Archive for the 'Idaho column' Category

Oct 25 2014

Has the ground changed?

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Idaho

Think for a moment of political news, background and impressions, falling from the skies upon the electorate, like rain. It may be the rain that soaks you and makes you wet and miserable or it may be the rain causing flowers to bloom and crops to grow. Depends on your perspective.

A good deal of such rain has fallen in Idaho’s campaign seasons this year. From the batch of scandal-like problems associated with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter (private prison, broadband for schools and more), to the financial issues attached to Treasurer Ron Crane, to the personal assessments of Secretary of State candidate Lawerence Denney, to the many missteps of Superintendent of Public Instruction candidate Sherri Ybarra, and others too, there’s been a lot, especially of the negative kind. Republican candidates, who are the kind that almost always, in the last 20 years, have emerged winners in the November elections, have provided a lot of it.

This rain of bad headlines, gaffes, missteps and so on has been seized on by people watching Idaho’s elections, and with reason. Such problems have, in years past, derailed any number of Idaho candidates, and some of the complaints and criticisms have been serious enough to go to the heart of the jobs these people are seeking.

A meaningful political analysis has to go one step further, though. Even flood-level amounts of rain won’t make the crops grow or the flowers bloom if it does not fall on receptive soil. Rain falling on concrete simply runs off, at least in the short term.

Idaho’s electorate (to carry the analogy one uneasy step further) used to be gently rototilled, open to new information and ideas and news, willing to adjust its views. It has become less so in the last couple of decades – much more hard-packed, less receptive, than it used to be.

People looking for changes in, say, the governor’s race, need to look not just at the rain but at something that would churn the hard-packed soil, to make it more receptive to changes in the environment.

Maybe it’s there and just not very visible, but so far I’m not seeing much change on the ground. Nor am I picking up many indicators of it.

To explain this a little further, here’s a small plot of Idaho political ground where conditions may be more receptive: The race for Superintendent of Public Instruction. One factor is the many problems Republican Ybarra has faced, and the steady campaign of Democrat Jana Jones. Continue Reading »

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Oct 18 2014

No difference at all

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Idaho

A reader points out that Idaho voters next month will decide whether to pass an amendment to the state constitution, and “The only info I have is in the “Idaho Voters’ Pamphlet” and it’s not enough”: She requests some guidance.

Okay: On this one, you can feel comfortable throwing a dart blindfolded at your ballot. Whether you pass it or fail it, it will make no difference whatsoever, not to Idaho voters, their government, or anything else. When I read that one of its main floor backers, Senator Curt McKenzie of Nampa, said it was among most significant pieces of legislation he’d dealt with, I hoped that his legislative career has amounted to more than that.

What House Joint Resolution 2, which passed both chambers with not a single vote opposed, does say is that the Legislature can authorize and holds final effective approval power over all agency rules and regulations. That would be significant if the legislature already had not been doing that. Legislatures take varying roles in dealing with agency regulations, but the Idaho Legislature has been overseeing and accepting and rejecting rules for decades – to my knowledge at least since the 70s, and probably long before that.

For many years, the legislature gave the rules a quick look, maybe throwing out two or three controversial ones in a normal session. Since the mid-90s, it has been applying a microscope to them, spending the first quarter or so of each session hunkered down over not legislation but administrative rules to decide whether they will stay there, or should be kicked out, or amended. Some studies have concluded that the Idaho Legislature has, for a couple of decades, had more power over and more closely reviewed the rules than any other legislature in the country.

So what is the new proposed amendment intended to accomplish? Basically, to allow the system Idaho has had for a couple of decades to stay in place.

Is there any reason to think it won’t? Legislative backers point out a couple of challenges to legislative rule approval at the Idaho Supreme Court; but the court has each time upheld the legislature. That’s too much locked-in precedent for such a change to happen easily.

But even if it did, the practical difference would be, as a lawyer would say, de minimis. Administrative rules can be set up only within the terms of state law, so the legislature sets the parameters to start with. If the rules color outside the lines, they can be challenged and thrown out in court. Legislators can also change state law as they please to rein in regulatory ideas they don’t like or impose those they do; there’s not a lot of limit on how specific law can be. (Laws can be held unconstitutional for vagueness but generally not for specificity.) Legislators also hold the power of the purse, and can (and often do) include statements specifically describing what money cannot be used for, or must be used for – which amounts to sweeping control of what an agency does. A legislator might argue that a governor can veto a bill, even a budget bill; but two-thirds of the legislature can override vetoes. Continue Reading »

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Oct 18 2014

On the front pages

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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)

Time capsule found in old statute (Boise Statesman)
Police observing rail crossings (Boise Statesman)
IF city officials start strategic planning (IF Post Register)
Lewiston, Orchards Sewer, hit impasse in talks (Lewiston Tribune)
Washington initiative on class size has costs (Lewiston Tribune)
Palouse city has mass of public record requests (Moscow News)
UI Dean Bruce Pitman departing (Moscow News)
Balukoff school backer never voted in Idaho (Idaho Press Tribune)
Library Square tenants evaluate options (Idaho Press Tribune)
New ads up in race for governor (TF Times News)
Options considers to cut auto-wildlife collisions (TF Times News)

New UO fundraise goal set at $2b (Eugene Register Guard)
Debate rages on driver license ballot issue (Eugene Register Guard)
State student endowman plan on ballot (Eugene Register Guard)
Voters asked for $36 million for KF high school (KF Herald & News)
Judge says cities can bar medical pot retailing (KF Herald & News)
Circuit judge contest renews at Jackson Co (Medford Tribune)
Reviewing Jackson Co commission 1 candidates (Medford Tribune)
On future of Umatilla-area school service district (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Senator Hansell blasts Kitzhaber on water spills (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Pot dispensary access becoming easier in OR (Portland Oregonian)
Ferrioli blasts negative campaign ads (Salem Statesman Journal)

Kilmer heavily outspends opponent (Bremerton Sun)
Bainbridge Island gets new park (Bremerton Sun)
King home values rise, and so do taxes (Seattle Times)
Looking at frequent turnover in neighborhoods (Seattle Times)
Examining reduced-class-size initiative (Spokane Spokesman)
Spokane council member partner in pot business (Spokane Spokesman)
New museum planned for Point Ruston (Tacoma News Tribune)
Vancouver school board may expand meeting notice (Vancouver Columbian)
Controversial prayer breakfast with Boykin held (Vancouver Columbian)
Looking at the problem of hoarders (Yakima Herald Republic)
Yakima schools may see athletic upgrades (Yakima Herald Republic)

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Oct 11 2014

The state says, and the court says

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
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Idaho

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban is one of those court decisions worth the read – you can find a copy at www.ridenbaugh.com/14-35420 opinion.pdf. It’s worth doing for understanding exactly what the state is arguing, and what the court said in response.

Part of it is a technical analysis relating to the Nevada part of the case, and not relevant to Idaho. But read the rest and you come away with a sense of just how thin Idaho’s legal ground here is.

The Idaho argument has the advantage of proceeding in the wake of decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, paring the legal case down to the core. The main dispute: Whether there exists a clear and strong rationale for the Idaho rule (which includes both constitutional provisions and state law) – something beyond simply disliking the idea of gay marriage. Or declaring gay couples as second-class, which as the court said (following up on Supreme Court decisions) it cannot legally do.

The state argued, naturally, that there was. It said children raised in opposite-sex marriages would be better off. But the court found no specific evidence of that. The circuit also noted Idaho hasn’t blocked gay couples from adopting children.

“Idaho focuses on another aspect of the procreative channeling claim,” it added. “Because opposite-sex couples can accidentally conceive (and women may choose not to terminate unplanned pregnancies), so the argument goes, marriage is important because it serves to bind such couples together and to their children. This makes some sense. Defendants’ argument runs off the rails, however, when they suggest that marriage’s stabilizing and unifying force is unnecessary for same-sex couples, because they always choose to conceive or adopt a child. As they themselves acknowledge, marriage not only brings a couple together at the initial moment of union; it helps to keep them together, ‘from [that] day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.’ Raising children is hard; marriage supports same-sex couples in parenting their children, just as it does opposite-sex couples.”

And: “Just as ‘it would demean a married couple were it to be said marriage is simply about the right to have sexual intercourse,’ Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 567, it demeans married couples—especially those who are childless—to say that marriage is simply about the capacity to procreate.” Continue Reading »

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Oct 04 2014

Legislature under the radar

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

All 105 Idaho state legislative seats are up for election next month, and if that was all you knew, you might assume wholesale change at next year’s session. The legislature isn’t all that popular, right?

There will be, of course, few changes. Many seats are unchallenged, or barely challenged. Even by the modest standards of recent elections, we’ll see few Idaho legislative races even of much interest, let alone competitive. Surprises happen, and every election features a few. But a handful (all for House seats, none in the Senate) are worth your attention as the campaign rounds the last turn.

Just one district has as many as two of these notable races: District 5, for both of its House seats. This is a rare legislative district where the House delegation is split. Republican Cindy Agidius and Democrat Shirley Ringo, both of Moscow, hold those seats. Ringo’s is open, with her run for the U.S. House instead, while Agidius is running for re-election.

This Latah-Benewah area is a politically marginal district. Moscow provides one of the stronger Democratic bases in Idaho, and Democratic votes can emerge from the Coeur d’Alene Reservation in Benewah, but the rest of the counties run Republican. Substantial campaigns here have to be taken seriously, and both seats are seriously contested. Democrat Paulette Jordan, who lost to Agidius by only 123 votes in 2012, is back again, working hard and apparently outspending the incumbent. The open seat race, between Republican Caroline Nilsson Troy of Genesee and Democrat Gary Osborn of Troy (with independent David Suswal of Deary in the mix), also has a competitive feel.

The single most significant legislative race in Idaho surely is for House A in the west Boise District 15, where third-time legislative candidate Democrat Steve Berch is opposing incumbent Lynn Luker. You could point out that Berch has lost twice before and Luker is a well-established four-term incumbent Republican, liked in his party, in a district that has elected only Republicans for two decades.

But Berch earlier this year won a seat on the Boise Auditorium District board, which strengthens his hand, and he is a relentless campaigner building on a strong campaign effort two years ago. His particular skills, and intensity, may work better aimed at an incumbent; and Luker has become more controversial recently with his introduction of bills he describes as promoting religious freedom. All this is important because District 15 may be on the cusp of becoming a purple district, located as it is next door to the string of deepening blue Boise districts. If Berch wins, the door could be kicked open. Continue Reading »

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Sep 27 2014

Judge in the middle

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
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Idaho

In the mid-70s my reporting included the courts at Canyon County, overseen at the time by three district judges. Everyone I knew who was familiar with the court system – lawyers, clerks, journalists, parties to cases and others – shorthanded the three judges in the same way.

All were professional, capable judges. But: One was the judge you wanted if you were the defendant. Another was the one you wanted if you were a victim or a prosecutor; in relative terms, he was the hangin’ judge. And then there was the one in the middle, the one the consensus figured most likely to meet most people’s idea of fairness most often. That was District Judge Edward Lodge.

Judges matter. Last week Lodge, now a federal district judge, said that next summer he plans to take senior status – a sort of semi-retirement – and time seems right for some reflection on that.

By the time I started watching him on the bench, Lodge was a veteran already, appointed in 1965 at the age of 31; he is said to still hold the record for youngest district judge in Idaho. He has had his share of high-profile cases (the Claude Dallas murder case, for one), but in his nearly half-century on the bench, he never has become especially controversial and often has drawn praise. He has been a federal district judge since 1989 – about a quarter-century.

The work of judges isn’t as easily summarized as that of, say, legislators or members of congress, and most people not associated with the courts may have little way to figure which are better and which are less so. But it is crucial work. The decisions of federal judges like Lodge, and Idaho’s current senior federal judge, Lynn Winmill, from time to time have as much impact as legislation, and can change the direction of legislation. Federal judges like Lodge, after all, have been the people making decisions on such hot buttons as Obamacare and same-sex marriage.

Lodge’s move to senior status is something a number of people in the Idaho legal system have wanted for some years, not as a criticism of Lodge but because it would open a slot for a new federal judge. The need has been great for some time; this column addressed the subject late last year. Idaho has fewer federal judges per capita than a number of other states (Wyoming, for one example, is flush with federal judges by comparison). The docket is almost overwhelming at times. Continue Reading »

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Sep 20 2014

Who gives, who gets

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

This is a call to do your own political investigations.

If you have an Internet connection, you can do it from where you are right now.

In the next few weeks you’ll see more news stories about campaign finance contributions and spending, since reporting deadlines are coming up. For Idaho state races, campaign finance reports – the “pre-general” – will be due at the Secretary of State’s office on October 10. (The next after that will be due October 28.) For federal, congressional, races, the next big one, the quarterly report, will be due at the Federal Election Commission on October 15. Spend a little time looking these over, and you can track the money trail yourself .

I spend some time each cycle checking out this information. You can too.

The secretary of state’s web site has an old-fashioned look, but the information is there and easy to get. Go to http://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/finance.htm, which is about statewide constitutional offices, legislature and political action committees (and spending on ballot issues too). The information base here really is massive, covering elections back to 2000. Lobbyist reporting information is available through this page too.

The state database, allowing for name lookups and the like, is only available through 2012. But scanned copies of the reports filed by the candidates are available right away; click on the “2014” link. Following links in the next couple of pages takes you to pdf scanned copies of candidate reports. At present, the most recent are the “post-primary” reports (through May); the October 10 reports, which will bring the money picture up to present, should be available before a month from now.

Pull a candidate’s scanned report and you get what looks a little like a tax form, with spaces filled in with numbers, names and, often, addresses. You’ll see the amounts raised and spent (and still in the bank), and individual donors and recipients. In the most recent report for Otter for Governor, for example, you find donor number one was Paul Anderson of Potlatch, who donated $100; he was followed by CenturyLink Idaho PAC at $5,000, and on down through the pages. Some of the names are familiar, some not, but all are linked to the campaign with cash.

The official place for federal – congressional this year, but including presidential – campaign reports is the Federal Election Commission, through their “disclosure portal” at http://www.fec.gov/pindex.shtml. Continue Reading »

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Sep 13 2014

Just a little copying

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Noted here: The quote within the next paragraph is not mine originally. I came across it in an online New Yorker piece, dated July 29.

It follows a note that the term plagiarism evolved from a gang of ancient-times Romans called the plagiarii, who were known for kidnapping slaves. The poet Martial, who made the connection, wrote, “If you allow them to be called mine, I will send you my verses gratis; if you wish them to be called yours, pray buy them, that they may be mine no longer.”

He was suggesting a level of seriousness that politicians ought to observe. Others too of course. Students have flunked out when caught cheating by way of copying. Teachers have been fired (such as, a year ago, a Brown University professor said to have used unattributed material in a book). Journalists have lost their careers. Bloggers get sued.

Some politicians have wriggled past records of plagiarizing. Russia’s Vladimir Putin got away with an extravagant 16-page copying incident because – well, who was going to nail him for it?

In this country, things are a little different. Then-Senator Joe Biden, who in 1987 had launched a credible campaign for president, saw his political advancement derailed for 20 years after he was caught using unattributed language from a British politician’s speech.

Earlier this summer, Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh was found to have, years ago in graduate school, used writing from others without attribution in one of his papers. He soon after withdrew from the Senate race. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has been accused of a string of smaller-scale unattributed copies; whatever consequences may arise from that are yet to come, but if he runs for president they will dog him and weigh him down.

That history of taking the offense seriously is one reason it has become a big deal in the Idaho superintendent of public instruction race, where Republican Sherri Ybarra’s campaign lifted about a web page’s worth of material from the site of her opponent, Democrat Jana Jones. Continue Reading »

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Sep 06 2014

Underground school support

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
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Idaho

Here’s a concept to get your mind around: On-line physical education in schools. That is, taught from outside of school. Or something.

This unlikely idea surfaced at the Lapwai School District after voters there on August 26 turned down a quarter-million dollar one-year levy. It wasn’t close; just 41 percent of voters approved it. It was the second recent levy failure, after voters rejected a larger one in May.

Afterward, District Superintendent David Aiken said the effects will include elimination of in-person physical education. The school gym and equipment will remain available but, he told the Lewiston Tribune, “the teacher is on the other side of the computer.”

Try for a moment to imagine how well this is going to work.

Threats to athletics traditionally have been one of the last-ditch and most successful maneuvers to get patrons to cough up additional school money, but the Lapwai example suggests that in Idaho, at least in some places, even that isn’t enough.

Levies and bonds failed in a number of other places as well, but Lapwai was one of the few places in Idaho where a financing proposal failed to pull well over 50 percent of the vote. That’s all most levies need to pass, but bonds (because of longer-term indebtedness) require two thirds. In Lapwai, a majority opposed the tax increase. In how many other districts last month was that true?

Voters in just one district passed bond issues with the required two-thirds-plus: New Plymouth. But others cleared the 50 percent mark, sometimes easily. West Ada (formerly Meridian) proposed a truly massive bond measure, $104 million for a range of projects broad enough voters could be forgiven for not wrapping their minds around all of them. The bond plan failed – but it picked up 63 percent of the vote, a strong majority. Continue Reading »

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Aug 30 2014

Lessons from the SRBA

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Idaho

Why did it work in Idaho?

It’s really improbable, the idea that this massive governmental-legal project called the Snake River Basin Adjudication would be an Idaho effort demonstrably more successful than any others of its kind anywhere in the country.

On Monday, when panels discussed and the final decree was signed, there was that cause for wonderment, of how it happened. In the new oral history book of the SRBA “Through the Waters” (disclosure: I published and helped edit it) this was a recurring theme. In their interviews, judges, attorneys, administrators and water users took a stab at how Idaho succeeded in this thing when other states have done less well or failed outright.

The answer boils down to trust, cooperation, and luck.

The trust and cooperation go together, of course. One recurring point (in interviews, federal attorneys especially told me this repeatedly) has been Idaho’s collection of adjudication parties and attorneys who were willing to cooperate and trust each other enough not to challenge the process in fundamental ways that might have ground it to a halt or shut it down. Just that sort of thing has happened in other states. In Idaho, the need to accomplish the adjudication was taken as a given. The cooperation extended to the legislature, which kept the adjudication funded well enough to keep it rolling without interruption.

The principle applied in legal ways too. When the adjudication launched, the state Department of Water Resources was a party to the case just like each of the water users, which meant it was adversary to the people for whom it was filing records and conducting field investigations. It also was limited in how it could communicate with the court. In the mid-90s the department was removed (by the legislature) as a party, which meant it could work with the court in exchanging critical information, and work with the water claimants on a friendly basis. Most people in the middle of the SRBA today say that change was a turning point.

Luck was a piece of this too. Continue Reading »

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Aug 23 2014

An adjudicated peace

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

Thirty years ago Idaho was locked in a political civil war. The stakes could not have been higher: Water, and who got to control Idaho’s.

I remember the politics of that season, when what mattered was less budget and taxes, or even whether you were a Republican or Democrat. The big deal was about whether you were for or against subordination.

This now obscure debate, which had to do with the water rights held by Idaho Power Company, is still pertinent. It is so much so that it can be said to be drawing to a conclusion, for the time being at least, only this month, with the August 25 celebration of the conclusion of the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The SRBA is the massive yet surgically precise instrument by which that battle over a few specific water rights got hammered into shape, through the settling of everybody’s.

For many decades, the water flowing down the Snake River has been heavily used. Much of it has been used by irrigators, and Idaho Power Company long has had hydropower rights which entail not diversion of water from the river but rather an assurance that a certain amount will flow down the river past its various dams, especially the oldest, Swan Falls, south of Boise. This could conflict with the water used by irrigators and others, but most people in Idaho thought that Idaho Power had long ago given up its first-in-time priority so that irrigators had first call on it. A 1982 Idaho Supreme Court decision on the rights at Swan Falls said that in fact Idaho Power had the senior rights. Soon after, Idaho Power sued about 7,500 farm water users, demanding they quit using water Idaho Power claimed to power its dams. The war was on.

As everyone quickly realized, there was no sensible winner-take-all answer to this. If Idaho Power prevailed absolutely (as it mostly did in the short run), massive reaches of Idaho agriculture, and large chunks of Idaho’s economy, could be ruined. But Idaho Power couldn’t simply give in, either; it had responsibilities to stockholders, and a need to supply the state with cheap power. A wrecked Idaho Power was not in the state’s interest either.

Still, Idahoans swiftly picked sides. A majority seemed to favor “subordination” – that is, a legal determination that Idaho Power’s rights would be secondary to those of many of the irrigators.
But Idaho Power had its defenders, too, and long-standing deep political clout in the state. The state’s politicians in both parties were deeply split. Attorney General Jim Jones, one of the leading subordinationists, recruited Republican primary election challengers to several of the key pro-Idaho Power legislators, and knocked out a couple of them. Continue Reading »

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Aug 16 2014

George Hansen

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
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Idaho

Idaho has seen no retail political campaigners better than George Hansen, the former member of Congress who died last week. A few may have been as capable, but none better.

In campaigning mode, he was tireless and fearless of going anywhere and talking to anyone. At the handshake he was charming and just a bit self-effacing; that touch of humility was the key added ingredient. I remember following him one day in one of his campaigns for the U.S. House – it may have been 1978 – culminating for me as he relentlessly worked the late afternoon shift change at the Pocatello Simplot and FMC plants. The plants were having a bad air day and the air was full of gunk which rained down on us. Hansen was oblivious to it. A lot of those workers were old-line Democrats, but Hansen’s manner was impossible to dislike.

Afterward, I went home and showered. And rested. Hansen, if memory serves, was just getting started. Late at night, he’d work the bowling alleys and anything else still open through midnight hours. And his campaigns worked. He won seven races for the U.S. House. He also won the job of mayor of Alameda, a city which merged with Pocatello – with Hansen’s support, though it eliminated his mayoralty.

Hansen started his adult life as a salesman (of insurance), and built on those skills. His problem may have been that he internalized his political pitch too much; while his manner one on one could be humble, he tried to build around him a kind of sense of historic destiny. His 1984 campaign (his last) featured a comic book called “George the dragon slayer!” in which Hansen was depicted as the courageous knight doing battle with the IRS and OSHA.

He was the personification of the growing anti-government attitude in Idaho, the crusader against big and evil government. His campaigns mark the point where demonization of government began to take hold in the state. (His contemporary, Steve Symms, made the case in a lighter, breezier way.)
A certain amount of self-confidence is needed for running for higher office. Hansen went from the Pocatello City Council to the U.S. House in 1964. Four years later he ran for the Senate, against the advice of many. But it eluded him that year and again in 1972, when he lost the Republican nomination to James McClure. Hansen went public with accusations that a Boise big business cabal had lined up against him. Whatever the truth of that, the Senate runs left him financially strapped, and financial problems would dog him for years. Continue Reading »

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Aug 09 2014

A recess itinerary

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

Here’s where members of Congress tend to get a bad rap: When congressional recesses are described as vacations, weeks when the officials can head off to the Caribbean and laze around. At times like the current congressional recess, which this year like most includes the month of August.

A few of them do treat it as time off, but most – while maybe taking a break here or there – use much of the time to do work, sometimes in Washington but often spending time back in the home state or district.

What exactly they do varies according to the person, and their priorities.

Last week Senator Mike Crapo released his recess schedule, and it shows that from August 11 to 28, which takes in most of the recess period, he will be visiting places and groups all over Idaho. On August 11 he will appear at two awards ceremonies and speak at the Financial Industry Authority Investor Forum. At McCall two days later he “discusses issues with Valley County Commissioners, Payette National Forest Supervisor’s Office” and in the afternoon “Tours Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory’s recent facility expansion” at Lewiston. The next day he goes to Orofino to speak with the county commissioners and the chamber of commerce; the day after, he’s back in Lewiston for a groundbreaking on a water project.

And so on. On the 27th he has two events in Twin Falls, both meeting with veterans groups, and on the 28th two in Pocatello, presenting an award to a veteran and addressing an economic symposium.

That’s a lot better than just vacationing during a recess, certainly, and not too different from what Idaho’s congressional delegation often does. But it is a little limiting. If you’re a economic developer or an executive of a prosperous business, or a veteran, or a local government official, your chances of getting face time with the senator aren’t bad. It’s not a bad thing that they get the opportunity. The point is, not many other Idahoans do.

Let me digress, for a moment, over to Oregon’s 4th congressional district (the southwest part of the state), where veteran Representative Peter DeFazio is preparing for his recess. And he really needs some preparation.

Like other members of Congress, he’ll be meeting with bunches of people and groups back home during the recess. But the core of his time will be spent at town halls, open meetings where people in the community are invited to ask questions of the representative, or give him a piece of their mind. (As they sometimes do; political opponents periodically show up and get involved.) Usually these run around an hour and a half each.

He will hold town hall meetings in Reedsport, Bandon, Gold Beach, Brookings, and Port Orford.

And then in Coos Bay, North Bend (this one mainly on veterans), Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Grants Pass.

And after that in Myrtle Creek, Roseburg, Lebanon, and Albany (the latter mainly on veterans).

And, in his last few days before the recess ends, in Corvallis, Florence, Veneta and two in Eugene.

DeFazio isn’t the only member of Congress to run this kind of regime on their time away from D.C. But he certainly does get exposure to a wide range of his constituents.

The practice could use some expansion in places such as Idaho.

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Aug 02 2014

Three statewides

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

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Idaho

Draw no wild predictions of massive upsets into this, but three statewide offices below the top level – which would mean governor and Congress – have developed some new dynamics this year. They’re different enough that, three months out from the general election, there’s at least some sense of unpredictability about them.

The default prediction in Idaho when an office has a partisan label (as federal, state and county offices mostly do) is, simply, the Republican wins. It’s a reasonable standard-issue answer in not all but most cases.

Noted here, three that don’t necessarily reverse that, but ought to give prognosticators pause.

One, the most easily explained, is superintendent of public instruction, held for the last two terms by Republican Tom Luna. The two terms before that, however, it was held by Democrat Marilyn Howard, the Democrat most recently (12 years ago) elected statewide. When she retired in 2006, after having beaten Luna four years earlier, the Democratic nominee was Jana Jones, who was Howard’s chief deputy. Jones nearly beat Luna, in one of the closer elections in Idaho that year. This year, she is running again, and is well-funded and highly active.

Her Republican opponent, Sherri Ybarra, has appeal and good classroom cred, but she was a surprise winner in a deeply split primary, and to date still hasn’t been very visible or (visibly) organized. She contrasts with the highly-organized and campaign-honed Luna of 2006. This may change, and if as is possible she runs a solid campaign, the Republican label could carry her through. Right now, it’s hard to know, and Jones is not badly positioned.

State Treasurer Ron Crane has had a series of bad headlines this season about his management of the office (and the finances it generates), the sort of thing elected officials usually find . . . unhelpful. He has a strongly aggressive Democratic opponent in Deborah Silver, a Twin Falls CPA who has been working hard and doing just about everything she can to keep those headlines in view and discuss them in detail. Continue Reading »

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Jul 25 2014

Big news

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Annually, newspapers around the country list the top local and regional news stories of the year, lists often begging the difference between “big news” and “actually important.” Sometimes the two overlap; often, they don’t.

The Idaho Statesman at Boise, on occasion of its 150th anniversary since its first edition, has this year run a series of articles about the top stories in its pages during that century and a half. They’ve been good reading, useful for anyone who wants to understand a little more about the sweep of Idaho history. They only occasionally reflect what was perceived as big news at the time.

Mostly, you can’t blame the paper for that. One article for example was about the opening of the first store Joe Albertson launched, at Boise, in 1939. Back in the day it made the paper in a brief notice on page 21 (about what the opening of a new grocery store might, were it lucky, get today). Who could have known what would blossom, decades later, from that one little store?

It’s an example of why newspapers offer just a first draft of history; time makes many events look different in hindsight.

Or sometimes not, at least to many people. Last week the Statesman was promoting selections, made by its readers (not the editors), of choices for the biggest story in Idaho’s (or, the Statesman’s) history, and released the identity of the final four.

One, dating to 1890, is understandable both as an event and as a matter of significance: The achievement of statehood. Not a terrible choice; if you bundle that in with adoption of the state constitution (though I wouldn’t), it was both a big deal at the time, much debated and much written about, and still significant with the passage of time.

Here are the other three:

The Teton Dam collapse in 1976.

The opening of the Boise Latter Day Saints temple in 1984.

Boise State University’s win in the 2007 Fiesta bowl.

Really? True, they all generated big Statesman headlines at the time. But did any of them fundamentally change Idaho? The Teton Dam did great local damage, but repairs happened quickly, and the reverberations have been subtle. The opening of the Boise LDS temple was personally significant to the local church faithful, but it had little effect on others. And a Boise State football victory? Really? Continue Reading »

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