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Posts published in June 2016

The art delegation

frazier

The cryptic item on the June 7 Boise City Council read, “David H. Bieter, Mayor’s Office, to attend meetings with potential city benefactor in New York City, NY, on July 28-30, 2016.”

Following the shenanigans that led to the ultimate downfall and jailing of former Mayor Brent Coles, a GUARDIAN reader was properly concerned and sounded the alarm for a records request.

The GUARDIAN filed the appropriate request and the office of the City Attorney has provided us with the information sought. Turns out there will be no attendance of ANY Broadway plays, including HAMILTON. Hopefully, no limos like Idaho Treasurer Ron Crane rented will be on the expense account either.

The city (taxpayers) is paying for a party of four, including the mayor, to make the trip. Two other city staffers and a prominent arts-community member will make the trip with Bieter. A fifth private player will pay his own expenses. The group of artsy Idahoans will be visiting billionaire William Louis-Dreyfus of the “Dreyfus Fund” fame. Dreyfus is a world renowned art collector and owns much of the James Castle art archive. CASTLE was a self-taught local artist born in Garden Valley and his work has been a hot commodity in art circles following his death in 1977.

Bieter and his newly assembled “Team Dave,” will offer a personal “thank-you” for a 1955 trailer which was formerly occupied by Castle and has been given to the city. Boise City acquired his Northwest Boise home near Pierce Park and Castle Drive in 2014. They also want to eventually update the Boise homesite and open it to the public as a museum. No doubt the art delegation would gladly accept any sort of endowment or funds to help with the city museum project.

Castle’s simple works drawn with soot from wood stoves are on display throughout the world, including at the Smithsonian in washington, D.C.

In the wind

carlson

In the fall of 1965, while a freshman at Columbia, I took a date by the subway to Greenich Village. It was a warm Saturday evening (Columbia had lost another football game) and the place was abuzz with music and diverse people the likes of which this country boy from Idaho had never seen.. We wandered around for awhile looking at menus in windows and finally went into a coffee shop where a guy with straggle hair and an odd sounding voice was strumming his guitar and banjo while singing away.

The words were haunting though and one song in particular came to be a classic of the baby-boomer generation because it asked some of the unanswerable questions that remain mysteries throughout our lives. The last question of the lyrics sung that evening by then little known Robert Zimmerman from Minnesota (Who soon adopted the nom d’plume of Bob Dylan), popped into my mind early this morning as I watched the CNN coverage of the hate crime and terrorist motivated worst single massacre of innocent people in American history: “Yes, and how many deaths will it take ‘till he knows/That too many people have died?”

The question in the lyrics before is also relevant: “ Yes, and how many ears must one man have/Before he can hear people cry?”

Enough is enough. Too many innocent men, women and children have been killed by lunatics with assault rifles designed for one purpose only--- to kill the maximum number of people as quickly as one can load a new magazine.

For years I have accepted the argument that it would do no good to ban assault weapons and deny legitimate and responsible gun owners their qualified right to own even AR-15s.

No longer. Even the great saint of the NRA, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said gun ownership can be regulated by society where the interests of public safety predominate over the individual’s qualified right. Thus, government can outlaw carrying weapons into schools, courthouses, and other public gathering places.

The time has come for the outright banning of assault weapons, but that in and of itself is not enough. Responsible gun onwers and the NRA better recognize the changing demographics of this nation especially more and more people living in cities and the suburbs. They are the majority, and if that majority decides their safey lies in banning gun ownership outright they can make it happen.

Thus, it behooves all those who want to preserve their qualified constitutional right to recognize the need to propose meaningful change which the public can see may make a difference and provide a greater degree of protection while lessening the likelihood of becoming a victim.

The answer is to set up a program similar to the programs states have for licensing drivers. Pick a date three years down the road. Anyone who turned 18 before that date is not impacted. Anyone who turns 18 after that date if he wants to own and operate a firearm has to have completed a firearm safety course. Before they can obtain a license they will have to pass a test and pay a fee that covers the cost of the safety course.

As far as I’m concerned the state can contract with the NRA to run the classes. Course instructors, however, must themselves take a course that will help them identify aberrant personalities and when these folks are spotted can require them to undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Its not perfect, but lets not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Some thing has to change though and responsible gun owners have to take the lead and step forward. The status quo is no longer going to be acceptable.

“Yes, and how many times can a man turn his head/And pretend that he just doesn’t see?”

The answer is no longer blowin’ in the wind. The answer is for responsible gun owners to step forwad and lead some reasonable changes.

Motor voter, reviewed

harris

The Bus Project, a Democratic oriented get out the vote organization, is extolling the virtues of Motor Voter based on the primary voting results. Their press releases have been picked up by national news organizations and the press is including this misleading graphic.

The graphic is false.

It purports to show the great success of Oregon Motor Voter program and claims that automatically-registered voters had good turnout numbers in the May 2016 Oregon primary election. But it is based on several fundamental errors. And it entirely omits the turnout result for 84% of all Automatic registrants–the non-affiliated voters, of whom only 6% turned out to vote in the primary election (compared with 23% of traditionally-registered non-affiliated voters).

The graph seems to say that a higher percentage of Automatic registrants turned out that Traditional registrants. But, in fact, the overall turnout of the Automatic registrants was 18.7%. The overall turnout of all registrants together was 53.7%. That means that the turnout of the Traditional registrants was in excess of 53.7%. So how could that graph be correct? It is not.

First, the graph for “Independent Voters” is wrong. The numbers graphed are only for members of the Independent Party of Oregon, not for non-affiliated voters — who comprise 84% of all Automatic registrants. So the graph entirely omits 84% of all of the Automatic registrants and bases its conclusions on a population of only 16% of the Automatic registrants–the most politically motivated ones (because they bothered to join a party). In fact those 84% of all Automatic registrants had turnout rates of under 10% for every age category other under 60 (and only 13% above that). All of their turnout rates were about 70% lower than those of Traditional non-affiliated registrants.

Second, and maybe more misleading, even the very limited data on the graph (omitting 84% of all Automatic registrants) is misleading. The “increases” on the graph are in fact very small populations, while the “decreases” are in fact very big populations.

The Republican columns, for example, count as “Automatic” only those few persons who returned the postcard to the Secretary of State, choosing to register Republican. That was only a grand total of 2,671 persons out of 51,558 automatic registrants. (For the Democrats, it was only 4,776.) Yes, those who affirmatively returned the postcard to join a party then usually voted in the primary. But in fact 42,571 of the 51,558 Automatic registrants did not join a party, and the vast majority of them (94%) did not turn out in the primary at all.

And, under the traditional system, those few Automatic registrants do voted in the primary most likely would have registered to vote during the DMV process anyway, when they could also have joined a party. Under the new system, they are not allowed to register and choose and party during the DMV process. The result is that 84% Automatic registrants are not joining parties at all.

The fact is, motor voter probably decreased voting in the partisan primaries.

Through April, about 56,000 people were registered through motor voter, but only about 9,000 took the time to select a party after receiving a postcard from the State informing them they were registered. It’s that decoupling of registration from party registration that is the big flaw in motor voter.

Under prior law (the Federal Motor Voter Act of 1994) DMV was required to ask everyone if they’d like to register to vote. The DMV client was then given a card and they’d fill it out and give it to DMV to send to the elections department. Statistically about 75% of those voters would select a party at that time as well. Lets say that if those 56,000 automatically registered voters had been asked at DMV if they wanted to register, that 25% said yes and filled out a registratin card, and that 75% selected a party designation. That would be 14,000 new voters and 10,500 would have selected a political party and had been eligible to vote in the partisan primary. Remember, under Motor voter, only about 9,000 selected a party.

And while it’s great that many more people will be eligible to vote in November, 90% of the races in Oregon are actually decided in the partisan primary. Democrats are the overwhelming favorites Statewide and in the tri-county deep blue districts. And Republicans are dominant in most rural parts of Oregon.

So, all these new automatically registered motor voters who didn’t have the chance to select a political party may be able to rejoice about voting in November, but for most Oregon races, their vote has little power. In fact, it’s meaningless.

While I believe the intent behind Motor Voter was good, decoupling the act of voter registration from the selection of a political party in a State like Oregon with closed primaries and gerrymandered safe districts could be one of the most undemocratic acts we’ve seen here.

Perhaps the Bus Project should take a closer look at the unintended consequences of Motor Voter and propose some fixes in redistricting, primary reform, or other democracy reforms that would empower the voters that they are so keen on registering.

Don’t place your bet yet

rainey

For those who don’t live in the world of political wonks, our presidential primaries, such as they’ve been, are about over. The mostly disenfranchised citizens of our captive “colony” - Washington D.C. - add a few ballot voices this week. But other than that, it’s finis! Right?

Ah, not so quick there, polling breath. Trips to the polls may be nearly over but the fat lady definitely has not hit her first note.

Some months ago, I opined the Trumpster might not really want the job of President of these United States. Caught some flak. But nothing has changed my mind. In fact, he’s on the record - a long, shameful, disastrous, racist, bigoted, misogynist record - saying he doesn’t see himself doing the day-to-day work. Just “chairman of the board,” an above-it-all position with details/work “farmed out” to “experts” like CEO’s and CFO’s. Says he’ll keep an eye on things but not daily duty in the office.

Well, he has his views. And, thank God, the rest of us have ours. In fact, there’s an outside chance his run to November won’t reach the finish line. The factors that could save him - make him a viable candidate if that’s possible - just aren’t there and don’t seem to be coming.

What he needs most is a team of specialists - speech writers, fund raisers, advance teams, media spokesmen, ad buyers, state campaign teams, precinct workers and local phone banks, logistics people, experienced - and trusted - advisors on all the important issues he needs to know. At least, know more than he does.

Problem is, those people aren’t swamping him with job applications. Especially the political professional types who don’t like looking foolish when the boss double crosses them in public - and the knowledgeable advisors who don’t like having their expertise given, then ignored.

Trump’s current list of “advisors” could be seated around my dining room table. His spokesmen include family members. Maybe most damaging of all, the National Republican Party has not yet stepped up with the important national resources - if it still has any. And Trump’s fund-raising efforts are largely confined to repaying himself for the millions he “loaned” his campaign. Anyone who seriously thought he was going to bankroll his run - as he has promised so many times - has little grasp on reality.

Then, there are the surrogates. The other prominent - mostly Republican - figures he needs to stump their own states and the hinterlands spreading his “message.” Whatever the hell that is. They aren’t leaping at the opportunity. Maybe that’s because (a) they can’t see themselves saying or endorsing the things he says and does and (b) they watched the only congressional candidate Trump endorsed - an incumbent - go down in flames last week. Get too close to the fire and a political career could become a pile of ashes.

Then there’s the terrible - and possibly career-ending - short list of politicians who’ve already endorsed. At least three have now “un-indorsed.” Mitch McConnell has tiptoed around doing as much. And poor Paul Ryan - the GOP’s “great white hope” - has roundly condemned Trump for his racist, bigoted mouthings while still “supporting” him to be commander-in-chief with his erratic finger on the nuclear trigger. Ryan will likely survive his idiotic move - though he, too, may un-indorse. But the dozens of idiots he’s riding herd on in the House will see fresh blood and a sign Ryan is damaged goods. (ED NOTE: First time I’ve agreed with them.)

Trump’s victory speech last week also contained some hints. Rather than using a large, public location to reach out to the masses, his toned-down, obviously non-Trump script - was badly read off teleprompters in a small meeting room at one of his private country clubs to a small, invited audience. A carefully controlled environment for a carefully controlled crowd. But, even then, he couldn’t help deviating to throw in some red meat comments and a couple of zingers. So much for the “pro advisors” who’ve told him to “tone it down.” Ain’t gonna happen.

Before the national GOP convention, Trump will have insulted something near and dear to just about every American. He’s already started. And he’s demanding his nomination - and his acceptance speech - be held in a “large sports arena” and not the Republican convention site. He’s also told several reporters - hence their media employers - they will “not be allowed” to attend to cover either event.

Then there’s this. What does Donnie do with his real estate and investment empire? A billion - 5 billion - 10 billion. Whatever. He can’t stay in control. He’s got to put everything - ALL of it - into some sort of blind trust. Which he can’t control or even check on from time to time. Who’ll take over? His son? A wife? Attorneys? Some phony board of directors that doesn’t exist or, if it did, couldn’t make a decision without him? Trump doesn’t turn loose of control. Of anything! This could be the “make-or-break.”

Bottom line: Trump seems destined to fail either at his own hand or for lack of a reality-based, professional, national support system. The “cat’s” further out on that limb than he ever thought he would be. And the fire department is not coming to his rescue.

But - Clinton is no sure thing. The entry of former governors Johnson and Weld as Libertarians could well take 15-20% of the November vote. Maybe more. Depends on who shows up to vote and who stays home. And there’ll be some others emerging from the nutball woodwork to siphon off some more numbers. Add the fact we have no idea - at this point - what the Sanders effect will be. Will he renew his donkey credentials, get behind the Clinton bandwagon and push? Or will he go back to Burlington and sit it out?

No, friends, we’re a long way from the finish line and the imponderables are many. Except one. The Donald will not be getting the keys to the Oval Office. Whether by his own hand. Or yours and mine.

The quiet convention

stapiluslogo1

Dogs that don’t bark in the night-time tend not to get as much attention as those that do.

Same with political conventions.

The 2014 Idaho Republican convention got plenty of media splash, and for reasons that made party leaders grimace. That was a convention that ran on ground so bitter that much of its basic, normal work could not be done, and it adjourned in chaos. And led to lawsuits and worse, even a dispute about who was or wasn’t the state party chair.

This year’s convention, held in Nampa a week ago, saw none of that. It ran quietly and smoothly, saw the approval of party leaders – re-election without dispute of those in place – and of party platform and resolutions, with only the mildest of argument. It was closer to the way conventions were run 20 or 30 years ago, apart from the lack of enthusiasm for the presidential nominee.

Not that it was entirely an era of good feelings; new ideas were largely blocked and the platform was simply that of 2012. But it still ran far smoother than 2014.

Some of that may have to do with care and effort on the part of some of the party leaders. But some other factors were almost surely involved too.

One was the relative lack of a big rift within the party. Obviously, the Idaho Republican Party was home to plenty of legislative primary battles, concluded only a few weeks ago. But these were local and generally small in scale, and in many cases specific personalities were key to the battles involved. While both U.S. House members had in-party challenges, they didn’t come to much, and many voters probably were surprised even to see the extra names on the ballot. Almost all of the real conflict was at the legislative level, and these conflicts didn’t much spill over from district to district, or around the state.

If you were a delegate from, say, Pocatello, the recent intense battles in several legislative races up in the Panhandle would have little resonance for you. There were no big sweeping bases for opposition.

In 2014, the Idaho Republican Party seemed to contain two parties in one – the insurgents and the establishment. it involved not just local races, but many of the statewide and even congressional races, and the rhetoric involved in those contests periodically ran hot. And when the establishment won the primary, the insurgents were left fuming, and had no outlet for their anger, until the convention met. Little wonder the convention that followed a battle ground.

I have to wonder if there was another aberrational factor this year, too, by the name of Donald Trump.

Trump surely had supporters in Idaho; in the presidential primary earlier this year he came in second and won a bunch of counties in the center of the state. But Idaho’s Republican establishment hasn’t exactly attached itself to him.

One story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review noted that at the convention, “When delegates were urged to rally behind Trump at the close of their morning floor session on Saturday, only a few waved signs and the cheers were noticeably muted.”

When Representative Raul Labrador was asked for his thoughts about Trump, he responded, “It’s a beautiful day in Idaho, isn’t it?”

At this year’s Idaho convention, there was plenty of willingness to get along with one’s neighbors. Maybe they were encouraged in that process by the sounds of unexpected and fearsome creatures outside the doors.

Oregon’s richest

From a June 9 report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

The economy has rarely been better, if you belong to Oregon's richest of the rich. The latest figures show that the average income of Oregon's top one-tenth of 1 percent of earners stands just below its all-time high, according to a new study by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

"At the very top of Oregon's income ladder it looks as if the Great Recession never happened," said Center analyst Tyler Mac Innis. "The typical Oregonian, however, remains stuck in the recession."

Since the official end to the recession in 2009, the average income of the top one-tenth of 1 percent -- a group consisting of only 1,680 households -- has climbed by more than one million dollars, according the Center. In 2014, the year with the most recently available data, the average member of this group of top earners pulled in $3.9 million.

The story is rather different for the typical Oregonian. By 2014, the state's median income had risen by just $21 since the beginning of the recovery, the study showed.

Looking over the long term, Oregon's median income of $33,484 in 2014 was just $270 higher than in 1980, when adjusted for inflation. Over that same time, the income of the top one-tenth of one percent quadrupled.

While this tiny group at the very top has largely fueled the rise of the top 1 percent as a whole, the rest of the top 1 percent has also done quite well over the years, Mac Innis noted. The average, inflation-adjusted income of the rest of Oregon's top 1 percent more than double between 1980 and 2014.

"Income inequality is the greatest economic challenge facing our state," Mac Innis said. "Stagnant incomes for Oregonians in the middle makes it hard for them to keep up with the rising costs of housing, child care and other essentials. Worse still, there's growing evidence that inequality hampers Oregon's economic growth."

The study called on Oregon lawmakers to confront inequality by ramping up investments in the education, job skills and health of all Oregonians, as well as in infrastructure. The Center said the state should pay for those investments by taxing the wealthy and corporations.

The Oregon Center for Public Policy (www.ocpp.org) is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center's goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.

Pondering

carlson

Some varied thoughts given recent events:

1) There’s something rotten in Denmark. Most folks are familiar with this line from Shakespeare’s Hamlet which has become a metaphor for corruption at the heart of a particular matter. In this instance it applies to the Idaho Treasurer’s office.

Enough serious questions have been raised regarding the management, or lack thereof, by Ron Crane that Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden ought to name an independent group of six to ten individuals to undertake an independent investigation and report back within 90 days with concrete recommendations.

Otter and Wasden could name someone like former Deputy AG Clive Strong to head up the panel, add a couple of sharp legislators like Idaho Falls Republican Senator Bart Davis and soon-to-be Pocatello Democratic Senator Mark Nye , and also add a couple of financial experts to sort through the charges and counter-charges and then present to the public a clear and simple picture of what has been occurring. Indeed, how much money has the state lost as a result of Crane’s alleged cronyism and mismanagement. There is indeed something rotten but spell it out clearly.

2) Questions in Need of Answers or Is Idaho about to buy another Pig in a poke? Before Governor Otter became a full-time career politician he held a major position in the Simplot Corporation. As such he should know the importance of putting together a sound and solid business plan that answers basic questions meant to satisfy lenders, developers, contractors and the public.

This is especially true when “public/private” ventures are formed which invariably provide nice financial gain for the private interests but somehow posit all the risk on the public half. After the problems and shenanigans surrounding the State’s involvement with the private prison firm, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), and its debacle in contracting with ENI to deliver broad band to Idaho schools one would think the Governor might be a bit more cautious.

But no, the governor is once again jumping before thoroughly vetting the state hooking up with a company comprised of private investors and a “face-savor” arrangement with Rice University to provide Idaho with a program leading to a Doctor of Osteopathy degree.

The program would be housed in the Meridian Office of Idaho State University, which the Board of Education has designated as the lead school for medical program offerings. ISU would provide support services.

Someone ought to be asking why the State of Montana, after a truly thorough due diligence process, rejected this same proposal. Has anyone seen a detailed business plan? Can anyone name all the investors and what the expected rate of return for each investor is?

How much profit is made off of each student? Why is there no formal residency arrangement for graduates to head into after completing this program? Why wasn’t the Idaho Medical Association consulted? If the program fails, who has most of the risk and how many dollars?

There are still too many unanswered questions, yet the Board, at the governor’s insistence, has already sanctioned the arrangement. There’s something fishy here also.

3) Bernie is correct about media bias. Over 400 superdelegates to the Democratic convention - largely current and former officeholders and party-officials, signed on with Hillary Clinton before the first primary. The media, led by CNN, dutifully started listing these as fully committed delegates when in fact they knew a substantial number of these folks switched to Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic convention. Yet they still claim to be fair and unbiased.

4) Helen was not the first. Overheard a customer in a café tell his companion the first and only female ever to serve in the Idaho congressional delegation was Helen Chenoweth. That just ain’t so. The first female member of Congress from Idaho was “Hell’s Belle” Gracie Pfost, from Nampa. She served ten years (1952-1962) representing Idaho’s First Congressional district.

She derived her colorful nickname because of her strident support for the federal government, as opposed to private power companies, being the builder of a high dam that would have completely flooded the most beautiful part of Hells Canyon.

Mrs. Pfost had two other firsts: 1) The first congressional candidate ever to defeat an opponent in the log rolling event held in conjunction with “timber day” events at county fairs; and, 2) She was in 1956 the Democratic half of the first ever all- female contest for a congressional seat across the nation, with the late, great Louise Shadduck being the Republican half.

Gracie won but six years later in 1962 she lost narrowly to former Governor Len B. Jordan in a race for one of Idaho’s seats in the United States Senate.

The movement

stapiluslogo1

The contest for the Democratic Party's nomination for president is over. Nearly everyone who will be voting around this country for a presidential nominee now has voted. Hillary Clinton has won enough delegate votes to win the nomination, including a strong majority of the pledged delegates. Most of the Bernie Sanders campaign staff is being laid off.

It was a strong race; it's over.

But for the Bernie Sanders campaign, this doesn't have to be it. There's an alternative to simply disbanding and going home.

It shouldn't disband.

The idea would mean transforming this temporary campaign for a party's nomination into a political action force, a force to elect Democrats that will back their goals and apply pressure on Democrats that weaken on them.

We've seen outside forces have major effects in recent years. The Occupy forces had real impact; they may have fizzled as a direct political action group, but they transformed the way many people thing about the economy and society in this country. The Tea Party may have been less coherent, but their activism made a real difference in political races all over this country.

Imagine now a force that has what neither of those two had:

A clear, worked-out vision both of what is wrong and steps that ought to be taken to correct it.

A well-structured organization, at the national down to the local level, in all 50 states.

A strong funding mechanism to pay for employees and fund campaigns.

The Sanders campaign has all those things, and more. It even has a person at the top who - for now - could set a general tone and approach and mediate between conflicting points of view.

The opportunity is there to build a strong organization that could put pressure on a Clinton Administration to remember promises made, and to deliver political clout in support when that administration is trying and struggling to get those things done. It could affect the course of the 2018 congressional elections, which as matters stand may continue the frustrating ding-dong approach of elections that cut in different directions every two years.

A chance for affecting the course of near-term American history is there for the Sanders people, in the weeks and months to come.

If they don't let it slip from their grasp.

Beware the seniors

rainey

Used to be, when people got to a certain age, they were supposed to follow the example of old elephants who - at that certain are - slowly walk out into the forest, lean against a tree and wait for the Grim Reaper. Then came “60 is the new 50,” “70 is the new 60,” and so forth. More exercise and better drugs, I guess.

These aging thoughts were brought to mind recently by a demographic survey done by the National Conference of State Legislatures and an outfit called “Stateline.” Ranked by the age of its members, Idaho’s Legislature is the second “oldest” in the country. Average age: 63. Oldest individual member: 80. Only New Hampshire averaged older: 66.

Our neighboring states came in quite a bit younger. Washington’s legislature averages 58 years with a general population average age of 47. Oregon’s lawmakers average 58 years with a population average of 46. Residents of Idaho average 47. If you’re thinking about average years of a member of Congress, it’s 59. Both parties are about identical. Democrats just seem older.

At the youngest end of the legislative spectrum, Puerto Rico and Michigan tied at 50 - with Florida third at an average of 51 years.

Now, before anyone hits the “reply” key to accuse me of “ageism” - whatever the Hell that is - let it known I am the same age as Idaho’s oldest member: 80. You may be thinking of this discussion of the elderly in terms of older folks. I’m talking about peers. And younger.

While the studies didn’t survey occupations, Idaho’s legislature has always had a high proportion of retirees. Nothing wrong with retirees, I guess, if they don’t hang around too long.

Case in point: Idaho’s late Rep. Don Maynard - a retiree from Sandpoint - who was in his 70's at the time. He spent most of the 1960's in the House. His one distinction: he never debated. Never. Nor did he sponsor any bills. He showed up every day, kept his mouth shut and voted when the bell rang. Until the final day of one particular session.

It had been unusually long that year. Lasted nearly till May. On the final day, the body got into a wrangle over something. Debate got heated. And long. Then, Rep. Maynard stood up and reached for his microphone - a microphone he never once used. The chamber fell silent - waiting to hear Maynard’s wise contribution to the lengthy discussion.

“I ask the members of this body to reach a quick solution to this issue and let the Speaker pronounce we are adjourned,” the ever-silent Maynard pleaded. “My wife is waiting in the ante room and the slot machines at Jackpot are getting colder.”

As members laughed, I was thinking at the press desk, “Four months of silence and this is his first contribution to debate? What the Hell has he been thinking all these years?”

People retire at different times and for different reasons. The way it should be. But there’s clear evidence many in politics hang around too long and become less of a representative of the people and more of a problem. Senators Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond come to mind. In later years - as they attempted to set some sort of record as “longest serving” - neither man could find his way from his office to the Senate chamber. And neither - despite previous legislative accomplishments - was contributing much but added payroll for on-the-job caregivers.

Commercial pilots are age-limited. In some states, so are other occupations. Cognitive abilities make no difference. Issues of risk and public safety take priority. Well, what about public good?

It’s doubtful there could ever be a qualification for public office because of advanced age. Certainly not for intelligence or common sense. But issues facing legislative and congressional bodies these days are complex, moving at a pace we’ve never seen before. More information faster and in larger amounts. Many our 70's and 80's may think we’re still able to keep up but, often, we really can’t. Just as our other, slower, age-related reflexes affect our athletic efforts or such things as our ability to drive as safely, our intellectual prowess isn’t as reliable, either.

For the last 30 years or so, Idaho’s legislature has suffered from arrogance, ignorance and outright stupidity dealing with some issues. Proof of that is found in the millions and millions of tax dollars paid to attorneys after losing cases involving legislative bone-headed decisions made while ignoring competent legal advice. And other millions awarded to individuals and organizations because of unconstitutional and illegal actions pursued - again, after being warned.

While some of that may be charged to nutcase, right wing political blackout regardless of age, I’d guess some older, not as sharp minds contributed as well. Not understanding the issues, not wanting to appear so to peers and more easily swayed by illegitimate arguments.

Taking stock of one’s physical and mental abilities in later years is not only wise, it’s absolutely essential if you want to enjoy that period you’ve been working and planning for. Endurance as a senior - physical and mental - is highly individualized and differs greatly. And, for some, stepping aside for younger folks not as experienced is hard to do.

But doing so is, more often than not, the right thing. And it should happen long before the overwhelming desire to play shuffleboard. Or go to Jackpot!

The voter-built agency

stapiluslogo1

Idaho voters over the years have had a hand in reshaping or founding several important state agencies, from the Department of Water Resources to the reapportionment commission. But the Department of Fish & Game may be the most voter-impacted of all.

The dispute ongoing now, involving two Fish & Game commissioners - Mark Doerr of Kimberly and Will Naillon of Challis – who were not reappointed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, makes for a direct reflection on some of that.

Idaho has had fishing and hunting rules since its early territorial days; the first were set in 1864, banning big game hunting for a period from February to July. But those rules were on the honor system. No one enforced fish or game law until after statehood, when in 1899 the Fish & Game Department was first created and a game warden was hired. (Maybe there’s an indicator here: Idaho is among the states referring to “game” in its agency name, while most other nearby states, such as Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Utah, refer to “wildlife”.)

That early agency was under direct political control, meaning that governors appointed the executives and oversaw the staff, and legislatures directly set much of the policy. Not many years passed before complaints began to surface. As early as 1911 the state Game Warden, Frank Kendall, advised “placing the fish and game department of Idaho on a scientific basis and in order to do so we must have men who have made this a study and are familiar with the needs and requirement of this line of work, regardless of political affiliations, and to this end I would recommend … we place the men who are directly in the fish and game department under a civil service ruling and retain them as long as they do good work.”

Sportsmen's groups started calling for the same thing, pressing the legislature to upgrade the state fish and game efforts. Lobbying over a span of 25 years by Idaho’s many hunters and fishers got them nowhere.

In 1938 they mobilized to place on the ballot their proposal, placing fish and game under control of a commission and requiring that officers hold and keep their jobs based on merit. At a time when suspicion of government expansion was not so different from now across much of Idaho, the initiative passed with 76 percent of the vote. That measure set the framework for the Department of Fish & Game still in place today.

Nothing in government can ever truly be “taken out of politics,” and in the broad sense shouldn’t be – that would mean the public has no input, no control. And there’s often some tension between what various people in the public, and sometimes their elected officials, want and what the fish and game department and commission do. But the measure of independence usually has been seen as a plus.

In 1995, new Governor Phil Batt asked for letters of resignation of the commissioners; he had wanted the departure of the then-director, Jerry Conley, and a number of policy changes. A statewide eruption ensued, and Batt dropped his request for the resignations.

He later told Idaho Public Television, “I found out that was a mistake, I apologized for it, and since that time I have never tried to influence any decision of the Fish and Game Commission. I don't think that I should. I do think that we all have to work together for the good of the State of Idaho, I've impressed that on them many a time, but I've never tried to tell them what they have to do or what they can't do.”

The tension is always there. Doerr and Naillon could tell you about that.