Heart and Soul

rs_560x415-140224091818-1024.roccos-chicago-pizzeria-arizona-legislators-022414The political and social fault lines in the modern Republican Party have been showing again for the last several days in Arizona. The Republican governor, Jan Brewer, vetoed a piece of legislation this week that was widely seen as opening a path of overt discrimination against gays. The veto came after days of increasingly negative attention focused on Arizona; attention that included corporate worries about the legislation’s impact on business and threats to cancel next year’s Super Bowl game in suburban Phoenix.

Brewer, an often erratic politician who once championed most causes of the far right of her party, took her time in doing it, but she ultimately saved the state’s Republicans from themselves. The hot button bill, pushed by conservative religious interests and passed by the Arizona legislature with only GOP votes, underscores once again the fractured nature and fundamentally minority bent of a Republican Party that vowed to renew itself after losing the White House again in 2012.

Gov. Brewer, who seems to be term-limited from running again in the fall, but still hasn’t said whether she would contest such an interpretation, underwent a full court press from the “establishment” wing of the GOP who called on her to ax the handiwork of Republican legislators. Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain and Jeff Flake both urged a veto. Apple, American Airlines, the state Hispanic chamber of commerce and a pizza shop in Tuscon that vowed to protest by refusing to serve Arizona legislators swarmed the governor. In the end it might have been the National Football League, plagued with its own image problems, that helped the governor decide to do the right thing; the right thing politically, economically, morally and for football fans.

The Republican Party’s national dilemma with issues like Arizona’s gay bashing legislation – and similar legislation in several other states with strong GOP majorities  – is neatly summed up in a comment from Mark McKinnon, the ad guy who made TV spots from George W. Bush in both of his successful elections.

“In this country, the arc of human rights always bends forward, never backwards,” McKinnon, a co-founder of the centrist group No Labels told Politico recently. “So these kinds of incidents are always backward steps for the Republican Party because they remind voters they are stuck in the past.”

Voters are being reminded of that reality in lots of places. In Oregon, some of the state’s most conservative Republicans are blasting the fellow GOP organizers of the 50 year old Dorchester Conference; denouncing them as “liberals” intent on advancing a pro-gay, pro-abortion, anti-religion agenda.

“In light of the unveiled agenda to promote and celebrate liberal causes like abortion-on-demand, pet campaign projects like ‘republicanizing’ same-sex marriage and the attack on people of faith and their religious liberties many of us do not feel that our participation in this year’s Dorchester Conference is welcomed,” one of the offended right wingers told The Oregonian.

In Idaho a conservative former Republican governor, Phil Batt, went straight at his party and Gov. Butch Otter over the state legislature’s failure to even consider legislation to add fundamental human rights protections for the state’s gay, lesbian and transgender population. Batt, with his own gay grandson in mind, wrote in an op-ed: “I would like to have somebody explain to me who is going to be harmed by adding the words to our civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing and job opportunities for homosexuals. Oh, I forgot, that might hurt the feelings of the gay bashers.”

It seems like a life-time ago that national Republicans, reeling from the re-election of the President Obama, commissioned an assessment of what the party needed to do to re-group in order to effectively contest a national election again. Like many such high-level reports, this one generated about a day and a half of news coverage and went on the shelf never to be read again. The GOP report outlined the demographic challenges the party faces and why the divisive debate in Arizona that quickly went national is so very damaging to party’s long-term prospects. Here are a couple of relevant paragraphs from the GOP’s Growth and Opportunity Book that was produced just over a year ago.

“Public perception of the Party is at record lows. Young voters are increasingly rolling their eyes at what the Party represents, and many minorities wrongly think that Republicans do not like them or want them in the country. When someone rolls their eyes at us, they are not likely to open their ears to us.”

And this: “Republicans have lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. States in which our presidential candidates used to win, such as New Mexico, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, and Florida, are increasingly voting Democratic. We are losing in too many places.”

In the face of this incontrovertible evidence Republicans have rolled out legislation like SB 1062 in state after state further alienating not only gay and lesbian voters, but likely most younger and independent voters. The GOP refusal at the federal level to even go through the motions of working on immigration reform seems certain to drive more and more Hispanic voters – the fastest growing demographic in the nation – away from Republicans candidates. At some not-too-distant point the political math, even in John McCain’s Arizona, becomes impossible for the GOP.

It is true that in our political history the fortunes of political parties regularly ebb and flow. The Whigs worked themselves out of existence in the 1850′s unable to find a set of positions that might bridge regional and ideological barriers and sustain them a national party. Immediately before and for years after the Civil War Democrats became largely a regional party that failed to command a national majority and elect a president in the years from 1856 until 1884. Teddy Roosevelt split the GOP in 1912 helping elect only the second Democratic president since the Civil War and his distant cousin Franklin, with the help of a Great Depression, created an enduring Democratic coalition – farmers, big cities ethnics, organized labor and the South – that lasted for two generations until moral and political battles over civil rights finally ceded the South to Republicans, a hand-off that now leaves that region as the only dependable base of the Republican Party.

In almost every case in our history when a party stumbles, as national Republicans stumble now, a unifying figure has emerged – FDR for Democrats in 1932 or Ronald Reagan in 1980 for the GOP – to offer a message that smooths over the ideological fissures. In the meantime, and lacking a unifying messenger, national Republican battles played out over the most polarizing issues – witness Arizona – will hamstring the party from moving forward.

Conservative commentator Myra Adams recently detailed ten reasons why the GOP is floundering as a national party. Adams remembered that the much maligned Millard Fillmore – he was president from 1849 to 1853 – was the last Whig Party president and she speculated that George W. Bush might well be the last Republican president. Her reason number nine for the current state of the national GOP was most telling. The party, she wrote, “is growing increasingly white, old, Southern, and male, which alienates majorities of younger voters, Hispanics, African Americans, gays, teachers, young professionals, atheists, unmarried women, and even suburban married women.”

In the end, the issues for Republicans are more serious even than the demographics. The party failure to re-cast itself by looking forward with attitudes and issues that address an America in the 21st Century is, to say the least, a risky gambit. Yet, the kind of a makeover that is needed seems increasingly unlikely, at least in the near term, when the loudest voices speaking for Republicans are constantly playing to a narrower and narrower group of true believers, while denying – as the 87-years young Phil Batt suggests – that the cultural and political world is passing them by.

Increasingly outside forces and insurgents like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz rather than sober-minded realists dominate the party’s message. The Koch brothers, aiming to keep beating the anti Obamacare drum, have hijacked the GOP message for the coming mid-term elections. Look for the totality of the GOP message this year to be about the evils of the health care law (and the “socialist” president) even as a new Kaiser Health poll shows Americans are increasingly comfortable with the much-debated law. Kaiser’s survey shows that fully 56% of those surveyed favor keeping the law as is or keeping it and making improvements. Only the GOP base is clamoring for something different and even those numbers are shrinking.

Another overly influential outside voice, the Heritage Foundation, was still trying to explain why the Arizona legislation was “good public policy” after Brewer’s veto. And the guy with the loudest (and meanest) GOP megaphone, Rush Limbaugh, always eager to double down on a lost cause, said Brewer was “bullied” into her veto position in order to “advance the gay agenda.” All that plays well tactically with the “increasingly white, old, Southern, and male” base of the GOP, but leaves much of the rest of the 21st Century United States very cold indeed.

Lacking the re-boot that many Republicans wisely advocated after the last national election the party, as Mark Mckinnon says, will continue to be stuck in the past. The really bad news for national Republicans is that elections are always about the future.

Understanding the Mind of Other Men

alexander-hamilton-og-BEAlexander Hamilton was the nation’s first Treasury Secretary and not, as Groupon recently promoted, one of those old, dead white guys we celebrate on President’s Day. Hamilton, who died in a duel with Aaron Burr, would probably rather be remembered as the chief author of a number of the Federalists Papers, the brilliant essays on the powers of government that continue to serve as footnotes to the Constitution and as PR “white papers” that helped sell the founding document to the nation.

In Federalist 78, Hamilton, writing as Publius, discussed several issues related to the judicial branch of the government that had been created under Constitution, including how judges would be appointed and why it was essential to their impartiality and independence that they be guaranteed “life tenure.”

Hamilton was an elegant writer, if somewhat prone to the run-on sentence. Here’s a key (long) sentence from his famous discourse on judges and the judiciary. “This independence of the judges is equally requisite to guard the Constitution and the rights of individuals from the effects of those ill humors, which the arts of designing men, or the influence of particular conjunctures, sometimes disseminate among the people themselves, and which, though they speedily give place to better information, and more deliberate reflection, have a tendency, in the meantime, to occasion dangerous innovations in the government, and serious oppressions of the minor party in the community.”

It would be understandable if you didn’t get all that in one reading, but Hamilton’s essential point was – I’ll put it in my words – that the judiciary ultimately stands as a guard against popular whims and government actions that run counter to the Constitution and individual liberties. The great Federalist admits – maybe hopes – that over time the people will be smart enough to figure out these “ill humors” and correct them, but in the short term, minus “more deliberate reflection” public men (and women) can and will make mistakes or, heaven forbid, stupid decisions.

The job of a judge – particularly a federal judge – is unique in our system and, as Alexander Hamilton and others argued, it must be unique in order for the delicate balance of competing interests among the three branches of government to work. Judges must have the opportunity to engage in “deliberate reflection” and the freedom to know that as long as they maintain certain ethical standard their jobs are not in jeopardy.

Not One of Us…

Idaho’s governor is a genial fellow. In the old days we might have referred to him, as in the old English phrase, as “a hail fellow well met.” I’ve heard Butch Otter quote Shakespeare and he’s been known to lace his speeches with references to the Founders, especially that champion of limited government Thomas Jefferson. Otter once courageously voted against his party and a Republican president when he argued that The Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, might well become a threat to civil liberties.

Ours is, as they say, a free country and sharply worded criticism from the lips of public officials is about as common as Groupon promotions, but the nature of Gov. Otter’s recent criticism of Idaho’s widely respected federal District Judge Lynn Winmill – Otter reported said the judge “isn’t one of us” – is just plain hard to figure. Otter went on to suggest that Winmill  “doesn’t share all of the enthusiasm for the marketplace and freedom that we do in Idaho.”

The governor may be able to quote Jefferson, but he may find it useful to re-read some Hamilton.


Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/otters-blast-at-judge-winmill-hes-not-one-of-us/#storylink=cpy

Goodness knows federal judges are not – nor should they be – immune from serious criticism. Franklin Roosevelt once famously said after the U.S. Supreme Court had wiped out much New Deal legislation that the court was stuck “in the horse and buggy” era of judicial analysis. Dwight Eisenhower privately lamented the Brown v. Board of Education decision that struck down the decades of law that held that blacks and whites could gain the same quality of education in segregated schools that were “separate but equal.” Barack Obama dissed the current Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case that opened the floodgates for corporate and labor money to wash into our politics. Criticism of judges is cheap and it is a free country.

What is interesting about the Idaho governor’s criticism is not that he made it, but that he has yet to offer any specifics that might illuminate both his criticism and how he thinks about the role of judges. After all, Otter regularly appoints state court judges. Some enterprising reporter needs to follow-up.

Meanwhile, as the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey has noted, Winmill’s capabilities as a person deserving of life tenure was rather exhaustively vetted when he was nominated by President Bill Clinton 19 years ago. Then-Sen. Larry Craig took pains to explain to the Senate Judiciary Committee how diligent he and then-Sen. Dirk Kempthorne had been in assessing Winmill for a job on the federal bench. Craig said they had consulted widely with bipartisan members of the bar and retired judges and determined that Winmill “was extremely well qualified.” Needless to say, the two Republican senators didn’t rely for their analysis on the opinions of the Bannock County Democratic Central Committee, a group that also would have been high on Winmill.

When Kempthorne had his chance before the committee nearly two decades ago he quoted the Old Testament to the effect that “justice, and only justice” must be the pursuit of a judge and that Winmill “meets this test.”

Judge Winmill, who I have known since his early days in Bannock County politics, hardly needs any defense from me, but if you wonder, as I do, about the governor’s recent comments about the federal judge ask any lawyer you know for his or her take. I predict you’ll get an earful.

The Mind of a Judge

Years ago U.S. Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, considered by most historians of the court as one of the greatest justices in the nation’s history, was asked who among his Supreme Court colleagues he considered to be the greatest living American jurist. Cardozo said, “the greatest living American jurist isn’t on the Supreme Court.” The greatest judge, Cardozo maintained, and he may well have been correct, was the hugely respected U.S. Appeals Court Judge Learned Hand of New York. Hand, who died in 1961, served on the federal bench for 52 years and was still deciding cases when he died. He is still regarded as the best judge to never make it to the Supreme Court.

Until 1944 Judge Hand was largely unknown outside of legal circles. Then he made a speech at a huge ceremony where thousands of immigrants became U.S. citizens. The speech both captured public imagination and served to articulate Hand’s own mind as a judge. He titled the speech “The Spirit of Liberty.”

“What then is the spirit of liberty? I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith,” Hand said. “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.”

I was reminded of Judge Hand’s short and remarkable speech a few years back when I was in the audience when Judge Winmill, a man remarkably well-read in history as well as the law, called upon a detailed discussion of the infamous Dreyfus Affair – the scandalous anti-Semitic trial of a French military officer in the 1890′s – to illustrate a talk about the American system of justice. I have also heard the judge talk about the lessons of the now widely acknowledge miscarriage of justice that lead to the unconstitutional internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and to the qualities required of a patriot.

I admit to bias about such things, but I like my life tenured judges to know about, think about and reflect on the kinds of ideas that judges like Learned Hand and Lynn Winmill did and do.

In Federalist 78 Alexander Hamilton made the case for life tenure for federal judges in order to insulate those judges from the pressures and partisanship of daily politics under our system. It’s not a perfect system, of course, politics and partisanship still leak in from time-to-time, but it is a system that has and still serves the nation pretty well. Hamilton recognized something else when he was writing in 1788 – that being a judge requires special skills not always widely available in society.

“Hence it is,” Hamilton said, “that there can be but few men in the society who will have sufficient skill in the laws to qualify them for the stations of judges. And making the proper deductions for the ordinary depravity of human nature, the number must be still smaller of those who unite the requisite integrity with the requisite knowledge.”

Integrity and knowledge then, when everything is said and done, is what we really must demand from a judge. Decisions and rulings, along with ill-defined criticism from politicians will come and go. Integrity and knowledge were the qualifications for the Founders and that should still be good enough for us.


Read more here: http://blogs.idahostatesman.com/otters-blast-at-judge-winmill-hes-not-one-of-us/#storylink=cpy

Peter T. Johnson

1p6nk2.AuSt.36In the years following his frequently tumultuous tenure as head of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Idahoan Peter T. Johnson looked back on those years; years of crisis in the Pacific Northwest dominated by an overbuilt and astoundingly expensive nuclear power program, as a great life experience. Johnson would say he learned a lot.

In January of 1993, as was his style and long after his BPA tenure had ended, Johnson committed some of the lessons to paper in an article published in the Harvard Business Review. His think piece – “How I Turned a Critical Public Into Useful Consultants” – should be required reading for any business or government executive who needs to channel public anger, confusion and misinformation in the direction of constructive change.

Johnson noted in his HBR piece that when he ran Trus Joist, the wood products company that was founded in Boise, he had little time for the consuming and often not very pleasant task of engaging critics. “I had enough on my plate without environmentalists, politicians, special interests, or the general public second-guessing my decisions and interfering with my operations,” he wrote. But at BPA, where he became administrator in 1981, Johnson had little choice but to engage the region’s often unruly stakeholders who included public and private power interests, environmentalists, labor unions, fish advocates, river operators, and tribal governments, just to name a few,

“Outsiders had a way of exerting influence whether I liked it or not,” Johnson wrote. “I had no sooner arrived at BPA when the agency became the target of political, legal, and even physical threats from people outside the organization who had lost confidence in BPA’s ability to act without jeopardizing their interests. Those of us on the inside knew we were capable of making good decisions, and we made every effort to explain our reasoning.

“But that was the problem. By first making decisions and then explaining them, we were essentially telling people that we knew what was good for them. Meanwhile, the people affected by our decisions were telling us in any way they could—lobbying to curtail BPA’s authority, taking BPA to court, or aiming rifles at BPA surveyors—that the father-knows-best approach to decision making was completely unacceptable.”

The businessman became a listener and his “come let us reason together” approach allowed him to move ahead with the enormously controversial decision to shutdown much of the appropriately dubbed “Whoops” nuclear project – the Washington Public Power Supply System. Johnson did not fully appreciate the mess he inherited when Ronald Reagan, at the behest of Idaho Sen. Jim McClure, tapped him to run the sprawling federal power marketing agency that has been a fixture in the region since Franklin Roosevelt was in the White House.

A Johnson predecessor at BPA, a right-wing ideologue named Don Hodel, had championed the nuclear building program in the 1970′s. Convinced that the region was running short of power, Hodel lobbied utilities to “build, build, build,” while at the same time, as the Seattle Times reported in 1997, belittling environmentalists as “prophets of shortage” bent on “stopping all development in this country.” Ironically Hodel’s “vision” – a nuclear powered Northwest – eventually lead to the bankruptcy of much of the Whoops project, still one of the largest public bond defaults in American history. In classic Peter Principle fashion, Hodel “failed upward” and won a promotion to be Reagan’s Secretary of Energy and later Interior. Peter Johnson was left to clean up the mess.

Peter Johnson died a few days ago at age 82. The Dartmouth educated business guy had retired to McCall, Idaho where he kept close tabs on the often dysfunctional local politics and served as a leading advocate for protecting the water quality in Payette Lake, one of Idaho’s great natural wonders.

In reflecting on his career, I think Johnson must have been the kind of person FDR envisioned running the big, important regional agency dealing with energy; a subject of fundamental importance to the economy and the environment. Johnson was a Republican, but never a partisan. He was a man of his word and, as his HBR article suggests, a successful man of the private sector who displayed enough agility and intelligence that he could learn how to operate successfully in the public sector.

With the current management of BPA mired in scandal and beset by shifting leadership it would be easy to forget that the agency once faced even bigger problems and went on to survive as a vital resource in the Pacific Northwest. Peter Johnson was a major part of that survival.

I had the good fortune to know Peter Johnson a little. On more than one occasion he patiently schooled me on Valley County politics and I once had a cameo role in helping implement his ideas about how to focus public and government attention on water quality issues as a key factor in the future of the central Idaho region he loved.

We can thank the late Jim McClure and his brilliant chief of staff Jim Goller for identifying Peter Johnson as their candidate to run BPA in the early 1980′s. It was truly a case of the right guy in the right job at the right moment in history. He’ll be missed.

[Photo credit - BPA]

Remarkable, But Shouldn’t Be…

140209211519-michael-sam-top11-single-image-cutIt is a given that our culture is obsessed with football. A Super Bowl game that quickly became non-competitive recently drew 111 million fans. Top level college football programs averaged more than 45,000 fans per game last season. In football crazed communities from Boise to Tuscaloosa the college game is an occasion for tailgate parties that often begin the night before the kickoff. National “letter of intent” day when high school stars commit to college programs gets way more media coverage than the Syrian civil war.

You might say football is in a way a metaphor for American culture. We love the ritual and root for our favorites, while quietly wondering about the lasting impact of sanctioned violence on young brains. We exalt the elite coaches and their seven figure salaries all the while secretly knowing that college should be more about the classroom than the locker room. Perhaps the football-as-life metaphor never fit more snugly than yesterday when a University of Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam, a likely high National Football League draft pick, let the world know what his teammates had known all season long.

Michael Sam, a strapping 6 foot 2 inch, 260 pounder, the best defensive player in the best football conference in the country, is gay. His knowing Missouri Tiger teammates selected him as their most valuable player after a season in which they had come to know the real Michael Sam. I can’t help but juxtapose that kind of courage and sensitivity against the head-in-the-sand bias and insensitivity of too many politicians from Boise to Sochi.

Michael Sam’s announcement almost seemed timed for maximum impact on our culture, and to his credit his timing also served to put his standing in a future NFL draft in some peril.

As the New York Times noted, “Mr. Sam enters an uncharted area of the sports landscape. He is making his public declaration before he is drafted, to the potential detriment to his professional career. And he is doing so as he prepares to enter a league with an overtly macho culture, where controversies over homophobia have attracted recent attention.” The guy who was credited with 11.5 sacks during Missouri’s 12-2 season instantly became a symbol of how quickly public attitudes are changing regarding matters of sexual orientation and, at the same time, Michael Sam set himself up – potentially – for the kind of abuse pathfinders often encounter.

The University of Missouri has something to teach the larger society about all this. “We’re really happy for Michael that he’s made the decision to announce this, and we’re proud of him and how he represents #Mizzou,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said in a statement Sunday night. The coach’s classy responses came in reaction to Sam’s interviews with ESPN and the New York Times announcing he’s news.

Professional sports, perhaps particularly the NFL, have long been the athletic equivalent of the Idaho Legislature when it comes to recognize the fundamental human rights of our fellow citizens. Yet, as Jackie Robinson demonstrated in another civil rights context more than half a century ago, sports can also help the larger culture confront fundamental issues. Sportswriter Juliet Macur correctly says the slow, stone-by-stone dismantling of a professional sports wall of discrimination toward gays can now, thanks to Michael Sam’s courage, fall as though pushed by a bulldozer wearing Number 52.

“Same-sex marriage laws have been passed in many states,” Macur writes, “with more to come. Gay rights have been a major issue at the Olympics in Russia, where the government last summer passed a law that prohibits the transmission of ‘gay propaganda’ to children, prompting many groups and some athletes to speak out.

“Even Pope Francis has, in his own way, recently expressed support for gays, shocking conservatives when he said, ‘Who am I to judge?’ He said people ‘should not be marginalized’ because of their sexual orientation and ‘must be integrated into society.’”

Billie Jean King, who President Obama wisely asked to represent the United States at the Sochi Olympics (and in the process stuck a thumb in the homophobic Valdimir Putin’s eye), tells CBS that it “really it gets down to humankind. … We just happen to be gay. … We need to really shift where it’s a non issue. When it’s a non issue, it will mean we’ve arrived. It won’t happen in my lifetime but it’s definitely a civil rights issue of the 21st century.”

Here’s hoping Missouri’s Michael Sam has a great NFL career, but even if that doesn’t happen this articulate, intelligent young man will have displayed the kind of personal courage that some folks in public life would do well to try and emulate. Or, put another way: if Sam had enough courage to sit for an interview with the New York Times and ESPN and discuss the most personal aspects of who he is, perhaps its not asking too much that state legislators in Boise and other state capitols finally summon enough personal and political courage to really deal seriously with the civil rights issue of the 21st Century.

We should long for the day when it isn’t.

 

The World is Watching

1391446725-new_add_the_wordsIdaho is making national news again and again for all the wrong reasons.

A quick Google search this morning turns up more than 130 stories on the 44 protesters arrested Monday in the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. Typical was the story in USA Today, a paper/digital publication with the top circulation numbers in the country, that featured the headline: “Dozens of gay rights activists arrested in Idaho.”

While the issue of same sex marriage has turned into the new civil rights steamroller across the country with state after state abandoning old notions and embracing equality the Idaho Legislature has again refused to even debate the issue of bringing the state’s human rights law into the 20th, not to mention the 21st, century.

As if anyone needed proof of how quickly the moral and legal ground is shifting under Idaho’s extra-conservative lawmakers, Politico reports today that same-sex marriage advocates are establishing a national “war room” to coordinate the incredibly diverse political battles on marriage equality that stretch now from Oregon to Virginia.

Politico’s Maggie Haberman writes: “Adding a bipartisan dimension to the effort at a time when a number of establishment Republicans are moving to back gay marriage, the war room will be led by SKDKnickerbocker’s Olivia Alair on the Democratic-leaning side, and Brian Jones, the former Republican National Committee official and Mitt Romney adviser, of Black Rock Group.”

But, as Idaho human rights advocates have stressed for years, an even more fundamental issue exists in Idaho – will gay and transgender Idahoans be afforded the same protections under the law that the rest of us already have? It is really an issue of basic fairness and equity; should Idaho law include workplace, housing, public accommodation, transportation, and education rights for its citizens without regard to “sexual orientation” and “gender identity?”

For the moment in Idaho, as in Utah and Virginia among other states, we can set aside the same-sex marriage issue that admittedly remains a hot button issue for many conservatives. Lawsuits challenging state bans on same-sex marriage, including a case in Idaho, will eventually sort out those issues. Yet, normally clear-headed legislators like Senate President Brent Hill in Idaho have elected to dodge the fundamental human rights issue yet again because they say the marriage issue must be resolved first. That is as disingenuous a position as it is short sighted.

All across this big and diverse country the idea, at long last, that all our brothers and sisters deserve the same treatment under the law – not more protection or different protection, just the same – has started to roll down, as Dr. King might have said, like a mighty river. Idaho risks much by being seen as having been hauled kicking and screaming into this new and better day.

Having been around the Idaho Legislature for more than 35 years, I have more than a little sympathy for legislators of both parties who must have struggled mightily on Monday over how to deal with a few dozen protesters who were determined to make a point and risk arrest in the process. Idaho is not unfamiliar with passionate protest even in the Statehouse or on its grounds. And, while not all of us would have chosen to protest in the manner of as those did who were eventually taken from the State Senate chambers by Idaho State Police yesterday, these fellow citizens do share some history with other Americans who chose much the same path of civil disobedience.  That history reaches back to a drug store lunch counter in Greenboro, North Carolina in 1960 and a factory floor in Flint, Michigan in 1937.

Idaho has too often had a dodgy history on matters of human rights. Locals in Kootenai County and elsewhere were often quicker to react to neo-Nazi hate groups in the 1980′s than were state officials. A saintly Catholic bishop once had to shame lawmakers into providing portable restroom facilities for Hispanic farm workers. The state was a very tardy adopter of the Martin Luther King Holiday and some still seem to barely embrace the importance of such a day. The current protest over basic human rights issues, and make no mistake this is such an issue, has a long and resonant history in America. The Idaho Legislature had best brace itself. There will be other days like Monday as citizens petition their government to right a wrong.

Fifty-four years ago last Saturday four young African American college students took seats at a lunch counter in a Woolworth drug store where the prevailing law and sentiment told them they could not sit. Those protests ended a few months later with a decision to desegregate that lunch counter and a student civil rights movement was born. Once in a while the smallest gesture sparks a revolution. A move to the right side of history is a curious thing. Once it is done we will wonder why it took us so long.

[Photo credit: Boise Weekly]

 

Pitch Lady Pitch

bobdylan240712wI’ll get to Dylan in a minute. But spoiler alert, I am not outraged, as much of the Twitterverse was, by the old guy’s Chrysler commercial during the not-so-Super Bowl. I thought the commercial was kind of cool. But first the game.

OK, so I was wrong to think Peyton Manning had one more big game in his creaky 37-year-old body. My Seattle friends are rightly celebrating the end of the championship drought in the Emerald City, a town that once had a basketball team (and lost it to Oklahoma City for crying out loud) and is still searching for a baseball team. All that is so much mist over Elliott Bay today. The Seahawks made mince meat of old Number 18 and deserve pro football’s bragging rights for at least a few months.

Outrage raged in Denver. Woody Paige, the long-time Denver Post sports columnist, said of the game “This one is for the john” and he didn’t mean Elway.

It seems perfect to me that such a sorry game – apologies to Seattle – was played in New Jersey, a state where the growling governor is, as conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer said recently, living day-by-day “one email away from utter ruin.” The news broke just about game time yesterday that another of Gov. Chris Christie’s top staffers had resigned, while considering how to respond to a subpoena connected to the juicy and continually unfolding story of lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. This is Clintonesque-like damage control. Announce the departure on Sunday night just before the Super Bowl kick-off. Not bad.

New Jersey is, after all, a state where political scandal has traditionally been more prevalent than clean water, but national Republicans are properly counseling against a rush to judgment on Christie. Still, it seems like the one time frontrunner for GOP leadership in 2016 fumbled, like Peyton, in his own end zone. The Super Bowl was to have been his big moment at the start of his second term. New Yorkers boo everything of course, but Christie really brought out the worse, or is it best, in them during his pre-game appearance on the New York side of the GW Bridge. The photos betrayed that, good seat and parking place aside, the governor didn’t much enjoy Super Bowl weekend.

If you want something to make you as cranky as Chris Christie consider the fact that the National Football League, where teams are owned by millionaires and billionaires like the Seahawks’ Paul Allen, is officially registered with the IRS “as a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization.”   A nonprofit organization that nonetheless “generates billions in broadcast and licensing deals for its member teams and brings in about $255 million in revenues annually.” The NFL “paid its commissioner, Roger Goodell, $29.4 million in 2011, the most recent figures available.” For the record the National Hockey League and the PGA are also nonprofit organizations. No wonder we’re a tad cynical about the IRS code.

New Jersey, all good government like, gave the NFL a super $8 million tax break for holding the game in The Garden State and just to be helpful to a nonprofit Jersey paid for the security. Meanwhile, your average fan was by game day shelling out upwards of $2,000 for a ticket in the nose bleed section at MetLife Stadium and those prices were way, way down from what tickets were going for just days earlier.

But wait. Turns out that New Jersey – who would have guessed – has a very tough consumer protection law and Josh Finkleman, a 28-year-old fan with a lawyer is using that state law to sue Mr. $29.4 million and his little nonprofit organization. “Here’s the corner the league is in,” Josh’s lawyer explained with a certain excitement to the New York Times. “They’ve sold their tickets to the Super Bowl the same way, year after year, in other jurisdictions because it’s legal. But now that they’re in New Jersey, they’re in trouble. The statute here is different.”

It turns out that only about 1% of the tickets for yesterday’s game were actually available to the public after the public charity that is the NFL allocated tickets to all of its teams, gave a few extra to the Giants and the Jets, and held back 25% of the ducats for use by the league itself.  I’m sure it is for nonprofit purposes. Put another way, to qualify to purchase some of the 1% of the tickets available for the big game you really need to be a part of the 1%. How very New York and New Jersey. On the surface that ticket allocation scheme would appear to violate a New Jersey law that requires public access to a whole lot more tickets than the NFL made available.

Another reason to bemoan the retirement of Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn is the fact that the senator has introduced legislation to end the nonprofit professional sports charade and the practice, as Coburn says, of Americans “paying artificially high rates in order to subsidize special breaks for sports leagues.”

With the game such a snorer last night, folks naturally took to Twitter or flipped the channel to Downton Abbey. Outrage was in order. The multilingual Coca-Cola ad that featured “America the Beautiful” and illustrated the diversity of the country was panned by some as – wait for it – “un-American.”

BudLightBro (who I’m not following I quickly point out) tweeted: “Not a fan of the CocaCola commercial. America The Beautiful should not be sang in any other language other than English. Sorry not sorry.” Right wing firebrand and former Congressman Adam West seemed to miss the whole point of the ad when he blogged about the dangers of “a Balkanized America.” Such attitudes perhaps help explain why Republican leaders like Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor spent the pre-game hours on Sunday pulling their party back from engaging in an effort to pass immigration reform.

And poor old Bob Dylan. People were shocked, shocked that the great man was hocking Detroit-made cars during the Super Bowl. I need my outrage meter recalibrated on this one. I actually like to see Dylan talk, even in a commercial, if for no other reason than to confirm that he still can. I’m also all for Detroit. And, more to the point, Rolling Stone reminds us that Dylan has been pitching stuff for years. As long ago as 1965 he was asked what thing he might consider endorsing. He responded “women’s garments” and followed through with a Victoria’s Secret commercial in 2004. See for yourself, but I’d say is that 2004 spot had even better curves than the new Chrysler. At least Bob isn’t selling used cars.

All in all, I’m really glad Super Bowl XLVIII is in the history books. Happy for Seattle, a little sorry that the great Manning looked throughout the game like he was stuck in an awful New Jersey traffic jam and happy that Dylan shilled for Detroit. The baseball season beckons, Downton Abbey can resume its rightful place on Sunday night and Roger Goodell can go back to running his nonprofit.

But just in case we lose sight of the absurd disconnect between real life and professional football’s annual showcase with all its hype and typically anti-climactic lack of drama, the satirical “news” website The Onion today features a photo of the Lombardi trophy surrounded by confetti, as the cynical and comic Onion folks say, “made entirely from shredded concussion studies.”

What a game. What a country. I think I may go test drive a Chrysler, while sipping a Coke.