And we'll be back with you in the new annum.
Posts published in December 2016
A year ago, looking to 2016, I had more questions about the prospects than I did any flat predictions.
Now, at the edge of 2017, that’s even more true.
A new administration is about to take office in Washington, but anyone certain about what exactly that will mean – other than something a lot different from the last eight years – is kidding themselves. Think instead in terms of a range of possibilities, many possible things that might happen. Be surprised by none of what actually does.
Focusing more locally, and revisiting some thoughts from a year ago, here are some ideas to keep watch for in the next 365.
The Trump reaction. When Idaho Republicans were given the presidential primary election choice, they went decisively not for Donald Trump but for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the general election, of course, they went for the nominee, but how will they react to whatever it is that Trump does – recognizing that we really have no way of knowing what he will do. In some scenarios, Idaho Republicans may happily jump on board with a familiar Republican presence. In others, Trump may be something very different.
Boise downtown development. 2017 is supposed to be the big year Boise’s downtown redevelopment all comes together. Some pieces, like the JUMP center, already are done or nearly done. But large elements of work remain, and it was only in September that ground broke on the largest single piece of up-graded downtown property. Not everything will be finished then, of course. A new hotel will await, and Boise activity won’t come to a standstill. But 2017 should mark the point when Idaho gets to see what the capitol city’s downtown looks like for some time to come.
Less-wild fires? Idaho has been the scene of some massive, powerfully destructive wildfires in recent years. 2016 turned out to be a relative reprieve from those. (There were fires of course, but the biggest of them were generally fewer and smaller.) A year ago I suggested there would be some reason for hope because of a strong snowpack developing around the state by New Year’s. The snowpack now on average is looking not too different from a year ago. Call it a hopeful sign.
More of the same at the Legislature. Whatever you thought of the 2016 legislative session, you probably can bank on 2017 being similar but maybe more so. Returning issues probably will return, but if they got little traction last session, they’ll have trouble picking up speed in the next.
Even fewer Democrats. Nationally, Democrats found silver linings in congressional or state contests; in Idaho, you’d need a microscope to find them. The number of Democrats in the legislature actually fell, to the point that Idaho from north of Boise to Canada now has just one Democratic legislator. Democrats had a few serious shots in 2016 at making inroads in Ada County, with a county commission race and a District 15 House race, both involving strong, intensive campaigns. Both fell short. Where do Idaho Democrats go now?
Health care prospects dim. Efforts to try to push a Medicaid expansion through the Legislature next session now seem evaporated, and health care and insurance for a large number of Idahoans will be at increased risk this coming year. No realistic Idaho solutions are in sight.
In all, don’t expect any startling changes.
There is a book that those who follow Idaho history and politics must read if they want to garner more insight into people who have helped shape what the great state is today. Entitled Climb the Mountains, it is the memoir of one of Idaho’s fine public servants, former Second District Congressman Orval Hansen.
Now 90 years young, he has written a fascinating account of his remarkable life that provides not only insight into some the historic issues he had a hand in shaping while a member of the Idaho Legislature from Idaho Falls and then Congress, but also demonstrates there are still decent dedicated public servants who can and do render real service to their constituents.
There are nuggets of gold and pearls of political wisdom throughout the book. For example, the young Hansen already having been defeated in 1962 by Democrat Ralph Harding from Blackfoot in a bid to win the Congressional seat, expresses ambivalence about seeking the seat in 1968 when incumbent George Hansen (no relation) leaves the post to challenge Frank Church for his Senate seat.
Orval receives encouragement, but also some unsolicited advice, the best of which comes from a Democratic friend, former State Auditor Cal Wright, who had run with out success for governor in 1950 against one of Hansen’s political idols, former Governor Len B. Jordan.
Wright wrote, “You got where you are by being who you are. Don’t change.” No truer words have ever been written. This memoir, without coming across as egotistical or narcissistic reveals well just who this quiet, understated person is. In doing so it offers a map to others who may want to pursue a career in politics.
The book’s title is taken from a favorite John Muir quote, and references what is a metaphor for Orval Hansen’s life. Turns out that the author, along with some of his brothers and some of his children, has climbed and summited mountains all over the globe, from Kilimanjaro in Africa to South America to Nepal. Indeed, it says much about his independence that he doesn’t hesitate to quote one of the saints of the American environmental movement.
The book begins with a description of a climb with two of his brothers in the Tetons. He concludes the chapter by writing, “I learned a lot about life from climbing mountains. . . .In many respects my experience climbing in the Tetons that day was a metaphor for my life.”
He distills what he has learned into six dictates:
· Set a goal
· Carefully plan
· Work hard
· Be adaptible
· Make sacrifices
· Be lucky
Much of the book shows how he applies these to his life. What really comes across to a reader, though, is what a decent, honest, modest, sensitive, kind and intelligent person he is.
This may explain in part why he appears to feel he accomplished much more as a State legislator than as a member of Congress. He is fully justified to cite as among his life’s accomplishments the establishment of the Office of Legislative Council, legislative reapportionment, reform of banking laws, and his role in 1965 as a member of the historic 38th Idaho Legislature which passed the first sales tax to pay for fully funding public education.
Among his colleagues in this endeavor were several who went onto further notable public service: Cecil D. Andrus, Jim McClure, and Perry Swisher.
He gives credit for much of his political success to three political mentors - former Governors Len B. Jordan and Robert Smylie, and Louise Shadduck, first a colleague when both worked for Henry Dworshak, and then his administrative assistant when in Congress.
Other chapters cover his Scandinavian heritage, growing up on a farm and the discipline it instilled, his involvement with the Future Farmers of America as well as Rotary International, and his two years as a Seaman Second class on the carrier Saratoga while in the Navy at the end of World War II.
He modestly cites his education at the University of Idaho, his law degree from George Washington University in D.C., his graduate work at the London School of Economics, his meeting and subsequent marriage to his British actress spouse, June, travels to other countries, running marathons in his 60’s and his love of reading and the out-of-doors.
His devotion to family and to his LDS faith come through actions, not so much in written words.
It is a good and enjoyable read that well tells the life of a remarkable Idahoan, a real life man for all seasons who is the living definition of a nice person and a superb public servant.
News to some and “old news” to others, the hometown paper without a printing press will be searching for a new home if the building at Curtis and Irving sells.
Don Day at BOISEDEV first broke the story several weeks ago. A reader offered us a “breaking news” tip today and it appears after reading BoiseDev it is about as breaking as the evening news reports on TV.
The facility was built in the early 1970’s on six acres of land. The building is being offered for $6.9 million by multiple realtors including John L. Scott Realtors at 3.5% interest over 30 years. A sign on the property lists Colliers as the agent. There is no mention of the Statesman and the image on the Scott website does not include the logo of the legacy newspaper.
Newspapers in general have fallen on hard times and the STATESMAN has stumbled along in recent years with various owners, numerous redesigns, elimination of the printing press (the Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa prints the Statesman), amateurish attempts at video clips on the website, and a strong tendency to offer up “magazine-style” coverage.
Daily local news is often limited to press releases from government agencies, cops, and charitable organizations. The news staff produces some quality coverage, but only when there is no deadline and the stories are not timely.
More than 10 years ago we posted THIS. About the only real change has been the dominance of TV and the decline of the printed word. Of course, SMARTPHONES have been a major cultural and social change along with Tweets and Facebook. Just ask the President-elect who doesn’t have much use for newspaper reporters.
Sale of the building makes good sense from a business perspective. With no printing press and no need to store paper, there is no reason to have a plant and warehouse facility on six acres of prime industrial land.
We are awaiting word on what is included in the sale as well as where the Statesman plans to relocate.
In an astonishing turnabout on the world stage, it appears to be Vladimir Putin and the Ministry of Commerce in China who are advancing the cause of reason and common sense into the chaos of Trumps’ meanderings. Consider:
In a startling series of tweets and off-hand comments, Trump topped almost ten months of confusing and contradictory statements about his approach to nuclear weapons on Thursday by releasing a tweet which declared an intent to “greatly strengthen and expand [U.S.] nuclear capability, until such time as the world comes to its senses….” In the firestorm of comment that followed, Trump’s staff and hangers-on tried to circle quickly to explain that he didn’t really intend to restart the cold war. What he really meant, they suggested, was the continuation of the program to modernize the existing nuclear launching systems.
Under the START treaty, both the United States and Russia are on track toward reducing their total number of missile launchers and deployed warheads, but are engaged in modernizing the existing nuclear weapons systems – some of which are more than 50 years’ old. Sean Spicer, recently named as Trumps’ press secretary, suggested that this was what Trump was talking about, rather than any total increase in nuclear capability.
But Trump stepped back in and promptly doubled down on his original tweet, declaring that that starting a nuclear build-up was exactly what he meant. On Friday’s
“Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough quoted an off-air telephone conversation with Trump where he said he was fine with the country taking part in an arms race if it puts the U.S. in a stronger position against foreign adversaries. Rachel Maddow tried her best on her show to pin Kellyann Conway down, but received nothing but double talk. Although expressed in bumper-sticker tweets, the Trumps’ declaration has the entire world on edge.
Vladimir Putin, speaking at his annual marathon news conference, promptly released word that Russia had no interest in getting into an arms race with the United States. According to the New York Times, Putin said that Russia would continue to modernize its nuclear weapons, but would not seek new arms or develop new nuclear warheads. Any new Russian nuclear weapons would stay within the limits of existing treaties. Although Moscow and Washington have taken to rattling sabers more than in the past, the architecture of previous nuclear arms treaties has so far has seemed to have held.
Concerning China, Trump has named an economist with strong, controversial views on trade with China, to be an advisor to a newly formed trade council. Peter Navarro, an economist on the faculty of the University of California at Irvine, is the author of a number of books including the gloomy “Death by China: How America Lost its Manufacturing Base,” which appears to blame the loss of all manufacturing jobs in the rust belt and elsewhere on unfair trade practices and currency manipulation by China. The T.V. documentary proclaims in broadly stated and oft repeated generalities that nothing but woes and evil are in store for us unless we mend our ways in trade with China.
Navarro’s views are not widely shared among economists, most of whom opine that the shifting of labor intensive manufacturing resources away from the United States is caused by many factors, including expanding markets, dramatically improved shipping capabilities, automation and high technology, labor costs, and consumer demand. The concept that the singular problem of job loss in a given industry can be fashioned into a two way street between the United States and China, and thereby brought under control with a simple traffic device or toll both is a simplistic, naïve approach to a vastly more complicated set of interrelated circumstances.
Navarro’s book and the video ignore completely the actual statistics and overall burgeoning wealth of the United States. While there are certainly problems to address, and it is essential that trade with China be maintained with a wary eye, the gloomy, dystopian picture painted by Navarro is difficult to translate into reality. Worse, the clear indication from Navarro is that a trade war is inevitable, and needs to come sooner rather than later if American manufacturing is to survive.
The reaction from China has been immediate. Shen Danyang, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, said. "Regardless of what changes happen in the U.S. government - president, commerce secretary, trade representative - common interests (between the United States and China) are greater than differences." Reuters quotes a Chinese editorial: "The new administration should bear in mind that with economic and trade ties between the world's two largest economies now the closest they have ever been, any move to damage the win-win relationship will only result in a loss for both sides."
Our fervent hope, once the reality of Trumps’ election settled in, was that in the area of foreign policy at least, his bumper-sticker statements and late night tweets would subside during the transition; that Trump would take advantage of this time to assemble some individuals with knowledge and experience, particularly in the area of foreign policy, to guide him in these critical time. This prediction has gone the way of every single other prediction we have made so far.
Instead, Trump continues to confound and astound as he crashes and stumbles towards his formal inauguration, ignoring history and tradition and with no apparent concern for the immediate and potential consequences of his actions.
Who in their wildest dreams would imagine that we would look to Russia for solace?
Before we get to the subject at hand, let’s deal with several matters.
First, a confession. Though an Independent, I really now lean to the left a bit. But, compared to how far in the briar patch the national Republican Party is currently, I’m still a bit right of center. I started out as a Republican. So I know the spoor. They moved. I didn’t.
Second issue: for the purposes of this opining piece, I want us all to move to the middle. Shed your political leanings. Forget your party registration. Swallow hard and step out here in the barren middle with the rest of us - completely unclothed, politically speaking.
Now, focus on one of the four tenets of Rotary International: “Is It Fair?” Or, if you prefer, biblically speaking, think along the lines of “Do Unto Others.” Alrighty, now. Let’s get to work.
The subject at hand is either Cuba - or North Carolina. Unless you look really close these days, it’s awfully hard to tell them apart. Keep in mind, a Democrat won the governorship. Voters turned the GOP lifetime Dow Chemical employee out. Not decisively. But out. The GOP kept the legislature. Decisively. But not the governorship.
What that headed-out-the-door governor and the lame duck legislature have been doing in the last eight weeks passes neither the Rotary example nor the biblical admonition. Not by a long shot.
The Electoral Integrity Project (EIP) is a non-partisan outfit that grades democracies worldwide on a 100 point scale. That scale is based on many factors but, among them, are voter access to polling places, influence of state-controlled media and the potential that an election was rigged. EIP rates all kinds of places and elections.
For 2016, North Carolina received a score of 58/100. So did Cuba, Sierra Leone and Indonesia. Got that picture in mind? And that was just the election - not these last eight weeks.
UNC-Chapel Hill political scientist Dr. Andrew Reynolds wrote an op-ed for the Raleigh News & Observer in which he said “If it were a nation state, North Carolina would rank right in the middle of the global league table - a deeply flawed, partly free democracy only slightly ahead of the failed democracies that constitute much of the developing world.” Wow! In America? Yes, Virginia, in America.
Gov. McRory and those legislative sore winners have about gutted the duties of the incoming governor. Oh, he still gets a staff car, a new credit card and keys to the executive bathroom. But that’s about it. He won’t be able to appoint his own state cabinet officials without approval of that Republican-dominated Senate - which ain’t likely to occur. The number of state appointive positions to be filled by the governor has been cut by about 80%. So the holdovers he’s forced to accept will be what? Republican appointees, that’s what.
The number of members of the State Board of Elections has been increased from five to eight. But - the GOP legislature gets to appoint four so that’ll assure a tie vote and effectively deadlock things. There are some other new “handcuff” laws but you get the idea.
One other note. The NC Legislature had rigged voting districts so badly - to shut out Democrats - that a federal court struck down the map as “unconstitutional” as of Nov. 9th and ordered new lines and a special 2017 election. EIP found North Carolina has the “least democratic redistricting in the world.” Yes, the world!
EIP also noted the USofA is the only nation that allows politicians who run by district to design the districts they run in. Only one!
I’d guess, about this point, all who were able to shed your partisan feelings to stand out here politically naked with the rest of us can see why you were asked to do that. Whatever your leanings - whatever your political sensibilities - what’s happened in North Carolina is just plain wrong. And totally unfair. Winning is one thing. Breaking the rules - and the law - is a whole new ball game.
The issue of political redistricting has been considered an “inside-the-park” issue for too many years. It’s often done only by political insiders who, too often, set lines to assure their own or their party’s survival. Very little public input is allowed and most of the public hasn’t cared. But, if war is too important to be left to the generals, creating political districts is too important to be left to the politicians.
The only way out of this morally reprehensible practice is to allow the courts to create independent redistricting panels. Take the crayons out of the hands of self-serving partisans and put them in the hands of “civilians” so to speak. North Carolina has gotten so far in the swamp a federal judge has trashed all state redistricting and not only ordered a new plan but also a whole new state election.
I remember a longtime Idaho pol once telling me “When we’re out, they do it to us and, when we’re in, we do it to them.” That really does happen everywhere to some extent. But North Carolina - and a couple of its neighbors - have gone far beyond just “tit-for-tat.” Voters are being rejected, disqualified and ignored. Voting district gaming has broken federal and state laws. The voter’s choice for governor has been handcuffed so he can’t deliver what the voters said they were buying.
Anyone who thinks Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee and a few others aren’t standing in that North Carolina shadow haven’t been paying attention.
The issue of fair and proper redistricting is more important now than ever. With a dead-in-the-water Congress, the Koch boys and other zillionaires are going directly to the states for the political candy they want. They’re changing our laws, endangering our welfare and trying to design the kind of nation they want one state at a time.
North Carolina has become a political cancer. It’s time for some major surgery.
The Blaine County School District split deeply – the board’s vote was 3-2 – when it came to deciding whether to hire a lobbyist to represent it at the next state legislative session in Boise.
The vote went in the “yea” direction, with the support of the superintendent, who noted that such vital matters as the school funding formula, which determines how state money will be apportioned to the districts, already have been under discussion. The person hired was Phil Homer, who has been a lobbyist before, working for the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
Blaine is so far the only individual school district to take this step, and there’s been some commentary about whether it should. (There are also questions about whether various other governmental organizations, local and state, should hire lobbyists. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other school districts consider it. A lot of lobbyists prowl the Statehouse in-season, more of them than there are legislators. And they represent some fairly unexpected interests and organizations.
You can see the most current list for yourself (dated November 16) on the secretary of state’s website at https://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/lobbyist/2016/emplob.pdf. As you look at it, remind yourself that this is the Idaho Legislature, not Congress.
Plenty of local Idaho organizations are represented on the list, of course: The list includes the Associated General Contractors of Idaho and the Association of Idaho Cities, the Boise Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Charities of Idaho (yes, charities hire lobbyists too), the College of Western Idaho, the Flying B Ranch, Idaho Power Company and the J.R. Simplot Company, the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Micron Technology and Melaleuca Inc., St. Luke’s Health System, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Nearly every organization of substantial size in the Gem State has someone at the Statehouse looking out for them.
But they’re not alone. Remember, a number of these and other organizations also are connected to national counterpart organizations. Some of them designate staffers as lobbyists, and others hire contract lobbyists; the mix changes periodically.
None of these should come as a surprise. But you may be interested in some of the national names that seem to find it worthwhile to spend money on Idaho lobbying.
There’s Wilks Ranch Idaho LLC, for instance, based out of Cisco, Texas, but recently a big landowner in Idaho.
There are many more, large and not so large. Wal-Mart has a designated lobbyist for Idaho. So does Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, United Parcel Service, Uber Technologies (of San Francisco), Johnson & Johnson, Two Jinn Inc. (Aladdin Bail Bonds), Chevron USA, K12 (an education company), the Humane Society of the United States, Scion Dental, Pfizer Inc. (on of the world’s biggest pharma companies), MillerCoots LLC, Bayer Corporation and even the Bank of New York Mellon.
And many more.
What have they all to do with Idaho? What do they want, or not want, in or from the Gem State? And how might that relate to you?
Good questions, and not just for the Blaine County School District.
Lobbyists often get tagged as nefarious actors and that’s generally unfair. We all have a right to seek redress of grievances, whether directly or through someone paid to help us. And bear in mind that lobbyists are not a monolith; they often do battle with each other. Will their work benefit the rest of us, or not? The answer to that will depend on where you sit.
The next session begins in a couple of weeks.
Democrats across the nation and Idaho are engaged in a debate over the future direction of the party given its electoral loss of the presidency and continuing Republican gains at the state level.
In particular, there are those like Vice President Joe Biden, who openly criticize the failure of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to appeal to the traditional blue collar, middle class, white male worker who, if he has a job, worries about his company moving it overseas. For these usually reliable Democratic voters free trade has become a code phrase for job losses.
There are others, like former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who also lament the failure of the Clinton campaign to appeal to rural voters who comprise 15% of the electorate. Ignoring the issue of job creation and the needs of these two major constituencies is what cost Mrs. Clinton her expected victory.
Others argue that the white male is increasingly becoming a distinct minority in the American electorate and the party should rely upon continued growth among Hispanics as well as other minorities, new immigrants, urban dwellers, environmentalists, computer nerds, gays and lesbians, and women voters. The changing demographics favor staying on the Clinton “coalition” message, they say.
There’s a third group that says Democrats can do both---work for more jobs, but not abandon the social message. The race for the new chairperson of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has become a proxy fight in this debate.
One would think Idaho’s contribution to this debate would be to remind fellow Democrats there was a time when the conservative Idaho Republican electorate voted for Democrats to be governor - for 24 years. The Democratic candidates had the right message and the party should return to that message.
What was that winning message? It was what its best explicator, Cecil Andrus, called the “three e’s”: Democrats had to work on expanding the Economic base of the state; they had to support fully funding public Education for schools are the engine room, and they had to stand for reasonable Environmental protection of the many special areas across Idaho.
Every member of the Democratic National Committee ought to have branded on their forehead the concisely stated Andrus philosophy: “First, you have to make a living. Then, you have to have a living worthwhile.” The road back starts with embracing a message that says we’re all about job creation - and the key to good well-paying jobs is a truly modern educational system coupled with a good environment where one can recreate during their time off.
One would think that would be the message for Democrats from Idaho to the DNC.
So what is Idaho’s message? It is that Idaho does not think “message change” is in order; rather, it thinks the DNC ought to change the messenger. And, oh, by the way, Idaho just happens to have the right messenger.
That’s correct, folks, the executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, Sally Boynton-Brown, thinks she has “a unique skillset that joins high level strategic thinking with day-to-day operational execution.”
Many Democrats across the state challenge that claim, and with reason.
These critics correctly point out that while she has been executive director Idaho Democrats have never won a major statewide or federal office. Most believe a DNC chair has to have overseen a few wins.
Secondly, a DNC chair has to be able to raise money - lots of it. Literally, millions of dollars. They have to have extensive contact lists and have developed relationships with the party’s major heavy hitters. There is zero evidence that Ms. Boynton-Brown could do this.
In her e-mail announcement to fellow Idaho Democrats she claimed to be “accessible, responsive” and . . . . “a professional who people trust.” There are Democrats who would challenge all those claims.
Finally, contenders for the DNC often have to spend several hundred thousand dollars while seeking the designation. Few believe she has the resources (Though her husband may), whether her own or otherwise, to pursue the chair. Indeed, if she unilaterally spends any State Democratic funds without the explicit permission of the state party’s executive committee, there will be hell to pay.
She appears to think that since she is the only female among the seven current contenders, all the women on the DNC committee will fall in line. She also must think that her three years as chair of the Association of Democratic State Executive Directors will translate into votes.
That is dubious and almost laughable, much like the hyperbole in her announcement.
The on ramp to the freeway to ensure future success is the importance of walking the talk of job growth and the economy. It is not selecting a chair who more than likely will take the party down the exit ramp of a freeway.
Independents (IPO and NAVs) generally support reasonable compromise for the betterment of all Oregonians. This last election provided significant evidence (see Dennis Richardson for Secretary of State and Ron Noble in the House) that i/Independents can swing close races. While i/Independents currently lean about 45% Republican and 55% Democratic, the vast majority are moderate, and in the right race at the right time can be persuaded to lean another way. Hence Secretary of State Richardson.
The well informed Independent voters- making up perhaps 5-10 percent of the total voter population, will watch this legislative session as Democrats and Republicans make their cases and offer their alternative Oregon futures. If the Democrats push through the Our Oregon proposal and 2017 ends up being the blood bath many expect, it holds the possibility that many Democratic leaning i/Independents, especially those that voted for Richardson, could end up more often leaning Republican. But if i/Independent voters believe both parties are equally to blame, i/Independent leanings will remain the same. A pox on both parties attitude.
At this point, the Senate Republicans are the only ones channeling i/Independent voters. While the more rabid Oregon House Republicans may not like it, for Republicans to win over Democratic leaning i/Independents the GOP will have to compromise and work with the majority Democrats to get the best deal they can.
That will not make the far right Republicans happy. But here in Oregon, the Trump or Tea Party or social conservative strategy isn’t going to work. A moderate pro i/Independent path is the only way the Oregon GOP has ever reached majority status.
I’ve lost some longtime friends recently. One of them I’ve known and cared about for more 40 years. It hurt. That’s their choice. To my mind, we’re each poorer for loss of future contact. But it is what it is.
A recent column dealing primarily with my belief the Electoral College has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished in favor of a direct vote system apparently set several off. Seemed fairly straightforward journalism - here’s a problem and a suggested solution. Don’t agree? Come up with your own.
But in several emails, I’ve been accused of being a “divider.” The word “crap” was used a lot of times. Two I’ve lost told me they ignored previous columns (“crap”) and they wanted no more “crap.” There were other cutting accusations about liberals and such.
Their epistles arrived a day after Barb and I had been to church. The pastor’s sermon included remarks about inclusiveness, patience and trying to work together. Healing, as it were.
I’ve heard and read a lot about those words in the days following our recent national election. They’ve come from good, well-meaning, intelligent people and competent scribes. All good advice. If ever our nation needed to live by those admonitions, it’s certainly now.
Problem is, those words are being used primarily by people who voted against the winner. Liberals and moderates, mostly. Democrats and Republicans. But read Twitter or Facebook or other “social” media. You’ll discover kind words - the gentle words - the inclusive words - are coming mostly from folks who lost. It’s the ones who backed the winner more often using racial epithets, telling people to “go back where you came from,” “get the Hell out of ‘our’ country,” badgering/maligning blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Muslims and other “non-white” folks. Loudly and repeatedly using the “N” word.
Reports of racial threats and physical attacks are coming from kindergartens to grad schools. And in the streets. Confederate flags are all over the I-net, on vehicles and on “social” media. Hate radio is spewing more than just the usual lies and verbal venom. The President-elect himself has already threatened the national media, promised to arrest or deport more than 3-million immigrants, talking of forcing Muslims to register, to stack the Supreme Court, overturn various laws he doesn’t like and abridge or unilaterally end compacts and international agreements. And that’s all in less than a month.
He’s made appointments to his incoming administration that include acknowledged racists, anti-Semites, lobbyists he promised supporters he’d “run out of Washington” and the just plain ignorant and unqualified. He’s pledged to “put Planned Parenthood out of business” and made threats against many individuals. His representatives have warned members of Congress they may face legal action for critical public statements and hinted broadly at reprisals against anyone opposing actions of the new administration.
Now, I’m a peaceful fella. I’d like nothing better than to “live in harmony” with everyone. I mean EVERYONE! As Professor Higgins said, “I’ve the milk of human kindness by the quart in every vein.”
BUT - you can’t make peace or “live in harmony” when folks who disagree with your political likes and dislikes make open, nasty threats from the top down! It won’t work.
Wounds in this nation are deep. Divisions are the size of large canyons. Acrimony and hate flow steadily from right wing nut groups. Limbaugh and his fellow travelers think they’ve been granted a new, special license to turn up the volume and take their belligerence and lies to a new level. Statistics show marriages and even business partnerships ending because of national divisiveness.
Millions of Hispanics, Muslims and Asians are living in fear. They’re facing increased daily harassment, their mosques and other religious buildings are being defaced or burned. They’re shunned or threatened just for being in a store or on a public street.
There’s a hard fact to face here. And it’s this. National civility, national harmony, national acceptance of those different from ourselves will not come from talk of “niceness,” “love,” “peace,” religion or protests in the streets. We passed those points long ago. We’re way, way beyond that.
What more likely will turn this “ship-of-state” around is for good people, smart people, committed people to step up, put themselves on the line and be elected to public office - top to bottom. It’ll likely take a generation or two. After all, “ships-of-state” are very large and cumbersome and take a long time to change direction.
Many members of Congress have wandered far from their elected responsibilities. Too many see their elected roles as maintaining full time employment. Too many have no idea what their duties are or how to conduct themselves as servants of the people. Too many have welcomed moneychangers into the temple, selling their votes to the highest bidders.
The housecleaning must include city halls and county courthouses as well. They’re often training grounds for those who run for higher office. We must have the best people possible on these “farm teams.”
There’s really no other way. This is one of those cases where leadership must start at both the top and bottom. A new tone must be determined, set, explained, leaders must lead and workers must work. There are millions of us out here who’ll acknowledge effective leadership when we see it and follow it when we trust it.
I’m going to miss some people in my life. Their choice. But I’m going to keep believing the rest of us must get out here, on common ground, deal with the realities we face and work for more effective and responsible government. That’s my choice.
It’s easy to think about politics as being about elections. We concentrate so much of our attention, our money, and our energy on campaigns. But then what? Most politicians run because they want to change things. They want government to be effective, to use the machinery of state for We, the People.
Pull back the lens and look at the past eight years and Denise Juneau’s term as Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. Yes, it was a big deal for her to get elected. She is the first, and only, American Indian woman to hold a state constitutional office (such as governor or attorney general). But then what?
“I have had a great time being Superintendent of Public Instruction. Eight years of working with communities across this state on Graduation Matters Montana, on Schools of Promise, on Farm to School, we could run down a whole litany of different topics,” Juneau said last week at the Montana Budget and Policy Center’s Legislative Summit. “There is really a lot to be proud of.”
In what Juneau said was her last public speech as Montana’s school superintendent she credited the work of Montana Budget and Policy Center and other community groups that worked together to bring about change. Take Graduation Matters Montana.
“When I first stepped into office, drop out rates were too high, way too many students were dropping out of school, and we used data, and we talked about information, we talked about reasons,” Juneau said. “The information you can then use to advocate for change. That change has actually resulted in 58 communities across this state pulling people together at a community level to get things done.”
The result: Raising Montana’s graduation rates to historic highs for two years in a row. And, at the same time, raising academic standards in English, math, science, arts, and health, so that that a high school diploma is more valuable.
Another successful effort was the Schools of Promise program in Montana’s tribal communities. That program, which began shortly after Juneau took office in 2009, were grants targeted to reservation communities and “struggling schools.” That program invested state resources, including an unprecedented 22 employees, so that the schools could get grants to improve everything from teaching to school leadership.
“I have learned from this position that being an advocate is so important, being able to use the position that you have, to talk to people about the important things that need to happen,” Juneau said. “I have just had a blast being the top advocate for public education for the last eight years and I could not be more proud of the work that happened.”
Juneau also talked about her recent bid for Congress. She joins a remarkable group of Native American women who have run for that office, including: Jeanne Givens in Idaho, Diane Benson in Alaska, Ada Deer in Wisconsin, Kalyn Free in Oklahoma, and in Arizona, Wenona Benally, Mary Kim Titla and Victoria Steele. I reject the word, “unsuccessful.” It’s true that none of these candidates were elected. Yet. And every campaign, every challenge, only pushes the door open a bit wider. So: One day, soon.
“I am sad that I lost, but I do not feel bad about our campaign because we ran a damn good campaign,” Juneau said. “We raised more money than any Democrat that’s ever been in this race, we had good ads, we had great advocates out in the community, we had organizations helping us, we did everything we were supposed to do. We just lost. Those are bitter pills to swallow, but sometimes that’s what happens.” (Previous: Juneau for president?)
She said it doesn’t mean you get out of the game. “You stay in there and find other avenues to fight in and you make sure you are always, continually pushing what is in your heart and what is in your mind that you know is right,” she said. “Because if we don’t, nobody else will.”
And who knows what door will open next? “I am looking forward to doors opening, figuring out if I want to take advantage of that and bringing people with me,” Juneau said. “That’s what this game is about.”
Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports