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Posts published in March 2013

Idaho’s MVP: Polk

peterson MARTIN

Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial celebration will present many opportunities to reflect on our state’s history. At the kick-off ceremony on Boise’s capitol steps on March 4 there was a considerable focus on the role of Abraham Lincoln in Idaho’s territorial history. Considering that he was president when Idaho Territory was created and that he appointed all of our initial territorial officials, the attention paid to him is appropriate.

But was he the most important president with respect to Idaho? There are several presidents who, for varying reasons, could be considered for that distinction. Lincoln is clearly one. Others might suggest Jefferson for his role in initiating the Louisiana Purchase and dispatching Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery. Another possibility is Benjamin Harrison, who signed the legislation creating the state of Idaho.

And then there is the interesting, but little known, role of Grover Cleveland. During Cleveland’s presidency legislation was approved by both the House and Senate to divide Idaho Territory, attaching northern Idaho to Washington and southern Idaho to Nevada. This legislation would have actually eliminated Idaho. But by the time the bill reached President Cleveland for his consideration, Congress had adjourned. He declined to sign it, which effectively vetoed it.

Even though each of these presidents played significant roles in the creation of Idaho, I would suggest that none of them deservers the title of Idaho’s most important president. Rather, I think that distinction should go to our country’s eleventh president, James Polk. If you aren’t familiar with him, consider yourself to be part of the majority. But without him there would not have been either the territory or state of Idaho.

James Polk was from Tennessee and a protégé of Andrew Jackson. His first elective office was to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he eventually was elected Speaker of the House. He also served as Governor of Tennessee. Elected president in 1844 as a dark horse candidate, he pledged to only serve a single term. Polk was a Democrat and the Democratic Party was badly divided, especially by the issue of slavery. The leadership of the party was also filled with
wannabe presidents, including Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, John C. Cahoun and others, all having individual agendas to help promote their own political interests. Polk had a difficult, but highly successful, four years, as president.

The highest item on Polk’s presidential agenda was territorial expansion. At the time, the western border of the U.S. was defined by the Louisiana Purchase. When Polk took office in 1845, the United States consisted of 1.7 million square miles of land. (more…)

The disappearing

rainey BARRETT


Something’s happening here in our little Burg in the Oregon forest. Something distressing and disappointing. A damn shame. I’d bet it’s happening where you are, too.

Our little Rotary club is slowly disappearing. More people going out the back door than coming in the front. The other two local Rotary clubs are in the same trouble. So, too, are the Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, VFW and other business and social organizations. Our problem’s not unique. It’s an international issue. Times have changed. We – and they – have not.

Take Rotary. Founded in Chicago over 100 years ago by business leaders to share business news, gossip and professional tips while doing good works, it’s been a highly successful civic group in many a community, eventually going international. To its everlasting credit, Rotary has nearly wiped out polio in the world. If that’s all it ever did, Rotary would have earned everlasting honor in world social and medical history. Great job!

But times have changed and too many organizations have not. For instance, take those “business news, gossip and professional tips” reasons for Rotary’s creation. In too many local clubs, heads of business no longer participate on a regular basis. Most people who belong now can’t write a company check or commit corporate resources to a given community project. Many members have been “appointed” to Rotary or other civic groups by an employer rather than joining voluntarily out of a personal commitment to local volunteerism. Others are there because they genuinely want to do the “good works” but they don’t bring the resources – financial and corporate – that traditionally made clubs viable. And valuable.

As for “business, news and gossip,” small “tips” clubs have sprung up in every city and town. They’re designed to share member news for the benefit of others. A commonality. They meet – share – and go to work. They don’t usually undertake community projects as service clubs have done historically. They’re linked electronically. For their own welfare. It’s a “network” by definition. Business oriented. Not community service.

Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, Masons, Eagles, Moose, The Grange and other business and fraternal groups – like Rotary – have done similar good works and are important parts of the fabric from which this nation was crafted. And – like Rotary – they’re suffering membership losses because – in too many cases – they’ve not changed with the times. Some are already gone. (more…)

A red light study

ridenbaugh Northwest

Those red light cameras popping up around the Northwest have aroused a lot of discussion and even at least one initiative attempt (another Tim Eyman special in Washington).

Here's an extensive report on the subject, posted on the Insurance Quotes site, with what looks like plenty of useful background in considering the issue.

Among the notable tidbits, chew on this: "Although red light cameras can be effective in some cities, when asked, citizens tend not to vote for red light cameras. When put up to vote, residents of Houston, Cincinnati, Anaheim, and Albuquerque all expressed their displeasure against red light cameras and voted to either stop initiatives or shut down projects entirely. But, there is national support for the cameras: a 2009 survey of voters found that 69% of Americans support the use of red light cameras at dangerous intersections."


carlson CHRIS


Former Idaho Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor David Leroy is garnering deserved accolades for his efforts to educate Idahoans regarding the state’s historical role under the guidance of President Abraham Lincoln in thwarting southern efforts to bring slavery into the territories west of the Mississippi.

A successful attorney and a dedicated Abraham Lincoln historical buff, he has traveled Idaho with a refined presentation on Lincoln’s role in the formation of the Idaho territory 150 years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, have also collected numerous Lincoln memorabilia which they intend to donate to the State‘s historical museum.

He also fills in the background against which one can measure a mistaken view promulgated by his party’s Tea Party types regarding “nullification.” Leroy’s presentation reminds audiences this nation fought a Civil War led by a beloved President who was saying to hell with this nonsense about a state being able to nullify laws passed by Congress they don’t like.

For Lincoln and Leroy, the operative phrase is “one nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all,” as we all recite in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Civil War settled the issue of nullification.

Leroy is quintessentially political to his core. He has disarming charm, an ability to tell good stories and to laugh at himself. He also is one of the most calculating, Machiavellian, shrewd, insightful and instinctive politicians to move across the Idaho stage in years.

A rising GOP star in his youth, there seemed no limit to his potential. A Republican version of Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he was the “happy warrior” exuding energy and joy as he went about fulfilling expectations as a competent attorney general and then lieutenant governor.

When I returned in 1981 to Idaho from four years of exile serving with former Governor Cecil Andrus at the Department of the Interior, Leroy and I became good friends. We often jogged daily and talked politics as we ran.

Then the attorney general, it was clear he aimed to be governor and then a senator someday. A fan of former Governor and Senator Len Jordan, and his wife, Grace, Leroy and his first spouse, Helen, named their daughter Jordan after his hero. He delivered an eloquent and moving eulogy on the occasion of Grace’s passing.

Candidly, I told Leroy if he wanted to be governor he had best contest Phil Batt for the 1982 Republican nomination to challenge Andrus successor John Evans. I thought he could defeat Batt and would have a 50/50 shot at beating Evans who one had to concede was doing a solid job in the governor’s chair. (more…)

Clinically proven politics of fear

rainey BARRETT


I’ve long believed fear drives most of our politics on the right. But it’s been more an unsupported belief than a provable fact. Until I came across some interesting work by Dr. Rose McDermott of Brown University, that seems to show there really is a direct connection. She and several colleagues published their research in the American Journal of Political Science.

Using a large sample of related individuals, researchers first assessed their propensity for fear using lengthy, standardized, clinically administered interviews and tests. In subjects who were related, Dr. McDermott and her crew identified influences such as environment and personal experience and discovered some had a genetic propensity for a higher level of baseline fear. In fact, they experienced fear at even lower levels of threat or provocation than the rest of us.

The primary research finding? “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

In one area, there was a strong correlation between social fear and anti-immigration and pro-segregation attitudes. Individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative attitudes to those two subjects. And there were others.

“People who’re scared of novelty, uncertainty – people they don’t know and things they don’t understand,” McDermott said, “these people are more supportive of politics that provide them with a sense of surety and security.”

The team also found direct links to how political campaigns can be designed to manipulate some people more than others. To make a sizeable group more fearful. Deliberately.

One of the most predictable political certainties of the far right is – and has always been – that it will always frustrate its own efforts. Step on its own feet. It always goes just so long before it splits into smaller factions. Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans For Freedom – you name it. Their origins were with people who were frightened, distrustful – fearful – of conditions at the time. But soon, something in the new group sparked new fears and new distrust. And, amoeba-like, there was a split. Pick a fringe group – research its history – you’ll find a breakup. Maybe two or three. Or more. Time after time after time.

The other factor always found in that scared societal segment – certain people will step up to manipulate the fear. As McDermott’s research pointed out, “political campaigns … designed to manipulate.” I give you Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Wayne LaPierre. And the most skilled master of political manipulation based on fear - the shameless self-promoter – Newt Gingrich. (more…)

In the Briefings this week

JEWELL AT SENATE: Interior Secretary-designate Sally Jewell speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington. The committee, which includes Washington Senate Maria Cantwell, was holding a hearing on her confirmation. (image/Office of Senator Cantwell)


In Washington, couple of seemingly counter headlines, about an unemployment rate that remains the same, but overall improvement (albeit modest) in the state economic picture. The two are reconciled to some degree by the additional statistic that the overall number of jobs rose during January, meaning that the rate reflected more people in the labor force.

In Idaho, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee last week drafted a public school budget that seems likely to gain clearance (since there was not a lot of dissension surrounding it). Odds are that will translate to a relatively quick legislative session, possibly ending by the close of this month.

First take: Intimidation


INTIMIDATION Seems here that it's a crime to threaten or intimidate lawmakers. In any event, a light needs to be trained on this, as the Oregonian's Steve Duin does in his column today: Gun advocates going a little over the line against legislators with whom they have a difference of opinion on gun regulation. Among other examples Duin cites are several aimed just at one lawmakers, Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat. One describes him "as a "disgusting jew parasite." Another features, in two compact paragraphs, three anti-Semitic slurs and five of the seven words George Carlin once claimed you could never say on television. A third warns Greenlick, "You have made a grave error" in sponsoring House Bill 3200, and suggests he withdraw his support: "Good choices are the foundation for long and healthy life.""

Improvements over time

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and much else, much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 (and yes, I'll say that even with the legislature in session). Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke.

Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho's first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff, to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms. Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver. When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn't yet known as Idaho) he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke's thirst for more was still acute. (more…)

Lessons from Dorchester

Oregon Republicans convened for three days starting March 8 at Seaside, for their annual Dorchester conference. (photo/Randy Stapilus)


cascades RANDY
West of
the Cascades

In his opening remarks at the 49th Dorchester conference, the organization's president remarked that, since former Governor Vic Atiyeh was unable to attend this year's event, it marked the first time in at least three decades that no current or former governor of Oregon had attended the signature Republican event.

That was as useful a factoid as any to underscore the point and usefulness of the conference: Trying to figure out what the future of the Oregon Republican Party ought to be, and how to make it successful. That was much of the point in 1965, when future Senator Robert Packwood helped organize the first one. It has taken on some urgency now, with Republicans out of power in the legislature and holding but one major office (the 2nd U.S. House seat) in the whole state.

Dorchester is known for blunt talk, a willingness to face up to the problems. So it was on the main event on opening night Friday, when Kerry Tymchuk, formerly of Senator Gordon Smith's staff and now of the state historical society, moderated and posed questions to a panel of three, selected in part by differing ages, a college student at Portland State University (Tymchuk quipped that her role with the college Republicans would be like heading up college Democrats at Brigham Young University), an ex-urbanite father living in rural Washington County, and a veteran of Oregon Republican politics with background in the 60s of leftist radicalism.

If they didn't come up with definitive answers on a path forward, they did illuminate some of the obstacles and at least a number of ideas.

Asked why they were Republicans, the answers emerged unsurprisingly: It was the party of personal responsibility, work ethics and limited government and non-reliance on handouts. It did not apologize for the country, they said; one remarked, "it's the patriotic party, not the pity party."

Asked what was, in their view, the major issue of the day, "fiscal responsibility" was the prevailing choice. The former 60s radical remarked that "I'm not so much worried about protecting my social security as protecting my freedom," and she warned, "Communists are out there."

Following up on some of that, the college student suggested, "If we fall, the world falls."

Tymchuck asked for some cross-generational commentary, and he got some. The exurban father said of the millennials that they seem not to have a sense of where the money is coming from the pay for all the enormous bills (college costs, presumably, among them) that are being run up. And there was a comment about some younger voters being "brainwashed."

But the college student had some suggestions too: Older generations, she suggested, are sometimes "obsessed" with social issues (not spelled out, but presumably including abortion and gay rights) that are turning into big electoral losers for the Republican Party.

"I'm so sick of losing," she said. (Tymchuck pointed out that Oregon hasn't had a Republican governor since before she was born.)

That led to a Tymchuk question about whether compromise was, or ought to be, a dirty word among Republicans.

The responses were uneasy and actually somewhat nuanced. There was some acknowledgement that Republicans are increasingly being tagged as uncompromising, and that they're increasingly getting nothing rather than the half a loaf they otherwise might get. But the 60's veteran drew cheers from the crowd when she said, "I don't personally want to compromise with the Democrats ... They're liars."

Added up, there was certainly recognition that the Oregon Republican Party has some big problems. Solutions? Well, they had the rest of the weekend to continue searching for those.

First take: teacher contracts, drone policy


TEACHER CONTRACTS The Idaho Legislature seems about to cast aside the message on public school policy sent by the voters in November. A bill has cleared the House Education Committee (which seems like schools mostly in the private, home or charter forms) that would reinstate the killed-off policy allowing school boards to cut off teacher negotiations if they haven't completed by June 10, and then impose their own terms. That gives the boards an absolute hammer, of course, since all they have to do to get whatever they want, is to run out the clock. Expect the bill to pass the House; the larger test may come in the Senate.

WYDEN'S REVOLT There is something sort of bipartisan going on, you suppose, when Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden lend support to a filibuster - the actual vocal kind - by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. Both of them wanted to draw attention to Obama administration policy on drones and other military activities, policy for which has been kept quite secret. Bright light can be a useful lock pick, however.