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Posts published in “Idaho column”

Video: Rifles in Idaho


 
Austin Overman of LRSU competing in the November 2014 Precision Rifle Series in Idaho. This is the first "for points" match of the 2015 season even though it's being held in 2014. (November 18)

A Dixie invocation

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I was born in Dixie, meaning the old Confederacy, an hour away from its capitol, and probably – since the occasion was in December – on a frosty morning as well. And long ago enough that in public schools there, we read in the school history books how slaves in the south were mostly well treated, and we sang “Dixie,” though we were never told that the narrator in the song is a former slave, living in the north, who pines to return to his plantation down South.

This was all deeply woven into the local history and culture. Idaho was not much part of the Civil War. Many of its early miners were southerners, but Idaho never was a slave territory. By the time substantial number of settlers arrived slavery was legally banned,and by the time of statehood most Idahoans had come from pro-Union areas like the midwest and northeast. So what would “Dixie” mean to Idaho? What does it mean today?

Those questions matter in the Idaho Court of Appeals case of Idaho v. James D. Kirk aka Snoop. As the alias may lead you to guess, Kirk is black. In August 2012, prosecutors said, he was in Nampa when he encountered four girls (who were white) under age 18, invited them into his motel room, and sexual activity occurred. Kirk admitted to all but the last part, but physical evidence of a sexual encounter was found. Kirk was convicted of two charges (lewd conduct with a minor under 16 and sexual battery of a minor 16 to 17 years of age). His appeal centered not on the evidence but on what the prosecutor said in her rebuttal closing argument:

“Ladies and gentlemen, when I was a kid we used to like to sing songs a lot. I always think of this one song. Some people know it. It’s the Dixie song. Right? Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton. Good times not forgotten. Look away. Look away. Look away. And isn’t that really what you’ve kind of been asked to do? Look away from the two eyewitnesses. Look away from the two victims. Look away from the nurse in her medical opinion. Look away. Look away. Look away.”

Many are the ways a prosecutor could argue that the defense is trying to persuade a jury to ignore the evidence. This one invoked the unofficial song of the Confederacy, in a case involving a black man charged with having illicit sex with white girls. She had to have known the implications of doing that are loaded.

As the Court of Appeals parsed the argument: “nothing in the record suggests that the jurors harbored any racial prejudice or that they were actually influenced by the prosecutor’s recitation of “Dixie,” but the risk of prejudice to a defendant is magnified where the case is as sensitive as this one, involving alleged sexual molestation of minors. In this circumstance, both the constitutional obligation to provide criminal defendants a fundamentally fair trial and the interest of maintaining public confidence in the integrity of judicial proceedings weigh against imposing a stringent standard for a defendant’s demonstration that the error was harmful.”

The case was bumped back downstairs; Kirk will be given a new trial.

Why would a prosecutor in Idaho seize on “Dixie” as a foundational metaphor in a case like this? It hardly seems like a random choice. One thought process that comes to mind goes something like this: Idahoans increasingly are identifying themselves with Dixie, with the states of the old South, not just politically but in other ways as well, and that would be a way to align the prosecution with the people in the jury. (more…)

The paths of 2015

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Idaho

Over the last month, I’ve been pondering a list of currently influential people in Idaho (about which, more later) and out a way to find them: Start with a list of what are likely to be big stories in Idaho in the coming year.

What follows are a half-dozen that helped put names on the list – or, more important, what may make for a lot of discussion in Idaho next year.

In no particular order . . .

Nuclear waste. In 1995 Governor Phil Batt reached an agreement with federal agencies calling for removal of nuclear waste at the (now) Idaho National Laboratory. There’s been unease since about just how well that’s been going, but toward the end of 2014 holdups in those out-shipments, largely because of issues in other states, have been accelerating. The terms of the agreement may be violated before long, and that will be a very big conflict, probably the biggest IN:L story in 20 years.

Health care consolidation. Health care services in Idaho (and not just Idaho) are becoming consolidated. This trend has its advocates, as at St. Luke’s in Boise, where the argument is that this is the way to get health care costs under control and service rationalized. The counter-argument of course is that this is a matter of power and monopoly. St. Luke’s, based in Boise, is the biggest player, but not the only one; it’s cross-town critic, St. Alphonsus, has been growing at a hefty rate too, both of them not just just in the city but regionally around Idaho. This consolidation began to poke upward in 2014, and it may become more visible in 2015, especially as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals makes its decision, probably early in the year, on a key St. Luke’s purchase in Nampa.

Boulder-White Clouds. The debate over what should be done in the central Idaho Boulder-White Clouds area goes back a long way (as political historians know, it played a role in Cecil Andrus’ first win as governor). Representative Mike Simpson has been pushing a negotiated compromise proposal for some years, but others argue it’s probably DOA in the coming Congress, and urge President Obama to declare the area, or part of it, as a national monument. This issue may finally be coming to a head, one way or another. (more…)

Cows without guns

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In England, when the Guardian newspaper wrote last week about the great Pocatello cow escape, they tagged the breakout bovines the “Slaughterhouse five.”

British newspapers have a gift, don’t they?

But the first of the animals to break out, a heifer, sounded as if she had been inspired instead by the Dana Lyons song “Cows with Guns.” (“We will fight for bovine freedom/And hold our large heads high . . .”)

On December 12 she jumped a six-foot fence at Anderson Custom Pack and roared into a rampage, running through Pocatello’s north end, butting an animal control vehicle and two police cars. Finally, police shot and killed her. She may have been unarmed but, in truth, becoming dangerous and the stakes were high. (Sorry.)

Two days later four other cows, slated for the slaughter, went missing. Anderson spokesmen said they thought someone had let them loose; there’s not yet been an official determination on that one way or the other. However the escape happened, the animals were soon roaming around town. One of them was captured, and one was shot.

The other two evidently, at this writing, remain at large.

Here’s a problem, because a lot of people may be conflicted.

We don’t want cows roaming our streets, even cows that don’t ram motor vehicles. And a lot of us enjoy our beef (I do), even if we don’t try to devote a lot of thought about how it transitions from live animal to our plates. Yes, if we want our beef there will be slaughterhouses.

At the same time, most people love a good escape story. From “The Great Escape” to “Prison Break” most of us root for the people inside to get out, even if (as in “Prison Break”) some of them really are bad guys. And animals too (think about all those movies featuring an animal caged). We root for freedom, not for captivity. It’s hard not to cheer for the cows.

A few days after the second breakout, with two bovines still out there somewhere, the Farm Sanctuary group called in, and offered to find and take the animals back to their 300 acres at Orland, California, where they would be left to graze for the rest of their natural lives. (more…)

Some learning curve advice

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In about three weeks new administrations will take over in two important Idaho offices – superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state. That means, or should mean, the incoming officials in those places will be busy right now getting prepared.

Offered for consideration a little advice, from an observer of transitions, for Idaho’s new statewide officials, SUPI Sherri Ybarra and Secretary Lawerence Denney.

1. Apart from maybe one or two personal advisors, keep the existing staff in place, for a while at least. Yes, you will have authority to replace them wholesale if you choose, and as you eventually find (as you will) people who ought to go, they can be shown the door. But for the moment, remember that they, not you, know how things work in this place, and by that I mean all the little bits and pieces which make these offices tick; both the formal procedures (and requirements) and the informal methods and pathways that help work get handled. In any office, governmental or not, these things take a while to suss out. You’re going to have a learning curve. Accept that and let your staff, which mostly will probably be eager to help inform you, guide you through the early steps.

No one coming in fresh from the outside will understand enough of that at first. But both state offices are empowered and restricted by a mass of laws, rules, legal decisions and more. Former Superintendent Jerry Evans, who probably understood the SUPI world better than anyone in recent decades, had a gift for explaining the inner workings of “the coalition” and “the formula” – central to the office’s operations – in startlingly clear fashion to people like legislators and reporters. But so complex was his subject that many people (such as me) could not maintain comprehension of it for more than a day or so; after that we’d have to go back for a refresher. The details of this stuff are more complex than they look from the outside. Respect that.

2. Spend as much time as you can in the office. Get a sense of the patterns, personalities and rhythms there before you have to run it yourself.

3. Find a few old hands and, if not bring them into the office, turn them into a kitchen cabinet, an advisory group. Collect some expertise you can trust, and some people who aren’t your natural allies so you’re not just entering an echo chamber, telling you what you want to hear. And then make use of what you hear. (more…)

For long term

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The predominant news out of the just-finished organizational session of the Idaho Legislature didn’t make the front page of most Idaho papers, and that was a reasonable call.

There were a few committee changes, and a few on the lower rungs of leadership. But the top spots in the Senate and House stayed pretty much the same.

In the bigger picture of Idaho legislative history, there actually is some news in this stasis. Until the last decade or a little more, leadership under the rotunda tended to change regularly. In recent years, that’s slowed down.

In the Senate, the top leadership job is president pro tem. (You might think that would be lieutenant governor, since he’s the default presiding officer, but when caucuses are held and decisions are made the lieutenant governor is outside of the room, with the rest of us.) For most of Idaho history, the norm was to hold that job for two or three terms, provided your party was in control. The first ever to keep the job longer was Republican James Ellsworth of Leadore, for four terms from 1968-76.

That record was broken by Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, who was elected to the post in 2000 (mid-session, when Jerry Twiggs, who was in his fourth term as pro tem, died). Geddes held the job for 10 years, and currently holds the record. His replacement, Brent Hill, was elected to it for the third time last week, and there’s no particular reason he won’t reach Geddes’ mark over time.

In the House, no one broke the three-term ceiling until Bruce Newcomb, who was elected speaker in 1998 and stayed until he retired in 2006 – four terms. His successor, Lawerence Denney of Midvale (soon to be secretary of state), then was speaker for three terms but narrowly (apparently) lost a bid for a fourth in 2012. The man who defeated him, Scott Bedke of Oakley, appears like Hill, to be settling in. Neither he nor Hill were opposed for the top leadership positions in the organizational session.

Take a look at the job of majority leader in each chamber. In the Senate, Bart Davis of Idaho Falls has held that job 12 years. In the House, Mike Moyle of Star has been majority leader since 2006, but he was assistant majority leader in 2002 – 14 years so far in one position or the other.

Before you consider this a call for term limits, though, consider that longevity is much less widespread in the overall legislative ranks. Just nine of the 35 senators, for example, are entering their fifth term or better. Despite the fact that nearly all legislative districts are a lock for one political party or the other (mostly for one of them, of course), there’s a good deal of turnover among them. (more…)

A marker for Labrador?

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How many Idahoans watched President Obama’s speech Thursday about changes in the federal response to immigrants who got here against the law? Was Representative Raul Labrador among them – and did it spark any activist thoughts in his own mind?

Idaho generally has some particular reason to pay attention. A study by the Pew Research Center released last week showed that Idaho is one of just seven states where unauthorized immigration rose between 2009 and 2012. The population declined in 14 states – twice as many. Maybe more notable: Idaho and Nebraska were the only two western states where that segment of the population increased during those years; it fell in Oregon, Nevada, California and others.

Immigration has become so hot an issue that emotions often drown out facts. A lot of the responses to the Obama talk, pro and con, was suffused with emotion. The reaction from Idaho’s politicians was, as you might expect, harshly negative against Obama’s outline. Representative Mike Simpson said Obama’s actions “have the potential to throw us into a Constitutional Crisis,” though he also said “We cannot shut down the government, impeach the President, or allow this issue to impede progress on deficit reduction, tax reform, or other critical priorities for the American people.” Congressional Republicans will have a lot to talk about in the next few days and weeks.

Labrador does have some expertise in the subject, having worked as an immigration attorney in his private practice. After Obama’s speech he declared, “this is illegal,” and suggested in essence that the Senate reject over the next two years any appointments, budget requests or anything else coming its way from the White House.

The Obama policy may activate people on the other side as well, though. Recent national polling on the matter has been split on Obama taking a unilateral action on the subject. But many in the Latino community will be watching closely what happens next, and Republicans who hope to attract many of their votes in 2016 will have to approach the subject with some caution and diplomacy.

When Labrador went to Congress, one of his assets was strong personal knowledge of how the immigration system works (or fails to), the presumption being that he might be in a position to help move things ahead. So far – and not, certainly, to pile all this on him – a measure has passed the Senate, but efforts to come up with a compromise measure in the House have collapsed. Labrador’s stands on the subject, and his shifts in alliances on it, have been far from clear. (more…)

There are multitudes

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When market analysts such as politicians need insight into how people really view something, they often convene a focus group.

Last week I sought out something like that, consisting of party-line Republican Idaho voters. The 19 responses were enough (together with a collection of comments from a range of other sources) to tell me this much: The 220,000 or more (more in a presidential year) who vote down-the-line Republican in Idaho arrive at that result not by any one, but in variety of ways.

First, thanks to all who responded. I'll honor the requests for anonymity from a number of respondents; I will say that none of them were familiar to me or are well-known public figures. Eight of the 19 didn't specifically meet the terms of the request: They broke from the Republican ticket once or twice, mostly in the superintendent of public instruction race, but also for governor and secretary of state. The explanations for the vote were usually specific, several about as lengthy as this column.

Detail wasn't absent from all down-the-line respondents. One said of GOP superintendent candidate Sherri Ybarra: “much more complete in the debates and showed her concern about educating the WHOLE child. She understands the use of money and how best to use in to get the most out of what she is given. She will not just have her hand out. She will fit in with the Republican Legislators and the land board.” Of Lawerence Denny for secretary of state: “This was a tough one for me. Reason, experience and land board.” Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter: “I've been disappointed at times. Idaho taking on the Federal mandated Insurance exchange for one. Balukoff ran a one issue race on more money for education without answers.”

Some respondents clearly had followed the campaigns, but there seemed a gap: Was it just coincidence that all their choices went to one party?

Most of the all-R voters, however, focused on the nature of the parties.

One seemed to focus on President Obama: “Considering the Republican tide that swept the country on Nov 4, with Obama stating he wasn’t on the ballot but his policies were; a vote for any Democrat was a vote for Obama’s policies. Idaho voters priorities were in step with the country and were clearly shown. Stop Obama’s policies!!!” (more…)

The power of the R (in Idaho)

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Don't say there was no difference in the received vote between Republican candidates who were noncontroversial and those drowning in negatives in the just-ended campaign. Yes, they all alike won, but the counts varied and even give us some measure of controversial-ness.

Atop the ticket, Senator Jim Risch, whose re-election campaign didn't draw massive public attention, despite strenuous efforts from his opponent, won about 285,000 votes. (I'm rounding off for simplicity.) Fellow Republicans Lawerence Denney for secretary of state won about 44,000 less, C.L. “Butch” Otter for governor about 50,000 less, and Sherri Ybarra for superintendent of public instruction about 68,000 less (barely avoiding a loss). You likely remember, or can Google, the many issues surrounding them.

This means about 40,000 to 60,000 Republicans did split off from an otherwise Republican ballot when presented with compelling arguments to do so. That's significant, and I'll return to them on another occasion. But an operating majority of voters, somewhere around 220,000 of them, were by comparison impervious to the arguments that peeled off other Republicans.

That point is being made not just from the left. Kent Marmon, a sometimes Republican candidate in Canyon County who often critiques the Idaho Republican establishment from the right, said on a Facebook post, “As I watched the election results unfold last night, I couldn't help but think that if Barack Obama moved to Idaho, joined the Republican Party, and ran for office as a Republican.... he could get elected. Issues apparently don't matter. Neither does anything else.”

Also on Facebook, a woman from Nampa (a Democrat) sent an open request to Republican friends: “Please name three (3) reasons you voted for Sherri Ybarra. I'm not being snarky. I genuinely want to know why you would pick Ms. Ybarra over Ms. [Jana] Jones. Serious answers only, please.”

She got about 90 replies, but from down the line Republicans . . . nothing.

Of the many apparently non-Republican respondents, a few said the election was “rigged,” which it was not, and others thought gerrymandering was involved, which it could not have been. One said, “I cannot find a Republican that will admit to voting for her.” But, evidently, a whole lot of them did.

Another: “My guess is that people who voted for her didn't even know what she was running for. They saw the "R" beside her name and colored the circle in. I don't think you will find an educated Republican who did vote for her.” And: “Based on what I heard said: 1) she's Republican. 2) there is a black man in the White House (who wants to take my guns). 3) she's 'good looking'."

A variation: “It simply was the 'obama/bogeyman syndrome' that many in Idaho believe. It started with the IACI labeling Mr. [A.J.] Balukoff as a "liberal" and using that simplistic tactic in all the races. Ibarra with "D" in front of her name would have gotten less than 10% of the vote (taking into account of really stupid voters who pay absolutely no attention to who their voting for) To hear some of the people on fb and KIDO and KBOI, you would think that AJ was the "antichrist" because of the lies spread about him.”

How close to the truth did these latter comments come? Good question. They're guesswork from outsiders speculating about the opposition camp.

One writer said she had a number of Tea Party friends who “are very vocal on their own feed. This thread may not feel safe for them. But holy jelly donut – stand up for what you believe in, otherwise it's just a herd of lemmings talking to themselves in the mirror.”

So I'll pitch a request here, to party-line Republican voters (others, please hold off): Send me a note, at the email address below, noting the main reason or two why you voted for Ybarra, Denney and Otter. Call it a public service. Idaho will be better off if the whole of the state has a clearer idea why its next round of elected leadership was chosen, and few majority voters are clearly explaining that now.

I'll follow up next week.