Writings and observations

rainey BARRETT

Inside the typical second grade classroom, 25 kids are working in several places. Nobody uses four rows of fixed, old-fashioned desks anymore. At a small table, six kids are doing an art project. At the computer keyboards across the room, five others are busy. The rest are scattered, working on today’s assignments. The teacher – as she does daily – is walking around, stopping to encourage or offer a prompt. Just the daily routine.

A guy in camouflage clothing, a bullet-proof vest and carrying an assault rifle steps into the room and starts firing immediately. The teacher – 20 feet from a locked cabinet – is stunned. She’s also among the first to die.

But, had she lived, she would have had to cross 20 feet through panicked children going every which way, find her purse, find her key ring, find the right key to the cabinet – which must be locked at all times to keep kids from accidentally getting hold of a firearm in the classroom – put the key in the lock, open the drawer, reach for the pistol, make sure she has it in her grip, unlock the safety, find her target and fire.

I tried a simulation. My best time for doing that is 40 seconds. A semi-automatic rifle can discharge about 90 large, flesh-ripping, bone-breaking bullets in the same period. So, how many died in those 40 seconds? Besides the teacher?

Or, consider this. An armed guard stationed at the school is called to the gym where a teacher has found an unlocked door. At that moment, the shooter – who earlier opened the gym door – comes through the school’s main entrance on the other side of the building. He turns left to the office which is always located near the front door and sprays it with 40-50 bullets – killing whoever’s there. And anyone on the other side of the now shredded thin wall. Then he fires off a dozen or two rounds down the hall – hitting anyone there. He replaces the empty clip with another 100 rounder and steps into the first classroom – about 50 feet from the office – spraying it with another 50 bullets. My best time for that was 40 seconds.

For the armed guard on the other side of the building to recognize the sounds of firing, decide which direction it’s coming from, draw his pistol and sprint to the right location, line up a shot – with no kids between him and the shooter – well, that would take over a minute. Easily.

So how many died in those 60 or so seconds?

Those who want to put more guns into our public school system are as fanatical as any shooter. Not only would kids and teachers be no safer, the odds are more people would be killed.

Teachers are not killers. And we should not try to make them killers. Any teacher who wants to take a gun into a classroom – under any condition – is not fit to have my great-grandkids in the same room. Anyone’s kids, grandkids or great-grandkids.

Unless you’ve stood in front of someone – both of you armed – and unless you’ve taken your best shot to kill another human being, you have nothing to add to idiotic ideas to put guns in schools. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t give a damn if you’re top dog at your gun club or a trick shot artist. If you’ve never taken a bead on another human being with intent to kill, you don’t know if you could pull the trigger. I don’t care what the circumstances. If you’ve not faced that moment, you don’t know.

You don’t know the fear. You don’t know the uncertainty. You haven’t heard your heart beat so loudly it deafens you to all other sounds. You have not felt the instant sweat that soaks your clothes. You haven’t had your eyes go in and out of focus as you try to see your target. You haven’t felt your hands and your whole body shake. You haven’t felt so damned scared in all your life! If you haven’t killed a human being before that moment.

Those offering the demented argument of the NRA and other ignorant voices supporting such craziness who’ve never stood in those shoes – who’ve never felt those emotions – who’ve never pulled a trigger to take a life – they, too, have nothing to add to realistic solutions to mass murders. It’s all bar talk!
The killing is happening in our schools – our shopping malls – supermarkets – movie theaters – beauty salons – barber shops – service stations – city parks – city streets – our highways – and our churches. Left to a controlling minority in the NRA – and the demented voices who insist on “gun ownership at any price” – we’d need armed guards everywhere or we’d all have to carry. That is insane! As insane as trying to make killers out of teachers. With your kids standing between that teacher and that shooter.

Whether the nutty fringe of the NRA or WalMart or anyone else declines to participate, we need the very best minds on this issue of mass murder. Because the victims belong to all of us. The victims ARE all of us. The work Vice President Biden’s committee is doing right now is as important as any issue of national debt or defense or anything else on the table.

When that committee is done, two things are certain. There WILL be a set of recommendations for the President – a list of steps that could be taken on several fronts. Bet on it. I expect topics of mental health, weapon registry, better and deeper background checks, reorganizing the A-T-F bureau, law enforcement tasks and more. I expect the President to act unilaterally on several things and send appropriate legislation to Congress as necessary.

The second expectation is that there will be the usual profane outcries and the usual refusal to deal with reality we’ve come to expect from so many in our Congress. There’ll be efforts to stymie the process, to kill attempts to put both reason and teeth into gun laws. There’ll be a lot of water-carrying for the NRA and a lot of ass-covering for members scared for their continued employment.

That’s where we come in. You and I. Those of us who believe the work of solving problems of guns in the wrong hands must start before anyone sets foot on a school property. We, who believe teachers should teach – not kill. We, who believe the Constitution’s First Amendment is more important than the Second. We, who believe the right to life for us and our children is more important than the right to carry.

We will have a chance to be heard – to exert maximum possible pressures on politicians of all stripes. If we don’t do that – if we don’t coerce, demand and threaten where necessary when the time comes, the killings will continue. This is one arena where the unarmed have more clout than the NRA. If we aren’t afraid to use it.

Share on Facebook


Senator Ron Wyden at Newberg (photo/Randy Stapilus)


This time, they wanted answers about guns. And when they didn’t get answers as specific as they were seeking, they asked again.

The economy seemed to take a back seat on this visit by Senator Ron Wyden to Yamhill County, one of his year’s batch of town halls he has conducted (as he has for 16 years). Held at Newberg High School, it featured some questions about education policy (Wyden made a point of noting federal payments, related to land ownership, that has gone to Oregon schools, and his “know before you go” bill for college students). But guns and matters related to the “fiscal cliff” tended to dominate – both matters that haven’t figured so heavily in other recent visits by Wyden.

At the sessions, the senator doesn’t start with a discussion of any particular topic, and doesn’t do much to steer the subjects of discussion. (He did ask toward the end, “No questions about gay marriage or marijuana?” He quickly got both, responding that he was in favor of the first and “not there yet” on the second – language suggesting, as President Obama did on gay marriage, that he’s on a road heading there.)

One student did ask about the new federal health care laws, and Wyden singled out praise for the provision banning insurers from blocking people with pre-existing conditions. But he also noted the difficulty of reaching broad-based agreements, citing his efforts last year with Representative Paul Ryan on Medicare: “I still have the welts on my back from that one.”

Guns seemed a preoccupying issue, but while Wyden set out general ideas he eased back from some specifics. He said he didn’t yet know enough to decide whether large magazines should be banned (limited to military or police). He said he didn’t like the idea of arming teachers (in response to a question about that from one student).

Next Yamhill senator town hall (with one with Jeff Merkley): Thursday, at McMinnville.

Share on Facebook


Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

For several years, I’ve occasionally written somewhat lightly of concerns about our burgeoning personal electronics revolution. – what effects it may have on society in general and personal relationships in particular. Now, some recent developments in our extended family are raising those concerns to the next level – high alert!

For the record, I’m a computer and cell phone user. Daily. They’re very useful tools. I’d hate to be without either. At my late stage of life, I’m better informed, have examined greater amounts of information I’d never have been exposed to without them and have valuable links with people that would have otherwise been lost. I’m an electronics believer.

We all know the basics. Computers can elevate learning – expose us to art, music, education, entertainment experiences for a lifetime – give us access to a truly international learning opportunities. All good.

Smart phones are similarly valuable. Quick, personal links to family and friends, worldwide access to quick information sources and very helpful in most emergencies. Yep. Good things. Glad we got ‘em.

No, my increasing concerns aren’t for the effects of this battery-powered revolution on you and me. It’s for those effects on my grandkids. Your kids and grandkids. Everyone’s grandkids. What my experience tells me it’s doing to them. What it’s doing to interpersonal relationships. Or – how it’s eliminating such societal interactions.

Use of these tools can be addictive. At Christmas, I gave my mostly well-adjusted teacher-wife an iPad. I did so after a lot of forethought. And some personal angst. Knowing her constant pursuit of knowledge – her vast world of friends, associates and interests – I had some fear she would dive into her new electronically-expanded world and wouldn’t be seen again.

Well, though I still see her from time to time, I’m seeing her less post iPad. Often, when she would otherwise be reading, she’s searching for new “apps” or taking pictures of the cat. Watching TV, there’s this intermittent absence as she uses the little screen in her lap to watch or do something else. Go somewhere else. Find something else. Talk to someone else. Learn something else. Read something else.

“Nothing wrong with that,” you say. “Sounds fine with me. So what’s your problem, Rainey?”

The problem is this. She and I are at an age when – after long lives of many experiences and personal relationships – we can put these battery-powered marvels in their place and in proper perspective after a lifetime of integrating other new ideas and fashions that came along. If we chose to. We have a prior knowledge base of information and interpersonal relationships to which these new tools are added. Not used to replace. Not used “instead of.”

Kids don’t have that background. No perspective. They accept these new tools as the way things are. They learn to operate them – to use them – to live with them as the useful appendages they appear to be.

Then a parent talks of her teen coming home, closing a bedroom door and turning on a computer. Maybe for homework. Maybe not. For hours. In a fast food joint, kids texting the other kid – across the table. In a car going to school, texting from front seat to back – same car. Walking on the street, texting the kid walking with them. In a classroom, texting others in the same classroom. In all cases, building or maintaining relationships without having to relate – without knowing how to relate.

Then along comes a personal or family upheaval – an event that throws them out of their safe, non-personal environment And they can’t relate. They can’t cope. They can’t handle it. They take refuge in their “safer” world.

I wrote at the outset about some recent events in our “extended family.” That’s where these words – these fears – are based. They’ve been there – mostly third party – for years. But now it’s our teen – or teens – unable to relate face-to-face or in a world without keyboards. It’s our teen – or teens – unequipped to deal with personal trauma where touch, compassion, sharing and feeling – mostly feeling – are badly needed. It’s our teen – or teens – hiding because the sterile, electronic, impersonal relationships they’ve developed cannot help them standing next to a hospital bed or during a bad, real life personal experience.

Some will think I’m an alarmist or read these words as the rambling of an out-of-touch old-timer. But some won’t. They won’t because they see links between our experience and their own teen – or teens. They can see someone they love with constantly bowed head, starting at a little device in one hand, punching the small keys with the other. They, too, know of the closed bedroom door. The silence. They can relate. And they know – and probably love – a young person who can’t love back.

If we don’t quickly and firmly get a handle on this problem, our young families are going to live in a much different world. A world where the expressions of friendship, caring, sharing and love are going to be lost.

There may be many sounds of clicking keys. But not sounds of a lot of laughter.

Share on Facebook


Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

(continued from last week)

There are plenty of other problems with the LINE Commission’s progress report and wish list. Candidly, it looks like the proverbial Christmas Tree with new baubles being added all the time. Congress used to concoct these when at the end of a session they would pass a catch-all appropriation bill to keep government running and add pork chop after pork chop.

The first question that cries for an answer is where is the money going to come from, whether federal or state funds, to pay for all these wish list items? At a minimum a budget impact or estimate ought to be attached to each item and potential sources of funding identified. Then, the list ought to be prioritized with the Commission’s view as to what is truly feasible. Keep in mind this is just in reference to items not dependent on amending the agreement.

Secondly, where INL boosters get the notion that the site can avoid the budget cuts coming for most every federal department and program is beyond me, but it sure appears some may be trying to set up the agreement as the cause for these inevitable cuts. That’s both disingenuous and deceptive.

Third, INL Site boosters in southeastern Idaho make much of the fact that a couple of counties in New Mexico have responded with an initial positive response to becoming the final repository for nuclear waste. The implication is that they could steal away much of the Lab’s work because they are being more cooperative with the Feds.

The fact is though no other state has given even a tentative yes and such a decision to being a permanent repository will not be a local only decision.

Likewise, much is made out of the six mayors sending a letter to the state and the LINE Commission saying Idaho ought to take a look at selling the state’s future for 30 pieces of silver just to see what all we might get. This writer would be much more impressed if these same six mayors could get together and agree on just one site for a southeastern Idaho regional airport and a way to fund its construction.

That would do much more for economic development in southeastern Idaho than trying to amend the Batt agreement in a Faustian bargain with a devil that has proven time and again it cannot be trusted.

Ever since Cecil Andrus in his first term as governor in the early 70’s saw the reinjection wells in use at the site, with laser-like intensity he has understood the threat to the vast Snake Plain Aquifer that underlies the site and the need to assure Idahoans that their environmental and economic future was being made secure from the kind of radioactive pollution whose half-life for some materials is measured in thousands if not millions of years.

There is no question that because of his and Batt’s resolute insistence that the aquifer be protected by removal of all waste above it by a time certain, much progress has been made at the site. Both governors as well as some of their successors have kept the pressure on to the point that the WIPP site in New Mexico is up and operating and taking most of Idaho ’s poorly stored and poorly packaged transuranic waste.

Other bench marks have been met and the only recent setback was failure to have met the deadline for removal and calcificaition of all the remaining liquid waste at the site. Regardless of good intentions the state should impose the penalties for this failure also.

The LINE Commission should have paid more attention to one of the briefings they received in October from one of Idaho DEQ’s hydrology experts¸ Gerry Winters, who presented a power point update on the state of ground water conditions at the INL.

While somewhat technical at times the bottom line was clear and was a factual validation of the tough stance Governors Andrus and Batt have taken with the DoE and the site while still enabling beneficial and economically sound projects to go forward.

Two of the slides contained graphs on radioactive particle concentrations: one was of Strontium -90 concentrations in ground water by the INTEC site; the other was tritium concentrations in US Geological monitoring wells 104 and 106 on the southern perimeter of the Site.

Both graphs not only showed concentrations well below safe drinking water standards but also a steady decline over the years.

It warrants the one-line sentence in the LINE Commission progress report on page 13, which reads “the risk to contamination of the aquifer continues to decline.”

Thank you, Governor Batt. Thank you Governor Andrus.

Share on Facebook


From a release out today from Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kriedler:

With two of the state’s largest health insurers sitting on surpluses totaling $2.2 billion, Washington’s top insurance regulator wants to use some of that money to lower costs for consumers.
According to the companies’ most recent financial statements, Regence BlueShield’s surplus has grown to $1.05 billion. Premera Blue Cross’ surplus is $1.15 billion.
“These are non-profit companies,” said Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler. “It’s hard to square their billion-dollar surpluses with the fact that families are struggling to afford health insurance.”
Kreidler is proposing legislation that would allow his office to consider surpluses when reviewing nonprofit health insurers’ proposed rates. As things stand now, his staff must ignore them.
“As I’ve said before, it’s like trying to ignore an elephant in the room,” Kreidler said. “And the elephant’s getting bigger.”
The surpluses of both Regence and Premera have more than doubled in a decade. In the first nine months of 2012, Regence’s grew by $60 million. Premera’s grew by nearly $182 million.
“It’s important to remember that these are not reserves, which are set aside to pay future claims,” Kreidler said. “These billion-dollar surpluses are in addition to their reserves.”

Share on Facebook

Reading Washington

The most interesting Idaho political development today wasn’t the mostly pro forma state of the state speech but rather an announcement out of a new web site called Idaho Ed News, described as a non-profit which will focus on statewide news kindergarten through grade 12. The specific news was the addition of two prominent Idaho newspaper journalistsIdaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin of the Idaho Falls Post Regisgter – to the existing staffer Jennifer Swindell, formerly of the Statesman.

On Facebook, the comment about that has been lively. My attention came to it with a comment from former Idahoan Julie Fanselow (formerly of the Idaho Education Association) who remarked, “Jennifer Swindell is involved, too. She’s another former Statesman reporter turned Caldwell schools PR person who followed her boss – Luna backer Roger Q – over to BSU last year. The BSU connection gives this all a whiff of impartiality, but the Albertson backing probably neutralizes that. I expect that longtime Idaho political and media observers including Randy Stapilus will find this all most interesting.”

And that followed discussion of Superintendent of Public Instruction tom Luna touting the outlet in a tweet: A new, independent news service focused on providing comprehensive information about education in Idaho launched today: Idaho Ed News.”

The question batted back and forth is: Just how independent is, or will be, the Ed News?

A suggestion from here: Wait and see.

Not that there aren’t tea leaves, and you do have to wonder. But tea leaves can mislead, and we’ll all be able to judge the site soon enough based on its actual content. (Swindell is already on staff, and Richert and Corbin are scheduled to join on January 21.) Their actual product will be the best basis for judging them.

Another, side question: Was there a reason richart chose to jump from the Statesman now?

Share on Facebook



If it’s a major-office Idaho elected official, it’s a “conservative Republican,” for whatever that may mean. (Republican, as a party member, is at least specific enough.) But is it possible to make more precise distinctions?

The New Years Day vote on the Biden-McConnell proposal is a good indicator of this – there are others, and there will almost surely be more to come. And the best way to think about it as not ideological. (Once again: What does “conservative” mean?) One national article suggests drawing the line between “establishment” Republicans and “insurgent” Republicans, at least within the House Republican caucus, and that may be as useful a dividing line as any. John Boehner, the House speaker, is an establishment Republican. Eric Cantor is an insurgent.

In Idaho, then, there’s this: The senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are establishment Republicans, as is Representative Mike Simpson. 1st District Representative Raul Labrador is an insurgent.

These descriptions draw from the votes on the bill, as establishment Republicans – a big majority in the Senate but a nearly 2-1 minority in the House – favored the measure, while the insurgents opposed.

The difference is in perspective.

Here’s some of what Labrador had to say: “This was a difficult vote, but as far as I am concerned the Biden-McConnell deal is worse than no deal at all. It temporarily ends the debate but does nothing to solve the problems that our country faces—in fact, it is a perfect example of why our country is $16 trillion in debt. … Today, I’m not sure either party is serious about reducing our debt and deficits.”

And from Simpson: “While I remain a strong proponent of a more comprehensive approach to solving our nation’s long-term fiscal crisis, this bill is a critical piece of legislation that lowers taxes for nearly every taxpayer. The unfortunate reality is that under current law every taxpayer was hit today with a tax increase. The bill we passed blocks those tax increases for nearly all Americans — effectively lowering the taxes they were to begin paying today. It is also important to note that H.R. 8 will provide permanent tax certainty for individuals, families, businesses, and farmers who are ready to invest their money but have been reluctant to do so without knowing how much they’ll be taxed. Resolution of the tax rate uncertainty is critical to economic recovery and job creation.”

The difference in perspective jumps out at you. Simpson’s approach, like that of most people who think like legislators (and it is a way of thinking, in a sense that lawyers or teachers or even journalists would recognize), is to recognize that you may not get everything you want, but you make the best deal you can with the hand you’re dealt – you negotiate. Labrador’s is to dismiss any proposal deemed not to be good enough – which means, if you’re in a place like Congress, rejection of a lot of what’s put before you. The same would be true of a state legislator or city council member.

We may be seeing this play out over and over, exacerbating the differences between “conservative” Republicans as this congressional session goes on.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

Boise street
The Idaho Historical Society is launching celebration of the Idaho Territorial Sesquicentennial – 150 years since the formation of Idaho Territory (the first major land mass with the name of Idaho), in 1863. This street scene from Boise in 1866 is one of several free photos available for download.


Little noted in current news, but – this is the year of Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial; it marked the first real designation of a substantial land mass as “Idaho.”

Last week was a quiet week, but the political storms are just beginning to brew as legislatures in Washington, Oregon and Idaho get ready to gear back up into action.

Share on Facebook


Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Suppose you get a bill from your credit card company. It shows a large balance due the end of the week. Deciding you should pay in full promptly, you get out pen and checkbook. You draw what looks like one of your usual checks, fill in the exact amount and drop it in the mailbox. Bill paid.
Yeah. Sure.

But, before you ashcan this example of substituting worthless paper for currency-of-the-realm to pay bills, consider what folks are tossing around in Washington, D.C. circles. And not all of ‘em elected incompetents.

We’ve hit the debt ceiling. Did it a couple weeks ago. Federal debt reached $16.394 trillion. That’s the current limit. The ceiling. So, until the zoo we used to call Congress fixes the problem, the Treasury Department is playing shell games with the loose change still available to pay bills. Even that slight-of-hand will have to stop about the first of March. Flat broke.

So – let’s have the folks at the U.S. Mint create a platinum coin in the exact amount of the national debt – $16.394 trillion. We’ll take that new coin down to the nearest bank and deposit same in the federal account that’s brimming over with red ink. Bill paid. Debt gone.

Crazy? Maybe. Legal. Yes.

Our federal laws allow the Secretary of the Treasury to do just that. The specific authorization was written many years ago to allow for creation of commemorative coins. But – the Secretary has blanket authority to “mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins” in any denomination and for any purpose desired. No congressional approval needed. No new laws necessary. Just do it!

While the President has carefully avoided comment, some of the folks at the “zoo-on-the-hill” are giving the idea some consideration. There’s even a petition on the White House website which says – in part – the $1 trillion coin “may seem like an unnecessarily extreme measure” though “no more absurd than playing political football with the U.S. – and global – economy at stake.”

If that scheme – which is being taken seriously in some quarters (pardon the pun) – is not to your liking, former President Clinton has another idea. Just invoke the 14th amendment to our Constitution and let the current President raise the debt ceiling all by himself. The 14th was written after the Civil War and says – in part – “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.”

Clinton says President Obama should just “do it.” When we went down this ridiculous road in 2011, Clinton said, if he were still in office, he’d have done it and “forced the courts to stop me.”

The current legal staff at the White House has looked at this scheme and is not convinced it’s a “good” idea. But it’s still an “active” idea.

If all this sounds like we’re living in the Land of Oz, it’s ‘cause we are. Our dysfunctional government – stalemated politics – anger and dissension – the ideological nuts – all have brought this nation to a political dead end. Getting anything done – especially the last couple of years – has meant using parliamentary gimmicks and goof-ball tactics. Neither party can control the legislative process. There’s no effective leadership to assure things get done. We haven’t even had an original government budget in more than a decade. Just those damned “continuing resolutions.” Patch-and-scratch. Keep propping things up. Steal from one pocket to fill the other.

Printing phony coins to pay real bills – using Civil War remedies to take care of complex, 21st Century national problems – ideas as weird and warped as the times we live in. And serious people are taking them – seriously.

The rest of the world watches us and wonders at our seemingly endless battles among ourselves. We’ve become more of a world curiosity than a world leader. We’re a productive, capable population – with an economy we know how to run – being constricted and hamstrung by our own government.

Abe Lincoln’s warning that this nation’s downfall – should it ever happen – would “come from within” is more and more on my mind these days. It should be on many more minds than just this ol’ fella..

Share on Facebook


Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The table just may start to be set for Idaho’s Second District Congressman, Mike Simpson, to become the next Speaker of the House of Representatives. Yes, the split in the House Republican Caucus started to show when one member cast a vote for Idaho’s 1st District Congressman, Raul Labrador, and Labrador himself refused to vote. Rep. Labrador, however, even though the darling of the Tea Party types, will never be

Mike Simpson, on the other hand, has a real shot in part because he has been a loyal lieutenant to Speaker Boehner. One can predict that if it becomes clear to the Speaker that he no longer enjoys the confidence of his Caucus and should step aside, he will still have a sizable contingent of loyalists. Boehner could no doubt direct these loyalists to vote for one of his key advisors, Mike Simpson.

It not only takes skill to maneuver successfully to ride herd on the incredibly divisive House, it also takes luck and a talent for being perceived to be the right person at the right time and the right place to become the next Speaker. Simpson, however, over his long career has demonstrated both skill and luck.

Make no mistake, Boehner has been mortally wounded. He just barely survived a major in-Caucus rebellion over his bumbling, lackluster inability to draw and quarter the president in the “fiscal cliff” negotiations. The fact that the split within became so obvious is in all probability an unmistakable sign his days are numbered. He clearly cannot deliver a majority of his caucus on anything, which the Democrats smell, as do the House members of the Tea Party.

Simpson is thought to command the respect of all the factions within the Republican caucus in part because he is a good listener, a shrewd analyst and a savvy negotiator who is not afraid to compromise in order to achieve consensus and move forward.

There’s an old political saying about he who intends to kill the King ought to make sure they’ve done so. In this case, the challenge initially has failed but Boehner may be a member of the walking dead. It may take time to recognize his legs have been cut out from under him. But not by Simpson. Ever the loyalist he is not about to knife a friend and scramble over the body. That is another point for him.

Another attraction is that while second in line for Presidency, the House Speaker has rarely ever ascended to the Presidency. It is not a stepping stone. In fact the only Speakers of the U.S. House to ever make it were James K.Polk and James A. Garfield who by all accounts were successful speakers. Elected in 1880 he never was able to fulfill his promise as he was shot by an assassin within months of taking office. Incompetent doctors helped him to survive the bullet but he couldn’t survive their incompetent care.

Thus, most speakers are truly creatures of the House and not considered today to be potential presidents, or aspirants. Some Idahoans are familiar with the only westerner to ever become speaker, Rep. Tom Foley from Spokane, who served from 1989 until 1994, when he along with dozens of other Democratic office holders were swept out of office by the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans and their “Contract with America.”

The son of a Spokane judge, a graduate of both Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University, Foley began his political career as a staff person for one of Washington state’s “gold dust twins,” Senator Henry M. Jackson. Foley was blessed with much good luck during his career not the least of which was running as a Democrat in 1964 when LBJ received a tidal wave of support over Barry Goldwater, winning in a landslide which swept a number of congressional candidates into office with him.

As often happens, like Simpson is now, Foley was in the right place when events broke his way. A loyal majority leader to Speaker Jim Wright of Texas, the Democratic caucus turned to him upon Wright’s resignation over “forced sales” of his book to various interest groups. On Election Day in November 1994 I was visited by Solveig Torvik, a reporter for the Seattle P-I, who though born in Norway had immigrated with her LDS parents to Blackfoot where she grew up.

Solveig was stunned when told the Speaker was going to lose, that the Fifth District would be only the second district in the nation’s entire history to turn out a sitting Speaker of the House. The first time was back in 1864. There were two reasons:

1) The Speaker defended the indefensible, the fact that Congress almost always exempted itself from the laws it passes and expects citizens to follow. When asked about this practice, the Speaker gave a long-winded philosophical defense of why this was actually a good idea. His challenger, George Nethercutt, sensing the resentment of a small businessman who has to obey an endless set of rules enforced by OSHA, or the ADA, or EPA, simply said Congress should live by the rules it expects others to live by. The Speaker never quite grasped how much this reflected a tin political ear and how much support it cost him.

2) Failure to respect verisimilitude in a campaign television ad. In this case the Speaker let his big-time media consultant convince him to put on the red shirt, open-neck, jeans and a vest, take paddle in hand and paddle a canoe through a scenic setting. Voters would see that the Speaker was just like them, a creature of the rural areas of eastern Washington, a man who loved the out-of-doors, and was at home in the west. Except those with a discerning eye picked up on the Speaker’s awkwardness which manifested itself in anything but looking serene, secure and comfortable. Folks instantly knew it was a phony, staged ad and they took exception to it, as they should have.

There’s a lesson in Foley’s downfall for both Speaker Boehner and Mike Simpson if he becomes the next Speaker: to survive one has to keep their ear to the ground and always listen carefully to their constituency, whether it is a caucus or a district’s voters. They always have the final word.

Share on Facebook

Carlson Idaho