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Posts published in June 2012

Idaho column: What will the Republicans do?


The Idaho Democratic convention may generate a few headlines but the Republican next weekend in Twin Falls may tell a larger story, when it makes decisions on picking a new chairman and approving platform and resolutions.

The chairmanship is opening with the end-of-term departure of Norm Semanko, and there’s not only no obvious heir, but also no now-obvious battle lines. The chair fight in 2010 was not about different gradations of “conservative,” or even ideology, but more about ins vs. outs. The outs (under Semanko’s banner) won. That may have taken a little air out, since winning breeds satisfaction rather than roiling energy. And this year, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter evidently is (wisely, after losing two years ago) staying out of it. The divisions this year seem not nearly as sharp as two years ago.

A bunch of names have been floated. Some are not prominent statewide (the county chair of Elmore County, for example). At least one is well known – Dean Sorensen, a former legislator who (fairly or not) for some bears the “moderate” tag, not a good sign for election inside this party. A dark horse could yet emerge.

Then there’s Lawerence Denney, speaker of the Idaho House, quoted as saying he might be willing to serve as party chair and leave the speakership. This is an eye-catcher, since party chair is not nearly so powerful or influential an office as House speaker – or even, probably, most House committee chairs. Speculation here: It’s an indication Denney thinks he may be unseated in the organizational session in December by Representative Scott Bedke, the now-Assistant Majority Leader running for speaker, who seems to have deep and broad support.

But Denney’s candidacy, like others, is uncertain till the convention. It could be a relatively quiet and easy contest; a string of candidates each without much support each could drag things on; or there could be a squabble over issues.

Bringing us to platform and resolutions, subject of much discussion after the 2010 meeting when Tea Party favorites like repeal of popular election of senators, return to the gold standard and other such issues either were embraced or nearly so. There’s some discussion this convention might focus more on national issues and on lining up support for presidential nominee-apparent Mitt Romney, which would make for peaceful quiet.

Or not. The batch of proposed resolutions mailed to convention delegates includes, again, a bunch of hot-button items (one calling for a reversal on the closed Republican primary). Resolutions committee co-chair is Representative Bob Nonini of Coeur d’Alene, who may not shy from the hotter stuff.

The platform could go two ways too. Last time, the party called for sending out to candidates a checkoff form called variously a “survey” or a “loyalty oath,” in which they could declare which platform elements they support or not. Those responses apparently will be brought into discussion in the platform committee, which is slated to run about twice as long as usual. Based on that and longer debate, the platform might be softened from 2010, or the delegates might decide to get more creative.

Each of these choices will tell us something about Idaho Republicans this year.

“a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”

Bryan Fischer departed Idaho about five years ago, but the New Yorker article now out profiling him ("Bully Pulpit") - the hook was his blast at a Matt Romney spokesman who happens to be gay, resulting in the aide's resignation - is still well worth the read by Idahoans. He was a significant figure in the state for a number of years, and he had real impact on the evangelical community in the Boise area.

One of the sources for it was Boise's Dennis Mansfield, who was once close to Fischer but parted ways years ago. (The specifics are detailed in part in the article."

Mansfield's blog has a fine post up today reflecting on Fischer. He wrote at one point, "Debating the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality in our culture is something that Bryan Fischer is actively engaged in, and has been for over a decade. You know what? I used to be there too. The term "righteous anger" would have been an appropriate term to describe the ferocity with which I would debate this issue, and others. The problem is that it doesn't work. Somebody who yells and screams makes for great entertainment, but little else. I've found that is is exponentially more difficult to shut my mouth, and listen. It is also exponentially more rewarding."

He closes with this from Corinthians 1: "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Solving a problem like …

When a fellow office-holder - especially a fellow member of a legislature or of Congress - gets into messy personal trouble, at least of the reaction from their colleagues of the same party has to be: Please go away. Just quit. Soon. It's colleagues of the other party that would be happier to have them stick around.

Finessing this is never easy. Idaho senators had to deal with this in the case, last year and this, of (now-former) Senator John McGee of Caldwell, who last year had a strange drunken incident and this year was accused of sexual harassment. Under pressure from fellow Republican colleagues, he resigned before this year's legislative session was done.

Now Oregon House Republicans have a Matt Wingard problem, and it too isn't going to go away very quickly or easily - if, that is, Wingard stays in office.

The full story was reported by Willamette Week and won't be recited in detail here. The core of it - not disputed by Wingard - is that he met the woman at a Christmas party in 2009; she joked he should hire her (as a legislative aide), and he did. Not long after, her legal allegation says, he began pressuring her to drink beer (she was 20, underage for alcohol), and they eventually had a sexual relationship. He says that was fully consensual, she says he pressured her into it. She eventually stopped coming to work, she said, but Wingard continued to pay her for some time anyway. (Wingard at least partly disputes that latter point.)

Regardless, the undisputed elements include delivering alcohol to someone underage, misusing the hiring function of a legislative office, and entering into an employer-subordinate sexual relationship. Wingard's response in part included the line, “I believe that what two consenting adults do is their own business” - but the law recognizes that when one person in a relationship has power (such as hiring and firing) over another, there's a real question about the nature of consent.

Wingard has been in Republican House leadership, and he simplified matters for his colleagues by relinquishing that job. But as long as he's a legislator, this isn't going away. In an election year in which Republicans and Democrats each hold 30 House seats, every one is precious. Including Wingard's.

Carlson: Farewell, one of the few

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With his closely cropped hair resembling a military buzz cut one would think Denton Darrington was a former U.S. Marine. He’s not, but he is the living personification of the Marine motto - semper fi (Always faithful) — with his fidelity to family, friends, LDS faith, his state and country, the Idaho Legislature and the teaching profession.

After a record 30 years of service in the State Senate, Denton is leaving and returning to his farm full-time since he also retired from the classroom, having been an educator for 33 years. The people of Idaho in general and supporters of education in particular owe him a solid vote of gratitude for a job well done.

Rather than run against good friend State Senator Dean Cameron (R-Rupert), chair of the powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, when redistricting combined their districts, Darrington, true to his genuine modesty, chose to retire.

A walking encyclopedia of Idaho political history and an excellent practitioner of the art of politics, one wishes the veteran state senator was not so humble about his God-given skills. Urged by many friends to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2006, Darrington took a pass on grounds he believed he was not qualified.

Instead, the state ended up with the truly unqualified Tom Luna who has alienated most teachers and been the spear point for Republican attacks on the Idaho Education Association over issues like collective bargaining, merit pay, and on-line education.

Many believe Idaho education would not be at the nadir it has fallen to if someone like Darrington, with actual classroom experience and a working knowledge of politics, had been leading the SPI office during these perilous times. (more…)

WA gov: Debate 1

A vigorous debate this afternoon in Spokane (watchable on TVW) between the two main candidates (almost certainly the two who will face each other post-primary) for Washington governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee.

They were not greatly imbalanced. McKenna talked faster, whipped through bullet points with crisp precision, probably got in more effective digs at Inslee than Inslee did of him, and scored more points in a formal debate sense. He also seemed a little cold and off-putting, even a little technocratic. Inslee was a little slower-paced, made fewer specific points and sometimes fuzzed those, but conveyed more of a sense of an overarching sensibility. He seemed a little warmer and more approachable. Both came across as smart and knowledgeable.

The debate was cordial, but both were careful to draw distinctions between them on almost everything. Toward the end McKenna remarked that "It's good to have a strong contrast; we clearly have that here" (and they did) on the two-thirds voting requirement for legislative imposition of taxes. Attorney General McKenna supported it as policy, not just as a legal case, saying the voters were right to build a higher wall to passage of a tax after the state had raised a number of them over the years. Inslee's response was that "It is a principle of democracy that we have one person, one vote." The two-thirds requirement gives more clout to a person one one side of an issue.

The debate focused on the economy, education and budget matters. Asked about charter schools - there's a prospective ballot issue to allow for some of them in Washington, overturning the current ban - McKenna said he would vote aye, while Inslee was in opposition.

These points could be among the keynotes of the campaigns to come, along with a couple of other comments each made. McKenna's closing included the comment that "In Olympia, all we hear are excuses." That almost sounds like a counterpoint to a comment Inslee made earlier, about concerns of a "my way or the highway" approach to governance - a reference he made directly to Republicans in Congress but which might also be applied to states like Wisconsin.

More debates to come. Watch them develop.

UPDATE: WHO WON? Self-selecting polls are never to be trusted too much, as they're subject to gaming. But presumably since both sides may have had a crack at it, here's the Seattle Times' online poll (self-selecting) at midday Wednesday on who won: McKenna 48.2%, Inslee 47.2%. A wash.

Officials change, referendum set, dock arrives

Oregon Fish & Wildlife employees scrub a dock of creatures clinging to it on a long trip from Japan. (Photo/Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Last week, a dock from Japan, unmoored when that nation suffered a tsunami earlier this year, washed up on a beach new Newport. Signatures were turned in at the Washington Secretary of State's office for a referendum to overturn the state's new same-sex marriage laws.

Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo announced her resignation, turning over that job to Governor John Kitzhaber. Long-time public Idahoans Perry Swisher died at Boise.

A grazing act proposed by Representative Raul Labrador clears a key committee. The number of adults in Washington getting pertussis vaccination is on a sharp rise. Oregon state officials have block a plan to allow liquor licenses at some Portland food carts.

All this and a lot more in this week's Briefings. For more, write us at

Column’s now in Nampa

The Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa has become the third newspaper home, starting today, of our weekly Idaho column.

Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook has up a piece describing the column and my background in Canyon County.

A bit more about the background:

In 1976, Canyon County had two newspapers, the Nampa Idaho Free Press and the Caldwell News-Tribune, jointly owned and with the larger share of the operations (and the press) in Nampa. At the time I was on summer break from the University of Idaho, and stopped by at Caldwell with a story proposal, which I dropped off. The story wasn't accepted (for good reason - it was out of date), but the editor called me in for an interview, and hired me. I stayed there about a year and three-quarters.

It was a good experience. The Caldwell office was in effect a substantial bureau, but staffed lightly enough that everyone has a hand in reporting all sorts of things. My main area was the Canyon County courthouse and the local school district, but I worked on police and courts reporting (picking up court records was part of the daily routine) and whatever else needed to be done.

By comparison with just a few years later, it was low tech. Computers hadn't quite arrived (they would before long, but after I left), so I was among the last cadre of journalists still to work on manual typewriters and edit stories by gluing the parts of them together.

Another era. But one full of lessons nonetheless.

Rainey: Remembering Swisher

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Perry Swisher died the other day at the age of 88. Older Idaho media and political types have been publically reminiscing about that otherwise obscure event for the last few days. Since I knew him for more than 40 of his years, guess I’ll join the chorus.

To most of you, the name Perry Swisher won’t mean anything. But, to some of us who knew him, he’s been a constant – or a constant irritant – in all our lives. For better or worse. Read on and you’ll know why.
Swish was the most curious son-of-a-bitch I ever knew! Bar none! This description of the man purloined from the Lewiston Tribune by Ridenbaugh Proprietor Randy Stapilus tells you why I say that. “As a journalist, legislator, gardener, guru, crusader, advisor to the mighty and the molested, critic, bard, counselor wondrous, administrator, confessor, orator, pundit laureate and consummate pain in the posterior…” Well, you get the idea.

If something – anything – caught his attention that he was unfamiliar with, the next time you saw him, he’d know more about it than you. It might be a radical new scientific theory or a new species of bug in his garden or anything in between. People with that kind of personality trait are rare. You can’t teach it. You got it or you ain’t. He had it in abundance.

It’s hard to say if the man was your friend. Or you were his. It was a word he almost never used and he didn’t act like one much of the time. In the traditional sense. Drunk or sober, he’d jump all over you during one encounter, then support your point at the next. He had no patience with people he thought were fools and – when alone defending some arcane “fact” – he thought most around him fit that description on occasion. (more…)

Perry Swisher

Perry Swisher

News reports have proffered a shorthand description of Perry Swisher, who died Wednesday, as a legislator, utilities commissioner and newspaperman, which is accurate. But nowhere near explanatory.

The closest anyone has come to explaining Swisher in a single sentence may be this, from a profile of him in the Lewiston Tribune upon his departure from that paper:

“As a journalist, legislator, gardener, publisher, guru, crusader, advisor to the mighty and the molested, critic, bard, counselor wondrous, administrator, confessor, orator, pundit laureate and consummate pain in the posterior – to place the adjective ‘former’ in front of those titles is not to know the man – Perry Swisher has been handing down observations and decrees ever since he presided over his Owyhee County birth 55 years ago.”

He was 88 when he died, and the description still fit. And still leaves out so much.

Swisher made his mark at Pocatello, as a reporter, political activist and candidate (not mutually exclusive then). He became a businessman, running a bookstore and a weekly newspaper. That paper, the Intermountain, covered regional and state politics, with other subjects, and Swisher wrote nearly all of it for more than a decade. His range was tremendous, from detailed commentary on government to “Madame Fifi,” an Ann Landers parody. (Great reading about the time and place even now.)

(One correspondent wrote today to remember: "One of my best recollections of Swish was when he was still knocking out the Idaho Intermountain weekly, even though it consistently operated in the red. It was kind of like Public television. Very few people actually bought it, financially supported it, or admitted that they saw it. However, somehow everyone seemed to know what was in it.")

The only business he ran that made money, he once said, was a restaurant – nicely located across the street from a movie theatre, toward which the fans’ exhaust was directed.

But his sense of public service was strong enough that he won legislative office regularly as a Republican in Democratic Bannock County. In 1966, after more than two decades of intense political and governmental work, he threw away his livelihood and his standing in his political party to mount a hopeless run for governor as an Indpendent because, he felt, someone had to be out there supporting the newly-enacted sales tax, which the the voters were about to either sustain or reject. (They voted aye. Swisher is one of the main reasons Idaho has a sales tax.) In the next decade, he returned to the legislature for one term as a Democrat, but this was no usual conversion: He could be as harsh about his new party as his old one.

He was an unpredictable speaker because he never stopped thinking and learning. A cup of coffee with Swisher was a journey on a switchback trail through first one topic (say, low-head hydro), across to another seemingly unrelated (the rate of worker comp insurance) to yet another (maybe a local election in Burley) and on and on – it was to see the connections and causal relationships, different angles of lighting, otherwise not obvious at all. This journalist was always a wonderful interview, partly because of his absolute blunt candor with a twist. He described Lewiston as “caught in a time warp,” a place where the mayor should be Rod Serling and all the cars should have tailfins. On appointment to the utilities commission Swisher, who strongly favored utility regulation, said he wasn’t a “consumer advocate” because he didn’t approve of heedless consumption. He was a font of ideas, and of thinking them through to reach practical conclusions.

Swisher was unique. His legacy in thought and practice that will influence Idaho for a long time.

Carlson: Teacher messaging/apology

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the school year draws to a close Idaho’s teachers face a challenge: do they spend their summer recreating and holding down a summer job somewhere as many have to do; or, do they get actively involved in the campaign to repeal the Otter/Luna reform that further eviscerates Idaho’s already weakened commitment to public education?

Their future as well as the economic growth of the state depends on their response. Bottom line is people, especially those with children in public schools, trust teachers to know what’s best when it comes to learning.

Voters know teachers are more credible on educational matters than are
administrators or politicians like Governor C.L. “Butch Otter” or State Superintendent Tom Luna when it comes to knowing and convincingly talking about “students come first.”

It should be a no brainer that teachers would man the ramparts and lead the charge for the three ballot repeals but it is not that simple. Teachers in some districts are faced with a classic short term gain vs. longer term gain if they sacrifice. What voters do not realize is the insidious genius in the financial gamesmanship that was orchestrated during the last session of the Legislature.

To over-simplify, some school districts are withholding the $3000 pay increase (a combination of the new merit pay if it is not repealed plus replacing a previously withheld pay boost) that teachers on average will receive IF the repeals are defeated. If the repeals are passed then the new pay will not be distributed, especially the “merit pay” portion. It is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The net effect is some teachers are incentivized to at least stay neutral. Whoever thought this up is a malevolent genius (my candidate is Luna’s right hand, Jason Hancock).

So, not only do all teachers have to get actively involved in campaigning as those most in tune with what is truly best for students, some have to do so while sacrificing a short term pay boost for their longer term goals of reasserting that they know best and they are repelling this assault on their collective bargaining rights.

Additionally, teachers have to advocate “preemptively” for more financial support for their endeavors. Not only is Idaho lagging badly in per pupil support for education, the system continues to operate in large part ignoring a judicial mandate to improve significantly the physical structures where education is conducted by underpaid teachers.

Those interested in the facts should carefully review former Budget officer Mike Ferguson’s outstanding report which also documented the precipitous decline in support for public education as a percentage of personal income.

In these economically stressed times teachers cannot think they can simply ask for more from the general fund without their critics saying this would require a tax increase. It behooves them to identify new sources of revenue other than new taxes. Fortunately, there are several excellent “targets of opportunity”:

1) Sell the state-owned leases or truly up to fair market value the properties on Payette and Priest Lakes.
2) Charge the State Tax Commission to get on with a program systematically reducing the numerous sales tax exemptions granted over the years as was recommended by a bi-partisan interim committee several years back that had as one of its members Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg).
3) Enforce the annual 5% of net gaming proceeds due the State Treasury from ALL gaming tribes, especially the Sho-Bans (levy for back taxes owed?) who have ignored the initiative mandating the 5% giveback on the grounds that their compact trumps the initiative. It does not and some legislator ought to ask the Attorney General to opine.

Those three steps could bring millions in new revenue to the state to be reallocated to strengthening support for public education and teachers. More importantly it not only would comply with the state constitutional mandate it would be an investment in Idaho’s future all should be willing to make.

An apology: I owe Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter an apology. Sometimes, to make a point one engages in too much hyperbole and crosses a line, as I did in my column seconding Governor Cecil Andrus’ warning about possible changes to the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement negotiated by Governor Batt.

While I do not trust the Department of Energy at all, Governor Otter reiterated his unequivocal commitment to standing by the agreement. Butch Otter is a man of his word. It was simply wrong for me to indicate he would betray this state he loves as much as anyone. My bad, my wrong and my shame. I disagree with much of what Butch advocates but I do apologize for impugning his integrity and his honesty. We’re both Mass-going, bead-carrying Roman Catholics. I was correctly admonished by our mutual good friend, Father Tim Ritchey, who often talks also about forgiveness.