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Posts published in February 2019

Sideboard, springboards, spanking boards


I understand the Idaho legislature has twisted shorts with the Medicaid Expansion initiative approved by 61% of Idahoans.

They sat on their hands for six years and did nothing. They might have nodded quietly three years ago that those in “The Gap” were stuck in an unfair, unjust situation, unable to access healthcare insurance. They might have even agreed five years ago that paying for Catastrophic health care was the wrong way to deal with this problem, though it’s been the “Idaho Way” for decades. But they never got to work on the problem.

Well, voter support for Medicaid Expansion in Idaho slowly grew and come November 2018, most Idahoans supported the simplest, most cost-effective way to get our Idaho working poor health insurance. But now many of our proudly elected legislators think they know better than the voters.

One of the beauties of this behemoth called Medicaid is that it’s a partnership between the federal government and the states. So, states can experiment; many have. Idaho has and does. The experiments are telling. Let’s learn from them.

We’re hearing a lot about “sideboards”. When I hear that term, I think of the panels we used to get cows or calves into a squeeze chute for branding, vaccinations, dehorning or castration.

The main “sideboard” bandied about in the marble halls of our beautiful Capitol has to do with work requirements. I wonder if our legislators know anybody in “the Gap”. I see these folks every day. But here’s the Idaho statistics. Over 60% of people in “The Gap” are working the equivalent of full time, many in multiple jobs. Another 30% are caring for either children or elderly in their homes or are full time students. So, 10% might need a boost.

Let’s look at what other states have done and learn from them.

Arkansas instituted a “work requirement”. It cost the state $10+M to build the system, and effectively kicked 18,000 out of Medicaid. So, this program used a broad brush, painting all who gained access to Medicaid health insurance under their expansion as needing to prove their work. What did they find? In Arkansas, as we have said about “the Gap” folks in Idaho, 90% of those eligible for Medicaid were already working, caring for others or students. Of the folks kicked off Medicaid, 80% lost coverage for failing to report through the online portal. Dollars to donuts, Arkansas’ online service doesn’t come close to Amazon's.

This “sideboard” seems more like the paddleboard hanging in the principal’s office. If you’re poor and have limited online access, then bend over.

But Montana painted their program with a fine tipped brush. They knew what we and our legislators should know. Most poor people need a springboard, not a paddling. Montana used the Medicaid expansion program to offer job training assistance. On enrollment the offer was made and a follow up letter was sent. There was no significant taxpayer cost. About 10% of the enrollees sought the help. They had a meeting with a Department of Labor staffer, got directed toward training, education, skills opportunities and Montana has seen movement toward higher paying jobs.

Montana offered a springboard. Many who needed it took the offer and we are all better off for it.

Idaho has a robust and widely available Department of Labor with a new energetic Director, Jani Revier. I’m sure the department could handle the 5000 referrals from the new Medicaid enrollment and they would welcome the motivated clients.

I wonder if this is the springboard Brad Little has been referring to. I know many in the Idaho legislature prefer the paddle. Since we’re so late to the game, why don’t we learn from other's experiments? Let’s do it right.

People of means

Howard Schultz, founder and CEO at Starbucks for many years and in 2019 a prospective candidate for the presidency, has made billions of dollars in income and was reported to have a net worth of $3.4 billion. He has objected, however, to the label “billionaire.”

In February 2019, he was quoted in an interview with journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin: “The moniker billionaire now has become the catchphrase. I would re-phrase that and I would say that people of means have been able to leverage their wealth and their interests in ways that are unfair. And I think that speaks to the inequality, but it also directly speaks to the special interests that are paid for by people of wealth and corporations that are looking for influence. And they have such unbelievable influence on the politicians who are steeped in the ideology of both parties.”

Up until then, of course, the word “billionaire” had been widely accepted in common usage (where accurate, in referring to people with a net worth of $1 billion or more) and had not been in dispute. The pushback occurred solely because it was people with such extravagant wealth were no longer being viewed, widely, nearly so favorably.

Someday before long, we're going to be witness to the first trillionaires - which, considering the immense slice of global wealth such a person would hold, would be a scary prospect for many people. (Remember, there was no such thing as a billionaire until just about a century ago, when in September 1916 a gaggle of newspaper reports declared that stock and other holdings had boosted John D. Rockefeller above mere millionaire status; some other estimates give the first-B status to automaker Henry Ford around 1925.)

As a presidential prospect, he understandably wanted to try some reframing.

That may not be especially easy.

In one of its weekly reader contests, the news magazine The Week asked, “Please come up with a catchier term to describe billionaires who’d rather not be called billionaires.”

Third place: “The fun percent.” Second place: “The gilt-ridden.” First place: “The affluence burdened.”

You can try to change the words, but the underlying facts remain.

We don’t need this Hadian rhetoric


Here we go again. Shahram Hadian, a tireless anti-Muslim crusader, is coming back to Idaho to spew harmful conspiracy theories about the Islamic faith. On a previous visit, he almost caused serious damage to Idaho’s child support collection system with his false claims.

During the 2015 legislative session, Hadian made the preposterous claim that passage of legislation to comply with federal child support collection rules would lead to the adoption of Islamic law by Idaho courts. Sharia law cannot be imposed and there is absolutely no effort by anyone to impose it. Nor is there any chance that our courts would adopt it.

His absurd claim caused the legislation to fail. As a result, Idaho almost lost $16 million in federal funds and the ability to collect about $28.8 million in child support from out-of-state parents. Governor Otter had to call a special legislative session to repair the damage to our child support system.

Hadian travels around the country denouncing Islam as a false religion, vilifying refugees, and criticizing Pope Francis and other prominent religious leaders for their ecumenical efforts. He also peddles DVDs, books and other paraphernalia to raise funds along the way.

His main theme is that Islam is the enemy of the United States and intent on subverting it from the inside. He ignores the fact that Islam is the second-largest world religion with about 1.8 billion adherents and that many Muslim-majority nations have been our close allies, contributing to our national security.

Our troops have fought side-by-side with Muslim soldiers in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, combatting terrorists who profess a perverted view of Islam. Many of those Muslim soldiers put themselves at risk by helping American forces, but Hadian demands that we keep them and all other Muslims from seeking refuge here from wars that we have waged.

Our state has Muslim refugees from a number of countries, including Bosnia, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan and Syria--people who fled for their very lives from oppressive governments and religious zealots. They have worked hard, started businesses, become good citizens and enriched our communities. We really don’t need a religious zealot to foment suspicion about, or hatred against, these good people.

When Hadian rails against Pope Francis, who he claims is promoting “Chrislam,” a melding of the Christian and Islamic faiths, we might remind him of the anti-Catholic campaign against presidential candidate Al Smith in I928. Claims of demagogues that Smith would essentially give the Pope control over our government contributed to his defeat. Such claims were also raised, but disregarded, in the 1960 presidential race.

Hadian might also be informed of the prejudice and religious hatred drummed up against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the years. When Idaho’s Constitution was drafted in 1889, a number of provisions were adopted to prevent Mormons from taking over, or even participating in, the Idaho government. Even now, there are some who continue to claim that it is not a legitimate religion.

We should also reflect on the hate and libels directed against our Jewish community through the many years. Jews have always been a favorite target of hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. In 2010, a furniture maker in Kamiah confided to me that Jewish international bankers were taking over the world, and in August 2017 torch-wielding white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, were ominously chanting that “Jews will not replace us.” These torch carriers were not “good people” as some politicians claimed. The good people were their targets.

This country was founded by people seeking religious freedom. It was enshrined in our Constitution. It is one reason why we have a separation of church and state--so that a single state religion cannot be imposed on the people. There is a place here for all religions and there should be tolerance for them all, as well as their followers.

Mr. Hadian has the right to spout his false and divisive claims, but we don’t have buy his hateful message. Idaho is better than that.

A chain under pressure


The armed services of this country like to heckle each other about this and that. Usually, good natured ribbing about “superiority” of one branch over the other. Although, sometimes not quite so “good natured.” Depends on the amount of beer consumed.

But, there’s one foundational system that drives all and which makes each effective: the chain of command. It starts at the top and flows in a straight vertical line from Commander-in-Chief to Secretary of Defense to Joint Chiefs to the commanders of the various services and down from there. If you’re in the military, you quickly learn the drill and you religiously abide by it. Failure to do so is not an option.

At least that’s how its always been. Maybe now, not so much.

Donald Trump’s world, to him and only him, is one in which he can do anything - say anything - demand anything and do so without considering the resulting repercussions or bad effects. But, only in his world. The rest of us know - it ain’t so.

Trump’s dangerous words and disastrous touch have screwed up, crippled and damaged many parts of our Republic. His ignorance of how government works, his lies, his broken promises, his lack of understanding of America’s role in the world have created monumental problems. He’s trampled international relationships, turned his back on historic treaties, reduced our standing among nations and tried to create new alliances with our enemies.

Now, with the same deliberate ignorance, he may be creating dangerous problems within our military. And for that chain-of-command element that’s been the backbone of all successful militaries.

Historically, when the President issues orders to the Defense Department, there is a loud clicking of heels, a quick “Yes, Sir” and immediate action. Thanks to Trump’s failure to understand the system and the rules - and refusal to learn - we’re seeing possible ruptures.

I first noticed it when he ordered up that military parade in his honor. In the following weeks, some DOD and military voices were heard grumbling and rebelling. There was no heel clicking, no snappy “Yes, Sir,” and no action. The eventual response was the Pentagon putting a price tag on such an event that was so outrageous even Trump had to back down. Military resistance.

Now, more open resistance appearing in “the chain.” Trump ordered troops to our border with Mexico to turn back or arrest thousands of civilians - men, women and children - if they tied to cross that line. Shoot, if necessary.

A couple of days later, secure documents, created for Defense Department “eyes only,” were leaked to several news outlets. Much of the information contained was the usual organizational stuff dealing with troop movements. But, there were also portions - especially dealing with cost and subtle questioning of the use of trained military for such a purpose - that appeared critical of the venture. In effect, more resistance in the chain-of-command.

Some were willing to take up arms to follow that very questionable order. But, there seemed to be a sizeable contingent within DOD that didn’t want to; that believed it was not good use of money and manpower. Joint Chiefs finally agreed to send, but not to arrest, shoot, threaten or confront. Only to support U.S. Border Patrol and other law enforcement. Quiet but direct resistance. Again.

And this. Former Defense Secretary Mattis went public to say “The military doesn’t do things for show.” Not entirely true. (See Navy Blue Angels, Army Golden Knights, USAF Thunderbirds, etc.) But, the fact he felt the need to say so after public anger and military document leaking, could indicate Trump’s order created some interior negative military feedback he felt the need to address.

Now, military works of fiction in books and movies might be good entertainment. It may be memorable for Commander Denzel Washington to challenge the shipboard authority of Captain Gene Hackman. Good fiction. But not in real life. Not appearances of reluctance by some in DOD to follow an order of the Commander-in Chief. Might not be a wise order but an order nonetheless.

It’s not my intent here to warn the generals and admirals are plotting a government coup. But, when cracks of resistance appear within the chain-of-command - no matter the order - it’s worrisome.

Trump has proven himself incapable of exercising proper presidential authority because he doesn’t know how. He’s repeatedly proven himself unable to sustain relationships with his own staff, his appointees and even Congress. He’s made unwise decisions, taken inappropriate - and sometimes illegal - actions. He’s threatened, bullied and lied so much that polling shows less than half of us believe or trust him.

With such evidence on the table, it’s no wonder signs of discontent and reluctance to follow his orders are beginning to appear publically in the Pentagon and elsewhere. After all, the Americans who make up the military are like the rest of us. They have their own opinions, too.

A rigid chain-of-command is the spine that holds the military upright and functional. Always has been. It would be wise for all of us to keep close watch on the Oval Office-Department of Defense relationship. Trump has been savaging other parts of our government. His ill-advised actions may be showing up there, too.

Eat or we both starve


On an out of the way country road a few miles outside of Oxford, Mississippi you’ll find a place that claims to serve “the best catfish in the South.” The Taylor Grocery, actually a general store turned restaurant with a rusty gas pump out front that once promised “ethyl,” is the kind of place where the chicken is fried, the comfort food is red beans and rice and the pork chop comes covered in gravy.

At Taylor Grocery you can have sweet tea, soda and coffee. If you want a beer with dinner you bring a couple bottles in a paper sack, be discreet about it and the waitress will bring you a glass – made of plastic.

I certainly remember the rib sticking food at the place, but also remember the sign out front with a simple message: Eat or We Both Starve.

That sign in front of a shabby looking restaurant in the hardwood and pine forest of northern Mississippi is just about the perfect metaphor for what should be the central debate in American politics at the moment. The American middle class is a sad hollowed out husk of my parent’s generation. Lost in the economic turmoil, resentment and downright despair of millions of Americans is the notion that a robust, expanding middle class is what really makes a capitalist system function. The guy pushing fried oysters in Taylor, Mississippi, or selling cars in Reno or peddling new dishwashers in Clarkston doesn’t eat the farmer or schoolteacher or carpenter can’t afford to buy. We all starve.

Neither by mother or dad went to college, but they certainly saw to it that my brother and I did. They saw, properly so, that education was our society’s great advancer. They had every reason to believe, like their parents before them, that their kids would enjoy the American economic dream – a home, a car, an education and a decent job that would empower a whole new generation. We once considered that the American dream, back in the day when my dad could co-sign a $2,000 college loan that I could actually afford to repay.

But the stark reality is that the American dream for many fellow citizens is more illusion than expectation and there is evidence everywhere you look. The New York Federal Reserve reported recently that “a record 7 million Americans are 90 days or more behind” on their car payments, a metric that is genuinely worrying to many watchers of the economy. Many Americans are entirely dependent upon their automobile to get to work and they tend to make the car payment before anything else. That so many are so far behind is a stunner.

At the same time student-loan delinquency rates are going through the roof, more than $166 billion in delinquent loans in the fourth quarter of 2018 alone. As Bloomberg reports the total number of delinquent student loans is at a record $1.46 trillion.

Meanwhile, the prospects of a young American, even one with a good education, landing a job that will pay for the American dream are evaporating. In an article that manages to be both poignant and angry, Anne Helen Petersen wrote recently about why so many young Americans feel cheated by the enormous debt they have incurred to get a degree that then can’t produce a salary they can live on.

“The problem is the growing certainty that you were sold a false bill of goods about the immeasurable value of higher education,” Peterson wrote in BuzzFeed, “and that’ll you’ll be forever paying down the cost of a broken dream.”

There are dozens of realistic policy proposals to address these issues, including more focus on the affordability of community colleges and loan forgiveness programs that actually work. Peterson’s reporting confirms that many do not work and thousands of young people labor for years to make even a dent in their loan principal, let alone get to a level of financial security that allows a real pursuit of the dream.

The recent GOP tax bill has actually exacerbated the problem with graduate students who receive tuition breaks now required to treat those benefits as income. What kind of society taxes a young person for trying to get a master’s degree?

Meanwhile, the rich get richer and the middle class gets delinquency notices. University of California economist Gabriel Zucman recently published a paper on the continuing and dramatic growth in income inequality, another feature made worse by the Trump-Republican tax bill that was so enthusiastically supported by Idaho’s congressional delegation.

“U.S. wealth concentration has followed a marked U-shaped evolution of the last century,” Zucman writes. “It was high in the 1910s and 1920s … and the top 0.1% wealth share peaked at close to 25% in 1929.” The Great Depression stopped the increase and “after a period of remarkable stability in the 1950s and 1960s, the top 0.1% wealth share reached its low-water mark in the 1970s.” Now, “U.S. wealth concentration seems to have returned to levels last seen during the Roaring Twenties.”

The three wealthiest Americans – Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett – collectively have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the U.S. population, while about a fifth of Americans “have zero or negative net worth.” The only other places in the world were the wealth held by the super rich is as skewed are China and Russia. We truly are making oligarchs great again, while the folks who want to buy the appliances, the houses and hope to send their kids to school grow ever more marginalized.

The hollowing out of the once great American middle class, the loss of old-style manufacturing jobs, the decline of organized labor as a force for economic stability and worker protections, the skyrocketing cost of higher education and wage stagnation represent a crisis for American capitalism and politics. If fellow Americans aren’t reaping more rewards of the one-time American dream, we are all eventually going to starve.

Who you listen to


Who has the ear of legislators at the Statehouse? Not always the voters.

In the last decade and more, the voices listened to more closely has been that of Wayne Hoffman and the organization of which he’s president, the Idaho Freedom Foundation. It would help to know who’s behind that noble-sounding front, but that’s been a mystery … which may give it some mystique. IFF has tried to position itself as arbiter of what is “conservative”, and while that word has become essentially meaningless in recent years the organization is quite specific about what it approves of.

The IFF gives each legislator a rating on - well, how you define it is up to you, the criteria seem arbitrary - their votes on various bills. Six representatives share a 100 percent rating, ranging to Democratic Senator Cherie Buckner-Webb at 43. Running in her Boise district, she may be disappointed it’s not lower. Some legislators don’t take it very seriously, at least no more than they do ratings from other groups (quite a few have tried their hand at the numbers game over the years). But because the rating has been positioned as a sort of a measure of “conservatism”, and because that word carries such magic dust in Idaho politics, some legislators have worried, rightly or not, that a poor score will hurt them. In other words, might generate an opponent in the primary.

You can see the rankings at

Constituents may want to ask their lawmakers about the IFF ratings this spring after the session ends. Here is why.

A few days ago Hoffman (who was once a newspaper reporter) wrote a column critical of the proposed revisions in the state school funding formula, which defines how the state funds headed to public schools are divided locally. It’s a complex topic; there are pros and cons.

He got extra attention when added: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today. The predictable result has been higher costs, lower performance, and a system that twists itself in knots to prove it’s educating kids when really it’s not.”

So some constituent questions to legislators suggest themselves. Do you agree with Hoffman that there should be no public schools in Idaho? Do you agree that they are not educating students, that any suggestion they do is phony - and if they don’t, should you be campaigning for parents to pull all their kids out of them? Should there be a legal requirement, as is now the case, that Idaho students must be educated until age 16? If you want public schools replaced, what would you replace them with? (Private schools have operated in Idaho for generations, but parents overwhelmingly have long taken the public option.) Should Idaho’s constitution, which since statehood has required a uniform and thorough system of public schools, be amended to drop that requirement? Should students be educated at all?

The implications of Hoffman’s philosophical statement are broader than even that, because if the schools, which the constitution declares to be the state’s top priority, are a “virulent form of socialism” then you’d have to conclude that nearly everything else the state does, or local governments do, is as well. If something socialistic - something we do together - is bad, well then. Should the prisons be privatized? (We’ve seen how well the recent efforts in that direction turned out.) Why not the courts? (Ponder the dispensing of justice under a for-profit system.) Should the state parks be sold off? Should agricultural research be ended? Should the health districts be turned into for-profit clinics not responsible for helping protect public health? Should our roads be (as some were in territorial days) privately-operated toll roads? In essence, should we run through the state budget and zero everything out, and leave it for someone to try to make a profit from?

Some of this may sound like unwarranted snark. But remember that “socialism” has, in the hands of “free-market” absolutists, been expanded to include nearly everything done by the public - which is to say, done through our government. Days before, Hoffman was busy attaching the S-label to Medicaid as well; his group just failed at the Idaho Supreme Court in an effort to overturn the Medicaid expansion which Idaho voters approved three months ago. There is a presumption here, usually unspoken but just under the surface, that everything we need to have done can be done better as a for-profit enterprise.

So, a constituent question for legislators: Do you believe that? Follow up question: What do you think the voters of Idaho believe? One more: What was your rating on the IFF index?

Booze, bucks and buyouts


Idaho territory was a rugged place. While LDS settlers were diverting streams and cultivating fields in the southeast, the mining camps in central and North Idaho were raucous, unruly and not ashamed of it. But the drafters of the Idaho Constitution in 1889 were feeling the wave of temperance rising: Article 3, Section 24 reads:

PROMOTION OF TEMPERANCE AND MORALITY. The first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home. The legislature should further all wise and well directed efforts for the promotion of temperance and morality.

Idaho went on to establish a Prohibition amendment to our state Constitution in 1917, two years before ratifying the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution which established nation-wide prohibition.

But then came repeal in 1933 and Idaho, somewhat reluctantly followed suit. The Idaho Liquor Act was passed the legislature in 1939 and its framework exists today with some modifications. It’s an old, complicated system of regulating liquor licenses controlling the manufacture, sale, distribution and serving of alcoholic beverages. It has created an artificial market for liquor licenses that means for some regions they are dear, expensive or unattainable. Other markets they go unclaimed. Make no mistake, this law has created winners and losers. And the winners aren’t about to embrace the losers.

You see, the State Alcohol Control Board (ABC) limits licenses in cities based on their population. But if there are no licenses available from the state, you can buy someone else’s license or lease it. Here’s a broker where you can shop.

A license that cost you $200 from the state, if you put your name on the waiting list and bided time, is now worth $200,000 on the “liquor license market”. You can’t just sit on a license, you have to operate a real functioning bar for at least 6 months or you lose your $200 fee and the license. But if you “season” your license, it becomes very valuable. Last year a license in Coeur d'Alene was worth $300,000. Add to this, the state collects a 10% fee on any liquor license transaction. Throw in the changing populations of towns and this amplifies the obscurity of this system. The people who paid a lot don’t want to see their investment devalued should some crazy legislator want to shake up the 80-year-old system. I don’t see how this promotes temperance and morality.

I respect any legislator willing to address this mess. Many have. Governor Otter tried in 2009. But he gave up after his bill died in the Senate that year. Issues as tough as this require perseverance. A couple years ago Representative Luke Malek (R, Couer D Alene) brought a bill but again it died; then he decided to run for Congress. This year Senator Jim Rice (R Nampa) has brought a bill very similar to Malek’s. It got killed in a Senate committee last week.

I applaud Senator Rice. I hope he’s willing to stick around and see it through. He might have to hand this one off to someone younger; I suspect it will take a few years. And he’ll have to have tough skin because lots of liquor license owners think their ox is going to get gored.

Probably the only solution will be for the taxpayers to buy out all those over-priced liquor licenses so we can start over. I doubt Senator Rice can promise us that Mexico will pay for the buyout. That one’s getting sour.

A President’s Day protest


I’m writing this on President’s Day and can think of no better way to celebrate the executive branch of our government than to protest President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on our southern border.

In his first inaugural address, one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, called upon his countrymen to find the “better angels of our nature,” and in his second inaugural address, Lincoln returned to this uplifting theme urging “malice toward none with charity toward all.”

Sadly, our current president seems hell-bent on flipping those famous words on their head as he calls upon the most craven impulses and shows malice toward all and charity toward none – unless perhaps one is a member of Club Mar-a-Lago.
Indeed, it would be hard to imagine two more different presidents, both Republicans, than Abraham Lincoln and Donald Trump.

Two years ago, Mr. Trump took a sacred oath to “faithfully execute his office and to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." By declaring a national emergency with respect to circumstances on our Southern border and announcing his intent to shift billions of dollars to fund his border wall, the president is violating that oath. His policy is unwise, ineffective and inhumane. And his most recent actions to implement that policy are, I believe, unconstitutional.

Our founding fathers wisely divided federal power among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Among the powers given to Congress is the exclusive power of the purse. Article I, Section 9 states: “No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in consequence of appropriations made by law.” Thus, the executive branch cannot spend money unless the legislative branch has passed a law authorizing the spending.

Congress has given the president broad authority in the 1976 National Emergencies Act to declare a state of emergency, but the Act doesn’t define what “emergency” means. Even so, it would seem a monumental stretch to conclude that it means whatever the president says it means. There must be sideboards of reasonableness and reality.

It would be absurd if a president who was frustrated by Congressional inaction on a funding initiative could – regardless of the facts – simply declare a national emergency to achieve his ends. What Mr. Trump labels a “national emergency” is but a pretext, a manufactured scenario to enable him to get his way. A reasonable person can assess the situation on our nation’s southern border and conclude that it presents serious problems, but no reasonable person could conclude that those problems rise to the level of a national emergency.

An actual emergency would seem to demand urgent action. But the president conceded that he “didn’t need to do this” and acknowledged that, having an eye to the 2020 election, he merely wanted to speed up the process.

An actual emergency would likely be identified by the intelligence community in its comprehensive threat assessment to Congress. But there was not a single mention.

And an actual emergency would be supported by objective data permitting the reasonable inference that an emergency exists. Such data is utterly lacking. Mr. Trump’s assertions regarding the purported “emergency,” were gross exaggerations, half-truths, and outright lies.

But let’s assume for a minute – just for the sake of argument – that the southern border presents a national emergency for purposes of the Act. Where can the president turn to find the money to fund the wall? Under the National Emergencies Act, a presidential declaration of an emergency unlocks other provisions. One provision allows a president to spend already appropriated money for “military construction projects.” Another provision allows him to divert money from already appropriated disaster relief.

Only twice before in our history have presidents relied on emergency powers to spend funds on something other than that for which Congress had appropriated them. The first time was when George Herbert Walker Bush made his Persian Gulf War emergency declaration. The second time was when George W. Bush declared a national emergency after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In both of these instances, however, the transfer of monies funded projects that Congress had considered and rejected. In contrast, Congress has clearly considered and rejected the president’s demand for $5.7 billion in wall funding. Instead, it provided $1.4 billion for steel fencing. Thus, the situation before us is unprecedented.

Can Congress do anything to prevent this executive overreach? It certainly can. This National Emergencies Act allows Congress to reject a president’s emergency declaration by a joint resolution passed by a majority vote in each house.

We can predict that the House of Representatives will comfortably pass such a resolution and, since it is deemed privileged, it will be guaranteed a vote on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cannot reach into his bag of tricks to stop that vote.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the president can veto the resolution. And, in order to override a presidential veto, the joint resolution must pass both houses with a 2/3 super majority.

In Federalist 47, James Madison wrote: “[t]he accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many…may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Madison and other founders reasonably expected that each branch would be vigilant in protecting their own rights and responsibilities. The dual and complimentary concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances only work if members of each branch actively protect their branch, if they tack to the Constitution and not the agenda of any party or president.

So, we are compelled to ask: Will Congress step up? And, closer to home, we ask: Will Idaho’s congressional delegation capitulate to Mr. Trump’s power grab or will they defend Congress as a separate and equal branch of government? We must ask them to grow a spine and stand up for the rule of law; we must urge them to protect our founders’ bedrock principles; we must demand that they rise to this singular and critical occasion.

I began this piece by quoting our Sixteenth president, and I will close by again quoting Lincoln. In his famous address at Gettysburg, the Great Emancipator saluted the service of those who gave their full measure of devotion so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” It seems that throughout our nation’s history, each generation has been called to save our republic, this people-focused government of which Lincoln spoke. We have resisted forces from within and without that would undermine and destroy us, that would cut short our long-standing experiment as a constitutional democracy.

Now it is our turn. It is our turn to stand for the rule of law. It is our turn to resist tyranny. And it is our turn to do what this president seems utterly unwilling to do – to preserve, protect and defend our Constitution.

May we rise to the occasion; may we be equal to the task.

It ain’t broke


After much partisan wrangling in the Legislature and lengthy fighting through the courts, Idahoans voted to fix Idaho’s legislative redistricting system by removing it from raw politics. In 1994, the people approved an amendment to the Idaho Constitution empowering an independent panel to divide the State into legislative districts. The two major parties were each to appoint three members to the six-person panel.

The system has performed its work in two reapportionments--following the 2000 census and after the 2010 census. It has not been perfect, but it has reduced the partisan rancor and endless litigation that caused the voters to approve it. Plus, it has reduced the possibility of pernicious gerrymandering that can dilute the votes of city-dwellers in Idaho’s more-populous counties.

What brought the people to demand that partisanship be kept out of redistricting? It was an ugly situation and I had a front-row seat as Idaho Attorney General. In 1981, the Republican-dominated Legislature passed a reapportionment bill which Governor Evans vetoed. The next year, the Legislature passed a bill that was signed by the Governor. It was challenged in court and found unconstitutional by a district judge in Sandpoint.

The Idaho Supreme Court upheld the judge’s ruling in June of 1983 and sent the case back so he could adopt a new apportionment plan. That court approved a plan devised by a North Idaho College professor. The plan called for 21 additional legislators and established seven large, overlying districts called floterial districts, as well as six multi-member districts.

In January of 1983, as I was stepping into the AG office, the Supreme Court ruled that the plan would go into effect, unless the Legislature adopted a constitutional alternative. The Legislature approved a plan that the Governor signed, but the Court found it inadequate.

I asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene but it declined. The Republican legislative leadership sought help in federal court but was rebuffed. They then drafted a revised plan, but the Governor refused to call a special session to consider it. So, the odd plan drafted by the professor went into effect.

The lawyer representing those who challenged the Legislature’s plans throughout the lengthy litigation collected $145,000 from the State for his work. It would have been north of a million dollars at today’s rates.

These things can produce unexpected results. The Democrats thought the professor’s plan would benefit them, while my fellow Republicans were scared to death of it. It turned out they were both wrong because the plan slightly favored Republicans--the law of unintended consequences. And, the majority party does not always remain in the majority—what comes around can often go around, as they say.

Now, there is a move afoot to re-inject partisan gerrymandering into the redistricting process. It is proposed that the majority party in Idaho have an extra vote on the panel and that decisions be made by a simple majority vote rather than the currently-required two-thirds vote. That would return us to the pre-reform system where raw politics would give an unfair advantage to the party then in the majority. The proposal, House Joint Resolution No. 2 (HJR 2), would be an invitation to more litigation, with the risk of court-imposed reapportionment plans.

There is one other fact to consider. The U.S. Supreme Court will likely issue a major ruling this year on the permissibility of partisan gerrymandering. It has two cases currently before it--one from Maryland where the Democrats gerrymandered and one from North Carolina where Republicans benefitted. Why not wait to squabble over the issue until there is guidance from that court?

As we commemorate George Washington’s birthday on Presidents Day, let’s remember and heed his prescient warnings against political partisanship. I suspect that Abraham Lincoln would also disapprove of partisan gerrymandering. Historian Allen Guelzo has observed that Lincoln may have lost his 1858 Senate race because of gerrymandering. At that time, Senators were selected by state legislatures. The majority Democrats in the Illinois legislature selected Lincoln’s rival for the Senate seat, even though Republican candidates had received more votes in the legislative election.