"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)
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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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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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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As per normal, this decision presumably will be appealed. But it has a ring of eventual finality – given the U.S. Supreme Court’s generally open-records recent history.

Released today, the ruling from U.S. District Judge Benjamin Settle of Tacoma in Doe v. Sam Reed said that Protect Marriage Washington doesn’t have the right to keep secret the names of people who signed a petition to put a referendum on the ballot. The referendum, R-71, was proposed by a group of opponents to gay marriage on the broad extension of the state’s domestic partnership rules.

The argument was over whether the names on the petitions ought to be considered private, the way ordinary votes are (votes, say, on the referendum after it was on the ballot). But before it could get to the ballot came a policy choice about putting it there – the sort of policy choice that usually has operated in more sunlight.

PMW argued that people might be subject to harassment if their names were released.

But as in some other cases, evidence of harassment was thin.

“Similarly here [as in other cases], PMW was able to secure 137,000 signers for R-71 and obtained nearly half the vote with 838,842 votes. And Doe has not supplied competent evidence or adequate authority to support its claim that R-71 signers constitute a fringe organization with unpopular or unorthodox beliefs or one that is seeking to further ideas that have been ‘historically and pervasively rejected and vilified by both this country’s government and its citizens.’ “Pretty much the opposite, one would think, and the court found similarities between this case and others were more open rules applied.

Testimony was brought from a number of initiative supporters saying they had been – in their terms anyway – harassed. But as the judge noted, these were all public figures, all well known for their stands on gay-related issues for some time, and little evidence was brought that their involvement in R-71 specifically subjected them to harassment. Besides that, the judge noted that more than 800 contributors had (as per the state’s campaign finance law) been publicly listed as backers of the R-71 effort, with little evidence of any blowback.

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And the Idaho redistricting commission’s work seems to be done, with a congressional plan that looks a whole lot like the one Idahoans have had for decades, save only some shifting of precincts in central-west Ada County.

That was almost certainly what was inevitably going to happen, eventually, though this one could have headed toward deadlock. The Republicans on the commission were determined that a split-Ada approach would happen, and the Democrats wanted a plan that united Canyon County with the rest of southern and eastern Idaho. The odds of that major shift occurring were … never high.

So Democrat Ron Beitelspacher switched sides and voted with the Republicans for split-Ada.

Does it make any real partisan difference? Evidently some Democrats seem to think so, but it’s hard to see how: Both districts, either way, remain overwhelmingly Republican. Changes on a scale much larger than redistricting can afford would be needed to turn either district genuinely competitive.

Now the question: Will someone sue, and if so over what?

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Donna Nelson
Occupy events at Roseburg/photo by Barbara Rainey

The Occupy movement has spread to some small and conservative communities. A report from blogger Barrett Rainey, who lives in Roseburg, Oregon, and reports on activities there. Cross-posted from Rainey’s Second Thoughts blog.

Well, I was wrong. Our little right-leaning community here in the forests of Southwest Oregon really did try its hand at the “Occupy” demonstrations last Saturday. I’d previously said it likely wouldn’t happen here where all things political list to starboard. More of a sharp slant, actually.

A few more than 100 folks from seniors to toddlers gathered at the Douglas County Courthouse, then marched across town to the BLM offices for another round of speech-making and display of signs. They picked the BLM, I guess, as the local representative of federal government. The only local fed site larger is the V.A. Hospital campus and who wants to picket a hospital where some of your friends are? And where you may end up?

The kids at the local almost-daily paper duly recorded the thoughts of a few of the participants and published several pictures. But, as usual, there was more to the story that escaped them. First, a little history.

A few months ago, a dozen or so mostly seniors – mostly Democrats – gathered in a local park to sit at tables and talk politics. And grandkids and the price of gas and other subversive things. Soon they were confronted by mostly male – and completely right wing representatives – with nasty signs and nasty, confrontational words. And a fella who shot a video – of what to normal folks would be an embarrassment – to post on a local fringe website.

When the Dems left the park to reconvene at a private residence, the nut jobs followed, tried to trespass, were turned away and settled for blocking the driveway for an hour or two. For the next several weeks the screwballs were roundly chastised by the local, literate citizenry in letters to the editor.

O.K., back to this weekend’s “Occupy” day. The kids at the almost-daily missed – or deliberately avoided mentioning – the collection of some of these same righties standing – where else – on the fringes. One, who likes to think of himself as the epicenter of all-things right locally – was taking pictures of individuals and making a written list of the names of those he knew. He even tried to bait a few passers by, challenging their right to entitlement programs or their “socialist” demonstration. Nobody bit.

Another of his fringy cohorts had a video camera. At first, he stayed back and shot from a distance. Then, when no one seemed to notice, he moved into the crowd and got closeups of faces while his wife and small dog stood by. I’d hazard a guess his electronic handiwork will appear on the nut-page.
Several others from the previous park confrontation leaned on parking meters and pointed, laughed and boosted each other’s egos as they made light of the demonstrators in front of them. They, too, tried in vain to get into “conversations” with attendees as they moved to the street to march. The young fella who was heading up the day’s events patiently talked to them for a few minutes then, realizing explanations were not what the interlopers wanted, he rejoined the street crowd.

The right wing guys were at least smart enough not to do anything to call overt attention to themselves, realizing they’d land back in the bad graces of even the more responsible, strongly conservative local element. After boosting each others testosterone levels, they got in their SUVs and pickups and headed down the street.

So much for them. Back to the marchers. It was heartening to see democracy in action as they expressed their views. All the signs were personal and handmade, including two that caught my attention for color, neatness and simplicity. A couple of elementary teachers I later learned.

There were students, teachers, a firefighter I recognized, some local business people, a retired minister and family, an elderly lady on oxygen, some veterans, some unemployed, some on crutches or canes; just plain folk. No political affiliations obvious. I even recognized a couple of Republicans; one with a sign. A well-behaved little guy of about six had a large sign saying he was the future. A few even made up small signs on some blank whiteboard, using markers they brought with them.

Our little whimper for justice was, like nearly all the others now worldwide, a quiet, heartfelt outpouring of people’s concerns: failure to punish bankers and brokers who helped bring us to the edge of our financial cliff; lack of jobs; layoffs; entire subjects eliminated in our school system; planned school closings; organized efforts to make all unions the “bad guys;” and a completely dysfunctional congress ignoring the relentless pounding on the middle class. Pretty much the same messages you see on the network news from New York City, San Francisco, Seattle or elsewhere.

It was a serious gathering. Those few the fringe element tried to bait just kept on walking. People were there to have their little say. And they did. They even picked up all the paper and other leftovers before marching. It was a marvelous display.
You should have been there.

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The adopted map


And redistricting in Idaho is, apparently, about done: The commission on Friday adopted a plan, L87, by unanimous vote:

The legalistic requirements seem to be met fairly cleanly: The highest population deviation reported is -5.24%. Not bad.

Looking around the map, a few impressions …

Overall, Democrats should be reasonably happy. They should like the Coeur d’Alene-area, and Moscow and Lewiston-based, districts, which are clearly drawn and surprisingly compact. The Boise-area districts are in generally not bad for them either, and they got mostly what they wanted in the Blaine County and Pocatello areas as well. Some of the Boise-area Democrats were thrown into more problematic districts with a Republican or two (notably the three in District 16). Still, it’s better than they had good reason to expect.

People in the two districts that have generated complaints – the Owyhee/Twin Falls district in the southwest, and the Franklin-Bear Lake-Caribou-Bonneville-Teton district in the southeast – will get less satisfaction, because those districts largely remain in place. We will hear complaints form those quarters that the districts they have disliked (with reason) for the last 10 years will be extended another 10.

In fact, taken as a whole, this map looks a great deal like the current one (and not tremendously like the map proposed by the former outgoing commission). It almost seems as if the commission took a leaf from Oregon, starting with the current map and just tweaking it as necessary.

A large batch of legislators will confirm, though, that it isn’t an exact match: A lot of them were thrown together in districts with more incumbent legislators than available seats. They include the House speaker and majority leader – You can say this about the plan: The powerful got no special protection.

Senate matchups (drawn largely from blog reports of the Spokesman-Review‘s Betsy Russell):

District 1: Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle
District 11: Sens. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, and Melinda Smyser, R-Parma
District 16: Sens. John Andreason, R-Boise, and Les Bock, D-Boise
District 20: Sens. Shirley McKague, R-Meridian, and Chuck Winder, R-Boise
District 23: Sens. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, and Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home


District 5: Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Tom Trail, R-Moscow
District 8: House Speaker Lawerence Denney, Reps. Carlos Bilbao, Judy Boyle, Ken Roberts (assistant majority leader), Steven Thayn
District 14: Reps. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle; Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian; Mike Moyle, R-Star House Majority Leader)
District 16: Reps. Max Black, R-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise
District 23: Reps. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home; Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls; and Rich Wills, R-Glenns Ferry
District 24: Reps. Sharon Block, R-Twin Falls; Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls; Leon Smith, R-Twin Falls
District 30: Reps. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls; Erik Simpson, R-Idaho Falls; Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls

By my count, 33 legislators will be tossed into these uncomfortable spots – just under a third of the legislature. And that means a lot of seats will be open, too.

Odds are, in any event, this is it.

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Of note: The spots in the Northwest that are the costliest to live, at least in terms of median hosing prices.

Forbes magazine put together a list of the 500 most expensive zip codes in the country. Four from Washington made the list, two from Oregon, none from Idaho.

Highest-ranking at 46 was Medina, Washington (across Lake Washington from Seattle), with a median home price of $2 million (boosted a bit no doubt by Bill Gates’ waterfront spread). The other three from the Evergreen: 209 – Mercer Island (median $1 million), 235 – Seattle 98112 (median $957,079) and 247 – Bellevue 98004 (median $938,940).

The two from Oregon: 401 Arch Cape on the coast (median $749,500 and 483 Lake Oswego (median $676,410).

Nothing shocking there, just worthy of note.

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Oregon Washington

Occupy in downtown McMinnville, at the US Bank square/photo by Randy Stapilus


The Occupy events in the big cities – New York, Boston, even Portland – get most of the headlines, but as of last week and especially this week they’re getting underway even in many smaller communities. As in our nearest mid-sized city, McMinnville.

This one is smaller scale, in numbers and ambition. About 30 people were there for the opening of the event at 11 a.m. today, at the US Bank plaza downtown (in front of the Ben Franklin statue), but organizers were hoping to triple that as the group walked a few blocks north up Third Street (the main downtown road) to a city park.

No one there really looked much like a hippy. (The crowd skewed older.) The signs were much like those most familiar from other marches: “People before Profit”; “You are the 99%”; “Jobs not Cuts/Tax Wall Street”; “Corporations are not People; Money is not Speech”; “Main Street not Wall Street.”

No long-term stays were anticipated there. But the sheer numbers of protesters across the country does provide an indicator of something substantial going on.

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A report well worth reading just released from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, involving Idaho to a substantial extent but not on the subject of neo-Nazis.

The Propagandists: Bryan Fischer, the American Family Association & the Demonization of LGBT People” fills in the story of Fischer, a highly visible Idaho figure in the first half of the last decade. Three years ago, he took a job as head of the American Family Association and remained audible, at least, via a radio program.

Controversial since its founding in 1977, the gentle-sounding AFA has been anything but. Since Fischer’s arrival especially, it’s not hard to see how the SPLC would place it on its list of hate groups:

But in the last three years, since hiring a radical Idaho preacher named Bryan Fischer as its director of issue analysis, the AFA has gone even further. Since moving to Mississippi to join the group, Fischer has declared that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler … the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews” — a complete falsehood, as any historian knows. He has suggested that gay sex be recriminalized. He has routinely claimed that gay men molest children at rates far higher than those of heterosexual men — another falsehood, as all the relevant professional scientific associations have long agreed. Fischer has said that President Obama “nurtures a hatred for the white man” and suggested that welfare incentivizes black “people who rut like rabbits.” He has said that non-Christian religions “have no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion,” claimed that the “sexual immorality of Native Americans” was part of what made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil,” and suggested that the best way to deal with promiscuity would be to kill the promiscuous.”

The background about Fischer’s activities in Idaho, contains some new information and perspective, and is worth the read. As well as the larger picture.

A question: Why are broadcasters giving Fischer and this group air time?

The report overall was written by Heidi Beirich, Evelyn Schlatter
and Robert Steinback, and edited by Mark Potok. The portion of it containing the Fischer profile came from Idaho writers Jody May-Chang and Jill Kuraitis.

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One of the books on my bookshelf since its publication in 1986 is Who Profits: Winners, Losers and Government Regulation, by Robert Leone. It’s an academic treatment, but it offers a useful framework for looking at regulation, and an ironic one too: His academic background (Harvard) notwithstanding, Leone suggests that regulations – meaning law and rules generally – are best examined from a practical and economic standpoint, not ideological.

On page 135, he writes that “the first and perhaps most obvious characteristic of management to government policy is that it tends to be ideological. That is to say, management’s first reaction, especially to the adverse consequences of regulation or government intervention, tends to be a principled one and not an economic one.” Leone argues that while ideology has a useful place in politics, it is “counterproductive” in evaluating policy. Look instead, he suggests, at the practical effects. (For his full and compelling argument as to why, read the book.)

All that comes to mind in reading the excellent Seattle Times column out today by Bruce Ramsey on Initiative 1183, the measure that would allow for sale of hard liquor in private stores, instead of (as at present) only in state stores. It is a revision of two measures that failed at the polls last year.

Among the key arguments (implicitly or explicitly) against the measure are that liquor could be sold in thousands of tiny shops all over the place, and that teenage drinking could be expected to rise. Ramsey makes short work of these. He noted studies showing that teenage drinking is actually at lower levels in California, Nevada and Arizona, where private store sales are allowed, than in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, which all are state-store states. And he points out that, in contrast to at least one of the 2010 measures, few stores under 10,000 square feet – meaning few if any convenience stores or mini-marts – could qualify to be sellers.

Having made clear that the debate over the initiative isn’t about any of these things:

“This is a high-stakes fight. It’s fun to write about public safety, or whether selling schnapps is a proper function of government. But the organizations writing million-dollar checks are playing to win. To them it is a fight over the market for alcoholic spirits in a state of 6.6 million people — and also about Washington’s rules for selling wine, which 1183 frees from pricing restrictions. Costco is bankrolling the Yes campaign. It wants to get into the market in bottled spirits in its home state. It also wants more freedom to buy wine and sell it at good prices. The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America are bankrolling the No campaign. Their members like the rules just as they are — and they do not want to compete with Costco.”

The rest, he said, is just “face paint and rubber masks.” He seems to have it about right. The guess here is that Leone might agree.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

On Election Day, in November of 1994, a Seattle reporter for the Hearst-owned Seattle Post-Intelligencer came by my office in downtown Spokane early in the day wanting to know what I thought we’d know at the end of day, after the polls closed and the ballots were counted.

Solveig Torvik, of obvious Norwegian heritage, was raised in Blackfoot. By reputation she was a solid, well-informed reporter who did her homework. When I opined that the end of the day would see Tom Foley become the first sitting Speaker of the House to lose both his seat in Congress and the Speaker’s gavel since something like 1846, Ms. Torvik was shocked.

Surely the people of Washington’s 5th Congressional District had enough sense not to turn their back on their own self-interest in having the most powerful member of the House, the person second in line for the presidency, as their congressman?

The answer came quickly within 90 minutes after the polls closed: Yes, the voters of the 5th District were, in their view, willing to place the needs of America ahead of their own self-interest and retire the Speaker who had served them so well for 30 years. The 5th district, along with Idaho’s 1st district, bought into Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” hook, line and sinker.

My answer to the why was even simpler: Speaker Foley had lost touch with the voters.

The evidence was easy to see. Voters had awakened to the fact Congress exempts itself from almost all the rules and regulations it imposes on the rest of us when it comes to things like OSHA, Clean Water and Clean Air, Labor practices, etc. Speaker Foley’s normally keen ear had turned to tin after 30 years.

In debates with the charming, pleasant George Nethercutt, the Speaker chose to defend the congressional perks. It was not well-received. In addition, part of the Contract with America was a pledge to serve only three terms and then retire.

Speaker Foley spoke against term-limits while both Nethercutt in Washington’s 5th District, and Helen Chenoweth, in Idaho’s 1st, signed the pledge. Only Chenoweth, it turned out, kept her word, retiring after three terms.

It was no coincidence the Contract referenced a three term limit. Like most pension plans, the Congressional plan vests after five years. Unlike most pension plans, however, Congress awards itself a Cadillac plan if there ever was one, with health benefits attached that exceed the best plans anyone can obtain anywhere else.

Members of Congress do take care of themselves and their colleagues, both current and former. Therein lies one of the biggest disconnects between the governed and their governors, and why some pundits today see parallels to 1994.

Occasionally, one will see some member of congress try to make a p.r. splash by turning back part of their salary (now at a nice $166,000 per year), or part of their office allowance. Never though does one see a member rejecting the pension and retirement health benefits plan.

Because it also takes enormous sums of money to run for office, those able to fully or partially self-finance have a leg up on those that can’t. Is it any wonder then that the current Congress is comprised of more millionaires than ever before?

Is it any surprise that these predominantly rich individuals take care of their rich brethren and their rich donors by continuing to protect loopholes and tax dodges?

Is it any surprise also that means-testing of things like Medicare and Social Security, which seems so logical, never gets taken up?

Is it really a surprise to see Congress held in its lowest regard ever?

Clearly, our representatives really aren’t representative. Just look at their financial disclosure reports. There’s no way a multi-millionaire like Senator Jim Risch (estimated worth is between $15 million and $50 million) can feel the uncertainty, the pain and the fear of a 55-year-old hard-working, God-fearing, decent family raising man who is looking for a job in this economy to keep body and soul together. Senator Risch never has to worry. He’s insulated from a dire future. The vast majority of the rest of us are not.

Nothing personal, but how can he empathize? He can’t. So how can he get what’s going on in the state and nation? Almost all members of Congress are losing touch. They’ve created a system of security for themselves and simply cannot relate to the insecurity so pervasive in society.

It has to disturb everyone, regardless of party or ideology, that so many middle class, hard working Idahoans and Americans are up against the wall and losing hope.

Admit it. We all know hard-working, tax-paying folks turning their homes or condos back to banks, inviting foreclosure, despite what it does to their credit rating.

There’s a bitterness brewing in the hinterland towards all members of Congress that should tell them to quit dwelling in “Beulah land,” and start to get it. We’re in trouble. And many members of Congress are in trouble, whether they yet know it or not.

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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