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Posts published in March 2017

Costly slight of hand

rainey

Awaiting the eventual end of an American Presidency is a rare experience for the younger of us. Only other such occasions in my lifetime were the death watches for Franklin Roosevelt and Richard Nixon. You knew it was coming. Only date and hour were missing.

As we hold the same “wait-for-the-hour” session for Trump, I’ve come to a new appreciation for his seemingly random method of operation. Misdirection, it’s called in the craft. While making an ass of himself in the headlines, his minions - and those similarly inclined in the leadership of what was the Republican Party in Congress - are quietly gutting some very important programs. With the daily melodrama of his “presidency,” we hardly notice. He’s that good.

You could make a good list of what’s being undone as we look the other way. Gutting EPA regulations (thus protections), slashing important and necessary professionals off the payroll at the State Department (thus much-needed experience and expertise), gagging all federal personnel down to the cleaning crews in agency after agency with threats of job terminations for violators, ending major research projects dealing in science and health and the list goes on.

One such misdirection play of recent days is likely to cause serious harm to some of us in Northwest states. Especially Idaho and Oregon. And that’s the Muslim immigration ban. Ironically, it’s likely to hit a lot of Trump supporters in small towns therein.

Our part of the country has benefitted greatly from a federally-backed program which brings a goodly number of foreign doctors to our most rural and low income areas. And by rural, the feds are including some pretty good-sized places like Salem, Boise, Yakima, Spokane and Nampa-Caldwell. One of my own current physicians is from Ethiopia and he’s a good one.

Foreign doctors are offered some very good enticements to come to America and practice for several years in rural and medically under-served communities. Enticements like paying off medical school loans and other benefits. But a new survey by Harvard Medical and MIT has found the Muslim ban is going to greatly reduce the flow of applicants. Not just from the six banned countries but several others who worry about overall changing immigration policies. The Association of Medical Colleges is projecting the loss of hundreds of new docs yet this year alone.

While the newcomers tend to settle most in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Michigan, we Westerners attract our share. In 2010, more than 25 percent of doctors and surgeons practicing in this country were foreign-born.

Oh, and something else. Trump’s also ended an expedited process which sped up approval of H1-B visas granted to highly skilled foreign workers. That’s part of the entry hurdle for physicians who complete their medical residencies and ultimately go into practice here. It also affects a lot of high tech folks.

Here’s another personal medical experience that relates. I’ve been referred to a neurologist for an examination over in the Willamette Valley. The earliest appointment? Three months out no matter the symptoms! Clinics are closing. Physicians are quitting. Others will take no new patients. Uncertainty about the political future has got to figure into some of their decisions.

The loss isn’t only in medical students. Grad departments in science and engineering claim student applications for many programs have declined by 20 to 30 percent for 2017. Partly because of the ban but also because of the uncertainty of what the hell Trump will do next.

This is just one of the important government functions being gutted by Trump and Republicans in Congress. He keeps the media mystified with craziness on the nightly news while the GOP bandits behind the scenes do their dirty work. The fine art of misdirection.

And finally, if you think no detail is too small to get the attention of government-castrating Republicans with budget knives to our throats, I give you exhibit ”B.” An excellent example of whose “health” concerns them. Not you and me. That’s for damned sure!

No, it’s those millionaire health insurance company CEO’s. The ones just struggling to get by. Tucked inside the GOP health care “replacement” is a special little gift for these indentured “servants.” A personal income tax reduction on their “paltry” earnings.

Misdirection? Not on your life!

Idaho Briefing – March 13

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and legislative leaders agreed on March 6 to settle all financial claims by Education Networks of America and CenturyLink for their development of the Idaho Education Network broadband system for Idaho’s public schools.

Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today introduced the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Improvements Act to require federal agencies to analyze the full impact of a proposed regulation on small businesses during the rulemaking process. The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Chuck Grassley, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Jim Risch, who is chairman of the Small Business Committee.

On July 5, American Airlines will begin nonstop service between Boise and Chicago O’Hare International Airport. The new service will operate once daily on a Bombardier CRJ700. The jet will have six first class seats, and 64 coach class seats.

The Bureau of Land Management said on March 8 it has issued a Decision Record for the Soda Fire Fuel Breaks Project, located in Owyhee County, Idaho and Malheur County, Oregon.

The recent collaboration between Boise State University and technical staff at Idaho Power Company on Boise State’s newest computing cluster, R2, enhances both partners’ ability to forecast weather and water supply.

Biologists are focusing these types restoration efforts in the East Fork Potlatch River watershed because they determined steelhead production in this basin is limited by a lack of channel complexity. (photo/Department of Fish & Game)

Water Digest – March 13

Water rights weekly report for January 9. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on March 7 held that federal implied reserved groundwater rights can be claimed by an Indian Tribe – in this case, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. In Agua Caliente Band v. Coachella Valley Water District, the court said "the Tribe has a reserved right to groundwater underlying its reservation as a result of the purpose for which the reservation was established."

The Nebraska Supreme Court on March 10 held that the Republican River Compact is in effect federal law and therefore supersedes state water right law – and thereby denying a water right claim from within the state. In Greg Hill v. Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, the Nebraska high court said “We find that the Compact, as federal law, supersedes the appropriators’ property interests. We further find that the DNR does not have a duty to regulate ground water; thus, a failure by the DNR to regulate ground water pumping that affects the Basin does not give rise to a cause of action for inverse condemnation.”

The Black Hills Energy electric utility on March 7 formally gave the city of Pueblo, Colorado, and its utility Pueblo Water, its local rights on the Arkansas River, and the diversion infrastructure and equipment needed to access it.

A new film airing on the National Geographic channel on March 14, “Water & Power: A California Heist”, reviews groundwater use in the state and, as a public television channel said. “looks at how heedless groundwater tapping and secret deals over water rights put California’s water supply in peril.”

Sometimes, counsel helps

stapiluslogo1

The Idaho House has changed a subtle piece of its procedure, with - as usually is the case - mixed effects. The good are a little more obvious; the bad brings to mind legislators, one in particular, from years past.

The change is something many people probably wouldn’t notice. (Hat tip to writer Wayne Hoffman for pointing it out.) It has to do with the way votes are tallied when members of the Idaho House choose “yea” or “nay” on the floor.

When a bill (or something else to be voted upon) comes up, House members hit a button indicating a yes or no vote. The result of that is shown on an electronic board, visible to all, showing how each legislator voted, green for yes and red for no. The totals for each also are shown. This much hasn’t changed.

What has is this: Until recently, the greens and reds showed up immediately when the legislator punched the button. They could then look at the board, see who was voting how, and whether the vote was passing or failing, and if they chose, could change their vote before the speaker announced he was “locking” the vote in place. Partway through this session, however, those votes began not to show up on the board until after the “locking” had taken place. Any legislator wanting to change a vote might still be able to, but only as a part of the record and only with permission.

Is this an improvement?

On balance, it probably is. As a reporter watching House vote tallies, I used to enjoy figuring out who was voting in response to who - who was voting for something because someone else supported it, or opposing for that same reason. Some votes might be cast one way if it was clear the measure was going to pass, or fail, by a big margin - so that an individual vote might change nothing - but another way if the vote was really needed in a close call. Doing away with some of that real time information might be beneficial; it puts some onus on each legislator to prepare a bit more in advance and not rely on signals from other legislators.

But there’s another side to it, too, brought to mind by the death of one of the best legislators I call recall at the Idaho Statehouse.

He was Mike Mitchell, a Democrat from Lewiston, a beer distributor who may have had a higher profile from his run for lieutenant governor, or work as a governor’s chief of staff, or work with various state agencies. But I recall him as one of those lawmakers whose skill set was almost perfectly matched to work in the legislature.

He was unusually well prepared, especially on the more technical work; he served on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, and despite being in the minority he had as much impact on the budget as the leading Republicans did. That extended to other areas too. He had extra help from college interns, who in contrast to many interns over the years got to work intensively on the details and politics of getting legislation passed. Not only Democrats but a lot of Republicans too paid Mitchell close attention when he had something to say. He was, as several people remarked after his death a week ago, a “legislator’s legislator.”

Some legislators are blowhards. Some throw their weight around. Some exploit personal connections. But some legislators, of both parties and various philosophical persuasions, are worth watching: Their vote for or against something may actually be a signal that there’s a layer to the issue at hand that isn’t immediately obvious, and maybe ought to be heeded.

Mike Mitchell reminded me of that when I heard of his passing. There is a personal level to what happens at a legislature, and sometimes that’s not all bad.

Connecting to constituents

schmidt

It seems our Idaho Congressional delegation was ducking some heat last week. I can’t blame them; who likes being called to task? But such is the duty of the public servant.

At least I thought so; but it’s tough work. That’s why we call these elected officials “leaders”. Who you listen to and how you listen makes for a good leader. We the people should expect more from our public servants.

A few years back a group of soil conservation commissioners asked legislators in the North Idaho region to come to a lunch presentation to explain the work they did. I was familiar with their work; I’d met with my county conservation commissioners at least annually since being elected. They are elected officials too.

I had studied their budget on JFAC and understood their governance and the problems some districts were having throughout the state. But I had encouraged Linda to set up this meeting since I had the impression many legislators didn’t know the work they did. She was the most active commissioner in that county. Her presentation was brief, the lunch modest and then the conversation started. Don, a North Idaho legislator was frank. He said he saw no appropriate role for government in this and did not support the idea of taxpayer money being wasted on these projects. Linda thanked him for his honest response and asked him if there were things he was working on to help Idaho in the coming legislative session. He responded that he would meet with his Republican Party central committee and get their thoughts before he started on any legislative work. I believe this is all the work some complacent legislators do; talking to like-minded party members. That’s not leadership.

It’s a lot of work to stay connected to 47,000 people, the population of the average legislative district. But public servants should do this work.

Some legislators write email newsletters, a decent attempt at one way communication. The Capitol legislative support staff facilitates this, but I always did this on my own dime. I’d send out an email newsletter weekly during the session to about 1500 recipients. I wanted more for the mailing list, but it’s amazing how many rural folks don’t do email. Some thanked me for the updates and the links to other articles. I saw some other legislators do this, but not many. And honestly, that’s only 3% of my constituents.

The Idaho State Senate gives each state senator a budget to go to meetings (about $1200/year) and to mail “End of Session” letters (also about $1500/year, so that means less than 3000 letters). I always sent these out  (though less than a third of senators do) and I went to as many meetings as I could. This funding is quite generous, I hope it is continued. It is not intended for campaigning. One Idaho Senator got in trouble when she sent her letter to Republicans in the new district she got redistricted into back in 2012 asking for their support. The line between constituent work and campaigning needs to be clear, though good constituent work should make campaigning easier.

I held town halls during the legislative session on a Saturday when I would return to the district. I’d hit both county seats and five or six of the towns in the counties. The attendance would range from 3-4 folks in Juliaetta and Kendrick to 40-50 in Moscow. I was always a little perplexed that most who attended were supporters. Rarely did folks show up to give me a hard time, though it did happen.  I welcomed it; I saw such as an opportunity to exchange ideas, listen, for them to persuade me, or for me to explain my positions. I didn’t think we should all be in agreement, but that seemed like what it often was. Too often we only spend time with those we agree with.

I served a split district. That means our legislative delegation (one senator, two representatives) had both Democrats and Republicans. Idaho has 35 legislative districts and after this last election there are now just three split districts (5, 26,29 ). In a district dominated by one party, outreach is probably not necessary to get reelected. One-party dominance fosters a disconnection between elected representatives and their constituents.  Why are we so segregated? Why does the map of red and blue show such bright differences between urban and rural?

Idaho has some problems to solve. Both sides need to be talking, but more, we should be listening and hearing each other. Don’t be afraid. Talk and listen to those you may disagree with. Who knows, maybe you’re a leader.

To run or not

carlson

Shoshone County Republicans gathered on March 3 at their annual Lincoln Day dinner, which took place at the Wallace Inn. Those that attended might have been surprised at the number of major political candidates there eager to meet, greet and solicit support.

Start with the featured speaker, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy who has been a natural choice to speak at almost all Lincoln Day dinners because he has become a true expert and scholar on the impact President Lincoln had on Idaho. The date itself was propitious because March 4 was the anniversary of the day President Lincoln signed the bill in 1863 creating the Idaho Territory.

Leroy’s remarks were tailored to contemporary times and his speech was an interesting contrast of similarities faced by both presidents (Trump and Lincoln) when they took office.

Once a rising star in Idaho politics, Leroy “retired” from the political scene following his narrow 1986 defeat at the hands of Cecil Andrus when Andrus decided to reclaim the governorship. Since then his legal practice has prospered and he clearly has prepared another run for public office. He is “tan, rested, and ready,” as the expression goes.

Whether he runs is dependent upon the decision of the presence that was not present, but was in almost all conversations at the dinner - First District Congressman Raul Labrador. Is he, as rumored frequently, going to come home and run for governor in 2018?

If so, will he resign his seat to campaign full-time? Or is he going to resign and accept some position in the Trump Administration that deals with the immigration issue, which he has considerable expertise on based on his legal practice.

If he resigns before November of 2018, Idaho law specifies a special election in a winner-take-all ballot. Idaho is the one state in the union that has never had a special election for the House though in the early 30s the second congressional district seat was vacated on June 8th, 1934 when Democratic Congressman Thomas Coffin was hit and killed by a car on a street in Washington, D.C. Because Congress had already adjourned for the year the seat remained vacant until November when D. Worth Clark won the general election.

Declared gubernatorial aspirant Lt. Gov. Brad Little was present as was Boise developer and businessman, Dr. Tommy Ahlquist. Both chose to work the crowd one-on-one rather than address the entire gathering. Former State Senator Russ Fulcher was represented by some family members and Attorney General Laurence Wasden had no one representing his as yet undeclared interest.

If one supports Lt. Governor Little, you want four or five candidates in the race, the thought being your base will hold while the Tea Party vote would split between Labrador and Fulcher. Ahlquist is LDS and he has to be courting Melaleuca founder and billionaire Frank VanderSloot, hoping that his support will consolidate the state’s LDS vote (assumes of course that it is monolithic, which it is not) behind his candidacy.

While some pundits believe Little has to be the favorite others feel he will be handicapped by his close identification with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter who has disappointed many Republicans because he is perceived to have been coasting these last few years. Critics will charge that a vote for Little is a vote for a fourth Otter term. Brad has to figure out how to distance himself from Otter while not appearing to be disloyal.

Labrador and his supporters are still citing a poll, now six months old, that shows their horse with 48% of a Republican gubernatorial primary vote and all the other wanna-be’s in single digits.

Leroy is the one person positioned to be up and running almost instantly should Labrador resign. Name identification alone should make him the initial favorite. Reports around the district indicate there would be several other contenders including State Rep. Luke Malek from Coeur d’Alene and State Rep. Brent Crane from Nampa.

Such gatherings always serve as breeding grounds for political rumor milling. Two of the best were that GOP legislative leadership is quietly preparing a couple of measures to spring on the last day for sine die when they’ll suspend the calendar and ram a bill through that will create a primary requirement even for a special election. Another effort would be a legal mandate that will supersede the Batt nuclear waste agreement and permit the importation of the spent fuel rods Governor Batt and Governor Andrus have thus far been able to thwart

The other fun rumor is that House Speaker Scott Bedke has been approached by Interior Secretary Zinke about being nominated for one of the assistant secretaryships at Interior. A call to the Speaker’s office asking for a comment was not returned.

Still, when all was said and done it is clear that Raul Labrador is holding the key to most interesting political machinations over the next two years.

Will Congress stand up?

jones

George Washington warned in his Farewell Address of the dangers posed to our country by political partisanship. He feared that parties would promote their own fortunes over those of the country. As he put it, they might “put in the place of the delegated will of the Nation, the will of the party.”

We may well be witnessing that very danger today.

The United States was the target of cyber aggression at the hands of Russia’s Putin regime last year. Russian hackers attacked the very heart of our democracy, trying to disrupt and influence our electoral process. Whether they were successful is beside the point. All Americans should be outraged by this intrusion into our domestic affairs.

We should demand a thorough investigation into everything the Russians did, how they did it, what we can do to protect against further cyber attacks, and what additional punitive measures should be taken against the Putin regime.

Congressional investigations might ordinarily suffice to explore these issues, but this is not an ordinary situation because partisanship has become entwined in the imbroglio. Intelligence officials have found there were numbers of contacts between the Russians and past and present members of the Trump entities. This has resulted in somewhat of a circle-the-wagons attitude on the part of some in Congress, particularly those in positions to oversee such a vitally important undertaking.

A partisan inquiry simply won’t suffice to get all of the facts on the table and its conclusions would likely not be accepted by a majority of Americans. It is essential that we find out who was involved on the Russian side, whether they had help of any nature from Americans, and the channels through which information was passed. The Russian Government under Putin is the major global threat to our country.

The Russians cannot match our military capabilities but they have substantial cyber capabilities and the capacity to wreak great havoc on our technology-dependent nation. We can’t let that happen again.

In order to do a credible investigation of the Russian attack on America, it is essential to place the responsibility in the hands of an independent, bipartisan group of respected Americans. We have many people of this stripe in our country. A half-hearted inquiry conducted by many who have a partisan dog in the fight won’t produce honest answers to the critical questions facing us, nor will it give the American public confidence in the findings.

We must demand that our Congressional representatives stand up for America and support a thorough and independent investigation into Russia’s attack on the U.S. political system. Tell them in no uncertain terms that the interests of their country always take priority over the narrow interests of any political party.

A petulant POTUS

rainey

There used to be a fun, entertaining social fixture on the Washington D.C. annual event calendar called “The White House Correspondent’s Dinner.” A night to get duded up, shove some job resume’s in your breast pocket, enjoy some good food and a show at the Shoreham Hotel, have a toddy or two and mingle with the Who’s Who of the national media business. Alas, no more.

The fun, the entertainment, the food and drink, the job hunting and a few hours rubbing shoulders with network news big shots effectively died when some idiot - maybe more than one - turned it into a televised prime time “special.” “Special” it ain’t.

Really enjoyable professional media comradery left the room the first time that happened. “Celebrities” became the focus. Some on the way up - many on the way down - and some you never heard of. Too many of ‘em with no firsthand knowledge of the edgy relationship between politicians and media. So a lot of comedic material with a good bite to it went right over their coiffed heads.

Media and politicos used to make up the audience. You’d put on a tux - mine were always rented and looked like it. You were allowed - but not especially encouraged - to bring a guest. Entertainment was always first class. For the two I attended, headliners were Pearl Bailey and George Carlin.

But, for many reporters in the large crowd, the most interesting hours came after the formal event ended. That’s when many of us in the ranks toured the suites sponsored by CBS, NBC, ABC, and many large, regional broadcasters. The hors d’oeuvres were good and the booze free. You could spend a few minutes chatting with Mike Wallace or Harry Reasoner, Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings or others from the “nets.” You might even get a resume’ in the hands of just the right producer or corporate news VP.

It’s been many years since my “tour of the suites” and I’d guess not a lot of that goes on now. What was a damned good evening is now a TV “reality” show meat market for those who like reality unreal.

The spotlighted guest at the head table for many, many years has been the President of the United States. Only one in the last 70 or so years that didn’t show up was Reagan . His limp excuse - somebody tried to kill him. But, even then, he called in from his hospital bed to crack a few one-liners and receive a lot of warm applause. A pro. Never had done a standing ovation for a phone call till that time.

Even Nixon – a guy who hated the press and who generally reaped the same feeling from most of us media folk - even Nixon showed up. He took a lot of shots. And he gave a lot. Most in the audience had little regard for the man. But they had to give him a lot of credit for just being there. Especially toward the end of his White House days. It couldn’t have been fun. Or easy.

Trump says he won’t go this year. Which is fine. And not unexpected. He’s been in the audience for a couple previously. Took some public jabs and hated it. You could see it on his face. The ego he carries is huge and tender as a baby’s butt. If he can’t have top billing and the final word, he won’t play. Again, that’s fine.

The Association is talking about inviting Barack Obama. I hope they don’t. He made several dinners while in office. Good writing, a natural sense of humor and excellent timing made his moments very entertaining. Something Trump could never do. They’re also talking of cancelling the evening. Again, hope they don’t.

No, what I’d like to see is an empty chair right next to the podium where Trump would normally sit if he had the guts. Might even put a spotlight on it. Just the empty chair. That would say more than any comedian. Just a hot light. And that empty chair.

The Association raises a lot of bucks with this annual event. After expenses, most of the money goes for scholarships at journalism schools. Good program. Helps a lot of deserving kids.

No, “the show must go on” as Irving Berlin said. With or without a POTUS. If the nation can struggle through without one, so can the Correspondent’s Association.

Idaho Briefing – March 6

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations on Marc 2 released a report on state jurisdictions in Indian country. Five tribes are affected by Idaho state jurisdiction. The report noted at the beginning, “State and local government powers are limited in Indian country by federal law and tribal sovereignty. The US Constitution gives Congress exclusive power over Indian affairs, and states have jurisdiction on reservations only with Congressional consent.”

Senator Mike Crapo and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow are leading a bipartisan effort to end the shortfall of veterinarians in rural areas by reintroducing the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act.

Idaho’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for December 2016 was revised by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to 3.6 percent – one-tenth percent lower than the 3.7 percent first reported.

The Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comment on proposed changes to guidance related to grants and loans for drinking water and clean water (wastewater) infrastructure construction projects in Idaho.

(photo) Fire burned 22,000 acres of winter range on the Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area in eastern Idaho in 2016. To support elk and deer, and prevent private property damage, Idaho Fish and Game set in motion the largest winter feeding operation in Idaho’s history. (photo/Department of Fish & Game)