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Posts published in August 2015

Bombast vs knowledge

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As the national media herd runs from one embarrassing Trump affront to our national dignity to another, there’s an interesting story all are missing. In they rush to pick up another specious, ego-filled, churlish sound bite, a smarter, far more effective race is being run showing positive campaigning on just the issues is far more effective.

Though the foot-in-mouth New Yorker is drawing some civilian attendees to his traveling road show of put-downs, gaffes, insults and ego-massaging, it appears many are there because they want to see a “celebrity” rather than be swayed by his “statements” about anything. I doubt significant numbers of them go home with the thought “You know, there’s a guy who ought to be our next President.”

Now - leave the fawning media behind and walk over to the campaign of one Bernie Sanders. You won’t have problems finding him. Just look for the larger crowds - much larger gatherings than Trumps. Crowds Trump and his Cretin campaign team would kill for. Crowds they couldn’t get even if they paid people to turn out. Crowds listening intently to Sander’s views on national debt, immigration reform, Social Security, health care, voting rights, infrastructure repair and other important issues going begging for Republican - not to mention Trump’s - attention. Sanders speaks to those issues because - unlike a majority of other “candidates” - he know the issues.

Note also, at these Sanders sessions, people are respectful, attentive, boisterous when responding to statements they agree with but - above all - listening. They want to hear his message - they want to know more about this New England independent who speaks with a New York accent.

And, here’s the kicker - what the national media is just plain missing. Sanders is campaigning with entirely positive messages on the important issues that need to be dealt with. He castigates no one. He speaks without name-calling. He sticks to the subject. He’s enthusiastic but not bombastic. He knows what he’s talking about. He can communicate it! I’d guess many who hear Sanders in those large crowds - even in those red states - go home with the thought, “That guy could be our next President.”

Both national parties are losing registered membership because they’re anachronistic, money-grubbing ghosts of “politics past.” Neither stands for much of anything. Dem’s are so far from the middle nationally that many former members no longer relate. The GOP has dived into a hole with positions so narrow and irrelevant only a few diehards remember the “glory days.” For both, billionaires have replaced wide-spread voter appeal and money - lots and lots of money - has become the party purpose for existing.

To me, Trump’s “candidacy” is the most dangerous threat to our political system since the Kochs built themselves a “Tea party.” Look how far to the right - to near national irrelevance - the Republican party has gone in the last 15-20 years. Look at the absolute stalemate the elections of Ted Cruze, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson, Raul Labrador and about 50 others have caused. None of them - not one - has been effective with new legislation, problem-solving, healing our national political wounds, standing for anything while doing nothing but cashing a paycheck. They’ve made a eunuch out of Congress, extended misery for the poor and homeless, played almost exclusively to the rich and ignored finding solutions to national ills that are the exclusive province of Congress.

Now, Trump is attracting audiences of the same disaffected, unthinking, scared and mostly white, elderly people. In poll after poll after poll, results show far too many people don’t have any idea how their government operates, how legislation becomes law, what our system of checks and balances is. And they have no idea what the role of government is as defined by the Constitution many of them swear by but are ignorant of both content and meaning.

People like Trump - and to some extent nearly all the Republican presidential candidates - are offering simple answers to complex problems they can’t solve. Trump - with his trashy name-calling, jingoistic, belittling statements - is capitalizing on the ignorance of those people looking for someone who talks like they do - feels like they do - about whatever’s bothering them at the moment. He’s dispensing verbal snake oil.

If some of these people who look to Trump for political salvation would set aside their fears and their loathing of a government they don’t understand - and in too many cases fear - and spend some time at a Sanders’ rally, they might be both enlightened and educated by a far different experience.

Please don’t take this as an endorsement of Sen. Sanders. It is NOT. But it IS an endorsement of the politics of any candidate of any party who understands the issues and who speaks to them with educated, informed ideas and temperate words while appealing to the best in us.

Take your choice. In a field of some 20 candidates of both parties, fill in your own choice of someone else who’s doing that. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

First take

Bert Marley seems to be on the surface a rational choice for chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, and a good choice for some less obvious reasons. He has plenty of personal political experience, going back to when his dad (also named Bert) was in the legislature. This Bert was in the legislature too, serving from an area where Democrats could win but could not take a win for granted. He also has run statewide, last year for lieutenant governor. Like his father he was an educator by profession, and he worked for the Idaho Education Association, and his experience there may have provided a useful lesson for the Democratic Party in Idaho. While Marley certainly should focus a good deal of attention on pure party-building (filling those precinct spots, strengthening the county organizations), it could also start to use ballot issues as a way to organize and draw distinctions with the Republicans. That happened in 2012 when educators, in three ballot issues, turned back a series of major education changes proposed by then-Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. There hasn't been much ballot issue followup since, but Marley's experience with the IEA just might bring a few ideas to mind. - rs

First take

Seeking to escape the high-90s heat on the east side of the Coast Range, we took an afternoon-early evening drive to the oceanside, running around and checking out the Neskowin-Pacific City-Netarts area, places which were busy but less likely to be jammed than, say, the Newport-Lincoln City parking lot. And it worked. The temperatures were at 92 when we left the Willamette Valley and down to 67 at the coast. One data point we picked up was the spot at which temperature dropped, headed west, and where it rose again, headed east. The latter, just before sunset, tracked predictably as we headed back over the mountains. But on the road west, from Forest Grove to Tillamook, we found that the 90s stubbornly held in there over the mountains and down to the feet on the other side; only as we approached a dozen miles to Tillamook did the heat wave break and suddenly drop by about 15 degrees. So much for the mountains being the only dividing line in the area.

Tom Boyd

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In 1986, Idaho politics was not frozen in ice as it is today. It was fluid, and no better case for that could be made than Tom Boyd’s election that year to the speakership of the Idaho House.

It was still the Reagan Era in Idaho, but late Reagan Era, and the results of the 1986 election were all over the place. Democrat Cecil Andrus was returned to the governorship, but just barely, and Republicans did well among the rest of the statewide offices. Republicans won a serious U.S. Senate race, but not by a lot, and a Democrat won in the 2nd district U.S. House seat. The election was a true mixed bag: The overall tilt was Republican, but nothing and no one could be taken for granted.

Especially the party thought to be dominant in Idaho, the Republicans. As majority Republican legislators prepared that year to choose their leaders, they had some decisions to make, especially in the House.

There, the speaker for the previous two terms had been Tom Stivers, a conservative with some rough edges – the kind of guy who often generated what we now call “viral” quotes and anecdotes, like the time he replied to an Idaho teacher planning to leave the state over complaints about state funding and treatment of teachers, with the single word: “Goodbye!”

Stivers had been buoyed to some extent by the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide but he opted out in 1986, possibly sensing a shift in moods. Many of the Republican legislators of the incoming 1986 group sensed that change too, not any massive shift to the left but some dissatisfaction with what voters were seeing and hearing from the legislature. And – this part was important – many of them felt a need to respond to that.

Candidates emerged to replace Stivers, all with an easy-going style that contrasted with the outgoing speaker. The two main vote getters were Robert Geddes of Preston, who as assistant majority leader had been a part of Stivers’ leadership team, and Tom Boyd of Genesee, who was considered more moderate, part of a group calling itself the Steelheads, centrists who in the Idaho House could readily compare themselves to the fish that swims upstream.

The contest was a near-tie, and a break from the norm in the Idaho House where the more conservative candidate typically wins the race. Boyd emerged as speaker, and was re-elected twice to the post. Along the way he would turn back a challenge from now-U.S. Representative Mike Simpson.

Tom Boyd, who died July 28, was not a hard-charging politico, and never considered a run for higher office; he was a friendly, sociable, low-key farmer whose run for speaker surprised many people who knew him then, as uncharacteristically ambitious. He proved well up to the job, developing an unexpected toughness but also changing the face of the Idaho House.

He changed it in the direction most of his fellow legislators had wanted, as more open and welcoming to larger groups of people. He by no means shut out conservatives in key House spots; Geddes for one got a key seat on the budget committee (which he later would co-chair), but he expanded the dialogue in a number of ways.

Tom was missed when he left the legislature and will be missed now, as will be the kind of politics he thrived in.

First take

As the debate continues (and of course will this next week with the Republican presidential debate) about the Affordable Care Act, ah, Obamacare, some actual review of results so far would seem to be in prder. A good one has just been released, by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which has been tracking results year by year and with special depth in California, which is where the new report is situated. California is just one marketplace, but since it includes a fifth of the national population, it's a pretty good marker. Here is some of what it says:

After two rounds of open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, 68 percent of Californians who were uninsured prior to the first open enrollment period now report that they have health insurance, referred to in this report as the “recently insured.” This share is up from 58 percent after the first open enrollment period in the spring of 2014. The largest share of California’s previously uninsured, a third (34 percent), say they have coverage thought the state’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, up from 25 percent after the first open enrollment period. In addition, 14 percent say they are insured through an employer, 12 percent say they have a plan through Covered California, the state’s health insurance marketplace where people can shop for and compare health insurance plans and access federal subsidies for coverage, and another 7 percent say they have other non-group coverage or insurance through some other source. About a third (32 percent) report being currently uninsured, referred to in this report as the “remaining uninsured.” Because the same group of previously uninsured people has been followed over time, the survey is also able to explore the dynamics of health insurance and track how many people have moved in to or back out of coverage since the baseline survey in 2013.

Shorter: It's working, it's making improvements, but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Which is more or less what a lot of people have been thinking.