Archive for July, 2010

Jul 19 2010

What they may be asking him about

Published by under Idaho

kempthorne
Dirk Kempthorne

Tomorrow former Interior Secretary (and former Idaho Governor) Dirk Kempthorne is scheduled to appear before the U.S. House Subcommittees on Oversight and Investigations and Energy and Environment, as one of several witnesses about the subject, “The Role of the Interior Department in the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.”

Since Kempthorne left the Interior Department a year and a half ago, and well more than a year before the BP gulf disaster, you might wonder what he’d have to offer. But bear in mind that decisions, policies and personnel in government agencies can continue generating ripple effects for years after the top dudes depart. And bear in mind what was said and reported about Kempthorne’s tenure at Interior.

This isn’t the first time a spotlight has been shone on the department in those years. Of the results of one 2008 inquiry, Representative Nick Rahall summarized: “The results of this investigation paint a picture of something akin to a secret society residing within the Interior Department that was colluding to undermine the protection of endangered wildlife and covering for one another’s misdeeds.”

But the issues aren’t just generic at Interior; they are also specific at the Minerals Management Service, the division of Interior responsible for overseeing drilling operations like BP’s in the Gulf, and which has come under a great of criticism in the last couple of months.

During Kempthorne’s tenure, which ran for two and a half years up until January 2009, the agency had a string of problems. The New York Times reported this in September 2008 (after he’d been in charge more than two years): “As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct. . . . The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration’s watch.”

The hearing cranks up at 8 a.m. MTN/7 a.m. PAC, tomorrow morning. Might be entertaining.

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Jul 19 2010

This week in the Digests

Published by under Digests

digest
weekly Digest

Congressional campaign finance reports fell hard and heavy toward the end of last week, and they suggest the outlines of the campaign season about to unfold. That may be especially true in Washington, where the primary election is only a few weeks away.

State budgeting (and revenues) remained a big concern during the month, while unemployment remains high everywhere (diminishing a bit in Washington, holding in Oregon).

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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Jul 18 2010

Dudley’s unfolding problem

Published by under Oregon

dudley
Chris Dudley

The problem is somewhat bigger than it first seemed, and it started as a problem. It has sort of unwrapped, getting more pungent.

If you’re Chris Dudley, the Republican nominee for governor of Oregon, your biggest problem is this: You’re untested in public – governmental and elective – life, and questions both about how well informed you are and about how you react to various pressure stimuli are real questions voters and the people who advise them on voting will be considering. Dealing with that concern will be a main thread of the upcoming gubernatorial contest with Democrat John Kitzhaber, whose issues are in other areas: He has broad mastery of the subject matter, and his reactions to various challenges have been documented for a long time.

One way Dudley could spike the problem is by going right at it: Putting himself out there, answering questions, providing detail, exposing himself to the pressures so people can watch him in action. If, that is, he would leave a good impression afterward. There’s the risk of falling on his face, and avoiding the risk is a way of conceding that those problems people wonder about really are, you know, problems.

So far, Dudley has been practicing avoidance. He has been arguing for fewer (and Kitzhaber more) debates. The traditional first one is the summer newspaper publisher’s confab, where since 1986 the party nominees faced off in front of the state’s newspaper reporters. Dudley begged off, saying he had a family vacation to tend to instead.

That sounded pretty weak. And the vacation wasn’t even in Oregon, also not wonderful.

Then it turned out that while in Colorado, Dudley was not just relaxing with the family. Instead of speaking to newspaper publishers in Oregon, he was at Aspen at a Republican governors’ meeting, speaking to the lobbyists and campaign finance people who were there.

As Jeff Mapes of the Oregonian wrote, “When the Dudley campaign declined an offer to debate Kitzhaber before the annual meeting of the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association – which has a more than two-decade-old tradition of holding the first gubernatorial debate of the general election campaign – no mention was made that Dudley would be at another political event.”

That’s not likely to be forgotten. And it raises another dimension to the problem he has to deal with headed into the last three months of the campaign. Kari Chisholm at Blue Oregon outlined it:

“Dudley’s now in a position where every time he tells folks that he has a seemingly-legit schedule conflict, they’re going to wonder: What’s really going on? What’s he really doing? This is no longer just an issue about whether Dudley is willing to answer tough questions from the press and for Oregon voters – though it is still that – it’s now also a more fundamental issue about his credibility and trustworthiness.”

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Jul 18 2010

Review: The last of the Indian wars

Published by under review

trahant

Two subjects here. One is the long-time Washington Senator Henry Jackson, one of the most impactful the region has ever had, and his work with one of his staffers, Forrest Gerard – and we should note here that a lot of the work credited to members of Congress actually gets done by staffers, so that’s a worthy story on its own merits.

The other is the issue at hand: “Termination,” as applied to Indian reservations. As the glossary puts it, termination in the context of Indian reservations means “an end to the special relationship between tribes and the federal government. The idea was to settle claims with tribal governments and then terminate the federal government’s role on reservations. American Indians would then become subject to state laws.”

For someone who likes clear and clean lines of government, the federally-recognized tribes and their reservations are an inconvenience. They fit nowhere in the nation’s federal system, but they’re not – terms of language notwithstanding – realistically independent nations either. (Independent nations controlled by a bureau of the federal government?) A wide range of people have bought into the idea of termination over the years. Of course, if that approach had become law, Indian country would look a lot different now, and surely a lot less prosperous.

Once, Jackson was one of them. He changed his mind, and his work with Gerrard was one of the key levers in that change.

So the new book Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars, written by former Seattle Post-Intelligencer Editorial Page Editor Mark Trahant (and, much further back, former Sho-Ban News editor), tells a story about how a policy – against termination – came to be put in place after an unsteady run through the years, and a story about how Washington works. It’s a solid slice of political storytelling.

It isn’t an entirely dispassionate look at the subject; Trahant is clearly anti-termination. His argument, and compelling, is that ending the federal relationship with the tribes would effectively end their governing structure, and over time – maybe not long time – that would effectively destroy the tribes and native culture. Now, he writes that tribal self-government “is no longer in question. Every tribe, state and federal leader now accepts that framework as a given.”

Wasn’t always that way. Trahant recounts how Congress formally adopted a termination resolution in 1958.

Jackson is one of the main personal reasons for that transition, along with Gerard. For those of us who don’t track Indian issues in Congress closely, it’s an obscure story. This book shows why it should not be.

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Jul 17 2010

War chest reports

Published by under Idaho,Oregon,Washington

The latest congressional campaign reports turned up late last week, and they suggest some contours for the races. Not as absolutes; contrary to widely-held belief, money isn’t all in political campaigns. Less-funded candidates win regularly, and we’ve seen significant cases of that happening in this Northwest this year.

But candidates tend to get funded in relation to their overall support system and in relation to what the money people think is their probability of winning. They’re not perfect predictors, but they’re well worth a look. (And one good place to look is at OpenSecrets.org, where we watch for this data most regularly.) These numbers are as of June 30 reports.

One of the most startling and unexpected disparities in the Northwest is in Idaho’s 1st congressional district, where incumbent Democrat Walt Minnick has raised $1.8 million and has $1.1 million still in the bank. Compare that to his Republican opponent Raul Labrador, who has raised $215,671 but (because of a hot primary in which he was major financial underdog) still has (as of June 30) just $68,788. That kind of disparity with Minnick is an enormous problem for Labrador. Why Republican interests would be leaving him so underfunded at this point is unclear (unless they’re still just mad he won the primary instead of the establishment-preferred candidate). In any case, he could wind up at a fatal disadvantage against Minnick if he doesn’t get a major cash dump quickly.

The numbers in the other two hottest House races in the Northwest are a lot less overwhelming, but they are worth reviewing.

In Oregon 5, incumbent Democrat Kurt Schrader has taken his fundraising seriously, and has $915,356 still on hand. His Republican opponent Scott Bruun – probably the best Republican candidate for any major office this year – is way behind on money, with just $178,356 on hand. This should be Oregon’s most competitive congressional race, but these numbers don’t look great for Bruun.

(The closest Oregon congressional race in financing is the 1st, but even there incumbent Democrat David Wu has more than twice as much on hand as Republican Robert Cornilles.)

Washington’s hottest race is in the southwestern 3rd, the open seat now held by Democrat Brian Baird but in a highly competitive district. There, Democrat Denny Heck (the only major Democrat now in the race) has on hand $801,607; the leading Republican (and his probable November opponent) Jaime Herrera has $201,019. She’s a strong candidate and certainly competitive with Heck overall, but she may be weighed down by a fundraising deficit. (She also has to deal with another strong Republican contender, while Heck’s last fellow Democrat dropped out a while back.)

The big-money race in the Northwest, once again, looks to be the Washington 8th. Incumbent Repubican Dave Reichert has raised $1.7 million, and Democrat Suzan DelBene $1.6 million. Lots of political ads in the offing on the King and Pierce eastside this fall.

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Jul 16 2010

A dog not barking, yet

Published by under Idaho,Northwest

Among the stories not happening in the Northwest . . . wildfires.

There was a substantial fire this week, more than 100 acres and since put out, in the flat desert lands of the Idaho National Laboratory, west of Idaho Falls. But early indications are that it wasn’t natural, that it resulted from some human action, or inaction. And that’s about it.

The National Interagency Fire Center at Boise reports that so far this year, Idaho has had 122 wildland fires, Oregon 36 and Washington 165. Acres burned amounted to about 1,000 in Washington and Oregon together, and about 31,000 in Idaho. Those sound like large numbers but they’re actually relatively small, smaller than most of the time by now.

Fingers crossed.

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Jul 15 2010

Wyden’s campaign call

Published by under Oregon

The Ron Wyden Oregon Senate campaign in 2004 didn’t talk a lot about the opposition (which was slight), but it’s talking a little more this time. And it’s even made an accusation of the opposition, which on its face looks pretty sound.

Jim Huffman is a stronger candidate, but yes, he seems – certainly at this point – nowhere close to Wyden in numbers, either money or polling percentages. The Wyden line: “Huffman and Moore are releasing laughable poll numbers to distract reporters from their as-yet unreleased fundraising numbers due out today.”

Moore being pollster Bob Moore, who released numbers showing Huffman ahead. Which might not be a cred-blaster except for the strong of other polls giving Wyden a big lead, and an apparent dispute about whether Moore is polling for Huffman. (The Wyden people supply some evidence that he is.)

The whole statement is worth reading.

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Jul 14 2010

Bagism

Published by under Oregon

The do-away with plastic bags bandwagon is abruptly rolling at full speed. What lies behind the sudden impetus is unclear, but in Portland at leas the push is on.

Although, Jack Bogdanski makes a useful point: “At our place, every plastic grocery bag gets reused, usually for household garbage. If the stores stop handing them out, we’ll just buy a box of them every now and then. It’s not clear how this will help the planet.”

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Jul 13 2010

Life all night

Published by under Washington

seattle nightlife

Almost sounds like a joke: How do you solve the problem of drunken behavoir at closing time? Maybe eliminating closing time will help.

Actually, it might. Has it ever made sense that cities dump their heaviest drinkers out on the street at the same hour? (Recognizing, of course, that plenty of bars simply choose to close earlier for their own business reasons.) Maybe allowing them to stay open until things wind down, which may be later than 1 or 2 a.m., would make more sense.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn seems to be up for exploring the idea. He launched it today, not as a hard proposal but as the opening of a discussion.

It’s just one piece of what his group at city hall is calling the Seattle Nightlife Initiative. Altogether: “1. Code compliance enforcement. 2. Flexible liquor service hours. 3. Noise ordinance enforcement. 4. Security training requirements. 5. Precinct community outreach. 6. Professional development. 7. Late-night transportation alternatives. 8. Targeting public nuisances.”

Which taken together has a sensible ring to it, at least as a core set of efforts.

A report on the “flexible hours” (nice euphemism) idea offers some specific support through extended studies of places where the idea has been tried. Continue Reading »

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Jul 12 2010

A vote by mail glitch

Published by under Oregon

Most people probably won’t encounter this, but it’s worth considering as we think about the long-range future of vote-by-mail, which is probably growing, and of the U.S. Post Service, which has been slowly spiraling downward.

The Klamath Falls News & Herald reports about the community at rural Crescent Lake (in far northwest Klamath County, about 70 miles southeast of Eugene), which has lost its post office and the zip code that goes with it, replacing it with another that has resulted in confusion. Getting mail there has become something of a problem.

When time came to vote in the primary election, there were issues getting them because the elections office was set up to use the Crescent Lake address and zip. The ballots were expedited, finally. But when time came to mail them back, the voters had to drive 35 miles to get them sent off.

Given the trend lines of mail voting and postal cuts, this is the sort of glitch that probably needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

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Jul 12 2010

The fine few, and the unworthy masses

Published by under Washington

The point tends not to be made this bluntly – and for good reason. It seems worthy of quote here because, we suspect, quite a few people out there are like-minded.

It comes in a letter to the editor of the Tri-City Herald from Jerry Czebotar of Pasco, who starts out mentioning (inaccurately) statistics on tax rates, and winds up with this:

“The rich are rich because they are smarter and more ambitious than the average person. There are three reasons why an otherwise healthy American won’t be successful. They are either lazy, stupid or have substance abuse issues or some combination of the three. Those who are feeling wealth envy should examine their own lives. Are they stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much?”

There being, of course, no people laid off because of no fault of their own, or people working three jobs at minimum wage to survive. And there being, of course, absolutely no rich people who are “stupid, lazy or drink or drug too much”? And of course all of the rich having earned it all by the honest sweat of their brow, rather than inheriting or marrying into it. (Has he so much as visited a supermarket checkout counter lately?)

There are reasons Czebotar’s line of reasoning has spread in recent years. Inadvertence is not one of them. Nor is anything resembling a reality check.

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Jul 12 2010

The week in the Digests

Published by under Digests

digest
weekly Digest

A variety of indicators last week, ranging from a slowing growth in Washington state, along with a decline in sales tax revenues, to – strange though it might seem in these times – growth in revenue the state of Idaho has received from banks.

Politics was a little quieter last week, although the Oregon Independent Party got underway with its unusual, first in the region (maybe the first in the nation) form on on-line voting for selection of its parties members. The Palomar gas line in Oregon was put on limbo, and talk spread about a possible move for the national fiddle festival long housed at Weiser.

As a reminder: We’re now publishing weekly editions of the Public Affairs Digests – for Idaho, Washington and Oregon – moving from a monthly to a weekly rundown of what’s happening. And we’re taking it all-electronic: The print edition will be moving to e-mail.

That means we can include more information, and get it out a lot faster: The weekly Digests will be in your in-box first thing Monday morning. If you subscribe, of course: That’s $59 a year, for 50 issues and the yearbook. Yes, including the yearbook. The Idaho Yearbook, which we published for years up to 2002, will return early in 2011 – in printed book form – and Digest subscribers get it for free with their subscription. And the Oregon and Washington yearbooks will be coming out at the same time.

If you’d like to take a look at one of the new weekly Digests, here’s a link to the Idaho edition, to the Oregon edition and to the Washington edition. If you’d like to subscribe, here are the links (through to PayPal) for Idaho, for Oregon and for Washington.

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Jul 11 2010

A part of the economy

Published by under Idaho

otter
Butch Otter

When politicians talk about governments benefiting business, they almost always talk too generically. Very few governmental actions can help, or hurt, all businesses equally. Walmart and Ridenbaugh Press are unlikely to be equal recipients of benefits of any single government policy. (Well, health care reform comes to mind, but not many others.)

This comes to mind with today’s Idaho Statesman story about Governor C.L. “Butch Otter and his take on the economy.

Otter is famously down on government and a cheerleader for the private marketplace. But not, it turns out, all of the private marketplace in anything resembling an equal way. Otter grew up in a rural area. He attends and participates in rodeos and similar events. He worked in his formative professional years for a large agricultural processing company (J.R. Simplot). His background wouldn’t necessarily have pushed his view and perspective hard toward the traditional, and mostly vanished, rural farm/ranch sense of what the world is about. But it seems to have done. (Look at the pictures on the governor’s web site front page.)

What practical effect does this have?

That’s where the story today, by Rocky Barker, picks up. He starts with a description of the governor’s recent trade mission to Asia, and described solid work in helping bridge international trade – for some businesses, not exclusively but mainly the agricultural-based and the well-connected (such as Melaleuca). From the story:

In China, Otter repeated the economic vision he has held for Idaho for decades.

“You’ve got to dig it out of the ground, you’ve got to grow it or you’ve got to cut it out of the forest,” Otter said in meetings aimed at bringing Chinese investors to Idaho. Even computers, Otter said, are built with natural resources like silicon.

And there was this: “This vision leaves out those companies who are not aimed at farming, mining and logging, said Mark Rivers, a Downtown Boise developer who opened the innovative business incubator the Water Cooler. It discourages the very creative people who are the raw material of the next economic boom. ‘You can’t say you are a new economy state with an old economy mentality,’ Rivers said.”

Idaho’s considerable growth in the last generation has had nothing to do with the kind of resource businesses Otter seems to focus on. It has had to do with technology and service businesses, primarily. And Idaho’s population is less and less rural, these days; at this point, most of it suburban.

Not that the resource or older businesses aren’t important; of course they are. But Otter’s view seems to be that other businesses – which is to say the great majority of businesses, even in Idaho – are valuable in large part to the extent that help or support those he sees as central.

It’s a narrow view of the economy, and becoming narrower.

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Jul 09 2010

Oregon universities: Changes afoot

Published by under Oregon

There’s been a lot of talk about the idea of dramatically changing the legal structure within which Oregon’s universities operate. Several university presidents have raised the idea. But the state Board of Higher Education, meeting today at Portland, now seem to be taking work on the idea much further.

What the board flatly approved today has a dramatic ring to it: “the Board approved a legislative concept that changes the legal status of the OUS [Oregon University System] from that of a state agency to that of a public university system and provides the Board with the authority outlined in the legislative concepts; and that staff, working with the Governance and Policy Committee, develop and negotiate a compact with the state government with measurable outcomes for the level of appropriations that constitute state investment in 2011; and that the Board authorize an ongoing, participative public process with citizens, state officials and groups throughout Oregon regarding the education, research, and service activities and programs of the OUS and its institutions in order to ensure that the OUS is meeting state needs and can help ensure that Oregonians understand the value of its public university system.”

This still doesn’t sound super-specific, and probably wasn’t meant to be. But some of the thinking behind it, and where it might be headed, seems clear enough. Here’s some of what Chancellor George Pernsteiner said (this is in minutes-type form) as he outlined the idea:

He “introduced the OUS governance proposal by laying out the need for change based on demographic, economic, educational and other changes that have occurred in the 80 years since the OUS was created, and which is outlined in the Chancellor’s paper, “Considerations for Change.” He noted that the continued erosion of state support for higher education has not been accompanied by parallel reductions in state controls over university operations. The costs and inefficiencies inherent in the current legal status of the OUS as a state agency are many, and thus the OUS is seeking the flexibility to operate more effectively to enable the universities to be more successful in educating Oregonians. Pernsteiner noted that Oregon’s community colleges operate as special districts established by the legislature and do not work under the restrictions of a state agency as the OUS does.”

Well, something needs to be done about the underfunding of Oregon higher education – there’s a strong consensus about that much. Maybe this is it.

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Jul 09 2010

An early-early campaign line?

Published by under Washington

The dustup between Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna and Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark has gotten only limited media attention, though the Horse’s Ass blog has been tracking it thoroughly. The dispute has to do with Goldmark’s request for legal work from the attorney general’s office in a land case in Okanogan County, and McKenna’s refusal to provide it. The dispute has gotten increasingly heated.

Today’s note comes from the Washington news site Publicola, which said it ran into Representative Jay Inslee and chatted about the case. There’s some reason to: Inslee (a Democrat) is leading prospective candidate for governor in 2012, and so is McKenna (a Republican).

Asked about the McKenna-Goldmark dispute, Islee replied that McKenna “seems to think he’s the Lands Commissioner, the Secretary of State, the Governor, and the AG.”

Round 1.

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