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Columns
Other view: Put Yucca Mountain to work

This editorial appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post:

Energy Secretary Rick Perry traveled to Capitol Hill last month, asking Congress for $28 billion in funding for everything from nuclear weapons to clean-coal research. Yet one of the most controversial elements in his department’s budget proposal was a request for a relatively tiny $120 million—to restart work on Nevada’s Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage site.

Congress decided in the 1980s that Yucca was to be the permanent home of the country’s large and increasing pile of spent nuclear fuel. In a forbidding desert landscape about 100 miles outside Las Vegas, the site would appear to be an ideal choice for an unbreachable underground vault. The federal government spent more than $15 billion studying the place. Just a couple of years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission found that the facility would be technically sound, considering everything from seismic activity to accidental human intrusion, on time scales of up to a million years. Locals in Nye County, which would stand to benefit from employment related to the site, are on board.

But practically everyone else in Nevada opposes the Yucca project, and state leaders have waged a so-far successful not-in-my-back-yard campaign, even though federal law is clear that the site is to be the nation’s nuclear waste storehouse. The state has denied the Energy Department the water rights it would need to build the depository. For years, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., successfully blocked funding for its development, with the help of President Barack Obama, who made an exception for swing-state Nevada from his pledge to run a science-based administration.

With Reid and Obama both retired, the Trump administration and GOP leaders are trying to revive the project. Work is furthest along in the House, where a bill jump-starting Yucca’s approval is advancing quickly. Yet it faces a tough road: Nevada’s congressional delegation will fight it tooth-and-nail.

It’s past time the opposition was sidelined for good. The nation’s nuclear regulators have found that technical hurdles can be overcome; the biggest barriers to developing the site are political. Congress should re-fund Yucca Mountain and finally end this gratuitous fight.


Columns
Other view: Americans generally view Trump's presidency as below average

About a month after Donald Trump won the election that earned him the right to be the 45th president of the United States, Fox News ran a poll in which it set some expectations. How will history judge a Trump presidency, it asked: Above average? Below?

The results broke out fairly cleanly by party. About three-quarters of Republicans figured that he would be considered above average. About three-quarters of Democrats, below. The gap in the expectations by party was wider than for any other recent president. Only 10 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Republicans figured he would be average. Among independents, 39 percent figured he’d be subpar.

In that context, the new Washington Post-ABC News poll released Sunday offers bad news for President Trump. Sure, we still found a wide partisan split, with more than three-quarters of Democrats viewing Trump’s job performance as worse than most past presidents (including a staggering 62 percent saying it’s much worse). But only 57 percent of Republicans said he’s doing better than average—including 43 percent saying he’s doing much better.

Trump is meeting Democrats’ low expectations, it seems, more than he’s meeting Republicans’ high ones.

Overall, half the country thinks he’s performing worse than most past presidents, with nearly 4 in 10 saying he’s doing much worse. Twenty-three percent of Americans say he’s doing better.

Broadly, answers to this question map to job approval, in that Democrats think Trump’s doing a poor job and Republicans a good one. But this also tracks enthusiasm, to some extent: Republicans may approve of the job he’s doing, but nearly a third, 30 percent, think it’s about the same as other past presidents.

That same gap appears by ideology, too. The conservative Republicans who are critical to Trump’s political stability are much, much more likely than Democrats to say that he’s doing better than past presidents. But the partisans at the other end of the political spectrum view him much more negatively compared with past presidents than conservative Republicans view him positively: 86 percent of them say he’s worse than other presidents, including 7 in 10 who describe Trump as much worse.

Trump’s presidency depends to a large extent on robust support from white men and women without college degrees, who flocked to support his candidacy in a way that they hadn’t done with the GOP candidate four years earlier.

Among those Americans, though, reviews are mixed. White men without college degrees view Trump’s tenure most favorably in comparison to past presidents, with about 4 in 10 saying he’s doing better than presidents in the past. The remainder are split between doing the same and doing worse. A bit more than 4 in 10 white women without degrees, though, see him as doing worse.

When asked how Trump’s doing in achieving his goals, though, something interesting happens. A majority of Americans say he’s not making much progress toward accomplishing his goals. But the expected partisan split here is more even. A bit less than three-quarters of Democrats say he isn’t making much progress; a bit less than three-quarters of Republicans say he is.

The belief that he’s making real progress is high among conservative Republicans, as you might expect: Within that group, 80 percent think he’s making headway. It’s not as high among white evangelical Christians, with 55 percent of that group saying he’s making significant progress.

That core group of Trump’s support, white men without college degrees, is also the only group in which a majority thinks he’s making significant progress in achieving his goals. In every other breakdown of education and gender among white voters, more think he’s not making significant progress than think he is.

The implication? Americans are skeptical of the dealmaker in chief’s ability to get the job done so far, with the exception of his core base of support.

More broadly, though, that base is less likely to see him as an exceptionally good president than his opponents are to see him as exceptionally bad. For other presidents, being seen by his base of support as simply getting the job done would probably be enough. For Trump? He may not have a choice but to accept that humbler verdict.


Columns
Stapilus: Changes near and specific, distant and general

In a state legislature of 105 people, the shift or departure of only a few key people can make a big difference. And with a couple of recent announcements, the Idaho Legislature may change in the next couple of years more than it has in upwards of a decade.

The majority leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives has been remarkably stable — static? — for a long time; the players hardly ever change. In this millennium, the Senate has had but two top leaders (pro tems) — longevity unprecedented in the Idaho Senate’s history. The position of Senate majority leader has been even more stable: Since 2003, that job has been held by Idaho Falls Sen. Bart Davis. Next session, assuming his (highly likely) confirmation by the U.S. Senate, he will leave to become Idaho’s U.S. attorney.

That means a shift in Senate leadership, and depending on how that goes the majority caucus could wind up sounding more ideological than it has. Davis has been a cooler personality, and has been something of a cooling factor in the Senate. With his departure, that governor may be gone, or at least be diminished.

Last week came another major change in a legislative long-timer when Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint announced her legislative retirement. She is co-chair of the legislature’s budget-writing panel (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee), and while she’s relatively new to the chairmanship, she was co-chair for a long time before. (Keough is in her 11th term in the Senate.) With the prospective retirement next year as well of the veteran House co-chair, Maxine Bell of Jerome, the budget committee will see some significant leadership shifts in the 2019 session.

The budget panel long has been a place for the ideological and the pragmatic to do battle—there’s never a place better to do that than on a field of money. For years, and for most of its history, JFAC has been run primarily by pragmatists. (Dean Cameron, now the state director of the Department of Insurance, was for many years Keough’s predecessor at Senate Finance.) But while the chairmanship of JFAC usually goes to the next most senior member, you can never be entirely sure of that.

And chairmanships, like other committee memberships, are determined by the Senate and House leaders. The departure of Davis in the Senate could unleash some pent-up agitation and frustration, and the possibility of serious leadership contests after the next election, of a sort more intense than the Statehouse has seen in quite a few years, is a live possibility.

And there’s one more change coming around the bend: A new Idaho governor, after a dozen years.

Probably a Brad Little governorship would not in itself lead to drastic changes at the Legislature. However, a win by U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador (himself a former Idaho House member) or businessman Tommy Ahlquist could have all kinds of impacts. If one of them wins the Republican nomination many Republicans, including many legislative Republicans, are likely to read that as an overturning of the GOP establishment. And that in turn could accelerate leadership challenges and contests unlike any Idaho has seen for a while.

Things are shaking up.


Mailbag
Letter: Thanks for keeping Craters safe

Thanks for keeping Craters safe

Craters of the Moon, “where nothing meets the eye but desolation and awful waste, where no grass grows, nor water runs, and where nothing is to be seen but lava”. This is the description given by Washington Irving for what is now Craters of the Moon National Monument created in 1924 by President Calvin Coolidge through the Antiquities Act.

Today, the Antiquities Act and the national monuments created by it are being debated. What is not debatable and what is amazing to me is this so-viewed waste. Craters receives over 240,000 visits annually, maintains 130 local jobs, and generates about $8.4 million of economic activity.

Recently, I and may others, wrote to Gov. Otter and Sen. Crapo to seek their assistance in convincing Secretary Zinke to protect Craters as a monument. As part of this effort, I clearly explained why I was opposed to the removal of Craters of the Moon’s status as a national monument or reducing its size. As I told them, there is no reduction option that would generate a better return on investment.

I am proud to say they heard us, they worked with us and supported us. As Idahoans, we worked together and Secretary Zinke listened and agreed. It is wonderful to me that this process took place and our elected officials were approachable, supportive and diligent. To them I say thank you for your service to our state, and to our nation. I hope you know how much I, and thousands of other Idahoans appreciate you.

Merrill Beyeler

Leadore