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Posts published in December 2016

Wrong way on freeway

carlson

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.

Leaning the other way

harris

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.

Life’s losses

rainey

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.

Eight years of promise

trahant

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

No more Hall columns?

stapiluslogo1

Please pardon the reminiscing, but the time of year encourages it, as did a newspaper column I read a few days ago.

The column from last weekend was by Bill Hall, whose writing base for about six decades has been the Lewiston Tribune. Its message was, that column would be his last.

By the time I arrived at the University of Idaho back in 1974, Hall already was renowned around Idaho for his editorials and columns at the Tribune. Soon after that he departed, for about a year and a half, to work for Senator Frank Church, and there wasn’t a certainty he’d be coming back. But Church lost his presidential bid in 1976, Hall wrote a book about it (“Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” from Washington State University Press, a great read on all three topics) and soon returned to Lewiston.

His departure and his return was much noted and not just in Lewiston, where Hall’s blistering, biting and often funny editorials so often launched political conversation in the mornings. It was a big deal statewide, even in the far reaches of the state, and even in the pre-Internet era. Politically-interested people considered it necessary to get hold of what Hall was saying.

One of the Tribune writers who worked closely with Hall, Jay Shelledy (now a journalism professor at Louisiana State University), was quoted in one article about Hall, “There are not many papers in the United States where the best-read page is the editorial page. Without question, Hall is the best-known journalist in the state's history.”

He learned about Idaho in the three corners of the state, growing up in Canyon County, then attending college and starting his newspaper career in Pocatello. By the time in 1965 he left for Lewiston, he already was well-schooled in Idaho politics. When I arrived at the Idaho State Journal newspaper a decade-plus after he’d left, I often prowled through his writings about local and state politics, using them to fill in gaps in what I was learning elsewhere.

By then I knew where to look because of Hall’s editorials, which I’d read at college and afterward. They were a lethal combination: Well informed and witty, and up for taking on just about anyone. Even Idaho hunters, as he wrote when the idea arose of a wildlife council picking Fish & Game Commission members: “That could be a two-edged sword because it might tend to give a disproportionate voice to those chronic whiners who want to blame state biologists every time they get too drunk, inept, or unlucky to kill an elk.”

Many newspapers shrink from editorial heat, but the Tribune never has. Hall’s view as I heard it was that he was good business: People might yell at the newspaper but they sure kept reading it.

Part of what allowed this to work was the unusual atmosphere at the Tribune, which issued punchy editorials before Hall’s tenure and has continued to since, under the local control of the Alford family. But Hall’s humor has been a critical individual part of the mix. Since his mid-70s hiatus his columns have been humorous, personal, often gentle – different to an almost drastic degree from the sometimes fiery editorialist. But the two sides could never be separated entirely, and a serious sensibility underlies even many of his more recent columns, since he retired from editorial writing in 2002.

No more Hall columns. Hardly seems like Idaho.

Surprises and opportunities

carlson

President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team continue to dish out surprises. The latest example is the bait and switch they pulled on Fifth District Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 47, from Spokane. Leaks from the transition team to the media, in this case no less than the Wall Street Journal, led media to believe she was Trump’s choice to be the 52nd Secretary of the Interior.

She may have been the president-elect’s preference, but she wasn’t the choice of eldest son, Donald Junior. Both Junior and Eric Trump love to hunt, and Junior made it abundantly clear last October at a fund-raiser for his father in a hangar at the Boise Airport that the Trump family opposed selling off any federal land to states or private entities.

In an interview with the Spokesman-Review’s intrepid Boise reporter, Betsy Russell, Donald Junior mentioned that while working in Nevada he enjoyed hunting and the access to good hunting. He readily conceded the family might be out of step with Republican orthodoxy, but he firmly believed turning over federal land to the states would ultimately lead to public sale of those lands.

We may never know whether in her interview on Monday at the Trump Tower the congresswoman stuck to her position that some lands ought to be sold by the Feds to states because in part the need for a greater supply of timber for cutting, or she indicated she could tailor her view to conform with Junior’s bias.

If she stuck to her guns on principal that may have done her in or if she indicated she could adapt that may have come across as expediency and that could have done her candidacy a fatal blow also. The guess is she stuck to principle.

It is a safe bet that the freshman congressman from Montana, Rep. Ryan Zinke, hammered home his opposition to the sale of any federal lands to the states. This also cinched support for Zinke from many of the nation’s hunting groups.

Whatever the reason, it was unconscionable the manner in which the transition team floated her name as a trial balloon then took note on how many of their base interest groups took potshots.

It is also a shame because Cathy McMorris-Rodgers is a pragmatic conservative and not an ideologue. The Department of the Interior over the years has worked much better with the former and done much to thwart the latter. It’s the difference between former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, who was wildly successful, and James Watt, who was an enormous failure.

She is the true conservative, one who knows it is the root word of conservation, which means resource conversion, whether it is wheat into bread, timber into 2 x 4’s, or minerals into metals is done sustainably.

The League of Conservation Voters, prematurely opposed her nomination. That was a mistake. She is the highest ranking Republican woman in the Congress, and she didn’t get there by accident.

She would have listened to the LCV and other environmental groups’ views and while not necessarily endorsing them all, would have incorporated what she could where she could. With Zinke it will be all adversarial. The “take no prisoners” attitude on the part of the ex-Navy SEAL will be problematic.

The congresswoman also would have brought a far more extensive background in dealing with Interior-related issues to the post. Based on “time in grade” and experience alone she is far more qualified than Zinke.

She represents a sprawling district highly dependent on sustainable resource conversion. Vaagen Brothers Timber is a major employer, so she follows closely timber supply issues and served with distinction on a bi-partisan legislative task force that worked diligently on possible solutions to the supply challenges..

She is conversant with Native American issues because the district has four tribes with reservations and she has worked well with all of them..

Though Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation operates the Grand Coulee Dam, the National Park Service runs the National Recreation Area behind the dam. Her office frequently has dealt with Interior’s Fish nd Wildlife Service as well as the Endangered Species office.

She is probably one of the few people who knows that the dollars which flow into the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be used by Uncle Sam to purchase significant sites threatened by development come from the royalties Uncle Sam receives for off-shore oil and gas leases.

McMorris also understands the critical role Interior plays in Alaska. It’s a safe bet she and Senator Lisa Murkowski would have become good friends.

Yes, McMorris is a devout Christian, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. She walks the talk and lets her actions speak. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan once wrote a book on President Reagan, entitled “When Character was King”.

If Donald Trump had selected Cathy McMorris-Rodgers to be his Interior Secretary, when her tenure was over people would know that character also has a queen.

From promises to policies

trahant

If, then, this. A series of three words explaining what happens in any new White House. If Donald Trump wins the presidency, then many (not all) of the promises made during the campaign become policy. And it happens starting next month when the Congress races to try and make this so.

But “if, then, this,” is also about people. Who staffs the new campaign, especially those who represent Indian Country? And who represents the opposition?

So let’s start with what we know.

It’s likely that President-elect Donald J. Trump will nominate Cathy McMorris Rodgers as the next Interior Secretary and Tom Price as the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Who joins them? Who has their ear? How will their broad views on public policy impact Indian Country? (Previous: Trump’s choice for Interior could risk salmon recovery, treaty rights.)

As The Atlantic said about Price. He will be running a massive federal healthcare agency, one that “administers the largest health-research centers in the world, most of the country’s public-health apparatus, the Indian Health Service, the Food and Drug Administration, and a collection of welfare and child-care services. While Price has a less-established policy record on many of these issues, his general philosophy of rolling back government spending and intervention suggests he may scale back HHS’s current efforts.” A less established policy record opens up a lot of questions.

Another appointment, yet to be announced, would be in the next president's executive office. Arizona State Sen. Carlyle Begay posted on Facebook: “It’s official … I’ll be working in the White House.” He doesn’t elaborate on the job title, but the most likely that post would be as a special assistant to the president on the Domestic Policy staff, a post now held by Karen Diver. Begay is Navajo.

One of the issues that the White House and Congress will have to flesh out is a proposal by Rep. Markwayne Mullin to reform the regulatory structure for tribal lands. A story in Reuters last week compared that plan to the termination, something that Mullin (who is a member of the Cherokee Nation) and former Interior Assistant Secretary Ross Swimmer say is not the case. Swimmer, who is also former principal chief for the Cherokee Nation, told Reuters: “It has to be done with an eye toward protecting sovereignty.”

Mullin said the press misunderstood him. He posted on Facebook: “This is a very personal and important issue for me and I want to clarify my actual comments that were distorted by the media. It is still and will always be my belief that the land entrusted to tribes belongs to the Native American people, and it ought to be up to them alone to decide how to best use and distribute the resources on their own land.”

Economist Terry Anderson has been making this case for years first from a think tank in Montana, The Property and Environment Research Center, and rom the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He wrote just last month: “President-elect Trump is well positioned to grant more freedom to Native Americans.” (Note to Republicans: If you are serious about making this a policy, I would avoid the ‘free the Indians’ narrative. This was Arthur Watkins’ pitch during termination. The phrase has a definite and failed context.)

As as will often be the case in a Trump White House, Anderson’s argument focuses on energy. “Considering the fact that tribes have an estimated $1.5 trillion in energy resources, President Trump should start by promoting more tribal authority over those resources,” Anderson wrote. “Such legislation is helping tribes like the coal-rich Crow. In 2013 it signed an option with Cloud Peak Energy, LLC to lease 1.4 billion tons of reservation coal. For the option, Cloud Peak paid the tribe $3.75 million and payments could increase to $10 million by 2018 if they start mining. These kinds of deals give Indians some reason for hope.”

If, then, this. Except. I would question at least one variable in this argument. If tribes have more say about resource extraction, then will tribes also have more say about environmental concerns? Does this logic give tribes a veto over resource extraction? Would that include approval or rejection of the Missouri River crossing of the Dakota Access Pipeline?

And specifically on coal, if there is a smaller global market for coal, then what’s the point? The International Energy Agency last year reduced its prediction for coal demand (after a decade of growing sales) in part because China’s consumption is dropping sharply. “The coal industry is facing huge pressures, and the main reason is China, but it is not the only reason,” said the agency’s executive director Fatih Birol. “The economic transformation in China and environmental policies worldwide – including the recent climate agreement in Paris – will likely continue to constrain global coal demand.”

That study predicts coal from India and Australia are growing and that the pipeline is already exceeding the capacity. “Probable” new export mining capacities amount to approximately 95 million tonnes per annum. But the current market environment strongly discourages investments as a substantial rebound of coal prices before 2020 is unlikely. Consequently, further postponements or cancellations of projects are expected.” So it’s not a great time to unleash coal as a market force (unless even lower prices are the goal).

If the world is moving past fossil fuel expansion, then the markets will not be there. This will not change even in a pro-coal administration.

If there is to be a Secretary McMorris Rodgers, then who would develop and implement policy for Indian Country as the Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs? There are a lot of talented Republicans who will be making their case in the next few days and weeks. You would hope that people who have served in previous administrations, such as Swimmer, will have a say in what qualities should be sought to match the requirements of the office. Same goes for elected leaders such as Mullin, Rep. Tom Cole, and even those in state governments, such as New Mexico Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, a member of the Navajo Nation.

The idea of “if, then, this,” is also important to the opposition party, the Democrats.

McMorris Rodgers must give up her congressional seat. And already there are three candidates. But former Colville Chairman Joe Pakootas said he will not run in a special election. He’s now chief executive of Spokane Tribal Enterprises.

But there other ballot possibilities. Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison is a candidate to chair the Democratic National Committee. If he were to win that job, then he has said he would give up his seat in Congress. Already on Twitter there is speculation that the best candidate for the House seat would be Minnesota Rep. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Band of Ojibwe.

If, then, this.

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.

Living with death

rainey

On Pacific Standard Time in December, it gets dark in our little seaside communities about 5:30. In off-season months, sidewalks are usually rolled up shortly after that. Outside of the bars, our “downtowns” are usually quiet till morning.

That’s how it was a few nights ago when a middle-aged transient, walking in our little business district, laid down in the middle of the southbound lane of Highway #101 - the main drag. He was wearing dark clothes. Street lighting at that location was not good. It was about 40 degrees at 9 o’clock. Rain and wind were the weather conditions.

It didn’t take long for the first car to come along. It hit the prone figure and rolled over him. Both wheels. The driver, who later said didn’t see anything given the conditions, pulled to the curb and stopped. He quickly got out of his car. But, within seconds, another vehicle came by, hitting the man again. Both wheels. He, too, stopped. He, too, hadn’t seen anything.

A cop got there within a couple of minutes. EMT’s as well. Nothing anyone could do.

The ensuing investigation found no fault in either driver. Both stopped immediately. Both remained at the scene to give what help they could. Cooperated in every way though obviously shaken. The body was removed. Onlookers eventually dispersed.

“O.K., folks. Move along. Move along. Nothing to see here.”

The deceased had no relatives. Anywhere. Local homeless folks interviewed provided the identity and said the dead man had been drinking but none saw him run over. Twice. The case remains open. For awhile. But not much more is expected to be added.

While there’s deserved sadness for the dead, my thoughts - and more than a few prayers - are with those two drivers whose lives will never be the same. I’m certain of that. I know because I watched my own father for many years.

During the depression, he drove professionally for a California commercial bus line. One dark, windy, rain-swept night, he was headed for Los Angeles with a full load of passengers. Driving on an unlit rural road.

Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw an image. Nothing identifiable. Quickly, he slammed on the brakes. The big bus slid forward as he fought to stay on the wet road. But, behind him, an 11-year-old boy lay on the highway along with his mangled bike. Died on the spot trying to get to a rural mailbox.

The ensuing investigation cleared my father. Passengers told authorities there was nothing he could have done. Conditions were bad. The child was in the wrong place. Dad reacted properly. It was “just an accident.” Just.

That was 1931. Dad passed away in 1990. He’d been a driving professional. But, in all those years, he never drove in the rain again. Not once. Mom, who was also an excellent driver, always took the wheel if it rained. Never another accident in the family.

But my father was psychologically scarred for life. An otherwise intelligent, strong, bright, hell-of-a-man could not find forgiveness, even with his deep and sturdy Presbyterian faith.

Now, in the aftermath of a local transient’s death - a death evidence shows couldn’t have been avoided given where he was and the conditions - my prayers are for the survivors.

The dead man’s gone. His worldly troubles are over. But the drivers. The two who “survived” the night. However long they live, neither will forget those terrible seconds. Those seconds when one - or both - killed another human being.

I don’t know if either - like Dad - will never drive in the rain again. I don’t know if they’ll be able to accept or rid themselves of the deep feelings of guilt and anger - even if it was determined the taking of another human’s life was purely an accident in which they had no "blame." But, being told you’re “innocent” in such a deadly experience doesn’t automatically wipe clean the minds of those involved. The survivors. Yeah. The “survivors.”

Our lives often are changed in a flash. A second or two. We’re jerked from our “realities” by a more urgent reality, forever altering everything that comes after.

So often, we concern ourselves with the dead. But, once in awhile, it’s the living for whom we should pray.