Writings and observations

Bonamici
New Representative Suzanne Bonamici meets with constituents at a town hall at Newberg. (photo/Stapilus)

One of the first county town halls by Senator Ron Wyden we visited had an exchange that seemed startling for its abandonment of the way members of Congress often interact with constituents. A person in the audience asked a question (can’t remember the subject) with a clearly partisan intent, evidently seeking to get Wyden to take a shot at then-President Bush and congressional Republicans. Wyden declined, saying that on another occasion he’d be happy to engage in partisan talk with the man, but at town halls, the idea is to discuss public business and public policy, and leave politicking outside. He has stuck to that rule pretty rigorously, and so has (in our observation) Senator Jeff Merkley when he followed up on Wyden’s approach of a guaranteed town hall in every county ever year.

Which is a long way around to note that, in her first town hall meeting as a member of Congress in Yamhill County (at Newberg), newly-minted Representative Suzanne Bonamici conducted the even very much like Wyden and Merkley – quite well, and focused on policy ideas and judgments about what makes sense and what doesn’t. If there was any itch to last out at House Republicans, it didn’t show. The tenor showed at the beginning, when she was introduced not by a local government official (typical at the senators’ events) or by a local Democrat, but by a local Republican state Senator, Larry George of Sherwood, who spoke about their cooperative working relationship when both were legislators at Salem.

Maybe it’s an Oregon thing.

The Bonamici event at Newberg actually outdrew the two senators’ recent Yamhill County events. It gave her a chance to run through her first rounds of votes in the House, for the STOCK Act (anti-insider trading for Congress), for one, and signing onto several bills, including one comparable to one she’d worked on in Salem to expand financing for small businesses.

Most of the session was taken up with questions, and they ranged widely, from the economy to contraception to Internet regulation to the defense authorization act. Her answers tracked fairly closely with those she gave in the numerous debates she was in before the January 31 election; there were no big surprises. And it was all, well, civil.

But you got the sense that this may be the first of more town halls to come; there was some discussion of, as well, future town halls aimed at specific subject areas.

Bonamici mentioned that one of the many caucuses she joined in the House was the Civility Caucus – a group trying to find ways to foster more civility in Congress. A suggestion: Strongly, strongly urge every member to hold regular town hall meetings with the rules Wyden described and Bonamici seemed to adhere to. They might provide some practice.

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Oregon

Remember John McGee, the Idaho state Senator, Caldwell Republican, who was in the headlines some months back because of a strange drunken incident in which he wound up after a blackout in a truck and in front of a house that weren’t his?

That incident didn’t cost him his seat, but this latest bit did: Accusations of sexual harassment of a Senate employee.

Maybe there’s call for some reflection here, since this kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. A post of particular interest is one by Dennis Mansfield, a Republican who has been calling for McGee’s resignation, but focuses here on the actions of Senate Republican leadership.

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Idaho

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Idaho media recently carried reports that the State Board of Education had unanimously voted to strip the word “flagship” from the University of Idaho’s mission statement.

President Duane Nellis appeared stunned by the move. He should not have been – even this scribe pointed out a year ago in several columns that shang-haing the title of flagship away from the land grant university was part of BSU President Bob Kustra’s five-year game plan to have the Boise State campus be perceived by the public and politicians as the real flagship in Idaho’s university system.

The apparent ease with which President Kustra pulled off the move not only is a testament to his political and p.r. skills, it also says much about President Nellis’ passive nature. Vandal partisans should ask pointedly why their president, despite all the obvious signs, failed to see this coming and did nothing to block it.

One has to ask pointedly also, where were the two Idaho board members with the most obvious connections to the University of Idaho, Bill Goesling and Emma Atchley, and why did they go along? Surely they could not help recognizing from a p.r. standpoint alone how insulting to the University of Idaho this slap in the face would be.

Looking over the horizon and anticipating what is coming is clearly art and not science. Some see various pieces of information, connect the dots more quickly, and draw pretty good conclusions about what’s coming around the bend. Then there are those who one can present with all sorts of data showing the loaded dump truck around the corner and still refuse to believe it until it is seconds from running them over. The latter is the case with Duane Nellis and the University of Idaho.

Set aside for a moment the stupidity of such a move by the board which offered up the weak rationalization that the University of Idaho should not be so singled out when course offerings and instruction were equally good (?????) at Boise State and Idaho State.

Set aside too the tier system American universities are rated by a standard which is largely a reflection of the amount of research done at a university, the dollars attracted from both public and private resources for research, and the number of Ph.D’s awarded by the school. By all these measures and by accreditation associations across the country the University of Idaho clearly predominates.

Yes, the Vandals and Bengals field lousy football teams compared to Boise State but that should not matter to the academicians of the world, and in fact it doesn’t. But to a politically appointed Board of Education, such as Idaho has, it clearly does matter.

One cannot help noticing that despite a long tradition under previous governors for selecting members of both parties for board spots so as to foster the clear impression that the board was expected to be bi-partisan and non-partisan with Governor Otter that tradition has gone by the wayside. All the members now appear to be Republicans.

That, however, easily leads to the question whether the governor and/or his staff were aware that Kustra, with the able assistance of his government affairs aide, former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, knew in advance that Kustra was going to make the move.

Someone in the daily media ought to be asking what did the governor know and when did he know it?.

What should be clear to all is that perception is reality. Removing the word “flagship” from a university’s mission statement can be seen in no other context than a demotion no matter how much lip stick President Nellis tries to put on this pig. It ain’t pretty and what the U of I lost will be seen by all others as a clear gain for BSU. Just watch now as BSU’s share of the state funding pie continues to grow.

Frankly, I loved the skillful way Bob Kustra pulled off the board vote and stuck the stiletto into Nellis (metaphorically) while smiling and looking him in the eye. Just before the surprise vote by the board Kustra granted the Statesman’s political editor, Dan Popkey, a lengthy interview in which his acute political skills shone and his ability to act ethically in the rough and tumble political world, especially that in Illinois, also was apparent.

Remember, in politics there are no coincidences!

Some folks may ask why now? The answer is easy: Kustra is declaring victory. It’s over and done. BSU as far as public and political perceptions are concerned is now the state of Idaho’s “flagship” university.

UI had ample notice and still could not avoid being run over by the loaded dump truck. It doesn’t take a fortune teller looking into a clouded crystal ball to predict they may never get the title and the public perception back.

My congratulations to President Kustra and his team; my sympathy, somewhat shallow, to President Nellis and his. All hail the new flagship!

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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Carlson Idaho