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Posts published in June 2017

As Utah goes …?


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


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.”

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.

A moral leader no more?


Ever since World War II, the United States of America has been the champion of democracy and human rights throughout the globe. We have stood up to dictatorial governments and demanded that their citizens be allowed to live free of fear and oppression. Presidents of both parties have pursued that policy. It has been the cornerstone of our national security and has made our country the envy of other nations. Our country has decidedly strayed from that policy in recent months, heartening autocratic nations and causing concern amongst our steadfast allies.

As the world rose from the ashes of World War II, the U.S. embarked on a policy of building alliances with European and Asian nations to counter the Communist countries. We formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization(SEATO) as bulwarks against the totalitarian countries. Although SEATO eventually withered away, we have maintained strong bonds with democracies in Asia, which act as a mainstay of our national defense in that part of the world. In Europe, we have based our security on democracies that are united through NATO and the European Union. The policy has served America well.

We have supported and encouraged democracy throughout the world, believing that democratic nations are less likely to resort to force of arms to resolve disputes. We have believed that autocratic governments which deny their citizens basic human rights can produce violence, either against the people or by the people. In order to promote human rights, the U.S. State Department annually scores nations on their human rights record. We have engrafted advancement of human rights into our foreign policy.

President Trump has taken another direction in dealing with democracies and autocrats. Although Russia gobbled up Crimea, has maintained a thinly veiled proxy war in Ukraine, and launched a serious attack on our election process, he has declined to utter a harsh word about Vladimir Putin. Former FBI Director Comey says Russian hackers have attempted to hack into hundreds of governmental and business networks to find exploitable weaknesses. Our allies around the world have had similar experiences and they must be mystified by the President’s silence. Rather, they have seen the Russian videos of the President yukking it up with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador in the White House. Then, he publicly criticized our European friends and pointedly refused to recommit to the mutual defense article of the NATO Treaty, something that had to seriously disturb our friends, but greatly please Mr. Putin.

During the President’s trip to Saudi Arabia, He informed the Saudis and other Middle East despots that they need not worry about the U.S. pestering them about providing basic human rights for their subjects. As long as they do business with America and buy our “beautiful weapons,” all will be good. The Saudis will be able to continue indiscriminate bombing in Yemen without our interference, despite the fact that this will fuel even more rage amongst the civilian population there and elsewhere against the U.S.

President Erdogen of Turkey has been warmly received by the President even as Erdogen expands his powers and tramples on the rights of his citizens. Same with President Sisi of Egypt. President Duterte of the Philippines is graciously treated despite his overseeing of 7,000, and counting, extra-judicial killings. These leaders all show up on the rogues gallery of the State Department’s human rights score sheets but we apparently no longer expect nations to treat their populations humanely in order to gain our favor. That encourages the despots and greatly diminishes America’s standing in the world, as well as our nation’s security.

The new car experience


We bought a new car at our house recently. My five-year-old pickup finally ran out of warranty and was beginning to show its age. So, we decided it was time for a replacement. Nothing big. Nothing extravagant. Just something I could carry a lot of stuff in and run around the coastal highways in semi-comfort. Old folks car.

If you haven’t had the new car experience for awhile, you’re gonna get a couple of quick lessons right up front: price and technology.

Damn, they’re expensive. And I don’t mean just top-of-the-line vehicles. Our little newcomer certainly isn’t in that category. Not by a long shot. But it cost more than my first house! With the first divorce thrown in. If you hear someone talk about cheap transportation these days, they’ve got to be Amish.

Then, the technology. Top-of-the-line or entry model, you’re gonna run into a technology gap in your experience. Guaranteed. Wait ‘til the first time you look for the parking brake handle or foot pedal, for example. It ain’t there. Neither will you find a CD player because seems folks nowadays think of them as fondly as 78rpm records.

As I said, my new little motorized buddy is closer to the entry point. It’s got the basics covered and is quite comfortable. Especially because you get to ride inside. But basic. You get the idea.

Still, I’d be hard pressed to count the computers running the damned thing. It’s all buttons, fingertip handles and touch screens. None of the operating controls are where you’d usually find them. Takes three touch screens to turn on the radio. There are multiple USB ports, three power plugins for the iPhone and a female voice coming out of the instrument panel that surprises me every time she says something. Which is quite often.

At the moment of delivery, I learned it didn’t have a spare tire. No spare! Instead, there was this little box under the trunk floor that contained a can of rubber sealant and a small, plugin device to pump the contents into a flat tire. Now I know why there were power outlets on both sides of the dash and in the trunk.

The salesman was quick to point out that more than 70% of flats are punctures and this little pump would plug any puncture and get me 50 miles or so. That almost killed the sale.

When someone tells you that B.S., it’s obvious he’s never driven US 20 from Vale to Burns or Burns to Bend. I’ve done it hundreds of times and know the absolute loneliness of the flat tire experience. Winter and summer. I also have a lifetime of having more tire blowouts on long stretches of highways than punctures. The little can of goo and the plugin pump can’t do much for blowouts.

Needless to say, I opted to trade the suggested spare tire “replacement” gadget for a compact wheel and tire from my friends at Les Schwab.

One of the tips most auto “experts” regularly impart is never buy the extended service policies dealers try to foist on you at delivery. I’ve bought into that thinking for many years. But there was something to be learned, even here, that I’d never run into before.

Most extended policies don’t cover computers. Let that sink in. They cover drive trains and everything else. But not computers. As I said before, my little beast has a dozen or more of ‘em. Barb’s car - much more technologically advanced than mine - is full of ‘em.

Now, I know pretty close what parts cost and the hourly shop labor rate to install most of ‘em. But computers? Some research on the subject confirmed what I’d already surmised. Finding and fixing faulty electronic parts AND software can break up a happy home. It’s one thing to fix a broken driveshaft. It’s quite another to deal with the several computers that make the damned thing work.

If you don’t want the usual extended coverage policy for your next car, it could be worth some study time beforehand. Check out the electronic systems of your planned acquisition and look into the finer points of added costs of some insurance to cover those.

Next time you’re car shopping, my advice is spend a little more time with paperwork. And with a 20-something kid who can explain how all those new operating gadgets work. Some of ‘em are important.

Water Digest – June 12

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

On June 9 New Mexico State Engineer Tom Blaine delivered an order confirming that ranchers have the right to use water for their cattle in the Lincoln National Forest. In 2016, an endangered mouse was found in the forest, leading to the blocking of some areas of the forest for cattle use.

On June 7, U.S. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal granted the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians a motion to lift the stay on legal proceedings regarding the Tribe's water rights.

Residents around the Oregon side of the Klamath Basin trooped to the Klamath County Circuit Court rooms on June 7 and 8 to listen to options for moving the Klamath adjudication ahead.

Zion Market Research, the market research group announced the analysis report titled “Water Trading Market: Global Industry Analysis, Size, Share, Growth, Trends, and Forecasts 2016–2024”.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s June 2017 Total Water Supply Available (TWSA) forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates the water supply will fully satisfy senior and junior water rights this irrigation season.

Idaho Briefing – June 12

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

May 2017 Idaho General Fund receipts were $210.2 million, which was a 12.2% increase from the previous May. This month’s collections topped the forecasted $195.1 million by $15.2 million (7.8%). The stronger-than-expected showing raised the fiscal year-to-date receipts to $3,087.3 million, which is $64.7 million (2.1%) above the projected $3,022.6 million and 8.1% higher than in May 2016.

Representative Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislation which would fix the current budgeting process for wildfires.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, late yesterday, signed a Secretarial Order 3353 to improve sage-grouse conservation and strengthen communication and collaboration between state and federal governments. Together, the Federal government and states will work to conserve and protect sage-grouse and its habitat while also ensuring conservation efforts do not impede local economic opportunities.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter hailed a federal magistrate’s recent decision denying a motion from Friends of the Clearwater to block the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed Orogrande Community Protection Project on the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest.

State regulators have approved a settlement calling for the early retirement of a coal plant co-owned by Idaho Power.

PHOTO Kyler Brabec, who recently graduated from wildland fire school, survey’s his first fire. (photo/Bureau of Land Management)

Nobody minding the store


Democrats are getting their hair on fire about all of Trumps executive orders. Well, I’m an Idaho Democrat so I’m concerned with Idaho’s Acting Governor’s executive orders. My hair isn’t burning, but I can see why the public isn’t paying attention. No CNN coverage, no FOX News, and no real change from the same good old boy network that’s been ignoring our state governance for the last eleven years.

Lt. Governor Little issued an Executive Order recently in Governor Otter’s absence. It was almost a sad joke. I can’t blame the audience for not laughing. Executive Order 2017-6 committed state agencies to review professional licensing boards in Idaho.

In my six years in the legislature I watched many professions come to the legislature asking for licensure. Understand that such a legal power actually gives a monopoly to those licensed. You aren’t allowed to cut hair for money unless you are a licensed cosmetologist. The list of professions licensed in Idaho is long; from acupuncturists to plumbers to morticians, the legislature has chosen to protect the public by requiring professional licensure. My criteria for such requests for licensure required two questions to be answered: #1. How is the public health and safety promoted by this monopoly you request? #2. Will you be able to administer your profession? Apparently Acting Governor Little has questions. I do too.

Does this legal monopoly status really protect you? Recently a dental hygienist in Payette, Idaho was convicted in Federal Court for getting paid while misrepresenting herself as a dentist. Notice, no state prosecution, and the state Board of Dentistry only “pressured her” to give up her hygienist license a year ago. Nowhere in this indictment is the question of quality of care addressed, just whether the provider actually had the legal license to do what she was doing, and charge for it. It begs the question of whether professional licensure actually serves the public welfare or instead regulates the marketplace. What do we want from government regulation of a profession?

The legislature washes its hands of that question by turning the administration of the professions over to, guess who, the professions themselves. The only governance over all these 50+ state-granted professional monopolies is given to the executive branch: the governor. That elected official appoints the board members who then regulate themselves. Or are supposed to. Only through that office can we the voters have a voice if a profession abuses its monopoly.

Our elected governor is supposed to appoint people to each professional board with the public welfare in mind. If the appointees are only interested in protecting their own piece of the pie, the governor should see that and act. He hasn’t been doing his job. And that is the joke Brad Little offered to a disinterested electorate May 19th. “Hey, no one’s minding the store! I’ll ask some bureaucrats to make your change!”

Here’s an example: In 2005 the Idaho legislature enacted licensing of naturopathic physicians. Governor Otter appointed a five member board. The board met and issued 11 licenses, then never functioned again, to govern themselves, to repeal or issue more licenses, but in fact sued each other and been sued, proving its inability to self-govern. And the executive branch didn’t do squat. The legislature finally repealed the statute in 2015. How many other licensed professions out there are not functioning? The legislature can’t make the governor do his job. But the voters can.

Full disclosure, I answer to one of these professional boards. I am a licensed physician. I pay my annual fee to the Board, and they decide if I should get a license. I pay attention to their actions and applaud their efforts. I wish we could do more to improve the performance of our profession.

It’s just an issue of who’s in charge. And the joke is: it’s us, the professional licensees and the voting public. We ought to wake up. It’s only fair to expect our elected executives to do their job.

Who wants to be regulated


Probably it had a direct connection to the upcoming gubernatorial campaign, but the May 19 governor’s order to review occupational licensing in Idaho is a useful idea.

As long as everyone is prepared for some unpredictability.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little issued the order calling for a review of the licenses during one of the (ever-increasing) days when he was serving as acting governor. The idea is to take a fresh look at all those licenses Idaho, like other states, requires of people in many occupations, from doctors to electricians to cosmetologists. These licenses are set up by the legislature, generally to be governed by specific boards - usually made up mostly of licensees - and only rarely come up for an existential discussion. Never hurts to take a good review and find out where these licensing requirements are still needed, or not, or may need some adjustment.

Those inclined toward a simplistic philosophy might take these licenses, individually or as a group, as a sign of ever-expanding government. But that’s not quite the way these things usually happen.

Consider medical licenses, among the oldest of the group. In the United States, the earliest licenses did not come from any government entity, and weren’t government-enforced; they came from associations of relatively well-educated physicians who would issue “licenses” as a kind of seal of approval. That was still the case for years after the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Formal licensing, at the state level - required licensing that permitted you to practice medicine - happened at the state level later, after strong lobbying from the physicians and their organizations. It did not happen overnight; California, for example, set up its state licensing process in 1901. In Texas, an early effort started in 1837, was killed off a decade later, then sort of revived in 1873.

These changes were accompanied by battles between those who wanted to be regulated (often, those with better credentials and reputations) and those who didn’t want to be (often characterized as, though not always, quacks). The battle was not a libertarian-type battle, but a struggle within a profession, over such issues as public safety, bars to entry (fewer licensees can mean a more favorable business position), standards of conduct and more.

Aspects of these issues have surfaced in a whole lot of the calls for licensing, practically all of which have been initiated by people in the profession or occupation being licensed.

(If you want to check out who’s licensed in Idaho, you can get a start by going to, the website of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which is devoted to helping many of the boards do their work. A number of licensing offices are located in other places around the web.)

Little noted in his call for a review, “It’s been nearly four decades since government has taken a look at many of these licenses, and with advancements in technology it’s time for us to ask: Is it needed? Can we modernize? How can the state provide better customer service? Can government get out of the way and still protect the common good? I don’t see this as a knock on government but rather as an opportunity for government to work with citizens, to roll back unneeded regulation, and make our processes more user-friendly.”

Those are all fair questions, but don’t imagine that the in-professional arguments have all gone away. That said, there may be some usefulness in resurfacing some of them.

An Amazon diss


A simply "Amazon" coda to my recent Sirius/XM Radio and DirecTV tortures: My constant companion, an Amazon Kindle paper-white e-reader, finally gave up the ghost. Early symptoms were longer charging times and more frequent needs to be charged up.

Went through all the usual diagnostics but TBT, the batteries in these things are pretty well shot after five years even in airplane mode with the power-hungry wi-fi shut off.

Finally, it would only work for a minute or two away from its power cable.

What to do? I was in the middle of a pretty good book, so ordered and quickly received a refurbished replacement. Now, what to do with the old Kindle? It needs a new battery but is otherwise in babied shape.

So I called Amazon, which unlike Sudden-Link, Sirius and DirecTV among most service providers, is pretty good at quickly answering the phone in English. My intention was donate the dead-battery Kindle, certain they have some program to re-hab these things and then give them to perhaps disadvantaged school-kids.

The website the young man directed me to had no such option, and insofar as the thing was so far out of warranty, getting any monetary remuneration was out of the question. I just wanted to know how to give the thing away, have Amazon replace the spent battery in the hopes it might end up, working like new, in the hands of some needy person.

No joy.

This took a good half-hour's time, chewing through the Kindle website and being bounced back and forth to its warranty return page. That was enough time for me. So into the trash it goes. Too bad, and a waste. Of course, we treat our elderly the same way, when they could be put to good use. Guess it's a cultural thing. So, Mr. Bezos, hop on your private jet and go raise money for rich Democrat politicians.

Damn those needy schoolkids, anyway.