Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From the annual state of the judiciary address (to the legislature) in Idaho delivered today, by Chief Justice Roger Burdick. Quite a few revealing items scatter through the address.

Our vision includes real-time data from every court in the state immediately available to every other court and to all individuals who require access to court information. This real-time data transfer allows enforcement of court orders for the protection of victims and communities. This capability will extend to every courthouse in Idaho. We are now working diligently on getting that infrastructure in place.

We also envision an expanded statewide telepresence for litigants, attorneys, judges and the public. Our magistrate and district judges travelled over 309,000 miles last year to preside over hearings in courthouses across the state. By the use of advanced technology, mileage costs and travel time will be significantly reduced and attendant cost savings to law enforcement will be realized. Just as private enterprise relies on telepresence to conduct business in the new economy, we will embrace this new technology and look for the efficiencies it will provide. As part of our technology analysis, we are examining how better to collect those fines, fees and other obligations on a coordinated statewide basis. We know there will be significant efficiencies achieved if that can be done.

Our technology plans were started by an in-depth analysis and assessment of our existing systems by three of the nation’s foremost experts on court technology. That assessment is available on our website for all of you to examine and read. Following that assessment, a committee was formed to chart dynamic and broad policy decisions for the coming years concerning our use of technology for Idaho’s citizens. When I use the word “dynamic,” it is
actually an understatement. In the thirty-one years that I have been a judge in the Idaho court system, I can’t remember a time when the Idaho courts have been as responsive to our citizens’ needs and accountable for our performance. Efforts are underway which will affect Idaho’s judiciary for decades. We anticipate coming to you next session with a more complete analysis of revenue options as our plans evolve for the electronic filing of all court papers. As we move to “paperless courthouses,” we anticipate some of these improvements can be funded by court users, and significant savings realized by counties and courts.

As I reported last year, we have continued with our recruitment efforts to make sure that we are attracting the most qualified judges available. We now hold open discussion groups in those counties where district judges are being replaced concerning the benefits of starting a career in the judiciary and to answer any and all questions concerning that career and application process. During judicial council interviews, we have heard numerous times from applicants who were encouraged by this opportunity to step forward and consider applying for a district judge position.

Despite these and other efforts we have a significant problem in recruiting district judges. The Judicial Council can rarely send a full slate of four names to the governor for appointment. In our surveys, and interviews with bar members and judges, it has become apparent that the district judgeship is no longer a highly sought-after judicial position. The reasons are many – the overwhelming workload that many district judges face in terms of numbers, as well as complexity; the prospect of contested election; as well as the inadequate compensation of that position.

You might ask why are potential applicants so concerned with the prospect of contested elections? The Legislature has wisely placed practice and age requirements on judicial candidates and applicants. The chosen attorney has built a clientele and other professional relationships that must be completely terminated to take a judicial position. If the judge loses a contested election, those clients are gone. The judge must start from scratch, replicating that prior book of business. When you factor in the ethical constraints on a judge’s conduct, fund raising, and time away from a full judicial caseload to run an election, you begin to understand the high stakes to a potential applicant and his or her family.

While we have a judiciary that is nationally recognized for its commitment to excellence, performance, and accountability, Idaho ranks 46th in compensation for its general jurisdiction judges. We have recognized for many years there is a need to improve the salary of district judges so we can attract highly qualified private attorneys to that position. We can do better. We will be presenting a comprehensive analysis this session of the need to recruit the most qualified district judges.

I reported last year that we were re-energizing our guardianship and conservatorship work in reaction to the “graying” of America. Did you know the numbers of Idahoans sixty and older grew by 44% – from 2000 to 2010? From 2010 to 2030 it is estimated to increase by 65%. There are now over 6200 active guardianship and conservatorship cases in Idaho, with over 300 million dollars in assets monitored last year by court personnel. This will only increase. I am pleased to report that the guardianship and conservatorship committee headed by Judge Chris Bieter of Ada County has made significant progress. Idaho courts were singled out as a voting delegate to attend the 3rd National Guardianship Summit. We have fixed our vision for Idaho on evidence-based solutions. We look forward to our work with the legislative and executive branches to re-examine all statutes and court rules to make sure that Idaho meets its responsibilities to its oftentimes most vulnerable citizens.

We are also requesting the legislature repeal the sunset provision of House Bill 687, which added an emergency surcharge to felony, misdemeanor and traffic infraction cases. The general fund will not permit you to fill a funding gap over 4 million dollars if the surcharge sunsets. Since you enacted it in 2010, the emergency surcharge has kept the courthouse doors open in each of your counties and provided for such beneficial programs as drug courts, mental health court, and family courts. The repeal of the sunset provision is vital to the judiciary’s constitutional role to solve people’s disputes and keep our communities safe.

Even with the surcharge, the Court was unable to fill four magistrate judge positions. We have now been able to fill two of those positions. We wish to thank the county officials for their patience and ability to manage with senior retired judges until we could refill those positions. We plan to fill the two remaining vacancies in September, 2013 and early 2014. Numerous court employee positions, however, remain vacant statewide and significant reductions have been made in all court operations.

It is bedrock function of government to properly fund a justice system. A justice system largely based upon user fees cannot continue to provide the requisite funds to protect our communities nor timely resolve our complex civil disputes. At some point the debt load of offenders will not be able to fund that justice system or the attendant agencies that rely on these fees for revenue. This is a recognition which is being debated in statehouses throughout the nation and an area we, as a state need to monitor.

The word “court costs” quite frankly is misleading. Did you know 152 cities share $6.9 million in “court costs” yearly? The 44 counties disburse $16.3 million in 23 different ways. State entities receive a total of $26.3 million; the general fund, $5 million; and other state entities $21.3 million. These are in addition to restitution to victims. This basket is about full and Idaho must proceed carefully when adding to the court cost or fee basket. We hope that a statewide analysis through the Criminal Justice Commission will help you in this regard.

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Idaho Reading

From a release out today from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler:

With two of the state’s largest health insurers sitting on surpluses totaling $2.2 billion, Washington’s top insurance regulator wants to use some of that money to lower costs for consumers.
According to the companies’ most recent financial statements, Regence BlueShield’s surplus has grown to $1.05 billion. Premera Blue Cross’ surplus is $1.15 billion.
“These are non-profit companies,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s hard to square their billion-dollar surpluses with the fact that families are struggling to afford health insurance.”
Kreidler is proposing legislation that would allow his office to consider surpluses when reviewing nonprofit health insurers’ proposed rates. As things stand now, his staff must ignore them.
“As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to ignore an elephant in the room,” Kreidler said. “And the elephant’s getting bigger.”
The surpluses of both Regence and Premera have more than doubled in a decade. In the first nine months of 2012, Regence’s grew by $60 million. Premera’s grew by nearly $182 million.
“It’s important to remember that these are not reserves, which are set aside to pay future claims,” Kreidler said. “These billion-dollar surpluses are in addition to their reserves.”

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carlson
NW Reading

When Idaho voters in November decisively killed the 2011 “Luna laws” on changing Idaho public schools, what did they intend – to kill all of the changes in them, or just some of them, and if some of them, which? Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, one of the prime advocates of the laws, detailed his views on that question in a just-posted piece.

After voters on November 6 rejected the process, pace and policies for improving Idaho’s education system enacted in 2011, it became the task of everyone who cares about the quality of Idaho public schools to constructively continue that conversation.

My staff and I spent the next several weeks reaching out to educators, business leaders and Idaho citizens about staying engaged. Now that I’m optimistic we have a critical mass of interest, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to shepherd a statewide discussion about school improvement.

I’m asking the Board to guide the work of a broadly representative group of concerned Idahoans in studying best practices in school districts around the state and using data and experience to drive sound decision making. The group is likely to be large, but only large enough to include the diversity of opinion needed to properly study such a complex issue.

I’m not going to direct the discussion or the issues covered in any way. There must be no “third rail” in this conversation. But I am asking participants to come to the table ready to speak openly and candidly, and to bring ideas. I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators.

The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it.

Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session. It is imperative that our partners in the Legislature engage in this process and I am pleased to have the support of House Speaker Bedke and the Senate President Pro Tem Hill in balancing this fragile dynamic.

I expect this group to have meaningful discussions and reach out to communities all across our state. For those groups representing educators, I am asking that they not only bring people to the table, but that they also serve as a conduit to their memberships in school districts throughout Idaho. Everyone involved will be responsible for the tone and substance of this conversation.

I’m asking that the Idaho Education Association, the Idaho Association of School Administrators, and the Idaho School Boards Association in particular reach out to a diverse cross-section of their members to join this process. I would hope they select members balancing urban and rural, small and large districts, but I also emphasize that the choices are theirs to make, and I trust them to make the right ones.

I am encouraged by the positive response to this initiative from education leaders.

“IEA members believe it is our moral imperative, as professionals, to be the voice for our students and for our profession. Research shows – and we believe – the one factor that can make the most difference in improving a student’s achievement is a ‘knowledgeable, skillful teacher’ in front of the classroom,” IEA President Penni Cyr said. “On behalf of the members of the IEA, we look forward to working with other stakeholders, including parents, business leaders and elected officials, to identify policy recommendations that will assure our state’s students have access to a world-class education system.”

“I have already met with representatives of each stakeholder group individually and am anxious to move beyond discussion through an open, transparent, accountable process so we can all take the steps necessary to move our education system forward,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna said.

“With money being tight, we must find ways to most efficiently spend those dollars for the benefit of our children,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene said. “I look forward to serving and will come to the table with an open mind. I sincerely hope other stakeholders approach the meetings with a similar attitude.”

“For more than a decade, Idaho has been engaged in school improvement efforts including the statewide development of education standards, student achievement assessments, teacher quality and professional development, and measures to increase rigor in high school to better prepare students for postsecondary education,” State Board of Education President Ken Edmunds of Twin Falls said. “The Board appreciates the Governor’s leadership as we take the next step in designing quality improvement efforts, and we look forward to a positive and inclusive process.”

Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children. But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals.

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Idaho Reading

carlson
NW Reading

“Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen,” sang Woody Guthrie – but you’re a lot less likely to serve time in the Crossbar Hotel if you use the latter.

That was the angry point of Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley’s letter today to Attorney General Eric Holder about the Department of Justice’s ongoing refusal to go after even the most brazen bad guys in the financial section. And leading to the sad but logical conclusion that “jail time is served by over 96% of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80% of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63% of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank.”

How that can be called justice is hard to imagine.

From his letter:

On Tuesday, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with HSBC related to more than $800 million in illicit narcotics proceeds that drug traffickers laundered through the bank’s Mexican and American affiliates, as well as over $600 million in transactions that violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba, Iran, Libya, Sudan, and Burma. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer highlighted just how brazen the violations were, with traffickers depositing “hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, in a single day, into a single account, using boxes designed to fit the precise dimensions of the teller window.” Sanctions violations were equally deliberate, with the bank intentionally stripping information from transactions to avoid detection. Yet despite these clear and blatant violations, the Department of Justice refused to bring criminal charges against the bank, relevant employees, or senior management.

Indeed, Mr. Breuer stated yesterday that in deciding not to prosecute, the Department considered the “collateral consequences” of its decision on the financial system. Mr. Breuer stated “If you prosecute one of the largest banks in the world, do you risk that people will lose jobs, other financial institutions and other parties will leave the bank, and there will be some kind of event in the world economy?” The HSBC decision comes on the back of deferred prosecution agreements with Standard Charter Bank and ING Group related to similar charges.

I do not take a position on the merits of this or any other individual case, but I am deeply concerned that four years after the financial crisis, the Department appears to have firmly set the precedent that no bank, bank employee, or bank executive can be prosecuted even for serious criminal actions if that bank is a large, systemically important financial institution. This “too big to jail” approach to law enforcement, which deeply offends the public’s sense of justice, effectively vitiates the law as written by Congress. Had Congress wished to declare that violations of money laundering, terrorist financing, fraud, and a number of other illicit financial actions would only constitute civil violations, it could have done so. It did not.

Instead, Congress placed these financial crimes squarely in the federal criminal code precisely because the consequences are so severe. Drug trafficking between the U.S. and Mexico continues to wreak extraordinary violence across North America, leading to 15,000 deaths in Mexico in 2010 alone and continued gang violence and deaths in the U.S. Drug cartels are also increasingly connected to terrorism. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, 39 percent of State Department-designated foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) have “confirmed links” to the drug trade, as of November 2011. The consequences to U.S. national security for violations involving terrorism financing and Iran sanctions violations are obvious and severe. Congress deemed criminal law the appropriate tool for punishing and deterring actions that have such serious and damaging public consequences.

Refusing to prosecute on the grounds of financial stability is also troubling from the perspective of ending “too big to fail.” The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which declared some institutions to be systemically important financial institutions subject to tougher regulation, did not declare that those institutions would be exempt from criminal prosecution. Indeed, the Dodd-Frank Act explicitly created new authority to permit a failed institution to be wound down safely, without impacting financial stability. If a financial institution, because of its criminal actions, ultimately fails, that may indeed be precisely the consequence that justice and accountability demand, and which is so necessary to deterring future illegal behavior. I am deeply concerned that the Department’s continuing application of deferred prosecution agreements on the grounds of financial stability runs contrary to the intent of Congress and undermines the accountability to the rule of law that is so fundamental to a healthy, functioning free market economy.

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, jail time is served by over 96 percent of persons that plead or are found guilty of drug trafficking, 80 percent of those that plead or are found guilty of money laundering, and 63 percent of those caught in possession of drugs. As the deferred prosecution agreement appears now to be the corporate equivalent of acknowledging guilt, the best way for a guilty party to avoid jail time may be to ensure that the party is or is employed by a globally significant bank. The Department’s deferred prosecution agreements may offer something in the way of promises of future compliance, but they look sorely lacking in justice and accountability.

I ask for your immediate response and explanation.

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Oregon Reading

Coal transport is becoming a front burner issue in Oregon, but it already has made the leap in Washington. A port in Whatcom County, in the Bellingham area, is considering handling large-scale coal shipments to China, and protests have grown quickly, and grown large.

A hearing last night at Seattle drew about 2,300, most of the apparently in opposition.

Pushing past the solidly green political climate of the Cascades-west is going to be tough for the coal industry, which is why it has been hiring professional help. The green-oriented Sightline Daily has outlined some of the professional contours in a notable piece out Thursday.

Some of them, the article notes, are organizations with long histories of pro-green activities. An example: “A Portland-based economic consulting firm, ECONorthwest has a long history of work supporting conservation, so many were surprised to learn the firm took money from Ambre Energy to produce an economic impact analysis. ECONorthwest’s analysis has become a key piece of support for the Morrow Pacific Project, a complicated scheme to move as much as 8 million tons of coal annually in barges on the Columbia River for onward shipment to coal plants in Asia.”

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Reading Washington

carlson
NW Reading

One of the Republican Northwest blogs we check out has been MooCountyNews, based in Tillamook – a politically competitive area. But blogger Jim Welsh seems to have gotten turned off politics after the November election, to judge from his most recent – and last, to judge from the headline – post, “I will write no more forever.”

From it:

So where to now for those of us who are conservatives in Liberal America? Well, if you have nothing else to do, you can continue to fight a losing battle skirmishing as you retreat and occasionally getting off a lucky shot and electing a conservative. But let’s face it, the jig is up. With a national debt that will soon be 20 trillion dollars, with tens of thousands of baby boomers coming onto the Social Security rolls each month and also onto Medicare for the next 15 years, and, in Oregon, an Oregon PERS liability that will never be addressed until entire budgets of counties and school districts are consumed by retirement payments, and a national and state economy that will not have the ability to grow due to the above situations, does anyone really think that the decline of America can be reversed?

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Oregon Reading

carlson
NW Reading

As the Washington out east ponders budget balancing, the Oregon State Public Interest Research Group is suggesting some ways to raise $150 billion, painlessly for most us, by hitting offshore tax dodges. Regulatory devices that are legal (the lobbyists make sure of that), but that many taxpayers probably would deem unfair.

From OSPRIG’s email this morning …

With Congress scrambling to agree on ways to reduce the deficit, OSPIRG released a new analysis, pointing out a clear first step to avoid the “fiscal cliff”: closing offshore tax loopholes. Many of America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals use accounting gimmicks to shift profits made in America to offshore tax havens, where they pay little to no taxes. This tax avoidance costs the federal government $150 billion in tax revenue each year. OSPIRG’s new data illustrates the size of this loss with 16 dramatic ways $150 billion could be spent.

“When corporations skip out on their taxes, the rest of us are left to pick up their tab.” said Celeste Meiffren, Consumer and Taxpayer Advocate with OSPIRG. “Right now, this kind of tax dodging is perfectly legal, but it’s not fair and it’s time to put an end to it.”

At least 83 of the top 100 publically traded corporations in the U.S. make use of tax havens, according to the GAO. American companies like Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, and Pfizer – which benefit from our educated workforce, infrastructure, and security – keep more than 70% of their cash offshore. Thirty of America’s largest, most profitable corporations actually made money off our tax code between 2008 and 2010 by avoiding taxes altogether and receiving tax rebates from the government. By using offshore tax havens, corporations and wealthy individuals shift the tax burden to ordinary Americans, forcing us make up the difference through cuts to public services, a bigger deficit, or higher taxes for everyday citizens.

To illustrate the size of the revenue lost each year to tax havens, OSPIRG presented 16 specific ways it could be spent, in a fact sheet released today, titled “What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens.” Examples include:

Provide Pell Grants for ten million college students every year for four years;
Bring transportation into the 21st Century by funding construction of 15 commuter rail lines, 50 light rail transit lines and more than 800 bus rapid transit lines.
Provide a tax cut of $1,068 for every person who filed taxes in America

Perhaps most strikingly, reclaiming the $150 billion lost to offshore tax loopholes would more than cover the $109 billion in automatic spending cuts that will take effect in 2013 if Congress fails to avert the “fiscal cliff.” In fact, over ten years this lost revenue would be enough to achieve 37.5% of the $4 trillion debt reduction goal for that period favored by bipartisan leaders in Congress.

“There are some tough budget decisions ahead, but closing the offshore tax loopholes that let large companies shift their tax burden to the rest of us should be an easy one.” Meiffren added
To download the fact sheet, “What America Could Do With $150 Billion Lost to Tax Havens,” go here: http://ospirg.org/reports/orp/what-america-could-do-150-billion-lost-offshore-tax-havens

A Few Ways some of America’s largest corporations drastically shrink their tax bill:

· Google uses techniques nicknamed the “double Irish” and the “Dutch sandwich,” involving two Irish subsidiaries and one in Bermuda – a tax haven – that helped shrink its tax bill by $3.1 billion between 2008 and 2010.
· Wells Fargo paid no federal income taxes between 2008 and 2010 despite being profitable all three years in part due to its use of 58 offshore tax haven subsidiaries.
· Microsoft avoided $4.5 billion in federal income taxes over three years using sophisticated accounting tricks to artificially shift its income to tax-friendly Puerto Rico. The American company pays its Puerto Rican subsidiary 47% of the revenue generated from selling products in America that were developed in America.

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carlson
NW Reading

From a note to editors by the Washington State Patrol, concerning new state law on marijuana going into effect tomorrow …

However, it is unlikely that we will have much to report tomorrow regarding immediate effects of the new marijuana law. In particular, there will be no way to tell how many people troopers might have contacted with less than an ounce of marijuana and who were NOT arrested. It’s fundamental that we don’t keep tabs on people engaged in legal conduct.

It will take a month to six weeks to have completed trooper time sheets that might indicate a change in the number of arrests for possession. However, trooper timesheets only indicate “drug arrests,” they do not indicate the type of drug involved. So even this might not be definitive.

With respect to impaired driving, we hope you’ve all heard our mantra by now: We’ve always arrested impaired drivers regardless of the drug involved. It has always been a crime to drive while impaired by drugs whether they be illegal, legal or even medically prescribed. This new law does not change how troopers will determine impairment at the side of the road.

The THC level in a suspect’s blood will not be known for days or weeks after the roadside contact. That will be an issue for prosecutors and defense attorneys not troopers.

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Reading Washington

carlson
NW Reading

This may be the most readable police statement you’ve ever read. It’s going viral around the net, and it’s not even a video.

It comes from the Seattle Police Department, and its subject is, well, what about marijuana, now that voters in the state (albeit not the federal government) have legalized it? It’s quite a read.

While cautioning about the federal provisions, Seattle police say they won’t be enforcing them. Excerpts:

Can I legally carry around an ounce of marijuana?
According to the recently passed initiative, beginning December 6th, adults over the age of 21 will be able to carry up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use. Please note that the initiative says it “is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana…in view of the general public,” so there’s that. Also, you probably shouldn’t bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property).

Well, where can I legally buy pot, then?
The Washington State Liquor Control Board is working to establish guidelines for the sale and distribution of marijuana. The WSLCB has until December 1, 2013 to finalize those rules. In the meantime, production and distribution of non-medical marijuana remains illegal. …

Can I smoke pot outside my home? Like at a park, magic show, or the Bite of Seattle?
Much like having an open container of alcohol in public, doing so could result in a civil infraction—like a ticket—but not arrest. You can certainly use marijuana in the privacy of your own home. Additionally, if smoking a cigarette isn’t allowed where you are (say, inside an apartment building or flammable chemical factory), smoking marijuana isn’t allowed there either.

Will police officers be able to smoke marijuana?
As of right now, no. This is still a very complicated issue. …

What happens if I get pulled over and an officer thinks I’ve been smoking pot?
If an officer believes you’re driving under the influence of anything, they will conduct a field sobriety test and may consult with a drug recognition expert. If officers establish probable cause, they will bring you to a precinct and ask your permission to draw your blood for testing. If officers have reason to believe you’re under the influence of something, they can get a warrant for a blood draw from a judge. If you’re in a serious accident, then a blood draw will be mandatory.

What happens if I get pulled over and I’m sober, but an officer or his K9 buddy smells the ounce of Super Skunk I’ve got in my trunk?
Under state law, officers have to develop probable cause to search a closed or locked container. Each case stands on its own, but the smell of pot alone will not be reason to search a vehicle. If officers have information that you’re trafficking, producing or delivering marijuana in violation of state law, they can get a warrant to search your vehicle.

SPD seized a bunch of my marijuana before I-502 passed. Can I have it back?
No.

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carlson
NW Reading

From the transcript of a November 12 reporter session with Idaho Superintendent of Pubblic Instruction Tom Luna, whose 2011 school legislation was defeated at the polls on November 6.

Q: It’s been six days now. What is your assessment of the next step? What reforms might you look at with the Legislature?

I think it’s important that education reform doesn’t stop. We just had a 22-month discussion about education in Idaho at a level of detail that we’ve never had before, and I think that that, if anything, has been very productive. People around the water cooler and the dinner table have had conversations about education reform, so I think the last thing that anyone wants to see is an end to education reform in Idaho. I think it’s critical that we work together and identify parts of the reform legislation that have support from all legislative stakeholders—ones that are easy to move forward in this next legislative session. What those are I don’t know just yet. I think you heard during the campaign that there were parts of these laws that were agreeable to both sides, but there were also parts that were disagreeable obviously to the “Vote No” campaign and to the electorate. Again, I think that we have to take advantage of the conversation we have had over the last two years in Idaho. We need to continue that conversation, and we need to make sure that conversation leads to meaningful reform in our schools.

Q: The “Vote No” campaign has said that it is willing to reach out and open a dialogue with you and other members of your administration. Has that happened?

Yes, I’ve had a number of meetings with stakeholders. Unfortunately, Penni Cyr and Robin Nettinga, the leaders of the IEA, have been gone. They get back tonight; I leave tomorrow morning. So we’re going to have a phone conversation. But there have been other conversations already with stakeholders in person and over the phone with the IEA. We will sit down and meet with them. We did before, and we will continue to do that going forward. It’s important that we do that in a collaborative way, and we will.

Q: Superintendent, do you have any regrets about this entire process and how you’ve handled it?

Well, those are two questions. Let me address the second part of your question. There are some things I wish I had done differently. Particularly, I regret that I used the phrase “union thuggery.” Just some background: there was a 48-hour period of time where some incidences happened. My vehicle was vandalized. I was interrupted during a live TV interview by someone who was unhappy, and if someone hadn’t gotten in the middle of that, I don’t know how that would have played out. And then a gentleman who identified himself as a teacher showed up at my mom’s house, who was a recent widow, to give her a piece of his mind. I think I referred to that as “union thuggery” or “union tactics.” I wish I wouldn’t have used that phrase because obviously it was used over and over and over. I can’t imagine a son not being concerned about his mom in that kind of a circumstance, but that’s one time when I wish I had been maybe a little bit more measured in how I responded to that incident.
I’ll give you some background, so I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to play Monday-morning quarterback, but hindsight is 20/20. In hindsight, we can all think of things that we would have done differently.

When we ran these pieces of legislation, I never anticipated that we would end up in a referendum type of situation. When you look at these bills, each is very complex. So, it’s easy to identify one or two things in a very complex piece of legislation and focus on that and run a campaign based on one or two things that you are not happy with in a particular piece of legislation.

Q: Are you saying that you wish the bills themselves had been simpler.

Well, again, you’re asking me to play Monday-morning quarterback. I try to avoid that because I am looking forward.

Q: When you say that opponents focused on one or two things, are you suggesting that because of the campaign that was run, voters didn’t necessarily understand…?

No, the same people who voted down these laws elected me to this position twice. So, I can’t criticize them for turning down these laws and then congratulate them for making the right choice when they elected me. I have full confidence in Idahoans educating themselves and then making a decision based on the information that they’ve gathered. So, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that if we knew this was going to a referendum, then maybe rather than three bills there should have been a couple dozen bills, and we should have treated each of these things separately so they could have been weighed on their own merits. And maybe that’s the process going forward. I don’t know because those conversations are still happening.

With a referendum, it’s easy to target just one or two parts of each law. I think the way it was described to me was that each of these three laws was like a separate movie in a trilogy. Each movie had six different scenes, and each scene had four different parts. So it was just very complex.

Q: When the HP contract was announced, several of us asked what would happen to the contract. At the time, your comment was, “Well, the train has already left the station.” Did this really take you by surprise—the voter rejection of the propositions?

No, not on Proposition 3. I am just being brutally honest with you. We knew going into Election Day that Proposition 3 was going to be very difficult to carry. And then, of course, all three of them were handily beaten. But, when it came to Proposition 3, I assume that our struggle was that we were able to implement Propositions 1 and 2 but not Proposition 3. Districts were able to negotiate for two years under the collective bargaining components of Proposition 1. We had pay-for-performance that had operated in our schools for a year under Proposition 2, and eight out of ten teachers will be receiving a bonus this year as a result of that. Proposition 3 was something where implementation really was to begin next year. I really believe that if our schools had received the laptops, and that people saw the benefit of that, it would have changed people’s impression of Proposition 3. I think that the fact that we were not able to implement it made it a heavier lift.

To the question of whether we should have waited to make the HP announcement, I don’t agree with that. I know there were some people who even thought, once we had an agreement, that we should wait. But, I think that voters deserved to have all of that information as soon as we knew it so they could vote with all the information we had having been made available in a very transparent way. I can’t imagine knowing that we had that contract agreement in place, letting people vote, and then days afterwards saying, “Oh, by the way, we reached an agreement with HP two weeks before the election and didn’t bother to tell you.” We wanted to be very transparent and let voters know what the contract was and who the contract was with and the details of it.

Q: There was a perception that the timing of the announcement was meant to leverage the outcome of the vote in favor of the propositions.

Well, how’d that work out (laughs)? We could have sat on that information, but that’s not the right thing to do when you are dealing with taxpayer money. So, we put the information out there and tried to answer questions that came up. I understand that some people thought this was some way to gain leverage, but again, that wasn’t our intent, and it clearly wouldn’t have worked had it been our intent.

Q: I think we all know that the Students Come First laws, however affectionately or otherwise, were labeled the “Luna Laws.” With all due respect, you don’t introduce legislation into the legislature. You don’t vote on anything in the legislature. You don’t sign anything into law. I think more realistically they were as much the “Otter Laws” as they were anything. With that said, looking forward, have you communicated with the Governor? Where is Governor Otter in terms of looking forward in education?

Well, “Otter Laws” doesn’t flow as well (laughs). I’ve had a number of conversations with the Governor, and we both agree that we need to take advantage of this opportunity that has presented itself—this conversation that has been had about education reform. I never ran into one person who said they were voting “no” because they didn’t think we should reform our schools. They had specific issues with certain parts of the law. I ran into a lot of people who were splitting their votes. I ran into a lot of people who said, “I like this about Proposition 1, but I struggle with this part.” So, I didn’t hear from anyone who said, “Let’s go back to the system we had before.” We’ll get everybody around the table, have conversations to identify the things that we all agree on that were in the different propositions, move forward together with legislation that would restore those parts of the bill, and then work together to find common ground on areas where we do not agree.

Q: Do you anticipate the Governor being involved in that process?

Yes, I do. I think the Governor will continue to play a lead role. If you look at other states that have gone through this process, it’s similar to what we are going through in Idaho. There are steps forward. There are bumps in the road. There are times when you have to have a process check and a reality check. But every one of those states has had a governor, whether it’s Tim Pawlenty or Jeb Bush, who continued to provide the leadership and really the expectation that we have to do these things and then used that pulpit to encourage the citizens and the legislature to respond.

Q: Indiana just unelected their Superintendent last week. Are there lessons to be learned from that for Idaho?

Well, I am good friends with Tony Bennett. I am good friends with a number of education leaders across the state. What happened in Idaho really happened all across the country, where education reform was defeated on many different fronts, or, at least, stalled on many different fronts. And what happened in Indiana is just another example. It happened in South Dakota. I don’t believe it means “stop.” I think what it means is that there are forces in play that you have to recognize and you have to engage with in order to get the water to the end of the row.

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