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Posts published in August 2012

Carlson: The lioness of Idaho?

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

If the “lion of Idaho” was William E. Borah, Idaho’s most famous United States Senator, a strong case can be made that the “lioness of Idaho” has to be the late Louise Shadduck. Others will argue that the title should be bestowed on Verda Barnes.

Or, if one believes that a prerequisite for such a designation is to have held public office then Gracie Pfost has to be a leading candidate.

Louise who? Verda who? Gracie who?

Therein lies the challenge. Only a few political junkies or academics know who these three talented women were, each of whom had a profound influence on Idaho’s political life. Each deserves a biography, yet thus far, only two are in the works.

The case for Louise is the strongest. She was the first female executive assistant to any Idaho governor, but in her case because it was Idaho’s first post-war progressive governor, Dr. C.A. Robins (from St. Maries), Louise, by Doc Robins’ own admission, had a profound influence on the many progressive initiatives he undertook.

She then worked for Doc Robins’ two immediate successors, Len B. Jordan, and Robert E. Smylie. Smylie made her director of the department of commerce which she transformed into the aggressive state marketing agency it is today. She held sway there for 10 years.

Louise also served as chief of staff to Senator Henry Dworshak, and later held down a similar position with Second District congressman Orval Hansen.

Though she never held a elected office she wielded considerable influence from other posts such as president of the National Federation of Newspaper Women (She was a trained journalist who worked for both the Coeur d’ Alene Press and The Spokesman Review), and as the first director of what became the Idaho Forestry Association.

The key to her influence was not just smarts, but an incredible memory for names, unfailing courtesy and the sole of discretion. She knew everyone who was anyone. She jammed into one life a half dozen careers and could have retired at several points but chose to stay active in Republican affairs and the state’s affairs, as well as her beloved Coeur d’Alene, until the day she died at 93 years young.

And she kept writing, a number of interesting books on subjects ranging from a history of doctors in Idaho, to the history of the Caldwell rodeo to a biography on Andy Little, a turn of the century sheep and cattle baron in Idaho.

What few people know, save University of Idaho Dean Katherine Aiken, is that Louise did seek public office in 1956, taking on First District Congresswoman Gracie Pfost. It was the first time in the history of the Republic that two women were the party nominees in a congressional race.

In a column I wrote for the Lewiston Tribune in September, 1972, Louise told me: “I have no regrets. I learned more from that brief time than any other comparable period in my life. It was a good, clean campaign. Most of all, we proved that two women could run a credible campaign against each other.”

If elected office is a requirement, then hands down the lioness has to be Ms. Pfost. A smart, tough, hardworking county officer (deputy clerk, auditor, treasurer), she parlayed her knowledge of government and people into being Idaho’s first female member of Congress. She served ten years from 1952 to 1962, giving up her seat to run in the special election held to fill the seat of Senator Henry Dworshak who died in office. She narrowly lost to former Governor Len B. Jordan, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Following her defeat she accepted a position with the Kennedy Administration working in the Federal Housing agency. Sadly, she died prematurely at age 59 in 1965 at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and is buried in Meridian.

A third solid contender for lioness has to be Frank Church’s long-time administrative assistant, Verda Barnes. Born in Utah but raised in St. Anthony, many Idaho political wonks feel with all due deference to both the skills and talents of Frank and Bethine, nonetheless it was the political acumen and an unerring sense of Idaho that Verda possessed which was the key to Church being the only Democrat ever re-elected to the Senate, which happened three times.

It is no coincidence either that Verda had passed away before the senator’s loss to Steve Symms in 1980. Verda deserves a biographer for of the three she is the least known. Dean Aiken is working on Ms. Pfosts’s biography and Louise’ former Pastor, Mike Bullard, is working on hers.

If someone steps forward to do Verda’s then perhaps it will be easier to award the “lioness” title. Even then my money will still be on Louise.

Chris Carlson is a writer and former press secretary to Governor Cecil Andrus. He lives in Medimont.

Wyden’s pushback

This is a case where a statement about issue stances really needs just a bit of context.

Back in February, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden was at a town hall meeting at Newberg, and was asked a critical question by a local Democratic leader. We described it:

The county Democratic chair said she’d been asked by a number of local Democrats about Wyden’s cooperative venture on health care policy with Republican Representative Paul Ryan; it sounded to many of them, she suggested, as if Wyden was giving up ground on the health care fight. Wyden’s response was that he wasn’t, that the effort with Ryan was very preliminary, far from the point of drafting a bill, at more an exploratory point, to find out what ideas they might have in common. He cited a few but suggested that the conversation is only in early stages.

The news reports suggesting the two had cooked up a major new piece of legislation were heavily overblown, he said. And he has stuck with that description since.

When Paul Ryan joined the Republican ticket as vice presidential nominee, his backers were eager to position him as someone willing to work with Democrats - and so the notion of a Ryan-Wyden health bill resurfaced. it resurfaced last weekend, and seems to refuse to die.

Wyden got pretty explicit again about the situation in his recent statement on presidential candidate Mitt Romney's description of the situation: "Gov. Romney is talking nonsense. Bipartisanship requires that you not make up the facts. I did not 'co-lead a piece of legislation.' I wrote a policy paper on options for Medicare. Several months after the paper came out, I spoke and voted against the Medicare provisions in the Ryan budget."

The added bit of context here is that, for someone ordinarily as determined to work cooperatively and be (genuinely) bipartisan, this amounts to a nuclear explosion. What will it do to Wyden's efforts, which have run across decades, to reach out across the aisle?

Mendiola: Idaho’s attractions

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Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Idaho’s rugged mountain ranges, numerous lakes, rivers and streams, verdant forests, scenic deserts and abundant wildlife rival the beauty of any state, but for Karen Ballard, the Gem State’s exceptional citizens are what give its quality of life an edge over virtually anywhere else in the nation.

Ballard, administrator of the Idaho Department of Commerce’s tourism division, says the hospitality and warmth of Idahoans are as much key factors in the success of attracting visitors to the state as are diverse, stunning geography and numerous recreational opportunities within its 82,413 square miles.

Idaho’s $3.5 billion annual tourism industry has been and continues to be a crucial segment of the state’s economy. As of 2008, 26,000 Idaho jobs were in the tourism sector, representing nearly 4 percent of the state’s non-farm job employment.

Only about 11 percent of travelers come to Idaho solely for business purposes. Most combine business and pleasure in their trips. An estimated 81 percent of day trips and 84 percent of overnight trips are for leisure.

Of the money spent by those who travel to and through Idaho, about 29 percent is for lodging, 23 percent for food and beverages, 19 percent for retail purchases, 17 percent for transportation and 12 percent on a myriad of recreational options.

In 2008, nearly 32 million people visited Idaho with 57 percent or 18.2 million coming for day trips. The vast majority of visitors who come to Idaho live in the West – 85 percent. Ballard says the fact 35 percent of them are Idahoans who enjoy spending vacations in their own state speaks volumes about the state’s “enjoyable attributes” and friendliness of its residents. (more…)

Where the jobs are

The Puget Sound Business Journal lists in its new edition the largest employers in Washington state, and has put the top five on line. They're worth a look.

The largest, at number one, is an employer which has tended to get more headlines in the last couple of decades for departures and scaledowns - Boeing. It may no longer be based at the Puget Sound, but it is much the largest employer in the state, employing about 82,000 people, more than twice as many as the next largest private employer, which is Microsoft.

The gap in next-largest businesses in the state after those two is, well, large.

Also worth noting: Three of the top five are not private organizations - businesses - at all. The second-largest is the Joint Base Lewis-McChord; third is the Navy Region Northwest (mainly in Kitsap County); and fifth is the University of Washington.

Political drought

The Seattle Times has a perspective piece on the Washington state drought of Republican governors, none elected since 1980 - the longest such unbroken stretch in the country. The longest stretch on that side of the fence, that, is; the longest run either party has had for the office in any state has been the string of Republican governors in South Dakota extending back to 1974.

"Fundamentally, the Republican problem has been that the electorate, particularly in Seattle and King County, has grown increasingly Democratic," the piece said.

The hook, of course, is this year's close governor's race, in which Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna is trying to snap the string. It is a close race, and McKenna might do it; but then, there have been close races before, notably in 1992 and (famously) 2004.

The other point is that the Washington Democratic string is longer than the other Northwestern states - which also have extended runs of one-party win - but not by all that much. Oregon's is only two years shorter, dating to the 1982 win by Republican Vic Atiyah. Idaho's is actually shorter than those, going back just to 1990 with a win by Democrat Cecil Andrus, but none of the Republican wins in Idaho since then have been close.

Tracking the money

Idaho isn’t ground zero for congressional campaign money. Its media markets are relatively small – political advertisers get more for the dollar in the Gem State – and its races aren’t ordinarily high-spending. When they are, spending levels aren’t always indicative of much. In 2010, Democratic 1st District incumbent Walt Minnick outspent Republican challenger Raul Labrador by about three and a half to one, and lost by a large margin. Money isn’t all. Often, though, people place their bets on prospective winners.

This year’s two Idaho U.S. House races offer an occasionally surprising overview of the landscape.

The Federal Elections Commission has a much-improved web site (at fec.gov) listing campaign finance disclosures, but most of what follows comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.opensecrets.org. It is clear and well-organized, and easy to follow.

In Idaho’s first district, Labrador still hasn’t raised as much as he did in his (in the context) modestly funded campaign two years ago; he has (as of June 30, the date reflected in all these amounts) raised $551,568, and spent about two-thirds of it. Democratic challenger Jim Farris has raised $37,388, and has spent about two-thirds of that.

In the second district, Republican incumbent Mike Simpson has raised $955,983 and spent the bulk of it. Democrat Nicole Lefavour has raised $156,016 and disbursed less than a quarter.

Where did the money come from? The pairs of candidates from party rather than from district look most alike. None of the Idaho candidates is “self-financing,” or running the campaign out of personal funds; both are raising what they spend. Close to half of Labrador’s money comes from political action committees – PACs. Nearly all the rest ($271,274), all but a sliver, comes from what OpenSecrets calls “large contributions.” Simpson’s picture is similar – nearly two-thirds ($593,352) coming from PACs, and the bulk of the remainder ($302,128) from “large contributions.” Less than a tenth of donations for either candidate come from “small contributions.”

But the big contributors are different. In Labrador’s case, four gave $10,000 each. One of those is nationally well-known Koch Industries – the well-known Koch brothers Charles and David. (They were not among the top contributors to Simpson, though.) The others were Auld Investments of Boise, the Every Republican is Crucial PAC and LCF Enterprises. Simpson’s $10K-and-up top contributors were different: The increasingly controversial Monsanto Company (his top contributor, at $13,750), the Associated General Contractors, California Dairies, Lockheed Martin, the Potlatch Corporation and – get a load of this – the National Education Association. An eclectic group.

And the Democrats? They’re more reliant on small contributors, but not entirely. Farris got about a fifth of his money from PACs (the International Association of Fire Fighters gave $3,000), and about half of his money overall from “large contributions” (the New England Patriots was among them); the rest were small. LeFavour actually got even less from PACs, only $2,900. Of her funds, 55% was from large contributions (Microsoft Corporate was the largest, at $5,000, and Wells Fargo second at $2,500), and nearly all the rest from small givers.

What does all this tell you? It should give you some insight about who’s friendly with, and has strong relations with, who. And that tells you something about what these people do, or would do, in office.

Inside a ‘transformation’

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At the Coordinated Care workshop in Portland/Randy Stapilus

 

The word that has been bandied around is "tranformation" - as in, transformation of Oregon's health care system. And what the new coordinated care organizations (CCos) are trying to do is major, and - if they work more or less as planned - they could lead to a big shift in the way health care is delivered, and how much it costs. Less, hopefully.

What some of this translates to as a more practical matter came a little clearer at the August 8 CCO workshop in Portland, led by the FamilyCare Health Plans, a local nonprofit which in its self-descriptions says it is "dedicated to creating healthy individuals through innovative systems. We offer affordable, high quality, patient-centered health plans to Oregonians receiving benefits through Medicare or the Oregon Health Plan."

That's what's involved at this stage: Not all Oregonians but rather those using Medicare and the Oregon Health Plan. But a lot of them will be getting their health services this way, an estimated 81% of Medicare patients by September 1. The idea is that, instead of each medical provider being paid for whatever goods or services they bill for, a large lump sum will be spent on the system, apportioned out, with the idea of using it efficiently to do whatever's needed to keep people healthier and out of emergency rooms.

Speaker after speaker, including legislators, state officials and care organization leaders: "There will be no turning back."

Speakers referred several times to the walls between various types of providers, different organizations and types of organizations, different medical specialties, physical and mental health, and more. The CCOs are intended to serve as a central communications hub, bringing together the various groups in work for specific patients.

It's a concept easier to grasp through example than description. One example raised was of an eight-year-old boy who had asthma, who experienced attacks that every other week, for months, sent him to an emergency room. Finally, a team of physicians and other social and health workers got together and worked out a set of changes that allowed him to better manage his problem; he stayed out of emergency rooms thereafter. The estimate has been been that 20% or so of patients - like this boy - account for 80% of health care costs (and some guesstimate, informally, about a 5%/50% ratio); catching those chronic cases in the early stages is a big part of what the new CCOs are supposed to do. (more…)

Fiscally irresponsible, again

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There they stand in a photo sent to the state media - Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and members of The Idaho State Lottery Commission proudly holding a large mock check for $41.5 million made out to the state. Governor Otter is clearly pleased with the yield from a regressive tax policy that relies substantially on the hopes of participants to hit the big one.

It is, however, another iteration of a myth that Idaho Republicans are the anti-tax increase, fiscally responsible party. In reality, the Governor peddles a bill of goods that relies on shell games and fiscal chicanery. He is betting most voters most of the time won’t see through the gimmicks which underfund education and keep kicking the day of reckoning down the road. He is probably correct, unfortunately.

All these anti-tax Republicans, who have taken the Grover Norquist pledge, for some reason exempt gaming from their list of taxes because an individual willingly pays this “tax,” which happens also to be a “sin tax.”

Taxpayers though are supposed to be happy that $17 million of that $41 million take will go to support the constitutional mandate to fund properly public education as if that will offset years of overall reductions in state support for public and higher education. But that is an integral part of the myth-making and shell games the Governor plays.

One has to concede the fiscal chicanery Republicans perpetrate gets lost in a sea of smoke and mirrors because it is complex, denies easy categorization and allows the GOP to paint a heavily biased picture that most of the time is not clarified by diligent journalists save the unusually perspicacious Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune.

Another part of the GOP “starve education” plan started with Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who, along with many Republicans (the prominent exception being former Governor Phil Batt) started advocating borrowing against anticipated federal grant money to fund highway and infrastructure improvements. Proceeds from bond sales based on this premise became known as “Garvee” funding.

Then Republicans hit on the scheme of borrowing against anticipated sales tax revenue. This became “Star” funding. (more…)

WA: Guber update

A short update is merited on the governor's race, owing to some real change from the earliest posted numbers ...

Democrat Jay Inslee has jumped to a substantial lead statewide over Republican Rob McKenna, and the real key here is King County.

McKenna has been an elected member of the King County council, and part of the rationale for his anticipated strength statewide has been a presumption that he would do much better in King than most Republicans.

Well, with 20% of the King vote in, Inslee is at 58.5%, and McKenna 35.4%. If those numbers roughly hold and each gains proportionately in the coming two-man race, McKenna will have a hard time racking up a large enough margin elsewhere to overcome King. So far the statewide patterns (Most of the Puget area including both Snohomish and Pierce going blue, nearly everything else red) show the two of them roughly matching what many Democratic statewide winners in recent years have done.

WA: First, initial look

So, in advance of viewing any news reports or spin (this is by way of the Secretary of State's office rundown):

Not much by way of surprises. At this point. And they generally add up to more or less what people seem to be expecting for November.

In the U.S. Senate race, Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell is at nearly twice the vote of Republican challenger Michael Baumgartner; she may not wind up in November with quite so large a lead, but it will be landslide, unless this early indicator is way off.

In District 1, which should be the hottest race in the state, John Koster, the sole Republican, is at about 47% of the total, which portends a general election running fairly close. Suzan DelBene, who has massively outspent everyone, seems to be shooting past what weeks ago looked like a lead for fellow Democrat Darcy Burner, and looks like she will be Koster's sparring partner for the next three months. Again, no big surprise. (The same two are ahead for the one-month short-term election, so voters didn't, evidently, decide to vary their selections much.)

Of some interest in the new district, District 10, based around the Olympia area: Democrat Denny Heck, who ran for the House two years ago and now seems ideally positioned for this new district, could have a closer run than had been expected. He's ahead at this point, at 34% (second place apparently goes to Republican Dick Muri, at 29%), but if among the various candidates you add up all those on each side of the fence, you get an overall Democratic total of 51% Democratic and 46% Republican - suggesting that while Heck may enter the fall with an advantage, it will not be overwhelming.

And the big one, the hot governor's race? Republican Rob McKenna (45.9%) and Democrat Jay Inslee (43.2%) are running close, and since Seattle is barely accounted for in these early returns, you can call this close. This has looked like a close, hot race for a long time now, and that still looks true.

At least for now. One thing clear about Washington voting in recent years is that unless a race is a runaway, be cautious writing anything office on election night.