Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


Most baby boomers can recall the Walt Disney adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. It was a delightful, full length animated movie with the usual contest between the good characters and the bad characters (remember the giant cobra?). Of course good always triumphs over evil.

Idaho Democrats at last have a candidate for governor – Boise businessman and long-time school district board member, A. J. Balukoff. Yes, the easiest way to pronounce his name is to remember Baloo, the friendly bear.

Democrats are hoping Idahoans will be drawn to one of the first of the baby boomer generation much as people were drawn to the Disney character.

This column six months ago put in print that “Baloo” would be the Democratic nominee.

He could ignore my column, but a month later when the alpha-wolf of Idaho political journalists, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey, bannered his probable candidacy on the front page, he had to acknowledge he was taking a serious look at entering the race.

Several questions immediately come to mind: what took him so long to get around to announcing? Given his acknowledged expertise on education matters, why governor instead of State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

With no political experience other than 16 years on the Boise school board, why does he think he can start at the top of the Idaho political food chain?

Most importantly, though, will he open his own checkbook (He clearly is a very successful businessman) and will his wife (She is reportedly the sole heir to the Skaggs Drugstore chain) open hers in order to buy the kind of statewide name recognition he needs to be a serious challenger to Republican gubernatorial hegemony.

One can safely presume he starts with the narrow hard-core Democratic base in Idaho of 30% of the vote. His challenge is to make himself known well enough to be viewed by many of the hard core 40% Republican base and the 30% that are true independents as a credible alternative to a charming but do-nothing governor who literally brags about taking a billion dollars out of state spending and ignores how badly educational support has been eviscerated on his watch.

To make up for lost time and for not being a household name, “Baloo” is going to have to buy name identification quickly. To do that he needs to spend their money first and hope he generates enough buzz to jump-start fund-raising that will eventually enable him to repay the loan to his campaign.

If he is truly serious he will invest initially at least a million and a half dollars in a series of television, radio, cable and social media purchases to introduce himself to Idahoans. While the video he has on his website is a nice start he has to take his story to the voters, he cannot expect them automatically to be driven to his website.

One hopes he spent the past six months nailing down a campaign manager, putting together a campaign team, drawing up a good baseline poll to measure their progress against, developing a strategic game plan, starting the process of identifying where the 50% plus one of the voters are that could give him victory, putting together a finance committee to help pay for it, and undergoing a media training regimen that will enable him to stay on message.

Candidly, he also has to be prepared to deal with the fact that few if any evangelical Christians will consider voting for him. As Mitt Romney found out, many Evangelicals view Mormonism as a cult. Baloo (a graduate ofBYU), his wife and family are all practicing members of the LDS Church. It is no coincidence that the only Mormon ever elected governor in Idaho, John Evans, was viewed as a “Jack Mormon.”

Questions aside, Baloo’s kick-off appeared to go well. Restoring education to its priority position within Idaho as is mandated in the State Constitution is indeed the best issue to hold Republicans feet to the fire, whether the nominee is a governor that has done nothing to earn a third term or a Tea Party candidate with 18th century views.

Baloo does have a story to tell, from his solid commitment to public education to his record of business success to his clearly living and walking family values.

One final question: if you win, without the ability to sustain a veto, how do propose to work your will on a Legislature still full of Republican troglodytes and Tea Party types hell bent on eviscerating education further by using the $70 million dollar surplus to pass along additional unneeded property tax relief rather than starting to reinvest in education?

You sure you shouldn’t have filed for the SPI post?

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carlson CHRIS


Occasionally my dear departed mother would turn and say “quit dwelling in Beulah land.” It means get out of your fantasy world and start dealing with reality; work with facts, not fantasies.

There’s a major disconnect between the real and the surreal is another way of stating it.

If ever there is a walking personification of this it is Idaho’s charming but terribly out of it governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Perusing a copy of the North Idaho Business Journal’s December issue recently, I came across a “no coincidences” juxtaposition of an article and an ad. The top of the page was a headline from a speech to a business group by Governor Otter. It said “Otter: D.C. Can Learn from Idaho.”

The bottom half was an ad by the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign financed by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Headlined “We Fail, She Loses,” the ad portrayed a young child looking quite pensive, as she should given the deplorable record established by the governor and his fellow travelers for starving systematically state support for public education.

As the ad says, our children will be the ones to carry Idaho forward. It continues: But when it comes to preparing them for the challenges ahead, Idaho is falling behind. Education Week ranked Idaho 48thnationally. And only 1 in 10 Idaho high school freshmen are graduating from college with a degree. . . . .

We can do better. . . . Let’s get to an educated state.

Turn now to the governor’s speech. Incredibly, he brags about having inherited a $3.2 billion budget in 2007 but by 2010 having reduced it to $2.2 billion. In reality this is bragging about having eviscerated public k-12 and higher education. Its chutzpah reflecting misplaced priorities and a distorted world view.

The governor rationalizes his administration figured out what was truly “necessary” as opposed to what was “nice.” By his definition adequate supplies for school children and decent salaries for teachers are nice but not necessities. He is claiming he found $1 billion worth of “nice.”

Then he repeats the Big Republican Lie – but we didn’t increase your taxes! Pure balderdash. Almost 3 out of four Idaho school districts passed supplemental levies to replace the funding cut by the state. That’s a tax pure and simple directly attributable to the parsimonious governor and a cohort of education hating legislators.

The governor then further demonstrates how much he is dwelling in Beulah land. He says it is important for Idaho to prepare its students to meet Idaho’s future job needs. He recites an anecdote from a business leader who told him he can’t hire the product Idaho schools are currently putting out. Otter also cites college administrators deploring the large number of remedial students that have to attend basic classes to learn what they should have been taught in the k-12 system.

Oh, but he has a Task Force on Education Reform and has accepted all of its recommendations including the first one that says restore the $350 million cut from education budgets. You betcha – we’ll do it over five years at $70 million a pop.

Oh, and while we’re at it the Legislative leadership and I have decided to pass along some additional property tax relief to the big private corporations like Idaho Power that support us. What? They say they don’t need it nor are asking for it? Well, we’ll give it to them anyway and we’ll still restore that ed funding. If you can swallow this bilge water Butch is peddling I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.

The governor acts like this deplorable decline did not happen on his watch, but it has. The number of fourth graders who cannot read yet across Idaho is shocking, but will he or the State Superintendent, Tom Luna, or the chairs of the Senate and House Education committees, John Goedde and Reed Demourdant, stand up and take some degree of responsibility?

Don’t hold your breath. The sad truth is the “Don’t Fail Idaho” campaign is too late. Governor Otter and the majority of Republican legislators (there are some notable exceptions – King Canute’s swinging at the relentless ocean waves of the cut, cut mentality) have so eviscerated funding for public and higher education that it will be years before the state recovers.

They have failed Idaho and its children and would rather dwell in Beulah land. Either they just don’t get it, or they don’t care. Any way you slice it, Idaho is losing badly the fight to have a prepared, educated generation of students able to compete against the world.

Governor Otter and his legislative lackeys ought to be ashamed, but they have no shame.

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carlson CHRIS


Majority Caucus chair, State Senator Russell Fulcher, is doing a favor for the voting public as well as the media by challenging incumbent Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter in a contest for the Republican nomination. He could also be doing Otter a favor.

For 104,000 Idahoans who would be eligible for an expanded Medicaid program, however, Fulcher is ensuring their needs will not be met. Real suffering even unnecessary deaths, will occur.

By challenging his party’s sitting governor what looked like a dull run-up to a third almost uncontested term suddenly has created the magic “buzz” candidates and their campaigns like to generate, but few do.

The Meridian senator has already generated extensive coverage by a media desperate for the good copy a hotly contested race between Tea Party conservatives and status quo regular Republicans will provide.

The media loves intra-party fights.

Now the perception (whether true or not) is a real horse race is shaping up. The result should be more scrutiny of the candidates, their issues and stances. An attentive voter can be the beneficiary if this translates into a more informed vote.

Many political pundits were surprised by the Otter campaign’s bland response to Fulcher’s announcement which more or less said “we’ll see you down the road.” If ever there is a good time for an incumbent to start defining his challenger its right at the get-go when they announce.

Governor Otter’s campaign manager, the normally competent Jayson Ronk, missed one of the best opportunities to frame what the race will be all about.

Fulcher will sound a familiar theme borrowed from Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 Presidential race: “a choice, not an echo!”

Like Tea Party candidate Bryan Smith, an Idaho Falls attorney challenging Rep. Mike Simpson in the second congressional district, he will claim he is the true conservative, not the incumbent.

The glib five-term State Senator from District 22 is counting on true blue Republicans (Only those previously registered as R’s will be able to vote in the May primary) responding to his message that the Governor sold the state down the river by registering Idaho’s insurance exchange with the hated ObamaCare program.

The real victims of Fulcher’s challenge, however, will be the estimated 104,000 Idahoans eligible for Medicaid under new rules being promulgated. In addition this expansion would greatly relieve most every county’s indigent fund that pays a large share of the cost for medical treatment that the poor cannot afford. For Fiscal Years 2014, 2015 and 2016 the Federal government would pay 100% of this expansion cost estimated to be $750 million each year.

The problem is the Legislature sees this as Phase II of ObamaCare and another invasive Federal intrusion. If it approves participation at the end of the three years the state is supposed to start picking up 10% of the cost.

So the Legislature has already foregone FY 2014. Fulcher’s challenge of Otter premised on Otter’s supposed cave-in to the Feds on a state-run insurance exchange virtually guarantees the governor will not support FY 2015 and 2016 participation in the Medicaid expansion despite a $1.5 billion infusion of federal funds into the state. The estimated savings for state and county taxpayers in FY 2015 is $80 million.

Make no mistake, folks, a New England Journal of Medicine study in 2012 claims that for every 172 new enrollees in Medicaid there is one less death. Therefore one can plausibly lay 600 deaths directly at the feet of Governor Otter, Senator Fulcher and Idaho legislators who in their blind hatred of Obama and ObamaCare are saying they don’t care.

What’s puzzling is that Otter, while succumbing to Fulcher’s pressure with regard to Medicaid expansion, turns around and invites the chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, to speak at a fund-raiser in Coeur d’Alene on December 6th openly taunts and derides for their 18th

Fulcher has to be happy about this “arrogance” on Otter’s part, knowing full well that arrogance was a major issue contributing to unknown State Senator Don Samuelson’s upset of three-term GOP Governor Robert Smylie in the 1966 GOP primary.

Most of the time gubernatorial decisions and legislative concurrence does not mean life or death for people. Every once in awhile though playing politics has real life or death consequences. The issue of Medicaid expansion is just such an instance.

While Senator Fulcher’s challenge to Governor Otter’s bid for a third term promises to be entertaining one hopes the media and the voter understands it has already had sad consequences for the some 600 Idahoans who the study says will die because of lack of access to an expanded Medicaid program our governor and legislature turned its back upon.

Think about it.

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Carlson Idaho

carlson CHRIS


Dear Dr. Staben:

As a strong supporter of the University of Idaho and its flagship, land grant, national research status within the state, allow me to give you a conditional welcome to the great state.

Why “conditional” you may ask? Because you must understand you have been hired by an impotent board that has not for years served as the advocate for higher education it should. It is a board that has stood by idly as the budget for higher education has been eviscerated by a governor and a legislature that by their actions demonstrate they just don’t get nor appreciate the proper role education plays in securing a decent future for Idaho’s children as the driver of a thriving economy.

Oh, they will claim they do, but the facts conclusively demonstrate otherwise. So you will be working for a board and a governor that report to a legislature that with a few notable exceptions frankly is full of hypocrites.

Truth be told, many would admit if they thought it were politically palatable that all education, public and higher, ought to be privatized. You’ve come to a state that is not just suspicious but is downright contemptuous of teachers and public employees.

Right now there is a statewide radio campaign funded by the Joe and Kathryn Albertson Foundation called “Don’t Fail Idaho.” The foundation is run by Joe Scott, who by no stretch of the imagination could be considered a flaming liberal. He is in fact conservative but he understands education is critical to a good future for Idaho’s children.

The facts are damning: only 4 out of 10 Idaho high school graduates start college and only 1 out of 10 get a degree in an economy that needs twice as many college graduates to meet demands.

You will also find one of many reasons students don’t finish college is the cost. Again, the numbers are damning: in 1980 a student at Moscow and his family paid 7% of the cost in tuition and fees; in 1990 it was 13%; in 2000 it was 20%; and today it is 47%. Much of the increase in student fees and tuition can be directly correlated to legislative evisceration of public support.

If you have real courage, Dr. Staben, you will be an advocate for restoring more state support and reducing utilization on student fees. It is bad enough that predatory banks have swooped down on college campuses offering ever more expansive federally guaranteed student loans. For many middle class and poorer class students these loans have become a modern form of indentured servitude.

Have the guts, Dr. Staben, to call for a restoration of the .4 of 1% property tax that used to help fund education in this state in the years in which it truly was a priority. Understand why in the mid-90’s Governor Phil Batt removed the first .1 of 1 percent and then understand what a Faustian bargain then Governor Jim Risch pulled on the taxpayers by eliminating the remaining .3 of 1 percent in exchange for an increase in the more volatile sales tax.

Understand that in the mid-60’s Idahoans supported implementing a 3% sales tax believing it would exclusively be devoted to supporting public and higher education. Today, over half of the prospective revenue is not there because Republican governors and Republican legislators keep granting exemptions but don’t have the courage to admit they are supporting business subsidies while further eroding dollar support for public and higher education.

A return to a dedicated .4 of 1% would generate over $400 million annually and (using FY12 numbers) replace the $222 million now coming from the general fund for higher education and could also replace in total or in part the $199.5 million derived from student fees and tuition. The “freed up” $222 million could then be reallocated to other needs.

While you are at it, Dr. Staben, point out to the Board, the governor and the State Legislature, especially the chairs of the House and Senate education committees chaired by two gentlemen who are anything but the champions of education they profess to be, that Idaho has to be about the only state in the union where in three of our four major schools tuition has risen and grown more for in-state students than out of state students. Go figure.

Show all Idahoans who care about quality education across the board that you have the courage to be a true advocate for higher education. If you can muster real resolve you’ll show that the board in “even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn” moment came up with a true leader.

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Carlson Idaho

carlson CHRIS


Most people over 55 can tell anyone where they were on November 22, 1963, when they heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas.

The news was unbelievably stunning. A junior at Spokane’s Central Valley High School, I was walking between classes as a palpable murmur surged through the hallways following a brief announcement by the principal.

Many of the girls started crying. Others rushed to their lockers to grab transistor radios to listen for additional news. There was instant confusion, a degree of fear as students tried to assimilate the impossible to fathom news. Rumors swept through the halls: the Russians were going to launch a nuclear missile attack; war was surely coming was the most prevalent.

Over the ensuing days Americans came together as never before, or since (not even 9/11), watching their televisions, listening to the reassuring voice of Walter Cronkite. Indelibly imprinted in the minds of “baby boomers” will be the image of the riderless horse being led down Pennsylvania Avenue following the caisson carrying the President’s casket.

Nor will any forget the heart-breaking image of young three-year-old John Kennedy Junior saluting as the caisson rolled by a grieving Jackie and Caroline Kennedy.

Idaho, like the rest of the nation, shared the grief, and in many respects joined in embracing the myth that quickly became Camelot. Beyond the shared grief, though, JFK impacted Idaho in several ways not recognized by many today.

As the 50th Anniversary is observed there will be numerous stories and various opinions on President Kennedy, his legacy and his impact on people and states. Without question his most lasting Idaho impact was the inspiration he gave a young, 28-year-old lumberjack with one year of college to enter politics.

In the spring of 1960 Kennedy agreed to a stopover in Lewiston to give a speech at the Lewis-Clark Hotel before heading on to Portland to campaign in the important Oregon Presidential primary.

The young lumberjack, Cece Andrus, decided to drive the 40 miles from his home in Orofino down the Clearwater River to hear Kennedy’s remarks. To this day he cannot tell you what exactly it was Kennedy said, but he walked out of the hotel feeling he had heard a great person’s call to others to enter public service, to be part of the new generation taking over in America.

Andrus thought that if the young Kennedy could go after the presidency, he could go after a seat in the Idaho State Senate, in part because the Republican incumbent was ignoring the needs for a better quality and more equitably funded educational system in the state.

The rest is history. Whatever else is written about JFK’s impact on Idaho, to those who believe Andrus is unquestionably the greatest governor Idaho has ever produced and the person with the greatest transformative impact in state history, the credit for Andrus taking that first step belongs to Kennedy.

As president, Kennedy also influenced Idaho politics in other not so obvious ways. For example, he helped young Senator Frank Church’s political career by awarding Church the coveted position of Keynoter for the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. Church and Kennedy had both entered the Senate in the 1950’s (JFK in 1953, Church in 1957) and their youth as well as their shared World War II experiences (both were awarded medals) created a natural affinity.

Kennedy, though actual visits to Idaho were rare, nonetheless courted the Idaho media as evidenced by a 1962 photo of the cream of Idaho media lunching with the President in the White House.

Kennedy also provided political support to the campaigns of First District Congresswoman Gracie Pfost, first elected in 1952, and Second District Congressman Ralph Harding, first elected in 1960. Thus, for two years three members of Idaho’s congressional delegation were Democrats.

The fourth, Senator Henry Dworshak, died in office in 1962. The ensuing election to fill the senate seat saw Pfost narrowly lose to former Governor Len B. Jordan. Incredible to believe even today was Ralph Harding losing the second district seat in 1964 to then Alameda Mayor George Hansen, the year of the Johnson landslide and the last time a Democrat won Idaho’s four electoral votes.

As a consolation prize, President Kennedy handed Ms. Pfost a position in the Federal Housing Administration, which she held until prematurely dying at age 59 in 1965.

Bottom line is President Kennedy had a profound impact upon Idaho’s political history.

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carlson CHRIS


There’s an old joke most farmers have heard: How does a farmer double his income? Easy – he puts up another mail box!

The implication is that a farmer lives off of his government support payment, especially if weather destroys his crop and his insurance engages, or he participates in the Conservation Reserve Program where he is paid NOT to plant a crop.

The simple fact is every country subsidizes its agricultural sector. Meeting the increasing demands of a rapidly expanding world for basic sustenance is not easy as population continues to explode exponentially.

No large nation can let its food supply be totally dependent on imports.

Hence, policies are devised to keep certain products competitive in the mis-named “free market,” which is really a “semi-controlled market.”

Against this backdrop though there is fierce competition between wheat-
growing nations, such as the United States and Australia. Every penny makes a difference. Thus, most wheat farmers in Washington opposed Initiative 522, which would have required labeling of foods altered in anyway by genetic modification (gmo).

For them it was a cost issue as much as a truth in content matter. For the large domestic corporations who turn wheat into bread and other staples¸ it was worth spending millions to avoid more unnecessary cost.

Those voting against the measure surprisingly won, 54 to 46 per cent, on November 5th. Proponents implied public health could be endangered by allowing gmo elements into one’s pantry and played hard the card that one had a right to know. This was playing the fear card which many find ironic.

After all, it was genetic altered seeds that led to the “green revolution” and higher crops yields just in the nick of time to help meet the exploding world population. Where the next leap forward will come from no one knows for sure.

If one stops to think, most people in the United States have been genetically altered by advances in health care in some way whether it is artificial limbs, a pig valve in the heart or advanced forms of cancer treatment.

Scientists are investigating gene-splicing and other advances which will permit prospective parents to see a printout of likely diseases a child in the womb might face. The ethics of this form of selective breeding are very debatable, but consumers don’t seem to object to eating meat from selectively bred cattle.

The cost to produce food, and food stamps, though, is now caught in the gamesmanship going on in Washington, D.C. Republicans, especially the Tea Party subset, are upset over a doubling of the food stamp program in just three years. Even though we’re just emerging from a recession doubling does raise questions.

Today one in five American families are eligible for the food stamp program which is projected to cost over $800 billion over ten years. So “heartless Republicans” want to take a big whack out of the program but those pesky bleeding heart liberals, led by the big Lib in the White House, won’t stand for it. As always the truth lies in between.

The problem though is the R’s could get their way by continuing to stall the passage of any new farm bill. In doing so, they damage programs critical to farmers from the CRP to Title 1 commodity programs to crop insurance to basic research at schools like the University of Idaho.

When Congress fails to act, and lets a new farm bill expire, food stamps continue and so does crop insurance. By letting the bill expire the Tea Party types know that the “baseline” funding will collapse and there will be less money to work with the next time around. Eventually, if they stall long enough, there isn’t enough money to bother passing a bill so the pure free market no subsidy types can dismantle a bill by stalling and never having to have a recorded vote.

Of course this further inhibits our ability to compete on the world stage but to a purist against any subsidies, especially subsidies that might inadvertently go to some shiftless individual defrauding us all, the end justifies the means.

My wheat farmer friend, Brett Blankenship, due to be president of the National Wheat Growers next year, puts it well: “We should expect the social safety net to stretch when the economy is bad, but do a better job of monitoring participation and qualification for one to have the safety net. It should not be a hammock. To be fair, we should have the same approach with the other Farm Bill programs.”

Left unspoken, however, is the insanity of no Farm bill.

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carlson CHRIS


His name was Gideon Oppenheimer. Pudgy with thinning hair, he looked incongruous in his white Jaguar XKE called the rocket. From 1960 to 1969 he pursued Idaho’s best and brightest high school graduates as assiduously as Alabama Coach Nick Saban would pursue a top prospect.. He wanted Idaho’s student cream to attend his beloved alma mater, Columbia University.

Wealthy and single, he enjoyed publishing a Meridian newspaper and practicing law. He cultivated Idaho high school counselors, obtained SAT scores, and roared off in the rocket to anywhere he could identify a potential recruit.

Oppenheimer would passionately pitch Columbia. Cultured and sophisticated, he loved books, music, fine cuisine and duplicate bridge. And his adopted state, though he often decried its politics.

In 1969, though only 49, he died of heart failure. By then he had recruited over 60 of Idaho’s best. While he never was pushy about it, he sent each off with encouragement to return and contribute to Idaho’s future.

Those who did more than delivered. Among the Idaho/Columbia recruits were Joe and Ward Parkinson, the founders of Micron; Larry Grant, Micron’s corporate counsel; the late John Tait, a super lawyer in Lewiston; Dale Goble, University of Idaho Schimke Distinguished Professor of Law; Mike Mikesell, founder of Boise’s Guido’s Pizza; Jeff Fereday, an outstanding natural resources lawyer; Ralph Comstock, Jr., an international export businessman; and Pat Ford, an executive director of the Idaho Conservation League before focusing his attention on saving the northwest’s salmon runs.

The one, however, who has had the most beneficial long-term impact on the lives of all Idahoans was Conley Ward, Vallivue High School Class of 1965, who died last week at age 66 in his home at Kuna of acute leukemia.

Quarterback of his football team because he was an accurate passer, good friend Mikesell fondly recalled, “He was the slowest quarterback I ever saw.”

Ward was one of those rare people one never forgets. He had an aura of competence, intelligence, candor and self-deprecating humor. There wasn’t a pretentious bone in his body. He embodied integrity. One knew instinctively he knew what he was talking about.

When he bit into a subject, he sank his teeth. Whether it was fly fishing, golf, a favorite author, Northwest energy policy, the telecommunications business, or the arcane minutiae of utility rates, he read everything he could get his hands on and mastered it as few can. At age 29 he became the nation’s youngest public utility commissioner.

During his 11 year stint he demonstrated that conservation often is the least-cost energy resource. Additionally, he put in place programs to help the poor and disadvantaged afford basic heat and light.

Where he did the most for Idaho, however, was earlier as a young PUC staff attorney. Long-time friend Pat Ford points out that as no one else could, Ward first presented the proof in the agency hearing and then drafted the PUC opinion rejecting Idaho Power’s application to build the Pioneer coal-burning power plant near Boise.

According to Fereday, “He saved utility customers from huge rate increases and the Boise Valley from degraded air quality. With the no-go order Idaho Power avoided financing a hugely expensive plant at a time when the region’s electrical demand was slowing dramatically, just as Conley had predicted.”

Ford says Ward’s special genius was in moving the PUC process up to the level of economic sophistication people deserved in the face of the monumental proposal.

“Ward learned and applied solid economic facts, from investment credit ratings to price elasticity to the cost of externalities, and at the same time recognized the popular will as expressed in citizen referenda opposing the plant. Ward provided the legal basis by which Governor Andrus could articulate his own opposition to the application. That sealed the plant’s fate,” Ford stated.

Of all the Idahoans Gideon recruited, Ward was the best prospect for one day serving as governor. He would have been a young Cecil Andrus. He took an initial step in 1988 by serving as State Democratic chair.

He deliberately eschewed taking the next step, recognizing his own high ethical standards might be compromised by the process and realizing he might not have the temperament to put up with all the folderol.Columbia freshmen read Aristotle, who enjoined one to “know thyself.” Ward knew himself well, and without running for public office managed to serve Idaho well as few ever will.

Most Idahoans will never know what a great friend we have lost. Those privileged enough to know will mourn his death a long time.

My deepest sympathy to his wife of 42 years, Gail, their sons Ian and Tyler, his brothers Dudley, Cotton and Clay, his mother, Eloise and his sister, State Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking.

(Editor’s Note: Chris Carlson, though a native of Kellogg and a graduate of Columbia in 1968, was the one Idahoan at Columbia in the 1960’s that escaped the net of Gideon Oppenheimer due to the fact that Carlson graduated from Spokane’s Central Valley High School. In 1972 at age 25 Carlson returned to Idaho as press secretary to Governor Cecil Andrus.)

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Carlson Idaho

carlson CHRIS


Towards the end of his fine novel, Citizen Vince, Spokane journalist turned best selling novelist Jess Walter describes Vince’s encounter with an Irish politician in a bar on Sprague Avenue inside a well-known downtown Spokane hotel.

It is the day before the 1980 election and Vince, a felon placed in the Federal Witness Protection Program, has been debating for a week whether to vote given his new identity and a clean slate. He strides into the lounge, sits at the bar and asks the bartender if he can switch the tv above the booze to the news for just ten minutes even though Monday Night Football is about to begin.

The bartender politely points out that the five other patrons at the bar want the football game, but tells Vince if he can get one other patron to second his request he’ll switch for ten minutes. Vince surveys the lounge recognizing that none of those at the bar will give him a second. However, there are two gray suits sitting at a table having highballs and eating a steak.

Anyone familiar with Spokane immediately recognizes the Ridpath Hotel. The Irish politician is also recognizable – it is Tom Foley, the only person to serve as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from the vast area west of Texas.

Vince recognizes that the larger of the two suits, a bearish but friendly looking guy, is the local congressman—he knows his name begins with F. Vince asks if the Congressman will be the second. As only a writer with a novelist’s eye can, Walter captures the puckish humor of the late Speaker:

He stands, raises a draft beer, and covers his heart. “Esteemed colleagues, the representative from Table Six in the great state of Washington – home of glorious wheat fields and aluminum plants, cool, clear rivers and snow-
capped mountains, and the finest bar patrons in this great country, proudly casts his vote in favor of ten minutes of misery and heartache courtesy of the national news.”

The guys at the bar raise their glasses in confused reverie as the bartender reaches up to turn the channel.

Anyone who ever knew Speaker Foley can easily envision this fictional scene. It captures the quintessential Foley – his humor, wit, intelligence, compassion, perspicacity, all in one brief vignette. The Ridpath, once the hotel of choice for Labor as the only “union” hotel in Spokane, has been shuttered for years. And Tom Foley passed away at the age of 84 this past week.

Foley will deservedly live on in the hearts and minds of the many people who he and his capable staff, led by wife Heather Strachan, helped during his distinguished 30-year career of public service. When all of us directly touched by this most decent of officeholders have ourselves passed on, Tom Foley will live on in the pages of Walter’s novel and in the records that chronicle this gentle giant’s accomplishments ensconced at Washington State University in the Tom Foley Institute of Public Policy.

As a rookie Washington, D.C. correspondent covering the capital for several northwest and Alaskan newspapers in 1971 and 1972, Foley’s office was a stop on my beat because the Lewiston Tribune had subscribers in the Fifth District.

Even though it was early in Foley’s remarkable 30-year tenure he already possessed qualities that stood him apart from the rest of his colleagues.

He personified civility. He was always courteous and solicitous. He possessed a great ability to tell interesting, illustrative stories and possessed a wonderful sense of humor.

There wasn’t an arrogant or pretentious bone in his body and he displayed great patience both with his less intellectually gifted colleagues and young reporters asking uninformed questions. He had a marvelous ability to explain clearly and concisely arcane elements of a farm bill or ancient rules of the House. As Speaker he was noted for his absolute fairness, his judicious demeanor.

Some of the best tributes on his passing have come from Republicans like Senator Slade Gorton who pointed out Foley had many opponents over the year but no real enemies. The reason for this was explicated nowhere better than Minority Leader Robert Michel’s Washington Post tribute. The former Illinois congressman cited the sine qua non of personal politics – Foley was a man of his word¸ his word was his bond, and they trusted each other.

Others will chronicle all Foley accomplished for his district, the state and the nation. It is indeed a fine record of public service by a true public servant.

Here’s hoping though that future generations recognize his sense of history and his belief in the critical role the House of Representatives serves in our democratic system of government. He loved the House, and as Jeff Biggs noted so well in his biography of the Speaker, he brought honor to the House. One doubts we will ever see his likes again.

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Carlson Washington Washington column

carlson CHRIS


There’s a gun fight on the road ahead forming between predominantly “common sense conservative” Republicans and the zealots further to the right loosely lumped under the Tea Party label.

The stakes are high, for it is a battle for the soul of the Grand Old Party, and if the Tea Party elements prevail, the Republican Party will begin the slow fade into oblivion.

If the recent shut-down of the federal government and the showdown over raising the debt ceiling did nothing else it should have demonstrated to the public in graphic detail that the Tea Party Republicans and weak-kneed “fellow travelers” (Like Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch) are willing to place partisan positioning and interest ahead of the national interest. None of these folks subscribe to the historic notion of the greatest good for the greatest number.

Their votes and conduct only serve to hasten the day when Idaho’s GOP morphs into a new ultra-conservative party made up of only true believers who adhere to radical notions like returning the election of U.S. Senators to the state legislature, returning to the gold standard, abandoning the United Nations, defaulting on paying bills due and owing for already incurred expenses, punishing illegal immigrants already here, and the list goes on.

Already having seized control of several key counties, such as Bonneville, these fanatics are blind to the fact that they are narrowing their party’s base, a sure prescription for eventual consignment to the ash heap of history. In Idaho, not satisfied with a closed primary system, they are pushing for a closed caucus system, virtually guaranteeing that only the pure zealots can carry the party label into a general election.

Therein may be an opportunity for Idaho’s Democrats, however, especially in the state’s Second Congressional District. The Tea Party and its financial backers such as the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers are backing Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith’s primary challenge to eight-term “common sense conservative” incumbent Congressman Mike Simpson.

The May primary is restricted only to registered true blue Republicans and some observers believe Smith has a real shot at taking out Simpson given the expected dampening effect of the new rules on voter participation. Reports out of the Second District say the prospect of Smith defeating Simpson is causing former Democratic Second District Congressman Richard Stallings (1985-1993) to consider making a bid for his old seat.

A former history professor at BYU-Idaho, Stallings is a true pro-life conservative Democrat with proven appeal to the voters of the Second District. Were he to run his strategy would be to build a coalition of Democrats, independents and disgruntled supporters of Mike Simpson.

Two other items also are working for the demise of the Republican party as we know it; or, finally, a rejection of the Tea Party. One is the wrong-headed stance of both the GOP and the Tea Party on the issue of illegal immigration. Rather than working constructively to view those already here, whether legal or not, as potentially good, hard-working taxpayers, Republicans seem hell-bent on being punitive.

Hispanics already constitute 12% of Idaho’s electorate and are a growing force throughout the west. Quite frankly, they are more and more seeing the Democratic party as working for their best interests, not the Republicans.

Thus, one can conclude that “demographics” are also against the Tea Party R’s.

The final item that will ensure the Republican demise is the probability that the moderates will continue to pander to the zealots and embrace the politics of hate.

Some folks, this writer included, have a hard time reconciling the claim of the Tea Party to love their country, but hate their government. Instead of seeing their federal government as the Forest Service supervisor down the street, or the Idaho Nuclear Lab clerk climbing on a bus out to the site at 5 a.m., or the Marine captain home on leave, they see faceless bureaucrats who get more special privileges.

Rather than convey respect for public servants, they convey disrespect.

These folks motivated more by hate, invoke the Constitution and claim the right of a state to secede from the union, or to nullify federal laws they don’t agree with.

Yet they will stand at attention and recite the Pledge of Allegiance not recognizing their hypocrisy when repeating the words “One nation, Under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all.”

Here’s hoping the GOP wakes up and eliminates the life-threatening cancer in its midst.

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carlson CHRIS


It was a late summer-like day in early September of 1974. Governor Andrus and I were in a chartered twin engine plane flying from Preston to McCall via Boise because we also had to drop off the United Press International reporter who had covered our event in the far southeast corner of the state.

Shortly after mid-day we found ourselves flying at 10,000 feet over Twin Falls looking down on an assembled throng of thousands gathering to watch Evil Knievel attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon.

In November, Andrus’ name was on the ballot and by September a good chunk of our time was spent on the campaign trail. In fact it was “personal” politics that had taken us to Preston for a 10 a.m. meeting at the Franklin County Fairgrounds with 800 ranchers and farmers.

Andrus had had his fill of the local state senator, Reed Budge, an arch-conservative who opposed anything Andrus sought from the Legislature.

A cattle rancher, Budge was a proud member of “sirloin row,” where the state senators who represented rural interests, sat.

In reviewing pre-filed bills, Andrus had come across one drafted by Budge that he thought was inimical to the best interests of that county. In a rare move for the politically savvy governor, Andrus decided to go into Budge’s district, lay this out for the voters, and urge Budge’s defeat.

Thus it was that we flew into the nearest airport and drove to the Fairgrounds. Hundreds of people had gathered for what everyone expected to be a real showdown. Andrus was calling Budge out, as the saying goes. He had his facts down cold, made it clear what Budge was attempting and urged the crowd to vote for Budge’s opponent.

Senator Budge stood in the back of the room, arms folded with a slight smile on his face. Invited several times to say something, he simply shook his head. Budge knew something Andrus knew but had forgotten – many political issues are so complicated and confusing that people often decide on the basis of “who do they trust.”

These were Budge’s voters, heavily Republican and Mormon. Budge knew he didn’t have to say a word. The governor was a “gentile” from north Idaho, a “Big City” boy and a Democrat. Ninety minutes later we were back on the plane and headed to Boise. Andrus hadn’t made a dent in Budge’s armor.

Being a still wet-behind-the ears press secretary, I thought I would make the smart suggestion that we divert to the Twin Falls airport, put down, call Chris LaRocco, our then Twin Falls County campaign coordinator, to meet us with some brochures and go work that gathering crowd.

After all, it was a large crowd. In that way I thought we would salvage something from the day.

To my surprise, Andrus nixed the suggestion as quickly as I made it. He made several points some may find still relevant.

Paraphrasing, he said if he were to be there his mere appearance would be perceived as an endorsement and he did not want anyone thinking that because he did not endorse the stunt. “It’s going to cost the state’s taxpayers money for which there will be no reimbursement for items like overtime for State Police support for local law enforcement.”

Secondly, Andrus doubted the local units of government, the city and county of Twin Falls, blinded by the thought that the stunt would help generate more tourism, had begun to charge the sponsors enough in permit fees to recover their costs. “It will be a lost leader in the end,” he said.

Third, Andrus said he did not believe in lending the office of governor as a prop for a publicity stunt, especially one that could end in disaster.

“The state shouldn’t consider giving him a permit for the landing site on the north side of the canyon. They should be considering a permit for the bottom of the canyon ‘cuz that’s where he’s going to land. Nope, I hope we’re several hundred miles away by the time he makes the attempt,” he concluded.

I thought about what Andrus had said then as I read the recent news that Idaho, this time around has already garnered a million dollars for the State Endowment Fund from the winning bidder for the next attempt.

Something tells me that were Andrus still governor he would still be several hundred miles away. Shortly after Andrus was first elected he had signs put up on state highways saying “Idaho Is Too Great to Litter.”

I think he rightly sees this kind of stunt as a cheap thrill attracting those hoping to see the latest entry for a “Darwin Award.” It “litters” Idaho’s grandeur and greatness.

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