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Posts published in January 2019

Wailing for a wall

jones

In July of 1964, I visited East Berlin and learned something about walls. They are ineffective to keep desperate people penned in, or kept out, without the certain use of lethal force against them. Despite strict border security in the late 50s and early 60s, hundreds of thousands of East Germans fled to freedom in West Berlin. The Berlin Wall was built to stop the outward flow of refugees.

A U.S. Army Corporal at Checkpoint Charlie told me the Berlin Wall would not have been effective without shoot-to-kill orders. The thuggish East German guards had such orders, along with numerous guard towers, vicious dogs, barbed wire, snares, machine guns, and a death strip that provided clear fields of fire. Even facing the risk of death, around 5,000 escapees made it over or under the Wall in 28 years, although about 240 were killed in the process. But, the threat of death stopped the great outward migration.

After the invention of ladders and tunnels, walls became relatively ineffective to keep people out, especially those trying to escape violence, starvation and oppressive governments. We currently have people fleeing those scourges from Central American countries, although not nearly as many as in some previous years. I suspect that many of us, facing the same dangers, would opt to flee with our families to a place known for freedom and security.

I suppose one way to discourage those desperate people from seeking safe harbor in the U.S. would be to take a page from the East Germans and use lethal force. I hope nobody in our great country would propose to do anything like that. However, anything short of treating these desperate folks worse than the dangers they are fleeing from probably won’t work.

And, a wall just targets a symptom of the dangers these people face at home. Why not get to the root of the problem and work to eliminate the dangers in their home countries that are causing the migrations? The cost would be substantially less than building an ineffective wall across our southern border and it would be an effective solution.

On May 4 of last year, John Kelly, who was then the Homeland Security Secretary, correctly observed that economic development of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador was “the solution to a lot of things that plague them, that then cause them to leave their country, move north.” That observation was recently echoed by the administration’s border chief, Kevin McAleenan. On December 30, 2018, he said we need to “invest in Central America.” McAleenan praised a State Department December 18 announcement of a substantial increase in economic aid to Central America as “a tremendous step forward” that would “help improve the opportunities to stay home.”

Unfortunately, the administration has not been consistent in pursuing a fix to the problem that would actually work. Several days after Kelly’s May 2017 comments, the administration proposed a 42% cut in economic assistance to the Central American countries. On October 24 of this year and again on December 28, the President threatened to cut off all aid to the three countries. That would only drive more desperate people to our border.

We should double our efforts to support these countries in developing their economies, to help them establish food security through improved agricultural practices, and to encourage judicial reform, job creation and violence protection programs. It can work. Mexico has greatly improved its economy in recent years, which has actually resulted in more Mexican nationals returning to their country than coming to the U.S. Let’s forget the wall and do something that will actually fix the problem.
 

Winning is serious business

rainey

I was raised in an old line Republican home and voted that way much of my life. Richard Nixon brought an end to that, even before Watergate. Amazing how corruption and outright criminality can change a guy’s voting habits. Permanently.

So, I came late to the ways of the donkey party. Though that happened some 45 years ago, I still don’t understand their near-suicidal politics. From the grassroots up, Democrats are a bitchy, noisy, disorganized and oft-times self-defeating bunch.

While a lot of Dems are tooting their own horns and clinking champagne glasses over their House of Representatives wins, some of the old negative ways are already intruding.

They’ve got a right to celebrate and be a little daffy. For a few days. The November change from minority to majority was an uphill slug against every mean trick Republicans threw at them. Gerrymandering, massive voter disqualifications, lies in advertising about nearly any subject, and fraud on a massive scale. We’ve never seen such political arrogance and deceit in a modern election.

But, that was then and this is now. As the late Cecil Andrus used to say, “It’s a whole lot easier standing outside the circle throwing spears than to be inside that circle trying to catch ‘em.”

Democrats need to settle down and start to govern. Oh, in the first few hours, they passed some “feel good” bills that will die aborning on Mitch McConnell’s office floor. What Dems did was send a message home to voter supporters that they “heard” them and are trying to make good on some campaign promises. “Promises made-promises kept” and all that.

That’s not governing. To govern successfully, you need to carefully examine the political playing field and figure out what the real issues are - the ones that need work first. And the ones you can get passed through the Senate and signed by our out-of-control President. Otherwise, you’re spinning your wheels and acting like Republican lite.

The most important key to accomplishing that is the new Speaker of the House - Ms. Pelosi. No one in that body has more experience, more legislative talent, a better understanding of political clout and how to use it. No one. She’s also the biggest Republican target. The Capitol Hill market for Pelosi lookalike voodoo dolls can’t keep up with the GOP demand.

But, she’s an old warrior. Lots of battle scars from old political battles. She knows how to throw a legislative punch and how to take one while staying on her feet. She’s also got some other deeply experienced old soldiers in key spots to help run the gauntlet. Given her head, House Democrats have got a helluva leadership team.

Still, some in the Dem freshman class are acting like spoiled - and very inexperienced - children. With assistance from our national “show business “media, some are “performing” more like celebrities than legislators. Others thought it would be cute to vote for someone other than Pelosi in the speakership race. Ten of ‘em. A few even posted media notices of their idiocy.

And we’ve got one who wants to play tit-for-tat with her GOP critics by making in-your-face videos like a hooker on a porn site. She’s also publically pouting because her “pie-in-the-sky” legislative wants aren’t going to be the first order of business.

Governing - and doing it right - is hard when the people needed to pull it off do and say things that distract from what the pros are trying to get done. It’s hard enough with a small majority (235-199) if all the troops are in line. When some want to primp and pose for constituents or personal promotion, it’s tougher.

I suspect Nancy Pelosi, with the grace of a good parent, will let the “kids” romp for a couple of weeks. Let ‘em get it out of their systems. Then, there’ll be a tug on the leash. And, if that doesn’t get the desired results, there’ll be a few “woodshed” sessions. Not that the Speaker will always get her way. She knows she has to keep the troops happy and there has to be some horse-trading. Again, Pelosi knows just what to do. And how and when to do it.

I like the noisiness and disorder of Democrats. Lots of people with lots of opinions and varied backgrounds. I also like the multiple ethnicity inclusion and the “everybody-is-somebody” attitude. All good.

But. Just as our military can claim the same attributes during informal times, when it comes to the fight, the chain-of-command and the orders are clear. Line up and follow the leaders. There’s time enough for individualness. When trying to win the battle, well, that’s not the time and Congress is not the place.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – January 7

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 7. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The new year is starting, with inauguration of new Idaho state officials and - this week - opening of this year's regular legislative session.

Governor-elect Brad Little has been publicly sworn in as the 33 rd Governor of Idaho. The ceremonial swearing-in on the steps of the Capitol included all of Idaho’s constitutional officers.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission has denied the proposed merger of Avista Utilities and Hydro One. In its order, the Commission said the transaction is prohibited by Idaho Code § 61-327, which limits the ability of an electric utility to sell assets in certain situations.

Russ Fulcher, recently elected to the U.S. House from Idaho’s first congressional district, was sworn into office on January 3.

The Legislature’s Joint Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment received mixed news Thursday, just days ahead of the opening of the 2019 legislative session.

Idaho anglers will once again have the opportunity to fish for and harvest burbot in the Kootenai River, its tributaries and Bonner Lake starting Jan. 1.

Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter on January 3 named a former Twin Falls County prosecuting attorney to fill a vacant judgeship in the Magic Valley’s Fifth Judicial District.

The City of Twin Falls has partnered with SeeClickFix to launch a new mobile app that will allow citizens to report quality-of-life issues and request services from the City of Twin Falls.

IMAGE Brad Little was sworn in as the new governor of Idaho on January 3. (photo/IdahoEdNews)
 

The western secretary

stapiluslogo1

When in early 2006 Idaho was mentioned as source material for a new federal Interior secretary, I was a little skeptical. But it panned out: The state’s then-governor, Dirk Kempthorne, was named and confirmed to the position.

My reason for being dubious wasn’t specific to Kempthorne. He was a second-term governor not seeking re-election (and presumably looking for his next landing place), with a fellow Republican who would succeed him and no disqualifying scandals or other problems. All of that made for understandable sense as a prospect.

My skepticism came from how Idaho almost always seems to be mentioned for Interior, but has been far more often bridesmaid than bride. Before Kempthorne, just one Idahoan led that department - another governor, Cecil Andrus - but someone in the state almost always seems to be mentioned as a prospect.

I was asked last week why that is, and the answer seems straightforward.

Much of it is regional - as in western regional. The Department of Interior’s activities are national in scope, but they seem to to tilt western. The bureaus of Land Management and Reclamation, two of Interior’s largest agencies, operate mostly in the western states. Western governors and legislators - including Idaho’s - tend to have some focus on environmental and natural resource issues, usually more than most of their colleagues to the east. A lot of BLM and Bureau of Reclamation leaders have come from the western states.

(You could say something similar for secretary of the Department of Agriculture, a job never filled by an Idahoan, with the qualified and partial exception of Ezra Taft Benson.)

These things are true for most of the western states. Consider where the recent Interior secretaries have come from: Ryan Zinke from Montana, Sally Jewell from Washington, Ken Salazar from Colorado, Kempthorne from Idaho, and before him Gale Norton of Colorado, Bruce Babbitt of Arizona and Manuel Lujan of New Mexico. The principle applies the same for both parties. The last non-westerner in the position was Don Hodel, in the Reagan Administration. Of the 26 secretaries in the last century, all but six have been westerners.

Few cabinet jobs seem to have a strongly specific regional attachment, but Interior does.

No wonder that as Zinke heads for the door, the list of possibilities to replace him is strongly western. Names mentioned on the long list include just-departed Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Representative Raul Labrador, both loosely plausible from a resume standpoint. Otter, 76 years old and just wrapping 12 years as governor, spent six years in Washington as a member of Congress and seldom missed an opportunity to say how much he wanted leave. Labrador is a better fit in some ways but Interior-related subjects do not seem to have been a high priority for him. He has never been an executive (many cabinet members are former governors). Besides that, he lost the Republican primary for governor last year, a primary many had expected him to win, which would not be the best positioning for building political capital in the Trump Administration.

My best guess for an Interior nominee, at least following the usual political logic, might be to look toward Nevada, which has two departing Republican top office-holders (Senator Dean Heller and Governor Brian Sandoval), both with some established strength in a competitive political environment. No Nevadan has ever been confirmed as Interior secretary, while states around it have contributed. (The same is true of Utah; might that state provide a possibility too?)

I remain a little skeptical for an Idaho answer to the new Interior opening. But there’s always room for a surprise.
 

From red to purple to blue

richardson

On election night 2018, the dour countenance of Democratic strategist James Carville filled our TV screens. In a tone of resignation, Carville opined, "There was some hope the Democrats would have a wave election. It's not going to be a wave election." Across the country, crestfallen Democrats took his prediction as gospel.

But Carville was wrong.

Like many other Democratic operatives, he couldn’t see beyond the beltway and the rust belt. He couldn’t imagine that the Southwest and parts of the Rocky Mountain West might more than make up for a few disappointing results east of the Mississippi, that even iconic Orange County, the birthplace of Reagan conservatism and longtime GOP stronghold, would turn completely blue.

Yes, the blue wave rolled in slowly. And, yes, there were some heartbreaking losses, made all the more painful and infuriating by extremely close margins, the result of minority vote suppression. Stacey Abrams’ race for Georgia governor is Exhibit A.

But as the wave slow-rolled across the country, Democrats picked up seven state governorships, hundreds of legislative seats, and a robust majority in the House. In a year when the Senate map overwhelmingly favored Republicans, Democrats lost some seasoned incumbents but picked up long-held GOP seats in Arizona and Nevada. Not since the election of 1974 – right after Watergate – had Democrats fared as well.

In the days leading up to the election, Trump shelved his golf game to campaign non-stop for Republicans. Repeatedly, he bellowed from the podium, “I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me.” His number one target was Montana Senator Jon Tester, who had the audacity to raise questions that led to the embarrassing withdrawal of Dr. Ronny Jackson, Trump's personal physician, as the nominee for secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trump held rally after rally in Montana, barnstorming the state four times, hell-bent on seeing Tester defeated. Trump Jr. also campaigned there and, like a chip off the old block, called Tester “a piece of garbage.” But incredibly, by the narrowest of margins, Tester won re-election in this state Trump carried by 20 points. After the election, Trump, who excels at evading responsibility, saw no rebuke, weakly whining, “But my name wasn’t on the ballot.”

Exit polls tell us the Democratic wave was largely fueled by women – college-educated women, women of color, women from the suburbs, independent women, and Republican women who, at long last, had had enough of a trash-tweeting president and his inhumane policies.

And the wave was also fueled by those most likely to sit-out midterm elections – young people. In record numbers, younger voters laid claim to their futures as citizens and inhabitants of an endangered planet. Even white working-class men, Trump’s base, began to peel ever-so-slowly away, likely noticing that more manufacturing jobs were heading overseas and ill-considered trade wars don’t sell soybeans.

Maybe it’s just as well the blue wave didn’t crest on election night. The gradual and growing realization that the nation had rejected Trumpism dominated headlines for weeks. But, going forward, pundits like Carville would do well to remember that, in 2018, Montana re-elected Jon Tester and Orange County turned blue, that Ben McAdams won a congressional seat in Utah and Krysten Sinema beat Trump sycophant Martha McSally in Arizona. They would do well to remember that the Rocky Mountain West and the Southwest are also part of the American electorate – a part that is palpably turning from red to purple to blue.
 

State of the state

schmidt

When Governor Little addresses the legislature Jan 7th with his budget address he’ll be hard pressed to beat Butch Otter's charm or delivery. I hope he feels no pressure to. But Brad will have a chance to strike a new pose.

The speech is required in the Idaho Constitution at the beginning of each legislative session and the governor must describe “the condition of the state, and shall recommend such measures as he shall deem expedient”.

Further he shall, “present estimates of the amount of money required to be raised by taxation for all purposes of the state”.

I’ve been hearing Brad stake out a direction, both in his campaign and since the election that should tell us where he is heading next week. He has said clearly that Idaho needs to be a great place for his (and my) kids to settle and make a good living to raise our grandkids. Maybe they’ll be willing to care for us as we begin to dodder. But right now, these 20-30 somethings are the hard-working plodders that drive strong community growth. We need them, if we are to prosper.

Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the union, but unfortunately, we are attracting dodderers, not plodders.

What do young families look for when they strike out? Safe, solid communities with good schools and good jobs would be my bet. Will Brad propose increased funding for K-12? How about fully funding kindergarten?

Idaho currently provides funding for ½ day kindergarten, but districts are not required to provide it. Many districts provide full day kindergarten, some even provide preschool, but they support it with local levies. The Idaho School Board Association asked the state to fund this in a resolution this year. Lots of evidence supports early education as a wise government investment, but Idaho struggles with investments. This would be a big leap for Governor Little.

And what can the Governor do about good paying jobs? Even if he went off the deep end and endorsed raising Idaho’s minimum wage, we aren’t really talking about attracting minimum wage workers. But the governor could make a strong statement about wages by trying to make state employee salaries competitive.

Maybe, instead of pushing salaries, he could suggest a “housing allowance” for state workers commensurate with his own. Idaho’s governor gets $138K a year (39th nationally, while Idaho wage earners are 50th) and another $55K for housing or a boost of about 40%. I would bet state workers would be happy with a 5% boost in salary and no housing allowance, but Brad does seem like a fair guy.

I’ll bet he goes for cutting the grocery tax, which has broad support. Idahoans now pay sales tax on groceries; this adds about $200M to state revenue. About $26M of that goes to local governments. But taxpayers get back a grocery tax credit to the tune of about $150M. Eliminating the grocery tax would cost the state general fund about $80M.

So, you can see Governor Little has some real numbers to play with. And the numbers count. Add into all this the uncertainty of the tax revenue, since Idaho’s tax collections since July have been well below projections. Most are writing this off to bad tax estimates offered to employers as the federal and state tax cuts came through together; the expectation is that come April, the taxes owed will add up and we will be writing big checks with our returns. But remember the Constitutional requirement of the Governor: “the amount of money required by taxation”.

I hope Brad holds to his vision. Us dodderers need you plodders: make Idaho your home. We should make it worthy.
 

Rerun: Brad Little’s arrival

stapiluslogo1

This is a column that first appeared on ridenbaugh.com on January 6, 2009. The occasion was the arrival of Brad Little to his first statewide Idaho elective position - almost exactly a decade before he would assume his second one.

In these days of controversial appointments to high office, here's one that (overwhelmingly) won't be: state Senator Brad Little to lieutenant governor of Idaho. And while you so often see many politicians grappling for higher office, here's one just the opposite: The surprise here isn't that Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter wanted him for the job, but that Little agreed to take it.

For the better part of a couple of decades, Brad Little has been maybe the foremost name on the Republican bench - the logical candidate for whatever office, or higher office, you're probably talking about. That has in smaller part to do with his pedigree (one of the big southern Idaho ranching families, and a very politically prominent father) but more his personal qualities. He is a rancher and businessman in Emmett, very much a part of the older Idaho, but also highly plugged in to the new and technical West and a bit of a policy wonk. He's considered relatively moderate on social issues. But he's not a Republicrat; Otter surely wanted as lieutenant someone he could work with comfortably, and Little will likely be a solid fit. His political skills are very highly developed. And almost all the way across the political spectrum in Idaho, he's very highly regarded.

(You'll not hear many Democrats bad-mouthing him; he is not an ideologue, seeming to have a more practical frame of mind. There are some Republicans, from the hard-core activist crowd, who have blasted him. But the better measure is that Senate Republicans have elected him to leadership.)

For years, the talk has been that Little be an automatically major candidate for almost any office, and at times might clear the field of serious contenders. (Had he wanted the first district House seat in 2006, the betting here is that he would now be entering his second term there, without breaking a sweat.)

But he has been reluctant. People were pleading with him for years to run for the state legislature, before he finally agreed to do it - the kind of thing lots of politicians like to be able to say, but that Little honestly could. Plenty of other Republicans would have been happy to see him run for high office since, but he's not pursued any of those opportunities. Why? The general understanding has simply been his responsibilities to the family business and his preference to stay where he is. He seems to have no hunger for the title.

So, as noted, the bigger surprise may be that he was willing to move up. Part of it may be that lieutenant governor is a part-time job. But it does raise the question anew of whether Little might be willing to go for a major (full time) office down the line. It now enhances his position on the bench.
 

Make America shine again

jones

President Ronald Reagan often characterized America as “the shining city upon a hill.” He explained in his 1989 farewell address, “in my mind, it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace--a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors, and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

From the time our great country was founded, it has been a shining city on a hill--a beacon of hope and freedom to the oppressed around the world. Granted, we suffered the odious sin of slavery and have experienced periodic dark times, but we have always managed to right the ship.

One of America’s greatest accomplishments was to help resurrect the world from the ashes and ruin of the Second World War. We established an America-centered global order that has kept the peace and fostered prosperity in Europe and many other parts of the world. That was made possible by developing and maintaining mutually-beneficial alliances with nations around the world.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis recently said about this remarkable achievement, “While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.” He also warned that we must be on the guard against “malign actors and strategic competitors” like Russia and China who mean us harm. In other words, we must work hard to keep America strong and a shining example to the rest of the world.

Recent events show that we have much to do to restore America’s position in the world and to keep other nations from sliding into authoritarianism that will threaten our national security. As just one example, on December 14, the foreign minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, warned top American officials that Russia and China are strongly challenging American leadership in Europe. He urged more U.S. involvement with our European allies to counter the encroachment of these despotic countries. Our friends around the world yearn for constructive engagement and rational leadership from America.