No surprise at all, the decision over the weekend by the Idaho Democratic Party to allow anyone to vote in that party’s primary. The vote, spokesmen reported, was 70-0.

It allowed for statements like these, from the press release:

House Minority Leader John Rusche said, “Our Democratic Legislators represent everyone in their districts, not just the Democrats but Republicans and Independents as well, so our election process should reflect that.” Susan Eastlake, Idaho Democratic Party Treasurer, went on to add, “We have always been the party of inclusivity and openness and I don’t want to see that change now just because the Republicans have closed their doors to the majority of Idahoan voters. We welcome with open arms anyone that wants to join our decision making process.”

Never hurts to get people accustomed to voting for your guys, on whatever occasion presents itself. And being reminded why they can’t vote for the opposition.

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In times good, not everyone benefits equally, and in times bad, not everyone suffers the same – sometimes, not at all. Not everyone has been faring badly these last few years, just a lot of people.

In the Tacoma News Tribune today, columnist Peter Callaghan writes about Governor Chris Gregoire, who has proposed a mass of big spending cuts in state government, and is angry about it. Angry among others, it turns out, at local government.

Many local governments, she indicated, have been doing much better than state government, and have even been raiding state government for key employees.

Callaghan: “I asked staffers for some examples. A chief information officer for a state agency was hired by King County for a $115,000 pay raise. That person’s assistant went, too, for a 50 percent hike. Pierce County hired a chief financial officer from the state for a $20,000 raise. Tacoma hired a chief financial officer away for a 20 percent raise and more vacation. Seattle hired three state tax auditors for raises between 20 percent and 25 percent. A senior information technology worker left the state for a 15 percent raise with the Port of Tacoma. Gregoire is beyond seeking sympathy. She surely realizes that many residents of the state continue to view the bureaucracy as a part of the problem. But she doesn’t think residents realize that state workers have suffered more than other governments’ employees.”

Why would this be happening? Maybe in part because Washington state government relies heavily on sales and business & occupation taxes that have been sliced by the bad economy, while local governments have been supported more by property taxes, which haven’t taken nearly so large a hit.

Point being this: The state legislature, which will arriving in a month, will have authority to make some adjustments. Will Gregoire ask for them? And have the local governments enough clout to fend them off if she does?

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This is one of the more remarkable of Occupy events in the Northwest: “On Saturday, the streets of downtown Bend transformed into a sea of signs. Nearly 400 people gathered on the corner of Wall Street and Greenwood AVenue, then marched with their handmade signs, speakers and of course a message.”

Occupy Bend’s Facebook page has, at this writing, 1,005 likes.

Bend is not a small town, but neither is it a big center. It is not a governmental hub or a large-college town, and not a major population center. Its county, Deschutes, is Republican in partisan balance. This is a substantial event.

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Governor Chris Gregoire‘s proposal for the legislative special session next month includes loads more cuts and no revenue increases – tax or other increases. She’s not going there, on her own at least.

But she also included language in her statement that if the Legislature wanted to include revenue increases, she wouldn’t necessarily stand in the way.

There’s what looks like a complex set of dance steps on the Washington revenue front. Depending on how it plays out, Republicans might wind up with some bitter medicine which they mixed all by themselves.

Although Democrats control both House and Senate, they lack the two-thirds vote that a Tim Eyman initiative requires for a tax increase – and the Republicans definitely ain’t going there. But there is another option: Run a ballot issue asking the voters to increase taxes.

This seems problematic at first. But voters approved a challenged gas tax not many years ago. The point could be made that the state has in fact cut billions from spending, and the further point of what consequences would be if another $2 billion in cuts (Gregoire’s initial proposal) are made. Let them make the policy choice … and it wouldn’t be a surprise, really, if they went for taxes under the circumstances.

That’s not a foregone conclusion, of course. But considering Washington’s overall temperament, and the recent change in discussions (assuming it didn’t shift again) toward social needs, an approval would not be a great shock.

And it may happen. There’s this quote out today, for example, from Senator Ed Murray, D-Seattle: “We have to write a budget that actually balances, with draconian cuts in it. My hope is to ask the voters to get some of those cuts back.”

If voters did approve such a tax, that would severely blunt the Republican message during a key election cycle. As a political dynamic, it’s not hard to imagine Democrats glomming on to it.

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Washington Governor Chris Gregoire‘s office described the list of nearly $2 billion in state budget cuts – a response to revenue shortfalls – as “a starting point to the conversation,” ahead of the special legislative session starting a month from now (November 28). It could be highly useful, as a starting point – and if blanks are filled in.

The proposals, dozens of slices ranging in size from six figures to nine, carry all sorts of possible implications. One of those is simply the expenditures averted, and those are listed carefully, item by item. The implications and future costs of those cuts, though, seem to be skimmed over. And therein lies the usefulness of some real discussion. Some cuts could probably be made without much blowback, and a few are accounting shifts (noting for example that putting out wildfires cost less this year than expected). But others – most – are likely to result in real damage to the state and people in it, and there ought to be some accounting of that, and what it means for the future.

Gregoire remarked, “I expect additional feedback from communities and various stakeholder groups that I will certainly consider before I present a more complete budget next month. This list will likely change before then. But not much – our options are limited. We’ve already cut $10 billion from state government over the last three years, which leaves very few options moving forward. I said the work of slashing our budget by another $2 billion would be dreadful, and that’s what it is. Washingtonians are going to get a lot less of what they need.”

The implications of getting “what they need” are a lot different from getting “what they want.” Let’s take a few examples from the scores of cuts.

▪ “Eliminate state funds for domestic violence programs – $9.4 million. Terminates state funds for domestic violence shelters that serve about 16,700 individuals annually. Retains funding for non-shelter services.” You can pay now or pay later on combatting domestic violence – there’s no other option. And when you pay later, it’ll be a lot more. Not to mention the human suffering between here and there.

▪ “Reduce chemical dependency services – $14.5 million. Reduces out-patient and detoxification chemical dependency services for 11,000 low-income clients.” Same comment, maybe more emphatically: Higher costs, more crime, more complex and difficult solutions for problems as they fester and worsen.

▪ “Change eligibility for Children’s Health Insurance Program $145.0 million. Terminates funding for 134,000 categorically needy children, as defined by the Medicaid program, above 150 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $33,525 for a family of four. Families will have the option to purchase full health care coverage at 100 percent of the premium.” More people getting sicker … is additional comment really needed? This is one of the places where still-higher health care costs come from.

▪ “Eliminate Disability Lifeline medical program – $110.0 million. Ends medical services to 21,000 clients enrolled in the Disability Lifeline and ADATSA (Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Treatment Support Act) programs.” And what happens to the alcohol and drug abusers then? Not hard to imagine.

▪ “Reduce shellfish harvest and management – $536,000. Reduces clam and oyster seed planting on public beaches by 30 percent, resulting in a 20 percent reduction in recreational harvest within two to three years. Eliminates two Puget Sound crab and shrimp managers, which will delay openings for winter crab fisheries and lowered catch limits.” An example of how state expenditure cuts stand to directly affect private businesses – although in fact, a great many of these cuts would have business-problematic effects.

There have been some counter views. One from Remy Trupin of the Washington State Budget and Policy Center: “We cannot create jobs and get our economy back on track through deep cuts to education, health care, and social services. This one-sided, lopsided approach will do significant damage to the very things that make our state a good place to live, work, and do business.”

As noted, Gregoire made mention of no revenue options, as a way of stanching some of these cuts. It’s unclear whether more than a handful of legislators will.

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Arnie Roblan

That the 2011 Oregon legislative session may go down as legendarily good – you don’t see that kind of description a lot in terms of legislative sessions – owes a lot to Representatives Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay. Together, they managed to lead an evenly-split Oregon House, which might have been the scene of ugliness and disaster, through a smooth and productive session.

We’ll see that team in place again, for a short time, in the abbreviated 2012 session. But not after that. Roblan said this morning he’s running next year for the Senate seat opened by the upcoming retirement of Senator Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay.

Two notes are worth making here.

One is that Roblan could be giving up a future speakership or co-speakership (if the flipped coins lands on its side again, and the House splits evenly a second time). In a conference call with reporters this morning, acknowledged that, and considered it. But he’d been interested in the Senate seat for a while and, as he noted, those don’t come open often. But the possibility of a House speakership is quite real, since the last Democratic House speaker, Dave Hunt, is headed out of the Legislature in a run for Clackamas County office. Expect a good deal of speculation about who may be the next House speaker, then, if Democrats regain control. (If Republicans do, the answer almost certainly would be Hanna.)

The other point is the coastal open-seat situation, given how close the chambers are split: The House tied, and the Democratic majority in the Senate hanging by but one seat. And the fact that all three central coastal seats (the Senate district Roblan will run in, and the two House districts) will be open in 2012 has some significance. All have been held by Democrats, but this is not overwhelmingly Democratic area; the southern area, notably, is competitive.

Roblan, who has been representing that more competitive area up to now, probably is a strong bet to win the Senate seat, since the northern part of the district should be easier for him. There was an implication, though not explicit, that Roblan has been active in finding a Democratic replacement for his current House seat. But open seats are less predictable than the occupied, and a lot can depend on the political environment at the moment.

The central coast could be one of the more interesting places to watch next year as Oregon works out what sort of party control the 2013 legislature will have.

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Hot times in Tacoma over big boxes: The city council is considering a moratorium on approving construction of new stores over 65,000 square feet in size. Continuing a moratorium, that is – the original six-month ban started on August 30, when the city council declared an emergency.

The council held a hearing on the moratorium on Tuesday night, and the circumstances were such (especially in this environment of encouraging any and all new businesses) that anti-moratorium arguments should have been at a peak. If they were, the big boxers should be concerned: Testimony was overwhelmingly in favor of continuing the ban, and quite a few speakers wanted to make it permanent.

(A quote from one resident: “If we are to build a resilient community that will not just survive but thrive … we need to think outside the big box and think inside the circle of community.”)

A Walmart application was the specific trigger for the action, but it would apply to any retailer seeking to build upwards of 65,000 square feet.

One of the opponents of the moratorium, as you might expect, is the Tacoma Chamber of Commerce, which bases its position in part “on there being an emergency because our regulations fail to address some issue. I’ve yet to hear any specific issue raised that is not addressable through existing regulations. Traffic, public services, parking – all there. Now, just because a tool is there does not mean it’s going to be used. But failing to use it does not mean it is not there.”

That sounds true enough, but it’s a bit of a legalistic approach: Evidently quite a few people seemed to think there was, as a practical matter, an emergency. Or at least the need for a slowdown, and consideration of whether new big boxes really add to the economy, or just move money around, and into ever-fewer hands.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Mike McGavick may be remembered by some as a charming, successful business executive who became the Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate in 2006 in the state of Washington but nonetheless lost to the dour and oft-times petulant incumbent, Maria Cantwell. Others may recall his leadership in turning around Safeco Insurance which was headed for the rocks until he came aboard.

My perspective is different than most. When I listen and look at Mike, I see a conscientious and conscience driven businessman, husband, father and friend who is a deep adherent to his Catholic faith. He practices what he preaches though he lets his actions speak: he attends daily Mass, prays, pays and where doctrine does not conflict with his conscience, obeys.

One knows instantly, he thinks deeply, cares passionately and works diligently at unraveling mysteries and history. Hands down he is one of the best speakers one can ever hear.

Now the chairman of XLGroup, one of the world’s large reinsurance firms, he gave a compelling speech this past summer at the Bishop’s Annual Luncheon in Bermuda on the challenges facing today’s Catholic Church. It was a speech that was sorely underreported.

Near the end he talked about some factors in common to achieving a successful turn around, one of which has resonated with many – the need for accountability for the Bishops who looked the other way, often deliberately, as abuse of children went on right under their nose.

As Mike put it, someone has to walk the plank not only to demonstrate that the Bishops fully intend to hold all accountable, but for the sake of their own creditability to hold themselves accountable. He wryly noted that to the date of his remarks no Bishop had yet to take that short walk.

Sooner or later some Bishop, though, would be too blatant in his defiance to be ignored or too egregious in his conduct and someone somewhere would pounce. On October 14th, it finally happened.

The federal prosecutor in Kansas City gathered his evidence, impaneled a grand jury, presented the evidence and obtained an indictment of a sitting Bishop – the very conservative Robert Finn.

It looks to be open and shut: Bishop Finn long looked the other way at the activities of a parish priest whose antics with young girls had created warranted concerns of the parts of many parents. Surely most of the priests in that diocese welcomed the news.

For all too long many priests have watched with dismay as only priests and deacons, even those who had truly questionable accusers, nonetheless were “hung out to dry.” No Bishop, however, regardless of how clearly they knew they were “moving around” priests with serious allegations, was being called on the carpet by fellow Bishops.

This double standard was the source of discontent among the many decent, caring priests across many dioceses. Bishop Finn was one who mouthed the words about supporting the 2003 Bishop’s charter to protect children but his actions belied his words.

The vast majority of Catholic bishops takes the charter seriously and works diligently to enforce it. Spokane’s Bishop Blas Cupich (pronounced Soo-pitch) heads a Bishop’s subcommittee on monitoring enforcement. His predecessor, Bishop William Skylstad, was in the leadership of the Bishop’s Conference when the charter was adopted and spoke out eloquently and passionately on the need to reassure parents their children were safe while under supervision of Church personnel.

Unlike some, he advocated immediate reporting to civil authorities and full disclosure.

Idaho’s bishop, Mike Driscoll, became a zealous believer having learned the hard way to pay attention even to rumors when as Vicar General in Orange County, he moved around several priests against whom there were serious questions. He later profusely apologized.

One need only look to the immediate west, however, where in the diocese of eastern Oregon the last Bishop appears to have been moved out because of his refusal to adhere to the protocols of the Charter.

The Vatican’s apostolic delegate called Bishop Skylstad out of retirement to administer that vast diocese supposedly for four months. He is now approaching a year as the acting Bishop.

While Bishop Finn undoubtedly is the first of several who will end up walking the plank, there are two troubling questions that need to be answered fully. Why is the indictment just a misdemeanor and not a felony? Why is it that the first Bishop called to account just happens to also be a member of the ultra-conservative society, Opus Dei?

The many Mike McGavick’s who care deeply about their Church’s future need to know that Bishops too will be held accountable, but they also need to know there is no faint whiff of internecine politics tainting the process that leads to a Bishop walking that plank.

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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Some talk about Washington Republicans that there’s no need for a 2012 legislative session. And you can almost imagine some Democrats pausing a moment and thinking, hmm …

From an email release out Monday:

Washington State House Republicans are urging lawmakers to come prepared to go to work quickly when they convene for a special session on November 28. Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis, today said the only two pressing issues the Legislature needs to address this year is adopting a sustainable supplemental budget and reforms that will get Washington working again. And while these are big challenges, DeBolt said if the Legislature can tackle those two objectives during the 30-day special session, it could adjourn for the year and forego the 2012 60-day regular session. He noted the Legislature would save taxpayers more than $2 million by skipping the regular session.
“The last thing Washington citizens need is for 98 lawmakers to come back to Olympia in January for a 60-day regular session and consider bills that end up costing taxpayers money we simply don’t have,” said DeBolt. “If we come to town and get our work done in December, there is no compelling reason to come back a few weeks later.”
The Legislature is scheduled to convene on Nov. 28 to correct a nearly $2 billion state budget shortfall and when it does House Republicans will be advocating for a package of bills aimed at getting Washingtonians working again.

There may be some temptation along these lines for Governor Chris Gregoire. You can imagine her thinking: Wouldn’t it be such a nice several months if they weren’t here …

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Judging from news reports, blogs, comments and various sources, a prevailing view of how the Oregon 1st congressional district primaries will go – in about three weeks, ballots having just hit mailboxes.

On the Democratic side, state Senator Suzanne Bonamici is thought likely to win. She has and has spent more than her opponent, is in a one woman-two man contest – the men are state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian and state Representative Brad Witt – in which the core of the men’s support is assumed to be labor, which they may split. The polling out so far also gives her a lead. On the Republican side, businessman Rob Cornilles is presumed to have a powerful lead and likely to win overwhelmingly. He has a campaign warchest comparable to Bonamici’s and far beyond any of the other Republicans, has a strong campaign organization in place with a skillfully-run campaign ready to re-up from just last year, and (owing to his 2010 contest) is clearly better known than the others.

And it may go exactly that way; the logic is reasonable. We’d not bet any money against it.

And yet … most election days have their surprises. There’s at least one alternative scenario out there too. If one or both parts of it does happen, remember: It wasn’t entirely unforeseeable.

Remember that we’re talking here, on the primary level, about a special election: For most voters, this one race will be all that’s on the ballot. (There are a few exceptions.) This primary contest hasn’t, for the most part, broken through to really widespread attention. You see not a large number of yard signs and such (more for Cornilles at this stage than anyone else), and talk of the race doesn’t seem to be in everyday chatter. Local political junkies follow the race, but most people in the 1st … probably not so much. All this taken together suggests low turnout, a turnout in which activists will probably have disproportionate influence.

Republican activists, in the last cycle or two, have been in large part Tea Party-type activists, or at least people for whom ideology is pre-eminent. Last year Cornilles ran as a John Boehner-type Republican, not part of the Tea Party group but close enough to it to make its members comfortable. In this year, though, he sounds a good deal different, taking a more moderate tack. In debate a week ago in Forest Grove, he was sharply criticized by two other Republicans for having abandoned the party’s ideas and – horrors! – sounding more like the Democrats at the debate than like his fellow Republicans. And at times, he did.

One of those Republicans, Jim Greenfield, does seem to have emerged as the flagship candidate for what we might call the Ideology Republicans – his take was a lot like what you’d hear from Tea Party Caucus Republicans in the U.S. House. He sounds harsh and limited if you’re not aligned with him, but he delivers tasty catnip if you are. He evidently has little money or organization. But this is a group with a strong, if informal, communications network. If it spreads in a serious way the word that Greenfield is the real deal and Cornilles is the Mitt Romney of the race – an analogy not hard to see, and which has already spread to a degree – there’s room here for an upset.

The situation is a more subtle on the Democratic side, where Bonamici is not so far ahead of Avakian in money. Excluding candidate loans to the campaign, the two have raised comparable money. The money is most key in buying TV spots, but in races like this, where there’s no significant attacking going on (and there isn’t), the ads have limited impact beyond introducing the candidates to the voters – and remember, a disproportionate number of special election voters already probably know them (and Avakian’s political record goes back more years than Bonamici’s, and has extended statewide, as hers has not). By several accounts, Avakian has a substantially larger and more active ground and volunteer effort.

One other factor could play in: Avakian has gone farther in using activist language and approaches, and in identifying himself with activists like the Occupy Portland group. That’s a judgement call, to be sure; both Bonamici and Witt also have been present at Occupy events and have been supportive. It’s a matter of tone as much as anything else. (His first TV ad was called, “Ticked off.”) But it seems clear, and it’s easy to imagine Avakian picking up a disproportionate part of the activist vote.

To reiterate, none of this is an argument that Bonamici and Cornilles won’t win. Just that, even though ballots are out, the race is hardly over yet.

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A few thoughts on review of the quarterly federal congressional campaign reports – the receipts and spending by candidates up to September 30.

• In Washington’s 1st district, an open seat with the gubernatorial run of Democratic Representative Jay Inslee, there are a wealth of reports from Democrats – five of them – and just one from a Republican. Laura Ruderman, the former state representative and secretary of state candidate, has raised the most money ($182,675), followed fairly closely by current state Representative Roger Goodman ($162,127). There are three other candidates, two also legislators, but the early numbers suggest Ruderman and Goodman are the two to watch most closely. For now anyway. And: Not much financial action yet for Republican James Watkins, who also ran last cycle.

• Oregon’s 1st district features a special election, with the primary election period starting this weekend – the crisis period has hit. Top money raiser so far is Democratic state Representative Suzanne Bonamici at $600,404, though a third of that is a loan from the candidate. Second (among the Democrats) is state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian, at $378,678 – not far behind Bonamici in terms of ternal money raised. Also of interest is the very serious money coming to Republican Rob Cornilles (the 2010 nominee) – $505,556. Cornilles raised upwards of $1 million for his unsuccessful run last year; he seems on track to raise as much or more this time. High competition is being signaled here, just around the bend.

• Oddly, no new report yet from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell – and none from any prospective challenger. It’s getting awfully late to raise serious money for a U.S. Senate race.

• Along that line, a bunch of representatives have no report-filing opposition yet. In Washington: Jaime Herrera Beutler (3rd), Doc Hastings (4th), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (5th), Jim McDermott (7th), Dave Reichert (8th). Oregon: Greg Walden (2nd), Earl Blumenauer (3rd), Kurt Schrader (5th). Idaho: Mike Simpson (2nd). And, 1st District Representative Raul Labrador has a filed opponent, Jimmy Farris, but Farris reported no contributions by the cutoff date.

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Andrus book

The title, Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor, would give you to think that this is a biography, albeit a hagiographic one. It is better taken as the writer, Chris Carlson (whose columns show up here about weekly), indicated in his substitle, as a reminiscence – a work of memory, through his eyes, in considerable part unchecked in any rigorous way. And, within that frame, it might be taken as this: The story of the mentor relationship between Carlson and Cecil Andrus. That’s the thread that runs through the book.

The first part of the book, about Andrus’ early life and early political years, is relatively biographical, and those interested in Andrus’ background will find plenty of new material here. Carlson has a number of stories to tell from his years working for Andrus, mainly in a press and public relations capacity. He also tells some of his own story, his short time on the Northwest Power Planning Council (as it was called then), the founding of the Gallatin Group, and more. There’s a long chapter as well concerning concerning the campaign surrounding the Washington death with dignity/assisted suicide ballot issue (Initiative 1000, which passed in 2008); Carlson was one of the leading organizers against it. Andrus did not take a role in that campaign (so far as Carlson relates), but the lessons he imparted over the years were taken into that campaign.

That suggests some of the results of the mentoring relationship that is Carlson’s main subject here. Andrus, elected governor four times and Interior secretary for a full presidential term (the only one to last all of Jimmy Carter’s administration), is one of the strongest personalities Idaho has had in the last half-century. If he enters the room, you know it – and you enjoy it (ordinarily). He’s among the rare people seemingly at home anywhere, with just about anyone. And he learned, along the way, a lot about how the world works – another major theme of Carlson’s.

On one occasion, some years back, I had occasion to ask Andrus for advice on a matter relating to a political campaign. The exact bedeviling problem at hand is now forgotten (by me anyway), but Andrus’ advice was not, and especially the effect it had: It lasted no more than two or three sentences, and he hadn’t finished speaking before I knew he was exactly correct. And he was. It was the gift of cutting through clutter.

Carlson also subtitles his book, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” and the back cover text says he “inarguably, has had the greatest impact on Idaho in modern times.” That raises a subject we’ll be addressing here a few months from now in another book, looking at the influential people in Idaho history. However exactly you rank him, Andrus has been powerfully impactful on the state. And, as this book maintains, on a lot of individual people as well.

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Farris
Jimmy Farris

Idaho’s 1st congressional district has a 2012 race: There’s now a Democratic candidates to go alongside the Republican incumbent, Raul Labrador, who presumably will seek re-election.

Jimmy Farris, 33, now living in Meridian and a former NFL wide receiver (for a bunch of teams including the Atlanta Falcons and Washington Redskins) said in a conference call with reporters that he’s in, definitely – “We’re filed, I’m in.” He said his next steps will include fundraising and becoming known around the district, which seems reasonable enough. He said he has a current staff of five (geogrpahically scattered at present), and there’s a website.

“This about convincing people that I’m the best person to represent people in this district in Congress. And that’s a 50-50 proposition, they either vote for me or against me,” he said.

Well … as any number of Idaho Democrats would attest, it’s a little tougher than that. Well, a lot tougher.

He comes across as a nice guy, more easygoing and pleasant than you might expect from a stereotypical NFL player, and those things – with some celebrity – would be assets. He is an Idaho native. And he sounds plainspoken and transparent; you don’t get the sense of someone making excessive claims (as has happened in this district before).

On the other hand. He may be an Idaho native, but he hasn’t lived in the state between leaving for college more in Montana more than a decade ago, and this summer, when he moved to Meridian. His interest in politics, he said, is quite recent, to the point that he only election he’s voted in (in his recollection) was in the 2008 general election; he did not vote last year.

“What I really want to do is make a difference,” he said. He expressed concern for the economic state of the country, but beyond saying very generally that he would support a jobs bill, had little specific by way of prescription. He acknowledged he has a good deal to learn yet about a wide range of issues.

Why is he Democrat? “I want to make things easier for other people,” he said. “I’m a Democrat because im interested in the lives of everyoday people.” If that sounds a little vague, it’s not clarified by his view of his opponent, of whom he offered little direct criticism: “It’s not about challenging Congressman Labrador.” (Actually, it is: By running, he’s asking voters to fire him.)

Getting to the NFL has to be a very hard proposition. This may be harder.

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carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The “chattering” class of political pundits and prognosticators is in full lather these days offering uninformed assessments regarding former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s prospects for winning the presidency given that so much of the GOP base today is comprised of self-described Christian evangelicals.

For these folks, most of who are in the south, Mormonism is a cult, not a religion. Some experts think over half the delegates to the National Republican Convention in 2012 will be self-professing evangelicals. Polls show only about 20 percent of this core base of the GOP could vote for a Mormon to be president.

Much is being written since a prominent Southern Baptist pastor with ties to Texas Governor Rick Perry charged that Mormonism is a cult, not a Christian faith. While the self-anointed political experts commenting on this may know something about analyzing polls, most are uninformed when it comes to actual knowledge about Mormonism.

Permit this pundit a few observations.

First, Governor Romney can win the 2012 presidential election for the simple reason that a desire to retire President Obama will trump all concerns regarding his religion. Regardless of one’s political bias, most objective perspectives would concede that so far Romney’s campaign strategy has been smart, well-implemented and soundly executed.

He has been the “steady Eddie” of the field, staying focused on his message that he is the most qualified to lead an economic turn-around by virtue of his business background as a turn-around artist. Exhibit A is the Salt Lake Olympics but he has other examples to employ.

When asked about his religious beliefs he wisely directs the question to the LDS communications office in Salt Lake.

Secondly, if Romney wins the Republican nomination he selects African-American businessman and former pizza executive Herman Cain as his running mate. Cain is the perfect antidote to anyone who charges a person is not voting for the President because deep down he or she is really a bigot.

Cain also reinforces Mitt’s message about his campaign being all about business leading the way back to economic growth by creating the jobs needed to generate more spending by consumers. Additionally, Cain’s “9-9-9” proposal for tax reform and revenue generation will continue to attract attention and analysis.

Third, there is an answer to the challenge represented by the charge that Mormonism is not really Christian, which, once the public internalizes, will decrease concerns and needless anxieties. A little background.

Many of my summers as a teenager were spent in and around either Pocatello or Salmon working for uncles who ran the respective National Laundry and Dry Cleaner businesses. Naturally, I frequently was socializing with members of the LDS church, both “jacks” and committed practitioners.

Being good proselytizers, those in the latter group would almost always ask if I had read the Book of Mormon if I started to question or opine on some aspect of their beliefs. While pursuing my B.A. at Columbia I took a minor in Comparative Religion, and for my senior year, last semester I had a class of independent study wherein I could pursue a topic and produce a research paper if approved by the class instructor.

I chose to study Mormonism and proceeded to read the Book of Mormon, The Pearl of Great Price, The Doctrine and Covenants, University of Utah professor Thomas O’Dea’s book The Mormons, Fawn Brodie’s biography No Man Knows My History: the Life of Joseph Smith, and a dozen other books.

My conclusions were that devout Mormons are fine practicing Christians in the sense that by their actions, their care for their neighbors, their emphasis on family, their living for others to the point of self-sacrifice, they have internalized the gospel message of Jesus Christ. They are true practicing Christians and no one should challenge their contention that Christ is their Savior.

This is a sociological ethic that deserves nothing but praise and commendation.

The theological ethic is something else that for me defied logical analysis. Replete with contradictory and controversial concepts, there was no other conclusion a logically inclined person can draw.

But faith is not necessarily all logical – indeed, faith often requires a suspension of logic and an embracing of the mysterious. As such, Mormonism is a unique American religion. To call it a cult displays ignorance and denigrates unfairly.

The issue for the voter to assess is not whether Mitt Romney wears the undergarments Mormons in good standing wear. It is rather whether his religion reinforces values critical to assessing issues and reflects a solid commitment to ethics as he weighs the hefty matters that confront a president. Mitt Romney easily meets indeed passes that test.

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Carlson

Most of what we’ve heard about this has come from southern religious conservatives. But Seattle’s Mark Driscoll appears to be weighing in as well, with implications in this part of the world too.

The subject is the Mormon church – the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – and its role in the presidential campaign, and in Christianity. Our view here is that in the former it shouldn’t be a consideration (we in this country have no religious test for public office, and for good reason), and in the latter is a subject for consideration by individuals. (A column by Chris Carlson on the subject generally will be up here shortly.)

The presidential candidacies of two Mormons, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, has made the subject irresistable to any number of conservative Christians, however, and a number have weighed in to argue that the LDS Church isn’t really Christian, and may even be a cult. Most of these speakers have come from the southern Bible Belt.

Enter Driscoll of Seattle’s Mars Hills Church (which has been expanding south to Portland) on the subject:

The danger facing the Christian church is always to capitulate to culture. As Mormonism becomes more culturally acceptable, the temptation will be to make Mormonism more acceptable to Christians as well. This can’t happen if the Church is to preserve it’s witness in the world to the true triune God of the Bible as worshipped by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians alike.

Many mormons are good neighbors, friends, and fellow citizens. But, we cannot go so far as to call them brothers and sisters in a common faith. To do so is to not only confuse real Christians, but to also diminish the importance of lovingly speaking with Mormons about the errors of their belief in hopes of seeing them come to know the real God of the Bible and avoiding eternal damnation for worshipping a false god.

Driscoll is certainly free to expound on religion as he will. But there are some serious political and social implications to the description of another religious organization – a large one, with deep roots in the region – as a “cult.” Those could turn serious indeed as people start casting votes in the months ahead.

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