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Posts published in April 2018

An attack on Medicaid and more


The Trump administration is supporting a major policy shift on Indian health programs which could result in a loss of millions of dollars and sabotage treaty rights.

A story in Politico Sunday raised the issue. It said “the Trump administration contends the tribes are a race rather than separate governments, and exempting them from Medicaid work rules — which have been approved in three states and are being sought by at least 10 others — would be illegal preferential treatment. ‘HHS believes that such an exemption would raise constitutional and federal civil rights law concerns,’ according to a review by administration lawyers,” Politico said.

The new policy on Medicaid work requirements “does not honor the duty of the federal government to uphold the government-to-government relationship and recognize the political status enshrined in the Constitution, treaties, federal statutes, and other federal laws, said Jacqueline Pata, executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. “Our political relationship is not based upon race.”

“The United States has a legal responsibility to provide health care to Native Americans,” Mary Smith, who was acting head of the Indian Health Service during the Obama administration and is a member of the Cherokee Nation, told Politico. “It’s the largest prepaid health system in the world — they’ve paid through land and massacres — and now you’re going to take away health care and add a work requirement?”

Medicaid has become a key funding stream for the Indian health system -- especially in programs managed by tribes and non-profits. Medicaid is a state-federal partnership and public insurance. The Affordable Care Act expanded Medicaid eligibility, but the Supreme Court ruled that each state could decide whether or not to expand. Since the expansion of Medicaid some 237,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives in 19 states have become insured.

Officially Medicaid represents 13 percent of the Indian Health Service’s $6.1 billion budget (just under $800 million).

But even that number is misleading because it does not include money collected from third-party billing from tribal and non-profit organizations. In Alaska, for example, the entire Alaska Native health system is operated by tribes or tribal organizations and the state says 40 percent of its $1.8 billion Medicaid budget is spent on Alaska Native patients. That one state approaches the entire “budgeted” amount for Medicaid.

Other states report similar increases. Kaiser Family Foundation found that in Arizona, one tribally-operated health system reported that about half of visits were by patients covered by Medicaid in 2016. And, an Urban Indian Health Program, reported that its uninsured rate at one clinic fell from 85 percent before the Affordable Care Act to under 10 percent.

Those Medicaid (and all insurance) dollars are even more significant because by law they remain with local service units where the patient is treated (and the insurance is billed). In Alaska more than two-thirds of those dollars are spent on private sector doctors and hospitals through purchased care for Alaska Native patients. And, unlike IHS funds, Medicaid is an entitlement. So if a person is eligible, the money follows.

A recent report by Kaiser Health News looked at Census data and found that 52 percent of residents in New Mexico’s McKinley County have coverage through the Medicaid. That’s the highest rate among U.S. counties with at least 65,000 people. “The heavy concentration of Medicaid in this high-altitude desert is a result of two factors: the high poverty rate and the Indian Health Service’s relentless work to enroll patients in the program,” Kaiser reported. Most of McKinley County is located on the Navajo and Zuni reservations.

Kaiser Health News said Medicaid has opened up new opportunities for Native patients to “get more timely care, especially surgery and mental health services. It has been vital in combating high rates of obesity, teen birth, suicide and diabetes, according to local health officials.”

However the growth of Medicaid is resulting in unequal care for patients in the Indian health system. The benefits in some states, including those that expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, are more generous. Other states not only refused to expand Medicaid and have been adding new restrictions such as requiring “able-bodied” adults to have their Medicaid eligibility contingent on work.

But the Indian health system -- the federal Indian Health Service and tribally and nonprofit operated programs -- are in a special case because there is a 100 percent federal match for most services. So states set the rules, but do not have to pay the bill. (Medicaid is often the second largest single item in a state budget behind public schools.)

Medicaid is the largest health insurance program in America, insuring one in five adults, and many with complex and long-term chronic care needs. The Trump administration and many state legislatures controlled by Republicans see Medicaid as a welfare program. While most Democrats view it simply as a public health insurance program.

Work rules are particularly challenging for Indian Country. Unlike other Medicaid programs, patients in the Indian health system will still be eligible to receive basic care. So stricter rules will mean fewer people will sign up for Medicaid and the Indian Health Service -- already significantly underfunded -- will have to pick up the extra costs from existing appropriations. That will result in less money, and fewer healthcare services, across the board.

A letter from the Tribal Technical Advisory Group for Medicare and Medicaid said American Indians and Alaska Natives “are among the nation’s most vulnerable populations, and rely heavily on the IHS for health care. However, the IHS is currently funded at around 60 percent of need, and average per capita spending for IHS patients is only $3,688.” The latest per person cost for health care nationally is $10,348 (totalling $3.3 trillion, nearly 20 percent of the entire economy).

The tribal advisory group said it is “critically important” that there be a blanket exemption for IHS beneficiaries from the mandatory work requirements.

A report in September by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that the majority of American Indians and Alaska Natives on Medicaid already work, yet continue to face high rates of poverty. It said over three-quarters of American Indians and Alaska Natives are in working families, but that’s a gap of about 8 percent compared to other Americans (83 percent).

The Trump administration’s characterization of tribal health programs as “race-based” is particularly troubling to tribal leaders because it would reverse historical precedence.

A memo last month from the law firm of Hobbs, Straus, Dean & Walker said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “has ample legal authority to single out IHS beneficiaries for special treatment in administering the statutes under its jurisdiction if doing so is rationally related to its unique trust responsibility to Indians. Under familiar principles of Indian law, such actions are political in nature, and as a result do not constitute prohibited race based classifications. This principle has been recognized and repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court and every Circuit Court of Appeals that has considered it, and has been extended to the actions of Administrative Agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services even in the absence of a specific statute.”

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a Shoshone-Bannock tribal citzen. On Twitter: @TrahantReports Cross posted on Indian Country Today.

Pot, meet kettle


Over the 40 years I’ve been involved in politics I’ve come to loathe negative campaign ads.

They demean the process and cheapen it. They thrive on distortion, half-truths and outright lies. They are proof positive that, because they are covered by free speech, one can make any charge and it doesn’t have to be factual or even close to the truth.

Many years ago when the young Lyndon Johnson was an aide to a Texas congressman running for re-election the congressman repeatedly charged his opponent with something and LBJ knew it wasn’t true. Finally he confronted his boss with continually repeating what he knew wasn’t true.

The congressman’s terse response was “let him deny it.” He knew if his opponent denied it the story would carry for another day. That’s the essence of negative campaigning in a nutshell. Put your opponent on the defensive and make his to deny a charge no matter how ridiculous.

I’d like to think that people want to know what a candidate is for, not how rotten his opponent is. Unfortunately, voters are easily manipulated for the record shows negative ads often work because people like to believe the worst about others.

Last week I was ready to convey the character award to Brad Little until I saw that in response to a negative ad by Tommy Ahlquist, Little decided he had to go negative. How disappointing and we’re all losers, for the truth gets lost and trampled in the process.

Little’s ads were every bit as distortive as Tommy’s. Shame on them both. Little’s ad was a classic list of guilt by association and false syllogisms. Follow this twisted logic full of false syllogisms:

Ahlquist gave $5000 to his good friend A.J. Balukoff’s race for governor. He is immediately tagged as a DEMOCRAT in sheep’s clothing (Better keep a good eye on those herds of sheep you run, Brad). Ahlquist also gave a like amount to Governor Otter’s campaign, but of course that’s not mentioned..
Ahlquist is a Republican and he is running for the GOP nomination. Makes no difference to Little’s campaign consultants.

The $5k to AJ means he is a Democrat and by golly he gave at a time when Obama and Pelosi were trying to take away our 2nd amendment gun rights. Don’t you see the connection?

Oh, and let’s be sure and punish Ahlquist for not supporting Trump during the primaries but rather someone else, Ahlquist should be commended for recognizing Trump is not qualified to be president and readily and honestly answering a question. Instead he is held up to ridicule. It’s a known fact that privately Little has said some less than nice things about the President.

Then there are the code words - Ahlquist is a liberal, a big spender and he wants to tax everything he can. Not one shred of evidence supports any of that.

Come on Brad, give me a break. Both your ads and Tommy’s are beneath both of you. Stick to the issues and quit panderng to the lowest common denominator of the voters about cutting more taxes. That’s a code phrase for further cuts to education. Idaho is near last in per pupil support by a state as you well know and the U of I is cutting core classes. Yet you all piously say you support public education.

Your portraying yourself as a conservative tax cutter just doesn’t ring true. You and Tommy and Raul are all capable of debating issues. So eschew the negative and get back on the positive path.

There’s only one gubernatorial ad campaign out there that is all positive. It is Balukoff’s and if he sticks to the high road whoever wins the GOP nomination just might see the crown slip away in November.

What happened to law and order?


When I was growing up in the Republican party, I learned the lesson of responsible fiscal policy by heart - government must live within its means. That did not mean government could refuse or neglect to perform services or fund programs that were required by the constitution because Republicans were not law breakers. And, we believed the law required the funding of programs necessary for public safety unless there was a serious financial crisis at hand.

The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor seem to have forgotten that critical government programs can’t be provided if they are not funded. All three of them praise the state tax cut recently enacted into law, while calling for additional tax relief and reduced spending. There is little explanation of how this can be accomplished without ignoring the laws of this good State.

Mr. Labrador has fixated on the number 5, calling for a 5% across-the-board reduction in the budget of every State agency (unless an agency can prove it needs more), along with cutting income and sales taxes to 5%. Dr. Ahlquist pledges to cut government spending by $100 million within 100 days of taking office, while also cutting taxes. Brad Little is calling for tax and spending cuts.

It is not as if the Legislature has been throwing money around like an intoxicated person. Since the 2008 recession, state agency budgets have been cinched tight, squeezing out existing fat. There may be a few wasteful dollars here and there, but not nearly enough to allow massive tax and spending cuts.

As a matter of fact, the State has failed to carry out its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate funding for a number of programs. The most glaring example relates to Article 9, section 1 of the Idaho Constitution, which requires the State to provide a thorough system of public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court has held on several occasions that the State is shirking this constitutional obligation. The Legislature has increased funding for school budgets in recent years, but admits it is still violating the law. Aside from operational funds, the State of Idaho is also obligated to provide substantial funding for school facilities--the bricks and mortar--so that Idaho kids have an atmosphere conducive to learning. That doesn’t happen in dilapidated school buildings.

The State is also constitutionally required to provide an adequate system for the defense of indigent criminal defendants. It is no secret that Idaho is not meeting its responsibility in that regard. Some progress has been made in the last year but the State still has a long way to go to meet its constitutional responsibility.

Many of Idaho’s roads and bridges are dangerous and in serious need of repair. We have committed future revenues to do some of this work through issuance of GARVEE bonds, but that simply is nowhere near enough to do the job. Public safety is at risk.

At some point we need to realize that taxation is not a dirty word. Rather, it is a critical ingredient of constitutional government. State government must provide lawfully-mandated programs and services, which includes raising sufficient revenue to pay for them. Responsible candidates for offices of public trust do not promise to do what they should know is impossible. If candidates contend they can fulfill their lawful responsibilities while continually whacking away at revenues, they should explain exactly how that can be accomplished.

Oh yes, it’s different


“He’s 92 and I’m 88 and we’d like a divorce,” she said.
The attorney asked, “Why did you wait so long?”
Said she, “We didn’t want to do it when the kids were alive.”

Disgusting, right? A bit sick, too? Yep. But, when you live in one of three adjoining 55+ communities comprised of about 90,000 seniors, you hear “jokes” like that. Few folks seem to take offense and often have one to give back.

Though we moved here when I was past four score years, we’ve learned a lot about retirement we never knew. Things no amount of “due diligence” visiting would have uncovered unless you lived here awhile.

For example, normal driving here doesn’t exist. It’s rubber tired bumper cars. Our insurance rate went up 40% - same car - same driver. Most companies use zip codes in their factoring of rates. After six months here, it’s easy to see why we got a hike.

As I said, I’ve passed four score years. But, we got a new state driver’s licenses with no written or behind-the-wheel testing. So did everybody else it seems. Crazy! So, pick a violation. Aw, go on. Pick an imaginary driving aberration. You can’t come up with one we haven’t seen. Daily.

Despite the fact a lot of our major roads are six lanes wide - excellent roads - many oldsters drive “souped up” golf carts. Hundreds and hundreds of ‘em. Not your usual country club variety. No Sir! These have been updated with “mechanical steroids” to go 30 mph! Seat belts, mirrors and (unused) turn signals added. State licensing and liability insurance required. Imagine yourself sharing those six lanes with these miniature hotrods being driven by 80-somethings.

Church is interesting, too. At ours, the director of our wonderful music program is a pro. Stickler for detail in everything. When he wants the choir to stand or sit, he wants them to all move at the same time. Boom! But, with a couple of dozen hip and knee replacement choristers in their 80's, the ups and downs look more like exposed cylinder heads in an idling Chevy V-8.

“Snowbirds” are a pain for permanent residents. “Birds” come from all over - even Europe and Asia. Canadian “birds”can only stay for six months so they’re usually here first - come down in September. Rest arrive in October and leave in April/May.

When “birds” are here, tee times at the dozens of golf courses in the area are booked out days-weeks in advance. Lines at theaters and restaurants are never-ending. When your gas gauge is on “empty,” you’ll make eight loops around the gas pumps looking for a spot. Beards can grow just while waiting in checkout lines.

The better grocery stores are an experience. Because folks come from all over, shelves are stocked with not only the usual wares found at Safeway or Fred Meyer, but with larger kosher and outsized Hispanic departments. Even Norwegian and Swedish. For the Michigan-Minnesota-Dakota crowd. And, for those who want a little more in a shopping experience, one of our local markets has a large wine and beer bar right in the middle of the store. Opens each morning at eight and seating goes on until evening. Nice rest stop between frozen foods on one wall and bakery across the huge store on the other. And you meet the nicest people. Usually after you’ve been there awhile.

Almost no residential grass here. Which attracted me. Fool! Most “lawns” are crushed rock with citrus trees and cactus for greenery. What we didn’t expect is that the rock needs to be “raked” because, somehow, it moves. People walking leave footprints or kick it up. Our resident coyote leaves the extract of his digestive tract. Birds, too. Rain (yes, rain) exposes the black vapor barrier. Underground digging critters leave holes and unexpected gravel piles. The yardwork may be different. But it’s still damned yardwork!

Unusual businesses. Rabid rightwing politics. Very different utility practices from the Northwest. Unusual ecology efforts for- well - unusual ecology. More grist for future columns.

Oh yes, there is this one other thing. Nearly every building material for houses and all other buildings for dozens of square miles is stucco. Top to bottom. And, nearly all are the same color - tan. Entire subdivisions of tan stucco. Far as you can see. Every subdivision. Every where.

Makes it damned hard to find your way home after a grocery trip. And an extended layover at that wine bar.

Idaho Briefing – April 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for April 16. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Campaigns for major office in Idaho roared ahead this week, with a number of major debates in many of the top contests held, and a string of new television spots released. Little additional polling has surfaced, however.

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has approved routes for segments of the Gateway West electric transmission line project on public lands in southwestern Idaho, connecting previously authorized routes in southern Wyoming and eastern Idaho. The project will improve the nation’s energy infrastructure and boost the economy in the Pacific Northwest and Intermountain West.

State regulators have approved a settlement agreement in a case involving the relicensing of Idaho Power’s largest hydropower complex. The settlement allows approximately $216.5 million in expenditures related to the relicensing of the Hells Canyon Complex to be designated as prudently incurred and eligible for inclusion in customer rates at a later date.

The Idaho State Board of Education on April 19 voted to increase tuition and fees for fulltime undergraduate resident and nonresident students at each of Idaho’s four-year institutions effective in fall 2018.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dipped to 2.9 percent in March, ending a six-month run of 3 percent and remaining at low levels last seen in 2007 and 2008. The state’s labor force – the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work – increased by 1,646 from February to March for an all-time record high of 848,097.

The Salmon-Challis National Forest announced they will be extending the comment period on the Wild and Scenic River Draft Eligibility Report to July 16, 2018. The Forest was originally seeking comment by May 4.

Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has been very open about his support for Lt. Governor Brad Little, and on April 10 he makes his endorsement official.

One of Pocatello’s busiest intersections will be getting a facelift. Starting April 23, crews will begin work on the intersection of East Alameda Road, Jefferson Avenue, Hiline Road, and Pocatello Creek Road.

PHOTO As soil temperatures rise and snow melts, reforestation efforts are underway on private lands burned in the 2015 Clearwater Complex Fire. The Idaho Department of Lands in partnership with the Idaho County Soil and Water Conservation District is leading the tree replanting effort. Approximately 27,000 Ponderosa Pine seedlings were just planted on 90 acres of private land in the Lolo Creek drainage. The seedlings are part of a larger project that will bring more than 130,000 seedlings to private forestlands hardest hit by the 2015 catastrophic fires in the Clearwater basin. The project targets non-industrial private lands that are at extreme risk of landslides, insect and disease outbreaks, and weed invasions post-fire. (image/Department of Lands)

Braggarts and liars


Most of us have an innate dislike for braggarts when we bump into one. They are an all too familiar figure from our high school days. They tend mostly to be insecure males who want to draw attention to themselves by telling everyone how smart they are or what a great athlete they are, or how many girls they’ve dated.

Usually there is someone who has the ability to issue a quick put down and pops their balloon. I thought about this the other day as I read another report that once again First District Congressman Raul Labrador was claiming to be the only Republican running for governor with integrity. Someone ought to pop his inflated ego.

Voters beware when any candidate starts trying to claim the moral high ground. Usually, with a little digging one easily discovers the feet of clay. We’ve come to expect one candidate to claim he or she is more capable to lead or has a better program ready to implement, but when one claims more integrity and in effect says he or she is morally superior one sees an adult form of the old insecure high school braggart.

So, Mr. Integrity, would you care to explain to the voters why you carried your wife on the office payroll for years? Some seriously questioned how much real work she did for that compensation. Critics saw it as a thinly disguised effort to supplement household income.

Or go ahead and explain why you supported a hard right conservative to enter the Second District primary and try to take out their popular representative, fellow Republican Mike Simpson? That was a real profile in courage and did so much for delegation unity. You ever heard the expression “people in glass houses shouldn’t cast stones?” And what was Reagan’s 11th Commandment?

In the Idaho where I was raised we were taught not to brag, that if we did something noteworthy let someone else comment. Deeds speak more loudly than words and where I was raised we always appreciated the humble person who knows virtue is its own reward. Its called third party verification. Oh, I forgot---you were raised in Puerto Rico and Las Vegas. Correct?

Equally disappointing and certainly reflective of the”character” issue is a television ad that doctor/developer Tommy Ahlquist is running that does a hatchet job on Lt. Gov. Brad Little. This ad is so full of falsehoods it does allow one to question just what kind of character, if any, Ahlquist has.

The ad accuses Little of supporting a gas tax increase. Not true. It accuses Little of advocating a property tax increase. Not true. The ad accuses Little of helping himself to a 22% pay increase. Not true.

It refers to Little as a career politician. Since when is a job as a part-time state senator and a part-time Lt. Governor somehow morph into a full-time career political job?

Candidates are supposed to personally testify that they have signed off on the ad. This one is so bad one has to believe Ahlquist casually signed off on what his campaign aides put in front of him and didn’t ask any pointed questions.

That does not augur well for his being a hands on detailed oriented governor if elected, does it?

Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan once wrote a fine little book entitled “When Character Was King.” Character, like integrity, cannot be self-proclaimed. One is perceived by others either to have it or not.

Voters do assess a candidate for high office and whether they have character for it is easier to posit trust in a governor we believe to be trustworthy.

So far in the contest for the GOP gubernatorial nomination (i.e., the next governor) there is one clear leader in the character category---Lt. Governor Brad Little.

Judge for yourself and watch the three debate on Idaho Public Television at 8 p.m. Monday night, April 23rd.

A Meridian milestone


This seems too significant a milestone in Idaho history to go unheralded - and noted for what Idaho is becoming.

From the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS), on Tuesday:

“In 1990, the City of Meridian had a population of less than 10,000. Today we estimate a population of 106,410 – a leap of more than 10-fold in 28 years, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.”

That’s not exactly an official number, since it isn’t a U.S. Census statistic, but it’s probably pretty close. Likely it means that after the 2020 census, Meridian will be reported with a population well over 100,000, and Nampa, which will be in third place among Idaho cities, has a good chance of clearing 100,000 as well. (Below that the numbers will fall steeply, down to Idaho Falls at probably about 65,000.)

The city on top, Boise, now is estimated at 232,300 people.

This means those three largest cities, all within a few miles of each other, between them will be home to nearly a half-million people. But even that understates the picture, since COMPASS also estimates the current overall population of Ada and Canyon counties at 688,110. At the current growth rate, if that number is a good estimate, then those two counties may account for close to 750,000 people by the time of the next census.

Idaho’s total population is now estimated at 1.75 million by the Census. If COMPASS is right, then Ada and Canyon alone now account for 39.3 percent of the state’s population. In, say, 1980, that percentage was 27.1 percent.

Put another way, Ada and Canyon together are becoming a much bigger piece of the Idaho population. A generation ago, it accounted for about a quarter of the Idaho population; not many years from now, it may account for half. This is a long-term trend, and it will change Idaho.

What does the future of Idaho look like?

Look at Meridian. When I came to Idaho in the early 70s, Meridian’s population was under 6,000 people; now, you have to add 100,000 to that. They live mostly in a vast expanse of subdivisions and other housing developments.

What has generated that development? At core, it isn’t business or government growth. Lots of businesses and government (and educational and health facilities) have sprouted, but they’re mostly there to service the people who moved to the area. These people moved to a sprawling field of suburbia, a relatively affordable place with lots of new housing and new services. It is a bedroom community, serving the nearby area and its own internal growth.

Don’t expect this to end soon. In the new book (put together by the Association of Idaho Cities and which - disclosure here - I published) called Idaho’s 200 Cities, Meridian saw its future this way: “By 2050 Meridian’s population will more than double with many of its boundaries abutting those of neighboring cities.” That does not sound like an unreasonable projection from where we are now.

The smaller-population areas of Idaho that also have been growing quickly - around Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene, for example - are similar: Suburbs that look a lot like Meridian.

The people of Idaho were once, in large part, cowboys, farmers, miners and loggers. Some still are, but increasingly they are suburbanites. Look upon Meridian, and see Idaho’s future.

The new independents


In the 1960’s over 90% of all voters identified as Democratic or Republican. Today 42% of voters identify as independent.

These independent voters are still more likely to support Democratic or Republican policies. So as rational voters in a two party system they still consistently lean towards one legacy party or another. Which means the growing number of independent voters isn’t all due to policy differences with the Democrats and Republicans. So why are voters who consistently vote no Republican or Democrat policies not joining those party? Something is happening.

American democracy also has foundational values largely informed by the enlightenment. Though it’s true that we have too often fallen short of achieving or honoring these values, these are still American democracy foundational values even if imperfect in implementation. When our government works best, it has adhered to American democracy foundational values. The rights of the minority; hard work; honoring public service ; the democratic process; fairness; equality; equal economic opportunity; justice; fair play.

So how does a person – a voter – react when a political group whose policies she generally supports no longer honors some of the important fundamental moral foundations and American democracy foundation values? It seems logical that they’d quit that organization, though in our two party system, they’d still continue voting in a logical pattern in support if the party candidates due to policy position.

In other words, you’d see the party affiliation trends we are now experiencing. Growing numbers of independents, reducing membership in the Democratic and Republican (legacy) Parties.

The American Values Voter

Today’s independent voter is the modern American values voter. We are identified by the weight we place on moral foundations and American democracy foundational values when making political decisions. Not that partisan voters ignore these foundational values, but there key differences between American values voters and many legacy party partisan voters.

Partisans give more weight than independents to loyalty to the party rather than the moral foundational value voters. Independent American value voters have freed themselves from the loyalty to party value so give more weight to whether a particular candidate adheres to our moral foundations and American democracy foundational values. Polling showed for instance that independent American values voters were reluctant to vote for Roy Moore even if they were closer to him on policy matters. Republican Partisans believed it was more important to have a Republican in the Senate and were willing to overlook his serious violation of moral foundational values.

That’s not to say that policy isn’t important to Independent American values voters or that moral foundational values aren’t important to partisans. But American values voters do care more about how a candidate incorporates moral foundational values and American democracy values into their candidacy, relationships and actions. In fact, for many, it’s the most important trait of a candidate. Modern American values voters can accept a candidate that has a different position than we do on school vouchers perhaps, but we’re unlikely to support a candidate who agrees with us on vouchers but ridicules the rule of law in a tweet.

Some Defining Characteristics of the American Value voter

American values voters may be clustered around the traditional political center, but they also include very liberal and very conservative voters who understand the importance of our American democracy foundational values and their importance to our Democratic institutions.

Core characteristics of the modern American value voter could include:

Fairness and justice: Today party operatives and political advisers – the political industry – have largely ignored fairness and honesty. They use technology, the media, voting barriers and importantly the inherent weakness of our election architecture that allows just two political parties to challenge for power, to divide us into two tribes using hate, anger and fear. They find more success by making us distrust and fear anyone not part of our tribe. Modern Values voters are disgusted by the political games that have undermined our democracy. (In a recent Pew Research poll, they found 71% of Republicans and 63% of Democrats cite the harm from the opposing party’s policies as a major reason to affiliate with their party.)

Character: Protecting minority interests requires the powerful to have good will and to act fairly. Negotiating with your loyal opposition requires honesty. Being a part of the opposition caucus requires loyalty to our democratic institutions. Asking Americans to sacrifice requires the willingness to self sacrifice. Elected officials who lack character seldom veer from established party dogma because doing so may create a primary revolt from the zealot party activist base motivated by fear and anger. Honest disagreement within a party based on a matter of conscience or character or legitimate disagreement on fact is a rare thing today.

Loyalty to American values, Country over party: Independent Value voters honor our democratic process and our men and women in uniform. Most independents recognize and admit to the flaws of our country, including the greatest flaw – America’s original sin – but we also recognize our strengths of institutions, and our people. Importantly, Independent American values voters believe in country over party. They reject tribalism and are loyal to all peoples of America and not just the “ingroup” represented by party affiliation.

Authority and respect: Independents understand the value of our constitutional democratic process and institutions. That we can’t always win but we must respect the authority of the outcome. They know that an independent judiciary is vital to freedom and liberty. They respect wisdom, education, science, and institutions that have those values.

Hope and working together: As contrary as it may seem, independent modern American values voters seek to work together for the betterment of our country and world, and actually have hope in America. It may not always seem that way. Independents will vent, display frustration, or be critical of our governance and elections. But that’s because of our frustration at how the current political elite continue operate in violation of moral foundational values and American democratic values. It’s why we’ve left the legacy parties. And why we’re looking for a new path to restore moral and American democratic values.

What Impact Will American Values voters make?

Independent voters represent an unmet demand for candidates elections and processes that represent American democratic foundational values. But our current election architecture makes viable independent or third party candidacies rare and building a third party difficult because under our current first past the post voting architecture there’s really only room for two parties. There is a possibility that the Democratic or Republican party will decide to focus on character and American democratic values. But the sad fact is, tribalism and fear is more powerful than hope, and the current strategies of dividing us into tribes has worked. And from a business standpoint, no political consultant has ever lost a job by giving the same advice that every other consultant offers.

The best path may be in States that allow citizen initiatives, such as Oregon, where the people can petition for a change to their election choice architecture. This would be vehemently opposed by the entrenched political industry and the Democratic and Republican Party leadership. In Maine the people passed Ranked Choice voting by initiative and both legacy party leadership did all they could to subvert the reforms. But, a modern American value movement could use States as proving grounds for different reforms. There are plenty of new values voters who would support such a path if they could be organized to contribute, walk, talk and work.

The need and demand is out there. Americans have always been innovators. We need some political innovation right now.



It is an old gambit if there are many candidates for the same public office. One has to figure out how to separate themselves from the others.

Some use gimmicks like inflatable dragons. Others campaign with a country music or a rock ‘n roll band. Some hand out pens or hot pads. Still others make outrageous statements.

Such was the case last week with State Senator Bob Nonini (R-3rd)who is one seven faceless, obscure candidates running for the Republican nomination for Lt. Governor. Speaking in Moscow to an anti-abortion gathering, Nonini gave them more red meat than any reasonable person should.

In a beyond the pale statement Nonini said any woman who had an abortion should be executed and any one aiding and abetting should be imprisoned. No if’s, and’s or but’s; no exemptions for rape, incest, or life of the mother. Really, Senator?

If you really believe that, Senator, shouldn’t the guy that got the gal pregnant also be executed? I mean, it takes two to tango without taking protective steps or are you one of those who thinks the woman bears all the responsibility?

Last time I checked, Senator, there are more women voters than men and I think your incredibly absurd statement may have cost you 95% of the Republican female vote even in your home county.

Yes, life begins at conception. And yes government has an obligation to protect life. And yes abortion is deplorable, immoral and a sin. And yes it is wrong and tragic but you should know by now that legislatures cannot pass legislation that covers every contingency. Beginning of life and end of life decisions are intensely personal and private. They should be left in the hands of the family most especially the woman whose body is involved.

You see abortion as murder of the child in the womb. The law does not agree. To propose another murder as the “solution” is just borderline insane. It is not a responsible response.

You have succeeded in separating yourself from the pack, as you desired. However, most voters I’m willing to bet will not mark the ballots for someone that argues “eye for an eye.” You in all probability disqualified yourself. Consider withdrawing.

Will young Americans rescue us?


Until I stepped into a few classrooms last October, I had the impression that today’s high school kids were just interested in weird music and various types of social media. After visiting classes of Cindy Wilson at Capital High and Sharon Hanson at Boise High, I came away greatly impressed.

The kids were well informed on current affairs, asked relevant questions, and made thoughtful comments. It gave me hope for our country--that perhaps we could get back to debating without trying to shout over one another, that we might be witnessing a generation willing to exercise leadership and common sense to solve seemingly intractable problems. It was not just how the students handled themselves in the classroom, but also what they said in written comments they submitted to these fine teachers afterwards. I received the comments and they are a real treasure.

I spoke to all of Mrs. Wilson’s government classes, leaving plenty of time for interaction with the kids. Questions and comments from the students dealt with every major issue facing the country, including the cost of college, climate change, refugee policy, guns, national debt, net neutrality, political discourse, public service, war, peace, and you name it. A recurring theme was that these issues should be debated back and forth, without rancor, and then be resolved through thoughtful compromise.

Incidentally, since I spoke to her classes, Mrs. Wilson has thrown her hat in the governmental ring and is running for the office of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction. From what I saw, she would be a good one. I expect she is an inspiration to her students.

I spoke to one of Mrs. Hanson’s classes and had the same experience--smart, well-informed and thoughtful students. She introduced me to the Boise High Humanitarian Club, a large group of socially aware students whose purpose is to make a difference for the good in their community and country. I was so impressed with the Club that I invited its President, Therese Etoka, to help with a speaking engagement I had with a local service club. She was a big hit with the group.

What the experience taught me is that we need to ensure that all schools around the state emphasize the value of civics education so kids can learn how our government works and understand how individuals can and should make a difference. We need to make sure that each school has dedicated teachers like Mrs. Wilson and Mrs. Hanson and that they are valued for the important job they do.

It is incumbent upon the state to adequately fund schools across the state, to provide classrooms that are safe and conducive to learning, and to provide a curriculum that looks to the future, not the past. The Idaho Constitution requires us to provide “a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” We can’t do that by continually hovering near last place in the nation in per-student school expenditures. Idaho is in clear violation of its constitutional responsibility.

We have students who are smart, motivated, and willing to work for the betterment of society. The state needs to support and encourage them in every classroom in the state, whether urban or rural, so they can do their part in cleaning up the mess we are leaving them.