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Idaho Briefing – November 13

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for November 13. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

City elections were held last week across Idaho, with a few dramatic results (as in Nampa and Idaho Falls) but mostly suggesting no drastic change of direction. A good deal of attention, however, went to national politics, where the results generated more discussion.

November 7 was city election day around Idaho. While no statewide elections were on the ballot, many cities had plenty of decisions in store, and a number of bond issues and other measures appeared on local ballots as well.

All told, voters approved $92.7 million in school bond issues and levies Tuesday, including a plan that will pay for a series of building upgrades across Teton County. But three measures failed, including Idaho Falls’ $110 million bond issue. (IdahoEdNews)

Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch on November 4 welcomed the appointments of Layne Bangerter and Evan Frasure to serve Idaho as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A first-of-its kind statewide summit will bring together Idahoans for an interactive two-day conversation entitled Safeguarding Idaho’s Economy in a Changing Climate - Our Water, Our Land, Our Health, Our Future on Nov. 16 and 17.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on November 7 appointed Jarom Wagoner, a senior planner for the city of Caldwell, to fill the Idaho House of Representatives seat vacated by the recent resignation of State Representative Brandon Hixon.

PHOTO The scene at Highway 93 about 24 miles south of Hollister, near Jackpot on November 11, taken from a state road cam. (Idaho Department of Transportation)
 

Not much definition

stapiluslogo1

The Tuesday elections nationally were a wonderland for analysts trying to draw Large Conclusions and Sweeping Messages. (And some of them even may have been warranted, alongside the proper notes that every election is its own specific kind of animal.)

In Idaho, there wasn’t a lot to see apart from local concerns. In this off-year election, dominated by municipal contests, all politics really was local, and not a lot of larger conclusions really are available.

It helps in saying that to point out nothing partisan was on the ballot in Idaho: “Republican” and “Democratic” labels were nowhere to be seen on the ballot. City elections in Idaho are nonpartisan - though, as news watchers know, that isn’t the case in every state, and thought in a few places (Boise most notably) there was a partisan underlay to the campaigns.

For the most part, voters made their decisions based mainly on people as individuals, conditions in local communities and the merits of various ballot issues, mainly financial. And they reached widely varying conclusions, mostly undramatic.

For the most part, for example, Idaho incumbents did okay. Pocatello’s mayor was easily re-elected, and so were Caldwell’s and Moscow’s; none of those were surprises, though the Moscow contest was lively. Similarly expected: The snoozefest at Coeur d’Alene, with lots of unopposed incumbents (a true rarity in the Lake City) including the mayor, all of whom stayed undisturbed on election day. The one council incumbent on the ballot in Boise won easily, and the other two seats went to well-established community leaders (one of them a former legislator). Only one of those Boise seats featured a reasonably close contest.

But just enough exceptions cropped up to disturb the narrative.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper easily out-distanced state legislator Jeff Thompson, who for a while had the look of a close contender, but she wound up short of an outright win, and now faces a runoff against another candidate. Voters in Burley chose a new mayor by the lopsided vote of 616 to 155.

Then there were the ballot issues.

The two premier ballot questions on Tuesday were based geographically close to each other, a massive $110 million school bond issue (for high school renovation) at Idaho Falls, and a proposal in Bingham County that it join the new eastern Idaho community college district. Both failed decisively. (The Idaho Falls district likely will see a trailer ballot measure coming up in a few months.) The Bingham rejection was a little unexpected; a good deal of community support to join the community college district, just created next door by a big voter margin, seemed substantial. But not substantial enough.

The concerns about those seemed to revolve, respectively, around the school renovation plans more than the money, and about the prospects for a tax increase. IdahoEdNews suggested, “District officials said the plan grew out of months of meetings with patrons, and would give the taxpayers the best value for their money. Critics said they didn’t want to see the district gut Idaho Falls high — which sits in the heart of an older section of the city — and said the district misled voters by saying the bond issue would not trigger a tax increase.”

But the whole dynamic in each case will have to be sorted out in weeks to come.

On the other side of southern Idaho, however, a number of school issues did pass -- and statewide, according to IdahoEdNews, $92.7 million in school finance issues won sufficient voter approval. Those included big levies in Caldwell and Nampa.

So in all, not a lot of takeaways here for the next round of elections … a whole year away.
 

No laughing matter

richardson

Last week, President Trump shamed himself by denigrating the U.S. justice system, calling it a "joke" and a "laughing stock." Playing the part of the tin horn dictator, Trump bellowed that our nation needs "quick justice and we need strong justice, much quicker and much stronger than we have right now."

This broadside on our nation’s criminal justice system reflects appalling ignorance.

Enamored as he is with so-called "strong men,” Trump seems willing -- if not eager -- to trample over the venerable concept of due process of law. You want "quick and strong" Mr. President? Look no further than the world's tyrants who send their henchmen -- often in the dead of night -- to capture, kidnap and kill "suspects.” They leave no trace of justice.

I've been part of the U.S. criminal justice system, and I've worked day in and day out with federal prosecutors and federal defenders, with federal agents and federal courts, and with the many other dedicated individuals who routinely put in extremely long hours, occasionally risking their lives, to ensure that our system of justice, though far from perfect, remains -- for the most part -- thorough, fair, and just.

I wish every citizen could see, as I have seen, the professionalism and dedication of those individuals. From victim witness coordinators to probation officers to federal mediators and Article III judges, it would be hard to find people more committed to the promise of our pledge of allegiance -- that ours is a nation "with liberty and justice for all." That phrase, well-known to every school child, may be aspirational, but it speaks to a noble aspiration, one deeply embedded in our national DNA.

When I served as U.S. Attorney for Idaho, a delegation of Russian justice officials visited Boise, ostensibly to learn about our criminal justice system. Over lunch, I asked the group leader what protections his country had in place to ensure that people accused of crimes were afforded due process. He gave me a dismissive look and precluded further questions with a summary statement: "You have your system; we have our system. Let's eat."

Yes, they have their system, and it is most assuredly “quick and strong.” But speed and strength do not guarantee justice. The Russian system, often violent and corrupt to the core, is one in which those close to power are free to do as they please and those out of favor are summarily condemned. This is not a system we should want to emulate.

During his tenure as president, Mr. Trump has repeatedly vilified our federal judiciary, undercut the rule of law, disregarded governing norms, undermined the independence of the Department of Justice, and attacked the institutions that give life to the guarantees enshrined in our Constitution. Sadly, we see that it is our president who is the laughing stock. And that is no laughing matter.

Point being

bond

So Kevin Spacey's "gay"? I'm not. So what? I like his movies. I'll still watch them, plus whatever else he comes up with. Weinstein is far more creepy, but he made some damned good movies, too, and I will continue to watch them as well.

Most artists have some weird antennae. Trust me, I dated a red-headed Ayn Rand-freak oil-painter and am worse for the suffering but wiser for the experience. (A friend warned me at the time: "Red-heads are defective units. Run.")

What bothers moi is that the accusers are coming out (pardon the pun) 30 years after their alleged lurid encounters and ensuing successful careers.

At which point do you side-line your personal integrity to further your professional life, then whine about it three decades later when it becomes fashionable? Or is doing so just another step closer to greater stardom? Where were you, at the time it happened, ethically? Prolly just about as sleazy as the man or woman who groped you.

Did you say "No" then be a part of it anyway, because you abandoned your conscience to advance a career? I'm sorry, Victims, but you sold your soul right then and there.
None of us, man nor woman, gay nor straight, is blameless. We've all copped a feel or brushed a kiss at some point in life, especially during our horny teens and twenties.

If we were even gently rebuffed, however, that was the time to back away. Consent had its own consequences, hopefully pleasurable. I don't think it takes an IQ much above 75 to tell the difference between consent and rejection.

If you can reject your own conscience, the compromise is on your karma.

The only happy note I take from all this is that most of the perverts appear to be Democrats. Maybe the Victims should change panties. Oh, I mean, parties

Shifting paradigm?

carlson

A “paradigm shift” is a fancy phrase for changing the way we look at and perceive things. We revisit our assmptions and then change our approach.

Watching that instant classic game two of the World Series between the Dodgers and the Astros while also filtering through my mind another series of steps and maneuvering by the President that day, it occurred to me that as a nation we are in the middle of a paradigm shift orchestrated by the President.

Furthermore, neither the media nor the political cognoscenti who within the Beltway talk to each other ad nauseum understand this shift is occurring. President Trump and his former Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, though do understand and are leading the shift.

For example, the pundits and talking heads in D.C. and New York are constructing artificial benchmarks which they proclaim the voters want to see Congress achieve, such as repeal of ObamaCare and passage of tax reform. Otherwise, they pontificate the voters exacting swift retribution at the polls in November of 2018. Maybe so, maybe not.

The baseball analogy occurred to me as I listened to the game announcers rattle off traditional yardsticks by which ballpayers are measured, such as batting average, slugging percentage, runs batted in. For a pitcher it is wins, strikeouts to walks, innings pitched.

Michael Lewis’ fine book Moneyball came to mind. The book basically demonstrates how a paradigm shift radically redid the business of baseball. The book tells the story of Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Bean, who as a prospect was labeled a “can’t miss making the majors.” But he did.

Once Bean got to the business side he started pondering why and this eventually led him to familiarize himself with sabermetrics, a new way of measuring the potential of a ballplayer to make it to the major leagues.

Being in a small market with a tight budget Oakland couldn’t afford to have too many misses. So Bean embraced the new way to evaluate players and also made the decision they would not draft high school phenoms but rather would focus on older more mature players.

Bean told his scouts, for example, to note the on-base percentage of a prospect believing that he would find more patient hitters who more often could get on base without a hit. Likewise, he worked up different formulas for evaluating fielding success and pitching success.

It paid off with Oakland winning several league championships. It wasn’t long before other teams adopted many of Bean’s methods.

President Trump is in the middle of pulling off a major paradigm shift in politics and is well on his way to redefining how success is measured. Frankly, he does not care really whether ObamaCare is repealed or tax reform is achieved. Successful legislation has to come from the Congress, or the GOP supposedly faces political disaster.

Trump will argue not necessarily. That’s the old way of measuring success. The new paradigm is cutting intrusive federal agencies down to size, eliminating bothersome and burdensone regulations, appeals to white males that are subtle messages of racism couched in language underscoring “fairness,” beating up on media that obviously has an anti-Trump agenda, and keeping your opponents off balance with a constant shifting of views and tactics.

If Congress can pass enabling legislation on tax reform, great. Don’t kid yourself, however, because tax reform is already dead. Trump’s base is largely holding strong because they don’t believe much of what the press reports and what they do see is their man standing up for American “values” against those shifty-eyed Muslims and those nasty Persians and North Koreans.

The more they see and hear the establishment scream and yell the more they like it. It’s a classic “paradigm shift” and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t lead President Trump not to impeachment but to a second term.

Git ‘er done

stapiluslogo1

There is something to be said for, even in politics and maybe especially in politics, getting something useful done.

Maybe that's the through line of LBJ, the latest movie about Lyndon Johnson (the last being the HBO play translating starring Bryan Cranston). This one, now in theaters - albeit not that many, and maybe not for long - stars Woody Harrelson as a reasonably convincing but still somewhat kinder and gentler LBJ than the one many people have known, or written of. If you miss it in theater, catch it on streaming.

The movie, well made and well acted (Jeffrey Donovan's John Kennedy was a nice turn), covers the period from just before the 1960 election, when Johnson was still Senate majority leader, to his first few months as president.

The time span covers the same run as the last volume in Robert Caro's many-volume biography of Johnson. As Caro has pointed out, the books put on display different threads, some light and some dark, of Johnson's life. The great book centered on the 1948 Senate election, for example, showed Johnson at his least sympathetic; the most current (The Passage of Power) is one of the brightest, showing him effectively and usefully taking and and using presidential power. It showed him assuming leadership at a moment of crisis, and using his newfound clout to push through important civil rights legislation that had eluded earlier presidents, including Kennedy. It was not a story of Vietnam; Johnson would mire himself in that soon enough, but not quite yet.

This new movie tells much the same story as the last Caro book, and gets most of the basics right. It misses here and there. It overstates the degree to which civil rights legislation was a central goal (at that time) for the Kennedys. (It also turn Bobby Kennedy into a spoiled brat, which in spite of his own rough edges he never was; and it understates Johnson's own role in their often-bitter relationship.) It misses a chance to more clearly show the legislative power of the South by depicting Senator Richard Russell, the leader that contingent, as rawer and rougher than the smooth and courtly man (albeit staunchly segregationist) actually was.

But the movie's through line is sound. From early on, it made the point that Johnson, rough though he was, understood politics and power and getting things done in a way the Kennedys did not. The Kennedys were far more presentable. But Johnson got things done.

The whole of the Johnson story is immensely complex, which is why Caro has taken so many big books to tell it (and isn't done yet). But this part of it, even recognizing Johnson's other flaws, should not be forgotten. Good can come out of politics. It should not be a dirty word.

To be proud of

jones

On November 1, the President claimed that the criminal justice system in the United States is “a joke” and “a laughingstock” for the way suspects are prosecuted. He suggested the New York terror suspect could be sent to the military prison at Guantanamo Bay for quick and strong justice. He is wrong on all counts.

It is not clear who considers our criminal justice system to be a laughingstock. Perhaps Vladimir Putin thinks it is stupid to provide criminal defendants a fair trial. Russian prosecutors know they are required to produce the result Putin wants, if they know what’s good for them. The Russian system does not produce justice.

The U.S. justice system, on the other hand, is the envy of the civilized world. It respects the rights of those charged with crimes, while producing just results. It is not a perfect system, but one of the best and most respected on Earth. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries that had been under the Soviet yoke sought assistance from American lawyers and judges to implement justice systems like ours.

One reason the United States became an economic powerhouse is because we have a court system that is widely recognized as being honest and even-handed. Americans and foreigners alike know they will receive fair treatment in the system, which encourages them to make investments in our economy without fear of confiscation or false criminal charges.

As far as the military commissions at Guantanamo being able to produce quick and strong justice, don’t hold your breath. The commissions are largely dysfunctional, having produced only eight convictions in fifteen years. Three of those convictions were overturned.

General Charles Krulak, a retired Marine Corps Commandant, said the President “should never consider” sending the New York suspect to Guantanamo. Krulak observed that “Federal courts have a track record of fairly and expeditiously dealing with terrorism suspects, having handled more than six hundred cases since 9/11. The criminal justice system has enabled our government to gather timely, actionable intelligence to drive our counterintelligence efforts.”

For sake of comparison, the person who set off bombs in the Chelsea area in New York last year was just convicted of terrorism charges in federal court in October. On the other hand, the person who masterminded the bombing of the USS Cole seventeen years ago has been awaiting trial for ten years by a military commission in Guantanamo. Rather than dispensing justice to the terrorist, the military judge has sentenced the Brigadier General in charge of the Gitmo defense teams to 21 days of confinement. That comes close to the laughingstock category.

It is fair game for members of the executive and legislative branches of our government to criticize individual court decisions or suggest ways to improve the justice system. However, it is wrong to indict the entire system by falsely claiming it to be a joke or laughingstock. That demeans a system that people around the world have long respected and tried to emulate. If the leader of the free world calls his own court system a joke, what are people in other nations to think? Doesn’t it demean our nation as a whole? I’m in agreement with the observation made by Neil Gorsuch, after he was nominated to the Supreme Court but before his confirmation, that such criticism of courts and judges is “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”

The other side

rainey

So there’s no misunderstanding, let’s get a few facts on-the-record so what you’re about to read is clear.

I am opposed to sexual harassment in ALL its forms. Period. Those who’ve been victims of it - both women AND men - deserve our support and help in any way called upon. Period. I have absolutely nothing but contempt for anyone - woman OR man - who has perpetrated any sort of sexual or mental damage to another Period.

Are we clear? “Crystal,” you say. Good. Let’s proceed.

We’re being bombarded daily with seemingly endless claims someone sexually harassed someone. Entertainment. Political. Business. Educational. Seems somebody in almost any employment or social activity has been an S-O-B. The claims are exploding everywhere.

Good! It’s time - way past time - our society recognized the issue and how large it has become in our permissive environment. There can be no excuses, no more sweeping it under the rug, no more victims suffering silently - afraid to make legitimate accusations against the abuser. Period.

But.....

What about the public condemnation and shaming of the “abuser” when those accusations aren’t legitimate? Who suffers then? Whose career, social and public images are needlessly ruined?

It happens. I had a room mate in the military from Louisiana who was loudly and publically accused of stalking and rape. Clear descriptions to her superiors. Against my friend - a noncom with many years of good service.

He was called before the squadron commander and told of his expected punishment which included being stripped of his rank and dishonorably discharged. He was confined to barracks.

Rumors circulated. While awaiting formal action, he was shunned by nearly everyone. He was called every name in the book. On several occasions, he was physically attacked. Those weeks were Hell.

He finally went to the commander and demanded an open hearing in front of a board of officers. He also asked the accuser be ordered to appear and testify. The commander agreed.

When the hearing was over, he was cleared of all charges. When faced with a lot of brass and in a formal setting, the woman recanted. Opening her own military records, it was clear she was deeply troubled, had been arrested for stalking and had been under psychiatric care.

And my room mate? He was militarily cleared of all charges, the recorded accusation was stricken from his personnel files. He was restored to his former rank with reimbursement for all pay lost.

But.....

As he continued his career, he constantly ran into someone at a new base that had been on the same one he had at the time of the accusations. He was often confronted by other personnel who hadn’t heard of the positive disposition of his case years ago. He never got away from it as long as he was on active duty. He also never received a promotion from the rank he held when being accused..

As we see more and more people hit with similar public charges, I can’t help but think of my old friend and the absolute Hell he went through for the rest of his career. I lost track of him years ago but I’ve often wondered if those phony charges followed him into retirement.

And that’s my concern now. It’s likely that most of the new accusations reported daily are accurate. That’s good. Bless those who’ve found the strength within themselves to step up and finally face their abusers and expose them for what they are. And, given the media herd mentality to uniformly traipse after the sensational or lurid, accusers will continue to have a national platform.

But ...

What if the accusations are false? What it they’re baseless? What if those named are as innocent as my friend? Will careers be similarly destroyed? Will legal bills to defend themselves bankrupt them? And, if found innocent, what will their lives be like from then on?

I’ve seen a lot of accusers being publicized without anyone seeking evidence or corroboration. Just throw out the name of a celebrity and you’ll make the evening news and the front page.

My friend’s life-changing experience has made me more cautious when it comes to anyone - woman or man - who simply makes a claim. I’m happy to see many accused fess up and some to take action to deal with their problem. But what about those - woman OR man - who may be dragged innocently into the media maelstrom?

It’s great this sensitive issue is being treated openly. But charges are just that - charges. They are not proof.

Idaho Briefing – November 6

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for November 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Congress is back in session, and members of the delegation had a good deal to say last week – though little about the Trump Administration. And Idaho’s roster of former members of Congress lost a notable member, Orval Hansen.

Senator Jim Risch, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, today questioned officials from Facebook, Twitter and Google about the use of their companies’ platforms by Russians to share disinformation and sow widespread division in America.

A.J. Balukoff, a Boise businessman and a veteran member of the Boise School Board, has filed preliminary papers toward a second run for governor of Idaho.

Veyo, LLC, has provided notice to the Idaho Division of Purchasing exercising its early termination rights under the contract for Medicaid Non-Emergency Transportation Services managed by the Department of Health and Welfare.

Parties to an Avista Utilities rate case have proposed a settlement that reduces the utility’s requested rate increase for electric and natural gas service.

A new Boise River system feasibility study has been launched to investigate the possibility of increasing surface water storage in the Boise River watershed by raising the height of up to three dams on the Boise River.

Boise Mayor David Bieter on November 1 presented his vision for the future of Boise by encouraging residents to “do big things” during his annual State of the City address. He encouraged Boiseans to embrace helping the city’s most vulnerable residents, a long-term mission for Gowen Field, the proposal for the new Boise Sports Park and plans for a new main library downtown “not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” he said, invoking a famous speech of President John F. Kennedy.

PHOTO The Idaho State University Jazz Bands will present the 6th annual ISU Jazz Concert Series at the Portneuf Valley Brewery on November 8, January 24 and April 11. All concerts will be held at the Portneuf Valley Brewery and are free of charge. (Idaho State University)

Will the small town survive?

stapiluslogo1

I happen to live in a small town, population about 2,000; one which is not gentrifying - in the way a Ketchum or a Driggs has - but is prospering.

That puts it in a minority position.

A century ago, about three out of five Americans lived in rural places; now about one of five does. Agriculture that provided work for about half of Americans back then now employs around one in fifty. Back then, basic service businesses from drug stores and hardware shops to movie theaters were out of reach if they were 10 miles away; now they’re a short or moderate drive at two or three times that distance. And economies of scale allow for lower prices and faster and more specialized service in larger rather than smaller population centers.

The state Department of Labor population report from May found that 30 of Idaho’s 200 cities lost population in the last decade and 20 more were unchanged. These communities are relatively small and rural.

Anyone who’s been around a small town in Idaho probably can recall when businesses like those I just described, and a bunch of others, were right there on Main Street. Now, in many small towns, not a lot is left beyond a small grocery, a service station and a few other service businesses.

No one really wants it that way. But is there an alternative?

A great article just out from High Country News (at http://www.hcn.org/articles/state-of-change-why-save-the-small-town) tackles that question, focusing on the rural town of Questa, New Mexico, where nearly all the mining jobs that once sustained the town are gone, and nothing seems to be moving in to replace them. The question becoming: What’s next for Questa, a future as a ghost town … or something else?

The article quoted Bruce Weber, director of the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University, as saying, “Some of the smaller towns will disappear, because they aren’t needed anymore. Cities will continue to grow faster than rural places because there are economic advantages to being in places that are densely populated.”

But the situation is not hopeless.

The HCN article also points out, for example, “Simply put, the argument goes like this: This country will always need food and energy. As long as rural places supply the land where food grows and energy is produced, communities will need to exist to support the people working there. In other words, even if some agricultural or energy communities shrink, they can’t all go away.”

There’s that, but other options may be available too. Those enhanced communications and transportation capabilities that pulled economic life blood out of many small towns could replenish them. Affordable housing is another small-town advantage; cities like Boise increasingly are reporting a serious lack of housing for lower income levels. My little town has internet links as good a those of most metro areas, which means I need not be in the middle of a metro to stay in touch. (The work I do every day now could not have been done in this town a generation ago.)

Those improved transportation links can also cut in both directions: People in rural areas don’t have to be far away, in a meaningful sense, from top-level goods and services.

Solutions sometimes can be found on the flip side of a problem. So it may be for small communities.