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Tyranny of one-party rule

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In his brilliant little book, On Tyranny, the historian Timothy Snyder offers citizens in a modern democracy 20 lessons from 20th century history. Snyder, a scholar of European history and totalitarianism, wrote the book in 2017 as a kind of “how too” guide for living in troubled times.

Some of the lessons — “believe in truth,” “contribute to good causes” and “defend institutions” — seem self-evident and universal.

But, one of Snyder’s lessons, particularly in light of the debacle that has unfolded over the past few weeks in Boise as the Legislature stumbles from one outrage to the next, seems downright urgent: “Beware the one-party state.”

The historian was writing with modern despots in mind, but he might have been thinking about the arrogant supermajority Idaho voters send to the Statehouse every January to tend to the public’s business. “The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start,” Snyder writes. “They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents.”

The speaker of the House, Scott Bedke, or the Senate president pro tem, Brent Hill, would never, of course, admit to using their overwhelming majority to make “life impossible for their opponents.” But consider what they and the vast majority of Republican lawmakers have been doing in the name of democracy.

The voters of Idaho passed by an overwhelming majority an initiative to improve the health care of tens of thousands of Idahoans. The voters acted, as their constitution provides, by the time-honored democratic process of advancing a measure directly to the ballot box, bypassing the Legislature. The process was ridiculously transparent. No one in the state who was paying the least bit of attention could have missed the effort to gather the signatures to put the measure on the ballot. It was a time-consuming, labor-intensive effort, well-documented every step of the way. The policy merits of the idea — expanding Medicaid coverage to more poor Idahoans — was debated right along with the signature gathering.

Nearly every politician in Idaho was forced to take a position on the issue. On his way out the door, former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter endorsed the idea. His successor, Gov. Brad Little, promised to implement “the will of the people.” The voters spoke to the tune of nearly 61 percent approval.

Rarely in recent Idaho history has such a significant policy decision enjoyed such widespread public support. And it is important to remember that all this voter-driven activity came only after the Legislature repeatedly failed to act.

Then came the push back, including a frivolous lawsuit from a shadowy ultra-right “think tank” that the Idaho Supreme Court laughed out of existence. Legislative Republicans devised every possible means to contain the scope of the policy voters approved, insisting on work and other requirements that have already been struck down by courts in other states.

Gov. Little all but admitting that this mess will cost the state a bundle to defend in court, then joined fellow Republicans in defying the clear will of the 61 percent who voted to expand access to health care for thousands of Idahoans. This is not honoring the will of the voters; it’s thumbing your nose at them.

Little displayed real political courage just days earlier when he killed the Republican affront to citizen-driven democracy that all but eliminated the ability to put an issue on the ballot. Little’s logic: A judge would ultimately decide the issue was both prudent and sound. He might have applied the same logic, and respected the voter’s will, by killing the Medicaid work requirement legislation. That would certainly have further prolonged an already egregiously long session, but it might also have forced fellow Republicans to send him a “clean” bill that implemented what voters approved at the polls just five months ago.

During this session of political dry rot, Republican lawmakers also sought to create a partisan advantage on the state’s independent redistricting commission, grabbed office space that has historically belonged to the full-time state treasurer so they can create additional offices for themselves, prevented photographs of a House session that would have allowed reporters to identify lawmakers who wouldn’t otherwise have their votes recorded and had the state police mark off a public meeting room as off limits to the public.

As this was written, some GOP lawmakers were scheming to resurrect their anti-initiative revenge on voters’ legislation. In an absolutely unprecedented move, they sliced the measure Little vetoed just days earlier into four separate bills, hoping apparently that they might force the governor’s hand a second time.

The juvenile games may have reached the height of absurdity even by the standards of this legislative session when a majority of Republicans on the House Education Committee refused to attend a meeting where their chairman wanted to introduce legislation dealing with the school funding formula. Such are the antics of a one-party state where most legislators rarely face political accountability. They behave as they do because they can. It seems hardly a stretch to say this has been the worst legislative session in memory.

The overwhelming Republican Legislature is no longer content to marginalize the often-beleaguered Democratic minority — the redistricting move was clearly designed to target the growing legislative advantage Democrats have accumulated in Ada County — and they openly and blatantly work to punish their constituents.

This binge of partisan nonsense should be placed squarely at the doorstep of Bedke and Hill. They have either lost control of the mechanics of legislative operations or they have been content to stand by as the inmates took over the asylum. Either way, the GOP majority has demonstrated unmitigated disdain for governing and flaunted their responsibility to citizens.

And this is all a piece of one-party rule, an arrogance bred of entrenched, concentrated power, a hubris drawn from the privilege of majority.

The lesson of this legislative session is simple: One party rule isn’t democracy, but it surely is a license to abuse democracy. Left unchecked, the one-party state will treat its voters even worse next time.
 

Longer

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What’s the right length for an Idaho legislative session?

Some wags might argue for zero days. But there’s a real question, and pertinent this year: How long should legislators spend doing their work?

Different states answer the question in different ways. Some larger states, of course, have full-time year-round legislatures, which no one (no one I’ve heard, at least) would propose as the right model for Idaho, or most smaller states. Short of that, what seems to work? Bear in mind that the work of legislating on a state level is essentially similar across most states, even if they’re somewhat larger or smaller than Idaho.

The National Conference of State Legislatures points out that, “In the early 1960s, 17 states did not place restrictions on the length of their legislative sessions. In another 10 states, the limits were indirect.” Later, more states placed limits on the length of sessions, but the deadlines once imposed often have been expanded over time.

Most states meet annually, as Idaho does (Idaho changed from every other year about a half-century ago). Montana and Nevada meet biennially. Utah has a tight limit of 45 days per annual session. Washington and Oregon use a different approach, longer sessions in the odd-numbered year (just following elections), and shorter sessions, mainly budget-oriented, in even-numbered years. Oregon’s odd-year sessions can (and often do) run for 160 days, from February well into summer, but the even-year sessions run only about a month. When Washington’s legislature doesn’t get all its work done on time, as sometimes happens, a special session may be called, and in some years a whole string of those have been called until the work is done. (Session term limits can become theoretical only.)

Idaho doesn’t have hard limits on session length, as some of its neighbors do. Legislative leaders often have marked out “target dates” for final - sine die - adjournment. They’ve been known to hit it; more often than not. This year’s target date was March 25; we see how that’s gone.

The very first Idaho state legislative session, in 1890, lasted 82 days and for many decades held the record for longevity. It had a good excuse; a lot of the mechanics of state and local government had to be set up then, so they actually got it done with remarkable dispatch. After that no session lasted as long until 1967, when a newly-reapportioned legislature - this was the first session to be held following modern-style redistricting - had to struggle with rearranging itself and also with a host of vetoes (39 of them) from a new Governor Don Samuelson, apparently deep in conflict with a legislature led by his fellow Republicans. That 1967 session lasted 89 days.

The record wasn’t broken again until another contentious session in 1983, when lawmakers spent 95 days - the same as this year - in session. Then the length eased back, but the average length of “normal” sessions gradually was rising. Adjournments in March almost always were the case before 1983; after that, they more often crept into April.

In 2003 came the longest Idaho legislative session on record, 118 days - another session involving a governor-legislature battle. And then in 2009 another nearly matched it, at 117 days.

Sessions since then have been shorter than those, but most sessions in the new millennium have run more than 80 days, a standard almost unthinkable a generation ago.

This is not to say that they shouldn’t. Legislators in some other states have seen benefits from having a little longer stretch of time to consider proposals, gather information and public comment, and act in deliberation rather than an almost panicked rush to conclude. Legislatures cost money to run, but often not so much as the cost of badly-wrought state law.

So as this 2019 session drags on (as it has, edging closer to record status as it goes), don’t necessarily think of that as a bad thing. More time can mean better decisions. Personally, I’d rather have my legislators work longer for better decisions.

As long as that’s in fact the tradeoff we get.
 

Political Hell-Raiser

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History is written by the winners, so goes the line; we get accustomed to a narrative of history that doesn't allow for alternative outcomes - or choices. Sitting here today, for example, the story of the 2020 presidential election is yet to be written; two years from now, it all will seem inevitable.

We need those reminders of the mutability of our story and the options before us, and that's the value in the essays and longer narratives of counterfactual (what-if) history. And it's the value in looking at history from a different angle, a perspective that offers a fresh take on what happened and why, and what the alternatives might have been.

That brings us to Political Hell-Raiser, the new book by Marc Johnson, published by University of Oklahoma Press. (Semi-disclaimer here: This is the same Marc Johnson whose columns are appearing here on Saturdays.)

The hell-raiser of the title is Burton K. Wheeler, a U.S. senator from Montana from 1922 to 1946. He was a remarkable figure, and a full biography of him is overdue, but not just because he was one of the leading figures in Congress for a long time. He was also, remarkably, a counter to most of the trends that ran during his political career, and until near the end thrived doing it. He was a radical leftist during the 20s, when the nation veered to the right, and - after working hard for Franklin Roosevelt's election - became a bitter critics of Roosevelt and was identified toward the end more with business interests and anti-communism. (His own view was that he never changed all that much, but the emphasis and perceptions he allowed to grow certainly did.)

He loved political fights, and got into no lack of them, and more than one threatened to rip up not only his political career but private life as well. There was some courage here, no small amount of intelligence and political street smarts and a clear and persistant awareness - even allowing for some change over time - of who he was and what his guiding principles were.

He became best known as one of the leaders in the non-interventionist movement, the group (Johnson generally avoids the term "isolationist" though others might not) which argued against American involvement in a second world war, and helped keep the United States out of it until Pearl Harbor made war inevitable. He was a major national political figure then, and though a Democrat a leading - maybe the leading - thorn in FDR's side. (And FDR was fully aware of it.)

This is a side and perspective of history we don't often get. The prevailing side in American politics in that period is what we ordinarily hear: About the draft toward war, the push by Roosevelt to help0 Great Britain and oppose the Nazis, and the ultimate triumph in 1945. But there was, until Pearl, a strong anti-war movement, and it had no stronger spokesman than Wheeler. After the United States entered into the war, Wheeler's balloon deflated, fast, and after winning four races for the Senate he lost his seat, in the Democratic primary, in 1946: His views were out of step, and widely perceived as being soft on or even sympathetic to the Nazis (though Wheeler personally never was and supported the war once it was declared).

That's the outline, but there's more to the story. We see not only the poorly-informed and even naive aspects of Wheeler's non-interventionism but also the wise aspects to it; he foresaw the rise of a military-industrial complex and the tendency toward militarism, and the threats to freedom and democracy, that war would bring. We see here also some of the often-neglected dark sides of the Roosevelt years, the way the federal government's power was often abused in time of war. The internment camps for Americans of Japanese ancestry are noted here (and Wheeler was critical of them), but many other bad actions joined them in those years.

Johnson has done fine work here shining a light on a part of American history we often do not see (or might feel uncomfortable examining). Much of it, too much, resonates with American as it is most of a century later.
 

Entitlement

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NOTE: Governor Little has signed into law the Medicaid legislation referenced here.

I can understand legislative Republicans need to put sideboards on Medicaid Expansion. Since many government programs have become labeled “entitlements” we see them differently than if they were earned. I can understand legislative Republicans trying to fight people receiving a public benefit feeling entitled when others pay for it.

Many years back, I remember hearing two locals in a bar talking in the fall in central Idaho. One turned to the other, “You got your elk?”. He nodded, “You get yours?” My stomach was turning. Those animals they harvested were not theirs. Neither of these men were entitled to an elk. They should have been thankful to the Almighty for the harvest, but their words, their attitude conveyed that they felt entitled to “their elk”.

I was accepted to two colleges, one private and one state in my senior high school year. It turned out with the scholarships the private school ended up costing my family less, so I chose it. That was a big mistake. Because, for the next four years I spent time with a lot of classmates who felt very entitled to their enrollment, their opportunities, and the future they anticipated. I came to hate rich people, a prejudice I still struggle with.

Entitlement in the healthcare field can be brutal. Doctors can feel entitled to respect and income from their lofty positions; some patients feel entitled to a life free from pain and some consider they are entitled to a life beyond the natural course. We are only entitled to the grace of this life we have been given; every day we should give humble thanks.

Getting elected to represent our constituents can also give one a sense of entitlement. Indeed, the law and the process empower the elected official with the legal power to vote for laws that will constrain all of us. We are a nation of laws. Such is the nature of this republic. But I look for humility in the public servants I vote for. Maybe you don’t; humility doesn’t win a lot of votes.

I have considered all this as I watch the Idaho legislature struggle with Medicaid expansion, Proposition 2, the initiative Idaho voters approved by a substantial margin in November. It was an issue the legislature avoided for six years. But Idaho voters endorsed the plan to enroll people who could not access health insurance in the most cost-effective way. But the legislature has decided they know best and have proposed a new and different plan.

It now awaits the governor’s signature.

I appreciate the Idaho Republican legislator’s intent. But they have crafted the wrong solution.

Governor Little should veto this legislation. The reasons are clear.

First, it will keep more people in poverty. Evidence from other states clearly shows this. People with health insurance are more likely to look for work and stay at work than those without.

Second, it will grow government and add cost to Idaho taxpayers. Chasing down deadbeats from Boise is more expensive than looking them in the eye in our own communities and letting them know we expect more. Don’t think a government program like “Work Requirements” can absolve us from our own civic duty.

Third, there are no supports, “springboards” as Governor Little has described them, in the legislation. People might need help to get back to work, to climb out of the hole they are in. The help is out here; this legislation has no connection to these supports. It’s just a stick; no carrot.

Finally, I could point to the convoluted process this legislation has taken; more time, more effort could produce a better result.

The bill was introduced in a Senate committee, substantially changed through amendments on the floor of the Senate, then changed again on the floor of the House. It comes back to the Senate committee who did not support the amendments but the full Senate did, only because the House was holding a hostage bill: Medicaid funding.

I appreciate the intent. Nobody deserves to be entitled. Not even the Idaho legislature.
 

Helter-skelter foreign policy

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On March 28, a headline on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website proudly declared, “Secretary Nielsen Signs Historic Regional Compact with Central America to Stem Irregular Migration at the Source, Confront U.S. Border Crisis.” The story under the headline told of how El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras would continue to work cooperatively with the U.S. to address the “ongoing humanitarian and security emergency at our Southern Border.”

The only effective means of stopping the flow of immigrants from these countries is to provide them financial and technical support to cut violence, produce jobs, and keep their citizens at home. El Salvador is a success story for that policy. Border apprehensions of Salvadorans decreased from over 72,000 in 2016 to less than 32,000 in 2018. The policy has yet to take hold in the other two countries but it can work.

On March 30, the President announced he was cutting assistance to the three countries because, “They haven’t done a thing for us.” The two-day timeframe might have been a little short for the historic March 28 policy to produce dramatic results. Do people in the White House coordinate with one another?

This is just another example of a fly-by-the-seat-of-the-pants foreign policy that endangers the security of our country. The North Korean dictator is first a lying murderer, but then a trustworthy pal. Now, he is an estranged love interest. Everyone who understood the North Korean dictatorship knew it would end this way. Kim was not going to give up his nukes.

Syria is another example of the President’s ill-considered policy making. During a testy phone call with Turkey’s autocrat leader, Trump blurted out that the U.S. would yank 2,000 troops out of Syria immediately, leaving it to our enemies. But a few days later, under great Congressional and public pressure, he changed course. Next, he said we were going to leave 400 troops in the country for a short time, but later said it may be for a longer duration. What the heck is it??

More recently, he first said we might resort to military force in Venezuela, but then announced we wouldn’t. As the U.S. dithers to decide upon a Venezuela policy, a stalemate has set in there, and the dictator, Maduro, might not be dislodged from power.

Our allies in NATO and the European Union are sometimes our friends and sometimes our enemies. We may withdraw from NATO one day, but we might not the next day. Canada and Mexico are valuable trading partner at times but a national security threat at others. The U.S. has become an untrustworthy trading partner, driving allies in both Europe and Asia to seek trading alliances with China.

This type of helter-skelter foreign policy is extremely disconcerting to our friends, particularly our North American and European allies. Our friends need to have some predictability as to American policy and should be consulted before a dramatic swing takes place. Our enemies need to understand when there are red lines they dare not cross. An erratic foreign policy blurs the location of those critical lines.

Because our President is enamored with the Russian dictator, who is also the enemy of our closest allies, is it likely that those allies will share sensitive intelligence with us regarding the common Russian threat? With our President so beholden to the Saudi despot, can we ever disengage our support for his murderous and failing war in Yemen?

The U.S. presidency is not an ideal place for on-the-job training in foreign policy. If a novice ends up in the White House, he should recognize his limitations and hire competent people to do the job for him. That has not happened yet in the Trump White House and it endangers our alliances and the security of our beloved country.
 

Joe and me

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In this nation - and I suppose others as well - we have a constant national problem. Well, we have lots of national problems. But, this one you find in our news media, entertainment, religion, societal issues and a lot of other institutions. Including politics.

It usually becomes a major part of our national dialogue when some issue - or someone - becomes the major topic of the day capturing people’s attention. For good or ill. When it happens, the pendulum - discussion - swings from one side to the other at such a fast pace that reason and logic are often forgotten.

At the moment, Joe Biden is being victimized by that kind of national momentum that’s mostly undeserved. I say that as a man a decade older than Joe but as someone who was also raised in the ‘40's and ‘50's in a middle class working home. A home with two loving parents, public schooling, religious training and proud of it all.

We learned the social expectations of the time, learned to live by the right values of that era and, in most ways, evolved as the decades rolled by. We both are creatures of that background and, like Joe, I still live and most often practice those ways in daily life. It’s who we are.

Now, Biden’s being pilloried for some of the behavior which is part of his being. Just like mine. Not sexual actions or threatening, violent behavior or socially unacceptable language. But, he’s being subjected to daily public criticism as if all that were true of him. They’re not.

To those saying “Times have changed and we must change with ‘em,” I say, “I understand.” God knows, I understand. Even as our culture has grown grosser, our language in public more highly offensive and our acceptance of what was once unacceptable in entertainment, media, sports and other public activities continue unabated. But, I understand.

Joe is being accused of “touching” women or making them “uncomfortable.” Not by women he may have “touched” today or even this week. But, by women who said they felt “uncomfortable” several years ago. My question: “Where the hell have they been, why didn’t they speak up before a presidential campaign and, most important, when the behavior made them “uncomfortable,” did they say so to Biden?

As for the woman from Nevada, she and Biden were making a public appearance that day. She was about to speak. He leaned forward and touched her hair and shoulder as if to say, “You got this. You’ll do fine.” Encouragement is what I get from the details. Did she tell Joe afterwards he was wrong - that his actions upset her or made her more nervous? Did she?

Let’s talk about “behavior” for a moment.

When it comes to public “touching” or “caressing” or any other social act of greeting, I remember the late Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus and Senator Frank Church as they “worked” a room or campaign appearance. Both approached you with an extended right hand - palm up - followed many times by a left hand on someone’s body. Male or female. And, the gestures were nearly always returned.

Politicians of every stripe do the same. Always have. Many hug - or are hugged by - the other person. Sometimes even a kiss on the cheek. In a basic sense, it’s part of the “job description.” You may not like it or get upset. But, that’s a most common political social environment.

I understand some people - female and male - not liking physical closeness. I get it. Joe gets it, I’m sure. It’s always been that way. Many folks like their “space.” These people - female and male - aren’t new. Their feelings aren’t new. But, the current uproar by some voices is. The pendulum has swung quickly.

That pendulum swing of currently “acceptable” social behavior has gone far from center. Joe’s been around for 70+ years. Me for more than 80. This sudden “foot-on-the-brake” of what’s now “expected” is new to people - men and women - with all our previous years of experience. Of 70-80 years of what was acceptable conditioning.

Education is a two-step process for most of us. Especially seniors with years of history. Step one: forget - unlearn - what you know and have done in the past. Step two: learn the new, even if it’s radically different. Forget and re-learn. Forget and re-learn.

When you ask people who know Biden the best, what you hear most about are his many little - and mostly very private - acts of kindness toward both friends and strangers. How he often goes out of his way to do or say something to support individuals he doesn’t even know. How personable and, yes, even loving he is with just - people. Not the kinds of things you hear about other vice presidents or senators.

What angers me most, at the moment, is the sudden outbreak of female criticism of Biden. Aside from being probably the most experienced of all candidates in both parties, he’s an old “war horse.” But, some of the very experiences that make him so highly qualified are now being seen as inappropriate. In many ways, the older you get, the more history you have to overcome.

And, let’s not forget. Among Democrat contenders to take on Trump next year, Biden is the leading candidate. Hmm.

Finally, for Joe and me - and the millions of other men out there who are long-lived - give us some time. We’ve made careers - fathered families - lived long lives of achievement - been accepted for who and what we are. We’re paying attention. We’ll make the adjustments necessary for what’s expected today.

And, we’ll still be here when that pendulum swings back to its proper place.
 

It’s time

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We cannot fulfill our roles as citizens if we are unable to evaluate the president’s conduct vis-à-vis Russia and the Special Counsel’s investigation. And we cannot evaluate that conduct unless we can read the full Mueller Report. A four page cherry-picked summary written by an Attorney General who won his job by promising to have the president’s back will not suffice.

When he auditioned for the job, Attorney General William Barr sent to the White House an unsolicited 20 page Memorandum in which he gave an extremely expansive view of presidential power. He suggested that the president has all-encompassing constitutional authority over actions by the executive branch in enforcing the law.

Although Barr’s sweeping view on presidential power has scant support in precedent, the Memorandum had its intended effect. Trump wanted someone who would protect him and Barr was the man for the job. But lest we forget, the Attorney General is not the president’s lawyer. He’s our lawyer; he’s the people’s lawyer.

For two years, the American people patiently waited for Special Counsel Mueller to complete his investigation and make his findings. From all outward appearances, Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators operated with the utmost professionalism, cutting square corners, working long hours, and, in a city known for leaking like a proverbial sieve, the Mueller investigation was absolutely leak-proof.

Now that Mueller has finished his work and submitted his Report, it languishes on the Attorney General’s desk. There is no legitimate excuse for this delay. One could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason Barr has not yet provided even a redacted version to Congress is to give the president’s narrative of complete exoneration time to set in the public mind. But finally, it seems, the public is not so easily fooled.

Not so long ago, Mr. Trump said he wanted the full report to be made public. In fact, he declared that millions upon millions of Americans wanted to see the Report. Indeed we do.

But now the president rattles his saber and threatens to direct the Attorney General to hide the entire document. What has changed? Why does Mr. Trump, who was quick to take a premature victory lap, now fear letting the report see the light of day?

Perhaps it is because poll after poll tells us that the American people aren’t buying what Mr. Trump is selling. He claims the Mueller Report gave him total, across the board exoneration. It did nothing of the kind. With regard to obstruction of justice issues, Mueller wrote: "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Mr. Barr has noted that Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure forbid the production of grand jury testimony and materials. That’s true. What is also true is that the rule of grand jury secrecy is subject to exceptions.

For instance, a government attorney can petition a federal court to authorize release of grand jury materials in special circumstances. But to the best of our knowledge, Barr has done nothing more than sit on his hands and whistle in the wind.

His failure to take this obvious step to seek judicial authorization to release grand jury materials is inconsistent with his testimony at his confirmation hearing when he promised under oath to make public as much of the Report as possible. He appears to be breaking that promise.

And when it comes to obstruction of justice, we need to know why the Attorney General rushed in to decide the issue when Robert Mueller did not. Special Counsel Mueller is no shrinking violet. In his long career, Mueller has made very tough calls in some of the most complex and challenging investigations of some of the most notorious criminal actors.

Did Robert Mueller expect the Attorney General to take it upon himself to draw a conclusion that Mueller refrained from drawing? I don’t think so.
The whole concept of a Special Counsel is to take prosecutorial decision-making out of the hands of political appointees, such as William Barr. I believe Robert Mueller intended that the Report go to Congress and that the responsibility to decide on obstruction of justice rest with Congress.
But we cannot know for sure because we have yet to see the report.

Our founding fathers wisely divided federal power among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Congress, as the legislative branch, must fulfill its role as a check and balance on the executive branch and that includes oversight, determining whether officials were obeying the law.

Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates recently wrote that the Mueller investigation was “not about some tangential issue. It was about a foreign adversary’s attempt to subvert our election; it cuts to the very core of our democracy.”

With each passing day, Congress is limited in its knowledge of what really happened and hamstrung in its ability to keep our elections free from Russian interference. To this very day, Mr. Trump has ignored the findings of his own intelligence agencies and taken no steps whatsoever to protect future elections. Whether he conspired or not, Mr. Trump benefitted from Russia’s interference in our election, and it appears he wants to benefit again.

It’s time Mr. Barr honor his oath of office; it’s time he keep the promise he made to the U.S. Senate at his confirmation hearing. He must stop acting as the president’s wingman and start acting as the attorney for the American people. It’s time he releases the full Mueller Report to Congress. Indeed, it is past time.
 

Just say no …

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Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo is about to get his moment in the wacky spotlight of U.S. Senate confirmation politics.

Barring some last-minute change of heart, something never to be dismissed in Trump World, the president of the United States will nominate to the Federal Reserve Board a guy whose ethical and financial baggage would have immediately disqualified him during any other time in modern history. In the past, would-be cabinet secretaries or senior administration appointees have seen their appointments collapse for lesser transgressions than those hovering around Trump’s latest ethical outrage.

It seems almost quaintly secondary that Stephen Moore, a frequent Fox News gabber and Trump idolater, is also demonstrably unqualified for the job of overseeing the U.S. banking system and assuring the economy remains sound.

If Trump goes through with Moore’s appointment, Crapo will preside over his confirmation before the Senate Banking Committee and we’ll see how the mild-mannered Idahoan straddles the stupidity of the president’s nominees and the senator’s fealty to the big banks and financial interests, whose water he carries and whose campaign cash he hordes.

Will Crapo go with Trump and the Tea Party wing of the GOP or will he stand with the sane, sober financial realists who openly scoff at Moore’s lack of qualifications to serve on the Fed, not to mention his long record of incompetence?

Let’s review the “accomplishments” of the man who could be a heartbeat away from chairing the Federal Reserve by acknowledging that Moore is no Alan Greenspan, no Paul Volcker, no Ben Bernanke and certainly no Marriner Eccles, the Utahan who presided over the central bank during the Great Depression.

Rather, Moore owes $75,000 in back federal taxes and was held in contempt for failing to pay $330,000 in spousal support to his ex-wife. As the New York Times noted, “In 2013, (a Virginia) court ordered him to sell his home to raise money to pay the debt and forced him to set up an automatic bank transfer each month. After Mr. Moore paid $217,000 toward the debt, Ms. Moore asked the court to revoke the order to sell his home, which it did.” Moore calls his dispute with the IRS “a misunderstanding.”

So much for ethics. How about competence? Economics columnist Catherine Rampell assembled a “greatest hits” list of Moore’s crazy theories and predictions, including the old favorite that big tax cuts pay for themselves. The Congressional Budget Office said recently that the Trump tax cut, supported enthusiastically by Crapo, would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit during the next decade.

During the Great Recession, Moore predicted runaway hyperinflation like that visited on Weimar Germany in the 1920s, with people needing “wheelbarrows full” of cash to visit Albertsons. Moore was a principal architect of the disastrous tax policy implemented in Kansas in 2013, a policy he promised would miraculously lift that state’s economy, but instead slowed economic growth and crashed the state budget. As Rampell has suggested, Moore has been wrong so often — he’s not an economist by the way, but merely plays one on Fox — that he obviously doesn’t know how to use Google to check basic facts.

Moore was so often wrong in his pronouncements about the Kansas economy that he was banned from the editorial pages of the state’s largest newspaper. His lack of political independence was on full display when he said Trump deserved the Nobel Prize in economics. You can’t make this up.

Moore’s appointment comes, of course, in the wake of Trump’s continuing assaults on Fed Chairman Jerome “Jay” Powell, a respected conservative who seems determined to continue the Federal Reserve’s long struggle to remain independent of the kind of partisan meddling the president has raised to an art form. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that Trump, who has publicly contemplated firing Powell — he legally can’t fire Powell who serves a fixed term — criticized the chairman on three different occasions recently before mumbling to Powell in a phone call, “I guess I’m stuck with you.”

Outside of the Fox News echo chamber, few people who know anything about the Fed and the economy think having Moore on the job makes any sense.

“Steve is a perfectly amiable guy,” says Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw, “but he does not have the intellectual gravitas for this important job.” Before Trumpers dismiss Mankiw as just another pointy-headed Ivy League academic, we should note he is a conservative Republican who worked for both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

But back to Crapo’s dilemma. In a normal political world, a senator in Crapo’s position — the conservative Republican chairman of the Banking Committee, a favorite of Wall Street and big banks, the 15th most senior member of the Senate — would have everything to say about this kind of appointment. A genuinely powerful chairman might even be expected to have his own candidate for the Fed, perhaps a trusted conservative economist with a track record of real accomplishment. There must be a few hundred of them available.

A real power in the Senate would have quietly signaled the White House that spouting sound bites on television just wasn’t adequate preparation for such an important job. A senator with a shred of independence would have never allowed a Stephen Moore to get in front of his committee.

All Crapo has said is that it’s a priority to fill vacancies on the Federal Reserve and he would not prejudge Moore’s nomination, while giving “it prompt attention.”

Maybe Crapo will yet head off this economic train wreck, potentially one of the most consequential, indeed disastrous of all Trump appointments. Or maybe he’ll do what Idahoans have come to expect of him and he’ll go along to get along and, in the process, further concede senatorial power and prerogatives to a man Crapo once said was so abundantly unfit for the office that he couldn’t support him for president.
 

The revelations of veto power

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NOTE: On April 5, Governor Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159, the initiative restriction bill.

Lord Acton is supposed to have warned that power corrupts, but Robert Caro, author of the multiple volumes of biography of Lyndon Johnson, has a better formulation: Power reveals.

And so now in the case of Idaho Governor Brad Little, and what he does about the measure or measures which seek to restrict or limit statewide ballot access for citizen initiatives.

As this is written - on Thursday - the governor has not acted or publicly announced his intentions. He might possibly have done one or both by the time you read this; but in any event, the point to be drawn from whatever happens next will remain.

The trigger, if you’ve not followed the Idaho Legislature the last few weeks, is a bill - followed by a related “trailer” bill intended to modify its effects somewhat - which changes the specifics of the legal hurdles that must be cleared by activists seeking to place an initiative on the ballot. Little said he wants to examine the two-bill package carefully before announcing his intent. That’s not an unusual precaution, likely wise.

Most governor vetoes of legislation fall into one of two categories (sometimes they overlap). Some of those bills are small in scope, minor in interest, and some troublesome issue has been located within, which may lead to a better or corrected version later. Some of those trashed bills may be more significant but create a problem for the governor with some constituency, in which case a veto might be the efficient thing to do.

Occasionally, not especially often, a high-profile bill with actual strong legislative leadership support, but with very strong external opposition, comes along. Governors must hate that: They’re stuck with a no-win decision, meaning that they’re going to make someone mad, no way around it. Someone the governor has to deal with, which means life could become uncomfortable at least for a while.

That is Little’s situation with the ballot initiative bills: He cannot avoid infuriating someone. It might be the leadership of the legislature and its majority party, most of which has strongly supported the bills (or at least the idea), but has taken considerable heat for it. The emotional response from that quarter (and several large or well connected interest groups, such as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which also have signed on with it), may pick up on the concept of Little as a betrayer of them.

Or he can infuriate practically everyone else - or so it would seem, given that the governor's office estimates that communications from the public have run upwards of 99 percent in favor of a veto.

That’s the political and emotional calculus. There’s also this: If Little doesn’t veto the bills seen (by a wide range of people including a string of former attorneys general and the one living ex-secretary of state) as likely to be squashed by a court, he would run the risk of being seen as rolling over for legislative leadership and well-connected interest groups.

That would be an unfortunate perception of a governor who - so say a number of legislators - has been vastly more meticulous in carefully reviewing and analyzing legislation than many of his predecessors were.

But this also gets at the question many people had about Brad Little, which is not a criticism, but rather an uncertainty because of the lack of a previous hard test. Not about his intellect, which is widely thought to be among the best in the history of Idaho governors. Not, either, about his good intentions to do positive things for the state. But rather his willingness to stand up to people who also are empowered, in their own ways, and are willing to get in his face. How does he deal with that?

In Brad Little’s long public career, that kind of challenge never has materially emerged until now.

So how Little handles the veto power he now possesses will tell us volumes about who he is and what his governorship will be about. Watch closely how he handles it.