"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

On occasion, my counsel has been sought by prospective candidates for statewide offices. (By way of credentials, I have been involved in three successful campaigns.)

I ask them the usual questions:

Why do you want the office?

What is your initial base of support?

Is your spouse supportive?

Do you have a budget and a plan for raising the required money?

What is your strategy for winning?

Who are your key helpers and supporters?

Do you understand the commitment it takes?

Will you accept media training, conduct polls, etc.?

Invariably, though, I ask the one question nine out of 10 “wannabes” flunk: Have you met with any member of the “Committee of Nine” and, if not, how do they plan to introduce themselves to the “Committee of Nine”?

The blank stare this question engenders tells me the person isn’t close to being ready to run.

Most readers will ask the same question. You can bet, however, that every successful major Idaho political figure in the last 50 years knows this group and how influential it is behind the scenes. The “Committee of Nine” is the nine water masters of the major Snake River Federal Irrigation Projects in southern Idaho. The members can make or break most major statewide candidates.

Former Idaho Governor and U.S. Senator Len B. Jordan once described the Snake River as a “working river, the lifeblood of Idaho.” Any candidate for major office who does not understand how that river works, the important role the water masters play, especially in times of shortages, and the primacy of upstream water rights is, pardon the expression, “dead in the water.”

Most of these water masters, coincidentally, are members in good standing of the LDS Church. Many are or have been a bishop. While they never presume to tell anyone how to vote, a “testimonial” to a candidate’s understanding of water law and its importance to the state’s economy is listened to and heeded by many.

It is no coincidence, either, that many directors of the Bureau of Reclamation, the dam building and irrigation project agency created by the 1902 Reclamation Act within the Department of the Interior, just happen to have been Mormon. And while every Interior Secretary will swear their selection of a Bureau of Reclamation director never involved asking about his religion, it is no coincidence when some are LDS given the Church’s historic interest in irrigation.

Neither would anyone argue that Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus’ director, R. Keith Higginson, who also had been Idaho’s director of Water Resources, was not eminently qualified to hold the post. He, too, was a member of the LDS Church.

Let’s just say the critical importance of water, its wise application to land, and its allocation based on several basic principles, such as “first in time, first in use” (The primacy of upstream water rights), has always been sacred script to Mormons from the pioneer days on forward.

It is no coincidence either that every major piece of wilderness or national recreation area legislation for Idaho contains “boiler plate” language affirming the new act in no way supersedes or takes precedence over Idaho water law and the primacy of upstream water rights.

The Hells Canyon National Recreation Area legislation in the early 70s almost hit the rocks when one of its key sponsors, Oregon Senator Bob Packwood, initially refused to affirm the primacy of upstream water rights.

It’s not just the role water has played in agriculture either. One cannot truly begin to understand the multiple uses of water unless they have driven beside long stretches of rivers like the Salmon, Payette, Clearwater, St. Joe, Boise, Lochsa, Selway, Portneuf, Lemhi, Priest, or the north and south forks of the Coeur d’Alene .

Better yet, only by floating the wilderness stretches of the Middle Fork of the Salmon, the main Salmon, the Selway, or the Owyhee rivers does one grasp how rivers were the early highways, providing access into and out of almost inaccessible mountainous areas of Idaho. Floating wilderness rivers also introduces one to how vast Idaho is and the impact to Idaho’s economy by the 10,000 people a year who float down the Middle Fork and the Salmon River systems alone.

The result is that there are new interest groups who depend upon other uses of water and the need to protect it, such as the Idaho Outfitters and Guides Association and the Idaho Conservation League. None of them yet begin to match the power and influence of the Committee of Nine, however.

All, however, underscore to a political aspirant that before offering one’s services they better damn well understand how important water is and always will be to the political landscape of the state.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

Malheur Lake
At Malheur Lake/U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The west has a long history with building reservoirs and cutting channels. Less so with building islands. Particularly when the building of said islands also has to do with salmon recovery.

That’s what the Army Corps of Engineers (working with other agencies) is planning to do, though, at Malheur Lake in southeast Oregon. The lake is the site of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, dating to 1908, which has been a refuge for regional birds. Now the idea is to draw some new birds to the area: Caspian terns, which eat juvenile salmon in the Pacific Ocean. The idea is to draw terns inland and encourage them to change their diet. The hope is that the island, though small (only about a acre in size) would be enough. It would be flat and oval-shaped.

The environmental assessment of island building is out and comment will be accepted through September 21.

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There’s a great map toward the end of a Portland Tribune post up today dividing Portland by regions according to how much money each contributes (per person) and how much is spent.

The upshot is, you pay more on the west side, and a little less is spent on you there, while the reverse is the case toward the east of town.

You can get why. Property values, and the taxes from them, are much higher west of the Willamette River than over on the east, toward Gresham. And there’s often somewhat more need for police and fire services over in the north and east ends. Just the way things work.

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When I took my first job reporting on state politics, at the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, I spent a good deal of time rummaging through old clips of political stories, especially from the last four or five years – getting up to speed with the characters in the play.

One of the frequent reporter and columnist bylines I bumped into was Steve Crump, who covered politics for the paper when the key political figures were people like Frank Church, Jim McClure, Cecil Andrus and George Hansen. It was a very lively period in Idaho politics with some colorful people; Crump had a lot of good material to work with.

But then, maybe he’s been able to find the color in even less likely environs. He’s retiring at month’s end from the Twin Falls Times News, where he’s been since 1983, first as sports editor and more recently as editorial page editor. He’s also been writing columns about Idaho, its history and colorful people (he recently did a great top 10 – Idaho’s most interesting people).

Hardly anyone still in Idaho journalism goes back so far.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman and Casino Executive (1994-2006) David Matheson, is back in a seat of prominence, his old job as Casino executive, after five years of acrimonious litigation full of charges and counter-charges the press shouldn’t repeat because there were no verdicts and no real conclusions.

Any observer of Native Americans, or anyone who has business or political dealings with tribes as an entity quickly learns the internal politics of any tribe are as Byzantine and as complex as any politics anywhere. If one has not been raised in that culture one cannot begin to understand the machinations.

Even if one could understand the complexities of the various family and clan relationships, one would need a scorecard to comprehend the inner workings, which family is up and which is down, why some view an education in the college’s of the white conquerors as a negative not a positive, why children can be raised by an entire village successfully, why the native religion can absorb the teachings of the Jesuit missionaries.

Suffice it to say to outward appearances the Matheson family is back in the saddle of real power. Whether that is at the expense of some other powerful family, which is now out, who outside can say? Those that do know won’t say, one can bet on that.

One can also say most Native Americans are acutely aware of public perceptions; more so than other minorities because in many cases they have been victimized by the hokey Indian stereotypes that exist in our culture.

David Matheson has over the years proven to be a savvy operator. He obviously is a survivor and one can wager though outward appearances may be he cares little about public perceptions in fact he is acutely aware of how important they can be.

Matheson, in many respects, is a rarity among Native leaders, but one of those is that he is a Republican. Most Native Americans have tended to identify with Democrats. Indeed, the first Native American ever elected to the Idaho State Senate, a Coeur d’Alene Tribal member by the name of Chief Joseph Garry, was a Democrat.

Matheson, though, aligned with Republicans early in his career. When Ronald Reagan’s vice president, George H. W. Bush, was elected to the Presidency in November of 1988, Matheson headed for D.C. Initially he was appointed as a special assistant to the Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs, Eddie Frank Brown, who soon realized that Matheson had the talent and ability to manage the entire 14,000 employee Bureau of Indian Affairs. Matheson also was obtaining his Masters in Business Administration from the University of Washington (1989).

After 14 months at Interior, Matheson was named by then Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan, in May of 1991, as the Deputy Commissioner of Indian Affairs for Administration, the second most powerful position within Indian Affairs. Almost all accounts give Matheson high marks for his management. No one who has met or dealt with David Matheson questions his intelligence or competency.

For that reason, and because almost all Republicans invoke their sainted Irish president, Ronald Reagan, constantly, we want to remind Matheson that the truest and wisest words the Gipper ever uttered were: “Trust but verify!”

How does that relate to today? Quite easily.

With Matheson having been reappointed to his old job as Casino executive director on August 9th, he has the opportunity to start anew with, as the tribal press release said, a “second chance” to do well by all who depend upon the Casino’s success.

A great start for the casino and the tribe would be embracing true transparency with regard to tribal gaming revenues. Matheson was among those who campaigned hard for the voter initiative expanding Indian gaming to include slot like machines, and he knows one of the keys to the vote was the pledge to return annually five percent of the net revenues to surrounding school districts.

Of late there have been serious questions raised as to whether the tribe was really doing so. And the tribe is taking the position of saying “trust us, we’ve delivered on the pledge.” I’m sorry, my friends, that doesn’t fly anywhere anymore.

To restore both the Tribe’s credibility and his own, Matheson has to put the Casino in the forefront of truth-tellers by hiring independent outside auditors to review the annual gaming receipts, then verify what 5 percent would be, and then the Tribe can distribute it as they see fit, but with full disclosure of the amounts.

There’s a lot more action needed on the “verification” piece of Ronald Reagan’s wise injunction. One hopes Matheson and current Tribal leadership recognize sound advice when it is offered.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Washington’s Tim Eyman is well known as the state’s initiative king, notably on subjects like taxes, fees and budgets. But he’s developed other interests too. One of them shows some indicators of approaching a tipping point.

Here’s a longish quote from an email Eyman just sent out on the subject – of red-light and speeding cameras, and citizen initiatives aimed at blocking or eliminating them in various localities.

Last year in my hometown of Mukilteo (just named the 9th best place to live in the U.S.), the city tried to bring red-light cameras and speed cameras to our community. We were knee-deep in collecting signatures for tougher-to-raise-taxes I-1053 (2/3 for tax increases, legislative approval for fee increases), but I made time to team up with a bunch of great people to sponsor the initiative. Long story short, we got the initiative on last November’s ballot and voters here rejected the cameras with 71% of the vote. Wowza.

I was subsequently contacted by activists in other cities in Washington wanting to get public votes on ticketing cameras in their communities too. So last year, there was one initiative in Mukilteo — this year there are five — Bellingham, Longview, Monroe, Redmond, and Wenatchee. Every single one of them have been enormously fun, interesting, and important. Each one has its own soap opera associated with it. I could write a novel about each one, including glowing accounts of the local citizens who have done all the hard work to make them a success.

These campaigns haven’t distracted me/us from our statewide initiatives. Last year’s I-1053 and this year’s “Son of 1053” I-1125 remain our primary focus.

Nonetheless, it’s been an incredibly gratifying experience working on these local city initiatives with these local citizens. It turns out local initiatives are not utilized very often — it was only the second initiative in Mukilteo city history to get enough signatures and the first to make it through the gauntlet for a public vote. It is Wenatchee Initiative #1, Redmond Initiative #1, and Longview Initiative #1 — it is the second initiative in Monroe city history and the first initiative in 6 years in Bellingham.

To be clear, these initiatives don’t prohibit automatic ticketing cameras, they simply let the voters decide. But after the 71% vote against the cameras in my hometown of Mukilteo, the efforts by cities and the red-light camera companies have been focused on blocking the people from voting. Their adage is “since we won’t win the vote, prevent the vote.” It’s really an obscene abuse of power. Fortunately, we’re having great success bulldozing through their anti-vote obstruction. Last week, a Bellingham judge not only dismissed the red-light camera company’s motion to block the vote on the initiative, but the judge slapped the company with a huge a $10,000 fine for even bringing the lawsuit and forced them to pay the attorneys fees for the initiative campaign.

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The city of Lynnwood loves its traffic cams. That does not seem up for debate, though the reason for all that love may be.

Its officials say the red-light and school-zone cameras (which at least seem more defensible than the speed cams) are all about public safety. Or, they did. The Everett Herald made a public records request for e-mails relating to the cams, and the story now seems to be changing.

From a news article on this: “In Lynnwood, a deputy chief earlier this year asked ATS about job prospects, even as she opened negotiations with the company about renewing Lynnwood’s multimillion-dollar camera contract, which expires in November. Separately, the sergeant who leads Lynnwood’s traffic division offered the Scottsdale, Ariz., company help with marketing cameras to other cities and with lobbying against legislation that would have reduced revenue from camera tickets in Washington.”

From one of the e-mails, from a city police sergeant: “the City of Lynnwood itself and the Lynnwood Police Department must also do everything we can to ensure this program continues unhindered. Any negative change to the program means more layoffs and program cuts.” In other words, we’re depending on these cams to save our jobs.

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One of the top Oregon political stories last week concerned 1st District Republican candidate Rob Cornilles and his voting record, or lack of. The Oregonian reported that Cornilles “has missed voting in nine of the 27 elections held since 1998, according to the Washington County elections office.”

Meanwhile, the three main Democratic candidates, Brad Avakian, Suzanne Bonamici and Brad Witt, have not missed voting at all during that time.

That lack of desire to vote really ought to be a significant issue. (Cornilles’ arguments that he was out of town on business on a number of occasions rings phony in Oregon, home of the three-week window for voting by mail, where ballots can be cast from overseas.) If you don’t care enough, consistently, to vote in elections when the spotlight’s not on you, how seriously are the rest of us supposed to think you take the public’s business?

Not all voters see it that way, though. Some comments about this being a serious blow to Cornilles’ campaign notwithstanding, the reality is that such checks have periodically turned up spotty voting records, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of correlation to end results.

Case in point. In December 2009, the Oregonian ran a counterpart story on Republican gubernatorial contender Chris Dudley, noting that he “has missed voting in seven of the last 13 elections since 2004, a record that Dudley acknowledged was embarrassing and a mistake.” Dudley, you’ll recall, came very close to being elected governor last year.

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Having attended a few of these … you gotta say, it’s an impressive feat, 600 county town halls over the last 15 years or so.

It sounded at first like another campaign pledge to be sloughed off later. But Senator Ron Wyden has kept at it, after starting in Fossil, and he’s become masterful at managing them.

He put out the video (elsewhere on the page) on occasion of town hall 600 – not near an upcoming campaign, which is years off – and remarked, “Thank you for helping make me a better senator and a better person.” Probably they have.

They’ve probably also made him a better politician. The usual line about members of Congress, that they’ve become too remote and far away from the non-metro center, falls flat when the member of Congress religiously visits every year.

So, a thought expressed before, reiterated here: Every member of Congress ought to do this. Oregon’s junior senator, Jeff Merkley, has, and probably will reap the benefits too. So could any of the 100 senators, or (on a smaller scale) the representatives.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Look out, Lt. Governor Brad Little (Or substitute Schools Superintendent Tom Luna, or Rep. Raul Labrador—whoever your favorite is). You may think you’re the “crown prince” and next in line to be the Republican dynasty’s governor of Idaho, but the best politician in the state may be maneuvering to snatch that crown from your grasp and place it squarely on his head of distinguished white hair.

He has never held a political office in Idaho, but all the state’s major players know him. He is unquestionably the state’s best fund-raiser. He holds degrees in political science and demonstrates daily that he understands politics, especially the “rule” that perception is reality.

He reads books and can really talk about them. For nine years he has demonstrated mastery of one of the most politicized jobs in any state.

He is of course Bob Kustra, president of Idaho’s largest university, Boise State. He demonstrated again this month that even at age 68 he is on top of his game.

The evidence clearly shows he is a master practitioner of politics which leads one to wonder if his ambition has truly been satisfied? A yearning for high public office may still linger in his breast. It also goes far toward unraveling the mystery of why now he sacked loyal and long-time Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier.

It was as astute a pro-active, pre-emptive political move as any have seen in awhile. Odds are better than even that Kustra already knows or strongly suspects severe sanctions may be coming down for violations of various NCAA rules by not just Boise State’s nationally ranked football team, but in other sports also.

Among Kustra’s duties is that of Mountain West Conference representative on the NCAA Board of Directors. He also is a member of the BCS’s Oversight Committee. Obviously, it would look bad to be sitting in upcoming meetings not having taken action until after sanctions came down.

Far better to act quickly and decisively before any scandal possibly taints him, as well. So the AD walks the plank, perhaps deservedly, but who really knows? Governor Andrus had an expression derived from the English essayist, Samuel Johnson, which covered these situations: “Nothing like a hanging in the morning to focus one’s attention!”

It is easy also to envision Kustra seeing a governor in the mirror each morning. Few folks in Idaho know that Bob Kustra mastered the Byzantine politics of Illinois, serving ten years in the Legislature before being elected Lt. Governor twice serving on a ticket with Governor Jim Edgar, one of the few Illinois governors NOT to be indicted in recent years.

Any one who runs for Lt. Governor thinks he can be governor, but usually has to bide his time under a more popular person. But “lieutenants” are anxious to drop the “LT” in front of their title—just ask Butch Otter, Phil Batt, Jim Risch and John Evans, as well as Brad Little.

Kustra’s “up or out move,” however, came in his 1996 bid for a Senate seat. He lost in the GOP primary to someone named Al Salvi. He resigned the Lt. Governorship a few months later and plunged full-time into buttressing his academic administration credentials by accepting the presidency of Eastern Kentucky University.

In 2003 he was named president of Boise State and the school hasn’t been the same since.. As a savvy politician he understands the importance of perception as well as marketing and planning. The BSU football team was already on the rise but he watched carefully and supported taking it to the next level and the next as a true key to ensuring the school’s status as the major university in the state and its largest population center.

Kustra reportedly drives staff hard, and is a stickler for detail, but he does his homework, knows his game plan and knows how to stay on message. Though some scoff at BSU’s academic pretensions, he has worked to upgrade admission standards and expand research and PhD. Offerings. Make no mistake, if there had not been progress on this front BSU never would have been invited to the Mountain West.

He also settled on tagging BSU (He insists everyone always refer to the school as Boise State University) as a “metropolitan research university of distinction.” The Carnegie Institute, which rates the nation’s schools and colleges has no such category and indeed does not even rank BSU in the top three tiers. Nonetheless, perception is reality, as Kustra knows.

Finally, he is coming off the most successful fund-raising campaign in Idaho history, having raised $175 million in private donations and this is separate from the drive to expand Bronco Stadium. Nothing succeeds like success.

I’m willing to wager that after ten years as Boise State president, there’s an itch in Bob Kustra to heal over by capping his career with the long desired title of Governor, knowing that nothing does quite succeed as well as success. Brad Little just may have a real fight on his hands.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho

For all the snark about Twitter as a communications tool (Sarah Palin famously using it, but many others too – Portland Mayor Sam Adams has burn up the Twitter lines in the last few years) there’s nothing wrong with it when used in the right way. It can be used well, or abused.

Consider the post from Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt: “Leavitt for Congress?”

Before that, he hadn’t been widely considered a prospect. So why the tweet? “It was a simple question and Twitter is a simple media. Frankly, all I wanted to do was put a question out there to garner some response.”

It has worked, and then some. It’s generated a lot of response and commentary, and no small amount of news media coverage. The decision of whether to enter a race for the U.S. House – against freshman Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler – may have a lot of components, but in the end it’s binary: Go or not. Twitter could help with that.

Probably has.

One other cautionary note about the prospect, however, should be raised: No one knows what the Vancouver-area district may look like on the other end of reapportionment, a process which is far from over. But Leavitt will certainly be in one district or another.

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Patty Murray

There was some implication – maybe more than that – in the last Senate contest in Washington, that the state’s senior senator, Patty Murray, was something of a lightweight. You could make a clear argument to the contrary (she was, after all, a member of majority leadership), but there was also some resonance to it. How exactly is she really a national figure? What major initiatives would you attach to her?

That characterization, at least, is now done, with Murray’s appointment as co-leader of the congressional “super committee” on the federal deficit. For the next few months a hard spotlight will shine on it, and Murray will be one of its most visible figures.

There’s some real challenge here – the difficulty of actually getting an acceptable fiscal product. And maybe the bigotry of low expectations too; how many people really expect a meaningful result? On the other hand: If she and the others on the panel actually do succeed, they will have blown past expectations and struck a blow for the idea that maybe, possibly, Congress can function.

In one respect, that would have unusual resonance for Murray, since she also is head of the Democratic Senate campaign committee – in charge of holding and adding Democrats in the Senate, technically making her the chief Democratic partisan in the Senate. In that role, she has blasted Republicans; on this committee, her job would be to try to find common cause with them. (Not easy this year under the best of circumstances.)

There was this in the New York Times:

“Her selection to lead the new panel raised eyebrows among some Republicans because she is also chairwoman of the Senate Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In that role, Mrs. Murray recently assailed Republican candidates, saying they wanted to “end Medicare as we know it’’ and “turn it into a voucher program run by for-profit insurance companies in order to pay for more giveaways to oil companies and the very rich.’’”

No holding of breath here waiting for the middle-ground compromise. But stranger things do happen …

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