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Posts published in November 2018

And in Idaho . . .


A few preliminary thoughts about the highly nationalized election in Idaho, which was evidently less nationalized in Idaho than in many other places.

Generally, you can divide the Idaho results into big picture and granular, and the picture looks a bit different from those differing perspectives.

Big picture, not a lot changed. For major offices, Republicans won across the board as they normally have. For governor, Republican Brad Little stopped just short of 60%, which is in the ballpark of his predecessor's recent results.

The race where Democrats had the best shot, for superintendent of public instruction, fell just about where their experience from four years ago, against the same Republican opponent, would suggest - close but still short of the majority they need. In 2014 what became apparent was that a Republican firewall of just about, or just over, 50% of the vote had been put in place, and on a statewide level that seems to be pretty much still in place.

The state legislature's partisan numbers will not change greatly. There were not many flips in legislative seats. The next Idaho Legislature will look and act a lot like the last one.

That's the big partisan picture. Shift the lens a little, and you also see some other things.

The biggest was the passage of Proposition 2, Medicaid expansion, and not barely but by a landslide. The same voters overwhelmingly supported Medicaid expansion and a whole lot legislators who do not. There's a significant dissonance here, and I'll return to that soon.

The other important development - and it will merit a separate column too - concerns legislative District 15, in western Ada County.

I've argued for years that the path, if there is one, to expanding Democratic party opportunities in Idaho, is in the Ada County and Canyon County suburbs. Nationally, shifts in those suburbs are what allowed Democrats to take over the U.S. House. In Idaho, ground zero for that development is District 15, adjacent to the Boise legislative districts that have become solidly Democratic. Up to now, District 15 has seen a series of increasingly close legislative races, but Republicans have held on, election after election.

Until now. On Tuesday, the two House seats in 15 flipped from Republican to Democratic, and the Senate seat is hanging by a margin of six votes. (A recount probably is in the cards there.) For the first time since Idaho's current political environment started to lock in around 1992, the suburban wall has been breached.

Whether that will be pushed back or expanded upon is for future elections to say. But an important transition occurred there.

The 2018 election was not politically important for big, immediate, sweeping changes in the state's politics. But it may have laid some groundwork.

More on these point to come ...


It's election day. If you haven't already, you know what to do.

A billion-dollar non-solution


So, Trump is sending federal troops to the border in California and Arizona to defend us from the murderous thieves and marauding thugs that make up the approaching caravan of Guatemalan migrants. Never mind that the approaching migrants mostly consist of families and largely include women and children; that there is no indication of any element of organized crime or criminal gangs, and that all of Trump’s declared fears in this area are totally groundless – and worse, he knows it.

And never mind that the so-called caravan, which started out over 7,000 strong, has dwindled to around 3,500 and continues to shrink. It is in central Mexico now, about 800 miles from the border, and moving about 20 miles a day. Its size continues to dwindle as it moves north, with people and families dropping out either to return to Guatemala or remain in Mexico. It will be at least another month before any of them reach the U.S. border.

And never mind that this is not the first such caravan of immigrants to approach the southern border. There have been at least three earlier crowds, all of which were processed without difficulty. No one knows how many there will actually be this time, but at the present rate of attrition, the actual number will probably be well within what any of the major border crossing facilities are equipped to handle on any given day without assistance. The general consensus is that there will be no actual need for additional support at the border or in any of the other immigration control resources when this caravan actually shows up.

While we may not be sure when the approaching caravan is going to arrive, or how many there will be, Trump has announced that the troops will be at the border in time for the mid-term elections! He started out promising around 800, then upped it to 5,200, then announced Wednesday last, off the cuff and catching the Pentagon by surprise, that it might be as many as 15,000 strong. What a wonderful idea. What could possibly go wrong?

15,000 is about the size of a modern, mechanized infantry division. A division can be operational at around 10,000 and is fully staffed at 20,000. Suffice to say the modern division normally goes to field armed to the teeth with automatic and semi-automatic weapons, artillery resources, close-in air support and armor. If not actually deployed to a combat situation like Afghanistan or the middle east, the soldier in the modern division will spend his or her day at the home base in constant training to hone and keep sharp the battle skills necessary to bring this massive armament to bear if and when needed. Deployment to the border will provide very little in the way of usable training experiences – meaning the equivalent of a full infantry division is being pulled off line for a totally non-military exercise for one to two months.

In addition, everybody needs to be housed and fed and provided with transportation. The modern army no longer moves on its feet, meaning they will need all manner of ground vehicles plus airplanes and helicopters – lots of them – for everybody to get around in. This does not come cheap, with estimates of the border deployment of a month and a half or so running to $1 billion with the number at 5,200 troops, translating to costs of upwards of $3 billion if the number reaches 15,000.

Here is the clinker. The U.S. military is prohibited by law from becoming directly involved in the enforcement of domestic laws – including immigration – without specific authorization from Congress, which Trump does not have. The posse comitatus law of 1878 forbids the use of the military for domestic law enforcement. All the federal troops can do is provide logistical support to the border guards. They cannot become involved in any way with the arrest and detention of the immigrants. This is without a doubt the most expensive means Trump could have selected to provide nothing but back-up to a situation that may never develop into an actual problem.

All of the responsible voices around the old fool have told him that this is an absurd use of U.S. active duty combat soldiers. General Mattis said so in public, but the president overruled him. It has been fully exposed in reality to be 100% a political stunt aimed at the right-wing base just prior to the mid-term elections.

There is no way anything productive can come out of this. Anybody remember Kent State?

After Tuesday, what?


Well, here we are. One day out from exercising our voting franchise. At least by those who desire to do so. Twenty-four hours from finding out how things shake out politically across the country.

No more polling on this one. No more talking heads with their “best guesses” about what you and I want our nation’s governance to be for the next two years. Back to a media resurrecting regular commercials and public service announcements while corporate accountants total up the windfall from the political ad huckstering.

Yep, we’re back to normal. Not!

Like so many other thoughtful folks, I’ve no idea what normal is now or what it will be in the future. “Normal” isn’t anymore. It’s been abolished by the political catastrophe of the last couple of years. It’s been erased from our lives by the cacophony of lies, betrayal of the public trust, demagoguery on a scale we’ve never seen in our political affairs, a spineless Congress ignoring the human cost of a presidency of false witness and the widespread national racism more prominent now than ever.

What the Hell is normal now? What will it be after our votes are counted? What will the new political and societal landscapes look like on Wednesday?

Many of us have already voted - in person or by mail. For us, these last weeks have been filled with candidate noise and expensive messaging wasted at our house because we’d already made our decisions. In fact, I haven’t talked to anyone for months who hadn’t already decided who and what to vote for.

The danger in tomorrow’s voting is the widespread ignorance of candidates, issues and even process by millions of folk living under the Trump spell. They know what they know but, for many, they have no idea what they don’t know. They’ve swallowed a constant diet of lies, half-truths and fantasies cooked up by Trump and their favorite rightwing media. They listen to no one who’s messages are more grounded in reality and fact.

Example: The other night, I watched an interview of a woman in her 70's. Cherub face, big smile. Probably someone’s kindly grandma. Atop her silver hair was a stovepipe hat in red, white and blue with small America flags on either side. She was asked if she still supported Trump.

“Oh, yes,” she said excitedly. “He’s trying to protect us from all those criminals who want to cross our borders. People with MS-13 tattoos on their arms. They’ve got guns and other weapons. The President is trying his best to protect us.”

Sweet, she may be. But, absolutely divorced from the reality of the thousands of families fleeing death and violence in search of unknown and uncertain futures. Futures that might mean jails, new forms of violence and even separation. Those “criminals.”

The reporter didn’t try to correct her. Why should she? The lady was absolutely sure of her “facts.”

Trump is believed to have some 30-million supporters - many like Granny. Like the rest of us, many of them will be voting tomorrow, too. They’ll mark their ballots with certainty as we all do. They’ll want their voices heard as we all do. But, they’ll do that armed with their own “facts” created for them by Trump and the far right media barrage.

They’ll vote under the influence of a verbal “stew” of lies, racism, anti-Semitism, fear of the unknown and false prophesies. The fruit of their “reality” will go into the same universal ballot box into which we cast votes based on our version of reality. Their vote will have equal weight in the outcome. One ballot cast, we hope, informed. The other, it appears, deformed. But, equal.

So, back to the question: what will our future look like? Out of that mixture of fact versus “facts,” what will be the outcome? What will be our direction? What will be the new normal?

We’ll have the picture tomorrow. I pray it’ll be reality-based.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – November 5

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for November 5. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

We're at work trying to make the Briefing a free-access publication through contributions. See our donation site at IndieGogo.

As Idaho comes to the end of the 2018 general election campaign season, campaigns in Idaho – as in so many places around the country – come to a fever heat. A sampling of press releases from the campaigns is included in this issue.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on October 20 endorsed Proposition 2, the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative.

United States Attorney Bart M. Davis announced that Assistant United States Attorneys Jack Haycock, Ray Patricco and Traci Whelan will lead the efforts of his Office in connection with the Justice Department’s nationwide Election Day Program for the upcoming November 6, general election.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has scheduled a telephonic public hearing for a case involving the exchange of electrical assets between Avista and the Bonneville Power Administration.

A federal grand jury indicted a state-owned enterprise of the People’s Republic of China, a Taiwan company, and three individuals, charging them with crimes related to a conspiracy to steal, convey, and possess stolen trade secrets of an American semiconductor company for the benefit of a company controlled by the PRC government.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s Executive Committee focused on the study of autonomous and connected vehicles formally approved its initial report and will submit it to the Governor’s Office Nov. 1.

United States Attorney Bart M. Davis said on November 1 that his office’s Financial Litigation Unit collected more than $11.17 million in criminal restitution, fines, and assessments and in civil debts for the fiscal year that ended September 30.

Idaho State University’s faculty and President Kevin Satterlee have approved a new proposed Faculty Senate Constitution, the document that outlines the faculty’s role in shared governance at the University.

Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Mike Crapo on November 2 led a bipartisan group of their colleagues in requesting funding to modernize firefighting assets so the U.S. Forest Service can more effectively respond, in a cost-effective manner, to devastating wildfires.

The University of Idaho’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences aims to meet a growing demand for communication-related occupations by bringing back its degree in communication.

IMAGE Now in its third year, the Idaho National Laboratory-hosted Family Nuclear Science Night has found its stride, offering everything a K-12 student might want to know about fusing or splitting an atom – and much, much more. The event, held Oct. 18 the INL Meeting Center in the Energy Innovation Laboratory Building, is designed to get students interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) by offering them unique activities.. (photo/Idaho State University)

Purposely skirting the law


It is now clear that the campaign of Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan purposefully worked to establish a “shell” company in Wyoming, channel at least $20,000 through that company and kept the connections, including who has actually benefited from the campaign’s largess, secret. The convoluted effort was undertaken, the Jordan campaign acknowledges, in order to disguise the ultimate recipients of the campaign’s money. The campaign says the money went to anti-Brad Little Republican operatives who have to remain anonymous to avoid getting crossways with “their Republican patrons.”

Unpacking this subterfuge and the Jordan campaign’s shifting explanation of these shenanigans leads to a couple of obvious questions.

One question: If Jordan has been truly seeking Republican support in her underdog campaign against the GOP Lt. Governor, support she needs to win, why not do the hard work of forming a genuine “Republicans for Paulette” group? For a long time Democrats, particularly former Governor Cecil Andrus, made such efforts a lynch pin of their campaigns. I remember then-Republican Senator Steve Symms walking into my office in the Idaho Statehouse years ago and looking at a framed copy on the wall of a full-page ad featuring prominent Republicans that Andrus’s campaign had utilized during the hard fought 1986 campaign. The ad featured photos of Washington U.S. Senator Dan Evans and Idaho business titan Harry Magnuson, among others. Symms simply said, “That ad elected him.”

Rather than such a transparent, and I would argue effective, tactic, Jordan’s campaign embraced s shadowy scheme to allegedly employ disenchanted GOP operatives to dish dirt on her opponent.

A second question: Is Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law really so toothless that it permits a campaign to set up what in essence is a secret company (out of state), route money through that company and keep the ultimate recipients of the cash secret? We don’t really know for sure what the company – Roughneck Steering, Inc. – did for the campaign. We don’t know who did whatever was done and we can’t contact the firm because it’s really only a mail drop in Sheridan, Wyoming with a “registered agent” who won’t return a phone call.

When I inquired a couple of weeks ago the Jordan campaign told me that Roughneck’s agents (whomever they are) had made “polling calls” approximately “8,270 calls (in August), in September the calls were made to 9,023 Idahoans.”

But the story shifted when Jordan’s campaign manager Nate Kelly later spoke to reporter Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press. “They ended up doing a bunch of not polling, but push-polling,” Kelly said.

For those not versed in the terminology of sleazy campaign practices, a “push poll” is designed to persuade, or more often misinform, voters under the guise of being a legitimate public opinion survey. Typically a heap of entirely negative material is shared with the person getting a call in hopes of planting the notion that a certain candidate is a scoundrel. The practice is held in such low regard that it violates the code of ethics of most real pollsters.

Kelly also told Russell that Jordan’s previous campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, who resigned in September apparently to protest the campaign’s involvement with a federal political action committee, established the Wyoming shell company. Of course we can’t ask Rosenow about that because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Jordan’s campaign.

If, as the Jordan campaign says, there are “anti-Little” forces determined to damage Little’s candidacy that would be some news and would certainly underscore the deep fault lines – or perhaps just bitter animosity – that continues to exist in the Idaho GOP after Little won a tough primary in May. Of course, because the Jordan campaign won’t tell us we can’t even be sure there are mysterious GOP operatives hoping to sabotage their party’s nominee. My own checking turned up suspects, but no evidence.

Kelly rejects any suggestion that the Jordan campaign has engaged in subterfuge in order to obscure the final dispensation of campaign funds. He called Roughneck “a contracting firm” that merely processed payments to individuals who had done the actual work for the campaign. He contends such arrangements are typical in the corporate world. Kelly, a California attorney, is also the owner of another Wyoming company that has received several payments from the Jordan campaign.

Despite his role in shielding the names of those really behind Roughneck Steering, Kelly recently told the Associated Press that Jordan’s campaign was all “about transparency.” And he added, “We want to be an open book and not be distracted. Everything is on the up and up.” That statement is Donald Trump-like in its credulity.

The effort by the Jordan campaign to obscure where campaign money has been spent adds to a litany of questions – non-disclosure agreements, two major campaign shakeups, the circumstances surrounding the federal PAC – that bear directly on the candidate’s transparency, not to mention credibility. The effort to conceal the final destination of campaign payments may also violate Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law.

Deputy Idaho Secretary of State Tim Hurst points out that the purpose of Idaho’s voter approved campaign disclosure law is pretty simple and the intent is not to hide information from voters about how money is raised or spent by candidates. Hurst referenced the stated purpose of the law: “To promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation or attempting to influence executive or administrative actions for compensation at the state level.”

Another section of the Idaho law says: “No contribution shall be made and no expenditure shall be incurred, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or by one (1) person through an agent, relative or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the source of the contribution.”

If the state of Idaho can’t enforce the law in the face of the Jordan campaign’s obvious efforts to skirt real disclosure then the state’s “sunshine law” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.

The Tuesday watch


Election day this coming week is a big national event, truly one of the most significant of our time. (That’s often said, but unusually true on this occasion.)

Idaho specifically has some items on its ballot worth a close watch. Here are some I’ll be watching closely on Tuesday night, and probably writing about in the next few weeks.

Top of the line is Proposition 2, the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative. It will have national implications, and may rock Idaho specifically - and not only for the 70,000 or so people whose insurance would be most directly affected. It will be a signal for how Idaho might handle health care in other ways and for other populations. Its implications even could reach beyond health care, and into other areas of politics.

The vote on this Prop 2 is so potentially significant it could overshadow everything else, though the race to fill an open governor’s seat is, of course, no small potatoes. On that ballot line, I’ll be watching most closely how this current contest compares to the last two for the office, four and eight years ago.

Several statewide office races have become significantly active, but the other one drawing the most interest and where the outcome is least clear is for superintendent of public instruction. That is the one statewide office that has been persistently (not always) competitive between the two parties; was the last one held by a Democrat and one a Democrat came very close to winning in the very Republican year of 2014.

The Republican winner then, Sherri Ybarra, now is up against an unusually strong Democratic candidate Cindy Wilson, who has educational background and ties in all corners of the state, and some endorsements from sources unusual for a Democrat. I’ve heard regular comments to the effect that if just one major-office Democratic candidate wins this year, she’s probably that candidate.

This one deserves a close watch on Tuesday night.

Then there are a handful of heated legislative races.

There are two I’ll be checking with top interest: Senate District 5, and House A in District 15.

District 5 is centered in Latah and Benewah counties, and is closely competitive between the parties; its mostly Democratic area at Moscow is countered by most of the rural precincts around it. The district in this area often has supported centrist Republicans and Democrats alike, but now has as senator the hard-edged Dan Foreman, who has “for example” referred to Moscow as a “cesspool.” His opponent, David Nelson, is thought to have an edge. But the district’s dynamics mean this race may be close.

The District 15 House race is a case of perseverance: Democrat Steve Berch has been running for this seat, or a nearby one, for several cycles, losing the last several times to Republican Lynn Luker. In 2012 and 2014 he came within about two points of beating Luker, and in 2016 within about one point. More than a few people think 2018 may be the year he crosses the line, which could have big effects: If Democrats are ever to become a competitive party in Idaho, the Boise suburbs - and District 15 specifically - is where that would almost have to begin.

Beyond those, kept watch on legislative races in Lewiston (District 6), Twin Falls (District 24) and Pocatello (District 29).

Of course, it’ll never hurt to scan up and down the list. There are always surprises.

Rural health values


Some are arguing that rural Idaho hospitals need Medicaid Expansion to survive. I’m arguing we will need more than a simple yes vote on Proposition 2 on the November ballot. That’s just an important first step. For American healthcare to serve our citizens, big cities and small towns, we are going to need to ask and answer some hard questions.

Thirty years ago, I took a break from my 36-hour hospital shift in residency to listen to a lunch presentation from the CEO of a big Eastern Washington health insurance company; like he was a visionary. The food was free. He outlined the three biggest threats to US health care: AIDS, Alzheimers, and rural hospitals.

I really only remember his solution for the third: “What most small towns need is just an urgent care facility and a helicopter pad. They don’t need hospital beds.”

As a resident learning Family Practice and planning to give full spectrum care to seriously ill folks, deliver babies and do C-sections in a small town I thought he was crazy. But the health care market place as it is currently structured has me wondering, and Idaho is a great place to pose this question.

So, what value does your hospital bring to your community?

I ask this as a doctor who has worked in many small north Idaho towns. Is there value that your baby be delivered close to your home? Is it valuable that your grandparent be cared for close to home? Is it vital that health care jobs are available in your town? Does your small-town hospital add value to your community?
The insurance company CEO saw little value in keeping sick people that couldn’t be quickly patched up in an urgent care facility close to home. Big city hospitals could be more efficient, had more technologic treatments, and thus could bill for more expensive care. The medical business model as his vision saw it provided a simple solution: more helipads.

I also remember this quote from a big city hospital executive: “My hospital earns $50,000 when we amputate a diabetic’s diseased foot. But we lose $50 every time we counsel him to manage his diabetes.” Think about those incentives.

Proposition 2, Medicaid expansion, will simply provide that some folks who don’t have insurance now and get care at your small-town hospital have their care paid for by their insurance: Medicaid. Many currently get care and have no method to pay. The hospital provides the care, then scrambles to make ends meet.

In the last 8 years across the country there has been a spike in small-town hospital closures, though none in Idaho. The county indigent payments (after liens are filed and bankruptcy insured) and state tax funded Catastrophic Fund have barely supported small hospitals. Rural hospitals in states that expanded Medicaid eligibility were very much less likely to close.

Medicaid expansion, Proposition 2 on Novembers ballot will make rural hospitals more secure financially in our current system. But the system has to change. Community conversations about what services add value, are vital, or unnecessary will help this system change. Talk to your hospital board members. Let them know what you think. But if you value your local hospital, you should vote for Proposition 2.