idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Let’s take last week’s Bonneville County Muslin newsletter article – that took Idaho national once again on the subject of fear and loathing of an “other” – from a slightly different angle.

The article in question, “Islam in Idaho,” went out over the name of Doyle Beck, chair of the Bonneville County Republicans, though it apparently was written by another member of the group, Becky Prestwich. An apology to Idaho Muslims reportedly is in the works.

It consisted mainly of four paragraphs. One referred to “Political Correctness [which] is code speak for the ability to silence your critics. I don’t believe in it . . . I will vociferously attack egregious political issues and endeavor to let the people I serve know what is happening.”

What that is, came in paragraph two: “It is no secret that the “islamatization” of America is a wide spread fear. . . . And make no mistake; if you are not a Muslim, you are an infidel. Period. Even in Muslim nations there is constant murder of Muslims not of the same flavor. So you have to be the right kind of Muslim, but even that depends on what kind of Muslim attacker you encounter.”

The third paragraph suggests that depictions of Islam in a less harsh way are deceptive.

Here’s the fourth: “So when someone brings to our attention that Muslims are infiltrating even in places like Idaho, we must pay attention. We must demand that our lawmakers and law enforcers pay attention and ascertain whether or not there is a potential threat. Read this article and decide for yourself if we have a potential problem in Idaho. I, for one, believe this is something to take seriously. If you do too, contact your legislators and let them know you expect them to look into this. Please, don’t wait until something bad happens.”

So . . . how exactly would this Islamic takeover of Idaho work? Give me the nuts and bolts. What exactly is it that some portion of the Bonneville County Republicans are so concerned is going to happen?

Let’s make this concrete. Are we expected to believe Muslims are going to start winning elective office in Idaho in such numbers as to take over county courthouses, the Idaho legislature and judiciary? Let’s imagine Muslims winning Idaho’s congressional seats, shall we? How about the governor’s office while we’re at it? For all the radio talk show chatter about imposition of Sharia law in America . . . where exactly has that ever been attempted? And how exactly would it happen?

If these horrors are going to happen in Idaho, presumably they would be happening in other states. Which states exactly are those? Where is religious Muslim control ascendant in this country?

Or is this supposed to be a violent takeover? Are we being asked to imagine Muslims behind the Idaho sagebrush, stockpiling weapons to . . . uh, do what exactly? Come on, be specific: What precisely do you expect they – it’s always a “they” – are positioning themselves to do?

The letter is specific enough in one sentence contending, “It is no secret that the ‘islamatization’ of America is a wide spread fear.” There’s plenty of fear being generated, all right, on the radio, by political figures: Fear without basis. There is no threat, no measurable prospect, of a Muslim takeover of any part of this country, even a single county, and much less in Idaho. Making that point doesn’t even contradict the Bonneville letter, so full is it of weasel words: “ascertain whether or not there is a potential threat. . . if we have a potential problem in Idaho . . . something to take seriously. . .. don’t wait until something bad happens.” You’ll search in vain for anything resembling specifics: There aren’t any.

There is only the promotion of fear, and people who sense advantage in trying to scare their fellow Americans and fellow Idahoans to death. So I’d suggest posing to the Bonneville County Republicans a question about why they’re so busy trying to terrify Idaho people over a non-existent problem. With that in mind, I suggest:

“Read this article and decide for yourself if we have a potential problem in Idaho. I, for one, believe this is something to take seriously. If you do too, contact your legislators and let them know you expect them to look into this. Please, don’t wait until something bad happens.”

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

A couple of years ago another writer and I were researching for a book on the Northwest’s newspapers (it would be called “New Editions”), which involved calling many of the proprietors one by one. One of the most memorable was Sandra Wisecaver, who would not have called herself – but who was – one of the more remarkable journalists in the region.

She was owner and operator of the Buhl Herald, a paper with a heritage going back more than a century. The area around Twin Falls sprang up like magic, as its valley name would attest, just after the tun of the twentieth century, and Buhl’s downtown was platted in 1906. In the manner of the day, the town’s newspaper set up shop (having moved several miles over from Filer) a few months later.

Through the decades since it has published consistently, running very much as it did at the beginning. It was never bought by a larger organization, but was run for decades by the Bailey family. In 2005 Sandra Wisecaver, who had worked there for some years, bought it.

It had not been, and she didn’t try to turn it into, a paper with lofty pretensions. It didn’t join the parade of many papers to the Internet, even to Facebook. (Today, there is a modest Facebook page for the Buhl Herald, evidently started last year.) And she seemed almost a little apologetic about the paper’s brand of journalism: It wasn’t a regular breaker of gee-wow news stories, of scandal or spectacle.

It was, rather, a small town community newspaper: “Business is a little slower, but we have advertisements every week and people read them. It’s probably because you’re not going to find the stories that we print somewhere else. The daily is not going to carry the applause for somebody who’s done something good in the community, or been a great volunteer. I think its important to have the kids in.”

She was exactly right, and the Herald’s kind of journalism helps provide the glue in a community. With all the disaster and catastrophe we’re daily exposed to, even on Facebook and Twitter much less cable TV, we need the reminders that the world around us is not all aflame. The Herald did that. The children got in the newspaper through the years, and many of them probably felt themselves part of the community in a way children in many larger communities never quite do.

(I should add: The Buhl Herald also did run this column for some years back in the 90s.)

Wisecaver added that “It’s a seven-day-a-week job if you own it,” and that was no doubt true as well.

Likely, it’s one reason the paper is now closing.

Sandra Wisecaver died in February, and her husband Joe has been putting out the several editions since. But it takes a particular kind of determined person to put out a community newspaper like Buhl’s, and after searching for a replacement, he will bring the Herald’s history to an end this week.

He told the Twin Falls Times News, “I’ve been getting a lot of phone calls. But what can you do when you run out of people?”

Good question. It’s a question one Idaho’s shrinking number of locally-owned weekly newspaper communities may well continue to ask themselves in coming years.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

For the last couple of decades, much of the work at the Idaho Legislature during the opening weeks has been devoted to examining the state’s administrative rules – those proposed or tentatively adopted during the previous year – and deciding which if any should be rejected.

Usually there are a few, and there are this year. The legislature’s work on administrative rules is stretching out all the way to the end of the session this time; several concurrent resolutions (the legislative tool for acting on administrative rules) calling for rejections were introduced as recently as last week, when lawmakers theoretically were preparing for adjournment. (Don’t place any bets on that happening this side of April, by the way.)

After lawmakers finish parsing through fat binders of densely written legalese, which is some of the less-known and more tedious work they do, a relative handful of rules usually wind up facing possible rejection. Generally, these are rules which have drawn complaints or concerns from someone, whether the regulated, the regulators, legal counsel or someone else. At this writing, 11 such rejections have been proposed, and several of those have cleared the legislature.

Legislative oversight of the rules makes sense. Developed and published by state agencies, these rules have the effect of law, and they are imposed through the authority of laws passed by the legislature. They do it that way because most state laws are relatively general, even a little vague, and that’s not a criticism. It’s the business of the legislature to set the policy, not so much to bury itself deeply in the weeds of administrative rules, where things really get, ah, specific.

Very specific. Very detailed.

Here’s an example of a rule proposed for legislative rejection, from the “non-technical” (that is, reader-friendly) description offered by the agency: “The Board of Veterinary Medicine issues certifications to qualified veterinary technician applicants. Current rule provides several ways a certified veterinary technician (CVT) applicant can demonstrate completion of the educational requirements for certification. Two of the existing methods for an applicant to satisfy these requirements are to submit evidence of graduation from a veterinary technology program equivalent to a program approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association or, if a foreign graduate, graduation from a program of veterinary medicine from a foreign school approved by the Board. The Board has determined that it lacks the expertise and means to adequately evaluate whether a non-accredited CVT program is equivalent to an accredited AVMA program or to approve foreign schools of veterinary medicine. To ensure uniformity in entry-level knowledge of certified veterinary technicians in Idaho, IDAPA 46.01.01.100 is being amended to delete these provisions.”

Some rules do have larger application. Of one Department of Water Resources rule a statement of purpose remarked, “This rule was rejected in committee because it eliminated the current boundary lines of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, and not enough technical data was available at the present time for the Department of Water Resources to accurately evaluate the underground water sources available in the additional territory added to the ESPA to define the effects on the various sections of the Aquifer.” Maybe that’s all true, but is the legislature really the right body to provide the kind of technical review that resolution contemplates?

That’s the sort of thing which occupies a large chunk of the limited time span of Idaho legislative sessions – not general policy, decisions about going in this direction rather than that, but evaluating exactly what education standards should be needed for jobs like veterinary technician applicants. Is this a useful way for legislatures to spend their limited time in Boise?

Seems as though there should be a better way.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The news is good. Very good.

But attached to it comes the ugly question: Did anyone figure this out earlier? If not, why not? And if so, why was the information kept under a rock?

The story here is about something gone bad abruptly gone good: the statewide contract for providing broadband service contracts for high schools. That contract, developed and signed through the Otter Administration, was the subject of bitter wrangling and battling and court fights, and finally last year was voided entirely by a state district judge. School districts around the state were warned, as recently as a few weeks ago, that their broadband access might be cut off, and no one knew exactly when it might be restored.

Hoping to patch the problem, the Idaho Legislature actually moved quickly to spend $3.6 million to keep the broadband signals alive. The money would go to the state Department of Education, which would distribute it to local school districts, each of which would have to find its own broadband supplier. It sounded like a band aid on a bullet wound.

But no: It has worked. And not only that, it has worked so well that it puts the statewide effort to shame. The broadband will not only survive, but do so in much better form than would have been the case. The Idaho Ed News site noted, for example, that “The short-term contracts — signed by school districts in the past couple of weeks — carry a projected price tag of slightly less than $2 million. Over that same time period, the defunct Idaho Education Network broadband system would have cost the state more than $3.2 million.”

Almost two-thirds of the districts and charter schools found less costly local sourcing. And many of those local sources provided much more robust broadband: “Fifty-five districts and charters were able to secure more bandwidth under their new contracts. The Jefferson County Joint District, for example, saw its broadband capacity increase from 84 megabits per second to 20,000 Mbps.”

The results have been so good that the legislature – quite rationally – now is likely to scrap the whole idea of a statewide system and just provide funding assistance for the locals.

Certainly, the local districts and the Department of Education deserve a good deal of credit for all this.

But loose-end questions remain. Spreading a service over a larger area usually means reductions in costs, so why did the statewide system cost so much more and deliver so much less than the patchwork local efforts?

Why did not one figure this out long ago?

Did no one, in developing the statewide school broadband system, look even casually at the idea of local provision and consider what the relative savings might have been? (Or might it have been that no one simply saw a financial incentive in doing it that way?)

Or if someone did figure all this out long ago . . . why is none of this coming to light until now?

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The phrase “religious equality” turned up last year in a U.S. Supreme Court decision – in the minority opinion, though there’s no particular reason the majority would have argued with it – defined this way: “the breathtakingly generous constitutional idea that our public institutions belong no less to the Buddhist or Hindu than to the Methodist or Episcopalian.”

The Hindu reference will have some resonance, of various sorts, at the Idaho Senate. Last week, for the first time, the Senate received its morning invocation from Rajan Zed, the president of the Universal Society of Hinduism. It was a choice that must have been approved, or at the least not opposed, by the Senate leaders, primarily President pro tem Brent Hill and Majority Leader Bart Davis. It’s not hard to imagine them giving their assent, or even encouragement.

So credit them, and maybe others as well, for giving the Idaho Legislature an unusual basis for asserting that it’s more open-minded and inclusive than many people think.

And the message from Zed was hardly (or ought not to have been) at all exotic: “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”

Most of the Senate was there to hear it. Seven members were not. Four of the absentees said they were late getting to the chamber; that could be the case since traditionally, people don’t walk on or off the floor during the prayer. (Prayer is an official part of legislative business in Idaho; in the Senate it together with the pledge of allegiance is the “second order of business.”)

The other three – Senators Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens; Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood; and Lori Den Hartog, Meridian, all Republicans – appeared to absent themselves from the chamber simply out of protest. Nuxoll, in one of those quotes that fast shot around the world, remarked that “Hindu is a false faith with false gods.” Hartog expressed discomfort with participating in a prayer ceremony from a religion that wasn’t hers.

Nuxoll’s response got most of the attention – it’s not every day a state legislator so derisively dismisses the beliefs of a billion people – but Hartog’s is even more worthy of note. Her unease with the idea of involving herself with a religious activity – a prayer – which is not of her own faith, a discomfort apparently strong enough that she could not be physically present for it, is understandable and not unique. It could in fact give her some cause for reflection. Many people in Idaho are not Christians, and yes there are more than a few, and they understand it daily when governmental services are launched with a Christian (and maybe on unusual occasions a Jewish) prayer.

That means she might adopt one of two positions: Either prayers ought to be dropped as a formal part of governmental activities, so all citizens would be equally comfortable being there; or say that she thinks Christians alone are citizens with a proper role in government, and others are second-class and ought not to show up.

Hill and Davis evidently would reject both of those propositions, in favor of acknowledging a wide variety of perspectives. A question: If asked, how would the people of Idaho come down on this?

In the meantime, the intentionally absent senators might have benefited most of all from hearing Zed’s words: “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others always in mind.”

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

When I want to check an official record for an indication of how wet or dry the region is, I usually go to the Western Regional Climate Center (wrcc.dri.edu), which among other things compiles snowpack information for the western United States. The numbers there rise and fall, but at the moment the numbers on its charts seem not to look all that bad.

Usually I look for the percent of normal accumulated precipitation, which shows how various areas – river basins mainly, but broken down to much smaller units – are faring. 100 percent at this time of year typically would indicate normal levels. 150 percent would suggest some risk of flooding (at least in some places, depending on the lay of the land); 50 percent or less usually means dry times ahead.

The “water year” for measurement purposes started at the beginning of October, and for some weeks toward the end of last year the numbers were looking good, even on the high side. But in the last couple of months there’s been a gradual drop.

They’re still not terrible, and if they maintain where they are now into summer Idaho would have ample water. The Spokane River basin, at this writing, was 90 percent; the Salmon River, 97 percent; the Little Wood River basin 80 percent. Some are lower, like the Medicine Lodge area (64 percent) and Bear River Basin (76 percent). These are areas not usually awash in water to start with.

The problem is that so far this year, week after week, the numbers have been falling. The omens are not especially good.

I’d be uneasy about interpreting some of this except for the road trip I took last week around the Northwest. I know what February usually looks like in many of the state’s landscapes – in most years past there’s a good deal of white out there, especially in higher elevations – and it doesn’t much look that way now.

The standout was the Long Valley – the McCall and Cascade area. February is when McCall holds its traditional Winter Carnival, the centerpiece of which is a large collection of ice sculptures. The dates this year were January 27 to February 5, and there were as usual some great sculptures. (The winner was a Sphinx and pyramid theme. McCall usually is bathed in white during and for some time after the event.

But this year they held it not a moment too early. By the time early last week I passed through McCall, the snow was almost all gone, and only a few small, melting sculptures remained.

Look up to the mountainsides around Long Valley and you’ll find checkerboard broad and white surfaces, nothing like the solid white of yore.

The story was the same almost everywhere I went. The good news was the roads were clear and dry, a contrast to many February road trips around Idaho. But there are some serious negatives.

I’ve heard a number of reactions to all this. One is a growing sense that the risk of major wildfires is rising rapidly, and that may be the case.

But it’s also looking like a low-water year generally. There’ll be some tense times ahead.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

About a dozen years ago, Martin Peterson and I started work on a book project. Peterson, who had spent a career and then some in the core of Idaho state government, is an Idaho history obsessive, and we had latched onto the idea of writing a book about the 100 most influential drivers of Idaho history.

We had a lot of ideas about who should populate the list and how to rank them, but we wanted to run those ideas (and our understanding of the facts and context) past an unimpeachable authority who knew enough about Idaho history to be able to tell us, conclusively, if we were somewhere running off the rails.

Exactly one name came to us both: Judy Austin. And from the beginning of the project until shortly before it went to print, she looked over our lists, provided sage background and suggestions, and kept us on track. At least, as much as anyone could have.

This week, Austin is receiving the annual Idaho Humanities Council Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities award for her work on Idaho history. That work, which has been ongoing since 1967 and continues at full speed today, is so wide-ranging as to defy any further definition. The center of it, probably, is her more than two decades as editor of Idaho Yesterdays history magazine, up until its closure in 2002. (That closure by state officials, depriving the state of its only major historical publication, was and is a travesty.) Along the way, as the IHC noted, she “became a mentor, writer, bibliographer, co-author, consultant, and general encourager to countless researchers, young and old, engaged in exploring the history of Idaho and the American West.”

Those range from national bestselling author Anthony Lukas, whose magisterial Big Trouble (about the Haywood murder conspiracy trial) benefited greatly from Austin’s help, to Lin Tull Cannell, an amateur historian at Orofino who turned her interest in the pioneer William Craig into a book (which – disclosure here – I published) called The Intermediary. And, among many others over the years and on other efforts besides the 100, me.

When she arrived in Boise in 1967, she went to work for the Idaho historian who more or less founded the field, Merle Wells. During the two decades they worked together and into his retirement, a foundation was set for research and publication of Idaho history. It was institutionalized, with strong staffing and steadily improving collections and public service.

The Idaho State Historical Society has better quarters these days, near the old Idaho Penitentiary on the eastern edge of Boise, than it did then. But budgets have been cut, and the hard-working and skillful staff there is increasingly stretched thin. Preservation and research into Idaho history has not been a state budget priority, especially not in the last decade. A lot of the institutional building, developing the field of Idaho history that made such progress in the mid-to-latter 20th century has been chopped away in the 21st.

These have been difficult times for many history programs around the country, and Idaho’s has been hit especially hard. A state that ties itself to tradition the way Idaho does – you hear it in state political campaigns every cycle – could benefit especially from a very strong understanding and recording of the facts instead of the myth.

Judy Austin richly deserves her award this week, not least for her work keeping the facts and the myths in their relative places.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column



 
Some thoughts from legislators on what may happen with Idaho’s school broadband program.

Share on Facebook

Idaho

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Idahoans head to North Dakota for oil money (Boise Statesman)
Capone case costs county half a million (Lewiston Tribune)
Aquatics center called ‘structurally unsafe’ (Moscow News)
Pullman may build new school (Moscow News)
OPE report suggests move legal work to AG (Nampa Press Tribune)
Schools treat e-cigarettes like drugs (Nampa Press Tribune)

Setting sales cost for Eugene Electric land (Eugene Register Guard)
Feds expand Kitzhaber finance probe (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune)
Congress looking into Cover Oregon issues (Portland Oregonian)
Republicans seek advantage in scandal (Salem Statesman Journal)
Polk Co puts law enforcement levy on ballot (Salem Statesman Journal)

Unfunded initiatives may face law (Tacoma News Tribune, Vancouver Columbian, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Port Angeles News, Longview News)
Changes planned for 4th Street in Bremerton (Bremerton Sun)
Amazon drones may be barred by FAA (Seattle Times)
Washington rules going after carbon (Spokane Spokesman)
Pierce property taxes going up 7.7% (Tacoma News Tribune)

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The St. Luke’s Idaho Health System web site lists “facilities” – mainly meaning hospitals – at locations around Idaho including Boise (two hospitals there), Nampa, Caldwell, Eagle, Fruitland, Mountain Home, Jerome, Twin Falls, McCall, Meridian and Ketchum.

That’s some major reach. The main barrier keeping St. Luke’s from monopoly status is the St. Alphonsus organization, with hospitals in Boise and Nampa, an emergency room as well in Eagle, and other facilities in Caldwell.

These are not unusual cases: Nationally, health care is seeing major consolidations. The day of the independent, more or less, local hospital is at twilight, and more health businesses and non-profits (the differences between them can be subtle in some cases) are becoming Wal-Mart behemoths. And where will that take health care?

This question was peripheral – though it did relate – to the 9th Circuit Court decision handed down last week upholding Idaho District Judge Lynn Winmill in his order that St. Luke’s divest itself of the Saltzer Medical Group. The court described Saltzer as “the largest independent multi-specialty physician group in Idaho, [which] had thirty-four physicians practicing at its offices in Nampa.”

There’s a sense among many health providers that moving toward integrated systems, unifying the networks of physicians and health care organizations, is the best avenue toward controlling and maybe reducing health care costs. There’s some logic to this. The efforts underway to some extent nationally and to a larger degree in some states (Oregon and Washington for two) toward coordinated care are aimed at focusing on better health results for patients and a reduction of the pay-per-service approach, and systems that routinely bring people into the system via emergency rooms, which between them help drive up many costs. These efforts rely on bringing broad networks of health providers together to seek out efficiencies, rather than pit everyone individually to grub as much money out of the system as they can.

The 9th Circuit noted that “Saltzer had long had the goal of moving toward integrated patient care and risk-based reimbursement. After unsuccessfully attempting several informal affiliations, including one with St. Luke’s, Saltzer sought a formal partnership with a large health care system.” That turned out to be St. Luke’s. And leadership at St .Luke’s has mentioned as well the idea of more cooperative systems as a way to control health costs and improve results.

There’s some tension here between that possible improvement and concerns about monopoly. From the 9th Circuit decision again: “The district court expressly noted the troubled state of the U.S. health care system, found that St. Luke’s and Saltzer genuinely intended to move toward a better health care system, and expressed its belief that the merger would “improve patient outcomes” if left intact. Nonetheless, the court found that the “huge market share” of the post-merger entity “creates a substantial risk of anticompetitive price increases” in the Nampa adult PCP [primary care physician] market. Rejecting an argument by St. Luke’s that anticipated post-merger efficiencies excused the potential anticompetitive price effects, the district court ordered divestiture.”

There’s some sense here that the tension is between the opportunity for reasonable cost control on one hand, and monopoly (with all its attendant problems) on the other. Something like this happened a century ago with the electric power industry, which led to a compromise which generally has worked since – a series of profitable monopoly businesses that have been tightly regulated.

The time may be coming when we need to look at health care providers in a new way. Maybe that way.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

The headline on the Idaho Reporter story said, “Idaho lawmakers mandate car dealership hours,” but that’s only one piece of the tale. The remainder is the portion few Idahoans see but accounts for a lot of the much-despised regulation of industry.

This particular instance arrived February 3 before the House Transportation and Defense Committee, which was reviewing new Idaho Transportation Department rules. One of them required a certain number of hours per week car dealerships must keep their doors open to the public, and report their business hours to state regulators. By a thin margin, the committee approved the rule.

Several committee members argued that this was governmental regulatory overreach – a government agency seeking more power than it ought to have.

But the underlying story emerged when Representative Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, said that “We need to support this because people in the industry support it.”

What? The industry supports this added piece of government regulation?

You bet.

The motivations may be several. One car dealer warned of shady operators who might be hard to find if things go wrong during a purchase or later. There could also be some motivation to set the bar to entry in the business a little higher, excluding people who might try to start a small dealership working on weekends. Without trying to read minds here, there may be in all a mix of rationales, both public-serving and self-serving. But these motivations come chiefly from the industry. In the case of the car dealer hours rule, you would not have seen such general support from the industry if that industry wasn’t the basic source of the proposal.

The testimony indicated that the department wrote the rule, but it’s a very safe bet that the push for it came from the auto dealers themselves. Remember the governmental rules regulating banking hours? Recall who was pressing for that? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t either bureaucrats or consumer groups.

Anyone who draws a bright line between government and business poorly understands either. Business lobbyists visit the legislature every year for more laws and rules, but that’s only the proverbial iceberg tip. Many of them, or representatives for them, are a regular presence at agencies too. The savvier associations lobby agencies all year long to alter or adopt rules they see as in their benefit (and maybe the public’s as well). Revolving doors between the regulators and the regulated are commonplace at the federal level but show up in the states too.

Regulation of most of the business and professional organizations that are today regulated, from doctors and lawyers to surveyors and truckers, got started in most cases with requests from those industries that they be regulated. When the doctors first sought regulation, they wanted to weed out the quacks and improve professional quality, and raise the bar to entry to limit the number of doctors. It’s an old story.

Not that this is all bad. Government should be responsive, and it should listen to the regulated as well as the rest of the public. It’s called the right of redress.

And there are sometimes public interests to be considered too; in the auto hours case, several legislators argued that steady hours would be clearly a consumer benefit. Maybe so.

Either way, when you hear about the mass of government rules and regulations bearing down on business and the rest of us, remember: The push for it came from somewhere, and in most cases it probably wasn’t from a bureaucrat looking for more work to do.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a guest opinion by Levi B Cavener. Cavener is a special education teacher in Caldwell. He also manages the blog IdahosPromise.org where a larger version of this piece, including hyperlinks to primary sources, is available.

Recently, Roger Quarles, executive director of the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation and former chief deputy on Tom Luna’s staff, announced that the Albertson Foundation would change course in its philanthropic giving, moving away from public schools and focusing new dollars on community based projects.

The reason for the alleged shift seems to be due to an underlying frustration that teachers and schools just weren’t adopting Albertson-fueled “innovation” quick enough. In a recent Boise State Public Radio interview Quarles voiced his frustration regarding the lack of Idaho schools to adopt Albertson initiatives, “You have to look at that and go ‘fundamentally there’s some problems within that system.’”

Let me be clear: Albertson has done some terrific work in supplying schools and students with funds to pilot classroom technology, curriculum, and emerging instructional methods. However, let me also point out that Albertson and Quarles have been equally complicit in building those exact same “fundamental problems.” For example, take Idaho’s longitudinal cradle to cadaver data tracking system: Idaho System of Educational Excellence (ISEE) and its companion, Schoolnet.

ISEE/Schoolnet was developed to uniformly track student and teacher data across the state. Unfortunately, millions of dollars and years later – and funded by both Idaho and the Albertson Foundation – ISEE/Schoolnet, like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, is still lying on the table waiting to be shocked into life. ISEE/Schoolnet has been such a colossal failure that in 2014 Idaho paid school districts to fund whatever system they preferred.

Schoolnet was so dysfunctional that Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, inquired at a 2013 legislative committee meeting, “Is [Schoolnet] working anywhere, for any purpose, to improve education?” The answer? No. In addition, as reported in both the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Ed News, when the data finally made it into teachers’ hands, it often wasn’t accurate.

Said one U.S. Dept. of Education federal grant reviewer of Idaho’s original ISEE/Schoolnet plan, “Idaho could benefit from examining the successful models of several states and hiring a professional grant writer and some technical experts….” While such feedback should have initially tapped the brakes on the project, Idaho and the Albertson Foundation pushed the gas to the floor, with Albertson promising a $21 million dollar grant.

Which is where Mr. Quarles fits in. When the Legislature caught whiff of the project’s total ineptitude, Supt. Luna dispatched then-Chief Deputy Quarles to clean up the mess. It didn’t go well. Despite some “software CPR,” districts across the state jumped ship and started again using a hodgepodge of independent data systems.

It gets better: Since then, Quarles left his post as chief deputy to become executive director of the Albertson Foundation. One of his first acts as executive director was to break the Foundation’s promise to Idaho’s schools and students by withholding the final ISEE/Schoolnet funds. To be fair, it was the correct decision; the writing was on the wall about ISEE/Schoolnet. Even Pearson, the company hired to build ISEE/Schoolnet, skipped town.

But this dysfunctional outcome is precisely the type of “fundamental problem” that Quarles places on Idaho’s public school system. Perhaps it’s better that ISEE/Schoolnet remains in the lab on life support. Like Victor Frankenstein’s monster, some things just aren’t meant to be shocked into life.

Albertson’s decision to back out is telling; it highlights precisely the dysfunction caused when radical, ideologically driven interest groups dabble in education policy. Albertson’s continued commitment to funding more special interest groups, like Teach For America, merely compounds the so called “fundamental problems” here in Idaho. Sorry, but Idaho’s “fundamental problem” has nobody to blame more than the Albertson Foundation itself.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Reading

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

In the spring of 1941 the United States, not yet at war but observing that much of the rest of the world was, was cranking its defense industry to full speed. It hit road bumps, one being a systematic unwillingness by some employers to hire certain workers, often on the basis of race or religion.

To counter this, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. He declared that, “There is evidence available that needed workers have been barred from industries engaged in defense production solely because of considerations of race, creed, color or national origin, to the detriment of workers’ morale and of national unity.” And he ordered that defense contractors hire and treat employees the same regardless of “race, creed, color, or national origin,” not just as a matter of fairness but also as a matter of national security.

This long preceded the civil rights movement, but if the language sounds familiar, that’s no accident. The move toward equity seeded in World War II later set a kind of bar. In areas far beyond national defense, Congress and state legislatures declared that, in varying ways and for diverse groups of people, large-scale and commonplace discrimination has occurred, and that pushing back against it is in the national or state interest.

The 20-plus hours of testimony last week in Boise over House Bill 2, the now-rejected proposal to “add the words” of sexual orientation and gender identity, was an emotional event on both sides, but questions of broader interest, touching all Idahoans, got little attention.

The experience of other states and Idaho cities that have adopted similar language indicates that actual usage of the law probably would be slight. Since Boise passed a similar ordinance in December 2012, either two complaints or none (depending on your analysis) have been filed, and quietly handled, under it. That would be in line with most of the 20 or so states that have passed similar laws; the few much-noted cases involving cake-bakers and florists are rare enough to serve better as fluke news stories rather than as harbingers of trends.

Discrimination against gay and transsexual people, however, is not rare and not hard to document in substantial numbers, and in many places has mirrored the experience of people originally covered under the “race, creed, color” approach. Not many other social segments mentioned as prospects for “covered” groups (tall people, obese, smokers, others) can claim that scale of negative treatment.

Is there a social problem here, a need for action, as Roosevelt cited in 1941? Departing Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson offered one, saying that communities will be safer with the law in place because people afraid to report violent attacks became more willing to do so after Boise changed its ordinance. “We’ll all enjoy a safer community if we add the words to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in our Human Rights Act,” he said.

Some business owners testified last week they are concerned about the possibility of lawsuits under HB2, but many others have called for the change, in other states and in Idaho; the Boise Chamber of Commerce, for example, endorsed the bill.

There’s a specific state interest as well, of course, in protecting the right of people to exercise their religion. (Though this isn’t the religion-v-gay rights battle some people seem to want to pitch; quite a few in the clergy supported HB2, as others opposed it.) If harassment against people of faith in Idaho does emerge, the legislature should have some work to do. But it seems improbable. In a state with Idaho’s richly-churched demographics, the idea of freedom of religion being at risk, while churchgoing people carry on as they always have in places like Seattle and Portland, seems a little far fetched.

Some of the critics of HB 2 made the useful point that protections in one place can mean a loss somewhere else. That’s not only true, it’s the reality underlying all kinds of legislation (the “ag-gag” law, for example, benefits one group and disadvantages others). In the case of HB2, and eventual future-numbered bills (which will emerge with time), as with other anti-discrimination legislation, any real evaluation has to put these elements in context. Do the people of America get more out of the right to discriminate by race, which advantaged some people, or out of a defense industry where that wasn’t allowed? Do Idaho and the people in it get more out of the current silence on sexual orientation and identity in discrimination law, or out of protections like those in HB 2?

That question won’t go away. It may resolve in the end, as these things often do, more on calculation than on feelings.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

Idaho Department of Fish & Game Director Virgil Moore has maintained that many of the people active in the state’s wolf debates have been over- or under-stating various facts and distorting the issue. On January 29 he released this statement.

It’s important for state agencies to understand and respect differing points of view. But when a few advocacy groups try to grab headlines by skewing Idaho Fish and Game scientific wolf monitoring data in ways that simply aren’t true, it’s also important to set the record straight.

Here are the facts:

Idaho has more than 100 documented wolf packs and over 600 wolves. Idaho’s wolf population far exceeds federal recovery levels of 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves.

After meeting federal recovery levels in 2002, Idaho’s wolf population grew largely unchecked for the remainder of the decade, resulting in increased conflicts with other big game populations and livestock.

After 4 harvest seasons since the 2011 delisting, livestock depredations have declined. Wolf predation continues to have unacceptable impacts to some elk populations, but there are signs elk populations are responding positively to wolf management.

Wolves in Idaho continue to be prolific and resilient. Idaho will keep managing wolves to have a sustainable, delisted population and to reduce conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

Despite these facts, a few advocacy groups chose to take the breeding pair metric out of context to make claims that Idaho wolves are “teetering on the brink of endangered status once again.” That’s hogwash. And it’s the kind of polarizing misinformation that undermines responsible wildlife conservation and management in Idaho.

Confirming a pack meets U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s narrow definition of a “breeding pair” is costly and labor-intensive. With vast reductions in federal funding to the state and Nez Perce Tribe for wolf monitoring, Fish and Game has focused our effort on demonstrating Idaho has at least 15 “breeding pairs” to comply with federal recovery requirements. Idaho closely surveyed 30 packs and confirmed that 22 of them met the breeding pair standard at the end of 2014. Because Idaho has shown it is well above federal recovery levels, we may rely on less intensive monitoring for the other 70 + packs as we complete our final 2014 population estimates. One can assume these 70+ packs include some additional breeding pairs. We will publish our annual monitoring report in March.

As trained scientists, Idaho Fish and Game stands by our data and our wildlife management plans. We manage wolves to ensure we keep state management authority and address conflicts with people, livestock, and other big game populations.

I hope people who truly care about wildlife conservation ignore the exaggerations and misinformation and help Fish and Game focus on the real issues affecting Idaho’s wildlife.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Reading

From the first day of hearings on the “add the words” bill (House Bill 2) at the Idaho Legislature. The hearing is being held by the House State Affairs Committee.

Share on Facebook

Idaho