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The mess in Idaho’s Jefferson County may be coming unsprung, with the departure – required after his conviction on three felony counts of misusing public money – of veteran Sheriff Blair Olsen. The courthouse has had a turmoil elements to it for some years, and the head of a local groups called the Restoring Integrity Project remarked in a letter to the Idaho Falls Post Register that “if elected officials, both past and present, had been doing their jobs, Jefferson County would not be the laughing stock of Idaho.” However well known outside of eastern Idaho Jefferson’s problems may have been (probably not very), it ought to make a point for Idahoans. Many people in Idaho revere local government, have some unease with the state and dispise the feds. Evidence from Jefferson County: There’s no more perfection to found locally than there is Boise or D.C. It’s all just people, wherever you go.

Washington state has set the salary schedule for the next couple of years. Governor goes up to $173,617. The proof of pricing an office by the responsibilities of the job rather than by the current occupant is the pay for state auditor – up to $121,663. That will apply, evidently, whether the state has one or not.

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First Take

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In modern architecture its said the shape of a building should be based on its purpose. If a core purpose or function of Democracy is to allow all voters meaningful participation in elections, then the current form doesn’t follow function very well.

While the top two primary (Measure 90) failed in November by a wide margin, even many of its opponents said that there was some merit in trying to increase voter participation in primary elections. They also conceded there was some unfairness in taxpayers picking up the tab for the private party nominations for only the Democrats and Republicans. And let’s keep in mind there is nothing in the US or Oregon constitution that mandates our current political party paradigm. Nothing about political parties, or a two party system, or primary elections. It’s all a result of political decisions that can be altered given new facts and realities.

In an October 2014 City Club of Eugene Measure 90 debate Democratic Rep. Phil Barnhart claimed that “Rep. Val Hoyle has a bill on her desk right now that she’s working on to open up the primary process” That bill was apparently HB 3500 which was referred to in Salem as “Rep. Hoyle’s open primary bill”.

The bill was filed March 19th, 2015, and never gained traction. That’s largely because HB 3500 was anything but an “open primary” or any version of election reform. HB 3500 actually would have closed the Oregon primary even more.

As we go forward the question will be:

How committed are the Democrats to election reform?

If you look at recent history, the answer is: Not very. HB 3500 had a hearing but got little support. Largely we hope because it was exposed here on Oregon Outpost as not any type of open primary, but simply a same day registration bill for mail in ballots and a way to get NAV leaners to register as Democrats or Republicans. So when the bill lost support it was decided to set up a study group to consider election reform laws for the next session. A study group generally means, we don’t want reforms. But a study group it is.

The elephant in the room for Democrats is this. Democrats are very proud of their positions on democracy reform. Nationally, they oppose voter ID laws and celebrated the passage of Motor Voter and the expansion of voter rolls. All pro democracy – pro reform ideologically. But, like the Republican Party, are also protective of their prerogatives as a major party. Taxpayer funded nominations. First past the post voting to assure two party control. Closed primaries so their base determines their nominees. Add to that the Democratic and Republican Parties are shedding members like an Akita during a Florida summer, so making it even easier to participate in our Demoracy as a non D or R isn’t really in their best interest. Forcing voters to choose between being a Democrat or Republican is.

Add to that mix two other factors. Gerrymandering and Motor Voter and it becomes even more difficult for Democrats to reconcile their open democracy and full participation philosophy with their desire to maintain political power and control.

What The Democratic (and Republicans) have constructed in legal form through election laws is this. 85% safe Districts. Fewer D and R voters both in real numbers and as a percentage of total voters. A Huge number of new voters because of Motor Voter (Going from about 2.1 million to 2.9 million voters) most of whom will likely be Non affiliated voters, since they won’t be opting for party affiliation at DMV by filling out a registration card as is now required.

Look at where this leads.

The current voter registration is approximately:

Democratic 38%
Republican 30%
Non Affiliated 24.5%
IPO 5%
Other 2.5%

So today the D’s and R’s can at least say that currently almost 70% of all Oregon voters can participate in our primary elections.

But what happens with Motor Voter? Even now half of all new registered voters opt to be non affiliated. For those new passively registered Motor Voters who are initially registered NAV I think it’s fairly safe to say that 80% won’t opt to join any party. And, since the Democratic and Republican Parties are already seeing their market shares decrease (See analysis for who is leaving the D’s and R’s) those two parties will realize significant drops in market shares in total voters even without Motor Voter.

Generously assuming that 20% of the Motor Voters join a party, and they join in the current pro rata shares that exist now, in two years, you can expect the market shares to be something like this:

Democratic 31.5%%
Republican 24.5%
IPO 4%
NAV 38.5%

That would mean that absent election reforms, almost half of Oregon Voters won’t be able to participate in the primary election unless changes are made.

So here’s the political and philosophical dilemma for Democrats – who have the power to write and rewrite the election rules – face.

Do they keep the election rules as they are – which will further empower their party voters but assures that there will be even fewer contested elections and fewer Oregonians eligible to participate in our elections? Or do they follow their political philosophy of empowering voters and expanding our Democracy by reforming our election process. Even if doing so diminishes the power of their political base a sliver?

We’ll soon see. Because the makeup of the study group will tell us all we need to know. And recent history is not on the side of true reform. Word from a reliable source is that when HB 3500 was being drafted and shared with stakeholders, Democratic Leadership’s staff let it be known that the core purpose of HB 3500 was to figure a way to get NAV leaners and new Motor Voters to register as Democrats. Not to empower NAV’s. So just watch the membership of the Study committee. Will it be the most partisan Democrats and Republicans? Or will it include at least one member of Oregon’s third major Party, and a minor party representative, perhaps a well known academic, and maybe even some NAV voters?

We should hope for the best. There are plenty of smart, fair and honest people of all political affiliations who could be appointed to this study committee and who would propose options that widen participation, protect the prerogatives of the parties and further our mutual desire for better more cooperative and more consensus governance.

Or, It could be that depending on who is appointed, the best we can hope is that they don’t come up with yet another proposal that appears to be reform, but just more firmly empowers the Democratic and Republican parties at the expense of all Oregon voters.

If form really does follow function, then the results from the study committee will inform us as to what the Democrats truly believe the function of elections is. To elect Democrats? Or to assure a well functioning Democracy.

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Harris

An Oregonian letter to the editor notes that the recent resignation of John Kitzhaber as governor, and replacement by Secretary of State Kate Brown, leaves the state with its two top offices held by people who weren’t elected to them. That in turn prompts the question, why is Oregon one of just five states without a lieutenant governor? In answer to the first, the same is true – two top offices with people not elected to them – in states with a lieutenant governor, the same thing happens (the governor’s office is filled by a former LG, and a new LG has to be appointed). In regard to the second question . . . the question often arises: What do we need a lieutenant governor for? In fact, quite a few LGs have themselves asked that question, and some have even campaigned for abolishing the office. Short answer: Oregon’s system seems to work.

Jeb Bush was always going to have trouble with Iraq (as long as he’s running for president, which he’s still doing only unofficially). He can’t walk away from his brother, or father for that matter; and he’s remarked too many times that his brother is his top source of foreign policy advice. Problem is, of course, that George W.’s central foreign policy initiative – the war in Iraq – has long since been regarded broadly as a disastrous mistake. So, was his brother’s main foreign initiative a good idea (or, alternatively, would you do it knowing what we all know now)? Jeb Bush hasn’t been easily able to deal with that. And now his prospective Republican opposition is weighing in; Chris Christie of New York suggests, “I think if you’re considering running for president you need to answer the question.” It won’t go away.

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First Take

carlson

The end game on the future of the Boulder-White Clouds and additional wilderness protection is starting. Cross your fingers that the right changes can occur, and though he owes Idaho absolutely nothing, President Barack Obama will declare as a new national monument an area almost double the size of the carefully negotiated bill engineered over ten years by Rep. Mike Simpson.

It will serve right folks like ATV’er lobbyist Sandra Mitchell and the double-crossing Senator Jim Risch to have all their shenanigans, delays and obstructionism result in something from their view point twice as bad as before.

Governor Andrus has an old saying: “Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered:.” That fits Mitchell, Risch and the narrow interests they represent to a tee Not satisified with all the concessions Congressman Simpson and the Idaho Conservation League were willing to give to get a carefully negotiated bill, a couple years back, they blew it up and walked away.

Now they are supposedly back at the table with a bill supposedly written by Senator Risch’s staff (Would you like to wager whether a working draft as a “courtesy” was provided by Ms. Mitchell?) and Senator Risch will hold a hearing on May 21st. The House will follow with a hearing in June. Reportedly, Rep. Simpson received a six month commitment from the White House not to invoke the Antiquities Act and see if he can get a revised form of his old bill (With less acreage protected) through the House.

Some would like to believe this is Idaho’s last best chance to get Congress to act responsibly. Others are hoping for the National Monument designation, believing, as it did in Alaska, it will result in the delegation making reasonable compromises to undo the more restrictive monument designation. Still a third group would be perfectly satisfied with just leaving the Monument designation in place.

I suspect this is the issue that Senator Risch will drill down on when ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson appears before Risch’s committee on the 21st. All things being equal, would Johnson and the ICL prefer the Monument designation be imposed on their fellow Idahoans or would they take less for a more democratic bill? Rest assured Risch will try to put Johnson on the spot, for truth be told this is just a “show” hearing. I doubt very much that Risch wants any bill that would add one more acre to Idaho’s wilderness.

For Risch its just a game of “gotcha.” He firmly believes a majority of Idahoans feel there already is enough wilderness in the state and like things just as they are. He also knows that by holding his hearing in D.C. only the well-to-do will be able to pay for the travel and take the time to come testify. He’s not about to hold a hearing in the home state areas near the Boulder-White Clouds because he is well aware that former Interior Secretary Andrus promised current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that if she wanted him to turn out a crowd at an in-state hearing he’d have 500 people there if she gave him a week’s notice.

Both ICL’s Johnson and Andrus appear to have concluded that despite the incredible effort put in by Simpson and staff, and they do genuinely admire their effort, there will never be an acceptable bill that comes out of the Senate or out of a joint conference committee.

So 50 Andrus cohorts, as well as a slew of the late Senator Frank Church’s cohorts have written the President asking him to invoke his powers under the Antiquities Act. In a perfect political world one would not write such letters unless there was some reasonable assurance of a positive response. This is not the case, though. The White House has not given either Johnson or Andrus any assurances to the best of anyone’s knowledge.

That is unsettling to say the least but should not surprise. Why should the President do anything for Idaho?

Consider also the lack of any state-wide public clamor. Neither letter or press release on the former Andrus and Church staffers writing the president was deemed news worthy enough to be put on the Associated Press’ wire.

I can guarantee you one thing, if the public is not demanding action we’ll be living with the status quo for many more years.

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Carlson

A military honor guard from Joint-Base Lewis McChord loads the casket containing the remains of Cpl. Ben Lee Brown, at the Portland International Airport in Portland, Oregon, May 12. Brown, who grew up in the small Oregon town of Fourmile just south of Bandon, was killed in 1951 during the Korea War. He was returned to Oregon via an Alaska Airlines commercial flight from Honolulu. Brown will be buried Friday, May 15, in Roseburg National Cemetery in Southern Oregon. The Portland USO, Port of Portland Fire and Police, and Oregon National Guard also participated in the welcome home. (Photo/Nick Choy, Oregon Military Department Public Affairs)


Seattle, which famously and for more than a century has been the staging and departure point for all things Alaska, is about to perform that function for the above-water oil rigs Shell Oil is planning to send to the Chukchi Sea is Alaska, after getting tentative Obama Administration approval. On Tuesday the Port of Seattle asked Shell to hold off on sending the rigs there. That’s not a shock, since public attitudes in Seattle toward the drilling must be running hotly negative. Shell says they’re coming anyway, and an Alaska port official offers this riposte: Washingtonians concerned about the environment could “just shut down your Boeing plant and solve global warming with that.” Things are about to get hotter on Elliott Bay.

In Boise, where police for some years have been moving gradually toward a community policing model, the new Chief Bill Bones is planning to extend the principle, moving toward cops actually walking beats, a downtown “micro-district,” and other developments. Not so long ago (and right now in many other cities) this might have sounded relatively radical. But those who lived in Boise back in the mid- and late 90s remember a time of a walled-in blue force repeatedly hitting the headlines with one police shooting after another. The change from that force, at the time becoming increasingly militarized, to one far more integrated into the community and far less likely to engage in firefights, was not immediate but has been clear. And so have the causes and effects, which are likely to yield Bones’ initiatives some positive results.

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From the just-released (May 12) report by the Pew Research Center on religion and American life.

The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.

The United States remains home to more Christians than any other country, and a large majority of Americans – roughly seven-in-ten – continue to identify with some branch of the Christian faith. But the major new survey of more than 35,000 Americans finds that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians has dropped by nearly eight percentage points in just seven years, from 78.4% in an equally massive Pew Research survey in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014. Over the same period, the percentage of Americans who are religiously unaffiliated – describing themselves as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular” – has jumped more than six points, from 16.1% to 22.8%. And the share of Americans who identify with non-Christian faiths also has inched up, rising 1.2 percentage points, from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014. Growth has been especially great among Muslims and Hindus, albeit from a very low base.

The drop in the Christian share of the population has been driven mainly by declines among mainline Protestants and Catholics. Each of those groups has shrunk by approximately three percentage points since 2007. The evangelical Protestant share of the U.S. population also has dipped, but at a slower rate, falling by about one percentage point since 2007.

These are among the key findings of the Pew Research Center’s second U.S. Religious Landscape Study, a follow-up to its first comprehensive study of religion in America, conducted in 2007.

Because the U.S. census does not ask Americans about their religion, there are no official government statistics on the religious composition of the U.S. public. Some Christian denominations and other religious bodies keep their own rolls, but they use widely differing criteria for membership, and sometimes do not remove members who have fallen away. Surveys of the general public frequently include a few questions about religious affiliation, but they typically do not interview enough people, or ask sufficiently detailed questions, to be able to describe the country’s full religious landscape. The Religious Landscape Studies were designed to fill the gap.

Among other findings in the new study:

Christians probably have lost ground not only in their relative share of the U.S. population but also in absolute numbers. In 2007, there were 227 million adults in the United States, and a little more than 78% of them – or roughly 178 million – identified as Christians. Between 2007 and 2014, the overall size of the U.S. adult population grew by about 18 million people, to nearly 245 million. But the share of adults who identify as Christians fell to just under 71%, or approximately 173 million Americans, a net decline of about 5 million.

American Christians – like the U.S. population as a whole – are becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Non-Hispanic whites now account for smaller shares of evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants and Catholics than they did seven years earlier, while Hispanics have grown as a share of all three religious groups. Racial and ethnic minorities now make up 41% of Catholics (up from 35% in 2007), 24% of evangelical Protestants (up from 19%) and 14% of mainline Protestants (up from 9%).

Religious intermarriage appears to be on the rise. Among Americans who have gotten married since 2010, nearly four-in-ten (39%) report that they are in religiously mixed marriages, compared with 19% among those who got married before 1960.

While many U.S. religious groups are aging, the unaffiliated are comparatively young – and getting younger, on average, over time. As a rising cohort of highly unaffiliated Millennials reaches adulthood, the median age of unaffiliated adults has dropped to 36, down from 38 in 2007 and far lower than the general (adult) population’s median age of 46. By contrast, the median age of mainline Protestant adults in the new survey is 52 (up from 50 in 2007), and the median age of Catholic adults is 49 (up from 45 seven years earlier).

Switching religion is a common occurrence in the United States. If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised. This is up six points since 2007, when 28% of adults identified with a religion different from their childhood faith. If switching among the three Protestant traditions (e.g., from mainline Protestantism to evangelicalism, or from evangelicalism to a historically black Protestant denomination) is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.

Christianity – and especially Catholicism – has been losing more adherents through religious switching than it has been gaining. More than 85% of American adults were raised Christian, but nearly a quarter of those who were raised Christian no longer identify with Christianity. Former Christians represent 19.2% of U.S. adults overall. Both the mainline and historically black Protestant traditions have lost more members than they have gained through religious switching, but within Christianity the greatest net losses, by far, have been experienced by Catholics. Nearly one-third of American adults (31.7%) say they were raised Catholic. Among that group, fully 41% no longer identify with Catholicism. This means that 12.9% of American adults are former Catholics, while just 2% of U.S. adults have converted to Catholicism from another religious tradition. No other religious group in the survey has such a lopsided ratio of losses to gains.

The evangelical Protestant tradition is the only major Christian group in the survey that has gained more members than it has lost through religious switching. Roughly 10% of U.S. adults now identify with evangelical Protestantism after having been raised in another tradition, which more than offsets the roughly 8% of adults who were raised as evangelicals but left for another religious tradition or who no longer identify with any organized faith.

The Christian share of the population is declining and the religiously unaffiliated share is growing in all four major geographic regions of the country. Religious “nones” now constitute 19% of the adult population in the South (up from 13% in 2007), 22% of the population in the Midwest (up from 16%), 25% of the population in the Northeast (up from 16%) and 28% of the population in the West (up from 21%). In the West, the religiously unaffiliated are more numerous than Catholics (23%), evangelicals (22%) and every other religious group.

Whites continue to be more likely than both blacks and Hispanics to identify as religiously unaffiliated. Among whites, 24% say they have no religion, compared with 20% of Hispanics and 18% of blacks. But the religiously unaffiliated have grown (and Christians have declined) as a share of the population within all three of these racial and ethnic groups.

This is the first report on findings from the 2014 U.S. Religious Landscape Study, the centerpiece of which is a nationally representative telephone survey of 35,071 adults interviewed on both cellphones and landlines from June 4-Sept. 30, 2014. Findings based on the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 0.6 percentage points.

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Years ago came the word that by the time problem kids got to high school, turning them around into more productive ways had already become difficult – in many cases, too difficult: You have to get to them at a younger age. And how young that should be has moved steadily downward, to the point that first-graders at age six could be missing beneficial opportunities because of what they’ve experienced, or not, in the years leading up to that. Which makes the Idaho Ed News report just out, reviewing Idaho’s place in the national picture on preschool (from the National Institute for Early Education Research), of interest. Idaho’s enrollment numbers are among the lowest in the country, and the state lags in other ways as well. The IdahoEdNews report also noted, “And Idaho could remain mired at or near the bottom of the national rankings, at least for the foreseeable future. While pre-K pilot bills have failed to get out of Idaho’s House Education Committee the past two sessions, other states have launched or expanded pre-K programs. This leaves Idaho one of only six states without a pre-K program.”

The approval from the Obama Administration – conditional approval – released yesterday for Shell Oil to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska has enough question marks and conditions attached to it that absolute judgements about it seem a little premature. The decision is solid enough that Shell is moving people and equipment toward the Arctic, where it maintains vast oil reserves are available. Shell tried drilling there before, in 2012, but stopped after environmental issues were found. Might the same happen this time? Might the project be halted, or limited, as a result of the conditions still in place? Or might the effort be improved enough that the concerns about drilling wind up not creating a problem? All of this will merit watching as the project moves ahead. – rs

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First Take

From a statement by the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District – a complaint about how water is being distributed by the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

Changes proposed by the state in the way water rights are managed in the Treasure Valley would significantly and adversely affect individual and organizational rights to water from the Boise River System. In addition, the more senior the water right, the more devastating the proposal will be because it could lead to reduced water availability and impacts on property values, according to officials with the area’s largest irrigation district.

The potential impact of the change is so serious that Nampa & Meridian Irrigation leaders say the District will go to court if necessary to stop what they call a patently misguided process that is both unfair and contrary to a century of established Idaho water accounting practices.

“We and other districts in the Treasure Valley have exhausted nearly every effort to find a political solution or a negotiated solution to this issue with the Idaho Department of Water Resources so that serious injury to our water right holders will not occur. But we have been stopped cold at every attempt,” advised Daren Coon, NMID Secretary Treasurer.

“The more senior the water right, the more devastating the proposal will be to irrigation district water users. But this is more than just a Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District problem; all water right holders on the Boise River system will eventually be seriously injured if IDWR’s scheme is allowed to take effect,” Coon added.

The controversial Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) plan centers on how to account for “flood control” water released from the three Boise River reservoirs to make space for water running off as the snowpack melts. Under a protocol developed 30 years ago, controlled releases prevent reservoirs from becoming so full of water that huge amounts of water must be suddenly released to avoid overflowing the reservoir resulting in downstream flooding. When the flood period is past, melting snowpack water can then be stored in reservoirs to prepare for the irrigation season.

IDWR and the Idaho Attorney General’s office want to reduce the amount of water allocated to all water right holders, including tens of thousands of urban users, by charging water released for flood control against the senior right holders even though the water is flushed downstream and is never used for irrigation.

“Simply put, IDWR wants to institute a plan where water right holders would be charged for using irrigation water they had zero opportunity to actually use,” Coon explained.

That unused water charged against the user’s yearly allocation could reduce how much water was left for irrigation. In a high flood release year followed by a period of drought that could mean not enough water would be left in the user’s allocation to meet irrigation needs. That would be disastrous for crops such as corn, potatoes and sugar beets all of which require water later into the summer. It would also result in severe damage to urban lawns and gardens.

Boise River water rights are two types of rights: natural flow and storage water. Natural flow is the water in the river that cannot be stored and must be passed through the reservoirs. Storage rights entitle the right owner to have water stored in the reservoirs where it can be used to supplement the right holder’s water supply when the natural flow right is exhausted.

A third element of the right is the priority date. That is the date in which the water right was filed with the state. It dictates exactly what priority the right has relative to all other rights, a concept often called “first in time is first in right.” It literally means the oldest water right gets its water first, the next oldest second and so on until the available water is exhausted.

It is that combination of priority date, natural flow and storage water that permits the irrigation season in the valley to typically last through the first part of October. Without the ability to store water to supplement river flows in the hot summer, the irrigation season would normally end in late June or early July after the snowpack has melted.

This process of natural flow and supplemental storage water has provided a balanced approach since the first reservoir, Arrowrock, was completed in 1915. But now it is threatened by an inexplicable change of direction by State government.

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Great lead on a Seattle Times front-pager today: “What problem has Republican lawmakers proposing a big spike in the state property tax, Democrats balking at a proposal to make school levies more equitable, and initiative slinger Tim Eyman begging Gov. Jay Inslee to ave taxpayers from the GOP?” The issue, of course, is school funding. Republicans in Washington are trying to avoid the accusation that they’re seriously underfunding the schools, while also avoiding raising taxes, and the conflict between the two is what, as much as anything else, caused the special session and renders difficult closure on the budget-tax mix. As long as taxes are considered so anathema, the problem will persist.

In some ways, the story we’ve heard from the Obama Administration about the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden carried with a series of oddities and questions (not least, his location in a plain-sight compound only a few miles from one of Pakistan’s main military training centers). But so too does some of what Seymour Hersh has to say – that Pakistan collaborated with the United States on the killing – seem problematic. (Among other things, it would be asking a lot a lot of Pakistan officials to conceal their own role, making them look weak instead of strong.) You get the feeling we’ve not yet gotten the whole story yet, and may not for a while.

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First Take

A guest opinion from Levi B Cavener, a special education teacher in Caldwell, Idaho. He also manages the education blog IdahosPromise.Org.

60 years ago this month, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. On May 17, 1954, the High Court ruled unanimously that U.S. public schools must be desegregated, that separate school systems for blacks and whites are inherently unequal and a violation of the “equal protection clause” of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
It’s now more than a half century later. Here, we have Idaho.

On April 29, 2015, the Idaho Public Charter School Commission released their first ever Annual Report. A damning self-indictment, it paints a painfully grim picture for minority student enrollment in Idaho’s public charter schools. The Commission’s comprehensive report was unequivocal in its findings: Idaho charter schools are consistently and disproportionately unreflective of their surrounding communities’ demographics.
A few takeaways from the report: 55% of Idaho charters under enroll Special Education students; 77% of charters under enroll Free and Reduced Lunch students; 87% under enroll Limited English Proficiency students; and 90% under enroll non-white students. What does this mean? It means Idaho has reversed course and is heading back to 1955, back to the Civil Rights era, and back to schools that are both separate and unequal. It means, apparently, “white flight”?

Beyond a moral and legal argument to ensure equity in public charter schools, here’s why every property owner in Idaho should care about the Commission’s recent findings: When public charter schools fail to share an equitable burden for providing expensive minority student services — such as special education and English Language Learner instruction — local public schools end up enrolling a disproportionate number of these students. Local public schools are then forced to levy property owners to pay for expensive minority instruction and support.

While some may point to the current imbalance as merely a byproduct of so called “school choice,” the Commission’s findings should, at minimum, create pause to ensure that charter facilities are actually “a choice” for minority student populations. Remember, Jim Crow laws and segregated schools were also a product of active policy “choices” by lawmakers.

Remember, the bargain that charters made with Idaho is enhanced instructional freedom in order to experiment with new pedagogy and curriculum. However, that bargain also requires charters to provide equitable access and appropriate minority service instruction as required by civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Terry Ryan, President of the Idaho Charter School Network (the lobbying arm of Idaho’s charters), recently wrote an op-ed declaring that the solution to this inequity problem is…wait for it…to build more charters! Said Mr. Ryan, “The best way to help charter schools serve more diverse populations is to help them grow.” Throw more money at the problem. Where have we heard this before?

Idaho Ed News reported that Idaho Charter Commission Chairman Alan Reed said of the report’s findings, “Before approving new charters, we ask petitioners, ‘What are your strategies for reaching special and underserved populations?’”

Chairman Reed’s question should be modified: Before approving any new charters we need to fix the imbalance that exists today. After all, shouldn’t minority students be entitled to the same freedom and legal opportunity “to choose” charters as any other kiddo?

It’s time for a moratorium on any new charters until we address this chronic imbalance. It’s time we fully recognize that regular public schools are shouldering the heavy burden of educating special education, minority and low income student populations.

And it’s past time that funding for Idaho charter schools be withheld until they can demonstrate they are following the law.

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For a long time, Liberia was ground central for the recent Ebola outbreak in west Africa, accounting for close to half of all cases in the last year, and the largest concentration of cases. For a while it seemed an intractable problem. But yesterday, reports were that ebola was – this was delivered in fingers-crossed fashion – wiped out in Liberia. It can be done, which puts the lie once again to the fear-touting so prevalent in the United States only a few months ago. Remember that? Not many of the political and other figures so worried about ebola are saying anything about it now . . .

Oregon State University reports that a new international program partly based there is working on resolving water issues around the globe. From their statement: “Oregon State University, the University for Peace in Costa Rica, and the UNESCO-IHE Water Education Center in The Netherlands are creating an international joint education program aimed at addressing water conflicts in a more professional manner. The program will launch this fall with about 10 students enrolled to earn master’s degrees, eventually growing to 30 students from around the world. . . . The issues students will deal with are vast. In Oregon, for example, there has been a major conflict over water rights in the Klamath River basin, where agricultural interests compete with fisheries management and tribal rights. These kinds of issues are not unusual in the United States, Wolf pointed out, and can become even more contentious when an international component is added.” . . . – rs

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Idaho has some tough water law, and it’s enforced.

That’s a big reason Idaho isn’t slipping into the water chaos California is beginning to see.

The California headlines would be comical if they didn’t reflect a serious reality: “Starbucks moves water operation out of drought-stricken California . . . Israel to California: Here’s how to save water . . . Water wasters could be fined $10,000 . . .”

Idaho, which has more limited water supplies, is being pressed this year – drought is hitting parts of the Gem State too – but not in such extreme ways. A large part of the reason is this: People in Idaho (southern Idaho, anyway) are accustomed to the idea of a stern water regulation regime, have abided by it for many years, and have accepted the need to make hard decisions from time to time.

One of those problem areas – the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, covering more than 10,000 square miles in Idaho and from which much of southern Idaho’s groundwater is drawn – has been accelerating for years. On its website, the state Department of Water Resources notes, “For a variety of reasons, groundwater levels in parts of the ESPA declined, leading to a cumulative decrease in aquifer storage, decreased spring flows and changing Snake River flows that resulted in insufficient water supplies to satisfy existing beneficial uses.” And it gets worse in dry times like . . . now.

That has led to new planning by the state, but the practical impacts are immediate.

Last week, after a long meeting organized by House Speaker Scott Bedke, groundwater and surface water users reached an agreement that may settle the state’s biggest water issues for some time to come. Surface water users, many of whom have senior water rights, have seen their flows diminished in recent years and pointed a collective finger at the more junior groundwater users. The state Department of Water Resources, which is legally obliged to sort out the relative claims, has for some years been putting increasing pressure on groundwater users – trying to avoid massive shutdowns that could wipe out many businesses, but meeting obligations to senior users.

After negotiations running for years, the groundwater operators had to find a way to come up with 89,000 acre-feet of water by May 1. That’s a lot of water.

The solution was to take a bite out of their collective water usage: 13 percent of their overall claims.

Brian Olmstead of the Twin Falls Canal Company told the Twin Falls Times News that, “We came to an agreement that can keep people in business. But it won’t be business as usual.”

It is likely to be painful. But the situation is at least being managed in a practical way.

California, which until recently has been the only western state which didn’t regulate groundwater use, is an example of what can happen in the alternative. When legislation allowing local agencies to help regulate groundwater users (for obvious reasons, this would be far less effective than statewide management) was proposed, many farmers warned of over-regulation and land devaluation. As a practical matter, a state water executive described how “in the absence of governance, it’s become a pumping arms race. He with the biggest pump or deepest straw wins.”

Idaho can feel smug about this one.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Boulder-White Cloud hearing set for Senate (Idaho Statesman)
Will INL cleanup ever end? (Idaho Statesman)
Mary Dye of Pomeroy picked as state representative (Lewiston Tribune, Moscow News)
Judge halts recall try against WA state auditor (Lewiston Tribune)
WSU regents set budget, bump president pay (Lewiston Tribune, Moscow News)
Debate continues over reouting Highway 95 near Moscow (Moscow News)
CWI appraises land for possible purchase (Nampa Press Tribune)
Otter heads to Latin America on trade mission (Pocatello Journal)
Southern Idaho groundwater users give up 13% of water (TF Times News)
Educators looking for public pre-schools (TF Times News)

UO propopsing new sexual conduct rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Lawmakers still work on medical pot rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Lane County may seek a drought declaration (Eugene Register Guard)
Klamath not finding serious groundwater drawdowns (KF Herald & News)
Klamath voters turnout marked at 16 percent (KF Herald & News)
Medford still has enough water (Medford Tribune)
Obama touts Trans-Pacific deal at Portland (Portland Oregonian, Medford Tribune)
Medford schools hiring for many executive jobs (Medford Tribune)

Snohomish cities set rules on panhandling (Everett Herald)
Kelley recall try rejected by judge (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
State blamed for Bertha’s damage of pipe (Seattle Times)
Obama touts Trans-Pacific pact at Portland (Spokane Spokesman, Vancouver Columbian, Yakima Herald Republic, Olympian)

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First Take

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This column is included in Raising The Hardy Boys: They Said There Would be Bon-Bons which could make a pretty cool Mother’s Day gift, just sayin’. My next book signing gig is Saturday, May 9 at the Coffee Cottage in Newberg from 3 to 6 p.m. Come say “hi” and maybe pick up a copy of my book as a mother’s day gift? Oh, and tell your friends! By the way, there WILL be bon-bons! .

Whether you grow up in Disneyland or Dysfunction Junction, friction is a natural part of family life. Who doesn’t have moments when they look around the dinner table and wonder how they could possibly be related to these people?

Imagine my surprise when I found out, 21 years ago, that this occasional passing fantasy was actually fact in my case.

Let me set the stage for you. It was my freshman year in high school. The assignment was to write an autobiography, with the incentive of extra credit for creativity.

I decided to use a picture of my mom, pregnant with me, for the cover. But I couldn’t find any such picture.
I tried to substitute one from the period my mom was pregnant with my brother. None of those existed either.
I found it difficult to believe my father, who even takes pictures of his food, didn’t have a working camera available during a pair of nine-month spans. So, overachiever that I was, I had no choice but to take my project to the next level.

When my parents were out one evening, I went into reporter mode, snooping through my mom’s red address book. One by one, I called close family friends to announce I was doing a project for school.

Naturally, they were all happy to help. That is, until I asked: “Could you tell me your favorite memory of my mom pregnant?”

Whether by hesitation, an awkward pause or the sharp inhalation of surprise, my suspicions were confirmed.

A couple of them wanted to know if my mom knew about this project. She sure didn’t, but this was pre-cell phone, so no one could text my parents a heads up.
Why didn’t I simply ask my parents? I did in 1991, and purely by coincidence, it was on Mother’s Day.

After a painfully awkward brunch on Bainbridge Island, and a silent drive home, my parents finally told me the truth about my birth.

I felt as if my foundation had cracked.

In retrospect I wonder what that news changed exactly. I mean, besides where I spent my first week of life, everything else was the same.

But it wasn’t. Not really.

I wish I could tell you I handled the situation with grace and understanding. But, alas, I was 14. So there was plenty of drama.

Unconsciously, I started to ignore the idea that my parents loved me and instead dwell on the fact that someone I’d never met didn’t – at least not enough to keep me.

Now I understand the best way my birth mother could show her love was by acknowledging she couldn’t do for me what my parents could. But back then, I started telling myself the secret truth about me was that I was simply unlovable.

This became a core belief of mine, one I sought out and affirmed in my relationships.

It wasn’t until very recently that I learned the story I was telling myself wasn’t true. How could I have been so wrong about something I was so certain about?

The thing about our birth stories is that they’re just that: stories. The meaning we give the story is what matters.

I could focus on the fact that nobody was with me during the first week of my life, or I could instead remember that my parents canceled a ski trip to come and get me as soon as they heard they could.

At every birthday since, I’ve heard that story. And it delights me every single time.

I don’t know very much about my biological mom, besides the fact with was an Irish X-ray technician with four children. But I can tell you my real mom has cutting boards stained green with parsley, can make goulash in her sleep, has fingers calloused from a lifetime of hard work yet still capable of soothing a feverish forehead, keeps her nails clean and cuticles trimmed, has a favorite apron in green, and smells like Gucci and geraniums.

She is probably reading this with tears in her eyes. She should know that while I’m sorry for that one awful Mother’s Day, I have loved her as my real and only mom on every one of them before and since.

By the way, I did get extra credit for my bonus chapter: “My Adoption.” I like to think of that as my first investigative reporting piece, inspiring a career in journalism.

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news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Climate change underway at Yellowstone Park (IF Post Register)
Funds arrive for new Terry Reilly Caldwell clinic (Nampa Press Tribune)
Cassia draws discrimination complaint from ACLU (TF Times News)

Some rural drivers may self-pump their gas (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Pendleton E Oregonian)
Eugene electric sues over flaws at dam (Eugene Register Guard)
Obama arrives in Portland, draws comments (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune, KF Herald & News)
Judge closes Jackson Co pot dispensary (Medford Tribune)
Crater Lake may develop sister-park with China (Medford Tribune)
UO employees investigated over medical records (Portland Oregonian)

E Coli outbreak results in CDC call (Seattle Times)
Murray says more money needed from arena backers (Seattle Times)
Seattle, Tacoma ports take details of deal public (Tacoma News Tribune)
Obama arrives at Portland (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take