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Posts tagged as “Idaho”

First Take

Oregon doesn't allow for a procedure for impeaching a governor - a point that came to some note earlier this year - and the talk about setting one up, though constitutional amendment, has been growing. (Oregon is the only state without a means for impeachment. It seems to have skidded to a halt in the Senate, where President Peter Courtney has been opposed, noting (the Oregonian reported) "Oregon voters have the ultimate right of impeachment through the recall process and they aren't shy about using it. They successfully petitioned for that right in 1908. Two years later they voted to prohibit impeachment." Of course, that was some time ago. The Oregonian posted a reader poll on the question, and so far 63.1% say they're in favor of an avenue for impeachment.

Maybe not such a bad idea, as Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney proposes, to require governmental officials to adhere to the same lobbying rules - when they lobby the state legislature - as others who lobby. That would involve filing reports on lobbying efforts, and filing as lobbyists. This could complicate some cases and create some odd gray areas, such as state employees called in to testify before committees but not engaging in other lobbying. But if the lines are drawn in the right way, this may be reasonable. It's all in the details.

First take

Think about it and it seems increasingly remarkable, and indicative: The first major Spanish-language radio station in the Magic Valley is celebrating its first year in business, and it held a celebratory event at the Jerome County Fair. Okay, fine; no big deal. Except, according to the Twin Falls Times News, "thousands of people" showed up for it. How many businesses, or much of anything else, would draw people by the thousands in an area of that size? (Jerome itself only has but so many thousands of people.) This is speaking pretty strongly both to the numbers of Hispanic people in the Magic Valley, and in Idaho. It also speaks to the culture taking hold there in a serious way.

What people in other countries think of us ought to always be of interest - not by way of telling us what to do, but by way of giving us an alternate lens for how we look at ourselves. Foreign Policy has an amusing article on what other governments tell their citizens about what to watch out for when they visit the United States. It's definitely a different way of looking at the country than most of us here have (and say a lot about those counties too).

New chair

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A miracle of sorts is developing among Idaho’s Democrats: A three-way contest for the position of party chair.

Call that a small but real mark in the plus column for the Democrats, along with the fact that, unlike the last state Republican chair contest, this one has foregone bitterness or battles. But then, this isn’t a job most people would want. It doesn’t pay, but it can be time consuming and intensely absorbing. The end results of those efforts are likely to be – however adept and hard-working the chair may be – crushing defeat and blame, generally undeserved.

The Idaho Democratic chair has attracted some highly skilled political people over the years, but it has limited authority and is commonly thought to be something much closer to “powerful” than it actually is. (Same goes for the Republicans.)

Still, the chair can influence politics in the state to a degree. This is written before the vote electing the new chair, so I don’t know who it will be, but the advice that follows would apply to any.

Party chairs (any party) have two basic useful functions: Building and strengthening the organization, and serving as its spokesman to the public. (They sometimes play a role too in candidate recruitment, which Democrats in recent cycles have done relatively well.) With that in mind, three ideas suggest themselves for the incoming Democratic leader.

1. The top organizational priority should be filling precinct spots. Form a special task force and chair it, with the specific goal of filling as many of those precinct vacancies as possible around the state. And then give those precinct people some specific and visible work to do.

With focused attention, more can be done in this area than most Idaho political people think. In the 2014 election the Republican candidate for governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, won by a big margin. Care to guess in how many out of about 1,000 precincts his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, got no votes at all? I counted only three. There were lonely Democrats casting their defiant votes in very nearly every precinct and in every county in Idaho. The chair should be setting out finding those scattered seeds, carefully planting and watering them.

2. Use such bully pulpit as you have first and foremost to describe what the Democrats are about. Not, that is, about what this or that individual Democrat is proposing: Your job should involve defining the party and what it wants, as distinct from the Republicans, and spreading the word. A whole lot of Idahoans have been given to think Democrats are the spawn of Satan, and that’s not much exaggerated. Democrats in Idaho will continue to lose until this starts to change.

3. Use your position to talk about the Republican Party and what (in your view) it’s all about. Not just the latest bum headline, not just this office holder or that one, but the party itself. And not the fact that it controls all the political levers in Idaho – that just sounds whiny. And certainly not that “we need two parties.” (That offers no help about why anyone should choose yours.) Talk about why you think Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong. And you should be just that blunt.

Whoever you, the next chair, turns out to be, you’ll probably get more blame than you deserve whatever you do. But there is some potential for at least making the job count.

JFAC stability

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The co-leadership of Idaho’s JFAC is closely watched in the statehouse and little noticed elsewhere, partly because it gets fewer headlines than its role would warrant.

One reason for that is that it has been a relative rock of stability: It hasn’t turned over a great deal. Now, this year, it will turn over, partly, though overall it probably will stay stable.

JFAC is the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the 20-member (as it long has been) panel that drafts the state budget. It uses data provides by the governor, the agencies and sometimes others, and its decisions aren’t final until they’re passed (ratified, really) by the floors of the House and Senate, and signed by the governor. But the budgets written in JFAC are only rarely altered afterward.

It is led by two people, co-chairs, one each for the House and Senate, who almost always have risen through the ranks by seniority. These leadership spots are as important as any in the legislature, including floor leaders, and an active co-chair (and sometimes, the vice-chairs as well) does a lot to shape the way the state spends its money. When I wrote a book some months ago about the most influential people in the state, both co-chairs were in the group.

Since 2001, the same two people have led JFAC – Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Representative Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. For a decade they represented the same Magic Valley district, too, though in this new decade. Spend that much time on the budget panel and you tend become something of a budget expert, and – it happens to most – temperamentally an advocate for stability.

Last week came the announcement that Cameron will resign from the legislature to lead the state Department of Insurance. (Cameron is an insurance agent in private life.) By seniority, his successor as JFAC Senate co-chair should be vice-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who has been closely aligned with Camerons’s work on the committee. Her likely move up (the decision will be made by Senate Republican leaders) would place two women at the top of JFAC, for the first time.

The general continuation of stability – Keough has been a vice-chair since 2005, which is a couple of years before C.L. “Butch” Otter first became governor) – may be the more significant point. And that would be a continuation of the way JFAC has long been run.

Cameron’s predecessor on the Senate side was Atwell Parry, R-Melba, from 1987 to 2000, another long stretch. Bell’s House predecessor, Robert Geddes, was in the chair just four years, though he spent 24 years in the Idaho House. But before him, Representative Kathleen “Kitty” Gurnsey, R-Boise, was the House budget leader for eight terms, from 1981 to 1996. This is known as slow turnover.

Gurnsey died last week at Boise, well remembered by people who spent time around the legislature in her years there, which prompted a number of thoughts about the changes, and non-changes at the committee over the years. She was the first woman to co-chair the budget panel, but her strong hand on the budget process was most memorable. She served across from three Senate co-chairs, and was at least as decisive as any of them in directing the committee. (The relationships between the two co-chairs generally has been amicable, but there’s no requirement that it has to be.)

She was also something of a political centrist among the Senate Republicans of the time, at least of the time when she became chair. As the Idaho Legislature, and JFAC with it, moved toward the right over the years to come, their chairs did as well. During the short period when Gurnsey and Cameron overlapped on JFAC, she would generally have been considered the more moderate of the two. Today, Cameron is one of the more centrist Republican in the Senate caucus.

So we wait for word on the chair succession, and see if the long tendency on this important committee will continue a few more years.

First take

Wonder what implications this may have for the new Wisconsin 20-week abortion ban: Idaho's ban on abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy was tossed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday. It said the law "is facially unconstitutional because it categorically bans some abortions before viability. Section 18-608(2) is facially unconstitutional because it places an undue burden on a woman’s ability to obtain an abortion by requiring hospitalizations for all second-trimester abortions." All of which was intended, of course, as a feature of the law, not a bug.

First take

An impressive group, including a couple of former national secretaries of Health and Human Services (Mike Leavitt and Kathleen Sebelius) and a roomful of medical professionals, turned up at the Idaho Healthcare Summit at Fort Hall this week. The idea was to educate Idaho officials on the subject of health care, and a few leading Idaho officials - Senate President pro tem Brent Hill, House Democratic leader John Rusche (a physician) and House health committee chair Fred Wood (also a physician), among them. They were among the Idaho legislators who probably were least in need of the education; according to news reports, just one other legislator (Representative Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree) showed up. The facts apparently didn't matter to many others Today's editorial in the Idaho Falls Post Register suggests, "As for the rest, we can only assume they are content to remain uninformed, place greater stock in talking points than actual data, and continue to appease GOP primary votersby tossing around perjoratives such as 'Obamacare' while lamenting 'federal dependency.'"

Not all of the "Patriot Act" (you have to know there's something wrong when legislation is wrapped in the flag like that) is bad; it included a number of needed updates and upgrades in the law. But the bad stuff, such as the authorization of mass surveillance, was really bad, and support for it has diminished over the years, both on the left and right. Now, on Monday, it may be wiped out - sunset. And that could be important, because simply reauthorizing what's already on the books may be a lot different, politically, than specifically authorizing a new bill. A new, cleaner, better proposal might still pass. But at least a lot of the garbage soon may be taken out.

First ladies

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e have all heard the cliches which describe the influence mothers and wives exercise over the men in their lives who hold public office or positions of prominense. Phrases such as “the hand that rocks the cradle,” “the power behind the throne,” and the ambiguous “pillow talk,” come to mind.

Most successful male political practitioners have around them either a strong mother, or a strong wife, or both.

In Idaho, some of her more successful governors either had or still have spouses that were critical elements in helping win elections and govern. Some First Ladies were or are key advisors to their husbands. Others saw or see their role as that of being a protective mother hen whose purpose is to fight for “get away time” for their spouse, for relaxation and recharging the batteries. Many First Ladies have exercised their influence by controlling the schedule.

None of these primary roles are mutually exclusive. Several First Ladies in Idaho functioned in several capacities for their spouse.

One of the best First Ladies in Idaho history, Lola Evans, was laid to rest in the Malad cemetary last week, next to her beloved husband, John V., who served as governor for ten straight years, from 1977 to 1987.

Lola Evans ranks in the top tier along with Carol Andrus and Grace Jordan. All three of these First Ladies made significant contributions to the success and well-being of their husbands, as did most of Idaho’s First Ladies. These three, though, were adept politicians in their own right. All three governors recognized their spouse had unerringly good instincts.

None were or are demure wall flowers hesitant to tell the governor of a “miscalculation.” All, though, kept their counsel in the home for all three share another quality---fierce loyalty to the spouse and zealous protection of the spouse and the family.

Early in my journalism career when I was the political reporter for the Idaho State Journal I made a passing reference to one of then State Senator Cecil Andrus’ daughters giving him an “in” with students at ISU because the daughter was dating the student body president.

Mrs. Andrus was not pleased and made certain I should have known references to candidate or officeholders spouse or children was “off limits” unless they were directly injected into a campaign. She wa absolutely correct. There was a reason why she learned her husband had hired me to be his press secretary only by reading the Idaho Statesman.

What made Lola Evans stand out was her fine sense of humor and her sense of adventure. One can learn much about another if they have to travel with them. Some call it “the four-day raft trip” test. Was the person a good traveling companion? Did one encounter an unexpected challenge that required poise and presence?

Mrs. Evans passed that test with flying colors. In 1975 I accompanied then Lt. Governor John Evans and Mrs. Evans on a week-long trade mission to Japan. Two nights before we left to return home I switched all of us from our five-star western hotel to a three-star genuine ryoken, a Japanese Inn.

From a soft queen-size bed to sleeping on the tatami mats; from western food to Japanese fare and no utinsels, just chop-sticks; from waitresses who spoke English to servers who spoke only Japanese---it was a stunning change.

Most First Ladies could not or would not have agreed to such a total change. Lola Evans took it in stride, thoroughly enjoyed herself and thanked me afterwards for taking the group out of a transplanted, homogenized faux wertern experience and instead providing them with a true cross-cultural experience.

When one recognizes that the spouse of an officeholder often has to carry almost all the child rearing responsibilities, keep the home presentable, be ready to prepare fine meals when the hubby suddenly brings home an unannounced guest, often do all the shopping and pay all the bills, and still is expected to stand by the guy at countless receptions and accompany him on the “rubber chicken” circuit, all while maintaining the right appearance, only then can one begin to appreciate what valuable asssets First Ladies like Lola Evans can be and were for their husbands.

Multi-tasking does not begin to describe the skill.

John Evans only lost one political race in his life (the last one). A full partner in his success was Lola Daniel Evans - the sine qua non of his career. May God’s angels convey her swiftly to the bosum of the Lord and a joyful reunion with her governor amidst the communion of Saints.

The wheel of death

Lowe

Pam Lowe

We've not followed the administration of the Idaho Transportation Department closely enough to know first-hand how well its just-departed director, Pam Lowe, managed the place. We do know that the Board of Transportation, to which she reported, gave her only positive reviews in her performance evaluations. Up until the latest evaluation; work on that one was interrupted by her firing, which was done for reasons not made public.

While we may not have the information we need to evaluate Lowe's performance, we do have enough to evaluate the board's: Either the performance evaluations or the firing, or maybe both, must have been badly flawed.

One indicator at least points to the firing being the problem, with some blame to go around to the legislators. In the Spokesman-Review Betsy Russell blog is this from state Senator (and long-time ITB member and for many years chair) Chuck Winder, from an interview this spring: "They [transportation directors] are a lightning rod. They’ve [legislators] whipped up on the last two or three . . . Some of ‘em are valid, some of ‘em are political, and some are just ways to try not to address the funding for ITD.”

Oh, well. Time to launch another six-figure nationwide search for a new scapegoat - ah, director - to toss into the pit . . .

A suggestion. There's good reason for keeping a lid on personnel evaluations of most public employees. But those of chief executives of agencies should be open and public.

How bad is it getting at Tamarack?

Often is - more often than people typically think - that bankruptcies and other reorganizations aren't fatal problems for businesses. A good many have come out of them whole and prosperous.

But this from the Idaho Statesman, concerning the Tamarack ski resort near Donnelly, gave us pause:

An Idaho judge on Thursday refused to let Bank of America Corp. repossess two ski lifts from Tamarack Resort, providing at least a brief reprieve for owners trying to keep the failed Valley County vacation getaway intact for a possible buyer.

More checks

This is not an argument that the system of background checking is getting out of hand or that these in particular aren't merited. But after a while, you do start to think that some overall parameters should be set around the practice, lest we wind up with half the country doing background checks on the other half.

From the Idaho administrative rules posted Wednesday:

The Department [of Health & Welfare] has added certain individuals and providers who are required to have a criminal history and background checks under other Department rule chapters. This chapter of rules is being updated to add those individuals and providers to the list of those who are required to have checks, including references to the programs’ rule chapters. The programs or individuals being added are: Alcohol or Substance Use Disorders Treatment Facilities and Programs for Adults, Designated Examiners and Designated Dispositioners, Idaho Child Care Program, and Nonhospital, Medically-Monitored Detoxification/Mental Health Diversion Units.