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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

One Month Along, Trump Approval Sags

Barack Obama and George W. Bush had approval ratings more than 20 per cent higher than those of the former reality TV star. (NBC/Gallup)

Donald Trump has definitely performed historically by several measures in his first month in office. His approval ratings, for example, are at least double digits below those of any of his Oval Office predecessors.
Most presidents enjoy a spike in popularity just after inauguration, but Trump's 41 per cent approval rating is far below the average 61 per cent, and he was the first president to take office with less than majority approval -- a record low 45 percent.
Despite Trump’s assertion at the beginning of February that "any negative polls are fake news,” the range of such surveys, although with differing results, shows the same declining trend. The Rasmussen Daily Tracking Poll, which generally weighs more favorably toward Republicans, gave Trump a 55 percent approval rating, while the Pew Research Center scored his approval at slightly less than 39 percent, and a Fox News Poll scored his approval at 48 percent.
One saving grace may be that Trump’s approval rating, however low, is still better than that for Congress, which, as Arnold Schwarzenegger put it, “can’t beat herpes,” at 28 percent. Even so, that is the highest approval for Congress since 2009.
For additional reading on why polls vary so widely, and some cautions against not reading too much into them, see the Nate Silver Five Thirty-Eight explanation, here.

The Gallup Poll findings on Trump’s approval are here.
A previous (Feb. 17) Gallup report on approval of Congress is here.
The Rasmussen Report’s results are here.
The Independent’s report on the latest polls is here.
The USA Today report on the latest polls is here.
The Washington Post Fact-Checker, following the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, has found at least a lie per day since the inauguration. Read details here.

Take our interactive poll, at the top right of the page. The survey, purely for entertainment, will close March 21.

Have your say on our Soap Box

Friday, February 3, 2017

Marilyn Shuler, human rights advocate, dead at 77

Marilyn Shuler
Idaho Public Television
Longtime human rights leader and advocate Dr. Marilyn Shuler died Friday, Feb. 3, of lung failure, surrounded by her two sons and family members. She was 77.
The Statesman, quoting her grandson Johnny Shuler, said Dr. Shuler spent her final day “speaking, laughing and reminiscing,” even enjoying a few sips of merlot with the more than 30 friends who visited her in the hospital. “She wanted everyone to rest assured that she truly felt that this was the right timing for her death and that she was not scared to face the next frontier,” he told the newspaper.
A tireless advocate, she headed the Idaho Human Rights Commission for 20 years, and handed out brochures at this year’s Martin Luther King Day observance at the State Capitol in Boise Jan. 16, according to Linda Goodman, the commission’s current administrator. “Marilyn was so fiercely independent. She always did things her way until the very end,” Goodman said.
Lisa Uhlmann, who co-founded the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial with Shuler in 2002, called her friend “a guiding light for human rights, a hero in the state of Idaho. Marilyn taught all of us to lead the good fight for equality and against discrimination,” said Uhlmann. “She will be terribly missed. She meant the world to all of us and this leaves a void in all of our lives.”

The Statesman’s obituary of Marilyn Shuler is here.
The Statesman’s tribute to the human rights leader is here.
Boise State Public Radio’s background Idaho Story Corps report on Marilyn Shuler’s resistance to the Aryan Nations infestation of Idaho and her two decades of service as head of the Idaho Human Rights Commission is here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump's Troubling Opening Salvo

President Donald Trump signs an executive order in the Oval Office.

As the new president, Donald Trump has been a whirlwind of activity. So much so, in fact, that he’s booked a vacation for the Super Bowl weekend at his Mar-a-Largo resort hideaway. In a flurry of executive orders, some powerful, and some little more than theater, and an erratic flurry of Twitter rants at his media “enemies,” he has also managed to alienate half the country, while at the same time distracting people at least somewhat from the unanswered questions of his taxes, his continuing ties to the trump business empire and holdings, and his relationship to Russia’s Vladimir Putin, just to name a few. Little wonder, then, that a protest march and rally are scheduled for the weekend at his Florida retreat to vent their frustrations.
By midway in his tenth day in the Oval Office, Trump had signed more executive orders than any president in modern American history, including his nemesis, former President Barack Obama. Not all the orders had any real power beyond further dividing the nation. The “we’re gonna build a wall and Mexico will pay for it,” and “we intend to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord,” were among examples. The ban on arriving passengers from seven predominantly Muslim countries was probably the most vehemently opposed so far. While demonstrations raged at airports across the nation – and around the world – following the Jan. 27 travel decree, Trump supporters clearly saw the order as a sign their guy was keeping his campaign promises.
“Is the white, blue-collar voter in Pennsylvania going to be upset by all that (turmoil of the first week)? Not at all,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster, Pa., and one of Pennsylvania’s leading pollsters. “They like the language he uses; they like that he wants to put the curbs on immigration. They believe it takes their jobs away,” said Madonna, who runs the Franklin & Marshall poll. “They’re not the people out there demonstrating. They like it, because he’s doing what he said he would be doing.”
In the galvanizing, Trump also declared war on the media. In addition to open refusal to respond to questions from White House Press Corps reporters for CNN and other outlets Trump dislikes, he turned to Twitter, often with typos, to blast the Washington Post and The New York Times, which have been covering Trump extensively in his flurry of executive actions. The coverage has included a detailed Times review of his first week and a review by the Post of the misleading statements he’s made.

A flurry of Trump anti-media tweets.

“For the White House, it creates this us-versus-them dichotomy, and the mainstream media falls into the ‘them’ category,” said Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a chief policy adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.
In the face of all this, not to mention the continuing Senate confirmation hearings for Trump Cabinet appointees, and his prime time Jan. 31 announcement of conservative 10th District Court Judge Neil Gorsuch to fill the Supreme Court seat vacant since the death a year ago of Antonin Scalia, Trump’s detractors urge people outraged by the president’s opening shots to remember the historic importance of protest and not be discouraged.

Former President Obama responds to his successor’s selective ban on Muslims entering the United States and the massive demonstrations it triggered.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s report on reaction to Trump’s executive orders is here.
The USA Today list of Trump’s initial executive orders is here.
Demonstrators may distrupt Trump’s first vacation, the Orlando Sentinal reports.
A more conservative assessment of Trump’s executive orders, from the National Review, is here.
Trump’s Twitter war with the Media, as reported by the Boston Globe, is here.
The New York Times fact-check of Trump’s decrees is here.
The Washington Post’s fact-check of Trump’s decrees is here.
Eight lessons in history for anti-Trump demonstrators from U.S. News & World Report are here.
http://www.usnews.com/opinion/thomas-jefferson-street/articles/2017-01-31/8-lessons-from-history-for-resisting-donald-trump The Mar-a-Largo March invitation, on Facebook, is here.

The Guardian offers perspective on Trump’s approach to being president of a divided nation is here.