Recent events and the upcoming 4th of July holiday should cause those following current events to focus attention on the word “union.” The United States Supreme Court, by an historic and precedent setting 5-4 decision, has now ruled that “union” in the context of state recognized marriage includes a “union” of same-sex couples who pledge fidelity and love to each other is legally on par with heterosexual couples pledging the same.

This virtually guarantees that the matter will be a major topic during the 2016 presidential cycle.

The other event creating debate centered, whether one recognizes it or not, on the concept of “union” is the debate around the display of the Confederate “Stars and Bars” flag and has come back to the forefront of the news because of the awful racially-motivated murder of nine Americans at an historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

America’s incredibly bloody Civil War was not just about eliminating slavery and emancipating African-Americans, it was also about preserving the “union” of states. It is no accident that northern forces were most often referred to as “union” troops. Abraham Lincoln is considered the greatest of our presidents because he both preserved the union and emancipated the slaves.

Display of the Confederate flag is covered by “free speech” guaranteed in the Constitution but that does not make it any less offensive to millions of Americans who rightly also see it as a symbol of state’s rights, and the concepts of secession and nullification.

For whatever reason the state of South Carolina and South Carolinians have historically been the greatest proponents of the belief that state’s rights trump federal law. Its no coincidence that it was the first state to try to secede and that the Civil War began with South Carolinians bombarding the union fort in Charleston harbor.

As Americans approach the great national holiday celebrating independence it might behoove all to recall the great words of Massachusetts Senator Daniel Webster in 1830, who rose on the Senate floor to reply to South Carolina Senator Robert Haynes, who previously had advanced the notion that a state could nullify a federal law it did not agree with.

In closing his historic speech Webster turned to the notion of “union,” reminding his listeners that the Constitution’s first words were “We the people, not “we the states,” in order to form a more perfect UNION, hold these truths to be self-evident. . . that all are created EQUAL (the 14th amendment springs from this notion).

Our forefathers chose their words deliberately and carefully. In doing so they formed the most viable democracy the world has ever seen. It has survived because its founding principles and its founding statements radiate vitality in all times and ages, that they are in fact dynamic, on-going living documents. Our democracy should always be a work in progress as we strive for a more perfect union and more perfect unions.

Let Senator Webster’s words speak for themselves and please ponder while having a safe and happy 4th of July. On January 26, 1830, Webster closed his rebuttal to Senator Haynes with these words:

“When my eyes shall be turned for the last time on the meridian sun, I hope I may see him shining brightly upon my united, free and happy Country. I hope I shall not live to see his beams falling upon the dispersed fragments of the structure of this once glorious Union. I hope I may not see the flag of my Country, with its stars separated or obliterated, torn by commotion, smoking with the blood of civil war. I hope I may not see the standard raised of separate states rights, star against star and stripe against stripe; but that the flag of the Union may keep its stars and its stripes corded and bound together in indisoluble ties. I hope I shall not see written, as its motto, first liberty and then Union. I hope I shall see no such delusion, and deluded motto on the flag of that Country. I hope to see spread all over it, blazoned in letters of light, and proudly floating over Land and Sea that other sentiment, dear to my heart, “Union and Liberty, now and forever, one and inseparable.” Amen, Senator.

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There was a period in my earlier years when one would have thought my name was ‘knucklehead.” Everything I did, I did incorrectly, or in an inefficient manner. This would prompt my uncle, Rolla (pronounced Rol-li) Briggs, to look up to heaven with a wry smile and say, “You knucklehead.”

Then, he explained how it should be done correctly. He had a knack for teaching, for imparting the lesson without making one feel stupid. Because of that wry smile one knew he was saying listen up and smarten up. He never berated in a manner that humiliated.

The summers I was 12, 13 and 14 years of age I worked for Uncle Rolla and his wife, Ardis, in Salmon at the family-owned National Laundry. The “home” plant, in Pocatello, was owned and operated by my grandfather, Fergus Briggs, Sr. (Troy Parisian bought them out a few years back).

There were four Briggs boys (Fergus P. Briggs, Jr.; Robert L. Briggs, Rolla and then Jack Briggs) plus my mother, Margaret, and a much younger sister, Mona. All spent many hours working in the laundry, folding towels, shaking sheets or driving delivery routes. The Depression as well as slim profit margins forced some consolidations, but business was good enough that three of the four boys were able to join the family enterprise.

“Junior” took over in Pocatello and Rolla started running the Salmon facility. Neither Rolla nor Jack went to college but both were blessed with a ton of common sense, country smarts and embodied an ideal work ethic. Additionally, they read assiduously.

They also married sisters; Rolla married Ardis Lowers of Pocatello on December 31st, 1946. Jack married Lois Lowers shortly thereafter. When Rolla passed away recently at the age of 87, he and Ardis had been together 68 years. Neither thought that as exceptional—-they had taken vows, kept those vows and grew closer together as they gracefully aged. Rarely did one hear them referred to separately—it was almost always, Rolla and Ardis.

Among their shared passions, besides their four children (Larry, Debra, Pamela and Freida) and their grandchildren, was a love for Idaho’s out-of-doors, especially the Salmon River back country; and, a love of flying. Both were pilots.

For 20 years they were stalwarts in the Salmon community—both were JayCee’s and Rolla belonged to the Elks, Rotary, Masons and the Knights of Columbus. He was voted the Distinguished Citizen of the Year and he was a volunteer fireman.

I will always remember the summer night the fire siren began to wail. Being close to the fire station, half-dressed Uncle Rolla went rushing over to the station only to discover it was the station itself that was on fire. Despite the fire already being well along he and several others were able to rescue the all important fire pump truck before the building collapsed to the sound of one long lasting final siren wail.

This knucklehead learned what hard work was, working mornings as the town dry cleaner, and in the afternoon feeding sheets into a large barrel press in heat that reached 130 degrees in August—-all for the princely sum of .75 cents per hour.

I rapidly concluded that hard labor was not the way to make a living. Nor were we done after work. Rolla would send us off to Williams Lake to assist in the construction of some A-frame summer cabins he and several friends were building. I learned just enough about carpentry to be dangerous.

Uncle Rolla also taught me how to drive before I was 14—-a young boy’s dream—-but somehow it was building materials I was carrying around, not hot young girls.

In the mid-60s he and Ardis bought into the fly-in only Selway Lodge deep in the heart of the Selway/Bitteroot Wilderness. Several Septembers, before returning to New York City and my undergraduate school, Columbia, Uncle Rolla or Syd Hinkle would fly me into the Lodge for a few days. Rolla knew my “mountain batteries” needed recharging.

Rolla was the first to recite to me a wise saying: “There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots.” This may explain why he was able to walk away unscathed from the one mountain crash he ever had.

His eternal Co-Pilot called him home to the Backcountry airstrip in the Sky on April 23rd in Boise.

In many respects he was your typical, common sense, hard-working Idahoan. He thoroughly enjoyed Idaho’s bounteous beauties and was always grateful for his blessings. He had that wonderful wry smile and sometimes a witty comment to go with it when calling me knucklehead.

I knew though he saw some potential and was proud of my accomplishments in later years. I hope he knew how proud of him I was for no matter how you say it, he was also a rarity in this old world—a real man’s man. As Will Rogers once said of mother earth, they just ain’t makin’ ‘em anymore. Rest in Peace, my uncle. Your old knuckleheaded nephew, Chris.

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The most successful university president in Idaho history, Boise State University’s Bob Kustra, is rapidly approaching retirement. He is 72 years young, and has accomplished more in his 12 years than all other Idaho public university presidents combined, with the possible exception of former Idaho State University President William E. “Bud” Davis.

Many factors combined fortuitiously to generate his success, but one key is from day one Kustra understood the job is primarily one of mastering the politics. To succeed a university president must concede they are a politician—-not an academician, not a researcher, not a teacher, not a scientist.

Kustra came to his job almost straight from the jungle of Illinois politics where it is truly a contact sport riven with internecine fights and plagued with a history of corruption. He served two years in the State House, eight years in the State Senate and seven years as the Lt. Governor working with one of the few, competent, ethical and untainted governors in modern Illinois history, Republican Jim Edgar.

Kustra resigned his office in 1998 to go into higher education, a long-time secondary avocation of his (he holds a Ph.D in political science), to accept the presidency of Eastern Kentucky University and by 2003 was named the 6th president of Boise State.

Credit Kustra with understanding both the potential for dynamic growth at BSU and the importance of putting together and implementing strategic plans. As the man with a plan he quickly converted all the multiple constituencies from alumni to faculty to students. All recognized they had in Kustra a smart, tactical leader who knew how to make decisions, win over critics and unite diverse interests around goals beneficial to all.

Kustra also intuitively understood that everyone loves being associated with a winner, especially in the game of football. Boise State was already moving in the direction and had achieved real success on the gridiron but credit Kustra with understanding how crucial football success is to generous alumni giving and substantial funding from state legislators. Credit him also with ensuring that the minor sports were well supported as well as womens sports in full compliance with Title IX.

Kustra, working with his athletic director, deserves credit for elevating a fine football coach like Chris Peterson and hiring Leon Rice as head basketball coach. They took Boise State to the top tier of college football and basketball. Neither was he afraid to leave a rival like the University of Idaho, which couldn’t keep up, behind.

Credit Kustra also for hiring as his director of government affairs former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, one of Idaho’s saviest political practitioners. Only one University of Idaho president, Tim White, working in conjunction with the Vandal’s equally adept government affairs director, Marty Peterson, could have possibly matched the Kustra/Newcomb combination.

White got fed up with continual harassment by Ed Board member Blake Hall from Idaho Falls and walked away. He landed in California where today he is Chancellor of the entire University of California Higher Education System. It didn’t take Kustra long after White was gone to not so subtly have removed from the University of Idaho’s mission statement the characterization of the U of I as the “flagship university.”

Kustra understnds the importance of perception. Too smart to appropriate that title directly, he knows today Boise State, though it describes itself as a “metropolitcan research university of distinction,” is nonetheless Idaho’s flagship university.

During Kustra’s tenure BSU has grown into the state’s largest public university. It grants over 40% of the bachelor degrees awarded in Idaho each year. Yes, the U of I for a while longer may continue to lead in research dollars and be considered academically better, but Kustra knows reality often follows perception and it is only a matter of time until BSU leads in those arenas also.

Like all successful politicians, Kustra has his detractors. He can be imperious and downright arrogant at times, and more than one person has called him a jerk when he acts less than his capability to charm. Decisive people though can often alienate those who dislike their decisions. Kustra knows success can cover a multitude of sins.

It appears the University of Idaho’s new president, Chuck Staben, doesn’t begin to understand the nature of the challenge Kustra’s aggressive leadership has created for him and his university. One example, is indicative. After being in office over a year he has yet to meet with the editorial board of the largest daily newspaper in his own backyard, the Lewiston Tribune. Vandal boosters better wake up..

When Bob Kustra hangs up his spurs he’ll do so secure in the knowledge that he is retiring as the uindisputed champion of the title “best university president,” bar none, in the history of Idaho.

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Here is a possible but not plausible prognostication regarding the 2016 presidential sweepstakes: The person taking the oath of office in January of 2017 will not be Hillary Clinton, nor will it be Jeb Bush. Odds makers favor those two and they may well be correct. Here is a long-shot hunch – the next president of the United States will be Mitt Romney.

Impossible one might say, but if a student of political history, one knows it is not implausible. The key of course is the Republican National Convention will convene in late June or July of 2016 without any one candidate arriving with the nomination already sewn up.

Pundits are saying that the Republican field could have as many as 20 contenders and conventional wisdom is the ability to attract dollars and supporters will quickly narrow the field. That’s probably correct but if the field is narrowed to just the top ten that last month’s Quinnipiac University national poll identified, as well as the five having a support level of 10 percent of the party faithful, a brokered Republican convention becomes much more likely.

A quick look at the presidential primary and caucus schedule shows what the problem could be: It is easy to forecast “favorite son” candidates through out the schedule, especially if one can hang on until his home state has its primary.

Much of course depends on whether individual state party rules specify a winner-takes-all the state’s delegates or delegates are apportioned based on who wins each congressional district. For now let’s say that’s an even offset.

Looking at the schedule suddenly makes a brokered convention look a bit more plausible. Forget the jockeying between Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina as to which state goes first and anticipate it will the Iowa’s caucus first, followed by the New Hampshire primary followed by the South Carolina primary.

Guess what, sports fans? There’s a different winner in all three. Religiously conservative Iowa carries former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee across the line, or former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who actually won Iowa four years ago but by the time the media learned that they were long gone having declared Romney the winner.

In New Hampshire the winner is Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, but with only 23% of the vote. The following week in his home state of South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham wins in a walk. Three days later Kentucky Senator Rand Paul takes the Nevada caucus.

Super Tuesday arrives on March 1`with nine states or more holding elections and/or caucuses. The big prizes are Texas, Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina but again the results are mixed. Senator Ted Cruz takes his home state of Texas knocking former Governor Rick Perry out of the race. For arguments sake let’s say Governor Huckabee takes North Carolina and Senator Rubio takes Georgia and Jeb Bush takes Virginia.

And so it goes. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal takes his home state on March 5 and on March 8 Ohio Governor John Kasich takes his state. On March 15 the showdown in Florida is won by former Governor Jeb Bush over Senator Rubio.

On April 5 Governor Scott Walker wins Wisconsin. April 26, former Senator Rick Santorum wins his native state. May 17, Senator Paul takes Kentucky and on ay 24 Governor Huckabee takes Arkansas. On June 7, if he is still in the race, Governor Christie takes his home starte, New Jersey.

So, all you pundits and sages out here, tell me if any of those so far mentioned will arrive with the nomination in-hand? Or, for the first time since 1952 will there be an open convention?

Here’s why I think Mitt Romney has sniffed out the likelihood of this happening. First, as a student of history Romney is aware that it took Ronald Reagan three tries before he was embraced by the GOP. Second, he’s a known quantity and has passed muster, receiving millions of votes in 2012. A little known fact is that if voters have pulled a lever for you once, they usually do so again.

Third, he is wisely playing the party game—he’s lent people from his campaign organization to other campaigns and is making appearances. Fourth, he is courting the media and portraying the “real Mitt” to them.

If lightning strikes, Mitt Romney will be ready, and this time he wins.

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Al Link is a vanishing breed: a labor leader born and raised in a union household. He defies the stereo-type, however. There’s no cigar or dark glasses, no four-letter word laced talk.

He wears a suit with tie or a sport coat, is soft spoken, articulate, and a great advocate for unions. He possesses a sense of humor, is organized, disciplined and accountable. His father, Roy, was for many years the president of United Steelworkers of America (USWA) Local 329, and his mother, Mary, was the long-time COPE Director for the Spokane County Central Labor Council.

Link is proud to be a second generation union member, and proud of the role unions played in the 20th century that helped America become the industrial power envied by the rest of the world.

Unlike some labor leaders, Link does not hate “management.” In the early 1980s, when I was the regional vice president for northwest public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum and Link was the vice president of the USWA Local 329 at the Mead Smelter, he and I co-chaired a Labor/Management communications committee that tried to save 14,000 good-paying union jobs held by men and women employed by the nine facilities operating in the northwest.

The job multiplier for such good-paying manufacturing jobs is two for every one manufacturing. In other words, close to 50,000 pay checks were derived from the industry.

They first came to the region prior to and during World War II, attracted by the cheap hydropower generated by federal dams in the region. One-third of the cost of a pound of aluminum is the electricity. When one holds a beer or pop can in hand, they are holding fused electricity.

When the Bonneville Power Administration, which markets the power from the federally-built dams, went off on a binge of financing construction of nuclear power plants to meet projected load growth that did not factor in price elasticity, the cost of this power soared 900% overnight. Almost all the aluminum companies, especially Kaiser, began to hemorrhage.

The industry response was to advocate that BPA adopt a “variable power rate:” the price companies paid would be tied to the price the metal would fetch on the London Metal Exchange. If the price of metal was low, the price for power would reflect that. Of course if the metal price was high, so would the price of power.

The labor/management committee ran a classic campaign and Link was everywhere. We traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby the members of the northwest state’s Congressional deleggations. Majority Leader Tom Foley put out the red carpet, not because the Kaiser regional pooh-bah was seeking an audience, but because he was accompanied by the union leader who helped to provide campaign volunteers and dollars.

Link delivered union members who testified forcefully at BPA hearings. He delivered thousands of union-made yard signs as well as workers to handle the phone banks set up across the region. He delivered.

We won that battle. BPA adopted the variable power rate. The first year it kicked in Kaiser’s power bill was reduced by $105 million. It wasn’t enough, however, to save the industry. Like big business everywhere, the companies began to build more modern facilities overseas where costs, especially labor costs were less.

Link went on to become in 1994 the highly regarded secretary-treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, and has held a number of prominent posts within the still influential in Washington state labor movement. When Kaiser was taken over by the corporate raider, Charles Hurwitz, I left and founded the Gallatin Group, a regional public affairs firm.

It was my privilege to introduce Link as the speaker at the 13th Annual North Idaho Democracy dinner last weekend. Both of us are supposedly retired, but still active .

Link delivered thoughtful comments on an all too familiar theme – the movement of jobs that helped make America great overseas. In particular he, like his colleagues in Labor, denounced the effort being led by President Obama for the United States to adopt “fast trade, free trade” rules that can only lead to even more jobs going overseas.

My friend is of course correct. The major problem, however, is that train left the station years ago. Powerful as Labor still is, and as influential as Link still is, both of the state’s pro-labor senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, are supporting fast trade.

When organizations from Boeing to MicroSoft to the Washington Wheat Growers care more about international market share, protecting American jobs all too easily is forgotten. Our grandchildren are already paying the price.

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The end game on the future of the Boulder-White Clouds and additional wilderness protection is starting. Cross your fingers that the right changes can occur, and though he owes Idaho absolutely nothing, President Barack Obama will declare as a new national monument an area almost double the size of the carefully negotiated bill engineered over ten years by Rep. Mike Simpson.

It will serve right folks like ATV’er lobbyist Sandra Mitchell and the double-crossing Senator Jim Risch to have all their shenanigans, delays and obstructionism result in something from their view point twice as bad as before.

Governor Andrus has an old saying: “Pigs get fat but hogs get slaughtered:.” That fits Mitchell, Risch and the narrow interests they represent to a tee Not satisified with all the concessions Congressman Simpson and the Idaho Conservation League were willing to give to get a carefully negotiated bill, a couple years back, they blew it up and walked away.

Now they are supposedly back at the table with a bill supposedly written by Senator Risch’s staff (Would you like to wager whether a working draft as a “courtesy” was provided by Ms. Mitchell?) and Senator Risch will hold a hearing on May 21st. The House will follow with a hearing in June. Reportedly, Rep. Simpson received a six month commitment from the White House not to invoke the Antiquities Act and see if he can get a revised form of his old bill (With less acreage protected) through the House.

Some would like to believe this is Idaho’s last best chance to get Congress to act responsibly. Others are hoping for the National Monument designation, believing, as it did in Alaska, it will result in the delegation making reasonable compromises to undo the more restrictive monument designation. Still a third group would be perfectly satisfied with just leaving the Monument designation in place.

I suspect this is the issue that Senator Risch will drill down on when ICL Executive Director Rick Johnson appears before Risch’s committee on the 21st. All things being equal, would Johnson and the ICL prefer the Monument designation be imposed on their fellow Idahoans or would they take less for a more democratic bill? Rest assured Risch will try to put Johnson on the spot, for truth be told this is just a “show” hearing. I doubt very much that Risch wants any bill that would add one more acre to Idaho’s wilderness.

For Risch its just a game of “gotcha.” He firmly believes a majority of Idahoans feel there already is enough wilderness in the state and like things just as they are. He also knows that by holding his hearing in D.C. only the well-to-do will be able to pay for the travel and take the time to come testify. He’s not about to hold a hearing in the home state areas near the Boulder-White Clouds because he is well aware that former Interior Secretary Andrus promised current Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that if she wanted him to turn out a crowd at an in-state hearing he’d have 500 people there if she gave him a week’s notice.

Both ICL’s Johnson and Andrus appear to have concluded that despite the incredible effort put in by Simpson and staff, and they do genuinely admire their effort, there will never be an acceptable bill that comes out of the Senate or out of a joint conference committee.

So 50 Andrus cohorts, as well as a slew of the late Senator Frank Church’s cohorts have written the President asking him to invoke his powers under the Antiquities Act. In a perfect political world one would not write such letters unless there was some reasonable assurance of a positive response. This is not the case, though. The White House has not given either Johnson or Andrus any assurances to the best of anyone’s knowledge.

That is unsettling to say the least but should not surprise. Why should the President do anything for Idaho?

Consider also the lack of any state-wide public clamor. Neither letter or press release on the former Andrus and Church staffers writing the president was deemed news worthy enough to be put on the Associated Press’ wire.

I can guarantee you one thing, if the public is not demanding action we’ll be living with the status quo for many more years.

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Like many news junkies, I’ve been reflecting on the events in Baltimore over the last ten days. I keep coming back to a fact that has been completely absent from the debate. I will explain by first quoting from Nikos Kazantzakis’ great novel,Zorba the Greek which was made into a fine movie with Anthony Quinn playing Zorba.

Zorba is getting acquainted with the sober-miened Englishman who asks Zorba if he is married. Zorba replies:

“Am I not a man? Are not men STUPID? So I married—wife, children, home, the whole CATASTROPHE!”

Inevitably, one laughs because this hits too close to home. As the old saying goes, the truth often is in a joke. Most, if honest, will concede, even the brightest and most disciplined among us can and often do stupid things, some totally inexplicable.

In my expereience, young men, regardless of race, creed or color, full of too much testosterone, sometimes do some really stupid things. Take me, for example.

True confession: Fifty years ago I “technically” assaulted one of New York’s finest.

It was early fall of my freshman year at Columbia. Classes had just started so many young men were milling around with little to do but cause mischief. Someone said, “Let’s do a panty raid on Barnard (the women’s college next to Columbia).” Yes, in 1965 this anachronistic practice was still in vogue.

Before you could snap a finger, 200 young men had stormed across the street and were standing on the south side street of the main Barnard residence hall, chanting and demanding that they be tossed women’s undergarments. I went along­­­ as can happen when in a crowd.

Of course few items were tossed out. It was then the Idaho kid decided to show these wimpy easterners how to take action. Amidst cheers I scaled up the side of the dorn two stories and into the residence hall where there were indeed young ladies milling around, screaming at the sight of a guy demanding undie’s and bra’s. Some young ladies handed me the items so back to the window I went to toss the contraband to the wimps still standing and yelling for such.

Then back down the wall I went and dropped straight into the arms of one of New York’s finest just waiting there. Grabbing me buy the arm, he informed me I was going with him. I replied, “Like hell, I am.” Then I committed the real stupidity, I struck the officer’s arm holding me, knocking his grip loose, ran and melded into the crowd.

As I wandered back to my dorm room I realized just how stupid I’d acted. I easily could have not been able to get away. Then, I would have faced an “assaulting an officer” charge, a felony no less, and easily could have lost my scholarship and probably might even have had to do jail time.

My future no doubt would have been quite different. Try getting a job even today if you’ve got a felony on you record.

Life has ways of evening things out. It’s often called the “school of hard knocks.” My hard knock was literally a hard knock but I looked upon it as an element of divine justice being meted out. No matter what you term it, New York’s finest got even in less than three years.

In April of 1968 a student protest led by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) against Columbia building a new gym on a large part of Morningside Park (One of a few areas where the African-American population in Harlem could recreate) led to a shut down of the campus. SDS leader Marc Rudd led the seizure of Hamilton Hall and Low Library where the administration offices were.

After several nights of a stand-off it was clear the police were about to move. I joined a group of students that formed a circle, holding hands, around the library. We thought as pacifists we could protect those that had seized the building and that the police would respect our non-violent stance.

We thought wrong. When the police moved we were all shoved and clubbed out of the way. It was then the scales of justice evened out for one of New York’s finest nailed me in the back with his billy club.

The moral of this story is yes, the chattering media can talk about lack of jobs, lack of education, lack of fathers or male mentors, lack of hope in Baltimore, and it all does contribute and it all needs addressing. Don’t forget, however, that men, especiallly young men, can act in a very stupid way at times. Only God knows why.

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carlson CHRIS


Pop Quiz: which is the most urbanized state, New York or Nevada? Between Alaska and Montana? Between Utah and Ohio?

Among these three states – Idaho, Iowa and New Hampshire – which has the highest rural proportion in its population?

If you answered Nevada (94%) is more urban than New York (88%); Alaska (66%) more than Montana (56%) and Utah (91%) more than Ohio (78%), give yourself an A. If you also know New Hampshire (40%) is more rural than Idaho (30%) and Iowa (36%) is more rural than Idaho, give yourself an A++.

Behind these figures lies an incontestable fact: our nation is steadily, inexorably becoming more urbanized. As children and grandchildren steadily leave rural areas to find jobs in urban areas, those of us left in the rural areas are more and more retirees and the elderly.

We sense that a way of life – connected families living close to the land and most often trying to make a living off of some form of resource conversion – is being lost.

The future looks uncertain. The “can-do, tomorrow will be a better day” attitude starts to erode. Fear creeps into the pysche. For some it is fear that medical challenges will force one to move into an urban area to be closer to the needed medical services. For others, it is fear that a heavily urbanized population in which a 9-1-1 call will be responded to within five minutes will lead to more restrictions on firearms.

What is more disturbing though is the few folks left in rural areas do not see the connection between an America becoming ever more urbanized and the proliferation of federal regulations regarding activities on adjacent public lands.

Too many country folks think their use of the national forests or the public range should get priority. We don’t grasp that our neighbor down the street, the Forest Service’s district ranger, has to manage for the urbanite in New York City’s equal interest in the public lands.

Surprise! The urban dweller sees the national forests as a place where he or she can camp, hike, raft, ride horses, bird-watch and a dozen other multiple often competing uses. The urbanite does not see timber cutting as a compatible use.

So, some rural county commissioners turn to schemes and dreams that the Federal government can be forced to sell federal lands because those living next to and off of the public resource can do a much better job of managing the resource. Dream on , my friend. It will never happen.

If anything, get ready for more regulations from the federal agencies, not fewer. Despite Idaho having established a good system of adjudicating water rights, as shortages begin to occur in the urban areas more restrictions on its use will be promulgated.

Charges for grazing rights will begin to rise towards true market value. The feds will spend more on fire suppression than ever before and will start more pre-emptive fires. Wild horses, sage grouse and their habitat will see more restrictive regulations placed on other uses. All because most urbanites see the public lands as a public playground.

These were the thoughts coalescing in one’s mind as I read about another example of the “Cliven Bundy” syndrome. You may recall how this Nevada BLM lease-holder consistently used and abused his grazing permit. His illegal activties reached the point where a warrant for his arrest was issued, but when the local sheriff and the BLM officers arrived at this scofflaw’s ranch they were met by heavily armed supporters spoiling for a fight.

Something similar is going on in Josephine County, Oregon, where two prospectors have been ordered to file a mine plan of operation on a claim they call Sugar Pine Mine. The Oathkeepers, a self-righteous group of supposed former law enforcement officers, have a volunteer possee surrounding the site to “protect” it.

Travesty, pure and simple. It reads like a Louis L’Amour western melodrama – you know, rich mine owners, hired guns supposedly to protect but really to provoke. It flies in the face of the law despite these folks wrapping themselves in the Constitution.

Oregon, incidentally, is 81% urban; more urban than Georgia, or Minnesota or New Mexico or Michigan or Pennsylvania. The earth is shifting.

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carlson CHRIS


Actually, the phrase is a French one, “poi pouri,” and, loosely translated it means “left over items.” Not having taken French as a foreign language either in high school or college, I’ve Americanized it a bit. I call it pot porridge.

Item #1. A covetted “Dummie” award to the p.r. experts at the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Lab. They are making the Andrus/Batt contention that one cannot trust DoE at all, incontestable. Part of INL’s contention that they ought to be granted a waiver from the 1995 Batt Agreement’s ban on the importation of any commercial radioactive waste is that they’ve changed and now are committed
to more transparency, and to prompt notification. A recent event says “au contraire” (French for “I beg your pardon?”).

Turns out there are some bad habits that DoE/INL can’t correct overnight—-such as prompt notification to the media of a “worker exposure incident” at the troubled New Waste Calcining Facility. DoE/INL and the site contractor, CWI, admitted tht they had delayed filing a public report for six months.

Some things never change. One can almost hear Phil Batt saying “make my day!”

For his part, Cecil Andrus long ago figured out that any entity, whether public or private, operates by public consent. If one gets crosswise with the public and is perceived as placing the public at risk just for its profits, is not truthful, or misleads, they forfeit the public trust and along with it goes their credibility.

Andrus flat says that DoE has a long history of lying to him. He does not use that word lightly. Justifiably, DoE’s word is no good to him nor should anyone else believe a thing they say, as this latest doubt-creating incident again demonstrates.

Kudos to Corey Taule of the hometown Post-Register, who blistered DoE/INL in an editorial over the weekend for so stupidly making the Andrus/Batt lack of trust case for them.

Item #2. The Japanese have a difficult to translate word, giri, that Idaho’s legislative leadership, especially Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) ought to internalize. The word references the extra degree of obligation one has to another, and in the Idaho Legislature it is critical that the Speaker of the House recognize his responsibility to fulfill his role by truly providing leadership and producing for the public.

With alll due respect to the man who I’ve never met, there was little if any leadership from him, and few would give this year’s edition of the Legislature more than a D+ . Lay it all at the feet of Speaker Bedke. To let the Legislature adjourn without correcting the failure to provide funding for children from 155,000 certifiably poor families in Idaho, and possibly cripple if not destroy the support system, thus forfeiting $205 million is simply irrespopnsible.

That my good friend, Randy Stapilus, named Bedke the most influentrial politician in Idaho is rediculous. What good is having power if not exercised for the public good?

Bedke called the session “monumental,”and it was—-a monumental failure. In Japan when a “leader” fails so miserably, he apologizes and resigns. That’s what giri dictates and that’s what Bedke should do.

Item #3. Ted Turner’s 24/7 CNN News came calling last week. The producer of the Nancy Grace Show, one Mike Duffy, called and indicated they would like me to be available the next day to be on the show via a skype interview. He had seen the column I did on the tragic death of Veronica Rutledge, the bright young Kootenai High School graduate from Harrison shot and killed by her two-year-old last December outside the Hayden Wal-Mart.

It must have come as a surprise to them because most folks jump at the chance to be on a major network show, but I declined the invitation.

First, Nancy Grace is a former prosecutor well-known for her fervent pro-gun control views. Apparently, this is an outgrowth from the fact she lost her husband in a gun violence death. If I thought she and the show were really interested in facts, and were seeking an enlightened discussion, I might have thought otherwise. Regretfully, hers is one of those programs that seeks higher ratings by generating more publicity.

Secondly, I’m sure Ms. Rutledge’s family is still hurting fiercely from this terrible event. A program rekindling a painful past was something I simply was not interested in lending myself and my time.

As I told the producer in an e-mail – the column spoke for itself and there was nothing I could add.

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carlson CHRIS


There was both good news and bad for the Grand Old Party this week. The good news was the presidential candidacy announcement by Florida U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. At the age of 43, he’s young, handsome, smart as a whip, and gives terrific speeches. First elected Speaker of the Florida House at age 34, his is an ascending star.

Presidential elections are most often about the future and who can best lead the nation into that uncertain time. Historically, the Democratic Party has been the one presenting younger, future-oriented candidates. This time around it may just be the Republicans, who with Rubio, Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have a corner on the younger, generational change leaders.

Former Senators Hillary Clinton, and James Webb (The only two announced Democrats) will both be approaching or at age 70 on Inauguration Day, 2017.

The bad news for Republicans is the candidacy announcement by Senator Rubio.

Rubio’s declaration coupled with the well-orchestrated meeting in Panama at the Organization of American States gathering between Cuban President Raul Castro and President Barack Obama spells trouble for the Republican presidential wanna-be’s.

Perhaps the most critical state for a Republican hopeful to capture in the primary is Florida. Likewise, the path to the White House in November, 2016 will go through Florida. There is one issue above all other issues that moves a critical Florida Republican constituency and that is maintenance of the trade embargo in the minds of the Cuban/American community.

President Obama’s long overdue movement to begin the process of doing away with the embargo ensures it will remain a divisive issue throughout the campaign cycle. Obama knows a good wedge issue when he sees one.

Senator Rubio, the son of immigrants who fled Cuba after Fidel Castro took power, is expected to maintain the “no compromise/no trade” position which must may give him the critical edge he’ll need to defeat in the primary his political mentor and friend, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Even before the Obama/Castro meeting, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul announced he was for pulling the trade embargo. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Wisconsin’s chief executive are expected to follow suit. After all, free trade is one of the tenet’s of the Libertarian faith.

Idaho’s current governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, has long advocated lifting the trade embargo so Idaho producers could market and sell directly to Cuba. During the six years Otter was in the House he took three, lobbyist paid for trips to Cuba.

The first trade mission Otter organized and led as governor was to Cuba in April of 2007. Saying, according to spokesperson Jon Hanian, he was going down there “to sell some groceries,” Otter led a delegation of 35 Idahoans that included folks from the Idaho Potato Commission, the Idaho Milk Producers, a seed company, a couple of professors from BYU-Idaho, and Marty Peterson, the public affairs director for the University of Idaho, wearing his historical preservation hat. Peterson was hoping to take part in an effort to protect and preserve author Ernest Hemingway’s Havana home.

Before the “hate everything and oppose everything Obama does” crowd in Idaho gets too apopletic on this politically rewarding gambit by the President, they should also recall that while still a U.S. senator, Larry Craig visited Cuba in 2004.

As a ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, Idaho Senator Jim Risch will no doubt be visiting Cuba before long on his own fact-finding mission.

The Idaho public figure with the most prescience about the futility of the trade embargo, however, was Senator Frank Church who visited Cuba several times. The last time was in August of 1977 when he and Fidel Castro sat and smoked Cuban cigars together.

Rest assured, my friends, Cuba will be an issue of some sort in the 2016 presidential race.

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carlson CHRIS


Most any day now Hillary Clinton is expected to announce her candidacy for the presidency. It appears she is going to be nominated as the Democratic standard bearer almost by acclamation. Fully 2/3’s of self-identified Democrats say she should be their nominee – a simply astounding lead for any one any time who aspired for an open seat presidential nomination.

Virtually every potential Republican has two mantras in their campaign speeches: why they are the true conservative and why they can beat Hillary Clinton. The media is positively salivating at the prospect. Her every move is scrutinized, not just her every e-mail (Those that were not purged from her personal PC server, that is).

They know the Republican party has a storehouse of materials researched, vetted and prioritized which they will start rolling out long before they have selected their nominee. It will be a string of invective, innuendo and distortion unlike anyone has ever seen. To their surprise it won’t change many minds.

I have a theory that many voters have already made up their minds about whether there should be a return to the White House of the Billy and Hillary Show. Yes, no matter how one wants to spin it, that decision is going to be influenced for many by the thought, for good or for ill, that coming along to the White House with Hillary would be “First Spouse” Billy.

All they are waiting for, before making up their minds, is to see whether Republicans will be smart enough to nominate a reasonable, competent alternative.

I haven’t seen or analyzed any polls on this subject – I’m just going with the old gut check here, but, for the sake of argument, indulge me for a moment.

First, most men voters, especially white men, are not enamored of Mrs. Clinton. The reasons vary, but it basically is a “not that woman at this time and this place.”

Thus, it is safe to say that Hillary arriving at the White House will depend on her “sisters” delivering close to a 2/3’s majority for her, and that’s where the Hillary juggernaut will stumble, and ultimately be stopped. My guess is she will at best win the women vote nationwide by a 53% to 47% margin.

Her sisters will let her down not because they reject that it is a woman’s turn, nor that it is Hillary’s turn. Nor that she isn’t qualified or because they have concerns about Slick Willie.

Hillary will at best get a slightly better than split vote not because of her gender, but many women will decide Hillary doesn’t pass muster because she did not speak out more aggressively on the major issues of concern to women voters. What they will see is the following:

Hillary will speak out for increasing the minimum wage instead of talking to women voters about equal pay for equal work.

Hillary will denounce the growing income gap in America between rich and poor but won’t offer a solution. After all, she and Bill are now full-fledge members of the affluent class.

Hillary will shy away from addressing with specific solutions the horrible abuse women endure not just in far off foreign cultures but here in America. One United Nations study said over the course of a woman’s life 7 out of 10 women will either be raped, physically assaulted, molested or sexually harassed in their lifetime.

Hillary will not be able to win the confidence of the nation’s military leadership.

Hillary will galvanize the evangelicals by appearing to attack “freedom of religion” clauses in legislation.

For example she will say she supports repealing the opt out clause in contracts with Catholic hospitals.

When she stumbles, as inevitably she will, she will revert to form, blame the media and act out in her pattern of petulence and victimization.

It won’t sell with many women who, unlike men voters, have yet to really make up their minds. They will have a “show me” attitude and at this juncture I’m guessing she won’t be able to do so.

Am I the only “business Democrat” (fiscally conservative, socially liberal) out here in the hinterlands who would like to see his party at least have an honest to goodness open primary? To quote former Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, can there be a choice, not an echo?

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carlson CHRIS


EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see below for a response by a reader referred to in this column; and a response from Carlson.

Hollywood has its Oscars; New York has its Emmies and its Pulitzers. Boston has its Eppies. As of today, Medimont has its “Dummies” – a ten inch lead question mark.

Dummies can be awarded anytime, anyplace for any reason at the sole discretion of the awards panel whose identity is kept secret to protect their lives from being ruined by an avalanche of nominations. Idaho has become such fertile ground.

While political in nature, that is not a requirement. The only condition is nominees have to live in Idaho.

The envelopes please.

The first ever winners of a “Dummie” are Idaho State Senators Maryanne Jordan of Boise and Grant Burgoyne of Boise—the two and only members of the Democratic Party on the Senate Judiciary committee. The prize is awarded because, as the Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase put it, not only were Republican Senators like Majority Leader Bart Davis, asleep when Governor Otter’s nomination of State Police chief Colonel Ralph Powell to a second term came before them, the two Democrats had to be snoring.

There is no excuse for missing the opportunity to make the ISP Chief and his governor at least be embarassed if not downright ashamed of conduct unbecoming one serving such high offices. This is the police chief who told the media he would be conducting an investigation of Correction Corporation of America’s deliberately over-billing the State of Idaho 26,000 hours for supposed management of the maximum security prison outside of Boise.

A year later, when asked where things stood, he reveals that there was no investigation undertaken because he decided that over-billing was a civil matter, not criminal. Where was Senator Burgoyne, an attorney no less? Isn’t any theft over $500 a felony and by definition criminal? This theft was in the millions.

When did the chief make this decision? Was it ever discussed by he and the governor or any member of the governor’s staff? Did he discuss it with CCA’s lobbyist who just happens to be a former chief of staff for Otter? What did he know and when did he know it?

Why was his renomination not in the original package of Otter’s renomination of his cabinet sent in early January? Why should the public posit any further trust in an ISP Chief who if he truly acted of his own volition is worthy of nomination for a “Dummie” award himself, and if he was directed to do so, is covering for a governor who, like the chief himself, puts personal interests ahead of their public trust?

Some would excuse Senator Jordan as she was just appointed. Perhaps, but she reportedly has a lick of common sense. People wonder why Democrats are so few in number in Idaho and growing fewer? Look no further than this. They cannot take advantage of a golden opportunity even when it slaps them in the face. Snore on.

The second winner of a coveted “Dummie” is State Representative Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton, serving her third term. Rarely does one see a legislator so brazeningly vote against the interests of their own district. She voted against funding for the Idaho Youth Ranch near Cottonwood, a facility on the military model that instills discipline and responsibility in wayward youth that can still be turned.

The ranch is a classic example of pay a little now or pay a lot more later – a concept she does not appear to understand. Also, she was one of only a handful of votes against increased funding for education and more pay for teachers.

Rumors abound across the district she is planning on resigning shortly after the session ends with the presumption the Legislative district committee, which recommends names to the governor, will list son Jim’s name and Governor Otter will play along.

The son is a knowledgable attorney in Wallace, somewhat of an expert on water law. He understands even if his mother does not that most voters don’t particularly cotton to this type of backroom orchestrating.

Compounding such a scenario is that there will again be a primary challenge to McMillan even if it is Jim instead of Shannon, from Shauna Hillman. She is the popular manager of Wallace’s Northern Pacific Train Depot, is active in chamber and commmunity affairs, and plans to start doorbelling in Grangeville and Orofino soon. She recognizes she started late last time but has learned. Mining and timber interests in Shoshone County are expected to support her again.

Thus, Rep. McMillan receives the coveted “dummie” both for votes against her own district’s interests and for the hubris in thinking she can resign and designate her successor. That just isn’t the Idaho way.

– – –

James McMillan, an attorney at Wallace and the son of Representative McMillan, responded to Carlson:

I recently came across these articles:;, in which it is rumored that my mother is going to resign her seat and somehow designate me as a chosen successor.

As far as that is concerned, I can tell you, unequivocally and without hesitation, that these rumors are 100% FALSE. She fully intends to serve out her term, as well as seek re-election in 2016, and I am most certainly not in a position in my life or my business to be taking off to Boise for three months out of the year.

As such, I would ask that a correction be published whereever this column has been disseminated. You have both corresponded with me via e-mail in the past, and my office telephone number is hardly a secret, and so I am disappointed that you would perpetuate such a wild, unsubstantiated rumor without at least attempting to contact me to verify whether or not it is true.

I do not know who is spreading this rumor, but whoever it is, they are just plain making things up. Pure and simple.

I thank you for your attention to this matter.

Carlson responds:

James – columns, unlike news articles, are by definition opinions and interpretations and thus many columnists feel no obligation similar to a reporter’s to inquire when they come across a delicious rumor. I referenced it as a rumor and I’d heard it from four reputable sources , two in the county and two outside the county, but all saying they had heard speculation along these lines. I thought I went out of my way to make it clear that you in all probability would not be a party to such an effort.

In this case, though, I’ll concede I should have called you. I accept your absolute denial and do believe you are a person of your word. I do apologize for referring to you as Jim when you prefer James. You recognize I trust that one way to kill such idle speculation as you and some of your friends called it, is to just get it out there in the light of day.

As you know, I write to encourage people to think and look beyond the surface. From my standpoint it was an interesting and intriguing rumor.

I’m reminded of an old saying in politics: As long as they spell your name correctly, there’s no such thing as bad press.

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carlson CHRIS


It was probably inevitable that a clash between Idaho’s Second District Congressman, Mike Simpson, and Idaho’s First District Congressman, Raul Labrador, would develop.

For the record of course and when with their senatorial colleagues they try to maintain the appearance of comity, that it is all one happy gang of Republicans working together for Idaho. Don’t be fooled, folks. There is growing evidence the two men hardly tolerate each other.

Last week’s not so subtle “tit for tat” columns revealed much even to the untrained observer. It’s not just the canyon-wide differences on political and policy matters. It is that their style is different, which reflects real differences in their approach to public service.

Mike Simpson is a true “work horse.” The veteran congressman believes he is there to solve problems which often means to compromise and even to work together with Democrats. Simpson has paid his dues. He has worked within the seniority system, paid attention to details, displayed respect for all members but especially the seniors.

Simpson is a good legislator. He learned his craft while a member of the Idaho House where he quickly rose to become the Speaker. In Congress he has become a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner and is considered to be a key member of the Speaker’s Leadership team.

He is also known as one of the “Cardinals,” the rare achievers who chair agency appropriation subcommittees. As such, Simpson has much to say about the tax dollars that go to the major cabinet agencies of Interior, Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Labrador comes across to veteran observers as a “show horse.” He is adept, almost gifted at attracting media coverage for himself. For a member only in his third term he has had an unusal number of appearances on television’s Sunday talk shows. He obviously likes publicity.

He is a darling of the Tea Party faction of the Party precisely because he is a young man in a hurry who has little use for protocal and traditional procedure. Two years ago he challenged his own Speaker because he and a large contingent of the Republican caucus are ideologues who prefer confrontation to compromise. Many of his Tea Party supporters applauded him. This January, when he voted for his Speaker, these same folks were angered.

Simpson and his staff were not pleased last year when Labrador did not endorse his Republican colleague. While he did not formally endorse Simpson’s challenger either, there were questions in the minds of some as to whether Labrador encouraged and even advised the challenger. Labrador denies having done anything to assist the challenger.

Labrador compounded his suspect behavior, however, by voting against the funding garnered by Simpson for the Idaho National Laboratory.

It came as no surprise then to see Labrador take a couple of not so subtle “potshots” in a column that ran in several Idaho dailies on March 9th. Labrador was part of a group of conservatives who sought to undue President Obama’s excutive orders on immigraion reform by tying up the budget for Homeland Security and making it a hostage. The goup not only threatened to cut off funding for Homeland Security, it threatened to once again stop all government spending except for Defense.

Labrador was critical of Boehner (and his leadership team) in compromising, saying he capitulated to the Democrats, and accusing the Speaker of weakening the Constitution. He ridiculed the so-called “adults’ of the Republican caucus. You can bet Simpson took every one of those shots personsally.

Within three days Simpson’s column with its not so subtle shots aimed obviously at Labrador appeared. Simpson excoriated those in the Republican caucus who practiced the politics of confrontation, who would use shutdown of an agency or the entire government as a tactic. He termed these types as obstructionits, pointing out that the Republicans had been given a chance to show America they could govern, but were fumbling it away.

He termed the Labrador types an “irresponsible, unrealistic, ineffective segment of the Republican Caucus . . . . .imposing a losing strategy . . . . with no credible policy proposals.” He was scathing in his criticism.

In particular his last paragraph was unmistakable in its target:

“My pro-shutdown colleagues are the same folks who pushed for immigration reform only to abandon the notion—leaving the American people on hold with a broken system, ineffective border, and an overreaching President looking for any excuse to write executive actions.”

When a spokesperson for Labrador was asked if the Simpson comments were aimed at them, the response was “ask Congressman Simpson.’ When a spokesperson for Simpson was asked if Labrador was their target, the response was “If the shoe fits, wear it.”

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