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Posts published in “Malloy”

Risch argues for filibuster

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It’s not often when Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch uses terms such as “great,” “outstanding” and “thoughtful” to describe speeches by Democrats. But he gives those accolades to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer for his plea on the Senate floor in 2005 for keeping the filibuster.

At that time, Republicans were in the majority and talk was swirling about getting rid of the filibuster, which would mean that Senate bills could pass by a simple majority, opposed to the 60 votes required with the filibuster.

“Checks and balances, which have been the core of this republic, are about to be evaporated,” Schumer said. “The checks and balances, which say that if you get 51 percent of the vote, you don’t get your way 100 percent of the time.”

The New York Democrat took a swipe at “hard-right” Republicans, saying they “want their way every single time and they will change the rules, break the rules, misread the rules, misread the Constitution so they can get their way.”

Risch was correct. It was a fine speech, complete with passion and some fist pounding. Now, with Democrats holding a majority, talk about ending the filibuster has resurfaced. It will be interesting to see how Schumer responds if the issue advances.

Risch supports keeping the filibuster regardless of what party holds the majority.

“Nothing happens in the Senate without unanimous consent, which is how most things get done, or without give-and-take negotiations through bipartisanship. Without the filibuster, all that goes out the window. The party in power no longer has to negotiate with the other side,” Risch says.

An example of give-and-take negotiations, Risch says, are the four COVID relief packages that passed Congress with at least a smattering of bipartisan support. President Biden had one COVID relief bill that had no support for Republicans, who complained that the nearly $2 trillion package had nothing to do with COVID relief. Biden may have gotten at least a few Republican votes if he had pulled back some on the price tag, but we’ll never know. Republicans, such as Risch, hope that’s not a sign of what’s to come from the new administration.

But for Risch, life goes on. He doesn’t run away from the partisan fights, but his day-to-day focus is on other areas that don’t garner media attention. He says that personal relationships, with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, generally are civil and constructive.

Risch serves on three panels where partisanship practically does not exist – the Ethics Committee (three Republicans and three Democrats), the Select Committee on Intelligence and the Foreign Relations Committee, where he is the ranking member.

On the first two, especially, “if you walk in the room and listen to the discussion, you couldn’t tell a Republican from a Democrat,” he says. “The Foreign Relations Committee is not completely bipartisan, but it’s close to it.”

Risch chaired Foreign Relations when Republicans held power and is now the ranking member, changing places with Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey. The two have differences on some issues, but are on the same side on issues such as dealing with China on territorial violations.

Risch also has a few differences with the Biden administration on foreign policy, but reserves judgment overall. “We need to give him a chance and the space to do what he’s going to do. When it comes to foreign policy, what’s good for America is good for America regardless of whether you are a Republican and Democrat. I want to help him in any way I can to improve our standing in the world.”

On partisan issues, Risch won’t be so diplomatic. There is considerable sentiment for granting statehood to the District of Columbia, which among other things, is certain to pad the Democratic majority in the Senate. Risch and other Republicans are certain to give a few fist-pounding speeches if that idea advances in the full Senate.

Without question, congressional politics was more fun for Risch with Donald Trump as president and the Senate being controlled by Republicans. But he doesn’t dwell on those things.

“We still have a job to do,” he says. “We will survive. We’re Americans and we’ve survived a lot worse than this.”

After more than 50 years in politics, Risch has seen much worse.
 

A march to the right

malloy

This year may not be a banner year for Gov. Brad Little or the Idaho Legislature, which is approaching the tail end of an 18-day COVID recess. But it has been a nice session for Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as far as raising her political profile and conservatives in general.

Since the start of this year’s session, McGeachin – with help of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and legislators – has been doing weekly programs called “Capitol Clarity,” aimed at bringing everyday Idahoans closer to the Legislature. The segments included tutorials about the legislative process, how bills become laws and tips on testifying before committees. They also served as an outlet for conservative legislators to present their positions. Recent guests included Rep. Karey Hanks (St. Anthony), who talked about her bill to eliminate government mask mandates and Sen. Christy Zito (Hammett), who discussed her bill called the “Small Arms Protection Act,” designed to protect gun owners from regulations and eventual confiscation.

McGeachin now has an expanded audience, with Boise’s KBOI radio adding “Capitol Clarity” to its talk-show lineup on Thursday afternoons. As lieutenant governor, McGeachin has almost no say in public policy, but her higher profile certainly serves her well whether she seeks re-election or decides to take on Little in next year’s Republican primary. The governor’s race is one that she could win in light of the controversy over Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, and McGeachin has made it clear that she’s not siding with the governor.

McGeachin’s base is no longer confined to the small band of conservative rebels who are fed up with the political establishment. It now potentially includes anyone who voted for Donald Trump (McGeachin was among the most avid supporters) … anyone who doesn’t like the governor’s emergency actions … anyone who dislikes mask mandates and business lockdowns … anyone who is skeptical about vaccines … and anyone who cheers the Legislature’s efforts to reform education and put the conservative stamp on social justice.

That’s a strong enough base to win any election in Idaho, outside of Blaine County. McGeachin also seems to have generous support from like-minded conservatives in the Legislature – which is growing both in numbers and stature.

For now, McGeachin is focused on getting through next year, and she provides some populist appeal in her recent newsletter.

“This means another two and a half weeks (at least) before the Legislature will take up proposals for tax relief, education reform, and efforts to constrain executive emergency powers,” she wrote. “Wouldn’t it have been better to accomplish these goals over the last 10 weeks instead of putting them off until (what was supposed to be) the very last week of the session?”

Yes, it would be nice if the Legislature could move faster, but in the interest of “Capitol Clarity,” that’s not how it works. The legislative process is slow and deliberative by design. It involves extensive committee work, lengthy hearings and exhausting floor debates in the House and Senate. The snail’s pace works well for setting budgets and public policy in the long run … not so much for dealing with emergencies, such as the coronavirus pandemic.

But conservatives, and McGeachin, have made their mark with their vocal opposition to the governor’s actions. The so-called “liberty caucus” in the House, once viewed as political outcasts, is now closer to the mainstream on the GOP side.

“Our agenda includes lowering taxes, reducing government and restoring freedoms to Idahoans,” said Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg, one of the leading House conservatives.

Republicans have been standing behind those principles for decades, but there are added features in today’s environment. They include initiatives such as molding education to conform more to “Idaho values” and abolishing the Powerball lottery because what other nations might do with that revenue.

“The House and Senate, albeit slowly, are getting the needed work done on emergency orders, gatherings restrictions, and balance of power clarity,” Nate says. “We will have tax relief, and we will have some freedom wins (school choice, health rights, business freedom).”

It remains to be seen what will get done this year and how long it will take for lawmakers to complete their business. One thing for certain is that McGeachin and her friends will continue finding ways to gain attention.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

Breaching

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Congressman Mike Simpson has a generous amount of support for his idea to breach the the four Lower Snake River dams in the quest to save salmon, but not from Idaho Republicans – the crowd that he is trying to convince.

Simpson’s fan club on the issue includes Democrats, environmental coalitions, several editorial writers and Rocky Barker – a longtime environmental writer who I think of as the “godfather” of dam breaching. During his time with the Idaho Statesman in the 1990s, Rocky led the way for the newspaper’s nationally acclaimed special section on dam breaching that practically served as a bible for the salmon advocates.

The special section had all the bases covered, from the science behind dam breaching to the economic benefits of salmon recovery – the same principles that are behind Simpson’s idea. Despite those laudable efforts by Barker and the Statesman’s staff, Republicans in power remain opposed to breaching.

That is, with the exception of Simpson, who is trying to end the salmon wars and litigation that have had a stranglehold on the Northwest economy for almost 30 years. He’s asking stakeholders “what if” the dams were removed and how they could be kept whole. He’s also discussing concepts that would pay for replacement power and other economic projects. Even with all that, Simpson says he can’t guarantee that breaching is the magic answer for saving the fish – he’s certain that salmon eventually would become extinct without breaching.

As Rocky would tell me, the science backs Simpson. Yet, leading Republicans are rejecting Simpson’s ideas, looking elsewhere for a silver bullet – something that has not surfaced in at least three decades of debate.

“Breaching the dams would have devastating impacts on Idahoans and vital segments of Idaho’s economy,” said Gov. Brad Little. “We must continue to find creative consensus-based solutions that help salmon thrive and foster a strong Idaho’s economy.”

Little has a salmon working group in place that is searching for pragmatic solutions to the salmon issue. He also signed an agreement with governors of neighboring states to advance the shared goal of salmon recovery.

Something might come from those efforts, but so far it has been crickets.
The governor isn’t the only one weighing in on Simpson’s idea. House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley and Sen. Carl Crabtree of Grangeville are among those who have written opinion pieces opposing breaching and the Idaho Legislature passed a memorial expressing opposition to breaching.

Congressman Russ Fulcher also opposes Simpson’s plan, which is understandable considering that the Port of Lewiston is part of Fulcher’s First District. To a lot of folks in that region, “breaching” is a four-letter word.

“Those dams were put in place decades ago, at a high expense, for a reason. It’s for power generation for the northwest, transportations for the ports. It’s for irrigation that our agriculture community depends on,” Fulcher said. “Here’s the kicker. Even Mike will say we don’t know for sure if we take them out that salmon will be saved.”

In general, Fulcher says, it’s a gamble that is not worth taking.

But as Fulcher explains, the disagreement over breaching does not signal a rift with Idaho’s two representatives. Simpson understands Fulcher’s position and who he represents. The Port of Lewiston is as sacred to Fulcher as the Idaho National Laboratory is to Simpson.

“When I talk with people about this, I tell them they should talk with Mike because he has a thoughtful and legitimate position on the issue. And he has legitimate counters to all the arguments on the other side. We just happen to disagree,” Fulcher said.

“I never will say anything disparaging about him, or his plan. I just try to make the case of why I disagree with it … and that’s the way it ought to be.”

It’s nice to know that civility exists within our congressional delegation. But for the Idaho Republicans who are opposed to breaching, they can always look on the bright side.

At least Simpson didn’t vote to impeach Donald Trump.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

Crapo and Covid relief

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Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo hopes that at least a couple of Democrats will want to take a second look at the $1.9 trillion COVID relief package that is heading to the Senate. If that happens, he says, there’s a chance that money can be channeled toward the people who need it the most.

Crapo is all for passing another coronavirus relief package, even if it means increasing the national debt. “But I’m not for building a bridge from New York to Canada, which is part of their bill.”

The senator stands behind some parts of the bill that provides funding to individuals, restaurant operators, a Payment Protection Program for small businesses and vaccines. But he wants no part of spending $50 million for “family planning” services, such as Planned Parenthood, which according to Forbes, also is part of the package. The bill also provides $200 million to the Institute of Museum and Library Services and $270 million to the National Endowment of the Arts.

In other words, this bill has more pork than a sausage factory.

“Huge portions are not even related to COVID relief, or even closely related to COVID relief,” Crapo says. “The amount we’re looking for is much smaller, under $1 trillion, and is focused on COVID relief. We need to remember, this is borrowed money. The national debt is still a crucial issue.”

As Crapo sees it, what happens on COVID relief will set the tone for President Joe Biden and his working relationship with Republicans. If Democrats ram through the package without Republican support, or input, it could be four years of gridlock – which is something that Crapo hopes to avoid.

“There is significant potential for bipartisan agreements in the tax arena, trade arena and health care arena,” Crapo says. “If he wants to work with us, we are ready to work with him.”

Crapo, who this year moved from the banking committee to ranking member of the Finance Committee, is more certain about his cordial working relationship with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Or., who chairs the finance panel. They’ll have their disagreements, starting with COVID relief, and Crapo’s office will churn out press releases expressing his opposition. But with both being from the Pacific Northwest, there’s a lot of common ground as well. Over the years, both have fought for more resources for wildfire management and the Secure Rural Schools initiative.

Crapo, naturally, hopes that Republicans will regain control of the Senate in two years and roles with Wyden on the Finance Committee will be reversed. In the meantime, he’s looking for a productive tenure as the committee’s ranking member – with an eye toward reducing the partisan rancor. His focus will be on issues such as tax policy, trade agreements, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

He backs away from the political fights that headline the network news. One common question is whether he backs Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell or former President Trump. Crapo’s answer is short, and blunt.

“I support Mitch McConnell as our leader and the caucus backs him as well,” Crapo says. “The media makes more of this matter than what’s there.”

Does Crapo agree with Sen. Lindsey Graham and others who view Trump as the party’s supreme leader? Crapo is bored with that one.

“I get that kind of question every presidential election cycle,” he says. “I’m going to get that question from a lot of people every year until the election. My answer is the same. It’s far too early to designate who will be the leader of the party in the presidential context. The decision will be made in the primaries, and I’ll tell you the leader after that process runs out.”

It’s clear that Crapo will never be a headline speaker at a CPAC convention, standing with the likes of Sen. Ted Cruz and railing about how the last election was rigged against Trump. But political grandstanding has never been Crapo’s style.

At the moment, he has more important business in front of him.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

Party recruiting

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Although the GOP continues to be the party of Donald Trump, at least one prominent Idaho Republican has put the former president in his rearview mirror.

Tom Luna, the state’s Republican Party chairman, is not distancing himself from Trump by any means. He’s just focused on other matters, such as preparing for the next election and expanding the GOP’s base in one of the nation’s fastest-growing states. On the Trump-front, all is peaceful in this state, with Idaho’s two House members voting against impeachment and the two senators voting for acquittal.

“As a state party chair, we’re looking at a year from now,” Luna says. “We’ll be in the middle of a primary election campaign and we will be recruiting candidates to make sure we have quality people running.”

Republicans, as usual, have a lot of success stories from the last election, with Sen. Jim Risch and Reps. Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher winning by wide margins. The GOP, which was expected to lose some seats in the Legislature, ending up gaining some.

But Luna warns that Democrats also have made gains, with 2020 numbers increasing by about 100,000. “The Democrats are a growing party. We exceeded our previous numbers as well, but we shouldn’t assume that the future is going to continue to be bright if we take our eye off the ball.”

The party’s strategy is simple: Grow the base and reach out to the throngs of people moving into the Gem State. Luna offers plenty of selling points. “We have the No. 1 economy in the country and a huge surplus when most states are experiencing a fiscal downturn. When the Legislature goes home, we will see historic steps to invest in infrastructure and parental choice in education. The first time they hear about the Republican Party will be from one of us. We have a strong economy and quality of life and it is built on the principles of the Republican Party.”

Luna knows that the politics can change, especially in a growing state.

“It wasn’t too many years ago that Colorado was considered a safe red state,” he said. “But it all flipped, literally, in just a few short election cycles. What’s similar to Idaho is that Colorado is a fast-growing state. Democrats came in with resources and began to engage. They are doing the same thing in Idaho.”

Luna wants a unified party that focuses on core principles such as a smaller government, fiscal responsibility, strong families and second-amendment protection. “Anybody who believes in those values are welcome to be part of this big tent. The biggest threat to what we value is not our fellow Republicans, but the liberal socialist agenda that the Democrats are unashamedly now embracing and not even trying to hide.”

One of Idaho’s leading Democrats, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise, has a far different viewpoint – based on divisions she sees with the GOP.

“A big tent is not what I think about when I see that,” she says. “It seems more like an effort to purge anybody who is not towing the line. If our senators had voted to acquit, they would have been very rapidly on the receiving end of some very vicious censuring from the state party.”

Rubel sees more Republicans than Democrats moving to the state, but attitudes can change over time. She says that the Democratic Party is the place to be if people are looking for a middle ground politically.

“It could take some time, maybe a year or two to see, but a lot of people will realize that the landscape here has shifted to the far right,” Rubel said. “In time, people will be dismayed to find that we are 50th in education, don’t offer full-day kindergarten and are only one of four states that don’t have early childhood education. In time, they may find that the Democratic Party is closer to their liking than the Republican Party on bread-and-butter issues.”

People such as Luna and Rubel will give new Idahoans something to think about when they move to the Gem State, and a lot of political philosophy to process.

When the welcome wagon comes, newcomers shouldn’t be alarmed to see elephants and donkeys on their front lawn.
 

Crane and Covid

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Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa has spent much of his 15 years in the Legislature promoting lower taxes, less government and abortion restrictions – the kind of causes that tend to win over conservatives in Canyon County. He followed nicely in the footsteps of his father, Ron Crane, a longtime state treasurer who served 16 years as a Canyon County state representative.

The younger Crane has not lost sight of those core issues, but lately he focused on a different passion – getting life back to normal in Idaho. As chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, he is at the center of discussions about Gov. Brad Little’s executive powers and the overall handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We started the session with two different viewpoints – with the House and Senate squarely in line with one position and the executive branch in line with another position,” Crane says. “The governor didn’t ask for a pandemic, he was dealt with a pandemic and has responded in the way he thought was best.”

And the Legislature has respectively disagreed.

As Crane sees it, these conversations are necessary. “We need to talk about what’s what works well, what doesn’t work well and what needs to be fixed. We should discuss the Legislature’s ability to call itself into session and to appropriate money. If there is an emergency declaration, how long should that declaration go?”

One issue that is off the table is impeachment, an idea proposed by Rep. Chad Christensen of Ammon and flatly rejected by Crane. Although Crane sharply disagrees with Little on several fronts, there are no grounds for impeachment.

“We need to keep in mind the end goal, which is to set the table for future legislatures, future governors, future mayors, future health districts to know what the rules are. Idahoans should know what to expect, and what the process is going to look like, should we have another pandemic,” Crane says.

His objective is for the Legislature and governor to do whatever it takes to open up the state, get business operating as normal and put some fans in the stands for sporting events, such as the state high school basketball tournaments. Crane has been working with Rep. Ehardt of Idaho Falls on that end.

“A state championship game is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for some kids,” Crane said. “They deserve to have people in the stands -- moms, dads and student sections.”

It’s not all about sports. Crane says there needs to be prom nights, graduation ceremonies and other social gatherings. In general, he is pushing to get kids back in school.

“The long-term impact of kids not being in school is going to be significant,” he says. “Parents and kids are frustrated. Rep. Ehardt and I want the kids to know that we see them, we hear them and we are going to bat for them. We’ve got to get the schools back open and we are going to fight for the kids. They are our future.”

As Crane sees it, the greatest casualty to the coronavirus pandemic is common sense. For whatever the reason, it’s OK to pack some of the big shopping centers, but not OK for fans to cheer on their teams.

“Logically, it doesn’t make sense whatsoever,” Crane says. “Yes, people are getting COVID, but the survival rate is 99.7 percent. If you are at risk, then stay home and be careful. But for crying out loud, let’s make sure we can get life back to normal for these kids.”

Crane has plenty of allies in the Legislature, including Sen. Christy Zito of Hammett, writing in her recent newsletter. “Through the governor’s emergency orders businesses were lost, families devastated by not being with loved ones as they passed, major family events ruined, children kept out of school and conditioned to believe that the next person that breathed near them may kill them, medical care denied, the list goes on.”

She compared the Legislature’s series of moves and the governor’s countering moves over the last few weeks to a “horrible game of chess.”

Zito makes a good point. Of course, for you TV viewers, this bumbling chess match is not nearly as captivating as the Queen’s Gambit.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist who lives in Meridian. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

The lieutenant governor question

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Former Republican Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene is running for lieutenant governor next year, but what remains to be seen is who he runs against and how crowded the field will be.
Much depends on what Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin decides. There’s wide speculation that she will run for governor next year, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see her running for re-election if another conservative candidate emerges at the top of the ticket.

Malek, who has a law practice in Coeur d’Alene and Boise, says he’s fine with however it shakes out. If the lieutenant governor’s race is an open seat, and the field is crowded, he’ll offer plenty of strong talking points. He’s 39 years old with ample experience in the Legislature. He finished third in a seven-way primary race for Congress in 2018, which was won easily by Rep. Russ Fulcher. But Malek created a positive name recognition for himself, finishing a percentage point behind former Lt. Gov. David Leroy.

If Malek ends up going against McGeachin, he’s ready – if not eager – for the challenge. He’d be nothing like McGeachin in personality or style, and he would not make a dent into her right-wing base. But he offers appeal to a more centrist crowd that is put off by her lack of support for the governor on the coronavirus pandemic.

“She has endless criticism and absolutely no viable solutions,” Malek says. “Late last year, after months of ignoring all the hard work the governor, legislators and private citizens have put into preserving our economy, she publicized an idea that would have put government price regulations on private salaries in the healthcare industry, and put unproven gas chambers at the Capitol at $17 million in taxpayer expense. When those ideas were laughed out of the room, she reverts to attempting to undermine the governor’s credibility.”

Overall, Malek offers praise for Little in the face of criticisms from McGeachin and legislators. “Governor Little may in fact be doing better than any other governor in the U.S. in continuing to keep people safe and preserve our economy. Meanwhile, the number of cases continues to decline and our economy not only survives, but is poised to thrive while neighboring states like Washington have economies that are left in shambles.”

If he were the lieutenant governor, Malek says he would serve as a liaison the small businesses and families “that desperately need to be heard as policy decisions impact their businesses and lives.”

Malek would be more of a “team player” in a Republican administration – at least as long as Little remains as governor. The team-player concept might not work so well with McGeachin or former Congressman Raul Labrador in the governor’s chair, but that’s for voters to sort out.

Malek is getting a relatively early start in fund-raising and organizing, but not too early with a primary election looming in May of next year.

“One thing I learned from Congress is that you need lots of time to talk with the number of folks you need to run an effective campaign,” he said.

He has a long list of early supporters, including Rep. Rick Youngblood of Nampa, the co-chair of the Legislature’s joint budgeting committee. Former long-time Rep. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint also is backing Malek.

“He’s a bright individual and an Idahoan. I can’t think of a better candidate for lieutenant governor,” Youngblood says of Malek. “People of his age group need to step forward. I worked with him for two terms on JFAC. He watched budgets, worked with the agencies and showed up prepared – while carrying other bills.”

Keough says Malek has “the knowledge, expertise and background to carry out the responsibilities of the office. Working alongside of Luke while in the Legislature, I observed his commitment to even the smallest task and his ability to craft solutions to complex challenges and then get those solutions passed into law. Luke has also demonstrated his business skills in the private sector and knows what it takes to start from scratch and build and maintain a business or enterprise.”

On paper, the lieutenant governor doesn’t have massive responsibilities beyond presiding over the Senate when the Legislature is in session and serving as acting governor when the boss is out of the state. But regardless of who ends up running, the race for that office next year will be far from dull.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

New majority, new roles

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During most of his two years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Idaho Sen. Jim Risch made it a point not to publicly air his disagreements with the president on global issues.

With his close working relationship with President Trump, Risch did not need to spend his time sending out press releases or calling news conferences. He had an inside track with the Oval Office – the kind of clout with a president that only a few ever attain. Any disagreements Risch had with Trump were discussed, and settled, behind closed doors.

But with President Biden in command and Democrats holding a slim majority in the Senate, the rules have changed. It took Risch just two days into the Biden presidency to fire off a press release disagreeing with the president’s decision to extend the New START Treaty for five years.

Risch, while arguing for a shorter time frame, says the lengthy extension opens the door for Russians “to continue to expand and improve their tactical nuclear weapons and exotic delivery systems; the Chinese government to continue or even accelerate the growth of its nuclear forces, and the North Koreans to pursue new nuclear capabilities, including tactical nuclear weapons and larger solid-fuel.”

Those are scary prospects, for certain. But it’s a good guess that Biden will pay more heed to the incoming committee chairman, New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who praises the president for his move.

“It constrains Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, provides strong and detailed verification measures to ensure Russia adheres to its commitments, and ensures the United States has the flexibility it needs to maintain a safe, secure, modern and effective nuclear deterrent,” Menendez said in a news release. “This is an excellent first step in the Biden administration’s efforts to restore arms control as a critical tool for protecting the American people.”

The Senate Foreign Relations is one committee that is not consumed by partisan politics, so there’s no great divide here. Risch and Menendez are old pros who are well versed on the ins and outs of foreign policy. They are smart people who happen to disagree on this issue. But in terms of access to the president, the roles are reversed from the Trump years. Risch will have to find other forums to express his disagreements with the president, aside from personal contact.

Risch isn’t the only Republican senator adjusting to minority status. Sen. Mike Crapo, who also lost a chairmanship with Democrats now in control, has joined with 10 other GOP senators in the introduction of a constitutional amendment to keep the U.S. Supreme Court at nine members.

One of the worst fears for Republicans has been that the Democratic majority would add more liberal justices to the Supreme Court to balance the court’s ideological scale.

“The Supreme Court plays a vital role in safeguarding the United States Constitution, and has done so in a nonpartisan manner with nine members for more than 150 years,” said Crapo. “Packing the Supreme Court and increasing its size would give way to more partisan infiltration for many generations to come and would present greater and unnecessary volatile challenges in fairly and constitutionally settling the most pressing judicial cases affecting Americans.”

Republicans appear to be on safe ground for now, with two Democrats rejecting efforts to end the filibuster and the 60-vote requirement for the passage of most bills in the Senate. The call for a constitutional amendment, which likely will go nowhere beyond the GOP caucus rooms, essentially is a pre-emptive measure.

For Risch and Crapo, political life in the Senate was more fun when Republicans had the majority and they had lofty committee chairmanships. And with Trump in the White House, it was a golden age for the GOP in terms of political power.

But minority status is not necessarily a life sentence for Idaho’s senators. Politics is much like the weather. If you don’t like what you see, then hang around for two years and it will change.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com
 

Little and the legislature

malloy

Pop quiz: How many legislators does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: In Idaho, it’s 105 and it typically takes 70 days or longer to complete the task. Of course, the governor could change the bulb in a matter of seconds, giving quick response to the emergency at hand – replacing that darn burned-out light.

The bottom line is, when it comes to dealing with a once-a-century emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic, you don’t want the Legislature calling the shots. Ask 105 lawmakers what to do and you’re bound to get that many thoughts on what should be done. We’ve already heard a slew of opinions, ranging from a statewide mandate to going on with business as if a pandemic didn’t exist – both of which would have disastrous effects.

If left to legislators, they could spend months discussing those, and a few other bad ideas, and quite possibly come up with nothing.

The Legislature, by design, is a deliberative body that does most of its work through an elaborate process. The Legislature does take quick action on occasion, usually in the waning days in the session, but slap-dash solutions are not the answer with something such as the coronavirus.

The governor, by contrast, can and does respond to emergencies and Gov. Brad Little has made decisions based on science along with consultations with health experts, federal officials and other governors. And he has not been consumed with winning political popularity contests. While Little huddles with his task force and answers questions from citizens during his weekly AARP conferences, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin – a potential opponent for Little in next year’s primary -- is doing just about everything during this session except wearing campaign buttons and handing out brochures.

McGeachin has plenty of support from legislators. Rep. Heather Scott, a Blanchard Republican who has compared Little to a tyrant, opened the session with a resolution ending the state of emergency in Idaho. Other measures have been proposed, including taking away the governor’s ability to extend emergency orders. The Idaho House has given its nod to a constitutional amendment that would give legislators the authority to call for special sessions, a duty that has been vested with the governor.

By the end of last week, Little – who normally is a picture of calm – had heard all the nonsense he could stand. As he rightly pointed out, pulling the plug on emergency declarations could cost Idahoans millions of dollars in federal assistance while potentially slowing down the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

“Some members of the Idaho Legislature are seeking political gain by perpetuating misinformation about emergency declarations. They are playing politics, and unfortunately, the loser in this shameful game will be you – the citizens of Idaho,” Little wrote.

“I want the people of Idaho to know that I have explained to legislators for months the importance of the emergency declaration and the reasoning behind all of the decisions related to the pandemic response. I have sought their input and applied their advice to the state’s response,” he said.

“As I have stated over and over, the ‘no action’ alternative has never been an option. Pretending there is no COVID-19 emergency – as some in the Idaho Legislature are doing right now – will have devastating impacts on lives, our healthcare heroes who are protecting families and our economy.”

If the Legislature, as a co-equal branch of government, wants to be on equal footing with the governor and have the same access to resources, then it should take another step. Create a full-time Legislature and put professional politicians in charge.

With a full-time Legislature, each of the 105 lawmakers (making six-figure salaries) could have a chief of staff, a couple of legislative aides and maybe a press secretary to tell the home folks what a wonderful job their representatives are doing. With the Legislature at his beckon call, the governor would have a working partner for things like pandemic management and emergency orders.

That kind of partnership works well for the president and Congress, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure if Idahoans would be ready for a full-time Legislature, but politicians in this state don’t always keep public sentiment in mind when it comes to exercising power and massaging egos.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com