Writings and observations.


Idaho is a state that historically has elected governors and senators from the pool of veteran politicians – mostly men who have served in previous public offices.  There’s a sense that this pool has been vetted already and passed muster by virtue of prior election.
Of the ten men who served as governors during the last 70 years (The modern era beginning in 1946 up to the present), only two had not had previous service in the Idaho Legislature.  Those two, Dirk Kempthorne and Robert Smylie, had been elected to other public offices, however: Kempthorne had been mayor of Boise and a United States senator; and, Smylie had been elected  attorney general.
The times they are a’changing, though, and it could be a matter of time until Idahoans go for a no previous public service, non-politician as governor.  After all, the nation has elected its first non-previous office-holder, non-Army general to the presidency.
A recent review of the nation’s governors and those running in 2018 by Larry Sabato, the reigning guru of the nation’s political pundits (He heads up the University of Virginia’s Public Policy Institute), was a possible peek into the future.  To the surprise of traditionalists the phenomena of starting at the top, with money, especially one’s own, coupled with an ability to talk intelligently about the issues while proclaiming yourself to be an outsider, or a business man, or an anti-government, anti-regulation agitator appears to be a seductive siren song to voters.
Sabato’s survey revealed 13 of the nation’s 50 states are already being governed by folks with no previous experience in public office.
Heretofore it was Idaho’s Democratic party that was offering up aspirants for governor with no previous experience:  A. J. Balukoff in 2014, Keith Allred in 2010, Jerry Brady in 2006 and 2002.  All, of course, lost.
Now, however, Idaho’s Republicans may offer up as their 2018 gubernatorial nominee an individual with no previous elective office experience.  Republican circles are abuzz with the news that Tom Ahlquist, a wealthy M.D. and the local face of Salt Lake City’s Gardner Corporation, the leading developer of high rise office buildings in downtown Boise, is telling friends and partners he will be a candidate.
He also is reportedly ready to spend several million dollars. He is a member of the LDS Church in good standing and there is speculation  Ahlquist will win the support of eastern Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the chairman and CEO of Melaleuca Corporation.
If such an alliance is established it will more than compensate for the fact that Ahlquist has virtually no history of working with the State party.
Primaries with more than three entries are historically difficult to predict.

With Representative Raul Labrador telling his friends and supporters he is headed home to run for governor, Lt. Governor Brad Little has to be smiling.  In theory, former state Senator Russ Fulcher and Labrador will split the Tea Party vote, Ahlquist might win the southeast’s heavily LDS counties, but Little will win seven of the ten largest voting counties.
Little though, is going to have to win it; he is not going to inherit the office.  The likelihood of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter receiving an appointment in the Trump Administration is slim and none.
Otter is viewed as a johnny-come-lately by Trump supporters in Idaho.  It is no coincidence he was passed over in the contests for Interior, Agriculture and International Trade.  His ego would not let him accept a lesser position.
Idaho, according to a veteran Republican advisor, does not share national sentiment regarding right direction/wrong direction, which he believes works in Brad Little’s favor.  He points out that question begins almost all polls and Idahoans tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction, but Idaho is headed in the right diretion.
Outsiders like Ahlquist do better when people believe their state is headed in the wrong direction.  When people are satisfied with the way things are a non-previously elected candidate has a much tougher time.
Reading between the lines he is saying put your money on the “steady eddie” in the group, Brad Little, and the others, in particular Tom Ahlquist, no matter how much he may spend, would be a losing wager.
Labrador’s apparent decision to come home will set off a stampede of candidates. The early favorite has to be former Lt. Governor and Attorney General David Leroy.  Still sharp, charming, well conditioned and vigorous, he has better name id and a cadre of both new and veteran supporters who he has kept in touch with while traveling the district to give his speech on President Lincoln’s impact on Idaho.
Other aspirants are thought to be former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and State Representatives Brent Crane, Luke Malek and Brandon Hixson.

Note: Corrected to remove reference to Robert Huntley in list of candidates without previous government experience. He served in the legislature and was elected to the Supreme Court before running for governor.

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From time to time when out in public I’ll bump into a reader of the column or an old friend who inevitably asks how am I doing in dealing with my major health challenges. As they and a few others know, I have been combating a rare form of Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer which was diagnosed in November of 2005. I was given the proverbial six months left to live.

This, coupled with an earlier (1999) diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, as well as a few other maladies, makes me somewhat of a medical marvel to my team of doctors.

In responding I always thank them for their interest, and also thank them as a taxpayer for their assistance with ensuring my welfare because Medicare has paid a small fortune to my physician team aad to hospitals that have helped me fight so far with success. Costs have far exceeded what I paid in over the years.

This is my way of segueing to the current national political debate over the issue of ObamaCare, its alleged failures and the prospects for reform of our overly costly system of health care. Indeed, most folks who follow this debate will do so from the same place and ask the same question: How does this impact my family and me?

The unvarnished truth is there are features of ObamaCare that have been implemented which enjoy broad support and one can rest assured the Republican Congress will not touch these. The public now sees them as entitlements, and as such, they have become institutionalized.

These features include no denial of coverage for a pre-existing condition and no caps on the cost an individual may incur. I am and continue to be the beneficiary of these features. My critics may find it disconcerting to learn that through their paid taxes, especially Medicare, they are indirectly paying a part of the cost that keeps me on the sunny side of the earth.

Allow me to explain. After the initial diagnosis I sought a second opinion like everyone should The number of tumors on my liver, as well as the deterioration of the tri-cuspid valve, led doctors at M. D. Anderson in Houston to decline to even see me – the CT’s, MRI’s and blood work made it look hopeless. Administrative personnel at M.D. Anderson have since apologized and also have reviewed their entrance criteria.

I ended up at The new Huntsman Cancer Center attached to the University of Utah in Salt Lake. During the course of 2006 and early into 2007 I underwent five chemoembolization procedures where they enter a major artery and with an incredibly small wand are able to place the emolsion directly on the tumors to literally shatter them.

The last procedure at Huntsman involved placing radioactive pellets, Y-90, on the tumor remnants to ensure they are indeed killed. The pellets were flown in from Australia the day of the procedure. All of these procedures were of course expensive.

Mercifully, I stabilized and slowly began to regain weight and recover. There is no cure for this cancer, but we certainly knocked it back and have held it in check ever since.

During all the intervening years I monthly receive the maximum allowable amount of a sandostatin called Octreotide. I call it my “golden rear” shot because I receive half the dose in my left butt cheek and half in my right butt cheek. It is an expensive drug, one which I could not begin to afford did I have to pay the cost myself.

Fortunately for me, I am covered by Medicare and from the beginning I purchased the best supplemental insurance plan one could. Much as an insurance company might have wanted to deny me coverage they could not because ObamaCare prohibits denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

If Congress makes the mistake of repealing the act first without having put in place the replacement bill guaranteeing continued access and coverage, I’ll be at Raul Labrador’s door along with a thousand others.

One last note: I polled 12 of the doctors I have utilized over my 11 year battle as to whether they would not have preferred Congress to have expanded Medicare into a single payer system that cut insurance companies out altogether. To my surprise all 12 said yes, that it was the devil they knew and it was working. Like me, all Americans, especially those covered by Medicare should be watching carefully.

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The end of one year and the beginning of another is often a good time for reflection, introspection, and the reading of a book or two providing one with new information, insights and perspective.

Besides the fine memoir written by the 90-year-old former Idaho Second District Congressman, Orval Hansen, the subject of last week’s column, there are two other fine books published recently that should command attention.

The first is a fascinating compilation of anecdotes, stories, experiences, observations and reflections by Jim and Holly Akenson who spent a total of 7003 days in the Idaho backcountry serving as the caretakers of the University of Idaho’s Taylor Ranch on Big Creek a few miles upstream from its confluence with the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

This is deep in the heart of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. It takes a special kind of person to live and thrive off the grid and deep in a wilderness area. Jim and Holly, however, have what it takes, as do a few others who belong to the fraternity or sorority of wilderness thrivers.

What it takes is an ability to appreciate solitude, to treasure the wind soughing through the trees, to listen for the yip of the coyote, the howl of the wolf or the hoot of the owl. It takes appreciation for the isolation, and ability to sit quietly by a campfire watching the coals while a yarn is spun.

The book’s intrepid couple are both trained biologists so little escapes their eye, from discussing their use of pack mules, to staving off approaching fires, to talking with visiting dignitaries. And of course they hold Maurice Hornacher and his seminal studies on cougars in the Big Creek drainage in high regard.

Backcountry residents also form a special bond with the pilot who despite troublesome weather almost always gets their mail to them. For the Akenson’s it was most often Ray Arnold at the controls. In earlier times it was Sid Hinkle.

Once in a while one will stumble across these wilderness reincarnations of the elusive “RidgeRunner,” all of whom will describe the magic of the time they have spent in the backcountry. The chief editor of the Ridenbaugh Press, Linda Watkins, spent the better part of eight years as a cook and a ranch hand in the back country, for example.

Marty Smith, who owns Three Rivers Rafting, a firm that runs rafts and kayaks on the Selway and Lochsa, would spend every day of the year in the wilderness. Guests on his trips are always surprised when about half way through a trip he’ll casually mention that he graduated from Yale with a degree in history and played for Yale’s football team.

The book, 7003 Days, is published by Caxton Press of Caldwell.

Another book, A Little Dam Problem, published by Caxton, is worth one’s time even if they aren’t into the complexities of Idaho water law. Retiring Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court Jim Jones has done the public a favor by writing in clear, lucid language about the bitter dispute surrounding the re-licensing of the Swan Falls/Guffey dam.

Jones, who early in his career worked on the staff of Senator Len B. Jordan, it can safely be said, revered Senator Jordan. One can tell part of his mission was to hold Idaho Power to the commitment the company made in 1952 to subordinate their water rights to the upstream irrigation companies in exchange for Jordan’s suppport to build three smaller dams in Hells Canyon rather than one huge (larger than Grand Coulee) federal or privately built dam.

Idaho Power spends the next 40 years trying to renege on the agreement, but Jones, as Idaho’s then Attorney General, with the support of then Governor John Evans, won’t let Idaho Power squirm off the hook. It is an interesting tale well told by Jones.

Unfortunately, the book, while avoiding some legalese nonetheless is repetitive at times because the former AG merely slaps press releases and talking points he wrote together at various times rather than summarize and produce new narrative.

What is most entertaining is Jones’ description of matching wits with and out maneuvering Idaho Power’s salty, in-your-face chief lobbyist, Logan Lanham, and “Lanham Lite,” Greg Panter.

Jones also errs when he claims that while serving as President Jimmy Carter’s secretary of the Interior, former Governor Cecil Andrus entered the fray on the company’s side. This is simply not so. Anyone who has followed Andrus’ career knows Idaho Power never supported him, especially after his Public Utility Commission vetoed the proposed Pioneer coal-fired generation plant.

Nonetheless, Jones has written a fair account of one of those issues, had it gone the other way, could have been catastrophic for the state.

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There is a book that those who follow Idaho history and politics must read if they want to garner more insight into people who have helped shape what the great state is today. Entitled Climb the Mountains, it is the memoir of one of Idaho’s fine public servants, former Second District Congressman Orval Hansen.

Now 90 years young, he has written a fascinating account of his remarkable life that provides not only insight into some the historic issues he had a hand in shaping while a member of the Idaho Legislature from Idaho Falls and then Congress, but also demonstrates there are still decent dedicated public servants who can and do render real service to their constituents.

There are nuggets of gold and pearls of political wisdom throughout the book. For example, the young Hansen already having been defeated in 1962 by Democrat Ralph Harding from Blackfoot in a bid to win the Congressional seat, expresses ambivalence about seeking the seat in 1968 when incumbent George Hansen (no relation) leaves the post to challenge Frank Church for his Senate seat.

Orval receives encouragement, but also some unsolicited advice, the best of which comes from a Democratic friend, former State Auditor Cal Wright, who had run with out success for governor in 1950 against one of Hansen’s political idols, former Governor Len B. Jordan.

Wright wrote, “You got where you are by being who you are. Don’t change.” No truer words have ever been written. This memoir, without coming across as egotistical or narcissistic reveals well just who this quiet, understated person is. In doing so it offers a map to others who may want to pursue a career in politics.

The book’s title is taken from a favorite John Muir quote, and references what is a metaphor for Orval Hansen’s life. Turns out that the author, along with some of his brothers and some of his children, has climbed and summited mountains all over the globe, from Kilimanjaro in Africa to South America to Nepal. Indeed, it says much about his independence that he doesn’t hesitate to quote one of the saints of the American environmental movement.

The book begins with a description of a climb with two of his brothers in the Tetons. He concludes the chapter by writing, “I learned a lot about life from climbing mountains. . . .In many respects my experience climbing in the Tetons that day was a metaphor for my life.”

He distills what he has learned into six dictates:

· Set a goal
· Carefully plan
· Work hard
· Be adaptible
· Make sacrifices
· Be lucky

Much of the book shows how he applies these to his life. What really comes across to a reader, though, is what a decent, honest, modest, sensitive, kind and intelligent person he is.

This may explain in part why he appears to feel he accomplished much more as a State legislator than as a member of Congress. He is fully justified to cite as among his life’s accomplishments the establishment of the Office of Legislative Council, legislative reapportionment, reform of banking laws, and his role in 1965 as a member of the historic 38th Idaho Legislature which passed the first sales tax to pay for fully funding public education.

Among his colleagues in this endeavor were several who went onto further notable public service: Cecil D. Andrus, Jim McClure, and Perry Swisher.

He gives credit for much of his political success to three political mentors – former Governors Len B. Jordan and Robert Smylie, and Louise Shadduck, first a colleague when both worked for Henry Dworshak, and then his administrative assistant when in Congress.

Other chapters cover his Scandinavian heritage, growing up on a farm and the discipline it instilled, his involvement with the Future Farmers of America as well as Rotary International, and his two years as a Seaman Second class on the carrier Saratoga while in the Navy at the end of World War II.

He modestly cites his education at the University of Idaho, his law degree from George Washington University in D.C., his graduate work at the London School of Economics, his meeting and subsequent marriage to his British actress spouse, June, travels to other countries, running marathons in his 60’s and his love of reading and the out-of-doors.

His devotion to family and to his LDS faith come through actions, not so much in written words.

It is a good and enjoyable read that well tells the life of a remarkable Idahoan, a real life man for all seasons who is the living definition of a nice person and a superb public servant.

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Democrats across the nation and Idaho are engaged in a debate over the future direction of the party given its electoral loss of the presidency and continuing Republican gains at the state level.

In particular, there are those like Vice President Joe Biden, who openly criticize the failure of Hillary Clinton’s campaign to appeal to the traditional blue collar, middle class, white male worker who, if he has a job, worries about his company moving it overseas. For these usually reliable Democratic voters free trade has become a code phrase for job losses.

There are others, like former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, who also lament the failure of the Clinton campaign to appeal to rural voters who comprise 15% of the electorate. Ignoring the issue of job creation and the needs of these two major constituencies is what cost Mrs. Clinton her expected victory.

Others argue that the white male is increasingly becoming a distinct minority in the American electorate and the party should rely upon continued growth among Hispanics as well as other minorities, new immigrants, urban dwellers, environmentalists, computer nerds, gays and lesbians, and women voters. The changing demographics favor staying on the Clinton “coalition” message, they say.

There’s a third group that says Democrats can do both—work for more jobs, but not abandon the social message. The race for the new chairperson of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has become a proxy fight in this debate.

One would think Idaho’s contribution to this debate would be to remind fellow Democrats there was a time when the conservative Idaho Republican electorate voted for Democrats to be governor – for 24 years. The Democratic candidates had the right message and the party should return to that message.

What was that winning message? It was what its best explicator, Cecil Andrus, called the “three e’s”: Democrats had to work on expanding the Economic base of the state; they had to support fully funding public Education for schools are the engine room, and they had to stand for reasonable Environmental protection of the many special areas across Idaho.

Every member of the Democratic National Committee ought to have branded on their forehead the concisely stated Andrus philosophy: “First, you have to make a living. Then, you have to have a living worthwhile.” The road back starts with embracing a message that says we’re all about job creation – and the key to good well-paying jobs is a truly modern educational system coupled with a good environment where one can recreate during their time off.

One would think that would be the message for Democrats from Idaho to the DNC.

So what is Idaho’s message? It is that Idaho does not think “message change” is in order; rather, it thinks the DNC ought to change the messenger. And, oh, by the way, Idaho just happens to have the right messenger.

That’s correct, folks, the executive director of the Idaho Democratic Party, Sally Boynton-Brown, thinks she has “a unique skillset that joins high level strategic thinking with day-to-day operational execution.”

Many Democrats across the state challenge that claim, and with reason.

These critics correctly point out that while she has been executive director Idaho Democrats have never won a major statewide or federal office. Most believe a DNC chair has to have overseen a few wins.

Secondly, a DNC chair has to be able to raise money – lots of it. Literally, millions of dollars. They have to have extensive contact lists and have developed relationships with the party’s major heavy hitters. There is zero evidence that Ms. Boynton-Brown could do this.

In her e-mail announcement to fellow Idaho Democrats she claimed to be “accessible, responsive” and . . . . “a professional who people trust.” There are Democrats who would challenge all those claims.

Finally, contenders for the DNC often have to spend several hundred thousand dollars while seeking the designation. Few believe she has the resources (Though her husband may), whether her own or otherwise, to pursue the chair. Indeed, if she unilaterally spends any State Democratic funds without the explicit permission of the state party’s executive committee, there will be hell to pay.

She appears to think that since she is the only female among the seven current contenders, all the women on the DNC committee will fall in line. She also must think that her three years as chair of the Association of Democratic State Executive Directors will translate into votes.

That is dubious and almost laughable, much like the hyperbole in her announcement.

The on ramp to the freeway to ensure future success is the importance of walking the talk of job growth and the economy. It is not selecting a chair who more than likely will take the party down the exit ramp of a freeway.

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President-elect Donald Trump and his transition team continue to dish out surprises. The latest example is the bait and switch they pulled on Fifth District Congresswoman Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, 47, from Spokane. Leaks from the transition team to the media, in this case no less than the Wall Street Journal, led media to believe she was Trump’s choice to be the 52nd Secretary of the Interior.

She may have been the president-elect’s preference, but she wasn’t the choice of eldest son, Donald Junior. Both Junior and Eric Trump love to hunt, and Junior made it abundantly clear last October at a fund-raiser for his father in a hangar at the Boise Airport that the Trump family opposed selling off any federal land to states or private entities.

In an interview with the Spokesman-Review’s intrepid Boise reporter, Betsy Russell, Donald Junior mentioned that while working in Nevada he enjoyed hunting and the access to good hunting. He readily conceded the family might be out of step with Republican orthodoxy, but he firmly believed turning over federal land to the states would ultimately lead to public sale of those lands.

We may never know whether in her interview on Monday at the Trump Tower the congresswoman stuck to her position that some lands ought to be sold by the Feds to states because in part the need for a greater supply of timber for cutting, or she indicated she could tailor her view to conform with Junior’s bias.

If she stuck to her guns on principal that may have done her in or if she indicated she could adapt that may have come across as expediency and that could have done her candidacy a fatal blow also. The guess is she stuck to principle.

It is a safe bet that the freshman congressman from Montana, Rep. Ryan Zinke, hammered home his opposition to the sale of any federal lands to the states. This also cinched support for Zinke from many of the nation’s hunting groups.

Whatever the reason, it was unconscionable the manner in which the transition team floated her name as a trial balloon then took note on how many of their base interest groups took potshots.

It is also a shame because Cathy McMorris-Rodgers is a pragmatic conservative and not an ideologue. The Department of the Interior over the years has worked much better with the former and done much to thwart the latter. It’s the difference between former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, who was wildly successful, and James Watt, who was an enormous failure.

She is the true conservative, one who knows it is the root word of conservation, which means resource conversion, whether it is wheat into bread, timber into 2 x 4’s, or minerals into metals is done sustainably.

The League of Conservation Voters, prematurely opposed her nomination. That was a mistake. She is the highest ranking Republican woman in the Congress, and she didn’t get there by accident.

She would have listened to the LCV and other environmental groups’ views and while not necessarily endorsing them all, would have incorporated what she could where she could. With Zinke it will be all adversarial. The “take no prisoners” attitude on the part of the ex-Navy SEAL will be problematic.

The congresswoman also would have brought a far more extensive background in dealing with Interior-related issues to the post. Based on “time in grade” and experience alone she is far more qualified than Zinke.

She represents a sprawling district highly dependent on sustainable resource conversion. Vaagen Brothers Timber is a major employer, so she follows closely timber supply issues and served with distinction on a bi-partisan legislative task force that worked diligently on possible solutions to the supply challenges..

She is conversant with Native American issues because the district has four tribes with reservations and she has worked well with all of them..

Though Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation operates the Grand Coulee Dam, the National Park Service runs the National Recreation Area behind the dam. Her office frequently has dealt with Interior’s Fish nd Wildlife Service as well as the Endangered Species office.

She is probably one of the few people who knows that the dollars which flow into the Land and Water Conservation Fund to be used by Uncle Sam to purchase significant sites threatened by development come from the royalties Uncle Sam receives for off-shore oil and gas leases.

McMorris also understands the critical role Interior plays in Alaska. It’s a safe bet she and Senator Lisa Murkowski would have become good friends.

Yes, McMorris is a devout Christian, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. She walks the talk and lets her actions speak. Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan once wrote a book on President Reagan, entitled “When Character was King”.

If Donald Trump had selected Cathy McMorris-Rodgers to be his Interior Secretary, when her tenure was over people would know that character also has a queen.

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The late David Broder, a political columnist and the long-time chief political editor for The Washington Post, at the end of each year used to review his 52 plus columns, and then share with his readers his self-critique.

He highlighted columns where his crystal ball was clairvoyant as well as those that badly missed the mark. He enjoyed popping the balloon of “conventional wisdom” when it was wrong and he was correct. His goal was to provide insight, perspective, knowledge; and, hopefully give his reader the critical information one needs to make an informed decision, such as voting for a president.

He wanted to inform and educate. He was always fair and balanced, did his homework and kept his personal views out of the column. He surely would have subscribed to the trademark phrase of TV detective Jack Webb: “Just the facts, mam’, just the facts.”

Broder gave voice to the voiceless and a certain of amount of power to the powerless. They don’t come any better than David Broder. What follows is inspired by his excellent example.

1) Being first. It’s always gratifying when something one writes in a column is actually news worthy and note worthy. Topping the list was a column that appeared in late January that was one of the first in print to expose the American Redoubt movement as the reincarnation of the old posse comitatus gang cloaked in a toga of slightly more respectability.

The column came to the attention of Kevin Sullivan, a Pulitzer-prize winning reporter for the Washington Post who later in the year wrote several insightful articles. The column’s purpose was to flag to Idahoans a new group of extremists who could quickly remind the rest of the world that Idaho was once a haven for the racist, white supremist neo-Nazi movement.

Other columns revealing unique or breaking news included the rediscovery and re-publication of three lost novels written by Syd Duncombe, a much beloved political science instructor at the University of Idaho; a couple of columns endorsing Robyn Brody for a vacancy on the Idaho Supreme; a column showing that contrary to the myth that congressmen never go back to Pocatello, slightly more than half of Idaho’s congressmen had; and, a couple columns addressing solutions to the on-going issue of the declining salmon and steelhead runs on the Snake River.

2) Columns off the mark. Like almost every other political pundit I missed the significance of the chord of anger and frustration, especially across the white middle class, regardless of income or education, that Trump tapped. He was the only true outsider in the race and almost half of all voters wanted a non-politician.

Despite a column explaining why all polls were flawed, I still was sufficiently taken in by the Clinton p.r. machine that I missed the truly significant shift of the ground underfoot. There must have been at least a dozen columns ranting about Trump and the danger he could lead us into. Quite simply, I blew it.

3) Columns requiring corrections or apologies. Its always hard to admit a mistake, but I made two major ones for which I want to apologize. First apology goes to University of Idaho President Chuck Staben. I listened to only one side – those critical of his decision on rejoining the Big Sky Conference in football. It was just plain wrong for me to tell him to pack his bags.

I made two major journalistic blunders, the second being a failure not to have even talked to him to get his side of the story. I’m now convinced he’s doing a solid job. I hope he accepts the mea culpa.

I made the same mistake with Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas in part because I believe he was mislead by Governor Otter on the creation of a private/public partnership to establish a so-called Idaho Medical school in Nampa. So, apologies to Dr. Vailas, also.

In reviewing the columns I owe an apology to the reader for failure to always be balanced and fair. I recognized an element of cynicism crept into the columns, that at times I was downright snarkey. The column is well received by all the state’s political cognoscenti to whom I have an obligation to provide an informed and interesting perspective they might otherwise not see.

You have my promise to do better in 2017.

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Unless one attended the University of Idaho during the late 60’s or the 70’s and 80’s, chances are good they have never heard of Syd Duncombe.

Not one to toot his own horn, he was nonetheless one of the most beloved instructors on the campus. Several generations of future Idaho political leadership started to learn the craft in Duncombe’s political science courses.

A case can be made for putting him on the 100 Most Politically Influential Idahoans list. The list of Duncombe’s accolytes and fans is a virtual Who’s Who of Idaho political leadership: Dirk Kempthorne, a former governor, senator and Interior secretary; Larry Craig, former senator; Steve Symms, former member of Congress and senator; David Leroy, former attorney general and lieutenant governor; Robie Russell, former Region 10 EPA Director; Jim Risch, a former governor and current senator; and, Phil Reberger, a former Kempthorne chief of staff, to name just a few.

Duncombe was noted for keeping his students engaged by a facility to costume dress coupled with role playing. His lectures were often SRO. His enthusiasm for politics was infectious.

One of the paradoxes for Duncombe was almost all his students, especially those who later ran for office, became or were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. Duncombe was a life-long Democrat and as recently as 2012, a daughter, Mary Ellen Haley, was defeated in a race for a legislative seat in Idaho Falls while running as a Democrat.

Duncombe, however, was not a hard partisan and worked in a very non-partisan way with governors and legislators on both sides of the aisle.

Duncombe was introduced to the then young State Senator Cecil D. Andrus from Clearwater County by Gordon Law, an instructor in the television/radio bureau (the forerunner of KAID-Television and the IPTV) at a reception on campus in the fall of 1965. Both Duncombe and his wife, Mary, became life-long Andrus supporters suffering through the double loss in the 1966 gubernatorial race and the comeback victory in 1970.

Shortly after his victory Andrus asked Duncombe, who had been a budget analyst for the state of Ohio before entering academia, to help him put together his first budget, a task which Duncombe took to with relish.

He did such a good job that Andrus offered him the post of State Budget director, but Duncombe, who had worked on a volunteer basis, declined not wanting to give up his tenured position at the University of Idaho. He remained a close friend and advisor to Andrus even after he retired from teaching in 1987 shortly after Andrus began his second stint as Idaho governor.

When not teaching Duncombe loved to backpack various wilderness parts of Idaho often leading family members into remote mountain lakes in the Sawtooths or the Big Horn Crags.

In his retirement, unbeknown to any but a few family members and close friends, Duncombe took up writing fiction with political machinations and mystery woven into fascinating plots. Using an old typewriter he pounded out several books that drew on his knowledge of politics as well as the role budget directors play in government.

The result was two fine reads, The Unlikely Candidate, the story of a retired budget director who runs for the Idaho State Senate as a way to expose budget shenanigans by a governor, and Freedom County, a murder mystery that is set in a county that is a cross between Lemhi and Custer counties that is taken over by the posse comitatus.

Duncombe’s third novel, Blizzard in August, is based on a true incident, a freakish late August blizzard that beset the Sawtooths in 1969 and caught many backpackers unprepared for such weather in late summer.

Anyone who has hiked the Sawtooths will recognize the settings and it also has a romance element including a sex scene that surely embarrassed Duncombe’s family.

All three of these books were self-published and never marketed, so only a few folks were aware of their existence. The books were rediscovered last year and the family was approached on republishing them with some marketing support. The family agreed with their share of sales proceeds being contributed to the Syd Duncombe scholarship in political science fund at the University of Idaho.

Randy Stapilus, a former Idaho newsman who has specialized in books on Idaho politics well as other things, his firm, through Ridenbaugh Press, agreed to republish the books with new forwards written by former students of Duncombe’s. The Communications Department at the university is assisting with some target marketing to Idaho alums.

Look for the books at a bookstore near you or go to RidenbaughPress.com for more information. The set of three makes a terrific Christmas gift for any one who loves politics and Idaho.

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Once again inhabitants of the pacific northwest’s Columbia River basin are being put through an “examine your belly button” exercise regarding the future of the four Lower Snake River dams and their adverse impact upon migrating salmon and steelhead.

This is the fourth time a Federal District judge has ordered the Bonneville Power Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Reclamation; and, NOAA Fisheries to go back to the drawing board.

The flaw the court finds is the inadequacy of the agencies examination of the “remove the four dams” option. A team from those agencies spends years and millions of dollars developing a “BIOP” or the biological opinion on operation of the dams and the consequent environmental impact.

When the judge agrees with plaintiffs, again, almost always lead by a contingent of fish and wildlife adherents, such as Save Our Salmon and the National Wildlife Federation, he finds the biological opinion to be insufficient. This time, though, the judge added a twist saying the EIS also had to be redone because the previous one, started in the 90’s was clearly outdated.

Federal agencies have become “sophisticated” about public input to the process required by law. Rather than hold a formal hearing they have adopted the “information session” model. One is told that for several hours an “open house” will be held and the public is invited to see static displays. Unfortunately, these displays seldom say one word about why an EIS is underway nor is there any admission regarding their defeat in the court.

This column has two recommendations to the agencies:

(1) Expand the BIOP and EIS task force by providing a seat at the table to Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service and to the EPA. It is a no brainer that adding the agencies which have expertise in environmental law will ensure a better more complete analysis. To date they have been excluded.

(2) Have a section that examines options for paying for dam removal if ordered by the court. An often heard refrain is even if a court orders the four dams breached Congress will never appropriate the funds. That’s probably correct. Are there other ways to obtain the funding? Yes.

Congress passes legislation that mandates the BPA to accelerate the pay-off of the Federal debt it owes to the Treasury for the construction costs of the Federal Base System (the dams). The legislation mandates the FBS be sold to the four northwest states for a reasonable price. The four states reincorporate BPA with the Northwest Power Planning Council becoming the board of directors. The new entity is to work out a lease agreement with the Army Corps and the Bureau of Reclamation to continue operating the dams with the excess revenue from power sales beyond standard costs of operation and maintenance for the dams and upgrades on transmission lines being distributed to the four states on the basis of population.

This could bring new revenue to these states in the billions of dollars. It would facilitate investing in new infrastructure and help cover the costs of the states’expanding needs without any new tax increases. A small portion of the excess revenue would be diverted to a fund that would be drawn upon to pay for breaching the dams.

Far-fetched? Not really. BPA’s outstanding debt right now is $15.2 billion. Last year, BPA made a higher than average payment to the Treasury of $1.9 billion. In earlier years payment on principal and interest had been approximately $1 billion, but over the last three years BPA has made higher than average payments.

The average interest BPA calculates and includes is 5.11%. The $15.2 billion includes both non-federal debt (which has a priority) and the federal debt. On the surface then, accelerating the debt repayment and then selling the system back to the region looks doable. BPA could help the proposed process by renegotiating the interest rate given that home loan mortgage rates are currently hovering around 3%.

BPA could also drop out of its “o and m” costs the massive subsidies that undergird supposed efforts to restore salmon and steelhead fisheries. To some, items like “the Columbia Basin Accords” look like nothing less than legal bribery – payments to fish and wildlife agencies and tribes not to talk about breaching the four lower Snake dams through 2018.

BPA officials will argue that for years they have been operating on a plan which would never have them paying off the debt completely primarily because they do crank so many other costs into the budget and are constantly reinvesting in system upgrades.

More than anything agency chiefs and the region’s political leadership have to recognize where there’s a will there’s a way. For too long too many have just paid lip service to the law’s requirement that the fish runs be restored. Creative thinking has to be undertaken, collective will has to be established and the dams breached. This proposal could be a win/win for all and achieve removal of the four lower Snake dams without using taxpayer money.

Does anyone have a better idea?

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By all the traditional political metrics Lt. Governor Brad Little should be the prohibitive favorite to be Idaho’s next governor. For years he has traveled Idaho showing up at county fairs, board of education meetings, and always at Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s side during the governor’s numerous “Capitol for a Day” sessions.

As governor when Otter is out of state he has been the “real” governor well over a year. Reportedly, he has already accumulated $250,000 for what could be a $4 million dollar campaign just to obtain the Republican nomination.

He meets people well, is thoughtful, intelligent, personable and a solid conservative befitting the successful rancher he is. He is not an ideologue and therein may be his challenge.

Idaho’s Republican Party is veering to the “Tea Party” extreme right which expects rigid adherence to a party platform that contains items such as repeal of the 17thamendment which created the popular vote for U.S. senators, who originally were elected by state legislatures. To Little’s credit he does not agree with every item in that agenda.

In the mind of others that has created an opening to challenge him and some dare to accuse him of being a RINO (Republican in Name Only).

Former Meridian State Senator Russ Fulcher, who came close to upsetting Governor Otter in the 2014 GOP primary, quickly stepped into the breach, wasting no time in announcing his candidacy shortly after Little made his declaration.

If Fulcher hoped to pre-empt the Tea Party support and keep First District Congressman Raul Labrador in the nation’s capital, he failed. Numerous reports are circulating through Republican circles with some prominent behind-the-scenes players flat stating Labrador will declare for governor one day after he takes the oath of office sometime in the first week of January, 2017, as a member of the new Congress.

Further confirmation of the congressman’s intentions come from reports that former Idaho Lt. Governor and Attorney General David Leroy is forming an exploratory committee to gauge support for a bid to replace Labrador in Congress in 2018. The Lewiston native is one of the most astute political animals around. It is unfathomable to think he would let word start to spread unless he was sure the seat will be open.

Other possible aspirants to succeed Labrador include Third District State Senator Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene; Fourth District State Representative Luke Malek, from Coeur d’Alene; and, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmeyer. A dark horse possibility would be Sandy Patano, the former State chief of staff for Senator Larry Craig.

Little recognizes that Labrador could be a serious roadblock to his gubernatorial ambitions. That alone may be the answer to why Little chose to split with Governor Otter on passage of HJR 5, which some major members of Idaho business wanted badly. It should have been entitled the “Expand the influence of Lobbyists Act.” Little kow-towed to the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) in part because he did not want to create an opening for Labrador.

While there are mixed views about Labrador there is no one in Idaho’s political cognoscenti who does not recognize his considerable skills. He has demonstrated both when in the Idaho Legislature and the Congress that he is not afraid to take on his party’s leadership. And like legislative leadership, during the last election cycle Labrador reportedly donated almost $20,000 from his own campaign PAC to Republican state legislators in contested races.

In doing so he may have hurt himself with some of his Tea Party base. For example, his PAC contributed $500 to Rep. Caroline Nilsson-Troy’s re-election even though Tea Party favorite Ken DeVries, from St. Maries, was running as an independent in the 5th district house seat.

Nothing prevents him, either, from converting his congressional PAC to his campaign for governor.

Labrador is on record saying his decision to leave D.C. will be based in part on whether he feels he has accomplished or put in motion to accomplish immigration reform and criminal justice reform. Beauty though is in the eye of the beholder and he can define progress and success.

On criminal justice reform Labrador deserves credit for his ability to work constructively with Democrats, such as the recently retired Virginia Senator James Webb.

There is a fourth possible gubernatorial aspirant that neither Little nor Fulcher nor Labrador can ignore—-Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Now in his fourth term, he is a proven vote-getter and has a reputation for thoughtful, solid work. Given his canny handli

ng of the Department of Energy’s inept handling of the Batt Nuclear Waste Clean Up agreement, Wasden owns that issue.

Most political observers know that any primary with more than three contenders gets hard to predict. From Little’s standpoint it should be the more the merrier.

The fun is just starting.

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