Monday, July 16, 2007

Closed Primaries... again

I have to comment once more (last post in June on the Closed Primary here) on the reason for a change in the state laws for holding the Primary Elections.

I read the humor in Rep. Brandon Dusrt's opinion in the Statesman justifying the Idaho Democratic Party's Presidential Caucus reasoning (instead of allowing all state Democrats to select their preference in a regular Primary). Rep. Durst correctly points out "in an IDP presidential caucus you are required to publicly support one candidate. In a primary, your decision is private." So why is this IDP Caucus better than a Primary where everyone has the ability to vote privately for their choice of the candidate to represent them in the General Election? A Caucus is normally done to ensure better control over WHO will be chosen (through peer pressure), not that it is done fairly or accommodates the desires of all of that party's voters.

He states "The IDP presidential caucus is privately funded", so who ensures that there is a fair and unbiased selection of Presidential candidates in a "privately funded" caucus? The State Primary Election process has rules that must be followed that ensure a fair and just process is provided for the public to ensure their votes count.

The the Republican Party voting to close their Primary Election process is exactly the same thing the Democrats have done in their national Presidential Primary process, just a few years later than the Democrats did. The Republicans also considered a "Privately Funded Caucus" to select their candidates, but that was voted down in consideration of an accepted fair and unbiased State Election process that the citizens of Idaho already pay for and trust.

Holding a type of restricted, "members only" Primary to select a party's candidates for the General Election in the fall has been found to be a right that is afforded to that party and it's members (regardless of who's party) by the Supreme Court. There have been numerous changes in the ways the Parties have selected their candidates in Idaho's history and changes will continue by all of the Parties as time goes on.

The REAL issue here is our State's laws regarding Primary Elections are not flexible enough to accommodate these past or future changes. Those laws should be able to accommodate a selection process that will ensure a fair and just election and appropriate voter safeguards ensuring that their vote counts when they exercise that right.

Ensuring that "every vote counts" should be something that every Party takes a serious interest in, not just the Republicans, as shown by 71 party members recent actions to fix the system now through the judicial process. The Party members (not the Party) have filed suit in Federal court to force the state to change it's laws allowing the closed process the Party has selected.

This issue seems to have been overlooked by many, like Rep. Durst, of those that focus on "this method" or "that method" of holding the Primary selection of that Party's candidates for the General Elections (where all are allowed to vote for the candidate of their choice in secret regardless of party affiliation).

Rep. Labrador wrote an excellent piece in the Statesman regarding this issue and why changes in State laws are needed. Many of us worked hard last session trying to educate those of both Parties in the needed changes to close the loopholes in our state laws. There are activities like "Strategic Crossover Voting" that occurs discounting legitimate public votes.

Both Parties now recognize these loopholes with some of the Republicans finally coming on to request changes in the Idaho State Primary Election process. The Democrats recognized the issue many years ago and instead of fixing the issue, decided just not to use the state process for their Presidential selection process... thus leaving a very large number of their Party voters without an opportunity to vote in that selection process.

Now instead of the Legislature changing the laws to accommodate the Party selection process, we will likely have a Federal Judge forcing that change and the Legislature focused again on those needed changes in the 2008 session. The last changes were done in 1972 and many Supreme Court findings have happened since those changes... it's time to update our process like over 30 other States have done.

All Parties should welcome this change to ensure that fairness and legitimacy are brought back into our Primary Election system encouraging more voter participation.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Mass Transit in the Treasure Valley...

A number of us from the Legislature in the Treasure Valley were invited to attend a briefing in Salt Lake last Monday regarding how their mass transit system has evolved. My intention was to learn costs per person, state funding, subsidies required and ongoing costs for maintenance and how that is managed.
The Treasure Valley Compass leaders ensured that we all met the major players in Utah that have been involved in setting up the transit system, expanding it and maintaining it. The Compass folks did a great job in ensuring that we got our questions asked and have promised to work with Utah in getting some of the data we requested.
There is no question that the public transportation system in Salt Lake is top of the line. They have a combination of bus, tram and light rail. Their system was originally started on a shoe string (much like the Valley Regional Transit Authority now), but was boosted through federal earmarks (around $500M if I recall correctly) and local option taxes of the six surrounding counties to Salt Lake of between 1/2 cent to 3/4 cent sales tax that is collected through the state. Utah has had local options taxes for quite sometime so you will find various sales tax rates throughout the state.
Utah's system thus far has cost the tax payers (both federal and state) approx. $1.5 billion dollars. The est. population in the six counties footing the bill (less federal earmarks) is approx. 1.2 million folks (just slightly less than the entire state of Idaho).
Inceases in local option taxes have been happening since the system was started, most run as a referendum that was done on a "quick sale" sort of effort by engaging with the public on the requirements shortly (within 4 weeks) before the vote was required. Their strategy was to ensure that any opposition would have little time to organize and coordinate an opposing view before votes would be made (sound familiar?) and worked absentee ballots hard as well to ensure passage of the increased tax.
No doubt that Utah's mass transit system is top of the line, however, I see no way that 500,000 people in the Treasure Valley would pony up the money for such a convenience.
One lesson that did hit hard was that Idaho must start early in purchasing easements for ANY kind of transportation planning, regardless if that's public trams, trains or roadways... it needs to be planned and purchased as early as possible. Land prices just continue to go up, waiting for "tomorrow" to purchase property for a bypass or a commuter train is just not smart business.
I appreciated being invited on the fact finding tour, I learned a lot. Utah started planning and funding these transit systems well before it was announced that they would be getting the Olympics, much to our surprise. I suspect that because they did invest in such a system, that it did bode well for their selection by the Olympic selection committee.
Idaho has transportation needs from city streets to the freeway, from buses to walking trails. We are going into debt now through GARVEE to get some of the issues corrected and, as I'm sure you've heard, we are still "$200M per year"short. We need to get creative, change the way we do day to day business in the way to manage our transit systems. I've posted some ideas previously (click here to read them) that we need to consider. Is it time to raise gas taxes, registration fees, fund transportation needs with General Funds or change our habits?
We don't have the answers or the money... do you?
Drop me a note at

Movie Night in Meridian!...

If you haven't had a chance to attend with your family, you should! Meridian Parks and Rec are putting on a special movie night once a week at Settler's Park (Meridian & Ustick). It's a great time, families throwing a blanket on the "mini-hill" in the park to watch the "Big Screen" just like a drive-in, but without the cars. Some bring lawn chairs and some just grab a piece of grass and watch the movie.

There is a concession stand with very reasonable popcorn, pop and water for you enjoyment as well. This is a great place to bring the kids in the evening to play on the new playground or maybe frolic in the water features... this park was very well done, one Meridian residents can be very proud of.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Independence, it's What Makes Us Americans...

There was a time in N. America when "Independence" was really only a dream. During the parade yesterday in Boise I was reminded by the Veterans lined on the sidewalks in their uniforms, wearing their DAV (Disabled American Veterans), ship and unit ball caps who have defended that freedom that we all now enjoy.

Independence... what a concept. We were lucky enough to have forefathers that put their lives on the line against England to fight for our "Independence" from their governance. As we all know, that fight was won and not without cost of the lives of some of those brave men and women.
That freedom to choose where we want to live, how we want to worship, who we want to represent us in our own government is not something that just happens, it's earned and protected again and again every day by someone. Veterans, Police and Firemen all help protect those independent freedoms that most of us take for granted all too often.
We are a very fortunate country to have Brothers, Sisters, Dads, Moms, Sons and Daughters that continue to carry on the American tradition of volunteering to defend those hard earned freedoms that we still enjoy today.

I hope you enjoyed a Happy Independence Day on the 4th of July and took a quick minute to think about those that fought for and have protected it for the past 231 years... without them, we wouldn't be Americans.