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Posts published in “Idaho column”

Just a little copying

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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. (more…)

Underground school support

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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. (more…)

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. (more…)

An adjudicated peace

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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. (more…)

George Hansen

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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. (more…)

A recess itinerary

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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.

Three statewides

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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. (more…)

Big news

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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? (more…)

An irreducible minimum

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Idaho

No community in Idaho would relish the loss of 21 jobs. Boise would not; Nampa would not. The east side of Seattle just lost more than 1,300 jobs at Microsoft, and certainly didn't welcome that.

But Boise, Nampa and Seattle weather these losses, however unpleasant. The loss of just 21 jobs is more critical in some places than in others, as the people of Dubois could say emphatically.

Dubois is like one of those places the writer Dayton Duncan wrote of in his book Miles from Nowhere (1993), which was about the remote and small-population places of western America. Among Idaho communities, he happened to focus on Stanley and Yellow Pine.

His most striking instance, in a chapter called “Below the Irreducible Minimum,” was Loving County, Texas, population 107, and its one community, the seat of Mentone. It raises a question: When does a community become too small to remain a functioning community?

Clark, with a reported 867 residents (down from 1,022 in 2000), is Idaho's least-populated county, and the 30th least-populated county in the United States. It's a rugged place; many residents here head south in the winter. Among the country's lowest-populated counties, it has the highest percentage of residents born in a foreign country – presumably, many reliant on agricultural work. The Census reports that Clark has 18 non-farm businesses employing 83 people.

Aside from farm employment ad local government, the largest employer in the county may be the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, located a few miles north of Dubois but managing operations scattered around the Clark County area. Its job, simply, is to research sheep: Its website lists one goal as “an understanding of the interactions between sheep and the environments in which they are produced that can be used to improve sheep production systems and ensure the sustainability of grazing land ecosystems.” (more…)