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Posts published in August 2017

Geopolitics, Kootenai Style

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John T. Wood, in his later years, might have fit right into today’s Kootenai County Republican Party.

Almost.

He was a respected professional man, a physician who among other things was the founder of Coeur d’Alene’s first hospital, and served as mayor. But by 1950, when he was 72 and elected to the U.S. House, his interests ran in other directions - turning to dark conspiratorial theories. He was convinced the United States was about to become a “foul fascist state” about to be split into seven administrative units governed by dictatorial boards.

But much of his effort in Congress concerned the United Nations which, he believed, was tring to take over the world. The U.N. Charter “was designed as an instrument of force,” he said, modeled on Soviet governing documents, and the organization itself (as one book summarized his statements in the Congressional Record) “was ground zero of a broader ‘conspiracy’ to use its own ‘self-granted powers’ to form a ‘one-world government, dominant over the Constitution, and over the laws of every state in the Union’.” And so on. He served in the House but one term, losing in 1952 to Democrat Gracie Pfost.

If I sound dismissive it’s because Wood’s dystopian theories have not, let’s say, proven out. But I don’t dismiss him entirely, because a succession of sorts to his world view is alive and well in Kootenai County.

Last month the Kootenai County Republican Party blasted Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch - Republicans both - for their support of sanctions against Russia.

Crapo, in fact, was one of the Senate leaders supporting the measure. He said of it, “This legislation signals to the world the United States’ unflagging commitment to the sanctity of territorial integrity, human rights, and good governance. It also demonstrates our resolve in responding to cyber-attacks against American citizens and entities and against our allies. The Crapo-Brown-Corker-Cardin bill will result in some very powerful, new sanctions against Russia.” Nearly every member of Congress, in both parties in both chambers, voted in favor.

Didn’t convince up in the Panhandle. The party in Kootenai passed its own measure warning of “the emergence of a globalist ‘Davos Culture’ [that being this decade’s preferred name for the international conspiracy] comprised of progressive political elites around the world that is distinct from Traditional Western Civilization.” Kootenai contended that “Russia has become a nationalistic country that is resisting this progressive globalist agenda.” And: “globalists have recently been agitating against good relations with Russia because they see it as one of the last holdouts against a progressive globalist agenda.”

In tone, it sounds a lot like something John T. Wood might have gotten behind.

Except that Wood did get that Russia - or, then, the Soviet Union - was a hostile power, run as a militaristic dictatorship, was a suppressor of speech, press and religion, active in expanding its hegemony at the expense of the United States and its influence, and … well, on and on. In many ways, it is like that today.

Wood did at least get, more or less, who our friends are in the world, and who aren’t.

It’s a strange thing to say, but John T. Wood from the early 1950s, thrown out of Congress back then by Idaho voters who largely seemed to consider him too extreme, might be a little too mainstream for today’s Kootenai County.

The Courtney Bridge

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Decades of dedication and dreams came to fruition on the morning of Wednesday, August 2 with a celebration honoring the completion of the Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge in Salem.

Named after Oregon’s senior legislator and longest-serving Senate President, the bridge represents the culmination of countless hours of effort from many in the community.
The ceremony’s original start time was moved to earlier in the morning due to anticipated triple-digit temperatures. That seemed to sit well with those in attendance, including local officials, state senators and other dignitaries.

Songs by the Beatles played as the crowd settled in and a parade made its way to the Riverfront Park Amphitheater. The music was eventually turned off and replaced by the sound of live bagpipes being played by color guard members marching in approach.

In his remarks, Salem Mayor Chuck Bennett credited the agencies and officials who were involved in transforming the pedestrian and bicycle bridge project from an idea to a reality.

Bennett said that Courtney, who began his political career as a member of the Salem city council in the 1970s, contributed to the initial vision and championed it through the legislative process.

So far, Bennett said, over 120,000 people have crossed the bridge. He reminisced about how the surrounding area used to consist largely of factories and blackberry bushes, and said that additional improvements are now planned for it.

“What a wonderful new feature this is for our downtown,” Bennett said. “Our downtown community is seeing the impact of new investment.”

Courtney then approached the podium, wearing his trademark tennis shoes. He started off with a few jokes, like those of us who know him have learned to expect, before giving special recognition to his wife and to family members who came over from Montana for the event.

Also mentioned by Courtney were his Senate colleagues seated in the front row. They looked much happier while sitting together for the first time since the 2017 legislative session ended nearly a month ago than in the days, weeks and months before then.

Senators Ted Ferrioli (R-John Day), Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), James Manning (D-Eugene), Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin), Ginny Burdick (D-Portland) and Fred Girod (R-Stayton) were joined by Reps. Teresa Alonso Leon (D-Woodburn) and Brian Clem (D-Salem), whose House districts comprise the one represented by Courtney in the Senate.
Courtney, 74, said that people have been texting him pictures of themselves and their families on the bridge. He lamented that the nation and its people are divided, and stated his continued worry for its young people.

However, the metaphor of building bridges was not lost upon Courtney or anyone else in attendance. Neither was the historical significance of the moment.

Representatives of Friends of Two Bridges, a community organization, presented Bennett with an oversized check for over $100,000 to fund amenities at the park adjacent to the bridge. Immediately afterwards, the crowd walked over to the bridge for the official ribbon cutting as the Beatles classic “All You Need is Love” came through the loudspeakers.

Courtney began his legislative career in the House in the mid-1980s before being elected to the Senate in the late 1990s. As Senate President, he has been a steady hand and moderating influence, who typically takes the long view on issues with a sense of pragmatism not always witnessed in the House.

It isn’t just that the offices are bigger in the Senate — they are much larger—but it’s a completely different atmosphere, and one less prone to the kind of partisanship, pettiness, personalities, egos and ambitions seen in the lower chamber. Courtney deserves much of the credit for that.

The 2017 session was characterized by many as being divisive. It certainly was in the House. But it was more harmonious in the Senate, and usually is. That was true at least until July, when temperatures increase and tempers tend to flare throughout the capitol building.

Senators worked through the Fourth of July holiday while House members took a few days off. Both chambers adjourned three days later, but the Senate did so hours before the House. They usually try to do so at the same time and open the doors of both chambers simultaneously, but the Senate and its members were done waiting for the House to conclude its business.

There’s been a lot of speculation since then among capitol insiders and the press as to whether Courtney will seek another term in his seat, which is up in 2018. I don’t know Courtney well enough to have any direct knowledge as to his future plans. However, I have learned a lot from Courtney over the years, just from watching him and the way he operates.

I’ve been lucky to have developed a good working relationship with Courtney and his staff. It probably began in early 2015 when I interviewed him for a local radio show. He may have expected a live, on-air ambush from this Republican operative, but I had enough respect for Courtney and his office to not do that to him, or anybody.

What I do know is that Oregon will never see another Peter Courtney. Hopefully, its residents will recognize how truly fortunate they were to have him in leadership for as long as they have.

I also know that 30 years from now, I’ll be able to say that I knew Courtney and worked with him. I’ve been around long enough to know when I’m in the presence of tomorrow’s historical figures. He’s definitely one of them.

The Peter Courtney Minto Island Bridge should still be standing by then, and for many years after. And if that isn’t a legacy, I don’t know what is.

2 class acts, 1 classless

carlson

Two long-time political players in their respective states this past week gracefully steppped off of and away from the political stage upon which they had acted with class, courage and intelligence for fifty years.

The first, Tom Stroschein, was a two term Latah County Commissioner who chose not to run again in 2014. He epitomizes what everyone likes to see in a local elected official: country smart, a great story teller, a sense of humor, hard working with a ton of common sense, an ingrained sense of integrity and one who believes deeply in the importance of holding the public trust. Tom saw public service as a calling.

On July 29th over 300 people gathered at the Elk Creek campground shelter in Elk River to wish Tom a happy 80th birthday. Organized by his multi-talented spouse, Ruby, it was a fine tribute to a fine man who not only is glad to see 80, but also as he finally steps off the stage and fades into the sunset wanted to thank the many family members and friends who have stood by him over the years.

He and Ruby called it a “Sheepeater’s Shindig,” in part because Tom was a woolgrower for many years, running the family sheep ranch outside of Aberdeen. They served the most tender roasted lamb one could ever taste.

His father, Roy, served one term in the Legislature, from 1965 to 1967, representing Power county. The 1965 Legislature though has gone down in Idaho history as probably the most productive ever especially because it enacted the sales tax to pay for education. Though he spent just a short time there he did strike a chord with a young state senator by the name of Cecil Andrus.

A few years later when Andrus was governor he named Roy to the three member Idaho Transportation board. Andrus also appointed Tom to the now abolished Woolgrower’s board.

Though long a loyal supporter of Andrus’, and a long-time Democrat, Tom has decided to register as a Republican for the May primary in order to vote for a family friend and fellow woolgrower, Lt. Governor Brad Little.

He’s the kind of public servant we need more of - a man who puts friendship ahead of partisanship, the national interest ahead of self-interest. Though now having put himself on the political sidelines, his many friends, family members and fans hope he stays involved.

The second class act last week was that performed by Arizona Senator John McCain, who once again demonstrated the uncommon courage he is noted for by voting against the seven-year long Republican led effort to repeal ObamaCare with no replacement coverage established.

McCain knew millions would lose coverage, that the well-off would receive an undeserved tax break bonanza, and Medicaid would be gutted. McCain acted out of principle though he must have enjoyed a bit the ability to stick it to the Trump Administration which he views as incompetently run.

McCain, along with fellow Republican senators Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska deserve their own chapter in any new issue of “Profiles in Courage.”

Stroschein, McCain, Collins and Murkowski are the kind of thoughtful public servants we need more of because they reject overt patisanship and work for solutions through compromise. Idaho’s current two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, could learn much about courage and standing up for equal justice from any of these four.

All are class acts and the first two truly distinguished themselvesthis past week. Tom of course is retired and Senator McCain may have a form of aggressive terminal cancer that will end his career prematurely.

There was one totally classless act last week that in the view of many disqualifies the person from even considering seeking a public office. Her name is Janice McGeachin, a former one-term state representative from Idaho Falls, who is aspiring to be Idaho’s next Lt. Governor.

In the minds of many she disqualified herself when upon learning about John McCain’s vote sent out a Facebook message calling McCain a traitor. Given several opportunities to retract this outrageous statement, she did nothing.

Several writers pointed out the implied penalty when the term is used, that is execution, she still refused to amend or change her statement. This type of insane fanaticism has no place in our nation’s debates over policy and politics. It was a classless statement which anyone with an ounce of brains would have retracted and apologized. Here is hoping she withdraws or, if she stays in, receives the public condemnation and rejection she warrants.

Coming through in the clutch

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In the early morning hours of July 28th, Senator John McCain came through in the clutch.

On one of the most important votes of his long career, he parted ways with his caucus and cast a vote against an evil, hyper-partisan bill that would have removed access to health care from millions of Americans. I give McCain great credit for having the courage to do so.

One GOP pundit accused McCain of “betraying his party,” but if his vote reflected a lack of partisan fealty, it was cast in service to the country.

I couldn't help but wonder if he would have cast that same vote had he not recently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. No doubt that harsh reality brought a measure of clarity and girded conviction.

But whatever the reason he ultimately cast his vote in the negative, McCain stepped up when it mattered most and for that we can be grateful.

John McCain was joined in his opposition by two other Republican senators, Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska. One of the least effective ways to persuade someone to vote a certain way is to bully her. Collins and Murkowski wouldn't be bullied -- not by the White House or McConnell, or other members of the senate GOP caucus. I applaud them as well.

For those who say there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties, I would urge them to reflect on the comments made by the majority leader and minority leader after the final tally was announced.

McConnell's remarks once again showed him to be a petty partisan who, despite his majority, could not marshal a majority and who, true to form, blamed Democrats. His comments were snide and decidedly uncivil. While speaking, McConnell pointedly turned his back on his Democratic colleagues, just as he had excluded them from the deliberative process.

By contrast, Chuck Schumer was a gracious winner who used the moment not to take a victory lap but to express relief. His comments were constructive and forward looking. His focus was on doing what's right for the American people. We can be proud of his leadership and that of the members of the Democratic caucus.

The president has already begun to attack the three Republican "mavericks" who broke with their party to do what McCain said was “the right thing.” How very short-sighted. I expect this won't be the last time Collins, Murkowski, and McCain will have occasion to show their independence. And the more Trump berates them the more likely they are to do so.

Now, for a few brief moments, we can exhale.