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Posts published in February 2018

Into the sunset


Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter sat for a somewhat retrospective look back at his three terms with Idaho Public Television recently. As it is with the governor, there were plusses and minuses. In many respects it reflected the enigmatic nature of the man himself.

For as long as he has been in public office, as gregarious and outgoing as he is, as personable and charming as he can be, few people outside of his wife, Lori, and his old side-kick, Mike Gwartney, really know him and what has driven his yen for public service for so many years.

Like all good politicians, he could present a different side of his personality to different folks at different times and to different audiences. The Butch Otter that loved riding horses on his ranch, or galloping into a rodeo ring, was much different as the international salesman for marketing Idaho products in Cuba, Mexico, China and Japan. He is a cosummate salesman---no one can take that from him.

Much like the man he acknowledges as Idaho’s greatest governor, at least on the Democrat side, Cecil Andrus, Butch remembers names and faces and has a long political memory. Like Andrus he is intensely competitive.

In fact I first met Governor Otter on the basketball court at the Boise YMCA playing noon pick-up games the winter of 1972-73. He was a newly elected rookie lawmaker from Canyon county. One can learn much by just observing others on the hardwood. Mike Gwartney loved to feed Butch the ball; the Governor loved to rebound and was a mite too quick to call a foul, and of course he hated to lose.

After two terms he left the legislature. These were years in which he also was working hard to make his mark at his father-in-law’s corporation, the J.R. Simplot Company. These years also saw his first abortive run for governor in 1978, where he placed a close third in the GOP primary.

Few folks know that Butch came from humble beginnings, that his parents, Regina Mary and Joseph, a journeyman electrician, were Catholics and Democrats. They had to sacrifice to send him to St. Theresa’s Academy, the forerunner of Bishop Kelly, from which he graduated in 1962. He was 20 when he graduated having had to sit out a year because of an accident involving gasoline exploding burning him and his brother.

He received his B.A. from the College of Idaho in 1967 after brief stints at St. Martin’s and at Boise State.

He emerged from these wilderness years, so to speak, still determined to serve the public and was elected in 1986 Lt. Governor, a post he served in for 14 years, the longest tenure for any one, before winning a congressional seat in 2000, where he served three terms before his election as Idaho’s 32nd governor.

In reviewing his tenure the Governor had a hard time citing outstanding successes. He does get credit for fighting for a gas tax hike to pay for needed infrastructure improvements, but he still makes no apology for eviscerating school funding and teacher pay during the early years.

And he still is proud of the $400 million surplus Idaho has in the “Rainy Day” bank.

Now that the economy is rolling along he is trying to close the gap of lost funding, but the state has steadily dropped by most national measurements. He seems to believe that technology improvements will also compensate but most are skeptical.

In the interview he made no reference to some major misteps such as the scandal surrounding the Corrections Corporation of America as well as the awarding of a major technology improvement project that was tossed out by a judge.

Neither does he seem to yet understand why former Governors Andrus and Batt fought him and the folks at the INL over the camel’s nose exception he sought to allow spent fuel rods into Idaho for alleged research. At one point he even referred to the late Governor Andrus as as “my former friend.” He clearly meant my late friend, for he truly mourns Andrus’ passing and there was great mutual respect.

In a way, Otter’s legacy will be written by the voters of Idaho as they weigh who should succeed him. He is backing his loyal Lt. Governor, Brad Little. They share much in common. Little has diligently done his homework, traveling with the Governor Otter all across the state for “Capitol For A Day” visits. In addition, on more than 375 occasions during the years Little has served as next in line he has been the acting governor when Butch is out of state.

Raul Labrador and Tommy Ahlquist are guessing that Idahoans want a change and they see Little as a fourth Otter term. They may be correct, but many others do not see this as a “change” election. Rather they see it as an endorsement of the Otter approach.

When all is said and done Butch presided over some challenging times and some economically good times. Most Idahoans, according to the Boise State issues poll, think Idaho is moving in the right direction. They appear to be comfortable with the Otter/Little approach. This writer’s wager is those rock-hard solid conservative Republicans will cat their ballots for staying the course, and that is good news for Lt. Governor Little’s prospects.

Invest early, cut crime later


Having served 8 years as Idaho Attorney General (1983-1990) and 12 years as a member of the Idaho Supreme Court (2005-2016), I have gained a good perspective on crime prevention. Idaho has a fairly effective system for detecting crime and prosecuting criminals. However, if crime can be prevented in the first place, both the cost to taxpayers and the toll on society are much, much lower. Crime prevention pays big time.

When children get a bad start in life, it is certainly bad for them but it is also bad for all of us. One proven way to prevent crime is to give children a good-quality education, starting before kindergarten. Scientific studies show that children who get high quality education early in life are more likely to graduate high school, go to college and live healthier, more productive lives.

Having done extensive work on the benefits of early childhood education, economist James Heckman, who won a Nobel Prize for his work, found the benefits to be substantial. Heckman told a group of midwestern lawmakers last year that “every dollar invested in quality early childhood development for disadvantaged children produces $7 to $10 return, per child, per year through better education, health, social and economic outcomes and the reduced need for social spending.”

Focusing specifically on the crime prevention benefit of early education, a 2007 study found that high-quality pre-K for just the poorest 25% of 3- and 4-year-olds would result in $77 billion in annual decreased crime and child abuse by 2050. And, a 15-year Chicago study found that kids who did not participate in early childhood education were 70% more likely to be arrested for a violent crime by age 18.

Idaho judges dealing with both juvenile and adult offenders report similar results. Offenders who have the least education tend to have the greatest involvement in criminal activity. Once a person is in the criminal justice system, the costs of prosecution and incarceration substantially outweigh what it would have cost to give the person a good start in life by an early education program.

Idaho is one of only 6 states that does not offer state-funded preschool. It is time to correct that problem. A coalition of Idahoans, including Idaho Business for Education, the Idaho Association for the Education of Young Children, and Idaho Voices for Children, has been working to gain state funding for pre-K education. Patrons in two school systems in Idaho—the Basin Preschool Program in Boise County and the Caldwell School District--already have pre-K programs and have had good success with them. It is time for all Idaho kids to have the benefits of such a program.

The coalition is supporting legislation that provides state investment in voluntary pre-K options for Idaho families. People can contact their legislators to urge support for this concept. Legislators should be told that children who have access to quality, affordable preschool programs are far less likely to engage in criminal activity and therefore much less likely to be a burden on the criminal justice system later in life.

Notes . . .


Dave Wasserman, who works for the Cook Political Report and offers commentary for several other also-respectable analysis outfits, was really struck by a data point. To the extent, he tweeted, that he had "spent [his] career downplaying" something, and now sees just that thing happening.

Look at the map above (via Gallup) which shows approving ratings for President Trump in polling by state. The exact numbers range are interesting, but what's worth noting here is which states fall into which cohorts - states that give the president approval ratings of 50% or more (not bad), as opposed to 40 to 49% (mediocre) or below 40% (bad).

You'd expect that states supporting Trump would fall into the not-bad group, and many of them do (Alabama, Idaho, Oklahoma, the Dakotas and so on). Then there's the large expected number in the middle group, which almost all consists of states Trump won but, in many cases (not all), not by much.

The third group consists mostly of states Trump lost in 2016 - including places like California, New York, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado and so on - which is about what you'd expect. But look down to the lower center and see which state anchors that group of really-don't-like Trump states.


That's what stunned Wasserman. He noted that for many years he's been throwing the damper on talk about a Democratic rise in Texas. But this map tells a different story.

It's just one data point. But keep a close watch on it. - rs

The Graham effect


Rev. Billy Graham has died. Christian communities are mourning his death. Condolences are even coming from a number of foreign countries. All out of respect for a major voice of evangelism.

Though worthy of respect, many of us were disappointed in Graham with publication of the Nixon tapes. As Nixon spit out a series of slander regarding Jews and Blacks, Graham was heard repeatedly agreeing and even offering some negative comments of his own. As more people heard the tapes and read transcripts, Graham’s public persona took a big hit. He later apologized but didn’t recant.

Aside from those unexpected conversations, Graham seemed to live the life he preached. A Graham biographer once commented, after the word “God,” the second most used word in his sermons was “faith.” That, Graham seemed to have in abundance.

But, Graham was also big business. Large corporate offices, many hundreds of support staff, advance teams, DVD’s, books, tapes, tracts, movies and more.

It was this business side that attracted me when Graham held one of his crusades in what is now called Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus in the early 80's. I began an eight month continuing story about that event.

Many weeks before Graham arrived, his advance people contacted all Christian churches in Southwest Idaho. Churches weren’t so much “asked” to participate as they were told what the Crusade “expected” in support. So many choir members, ushers, set up and takedown labor, underwriting of some local expenses, etc.. Even housing.

Days before the big event, large trucks arrived with scaffolding, choir risers, lights, sound system and other staging hardware. All was made ready.

In advance, I contacted six Christian churches to determine then current average attendance. I would do so twice more after the Crusade.

Graham drew several thousand people. The event went as it had so many times before in venues all over the world. When he made his “altar call” near the end, asking those who wanted to openly express their faith to come forward, a couple of hundred did. About the expected percentage I was told later. By sunup the next day, all evidence of the Crusade was gone. As if it never happened.

My first followup calls were made about three weeks later. All denominations contacted reported attendance had, indeed, gone up. The Crusade had apparently been successful.

Six months later, I checked with each church again. In all contacts, regular attendance had returned to pre-Crusade levels. Reporting later, I termed that “the Graham effect.

It appeared what we’d seen at the Crusade was personal involvement at an emotional moment in some lives. Those walking forward seemed moved to do so right then. But, without ongoing individual reinforcement, those emotions subsided and previous lifestyles returned. Though Graham’s staff had instructed churches how to reinforce the outpouring, it didn’t seem to work.

Drop off in church attendance some months after Graham’s appearance was not isolated. I found it in other cities.

None of this is to disparage Billy Graham or his life’s work. Those who got to their feet and walked did so, I’m sure, with honest feeling and emotion.

We’re seeing something very similar right now with school students moving people to their side through emotion. As with Graham and his Crusades, that’s not a bad thing. But, emotion won’t bring success if there’s no followup - no reinforcement of initial reactions with facts and a solid plan to turn the heartfelt outpouring into long-term support.

My prayer - and I’m sure Rev. Billy would concur - is that national action replaces our individual emotional responses to mass murder. Our individual attention has been “captured.” We need to keep our sympathetic responses alive until November when we’re asked to answer the “altar call” of the ballot box. (photo/Richard Bromley)

Idaho Briefing – February 26

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 26. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Albertsons Companies, one of the nation’s largest grocery retailers, and Rite Aid Corporation, one of the nation’s leading drugstore chains, announced a definitive merger agreement under which privately held Albertsons Companies will merge with publicly traded Rite Aid.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on February 20 welcomed a proposal from the Trump administration to extend from three months to 12 months the length of allowed short-term health insurance plans, which could fill a need similar to the plans Idaho insurers can offer under the Governor’s groundbreaking January 5 Executive Order.

Acting Governor Brad Little announced the appointment today of Margie Gannon of St. Maries to the Idaho House of Representatives seat vacated by the recent resignation of Plummer Democrat Paulette Jordan, who stepped down to campaign for her party’s gubernatorial nomination.

The Idaho Falls Regional Airport (IDA) will temporarily close its commercial service Runway 2/20 for rehabilitation in September and encourages customers to plan their travel accordingly.

State regulators have initiated an investigation into a small electric utility that serves the unincorporated community of Atlanta.

An entirely public Spokane River waterfront appears to be widely supported for the Atlas Waterfront project site based on the first round of public input gathered for the project.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today a settlement with TK Holdings, Inc., the U.S. subsidiary of Japanese airbag maker Takata, over allegations the company concealed safety issues related to its airbag systems.

PHOTO Hundreds of concerned citizens marched through downtown Boise to the Idaho Capitol on February 19 to urge repeal of Idaho’s laws that shield members of faith-healing sects who deny children needed medical care. Marchers carried symbolic child-sized coffins with them as they walked to honor the 183 infants and children who’ve died from medical neglect since exemptions were enacted in the mid 1970s. (photo/Protect Idaho Kids)

The futility overwhelms . . .


Our country is now into its second year of what is becoming the most devastating era of its history.

As we take stock of the accomplishments of the 45th occupant of the Oval Office, we can see the wreckage beginning to grow amid the once towering pillars of our proud nation. The promise to “Make America Great Again” rings hollow as our Congress grinds to a virtual halt, a variety of the Executive departments spin aimlessly under inadequate, incompetent or insouciant leadership, and our international standing falters as we stumble from one bungled crisis to the next.

We watch aghast as one debacle after another continues to pile up at the door of our newest president.

Foundations of our democracy that have survived all challenges for over 200 years are beginning to crumble under a relentless stream of narcissistic attacks coming, of all places, from the man we just elected to be president. This fool has surrounded himself with an inadequate staff of incompetent sycophants and has placed stunningly unqualified individuals at the head of almost every department. He insists that they carry out a crushing decimation of each agency’s ability to function, and they are complying by systematically disassembling every facet of government. In addition to whacking out personnel and programs, they have taken a meat ax to the whole of government regulation, with administrative repeals and rescissions that are dismantling essential authority of critical agencies in almost every area.

We turned to the Congressional oversight committees expecting some sort of reprieve and found they are entwined in partisan positioning with no reason to expect objective intervention. The national press has begun to treat all these circumstances as normal happenings. After initially raising a hue and cry but receiving no adequate response, the press now seems to accept the misinformation and evasion streaming from the White House complacently, almost as though it were business as usual, but then carefully cataloging the twists and turns the administration takes as it descends lower and lower, noting only on occasion the historical observation that we have never before sunk to such depths, and opining pontifically that things are surely going to get worse.

On the international scene, any semblance of a coherent, integrated foreign policy has long evaporated. Our State Department is in shambles. The responsibility for a comprehensive military mission for the two hot zones to which we are committed has been abdicated to the generals, despite the crucial necessity for civilian oversight.

Without listening to anyone knowledgeable, without paying any attention to the historical precedents, and totally ignoring our allies who are most directly affected, the arrogant fool – by his own personal, irresponsible actions – has brought us to the brink of a nuclear holocaust on the Korean Peninsula.

We wait for the special counsel to announce his findings. But this process may come too late. With the cooperation of one cable news channel and joined by countless talk radio outlets, the old fool and the major party supporting him are relentlessly trashing the work of the special counsel and his staff, and denigrating the Department of Justice, the F.B.I. and the entire Judicial branch of government. As unbelievable as it sounds, the tactic is working. Current polls reveal that a substantial number of us no longer have faith in our legal system.

The considered legal opinion seems to be that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a crime and blunt fact is that this Congress will not impeach. Even if the Democrats gain control of Congress in the mid-terms, and the House should then vote out a resolution to impeach, unless there is a dramatic shift in attitudes there will not be 67 votes in the Senate to convict. This means that no matter what comes out of the special counsel’s office, or out of any impeachment attempt in Congress, it is going to be 2020 before we get a true chance at a respite.

The futility of it overwhelms. I have decided to take to my bed and pull the covers over my head.

Don’t get lost in Idaho


Last week, the Idaho Legislature, a decade or so behind several of its neighbors, moved toward banning use of hand-held cell phones by motor vehicle drivers.

Not all the members of the committee reviewing the bill agreed. Senator Mark Harris, a Republican of Soda Springs, said that “I get the safety thing, OK? I do.” But he said that sometimes getting on the phone with his wife could help on “a lonely stretch of road.” He could, of course, still use a speaker phone or bluetooth.

Harris’ key point, though, was (as one news report said) summed up by his description of a conversation with some people visiting in Boise from California where “they’d had it with regulation, they’d had it with laws, they’d had it with rules. And they were up here looking for a house because Idaho doesn’t have laws, rules and regulations like California does. And that’s where I see this bill headed is more law, rules and regulation. I can’t support it.”

More rules, more regulation. That’s probably the underlying reason Idaho hasn’t joined the hands-free states so far. Got it.

Now let’s move our gaze to House Bill 536, which like the cell phone bill gets support from conservative Republicans on philosophical grounds, and which was proposed by Senator Harris along with Representative July Boyle, Republican of Midvale, with support from a number of farm groups. Testimony went on for hours at the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, which ultimately passed it to the floor 14-1. (It was awaiting House floor consideration as this was written.)

The 15-page bill does a number of things. One is to eliminate the requirement that, if you want people to be legally liable for trespassing on your property, you have to put up a readily visible warning sign to that effect. The signs are currently supposed to be spaced at no more than 660 feet apart so as to be visible. The new bill would drastically cut back on the warnings.

It also will create new felony and misdemeanor crimes of criminal trespass; the felony version can mean a state prison lockup for up to a year. And life would be more complicated for hunters, fishers and trappers who venture on to privately-owned land.

Boyle said that “It is going to now be on the person who wants to be on private property to know where they are at and go ask permission. … makes a higher standard for people to know where they are.”

Recognize for a moment just how serious a felony is. Felons are marked for life. They are barred from all kinds of employment, financial help and many kinds of social activity - even if the felony in question, like this one, is non-violent. A felony conviction is thoroughly life-changing.

Representative Randy Armstrong, an Inkom Republican (who went on to recommend passage of the bill), said, “It seems like a felony is a pretty serious charge for trespassing. It changes your life once you become a felon — you can’t carry a gun, can’t vote for a certain number of years. I think everybody in this room has been guilty of trespass in some way or another in their life. Is that a penalty that we want to make for trespassing?”

Boyle: “As a property owner, I think that is exactly what we need to teach them a lesson.”

Well, gee. Makes me feel more free already. Be sure to share that sentiment with any of those Californians in Boise who get lost, or get snagged by an unmarked property line, on their trip to the Gem State. Or better yet, warn them to stay away. The law can get dangerous here, a point that might be put on the signs at the state border.

Idaho Legal Aid deserves help


Idaho Legal Aid Services provides a legal lifeline to low income Idahoans with serious legal problems, including domestic violence, abuse and neglect of children, and elder abuse. It is Idaho’s largest non-profit law firm, with offices located around the State. The dedicated work of Legal Aid is strongly supported by Idaho’s lawyers and judges.

Last year, the Idaho legal and judicial community commended Legal Aid for providing almost 20,000 hours of free legal services to thousands of Idahoans. Even though this is an impressive amount of legal help, it barely scratches the surface of the need that exists in our good State.

Many people go into court without a lawyer, simply because they can’t afford it. The courts have been helpful in trying to accommodate the needs of these self-represented people, but often the result is impairment of their legal rights and a slowing down of court processes. Legal Aid protects the rights of litigants and helps to move cases along. There just are not enough Legal Aid lawyers to fill the need and that comes down to the issue of funding.

Much of the financial support for Legal Aid comes from the federal Legal Services Corporation, but that support has been declining in recent years. The federal budget for next fiscal year calls for cutting all of this funding. Legal Aid works hard to get grant funding, including funds from the legal community, but that simply does not do the job.

Idaho is one of only three states that does not provide some form of state funding for low income civil legal services. We can and must do better. It is important to ensure the protection of the legal rights of indigent and vulnerable Idahoans and to keep the legal system from getting bogged down by bewildered unrepresented persons unfamiliar with what they need to do.

Legal Aid is proposing legislation to set up a state account that will allow it to supplement its funding. The Children and Families Legal Services Fund, provided for in House Bill 532, would allow Legal Aid to collect funds from private grants, legislative appropriations, and donations. The funds would be used to help low income families with “domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, abused and neglected children and senior abuse and exploitation.”
Money in the account could not be used for class action lawsuits, criminal cases, reproductive issues, undocumented persons, or suits against the State. The legislation does not appropriate State money. That would have to be done in separate legislation.

It is time for the State of Idaho to step forward to help low income people with serious legal problems that affect all of us. House Bill 532 lays the groundwork for doing what 47 other states are already doing for their people. Upon passage of the bill, an appropriation of State funds should be made to provide the stability Legal Aid needs to carry on its important work.

Game changer


In the wake of another school shooting, with all its heartbreak and tragedy, words from two of Nobel prize winning songster, Bob Dylan, come to mind: “Come gather round people wherever you roam/ and admit that the waters around you have grown/ and you’d better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone/ for the times they are a-changing.”

And the second:

“How many deaths will it take till he knows/ that too many people have died.
The answer my friend is blowing in the wind/ the answer is blowing in the wind.”

Wake up folks. The water is growing and way too many of our children are dying.

Listen up, all my friends and readers for whom the Second Amendment is the most sacred part of the Constitution, you’d better come forth with some construction suggestions that will reassure the mothers of America that their children are still safe while at school.

The status quo is not enough. Clearly our government should just enforce the laws already on the books. That isn’t enough either, for they will learn, in a democracy, the power of the majority and angry voters can work their will.

Millions of mothers and women across the country are fed up with President Trump’s actions, not to mention his prevarications, philandering, petulance, and pettiness. Polls are starting to show a dramatic shift away from the GOP by women voters and millions more are registering to vote for the first time. And they sure as hell aren’t going to dutifully follow hubby’s lead.

A blue tsunami is shaping up and it may bring about changes, the likes that have not been seen, since FDR’s 1932 sweep. Make no mistake, my friend, this movement is targeting Republican office holders, especially members of the House of Representatives.

Women have every right to be angry with the most misogynistic President in US history. Just look at an sample of anti-female policies Trump is working on. For example, is it any surprise that a man who has 19 female assault charges against him has his Department of Education revising guidelines upwards for the burden of proof for students accused of rape?

On one of womens’ touchstone issues, the right to choose, his administration has made it easier for employers to strip from healthcare plans birth control costs.

Women, like most men, are as concerned about his lack of temperament and judgment and his inability to exhibit self restraint.

Single handedly President Trump is galvanizing the #MeToo movement which is going like topsy and is going to retire many Republicans in November, in part, because he is exercising zero leadership in this issue of protecting our schoolchildren.

Allow me to offer a constructive suggestion:

1. Looking forward, no one under 14, or anyone else can own a handgun or automatic weapon without first having attended and satisfactorily completed a firearms safety course conducted by the NRA.

2. Course instructors will receive additional training on how to spot potentially unstable individuals and can refer them for additional evaluation.

3. Future gun owners will have to have insurance just as car owners have to have insurance.

4. States will conduct the licensing of firearms and as done with licenses they will periodically need to be renewed.

5. Teachers who have taken the gun safety course will be permitted to open-carry in the classroom or carry as a concealed weapon. Teachers have to be able to protect themselves and their students.

Gun owners everywhere should recognize that change is coming. The issue is will they guide the change or will the change drive them.