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Posts published in October 2017

A medium that does not exist

trahant

It’s tempting to think of "news" as the business model for Indian Country Today. What are the stories? Does it represent an authentic voice (or voices) for Indian Country? Who are the great reporters? Where should they be? How much video? Text? Opinion? Is the story compelling? Does coverage match the experience of our readers? What’s on our digital front page? What stories do people want to read? What’s new?

These are great question for any editor. But they should be dismissed. For now. If Indian Country Today is to revive there are other questions that must be asked and answered. Starting with: Is there funding? Is Indian Country a viable market? If so, what does that look like? Where will the revenue come from? How much will it cost to produce? And how often? And, by the way, where is the money coming from?

There are really only two answers that need to be figured out: Where the money comes from and how that money is spent. Everything else is just detail.

When I first read that Indian Country Today lost (I’ll say invested) some $3 million in its last year, I thought, wow, that’s more than I lost running Navajo Times Today back in the day. Then I did the math. Uh oh. If you look at the value of a dollar now compared to 1987 then, well, let’s just say the total exceeds $5 million.

Problem: It costs a lot of money to produce news.

Then the media world is upside down. Today so many costs are a fraction of what they were in 1987. As a daily newspaper the Navajo Times Today, I still believe, needed about 4 years to break even and then would have been profitable. Our advertising projections were solid but what slowed us down was the costly nature of delivering the paper daily throughout the Navajo Nation. The internet has sharply reduced those costs - any organization can publish on the web for far less than what it cost us a generation ago. But, at the same time, advertising no longer works to pay the bills. (The funny thing: Had we been successful in 1987 ... the paper would still be in deep trouble because so many of the elements required for a successful daily newspaper have evaporated.)

The Navajo Times of today (owned by the tribe, but chartered and operated independently) is quite successful. It's a weekly and it still attracts significant advertising and readership. But the strength of those ads are regional, not national.

The challenge for Indian Country Today is that it generated a large readership, at least by Indian Country's standards, but not enough of a readership for a national advertising strategy which measures success by the millions. Most digital ads are sold using a measurement of cost per thousand or CPM. So if there are 100,000 readers and let's say 2 percent click the ad, that could generate about $2,000. So it would take a whole lot of those kinds of ads to fund a newsroom.

I don’t think a subscription model works for Indian Country either. The problem is that a few people will pay, but not enough to cover the costs, so you end up producing a publication for the elite. I almost went down this road a couple of years ago for Trahant Reports. I was thinking of turning into a paid newsletter that probably would have sold to a few law firms, lobbyists, and tribes particularly interested in public policy. Hell, I might have even made money at it. But true cost would have been high: I try to make public policy interesting for everyone. And those readers would have been gone. Fortunately a friend pointed this out to me - and I reversed course. My content remains free for readers and for other news organizations.

So what models are there that might work? How can Indian Country serve readers as an independent news organization? And, just as important, how will that enterprise get started?

I won't explore the for-profit model here because it's not an option. But that mechanism does work for News from Indian Country, Native News Sun, and many other regional publications. It's also important to remember that there will be competition for resources and content. Any non-profit enterprise will compete for many of the same dollars raised by tribal radio stations, the Native Voice One network, Native Public Media, Native American Journalists Association, and on and on. The Indianz.com and Pechanga.net attract the same web readers with their content and aggregation. (See the Native Media Universe, an always unfinished database.)

Indian Country Today's next chapter is likely to be some kind of not-for-profit venture. The Oneida Nation of New York, the owner of Indian Country Today Media Network, donated the assets of the venture to the National Congress of American Indians. It’s now up to NCAI to figure out what will happen next (starting with many conversations at the annual convention next week in Milwaukee).

This is a bit complicated because NCAI is an advocacy organization for tribes and its members. Just imagine the first time a journalist writes a hard-hitting story that a senator on the Appropriations Committee does not like. Or a tribal leader.

But this is a problem that can be solved.

One of the best news operations in Washington is Kaiser Health News, owned by the Kaiser Family Foundation. They are both non-profits. Kaiser Health News is in the same building as the Kaiser Family Foundation, often uses that research, or speakers, or other resources. Yet operates independently and partners with existing mainstream media such as National Public Radio or The Washington Post. Another hybrid, Think Progress, operates independently of its sponsor, the Center for American Progress. There is another model -- a completely different approach -- that works in Seattle, the Sightline Institute. This organization focuses on actionable research about the Pacific Northwest region and its view of a sustainable future. This could be something that the NCAI Policy Research Center could do. It’s a smaller operation that builds on existing scholarship.

But Kaiser Health News and Think Progress do something else that’s essential: They employ dozens of journalists. Indian Country Today did that too. And that ought to be at the top of the list in terms of developing a “what’s next?” plan.

Two other non-profits that have a significant presence in Indian Country's media universe are Yes! Magazine and High Country News. Both publications treat Indian Country as an important beat and pay freelancers for coverage. High Country News also has a Native issues editor, currently Graham Lee Brewer, a member of the Cherokee Nation. Yes! invested significant resources into covering Standing Rock. Both of these non-profits have a long track record. High Country News began in Lander, Wyoming, in 1970. And Yes! started in 1997.

There is a newer model to consider, ProPublica. This is an independent, stand alone, news organization that’s funded by philanthropy. Imagine a bunch of journalists being hired with an agenda to do news. The work is done by professionals and then given away to other news organizations. There are several regional variations of ProPublica throughout the country that lay out a road map for the how to operate Indian Country Today as a non-profit enterprise.

That’s the money out. Spending it will be simple. There are a lot of talented people who would love the opportunity to keep doing what they’ve been doing, or better, to do more. The distribution of the news could be by web, a wire service, through other media, or all of the above. Technology has made distribution much easier.

A summary of the money out: The cost of a staff, buying freelance, travel, and some administrative costs. But how much money, who decides who gets the jobs, and how much will freelancers be paid?

The data is interesting. According to Pew Research, 73 percent of all non-profit news sites employ less than three people. Only 19 percent have between five and ten employees. "Small budgets tend to mean small staffs and that is the case for a large majority of the digital native news outlets," according to a Pew Research survey of nonprofit outlets.

What about the money in? As I have already written: I don’t believe there is a national market for advertising. Indian Country’s numbers are just too small for a mass market. There could be, from time to time, some ads. But nothing comprehensive and not in amounts that would make a difference. I also think a subscription model won’t work for the reasons I’ve already said.

So what does that leave?

I’d start with the public media model. It doesn’t matter who “owns” Indian Country Today. We all do. We have a stake in an intelligent account of the day's events in a context that gives them meaning.

So a public Indian Country Today could challenge us with semi-annual fundraisers, crowdfunding, and a call to action. Twice a year at least. And, like other public media, that means raising additional money from foundations, companies, tribes, basically, any group willing to write a check.

One recent Pew Research report estimated that roughly $150 million in philanthropy now goes to journalism annually.

And much of that comes from crowdfunding. Pew Research: "From April 28, 2009 to September 15, 2015, 658 journalism-related projects proposed on Kickstarter, one of the largest single hubs for crowdfunding journalism, received full – or more than full – funding, to the tune of nearly $6.3 million."

Then if that sounds like a lot of money, Pew also reports, "the journalism projects produced and revenue gained from these crowdfunded ventures is still a drop in the bucket compared with the original reporting output that occurs on any given day and the roughly $20 billion in revenue generated by newspaper ads alone."

But as a revenue stream - perhaps not the only one - crowd funding could be significant for Indian Country Today. If, the news operation is credible and compelling. If.

There is a lesson from ProPublica that ought to apply to any model (or blend of models) that eventually surfaces, and it raises another question, what business are you in? No, really?What business?

At a recent Google Hangout with the Online News Association, ProPublica’s Vice President of Business Development and ONA Board Member Celeste LeCompte drew parallels between the news industry and other enterprises. She said she visited a go-kart factory in China and she discovered they also made trampolines. Why? Because she said the company was “not a go-kart business. It was this crazy machine-bending, metal-piping, powder-coating and spring-attaching business. And that got me thinking about the ways in which companies make their money.”

That same principle applies to information. ProPublica, for example, collects a lot of data as part of its reporting. It then sells that data to other clients for other uses. “We are storytellers in this business,” she said. “That’s all we’re asking to do in the business side as well. When you’re creating real value for an audience, you probably have an opportunity to ask them to compensate you for that.”

What parallel market exists from information in Indian Country? And, what are the prospects and the ethics of marketing that information?

Of course the minute you have the answer, the rules change. One funder -- even a good one -- can keep an operation going for some time (as in the case of Indian Country Today) but what happens when priorities change? Is there a route to sustainability that includes lots of sponsors and supporters?

Answering these questions is difficult in the media world we all know. Newspapers. TV. A little web. Podcasting. The familiar. But that world is vibrant. And it's gone. The challenge is to invent a news ecosystem for Indian Country that builds on models that do not yet exist.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

Disclosures: I have been working in Native media since 1975 -- so I have a long list of disclosures for this piece. I am currently a board member for Yes! magazine. I am a former board member of Sightline and a long time ago, High Country News. I was editor and publisher of the Navajo Times Today in the mid 1980s (and was fired from that job.) I had a fellowship with the Kaiser Family Foundation. And I am a former president of the Native American Journalists Association. And, finally, my weekly radio commentary is distributed via Native Voice One.

Too little, too late?

carlson

One of the many refreshing attributes of Pope Francis is “he tells it like it is,” even when he states the obvious. To a lay person it is astounding to hear a Pope who speaks clearly, non-judgmentally, with compassion, intelligence and common sense.

It reminds one of a saying uttered by another plain-speaking leader from an earlier era: President Harry Truman. While running against the “do-nothing’ Congress in 1948 he responded to the charge that he was giving them hell by saying “I just say the truth and they think it's hell.”

In late September Pope Francis met for the first time with members of an advisory commission he named in 2014 to look into the Church’s less than sterling response to the matter of priestly sexual abuse. In the course of the meeting with this panel of outside experts he acknowledged the Church’s initial response was late and the initial response of just moving pedophile priests from one parish to another was morally and legally wrong.

Some bishops responded quickly, recognizing the gravity of the issue, indeed the criminality of it, and instinctively knew that transparency was critical to maintaining confidence within the laity for the Church hierarhy. Others thought first that they had to protect the image of the Church and its leadership and tried to dodge the gravity by moving offending priests around and minimizing any adverse publicity.

For differing responses one need look no further than the Spokane diocese, where Bishop William Skylstad responded quickly and adroitly. This response contrasted greatly with Boise Bishop Michael Driscoll, who, while Vicar General to the Bishop of the Orange County California diocese, had knowingly moved several pedophile priests around to different parishes.

In Driscoll’s defense he subsequently acknowledged his error and apologized.

Skylstad’s response was comprehensive and should have been the model for all bishops.

He formed a panel to review all cases, whether new or old; he authorized immediate reporting to civil authorities; any priest against whom a charge was levied, if still alive, was suspended while charges were investigated. He ordered more comprehensive background checks for any new diocesan employees and all teachers in the parochial schools. He formed a special communications committee to advise how to best and most quickly respond; he met with victims and apologized to them; he was one of the few bishops in the nation to meet with all the nuns in his diocese and he heard an earful.

He was one of the leaders in the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops in shaping the new protocals dictating a response from the Church that would clearly protect children.

Despite the extensive publicity, international as well as national, when the issue erupted into a mushroom cloud over the Vatican Pope John Paul II remained disturbingly quiet. His successor, Benedict XVI, did start authorizing bishops to identify and where possible, purge offending priests, but he too was largely silent.

The issue had to wait until Francis, the third Pope since this story broke, could look into it. Francis is finding out the truth in a saying of President Reagan’s: people can vote with their feet. This is especially true in the United States. Good “pray, pay and obey” Catholics have left or are leaving the church because of disgust with how many bishops handled his matter.

The fact is attendence is down as are contributions. There isn’t a parish or diocese in the country that isn’t engaged in some form of discussion and debate on how one should respond to a Church gone astray.

Even a Bishop as good as Skylstad realizes the Church has to pro-actively do more to win back victims as well as angry laity. It has to demonstrate that it has uncovered the why and taken steps to protect children to ensure it never happens again. It has to commit itself to working sessions with dissenters where it listens first.

It has to be creative in its outreach but show it knows it needs to reclaim lost members and reintegrate them into a more open, engaged and changing Church,

At the close of his meeting Francis spoke nailed the core of the issue:: “The consciousness of the church arrived a bit late, and when consciousness arrives late, the means to resolve the problem arrive late. Perhaps the old practice of moving people around and not confronting the problem kept consciousness asleep,’ he stated. No kidding, your Holiness.

Now lead the Church further along the path that lives what it preaches.

What not to do

This is a guest opinion by Levi Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

One can’t blame the Albertson Foundation for wanting to avoid an appearance that it continues meddling in public affairs. After spending years in an effort meant to undermine public schools, most Idahoans have little trust left in Albertson’s intentions.

But Albertson’s intentions have not changed. They continue to belittle public schools (recall an advertisement in which a public school bus literally abandoned students in the middle of the desert) in an effort to promote charter schools.

However, Albertson has apparently realized Idahoans growing negative attitude toward the group. To combat this, Albertson finances a troop of secondary organizations to implement their agenda without putting their own name in the middle of it: Idaho Charter School Network, Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho, BLUUM, and others are all entities funded and working in an effort with Albertson to achieve this goal.

I’m not being hyperbolic. BLUUM’s tax returns, for example, literally state that, “BLUUM assists the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation where to make education investments that will result in higher performing seats in Idaho.”

Albertson was reminded the hard way of the public’s lack of faith in the group when their offer to fund a study revamping Idaho’s education spending formula was rebuffed. The apparent conflict of interest was even too much for Idaho’s legislature to ignore. They declined Albertson’s offer and have been working without the interference of Albertson for the past two years.

Or so it seemed. The reality is that dispatched one of its entities, BLUUM, to work behind the scenes.

In fact, as reported by IdahoEdNews, BLUUM even offered simulation software to the committee during the same meeting this year in which the legislators listened to Marguerette Rosa of the “Edunomics Lab” pitch a charter-friendly enrollment based funding model that it just so happens BLUUM is lobbying Idaho to adopt.

BLUUM’s CEO, Terry Ryan, hails from Ohio. During his tenure there, Ryan worked with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute to promote charter-friendly laws in the Buckeye State. It worked. Perhaps too well.

The rampant corruption and ineptitude of Ohio’s charter schools have become the national template of “what not to do” in the school choice movement. The loose regulation and mismanagement of school choice in the Buckeye State is so blatantly obvious that Ohio Senator Sharrod Brown declared “Ohio’s charter school system has become a disgrace on our state that is denying too many students a quality education, and defrauding taxpayers.”

A large portion of this problem is the enrollment based funding that is now being peddled in Idaho’s statehouse. In Ohio, enrollment based funding resulted in thousands of so called “ghost students” who are enrolled in charter schools, but never actually attended. Unlike the current model of average daily attendance, in an enrollment based model the school continues to collect money for every student on the roster regardless of attendance.

In Ohio, the result is millions of tax dollars spent on fraud. In fact, in June of this year the Ohio Board of Education voted to force a single online charter school, Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), to repay an astonishing 60 million dollars for enrolling fake ghost students.

And that is precisely the type of funding model that our legislature is being pitched to adopt. Behind the smoke in mirrors is reality: A group funded by Albertson continues to have an outsize influence at the Capitol Building, and that influence may very well result in Ohio’s current state of affairs coming soon to an Idaho charter school near you.

Is taking a knee disrespectful?

joneslogo1

Many life or death problems face America today, including possible nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, clean-up from three massively destructive hurricanes, a horrendous mass shooting in Las Vegas, horrible and deadly wild fires in California, a break with the rest of the world’s powers over the Iran nuclear deal, and whether NFL players disrespect American service personnel when they take a knee during the national anthem.

During this time of crisis, much news coverage has been devoted to the last issue.

Being a war veteran, I believe I have the credentials to give an opinion on that issue. That is, I voluntarily entered the U.S. Army in 1967, despite leg injuries that would have exempted me from the draft. When the Army did not honor my request to serve in Southeast Asia, I requested a transfer to Vietnam. Although I had a law degree, I chose to serve in an artillery unit. I served 407 days in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh Province, most of it living with South Vietnamese soldiers. I did all of this to honor and respect American values.

One of the most sacred American values is the right to protest what we Americans regard as injustice. Our nation was founded in protest. Many Europeans came to America, having gotten in hot water in their homelands for protesting governmental or religious practices. Americans fought the Revolutionary War to protest British governmental oppression. Ever since, we have taken it for granted that we can protest practically anything the government does, so long as we do it peacefully. My service in the military was partly motivated to protect that right.

The NFL players and others say they are protesting to raise awareness of racial injustice. They have a valid point of view in that regard, although I think there are better ways of focusing attention on the issue. I have not heard any of them say that members of the U.S. military are not worthy of respect. I would recognize military disrespect if I saw it. While I was not personally subjected to disrespect when I got back from Vietnam, many of my brothers in arms were--raw, awful disrespect.

What does disrespect men and women in the military is to characterize swastika-toting neo-nazis as good people. They certainly have the right to brandish their flags and torches, while they utter anti-semitic chants, but let’s remember that many American service personnel, not to mention millions of European Jews, died at the hands of people who cherished the swastika and nazism. For that matter, many Americans died fighting secessionists who worshiped the confederate battle flag.

What also dishonors veterans of all wars is to demean an American prisoner of war like John McCain who served his country with distinction and who comported himself with honor and dignity while being subjected to inhuman treatment at the hands of his captors.

I would never fail to stand with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is played, but I certainly would not condemn a person who chose that form of protest to bring attention to perceived failings of the government. The right to protest is deep in the soul of America and is among the rights that I and many other veterans went overseas to protect.

Idaho Briefing – October 16

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 16. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Congress was mostly out this week, so despite big news from Washington there was little to connect to Idaho. A number of significant social subjects come up, though.

A former Republican legislator has helped form a new political action committee, Moderates are Taking Hold, aimed at encouraging independent and Democratic voters to participate in the 2018 Idaho Republican primary.

The Department of Homeland Security will continue to allow the use of current Idaho driver’s licenses and identification cards at federal security checkpoints, such as courthouses, military bases and airport TSA screenings.

Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Mike Crapo, Jon Tester (D-MT), Jim Risch, and Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide resources to assist communities recovering from damaging wildfires.

A national search has gotten udnerway to find a new president of Lewis Clark State College.

Micron Technology, Inc., on October 10 announced that it intends to offer, subject to market and other considerations, approximately $1 billion of shares of common stock in an underwritten registered public offering.

Harvest season for adipose-clipped hatchery steelhead will open Sunday, Oct. 15 on the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater rivers.

A section of the Boise River Greenbelt in east Boise will be closed by Ada County starting October 25, 2017 through June 22, 2018 in order to install irrigation pipe for the Penitentiary Canal and build a wider, safer, smoother asphalt pathway for Greenbelt users.

A national model for education?

jorgensen

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participated in a roundtable discussion with students, teachers and administrators from McMinnville High School (MHS) at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum on the afternoon of Wednesday, October 11.

The discussion followed a tour that DeVos took of the school, as protesters and supporters gathered outside in the rainy fall weather. There were no such protests at the museum, which is a private facility.

It also came hours after the announcement that Oregon’s chief state schools officer, Salem Noor, resigned abruptly and immediately and was replaced on an interim basis by Governor Kate Brown’s education innovation officer Colt Gill. Brown was out of the country participating in an Asian trade mission.

DeVos sipped coffee, listening intently and smiling as students shared their success stories.

MHS Principal Tony Vicknair told DeVos about the 17 pathways that the school provides for students in an attempt to tie learning to career opportunities. He said the school encourages students to try multiple pathways, and that it’s just as important for them to know what areas they don’t want to pursue as careers.

A male student described how his father’s career in construction and his own passion for welding helped inspire him to pursue the school’s fabrication pathway. He said he had a “good experience with it.”

“It’s fulfilling to work in that area,” he said. “It’s an experience I probably wouldn’t trade for anything else.”

Another student had been tasked with building a business as part of his coursework, and has used that experience to establish his own clothing brand. Still another said he has been working with local farmers to use unmanned aerial vehicles to enhance the productivity of their fields.

One student, whose father is a plumber, said he enjoys working outside and with his hands. His focus has been on woodshop and construction, and said he’s confident he will be able to make a good living without having to take out student loans.

Multiple students talked about the financial hardships they had growing up and how the school and its programs and staff have helped them overcome those challenges. A common theme of the talk was the ways in which more opportunities in school create more opportunities in life, as students receive hands-on experience working with employers in the area.

Vicknair touted the school’s status as the best in Oregon at utilizing a state program that allows students to earn college credits before they graduate. He added that MHS has 17 advanced placement (AP) classes, and that more of its students took AP tests last year than ever before.

The second round of the discussion involved a panel of teachers and administrators. Vicknair said that when he first took over as principal, the school only had four pathways. Administrators worked to expand those options for students.

“We’re pushing kids to grow,” a teacher told DeVos.

DeVos said the discussion was “very inspiring” and praised the pathways concept.

“It’s very clear you have a special school,” she said. “You each have important stories to tell.”

Vicknair characterized MHS as the best high school in Oregon. One would expect him to say such a thing, but it was obvious that he truly means it, and none of the students in the room seemed to disagree.

Overall, it was a much more productive discussion than any of the shouting that took place outside of the high school during DeVos’ visit or on social media in the days leading up to it. That kind of demonization is far too common in these divisive times.

So much of politics in the modern era has become about personalities, instead of policies and their eventual outcomes. This is especially true when it comes to education and a system that everyone seems to agree hasn’t been working as well as it could or should, including those who wonder what there is to show for the decades that the federal Department of Education has been in existence.

At the end of the day, it isn’t about President Donald Trump or Betsy DeVos—it’s about teachers encouraging students to pursue their hopes, dreams and passions, which is everything our education system should be about. It’s something that the staff at MHS appear to be doing rather well, which begs the question of whether that kind of success can be duplicated at the national level.

If DeVos’ trip to McMinnville is any indication of what she plans to do in her position, then perhaps her critics’ fears will prove to be unfounded and petty.

A young man stood alone outside the museum yelling his disapproval of DeVos as the event concluded. However, his slogans went unheard by the various students, teachers, administrators, school board members and other officials who sat inside dining at a reception honoring the school and its impressive achievements.

Why Ahlquist might lose

stapiluslogo1

I’ve taken to describing the already long-running Idaho Republican primary for governor as “fluid,” meaning that it’s yet to be won, that campaigning will matter, and a number of important constituencies are not nailed down.

With three major candidates in the race - Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist - there are nine plausible outcomes, as each of the three realistically could come in first, second or third. The dynamics are intriguing to watch, though maybe agonizing to be a part of.

To highlight some of the pieces in play, I thought I’d direct this column, and the next one, to two alternative prospects, about one of the candidates - whose fortunes seem the least predictable of the three - and consider what might result in his top-ranked win or last-place loss.

That candidate would be Ahlquist, the Boise downtown and metro developer, a newcomer to Idaho - after background as a physician in Salt Lake City - and at present a highly active campaigner. The next paragraphs consider why he might come in third; wait a week for why he might come in first.

He could lose partly for reasons so many businessman candidates for higher office - who have little or no experience running for or serving in office - do. Politics can look easy; he’s been a success in complex business (and other) spheres, so running for office should be a piece of cake, right? In fact, the skill sets for candidates and for many other things, including business leaders and physicians, are distinct. In some people they overlap, but often they don’t. Cecil Andrus was a highly effective campaigner and governor, but he didn’t light the world afire as a businessman. The skill sets were different. Sometimes the stronger the skill set is in one area, the less well they transfer to a different arena.

Compared to many gubernatorial candidates, Ahlquist is not a long-timer in Idaho. He has been civicly active in recent years, but his ties are recent. Little and Labrador have connections and networks built over decades (in Little’s case, over many generations). Both have been able to draw on extensive campaign structures, fundraising, community help, volunteers and much more, created over a long time; Ahlquist had to start from scratch.

Ahlquist is less well known around Idaho than his competitors, and generally has polled well behind them. That can be a solvable problem; name identification can be built in the way he has been developing it, through ads, news reports, campaigning and so on. But there are other problems associated with being a newcomer.

Little and Labrador have established identities. Those don’t work completely in their favor, but they do carry the advantage amounting to a known quantity: A level of trust in knowing who this guy is. (Some aspects of that problem, such as Ahlquist’s past support for some Democratic candidates, already have emerged.) Ahlquist has yet to be fully defined. He’s working on it, but much of that kind of definition is (as ever) not fully within his control. And, as Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff probably could tell you, too much advertising will wear on people over time; it can start to grate, even if it’s well done.

Ahlquist has supporters around Idaho, but he’s overwhelmingly identified with Boise - not necessarily the best place in the state to be overwhelmingly identified with.

And who or what is Ahlquist’s base? Little has the establishment Republican base (which, remember, did extremely well in the 2014 Republican primaries), and may be augmented by crossover independents and Democrats. Labrador has a well-established, and substantial, activist base, notably in the first congressional district. Where is Ahlquist coming from? Is he seeking out the Donald Trump-oriented support? Or something else? Remember, in the 2016 presidential, Ahlquist was a backer of Marco Rubio, not Donald Trump. We haven’t heard the last of that.

And there’s more. But there’s also a flip side: Ahlquist could win this primary. Next week I’ll get into why that might happen.

On judicial race financing

jones

Although I have not been a big fan of publicly-financed elections, I have come to believe that public financing would work well in contested judicial races. Judges are not politicians and they should certainly not be. The problem is that a contested election for a district or appellate court position costs money and raising money to finance such an election looks unseemly.

Judicial candidates are prohibited from personally asking for campaign contributions. So, they must ask others to shake the bushes for campaign money on their behalf. Even though the candidate is somewhat removed from the fund-raising activity, it just does not look good. It gives the appearance of justice being for sale.

In my twelve years on the Supreme Court, I saw no hint of any decision of any Idaho court having been influenced by a campaign contribution. However, we are dealing with public perception of the impartiality of the judiciary. If people see fund-raisers hustling on behalf of persons who want to be judges, it tends to diminish confidence in the judicial system. Public financing could help shore up public confidence in the judiciary.

Public financing would not be that costly for taxpayers. Although election contests have become more common in recent years for Supreme Court positions, there has been only one contest every other year for that court since the turn of the century. I cannot recall an election contest for the Court of Appeals. If public financing were to cover district court races, there would be an average of 3-4 contests in each four-year election cycle (an average of one per year).

A cost of $150,000 per candidate for Supreme Court elections and $50,000 per candidate for district court would be in the general ballpark. That would mean legislative funding of about $300,000 every two years for the Supreme Court and $400,000 every four years for district court races.

Public financing could be limited to candidates who commit to forego any other source of financial support and who are interviewed by the Idaho Judicial Council and receive a rating of “qualified” or better. The Judicial Council does an outstanding job of evaluating candidates and is in a position to determine those who possess the qualifications for a judicial position. Public funds would not be available to those determined by the Council to be unqualified.

Public confidence in the justice system would be enhanced by relieving candidates of the drudgery and indignity of fund raising. There does appear to be public support for the concept. In a citizen survey conducted in 2002 by Rachel Vanderpool Burdick, 60% of voters who responded said they would support public financing of judicial elections. West Virginia and New Mexico have had good success with public financing and perhaps the time has come for Idaho to give it a try.

Entitlement?

carlson

Tommy Ahlquist, the 49-year-old medical doctor turned fabulously wealthy developer who wants to be Idaho’s next governor, lacks neither passion nor raw ambition nor confidence that he’s got the answers and should be Idaho’s governor.

He’s got all the answers, just ask him. He’s charming, articulate, intelligent. He’s also terribly arrogant and naïve about what it is to govern a state. He thinks it just takes leadership and a plan, sort of a blue print for progress. He could use a strong dose of humility.

He was peddling his formula like an old snake oil salesman last week in St. Maries as part of his “Visit all 44 Idaho counties in 44 days” tour. Let’s start with the fact that he has stated flatly he will spend whatever it takes of his fortune to be governor---“one dollar more than is necessary to win.”

That one you can take to the bank. He has already spent thousands of dollars on tv advertising in the Treasure Valley (the great state of Ada as he likes to say when outside the largest county). He has signs up everywhere, has hired top-notch staff, has sophisticated polling and intends to buy the govrnorship.

His basic pitch is he has ideas and the leadership ability to lead Idaho through improvements in education without costing more, achieving an Idaho based solutions to health care challenges, taking care of small business and oh yes tax reform. So he throws out simple solutions to complex challenges and while his tour is supposedly a listening tour he clearly isn’t listening much, he already has the answers, so just elect him.

Unfortunately, rather than provide real specifics, he loves to use gimmicks, such as 44 counties in 44 days or claiming that in the first100 days he’ll find $100 million of pork in the state budget that he’ll cut out. Count on it.

Another gimmick---he promised to disclose his wealth and makes much of demanding other candidates follow suit. Trouble is he’s too cute by half. Instead of truly disclosing how much he is worth or who his partners are in some of his ventures, he released the names of 25 businesses he owns and 29 investments he has. His disclosure was to say they are all worth more than $5000.

Somehow one suspects most Idahoans won’t see that as true transparency. As the AP pointed out, he also did not list his liabilities therefore it is impossible to determine his net worth.

Another gimmick is his trite phrase regarding education reform. He says he will create a “line of sight between Idaho kids and Idaho jobs.” What the heck does that mean? He talks about goals for education, about abolishing the department of education, and says it can be done by spending less money.

He fails to see that part of the problem is Idaho’s system of education is failing to produce enough graduates that have a real work ethic. Ask any job recruiter and they’ll tell you how hard it is to find kids today who know they have to be to work on time and to work hard. He said not a word about how he would instill such a work ethic. And of course he does not support the Common Core initiative---you know, that pesky interference by the Feds to usurp local control and try to measure how well our students will compete with the rest of the world.

He also pitched tax reform at the state level, though Idaho businesses appear fairly comfortable with Idaho’s pretty predictable balancd three-legged stool (income, sales and property taxes). He also conceded that until one knows what will happen with tax reform at the fedeal level it will be difficult to effect state reforms.

While he talked knowledgably about the challenges of health care and its reform (he is after all an m.d.), until asked about the role of the constantly rising costs of pharmaceuticals and the role they play in driving costs, he had not said a word. Reminded by the question he denounced the industry (to his credit) but admitted he had no answer.

Saying he didn’t necessarily have an answer was the most refreshing thing he said for it did show he has an inkling that there are some challenges that don’t have simple solutions.

The biggest challenge for Tommy Ahlquist when all is said and done is he has to overcome his own thinly disguised sense of entitlement to be crowned governor. After all he has invested $300 million in Idaho and the least Idahoans can do to show their apppreciation is to hand the governorship to him. Don’t bet on it, Tommy.

Tillerson and the way out

mckee

Tillerson is an enigma. Most of the comment, from both sides of the aisle and all of the media, is that he is proving to be the least skilled and most ineffective Secretary of State in history. He has an inadequate staff and little support from those within his own department. He has developed no reliable connections in Congress. He has completely isolated himself, by his own choice, from the press. And he has more recently managed to wall himself into a corner with the White House.

In any ordinary times, his resignation would be inevitable. If General Kelly were not insisting that Trump make no more major staff changes until next year, he would probably be gone by now.

But these are not ordinary times. The world is on the brink of nuclear disaster unlike any presented since the height of the cold war, brought to a head by an ongoing volley of insults between Trump and the dictator of North Korea. Tillerson, alone in the Trump administration, advocates a diplomatic solution. He has expressly declared that a military solution would not be tolerable. His efforts are not, however, in line with the tenor of comment coming from the Whitehouse and elsewhere.

Trump, and the cabal of sycophants he has surrounded himself with, are far more inept and ill qualified to meet the international challenges than is Tillerson, as inept as he may be. Of all of the other voices within the administration weighing in on this matter, the most reliable sounds come from three hard edge military generals, who can only see military solutions to any problem, and a former hill-billy governor, who is trying hard but is already in way over her head.

The military solution does have a seductive appeal. So long as China stays out of it, the U.S. would probably prevail in any conventional military action on the Korean Peninsula, albeit at a horrible cost. Unless China comes to its aid, which it has said it will not do, North Korea does not have the economic capacity or the industrial substructure to sustain extended, full scale warfare. In the long run, this would mean success under the military approach, but a cost of potentially millions of lives in South Korea and perhaps Japan and Guam. Most objective commentators see this cost as too great to warrant the risk. Also, despite its promise, there is no guarantee that China would stay out, which would dramatically change all odds.

A diplomatic solution is not an off-the-wall pie-in-the-sky. North Korea was a full party to the international nuclear non-proliferation treaty from 1984 to 2003. Kim Jong-il, then dictator of North Korea, walked away from the treaty obligations following the hostile remarks of President George W. Bush, who lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq in what he termed the “axis of evil.” When Bush launched the U.S. attack against Sadam Hussain and invaded Iraq, Kim Jong-Il disappeared into hiding for over two months, convinced that the U.S. intended to pursue him and invade North Korea next.

Kim Jong-un, the son of Kim Jong-il and currently the dictator in sole control of the North Korean regime, has repeatedly stated that his buildup of nuclear and missile arms is for defense only, intended to prevent outside influences from attempting to overthrow his government. He is convinced that the United States intends to oust him from office, collapse the North Korean government, and bring about a reunification of the Korean Peninsula. This fear is neither surprising nor unreasonable, for this is exactly what every President from Dwight Eisenhower forward has declared to be the United States’ policy objectives for North Korea.

In response to world efforts to convince North Korea to return to the non-proliferation movement, the North Korean leaders have repeatedly stated five requests to be considered at any such discussion: (1) that the West stop promoting regime change or regime collapse; (2) that the West stop advocating reunification of the peninsula; (3) that the U.S. withdraw all forces from South Korea; (4) that the economic sanctions against North Korea be extinguished; and (5) the U.S. and its allies complete and ratify a formal peace treaty to formally end the Korean Conflict of the 1950s.

Up to now, the United States has refused even to discuss any of these requests. Instead, the U.S. has established what it terms is a non-negotiable, non-debatable condition that before any discussion of any issue with North Korea can occur, North Korea must first and immediately surrender all of its nuclear weapons. The United States insists that North Korea capitulate to this demand in its entirety before any discussion on any other topic will even be considered.

Every expert who has studied the issues and is familiar with Far Eastern cultures has expressed the view that this demand makes any accord impossible; no Far Eastern leader would willingly accept the loss of face and mark of disrespect that the capitulation demanded by the United States would entail.

Currently, Tillerson is the only voice actually advocating diplomacy. As long as he can hang on and weather the firestorm swirling around him, there exists the Pollyanna hope that he may prove to be the shining knight, due to arrive in the nick of time with a true solution. While Trump and Kim Jong-un are continuing to exchange insults and accelerate threats of disastrous consequences, Tillerson, according to David Ignatius of the Washington Post, is quietly working in backchannels, silently and away from the spotlight, to craft a broad diplomatic strategy to resolve the crisis. His plan is aimed at persuading China to take charge and lead a multi-national conference on the issue.

Most experts believe that for any diplomatic solution to succeed, participation by China is essential. China has a strong economic interest in sustaining a peaceful, diplomatic solution, as it has a common border with North Korea of almost 900 miles, shares a cultural history with the Korean people going back thousands of years, and has no desire to be dragged into a land war on the Asian Continent. The deep and long standing relationships between the two countries put the Chinese well positioned to understand, draw out, develop and implement the cultural underpinnings necessary to the success of any diplomatic resolution with the North Koreans – something the United States has repeatedly proven itself incapable of accomplishing, even with competent leaders running the show.

The huge problem Tillerson faces is convincing foreign officials that he speaks with any authority in light of the barrage of contradictory statements and twitter messages emanating from the Whitehouse, and Trumps’ demonstrated penchant for cutting the legs from under his cabinet officers. While Trump initially appeared to support allowing China to lead in the search for a diplomatic solution with North Korea, he almost immediately clouded the issue by first criticizing Xi Zenping in the manner of his approach and then threatening to impose sanctions upon China, because Trump did not believe Xi was acting swiftly enough. Trump appears to be incapable of keeping his nose out of it, but insists on continuing to direct and criticize, even when the outcome is in the control of others.

Tillerson, in his discussions being held behind the scenes with both Chinese and Russian resources, has indicated an interest in at least opening discussions with North Korea along any lines, just to get talks started. He is looking for China or Russia to broker and manage the beginning of any discussions, with the United States staying out of the way. He seems to indicate an understanding that any solution with North Korea will have to afford an acceptable degree of respect for the regime and its leader, and will have to be structured to allow Kim Jong-un the opportunity to save face.

An appropriate response to these proposals seems obvious to many onlookers: why not? Get the players around a table somewhere and get the talks open. See where it goes. Listen to the other side. Find out what they want. There is no necessity for an extensive pre-condition to just opening talks. No deal will happen without everyone’s agreement, but that agreement does not have to be pre-ordained to make the conference productive.

So far, Trump’s provocative tweets, and the formal statements emanating from the generals and others to explain Trump’s tweets, have all looked towards the military solution. Nevertheless, despite the firestorm of bad press, Tillerson is still at it, and has recently declared that he has no intention of quitting. Trump has declared that he has complete faith in Tillerson, and no intention of firing him. If this latter part is true, and Tillerson can keep from getting his rear end fired, he just might be able to find the way out.

He will, of course, have to stop calling Trump a fucking moron.