Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in July 2013

Parlor politics

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Let’s start with what we think we know: 1) Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has said he is running for a third term; 2) First District Congressman Raul Labrador appears to be backing away from challenging the governor because some pundits are making much out of the little amount of fund-raising he has done lately.

Here are some other pertinent “facts”: 1) When in the Legislature then State Rep. Labrador took on the governor twice, and beat him on the issue of increased fuel taxes to further upgrade badly decaying highways and bridges; and, succeeded in replacing the governor’s hand-picked state chairman with Norm Semanko, head of the Idaho Water Users Association.

2) Supposedly this has made the two men political enemies with each hoping he has the chance metaphorically to knife the other.

3) The First Lady, Lori Otter, so enjoys her role that she is the driving force behind the governor seeking a third term.

Then there is the fact that Rep. Labrador is responsible for recruiting the Club for Growth to underwrite Idaho Falls attorney and Tea Partyite Bryan Smith’s primary challenge against long-time Second District congressman Mike Simpson. The former Blackfoot dentist is a close ally of current House Speaker John Boehner.

Now here’s what we don’t know: 1) Congressman Labrador’s longterm goal; 2) What Governor Otter’s real goal is; 3) What Governor Otter may have said to his loyal Lt. Governor, Brad Little, and 4) Whether any scientific polling has been done by anyone.

So, anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’. Here’s my educated guess.

There is a huge bluff game being played and at this point it appears Governor Otter has bluffed Congressman Labrador into thinking he really is running for a third term. Furthermore, the governor appears to have convinced Labrador that in a head-to-head primary he would kick Labrador’s rear.

To that end there are rumors Governor Otter is quietly preparing a huge north Idaho fund-raiser that will feature - no, not Tea Party darling and the new Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz - but rather the charismatic governor from New Jersey, Chris Christie. Governor Christie is clearly no favorite of the Tea Party so this has about it an “in your face” message to Labrador.

Neither does holding a fund-raiser remove all doubt about the governor’s intentions. He does in fact have a hold-over campaign debt (a loan from himself to his campaign) and the proceeds all could go to paying off the debt to himself. (more…)

The qui(e)t agenda?

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

The question of whether there's more to the story of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and the contract on school wi-fi provision he recently signed is addressed in this op-ed by Democratic state Senator Brandon Durst.

UPDATE: Here's a reply from Kevin Richert to the Durst article below.

Soon the final pieces will be in place and the puzzle will be complete.

Many Idahoans expressed outrage and concern when Superintendent Tom Luna attempted to ram his ill conceived Students Come First plan down our collective throats. Luckily, Idahoans wisely rejected the Luna Laws and made their voices heard.

Governor Otter responded to the electoral bashing by appointing a (stacked) task force to review options for education reform. Unsurprisingly, the task force refused to look at the most empirically tested approaches to improving education (more early learning opportunities, teacher mentoring, etc.) and decided to continue to follow along the same trail.

Meanwhile, Boise State University, under the auspices of “leading” started the Idaho Leads Project, funded almost entirely by the Albertsons Foundation (more on that in a minute). They appointed Roger Quarles, at that time the superintendent to the Caldwell School District, to run the show. They also hired Jennifer Swindell, the PR flak for the Caldwell School District. Both Mr. Quarles and Ms. Swindell were on record for actively supporting the Luna Laws and Mr. Quarles pro-Luna bent went as far back supporting the failed iSTARS plan (the predecessor to the Luna Laws pushed by Luna in 2007).

The Idaho Leads Project has also become active in pseudo-journalism by creating the propaganda page Idaho Ed News. Lead by Swindell, Idaho Ed News hired two Idaho based journalists, Clark Corbin from the Post Falls Register, and Kevin Richert, the opinion page editor from the Idaho Statesman. Corbin was a much less significant hire than Richert, however. While in charge of the election endorsement process during the 2012 elections Richert personally fought for editorial board support of candidates that supported the Luna Laws as well Luna Laws themselves. His support of the Luna agenda was a key factor in his hiring at Idaho Ed News. (more…)

The driver

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Here's the perceptive, precise and unexpectedly wonkish line that caught my eye in last week's squabble over the long-term contract for Idaho's school wi-fi system:

“Something doesn’t smell right to me. This is the problem when you let the budget drive policy instead of policy driving the budget.”

Let's unpack what that bureaucratic-sounding quote, from state Representative Brent Crane of Nampa (in the Idaho Press-Tribune) meant in practice last week.

First, here's what no one really seems to object to: Installing Internet wireless broadband access into Idaho schools. On Wednesday Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna signed a contract, with a private firm, to do that. To that extent, Luna seemed to be tracking with accepted policy, as well as with budget.

But there were issues.

One was that the contract was supposed to run for five years (at $2.11 million per year), and legislators, who operate state budgeting on a one-year-at-a-time basis, complained Luna had no authority to commit so far into the future – including, possibly, a successor in his office. (Two five-year re-ups also are contemplated but not locked in.) Criticism among legislators popped up around the state, and budget committee co-Chair Senator Dean Cameron was quoted as describing the deal as “perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty.” In the context, that's fierce language.
Luna didn't run the contract through the state purchasing office, which handles most substantial state contracts. He doesn't have to do that, as a state elected official, but as Senate Education Chair John Goedde remarked, “It would have been cleaner.”

These items would seem minor, though, but for the third: The closeness between Luna, the contractor, and the personal and other linkages involved.

Three firms competed for the contract. The Tennessee-based winner, Education Networks of America, beat out two Idaho companies, one of which received the top review score among the three from an interviewing committee. (That top-ranking firm, Ednetics at Post Falls, is a fast-growing and evidently successful company with operations in the Seattle and Portland areas and experience in Internet connectivity in various schools around the Northwest.) Those two Idaho firms had no evident financial or personnel connection to Luna, but ENA did. It has been a substantial contributor to Luna's campaigns ($6,000, reports the Spokesman-Review, from 2009 to 2012). The lead ENA employee in Idaho, Garry Lough, is a former employee of Luna's. (more…)

Mass ‘communications’ are a mess

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

At a time when we need more hard, accurate information from local and national media, we’re getting less. And it’s getting worse.

“News radio” isn’t “news radio” anymore. It’s “talk radio.” In too many cases, it’s “hate talk radio.” Dispense five minutes an hour of news on the networks and 55 minutes of B.S. Not the “hard news” information source it was created to be. And – at one time – was.

Television is even worse. A steady diet of news interspersed with personal – often political – commentary that would’ve gotten a reporter fired 20 years ago. There’s a place for such stuff but not when facts are being reported. In addition, have you noticed there’s no “live” network TV news in the Pacific Time Zone after 6 p.m. any day? Just features and reruns of mostly “talking head” shows that ran earlier. CNN – MSNBC – FOX – or any other.

We in P-D-T are also being ignored by most early morning network news shows. Oh, they’re out there. But starting at 3 a.m.! And most are not rebroadcast for the west coast in our area. ABC, NBC, CBS and other nets used to do recorded reruns. Now not many. Bean counters, you know. “Not economical.” “Hurts profitability.”

And newspapers. Ah, newspapers. The story there is harder to tell but the news ain’t good. Ridenbaugh Press proprietor Randy Stapilus did an excellent lead piece recently about the gutting of Oregon’s best newspaper the “Oregonian.” It’s going from daily home delivery to four days a week. Noting the paper is now owned by a national corporation, Stapilus wrote “The Oregonian will no longer be a true daily newspaper (at least not in the sense that distinguishes it from every weekly newspaper that also runs a 24/7 website). It will have a far smaller reporting and editing staff. There will be less local and regional news coverage. News consumers in Oregon will be taking a major hit.” Days later, 35 reporters were fired and management announced a move out of the long-time home near downtown Portland to smaller quarters.

Other major city dailies are taking the same hits. Some – as in Seattle – have gone out of business while others have shifted publication almost entirely to the web. Hundreds of smaller papers have been bought by large companies and decisions that used to be made locally now come from Chicago-Boston-New York and a corporation more intent on “return on investment” than the extent and quality of local reporting.

We have a little almost-daily, almost-newspaper here in the Oregon woods owned by a small company. Management continually reminds us “we’re a local paper here to report on local news” and “you can get your other news somewhere else.” Fair enough. Except I’ve noticed recently large national wire service stories – even on the front page. Several pages in each issue are entirely world and national news or syndicated material like advice and medical columns. The self-declared “localness” has been dilluted. Reporting staff smaller. Pages fewer. Local stories fewer and skimpier.

I can jump the verbal fence and argue on the side for management. “Costs and overhead – need to follow readers to the web – hard to attract and keep local reporters – corporate decisions out of our hands.” Obvious. True. (more…)

New book: Transition

The last half-decade has been an economically rough time for a lot of people, and some of them are precisely the people who under usual circumstances would be moving into key positions in our society. The catch is, in a time of high joblessness and diminished mobility, that has proven harder than usual for many of them to do.

Although, some of them do it anyway.

That subject generally is what our latest book, Transition by Scott Jorgensen, is about. (Its book page is here.) In it, Jorgensen talks about his own experience, one not wildly unusual in recent years.

Graduated from college about a decade ago, he continued (as he had since high school days) through a sequence of jobs, some in journalism and others in politics. (He has been involved in a number of Republican campaigns.) Then, after departing one in Josephine County about four years ago, the well seemed to dry - abruptly. He spent month after month, after month, looking for new work. It was not easy to find, and the difficulty took its toll.

The story has a happy ending, in that he did eventually find work, and now works for the Oregon House Republican Caucus. But his story is broader than simply one person's scramble to find a place; many people are or have been in similar, or tougher, spots.

There's some good food for thought here in what Jorgensen writes. It's commended to your attention.

The Basque spot

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho’s 26th Secretary of State, the talented and well-liked Ben Ysursa, when campaigning to succeed his old boss and fellow Basque, the long-serving and never beaten Pete T. Cenarrusa, would often look an audience straight in the eye and without blinking in a perfect dead-pan manner say that a little known clause in Idaho’s Constitution required the office of Secretary of State be held by a person of Basque origin.

One can forgive any Idahoan for thinking that must be true since between Cenarrusa (36 years) and Ysursa (12 years) the office has been held by men of Basque origin and heritage for almost 50 years. Like Cenarrusa, Ysursa could hold the office for as long as he wants.

He is a young 64 years of age and he draws support not just from Republicans but also independents and Democrats. When running for his third term in 2010, even former four-term Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus’ SUV sported a Ysursa bumper sticker.

Ysursa, though, is rumored to be giving serious thought to retiring. When asked by supporters, friends and reporters, Ysursa gives the same answer----he’ll announce his intentions at the end of this year.

A native of Boise and a 1967 graduate of Bishop Kelly, he obtained his B.A. from Gonzaga University (Yes, Ben is true Zagnaut and follows the Zag basketball team religiously), then went on to St. Louis University where he received his law degree in 1974 and was admitted to the Idaho bar the same year.

He joined Cenarrusa’s staff in 1974 and quickly rose to the position of chief deputy and heir apparent. Thus, by the end of 2014 he will have spent almost 40 years serving the people of Idaho. No one could blame him for retiring to enjoy his “golden years” with wife Penny, their three children and their grandchildren.

Idaho Republicans of course want him to run again because he’s a sure winner and he helps the GOP to keep control of Idaho’s important Land Board. Additionally, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the office like Ysursa was inside Cenarrusa’s office. (more…)

Where’s Pocatello going?

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

Pocatello lost about 3,200 jobs between 2007 and 2009 when companies moved out of the Gate City, shuttered their businesses and closed their doors. From 2002 to 2010, Pocatello grew only about 1 percent in population, losing its status as Idaho’s second largest city, Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad reflects.

By comparison, Chubbuck grew about 46 percent and Idaho Falls grew by double digits during the same period. Pocatello now ranks behind Boise, Nampa, Meridian and Idaho Falls in size, according to 2010 Census data.

Speaking on a recent “Business Dynamics” interview program that airs on Pocatello’s Vision 12 cable access station, Blad said from 2003 to 2006 the city’s economy was doing pretty well in tandem with the nation moving forward. However, things started turning downward from 2007 to 2008, he noted.

“Things got pretty tough after the market meltdown,” said Blad, a political unknown who defeated Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase in a 2009 municipal election upset.

Chase is running again for the city’s top post, hoping to reverse an embarrassing defeat. It is widely presumed Blad will seek re-election although he has not formally announced.

When Blad took office in 2010, “we were in pretty bad shape. I might add we’re not in great shape now. We’re still 1,000 jobs down. We’re still in trouble in my mind,” he said, estimating 2,200 jobs have been added the past 3½ years.

Blad credits hiring by Allstate Insurance, Petersen Inc., Pocatello Regional Medical Center, WinCo, Dick’s Sporting Goods, ON Semiconductor and other employers for contributing to the city’s turnaround in recent years.

“We’ve been able to chip away at the deficit of 3,200 jobs,” he said, adding he hopes a recent successful recruiting trip to California will generate hundreds of new jobs for Pocatello and eliminate that deficit.

Blad and Bannock Development Corp. Executive Director John Regetz visited 10 California companies in three days. Seven of those companies have committed to visit Pocatello this summer, which historically does not happen. Usually, it’s a two-year process before a company will visit a prospective site after being contacted, he said.

The prospective California firms range from high technology to retail to construction, Blad said. The owner of one company that potentially could employ 1,000 and be located at the Pocatello Regional Airport is very interested in relocating, but prefers to pay his workers $9.50 an hour.

The city counters that $15 an hour is a living wage and argues he could afford to pay that by the amount of money he would save in taxes, energy costs and other expenses by moving to Idaho, which is much more business-friendly than California, Blad said.

A very high tech company could employ up to 30 employees, but pay them $150,000 to $200,000 a year. An existing company could eventually hire 440 workers, but some creative financing needs to be arranged, the mayor said. Some of the contacted companies would pay $40,000 to $75,000 in annual wages.

Allstate nearly backed out of locating a customer service center in the Pocatello area after it had indicated it would “sign on the dotted line,” Blad said, noting that last minute conflicts arose, which nearly scuttled the deal. “To have the carpet ripped out from under you is just devastating.”

Blad said he and other city officials scrambled to help make arrangements for Allstate to locate in Chubbuck by providing Pocatello building inspection, engineering and legal assets, which Chubbuck lacks. He also traveled to Allstate’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, whose number of employees there virtually equal Chubbuck’s population.

Allstate executives were concerned about Bannock County’s relatively small population base and were hesitant about locating a customer service center in the Pocatello/Chubbuck area, which would be the company’s smallest market in the nation, Blad said, adding Allstate was considering Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., and San Antonio for a call center. Pocatello also was competing against Salt Lake City and Ogden for it. (more…)

An opportunity for a small ripple

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

An Idaho legislative interim committee meeting next month could make a splash – by keeping its ripples on the small side.

That might mean shifting its assigned mission, but also accomplishment rather than flailing.

The panel is the federal lands interim committee, meeting August 9, co-chaired by Senator Chuck Winder and Representative Lawerence Denney. House Concurrent Resolution 21 asked it to assemble research “before the Idaho Legislature can properly address the issue of the management and control of public lands now controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho should title to those public lands be transferred to the State of Idaho …" Context: HCR 22, which also passed, "demand[ed] that the federal government extinguish title to Idaho's public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho."

Pre-meeting, attorney Michael Bogert was asked to collect background materials, and he assembled a 274-page report. As he noted, it covered many of the issues involved, but it could have been even larger: I've watched similar efforts flail and fail over the last 40 years.

The states active on this, like Utah and Arizona, hit a brick wall: The lands are owned by the whole country and that's unlikely to change. Bogert's compendium included a paper from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, offering reasons states should not get the lands, such as, "the Legislature has indicated that some of these lands would be sold outright to the highest bidder while others would be kept in state ownership but opened to oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle use and extractive industries." Conservatives too have expressed reservations. In May 2012 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed its version of HCR 22, which she said “does not identify an enforceable cause of action to force federal lands to be transferred to the state. Moreover, as a staunch advocate for state sovereignty, we still must be mindful and respectful of our federal system."

Many state officials, in Idaho as elsewhere, argue that state lands are better managed than federal lands. There's debate over this. An analysis from the conservative Cato Institute (number 276, in July 1997 – and in the Bogert report)) said "that most state natural resource agencies cost state taxpayers far more than they return to state general funds. The key to the profitability of state trusts is not that they are state but that they are trusts." The argument that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which manage upwards of 60 percent of Idaho's land, are “absentee landlords” runs into the many Idaho communities where the biggest employers of Idahoans are the Forest Service and the BLM. (more…)

The busy place

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

I'm hesitant to draw any conclusions about this, and I won't - for now at least. But.

Of the three Northwest states, Washington and Oregon are the more competitive politically - look at their legislatures - and Idaho has not been.

But Idaho has had talk surfacing repeatedly in the last few weeks about contested elections coming up for major office next year. The rumors swirl about the offices of governor and U.S. representative in both districts.

Not really much of anything in Washington or Oregon. Dead silence.

Well, you can ascribe a little of that in Washington to the fact that one of the major contests in the state - for mayor of Seattle - is just now hitting its climax, and maybe more discussion and interest will emerge after that. And in the months to come, the matter of control of the state Senate will become a truly heated subject, no doubt.

And in Oregon a fair amount rides on whether Governor John Kitzhaber runs again, and he's indicated he won't say until fall. (Although there is some talk that a Republican contender may emerge in the next few weeks.)

Maybe it's just varying conditions, and there's nothing more to say about it.

But at the moment, Washington and Oregon aren't looking really thrilling.

The dream, the reality

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“Outside every silver lining
there’s a dark cloud.”

Our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods is witnessing proof of that chronic pessimism.. A local, extremely entrepreneurial company has become so successful it’s gone now. And we’re left with our lining-less dark cloud.

Here’s what happened. About five years ago, local soccer moms Mandy Holborow and Sheri Price wanted to make more healthful snacks for their kids. Right here. Just across town. They finally decided on oatmeal laced with fruit. Put a handful in baggies to keep in the cupboard, take out and add the hot water. Soon, some friends wanted to try it so Mandy and Sheri whipped up more and passed around the baggies.

As word got around, more friends – and people they didn’t even know – wanted some. So, starting in the kitchen – and later expanding into the garage – the ladies cranked out more oat and fruit snacks. Voila! “Umpqua Oats” was born.

One thing led to another. Some local coffee shops and grocery stores added Umpqua Oats – by then in small, white styrofoam cups, selling for about $3 each – and things just kept growing. Seven flavors, too. So, Shari and Mandy took over a building that had formerly been a large department store. That meant seven full-time workers – another 10-15 as needed.

Today – just four years later – Umpqua Oats is an international business with product in a lot of major airports, many stores and hotels in this country and Canada. Airlines are interested for on-board snacks. Some already have ‘em. Sheri and Mandy are talking to public school food providers, colleges and universities, fitness clubs, motels and other places where people would like a quick, healthful snack.

Bottom line: each year since founding, sales have doubled. And more. Using the same very active marketing plan that has succeeded so far, outside experts think that doubling can go on for several more years at least. It’s now a multi-million dollar, international business and no one knows where it will top out. Or if.

WOW! Talk about a couple of local Oregon soccer moms putting our little burg-in-the-woods on the map! A growing payroll – dollars multiplying in the local economy – success that could draw spinoffs or new businesses.

Except – now they’ve closed and moved. Production is in California and corporate headquarters now in Nevada. And the empty retail building that used to be a department store – before it was home to a booming local industry – is vacant. Again. Former employees now unemployed.

Shari and Mandy – their husbands and kids, too – are living in a Las Vegas suburb. Production of Umpqua Oats is being handled by Honeyville Food Products in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Orders Umpqua Oats used to handle by the baggie over the phone are being replaced by fork lift pallet-loads out of a large warehouse going everywhere. (more…)