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Posts published in “Carlson”

A tribute to McGovern

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The most decent person to ever serve in the United States Senate, South Dakota’s George McGovern, has died. The 90-year-old former senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee passed away quietly over the weekend of October 20th.

With the 20/20 hindsight of history most folks with political memories at all willingly concede America would have been much better off to have elected McGovern rather than the ethically-challenged and ultimately disgraced Richard Nixon.

The only national political convention this writer ever covered was the Democratic convention in Miami Beach during a stretch of hot summer days in a sultry August week in 1972. I then worked as a Washington, D.C. based correspondent for the A. Robert Smith News Bureau.

We had major clients in Alaska (The Anchorage Daily News), Washington state (Tacoma News Tribune), Oregon (The Oregonian, the Eugene Register-Guard), and, Idaho (The Idaho State Journal and the Lewiston Tribune.). All were interested in receiving dispatches from their Washington, D.C. correspondent.

I can still hear, echoing in my mind¸ the rhetorical use of anastrophe, the beginning of a series of paragraphs with the call “Come home, America. . . . .” It was a wonderful speech, largely written by McGovern himself. The only trouble was most of America had gone to bed by the time the much delayed convention agenda got
around to the party nominee’s acceptance speech.

It unfortunately became a metaphor for the admittedly disorganized campaign that followed managed by future Colorado Senator Gary Hart.

One of the significant factors delaying the acceptance speech was the crass move by Alaska’s vain, egotistical and delusional Senator Mike Gravel to nominate himself as McGovern’s running mate.

It is doubtful the people of any state will ever again be so embarrassed by one of their delegation on a national stage than were almost all Alaskans. An Alaskan native had been asked by the McGovern campaign to give one of the seconding speeches. Senator Gravel somehow talked her into turning the microphone on the platform over to him in what was clearly an unscheduled and unanticipated gambit
by the second term senator. (more…)

The Republican and the Independent

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There’s an interesting political experiment underway in Idaho’s new, sprawling 7th Legislative District that encompasses all of Idaho, Clearwater, and Shoshone counties and a slice of southeastern Bonner county.

The "incumbent" in the state senate race is Sheryl Nuxoll, an accountant and farmer/rancher who hails from Cottonwood. As the Republican she has to be considered the favorite even though some consider her to be a single issue candidate. She has long been active in Idaho’s "Life" movement.

Given how conservative Idaho County is, and how Catholic the Cottonwood/Greencreek area is her strong stance is a decided, perhaps even decisive, plus.

Her opposition is a popular and talented three term Shoshone County commissioner, Jon Cantamessa, who runs a family grocery business in Wallace. What makes this race a political experiment is Cantamessa is running as an Independent. According to Idaho’s chief election officer, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, an independent has never been elected to the Idaho Legislature.

When the personable 60-year-old Idaho native first ran for the county commission he did run as an Independent. In his case, then, there is a precedent for such a move. In his two subsequent races though he ran as a "business Democrat" and deliberately identified himself with Benewah County’s long-serving conservative Democrat commissioner, Jack Buell, who is also a good friend.

Cantamessa recognizes that there is a significant challenge to running as an Independent inasmuch as it invites suspicions from partisans of both parties and ensures there is no party organization of any kind to provide support. Nonetheless, he candidly concedes that in trying to introduce himself to folks in Clearwater, Idaho and Bonner counties who have never heard of him, if there were a "D" behind his name, many voters would go no further.

Cantamessa is clearly what former four-term Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus would call a "lunch-bucket" Democrat, one who knows the importance of having an economy that creates jobs and keeps growing. He also knows resource conversion, turning minerals into metals for use in computers, trees into lumber for houses, and wheat into flour for bread is what brings new dollars into an economy.

Thus his candidacy is built around economic issues in contradistinction to Nuxoll who he correctly characterizes as being more involved with the social issue of abortion than the economic challenges facing the constituency.

He knows though that in today’s Idaho too many voters associate the word "Democrat" with liberalism and environmentalism.
Explaining why he is neither would constantly have him off message in regards to why he seeks the senate seat. (more…)

An Idaho 100 review: The Andrus place

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Idaho is one of the few states in the nation where a
significant number of people can sing the state's song. This
is due in part to people like veteran political journalist Randy
Stapilus and his co-author, Marty Peterson, the long-time
director of the University of Idaho's governmental affairs.
Together they have produced an entertaining book listing
the 100 most influential people in the 150 years since Idaho
became a territory.

The list is fascinating both because of the diversity of
characters, the famous (J.R. Simplot #11, Frank Church #14,
Joe Albertson #19, Ezra Taft Benson #27, William E. Borah
#69)as well as a few infamous ("Big Bill" Haywood #52,
Richard Butler #88), and the well-known (Robert Smylie
#18, Jim McClure #23, C. Ben Ross #47) as well as the truly
obscure(Wetxuwiis #10, Lafayette Cartee #25, Pinckney
Lugenbeel #34). It reinforces an old notion that it is people
who make and shape history, not external forces or tipping-
point trends. The book should be required reading as a
supplement to any Idaho history textbook.

Their main criteria for placing people on the top 100 list was
a requirement that in some way those listed were to have
had a transformative impact on the state. Many devotees of
Idaho history are going to quibble, and rightly so, about the
rankings. Indeed, the authors appear to have intentionally
selected for its shock value Lloyd Adams, a lobbyist, power
broker and fix-it type who served as the long-time chair of
the Idaho Republican party during the first half of the 20th century as the number one most influential figure.

Most of Idaho's current political cognoscenti will ask, “Lloyd
who?” That he was a venal, ethically-challenged influence
peddler operating out of his law office in Rexburg and
thought nothing of providing favors to friends seems not to
have mattered to the authors.

Peggy Noonan, the Wall Street Journal columnist and former
speech-writer for Ronald Reagan once wrote a book about
the Gipper entitled When Character was King.

Her point was character should still be taken into account
when judging those in the political ring. A secondary point
is that those who enter the ring, who subject themselves to
public scrutiny, place their name on the ballot and serve in
the fish bowl that is modern high public office should always
rank ahead of those who operate behind the scenes.

By any reasonable standard former four-term Idaho
Governor and one term Interior Secretary Cecil D. Andrus
should have been number one on the list both for his
transformative impact as well as truly beneficial impact on
Idaho. From obtaining funding for Idaho kindergartens,
to obtaining local land-use planning laws, to senior citizen
property tax relief, to creation of the Hells Canyon and
Sawtooth National Recreation areas, to expansion of the
Birds of Prey Natural Area as well as support for Idaho
wilderness areas while Jimmy Carter's Interior secretary,
Andrus will stand the test of time as the most influential
person to ever trod the state's landscape. The authors should
have counted the numerous references throughout the
book to Andrus, who they rated as the 16th most influential
(and the first governor on their list) and it would have been
obvious to them who should have been designated number
one.

In general, their recitation of the history of this array of
fascinating people is also pretty accurate though there is an
occasional lapse such as overlooking the fact that one of
Idaho's truly transformative governors, C.A. "Doc" Robins
(#26)in fact did try for the U.S. Senate in the last year (1950)
of his incredibly productive term rather than quietly retire.
These are minor nits, however, that don't begin to take away
anything from the fine achievement this book is.

The reason this reviewer gives the book 4 and 1/2 stars,
however, relates exclusively to the failure to give Andrus his
due. As his press secretary for almost nine years I concede
bias.

Bias aside, Stapilus and Peterson have performed a wonderful
service to the many Idahoans who take pride in the great state
and can sing the words to the state song---words which are
reinforced substantially by this book.

"And here we have Idaho/Winning her way to fame/Silver
and gold in the sunlight blaze/And romance lies in her
name. . ."

Read it, whether an Idahoan or not. You'll be glad you did.

False premise in the Luna Laws

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

At the core of the Otter/Luna reforms there is a false premise----that state government bureaucrats can design a logical, defensible set of metrics to measure how good a teacher is.
Don’t believe it. There are only two ways to evaluate a teacher: 1) the evaluator has to spend hours in the class observing to see if learning is taking place; and, 2) ask the students----they always can name the teachers who teach and they respect, and the one’s who babysit and they don’t respect.

The state department of education should quit trying to have it both ways. On the one hand they say local school boards call the shots, but on the other hand they provide “guidelines” to determine who is and isn’t a good teacher. In fairness to the department, they do allow on a local option basis input by students in the evaluation of teachers. And they do mandate in class observation - at least once during a school term.

They also mandate some sort of proof of parental involvement in the evaluation of teachers, but they leave it to the local school board to determine what form and whether a teacher’s evaluation is incomplete without the parental assessment.

What to do about parents who don’t care and won’t participate is apparently a problem left to the teacher and the board to solve, but an evaluation is not complete in the eyes of the state office without the parental involvement portion.

So, what do good bureaucrats do? With the participation of the teachers they create a form with lots of numerical goals and metrics. Examine one of the forms though and it is pure b.s. It is a statistic driven exercise regarding who can most creatively figure out how to game the system and turn the form into a positive evaluation.

It is another iteration of the phony STAR system created by the department to help one determine the better public schools in an area. So surprise, surprise, Benewah County turns out to have a five star elementary and a couple of four star schools as well.

I’m sorry folks, but with all due respect to the teachers and administrators who work hard under difficult circumstances there are no five star and four star schools in Benewah County.

I taught eighth and ninth grade at Kootenai Jr.-Sr. High School one year after college graduation, the academic year 1968-1969. Recently I attended the 40th reunion of that ninth grade class. Though sparsely attended every one of those students immediately recalled how I had made poetry come alive for them by initially playing some Simon and Garfunkel songs and some Beatle songs.

I had the lyrics written on the blackboard also and began showing them the standard rhetorical devices used by the song writers’ common also to the great writers of poetry. Suddenly poetry was much more interesting to them. By the time I asked them to produce their own poems every one of the eighth and ninth graders was able to produce some pretty fair stuff.

I knew I had touched every one of my students for the better. Unbeknownst to me the school superintendent was listening outside the classroom door (he never came into the class), and he decided that since I was a Columbia graduate and playing radical songs by the Beatles I must be a communist.

He wrote my draft board and asked that they rescind my teaching deferment and suggested I be drafted and sent to Vietnam. The draft board was only too happy to throw me into the draft pool.

I appealed to the school board at a meeting in which almost all the parents of my students showed up and asked that the superintendent be fired. The school board, impressed by the many testimonials from parents regarding my teaching, did fire the superintendent on the spot.

The system worked one might say but I chose to pursue my Master’s the next year rather than return because, grateful though I was for all the support, it was an early lesson in the petty politics that exist in all schools and it left a sour taste.

So what’s the answer? Here I part company with the teacher’s union which steadfastly insists on protecting the weakest link. There are good teachers, who don’t have to fear evaluation, and there are a few squares in round holes who shouldn’t be teaching and school boards have to be able to remove a bad teacher without facing the threat of lawsuits.

My answer is that teachers should be “at will” employees and leave it to the local school board to hire and fire without prescribing elaborate sets of criteria. If one mouths the mantra of local control, they ought to really walk the talk and quit promulgating all sorts of criteria.

My bottom line is repeal the phony top-down Otter/Luna Reforms and start over with the participation of all and come up with real reforms that restore real power to the local school boards.

Schools: Whom do you trust?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Forget about reading the pro and con statements in the Voter’s Guide regarding the three referendums on the November ballot to repeal the Otter/Luna Educational Reforms. Ignore the million dollar campaigns both sides will mount with slickly designed emotional appeals that will tug at your heart strings.

Answer one fundamental question: who do you most trust your children and grandchildren’s future to, the teachers who are with them in the classroom 180 days a year, or a governor and a school superintendent hell bent on rationalizing investing less dollars in education and are dictating reforms from the top down?
This really does boil down to "who do you trust?"

What Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna don’t get is that trust is at the heart of the people sanctioning government to provide services and to divine the greatest good for the greatest number.

Trust, like virtue, once lost can never be regained. From the get-go the Governor and the SPI forfeited that trust by the dishonest and deceptive way they went about ramming their idea of reform down the public’s throat.

Rather than put together a committee or a task force that represented all the key stakeholders, they said nary a word while campaigning for re-election in 2010. Eight weeks after the election they sprang their "reforms" on a quiescent Legislature knowing they would go along simply because it initially meant spending less on education than before.

That Otter and Luna now sit back and profess amazement that anyone would dare question their sincerity is disingenuous at best. They violated the public trust by not trusting the public and the impacted interest groups to recognize the need for some reasonable changes and to design consensus based effective reforms.
They engaged in pure top down dictates rather than ground up consensus yet they claim they are Republicans.

When talking about the state government’s primary constitutionally mandated responsibility the process of reform is critical and has to be inclusive.

Butch Otter and Tom Luna just don’t get that.

As Election Day approaches they are now desperately trying to backfill telling people they are restoring funding that was cut and will be giving teachers more base pay as well as the "new" merit pay, but fundamentally they are engaging in a shell game where they keep changing the base from which they make their phony calculations. (more…)

The lioness

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Since the first “Lion of Idaho,” William E. Borah, was an elected United States senator (1907-1940), a case can be made that any aspirant to the title “Lioness of Idaho” also has to have been elected to public office.

If so, the clear winner is the first woman to serve Idaho in the Congress, five term congresswoman Gracie Pfost (pronounced “post”) who represented the First District from 1953 to 1963. The mere fact she could win and then hold the office through four re-elections in and of itself during the 1950’s, when very few women were being elected to anything, speaks volumes for her talent and tenacity.

She accomplished the feat in the face of tough opposition as well. Because of her relentless support for a public owned and operated single high dam in Hells Canyon, the media referred to her as “Hell’s Belle.” She believed strongly in public power, which put her at immediate odds with two powerful Idaho interests, the Idaho Power Company and Spokane’s Washington Water Power.

Both firms supported three smaller dams in Hells Canyon to be owned by Idaho Power. The ensuing acrimonious debate lasted a decade. She ended up being outmaneuvered and lost a key vote in the Interior and Insular affairs subcommittee in the late 50’s. Thus today one sees Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon dams on the Snake, but fortunately no High Mountain Sheep dam.

In 1962, hoping the Senate would be a better venue, Gracie gave up her safe House seat to run for the Senate seat vacated by the death of Henry Dworshak. She lost a close race (51% to 49%) to former Governor Len B. Jordan, a supporter of private power and its three smaller dams approach.

Legendary Washington, D.C., Democratic operator Robert Strauss once famously said “every politician wants you to think they were born in a log cabin they built themselves. . .” In the case of Gracie, however, it was almost true.

Biographical sketches all note she was born in a log cabin in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas in 1906. The family moved to Idaho in 1911 where she attended school until 16, quitting to take a job at Carnation Milk in Nampa. There she met and married her supervisor, Jack Pfost, who became her life-long political partner.

In 1929, she graduated from Link’s School of Business in Boise which led to temporary work in the Canyon County Clerk’s office that soon turned into a permanent job. From there she jumped into local county politics and for the next decade served as Canyon County clerk, auditor and recorder. In 1941 she was elected Canyon County treasurer and served another decade. (more…)

Carlson: Indices to follow

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the contest for the Presidency begins here is a list of “keys to the outcome”:

1) The 80/40 rule. This refers to the President’s standing among minority voters. As long as he maintains above 80 percent of the minority vote (which he is doing), Mitt Romney has to garner over 60 percent of the total white vote. Ronald Reagan came close in his re-election campaign, but not even the Gipper beat the 60 percent mark. On the other hand, it will be difficult for the President to maintain above 80 percent of the minority vote.

2) Where are independent women going? The independent female vote is especially critical for both candidates. Republicans are betting economic concerns will drive their vote. Democrats bet the social issue of access to abortions, especially in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother, will drive this vote. It is noteworthy that Romney, once the nomination was secured, tilted back to his historic position of sanctioning abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the health of the mother.

Hard core, pure pro-life conservatives will swallow their displeasure and still support Romney given the President’s incredibly liberal stance on this issue.

Both party’s made a good pitch for women through strong presentations first from Ann Romney and then from Michelle Obama. Polling results gave the nod to the First Lady for doing the better job of humanizing their spouse----but both did well by their man. The question is who will women identify most with? The betting is with Michelle, not Ann. (more…)

Peterson: The case for Barnes

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Editor’s Note: This week’s Carlson Chronicle is a guest column by former U of Idaho assistant for government affairs, Marty Peterson, who states the case that the better nominee for “Lioness of Idaho” would be the late Senator Frank Church’s chief of staff, Verda Barnes, who grew up in St. Anthony. Marty currently is the acting executive director for the McClure Center for Public Policy in Moscow. A former executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities, he also served on the staffs of Idaho Governors Cecil Andrus and John Evans, as well as on the staff of the late Senator Church.

Few, if any, readers of this column will have heard of Verda Barnes. That would have pleased her. If she were alive and knew I was writing this, she would have insisted I not. Over a span of four decades, the impact of Verda Barnes’ work was felt by Idahoans throughout the state and few were aware that she even existed.

She was born in Willard, Utah, in 1907 and moved with her family to a farm near St. Anthony, Idaho, the next year. After graduating from high school, she attended Albion Normal School and then Brigham Young University. She was married briefly in the early 1930s and had a daughter. As a single parent, she spent much of the 1930s living in Boise. With the repeal of prohibition, she became the first director of the newly formed Idaho Liquor Commission. Governor C. Ben Ross assumed that by hiring someone from a well-placed Mormon family, she would be above reproach.

In the days before form letters were common, she received a letter from James Farley, the Postmaster General and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Farley had managed Franklin Roosevelt’s first two presidential campaigns and was widely viewed as being responsible for his political ascendancy. Farley sent out a national mailing challenging people to become a part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. Barnes, assuming it was a one-of-a-kind letter sent to her personally, took up the challenge and, with her young daughter, moved to Washington, D.C. She quickly became involved with organized labor, working with such groups as the Amalgamated Clothing Workers and the CIO as a political organizer. Then she went to work for the Department of Interior as an assistant to Secretary Harold Ickes, and to the newly formed Securities and Exchange Commission, where she worked with William O. Douglas, who later became a Supreme Court Justice. This was also a time when she began compiling what would become a legendary list of influential personal contacts throughout the federal government and in numerous non-governmental organizations. (more…)

Carlson: Now, a basque book

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

An old phrase one does not often hear references the great state we share as “Gem of the Mountains.” The phrase applies in many ways, but especially when one contemplates the many hidden gems of profoundly interesting people that populate Idaho and fascinate in so many ways.

The living embodiment that the real gems in Idaho are its many individualistic and distinctive folks is a retired science teacher from Mountain Home who has become one of Idaho’s most prolific and best-selling writers in his twilight years: Bill Smallwood.

Political types in Idaho are most familiar with the fine biography (McClure of Idaho, Caxton Press) he wrote about the late distinguished senator. The book should be required reading for any student of Idaho history and politics. Full of detail and illustrative anecdotes, it tells both the history of the senator as well as the state as each grew in prominence.

The first chapter itself whets one’s appetite for more. It focuses on the rise of Kellogg’s John Mattmiller and his seemingly inevitable election to Congress only to have his ambitions and life cut short by a fatal plane crash in 1966, the same year in which Idaho’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee, Charles Herndon of Salmon, was also killed in a plane crash.

Smallwood all but says odds are better than even that neither Jim McClure nor Cecil Andrus would have emerged as the leaders they became except for fate creating critical openings for each man’s ambitions.

The book became a true labor of love for which Smallwood received no compensation despite a handshake promise from a representative of the University of Idaho’s Foundation that he would be paid for his labors. (more…)