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Politics is a “full-contact sport,” Republican state Sen. Bob Nonini told his hometown Coeur d’Alene Press this week. And at least he’s consistent in applying this principle. Last spring, when Nonini was seeking to move from the House to the Senate, his political action committee poured nearly $15,000 into campaigns targeting six GOP incumbents, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron of Rupert and Vice Chairwoman Shawn Keough of Sandpoint. All six candidates won. If Nonini was chastened by the experience — or by the awkwardness of serving alongside fellow Republicans he targeted for defeat a few months earlier — there’s no visible sign of it/Kevin Richert, TheEDge (IdahoEd News). More here.
Let’s first process the numbers, before we commence with the inevitable spin. In 2011-12, 1,884 Idaho teachers left the profession. Idaho had 17,851 certified teachers in 2011-12. In other words, this is more than a 10 percent turnover. That should be a wakeup call. We should all at least be able to agree that recruiting — and retaining — quality teachers is the key to a quality education. Losing more than a tenth of the teaching workforce isn’t how you get it done. But in the bitter debate over the future of public education, the teacher turnover numbers have, predictably, become a choice talking point. The Idaho Education Association blames the growing exodus on state schools superintendent Tom Luna and his Students Come First K-12 overhaul. Luna’s office blames much of the turnover on the recession. The reasons matter, of course. And guess what? It’s complicated/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here. (2011 SR file photo of a Priest Lake classroom for illustrative purposes)
Question: Why do you think Idaho teachers are leaving — Luna Laws, recession, personal reasons, all of the above?
Rep. Mike Simpson once said the Environmental Protection Agency is the scariest federal bureaucracy of them all — surpassing even the IRS. Simpson now says, somewhat grudgingly, that the statement was “inappropriate.” But he doesn’t back away from his criticism of the EPA, nor his attempts to slash the agency’s budget. The EPA has become a red meat talking point for Republicans on the campaign trail. But the criticisms are a bit hazy — and the reality considerably more complex. When Simpson met with the Statesman editorial board last month, we interviewed him at length about the EPA. I gave his staff the heads up beforehand. Since Simpson is the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the EPA, he’s on the front line of the budget debate. So I wanted Simpson to explain his concerns with EPA. It’s a sketchy case, I must say/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Do you consider the EPA necessary? A necessary evil? Or simply evil?
The senator went to the bathroom on official government business. It sounds like the first line in a joke, a juvenile one at that. But all of us who have spent the past five years watching the farce that is the Larry Craig case know better. We’ve all learned that the laughable is the serious, the implausible the norm. In Craig’s latest legal shenanigans, the former senator is arguing that it’s OK that he used $217,000 in campaign money to fight his arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom — because the only reason he was in the airport in the first place was because he was traveling from Idaho to Washington, D.C., on Senate business. Argues Craig’s attorney, Andrew Herman: “Not only was the trip itself constitutionally required, but Senate rules sanction reimbursement for any cost relating to a senator’s use of a bathroom while on official travel.” Since Herman just had to go there, the overgrown junior high schooler in me has to ask: What kind of costs are incurred during a routine trip to a restroom?/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Given Larry Craig's poor judgment in his public bathroom behavior and his responses after being caught, do you ever wonder about his judgment as a congressman representing Idaho for decades?
The senator went to the bathroom on official government business. It sounds like the first line in a joke, a juvenile one at that. But all of us who have spent the past five years watching the farce that is the Larry Craig case know better. We've all learned that the laughable is the serious, the implausible the norm. In Craig's latest legal shenanigans, the former senator is arguing that it's OK that he used $217,000 in campaign money to fight his arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom — because the only reason he was in the airport in the first place was because he was traveling from Idaho to Washington, D.C., on Senate business. Argues Craig's attorney, Andrew Herman: “Not only was the trip itself constitutionally required, but Senate rules sanction reimbursement for any cost relating to a senator's use of a bathroom while on official travel.” Since Herman went there, the overgrown junior high schooler in me has to ask: What kind of costs are incurred during a routine trip to a restroom?/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: What kind of expense could then U.S. senator Larry Craig have incurred while going to the bathroom in the Minneapolis airport?
Huckleberries has learned that Linda Cook was actually reading Huckleberries Online when this photo was taken by the Phantom Photographer.
Opinionator Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman weighs in on the legal fight that emerged from the Valentine's Day post by Linda Cook (AlmostInnocentBystander) re: former county GOP CC chairwoman Tina Jacobson: “And there is your other, perhaps more salient chilling effect. This legal mess could conceivably happen to any newspaper that allows and posts anonymous comments — including the Statesman. No matter how carefully a newspaper tries to monitor its comment sections, there exists some element of legal exposure. Is the risk worth the reward, the bump in online page views? Since this coarse online shouting match does little to enhance a newspaper’s brand as a leader of constructive community discussion, when does the whole circus become more headache than it is worth?” More here.
DFO: Kevin ends on this note: “If Luster’s ruling prods newspapers to rethink online commenting, that may prove to be a blessing in disguise.”
Question: Do you see a silver lining to Judge Luster's ruling?
Phil Hart, the lame-duck representative from House District 2, is shown handing out flags at a Fourth of July Parade in Coeur d'Alene prior to this year. Opinionator Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman criticizes House Speaker Lawerence Denney for approving tax dollars to send Hart to the national an American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City. You can read Kevin's column here.
Question: Are you starting to wonder about House Speaker Lawerence Denney's judgment, too?
Michael Bloomberg got the headlines for his assault on the Big Gulp, but I’m more intrigued by Disney’s anti-obesity push. Last week, Disney said it will dump TV, radio and web ads for junk food, sweet cereals and candy, a ban that goes into effect in 2015. It calls to mind 1971, when Congress banned tobacco TV advertising. That was a government edict, of course, and this time, one private company is making the move unilaterally. But the intent is the same: to insulate young, impressionable viewers from slick ads pitching unhealthy products. The parallel between our nation’s campaign against smoking and its looming battle against obesity has been on my mind since Monday, when I listened to former Food and Drug Administration commissioner David Kessler speak in Boise/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Will fighting obesity in this country be the 21st Century equivalent to the battle against tobacco? Or will it fade away because America enjoys eating?
Call it life imitating animation. The J.R. Simplot Co.’s infamous two-headed trout channels “Blinky,” the imaginary three-eyed fish that lived near the nuclear power plant on “The Simpsons.” Inevitably, the real wo-headed trout captured the attention of a not-exactly-real news program, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” which ran a segment on the mutated fingerling last week. Sure, if you can’t dream up a one-liner about a two-headed fish, you’re not trying hard enough. But the underlying issue is serious stuff: water quality in Idaho’s mining country, and the role a powerful Idaho industrial leader should take in protecting the environment. Simplot is petitioning the state for relaxed water quality standards below its Smoky Canyon Mine, an open-pit operation near the Wyoming border that yields more than 2 million tons of phosphate ore each year. The state’s Department of Environmental Quality will have to decide whether to allow higher levels of selenium in creeks below the plant/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: How important is water quality in Idaho to you?
What is the battle between Idaho’s House GOP leaders all about? Let me answer that by telling you what it is not at all about. Policy. There isn’t much of a discernible difference on policy between current House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and the man who appears best poised to challenge him, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke. Bedke, R-Oakley, may be a touch less conservative than Denney — Bedke served on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee in the mid-2000s, an experience that tends to temper lawmakers’ views of the budget. But I can’t see the philosophy of the House shifting very much if Bedke unseats Denney/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Given that any challenger will share his political views, does it really matter if Rep. Lawerence Denney continues as House Speaker?
Even by his high standards, this was a crazy, newsy week for Rep. Phil Hart. It started at about 3:30 a.m. Monday, when Hart was asleep at a Latah County rest area. A masked man attacked a woman in the other car parked at the rest stop, shooting her in the abdomen with her own gun. The victim, Kayla Sedlacek, is expected to recover; police quickly determined Hart was not a suspect, and sent him on his way. Those travels took the tax-dodging (or, as he’d have you believe, tax-protesting) Hayden Republican back to Coeur d’Alene Monday, for an audience with a skeptical Idaho Supreme Court. Considering the case of the $53,000 Hart owes Idaho — in income taxes, interest and penalties — the justices grilled Hart and his attorney over their claim that the state Constitution protects a sitting lawmaker from civil action 10 days before, and during, a legislative session. Then came Tuesday/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: I'm not sure that I want Phil Hart to go away, via the ballot box. This guy is. Absolute. Gold. You can't make up the things he routinely does. Can you?
Opinionator Kevin Richert/Idaho Statesman provides us with Wednesday editorial: “It’s a good outcome — even if it’s inconclusive. A bill requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before getting an abortion has been tabled for 2012. For the time being, score one for citizen engagement. For the Idahoans who stood up against intrusive, demeaning legislation. For the Idahoans who went to a conservative Statehouse to espouse conservative principles — personal privacy, and freedom from government mandate. This is a victory. But perhaps just a temporary one. On Tuesday, House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher put an end to the legislative limbo, saying his committee will not consider the ultrasound bill. But, if he’s re-elected, Loertscher he would work with anti-abortion groups on a new bill. What would it look like? Good question.” More here.
Question: Do you think this bill will be back in 2013 Legislature?
Before Monday, I doubt anyone at the Huffington Post had heard of Chuck Winder. The Boise Republican senator took care of that when he argued in favor of his bill to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion — even in the case of rape. Said Winder: “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.” Had he tried, I don’t think Winder could have found a more insensitive way to argue for his insensitive legislation. Winder is taking a well-earned pounding, not just on Huffington Post’s national Internet stage, but, closer to home, on his own Facebook page/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
On 21 occasions, Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, voted on oil and gas legislation. On Wednesday, before the 22nd vote, Pearce disclosed that an oil company has leased drilling rights on his property. Democrats have requested an ethics committee review, and say Pearce should be removed as chairman of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee. Pearce tells the Associated Press that he has followed the spirit and the letter of ethics rules, and says he is the victim of a political witch hunt. Either way, this fiasco reveals yet another hole in the Legislature’s lax ethics guidelines. First off, I’m not buying Pearce’s claim that he met the spirit of ethics rules/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Now don't you wish the Legislature had followed through on its promise to fix the ethics law?
Via Twitter, Idaho Statesman opinionator Kevin Richert sez: “Just sent out letters to 95 candidates in contested primaries, inviting them to meet with @IdahoStatesman editorial board. That's my April.” Which brought back memories of all those spring and fall political seasons I spent interviewing candidates during my 13 years on the Spokesman-Review Editorial Board. I. Don't. Miss. Them. At. All.
Question: Are you influenced to vote for a candidate or ballot measure by newspaper editorial endorsements?
Today’s appetizer is a nice, big plate of crow: I was among those misguided observers who thought Ron Paul would win Idaho’s GOP caucus Tuesday. Don’t come to me next week looking for help filling out your brackets. You don’t want it. I may not be good at predicting the future, but I am a little bit more comfortable looking at recent events and trying to put them in perspective. So, let’s talk about Tuesday’s historic Idaho GOP caucus. Yes, we all focused on the last-minute, and itself historic, candidate barnstorming through Idaho. And many of us speculated about whether the caucus format favored a candidate such as Paul or Rick Santorum, who could bring out a devoted core of supporters willing to sit through an evening of voting. Yet Tuesday’s caucus played out much like any “typical” election, favoring the candidate with the most obvious inherent competitive advantages/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
DFO: Still wonder how many of us missed so badly on Ron Paul strength — or lack thereof.
Question: Does the caucus election result mean that the Otter/Risch/Simpson mainstream wing of the Idaho GOP still carries more clout than Far Right insurgents? Or simply that there's a whole lotta Mormons down south?
Romney returns to Boise Friday. But in addition to his standard operating procedure — talking to the $1,000 to $2,500 fundraiser circle — he has worked a public event into his Idaho itinerary. I’ve heard it said that time is one of those inflexible commodities in a campaign. A candidate can always try to fire up the fundraising machinery, but every candidate is allocated the same number of hours in a day. The mere fact that Romney is expending a little bit of that time to talk to the regular folks is telling. Also telling is the fact that the Romney campaign brought out Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Jim Risch Tuesday, for a counterattack targeting Santorum/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Is it possible that Romney is running scared in Idaho, despite his built-in advantages?
Following is Kevin Richert's editorial for Sunday: “The campaign to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act centered on a straightforward slogan: 'Add The Words.' So now, what words can we add to our description of the 2012 Legislature? How about callous? Or dismissive? Or embarrassing? All of these words fairly describe the actions of the Senate State Affairs Committee Friday. On a party-line decision, and without much second thought, the committee rejected a proposal to extend human rights protections to gays, lesbians and transgender Idahoans. This basic, fair step to prevent discrimination in the workplace and the housing market didn’t get a hearing. In the committee’s narrow view, this proposal didn’t even merit any real consideration”/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here. (Idaho Statesman/AP photo by Chris Butler: A group expresses their disbelieve with a silent protest outside the Senate State Affair Committee meeting today)
- Also: Painful day in the Idaho Senate as “Add the Words” gay-rights bill killed/Dan Popkey, Statesman
I haven't gotten any feedback from Gov. Butch Otter's office on my previous blog post (and Saturday column preview), taking the governor to task for refusing to reverse $35 million in cuts to Medicaid programs. But Wayne Hoffman of the Idaho Freedom Foundation was quick to take me to task. In this response, he takes me to task — and says there is nothing “compassionate” about perpetuating social programs such as Medicaid. Hoffman is nice about it, though, I suppose. “Hopefully, with a lot of education and a little love, Kevin will learn something useful.” Yup. I feel the love already/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. Wayne Hoffman's response here.
Question: Hoffman makes a good point that federal entitlement money comes from a national treasury that's in a $15 trillion hole and growing. And that there's nothing compassionate about entitlements that make us more dependent on the federal government. What do you think?
When you get past the lofty parliamentary title, “joint memorials” are nothing more than legislative e-mails to Congress. They are nonbinding. They carry no weight, but they give lawmakers a forum for carping about the federal gummint — something they might otherwise be reduced to doing around a Statehouse water cooler. But they do send a message, all right. Sometimes, the message is that our Legislature is populated with yahoos with a tad too much time on their hands. A case in point: on Monday, Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, trotted out House Joint Memorial 9, which would tell the Environmental Protection Agency to pull out of the Silver Valley within five years/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Should we treat “joint memorials” the same way we do bomb threats? Don't report 'em?
On Thursday, Rep. Janice McGeachin handed members of her House Health and Welfare Committee a little light reading: the federal health care law. All 906 pages of it. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for legislators reading legislation — starting with the legislation on which they actually vote. But there is some gamesmanship going on here, as McGeachin and her committee prepare to take center stage in the debate over a state-run health care exchange. McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, is emerging as one of the Legislature’s best-positioned opponents of the proposed exchange — a federally funded portal where individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance. And if McGeachin can turn the debate over the exchange into one more Statehouse referendum on the law Republicans love to call “Obamacare,” she just might rally enough resistance to stop the exchange/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Do you consider the term “Obamacare” to be offensive?
It had to have been difficult for Sen. John McGee to meet with his colleagues Wednesday. But it could have been even worse. The Senate Republican caucus met to hear McGee, R-Caldwell, speak to them about what he calls “the worst night of my life:” the night of drinking that landed him in the Ada County Jail last Father’s Day, and resulted in a guilty plea on a DUI charge. Then, Republicans had to decide whether they wanted McGee to remain in leadership, and allow the politically ambitious McGee to serve as the public face of the GOP caucus. I can’t imagine this was easy on McGee — just as, I’m sure, it was difficult for him to break his seven-month silence and talk to reporters about his arrest. There are still holes in the story, particularly the still unsubstantiated claim that McGee suffered a concussion that contributed to his erratic Father’s Day behavior/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Can anyone suggest what a Republican legislator would have to do to be reprimanded by their colleagues and the lenient GOP leadership?
Kevin Richert/Idaho Statesman sez the nonbinding straw poll being conducted by the Idaho GOP Friday has a purpose: “Sure, it’s (the straw poll) gimmicky; with voters paying $30 for the privilege of casting a ballot, this isn’t exactly representative politics. But the straw poll could give us a sense of which faction of the Idaho GOP is more motivated: the Romney wing, or the Paul wing. Romney has long since secured backing from many of Idaho’s big-name Republicans, including Gov. Butch Otter, Sen. Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson. Factor in Romney’s 2008 run, and the support base built along the way, and Romney’s Utah/Mormon Church connections, and you have an establishment candidate. Paul has secured endorsements from a few of the Legislature’s conservative hardliners, including Sen. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian; Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home; Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, a darling of the fed-bashing nullification movement; and Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, the House’s resident tax scofflaw.” More here.
Question: Which followers do you think are more committed in Idaho — Ron Paul's or Mitt Romney's?
In November, I couldn’t resist blogging about the Idaho Freedom Foundation, after a fund-raising pitch from the limited-government lobbying group wound up in my inbox. At the time, foundation honcho Wayne Hoffman told supporters that the group $30,000 short on its 2011 fund-raising goals. While Hoffman is steadfastly unwilling to talk details about who funds his group, he made it a point this morning to send his fundraising followup to my inbox. I’ll leave it to you readers to either sigh with relief or groan in resignation. Either way, this seems to fall just a tad short of the tear-jerker finish in “It's a Wonderful Life”/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Are you glad to know Idaho Freedom Foundation is financially stable for another year?
On Monday, it wasn’t U.S. Magistrate Judge Ron Bush’s job to rule on the merits of a death penalty law. That question falls to Idaho’s Legislature and its governor. Nor was it Bush’s job to determine whether capital punishment is constitutional. Paul Ezra Rhoades, the convicted mass murderer facing a Friday execution date, is not disputing that point. Rhoades instead argued, through his attorneys, that Idaho’s method of lethal injection is unconstitutional — suggesting that the state’s execution team lacks the training to mete out this sentence without inflicting cruel and unusual punishment. The question before Bush was just that narrow, and just that clinical. Viewed within those constraints, he got it right/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo)
Question: Is there a more humane way to execute in this country than lethal injection?
Rep. Mike Simpson is taking the fight to the tea party wing of his Republican Party — and, potentially, taking the fight to his opponents in 2012. Simpson is helping to mobilize a bipartisan group in the House that would be willing to strike a big deal on deficit reduction. This deal could, and most likely would, include new taxes. Fiscally speaking, Simpson and his allies are on the mark. It may take a “grand bargain,” a deficit reduction plan in the $4 trillion ballpark, to take a real bite out of the deficit and head off any future downgrades in the U.S. credit rating. And it is impossible to get to that $4 trillion range without spending cuts and revenues. Politically speaking, though, this is a bold and risky move/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Is there any way to solve reduce our deficits without raising taxes somewhat?
In the same way that “compromise” has become a dirty word in American politics, the phrase “career politician” has little currency with some voters. About half of the 87 first-term U.S. House Republicans have never held elected office before. The problem with that, seven-term U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson says, is that successful business executives often have the hardest time adjusting to the complex and byzantine world of Capitol Hill politics. “It is frustrating to those people,” Simpson told the Statesman editorial board this week. “Our system of government was never meant to get anything done.” That observation prompted me to ask Simpson about the latest flavor of the month in the GOP presidential derby: the campaign of Herman Cain (pictured in AP file photo). The former Godfather’s Pizza executive has become a front-runner for the nomination, partly because of his attention-getting (but unimplementable) 9-9-9 income tax and national sales tax gimmick/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Why is this country so fascinated with non-politicians who aspire to become politicians?
Thursday was another busy day in the limelight for Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador. After the 1st Congressional District Republican called on Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, the Los Angeles Times and the D.C. bureau of the Associated Press picked up on the angle for their stories on the Operation Fast and Furious fallout. Fox News also came calling for Labrador. Not bad for a freshman lawmaker from Idaho? No. Pretty remarkable for a freshman lawmaker from Idaho. And it shows that Labrador has the keenest political instinct of any elected official in Idaho. I’m not calling Labrador a natural. But he’s close/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here. (Raul Labrador holds up a “beat Pelosi” button on Election Day 2010)
Question: Funny, I was thinking this week that Labrador gets a heckuva lot of attention for a Tea Party congressman living in a flyover red state. Do you agree that he's a natural when it comes to politics?
On his Idaho Statesman blog this afternoon, opinionator Kevin Richert proposes that the Idaho Legislature shut down per diem payments. Quoth: “The solution, as I now see it, also seems clear. Drop the per diem system. Make lawmakers file expense reports — and reimburse them for legitimate, work-related costs.” Then, Kevin adds: “I can also hear lawmakers — so fiscally conservative when it suits their purpose — arguing that a reimbursement system would simply create a costly bureaucracy. Again, too bad. Yes, the state might have to hire staff to review and approve expenses. But taxpayers are forking over nearly $1 million a year, ostensibly for expenses, but with no oversight. Given that, I’ll bet the bean counters would earn their keep.” More here.
Question: Do you agree with Kevin Richert that Idaho legislators should be forced to submit receipts for actual expenses rather than receive per diem payments?
On Thursday evening, an unpopular president told an unpopular Congress to get to work and pass his jobs bill. Right away, as he said several times. President Barack Obama repeatedly tried to sweeten the deal by reminding his skeptics across the aisle that many of the ideas in his bill were Republican ideas. The reaction? House Speaker John Boehner, stone-faced for much of the speech, later allowed that the president’s proposals “merit consideration.” That was more of a harrumph than the Idaho Republican delegation could muster. Our lawmakers couldn’t decide whether to rip the president for “recycling” his concept of economic stimulus (Sen. Jim Risch’s word), or rip him for offering up a bunch of “short-term Band-Aids” (Rep. Mike Simpson’s words). So they compromised and did some of both. Politics as usual, in unusual times/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Can we afford politics as usual in these unusual times, particularly from our Idaho congressional delegation?