Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Otter Rejects Grocery Tax Repeal Bill


Idaho Gov. Butch Otter Tuesday vetoed a bill to repeal the state’s 6 percent sales tax, following through on a threat he had made when the proposal first emerged. His action, just within the deadline for such action, will leave Idaho among just 13 states that impose a tax on groceries.
In a letter to Secretary of State Lawerence Denny, Otter gave the need for a reliable source of revenue as his primary reason for refusing to support eliminating the tax. Removing the sales tax would take more than $201 million from state revenues in fiscal 2019, Otter asserted.
Also on Tuesday, the governor allowed a $315 million transportation infrastructure bill to become law without his signature. He noted that approval of the grocery tax repeal would mean education funding for K-12 programs would have to compete with highway projects for scarcer funds.
Otter pointed out that the grocery tax would take $80 million out of the general fund in 2018-19, and said the infrastructure bill would pit highway projects against K-12 funding. The repeal bill, approved widely in both legislative chambers, came March 27 a surprise amendment to a proposed $52 million tax-reduction bill in the House of Representatives. In addition to strong public support, grocery tax repeal had the backing of Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a declared candidate to succeed Otter in 2018, and Russ Fulcher, a former state senator who is also running.

Sources
The Idaho State Journal report on Otter’s veto is here.
The Statesman report on the grocery tax bill is here.
The Spokesman-Review report on the grocery tax bill is here.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Idaho Lawmakers Say 'Sine Die'


Now It's Up To Otter

Idaho’s 80-day legislative session was gavelled to a close at midday Wednesday, March 29, with last-minute Senate approval to spend $320 million for highway and bridge maintenance and repeal of the 6 percent sales tax on groceries. Gov. Butch Otter has 10 days to sign the bills into law, veto them, or allow them to become law without his signature. Otter weighed in on the grocery tax elimination before it was adopted, suggesting he may veto it. Eliminating the tax would reduce state tax revenue by an estimated $80 million.
The session went three days past majority leadership’s March 24 target for conclusion. Deliberations were marked from the start by political infighting within the Republican-dominated body, led by Reps. Heather Scott (R-1A-Blanchard), and Ron Nate (R 34A-Rexburg). Early in the session, Scott was temporarily stripped of her committee assignments after she contended female House members only advance into leadership posts if they “spread their legs.” She got her committee assignments back after she retracted the comment and apologized. Far-right freshmen members of the House announced formation of a “Freedom Caucus” near the close of the session. The Democrats, with a smaller presence than a year ago, applied what they termed a "moderate middle" approach to legislation and to addressing majority proposals.
There was also uncertainty over the policies of the incoming Donald Trump administration in Washington and their impact on Idaho priorities, especially regarding the fate of the federal Affordable Care Act. That was a primary excuse given for again leaving an estimated 78,000 Idahoans without health insurance coverage, even after Congress failed in two bids to repeal and replace the federal program that includes support for state initiatives to expand Medicaid protection for people in the earnings “gap.”
Idaho lawmakers did, however, approve a previously agreed-upon 6.3 percent increase in K-12 public school funding, totaling about $1.7 billion, including $62 million in pay raises for teachers, in the third year of a five-year plan Otter had championed at the start of the session. Because of the Senate’s surprise initiative to eliminate the grocery sales tax, a last-minute bid to cut $28 million in personal and corporate income taxes failed in a 29-5 Senate vote.
Legislators paid scant attention to rights issues in this year’s session, beyond repealing, as part of a court settlement, an unconstitutional ban on prescription of abortion-inducing drugs via telemedicine. The decade-long effort to include gender identity and sexual orientation to the state’s Human Rights law went nowhere again this year. This denial of protection for LGBT people in Idaho means people can be fired from their jobs or evicted from their homes solely because they’re gay. There was similarly no action on raising the state’s minimum wage, officially stuck at the federal level of $7.25 since 2009.
Lawmakers did, however, reject a resolution to add Idaho to the list of states advocating a constitutional convention, and killed a bill that would have limited timing of early voting statewide to one week before an election, from the three weeks currently authorized. A proposal to prohibit “sanctuary cities” that could protect undocumented immigrants died in committee. Idaho has no such cities anyway.

Resources
The Statesman’s summation of the 2017 legislative session is here.
The Spokesman-Review roundup of the session is here.
Kevin Richert’s session review for Idaho Education News is here.
The Associated Press report on Senate approval of the grocery sales tax repeal bill is here.
The Post-Register’s report on formation of a “Freedom Caucus” among ultra-conservative freshman representatives is here.
The complete list of legislation and resolutions and what became of them in the 2017 session is here.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Connecting the Trump-Putin Dots

Congress Pressed to Pursue Suggestions of Collusion

Jeff Sessions Sergey Kislyak Mike Flynn

Donald Trump Jared Kushner Vladimir Putin

Highlights from the Jeff Sessions Senate confirmation hearing.

The Guardian

Exchange between Sen. Jeff Sessions and Sen. Al Franken on whether Sessions, as attorney general, would pursue an investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. presidential election process if warranted. Note Sessions didn’t answer the question.
USAToday

Jeff Sessions, as attorney general, recuses himself from investigation of administration and Trump campaign ties to Russia.
The Guardian

Anyone old enough to remember the demise of Richard M. Nixon, the nation’s 37th president, over a “third-rate burglary” of the Democratic Party’s national headquarters at the Watergate condo complex June 17, 1972, might be forgiven for wondering at the far more stunning developments surrounding Donald J. Trump, the nation’s 45th president, and ties he, his relatives, and his administration and election campaign inner circle may have with Russia.
In tandem with the widely nonpartisan concerns Americans have over the future of their health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act and what, if anything, may replace it, the prospect of some more-than-casual relationship between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin is, grossly understated, troubling.
As though being a 21st Century version of the evolution of the Nixon Era Watergate scandal, what began with reports of outside (proven to be Russian) interference with the 2016 presidential election, specifically to hinder the Democratic Party’s candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are rapidly becoming something potentially far more serious. This time, too, pursuit of questions such as what Russia expects from its efforts and what, if anything, the Trump administration is prepared to give, is, a matter of “follow the money,” as it was decades ago regarding Nixon and officials and why they felt a burglary was so important as to risk toppling the presidency. Among troubling reports since Trump has been in office are accounts of his extensive financial involvement and business relations in Russia, in addition to evidence he lied about his own contacts with Putin.
On Jan. 6, American intelligence agencies released the declassified version of a report that determined with "high confidence" that Russia's interference -- consisting of hacking Democratic groups and individuals and releasing that information via third-party Web sites, including WikiLeaks -- helped President-elect Donald Trump win the election.”
In the midst of Senate confirmation hearings on Trump Cabinet appointees, including Sessions, Mike Flynn, national security adviser to Trump, was forced to resign after it was revealed he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his direct contact with Putin, his ties to Russia, and his work for Russian and other foreign interests. Flynn’s high-profile departure after just 24 days on the job, was unprecedented in U.S. history, but was the first of what has become a steady stream of increasingly troubling Russian links to the Trump administration. Among them was a December meeting between Russia’s Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump’s son-in-law (his daughter Ivanka’s husband) Jared Kushner, how a "senior adviser" to the president.
Trump himself, and various Trump representatives, have issued at least 20 denials of contacts with Russian officials since last summer. On the same day Sessions issued his recusal statement, Trump stood by his new attorney-general, former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, supporting Sessions’ denial of such contacts. Trump said he did not believe Sessions needed to recuse himself from any investigation of Russian election espionage activity. In fact, as the Washington Post confirmed, Sessions had met at least twice with Kislyak during the presidential campaign (a third contact was reported separately later)
Trump further sought to deflect allegations of possible collusion with Russian interests by issuing an early morning tweet accusing former President Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower. Trump’s own advisers were unable to explain or offer any evidence to support the claim, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who has ordered an investigation into the Russia connections, said he had seen nothing to support Trump’s charge.
The question remains as to whether Sessions, whose role as attorney-general includes oversight of the Justice Department and the FBI, would be willing to authorize independent investigation of the Trump-Russia connections and pursue possible criminal prosecution if warranted. On March 10, Trump abruptly ordered the dismissal of 46 high-level Obama-appointed federal prosecutors, leaving their deputies, who are not political appointees, to fill in as replacements. Among the surprise dismissals was Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the District of Manhattan, which includes Trump Tower, the president’s New York home and business headquarters. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption and insider trading, was personally invited by Trump and Sessions last November to stay on. Bharara initially refused to resign, and was summarily fired on March 11, according to a tweet from his Twitter account.
The sequence of events, especially in light of a historically unprecedented stream of nearly constant lies by Trump and disambiguation by various administration representatives, makes it difficult for average citizens to tell what should receive most attention. The dubious “qualifications” of Trump’s Cabinet and other top-tier administration appointments alone was cause for nationwide protest demonstrations and a deluge of voter complaints to members of Congress. Even without the later revelations of Sessions’ Russia contacts, concern about his qualifications to be attorney-general was among the most serious among the Trump nominees, given his civil rights and anti-gay stands taken as Alabama’s state attorney-general, and his subsequent time in the Senate.
Considering the willingness of Republican members of Congress to spend more than $7 million over two years on seven dead-end investigations of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of the fatal 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. consular compound at Benghazi, Libya, the fact many of those same congressmen have so far refused to create a nonpartisan select committee to look into the Trump-Putin connections and demand an outside independent prosecutor be named to pursue the investigation as possible criminal espionage is difficult to justify. New revelations almost daily add weight to the pressure for action outside the scope of political influence.
As David Leonhardt pointed out in a Feb. 21 New York Times Op-Ed column, “The United States has never had a situation quite like this. Other countries have tried to intervene in our affairs before, sometimes with modest success. Britain and Nazi Germany, for example, tried to influence the 1940 presidential election, financing bogus polls and efforts to sway the nominating conventions. But never has a president had such murky ties to a foreign government as hostile as Putin’s.”
The questions continue. Various contacts by close Trump associates with Russia’s Kislyak – also a Russian spy, continue to surface. The ex-security chief Flynn has, after the fact, registered himself as an agent representing the government of Turkey. At the same time, as reported March 10, Putin hailed the close military ties between Russia and Turkey ties as he held talks on Syria with Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The first House Intelligence Committee hearing into the relationship is set to begin March 20. As was the case with the Nixon-Watergate embroglio, which took just over two years from the June 1972 burglary to its historically ignominious conclusion in August 1974, the Trump-Putin connection seems likely to be a work in progress.

Recommended Reading
Swalwell’s diagram of Trump-Putin connections

Congressman Eric Swalwell, who represents California’s 15th District, has sought to connect the dots between Donald Trump, key members of his administration, and his election campaign and staff, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Swalwell, a Democrat, is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. He has created a Web page – in progress – that sets out the various people and actions that are part of the thus far unclear Trump-Russia connection.
As Rep. Swalwell explains, “Throughout the 2016 presidential election, President Trump not only refused to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin, but was even friendly and accommodating in his remarks. In his own words, President Trump called President Putin “highly respected." More recently, President Trump put the U.S. on equal moral footing with Russia when responding to Bill O’Reilly’s question about Putin being a "killer," saying "We've got a lot of killers... you think our country's so innocent?" This is absolutely false moral equivalence, and unheard of for the President of the United States to insult and demean the country he leads.
Read the rest here.

Resources
The Washington Post’s chronology of the Richard M. Nixon presidency and the Watergate scandal that forced him to resign from office to avoid impeachment is here.
The New York Times story on Trump Administration’s abrupt dismissal of 46 high-level federal prosecutors is here.
The House Intelligence Committee’s plans to begin hearings on Trump Administration ties to Russia and Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election are reported by CNBC here. The CBS News timeline of congressional hearings and investigations of the Benghazi attack is here.
Grudging agreement by Republican congressional leaders to look into Trump administration Russia ties is outlined in a Vox report here.
New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Leonhardt’s column on “Trump’s Russia Motives” is here.
CNN’s report of key intelligence community findings of Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election is here.
Newsweek investigative reporter Kurt Eichenwald‘s excellent account of Russia’s American election espionage is here.
USA Today’s account of at least 20 attempts since July 2016 by Trump representatives to deny contacts with Russia is here.
Lack of any evidence to support Trump’s tweeted allegation former President Obama had ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower is reported by ABC News here.
Donald Trump’s astounding record of lies, with links to fact-checking them, is here.
The Washington Post confirmation of at least two meetings between Jeff Sessions and Russia’s U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak is here.
The full 2013 interview between Donald Trump and NBC’s Thomas Roberts in Moscow on his relationship with Vladimir Putin and bringing the Miss Universe Pageant, which Trump then owned, to Russia, is here.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Idaho Taxpayers Stuck With Another Legal Tab



Reminder: Stop Enacting Bad Law

Yet again, Idaho taxpayers are stuck with the tab for legal fees and costs defending laws that should never have been enacted. Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Council voted unanimously March 8 to pay $151,209.88 in attorney fees and court costs rather than continue trying to defend against Planned Parenthood challenges to two 2015 laws against use of prescription abortion-inducing medication via telemedicine.
The Idaho House of Representatives earlier voted 52-18 to repeal the two laws at issue in the suit as part of the legal settlement in the cases. Unless the full Legislature repeals the laws, a federal judge will declare them unconstitutional. Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the council, called for the vote, and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, (R-34, Rexburg), joined in to make it unanimous. “The ayes have it, and we’ll go pay the bill,” Otter said.
The money will come from Idaho’s Constitutional Defense Fund, which lawmakers originally set up to pay legal fees associated with court defense of state sovereignty and the state Constitution. Much of the money has been used to pay for public relations campaigns supporting the state’s position on issues in litigation. The only legal battle the state has fought and won since the fund was established was a 1996 settlement in which the state challenged the federal government on the cost of cleaning up stored nuclear waste. Since then, Idaho has not won a court challenge to laws found to be unconstitutional.
Last year, the fund was nearly depleted by the legal bill for nearly $900,000 to fight three suits. All the cases were lost on constitutional grounds; one involved same-sex marriage, one overturned an unconstitutional abortion restriction, and one sought to limit demonstrations and public presence around the state Capitol. At that time, Gov. Otter sought and won appropriation of as much as $2 million to top up the fund, disingenuously claiming, “We get sued by so many people we can’t keep track.”
In reality, as the record of payouts from the fund show, the governor and legislators have been reminded regularly about the prospect of having laws challenged in court and most likely declared invalid on constitutional grounds. Most of the laws that have failed were declared unconstitutional in cases brought by ACLU Idaho and Planned Parenthood. The cases at issue in the most recent payout authorization are the first in which legislators have sought to strike offending laws from the books.

Resources:
Betsy Russel’s “Eye on Boise” report of the March 8 decision to pay legal fees on bad law is here.
The 2015 Associated Press report on Idaho’s two-decade losing battle defending bad law is here.
The Statesman’s report on the March 8 decision is here.
The letter from Idaho Attorney-General Lawrence G. Wasden advising against enactment of the state’s “ag-gag” law, later declared invalid on constitutional grounds is here. The NPR review of the history of Idaho’s failed battle against same-sex marriage is here.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Rally Backs Keeping Public Lands Public


Demonstrators rallied at the Capitol, both inside and out, on Saturday, March 4, to show support for keeping public lands in public hands. Organizers said the crowd, estimated at about 3,000, far exceeded expectations, and was among the largest for this cause so far in the Northwest.

Idahoans Out in Force to ‘Keep Public Lands in Public Hands’

As many as 3,000 people turned out at the Capitol in Boise on Saturday in one of the largest such events so far in the Northwest, to urge politicians to “keep public lands in public hands.” The rally, both in turnout and messaging, represented a departure from previous demonstrations on the issue fueled by uncertainty of policy intentions of the Donald Trump administration in Washington, with appointment of notoriously anti-environmentalist Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Zinke as Secretary of the Interior.
The federal government is responsible for 500 million acres of United States land, including the country’s 59 national park, as well as millions of acres rich in coal, oil, timber, and natural gas, and managing lands of 567 Native tribes.
Public lands are a significant economic force in Idaho, where outdoor recreation generates about $6.3 billion in economic activity, of which about $2.2 billion is direct sales and services that generate 37,000 jobs. Sixty-two percent of the state’s area is federally managed, including lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. Another 32 million acres are state endowment lands. Together, those lands generate nearly 5 percent of gross state product, according to a report compiled by the National Wildlife Federation. Outdoor recreation contributes $6.3 billion worth of economic activity in Idaho annually, with $2.2 billion of that direct sales and services. Idaho has 37,000 jobs tied to outdoor recreation.
Proponents of selling off or granting exploitation rights to those resources have said states and private interests can manage them more efficiently and make better use of them than the federal government. That is the position held by Idaho First District Rep. Raul Labrador, who claims selling public lands is one of the issues he feels “passionately” about.
But the rally on the Capitol steps, and the passion of about 1,000 of the demonstrators who carried their message inside the rotunda, showed how the mood has changed. Recent polls show a majority Idahoans who favored a state takeover of federal lands changed their minds when they learned how much that would cost. Second District Rep. Mike Simpson, whose position has shifted somewhat recently, estimates that the process of transferring and managing the land would cost the state a half-billion dollars annually, if it should be sold. Indeed, more than 100,000 acres of state-owned has been sold to private interests since 2000, according to public records.
A catalyst for the attitude change came last year, when two Texas billionaire brothers bought 172,000 acres of forest land long open to the public in southern and central Idaho and barred access to loggers, hunters, and other recreation users. “Unfortunately, many state-owned lands have been sold into private ownership and are posted ‘No trespassing,” said Jonathan Oppenheimer, government relations director for the Idaho Conservation League. “Whether you’re a mountain-biker, an angler, a snowmobiler or a hiker, those lands are gone forever. We need to work together to ensure that we don’t see our public lands sold off to the highest bidder.”
“Public lands are what defines our state. We have freedom and access,” Brad Brooks, public lands director for the Wilderness Society, said. “We are incredibly fortunate. We are the luckiest people in America. We have a massive playground in our backyard. It’s where I take my daughter camping, I take her fishing on public lands. If we didn’t have our public lands, Idaho would look much different and our lifestyle would look much different.”
Shoshone-Bannock Tribes member Yvette Tuell said the tribe is in accord with other Idahoans on maintaining public access to public lands. “As the Shoshone-Bannock people, we seek to protect those resources, just as you are,” Tuell told the rally crowd. She cited the Treaty of 1868, which included making the public lands accessible to the tribe. “It’s not a new fight,” she said.
Rob Thornberry of Idahoans for Public Lands said the “Idaho Day” rally exceeded expectations of organizers. “It went excellent,” Thornberry said of the event overall. “I think we proved that there’s a broad constituency that wants public lands, that adores public lands. I think it was a hit. I’m jacked.”

Resources:
The Statesman’s report on the rally is here.
The Statesman report on research last year from the Wilderness Society, based upon a Freedom of Information Act records search, is here.
First District Rep. Raul Labrador claims to “care passionately” about selling public lands for exploitation in this op-ed piece.
Second District Rep. Mike Simpson, who had supported easing controls on private use of federal lands, more recently came out in favor of securing public access to the properties in a press release, here.
The KTVB segment reporting on the rally is here.
http://www.ktvb.com/news/local/nearly-3000-rally-for-public-lands-at-idaho-capitol/419826645 The Idaho State Journal report on the rally is here.
The New York Times story of confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency is here.
Challenges faced by new Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are outlined in a report by Julie Turkewitz for the Alaska Dispatch News, here.
The full May 2016 Wilderness Society report on public lands, in PDF format, is here.
The Wilderness Society report on federal policy on public lands is here.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Legislature Weighs a Solution Without a Problem




Senate Rejects SCR-108 24-11

The first, and so far only, Constitutional Convention was held in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787.

The Idaho Senate voted 24-11 on Wednesday, March 1, to reject a resolution calling for a Constitutional Convention to require a balanced federal budget. A companion version of the resolution is still before the House of Representatives.
The Senate presentation of SCR 108 followed swift and hotly disputed approval Feb. 25 in the Senate State Affairs Committee, facilitated by Sen. Marv Hagedorn (R-14, Meridian), vice-chair of the committee and the resolution’s co-sponsor. Then, more than 200 people were present for the discussion. Hagedorn disingenuously stated in the hearing that the U.S. is facing a historic debt crisis, and said Congress has done nothing to stop the growth of the debt. He told his committee the federal debt is currently 107 percent of GDP, and has reached the highest percentage of GDP in U.S. history. Neither statement is correct. Public testimony was almost unanimously in opposition. Conservative objection argued a constitutional convention could imperil a “divinely inspired” Constitution. Others argued that forcing a balanced budget would impose cuts to important federal programs, many of which benefit Idaho. After the hearing, Hagedorn said opponents of the resolution were “misinformed.”
Although there is indeed a provision for such conventions in our nation’s founding document, in Article V, there’s a sound reason why, throughout our history, none has ever been held: There are no rules. And for every arguably good idea for an amendment such a convention might produce, there are several arguably bad ideas that could also emerge. This isn’t a partisan idea. It’s true no matter how you define good and bad.
Article V describes ways to revise the Constitution. In the one we know, Congress proposes amendments to the states for ratification. This method has been applied 27 times. The second, never tried, requires that two-thirds of the states (34 states) must sign on for a convention to be held, and any amendment approved at the convention would require approval from three-fourths of the states (that would be 38). It’s not entirely clear how many states have so far approved a constitutional convention – the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force says 28 -- as there is no clarity on when or even whether such resolutions expire. Some states have withdrawn their approval, and some have gone well beyond limiting a convention to balanced budget considerations, with liberals proposing to revive the Equal Rights Amendment, protection for crime victims, or scaling back or even repeal the Second Amendment. Conservatives, the more aggressive supporters of a constitutional convention, rather than the normal amendment process, have sought amendments banning abortion, forbidding gay marriage, prohibiting burning or desecrating the American flag, promoting organized prayer in schools, or even allowing states to opt out of federal laws and regulations (Idaho legislators have proposed similar resolutions in recent years.) At least four states have passed resolutions focused on overturning Citizens United.)
There have been calls for – and votes on -- a constitutional convention for more than four decades. Most proponents in states that previously adopted an enabling resolution approached the idea by endorsing a convention limited to discussion of a “balanced budget amendment,” in effect forcing the federal government, barring a national emergency, to operate within its revenue-raising capabilities, much like a family might try to balance its checkbook without using credit cards, mortgages, car loans, or other borrowing. In reality, most American families take out a mortgage to buy a house, and take out other loans to buy a car or to pay for college. At the national level, such an amendment would limit the federal government’s ability to address national security issues – remember the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the current military effort to defeat ISIS, are all being conducted without congressional authorization, and without a formal declaration of a state of national emergency. In Idaho, as we know from very recent experience, the cost of fighting wildfires can soar well beyond the best estimates of those responsible for budget preparation. Imposing a legal cap on spending could very well lead to a budget process that is even less transparent than already exists as a way to hide spending in “off the books” items. A “balanced budget” requirement would also lead to complex questions about government spending priorities in courts, where they would be subject to decisions by judges unfamiliar with national budgeting concerns.
Even states like Idaho that have their own constitutional limits on “balanced budget,” have established clever ways around strict compliance, if legislators choose to do so. The fact Idaho trails most states in many areas, including transportation and other infrastructure funding beyond strict “maintenance level” projects, or educational spending at the 2009 level.
The U.S. Constitution has been amended 27 times since it was ratified in 1788, but never by using a constitutional convention. That approach remained largely a fringe notion until recently, as the prospect of broader changes has added to the concerns over “unintended consequences.” Some states, including Idaho, have muddied the waters by actively proposing to broaden the authority of a constitutional convention well beyond the single topic of mandating a balanced federal budget.
Such a sweeping approach has met with broad bipartisan opposition, not only because there are no rules, or even guidelines, on how an Article V constitutional convention would be conducted, but because there are no provisions for actually limiting the scope of consideration. Convention advocates include such widely diverse special interests as the billionaire Koch brothers and their affiliated Donors Trust, whose other contributors are mostly anonymous. They want an amendment to require a balanced federal budget, an idea many conservatives have embraced, many economists disdain, and Congress has failed to endorse for decades. In several states, Republican and Democratic legislators have joined in opposition, warning of dangers to the Constitution. The warnings have been underscored by – among others – former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, who wrote in 1983, “There is no way to effectively limit or muzzle the actions of a Constitutional Convention,” and more recently, by the very conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who in the months before his death last year, warned against a convention, declaring, "Whoa! Who knows what would come out of it?"
The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC), the secretive corporate lobbying group masquerading as a charity, has endorsed the Convention of States proposal and the balanced-budget amendment convention proposal as model bills for state legislators. At the same time, some liberal activists favor a constitutional convention for an amendment to overturn the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision and empower Congress to limit political spending.

Resources:
Betsy Russel’s “Eye on Boise” account of the lopsided hearing and vote on the resolution in the Senate State Affairs Committee Feb. 24, from the Spokesman-Review, is here.
The Statesman’s report, from Kimberly Kruesi, statehouse reporter for The Associated Press, is here.
The Idaho Falls Post-Register account of the committee hearing is here.
Representative Tom Loertscher’s (R-32B, Bone) rider to the more limited House version of the resolution, as reported by the Idaho News Service, is here.
The Constitution Coalition of Idaho position paper on a constitutional convention is here.
The ACLU of Idaho’s opposition to a state resolution supporting a constitutional convention is here. Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger’s 1983 letter to conservative gadfly Phyllis Schlafly is here.
A New York Times summary of conservative support for a Constitutional Convention from the 2016 ALEC national convention is here.
A U.S. News & World Report 2016 article that explains how the law of unintended consequences applies to the notion of “limiting” a constitutional convention is here.
The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy’s explanatory publication on state budgeting, in PDF format, is here.
The Senate version of the resolution, SCR 108, is here: The Constitution of the United States (Note Article V is, at the least, dangerously vague.) is here.
For tips on communicating with elected officials and the e-mail contacts for state legislators, see our Tool Box, here.
ALEC’s legislative template for a broader constitutional convention, in which anything is possible, is here.
One of the most cogent discussions of the risks inherent in a constitutional convention are in a 2015 essay by A. Barton Hinkle, senior editorial writer and columnist for the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Idaho Voters Keep Pressure on Absent Congressmen


A cardboard cut-out of Sen. Mike Crapo at a Town Hall Feb. 20, staged by the Boise 1 chapter of Indivisible, a grassroots citizen activist group.

Hundreds of people were on hand at a Town Hall meeting at the Boise State University campus this week that featured a cardboard stand-in for Mike Crapo, Idaho’s senior senator, who chose not to attend after having been invited by a petition from more than 1,000 people supporting the Indivisible grassroots activist movement.
Indivisible, a still-growing movement of thousands of local citizen groups, is specifically pressing members of Congress this week to address urgent concerns regarding accountability for policies and potential legislation that have come to the fore since the Nov. 7 election. Among them are of the Affordable Care Act without something better to replace it, threats to Social Security and Medicare, massive deportations, and elimination or dismantling of federal programs covering everything from public education to environment to support for veterans are all high on the list of concerns, made more serious with the hasty Senate confirmation of very dodgy Trump appointments to key Cabinet positions.
More recently, the citizen groups are pressing for Congress to establish an independent investigation of President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia and at least three confirmed and separate FBI investigations of such ties.
Among Idaho’s delegation, Crapo most recently embraced town halls, holding a series of 200 that ended last year. His Senate colleague Jim Risch and Rep. Mike Simpson seem to prefer teleconferences, rather than face-to-face encounters with constituents, but neither has conducted any kind of interaction since the election. Congressman Raul Labrador’s office says he will continue to hold in-person meetings this year. To be fair, Crapo had a meeting in Canyon County Monday night, and was thus unable to be in Boise.
At the Boise State Indivisible session on Feb. 20, Betty Richardson, a former Idaho U.S. attorney and Democratic congressional candidate, spoke on the importance of a free and vital press and an independent judiciary. Both have been direct targets of Trump attacks on Twitter and in televised events.
“It’s going to be hard to get either Sen. Crapo or Sen. Risch to pay attention to their many constituents who are not supportive of the Trump agenda,” Richardson told the Statesman. “But it’s still important to try.”

That means we must keep up the pressure and continue to hold our congressional delegation accountable for what happens – or doesn’t happen – in Washington. We expect all our elected officials to be both responsible and responsive. Use our contact tools to contact our elected legislators both in Congress and in Idaho, here.

Sources:
The Statesman account of the no-show town hall events is here.
Crapo’s response, via KBOI, to his scheduling conflict is here.
The senator’s explanation of his teleconference policy is here.