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Not having to say you’re sorry

It may help to know that the chief lobbyist working on the new Idaho doctor-apology legislation is also one of the key figures, stretching back some years, behind the state's "tort reform" legislation - attorney Ken McClure.

But that may mean different things.

When you get legislation in hand which blocks prospectively important evidence in cases of medical malpractice, as is the case with House Bill 634, now on the House floor, careful consideration is called for. And bear in mind that "tort reform" means limiting the scope of what can be sued about, and for. Is this simply a device to allow malpracticing physicians to slip of legitimate lawsuits?

That would be the dark view; a reasonable counter view (which McClure clearly notes) is that fear of lawsuits has chilled a great deal of honest discussion between physicians and patients. It has led to all manner of unfortunate results, from dispensing drugs which probably aren't needed but will serve to cover a doctor's behind, to an inability to say the simple but highly important words, "I'm sorry." A great deal of civilization has been lost to our lawsuit-happy ways - a fact no less real than the malpractices that do occur and should be litigated.

When we attended journalism conferences in years past, we often heard a piece of advice from gurus on media litigation. It was this: If you did something wrong, apologize. Very often, that simple response is all someone is looking for, and often it will end the prospect of lawsuits before it begins.

No less could be true in medicine. And that could be helpful all around.

Ahead, Tuesday

Not much attention to this elsewhere yet, so be it noted: The Oregon Supreme Court decision on Measure 37 is expected to be released on Tuesday morning.

That is courtesy of the McMinnville News Register, which quietly broke the story Saturday.

No word yet, of course, what that decision will be. We'll be watching.

Fact checking

Our political discourse could use a lot more fact checking. On the national level, a number of well regarded sites ( for one) have made it their business to check the accuracy and reasonableness of statements, allegations and articles. The Northwest has nothing like that.

This site has tried to do such work occasionally, and will continue to. More emphatically, it will try to link to fact checks on other sites, and do what it can to encourage the practice.

With that in mind, first up: A piece on Washblog, "WA Farm Bureau misrepresents facts to support ballot Initiative." Writer Noemie Maxwell parsed the remarks of Steve Appell, president of the Washington Farm Bureau, as he pitched the case for an initiative (tagged the Property Fairness Initiative) intended generally to match Oregon's Measure 37 in its intent of allowing certain property owners to bypass land use regulations.

Maxwell turned to committee minutes, official filings, recorded statements and other original material to conclude that important parts of the Appell speech were misleading at best. It is worth a read.

A departure

Steve Ahrens has been a fixture at the Idaho Statehouse for 31 years, and we've known him nearly that long. That makes the idea of his retirement, which he has announced will happen this fall, the more startling: Hardly anyone now around the Statehouse knew it pre-Ahrens.

Steve AhrensIn just about all of his time there as a (first) reporter and (later) lobbyist and (for 16 years) president of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, he has also been more than a fixture: He's been a major presence. That's accounted for in some part by his employers, the Idaho Statesman newspaper, Boise Cascade and IACI, which represents most of Idaho big business along with a chunk of medium-to-smaller business. But that's not all. Ahrens is courteous and has a sense of humor and a sometimes surprising informality, and an interest in helping out the newbies who regularly show up, and all that helps over the long haul. (In our Ridenbaugh Press lists of influential Idahoans, Ahrens has almost always ranked high, and a lot of people would have been shocked if he hadn't.) But that's not all either.

There is another thing about Ahrens that non-professionals might not get: He's a hardcore legislature addict. The minutiae of the legislature, the personalities, the political campaigns, the vote counts, the structure of the committees, the rules and the process - Ahrens has immersed himself into it all deeply, for a very long time, and he can talk about it with the kind of attention to intricate detail that a really good mechanic could use in describing how his favorite make of car works. He is evidence that, apart from all else, information is power.

No small thing, as 31 years will attest.

Secretive police, policing speech

Homeland Security is a lousy name purely for its connotations: It echoes too near the old German "fatherland" and Russian "motherland" (or "fatherland"). The eeriness factor multiplies when it generates cases like that of Dwight Scarbrough in Boise.

That story, told inthe current Boise Weekly (and highlighted well in the current Boise Guardian), is enough to make anyone wonder whose security is being protected. The dividing line, apparently, has to do with who you vote for. (more…)

Casino turnout

Who would have thought? Check the turnout at Clark County's Prairie High School on the subject of a casino proposed for near La Center by the Cowlitz Tribe.

About 1,000 people were estimated to have shown up at a formal federal event that, as the official in charge noted, was still early in the process. Nonetheless, the Vancouver Columbian described the event as "full-fledged political theater with information booths, signs, buttons, stickers and banners. Casino supporters rallied their troops with 300 caps, 500 T-shirts and upwards of 150 pizzas, the uneaten last dozen or so turned over to the high school's busy maintenance staff. More than 700 people filled the auditorium, another 100 milled around outside, grumbling at their inability to get in, and 200 more stood in a hallway and watched the meeting on a video monitor. Judging by who cheered and when, supporters outnumbered opponents by perhaps four or five to one." Union support apparently accounts for much of the organization.

Website notification

We've suspected for a decade or so that the rise of the web was likely to change, eventually, the requirements by governments for providing proper notification to the public of its actions. In sum: Is the public adequately notified of an important action if the agency puts notice of it on its web site, as opposed to - for example - notifying or taking out ads in newspapers?

Washington courtsMedia executives should take notice of Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority v. Kenneth & Barbara Miller (Docket 76284-8), just filed. The subject of the case concerns property condemnation for public use, in this case a tract at Tacoma owned by the Millers (as owners of a construction company) intended for use as a park-and-ride station. (Sound Transit is trying to run its line further south, toward Lakewood.) The case has several prongs; the one at hand here concerns notice to the public. The court summarizes: (more…)


In 1982, Idaho's voters repealed an old - original - section of the state constitution which had gone unobserved for decades but remained there as a testiment to bigotry of another age: The provision which, in essence, sought to deny Idaho Mormons their rights as citizens, including the right to vote.

The repealer passed easily. But more than a third of the votes were cast against the repeal; that was, simply, the anti-Mormon vote, the people who thought so little of Mormons that they would just as soon they all moved away. We've wondered, over the years, how Idaho's Mormons felt seeing those 100,113 votes, representing people who just didn't want them around here. That was, after all, their real meaning.

The same kind of thing will happen this year, as Idaho voters act on another constitutional amendment, one approved this morning by the Idaho Senate, to ban marriage in Idaho by same-sex couples. (more…)

ISU president, and direction

Announcements of new university presidents usually suggest little interest outside the institution's community. Today's announcement that the State Board of Education has named Arthur Vailas as the new president of Idaho State University at Pocatello ought, probably, to suggest a little more.

Arthur VailasThere has been some talk, generated partly by the interim ISU president but also running around elsewhere, that the university ought to aim its long-range future toward medical schooling. And maybe it should. But the path getting there would not be easy or cheap, and the navigation would have to be strong, careful and well-informed.

So view Vailas' hiring in that light. Here's the ISU short summary of his background:

Dr. Arthur Vailas is vice chancellor and vice president for research and intellectual property management for the University of Houston System and the University of Houston (UH). He joined UH in 1995 as vice president for research and vice provost for graduate studies, and professor and distinguished chair in biology and biochemistry.

Prior to joining UH, Vailas was associate dean for research and development at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a university he served in numerous capacities including professor of surgery, division of orthopedic surgery in the College of Medicine; professor of kinesiology, school of education; professor, department of poultry science in the College of Agriculture; and professor and director of the Biodynamics Laboratory.

And there is plenty more besides; he is, apart from other considerations, a fully-qualified academic. But the interest comes in this: He's just about what you'd want if your idea is to move ISU in a more developed medical-research direction.