Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


Idaho’s 26th Secretary of State, the talented and well-liked Ben Ysursa, when campaigning to succeed his old boss and fellow Basque, the long-serving and never beaten Pete T. Cenarrusa, would often look an audience straight in the eye and without blinking in a perfect dead-pan manner say that a little known clause in Idaho’s Constitution required the office of Secretary of State be held by a person of Basque origin.

One can forgive any Idahoan for thinking that must be true since between Cenarrusa (36 years) and Ysursa (12 years) the office has been held by men of Basque origin and heritage for almost 50 years. Like Cenarrusa, Ysursa could hold the office for as long as he wants.

He is a young 64 years of age and he draws support not just from Republicans but also independents and Democrats. When running for his third term in 2010, even former four-term Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus’ SUV sported a Ysursa bumper sticker.

Ysursa, though, is rumored to be giving serious thought to retiring. When asked by supporters, friends and reporters, Ysursa gives the same answer—-he’ll announce his intentions at the end of this year.

A native of Boise and a 1967 graduate of Bishop Kelly, he obtained his B.A. from Gonzaga University (Yes, Ben is true Zagnaut and follows the Zag basketball team religiously), then went on to St. Louis University where he received his law degree in 1974 and was admitted to the Idaho bar the same year.

He joined Cenarrusa’s staff in 1974 and quickly rose to the position of chief deputy and heir apparent. Thus, by the end of 2014 he will have spent almost 40 years serving the people of Idaho. No one could blame him for retiring to enjoy his “golden years” with wife Penny, their three children and their grandchildren.

Idaho Republicans of course want him to run again because he’s a sure winner and he helps the GOP to keep control of Idaho’s important Land Board. Additionally, there is no obvious heir apparent inside the office like Ysursa was inside Cenarrusa’s office.

If Ysursa does retire, the smartest move Idaho’s Democrats could make would be to recruit the best known Basque in their ranks—Boise Mayor Dave Bieter.

The popular Boise mayor has of course generated speculation he might be seeing a future governor when he looks in the mirror during his morning shave. Thus, his name is prominent when folks play the parlor game of who could the Democrats run for governor in 2014 and who could beat Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, or whomever emerges from the GOP’s closed primary.

Bieter, though, is reportedly leaning towards seeking another term as mayor. His wife is also supposed to be opposed to his seeking the governorship, and there are some Democrats who seriously question whether the mayor has the fire in his belly to run for governor.

A clear indication that he’s looking more towards running for mayor again was his attempt earlier this year to woo talented Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Mike Kennedy away from north Idaho to come to Boise and be his chief of staff.

Kennedy was reportedly intrigued by the offer but decided his family obligations and his commitment to business partner, Coeur d’Alene investor and real estate magnate, Steve Meyer, dictated he remain in the north.

Kennedy is a veteran of several Democratic statewide campaigns, however, and would be an invaluable asset in any statewide race Bieter might make. One suspects though that Kennedy, like Bieter and other political pundits, questions whether Bieter could win a race for governor.

In fact, Kennedy announced this past week he was bowing out of politics for awhile and would neither run for a third-term as a City Councilman nor seek the mayorship of Coeur d’Alene.

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carlson CHRIS


Without question the most powerful and influential native Idahoan on the national political scene today is Bruce Reed. He currently is Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff, was once the executive director of the Simpson/Bowles Commission charged with addressing America’s fiscal challenges, and headed up the Democratic Leadership Council which is where he first met President Bill Clinton.

President Clinton made him director of domestic policy and Reed became one of the President’s must trusted advisors. He also is facing what psychologists like to call a classic “approach/approach conflict.” More on that in a moment.

Besides being exceptionally bright, Reed is also a gifted writer and superb maker of memorable phrases. No doubt this is partly a function of his obtaining an M.A. in English Literature while attending Oxford on a prestigious Rhodes scholarship.

Reed literally cut his teeth in politics on his mother’s knees as Mary Lou Reed served as a State Senator from Kootenai County for ten years. She is also a founding member of the Idaho Conservation League, which turns 40 this year. His father, Scott, is a distinguished lawyer who specializes in, among other subjects, water law. Scott’s only Idaho peer on this subject may be Twin Falls attorney John Rosholt.

Reed was born and raised in Coeur d’Alene, graduating from Coeur d’Alene High School in 1978, and from there went to Princeton, where he graduated in 1982. Following the completion of his M.A. at Oxford he landed a job in 1985 as a speechwriter for future Vice President Al Gore, for whom he worked for four years.

He then took on the task of editing the magazine, The New Democrat, for the Democratic Leadership Council, an organization comprised primarily of centrists Democrats who quietly worked to reclaim their party from the more liberal elements that predominated in the 70’s and early 80’s. He became policy director of the DLC in 1990 and 1991 during Clinton’s chairmanship, then became the deputy campaign manager for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992.

During his tenure as director of the Domestic Policy Council he helped write the 1996 Welfare Reform bill which he called “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act.” He is the author of such memorable phrases as “end welfare as we know it” and “change you can, Xerox.”

In 2010 he took on the task of ramrodding the Simpson/Bowles Fiscal Reform Commission which many believe laid out the best path forward to ultimately balance the budget, reform entitlements and return the United States to fiscal sanity.

In January, 2011, he became the Vice President’s chief of staff, a post from which he wields enormous behind-the-scenes influence. In some respects Reed fits the mold of the classic “Shadow Shogun,” the power behind the throne in Japanese history. This is not a perfect parallel because no one would characterize Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, or Joe Biden as figureheads.

Reed’s skill in fashioning speeches and authoring memorable phrases though gives the wordsmith unrivaled influence. His most recent buffo performance was the speech he wrote for President Clinton to deliver at the 2012 Democratic National Convention. Universally acclaimed, many pundits felt it clinched President Barack Obama’s re-election.

So what’s the approach/approach conflict looming for the most influential Idahoan on the national scene? Reed has deep and abiding loyalty to the Clintons. His looming dilemma is he also admires and respects his current boss who has always wanted to be president. If, as many expect, Hillary runs for the presidency in 2016, most inside speculation is Biden will not give way.

Both will want the talented 53-year old Reed. Who does he choose? Undoubtedly, he and wife Bonnie (also from Coeur d’Alene) will cross that bridge when and if they come to it. Only they know.

Regardless, later this week Reed is speaking to the annual meeting of the Idaho Bar Association meeting in Coeur d’Alene. He may even be asked the question, but he learned long ago not to answer speculative questions. No doubt though he will provide insightful remarks and the Idaho Bar should be honored to have one of the most politically influential Idahoans ever addressing them.

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carlson CHRIS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why be a sacrificial lamb? Why bother?

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carlson CHRIS


July 3rd marks the 123rd anniversary of Idaho’s admittance into the union of states we call the United States. A 43rd star went onto America’s flag. Across Idaho this year, though, the focus has been primarily upon the 150th anniversary of the creation of Idaho as a territory within the union.

Nothing wrong with that as long as Idahoans, as they prepare for the 4th of July festivities, also take a moment to reflect on the great state we are privileged to inhabit and to offer thanks as the state’s birthday is duly noted.

Some accuse me of being almost snobbish in the pride I take in being a native born Idahoan. Whenever I re-enter Idaho upon returning from a journey to a neighboring state or a foreign land, to the embarrassment of those with me, I sing loudly and often off-key (I’m told I’m tone deaf), the State song, “Hear We Have Idaho.”

During the recent book promotion tour Randy Stapilus and I took around the Gem state we were the program at the Twin Falls Rotary. Can’t begin to tell you how pleased I was that the Twin Falls Rotary still has as a standard part of its program the singing of the state song.

The following day when we were introduced as guests at the Pocatello Rotary I could not help contrasting the failure of the Pocatello Rotary to sing the state song. It’s a tradition one hopes all service clubs around Idaho will maintain.

Thinking about Idaho’s sesquintennial celebration of territorial status led to memories of Idaho’s wonderful statehood centennial celebration in 1990. Extremely well organized by a commission headed by Wallace businessman Harry F. Magnuson, with Marty Peterson serving as the executive director to oversee the almost flawless implementation of various local celebrations at the county level, Idahoans everywhere radiated pride.

Like many families, the Briggs clan (originally from Twin Falls, Gooding and Pocatello) held a family reunion in Garden Valley coincidental with the concluding celebratory activities of the Centennial and we watched the grand finale on television from Boise’s Bronco Stadium where a full house crowd of 35,000 people roared their approval as a certain tall, bald-headed governor, doffed his Stetson in a sweeping salute to the people of this great state.

Then I came across an old yellowing copy of a wonderful tabloid newspaper put together by Idaho’s weekly and daily newspapers in 1976 as a salute to the nation’s bicentennial. Printed by the Twin Falls Times-News (Wiley Dodds was the production manager and Bill Howard was the project’s business manager), it had items of historical significance and short biographies on various Idahoans who had achieved success in a number of endeavors over the years.

The project was spearheaded by Hope Kading, then chair of the Idaho Parks Foundation and a member of the Idaho Bicentennial Commission. The list of contributors from Idaho’s newspaper industry reads like a “Who’s Who” of leading journalists over the years: John Corlett, Jerry Gilliland and Jim Poore of the Idaho Statesman; Dick High, Dave Horsman, Bart Quesnell and George Wiley of the Times-News; Butch Alford and Jay Shelledy of The Lewiston Tribune; Dave Morrissey of the Idaho State Journal; Ted Stanton and David Johnson of the Daily Idahoanian.

Television and radio contributions came from luminaries like Mindy Cameron, Paul J. Schneider, Vern Nelson, and Jean Hochstrasser. Other contributions came from state agency public information officers, as well as folks like Arthur Hart and Judith Austin at the State Historical Society and Idaho history buffs like Louise Shadduck, then representing Idaho’s timber industry.

The publication is chock full of information that reminds one that it is Idaho’s people as well as the unique state we inhabit that exist in a combination found nowhere else.

As we take time to reflect about Idaho on July 3rd, let’s hope that on July 4th we will also reflect on what makes the United States the shining city on the hill Ronald Reagan often spoke so eloquently about, a nation and a melting point of people unlike any other gathering in history.

Let this also serve as a reminder to those Tea Party types that espouse the terrible notion of nullification and a state’s questionable right to secede that when we all stand and recite the pledge of allegiance to that flag that has Idaho’s 43rd star on it, we altogether say the words “one nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.”

Have a happy 3rd and 4th of July.

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carlson CHRIS


Sent a letter off to Governor C/L. “Butch” Otter this week asking him to take the lead among northwest governors and abolish the Northwest Power and Conservation Council. The request is a formal follow up to the case I made about the irrelevancy of the Council in today’s energy environment in my recent book, Medimont Reflections.

Copies were sent to Governor Otter’s other northwest colleagues – Washington Governor Jay Inslee, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber, and Montana Governor Steve Bullock. Additional copies were sent to Washington’s senior U.S. Senator, Patty Murray, to Steve Crow – the Council’s executive director, and to Idaho’s two members on the Council, Bill Booth, from Hayden Lake, and Jim Yost, from Boise.

Fact is, the Council has been a colossal failure, especially in its stated mission to enhance and protect dwindling wild salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Fact is the Council has overseen the wastage of billions of ratepayer dollars in a futile effort to come up, along with other Federal agencies, a biologically protective dam operations plan (called “Bi-ops”) that will meet the test of Federal District Court approval.

Fact is the Council has spent in excess of $221 million to operate during its 32 years of existence but has virtually nothing to show for the ratepayer’s investment. In late March Bonneville produced a summary sheet of the amount of dollars spent, and the amount of revenue lost, trying to enhance wild fish runs during the first 11 years of this new century.

The total sum was a stunning, staggering $7.35 billion. Incredible. And what do they have to show the ratepayers for this outlay? Virtually nothing. By any standard, they have failed in their mission and should be abolished.

The 1980 Act that established the Council also provided a formula for funding the Council – a percentage of the anticipated annual firm power sales. It roughly was the equivalent of about $2 million a year.

Full disclosure on my part: as the first Idaho appointee to the Council I played a significant role in making sure the first budget had enough to set up offices in Montana and Idaho for those states Council members so as to be able to match the downriver states Council offices which were supported by much larger state energy offices.

Thus, the first budget came in at three times the limit, a number slightly in excess of $6 million. This was enough to cover set up costs and required a waiver from the Bonneville Power Administration’s new chief executive and administrator, Peter Johnson, himself an Idahoan and the former chairman of Idaho-based Trus-Joist Corporation. I never dreamed that subsequent annual budgets would remain in the range of annually expending between $6 and $8 million dollars.

No organization likes to sunset itself or admits it has failed its mission.

The 1980 law, however, presciently saw that the Council could fail and provides a simple mechanism for disbanding it. Three of the region’s four governors merely have to write the Interior Secretary and request it be disbanded and it will be.

Do I expect this happen? No. Even though Governor Otter likes to talk the need to shrink government, when asked earlier this month on KLIX radio in Twin Falls whether he would support disbanding the Council quickly rose to its defense and claimed it played a useful role though he could not cite any specifics.

The fact is the Council positions have become well-paid plum appointments, patronage appointments, if you will that a governor can reward a friend or strong supporter with and not worry about the perception of wasting dollars on an entity more known now for junkets and endless hearings around the region than any substantive achievement. Money after all for the Council primarily comes from downstream ratepayers, not Idaho taxpayers.

Governor Otter should reconsider his position and walk his talk about shrinking needless entities, but he won’t. Just as he won’t respond to my letter. Politicians now days don’t respond to critics, especially in a one-party state where they constantly get away with ignoring those who disagree with them. Another word for such behavior is hypocrisy.

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carlson CHRIS


The walking, talking embodiment of the mythical free market in Idaho today is Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He called a few weeks ago and asked if we could get together and get acquainted while he was in the north country on other business.

No harm in getting acquainted I thought, though for Wayne, there was some “harm” encountered. It seems the speeding ticket he received was because he was running late for our get together at an Irish Pub on Lake Drive in Coeur d’Alene.

Though we are polar opposite on many things, there are some issues where we have commonality – government over-reaching and the public’s loss of trust in government “honesty” at all levels, for example.

It was a pleasant enough discussion but when he used the phrase “free market” as in “we have to return to a true free market” I took strong exception.

I will tell you what I told Wayne. That fight was fought and lost 80 years ago, and there’s no going back. Franklin Delano Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in 1932. Roosevelt was the architect of government intervention in the so-called free market.

In order to fight the Great Depression and assist truly desperate Americans he campaigned on the federal government as the only entity that could protect the public from the excesses and vagaries of the private sector.

Hoover, a businessman and engineer, was the apostle of the private sector and the free market and he was soundly trounced. Ever since then there has been an inexorable pull of more and more governmental intervention the result of which is a “controlled market” and an international economy that is dominated by multinational corporations.

The fact is today our economy is riddled with subsidies for just about any conceivable interest. The subsidies are so rife and so numerous there is no way a majority of the electorate would ever sign off putting itself at the mercy of the private sector and the winners vs. losers free market.

The biggest mistake Mitt Romney made in the presidential election was miscalculating and then denigrating the 47% of the public he said in effect were takers living off of the in theory 53% producers.

In a sense he had the numbers reversed: 53% of the electorate likes its subsidies, whether it is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or one’s deduction for their mortgage payments. A majority believes they are better off with their entitlements, and yes, dependency, than believe the GOP philosophy of so-called free market and self-reliance.

So what is your favorite subsidy from the taxpayer, Wayne? Do you take the personal mortgage deduction? Will you turn back your social security check when you reach retirement? Will you enroll in Medicare when you can? Will you accept government help if struck with a catastrophic disease like cancer or Parkinson’s.

I have both PD and a rare form of an always fatal neuro endocrine cancer. My subsidy is a chemotherapy shot of a sandostatin once a month that I call my “golden rear” shot. I receive half in one rear cheek and half in the other. When I walk out of the Cancer Care Northwest office my rear is literally “gold.” That one shot costs $13,000 each month.

I was given six months in November of 2005, but I’m still here managing my diseases courtesy of good insurance, the government’s Medicare program, and lots of prayer from friends and family.

That’s my major subsidy, Wayne. And I know this: left to your mythical free market I would have been dead years ago.

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carlson CHRIS


Idaho’s political cognoscenti (a nice way of saying “junkies”) would probably agree with the statement that historically most of Idaho’s outstanding governors first cut their teeth with service in the Idaho Legislature.

Democrats like John Evans and Cecil Andrus, and Republicans like Phil Batt and C.A. “Doc” Robins come immediately to mind.

Conversely, governors who have struggled to govern well and often clashed with the Legislature’s leadership seldom have any legislative service or at best one term in the distant past. Current Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter and former Governor Dirk Kempthorne immediately come to mind.

Politics is all about relationships, and working with fellow citizens for the common good. It is not for the faint-hearted and as has been often pointed out it is a contact sport. Governors who emerge from the Legislature have built-in advantages regarding relationships with fellow legislators and often a solid knowledge of the state’s budget as well as how state agencies operate.

On June 5 a panel at Idaho State University co-sponsored by the Idaho State Journal. Purpose of the panel was to discuss the future direction of Idaho’s politics. Not surprisingly I predicted that Governor Otter would seek a third term largely because both he and First Lady like the limelight.

His paucity of accomplishments when one looks at his dismal record makes one wonder why he would even want a third term. In this writer’s opinion the litany of failures does not begin to warrant re-election, but he is the incumbent and incumbents tend to win.

I also predicted First District congressman Raul Labrador would not challenge Butch but instead would stay in the Congress, and that his reelection campaign would be run by John Foster, a former aide to one-term Democratic congressman Walt Minnick. Foster has since become a Republican and emphatically denies he will be running Labrador’s campaign.

I surprised the audience though when I said if Otter did not run there were only four Republicans I considered to be really qualified to be governor:

Lt. Governor Brad Little, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Sandpoint State Senator Shawn Keough, and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis from Idaho Falls.

Besides Senator Davis, there was one other panel member that as we went along I realized had the potential to be a good governor – former Democratic Pocatello State Representative James Ruchti, who served in the House from 2006 through 2010.

A 1993 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, Ruchti completed his fiveyear obligation and was honorably discharged. He went on to the University of Idaho Law School from which he received his Juris Doctorate in 2001.

He has been in private practice ever since. Though he loved the Legislature he left to pay more attention to his law practice and generate more income to ensure he and wife Wendy’s two children would be well-educated.

Ruchti gave several well-worded and thoughtful answers to questions from the audience and pre-empted every panel member on a question about whether a controversial city ordinance regarding additional protection’s for the Gay, Lesbian and Trans-Gender community should be put to a city-wide vote.

“You don’t vote on human rights, period,” Ruchti said. It was an answer every panel member appeared to agree with, including Majority Leader Davis, who also provided the audience with thoughtful, well-considered answers.

Ruchti ended the panel session with an impassioned plea for Idaho to come up with another true transformational leader to overcome the harsh partisan environment, a leader who could inspire the voters to follow a more constructive path.

In my book Idaho’s Democrats would be smart to look to Ruchti to carry their gubernatorial banner in 2014 rather than Boise school board president A.J. Balukoff, a retired Certified Public Accountant who though a passionate advocate for education and a genuine philanthropist, has no legislative experience.

Idaho’s Republicans would be smart also to keep grooming the solid bench they have in Little, Bedke, Keough and Davis. All are thoughtful conservatives who understand governors are elected to solve problems. None are lock-step ideologues who will toady to the absurdities of the Tea Party kooks in their midst.

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carlson CHRIS


It is becoming increasingly clear in this day of instant communication and 24/7 news coverage almost everyone is going to have their 15 seconds of fame before television cameras. We all watch with amazement at times at the incredibly stupid things some people say to their embarrassment in front of cameras.

Conversely, one can always tell if a person has had media training because they stay on their message regardless of what the reporter may be asking.

In the interests of keeping any of my readers from embarrassing themselves allow me to offer a few tips on what to use when being interviewed by a reporter:

Rule #1: Never repeat the negative, which also almost always means never repeat the question back to the reporter. The media always asks questions in the negative: “Mr. Nixon, are you a crook?” It was answered by “I am not a crook!” Remember the headline?

In fact, anytime you find yourself defining something by a negative, stop and repeat as a positive. Think how many people define themselves by saying what they are not instead of what they are. At all costs avoid using negatives of any kind.

If a reporter says “Aren’t you misleading the viewers? John Jones says you are.” You don’t say “no, I’m not misleading the viewer.” That’s repeating the negative. Instead, you respond “John Jones is wrong. Here are the facts (or here is the truth).” You come back with a positive statement.

Use of the word “not” in any circumstance should be the big flag to you.

Not is negative, pure and simple.

Rule #2. Stay on your message. If you decide to do an interview, do so with a clear thought of what message you want to deliver regardless of what question the reporter asks. The reporter always has his or her pre-conceived idea of what they want you to say, but it’s your interview and you decide what you want to say.

One of the best examples of staying on message was a CNN interview early one morning with Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire businessman running for governor of Florida in 2012. His message was he was all about creating jobs and he had the know how to do so.

No matter what question the reporter asked he brought it back to his message that he was all about jobs. Every answer was “jobs.” He was relentless.

So what if the reporter got frustrated? Scott got his message across.

Incidentally, he won.

Rule #3: Master the technique of “blocking and bridging.” This is the device that enables you to stay on message. It simply means you quickly dispense with the question you’re being asked, that is you block the thrust of what the reporter is asking and you bridge to what you want to say.

For example the reporter says “isn’t it true you’ve lost ground to your competitor?” You respond “I’m here to discuss the processes in place that will restore us to primacy in the marketplace—they are a,b and c. . . . you don’t talk about the competition nor do you even accept the premise of the reporter’s question, you block and bridge to your positive message.

Rule #4: Look at the reporter and smile as much as possible. Don’t look at the camera. And always look the reporter straight in the eye, don’t be looking over their shoulder or to the side – if you do it comes across on camera as shifty eyed.

Rule #5: The mike is always on! Never say a word you don’t want recorded and if you act like the mike is always on you’ll never be embarrassed by an open mike which has tripped up some of the best from time to time, even the Great Communicator himself, Ronald Reagan.

Rule 6#: Never assume a reporter is your friend. They are after a story and if they can lull you into a false sense of security so that you say something you don’t want others to see or hear, for them it is a better story.

If they end up getting you to embarrass yourself, laugh at the wrong time, cry or say something profane so much the better because television is an emotional medium.

Keep these simple rules in mind and your 15 seconds of fame won’t live in infamy and eternal embarrassment for you. Now go do that interview and remember you’re in control.

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carlson CHRIS


An edited excerpt from Chris Carlson’s new book, Medimont Reflections, about the idea of breaching Snake River dams – and the effect on Lewiston.

Ed Chaney has been correct all along. So has my Columbia classmate, Pat Ford. From their first appearances before the Northwest Power Planning Council in 1981, through all the intervening years in interviews, articles, lawsuits, and speeches, each has consistently said that the best science says and will always say that the only real solution to restoring native salmon and steelhead runs to their former state, as required by the Northwest Power Planning Act, is to breach the four lower Snake River dams.

Supporters of the status quo and of leaving the dams in place like to point out that in terms of sheer numbers of the various runs of returning salmon and steelhead, the count is up and still rising. This is of course due to the large amount of supplementing the runs with hatchery-raised fingerlings and smolts.

Chaney points out that one should only examine the numbers of wild fish, which continue to steadily decline.

Chaney and Ford believe the law as reflected by and through the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species law requires the restoration of the wild runs of salmon and steelhead. They insist these runs represent a distinct and separate gene pool that is declining.

On the face of it, their contention the dams continue to damage and facilitate decline appears incontestable. Courts appear also to agree with them as they have successfully petitioned to have most of the so-called “Bi-ops” developed by the Corps, the Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the NOAA and Bonneville Power Administration invalidated.

Breaching the dams is therefore the only measure not tried yet to restore and enhance the runs. What seals the deal, however, are the economic arguments for breaching the dams.

There are 31 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers which produce 60 percent of the region’s hydroelectricity. The power produced by the four lower Snake dams is about 1 percent of the overall production. BPA of course sells and distributes this power.

Due to the several laws guiding BPA’s management of this “federal base system,” the agency also funds and manages a fishery enhancement program whose goal is, as the law requires, protecting, mitigating and enhancing the runs.

In March, I asked the agency’s public communications office to provide me with an estimate of how much money they have expended to meet the law’s requirement for the 11-year period of 2002 through 2012.

The total number is a staggering $7.35 billion, or an average of $677 million a year, with little, if any, progress being made in enhancing and protecting the wild runs.

Subtract the breaching costs from that figure and cease funding all of the fruitless efforts underway and the region’s ratepayers would be billions ahead shortly.

The next unsound economical entity is the Port of Lewiston itself. Sold by its boosters that it was going to be the catalyst of an economic rebirth for Lewiston, it has been nothing of the sort. Boosters of the port sold Nez Perce County voters a bill of goods, saying that a local option sales tax would be short-lived and retired.

Fifty years later the tax is still on the books. Face it — the Port of Lewiston is a heavily subsidized operation that will never pay for itself. The citizens of Lewiston and Nez Perce County would be far better off shutting it down and supporting dam breaching as their preferred path back to real prosperity.

Another reason that should galvanize support for dam breaching is the likelihood of a 10-year flood event inundating Lewiston’s downtown core. In large part due to the rapid buildup of silt in and around the confluence of the Clearwater and Snake rivers, water is already well above the street level in the downtown.

The levees constructed by the Army Corps were designed (there’s that engineering word again) to have a 7- to 8-foot margin above the anticipated highest level of the water. Today it is much closer to a 2- to 3-foot margin.

Meteorologists and other government agency forecasters, when pressed, will admit that a 10-year flood event, such as heavy snow in the mountains followed by a surge in temperature with a commensurate heavy rain that could bring most of the mountain moisture cascading down the Clearwater could easily inundate the city.

Lewiston City officials will also concede their ability to remove that amount of water is virtually nonexistent. For all practical purposes, the water would be trapped on the inside and it might take weeks to remove it by various siphoning methods. The damages would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and insurance would not begin to cover the rebuilding cost.

This is not a case of if; it is rather a matter of when.

The Corps response is to propose a massive dredging program for the next 50 years. By law the Corps is required to maintain a channel behind Lower Granite dam, just downstream from the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers, that is 14 feet deep and 250 feet wide to facilitate barge access to the Port of Lewiston.

It’s not happening, folks.

Needless to say, the rapid accumulation of river-borne sediment will significantly add to the cost and the subsidies necessary to keep the port open and to operate the dams.

Kooskia resident and environmental activist Linwood Laughy estimates the 10-year cost of the taxpayer subsidy necessary to keep the port of Lewiston open would be $39 million — and the sedimentation accumulation would still continue.

He believes each fully loaded barge leaving the infrequently used Port of Lewiston leaves with a taxpayer subsidy of $19,000 reflecting the dredging and sediment management activities.

Virtually the only option left to comply with the Northwest Power Planning Act and the Endangered Species Act appears to be breaching and it is just a matter of time — unless of course those who want to save the dams can muster the political support to amend the Power Act and the ESA law. Such a prospect is highly unlikely.

So as a region let’s face up to the inevitable and get on with breaching the four dams.

A pure guess is that the breaching of the four lower Snake River dams would be somewhere between $500 million and $1.5 billion. This is a huge chunk of change, but still represents less than 20 percent of the costs incurred by BPA over the first decade of this century trying to enhance the native salmon and steelhead runs.

In this period of diminishing federal resources as the nation tries to get a handle on its deficit spending challenge, however, the cost benefits derived from adopting the last, best chance for real fishery enhancement are overwhelmingly compelling.

Add to that the cost avoidance of the flooding out of Lewiston and the elimination of shipping subsidies and breaching is a no-brainer.

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carlson CHRIS


One of the guiding principles for legislators and other elected officials is often summed up by the phrase “the greatest good for the greatest number.”

Elected officials are lobbied by a variety of special interests who seek advantage for their respective enterprise by seeing a law or regulation passed that will give them a competitive advantage although it is sold to lawmakers as increasing efficiency or a new and better way to generate tax revenue.

Lawmakers listen, deliberate and then say yeah or nay with the guiding thought of what is the greatest good for the greatest number.

Another guiding principle is the need for laws to protect the lives of people.

The first law of the social contract is that people band together to protect life, especially the weak, young, elderly, and disabled from the strong, the greedy, the selfish who exploit weakness wherever it is seen.

For Idahoans these two guiding principles should be kept in mind as the public is asked to comment in hearings before the Idaho Transportation Board on regulations needed for the implementation of a new law passed by the Legislature at the behest of Idaho Forest Group, Potlatch and Clearwater Paper to allow on north Idaho roads the weight of trucks to be increased from a limit of 106,000 pounds to 129,000 pounds.

Dear reader, this quite simply is not in the public interest nor would it be safe, especially in wintertime. It is a classic case of corporate interests rationalizing their desire to maximize their profits regardless of the increased risk to the driving public.

Look at a map of north Idaho and note the facilities owned by Idaho Forest Group. From Moyie Springs to Laclede to Grangeville to Lewiston, to Chilcoe, the firm, the result of a merger several years ago, has its mills in disparate locations. Someone, somewhere within the company no doubt did a study that showed if they could increase the weight of whatever they hauled between these facilities they could reduce operating expenses and make a few bucks more.

But at what price? Some critics cite the increased weight doing more damage to roads and bridges, but a ten year study in southern Idaho supposedly showed that not to be the case. That’s not really the issue, though.

The issue is and the only question that matters is will this extra bit of profit come at the expense of more risk to and the eventual loss of human life. The fact that only one hauler was brave enough to testify against the bill should be telling, and yes, off the record the major haulers in the region reportedly said they had gotten the word to keep quiet their reservations.

The lone brave hauler expressed genuine concern about how unsafe he and all twenty of his drivers felt the increased weight would be.

Here’s the other kicker to keep in mind. If in the wintertime a 129,000 pound truck going down the Winchester grade on Highway 95, starts to slide in an icy spot and the second oft-times smaller trailer starts to swing into the oncoming lane, and hits an oncoming vehicle that results in serious injury or death, guess who is most liable?

You guessed it – the hauler, even though he may be hauling product for Idaho Forest Group under contract, IFG does not have to concern itself with the safety issue because they don’t own the trucks. The safety issue is the haulers’ concern not theirs. So the north Idaho ‘big three” get all the benefit and none of the new risk. Isn’t that interesting?

Fortunately, even Governor Butch Otter when signing a special interest bill he should have vetoed, underscored that the rulemaking process had to operate on the principle of safety first, of protecting life not putting it at risk, of reflecting the greatest good for the greatest number.

Let’s hope the public reinforces that message and that this piece of special interest legislation gives way to the public interest.

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