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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Since the first “Lion of Idaho,” William E. Borah, was an elected United States senator (1907-1940), a case can be made that any aspirant to the title “Lioness of Idaho” also has to have been elected to public office.

If so, the clear winner is the first woman to serve Idaho in the Congress, five term congresswoman Gracie Pfost (pronounced “post”) who represented the First District from 1953 to 1963. The mere fact she could win and then hold the office through four re-elections in and of itself during the 1950’s, when very few women were being elected to anything, speaks volumes for her talent and tenacity.

She accomplished the feat in the face of tough opposition as well. Because of her relentless support for a public owned and operated single high dam in Hells Canyon, the media referred to her as “Hell’s Belle.” She believed strongly in public power, which put her at immediate odds with two powerful Idaho interests, the Idaho Power Company and Spokane’s Washington Water Power.

Both firms supported three smaller dams in Hells Canyon to be owned by Idaho Power. The ensuing acrimonious debate lasted a decade. She ended up being outmaneuvered and lost a key vote in the Interior and Insular affairs subcommittee in the late 50’s. Thus today one sees Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams on the Snake, but fortunately no High Mountain Sheep dam.

In 1962, hoping the Senate would be a better venue, Gracie gave up her safe House seat to run for the Senate seat vacated by the death of Henry Dworshak. She lost a close race (51% to 49%) to former Governor Len B. Jordan, a supporter of private power and its three smaller dams approach.

Legendary Washington, D.C., Democratic operator Robert Strauss once famously said “every politician wants you to think they were born in a log cabin they built themselves. . .” In the case of Gracie, however, it was almost true.

Biographical sketches all note she was born in a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in 1906. The family moved to Idaho in 1911 where she attended school until 16, quitting to take a job at Carnation Milk in Nampa. There she met and married her supervisor, Jack Pfost, who became her life-long political partner.

In 1929, she graduated from Link’s School of Business in Boise which led to temporary work in the Canyon County Clerk’s office that soon turned into a permanent job. From there she jumped into local county politics and for the next decade served as Canyon County clerk, auditor and recorder. In 1941 she was elected Canyon County treasurer and served another decade.

During the 40’s and 50’s she owned a successful real estate business as she steadily got more involved in state and national politics. In 1950 the 1st District’s congressional seat opened up with Democrat Comp White, Sr., from Clark Fork, deciding to retire. White had held the seat since 1932, but lost it in 1946, then gained it back in 1948. Gracie won the Democratic nomination but lost the general election by 783 votes to 72-year-old Republican Dr. John Wood.

With the help of Eleanor Roosevelt who criticized Wood in her popular national column for his efforts to derail the United Nations, Gracie won a rematch in 1952 by 591 votes (out of 109,000) despite the landslide election of Dwight D. Eisenhower to the presidency. She and Jack never looked back.

At various times she was described as tough, tenacious, calculating, a spitfire, but she was a hard worker who did her homework. From 1955 to 1961 she chaired the important Public Lands subcommittee of Interior and Insular Affairs.

A relentless campaigner, in her 1954 campaign she challenged her Republican opponent to a log-rolling contest at a county fair. She lost the log roll but won the election by 9,000 votes. Her constituent service was legendary with every high school graduate receiving a personal congratulatory note and every new parent receiving a book on child care.

In a historic 1956 battle for the first time two women squared off for a congressional seat as major party nominees, and she defeated Republican Louise Shadduck, herself a legendary aide to several Republican governors, by ten percentage points.

Other legislative interests included support for Alaskan statehood and for U.S. Postal Service employees, a federal school construction bill, and legislation to prop up a sagging agricultural commodities market.

Despite Jack’s sudden death in 1961 she went ahead with the Senate race. After losing, President Kennedy appointed her to a post in the Federal Housing Administration. Unbeknownst to many, she suffered from Hodgkin’s disease and died prematurely at age 59 on August 11, 1965 at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins. She is buried in Meridian.

University of Idaho Dean Katherine Aiken is working on her biography which will undoubtedly cement the case for Gracie Pfost to be designated “the lioness of Idaho.”

Chris Carlson is an Idaho writer and former press secretary for Cecil Andrus. He lives in Medimont.

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smoke

Pulling together the weather report this afternoon for the Weekly Digests I was struck by how the weather in so many places around the Northwest is dominated by smoke from wildfires.

Not west of the Cascades – it did not figure in any of those weather reports.

But in the National Weather Service reports (which I use), the weather reports for the Boise, Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas were dominated by their image you see on this post, signalling heavy smoke. Likewise Yakima, Bend the Ketchum/Sun Valley area, and Lewiston. Idaho seems much the hardest hit overall, with eastern Washington seeing some severe spots.

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Idaho Northwest Washington

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

I’ve recently been told by good authority my life’s work has failed. Come up short. Things I’d striven for and achieved for family and loved ones are apparently overvalued in my own mind. Wanting nothing more than to be a bill-paying, flag-loving, family-values, church-going member of America’s highly valued middle class, I’m told now I’m not middle class. In reality, my loved ones and I are below the poverty line and are part of the nation’s growing needy.

Damn, where have I failed? How could I have been so foolish as to believe I’d achieved modest successes that have given me what appear now to have been false senses of accomplishment and worth? How could I have lived so long with the feelings I’d met my responsibilities and even exceeded some when, actually, I’d never risen even to that vaunted American middle class?

I’ve been drenched with the cold water of reality. My eyes should have been opened to all this before. I could have wound up buried on the downside of the flowers in potter’s field and not known. We’re all much better for this new, more accurate view of our real place on the economic food chain..
It came unexpectedly. It came at the hands of George Stephanopoulos – that finder of all things factual – that national distributor of reality in American life – that funny little former Clinton staffer on ABC Television. Him.

He was talking to – yea, grilling in his own Greek way – that paragon of America’s economic success to whom truth, vision and infinite perspective have been given – Mitt Romney. Mitt – the entire Republican Party’s official nominee for the office of President of the United States no less.

They were earnestly discussing a subject close to my heart all these decades. And this was to be the defining moment. The moment when all of life’s work would be substantiated by someone really successful. A voice to validate from his lofty economic perch the hard work of all of us who’ve spent a lifetime in the trenches – to give a realistic sense of middle class accomplishment for those of us who’ve been striving just to have a garage of our own – much less one with an two-car elevator.

Breathlessly, I listened as Mitt said “No one can say my (tax) plan is going to raise taxes on middle-income people because principle number one is to keep the burden down on middle-income taxpayers.”

“HOORAY,” I shouted! “HOORAY for Mitt. He understands America’s middle class. He’ll take the necessary steps to protect us. In his heart, he knows feelings of lifetime accomplishment and wants to protect me. Me!”

But George wasn’t satisfied. He wanted more. He wanted the truth!

“Is $100,000 middle-income?”

There was calm. Absolute calm. Then, with an air of someone who’s been enormously successful and a tone of voice just hinting at the warmth of a banker’s heart, Mitt replied “No, middle-income is $200,000 to $250,000.”

That did it! My heart sank. A sense of misplaced accomplishment drained from my elderly body. I had just found out I was not middle class at all. That, in reality, after a life of striving and sacrifice, I was below the poverty line. Oh, what have I done? Where did I go wrong?

Suddenly, it all came crashing back. Just as Mitt had said. I had NOT asked my parents for college money. I had NOT thought of General Motors and other corporations as “people.” My wife did NOT have “a couple of Cadillac’s” like other wives. We did NOT have four homes. I did NOT put my money in foreign banks. At least I don’t think so.

And now – now – just when I was serenely comfortable in the $50,000 to $100,000 middle class I’d always worked for, it was an illusion. All of it. The home. The two cars in our cement-floored garage. The motor home (only a Class C) in the driveway. Our little trips to the Oregon coast to enjoy the company of friends – all of whom I’d thought were solid middle class. Just like us. Our little church help with the community food drives and other outreach programs. Doing the Lord’s work.
None of us – not one – had really achieved the dream of American middle class. None of it was real!

All these years – all of them – I’d believed our government statistical experts – the ones in the Bureau of the Census – that said the real middle class income was $50,000-$56,000 – or about 76% of our nation’s economic pie. The same “experts” who claimed those making $200,000 to $250,000 were only about four-point-six percent of that same pie. The real middle class.
I had believed a lie. All of it. A lie.

And now – just now – he’s saying the Medicare and the Social Security I paid for all those 50-plus years have made me dependent on big government and I’ve become just another drain on real – rich – Americans. That – in my senior years – I’ve become another blood sucker on the body politic.

If there’s anyone out there qualified to decide our future tax systems – who will pay more and who will pay less – if there’s anyone out there who respects the work ethic and support for all who occasionally need the rest of us to lift them up – I’m certain it’s Mitt.. He cares for the middle class. He cares deeply for the middle class.

He just has no idea what the Hell – or who the Hell – we are!

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NW Reading

From a report out today from the Washington Employment Security Department.

Washington’s construction industry led all sectors in employment gains in August, with a seasonally adjusted estimate of 1,900 jobs, contributing to a net gain of 3,900 construction jobs since August 2011.
These and other job estimates are detailed in the latest report from the state’s Employment Security Department. The preliminary, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 8.6 percent.

For the second year in a row, the employment estimates for the leisure-and-hospitality industry and the wholesale-trade industry showed unusually large losses for August. They contributed to an estimated net loss of 1,100 nonfarm jobs across the state.

“Based on the raw data, jobs in these sectors didn’t change significantly,” said Joe Elling, chief labor economist for the state’s Employment Security Department. “The reported losses show up when the seasonal adjustments are applied.”

Economists seasonally adjust monthly job numbers and the unemployment rate to remove or discount normal seasonal variations, such as holiday hiring. If an industry adds more jobs or doesn’t eliminate as many jobs as expected based on past history, it shows up as a seasonally adjusted gain. Similarly, when jobs are cut deeper than expected in a given month, or if normal hiring doesn’t occur, that shows up as a job loss.
“It can take up to two or three years to determine when deviations from the seasonal norms are temporary or longer term,” said Elling.

In addition to construction, the industries with the most seasonally adjusted job gains in August were manufacturing, up 1,500 jobs; financial activities, up 1,200; education and health services, up 500; and government, with an estimated net gain of 300.

On the loss side, wholesale trade dropped an estimated 2,600 jobs; leisure and hospitality lost 2,300; retail trade shed 1,600 jobs; and professional and business services lost 200.

Within the government sector, federal employment in Washington grew by 1,800 jobs, state agencies lost an estimated 900 jobs, public higher education declined by 100 jobs, K-12 schools added 500, and local government lost 1,400.

In August, an estimated 301,700 people (seasonally adjusted) in Washington were unemployed and looking for work. That includes 129,676 who claimed unemployment benefits last month.

Also in August, 3,429 unemployed workers ran out of unemployment benefits, bringing the total to 108,669 since extended benefits were activated in July 2008.

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Reading Washington

It’s not exactly obscure since the Oregonian made a picture from it today’s page one centerpiece, but you really should check out the paper’s new photo essay on the Columbia River.

Those of us who have often traveled across much of its distance (especially, in my case, the Portland/Tri-cities stretch) will not in recognition at a number of the shots and place them easily – the startling tree farm near Boardman, for example. But there’s a lot more, and many of the shots taken from mid-river will give you a perspective you’ve never seen before.

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From a release today by the Oregon Center for Public Policy.

About 128,000 Oregon workers are due for a raise, following today’s announcement that Oregon’s hourly minimum wage will go up 15 cents in 2013.

“A rise in the minimum wage is good news for workers and Oregon’s economy,” said Jason Gettel, policy analyst with the Oregon Center for Public Policy. “It helps the lowest-paid workers make ends meet, and helps the Oregon economy when the workers spend those extra dollars in local businesses.”

Oregon’s minimum wage will rise from $8.80 to $8.95 on January 1 of next year, the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced today. The adjustment, mandated by a ballot measure approved by voters in 2002, reflects the increase in the cost of living as defined by the August Consumer Price Index (CPI), which increased 1.7 percent from a year ago.

OCPP calculated that the increase means an additional $312 a year for a family with one full-time minimum wage worker.

According to OCPP, about 128,000 Oregon jobs — about 1 out of every 13 jobs in the state — will pay more due to the minimum wage increase set to take effect next year. That estimate comes from Oregon Employment Department analysis of Unemployment Insurance wage records showing the number of jobs paying less than $8.95 in the first quarter of 2012, the most recent data available.

The 128,000 estimate is probably low because jobs paying just above the minimum wage may also have wage increases, as employers adjust their overall pay structures to reflect the new minimum wage, Gettel said.

Unfortunately, Oregon’s minimum wage falls short of preventing poverty among some working families, Gettel said. At $8.95 an hour, an Oregon full-time minimum wage worker will earn $18,616 next year — an amount below the 2012 federal poverty guideline for a family of three ($19,090). These families could fall further behind in early in 2013, when the federal government will likely raise the poverty guideline to account for inflation.

Still, Oregon minimum-wage workers come out ahead of workers in all but one other state. Oregon’s current minimum wage trails only that of Washington state, currently set at $9.04. Because Oregon’s northern neighbor also annually pegs its minimum wage to inflation, Gettel expects Washington to announce a minimum wage increase later this year.

Oregon is one of 18 states plus the District of Columbia with a minimum wage above the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, which is not scheduled to increase.

Next year, when the 15-cent Oregon minimum wage increase takes effect, full-time minimum wage workers in Oregon will earn $3,536 more per year than that their counterparts in those states where the federal minimum wage sets the floor.

Oregon enacted the nation’s first effective state minimum wage and hour law in 1913 through the work of Caroline Gleason, who later became Sister Miriam Theresa.

“Oregon was and continues to be a model for the nation when it comes to the minimum wage,” said Gettel. “Oregonians were smart to raise the minimum wage and keep it from being eroded by inflation.”

The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-partisan, non-profit institute that does in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax and economic issues. The Center’s goal is to improve decision making and generate more opportunities for all Oregonians.

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Oregon Reading

From a Washington state auditor’s release about an audit of Seattle Public Schools.

The Washington State Auditor concluded an investigation into Seattle Public Schools construction program small contracts from 2006 to 2009 and found a lack of employee oversight, operation outside normal accountability channels, failure of internal controls, and lack of an adequate means for employees to raise their concerns.

The District asked the State Auditor last fall to conduct an investigation after the King County Prosecutor’s office advised the District of additional potential illegal activity by a former employee. District adopted corrective measures to address the issues in this new report, so no new procedures or corrective measures will need to be adopted as a result of this review

“The School District asked the State Auditor’s Office for this investigation, and we respect the findings,” said Sherry Carr, School Board Director of Chair of the Audit and Finance Committee. “In the past 18 months, the School Board has worked hard to strengthen internal controls and oversight. Through governance measures and partnerships, we are raising the bar with respect to ethical behavior at the District and are creating strong checks and balances for accounting.

In the summer of 2010, SPS asked the Washington State Auditor to investigate issues surrounding the Regional Small Business Development Program. The District paid for that investigation, which resulted in audit findings released in the State Auditor’s Office Special Investigation Report on Feb. 23, 2011. The School Board also asked for an independent investigation, and that report by Patricia Eakes was released on Feb. 25, 2011.

The original investigation was primarily focused on the Regional Small Business Development Program itself and the recruiters and trainers and did not examine the small construction contracts prior to 2009. Once it became apparent that there may have been issues with the construction contracts, the District asked for a second investigation. This second investigation focused on small works construction contracts – those contracts that do not exceed $200,000 – issued from 2006 to 2009.

The Regional Small Business Development Program was eliminated in Spring 2010. All of the management leaders to whom former employee Silas Potter reported are no longer employed by Seattle Public Schools.

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rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

From poorly-informed presidential candidates to bar flies an hour before “last call,” voices are heaping ill-deserved criticism on the Obama folks for the fires and murders in the Middle East. A lot of ignorance is showing.
Shortly after Eve and Adam lost their lease on the Garden for lying, son number one killed son number two and the Middle East has been carrying on the murderous tradition since that time. If it’s not one of them killing the other, it’s one of them killing somebody living somewhere else. Or killing the damned fools from outside who think they can bring “lasting peace” to countries that have never known it.

And for those who think some terribly produced, short hate film made in California directed at Muslims is at the bottom of the current binge, tain’t so, McGee. In nearly every instance of violence there is ample evidence this is terrorist-sponsored. What may have started as legitimate outrage – in the eyes of a very few Muslims over deliberate mocking of their religion – has been quickly turned into nationalist outrage sponsored by those who’ve been sitting in the bushes just waiting for the right fuse to light.

Little groups of haters of this-that-and-all-other-things Western long ago learned how to manipulate large crowds with just a few well-placed voices. They can take an argument between two used camel dealers and turn it into a building-burning horde in 10 minutes. It’s masterful crowd control in the wrong hands. It also goes back centuries.

Evidence of this is plentiful. Black flags of the hate groups hoisted or waived conspicuously in protests across North African countries. Local Taliban or other anti-western groups identified prominently in crowds and taking credit on the I-Net while urging more people into the streets. Some of the participants – in more countries than Libya – showing up with grenade launchers and automatic weapons. Some religiously pissed Muslim locals showing off for the cameras? I don’t think so.

The previous administration got us into two “wars of choice” in the Middle East. The current folks are trying to get us out and have already pulled the plug on one of them. But neither president – and none before them – could have cured the anti-American fever. It’s just the latest outbreak of the continuing sickness that is directed at all things not Western. And a few things that are Muslim but not the kind that’s “pure” enough.

In true cold war style, the Romney/Ryan people want this country to respond in 1970′s fashion with a show of “patriotic” determination and military force. Go in there – kick some ass – show them “you don’t pull on Superman’s cape” – take charge – exact suitable punishments. It’s as though these people have been sleeping for 40 years and just woke up. “Keep doin’ what you’re doin’,” is their cry!

There’s no easy answer to the current mess. There’s never been an easy answers to all the previous messes. Anyone who steps up to the microphone with the words “I have the solution” should be ignored. The violent forces at play in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and other hot spots can’t be controlled from outside. By this country or any other. If we’ve learned nothing else from our tragic experiences in Iran and Afghanistan, we should understand a country’s government and national direction must be determined by the people who live there. As long as all that doesn’t slop over onto the world stage and threaten our real interests. Which isn’t often.

American businesses and other western interests who set up shop in these places do so at their own risk. Neither our government nor any other can assure the safety of their investments. We can’t be expected to go in there and pull their bacon, their employees and other interests out of the fire as has been suggested on the campaign trail.

In some ways, this nation shares the blame for deaths incurred so far and for the anti-American feelings felt – with some legitimacy – by folks in that region. We have continually inserted ourselves – openly or clandestinely – in the affairs of one country after another. And we’ve been wrong much of the time. If, for example, someone from Florida came into Oregon – telling us we need to get rid of some of our government and live as Floridians do – most of us would try to throw them out and have a much more hostile view of all things Florida.

What this country does in the next few days, weeks or even years to respond to violence against us in Muslim states is a huge problem. Diplomacy must be – must be – the first option. Throwing our national weight around with some cold war era rhetoric or show of force must be – must be – the last. The very last.

We can’t afford to listen to warmongers and leftover Bush neo-cons. Oops, repeated myself there. Or political candidates looking for quick points in a damned election. We’re not just facing some bad publicity for a crudely made, anti-Muslim movie. Terrorists have used this as a fuse to light the dynamite of anti-Americanism.

A lot is riding on what we do in the next few days and weeks. We could use a lot less rhetoric and more prayer.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the contest for the Presidency begins here is a list of “keys to the outcome”:

1) The 80/40 rule. This refers to the President’s standing among minority voters. As long as he maintains above 80 percent of the minority vote (which he is doing), Mitt Romney has to garner over 60 percent of the total white vote. Ronald Reagan came close in his re-election campaign, but not even the Gipper beat the 60 percent mark. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the President to maintain above 80 percent of the minority vote.

2) Where are independent women going? The independent female vote is especially critical for both candidates. Republicans are betting economic concerns will drive their vote. Democrats bet the social issue of access to abortions, especially in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother, will drive this vote. It is noteworthy that Romney, once the nomination was secured, tilted back to his historic position of sanctioning abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

Hard core, pure pro-life conservatives will swallow their displeasure and still support Romney given the President’s incredibly liberal stance on this issue.

Both party’s made a good pitch for women through strong presentations first from Ann Romney and then from Michelle Obama. Polling results gave the nod to the First Lady for doing the better job of humanizing their spouse—-but both did well by their man. The question is who will women identify most with? The betting is with Michelle, not Ann.

In the end, if undecided women vote from an unemotional viewpoint, then economic concerns will prevail and Romney is the beneficiary. If, on the other hand, it is a more emotional vote, concerns about equity and access to abortion will carry the day.

3) As goes Ohio. . . . . . No Republican in modern times has won the presidency without taking Ohio. Of all the toss-up states this is the one Romney absolutely needs to win to garner the minimum 272 Electoral College ballots needed. In July, 2004, in an unmatched display of hubris, George W. Bush’s chief political advisor, Karl Rove, laid out in excruciating detail in the Sunday New York Times Magazine just how he planned to take Ohio.

It was braggadocio, pure and simple. He was engaging in pure political taunting. But he was correct, even knowing how he planned to win; Democrats could not alter the outcome. Romney’s people have undoubtedly mastered every last detail of the Rove plan, so keep an eye on Ohio.

4) The 5 percent Lie Factor. All the polls say it is a dead heat—each has around 48 percent. Don’t believe it. Romney is ahead if one factors in the 5 percent Lie factor. The phrase derives from the 1982 California gubernatorial race in which popular African-American and former Los Angeles Police chief and then LA mayor, Tom Bradley, was running for governor against little known state senator George “Duke” Deukmejian.

Bradley led every poll throughout the campaign including the final weekend polls, which predicted a win by a 4 percent margin. The Duke’s spinmeisters told pundits they were going to win by 2 percent because they had figured out 5 percent of those saying they supported Bradley were flat out lying to pollsters. They gave what they thought was the politically correct answer rather than how they really felt.

How they figured this out they did not say, but it was born out in the final vote.

We like to believe race does not matter, but it does. Until proven otherwise, the 5 percent lie factor when a major race is between a minority and a white is a good rule of thumb. So, subtract 5 percent from President Obama’s 48 percent and add it to Romney’s 48 percent and you have Romney safely ahead, 53 percent to 43 percent. And if I’m Obama, I campaign like I’m behind, because he is.

5) The money race. This will be the easiest to follow. In over 90 percent of federal races including the presidency, he or she who raises the most bucks, wins. Right now, Romney is ahead.

6) The debates. There are three and if Romney comes out even (which he will) he wins. Romney is a superb debater (see James Fallows article, September’s Atlantic) and is lowering expectations well. The key to debates, though, is not what they say. On the contrary, turn off the sound and see how they carry themselves. Experts say 85 percent of a person’s views about a debate relate to the non-verbal signals. Thus, this one is a toss-up.

Follow these six indices. You’ll have a good idea who will win.

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

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Carlson

Dennis Mansfield, best known around Idaho for his conservative politics, has been powerfully affected over the last dozen years or so by a specific person in his life – his son, Nate. That personal story briefly emerged in 2000 when Mansfield was running for Congress and Nate faced criminal charges over drug use. About three years ago, Nate died of a drug overdonse, and Mansfield was – well, it affected him as any parent would be.

He has written a book on the subject, Beautiful Nate: A Memoir of a Family’s Love, a Life Lost, and Eternal Promises, published by Simon and Schuster.

The Amazon description says, “Though Dennis and Susan turned their attention to helping drug addicts and their families, they were powerless to stop the death of their own son in 2009 at the age of twenty-seven. Beautiful Nate lucidly recounts these difficult years while painting a picture of what did and did not work in raising a child within the evangelical framework. Rather than lose faith in the God he trusted, Dennis eventually found new joy and purpose—with a much more compassionate and realistic view of the role parents play and the guidelines they follow.”

Haven’t read it yet. It promises to be a compelling read.

CORRECTED to reflect the cause of Nate’s death.

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This election year, hot nationally, is a down cycle for Idaho.

Politically, that is, in a way that has nothing to do with specific parties or candidates. This is a year when relatively little on the state level is on the ballot – no governor (or other statewides) or senator.

It happens once every 12 years, every third presidential election. The last low cycle was in 2000, before that 1988, before that 1976. Sort of a political Halley’s comet effect.

That usually means a subtly lower level of energy, and lower level of attention from outside; national people, political, journalistic and money types, are interested in a state first if it’s a presidential battleground (as Idaho clearly is not) and secondly if it has a strong Senate or gubernatorial race up. After that, attention usually shifts to other states. Oregon, which is in a near-down cycle this year (no governor or Senate, but a few statewides) is in a similar position. Washington, with a runaway Senate race but a very hot contest for governor, gets more national interest.

This can matter, because the outside influence has effects on races down below. Contact nationally is diminished a little. Campaigns are sometimes a little smaller and less noisy, budgets sometimes (not always) a little lower. In-state attention to the campaigns often seems to be down, just a little.

Does this translate to a partisan benefit for anyone? Generally, doesn’t seem so, at least based on past cycles. And that has been more or less the case in the last few down cycles.

In 2000, Republican dominance established in most of the previous decade was quietly maintained. That year, Republicans gained three legislative seats, which was the average change over the course of the three previous cycles. The first district U.S. House race was interesting because then-Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage was opting out, and Republicans had an energetic primary contest. But the November general election was an easy win for now-Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

In 1988, remembered now as a relatively good Democratic year in Idaho, the numbers actually show something of a holding pattern. There was no partisan legislative seat change at all, and very easy re-elects for both U.S. Representatives, Republican Larry Craig and Democrat Richard Stallings.

In 1976, there was a gain of five Republican legislative seats, which balanced an eight-seat gain by Democrats in 1974 with a 10-seat gain by Republicans in 1972. (Seats tended to shift around a little more in those days.)

This year, there’s little expectation in Idaho that the November results will leave very great difference in the state’s elective offices, either the U.S. House or legislature, more likely a continuation of existing trend lines.

Of course, the presidential election this year might give down-ballot Republicans some boost. That might be countered, in a few legislative races, by competitive races in districts where Democrats ran reasonably strong but lost in the Republican wave year of 2010.

But if this isn’t one of those years when political attention flows Idaho’s way, there’s some reason for that.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Editor’s Note: This week’s Carlson Chronicle is a guest column by former U of Idaho assistant for government affairs, Marty Peterson, who states the case that the better nominee for “Lioness of Idaho” would be the late Senator Frank Church’s chief of staff, Verda Barnes, who grew up in St. Anthony. Marty currently is the acting executive director for the McClure Center for Public Policy in Moscow. A former executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities, he also served on the staffs of Idaho Governors Cecil Andrus and John Evans, as well as on the staff of the late Senator Church.

Few, if any, readers of this column will have heard of Verda Barnes. That would have pleased her. If she were alive and knew I was writing this, she would have insisted I not. Over a span of four decades, the impact of Verda Barnes’ work was felt by Idahoans throughout the state and few were aware that she even existed.

She was born in Willard, Utah, in 1907 and moved with her family to a farm near St. Anthony, Idaho, the next year. After graduating from high school, she attended Albion Normal School and then Brigham Young University. She was married briefly in the early 1930s and had a daughter. As a single parent, she spent much of the 1930s living in Boise. With the repeal of prohibition, she became the first director of the newly formed Idaho Liquor Commission. Governor C. Ben Ross assumed that by hiring someone from a well-placed Mormon family, she would be above reproach.

In the days before form letters were common, she received a letter from James Farley, the Postmaster General and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley had managed Franklin Roosevelt’s first two presidential campaigns and was widely viewed as being responsible for his political ascendancy. Farley sent out a national mailing challenging people to become a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Barnes, assuming it was a one-of-a-kind letter sent to her personally, took up the challenge and, with her young daughter, moved to Washington, D.C. She quickly became involved with organized labor, working with such groups as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the CIO as a political organizer. Then she went to work for the Department of Interior as an assistant to Secretary Harold Ickes, and to the newly formed Securities and Exchange Commission, where she worked with William O. Douglas, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. This was also a time when she began compiling what would become a legendary list of influential personal contacts throughout the federal government and in numerous non-governmental organizations.

Barnes also became active in the Young Democrats and became national vice-chairman, a position of considerable influence and stature during the Roosevelt era. During that time she became friends with Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. In her later years, one of the few ornamentations in her office was a portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt above her desk. It was Franklin Roosevelt who gave her the single piece of advice that became her operational hallmark. “A good staff person,” Roosevelt said, “should have a passion for anonymity.”

In 1945, she went to work on the staff of newly elected Senator Glen Taylor from Idaho. Following Taylor’s defeat in 1950, she became an assistant to Congressman Harrison “Pete” Williams of New Jersey. But her roots were in Idaho and, with the election of Frank Church in 1956, she joined his staff, first serving as his governmental liaison and then as his chief of staff. In that position, she became Church’s chief political strategist and the de facto chief political strategist for the entire Idaho Democratic party.

Rumor had it that Barnes never slept. She was tireless and, during political campaigns, it wasn’t uncommon for key campaign workers to get a call at 6:00 a.m. wondering why they weren’t at the office. Barnes would spend much of her working days on the telephone, talking to contacts throughout Idaho and Washington, D.C. Even when she was in Washington, she generally knew more about what was going on in Idaho than anyone else. Republicans were in awe of her, knowing that in a particularly tight race, her arrival in Idaho always meant generating an additional 10,000 votes that otherwise would not be.

Without Barnes’ political efforts, it is quite likely that Frank Church would have been a one-term Senator. He only lost after she retired and that loss was by a mere 4,000 votes. But her most lasting impact was probably with the rise of Cecil Andrus. Andrus lost the 1966 primary election to Charles Herndon. But after Herndon was killed in a plane crash, Barnes began working the phones and eventually Andrus won the nomination from the State Democratic Central Committee by a signal vote. Although he lost the 1966 election, four years later Barnes was back in the trenches. Using the statewide voter identification program she had put together for Church in 1968, along with much of Church’s campaign volunteer base, plus the recruitment of several Church staff members working in a “boiler room” effort, she played a pivotal role in Andrus election success in 1970, opening the door for what would become one of the most successful political careers in Idaho history.

Barnes suffered a stroke and died on June 9, 1980. She is buried in the Parker, Idaho, cemetery near St. Anthony. Bill Hall, the then editorial page editor for the Lewiston Morning Tribune, noted in an editorial , “They say that Verda Barnes died in her sleep the other night. But that’s preposterous. Verda Barnes never slept.”

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise. As a member of Senator Frank Church’s staff, Verda Barnes was his mentor.

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In Idaho politics, the word “environmentalist” is almost always preceded with the adjective “extreme” – in Gem State political verbiage, there seems to be no other kind.

But in the terms of that narrative, consider two of the most significant Idaho news stories from last week, both very much about environmental concerns.

One, a subject of hot Panhandle discussion for many years, is the Coeur d’Alene River Basin cleanup, a federal-based (Environmental Protection Agency) action ongoing since the 80’s. For all the dispute, there’s been little disagreement on the existence of the problem, contamination from decades of mining in the Silver Valley. The EPA describes its effort simply: “The cleanup is part of a continuing effort to reduce risks to people’s health and the environment from heavy metals.”

The work has come in phases and parts, and it has been imperfect. For a large area around the Coeur d’Alene River’s south fork and the Bunker Hill mine area, a “record of decision” was released in 2002. There were complaints and comments, a lot of them, about 6,700. These have had effect: “In response to widespread public request, EPA has changed the scope of the RODA. The cleanup’s cost has been reduced by nearly half, to about $635 million. The cleanup’s projected time frame has been reduced to about 30 years. In response to public concern about the cost of the cleanup and technical challenges, EPA removed construction of a river liner from the cleanup plan. This reduced the cost of the plan by nearly $300 million. To address contamination seeping into the river in the Osburn and Kellogg areas, we will instead collect and treat groundwater from those areas. Many public comments asked EPA to reduce the number of mine and mill sites slated for cleanup. EPA agrees that it makes sense to focus on the highest priority sites with the greatest potential impact on water quality. EPA has reduced the number of sites to be cleaned up from 345 to 145.”

For all of the EPA’s local reputation as opaque, unreachable, un-knowable and bureaucratic, it appears to have been moved quite a bit.

The other Idaho environmental news last week concerned a mining operation proposed for the Boise Basin area near Idaho City, an area that has seen plenty of mining over the years.

Mosquito Gold, a mining firm from Canada, has proposed in the CuMo Exploration Project to mine for molybdenum in the area (political junkies may remember the fight over another proposed moly mine in central Idaho 40 years ago), building about 10 miles of roads and sinking hundreds of drill holes around the Boise River headwaters. That would be only the beginning of what might transform a large ad beautiful backwoods area. The Idaho Conservation League described it (in terms similar to those seen elsewhere): “This drilling project is the next step toward constructing what the company hopes will be one of the largest open pit molybdenum mines in the world.” The U.S. Forest Service gave its okay.
Is opposition to a massive open-pit mine necessarily extremist? At least under present terms, Federal District Judge Edward Lodge, no riotous liberal, appeared not to think so. In last week’s decision, he said that the Forest Service’s approval was arbitrary and capricious and that at the least, study and analysis of groundwater in the area is needed.

Maybe some review is needed to consider what’s extreme, and what isn’t.

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