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Posts published in September 2017

Even in Idaho, religion’s changing

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The meshing of religion and politics is as clear today as it ever has been: To a remarkable degree, poll after poll has found, you can tell how someone votes if you know where (or if) they go to worship.

And this picture is changing fast, maybe faster nationally than it ever has. Idaho is changing, too, and in some ways not at all obvious.

The latest source material for this is a massive report, released last week (at www.prri.org/research/american-religious-landscape-christian-religiously-unaffiliated/), by the Public Religion Research Institute, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy.” It draws on a survey of more than 100,000 Americans, a huge sample, with detailed results at the state level.

One of its major takeaways is this: “White Christians, once the dominant religious group in the U.S., now account for fewer than half of all adults living in the country. Today, fewer than half of all states are majority white Christian. As recently as 2007, 39 states had majority white Christian populations.”

Idaho, as you may expect, is still one of those majority white Christian states. But the margin is shrinking. When it did a similar survey in 2007, PRRI found that Idaho was 67 percent white Christian (Latino and black Christians were categorized separately). Today, that figure stands at 56 percent.

The trend line is comparable all over. Utah dropped from 68 percent to 61 percent. Less-churched Oregon went from 57 percent to 43 percent. Washington state fell from 55 percent to 42 percent.

Further, an age gap is widening (part of the reason for the change). Many Christian groups are seeing much smaller percentages of affiliation within younger age groups. The report noted, “Only slightly more than one in ten white evangelical Protestants (11%), white Catholics (11%), and white mainline Protestants (14%) are under the age of 30. Approximately six in ten white evangelical Protestants (62%), white Catholics (62%), and white mainline Protestants (59%) are at least 50 years old.” Among evangelicals, this marks a downturn after a generation of steady, sometimes explosive, growth.

The report did also note “the Mormon exception”: “Although Mormons are a predominantly white Christian religious tradition, there is little evidence to suggest that they are experiencing similar declines. Currently, 1.9% of the public identifies as Mormon, a number identical to findings from a 2011 study of Mormons in the U.S. Mormons are also much younger than other white Christian religious traditions.”

That’s significant in Idaho, where Mormons are the largest religious group (at 20 percent of the population) in the state, ahead of evangelical Protestants, who make up 15 percent.

What may surprise a lot of people, though, is that the largest religious-based segment of the population in Idaho, larger than either of those two, is the unaffiliated, at 27 percent. Idaho’s rate is actually higher than the national percentage, which is 24 percent - three times what it was a quarter-century ago. Idaho is one of the 20 states where unaffiliateds are the biggest part of the population. That contrasts with 12 states where evangelicals are the largest group, or 11 where Catholics are, or the one (Utah) where Mormons hold the largest share. Idaho’s share of unaffiliates ranks just ahead of Wyoming and Nebraska - which would be understandable company - but also immediately behind California and Nevada.

These statistics mark some big changes. The effects aren’t likely to manifest immediately, or in the next two or three years. But religion eventually does have a big impact on politics, the economy and much else. Watch for it.

Judges in the general

jones

Idaho’s magistrate judges stand for a retention vote in the November elections. This makes sense because two or three times more people vote in general elections than in primaries.

However, Justices on the Idaho Supreme Court and judges on the Court of Appeals and district benches are voted upon in the lower turnout primary elections. If there are more than two candidates in one of these elections and no candidate receives a majority, the two candidates with the most votes have a run-off in the general election.

It would work much better if all judges were voted upon in November.

When judges are up for election in the May primary, the winner is picked by about a fourth of the registered voters. In 2012, there was a 24.5% turnout in the May primary, as against a 74.3% turnout in the general election in November. In 2014, the May vote was 26.1%, while the vote in November was 56.1%. Last year, 23% voted in the primary and 75.9% voted in the general election. Why not select judges in elections where a majority of registered voters participate?

The Legislature may have set the district and appellate elections in May so that a candidate getting only a plurality of the vote would not end up on the bench. The fact is that it is not common to have a contested election for these positions and, when there is a contest, it is not common to have more than two candidates. There were four candidates in the 2016 election, but the same candidate, Justice Robyn Brody, was the top vote-getter in both the primary and general elections.

There is another compelling reason to hold judicial elections later in the year. The filing deadline for positions on the district and appellate courts is March 9 next year. The primary election is May 15. So, judicial candidates will only have 67 days in 2018 to organize and conduct a campaign. These people are not politicians and generally do not have any experience in organizing and running a campaign. Even worse, they can’t take stands on issues and, consequently, get very little media coverage. Judicial candidates simply need more time to cover a large state and make themselves known.

And, voters need more time to learn about the candidates. Only 32% of registered voters cast their ballots in the primary election in 2002. Of those voters, 22% did not vote in the contested Supreme Court race. A survey of voters conducted by Rachel Vanderpool Burdick found that 40% of those who did not vote said they did not have enough information about the candidates. The average voter generally has little exposure to the judicial candidates and therefore goes into the voting booth shooting blind.

Let’s look at a case history to illustrate some problems with the current system.

A fine justice was appointed to the Supreme Court in September of 2007 to fill out an existing term. His term ended in 2008, so he had to file for reelection just six months after his appointment. He learned during the March filing period that he would have an opponent in the May primary, necessitating a start-from-scratch campaign. The opponent had quietly laid substantial groundwork, had the necessary financing arranged, and started off with a substantial advantage. The incumbent had to figure out in slightly less than two months how to set up and run a campaign, how to have others raise money for him since a judicial candidate may not personally raise funds, and how to carry a full load of appellate judging all the while. He won in the primary but by a razor-thin margin. Such a short fuse for such a low-profile race for such a large state serves neither the candidates nor the voters well.

The Legislature should eliminate voting for district and appellate court positions in the primary election and schedule those elections for November. The person receiving the most votes should get the position. The filing period should be moved to the first week in June, giving candidates five months to campaign.

This would allow a majority of voters to select judges and give those voters more time and opportunity to make an informed choice.

Will they send a message?

carlson

President Donald Trump continues to play a form of Russian Roulette virtually unseen since the nation’s founding. In the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., he continues to reinvent the rules seemingly with little forethought and leaves confusion, anger and anguish in his path.

Each day the 24 hour news cycle is all about Trump all the time and his latest tweets, which jump all over the map, portray a man who can flip flop in a nano-second and thinks nothing of lying. His ego seems to need insatiable feeding all day every day.

His strategy appears to be always playing to his hard core base in the belief that other Republicans will jump into the primaries for the 2020 presidential race and again will be unable to coalesce under one challenger. Thus, with a mere plurality, he will win again the Republican nomination.

That assumes he will not have been impeached and removed for his erratic and dangerous game of providing constant entertainment to the media and his base. Unfortunately, his fumblings and bumbles in foreign affairs could have real catastrophic consequences that lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Some speculate the House has not approved impeachment charges and then asked the Senate to conduct the trial because there is little stomach for tearing the nation apart. Additionally, insiders have a great deal of confidence in the three US Marine Corps generals who surround POTUS: General James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense; General John Kelly, the chief of staff and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

This triumvirate of generals, along with the vice president, and a majority of the cabinet can in fact under the 25th amendment remove a president if he becomes deranged. The Congress does not have to concur.

The voters can of course send their own message in November of 2018 by voting for the Democratic or the Independent candidate running for Congress against a Republican incumbent.. In modern times the mid-term elections usually see the party of the president lose about 11 seats.

There have been, however, some tidal wave elections in which the electorate cleans out and cleans up a mess. Good examples are the New Deal in 1934, the post WW II 1946 election, the lanslide election of LBJ in 1964, and, the Gingrich Revolution of 1994.

Members of Congress go to great lengths to keep their seats and further rig the system through shrewd gerrymndering of district boundaries. Are you surprised that after each election nine times out of ten the incumbent wins?

The key to the casting of an informed ballot is most often one taking the time to read about the issues and knowing where one’s member stands. Too often one has to cut though a great deal of baloney before they can start to ascertain the congressman’s real views.

For the system to work best though it is incumbent upon the minority party to put up viable candidates for office and to provide decent party support to the viable candidate. One need look no further than the congressional district immediately to the west of north Idaho, the 5th District in the state of Washington, currently represented by Cathy Mc-Morris­-Rodgers.

Two weeks ago former State Senator and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, announced her candidacy to replace McMorris-Rodgers. A former professor of economics at Eastern Waashington University and the former head of the WSU-Spokane campus, Brown is a shrewd, canny political veteran and should give the incumbemt a competitive challenge.

If there is an anti-Trump tide Spokane Democrats have come up with a more than qualified challenger, a political veteran who can do a decent job of representing their interests.

Look now by contrast at Idaho’s First Congressional District, an open seat now that Rep. Raul Labrador has decided to run for governor. So far three have announced their candidacy - all Republicans. They are former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy, the presumed front-runner, former State Senator Russ Fulcher from Canyon County, and State Rep. Luke Malek, from Kootenai County.

On Labor Day at the annual North Idaho Labor Rally and Picnic in Post Falls I asked one of the region’s top labor leaders, Brad Cedarbloom, if he was aware of any potential Democratic candidate for the seat. He said he was not aware of anyone.

There is an old politicl saying that applies: “You have to have somebody to beat somebody.”

Voters even in Idaho may want to send a message of dismay to D.C. in November of 2018, but won’t have the opportunity. Voters in the state of Washington’s 5th district, by contrast will be able to send a message.

Will they?

And nobody seems to care

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What was once considered the immensely capable and respected United States Department of State, the entity responsible for carrying out the complicated details of our political, economic, cultural, humanitarian and military foreign policy throughout the entire world, and the entity most responsible for maintaining what was once the United States’ dominant position as the leader of the free world, is crumbling into oblivion. It is being systematically dismantled through the deliberate destruction, the negligent inattention, and the amateurish bumbling of President Trump and the bungling of his cabal of amateurs, including his Secretary of State Tillerson. Most of us are not paying attention, and nobody seems to care.

We have been refining and honing this massive administrative behemoth of a department to implement and carry out our foreign policy for over 75 years – through 37 Congressional elections, 19 Presidential elections, and 9 complete reversals in administration from one party to another. The tradition has long been that the core machinery of the State Department is apolitical – unchanged and unchanging throughout the entire period, despite the political swings of the nation and the various changes in administration.

At the beginning of 2017, the department was a huge, labyrinthine web of interconnected diplomatic resources headquartered in Washington, with tentacles to every corner of the world. It employed over 70,000 individuals. It was a Department that, on a moment’s notice, could marshal the knowledge of thousands of employees worldwide and channel the specifics on any subject directly to the office of the Secretary, making him the best informed principal in the world at any given time and on any given subject. No country could come even close to matching the depth of resources and thoroughness of the U.S. Department of State.

All of this is changing, and much of the change is irreversible. On the day President Trump took office, he demanded that every political appointee of a predecessor administration within Department of State resign or be fired. These were not requests for “as soon as your replacement is appointed” actions, but rather “clear out your desk right now” demands. All of the political appointees were gone by the following weekend. Of the political appointees at the very top level of State, only a handful of positions have been filled. The critical position of deputy secretary, and most of the key undersecretary posts, remain vacant.

As soon as Tillerson assumed his office at the head of the department, he began to weed out and discharge career service employees – the core of the department that usually does not change with changes in administrations. He announced an intent to implement a 37% reduction in force. Tillerson encouraged the early retirement of many senior foreign service officers and career specialists in his plans of reorganization, while others were just laid off upon the grounds that their positions were being eliminated in the downsize. Lateral transfers are prohibited. Tillerson cancelled the incoming class of foreign service officers – a step akin to the military deciding to forgo commissioning the graduating classes from the service academies. Current managers are being told that three positions must be eliminated to support replacing one open vacancy. One result of this meat-ax approach is that the seventh floor of the Department State – the true nerve center of foreign policy for the entire world – is virtually empty.

The crushing impact of all of these moves upon the career officials throughout the department is telling. Morale is very low. Resignations and early retirement from frustrated career employees are pouring forth, with few applications from qualified individuals to replace them. The remaining career employees, excluded from consideration of policy issues, with normal channels of reporting and networking disrupted or eliminated completely, and without access to information or guidance from leadership, are appearing to wander aimlessly.

All of the ambassadors who had been politically appointed by any previous administration were recalled and dismissed. Only a handful have been replaced, and none of these are in any critical hot spots. Most of the European countries and most of the Middle Eastern countries, including Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan, have no ambassadors. In the critically important Pacific Rim, we have no ambassadors in Australia, China, Japan or South Korea. We only recently designated an ambassador to Russia.

The expectation that Tillerson would surround himself with knowledgeable experts in the specific areas where he lacked experience, did not happen. Instead, Tillerson has gone to outside consultants with no foreign service experience for the reorganization, ignoring the expertise available from within the department and paying no apparent attention to the relative value or importance to any of the particular positions and operations being eliminated. Tillerson eschewed building a personal staff with experience that he could rely upon; his staff, which in past administrations has approached 25 specialists in various areas, now consist of a chief of staff with no experience in state affairs and a former long range policy wonk. Two people. Period.

Both operate without immediate technical staff support and, according to some sources, are completely overwhelmed. They are not utilizing the resources of the department. They are suspicious of anything coming up the pipeline from career officials and yet do not have the knowledge personally. The result is that the entire operations of foreign policy being conducted by the Secretary or the President on almost a purely ad hoc basis. This has already involved critical interchanges where significant blunders have been made, involving China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, other states of the Middle East, the NATO allies, and Great Britain, Australia, Mexico, and even Canada. Canada!

While everybody is watching the machinations within the White House itself, no one is paying attention to the surging tides of foreign policy and the inadequacies of the United States’ responses that are forthcoming from State. While all of our attention is on the amateurs continuing to spin the White House into shambles, or upon the President continuing to fumble his way from one media disaster into another, nobody is paying any attention to what is happening a few blocks away at Foggy Bottom.

The marginalization of the core of our foreign service and the major disintegration of the diplomatic corps needed to carry it out is occurring right under our nose. The only one clearly cheering is Bannon from his new perch on the outside, crowing at last that the demise of the deep state is at hand. Experienced watchers now predict that it will take years to repair the damage already done the machinery of State, with worse yet to come.

And nobody seems to care.

Water Digest – September 4

Water rights weekly report for July 17. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The legal publication Courthouse News reported on August 31 about the challenge facing the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in working through who has rights to what water in three complex water pumping cases basedf in western Nevada.

Comstock Mining Inc. said on August 29 that the Nevada Department of Transportation celebrated the completion of the new Infinity Highway (formerly USA Parkway) yesterday—three months ahead of schedule. The company also said it has escrowed the sale of 54 acre-feet of water rights in two transactions that generated over $550,000. The transaction is expected to close in the first week of September and the funds will immediately be used to pay down long-term debt, consistent with the Company’s original plan.

The California Water Storage Investment Program Project Review Portal is now active. This portal will allow the public to access WSIP applications, review, and decision related documents. The Water Commission's next meeting is on September 20.

In the beginning

rainey

Once upon a time, there was a Sen. Cecil Andrus. Not a governor then. A simple, lowly state senator. Nothing unusual about him. Just over six feet, 175 pounds, trim physique but balding a bit on top.

I first met him in early 1965 when he came for a weekend in Pocatello with native Rep. Darrell Manning. Manning introduced us. A weekend visit that far away from his Orofino home was unusual for Andrus because, while serving in the state senate, he was selling insurance out of Lewiston. So, most weekends, he went home to check on family and the business. Just not that weekend.

I was reporting for KID-TV out of Pocatello’s Bannock Hotel. It was a couple of months later I learned why the visit to far Southeast Idaho. Manning was introducing him to local Democrats, some business and money folk. Andrus was prepping a run for governor. He came to Pocatello more and more after he announced. Always paid KID-TV a visit and, usually, sat for a short interview.

In 1966, he lost the primary to then-Democratic candidate Charles Herndon. Andrus was out of it. Then, in September, Herndon and several others died in a small plane crash. Andrus became the last minute replacement. And he took off. He and I had stayed in touch and he asked me to be his press guy. So, with a wife and three kids at home, I quit a secure job and hit the campaign road.

While I’d covered politics, being IN politics was a whole new game. Steeped in ignorance about what was expected of me, I met Cece at the Pocatello airport early one morning. Cece had been a private pilot for some years; I hadn’t started on my own license yet. In the aftermath of the Herndon crash, his wife, Carol, made him promise to quit being a pilot. So, that morning, our chauffeur was Johnny Bastida, soon to be an Ada County Commissioner. Oh, yes, he was also a solid lifetime Republican. He was, also, the finest private pilot I’d ever met.

As we cruised at 10,000 feet to Boise, Cece asked Johnny about feathering a prop. That means, turning off one perfectly good working engine and, after a short time, restarting in the air. Before the Herndon crash, Cece had been licensed only in single engine.

Obliging the request, Bastida feathered a perfectly good engine and walked Andrus through the restart procedure - while the dead prop looked like a standing tree to me. It was a warm day with lots of thermal activity - hot, bumpy air rising from the East Idaho desert. I was jammed in the backseat, balancing a very small portable typewriter on my upright knees, trying to compose a news release for Boise media, trying to think, looking at that dead prop and worrying about the descent.

You see, Bastida seemingly paid no attention to locating an emergency landing spot as he was teaching Cece how to restart an engine while losing altitude. Maybe he didn’t because we were smack over the middle of the Craters of the Moon where landing a helicopter would have been damned near impossible much less a twin-engine Cessna.

The two of them were animated and busy. In hindsight, and as a now-licensed pilot, I’m sure Johnny had things under control . But, he was so patient with Andrus who was taking what seemed forever to learn what I found out later wasn’t a very difficult procedure. We may not have been in as much trouble as it seemed to a non-pilot at the time, but it was beautiful when that starboard prop was spinning again. And the boys up front were laughing and having a good time.

I relate this story because many Idahoans didn’t know Andrus personally. To me, it fits his personality to a “T.” He was a constant learner - his eyes and ears always open to something new. And he asked questions. All the time. More hearing than talking was my experience.

But he did learn to talk politically like a master. Again, curiosity and hard work. In his first years as governor, he would talk to anyone. Anytime. Anywhere. He learned by saying “Yes” to every invitation to speak. If three others people were on an elevator, he practiced. He’d go to the furthest corner of Owyhee County to talk to a half dozen cattlemen. PTA’s, Rotary, Kiwanis, bridge clubs, hunting clubs, feed lots and cafe’s. Any audience. Anytime. Anywhere.

And he got to be a master of public speaking which served him well for 50 years. Which served Idaho well for 50 years.

I hope others who are sharing their “Andrus stories” will continue to do so. Even those closest to him, and who thought they’d heard them all, are being surprised by the outpouring. And that’s good.

Maybe, unlike so many other public figures before him, he won’t soon be forgotten or simply relegated to his political activities because there’ll always be another story. A “new” Andrus story.

He’d like that.

Idaho Briefing – September 4

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.

Much of Idaho’s attention last week went to a passing, of former Governor Cecil Andrus. Services were held last week in Boise.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter appointed Fifth District Judge G. Richard Bevan of Twin Falls on August 29 to succeed retiring Justice Daniel Eismann on the five-member Idaho Supreme Court.

Ada County re-opened a section of the Boise River Greenbelt that has been closed since March because of high river flows, pathway damage and flood recovery efforts.

State regulators have denied a request to reverse their decision regarding the contract terms for several proposed PURPA battery storage projects in southern Idaho.

Idaho big game hunters have been on a roll in recent years with a top-10, all-time deer harvest in 2016, an all-time record whitetail harvest in 2015, and a top-five, all-time elk harvest in 2015.

Idaho National Laboratory has released multiple new open-source software projects that are freely available to the public and open to collaboration directly with researchers and engineers outside of the laboratory. Fostering widespread distribution of this software will accelerate the adoption of these technologies within industry, and fuel innovation in other research organizations that may build on them.

PHOTO Senator Crapo delivers remarks before presenting the Specific Manufacturing Capability (SMC) project with the Spirit of Idaho Award. (photo/Senator Crapo)

Uprisings, except for Idaho

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Across the country, so many Democrats are getting into runs for Congress that some party leaders are worried about getting swamped with competitive primary contests.

In one suburban Chicago district, nine Democrats have filed to run against a Republican U.S. House incumbent. As of the end of June, the number of Democratic House challengers nationally who had raised at least $5,000 by then - indicating at least some level of seriousness in campaigning - was 209. That’s an abnormally large number. In this century, the previous comparable record for a challenging party was held by the Republicans in 2009, just ahead of their 2010 sweep - and in that year, Republicans had 78 comparable candidates.

We’re more than a year away from the November 2018 election, and many conditions can change between here and there. But at the moment, Democrats nationally are looking very much the way they did in 2006, the way Republicans did in 2010 and 2014.

Just west of the Idaho state line, the massive Oregon second House district, where veteran Republican Representative Greg Walden has usually won with numbers like those of his Idaho counterparts, has drawn four Democratic challengers so far, at least a couple of whom look to be serious contenders. In Washington’s fifth district (centered on Spokane), where the seat is held by Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a string of Democratic candidates has emerged, topped this week by veteran former state Senator Majority Leader Lisa Brown.

In Idaho … not so much.

There’s one structural element to this. Idaho won’t have a Senate election next year - Jim Risch is up in 2020 (and says he’s running again) and Mike Crapo in 2022. That diminishes, a little, interest in Idaho congressional races. But both U.S. House seats will have an election, and one of them will be open, meaning no incumbent will be on the ballot.

Republicans are in the field. Incumbent Mike Simpson in the second district (with maybe another primary challenge, though there’s not yet an FEC trace of one). In the first, where the seat is open owing to incumbent Raul Labrador’s run for governor, at least three prospects are at work.

So far, as best I could determine, there’s no significant activity toward a Democratic candidacy in the second district. A candidate from that party eventually may file and be on the ballot next year, but for now you have to suspect he or she will be a placeholder, there mainly to preserve options in the unlikely event Simpson lost a Republican primary.

The Federal Election Commission does have a filing in the first district for Democrat Michael William Smith of Post Falls, but no financial activity is reported. Smith has a Facebook web page, but not much is reported there by way of campaign activity.

Democrats may wind up with more than a placeholder in the first. A leader in the Indivisible group (which is untested but looks to be highly energetic and active in some places) in Ada County is said to be interested. And a few other names have been batted around, including a couple from Idaho’s panhandle, which hasn’t produced a member of Congress in a very long time.

Former state Senator Dan Schmidt of Moscow has been mentioned (by fellow columnist Chris Carlson, among others) as a prospect for governor; the first district spot might be a more logical fit.

But candidates are not bursting through the woodwork (one Democrat suggested to me that there is no woodwork). And as early in the cycle is this still is - unusually early for most candidates to jump in, by normal schedules in the past - that right now makes Idaho an outlier in the national political picture.