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Posts published in July 2017

Three Johns

rainey

No, Virginia. This column is NOT about three customers of a Vegas hooker. No! At least I think not. Though I have no idea what the gentlemen above do on their own time.

No, what’s illustrated here is a scene that appears in the hall outside the Senate Majority Leader’s office several times a week. The four meet in Mitch McConnell’s suite, get their stories straight, then proceed out to the marble marsh to enlighten all of us on the important “news” of the day from the Senate Republican caucus. Which lately ain't been much.

Most often, only the fella in the front wearing glasses is allowed to speak. The others are there as a “show of unity” by that aforementioned GOP clan. Since I’ve heard people ask who they are, I thought it might be useful information to provide some details on the “three Johns.”

First, there’s the baleful looking guy on the far left. I mean, in the picture - not politically. That’s Sen. John Barrasso, M.D. of Wyoming, third ranking Republican. Used to be an orthopedic surgeon in real life. He almost never speaks publically. But he votes. Among his positions: voted for school prayer; sponsored an anti-abortion bill making it a double homicide to kill a pregnant woman; voted against gun buyer background checks; has an “A” rating with the NRA; introduced a bill to stop EPA from limiting background carbon emissions; leading critic of anything thoughtful about climate change; urged pulling this country out of the Paris Climate Agreement; and, since 2012, has received $585,000 from the oil and gas folks.

On the far right - pictorially and politically - is Sen., John Cornyn of Texas, the majority whip. Ted Cruz’s stable mate as it were. Former Sen. Phil Gramm of that fine state quit his term early in 2002 to give Cornyn a leg up in seniority so he could get larger office space. Cute. Problem was, there had been a Senate policy on the books for more than 20 years forbidding that. Sort of gave his fellow senators a graphic example of how little either of them knew about their job.

One of Cornyn’s more “interesting” quotes was about gay marriage: “If your neighbor marries a box turtle, that doesn’t mean it’s right. But you raise your children in a world where that union of a man and a box turtle is on the same legal footing as a man and wife.” Doesn’t that sort of cut right to the heart of the issue?

Cornyn sponsored a bill allowing police to force anyone arrested or even detained to give up samples of DNA for a central crime database. Voted for constitutional amendments outlawing gay marriage and flag burning and voted against the Post 9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 which would have expanded educational benefits for military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The third “John” is Sen. Thune of South Dakota. Maybe the brightest of the three, third ranking Republican in the Senate, considered a “comer” and has already been urged to run for President. He’s wisely refused so far. More moderate than the rest of the faces in our picture, Thune sponsored legislation to monitor the population of black-tailed prairie dogs. Guess that's big in South Dakota. He introduced five bills to end the TARP program and has repeatedly tried to get through bills to prohibit the EPA from monitoring carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide or methane emissions in agricultural areas. Keeps losing. Blame the cows.

Thune has also challenged Facebook for having anti-conservative views. Got nowhere. But the media loved it.

So, there you are. Three Johns and a Mitch. The quartet of senior Republicans on your flat screen TV several times each week with messages of Republican unity and effective leadership. Three former lawyers and an ex-orthopedic surgeon. Now that you know a little about them, I’m sure you'll feel more comfortable with their regular joint appearances. And that “unity” and “leadership” stuff.

Water Digest – July 24

Water rights weekly report for July 24. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A collection of cities in northwestern Arkansas are in conflict over water rights and the use of water in the area in and around their communities. The cities involved are Gravette and Centerton (the two main contestants), with impacts reaching to Hiwasse and Bella Vista.

A shift in water use and diversion by a private user has resulted in the small city of Dayton, Wyoming, deciding it too needed to change the point of diversion for its water rights.

From a statement by the group Global Witness: "It has never been deadlier to take a stand against companies that steal land and destroy the environment. Our new report Defenders of the Earth found that nearly four people were murdered every week in 2016 protecting their land and the natural world from industries like mining, logging and agribusiness."

How do you apportion water rights that are located underground? The point was considered in a podcast based on the marketplace.org website.

Idaho Briefing – July 24

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Supreme Court on July 18 sustained, in a 4-1 ruling, a veto by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter of a proposal to repeal the sales tax on many grocery items in the state.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Bear Lake Regional Commission on July 21 announced a landmark cooperative agreement today that enhances aquatic invasive species prevention efforts in the Bear Lake area.

In an effort to reduce costs and provide more efficient service to the public, the Idaho Panhandle National Forest is constructing an Interagency Natural Resource Center that will house the IPNF Supervisor’s Office, Bureau of Land Management’s Coeur d’Alene field office and local US Fish and Wildlife Service offices.

The Canadian firm Hydro One Limited on July 19 said that it planned to acquire the Northwest utility Avista for C$67 (US$53) per share in a C$6.7 billion (US$5.3 billion) all-cash transaction.

The Pocatello City Council has put its seal of approval on the effort to raise a new and official flag for the city.

PHOTO The Idaho booth at the Paris Air Show, which Idaho officials and business owners visited. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter remarked, “I joined 11 Idaho-based aerospace companies last month in traveling to France for the International Paris Air Show. Idaho Department of Commerce officials and I helped showcase our Idaho companies' products and innovative concepts at the Idaho Pavilion in Paris. With manufacturers, vendors and buyers from all over the world participating, the Paris Air Show was an invaluable sales and marketing opportunity for our Idaho businesses.” (photo/Governor Otter)

Compromise on the upswing?

stapiluslogo1

Our justice system is going through a quiet revolution, away from what you often see on TV.

There you see disputes - from murder cases to divorces to civil money-claims lawsuits - hashed out in trials, in open court. You can’t blame the drama writers: It’s the entertaining way.

But if you go to watch the action at your local courthouse, you won’t see much of it, at least not out in the open. Compared to a generation ago, far more cases are settled away from trials, away from the courts, as a part of a deal-making process.

This comes to mind as I think about a new book (which - disclosure here - I helped publish), called Mediation Mechanisms, by Duff McKee, a retired fourth district judge who has mediated a couple of thousand or so cases. (The book is available at ridenbaughpress.com, at Amazon.com and elsewhere.) His book is about how mediation works, on a practical level.

He also writes, “When I began practicing law in the mid-1960s, it was a concession of weakness to be the first one to bring up the subject of settlement. This meant that the other lawyer had to raise the subject first if the case was to get settled. This led to bizarre communications between lawyers dying to discuss settlement without either one appearing to be the first one to utter the question, ‘Can’t we settle this?’”

Now things have changed, most especially the ballooning cost of litigation and crowded court calendars which led to more judges imploring lawyers to settle the dispute out of court, and to clients who can’t afford the public show. The costs, especially for such things as discovery, document research, expert assistance and more, can put the cost of civil action out of reach for most people.

These days, McKee said, “the settlement process is now primary in the minds of most litigators and most judges. Trial calendars with multiple settings are a fact of life, with cases stacked four to six deep, in the full expectation that five out of six scheduled cases will settle before trial.”

A few weeks ago I talked this over with a couple of long-established Boise lawyers, and they strongly agreed. One said that two or three decades ago lawyers at his firm would spend much of their time at or preparing for trial; so far this year, by contrast, only about one in ten attorneys there have undertaken even a single trial.

Another attorney I’ve known for several decades shifted several years ago from work in litigation and trials to almost exclusively working in mediation and arbitration.

As McKee said, “the civil case mediation has come of age in our system.”

That has its good points and some not so good. On the good side, settlements can lead to more compromises and to resolutions that can be fairer all around; many legal cases really aren’t all black and white, and many cry out for some answer that encourages each side to give a little. Many people may come out of the system less damaged.

The downside is that not all cases are like that, and our legal system should have a practical way to come to grips with right and wrong. Sometimes someone really should be put in the position of having to pay, and someone ought to be clearly vindicated.

Ironically, or maybe not, as we’ve moved into ever-sharper “win-lose” divisions in our politics and policy, we seem to be moving into a legal system edging toward thoughtful discussion and compromise.

The meaning of “more”

richardson

In a recent interview with Reuters, the president claimed his administration "had done more in five months than practically any president in history."

My first reaction was to laugh. But maybe the president is right. I suppose it all depends on what he meant by “more.”

Perhaps by “more,” Trump meant he has done more to alienate and offend our long-time allies, countries like Germany, France, and Great Britain, by equivocating about his commitment to the North Atlantic alliance.

Or maybe he meant he has done more to isolate the U.S. from virtually every country on earth by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Possibly, Trump meant he has picked more unprovoked fights with major U.S. trading partners like China, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.

And he might have meant he has done more to relinquish the U.S. role as world leader to the benefit of Russia and China.

Perhaps Trump meant he has done more to model petulant and spiteful behavior by never accepting responsibility, always blaming and often bullying others, making ridiculous excuses when things don’t go his way, and treating those who disagree with him as enemies, best dealt with by threats rather than civil discourse.

He could have meant he has done more to move the GOP further away from the once-proud legacy of Lincoln and Eisenhower and closer to the odious views of David Duke.

The president may have meant he has done more to attack the “western values” he pretends to champion by assaulting the First Amendment, attacking our independent judiciary, denigrating minority rights, and ignoring all manner of democratic (with a lower case “d”) norms.

Perchance Trump meant he has done more to dumb-down our national dialog by routinely communicating in unintelligible bursts of 140 characters.

Or perhaps he meant he has appointed more inept and ideologically extreme cabinet members, people like Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Presumably, Trump meant he has shown more admiration for greedy dictators who suppress dissent, blithely torturing and terrorizing their countrymen, while enjoying the spoils of graft and corruption.

Arguably, Trump meant he has done more to distract and deceive the American people, nowhere more egregiously than as to his ties to Russia, the hostile nation that attacked the heart of our republic by grossly interfering in the 2016 election.
If Trump was referring to any or all of the above “accomplishments,” I would have to agree – no president in history has done more.

Citizen legislator Keough bids farewell

carlson

Every state has a handful of elected officials who are the glue that hold the government together. They are the folks who see public servce as a noble calling to serve others. They labor often in anonymity. They do not seek the limelight. They treat all voters, regardless of party with respect.

They do not subject themselves to the slings and arrows of outraged constituents who all too often do not have their facts straight for the pay which is often laughably parsimonious, nor any alleged glory. They patiently listen because that is part of the job, and then they respectfully correct and educate.

They understand that politics involves compromise, that the voters expect they will be part of the solution to challenges not part of the problem. They seldom raise their voice, but when they do speak others listen. They command respect because they do their homework and speak knowledgeably.

Sometimes they are in leadership, sometimes they are not. Lobbyists and media who cover government know who these “go to” folks are.

For the past 20 years Idaho’s State Senate has been blessed with two of these indispensable individuals, Senator and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Senator and Joint Finance co-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. This past week brought the news that both will be leaving the Legislature, Davis to become U.S. attorney for Idaho, and Keough to return to private life to resume full-time her position as executive director of the Idaho Logging Contractor’s Association.

Of the two Keough is the least known which suits her just fine. She quietly labored in obscurity on the Joint Finance and Appropriations committee, the Legislature’s most powerful committee (it sets the budget) for a number of years, finally ascending to the Senate co-chair post in her tenth term.

She has navigated the shoals and reefs on a number of issues, not the least of which has been consistently strong support for fully funding k-12 education that often found her out of step with a governor and colleagues who in past years seriously underfunded public education.

Her moderation coupled with compassionate constitutional conservatism nonetheless made her a target for the Tea Party faction of the GOP, the hard right wing nuts who demand ideological purity and adherence to downright absurd views such as abolishing the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S.senators.

Her decency and competency as well as solid constituent service along with a steely discipline inside her velvet gloves enabled her to beat back viciously personal primary challenges orchestrated primarily by State Rep. Heather Scott and her surrogates.

Despite personal threats she fearlessly showed up at most campaign forums during her last three elections and, despite the vitriol, her “here are the facts style” often quieted the zealots.

Over the years she has personified the best a citizen legislator can be. She and her husband, Mike, successfully raised two children, one a Vandal, the other a Bronco, and walked the talk of family values that so few political figures actually practice.

Though petite and soft spoken she could play hardball when she had to do so. When Avista’s lobbyist, Neil Colwell, took part in an ill-conceived move by Keough’s Republican Senate colleague from Coeur d’Alene, State Senator Bob Nonini, and sponsored four Republican primary challengers to incumbent Republican state senators, she banned Colwell from her office.

Recognizing the stupid error, Avista chair Scott Morris drove to Sandpoint to apologize in person for the almost incomprehensible move. For his part Senator Nonini later apologized personally and made amends. Demonstrating a graciousness hard to fathom, Keough reportedly forgave Nonini’s egregious breach of protocal.

For someone born in New Jersey and raised in Ohio, Keough, who migrated to Idaho when she was 19, has become a true Idahoan - intelligent, independent, compassionate, conservative, a person of her word, the personification of honor, decency and competency. Idaho’s citizens are all better off because people like Bart Davis and Shawn Keough chose to answer the call of public service. They will be truly missed. When you next see either be sure and thank them for that service.

More sunshine in the elections

jones

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney are to be commended for proposing to tighten up campaign finance and ethics laws.

While there has been a great deal of discussion regarding this subject over the years, there has been too little action. I hope that the working group will look at several measures that did not appear in media reports about the working group’s first meeting - disclosure of the identity of owners of business entity campaign contributors; limitation of expenditures by parties making independent expenditures to support or oppose a candidate for public office; more frequent reporting of contributions; and establishment of an independent commission to investigate complaints of violation of the Sunshine Act and conduct studies of campaign and ethics issues.

Twenty years ago, the Legislature approved House Concurrent Resolution 27, which established a special committee to study campaign and ethics issues and to recommend reforms, much like the charge of the current working group. The five-member working group included former Chief Justice Charles McDevitt and former Governor Cecil Andrus. I was appointed to the committee by legislative leadership and ended up chairing the committee. The committee met twice to receive testimony and recommendations from the public.

The 1997 committee recommended six specific proposals to the Legislature. No action was taken on any of the proposals. House Bill 546, which provided for the creation of a Political and Campaign Finance and Ethics Commission, was printed and assigned to the State Affairs Committee, but stalled out there. This is still a good idea because, as explained at the time, such a permanent committee could “continuously review the effectiveness” of the ethics statutes and recommend needed changes. The text of House Bill 546 can be found on the Legislature’s website for the 1998 session.

Recent elections have disclosed that some individuals skirt contribution limits by funneling contributions through corporations or other business entities they own. It is not always easy to determine the true identity of such contributors. Rather than prohibiting contributions by such entities, the Legislature should require disclosure of the names of persons who have ownership interests of 25% or more in such business entities.

We have also seen sizable advertising campaigns to support or oppose candidates through independent expenditures. While independent expenditures must be reported to the Secretary of State, there does not appear to be any limitation on the amount that may be spend on such an effort. Persons or entities making independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates should be subject to the same limits as are imposed on political contributors.

More frequent reporting of contributions should be required. The 7-day pre-election report does not give the public an adequate opportunity to see who is supporting a candidate. If there is something amiss, the media is often reluctant to report it at that late date for fear of being accused of unfairness. I would suggest adding 30 and 60 pre-election reporting requirements for both primary and general elections.

Candidates should also be required to report expenses as they are incurred, not when payment of the expense is made. There can be a significant gap between the two times and candidates often try to disguise how much they are spending by only reporting an expense when the check finally goes out the door.

This endeavor to bring more transparency and honesty to the election process is a worthy one and I wish Hill, Bedke and Denney success in their efforts.

Kakistocracy

rainey

I’m someone who spends a good deal of time writing. Always have. So, I’m into words because they’re the basis of the craft. Always like to find new ones. A few days ago, I came across a dandy.

KAKISTOCRACY. It’s fun to say. Any idea what it means? Or, like me, is this the first time you’re heard of it?

Well, boys and girls, the old dictionary on the shelf defines it this way: “Kakistocracy - government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.”

Next time someone talks to you about America being a “democracy” or a “republic,” you whip out the old Funk & Wagnalls and lay “kakistocracy” on ‘em. ‘Cause the fact is, at the moment, that seems to describe us more accurately.

With any luck at all, it won’t always be that way. If the justice system doesn’t eventually get the current bunch, we’ll have to take ‘em out at the polls. At least that’s the hope at this house.

But there’s an open question. And that’s whether the liar in the Oval Office has taken America’s political fortunes to such a low level that future participants will see his as an acceptable standard. Will role models for future candidates for the presidency continue to be Lincoln, Kennedy, Roosevelt or Eisenhower? Or Trump? Will his blend of lies, arrogance, extreme cronyism and dictatorial behavior be the norm or will the electorate turn to more traditional two-party nominees who’ll try to raise the standards of the presidency?

The answer to that, seems to me, depends on us. Not them. Will we reject this political abnormality and demand - with our votes - a return to civility, a renewed attempt at honesty and a demand for a higher moral code? Will we - with our educated support and with our ballots - select more highly qualified candidates? Maybe not.

The reason for my pessimism is based on poll after poll, survey after survey of citizens in countries around the globe. Polls and surveys measuring what people know about their system of government, their economies and their history.

The nearly unanimous result of all this statistical prying is that we Americans are just about the least knowledgeable about those basic articles of citizenship among all industrial nations. Not just poor knowledge of our governmental structure but real ignorance.

Now, there’s a new corollary showing up. Not only is the American general public more ignorant of our history and governance - we’re also the most dedicated to the falsehoods and myths associated with those categories. Put another way - many who don’t know the basic civics of how this country operates have their own “facts” and are likely to reject real information.

Adding to this lack of knowledge - or belief in mythical facts - is a growing ignorance in the national media of just these same subjects. Examples aren’t hard to come by. NBC reported last week the Governor of Illinois “passed a bill” on some subject. Legislatures “pass bills” not governors. A similar story from New York had the legislature “passing a law.” Legislatures pass bills, not laws. When signed by a governor, bills become law.

Small items to be sure. But wrong. Would you accept “small” errors from your surgeon or a pilot or your banker or your lawyer? “Small errors” left unchecked work their way into our information system and become “facts.” When repeated, more people accept them. People who hear them without knowing the difference become “wrongly” educated. So the error is perpetuated. And accepted.

The value of an educated voter cannot be overstated. But the lasting damage caused by someone ignorant of the political system he/she lives under can be disastrous. Think of all the B.S. we heard in 2016 about wanting an “outsider” for president; someone with “no political experience.” Well, if that was you, you got what you wanted. “How’s that working out for ya? “

The likelihood that significantly more prospective voters will become better informed about our civic and political structure by 2020 - much less by 2018 - is not realistic. About the best we can hope for is there is a reverse education component at work. That disappointment in the 2016 outcome and what it has wrought upon this country has been, in itself, that education.

If not - if more knowledgeable voters stay home - if we repeat the electoral tragedy of the past - we’d all better get more comfortable with that word “kakistocracy.” K-a-k-i-s-t-o-c-r-a-c-y.