• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
You can find it all here in the Pacific Northwest - much of the nation's most beautiful places, some appallingly trashed-out areas; politics running from just about as far left to just about as far right as anywhere in the country; economies of all sorts from the highly prosperous to the dying. It's all here.
 

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The point has been made, for many purposes, that the original draft of the United States Constitution required that every person in the country be counted in a once-every-ten-years census.

It did exempt “Indians not taxed” and provided a numerical discount – “three fifths of all other Persons,” for slaves. The point generally however was that the census was intended to count everyone, even then. It did not exempt non-citizens, and didn’t exclude people who were incarcerated.

That point underlies a Nampa story (in the Idaho Press) last week sure to interest political strategists looking a step ahead beyond 2020, when Idaho like other states redistricts its congressional and legislative districts to account for changes in population.

The census already is gearing up (have you seen the employment notices sprouting all over?) but details about the numbers and processes of the effort are moving ahead of even that. One of the most eye-catching reports concerns the Idaho prison complex in southern Ada County.

More than half of Idaho’s state prisoners, about 5,600 of them, are housed there. They are non-voters, but they are counted in the census as residents of that location rather than wherever their previous home might have been. Their location is in the bounds of legislative district 22, which takes in Kuna and most of southern and southwestern Ada County, and they make up about 12 percent of the residents of the district.

You can turn that around and look at it this way: Fewer votes are needed to elect a member of the legislature from District 22. This is not much of a partisan matter; this area long has been heavily Republican and the margins between the parties (whenever a Democrat does run here) aren’t close. But the fact that fewer voters are needed to elect here means that voters here are more powerful than in, say, a district based in Meridian or Eagle.

You can say some of the same in congressional terms. The prison complex is in Idaho’s first congressional district, meaning that voters there are incrementally more powerful than those in the second district.

The Idaho Press story added that, “the phenomenon became known as ‘prison-based gerrymandering.’ The Census Bureau has faced criticism for this, and has so far stood its ground. It announced it will not change the way it counts prisoners in 2020.”

Census doesn’t really deserve the hashing, though, even if some of the results seem a little locally odd. The idea of the census is a little like that of an opinion poll: It’s intended to be a snapshot in time rather than a three- or four-dimensional image. It’s intended to take a picture of where we are at a given moment rather than in some deeper sense. Are you and I “from” the place where we will be spending tonight? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll never get a clear overall picture if we start making exceptions.

The census rules actually do seem to approach exceptions territory at times. As one description (by Pew Research Center) put it, people are supposed to be counted at a specific location if they, “Live or stay at the residence most of the time; OR stayed there on April 1, 2010 and had no permanent place to live; OR stay at the residence more time than any other place they might live or stay.” There’s a little room for ambiguity in this, in the case, for example, of some college students.

But the prisoners are stuck in place.

That means this is going to lead to some warping of the system in places. But we can hope that the little warps in the counting will, for the most part, cancel each other out around the country. It’s not a perfect system, but we should be able to live with it.

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A few thoughts about a couple of comments from the Idaho congressional delegation on the prospective impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Note first the fact that this delegation has said as much as it has, which though it isn’t a lot, still makes it one of the more vocal Republican state delegations around the country.

Representative Mike Simpson issued this on September 25: “Democrats have been threatening to impeach President Trump before he was sworn into office. To date, I have seen nothing that warrants impeachment, and there have certainly been ample opportunities to analyze their many accusations during their countless investigations. However, they have their constitutional right to proceed in their relentless endeavor. I, for one, believe the American people deserve more from their elected officials. Our country faces real issues including immigration reform, cyber-security, and funding the federal government for fiscal year 2020 which starts next week, and we should be focused on those things.”

We’ll come back to the substance of the charges, but for now think a second about the “real issues” – which, yes, are real issues – the representative urges Congress to focus on. What he leaves unsaid is: Why can’t Congress go ahead and do those things?

Of course it can, if it chooses. The impeachment-inquiry activity, central a topic of discussion as it may be, is preoccupying the actual work of only a small portion of the House of Representatives – mainly one committee, and peripherally a couple of others – and most of the work of the chamber can and does go on. In the last couple of weeks the Idaho congressional delegation has issued a bunch of press releases outlining its progress and activity on a variety of fronts, from rural lands payments to anti-Semitism, having nothing to do with impeachment. I just attended a town hall meeting held (in another state) by a member of Congress, and impeachment occupied no more than three or four minutes of the hour-long session. If impeachment brings congressional things to a slower grind than usual, that’s not because it has to.

Of course, you have to wonder how much progress the Congress this term would make on many really significant subjects anyway, even if the prospect of impeachment were nowhere in sight.

Simpson naturally is entitled to his read of what does or doesn’t constitute reasonable grounds for impeachment; odds are he (and Representative Russ Fulcher) will get their turn at voting and speaking on that subject sometime in the weeks ahead.

As for addressing the substance, Senator Jim Risch had an excellent suggestion.

In a recent Boise radio interview, he said, “Let me give some advice to your listeners, this is really simple. The Democrats are saying this is terrible, the president is a traitor, and we Republicans say, ‘Get outta here, there’s nothing there there.’ So, look: Don’t take my word for it, I’m a partisan. Don’t take the Democrats’ word for it, they’re partisans. Certainly don’t take the national media’s word for it, they are really partisan, they’re full of hate and vitriol for this guy. Read it yourself. … It’s online, every word. … It’s really easy to read, it’s not legalese or diplomatese. It’s just two people talking. And you can understand it crystal clear and can make up your own mind.”

Spot on. The core of what you need to see is right there in the official documents which are neither long nor hard to read and, as the senator suggested, easy to find with your nearest search engine. Such as the request from the American president saying, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great” – the request in essence that a foreign government conduct oppo research on one of the American president’s political opponents.

Of course, we could add to the must-read list a few must-views that also make up original source material, such as the Thursday press conference President Trump held in which he publicly asked the government of China, with which he and this country have a troubled relationship, to do the same as he asks of Ukraine, or his press event with the leader of Finland.

Checking out the original source materials on all this is my preferred approach, and I recommend it over whatever the talking heads have to say. Senator Risch was exactly right about that.

We can all multi-task. And we should.
 

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If you don’t like what a politician says, a quick response (and sometimes the only one) is to decry their statement as politically motivated. Or attach the phrase to a policy, or a criminal prosecution, or a smear, or …
The purpose of saying so is to cast a sense of distrust on the statement or action. But what does it mean?

Look first at motivation.

The site Business Jargons calls that word (in a not-unusual definition among dictionaries) “a driving force which affects the choice of alternatives in the behavior of a person.”1 I chose a business-oriented source for the word because the study of motivation is so central to modern business activity. (One book on my shelf is Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, by Paco Underhill.) Successful and modern businesses know a lot about our motivations, sometimes a scary lot. But they keep researching, because there’s always much more to learn; they’re smart enough to know they never know all about what motivates us – and what might motivate us to buy from them.

There is, of course, the motivation to fulfill basic needs (shelter, food, water, and so on). One report suggests motivation can be split into inside and outside factors: “intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation.
Intrinsic motivation states that people are motivated by internal rewards like fulfillment and contentment. Conversely, extrinsic motivation states that people are motivated by external rewards like a bonus or raise as well as negative external factors like getting fired.”

In any one life, many things are going on, and for any person (even a politician) the cross-currents can run unpredictably. We may jump to a conclusion about why a person did a particular thing, but the truth is that we often don’t know perfectly clearly why we ourselves do some of the things we do. That complexity is what keeps whole economic consulting businesses in business: There’s a lot we don’t know.

Why did a politician do X? We can guess. They can proclaim. But the answer may be hard to determine conclusively.

Was something done with the motivation of gaining some advantage in a political situation? Maybe.

Prove it.

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