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Posts published in May 2017

Idaho Digest – May 15

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for May 15. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

U.S. Representative Raul Labrador on May 9 filed paperwork with the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office to run for governor in 2018. He joins a field of Republicans which already includes Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, former state Senator Russ Fulcher and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist.

Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch on May 8 welcomed the nomination of Idaho District Judge David C. Nye of Pocatello by President Donald Trump to fill the open U.S. District Court judgeship in Idaho.

Secretary of Energy Rick Perry on May 8 and 9 toured the Idaho National Laboratory, visiting a number of facilities at the installation and talking with groups of employees there.

Idaho Power has filed a settlement stipulation with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission related to early retirement of the North Valmy coal-fired power plant and an associated plan for cost recovery.

Acting Governor Brad Little has declared a state of disaster emergency for Custer, Elmore and Gooding Counties as of May 10.

PHOTO Representative Raul Labrador (center, standing) files paperwork at the Idaho secretary of state’s office to run for governor. Here he talks with Secretary of State Lawerence Denney (left), with whom he served in the Idaho House. (photo/Labrador campaign)

From drought to flood


When it comes to water, you want not too little, and not too much.

Lately, seems as if Idaho is getting stuck with one or the other.

On Wednesday, Acting Governor Brad Little tacked Custer, Elmore, and Gooding counties on to a State Disaster Declaration that already included a majority of Idaho counties. At this point - as this was written, anyway - almost three-fourths of Idaho counties are listed by the state as disaster areas owing to flooding.

You see it in remote parts of Custer County and in the population center at Boise, where part of the greenbelt is shut off from access because of high river water.

The water managers seem to have done an effective job of keeping the conditions from creating more damage, at least to this point. But the challenge continues, and there are limits to what they can do.

The snow precipitation report from the National Resources Conservation Service lists snowpack levels by basin around the western half of the country. In Idaho, the accumulated precipitation so far this year is mostly in the range of 140 to 160 percent of normal, compared to generally around 105 to 95 percent at this point last year.

The Little Wood and the Big Lost are the highest, at 177 percent, but the Boise River and the Snake River above the Palisades Dam are at 159 percent - high levels. The lowest in the state is the Clearwater Basin at 121 percent.

That portends a real possibility of more problems ahead, if the melting doesn’t organize itself just right.

That’s some background for the governmental push and pull over Idaho and its disaster status, one partly approved and partly not.

The procedure is that (often after an initial request from the county level) states make the request for federal help, and the feds - meaning the president or a disaster agency, or both, sign off (which they usually do). In late April, President Donald Trump did sign a state-requested declaration covering Cassia, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls and Washington counties for their flooding and related problems in March.

Another declaration covering Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Shoshone and Valley counties awaits action.

However, another declaration requested by the state, covering Ada, Canyon, Custer, Payette and Washington counties (for December and January snowstorms) was - unusually - rejected. Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Administrator Robert Fenton turned down the state request: “After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the impact from this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said in response that “The window is closed for this particular effort to get federal help addressing snow-related destruction and preventing additional damage statewide. But we have one Presidential Disaster Declaration approved and another pending, so we’re exploring every opportunity to help our communities address their most serious recovery needs.”

The state may need to push hard, since it now may be behind the curve on helping some of these areas with recovery. It raises a question, given how uncommonly such requests are dismissed, whether the new administration is taking a new path on federal assistance.

If it is, Idahoans have all the more cause to watch closely, maybe with some apprehension, the rate of snow melt this spring.

Republic or monarchy?


The testimony given by former Acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate Judiciary Committee permits the inference that President Trump knew, or should have known, that his National Security Advisor Lt. General Michael Flynn had been compromised by Russia.

Ms. Yates did not mince her words. She testified she told White House counsel Don McGahn that Michael Flynn lied when he said he had not talked to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about potentially lifting U.S. Sanctions on Russia. And, importantly, she also told the president’s counsel that Russia knew Flynn was lying, that Flynn was, in fact, vulnerable to blackmail.

Incredibly, it would seem that but for the leaks that resulted in the public knowing about Flynn's lies, he would yet be sitting at the right hand of the president, whispering in his ear and -- likely -- in Putin's. After all, it was not until the information became public – a full 18 days after Yates met with McGahn – that Trump fired Flynn, and even then praising him to the skies.

Sadly, but somewhat predictably, the GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee appeared more concerned about the leaks than they were about Flynn’s deception and duplicity. They were more worried about who it was that had given a reporter a truthful account of Yates’ meeting with White House counsel than they were about Flynn being in a position to undermine our nation’s security.

These GOP senators have allowed their priorities to become tragically skewed.

James T. Clapper, Jr., a former Director of National Intelligence, also testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He urged the senators to keep their eye on the ball, stating, “I think the most important thing that needs to be done here, is educate the electorate as to what the Russians’ objective is, and the tactics and techniques, and procedures that they’ve employed and will continue to employ . . . .” Clapper’s admonishment was on point, but it appeared to go unheeded.

By focusing on the leaks and not on the Russian attack on the integrity of our elections, these senators are intentionally, or unwittingly, aiding and abetting the Administration's obfuscations, deflections, and scapegoating. What has long been called "the world's greatest deliberative body" has, among its majority, charlatans who would sacrifice truth, justice - and, apparently, national security - on a partisan altar.

One thing is clear. Our president is unfit to serve. He is either complicit or incompetent, or both. Unless and until his Republican enablers decide to put country before party and get to the truth about Russia’s interference in our election, our republic is in jeopardy.

The story is told that, upon the adjournment of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a woman approached Ben Franklin and asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got – a Republic or a Monarchy?” He replied, “A Republic, if you can keep it." That caution has never been more relevant than now.

Going around


If one lives long enough, as the great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra once said, “its deja vu all over again.”

The latest example is the squabble between legislative leadership and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter over whether he vetoed the bill removing the grocery sales tax in a timely manner.

Current law allows the governor to take ten days after a legislature adjourns and after he has received the bill to decide whether to veto or not. Some still today contend that the ten-day clock begins ticking from the moment the Legislature adjourned, which in their defense appears to be what the Idaho Constitution says.

However, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in July of 1978 in favor of language saying “upon receipt” in the Governor’s office. That supposedly settled the matter in favor of Governor Cecil D. Andrus in a lawsuit he brought against then Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa for failure to recognize his veto of two bills on the grounds that they weren’t vetoed within the ten days.

Of course by July of 1978 Andrus had been the Secretary of the Interior in the Carter Administration for 18 months, but the case had proceeded in the Court because of the question and the precedence it would establish.

In Cenarrusa’s defense he was acting on the advice of the then chief legal officer for the state, Attorney General Wayne Kidwell, a former Ada County prosecutor and State Senate Majority Leader. Therein lies the real background story that is missing from today’s media reports on this old matter being revisited.

The lawsuit cited two vetoes, but there was only one that really mattered: the veto of a bill within ten days of receipt in the governor’s office sponsored and driven by the attorney general to consolidate all attorneys working for the state under his office. This included attorneys working for cabinet agencies.

It was a raw, naked power grab by the attorney general who also harbored ambitions to run for governor in 1978 whether or not Andrus might be going for a third term.

Knowing his ambitions and hard Republican partisanship, Andrus did not trust the former state senator. Kidwell also had a hair-trigger temper. In the 70’s the AG’s office was on the same floor as the governor’s office. Upon learning of the veto, Kidwell, who should not have been surprised, nonetheless confronted the governor in the hall between their offices.

Playing the role of a “surprised” and personally hurt victim, Kidwell’s temper quickly rose and the confrontation devolved into an unseemly shouting match. Andrus, who can on occasion display his own temper, probably thought about decking the obnoxious attorney general, but restrained himself.

The irony is that earlier in Kidwell’s term as AG, in an extraordinary display of compassion, Andrus literally saved Kidwell’s political career.

The setting was a meeting of the Idaho Land Board, the five constitutionally elected statewide officers who are the trustees of the State lands. They were voting on some minor matter and when the vote came Kidwell was on the short end of a 4 to 1 count.

It was then, according to observers present, that Kidwell started to lose control of himself. Despite their political animosity, Andrus, who could have sat back and let Kidwell irreparably lose it altogether, instead called for a 15 minute recess, stood up, walked around the table to assist Kidwell out of his chair, and escorted Kidwell into his office..

To this day no one knows what Andrus said to Kidwell, but it’s a pretty safe bet he told him to get control of himself and displayed some compassion for his political adversary. Andrus knew what few people were aware of, that the Kidwells had recently lost a child, and were understandably devastated by the loss. What is known is that Kidwelll regained his composure and went back to his office. He did not return to the Land board meeting itself that day.

In today’s highly partisan atmosphere in which people with differing views are treated as the enemy and considered evil, its hard to imagine that kind of true compassion.

Its all about power, who has it and how ruthlesssly they can wield it. Some critics of Governor Otter’s veto are now talking about trying to change the law, but the betting is they’ll not succeed. Now, as Paul Harvey used to say on his noontime radio show, you know the rest of the story.

Incidentally, Kidwell chose not to run for re-election in 1978 and was succeeded by David Leroy. Kidwell later served with distinction for six years on the Idaho Supreme Court from 1999 to 2004.

Health will define 2018


The House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act by four votes, 217 to 213. The legislation now moves to the U.S. Senate. If this bill becomes law it will do five things: Cut taxes for people who make a lot of money, end health insurance subsidies and much of the coverage from Medicaid, cause more people to go uninsured and eventually bankrupt, and frame the most important political debate in a long time.

Every Republican who voted for this mean-spirited bill must now defend against every American who has any problem with insurance or health care. (I know that’s not fair. But it’s essentially what happened to the Democrats.) You get a doctor’s bill you don’t like: Blame Trump and Ryan. Lose insurance coverage at work: Ditto. This is why the optics are so lousy for Republicans, the health care system is now their mess.

Oh. I know. This bill is not law yet. And it’s not likely to be. But it doesn't matter. Months after the House voted its first repeal of the Affordable Care Act people reported that they thought the law was gone. It was not then. Nor now.

Remember the House bill still must get through the Senate and that body is as divided as the House. But one difference is that there is a constituency in the Senate for Medicaid. (As I have been writing: This is the most significant impact on Indian Country. This bill doesn't just repeal the Affordable Care Act, it ends Medicaid as we know it. Medicaid insures more than half of all children in the Indian Health system and it accounts for 13 percent of the Indian Health Service budget.)

At least four Republican Senators, Rob Portman (Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (West Virginia), Cory Gardner (Colorado), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) have been clear about their support for Medicaid and Medicaid expansion. (Medicaid is a state, federal partnership to provide health care for families with low incomes. The Affordable Care Act expanded that to single people and lowered the income limits to 138 percent of federal poverty guidelines. The numbers are huge. Before the ACA about 56 million people were insured by Medicaid. Today the number is nearly 75 million.)

A bloc of four senators - if they don't budge - has the power to say "no" to any legislation. This is the Medicaid Protection Block. And Republicans only have two votes to spare in the Senate because all of the Democrats will likely oppose this measure (as they did in the House). So the thing is that if the Senate language satisfies theMedicaid Protection Block that will enrage the Freedom Caucus in the House. That bloc stuck together and killed the House's first version of the legislation, so the second version was even more to their liking (removing federal requirements to provide basic health services including pre-existing conditions).

Complicated, right? Add to that mix the conservative members of the Senate who don't think this bill goes far enough in the outright repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Sen. Paul Rand (Kentucky) said on Fox News: "It will take a little bit of work to get me to 'yes' vote on health care bill." In other words make the bill more ideological, not something that will get support from the Medicaid Protection Bloc.

And if that's not complicated enough, there are also Republicans in the Senate that object to the bill's attack on Planned Parenthood because of the impact of such a policy on women's health. That bloc includes Murkowski and Maine's Susan Collins.

Complex or not, no matter what comes out of the Senate (unless it's the House bill exactly) the House will have to vote again. Then the illogical Freedom Caucus gets another shot at defying their own party leadership.

But the real politics of Wednesday's action is not in Congress. It's playing out on social media and communities across the country. It's the idea that this vote was a definition for the next election. One side believes that health care is not a right. The other sees the Affordable Care Act as imperfect, but a step in the right direction.

Indian Country should be included in this debate. And we're not. Our right to health care is simple, it's based on treaties, history, and thus a pre-payment for whatever insurance mechanism the country comes up with. The Affordable Care Act at least opens up an avenue to fully fund the Indian Health system something that's never been accomplished before.

This is also the ideal moment for Indian Country to have more of a say. This is when a political coalition can be built around idea that health care is a right. Health care is already defining the 2018 elections.

And the politics of that start in Red states (those that voted for President Donald J. Trump). This bill, in a quest for free market purity (if that's even possible in health care), would benefit young people, healthy people, and people who live in cities. And paying for that experiment are older people, sicker people, and rural people.

Alaska is at the top of this list. The Affordable Care Act pays insurance companies to help keep costs down. The Republican plan ends that business. The result: "Consumers in 11 states would see tax credits fall by more than $3,000 on average, or more than 50 percent, and consumers in seven states would lose an average of more than $4,000. In Alaska, by far the highest-premium state, the average reduction in tax credits would be $10,200, or 78 percent," according to a study by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

And that doesn't even include Medicaid. Another study on that issue found the program saved Alaska significant dollars, projecting a billion dollar return after a decade. The state's Commissioner of the Department of Health and Social Services, Valerie Davidson, told KTUU News that "with our $3.5 billion budget deficit, we don’t have an additional one billion dollars more to pay for services that we currently have, we just can’t afford it."

She also said the House bill would strip behavioral health funding when it's so important in the middle of an opioid epidemic.

So for an Alaska representative, one that works for constituents, this should have been a no-brainer. This bill is terrible for Alaska. Last week Rep. Don Young said as much. He claimed victory when the previous bill was pulled from consideration without a vote. He told The Alaska Dispatch News: "My job is to represent those people in that state, and I think we did this this week. I work with (House Speaker Paul Ryan), don't get me wrong — the speaker talked to me quite a bit. But it didn't come to a point where I could support this bill. He needed my vote."

The bill that passed Wednesday is not significantly different. Alaska is still hosed. And Don Young voted "yes." Now he says, don't worry, this bill will not become law. The Senate will change it.

That's basically the position of Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican in leadership, and a member of the Chickasaw Nation. He told National Public Radio: "This thing is going to go to the United States Senate. It's going to change, in my view, in the United States Senate in some way. Then we have to have a Congress -- a conference to work out the differences. If we can do that, then it has to still pass the House and the Senate again before it ever gets to the president. So, you know, at some point, you just have to move. And we think this is it and that this will create some momentum. Again, I'm interested to see what our friends in the Senate will do in response."

Cole is a champion for Indian health programs, especially when it comes to the budget. He's often the critical voice and the only Native American at the table when budgets are written. However he dismisses Medicaid Expansion quickly because Oklahoma is one of the states that's passed. Ok. We disagree. Understandable.

But this House measure is not just about Medicaid Expansion; it's a radical restructuring of Medicaid and capping costs. Even in Oklahoma Medicaid serves more than 800,000 people. And, remember that Medicaid is 13 percent of the IHS budget, more than $800 million now and growing. Already more than half of our children are insured this way. Plus this is the best kind of money because it's used by local clinics and hospitals.

This is what Tom Cole, Don Young, and 215 other Republicans voted to take away from Indian Country. This is what's on the ballot next year.

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

Saving their butts


When 217 Republicans voted for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) last week, many were concerned with only one thing: job protection. Or, more properly put, to cover their asses. I’ve never seen a better example of that time-honored exercise in Congress than that one act.

Many members then made these sick and sorry PUBLIC admissions: not reading the bill - not knowing what was in it - having absolutely no idea what it cost - no consideration for what would be added to the national debt - no concept of its affects on real human beings - no humanitarian concern for 24 millions (or more) people losing health insurance - nothing! Just one big, right-out-in-the-open vote based on a purely selfish personal reason: continued employment.

The traditional method of creating legislation under the rules of the U.S. House involves many steps. Unless a national emergency is involved, the normal time for bills to go from introduction to a final vote is about eight months. Sometimes, more than a year.

Nearly all members of Congress have at least one person on staff to review bills page-by-page. Some have several legislative readers. It’s not unusual for a Congressman not to read all bills, opting for a review summary from staff. Most often written. Very common.

But this “normal” process wasn’t part of the AHCA vote. It couldn’t have been. Because the printed bill to be acted upon was basically a few pages - a summary itself - lacking details of final legislation. Like cost. I believe it was done that way for three reasons.

First, leadership knew the Senate would never pass what was being sent over. So, there was no use writing a couple thousand pages of legislation that wouldn’t survive. Second, the Senate would insist on writing its own bill which would go to a conference committee to work out the differences, resulting in basically a third bill.

But, most Congress watchers believe the third reason got the highest (some would argue lowest) GOP consideration. That was to score some sort of legislative victory for themselves and the president. Like seeming to kill Obamacare while not actually doing it. No consideration for the 24 million (or more) Americans who would lose health insurance. No thought of cost. Absolutely no redeeming value once passed. Just pure partisan politics. And some ass saving.

There’s one aspect of forcing that damnable legislation through I’d like to know about but never will. And that’s what kind of pork barrel goodies were promised members for “yes” votes. Some years ago, Congress vowed to stop pork barrel practices. But there’s pork and then there’s “pork.”

Like future leadership roles and committee chairmanships. And bigger office suites, betterf/more parking spots, increased office budgets, larger staffs, more travel and any new perk you can dream up to make life more pleasant. As I said, there’s pork. Then there’s “pork.” Hope someone will include those details in a future book.

Finally, Democrats and the media keep talking about voter anger at home and negative repercussions for Republicans who voted for AHCA. Well, maybe yes. And, maybe no.

Yes, there may be a few GOP “victims” But, after years of gerrymandering, most Republicans are in pretty secure districts. Like Idaho and Eastern Oregon. Primary opponents and Democrats in the general election would have to be awfully strong and widely based to bring someone down. There would have to be a very high turnout in an off-year election which is not typical. And, consider supporters who would “forgive and forget” a single disagreeable vote if the member is otherwise doing the job and making “good” votes. Threats to job security may not be as widespread as speculators think.

But, this you can take to the bank. What we witnessed was the most flagrant public display of “voter-be-damned,” arrogant, in-your-face, self-serving political B.S. in memory. Good of the country, impact on an anxious public, dollar and personal costs to taxpayers, basic right and wrong were never part of the discussion.

For too many Republican House members “sold” their “yes” votes for all to see, it was an exercise in ass saving. The question is, how many of those asses were worth the saving. To me, not many.

Idaho Digest – May 8

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for May 8. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

On May 5, President Trump signed the Fiscal Year 2017 Consolidated Appropriations Act into law which includes Representative Mike Simpson's agreement on the Gateway West Transmission Line.

McCain Foods USA will expand its production capacity for frozen french fries in North America. The location of the expansion is McCain’s current plant in Burley, Idaho where it has been doing business for 20 years.

On May 4, the U.S. House passed the American Health Care Act 217-213 with backing from both Idaho representatives.

Idaho consumers are expected to see their wages advance 1% per year faster than inflation through the end of the decade. Coupling those wage increases with strong employment gains of around 15,000 new jobs per year gives total real personal income a boost. By 2020, this value will be $8 billion over the 2016 value. While some of this growth comes from increasing population, the per capita values also shine. Real per capita personal income advances $2,500 across these four years, bringing the value from $35,200 to $37,700.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on May 3 expressed frustration and resolve at news that the Federal Emergency Management Agency once again has denied the state’s request for disaster assistance in five Idaho counties hit hard by severe winter storms.

Dinosaurs may be extinct but they will live again this summer at the Idaho Museum of Natural History at Idaho State University. On May 13th the IMNH will open its newest exhibit “Be the Dinosaur” with all things dino! From 9 a.m. to noon the museum will host fun dinosaur activities, including face painting, dinosaur balloon animals, and temporary tattoos that range from $1-$3 per activity in addition to gallery admission. The museum will also have its tyrannosaur on hand for photo ops! Travel back in time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and see the world they knew and “Be the Dinosaur.” Discover the science of dinosaurs and their ecosystems as you walk in their footsteps, hunt, eat, hide and survive and “Be the Dinosaur: Life in the Cretaceous” by using computer simulation, interactive and traditional exhibits. (photo/Idaho State University)

Water Digest – May 8

Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

Trumpcare, Idaho and beyond


The political effect of Thursday’s U.S. House vote on health policy - Trumpcare, as we hear - may be enormous, even in Idaho.

Both Idaho representatives, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, voted in favor of the Republican bill.

Writing about the raw ammunition this gives Democrats, the liberal site Daily Kos cobbled a quick generic attack ad: "Rep. X voted for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while gutting health care for everyone else. Twenty-four million people thrown off Medicaid. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions destroyed. A bill so bad, Republicans wouldn't even let Americans see it before they voted."

Actually, the 24 million refers to to the total number who would lose insurance, Medicaid or otherwise, based on earlier versions of the legislation. (Disclosure: I may be one of the 24 or so million.) But that number may rise when the Congressional Budget Office and other organizations have time to carefully review the bill. Not in a very long time has a chamber of Congress voted for such a large bill without any solid research on what its cost or effects will be, and even without any hearings. It was jammed together in rapid-fire closed-door meetings, and even most House members were left in the dark on specifics.

The followup to 20 million people losing health insurance as a result of this legislation, recent academic studies estimated, is that somewhere between 24,000 and 44,000 Americans would die annually as a result. (A side rhetorical question: When Al-Qaeda attacked us in 2001 and killed more than 3,000 Americans, we accurately labeled them terrorists; if members of Congress vote to pass a bill they have been told will cost more than 20,000 Americans their lives, every year, what should we call them? We may get that debate in the months ahead.) It also may weaken health insurance provided by employers, so if you’re insured through your job, don’t think you have no skin in this.

The effect in Idaho would be large. The new bill may destroy many state health insurance exchanges, which more than 100,000 Idahoans rely on for health care. As a starter.

True, the bill as written is unlikely to get far in the Senate. But House members, even if they were acting with that in mind, voted on the bill as written. It’s on their records, and they’re stuck with it.

But surely that doesn’t have anything to do with Idaho? Idaho is, as they say, ruby red. Labrador and Simpson win in landslides every other years. Does it matter what they do?

Don’t be so certain: People could be hurt, frightened, or both, by what may come next. Politics evolves, even in Idaho. The Senate will not act on it swiftly. (Actual hearings are likely there.) The legislation, at least some of the Senate options, will likely not wear well as people figure out their increased risk.

Don’t be surprised if the unruly town hall Labrador held a couple of weeks ago becomes a portent of larger things to come.

Now, a followup note on last week’s column about Raul Labrador’s political future.

It included a passing reference to Senator Jim Risch, who is up for election in 2020, for what would be a third term. Owing maybe in part to considerations of age, there’s been some chatter (including in Republican circles) that Risch may not run again.

That drew a quick phone call from Risch personally. He was unequivocal: Any such contention was wrong; he and his backers already are at work raising money and organizing (even this early in the cycle); he plans and expects to be on the ballot seeking another term.

I heard nothing evasive or cautionary; he made his intentions as clear as he could short of a formal campaign announcement (which would not come until much further along in the cycle).

Noted. Another factor for Labrador to consider, presumably, in evaluating his future.

Time to close the gap?


The first sign of trouble was not particularly dramatic, but it got my attention.

Last November, when the Supreme Court was hearing cases in Twin Falls, I felt a pain in my left side just as we started hearing our second case. It felt like a heavy pressure was being exerted below my rib cage. I thought it might be a heart problem, which prompted a visit to a doc-in-the-box. The doctor assured me it was not a heart issue but could not pinpoint the cause of the pain. I left with an antibiotic prescription, but the pain went away before I could take one.

In early December, when the Court was hearing cases in Boise, I had a recurrence of the pain. I visited my family doctor, who ordered an MRI to see if it might be an ulcer. When the result came back, it looked like there was some sort of mass on my pancreas, so I went in for a CT scan to further investigate. The scan disclosed a tumor on the pancreas, so I went in for an endoscopic ultrasound. The ultrasound probe goes down into the stomach and sidles right up close to the pancreas to get some really good pictures. Biopsy samples disclosed that the tumor was malignant. Since then it has been surgically removed and I am currently on chemotherapy.

All of the medical folks have said it was good the cancer was caught early. We all know that early detection of almost any illness is important to a favorable patient outcome. Luckily, I had good insurance coverage under the State’s plan - the same plan that protects the health of Idaho legislators and executive branch employees. Without the three relatively expensive exploratory scans paid for by the insurance company, I would have been out of luck.

I think of the 78,000 Idahoans in the Medicaid gap and wonder about their fate when they start having suspicious symptoms. I suspect they just have to suck it up and take a pain reliever. No costly tests for them to find the cause of puzzling symptoms.

Most of these folks work hard to take care of their families but make too much to get Medicaid coverage and too little to get subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Had Idaho opted to take the many millions of dollars available to expand its Medicaid program, like 31 other states have done, those people could have a chance for a good outcome.

It seems to me that the time has come for Idaho to join the other 31 states and get some of the life sustaining funds that we have previously allowed to go to other states.

It is not clear whether the Affordable Care Act will be amended, repealed or remain in place. But, based on what has occurred in the debate thus far this year, it does not appear that Congress will repeal the Medicaid expansion that was part of the ACA. Idaho should now demand its share of the Medicaid expansion money. Continued refusal to take the money will perpetuate the unattended medical problems suffered by Medicaid gap families.

This is a moral issue, not a political issue. We should not require that people dispose of their assets to qualify for Medicaid or, worse, that they run for public office in order to get good health insurance.