Writings and observations

carlson CHRIS


In Chapter 5 of my recently published book, Medimont Reflections, I posed the question that if Idaho’s great senator, William E. Borah, was known as “the Lion of Idaho,” what historical female practitioner of the political arts should we award the title “the Lioness of Idaho?”

The chapter cited several worthy contenders, but drilled down on the case for Verda Barnes, Senator Frank Church’s long-time chief of staff, and Louise Shadduck, the long-time chief assistant to two governors, a senator and a congressman.

For retired former Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene pastor, Mike Bullard, the choice was easy – hands down he believes it should be the former member of his last congregation, Louise Shadduck. He has written an enjoyable and informative 240-page biography of the multi-faceted, talented Shadduck, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, cut her teeth in journalism and was a longtime member and former president of the National Federation of Press Women.

Always torn between a love of writing (she wrote and had published five books) and a love of politics, Bullard makes it clear she never really resolved the conflict. A creative tension always existed for her as she tried to balance feet in both worlds. Her love of politics eventually led her in 1956 to challenge First District congresswoman Gracie Pfost. It became the first race for a congressional seat in the nation ever between the major parties where each nominated a woman to carry the banner.

Despite losing, Louise never regretted making the race and called it one of her life’s great learning experiences.

During an interview with Bullard about Louise, who I had known since 1972 (I did a profile from Washington, D.C.), I mentioned that I was calling one chapter “The Lioness of Idaho” and essentially the answer in my mind came down to Louise or Verda. I mentioned also that I thought there were actually two classes of contenders for the title, those that had served in Congress, and those that had not.

Of course neither of the “finalists” served in elective office so it turned out to be a moot question.

After pondering it for awhile, Bullard decided to call his book Lioness of Idaho. He kindly asked if I minded and also said he would like to copyright it. He did both with my full blessing.

His subtitle though quintessentially highlights one of the attributes that distinguished Louise during her rich and full life. Bullard’s subtitle is “The Politics of Polite,” and that was a key ingredient in her long 93 year span.

She could and often was painfully direct, with a reporter’s mind and ear for asking one the central question.

However, she was always so nice about her directness because she genuinely cared about people. And like President George H.W. Bush, she wrote numerous “thank you’s” developing an incredible set of contacts. She always especially took time for young people asking about their plans, what they were thinking and why.

Those that considered her a mentor in the world of Republican politics would fill pages, but among the illustrious list were such stalwarts as Phil Reberger, Dirk Kempthorne’s chief of staff, Dirk himself, former Governor Robert E. Smylie and former Attorney General and Lt. Governor, David Leroy.

Bullard has many fine anecdotes throughout the book, one of the funnier one’s being how stricken a young Idaho State policeman was when he realized he had stopped and had to ticket a speeder – his Aunt Louise.

Always in a hurry to be someplace, Louise acknowledged her lead foot and took it with good humor when a traffic court judge once sentenced her to a week of driver training.

If any one in recent Idaho history would have stood a good shot at breaking the glass ceiling of Idaho never having elected a female governor, Louise is clearly that person. Only trouble is when party brass started pushing her to think about it, some balding lumberjack from Orofino, Idaho named Cece Andrus stood in the way. She would have run well, but she knew she wouldn’t win.

Besides, Louise liked Cece, and I’m proud to say, she liked me – even though we were “misguided Democrats.”

Bullard’s book is out this week and well worth the time and money to read.

I suspect too there will be a tear in your eye as you read the conclusion. I know there was in mine.

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Carlson Idaho

carlson CHRIS


Idaho’s first Congressional District is the only Idaho congressional district to have twice selected women to represent its interests in the Congress of the United States. The first was Democrat Gracie Pfost (pronounced Post) from Nampa who served five terms from 1950 to 1960. The second was Republican Helen Chenoweth from Orofino who served three terms from 1994 to 2000.

As Republican and conservative as the district is, there is a long shot possibility they may just send another woman, and a Democrat at that, to represent their interests in the Halls of Congress.

Last week long-time educator and veteran state legislator Rep. Shirley Ringo from Moscow announced her intention to seek the Democratic nomination for the right to challenge Congressman Raul Labrador in November of 2014.

No one gives her much of a chance to win the most Republican district in the nation.

Even though a little over five years ago the district was represented by conservative Democrat Walt Minnick, and even though the district has sent women to Congress before. Additionally, a little known historical footnote:

Idaho’s First Congressional District has the distinction of being the first in the nation ever where both major political parties had women candidates as their standard bearers.

Ringo, a former school teacher, makes it clear she is in the race to win, and does not consider herself to just be a sacrificial lamb. She has an excellent knowledge of the education issue and can patiently explain the most arcane elements of Common Core or other education testing.

Although education is primarily a local and state issue, much funding comes from the federal level as well as direction regarding Common Core testing standards. Rep. Ringo knows this issue cold and will appeal to many voters and parents concerned about their children’s future.

Unlike many former teachers, she neither lectures, nor pontificates. She has a preference that teachers lead by example. No one will ever accuse her, either, of being feisty and combative, like her two predecessors. She speaks softly but her knowledge and passion, as well as politeness speak loudly.

Undaunted by the task of challenging an incumbent who is smooth, articulate, and charming, she believes that if district voters are educated about Labrador’s affiliation with the Tea Party element of the GOP and some of their downright wacko beliefs they will begin to view Labrador differently.

She can point out that Labrador has neither denounced nor distanced himself from such nonsense as repeal of the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S. senators, a return to the gold standard, shutting down government unless ObamaCare is defunded and a host other wing-nut beliefs.

At 72 years of age, some may believe she is too old to accumulate much seniority in Congress, but she can point out that Labrador, by alienating House Speaker John Boehner, will have little to show for his seniority. She can also question his judgment for participating in the ill-conceived, poorly executed coup against Boehner.

She also may be the beneficial recipient of some financial support from supporters of Labrador’s second district colleague, Congressman Mike Simpson. Labrador’s playing footsie with the Tea Party and Club for Growth folks supporting Simpson’s primary challenger, Idaho Falls attorney

Bryan Smith, has angered many Simpson supporters.

Labrador denied speculation in a previous column that he had anything to do with recruiting Smith or connecting him to the Club for Growth, but five days after rebuking your esteemed correspondent, he told the D.C. based publication Politico that he would neither affirm nor deny any speculation on the subject.

And he admitted to Lewiston Tribune editorial writer Marty Trillhause that since Smith announced he had talked to him by phone a few times. This messing in a colleague’s backyard has angered moderate and progressive Republicans, many of whom may find it more attractive to contribute to Ringo’s campaign than to the hopeless primary challenge to Labrador being mounted by a college student.

Idaho’s First Congressional district just may have a quieter but still effective version of Gracie Pfost in Shirley Ringo. She may surprise. Time will tell.

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carlson CHRIS


We launched our drift boat for a day of fly fishing on Idaho’s Teton River at a site within what was for a brief period of time the reservoir behind the Bureau of Reclamation constructed Teton Dam which catastrophically collapsed on June 5

Eleven lives were lost, as well as 13,000 head of cattle. The government paid out $300 million in damages though the total value of the destruction wrought by the cascading wave of water was more like $2 billion.

To stand at what was once the bottom of the 17 mile long reservoir, and imagine the surface of the stored 288,000 acre/feet some 240 feet above one’s head, and then look downstream at the remaining evidence of the 310 foot high and .6 of a mile long earthen dam was weird to say the least.

Having seen video of the collapse many times though (Still easily seen on YouTube), it was easy to envision the massive power of the pent-up water bursting forth at an incredible 2,000,000 cubic feet per second rate, roaring down the remaining six miles of the canyon before starting to fan out over Snake River plain farmland and flooding a number of communities from Wilford to Rexburg.

My fly fishing bud, Father Steve Dublinski, pastor of Spokane’s St. Augustine Catholic parish, and I were concluding a week-long fly fishing jaunt around Idaho that had seen us fish some of Idaho’s finest waters including the Big Wood River, the north and east forks of the Big Lost, and several selected spots on the main Salmon.

Since the collapse of the dam the Teton had become well-known as a fine cutthroat, rainbow and cutbow fishery with anglers coming to the area from all over the world.

Our guide and host this fine July morning was Idaho native Doug Siddoway, a member of the large sheep ranching family in southeastern Idaho. Doug’s cousin is State Senator Jeff Siddoway, from Terreton, who represents the sprawling 35th district. Doug though is considered the “black sheep” in the family because he is an outspoken Democrat.

Doug graduated from St. Anthony’s South Fremont High School and went onto Notre Dame where he obtained his bachelor’s degree. He then attended and graduated with a law degree from the University of Utah’s law school.

While he and his wife, Lauri, reside in Spokane, they maintain a farm with a lovely, modern-designed home outside of Ashton. Doug is and Lauri was a member of the Randall, Danskin law firm before Washington Governor Christine Gregoire appointed Lauri to the Washington Court of Appeals in March of 2010.

As we drifted down the river past where the dam had stood we discussed the hubris that must have existed within the Bureau of Reclamation that allowed them to believe they could safely build an earthen structure in the basaltic and rhylotic rock and soil that constituted the edge of the dam.

Even today, fissures can be seen which the Bureau felt could easily be filled by an influx of grouting to minimize leaking. They tragically guessed wrong.

Drifting by where the dam had stood brought a flood of memories. I recalled the day when Leo Krulitz, the Interior Department’s Solicitor, called to ask whether the Department should sue the dam’s primary contractor – the Boise firm of Morrison-Knudsen.

I didn’t think much of the idea since M-K’s first witness would be the former Idaho governor and current Interior secretary, his boss and mine, Cecil D. Andrus. I told Krulitz the governor had ordered an immediate review by the Department of Water Resources, which exonerated the contractor finding they had followed the design specifications put forth by the Bureau of Reclamation. Krulitz wisely dropped the idea.

I also recalled the governor arriving at Ricks College by helicopter following
our first overflight inspection of the devastated area. As we disembarked a thundering herd of journalists descended and a tv reporter from Salt Lake thrust a microphone into the governor’s face and shouted, “Governor, are you going to rebuild the dam?”

The normally unflappable Andrus, coldly looked at the guy and said (with curse words omitted) that was the dumbest question one could ask when the focus was providing relief to people in need of help, and that if the guy didn’t get the mic out of his face he was going to jam it down his throat.

Siddoway loved the story. However, he said that sadly there were some in the area with short memories who incredibly were once again talking about rebuilding the dam.

It makes no sense from either an environmental point of view or an economic point of view, he said. “Why destroy a thriving fishery for a questionable project that would primarily provide more water to grow more crops that would only further depress prices?” Doug asked. Why, indeed.

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Carlson Idaho

carlson CHRIS


Given what a strong Democrat Dr. Justin StormoGipson is and his spouse and life-partner, Dr. Maj StormoGipson was, I was surprised over the years I had not met either of them. She was a respected pediatrician, and he is an equally respected ophthalmologist, residing and practicing in Kootenai County.

They are the kind of people who help make Idaho special. They care about others and they love the wild aspects of Idaho – its wilderness, mountains, and rivers. Upon graduating from Dartmouth Medical School with their medical degrees, but before selecting their specialties, both spent two years as general practitioners working with the poor and needy in Central America.

Every year since finishing their residencies in 1991 they worked with Doctors without Borders volunteering time in third world countries helping the needy. Tellingly, both would speak eloquently not about what they were doing, but what they were receiving from those they assisted.

There is a special Grace in recognizing that in giving of time, talent and treasure to others one receives so much more in return.

On August 1 Idaho’s Selway River to hear the tragic news that Maj, the matriarch of a remarkable family, had drowned in a rubber kayak that became entrapped on a fallen tree across Idaho’s other truly outstanding river rafting experience, the Middle Fork of the Salmon.

According to a moving account written by her children and husband*, all of whom were on a trip that had been her Christmas gift to the family, she came around a blind curve with little chance to move to the far right quickly enough to avoid a recently fallen tree burned in a fire that had toppled most of the way across the Middle Fork.

Rafting guides will tell a client this is their worst nightmare. Depending n the volume of water even a raft can easily be flipped, let alone a rubber kayak, and the chances of instantly being trapped by branches under water is high.

The wilderness can be unforgiving of any mistake, whether of choice or chance. There is an inherent risk many are willing to take for the opportunity to be in and a part of wild Idaho that is what most of America was before the first European explorers arrived.

The closest a good friend of mine, the internationally renowned mountaineer, John Roskelley, has ever come to meeting his Maker was not some accident while climbing Mt. Everest or the numerous other Himalayan mountains he has conquered, it was instead a rafting accident on Idaho’s Lochsa River. His raft flipped in white water and he was pinned underneath a tree hidden under the water.

Only because he is in unusually excellent physical condition was he able to free himself and get to the surface in the nick of time.

Years ago I failed to follow a guide’s instructions while approaching some tremendous rapids in Hells Canyon. Instead of following the rafts to the river right I went to the river left right through the worst part. Almost instantly I was flipped out of the rubber kayak. I still vividly recall the water pressure, despite my life jacket, forcing me down, down, down ever deeper into the hole. In the nick of time the buoyancy of the life-vest took over and shot me to the surface, where I started to gasp for a breath of air.

Instead, another wave hit me and I took in water not air. Another whirl pool caught me and pulled me down, down, down again. At this point I realized I was in serious trouble. Had here been a tree underneath that would have caught me I’d not be telling this tale today. Once again, I popped back to the surface and swam over to one of the rafts where all those watching realized I had a narrow escape.

All recognized that Mother Nature was demonstrating how arbitrary and capricious she can be. Why I survived my mistake of choice and Dr. StormoGipson did not survive a mistake of chance, only God knows.

I’ll wager though that, like many who survive such experiences, she would not have given up recharging her spiritual batteries in Idaho’s wild. The reward far outweighs the risk. I only wish I could have had the opportunity to know her personally. She must have been a truly remarkable person.

*Statement by the Family

This was jointly written by myself, my siblings, my Dad and Eric. Please forward this onto anyone you think is appropriate. We appreciate your love and support during this most challenging time.


Dear Friends and Family,

Yesterday Justin’s beloved wife and our mother was taken from us during

a family rafting trip.

Our hearts are broken. Losing her has left a big aching hole in each

of us. This has been painful beyond words for all of us and especially

devastating for Justin, who tried valiantly to save her and lost the love of

his life for the past 39 years.

The details of this tragedy were excruciating to live through and are still

difficult for us to talk about. A part of us can’t believe it actually happened

and is waiting for the nightmare to end while another part of us keeps

replaying the experience over and over. We are writing the details in this

letter so that we can let people know what happened and then start the

hard work of piecing our lives back together


We are all here in Coeur d ‘Alene, Idaho for the next week as we make

preparations for a Celebration of Life service happening next weekend

(Aug 3rd/4th)- we won’t have details of date, time etc. until Monday and

will send them out as soon as we know.

For friends and family that are flying in for Kate’s wedding we are

having a Celebration of Life service on Saturday Aug. 10th instead of a

traditional rehearsal dinner. We know Mom would want the wedding to

go on, but we also want to commemorate Maj’s life. We know she would

love to have all her siblings there. We’ll send more details later.

Yesterday seems like a world away, but on July 26th at noon Maj drowned

and our lives were turned upside down. It was day five of a six day rafting

trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in the Idaho Wilderness.

Mom had been looking forward to doing this rafting trip for years and

it was her Christmas gift to us. She was so exited to be doing her two

favorite things – being with her family and spending time outdoors on the water.

Yesterday morning Maj was paddling in a single person inflatable kayak, along with Luke, Kenna, and Justin instead of riding in a larger seven person paddle raft (where Kate and Eric were). She had chosen to do the inflatable kayak because the morning rapids were easy and she wanted to be in the larger raft after lunch when the rapids were more difficult.

A few minutes before lunch, the group reached a small rapid around a blind curve with a semi-submerged tree. The tree had recently fallen in a forest fire and the roots remaining on the bank continued to smolder.

Because of the turn in the river, Maj didn’t see the tree until it was too late. It blocked more than half the river and the only open water was on the far right. The larger paddle boat in front with the guide moved to the far right and the guide screamed for the kayakers to “get to the right!”

Luke made it around, but watched helplessly as mom’s kayak hit the tree

sideways. He screamed, “Mom lean into the tree!” but the force of the

water against the tree quickly flipped the kayak. And Maj disappeared.

As soon as Mom fell in the river she was trapped by the tree branches

with the entire force of the river rushing over her. This is called being

caught in a “strainer” and is one of the deadliest situations for a kayaker

to be in.

Luke, who saw the whole thing happen, was screaming from the opposite

shore for help. Justin having seen the kayak flip and before even realizing

it was his wife inside, within seconds had kayaked around to where he

could scramble onto the tree. He was the first person there. Dad groped

under the big ponderosa pine until he felt her lifejacket 3 feet down. He

straddled the tree with his legs and pulled with everything he had but

could barely get her lifejacket above water. Sadly, her paddle had pinned

her to the submerged branches of the tree.

Soon after, several raft guides reached Justin. Only after four people were

there, were they able to wrench Maj’s body up out of the water. It was

torturous to watch, and by then several minutes had passed. We wailed on

the shore.

Maj was not breathing, pale, and had no pulse. Justin, Eric and the guides

performed CPR as soon as she was on shore, for 25 minutes they labored

with no response.

And then it was over. Except it wasn’t.

Rescue helicopters won’t come for the deceased. So we had no other

choice but to raft the remaining 18 miles of river canyon to the road.

Before Mom was put in a sleeping bag and strapped into the raft, we spent

some precious last moments with her and left a cross on the shore. It

was a six hour funeral procession down the river followed by a two hour

bumpy car ride to the nearest town.

The nightmare that started just before lunch reached a resting point at


Justin made arrangements with the local sherrif for Maj’s body to be at

the local morgue and we got a hotel room. There was an 8 hour drive

ahead of us to get back to Coeur d’ Alene and we were in no position to

drive so we stayed in Salmon, ID.

None of us slept much last night. Thankfully Kate’s husband, Eric, was

composed enough to drive us home this morning.

We arrived in one piece and yet totally shattered. This was the longest

journey home.

We cried in waves and screamed in voices we’d never heard ourselves make before. We held each other, we talked about Mom, and mostly we sat in shattered silence.

We are all thankful to the guides Alison, Ben and Jeff who risked their lives to try and save Maj and helped to recover her body. And we are drawing comfort from Mom’s spirit. The last words she uttered to Luke before entering the rapid were, “It’s such a beautiful day!”

She was doing what she loved- being in the water with her family.

Carrying her body down the river we felt her presence. A great BlueHeron swooped ahead of the raft and guided us out of the canyon and through the remaining rapids. When we reached the road another Heron was there to greet us and fly beside the car.

Then this morning, Justin threw a farewell rock into the river, and one last Blue Heron arose from the bank and flew gracefully into the distance.

In love and sorrow,

Justin, Kenna, Kate, Luke, and Eric

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carlson CHRIS


UPDATE NOTE: Corrections to this column: Col. Warner Gardner was killed when the Eagle Electric crashed 100 yards from the finish line and victory in the Diamond Cup: It was NOT Dallas Sartz. Also, legendary driver Bill Muncey never drove the Thriftway Too, just the Miss Thriftway.

Most north Idahoans have strong opinions about multi-millionaire resort developer and newspaper mogul Duane Hagadone’s commitment to the well-being of Coeur d’Alene and north Idaho – indeed all of Idaho. Some see him as a generous philanthropist who gives both anonymously and publicly to many worthy causes.

Others see him as one who gives only when it serves pure self-interest.

To his partisan supporters, Hagadone is a gutsy hero who, at considerable risk, invested in the Coeur d’Alene Resort and its fine golf course, gambling that “build it” and they will come. There were no guarantees, but he built it and they did come.

Regardless of one’s views, of particular interest to many was the recent business decision to contribute $100,000 to the committee running the upcoming Coeur d’Alene Diamond Cup Unlimited Hydroplane races over Labor Day.

For unlimited hydro fans, there is nothing in all of sports quite like the sound of five or six unlimited hydros, engines at full throttle, roaring down the straight stretch for the running start of a heat.The sport has always had drama because of competition between teams like Bernie Little’s Miss Budweiser and Olie Bardahl’s Miss Bardahl; and, because of colorful drivers like the Maverick’s Mira Slovak, an airline pilot from the Czech Republic who flew his plane to freedom during the Iron Curtain days. Or a driver like Billy Schumacher, who won the last Diamond cup in 1968 driving the Bardahl. Then there was the legendary Bill Muncey, who won over 50 of the races, usually driving Miss Thriftway and Thriftway Too. And there were the community owned boats, the Miss Spokane, the Miss Burien, and the longest lasting one, the Miss Madison.

That the sport was dangerous can be testified to the number of fine drivers, like Dallas Sartz, who died in the crash of Spokane’s Eagle Electric, Rex Manchester who once had piloted the Miss Spokane, and Muncey himself died in an accident in Mexico.

Now, unlimited hydro fans in the inland northwest, who usually have to travel to the Tri-Cities for the Atomic Cup or to Seattle for the Seafair race to get their annual fix, can stay close to home. Hagadone is betting that the youth riots which turned the community against the races some 40 years ago will not reoccur. Instead, it will be a fun-filled and enjoyable experience for all.

Before one heaps new huzzah’s on this complex yet extraordinarily successful businessman, one should best remember that like many of the super-rich, Hagdone’s actions reflect his apparent belief there are two sets of laws: one for him and one the rest of us.

Most noteworthy of recent vintage was the construction of his multimillion dollar home over-looking Palm Springs. Only trouble is, according to the Wall Street Journal, Hagadone chose to build before having all the proper permits He reportedly told contractors to move ahead, he would pay whatever fines and penalties levied.

This brought back to mind the time Jay Shelledy (former Idaho AP reporter, former managing editor of the Lewiston Tribune, former publisher of the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, and former editor of The Salt Lake Tribune), was working as a marine deputy sheriff on Lake Coeur d’Alene during one of the summers between teaching at Kootenai Junior-Senior High School.

It was after dark when Shelledy spotted this sleek boat shooting across the lake without its running lights lit. Having ticketed several others that evening for the same violation, he gave chase and pulled the boat over. Hagadone was at the wheel. As Shelledy started to write the ticket Hagadone protested with the classic “do you know who I am?”

Shelledy said, yes, he did, but it made no difference. Hagadone had to abide by the law like everyone else. Nor would it be fair, Jay said, to have ticketed the others that evening and not ticket Hagadone.

While many lake-users will be thanking Mr. Hagadone for helping to bring back the unlimited hydro races, all should doff their hats to Shelledy for enforcing the law many years ago. There is less danger now of not seeing an on-coming bullet boat racing at unlimited hydro plane speeds across the lake at night driven by any scofflaw ignoring the requirement to have on running lights.

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carlson CHRIS


Let’s start with what we think we know: 1) Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has said he is running for a third term; 2) First District Congressman Raul Labrador appears to be backing away from challenging the governor because some pundits are making much out of the little amount of fund-raising he has done lately.

Here are some other pertinent “facts”: 1) When in the Legislature then State Rep. Labrador took on the governor twice, and beat him on the issue of increased fuel taxes to further upgrade badly decaying highways and bridges; and, succeeded in replacing the governor’s hand-picked state chairman with Norm Semanko, head of the Idaho Water Users Association.

2) Supposedly this has made the two men political enemies with each hoping he has the chance metaphorically to knife the other.

3) The First Lady, Lori Otter, so enjoys her role that she is the driving force behind the governor seeking a third term.

Then there is the fact that Rep. Labrador is responsible for recruiting the Club for Growth to underwrite Idaho Falls attorney and Tea Partyite Bryan Smith’s primary challenge against long-time Second District congressman Mike Simpson. The former Blackfoot dentist is a close ally of current House Speaker John Boehner.

Now here’s what we don’t know: 1) Congressman Labrador’s longterm goal; 2) What Governor Otter’s real goal is; 3) What Governor Otter may have said to his loyal Lt. Governor, Brad Little, and 4) Whether any scientific polling has been done by anyone.

So, anyone’s guess is as good as anyone else’. Here’s my educated guess.

There is a huge bluff game being played and at this point it appears Governor Otter has bluffed Congressman Labrador into thinking he really is running for a third term. Furthermore, the governor appears to have convinced Labrador that in a head-to-head primary he would kick Labrador’s rear.

To that end there are rumors Governor Otter is quietly preparing a huge north Idaho fund-raiser that will feature – no, not Tea Party darling and the new Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz – but rather the charismatic governor from New Jersey, Chris Christie. Governor Christie is clearly no favorite of the Tea Party so this has about it an “in your face” message to Labrador.

Neither does holding a fund-raiser remove all doubt about the governor’s intentions. He does in fact have a hold-over campaign debt (a loan from himself to his campaign) and the proceeds all could go to paying off the debt to himself.

My guess is that if Governor Otter runs, he would crush the overly ambitious congressman. Labrador’s votes against funding much of the Idaho National Lab activity are simply inexplicable and downright suicidal if he were considering a statewide run. Secondly, Labrador is out of step with much of the Idaho agriculture community’s views on immigration reform.

Neither does Labrador have deep personal Idaho roots nor has he spent years gathering the numerous personal relationships Governor Otter has.

Even with the hefty financial support of a fellow Mormon, like Frank VanderSloot, the millionaire owner of Melaleuca, it would be an expensive campaign.

Here’s the real wild card in this game of bluff: some pundits believe Governor Otter long ago gave his word to Brad Little that he would only serve two terms and then make way for Brad to succeed him. Little was a talented state senator from Gem County and has been a loyal understudy.

He is ready to be governor full-time (and has been part-time more than people think with the number of days Otter has been out of state).

It is hard to see the Emmett native and successful owner of a diversified farm/cattle operation spending another four years playing second fiddle.

Don’t give any credence either to theories that Otter would run, win and then resign and hand the number one job to Little. Governors do not resign (the exception of course being University of Idaho graduate, Sarah Palin, who resigned as Alaska’s governor in order to grab for all the big bucks she could).

Idaho politics being what they are, if Otter indeed has bluffed Labrador out and then does not run, there are few who believe Little would not face a Tea Party challenger. After all, Little, like some of his GOP colleagues, likes to solve problems and recognizes politics is the art of compromise. He even thinks for himself.

In that case, look for the Tea Party to recruit someone like State Treasurer Ron Crane, or the younger Brent Crane, a state representative from Nampa, or former House Speaker Lawerence Denny from Midvale, to go after Little and deny Otter his hand-picked successor in a further paroxysm of spite and Republican self-flagellation.

The sad thing is with the new closed primary they could succeed which would be unfortunate because Little is one of just a small handful of reasonable Republicans that could be excellent governors and to date are better than any names put forward by the Democrats.

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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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