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Posts published in “Year: 2016”

All I want for Christmas …

carlson

Unless one attended the University of Idaho during the late 60’s or the 70’s and 80’s, chances are good they have never heard of Syd Duncombe.

Not one to toot his own horn, he was nonetheless one of the most beloved instructors on the campus. Several generations of future Idaho political leadership started to learn the craft in Duncombe’s political science courses.

A case can be made for putting him on the 100 Most Politically Influential Idahoans list. The list of Duncombe’s accolytes and fans is a virtual Who’s Who of Idaho political leadership: Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor, senator and Interior secretary; Larry Craig, former senator; Steve Symms, former member of Congress and senator; David Leroy, former attorney general and lieutenant governor; Robie Russell, former Region 10 EPA Director; Jim Risch, a former governor and current senator; and, Phil Reberger, a former Kempthorne chief of staff, to name just a few.

Duncombe was noted for keeping his students engaged by a facility to costume dress coupled with role playing. His lectures were often SRO. His enthusiasm for politics was infectious.

One of the paradoxes for Duncombe was almost all his students, especially those who later ran for office, became or were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. Duncombe was a life-long Democrat and as recently as 2012, a daughter, Mary Ellen Haley, was defeated in a race for a legislative seat in Idaho Falls while running as a Democrat.

Duncombe, however, was not a hard partisan and worked in a very non-partisan way with governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Duncombe was introduced to the then young State Senator Cecil D. Andrus from Clearwater County by Gordon Law, an instructor in the television/radio bureau (the forerunner of KAID-Television and the IPTV) at a reception on campus in the fall of 1965. Both Duncombe and his wife, Mary, became life-long Andrus supporters suffering through the double loss in the 1966 gubernatorial race and the comeback victory in 1970.

Shortly after his victory Andrus asked Duncombe, who had been a budget analyst for the state of Ohio before entering academia, to help him put together his first budget, a task which Duncombe took to with relish.

He did such a good job that Andrus offered him the post of State Budget director, but Duncombe, who had worked on a volunteer basis, declined not wanting to give up his tenured position at the University of Idaho. He remained a close friend and advisor to Andrus even after he retired from teaching in 1987 shortly after Andrus began his second stint as Idaho governor.

When not teaching Duncombe loved to backpack various wilderness parts of Idaho often leading family members into remote mountain lakes in the Sawtooths or the Big Horn Crags.

In his retirement, unbeknown to any but a few family members and close friends, Duncombe took up writing fiction with political machinations and mystery woven into fascinating plots. Using an old typewriter he pounded out several books that drew on his knowledge of politics as well as the role budget directors play in government.

The result was two fine reads, The Unlikely Candidate, the story of a retired budget director who runs for the Idaho State Senate as a way to expose budget shenanigans by a governor, and Freedom County, a murder mystery that is set in a county that is a cross between Lemhi and Custer counties that is taken over by the posse comitatus.

Duncombe’s third novel, Blizzard in August, is based on a true incident, a freakish late August blizzard that beset the Sawtooths in 1969 and caught many backpackers unprepared for such weather in late summer.

Anyone who has hiked the Sawtooths will recognize the settings and it also has a romance element including a sex scene that surely embarrassed Duncombe’s family.

All three of these books were self-published and never marketed, so only a few folks were aware of their existence. The books were rediscovered last year and the family was approached on republishing them with some marketing support. The family agreed with their share of sales proceeds being contributed to the Syd Duncombe scholarship in political science fund at the University of Idaho.

Randy Stapilus, a former Idaho newsman who has specialized in books on Idaho politics well as other things, his firm, through Ridenbaugh Press, agreed to republish the books with new forwards written by former students of Duncombe’s. The Communications Department at the university is assisting with some target marketing to Idaho alums.

Look for the books at a bookstore near you or go to RidenbaughPress.com for more information. The set of three makes a terrific Christmas gift for any one who loves politics and Idaho.

Who’s evolved?

watkins

Several years ago we had a small pet rat colony – four of them (all females BTW). As we observed this little group we noticed they had formed a little society: There was the “Lookout” rat who always sat where she could monitor the entire room and watch for any danger; the “Shopper” rat who was responsible for bringing back food and supplies to the main cage (we had a bit of a maze and left food in various areas); and there was the “Homemaker” rat who spent her days cleaning and rearranging the nests and food supply.

And last, there was the one we called the “Welfare” rat. We never actually saw her involved in any activity that added to the quality of life for this little group, but with zero reluctance or animosity the others shared with her the fruits of their labors. For whatever the reason, the other three seemed to have determined that she needed care and protection, and they gave it willingly.

This little society has been heavily on my mind the last few weeks – and especially the last few days as I've ended up in discussions about the funding and necessity of the social assistance programs in our country, and what's going to happen to them as we begin a new era of government.

I have two friends whose viewpoints regarding the Affordable Care Act and Medicare/Medicaid differ greatly from mine. As I listen to their arguments against these programs one attitude stands out: “I worked and paid for MY healthcare and I resent having to help subsidize anyone else. Let them go out and get their own job and pay for their own healthcare.”

Of course, both of these individuals seem to think that the only people in need of societal assistance and support are the drug addicts and alcoholics. They forget about some of the folks my friend who runs a soup kitchen tells me about: The couple from out of town who are trying to qualify for assistance for her cancer treatment. They are sleeping in their car because they have no money.

And there's the young guy my friend is helping to get surgery … he had a stroke which did some great mental damage and rendered him incapable of holding a normal job. He became homeless and the years of living rough have deteriorated his physical condition to the point where he now lives with chronic severe pain. There are surgeries that could help him, but he's not mentally capable of dealing with the bureaucracy that will get him help. So when he can get in to see a doctor, they just prescribe pain killers … addictive pain killers. And the addiction of course makes it that much more difficult for him to communicate or pursue a more permanent fix which in turn could enable him to hold down a job.

But...he's an addict, so why do we want to share our hard-earned money to help him?

And I think of a friend who at least has a family and support network in place, but who suffered a brain aneurysm several years ago. She can no longer work and their family went from being comfortable middle class to moving back in with parents and struggling to keep the bills paid.

Of the 20 million people who now have some health coverage thanks to Obamacare; and of the millions more on Medicare and Medicaid, these stories are the far more common. And yet, my one friend tells me that for people living in states that have turned down the Obamacare assistance – it's not a problem. People with chronic issues can still get help; they can just go to the emergency room.

Apparently she doesn't get that someone in need of surgery is not likely to get it from an emergency room visit; someone with a chronic, debilitating condition such as – say, kidney failure – cannot show up at the emergency room for a regular dialysis treatment. And never mind that ultimately all of us do pay for those emergency room visits which are passed on in higher charges for the patients who do have insurance; and higher county and state indigency subsidies which come out of our taxes.

Of course, we don't have to worry about them for long because they do die off a lot sooner.

Now, my friend actually does have a degenerative nerve disease and she has refused to give in to the relentless progression. She continues to work and to drive herself … and stay out of a wheelchair. I admire and honor her courage and her determination to keep going and to care for herself. But I also know that very few of us are that determined and that strong nor do we all end up with some of the resources that she had and was able to exploit when her condition was first diagnosed.

When last I spoke with her, she was, in fact delivering turkeys to a local food bank because, “Even poor people have a right to a turkey on Thanksgiving.” But, apparently, they don't have a right to medical care if they can't pay for it.

My other friend just feels that she and her husband worked hard and paid for everything they got; and she resents now having to again pay for Medicare when the money she paid in when she was working just got dumped into the General Fund – at least that's what she was told by the folks at Medicare – and by golly, if you didn't work to pay for your Medicare, why should she help you out?

Which makes me think of my neighbor who was a stay-at-home mom; she raised her children – and then she raised foster children – a bunch of them! – and so she never had a job with a paycheck that had Medicare or Social Security deducted. She can barely make ends meet with what little pension she gets from her deceased husband's retirement; rent, utilities and food pretty well eat that up.

And yet, she performed a pretty valuable service to our society. Don't we owe her something? At a minimum decent health care? According to my friend, we don't.

I think of both of my friends as loving, caring – good people. They attend church. They donate to various causes. But, they seem to have a blind spot when it comes to who “deserves” medical care: not someone who didn't work and earn it; not drug addicts; not the homeless or jobless; not immigrants; not the mentally or physically disabled. Nobody, it seems other than people like themselves. The rest? Well, they'll just have to live in pain and misery because nobody should be asked to share their resources with those who don't have any.

So, I think about our little rat colony, and I have to ask myself: Which of us is actually the more evolved species?

The brokest states

rainey

“Brokest.” Interesting word. Doesn’t exist. But it should. In this age of disintegrating media accuracy, one national outlet used that word in a headline. “Brokest.”

Regardless of the linguistic ignorance, the story really was about the “brokest” states in our nation. The ten at the bottom . The ten, based on household wealth and income, that showed up in a 2014 Federal Reserve survey - a sampling conducted every three years.

Now, I don’t know how much research time was devoted to this work by our national government. Nor do I know the cost. But, in 2017, when it’s done again, I hope they call me first and give me a chance to bid. ‘Cause their conclusion was the same as mine. Yours, too, I’d guess. These were the words in the summary. “The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.” Wow! They actually paid for that?

Now, an outfit called “WalletHub” has analyzed that pile of stats and tweeked the formula to update the rankings. It used income, gross domestic product per capita and federal taxes paid per capita. A double weighting was given to income because of its importance. Nearly the same results.

Here they are in order from 40 down to 50. The “brokest”10: Maine, Montana, Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Alabama, West Virginia and, as usual in nearly any survey of just about anything, Mississippi dead last. 50th.

One interesting commonality jumps out when you look at these 10 that wound up on the economic bottom. They all have Republican governors and GOP control of the legislatures in either one house or both. In other words, Republicans call the shots in each state. Nary a single Democrat control in any.

I suspect if we had a survey of this type now there would be at least one change in the ranking. I’d guess Kansas would replace Mississippi at the very bottom. Ol’ Gov. Brownback and his mossy legislative brothers and sisters have whittled and carved on so many state budgets Kansas couldn’t get a loan from the Mafia.

Given the overwhelming GOP persuasion of those in charge, it would seem budgeting decisions in those states have been made mostly for political expediency rather than actual need.

The two can coexist, as many of the states in the middle rankings can attest. But, when ideology trumps need, there’s seldom a reasonable balance. Idaho Republicans, with continuing abject refusal to extend health insurance coverage to nearly 100,000 uninsured, is such an example. A long-lasting Idaho GOP propensity to create bad laws while rejecting competent legal advice is another. Many millions of Idaho tax dollars have been paid out because of laws based on faulty political “thought” and an absence of common sense.

Certainly not all states suffer economically because of Republican economic intransigence and decisions based on philosophy rather than need. Some are doing quite well. Ranking nicely in the Federal Reserve and WalletHub surveys.

But, what about the top states? What about the ones ranking highest when dealing with income and all that? Who are they and what’s their makeup? Glad you asked. The top five, in reverse order: Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut and a tie for first place with New Jersey and the District of Columbia. How ‘bout that?

And the political makeup? Three have Democrat governors and all are in Democrat legislative control of one or both houses. In the case of DC, the mayor and city council are all Democrats.

Now, I’m not saying Republicans are bad at economics and Democrats are better. But, the rankings by economic factors, and the politics of the governments of the top and bottom states, make for some interesting thought.

One fact does seem to float to the surface. When budgetary needs of a government are answered with true economic means rather than political expediency or other non-budgetary considerations, those states tend to rise to the top of the rankings. Reverse that formula and they drop to the bottom.

And nobody wants to be among the “brokest.” Nobody.

Now or later

stapiluslogo1

We see examples of this all over, in our personal lives as well as public. Fix a small leak in your house’s roof today, or wait and let it become a much more expensive problem in a year or two.

Or a minor pothole in the road that turns into a major repair project after several months of neglect.

There’s a common phrase for it: “Pay me now, or pay me later.” With the “later” usually being a lot more pricey.

Last week came another good example, and we’ll be interested to see how the Idaho Legislature responds.

This comes in a request by the state Department of Health and Welfare – there’s one strike, since hardly anyone in official Idaho really likes funding those guys – for new funding (how are you going to manage tax cuts if you go adding more spending?), to the tune of $11.2 million. At least the amount is modest in the context of state budgeting. What would it be going for? Drug and mental health treatment? You can almost feel the lack of legislator ardor.

You might say the proposal doesn’t enter the process on a glide path to passage.

Here’s the background.

In Idaho, about 15,000 people are “in the system” of state probation and parole. Officials have been breaking them out into categories, based on risk of having to return or send them to prison. Around 2,000 are considered low-risk, so the parole and probation people have begun to keep them on a looser leash.

The higher-risk probationers and parolees are another matter. In a great many cases, half or more, these are people who have drug abuse and mental health problems.

Those factors have a lot to do with how much time and effort our “system” spends on them. I’ve seen this personally recently, watching not far from where I live a household with people snarled in drug and mental issues turn into a problem for the area, with local law enforcement, jails, probation and parole spending endless hours over a period of years trying to deal with it. You probably can easily find similar examples in your community. (If you can’t, just ask your local police.)

So: The $11.2 million DHW is seeking would go toward providing drug rehabilitation and treatment and mental health services directed toward the significant number of parolees who would benefit from them.

Getting back to the matter of paying now or later: A study last year by the Western Intermountain Commission on Higher Education estimated the average cost for this kind of drug/mental help would amount to about $1,514 per offender.

The state now spends about $30,400 per offender to manage these people through conventional probation and parole. More than a third of felon offenders typically have returned to prison, where the cost for housing them is upwards of $20,000 a year – but that’s just the beginning, if they’re then paroled out again (or even serve their terms and then return to the streets unprepared). They will again, one way and another, eat up many our dollars, tax dollars and otherwise.

We could pay all that, or ... a much smaller amount on the front end, and maybe even get a productive citizen out of the deal.

We’ll see what the Idaho Legislature does.

Trump and tribal sovereignty

trahant

A few years ago I had a chance to ask President George Bush what he thought about tribal sovereignty in the 21st century. His answer went viral: “Tribal sovereignty means that. It’s sovereign. You’re a … you’re a … you’ve been given sovereignty and you’re viewed as a sovereign entity.”

Think about that question today; we would be lucky to get a similar answer. Bush (except for the “given” part) was correct: tribal sovereign means that, you’re sovereign.

This idea is relevant now because during the campaign Donald Trump was dismissive of any sovereignty except his perception of what America’s sovereignty is all about.

So a treaty with Mexico and Canada? Junk it, day one. A United States pledge to reduce global warming? Out. Perhaps even historic military alliances will disappear into lost budgets.

And when it comes to the federal relationship with American Indian and Alaska Native governments as sovereigns we will likely see ideas pop up that were long ago discarded as impractical, expensive, or out-and-out wrong.

At the top of that list: Shifting power from the federal government to state capitals. That was Ronald Reagan’s plan when he came to Washington. In 1981 he proposed rolling dozens of federal programs into block grants for states. Then the budget was cut by 25 percent, the argument being states could deliver the services more efficiently. But a Republican Senate didn’t buy the whole plan. In the end most of the programs were managed by states, but under federal oversight. According to Congressional Quarterly, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, then chairman of the Senate Labor Committee said at the time, it was the best deal possible. “We’ve come 70 to 80 percent of the way to block grants,” Hatch said. “The administration is committed to pure block grants, and so am I. But there was no way we could do that.”

Expect Hatch, and House Speaker Paul Ryan, to take another shot at substantial block grants to states, representing a fundamental shift for programs that serve American Indians and Alaska Natives.

Ryan’s agenda, “A Better Way,” proposes to do this with Medicaid. It says: “Instead of shackling states with more mandates, our plan empowers states to design Medicaid programs that best meet their needs, which will help reduce costs and improve care for our most vulnerable citizens.”

This is a significant issue for the Indian health system. Under current law, Medicaid is a partnership between the federal and state governments. But states get a 100 percent federal match for patients within the Indian health system. Four-in-ten Native Americans are eligible for Medicaid funding, and, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, at least 65,000 Native Americans don’t get coverage because they live in states that did not expand Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act, which is priority one for repeal and replacement, used third-party billing as a funding source for Indian health programs because it could grow without congressional appropriations. The idea is that when a person is eligible, the money is there. The Indian Health Service budget in fy 2017 includes $1.19 billion in third-party billing, $807 million from Medicaid programs. This funding source is especially important because by law third-party billing remains at the local clinic or other unit. And, most important, when the Indian Health Service runs short of appropriated dollars it rations health care. That’s not the case with Medicaid funding.

One problem with the Affordable Care Act (after a Supreme Court decision) is that not every state participates in Medicaid expansion. So an IHS clinic in South Dakota would have less local resources than in North Dakota or Montana. This especially important for health care that is purchased outside of the Indian health system.

The most important gain from the Affordable Care Act has been insuring Native children. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation: “Medicaid plays a more expansive role for American Indian and Alaska Native children than adults, covering more than half of American Indian and Alaska Native children (51%), but their uninsured rate is still nearly twice as high as the national rate for children (11% vs. 6%).”

Ryan’s House plan would convert Medicaid spending to a per capita entitlement or a block grant depending on the state’s choice. There is no indication yet how the Indian health system would get funded through such a mechanism.

During the campaign Trump promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act, including Medicaid expansion, but said there would be a replacement insurance program of some kind.

Earlier this year Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, and Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota, introduced legislation to “improve accountability and transparency at the IHS.”

Barrasso is a physician.“A patient-centered culture change at the Indian Health Service is long-overdue,” he said. “This bill is an important first step toward ensuring that tribal members receive proper healthcare and that there is transparency and accountability from Washington. We have heard appalling testimonies of the failures at IHS that are unacceptable and will not be tolerated. We must reform IHS to guarantee that all of Indian Country is receiving high quality medical care.”

What will reform look like after the Affordable Care Act goes away?

Last week Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said on CSPAN that the Indian Health Care Improvement Act was one of the good features of the Affordable Care Act and ought to be kept. But nothing has been said by Republican leaders about how to replace the Indian health funding stream from Medicaid, potentially stripping $800 million from the Indian health system that is by all measures underfunded.

Perhaps the most important idea in government, one that had been expanding, is the idea of including the phrase “… and tribes” in legislation and funding. That means tribes get money directly from Washington rather than the round about from DC to state capital to tribal nations. And clearly in this era that’s a hard sell. Just last week the state of North Dakota opted to punish (or so it thinks) tribes by canceling a joint appearance before the legislature because the state is not happy with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. At a moment where there should be more talk, not less, the state walks away.

That, of course, begs the question, is this how government will work over the next four years?

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

Slow learners

carlson

Once again inhabitants of the pacific northwest’s Columbia River basin are being put through an “examine your belly button” exercise regarding the future of the four Lower Snake River dams and their adverse impact upon migrating salmon and steelhead.

This is the fourth time a Federal District judge has ordered the Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation; and, NOAA Fisheries to go back to the drawing board.

The flaw the court finds is the inadequacy of the agencies examination of the “remove the four dams” option. A team from those agencies spends years and millions of dollars developing a “BIOP” or the biological opinion on operation of the dams and the consequent environmental impact.

When the judge agrees with plaintiffs, again, almost always lead by a contingent of fish and wildlife adherents, such as Save Our Salmon and the National Wildlife Federation, he finds the biological opinion to be insufficient. This time, though, the judge added a twist saying the EIS also had to be redone because the previous one, started in the 90’s was clearly outdated.

Federal agencies have become “sophisticated” about public input to the process required by law. Rather than hold a formal hearing they have adopted the “information session” model. One is told that for several hours an “open house” will be held and the public is invited to see static displays. Unfortunately, these displays seldom say one word about why an EIS is underway nor is there any admission regarding their defeat in the court.

This column has two recommendations to the agencies:

(1) Expand the BIOP and EIS task force by providing a seat at the table to Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and to the EPA. It is a no brainer that adding the agencies which have expertise in environmental law will ensure a better more complete analysis. To date they have been excluded.

(2) Have a section that examines options for paying for dam removal if ordered by the court. An often heard refrain is even if a court orders the four dams breached Congress will never appropriate the funds. That’s probably correct. Are there other ways to obtain the funding? Yes.

Congress passes legislation that mandates the BPA to accelerate the pay-off of the Federal debt it owes to the Treasury for the construction costs of the Federal Base System (the dams). The legislation mandates the FBS be sold to the four northwest states for a reasonable price. The four states reincorporate BPA with the Northwest Power Planning Council becoming the board of directors. The new entity is to work out a lease agreement with the Army Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation to continue operating the dams with the excess revenue from power sales beyond standard costs of operation and maintenance for the dams and upgrades on transmission lines being distributed to the four states on the basis of population.

This could bring new revenue to these states in the billions of dollars. It would facilitate investing in new infrastructure and help cover the costs of the states’expanding needs without any new tax increases. A small portion of the excess revenue would be diverted to a fund that would be drawn upon to pay for breaching the dams.

Far-fetched? Not really. BPA’s outstanding debt right now is $15.2 billion. Last year, BPA made a higher than average payment to the Treasury of $1.9 billion. In earlier years payment on principal and interest had been approximately $1 billion, but over the last three years BPA has made higher than average payments.

The average interest BPA calculates and includes is 5.11%. The $15.2 billion includes both non-federal debt (which has a priority) and the federal debt. On the surface then, accelerating the debt repayment and then selling the system back to the region looks doable. BPA could help the proposed process by renegotiating the interest rate given that home loan mortgage rates are currently hovering around 3%.

BPA could also drop out of its “o and m” costs the massive subsidies that undergird supposed efforts to restore salmon and steelhead fisheries. To some, items like “the Columbia Basin Accords” look like nothing less than legal bribery - payments to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes not to talk about breaching the four lower Snake dams through 2018.

BPA officials will argue that for years they have been operating on a plan which would never have them paying off the debt completely primarily because they do crank so many other costs into the budget and are constantly reinvesting in system upgrades.

More than anything agency chiefs and the region’s political leadership have to recognize where there’s a will there’s a way. For too long too many have just paid lip service to the law’s requirement that the fish runs be restored. Creative thinking has to be undertaken, collective will has to be established and the dams breached. This proposal could be a win/win for all and achieve removal of the four lower Snake dams without using taxpayer money.

Does anyone have a better idea?

De-rigging the system

harris

This year's election has convinced voters that we can’t trust our electoral system.

The Sanders campaign was undermined by insiders of the DNC. Trump and his fake news reporters from Russian territory made up conspiracy theories and the Trump camp treated the truth as optional.

The candidate who got the most votes for President didn’t win – again. And money money money money, at both the State and federal levels, played kingmaker in most races in those few districts where there was competition. In most legislative districts the results was a foregone conclusion due to gerrymandering.

De-Rigging the system is crucial

The Independent Party will be working on a Anti Rigging platform. A handful of proposals that to empower voters by changing some processes and rules. The goal is to give voters more options and reduce ability of special interests to rig the system using big money and insider status.

While the Democratic and Republican insiders will hate this everyone else, from American constitutionalists to progressives, should band together and demand changes.

If we allow those in power to put party success – even your own party – above a healthy functioning Democracy, we’ve failed our ancestors and our children.

Will Democratic and Republican legislators support an Anti Rigging Platform in the 2017 session? Will you?

Stay tuned. We’re about to find out.

I’ve got this friend

rainey

The little towns on the Oregon coast are quite unique - one from the other. But one trait they share: a lot of people from many interesting places with amazing and interesting backgrounds live here.

Here are some examples. Last week I went to a local senior educational seminar. The speaker - who lives about 10 miles up the highway - was one of the surgeons who performed the autopsy on the body of John Kennedy at Bethesda in November, 1963. Another fella who lives South of us has been a Middle Eastern expert for NBC News for several years and you’ve often seen him on your TV. Near him, a former Hollywood producer with a few Oscars for “High Noon,” “Longest Day” and some others. As I said, amazing and interesting backgrounds.

I’ve made a friend in these parts I’d like to tell you about. An influential fellow? Yes. Maybe not as famous as some of the others, but, in my long life, he’s one of the finest men I’ve ever known.

Let me tell you a little about him.

He’s four months older so I call him “Pops.” He lives in a house three times larger than my own. He travels a lot! I don’t. He’s dedicated to kids. Any kids. Me, not so much. He’s a “man of means” with a comfortable retirement. I’ve got Social Security. He’s on this-that-and-the-other Boards of Directors. I’m not.

He and his wife entertain a lot. We don’t. He has friends on several continents. We don’t. Politically, he’s very conservative. Me, not so much. He has a strong dislike for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. I don’t. He ocean fishes and kayaks alone at the age of 80. I don’t. He spent all of his life in Iowa until moving to the coast several years ago. I’m a native Northwesterner. He has a law degree and has taught law in Europe and the Middle East. I don’t and haven’t. He was a US Navy officer. I was a USAF NCO. He drives a new Audi 8 Quattro. I’ve got my four-year-old pickup.

Just two peas in a pod, right?

By now, you’re probably wondering (1) how two such disparate individuals got together (2) what’s my point and (3) what in the world we talk about when we have long breakfasts or lunches every couple of weeks.

We first got together because our wives belong to PEO and we met at a social function for husbands, then renewed our acquaintanceship at a local church. As we talked, I said I’d like to get together for lunch of a breakfast. He was similarly inclined. So we did.

As we spent more time together, it was increasingly obvious we had little in common. We agreed on nearly no subject and our views on just about everything were not only different but almost in direct conflict. Socially, educationally, economically and politically we were a couple of opposites.

So what do we talk about? In all our time together, he and I have discussed those “social, educational, economic and political differences” head-on. And you know what? We’ve never had an argument. Not one. The reason is, we deeply respect each other. We accept the differences - and there are many - but never challenge them in a personal way. We acknowledge the strength of character of each person and work from a basis of mutual respect.

What we’ve found in getting to know each other better is we accept each for the distinct individuals we are. We’ve realized the importance of what ties us together is greater than what could separate us. We’ve recognized the differences - and many there are - have offered us an opportunity to learn and grow. The relationship has been mutually beneficial. And educational.

And my point? Just this. Our badly divided nation is made up of people just like my friend and me. Very different backgrounds. Very different viewpoints. Almost nothing in common. Strangers to each other and to millions of others. But we also share many, many things. Just like my friend and me.

Suppose we stop talking “AT” each other, began to listen “TO” each other; cast aside those voices working daily to divide us (hate radio, phony religious hacks, the know-nothing rhetoric of ignorant political nutcases, etc.) and struck up some personal conversations with people outside our own comfort zones. Suppose, in doing so, we discovered and dwelt on those areas of commonality like patriotism, raising the kids, paying the bills, pride in our communities and all our hopes for a better future.

I’d like to think the experience of my disparate friend and me could be extrapolated to a nation in political and social trouble. That acknowledging and accepting national differences could take a backseat to personally honoring those things that bind us together. Things too often forgotten when hate takes over the conversation.

I really believe it can. If we’ll stop talking AT and start listening TO. Like my friend and me.

I really think you’d like him, too.

Pot osmosis

stapiluslogo1

One of the less-heralded effects of this month’s election was to nearly surround Idaho with states different from it in a significant policy decision:

Almost all of Idaho’s border states now have legalized marijuana, in one way or another. And that’s going to put more pressure on Idaho on the subject.

Washington and one-state-over Colorado legalized in 2012. Oregon and one-state-over Alaska followed in 2014. This year, you can add California and Nevada to the list. (Arizona came close.) All of those allow “recreational” marijuana sales; Montana allows medicinal sales. Don’t be surprised if New Mexico follows suit in 2018.

In Wyoming, an initiative proposal this year didn’t make the ballot. But polling (from the University of Wyoming’s Survey and Analysis Center) has shown growing support there toward legalization, for medicinal pot at least. (It showed support for medicinal legalization at 81% and rising, and recreational at 41% and rising.) Ballot efforts are likely to continue there, and as California and Oregon showed, past failures don’t preclude eventual success.

So how will Idaho, whose officials at least, have been rigorously opposed to anything resembling legalization, respond to all this?

On the near-term level, and at least officially, there’s no reason to think there’ll be any change soon.

Police probably will be keeping a closer watch on vehicles from out of state. The Twin Falls Times News reported that police tracking the Highway 93 stretch from Twin Falls to Jackpot, Nevada, will not be deploying any new specific monitoring force at the border, but they will be watchful for any erratic driving they see in the area. That may be the general approach in Idaho’s border areas.

But what about the effects of a outright ban in one state of what is legal in another?

Might there be some tendency on the part of out of staters to avoid Idaho – even those not carrying marijuana, but simply concerned about the potential hassle factor? (Even if the risk of that actually isn’t very high, a reputation for it could have a big effect.) Might it be a negative in case of people considering moving? Might it, over time, start to have an economic impact? A whole lot of travel around Idaho, after all, is generated from states which have now, in whole or part, legalized.

What subtle effects might there be about the idea of a resident of those states crossing the line into Idaho?

There may also be an osmosis effect as Idahoans see their next-door neighbors sprouting new businesses and tax revenue, and without serious negative effects. This hasn’t been the subject of a lot of news stories, since we’re talking here about the absence of something, but it has been informally noted among the residents. And there have been some reports from the front. A Forbes article in August, for example, said “Two consequences that pot prohibitionists attribute to marijuana legalization - more underage consumption and more traffic fatalities - so far do not seem to be materializing in Colorado, which has allowed medical use since 2001 and recreational use since the end of 2012.”

Official Idaho isn’t likely to take much cognizance of any of that any time soon. But Idahoans around the state likely will, and that will have an effect over time.

Angry at the jets

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High performance fighter jets may sound like a whisper compared to the roar of angry citizens on the Boise Bench. Boise Airport manager Rebecca Hupp faced an angry crowd Wednesday evening as she attempted to present the latest “master plan” for the airport.

About 150 citizens packed the meeting room, expecting to have a talk about noisy fighter jets. Instead, they were shown Power Point slides more effective than Ambien sleep aid. She discussed planned meetings, outreach, studies, neighborhood meetings, and committees full of “users,” but no common homeowner-types like the entire audience.

The vast majority of the audience came to the meeting to protest any plans to base F-35, F-15 or other excessively noisy fighter jets at Gowen Field. A spokesman had told one citizen that airport officials had “no control” over the Air Force. Hupp herself avoided comment when it was noted the mayor and council have gone on record supporting the F-35.

huppManager Hupp clearly lost control of the meeting after telling the audience there was a lot of “disinformation out there” regarding condemnation of residential property. Their issue was only the basing of fighter jets, not the number of passengers carried or claimed figures about economic impact.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, all people want is a commitment from the politicos to join forces to prevent noisy fighter jets. Folks we talked to love the Air Guard, they want freedom, peace, motherhood, apple pie, and a flying mission. They DON’T want the noisy fighter planes racing around above the most densely populated area between Salt Lake and Seattle. These aircraft belong at Mountain Home.

When people complained about recent noisy F-18 fighters, Hupp said they had no control over transient military aircraft. She could easily have defused the situation by offering to speak with the military about noise abatement protocol. The Air Guard had already promised to alert visiting pilots about being quieter when flying into Boise.

Creating a master plan, noise study, and all the rest aimed at expansion and accommodation of fighter jets is diametrically opposite the mood of the people. That type of arrogance allowed Donald Trump to became president-elect…the entrenched elite failed to listen!

Idaho gov 2018 is underway

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By all the traditional political metrics Lt. Governor Brad Little should be the prohibitive favorite to be Idaho’s next governor. For years he has traveled Idaho showing up at county fairs, board of education meetings, and always at Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s side during the governor’s numerous “Capitol for a Day” sessions.

As governor when Otter is out of state he has been the “real” governor well over a year. Reportedly, he has already accumulated $250,000 for what could be a $4 million dollar campaign just to obtain the Republican nomination.

He meets people well, is thoughtful, intelligent, personable and a solid conservative befitting the successful rancher he is. He is not an ideologue and therein may be his challenge.

Idaho’s Republican Party is veering to the “Tea Party” extreme right which expects rigid adherence to a party platform that contains items such as repeal of the 17thamendment which created the popular vote for U.S. senators, who originally were elected by state legislatures. To Little’s credit he does not agree with every item in that agenda.

In the mind of others that has created an opening to challenge him and some dare to accuse him of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

Former Meridian State Senator Russ Fulcher, who came close to upsetting Governor Otter in the 2014 GOP primary, quickly stepped into the breach, wasting no time in announcing his candidacy shortly after Little made his declaration.

If Fulcher hoped to pre-empt the Tea Party support and keep First District Congressman Raul Labrador in the nation’s capital, he failed. Numerous reports are circulating through Republican circles with some prominent behind-the-scenes players flat stating Labrador will declare for governor one day after he takes the oath of office sometime in the first week of January, 2017, as a member of the new Congress.

Further confirmation of the congressman’s intentions come from reports that former Idaho Lt. Governor and Attorney General David Leroy is forming an exploratory committee to gauge support for a bid to replace Labrador in Congress in 2018. The Lewiston native is one of the most astute political animals around. It is unfathomable to think he would let word start to spread unless he was sure the seat will be open.

Other possible aspirants to succeed Labrador include Third District State Senator Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene; Fourth District State Representative Luke Malek, from Coeur d’Alene; and, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmeyer. A dark horse possibility would be Sandy Patano, the former State chief of staff for Senator Larry Craig.

Little recognizes that Labrador could be a serious roadblock to his gubernatorial ambitions. That alone may be the answer to why Little chose to split with Governor Otter on passage of HJR 5, which some major members of Idaho business wanted badly. It should have been entitled the “Expand the influence of Lobbyists Act.” Little kow-towed to the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) in part because he did not want to create an opening for Labrador.

While there are mixed views about Labrador there is no one in Idaho’s political cognoscenti who does not recognize his considerable skills. He has demonstrated both when in the Idaho Legislature and the Congress that he is not afraid to take on his party’s leadership. And like legislative leadership, during the last election cycle Labrador reportedly donated almost $20,000 from his own campaign PAC to Republican state legislators in contested races.

In doing so he may have hurt himself with some of his Tea Party base. For example, his PAC contributed $500 to Rep. Caroline Nilsson-Troy’s re-election even though Tea Party favorite Ken DeVries, from St. Maries, was running as an independent in the 5th district house seat.

Nothing prevents him, either, from converting his congressional PAC to his campaign for governor.

Labrador is on record saying his decision to leave D.C. will be based in part on whether he feels he has accomplished or put in motion to accomplish immigration reform and criminal justice reform. Beauty though is in the eye of the beholder and he can define progress and success.

On criminal justice reform Labrador deserves credit for his ability to work constructively with Democrats, such as the recently retired Virginia Senator James Webb.

There is a fourth possible gubernatorial aspirant that neither Little nor Fulcher nor Labrador can ignore----Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Now in his fourth term, he is a proven vote-getter and has a reputation for thoughtful, solid work. Given his canny handli

ng of the Department of Energy’s inept handling of the Batt Nuclear Waste Clean Up agreement, Wasden owns that issue.

Most political observers know that any primary with more than three contenders gets hard to predict. From Little’s standpoint it should be the more the merrier.

The fun is just starting.