Writings and observations

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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carlson CHRIS


Dear Governor Otter:

I want to thank you for your letter of September 17, letting me be one of the first to know you are running for re-election, seeking a third term as Idaho’s governor.

Since I have never contributed a dime to any of your campaigns I am puzzled as to how I ended up on one of your numerous mailing lists, but nonetheless am flattered you would seek my support both personal and financial.

Before I would even consider either signing the statement of support you enclosed or contributing a dime, I do have a few questions to ask the answers to which would help this voter decide whether you have truly earned the rare tribute of a third term.

Let me preface these questions by saying from a personal standpoint I cannot help liking you. You can be disarmingly charming, you have a fine sense of self-deprecating humor, and I will always give you great credit for almost standing alone in the well of the U.S. House fighting against the reauthorization of the Patriot Act with all its incredible trampling on a citizen’s right to privacy and due process.

I have said it before, and will say it again: that courageous stand merits a modern profile in any updating of John Kennedy’s book, Profiles in Courage.

That aside, Governor, let me ask if you really expect voters to swallow claims in your solicitation. You state the most important role in ensuring future economic growth is building and maintaining a responsive, effective education system. True enough.

You go on to write: “I’m going to keep striving to improve our schools because I know how important an educated work force is to our success as a state. That means world-class instructional opportunities for our kids everywhere in Idaho, and a strong accessible postsecondary education system for our workforce.”

Governor, with all due respect your actions belie your words. How do you square those statements with facts documented by your former state economist, Mike Ferguson, that on your watch state support for public and higher education has declined by 25% of average gross income?

Idaho is now last among the 50 states in per pupil support. Is that putting your money where your mouth is?

Your own Education Reform Task Force called first and foremost for a restoration of almost $300 million in cuts that occurred on your watch.

You endorsed its conclusions, tacitly admitting that public education had been on rations trying to survive on a starvation budget.

Incredibly, you then publicly stated you were going to support further “tax relief” for the large corporations and a few of your wealthy friends who clearly don’t need it. You know darn good and well you cannot do both but you are still trying to have it both ways.

This is disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst. It does not become you.

You also know governors are elected to solve problems. Yet you have sat idly by while two matters crying out for executive leadership festered and worsened to the point where a Federal judge is now basically running the private prison outside of Boise and another Federal judge is running the State’s transportation department in an effort to resolve the “mega-loads” dispute. Are you proud of that?

Your letter is full of nice platitudes, but when one looks for substantive accomplishments backed up by facts, there is little you can truly claim to have achieved during your two terms. Your and Tom Luna’s anti-teacher “education reforms” were rightly rejected by the voters. Yet you passively stood by and let a defiant legislature pass piece-meal elements of the rejected legislation with nary a contrary word from your office.

On the critical issue of Idaho importing a limited amount of new nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel rods, you almost abrogated the Batt/Andrus agreement that requires removal of all waste from above the Snake Plain aquifer by 2035. To pacify Idaho Nuclear Lab proponents in eastern Idaho, you put together a thinly-disguised Chamber of Commerce cheering group that barely pays lip service to the careful work of Governor Phil Batt.

In all candor, Governor, there is little you have done to warrant re-election. Despite this paucity of any meaningful achievements, odds are you’ll easily cruise to re-election in part because Idaho’s Democrats have yet to offer the voters a viable alternative.

I hope you understand my hesitancy in responding to your solicitation.

You are a lucky man, Governor.

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carlson CHRIS


There is something gone terribly awry in our democratic system when decent hard-working legislators can be recalled simply because they are not 100% pure on any particular issue near and dear to the hearts of the world’s zealots.

That’s the only take away one can have from the recent recall in Colorado of two solid public servants who though basically supporters of the Second amendment’s qualified right of an individual to keep and bear arms, had the temerity to support something a majority of Coloradans support – namely universal background checks.

It’s the first time ever in all of Colorado’s political history that two legislators have been recalled. Sadly, the National Rifle Association is claiming credit for its role in this travesty and abuse of the recall provision, saying it illustrates once again their message of “don’t mess with me and my guns.”

The NRA would have one believe the Second amendment is an absolute unqualified right for an individual to have most any weapon he wants short of a small nuclear device to defend hearth and self. This is simply not the case.

In point of fact it wasn’t until recently that the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Heller vs. the District of Columbia, in a stunning move led by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, reversed two hundred years of settled law and affirmed the right of an individual apart from service in any sort of militia to have and bear arms.

Despite this precedent-shattering, five to four majority opinion written by Scalia, one has to wonder if Supreme Court Justices had to stand for election every so many years whether the NRA would even support him. Why?

Well even the great Scalia wrote that the Second amendment was a qualified right, not an absolute right. Near the end of his opinion he wrote these qualifiers:

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited…..Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

What is a law requiring universal background checks if not a condition imposed on the commercial sale of arms? Yet it was support for this qualification as well as limiting to 15 rounds magazines for a semi-automatic firearm that incurred the ire of the NRA and led to the recall of these two Colorado legislators.

We elect legislators to use their best judgment in passing laws that reflect the greatest good for the greatest number. If they go too far astray, or get too arrogant there is a process called a term of office whereby they have to stand for re-election and we can then pass judgment on their service. Recalls are meant to be utilized as a safety valve when there is egregious abuse of office – such as a legislator committing a felony, taking a bribe or selling his or her vote. It then becomes necessary to remove them from office before the normal standing for re-election.

If litmus test 100% purity on any single issue becomes a standard for by which citizenry can remove a legislator we all lose for what will then have is nothing but a set of automatons who will ask their constituents to vote on every issue that comes before them. We no longer will be a representative democracy and a republic which chooses a few to sift and weigh the many complex issues and decide the public interest.

Think about it. Even Justice Scalia would not be pure enough for the purists within the NRA who view the Second amendment as an absolute right instead of a qualified right with attached responsibilities to apply and use common sense.

Fortunately, Idaho’s recall provisions are much stricter than Colorado’s. What happened there was a true abuse of the provision and a travesty of simple fairness and justice. My sympathy to the two public servants crucified by purists because they were not pure enough on one issue.

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carlson CHRIS


On September 29 Pete Cenarrusa, died in Boise at the age of 95. The longest serving secretary of state not just in Idaho history but in all of American history, the former Speaker of the Idaho House and state legislator, a farmer-sheep rancher from Carey and a staunch conservative Republican, never lost an election.

Blaine County voters first elected him to the House in 1951, and re-
elected him seven more times until Governor Don Samuelson appointed him as Secretary of State on May 1, 1967, to fill a vacancy created by the death of Edson Deal. In November, 1970, he was elected in his own right and re-elected until he chose not to run again in 2002. That’s 35 years.

Despite his conservative political views, he was well known for his fairness, honesty and decency. He worked well with the two Democratic governors that served during his tenure, Cecil Andrus and John Evans.

It was this sense that a man’s word was his bond that leads to the many stories surrounding what was known as “the Little Wood River” list.

Few, if any of the obituaries rightly praising Cenarrusa for his public service will even reference this item, but it provides an excellent insight into Pete’s sense of propriety and emphasis on one’s word.

Some folks thought the list referred to the six or seven legislators who allegedly said they would vote for Pete, but did not, when he sought and won the Speakership over Boise legislator, Bill Eberle, in 1963.

Some think the list refers to successfully withstanding a challenge in 1965 from another Boise legislator, Larry Mills. It is neither. In his memoirs (Bizkaia to Boise, Center for Basque Studies, University of Nevada at Reno, 2009) co-written with former AP Statehouse reporter Quane Kenyon, Cenarrusa explained that it was a list of legislators who had not helped him pass in 1953 a modest $10,000 appropriation to fix levies and build some small dams to control flooding on the Little Wood River in his county. Because he had earlier crossed some party pooh-bahs, he was punished by having his bill killed and the appropriation redirected to a project in eastern Idaho.

Pete vowed then and there to become Speaker someday and to get even with those he felt betrayed him. It took ten years, lots of patience as well as tenacity, but in 1963, to the great good fortune of Idahoans especially concerned about the state’s parsimonious support for public education, he was elected Speaker.

Thus it was that he played a key role in wielding the gavel during two of the most important legislative sessions in Idaho – the 1963 and 1965 legislatures.

Along with the legislative session of 1947, during C.A. “Doc” Robins first year as governor, these three sessions are considered by most Idaho political historians to be the most important in the state’s history. These were the legislative sessions that voted to put a three-cent sales tax on the ballot to provide much needed and heftier support of public and higher education.

Other noteworthy accomplishments while Pete was Speaker included creation of the Permanent Building Fund to underwrite construction of “bricks and moater” on school and college campuses; creation of the state retirement system fund, PERSI; and, legislation creating the Idaho Water Resources Board and a Department of Water Resources as well as creation of a Department of Parks and Recreation.

Much will be said about Pete’s deep love for his Basque heritage and for the Basque country, as it should be. For my part I just want to salute the man.

Perhaps it is because early in his career he taught and coached at a rural high school, as I did. Perhaps it is because he was a Naval aviator in Corpus Christie, Texas, where my father washed out. Perhaps it is because he was a Marine for I have a son who is a Captain in the Marine Corps. Perhaps it is because he personified love of family, devotion to children and grandchildren, love of country.

I suspect though it is because he always manifested his love for Idaho and Idahoans by placing what was in the people’s best interests, the greatest good for the greatest number, ahead of partisan politics. He would not have passed most of the Tea Party litmus tests. However, he always passed with flying colors the voter’s periodic reviews.

As he stands now before St. Peter, rejoined with his beloved son, Joe, killed in a 1997 plane crash, I’ll wager anyone he is hearing the words “Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy prepared by Thy Heavenly Father.” Well done indeed.

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carlson CHRIS


Memo to Don Soltman, President, Idaho Board of Education:

With all due respect allow me to bring to your attention the most recent ranking of universities and colleges in the United States put out annually by U.S. News and World Report. Please note that Idaho’s land grant university, the University of Idaho, despite the reduced rations the board and legislature have had it on, still is ranked 161list of national universities.

The faculty, the administration, boosters, alumni and students are all to be congratulated on this accomplishment for it comes despite your and Governor Otter’s systematic starving of its budget and your increasingly burdening students with more fees and charges. This ranking puts it in a tie with defending national basketball champion the University of Louisville and fellow western universities like the University of Wyoming.

Boise State is listed as #65 on the list of best REGIONAL universities in the west. Idaho State made the list of “also rans” (somewhere between 200 and 300) among NATIONAL universities. Spokane’s Gonzaga University is listed as #4 on that list of best western regional universities.

U.S. News has a very defensible list of criteria for its rankings, with key criteria being factors such as funding levels and endowments, percentage of those admitted in relation to the number of applications, research grants, grade point average of those admitted and attending, scores of students on national entrance tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and strength of faculty as well as classroom size.

Of course there are many critics of the news magazine’s criteria and this month’s latest Atlantic Monthly carries a good article on why one should ignore this annual exercise in bloviating by colleges claiming superiority especially in view of no serious effort being made to measure “outcomes” from the various schools. Nonetheless. . . .

Surely it is time for the Board to acknowledge its error in forbidding the only University referenced in the Idaho Constitution to call itself the state’s “flagship” university for in point of fact and by all measurements it is indeed the state’s flagship institution of higher learning.

These latest rankings ought to give the board cause for pause and for righting the wrong they have perpetrated.

Other rankings for public NATIONAL universities in the west were:

University of Washington, #52; University of Oregon, #109; the University of Utah¸#121; WSU, #128; Oregon State, #142; University of Nevada-Reno and the University of New Mexico, #181; New Mexico State, Utah State and North Dakota State, #190; Montana State and the University of Montana were also tied at #201.

Indeed, every public university in the Mountain West conference ranked higher academically than did Boise State. Despite all the spin and p.r. about BSU being an urban research university by the criteria that matters, whether it be the Carnegie Institute’s reviews or the U.S. News rankings, all say unequivocally BSU is not even close to having “made a mark” in the world of academia.

The board should review the news magazine’s material and then set about doing some reprioritizations that reward Idaho for its success despite great odds and incentivize ISU and BSU to do more to improve their professional academic standings.

The board unfortunately, with the exception of former utility executive Richard Westerberg, from Preston, has done nothing but rubber stamp the increasingly draconian budgets put forth by Governor Otter.

Westerberg set himself apart as a thoughtful commentator on the state of Idaho education with his outstanding work on the commission Governor Otter finally put together to draw up a set of reform recommendations with a broader base of support.

And what was the almost unanimous first recommendation of this citizen commission? You guessed it—-that the funding pared away over the years be restored both for higher education and K-12. Whether a Legislature noted for its parsimony goes along remains to be seen.

A real sign that the board has finally obtained a modicum of common sense would be for it to end its search for a new University of Idaho president and confirm the acting president, Law School Dean Don Burnett, as the next president.

A Pocatello native, the Harvard-educated Burnett makes a fine president and the board won’t find anyone better. Furthermore, the board should end all efforts to build a new residence for the new president. Don’t hold your breath, however. The board has proven time and again to have a tin ear when it comes to anything smart or reflective of forward educational thinking.

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carlson CHRIS


Lt. Governor Brad Little is announcing this week in a series of statewide appearances that he will ask the voters to renew his lease on the state’s number two position.

They should regardless of whom the Democrats may offer as the alternative.

The former four-term state senator from Emmett has performed well whether leading trade missions or greeting visitors to his office.

In this writer’s opinion the 59-year-old Little is the best to hold the office since former State Senator John V. Evans served as lieutenant governor to Cecil Andrus. That is saying something because Idaho has had a series of fine “governors in waiting,” all of whom did the state solid service especially when called on to exercise the full power of the Office of Governor when the sitting governor is out of state.

The list includes such luminaries as Phil Batt, David Leroy, Jack Riggs and the current governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter. Others on the list include Bill Murphy, Mark Ricks and current U.S. Senator, James Risch.

While the official duties are few – chair the State Senate and, if necessary, break tie votes, as well as substitute for the governor especially when he is traveling out of state, there are numerous demands on the office. By all accounts, Little does his homework and performs well to the credit of the voters who conferred the public office on him.

The founders thought the position would be part-time, so the salary is a paltry $35,000 per year, but in today’s demanding, competitive environment, it is increasingly a full-time job. Thus, many of those who have held the office often have had to supplement needed items from their own purse.

Thus, almost all have been or are men of means.

Such is the case with Little. He is the owner and operator of a family cattle, farming and investment operation in the Treasure Valley and has served with quiet distinction on a number of boards and foundations. He is a former chair of the state’s most powerful and influential lobbying group, the Association of Idaho Commerce and Industry; and, a former president of the Idaho Woolgrower’s Association.

He wears cowboy boots, but in his case it is authentic and genuine. He projects an image of a well-educated rancher, which he is, having obtained his Bachelor of Science in Agribusiness from the University of Idaho. He is a thoughtful, solid conservative, not an ideologue nor someone who the Tea Party zealots currently plaguing Idaho’s Republican Party would embrace.

Soft spoken, he has a fine sense of humor, is well read and can give thoughtful remarks with a country-boy eloquence that engages and enthralls his audience. His political future has always been bright as he was the beneficiary of appointments to both his Senate seat and to the lieutenant governor’s office.

Even his marriage to Teresa Soulen in 1978 carried the political advantage of uniting two of the state’s most influential ranching families.

While his partisans and supporters may consider the wait for him to assume the office he seems destined for to be an overly long nine years, Governor Otter himself pointed out that he had to bide his time for 14 years.

Little knows though there is no guaranteed path to his crown prince status automatically converting to the governor’s crown someday. Popular as he is it is doubtful in 2018 he would be crowned by acclimation.

The GOP has a strong bench with at least four others having the skill and ability to be a good governor. Much as they individually may like Little, they could still mount credible challenges to his appearing to have inherited the office.

These others include House Speaker Scott Bedke from Oakley; State Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis from Idaho Falls; State Senator Dean Cameron from Rupert; and, State Senator Shawn Keough from Sandpoint.

For now though, Brad Little is a lock to be re-elected and my advice to my good friend, Larry Kenck, chair of the Idaho Democratic Party, is not to waste precious resources running anyone against him. He deserves to be returned to office and he has my vote. He should have yours also.

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