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Posts published in March 2018

A couple months out

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In conversations with a range of politically-interested Idahoans this week, I heard more often than anything else comments about The Commercial.

I should say that I haven’t seen it, and haven’t been able to find it online. I’m told its source is not the Tommy Ahlquist campaign for Idaho governor, but rather an independent committee in support of him. It is said to be running mostly on cable television, and is described (maybe the key thing about it is how it is described) like this:

Much of the ad shows Ahlquist’s two main opponents for the Republican nomination, Representative Raul Labrador and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, on a split screen. It describes each of them (speaking generally here) as career politicians, or at least making the point that both have been in elective office a number of years. It attaches to each complaints about various policy decisions (such as taxes), suggesting those as evidence of inadequate conservatism. Little and Labrador, then, are meant to be considered as part of a failed status quo, and Ahlquist the fresh broom seeking to sweep clean. (Ahlquist apparently does not appear in the commercial.)

(photo/Ahlquist, left, and Little; by Mark Mendiola)

Okay. As a political tactic, something like that makes sense, and it may be effective. It probably is effective, in fact, since it seems to be generating a lot of discussion. (Much of the discussion I happened to hear wasn’t positive, exactly, but that’s beside the point.)

Call it another bolt of uncertainty in a year-long race for the nomination that looks no more settled today than it did six months ago.

Asking for opinions about who is likely to win, the most common response I get is, “Labrador.” The main argument for that is his substantial and highly loyal voter base, which is surely there. But there’s a question about exactly how large the base is, how far around the state it extends, and whether the mainstream Republican segment exemplified by Little might still be large enough to prevail. After a minute’s reflection, the amended reply tends to be, “You know, I really don’t know who’s likely to win.”

On Monday, the pollster Dan Jones and Associates released a poll showing the three candidates bunched closely together - not much outside the margin of error - with a still-large percentage reported as undecided. (Yes, yes: Some questions have been raised about the Jones polls, but we don’t have much other public polling available.) It’s a reasonable match to what Jones has reported before, but, especially given the large number of undecideds, doesn’t on its own give much support to any particular prediction.

One other thought was the suggestion that a low voter turnout probably would help Labrador most, while a high turnout might help Little. That sounds about correct, roughly. The turnout numbers eventually will be worth parsing, but it’s hard to know now what they’ll look like. They might trend high because of the large number of contested primaries at the top of the ballot. Or, in common with a number of other states, Republican turnout may be a little down in this year compared to four or eight years ago. Hard to know.

And then there’s The Commercial, which might shift some attitudes among voters, maybe enough to affect an outcome in a close race. But in what direction?

A year of campaigning, and we still wind up remarkably close to where we all started ...
 

Challenges at INL

mendiola

Addressing a recent City Club of Idaho Falls gathering, Idaho National Laboratory Director Mark Peters praised Idaho's elected officials for their solid support of INL as the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) lab confronts formidable cybersecurity, homeland security, nuclear energy, radioactive waste management and nonproliferation challenges.

In a presentation titled “Securing the Nation's Energy Future,” Peters recalled how he met former U.S. Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus a few months after he started directing INL in October 2015.

Andrus, who died last August at the age of 85, and Phil Batt, another former Idaho governor, have been vocal critics of allowing more spent nuclear fuel to be shipped to INL in violation of the “1995 Settlement Agreement,” expressing concern that Idaho could become the nation's de facto spent nuclear fuel repository.

The agreement struck between Idaho, the U.S. Navy and DOE nearly 25 years ago allows for 1,135 shipments of spent fuel to come to INL for interim storage over 40 years, including 575 shipments from the Navy. It also could come from other DOE sites, foreign research reactors, universities and private companies directly supporting DOE research and development.

The agreement also calls for DOE to remove all spent nuclear fuel from Idaho no later than 2035, treat all high level INL waste for final disposal elsewhere by 2035, remove transuranic waste by no later than Dec. 31, 2018, and place all spent fuel in dry storage by Dec. 31, 2023, but not above the Snake River Plain Aquifer.

If DOE fails to remove all spent fuel by 2035, Idaho could fine it $60,000 per day. If it fails to meet any agreement milestones, the state could ask a federal court to block further spent fuel shipments to Idaho. Some of those milestones have been missed, especially pertaining to the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit (IWTU) and removal of 900,000 gallons of liquid nuclear waste stored underground at the Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center (INTEC).

Peters indicated that when he first met Andrus, the late governor was very frank about upholding the 1995 agreement's terms. “I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. All of us miss Governor Andrus,” he said.

Peters commended Idaho's congressional delegation, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, Lt. Gov. Brad Little and the state's legislators for their continued robust support for INL and its many activities, heaping special praise on the Idaho Legislature for funding a Collaborative Computing Center and a Cybercore Integration Center that will be constructed on 13 acres, with groundbreaking scheduled in mid-April.

The Legislature's Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) also recently approved $3 million in funding for the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES), a research and education consortium located in Idaho Falls that involves INL, Idaho State University, Boise State University, the University of Idaho and the University of Wyoming.

Peters praised Rep. Raul Labrador for being generous with his time when Peters is in Washington; Sen. Mike Crapo, who has been very instrumental in pushing nuclear innovations, and Sen. Jim Risch, who is deeply committed to INL's national security mission. He was especially effusive in his praise for Rep. Mike Simpson, who chairs the U.S. House Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee.

“INL owes so much to the chairman for what he has done,” Peters said of Simpson. “He's a tremendous leader for the state.”

The day before his City Club address, Peters was on Capitol Hill in Washington testifying before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology about how DOE's laboratories provide world-leading technology in science. It was the same day Zachary Tudor, INL associate lab director of National and Homeland Security, testified before a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee about cybersecurity threats.

Peters mentioned he has spent a lot of time in the nation's capital dealing with pressing budget, national security, nuclear energy and high technology issues. Noting that about 20 percent of U.S. electricity comes from nuclear energy, he said many commercial reactors are undergoing financial and legal stresses, and some units are being prematurely decommissioned when they can safely operate for 20 to 80 years.

“If the existing fleet isn't protected and preserved, it will be difficult to go forward,” he said, adding that Russia and China are constructing nuclear reactors. “R&D budgets need to be stable.”

With Iran and North Korea posing threats to national security, it's even more urgent to develop the next generation of nuclear technology, he emphasized, pointing out the Trump administration is bullish for nuclear energy, and the sector is getting a lot of attention in Washington.

Cybersecurity funding is not under pressure nor facing cutbacks like other federal programs. He mentioned the federal government has the capability to closely monitor the nuclear activities of Iran and North Korea. It also is doing all in its power to protect the nation's extensive electricity grid.

“I'm ready for a more optimistic environment,” Peter said, praising partnerships between the federal government and private companies. He said plans by NuScale Power and the Utah Associated Municipal Power Systems (UAMPS) for locating first-of-its-kind small modular reactors (SMRs) that could generate 50 megawatts of power at the INL site have made significant licensing and financing progress in recent months.

Two bills enacted by the Idaho Legislature that would have a positive impact on the NuScale project at INL are awaiting Otter's signature in Boise. One would allow a property tax exemption originally targeted for an Areva project to be applied to the small modular reactors. The other would exempt two of 12 SMRs from sales tax. Federal tax credits also may be implemented.

Peters predicted if the SMR technology proves successful upon starting its first commercial production of nuclear energy in 2026, that could create hundreds of construction jobs, unleash an energy renaissance and replicate in eastern Idaho the “Magic Valley miracle” that spawned Chobani, Clif Bars and a host of other businesses in the Twin Falls region.

Peters, however, warned if small amounts of spent nuclear fuel cannot be brought into Idaho for research purposes, the INL's overall mission will be jeopardized. “If they don't let us do this, we can't solve bigger problems.”

He said when DOE Secretary Rick Perry visited the Idaho site last May, discussions between DOE, Otter and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden were initiated and trust between the state and federal government began to be rebuilt.

The INL director noted that President Donald Trump recently praised last year's reactivation of INL's world class Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT). Peters also expressed confidence its Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) will continue to be operated in the long term.

INL recently lost $20 million in federal research funding when spent nuclear fuel had to be diverted from INL to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, a development Peters characterized as “a slippery slope.”
 

Snoozing along . . .

carlson

Idahoans may soon find out the answer to an old joke question: what if they held an election and no one came?

In less than two months for all practical purposes Idaho’s next governor and its next member of Congress from the First District will be the winner of the May 15th Republican primary.

Does anyone care? In 50 years of observing Idaho politics I’ve never seen a less interested, not-paying-attention Idaho electorate. Maybe the campaigns have more visibility in southern Idaho, as all the campaigns are eschewing buying television out of the expensive Spokane market. The return on investment calculus simply says its too much to pay to reach what is seen as less than 10% of the probable GOP voters.

Quick. Tell me three major difference that separate the three major Republican gubernatorial candidates - Tommie Ahlquist, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, and Congressman Raul Labrador - from each other? Can’t do it, can you?

A low interest, low turnout vote probably favors Labrador whose hard right conservative base n theory will be the most motivated to vote.

However, the winner will be the one that has the best ground game - the one who has identified the most likely voters, has phone banks set up to call voters, can provide rides to the polls, has a top notch absentee and vote by mail operation, and has a direct mail program sending three or four pieces to all Republican households.

One suspects that if it comes down to who has the best ground game that will favor Brad Little in the governor’s race and in the congressional race will favor former attorney general David Leroy. The reason is they are more familiar to the state’s voters having run state-wide and have built a cadre of solid supporters - people who know them and more importantly like them.

An election that has attracted hardly any interest clearly will not be a change election, but will be a maintain the status quo. That too favors Little and Leroy.

Rest assured both races will be decided by the voters of two counties - Ada and Canyon, which between them hold 40% of the voters. Some pundits think this tilts the congressional race towards former state senator Russ Fulcher from Canyon County, but there is no evidence to support that. With seven R’s the winner may have only 20% of the vote and such races are impossible to predict.

Labrador released his first tv ad this past week, the last of the three major GOP candidates to do so. Interestingly, he repeatedly tries to reassure his base he is the only true “consistent conservative” in the race though Idaho voters grasp that all three are conservatives.

Labrador though is probably badly out of step on many of the issues with most Idahoans. His code talk about focusing more on educational performance than funding is just a slick way of saying he will slash educational funding despite public wishes to the contrary. It’s the only way he can reach his touted tax reduction plan calling for capping sales, property and income tax at a uniform 5%.

The guess here is that despite a low turnout many traditional conservative to moderate R’s will turn out and that most independents will vote in the Republican primary as well. All of this should see Little nose by Labrador with Ahlquist running third.

In most years one would think Ahlquist’s enthusiasm and charisma as well as being the fresh face would catch on. That doe not appear to be the case though and most observers won’t be surprised by Ahlquist finishing third.

The congressional race still appears to favor Leroy who has done an excellent job on the stunp demonstrating his mastery of the issues and underscoring his “constitutional conservative” views. His adroit dismissal of age questions has faded as he demonstrates vigor and with humor dismisses such questions.

A word about the Democratic gubernatorial primary featuring the party’s 2014 candidate, millionaire businessman and long-time Boise school board member A.J. Balukoff and former State Representative Paulette Jordan from Plummer. The first take was that she could actually win the nomination given the thin slice of liberal “wine and cheese” D’s in Idaho who nonetheless can deliver in the smallish Democratic primary.

Any chance she might have had though may have become foregone given her recent endorsement of gun registration for all firearms, and not prospectively but retroactively. There are enough D’s in Idaho who hunt who will dismiss her out of hand for taking such a position.

We’ll know more on May 16th when we will learn who our next governor will be and the new First District congressman. Don’t blink though or it may just escape notice.
 

What the president must do

jones

A gentleman recently asked what kind of action I thought the President should take to punish Vladimir Putin for his hostile acts against the United States. The question was in response to my insistence that our top intelligence officials and Congress speak out and demand presidential action to counter Russian aggression against this country.

In addition to clearly acknowledging Russia’s intervention in the 2016 elections, the President must personally and publicly call out Putin, punish him and his cronies for their aggressive acts, and warn them that severe countermeasures will be taken if it ever happens again. An American President’s forcefully-spoken word carries great weight around the world.

When President Kennedy warned Premier Khrushchev that Soviet nuclear missiles had to be removed from Cuba, or else, the Russians got the message and the missiles were gone. When President Reagan issued his famous demand, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall,” the Berlin Wall came down shortly thereafter. Neither of them left it to their underlings to make these important statements. This is an important responsibility of our elected leader.

When this country is attacked, when our election process is subverted, when Russia carries out numerous hostile acts against the interests of the U.S. and our allies, silence and appeasement do not work. Strong words and actions by our Commander in Chief are absolutely essential. This is not a job to be delegated to subordinates. We have not yet had the kind of words directly from our President that are necessary to protect the vital interests of the United States.

The President could take a page from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s playbook. In response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a Putin enemy in her country, PM May promptly and forcefully called out the Russians for their criminal act, expelled 23 Russian officials, and promised other punitive actions. She appears to be a tough, stand-up lady. I hope our President can be at least as tough. And, while he’s at it, he should personally and publicly condemn and punish Russia for deploying a deadly chemical weapon on the soil of Great Britain, our closest ally. The joint statement issued with our allies is nice but does not carry the weight of forceful words from our President’s mouth.

Next, the President could and should impose all of the sanctions Congress authorized by a veto-proof vote last year in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which is now Public Law 115-44. Those include an array of punishing sanctions against Putin and the cronies who have helped him plunder his countries assets. The Administration has just tiptoed into imposing some of those sanctions, but much more needs to be done. Congress also authorized a $250 million fund to counter nefarious Russian activities, but nothing has yet been done with those funds. The Russians must be shown that we will not roll over when they carry out activities that strike at the very heart of our democracy.

The President should also direct his Attorney General, the Treasury Department and the FBI to vigorously investigate and prosecute Russian oligarchs who have clandestinely transferred billions of dollars out of Russia and laundered them through phony deals involving real estate and other assets in the U.S. They and those who have assisted them must be dealt with harshly.

Those are just a few of the things we should do to punish Putin and prevent future aggression. If the President acts publicly and decisively, the message will get through. Vladimir Putin understands strength, but attacks when he senses weakness.
 

Tendencies

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Last weekend I posted on Facebook a link to a Scientific American article on gun ownership. The web headline read, "Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns? Research suggests it's largely because they're anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market and beset by racial fears."

I posted in part to see what reaction it generated, and yes, it generated a reaction. "I think this is mostly hogwash. How did I know that there would be a racial component?" "the vast majority of those stockpiling are doing so not for home defense, not because they fear for their jobs, not because of racism. It is because they trust the government less and less." The tenor from several people seemed to be, that doesn't represent me or the gun owners I know.

And maybe it doesn't, which also doesn't invalidate the point.

Several of the reactions did, however, indicate strong emotions, which tended to support the premises in the article.

One of the most striking elements of the gun debate, on the pro-gun side, is its emotional core. It's not that there aren't intellectually-based arguments on that side of the fence - there are. But the kernel of the matter goes back to the old National Rifle Association line, "I'll give you my gun when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands." There are plenty of other things people want or would defend, but when do you see such ferocity about a car, or even a house? The Second Amendment isn't a reason for the fierce attachment (where's the comparable attachment to the press, which is more specifically referred to in the constitution?) nearly so much as it is rationalization for it. The government distrust argument never, as a rational matter, worked either; tens of millions of people in this country who right now deeply distrust the federal government would not see gun ownership as a solution to the problem.

Something about guns, for some people, strikes home deep, toward the core of a psyche, and the results of an array of studies - the article was about not just one or two, but many - suggest much of the intensity around guns in some quarters has broader causes. It suggests at one point, for example, "For many conservative men, the gun feels like a force for order in a chaotic world" - a way not to become a victim, if only symbolically. It is a way to take charge in a world where so much seems out of control and slipping away.

Does that apply to all gun owners, or even all gun stockpilers? No. Of course not. To suggest that it does (as some of my Facebook readers seemed to) misreads the kind of studies that lead to the article's conclusions. The research points to tendencies in groups of people, to a larger probability that people in the group will have certain characteristics. It doesn't mean everyone in the group will. The principle is the same if a doctor advises that because you're in an older age group, you're more prone to certain cancers - a statistical fact that you're somewhat more at risk. Does that mean you will get cancer? Not necessarily. Far from everyone in the at-risk group does.

And so with high-intensity gun owners: Certain characteristics pop up more in than in the broader population, but that doesn't mean everyone in the group will reflect them.

A certain strong feeling on the subject, though, does seem very widespread. And that suggests that, even if some of the specifics are off, the points made in the Scientific American probably are at least loosely on to something.
 

Doing DUE diligence

rainey

Six months ago, fed up with the worst winter on the Oregon coast that locals could remember, Barb and I packed up the dog and cat and drove 1,310 miles Southeast. To the “great” Southwest.

We’re now in the second fastest growing county in the nation - the Census Bureau estimates about 200 new faces a day - and surrounded by a lot of white hair, expensively tinted hair and the most bald heads we’ve ever seen in one place. The three “cheek-by-jowl” unincorporated "active" retirement communities that make up our new neighborhood total about 92,000 folks - 55 and up.

While you’ll see some criticism here, please remember I’m four score plus two. So, this isn’t being written by a critic from the outside but from my own 82 years. If you haven’t experienced this “active senior living” as it’s called, you might see some surprises here.

When we came down a year ago on a scouting mission, the first thing that caught our eye was $2.28 a gallon gas. A buck or more less than the Coast. We also found real estate taxes on a $200,000 house were about $800 a year. That’s $1,600 less than we’d been paying. A good steak dinner is about $11.00. Shopping within a five mile radius includes hundreds of stores from Neiman-Marcus to Goodwill. Everything you can name! More places to eat out than you could count and a gas station or bank on every corner.

Sounds a bit like senior Nirvana, doesn’t it? Well, while all those good things are quite true, there are other details to consider, too.

For one, our $1,100 a year car insurance went to $1,900. Same car. Same driver. Zip codes are a big factor in setting rates. When you’ve lived here awhile, and driven our roads filled with seniors from everywhere, your sense of self-preservation is heightened and you understand why the increase. Oh, and our car license went from about $200 for two years to $485 for one!

Another local phenomenon is the lowly golf cart. They look the same as those at the country club. But - these have been modified to go between 35-40mph! Gas or electric. With mirrors, seatbelts and appropriate insurance added, they move! And are driven everywhere! Right out in the rest of the traffic. Four lanes or six! Like many others, we use ours as a second car. Easier to park when shopping.

Electricity in our former home was about seven-cents a kilowatt hour. Here, 13-cents and up. Nuclear generation rather than hydro. Water/sewer bills that used to be $60 or so for two months are $60-100 a month now. Also, our state’s water rights in the regional compact are junior to all other states so an extended drought could be a disaster.

Still, just in our little unincorporated “heaven” of about 30,000 oldsters, we have nine - count ‘em - nine 18-hole golf courses to keep up. Two private. Seven public. Using about 2.4 billion gallons of water per year. Residents use about 1.3 billion. So, when water isn’t as available as it is today, (a) already high residential rates will skyrocket and (b) someone is going to have to decide which - and how many - golf courses will be cut to nine holes. Or closed. Them’s fighten’ words hereabouts.

Our current special election to replace our adulterous former Congressman features an adulterous minister - endorsed by the outgoing adulterer, another who’s a twice-convicted felon and James Dobson. The other candidate claims to have loved Trump even before he was elected. Such are our ballot choices. To say we’re a “conservative” state is to confuse “conservative” with outright nuts!

Still, at least for now, we’re not unhappy with our move. Let’s just say we’re here on a “trial basis” and continue to observe life around us. Our “due diligence” continues unabated.

Over the next few months, we’ll describe more of this newfound “active retired” senior living lifestyle and the blessings/curses that go with it. It’s really a little of both. But, you might want to make that “due” in due diligence “DUE” before you take the step.
 

Idaho Briefing – March 19

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for March 19. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

As the Idaho legislative session moved toward adjournment – possibly this next week, more likely the week following – a series of large rallies and protests hit the Idaho statehouse. They did not, however, appear to much change the course of legislation.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for January was 3 percent – the fifth consecutive month at this rate following the benchmarking of 2017 estimates.

Senator Jim Risch on March 16 introduced legislation to make it less burdensome for non-federal entities, like irrigation districts, to obtain the title for Reclamation projects they operate and have repaid. The Reclamation Title Transfer Act of 2018 would simplify the title transfer process by authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to facilitate uncomplicated transfers for qualifying entities.

Mild weather so far means more young deer and elk are surviving this winter, which will likely grow herds and produce more game for big game hunters next fall.

February marks the fourth consecutive month that General Fund receipts have topped their forecasts. They were $166.1 million this month, which exceeded the expected $121.8 million by $44.3 million (36.3%).

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra on March 12 called for a greater investment in the safety of Idaho’s students through a new initiative, announced today, focused on increasing support to Idaho’s schools.

Senators Mike Crapo and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are leading a group of bipartisan Senators to demand the VA take action to hold Health Net, the contractor that helps run the Choice Program, accountable for its “frustrating and completely avoidable” customer service problems and late payments to community providers.

Close the Gap Idaho joined hundreds of Idahoans rallying at the Statehouse to ask legislators to take action to narrow the health coverage gap. Doctors and medical professionals, faith groups, and Idahoans in the coverage gap, converged on the Statehouse to make their voices heard.

PHOTO In a week that saw several large rallies at the Idaho Statehouse, one of the largest was the high school-based rally calling for restrictions on gun sales and proliferation. (image/IdahoEdNews)
 

How do you spell ‘denuclearization’, again?

mckee

The headline says Trump to meet with Kim Jong-un. “Well now,” you say, “He’s going to do what you wanted all along! Aren’t you happy?” In a word, no, not at all. But I can see there may be some explaining to do.

A persistent theme of these random essays has been that we were going in the wrong direction with Kim Jong-un and the problems in North Korea. That we needed to reverse course on many of our hard-edged policies if we were to pursue a diplomatic solution. So, you think, Trump agrees with this, huh? Not exactly.

Up to know, our great fear has been that Trump’s bumbling about with his tweets and sophomoric threats was going to accidentally propel us into the middle of a thermonuclear war. All of us, except maybe some pack of iconoclastic war hawks, overwhelmingly and universally want Trump to pack his tweets away and STFU. We see a diplomatic solution as the only acceptable resolution.

But there is a protocol to these things that has to be observed. Our policy goes back more than 70 years when we agreed to the division of the Korean peninsula into two countries but then never formally recognized the second government. Our stated policy has been for reunification of the peninsula and elimination of the second government, which has been a consistent thorn in the side of all three Kim’s. For over 60 years, there has been no peace on the peninsula, only a military truce. We have steadfastly resisted any efforts to elevate the generals’ deal into a formal peace treaty that could be ratified between nations, and we have kept a U.S. military force on the 38th parallel – another thorn in Kim’s side. For over 20 years, ever since North Korea pulled out of the international non-proliferation pact, the United States has refused to participate in any bilateral talks on nuclear arms. This has been perceived to be a personal affront to the leadership of the Kim Dynasty. We would only condone multi-lateral talks involving all the stakeholders, and then only upon the precondition that North Korea give up its nuclear arms before commencement of any talks. Wrapping the subject of diplomacy in this much red tape has had the expected result – nothing productive has happened in over 70 years.

The intricate web of international relations with our allies means the ship of state cannot be turned on a dime. It takes a ton of international preparation, not just with North Korea but with all our allies, if we are going to zoom off in a new direction. We are ill prepared to handle this task on any hurry-up basis. We don’t have an ambassador in South Korea, nor an envoy or emissary in North Korea. There is no formal chain of communication between the U.S. and North Korea. The State department senior expert on North Korean affairs just resigned. His department has been decimated, and there is no adequate staff at State or in the Whitehouse to prepare the President for any top-level meeting of leaders. There is no agenda, nor any protocol for the creation of one. The subject is said to be “denuclearization,” but nobody knows exactly what this is, or if there is an agreement between the parties on what the term means. Even for a low-level conference between nations, these haphazard conditions would be a recipe for disappointment; at the highest level, it could be disastrous.

Also, as a matter of fundamental negotiating strategy, one seldom starts out by standing on the objective where one wants to end up. The start should be with some defined and expected matters where there is already a leaning toward general agreement, so the process can work around and up to the problem areas.

Finally, in international deal-making, any meeting of leaders does not occur first, it happens last – after others have worked over the problems and smoothed the way. To start with the leaders, with no preparation and with no effort to get all the preliminary agreements in order, there is a significant risk that if the whole thing doesn’t collapse in heap, it will end up being a hugely lopsided disaster for somebody.

It is into this midst of this hoopla that Trump suddenly stepped in and announced a U-turn on decades of iron-fisted U.S. policy. Without preamble, he has agreed to a direct, one-on-one sit down with Kim Jong-un. Over the uproar from both right and left, he has doubled down, cut the legs out from under everybody who has tried to soften or walk back any of his resolve, and announced that it is going to happen in May.

In international diplomatic time scale, that is the day after tomorrow. The old fool and rocket man. All by themselves. Across a kitchen table somewhere. No script and no menu. And we haven’t even lettered the place cards or thawed out the turkey.

What could possibly go wrong?
 

Scattered filings

stapiluslogo1

A few observations in parsing the lists of candidates for the May primary election, and beyond . . .

Lots of Republicans, in grand total, running for governor and in the first U.S. House district. Several of them have little realistic chance of winning, of course (welcome back for the nth time, Harley Brown!), but while the nominations in those races are not sewn up, they might have some effect. For example, the governor’s race is likely to be dominated by (and won by) Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador or businessman Tommy Ahlquist, but there is a possibility that the vote totals for the three of them are not far apart. Four other lesser-known candidates also are slated for the ballot. Here’s the point: If each of them gets, say, one to three percentage points, what effect might that have on the numbers for the top three? Hard to say, making this race all the harder to predict.

Both of those same offices also feature Democratic contested primaries, three contenders for each. These contests are not especially predictable either. In the governor’s race, either A.J. Balukoff - because he was the party’s nominee for the office four years ago - or Paulette Jordan - an incumbent legislator who has picked up a lot of attention in recent weeks - seems likely to win. But that race too does not seem settled yet.

Even lieutenant governor, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction drew Democratic primary contests this time. Party leaders may wish the contenders had been spread out among a few more offices. Still, all these contests taken together, even if none look now to be particularly high profile, may keep a few more Democratic voters home voting in their own elections rather than crossing over to vote on the Republican side.

Democrats weren’t especially heavily represented, however, among the legislative contests. There, the numbers seem not especially different from filings in most recent years, with exceptions in some places.

More action did show up in District 2, one of the most rock-ribbed right-leaning sectors of Idaho, and one of the House seats there actually has a competitive Democratic primary. This is a district Democrats often have let go in recent cycles, so the results will be worth watching, despite the big challenge they face.

Once again, the purplish District 15 in western Ada County, which has voted consistently Republican through the decade but by ever-shrinking margins, will be worth a watch. Once again, Democrat Steve Berch is back to take another crack at a House seat in the area; he has lost a string of elections, but he keeps edging closer.

A surface reading of the filings suggests that not a lot will change in the makeup of the Idaho Legislature next term. There are notable retirements, such as that of the two co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. But the group photo, and overall partisan makeup, of the legislature next time may not be a lot different from what it is today.

Unless it so happens that the voters decide otherwise, which they could do. But bear in mind that 44 of the 105 seats effectively have been conceded to Republicans - those are seats with only Republican or minor-party candidates filing - unless someone runs a write-in campaign at the primary election. (Three seats currently have no Republican candidates.)

In another area, in the “surprising by its quiet” category, there’s just one judicial contest in the whole state this year, and that for filling a judicial vacancy. 5th District Judge Randy Stoker died in January, and four candidates have filed to replace him.

Below the top of the ballot, and whatever the interest level nationally, this may be not by an especially noisy election year in Idaho.