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Posts published in “Carlson”

Some friendly counsel

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Dear Dan:

As you begin your new career as press secretary to First District Congressman Raul Labrador, here is some advice that will help you succeed. I preface it by saying I will miss your excellent political reporting.

I hope you understand skills you polished in your distinguished reporting career are not all transferable to making for a successful career as a press secretary. Thus,this counsel:

1) There is only one name on the ballot. Your job of course is to promote your Boss’ name. Too many “flacks” make the mistake of allowing themselves to be quoted directly. As a general rule speak only on background and not for direct attribution so that the information your Boss wants out is delivered but the quote is something like “an aide close to Congressman Labrador said. . . . .”

2) Physical proximity to your horse is critical. If you want to be the “go to” person for the media you have to be where he is, which is D.C., most of the time, not Meridian. I know Senator Mike Crapo has his media staff largely in Boise, but he does not seek the national profile your Boss is well along the path of obtaining. Already, your Congressman has established a record of sorts for the number of appearances on Meet the Press for a sophomore member. You want the producers of that show to be calling you when they want him, not some D.C. assistant.

3) You were a somebody in Boise; you’re a nobody in D.C. Your Boss has a right to expect you to start developing good relations with national, D.C. based media, many of whom may know you from your award-winning journalistic career but none who know you in your new role. All they will be interested in is can you return phone calls promptly, can you speak for your Boss and when necessary can you deliver him quickly. You’ll also have to court the veteran press secretaries as well as pay homage to the media “stars” for the press has indeed become major influencers of events not just reporters. Read This Town by Mark Lebovich, if you haven’t already.

4) Take a media training course and run your Boss through one periodically. There is an art form to talking with the media and delivering your message, then staying on that message regardless of what the media may want. Every interview is as an opportunity to get your message out and you have to control the interview. Thus, you’ll master such devices as “block and bridge,” where one learns quickly to block the thrust of a reporter’s question and bridge to the message you want. Pull Florida Governor Rick Scott’s CNN interview off of You Tube when he was a candidate. His message was “jobs” and every question he took he turned back into “I’m all about creating jobs.” His interviewers were frustrated but he sure got his message across. (more…)

Idaho Falls tea leaves

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

In politics there are rarely coincidences. Additionally, sometimes an event occurs which one can read much more into than just the surface appearance. It becomes a telltale indicator of something more significant than one at first glance would think.

One of these “more than meet the eyes” events happened in Idaho Falls on the evening of the 4th of July and went largely unnoticed by what Texas Senator and Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz calls the “chattering class”---the political pundits and commentators.

Multi-millionaire and Melaleuca founder Frank Vandersloot sponsors a well attended 4th of July fireworks show. Its his way of showing his patriotism as well as his appreciation for “the shining city on the hill” as Ronald Reagan so eloquently once put it when describing the still greatest country on the earth.

Vandersloot is justly proud of this event and he often has a special guest. His guest this year not surprisingly was an Idaho gubernatorial candidate. What was surprising was that the guest was neither Tea Party endorsed State Senator Russ Fulcher nor was it incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. It was none other than the Democratic nominee, Boise businessman A.J. Bulakoff.

The “chattering class” as well as the general voting public ought to sit up and take notice for this could portend more than Vandersloot just covering himself in case Bulakoff pulls off the upset. It could signal that the traditional Republican Latter Day Saint vote is starting a seismic shift away from the incumbent governor.

There is no question that most LDS voters mark their ballots for the Republican candidates, and in the past some Democratic strategists have made the mistake of assuming that Mormon voters would go for a Mormon Democrat in good standing over a non-Mormon Republican.

Otter himself disproved this gambit four years ago in dispatching Mormon gubernatorial nominee Keith Allred, as did then Boise Mayor Dirk Kempthorne when he won a race for a U.S. Senate seat by defeating Second District Congressman Richard Stallings.

A. J. Bulakoff though just may be an exception to this general rule that LDS voters vote party first and their religion second. While he is smart enough not to wear his religion on his sleeve, nor ever even to make a pitch to voters based on a common held set of beliefs, it is well known among the LDS community that he is a Saint in good standing, has the so-called “temple pass,” is a graduate of the “Y” (Brigham Young University in Provo), has a large and loving family, and is happily maried to Susie Skaggs, one of the heirs to the Skaggs Drugstore chain.

Additionally, A.J. is a largely self-made multi-millionaire who, like Vandersloot, has enjoyed considerable success in the business world.
Vandersloot is nobody’s fool and has adroitly played the political game for years. He recognizes that public policy is all about politics, whether local, state, or national. Thus, he takes an interest in races from local judgeships to presidential elections. (more…)

Campaigning on your dime

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter brought his “dog and pony” show called Capital For A Day to St. Maries on July 21st. My, oh my, how it has changed since Governor Cecil D. Andrus, who initiated the program in 1973, and I walked the streets of the temporary “capital” (usually a county seat).

No entourage. No security detail. No advance team. No “show and tell.” No setting up a town hall meeting and expecting the citizens to come to us.

Nope. Just Cece and I, popping in and out of various businesses on Main Street, chatting with the owner and asking if they were having any difficult issues with any facet of state government. The day’s agenda usually included a noon speech at a Rotary or a Kiwanis Club and in the afternoon drop by visits to the local paper and other media to report on what he was hearing.

My role was to take notes, handle any media that might want to tag along and pass out the “Capital for A Day” post cards wherein folks could write a brief description of their issue and their contact info.

When we got back to Boise the governor would deal the cards out to appropriate staff with instructions to have an interim report back to the constituent within two weeks and a definitive answer within four weeks.

There was another significant difference. Once the Republicans selected their nominee to challenge Andrus in the August primary, the governor suspended the program.

“Butch” should take note and follow the Andrus lead. No matter how one slices it, or rationalizes it, to continue Capital For A Day in an election year after your opponent is selected is to have the taxpayers underwriting a campaign-like endeavor.

It's a clear "conflict of interest" and a clear illegal contribution to the governor's re-election effort by the taxpayer. Frankly, I'm amazed that no one has called Governor Otter out on this matter. State senator Russ Fulcher from Meridian should have confronted Governor otter on this in his closely contested primary challenge. (more…)

Governor JVE, RIP

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Think of it this way: without a John V. Evans there never would have been an Interior Secretary named Cecil D. Andrus.

Why? Because Cece never would have left Idaho and given up the governor’s chair to a Republican Lieutenant Governor, especially one named Vernon Ravenscroft.

Idaho’s 27th governor passed away last week at the age of 89. Most of the media accounts dutifully noted the former Mayor and State Senator from Malad, who had defeated Ravenscroft in the 1974 general election, did a solid job in the governorship. He was twice re-elected in his own right and his ten years in the governorship is the third longest service of any Idaho governor.

Some noted that this fine record, however, has been forgotten because Evans had the misfortune of being the meat between the two fine slices of bread represented by Cece’s first stint as governor (1971-1977) and his return engagement (1987-1995).

In death though, Evans received some of his overdue “due.” Most newspapers around the state did note some of his major accomplishments, for example, during tougher economic times than Andrus experienced he maintained strong support for public education by slashing state spending elsewhere and having the courage to support some reasonable tax increase.

He also along with then Attorney General and now Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, negotiated the precedent setting agreement with Idaho Power which established minimum stream flows on the Snake River for power generation and required the basin-wide adjudication of Snake River water rights.

Evans further marshalled all the state resources one could muster to assist the Silver Valley when it suffered the devastating loss of 2200 jobs when the Bunker Hill Mine and Smelter in Kellogg shut down. Evans was one of those rare public office holders who truly cared about people and the daily challenges most must meet.

He considerably expanded the “Capital for A Day” program which Cece had initiated in 1973.

Under the Andrus model it was just Cece and I walking Main Street of a county seat. Usually we stopped by the Main Street Drug, the busiest looking café, the local super market, a gas station or two---we’d even walk into a bar or two.

Then we’d speak to a local Kiwanis Club or Rotary at noon. In the afternoon we’d drop by the local newspaper and the local radio station to report on what we’d heard from their friends and neighbors. If it was a weekly we’d meet with the publisher. If it was a daily we’d meet with their ed board and Boise Statehouse reporter.

Evans began the practice of taking selected state agency directors and added the component of a town hall meeting to the format. It is the Evans model that current Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter adopted. (more…)

An October surprise?

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter conveys an image of serenity and certainty as he goes from political events like the “God and Country” rally held in Nampa to the 4th of July parade in Idaho Falls where he and wife Lori, dressed in matching outfits, display their horsemanship skills.

Beneath that façade of confidence that Idahoans will still reward his lackluster record by electing him to a third term there has to be a heart full of anxiety that the chickens will come home to roost regarding his disastrous venture into the private management of a state prison facility. A worst case scenario that some Democrats pine for is if not Butch, several people close to him may be charged with obstruction of justice before the November election.

In political parlance it is called an “October surprise”----an event that breaks into the news just before the voters cast ballots. Overnight it can change the electoral dynamic. Often campaigns will try to innoculate themselves against such events with pre-emptive statements to the media that their desperate opponent may launch a baseless “October surprise” charge that the media should disregard.

It is a completely different matter, though, if it is the Federal government through a U.S. Attorneys’ office, that brings charges before an election and that is what Governor Otter may be sweating. Much as the Governor wants folks to think he is on cruise control to re-election, there are many folks deeply troubled by how badly the Governor’s signature trademark venture into private management of a traditional public function, the management of state prisons, has been bungled.

What the public does know is damning enough. Start with the fact that on July 1st the state took back over management of the prison outside of Boise constructed and managed by Corrections Corporation of America. Throw into the mix that credible evidence came out that CCA was billing the State for work never performed but no one knows just how much because the Governor announced a million dollar settlement with CCA that closed the books.
Some believe this was a thinly disguised effort to stymie any further release of other embarassisng information indicating further negligence by the state to conduct any responsible oversight.

Add to the mix that a member of the Idaho State Police and one who reports directly to the governor, led the media, whether willfully or unintentionally is not clear, to believe that the ISP was conducting a state investigation into CCA and its handling of the state contract (Worth reportedly about $30 million annually). A year later when a reporter asked for the report or its status the official revealed no investigation had ever been conducted. (more…)

A transformative governor

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

July 20 marks the 25th anniversary of the death of a governor never elected by the people of Idaho who nonetheless had a more profound and lasting impact upon Idahoans than many of its elected governors. His name was Forrest H. Anderson, the 17th governor of Montana who in one-term, 1968-1972, not only transformed Montana but indirectly helped his colleague, Cecil D. Andrus, to transform Idaho.

Born in Helena on January 30, 1913, he died tragically by his own hand at the age of 76 in Helena on July 20th, 1989. He had been in ill health for years in part due to a hard life consumming too much alcohol (A functioning alcoholic he allegedly quit drinking during his second term as Montana attorney general, 1960-1964) and too much tobacco whether cigarettes, a pipe or a cigar.

A short, almost pixie-like figure, he nonetheless towers over most other Montana governors in terms of ability to change the state and turn its government into true and efficient public servants. He could be brusque with people and caustic. He often swore like a lumberjack and had little use for the press. A very private person he was often accused of acting in secret (He did). A humble man, he eschewed all the trappings of high office.

Montanans, however, loved him. He was elected three times as attorney general (1956, 1960, 1964), served a term early in his career from Lewis and Clark County in the Montana Legislature (1945-47), and was twice elected as an associate justice of Montana’s State Supreme Court. He is the only person to ever serve in all three branches of government in Montana.

He could have easily been re-elected governor but his declining health compelled him to step aside after but one term - one however which saw Montana’s government truly changed. Two of the three major changes he brought about in Montana had their “successors” in Idaho. (more…)

Family values

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

A steadily growing trend in political television advertising is the appearance of a candidate’s mother, spouse, daughter, son or his entire immediate family, all testifying to what a good person the candidate is. And yes, almost always it is a male candidate running these family testimonials.

Even the family dog can get drawn into the net. A few years back in the neighboring Fifth congressional district (Spokane), Congressman George Nethercutt prominently featured the family dog in his television commercials.

It used to be that just a picture of the candidate’s family would appear in a print ad or a brochure. Such pictures were designed to help the voter identify with the candidate. “See, I’m a normal person with a spouse, kids, pets, an old beater of a car, a mortgage and bills, just like you,” the ad would imply. Therefore vote for me because I know your challenges and I can feel your pain (As Bill Clinton famously said).

Such family testimonials must work at some level because media consultants would not be utilizing them if polling didn’t tell them that many voters accept such ads at face value. This is a classic case of myth-making overcoming reality.

It is also a classic case of a political aspirant using loved ones as props to feed the candidate’s ego and ambition. Often it is unseemly and demeaning, especially when the long-suffering spouse is asked to stand behind her man despite his blatant infidelity and is expected to look into the camera and testify that she still loves her spouse and please give them a zone of privacy to work through their difficulty.

Most of us recoil at such maudlin scenes and instinctively feel sorry for the spouse being asked to endure the public humiliation. Deep down most of us know also there is no such entity as a normal person nor a normal family nor a normal marriage.

We know that every marriage has its challenges. Couples have to work through these challenges together if they are to keep growing together. To pretend that maintaining the appearance of a normal family is somehow proof that if one can manage a fmaily they can manage a state is patently absurd.

Families and relationships are dynamic entities full of divegent, ever-changing personalities, and truth be told, most families have their dysfunctional aspects.

One thing we do know for sure is a spouse knows our weaknesses better than anyone else. We also know that it is just plain wrong for one spouse to expect the other to sacrifice their self-esteem, goals and ambitions on the altar of the other’s ambitions.

The smartest move I ever made was to marry my wife. On June 12th we will celebrate 44 years of marriage. We met when I was teaching at Kootenai High School and she was in Nursing school at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. The daughter of a hard-working, sometimes hard drinking north Idaho gyppo logger, she is one of nine children. (more…)

An Idaho gem

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Somewhere down the road a future Idaho governor is going to take a page from a President’s Book of Plays, and is going to create, maybe even endow, an annual award to an Idaho writer, artist, composer, or outstanding college teacher.

Let’s call it the “Gem” Award, and attach a cash component of say $100,000. Ask the Idaho Humanities Council (The Council has established a similar award, but no money) to submit three names to the Governor.

Yes, Idaho already has the “Esto Perpetua” award that goes annually to the person or organization that during the previous year has best promoted Idaho heritage. It is awarded by the Idaho State Historical Society. While prestigious it too carries no monetary award.

My nominee for the First Gem Award would hands down be Idaho’s State Historian, and one of the state’s finest writers, Keith Petersen. Born in Vancouver, Washington in 1951 and a graduate of Washington State University, Keith has immersed himself in Idaho history like no other Idahoan.

His ability to relate fascinating details and place them in a meaningful context is superb. It is also the product of meticulous research and an innate curiousity that asks “what else was going on then that could have impacted this event or shaped people’s perceptions?”

Did you know that Father DeSmet, one of the first Jesuit missionaries to come to Idaho and the inspiration behind the state’s oldest structure, the Cataldo Mission, was a confident of Northwest road builder John Mullan? Mullan first came west in 1853 as part of a Pacific Railroad survey expedition headed by Washington Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens, who “negotiated” (read dictated) the famous treaty of 1855 the effects of which we are still living with today.

If you did not know those facts then read Keith’s most recent endeavor, a biography of Captain John Mullan, who engineered the Mullan Road that started at Fort Walla Walla and ended up at Fort Benton in Montana on the Missouri River. Much of Interstate 90 today follows the road that he mapped and engineered over 150 years ago. Even if one is not a reader of history or biographies, this book is well worth one’s time.

The book is entitled John Mullan: The Tumultuous Life of a Western Road Builder and is published by WSU Press.

Keith begins the book with Captain Mullan’s delivery of a speech in New York City in 1863 at the height of his fame for his explorations, mapping and road building in the west. Mullan is actually the warm up act at the speech forum but drones on and on for a couple hours.

Keith portrays this as the apogee, the high point of Mullan’s story, for at age 36 it is bascially all downhill for the intrepid but ambitious Mullan from there to the end of his life. While Mullan displayed incredible discipline in his younger years, was a diligent and obedient student while mastering the intricacies of engineering at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and clearly an exceptional leader of his map-making and road building crews he appears to have had a classic fatal flaw. (more…)

Speaker Simpson, revisited

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho’s Second District congressman, Mike Simpson, has to be one of the nation’s few prominent non-Tea Party Republicans not shedding any tears over the stunning upset and defeat of Virginia congressman and Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this week.

Indeed, he has to be smiling like a Chesire cat.

Without having to lift a finger, or stab a colleague in the back, a major hurdle was eliminated in a possible path to the Speakership by the wily yet charming Idahoan. Historically, a party’s majority leader often becomes the Speaker, a powerful post in our system of checks and balances government, and second in line of succession to the Presidency.

Simpson is thought to aspire to the office but early on he must have recognized that it would be difficult to pursue the traditional path wherein an aspirant first runs for either the number three leadership post, that of Party whip, currently held by California congressman Kevin McCarthy, or the number four post, caucus secretary, held by Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Washington state’s Fifth Congressional District (Spokane).

A member of the leadership then bides his or her time until a Speaker retires and in theory everyone moves up a slot. That’s the theory, but of course the reality often leads to some nasty internal fights not always soothed over after the results are known.

Simpson appears to have adopted a different path. A good judge of horse flesh, he indirectly attached his political star to that of Ohio congressman John Boehner, becoming both a friend and a close personal advisor to the future Speaker and a member of the so-called “inner circle.” He carefully avoided running for any of the leadership posts because inevitably one makes a few enemies by becoming an overt rival.

The former Speaker of the Idaho House and former dentist from Blackfoot also instinctively understood that if one is a formal member of a Speaker’s leadership team, then he or she is identified with the bad as well as the good policies and positions that are taken by a Speaker. This can be both a blessing and a curse, but as Eric Cantor found out, it can lead to a muddled middle ground on a divisive issue like immigration reform that ends up alienating both sides.

By staying out of a formal leadership role Simpson can pick and choose carefully which national issues he may want to take a more visible stance on. (more…)

Never cry wolf

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman ought to read Canadian author Farley Mowat’s book, Never Cry Wolf. He might learn a thing or two about animal behavior which all too often has application in the political arena.

For example, he will learn that nothing is simple, that everything is complex. As a charming and engaging propagandist, Hoffman loves to oversimplify complex situations and appear as some wise sage enlightening the uninformed about what’s really going on with and in the Idaho Legislature.

He will also relearn what he should know well given the years he has worked in the political arena: nothing is as it appears and there are no coincidences. These thoughts were prompted by reading his overly simplified, off-the-mark interpretation of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry’s campaign mailer and ads in the waning days of the May 20th primary which saw Republican State Rep. Lenore Barrett of Challis go down in defeat.

Hoffman found it all too easy to accuse big business of smearing a true blue conservative for her vote against spending $200,000 for the creation of an Idaho Wolf Task Force. To reach this preconceived conclusion Hoffman had to ignore evidence that should have told him much more was at play. He apparently could not resist the temptation to bend the facts to his skewed view. He wants readers to believe that IACI got away with suckering the ill-informed voter by accusing Rep. Barrett of being “soft” on the eradication of introduced wolves.

Who is he trying to kid? Anyone who knows Rep. Barrett, who parlayed her time on the Challis City Council into 11 terms in the Idaho Legislature, knows where she stands on every issue - to the far right. They also know she is not soft about anything. She operates in a world of clear black and white and calls it as she sees it.

To say her style, after awhile, begins to rub some the wrong way, would be an understatement. Her age (well beyond 70) is another issue Hoffman chose to ignore.

The ground truth is the earth moved underneath her feet, i.e., she was redistricted into a much larger legislative district - District 8, which stretches from Wyoming on the east to Oregon on the west. For years she represented eastern Idaho counties like Jefferson and Fremont not to mention Custer and Lemhi. Want to wager Wayne that she didn’t spend much time in Valley, Boise and Gem counties getting acquainted with her new constituents?

Her antennae should have given her warning signals in 2012 when she won the four-way Republican primary with just 37.2% of the vote. In 2014, Rep. Barrett received 2,677 votes, which in a three-person race translates into 34.2% of the vote. No one should have been surprised.

There’s another tried and true political axiom: It takes someone to beat someone; in other words, you seldom defeat an incumbent with a nobody. My guess is that Merrill Beyelier, from Leadore, is a somebody. I’d wager, Wayne, that Beyelier is a member of the LDS Church ( Barrett is not), and that he had the backing of the locally politically powerful Ellsworth family, which, a few years back produced a Senate Pro Tempore, the late Senator Jim Ellsworth. (more…)