The luckiest man

The nice thing about writing a blog is I can say whatever is on my mind. I don’t know how many people read this, or what people think. I suppose some people agree and others would prefer that I eat a plate of nails – and the plate itself, just to wash down the nails.

Regardless, I enjoy this little forum to say what’s on my mind and exercise my First Amendment rights. It’s good therapy. I get pissed off at things from time to time; politics and some of what I read in newspapers give me more than enough material.

Well, today, nothing that anybody can say or do will piss me off. Give me your best shot, Democrats, Republicans and political commentators. It isn’t going to work.

To borrow from the great Lou Gehrig in 1939, Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. But not as lucky as I will be tomorrow, the next day and every day after that.

After years of struggle, my vision is back! I mean all the way back! When I get my next pair of glasses, I will have the eyesight of people half my age. It’s going to be about 20/25 in my left eye and 20/30 in my right. Not bad for a guy 60 years old. Heck, that’s pretty good for people who have never had diabetes.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking I have beaten diabetes. I imagine someday that disease is going to hammer me over the head as it did with the late, great, David Broder. But right now, I feel as if I have the lead at halftime. Yeah, team!

Those who know me are aware of struggles with my eyesight. On a December day in 2003, I went into the Statesman office and informed my friend and colleague, Kevin Richert, that I would not see well enough to read letters to the editor. Minutes later, the director of human resources gave me this life-saving advice: “Chuck, go home and get well.”

It wasn’t easy, but I’ve done just that. At its worst, my vision was somewhere around 20/200 in one eye and 20/70 in the other. I could barely make out the big “E” on top of the eye chart and the second line was unreadable.

Over the years, I’ve gone through multiple laser procedures, and the vision improved substantially. A few years ago, I had eye surgery that put my vision at about 20/30 in both eyes and enjoyed that until last fall when my left eye slipped to 20/60. Uh, oh. Here we go again.

That was not the case, thank goodness. My doctor spotted some cataracts in my left eye, they were removed three weeks ago and yesterday I got a clean bill of health, and a new prescription.

 How lucky can a person get?

 But I won’t attribute all this all to luck. Peyton Manning is not a great quarterback because he’s lucky; he’s had a great offensive line blocking for him. Kobe Bryant doesn’t win NBA championships on his own. And I am convinced I’ve had a higher power in my corner.

 Almost a year after the leaving the Statesman, I had a five-way bypass surgery – something else from which I have fully recovered. The third day after surgery, I was feeling about as low as I have ever felt and ended up asking a chaplain to come to my room.

 The chaplain suggested I silently say a prayer – maybe the most simple prayer of all time. “Jesus, please heal me. Jesus, please heal me.”

 Well … the depression was gone and hasn’t been back since. Sure, I’ve had good and bad days like everybody else, but not to the level it was after my surgery.

 I cannot logically explain why my health has turned around so dramatically, other than to say a higher power has been on my side. For whatever the reason – probably to the dismay of people I tick off in these blogs – Jesus keeps healing me.

 That’s why I am the luckiest man on the face of this earth.

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Read their lips: More taxes

The battle cry for House Republicans during the last election campaign was clear: “Read my lips, No New Taxes.”

 Sorry, wrong election. That line came from George H. Bush in his only successful campaign for the presidency in the 1980s. You remember what happened after that. He caved on that promise, and became a one-term president.

 Idaho House Republicans made a similar pledge during last year’s campaign. A few of them might have even used these words: “Nope, we ain’t gonna raise no taxes. We got too much gubberment as it is and teachers can go out and get a real job if they don’t like it.”

 You know where I’m going with this. House Republicans caved. And they took away, of all things, the grocery tax credit – the one saving grace for all the people who have lost jobs, or otherwise fallen on hard times.

 Nice work, all you hypocrites who voted to pull the plug.

 Now that these “conservatives” have taken this one small step toward higher taxation, maybe they could look at other sources. The Statesman suggests the $1.7 billion in sales tax exemptions. Sure, why not? Let’s repeal all of them.

 How about raising the cigarette taxes? Beer and wine taxes? Soda pop? That stuff’s bad for you, anyway. Write that bill to raise those taxes and we can call it the “Idaho Healthcare Act of 2011.”

 If Republicans play it right, Idaho could have plenty of money for public schools, higher education, Medicaid and other services. Heck, maybe they’d even have enough to build a gymnasium for the legislators.

 I can hardly wait for these CIROs (Conservatives in Rhetoric Only) explain all this at the next Tea Party rally.

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Where’s the love?

Did you happen to see that wonderful game at Boise State’s Taco Bell Arena the other night – the one that the Broncos won on a buzzer beater?

 If you did, then you were one of the few. No, it was not the “Big Dance,” nor was it even the National Invitational Tournament. But it was post-season basketball (the College Basketball Invitation), it did match up two very fine 20-win teams, and they put on a heck of a show. The problem is, a pathetic 2,648 fans bothered to attend.

 With all the empty seats, the arena had more of a feel of primary elections than March Madness. The attendance was an insult to Leon Rice, who has done an excellent job in his first year at BSU, and the players who have played their guts out this season. What in the world do these fans want?

 There’s definitely a problem at Boise State – more with the heart of the supporters than what you see on the court. The problem is lack of love. People don’t LOVE Boise State University. They LOVE Coach Pete, undefeated football teams, wearing school colors and Fiesta Bowls, but they don’t LOVE the university.

 If you want to see LOVE, go to the University of Oregon, the University of Washington or Washington State. For that matter, go to the University of Idaho. Alumni and students will run through fire to support those universities. At Boise State, it’s ho-hum, unless ESPN’s “Gameday” crew comes to town.

 The other day, I was visiting with a friend who bleeds Bronco Blue – but only during the football season. I brought up the basketball team, and the light went off.

 “My feeling is that, in this economy, if teams can’t pay their way through revenue from tournaments, then they shouldn’t even participate.”

 In other words, Boise State should have football and nothing else. Judging by the overall lack of support for college basketball here, it wouldn’t be surprising if quite a few Bronco fans shared the same sentiment.

 That’s what you can expect from a fan base that does not LOVE the university. BSU might as well implode the Taco Bell Arena and move the games to Qwest Arena. A crowd of 2,648 wouldn’t look so embarrassingly bad there.

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Democrats’ new star

Governor Brian Cronin.

 I kind of like the looks of that, at least from the standpoint of a Democratic candidate who could run an interesting race in Idaho’s otherwise predictable gubernatorial elections.

 The Boise state representative has a lot to offer. He’s young, bright and articulate. He works hard, asks good questions and is well respected in the Legislature.

 At age 40, he is in the prime of his life – a refreshing contrast from the 60-something people coming from the Republican side.

 Voters could expect Cronin to be an aggressive advocate for education, as he has been with his opposition to Supt. Tom Luna’s education-reform proposals. If those who have been so vocal in opposition to Luna’s plan rallied behind Cronin, he’d have a fighting chance.

 Cronin would have his share of challenges. He’d have to convince Idahoans that it is in their best interest to add one or two cents to the sales tax for education; to eliminate tax exemptions; to raise beer and wine taxes for Medicaid; to add a few cents to the gas tax for roads; and maybe even to find creative ways to “tax the rich.”

 One thing is for sure, Cronin would have the full support of the Statesman’s editorial board – no need to even do interviews. The glowing profile on the front page offers a clue. By reading the profile, you’d think that the guy is without flaws. And here was the headline that would make any politician proud: “Boise Democrat gives voice to the frustrated.”

 I imagine that, as a whole, the media would be friendly toward a Cronin candidacy. He has a personality that connects well with people, and that plays well with the media. As an adviser to former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady, Cronin probably has a good idea about what works and what doesn’t on the campaign trail.

 With the next election three years out, don’t expect announcements anytime soon. But it’s not too early for him to be thinking about it, and I hope he does. Except for Congressman Raul Labrador, there’s a lot of old blood in Idaho politics. It’s time for people in their 40s, or younger, to step forward.

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How soon they forget

Pretend for a moment that the 2010 election did not happen and Idaho voters did not send a message. Pretend that Republicans did not make gains to their already overwhelming majority in the Idaho Legislature. Pretend there is once ounce of validity to Boise State University’s phony public-policy survey.

 You have now entered the make-believe world of two leading revisionists, the Idaho Statesman and Democrat Rep. Brian Cronin of Boise.

 The headline in the Statesman’s editorial today screams, “We won’t pay for education? Says who?”

 In a forum with State Supt. Tom Luna on Thursday, Cronin said the Legislature needs to look at new sources for revenue, such as increasing the sales tax or “sin taxes.”

 Cronin doesn’t get it. In the eyes of the Legislature, and the overwhelming majority of Idahoans who voted them in, any tax increase is a sin. He pointed to Boise State’s joke of a survey as evidence that Idahoans support spending money (raising taxes) for education.

 The Statesman correctly points out that voters in a number of school districts, large and small, have approved school levies. That, according to the Statesman, is rock-solid evidence that there is a groundswell of support for higher taxes on the state level.

 “… the takeaway point was clear. Even in trying times and even when school districts’ sole recourse is to collect levies on the always unpopular property tax – Idahoans are generally willing to dig into their wallets.”

 Really? Of course, the Statesman ignores that the elections were held on March 8, and not November when most people vote. Sure, the stakeholders had their say and patrons will be stuck with higher taxes. But the results of a March 8 election have as much validity as BSU’s public-policy survey.

 About the only thing that legislators can look back on for guidance are the results of the November election – when voters sent a crystal-clear message: Hold the line on spending and no new taxes.

 That’s what Republicans pledged to do during the campaign, and they are delivering on that promise today.

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There are limites to what government can do

The safety net is gone and compassion has left the building.

 There was a lot of heart-wrenching testimony yesterday about the harm that is sure to come if the Legislature saws off $120 million for Medicaid. Many people with disabilities will go untreated, creating insurmountable financial burdens for them and their families. Without treatment, many others will die.

 But the harsh reality is this: Government can’t do anything about it in a practical sense. More precisely, the Idaho Legislature isn’t going to do anything about it.

 It’s time to accept the that government cannot solve all problems, or cure all ills. Individuals and families, who have depended on government assistance for so long, will have to figure out other ways. Churches and nonprofit organizations are going to have to step it up even more. Individuals will have to donate more time and money to help the disabled, as an alternative to feeding government coffers with more tax dollars.

 It’s easy to label legislators as being “heartless” for making such draconian cuts. That’s not the case at all.

 Even the most conservative legislators will agree that providing a “safety net” for the most vulnerable citizens is a legitimate role for government. The problem is, there’s only so much Idaho can spend on Medicaid and only so much Idaho can spend on the Health and Welfare Department programs. Idaho isn’t the only state that is forced to make these kinds of cuts.

 Corey Taule, the opinion page editor of the Post Register in Idaho Falls, offers a constructive solution: Raise the cigarette tax by $1.25 per pack. Raise the taxes on beer, wine and soda pop.

 Nice thought, but it’s not going to happen during this session or anytime soon. The correct solution is this: Do the best with what you have. That’s what legislators are trying to do.

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Nosedive continues for higher ed

As much as it pains me to agree with my good friend Kevin Richert of the Idaho Statesman … the newspaper’s Sunday editorial about higher education cuts outlined the problem very well.

 The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, treating higher education like an ugly stepchild of state government, recommended slashing $76 million in funding.

 That means another year of higher fees for students (and parents), and deeper cuts in education programs at the institutions of higher learning. That means Idaho will move one step closer to mediocrity in our higher education system.

 If this scenario plays out much longer, “mediocrity” will be replaced by “plum lousy.”

 The Statesman asks the right question: “Who champions Idaho higher education, beyond the in-house advocates in university administration?”

 That’s the problem, folks. The people paying the closest attention to high education are academic bureaucrats who are the most interested in turf protection.

 A good place to start in untangling this mess is to create a state higher education system – where purpose and priorities are clearly defined. We’re fooling ourselves if we think that Idaho can continue to fully fund three universities and a four-year college – as the state has tried to do over the last 40 years.

 Kevin Richert and I probably won’t reach the same conclusion, but I think we agree on this point: Something has to give.

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Let’s scrap primary elections

Problem: About 80 percent of registered voters in Idaho do not vote in primary elections and that percentage probably increase when closed primaries go into effect.

 Problem: I don’t care what any judge rules, party registration is a violation of privacy. Registering as a Democrat is tantamount to registering as a Communist in this state.

 Problem: Who wants to register as a Democrat anyway? Republicans offer the only real action in primary elections.

 Solution: End primary elections and let the parties figure out for how to select their candidates for the general election.

 Instead of going through the motions of primary elections, where only a few participate, put the nominating power in the hands of convention delegates.

 One upside to letting the conventions decide is candidates would not be forced to spend truckloads of money on campaigns that nobody cares about. Another upside is Idaho wouldn’t have to spend taxpayer money to conduct these stupid elections.

 If Idaho can’t draw more than 20-25 percent turnout in primary elections, then this is the election system that Idahoans deserve.

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Luna’s hard lesson

Idahoans are teaching Supt. Tom Luna a lesson in politics that he won’t forget anytime soon, yes sir. Legislators are taking apart his proposed education-reform plan piece by piece, to the delight of the Idaho Education Association, teachers, student protesters and a few editorial writers.

 Yep, that ought to teach him to sneak in a radical proposal like this after an election campaign. He might think about getting rid of any silly notions about running for governor.

 Idahoans spoke, legislators are listening, and the message is this: “We don’t want no changes to our education system.”

 Power to the People!

 So as everybody seems to be dancing on the grave of his proposals, the question becomes: What now?

 The superintendent came into this legislative session telling Idahoans that we must make some dramatic fundamental changes in our educational system to make it fit with our economic conditions and, more importantly, to keep Idaho students competitive. Luna had to know that people wouldn’t like phasing out teacher tenure, merit pay and requiring students to take online classes. But he also knows that the status quo won’t work, either. Gone are the days when the Legislature grants automatic increases in the budget for public schools.

 Idahoans have done a pretty good job talking about what they don’t want, but are falling short in conveying what they do want. There may be talk (from Democrats and a few editorial writers) about a wave of new tax increases to fund education. But don’t hold your breath. The Republican majority, particularly in the House, will never go for it.

 So the ultimate solution in this session is to impose deeper cuts in education and make school districts, teachers and students suffer even more.

 How do ya like that, Tom Luna?

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What do people expect?

Politics 101: If Idahoans elect the same old people to offices, then they should expect the same results.

Remember that, kids, as you storm the Statehouse in protest of education reform proposals. It’s great to see teenagers involved in politics, because Idaho’s future is in their hands. But the places they need to protest are in family rooms and around kitchen tables.

Nothing will change unless Idahoans collectively start caring about elections.

Class dismissed.

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