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Posts published in “Idaho column”

Idaho man of mystery

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Idaho

We tend to demand to know a lot about the background of those people who would be president, somewhat less for prospective members of Congress. Down to the level of state legislature, we usually ask fewer questions.

But here we have Mark Patterson, a state representative from west Boise, Republican, for whom background has become a real issue, partly because of a dispute with the Ada County Sheriff over a denied concealed weapons permit. But there's more to it.

We know he heads a business called Rock N Roll Lubrication LLC, said to employ five people, which manufactures lubricant for bicycle chains, motorcycles, and sporting equipment. The product has gotten excellent reviews, with (apparently) some cache not only nationally but internationally. The first Idaho state paperwork for it dates to November 2007; Patterson's name is alone on papers filed in state business records for that firm. Before November 2007 … nothing.

Patterson's legislative bio describes him as a “businessman and manufacturer specializing in building manufacturing companies from the ground up that serve the national and international markets.” He uses the plural, but persistent searches turn up no second or third manufacturing companies.

Most legislative candidates tell you where they were born and grew up, and give you an idea of the contours of their life. Patterson mentions that as a child he was in the Boy Scouts and the Civil Air Patrol, and that he lost much of his hearing at age four. That's about all. Usually, if a candidate went to college, they say where and when; if they did something else, they usually say that. Patterson's different. An Idaho Statesman article about him – after the weapons permit issue hit – said he was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, “but declined to say where he has lived or list his occupations over the years.” His campaign in 2012 said he attended the University of Southern California and that he had worked as a petroleum engineer, but has since acknowledged neither was true. He said in 2012 he studied at “numerous colleges and universities,” but specifics are lacking.

Something we know: Patterson was 21 in the spring of 1974 when at a bar in Tampa, Florida, he offered a woman a ride home. Police records say she accused him of raping her. He pleaded guilty to the charge of assault with intent to commit rape, later receiving a withheld judgment. He has said since that he has no memory of that night, but later described it as “a bizarre encounter with a woman.” In 1977, in Cincinnati, he was again accused of rape. That case went to trial; he was acquitted.

Those are at least definitive times and places. Otherwise, Patterson's background seems almost invisible until 2007. At least from readily available public documents, including campaign materials, we know not where he was or what he did. Patterson's campaign web side offers his “background is in science and technology. Mark worked in oil, gas and geothermal exploration for 17 years.” Where? For whom? And what else did he do in the three decades between his court appearance in 1977 and his Idaho business filing in 2007? What brought him to Idaho, and when? Was he associated with any groups, professional or otherwise?

How did Rock N Roll Lubrication launch and go international with such lightning speed, with no apparent backing noted on the records other than one person? If this was a brilliant exercise of business management, that would be a great story to hear. (You'd expect he would share it.) If not that, then what?

This isn't a matter of tracking down every last detail about a relatively junior member of the Idaho House. I raise all this here because you likely cannot find a similar gap in the record for any other Idaho legislator, current or recent, or even not so recent. It's a gap unlike anything I can recall in four decades of watching the coming and goings of elected officials.

Who is this guy?

The Kootenai takeaway

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Idaho

If you're looking for larger takeaways from Tuesday's local elections, in Idaho at least, the best you might get come from Kootenai County.

Other things in other places happened too, of course.

Boise voters rejected two large bond issues on fire safety and parks – sort of. They pulled 64 percent and 62 percent yes votes, but that meant they fell short of the two-thirds needed. It's a high bar; the community overall approved of the plan, just not overwhelmingly. The city council members on the ballot won in landslides. That suggests general satisfaction with City Hall, though the point shouldn't be pressed too far.

Three-term Mayor Tom Dale was ousted in Nampa by council member Bob Henry, after a campaign debate centering on taxes (Henry was the lower-taxes side). But the differences between the two were not extreme, both were experienced at city hall and incumbents there, and the vote was close, decided by only 113, about half a percentage point.

In Pocatello, Mayor Brian Blad, who surprised many people in town four years ago when he defeated incumbent Roger Chase, beat him again to win a second term. That result was not a great shock.

Not a lot of roiling, at least among the voters who turned out.

A message of a different sort did come, however, from Kootenai County. Politics there has been distinctive, stirred up in recent years by several highly partisan and activist groups seeking to elect candidates generally in line with the Tea Party to not only state and federal offices but to non-partisan local offices too. (The full collection of Tea-type local organizations is too dizzying to recount here.)The dividing lines were clear in the mayoral and council races in Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls, which were by far the most entertaining campaigns in Idaho this season. Across the line from the ideologues was a looser-knit group called Balance North Idaho, which included a number of Democrats, independents and non-Tea Republicans. (more…)

Ward’s legacy

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Idaho

Attorney Conley Ward, 66, who died last week at Kuna, has been for several decades an important but quietly influential figure in Idaho's energy and infrastructure world. He chaired of the state Democratic Party from 1988-91, and served as a member of the Public Utilities Commission from 1977 to 1986. He won respect in all these areas.

Before any of that, before more than a few Idahoans knew his name, an important piece of work he did with a small group of activists changed the state's future. How important: Idaho would be poorer and your electric power bills vastly higher than if he had no acted when he did.

In the mid-70s an irrigation-led bump in power demand persuaded planners at Idaho Power Company they needed access to a lot more juice. This was, remember, barely two decades after its capacity had exploded with the building of the Hells Canyon dams, but the worry was considerable: What if Idaho ran out of available electric power?

In 1974 Idaho Power applied with the Public Utilities Commission to build a massive coal-fired power plant to be called Pioneer, about 25 miles east of Boise. Boise was much smaller then, but its air quality was worse. When word got out about Pioneer, a handful of critics (such as attorney Jeff Fereday and newspaper editorialist Ken Robison) blasted the idea. At first, though, Pioneer looked unstoppable. Its advocates far outnumbered critics, and Idaho Power then rarely lost Idaho political battles.

Around then, PUC Commissioner Robert Lenaghan hired Ward, a young attorney and a native of Owyhee County, and assigned him to the Pioneer proposal and its implications. Ward was not the only person looking into Pionerr, but he was the man on the inside, and the PUC's questioning of the project rapidly grew sharper. The original $400 million cost estimate for Pioneer expanded, under pressure, to $600, and then – under heated inquiry from Lenaghan – to $828 million. Quoted in an essay by environmentalist Pat Ford, Ward recalled, “at that time the net value of their entire system [Hells Canyon dams included] was $648 million. And Pioneer was only half their 10-year construction program. By 1986 they planned to spend $1.6 billion on a new plant.”

He concluded that the cheap hydropower would be swamped by coal power that would cost six or seven times as much, and could double, or triple, electric power rates. Idaho would go from being one of the least expensive power states to among the most expensive. (more…)

Airing a treaty

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Idaho

When all the media “air” is used on the story of the day, even if major, just as government shutdown or health insurance websites, we tend to miss a lot of other things. In Idaho right now, a lot of people probably are missing something important to their future: The Columbia River Treaty.

This is a story still in development, and it won't come to fruition until next year at the earliest, and maybe later. But it will have a good deal to do with how much water Idaho will have in years to come.

You may not have heard of the treaty, which would be testimony to its long-running quiet usefulness. The United States and Canada began discussions about the Columbia – its main stem originates in Canada – in the early 40s, after the New Deal construction of massive dams along the river on the south side of the border, and in a time when flooding was still a significant problem. In 1948 the then-second-largest community in Oregon, called Vanport (located near Portland), was wiped out by a Columbia River flood. Canada had river issues too, including requests by the United States to build dams in that country for flood control purposes, and negotiations began.

They were not easy. The treaty was not written and ratified until 1964, Since then, various developments agreed to (including more dam construction) has been undertaken. The treaty doesn't have an expiration date, but it does say it can be renegotiated after 50 years. Early talks are underway, led on each side by an organizational combine called the Entity (sorry if this is sounding like a sci-fi movie). The U.S. Entity includes executives of the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The U.S. Entity has been seeking public comments, and has held public meetings around the region, including one in Boise on October 3. That round of hearings is over, though more may be held. Or not; the last requests for comments drew (as of October 18) only 20 from the whole region. (There's a web site at http://www.crt2014-2024review.gov/.) The Entity is scheduled to deliver a proposal for the United States position on the treaty to the U.S. Department of State before the end of this year. (more…)

The setup

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Idaho

The setup to Idaho politics 2014, on the congressional level, hardly could be clearer after the October 16 round of votes ending (for now) the federal government shutdown and the threat of federal debt default, not just because the congressional votes but because of the markers it set.

Both of Idaho's senators were in the small group of about one-fifth of the Senate who voted against the measure who opposed the bill taking that step, but in their chamber they were part of too small a group to much affect the outcome. Most Senate Republicans voted in favor.

The House was different. There, the crisis-over bill passed with only a minority of Republicans plus all the Democrats; most House Republicans voted against. And unlike the Republicans in the delegations of Washington (all voting in favor) or Oregon (voting against), Idaho's two House members split their votes. Raul Labrador of the first district voted against, and Mike Simpson of the second in favor.

This sets up and expands the gap between the two (Labrador has declined to back Simpson in his primary contest), and could point up contrasting types of races.

Simpson's press release immediately after the vote got right into that, acknowledging explicitly (this is actually unusual) the politics of the vote. The second paragraph said, “While acknowledging his vote in favor of the bill might be unpopular with some of his constituents, Simpson said the potential economic consequences of continued stalemate outweighed any political consideration.”

In the next paragraph: “The easiest, most politically expedient thing for me to do would have been to vote NO and protect my political right flank,” said Simpson. “Doing so, however, would have been the wrong thing to do for my constituents and our economy. My vote today was about the thousands of people facing layoffs at INL, the multitude of businesses across Idaho that have told me their livelihoods are at stake, and the millions of folks across the country who can’t afford the devastating impacts of default on their investments and retirements. There has to be a way to address our nation’s fiscal problems without making them worse in the process.”

There's his campaign argument for next year.

It's gutsier than it first seems, because here's what Simpson is implicitly saying about the other three members of the Idaho delegation: That they did the wrong thing for their constituents, that they cast aside the people whose lives and livelihoods were at stake, that they would make the nation's future worse by their actions. It's quite a critique, but implicit in any self-defense Simpson would offer. (more…)

Simpson’s moment

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Idaho

Here soon: The likelihood of a career-defining moment of truth for Representative Mike Simpson. What he does, or doesn't do, in coming days on the federal shutdown and prospective default will be the key to reading his many years of service in public office.

This goes singularly to Simpson because of the shutdown dynamics. If the periodic and regular votes, for the “continuing resolution” (on the budget) and the debt ceiling increase had been done in the usual fashion of obscure housekeeping, they would have been “clean” - with no special conditions for passage attached – and supported by both parties. The president and the Senate (with a supermajority including significant members of both parties) support that. The Republican majority in the House has determined to add conditions before approving either measure. The shutdown results of no agreement on the “CR” are significant and growing; failure to raise the debt ceiling, in which the United States would welsh on debts it already has incurred, would be damaging and could be catastrophic.

Idaho's senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, have opposed the measures, but in the Senate they are part of too small a group to impose their will; bluntly, their opposition hasn't mattered. And you could say that Representative Raul Labrador's opposition has been baked in, as an early-on Tea Party-backed House member.

Simpson is a more subtle story. Last week the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call quoted Simpson: “I’d vote for a clean CR, because I don’t think this is a strategy that works. I think the strategy that works is on the debt ceiling.” That led to Simpson's placement on a list of House Republicans who would vote for such a “clean” CR if it got to the House floor – and maybe to those who would vote for forcibly pulling it to the floor, which could be done if 17 Republicans plus all House Democrats voted in favor.

Simpson quickly replied that he had no such plans: “I am going to continue to support the position of our Republican Caucus in the ongoing shutdown dispute. Having said that, similar to Senator Rand Paul, I could support a very short-term clean CR, perhaps one or two weeks, while we continue to negotiate on a longer-term bill that addresses priorities we believe are important.” (more…)

Shutdown days

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Idaho

If we're fortunate, the federal government shutdown will be over before you read this. Meanwhile, let's put an Idaho lens on what the shutdown translates to.

You may get the impression via some reports that the shutdown closes a few campgrounds and admission to some monuments, and some paper-shuffling bureaucrats may be sent home. Passports will be harder to get. Not so bad: And at first, it isn't. But as the closure persists, effects accumulate.

In Idaho, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter pointed out that in impact, "Gowen Field, Mountain Home, and probably the Idaho National Lab would be the biggest and the civilians that may be assigned to those." Yes, together with Idaho's massive national forests and Bureau of Land Management property.

But the nearly 12,000 Idahoans who work for the federal government (Idaho politicians tend to forget many constituents are also those hated feds) pull down around $800 million in a year in pay – a big driver in Idaho's economy. A Boise State Public Radio news report quoted a state researcher as estimating those jobs have an economic multiplier of 4.74. For every federal job eliminated in Idaho, five non-federal jobs could be lost. Remember too, many “essential” federal workers on the job are working without pay.

While the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Defense (at Mountain Home Air Force Base) and the Department of Energy (Idaho National Laboratory) are the biggest federal employers, many other agencies do work in the state. Bear in in mind that even the less popular are there for a reason. The Environmental Protection Agency in Idaho just from April to June this year stopped a half-dozen businesses dumping waste into waterways, pumping filth into the air, violating pesticide rules and more – threatening the health of Idahoans. That protection largely goes away with the shutdown. Along the same lines are massive cuts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which tracks toxic substances and remedies for them, disease information, Indian health services, substance abuse, services for Medicare and Medicaid – services to protect the health of actual people.

But the shutdown affects more than just federal agencies. When you see reports about Idaho's state budget, most attention is on the “general fund,” about $2.7 billion fed by state taxes and fees. Did you know that nearly as much – another $2.4 billion this fiscal year – is “federal funds”? (more…)

The less visible and more honorable road

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Idaho

UPDATE: This column was written before news broke earlier today that former Secretary of State Pete Cenarrusa died at Boise. Condolences to his family and many friends, and to Idaho too: Public servants of this caliber aren't so easy to find these days, but at his passing his long-time chief deputy and successor, Ben Ysursa, was - as this column strives to point out - upholding the tradition.

In 1976, a deputy to the Idaho Secretary of State resigned after becoming the target of charges that he had improperly been selling copies of the Idaho state code. To the best of my memory, that's the last time – 37 years ago – the Idaho Secretary of State's office has been the center of a serious controversy.

Considering that this is the office overseeing, among other things, elections across the state, that's a remarkable record of cleanliness.
My most regular interaction with the office is on its website, which offers access to loads of records. I can tell you that in most cases those records are more extensive, useful and easier to access than on the web sites of the counterpart offices in high-tech Washington and Oregon.

Absence of malfeasance and quality on-line records may be tangential in evaluating the office and its longtime chief, Ben Ysursa. But they indicate work properly and consistently well done, in an office where the consequences of shoddiness can be a little frightening. Idaho has a long history of clean elections, and capable state oversight has surely been a contributor to that. The office also manages a lot of other records, such as business filings and many other documents, and a good deal of commerce could be thrown into chaos if the unglamorous work of the office were steered into a ditch. It also oversees lobbyist filings and records.

The secretary of state's office, then, is one of those places you seldom see in the headlines when things are going well, only when they go badly. Take it as a compliment, then, that the office has been largely invisible for decades, the quiet broken most notably on those occasions when Ysursa and his crew went after someone, without any evident favor for any side, for failing to stick to the law.
This comes up became the 2014 race for the office has taken a turn, and Idahoans would be well-served in paying attention. (more…)

The swap(s)

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Idaho

Last year the Idaho Department of Lands swapped out the University of Idaho Science Campus at McCall, which it managed as part of the state endowment lands used to generate money for public schools. It obtained in exchange an office building and about three associated acres in Idaho Falls, owned by the private firm IW4 LLC; the Idaho National Laboratory lead contractor leases space there.

Were this being done exclusively by private businesses, no one outside the parties involved would know or care; and probably not much either if only government entities were involved. The business deal gets more complicated when public and private entities both are involved, and this one shows why someone outside the process ought to oversee such exchanges.

The McCall property was estimated to be worth $6.1 million, and maybe it was since, after the Idaho Falls firm IW4 LLC obtained it, it flipped the property to another buyer for $6.1 million. However: The buyer was the University of Idaho, a state agency. So you could say the state sold the property to a private buyer for $6.1 million, which paid in the form of another piece of property, and then bought it back for $6.1 million. Or: IW4 LLC used the state to convert its Idaho Falls property into $6.1 million, rather than just sell it to a cash buyer themselves.

Huh? This still might make some sense if the Idaho Falls building and land was in fact worth, and salable for, $6.1 million. But here's the catch.

Last week a group called the Tax Accountability Committee, whose spokesman is Boise attorney John Runft, together with state representatives Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, threw some additional light on the situation. They had developed their own appraisal and concluded the Idaho Falls property was worth $4.5 million, which would mean IW4 LLC effectively cleared an easy $1.6 million on the overall deal. (Boise blogger David Frazier, who has been tracking state property purchases closely, said that Bonneville County has assessed the property for as little as $2.2 million.) Vander Woude and Burgoyne said they plan to introduce legislation in the next session to require review appraisals.

The question of what the Idaho Falls property actually was worth has led to a round robin of squabbling. The Idaho Department of Lands has replied that is did a proper review, and pointed out that while both properties generate rental income, McCall's amounts to about $250,000 annually while Idaho Falls' comes to $538,000 (although, since these are income properties, such rentals should have been factored into the appraisal valuations). Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who chairs the land board which approves such transactions, said that full appraisals could be expensive.

Burgoyne countered that, “When doing a $6.1 million transaction or any other transaction involving endowment land, the cost of a review appraisal is not, as IDL contends, excessive; it is simply prudent, will save money by avoiding over and under valuations, and bring IDL into conformity with business standards of care.” (more…)