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Posts published in September 2017

Borah, Church and Risch?

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William Borah, Frank Church and Jim Risch?

As matters stand, Senator Risch of Idaho, who was in his early days in the Idaho legislature when Church became chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may become the next head of that sometimes powerful panel.

That wasn’t a closely-considered proposition, at least not widely, until this last week. That was when the current chair, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, declared himself out of the Senate when his current term ends after next year. (Washington Post headline: “The Most Interesting Part of Corker’s Retirement Isn’t What You Think It Is.”)

Chair successions are not automatic, but usually the next most senior committee member moves up, and - if Republicans still control the Senate after next year’s elections - that would be Risch.

Next up after Risch is a senator much better known nationally, Marco Rubio of Florida, and he surely would like that gavel, especially if he’s looking at a 2020 presidential run. But in the Senate, the process rules. Risch was quoted as saying about the chairmanship, “We have a long, clear history of how these things are resolved in the Senate. We will follow that route when we get there.” Sounds a little cryptic, but I translate this way: I’m next in line.

Whether or not Risch had advance warning for Corker’s departure, groundwork for it is in place.

In Risch’s first term he was a nearly invisible senator - in news and other media and even in press releases. In his second term that has changed. He has become a frequent talking head on news programs, and when there, seems to discuss foreign affairs more often than other subjects. While many senators avoid (as Corker did) talking about re-election prospects more than two years out, Risch has made his re-election plans for 2020 quite clear. Whether or not Risch had a sense of the chair opening, he does seem to have prepared for the possibility.

What he might do with it is another matter.

Idahoans Borah, who chaired it from 1924 to 1933, and Church, from 1978 to 1981, were among the most prominent political figures of their day, and not only because both ran for president. Both had strong commentaries on foreign affairs, both were willing to buck presidents - of both parties - and both were skeptical of involvement overseas, in Borah’s case to the point of isolationism. Their perspectives were clear and sometimes ran against the grain, but stood aside from political considerations. (Both probably paid a political price for their views on foreign policy.)

How would Risch compare? During the Obama Administration, Risch was active on the foreign relations committee but did not mark out very distinctive territory. He delivered one of the best analyses anywhere of the prospects for American involvement in Syria, but it was not a clear-cut stance (take that as praise), and his views on foreign relations overall seem hard to summarize easily.

During the Trump Administration, Risch has been a Trump loyalist; he has come to the president’s defense on several occasions. (The statistics web site “538” puts Risch at voting 91.8 percent in line with Trump.) There’s little reason to think he’d be leading a charge to review or investigate Trump relations with other countries.

But a change of chair is months away. In the meantime, watch Risch’s comments, which can sometimes run toward the cryptic, to see where he comes out - a Trump loyalist or someone more like a Borah or Church.

Candidate Rossi, again

trahant

Dino Rossi has an interesting political legacy. He was for several weeks the Gov.-elect for Washington state. Then after much counting (and recounting) Democrat Christine Gregoire took the lead by 129 votes and was she sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005.

Since then Rossi has run for governor again, the U.S. Senate, and was recently appointed to a state Senate seat to fill out the remaining term of a member who had died.

Rossi is Tlingit. One of his first jobs was working for Bernie Whitebear at Seattle's United Indians for All.

It's interesting how some candidates make their tribal affiliation prominent and weigh in on issues that impact Indian Country. That would not be Rossi. But he doesn't shy away (as many politicians do) from the conversation. It's just not his focus. He has a fascinating background. From his transition team biography: "Dino’s mother, Eve, came from Alaska. She was half Irish, half Tlingit Alaskan Native. She’d married in Alaska and had five children, but the marriage became difficult. To get away from the situation, Eve took her kids to Seattle. For a time the family lived in public housing in Holly Park while Eve waitressed during the day and went to beauty school at night." His mother met and married John Rossi and the family eventually moved to Mountlake Terrace. Back to the bio: "The Rossi kids were raised on a school-teacher’s salary. They didn’t have a lot of money, but their house was full of love."

If you read his story, you'd think it was a classic liberal narrative. Public housing. Government works. But no. Rossi favors the bootstrap side of the story, a working family that raised itself up. He has always run as a conservative candidate. That said. In his Senate role he was willing to reach across party lines and come up with a deal.

I remember a Seattle P-I Editorial Board with then Sen. Rossi where he talked about the shortage of funds for higher education. But then, he suggested, book as much spending as possible on the capital side of the ledger. That's where serious dollars could be found, he suggested. Creative.

Or as his bio puts it: "In the state Senate, Dino became a leader on budget issues. He eventually became Chairman of the Senate Ways & Means Committee – which writes the state budget – in 2003, when the State faced the largest dollar deficit in history. Dino was able to work across party lines and balance the budget without raising taxes and while still protecting the most vulnerable. Dino also focused on other issues: he spearheaded legislation to punish drunk drivers and child abusers; he worked to fund the Issaquah salmon hatchery; he secured funding for Hispanic/Latino health clinics, and he championed funding for the developmentally disabled community."

Washington's 8th District poses a lot of the same challenges that Rossi faced when he ran for governor; the demographics of the district (like the state) are more more diverse and liberal than a few years ago. But he enters this race with one advantage: He will be the only Republican while there will be a half-dozen Democrats. Washington has a top-two primary, but the winning Democrat will have to build name ID and consolidate support, something Rossi will already have with Republicans.

The seat is now held by Rep. Dave Reichert, a Republican.

There are now seven #NativeVote18 candidates for Congress. Three Republicans, Rossi as well as Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole and Rep. Markwayne Mullin. And four Democrats, Carol Surveyor in Utah, Debra Haaland in New Mexico, J.D. Colbert in Texas, and Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols (who's challenging Mullin). So far.

Pensees

carlson

Listening to President Trump’s bellicose remarks in the building dedicated to promoting peace throughout the world was one of the more depressing things this manifestly unqualified to be president amateur has done to date.

Engaging in juvenile name-calling demeans the Office of the Presidency and further troubles America’s allies, all of whom wonder just what kind of loose cannon has America unleashed on the world. The president appears to be one of those who never served but think they can send young Americans all over the world to die in conflicts initiated by old men who think they have the testosterone of their younger years.

Nothing is truer about history than the statement that those who do not learn from history and the mistakes made are doomed to repeat those mistakes.

In today’s interconnected world every person’s needless death diminishes further mankind and touches all of us. A nuclear exchange of any kind is too horrible to contemplate so we sequestor it away in a corner of our mind where we can dismiss it totally. Yet this carries real peril with it.

Almost 30 years ago I accompanied then Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus on a trip put together by my public affairs office of the “Trust Territories” out in the Pacific, those hundreds of islands run by the Department of the Interior.

One of the stops during the week long trip was the island of Saipan, in the Marianas, the site of some fierce fighting between American Marines and Japanese Army soldiers. From my hotel room in the modern western hotel built in the 70s to accommodate the numerous Japanese tourists to Saipan, out in the harbor one could still see an American tank stuck on the reef it could not get over during the amphibious assault on the island.

It served to remind folks that wars should not be forgotten, that they wreak pain and suffering not just for the combatants but also for innocent non-combatants. We truly must never forget those who gave the last full measure for their country, but also remember there are often innocent civilians caught in the cross-fire.

Wars understandably also elicit fear on the part of the innocent. A must stop for Japanese tourists on Saipan is the north end of the island, where hundreds of men, women and children threw themselves off the high cliffs rather than suffer the torture, rape and physical abuse their propaganda said they would suffer should they fall into American hands. Fear, easily instilled, is tough to root out.

Both sides engaged in propaganda efforts designed to de-humanize the opposition. For us the “Japs” were devious, slant-eyed, yellow sub-humans who gunned down our fly boys when they were in rafts after their planes were downed. We, however, did the same thing.

History books tend to focus on the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with each bomb killing between 60,000 and 80,000 people. We rationalized using such a weapon of mass destruction on the grounds that it was saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of American military.

Lost in many memories is the fact that American B-29’s, launched from the airbase we created on Saipan, engaged in saturated fire bombing runs that in one night incinerated over 100,000 Japanese. American planes completely razed the city of Sendai, a city the size of Seattle.

In our arrogance we act like we think God will never allow mass destruction like that, but over 50 million people died during World War II. If as a race we’re crazy enough to destroy ourselves, one suspects the Almighty won’t stand in the way of such stupidity.

Another lesson of history is that today’s enemies can be tomorrow’s friend. Witness Japan and Germany.

In the early 60s I met Group Commander Fuchida,who led the air attack on Pearl Harbor and uttered the famous words back to the carriers they’d flown off of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” It meant they had achieved total surprise.

After the war he had become a Christian and was on a speaking tour of the United States sponsored by the American Baptist Convention. He seemed like a pretty normal human being.

In 1982 along with my wife and our four children we spent three weeks in Sendai. The courtesies and kindnesses extended to us were simply incredible. Our son was not yet three so I carried him about in a back carrier. His blond hair and his old felt cowboy hat were simply irresistible to the Japanese, especially women, many of whom asked us to pose for pictures with them. They would touch his hair and say “cowboy, cowboy,” and smile.

Had the Japanese killed a comparable number of American civilians as we killed I had a hard time imagining that we would have reciprocated such hospitality.

Another night I sat down in a bar and was engaged by the owner in a convesation. It turned out that like my father he had been a gunnery officer on a destroyer, and had gone through several of the same battles.

Time had turned these people into friends and it was clear to me that honey on our part towards this one-time adversary worked far better in achieving a lasting peace than did threats, recriminations and things like juvnile name-calling.

One can only wish our president gains this understanding before stupidly leading us into another inhumane and downright insane war.

A new sideshow begins

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Following hard on news that congressional Republicans were really, finally, positively this time giving up on Obamacare repeal comes the news from Alabama, which ought to shake them up quite a bit more.

Or Moore.

Because Judge Roy is coming to town. Or maybe not. Either way, the news isn't good for Senate Republicans.

Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, on Tuesday defeated the appointed Senate incumbent Luther Strange, in the Republican primary (by a substantial percentage, about 56% as this is written). The win is not a surprise - polling had closely reflected the outcome - and the result might have been of interest mainly in Alabama except for those pesky details.

The results, first of all, are a massive smack in the face at both President Donald Trump and Republican leadership in Congress, both of which went all out to support Strange and - no less than that - keep Moore away from Washington. A number of Trump supporters are trying to cast the vote as a win for Trump, but that's hard to support since the president was in state only days ago to plead with voters to elect Strange. The powers that be in DC contributed masses of money, and Strange outspent Moore and had more television ads on air by a factor of something like four to one. (This election should be yet another demonstration of the ongoing diminishment of TV ads as decision levers in political campaigns.)

But more than all that is the nature of the winner. Roy Moore, if sworn in to the Senate (as seems likely), will in some ways be the equivalent there to Trump in the White House - an aimless whirlwind wreaking destruction wherever possible and damaging not least his own erstwhile allies in, you know, the Republican caucus. He will be a living, breathing encouragement for any Republican in-party tornadoes out there who want to take on incumbent Republican senators in next year's elections. And quite a few of them are waiting and ready, and after today's results likely will go pounce.

And not least next to all that, is that Moore is apt to become a face of the Republican Party second only to Trump. He does have a gift for grabbing attention, and the attention he grabs will thrill his base and appall much of the rest of the country, which is to say, the majority. A few sample headlines from a backgrounder piece on Moore: "Getting fired from the Supreme Court over a 10 commandments statue ... Likening the Koran to Mein Kampf and saying a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress ... Being suspended for defying the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling ... Believing Obama wasn’t born in the US as late as Dec. 2016 ... Implying 9/11 happened because America was becoming “godless” ... Saying America might be the “focus of evil in the modern world” ..." and so on ...

Alabama being as Republican-dominated as it is, Moore starts the general election campaign - that election is in December - with a clear advantage over the Democrat, former federal prosecutor Doug Jones. But don't rule Jones out. Moore seems to have no limits or barriers; his self-righteousness is boundless, and even in Alabama there may be some pushback if he guns the gas pedal too hard. So don't consider the race a foregone conclusion just yet.

Either way, Senate Republicans and President Trump will have quite a time dealing with what's coming next.

Grossly irresponsible

jones

I often wonder what happened to the Republican Party, whose banner I carried for many years, starting in the 1960s.

Republicans believed in responsible governmental policies, based on sound evidence. The U.S. Senate was characterized as the greatest deliberative body in the world. Hearings were held to give interested parties the opportunity to testify as to how legislation would affect them and to eliminate any potential problems in the bill before passage. From time to time there were party-line votes but for the most part Senators of both parties worked across party lines.

Beginning in the 1990s, the U.S. House embraced party-line voting but the Senate retained its deliberative process. That, however, has changed in the last decade or so. Now, party-line voting is the order of the day, often without regard to the merits of the legislation under consideration. The Senate, like the House, now trots out complicated bills that have not had the benefit of hearings and calls them up for a party-line vote, even before Senators have had a chance to read or digest them or learn from their constituents how they will be impacted.

The prime example of this irresponsible conduct is the succession of health care bills that the Senate has brought up for a vote this year without holding hearings or giving constituents the chance to read and comment upon the legislation. Each bill has been substantially different from the preceding one so constituents have been continually blind-sided. What we do know is that each bill eliminated health care coverage for large segments of the population and jeopardized those with pre-existing conditions. Based on apparently informed reports, the present bill will do the same.

It is highly irresponsible for the Republican leadership to essentially pull a bill out of its whatever, without having a single hearing, and immediately put it to a party-line vote, especially where it will affect the well-being of millions of people and one-sixth of the U.S. economy. The medical and insurance industries are largely opposed to the present bill because of the disruption and uncertainty it will bring to the marketplace. The Idaho Medical Association and Idaho Hospital Association have come out against the bill, as have many organizations representing people who stand to lose health coverage.

From what is known of the Republican bill, rural hospitals will be devastated, many children will be unable to get necessary care under the CHIP program, and insurance premiums for Idahoans and others will see substantial increases. Each of the 50 states will have two years to devise its own health care plan. We have already seen how well that has worked in Idaho with regard to only a part of the problem - trying to deal with the Medicaid gap.

This is no way to make important public policy. Legislation with such far-reaching effects should be thoroughly vetted. The public, including members of the Senate, should have a chance to learn what is in the legislation and the opportunity to be heard. The provisions of the bill should be supported by the evidence. At minimum, the Congressional Budget Office should be given enough time to thoroughly review the bill and inform Senators as to how it will impact the public. Why keep the bill in hiding until it is sprung on the floor for a vote? If it has the merits its proponents claim, why not let everyone see for themselves? Taking action on a bill without understanding how it may affect the economy or impact people’s lives is something that responsible Republicans would never have done back when I grew up in the party.

And, it is not enough to say that the other party did it when it was in power. Even if that were the case, it does not excuse bad conduct. When a party is in power it is obligated under our constitutional scheme to act responsibly and in the public interest. Just because Johnny acted bady on the playground did not excuse misconduct on my part, according to Mrs. Molyneuex, my grade school teacher. When Senators do not act responsibly or deliberatively, they should be retired by their constituents

Lying has changed history

rainey

I’m a “repeat offender” when it comes to criticizing the national media. There’s so much wrong that at least some of my anger must have some merit. This time, the whole mess of ‘em are mucking through something that will, eventually, change us all as consumers.

Having been a very small part of it many years ago, I learned a lot and am happy for the opportunity - lucky to have had the experience. Maybe that’s a big part of why I use this space to rant against some of the current practitioners from time to time. “Been there. Done that.” So, when they screw up, it touches a reflexive nerve which brings out the angry reaction. I’ve got one of those reactions going now. But, this time it’s different. Angry AND uncertain.

Not many in today’s media crowd were around in the ‘50's and ‘60's when I was learning the craft. Their early training and mine are a couple of generations apart. Oh, some of the basics are still the same i.e. who, what, where, when, why and how. Still gotta have all that.

Then we -and they as youngsters - went through the Watergate era where the most prized reporting came to those doing “investigative journalism.” Woodward, Bernstein, Mike Wallace et al. Dig out the dirt, confront the bad guys and make major headlines. Or a very rare six minute “package” leading the evening’s national TV news. Journalism turned a sharp corner then, and the “who, what, where...” guys largely disappeared. So did a lot of “getting it right” with facts before being the bearer of constantly “breaking news.” Damn, how I hate that phrase!

Now, another “sharp corner” is being turned. Labeling public officials - up to and including the President of the United States - liars. Which - on a daily and often hourly basis - he, and nearly all the appointed minions who “speak” for him, are. Without question.

Most of the “street” reporters in the national media are less than 50-years-old. Such training as they received was much different than us older types had in the ‘50's and ‘60's. That - and Trump”s continuing reprehensible public utterances - has resulted in a very different “code of conduct” between them and news makers.

Case in point: Richard Nixon. I didn’t like Nixon when he was in Congress in the ‘50's. He was a liar then, just as he was in the presidency. He felt persecuted, disrespected, undervalued and cursed with being a perpetual “outsider” in Washington. All of which he carried into the White House later.

My limited, working contact with him was usually as a weekend reporter or subbing for regular, daily beat reporters. Also had a couple of minor personal occasions to be in his presence. Each time, my innards churned with disrespect. A lot of contemporaries felt the same. But nearly all of us played our different roles professionally and - all in all - until Watergate, respectfully. If not for him, then for the office. But we knew he often lied. Big time.

Now, the next generation of reporters is faced with Donald Trump - the most unqualified, unprepared, unskilled and biggest misfit ever to hold the office of President. To that can be added his penchant for distortion and outright lying on a daily basis. And, his selection and use of people equally unskilled at their jobs who share the same distasteful habit of publically - and often - speaking “truth” as they see fit to create it.

Trump operated in the same dishonest manner for nearly two years of the national campaign. For a long time, he wasn’t openly challenged for his regular, daily “untruths” by a media not used to dealing with an openly confident, perpetual liar at that level.

Then, editors and others in charge of content for broadcasters and print, had to make some decisions. Should they continue to avoid or soft-pedal the daily torrent of lies and, thus, become complicit in passing them on to viewers and readers as fact? Should they employ fact-checkers and give the job of separating truth from fiction to them? Or, should they step outside the boundary of simply reporting and call the torrent of lies what they were? Lies!

Though the media is currently held in very low esteem by much of the American public, I can tell you, from experience, a lot of good scotch and considerable bourbon was consumed, a lot of sleep was lost and a lot of professional soul-searching was done by some very dedicated people. To openly challenge the voices and the blatant lies of the top tier of political “leaders,” would forever change the honored - and mostly respected - balance between government officials and media. The relationship would never be the same.

The resulting decision for most of the major media has been to label this administration’s lies for what they are - lies. Not just once in awhile. Not just when the lie is a big one. Not just for spite. Not just for anybody but the President. A lie is a lie is a lie is a lie. Anytime. And anyone.

To my mind, this puts us on a whole new path. Those who persist in lying are going to be called on it - regardless of who they are. At least nationally. And the national media, once simply an institutional reporting source, has become a daily arbiter of fact.

Will this continue when Trump and his minions are gone? No one knows. But, that sweeping difference in one of our most significant national institutional relationships is what exists today.

I’m not comfortable with that. But it is what it is.

Idaho Briefing – Sept 25

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.

Idaho picked up a large-scale wheat deal with China this week, as good economic news generally continued to roll. Atop that, fall appeared to arrive in force (with concerns about coming snow), diminishing wildfires for the season.

Candidates have finished filing for office in Idaho municipal elections, which will be held in November.

The Idaho Water Resource Board provided an update during its meeting in Mountain Home last week on ensuring that Mountain Home Air Force Base has a long-term, sustainable water supply.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould met with representatives of the Taiwan Flour Mills Association and Idaho wheat industry officials today to sign an agreement supporting U.S. wheat exports over the next two years – a deal worth $576 million.

In the wake of historic wildfires in Oregon, Idaho, California, Washington and across the West, Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Mike Crapo, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Jim Risch, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., introduced an updated version of their bipartisan wildfire funding solution that would protect desperately needed funding for fire prevention and treat wildfires as the natural disasters they are.

The Idaho Transportation Board approved a resolution and directed staff to investigate property options for relocating the Idaho Transportation Department District 4 administrative office in the vicinity of the Interstate 84/U.S. 93 junction located in Jerome County.

Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo congratulated Ryan Nelson of Idaho after his nomination to become Department of Interior Solicitor passed unanimously out of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee today. His nomination has been sent to the full Senate for consideration.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said on September 22 that Idaho has agreed to join the federal government and other states in settling allegations against Mylan Inc. and its subsidiary, Mylan Specialty L.P.

In a challenging year for salmon and steelhead returns, Idaho's most endangered salmon fared a little better than expected with 157 of them trapped in the Sawtooth Basin this summer.

PHOTO Two Idaho State University geosciences students, master’s student Graham Meese and undergraduate Jeffery Carpenter, are working with geosciences Associate Professor Ben Crosby on a long-term study of Marsh Creek, a major tributary to the Portneuf River. Their research focuses on measuring how restoration in Marsh Creek has impacted the water quality, which in turn affects the water quality of the Portneuf River. To help answer this question, their study uses two historic sources of information, aerial imagery and water quality data. Aerial imagery is used to compare 70 years of change by mapping where the channel used to be and where it is now. The researchers are looking at how the creek behaves naturally as well as how it has been changed by human modification. (Idaho State University)

Reflections on the local ballot

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In this time of hyper-hot politics, are the lower-rung non-partisan levels of the Idaho ballot in the upcoming Idaho city elections much exception?

Not to press points too far, there are a few indicators of reflections from the national roar. Even if you wouldn’t want to make the case too hard.

For example. Coeur d’Alene has a long tradition, going back generations, of heated city elections. Only recently that tradition ascended new peaks, as a ferociously-contested set of recall elections, sandwiched in between hot regular elections, racked the city.

But not this year. For the first time in many, many elections (decades back at least), every post on the ballot in Coeur d’Alene, including that of the mayor (Steve Widmyer, who’s seeking a second term), is unopposed, with only the incumbents running for each. (There is still the possibility of a write-in or two surfacing.)

That’s a striking turnaround from recent elections, with activist conservatives pushing hard in election after election. The lack of filings this time may have to do with the more moderate candidates winning consistently in the last few city elections, a contrast to elections taking in other boundary lines in the Panhandle. Or it could be campaign fatigue. But it could be a soft echo of national politics. One suggestive point is that Coeur d’Alene is not alone in lacking city election contests. Most other cities in Kootenai County reported the same, and fewer than usual candidates turned up in many other cities around the region.

In southern Idaho candidate filings, a different dynamic emerged.

In Boise (where the mayor is in mid-term and not on the ballot this year), the three council contests drew at least four candidates each. From that list jumped out three prominent Democrats: one council incumbent, TJ Thomson, and for the other seats Frank Walker, a former Ada County commissioner, and Holli Woodings, a former legislator and candidate for secretary of state. Those three may be the most locally prominent of the 13 council candidates, and well-positioned for their races. Together with Mayor David Bieter, who occupies a non-partisan office but personally is a Democrat, the city may become a Democratic redoubt in the next election.

By contrast, Meridian drew seven candidates for its three council seats, Nampa nine for its three, and Caldwell 10 for the four council seats up there. All three of those cities have mayors up for election, which often results in a larger collection of candidates to the field.

Not everywhere are we seeing these kinds of effects.

In many cities, the candidate filing patterns are running true to form. Idaho Falls and Pocatello, where mayors are up, have normal rosters of candidates, and all three council seats in Twin Falls have races pitting incumbents against challengers. Both Pocatello and Idaho Falls mayoral races may be competitive - legislator Jeff Thompson is seeking the job in Idaho Falls - so they may say something about those cities’ directions.

City elections do help set directions for a city, sometimes taking it where it might not otherwise go. Sometimes you can hear the distant rumblings of larger-picture politics in that. Sometimes, it generates a change or a confirmation of its course internally, on its own.

In another six weeks or so, Idaho cities’ voters will get to weigh in on all that.