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Posts published in November 2019

Hidden from view


Public libraries have been moving increasingly digital, but they still stock print books on their shelves. And some of those books, a few of them, concern subjects current and political.

New book counters will, typically, include a few books from each end of the political spectrum - something, say, from Sean Hannity and something from Rachel Maddow, for example, or other counterparts, or research or memoirs from people around the spectrum.

That’s never been a very controversial thing in most places. But lately it has been, at least for one patron, at the public library in Coeur d’Alene.

The librarian there, Bette Ammon, said that some of the books highlighting or supporting a view from the left, or including or focusing on criticisms of Donald Trump, started disappearing from their appropriate places on the shelves. (A news story about this indicated those included a memoir by Hillary Clinton, two or three books about the Trump White House and a book on impeachment, among other subjects.) The books apparently weren’t stolen or destroyed, just refiled in places or in ways where no one would think to look for them.

Ammon received a note from the mystery refiler (apparently as yet anonymous), who said, “I am going to continue hiding these books in the most obscure places I can find to keep this propaganda out of the hands of young minds.Your liberal angst gives me great pleasure.”

Liberal angst apparently is the highest goal here. But this prankish behavior suggests more actual angst on the other side of the equation. (If there’s an example out there of the two ideological sides flipping their activities, what follows would also apply.)

The conservative angst that would have led to a hiding of liberal messaging seems at first hard to understand.

If you live in Coeur d’Alene, you have no lack of access to conservative points of view. An overwhelming majority of elected officials in that area compete fiercely to be considered more conservative than thou; some liberals do live there but relatively few are very visible. The state and federal elected officials covering the area are all Republican. There are loads of conservative organizations - even a boatload of competing conservative Republican organizations. The local newspaper editorial pages are hardly liberal bastions. Conservative talk radio is available 24/7 (while liberal talk radio essentially does not exist). Fox News is, of course, on cable. And so on.

What does it mean, then, to be so threatened by a handful of books in a library to go to the effort to hide them because they’re so risky? Might they contain ideas that - gasp - just might be more persuasive than some of what library patrons have been hearing elsewhere around the community? Might a counter-argument to the majority viewpoint appear somewhere in there?

Talk about angst.

Or there’s another alternative, which would be more likely to exhibit itself in book theft or destruction:

A lack of concern about whether the messages in the books might be convincing, but rather a simple determination that no such messages - none other than the community’s majority message - should be heard at all; that they be silenced, blacked out. That the community be blanketed in one ideology, only one, with no access (as far as could be managed) to any other.

Ideally, in the online world, a system something like China’s, where online information uncomfortable to the ruling regime is blocked from public access.

I know. A prank involving a handful of books in a library isn’t by itself such a big deal.

But the mindset behind it may be.

Health care shopping


Getting the power of the marketplace to have some effect on health care costs has been the holy grail for years. The Trump administration just announced a major move. Let’s look at it.

In an announcement Friday, while many were watching impeachment hearings, Trump officials described new rules they hope will improve transparency in health costs.

One rule will require health insurance plans to provide “cost-sharing information, including an estimate of their cost-sharing liability for all covered healthcare items and services, through an online tool” (

Further, insurers will be required to: “Disclose on a public website their negotiated rates for in-network providers and allowed amounts paid for out-of-network providers.”

Have you fallen asleep? I hope not because we haven’t come to the good part yet.

The proposed rule will also require hospitals “to provide patients with clear, accessible information about their "standard charges" for the items and services they provide” (

So, insurance companies will let us know how much they expect we will have to pay should we have to file a claim, and also how much they will be paying the hospitals and doctors. And hospitals will broadcast their charges. This is a big deal.

Or is it? It’s been done in some states already. The longest running experiment on this is in New Hampshire where they established a cost comparison website in 2007. Over a five-year study period MRI costs decreased 1-2%. The overall savings for all outpatient radiology costs for people who used the tool was 3%. Not really big apples, I’ll agree. Especially if you realize imaging costs in the US are about twice what they are in other developed countries.

But this modest success hasn’t stopped other states from launching their own website comparison tools. Our neighbors Washington and Oregon have theirs running, as well as half a dozen others. Maybe the states that have chosen to experiment can find better solutions. I really don’t see Idaho investing in this soon.

Why hasn’t the all-powerful marketplace had more of an effect ratcheting down the cost of healthcare? Before we look in the mirror, let’s see who else we can blame.

If you ask Bernie Sanders or any other Democratic presidential candidate that raised their hand, the blame would go squarely on the health insurance industry and the profit driven Medical Industrial Complex.

“Let’s eliminate all that” to quote Kamala Harris. Maybe that gets your base fired up, but it skips over the fact that every developed country with universal coverage has some form of private insurance. Israel and the Netherlands require insurance be purchased. Many countries require private insurance to supplement public health insurance. Others make it optional. None outlaw it.

How about we blame the lawyers? Sorry, it is a cost, but a small one. Medical malpractice may be a boogey man for nervous doctors and an easy target for politicians, but it represents less than 3% of all health care costs, even if you factor in defensive medicine. And defensive medicine costs 4X what the actual premiums and settlements run.

Should we blame the defensive doctors, or at least the highly paid ones?

It is true, doctors in the United States are paid more than doctors around the world. In fact, it’s about twice as much. And we have an abundance of specialists here in the US who tend to be higher earners. But doctors’ income comprises a little less than 10% of the national total health care costs. Cutting their pay in half would save us some. I’d rather focus on getting better results out of them, er, I mean us, since once again medical mistakes have been found to be the third leading cause of death according to a Johns Hopkins study.

The US Medical Industrial Complex is huge and to quote our President “complicated”. We are going to have to do a lot of things to turn this ship around. Every little bit will help. Transparency will help. Who knows what we might see.

Tops in millionaire growth: Oregon

From a report by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

The number of taxpayers reporting annual income of $1 million or more has risen faster in Oregon than any other state, according to the Oregon Center for Public Policy’s analysis of newly released data from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

From 2010 to 2017, the number of Oregonians with at least $1 million in annual income jumped 133 percent, the Center said. Meanwhile, growth nationally averaged 75 percent.

“This new IRS data strengthens the case for raising taxes on the rich to fund public services that benefit all Oregonians,” said Center communications director Juan Carlos Ordóñez. “It adds to the growing body of research showing that tax rates matter little, if at all, on where rich people decide to live.”

In 2010, the starting point of the data made available by the IRS, Oregon put in place higher tax rates on high-income earners. In January of that year, voters approved Measure 66, one of two successful tax measures on the ballot. Measure 66 raised Oregon’s top marginal tax rate from 9 to 11 percent for couples (joint tax filers) with income above $500,000 a year. The measure also raised the tax rate to 10.8 percent for couples with income between $250,000 and $500,000. In 2012, those rates came down to the current level of 9.9 percent — still higher than before Measure 66.

The IRS data shows not only that Oregon outpaced the nation in growth of the total number of taxpayers with at least $1 million in income, but also in the size of this very high-income group relative to the rest of the state’s taxpayers. “Examining the data this way takes into account differences in population growth among the states,” Ordóñez explained.

The Center found that Oregonians reporting at least $1 million in income made up about 0.1 percent of all Oregon taxpayers in 2010. By 2017, that share had grown to 0.22 percent of all Oregon tax filers. That amounts to a 110 percent growth in the share of tax filers with top incomes — a figure eclipsed by only one state, Georgia.

“At the same time that we’ve seen sharp growth in the number of million-dollar incomes in Oregon, we’ve also seen a housing crisis explode, college tuition climb, and preschool stay out of reach for half of all children in our state,” said Ordóñez. “On many levels, it makes sense to ask the richest Oregonians to contribute more toward the common good.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy ( is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues.

What an impeachment proceeding is


Despite what the talking heads and others may say, an impeachment is not a garden variety criminal trial. The Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution does not apply to an impeachment proceeding. The confusion may be understandable because there have been only 3 presidential impeachments to date and the Constitution just devotes a few scant sentences to the proceeding.

The House is granted “the sole Power of Impeachment.” That is, it brings the charges against the president. The Senate is granted “the sole Power to try all Impeachments.” It is the jury. The Chief Justice presides over a presidential impeachment. Otherwise, the process to be followed is in the hands of the two houses of Congress.

There is no requirement of due process, no right to confront witnesses and no right to appeal the Senate’s decision. However, because these proceedings are high profile, it is incumbent on those in charge to proceed with fairness and transparency. Otherwise, the result might not meet with public acceptance.

There has been criticism of the House majority because the initial interviews were conducted in private sessions. However, it appears that all of the evidence supporting potential charges will be produced in open hearings. Both sides will participate in the hearings, a significant departure from criminal cases. Investigation of criminal matters is almost always done in private until a charging decision is made. Here, the charges will be subject to a majority vote of the House at the conclusion of its proceedings.

A president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of the Senate upon conviction of “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” This can include an actual criminal offense but may also include non-criminal conduct such as “the abuse or violation of some public trust,” as Alexander Hamilton stated in the Federalist Papers (No. 65). James Madison thought impeachment would prevent a president from “betray[ing] his trust to foreign powers.”

Unlike a criminal trial where an unbiased jury is required, an impeachment is tried in the U.S. Senate. When the Constitution was written, it was assumed the Senate would be an impartial body that would act free of partisan influence. The constitutional framers warned of the great danger that extreme partisanship posed to our form of government. Unfortunately, we have failed to heed those warnings. We can hope that Senators will try to rise above politics, seriously consider the evidence and vote as the evidence dictates.

Where these proceeding substantially differ from a criminal proceeding is in the area of jury or witness tampering. Serious penalties can be imposed on a criminal defendant who threatens or tries to curry favor with the jury or who intimidates witnesses.

In an impeachment, the president can threaten Senators, try to buy their favor, and call upon party loyalty to sway their votes. Trump has done some of each--helping to raise campaign funds for Senators with tough 2020 races, threatening to support primary opponents of those who do not support him, and the like.

Witnesses are subject to being threatened, intimidated or verbally attacked because it is not clear that federal law which prohibits this kind of conduct applies in an impeachment. Vilifying and threatening to unmask the whistleblower, even though everything he reported has been substantiated by other evidence, is designed to punish him and silence others. While tampering with juries and witnesses is not subject to criminal penalties in an impeachment, as it is in criminal courts, such conduct could be the subject of an article of impeachment. Regardless, it is an impediment to justice.

People should not expect the impeachment to resemble a criminal trial. But, the public does have every right to expect it to be handled with honor and dignity on both sides.

Can they?


Well, here we are. All wrapped up in this impeachment business. Almost nothing in the news these days except all the activity in the U.S. House and the serial lying, character assassination and a steady stream of verbal sewerage coming out of the White House daily.

There’s not much guessing about the outcome of the issue. Looks like Speaker Pelosi has the votes and I’ll bet she figures, when push comes to shove, a few Republicans will even join the Dems. That’s all well and good, having the votes in your pocket. And it appears she does.

With any luck at all, the House will do the deed and pass the “Bill of Impeachment” over to the Senate before Christmas. First, they’ve got to contend with some GOP reps - the crazies - and all the baseless B.S. in which they’re engaged.

But, I’m already looking a step ahead to the Senate. And I have a question. Given the long, wide and deep political divisions in that chamber, can there be a fair impeachment trial? Seriously.

As I recall, in the other two such trials in my lifetime, leaders of both parties put differences aside and got their heads together - in secret - to draw up a set of rules for how the trial would be conducted in those formerly hallowed halls.

Again, with the angry, highly partisan feelings, the personal attacks and the rancor that exists in almost every vote on other issues in the Senate these days, is it really possible for folks in leadership of the two parties to agree on such an absolutely necessary basic issue?

And there’s this. What if they can’t? What happens then? Does the whole thing just die? Is it all over? No trial?

No one seems to have the answers to any of those questions. There’s a lot of “chin music” going on but I haven’t seen any assurances “leadership” can rise to the occasion. Rather than getting together, it seems there are almost direct efforts to keep the divisions open while pouring a verbal salt in the wounds.

Example. One of the most historic and practiced tenets in Congress is that no one in either body will publicly speak disparagingly of a member in the other body. Not even mention a name.

So, here we have a “senator” from Louisiana, with a mouth larger and quicker than his brain, publically naming Speaker Pelosi, saying for all to hear, “It must suck to be as dumb as she is.”

Coming together? Observing rules and protocols? Overcoming ingrained political and personal divisions for the common good? Trying to at least get along while Congress deals with this most serious impeachment business?

You’ve got GOP crazies - and a know-nothing President - “demanding” the whistle blower not only be named but forced to testify in the impeachment hearing. Strictly against federal law. Won’t happen. The same bunch has already been attacking the credibility of witnesses. The “credibility” of these witnesses? Really? Good luck with that.

And, across the rotunda, you’re got the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee saying there are no grounds for impeachment and he won’t be reading the testimony of witnesses who testified before House committees. Nor, he says, will he watch the televised public hearings. A lawyer by education, a retired Army Judge Advocate in the Reserves, and the chairman of the most germane Senate committee calls impeachment “a scam” and he “won’t read the under-oath witness statements?” Comity? Coming together?

And there’s Ol’ Mitch. He’s already said Republicans will “take a responsible lead” and the trial “shouldn’t last longer than five or six days.” Then, he thought a bit and prophesied it “could take longer” when he figured out six Democrats running for President could be taken off the campaign trail for weeks with an extended “trial.”

There’s a whole lot of lawyers sitting in those Senate chairs. They’re the folks who’ll be the “jury” for the process. They’re going to be sworn in as “jurors” beforehand with an oath that requires “an open mind” to the testimony and other evidence to be presented.

Idaho has two of those “jurors.” Have you listed to either of them lately. “I’ve seen no evidence that rises to the level or impeachment,”
they’ve said, or words to that effect. Others of their political “persuasion” have uttered similar statements. You’re going to find 67
Senators with “open minds” in a “jury” pool like that? And the chairman of the Judiciary Committee calls the process “B.S.?”

So, the question is, again, what happens if they can’t get their act together? How do you find 67 votes for any honest verdict given the words, pre-judgement and dismissals already on the public record?

The impeachment process rests on the U.S. Constitution and is about the most important issue to be dealt with by the 537 members of any Congress. The process, as in any other judicial proceedings, requires honesty, thoughtful consideration of all testimony, all witnesses and other evidence with an open mind.

Do those things seem possible in the chaos of hate and division extant in our Congress? They’re absolutely necessary to a fair trial and a just verdict. That’s how they’re supposed to approach this.

But, can they? Will they?

Fake news


Post-truth is pre-fascism.
► Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny, Tim Duggan Books (2017)

The English Telegraph newspaper noted in April 2019 that “As well as being a favourite term of Donald Trump, [fake news] was also named 2017 word of the year, raising tensions between nations, and may lead to regulation of social media. So great is the danger, the ‘Doomsday Clock,’ which symbolises the threat of global annihilation, remains at two minutes to midnight thanks to the rise of fake news and information warfare, its keepers have said.”

And that much is not fakery. But a lot else is.

As this was written, here are a few samples from the site, which reviews questionable information and debunks a lot of what’s out there:

“Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has not proposed giving Social Security benefits to ‘illegal aliens,’ as a popular meme claims. ... An image of elected officials playing a computer card game has gone viral on social media. But the photo is from 2009, and it shows state lawmakers in Connecticut, not members of Congress. ... Former President Barack Obama, like many major party presidential nominees before him, released his tax returns – despite a popular social media post that implies otherwise. ... President Donald Trump didn’t call for the ‘death penalty’ for ‘suicide bombers,’ as social media posts say. That’s a made-up quote from a satirical story published in 2017. ... A doctored photo circulating on Facebook falsely claims that a California middle school congratulated President Donald Trump ‘on reaching his 10,000th lie.’ The image came from an online generator that lets users enter their own text.”

That’s just from one part of the front page.

What is “fake news”? Many things. It may include satire and humor pieces, and writings that specifically were intended as fiction – but might not have been taken that way. There’s also poorly researched or otherwise sloppy news articles that weren’t intended to be misleading, but through poor standards (and we should remember how small and short-handed many newsrooms are becoming) wind up contributing to misinformation. And outright propaganda.

The staff said that much of what it reviews include popular memes and viral emails and social media reports, and sometimes the exact category – other than that the contention in the piece was false – can be unclear: “Our first story was about a made-up email that claimed then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to put a ‘windfall’ tax on all stock profits of 100% and give the money to, the email claimed, ‘the 12 Million Illegal Immigrants and other unemployed minorities.’ We called it ‘a malicious fabrication’ – that’s ‘fake news’ in today’s parlance.”

Incorrect or even made-up information about the world around us has grown to be a real problem. In our household we routinely sift through what’s real and what’s either satire or otherwise not reality-based.

But that’s a matter of fact versus fiction. In a sense, that’s not too hard to deal with; most of the time you can (if you’re willing to keep your mind open to do the work of sorting) work through to what’s real and what’s not. Inevitably, if you do, sometimes you’ll find data that supports your world view, and sometimes you’ll find something that undermines it. The latter is useful, if you’re into thinking: It means you may get to add another level of sophistication to the way you interpret things.

Then on the other hand, there’s this from the just-released survey American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy, from Gallup and the Knight Foundation:

“Seventy-three percent of Americans say the spread of inaccurate information on the internet is a major problem with news coverage today; this percentage is higher than for any other potential type of news bias. A majority of U.S. adults consider ‘fake news’ a very serious threat to our democracy. Americans are most likely to believe that people knowingly portraying false information as if it were true always constitutes ‘fake news.’ Four in 10 Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be ‘fake news.’”

The study noted that “The research community often defines ‘fake news’ as misinformation with the appearance of legitimately produced news but without the underlying organizational journalistic processes or mission. However, some political and opinion leaders, including Trump, commonly label news stories they disagree with or that portray them in a negative light as ‘fake news.’”

Reading critically, however, is not a skill that comes equally to everyone. Consider the story of

That site (no longer live) was launched in February 2017 by James McDaniel, an American ex-pat living in Costa Rica. Observing the unreliability of so many web sites, he decided to launch one consisting of made-up articles, including such headlines as “Obama tweet: Trump must be removed, by any means necessary.” “Whoopi Goldberg: Navy SEAL Widow was ‘Looking for Attention’.” “Man pardoned by Obama 3 months ago arrested for murder.” None were true; all were fantasy, as McDaniel readily acknowledged.

The site picked up enormous viewership; within 10 days it collected more than a million views. McDaniel remarked, “I think that almost every story I did, or at least the successful ones, relayed off of things that Trump supporters already believed. Obama is a Muslim terrorist. Hillary (Clinton) is a demonic child trafficker,” McDaniel said. “These are things much more widely believed among Trump supporters than I had previously thought. ... I saw how many fake ridiculous stories were making rounds in these groups and just wanted to see how ridiculous they could get.” He even included disclaimers that the stories were fiction, but traffic barely slowed.

Paul Simon has turned out to be right about people who hear what they want to hear, and disregard the rest.

Political crazy


The cowboy humorist Will Rogers famously said, “I’m not a member of any organized political party . . . I’m a Democrat.”

I celebrated Will’s 140th birthday recently by remembering that my dad like to quote him saying things like: “A politician is not as narrow-minded as he forces himself to be.” Or this classic: “Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously, and the politicians as a joke, when it used to be vice versa.”

Which brings us to the absurdity of modern American politics, an unprecedentedly divisive president and those who would replace him.

Donald Trump has, as one-time GOP strategist and John McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt said recently, “completely remade the American presidency through his debasements of its traditions.” Trump is the first president in any of our lifetimes who has consistently sought “to incite and divide as opposed to unifying around core principles.”

Yet, Trump is betting that he can avoid, despite ever mounting evidence of abuse of power, being forced from office and that he can again thread the Electoral College needle next year, while losing the popular vote. Trump’s only path to victory is to become ever more shrill and demagogic in bashing his opponents. “Our radical Democrat opponents,” Trump said recently, “are driven by hatred, prejudice, and rage. They want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

That is palpable nonsense, but it’s all he has. Donald Trump wants the coming election to be about anything but him and Democrats will make a historic – hopefully not also tragic – mistake if they allow the election to be anything but a referendum on Trump and his presidency.

Yet, Democrats like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are playing directly into Trump’s small hands with their own crazy divisiveness. It comes in a vastly expensive and vastly controversial “Medicare for All” plan. Trump will re-brand this as “socialism” in a New York minute.

Every American with the possible exception of a few hospital administrators, medical device manufactures, insurance company CEOs or orthopedic surgeons knows that our “system” of health care is an ultra-expensive joke. We spend more money for worse outcomes than almost any other developed country. Yet our political leaders go into partisan lock down mode to prevent sensible efforts that could make things better. Mitt Romney once proudly embraced – you can look it up – what essentially became Obamacare, but when Romney’s reforms became identified with a Democrat open political warfare ensued. And Republicans effectively conceded the entire issue to Democrats.

Remember Trump promised, “I am going to take care of everybody … Everybody’s going to be taken care of much better than they’re taken care of now.” Right. The only policy the GOP has is repeal of Obamacare and they haven’t done that.

So with all this running room to maneuver on a fundamentally important issue for millions of Americans Democrats are debating who can raise taxes the most to fund “Medicare for All.” The plan is not only unrealistic because it can’t been enacted, but also because it cedes the health care issue to a president who can’t remotely articulate a true policy but can say “socialism.”

It turns out that the worst president in modern times, even one who is a narcissistic sociopath, will beat a socialist every time.

Meanwhile, Democrats are focused on macro contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, two of the least representative states in the nation, as the means of winnowing their gang of potential candidates.

Jimmy Carter, who most Americans now regard as a not particularly skillful president, but a remarkable former president, needs to share some of the blame for why we place such outsized importance on Iowa. Democratic presidential candidates who couldn’t find Dubuque on a map two years ago can now not only locate the river town on the Mississippi but also name the local party chair in Osceola County, population 6,040.

Former vice president Walter Mondale once disavowed any presidential ambitions – it was fake news – when he said, “Life is too short to be spent in Holiday Inns,” but that’s what you do in Iowa.

Until Carter in 1976 made the curious, which is say insane Iowa caucus process central to selecting presidential nominees the quaint local tradition was, well, a quaint local tradition. Now the political universe turns on the latest Iowa Poll and whether Biden is slipping or Mayor Pete surging.

I like Iowa. I worked there years ago at a small radio station where I interviewed Rosalyn Carter late in 1975. But I’m still not sure a few thousand people gathered at a school gymnasium in Waukon or at a Lutheran Church in Corning is the best method to select the next Democratic candidate who has a minor charge: save the country.

For one thing the logistics of getting people out from in front of the television on a Monday night in February in Iowa is a daunting challenge. As one organizer recently told the Des Moines Register, “It’s like … trying to plan a wedding reception at the same time at 86 locations and you don’t know who’s going to show up.”

No sane political party – at least no organized one – would select candidates this way. And no organized party confronted with one overriding objective in less than a year would flirt with let alone adopt some of the positions Democrats are espousing.

“Medicare for All” may be the undoing of some Democratic primary candidates and, if so, they deserve the undoing. Come on, Iowa!

Democrats, at least some of them, seem to have forgotten that they don’t need a policy prescription for every single issue confronting the world. They just need to not scare a lot of Americans who are dog-tired of Trumpian nonsense and incompetence and are looking for a change, but not a scary change.

Democrats need to remember their task is to defeat a historically unpopular president by realistic appeals to women, young people and Latino and African-American voters who are repulsed by Trump’s chaos, lying and corruption. The old white guy crowd is lost to Democrats, but the right Democrat can appeal to the remaining genuine swing voters who will take a dim view of a plan that eradicates 150 million private health insurance plans and raises taxes to do it.

Time bombs in the code


The aftermath of the city election in Caldwell, which seems to have thrown a shock into some of the people there, raises a significant question or two.

These emerge from the contest for Caldwell City Council Seat 6, where John McGee took the largest number of votes (39.2 percent) over two other candidates, Evangeline Beechler (30.6 percent) and Charles Stadick (30.2 percent). It was a close election. In the other two council races there, one candidate won unopposed and other prevailed with more than half of the vote.

The initial election night take was that McGee seemed to have won the election, since (apparently) Caldwell did not have a provision saying that council members needed to have a majority of the vote to win. Idaho state law (50-707B) says, “A city may, by ordinance, provide that a majority of the votes for any candidate running for a council seat adopted by a city in accordance with section 50-707 or 50-707A, Idaho Code, shall be required for election to that office. In the event no candidate receives a majority of the votes cast, there shall be a runoff election between the two (2) candidates receiving the highest number of votes cast.”

If such an ordinance is on the books, you need an outright majority to win. If not, a plurality is enough. Generally, Idaho cities do not require full majorities to win, though some do (Boise in the case of mayor, for example, as many Idahoans now know).

So far as I can tell - if anyone has better information, please correct me - there is no majority-vote requirement on the ordinance books in Caldwell. If that’s true, where is the legal authority, on the part of Caldwell city or Canyon County, for a runoff election? Or is the runoff happening just because some people in Caldwell didn’t like the idea of McGee - who awhile back left the state Senate under a cloud - on the city council? Other council candidates have won office in Caldwell in recent years, including in the elections of 2017, with less than a majority.

Because McGee acceded to the proposal for a runoff election against his nearest opponent, Beechler, the runoff seems likely to go ahead; on Thursday, the Canyon County elections office scheduled it for December 3. But suppose someone challenged it in future as being unauthorized by local law?

When McGee asked Boise attorney David Leroy to look into the question, matters took a deeper turn.

Leroy checked the provision covering council elections generally in the Caldwell code, and found the ordinance passed in 1989 that says, “Members of the Caldwell city council shall be elected by a majority of the qualified electors as established by the Idaho Code.” He then noted that the Idaho Code (the state law) defines “qualified electors” as “registered voters.”

You need only pause for a moment to see the significance of that. In any given election, only a portion of all registered voters cast ballots; that percentage is what is meant by “voter turnout,” which in the case of off-year city elections in Idaho almost always falls far short of half.

That probably means a lot of Caldwell elected officials never were, according to city code, properly elected at all.

When I talked to Leroy about this, he also raised another question: If this language was inserted in Caldwell city code, might it lie in wait in the codes of any number of other Idaho cities?

The good news, going forward, is that the fix would be easy: a council could replace “qualified electors” with something like “ballots cast.” And an argument might be made that since no one objected to the election of those past city officials, the problem might be considered moot.

But language like this in legal codes can be time bombs, and they can explode at the most inopportune moments.

Two Patriots Walk Into a Bar


Alexander Hamilton was waiting for James Madison at the crowded sports bar. He sipped his pint and barely noted the many screens showing the many games. He frowned at the ring his glass had left on the counter, lost in thought.

Madison clapped him on the shoulder. “So, is it your turn or mine, Mr. Hamilton?”

“I suppose it is me, Mr. Madison, since Jay did the last one and yours was prior.”

Madison laughed. “No, Alexander, I meant who was to pay for the ale. Since you have offered, I’ll order two.” He motioned for the ale wench.

“Well aren’t you two a little late for Halloween?” she grinned at them, appreciating the white wigs and knee breeches. “What can I getcha?”

“Two pints of your best ale, ma’am. And see if you can lift this poor man’s spirits.” He again clapped Hamilton’s shoulder.

She frowned, “What is the problem, sweetheart?”

Hamilton sighed deeply. “Alas, I must convince the New Yorkers that the Senate is the proper body to judge impeachment.”

She wiped at Hamilton’s wet ring spot and asked, “So, what have you been watching, CNN or Fox?”

“Madam, I assure you, we have no time for the hunt or fishing. We are trying to save this Constitution we have fought so hard for.” He turned to Jimmy Madison. “So, will this be the 65th?”

Madison mumbled “Thereabouts” and licked his dry lips.

“Oh, I get it!” she burst into laughter. “You guys are acting as if you’re Hamilton and Madison and you are worried over writing those Federalist Papers. What a hoot!” She bustled off for the ale.

Alex and Jimmy leaned toward each other. “How did she know we were Federalists? Don’t Republicans look the same?”

“Oh, forget it. We have work. How do you propose to convince?”

Hamilton adopted his oratorical posture. “The Senate will hold the mantle since it will be the most august body of learned men, sworn to protect the Constitution and defend the Republic. They will be appointed by the legislatures and each state’s properly elected body will only choose men of the highest character, not swayed by self-interest or subject to partisan influence.”

A bearded man with a MAGA hat looked over and laughed. “I sure as hell hope not.” He raised his glass to them. “We need our President defended from those lousy Democrats. They’ve sworn to spit him out ever since he was elected. It’s the Democrats who want to overthrow our duly-elected President. It’s a coup!”

His buddy with a Seahawks T-shirt added, “You guys never heard of the 17th amendment?”

Jim and Alex shook their heads but smiled. “It gives me great comfort to know the Constitution might be so changed, tell me about it.”

“We dumped that legislative election of Senators way back. States couldn’t agree and seats sat vacant. Not to mention the rich guys buying their senate seats.” The two shared a laugh at the patriots.

The ale wench brought the two pints for Madison. “You figured it out yet? I read all those Papers in Law School.” she said with a twinkle, playing along.

Both the patriots laughed at her joke. “Ma’am, the law is no place for a woman. She is best suited for the house.”

“Or the Senate!” she laughed back at them. “You guys are a real hoot. You’ve sure got the costumes and the characters down.” Then she frowned. “Hey, why don’t you get a little relevant here? What would you guys say about universal healthcare or gun rights?”

MAGA hat and Seahawk jeered from the opposite table. “There you go with your Democrat commie talk!”

She smiled at the hecklers and asked, “Can I get you guys a refill?” Then she turned to the patriots and murmured under her breath, “Watch out for these Republicans. Alex, I mean it. Especially that Aaron Burr.” And she tilted her head back with a hearty laugh.