Writings and observations

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Count me as one who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he inspired a sense of hope that he could lead this nation towards more comity among its conflicting interest groups, inspire partisans to set aside partisanship for a consensus regarding the national interest, and set a tone for civility and respect that would restore faith in the legislative and executive branches to work together to solve the vexing challenges the future held.

Count me now as disappointed in much of his record, back on the fence and more than willing to see if the Republicans can offer a decent alternative.

There are three major areas where he has fallen below expectations.

First, President Obama has failed most of the fundamental tests of leadership. Specifically, he should have acted swiftly and made clear what he would do as soon as he heard rumblings that the Republicans were going to make an issue out of raising the debt ceiling.

A real leader should have recognized how further damaging to the world economy the mere debate over whether to raise the debt ceiling would be to the marketplace and what a corrosive impact on the fragile recovery such a move would be.

He should have had House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell down to the Oval Office and told them flat out he would invoke the 14th Amendment which he believed gave him the power to raise unilaterally the nation’s debt ceiling, and that if he heard another peep he would do it. And then made good. Push the envelope until someone pushes back hard.

Also under failed “leadership” is his inexcusable failure to put all the prestige of his office behind the well-thought-out, well-crafted set of compromises the Erskine Bowles/Alan Simpson Commission had worked out to address the nation’s spiraling deficits with a balanced plan of spending cuts, entitlement reforms and revenue enhancements. Instead he left a solid, responsible plan dangling in the wind.

Secondly, he is rapidly losing, and rightly so, traction with many of the nation’s Roman Catholic voters. In a well-received speech at Notre Dame during his 2008 campaign he pledged to respect the Church’s right to conscientious objection as demonstrated by protecting the ability of Catholic-run hospitals to refuse to perform or have performed on their premises abortions, or dispense the “morning after” pill from their on-premise pharmacies, or not accelerate end-of-life procedures inconsistent with Church teachings.

It made for a fine-speech, and the public at-large has long recognized the importance in a democracy of protecting a minority view against the so-called tyranny of the majority. In our checks-and-balances system ensuring the rights of the few are not trampled on by the many has long been a sacred and inviolable element. Most people recognize vigorous public debate over complicated and controversial issues would be seriously damaged and lead to anarchy if conscientious objection was stripped from public discourse.

In practice, though, President Obama’s nominally Catholic secretary of Health and Human Services, former Kansas Governor Kathleen Sibelius, has spearheaded a series of incremental policies that seriously erode minority rights and views of Catholic hospitals. Using the big stick of withholding federal funding for critical things like Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement unless all rules and regs are met is forcing many of these privately run facilities to contemplate closure rather than sacrifice principle.

The public is the ultimate loser as its ability to choose between public and private facilities disappears. The Conference of Catholic bishops is disturbed enough to have taken up the question privately at its recent meeting in Baltimore of how to challenge the President’s violation of his pledge without appearing to engage in partisan politics. Somehow, though, one knows that the people in the pews will soon learn about this perfidy.

Third, the President continues to play fast and loose with one of the largest, best organized constituencies in the nation: the millions of gun-owners who to a person view the Second amendment as absolutely inviolable. Most of these owners belong to the National Rifle Association which views any appearance of the diminution of the right to keep and bear arms to be the beginning step of a downhill slide into government confiscation and banning private ownership.

President Obama did recognize this constituency’s power by signing legislation which permits an individual to carry a loaded weapon in National Parks (like many Park Rangers do). He has, however, remained silent on various city initiatives to limit gun ownership and has said nothing about federal legislation that would force one state to recognize the validity of a concealed weapons permit issued in another state.

As it stands now, the state of California does not recognize any such permit issued by any other state, making travelers from other states who do bring weapons with them at a minimum scofflaws not to mention if caught, facing potential jail time and hefty fines.

Even moderate gun-owners (those who support 3-day waiting periods, oppose sale of cop-killer bullets and don’t believe children have a right to assault weapons) harbor justified suspicions about how strongly this president really respects gun-owner rights.

I have of course listed three items of importance to me personally, and as I weigh them against some of the President’s positives I can’t help hearing that old baseball refrain in my head about “three strikes and you’re out!”

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.

Share on Facebook

Carlson

Up in the Idaho Panhandle, they’ve got the Republican Party, in the region’s extension of the state organization together with the county organizations. Same as the Democrats.

What isn’t the same are all the other conservative Republican organizations.

You got your Rally Right, your Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, your Panhandle Pachyderms, your North Idaho Pachyderms, your Women Republicans, and not to forget the Tea Party (in, evidently, multiple flavors).

Why the need for so many? Well, it takes a lot of work to make sure the local Republican organization – that is, the actual party – isn’t infested with RINOs (Republicans In Name Only, which seems to mean anyone who has a difference of opinion with one of the new groups).

Actually, all these apparently aren’t quite enough, either, hence the Monday launch in Rathdrum of United Conservatives of North Idaho (which some said was just a reboot of Rally Right, but never mind).

A Huckleberries correspondent, Duane Rasmussen, offered this account:

Yes I was there. It was a very up beat type of program. I saw people from Rally Right, Reagan Republicans, Panhandle Pachyderms, North Idaho Pachyderms, Women Republicans, the Tea Party organizations and most if not all the Republican Central Committees in the five northern counties of Idaho. John Cross who is the Republican Region One Chairman, played a prominent roll as did Representative Phil Hart, Representative Vito Barbieri, Representative Dick Harwood and Kootenai Sheriff candidate, John Green. Mr. Green recited an event when as a young Deputy Sheriff and he was sent to back up two IRS agents who where conducting a seizure of assets. He stated that he should have arrested the agents then and there but did not have the knowledge and courage to do so at the time. He promised that things will be different when he becomes Sheriff. There was significant talk about RINOs and a degree of gloating about the progress Conservatives had made against the Rino’s in the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

These are not people who believe in working with, well, other people: If your point of view is different, well, it’s survival of the fittest out there. Shoshone County Republican Chair Chuck Reitz said Democrats and moderates should not be negotiated with: “Jesus didn’t compromise. He was always straight, and he knew where to go.”

Dave Oliveria’s Huckleberries blog has been a great place to follow the minutiae of these developments, which demonstrate that for all the push toward one pure central doctrine, these people have been splintering and re-splintering in dramatic ways.

Consider this statement from Jeff Ward, who leads the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans:

“Many of those who attended [the United Conservatives meeting] last night did so to determine if this new organization was merely a re-branded Rally Right and if the purpose of this organization was to conduct political purges within the Republican Party. It is pure delusion (although a number of speakers alluded to it) that the Republican Central Committee in Kootenai County is infested with moderates and liberals. I challenge anyone to honestly name five active Precinct Committee Chairs who are not conservatives. Previously anyone, regardless of their solid conservatism, who refused to take direction from Rally Right’s Mr. Pederson, were slanderously branded as liberals. There was also an element of Obama-like class warfare with attacks on the affluent members of the Central Committee as if financial success somehow invalidated one’s conservatism. I sincerely hope this organization will not continue those insidious and destructive tactics.”

Pure, pure, puree …

Share on Facebook

Idaho

whiskey

The voter-determined Washington state shift of liquor sales from a state-run to a (regulated) private system may have only marginal effects within that state. With some exceptions, prices likely (this is based largely on the California and Nevada experience) won’t change too drastically, and the often-ballyhooed social effects aren’t likely to amount to much.

Could be that the result of that vote impact Oregon and Idaho just as well as Washington.

Of Oregon, there’s already been plenty written, and will be more, if only on these grounds: Washington’s political environment is similar enough to Oregon’s that a comparable public-to-private shift isn’t hard to feature. Especially with private-sales states both to the north and south.

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission evidently takes the idea seriously enough to do some pushback.

You may have heard some say that liquor is cheaper in California. The facts are that only a handful of products are significantly lower, while most products are very competitive. In fact, after you’ve added in the California sales tax, many popular products in Oregon are actually less expensive.

Many retail stores in states like California use a sales tactic called “loss leaders.” This is the practice of drastically marking down a few popular, fast-moving products to entice customers into coming into the store and purchasing other products. But then other products are likely marked higher to make up the cost difference.

The OLCC does not use these techniques to entice people into liquor stores. For public safety reasons, the state does not try to encourage alcohol sales or try to entice people into the stores.

The most common size bottle sold in Oregon is 750 ml also known as “fifths.” Most people who purchase alcohol purchase this size – and this is the size where Oregon is the most competitive.

We took the advertised prices from a popular grocery chain and liquor store in California (including their sales tax) and compared them to Oregon. The price comparison showed that the final cost of a “fifth” of Smirnoff Vodka in Oregon was $12.95. In California, the final price (including sales tax) was $15.21. Another popular brand, Bailey’s Irish Cream, was $21.95 in Oregon – the average price, including tax, was $23.92 in California.

In a 2010 study, there were many brands in which the Oregon price was lower than California ’s: Bacardi, Jack Daniels, Seagrams, Jose Cuervo and Hennessy – just to name a few.

Our informal sense (in our household, there are periodic trips between northwest Oregon and northern California) is that, the OLCC notwithstanding, better liquor deals can be had in California. But not by enormous margins.

There’s been somewhat less talk about Oregonians heading north to buy liquor. But the talk of northern Idahoans heading west to buy in Washington state has been ramping up.

A Spokesman-Review article out today says that 13 (at least) Idaho liquor stores are within 15 miles of the border with Washington, and they account for about 23% of liquor sales in the state. They have been high producers because Idaho liquor prices have traditionally been lower than in Washington – a situation likely soon to change. Idaho could lose millions in sales profits in Northern Idaho next year. And Idaho doesn’t, at present anyway, seem to be making any moves toward sending its liquor sales into private hands.

A point not noted was this: What if Oregon (as seems probable) joins Washington in going private? The impact would likely be less, but Ontario could become as busy with liquor sales as it once was selling lottery tickets.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Oregon Washington

A headline in the Washington Post sports section today says, “Hiring of coach Mike Leach shows Washington State is ready to shed underdog label.”

It also seems ready to shed quite a bit else. There are campuses devoted to football and those with a focus on academics. This is usually a choice between the two: The overlap tends not to be large.

In WSU’s case, what does this sound like?

WSU’s new football coach Mike Leach, less then two years out from his firing at Texas Tech, was hired at a base salary of $2 million a year (plus add-ons that add another half-mill or so to that), which is twice or more the highest salary ever paid before to a WSU coach. This at the PAC-12 institution with the smallest marketplace, the smallest stadium, lowest average attendance and smallest athletics budget. He will be among the top-paid coaches in the PAC-12.

About that firing … Leach did deliver wins in his Texas Tech years, finishing 84-43. But then in December 2009 he was caught up in an incident involving a player with a concussion, and within one month – from the time of the incident – he was first suspended, then fired. (There were also, in the reasons for the firing, allusions to “other things”, which makes you wonder, since in Texas they don’t tend to fire winning football coaches lightly.) And he didn’t go quietly: There were lawsuits, charges and counter-arguments. Since then he has been a broadcast football analyst, but hasn’t been hired back to coach since his firing.

Nor is that all. There are any number of videos circulating now, including the infamous “fat little girlfriends” video embedded here. He may not be the most shining possible ambassador for WSU in the season ahead. (You might also, for additional perspective, check out this one too.)

But at WSU, that’s far from all. Athletic Director Bill Moos said (in the Post article) that he “is asking that fans fill the 32,000 seats at Martin Stadium and open their wallets to make bigger donations. ‘I opened my checkbook for you, you open your checkbook for me,” Moos said. Construction started this week on an $80 million project to add premium seating, luxury boxes and a new press box to the stadium. Also on the drawing board is a $60 million football operations building.”

Well. This year, the Oregon Ducks haven’t been matching their 2010 spectacle. And in the last couple of years the Boise State Broncos have been falling a little shy of their national-attention-getting seasons.

They should count their blessings.

Share on Facebook

Washington

Governor Chris Gregoire said her takeaway from the Occupy protests at the statehouse boiled down to: “not an all-cuts budget, some revenue.” She took issue with a few people (who refused to leave the building) who she said distracted from the issue at hand, but backed most of what they said. (Some of them were tasered and arrested.)

“What I think is regressive and mean spirited,” she said, is to cut human services, children services, public safety.

She figures that a decent budget will mean taking it to voter decisions by referendum.

Share on Facebook

Washington

It can be noted, and will be, that not a lot of people voted in what amounted to a straw poll conducted by the Independent Party of Oregon – evidently about 100 or so, out of a universe of potential voters of well over 20,000. That’s small turnout.

Regardless, the result is in, and it may matter for the more definitive election to come.

By a margin of just under two to one, the party’s 1st district members voted for Democrat Suzanne Bonamici over Republican Rob Cornilles. The two had just appeared together at an Independent Party-backed debate in Portland, on Sunday night.

The district has a strong Democratic edge, giving Bonamici a natural advantage. A line of reasoning we’ve heard recently even in some far-flung areas of the state went like this: Bonamici didn’t need the party’s endorsement (which could, possibly, translate to a two- to three-percentage point help) to have a good shot at winning the election which ends on January 31. But Cornilles, running in difficult terrain, did need it, badly, and would have to be considered a serious underdog if he lost the bid for the Independent nomination.

Both candidates had sought the endorsement, but neither seemed to fight for it very hard. Party leaders report that no more than a direct mail flyer or two from each side was seen. A more intensive effort by either candidate might have mattered considerably, and might have been inexpensive campaigning with potentially high return.

For Cornilles, anyway. As it stands, Bonamici wound up where she doubtless wants to be, with large advantages looking toward the general election, and having just blocked her opponent from gaining a potentially strong asset.

Share on Facebook

Oregon

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s self-congratulatory Thanksgiving Day column (The New Normal) claiming a number of highly debatable “successes” for Idaho on his watch reminds one of a story his idol, former President Ronald Reagan, liked to tell.

It’s the story about the guy digging madly through a huge pile of horse manure convinced that there has to be a pony in there someplace because there’s so much horse s___. With all due respect to the office he holds, Butch is just plain wrong in almost all he claims.

It’s hard to believe he can look at his mismanagement of so much and claim success. This goes beyond rose-colored glasses, beyond the normal p.r. spin one has come to expect of so many of today’s officeholders. This is pure, unadulterated horse manure which anyone with an understanding of factual information can smell from far away.

Here’s just a sample of what smells on his watch:

*Governor Otter deliberately underestimated revenue this past fiscal year by $100 million so he could rationalize real cuts in state support for public education across the board, creating chaos in many school district budgets, necessitating over-ride levies to make up the difference and then had the unmitigated gall to claim he held the line on taxes. All he did was shift the tax increase for many from a state tax to a local levy.

*Governor Otter came within an eyelash of having the federal government impose a one-size fits all health insurance exchange by political posturing against the mandates within the Obama Health Care legislative reforms. He could have cost the state the loss of a billion dollars in federal funds in needed programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Only the sleight of hand of granting exemptions kept Idaho from a folly that would have constituted a gubernatorial dereliction of duty.

Governor Otter and State Superintendent Tom Luna, after not saying word one about educational reforms as part of their re-election agendas in the fall of 2010, showed contempt for the voters by rushing a series of ill-conceived reforms through their one-party legislature that lined the pockets of firms, particularly purveyors of computers and computer programs, who were campaign contributors. They appear to seriously believe computers can replace teachers which is simply mind-boggling.

The governor-appointed State Tax Commission has engaged in a pattern of giving targeted tax relief, thereby decreasing revenues to the general fund, to firms and individuals many of whom are contributors to the Governor’s campaigns and other Republican coffers.
As the titular head of the state’s Republican party Governor Otter has remained silent in the face of what can only be described as a series of sad, embarrassing incidents that warrant at minimum condemnation if not an actual call on the perpetrators to either resign or be expelled from office. His silence creates the appearance of condoning tax scofflaw Coeur d’Alene State Rep. Phil Harts’ failure to pay a variety of taxes and his theft of state timber to build his log home. Does the governor also condone Caldwell State Senator John McGee’s dui and the mysterious disappearance of the car theft charges? Does he condone State Party chair Norm Semanko’s borrowing of an association’s funds for personal uses?

Governor Otter has yet to explain just what Idaho has received in exchange for his unconscionable agreement to abrogate Idaho’s compact with the Department of Energy and the U.S. Navy to allow the Idaho National Laboratory to receive (allegedly for research) almost a thousands pounds of spent fuel rods annually from commercial nuclear power plants for the next 20 years. These rods will remain here far past the 2035 date for removal of all nuclear waste above Idaho’s aquifer because as he well knows with the death of Yucca Mountain as the final repository there is no other place these rods can be shipped. So they will be stored above ground in Idaho over the aquifer in holding ponds similar to those that were ruptured by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan earlier this year. Such a deal, Governor, such a deal.

Finally, there is no polite way to say this, Governor Otter knows and those close to him know he is engaging in what’s called “mailing it in.” He is not showing up for work very often, his schedule of public appointments has decreased dramatically, he spends only minimal time when he does make public appearances with the exception of the occasional capitol for a day. He seldom makes himself available to the press.

One could make a case he ought to turn the job over to Lt. Governor Brad Little. In a bit of contrarian thinking, though, I’m glad to see him mailing it in given the amount of damage he has done to this great state just working at it part-time.

But, please, don’t shovel all that horse manure at me and try to convince me it is potting soil full of roses.

Share on Facebook

Carlson

And the Washington legislative building – which it seems to be, as opposed to the legislative meeting room buildings – is Occupied.

They’ll need an option other than pepper spray to clear it out, since that could make the building uninhabitable as the legislative assembly commences. Which occurred, um, today.

It’s a special session, with the aim of closure before Christmas. But some Republicans are calling for this session to replace the regular 2012 session, which would put a lot more pressure on.

And pressure, they’ve got plenty of.

Share on Facebook

Washington

Here was something unusual: a Democratic congressional nominee, and a Republican congressional nominee, appearing at a debate where the ostensible purpose is to gain the support of another party: The Independent Party of Oregon.

The Independents aren’t nominating their own contender, but are – present tense – sending in ballots to determine which of the contenders, Democrat Suzanne Bonamici and Republican Rob Cornilles, their party will endorse. This may have been the first televised debate – it was aired by KATU 2 Portland and staged in its studio – the party has had. It’s a turning point. It may be a turning point for the candidates, though to what effect isn’t yet clear. There’s some view that, given the Democratic tilt of the 1st congressional district, Cornilles will need the Independent support to win and may not be able to win without it, while a Bonamici backing by the party could nearly foreclose a Cornilles win.

Either way, neither candidate seemed to conclusively seal the deal tonight: There were no serious body blows or major gaffes. (The station has posted it in full online.)

There were missed opportunities, though.

Cornilles reiterated the debunked argument that the Affordable Care Act (which he took care to call by its correct name, as opposed to Obamacare) would cut $500 billion from Medicare; the lowered budget amounts refer to savings from efficiencies and other improvements rather than diminished benefits, a point Bonamici could have made but didn’t. (She noted the claim had been blasted by Politifact, which is true, but probably wasn’t much absorbed by many viewers.) When Cornilles cited a statistic about how Bonamici, in one survey, voted with her state Senate caucus 98% of the time, she responded that the statistic isn’t fairly representative of the work or votes done there – which is also true, but could have been turned into a stronger point about Cornilles’ lack of legislative experience.

Bonamici was asked about illegal immigration, and spent her answer talking about how she’s like to get people around a table to hash out an answer. That table made its appearance several times; Cornilles could have hacked away at that crutch, but didn’t.

Cornilles’ best line, which he’d surely like to be a frame for his argument, came when he said “My opponent wants to defend the system; I want to fix it.” Piece of his debate fit into that frame; other parts didn’t.

Bonamici’s best moment came in a question about the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling on campaign spending, after a detailed response from Cornilles (which avoided the core impacts of the decision). She had time for a 30-second rebuttal, but smartly limited it to one memorable reposte: “I don’t happen to believe that a corporation is a person.”

Independent Party voting is supposed to conclude on Tuesday, and we should know the winner within a day or two after that.

Share on Facebook

Oregon

A couple of polls in recent months seemed to show Barack Obama at serious risk of losing Oregon in next year’s election. But the questions were a little sideways and hard to read, and we’ve been awaiting a national poll to check in on the state, to find out how the numbers are reading more directly.

What emerged in the new Survey USA poll on the presidential race is very much what might be expected in Oregon, and likely reflective of what the state will do next year:

11 months till ballots are mailed in the election for President of the United States, incumbent Democratic President Barack Obama is poised to hold Oregon’s 7 electoral votes, according to a poll for KATU-2 TV news in Portland.
Today, in hypothetical head-to-head match-ups between the two Republican front-runners, it’s:
 Obama 48%, Romney 40%.
 Obama 51%, Gingrich 37%
If Romney is the candidate, Obama leads among men by 5 points. If Gingrich is the candidate, Obama leads among men by 12 points. If Romney is the candidate, independents split. If Gingrich is the candidate, Independents break for Obama.
Romney has a Minus 20 favorability rating: 21% see him favorably, 41% see him unfavorably.
Gingrich has a Minus 30 favorability rating: 20% see him favorably, 50% see him unfavorably.

It was a survey of 600 Oregon adults, and included cell phone users.

Share on Facebook

Oregon