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Posts published in “Idaho column”

No simple moves

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The Obama Administration's budget proposal will not be adopted as is by Congress; that much you can take to the bank. Many of the bits and pieces may survive though, and other parts may be adopted in some future year if not right away.

Given that, Idahoans have some reason to think about the possibility of moving its Air National Guard (ANG) from Boise to Mountain Home.

That's separate from the proposal to eliminate A-10 warthog planes – the kind flown by the Idaho guard, a basic unit in the military's air operations, but now the Department of Defense says should be superseded by more up to date models. (There's a heated debate over this.) Apart from that, DOD suggests the Idaho air operations could be more usefully meshed with the substantial Air Force base at Mountain Home.

Long-time Guard spokesman Colonel Tim Marsano was quoted as saying, “We're looking at the possibility of things happening where we would actually take some of our folks and move to Mountain Home and learn how to operate and maintain the F-15E Strike Eagle. And we know we would be welcomed there with open arms, should that happen.”

The idea may survive because there's a logic to it. It also will not happen easily, because there are reasons for pushback.

Mountain Home, far from other communities in a large flat high Idaho desert, is a good spot for running military aircraft, one reason the base has survived since World War II. And there have been periodic complaints in Boise about military aircraft there, which are based on the south fringes of town near the municipal airport, and the noise they produce. A merging of aircraft training and other operations in one large site might have some efficiencies and lead to technical advances.

A lot of jobs – maybe 1,000 – could be involved in the transfer. But the Mountain Home AFB is only about 45 minutes in a straight shot on Interstate 84 from Boise, so commuting certainly is possible. (Many Mountain Home residents commute now.). And while the Boise economy might feel a ding, which in broad terms could amount to $100 million, Mountain Home's might be greatly advantaged. (more…)

The outsider run

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Last week a veteran of Idaho Republican politics pitched to me a simple case for a big reason the outsider candidates – insurgent or Tea Party-aligned by other verbiage – are unlikely to do well in the May primary elections.

The idea is that many pro-Republican voters do not self-identify as Republicans.

They may consider themselves “conservative” (a slippery term these days, but employed in self-definition) and may vote for Republicans, but they don't really consider themselves part of the party. These people are individualists and by inclination not joiners. Many of them may decline to sign a paper identifying themselves as Republicans.

And that could impair the base of support for the insurgency campaigns, such as for Russ Fulcher for governor and Bryan Smith for Congress. The self-identified Republicans may be more establishment in temperament, may be more willing to sign the paper (as may some Democrats who become “primary Republicans”) which may help people like current Governor C.L .”Butch” Otter and Representative Mike Simpson toward re-election.

There's certainly good reason for taking this line of argument, which seems to be accepted wisdom among many Idaho Republican leaders, quite seriously, as at least some people associated with the insurgency campaigns certainly do.

One reason is that in 2012, when the Republican primary was closed to declared party members only, insurgent candidates (mainly for the legislature) did poorly at the polls.

Another, more subjective reason but evidently quite real, is the description of the insurgent base by other Republicans as “a herd of cats” - the standard description, and often spoken in frustration. It makes sense. These are, after all, people who don't like to organize, aren't big on strong commitments to groups (their most in-common complaint, after all, is against government and regulation generally) and aren't notably trusting of political types. (more…)

A different kind of AG

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Attorney general is a technical job, held only by a lawyer, which may lead you think there's not a lot for a voter to decide between its candidates other than resume.

Not so. In deciding where to exert the state's legal muscle and in how he evaluates a legal situation, an AG can have real impact. Idaho's incumbent since 2002, Republican Lawrence Wasden, was a surprise: A long-time chief of staff in that office, he might have been expected to carry water for other powers at the Statehouse but instead marked out a careful but frequently gutsy course, displaying willingness to take on powers in the state when he saw reason to.

He seemed headed for a free ride in his fourth run for the office, but now has a primary challenger, Eagle attorney Chris Troupis. And that means some night-and-day voter choices lie ahead.

Note up front that Troupis is an experienced attorney of more than 30 years and evidently a capable professional. Also that judging an attorney by his clients can be unfair; representing controversial people and ideas go with the territory. And, a lot of Troupis' law practice concerns basic business law.

But you could key his practice too (acknowledging his supporters may argue with this) to the name he long has used - “Christ” Troupis. At his announcement last week he said he's changing that to “Chris,” because “I don’t want the election to be about my name.” He has used it for decades, though, in his law practice – it still was on its web site as of last week - and as a reference in news stories and elsewhere, and it was his ballot name when he ran for the state Senate in 2008. (In a thinly Democratic-leaning district, he pulled 42.4% of the vote.)

His law practice web site notes, about one of his higher-profile cases a decade ago, “I represented the Keep the Commandments Coalition pro bono in a lawsuit brought by the City of Boise after it denied my client's request for an initiative election on the return of a Ten Commandments monument to Julia Davis Park.” And there was Richard Peterson v. Hewlett Packard: “I brought suit against Hewlett-Packard Co. for Federal Employment Discrimination and wrongful termination under the Civil Rights Act and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. My client was terminated by Hewlett-Packard for posting scriptures in his work cubicle that were critical of homosexual behavior.” (more…)

Look back … a century

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One way to get some perspective on Idaho government today is to look back to how it once was. Let's go back a century and see what happened then.

The governor then was John Haines, a Republican real estate developer who was elected on a small-government platform; he was serving just one two-year term (and would lose a bid for re-election in 1914). The Legislature was even more Republican then than it is now, 21-3 in the Senate 56-4 in the House.

So what did they do in the 1913-14 term? What follows is a short description, extracted from the book Idaho 100 (by your scribe and Martin Peterson, published in fall 2012); Haines ranked number 54 on that list. Your assignment, should you choose to accept it: Compare and contrast to their present-day counterparts …

An Iowa native, Haines spent his early adulthood dealing real estate in Kansas, only to be wiped out by a severe drought in the late 1890s. Along with many others, he headed west, to Idaho. On the way, he encountered several other would-be realtors, and when they got to Boise they formed the W.E. Pierce and Company real estate firm. It rapidly became the leading realty firm in Idaho, and played an important role in the development of southwest Idaho—Boise in particular. That development became all the more important because the senior partner, W.E. Pierce, was elected Boise mayor in 1903, and Haines succeeded him in 1907. The office of mayor gave Haines the platform to run for governor in 1912, in a race he only barely won over Democrat James Hawley, after running hard on a campaign of fiscal austerity.

He turned out, once elected, to have a head for reform, in all sorts of areas. He pushed for non-partisan election of judges (who then ran on party tickets; his suggestion would be taken after a few years). He pressed for the full range of progressive political issues, including the recall and referendum.

Governing during a session when legislators were preoccupied with choosing a new U.S. senator, he argued for passage of the 17th amendment to turn that over to the voters. And, amid the political confusion, he became central in the 1913 session in setting an agenda for passing what he considered very important items. He got them.

One was creation of a state Board of Education. Idaho already had a board of regents for the University of Idaho, but the new board would be united with it and oversee education statewide. That same system survives a century later. (more…)

The tentpoles of religious exemption

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In 1874 George Reynolds, a secretary to Mormon President Brigham Young and husband to two wives, was charged with the crime of bigamy. The case didn't come out of the blue: The LDS church (with Reynolds as volunteer) had sought it as a test.

Reynolds argued his marriages were constitutionally protected as his practice of his religion, since the LDS church then supported polygamy on religious grounds. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The 1879 decision in Reynolds v. United States didn't deliver as hoped. The court drew on the writings of Thomas Jefferson, who argued that “religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God … the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”

The court closely followed his reasoning: “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband; would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?”

So: How would the Idaho Legislature today answer those questions?

Freedom of religion has been at least the rhetorical premise for several pieces of legislation this year.
The best known, effectively killed for now on February 19 after initially working up steam toward passage, was House Bill 427, which would have barred government in Idaho from pulling or restricting a professional or occupational license for “Declining to provide or participate in providing any service that violates the person's sincerely held religious beliefs or exercise of religion except where performing emergency response duties for public safety. ” Though the potential scope was broad, it was widely described as allowing professionals not to do business with gay people.

A bill cutting the other way didn't even get a hearing.

Idaho law currently says “The practice of a parent or guardian who chooses for his child treatment by prayer or spiritual means alone shall not for that reason alone be construed to have violated the duty of care to such child.” Representative John Gannon proposed House Bill 458 to add: “However, this exemption shall not apply whenever a child's medical condition has caused death or permanent disability.”

Gannon's prompt was not hypothetical. The Oregon-based Followers of Christ church was a locus of infant and child mortality, including a number of cases deemed to be easily treatable by conventional medicine, and it eventually drew state legislative response. Church members were prosecuted in Oregon for failing to obtain medical treatment for their children. Since then, Oregon journalists found a remote Idaho graveyard where many of the children of the sect, denied medical treatment, are buried. (more…)

In the end, no gag

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Backers of the CAFO anti-videoing legislation - “ag-gag” - have already lost the war, even if the legislation passes.

Especially if it passes.

Senate Bill 1337, which has passed the Senate, bars a person who “without the facility owner's express consent or pursuant to judicial process or statutory authorization, makes audio or video recordings of the conduct of an agricultural production facility's operations.” More specifically, it's intended to ban (though various existing laws already theoretically do) the videotaping of what happens to livestock in concentrated animal feeding operations. This is significant in Idaho, home to some very large CAFO operations in the Magic Valley and southwest. The new bill would punish violators with up to a year in jail or a $5,000 fine; critics note that's the same as the state penalty for animal abuse.

Similar legislation has been proposed, most often failing to pass, in more than a dozen states; a Utah law is being challenged in the courts.

The Idaho bill was specifically prompted by a video shot in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy at Hansen, showing workers beating on livestock. Last week another video shot at an Idaho CAFO, which added animal sexual abuse to the mix, was released. Both have had many, many views, and they've gone viral on social media.

We can't know if the videos alone would have generated massive international attention. We do know the videos, combined with legislation to ban shooting more of them, has sent interest in the subject sky high, in news reports nationally and overseas. The story is irresistible: An attempt to keep the lid on what people have already seen. But memories aren't so easily erased. Nor is the technology, which keeps moving in the direction of disclosure, as privacy advocates regularly remind us.

Among other responses to the bill are petitions, some inside Idaho, some by national animal advocacy groups. Petitions usually do little by themselves, but they can assist organization efforts, and they keep the subject visible. Not only smaller and relatively hard-core groups like Mercy for Animals, which released the Bettencourt videos, are involved in this, but also larger and better-funded groups like the Humane Society of the United States. The subject of CAFO livestock has gone mainstream.

If you doubt that, watch the latest series offering from Netflix: The satirical but pointed “Farmed and Dangerous.” (The initial plot hook involves an exploding cow.) Once issues like this get into cultural discussion, national regulation and legislation may, in time, follow. It's in the spotlight now.

The Magic Valley has benefited recently from arrival of a number of food processors who came there largely because of the easy supply of dairy products. Don't be surprised if boycotts of some of them start – and lead to business responses. To see this playing out, Google the Wiese Brothers Farms in Wisconsin, and read about the videos and other reports that led a frozen pizza company to cut all ties with them.

Nor is that all. If SB 1337 is signed into law (as seems likely), watch for this: An activist who deliberately violates it, shooting more video intending to get caught – and insisting on a very public trial that could draw more national and international attention, kicking in the cycle all over again.

The problem for livestock operations is not insoluble. The simplest out is to improve and closely monitor operations, then throw open the doors for public viewing. Some CAFO advocates have argued that much of what's been shown on the videos has been unusual aberrations, that most livestock is treated better before slaughter than the videos suggest; an open door policy would be the one practical way to prove it. Some of what inevitably happens in the best of meat processing businesses is of course difficult for many people to stomach, but the operators could fairly argue that if you want your meat at the supermarket, this is how it has to get there. Since most people do want their steaks and burgers, the argument might settle down, on at least higher ground than it occupies now.

Legislation has its uses. But CAFOs here have among other things a PR problem, and these kinds of laws seldom are much help with that.

Household name to – who?

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After the governor and the four members of the congressional delegation, the Idaho politician with the closest to a household-familiar name probably is Tom Luna, the two-term superintendent of public instruction. A year from now, since Luna isn't running again, the next superintendent will be someone most Idahoans haven't known very well.

The time has come for those candidates to get about the business of defining themselves, or getting defined by someone else. Since the results are likely to be mined for what they say about Idaho, let's have a look at how the field is shaping up so far.

At present, four people have announced for the office. There may be more. Just one of the four has been a statewide figure before: Jana Jones, the one Democrat in the race, who ran for this job in 2006, losing to Luna in the election that made him superintendent. The result was a close Luna win. Jones, who then was chief deputy to Luna's Democratic predecessor as superintendent (Marilyn Howard), hasn't been very visible since. But she surely retains some contacts and the outlines of a campaign organization, and some experience as a candidate, which would help her get started this time. They also may be enough to clear the Democratic side of the field before the primary. As a Democrat she has automatic disadvantages running statewide in Idaho, but then the contest on the Republican side is for now hard to fathom.

Three Republicans have announced: Randy Jensen, principal of the William Thomas Middle School at American Falls, John Eynon, a music and drama instructor at Cottonwood, and (as of last week) Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home, whose announcement identifies her as having worked as a principal and teacher.

The Idaho superintendent's office traditionally has been filled by professional educators; Luna's election in 2006 was a major break in that informal rule. But so far, everyone now running appears to hit that bar.

So how do Idahoans differentiate? Or, more immediately, how will Republican primary voters do so?

Eynon seems easiest to define. His web site says specifically, and right up top, he running “because he is opposed to our children being taught to the unproven standards envisioned by Common Core.” His issues page also includes a long quote, and it's the only quote by anyone, from former Representative Ron Paul. On the campaign trail (such as at Kellogg last weekend) he seemed to include support for state Senator Russ Fulcher, who's challenging incumbent Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter for governor. Eynon appears to be working the Tea Party side of the street.

Jensen, who has been stumping around the state with Secretary of State candidate Evan Frasure, seems to be closer to the mainstream conservative side of things, but there's some guesswork in that suggestion, and not a lot for evidence. He plays up the professional side of his background (notably, a 2005 award as national principal of the year); his website has plenty about professional background and little about “issues”; news articles about him look much the same. So why exactly is he running? He'll need to get more specific about that. And maybe he will.

One reason he'll have to is because Ybarra is positioned very much the same, also highlighting her professional credentials but not yet positioning her on the hot issues of education in the state.

And those issues are plenty hot. What do the three candidates think of the “Luna laws” passed in 2011 and rejected by the voters the next year? What about the governor's schools commission report? Eynon has made clear his view on common core (which Luna has supported); what do the other two think?

Immediate and longer term intentions

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There's the short-term and immediate, and the long-term and the eventual.

The political side of discussion within Idaho about the arrest last week of more than 40 protesters for gay rights at the Idaho Statehouse – wearing “Add the 4 Words” shirts and hands over their mouths – tended to focus on the first. That's understandable, because it's what's most immediately right in front of us.

The protesters did not settle for rallying on the sidewalk outside, or even in the Rotunda, where such events sometimes also happen. They stood in front of the main doors (there are others as well) to the Senate, shortly before the floor session started for the day, blocking the doorway from being closed. Since that ran afoul of Senate rules of procedure (as they surely knew, especially since their ranks included a former senator, Nicole LeFavour), they were removed by law enforcement, and (as they also expected) arrested. The Senate even passed a suspension of one of its rules to allow for arrest of LeFavour, who as a former senator was (by rules) allowed on the floor during sessions. Be it noted that the Senate Democrats voted for that rule suspension alongside the Republicans.

The incident ticked off quite a few legislators, including a few who might sympathize with the protesters' cause. Whatever miniscule chance they had of progressing their cause in this session, to add “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to anti-discrimination law in the state, was squashed.

That's the short term. But it's not the whole story, as some legislators realized. Senate Majority Bart Davis, for one, was quoted as saying, “Today, it hurt their cause. But as time goes by, I don’t think it does. She’s [LeFavour] not the only voice on the issue.”

To see what he meant, try Googling “Idaho gay arrest” - look for news stories – and see what comes up. KBOI-TV's website headlined, “Arrest of gay rights activists in Idaho gets national spotlight,” and they weren't kidding. On a quick try I pulled up 177 news article on the incident, many well illustrated (there were good photo ops), which guaranteed visible play. Large national blogs carried pieces. The news organizations ranged from the Guardian in England to the Province in Vancouver, British Columbia, from the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise to the Tribune in Seymour, Indiana. In USA Today: “Dozens of gay rights activist arrested in Idaho.” There was a lot of TV coverage as well.

The story had staying power because it reinforced something else: The controversy associated with progress through the legislature of Representative Lynn Luke's “religious freedom” bills. That has drawn no lack of attention either, from the Everett (Washington) Herald to the Danbury (Connecticut) News Times to the Houston (Texas) Chronicle. The Greenfield (Indiana) Reporter headlined, “House panel votes to keep religious freedom bill alive, dozens say it enshrines discrimination.”

Guess what Idaho is getting renowned for these days?

That reputational damage will have its effects. Idahoans do pay some attention to what people think about them, much as many would like to think otherwise, and the national attention will not go unnoticed, or un-responded to. The 44 protesters last week may have irritated and turned off legislators in the short run, but they got attention. If their intent is to play a longer game, they may have taken a step forward.

The Luna scenario

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Before the conventional-wisdom version of the departure and replacement of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna sinks in further, it's time to poke a few holes.

The scenario was laid out in the January 28 Idaho Statesman: “Tom Luna takes one for the team.” His announcement of not seeking re-election this year, in that telling, had partly to do with clearing politics out of this legislative session's consideration of the schools reform package, and partly to allow the Republican Party to move on from the “Students Come First” package Luna once championed, and which was trounced by the voters. And – snap of fingers, in a puff of smoke, in the public's view – the name of Melinda Smyser emerged as the all but unstoppable replacement come this November.

We'll not descend here into trying to read Luna's mind, or anyone else's. But before anyone thinks they've been given the final word on the matter ...

Luna announced his non-run on January 27. About a month earlier, on December 20, he was quoted as saying he fully intended to run. The logical question is: What changed? Certainly not this year's schools package at the legislature; it and its proponents and opponents were well known before then. If that were the consideration, a better time to announce would have been before this year's legislative session started. Luna's big annual appearance before the legislature, at the budget committee, already happened before his announcement; if damage to the school package was being done (which is doubtful anyway), it was done already.

The other part of the purported equation involved Luna harming Republicans by running. Again, that calculation, however valid or not, could have been made as easily a month ago, although it's possible that polling or other maybe informal research might have been underway in that period. If so, we haven't heard.
So you have to wonder: Did something else change as regards Luna, and his plans public or private?

The quick rise of Melinda Smyser, who as it turned out didn't want to run, as the sudden frontrunning Republican nominee seemed a little odd too, though her name apparently has been spitballed as a possibility in Boise conversations for a while. It's not that Smyser was an unrealistic candidate for the office; she has been a teacher and counselor and had been a member of the Parma School Board, and she was a state senator, not a bad resume combination. But no one seems to have asked her if she was even interested; as it turned out, within hours, she wasn't. Usually when a name surfaces quickly that way it's because that person had been quietly promoting it, but evidently that wasn't the case here.

No other names seemed to rise so quickly to the surface, not those of the little-known educators in American Falls and Grangeville who have said they plan to run for the Republican nomination for the office, nor Steve Smylie, a former Republican legislator and educator who did run for superintendent in 2006, who was exploring the idea. Nor, at first, state Senator Steven Thayn, who evidently is very interested.

Was there interest in some quarters in foreclosing some of those options? The possibility of an incendiary Republican primary, based on the names of people already certainly interested, is quite real as matters sit.

These are all points that probably ought to be factored in considering the succession, and are likely to be shown up as relevant when more of the story is told.