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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Compassion and Foregiveness

When I got word of the arrest of Idaho State Senator John McGee, I was elated. McGee and I have had a less than civil history, mostly due to his insistence on being a jerk to me without missing an opportunity. My elation was undeniable and my wife ate my lunch and pointed out that my reaction said more about my character than his. She was right and I was wrong.

As much I have personally disliked McGee, I am sorrowful that these events have occurred. No one deserves this and it really shouldn't be wished on anyone. I for one feel sorry for his wife and kids the most. However, I also feel bad for him. He may have some flaws, but we all do.

As a Christian, I desire what is best not what is worst. I have made many mistakes in my own life and I really wouldn't want to be dragged through the mud for them. McGee will get what is coming to him politically, that is just the way it goes. Still, I hope that some sort of healing can take place and perhaps everyone involved will be better for it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Future of the WAC

Brian Murphy of the Idaho Statesman reported today that the WAC would be adding Seattle University as another non-football playing member. To set the record straight, I believe that Karl Benson is a phenomenal commissioner. I think that he has done a great job for the WAC and shown his fighting spirit. With that said, the WAC is in big trouble, but its not really Benson's fault.

While the WAC was able secure a bowl tie-in with the H-Bowl for another year, this is really not anything to be too proud of. Yes, the H-Bowl is fun for those of us in Boise, but it isn't really a destination bowl. The recent H-Bowl games have been very competitive and exciting games, but there isn't any guarantee that'll continue. Point is, H-Bowl ain't gonna save the WAC.

With so few football playing schools in the WAC (post-2012) you have to start wonder about the viability of the conference from a football perspective. I have no doubt that it could continue to operate and have a degree of success as football-less conference, especially given the strength of Utah State and others in men's basketball. However, the role of the football-less western-US conference is being pretty well occupied by the Big West and West Coast Conferences.

Add to this the fact that LA Tech will continue to be even more pressured to move to a more regionally appropriate conference with the economic realities facing state budgets, including in Louisiana. The Sun Belt or Conference USA would be a much better fit and I don't think that is debatable.

I don't think it is unreasonable to foresee a future where the MWC poaches the last couple above average programs from WAC (namely USU and maybe San Jose State) and the reality starts to set in even more deeply. If that happens, it probably isn't unreasonable to see the remaining western schools (assuming that LA Tech has bailed, which they will) to merge with the Big West and form a super basketball conference.

Where does that leave the remaining football playing schools? Well, the U of I will be in a tough spot. The experiment in the Sun Belt a few years ago was a disaster and not going to be repeated. Vandal alums are very reluctant to return to the Big Sky, despite the fact it may be the best post-WAC alternative. NMSU and the Texas schools will likely find a new home someplace more regionally appropriate as well.

This is all speculation, but the fact is that the WAC, as it will be comprised in 2012, won't be viable or financially solvent for very long. Unless something else happens (like the MWC getting raided by a new PAC-16), there isn't much likelihood that the future will be as bright as the once bright past of the WAC.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Redistricting Recap

On Tuesday the Idaho Redistricting Commission assembled. I watched nearly the entirety of the festivities from home via Idaho Public TV streaming video and in the afternoon in-person at the Capitol. On Tuesday evening I also attended the public hearing, which was quite fascinating especially when juxtaposed with the public hearing in Caldwell the next evening.

The hearing in Boise was lightly attended. There were a few lobbyists in attendance and few other unrecognizable observers. Beyond that there was a handful of Democratic operative-types, including House Minority Caucus Chair, Brian Cronin. On the Republican side, there were a few as well, including former GOP Ada County Commissioner, Fred Tilman. However, beyond a couple of Ada County Democrats testifying and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, there really weren't any "partisans" there to speak. In fact, not a single partisan Republican spoke up.

Compare that with the event in Caldwell the following night where the GOP were out in force. They made many demands upon the Commission, including keeping districts in-place for current legislators, which by the way is totally against the law. While some people, including Caldwell Mayor Garrett Nancolas (through a letter), requested that city districts be created, there was a sense that the GOP as a party did not support such a plan. More on the city versus county debate later.

Another interesting voice came from that of Boise Chamber VP Ray Stark. He advocated for Ada County have nine full districts within confines of the county. Not a bad idea if you live in Ada County (which I do). However, he did have a map, which I couldn't see, so maybe his "plan" isn't as good as the overall idea. That said, he also addressed the issue of Congressional reapportionment. He said that the Chamber supports simply moving the line in Ada County further west in order to pick up more population. This is where Ray and I disagree. The fact is that there is absolutely no reason to divide Ada County. While it has been done in the past, doing so again would, as I've stated before, simply be political maneuvering with the intent of minimizing the impact of Ada County (and the City of Boise) in any one Congressional District. I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised that if Ada County is divided once again that it results in a lawsuit.

As for drawing maps, it was reported by Dan Popkey that GOP Commission Chairman Evan Frasure had done some doodling of his own and shared it on the Maptitude server. What he likely didn't know was that doing so attached your name to the shared plan, not just the name of the plan itself. As disclosure, I saw his map and saved a copy of it just in case, which turned out to important as you'll read in a sec. Popkey went on to report that Commish Frasure's snafu was unintentional (or so he says) and asked for it to be removed. Unfortunately for Commish Frasure, the cow was out of the barn. The map has been re-uploaded by another user and has been titled in such a way to let other users know who the original author was.

Taking a bit closer look at Commish Frasure's map, which had been derided by a couple of testifiers at the public hearing on Tuesday in Boise, you can understand why. There were literally over a dozen examples where Commish Frasure chose to cross county boundaries to connect legislative districts rather than try to complete the entire district within one county. Most egregious (from a Boise perspective) was the decision to take the Boise Highlands, Warms Springs Mesa, and Harris Ranch precincts into Boise COUNTY.

This gets me back to the debate of cities versus counties. While Ada County Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane pointed out on Tuesday in the public hearing the city boundaries move, the fact is that cities represent the ultimate, "community of interest." Maintaining communities of interest is supposed to be one of the highest priorities of the redistricting process, behind not dividing counties needlessly and most importantly having equal population. Taking part of the City of Boise and moving it into Boise County makes no sense, especially when it isn't necessary. Urban and suburban areas are unique and have very different cultures than the rural communities. That is why places like Caldwell, which according to the last Census was right around the 45,000 mark for population and also happens to be the target population for a legislative district, should be a district in and of itself.

There will be more to come, but the fireworks have started.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Pay to Play Brought to You By the Tea Party

If you have a student-athlete in the Meridian School District, make sure you tell the next Tea Party Patriot you see, "THANK YOU!" Thank you, for forcing my family to pay $100 for my middle or high school student to participate in athletics. You see, thanks to the Tea Party and Austin Hill stridently opposing the recent school bond levy election, the District is being forced to adopt a Pay to Play scheme in order to maintain its school sports.

There is nothing more patriotic then telling the poor kid he can't play middle school football because his mom and/or dad can't afford to fork out the dough. After all, elitism and exclusivity is the American Way! Just think, if you have a family with four students between 6th and 12th grade and each of your students play a sport in the fall and in the spring, you'll be lucky enough to pay $800! That's a bargain compared to the $25 the levy would have cost!

Now, Austin Hill and the Tea Party Patriots, as great as they are, don't deserve all the credit! No way! Our wonderful Anti-Education Legislature definitely should be given a nice slap on the back for a job well done. Instead of taking advantage of numerous alternatives to raise revenue without raising taxes they knew, in their infinite wisdom, that the best solution was pass the buck. So again, THANK YOU!

Alright... I'm done being snarky. Seriously though, pay to play? Yeah, its come to that in Meridian. Its a shame.

Monday, June 6, 2011

MWC Logo Redesign and BSU's Real Goal

Today the Mountain West Conference revealed a redesign to it's logo. Apparently the new logo has earned plenty of criticism. I for one think it is okay. Not really an upgrade from the old one, but not a downgrade either. It is probably appropriate to have a new one considering the amount of change in membership the conference is going to experience in the next few years.

BSU President Bob Kustra seemed to be tickled to be finally realizing his goal of getting BSU into the MWC when asked for comments today. He kept saying it was his goal all along and he couldn't be happier. I don't think that is true. I think President Kustra could be much happier. While the MWC is an upgrade for BSU athletically and academically, it isn't where BSU hopes to live out the rest of its days. While BSU would likely be more enthusiastic about the future of the MWC if Utah, BYU, and TCU (in 2012) hadn't decided to bail the fact is that BSU never planned to stay forever.

With the MWC, BSU gets the benefit of better regional competition and a better perceived visibility. I actually think that as long as the MWC has the awful TV deal it has, BSU is going to have lost on that part. That said, the WAC will likely have to renegotiate its TV contract soon with the departure of BSU and then Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State (more on the future of the WAC in a future post). If Craig Thompson, MWC Commish, is smart, which he is, he'll try to his best get the MWC in the same sort of spot in the ESPN lineup as the very capable Commish Karl Benson did for the WAC. Some people are calling the MWC, WAC 2.0. They may be right, but WAC 1.0 was good for BSU and there is little doubt the new version will be any worse.

Now, as I've been saying the MWC or WAC 2.0, whatever you wanna call it is an upgrade, but its not the destination. It is like stopping in Prosser on your drive to Seattle from Boise. Yeah, it has lots of nice things to offer, but you wouldn't want to be stuck there. BSU wants to make it to Seattle as a conference member of the PAC 12 (16). Becoming a member of the PAC 12 is the real goal. Doing so achieves many things that BSU desires. It gives them more credibility than any success in the MWC could ever earn. Most importantly, it finally puts BSU as the indisputable leader of the State of Idaho's public post-secondary institutions. The Vandals will never be PAC 12 caliber. This would be the final step and it can't come soon enough to those of us BSU alums that had to grow up listening to our U of I neighbors and friends put down little BJC. If BSU gets invited to PAC 12, and at some point it will, BSU will not just be the little engine that could, but it'll become the little engine that did.

America's Trade Defecit is Obvious to Nine Year-Old

My nine year-old son Nicholas is off of school so he is hanging out with me at the office this morning. He just said something pretty insightful. I was showing him the kind of work I do and was taking him through a report that I had written for a client of my market research business (Rational Strategy Consulting). One of the questions asked about what factors we use when we buy our vehicles. He said what he thought was important (first thing he said was fuel economy) and then I went through some other factors people mentioned. He asked me what I thought and I told him I think it is very important to have a domestically produced vehicle because it helps Americans have jobs. He said, "Yeah, a lot of stuff comes from China. Like all of my toys. Everytime I have a toy I flip it over and it says made in China. So I guess that means they are getting all the jobs." Couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

200,000

Yesterday I was on Facebook and read something that struck me as pretty major. According to a post on the Reject Luna Laws Facebook page, they collected over 200,000 verified signatures. That is A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. While my friend, Dennis Mansfield, is taking this as an opportunity to bash the IEA, I think it says a lot more about the pathetic excuse for education reform better known as "Student's Come First" than it does the power (or lack thereof) of the IEA.

Getting 200,000 signatures from people in Idaho to do anything is a feat in and of itself. I know people that would have signed, but never got the chance. The Statesman Editorial Board says that it won't be a slam dunk. They are right. It won't be. What it will be is the single most important issue of the 2012 election cycle. I invite the Idaho GOP to use its power to align itself as pro-Students Come First in hopes it can kill the referendum. I hope they do so because when moderates and independents get burned by the fact they aren't welcome in the GOP primary in May their arrogance and cavalierly support of Student Come First will be the final straw in November. You reap what you sow.

You can take that to the bank.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Changes in Education

Quick little post... Today my wife, a sixth grade teacher in the Meridian School District, received proof that the grandfathering of continue contracts in the "Students Come First" legislation was pretty much worthless. Due to the failed levy from last month, the school district is going to have to RIF about 100 teachers. In an email to my wife (and likely every other teacher) was informed that all teachers would be given RIF numbers (I guess like draft numbers from the military). The numbers are assigned based upon scores on evaluations the teachers received in their last formal evaluation. In other words, bad eval, low RIF number, good eval, high RIF number. Seems fair enough, but what if the teacher was just having a bad day? Plus, it doesn't sound like any teachers actually knew that evaluations would have that sort of impact. That sort of lack of transparency really calls into question the fairness and efficacy of using that sort of standard. More on this later...

Redistricting here we come!

While most "normal" people probably don't have much clue or desire to care the reality is that all across the country the single most important event of the decade (from political and policy perspectives) is beginning: the redrawing of legislative and congressional district boundaries.

Why is it so important? Because the way lines are drawn has a significant and direct impact on who may be elected to state legislatures or Congress. In many states, the job is left up to the legislature. In Idaho, the job is left up to a citizen's commission comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats. Kudos to Idaho's political leaders from the 1990's that sought out the change and Idahoans embracing it in the form a constitutional amendment. Often times this exercise devolves into a political battle of the most ugly display. As has been reported, Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) knows that his Republican dominated Ohio Legislature is going to cut out his district. A sa result he has been soliciting offers form OTHER STATES so he can continue to serve in Congress. Regardless of how you feel about Congressman Kucinich the fact is that redistricting will have a real impact on the makeup of Congress when his district is essentially eliminated (more accurately absorbed by other districts).

To get local, Idaho's redistricting process, which officially starts on June 6, should provide as much intrigue. Some have suggested it is impossible for Democrats in Boise to maintain the number of viable districts as we currently have. To backup their claims they point to the fact that all of the growth in Ada County has been in the more conservative west and all the Boise districts need to gain population. True, true. To fix this they simply move the more competitive legislative districts west and then they become solid GOP. Okay, that is one solution. However, I have personally seen maps drawn where Boise Dems can stay as competitive in as many districts as they currently are after redistricting. The question will become what is more important? The two competing interests appear to be maintaining communities of interest versus adding population for population's sake.

For example, in the legislative district I was honored to represent, District 18, the district was mostly out of the precincts are in the Southeast Neighborhood Association (SENA). Having a SENA district makes sense because by definition neighborhood associations are communities of interest. I've heard ruminations that District 18 may just shifted further west to add the population it needs (around 5000 people). That would work, but it would really undermine the community of interest argument because District 18, at heart, is a Southeast Boise district. I can tell you that the folks in the western precincts don't feel like they belong and frankly, they don't.

There is also this continuing assumption that the congressional district lines in Idaho will simply shift slight west somewher in Ada County. To put a fine point on it, the convectional wisdom has been the line which currently bisects Ada County more or less down Cole Road, will move to around Eagle Road to add the necessary population. I've always thought cutting Ada County and Boise in half was clearly a political stunt intended to decrease the power of Boise Dems. A recent discussion with a conserviate Boise blogger confirmed that was his opinion as well. The question I keep asking is, "why do you have to cut Ada County at all?" The answer, clearly, is you don't. I recently saw a map drawn by someone that I don't know on the Maptitude software being used by the redistricting commission. The proposed map cut the state of Idaho north to south rather than east to west. The map called it Desert District versus Mountain District. Regardless of the political outcome of the districts, the way the map looked made a lot more sense than the current map. Of course the GOP would never go for this plan because it would put too many south Idaho cities in the same district and that, at some point, could be trouble.

Anyway, I could go on for hours, but I've probably said enough. Needless to say, I'll be watching very closely. I will attend all the meetings that I can with laptop at bay and snarky comment in queue. Thanks for reading.