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Posts published in April 2021

Bad bills


When the Legislature blew into town last January, there was lots of tough talk about Governor Little trampling the rights and freedoms of Idahoans because he urged that they mask up and socially distance. Much was said about the Covid-19 pandemic being overblown, or not even a real pandemic. Some claimed that the virus had been whupped, so everyone had a constitutional right to get back to business as usual.

One politically ambitious Representative said he had a handful of bills designed just for the purpose of cutting the Governor down to size by trimming his emergency powers. A number of proposals were dumped into the legislative hopper, but most fell by the wayside when they were subjected to close scrutiny. For example, a bill to prevent officials from mandating the wearing of masks suffered some indignity when it became apparent that this posed a problem for surgeons in the operating room.

Two measures are still alive and kicking--House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136. Both suffer the same constitutional defect and should be summarily dispatched. Both bills seek to limit a Governor’s ability to continue an emergency or disaster declaration beyond 60 days without legislative approval. The legislative stamp of approval would have to come through passage of a concurrent resolution. The problem is that a resolution does not carry the force of law. In effect, the bills seek to confer upon the Legislature powers it does not have under the Idaho Constitution. That is, the ability to make laws without the signature of the Governor.

Attorney General Wasden prepared a thoughtful analysis of House Bill 135, pointing out this and other potential constitutional violations. Even though those concerns had been raised in debate, the House proceeded to pass the bill before the AG’s review was completed. The legislation now awaits action in the Senate. And, despite knowing of the constitutional flaws in Senate Bill 1136, the Senate later passed that bill, which now is pending on the House amending order.

These bills were premised on the false narrative that the Governor was acting in a dictatorial manner in responding to the pandemic. In actuality, he was following guidelines issued by the Trump Administration. He could and should have issued a statewide mask mandate early on, but declined to take that step. If anything, he did not go far enough to stop the spread of the virus, but he certainly did not overreach.

Infectious disease experts began warning in late January of a potential new wave of infections starting this March as a result of lax precautionary measures and new disease variants. Many legislators pooh-poohed the possibility, claiming that the danger was over. Well, at least until it became apparent in mid-March that it definitely was not and legislative leadership wisely decided that a two-week recess was necessary to protect those in and around the Capitol.

Now that the Legislature is resuming its work, perhaps the wind will have been taken out of the sails of those promoting these two constitutionally obnoxious bills. After all, the coronavirus was not defeated and further protective measures were necessary. Neither of the bills will solve any existing problem. Neither is worth tying up the courts with litigation or hamstringing the Governor’s efforts to deal with the tail-end effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Surely, the Legislature has better things to do than beat these dead horses.

Redistricting in Oregon


It’s coming around again, almost on schedule. But this time - and with impact for a decade to come - Oregon’s redistricting of its congressional seats has particular interest for new reasons.

The redistricting of the U.S. House of Representatives, done to ensure that all the districts have somewhere near the same population, is dictated by the U.S. constitution and has been undertaken for generations by the Oregon Legislature. Legislators have redrawn the lines between the districts since the state in 1892 first was awarded more than one district. But the changes from decade to decade usually have not been dramatic. Partly that’s because long stretches have passed between adding new districts: the third district was launched in 1913, the fourth in 1943, and the fifth in 1983. (As a matter of timing, we’re apparently about due.)

For several generations, even before the fifth and fourth districts, a mapping pattern set in. One of the districts would consist of Portland and its immediate area, and another would include all or nearly all of the state east of the Cascades. Most of the population growth that resulted in new districts happened west of the Cascades but mostly outside of Portland, and the split of that area has made a once smooth line increasingly complex.

Oregon’s remap after the 1970 census gave one district to Multnomah County, one to the northwest corner of the state (including Yamhill), one to the larger southwest area, and one to the east side (with some of Clackamas and Linn counties thrown in). The fifth district added a decade later shifted that Clackamas and Linn territory, along with pieces of the northwestern District 1 and the southwestern District 4, into the new District 5, while Multnomah kept mostly to itself in District 3. Some of the area around Medford was united with the eastern-based District 2 to even out the population.

In the four decades since, those contours have changed remarkably little. District 1 in the northwest, which includes Yamhill County, has shrunk in square mileage as the population of Washington County exploded, but it has remained northwest-corner based. District 5 has shrunk a little too with growth in Clackamas, giving up territory in the Corvallis area to the southwestern District 4. But the basic layout of the districts has not not changed greatly since Oregon was allowed five of them 40 years ago. You’d have to squint to see the difference, in fact, between the two different maps before and after the 2010 census.

This new 2020 census almost certainly will shake things up, however, because Oregon overall appears to have added enough population to justify a sixth congressional district, the only northwestern state to add any.

It will be the object of intense database research by both major parties. One reason is that the U.S. House now is closely divided - Democrats have only a small majority - and every seat is critically important. The other is that the new Oregon seat plausibly could go to either party, and a Democratic miscalculation could even result in flipping one of the current five. The question may come down to whether Oregon’s House delegation in the next decade will be five blue and one red, or four blue and two red.

Of the current House seats, four have been held throughout the last decade by Democrats and the other (District 2) by Republicans.

But the levels of party strength are not the same in all five. The most solidly locked-in district in the last generation has been District 3, which has included most of Portland, and which is overwhelmingly Democratic; there’s been no serious general election contest there in decades. The next most solid is District 2, which is located mostly east of the Cascades with some of the area around Medford; Republicans there have had no close general election races in a long time. District 1 in the northwest (which includes Yamhill County) was somewhat competitive two decades ago but, in the years since, has become heavily blue. The two remaining districts (4 and 5), while represented consistently by Democrats for a couple of decades, are much closer in their partisan balances. In 2016, District 4 - which has been represented by Democrat Peter DeFazio since 1987 - was the closest congressional district in the nation in the presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton; the Democrat won there by 554 votes. It was only a little less close in 2020. But DeFazio’s own races have not been especially close.

In other words, small changes in the contours of Districts 4 or 5 could mean either of those districts plausibly could flip if either incumbent Democrat were to leave.

The carving-out of a new District 6 complicates all this. Oregon after all is decisively but not overwhelmingly a blue state. In the 2020 presidential contest, Oregon voted for Democrat Joe Biden with 56.4% of the vote, and in none of the presidential contests since Democrats started their current streak in 1988 have any of the winners received as much as 57% of the vote. If Oregon has six congressional districts, how many might Republicans, all other things equal, expect to win? Probably two - which would mean a net one-seat gain for Republicans in the U.S. House.

Again, though, things aren’t so clear-cut. Much of the population growth has been in the Portland metro area, and it could be divided in a number of ways. Maps could be drawn, for example, which give Democrats far smaller advantages in one or two districts but spread their numbers out more broadly. That new district could realistically go Democratic or Republican depending on how careful the voting analysts are, and how determined the parties.

The remapping process in some states is run by bipartisan commissions - that’s the case in Washington and Idaho - but in Oregon legislators still are assigned the job. When redistricting was done in 2011, control of the legislature was split, as Democrats controlled the Senate and the governorship (where a redistricting bill could be vetoed) but the two parties shared control of the House. The result was a measure of compromise and little change in district boundaries.

This year, in a process that will probably be running late since final Census returns are running late, Democrats control the governor’s office and the legislature, which could mean a strongly Democratic map is pushed through. That might give Oregon??, which is only mostly Democratic, five of the six House districts. You can find similar results in a number of other states around the country, though mostly in cases benefitting Republicans (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina being prime examples).

Republicans might decide not to simply throw in the towel. They haven’t got the numbers in the strongly Democratic legislature to pass their own preferred remapping plan but they may, for a time, be able to slow things down with a tactic they’ve used in recent years on other issues: Stage a walkout, to deny one or both chambers a quorum. That would block a vote, for a time at least.

That would come with two problems. First, it probably wouldn’t solve the problem forever: They can’t simply go into hiding for months (or years?) on end. But there’s also a bigger problem. If the legislature fails to draw its own redistricting map, the job then goes to the courts, where Republicans wouldn’t necessarily have an advantage, and which likely would throw out a legislative plan only if a significant legal problem were identified.

Republicans might also consider another piece of Democratic leverage: If the legislature fails to adopt redistricting maps for itself (the other part of its assigned reapportionment work), the job goes to the secretary state: Democrat, Shemia Fagan, who would have wide latitude in crafting the map. Democrats in the legislature could have the option of threatening to throw legislative districting to her if Republicans aren’t cooperative on the congressional maps.

But then, legislative redistricting is a whole other, and also complicated, story.

About those fire stations


There’s both good and not so good news in the Twin Falls City Council’s recent approval of a plan to build two new fire stations for the growing city. The really good news is that the need can be met at less than half the price of a previously-rejected bond levy.

The not so good news is that the payments will still come from your pockets in the form of increased fees, and in the specs of the project itself which still seems adorned with “add ons.” (TN, 12/4/2020)

First, the plusses. It’s obvious that Twin Falls fire-fighting capabilities have been stretched by the city’s outward growth. Response times reflect this trend. Growth has meant longer distances from stations to perimeter housing and as the housing spread continues, that pattern makes existing station locations less viable. The current facilities simply aren’t able to hold modern fire trucks adequately or close enough to the growth areas.

That means expansion of stations is more or less inevitable. Our fire-fighters put their health, safety and lives on the line with every call; they need every advantage we can give them as they protect us all.

But the really good news is in the way the council moved on the project. With a pricey, three-station, $36 million bond proposal shot down by voters in 2019, it was apparent that citizens wouldn’t vote to raise their own property taxes with another bond proposal. After the bond defeat, that funding method was off the table. But then, how to move forward?

First, the council then wisely trimmed back the overall station plan, looking at two new facilities instead of three, funding through “no tax increase” methods and taking ideas and plans from other Idaho cities facing fire station upgrades. (TN, 3/30) These ideas were then rolled into a package costing less than half as much as the defeated bond levy. Then third station will wait.

The obvious lesson to citizens here is to be very skeptical of any “first time” ballot proposal; there’s usually a lower-priced alternative. In the case of the fire station bond proposal in 2019, there were numerous questions raised on Facebook and other venues.

Many public works projects, such as jail expansions, proposed recreation centers and other “wants,” are first presented as absolute needs. Mostly, they’re government growth which inevitably fall back on citizens. That’s not to say such proposals are over-sold, but as with autos, the sticker price is usually only the first option.

Now for the not-so-good news. One is in how the stations will be paid for. The city says it will shift monies from one account to another, then use fees coming in to cover the payments. (TN, 3/30). So where do the fees come from? People and businesses, that’s who. These will then likely be passed along in rising costs for new homes, etc. (TN, 12/4/2020). That means back to you, dear citizens, in the form of higher pricing. See, there really is no free lunch.

Beyond that, there’s still a question of what is really needed in new fire stations, and why. Twin Falls doesn’t have any women fire-fighters, yet the two stations are planned to have separate accommodations for female fire-fighters. When asked about this in 2019, the response was, they were looking to the future. Yet, here we are, two years later and still no female fire-fighters? So why not build what we need now with expansion for female staff to come later, when and if Twin Falls ever hires them?

The same logic applies to the proposed training center/tower, which citizens were told in 2019 would only be used a few times annually. So why not use Boise’s training facility when it’s needed and available? That would surely cost less than the proposed training center.

The lesson here is for citizens to keep a sharp eye and pencil on the details of public works, just as you would do if it were your own money, which it is.

Public works projects have a long history of “add ons” which may or may not be necessary, but which are signed off on by elected officials, usually because they want to “get it done” and not offend those pushing for the amenity. It then falls to citizens to keep careful watch.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at

Go partners with the president


On the morning of August 4, 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt had breakfast in his private Great Northern Special railroad car on a siding in Ephrata in east central Washington. After breakfast Roosevelt left in a motorcade to drive to the Grand Coulee damsite.

The president’s irascible Interior Secretary, Harold Ickes, a huge backer of big, costly and transformative infrastructure projects like Grand Coulee was part of the group and he recorded the details in his diary.

“The dam to be built here will take six times as much concrete as will be required at Boulder Dam,” Ickes wrote, referring to the massive dam – now called Hoover Dam – spanning the Colorado River south of Las Vegas. “There are at least a million acres of extremely fertile land which will be able to produce abundant crops if and when they get water from this project.”

Ickes expressed amazement that 20,000 people, many traveling hundreds of miles, gathered at the Grand Coulee construction site – literally the middle of nowhere – to cheer on the prospect of irrigation and energy. These folks knew the desert would bloom. New jobs would be created. Economic opportunity would come to Grant County and the larger region.

Spending money to put people to work building big things was the essence of Roosevelt’s Great Depression fighting New Deal in the Pacific Northwest. The huge dams spanning the lower Columbia and the upper Missouri, among the greatest human built structures in the world, are the most visible monuments to a Democratic president’s infrastructure plans, but the concrete is only a part of the story.

It is not hyperbole to say that FDR’s New Deal built the world we inhabit: Schools in Boise, Parma and a half dozen other places; a golf course in Idaho Falls; post offices in Grangeville, Orofino, Bonners Ferry and Buhl, even the Red Ives Ranger Station up the St. Joe.

The June 1937 issue of Western Construction News took notice of the electric infrastructure under construction in north central Idaho. The Roosevelt Rural Electrification Administration (REA) allotted $75,000 to the Clearwater Valley Light and Power Association in Lewiston “for construction of a generating plant of 800 KW capacity.” Another $400,000 was handed over to “for construction of 300 miles of transmission lines in Idaho and Washington.”

Farm to market roads were improved in Asotin County. Husky Stadium in Seattle was expanded. A high school built in Kennewick, a library in Dayton and $141,000 was spent on municipal sewer improvements in Spokane.

The “Living New Deal” history project has catalogued no less than 114 separate infrastructure projects in Idaho and 259 in Washington that have the roots in Roosevelt’s massive – the critics said socialistic – infrastructure program of the 1930’s.

It’s no accident that Joe Biden, a rare politician with connections to the New Deal generation of builders, has placed a portrait of Roosevelt in the Oval Office and is proposing a New Deal-like $2 trillion infrastructure program. Somewhere Harold Ickes is smiling down on Biden’s determination and no doubt chuckling at the conservative handwringing over an initiative that could prove to be as transformative as when FDR came to Ephrata and celebrated his ambitions.

The conservative push back to Biden’s initiative – too expensive, not really infrastructure, pure old socialism – would be more credible if Republicans had anything to propose or hadn’t squandered four years of the incompetent last administration promising to address infrastructure and failing to do so.

The truth is there is no conservative alternative, no proposal, no suggestion of what might be done to rebuild what has crumbled and build new what is needed. As with so much of the politics of the moment, the conservative alternate is to complain. Mitch McConnell bemoans a “massive tax increase,” which is what Biden is proposing – a long-term tax increase on corporate America, including some of the biggest corporate names in America who pay, well, nothing in taxes.

Twenty-six different companies by one recent study, including Nike, FedEx and Duke Energy, paid zero while reporting a combined income of $77 billion. You might think a guy like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, struggling by as the world’s richest man on his $177 billion fortune, would be up in arms about Biden’s proposal. He isn’t. Bezos said this week he supports long-term corporate tax increases to fund the infrastructure effort.

A key piece of Biden’s proposal would finally see serious action on broadband in rural America, an absolutely essential component of economic revitalization in much of the West. Expanding high speed internet access in rural America was not that long ago a Republican talking point, but now that Biden has actually teed up a real proposal, congressional conservatives have lost their enthusiasm.

Governor Brad Little apparently didn’t get the GOP memo since he said recently, as National Public Radio reported, that infrastructure, particularly rural infrastructure, is a genuine priority. “As we work on our quest for more broadband and better roads,” Little said, “that means that that growth can be dispersed out into areas, particularly areas that have had a dislocation, that have lost a major employer.”

That sounds a lot like FDR in eastern Washington in 1934, and also like the making of an economic strategy that both parties should get behind.

The political debate over whether and to what extent to involve the government in rebuilding a battered economy certainly didn’t begin with a deadly pandemic that has crushed job growth and decimated many small businesses. But the current posture on the right – ignoring the scope of the economic problem, while belittling every solution and hoping the neglect reaps political rewards – is an old tune, the kind of cynicism Roosevelt’s critics wallowed in the 1930’s.

There are signs that American business isn’t falling in lock step with McConnell’s economic nihilism, but rather embracing the 21st Century infrastructure proposal for what it is: a launching pad for a new American economy. Republicans, meanwhile, promise a fight to end, and to hell with the economy and the folks who would benefit.

Yet public opinion is on his side, so Biden would be well advised to parrot Roosevelt’s famous statement about his do-nothing opponents in 1936. “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred,” Roosevelt said, and then won a landslide re-election.

For their part, Republicans would be smart – not likely – to heed the advice of Jesse Jones, a hardheaded Texas businessman who was a top aide to FDR. “Be smart for once,” Jones begged the conservative critics of those earlier days. “Go partners with the President in the recovery program without stint.”

It only took 20 years


When I last covered an Idaho legislative session as a reporter, in 2001, one of the legislators I was following closely had a bill proposal that seemed, on the surface, to have everything going for it.

He was on the House Agriculture Committee, a member of the majority caucus (Republican, of course) and allied with the chair of the committee, and this was a bill aiming to deregulate an agricultural practice - to free up the marketplace. He had significant support for the idea around the state, and the proposal he had was making strides around the country. And it allowed only for limited, narrow usage.

This should sound like a prescription for easy passage in the Idaho Legislature. But the legislator was Tom Trail, who was considered suspiciously centrist by some in his caucus, and the deregulation - actually, legalization - was of the crop called hemp.

Trail delivered an entirely compelling argument for the bill at House Agriculture. He got no traction at all. There were no strong arguments against his bill, just a lot of shuffling of feet and a bunch of (semi-embarrassed?) “nay” votes.

He would go on to try again. No luck. The votes just weren’t there.

After Trail left the legislature, others would pick up the effort. Occasionally someone would find a way to score a few more votes, but never nearly enough to actually pass the bill.

This went on for most of the last 20 years.

Hemp, which is related to but different from the cannabis plants that produce marijuana, was swept up in the 1970 federal controlled substances act. In the new century, however, states began experimenting with allowing the crop under state laws. They had motivation: Hemp has been a cash crop in America since the time of the Revolution. You can make clothes, paper, rope, paint, animal feed and much more. Many other countries around the world make plenty of money from it.

When Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell went to bat for hemp, one think-tank report noted that he “understood much about this issue. First, he knows hemp doesn’t get you high and that the drug war debate that swept up hemp was politically motivated, rather than policy-oriented. Second, Kentucky—the leader’s home state—is one of the best places to cultivate hemp in the world, and pre-prohibition the state had a robust hemp sector. Third, the grassroots interest in this issue was growing in Kentucky …”

After a 2014 change in federal law allowed for pilot programs in hemp manufacture, states nationwide swept into the field - in 2016 alone, states from Alabama to Colorado to Hawaii eased back or reversed completely their rules on hemp. In 2018 Congress essentially legalized commercial hemp production, drawing a distinction between that product and psychoactive cannabis. By last year, every state but Idaho and Mississippi - which relaxed its rules somewhat too - allowed for hemp as a crop.

Idaho now seems on the verge of hemp legalization. Last week, a hemp bill cleared the legislature and is headed for the desk of Governor Brad Little; his signature seems more likely than not.

So what has been Idaho’s problem with hemp all these many years?

In short: It’s a culture war thing. One year momentum seemed with with the crop, but then a retired prosecutor declared, “The culture of hemp is the culture of marijuana,” and, well, that was all it took. No legislator wanted to be identified with the “culture of marijuana,” and actual facts became irrelevant.

Legislation, rules that help people and communities thrive or fail, these days live or die in many legislatures, Idaho’s not least of them, depending on where they seem to sit in the culture wars. Actual benefits and harm seem seldom considered with any seriousness.

That doesn’t mean you can’t pass actual useful, as opposed to culture war, legislation.

But on the evidence of the hemp bill, you might figure on it taking you 20 years.

Changing tires


The Idaho legislature took a few days off back in March, did you notice? But they are set to get back together this Tuesday. I hope they got the studded tires off their rigs before they head to Boise, because I doubt they’ll be wanting to twirl a lug wrench in their suits and ties. Studs gotta come off here in Idaho by the end of April. Maybe they’ll be done with their lawmaking duties by then. But it isn’t going to snow in Boise in April; they should take them off now.

That’s the kind of thinking I want from a legislator; minimize the damage done to others. You see, while the studs make your traction better in ice and snow, they damage the roads. And we wear our roads out enough here in Idaho. Tire studs are regulated in Idaho law.

I bought some studs this year on Craigslist for my little two-wheel drive pickup. The old street tires were getting pretty bare. I was glad I had them with the snow and ice we had, but it’s time to take them off. Probably need a new set of street tires. If they are all-weather, I might be selling those studs on Craigslist next fall.

Some states ban studded tires, but they are like Hawaii and Florida and Texas. But get this, Minnesota also bans studded tires, and they get winter, I’ve heard. Washington state had a ban on studded tires until 1969 when the legislature allowed them. Every year since the Washington Department of Transportation has recommended reinstituting the ban, but their legislature hasn’t bit that bait. Washington does charge a $5 fee on every studded tire sold in the state. It goes into the highway repair fund, but they claim it doesn’t cover the damage done. Heck, in Wyoming they are legal all year. But they have oil.

So, past Idaho legislatures have decided to regulate some things, despite the tone of the current session. Maybe when they get back this Tuesday, they’ll take a look at that studded tire law and throw that one out.

They haven’t been too welcoming to regulations this year.

That is, unless it’s public art. They want to regulate how municipalities do art.

And historic names, like schools or parks, the legislature wants to put their hand on that scale.

Oh yes, and anything to do with “social justice” is facing hard times.

And they want to make it harder to turn in absentee ballots because, as House Majority leader Mike Moyle says, “Voting shouldn’t be easy.”

Maybe studded tires are next.

It really is about freedom, after all. There’s a guy down the street drives by my house all summer on his way to Arby’s with his studs on. I can hear him coming three blocks away. He’s celebrating his freedom to run studs in the summer while he ruts up the road in front of my house.

One person’s freedom is the next person’s rut in the road.

I don’t know about you but I’m looking forward to the legislature getting back together. I heard some got the Covid so that’s why they shut down suddenly. I really hope they are all better and nobody else gets sick. I hope they are ready to get back to work.

Maybe their perspective has changed in this little two-week break. We know the faces haven’t; the same butts will be in the same seats. And, despite the little Covid scare, most won’t be wearing masks.

But maybe they swapped to the summer tires. It would be the responsible, neighborly thing to do.

Risch argues for filibuster


It’s not often when Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch uses terms such as “great,” “outstanding” and “thoughtful” to describe speeches by Democrats. But he gives those accolades to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his plea on the Senate floor in 2005 for keeping the filibuster.

At that time, Republicans were in the majority and talk was swirling about getting rid of the filibuster, which would mean that Senate bills could pass by a simple majority, opposed to the 60 votes required with the filibuster.

“Checks and balances, which have been the core of this republic, are about to be evaporated,” Schumer said. “The checks and balances, which say that if you get 51 percent of the vote, you don’t get your way 100 percent of the time.”

The New York Democrat took a swipe at “hard-right” Republicans, saying they “want their way every single time and they will change the rules, break the rules, misread the rules, misread the Constitution so they can get their way.”

Risch was correct. It was a fine speech, complete with passion and some fist pounding. Now, with Democrats holding a majority, talk about ending the filibuster has resurfaced. It will be interesting to see how Schumer responds if the issue advances.

Risch supports keeping the filibuster regardless of what party holds the majority.

“Nothing happens in the Senate without unanimous consent, which is how most things get done, or without give-and-take negotiations through bipartisanship. Without the filibuster, all that goes out the window. The party in power no longer has to negotiate with the other side,” Risch says.

An example of give-and-take negotiations, Risch says, are the four COVID relief packages that passed Congress with at least a smattering of bipartisan support. President Biden had one COVID relief bill that had no support for Republicans, who complained that the nearly $2 trillion package had nothing to do with COVID relief. Biden may have gotten at least a few Republican votes if he had pulled back some on the price tag, but we’ll never know. Republicans, such as Risch, hope that’s not a sign of what’s to come from the new administration.

But for Risch, life goes on. He doesn’t run away from the partisan fights, but his day-to-day focus is on other areas that don’t garner media attention. He says that personal relationships, with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, generally are civil and constructive.

Risch serves on three panels where partisanship practically does not exist – the Ethics Committee (three Republicans and three Democrats), the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Foreign Relations Committee, where he is the ranking member.

On the first two, especially, “if you walk in the room and listen to the discussion, you couldn’t tell a Republican from a Democrat,” he says. “The Foreign Relations Committee is not completely bipartisan, but it’s close to it.”

Risch chaired Foreign Relations when Republicans held power and is now the ranking member, changing places with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The two have differences on some issues, but are on the same side on issues such as dealing with China on territorial violations.

Risch also has a few differences with the Biden administration on foreign policy, but reserves judgment overall. “We need to give him a chance and the space to do what he’s going to do. When it comes to foreign policy, what’s good for America is good for America regardless of whether you are a Republican and Democrat. I want to help him in any way I can to improve our standing in the world.”

On partisan issues, Risch won’t be so diplomatic. There is considerable sentiment for granting statehood to the District of Columbia, which among other things, is certain to pad the Democratic majority in the Senate. Risch and other Republicans are certain to give a few fist-pounding speeches if that idea advances in the full Senate.

Without question, congressional politics was more fun for Risch with Donald Trump as president and the Senate being controlled by Republicans. But he doesn’t dwell on those things.

“We still have a job to do,” he says. “We will survive. We’re Americans and we’ve survived a lot worse than this.”

After more than 50 years in politics, Risch has seen much worse.

Damn it, Dems


Came across a comment the other day from Economist Robert Reich, a Democrat to the soles of his little feet. Former Labor Secretary for Clinton.

Here’s what he had to say. “Bipartisanship is not a goal. Goals are raising the minimum wage, securing voting rights, ending police brutality, getting universal health care and saving the planet. If these can’t be done in a bipartisanship way, the Hell with bipartisanship.”
In other words, to Democrats, if Republicans are going to sit on their asses while continuing to deny Americans access to health care, a living wage, creating roadblocks to voting in state after state, continue trying to make the writings of Dr. Seuss a national campaign issue and passing more tax breaks for the very, very wealthy, effectively use the votes you have, Democrats. DROP THE HAMMER!

And another thing: the filibuster. Fix it. Operating from minority strength, the GOP has stopped Senate action repeatedly. Under the current rules, one or more members of the Senate can tie up/delay everything. And, it takes 60 votes to override and get back to work. Passing the huge Covid relief bill out was a squeaker. Other, lesser legislation has not been so successful. Now, some voting rights bills and one on gun control, already out of the House, are being sent to the Senate where they’ll be DOA. Filibustered.

I’m on the side of those who’d “kill” the ‘buster. But, there’s talk in both cloak rooms of reform - of making it a “talking” filibuster. In today’s 50-50 situation, Republicans would have to rise and talk. And talk and talk. Imagine Jimmy Stewart in “Mister Smith Goes To Washington.” A Republican would have to talk continually about his/her objections until they either gave up or Democrats pulled the bill. Might work. If it doesn’t, axe the damned thing and get going!

Democrats will not always control the Congress and the Presidency. Now, they do. Odds are they’ll continue that majority for at least four more years. Maybe six or even eight. It’s “now or never,” folks. All that talk of getting this-that-and-the-other done needs to be turned to using that unique situation to produce and pass legislation fulfilling those promises.

Biden’s big bill means, for most of us, a $1,400 support check, more Covid vaccine, extended jobless benefits, child tax credits, big help for schools and a lot more. Democrats did all that without a S-I-N-G-L-E Republican vote! Not one. GOOD JOB! But, there’s more to do. Lots more!

The next big task MUST BE voting rights. Republicans - with a major boost from SCOTUS - are continuing a state-by-state attack on the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of all of us to vote, including minorities. Reduced polling places, reduced voting times, unnecessary identification paperwork, cutting down dates for voting and all sorts of B.S..

Here in Arizona, where mail-in voting has been conduced successfully for many years, we must now send copies of our driver’s licenses or some other photo ID with our completed 2022 ballots. Totally unnecessary! But, a legislature, heavily dominated by Republicans, has made it so. Other states are erecting more barriers voters must conquer. It’s got to stop!

How do GOP politicians, by unanimous votes against the interests of citizens, go home and campaign for re-election? How do they do that? How do you vote a unanimous “NO” to health care and health insurance, voting rights, unemployment benefits, child care, added voting restrictions, attacks on Constitutionally guaranteed rights and face the people? Long on guts - short on smarts. But, uneducated voters buy it! Year after year.

A Louisiana Republican who voted “no” on the stimulus package had - within an hour of the vote - an email on the way to constituents telling of all the good stuff in the legislation. No smarts. Just guts.

Democrats need to go to those same voters - with proof - and educate ‘em. We know many Republican voters have had enough and many Independents are looking for a home.

Now - right now - is the time Democrats should be telling voters what’s going on, showing people what’s been done, offering evidence of Democrat Party leadership and extending a welcoming hand. Right now! Stop talking to each other about how bad conditions are and get to work. You’ve already good Democrat Party accomplishments to share. Right now!

And more. The Republican Party is in tatters. For reasons thinking people can’t understand, some 30-40-million lost souls will follow Trump into oblivion. That portion of the GOP will stand for nothing - produce nothing - accomplish nothing. And they’ll complain about everything. They’ll only be a threat on the ballot if Democrats don’t fill all open races. What’s left of the Grand Old Party will flounder and, similarly, produce nothing.

More than at any time in my knowledge, now is the time for Democrats to create a movement to educate - inform - recruit. In less than three months, Democrats have accomplished a lot. Republicans have accomplished nothing. And they’ll continue to accomplish nothing. I can’t think of a single GOP-authored proposal in the past 90 days. The past year.

There are still Republicans in Congress who know better, know Trump is a fraud and likely headed to jail. Some still talk of “party loyalty” when the truth is there’s no party. Trump wants all future donations made to his PAC rather than the RNC. How long can the RNC be financially viable if donors do what Trump wants? “Party loyalty” to what?

The 2022 campaign has already begun. Republicans are out there beating the bushes, looking for money and volunteer support. All they’ve got, in the words of Andy Griffith in the movie “No Time For Sergeants” is “a handful of gimmie and a mouthful of ‘much obliged.’” They can’t produce any Republican programs or legislative successes. They’ve got nothing! Nada!

The future is wide open for Democrats in Congress and the White House. Republicans will continue to produce opposition and obstruction. If - IF - Dems hold together, both can be overcome.

But, more than that, they’ve got to sell. Sell, sell, sell! With evidence of major successes in less than 90 days, there are already plenty of accomplishments to take to the streets for recruiting.

Go get ‘em!

Denial won’t stop racism


Long-time political observer Betsy Russell recently wrote of some Idaho legislators’ efforts to stamp out the study of “racist concepts” in Idaho education. The problem is that there were elements of racism in Idaho from the very birth of the Idaho Territory in 1863 and some racist ideas still live with us to this very day. We must recognize and discuss racism, if we hope to eradicate it.

When Abraham Lincoln signed Idaho Territory into being on March 3, 1863, there were a large number of Confederate sympathizers within its borders. More came to settle after the Civil War ended. Since then, many Idahoans have bought into the mistaken concept that the Civil War was merely a fight over states’ rights and economics. In truth, it was primarily over the right of slave owners to continue profiting from the free labor of men and women forcibly brought to the country from Africa.

The states’ rights argument was afoot in our State when the Ku Klux Klan rose to respectable prominence in Idaho politics in the 1920s. A group of 350 KKK members paraded through downtown Boise on September 9, 1924. White supremacists set up in Hayden in the late 1970s and others burned crosses near Jerome in the early 1980s. The hate is still alive today. I have heard and seen it myself since the 1950s.

Those who made this land their home long before Columbus arrived have felt the sting of racism--broken treaties, forced migrations and massacres disguised as battles, such as the Bear River Massacre that killed over 270 members of the Shoshone Tribe in 1863. Even to this day, Native Americans face discriminatory treatment in parts of our State.

Asian Americans have also been subjected to hateful treatment from territorial days. Chinese immigrants made up almost 30% of Idaho’s population in 1870, but most left the State after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Idaho government officials supported the incarceration of many thousands of loyal Japanese Americans in 1942, including the Minidoka Camp just 6 miles from where I grew up. One of the young men from that camp, William Nakamura, died fighting for his country in Italy in 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor 56 years later.

Many in the growing Hispanic population of Idaho have been subject to abuse for as long as I can remember. People who came to Idaho to do the backbreaking work of keeping our farms and dairies running, and whose kids have gone on to jobs in non-farm sectors, have not been given the thanks and respect they deserve for powering our economy.

Folks in each of these groups, and others, have all contributed to the marvelous patchwork of our State. They want the same things that motivate the rest of us--security for their families, the chance to give their kids a better life, harmony with their neighbors. They have not always gotten what they strive for, partly because of prejudicial attitudes of fellow Idahoans.

If we hope to have an atmosphere where all people in our State can enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is essential that we acknowledge where we, as a society, have fallen short. If we simply ignore grievous injustices to some of our people as a result of discriminatory treatment, we won’t have a basis to correct the wrongful conduct and move forward together for a better tomorrow. The effects of racism, either outright or unintentional, will not go away if we try to sweep it under the rug or if we hide it from our children.