Month: <span>October 2015</span>


The campaign finance reports that tend to get most attention are those for the big offices, for governor or for Congress (not to mention president). That’s understandable.

But you can find the reports for many Idaho cities too, and sometimes they show you information useful in deciding where your vote should go.

Cities weren’t included when the state’s voters passed the Sunshine Initiative in 1974, but in 1982 the legislature added elective offices – mayor and council – for cities over 16,000 in population to the requirements. In 2004, more cities were added: Those with a population over 5,000.

That means it covers 32 Idaho cities, the smallest of those being Preston; Weiser and Rupert are the next largest to be included. Fruitland, Shelley and American Falls just missed the cutoff.

The details of reporting have been changed, by the legislature, over the years. This year, for example, House Bill 112 changed the rule covering late contributions. It (according to a Secretary of State’s report) “requires all political committees to report within 48 hours all contributions of $1,000 or more received after the 16 th day before, but more than 48 hours before Election Day (as is currently required for candidates). The bill takes effect July 1, 2015.”

Many of the cities post the campaign contribution reports online, which means easy access for voters.

Boise’s Mayor David Bieter, who’s running for a fourth term, has his most current one (the seven-day pre-general report) at It shows substantial contributions indeed, more than $180,000. You could find a lot to look at there. His main opponent, Judy Peavey-Derr, showed contributions of a little more than $15,000. Among other things, this may give you some idea how the race is likely to shape up on election night.

Fine. But does all this tell you anything useful, assuming you’re one of the minority of eligible voters planning to cast a ballot?

It can. On Friday, for example, the Idaho Press-Tribune at Nampa reported that, “The largest contributions to this year’s city council elections in Nampa and Caldwell have come from real estate, construction and development groups.” It proceeded to tell who received how much from who.

That’s of interest and meaningful, especially in growing communities like Nampa and Caldwell. Who are these contributors, what sort of work would they like to do in these cities, and what kind of relationships might they be trying to build? What might that mean for the kind of cities Nampa and Caldwell may become a few years from now?

You don’t have to assume corruption or foul play in asking these questions: The answers could be good ones, depending on your point of view. But they are likely to matter, and could influence your voting choices – in fact, the reporting laws were designed with that in mind. Substantial contributions to city candidates from businesses or other organizations with concerns before a city government tend not to materialize simply because a candidate seems to be a nice guy.

There are implications here, maybe good, maybe bad, which voters taking their job responsibly ought to try to understand.


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If you’re like a lot of self-publishers, you’re scrambling – or have been, or will be – to find people to review your book. Reviews are important.  They are critical to sales.

Many traditional mass media outlets have been scaling back their book reviews, and competition for a spot in the places that remain can be fierce.

Worry not.  Many outlets still review books.  Some even specialize in indie books.

These days, many reviewers will accept electronic versions of your book, often including PDF files, and the cost of submitting electronically is much less than the cost sending out print copies.  Try to send your review copies two to three months in advance of your book’s release so you can take best advantage of the reviews you receive.

Publishers Weekly, the trade magazine of the book publishing industry (and our partner in BookWorks), offers scores of book reviews in every weekly issue, in major categories including fiction, nonfiction and children’s.  PW highlights indie books in the recurring section called PW Select, which appears six times a year.  PW Select imposes no fee in submitting a book for review, (but a review is not guaranteed).

Several major review publications, including Kirkus Reviews*, accept indie books for review.  Kirkus is one of the best-known book reviewers, but it reviews indie books only when the publisher pays a $425 fee for the review.  That process takes seven to nine weeks; you can shorten that to four to six weeks for $575.

IndieReader*, specializing in indie books, offers reviews in five to nine weeks for $225, or faster for an additional $75.

Lesser-known free review services are plentiful on the web.

At least a couple of web sites, the Indie Book Reviewer and The Indie Book Reviews List, list scores of book review locations, most of which accept Indie press and self-published books.  They break down reviewers by type of book preferred, from romance, historical and horror to nonfiction, comedy and inspirational.  Both seem to be set up mainly as a help for readers to find reviews and search for something to read, but they’re useful for authors and publishers too.

The quality of these review sites is varied, from haphazard to highly polished, with standards that vary as widely, and your book may get better results on one site than another.  Your best tack is to work your way down the lists, investigating review sites that might match your book’s subject and approach.  At each site, look at both the main review pages and the “about” or “how to submit” sections.

Always check to make sure your book isn’t one of the types – either by publication method or subject matter – the reviewer doesn’t accept.  Most of these review site managers are explicit about where their interests do, and do not, lie.

A review site called Astounding Books, for example, says it “is open to receiving solicited and unsolicited Advance Reading Copies and Review Copies of books from authors and publishers.  Our preferred genres are speculative fiction, which include: fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian and science fiction as well as young adult speculative/dystopian.  We do occasionally review current fiction/literature and will also consider mysteries, true crime and graphic novels if we can convince our part-time reviewer (my wife) to read the novel.  We will accept self-published novels as well.  In fact, we encourage it.”

They add that “Our review copy preference is for eBooks, followed by print copies. Our preferred format is EPUB. If you want to send us a physical copy of your novel, please email us and we will give you the address to mail it to. Novels will not be returned.”  Many other sites have similar policies.


The review sites seem to be weighted a little more heavily toward sci-fi, mystery, romance and horror, but options are available for almost anyone.  Many reviewers focus on fiction, but not all.  McNeil’s Reviews, for example, “is geared toward nonfiction books.  Books must be nonfiction such as how-to, biographies, memoirs, self-help, etc. Indie books are okay but must be free from excessive grammar and spelling errors. Books need to be posted and sold on Amazon.”

Of course, submitting a book for review doesn’t guarantee a good review or guarantee a review at all.  You take your chances.

But if you get a positive review, you can quote from it on the cover of your book and use that to boost your book marketing.  The kind of “validation” you can get from a book review can be invaluable as you send your new book out into the world.

*Kirkus and Indie Reader are affiliate partners of BookWorks, and discounts on their review services are among the perks our premium members enjoy.

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Is testing becoming less central to Idaho education policy?

Not so long ago, at least in Idaho political circles and very often at the legislature, all the discussion about schools seemed to center around making them “accountable.” In a general sense, of course, they have been accountable for many decades, with records of many kinds kept: Graduation rates, SAT scores, attendance records, grades and much, much more. You won’t easily come up with a major institution in our society much more accountable than schools traditionally have been. But what was really meant, in this discussion from, say, a decade ago, was aggressively scheduled and high-stakes testing.

The exact structure of testing on the table has changed some over the years, from “no child left behind” (ironically named, since the way it was structured it did leave behind whole schools that didn’t score well enough) to Common Core. Budgets and salaries were on the line when students put pencils to paper.

The idea that parents and taxpayers, not to mention citizens in our society who need an educated public as a broader matter of social good, should have an idea of how well schools are doing their job seemed reasonable. It still does, but those of us outside schools and setting policy (as voters or in some more direct capacity) never figured out the metrics – another way of way of saying we haven’t been clear about what we want schools to accomplish. I’ve long thought, for example, that serious civics education should be a core part of the public school experience. But we generally have never had discussions about things like that, political discussions since this is a logical subject for our politics. We’ve wound up with basic-level testing on math and English, teaching to the test, and a compression of what students learn (goodbye arts, for example) and what we emphasize in class.

Over-emphasis on this kind of accountability can and does short-change students.

Gradually, some shaking up seems to be underway.

Last week, the Idaho Board of Education said it would waive two key requirements for a big Common Core test that was tried this spring but whose results have proven hard to compile, even five months later. The test has been administered in many states, but criticism of it has grown, and some Idahoans even have filed a federal lawsuit to quash it. The lawsuit has an iffy states-rights basis, but it may cause a number of Idaho political people to take second and third looks at the testing regime.

And nationally, the number of states running the tests has dropped from 18 to 15, according to Idaho Ed News.

And IEN points out that the Boise School District board last month “unanimously approved a resolution calling for working alongside the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Legislature and the State Department of Education to “consider adopting other testing measures in lieu of the SBAC that will have the primary goal of improving instruction without overburdening Idaho classrooms.” If Boise’s proposal gains momentum, it could serve as the catalyst to a major policy and testing debate during the 2016 legislative session.”

The dialogue is changing. Testing won’t go away, nor should it, but its role at the center of education policy may get some adjustment in years to come.



Much of the politics in Idaho’s Panhandle is driven by a collection of groups of activist extremists, successful enough to dominate most Republican primary contests and many general elections.

Despite their splinters into competing factions (Tea Party Patriots, Reagan Republicans, species of Pachyderms and others) they are dominant – you can look at the roster of state legislators from the area for initial evidence – but are they a majority of the public at large? Does this segment of the Republican Party (again, I’m not talking about the party generally, just this segment of it) really speak for a majority of the people of the area?

I posed that question to a number of Panhandle people while in the area last week, and the answer uniformly and unequivocally came back: No. (An admission: None of those people were from the extremist groups, but they did represent a variety of viewpoints and experiences.)

Second question: How, then, do they win so many elections?

In answer to that, I heard mainly: They vote. And they got themselves organized. They did it the old-fashioned and proper way. And their opposition – outside of some recent strong organizing work on several elections inside the city of Coeur d’Alene – didn’t do those things nearly as well.

This isn’t the whole story. Immigrants from California and other places have tended very conservative, and many have been receptive to relatively extreme messages. The demographics have changed somewhat.

Still, there’s external evidence the extreme groups are not a majority. Polling done over the years broken down by region has consistently shown more moderately conservative positions on a range of issues, from the social to the fiscal, have more support than more narrow, extremist views.

You start to wonder what would happen, and what Idaho elections would look like, if everyone voted.

Idaho has somewhere around 1.2 million people eligible to vote; that number may be edging toward 1.3 million.

In November 2014, about two-thirds of those eligibles were registered to vote, and barely a third of the eligibles actually voted; about 800,000 did not. The elected officials Idaho has got there on the basis of winning a majority of that third. What does the other two-thirds think of the result?

More people turn out in presidential years, of course, but the point here still holds. In November 2012, about three-fourths of the eligibles were registered, and a little over half voted. The views, whatever they were, of about 600,000 Idahoans were not reflected.

Who are these people who are not voting?

One national study from about five years ago said that “approximately 51 million eligible Americans are still not registered to vote. This represents almost one in four eligible persons, disproportionately low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans.”

In Idaho’s case then, considering that study and the polling showing overall attitudes on ideas and issues, there’s some reason to believe that the large mass of non-voters is more moderate generally than the voters have been, at least in recent years.

An exclamation point: Don’t read too much into this. I don’t at all mean to suggest that Idaho would suddenly go Democratic or liberal if all the eligibles turned up in the polls; I don’t think that would happen. But there’s some reason to think the state’s politics would moderate a bit if they did.



Last week writer Chris Carlson and I were touring around north Idaho, and when we pulled in at Moscow decided to stop in at the local paper.

We pulled up to the downtown building that for half a century and more had housed the Daily News (or, as I knew it in my Moscow years, the Idahonian). I was a little startled to find it now occupied by an economic development company, but the receptionist there helpfully pointed me to the newspaper’s new digs.

Those were located in a suite of offices on the second floor of the Moscow federal building. Chris and I inquired about the unusual situation of a newspaper whose landlord was the federal government, but that turned out not to be the case either. The federal building, which still includes the post office and federal courts, had earlier been sold to a foundation of the local hospital. Which presumably could kick them all out if it developed expansion plans in the area, as many hospitals in recent years have been known to do.

The newspaper, which had off-loaded its press years before and was using only a small part of the space in its old building, understandably wanted more cost-effective offices, and conditions were right at the federal building. But it seems a comedown to see a newspaper in an office building suite, like just another firm of accountants or lawyers.

This week also brought news of the anticipated sale of the Post Company in Idaho Falls, which operates that city’s daily newspaper, the Post Register, and three eastern Idaho weeklies. The sale is said to be final at the beginning of next month. The sale leaves the Lewiston and Moscow papers, jointly owned at Lewiston, and the Hagadone papers based in Coeur d’Alene, as the lone locally-owned papers in the state.

The surprise buyer at Idaho Falls is Adams Publishing Group, an organization completely new to the Northwest. The most common expectation, probably, was that the Post Register would go to one of the big national chains like Gannett or McClatchy, but Adams is a smaller presence in the newspaper world. The Post Register may be the largest newspaper in its organization, which has 46 newspapers but mostly very small dailies, weeklies and specialty publications, and all of them located in the northeast, from Minnesota to Maryland. It seems a surprising connection.

The Post Register is among the diminishing numbers of papers that still have their own printing presses, and that may have been attractive to Adams, which does a substantial amount of commercial printing. Still, the Post Register-Adams linkup does seem a little unusual, partly because the Idaho paper is so far outside the company’s geographic base .

Word from the Post Register is that little is expected to change, at least any time soon, at Idaho Falls: The paper should continue on generally as it has been. But once newspapers move from local ownership to the national or international marketplace, unpredictable things can happen. Over the years, for example, the Boise Idaho Statesman went from local ownership to Federated Newspapers, to Gannett, to Knight-Ridder and now to McClatchy. In large corporations, especially the largest, newspapers can be swapped around like trading cards.

Adams may be small enough that won’t happen. But keep watch on this: See how this distant Idaho property is integrated into the moderate-sized business from the east, whether by more acquisitions out west or in some other way.

It’s a new world for newspapers, and it just keeps getting newer.



Last week’s column on Muslim refugees coming to Idaho drew enough response that a follow seems warranted.

One respondent opined (in an attachment), “the bottom line is that the [College of Southern Idaho] refugee program must be terminated to prevent potential Islamic jihad terrorism and immigration jihad with increasing numbers of muslims.”

Another more measured reader: “You’ll notice most of the fear is fear of people from countries that are Islamic states. If Europe and America are going to bring in hundreds of thousands of people – many young men – from countries like Syria that are being overrun by ISIS (a Muslim terrorist group), don’t you think there’s a chance some of those ISIS fighters could enter our country along with the thousands of Syrians who don’t pose a threat? As we saw on 9-11, it only takes a few to cause a lot of chaos.”

Okay. A few thoughts then for your consideration.

First, because it’s so oft-forgotten and not irrelevant: The United States is militarily impregnable. Our military is nearly as powerful as the rest of the world’s put together. Ain’t nobody from any other country, or from the United Nations, imposing their will on us. America is going to continue to be run by Americans. If anyone suggests otherwise to you, they’re conning you.

The best way America can avoid attracting the attention of the violence-prone of the Middle East would be to lighten our footprint there.

Coming in with a group of refugees would be the dumbest way for a terrorist to enter. Every real refugee in the group would have extremely strong incentive to turn in a would-be bomber to the authorities.

Obviously, there are Muslim extremists. But obsessing on them gives them a lot more power and credibility than they warrant. They aren’t that numerous – and before you point out the more than billion adherents to Islam around the globe, bear in mind that they consist of many segments, people who have many ways of interpreting Islam and the Quran, just as the vast number of Christians do. Mostly, they have found ways to peacefully coexist with each other and the rest of the world; if that were not the case, the world would be one vast war-pit. (Which, the lunacies of cable TV news notwithstanding, it is not.) If you still doubt the many variations within Islam, look at the various segments of Christianity (say, Unitarians, Church of Christ and the LDS Church, and dare I add the old Aryan Nations church from northern Idaho) and try saying with a straight face that they’re all the same, that they all see their theology alike and that they interpret and focus on the Bible identically.

With one obvious exception, there have been few actual instances of Muslin-based terrorism in the United States. On those few occasions, the perpetrators have been either U.S. citizens or in the country on visas. They’ve had no trouble getting in through conventional means. Not only that, the borders of the United States are vast and, as we know from long experience, porous. If someone really wants to enter the United States bad enough, he or she can find a place and a way to do it.

I write this while monitoring a terrorism-related incident that has become personal and close to home. My sister, a professor at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was teaching class Thursday afternoon in a building next to where a crazed gunman was opening fire on students and a teacher, killing 10 people and injuring seven more. The shooter has described himself as “conservative”, a supporter of the Irish Republican Army and “not religious but spiritual”. That incident was the 294th person killed in a mass shooting in the United States in the 274 days to that point this year. As in almost all of those other incidents, the perp in this case was not Muslim.

Would I be okay with Syrian refugees living in a house on my block? Yep.


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Indie book writing and publishing offer the opportunity to experiment, to develop new kinds of writing with new tools. One of these new tools is Leanpub.

Traditionally, writers and publishers do their research and write and edit behind closed doors, only afterward releasing the results to the world. It’s worked that way since the days of scrolls and papyrus, and it is the way most of us are accustomed to working. But opening up the writing and editing process to public groups is now a possibility, and well worth considering for certain types of books.

Leanpub is an online service that allows authors to write, edit, publish and sell an eBook at the same time the book is available – can be read and feedback given – on line. The site describes it this way: “Leanpub lets you write in one source manuscript in plain text, using your favorite plain text writing tools, and with one click produce an ebook in PDF (for computers), EPUB (for iPad, iPhone and Nook, etc.) and MOBI (for Kindle) formats.” Frequent changes, additions and updates are allowed.

Writing on Leanpub is akin to writing a blog post in software like WordPress, with a text window and formatting options. It doesn’t have the design controls necessary to create print books, but it has most of the relevant tools for eBooks, which are what it produces. Use of the online tools is free. Books can be sold through Leanpub’s online store (authors get a 90 percent royalty, minus 50 cents, for books sold there) or through any other eBook retailer, like Smashwords or Kindle.

What’s particularly unusual about it is that, while you’re writing online, readers you invite or who just happen by can view your manuscript-in-progress, can offer editing advice and suggestions. It’s a way of crowdsourcing research and editing for your book, with immediate feedback that can be highly useful for certain kinds of writing.

Suppose, for example, you’re a writer of technical or scientific material in a fast-evolving field. The ability to make frequent changes and updates in your book, even updating from season to season or month to month, could be a big plus. Most of the books published through Leanpub so far are scientific and technical, with titles like “Software Architecture for Developers,” “Exploring ES6” and “Symfony Certification.” Books such as these benefit from getting regular online updates.

Certain types of fiction might benefit from instant feedback as well. Imagine writing a novel chapter by chapter, the way many 19th century authors like Dickens and Doyle did (or the way some bloggers do now). You could get immediate reader response and comment, making fiction writing interactive and possibly more profitable.

Leanpub offers a fresh marketing and sales option as well. Readers could be given the option to buy a book still in early stages, maybe at a reduced price, along with the chance to influence its development. This could be something like a Kickstarter project that allows contributors inside the writing and editing process. Buyers could become something like investors buying wine futures, offering both financing and advice.

The concept won’t work for everyone, even in technical or scientific areas. Technical writer Jurgen Appelo looked into Leanpub after several other writers suggested it, and he found too many issues. Its formatting options were too limited for many kinds of book production work, he said.
He also took issue with the kind of feedback Leanpub offers: “Continuous deployment of unfinished products is great for software, but not for movies, books, and music. Very few people I know want to read the same book more than once. Me neither! I want to read your book when it’s finished, not while you’re still working on it. Sure, iterating is crucial while you’re still seeking feedback from beta readers and proofreaders. But they are not the final audience!” He pointed out that he could get significant reader comment by using his blog, PDF files and the MailChimp email service for delivery.

Leanpub appears to be growing, however, and its website carries some arresting testimonials. “I earn more royalties from my books on Leanpub than I do with well established publishers or through Amazon (which I publish on thanks to Leanpub’s mobi conversion),” said one person. Another said, “Leanpub is a game changer for independent authors, removing the hassles associated with formatting, book production, and electronic sales, freeing up the time to do what we do best: write.”

It’s one more tool in the rapidly expanding Indie toolbox.

Readers & Writers: I look forward to your feedback, comments and critiques, and please use BookWorks as your resource to learn more about preparing, publishing and promoting self-published books. My blogs appear every other week.

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Crossing the Snake, the collection of Randy Stapilus columns about Idaho over the last decade, is now published, and we’re highlighting it with a tour around northern Idaho this coming week.

A tour around southern Idaho will follow a few weeks after that.

We’ll be stopping by Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, St. Maries, Moscow, and Lewiston, from Monday through Wednesday.