Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in December 2017

Notes . . .


One of the big Idaho headlines this last week concerned the new Census estimates for growth in population, by state, over the last year. This year's report shows Idaho growing faster than any other state, which may be a first.

That's significant for what it says about the state's overall trajectory. But Oregon, which didn't have quite so large a percentage increase, may have the more significant result out of this: The high probability, now, of getting an additional congressional district.

Oregon came close to a new one in 2010 but didn't quite cross the line. It has been on track over the last few years, but just barely. Now, its population increase is strong enough compared to other states that it well within the line for a new district.

Election Data Services, which tracks much of this, said that

The Bureau’s [Census] 2017 total population estimates shows that now 12 states will be impacted by changes in their congressional delegation if these new numbers were used for apportionment today. The state of Colorado joins the previously indicated states of Florida, North Carolina, and Oregon to each gain a single seat while the state of Texas is now shown to gain a second seat with the new data. The states of New York and West Virginia joins the states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania to lose a seat in Congress using the new data.
... Idaho is the nation’s fastest growing state in the past year, followed by Nevada and Utah. But this population growth has not impacted these state’s congressional allocation, at least not yet. The 2017 numbers show Idaho would stay at two seats, and miss gaining an additional seat by 118,406 people. But projecting the numbers forward to 2020 using the short-term methodology shows Idaho only 30,824 away from gaining a third seat. All the population projection methodologies keep the state of Nevada at four seats and sufficiently away from any margins of a fifth possible seat. Utah is similar in that it would take more than 125,000 extra people for the state to gain a fifth district.


2017, reflected


Time has come to reflect on the year that was: A strange and startling year nationally, less eventful overall in the Gem State.

In Gem State’s 2017 I think first of the departure of the most prominent Idaho political figure of the last half-century, Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus. None quite like him are on the horizon today.

But through the year we saw some pointers to what’s ahead.

The closest I came to experimental columns this year was the two-pack about gubernatorial candidate Tommy Ahlquist, one projecting why he might come in first in the Republican primary (ahead of both Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Representative Raul Labrador), and the other why he might come in third (behind them). Comment came partly from people who read the one column and hadn’t yet absorbed the other. And from the Ahlquist campaign, which indicated I understated the candidate’s tenure and activity in Idaho, as in hindsight I probably did. But so far as I can see, the outcome of that race remains as cloudy today as I thought it was then.

I see no reason to greatly rethink the April 28 column about Labrador, with the suggestion he might be unwise to gamble on a run for governor, as opposed to keeping his sure-shot House seat. On the other hand, the prospects of the U.S. House shifting into Democratic hands after the 2018 election have been growing, so maybe this is not a bad time to move on.

After an October 27 column reviewing an article about the Kootenai County Republican Party organization, and its chair Brent Regan, I thought I might hear some response from the Lake City. I was expecting it the more because not long before, on August 4, I went after them for their blast at Idaho’s two - ahem - Republican senators for their support of sanctions against Russia. I did get a couple of critical emails about that August piece, from North Idahoans who apparently were Russia enthusiasts, but nothing from the Kootenai GOP.

Occasional columns through the year focused on various statistical changes around the state. (If I weren’t doing a year-end review, this column might be about Idaho’s reported first-in-the-national growth rate; I may yet circle around to that.) The most intriguing of these subjects to me, one for which I’ve seen more supporting data since, was the September 8 piece on the changing religious composition of Idaho, and diminishing rates of religiosity. What that may mean for Idaho’s future is something we’ll have to revisit.

A pair of election results on the same subject -- but on votes several weeks apart -- seemed the most interesting Idaho ballot items during the year. On May 26 I noted the approval by Bonneville County voters of creation of the district to govern the new College of Eastern Idaho in Idaho Falls. That was a followup to a January 13 column about how strong the enrollment has been at its Ada-Canyon community college counterpart, the College of Western Idaho. But if I thought it was a major social indicator, it was a soft one, since weeks later Bingham County rejected joining that new eastern Idaho district.

I remain surprised at the massive turnout for a legislative hearing on climate change (the March 17 column): "Who would have guessed that the biggest turnout for an Idaho legislative hearing this year would come on the subject of climate change? It was all the more surprising because there’s no active Idaho legislation specifically on the subject this year -- nothing moving through the system." Will it repeat in 2018? And - a point prompted by a January 6 column: Whatever happened to the ballot petition aimed at treating abortion as murder?

Many questions await 2018 for answers. We’ll get to a few of those next week.

Heads I win . . .


If you're familiar with the expression: "Heads I win; tails you lose," you will understand the glee with which the GOP Congress is taking a "victory" lap, patting themselves on their collective backs for cynically passing a self-enriching tax bill at the expense of the middle class.

With precious few exceptions, Republicans who - for years - have been bleating about the escalating national debt, embraced a bill that will, by all objective accounts, increase the debt by upward of $1.4 trillion.

They smile and shake their heads at those of us silly enough to remind them of their previous stance, blithely "explaining" that the corporate tax incentives will enable today's "corporate citizens" to create more and better jobs, resulting in more taxpayers, higher pay for current taxpayers, and hence more revenue that will pay for the cuts.

This explanation would be charming in its simplicity, if it weren't debunked by almost every credible economist who has studied the legislation. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office tells us that, at best, the GOP tax scheme represents "wishful thinking.” This is the modern day iteration of “trickle down,” also known as "Voodoo” economics. At worst, it will imperil our nation’s economy.

But, the GOP assures us, we ought not to worry. If their gambit fails and economic growth doesn't pay for the cuts, they "win" anyway. If the yearly deficit explodes, further expanding the national debt, they will be ready with their scissors. They are ever so eager to cut Social Security and Medicare, ready to shred what most consider our social safety net. They call it "slaying the beast."

As the K Street crowd pops champagne corks, it is a matter of time before 13 million Americans lose health care coverage; trust fund babies reap a windfall, and future generations inherit the wind.

So much "winning" we can hardly stand it.

Notes . . .


Back in my original home stomping grounds of Newport News, Virginia, we see the most on-point argument I think I've ever seen for the importance of every single vote.

We get used to the idea that our vote is one of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, or millions. But those millions of votes are but collections of one vote at a time. And even one can be decisive.

In Virginia, the politically interested have been on tenterhooks for more than a month, since the November general election, to learn what happened in the state House of Delegates elections. Entering the elections, Republicans held just short of a two-to-one advantage in the chamber. A blue tide swept through last month, wiping away so many Republicans that Democrats were brought to the edge of controlling the chamber - an astonishing reversal of the sort hardly any state has seen, on behalf of either party, in decades.

Three of those races were so close that recounts were ordered. Yesterday one of the last of them came in, and when the counting was done Democrat Shelly Simonds defeated long-time Republican incumbent David Yancey 11,608 to 11,607 - the margin of one vote, which in turn gave Democrats 50 seats in the 100-seat chamber, enough to force split control.

(It was, FYI, the legislative district where I lived for my first 18 years. A photo of a chart showing vote changes by precinct brought up some familiar names; my old precinct of Deep Creek showed no changes, but several nearby did. Back in high school, I did a little campaign volunteering for a contender for this same delegate seat.)

(Secondary note: There remains the possibility a Democrat may pick up yet one more seat, giving that party the majority, but that looks like a long shot.)

Remember: Every vote counts. Never doubt it . . . - rs

UPDATE And now another vote is in, and it's gone to a tie. Wow.

Mom in tennis shoes


My memory is the call came in the mid-morning of a fall day in 1991.
I was in the Spokane office of the strategic planning, communications and public affairs firm called The Gallatin Group, a regional consulting firm which I had founded in early 1989.

For the previous five years I had been the northwest regional vice president for Kaiser Aluminum, with 5,000 employees the area’s largest private employer. I was the visible face of the company including its lead lobbyist in Olympia. I was also an anomaly in that I was one of the few business Democrats.

On the other end of the phone was a State Senator from the Shoreline district outside of Seattle who I had not yet met - a young mother and former school board president named Patty Murray. A few years earlier while lobbying in Olympia another legislator made the mistake of sarcastically talking down to her and dubbed her as nothing but “a mom in tennis shoes.”

Even though there was an incumbent Democrat, former Carter Administration Secretary of Transportation Brock Adams, who planned on being re-elected in 1992, Murray was going to challenge him in the Democratic primary and she wanted my help.

We both knew Adams was ethically challenged, that he had reputation for chasing women including, it was rumored, women that worked for him. We talked for an hour and when the call was over I signed on - which made me one of the first “influentials” to back her candidacy.

Shortly thereafter the Seattle Times ran a story in which an office intern, the daughter of a long-time family friend, claimed Adams had drugged her and undoubtedly taken advantage of her drugged state. The public outcry quickly forced Adams to announce he would not seek re-election. Though Murray was the only one unafraid to take on the challenge earlier, several male congressmen quickly jumped into the race, thinking of course that the mom in tennis shoes would be easy roadkill. They were the first of many who underestimated Murray.

In the late spring of 1992, I was interviewed by a political reporter, Rebecca Boren, of the Seattle P-I, who had been assigned to do the candidate profile on Murray. Asked why I had been one of the first to support Murray I gave Boren an on the record quote that turned out to be the first quote above the fold on the front page profile:

“Patty Murray is the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message and she’s going to win.” Former colleagues in Olympia called to ask if I’d lost my marbles. I simply replied, “just you watch.”

My prediction was cast in concrete by one more arrogant male underestimating her - Congressman Rod Chandler, her Republican opponent in the general election. As the last week of October rolled around polls showed that Chandler had steadily narrowed the gap and indeed was thought to be narrowly ahead. One major debate, before the Seattle Chamber the last week of October, remained.

The lead, if there was one, vanished in the last 30 seconds of the debate.

Murray had finished her one minute summary and it was Chandler’s turn. Before a thoroughly stunned statewide audience, his supporters and the media Chandler leaned into the microphone and inexplicably began to croon the words to an old song: “Dang me, dang me/They ought to take a rope and hang me/High from the highest tree/Woman would you weep for me?”

It was condescending, insulting and women across the state were repulsed and in turn repudiated Chandler.

Murray was on her way to D.C. where she continues to be underestimated too often by too many. The roadkill are the number of former Republican congressmen she has defeated, and counting a couple of Democratic congressmen from her first race she holds the record for a senator rebuffing members of Congress (five) who challenge.

In the meantime she has quietly gone about producing fine legislation, working on keeping commitments to veterans, on fiscal reform (she and Speaker Paul Ryan worked out a compromise on fiscal reform), corrections to and abolition of the often overload of too much testing in the No Child Left Behind program, and the list goes on.

She is number four in the Democratic leadership. Should the D’s capture the Senate in the fall I look for her to possibly challenge Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for the Deputy leadership post.

As I watched the coordinated effort to force Senator Al Franken to be held accountable I could see her fine and deft hand at work. I couldn’t help thinking about the long road we’ve traveled. Senator Murray has always made me proud to have been one of her earliest supporters.

She is still the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message and she is still a winner.

The last of Star Wars, almost


I can just remember walking into a movie theater in the summertime in Boise 40 years ago, having waited a couple of weeks or so until the lines went down, to see this new hot movie called Star Wars. Who would have guessed - I sure didn't - what it wrought?

The new movie and the eighth in the series, The Last Jedi, is one of the better entries in the field, and seems to set up well the upcoming finale. It is better focused than most, without losing the scope or epic feel of the earlier movies. It seems less obsessed with battle scenes, in space or with light sabers, than most of the films (though those scenes are by no means forgotten).

But it also seems a little more thoughtful than any of the others, and repeatedly returned to the subject of the past - and the need to let go of it. That would seem to be necessity after the last movie, The Force Awakens, which was enjoyable also a little over-slavish in its carbon-copying of the structure of the first movie.

And the subject of releasing the past has a more immediate point with this movie, since the three key actors who starred in the first and appeared in the last (Force) will be gone for episode IX. Harrison Ford's Han Solo was killed off last time, Mark Hamill's Luke Skywalker comes to an end in this one, and Carrie Fisher, whose character seemed well positioned for another movie, personally passed on. The last movie will be carried on entirely by the new generation, which got a good workout in this new movie.

There is another aspect to this passing of a the torch and the transmission through generations that I liked.

Part of the mythology developed through the early movies, and continued on in the prequels, was that of blood ties - of the state importance of destiny and the "strength of the force" and such running through family connections. The point was emphasized repeatedly, and was the subject of some of the most dramatic points in the series. (One of the dramatic peaks of the early movies was the moment when Darth Vader declared to Luke Skywalker, "I am your father!")

This movie, while tossing away a number of other things as well, several during some excellent Hamill scenes in which he puts paid to a lot of uneasy questions about the whole jedi culture, seems to diminish the importance of that. The titular last jedi (spoiler ahead) is not Luke Skywalker - who we probably were expected to anticipate it would be - but one of the new generation. And one of the dramatic highlights in this movie was the revelation, after toying earlier with the question, of the parentage of that character: "nobody," meaning no one with personalized importance to the story, and meaning that this new character is important for herself, for her own capabilities and actions, and not because she was part of some Royalty of the Force.

This is a break with the Star Wars mythology, and a good break. It always seemed a little too reliant on Middle Ages mythmaking, and too little on the kind of forward-thinking storytelling you might expect in solid science fiction. (Of course we can argue about whether this is more about sci-fi or fantasy, but that's another subject.)

That new toss may be a key to where the series winds up in its final episode, a couple of years from now.


Republicans may be reawakening


There are a few encouraging signs that my dear old Republican Party may be returning to its roots.

This is the party I grew up in - a party that was wary of too much government but insisted that vital public needs be adequately funded and competently handled. Members of the old GOP did not vote lockstep on virtually every issue, but studied the issues and exercised independent judgment. I have seen some stirrings lately that indicate a possible return to those days.

My mentor and former boss, Senator Len Jordan, who served our state as Governor (1950-1954) and later as Senator (1962-1972), set the example for me. Although there were some party-line votes while he was in the Senate, he was a rugged individualist who followed his own moral compass in representing Idaho and the nation.

Jordan would never have voted to confirm a nominee for a federal judge position who was not qualified, no matter how politically connected the person was. He bucked his own President on two appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court - Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell - finding both to be unqualified for that lofty position after independently studying their records. We have seen very little of that lately from the party Jordan loved.

But, low and behold, Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, recently refused to support two federal judicial candidates that the American Bar Association (ABA) found to be “unqualified” to sit on the federal bench. One of them, Brett Talley of Alabama, was nominated for a lifetime district court position even though he had practiced law for less than three years and never tried a case. His only claims to fame were operating a political blog and being married to a woman who worked for the President’s White House Counsel. Although Talley was approved on a party-line vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Kennedy jumped ship to oppose Talley when it was discovered that he had failed to disclose his wife’s job and the potential conflict of interest. Senator Johnson said he would vote against Talley “in a heartbeat - twice if I can.” Thanks in large part to his principled stand, Talley’s nomination was withdrawn.

It is important to put individuals with strong experience on the federal bench because those judges handle serious civil and criminal cases. It is not the place for an inexperienced rookie or political hack. The ABA performs a valuable role in evaluating and rating candidates and should not be ignored.

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican, provided the other ray of hope when he said he could not vote for Roy Moore for a seat representing his state in the U.S. Senate. Besides being the subject of credible allegations of molesting teenage girls, Moore had been kicked off of the Alabama Supreme Court twice for defying the law of the land. A judge can disagree with the law but he or she takes a solemn oath to uphold it and commits a serious breach of that oath by claiming to be above the law. Senator Shelby’s courageous stand harkens back to the ethics of the party that I remember from years ago.

This is not to say that the other party does not also engage in party-line tactics, but it is not the party in power now and the leaders set the tone. It is time for the GOP to get back to its past ethical standards - the standards set by Abraham Lincoln, the GOP’s founder. I think he would approve of the recent independent thinking of Senators Kennedy and Shelby, but be disheartened by the no-compromise, take-no-prisoners attitude too often exhibited by many of the others.

Notes . . .


The Oregonian's list of top 10 business stories for the year makes for a mashup worthy of some thought. Thins that might seem to go together, or run in conflict, sometimes don't.

For the year:

Intel has been struggling with the declining desktop (and laptop) computer market for its chips. But, even as it investigates some still-speculative options, stock prices continue to climb. Overall area stock prices continued well, even as Nike got a string of bad marketing news this year.

Intel cut both ways with the new administration this year: "Intel CEO Brian Krzanich spent the early part of the year courting President Donald Trump, even visiting him in the Oval Office. He then spent the rest of the 2017 retreating, denouncing the new president’s actions on immigration and climate change." Later, Krzanich resigned from the administration's new manufacturing group.

The unemployment rate hit record lows. But in the Portland area, the minimum wage rose to $11.25, part of a regional push upward in those wages.

A major new development in Portland's downtown was slated with a new building for Oregon Health & Science University and Portland State University. But higher education continued to struggle with weak state funding.

The pieces aren't fitting together cleanly. See: 2018. - rs

Not so fast, Dems


Democrats - especially those in traditionally red states like Idaho and Utah - continue to bask in the glow of one of theirs being elected to the U.S. Senate in blood red Alabama last week.. “If it can happen there,” the chant goes, “It can happen here.”

Not so fast, my frenzied friends. Not so fast.

While it was heartening to see that red blood turn a bit blue, there were some very important mitigating circumstances to consider. Circumstances that don’t exist in most states - especially in our far western neighborhoods.

For example, Black voters - who normally mark their Alabama ballots for a Dem - make up nearly half of the electorate in that state. The largely white legislature, in that heavily Republican state, has historically thrown roadblocks in minority pathways to the polls. Winner Doug Jones continually reminded Black audiences of that fact and it can realistically be assumed some of those voters, who made the narrow but winning difference, came from those determined to overcome such hurdles. A little show of strength, so to speak. Not the case - in large numbers - in our Northwest.

Then, there were the women. Yes, we have women in our neighborhood. But, many Republican women in Alabama had a major motivation - not traditionally found in other red states - to side with Democrats. And that was the well-publicized gross sexual history of their party nominee. Whatever they felt about his purely political unfitness for office, many women might likely have been overcome by anger about his immorality and lifelong abusive perversions regarding women - especially teens. Another mitigating factor for the Jones victory other states can’t truly replicate

Then, there was the Republican candidate himself. While a lot of unfit folk make it into elective office on a regular basis, never in my life have I seen one more deserving of outright repudiation and public condemnation. If you were to build a “candidate” from scratch, about the only despicable trait you could add to match Moore would be that of a serial killer. The guy has a previous lifetime history of rejection of most values the rest of us hold.

Twice fired from the Alabama Supreme Court for violating federal law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions, Moore made a mockery of his elected responsibilities. Openly flouting constitutional authority - while claiming his own nutcase supremacy in public office - should have kept him off any ballot for any public job. As much credence as you might give Jones’ efforts for the win, the lions’ share of blame for the loss must go to Moore. A well-demonstrated and uniquely gross personal history like Moore’s is not normally found in many elections.

Then, there’s this. The margin of victory was about 20,000 in an election in which 1,325,536 votes were cast. Add in the coincidently 20,000 known write-in votes plus a large number of traditional Alabama voters who stayed home rather than cast their usually GOP ballots for Moore and the outcome could have gone the other way. That means about one-in-two folks walking down a typical Alabama street voted for the loser. Or just didn’t vote.

Democrats in deep red states like Idaho and Utah have a right to be cheered by the Alabama outcome. Break open the bubbly and toast a brighter day. BUT, as you cheer this recent breakthrough, keep a good grasp on reality. The political winds in Alabama combined to create a very unusual storm.

While you may rejoice in the outcome and see an opportunity to slip past your traditionally conservative GOP opponent(s), none of you will face a candidate as repulsive as Roy Moore. It’s doubtful Steve Bannon or Donald Trump will visit your little red state with their political bile to motivate Republicans to cross over and back a Democrat. None of you have a large enough minority population to achieve what Black voters did in Alabama. Make a difference? Yes. Swing an election? No.

Nor are you likely to get major economic and organizational support from the DNC such as Jones did. Not unless you can construct a scenario like Moore who fomented a Republican voter rejection of their own candidate.

By all accounts, Dems are going into the 2018 campaign in better shape than their counterparts. At least for the moment. But, they can’t sit back and expect any different outcomes than they’ve previously seen.

Doug Jones worked his ass off for more than a year. Come up with a candidate who’ll work as hard. He attracted a top-level campaign team of professionals who cost more than Dems have typically been willing to spend on such talent. They’ll have to raise sums of money previously thought to be impossible. They’re going to need more volunteers than ever and those volunteers are going to have to work harder and longer than in the past.

But, most important - MOST important - you’re going to have to find your own “Roy Moores” for your Republican friends to walk away from.

The future of Democrats in deep red states is not entirely in your own hands. You better get started.

Private jets, public helicopters


Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s use of corporate jets and Park Service Police helicopters for what looks to be thinly disguised personal use has generated controversy, largely within the Beltway, and a formal investigation.

It has also led to several readers asking how the late Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus managed the matter during the four years he served as Secretary of the Interior for President Jimmy Carter. Besides being Director of the Office of Public Affairs, I also was Andrus’ press secretary which meant that I traveled when he traveled 95% of the time.

It is a fair question deserving an answer for it tells much about how one views public service and stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

Keep in mind that the Interior department in the 1970’s had the eighth largest air fleet in the world. When one considers all the agencies and bureaus within the department, it is easy to see how this could be. For example, the Interagency Fire Center at the Boise Airport owns as well as charters a number of different planes in order to fulfill its firefighting role.

Andrus had a “common sense” rule. The cornerstone was to save the taxpayer dollar as often as possible. This meant well over 90% of the time when flying out of the nation’s capital we flew commercial airlines.

Not only that, we flew coach class and ever the politician who never missed an opportunity we had seats at the rear of the plane and boarded last (despite most airlines offering to let us board first) knowing that those on the flight who recognized the Interior secretary would also note him walking to the rear of the plane.

I can recall only four or five times chartering a corporate jet usually because there was an emergency of some sort that required his presence as soon as possible. In those instances Interior’s Air operations paid full boat for the charter unlike Congress which just required reimbursement comparable to what a round-trip ticket would cost.

The rare instances we chartered a private jet were:

    To get to Plains, Georgia for the interview with Carter we chartered Boise Cascade’s jet to get to Denver to catch the Northwest Orient flight to Atlanta.
    When one of the Andrus daughters was ill and hospitalized we had a chartered jet ready to get him from Seattle to Boise the second he deplaned an Alaska Airlines flight from Anchorage.
    During a campaign trip to Texas that ran late we chartered a jet to take us from College Station to Dulles in order to make an 8 a.m. meeting in the office the next day.
    When the department’s KingAir would not start one summer morning at the Bremerton Airport, I ordered up a jet from Boeing Field to come to Bremerton and pick us up and then fly to Boise for a noon meeting and speech before the Poacher’s Club.

Two prop planes were available for the secretary’s use when traveling in the west: an AeroCommander stationed in Denver and a KingAir stationed in Boise. These planes were only used for official business, never for personal use.

As Interior Secretary Andrus also had access to the fleet of executive jets kept at Andrews Air Force Base and at Hickam Field in Hawaii which ranged in size from small Saberliners to the presidential 707’s. All these planes had the colors and markings of Air Force One with the United States of America on each side of the fuselage.

We utilized the Saberliners twice to take Andrus and his key Alaska advisors to and from Alaska for official business related to passaage of the Alaska Lands legislation. We flew first class only once that I can recall when we flew Air New Zealand for the 14-hour flight from Los Angeles to Auckland for a week long visit to New Zealand. While there the Prime Minister’s prop plane flew us to various destinations.

We then flew the vice president’s 707 back to Hawaii for a week long tour of the Trust Territories in the Pacific managed by Interior. During this week long show the flag tour we flew in a C-130 cargo plane. We added a stop on the atoll of Majuro in order to deliver emergency supplies to assist the inhabitants victimized by a sudden huge rogue wave that swept over the atoll.

I can state unequivocally we never used a Park Police helicopter period let alone for personal flights in and around the D.C. area.

The rule of common sense worked well. That coupled with an attitude towards public service that says you are privileged to serve and good service implicitly entails respecting access to taxpayer funded items. Andrus knew he was there to serve not to further his economic status by rationalizing personal use of private jets or public helicopters. Take note Secretary Zinke.