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A few words here about the Idaho Statesman‘s new editorial page editor, Robert Ehlert.

Some correspondents have had some snark to point his way; they surely aren’t alone, so let’s put it out there. Ehlert has had a few years since working for news media (including several metro-level newspapers), during which time he first worked in the office of a congressional office – a natably partisan, conservative and ambitious Californian named Dan Lundgren – and then as head of Robert Ehlert Associates, the nature of whose consulting work remains a little hazy. The argument goes like this: Ehlert was hired by the Statesman to make nice with the state’s conservative Republican political and business establishment and serve as its apologist.

I mention this not to join in that line of argument but, for time being at least, quite the opposite.

It could be true. Or not; the evidence of what Ehlert will do with the editorial page will be visible soon enough, starting with a column in today’s paper (which doesn’t really mark out a direction). Assessments can be based on that clearly enough, in the weeks and months to come.

In his introductory column, Ehlert writes, “I do not regret one moment swimming in the channels and tides of policy and debate, because the experience was like getting an advanced degree in How Things Work And Occasionally Get Done In Government – Or Not.” That’s totally fair, and many journalists who cover government and politics might be better at it with some hands on experience.

When I came to Idaho and started in journalism school, probably the most highly regarded reporter in Idaho was Jay Shelledy of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, aggressive and (in some quarters) even feared. At the time, he was less than two years out from work on as press secretary on a Senate campaign. He surely learned a lot in the experience.

A little over a decade ago, I was campaign manager on two statewide campaigns in Idaho. Afterward, I returned to writing about politics, and I think I was able to approach it with a little more understanding than I had before.

Perry Swisher, the veteran and (by many) revered Idaho public figure who died last year, was in and out of both politics and journalism over a period of decades, and maintained strongly that both endeavors were enhanced by the joint experience, and scowled at journalists who tried to hold themselves rigidly apart from the rest of society.

At this point, Ehlert begins with a clean slate. Now let’s see what he writes on it.

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