Writings and observations


carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


By now there have been many fine salutes written and spoken about former Idaho Senator James Albertus McClure, who died recently at the age of 86. I have read many, agreed with all and wondered what I could add about this fine and distinguished public servant.

I first met McClure when he was a Member of Congress representing Idaho’s First Congressional district in 1970. I was a rookie reporter in Washington, D.C. working in a news bureau serving some 25 newspaper clients in the Pacific Northwest.

McClure was always a good interview. He was patient, tolerant of ignorant questions young reporters often ask, logical in his answers, spoke to the point and always had a keen sense of humor. He enjoyed conveying his thoughts on issues and could do so intelligently and articulately. He avoided can’t and ideological bromides, those cute sound bites on which television media thrive.

He was conservative to his core (indeed, he supported the right wing Liberty Lobby agenda when first elected to Idaho’s state senate), but he was always a compassionate conservative who cared about people and knew government had a proper role as the place of last resort for those unable to help themselves. He knew that God loved children regardless of the circumstances they were born into or the shortcomings of parents.

In short, he had a wonderful capacity to grow in office, and in each he held that was indeed what happened. He may have started as an ideologue, he definitely finished as a true statesman.

Jim McClure loved working on the solutions to vexing challenges and issues. He could and did work with his hands, rewiring his home and wiring his cabin in McCall. He loved to backpack and was a fine fly fisherman. He especially enjoyed hiking in the Seven Devils above Hells Canyon.

Hence, when Governor Cecil D. Andrus and he got down on their hands and knees to draw the logical boundaries of the proposed Hells Canyon Recreation Area in the mid-70’s, both instinctively followed hydrological divides because they had spent time on the ground learning the lay of the land.

It was with great pleasure that I responded to author Bill Smallwood that I would read an early draft of his authorized biography of McClure. Fittingly, Smallwood and I were sitting around a campfire under the majestic Castle Peak in the White Clouds Mountains of central Idaho, having packed into the area with a group of friends.

Smallwood’s book, “McClure of Idaho,” is must reading for political junkies, particularly with regard to Idaho public affairs and its fascinating political history.

A political mentor years ago gave me the best advice for judging how good or bad a public officeholder is: “Look at their staff,” he said. Are they competent and bright? Are they the kind of people not afraid to challenge the boss if they think he is wrong? Are they loyal? Do they resolutely defend their boss, or do they let others, especially media, criticize him without rebuttal?”

By their staffs ye will know them.

Over the years, Jim McClure n and Idaho n were superbly served by series of chiefs of staff, press secretaries, legislative aides and field office directors. All these people knew the positions of trust they held included serving the people of Idaho well, regardless of political predisposition. They knew that the best politics was carrying out good policy and at all times they were conscious of the fact they represented their boss and the people, who they strived their utmost never to embarrass.

People like the late Jim Goller, who served McClure capably and with distinction as his Idaho state director and chief of staff. He was the mastermind of McClure’s successful Senate and House campaigns. (McClure never lost a race ever.) Or former television anchor Todd Neunschwander, who was his press secretary before becoming the senator’s long-time D.C. chief of staff.

Scootch Pankonin was in a way a typical McClure staffer n competent, loyal, helpful, professional, bright, an excellent sense of humor and loyal as they come. Over the years various folks served McClure. All felt they were the better for having served with the Senator. He was a marvelous teacher and mentor, they would say.

Nearly all of McClure’s aides went on to success with other endeavors. They stay in contact with and help each other. I am certain they constituted a strong support group for Louise McClure and the McClure children during the past two years following the Senator’s stroke.

They would agree with my bottom line assessment which echoes a famous statement made by Will Rogers: “They just ain’t making public servants like him anymore.”

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Carlson Idaho

We’ve suggested that the best thing Representative David Wu could do to clear up (the many) questions about his behavior and condition would be to appear in town hall meetings in his district, a number of them, and engage in give and take with constituents.

He came halfway to that last night in Washington County, where he met with local Democrats. He answered questions from precinct leaders (Democratic) for an hour or so.

The level of candor needed, though, still seemed to be lacking. Writing on Blue Oregon (where the inclination probably would be to be sympathetic), Carla Axtman said that “Overall, it seemed to me that some serious questions still remain unanswered: What sort of conduct by Wu caused the staff to leave? How can constituents be assured that it won’t happen again? What assurances do constituents have that Wu is healthy and fit to serve, beyond his own say so? I’m not convinced that questions about Wu’s ability to represent the First District were settled this evening. And I don’t think I’m alone, based on the discussions I overheard in the room after Wu left.”

Note also the just-out polling showing heavily declining approval numbers for Wu. A SurveyUSA poll just out gives a narrow plurality to those who say Wu should resign.

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Oregon

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Representative Shirley Ringo speaks on the school bill/vidcap, IdahoPTV.org

Both the Idaho House vote and the debate on Senate Bill 1108, a key bill on the school proposal by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, were lopsided. The vote was 48-22 in favor, and the debate, like most of the preceding public comment, was mostly in opposition – and the debate in favor was mainly defensive, only sporadically addressing the virtues of the bill.

Chief sponsor Representative Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said in his closing remarks (as several other supporters did) that this bill was not intended as a teacher-bashing or Idaho Education Association-basing measure, and that he could look across the aisle at the Democrats – who were all opposed – and see that they simply didn’t believe that. (And attempts to rebut the idea that the bill was anti-teacher were the core of the pro-bill arguments.)

Nonini was doubtless right about that, and there are reasons for the skepticism.

The bill was pitched this way: “This legislation returns decision-making powers to locally elected school boards and creates a more professional and accountable work force.” That was the core of the argument Nonini did present.

The problem is that by dictating a new set of process and procedure, it effectively eliminates quite a bit of local decision-making.

It was also delivered by Luna with the argument that the state cannot afford public schools under the existing system. But Representative Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, rebutted that while state government is doing less and less of the job of funding public schools – the one job specifically assigned to it by the Idaho Constitution – local property taxpayers each year pick up the slack by approving increasingly onerous property tax override levies.

As to the teachers, the bill opponents delivered an extensive bill of goods, so much so that quite a few points went unaddressed by bill supporters.

The bill eliminates teacher collective bargaining on any topic be compensation. But Representative Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, pointed out that it even does away with that, as a matter of practice. The bill provides that if negotiations don’t yield an agreement by mid-June each year, the board can unilaterally impose its own decision on that subject. Since it has the easy hammer of running out the clock, negotiations would be a farce at most.

The case that it was aimed squarely at shattering the Idaho Education Association (traditionally a major backer of Democratic candidates), was – as Nonini’s protest absent countering specifics underlined – quite strong. And the critics, mostly though not exclusively Democrats, made the point.

Representative Brian Cronin: “I’ve come to the inevitable and irrefutable conclusion that this bill has nothing to do with student achievement … This bill intends to dismantle the Idaho Education Association and put teachers in their place, and make sure that teachers are silenced … Its purpose couldn’t be clearer to the naked eye.”

“Managing by fear and intimidation is ultimately a failing strategy,” Burgoyne said, and the bill will turn teachers into adversaries instead of partners in education.

Representative Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, also pointed out that this bill emerges at the same time as a national effort to go after public employee collective bargaining (a point a couple of pro-bill Republicans actually alluded to as well): “I believe 1108 is Idaho’s reaction to this national movement.”

The strongest Republican argument, and it was quite clear, came from Representative Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls: “This is very mean-spirited bill … It turns teachers into powerless pawns in this political system.”

The bill has now cleared the legislature, and awaits only Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter‘s near-certain (he being one of the original backers of the proposal) signature.

UPDATE A comment from the ordinarily conservative Dave Oliveria at the Spokesman-Review‘s Huckleberries blog: “If Idahoans let the GOP get away with its trashing of public education, then all those polls that show that this state cherishes education are nonsense.” Two thoughts: 1. The new vote does not mark a change in direction for the Republicans in Idaho, just an extension of it. 2. There’s often a distinction between what one thinks, and what one is willing to go to bat for.

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Idaho

train derail
A trail derails at University place. (image/Pierce County)

The legislative sessions continue to heat up, especially in Idaho but in Washington as well, in this week’s Public Affairs Digests for Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Also a lot else, including more on census results, more developments on the Columbia Crossing project, .

Some of the larger stories in the Washington edition:

bullet Seattle Council overrides Alaskan Way veto
bullet Columbia Crossing comment sought
bullet Viaduct work may save old building
bullet Census results and education

In the Oregon edition:

bullet Kitzhaber leans activist at Portland City Club
bullet Unemployment rate sticks at 10.4%
bullet Blumenauer on “ungreening” the Capitol
bullet Three Imnaha wolves grabbed

In the Idaho edition:

bullet Protests over Luna school plan
bullet McClure remembered
bullet Unemployment rate unchanged
bullet Governors call for forest restoration

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Digests

Ben Westlund was one of the most appealing politicians the Northwest has seen in the last few decades – smart, idealistic, humanitarian and very funny. He always seemed a likely prospect for office higher than the one he held, Oregon state treasurer, when he died a year ago.

Here are two videos, just released with that anniversary, showing two aspects of him, one a draft version (never completed or previously released) of a campaign ad – one of the more inspiring we’ve seen – and the other a humor video unlike anything you’d ordinarily see from a candidate running for office.

westlund-statesman_DRAFT05

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Oregon

The Seattle Times blog post yesterday on their hour-long discussion with Gil Kerlikowske, informally called the “Drug Czar,” is well worth reading as an indicator of attitudes and shifts in attitudes.

The Times, you’ll recall, broke sound ground among larger regional newspapers on February 20 by editorializing in favor of legalizing marijuana. That was apparently enough to prompt Kerlikowske to ask for a sit-down with the editorial board. If he had any thought of changing the paper’s direction, though, it seems to have fallen flat: “As it turned out, he was cordial and almost laid-back. At one point he steered the conversation to prescription drug abuse, which had nothing to do with our editorial. When we asked him about legal marijuana he did disagree with us, but so gently that some of the attendees wondered why he had come at all.”

He did offer, the post says, a couple of arguments in favor of the criminal ban, but they were so weak as to be easily swiped away, and were by the blogger. (The reference is toward the bottom of the post.)

More telling, maybe, was this description of the Obama Administration’s stance: “The Obama administration’s “middle position” on drugs that leans toward treatment but requires penalties also, he said, because about half the users who go into treatment “have to be encouraged.””

This sounds a little like the kind of thing the Clinton Administration tried do, concerning gays in the military, back in 1993 with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: A policy that is all-but-openly just an interim step. It has that kind of sense to it.

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Washington

Here’s one quick analysis of how districts are going to have to shift in Oregon, based on the numbers talked about in today’s Oregon reapportionment committee meeting, as it tries to do what no legislature has done successfully in 50 years:

The northwest part of Oregon, roughly what is now congressional district 1, will have to be split into more legislative districts. (Washington County added 84,364 people in the last decade, more than anywhere else, about two-thirds of the number needed for a whole Senate district.) The Portland area may need some additional districts, but not so much since population growth in the center of Portland was much less than on the outer ring of it. Eastern Oregon more or less should hold its own overall, though there’ll have to be a number of shifts, and the eastern third of Oregon (geographically lost population). The mid- and southern Willamette Valley may have to shed a legislative district or two, and the southwest region (roughly, congressional district 4) has fallen farthest behind, almost a mirror image of district 1, and will surely have to give up districts, spreading its districts more widely.

You can kind of visualize how the district shift, generally, is going to have to happen.

Since the last decade, minority population has “dispersed,” one witness said, more moving into the suburban area. “There are places where there is more Latino growth than other areas, but it’s hard to generalize,” one witness said.

Communities of interest. Bernie Bottomly of the Portland Busines Alliance Multnomah is a very heavy economic-based county; it accounts for a quarter of Oregon’s public sector employment, while Clackamas and Washington (which together have more population) account for 15%. Multnomah accounts for half of the state total in the area management of companies. Multnomah looks at urbsn interests much differently. So, Bottomly suggested, districts drawn in the area should recognize the difference between Multnomah (read, mainly: Portland) and the suburbs. “In terms of economic communities of interest, Multnomah has remained pretty stable,” he said.

The point came up that the suburbs are becoming increasingly diverse and complex places, including a spreading-out of the state’s racial and ethnic groups, and Bottomly acknowledged that, most notably for Washington County.

Chair Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, offered a little “push back” as a legislator from a district straddling Multnomah and Washington, saying that the area of Washington bordering Portland had a lot of similarity to Multnomah and looked to it as part of its urban area.

The whole subject of “communities of interest” – which generally are supposed to kept together where practical as districts are drawn – is more complex than you might think. Speakers at the reapportionment committee today covered lumber communities of interest (some interesting talk about how the lightly-populated Willamina area is split between districts), developer experience with communities of interest, Latino restauranteur views on communities of interest, and nursery and orchard owner communities of interest. They made the point that economic communities of interest are a part of the mix, and that urban and rural people can be considered to have very real differences in type of interest.

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Oregon

remap
Reapportionment hearings

With Census raw data in hand (since February 23), the Oregon Legislature’s reapportionment committees say they’re ready to hit the road.

At their press conference today, the tone was amicable, acknowledged that reaching a common agreement on maps will not be easy but expressions, at least, of confidence that it could be done. There was no sniping.

Senator Chris Telfer, R-Bend, said that “the communications are great and we’re on the same page. and I hope we continue that.”

The road hearings are expected to run through April, with more hearings after that at the statehouse. And then, the drawing begins in earnest.

The schedule:

March 11 (Friday) – Tillamook; video conference with Astoria, Lincoln City, Newport.

March 18 (Friday) – La Grande; video with Pendleton, Baker City, Lakeview.

March 18 (Friday) – Burns; video with Ontario, John Day.

March 19 (Saturday) – Bend; video with Madras, The Dalles.

April 1 (Friday) – Medford; video with Ashland, Klamath Falls, Grants Pass.

April 2 (Saturday) – Coos Bay; video with Brookings, Roseburg.

April 8 (Friday) – Beaverton.

April 8 (Friday) – Portland.

April 9 (Saturday) – Gresham.

April 9 (Saturday) – Oregon City.

April 16 (Saturday) – Eugene.

April 16 (Saturday) – Corvallis.

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Oregon

Last fall during the campaign, one of the odder policy ideas associated with a lot of Tea Party candidates (including new Idaho Representative Raul Labrador) was the repeal of the 17th amendment. That was the change that allowed the voters, as opposed to state legislators, to choose the United States senators from the states. You might think that a movement purportedly concerned with individual liberty would have a problem with that, but evidently not.

When the subject came up during congressional debates, Labrador’s basic response was to brush it aside as something that would obviously never happen – it was no more than a hypothetical.

So. On Tuesday just such a proposal – nonbinding, but calling on Congress for action – was proposed to the Idaho House State Affairs Committee by Representative Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home. And it was not a wishy-washy statement; it said that “The electoral process for choosing a United States Senator has devolved into a chaos of pettifoggery, populism, bribery, cronyism, demagoguery, outside influences and outside money that unfairly favors the rich or connected.” It said that “A Senator no longer is responsible to his State, nor to the populace that elected him.”

But would be, presumably, if the legislators and not the voters had sole control. What actually happened, of course, when the system was set up that way, was massive corruption in legislatures from coast to coast, and in the Senate as well. But there are moneyed interests who’d prefer it that way.

The State Affairs Committee declined to introduce it. But six Republican legislators voted in favor. (The minutes, for determination of who they were, unfortunately isn’t yet available.)

Keep this in mind the next time you hear talk about “freedom and liberty” from these people.

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Idaho

We’re not far away from the onset of Washington governor’s race 2012 – probably not six months. If, as is broadly expected, Attorney General Rob McKenna enters that race, he will enter as the Republican frontrunner, and a very strong contender in the general election. (No one knows yet for sure whether current Democratic Governor Chris Gregoire will seek a third term, but the betting is running strongly against.)

The Stranger, via writer David Goldstein, has a piece that may wind up summarizing the Democratic case against McKenna – in essence, that he’s not the moderate he has appeared to be, that he is Washington’s edition of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

Key paragraph:

“This is a politician who is no friend of labor, who has used his office to work against the interests of workers and their right to organize, who has accused state workers of bankrupting the state, and who has even labeled the very institution of the public employees’ union as “dangerous.” But nothing is more indicative of McKenna’s far-right, anti-union, pro-teabagger philosophy than his aggressive leadership in attempting to kill organized labor’s decades-old, number-one policy agenda: Obama’s health care reform act and the benefits it would bring to millions of Washington citizens and businesses.”

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Washington