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Posts published in February 2023

Belligerence on display

"I miss the America I grew up in."

Came across that the other day. It was a meme on Facebook. Don't usually pay much attention to items like that. But, this caught my attention and hung around in my head.

I think a lot of us with gray hair and a head full of memories of other days can relate. It most recently came to mind as I listened to President Biden's State of the Union speech.

Just when you think the Republican Party has reached the bottom of the barrel, someone takes a saw to the bottom and reaches further down. The catcalls, the booing and shouts of "liar" broke the decorum of the event and exhibited the absurd childishness and boorishness of some GOP members.

I don't care which political party you claim membership in - what political philosophy you espouse. I don't care whether you like or despise the speaker. Moments such as the Biden speech are deserving of the decorum Americans expect. If you can't comply, stay the Hell home.

But, it seems we've entered a time of active crassness and incivility. Such bar room, antisocial behavior has become common - even with people we've elected to high office.

Thinking back to other Speakers of the House of Representatives that served over the last 70 years or so, none has come to that elevated office weaker than Kevin McCarthy.

We will never know exactly what he gave away in the horse trading he conducted during 15 votes of his caucus. The man sits in the chair but without the dignity and clout such office demands. He need not fear Democrat challenges to that authority so much as he needs to be aware of the "Brutus Caucus" of his own Party.

His weak signals to some Republicans to stop disruptions of the President failed. Nothing could have shown the lack of respect and the divisions within the House GOP more clearly.

Civility seems in short supply these days. Respect for institutions and people seems, at times, all but lost in the noise of a vocal minority.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not necessarily longing for the ways things used to be. Times change. Acceptance of change is necessary. As we age we are in a constant state of evolution.

No. I'm talking about simple courtesies expected, regardless of the times. Paying respect to those institutions and people for whom that respect is due. Respect for the office or rank held. In the military, you're taught to salute the rank, not necessarily the individual wearing it. Respect. Tradition.

I'm beginning to make a list of people I really don't want to hear anything more about who consistently fail to show respect - who continually exhibit obnoxious and unacceptable behavior. So far, it's George Santos, Marjorie-Taylor Greene, Trump, McCarthy, Steve Scalise, Krysten Sinema, Andy Biggs and anything Kardashian. I'm still adding. Feel free to make your own list.

In the "American I grew up in" we had similar creatures - people who didn't accept social norms, disrespected authority and who made nuisances of themselves. I recall many of them but none who could come close to the current belligerent crop. In those times, we just shut them out. Isolated them. Shamed them.

Now, we broadcast such loud, nonconforming behavior - we "cut away" from the seriousness of the moment to put their faces on TV screens from coast-to-coast. We follow them as they lay waste to respectability and common courtesy.

Maybe that's why - at our house - the "mute" button on the remote looks a bit worn.



Government v. transgender kids

Idaho’s legislative culture warriors are at it again, weaponizing the government against families with transgender kids and criminalizing their doctors. House Bill 71, which passed the House of Representatives on Valentine’s Day, now goes to the Senate.

If it is enacted into law, it might result in a few suicide attempts by stigmatized transgender kids before being blocked as unconstitutional in federal court. The lawyers challenging the legislation will be able, once again, to replenish their bank accounts with taxpayer funds as a result of the Legislature’s bullying of our transgender population.

HB 71 makes it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming care to transgender minors, despite the fact that every major medical association approves of such care as safe and effective. Some fringe medical groups differ, but it does not make sense for the Legislature to write the view of a small minority into Idaho law. The responsible course of action would be to follow the position of last year’s Senate GOP caucus, opposing  similar legislation. The caucus said the bill “undermines parental rights and allows the government to interfere in parents’ medical decision-making authority for their children.” In other words, keep the heavy hand of government out of doctor-patient relations.

The bill would also prohibit transition-related surgery on minors, although no evidence exists that such surgeries are occurring in Idaho–a solution searching for a problem. Rep. Skaug, the primary bill sponsor, raised the frightening specter of “decisions to cut away healthy bodily organs and to start down the road to chemical castration at age 12.” As an attorney, he should know that hyperbole is no substitute for real facts.

A Pocatello family physician, Dr. Neil Ragan, testified in the committee hearing that his gender-affirming care had saved lives. Because of the social stigma they bear, many transgender kids suffer from severe depression and suicidal ideation. Studies show that minors who receive gender-affirming care are less likely to suffer either. One recent study showed 60% less depression and 73% less suicidality in kids who received care.

The bill sponsors claim they are just looking out for defenseless kids, but in almost every other instance these same legislators claim that parents have the absolute right to make important decisions regarding their children. None of these legislators has lifted a finger to help the children of faith healers get life-saving medical care. If they are indeed so concerned about the well-being of children, they could support House Bill 145, which requires faith healers to provide necessary medical care to their children, just like every other parent in Idaho is required to do. Had such legislation been placed on the statute books in 2020, eight tiny lives might have been saved in Canyon County.

Transgender legislation seems to be one of the top targets of the culture warriors across the country this year. Instead of dealing with real issues, like providing funding to repair crumbling school buildings and build desperately-needed new ones or providing much-needed property tax relief, preening lawmakers latch onto something that is not a societal problem and milk it for political points. There is a cost for such shenanigans.

If HB 71 is approved by the Senate and signed by the Governor, it will likely be found in violation of the United States Constitution by a federal judge. The judge will likely grant substantial attorney fees against the State. That's what happened with an administrative rule and then a statute preventing transgender individuals from getting new birth certificates. The rule case cost taxpayers $75,000 in attorney fees, while the statute case cost them over $320,000.

A transgender sports bill was enacted into law in Idaho in 2020 and put on hold shortly afterwards by a federal court judge on constitutional grounds. The state appealed to the federal circuit court in San Francisco, which has just indicated it will move forward on the case. Odds are the circuit court will find the law unconstitutional, in which event the state could face a massive attorney fee–perhaps well over $1 million. HB 71 could be another bonanza for those private attorneys.



Answers for Oregon’s water troubles

The Jan. 25 report on Oregon’s water shortage, released by the Secretary of State’s office, prominently included a cautionary quote from the legendary western explorer John Wesley Powell, delivered in 1893 as the regional approach to water management started to take form:

“I tell you gentlemen you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not enough water to supply the land.”

He spoke as though that were a bad thing. Experience across the West shows that it might point to a useful direction for Oregon.

The report, “State Leadership Must Take Action to Protect Water Security for All Oregonians,”  points out that despite the national myth that Oregon is water-drenched, most of the state is arid, and even many of the wetter areas – including much of the Willamette Valley – have seen below-average water supplies in recent years. Travelers near the Willamette can see many farms using irrigation more intensively than they once did.

The problems are accumulating: “Many communities are not fully integrated into water decisions and often not even aware there is a problem.” the report stated. “The Oregon Integrated Water Resources Strategy is not clearly connected to state and regional planning efforts and does not have clear implementation pathways. Oregon’s state leadership and agencies do not necessarily share water security priorities. Agencies have distinct areas of focus and limited resources and capacity that limit the ability to engage broadly with communities or work across agency lines. Oregon water data is disaggregated, sometimes incomplete, and not set up to support regional governance needs. … State water regulatory agencies have broad discretion but face external pressures that may hinder them from fully using this discretion to benefit the public.”

Oregon has worked on water planning for half a century, but its basic approach is top-down prescriptive: an attempt to set statewide or basinwide policies intended to address water needs.

The 11 recommendations in the new report, for example, call for “sustain(ing) legislative commitment” and “connect(ing) a regional planning system with an integrated state water plan” and setting up new planning and improving communications, in both government and with the public, on water issues.

An Oregon water framework would include statewide priorities, a statewide water plan, a coordination body, regional and local water plans, and additional regional and local “planning bodies” – a highly complex system that might have a hard time with effective coordination and with clarity.

However helpful these ideas are, they are incomplete. No other western state – and every state from the Great Plains west has significant water challenges – has succeeded in managing water this way. Nearly all emphasize another approach, one already built into Oregon’s water system: administration through the prior appropriations doctrine.

An example (possibly the most successful in the country) can be found next door in Idaho.

Idaho’s available water resources are, in most regions, weaker than Oregon’s, and it has sometimes struggled to deliver water as needed. For decades, the state tensely balanced water demands for its agricultural and hydropower systems (and in smaller amounts for other uses), an arrangement that blew up in 1982 with a state court decision giving primacy to water use by an electric utility. A series of negotiations followed, and the settlement that emerged included an adjudication of all of Idaho’s water in the Snake River system. That covered close to 90% of all the water in Idaho, and the court case that resulted was the largest of its type in the nation’s history.

It was also highly successful. The 28-year adjudication – done at what amounted to light speed in the world of water adjudications – took account of every person and organization seeking to use water in the system, and rationalized who was able to receive what. The court (and administratively, the state Department of Water Resources) bases case-by-case decisions on state law and court precedent, with some leeway to account for specific local conditions and needs. A state water resources board sets overall policy.

Oregon has in place the basis for taking a similar approach. Like other western states, Oregon allows users to obtain water rights under the “prior appropriation” system, in which senior users (“first in time, first in right”) have priority as long as they use the water beneficially. Policy decisions are made based in part on what is considered a beneficial use, and who can claim it, followed by negotiations among the people affected. In some places, fish and wildlife can obtain what amounts to water rights under a trust system, as can recreational and other users.

In limited ways, Oregon already does some of this. A major water adjudication is underway in the Klamath River basin, and much of the rest of the state has been adjudicated at various times. But the results have never been well integrated and have not been developed statewide, a key element to successful state water management.

Oregon can’t, through legislation or regulation, create more water. But it can more clearly articulate how its water should be used. The new advisory report, coupled with case studies from around the regional neighborhood, can show how.

This article originally was published in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.


What they’re voting for

New Idaho Secretary of State Phil McGrane may have set a record for this year’s legislative session: Three bills clearing a committee (Senate State Affairs) for floor action, all at once, all on a hot subject - voting in elections - and all three sensible.

To be sure, two of them are mostly by way of cleanup. House Bill 11 (which has already passed the House) would simply ban private money from being used to run elections (a spot-on point, though I admit to some surprise this legislature signed on to it so easily). And Senate Bill 1048 exempts from election audits precincts that already are being reviewed because of close-election recounts.

More interesting is an idea (Senate Bill 1078) promoted occasionally over the years which never has taken root in Idaho: Authorizing voter guides featuring candidates.

The idea is not entirely new to Idaho, since the state has for decades provided information to voters about ballot issues, a good thing as far as it goes. More than 30 states make available similar information. Far fewer do the same for candidates.

The most elaborate and per-capita costly voter guide system in the nation may be Oregon’s. A study made in 2001 found eight states providing candidate information for voter guides, and Oregon spent the most on them ($4.2 million then). It provides separate guides for local area about candidates down to the smallest districts, plus issues and more, so that when the guide for a particular voter shows up in the mail (everyone registered gets one) it covers all the races from top of ballot to the smallest of districts in the area where the voter lives. (They could improve on cost by allowing voters to opt in to email versions, as eventually they probably will.) These candidates can - and most do - buy inexpensive space to describe themselves and their views. And there’s much more.

McGrane’s effort would be more modest. Its statement of purpose said his guides would include “information about candidates for federal and state offices, as well as other election information.” Whether legislative candidates would be included was not clearly noted; the indication seemed to take in just statewide and federal candidates. (California does it that way.)

That still would be a good start, though more is needed.

Idahoans get far too little information about candidates that isn’t either paid for by candidates or their advocates or opponents - and little opportunity to compare the candidates head to head, and often in the form of horribly misleading ads. (And never mind the eye-rolling stuff developed by groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation.)

Back when Idaho had more newspapers and when they had much more space for news, far more extensive descriptions of the candidates were available to readers. Much of that has gone away.

Do you know who your legislators are? Do you know what they’re up to? Do you know how they’re voting and what they’re supporting and opposing? (I mean the specifics, not some garbage “freedom index.”) Do you know who influences them? Idahoans (and most other Americans) get little by way of civic education and little encouragement to check the many public resources that are available. Lots of candidate finance data must, by law, be filed with state or local agencies, and most of that is available online; outside of political activists, lobbyists and reporters, few people evidently look at it. At a time when most legislators can (reasonably) simply assume they’ll be re-elected if they want to be, the voters back home may have distressingly meager influence.

Many Idahoans appear to know little about most of the candidates they vote for in general elections aside from the party designation - mostly Republican or Democratic - next to their names. Making a choice on the basis of no more than that simply is bad citizenship.

Voter guides, easily produced and placed directly in voters’ hands, could be one step toward helping.

Will the Idaho Legislature go for a project that could result in voters knowing more about them and what they do?

Pay attention to this at least: What the Idaho Senate and House floors do with the new legislation.



Franny was nervous as the ultrasound tech chatted and booted up her machine. The warmed jelly spread over her lower abdomen and the transducer pressed. The screen was facing away, and the technician stopped her friendly chatter.

“What is it?” Franny asked.

“Nothing. I’ll be right back.” And she left the room.

A tall man entered with the technician at his elbow. “What’s wrong?” Franny, now desperate, asked.

“We’re just trying to get better pictures. We don’t want you to worry.” He murmured in a quiet soothing voice.

“Oh, good. I was getting worried. What do you see?”

There was a long bit of silence as the tall man moved the transducer with more force, pressing uncomfortably on her full bladder. He looked up at Franny, then back at the screen and said,” It looks like you have a case of beucephaly.”

“What’s that?”

He paused again. “We can see the heart beating, and the head well formed, but your baby has four legs and a tail.”


“It seems you have a horse, maybe a pony growing inside you.”

“Oh,” said Franny. “Will it live?”

He frowned. “We don’t often see cases like this. I recommend you talk with a high-risk pregnancy specialist.”

“Can I see it?”

He spun the monitor screen toward her. The black and white fuzzy screen showed the image of a little, folded up pony. Franny smiled. She had always liked horses.

“Let me see if I can get Dr. Barford to come in. She’s just down the hall.”

Franny listened to the swishing of the heartbeat and studied the image. Some questions were forming as she looked and listened.

The perinatologist came in and introduced herself. She too ran the transducer over Franny’s belly, then wiped off the goo and sat down next to her.

Yes, she confirmed, Franny’s baby was “equine” she said. Meaning, they couldn’t tell yet if it was a horse, or pony, or donkey or mule.

“Will it live?”

These can be very difficult pregnancies, she said frankly, and while it may be born alive, most do not live long after birth. And, she added, the delivery process can be very hard on the mother. Sometimes there is premature labor, sometimes high blood pressure, “eclampsia” she said. And it the fetus survives to term the delivery will need to be by C-section.

“What if I don’t want to keep the pregnancy?” Franny asked. “What if I want it to be over now?”

Here Dr. Barford looked down. Many women might choose that, given this diagnosis, but here in Idaho, that choice is not available to you.

“What?” Franny asked.

No, Dr. Barford explained. Unless you can show a criminal complaint of rape or incest, your pregnancy cannot be terminated, because at this stage it would mean that your um, baby would most surely die.

“But you said it wouldn’t live after birth.”

Yes, but some live for a while. But none have gone on to be full grown horses. Or donkeys. Or any full-grown equine species.

Franny frowned. “Rape or incest? She blushed.

Dr. Barford nodded silently. You would need to show a proper police report.

Franny shook her head. “You mean, I have a pony growing inside me and I have to just carry this pregnancy, even if it means I could get sick, have to have surgery to deliver it, and then it’s going to die before it grows up?”

Dr. Barford nodded. Those are the laws here in Idaho.

Franny heard the swish of the heartbeat from the monitor and remembered the four folded up little legs and the nubbin of the tail. “Has anyone ever had a unicorn?” she asked.

Dr. Barford smiled. I don’t think so. But there’s always a first time.


Blame game

Remember Joe Btfsplk? The little fella in the "Li'l Abner" comic strip? Joe was the epitome of bad luck with a little gray cloud hovering near him wherever he went. Joe just couldn't get a break.

Another Joe we know - Joe Namath - once opined "Quarterbacks get too much credit when things are going good and too much blame when they aren't."

Sounds a lot like another Joe we know. Our President. Joe Biden.

At the moment - with things going badly - Biden is getting too much blame. Covid's not his fault. Climate change is not his fault. Floods, deadly storms and other natural occurrences can't be helped. Maybe ending the war in Afghanistan didn't come off as smoothly as hoped. But, he ended the damned "no win" drain of lives and treasure that no other president had the courage to attempt.

No, Joe's getting some bad raps for a lot of things not under his control.

And, there's something else going on that no other recent president has had to deal with. This outpouring of anger in the citizenry. In-your-face anger. School boards threatened. City councils and county authorities being openly challenged. Governors, Secretaries of State, legislators, members of congress and others connected with creating laws or conducting elections being under public attack - in their offices and, often, in their homes.

The millions of Americans who won't get their Covid shots are not Joe's fault, either. He, and other public officials, have done about all they can do to persuade those miscreants to protect themselves - and us - from the ravages and death of this pandemic. They won't budge until they're in the hospital begging for the vaccine. Too late.

Another thing that isn't Joe's fault - the wrong-headed Republicans in both houses of Congress who've created phoney, vindictive and angry barriers to much of what he's tried to do.

No, this Joe – in the words of Namath - doesn't deserve the blame and anger for much of what's troubling this country at the moment. In fact, he deserves a lot of credit for the things he's been able to accomplish, given the negative Congress, a war and the natural occurrences of nature he's had to deal with.

As for Afghanistan, there's enough blame for Joe and many other folk. The pullout was messy, bloody and, in some cases, deadly. It obviously didn't go as planned - if planning there was.

But, when you lose a war - our third military defeat in a row - how do you get out without some bloody, loose ends? We couldn't just quit and go home - cut and run. We had - and still have - responsibilities for our citizens there, to the Afghans who helped us and to the other nations involved. And, my guess is we've still got operatives "on the ground" who're working to get more Americans and Afghans out.

But, Joe is the guy in the "hot seat." "The buck stops here" sort of thing. He's in the Oval Office, behind the Resolute desk. His fault or not, he gets the negative reviews and whatever blame there is - rightfully or over blown. Like his predecessors. And, sometimes, a win, for which there is often too much singular credit. As Namath said.

If there is "fault" or "blame" for Biden to shoulder, it may be he's a man who often leads with his heart. An accomplished politician with years of experience, he's also "grounded." Whatever fame he carries with him, as someone in the spotlight for more than 40 years, he's fully aware of the weight of responsibility he's charged with. But, he's also a devout human being who's suffered multiple losses. Bill Clinton said to victims of tragedy, "I feel your pain." Biden, more than any recent President, does, too.

Through no fault of Biden's, we're going to live with Covid from now on, just as we do with other diseases. We'll also have to deal with the tragedies caused by storms, floods, fires, climate change and other acts of nature, regardless of who sits behind that desk. There will be wars and acts of violence in our future for other presidents to deal with. And be blamed for. It just goes with the job.

Biden is human. He makes mistakes. He'll continue to be faced with large problems requiring decisions. Some right. Some wrong. Like the rest of us. He'll continue to be blamed. Rightly. Or wrongly.

But, I think even some of his critics have to believe Biden is a decent, caring human being. Not perfect. Not always right. But, caring and, in all respects, an admirable human being.

There are enough things in the world to blame someone - anyone - for. Certainly, enough blame for all of us. It's our personal responsibility to make sure we cast blame at the right source.

Head in the sand

The Idaho Legislature took a bold step to improve the efficiency of state government in 1994. Tired of being blindsided by poorly performing programs, the Legislature established an independent, nonpolitical Office of Performance Evaluations (OPE) to evaluate the effectiveness of governmental operations. The Joint Legislative Oversight Committee (JLOC), with bipartisan membership, directs the work of OPE. It has produced outstanding reports, pointing out governmental deficiencies and suggesting options to address them.

 Without OPE's 2022 K-12 Public School Buildings report, we would never know that the State is wildly deficient in performing its constitutional duty to pay for the maintenance and repair of Idaho's public school buildings. It will take almost one billion dollars to bring our school facilities up to just "good" condition. Left unsaid is the fact that the State is responsible for the construction of the new buildings that are desperately needed in so many communities and that the Idaho Constitution places construction and maintenance costs on state taxpayers, not local property owners. Senator Dave Lent, who chairs the Senate Education Committee and is a member of JLOC, is trying to find a real solution to this serious deficiency, thanks to the OPE report. This type of in-depth evaluation and reporting is essential to efficient, responsible government.

 OPE has also studied a traffic safety issue coming before the Legislature. Senator Jim Guthrie, who chairs the Senate State Affairs Committee, has just introduced Senate Bill 1081, which will allow undocumented immigrants to obtain restricted driver's licenses. A 2021 report by OPE provides support for Guthrie's bill. It indicated that "accidents involving unlicensed drivers are three times deadlier than accidents involving licensed drivers." Workers are able to put in more hours per week with driving privileges. These folks are valuable members of our communities. They will be here even if they don't get driving privileges. If they are allowed to come in from the shadows, they can get driver training and liability insurance. They won't be fearful of reporting traffic accidents. Senator Guthrie was aware that his bill would draw fire, but the OPE report gives helpful, straight-forward perspective on its merits. SB 1081 is supported by the Idaho Dairymen, J.R. Simplot Company, Amalgamated Sugar and a wide swath of the agricultural community. OPE provides factual support for good policy.

OPE has evaluated quite a number of programs that were perceived to be struggling and has been able to give the Legislature the information it needs to fix them, including improvement of operations at the Idaho Transportation Department, strengthening public contracting practices, reforming Idaho's foster care system and increasing efficiencies in the parole process. Those and other studies have saved Idaho taxpayers many millions of dollars. OPE has received national recognition for its forward-looking, problem-solving work, including awards for excellence from the National Legislative Evaluation Society, the American Society for Public Administration and the American Evaluation Association.

Prior to the establishment of OPE, performance audits were periodically made of all governmental agencies, regardless of how they were functioning. The reviews were conducted by an arm of the Legislature by reviewers who were essentially jacks of all trades and masters of none. The evaluations did not specifically target programs that were failing to attain their objectives. As Attorney General in the pre-OPE days, I found the legislative audits to be annoying, superficial and of little practical value.

On the 9th of February, the House demonstrated a preference for the old, essentially useless system, rather than the unbiased, fact-based approach of OPE, by passing House Bill 68. The bill eliminates JLOC and places performance evaluation under the control of the majority party. That will put an end to the kind of deep-dive inquiries previously performed by OPE and consign the agency to the monotony of rubber stamping the views of the rulers, who often prefer to stick their heads in the sand and gloss over governmental waste and inefficiency.


They’re always after Social Security

It’s not often you see the ruling class of an entire political movement publicly recant a fundamental tenant of its faith.

Yet, that is precisely what happened in the middle of the recent State of Union speech when the president of the United States openly called out Republican members of Congress for their generation’s long obsession with rolling back (or eliminating) Social Security, a program established in 1935 during Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, and doing the same to Medicare, a critical part of the modern American social safety net established in 1965 during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency.

Joe Biden actually got House and Senate Republican to stand and applaud the idea that Social Security and Medicare are off the political chopping block, a reality that some members of the GOP have embraced as they plot to destroy the country’s credit rating by walking up to and perhaps beyond an extension of the debt ceiling.

It was a remarkable moment for Biden, but also for us old codgers who after a lifetime of contributions to both Social Security and Medicare are enjoying the benefits of both programs.

Of course, Republicans immediately howled about Biden’s “lies” about the desire of some Republicans to gut the programs. The resulting uproar was a feast day for the fact checkers. Turns out Biden was correct about Republican desires, as anyone who has paid attention to American politics for the last, oh, 60 years or so knows.

A couple of data points:

  • On February 28, 1964, the old Spokane Chronicle newspaper carried a story with a Keene, New Hampshire dateline. Under the headline “Rockefeller attacks rival’s view” the Associated Press reported that Nelson Rockefeller, the governor of New York, was criticizing Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s plan to make Social Security voluntary. The two men were Republican rivals for that year’s GOP presidential nomination. Such a plan, Rockefeller insisted, would bankrupt the program and threaten the economic security of millions of American seniors. Goldwater eventually won the nomination and spent much of his campaign trying to walk back his position on Social Security. Goldwater lost the presidential election in a landslide, in part because Lyndon Johnson ran a blistering TV spot that featured a pair of hands ripping up a Social Security card.
  • After George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004 he went all in on privatizing Social Security. “I earned capital in this campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said as he began a campaign to “reform” the program. “As we fix Social Security,” Bush said, “we also have the responsibility to make the system a better deal for younger workers. And the best way to reach that goal is through voluntary personal retirement accounts.” The Bush push deflated like a Chinese spy balloon.
  • It’s ancient history now, but you may remember one-time Texas governor Rick Perry, the guy who couldn’t recall the federal Cabinet-level agencies he wanted to eliminate as he ran for president in 2012. Perry, never the sharpest pencil in the box, labeled Social Security a “Ponzi scheme” during his campaign. After many Americans Googled “Ponzi scheme,” Perry started his own great walk back. He never recovered as a candidate.

The list of other Republican Social Security reformers is long, very long. Florida Senator Rick Scott currently has a plan, clearly part of what Biden was riffing off. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the would be next president, advocated privatizing Social Security and changing Medicare when he was in Congress. Former House Speaker Paul Ryan made “reform” of the fundamental American safety net the centerpiece of his entire approach to the federal budget.

Utah Senator Mike Lee got colorful with his aims regarding the programs when running in 2010. “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it out by the roots,” Lee said. That gardening work was his reason for running, Lee said, adding, “Medicare and Medicaid are of the same sort. They need to be pulled up.”

Lee was captured on camera during the State of Union vigorously denying any concerted GOP plan to do just what he once advocated. He looked like a kid with a mouth full of chocolate denying to his mom that he had raided the chocolate stash. Mikey knew nothing, nothing.

Liberals have long been accused of being paranoid about conservative guns trained on the benefits Americans are entitled to collect, but the truth is you’re not paranoid when they really are out to get you.

Before we completely outlaw the teaching of actual American history, it’s worth remembering that Social Security was created during some of the worst days of the Great Depression precisely because older Americans were some of the hardest hit by the economic calamity that struck the country. The original Social Security law also established the broad outlines of the unemployment insurance program still in effect. Despite growls that the program was a stalking horse for rank socialism, the program passed Congress with broad bipartisan support. That hasn’t kept Republicans from trying to dismantle it ever since.

Of course, the programs need both vigorous defense and occasional amendment. The only responsible way to shore up both is to raise taxes, as has been done before. The last significant bipartisan effort occurred in 1983. The changes were supported by Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill.

It is possible to make the programs work better, but that won’t happen when significant numbers of one party always begin with speeches about reducing benefits, extending eligibility dates and fundamentally altering an enduring and extremely important program designed to provide a foundation of economic security for millions of people.

The real genius of Social Security, and later Medicare, was certainly in the economic and medical benefits the programs provide, but there is more to it. In a country as large, diverse and contentious as ours, a program with near universal participation and with benefits easily understood is a very good thing. We’re all in it together. We have a shared interest in making it work. We are better off as a country when our neighbors have a basic level of economic and health security in their later years.

Franklin Roosevelt knew what he was doing. When he signed the law on August 14, 1935, Roosevelt said: “We can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life, but we have tried to frame a law which will give some measure of protection to the average citizen and to his family against the loss of a job and against poverty-ridden old age.”

It still works, and Republicans are finding out once again that it’s dangerous to mess with success.



The Greater calculus

The push for a “Greater Idaho” jurisdiction transition - extending the state of Idaho west to include most of eastern Oregon - got started with enthusiasm in a number of rural Oregon communities.

Although 11 Oregon counties have in fact voted for the idea the heavier momentum for it now seems to be centered in the Idaho Legislature.

Last week, the Idaho House passed a memorial (now under consideration at the Senate) saying, “the Idaho Legislature stands ready to begin discussions with the Oregon Legislature regarding the potential to relocate the Oregon/Idaho state boundary, in accordance with the will of the citizens of eastern Oregon, and we invite the Oregon Legislature to begin talks on this topic with the Idaho Legislature.”

It makes for great PR for state officials in Idaho - “just look at all these people in the blue state who want to go red with us!” - and there’s no criticizing them for taking advantage of it on that level.

But nothing will come of this, of course. The idea has been raised at Salem, receiving no serious traction. The hurdles of changing a state boundary are such that hardly ever in American history has it been accomplished, though often proposed.

All that said, what sort of practical impacts might we be talking about?

On a partisan level, the shifts would not help Republicans, though Democrats could see some pluses.

Bear in mind that these counties (I’m including here all 11 voting so far in favor of the change, including Jefferson and Klamath, which are too closely tied to the west realistically to cut off) are among Oregon’s most rural, remote and lightly-populated places. They occupy more than half of Oregon’s land mass (Oregon has more square miles than Idaho) but include fewer than five percent of its people, at 208,800 barely a quarter of what you’d need to form a congressional district. The area hasn’t been growing in population.

(You might reflect on the idea that at least five percent of Idahoans - including a large chunk of the capital city - probably would be happy to secede from the Gem State, given the option.)

Idaho presently is well positioned as is to pick up its long-awaited third congressional district after the 2030 census, but an infusion of 200,000 or so from Oregon would come nowhere close enough to add a fourth.

In Oregon (its overall state population is well over double Idaho’s), the loss of the 200,000 would be unlikely to cost its new sixth congressional district. But, since all - every one - of the 11 counties which would be departing are strongly Republican, the more likely effect would involve a shift away from the current mix of four Democratic, one strongly competitive and one (the eastern - the 2nd) strongly Republican. The probable outcome once remapping dust settled, with the departure of so many Republican votes, would be six districts all leaning in the Democratic direction. (U.S. House Democrats might reasonably be pushing for Greater Idaho.)

In Idaho’s legislature, the mandatory 35 districts would be stretched a little larger across more constituents, increasing the district populations by about a tenth. The new western addition likely would make the legislature a shade more Republican, by a seat or two in each chamber, but by not enough so almost anyone would notice. The difference in Oregon, where the parties are much more closely matched in the legislature, could be more substantial: The loss of most of eastern Oregon probably would be enough to lock in supermajority status for Democrats, which (a difference from Idaho) matters there when it comes to passing tax and budget bills.

Speaking of budgets and taxes, there’ll be the matter of imposing the sales tax in the commerce-light (and in many cases commerce-struggling) eastern Oregon counties, and the loss of some now-legal businesses (cannabis-related, for one example) that wouldn’t be allowed in Idaho. In Oregon, those counties take more money from the state government than they contribute, and the same almost certainly would be true in Idaho, creating more pressure than at present when the day comes (as it will) when state revenues and budgets are tighter. And remember: As in Idaho, the bulk of eastern Oregon lands are federally-run.

Little wonder many (mostly Democratic) western Oregonians would be  perfectly happy with the Greater Idaho proposal. The larger wonder is the Idahoans who feel that way.