Writings and observations

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

If there is one issue that unites a majority of Idahoans, it is opposition to the reintroduction of wolves into Idaho and the dictatorial way the federal government handles the issue.

Defenders of Wildlife and others that support the reintroduction are rapidly learning that without public support this forced program will not succeed. There are too many Idahoans who carry rifles in their pickups or side-arms when they hike. The law of “shoot, shovel and shut up” supersedes whatever ruling a federal judge in Helena might dictate.

Most Idahoans are sensible enough not to get caught up in the time-wasting arguments over so-called “nullification,” for which the governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer, has made state management of wolves a symbolic issue. One can understand what the law says, but if it is ignored by everyone and the authorities make it a last priority of enforcement, it soon becomes worthless and eventually gets stricken.

Being a fairly practical lot, Idahoans rightly applaud the efforts of Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson (R-Second District) and Montana Congressman Denny Rehberg (R-At Large) to undo the August 2010 judicial ruling that put the wolves back on the endangered species list and under federal management.

Almost every Idahoan who hunts or fishes feels the state had rightly taken over management of the wolves and had a sensible program in place to manage their predatory habits. Simpson supports both measures Rep. Rehberg introduced last year: one that would delist the wolf from the endangered species list and the other to return management of the wolf to the states’ fish and game departments.

Many Americans romanticize wolves, seeing them as large, lovable, husky-like dogs. They have no idea what large, efficient killing machines they are, nor do they understand how devastating their appetites can be on elk and deer.

Most folks subscribe to popular myths: such as wolves never attacking people (disproven last year by a fatal wolf attack on a jogger outside of Anchorage); or, that wolves never kill more than they can eat (disproven by numerous wanton attacks on sheep and cattle).

While the howl of a distant wolf when one is sitting around a campfire at night enjoying a Middle Fork of the Salmon River float trip indeed is romantic, it is quite another thing to encounter a circling pack as one walks from his mailbox 200 yards up to their home without a weapon (which has happened all too close to St. Maries).

I carry a Glock 21 with me when fly fishing on the St. Joe and the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene. Once, while on a walk up the Indian Creek Road to the old ghost town of Ulysses a few miles from North Fork, I witnessed the incredibly swift attack of a young wolf on a large buck. Only the deer seeing us and having the instinct to circle down the hillside and down stream caused the wolf to break off the attack. It lasted all of 20 seconds.

Several years back, a fly fishing buddy of mine, was fishing up the North Fork and watched with stunned amazement as an elk came charging down a steep hill while being pursued by a wolf, stumbled and broke its legs as it tumbled into the stream in front of him. The wolf then moved in for the kill before seeing the fisherman. The wolf actually seemed to think about charging him, he said, because he wanted his kill. Only a shot over the wolf’s head from the pistol he carried sent the wolf packing.

Most wolf lovers and urban dwellers have no comprehension of how truly large wolves are. They read about wolves weighing 125 lbs to 140 lbs, which doesn’t seem that big until one sees a picture of a wolf kill being held up in the arms of a six-foot hunter and the wolf’s length is taller than the hunter.

It is easy to see wolf pelts that stretch eight feet from nose tip to tail tip. Family members have seen wolves while walking in the Harrison Flats area. One flashed across our access road early one morning last summer and was later spotted just up Evans Creek romping with five pups all already larger than coyotes.

We have had neighbors’ dogs disappear, so we observe a rule of thumb: When we hear the coyotes howling at night, as they often do around Cave Lake, we know wolves are not around. When we don’t hear the coyotes, we think it is a safe bet a wolf or two is roaming through the area.

I believe wolves were coming back naturally. The last thing we needed was introducing the Canadian wolf, which has significantly increased in numbers. I don’t pretend to be a wildlife expert, but I understand the law of unintended consequences.

I sincerely hope the Federal law code is changed to allow the state to carry out its management responsibility. The vast majority of Idahoans agree on this point and rightly so.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

It did not start with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, but the decline of higher education in Idaho has reached its nadir on his watch.

Consider the abysmal record of Idaho’s Board of Education. For all the good it does in serving the best interests of educating Idaho’s youth, from kindergarten through college, it might as well not exist. The state’s founders actually wrote the board into the Constitution to serve as the Regents of the University of Idaho. That’s how important they thought the role was.

Unfortunately, no more.

As an independent body supposedly put in place to advocate for the best interests of education, the Board of Education has in recent years been nothing more than a lap-dog for Idaho’s governors, especially Otter, who have been eviscerating education budgets, K-12 and higher ed, for years. Ponder this fact: the recently proposed Idaho higher education budget takes state support for colleges and universities back to where it stood in 2000. At the same time, mom, dad and the kids face sky- rocketing tuition and fees.

Most importantly, there’s little scrutiny and absolutely no challenge by the state board for what the governor, the state superintendent or the Legislature wants, regardless of how harmful to education’s interests it might be.

Forty years ago, the kind of people then serving, Democrats and Republicans alike, would have resigned en masse if they had been blindsided like the present board was by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s radical reform proposals not to mention the unfunded mandate they represent for local school districts.

Board members had not a clue. Nor were they consulted. And not a peep from them. I find that incredibly sad. I can recall strong pro-education Republican board members in the past, such as John Swartley of Boise, Ed Benoit of Twin Falls, Mal Deaton of Pocatello, Kenneth Thatcher of Rexburg and Janet Hay of Nampa.

On the Democratic side there were sensible, solid board members like A.L. “Butch” Alford Jr. of Lewiston, State Senator Mike Mitchell and Sandpoint’s J.P. “Doc” Munson. These folks took their role seriously; none were the kind of people a governor took for granted or expected to be a rubber stamp, as is the case today.

Democrats on the board of education? Yup. At one time governors like Republican Phil Batt and Democrat John Evans recognized the importance of a bi-partisan board and appointed members of each party. There’s not one Democrat on today’s board.

Instead, the Board was dominated just a couple years back by the likes of disgraced former Republican state chairman and Idaho Falls attorney Blake Hall, whose personal life read like a bad soap opera. Nonetheless, this partisan apparatchik engaged in blatant micro-management of the activities of Idaho’s university presidents down to dictating the tuition and fees each school could charge.

This current board never advocates any more for the kind of additional funding building a great higher education system would require to produce the 21st Century workforce needed for the state’s economic development. I’m guessing neither the governor, nor Luna, nor anyone on their staff have quite figured out the causal connection on that one.

If you were the talented Tim White, one of the best presidents the University of Idaho has had in 50 years, such biased micro-management, coupled with the board’s ignorance on how a university operates, was beyond the pale. I personally hold Hall, and Governors Otter and Kempthorne responsible for losing White to some branch campus in the University of California system.

Only last week did the board finally utter a word against a legislative effort to strip Idaho’s university presidents of their power prudently to ban concealed weapons from campuses as well as campus sporting events. I support basic, reasonable gun rights, but I also find it reassuring that campuses can at least try to prevent things like the Virginia Tech massacre two years ago by not sanctioning the carrying of concealed weapons on campus or to sporting events. Prohibiting guns in a classroom or at a sporting event is just common sense.

This board, however, can “boldly” move into the arena of campus politics at Idaho State University and authorize the abolition of the university’s Faculty Senate at the request of an embattled university president who can’t seem to master the art of working with the diverse interests present on any modern campus.

I long ago concluded that if a majority of the people of Idaho really cared about the importance of K-thru 12 and higher education, they would hold the Republican Party and its ineffective governors accountable for this sad state of educational affairs.

But not so. It should be no surprise then to any that Idaho is getting the educational system it deserves with “oversight” provided by a board that neither earns its keep nor can any longer justify its existence.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

By now there have been many fine salutes written and spoken about former Idaho Senator James Albertus McClure, who died recently at the age of 86. I have read many, agreed with all and wondered what I could add about this fine and distinguished public servant.

I first met McClure when he was a Member of Congress representing Idaho’s First Congressional district in 1970. I was a rookie reporter in Washington, D.C. working in a news bureau serving some 25 newspaper clients in the Pacific Northwest.

McClure was always a good interview. He was patient, tolerant of ignorant questions young reporters often ask, logical in his answers, spoke to the point and always had a keen sense of humor. He enjoyed conveying his thoughts on issues and could do so intelligently and articulately. He avoided can’t and ideological bromides, those cute sound bites on which television media thrive.

He was conservative to his core (indeed, he supported the right wing Liberty Lobby agenda when first elected to Idaho’s state senate), but he was always a compassionate conservative who cared about people and knew government had a proper role as the place of last resort for those unable to help themselves. He knew that God loved children regardless of the circumstances they were born into or the shortcomings of parents.

In short, he had a wonderful capacity to grow in office, and in each he held that was indeed what happened. He may have started as an ideologue, he definitely finished as a true statesman.

Jim McClure loved working on the solutions to vexing challenges and issues. He could and did work with his hands, rewiring his home and wiring his cabin in McCall. He loved to backpack and was a fine fly fisherman. He especially enjoyed hiking in the Seven Devils above Hells Canyon.

Hence, when Governor Cecil D. Andrus and he got down on their hands and knees to draw the logical boundaries of the proposed Hells Canyon Recreation Area in the mid-70’s, both instinctively followed hydrological divides because they had spent time on the ground learning the lay of the land.

It was with great pleasure that I responded to author Bill Smallwood that I would read an early draft of his authorized biography of McClure. Fittingly, Smallwood and I were sitting around a campfire under the majestic Castle Peak in the White Clouds Mountains of central Idaho, having packed into the area with a group of friends.

Smallwood’s book, “McClure of Idaho,” is must reading for political junkies, particularly with regard to Idaho public affairs and its fascinating political history.

A political mentor years ago gave me the best advice for judging how good or bad a public officeholder is: “Look at their staff,” he said. Are they competent and bright? Are they the kind of people not afraid to challenge the boss if they think he is wrong? Are they loyal? Do they resolutely defend their boss, or do they let others, especially media, criticize him without rebuttal?”

By their staffs ye will know them.

Over the years, Jim McClure n and Idaho n were superbly served by series of chiefs of staff, press secretaries, legislative aides and field office directors. All these people knew the positions of trust they held included serving the people of Idaho well, regardless of political predisposition. They knew that the best politics was carrying out good policy and at all times they were conscious of the fact they represented their boss and the people, who they strived their utmost never to embarrass.

People like the late Jim Goller, who served McClure capably and with distinction as his Idaho state director and chief of staff. He was the mastermind of McClure’s successful Senate and House campaigns. (McClure never lost a race ever.) Or former television anchor Todd Neunschwander, who was his press secretary before becoming the senator’s long-time D.C. chief of staff.

Scootch Pankonin was in a way a typical McClure staffer n competent, loyal, helpful, professional, bright, an excellent sense of humor and loyal as they come. Over the years various folks served McClure. All felt they were the better for having served with the Senator. He was a marvelous teacher and mentor, they would say.

Nearly all of McClure’s aides went on to success with other endeavors. They stay in contact with and help each other. I am certain they constituted a strong support group for Louise McClure and the McClure children during the past two years following the Senator’s stroke.

They would agree with my bottom line assessment which echoes a famous statement made by Will Rogers: “They just ain’t making public servants like him anymore.”

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

This column has been running for a year and it’s appropriate to update a few issues I dissected during that time.

ITEM: They never go back to Pocatello.

Former Democratic First District Congressman Walt Minnick demonstrated anew this old saying about politicians once they leave office. After auditioning for a post with the Obama Administration as comptroller of the currency, Minnick and his partners formed – you guessed it – a lobbying firm called The Majority Group.

While barred by law from any direct contact with his former colleagues for one year, there is nothing that prohibits Minnick from directing others on whose ear to bend and arm to twist. As a former member of the House, he still has floor access privileges to boot.

Minnick’s mid-February move followed by only a few days the announcement by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) official Steve Israel that he would be forming an alumni association of the many former “Blue Dog” Democrats defeated in the last election by Republicans who may try to retake their old seats.

The thought is to stick together, try to influence the House Democratic caucus, share polling and fund-raising information to the extent the law allows, bank on the Republicans over-reaching and charge back.

Minnick did not return calls to his new office nor an e-mail request, thus leaving some obvious questions unanswered. Is he planning for a rematch? Most folks doubt it, but those bitten by the bug never say never. Is his wife, “A.K.” (a former tv newscaster and former Democratic state chair) and their children taking up permanent residency inside the Beltway? Will there be a business tie between Minnick’s new firm and the alumni association? Is there a particular market they will target? Does the firm already have a contract with the DCCC? Time will tell.

Don’t be harsh on Walt. He joins a large group of former Idaho elected officials and staff who once they tasted the D.C. power elixir cannot remove themselves. That list includes former Senators Steve Symms and Larry Craig, former Senate Sergeant of Arms Greg Casey, former Agriculture Under Secretary Mark Rey, and former Idaho Congressmen Orval Hansen and George Hansen, to name only a few.

ITEM: Congressman Mike Simpson reinserts provision on primacy of state water rights for non-navigable waters.

Kudos to Idaho’s Second District congressman for using his new position as chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment to reinsert language into a resolution that would prohibit the EPA from using tax dollars to try to remove from the Clean Waters Act language restricting EPA’s authority only to “navigable waters” in a state.

Anyone who cares about the primacy of state water rights and state management of groundwater and non-navigable waters should recognize the threat posed by this naked federal power grab by an agency increasingly operating as a law unto itself. State water rights are critical to the arsenal of arms folks in the Silver Valley can utilize to combat EPA’s attempt to cram a 50-year, $1.8 billion plan for unnecessary extension of clean-up efforts there.

The continuing reluctance of Gov. Butch Otter to support Simpson and state water rights is most puzzling.

ITEM: Sen. Mike Crapo finally introduces legislation to limit presidential authority to create national monuments. As first reported in this column last summer, Crapo introduced a Senate version and California Congressman Devin Nunes a House counterpart of a bill severely limiting the authority of presidents to set aside public lands for higher and better uses under the Antiquities Act of 1906.

Presidents of both parties, starting with Theodore Roosevelt through Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, have used this law often when a recalcitrant Congress refuses to enact needed legislation to protect some of the many special places on public lands. It has become an important bargaining tool for proponents of more protection as a means of forging compromises because national monuments are far more restrictive than wilderness or national recreation area designations.

Some feel Simpson’s 10-year process of negotiating an acceptable compromise to create the Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness will only become a reality if President Obama designates it a national monument. Congress would then undo that by passing Simpson’s bill.

Even if Crapo’s bill were to get to Obama’s desk, it is guaranteed a veto. It’s pure political posturing.

ITEM: Sen. Crapo and The Gang of Six.

The senator deserves kudos for his “Profile in Courage” action in joining five other colleagues in support of the Bowles-Simpson Commission’s set of recommendations to address the nation’s deficit crisis through a combination of entitlement reforms, spending reductions and tax increases. – Chris Carlson

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Carlson Northwest

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The impending demise of the military’s don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy regarding the ability of gay Americans to serve their country ably, along with the discarding of the military’s ban on women serving in combat, has led to some interesting conversations around the Carlson kitchen table.

We have four members of the United States Marine Corps in our extended family: a cousin, who is a retired colonel; a son, who is a captain on active duty; and two nephews, who are corporals in infantry units.

Those policies were doomed because they flew in the face of the best thing the military has going for it: the last bastion of true meritocracy in our society. In all branches of the service, how one performs, not who you know or where you were educated or how wealthy your family may be, determines promotion.

Hiding one’s sexual orientation inevitably invites a form of below -the-radar discrimination that impact adversely a gay officer’s ability to advance fairly in competition with straight Marines. Likewise, most Marine advancement is premised in on an ability to lead, especially in combat. Restricting women from leading in combat zones discriminates against fair advancement.

It was inevitable that policies running counter to the principles of meritocracy, as they did, were destined to be tossed.

Understanding the context in the evolution of these issues helped me to place such outcomes in an historical framework.

First, one has to grasp the sea-change that occurred when the U.S. military went from draft-dependent to the all-volunteer in 1973. This was a politically driven decision in the aftermath of the Vietnam debacle.

In order to attract volunteers, the military had to offer better pay and more benefits. And, being a meritocracy, this inevitably opened up more opportunities for women and minorities to gain their slice of the American Dream.

Keep in mind also the known inequity of the casualty rates in Vietnam. Because the draft snagged more low-income and less-educated men, a disproportionate number of those killed and wounded in the Vietnam conflict were African-Americans and/or poor whites from rural America. There weren’t that many children of affluent families or members of Congress who were lost.

Much to the surprise of many, the all-volunteer force took off and thrived. Congress, in the meantime, continued to provide decent funding levels, as well as wage increases in excess of the cost-of-living index.

Another consequence of this was a concomitant improvement not just in the regular military, now peopled with folks who wanted to be there, but also in the quality of those serving in the reserves and National Guard.

As in any other profession, statistics say that 10 to 15 percent of the workforce could have a homosexual orientation. The military command’s way of dealing with it was to advance the don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy which the brass felt still would enable the military to maintain morale and discipline. Experience has largely shown this to be true.

By repealing this policy (but wisely giving the military six months to implement), Congress and the President are signaling our readiness to have gays openly serve and that previous concerns regarding morale and discipline no longer exist.

In dropping the ban on women being in and leading units in combat zones, the military also is acknowledging the changing character of warfare. There is no longer a line on the map signaling “the front.” Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate that the combat zone is all around one. Women have shown they can perform as well as men in that situation.

More challenging though may be the moral issue homosexuality poses for many. The Uniform Code of Military Justice calls it a crime. (It will now be rewritten.) Many religious traditions treat it as deviancy and see homosexual conduct as sinful. Changing these religious-based attitudes will probably prove to be the longer-term challenge.

For now, the military will carry out the orders of its civilian command structure. One suspects true acceptance and understanding will come with time and the advent of a younger generation of leaders raised in a more tolerant and accepting environment.

Preserving the last bastion of meritocracy is the winner.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The internet website Politico has dubbed it the “Mormon primary” – the possibility of two articulate, intelligent, conservative-to-moderate former governors, who also are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), will be slugging it out along with other contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012.

It is an intriguing possibility, one that contrary to conventional wisdom may actually be a welcomed development by the presumptive front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the first serious Mormon candidate since his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, ran in 1968.

The possible entry of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr., who resigned his seat a few months after winning re-election with 78 percent of the vote to become U.S. Ambassador to China, is causing GOP aspirants, as well as the incumbent, to redo their political calculations.

Why now? Why didn’t he wait until 2016? What has he seen or figured out that others haven’t? These questions reflect the tremendous respect Huntsman commands with political cognoscenti across the spectrum.

The 16th governor of Utah has more going for him than just an impressive resume. He has a certain charisma that flows not just from his obvious intelligence and his personal charm. He has that “noblisse oblige,” much as John, Robert, and Ted Kennedy did, that sense of obligation and duty to give a real return on the gifts they have been blessed with and the fortunate circumstances of their birth. (His father, Jon Sr., chairman of the worldwide chemical production plants, is one of the nation’s leading philanthropists.)

It’s the biblical parable of the talents: To whom God has given much, much is expected.

So far, Huntsman has acquitted himself well. His tenure as Utah’s governor at the time was praised as the best in the nation by the Pew Center for Government, and the conservative Cato Institute rated it as one of the nation’s five best. A fiscal conservative, he put in place practices that have insulated Utah from the economic vagaries that bedevil most other states.

His reputation for thoughtful analysis and well considered moves, though, is what intrigues most observers. Those who know him say he is not leaving a position he always longed for, the Ambassadorship to China (which he first sought when Bill Clinton was president) on a lark. These folks suspect there has been polling that tells him he can overcome the conservative, fundamentalist Protestant bias against Mormonism and his moderate social views, such as supporting same-sex unions.

Like Romney, he has a solid background in business, having held positions in his father’s business and Huntsman Foundation that operates the Huntsman Cancer Institute, among other charitable endeavors, in conjunction with the University of Utah Hospital. (Full disclosure: This writer is the beneficiary of exceptionally fine treatment for a rare form of late Stage IV carcinoid neuroendocrine cancer several years ago at the Institute).

The other advantage Huntsman and Romney enjoy is an ability to self-contribute to their campaigns. In a crowded primary that can be an even bigger difference than normal.

Romney is given the front-runner status because of his personal fortune and his ability to work corporate America. Evidence in the form of generous contributions to other candidates and campaigns also attests to his early lead in the money race.

But Huntsman’s father is a billionaire, the son is a millionaire with access to the family fortune, and one suspects there already has been some quiet but cost-effective money expended, a preliminary strategic plan drawn up, tasks assigned, key troops retained and dispatched, and the Long March of what White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley deliberately called “the Manchurian Candidate” to the White House has begun.

Only time will tell whether brilliance, organization and money can overcome the religious (especially Southern Baptist) suspicions that Mormonism is not Christian and that neither of the Mormon candidates is conservative enough to capture the GOP base.

Romney will be dogged by his sponsorship of Massachusetts’ Health Care Reform legislation that resembles closely the Obama bill and his flip-flop on the abortion issue. Huntsman will be dogged by his daring to work for a Democratic President as an ambassador, as well as his support for same-sex civil unions (although polls show a vast majority of Americans supports civil unions, but split on gay marriage).

One wild card that could make a big difference and is part of the calculus of both Mormon candidates: all GOP primaries and caucuses will award convention delegates in 2012 based on proportional voting. There’ll be no winner-takes-all primaries.

If either candidate emerges with the nomination, he will provide formidable challenge to the incumbent. It will be fascinating to watch.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There’s an old hunting expression, “keep your eye on the rabbit,” that former Gov. Cecil D. Andrus would invoke when a staff person would get “off message.”

In the current debate over Gov. Butch Otter effectively abrogating a key clause in Idaho’s heretofore ironclad agreement with the Federal government NOT to store even a minimal amount of commercial nuclear waste, even that used for research purpose, on an interim basis, it is Andrus who is keeping his eye on the rabbit.

The 1995 agreement was altered by Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in the early years of the first decade of this century to allow a minimal amount of commercial waste for research purposes. Gov. Andrus, who initiated the negotiations that led to the 1995 agreement finalized by Gov. Phil Batt, lent his support but suggested that once the research was completed the research waste had to be shipped right back to its point of origin.

The premise for all of this was that all waste would be removed by 2035 and stored at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Years and billions of dollars later it is clear Yucca Mountain will never be opened let alone operational. Likewise, there’ll be no other high level repository anywhere in the nation.

One quickly concludes any waste brought to the INL site will not be leaving for generations to come. This conclusion is inescapable and warrants the warning flag Gov. Andrus has raised. Candidly, the orchestrated campaign by the defenders of the Department of Energy to minimize the Gov.’s warning (it’s been called exaggerated, simply not factual, etc.) confirms that the four-term governor hit the bull’s eye dead center.

Unfortunately, the fact the governor even had to raise the flag speaks to the sad but steady decline by the State in carrying out its oversight responsibility.

Gov. Andrus enjoys a high standing in the minds of Idaho voters astounding for one who has not held elective office for 16 years. Idahoans know, though, they can trust him to look out for the public interest, that he measures his words carefully and his intellect as well as political instincts remain razor sharp especially for one who will turn 80 years young in August.

He began monitoring the activities at the site in the early-70’s and quickly recognized the potential danger posed by poorly stored transuranic (mid level) nuclear wastes. Almost single-handedly he forced the old Atomic Energy Commission and its successor agency, the Department of Energy, to commit to a schedule for removal of this poorly stored waste from above Idaho’s Snake River plain aquifer and repackaging for storage at properly constructed salt caverns in New Mexico.

When the AEC put out a document that was a preliminary effort to find and identify a storage site for accumulating commercial nuclear waste, he appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission of distinguished Idahoans to study the matter, hold hearings and respond. The response was overwhelmingly against Idaho becoming a waste repository for any nuclear waste especially that generated by nuclear power plants.

After returning to the governorship in 1987, he ordered the Idaho State Police in 1988 to place a squad car across railroad tracks just inside the state line with a burly state trooper standing in front with folded arms. The subsequent picture ran in newspapers nationwide, delivering the message to DoE that Idaho was not about to accept any waste from Rocky Flats. DoE got the message and dropped its plans.

Things are different now say the defenders of DoE. Yes, to a degree because of the agreement Andrus started negotiating with the federal agency and Batt finished negotiating in 1995. When Andrus says he fears that agreement has been effectively abrogated by a legal precedent opening the door even a crack to importing more commercial waste allegedly only for interim purposes, Idahoans should sit up and listen.

Since Gov. Kempthorne’s amending of the agreement, the Idaho National Laboratory folks have taken a couple of subtle steps designed to get the state to lower its guard. This includes hiring Gov. Kempthorne’s former press secretary as the site’s communications director and the lead contractor at the site also hired as its chief Boise lobbyist Gov. Kempthorne’s former chief of staff. Those are not coincidences, my friends.

It’s a far cry from 1988 and a sad commentary on how easily some people do not let history be a guide. Andrus, though, knows otherwise. Ten years ago he concluded a chapter on nuclear waste in his book “Politics, Western Style” saying:

“But I still reserve the right to raise hell. My role is that of a kind of human monitoring station on the Department of Energy’s performance. I will be back on the hustings if the federal government welshes on any of the work it has committed to perform.”

With the connivance of the state’s current Gov., the DoE has committed a calculated breach and Gov. Andrus, stepping into the breach, is keeping his eye on the rabbit n which could start to glow much sooner than any one realizes.

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Carlson Idaho

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some readers may recognize that line from an old Peter, Paul and Mary song that continues, “the rich would live and the poor would die.” Unfortunately, there’s too much truth to it: Wealth does allow the rich to live longer than those who do not have sufficient money, not to mention what’s left of the increasingly squeezed middle class.

“Income inequality” is a phrase news media and politicians alike want to avoid. They duck phrases deploring language that elicits thoughts of “class warfare.” The stark fact is income disparity, the difference between the super rich and the average worker, is at its greatest chasm in history (with the possible exception of 1928).

Yes, many of the wealthy (households with combined annual gross incomes more than $250,000) pay taxes. And, in a society that long ago institutionalized graduated tax rates, they usually pay more than those who earn less. But many of the super rich, the top two-tenths of one percent, don’t pay any taxes.

I once heard a member of the super rich say flat out “only stupid people pay taxes.” They retain attorneys and accountants to find shelters and write-offs to ensure they don’t pay a cent.

Yet they gladly take the protection of the American military in an unsafe world as an entitlement. They still expect their social security check when they “retire.” It makes me more than a little angry.

I mention this because, for all the rhetoric being tossed around regarding the need to repeal the historic passage of Health Care Reform because of problems and unintended consequences, the fundamentals of more government involvement in this gargantuan consumer of much of America’s wealth will remain in place.

Why? Because it is viewed as an equalizer that provides the poor and the stressed middle class more accessibility to more affordable health care and more protection against catastrophic illness that can financially ruin a household in a heartbeat.

The truly wealthy will still be able to afford to go anywhere in the world for the latest treatments for diseases without known cures. But the average citizen will get more relief, especially with such protections against denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

This view of the federal government as an equalizer providing some modicum of protection from predatory companies who prey on the ignorant, the disadvantaged and the poor, and who hide behind the mantra of “let the marketplace decide,” is what lies at the heart of the debate between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives.

In mid-January I was privileged to speak at the installation ceremony of a good friend who was formally taking the oath of office as the new U.S. attorney for eastern Washington. Mike Ormsby, a one-time business colleague, is one of those rare decent, compassionate, intelligent people who, despite his success, education and hard-earned income, still has a passionate commitment to justice.

Justice is another one of those concepts at the heart of much of the current political debate. Many people, myself included, have a nagging sense that justice is not as blind as it is supposed to be, that the rich are treated more leniently because they can afford the high-priced attorneys skilled at extracting their clients from any kind of legal dilemma.

At Mike’s installation ceremony I concluded by saying:

Lastly, Mike has a real sense of that word “Justice.” He knows that too often wealth can make a difference, that justice is not always blind. Thomas Jefferson once said that the Tree of Liberty from time to time is watered by the blood of patriots. Mike knows that patriot blood is too often shed by the less educated, by the less privileged, the less blessed—-who remain the backbone of Amercia. And he cares. . . .

The next time you hear someone denouncing government, whether local, state or federal, ask yourself who and what stands between you and the legal predators that lurk around us. Ask yourself why you have a better chance at obtaining justice of any kind in this country rather than anywhere else in the world? – Chris Carlson

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Carlson Northwest

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

On January 7, before the High Noon formal and ceremonial swearing-in to a second term as Governor of Idaho, C. L. “Butch” Otter and his wife Lori had a Mass of Thanksgiving at Boise’s St. John’s Cathedral.

The Gospel reading was taken from the New Testament Book of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 14 through 29, the well-known “Parable of the Talents.” The homilist did a marvelous job of relating the reading to the trust being placed in the governor’s hands and Butch’s obligation to be a good steward of the state he will lead for another four years.

The homilist, however, had no idea how appropriate his homily was, nor how much this listener felt Governor Otter already had stumbled badly in his stewardship right out of the starting gate of his second term.

Unbeknownst to the homilist, indeed, unbeknownst to hardly anyone, with little fan fare and no public process, the day before Governor Otter signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy that will be the crack in the door which quite possibly will swing wide open and turn Idaho into the nation’s new Yucca Mountain, bringing tons of nuclear commercial waste into this state for the first time ever.

With one stroke of his pen Butch turned away from a bi-partisan policy followed by every governor since Cecil Andrus negotiated a commitment from the Federal government to remove all of the poorly stored transuranic waste sitting above Idaho’s sole-source aquifer and ship it to a site in New Mexico’s salt caverns for repackaging and storage.

And since the early 70’s the thousands of canisters containing this waste has been shipped out of the state away from the precious Snake Plain Aquifer. Now, Idaho will start to take in commercial nuclear waste, allegedly for utilization in various research projects.

Calculate the math on how much will start heading this way and one quickly concludes it is far more than is reasonably needed for research. Not to worry say the Feds and the governor. The Department of Energy says it still intends to honor the section of the 1995 agreement started by Andrus and finished by Phil Batt which says ALL nuclear waste will be removed from Idaho by 2035.

Sadly for Idaho, Governor Batt broke ranks with Governor Andrus and chose party over principle, questionable promises from the Feds over real-life experience, and his friendship with Otter over his friendship with Andrus.

Somehow that promise rings pretty hollow and the logic of saying what’s being brought in will be removed, just “trust us,” is mind-boggling and stupefying.

So surely Governor Otter got something for Idaho out of this Faustian bargain? More jobs? More money for the National Engineering and Laboratory site west of Idaho Falls? Nope, my friends. Nada, nothing. No new jobs will be generated and no new appropriations are promised.

Even loyal supporters of the newly-sworn in governor are going to be hard-pressed to defend this indefensible, incomprehensible action.

There has been absolutely zero transparency. There are hundreds of questions begging for answers. Where will this waste be stored? How will it be stored? How can the public be assured that there’ll be no leakages down into the aquifer that provides the water for many southern Idaho crops not the least of which are potatoes?

How will it be transported? What are the security arrangements? Why was the public kept in the dark? What did our Congressional delegation know and when did they know it?

No less a great Republican president than Ronald Reagan once said “Trust, but verify!” How will Idahoans be able to obtain verification, especially when this was conceived in secrecy, born in the dark, and sprung on Idaho’s public shortly before the media’s attention was totally focused on Butch’s swearing-in?

I sincerely hope Governor Otter started pondering the real meaning of the homily on stewardship because in this observer’s opinion he quite possibly has so marred his legacy that prospects for his hearing the words “well done thou good and faithful servant” are just about the same as those of the Feds removing what they will be bringing to this state that will bear all the risk and have gained nothing for it. – Chris Carlson

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Carlson Idaho

What follows is a column (previously appearing in the St. Maries Gazette-Record) by Chris Carlson, now living at Medimont, Idaho. He was one of the founders of the Gallatin Group and was from 1989 until last year its representative based at Spokane. His Gallatin bio also notes that he was “a former press secretary to Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris directed the U.S. Department of the Interior Office of Public Affairs during the governor’s four-year term as Secretary of the Interior under President Jimmy Carter. Following his position in Washington, D.C., Chris was appointed to the Northwest Power Planning Council by Idaho Governor John V. Evans. In 1984, he became regional vice president of public affairs for Kaiser Aluminum in Spokane.” And he was a journalist before all that. He’ll be contributing occasional columns in this space.

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

We’re all familiar with zealots, true believers who go to extraordinary lengths to attract media attention for their cause, hoping the coverage will generate new interest and fresh contributions.

In Idaho most of the zealotry we experience relates to differing visions regarding future use of natural resources and the wildlife on public lands. Thus, we sometimes see civil disobedience activities by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies or Defenders of Wildlife, protesting wolf hunts, timber sales or mining projects.

While at the Interior department serving as the director of the office of public affairs (1987-1991) I had my epiphany, my revelation about how best to handle the zealots that constantly besieged the agency. The key was to deny them the media coverage they seek.

Shortly after this insight, opportunity to apply it arrived in the form of Mitch Snyder, a self-styled social activist who had taken on the plight of the homeless people in our nation’s capital as his cause. He decided the best way to draw attention to the cause was to stage a sit-in of homeless people in D.C.’s stately Union Station.

Having just arrived home one evening, I received a call from an Interior assistant secretary, who said the Park Service police were reporting that Snyder had led 50 homeless people into Union Station and were conducting a sit-in until arrested and forcibly removed.

He wanted to know what I thought should be done. Once I ascertained they were not blocking the passage of commuters and customers to trains, I told him to direct the Park Police to do nothing until midnight.

Why midnight, he asked. Because, I explained, it was the news media picture of police carrying the homeless to paddy wagons that Snyder wanted and we weren’t going to let him have it.

At midnight, after the late evening news is over, I instructed, have the Park Police “gently” pick up demonstrators and carry them out of the station. No arrests. End of story. And that’s what happened.

Shortly after midnight, however, the assistant secretary called again to say the homeless had promptly lain down in the street in front of the station. The Park Police wanted to know what they should do now.

I said they should do nothing more. The street was the responsibility of the District’s city police, not Interior’s, and it was the city’s problem. Within minutes he was back on the phone saying the Situation Commander for the D.C. police on the scene was asking if we had any advice.

I said they ought to block off the street and leave the homeless there. It was below freezing that night and once they realized they would not be arrested they would leave before the sun rises. And that’s what happened.

Nothing ever appeared in the news media on this incident and there was no bad publicity for the Interior Department.

Fast forward a few years to the first part of this decade. Another opportunity arose for display of the principle in action when the public affairs firm I founded was retained by the president of Pacific Lumber Company (PALCO) to devise a strategy to counter tree-sitters occupying some of the spectacular Redwoods it owned.

Vexed by the long sit-in held the previous year by “Julia Butterfly,” he was determined not to be held hostage again. He asked for a counter-strategy. Our company’s game plan worked perfectly.

First, we had the client recruit and train several folks who could quickly scramble up the trees, surprise the tree-sitter, truss them up and bring them down n with removal activity happening after midnight long after reporters had gone home. We had each tree-climber wear a helmet with a small mini-camera affixed to it to record the removal and rebut any false claims (which there were) of “brutality.”

Secondly, tree-sitters were informed that by climbing a Redwood they were signing the tree’s death warrant rather than saving the tree. Any tree they scaled and perched in would immediately have a band cut around its base, much as a porcupine does, starting its demise.

The company only had to do it once and the tree-sittings were discontinued.

The key is denying zealots the attention they crave. Without it, they often wither and retreat.

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