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Political survival

johnson

Note: Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic, reminded us – again – this week that Republican senators had a chance in February 2021 to convict Donald Trump and guarantee that he would never again hold public office.

Most Senate Republicans twisted themselves into political pretzels to avoid hold Trump accountable for the Capitol attack on January 6, even though no one attempted to defend his actions.

As Serwer wrote: “Although seven Republican senators broke ranks and voted to convict Trump, most of the caucus remained loyal to a man who attempted to bring down the republic, because in the end, they would have been content to rule over the ruins.”

Which brings us to very Republican Idaho …

Idaho congressman Russ Fulcher was one of 147 Republicans who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election for the winner, Joe Biden.

Idaho congressman Mike Simpson has called the House committee investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol “a witch hunt.” Simpson’s dismissal of the investigation as a purely partisan exercise ignores the fact that a string of Republican witnesses – the former attorney general, several Trump White House staffers, the Georgia secretary of state and the Arizona speaker of the house – have provided unrefuted testimony under oath. Some witch hunt.

Idaho senator Mike Crapo, while accepting the endorsement of the former president of the United States has had almost nothing to say about that president’s increasingly well-documented efforts to overturn the election and prevent Congress from carrying out its constitutional duty to count electoral votes.

Idaho senator James Risch, like Crapo, opposed creation of an independent panel to investigate the Capitol insurrection and what caused it. Risch remains mum as more testimony implicates the former president in what a federal judge has called “a coup in search of a legal theory.”

Idaho attorney general candidate Raul Labrador, we know from text messages assembled by the congressional committee, implored then White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on January 6, as Labrador put it, to “get Trump to say something to calm down the people.” Labrador, who supported a bogus legal strategy aimed at overturning state elections, also said to Meadows: “I believed in Trump and I would probably object to the certification today.”

This is the top leadership of the Idaho Republican Party systematically ignoring a Constitutional and political crisis that makes Watergate look like a family picnic. And all in the name of party solidarity.

The Idaho Republican party once included the principled leadership of conservatives like Phil Batt, Jim McClure, Jim Jones and Dirk Kempthorne. The party’s elected leaders today seem as far from principled as Bonners Ferry is from Malad. To steal a line from the late columnist and commentator Mark Shields, these Idaho politicians make Tonto, the Lone Ranger’s loyal sidekick, “look like an independent spirit.”

In commentary in Idaho newspapers recently, former newspaper reporter and one-time GOP publicist Chuck Malloy suggests he knows what Fulcher, Simpson, Crapo and Risch are up to – I include Labrador, as well – with their not so artful dodge of the political issue of our time. The Idaho Republicans are, Malloy wrote, “political survivors,” and “political survivors” know “better than to cross” Donald Trump.

“Political survivors” don’t “buck leadership” because survivors – guys like Crapo in Malloy’s telling – get ahead by making a “political career of being a loyal soldier for Republicans.”

I’m certain my old friend Chuck wrote that to explain – and excuse perhaps – the motivations behind a lack of character on the part of these political leaders. Perhaps inadvertently Chuck also hints at an even bigger truism. Idaho Republican leaders are scared – scared of Trump, scared of the most radical elements in their own party, scared of losing office and power, scared of the mob coming for them. They’re like Mafia capos, the middlemen in the crime syndicate, who aren’t directly in charge of the wrongdoing, but know about it and condone, afraid to cross the Big Boss.

“Republican lawmakers fear that confronting Trump, or even saying in public how they actually feel about him, amounts to signing their political death warrant,” Jonathan Martin, journalist and author of This Will Not Pass said recently. “For most of them, it’s not more complicated than that.”

Survival at all cost no matter the price.

Rusty Bowers, the very conservative Republican speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives, who testified recently before the January 6 committee, is a living, breathing example of the chaos and danger that has been unleashed by the Trumpian Big Lie about the election. After telling the committee that he told Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani that he would not violate his oath to defend the law and the Constitution to further the former president’s lies about the election, Bower related what happened to him and his family.

Pro-Trump supporters used bullhorns as they protested outside Bower’s Mesa home. Protesters filmed Bower’s house and at least one man showed up with a gun and threatened a neighbor. A recall effort was mounted against the devout Mormon and BYU grad. He was accused of corruption and pedophilia. His friends attacked him. Trump lied about him.

All this happened, while Bower’s daughter lay dying inside his home under siege. All this happened because a conservative Republican told the truth about Donald Trump and pushed back on the stolen election lies. Election workers in Georgia and elsewhere have similarly been threatened and intimidated.

It may well be that Idaho’s Republican leaders are merely pragmatically invested in continuing to be, as Chuck says, “political survivors,” toeing the line and tending to tribal loyalties, but what if they won’t tell the truth because they are merely political cowards rather than survivors? Considering the threats and intimidation raining down on who have dared to tell the truth – Rusty Bowers and this week former Trump aide Cassidy Hutchinson among them – who can really blame these small, timid and quiet men from Idaho?

Yet, like Bowers, like the Georgia secretary of state, like young Ms. Hutchinson, like the Capitol Police officers who fought – and some died – to protect Fulcher, Simpson, Crapo and Risch on January 6, these Idaho Republicans also took an oath to “preserve and protect” the Constitution of the United States.

That oath, as we heard from Speaker Bowers, is a solemn, honorable commitment. It doesn’t apply only when things are easy or convenient. There is no escape clause. You can’t suspend it when the politics get ugly, when Trump demands it, when the mob comes calling, or when too many of your constituents embrace nonsensical conspiracy theories. There is simply no oath that offers an “opt out” for “political survivors.”

Malloy suggests Idaho Republicans believe political courage is for losers. And they may be right. If that be so then we are all losers, and our democracy is the biggest loser of all.
 

Welcome to post-Roe Idaho

stapiluslogo1

Idaho’s anti-abortion forces have waited a long time for the abortion ruling the U.S. Supreme Court delivered last week. Now they can outlaw abortion in Idaho, more or less absolutely.

But that’s not nearly the end of the story. Not close.

Abortions happen because a woman has made a determined choice, almost never lightly considered, and a few lines in the state code won’t be enough to stop them. In places like Poland the numbers of women obtaining abortions dropped only slightly after a sweeping ban was imposed. Clinics providing abortions in Idaho (never numerous) are shutting down, but there are options: travel out of state, communication with out of state health providers, and delivery or travel to obtain pills. Three of Idaho’s border states - Washington, Oregon and Nevada - are emphatically abortion-legal states.

You can expect the next legislature will get busy on this. I’m waiting, for example, for the return of legislation (tried before but failed up to now) to declare abortion is murder, and require it be prosecuted as such.

But more attention may go to the question of how to effectively enforce the ban, to make it more than just words in a statute. That subject is getting discussion around the country, and you can be sure Idaho legislators are listening.

One possibility - President Joe Biden has alluded to it - is a ban on Idaho women who are pregnant traveling to states where abortion is legal (such as the three aforementioned). But that begs the question of enforcement.

Do we see checkpoints at the border - maybe on the interstates, to stop pregnant women from leaving the state? Will women be forced to take pregnancy tests at the border? How about the dirt roads leading from Idaho into Oregon and Washington, or the Montana, Utah and Wyoming borders, through which someone could pass to an abortion refuge state? And air travel: How can Idaho monitor not only the commercial airports but also its many landing strips? Passenger buses?

Might Idaho charge with criminal offenses some of the medical or other people in other states who provide prescriptions or services (or travel assistance), or information about where they’re available? Might Idaho try to extradite people from those states? (Don’t expect much success with that, though it could become a bitter flash point.)

Will Idaho try to regulate speech about it? If a person who posts on Facebook about abortion services in Washington or Oregon or Nevada, would that be a criminal offense - or basis for a lawsuit? As one national story suggested, “a looming confrontation over whether the First Amendment allows censoring speech about a medical procedure that will become illegal in much of the country … National Right to Life Committee, recently proposed model legislation for states that would make it a crime to pass along information ‘by telephone, the internet or any other medium of communication’ that is used to terminate a pregnancy.”

What about pills sent through the mail or other delivery services (UPS, FedEx)? Trying to break the security of the US mail would be difficult (at least pending a change in presidential administration), but someone might try. How about the private services, which have promoted themselves as secure? How would they react if state officials started snooping through their packages? How would customers generally react?

Will the state start looking into medical records to find anyone who becomes pregnant? One news story discusses a “new government database tracking people’s pregnancies in Poland is sparking fears that medical data will be used to prosecute women who obtain abortion care in other countries or by getting abortion pills through the mail, and potentially to target women who have miscarriages.” Might that be coming to Idaho?

If you think that some or even most of these things may not happen, you could be right. Maybe. But before you dismiss them, pause to reflect on what a careful, moderate group are the members of the Idaho Legislature, which has another regular session coming up in another few months.

Seeds

schmidt

I got my height in 8th grade. I was tall then, but the late bloomers towered over me by my sophomore year. Why in the hell did I move from ground-based sports to one that expected me to be tall? It was the girls.

Girls played volleyball. So, I decided to pick it up. It’s a skill game. But I was athletic, and the skills came quickly. I watched the girls’ skills and learned from them. They welcomed my effort.

The men’s game has an 8-foot net separating the teams. I could stuff a volleyball on a 10-foot basketball rim, so I thought I would be good. But a six-foot six blocker only needed to jump a little to be an obstacle. I needed to up my game.

I remember practicing the steps, the approach, then the explosion off the ground. If I could just get a couple inches higher. Adrenaline helped. I found I could gauge the ball, start my approach, then at the moment needed to lift, if I focused my hatred on a spot on the ground, I seemed to get a little higher.

I didn’t hate my opponent. Their skills made me a better player.

But I hated the gravity, the earth, that held me down.

I could really jump back in the day. But I was a foolish young man.

Those years of jumping have worn out my knees. I will get one replaced in a couple weeks. It’s the worst; they both need it. So, I will now reap from those seeds of hatred I sowed so long ago. We need to be careful about the seeds we sow.

The smile and wave to our grumpy neighbor is a seed. The time taken to understand a decision that will affect us is a seed. Blind partisan loyalty is a weed in full bloom. The seed was the hatred of the other we planted and watered.

I find myself wondering about our US Senate. Having served in a legislative senate, I know it is no comparison. Especially here in Idaho when both representatives and senators run for election every two years.

US Senators get six-year terms. The 1789 Constitution had them selected by their state legislatures. This was a nod to the Articles of Confederation, which tried to make states sovereign. But it became clear in the late 19th century that a few well-placed bribes in a new state could buy a Senate seat. The inability of state legislatures to fulfill their obligation sealed the deal when a few states couldn’t agree on their choice. Some Senate seats were unoccupied for years.

The 17th Amendment changed the selection of Senators to a statewide popular vote in the early 20th century.

Our two Idaho Senators have served for 23 and 13 years. I’m sure they know the DC ropes. But I question their loyalty to our republic. They both have caved to politics, partisan hatred, when the ideals of our founders should have been in their hearts.

I’m sure they have discussions across the aisle to move significant issues. I’m sure they listen to other Senators.

But both listened to testimony about the actions of former President Trump and found no fault.

His first action was to elicit help from a foreign power for his own political domestic benefit. Trump withheld military support for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress to get them to do his dirty work.

His second action was to deny the truth of an election and, with his words and violence of his colleagues, try to subvert our Constitutional process.

These actions of our former President are poisonous seeds. Our Idaho Senators have nurtured their growth. And we have elected them, time and again.

I can’t believe our Idaho legislature would hold them any more accountable than we, the voters have. The harvest is nigh.
 

A new turn?

malloy

If history holds true in this beet-red state, then the two Democrats running for Congress – Kaylee Peterson of Eagle (First District) and Wendy Norman (pictured) of Rigby (Second District) – will struggle to get 30 percent of the vote against two Republican incumbents.

There was a time when Democrats Larry LaRocco and Richard Stallings held both seats, but that was way back in the 1990s. More recently, Democrat Walt Minnick was the First District representative for one term (2009-2011). So, in this incumbent-happy state, there doesn’t seem to be a path of victory in November for two political newcomers.
Unless …

Well, it’s hardly worth mentioning. But there is a small chance that voters will catch “Trump fatigue,” given all the testimony in the Jan. 6 hearings about the former president’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The chances of Idahoans getting their fill of Trump are small, mind you – somewhere between a Hail Mary in football, or a full-court buzzer beater in basketball. But there are plenty of talking points on the Democratic side, and stone silence from Republicans.

Peterson, a 32-year-old mom and sophomore at the College of Western Idaho, is taking the fight to Fulcher.

“A growing body of evidence … demonstrates that President Trump betrayed our Constitution, betrayed the legal framework of our nation, and betrayed his own conservative values when he demanded that Vice President Mike Pence unilaterally and illegally decide the outcome of the 2020 election,” she said. “The question I have, as a candidate for Congress, is, where is Russ Fulcher’s response?”

It has been crickets with Fulcher and most Republicans in Congress who have dismissed the Jan. 6 congressional committee as a political sideshow.

Jan. 6 isn’t the only area where Peterson is at odds with Fulcher. She’s trying to line up support from Republicans and independents who disagree with Fulcher’s approach. She notes that the Freedom Caucus, which includes Fulcher, has been described by other Republicans as “obstructionists” and “anarchists.”

She says he’s siding with the party’s far-right element at the expense of “very moderate people who just want effective resolution of the issues they are seeing on a daily basis.”

Peterson is involved with politics on various levels at CWI and is president of the college’s speech and debate team, but politics at a two-year school is a far cry from Washington, D.C. Peterson says that unlike some Democrats who run for high office, then disappear, she plans to stick around a while.

“This is not the end of my role in Idaho’s political scene,” she says. “The relationships I have built, the connections I’ve built and the solutions I have offered need to be carried through whether I win the congressional seat, or not.”

Norman’s criticisms about Congressman Mike Simpson are not as pointed. “I have appreciated him and have felt is Idaho’s most effective legislator. He has done good things for the Idaho National Laboratory and the Second District.”

Her complaint is that Simpson plays to Trump, the party’s far right and special interests – such as the National Rifle Association.

Simpson may be taking on Democrats in general during this campaign, but maybe not Norman. She’s a 50-year-old first-grade teacher who says it’s time to have “real people” serving in Congress.

“Why do you have to sit on one side of the aisle? Why isn’t it possible to be friends with someone who has a whole different perspective. Why couldn’t I be friends with someone with a whole different perspective. Should I be friends with Marjorie Taylor Greene? Absolutely,” Norman said.

Kudos to both Peterson and Norman for giving voters a choice in this election. It takes a lot of grit for people to put their names out there and take on the GOP establishment.

In Norman’s case, her experience with first graders might come in handy if she’s elected to Congress. She at least has some expertise in conflict resolution and creating peaceful outcomes.

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

Keep an open door

rainey

In these days following the Roe vs Wade decision, much has been written and spoken, both opposing and supporting the ruling.

I’ve listened and read a lot on the subject. And, one of the things that has struck me is the relative absence of the decision’s affect on men. Men, after all, are full partners in the creation of a fertilized egg and the decision of what to do about that result should be a partnership as well. Though too often that’s not the case.

I’m old enough - and experienced enough - to realize that, in some instances, there is no subsequent partnership possible. That often, the coupling is the only time both partners share anything. That it’s too often the fault of a dishonest man. Or, a woman, too embarrassed or frightened to share the news and her partner never knows a thing.

But, men, too, can be embarrassed and frightened. And scared.

Though not being one of the two souls who created a fertilized egg, I’ve had close experience with someone who has. A friend and former room mate. Male. We’ll call him Mark.

I watched him go through a series of emotions when he found out what had happened. It was much like the steps of grief we feel when someone close dies. Anger. Remorse. Guilt. Denial. Acceptance, etc.

Mark was a decent guy. His partner in their doomed coupling seemed to be a decent young woman. I’d double-dated with them a few times. Movies. Bowling. Sight-seeing. Those kinds of things. Fun things. Even took a week-long trip together.

But, soon after Mark broke the news to me - news he learned from a third person - she disappeared. Just gone. Mark searched everywhere. He called their mutual friends. No one knew where she was. Her parents and her employer swore they didn’t know. He kept searching for several months. Not a trace.

All the time, Mark was dealing with his deeply felt emotions. He showed a sense of responsibility and often felt that sense especially while fighting tears. The instant end of his relationship left ragged, exposed nerves. Closure was not possible.

Eventually, Mark asked for a military transfer and we soon lost touch with each other.

I have no idea how the young woman I knew only as a friend’s frequent date dealt with the pregnancy. Did she end it? Is there someone out there who grew to adulthood without a father? Did she get her life back together? Have I passed someone on the street who was that person? Like Mark, I just don’t know.

While a man is often painted in indifferent, uncaring ways when faced with an unwanted pregnancy, that’s not always the case. I think when Mark was told the truth - while we were both in our early 20's - he actually rounded one of life’s corners and grew as a man. Looking back, I can more clearly see the days when he changed.

And, I’ve wondered often about “her.” Why did she disappear? Why did she just instantly walk out of Mark’s life? Why didn’t she share the moment with someone who, I think, would have been an excellent husband and father? Was she afraid of his reaction? Or, was she just plain scared?

In my opinion, the Roe vs Wade decision was deeply wrong. The tone of that decision, written by a Conservative majority, seemed to show personal anger - especially on the parts of Justices Alito and Thomas. Their seeming Patriarchal nature was especially telling when compared to the deeply personal tone of the written dissent of the minority.

I may be the most ignorant person on this planet but I’ve never fully understood the angry mob that’s made a deeply personal matter of health care a 50-year political battle, creating many casualties along the way. Inserting a government figure in the doctor’s exam room has never made sense to me.

Sometimes, when getting my annual physical, I imagine someone I’ve never heard of - fully dressed and carrying a brief case - standing in the corner, watching each procedure. Unnerving? Yes! Absurd? Absolutely. But, how is that different from a woman’s exam now? Will it not be the same?

I will use this forum to pledge my support to any organized effort to take abortion decisions out of government hands and leave them to the man, the woman and her physician. Where such important matters of life and death belong.

While I can’t - and won’t - apologize for the six justices on SCOTUS who’ve created this crisis, nor the absent fathers, I will personally and genuinely apologize to the women of this country. And, I’ll make this one request. Please keep the door open for men who want to help. There are many of us.
 

A Minidoka reminder

jones

I had the privilege of speaking at a ceremony held at the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Jerome County on June 13, recognizing the 80-year anniversary of the start of camp construction. The Camp was one of ten established in the western states in 1942 to imprison Japanese Americans who were uprooted from their homes in Hawaii and the West Coast during the Second World War (WWII). Around 13,000 of them, mostly American citizens, were imprisoned at Minidoka. They posed no threat to their country but were rounded up simply because of their race.

The Camp has been designated as the Minidoka National Historic Site (MNHS). It reminds us of a grave racial injustice brought about by hysteria whipped up by irresponsible news outlets and pandering politicians. President Franklin Roosevelt issued the order to incarcerate our fellow Americans. Former Idaho Governor Chase Clark applauded the move. It found strong support among the Idaho population.

An honor roll at the entry to MNHS lists the names of hundreds of young men from the Camp who heroically served their country in the European Theater of WWII, while their families were imprisoned at home. No instances of disloyalty ever surfaced among the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Yet, those who remained in Idaho after the closure of the Camp in 1945 were subjected to ill treatment and racial slurs during the following decades.

A number of Camp survivors, their children and human rights supporters gathered at the June 13 ceremony to recognize this historic wrong and dedicate themselves to preventing anything like it from being perpetrated against any future group of fellow Americans.

This was not an isolated instance of racial injustice in the history of Idaho. Our history is replete with wrongs committed against racial and ethnic minorities, starting with Native Americans and continuing with Chinese miners, African Americans and Hispanics. I learned of the Battle of Bear River in grade school back in the early 1950s, only to learn many years later that it was not a fierce battle between the U.S. Army and Shoshone warriors in 1863, but a deplorable massacre of men, women and children. It is called the worst slaughter of Native Americans in U.S. history.

Nor were we taught of the massacre of 34 Chinese miners in Hells Canyon in 1887, a crime for which nobody was ever held to account. The 1870 census disclosed that 28.5% of Idaho’s population was Chinese. No wonder that it is only around 1% today.

And, these are not problems confined to the distant past. The Ku Klux Klan was strong in Idaho in the 1920s and white supremacists were on the rise in Kootenai County in the early 1980s. After having practically eliminated them by the early 1990s, they have come back in force in recent years, thanks in part to an influx of extremists flowing to Idaho from progressive states in search of a white “redoubt.”

It is essential that Idahoans be made aware of our racial history to understand that we are not above committing wrongs against vulnerable minority groups. Recognizing our faults is not designed to make anyone feel bad, but to acknowledge our mistakes so we don’t repeat them. Let’s not have any more Minidoka camps or other such affronts to human rights.

The regrettable fact is that racism never really dies. Each time enlightened leaders manage to rally our citizens to beat it back, it merely lurks under the surface, awaiting another charismatic demagogue who will fan the flames of hatred for personal gain.
 

Disasters, death, a curmudgeon, a ghoulish kid

meador

“Mom, what’s a curmudgeon?” asked 11-year-old me. I’m pretty sure I pronounced it “CARmudgeon” and I’m also pretty sure she didn’t correct me. This was long before smartphones and Google.

“It’s kind of like a grumpy old man who just seems grumpy when, actually, he might be nice, underneath his gruff exterior.” My mother didn’t want to know why I needed the definition. She knew I had eclectic interests, even then.

“Sort of like those two old guys up in the balcony on ‘The Muppet Show?’” I persisted. “Statler and Waldorf?” Yep, I knew their names — after all, they were my favorite Muppets.

“Exactly,” said my mother. “Those two are curmudgeons.”

I needed to know the definition because I knew my favorite columnist was known as a curmudgeon. Surely this weird new word meant something special. But, no, it just means a grumpy old man.

Mike Royko was a grumpy old man. And Mike Royko was special. I was 11 or 12 years old and I was reading Mike Royko regularly. I liked him a lot. I thought he was funny. It didn’t hurt that the young Royko looked just a little like Woody Allen.

Royko made me think.

Raised in a politically conservative household, I had always subscribed to my parents’ beliefs without question. I suspect curmudgeonly old Mike Royko was the first to make me consider there might be other legitimate perspectives. It was a small seed that took many years to germinate but it was planted by a curmudgeon who hung out at a place called the Billy Goat Tavern, when he wasn’t in a box seat at The Muppet Show.

If it seems weird that a sixth-grader was a loyal Royko reader, it’s about to get even weirder.

Remember, in 1977, I was 11 years old. Two events — momentous to me and far graver than a Royko column — occurred weeks apart that year. These events would have a profound effect on my life, directing how I saw and responded to the world. Decades later, I mark this moment in my then-young life as a turning point.

The first event took place one Sunday evening on March 27, 1977. On the Spanish-controlled island of Tenerife, two fully loaded Boeing 747s collided on the Los Rodeos Airport runway, killing 585 people.

The tragedy unfolded when Tenerife became an unscheduled stop, a diversion when Las Palmas Airport on neighboring Gran Canaria was unexpectedly closed due to a bomb threat. Both islands are part of the Canary Islands archipelago.

On that fateful Sunday, a Pan Am charter originating from LAX via JFK, was one of many commercial flights diverted. Ahead of it, on an impossibly crowded tarmac never designed for this level of congestion, sat a KLM charter originating from Schipol in Amsterdam. Due to sudden weather, bad communication, poor crew resource management and dumb luck, the two heavily laden 747s collided in dense fog. At take-off speed, the KLM struck the Pan Am as the latter tried desperately to get off the runway.

The Tenerife tragedy remains the worst aviation disaster in history.

The second event took place at the oddly named Beverly Hills Supper Club, located in Southgate, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from the much larger city of Cincinnati.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club was a sprawling, opulently decorated dinner house and nightclub serving the Cincinnati market but drawing performers and customers from all over the region and country. Because of the way the club had expanded over decades, its building had become a maze of dining rooms, bars and performance spaces with all the assorted serving spaces you’d expect tucked in between.

On May 28, 1977 — the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend — the club was packed with over 3,000 people when it burned. Unfolding on live local news, the nation watched as the vast club was engulfed in flames, killing 165 customers and staff. Many others were injured.

The Beverly Hills Supper Club disaster ranks seventh on the list of history’s deadliest nightclub fires.

For months after these events, my local librarians must’ve kept worried thoughts to themselves as the kid with the dark interests repeatedly checked out the newspapers and periodicals associated with the two disasters. I know several Time and Newsweek magazines were worn and dog-eared after I borrowed them, over and over.

It’s not that I was a little ghoul, fascinated by these dark events. Those several months in 1977 taught me that terrible things happened elsewhere — things that had nothing to do with me. A seminal moment, this is the point I lost my childlike self-focus.

It also helped me understand Mike Royko from an adult perspective.

I owe much of my adult outlook to that little seed Royko planted long ago.

If you parsed me politically, I am about one-third conservative Republican, one-third liberal Democrat and one-third Libertarian. I take a small measure of pride that none of my positions conflict with any other.

Although I see my perspective as balanced and well-thought-out, if my true beliefs on everything were public knowledge, everyone would hate me.

This is easily explained by pointing out that it’s a better-than-even bet that I disagree with you on at least one deal-breaker issue. And since most people no longer care to consider the hundreds or thousands of things we have in common, instead focusing on those couple points on which we disagree, I am accustomed to being written off over one deal-breaker issue or another.

Never mind that I hail from the Roykian school where we strove to play well with others. We recognized we could disagree and still be friends, a quality distinctly out of favor these days. But today my natural optimism has been tempered by the cynicism I’ve gained from living — only half-joking, I am fond of saying I’ve been around the block so many times it’s round.

You could probably say I am the most cynical optimist you’ll ever meet. Mike Royko would be proud.

There is, however, method to my madness.

When my conservative friends start bashing the social justice movement, I counter with this: the social justice movement got us to stop saying the R-word, which we shouldn’t have been saying anyway. I go on to detail some of the other improvements that have come about via efforts of those concerned with social justice. It’s not that I am a sword-carrying member of the movement — but I recognize true nonpartisan progress when I see it.

Of course, like most other human endeavors, the social justice movement has taken things too far, too fast. Social change — both necessary and inevitable — works best when it happens slowly, whether anyone likes it or not.

I learned this thinking from reading Mike Royko when I was 11 years old.

Nearly 50 years later — and 25 years after Royko’s death — I’ve remained true to myself, to my morals, to my faith.

I never set out to follow Royko’s path and I do not now claim to have done so.

I got my first newspaper gig in 1984 and I have been writing one way or another ever since. If one day I have a body of work worth reading, worth quoting, worth remembering, I would be honored if my name was mentioned with journalistic royalty like Mike Royko. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, have I become I curmudgeon? It’s funny how you bypass the things to which you aspire, managing instead to become the things you never sought. I don’t know that a sixth-grader is capable of curmudgeonliness — I suspect a few of them are — but I am quite certain I’ve attained both the age and the cynicism to now qualify.

That’s okay. If anyone ever labeled me a curmudgeon, I’d be honored to keep Mike Royko company at The Billy Goat or up in that Muppet box.

Matthew Meador is a former food and wine writer, senior editor and a rare moderate Republican who now writes political commentary. Previously, Matt was an award-winning graphic artist who often put his skills to use during election seasons. Matt has served in various capacities on political campaigns, for pollsters and for elected officials. Contact him at matthewmeador.com.
 

Water clarity

stapiluslogo2

Like other western states Oregon has a water department - the Department of Water Resources - and extensive water law and regulation, and there’s a reason for this. Water is an essential resource, our lives depend on it, and ensuring we have water available means regulating it intelligently.

To do that, we need information, and high on the list of data points we depend on is this: Who uses the water - the largest portions of it - and what that means for other water users. You could say that’s a question of essential public interest.

It’s also a question for lawsuits, current Oregon lawsuits that may portend whether we have enough information to manage our water.

In many places around the west (and around Oregon), water use is easy to track. Most western states operate under the prior appropriation doctrine - first in time, first in use - which allows the first person to put a claim for a specific source and amount of water to use, to have priorities over other users. This system of priorities is carefully recorded in public records. A 2015 report from the U.S. Geological Survey relied on that information in estimating, for example, that 42 percent of freshwater withdrawals are used for irrigation agriculture.

But some users of water, who get theirs in subdivision from primary water right holders, aren’t so openly recorded, and these can account for some big water uses.

Last September, a reporter from The Oregonian requested information from the city of The Dalles about how much water the tech giant Google was using at its operations there. The city refused to release the information, saying it amounted to “trade secrets” considered confidential under state law. Residents in the area, including farmers and businesses, have raised questions and expressed concern about how much water Google may be using.

That argument was rejected by the Wasco County district attorney, who reviewed the case and concluded that although a trade secret might be considered confidential, the city hadn’t shown that information about raw water usage qualified; he said the information should be turned over. (The situation was linked to a $28.5 million agreement between the city and Google, so city officials had some interest in the arrangement.) The city of The Dalles fired back with a lawsuit against the Oregonian. The case continues.

This year, another effort to find out who is using scarce water has surfaced at Bend. But while the case at The Dalles centers on information kept by a public agency, the Bend dispute concerns a private company. Maybe.

The Source Weekly newspaper had decided to look into water use in its mostly dry east-of-Cascades area, and said what started out as a basic records request has evolved into an inquiry about oversight for this community's most precious and basic of resources.”

With that in mind, it asked leading water utilities for information (including addresses) about their major water users. In many parts of the state information like that could be gleaned from state water records. The cities of Redmond and Bend complied. (The records turned up many cases of major water leaks that led to water loss and bloated bills.) But Avion Water, which serves about 8,000 households and others in the Bend area by contract, is a privately-held business, placing it typically outside the reach of the state’s public record laws. Avion rejected the request, saying the public records laws didn’t apply to it.

The issue here too went to the county’s district attorney, in this case John Hummel. He took a similar tack as his counterpart to the north, while noting that Avion is a private company. In its article, the Source described his take this way:

“Hummel sided with the Source and ordered that Avion must release the records, because it is ‘the functional equivalent’ of a public body, according to Hummel’s decision, meaning it would be subject to public records laws. To support this, he cited that Avion currently has a franchise agreement with the city of Bend and is regulated by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. He also stated that Avion did not provide enough evidence that the addresses of its customers were exempt from disclosure.”
The DA added, “Because Avion failed to convince me that residential addresses of their water users constitute a type of personally identifiable information … I find that these residential addresses are not exempt from disclosure.”
What a court will make of that is unclear. Many private organizations cearly exempt from public records laws are regulated, as Avion is.

In many areas public oversight of information can be and has been limited when services move from public to private control. Is water a special case - or should we rethink what’s really public and what’s private?
 

Aimlessness

rainey

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”

Just seven words. Seven one-syllable words. Words we’ve heard time and time again in many circumstances. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

For a decade or more, this country has seemed to be “off-course,” drifting aimlessly without direction. Maybe the absence of contemporary “will” has contributed to a national loss of “way.”

Think about it.

In 1941, faced with war on two sides of our circular world, this nation was called to arms by Franklin Roosevelt. He defined a need for national unity and all-out commitment to win two wars. Following that call to arms, we found the “will” and the “way” to win both in less than 48 months. Because the whole nation was focused in a definable undertaking.

In 1961, faced with Soviet successes in space, John Kennedy, following Roosevelt’s path, defined a need for the country, saying this nation would send a man to the moon in the next decade. We found the “will.” And the “way.” Again, national focus.

We did. We found the national “will” to accomplish the seemingly Herculean tasks that had been defined. We got to the moon. And beyond.

When the need was set, the “will” and the “way” followed. Successfully. Orderly. Quickly.

Forget, for a moment, all the national divisions that surround us. Ignore, temporarily, the political battles that have weakened our society. Just consider the American family. How ever it’s constituted in your world.

The pressures of keeping a family together have never been greater. More than half of American families have both parents working. Trying to keep up with the prices of groceries, health care, gas, school needs and dozens of unplanned expenses we all face. Plus, just parenting.

Many of today’s families are in single-parent households. There, those pressures are even greater as one parent tries to take the place of two while dealing with all those demands. Full time. Then some.

Nearly all of us - parents or not - have our heads down, “pedaling” as fast as we can to keep up with ever increasing demands on our time, our treasure and our talents..

At the national level, the picture seems much the same. Most of those in charge seem to have their “heads down,” trying to do everything in these demanding times to “keep up” as a nation.

Except Congress. Congress - such as it is - is hopelessly divided, producing little in ways to make our lives better. That must change.

The President sits atop a government that seems aimless as we lurch from one crisis to another. Whether it’s rampant inflation to a pandemic to national health emergencies to international calamities to gun massacres to gas prices. Trying to clean up the national mess left by the previous administration and the ever-present, day-to-day multiplying of national demands. There’s no time for leading - for setting a national course - for defining a new national goal.

“National will,” if you will.

And, that’s what seems to be missing. Some sort of national undertaking that involves us all, that unifies us working for a common goal, a goal that defines the “will” so we can be bound together finding the “way.”

Nations that lead - that prosper - almost always have some sort of national direction working at a common undertaking. It’s the sort of inspirational “glue” that binds all in a well-defined task. Like winning a war or two. Like setting goals for space achievement.

At the moment, we seem divided one from another in nearly all things. Our eyes are down - not lifted to the horizon of common understanding. We lack the purpose of common “will.”

We need something large and defining to bring us all together in single purpose. Something like ending homelessness in the next decade. It could be done. Undertaking serious work on global warming before it gets completely out-of-hand. It still can be done.

There ARE other huge challenges we face. Challenges we can overcome IF we can end the current divisions wasting precious time. Challenges sapping our strength and our resources.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Old words. Words from a previous time. Long ago. But, at least in my opinion, words we badly need to listen to. Today.