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Posts published in January 2019

Book: Proof of Collusion


Quite a few years ago, I read (and still have a copy of) a book called Silent Coup, which sought to answer some of the questions and clarify some of the fuzzy areas surrounding the Watergate scandal.

In it, author Colodny reviewed a mass of facts surrounding Watergate. It did not exculpate Richard Nixon or his aides, at least in general, but it did provide a significant reinterpretation of the evidence. The summary at says, offered "revelations shocked the world and forever changed our understanding of politics, of journalism, and of Washington behind closed doors. Dismantling decades of lies, Silent Coup tells the truth." It received high touts from President Gerald Ford and a number of people connected to Watergate. It was an intriguing read.

But time hasn't been kind to Silent Coup. Several figures in the story, including one-time White House counsel John Dean, punching some critical holes in it. The biggest revelation in the book, the identity of journalistic source Deep Throat - Colodny built the case for Alexander Haig - fell apart when Mark Felt's identity as the mystery man was released by reporter Bob Woodward. They tentposts of Silent Coup's story largely fell apart.

It was a cautionary note that came to mind reading the current book Proof of Collusion: How trump Betrayed America, by Seth Abramson. In this far more recent story - we're much closer in time to the events described than the Watergate book was - the author spins for us the story of what happened in the relationship between Donald Trump and key officials in Russia. It, like Colodny's book, builds a case: Here, that there is clear evidence of collusion between Trump and his campaign, and Russia.

There's some temptation to draw a cautionary note from the Silent experience. The difference between the books, though, is also clear. Proof is an assembly of facts, a lot of them, are little is extrapolated from them.

Abramson is an attorney, and much of the book reads like a brief in a legal case. It's not quite that dry (the material is a grabber), but it's written in Joe Friday fashion, with much more emphasis on the plain and undisputed facts than on argumentation about them. Where the facts are not clear or undisputed, Abramson seems to be forthright about that too.

The caution is in how much information is still out there. In just the last few days, another critical piece of information - an acknowledgement, apparently, by Trump spokesman Rudolph Guiliani that Trump-Russia hotel negotiations continued right up to election day, rather than ending many months earlier as had been alleged - came into public view. More will be found by journalists, by congressional committees (we can only guess what the House may now unearth) and by special counsel Robert Mueller. How much more, we can't even really guess.

And yet ... so much is already out there that it's hard to conceive how what remains could be very exculpatory. The assembly into a coherent chronological (roughly) narrative is what Abramson has done here, and the sheer volume of what we already know really is astounding. What he has written (as of before the turn of the year) is so detailed that it almost feels like a complete story. And it is very well documented; through much of the book, most sentences are footnoted, and the detail and backup are impressive.

The whole story won't be told for some time to come. But Proof of Collusion does a solid intermediate job: It gives us a good framework for putting into place the information yet to come, and working out what it means.

As the title hints, it doesn't look good. And its hard to see how it could, even if what we now know is all we know.

Pasting together feathers


After American forces defeated Saddam Hussein’s forces in Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) did not have the foggiest idea of how to form a new government to run the country. Just about everything the CPA did was wrong. One participant characterized the CPA effort as “pasting together feathers, hoping for a duck.” That is also an accurate description of the Trump administration’s Syria policy.

The President announced on December 19 that all U.S. forces would be withdrawn from Syria in 30 days. The decision was apparently precipitated by a phone call between Trump and the Turkish president five days earlier. The call was intended to warn Erdogan against attacking our Kurdish allies in Syria, but Trump blurted out, “You know what? It’s yours. I’m leaving.” Just like that, we washed our hands of Syria.

The withdrawal decision was gleefully received by our enemies--ISIS, Russia, Syria and Iran. They have all wanted us out of the way in Syria. On the other hand, the President blindsided our Defense and State Departments, who correctly believed we were pursuing a winning strategy in Syria--eliminating the threat of ISIS terrorists and countering the threat posed to our Israeli and Arab allies by Iran.

The precipitous decision caused the Secretary of Defense to resign in protest. Many knowledgeable people of both parties have shown that ISIS is still a threat and will be able to regenerate in the vacuum left when we bug out. National security adviser, John Bolton, tried to do damage control in Israel but was undercut by the President. Now, neither our allies, nor our enemies, know what U.S. policy is.

The President said his withdrawal would bring home the 2,000 troops working with the Kurds, implying it was a big favor to the troops. While I can’t speak for those troops, I imagine the decision has caused many of them a great deal of heartache. They were working with dedicated Kurdish warriors who were knocking the daylights out of the Islamic State cutthroats. What greater job could American patriots have? Their work has been cut short and I’m betting they are sick at heart about it.

The Syrian Kurds have been faithful allies of the U.S. in the fight against ISIS for the last four years. They have suffered thousands of casualties in our joint fight against the terrorists. At the same time, they have set up a large enclave in northeast Syria, which is governed under the most enlightened principles in the region.

We promised the Syrian Kurds we would support them against their many regional enemies when the work was done. The increasingly autocratic Erdogan wrongly brands them as terrorists for his own political ends. Every despot has to invent an enemy to rally the population against--usually foreigners, ethnic groups or the like. Erdogan has pledged to exterminate our Syrian friends. I doubt that our service personnel who have formed bonds with the Kurdish forces are too keen about that prospect, or about abandoning them in the first place.

I know what that situation is like. Fifty years ago, I lived and worked with South Vietnamese soldiers, many of whom were Catholic refugees from North Vietnam. In 1954, their entire village in the north picked up and fled south to escape Communist persecution. They were wonderful people. When the U.S. left Vietnam, we gave the South Vietnamese ironclad assurances that we would keep them supplied and give them strong air support in the event of a Communist attack. We flat failed to honor our promises and many of my friends suffered death or imprisonment as a result. We simply can’t repeat that kind of tragic betrayal.

It would be a stain on the honor of the United States to abandon our Kurdish allies who have sacrificed much to serve American aims in the region. The job has not been finished and we have made promises that an honorable nation would work hard to keep.

Familiarity and seniors


“All things old are new again”

Nowhere is that old saw more practiced than in a combined senior retirement community of 90,000. Evidence is everywhere.

Probably the most conspicuous evidence is in the cars many folks drive around here. We recently bought a new one with most of the “whistles and bells.” Fits our needs nicely and will for many years.

But, you’d be amazed how many 1970-1990 large, four-door sedans travel our wide streets. Chevy’s, Cadillac’s, Lincoln’s, Buicks, Mercury’s, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs, (Yes, Virginia, Mercury’s, Oldsmobiles and Pontiacs which haven’t been built in years). And nearly all we’ve seen, so far, are in top shape - inside and out - with high-gloss paint jobs, flawless glass and restored upholstery. Our parking lots often look like classic car shows.

Took awhile to figure out why so many old fellas here are hanging onto these gems of the past. It was only when we recently took delivery of our new model that I figured it out. A 2018 model with so much electronic gadgetry that it came with three owner’s manuals. Three!

There are several good reasons why the beautiful older cars are kept. For one thing, they came with just one owner’s manual. That’s all they needed. They came with buttons and switches - not the icons, multi-function buttons and multiple screens in our newer versions. You could set the heater or turn on and tune the radio by touch without taking your eyes off the road to find the right icon or figure out which function that multi-function screen is currently in or which other screen is needed for what.

Power steering, power brakes, pushbutton windows and air conditioning have been standard fare for decades. So, when it comes to “necessary” equipment, the older cars have all that stuff. But, they don’t require drivers in their 70's and 80's - and, I’m sad to say, too often around here in their 90’s - to take electronics courses to get around. They’re paid for, are cheaper to license and insure and - at 4,000-5,000 pounds - ride nicely. And safely. They’re also cheaper to maintain which is why there are so many independent auto shops in the area. Dozens.

When you’re 70 or 80-years-old, you tend to value familiar things, whether it’s friends, food, a well-used recliner or older cars. There are enough senior “challenges” to deal with without trying to learn new vehicle operating systems every time you trade cars.

It isn’t that older folks stop learning. Not here. We’ve got more than 300 clubs involving every hobby and leisure activity you ever heard of. And some you haven’t. Big clubs with all sorts of modern equipment and resources. Adult learning classes with hundreds of offerings available at no or minimal cost. Like five bucks. Met a lady in her ‘80's the other day. Quickly pushing her walker to get to a free class on iPhones so she could text and stay in touch with her grandkids in New York.

No, these classic vehicles we see so often in our community are not necessarily signs of people avoiding change. They don’t always represent someone’s effort to hold onto the past. Rather, they’re sufficient to today’s senior needs. They’re in prime shape from years of good care and often extensive restoration. They’re dependable. Without all the electronic gadgets and they’re much cheaper to maintain. They’re comfortable and safe.

But, above all, they’re familiar. Drivers who don’t have the reflexes they used to have, don’t see or hear as well as they did in they’re 30'snd 40's and didn’t grow up with computers and electronic gadgetry, may still be active and alert enough to be behind the wheel.

Their transportation may not have satellite radio or power lift gates or tire pressure monitors or even a sunroof. But, it has a “feel” you can’t find in any showroom. It’s got a responsiveness derived from years of use. It fulfills a basic need with comfort found in familiarity.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got that third owner’s manual left to read.

Cheney to Bush revisited


Many of us heaved a semi-sigh of relief when Trump announced John Bolton for national security advisor. “Whew,” we thought, “at least he did not try to put Bolton up for Secretary of State.” It was going to be difficult enough having this cold-eyed firebrand at the elbow of our terrifyingly unpredictable president, but at least it was in the NSA’s role of an advisor not a doer. Filling the NSA job had proved to be a disaster for Trump. This appointment would be the fourth individual to fill the post in less than 15 months, and Trump desperately needed to get it right. Bolton missed out on the first round of Trump’s appointments but had obviously been pacing the halls waiting for a call. So, one hoped, Bolton might be safe. He’s a loudmouth war hawk, but he cannot get us in much trouble from an advisor’s seat, we thought, as long as we have responsible grown-ups out in front, running Defense and State.

But the 70-year-old Bolton has been involved in insider politics close to 40 years. A graduate of Yale (’71) and Yale law (‘74), he practiced law for a few years and then, with Reagan’s arrival, he moved into the revolving doors of the capitol political arena. He began moving back and forth, from a variety of positions in Justice and State when the Republicans were in, then to conservative think tanks, connected law firms and Fox News when they were out, steadily climbing the ladders of power with each move. His top post previous to Trump’s election was Ambassador to the United Nations under a recess appointment by George W. Bush. He did not serve long, for he was forced to resign when it appeared that he would not be confirmed by the Senate.

According to a white paper presented to Trump’s transition team, the National Security Advisor position was supposed to be “as an honest broker of policy options for the President in the field of national security, rather than as an advocate for his or her own policy agenda.” He was to be the eyes and ears of the administration, identifying the hot spots around the world and winnowing out the essential details to keep the president fully informed. He was not expected to be out in front shooting his mouth off, nor was he expected to be seen traveling around looking like he had any authority over anything. That there is a huge difference between an “advisor” and an” advocate,” is apparent when one considers that the advocate roles all require Senate confirmation while the advisor role does not.

But there is no sign that either Bolton or Trump ever read the NSA job description. Bolton was never content to stay behind the curtain and speak only to the ear of the president. Within weeks he could be found searching out microphones, cameras and podiums everywhere to air his views on a variety of topics. An off-hand remark to the Federalist Society leapfrogged Bolton over Pompeo into the middle of a sticky issue with Pakistan. Bolton met with Israel’s Netanyahu at the prime minister’s home in Israel that had the trappings of a state dinner. At one time or another, Bolton has declared himself opposed to the Iran nuclear treaty, in favor of a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, in favor of assisting regime change in Syria, in favor of toughening the U.S. stand against China, to include military options, and declaring that the International Court at the Hague was officially dead to the U.S.

Recently, Bolton, not Pompeo, declared that Russia should get out of the Ukraine, return Crimea, stop using assassination tactics, and quit interfering with U.S. elections. It was Bolton who stepped forward to walk Trump’s words back when he got ahead of himself on troop withdrawal from Syria, and Bolton and Pompeo together went on the fence mending tour through the Middle East. It has not become unusual to see Bolton and Pompeo issue joint statements of policy on U.S. matters.

The recent departure of Mattis marks the last of those considered by many to be the adults in the room, at least with regard to foreign policy. With the exception of Bolton, the men at these essential posts are now second-string deputies or inexperienced sycophants leaving no one to step up with the gravitas to speak truth to power. Bolton has become it, the man, the trusted counselor with open access to a willing ear. This, to the extent that several of the cognoscenti compare it all to be in the same category and in the same manner as a prior trusted relationship.

The word is that Bolton-to-Trump has become the same as Cheney-to-Bush -- times two.Happy New Year.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – January 21

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 20. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

Congressional action is well underway, with Idaho’s congressional delegation active in proposing several measures. The Idaho Legislature has begun to amass a significant list of introduced pieces of legislation.

From a just-released report by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations: "The operational model of the Southwest Idaho Treatment Center (SWITC) is no longer tenable. The center lacks enough clients for economies of scale to support the variety of expertise needed. In addition, its institutional setting prevents the center from replicating community living for individuals with intellectual disabilities. Often these vulnerable individuals have co-occurring mental illnesses, complex medical and behavioral issues, and history of violence or involvement with criminal justice system."

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged at 2.6% in December – the 16th consecutive month the rate has been at or below 3%.

State regulators have accepted Avista Utilities’ 2018 natural gas Integrated Resource Plan, a 185-page document that outlines the company’s plans for meeting customer demand over the next 20 years.

Renewing their push to protect U.S. energy infrastructure from potential cyberattacks, Senators Jim Risch and Angus King (I-Maine), both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Energy and Natural Resources Committee, reintroduced the Securing Energy Infrastructure Act.

For the last 20 years, Idaho State University fish ecologists Ernest Keeley and Janet Loxterman in the Department of Biological Sciences have studied Cutthroat Trout populations in waters from Alaska to New Mexico. They identified some of the last remaining native, genetically pure populations of Cutthroat Trout around Pocatello, including distinct subspecies variations, in some unlikely places.

The city of Pocatello Engineering Department is inviting residents to talk about the potential impacts of flooding in the Gate City and provide feedback on proposed revisions to the community flood map.

IMAGE Wintertime is an exceptional time of year to be in the great outdoors. From snow covered mountains and valleys to the intermittent snow-packed sagebrush of the high desert steppe, there is always something to be offered out there, for even the most timid of recreationalists. This is also the time of year when our wildlife is the most vulnerable to the elements. By now most wildlife have reached their wintering grounds where they will spend the next few months waiting for Mother Nature to bring warmer temperatures and green grass back to their world. (photo/Department of Fish & Game)

All quiet on the Risch front


Idaho Sen. Jim Risch became chairman of the prestigious Foreign Relations Committee last week and as nearly his first act he bashed the two Idahoans who held that position in the past, William Borah and Frank Church.

In an interview with Idaho Press reporter Betsy Russell, Risch also said his “repertoire does not include sparring publicly with the president of the United States. For many, many different reasons, I think that’s counterproductive, and you won’t see me doing it.”

In one interview, the new chairman offered a remarkable display of historical ignorance, senatorial obsequiousness, hubris and blind partisanship. Call it “the Risch Doctrine.”

Let’s take them one by one.

“William Borah was around at the time when it was very fashionable, and indeed you could get away with non-involvement in a great matter of international affairs,” Risch told Russell.

The senator is correct that Borah, who represented Idaho in the Senate for 33 years, was, to say the least, skeptical about an aggressive U.S. foreign policy. More correctly, Borah was a non-interventionist, an anti-imperialist and a politician who believed passionately that the Senate must exercise a significant role in developing the country’s foreign policy. He would have been the last to say he would avoid “sparring publicly” with a president. He did so repeatedly, including with presidents of his own Republican Party.

Borah’s determined opposition to the peace treaty after World War I was based in large part on Woodrow Wilson’s arrogance in insisting that the Senate rubber stamp his handy work, accepting his terms or no terms.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Risch says he has his disagreements with President Donald Trump, but you’d be hard to pressed to find even one, while his record is ripe with acquiescence to an administration whose foreign policy from Syria to North Korea and from NATO to Saudi Arabia feels more unhinged, more chaotic by the day.

While Borah elevated the Foreign Relations Committee to something approaching equal standing with Republican presidents such as Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover, Risch is first and last a partisan, even to the point of going down the line with Trump, while many other Senate Republicans broke with him this week over sanctioning a Russian oligarch. With a Democrat in the White House, Risch was never reluctant to bash a foreign policy decision. His “sparring” was always in plain sight. Now, it’s all quiet on the Risch front.

Risch also could not refrain from repeating an old smear against Sen. Frank Church, effectively accusing Church of weakening the nation’s intelligence agencies.

“In my judgment,” Risch said, Church “did some things regarding our intelligence-gathering abilities and operations that would not serve us very well today. We need a robust intelligence operation.”

We have a robust intelligence operation, one that has frequently made serious mistakes that require constant vigilance from U.S. senators.

Risch should know this. He’s on the Senate Intelligence Committee, but he has repeatedly excused Trump’s own disregard, indeed contempt, for intelligence agencies, including dismissal of an FBI director who was just a bit too independent for Trump’s taste. You have to wonder if the new chairman has read even a summary of Church’s still very relevant work.

What Church’s landmark investigation really did in the 1970s was to explain to the American people, as UC-Davis historian Kathryn Olmsted told me this week, “what the CIA and FBI and other agencies had been doing in their name during the height of the Cold War.” As professor Olmsted, a scholar of American intelligence and its oversight noted, Church’s investigation “revealed many abuses and some crimes that had been committed, for example, by the CIA.”

One of those crimes was spying on American citizens. The National Security Agency actually conducted mail and phone surveillance on Church and Republican Sen. Howard Baker.

“Thanks to the Church Committee,” Olmsted wrote, “we now know that the CIA engaged mafia dons to stab, poison, shoot and blow up Fidel Castro; that it tried to poison Patrice Lumumba’s toothpaste and that it hired goons to kidnap the general in Chile who was trying to uphold his country’s constitutional democracy and thus stood in the way of a U.S.-backed coup. (He was killed in the course of the kidnapping.) The committee also revealed the FBI’s infamous COINTELPRO program, including the harassment of Martin Luther King Jr.”

Church didn’t weaken the intelligence community — he held it accountable. His work created the modern framework for congressional oversight, that is if Congress would use the power of oversight, and Church’s investigation led to the protections of the so-called FISA court that requires a judge to sign off on surveillance of a kind that the intelligence agencies once initiated on their own.

“This is a great time to be a Republican,” Risch told a partisan crowd at a Lincoln Day dinner in Shoshone last week. “You will not hear about this in the national media, but we have done a great job running this country.” Quite a line to utter while a quarter of the federal government remains shut down and while the president is operating with an “acting” chief of staff, Interior secretary, Office of Management and Budget director, attorney general, Defense secretary and has yet to even nominate ambassadors to a couple dozen countries.

Jim Risch, the committed partisan, has always been the kind of politician focused on his next election. He’s up in 2020 in what should be one of the safest seats in the country and he’s put all his chips on Trump.

But what if things are different in a few months or in a year? What if Robert Mueller’s investigation unspools a web of corruption that makes President Richard Nixon and Watergate look like a third-rate burglary? What if Risch has bet on the wrong guy?

He’s standing on the rolling deck of the USS Trump right now, raising nary a question about a president implicated in scandal from porno payoffs to Russian collusion. The super-partisan will never change, but his hubris may yet — and again — get the best of him.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.

The Idafornia shirt


The operative phrase used to be “don’t Californicate Idaho.”

Now, in the age of the meme, it’s an image, showing Idaho melded to the top of California, the merger called Idafornia.

On a shirt.

An artist from Nampa named Scott Pentzer created it, though the design is so simple almost anyone could have. Pentzer said he drew it in 2014 but didn’t bother putting it on a shirt or trying to sell it until very recently.

When he did, he got reaction. Fox News said on its website, “Within hours the internet lost its mind. After two hours on the Facebook page, the post garnered 200 comments.” More than 500 more were added to that before the post was killed. (Doesn’t take much for the internet to lose its mind.)

The image on it shows a single red fill outlined to the shape of Idaho perched on top of California, with the word “Idahfornia” within.

What’s the point? To note the real link between the states, what with so many Californians moving to Idaho - an estimated 21,000 of them in 2017, presumably as many or more last year. Most say they’ve moved to escape the high prices in California, which mainly means exploding housing prices in the coastal state. Buying a home in many of California’s urban areas has moved beyond middle-class capacity, but houses in Idaho are cheaper - albeit fast becoming more expensive, partly because Californians selling their old digs can afford to pay more. In turn, many Idahoans are being priced out in places like Boise.

Pentzer told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It tapped into a nerve or something. I know [California transplant resentment] is out there a bit, from some of the stories I heard. But I never knew Idahoans hated Californians that much."

There’s long been some California resentment. (And not only in Idaho: An Oregon governor’s famous plea to vacation in Oregon but not stay there was aimed largely at Californians.) And it goes back a long way: Aside from Native Americans and farmers from Utah, most of the early territorial settlers in Idaho, and many of its leading government and business leaders, were former Californians. That fact drew some sharp words even a century ago.

But what are the effects now of this growth driven in significant part by California?

Politically, the analysis on that has shifted over time. In the mid-eighties, when the modern California stream of newcomers got underway, there was for a while some thought that Idaho politics might veer left as a result of more moderate incoming people from the coast. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way: Idaho seemed to be a magnet mainly for more conservative Californians, politically red people escaping a state getting steadily bluer.

But might some of that be changing now? I got an e-mail inquiry last week from a woman considering moving to Sandpoint but hesitating because she’d been hearing it might be overrun with racists and skinheads. Over time, the conservative flood of the last generation may thin out.

Many moving to the Boise area, meanwhile, seem to be arriving with the idea that it’s simply another modern American metro area - which it is - and the politics hasn’t been a large factor. That suggests a broader mainstream of people may be coming to Idaho, and if it continues it could lead to political moderation as well.

The Fox report quoted one Tweet as opining something reflecting that idea, after a fashion: "What happens when Californians flee their failed state but bring their failed political ideology with them? They transform Idaho into California. Cali used 2 b one of best states in the US, now it's the worst. Won't be long b4 Idaho turns from red to purple, then blue.”

That end result may be overstating things. But it’s a point to ponder.

Confronting loyalty


It can be hard to confront a colleague with their misbehavior. I’ve done it a time or two and it sure got me to thinking about my loyalties. When I chose to act, it was out of a sense of loyalty to a purpose, a profession, a greater good that deserved my service. There were also times in my life I passed on the confrontation. I have some regrets.

Ronnie was a gifted high school athlete. He hit the goal post upright from forty yards out with a perfect spiral once at the end of a workout. “You lucky dog.” I said. “Bet me.” he said. He did it again 3 out of four times. He went off to a college career. For a while he led the nation in total offense and punting. I was at home for the summer visiting him when he got a call from his coach to come back for summer school to remain academically eligible. He hung up quietly. “You going back?” he shook his head. I wish to this day I’d confronted him, my friend.

Professions and the higher calling they claim can inspire loyalty in some. But confrontations can become messy; when the dirty laundry airs, some splashes on you and soils the profession. As a doctor, those were the hardest things I had to do, confront a colleague on their behavior. But I tried to be true to the ideals of the profession. I believed we all should be serving higher ideals.
In the political sphere confrontations are even more fraught. Loyalty to a greater good may just become loyalty to a party.

I served on an ethics committee as a freshman state Senator. The ethics complaint was lodged by my caucus leadership, Democrats. A Senator had chaired his committee that heard and voted on regulations that actually affected the Senator without revealing this conflict of interest. After days of adversarial testimony, it became clear to me the Senator had indeed violated Senate rules.

But he had not broken any laws and we were not going to be able to prove he had any substantial monetary gain from his actions: thus, no crime. On the third day of testimony I seconded the motion to dismiss the ethics complaint. This was over strong objections of fellow Democrats who wanted the hearings to keep going. I got a sense they saw political benefit in the proceedings. But when I voted to dismiss, I did not want my vote to mean he was not guilty. I said on the record that he had broken Senate rules but more, he had violated the public trust that makes representative government work.

As it turned out, though there was no official Idaho Senate censure or sanction, the Senator was beat in a primary election the coming spring. Maybe there is some wisdom in the voting electorate.

So, I’m wondering about our Idaho Senators, both loyal Republicans, who serve us in Washington. Just what is their loyalty? Does having this partisan conflict that has shuttered our government serve Idaho, our Union? Do you honestly believe spending $5B for a steel wall on our southern border is the proper use of our dear tax dollars?

To my father’s dying day he thought President Nixon had done no wrong and his resignation was a travesty, the fault of an over zealous press. He was a loyal Republican. Me, I was impressed that our Union could survive the scandal, the turmoil and come through; a nation with a loyalty to the rule of law. May we so be.

A supermajority session


One decade ago, following the 2008 general election, something unusual happened at the Oregon Legislative Assembly: One party controlled both chambers with supermajority numbers.

Democrats held 18 of the 30 seats in the Senate, and 36 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The numbers were significant, because since 1996 the Oregon Legislature has been required by the state constitution to obtain three-fifths of each chamber to approve "bills for passing revenue." Until 2009, neither party had controlled enough seats in both chambers to meet that requirement.

The 2009 session was ambitious for the Democrats. Its results included the Healthy Kids Act (for children's health care), major transportation projects (including the Newberg-Dundee bypass) - and significant tax increases to pay for it all, changing income and other tax levels.

In the 2010 election, Democrats lost their supermajority control. In the House, they lost enough seats to result in an even split - meaning joint control - with Republicans.

Now, a decade after all that, Democrats again have supermajorities in both chambers - just barely. They control 38 of the 60 House seats, and 18 of the 30 Senate seats. (One of the Democratic senators has been known to split from the caucus on certain votes from time to time.) A question for legislators this session is: How cautious might they be, considering recent history?

Some early indicators say: Not very. Governor Kate Brown, fresh off a campaign in which her opponent argued that schools have been underfunded, has proposed a $2 billion tax increase, intended mainly to boost public school funding.

One of the critical questions surrounding that will call for quick consideration: Exactly where should expanded funding go? Brown's proposal is aimed mainly at public schools. But higher education advocates point to persistent underfunding of the state's colleges and universities. Several organizations, including the Oregon Student Association (which includes college and university students) are pushing for as much as $2 billion more for higher education.

School funding may be getting a brighter spotlight this session than usual, but it is a perennial issue, and other perennials will sprout as well.

The high cost of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will come in for another examination, as in many past sessions. The scaling down of costs urged by its critics won't necessarily get a lot farther than it usually does (which is not very), but some new ideas are being broached. Among them, coming from at least one Democrat: Developing a new system of retirement planning for new public employees along the lines of a 401K system.

Greenhouse gas control, which was a hot topic in the last couple of sessions but did not get far, will be back. A planned "cap and invest" bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session. Brown's proposed budget could provide some added impetus this year on the subject, since she is proposing creating a new Oregon Climate Authority which would help govern a state carbon marketplace.

The coming months will also, however, see a large collection of new, or at least newer, legislative proposals.

Affordable housing, the subject of the only constitutional amendment approved by voters on last year's general election ballot, will be the focus of several bills. What form the proposals may take is not clear yet, but an evident voter concern about the issue is likely to result in a strong push. One option mentioned by many legislators (and pushed by a group called the Community Alliance of Tenants): A statewide plan to set limits on rent prices.

Other hot-button topics may generate bills which have a rougher ride. Guns will be back for discussion with a proposal to increase penalties for owners who fail to secure their weapons. One bill summary suggests the new law could impose fines of $500 for a simple offense and up to four times as much if a child gains improper access to the gun. Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem is proposing Oregon toughen its driving under the influence legal limit, dropping the allowable level from a blood alcohol level of .08 now to .05. Only Utah has a limit that low.

Senator Floyd Prozanski, who in 2017 proposed an unsucessful measure which might lead to interstate commerce in cannabis, has said he may be back with a similar idea this session. A business group called the Craft Cannabis Alliance is proposing to do something similar. (The trade would apply only, of course, to states which like Oregon have legalized marijuana.)

How to pay for all the many ideas circulating? That's where much of the heat - and the critical nature of a Democratic supermajority - come into play. Plenty of tax proposals have surfaced, ranging from increases in minimum business taxes, to changes in kicker tax rebates, to changes in how property assessments (for tax purposes) are calculated. In most recent years passing these tax plans has been, if not impossible, then very difficult. They may be easier with supermajority Democratic control.

At least up to a point. Some Democrats may hit the caution button along the line, recognizing that Oregonian tolerance for tax increases, especially very many at any one time, is distinctly limited. The latter weeks and months of this year's session may hinge on that calculus of the desire to make improvements and advance services around the state, against the cost of paying for them.

The formal session begins in January 22, and runs to mid-summer. A short organizational session will run from January 14 to 17 and include formal swearing in, committee organization and bill introductions.