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Posts published in May 2016

Get back


Forty years ago, like a dandelion spreading its seeds, the bumper stickers started to appear in and across Idaho. Then they proliferated like rabbits as native Idahoans announced their deeply held view: Don’t Californicate Idaho!

Folks in Ada, Canyon, Kootenai and Bonner counties in particular had a sense that an invasion was underway, but few realized at the time how much these transplanted Californians were changing Idaho politics. Many of the newcomers were retirees from places like Orange County and San Diego County, California, and with the huge uptick in real estate values in southern California, they were selling homes at multiples of two, three or four times what they had paid.

They would carry the proverbial boatload of cash north with them and quickly discovered they could buy twice the house size they had in California at half the price. Many of these immigrants were also public employees who were retiring - teachers, firefighters, police—and thus their generous pension was provided by one of the wealthiest and strongest public pension systems in the world - CALPERS.

The vast majority of these immigrants had fallen hard in 1964 for Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s conservative mantle which saw government as the enemy and the consumer of confiscatory taxes with few returns. California Governor Ronald Reagan, who delivered a memorable last minute television plea for Goldwater, picked up the standard and started his march to the White House.

Reagan narrowly lost the 1976 nomination to the un-elected but appointed vice president, Gerald Ford, who inherited the office from the disgraced Richard Nixon. In 1980, Reagan won going away just about the time the in-migration of Californians started to decline.

These California transplants became active in Republican party politics, both regionally and statewide, started to field quality candidates, and following the lead of a very active party chairman, former State Senator Phil Batt, executed in election game plans that brought about victory after victory.

When the smoke cleared the take over was complete. At the local level the GOP captured county commissions and city councils throughout the ten northern counties. The once solid Democratic north was now solidly Republican and Idaho was a one party state.

Thanks a lot, California, for these immigrants brought their values and views with them, which shows Idaho’s support for public education as a percentage of income and economic growth declining steadily since 1994.

Take second district Representative Vito Barbieri. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary this transplanted Californian has voted no on almost every spending bill that has come before the Legislature in the six years he has been in Boise.. This “head in the sand” approach has actually cost the taxpayer more through the annual adoption of over-ride levies that increases one’s property taxes to off-set the Legislature’s consistent under funding.

Rep. Barbieri also voted this year to cap the homeowner’s exemption at $200,000 which will result in further increases in property taxes in coming years.

Barbieri is relying on the voters remaining ignorant and not finding it conceivable that Republicans could ever do anything to increase taxes, Wrong.

Then there’s the case of Alan Littlejohn, a retired firefighter from Placer, California, who is running against State Rep. Eric Redman. He arrives here three years ago, retired, and in his early 50’s with an annual income from CALPERS of $59,000 a year. He decides he’s paid enough in taxes to support the public schools in California. So to hell with paying for Idaho’s children.

His solution is to require school levies to be approved by 2/3’s of the district’s eligible voters instead of the current 50% plus one of the registered voters.

The answer to stem this influx of disease and selfishness is to close Idaho’s borders to any more California immigrants (but we’ll still take Syrian refugees) and to send back to California where they belong any legislator that ever has had anything to do with California by birth, education or business.

We would thereby eliminate ten state representatives and five state senators (see attached list) but in going from 105 to 90 legislators think of the money we could save and put toward building a wall around Idaho.

Admittedly, we might lose a few good legislators but that’s just going to have to be considered a cost of protecting Idaho from further Californication in Donald Trump's brave new world.

(Editor’s Note: Chris Carlson readily admits he recruited former student Kathy Kahn to run against “Veto Vito.”)

List of California connected legislators:
Name Current hometown Connection

1. Vito Barbieri Dalton Gardens, Dist. 2 law school in Fullerton
2. Don Cheatham Post Falls, Dist. 3 LA Police
3. Sue Chew Boise, Dist. 17 born in Oakland
4. Lance Clow Twin Falls, Dist.24 born in LA
5. Sage Dixon Ponderay, Dist. 1 San Jose State
6. John Gannon Boise, Dist. 17 born in Ross
7. Ryan Kerby New Plymouth, Dist. 9 Biola, La Miranda
8. Lynn Luker Boise, Dist. 15 Lompoc; Cal-Berkeley
9.Jason Monks Meridian, Dist. 22 born in Ridgement
10. Paul Romrell St. Anthony, Dist. 35 USC Hospital Admin
11.Lori Don Hartog Meridian, Dist. 22 born in Escondido
12. Maryanne Jordan Boise, Dist. 17 San Jose State
13. Jim Rice Caldwell, Dist. 10 law degree, W.H. Taft
14. Michelle Stennett Ketchum, Dist. 26 born in Sacramento
15. Janie Ward-Engelking Boise, Dist. 18 Whittier College

Win some, lose some


The biggest win in yesterday’s Idaho primary election was Carl Crabtree’s toppling of the Sherry Nuxoll juggernaut, and down with Nuxoll went Shannon McMillan.

Crabtree’s win was skinny, just a couple of hundred votes, but that’s why we vote. Priscilla Giddings’ triumph over Shannon was decisive, and God bless Priscilla.

Fare-thee-well to the crazies. Good bloody riddance. It means that as we once opposed the Aryan nations and won, we can also beat the also out-of-state Idaho Freedom Foundation. These creepy outfits invade Idaho’s small population and occasionally pull one off, but we are Idahoans and we fight back.

My fear is that having won the good fight, we’ll go hit the couch again until some other annoying and poisonous pestilence re-invades – and we will react too late, as we have done in the past. It’s our nature.

It is time to get out of the feathers and go to those miserable rubber-chicken dinners again, and raise Hell.

What finally killed the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s candidates’ candidates? I have McMillan’s last mailing she sent, via snail mail here. She was against Roe v. Wade, supports the 2nd Amendment, supports state land claims against the federal government. These are all federal issues over which even the 10th Amendment even gives credit and states no control. The IFF went too far. They are not us. Time to kick them to the curb.

Good riddance, IFF. Go back to California, and if Dick Butler’s still alive, snuggle up. You’re done here.

For the rest of us, meet Carl Crabtree. He’s the first of the new good guys and actually gives a shit.

Tuesday numbers


From the point of view of Oregon and Idaho, the numbers Tuesday told a mostly consistent message: Some backing off on the right, in the case of some of the further-out candidates, and on the other side of the primary a bit of movement left.

Though that's not an absolute and some qualification is needed.

The whole left-right thing (mostly on the left) was a little more subtle in Oregon, though there was a good example of it at the top of the ballot and some other good case studies further down.

Bernie Sanders was the substantial winner in Oregon, keeping his streak of election-day wins alive (while thinly losing Kentucky). It was an across-the-board win, too; he seems to have won all but two (Deschutes and Gilliam) of the state's 36 counties.

A little further down, the hottest primary contest in Oregon may have been the Democrats for secretary of state, won by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. Realistically, there's no big philosophical divide between him and his opponents (Val Hoyle and Richard Devlin), all being relatively liberal Democrats. But Avakian seized onto a string of liberal causes, some only barely related to the SecState job, in building his case. Some Bernie-Brad linkage may have been at work.

Locally, there was the Hood River vote over whether to allow Nestle to bottle water at Cascade Locks. It was a hot issue in the area but it turns out lopsided: By two to one, voters sought to deny Nestle the water.

More locally for us, in Yamhill County a rare defeat of an incumbent county commission, Allan Springer, who has been one of three extremely conservative commissioners. His replacement, McMinnville Mayor Rick Olson, is expected to be considerably more moderate.

Over in Idaho, where the Democratic philosophical divides tend to be less clear than the Republican, the backing off from the edges of the right seemed fairly evident.

A bunch of legislative races featured contests between relatively establishment (but, it should be noted, almost all quite conservative) candidates, and farther-right insurgents. In nearly all of these cases, the latter lost. Challenged incumbents like Shawn Keough, Luke Malek, Patti Anne Lodge, Patrick McDonald (opposed by the well-known Rod Beck), Stephen Hartgen, Maxine Bell and Kelley Packer all pulled through. But that doesn't mean this was a solid election for incumbents. A bunch of incumbents associated with the insurgent hard right went down: Kathleen Sims, Sheryl Nuxoll, Shannon McMillan and Pete Nielsen.

More on this in the weekend column.

But one other Idaho note should be made. In the four-way Supreme Court two of the candidates - Clive Strong and Sergio Gutierrez - got the lion's share of the newspaper endorsements and community leader support. That was the right assessment: Those two were clearly, even obviously, the most qualified for the high court. They were also, the voters decided, the two who came in third and fourth, and will not advance to the runoff in November. Are partisan primary elections the right time to make this kind of choice? This election was a good argument against.

Costs of gentrification


I recently celebrated my 36th birthday with some friends in an increasingly trendy Northeast Portland neighborhood. The occasion was also somewhat bittersweet, as it was our group’s last hurrah in the Alberta Street area.

My friends have lived on the street for the last eight years. Since then, we’ve seen the historically African-American neighborhood slowly transform over time as gentrification took place.

All of that culminated a few weeks ago, as my friends were given a no-cause eviction notice amid rising rents as Portland and its residents grapple with that city’s affordable housing crisis. One of my friends is actively seeking a place near his new job in Beaverton, another area where it is becoming increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced housing.

The other is returning to her native Texas after coming to Portland a decade ago to attend college. Her stints at Portland Community College, Portland State University and Concordia University have culminated in six figures of student loan debt, more than enough credits to graduate, yet no actual college degree from any of those three institutions.

We all watched as more specialized boutique stores opened up in the area and the neighborhood’s traditional identity gradually faded away. A house directly across the street from my friends’ studio apartment was purchased for $110,000, fixed up for another $100,000 and later sold for four times that amount.

A highly publicized gang-related shooting in the neighborhood last year still wasn’t enough to drive those housing prices and costs down, or the demand for any of it.

Against that backdrop, Metro continues its refusal to expand the Urban Growth Boundary. This happens despite the fact that vacancy rates remain at extremely low levels. There’s also the ongoing denials from politicians and bureaucrats about the correlation between the prices of land and their ultimate effects on housing costs due to policy decisions that were made in the 1970s that have somehow become sacrosanct.

While reminiscing about our time in the area, we realized that every time we spent money at one of these new stores, we were helping to fund the gentrification that is now pricing our friends out of the neighborhood. The success of those stores caused other stores to move in, which raised the property values further and further.

At one point, we shared a laugh over another revelation—if we had just pooled all the money we otherwise would have spent at a local bar that had since burned down, we could have invested it in some real estate. It’s entirely possible that we could have bought the apartment complex that is now being refurbished to make way for tenants willing to pay more to live there.
It’s truly sad that our group of friends will no longer have a foothold in the Alberta Street neighborhood. The fond memories of our shared experiences will soon be the only connection we’ll have to it.

Maybe we’ll get lucky and find another part of Portland to hang out in, at least until other people discover it and the whole gentrification process starts all over again. And perhaps we’ll have to repeat that process a few more times until Portland and its leaders come up with sensible solutions for the same problems that past decisions appear to have caused and made worse, at the expense of working people throughout the city.

After all, if these trends continue, they’ll eventually run out of neighborhoods to kick residents out of while welcoming the next rounds of new developments, specialized shops and condos that are well beyond the financial reach of the people who have called these areas home for years.

No, not these two


There are a couple of bad ideas being floated by some Democrats and portions of the media these days. Ideas I hope never bear fruit. Both involve Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

They merge into one bad idea in this: if Hillary Clinton is the Party’s eventual nominee - and there’s a good chance that’ll happen - either Warren or Sanders should be named vice presidential running mate. In Sanders case, that’s assuming he doesn’t become President on his own.

In either instance, those promoting such an arrangement are either unschooled in politics or operating on emotions and not fact. Because the fact is, either of these two experienced pros would be absolutely wasted in an office a previous holder called “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” John Nance Garner, I believe.

Joe Biden - due to his personality, certain life events and decades of experience in the Congress - has made more of the Vice President’s job than anyone in my memory. The President has said he picked Biden largely because of the aforementioned traits and a “gut feeling.” He should continue listening to his gut.

Biden has been an excellent fit. He was nearing the end of his extensive career in the Senate, knew nearly all the leaders in major countries around the world on a first-name basis, understood the “art of the deal” in Washington politics and exhibited a sense of absolute loyalty in the entirety of his life - personally and professionally. Though sometimes acting like a loose cannon, he has much more often been the voice of reason, tactics and political guidance behind “the throne.”

Neither Warren nor Sanders fit that mold. They are, in fact, much, much more valuable right where they are - in the U.S. Senate.

Warren has been a pleasant surprise to me. Especially in her most recent role as “attack-dog-in-chief” for Democrats. She’s launched several effective broadsides against the Trumpster and has indicated she’s going to continue keeping up the “social” media attacks. Never thought that would be the case with a former Ivy League professor. Don’t think The Donald expected that, either.

Additionally, Warren is an old school populist. She has a knack for picking the right issues to communicate directly with voters - minimum wage, health care, human rights, etc. Like Biden, she has a talent for dealing one-on-one with almost any portion of the public - something both parties haven’t done in decades. She can deliver very effective speeches in Senate debate. And she can just as effectively touch hearts in a PTA or business forum. Few politicians with those - and other - skills are better placed to be effective for a large constituency.

Sanders, too, would be wasted in the Old Executive Building VP suite. Like Warren, he has built a career of being an activist - leading on popular causes or being an effective spokesman for ideas. His recent work with veterans groups is one of his most effective roles. Sanders has never really been a “party man” - preferring to stay independent and a free thinker. He really doesn’t possess the skills of a “second in command” in his personality or conduct of his public career.

Besides, neither would bring much of importance or experience that Clinton doesn’t already have. She needs to come up with someone for the VP job that both complements her skills and brings support from areas of the public where she lacks it. Someone with support in minority communities. Someone who has greater experience in domestic issues. Someone with his own constituency.

Yes, “his.” Realistically, two women at the top of a national ticket would not pass public muster at the polls. Rightfully dedicated as she is to equal treatment of women in the workplace, Clinton can make such change possible in her cabinet selections and filling other key posts. But, at the top of the ticket, she needs to go with a male.

I’ve long harbored a liking for Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. Low key personality, a real worker in the trenches, not someone seeking publicity in the media, knowledgeable in the skills of effective political give-and-take, highly respected by his peers. He also comes at things with a “common touch” and represents a large state. He’s widely recognized for his effectiveness in the Senate in almost anything he undertakes. He’s also 63-years-old. An age where - if he’s going to make a run for higher office - he’s right on the cusp.

These factors - and his kind of “aw, shucks” personality - add up to a really excellent candidate. If he’ll take the job.

No matter how you come at it, neither Warren nor Sanders would be good VP choices. If Democrats retake either the Senate or House, they have an excellent opportunity to destroy some of the political gridlock we’re suffering. With a Democrat majority in the Senate, either of the two would be a vast improvement in leadership positions.

The selection of a vice presidential nominee is something Clinton - and her party- need to get together on. Really together. This is not a normal election year. This is not a normal election. Whoever fills out the Democrat ticket, odds are he’ll have a leading role in national direction to a greater degree than in the past. And possibly for many years.

Hey. I’ve got a thought. There’s this guy from Ohio, I believe. Brown something. Good guy.

How well paid?


The state of Washington has a agency called the Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials, whose job is what its name implies. It has a catchy slogan: “We evaluate the position - Voters evaluate the performance.”

Might be interesting to establish a statewide commission for Idaho to compare and evaluate state pay more broadly. In the Gem State, pay for state elected officials is set by the legislature, and pay for many other types of employees are set in all kinds of ways.

The lack of a single set of standards across the board becomes evident when you scroll down the list of the highest state employees’ salaries in Idaho, provided on May 11 by the state controller’s office (at The simplest of several lists here to read covers state employees who are paid more than the state’s chief executive officer, the governor, whose pay is set at $122,597.

In truth, that gubernatorial pay seems low in today’s marketplace for the top leader of a large, complex organization. But according to the report, 332 state employees are paid more; probably a greater number than ever has been the case (and certainly more such employees than any time in the last decade). And that’s factoring in a pay raise for the governor this year.

Who gets paid the most? Of the top 10 highest-salaried employees, seven work for Boise State University. One of those is the president, Robert Kustra (ranks at number three); his counterparts at the University of Idaho and Idaho State University, who are close behind, account for two of the others in the top ten. All but one of those 10 are university employees.

So what are the other high-level BSU spots that lead the state employee list? You probably don’t need me to tell you: They’re in the athletics wing of the institution. The only state employee paid a salary of more than a million dollars is football coach Bryan Harsin. BSU athletics employees are well represented among the top 100 or so state employees. Top pay at the athletics jobs at the other universities generally is considerably less.

Colleges and universities absolutely dominate the ranks of the highest-paid. Of the 100 highest paid employees in Idaho state government, I count all but about a tenth as located in higher education. The chief investment officer for the state retirement fund ranks high (not unexpected given the nature of the job and private sector counterparts).

Several physicians in the Department of Health and Welfare rank within the 100 too, and a few others are scattered there, including top executives at the State Insurance Fund. In line with pay outside of government, top medical officials often are among the better-paid state employees. Still, they account for only a few toward the top of Idaho’s list.

Attorneys with substantial responsibility and experience often are paid well on the private side, but attorney positions generally pay less well in state government. The top attorneys in the Attorney General’s office overall rank well below the top 100, not a lot more than the governor is paid.

None of this is meant as an argument that any of these jobs, taken alone, are over- or under-paid. (On the list overall, I’m more inclined to place more jobs in the second category than in the first.)

But a scan down the list, and some reflection on the responsibilities of the jobs – an evaluation of the position, not the performance – may lead you to wonder about some of the priorities, and numbers.

Foothills gravity


You don’t have to be Isaac Newton to predict that water runs downhill with the force of gravity, often taking loose soil along with it.

In recent history the Idaho Transportation Department learned the gravity/water/soil lesson on Horseshoe Bend Hill, forcing the relocation of Hwy 55 to its present location.

Same issue caused massive rockslides and road closures below Warm Springs Mesa near the golf course as saturated earth caused rockslides on Warm Springs Ave. when it was also Hwy 21. GROWTHOPHOBES will tell you foot hills development is a slippery slope at best.

Seems there isn’t much in the way of “institutional memory” when it comes to Boise foothills road and home construction. The “Boise Front” is essentially the same piece of land as HSB Hill and Warm Springs Mesa, yet Boise City officials seemed surprised that high-end real estate along Table Rock Road is now slip-sliding a way.

For perspective, think of the foot hills as a giant sponge and all the roads and rooftops as strips of plastic wrap. The sealed parts of the sponge repel the water, but soon there is more water than the sponge can absorb and it either pools or runs off like a flash flood.

It may be nice to look down on your neighbors, but those big roofs, paved driveways and roads all tend to concentrate water and saturate the subsoils. The local precip is about 13 inches annually, but all those green lawns and trees at luxury homes need much more water to survive. We know instances of hillside irrigation flooding downhill neighbor’s basements. The laws of gravity are enforced by Mother Nature.

A Boise City spokesman recently told the STATESMAN that policy “requires a licensed engineer to conduct surveys of geological characteristics for the ground beneath every Foothills development. The city requires the same geotechnical surveys for each lot in a development. The city then hires third-party engineers to review the survey reports for accuracy and potential problems.”

“Every Foothills development also requires a grading plan, the extent of which depends on the results of the surveys. The same step is required for each lot.”

A home previously worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and a roadway are now unusable, “baffling the experts.” Could it be the geologists have rocks in their heads and the hydrologists have water on the brain?

Otter ‘atta boy’


Every once in awhile Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter says or does something profound or meaningful - so much so one wishes to see much more of this side of his persona. He will always deserve credit, for example, for courageously standing up against the Bush Administration’s assault on personal liberties contained in the Patriot Act.

In late April, Governor Otter was touring the newly completed and much needed Northern Idaho Crisis Center. According to the account in the Coeur d’Alene Press the Governor asked good, probing questions and heard testimony from numerous supporters regarding timely crisis intervention. Local law enforcement was especially supportive.

At some point, noting all the support for the Center, a reporter asked the Governor what he thought about why most of the Kootenai county legislative delegation had voted against any state funding for the facility.

Mincing no words, the Governor hit the nail squarely on the head. “They are stupified by the cost and totally incapable of seeing the value. For a public servant that is almost unforgivable.” Otter then added, “It shouldn’t be acceptable to anybody, anymore just to hear the answer to a public policy question as “No.”

Chief among the always vote no crowd from Kootenai county is three term Second District Republican State Representative Vito Barbieri, from Dalton Gardens, who was clearly the object of Otter’s pointed comments.

Barbieri is one of those Tea Party nay-sayers who apparently believes there is virtue in voting no on any state spending. He votes no on most spending bills for the State Constitutional directed support for public schools. He voted no last session on a bill to crack down further on dead-beat Dads because the Legislature had not accepted an amendment prohibiting any teaching anywhere of Islam’s Sharia law.

Barbieri often votes no on budgets comprised entirely of federal funds or, for example, he voted no on that portion of the Fish & Game Department’s budget comprised entirely of fees and fines. According to the Lewiston Tribune, he voted against bills totaling $6.4 billion this past session. Go figure.

Barbieri may think he is a tremendous tiger on the budget because of the phony A+ rating he receives from Wayne Hoffman’s Freedom Foundation, a “political action committee” that masquerades as a non-political, advocacy public policy think tank. The truth is Barbieri’s votes are costing his patrons real money.

First, every time he votes against a public schools budget he is indirectly foisting another proerty tax increase on the patrons of the schools in his district inasmuch as the school districts have to seek passage of over-ride levies to replace lost or reduced state funding.

Secondly, he voted to cap the homeowner exemption at $200,000 which for the vast majority of his constituents will mean an additional property tax increase.

Third, he does not seem to understand the concept of “pay me now, or pay me more later,” which Butch clearly does understand.

Neither Barbieri nor his patron, Mr. Hoffman, want to acknowledge that their futile fight against government spending was lost years ago in the 1930s when the nation opted for President Franklin Roosevelt’s “government is the solution not the problem” approach to addressing the nation’s ills. The country rejected Herbert Hoover’s “the free market is the answer” approach.

In the interest of full disclosure I reside in the second district. When Barbieri referenced a woman having a gynecological exam by lowering a miniature camera into her stomach, that set me on the path of finding and recruiting an opponent. I did not have to go too far - in fact, just next door to talk a former student of mine, Kathy Kahn, into running.

Mrs. Kahn is smart, hard-workng (She’s already doorbelling), and charming. Furthermore, I recruited former Idaho State Senator Mike Blackbird to manage her campaign. They have a winnble strategy and her fund-raising is going well.

Trust me on this - Kathy will send the three-term, 65-year-old transplanted Californian into retirement despite the district being 2:1 Republican. One of the reasons was on display last week when the two them met at the Medimont Grange.

The format was the “town hall” and by all accounts Kathy did well. For his part, Barbieri displayed his condescending side, talking down to Kathy about what a tough, demanding job it was to be a legislator. He strongly implied the little lady was not up to the challenge.

Come November he’ll find out that Kathy Kahn can win and can do.

Veto Vito!