Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT


Some years ago, I got a call from a friend who was serving in elective office. He’d decided to run for re-election and wanted to talk about his future plans.

I approached our coffee session with thoughts of what sort of fund raising would be needed, how to reactivate former volunteers, how to get him appearances in front of local groups and how many days were left for neighborhood walks and door-knocking. Typical election topics that must be discussed before announcing. Decisions that need making. I was prepared for what I thought the conversation was to be about. I was not prepared for what he had to say.

“My wife and I have decided to get a divorce,” he said. “Do you think we should do it before the election or after? What effect do you think it will have on voters? Will it make a difference?”


Needless to say, that morning’s pre-campaign discussion was about a subject that had not crossed my mind. But – at that time -it was central to his decision to run again. It could’ve been a killer.

Move the calendar up about 40 years. We have Senator david Vitter (R-LA) – re-elected though he’s a multiple adulterer with a string of prostitutes. We have Representative Mark Sanford (R-SC) – a long-term adulterer elected to Congress after his multiple intercontinental romps at taxpayer expense as South Carolina Governor while lying to his staff and constituents about it all. Ex-Congressman Anthony Weiner – forced out of office for sexual misbehavior on his smartphone – now running for mayor of New York City. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer is running for New York City Comptroller against a former madam he jailed when he was New York Attorney General before he was forced out of office for his own $80,000 prostitution activities. After which he had two national TV shows. And a best-selling book.

There are other multiple adulterers like Newt Gingrich, the ex-speaker of the House – but you get the point. It used to be politicians were deathly afraid of even a hint of scandal or family problems. Many stayed in unhappy marriages because of fear of a tarnished public image. Now, they seemingly thrive despite outright escapades with hookers, South American girlfriends, sexting, adultery and other sins of the flesh.

Now I’ll be among the first to admit cultural standards have changed. We are – for the most part – a more accepting nation than we used to be. In most respects, we’re a more forgiving people. But have we lowered the bar for morality to the point we would shun a friend for some of this behavior but elect strangers to determine national governmental policies while committing the same sins?

We’ve become a culture of “celebrity.” Unfortunately, we’ve not established a “good celebrity” or a “bad celebrity” classification. Just “celebrity.” It often seems those who achieve notoriety through immoral or dishonest means reap even more fame and fortune than those who labor on our behalf in more laudable endeavors. A Nobel winner most often returns to anonymity following the honor while some bed-hopping politician or entertainer makes another couple of million. It’s a safe bet you can’t name the 1972 Nobel winner in science but you’ll likely be able to regurgitate the latest outrageous behavior of Lindsey Lohan. Celebrity. Nobel winners could use more of it, the Lohans of the world a lot less.

None of this is to say we don’t all err in some way. Many of us more than once. But why do we elect people to high office who are unapologetic – at least unapologetic with any real sincerity – for their outrageous affronts to good behavior and accepted moral standards? Why do we reject it from those we know on the one hand while enriching strangers with fame and fortune for behaving badly on the other?

We have a national Congress containing some really hard workers who are trying to do their jobs. They stand for the right things. They do the right things. But their dignified work is overshadowed – and in too many cases stymied – by the likes of Bachmann, Ghomert, Paul, Cruz, Walsh, Israel, Jones, et all achieving “celebrity” as willfully ignorant, lying, road blocking miscreants.

To their ilk, you can add the Vitter’s, Sanford’s, John Edwards’s and the rest of the “celebrities” who achieved their status despite immoral behavior and a sense that the rules didn’t apply to them as recipients of public trust.

Still, their rise in public life while betraying that trust, likely says more about we who elected them than it does about them. We’re the ones who – thus far – have accepted them. We’re the setters and keepers of the standards. Aren’t we?

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carlson CHRIS


News flash: Republicans will sweep all the statewide and federal offices on the 2014 ballot.

No follower of Idaho politics will be stunned by this statement, nor will any disagree. Neither should this be taken as a criticism of the Democratic Party’s relatively new chairman, Larry Kenck. He knows the process of his party returning to parity with the GOP will take years of basic precinct level grunt work.

Privately, he would probably concede the Democrat’s poor prospects because he has been around long enough to know that party’s can provide some organization, some funding, and ancillary services such as media training and marketing support.

But, party organizations seldom produce the most important ingredient – quality, competent individuals with a driving passion to effect change.

He knows also that the huge Republican majority in Idaho has led to factionalism, harsh divisions and petty squabbling that leaves the average voter wondering what is it that the Republicans are imbibing in their drinking water.

Likewise, he knows the antics of major Republican officeholders, along with the dismantling of state support for properly funding an education system that truly prepares Idaho students to compete in the global marketplace has provided a “golden opportunity” to nail the “no nothings” and the troglodytes to the wall.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter appears ready to run for a third term despite a record of zero accomplishment (name one significant thing he has done while in office?). Yes, he is personally charming, and yes he loves to be on the road with the Capitol for a Day program. There is something grossly wrong, however, when on his watch the state has fallen to last in the nation in per pupil expenditures for education and he brags about Idaho paying the lowest minimum wage.

When one starts defining “success” in negative terms, i.e., “I stopped the growth of government,” or despite a massive shift of education funding to the backs of local taxpayers who vote for over-ride levies to make up for dwindling state support becomes “we never increased your taxes,” look out my friends because you’re being taken for a ride.

Meanwhile, the nation’s two safest senators thumb their noses at the Idaho electorate. Senator Jim Risch, often with spouse Vickie, junkets around the world on “fact-finding” missions leaving little time for home state visiting. Then, he has the temerity to defend his neglect of duty by saying that since every thing is grid-lock in D.C., why not stay away and coast along in a job that is much easier than being a governor. His colleague, Senator Mike Crapo, admittedly works more at trying to reach compromises and achieve some progress in addressing the nation’s serious fiscal condition. A quiescent press appears though to have let him get away without answering still lingering questions from his near Christmas arrest and subsequent conviction for drunk-driving.

Does anyone seriously believe his “cock and bull” story that he jumped in his car to go for a late evening drive, realized he was impaired and turned around? He was going to or coming from a place certain, but because he’s a good guy this egregious breach in behavior by the normally sober and hard-working senator has been allowed to fade away.

The point is that despite some great “openings” that could be exploited by the Democrats, they will not be able to do so because of one simple but very basic political truism: you have to have somebody to beat somebody. And the Democrats in Idaho today have virtually nobody that’s really ready and prepared to step up and offer themselves as a credible alternative.

Oh, there are a few “wanna be’s,” but the hard truth is that if one wants to campaign seriously for a major statewide office he or she should have been out in the field long ago building support both in terms of supporters and funding. Idaho is still largely a “retail” state in politics, has opposed to coastal states like Oregon, Washington, and California – states with such large populations that people only see their office holders through the “wholesale” medium of television. In Idaho, people expect to and do see their officeholders in person. This form of retail politics takes time and requires building and nurturing many key relationships.

Rumor has it that Boise school board member and current chair A.J. Bulakoff will be the Democratic candidate for governor. He may be a quality person, a genuine philanthropist and one dedicated to the importance of education, but he doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance because he is starting way too late.

Why be a sacrificial lamb? Why bother?

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