Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in June 2017

Digging in heels, and more

richardson

Good for Senate Democrats for deciding to apply the brakes to Mitch McConnell's runaway train.

Ordinarily, I don't like the idea of bringing senate business to a halt. But these are not ordinary times and the clandestine process by which the GOP is crafting a so-called health care bill is anything but ordinary. It is an affront to the American people and to the republic.

A lot of GOP talking heads attempt, unsuccessfully, to defend McConnell’s machinations by employing the empty accusation that the Democrats did “the exact same thing." Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2009, when the ACA was enacted into law, there were hearings after hearings -- more than a year's worth. Time and time again Democrats compromised with their Republican counterparts and accepted substantive Republican amendments to the bill. None of this was enough to garner Republican support. The GOP did not budge an inch.

After a good deal of time and numerous efforts to accommodate Republicans, the Democrats realized it was futile to continue seeking Republican assistance in passing a bipartisan bill. It had become crystal clear that further concessions would be met by unthinking resistance. They would have to do it on their own.

Of course, the Democrats of 2009 did not know what would soon be revealed – that on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration, Mitch McConnell and his confederates met in a D.C. watering hole and vowed to oppose anything and everything the new president proposed. Recall that their primary goal was to make Obama a “one term president.” Heck, hurting the country is a small price to pay they reasoned – if only they could win back the White House.

Digging in their heals might have helped make McConnell majority leader in 2010, but in 2012 Obama would handily win re-election, defeating former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the Republican after whose own health care plan the ACA was most closely modeled. In their head long rush to defeat Obama, the Republicans blatantly put party before country.

They’re still doing it. Old habits die hard.

One thing is certain: the process that resulted in the passage of the ACA, though imperfect, was open and transparent. The bill was thoroughly vetted in broad daylight, quite a contrast with McConnell's closed door, get-it-done and push-it-through process now unfolding.

Health care accounts for one-sixth of our economy and McConnell's slash and dash approach to legislating is utterly irresponsible and completely unacceptable. The Democrats must go to the mat on this one. They must use every tool at their disposal to stand up for the American people, 23 million of whom are estimated to lose coverage under the plan passed by Republicans in the House.

As for Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans? They are brazenly sowing the wind. And those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

Too cute by half

carlson

It appears Rep. Raul Labrador (R-1st CD-Idaho), despite being a darling of those enamoured with the Tea Party wing of the Grand Old Party, missed one of the fundamental principles of the movement encapsulated in the phrase “We don’t like politics as usual.”

This past week Labrador and his fellow Tea Party type, former State Senator Russ Fulcher, announced one of those cynical “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” that is a classic form of politics as usual.

After telling many of his supporters that he was not a place-holder for Rep. Labrador, that he was in the Governor’s race to stay, he and his friend, Raul, are now in cahoots together trying to pull off a job switcheroo.

Surprise! Fulcher is now running for Labrador’s congressional seat with Labrador’s endorsement. Can you ask “is that a quid pro quo? You betcha. Fulcher gets the endorsement and Raul has one less conservative to overcome in the primary.

Everybody is happy because the politicians each have something. It's only the voters who get suckered that get hurt, the people who took Fulcher at his word that he wanted to be governor, and wrote checks because they believed him.

Labrador has to be chuckling to himself all the way to the bank. He thinks it is a no lose for him, but a little knowledge of Idaho history might have given Labrador at least some pause.

If history is any guide, voters take exception to this kind of cynical game and often to the surprise of those who play the game, the voters do remember and both politicians, if they hold a current political office, get punished.

The most cited example of this form of gamemenship came in November of 1945. On November 10th, 1945, Republican United States Senator John Thomas died while still holding the Senate seat. Then Idaho Governor Charles Gossett, a Democrat, must have seen a senator staring back at him in the mirror on Armistice Day morning when he was shaving.

He met with Lt. Governor Arnold Williams, also a Democrat, and the two cut a deal. Gossett would resign the governorship, which he did on November 17th, presumably having waited until Senator Thomas was buried in the Gooding cemetery, and Williams, who had become governor upon the Gossett resignation, named Gossett to fill the vacancy created by Thomas’ passing.

Retribution by the voters was swift and fatal. Voters tossed both out of office: Gossett lost to Rep. Henry Dworshak less than a year later on November 5th, 1946, and Williams, despite being the first Mormon in Idaho history to sit in the Governor’s chair, was soundly beaten by State Senator C.A. “Doc” Robins, MD, from St. Maries and the first governor to hail from north Idaho.

The moral of the story is clear: “Voters do not like seeing such games being played for it truly does smack of politics as usual.” Fulcher and Labrador can deny it until the cows come home but that won’t change how most will view this development.

Lt. Governor Brad Little should benefit from this move by Labrador for it demonstrates just how political as opposed to principled Labrador is.

Likewise, David Leroy should benefit because he is skilled enough to make sure every voter in the First District understands that Fulcher is an opportunist who just wants a government paycheck and would prefer the anonymity of being one of 450 members of congress rather than the leader of his state.

In the end the voters do win because they see what chameleons the two men really are.

On the media and crisis

mckee

We watch with slack-jawed disbelief as the unending gaggle of media – main stream, up-stream and other – completely swamp the 24 hour news cycle with the same subject, over and over. For way too long the media’s selection of the crisis de jour has been Russia’s Vladimir Putin in any direct activity in the United States, or any conceivable offshoot thereof. The scrutiny includes the principals of our new government and extends to all of the henchmen and hanger’s-on clear to the very top – into the oval office and upon the desk of our own old fool. The offshoots, also being thoroughly examined, include fibbing to any degree, money in all of its illegal permutations, and anybody just getting in the way.

All is the topic of legislative hearings by germane committees of the House and Senate, and all are on the plate of the special prosecutor. This amounts to picking over the bones of past events, which will take months before the pieces and parts will be identified and connected up sufficiently to draw any meaningful conclusions.

The absence of hard news or the existence of real evidence has not slowed down the media circus a whit. When they cannot find actual evidence or witnesses with knowledge to question, they interview each other and trade predictions and speculations back and forth with abandon. There are occasional interruptions for the snippet of a speech or press interview by somebody with actual knowledge, but save these few exceptions, the on-air time is overwhelmingly devoted to panel after panel of media notables interviewing each other.

Meanwhile, the world turns from one truly international catastrophe to another. There are the rumblings and endless fighting in Syria and Afghanistan, and the darkening clouds of war over Yemen and now Qatar. Trump has turned all of this over to the generals, and the generals are treating everything as a military problem. Nobody is paying attention. We are finding out about events in the press summaries and wrap-ups, with no examination of the why’s or wherefore’s.

The realities of Trump’s disastrous tour of the Middle East is beginning to spill forth. He is pressing Congress to approve a billion dollar arms deal with the Saudis despite strong, historical objection from the diplomatic interests, and mounting vociferous objection from the human rights crowd. Never mind that it will reverse what has been our policy for decades to move with great caution before providing arms to the Saudis. Nobody seems to care. The Saudis, believing they had our Old Fool in their pocket from the smarmy speech he delivered, jerked the rug out from under Qatar, a close ally of the U.S. and the location of a significant U.S. naval support facility and a major regional airbase. We are just now in the process of delivering an arms shipment to Qatar, including a passel of F-15 fighters. The whole works is rapidly turning into a roiling regional crisis, but nobody is paying attention. No one is listening.

Trump’s speech in Saudi Arabia was obviously not cleared with the Secretary of State. It included a totally misguided diatribe against Iran, without mentioning that Iran had just re-elected a moderate leader, over significant objection of the Ayatollah and the hard liners, meaning huge prospects for improving future relations with the West. Our old fool slammed Iran, and continues to do so, without any consideration to the moderating government actions that may well stem from the renewed Rouhani regime. As should be obvious by now, stability in the region depends upon the development of stable, peaceful relations with Iran. Some cautious progress had been made in this direction under Obama; our old fool is doing his best to undo it all. Nobody seems to care.

In another jaw-dropping remark, he complemented Erdogan, the emerging dictator of Turkey, on the success of his obviously rigged election, as that country was continuing its apparent descent into totalitarianism. Turkey, still a member of NATO, is beginning serious overtures towards Putin’s Russia. The magnitude of international crises that is about to erupt because of these conflicts boggle; yet, nobody seems to be minding the store.

Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election in the U.K. with disastrous consequences to the Tories, and probably to her hold on government. All of this may have lasting effect on the U.K.’s exit from the European Common Market. The U.S. is more interested in the personal insults the Trump handed to the Mayor of London. Trump had omitted a vital reference to our commitment to NATO from the speech he delivered to the European powers. His three senior cabinet officials, State, Defense and NSA, thought they had a deal that he would include the reference, and he thumbed his nose at them – and the rest of NATO – and left it out at the last minute. In the uproar that followed, Trump had to spend hours walking back this omission and assuring all who would listen that we truly do support NATO; in the process, and in the fashion we have come to expect, he managed to wing the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Belgium, the new President of France, and the Mayor of London. His once planned formal State visit to the U.K. is now on hold until the public reaction to this most recent faux pas dies down.

In other times, any of these issues would be white-hot and on the front burner of every cooker in the media. Today, however, the media fastened on the delicious aroma of scandal, money and criminal involvement swirling around the Trump and his cabal of sycophants, to virtually the exclusion of all else, as the cognoscenti happily dismantle the hyperbolic fancies of Russian intrigue and clandestine money laundries, predicting with gleeful fervor exactly how the special prosecutor will probably plunge into his tasks and begin hauling miscreants before grand juries any day now. The mere fact of anyone on the other side of the fence even talking with a lawyer has become breaking news.

There is nothing to be done about this, of course. The “media” is a headless fiction driven by a myriad of influences, and certainly beyond the control of any single set of individual interests. And in any event, the problem is really not the media, it is the fire-hose volume of mishaps, accidents, oversights, slip-ups, errors, and bone-head mistakes spewing forth from the paralyzed, incompetent and ill-prepared office of the supposed leader of the free world. There is no way to keep up with any of it, let alone try to force a triage upon the media to analyze it all and rank the issues from most to least.

Congress has abdicated all responsibility here; it has become petrified, mired in its own intransigence, and incapable of any significant action. The rest of government is equally ill-equipped to respond to any important question. Most have unqualified leaders at their helm and all are only half staffed, if that. Hundreds of critical undersecretary positions spread through every cabinet agency are vacant because the Trump has declined to fill the positions. The Whitehouse itself is staffed with witless sycophants and bickering amateurs. And even here, nobody seems to care.

When will it all change? When again will reason and common sense return to the media, and we will again see the actual critical stories of the day, appropriately rated, ranked and analyzed with true efficiency?

It’s three years, six months, three weeks and a few days until the inauguration of our 46th president, but then, who’s counting. Take a deep breath and relax. How could it get any worse?

A snake named McConnell

rainey

While our in-over-his-head president and his ignorant minions go about the quiet destruction of a government 250 years in the making, their party - and one member in particular - is behaving in the most despicable political manner I’ve seen in my four score years.

Mitch McConnell and his lieutenants are putting together legislation creating a massive health care law that will eventually contain costs amounting to more than one-fifth of our national economy. It will involve medical and life-saving care - and access to it or denial of it - for nearly a quarter of our entire population. And they’re doing it in so much secrecy some members of their own party haven’t seen it and don’t know what’s in it.

The intent is to spring it on the entire Senate and, without disclosure, debate or a single public hearing - and without disclosing the cost to the nation much less other details - force it through the entire body.

Never in the long history of Congress has one political party been so underhanded, domineering, ruthless and dishonest in its headlong abuse of its own power on such critical legislation. Some weeks ago, the House pulled a similar cowardly act by passing an equally large package without knowing costs or it even being read by more than a handful of members. But that blanket violation of public trust is about to hit an even lower low.

If McConnell is successful, most estimates are some 20 million Americans will suddenly be without health care. Many of them with pre-existing conditions will just as quickly face abandonment and possible death. Some, being kept alive by care far beyond their own ability to pay and thorough no fault of their own, will be left deserted without a lifesaving safety net.

McConnell is the chief architect of this impending disaster and cowardly act. As Majority Leader, he calls all the shots when it comes to which bills are recognized and which are assigned to the trash heap. He’s also responsible for the conduct of Senate affairs and operation of all its support systems. The buck stops with him!

McConnell is often given credit for being a master of Senate policies and procedures. A man who can pull legislative rabbits out of political hats. But such power and knowledge are beneficial only when used responsibly. And in no case can the word “responsibly” - or any derivation of it - be used to describe what McConnell and his cohorts are doing right now. Far from it. Their conduct and the secret crafting being used to create this piece of unknown verbiage are contemptible and just plain wrong.

Under control of far right Republicans in recent years, Congress has sunk to historic lows in public acceptance. Members have run roughshod over those they were elected to represent. Many have physically cut off constituent contact and some have even proclaimed they don’t have any obligation to respond to public instructions. Attempts to contact many now result in unanswered correspondence, ignored phone calls and locked doors both in the districts and in Washington. Public polls showing overwhelming support or non-support for certain legislative proposals are just flat ignored.

Case in point: the very subject of health care now being secreted by McConnell. Polling - with results as high as 80% favorability - have repeatedly shown the public wants Obamacare - the American Care Act - left in law. Make minor adjustments to improve it if you must. But do not - repeat - do NOT repeal or significantly weaken its provisions. Any bets McConnell is listening? No way.

McConnell has had a burr under his saddle for eight years to kill Obamacare. He’s said so at every available opportunity. Even while his own state was one of the original participants, he pledged to end Obama’s tenancy in the White House at four years (then eight) and his disdain for the ACA was hung around his neck like a sign. You just know that’s the driving force behind his villainous actions now.

Republicans have wanted to kill Social Security. Some still do. They tried their best to kill Medicare and Medicaid. And still are. They worked like Hell to kill the voting rights act. They succeeded in gutting parts of it. Now, they want to strip nearly 50 million Americans of health insurance coverage. And they’re using the most devious and unconscionable methods to do so.

A handful of politicians, beholden to billionaires and their ilk, is now attacking the very core of what government was instituted to do - to provide for the common good and to do those things which we citizens need but cannot do for ourselves. While we often think of establishing a military, building transportation systems, assuring clean water and air, supporting public education and the like as fulfilling that governmental role, certainly providing for the public’s health and access to medical care are as necessary as the rest.

Now, McConnell and his senatorial supporters are leading an attack on government sponsorship of a basic right of citizenship - the right to medical care and to its life-saving services. People won’t just be disenfranchised if they succeed. Certainly, some of them will die.

This is far more than a game of legislative hide-and-seek. This is life and death. McConnell has cast himself in the role of God for this outing. My thoughts on that turn more visibly to the viper.

Water Digest – June 19

Water rights weekly report for June 12. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

In a June 13 court decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco sweepingly affirmed the Gila River Indian Community’s positions regarding numerous water policy issues in the Upper Valley of the Gila River. Of particular importance is the principle that water rights which go unused for a consecutive period of five years are permanently forfeited, no matter when the water was originally appropriated.

Utahns are invited to weigh in on a set of recommendations for a 50-year state water strategy before those recommendations are finalized and delivered to Gov. Gary Herbert. The draft recommendations have been written over the last four years by the State Water Strategy Advisory Team, a volunteer group of water experts including researchers, the Utah climatologist, water managers, agricultural representatives, environmental advocates, elected officials and others.

Notification letters sent recently to Flathead-area water right owners from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s) Water Adjudication Bureau are part of the agency’s ongoing claims examination process. Kathy Olsen, manager of DNRC’s Kalispell Regional Water Office, said the Department has been directed by the Montana Water Court to examine water right claims in Flathead River Basins 76L and 76LJ. The process is not connected with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact or with the proposed Montana Artesian water bottling operation.

A June 16 report in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Journal Sentinel said that newly-filed court documents showed state employees expressing concerns, through emails, about heavy well development in high-irrigation areas. The development, they suggested, could harm area streams and water bodies.

The Nevada capital Carson City on June 15 reached an agreement involving the nearby city of Minden, Douglas County and the Indian Hills General Improvement District to obtain additional water rights.

Idaho Briefing – June 19

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for May 22. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

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.

Former state senator and 2014 gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher on June 14 said that he will not run for governor, as he had indicated, but instead will seek the first district U.S. House seat.

Senator Mike Crapo, Chairman of the United States Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, secured passage of the Countering Russian Aggression and Cyberattacks Act of 2017 today, legislation introduced yesterday as an amendment to the underlying Iran sanctions bill. The amendment passed 97-2.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell for the third consecutive month in May to 3.2 percent, underscoring the increased pressure among Idaho employers competing for workers.

The Idaho Department of Finance said on June 16 that before the end of June it will be reaching out by email and U.S. Mail to thousands of individuals licensed to provide financial services in Idaho to seek input on the department’s licensing processes.

Avista has asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to approve a two-year plan calling for rate increases in 2018 and 2019 for its electric and natural gas customers in Idaho.

Ada County’s Mosquito Abatement District has been added to the Local Disaster Emergency Declaration that was created under Idaho Code §46-1011 on March 27.

PHOTO In May, the Idaho Panhandle National Forests planted approximately 45,500 western white pine, larch and cedar in 126 acres of the Lower Flat Salvage Sale area on the Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District that was burned during the 2015 Grizzly Complex fires. Hemlock needles coat the forest floor masking the ash and burned ground. (photo/Idaho Panhandle National Forest)

The Fulcher shift

stapiluslogo1

A simple decision about running for one office as opposed to another one has upended the calculus for both, and maybe for much more of Idaho Republican politics.

The candidate in question, of course, is former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who for a long time has been a candidate for governor, then on Thursday shifted his aim over to the first congressional district, to run for the U.S. House seat now held by Raul Labrador.

It’s doubtless a rational end result of working through the political calculus. But just as Labrador’s own announcement - to run for governor rather than for re-election - shifted the nature of the 2018 contest for both offices some weeks ago, so this one may have spinoff effects.

The result, for now, looks like improved odds for election for both Fulcher and Labrador.

On Fulcher’s part, he’s entering a race with a better chance of winning.

David Leroy, the former Ada County prosecutor, attorney general and lieutenant governor who held Cecil Andrus nearly to a draw in the 1986 governor’s race, is already in, and he will be no pushover. He hasn’t run for major office for a long time, and when he ran for the first district seat in 1994, in a race he originally was expected to win, he lost to lesser-known Helen Chenoweth. But his campaigning skills seem unimpaired, he arrives with broad-based good will and a relatively blank slate as far as recent relationships and issues stances are concerned, and much of the establishment of the Idaho Republican Party may easily coalesce around him.

Despite all that, Fulcher would stand to be the insurgent in the race and one with a well-established campaign organization, and those are powerful factors. Leroy is having to begin the effort nearly from scratch; starting early helps, but he’ll be running against someone who’s been in the field much earlier, since 2013. And Fulcher’s base of support statewide is strongest in Canyon and western Ada counties; a first district run demographically plays to his strengths.

Fulcher’s departure from the governor’s race, meanwhile, helps Labrador. In that race, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will share a support base with Leroy, while Labrador, Fulcher and to some extent businessman Tommy Ahlquist were splitting the non-establishment side of the party. One less cut of that part of the pie means a bigger slice for Labrador and maybe Ahlquist, but especially, probably, Labrador. Ahlquist will be going after (not entirely but to a great extent) the people who like the idea of a non-politician in the governor’s race, and both Labrador and Fulcher are established politicians. (No offense intended: They simply have run for office, between them, quite a few times at this point.) Labrador’s new candidacy was impaired, to some degree, by Fulcher’s competition.

Which raises a question about the first district. Since both Leroy and Fulcher are established political figures, might we see a newcomer - someone playing something like the Donald Trump role - entering that race, to pick up the same kind of support Ahlquist may be seeking in the gubernatorial?

It’s early enough in the process that we shouldn’t be surprised if someone does.

In 2014 the Idaho Republican Party split cleanly, in its primary contests, between the inside, established, candidates, and the outside insurgents - it was two slates just short of official in nature. Will we see a reprise of that in 2018 - or might we see, this time, a three-way split?

The Fulcher shift brings such questions into much clearer focus.

The long run

jones

As Chief of the Idaho Attorney General’s Natural Resources Division for over 32 years, Clive Strong has done more good for the State than practically any other public servant.

I hired Clive as a deputy attorney general in August of 1983 and within 30 days he was up to his ears in the Swan Falls water rights fight between the State and Idaho Power Company. An Idaho Supreme Court decision had given virtual control of the Snake River to Idaho Power and it took several years of struggle between the parties to reach a settlement agreement putting the State back in control of the River. Clive’s hard work played a major role in the State’s success.

The Swan Falls settlement called for a revamping of Idaho water law and an adjudication of water rights in the Snake River Basin. Clive played a lead role in getting legislation passed to modernize Idaho water law and he served as the State’s lead attorney in the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The adjudication, which quantified and prioritized over 158,000 water rights, was the first large-scale adjudication ever brought to completion in the U.S. It has been held up as a model for the country.

For three decades, Clive has counseled the Idaho Land Board regarding its duties and responsibilities under Idaho law, particularly the requirement to get the maximum long-term return from State-owned lands for the benefit of Idaho’s schools. He successfully prosecuted a suit challenging below-market rentals for the State’s cabin site properties.

Since the mid-80s, Clive has played the lead role in litigation to protect and enhance Idaho’s salmon and steelhead runs. During my tenure as AG, he became the State’s legal expert on nuclear waste issues, including litigation in 1986 that successfully challenged the U.S. Energy Department’s selection of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as one of three potential repositories for commercially-produced high-level nuclear waste. More recently, he has been Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s point person in holding the U.S. Government to the agreement requiring the removal of nuclear waste from our State.

One of Clive’s greatest legacies is the large number of complex, high-conflict water disputes that he was able to resolve by virtue of his ability to see the big picture and then skillfully show multiple competing parties how their various interests could be compromised. These include resolution of numerous federal reserved water rights, settlement of Native American water right claims, and resolution of priority claims asserted by Hagerman fish farmers against groundwater pumpers located upstream. He negotiated a landmark water rights agreement with the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in the late 80s and, later, an agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe. One of his innovative settlements between ground and surface water users resulted in the State’s acquisition of Box Canyon on the Middle Snake and the establishment of Box Canyon State Park.

During his service in the Attorney General’s office, Clive argued two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as a dozen in the Idaho Supreme Court. In recognition of his many accomplishments, Clive received the Environment, Energy, and Resources Government Attorney of the Year Award from the American Bar Association in 2014. He has received the Idaho State Bar’s Professionalism Award, the Marvin Award from the National Association of Attorneys General, and the much-coveted Jim Jones Public Service Award from the Western Conference of Attorneys General.

Throughout his illustrious career, Clive remained a humble, grounded individual, who took pain not to toot his own horn. So, let me toot it for him for outstanding service to the people of Idaho. Best wishes to Clive and his wife and partner, Martha, for a wonderful retirement.

As Utah goes …?

carlson

For those who know, understand and follow Idaho politics an important variable is the calculus one has to factor into the Idaho scene derived from what is happening to the south of Idaho in the corridors of the Utah state capitol and the offices of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints.

While the days of bishops “testifying” about a brother standing for office on the Sunday before an election have long passed, or permitting the undeclared use of a stake house to make and assemble yard signs, Mormons in Idaho vote heavily on the Republican side of the ledger. Thus, the LDS vote looks monolithic, but it isn’t. It is just dyed in the wool Republican.

Nonetheless, the LDS vote can and is impacted by where and whom respected business and political leaders support. Exhibit A in Idaho would be Frank VanderSloot, the founder and chair of Idaho Falls’ Melaleuca Corporation. The Sandpoint born and raised VanderSloot is a billionaire who openly concedes he enjoys being influential on the Idaho political scene.

He is a generous donor primarily to Republican candidates and a player not only on the Idaho political scene, but the national scene as well. He served as the national chair of the Mitt Romney for President Finance committee and contributed over a million dollars from his personal fortune to the Romney campaign. They remain close.

A sub-plot being played out behind the scenes is the gubernatorial contest between developer and medical doctor “Tommy” Ahlquist and First District Congressman Raul Labrador for the favor and support of VanderSloot.

Ahlquist appears to have scored a coup with the announcement last week that Damond Watkins, the former government affairs director for Melaleuca and the Republican State National Committeeman, was going to chair the Ahlquist campaign. This though does not necessarily indicate who VanderSloot will back.

Supporters of Congressman Labrador point out that he announced his campaign for governor at three stops around Idaho, one of which was the Melaleuca facility. A spokeswoman for VanderSloot made it clear this did not constitute an endorsement, that the facility is available for rent. If Labrador paid the rental fee that answers the question, but if his campaign did not then the usual rental fee should be reported on the first public disclosure report as required.

Though a member of the LDS Church, some observers believe Labrador will not run well in Idaho’s Second congressional district due to some self-inflicted wounds. First, he questioned whether the National Lab west of Idaho Falls and a major employer in the area should be getting federal funds at the excessive rate he perceived.

Secondly, he unwisely backed a primary challenger to the popular and long-time congressman from the district, Mike Simpson, who hasn’t forgotten nor forgiven the blunder. For those two reasons alone Ahlquist might do well in the second district even if the savvy Watkins were not his chair.

Other observers think Ahlquist will not do well anywhere in Idaho. They cite a variety of factors, but they all come down to his being a wealthy, out-of-state doctor who parlayed his fees into partnering in a Utah-based development company that owns over a dozen office buildings around the west.

These critics believe Ahlquist will be susceptible to a carpet-bagger charge and to trying to buy an Idaho election. He is already running the classic “tell your story” biographical tv ad in the Boise valley with a huge enough buy that has alienated some. His pledge to spend one more dollar than what it takes to win also did not resonate.

He has hired a talented team and found an exceptional leader in Watkins, but a slick state-wide mailing and the patronizing use of “Tommy” strikes some as too cute by half. There’s little doubt that even his moniker is the result of polling and review by focus groups to gauge whether folks will be more responsive to “Tommy Ahlquist” as opposed to say “Doc” Ahlquist.

The evolving political scene in Utah may also limit the time VanderSloot will spend on Idaho matters as well.

Reportedly Mitt Romney is seriously considering a run for the U.S. Senate next year since Orrin Hatch, who will be 84 next March, is not going to run for an eighth term. There are also reports that Josh Romney, Ann and Mitt’s middle son (they have five boys), is preparing to run for governor in 2020.

With Congressman Jason Chaffetz announcing his retirement from politics, the former chief of staff to Governor Jon Huntsmsn, Jr. will be conceding the competition between the Huntsman and Romney families to the Romney’s.

The former Massachusetts governor was harshly critical of Donald Trump’s candidacy (though he made a bid to be Trump’s secretary of state - a move that puzzled everyone), but if anything has consolidated his position with the RNC which is now headed up by his niece, Ronna Romney McDaniel. Needless to say they have differing views of President Trump.

The bottom line though is that Romney’s plans could have an indirect impact on Idaho’s gubernatorial race.

Both stupid and evil

richardson

Long-time Idahoans remember GOP Congressman George Hansen, who represented Idaho’s second congressional district from 1964-1968 and from 1974-1984. At 6’6” Hansen was an outsized figure with a personality to match. A far-right conservative, Hansen had a flamboyant, impulsive style and a pronounced disdain of all things relating to the federal government.

In 1974, Hansen was the first member of Congress to be convicted of violating a federal regulation requiring disclosure of campaign contributions. Initially, he was sentenced to two years in jail but the sentence was later suspended after his attorney convinced the judge that Hansen was “stupid, but not evil.”

I was just in college when Hansen made this novel plea, but as soon as I heard Paul Ryan’s defense of the president, the words came back to me. “He’s new at government,” Ryan said. “He’s learning as he goes.” Aha, I thought, a variation on the “stupid, not evil” theme. It seemed Paul Ryan was echoing Hansen’s attorney, “The poor fella, he just didn’t know any better.”

Citing Trump’s lack of political experience, Ryan said, “The president’s new to this. He probably wasn’t steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationship between DOJ, FBI and White House’s. He’s just new to this.”
Please.

Trump is hardly an ingénue, wide-eyed to the ways of the world. And, to the extent he is ignorant, that ignorance is purposeful. After all, the president has constant and ready access to abundant expertise.

But Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he sent Attorney General Sessions and his omnipresent son-in-law Jared Kushner out of the room before telling former FBI Director James Comey he wanted to talk about Michael Flynn. He knew it was wrong to tell Comey he hoped he would drop the Flynn investigation.

This was not the naïve act of a babe in the political woods; it was a calculated ploy to get Comey to do his unlawful bidding. That’s why he didn’t want any witnesses.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this was an attempt to obstruct justice.
Paul Ryan said that – in pointing to Trump’s newness to governing – he wasn’t making an excuse, just an observation. Call it what you will – an excuse, an observation, or an attempt at obfuscation – it is nonsense. Ryan knows it, and so do the American people.

Perhaps Trump, like Hansen, was stupid. But the presence of contrived stupidity does not negate the existence of real evil. The American people deserve so much better. They deserve a president who is neither stupid nor evil. Unfortunately, the incumbent is both.