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Posts published in October 2022

Standing up for the deputy AGs


Put yourself in the position of a State lawyer who, despite a rather paltry salary, works hard every day to deliver for the State because he or she is committed to public service.

You often come up against opposing attorneys who make several times your salary, but you take compensation in the results you achieve for the people of Idaho. When an uninformed bully, seeking political gain, spouts off that you and your colleagues are doing a lousy job and that he’s going to clean house if he becomes your boss, what can you do? You dare not step forward to say he’s wrong, which you know to be the case, because you will lose the job you get so much satisfaction from. You either lump it or leave for a better-paying job, taking your institutional memory with you.

Attorney General candidate Raul Labrador apparently thinks he can gain votes by bad-mouthing the dedicated lawyers in the Attorney General’s office. On October 13, he was quoted as saying the office “needs to have better lawyers” and he later said, “I want to raise the level of lawyering in the office.” In the AG debate on October 3, he said he would fire any lawyer that did not get with his program. Mr. Labrador obviously does not have any idea about the competence of the Deputy Attorneys General (DAGs) and is not well positioned to judge them.

Since the DAGs dare not defend themselves, I would like to speak in their defense. During my 12 years as a member of the Idaho Supreme Court, I witnessed how DAGS handled themselves in hundreds of cases. They were every bit as good as lawyers making many times their salary. I often saw them outshine high-priced lawyers from large out-of-state law firms. They don’t deserve Labrador’s uninformed, belittling claims.

A recent instance illustrates my point. A veteran reporter, who observed the Idaho Supreme Court arguments for and against Idaho’s abortion laws on October 6, said the DAG who argued to uphold the laws “did her job admirably. She made cogent arguments.” On the other hand, a supposed out-of-state legal expert hired by Labrador’s friends in the Legislature made an embarrassing presentation. The “expert” charged $375 per hour, compared with the average DAG pay of just over $48 per hour.

Many DAGs serve for a time in the office and then go on to better-paying jobs with prestigious law firms. Others find such satisfaction in making a difference for Idahoans that they make it a career. I know of one DAG who became a nationally known water law expert. Another DAG was so highly regarded by colleagues that she now serves on the Idaho Supreme Court. The DAGs are high quality lawyers. Lawrence Wasden assembled a truly remarkable staff of competent lawyers. Labrador would have a hard time matching their experience and is not qualified to judge their competence.

The candidate who is belittling the DAGs has been out of law school for 27 years and is still not rated by Martindale-Hubble (MH), the preeminent lawyer rating service. That is not a good sign. By contrast, Labrador’s opponent has an “AV” rating, MH’s highest rating, signifying a high level of competence and integrity. Labrador has primarily practiced federal immigration law. It would be difficult with that narrow-scope of legal practice to evaluate DAGs, who handle a wide range of state law issues.

It is clear that Labrador is not familiar with Idaho law relating to the Attorney General. He has repeatedly claimed the Legislature should have its own attorneys. Had he bothered to read the law he would have discovered that the Legislature has had the authority to hire its own lawyers since 1995. The Legislature frequently does just that, mostly to defend unconstitutional laws it passes. Before deciding to run for AG in 1981, I checked out the law to find out the duties required for the job. Who wouldn’t?

The law requires the AG to give legal opinions to legislators and other government officials at their request. Labrador has pledged to “stand up to the Governor” and be the “true partner” of extremist legislators. The law does not contemplate the AG choosing sides among the other officials in State government. That is a recipe for trouble.

Mr. Labrador is entitled to make whatever arguments he wishes regarding his qualifications or plans for the AG’s office, but it is out of bounds to make uninformed, hurtful criticism of the dedicated DAGs serving in that office. They are much better than that and he should be, also.

(image / photographer)


The value of the Biden visit


A rule of thumb in election politics: When all indicators – such as polls – show a close race, then the side with the best organization and get-out-the-vote efforts, or whoever has a hot issue on their side, usually has the edge.

That thought may have been a reason for last week’s visit by President Joe Biden to Portland, which also raises a related point that state Senate Republican Leader Tim Knopp, put this way: “We’re surprised anyone would want to be seen with the president who with the help of his Democrat colleagues caused the highest gas prices in Oregon history.”

Putting aside the merits of that specific issue, the question about linking with a low-popularity president during a tight election campaign – as Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tina Kotek did – is valid as a matter of campaign tactics. You could point out that Biden didn’t circulate much among the public generally; he mainly attended events for and organized by fellow Democrats.

So was the Biden visit a mistake? Or a good idea? Or doesn’t it matter?

It was a good idea, overall, though we won’t have much of a clear indicator until the votes are counted how much good it may have done.

Less than a month out from the Nov. 8 election, Oregon has an unusually large number of top-line races polling as close, more than in any recent election cycle. There’s the governor, the 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts and probably a half-dozen legislative races as well as local races of note (some of which are effectively partisan even if formally not).

When races are close – near or within statistical margins of error – they’re most likely to be decided by one or both of two often-related factors: a hot issue that motivates many voters, and superior organization and get-out-the-vote efforts on one side or the other.

Enter Biden, who spent a couple of days, an eternity in presidential scheduling terms, in Oregon on his longest campaign trip of this year.

The mere presence of the president here isn’t likely to be a decisive element in the election. Since Biden himself isn’t polling very well, and hasn’t for many months (though his numbers have improved somewhat from in his weakest stretches), he hasn’t been asked to campaign in many of the hottest battleground areas around the country. Jill Biden, rather than her husband in recent days, has been putting in appearances in such states as Georgia, Florida and Pennsylvania, all featuring red-hot major campaigns.

But the president has been on the road in other places, and in some of them not primarily for fundraising (though that’s always a part of the mix). National Public Radio said in one story, “There are places where Biden can help the Democrats on the ballot: places where Democrats have a strong advantage in voter registration.” One prime example that article cited was Colorado, home to an energetic Senate race and a state Biden won two years ago by 13.5%. Another, a state in some ways politically similar, was Oregon (where he won by 15.2%).

More important than Biden’s personal support is the importance of voter registration. In the last generation in Oregon, Democratic organization and vote-raising efforts persistently have ourun their Republican competitors, and those voter drives can provide the extra edge when the race is close. Biden’s presence was intended as an encouragement to that effort, most explicitly when he showed up with donuts at a boiler room and then spent 20 minutes or so working the phones himself to generate votes.

There is a second point to Biden’s visit, tied to the issue many Democrats hope will turn into a secret weapon for them: abortion. Reproductive rights were an extremely hot topic in late summer and early fall, but polling and public visibility have led to suggestions there’s been some cooling since. Whether that ultimately means it’s no longer such a big voting motivator as it once seemed, or remains a big force but simply is less visible, is unclear in the polling and other indicators.

But Democrats surely have benefited from efforts to fan the issue. And Biden could and did help with that. On his recent campaigning travels he has highlighted reproductive rights and, on his return to Washington, spotlighted them in a political event where he promised to sign a bill codifying the terms of Roe v. Wade (if Democrats win enough seats in Congress).

Will those pushes to drive organized Democratic voter turnout, and draw attention to the abortion issue, be enough to help push Democrats over the top next month?

That we won’t know for some weeks to come. But it probably was an effort with a practical, realistic goal.

(image/States Newsroom)


When Monopoly was more than a game


In 1933, during the darkest days of the Great Depression, a Kansas City businessman, Charles Lyon, made a driving tour of the Midwest. Lyon would later write to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and offer his observations. He didn’t like what he saw.

“Every good town had the same stores,” Lyon wrote. “The downtown of one city was a replica of the next one, and for every chain store that reared its head, three individually owned stores laid down and died.”

Lyon’s discourse on the predatory nature of chain stores and their impact on small town America is recounted in a 2008 article by historian Daniel Scroop in the scholarly journal “American Studies.”

“Chain stores pay very little toward the upkeep of a town,” Lyon wrote in the 1930s. “They gradually kill it.”

Remember that line as you contemplate the history of what didn’t happen to slow or eliminate the monopolization of most of American retailing in the last half of the 20th Century. And reflect what it means for your grocery bill when Kroger combines with Albertsons, and together this grocery behemoth – the largest and second largest grocery chains in America – will have more than 6,000 grocery stores spread across the country.

Political and social pushback against the chain store – and branch banking – in the 1920s and 1930s is a mostly a forgotten chapter in 20th Century American history. It is a chapter, nonetheless, that illustrates some of what has happened to small town, rural America, the struggling American middle class, as well as notions about what a healthy, vibrant economy actually includes.

The anti-chain store movement gained traction in the West, Midwest and South during the seemingly prosperous Roaring 20s. The Missouri legislature considered measures to limit chain stores in 1923 and by the end of the decade several states had put various restrictions – mostly tax-related – into effect. The Depression accelerated the movement and by 1937 nearly 30 states had anti-chain store laws on the books.

Woolworth’s, the drug store chain, became a target of many of the anti-chain efforts, fueled not only by the vast number of stores the chain developed in the 1930s, but also because of the firm’s brutal efforts to beat back union organizing efforts. Workers in some stores resorted to “sit down strikes” that served to paralyze business and frustrate customers and managers. While the strikes made headlines, they ultimately did little to hinder the constantly expanding development of chain stores.

By the 1940s, the leader of the anti-bigness, pro-consumer, anti-monopoly forces was a crusading congressman from Texas named Wright Patman, a politician who, as his biographer has said, combined two political traditions: populism and liberalism.

Patman pushed legislation to create a national chain store tax where, as historian Scroop wrote, “chains would be taxed from $50 to $1,000 per store depending upon their number and location. Because this figure would then be multiplied by the number of states in which a chain had stores, there was a chance that the tax might in some cases exceed annual profits. If this scale had been applied in 1938, for example, the biggest chain store company, the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), would have been taxed $524 million on its $882 million in sales.”

This simple idea – taxing bigness – failed, and the anti-chain store crusade, as well as state and local laws to control the monopolies, eventually faded away.

You can see the legacy of this hollowing out and embrace of monopoly bigness in today’s Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens and Dollar General, the ubiquitous discounter with nearly 19,000 stores and minimum wage jobs. You’ll almost always find Dollar General stores at the far edge of rural communities that have lost the kinds of home grown retailers that once existed in America’s small towns. The bigness movement also involves newspaper and broadcast consolidation, cable TV systems, hotel chains, even the not so local Taco Bell.

Back to the Kroger-Albertsons mash up which hit a speed bump – maybe – this week when a bipartisan group of state attorney generals called on Albertson’s to back off a planned $4 billion dividend to its shareholder while the $24.6 billion merger deal is evaluated for its anti-trust implications.

Thanks to the AGs for looking out for competition, but you don’t need to be a Harvard-trained economist to know what the merger implications will be – less competition, fewer employees in retail jobs and surely higher prices at the checkout aisle. The dividend payout, the AGs suggest, could hamper Albertson’s ability to compete, weakening Kroger’s merger partner before the merger, which may be the real reason behind handing shareholders an extremely handsome payday just before the deal closes.

“Anticompetitive mergers have real impacts on everyday people,” said District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine, who organized the AG’s letter. Washington AG Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, and Idaho AG Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, signed the letter directed to the CEO’s of Kroger and Albertsons.

“We’re deeply concerned about the level of concentration in essential industries,” Racine said, “such as grocery stores. And we’re asking Albertsons to not proceed with the payout while we thoroughly assess whether this merger is anti-competitive, anti-consumer or anti-worker. While we trust that Albertsons will adhere to our request, we are actively exploring other options to achieve our objectives, including litigation.”

Here is one of the ironies of these massive mergers: the rationale behind the big getting bigger is that stores like Albertsons need to compete against other huge retailers like Whole Foods or Walmart. Yet advocates of supersizing grocery stores in to fewer and fewer companies, while letting these stores sell gas and virtually everything else, ignores that a largely unconstrained system that demands a capitalism of bigness represents a circular argument – we must get bigger because everyone else is getting bigger.

The ignored parties here are consumer and workers. A growing, robust American capitalism won’t be built around a few CEOs or institutional shareholders getting fabulously wealthy, while much of the rest of society barely scrapes by. Those Woolworth and A&P stories in the 1930s that grew too big in their day have become today’s Kroger and CVS, while the American middle class, the families that buy the groceries, the washing machines, the bedroom sets and the coffee makers struggle to meet a mortgage and send the kids to college.

The big get bigger, the rich get richer, and the engine that really drives the economy – the consumer – is less and less a part of the American economic calculation.

The politicians and social activists in the 1930s who recognized the dangers inherent in concentrated bigness weren’t wrong. We had a chance to build a different kind of capitalism, that we didn’t helps explain a lot about your grocery bill, not to mention the depressed state of much of small town America.


At the courthouse


The first county clerk I ever met - this was in the mid-70s - was Walter Fry of Canyon County. He was a lively character and over the years sometimes made newspaper headlines he probably would rather not have had, but he ran his office well, and what most sticks in my memory about him was the pride he took in it.

He would show the rookie reporter around his operation, pointing to the experienced and skilled staff and new equipment and approaches to make his operation work more efficiently and accurately. Fry had a little of the salesman’s soul, but his deep commitment to getting the job done right was unmistakable. And he wasn’t proven wrong while I was there.

That, I have found, is not an unusual story. It’s one of those pieces of reality that rarely get reported because they never bounce against the expected, or the legal or the ethical: Something that works overwhelmingly the way it was intended to.

In the years since my time in Caldwell, in the process of gathering details about Idaho - and later, Oregon and Washington - elections, I got to meet many more county clerks, people of varying natures (some were more easy-going or cooperative than others), and even more county election staffers, in places with widely differing office capabilities and budgets. They were Republicans and Democrats, and worked in large counties and small, a few with up to date operations, many more contending with out of date and even archaic records and equipment. But every single one exhibited a strong pride in the work, a deep care in making sure that the job - managing the elections and the counts, as well as the rest of a clerk’s varied work - was done correctly.

That translated down to the staff, and the overall sense of responsibility carried as well to the election day volunteers - the people who serve at the precinct polling locations and actually tally the votes. Every one I have met in the last half-century, without exception, has been determined to get the balloting and the counting handled with care and precision.

I wouldn’t try to read other people’s minds, but I’m convinced that the idea of doing anything less than honest and correct - the idea of actively trying to corrupt an election result - simply never would have occurred to any of them.

I have no reason to believe that any of that has changed in the elections offices of 2022.

You shouldn’t believe it either.

That’s the foundation of why I have felt such visceral disgust at the election deniers - the people who claim that some massive fraud occurred in the 2020 presidential election - who have proliferated in the last election cycle.

To engage in such a massive fraud, you’d have to have buy-in from thousands - tens of thousands - of county election officials, in states across the country, Republicans and Democrats both. It would involve all these thousands of people who have devoted their professional lives to getting it right and honest, betraying their trust and then, year after year, all keeping their mouths shut about it.

That doesn’t mean they’re all perfect, or that mistakes don’t happen. They do. This year in Oregon, where city elected officials are chosen in even-numbered years, residents of one city (Newberg) received ballots with no city contests included. (Oops.) From time to time in close races, recounts are made, and as often as not some totals changes (almost always minor and rarely changing the results) are reported, which means they were off a little the first time. Election officials are as subject to error as the rest of us.

What I am certain about is this: They’re careful, they don’t often make mistakes, and they do not intend to.

Our election balloting and vote counting processes are honest. If you don’t believe it, head down to your local courthouse and meet the elections staff there, and see for yourself.





I have dealt with some grumpy old men. Some scowled, some barked. Some just glared and wouldn’t talk. I hope I don’t get grumpy. I hope I haven’t.

I have some grandchildren. Not as many as others, but I’m not in a race. I don’t want to have their memories of me as grumpy. So, I need to be careful about how I grow old.

The pains of aging can wear us down. Aching joints, creaking bones don’t make for a rosy countenance. But they are what we bear, us old folks. Let us not burden others with our pains. A rosy countenance goes a long way.

Folly is, most times, in the eyes of the beholder. Rarely does it come to a full community consensus. The stupid decisions of the next generation will not be made wiser with a scowl or frown. So, I need to practice a smile while I listen to my neighbor’s advice. It gets harder when we talk about politics, but it would serve me well to practice.

Old age doesn’t guarantee wisdom. Keep that in mind.

And crooked, chipped, even missing teeth are no excuse to hide a smile.

The happiest man I knew had a bald head and a missing front upper tooth he showed when he regularly beamed. I asked him about it. He laughed and grinned as he told me about unhooking a log chain over a load. He flipped it to see if it was loose and the hook came right over and caught his front chopper.

Friends help. They really do. To have friends you have to be a friend.

That means keeping in touch. That means getting down off the ladder or out from under the car to have a conversation. You might have to cross over the road. It means you care when you show an interest. Friends care.
Healthy habits keep us oldsters happier. It’s a good example for the grandkids to let them know you eat healthy things on a regular schedule.

They don’t need to know about your bowel habits.

Interest and engagement in your community, things beyond cleaning your gutters or changing the oil, also keep you healthy. You don’t have to scowl to make your point. Smile when you testify before the city council about their stupid plan for sewage treatment. They, and you and your grandchildren will listen more intently and will be more likely to hear your words. Who knows, maybe they’ll come to know your thoughts.

Some of the grumpy folks I’ve come to know have just adopted their demeanor as a default. Like the mustache or the hair color, old habits die hard. If you find yourself grumpy, try a change. If you are a quiet, reserved grumpy person, maybe you need to speak up. If you are a loudmouth grump, maybe you should try being quiet.

Some folks take pride in their grumpiness. It suits them. For some reason, like the mustache or the hair color, it’s just what they have always done. Then, it’s on the rest of us to decide if we want to deal with them. Grumpy makes it hard. Maybe they want it to be hard.

But I want my grandkids to know me. I want them to have some memories of me that don’t involve a scowl or frown. I’ll work on it.

I’ve focused on grumpy old men because that’s what I fear becoming. My daughters would call me sexist, so, let me expand this conversation to women. I’ve known grumpy women too, young, and old. It’s not a male specialty, though, for some reason, we are the icon. Maybe it’s because women live longer. Happy people live longer. Come on you guys, let’s learn something in our old age.



Will Arkoosh’s boost be enough?


As October surprises go, this one was a doozy. Nearly 50 Republicans have lined up to support Democrat Tom Arkoosh over former Congressman Raul Labrador in a wild and crazy race for attorney general.

There are a lot of big names on the list – including former Gov. Phil Batt, former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former First Lady Lori Otter. Labrador has never a favorite of the GOP establishment, but this has turned into an all-out war.

One prominent Republican who is backing Labrador is David Leroy – a former attorney general and lieutenant governor. He’s not judging those friends and former colleagues who are siding with Arkoosh, but disagrees with their reasons for crossing party lines.

“It’s based on presumed weaknesses that Raul either doesn’t have, or will not exhibit once he’s elected,” Leroy said. “Raul would do a superb job. An attorney general needs to be part of the majority culture within the walls of the Statehouse. Tom Arkoosh is a friend of mine and a fine fellow, but a Democrat will not be a quarter as effective – even with the same skills or talents – as a Republican will be.”

Leroy sees Labrador’s experience as a four-term congressman, and providing constituent service, as a plus for an attorney general.

“So many of our issues have a federal entanglement,” Leroy says. “Raul is the best prepared candidate for attorney general than we’ve seen in this century, and probably the last century.”

One underlying objection to Labrador is that he’ll run for governor in four years, and that scares the daylights out of some folks. Labrador ran for governor four years ago, promising to “drain the swamp” and shake up state government – rhetoric that establishment types don’t want to hear. Detractors see Labrador spending the next four years campaigning for the state’s top job. Losing this race likely would end Labrador’s political career.

Leroy, who had plenty of political ambitions of his own when he was attorney general, is not worried about what Labrador “might” do with his political future. Leroy served one term as attorney general, then ran for lieutenant governor and governor – losing by a narrow margin to Democrat Cecil Andrus in 1986.

“I had political ambitions, yet I still get accolades for my service as attorney general. That’s because I lived and believed that attorney general was a fabulous job to show one’s legal skills in a political arena. If you are a good enough lawyer, you might get hired to be lieutenant governor – or governor,” Leroy said.

“I have absolutely no fear that Raul Labrador will take his eye off the ball as attorney general,” Leroy said. “It’s not a campaign office. It is a job where sophisticated high-level legal issues come at you daily. There’s plenty to do without striking a pose for a campaign poster.”

Arkoosh and others have criticized Labrador for lacking knowledge on water issues. And Labrador has acknowledged that he is not an expert in that area.

“You know what? I’m not a water expert either,” Leroy said. But he added that he hired attorneys with expertise on water issues and successfully argued those issues to the Supreme Court.

It’s not unusual for a few Republicans occasionally backing a Democrat in a political campaign. But not to this magnitude. Endorsements from big-name Republicans certainly have given a moral boost Arkoosh; the question is whether the endorsements will make a significant difference in the outcome.

Dorothy Moon, who chairs the state Republican Party, makes a valid point. It’s a safe bet that many of the hundreds of thousands of people who have moved to Idaho in recent years have never heard of the list of Republicans favoring Arkoosh. And to a good number of those newcomers, the more conservative a candidate is, the better.

GOP endorsements might help Arkoosh in Ada County, but that won’t necessarily be the case in North Idaho, or in rural communities where folks automatically vote for Republicans no matter what. Newspaper headlines are not nearly as effective as a wave of television advertising. Arkoosh still is largely unknown outside of the Treasure Valley.

But there’s no question that the Republican defections in this race have added some luster to an otherwise dull campaign season. I’ve been following Idaho politics for a long time, and this is the darndest thing I’ve seen.

ctmalloy@outlook. Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at


A very dangerous ballot


We are about to cast ballots in the most important and scariest election of my four-score-plus years.

There is simply no other way to say it. While the times we live in are unsettled and confusing, the election we face in two weeks could easily be the “end times” for our democracy, depending on the results.

From top of the ballot to the bottom, the Republican Party clearly poses such a threat. Deniers of the 2020 Presidential contest are on ballots in many places. Should they be victorious, the term “free and fair” election will be just a distant memory.

And, they’re not hiding it. They’re putting their plan right in your face in ways never seen before.

Example: Kevin McCarthy - the guy who covets the Speakership of the U.S. House and who’s already rearranging the furniture in the Speaker’s suite of offices - has announced the priority agenda in the next congressional Session.

Cut Social Security. End Medicare.

What damned fool would make such a claim in the final days of a national campaign? What damned fool would scare - and piss off voters over age 65? Who the Hell would make such a brazen threat?

Speaker-wannabe McCarthy. A very dangerous and overly ambitious cretin. That’s who! He’s so damned cocksure he’ll be moving up that he has no shame. His “in-your-face” bravado is absolutely mind-blowing. And, he means it!

It used to be Republicans talked about cutting government “entitlement” programs like Medicaid or food stamps or child care. Not anymore. Not where McCarthy is concerned. He wants to go after what is literally the life blood for many seniors.

But, even if the GOP has a majority in the House, it seems doubtful he can make good on his boast. Both Social Security and Medicare are trust funds. We’ve paid into them all our working lives. They aren’t “entitlements.” We’ve all made deposits for our later years. In his grand chest-pounding, McCarthy seems to be more confused than normal. And dangerous.

But, the “mountain” he has to climb to be successful is (1) sell his entire majority caucus on the murderous effort and (2) get a Senate which may - or may not - have a Republican majority to go along and (3) get past a Presidential veto stamp.

For at least the next two years, a Democrat in the Oval Office is the backstop for anyone in this country over the age of 65 who lives paycheck-to-Social Security paycheck.

Example: the Secretary of State race in Arizona. According to current polling, Trumper Mark Finchem is going to win that contest. He was a leader in the abortive election recount of Arizona ballots from the last election. He’s repeatedly said if future voter numbers aren’t to his liking, he’ll change ‘em.

And - Arizona could wind up with a Trumper as Governor. Kari Lake and current Secretary of State Katie Hobbs are in a statistical tie. Lake is also an election denier and a Trump acolyte.

There are others who pose threats to our Republic. In Ohio, Wisconsin, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and more. All have candidates for various offices that are Trump followers or just plain unfit for service at any level. Does the name Herschel Walker ring a bell? How about J.D. Vance in Ohio or Marjorie Taylor Green in Georgia?

This election - possibly more than any other in recent times - could result in serious - and dangerous - changes in the direction of our country. The increase in far-right candidacies up and down the ballot should be a warning to us all. Most of them out there aren’t hiding their dangerous dialogue. Just like the outrageously political lusting of a McCarthy or a Finchem or a Lake.

At our house, we’ve voted. But, not before looking carefully at each race and a thorough review of the state voter guide.

We do live in dangerous times. Making careful, informed choices on your ballot can help reduce that danger.


Those scary drug ads


We have certainly seen lots of scary campaign ads with ominous music and frightening visuals showing border crossers carrying packages of fentanyl and other drugs to sell to our children. Most of the illicit fentanyl does come from foreign suppliers and a small amount is carried across the border by unauthorized border crossers. But the libertarian Cato Institute says that “fentanyl is overwhelmingly smuggled by U.S. citizens.” Statistics assembled by Cato show that about 90% of fentanyl seizures occur at regular border crossings, being transported in the vehicles of U.S. citizens.

That makes sense because fentanyl is dynamite in a small package. It can easily be concealed in small compartments of the tens of thousands of vehicles that travel back and forth across the southern U.S. border every day. Unauthorized border crossers are subjected to much greater scrutiny than the American vehicles. The campaign ads would not be nearly effective if they were to point out that the greatest amount of fentanyl and other dangerous drugs is being imported by their fellow Americans, rather than folks fleeing political repression and violence in their home countries. We could use a bit of truth in advertising in this instance.

But there is even broader involvement of Americans in our country’s huge substance abuse problem. The opioid epidemic was stoked by the greed of drug makers to maximize profits. When I was Idaho Attorney General in the late 1980s, it was known that hydrocodone and oxycodone were effective pain relievers, but highly addictive. At that time, the use of these opioids was generally limited to severe pain cases because of their addictive properties. However, in the 1990s some drug companies saw gold in them thar hills and started aggressively marketing opioids, such as Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin, as a general remedy for pain. Endo Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson and others joined in to peddle their opioids for wide use.

Advertisements in reputable medical journals hyped the use of opioid products as safe and effective pain relievers. Pharmaceutical companies promoted the widespread use of opioids. Attractive drug representatives assured doctors there was no need to be concerned that patients would become addicted to opioids. Substantial campaign contributions to members of Congress were instrumental in smoothing the way for marketing these addictive painkillers without regulatory interference.

The drug companies obviously knew that these products were addictive and that many people who used them would become hooked, but the bright side was massive profits. The chances of being criminally prosecuted were remote, so they went full steam ahead. All of that misconduct has played into the dire situation facing the country now.

So, while it is likely good politics to place the entire blame on folks who are either fleeing violence in their home country or just looking for a better life, or both, America needs to look in the mirror because some of us have played a large role in the drug tragedy. Every immigrant trying to enter this country could be turned away and it would hardly make a dent in the problem.

In addition to going after illicit foreign drug cartels, we also need to focus on Americans who legally traffic in dangerous substances. Peddlers of legal substances, such as tobacco, opioid and vaping companies, endanger the health and lives of Idahoans as much or more than criminals. We can do our part in Idaho by following the example set by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. His office has collected more than $564 million for the State just from the tobacco companies since 1998 and over $200 million more from makers of other dangerous products, including opioid and vaping companies.

Almost all of those recoveries were made in multi-state legal actions brought by State Attorneys General against the huge corporate substance peddlers. One of the candidates running to replace Wasden has pledged to vigorously pursue that kind of work, while the other said in the candidate debate that he would not. It would be well for Idahoans to do a little study and support the candidate who wants to tackle the problem.



Oregon Senate and GOP gains


Two years from now, most Oregon state Senate seats up for election will be those held by Republicans or independent Republican leaners, putting that party on the defensive. This year, when mostly Democratic seats are up, Republicans have their best chance for gains. And their opportunity is real.

They’re throwing a lot of money into this, more than into the state House races. And Republican advances are likely: At least one seat probably, perhaps two. A Republican gain of three seats would mean a tied Senate.

There’s some irony here. Redistricting theoretically might have helped Democrats, but mostly, on the evidence of the races at hand, it hasn’t, or not much. None of the three Republican Senate incumbents on this year’s ballot can be considered safe but, partly because of large money infusions, a bunch of Democratic districts are in play.

I’ve split the 16 Senate races into safe, likely and lean for each of the parties. (I won’t cop out with toss-ups.) Let’s run through them.

A half-dozen are safe for the Democrats, and incumbents are running in all: Floyd Prozanski and James Manning of Eugene, Sara Gelser Blouin of Corvallis, Rob Wagner of Lake Oswego and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward and Kayse Jama of Portland. Prozanski’s district was extended south from Eugene into more Republican territory, but alone among these Democrats he has no Republican opponent (a Libertarian is on the ballot).

Two seats are likely but not safe Democratic, both open (no incumbent on the ballot), with similar dynamics. Both are redrawn with a strong Democratic voter base, helping Democratic candidates out-fundraise and organize their opponents. District 13, redrawn to range from Wilsonville to Beaverton, favors Democrat Aaron Woods over Republican John Velez. District 18, in the Beaverton-Hillsboro area, advantages Democrat Wlnsvey Campos over Republican Kimberly Rice.

Four seats lean Democratic, gently. District 3 in the Medford-Ashland area often is competitive, and Democrat Jeff Golden has been targeted hard by Republicans. GOP challenger Randy Sparacino has banked about three-quarters of a million dollars, more than three times Golden’s treasury. It’s an extraordinary amount for what should be a modest-priced district. Golden won four years ago with about 55%; his chances now are barely better than even. This seat is hotly competitive, maybe the closest of all to a true toss-up.

Democrat Deb Patterson of Salem (District 10), has been financially targeted, too. Her Republican opponent, Raquel Moore-Green, has raised an extraordinary million dollars, twice Patterson’s own impressive haul, for an area trending gently Democratic. The story is similar in Washington County’s Democratic District 15, where incumbent Janeen Sollman is being heavily outspent by Republican Carolina Malmedal, who has raised a half-million.

Finally, one lean-Democratic district has a Republican incumbent. District 20 in Clackamas County is represented by veteran Bill Kennemer of Oregon City, but his old district was redrawn and now is much more Democratic (the blue edge is rated at 20%). He and Democrat Mark Meek both are well funded, and in this map Meek has the predictive edge.

Three districts lean slightly Republican. The only one with a Republican incumbent is the much-redrawn 11, where Republican Kim Thatcher is running in less-Republican territory, much of it outside her old turf. Her Democratic opponent, Rich Walsh, has raised enough for and has been running a solid campaign. This is a close call.

District 16, the northwest semi-panhandle including Astoria, Tillamook and St. Helens, is a special case. Historically and traditionally Democratic, in this century it has shifted gradually redder. The dominant politician is the recent Democratic senator, now-independent gubernatorial candidate, Betsy Johnson, who has split the difference between the parties. Her appointed replacement isn’t running. The Democrat, running an energetic campaign, is Melissa Busch. But the edge narrowly goes to Republican Suzanne Weber, who has been mayor of Tillamook and is a current state House member from half the district, and has worked closely with Johnson.

The other Republican leaner is District 26 in Columbia Gorge, where incumbent Chuck Thomsen is retiring, and Republican Daniel Bonham is heavily outraising Democrat Raz Mason. The district has a tight partisan split, however; the strongest campaign can prevail.

The sole Republican “likely” is in a district now held by long-timer Democrat Lee Beyer, though heavily redrawn from its old configuration. The revised district, still anchored by Springfield, is now mostly rural territory to that city’s north, and is mostly Republican. This gives Republican Cedric Hayden (who has a big financial advantage) clear odds over Democrat Ashley Pelton.

When you add it up, what do you get? First, the caveat: There are always shifts and unknowns, and every election has surprises. In the aggregate, the odds favor a Republican gain of at least one seat, with two highly realistic. More are a reach but plausible.

The best news for Democrats might be holding about where they are.

But remember too: Whatever Republicans get this time may be their high water mark for a few years to come.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.