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Posts published in March 2018

Almost April, uh . . .


It looks like the local politicos have seen the light and are working quietly toward forging a strong bond with voters over local issues. The GUARDIAN is happy to report some of the developments.

Boise’s city councilors have sent a letter to the United States Air Force at Mountain Home, “Respectfully requesting,” that the city of trees not be used for war games by F-15 fighters practicing urban warfare with laser beams.

In Meridian, Mayor Tammy de Weerd was also busy at her letter writing desk. She informed the owner of the private-for-profit Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine she is withdrawing the annual $250,000 payment from the citizens of Meridian.

Ada Commissioners yielded to open space advocates around the Dry Creek area saying, “We realize the value of open space and the burden placed on the community resources such as highways, schools, and infrastructure when new homes are built far outside city limits.”

Over in Canyon County, Commish Tom Dale admitted the three-person board had been trying to figure a “work around” of voters who have repeatedly rejected funding for a new jail. The commishes are set to work with voters toward a jail expansion near the existing facility. Dale quipped, “if they were smart enough to elect us, we should be smart enough to listen to them.”

Idaho’s legislators have agreed to limit public retirement benefits for legislators based only on the stipend they get while serving. Lt. Gov. Brad Little said, “The practice of doling out political appointments for these sponges has to stop. They don’t deserve cushy $95,000 jobs for a few years just to pad their retirements.”

Even in Washington the senate and congress are working on a campaign finance law that will eliminate mega payments from special interests and limit TOTAL campaign spending to no more than $100,000 for Congressional races and $200,000 for the Senate. Sen. Mike Crapo confided to an insider, “Frankly I am ashamed to have accepted the millions of dollars in payments based on my position on the banking committee.” He is planning to donate his “war chest” to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.”

The local TV media has also jumped aboard the Ethics Train. KBOI TV 2 news staff has vowed to ignore orders from Sinclair Broadcasting to air conservative slanted segments like the “Terrorist Desk.” Over at KTVB TV 7 they have agreed to scrap plans to put a church steeple and cross atop the studio.

Finally, the IDAHO STATESMAN announced they will no longer send the daily paper in installments from Twin Falls to those few remaining subscribers.

If you believe ANY of this, consider yourself just another APRIL FOOL. Apologies for the timing due to weekend.

Housing tidal wave


In Canyon County, where population and economic growth ordinarily is not just approved of but eagerly sought, organizations like the Canyon County Agricultural Planning Area Committee usually start with an easily accepted point of view: Mo’ growth, mo’ better.

But not so much at their last meeting in Caldwell.

The group, which will be advising the county on zoning and its comprehensive plan, was considering the question of the use of land for farming as opposed to land for housing.

A report in the Idaho Press Tribune said that “Some attendees expressed concern about Meridian development spilling over into the farmland in North Nampa. One Nampa farmer told staff that development was happening in his area quicker than he had ever seen.” One spoke of a “wall of houses” encroaching from Ada County into Canyon.

Another farmer replied, “It’s not a wall of houses. It’s a tidal wave.”

Also last week, a group of mostly Canyon Countians spoke similarly at the new, small city of Star, where a local comprehensive plan change might lead to turning 5,000 rural acres into medium or low-density housing. Star is in Ada County, in what has long been an agricultural northwest corner of it, but it’s close by Canyon, and the spillover effects were concerning for a crowd of 300 people - larger than the norm for a planning commission meeting in a small town.

These kind of developments have been happening at increasing speed, and seem likely to accelerate as long as growth does in the Ada-Canyon area.

The reasons go beyond developer pressure to be allowed to do more business. The fact that demand is so high is a large part of the reason for this tidal wave of houses.

A day after touring some of the huge fields of new houses in western Ada County, the big new crop in that area, I had coffee with an old friend who lived for many years on the east coast, a former Idahoan moving back to his old home area.

But not exactly into his old town of Boise; he had to settle for several miles away from it. He intended moving back there. But it didn’t work out, because he could find no houses (at least, suitable) in Boise for near what he could pay - and that’s after selling his comparable place in an eastern state metro area. Houses with a price tag under $200,000 are rare birds now in Boise, and hard to find nearby. If you’re an average income homebuyer, and your income is below the executive level, you’re going to have a hard time finding a place there.

One reason is that there isn’t enough residential space available to meet the need.

What we’re seeing now may be another housing bubble; in fact, probably it is. But for now, housing is in too limited supply in the Boise region, and in other regions around Idaho - in Kootenai County, in Twin Falls and elsewhere. If you can afford high-end digs, you have ample choices. If you can’t, you’re probably in a difficult market.

This is something Idaho officials are going to have to come to grips with. Want to both preserve farmland and house the people of the Gem State? Some better answers are going to have to be found.

Sign the petition


When the Idaho House chose to not vote on Governor Otter’s “Dual Waiver” plan last week I was not surprised, nor were most Idaho voters. We have come to expect such inaction, such cowardice, such laziness from our elected officials. We forget, they reflect, not just represent us, the people.

We are truly cowards, you and me for not addressing this problem before us: how should health care be paid for? It’s complicated, I’ll admit. That might explain the laziness we have shown. Maybe, since most get their health insurance through their employer they don’t really have to worry too much about it much. That’s just another excuse for laziness. But do we aspire to be a lazy nation? Think about how employer based health insurance traps someone with a good idea or some initiative, but maybe a chronic health problem. Or how the brave young entrepreneur fears his wife might have their baby too early and his dreams are dashed with medical bankruptcy. Laziness and cowardice have trapped us. Don’t try to blame your elected representatives. We are the problem.

We want someone to offer a simple answer. I was intrigued by Director Cameron’s innovative idea to put expensive patients on a government health plan. It’s not a revolutionary idea, but it was brave to suggest. We should all have such courage to offer such ideas. But more, we need to listen to each other’s ideas and have conversations. Our leaders have not been good examples at this. But we can do it.

I have been engaged with a group of young activists working to put an initiative on the ballot that would enroll those below the poverty level who cannot now purchase health insurance on the exchange. It is a simple, cost effective plan to get more people enrolled in health insurance. It expands Medicaid eligibility. I am impressed with the broad support and the effort. I have had many good conversations as we ask for signatures. I know it will not be the final answer. But it’s a good start. Sign the petition.
There is much more work to do to make Idaho health care affordable and effective. It gets down to answering the question of how we should pay for healthcare.

Do Idaho lawmakers and voters really believe the Catastrophic and Indigent funds are an appropriate way to pay for health care? If so, then why don’t we just expand that system to cover all? Drop your insurance, pay for what you can and if you can’t afford it, you will be bailed out by taxpayers after the liens are filed and your bankruptcy ensured. This is health care terrorism sanctioned by the state. I hope you never have this experience. But it’s the current Idaho way.

Unfortunately, the CAT and indigent funds have made us a little too comfortable. These meager payments have supported small hospitals that are teetering. And we can pretend these unfortunate folks had some sin that made them deserve cancer or a mental illness or tragic accident.

We need to have the courage to build a system of health care funding that encourages responsible productive citizens. Getting everybody covered, doing away with indigent and catastrophic care is a great first step. Sign the petition.

A built-in disadvantage


I'd be hesitant to pick up a challenge offered on election stats by Dave Wasserman, and just as well I didn't waste my time on the Wisconsin offer. And he was offering $7,000, in personal payment, to anyone who could do it.

You have to know there's a reason no one could. And in that reason lies a significant reality of congressional politics circa 2018, a reason why Democrats have to work harder to accomplish as much as Republicans, and there's nothing shady about it.

Wasserman is an election stats analyst for Cook Political Report and Five Thirty Eight, two of the best analysis sites around, so the guy knows political numbers. (I watch his Twitter feed closely on election nights.) Yesterday, he pointed out that Wisconsin has a partisanship index - meaning the normal advantage of Republican versus Democratic candidates - of zero, which means in turn that in a statewide race, a candidate of either party starts out with theoretically even odds of winning.

That might logically lead to another conclusion: Since Wisconsin has eight U.S. House districts, each party might logically win four of the seats. The current delegation (which includes House Speaker Paul Ryan) has five Republicans and three Democrats, not drastically far off. But by choosing which voters to include, you can draw districts that advantage one party or the other.

Wasserman was able to draw a U.S. House map for Wisconsin that clearly favored Republicans in six out of the eight districts (a "GOP gerrymander" map). His challenge to his readers, with an award of $7,000, was to draw counterpart "Dem gerrymander" map, with a clear seven-point advantage for Democrats in six of eight districts. That would, in other words, do for the Democrats what he had just done for the Republicans.

He got a bunch of nerdy replies, with some close efforts. One replied (with a map attached), "Okay, so I don't think it's possible to create 6 districts that are exactly D+7, but I was able to create 6 districts that are at least D+6.5, which rounds up to 7, if that counts for anything."

But apparently, no one was able to develop six districts for Wisconsin that were as favorable for Democrats, as Wasserman was able to for Republicans.

Finally, Wasserman fessed up: "Answer: It's easy to draw the GOP gerrymander, but the inverse Dem gerrymander isn't just hard - it's mathematically *impossible.* Despite WI's even partisanship, there is such a thing as a partisan bias in spatial distribution."

Impossible? Yeah, it is, because so many Democrats are bunched together in tight urban areas (in that state, Milwaukee and Madison primarily) while Republicans are spread out, that creating a winning Democratic map becomes far harder. And not just in Wisconsin. The point is true all over the country.

In Oregon, for example, the addition of a sixth congressional district, which looks probable for 2020, may mean the Democratic infrastructure in the state accepting that the new district will be Republican. It may be too hard to design the districts so the state goes 5/1 Democratic, the way it's now 4/1.

This just relates to where you you live, or, where Republicans and Democrats live. It's not gerrymandering; it;'s just the result of normal mapmaking.

Petty vindictiveness


(Open Letter to Idaho Senator James Risch)

Senator—attached to this column is a picture of the headstone in Boise’s Pioneer Cemetery that marks the gravesite of the late, great four-term Idaho Governor and Carter Administration Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus.

For years you two engaged in sniping at each other in what was recognized by most of the state’s political cognoscenti as hardball, partisan politics. You could give as good as you received.

During those times you amply demonstrated that you could be mean, vicious, and petty, that you lacked a sense of humor and viewed politics not as an exercise that found the greatest good for the greatest number but rather a form of war.

During all those years there was one thing I never thought you capable of - outright stupidity. Imagine my surprise then when you took your six-shooter out of its holster and shot both your feet?

This one act of vindictive insanity is going to be your legacy.

In case you’ve forgotten, Cece passed away August 24th, 2017, a day shy of his 85th birthday. Apparently the fact that he is under six feet of mother earth, and you’ve outlived your old rival is not enough for you. Reports out of Washington, D.C. indicate you put a hold on the $1.3 trillion spending bill and demanded that a provision passed by the House at the behest of your Republican congressional colleague, Mike Simpson, renaming the White Clouds wilderness area the Cecil D. Andrus White Clouds Wilderness be removed.

If not, you would see the federal government shut down. Seriously? One newspaper ran the perfect headline: “Senator Risch Picks Fight with Dead Governor---Loses.” How does it feel to have the entire world laughing at you?
As Cece’s press secretary, confidant and adviser for many years I was well aware there was little love between you two, but never in my wildest thoughts did I think you could be so petty.

Why? It can’t be that you and he quarreled over appropriate levels of education funding when you were the Senate Pro Tempore leader in the Senate, can it?

It can’t be that a number of times you tried unsuccessfully to over-ride vetoes or spike important appointments.

It can’t be that he was a better, more respected politician than you, or that he supported State Senator Mike Burkett’s successful effort to deny you re-election?

This attempt to take revenge is a true lose-lose for you. Why such animosity that transcends partisan politics?

Could it be that Andrus early on nailed you for the little man with a Napoleonic complex you often displayed? Andrus was on to the games you would play, such as having your desk and chair on a riser, and you’d then stand and semi-sit on the corner of your desk looking down on a guest who you insisted take a seat in a chair on the floor?

Then there was the time you were about to be sworn in as governor for six months. Invites were sent to all former living governors and all rsvp’d they would be there except Andrus. Do you were remember this, Senator?

You called Andrus at home and the conversation went something like this:
Risch: “Cecil, this is yourrrr governor. And your governor would respectfully request your attendence at his inauguration tomorrow.”
Andrus: “All right you little so and so, I’ll be there.” And he did attend.

Andrus had more class in his little finger than you will ever have. If you had an ounce of class you’d apologize to the Andrus family and to your colleague, Mike Simpson. I won’t hold my breath.

Shame on you Senator Risch for attempting such petty vindictiveness. You proved to one and all you are every bit the little man that you are.

Toys r Us and immigration


Toys R Us, which once was America’s largest toy store, has gone out of business for a number of reasons. Competition from online retailers and massive company debt certainly played a large part. However, the company’s last annual report also attributed its financial troubles to a declining customer base. The company noted that most of its end customers were children and that declining birth rates “could have a material adverse effect on our operating results.” That rings true.

America’s birth rate is declining and our population is aging. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the U.S. birth rate declined from 30 live births per 1,000 residents in 1909 to 12.2 in 2016, which was the lowest rate on record. On the other hand, the Census Bureau projects that by 2035 “older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.”

Our aging population bodes ill for the Medicare and Social Security programs. The trustees of those programs estimate that Medicare will run out of money in 2029 and Social Security will become insolvent in 2034. The Labor Department says there were five workers for every Social Security recipient in 1960, but there will only be two workers for each recipient in 2035.

So, what can we do to avert disaster with these essential programs? Everyone knows it is necessary to make adjustments to funding mechanisms to shore up both programs and perhaps Congress will get the courage to do that one of these days. But, there is one thing we can do in the near term to make the situation better or keep it from getting worse. Namely, we can and should maintain our proud place in the world as a nation of immigrants.

The United States admits around one million immigrants into the country each year. In fiscal year 2016 the number was slightly less than 1.2 million. The President has indicated a desire to cut that number in half. Congressman Raul Labrador has signed onto legislation that would cut it by over a fourth. Reducing the admissions would be a big mistake. Immigration brings a much-needed injection of younger people into this country.

Those who come here now as immigrants share much with our immigrant ancestors--an entrepreneurial spirit, a desire to educate their children, and a dedication to the American dream. They start businesses at twice the rate of nonimmigrants. These are people who add to the fabric of America, people like Hamdi Ulukaya, the founder of Chobani, and Sanjay Mehrotra, the CEO of Micron. They bring fresh blood, ambition and innovation to our country. We need these folks to move our country forward.

We need, also, to keep those undocumented workers who contribute to the country by being the backbone of our agricultural, construction, and hospitality industries. Comprehensive immigration reform should be passed to give them legal status. For instance, Idaho’s dairy industry, which produces about $10 billion in annual direct sales, relies primarily on immigrant laborers, the majority of whom are undocumented. Other industries have come to heavily rely on those without documentation. Workers who are raising children, living peacefully, and contributing to society should not have to worry about having their families ripped apart. And, the Social Security Administration estimates that undocumented immigrants pay 13 times more into the Social Security trust than they receive from it.

Immigrants starting coming to North America about 17,000 years ago, they have made this country great and they will help to keep it great if we don’t turn them away.

Listen carefully


CONSERVATIVE: (1) Tending or disposed to maintain existing views; conditions, or institutions: traditional conservative policies; (2) Marked by moderation or caution; (3) Marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners.

OPPORTUNIST: (1) Someone who tries to get an advantage or something valuable from a situation without thinking about what is fair or right.

Those definitions are from my well-worn Merriam Webster dictionary. No editing. Now, the question of the day is this: which definition best applies to the guy in the Oval Office? Which best defines his actions - his character - his “political” presence? Go ahead. Pick one.

In my book, there’s no question. “Opportunist” fits our Crisis-In Chief to a “T.” In fact, it doesn’t go far enough.

Yet, day-after-day, night-after-night, our “friends” in the media business use the word “conservative” to describe that person. Over and over and over, they attach the wrong word as if it just has to be so.

One reason is probably because most media types have never met a bonafide Conservative politician. No GOP voice today can be described by that word as were Bob Dole, Howard Baker, Fred Thompson, Ben Nelson, Connie Mack, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, etc.. And, at the far right end of that term, Barry Goldwater.

Trump’s “politics” or character don’t measure up to any of those - not in any way. In fact, in terms of Presidents, his “politics” - whatever they are - match none other.

Would you put Idaho’s Mike Simpson in the same political file as Louis Ghomert, one of the craziest of crazies? Never. But, day-after-day, we’re told the two are “conservatives.”

People who should be most concerned with this mislabeling ought to be actual Conservatives because politicians with proven Conservative credentials are being continually lumped in with the current crop of crazies destroying the GOP. If the Republican Party ever hopes to have honest political currency in our national affairs, real Conservatives should be stepping up with new candidacies.

Many Republicans can’t support the GOP as it exists today. They feel shut out and spend time grousing when they should be taking action. Surely there must be legitimate Conservative Republicans out there who can be encouraged to run - to offer viable choices to nutcases who run unopposed time after time.

Bona fide, hurting Republicans need to stamp out this phony “we don’t want professional politicians “ crap and admit our best governance has been when experienced “professional” politicians did the work that needed doing. Professionals from both parties.

Democrats need to do some “house cleaning” as well. Shut down the Sanders-versus-Clinton voices, put up some new, younger faces with fresh thinking and get out of this circular firing squad concocted years ago.

Absolutists in both parties should be shown the nearest door. This “you’re-with-me-on-every-issue-or-you’re-my-enemy” B.S. needs to be thoroughly cleansed. Republicans say it. Democrats say it. And all it does is fracture political opportunities both parties have repeatedly squandered.

Republicans, especially, should be looking at these thousands and thousands of marchers in the streets from coast-to-coast. Today, the message out there might be gun control. Tomorrow it might be women’s rights. Or ending sexual abuse in society.

But, the real “message-from-the-streets” is most Americans want change. They want effective government to help rather than hurt. They want control of the process. In a very real sense, they want their country back. Not some 1950's imaginary fantasy that never existed. They’re asking - demanding - a process and a government at all levels that cares, that acknowledges problems of the lack of meaningful health care, homelessness, poverty, an end to “government for the few” rather than a “government for all.”

It’s not that we don’t have issues. We’ve got lots of ‘em. Rather it’s getting the cancer of unbridled money out of our national politics - enacting policies of fairness and justice for the many - recreating a nation to be proud of and one that can return to being respected everywhere.

You want true Conservatism rather than opportunism? Go for those things. That’s the message!

Idaho Briefing – March 26

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

Nearly all substantive legislative work for this year’s Idaho session was concluded on March 22, but final adjournment was held off, primarily in case legislative action is needed to deal with one or more gubernatorial vetoes.

The steady shift of Idaho’s population from rural to urban counties continued between July 1, 2016 and July 1, 2017, according to estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. Six urban counties – Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville, Bannock and Twin Falls – had a combined population of 1,116,173, accounting for 75 percent of the growth in the state’s population and 65 percent of overall population. The state’s total population was estimated at 1,716,943.

The 366th Civil Engineer Squadron at Mountain Home Air Force Base is in the process of gathering information to conduct an environmental assessment for air and ground training spaces in urban areas located throughout Idaho. Training in urban areas allows MHAFB aircrew to experience conditions similar to those faced in combat.

Representative Mike Simpson on March 22 applauded the House passage of H.R. 1625, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018, which included monumental benefits for Idaho and Western States.

Legislative sessions preceding general elections for statewide elected officials mark the point when salaries for those offices are fixed by the legislature, and lawmakers acted on that subject in this session.

The city of Nampa will begin rebuilding 2nd and 3rd Streets South from 12th Avenue to 16th Avenue South on March 27.

Holding steady for the sixth consecutive month, Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3 percent in February.

Senator Mike Crapo, who has served as the lead Republican sponsor of the Violence Against Women Act, on March 21 reiterated his support for justice for trafficking victims and voted in favor of H.R. 1865, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act, which passed in the Senate on a 97-2 vote.

PHOTO By the end of last week, things were relatively quiet in the Statehouse rotunda. This image looks across to the House chambers, shortly before the floor session on Thursday morning. (image/Randy Stapilus)

The Balukoff case


Idaho Democrats are fortunate to have two qualified candidates seeking their party’s nomination for governor, and I will gladly support whoever wins the primary. That said I believe that A.J. Balukoff not only has a better shot at winning in the general election, he would make a more effective governor from day one.

As I see it, the five most important challenges facing Idaho in the years to come involve education, health care, job creation, equal access to justice, and public lands. Both candidates’ positions on these topics largely align with my own, but A.J. has the depth and breadth of experience to propose sound, progressive legislation and the skill set to persuade a Republican legislature to enact his proposals into law.

A.J. believes that a state’s future is only as strong as its commitment to quality public schools. For 21 years, he has been an active member of the Boise School Board, constantly and consistently advocating for top-flight public education for all children. He knows that public education enables children to grow into well-informed citizens who can contribute to their neighborhoods and communities and effectively compete in the work force. As Idaho’s governor, A.J. will make our public schools, colleges and universities a top priority.

And A.J. knows how important it is for all Idaho families to have access to quality health care. He has been a Board Member for St. Luke’s Hospital for 13 years and is firmly committed to expanding Medicaid to ensure that the almost 80,000 Idahoans without such access receive coverage. A.J. wants all Idahoans to have the certainty of knowing they will not face dire straits – even bankruptcy – if they are sick or injured.

A.J. grew up in a middle class family and knows first-hand the importance of hard work. He has built strong, successful businesses, created jobs, and developed economic opportunities for hundreds of Idahoans. He is an entrepreneur who will use the skills he honed in private life to keep businesses in Idaho and attract new industry to our state, all to the benefit of Idaho families. In his many years of public service, A.J. Balukoff has generously shared the bounty he has earned with countless others in support of the greater good.

A.J. strongly supports equal access to justice and will work to ensure that all Idahoans are treated equally under the law. He believes that women should receive equal pay for equal work, that Idaho should “add the words” to ensure that legal discrimination against LGBT individuals is a thing of the past, and that the government should not interfere in health care decisions made by a woman in consultation with her doctor.

Finally, A.J. is an outdoorsman who knows the importance of keeping our public lands in public hands. As a life-long member of what Governor Andrus used to call the “hook and bullet club,” A.J. will fight to ensure that Idaho’s public lands are not sold to the highest bidder, that our children and grandchildren are not locked out of our unique legacy of hunting, fishing and recreation in Idaho’s great outdoors.

The three frontrunners for the Republican gubernatorial nomination all present a poor choice for Idaho. Probably the most concerning candidate is first district Congressman Raul Labrador, a Tea Party darling whose ideological extremism and ineptitude is exceeded only by his grandstanding. I believe that A.J. Balukoff has the best chance of defeating Labrador, should he be the Republican nominee, in the general election.

A.J.’s exceptional work ethic, remarkable record of accomplishment, and clear vision for Idaho’s future make him my choice in the Democratic primary. I hope Idaho Democrats will nominate A.J. Balukoff on May 15th. His proven record of leadership in the private and public sectors make him the strongest candidate in the general election and the best prepared to serve in our state’s highest office.