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Posts published in “Idaho column”

An opportunity for a small ripple

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

An Idaho legislative interim committee meeting next month could make a splash – by keeping its ripples on the small side.

That might mean shifting its assigned mission, but also accomplishment rather than flailing.

The panel is the federal lands interim committee, meeting August 9, co-chaired by Senator Chuck Winder and Representative Lawerence Denney. House Concurrent Resolution 21 asked it to assemble research “before the Idaho Legislature can properly address the issue of the management and control of public lands now controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho should title to those public lands be transferred to the State of Idaho …" Context: HCR 22, which also passed, "demand[ed] that the federal government extinguish title to Idaho's public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho."

Pre-meeting, attorney Michael Bogert was asked to collect background materials, and he assembled a 274-page report. As he noted, it covered many of the issues involved, but it could have been even larger: I've watched similar efforts flail and fail over the last 40 years.

The states active on this, like Utah and Arizona, hit a brick wall: The lands are owned by the whole country and that's unlikely to change. Bogert's compendium included a paper from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, offering reasons states should not get the lands, such as, "the Legislature has indicated that some of these lands would be sold outright to the highest bidder while others would be kept in state ownership but opened to oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle use and extractive industries." Conservatives too have expressed reservations. In May 2012 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed its version of HCR 22, which she said “does not identify an enforceable cause of action to force federal lands to be transferred to the state. Moreover, as a staunch advocate for state sovereignty, we still must be mindful and respectful of our federal system."

Many state officials, in Idaho as elsewhere, argue that state lands are better managed than federal lands. There's debate over this. An analysis from the conservative Cato Institute (number 276, in July 1997 – and in the Bogert report)) said "that most state natural resource agencies cost state taxpayers far more than they return to state general funds. The key to the profitability of state trusts is not that they are state but that they are trusts." The argument that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which manage upwards of 60 percent of Idaho's land, are “absentee landlords” runs into the many Idaho communities where the biggest employers of Idahoans are the Forest Service and the BLM. (more…)

A player or a tap dancer?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Raul Labrador, Idaho's first district Republican member of Congress, has been giving some good television. After going mano a mano on Meet the Press (July 7) with the New York Times' David Brooks, on July 10 he got into it with a whole panel on MSNBC's WOW.

Topic A being, of course, immigration, on which Labrador has been a significant national figure almost since he arrived in Congress: A Latino Republican with actual expertise in the field.

On WOW, Labrador shot back, “If you want to have a debate on the discussion, we can do that. I actually have my own mind. I was an immigration lawyer for 15 years. I think I know more than you do about immigration and on immigration reform. So let’s not try to insult people when trying to have an honest discussion about what’s happening in America.”

Labrador does in fact have expertise on immigration law. Discerning exactly what he proposes to do about it, however, is trickier.

He has said, “I hope we’re going to get a bill. I think immigration reform is necessary.” The main immigration measure in Congress now is the bill recently passed the Senate (opposed by both of Idaho's senators); Labrador said he opposes that bill, partly because it would provide legal status for 11 million people not legally in the country, and that it was inadequate on providing security. The bill, House Republican leadership has said, is DOA in that chamber.
In the House, Labrador was for a time part of a Group of Eight (not to be confused with the Senate's Group) working on a bill there, but in early June he very publicly quit it, citing disagreements over how health care for immigrants would be paid for. He said he would continue to work on the issue.

Blame (or credit) for failure to get a bill passed, he has said, should be placed at the doorstep of the Democrats, not the Republicans. He also said, last weekend on “Meet the Press,” that "If we don't do it right, politically it's going to be the death of the Republican Party," (more…)

How long a shot?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Mike Simpson, the Republican now representing Idaho's second district for his eighth term, has become one of the state's most successful politicians. No one has held a U.S. House seat as long since Democrat Compton White more than half a century ago, and no one longer since the early statehood days of Addison Smith and Burton French.

So is the primary challenge unveiled in week's district-wide tour, by Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, actually a threat?

The first snap answer, and maybe the considered answer too, based on the recent record, is that it's a long shot.

General elections have posed no challenge to Simpson since his first win for the House in 1998, the race that was his closest, against former Democratic Representative Richard Stallings; he's won in landslides every time since. More or less a centrist within his party, he drew no primary opposition in his first four races for re-election, and in 2008 two challengers could draw only 14.8% between them. But Simpson's lofty 85.2% dropped to 58.3% in 2010, the year of the Tea Party, when three candidates ganged up on him. That looked like an indication of some in-party weakness. The heaviest vote getter among them, Chick Heileson, pulled 24.1%; but when he ran again in 2012, he drew just 30.4% against Simpson. That may indicate Simpson lost some in-party strength, then regained much of it.

What does all that suggest for 2014? Well, like 2010, it will be an off-presidential year, where party activists – in this case, conservative activists – will be disproportionately represented in the primary. And unlike 2010, the Republican primary this time will be voted by registered party members. The results in the 2012 primaries didn't indicate that necessarily meant a conservative sweep, but the full import has to be tested in an off-presidential year. One of Smith's most visible supporters was the lead architect of Republican primary registration, former legislator Rod Beck. (more…)

The MTC connection

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Last week's column on a possible bidding contest among private corporations for managing one of Idaho's prisons drew two complaints. Let's deal with them here.

One came from Gallatin Public Affairs at Boise, which said its client Management and Training Corporation (MTC), a Utah-based private prison operator mentioned briefly in the column, had a beef. I wrote that MTC “is considered one of the comers in the business” (not disputed), and: “On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging 'barbaric' conditions and denial of health and other basic care.”

The representative said that “MTC is not connected with this lawsuit and your readers are led to believe it is. … We would like MTC to be taken out of the column that mentions the lawsuit against Geo.”

I didn't say MTC was a party to the lawsuit, even that it was “connected.” Still, surely MTC would prefer greater clarity to erasure or cover-up. An editor of mine often said that when a writer opens a door, he should walk through it; especially, as here, given MTC's interest in Idaho (it operates the Idaho Correctional Alternative Placement Program). So, is MTC “connected” to the lawsuit?

The East Mississippi Correction Facility is a 1,500-bed prison mainly for mentally ill men, opened in 1999. In that state the Department of Corrections is responsible for all prisons, but it contracted operation of this one to the private GEO Group. Problems emerged, a state official said “MDOC was not satisfied,” and prisoners complained. MTC, self-described as “the third largest private operator of adult correctional facilities in the world,” was hired to replace it, and has run EMCF since July 2012.

On May 30 this year, a lawsuit was filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union for a group of prisoners at EMCF. The complaint, which is gritty reading, is online: www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/case/complaint.pdf. The defendants are not MTC, or for that matter GEO, but rather state corrections officials, since they are “vested with the exclusive responsibility for management and control of the correctional system ...”

Much of the complaint deals with the GEO years, but it includes events since July 2012. “In September 2012, prisoners on Unit 5C had no showers for three weeks” (page 9); “In May 2013, there was no electrical power on the top tier of Plaintiff Covington's zone for several days” (page 9); in late 2012, a prisoner who hanged himself was cut down, locked in an isolation cell and not seen by a psychiatrist (page 12). A legally blind prisoner, robbed in July 2012, was robbed again in January and April this year (page 36). It cites guard abuses of prisoners in late 2012 and this year (pages 46-48). And more. (more…)

Best of the lot?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The Idaho Board of Correction said last week it would not routinely roll over its contract with the Corrections Corporation of America for managing the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, and instead would put it up for bid among the various private prison companies out there – but would not consider a proposal from the state Department of Corrections.

What they appear not to have indicated is why they think another private provider would do better.

The need to improve on the track record of CCA, which runs the Idaho Correctional Center near Boise, is obvious enough. It has admitted to understaffing and overbilling the state – I'll leave it to you to process what that means – and it has been accused of much more, up to and including running a “gladiator school” in which discipline and control are maintained in considerable part by criminal gangs.

Here's the catch: Within the private prison industry sector, CCA may actually be the best there is.

It is the largest private prison company in the country, and much the most experienced, starting with its first prison contract in Tennessee in 1984. For all the bad headlines CCA has gotten over the years – (Idaho is no aberration: There have been many concerning facilities around the country) – the other firms in the field have gotten their share too.

The second-largest such company, and roughly in CCA's ballpark in terms of size and clout, is the Geo Group (formerly Wackenhut), which also operates in many states. Try Googling it and you'll come back with a stunning track record. There was the 2001 inmate murder in Texas after which the firm was sued not just over the death, but also over destruction of evidence. There were eight deaths at a Delaware County, Pennsylvania, facility between 2005 and 2009 (after which Geo withdrew from its management). An insider report on a Pompano Beach, Florida facility reported "substandard or callous medical care, including a woman taken for ovarian surgery and returned the same day, still bleeding, to her cell, and a man who urinated blood for days but wasn't taken to see a doctor." (That one led to a congressional and federal agency inquiry.)

After CCA and Geo the companies get smaller, but Management & Training Corporation (MTC) is considered one of the comers in the business. On May 30, news reports surfaced about a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of prisoners at its East Mississippi Correctional Facility near Meridian, alleging “barbaric” conditions and denial of health and other basic care.

So it goes. (more…)

A case of Idaho changing the country

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

To most non-lawyers, the Idaho-originated Supreme Court case of Reed v. Reed is a little obscure now, not one of those few like Roe v. Wade many people could grasp immediately.

But Reed was a pivot in modern society, and it's especially worth recalling now with the death last week of Allen Derr, the soft-spoken Boise lawyer who improbably pushed it to the highest court in the land and was a central part of changing the law as it applies to men and women in America.

(Disclosure here: Last year I worked for a time with Derr on a book about the case; he apparently was still at work assembling materials for that project at the time of his death.)

Up to 1971, the law often treated the genders differently. Illinois had a law barring women from practicing law; the Supreme Court upheld it. It also upheld an Oregon law limiting work hours for women but not for men, and a Michigan law keeping women from tending bar. There were many such laws around the country, and for decades the Supreme Court had a perfect record of sustaining them.

The Idaho law that got Sally Reed's, and Allen Derr's, dander up, seemed just one more of the kind.

Reed encountered it when in March 1967 Reed's son, Skip, died and left behind a few personal effects and $495 in a savings account. (That was the treasure over which a nation's laws would change.) She and her ex-husband Cecil, the boy's father, each applied in probate court to be administrator of Skip's estate. Cecil got the appointment, but not, as the judge acknowledged, because Sally Reed was in any way disqualified. It was because the Idaho Code on probate said this: “Of several persons claiming and equally entitled to administer, males must be preferred to females, and relatives of the whole to those of the half blood.” In other words, Cecil had an automatic preference because he was male. (more…)

Those people

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Katty-corner across 8th Street from the Idaho State Capitol and on the northern edge of Boise's downtown sits a large parking lot, often used over the years by state employees, sometimes over the years by others, usually professionals or lobbyists who work the area.
A Boise redevelopment agency is looking at the partial block for use as a local transit center, like those in many other cities, where buses and other multi-passenger vehicles may arrive and depart as a hub location. Many cities have similar local transit systems.
The Idaho Statesman reported last week that on April 1 two state representatives, Brent Crane of Nampa (the House assistant majority leader who's being touted in some circles as a congressional prospect) and John Vander Woude told Mayor David Bieter they opposed the transit center, or at least its location across the street from the Statehouse. What was their objection? Bieter quoted Crane as saying he didn't want “those people” congregating so close to the Statehouse.
“Those people”?
Bieter said Crane's reference was to bus riders. Vander Woude waas quoted as explaining, "What do you normally see when you go to a bus terminal?" Vander Woude said. "Does it become a collection point, a shelter, even a homeless place where people will park because there's a lot of people coming through for panhandling or whatever?" Crane evidently hasn't clarified his intent. But apparently the “those people” comment apparently is undisputed.
There's been no firestorm since, and it's a fair guess that a good many Idaho legislators, whether they'd admit it publicly or not, would agree that they'd as soon “those people”, whoever they are, keep their distance.
This has a certain timeliness.
The many changes in the rehabilitation of the Idaho Statehouse are still quite new, and that adjustment in the legislative environment have had an effect on the way lawmakers and the public interact, a subject that came up last week in a Pocatello panel on Idaho politics, sponsored by Idaho State University and the Idaho State Journal. (Disclosure: I was on the panel.) Some of those environmental changes are good, as Pocatello Representative Elaine Smith suggested, in that they allow more public access to meetings and events, in person, in much better and larger meeting rooms, or on line. (more…)

A case for closure

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Since 1981, the four states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana have – under terms of a federal law signed into effect early that year – created and formed a joint agency aimed at planning for electric power production and resource (especially fish) production, and meshing the two goals together. It is now, after a name change a while back, called the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, and it is based at Portland.

It's a fair-sized agency, starting with a council that has two members from each of the four states, and including staff at Portland and elsewhere. For decades, it has rolled along, often not much noticed by the public or many other people aside from the Bonneville Power Administration, with which it is required to work. It delivers occasional reports and recommendations.

Here's a little secret few people probably have ever realized: All it would take to eliminate this agency is for three of the four state governors to agree to end it. That's it: The Council would then vanish.

That's one point about the council that its very first member, Idahoan Chris Carlson, makes in his new book Medimont Reflections: 40 Years of Issues and Idahoans. (Disclosure: I'm the publisher of that book, which is being released right about now, through Ridenbaugh Press.) You can find this highly obscure dissolution provision in the Northwest Power Planning Act at section 839b(b)(5)(A). If the governors invoked it the Council would be gone, period.

Here's another point Carlson makes: The governors should use that authority and eliminate the council. (more…)

From a tax election

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters hate taxes so much they re-elect, and re-re-elect, legislators who (mostly) reflexively slap down anything with a sniff of tax about it.

Here is what Idaho voters did on Tuesday: Approved, often by overwhelming margins, local tax increases or renewals. In the Vallivue School District (Canyon County) 75 percent voted in favor; in Lewiston's school district 86 were in favor; in the Moscow School District, 70%. There were affirmative passing votes in the bulk of money-raising ballot issues around Idaho. They passed last week in Arbon, Cottonwood, Fremont County, Fruitland, Hagerman, Hansen, Kimberly,
Mountain View, Nezperce, Orofino, Parma, Rockland, St. Maries, Salmon River, Troy and Whitepine. That's a lot of tax approval going on for a state like Idaho.

There were rejections too, but considerably fewer of them, and often by narrow margins: Emmett, Homedale, Jefferson County, Kellogg, Plummer-Worley, Salmon. (There list of voting results here likely is incomplete, but it's what was available shortly after the election.)

Conditions differ, of course; the needs in the various districts were scattered. But the pattern seems reasonably clear, especially when you consider the non-school tax measures. A new jail okayed at Jerome. Library district levies passed in Burley and Richfield, a cemetery district levy in Hagerman.

Idaho voters are no wild spenders, but – faced with specific situations – they do seem willing to consider needs and raise money to deal with them. Their attitude seems at odds with that of many of their legislators.

The counter attitude shows up in the case of the vote at the Salmon School District.

The headline on the web page about the Salmon School District's proposed bond levy (the district's page) seems ironic in the face of the actual election on Tuesday: “Information about the may 21, 2013 Bond Election … And Why It Is Different than the Past Elections.” Those past elections are eight previous in the last decade or so, all rejecting proposed levies. (more…)

What they want it for

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The norm in campaign finance, traditionally at least, goes like this: The candidate files and sets up an account for campaign spending, receives funds for campaign purposes, then spends it, presumably to around zero by election day, on such as ads, printing and mailing, salaries, office space, polling, depending on the size of the campaign. Traditionally, campaigns are like the Snake River at Milner Dam, which is dewatered at the end of one stretch, then refills in the next one.

That still often happens when candidates are in competitive races, when they collect whatever they can and spend it down, because they can't politically afford to leave resources on the table.

Nowadays, however, fewer congressional races are really competitive. If you're one of those nearly impregnable incumbents – say, a Republican in Idaho (or, a Democrat in some other states) – you really don't need but a fraction of the funds you take in. Most of your contributors aren't donating because they think you need it to win; they have other agendas in mind. You wind up with excess cash.

The handling of that excess money has come up in the case of Senator Mike Crapo's campaign treasury. Here's some background.

In the cycle leading up to his last election in 2010, Crapo raised $5.1 million, which was added on to some cash he already had on hand. In the campaign he spent about $3.4 million, only a portion of what he had available but still far more than he needed, since that was about 34 times as much as his Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, spent. Crapo ended the 2010 cycle with about $3 million cash on hand, and has continued to raise money since, though he's not up for re-election until 2016. As of the end of March, he had $3.4 million on hand. This is not an unusual situation; quite a few successful congressional candidates of both parties also are well padded. (more…)