he handled it adroitly.

Risch should also be given kudos for his thoughtful approach to possible legislation on the proposed land swap between Western Pacific Timber and the Forest Service in the upper Lochsa. Consolidating the checkerboard sections and privately managing them makes sense to many, but a sizable number in Idaho county believes favorite recreation areas will then be closed to public use.

Despite promises by the company to place it all in conservation easements that would assure public access many don’t trust the company. Just before Thanskgiving Risch held a well attended meeting in Grangeville where he quietly listened to all sides.

Folks should recall that Risch’s first love is forestry. Its what brought him to Idaho originally and before getting his law degree at the University of Idaho he received his BS in Forestry. He applied this background skillfully when as governor he negotiated a well-received roadless area management agreement with the federal government.

My bet is that when the smoke clears there will be Lochsa legislation which will be fair, balanced and well received. Again¸ I’ll give Risch his due. He can be very good when he wants to be.

First Take/grazing

Here's something for the armed sit-in crowd at the Malheur refuge to consider.

One of the major figures in the sagebrush rebellion, which begat the current round of anti-federal lands movements in the west, was Helen Chenoweth, a three-term member of Congress from Idaho. After she retired from that post, she married Nevada rancher Wayne Hage, who for many years has had a running legal battle with federal land management agencies, especially the Bureau of Land Management. (Chenoweth-Hage died in 2006.)

The Hage family won at federal court in Reno in May 2013, when a federal judge agreed with their argument that they could graze their cattle on federal land because of a water right claim in the area. But they lost yesterday at the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

There, the court held that the family, as a news report said, was "guilty of trespassing cattle on federal land illegally without a grazing permit and should be subject to fines."

More remarkably, the circuit court did something appellate courts seldom do - specifically trained fire on the conduct of the lower court judge who had issued the initial ruling. Overturns are not notably rare, but the description the 9th provided of District Judge Robert Clive Jones was very unusual.

It made the rare move too of reassigning the case when kicked back to the district level, done "only in rare and extraordinary circumstances, such as when the district court has exhibited personal bias or when reassignment is advisable to maintain the appearance of justice," the court noted. But in this case, "A dispassionate observer would conclude that the district judge harbored animus toward the federal agencies. Unfortunately, the judge's bias and prejudgment are a matter of public record."

These things eventually come home to roost. So will they at the Malheur. - rs (photo/Copyright Pauline E and licensed for reuse)