"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.
carlson CHRIS


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.

My guess is that if Governor Otter runs, he would crush the overly ambitious congressman. Labrador’s votes against funding much of the Idaho National Lab activity are simply inexplicable and downright suicidal if he were considering a statewide run. Secondly, Labrador is out of step with much of the Idaho agriculture community’s views on immigration reform.

Neither does Labrador have deep personal Idaho roots nor has he spent years gathering the numerous personal relationships Governor Otter has.

Even with the hefty financial support of a fellow Mormon, like Frank VanderSloot, the millionaire owner of Melaleuca, it would be an expensive campaign.

Here’s the real wild card in this game of bluff: some pundits believe Governor Otter long ago gave his word to Brad Little that he would only serve two terms and then make way for Brad to succeed him. Little was a talented state senator from Gem County and has been a loyal understudy.

He is ready to be governor full-time (and has been part-time more than people think with the number of days Otter has been out of state).

It is hard to see the Emmett native and successful owner of a diversified farm/cattle operation spending another four years playing second fiddle.

Don’t give any credence either to theories that Otter would run, win and then resign and hand the number one job to Little. Governors do not resign (the exception of course being University of Idaho graduate, Sarah Palin, who resigned as Alaska’s governor in order to grab for all the big bucks she could).

Idaho politics being what they are, if Otter indeed has bluffed Labrador out and then does not run, there are few who believe Little would not face a Tea Party challenger. After all, Little, like some of his GOP colleagues, likes to solve problems and recognizes politics is the art of compromise. He even thinks for himself.

In that case, look for the Tea Party to recruit someone like State Treasurer Ron Crane, or the younger Brent Crane, a state representative from Nampa, or former House Speaker Lawerence Denny from Midvale, to go after Little and deny Otter his hand-picked successor in a further paroxysm of spite and Republican self-flagellation.

The sad thing is with the new closed primary they could succeed which would be unfortunate because Little is one of just a small handful of reasonable Republicans that could be excellent governors and to date are better than any names put forward by the Democrats.

Share on Facebook


ridenbaugh Northwest

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.

Starting in 2007, Education Networks for America (ENA) and K12 (the for-profit online learning company) began to actively participate in Idaho elections by funding the campaigns of what would become important allies, including Luna. ENA began hiring influential and well connected Republicans such as Gary Lough, a former Idaho GOP party executive director. As was discovered during the referendum election on Luna Laws in 2012, K12 was then connected to another important Idahoan, Joe Scott, better known as the head of the Albertsons Foundation. Scott also had personally funded the pro-Luna Law advocacy group that attempted to convince voters that they were in Idahoans best interest.

And now, Luna has signed a multiyear contract with ENA to provide wireless internet in Idaho high schools, despite not having the legislative authority to do so and ENA clearly not having the best bid. Luna has also appointed Quarles, his longtime ally to become Deputy Superintendent.

But the other shoe is yet to drop. Despite recent reports to the contrary, the fact is that Luna has already informed key State Department of Education staff he has no plans to seek re-election. Instead of running Luna will likely be hired by ENA or K12 to attempt to push the same policies to other unsuspecting GOP dominated statehouses and Quarles will no doubt run to replace Luna and continue the duping of Idahoans. The picture is becoming clearer by the day, I just hope we wake up and see it before it is too late.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Reading

idaho RANDY
The Idaho

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.

Even all that may seem a minor point too except for the pattern of the many close connections Luna has had to the education industry. The contracting of various services to public schools has evolved into a big industry nationally. A February 2011 report in the Idaho Statesman said that Luna’s 2010 re-election campaign alone drew “$72,581 in contributions connected to for-profit education,” from firms such as K12 Inc., Apollo Group, Madison Education Group and Apangea Learning Inc.

When word about the contract got out early last week, voices around the state, some of them legislative, called on Luna to hold off. He did not delay signing.

What conclusions should we draw?

Here we get into matters of motivation, which only Luna can address. But the relevant points would seem to include ties closer to the national education industry than to many Idaho educators. To return to Crane, you get the sense that it wasn’t just the policy – putting broadband in schools – that drove the assignment and the process of this contract. As Luna contemplates what to say next about all this, and how he will answer the inevitable questions from legislators, which he will no doubt face at the next budget setting, that might be a good subject to consider.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

rainey BARRETT


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.

But the issue here is that – at a time when the world that starts just down the block and extends to outer space is getting more convoluted, changing daily and requiring more of our time to be accurately informed – we’re getting less. Less hard information. Less local. Less national. Less in-depth reporting. Less access. Fewer issues. Fewer hours of broadcast news. More reruns. Important facts we need are harder to come by and there are fewer of them available.

There was a time – not so long ago – when news operations were devoted to getting the news on the editorial side while the business side hustled the bucks to pay the bills. Get the story. Pay the bills. No more. Sadly, no more. Now, it’s more often a remotely-made decision “what can we afford to pay for and still turn a profit?”

In far too many markets, news “gathering” has given way to news “reaction.” Enterprise reporting – going out and finding the story – has given way to following up on what happened. Not finding stories that need reporting but doing wrap-ups and “what-do-you-think-about-what-happened?” “Digging” journalism is dying.

I’m not terribly concerned with fewer news organizations or even what platform they use to reach us. I AM concerned that “fewer” does not mean those remaining are “better.” I AM concerned that fewer broadcast hours or fewer pages or even fewer publications make getting the news harder to access. I AM concerned that too much news has become drivel passed off as “news.” I AM concerned government requirements for broadcasters to “serve the public interest” with local news and public affairs have been abolished. I AM concerned business decisions too often trump news decisions. I AM concerned that “celebrity” has replaced real news value.

But mostly I”m concerned that truly important daily upheavals in our lives – in our government – in our world – are not being fully and accurately reported. Who’s covering City Hall, the county courthouse, local courts, the school board regularly instead of waiting for “news releases?” Too many of the institutions for such reporting are being eliminated or curtailed at a time when their work is sorely needed. Too much of what we call “reporting” has become someone else’s opinions rather than the facts we badly need to form our own opinions.

In this time of rapid political and societal change affecting every one of us, we’re being poorly served by institutions we’ve relied on for important information: for facts – for perspective – for exposing lies – for getting the truth. In so many ways, our technology has already surpassed our ability to administer it. And our reduced, watered-down systems of public information aren’t helping us change that.

Share on Facebook


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.

Share on Facebook


carlson CHRIS


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.

If Ysursa does retire, the smartest move Idaho’s Democrats could make would be to recruit the best known Basque in their ranks—Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

The popular Boise mayor has of course generated speculation he might be seeing a future governor when he looks in the mirror during his morning shave. Thus, his name is prominent when folks play the parlor game of who could the Democrats run for governor in 2014 and who could beat Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, or whomever emerges from the GOP’s closed primary.

Bieter, though, is reportedly leaning towards seeking another term as mayor. His wife is also supposed to be opposed to his seeking the governorship, and there are some Democrats who seriously question whether the mayor has the fire in his belly to run for governor.

A clear indication that he’s looking more towards running for mayor again was his attempt earlier this year to woo talented Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy away from north Idaho to come to Boise and be his chief of staff.

Kennedy was reportedly intrigued by the offer but decided his family obligations and his commitment to business partner, Coeur d’Alene investor and real estate magnate, Steve Meyer, dictated he remain in the north.

Kennedy is a veteran of several Democratic statewide campaigns, however, and would be an invaluable asset in any statewide race Bieter might make. One suspects though that Kennedy, like Bieter and other political pundits, questions whether Bieter could win a race for governor.

In fact, Kennedy announced this past week he was bowing out of politics for awhile and would neither run for a third-term as a City Councilman nor seek the mayorship of Coeur d’Alene.

Share on Facebook


mendiola MARK


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.

Mayor Brian Blad

After they were persuaded to commit to Pocatello/Chubbuck, Allstate officials now “absolutely love” their new Bannock County location, recently closing a Chicago call center, which was outperformed by the one here, Blad said.

Originally, Allstate was planning to employ 600 at its Chubbuck center, but recently announced the addition of about 270 more jobs, soon bringing its total local employment to nearly 900.

Blad and Chubbuck Mayor Steven England also worked closely to retain Petersen Inc. in the area after that Ogden-based manufacturing company planned to completely pull out of the Gateway West Industrial Center. Petersen will boost its employment to about 100 at its new Pocatello Regional Airport location, Blad said.

He emphasized that employment at Allstate and Petersen will total 1,000 between those two companies alone. Potentially, Southern California could add 4,000 to 5,000 jobs to Bannock County’s economy the next four to five years, Blad said.

Blad praised WinCo’s location of a large new grocery store at the location of the vacated Fred Meyer and Albertsons stores on the corner of Yellowstone and Alameda, which has sat vacant for 20 years, making it a blighted area and eyesore for decades.

WinCo has hired an additional 100 employees at its new site, where a new credit union and Carl’s Jr. fast food outlet also will open. Ridley’s will move into the old WinCo store, but keep its other store across town open.

Hoku’s recent bankruptcy and shutdown of its $700 million polysilicon plant has been a major setback for Pocatello’s economy. It had planned to initially hire 200 and eventually add 400 to its payroll. Blad noted the previous city administration spent $1 million on land for Hoku’s plant.

“It was a good idea, I assume,” he said. “The city council and mayor at the time felt it would make a good project.”

The price for polysilicon needed for solar panels has plunged, but had it stayed high as when the project was first planned, the Hoku plant could have been making $1 million a day, Hoku officials told the city.

Blad said the South Valley Connector that will link South Bannock Highway to South Fifth Avenue with a tie-in roadway to South Second Avenue will open the sound end of Pocatello to economic development. Construction on it has started after more than 20 years of planning.

“We started pushing harder than we’ve ever pushed on it,” Blad said. “This shows Pocatello is moving. We’re not standing still or going backward.”

Share on Facebook


idaho RANDY
The Idaho

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.

Still. The debate over just how well the states could do is far from conclusive. States can be useful laboratories of experimentation, and there’s talk, in some quarters, about something more modest than a fruitless demand for massive land turnover.

Such as: Carve out a few small and varied parcels of federal land, require that federal standards be maintained in managing them, and then in essence pay the state to manage them in a pilot project. Could the state do better? If so, how? The exercise might open new and useful approaches to management, and either quash the state’s argument that it could do better, or strengthen it.

A relatively modest and non-ideological proposal along those lines, submitted to the 2014 legislature, might find favor in more quarters than a series of won’t-happen demands.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

stapilus RANDY

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.

Share on Facebook


rainey BARRETT


“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.

Product production demands now require a company with the right equipment and experience like Honeyville – experienced in large-scale packaging and assembly not available here.. Also necessary – a larger pool of labor. The active sales calls Mandy and Shari make in person are now several a week with destinations coast-to-coast and overseas. So, better air travel connections were necessary. Couldn’t do that here in the trees.

As for the spinoff economic “benefit” for our little burg, well, we can go buy a cup of Umpqua Oats at Safeway and say “We knew them when.”

The Northwest is full of little burgs like ours. Once flourishing with major industry – timber, fishing, mining – where things went bottoms up. A variety of reasons. Some – like Idaho’s Silver Valley – lost their “glory days” decades ago and they haven’t come back. Maybe they never will. Others – like Bend, Sisters and Redmond in Central Oregon – lost timber mills and forest products but made a largely successful shift to tourism with skiing, white water rafting, dozens of golf courses, large numbers of retirees and smaller entrepreneurial businesses. They became “service industry” towns.

The largest problem for a one-industry town like ours is that it takes so long to replace the economic underpinnings that created past stability. Timber has been here 150 years. Economics and technology dictated downsizing. Now, folks hereabouts are looking to the wine industry. That’s a hopeful future. But it takes a long, long time for a full-blown impact on the local economy. Nearly all the vineyards and wineries here are family-owned. The big names seen in California and New York aren’t here. Yet. Maybe never. Neither is the large, skilled workforce of field hands and vintners – at least not in large enough numbers to make a sizeable economic impact. May happen. Someday. But that someday could be many years away. People are working on it. But it’s a long-haul situation.

Like a lot of other small Northwest burgs, we’ve got some good economic development people at work. There are plans on the table. Things could look a lot better. Someday. But, again, it takes years. Often, a lot of years.

Umpqua Oats is quite a story. Outside of high tech startups today, a very unusual story of rapid success and a wide open future. Especially in the backwoods. Lots of folks hereabouts thought Mandy and Shari really had something. In fact, about a year ago, they told my Rotary club this was where they were born, where they started and this was where they’d stay. I’m sure they believed that. Then.

But business is business. Even in our little burg-in-the-woods. Good luck to ‘em.

Share on Facebook


trahant MARK


The debate over immigration reform in the House and the Senate is an interesting lens to examine the future of austerity.

How so? Immigration is about immigration; secure borders, global migration pattens, and a path to citizenship for more than 11 million people living in the United States without a legal status. The Senate bill is a compromise that calls for an unprecedented buildup of border security, some 20,000 new agents, in exchange for that citizenship route. (Borrowing language from the Iraq war buildup, Senators are calling it a “surge.”)

Think about what that means: The United States can’t afford to invest in education, health, or infrastructure, but it can spend big bucks on border security. The Congressional Budget Office scores the cost side of the ledger in the Senate bill this way: “Appropriate $46.3 billion for expenses related to the security of the southern U.S. border and initial administrative costs.”

The Senate compromise also limits eleven million people’s right to participate in the health care system, while, at the same time, taxing them for services not rendered. This part of the bill is just mean. The CBO says “the net budgetary effect of decreasing the number of unauthorized residents would be relatively small—the small savings for Medicaid, child nutrition, and refundable tax credits would be more than offset by a slightly larger reduction in revenues paid by, or on behalf of, unauthorized residents.”

But at least the Senate bill is not all about costs. Despite what immigration critics say, historically immigration has always boosted the U.S. economy. (It’s not even a close call.) The CBO says the Senate bill would decrease the deficit by $158 billion in the next decade. That’s probably understating the economic benefit of moving undocumented workers from off-the-book jobs into the mainstream economy.

The House approach to immigration reform is to break apart the coalition of security in exchange for citizenship. Louisiana’s Rep. John Fleming said in The Hill newspaper that one reason Republicans oppose the Senate’s immigration bill is because they don’t trust President Obama to enforce the border enforcement provisions in that bill. (Even though Obama won’t be president when most of the law kicks in.)

So the alternative is a push for legislation that “secures” the border and puts off the citizenship question for another day. In a hat tip to the budget, the House dismisses the surge and says the U.S. should develop a “strategy” to close the border, not spend more money. Right. In the end the House plan will be a net cost to the Treasury and add to the deficit because it will never get around to adding the benefits of immigration, the bonus that will come from new citizens working, spending money and paying taxes.

But the real link between austerity and immigration involves the national psyche because when the economy is strong, immigration is not an issue. But when money and jobs are tight, well, it’s easy to blame immigrants.

There’s a fascinating book, “The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth,” by Benjamin Friedman, that chronicles how Americans are generous during times of plenty and at-best cranky when the economy is slow. This is a pattern this country repeats over and over. Friedman writes: “Resistance to immigration in America had traditionally combined economic motivations with racial and religious prejudice.”

Today the immigration debate focuses on people migrating from Latin America, but that’s only the latest chapter. The same forces were at work for Germans, Asians, Catholics, Jews and other identifiable ethnic groups. Friedman says that in the1920s that debate “explicitly turned to arguments that non-Nordic whites were racially inferior to Nordics, so that continued large-scale immigration from areas other than northern and western Europe would weaken the genetic makeup of the population.”

The generosity of spirit — or the contrary wave — impacts Indian Country, too. It’s no accident that the termination era came out of a poor economy. Or that members of Congress can find money to build walls, but come up short on other basic questions of infrastructure.

A super secure border is one more way to shrink an economy. What’s more, the very nature of the debate shows that austerity isn’t ready to fade from public policy. Even though it’s another example of why austerity fails.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at:

Share on Facebook


carlson CHRIS


Without question the most powerful and influential native Idahoan on the national political scene today is Bruce Reed. He currently is Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was once the executive director of the Simpson/Bowles Commission charged with addressing America’s fiscal challenges, and headed up the Democratic Leadership Council which is where he first met President Bill Clinton.

President Clinton made him director of domestic policy and Reed became one of the President’s must trusted advisors. He also is facing what psychologists like to call a classic “approach/approach conflict.” More on that in a moment.

Besides being exceptionally bright, Reed is also a gifted writer and superb maker of memorable phrases. No doubt this is partly a function of his obtaining an M.A. in English Literature while attending Oxford on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

Reed literally cut his teeth in politics on his mother’s knees as Mary Lou Reed served as a State Senator from Kootenai County for ten years. She is also a founding member of the Idaho Conservation League, which turns 40 this year. His father, Scott, is a distinguished lawyer who specializes in, among other subjects, water law. Scott’s only Idaho peer on this subject may be Twin Falls attorney John Rosholt.

Reed was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, graduating from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1978, and from there went to Princeton, where he graduated in 1982. Following the completion of his M.A. at Oxford he landed a job in 1985 as a speechwriter for future Vice President Al Gore, for whom he worked for four years.

He then took on the task of editing the magazine, The New Democrat, for the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization comprised primarily of centrists Democrats who quietly worked to reclaim their party from the more liberal elements that predominated in the 70’s and early 80’s. He became policy director of the DLC in 1990 and 1991 during Clinton’s chairmanship, then became the deputy campaign manager for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992.

During his tenure as director of the Domestic Policy Council he helped write the 1996 Welfare Reform bill which he called “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.” He is the author of such memorable phrases as “end welfare as we know it” and “change you can, Xerox.”

In 2010 he took on the task of ramrodding the Simpson/Bowles Fiscal Reform Commission which many believe laid out the best path forward to ultimately balance the budget, reform entitlements and return the United States to fiscal sanity.

In January, 2011, he became the Vice President’s chief of staff, a post from which he wields enormous behind-the-scenes influence. In some respects Reed fits the mold of the classic “Shadow Shogun,” the power behind the throne in Japanese history. This is not a perfect parallel because no one would characterize Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden as figureheads.

Reed’s skill in fashioning speeches and authoring memorable phrases though gives the wordsmith unrivaled influence. His most recent buffo performance was the speech he wrote for President Clinton to deliver at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Universally acclaimed, many pundits felt it clinched President Barack Obama’s re-election.

So what’s the approach/approach conflict looming for the most influential Idahoan on the national scene? Reed has deep and abiding loyalty to the Clintons. His looming dilemma is he also admires and respects his current boss who has always wanted to be president. If, as many expect, Hillary runs for the presidency in 2016, most inside speculation is Biden will not give way.

Both will want the talented 53-year old Reed. Who does he choose? Undoubtedly, he and wife Bonnie (also from Coeur d’Alene) will cross that bridge when and if they come to it. Only they know.

Regardless, later this week Reed is speaking to the annual meeting of the Idaho Bar Association meeting in Coeur d’Alene. He may even be asked the question, but he learned long ago not to answer speculative questions. No doubt though he will provide insightful remarks and the Idaho Bar should be honored to have one of the most politically influential Idahoans ever addressing them.

Share on Facebook