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Posts published in June 2018

All the people


On average, Idaho legislators, each representing one of 35 districts in a state of about 1.7 million people, have about 49,000 constituents. No legislator, however conscientious, can know them all.

In practice, though, they - and not just legislators but most public officials - only really know a thin slice of their constituents. Some weeks ago I helped canvass - drop off campaign information - several neighborhoods for a local ballot issue in my small town of 2,000 people. Many of those people felt their city hall was remote from them, distant and out of touch. This isn’t physical distance: Many of them lived within a three-minute walk of the building where council meetings are held.

Elected officials, like most of us, tend to congregate among people we know and who are like us. The less similar to us, the less we are likely to know other people, and the more out of touch we are. State legislators, to take one example, know their friends and other social connections, their political base, sometimes their adversaries and activists of various types. But most people in their districts, most of the 49,000 or so, are outside those orbits.

And some are well outside.

On occasion an elected official tries to break through that bubble. One who did recently was state Representative Mark Nye of Pocatello, and he wrote about the experience.

His account started with a visit to the Pocatello community action center, a place he had been involved in setting up years ago, and which offers help to the homeless - as it can. Its capacities are limited, and the needs tend to far outdistance them.

That observation prompted Nye to explore further - to look into the world of the homeless in Pocatello.

“I learned where the homeless can get a hot meal,” he wrote. “One place is a hall near Poky High. I saw poor people lined up there waiting for the doors to open. I watched and wondered where they came from and how this could be happening in our city. I volunteered to wash dishes and watch. I did this for a couple of weeks, but this wasn’t enough. Sixty-eight people were needing a meal and there were some children. One women was tall, with stringy hair, wild eyes and skinny like a stick. Her clothes were a mess and she wasn’t the only one like this. It was cold outside and some had coats — ratty coats. Some had no coats.”

He explored beyond that, taking a place in the group. “The next week, I put on my old Levi’s, a black T-shirt and old baseball cap and drove down to the place. I hid my car blocks away and went to the front door early to wait. About 18 people were already there. They were standing around, some on the stairs, some on the curb, some alone and in small groups. There was little talk. I was afraid what they might do to me if I was recognized. But I had learned the walk. The walk was a slow shuffle, with head bent down and no eye contact. We waited for the door to open. I felt conspicuous but no one was watching. I was just another one standing there.”

Nye developed several observations out of all this, but one of the most significant is also one of the most obvious: These people are not numbers, not statistics, and not even just people, but also constituents. Nye recognized that he held a responsibility to them in the same way he does to the people he ordinarily meets and works with, the people who show up at the Statehouse as lobbyists or that he meets at a political gathering.

It’s an important point. The 49,000 include not only friends and family, supporters and activists and even opponents. They also include a lot of people many of us actually try not to see. It takes some effort to see them. But that’s what being a public servant should entail.

Budget and tax hikes never ending


As the budget season reaches full swing it is downright frightening how local officials are conditioning folks for tax and budget hikes. It is also a bit frightening how glibly the legacy media offers reports like this one from the Idaho Press and Idaho Statesman regarding the proposed new Boise Library:

“On top of the city funding, the project is proposed to be funded with donations, debt and urban renewal revenue.”

To his credit, the Statesman’s Sven Berg noted the available parking spaces will be reduced from about 100 to 50 after the expansion. Team Dave eliminated any chance of expansion when they leased the city-owned warehouse space behind d the library to a tech company making chips to track migrating fish.

Any debt in excess of a single year’s revenues has to be approved by two-thirds of the voters. Logically that approval should come BEFORE city councilors approve the $85 million project. They also have had no appropriation from the CCDC urban renewal agency. The GUARDIAN finds it a questionable practice to spend hundreds of thousands for design on such a vague funding formula.

The same vagueness has been used for the proposed ball park on Americana near the Boise River. In that scheme they often cite the Greater Boise Auditorium District as a source of funds along with annual budget appropriations from Boise City. GBAD has not even considered any spending and annual city funding would be non-binding and very risky. Boise State also just announced plans to build a baseball field on campus after a previously floated joint use dream evaporated.

Other recent attempts to get their hands in our pockets come from ACHD which wants to increase vehicle registrations for autos, but NOT go after the trucks that tear up our streets. Anything over 8,000 lbs is exempt. They are bound by a state law which applies only to ACHD and was lobbied on behalf of ACHD.

The Ada Sheriff wants more staff for the jail. The jail is big business on behalf of the feds and State Dept. of Corrections. The previous jail expansion, funded in part with a federal grant, needs to be staffed. Boise is looking for more coppers, and fees for everything from water to trash are set for increases.

AND … it can mostly be chalked up to this “fabulous growth” that is encouraged by state and local “economic development and tax incentive” efforts. The median price for a house in San Francisco’s Bay area is right at $1 million and in Ada it is just over $300,000. Those techie folks (from Cali and Seattle) are cashing in their equity and moving to Idaho in droves where they can buy three homes and have leftover cash. All we have to do is pay their way.

Carrying a grudge too long


It is always surprising, and a bit sad when one sees another supposedly decent, mature, and thoughtful human being do something out of character beneath his standing. Usually, he or she, ends up besmirching themselves rather than the object of their metaphorical knifing they scorn.

Such is the case with Stu Eizenstat, President Jimmy Carter’s brilliant domestic policy advisor. In the waning days of the Ford Administration
during the transition to the incoming Carterites, Eizenstat was a strong advocate for federal protection of Hells Canyon.

He has just published an excellent book focused primarily on the two years he spent on the Carter campaign and his four years in the White House. To his credit he does not sugar-coat anything — gives credit where credit is due (he could have more generously shared credit), admits both his mistakes and the President’s.

It was disappointing then to see him take an unfair, undeserved shot at the late great Idaho Senator Frank Church. The item came out when Eizenstat was helping Charles Kirbo, a Carter consiglieri, vet potential Carter running mates.

It was common knowledge that Carter’s list was down to three: Church, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale. According to Eizenstat, Church was standing around with a group of Georgians “bragging” about an extended family connection with a southerner: Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, the man who split Georgia in half and burned Atlanta to the ground. He is still one of the most reviled figures in Georgia history.

The group took Church seriously and that was it. Rather than realize that it was possibly a poor effort at a bit of humor that went awry, they put the worst possible spin on it.

Anyone who knew Frank Church, knows he knew all there is to know about the Civil War. Furthermore, while Verda Barnes was around as the Senator’s chief of staff there were damn few mistakes made.

When asked about the alleged instance, Garry Wenske, executive director of the Frank Church Institute at Boise State, instantly denied it: “Not true, it never happened,” Winske stated.

Another Church staffer disputed several other facts put forth by Eizenstat. According to him the interview took place at the 1976 Democratic Convention in New York, not in Plains, and the interview was a courtesy gesture to the senior Idaho senator which he saw through right away. Given Church’s entry into the Ohio primary, which some pundits candidly viewed as a not so subtle bid to be Carter’s running mate, if true there was obviously no quid pro quo.

Despite his disappointment in being passed over, Church, unlike Eizenstat, held no grudge. At the cost of his own career, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, he guided to a one-vote victory Carter’s Panama Treaty revisions.

For several years after the pre-ordained interview was a bomb, the joke around the Senator’s office was that chief of staff Mike Wetherell blew the Senator’s chances when he stepped on Roslyn Carter’s feet while maneuvering for a photo prior to the interview starting.

So what was Church’s real sin in Stu’s eyes? It was this: Frank Church dared to run against and defeat a couple of times Jimmy Carter during his relentless march to the presidency.

As another Georgian explained to me: Anyone who knew Jimmy Carter knew that anyone on the list who had run against Carter had a snowball’s chance in hell of being selected.

Be honest, Stu, was it really necessary 42 years later to stick it to Frank Church? Even if true what did you or President Carter gain by dredging this one up?

Who needs friends when you got Vlad?


Those effete “G-6” people got what was coming to them for questioning our President’s demands and then dissing Vladimir Putin. When that Canadian guy protested and said he was going to stand up for his country, what could a strong guy do but torpedo the joint statement everyone had already agreed upon? The nerve of Trudeau for reciprocating with a nationalistic statement. But, perhaps we should look at the other side of the issue.

The G-7 was set up by the major industrialized democracies four decades ago to forge closer economic ties as a counter to the Soviet threat. After G-7 members and other allied nations helped us run the Soviet Union out of business, the G-7 placed its focus on promoting democratic values. America has greatly benefited from its friendship and treaties with these countries, economically, politically, and militarily.

When America called upon these friends for support in the First Gulf War, they willingly pitched in. When the U.S. was attacked on September 11, G-7 countries and our other allies were at our side. This is a tough world and it helps to have friends when you need them. Just like on the school yard, if you are facing a bully you may need backup. If you are the bully, you may get comeuppance when the others have had enough and gang up on you.

It is sometimes easy to overlook what you may be getting out of a relationship if you focus on just one part of it. There are kinks in the trade arena that need to be worked out, but it goes both ways. That can be done in a quiet, thoughtful way. Shouting rarely produces good results.

On the other hand, we benefit from having forward operating bases in some of the G-7 countries that help project American power around the world. And, we have power because these important countries recognize and support U.S. currency as the coin of the world’s realm. We set up the system, it has been to our substantial benefit, and we have a strong national interest in maintaining it.

Now, let’s turn to Putin and possible reasons for not re-admitting his country to the democracy conclave (Russia gained membership when there was hope it would take a democratic turn, but got kicked out when all such hope was lost). It seems to me that present-day Russia may have become ineligible for membership by not being a democracy, by grabbing Crimea, by setting up an insurgency in Ukraine, by giving its thugs the equipment to shoot down a commercial airliner, and by clamping down on its press and killing reporters. Add to that the interference in American elections (and those of other G-7 countries), the unabated kleptocracy being carried on in Russia by Putin and his cronies, aiding and abetting horrendous atrocities in Syria, fixing Russian elections, and a host of other unsavory acts. Those could explain the reluctance of other G-7 members to allow Putin to join the democracy bandwagon. He should at least be banned until he washes the blood off his hands.

It all boils down to the fact that America has soared to greatness with the help of our allies and particularly our G-7 friends. Let’s not insult them out of our circle of friends. On the other hand, why allow an autocrat to join with the democracies? What has Putin ever done for America and all but a tiny number of Americans?

Just so much property


There’s no question most people in this country and around the world are outraged and heartsick about what’s happening to immigrant families. Most, but sorrowfully, not all.

As if the tragedy of yanking crying toddlers and children from their mothers and fathers was not enough, the tortured “reasons” for doing so are yet another travesty.

“Like kids going to summer camp,” from Laura Ingraham. Tucker Carlson: “Keeping immigrant families together threatens ‘your country’.” “Not like Nazi’s because we’re trying to keep people from getting in, not out,” from an incredibly ignorant attorney general. Then, an out-of-context Bible quote just to feel good about the verbal sewage he’s spewing.

We’re up to our knees in idiotic effluent flowing from the mouths of uncaring zealots and bigots who’ve surrendered ideals of decency, respect for others and even the rule of law.

The chief villain here, of course, is of our demagogue-wannabe in the White House. Without him, none of this would be happening. We wouldn’t be an embarrassed and angry Republic held hostage to this travesty against humanity. We wouldn’t be a further divided country of angry voices crying out for an end to the barbarism.

To say GOP “leadership” eunuchs in Congress aren’t participating would be to ignore the realities of what’s happening. In the Senate alone, not one - not even one - will sign on to proposed legislation to end this national nightmare. Democrats can’t reach the sensibilities of a seemingly heartless - or scared - majority.

Here, in the overheated, cactus-littered Southwest, many of us are angry and frustrated. Daily conversations include mostly sorrowful expressions of our helplessness and disgust. From supermarkets to doctor’s offices to golf courses, lots of words describing local angst float about. But, ideas to end what Trump has done are few. None, actually.

That “none” certainly includes me. I’m part of the confused, angry, embarrassed, ashamed majority. But, I’d like to offer a single perspective.

I believe Trump’s approach to his disastrous presidency has been more hard-charging real estate developer than political. Were it political, in the true sense of the word - and as practiced by nearly all presidents before him - we’d likely not be in this mess. A national disgrace created and orchestrated by a single source.

Trump’s modus operandi from the beginning has been to take outrageous positions and watch the outcry. He’s set verbal “goal posts” out there and, when his demands have been met, he’s moved them still further. “Bait and switch,” as it were.

Trump has exhibited not one honest spec of human emotion for the humanitarian travesty he’s created. Not one. The reason, I think, is because he views the situation as a real estate transaction. “Here are my terms; here are my demands. Meet them and we’ve got a deal.”

He’s said as much by telling Democrats, “Put up $24 million for my wall and we’ll talk.” And he’s said it more than once. I believe he sees the families he’s destroying as bargaining chips - as leverage, if you will. Nothing more.

He’s also taken the Mueller investigation off the front pages and reduced the cable political shows coverage to a few minutes at the end of the hour. If any mention at all. He’s been successful in a verbal shell game - taking the spotlight off what’s endangering his presidency by diverting it to the heartbreak and tragedy of others.

Trump’s often given media credit for being “politically savvy.” Not true, I think. His actions since assuming the office have not been those of any real politician in memory. He’s convinced his “base” that he’s “not a politician” and that his business acumen is what’s necessary to “rescue the country from politicians.”

People are mad. They’re protesting. They’re marching. They’re shouting from the rooftops. They’re expressing sorrow and outrage as best they can. But their voices, I believe, will go unheeded. He won’t react. And the GOP won’t suddenly find the guts to slap him down.

The only answer I see is purely political. It’s at the ballot box in five months.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – June 25

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for June 25. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

Traffic around Idaho drew a lot of attention last week, especially after a massive accident on Interstate 84 in western Ada County. A number of people said the fatal accident resulted in considerable part from lane closures during road construction, which has resulted in a review of construction protocols.

The State Board of Education approved a pilot program at its meeting on June 21, reducing tuition fees for American Indian tribal members from Idaho’s five federally recognized tribes to attend Idaho State University.

Boise Mayor David H. Bieter and members of the Boise City Council on June 19 called upon Idaho’s congressional delegation to end the Trump administration policy separating immigrant children from their parents at the nation’s southern border.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on June 21 said Netherlands-based NewCold is investing $90 million to build a 140-foot-high, 25 million cubic feet sub-zero cold storage warehouse in Burley. This will be one of the largest frozen storage facilities of its kind in the United States.

Idaho National Laboratory nuclear research will benefit from a $15 million pilot program secured by Senators Mike Crapo and James Risch, and Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse to recycle spent naval fuel for use in advanced nuclear reactors.

Cristina McNeil, Democratic candidate for Idaho’s 1st congressional district, has made a statement on immigrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S. border. McNeil, who immigrated from Mexico to the United States in 1995, said our immigration system is antiquated, complex and broken. She said the crisis of families being separated at the border is a direct result of the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance policy toward immigrants and is completely inhumane.

Senators Jim Risch and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced the Endangered Salmon and Fisheries Predation Prevention Act. The legislation would amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 to give state and tribal managers more flexibility in addressing predatory sea lions in the Columbia River system that are threatening both ESA-listed salmon and steelhead.

The Department of Environmental Quality is seeking public comment on a revision to sediment wasteload allocations in its plan to address elevated sediment and E. coli bacteria in the Salt River Subbasin in southeastern Idaho and western Wyoming.

PHOTO The fourth annual Bengal Roar is set for June 28 at Idaho State University. The event is designed to help students planning to attend classes in the fall to register for classes, meet with advisors and learn about campus resources that might otherwise be overlooked. This year, Idaho State University is giving more than $14 million in Idaho Resident four-year recruitment, Step Ahead and Honors Scholarships to more than 2,500 new, incoming Idaho students who are admitted for fall 2018. Other scholarships are also available through the Bengal Online Scholarship System. (photo/Idaho State University)

Undercover with the homeless


This is an opinion piece written by Idaho State Senator Mark Nye, D-Pocatello. It earlier appeared in the Idaho State Journal at Pocatello.

I had been campaigning for re-election to the Idaho Senate, getting out to learn about our needs. What I found was shocking.

It started when I stopped by the community action center. I’d helped get this going in the 1960s — with the help of Idaho Purce, Perry Swisher and others. It was nice to come back, and happened to meet the head of veteran’s programs in the hall. I ask him about his priorities for Pocatello.

He said, “Priorities? Are you kidding? I need 12 beds for homeless vets tonight! We don’t have them. No one else in town has room. Priorities? Excuse me, I’m really busy right now...” and then he left.

This was a blunt wake-up call. We hear about how bad things are, but being there and seeing it is different. This was for real. I decided to find out more.

I learned where the homeless can get a hot meal. One place is a hall near Poky High. I saw poor people lined up there waiting for the doors to open. I watched and wondered where they came from and how this could be happening in our city. I volunteered to wash dishes and watch. I did this for a couple of weeks, but this wasn’t enough.

Sixty-eight people were needing a meal and there were some children. One women was tall, with stringy hair, wild eyes and skinny like a stick. Her clothes were a mess and she wasn’t the only one like this. It was cold outside and some had coats — ratty coats. Some had no coats.

All of a sudden these people were not statistics. Idaho’s poverty numbers indicate that perhaps 20 percent of our population are under the poverty level. This didn’t matter. These people weren’t numbers; they were real.

We all have a natural sympathy for those in need, and I began to wonder what it would be like. I decided to go incognito and find out.

The next week, I put on my old Levi’s, a black T-shirt and old baseball cap and drove down to the place. I hid my car blocks away and went to the front door early to wait. About 18 people were already there. They were standing around, some on the stairs, some on the curb, some alone and in small groups. There was little talk. I was afraid what they might do to me if I was recognized.

But I had learned the walk. The walk was a slow shuffle, with head bent down and no eye contact. We waited for the door to open. I felt conspicuous but no one was watching. I was just another one standing there. Not noticed, not acknowledged, just here.

The door opened, and we went in. It was warm inside. We all just went to where the food was. It was served on plastic trays like in school. I had some, but was there to quietly watch and listen. The thought crossed my mind that as a senator I represent them, too.

I sat next to six to eight others at a long table. No one said much. I’ll never forget the four little children. They were dirty and a little disheveled but were just like other kids playing and having fun. But I couldn’t look up. I didn’t dare make eye contact and kept my baseball cap pulled down low. But being there was eye opening.

Each had a quiet dignity and was there for different reasons. As they left, I learned that it wasn’t just about the food. For them it was also being together. We shuffled and walked the walk outside together.

For a brief moment, I had been one of them. I came away feeling we can and must do better. We are from Pocatello, and I know we can and that we will.

Suffer the children


The National Lampoon was a humor magazine popular through the 1970s and most of the 1980s. Occasionally, the humor was rather dark as when, in January, 1973, the magazine’s cover featured a picture of an adorable dog with a gun pointed to its head. The caption read: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine, We’ll Kill This Dog.”

That supposed joke was not a serious attempt at extortion, but it illustrates, rather literally, what the practice of extortion looks like. One committing extortion attempts to obtain something, most commonly – but not necessarily – money, through force or threats.

With his inhumane policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents at our southern border, Trump is serious as a heart attack. And he is attempting to procure congressional funding for his precious, porous wall by not only threatening to forcibly take children from their parents, but actually doing so – and in the cruelest manner possible.

Trump is an accomplished shakedown artist. His means of persuasion are straight out of Tony Soprano’s playbook. Two months ago, he threatened nuclear war on the Korean Peninsula, and two weeks ago, he got his pay-off with wall-to-wall coverage of his historic meeting with the world’s most oppressive dictator. He has imposed tariffs – and threatened to impose additional tariffs – to much the same effect. It seems he will burn down the house to get his way.

But this horrible business at the southern border is uniquely revolting. He is using, and most certainly scarring, innocent children for leverage. He has said, “They’re not so innocent.” I have to believe the vast majority of Americans know better.

One of the most horrifying things we have learned in recent days is that those charged with watching over the children warehoused in cages are not allowed to comfort the children grieving the loss of their mothers and fathers. They cannot hold them, or stroke their hair, or hug them. After all, there could be liability issues.


The number of lawsuits that will be filed as a result of the harm wrongfully done to these children by the U.S. government will be astronomical. And, God forbid, that a child be raped, or maimed, or dies in a Trump Concentration Camp.

These children of desperate parents coming to our border begging for asylum have something in common with other children, who Trump has treated badly. The children of Flint, Michigan, and Puerto Rico are also children of color, and all of these children are suffering. Those forcibly taken from their parents will, almost certainly, be damaged most of all.

But Mr. “Art of the Deal,” treats these children as if they were pawns on a chessboard or, in his words – “a negotiating tool.”

It’s almost as if he thinks they are less than human.

Another fork in the road?


The history is broadly familiar, but it bears repeating for consideration now. It’s worth considering even in Idaho.

In 1994, Republican Pete Wilson was running for re-election as California governor in tough conditions: His approval rating was low, and he was running behind the challenging Democrat. During the campaign, he jumped onto a ballot initiative, Proposition 187, and greatly ramped up its visibility. At a time when illegal immigration was getting more attention in California, Prop 187 banned people in the country illegally from using public schools, non-emergency health care and various other services. The initiative gained steam and passed, and Wilson was re-elected (in a Republican wave year, it should be noted).

It was the very picture of a Pyrrhic victory. 187 was challenged in court and killed off legally and politically. But that was only the beginning. It enraged California’s large and growing Latino population, and many other people besides. Republicans were linked to the measure, and starting in the late 90s they began losing elections by larger and larger margins. California’s roster of elected officials, dominated by Republicans a generation and more ago, now is overwhelmingly Democratic, nearly as Democratic as Idaho is Republican, and the trigger of Prop 187 was the fork in that road turning California blue.

That came to mind last week as the nation watched the heart-rending scenes of family separation on the southern border, sort of reversed in a limited way, after huge national pressure, by President Donald Trump. This too has a political dimension and has caught attention of Americans of all descriptions. But it could have a special impact, as happened a quarter-century ago, on the politics of the Latino vote.

Before Prop 187, the Latino vote in California tended to number below its available population, and it was not overwhelmingly dominated by either of the parties. That changed.

Might it change now in, say, Idaho?

The Latino vote in Idaho long has had a low profile: The vote is there, but the numbers have tended to be smaller than the eligible population would indicate, and there’s not a lot of evidence that either political party has dominated it. There’s also this: The most prominent Latinos to run for office in Idaho have been Republicans. The most recent and successful has been Raul Labrador, elected four times to the U.S. House; his ethnic background has been known and noted but hasn’t become controversial, or an obstacle to winning office or a Republican party nomination. (He recently lost a primary contest for governor, of course, but none of the many analyses I’ve seen of that race have suggested his heritage as a reason for that.)

Still, the Idaho Latino vote in some ways resembles California’s pre-1994.

It’s a smaller portion of the state’s electorate. In a Pew Research Center study in 2014, the eligible Latino voting population was pegged at seven percent; in California it was 28 percent. Any impact of a large and well-organized Latino vote in Idaho necessarily would be much smaller than in the Golden State. Idaho ranks 16th among states for Latino vote eligibility (California is third).

That doesn’t mean it couldn’t be powerful. That voting population is concentrated enough in some places to swing legislative and other seats if well organized.

The Latino population is growing faster than Idaho overall, and an article in the Spokane Spokesman-Review two years ago pointed out, “10 Idaho school districts – and eight Idaho counties, including Boundary County – would have lost population from 2010 to 2014 if not for the growth in their Hispanic populations.” The central Magic Valley is about one-third Latino, and Canyon Court about one-fourth.

Don’t expect Idaho to do any time soon what California did after Prop 187. But don’t be surprised if some smaller-scale changes aren’t in the works nonetheless.