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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: Where’s the beef?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The month of August is fast disappearing. Has anyone seen any evidence that the most momentous vote Idahoans may ever make is only a couple months away?

No, it’s not how Idaho votes in the presidential election. That’s a foregone conclusion: the Romney/Ryan ticket has Idaho’s four electoral votes in the bag.

No, the most important issue on the ballot is the three measures to repeal the key elements of the alleged Otter/Luna Educational Reform package. The three initiatives are critical to providing a real teacher-led effort at reform rather than the balderdash served up so far by conservative Republicans.

Unless the Idaho Education Association has polls showing the repeals to be significantly ahead, which is doubtful, it appears the strategy for the “repealers” is to find a big name leading public figure to be the face for a significant media campaign.

If “repealers” do go that route, one hopes they will select a credible spokesperson, preferably one with solid Republican credentials, like former Governor Phil Batt or former State Superintendent Jerry Evans. Ideally, they also should pair them with the mother of school age children who can speak eloquently of her concerns and her lack of confidence in the Otter/Luna reforms. This is needed as an antidote to First Lady Lori Otter’s ads in support of the three laws.

One suspects proponents are going to saturate the airwaves themselves.

Rest assured, companies that provide computer programs and on-line learning will dump several million into a “support our kids first” campaign that will match dollar for dollar if not exceed whatever the “repealers” raise.

Reportedly, IEA and supportive unions have pledged a $2 million budget. So far there is virtually no evidence for even a portion of that sum being spent on a critical component for success - a well organized grass roots effort. (more…)

Carlson: The lioness of Idaho?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

If the “lion of Idaho” was William E. Borah, Idaho’s most famous United States Senator, a strong case can be made that the “lioness of Idaho” has to be the late Louise Shadduck. Others will argue that the title should be bestowed on Verda Barnes.

Or, if one believes that a prerequisite for such a designation is to have held public office then Gracie Pfost has to be a leading candidate.

Louise who? Verda who? Gracie who?

Therein lies the challenge. Only a few political junkies or academics know who these three talented women were, each of whom had a profound influence on Idaho’s political life. Each deserves a biography, yet thus far, only two are in the works.

The case for Louise is the strongest. She was the first female executive assistant to any Idaho governor, but in her case because it was Idaho’s first post-war progressive governor, Dr. C.A. Robins (from St. Maries), Louise, by Doc Robins’ own admission, had a profound influence on the many progressive initiatives he undertook.

She then worked for Doc Robins’ two immediate successors, Len B. Jordan, and Robert E. Smylie. Smylie made her director of the department of commerce which she transformed into the aggressive state marketing agency it is today. She held sway there for 10 years.

Louise also served as chief of staff to Senator Henry Dworshak, and later held down a similar position with Second District congressman Orval Hansen.

Though she never held a elected office she wielded considerable influence from other posts such as president of the National Federation of Newspaper Women (She was a trained journalist who worked for both the Coeur d’ Alene Press and The Spokesman Review), and as the first director of what became the Idaho Forestry Association.

The key to her influence was not just smarts, but an incredible memory for names, unfailing courtesy and the sole of discretion. She knew everyone who was anyone. She jammed into one life a half dozen careers and could have retired at several points but chose to stay active in Republican affairs and the state’s affairs, as well as her beloved Coeur d’Alene, until the day she died at 93 years young.

And she kept writing, a number of interesting books on subjects ranging from a history of doctors in Idaho, to the history of the Caldwell rodeo to a biography on Andy Little, a turn of the century sheep and cattle baron in Idaho.

What few people know, save University of Idaho Dean Katherine Aiken, is that Louise did seek public office in 1956, taking on First District Congresswoman Gracie Pfost. It was the first time in the history of the Republic that two women were the party nominees in a congressional race.

In a column I wrote for the Lewiston Tribune in September, 1972, Louise told me: “I have no regrets. I learned more from that brief time than any other comparable period in my life. It was a good, clean campaign. Most of all, we proved that two women could run a credible campaign against each other.”

If elected office is a requirement, then hands down the lioness has to be Ms. Pfost. A smart, tough, hardworking county officer (deputy clerk, auditor, treasurer), she parlayed her knowledge of government and people into being Idaho’s first female member of Congress. She served ten years from 1952 to 1962, giving up her seat to run in the special election held to fill the seat of Senator Henry Dworshak who died in office. She narrowly lost to former Governor Len B. Jordan, 51 percent to 49 percent.

Following her defeat she accepted a position with the Kennedy Administration working in the Federal Housing agency. Sadly, she died prematurely at age 59 in 1965 at John Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and is buried in Meridian.

A third solid contender for lioness has to be Frank Church’s long-time administrative assistant, Verda Barnes. Born in Utah but raised in St. Anthony, many Idaho political wonks feel with all due deference to both the skills and talents of Frank and Bethine, nonetheless it was the political acumen and an unerring sense of Idaho that Verda possessed which was the key to Church being the only Democrat ever re-elected to the Senate, which happened three times.

It is no coincidence either that Verda had passed away before the senator’s loss to Steve Symms in 1980. Verda deserves a biographer for of the three she is the least known. Dean Aiken is working on Ms. Pfosts’s biography and Louise’ former Pastor, Mike Bullard, is working on hers.

If someone steps forward to do Verda’s then perhaps it will be easier to award the “lioness” title. Even then my money will still be on Louise.

Chris Carlson is a writer and former press secretary to Governor Cecil Andrus. He lives in Medimont.

Fiscally irresponsible, again

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There they stand in a photo sent to the state media - Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and members of The Idaho State Lottery Commission proudly holding a large mock check for $41.5 million made out to the state. Governor Otter is clearly pleased with the yield from a regressive tax policy that relies substantially on the hopes of participants to hit the big one.

It is, however, another iteration of a myth that Idaho Republicans are the anti-tax increase, fiscally responsible party. In reality, the Governor peddles a bill of goods that relies on shell games and fiscal chicanery. He is betting most voters most of the time won’t see through the gimmicks which underfund education and keep kicking the day of reckoning down the road. He is probably correct, unfortunately.

All these anti-tax Republicans, who have taken the Grover Norquist pledge, for some reason exempt gaming from their list of taxes because an individual willingly pays this “tax,” which happens also to be a “sin tax.”

Taxpayers though are supposed to be happy that $17 million of that $41 million take will go to support the constitutional mandate to fund properly public education as if that will offset years of overall reductions in state support for public and higher education. But that is an integral part of the myth-making and shell games the Governor plays.

One has to concede the fiscal chicanery Republicans perpetrate gets lost in a sea of smoke and mirrors because it is complex, denies easy categorization and allows the GOP to paint a heavily biased picture that most of the time is not clarified by diligent journalists save the unusually perspicacious Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune.

Another part of the GOP “starve education” plan started with Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who, along with many Republicans (the prominent exception being former Governor Phil Batt) started advocating borrowing against anticipated federal grant money to fund highway and infrastructure improvements. Proceeds from bond sales based on this premise became known as “Garvee” funding.

Then Republicans hit on the scheme of borrowing against anticipated sales tax revenue. This became “Star” funding. (more…)

Presidential speculation

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With apologies to songwriter Paul Simon, “where have you gone, Jon Huntsman? A nation turns its hungry eyes to you.”

If ever the time is ripe for a third party entrant, it is now and former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, Jr., could be the Ross Perot of 2012. Unlike the Texas billionaire, though, who set the highwater mark (19%) for a third party independent in 1992, enabling Bill Clinton to win with a plurality (44%), Huntsman would have a real shot at winning.

Huntsman says he is not interested in such a scenario, by the way, but this is fantasy and one can speculate. Here’s how and why, remote though the prospects are, it could be accomplished.

First, there is a vehicle in place. A group of non-partisan independents has qualified a “person to be named later” and/or a placeholder in almost all the states of the union reportedly. Organizing largely through the internet, after both major parties hold their conventions, they plan to conduct an internet convention to select their nominee.

The former Utah governor and ambassador to China is high on their list of candidates because of his successful six years as Utah’s socially moderate but fiscally conservative governor and his foreign affairs experience.

Handsome, personable, intelligent and a family man, Huntsman polls well with independents, Democrats and Republicans unhappy with their respective nominees. In particular he does well with Republicans who cannot trust Mitt Romney. Huntsman is able to inspire that hard to define but indispensable factor of coming across as trustworthy. (more…)

Local power

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

It is often said “power corrupts,” and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are exceptions to that rule and one exists in Benewah County.

For almost 40 years one person has worn lightly with grace and humility the crown of absolute political power in this north Idaho county: County Commissioner Jack Buell.

Now 76 years young he has served the public interest well, won many friends along the way, and most would admit made some enemies also. Jack wears his heart on his sleeve. He personifies the old adage, “show me a man with no enemies and I’ll show you a man with no character. If you stand for anything in this world you make enemies.”

By this definition Jack may have lots of character. Two entities that have felt the lash of his tongue and done little to endear themselves to him over the years are the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Idaho State Police.

Jack is also what a fan of his, former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, would call a “lunch bucket” Democrat - a person who cares about jobs and people having decent-paying jobs where they make an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s labor so they can provide for their children’s education while also enjoying Idaho’s quality of life on weekends.

Given that both Cece and Jack come out of the “slab, sliver and knothole” business it is no coincidence there is a casual mutually respectable affinity between the two.

As the founder of Jack A. Buell Trucking he has provided jobs for many folks in and around Benewah County for many years. His unique “Jack Buell green” (reportedly a registered color) trucks which started by hauling logs but now also haul chips are a familiar sight on the roads and highways of north Idaho.

What few know is that Jack understands loyalty and believes in investing in people. He is especially loyal to his employees and their families and he knows too that it is a two-way street. During economically challenging times he strives to keep as many workers employed as he can and loathes laying anyone off.

People don’t forget that kind of loyalty.

For years now anyone who holds any statewide public office, or aspires to hold such offices, make it a point to trek to St. Maries, the county seat, to court and cultivate Jack. A shrewd judge of people and character, his recommendations about who to support and why he was voting for or against someone becomes an implied command for the many who respect him. (more…)

The sanctimonious media

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Having been in and around the news media for over 40 years as a reporter, political columnist, Washington D.C. correspondent, press secretary, a cabinet agency director of a public affairs office; and, a consultant on communications strategy (critics call it spinmeistering), one would think I might be more tolerant of the media’s shortcomings.

But I’m not.

The critical role the media should play in public discourse is increasingly absent. There are fewer and fewer reporters who really do their homework, read voraciously, or even read their own publications. Objectivity is being lost in a sea of subjectivity and the Republic is suffering mightily.

Despite claims to the contrary, journalism is a craft and an art form. It is not a science and profession subject to professional guidelines and scientific criteria. I once was invited to speak to the Jay Rockey Public Relations Society at Washington State University. (Full disclosure: I once had the privilege and pleasure of working for Jay Rockey in Seattle. A pioneer in the public relations business and a true gentleman, my criticism is not directed at him.)

I started my presentation by saying all those there were making a mistake to major as undergraduates in areas like journalism, public relations, television and radio communications, marketing, etc. These are professional endeavors, or claim to be, and in my view belong in graduate school.

Rather, they should be majoring in a liberal art like history or English literature where they could get grounded in the humanities necessary to help make some sense out of the world’s chaos; that a liberal art could teach them how to think, analyze and communicate critically. The sense of history and literature would provide a needed and necessary perspective.

Needless to say, I wasn’t invited back. (more…)

Carlson: Idiocy

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

I saw the other day where Idaho’s illustrious Superintendent for Public Instruction, the Honorable Tom Luna, said it did not bother him in the least that Idaho ranked 48th or 49th in state support for public education.

That statement alone makes him a certifiable idiot. That his PR flacks try to portray his rationalizations for Idaho’s pecuniary as cutting edge innovation is laughable. That he is supposedly a key advisor on educational policy to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney is appalling.

Luna, along with every state legislator and every member of Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s administration ought to read an article in the latest Atlantic Monthly by Chrystia Freeland entitled "The Triumph of the Family Farm."

The article describes the transformation of farming due to technological innovation and global integration which, along with the growth of a middle class that has become an increasingly demanding market for better food, has led to impressive financial success for family farms.

Yup, despite what you might read about their demise and the rise of corporate farms the fact is in 2010, of all the farms with at least $1 million in revenues, 88 percent were family farms.

Buried within the article though is an absolute diamond.

Calling it one of the great forgotten triumphs of American society and government she points out how smoothly farmers negotiated the creative destruction (the loss of farm jobs due to modernization) of the early 20th century. She quotes esteemed labor economist and Harvard professor Lawrence Katz regarding how the farming community adapted.

Luna will be stunned by this, but the key according to Katz, was heavy investment in education. “Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California - those were the leaders in the high school movement,” Katz stated. It was a deliberate response to rapid technological change in both farming and manufacturing.

They built more schools and invested more money as a deliberate strategic response so that their children would be better equipped to deal with and adapt to rapid change. The strategy worked. It made for better farmers for those who stayed on the farm and more adaptive workers for those that migrated to urban areas.

Today’s challenge is the same, only a high school education is no longer sufficient. Students today know they need a college education with an emphasis on analytic skills. Katz, though, points out the obvious: the Luna’s of the world are not making an equivalent investment in the future by even adequately funding basic and higher education today.

Instead they hide behind a mantra about not throwing more money at the challenge, trying to sell bilge-water to the public that Idaho can do more with less. Instead of being ashamed regarding the declining support for public education they try to make a virtue out of disgraceful conduct. What’s that saying about putting lip stick on a pig? (more…)

Carlson: Guns and the 4th

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The election earlier this month of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s former aide, Ron Barber, (who was also wounded in the tragic shooting) to her seat in Congress undoubtedly spawned another round of editorials calling for tougher gun control laws. Most, one suspects, will draw the incorrect conclusion about her tragic shooting during a town hall listening session outside a Tucson supermarket in which six people died.

Some no doubt will cite recent FBI generated data which purports to show approximately 1.5 million Americans (This number seems high.) acquired handguns in December 2011.

Then will come the litany of senseless gun deaths this past year. No one can or should ignore recent gun crimes throughout the region - from the park ranger’s death in Mt. Rainier National Park, to the University of Idaho professor’s shooting of a student, to police officer shootings in Utah and Spokane.

Too many editorialists insinuate, though, that increased gun ownership statistics indicate a failing of the system here in America. They wrongly conclude more guns in the hands of more people is a given “bad thing” in light of the acts of a few obviously mentally unstable individuals. It is a classic false syllogism.

It is also disingenuous to imply increased handgun ownership correlates with an increase annually in gun violence. Such pundits ignore the overwhelmingly positive statistic that can also be extrapolated from that FBI data - there are 1.5 million new handguns acquired by responsible individuals who did not use them for violence or mayhem.

Personal responsibility and the right to defend oneself aren’t sexy stories, however. In the wake of violent crime in which a firearm is used, it is easier for some to bemoan gun violence and call for increased gun control. The media’s group think attack on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law has been sad to watch given how unbalanced the reporting has been.

Others also complain about the National Rifle Association’s influence at the legislative level while ignoring the fact that the NRA and its legislative arm, the NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action), are hugely well-funded primarily because responsible gun-owners feel this organization is their only hope for the strict legislative defense of the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. (more…)

Carlson: Definitions of party

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“You’re really a Republican, you just don’t want to admit it,” my publisher said to me the other day.

“I’m a business Democrat,” I countered, “if you insist on trying to label me.”

“No such thing,” he replied, adding “and just what the heck is that?”

Back and forth we go, having fun by trying to put each other on the defensive and deliberately distorting what the other says. We take our politics seriously and often disagree without being too disagreeable (at least in my case!). At the end of the day, though, we both say a pox on the houses of each party for being enthralled to their particular special interests.

Neither of us has ever voted a straight ticket and both of us sometimes despair about the future direction of both Idaho and the nation. We are both dismayed at the inability of the two parties to work together for the common good.

One of several reasons I would never subscribe to being allied with the Republican Party can best be explained by a recent Pew Research poll. Three out of five self-described Republicans disagreed with the statement that government has a responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. For Democrats, by contrast, three out of four agreed with the statement, and that number has remained fairly constant over the last 25 years.

Significantly, even with Independents there has been a slight decline, with 70 percent agreeing in 1987 but today it has dropped to 59 percent.

Twenty-five years ago three out of five R’s accepted the notion of societal obligation to help the weak, the infirm, the mentally challenged, the homeless, the drug addict, the child of a single mother trapped in poverty. No longer is that the case.

This is a “social Darwinistic” attitude to say the least. Frankly, I don’t want to believe my many Republican friends no longer care about others. Many of them do and many are generous in their donations to various charities.

Rather, I choose to think this appalling factoid reflects that a considerable number of R’s are more concerned about the efficiency of the programs being delivered than that they want to stop the programs. Pew’s research indicates this attitude may indeed be part of the shift away from recognizing there are legitimate needs amongst many of one’s fellow citizens. (more…)