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Posts published in June 2017

Pushing the F-35 odds


Last week attendees at the Association of Idaho Cities heard a presentation about a Boise-specific project that could have impacts throughout the state: The effort to designate Gowen Field at Boise as a training mission site for the F-35 Air Force aircraft.

The state’s national guard unit at Gowen would supply manpower for the effort. While Gowen is located at Boise, Mayor David Bieter and a state Department of Commerce spokesman pointed out the economic effects of the added mission at the airfield, which would run to many millions of dollars and added employment, could ripple throughout southern Idaho.

The contest to house the F-35 mission is not over; five cities are in the running (the others are Jacksonville, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; and Montgomery, Alabama), and two will be chosen. They would replace the A-10 Warthogs, at least some of which are going away. There is some concern about what might happen if Boise misses out; Gowen employs 1,300 people and facilities associated with it employ more. There’s a lot at stake here, since the worst-case scenario might include a shutdown if no new Air Force mission is assigned. An F-35 assignment, on the other hand, might lead to significant expansions. The final decision will be made by the secretary of the Air Force in Washington.

So the Boise and state of Idaho interest in the F-35 is understandable.

The presentation to the cities officials covered these points and others, but it seemed to elide one aspect of the discussion around the proposal: The mixed reaction to it locally. The pitch at the meeting took the basic approach that support for the expansion is stronger than many people think. But that hints at the fact of significant opposition out there. And it is significant.

Some of the most visible comes from David Frazier, whose website Boise Guardian has been tracking the city’s press for the assignment - critically. Noise (the two sides hotly dispute the amount and quality of it), economic impact and other issues are factors, but Frazier’s biggest complaint may be that the city hasn’t much engaged those Boiseans who are in opposition.

Last week a Guardian article said that, “With more than 200 residents attending a Tuesday meeting, it’s fair to say opposition to the F-35 being based at Gowen Field is growing. Citizens packed the public meeting room at the Main Library to hear speakers discuss the ramifications of basing the F-35 at Gowen Field. Although invited by the sponsoring, ‘Citizens For A Livable Boise’ group, no one from the city of Boise or the Idaho Air National Guard attended.”

He and some others in opposition say that while the city and state have promoted the F-35 project to any number of associations, from cities to realtors, Boiseans irritated about it have had trouble getting the city’s ear.

This could be an issue for the advocates since - as was pointed out at the cities association - local support for the expansion is a factor the Air Force considers when making its assignments.

The point here is not to take a side on whether the F-35s should come to Boise. But it is to suggest that if advocates want to improve their odds of attracting it, a little more community outreach to the opposition might be helpful.

Oops – they did it again


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the DCCC) continues to suffer from a failure of vision. A month ago, Beltway Democrats conceded defeat in the Montana special congressional election before the race began. Last Tuesday, they did so again – this time in South Carolina.

While the DCCC went all in for Jon Ossoff in his bid to win the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, it did little, if anything, to support Archie Parnell, the Democrat running in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.

Unfortunately, both Ossoff and Parnell narrowly lost their respective contests; but Parnell, the candidate who was pretty much ignored by the national Democrats, came within 3 points of his Republican opponent while Ossoff, who received millions of dollars in support, lost by 4 points. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Parnell would have won had the DCCC given him anywhere near the same level of support it gave to Ossoff. But he might have. A 3 point margin was far from insurmountable.

Consider this: In the special election, Parnell garnered 42,053 votes -- that's 63,219 fewer votes than was received by the Democrat running in the 2016 general election -- and she lost by 18 points! In last week’s special election, Parnell's opponent won with a slim margin – just 2,836 votes. A well-funded and well-organized Get Out the Vote effort for Parnell could have made up that 2,836 vote difference; after all, more than 60,000 likely Democratic votes were "left on the table." This was a lost opportunity, another failure of vision.

The DCCC might have anticipated the closeness of the South Carolina race had it focused more on how the district performed in recent congressional elections and not so much on the performance of the 2016 presidential candidates. It seems that national Democrats only invest in “winnable” districts, those where the last Democratic presidential candidate made a good showing. Unfortunately, that narrow view of “winnability” misses a myriad of local factors that can swing a congressional election.

Mesmerized by the fact that Trump had won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District by only a single point, the DCCC saw the district as ripe for flipping. But because Trump carried South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District by 18 points, the DCCC didn’t give that race a second thought.

The DCCC would have done well to note that in 2016 the South Carolina contest was more competitive than the 6th District race in Georgia. In the last three elections, the Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 6th averaged a 28% advantage over the Democratic opponent. But in South Carolina’s 5th, the Republican congressional candidate averaged a 16% advantage over the Democratic opponent. While both districts could fairly be seen as congressional long-shots, South Carolina’s 5th arguably offered more fertile ground.
If you’re looking to win a race for Congress, perhaps that contest – not the last presidential election – would serve as a better guidepost. There’s something to be said for comparing apples to apples.

I am not suggesting the DCCC should have supported Parnell instead of Ossoff. Ossoff deserved the support he received. But both races deserved to be taken seriously, as did the race in Montana.

Beltway Democrats must start looking beyond the presidential percentages from the prior election in assessing a congressional candidate’s chances. If they fail to do so, there will be many more lost opportunities. We need not settle for moral victories, those where we come close to winning but still fall short. I’m all for seeing silver linings in election results, and there are some to be seen when we improve our percentages. But As Republican operatives were quick to point out, “Moral victories do not vote in Congress.”

Fathers and dads


Found myself pondering “Father’s Day” this past week. Yes, I know I’m a week late writing about it. I’m one of those folks, however, who spends time pondering what it means to be a “father” and the difference between a “father” and a “Dad.” Fatherhood carries with it an awesome responsibility to provide guidance to the children one helps to create by setting a good example and always being there.

My wife and I are blessed with four wonderful children all of whom have found their place in the world, all are college graduates, healthy and happy, and in the case of the three oldest, are mature women dedicated to helping others. Their brother, our youngest, is a Vandal and a Major in the US Marine Corps.

We’re proud of all. They all called and wished the old man a good day. Two of them took “Dad” to see a double header Northwest League baseball game between Spokane and Boise. Not only do they all love baseball, like their Dad, all also know how to keep a scorebook.

I’m fortunate I still have a great relationship with all for sadly too many fathers and children become alienated. I readily concede though that the credit goes to my spouse. We also luckily figured out things we could do as family such as enjoying Idaho’s wilderness by backpacking and going on rafting trips.

In the beginning the two older girls called me by my nickname, but it came to a screeching halt one day when overheard by a colleague, Mike McGavick. He jumped all over them that I was to be called Dad, that a father is not just another name, that Dad conveys a special relationship and is to be respected and cherished.

I thought once again about that incident upon reading a note from Mike that his father, Joe, had passed away a few days earlier. Like many father and sons, they at times had a contentious relationship. Both loved politics and both made their mark in the business world. Both were strong personalities and could clash easily. At the end of the day, however, one knew a deep and abiding love was present also.

There are a variety of phrases that use the word father. For example, Mike honored me by asking that I be the godfather of his first born, Jack (and my wife to be the godmother).

Most men never consider taking a parenting class, but despite what one may think, it doesn’t just come naturally, and all men and women could make use of parenting classes. All too often the father figure does not realize the degree to which the son tries to imitate the father. One of the great songs in the 60’s was “Cat’s in the cradle” by Harry Chapin. It is all about how a Dad does not have time to spend with his son. Then when the son is an adult and the Dad is retired the son doesn’t have time to spend with the Dad.

I can say that while my Dad tried to a limited extent to be a good father to my brother, my sister and me, he failed. He had lost his own father when he was three. His mother, trying to live as a waitress in Chicago during the Depression, couldn’t take care of him and so gave him away to a relative in far away Burke, Idaho.

That experience coupled with ten battles in the Pacific created mental issues and along with bad migraines, led to his committing suicide when I was 14. It was more by the Grace of God and my wife’s skill that I managed to be a tolerably decent Dad.

I was blessed to have two other types of “fathers” to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude for their patience and guidance. One father is a priest, Father Steve Dublinski, who I worked with when he was the Vicar General for Bishop William Skylstad in the diocese of Spokane. I introduced Father Steve to fly fishing and in three weeks he was better than I. He has become a superb fly fisherman. I have benefitted, however, in that for ten years now, on an average of three times a month, we go fly fishing on his day off up the St. Joe or the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene. We’ve also fished other streams in Idaho and Montana. The scenery is always great as is the company.

Then there are those rare individuals who truly become “surrogate fathers” for fatherless folk like me. Over the years I worked for Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus our relationship evolved into a father/son relationship. He tutored and taught me much. Those times I have stumbled almost all have the common denominator of my failure to pick up the phone and seek his counsel.

Andrus is a natural teacher and father. He dotes on his three daughters, but he also keeps an eye out on his surrogate sons - I am just one of three or four other sons he keeps track of.

I end this “Father’s Day Salute” to Father Dublinski, to Dad Andrus, and to Mike McGavick with a belated “best wishes” to you all and thanks for your kind and compassionate interest in this wondering waif. And a happy 58th birthday to Father Steve on June 26th and a happy observance of his 33rd anniversary of his ordination on June 29th. I am so blessed by you all. Thanks so much.

Has Congress no shame?


Congress should be ashamed of itself for clandestinely drafting a healthcare bill involving hundreds of billions of dollars behind closed doors.

The imperial Congress has shown contempt for citizens on every side of the issue by cutting the public out of the process, while allowing lobbyists to participate in the division of the spoils. This is not exactly government of the people, by the people, and for the people, as envisioned by our founding fathers. It more resembles the type of partisanship that George Washington warned against in his Farewell Address.

First, the House rushed through a bill, later described by the President as “mean, mean, mean,” without even knowing the number of people who would lose healthcare coverage. Many Congressmen did not even read it. Only afterwards did we learn that about 23,000,000 Americans would lose coverage, while the favored few would get many billions in tax cuts. The Senate process has been even more unseemly. The Senate bill, which affects about one-sixth of our economy and the health of many millions, did not have the benefit of even one public hearing. The bill was sprung out on June 22 with the intent of ramming it through the following week. Apparently, the Senate majority leader felt that people who depend for their very lives on the existing healthcare system did not have a right to know how the bill might affect them. His caucus meekly followed his lead out of misguided partisanship.

I grew up in a Republican party that respected voters across the spectrum and sought and valued their input. My mentor, the late Senator Len Jordan, would be sickened by the spectacle that has played out in the Congress on this legislation in recent weeks. Don’t we need to allow citizens, as well as the healthcare community, a reasonable opportunity to review and digest this legislation and then attend public hearings to advise legislators of their concerns? Or, have we reached the point where we must just shut up and let our imperial and benevolent “representatives” dictate our fate?

We do know that both bills will make massive cuts to Medicaid that will have significant adverse impacts on health care for children, the elderly, and the poor.

As Close the Gap Idaho recently disclosed, two out of five Idaho children receive federally-subsidized health care. If federal funds are slashed, the costs will fall back on the State and Idaho hospitals or the kids will simply have to go without care. Neither Idaho nor the federal government provides adequate funds for mental health services and drug treatment programs and it looks like this legislation will make a bad situation much worse. Rural hospitals could be severely impacted by the funding cuts.

These are just a few of the areas of concern that should be thoroughly explored in Congressional hearings to prevent significant damage to the healthcare system and those who rely upon it for their very lives. The issue is much too important, with far-ranging consequences for the health of millions, to just rush forward blindly merely to score political points.

Let our Senators and Congressmen know that we expect important public issues to be discussed publicly with adequate opportunity for input from those to whom they are supposed to answer--the voters.

No third parties


When politicized times become frenetic - when large uncoordinated, disconnected groups gather in the streets - when significant numbers of people feel frustrated and ignored by their government - when passions speak louder than reason - things can get dangerous. We are living in such times.

Several examples in that long list of conditions have gotten my attention in recent days. As more and more people, usually previously non-political - become involved, they try to seek major changes in our national governing structure. Bad decisions are usually made under those conditions and worse outcomes often guaranteed.

Here are the some that stick in my mind, listed in no particular order.

First: an oft-repeated desire to form a third political party. You hear it every day as the media interviews various opponents of the current President, his minions and a Congress filled with eunuchs. It runs something like this: “Democrats are wrong. Republican are wrong. We need new blood and a new party that can take charge and get things back to normal.”

No, we don’t need a third party. What we need are two political parties that are strong, healthy and which represent people - not lobbyists, corporations or incumbents concerned only with their continued employment. At the moment, neither party can fulfill those conditions. Nor could a third by the next decade.

Nearly all voices I hear pushing a third party are those who’ve absolutely no idea how to structure one, build one or run one. They have no concept of the time, money and organization necessary to get a new party on ballots in all 50 states. And, if successful, it would take years to reach a significant number of voters to make it a viable contender against two parties whose names are immediately recognizable to nearly all Americans. Throw in staffing, recruiting bonafide candidates and raising hundreds of millions of dollars to mount meaningful campaigns. No. No third party before 2018. Or 2020. Or..........................

Second: Loud voices want to run Elizabeth Warren for President. No! She lacks any significant experience for the job. But, her strong, excellent stands on a few issues - mostly financial/consumer - have made her a formidable force. In the Senate. On those issues, she’s a leader and a winner. Put her in the White House and you clip her wings. Keep her in the Senate where she can argue those issues and be either a significant voice or a tenacious and successful opponent.

Third: Run Bernie for President. No! Many of the same arguments for Warren also apply to Sanders. He, too, has good, important issues. Most of them in different areas from Warren, i.e. veterans affairs, Social Security, Medicare and health care in general. Keep Sanders and Warren on important Senate committees where they can originate - and lobby for - significant political needs. If the Dems get a majority in that body in 2018, each can be a powerhouse for some of the most important programs that directly affect the most lives.

Fourth: While both major parties are in significant disarray, Democrats are in worse shape. Republicans control all but 13 statehouses and a majority of legislatures. Those are breeding grounds for most future national candidates. They’re the “farm teams” developing legislative talent. Dems need to work in the states - all states - to train future talent for major races. Then win some.

A second matter the Donkeys should be targeting now is seeking out disaffected Republicans. There’s got to be millions of ‘em. With a dead-in-the-water Republican Congress, an out-of-control GOP, and a President endangering our national survival, find ’em, talk to ‘em and get ‘em interested in returning sanity, honesty and effectiveness to our national affairs. They’re out there. Go get ‘em!

But, instead of getting to work, raising money and developing a new and stronger organizational structure, most Dems are silent or just bitching. Candidate recruitment, fund raising, rebuilding state offices and staff - all issues just sitting there. Republicans dominate statehouses and legislatures because they did that work years ago. And they keep doing it.

The string that runs through all these topics is the third party issue. That talk has got to stop. Take the well-known parties you have - either one or both - rebuild it with the right people doing the right jobs, get serious about candidate recruitment in the states, tap your big fund-raisers to get the mother’s milk flowing and get cracking. Now! Not next year.

One more thing. Republican or Democrat. Take a large axe and lop off the extremes of your political spectrums. Stop catering to far right and/or far left. Develop your message in the middle - where most of us are. Stop letting voices of extremism set your tone which encourages an ineffective minority while undermining and chasing away the voters you need most. Moderates. Independents.

There’s plenty to be mad about out there. There’s plenty to be outright scared about. But, check the polls. If Congress is supported by only 18% of voters, that means more than 80% want something more - something different - something effective - something new!

First Party there with the best candidates with the best message will win. And that could last for a decade. Or two! Or more!

Water Digest – June 26

Water rights weekly report for June 26. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

Representative Scott Tipton (CO-03) reintroduced the Water Rights Protection Act (H.R. 2939) on June 21. The bill would uphold federal deference to state water law and prevent federal takings of privately held water rights. In 2014, the U.S. Forest Service proposed the Groundwater Resource Management Directive, which gave the federal government jurisdiction over groundwater in a manner that was inconsistent with long-established state water law. The USFS withdrew the measure but has indicated a desire to issue a revised directive in the future. The Water Rights Protection Act would prohibit the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior from requiring the transfer of water rights as a condition of any land-use permit.

A lawsuit over how much various Southern California parties should pay for water they import from the Colorado River hit another inflection point point on June 21, as a three-judge panel of a state appellate court reversed significant parts of a 2015 trial court decision.

The state of Montana’s agriculture department has an Industrial Hemp Pilot Program, but it’s running into problems because of federal restriction on water use for hemp production.

PHOTO Hemavathi water suppy canal in India.

Idaho Briefing – June 26

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for June 26. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

It’s a quiet period in the early summer stretch leading up to Independence Day, but state politics got a little shakeup with the campaign change of Russ Fulcher, and with ongoing developments out of Washington.

The Idaho Department of Lands auctioned 14 Payette Lake lots for deeded ownership at a public auction in Boise. The land sales generated $7,895,500 for the endowment funds that support State Hospital South and teacher education programs at Idaho State University and Lewis-Clark State College.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation increased flows from Lucky Peak Dam by an additional 500 cubic feet per second on June 23, at 8 am. The Boise River reservoir system continues to be in active flood control operations in this unusually high water year.

The state of Idaho on June 23 auctioned another U.S. Forest Service timber sale as part of a State-federal partnership to increase management activities on federal lands in Idaho. The Woodrat Salvage Sale on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests is Idaho’s second project developed under Good Neighbor Authority, a federal law that enables the Forest Service to partner with the Idaho Department of Lands to achieve restoration and resilient landscape objectives across ownership boundaries in Idaho.

Micron Technology, Inc., on June 22 announced that the company has appointed Sumit Sadana as executive vice president and chief business officer. His addition to the executive team will accelerate the company's ability to execute on its strategic goals.

The Idaho Transportation Board on June 23 unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that allows the Idaho Transportation Department to move forward with an agreement to develop a public private partnership to build the Northgate Interchange (Siphon Road) in Bannock County.

PHOTO The State of Idaho on June 23 at Kamiah auctioned another U.S. Forest Service timber sale today as part of a State-federal partnership to increase management activities on federal lands in Idaho.. (photo/Idaho Department of Lands)

The Senate health plan: Don’t get sick


The Senate bill, like its House counterpart, has a simple message for Indian Country: Don't get sick. Not in June. Not anytime soon. This bill is not about health care because it takes billions from Medicaid and passes on that savings to wealthy Americans.

How bad could it be? The official financial review from the Congressional Budget Office is expected early next week. The scoring of the similar House bill projected that by next year 14 million more people would be uninsured. And by 2026, an estimated 51 million people under age 65 would be uninsured. Under the House bill only a few million would use tax credits to purchase policies that even then would not cover major medical risks.

So the important takeaway from both the Senate bill and the House version is that it strips money away from Medicaid ($834 billion) and gives back most of those to high-income taxpayers ($664 billion). The Senate bill takes a little time to destroy Medicaid. It begins phasing out the expansion in 2021 and that will be completed by 2024. Then, like the House, Medicaid would become a state block grant program. The Republicans argue that this would control costs, slowing the growth of government spending. (Now Medicaid spending is automatic: If you are eligible, the money is there.)

Medicaid now accounts for about 20 percent of the budget in most Indian health system clinics and hospitals. And, more important, it's a growing source of funding. It pays for medical procedures and for transportation to clinics. It's the big ticket.

But Medicaid is also an odd duck. It's officially a state-federal partnership so the federal government picks up most of the cost and sets some of the rules, while states get to determine other rules. Both the Senate and the House bills would let states do more (such as requiring patients to work) or what's especially what's covered by insurance.

This is particularly messy for Indian Country. Both the Senate and House bills recognize the Indian Health System as unique (and paid for by the federal government). So the legislation preserves the 100 percent federal funding through what's called the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for Medicaid or FMAP. And in theory both the Senate and House would keep in place federal rules for tribal members on some state requirements such as work rules. But the money would still flow from Washington to the states for administration. Messy (as it often is now). And the states that now have Medicaid expansion, through the Affordable Care Act would have to phase that out.

The biggest problem for Indian Country is that the Senate and House bills would destroy the framework of Medicaid. The bills move health care back to the states in a big way. That can be good or bad. California is debating how to create a single payer system. The Nevada legislature recently passed a Medicaid-for-all statute (where any citizen could buy into the program) only to have the law vetoed by the governor. But other states see health care only as a cost. The thinking goes that Medicaid is just another word for welfare and states should sharply reduce what is spent by government and let hospitals cover the cost of "charity" care.

Some numbers here. The American Hospital Association opposes both bills for one reason. In 1990 uncompensated care cost $12.1 billion or about 6 percent of total hospital expenses. By 2012 that figure reached $45.9 billion. And, after the Affordable Care Act, the total uncompensated care costs dropped to $35.7 billion or 4.2 percent of total hospital expenses, the lowest level in 26 years.

But this shows the futility of cutting Medicaid and insurance programs for the poor. It doesn't save money, it just shifts it around. People who get sick will go to emergency rooms when it's later in their illness and more expensive. So hospitals will cost more for everybody. (But at least the wealthy get their tax break, right?)

The opioid crisis is an example of that. The costs will not go away. Some money will be found by states, cities and tribes. The Senate bill adds a funding stream of $45 billion over 10 years for substance abuse treatment and prevention that's now funded by the Affordable Care Act. But Medicaid expansion has been a key funding source. The Associated Press reports that Medicaid expansion accounted for 61 percent of total Medicaid spending on substance abuse treatment in Kentucky, 56 percent in Michigan, and 43 percent in Ohio.

The Senate has only a few days to consider their version of health care "reform." Already a few conservatives are saying the bill doesn't go far enough and want more changes. This is the script the House used: The conservatives throw a fit, get their way, and then the so-called moderates give in and vote yes anyway.

My bet is that Senate leaders have already written off Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Maine Sen. Susan Collins because of their past support for Planned Parenthood (there are already restrictions against the federal funding of abortion, but the Senate bill says Planned Parenthood cannot bill Medicaid for a year for all women's health services). So I think Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is banking on a fifty-fifty split with Vice President Mike Pence casting the deciding vote.

That means the moderate senators, those that support Medicaid in their states, can say what ever they want now. But it's their vote that will count. Destroy Medicaid or cut taxes? That's the choice for these three: Rob Portman of Ohio, Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia, and Cory Gardner from Colorado. Perhaps it's wishful thinking but I will add Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan to this list because Alaska will be hit particularly hard by the overall legislation, the opioid epidemic, the state's successful expansion of Medicaid, and its impact on the Alaska Native Medical system. Sullivan said on Facebook that he will read every word of the bill and he wants "a sustainable and equitable path forward for Medicaid" and he won't vote for a bill that makes things worse for Alaskans. So will it be his party or Alaskans? Health care or tax cuts?

And, since I am asking already asking questions, will the Senate bill pass next week? Remember it will only take one senator to force the Senate to start over.

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

Winter’s coming


Ah, the first day of winter. . .

Yesterday's June solstice having yesterday passed, the days are now getting shorter and shorter -- first slowly, then increasingly and noticeably shorter as the autumnal equinox arrives in September.

Yes, days are quite rapidly becoming shorter and before long, the leaves will begin to turn and "termination dust" (a term Alaskans use to describe the descending snow-line in the Chugach Mountains) will become visible.

So enjoy these long days for the brief period of time we have left.

If there is a bright spot, it is that days themselves are longer by by a full 1.7 milliseconds than they were a century ago, this being the result of those big sluggish bodies of water we call oceans, which are slowing down the Earth's rotation as they respond to gravitational pulls from the moon and other celestial bodies.

My guess is that in another century or two, all those idiotic windmills we're putting up to generate expensive electricity will have slowed the planet's rotation even more, making for yet longer days as they impose drag on our atmospheric ocean.

At any rate, have a nice day and start digging those Christmas decorations out. You have but milliseconds left.