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Posts published in February 2017

Legislating beyond the state


It may come as a shock to Idaho (and many other state) legislators, but their purview is limited to the borders carved out at statehood. They have a great deal of authority inside, and very little out.

You can pick up the nature of some of these limits, and the narrow ways they can be expanded, in two new House bills, 59 and 65.

HB 65, from Representative Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, got the bigger headline splash, because its reach would be so broad if it passes (wouldn’t bet against it) and survives a legal challenge (extremely unlikely).

Here’s the key language: “The Idaho Legislature hereby declares that the state of Idaho, on behalf of its citizens, is the final arbiter of whether an act of Congress, a federal regulation or a court decision is unconstitutional and may declare that the federal laws, regulations or court decisions are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate its meaning and intent, and further, are null, void and of no effect regarding any Idaho citizen residing within the borders of the state of Idaho.”

The shorthand for this is “nullification” - a unilateral declaration by the state that if we here (well, actually, if the legislature here) don’t like it, it doesn’t apply to us. That’s just a half-step away from secession from the union, a question pretty much resolved a century and a half ago.

A brand new legislator, Representative Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, inquired in the meeting where the bill was presented: “Do we have that right as legislators or as citizens, to be able to declare something unconstitutional? Isn't that the area judges are supposed to rule on? How do we earn the position to declare something constitutional or unconstitutional?” Well, there you are. We do have courts whose job it is to rule on constitutionality; that’s a court function, not legislative. The courts also get to parse when federal rulings apply to the states (mostly, but not always). A legislature can declare it has super-powers, but they won’t last long in a real challenge.

Is the legislature completely confined to state boundaries in its impact? Not necessarily.

House Bill 59, proposed by Representatives Ilana Rubel and John McCrostie, both D-Boise, would have Idaho join an interstate compact in which - if all 50 joined - each state would commit that their electoral college representatives would vote for whoever won the national popular vote. Such a proposal coming in this season after last year’s presidential carries a partisan tinge, but the idea has been around for many years, has been adopted by some states and others are considering it this year. (You can see more about it at Both red and blue states have entered into it.

The odds for passage in Idaho are not good, and we can’t completely be sure what a court will make of the idea. But there’s a good case for why it may be upheld. The federal constitution (in Article II) says “Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof shall direct, a number of Electors,” and generally leaves the process in the hands of the legislatures. It would effect a change in an area where states seem to have full discretion to act.

For both bills, as a movie star once suggested, it’s a matter of knowing your limits.

Advice from a Democrat


What I stand for is what I stand on.” - Wendell Berry

If you love where you live, stay put. Get to know your neighbors, your countryside, the history and the institutions. Ask yourself what it is you love, and then find out what your neighbors love; surely you have a lot in common besides your zip code.

You may feel marginalized; indeed you may experience prejudice. There is good evidence that people feel more strongly now about party affiliation than they do about race. It seems now people are more nervous about a family member marrying into the other political affiliation than across a racial divide.

Now relax, don’t hide your face or use a different drinking fountain. Understand we are all in this together, no matter the insults and labels that come too easily to mind. For the community you love and our state to prosper, we all will need to participate. A good conversation is in order. Maybe you could start with what exactly your vision for prosperity means. Listen to your neighbor’s vision. These conversations require patience, respect and time. I hope you have all three, because nowadays it seems they might be in short supply. Show your neighbor you have some to spare.

Know you may be in a Facebook or CNN or NPR or Fox News bubble. The slant of those we listen to can make us think we are all knowing; disabuse yourself of that arrogance. Such humility can be hard when one feels marginalized, and it can be even harder when you feel affirmed. We all are on shaky ground.

Don’t let outrage be the slogan on your t-shirt, even if that’s what you see on your neighbor’s ball cap in the grocery aisle. Be yourself; a citizen with all our rights and responsibilities. And expect your fellow citizens to be too. Let them know respectfully when they fall short, but never shirk your duty either.

Know your community. There may come a time when your love of community is deeply questioned and my original advice to stay put seems questionable. But remember that there’s something here you love, and your neighbors must also. It is not unreasonable to be in a place where there is conflict. Lend your voice and your effort to this conflict so that a vision for prosperity can emerge. We need a shared vision.
Don’t whine and don’t bitch. Get to work. Is there a cemetery district that needs a commissioner? Could you make your city council stronger? Is your church serving your community, or just the parishioners? Do you have faith in the institutions that make your community one you love, and if not, what can you offer to restore that faith? We need work.

Finally, I ask you to question party affiliation; not give it up, but make sure of the value.

Does this branding we do serve us, and the communities we love? It can be such a tribal marker that bears no use for the vision we have for prosperity. If we weren’t looking through the colored lenses of the glasses we have put on, would the world, our neighbors, their vision for the future and ours look clearer? Don’t be afraid to take those tinting lenses off and see people, neighbors, and institutions in the clear light of day.

We are all flawed. We all need work. Let’s get to it.

Am I next?


Last night we went to dinner with some friends; came home and relaxed a bit and then headed for bed – a pretty normal Saturday evening for many folks in the United States.

Except, instead of immediately going to sleep, I lay in bed thinking about the stark contrast between my evening, and the thousands – tens of thousands – of people in airports throughout this country who thought they'd be getting off of a plane and doing something very similar. Instead, some of them were waiting to find out if they would be allowed to ever leave the airports, and others lawyers and protesters doing everything they could to ensure the travelers would be allowed to enter or in many cases return home.

And I wondered: If this keeps up, when will I become a target of the racism and xenophobia that underlays the current situation?

A friend tells me I'm over-reacting; there's no way I could be mistaken for anything other than a shiny, white U.S. citizen. But I'm not so sure.

Growing up, I was flattered when classmates asked if I was Native American. When I visited Mexico, I was amused when North Americans (Canadians and U.S. citizens) assumed I was Mexican; and Mexicans assumed I was Italian. I know that I'm primarily of Scandinavian and Eastern European descent, but like most multi-generational U.S. citizens, there are a few other ethnic genes in my pool and most likely Native American is one of them. For some reason those are a bit more dominant so my skin is slightly darker, and during the summer that coloration is even more pronounced. So, dark hair, dark skin ... definitely more likely to be mistaken for something other than European descent.

And apparently, those are the first things some people see when they look at me – so, if the United States continues down the path our new “leader” and his neo-Nazi advisor are setting for us, how long will it be before I'm one of those being detained?

Right now, I live far from the action, in a small town that's not too involved in the current immigration situation. And right now, only immigrants from certain countries and a certain religion are the targets. But, I keep wondering: How long before the net widens?

My friend doesn't see it happening here. I'm guessing most of the folks who live here don't see it happening here. That's always the problem, isn't it? We always think it will happen to someone else, if it happens at all.

It's hard to live here in this small, quiet, friendly western Oregon town and recognize at the same time that I'm safe and warm and well-fed, there are people sitting in airports around the world whose lives have just been turned up-side-down. It's hard to comprehend that there are people being shot at, starving, murdered, raped, or jailed just for being who they are – in every country in the world.

I understand why my friend thinks I'm over-reacting, but we all need to understand that what's right now happening to “others” could easily, tomorrow or the next day, be happening to each of us. We could just as easily be targeted for one or two specific characteristics that make us different from another group.

So, what will they do if it does happen here? What if that executive order is expanded to include other races, and other nationalities or left-handed people; people with green eyes; or people with mental or physical disabilities? Because, I'm pretty sure that if we don't speak out loud and strong now that's exactly what will happen. And that does worry me, because every time I look in the mirror, I see someone who could easily be part of the next targeted group.

Pandering turns patronizing


The executive director of Idaho’s Democratic party, Sally Boynton-Brown, crossed a line last week, in her long-shot pursuit to win the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, that can only described as disgusting and a further embarrassment to Idaho’s already tattered and torn image.

If the State chairman of Idaho’s Democrats, former State Senator Bert Marley from Pocatello, does not convene the party’s executive committee by phone, and promptly fire the misguided executive director an already decimated Idaho political party may find itself on the border of extinction.

Some would argue that Idaho’s Democrats are already an endangered species and ought to file for a listing with the Environmental Protection Agency before it becomes extinct. Under Boynton-Brown’s “leadership” Idaho’s Democratic party has put forth nothing that even remotely demonstrates the tide may be turning. Democrats hold no statewide office and haven’t elected a true Democrat to Congress in years (Some may say “not so” and cite Walt Minnick, but others know he was a Republican wolf in sheep’s clothing.)

Instead of heading to D.C. to talk to people about how once upon a time Democrats held their own in the west; perhaps, history could be a guide and the formula for that success could be shared and with conviction presented to the members of the DNC who vote in less than a month.

She could have touted the Cecil Andrus’ mantra: “First, you have to make a living. Then you have to have a living worthwhile.” In other words keep the economy growing and keep it strong so that there’s a place for our young people to work (and often work off a huge debt) after they graduate. Note that saying has no gender bias, nor racial bias to it.

This is the formula followed successfully by Andrus, Idaho’s only governor elected four times, and his successor, John V. Evans, elected twice. The formula was also the winning pitch for other western governors: Scott Matheson of Utah, Mike O’Callaghan of Nevada, Ted Schwinden of Montana, Mike Sullivan of Wyoming, to name just a few.

Instead of standing on a stage, prancing around like some gospel preacher and spouting gibberish such as “my job is to shut other white people down” and make them listen to minorities, all of whom are oppressed by whites in the current culture.

This is not the politics of inclusion, this is exclusion. Boynton-Brown should be reinforcing the message of former Vice President Joe Biden, who wisely talks about attracting back the working middle class white male, the so-called Reagan Democrat, back into the Democratic coalition.

As Andrus used to say,you don’t win by subtracting voters, you win by attracting two-fers - i.e., a Republican vote for him was one less for the R and one new one for the D - a two-fer.

The conclusion of Boynton-Brown’s pathetic, pandering and patronizing plea was especially puzzling. She seemed to be saying that because she’s a white living in Idaho it is hard for her to relate to minorities because there are so few.

So in a groveling, patronizing way she was saying teach this whitie how to understand minorities and movements like Black Lives Matter. Teach me how to feel your pain. Teach me how to listen to your cri de coeur.

This inability to find minorities to relate to has to have the 16% of the Idaho electorate that is Hispanic scratching its head, not to mention the Indian country population or the African American.

Once again Idaho hits the national news and becomes a joke for YouTube viewers. We’ve managed to beat back the white supremacist tag, the preppers and American Redoubt survivalist tag, the posse comitatus tag to cite a few of the false perceptions.

Even if the few remaining Democrats fire Boynton-Brown as quickly as possible, it most assuredly will not enable us to beat the “just stupid” tag. Cry, beloved Idaho. Cry.

Now you see it


Every good huckster is a master at distracting the attention of the suckers they are about to fleece away from any pesky details they do not want to talk about. The stage magician, for example, convinces you to watch his left hand as he flutters a meaningless handkerchief so you will not notice as his right hand palms the card, or pockets the coin, or slips the rabbit back into the hat.

Trump is a master at this. His tangle with the media in a pointless kerfuffle over the size of the inaugural crowd is a prime example, as is his insistence that there were over three million fraudulent votes in the last election to be investigated. These are both irrelevant discussions that have soaked up all the headline space above the fold, and all the time in the A blocks on cable television, for weeks now, and are both still running. Meanwhile, while we were all diverted by these meaningless bits of left handed fluff, his right hand has been into mischief.

For example, on Friday, which everyone know knows is “put out the trash day” for the White House press, and while all our attention was diverted elsewhere, Trump quietly swept out the top level career administrators of the State Department – every one of the deputy undersecretaries, assistant undersecretaries, bureau chiefs and directors who had anything to do with the top level administration of the department are gone. Usually, the transition team pays little attention to these career positions; they have plenty to do filling the 4,000 plus political appointments opening up without taking on the task of recruiting new hires for the administrative career positions.

Not so, for some reason, this time around. Even the mid-level political appointments are sometimes put off for a month or so, so there can be some continuity in the transition. All of those who were swept out indicated that they were willing and expected to stay on at least through the transition. Not to be, for some as yet unexplained reason.

Then on Saturday – Saturday, mind you, when even more of us were looking elsewhere and nobody was paying attention – Trump unceremoniously dumped the Chairman of Joint Chiefs and the Director of National Intelligence out of their permanent seats on the National Security Council, and replaced them with – wait for it – Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon.

The career officers at State were not “fired.” Trump can’t fire civil service career employees, but they were all advised that they were no longer needed in their present positions. This Trump can do; he can direct that anybody be reassigned to a different job, as long as it is within the same GS level, meaning the same pay, and approximately same level of stature. What he did here was shift them into jobs with not as much status or responsibility – demotions in fact, even though the money would have remained the same – but which prompted the entire list, seven in all, to either quit or retire. How the new Secretary will fare without this huge reservoir of institutional memory available to smooth out his early days remains to be seen. But as anybody who has ever worked for the government in any capacity can tell you, it would have been a lot easier if they had been kept around.

The National Security Council was organized in 1947 to advise Truman on matters Congress was convinced he knew nothing about – security and foreign policy. This body is not expected to be political. Traditional members are the Vice President and the Secretaries of State, Defense, and Energy plus high level representatives from the military and the intelligence community. The council has been organized in this fashion since its origination. High level military and intelligence advisers have always been included as full members.

The White House Chief of Staff was elevated from a sometime invitee to a full member of the NSC. In addition, in the place of the high level military and intelligence community advisors, Trump has delegated the White House Strategist to sit as a full member in their stead.

There are those who thought that Reince Priebus, who has never held an original thought, had reached his apex under Peter’s Principle in his prior position as the doormat and chief sycophant for the RNC. We did not expect him to survive the crushing responsibilities of the White House. That he is still around makes one suspect that his tasks may have been redefined.

Steve Bannon, on the other hand, is considered by most to be a true confidant of the President – but whether as Oz, Machiavelli or Rasputin yet remains to be seen. Some expected him to be as Karl Rove was to George Bush – a political connection to the far-right base, with the assignment to keep Trump well placed there for the election in 2020. One did not expect the Brietbart alumnus, who is sometimes reported to avoid mirrors and is rarely seen in daylight, to move toward a true seat of power. Or at least not this early.

We are still not sure what to make of any of this. On the one hand, because of the amateurish ways that Trump and his cabal have been blundering about so far, this new stuff may merely be more indicia of incompetence and a failure to think it through. On the other hand, the peculiar selection of State and the NSC for these unexplained sweeps, and the elevation of Bannon to a seat on the NSC, may portend a more complicated objective.

Close attention is invited.