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Posts published in March 2016

Damned technology

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We bought a new car last week. It’s ours now. And I’m not totally happy about either the vehicle or the buying experience.

Oh, it’s a nice one. I suppose it could be called an “old man’s car.” Quite comfortable. Good looking. Very good gas mileage for one that large. And filled with most of the technological “advances” available on cars today. “Advances.” HAH! Therein lies my angst.

The version of the owners manual that came with our new “Champagne Frost Pearl” family member is about 200 pages long. But - if you really need information for all the “how to’s” to learn to operate all the gadgets, you have to go online. There, you’ll find the REAL owner’s manual and it’s about 600 pages! 600! Which means, if I want to learn how to do something, I’ve got to take a laptop out to the garage so I can read the detailed steps for the electronics as I try learn the actions required to operate everything. Whoopee!!!

The basic fact here is I will never - never - learn how to operate or benefit from all the technological “advances” purchased. Barb probably will because she’s a teacher-of-teachers who just has to master every new challenge.

Navigation is one. A bodyless voice spouting directions out of the dashboard is not something I need. Much less want. All I want to do when driving is get from point “A” to point “B” and, often, back to point “A.” Been doing that pretty successfully for four score years. Besides, the damned thing can be wrong.

When we lived in Roseburg a few years back, I’d try to give people some direction if they were coming to the house for the first time. Most often, they’d tell me to forget it because they’d use their GPS or “nav” system. Then, about half an hour after they were supposed to be there, they’d call, asking where the hell we lived because our address did not appear on any “nav” system. Take that, Google!

One of the problems buying cars these days is that nearly all of them have created “packages” of options. Usually three or four. So, if you want a particular feature, you have to buy the entire “package” because they won’t create one that doesn’t fit their marketing scheme. There were some features we didn’t want but had to buy to get the ones we did want. So, we’re burdened with expensive toys like disembodied voices and TV cameras in mirrors and the trunk, heated seats and “auto-dimming” headlights.

I’m amazed at how many changes there’ve been since we bought our last new vehicle just two years ago. For example, I tried for three hours - on-line and through the owner’s manual - to find the maintenance schedule for oil changes, tire rotation and the like. Finally called the dealer who told me there are NO scheduled maintenance schedules. Said he, “Your car will ‘tell’ you what it needs and when it needs it.”

Also, there’s no key. You have to carry around a fob about half the size of a cigarette pack. Barb has one. I have one. And the car knows the difference! Push a button within 30 feet of the door and it unlocks. Get in, close the door, step on the brake and push a red button on the dash. The seat and pedals move to fit each of us. I’m certain that fob will work fine until we’re 60 miles from nowhere and the battery in that little discriminating nuisance wears out. Then what?

The car business is rolling again these days. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014 Retail Trade Survey shows increased sales for the fifth year in a row for dealers. Those selling just new models totaled $785 billion. Throw in those who sell just auto parts and the dollars top a trillion. Trillion with a “T!” That’s pretty good evidence the need for an auto bailout a few years back kept the nation’s economy from plunging even more. Wonder what the sales dollars would be if you threw in all the used car dealers that seem to have flourished in a whole different market?

Reliability of new cars is vastly improved. Ours is one of the more popular brands and has been on the Consumer Reports list of the top 10 sellers for 30 years. It ranks third on a separate list of new cars needing the fewest repairs. And second on still another publication for brands kept the longest by satisfied owners. Which means we’ll probably trade it in two or three years down the road. All that research gone to waste.

In the meantime, Barb and our new acquisition will likely become close friends and she’ll “benefit” from knowing how to deal with all the latest in gadgetry. She’s already discovered features I didn’t know we had. And I fully expect her to develop a relationship with that damned voice.

As for me, I’ve figured out wipers (auto), lights (auto), radio, windows, heater and air conditioning. We live at point “A” and, even with the limited knowledge of all other internal workings, I can likely still get to points “B,” “C, “ and even “G” without that damned voice.

As for that battery fob that give access to all the wonders of our newest acquisition rather than a standard key, I’ll push away happily on the buttons until it stops working 65 miles East of Burns on a 110-degree day. Or a minus 10-degrees some January. Then, I will shout words of condemnation and damnation into the wind, aimed at the design team that came up with that stupid idea. Likely on a long-forgotten bar napkin.

Fill ‘er up

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There’s a logic some political people embrace through the years that goes like this: When it comes to offices you’re highly unlikely to win, you’re better off if no one from your party files as a challenger for it. That way, you’ll be putting in fewer resources on loser races, and you can focus on the better prospects.

I’ve never bought it.

For one thing, a “placeholder” candidacy really doesn’t cost a lot more than the filing fee, and usually you can avoid that by collecting petition signatures – a good organizing tool in itself. For another, it demonstrates that members of that party really are around, a psychological lever. Even placeholders usually participate in debates and are profiled in news reports, good free media for the minority party. And placeholders tend to bring their own small group of supporters into the arena.

But among the various other reasons filling those slots is a good idea, there’s pre-eminently this: You never know what might happen to the majority party or its candidates in the months ahead.

What if, for example, the Larry Craig 2007 airport scandal, which surfaced in August that year, had surfaced instead in August (or later in) 2008? Before those reports, Craig would have been nearly unbeatable for re-election; afterward, with the right set of responses to the headlines, lightning might actually have struck for the Democrat. Or maybe not, but the possibility would have been real.

Idaho Democrats in recent years have had a tougher time filling major office ballot positions, and only days before the the filing deadline did party organizers produce candidates for the top three this year: Jerry Sturgill for the Senate (incumbent: Republican Mike Crapo), James Piotrowski for the first district House seat (incumbent: Republican Raul Labrador) and Jennifer Martinez for the second district (incumbent: Republican Mike Simpson). They seem to be good candidates, though by starting so late, they’re at a big disadvantage, and that only piles on top of other disadvantages facing all Democrats in recent years. Last cycle, Democrats produced candidates for major offices much earlier, and still generally lost in landslides.

They have to know, going in, that their odds are not good.

But Democrats were right to make the recruiting effort for these congressional level seats, and for many others at the legislative and other levels. The old caution that you never know what the months ahead might bring seems especially valid this year.

At this is written, businessman Donald Trump (who came in second place in the Idaho primary) looks most likely to become the Republican nominee for president. But will he? If he does, how do the more establishment or philosophically-oriented Republicans react – do they support him or, as some openly discuss, will they bolt and support an independent candidacy, or sit the race out? If Trump is denied the nomination, how do his supporters react?

Trump has built strong support within Republican-supporting ranks, but how will he be received in the general election voting population? (Probably a good deal differently.)

How will Idaho’s elected and party officials respond to a Trump candidacy, or the fallout from a battle over it? Almost none of Idaho’s elected officials have come out in public support of Trump, which may reflect what their constituents think. What will happen to Republican unity under those conditions?

Six months from now, how will people look at the two major parties – the same way they do today, or differently?

There are no easy answers. That’s why you’re wise to cover as many of the contingencies as you can.

Bets are off

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After operating without a required live racing permit since January 1, Treasure Valley Racing is cutting the cord on the simulcast gambling at Les Bois Park.

Idaho Code says: “No license authorizing simulcasting and/or televised races shall be issued to or renewed for persons that are not also licensed to conduct live race meets in the state of Idaho.”

While the operators had a 2015 permit and conducted live racing, simulcasts, and slot machines disguised as “historic racing,” things got held up at the gate when the Idaho legislature repealed the law that previously allowed the slot machines. They did not have a 2016 live racing permit, hence the activities since January 1 appear to be outside the law. Slots are illegal under the Idaho Constitution and legislators said the machines they approved were not the same as the machines in use. They didn’t meet the “parimutuel” exemption.

Gov. Butch Otter sided up with the race horse crowd, but screwed up on his timing with a veto to override the legislative repeal. The Idaho Supreme Court ultimately ruled the repeal stands, thus outlawing the slots. Treasure Valley Racing claimed they couldn’t afford to do live racing without subsidy from the (illegal) slot machines. The issue of whether or not the slot machines qualified as permissible parimutuel betting, was never decided. The GUARDIAN visited Les Bois and determined the machines were indeed slots. Some legislators and opponents came to the same conclusion, prompting the repeal which was approved by two-thirds of that body.

Hoping for a political solution to their business problem, the operators bet on a bill to create a gaming commission that would have allowed both simulcasts and the electronic devices (slots). With the legislature in the home stretch odds this session are against political support–remember it is an election year–so the TV screens, the track, and slots are all without the sound of hoofbeats.

Now, here’s the big incestuous issue. The Idaho State Police would be a logical agency to investigate the apparently illegal gambling since Jan. 1. If there was no Racing Commission permit for live racing, then simulcasts from other tracks were illegal. However, the Racing Commission operates under the oversight of ISP. If the live race permit has expired, simulcasts are like driving on an expired driver’s license. The system is flawed when the regulator and proponent of horse racing falls under the supervision of the enforcer, ISP.

It gets worse. The Ada County Prosecutor is the legal enforcer of the Idaho Code in Ada County, hence the logical agency to file charges for illegal operation of simulcast without a live racing permit. But that same prosecutor’s office wrote the lease contract on behalf of the Ada County Commissioners. The commishes also endorsed the political efforts of Treasure Valley Racing, signing on to an ad in the Statesman and offering testimony before the legislature in an effort to NOT repeal the slot machine bill last session. After all, it means JOBS and REVENUE!

And that folks, explains at a local level why there is so much support for the likes of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

From the other side

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He is one of the top behind-the-scenes political operatives in Idaho. Rarely does he say anything on the record, prefering to stay behind the scenes, quietly, efficiently and effectively going about his business whether successfully running statewide campaigns (He’s never lost any race he has managed) or representing clients with interests across Idaho.

Now in his 70s, though not in his class in terms of experience and numbers, we’re two old war horses who have come to respect each other’s acumen and insights. As a life-long Republican he cares deeply for the party and its conservative approach to addressing the world’s challenges. We may disagee about approach but have never been disagreeable with each. We have too much respect for the state we love, its people we have both served and the great future we think it has.

As political practitioners, we know neither of us has a monopoly on truth and both believe politics is the art of compromise with relationships of respect and regard across the aisle being critical to progress. We both deplore the paralysis harsh partisanship has brought to our nation’ capitol, especially as we see cities and states all across the nation still working well.

Neither of us Idaho natives has ever seen a presidential year like this. Both of us did time inside the Beltway and we both recognize the insidious way it often distorts what is happening beyond the Beltway. Both of us feel lucky to have escaped D.C. and both of us have helped decent men succeed as good representatives of the people of Idaho’s best interests.

He sees the party of Lincoln, the great unifer, becoming a party of hard divisions and watches with fascination as Donald Trump hijacks it. He recognizes the fears Trump is channeling and understands the deep disappointment many conservatives have that so-called conservatives when they get to D.C. get absorbed and rapidly defanged.

He recognizes that there’s some validity to Trump’s argument that he is attracting new voters to the Republican party but really wonders how Republican they may be in the long run. He finds it odd that many are buying Trump’s perverse logic (my phrase, not his) that because he’s been on the inside and profited from being there, that now, as an outsider, he better knows how to take the insiders down.

He does credit Trump with successfully convincing many that he is a doer, a builder, one with a track record of getting things done. He also thinks the so-called Republican “establishment” waited too long before recognizing the potential threat Trump may be to Republican prospects for taking the White House..

He feels former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney virtually guaranteed a backlash from Trump supporters, and probably generated an opposite reaction to what he intended by waiting so long to speak out against Trump.

He personally voted for Ohio Governor John Kasich in Idaho’s primary. Even a “business Democrat” like me shares the feeling that Kasich is the class act of the entire field and the best qualified under the old rules to be the next president.

As my friend says, though, Kasich is viewed as too establishment in the new environment. My friend knows that no Republican has ever been elected president without taking Ohio, and presidential electoral calculus also dictates that the Republicans take Florida and Virginia as well.

He laughs though as he recalls being a Naval aviator at Pensacola¸ Florida in 1964 and everyone was just sure Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was going to be elected president. Though some pundits see Republicans losing with Trump in a slaughter similar to 1964, my friend recognizes the lack of enthusiasm on the part of many Democrats for Hillary Clinton as the party’s nominee; thus, my friend does not concede an inevitable loss.

Nor does he see the demise of the Grand Old Party. He’s been around long enough to know there’s a dynamic political pendulum at work in the body politic that swings from right to left. It always self-corrects though, and will do so again. And of course¸even if Trump is the Republican nominee, which appears more and more likely, he will carry Idaho and the Republic will survive.

As with my old Boss, former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, so it is with my friend. I learned long ago never to make a wager on anything political with either of them.

Those people

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Sure does make a difference when the people you're talking about are on your "team," and when they're not. Partly for this reason I've never much been a team-joiner (on more than an ad-hoc basis) and especially in politics, because the membership so often seems to impose a kind of willful blindness.

The national conservative intellectual crowd has for many a year made excuses and alliances, and general common cause, with rural low-income whites because (you always had to suspect) it got something out of it: Shared Republican votes. In this year, however, there's been a splinter, a massive shift of those rural white votes away from the Republican mainstream and over toward Donald Trump.

And the conservative intellectual crew, most noticeably at te National Review, has been responding.

The NR's Kevin Williamson has cut loose in a big way, in the most recent edition, at the complaints of the people in rust belt, Appalachian, small town and rural areas which have been abandoned by factories and others sources of economic growth, and have begun to discover that the GOP establishment hasn't really had much in the way of solutions to offer them. Williamson wrote:

"It is immoral because it perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. The white middle class may like the idea of Trump as a giant pulsing humanoid middle finger held up in the face of the Cathedral, they may sing hymns to Trump the destroyer and whisper darkly about “globalists” and — odious, stupid term — “the Establishment,” but nobody did this to them. They failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy — which is to say, the whelping of human children with all the respect and wisdom of a stray dog — you will come to an awful realization. It wasn’t Beijing. It wasn’t even Washington, as bad as Washington can be. It wasn’t immigrants from Mexico, excessive and problematic as our current immigration levels are. It wasn’t any of that."

And he goes on: "The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. Forget all your cheap theatrical Bruce Springsteen crap. Forget your sanctimony about struggling Rust Belt factory towns and your conspiracy theories about the wily Orientals stealing our jobs. . . . The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin."

So much for the National Review's erstwhile allies: Communities that deserve to die and - since any kind of socialized held would be anathema to a movement conservative - people who ought to just go ahead and do likewise, because they deserve no better. They're just mangy dogs who whelp children with no moral concern or conscience. Are they even human? Up for debate.

That doesn't mean there isn't some truth in what he's saying. There is. But it's not the whole truth. And to argue (as he does) that political, corporate and other external forces haven't done a massive share of damage to these places and people is simply ignorant. All those factories weren't shuttered because the workers decided not to punch in.

Williamson was maybe the most blunt of a group of conservative writers starting down this path, but he is not alone. The turn to Trump has tuurned them off - no great surprise there, since they never really had much in common other than the line on the ballot.

Writer Matthew Yglesias, reflecting on this, pointed out that "these are essays making the case that suffering white working-class communities don't deserve help of any kind. That's a correct application of the strict principles of free market ideology, but it's also a signpost of how American political discourse has changed since the end of the Cold War. If you said in 1966, or even 1986, "Well, strict application of free market principles implies the death of a huge number of traditional American communities and massive suffering among their working-class residents," then elites — including conservative elites — would say to themselves, "Well, then, these people are going to stage a communist revolution." . . . It was taken for granted that the governing class had an obligation — a practical one, if not a moral one — to actually make the system work for average people. Over the past 20 years, that idea has been increasingly abandoned on the American right. Donald Trump's popularity and these pieces in National Review are the consequences of that shift."

If that were all, the significance probably would be too small to bother with, at least beyond this year. But something has been unleashed here. People long thought to be tied down politically and philosophically are changing ground. And we may be only on the front end of that.

Reading: prison mentors

A guest opinion by Idaho Department of Correction Director Kevin H. Kempf about the department’s new Community Mentor program.

I recently came across a statistic that says a lot about the people of Idaho. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, Idahoans volunteer at a higher rate than just about anywhere else. In fact, we’re second on the list of 50 states, just behind Utah, for the number of citizens who donate their time to help others.

At the Idaho Department of Correction, we depend on volunteers. More than 1,100 of them work in our correctional facilities. In addition to conducting religious services, volunteers teach inmates practical life skills like how to get a job, stick to a budget and be better parents.

However, we don’t have those same connections in our Probation and Parole side of the house. Frankly, that’s been our fault. Even back when I was probation and parole officer we didn’t truly understand how much these volunteers and community organizations could help.

That doesn’t make sense. Not only are these volunteers willing and capable but many of them also represent organizations that already have just the kind of resources offenders need to transition from prison back to society -- things like food and clothing, even housing and jobs. Our probation and parole officers are some of the best in the country, but could even be made stronger with having the offender connected to the community.

We need to think differently. So the Idaho Department of Correction is launching an innovative program aimed at recruiting a select few from Idaho’s army of volunteers to mentor offenders.

IDOC’s Community Mentor program will match volunteers with offenders while they’re still in prison. From the day the offender walks out the prison gate, their mentor will be there to guide them as they take on challenges like searching for employment and housing.

But it takes more than a job and an apartment to become a law-abiding citizen. So along the way, the mentor will help the offender grow roots in the community by connecting them with activities involving the offender’s faith, their family and their positive avocations.

The Community Mentor program is not for everyone. The mentors will be carefully screened, trained and supervised. Former probationers and parolees, with track records of clean, successful living, will be welcome to apply. We need to take advantage of their experience and wisdom.

We often look to government for solutions. But I believe that community and faith-based groups have much to offer when it comes to changing hearts and turning around lives -- especially here in Idaho where the volunteer spirit remains strong.

To learn more about IDOC’s Community Mentor program and apply to serve as a mentor, visit the Volunteer Services section of the department’s website at idoc.idaho.gov.

After he’s gone

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The other day, I nearly got into a heated argument with a friend of 40 years standing. Sensing it was coming, we agreed to disagree on the subject and talk about other things. Whew. Because the subject, which quickly raised a threatening response from my friend - then from me - was not worth the loss.

The subject was Donald Trump.

Because so many other “opinionators” have been pounding on the bastard for so long, I’ve tried - with some success - to avoid the subject. But he’s now such an undesirable icon in so much of our lives that his image and verbal obscenities are slopping over into matters other than politics. It’s nearly impossible to turn on a radio/TV, read a newspaper or converse with friends without him appearing because he has tainted so many subjects. He may, I fear, have permanently tainted our history.

I see his lasting damage in two prime areas: politics, society-at-large.

There’s no question Trump has infected civil discourse in the conduct of political campaigns. Because he is successfully drawing supporters with his baseless campaign, there’ll be copycats. Others, seeking political office at any level, will try to use his bombastic, truth-free, violence-tainted ways. I can name more than half a dozen already in national office who’ve come close in past campaigns and who now may be emboldened to step further over the limits of civility and propriety in the conduct of their next one. Especially if Trump - God forbid - has any real success. He’s a cancerous boil on the body politic and marking the low point in campaigns against which future efforts will be compared.

He’s openly and unashamedly seeking to attract racists, homophobes, the deliberately misinformed and others who would follow anyone they sense is saying the things they’re thinking. Trump’s playbook has it’s roots in political ancestors like George Wallace in 1968: “briefcase-carrying, pointy-headed liberals who need to be thrown in the Potomac.” Youthful media types, not alive in 1968, refer to Wallace now because of his iconic imagery representing the characteristics described above for Trump. In a decade or two, George will be replaced by Trump as the race-bating, hate-mongering, loudmouth playing on people’s fears.

For those reasons - and many more - Trump has deliberately created a political atmosphere that, I believe, will permanently alter future elections, the kind and quality of candidates who’ll run and how we elect presidents. Sadly, win or lose, his effects will taint future our politics.

Trump’s other lasting undesirable legacy will be on our nation at-large. Even before him, our society had become coarser, louder and more deeply affected by voices of institutional ignorance and anger. Ignorance seemingly deliberate in the face of facts easily obtained - anger at institutions and leaders caused mostly by a changing world those voices don’t comprehend. They want to deny the changes and sound a badly misplaced demand to return to some point in time when, they believe, society was more “acceptable” and “smaller” problems easily solved.

Trump has become self-appointed avenger for all wrong. “His people” see him as a “Sampson” who’ll personally tear down the institutions they fear as crooked and unresponsive. He speaks to their ignorance of our government and life as it really is by making promises he can’t keep and encouraging them to continue a fight they can’t win.

Maybe his most lasting, decaying influence on this nation is to temporarily lead in the creation of a permanent underclass of citizens. Everyday people who - bombarded by hate radio, false prophets and seemingly unlimited dollars from right-wing billionaires - are encouraged to believe they alone know the “truth.” With constant, phony affirmation, they’re being assured the way they feel and the things they believe are “real,” the “truth,” that “most Americans believe as they do” and any voices to the contrary are lying to them.

Our economy has been hijacked to send 90% of its benefits to the top 1% and allow the other 99% to fall slowly, but most assuredly, behind no matter how hard we work. That’s made millions of Americans angry. Hell, I’m one! The difference is, most of us know why and what needs to be done. The people Trump is appealing to don’t. They believe - and he’s reinforcing those beliefs - we need to turn the whole government upside down, tell the rest of the world to “go to Hell,” take care of only ourselves and bomb any country that doesn’t see things our way.

The danger Trump personally represents to the country and our cherished way of life is, to me, minimal. The more serious, urgent threat is the millions of people who believe him and his medicine man show of cheap, easy elixers, false claims and lies. Those who see him as a “savior in their wilderness” will be here long after he’s gone. They are now - and will continue to be - the political spawn of a blow-dried heretic.

First take/those feds

The statement of purpose on Idaho's Senate Bill 1338 suggests that it calls only for Idaho officials to advise federal agencies when they think federal land management policies in a given area might cause a problem. Which would not be a terrible thing.

But read the bill, by Senator Sheryl Nuxoll, more closely, and you pick up something else: A county's sheriff or its "chief executive officer" (first indicator of a problem: Idaho counties have no such thing) essentially could, under terms of the bill, take over management of the federal lands in question, cutting timber, changing grazing conditions and so on.

In a guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman today, attorney Kahle Becker (who has been an attorney for the state Department of Lands, in the attorney general's office) described the measure as "yet another piece of ALEC-backed legislation wealthy land grabbers are parading around the West in the hopes of one day gaining control of your and my favorite places to hunt and fish. This bill is bad for Idaho and it is bad for those who love to recreate on public lands."

She added, "What this bill actually does is sets the stage for a sheriff to go monkey around on federal lands cutting trees, building roads, and lighting fires that could ultimately land that sheriff or other county officer in Federal prison making license plates with the Bundy clan. It also sets counties up to pay the federal government a landslide of attorney’s fees and potentially treble damages."

That sounds about right. And the odds are that the attorney general's office has already advised legislators to that effect. None of which stopped the Idaho Senate from passing it last week 28-6. It now sits in a House committee.

Sounds like another argument for legislators to hire their own legal counsel which will tell them whatever they want to hear. - rs (photo/Bureau of Land Management)

Oyez oyez!

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We get our supreme court all settled down from welcoming the improving health of the court’s practical realist, and just barely get the chairs rearranged from electing a new chief justice, when the table gets tipped over.

Chief Justice Jones’ decision to hang it up comes as a complete surprise to most of us. Although the Chief is just turning 74, judges tend not to slow down so early – especially if one has just been elected chief. Nevertheless, it’s done, and of course, we wish him well. Life will go on; the hat is already filled with new names.

The judicial election will be with the normal state primary for legislative and state offices in May. The overwhelming problem will be name identification, and determination of qualifications. The three candidates are reasonably well known around their own legal circles and communities, but their names are certainly not household words. I suspect that more than some people are going to say, “Clive who? Isn’t he that rancher from Nevada?”

This means within the next six to eight weeks, each of the three must vie with the local politicians everywhere and the drumbeat from the national presidential machinations, not only to get themselves introduced into the far crannies of the state but also to offer the voter some rational reason to select one of them over the others. A daunting task.

Whatever they can muster will be all that the people of Idaho will have to use in making up their minds on the individual who will hold an undivided one-fifth of the supreme judicial power of the state. Or perhaps to deselect one of them, and leave the other two to run it off in November; which will only compound and prolong the confusion.

Of all the methods of selecting judges, their popular election at periodic intervals seems the least satisfactory. The draftsmen of the U.S. Constitution believed that an independent judiciary was an essential ingredient of government, and they guaranteed this independence by making judicial office a lifetime position. This was a controversial step then, and remains such today. There are some – fortunately not many -- who advocate taking away the independence of the judiciary, and trading it in for popularly elected judges.

Idaho follows most of the states in disregarding lifetime appointments. In two area of judicial selection, for justices of the supreme court and for judges of the district court, Idaho follows the popular election at regular intervals. I was appointed to the bench to fill out the term of my predecessor. I ran three times for reelection, each time with trepidation that someone would take me on – but I was unopposed each time. I am not sure how I would have fared in a contested election; I detest campaigning and have no stomach for the contest.

Idaho also uses an appointment system with retention elections for selection of magistrates and judges of the court of appeals. This is a system coming into use in a growing number of states. The judge is appointed from a select, vetted list for a specific term of years, and then stands for a retention election – yes or no. This method retains most of the characteristics of judicial independence, but injects an element of public interest and control in the ability to turn out the unsatisfactory jurist. It prevents the possibility of demagoguery in electing the most popular candidate, but does offer a trap door to dump the unwanted.

On balance, it seems that the magistrates’ courts and the court of appeals benefit from the lack of upheaval and consternation that the supreme court and district courts endure every time there is a contested election. The same system could be carried over to rest of the courts in Idaho, albeit with a constitutional amendment.

Perhaps, as the judicial campaigns for Justice Jones’ seat unwinds, and the difficulties and uncertainties of our current method of judicial selection begin to emerge, a closer examination of alternative methods of the selection of judicial officers might be in order.

First take/Idaho filings

Not a lot of thrills among the Idaho filings, though given the general quietude before the filing deadline you could say there's some surprise that as many candidates filed as did.

Maybe the most eye-catching was the expansion of the field for the open Supreme Court seat (being vacated by Jim Jones) from two to six. The picture there has changed a great deal, fast.

All three congressional offices have contests. The Democrats who filed in each case have the disadvantage (among other things) of starting cold relatively late in the cycle. But all three have good stories and show signs of being compelling candidates. And both U.S. House incumbents have Republican primary contests as well. Probably not strong contests, but in this year who knows what might develop?

The legislative picture overall looks not too far from normal. A relative handful have initial indications of interest, though as the campaign period formally kicks in you shouldn't expect that the next legislature will look a lot different from the last one.

More to come. - rs