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Posts published in “First Take”

First take/those feds

The statement of purpose on Idaho's Senate Bill 1338 suggests that it calls only for Idaho officials to advise federal agencies when they think federal land management policies in a given area might cause a problem. Which would not be a terrible thing.

But read the bill, by Senator Sheryl Nuxoll, more closely, and you pick up something else: A county's sheriff or its "chief executive officer" (first indicator of a problem: Idaho counties have no such thing) essentially could, under terms of the bill, take over management of the federal lands in question, cutting timber, changing grazing conditions and so on.

In a guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman today, attorney Kahle Becker (who has been an attorney for the state Department of Lands, in the attorney general's office) described the measure as "yet another piece of ALEC-backed legislation wealthy land grabbers are parading around the West in the hopes of one day gaining control of your and my favorite places to hunt and fish. This bill is bad for Idaho and it is bad for those who love to recreate on public lands."

She added, "What this bill actually does is sets the stage for a sheriff to go monkey around on federal lands cutting trees, building roads, and lighting fires that could ultimately land that sheriff or other county officer in Federal prison making license plates with the Bundy clan. It also sets counties up to pay the federal government a landslide of attorney’s fees and potentially treble damages."

That sounds about right. And the odds are that the attorney general's office has already advised legislators to that effect. None of which stopped the Idaho Senate from passing it last week 28-6. It now sits in a House committee.

Sounds like another argument for legislators to hire their own legal counsel which will tell them whatever they want to hear. - rs (photo/Bureau of Land Management)

First take/Idaho filings

Not a lot of thrills among the Idaho filings, though given the general quietude before the filing deadline you could say there's some surprise that as many candidates filed as did.

Maybe the most eye-catching was the expansion of the field for the open Supreme Court seat (being vacated by Jim Jones) from two to six. The picture there has changed a great deal, fast.

All three congressional offices have contests. The Democrats who filed in each case have the disadvantage (among other things) of starting cold relatively late in the cycle. But all three have good stories and show signs of being compelling candidates. And both U.S. House incumbents have Republican primary contests as well. Probably not strong contests, but in this year who knows what might develop?

The legislative picture overall looks not too far from normal. A relative handful have initial indications of interest, though as the campaign period formally kicks in you shouldn't expect that the next legislature will look a lot different from the last one.

More to come. - rs

First take/court filings

More will of course be following on the state candidate filings that wrap up (in both Oregon and Idaho, as it happens) this week. But one in Idaho merits a specific mention.

It's not a partisan office: This one is for the Idaho Supreme Court, the seat now held by Justice Jim Jones.

(It's designated as seat 3, of five, and should be so noted on the ballot, but Idaho's ballots for generations have instead described the seats as those being held by the named incumbent, so you get things like "candidates John Smith and Ed Williams, for the seat now held by John Smith," which seems like an irrational favoritism toward the incumbent that we see nowhere on the ballot outside of the court system. The seats should be described as "Seat 3," or whatever.)

Jones was not appointed to the court; he got there in the way constitutional framers anticipated, by election, and was re-elected once. He is now completing a dozen years on the bench, a match to eight years as state attorney general back in the 80s. His decision, just announced, to not run again means the seat will again be filled by election, not appointment.

Two candidates have (as of this morning; the deadline is tomorrow) filed. One is Breck Seiniger, a well known Boise attorney long in private practice. The other, who probably has the edge, is a long-time deputy attorney general named Clive Strong.

That short-hand of Strong comes nowhere close to doing justice. He has for decades, working for attorneys general both Republican and Democratic, managed the natural resources division of the office, a critical place especially in recent decades. He has been a linchpin figure in so many critical areas for so long that many state officials almost consider him an essential resource. Last year, when I developed a ranked list of the most currently-influential Idahoans, I placed Strong at number 25. (I will admit to some bias, having worked with him on a couple of book projects, but check around Idaho state government and you'll probably soon find my take on him isn't unusual.)

Here's the neat thing about the Supreme Court filing. Back in 1983, not long after becoming AG, Jones hired Strong to work for him. Now there's the prospect that a Jones move, in this case his resignation, may allow for Strong's next role in influencing Idaho.

This looks to be the only contested Supreme Court race in Idaho this year. Keep an eye on it. - rs

First take/Idaho primary

Very hard to know who will wind up winning the Idaho Republican primary. In a recent rundown through comments by Idaho elected officials, an Idaho Statesman piece yielded little definitive other than that no Republican presidential candidate was likely to hit the 50% mark, which is where the contest would become winner-take-all.

On the flip side, I'd be surprised to see Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio score as low as the single digits. (John Kasich, notwithstanding an endorsement from the governor, might, though he could hit in the teens too.) The weight of opinion seemed to lean a bit in Trump's direction, and that's a credible outcome. So too a good showing by Cruz, with his support from small organizations (his stopover in Coeur d'Alene was an indicator of that) or Rubio (who may do well in the LDS community).

But for the moment, Idaho ranks as a little more uncertain in its outcome than some of the other primary states we've seen. - rs

First take/Trumpspeak

After spending a couple of hours (that I'll never get back) watching the kindergarten playground squabble that was the Republican presidential "debate" I ran across a more useful discussion between two members of the media who've been plenty involved over the years with campaign coverage.

The venue was the Bill O'Reilly show on Fox, a place where any number of presidential candidates, including Donald Trump, have put in appearances. His guest Wednesday night, however, was Ted Koppel, one of the best television interviewers of recent decades. Noting that he's interviewed Trump several times (including, fruitlessly, last night post-debate) he reasonably asked Koppel how he would interview him.

Koppel's answer was probably unexpected: "It’s irrelevant how I would do it. . . . You know who made it irrelevant? You did. You have changed the television landscape over the past 20 years. You took it from being objective and dull to subjective and entertaining. And in this current climate, it doesn’t matter what the interviewer asks him — Mr. Trump is gonna say whatever he wants to say, as outrageous as it may be.” Which is of course true, as anyone who's seen him in a Q&A format knows perfectly well.

When O'Reilly re-asked the question, Koppel expanded on his point: “the first way you do it is not in the interview — you do it by some reporting. It’s an old-fashioned concept but I think demonstrating who and what Mr. Trump is and what his policies really amount to is something you don’t do in an interview. He doesn’t answer the questions.”

Most of what passes for cable TV news is nothing more than giving air time to entertainers - and, as last night's presidential debate showed, that's even happening at the debate level. Actual, serious reporting is scarce. It costs more than simply doing talking heads, and viewers don't reward it enough.

It doesn't speak well for our ability to govern ourselves with anything resembling intelligence. -rs

First take/ISU med

I probably wasn't alone in misreading the new from last week about the planned new osteopathic medical school at Idaho State University (in its Meridian campus operations). I thought, more or less, it was an ISU operation, period.

Not exactly.

Boise Weekly has put a spotlight on that, starting with a quote from a state Department of Commerce spokesman that "The investors are both the Rice University Foundation, and a group of private family investors, with one of the predominant families being the Burrell family."

Investors in a state college? Again, not exactly: This won't be a state college at all. Rather, Idaho State University would simply have an affiliation with the new osteopathic teaching facility. Rice University and several private investors figure the Intermountain West is underserved in medical education (which is probably is) and there's some profit to be made in launching another teaching school. This one follows up on a similar effort in New Mexico.

ISU President Arthur Vailas said that "The opportunity for our health care programs to work very closely with the faculty physicians and physicians of our both rural and metropolitan areas. And, as you know, ISU has about 12 to 15 clinics throughout the state in very remote areas, treating Idahoans. And, we need to do a bigger and better job, and having this partnership gives us that ability to do so."

Maybe so. Of Idaho's major higher education institutions, ISU, which has teaching and pharmacy operations, is the one most aligned to medical education, and the one most logically linked to new medical operations by way of some kind of agreement. The deal looks, on its face, reasonable enough; we'll see how it goes in time. But bear in mind what this school is and isn't as it moves ahead. - rs

First take/The supers

"Super Tuesday" was a little less superlatively definitive than it might have been. It didn't really upset, in any big ways, most existing trend lines, but - remarkably - it didn't knock anyone out of the field, either. In both parties, things continue on more or less as they had been.

More or less.

The one candidate who came out of Tuesday with a basis for feeling a little better than previously was Texas Senator Ted Cruz. While the bulk of the Republican nomination events went to businessman Donald Trump, Cruz was teetering on the edge. If he had won no states on Tuesday - and the possibility of his losing his home state of Texas was quite real - he would have been done. A win in Texas was essential to his continuing. Two additional wins, in Oklahoma and Alaska, had to put a little extra spring in his campaign's step this morning. While Senator Marco Rubio did score one win, in Minnesota, it was his first (and Cruz was highly competitive there). Tuesday gave Cruz a reasonable argument for contending he, not Rubio, is Trump's major opposition. Rubio's campaign is going to have to do much harder spinning, though not as hard as if he'd no wins at all. "Minnesota" will probably be Rubio's word of blessing for some time; without that win, he would have been on the verge of folding. As it is, he can go forward, albeit a little weakened.

That said, Trump entered Tuesday as the contender to beat, and he exited the same way. He is now way ahead on state wins and delegates. He's not un-catchable yet, but if he maintains the pace for two more weeks he will be.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton solidified her front-running position. But Bernie Sanders did well enough to justify keeping on keeping on. That would have been a marginal case had he won only his home of Vermont, as many predictors had estimated. But instead, he won Colorado, Oklahoma and Minnesota as well - a respectable haul. The race realistically can go on.

One other comment - a quote.

The biggest winner on Super Tuesday may have been Donald Trump, and his electoral strength is beginning to show in the number of party elected and other officials endorsing him - still a small number, but growing.

Republican consultant Rich Wilson had some pungent words for prospective endorsers in a piece out today. All of it bears reading, but this part needs particular attention:

As a Republican governor, a senator, or member of Congress, or as a Republican candidate, let me remind you: You’re known by the company you keep. By associating yourself with or endorsing Trump, you own Trump’s toxic radioactivity with voters outside his base. You own his economic ignorance, his poisonous stupidity on every consequential matter of policy, and his lack of political and personal discretion. And you own it forever. The Internet—and ad-makers like me—never forget.
There’s a reason Trump’s favorability rating is 2:1 negative, why almost no scenario leads him to victory in November. There’s a reason why women and Hispanics loathe Trump. There’s a reason why conservatives know Trump isn’t one of them. And there’s a reason why smart down-ballot candidates and elected officials who can see beyond the current frenzy are heading for the exits from the Trump circus; beyond the core of his supporters, Donald Trump is a hideous cancer on American political life. He’s an objectively terrible person, and that eventually matters in politics.
If you want to endorse that, you’re on your own. You’ll own it even after the Trump bubble bursts, Hillary Clinton is sworn in, and the Chinese-made red hat he shoved on your head at the endorsement rally is nothing but an uncomfortable reminder of your terrible political judgment.

(photo/Gage Skidmore) - rs

First take/First of many

What effect is Donald Trump having on this election year? Check out this ad and get an early sense for what's ahead. Actually, a few months from now this ad from Arizona may be considered a softball.

From George Will this morning: "Trump’s collaborators . . . will find that nothing will redeem the reputations they will ruin by placing their opportunism in the service of his demagogic cynicism and anticonstitutional authoritarianism." . . . - rs

First take/late

I have seen elections in which the dynamic would have played beautifully to John Kasich, or maybe even Ben Carson.

Normal elections tend to reward non-squabblers, the candidates who glide above all, stay free of the fray. Many are the three-way or four-way elections in which two, or three, of the contenders get drawn into an ugly battle, and the other candidate profits by staying clear and looking like the adult in the room.

Last night that would have been Governor John Kasich, who almost throughout the two hours-plus Republican presidential debates managed not to get drawn into a kindergarten-level battle engaged in by frontrunner Donald Trump, and his two increasingly desperate challengers, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Physician Ben Carson, who was quieter than Kasich (and everyone else, as usual), stayed out of the free for all too.

But this is not a normal election year, is it?

And so we watched to see which of the three combatants fought better. On that level, the result was clear: Trump quickly took the upper hand and never relinquished it. It was not good conventional debating, but it worked as psychological warfare. The many who tuned in to see if Trump would be brought down this time saw that he wasn't. Rubio and Cruz fired shot after shot, and only rarely this time at each other, but none seemed to do much damage. (Some were simply not well delivered. At one point early in the debate Rubio ran through four or five op-research talking points, any of which might have been damaging, so quickly that the details were lost and the points quickly forgotten.)

Various polling afterward showed Trump as having "won" the debate.

I wouldn't say he won the debate. He won the fight, the schoolyard brawl (even to the point of holding up his index finger to get teacher to intervene), which seems to be what matters this year.

It'll probably be good for a strong Super Tuesday showing. Likely, it's now too little, too late to stop Trump in his run for the nomination. - rs

First take/Otter-Kasich

Cycle back to around, oh, 2001, and look at where C.L. "Butch" Otter and John Kasich were then - not just physically, but philosophically.

On his election to the U.S. House in 2000, Otter was described by the Almanac of American Politics as "not the social conservative his predecessor Helen Chenoweth was," but beyond that very much in the conservative old: favoring lower taxes, reduced regulation, a pro-business outlook.

At right about that time, Kasich was becoming George W. Bush's budget director, after a stretch as House budget committee chair. He and Otter had some similarities in personality, both exuding a certain sunniness and natural campaigning charm, and also ideological rigor of the same sort. Kasich had batted Bill Clinton with "cut spending first" demands in the 90s, ad became Budget chair "determined to reduce the size and scale of government." He and Otter would have been kindred spirits in D.C. Both were solidly loyalist in the conservative movement of the 90s and beyond.

With that in mind, Otter's endorsement this week of Kasich for president comes as no shock, but it does show how far the Republican Party has come. These days, Kasich is no longer on the front lines of the right; within the party, he's more often considered a "moderate" or worse, the "least conservative" of the Republican presidential field even when that field consisted of 16 or so candidates. And Otter has been challenged from the right, seriously, something that (as he has said) would have been simply inconceivable not so many years before.

On another level, the endorsement may also show something else: Personal loyalty, since at this point Kasich seems to have no practical path to the Republican nomination. - rs