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Posts published in August 2018

Statewide funding for charters?


Charter School Facility Funding could be a state-wide solution. Idaho currently has two ways of supporting public school facility funding.

Charter schools receive a fixed amount per year based on their enrollment and what districts raise. The state has allowed districts to run bond elections that need a 2/3rds majority to pass. This uneven playing field does not satisfy the constitutional requirement that education in Idaho be “free, common and uniform”.

My town is blessed with a great public-school district. The district sponsored the first charter school in the state. When another charter school applied to the district for sponsorship, the district deferred. The state charter commission was established and now charter schools are sponsored from Boise, not locally. So, our town has the public-school district, a district charter school and a state commission sponsored charter school.

The state-based charter school recently announced they have plans to build a new facility. This will be funded through a system established by the legislature in 2012. Charter schools receive funding for facilities straight off the top of the state-wide schools budget. The amount is tied to both enrollment and what all schools receive from local bond and levy income for their facilities and will reach a maximum amount (50%).

In 2005 the Idaho Supreme Court declared the way public schools have to raise money for facilities unconstitutional and expected the legislature to solve this problem. The legislature has done nothing to solve this. But they sure solved it for charter schools.

Full disclosure, I was in the Idaho Senate when this was debated and voted on. I voted against this scheme. A colleague posed a question during floor debate: “If this is such a good idea for how to fund facilities, why not extend it to all schools?” There was no answer from the sponsor. But it’s a valid question.

The Supreme Court’s decision that school facility funding is unconstitutional was based on the wide variation from district to district we see in support for facilities. Bond elections are brutal; a high bar to clear and tax bases vary dramatically. The Idaho Constitution requires a common, free and uniform education for all. Automatically giving charter schools a fixed percentage for facilities based on the amount local districts have to sweat blood for is unfair and clearly unconstitutional. Basing all schools’ facility funding on enrollment is very fair and uniform.

We have a solution staring us in the face. There is a legislative interim committee studying the “school funding formula”. Ask them why they haven’t considered this solution. Keep in mind, the vast majority of school funding goes to pay people to teach our kids, not build classrooms. But our current system that takes from paying teachers in all classrooms to help only charter schools with their building needs is unfair, unconstitutional and bogus. Expand the enrollment-based funding for facilities to all schools. This would provide more uniform facilities, lower local property taxes and satisfy our constitutional duty. What’s good for charters schools should be good enough for all. Let’s be fair.

Building a perfect storm


What would it take for Democrat Paulette Jordan to win the governorship in November over Republican Brad Little?

You might inquire in response, why ask? Little is heavily favored to win, right? And yes he is; and none of what follows should be interpreted to the contrary. But likely is not the same as certainty. Just ask all those prognosticators about their 2016 presidential estimates.

In a batch of conversations around southern Idaho this last week, with some well-informed people in both parties, a common perspective emerged, which might be useful to consider as the campaign season unfolds.

First, the most favorable estimates of a Jordan win put it at about 10 percent: One chance in ten. Others figure the prospect at around five percent. No one went much lower than that, which means a consensus view that she has a small but not insignificant chance of winning.

They gave her a better chance than other recent Democratic nominees. Most people I talked to (opinions were not divided along party lines) thought Jordan was likely to get either the best percentage for governor, or nearly the best, of any Democratic nominee since Cecil Andrus in 1990. Most estimated percentages for her in the low to mid-40s; several thought percentages around 45 or 46 were plausible. That would imply a seriously close contest.

Why? One reason is that she’s a strong campaigner. Most than most Idaho candidates, she has presence and draws immediate attention where she goes, and voters tend to respond to that - and react to the response. The people I talked to in both parties had strong favorable opinions of Little - his character, knowledge of issues and of the state, skill as a leader, and overall probability that he’d be a good governor - except when it came to his role as a campaigner. There his skills were less obvious; he’s not the natural campaigner the current governor has always been. We’re now entering a space in the cycle where that may matter.

Both Jordan and Little emerged from contested primaries. But most people - not everyone but most - thought Little was at greater risk of losing some of his own party’s base because of dissatisfaction with the outcome of the primary. Specifically, the thought was that a number of backers of losing contender Raul Labrador, many of whom likely spent most of campaign season thinking their man would win the nomination, may be disgusted enough to not vote. If the election is otherwise close, that could matter. (There was some argument that dynamic could hinder Jordan too, but most thought that less likely.)

2018 may be a Democratic sweep year. That’s not a certainty, and political waves don’t splash the same everywhere; the waves in Idaho probably would be more like ripples than a tsunami. It would not, for example, come anywhere close to turning the Idaho Legislature Democratic; but a shift of five or six seats (out of 105) toward the Democrats might be a realistic prospect. That could slosh upward, adding a little more to the Jordan column.

Aside from national trends, there’s a local issue that could matter: The Medicaid expansion ballot slot. That might have the effect of drawing out a significant number of Democratic-leaning voters, and become a real factor in races that otherwise are close.

There’s also a strategic risk Little has to watch out for. His message and approach logically would involve staying relentlessly positive, making the affirmative case for the current administration and sticking with the course. He’s mostly been hewing to that tack up to now - excepting a few shots fired at competitors in the primary - and it’s the smart thing to do. But … if polling shows the race tightening closely toward the end, if voters are simply in a very dissatisfied mood, there would be a temptation to improve his position by going harshly negative on Jordan - to drive up the base and change the conversation and weaken whatever momentum she has. That would be a mistake and probably would backfire. Little probably won’t go there (it’s certainly not in his native temperament). But if the race tightens, the temptation would arise, and I’ve seen any number of campaigns that have given in to it, usually to their eventual regret.

A Jordan win would take a perfect storm in an alignment of stars. The odds are against. But don’t ignore this race; the raw materials for an upset may be widely scattered but they do exist.

The debate debate


Since my last article, the Democrats and Republicans and their nominees for Oregon Governor have been busy.

Oregon Senators Nathanson (Democrat) and Boquist (Republican) asked Legislative Counsel whether Oregon Campaign Contribution laws required Debate sponsors to include all major party candidates or if not, be required to report a political contribution to the candidates they did invite. Dan Gilbert, Deputy Counsel provided an analysis that ended with:

“If the hypothetical debate (That left out Independent candidate Patrick Starnes) occurred within 60 days of the general election, we therefore believe that it would likely fall within the expanded definition of a “communication in support of or in opposition to a clearly identified candidate or measure” set forth in HB 2505. Moreover, as there are currently three major political parties in Oregon and not all of them would be invited, we believe that the requirements for the exception set forth ORS 260.007 (10) would not be met. It is likely that the media outlet would therefore have to report the value of the debate as (depending on the involvement of the participating campaigns in the debate) either an independent expenditure or a contribution to the campaigns of the two participating candidates.”

In essence, here’s LC’s opinion: We assume a debate is an “independent expenditure”. As such, the law provides that if a debate/forum occurs within 60 days of the general election (September 8, 2018), then the debate sponsors must either include all major party candidates, or report the value of the debate as an independent expenditure. That seems like a potential win for Independent Candidate Starnes. Since sponsors are typically non profits like City Club of Portland and League of Women Voters and AARP of Oregon who would be jeopardizing their non profit 501c3 status if they made an independent political expenditure. And broadcasters like KATU and KGW and OPB could violate their broadcasting licenses if they made a political expenditure.

The Independent Party fired back. Saying that the 60 day rule doesn’t apply and it doesn’t matter when the debate/forum is held, all major party candidates need to be included in debates or the sponsor must report the value of the debate. They argue that is because a debate/forum is not an independent expenditure, it’s either a coordinated expenditure, or its a contribution. If they are correct, than the 60 day rule contained in 260.005 doesn’t appear to apply.

Here is the legal language in dispute over this issue:

“an expenditure by a person for a communication in support of or in opposition to a clearly identified candidate or measure that is not made with the cooperation or with the prior consent of, or in consultation with, or at the request or suggestion of, a candidate or any agent or authorized committee of the candidate, or any political committee or agent of a political committee supporting or opposing a measure.” ORS 260.005 (10)

The BOLD language is the text the LC cited as it’s rationale as to why a debate/forum is an independent expenditure. However, the IPO points out that the LC ignored the rest of the sentence (in italics). The argument is, debates and forums are always done with the cooperation, coordination, request and suggestion of the candidates. So, it is coordinated expenditure and/or a campaign contribution.

Willamette University is organizing a forum and all the major party candidates have been invited. According to one of the organizers, the students are most excited about the appearance and inclusion of the Independent nominee.

The Oregon League of Women Voters, AARP Oregon and Portland City Club are holding a debate within 60 days of the election. (date currently uncertain) They have sent a questionnaire to all candidates for Governor asking them to prove the seriousness of their campaign and their viability and stating that they will be the final arbiters of who is included in the debate. They are calling this application to their debate an invitation. That’s sort of like telling your second grader that they need to invite all their school mates to their birthday party, then finding out that the child sent their classmates an application asking them what clothes they were planning on wearing, what type of present they would bring and asking who is included in their clique and advising that they would then be asked to come based on some subjective standard. Doesn’t really pass the smell test as an “invitation”.

But perhaps they are sending these applications out to all major and minor party candidates with the understanding that the three major party candidates have to be invited but they don’t want to single out minor party candidates for special vetting.



Dear faithful reader, friends and extended family:

It is with heavy heart I pen this note to let you know my trail ride is rapidly drawing to a close. All the sand in the hour glass of my life is about gone. Some of you may recall earlier mentions by me referencing my extraordinary good fortune in successively holding at bay for 13 years a rare form of an always fatal neuroendocrine cancer.

I was already in stage IV when diagnosed. Doctors estimated I had six months. I decided to seek a second opinion. I packaged up all my tests, my CT’s, my MRI’s, monthly blood tests, etc., and sent them to M.D. Anderson in Houston. This hospital is considered the world’s best for treating my affliction (coupled with an earlier diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease.).

To my stunning surprise they refused to see me. To their credit, they later apologized, but at the time I was pretty disgusted.

The Lord works in mysterious ways though because I ended up at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Center. A team was assembled and an aggressive counter-attack strategy developed. Whatever we did, it worked for 13 years - a miracle of modern medicine coupled with the power of prayer.

Thus, I was able to see two beautiful grandchildren born who have extraordinary talents, as well as all our children mature and happy with fulfilling employment. I also decided to get back on the stage of Idaho politics by writing a weekly public affairs column carried by five of Idaho’s newspapers. In addition, I wrote four books, two that further amplify appropriately the unmatched legacy of the former four-term Idaho Governor and Secretary of the Interior, Cecil D. Andrus.

It was my honor and privilege to work for and with him directly for nine years and indirectly for another thirty years. He was a one-man graduate school in politics. Because he valued my counsel, through him I was able to play a major behind the scenes role in shaping the strategy that ensured protection of the Alaska lands and, specific to Idaho, shape the strategy and program that ultimately would see Idaho free of all radioactive material.

My great regret is I could not persuade him to run for the presidency in 1988. To my last breath I’ll believe he could have won and would have been terrific.

As I approach the end of the trail ride, I want to focus on the future rather than the past. Though a long-time “business Democrat,” if still around in November, I intend to vote for Brad Little for governor. He is more than qualified, has paid his dues, has criss-crossed the state, knows all the issues and now that he is out from under the shadow of Governor Otter, will be free to adopt his own approach to solving the challenges.

He is especially aware of the need for Idaho to reward its teachers through better pay and to provide more state support. He knows that all Butch and the Legislature have done these last few years is shift their cuts to over-ride levies in most of the state’s school districts.

As I look to the future, I tend to be optimistic. While Idaho will never produce another Cecil Andrus, the state will continue to put forward the Brad Littles, the Len Jordans, the “Doc” Robins, the Phil Batts. All were good conservatives, but all also recognized government had a role to play in helping those who cannot help themelves.

However, it has to be done within our means. No deficit spending and then kicking the can of debt down the road for our children and grandchildren to pay off, which is what our worthless, gutless Congress has been doing.

Besides having faith in the Idaho voter, I also put great stock in the land itself. Idaho is full of scenic wonders that inspire and restore one’s soul. Even ultra-conservatives recognize the need to preserve and protect the special places people have come to cherish.

Rather than focus on my feelings and thoughts about the fading of the light, and you can rest assured I am not going gently into the dark night, I’d rather look to the future. I believe that the sun is still rising, that Idaho’s best days are yet to come and that rising sun shines over a land and its people that I have had the privilege to be part of.

Until we meet again, travel your trail with the Almighty beside you and trust God always and in all ways.