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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: Trust, Verify

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Former Coeur d’Alene Tribal Chairman and Casino Executive (1994-2006) David Matheson, is back in a seat of prominence, his old job as Casino executive, after five years of acrimonious litigation full of charges and counter-charges the press shouldn’t repeat because there were no verdicts and no real conclusions.

Any observer of Native Americans, or anyone who has business or political dealings with tribes as an entity quickly learns the internal politics of any tribe are as Byzantine and as complex as any politics anywhere. If one has not been raised in that culture one cannot begin to understand the machinations.

Even if one could understand the complexities of the various family and clan relationships, one would need a scorecard to comprehend the inner workings, which family is up and which is down, why some view an education in the college’s of the white conquerors as a negative not a positive, why children can be raised by an entire village successfully, why the native religion can absorb the teachings of the Jesuit missionaries.

Suffice it to say to outward appearances the Matheson family is back in the saddle of real power. Whether that is at the expense of some other powerful family, which is now out, who outside can say? Those that do know won’t say, one can bet on that.

One can also say most Native Americans are acutely aware of public perceptions; more so than other minorities because in many cases they have been victimized by the hokey Indian stereotypes that exist in our culture.

David Matheson has over the years proven to be a savvy operator. He obviously is a survivor and one can wager though outward appearances may be he cares little about public perceptions in fact he is acutely aware of how important they can be. (more…)

Carlson: The real heir apparent?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Look out, Lt. Governor Brad Little (Or substitute Schools Superintendent Tom Luna, or Rep. Raul Labrador---whoever your favorite is). You may think you’re the “crown prince” and next in line to be the Republican dynasty’s governor of Idaho, but the best politician in the state may be maneuvering to snatch that crown from your grasp and place it squarely on his head of distinguished white hair.

He has never held a political office in Idaho, but all the state’s major players know him. He is unquestionably the state’s best fund-raiser. He holds degrees in political science and demonstrates daily that he understands politics, especially the “rule” that perception is reality.

He reads books and can really talk about them. For nine years he has demonstrated mastery of one of the most politicized jobs in any state.

He is of course Bob Kustra, president of Idaho’s largest university, Boise State. He demonstrated again this month that even at age 68 he is on top of his game.

The evidence clearly shows he is a master practitioner of politics which leads one to wonder if his ambition has truly been satisfied? A yearning for high public office may still linger in his breast. It also goes far toward unraveling the mystery of why now he sacked loyal and long-time Athletic Director Gene Bleymaier.

It was as astute a pro-active, pre-emptive political move as any have seen in awhile. Odds are better than even that Kustra already knows or strongly suspects severe sanctions may be coming down for violations of various NCAA rules by not just Boise State’s nationally ranked football team, but in other sports also. (more…)

Carlson: Robins in context

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

So why do students of Idaho political history, and the 30 men who have been its governor, rank the former town-doctor of St. Maries, C.A. Robins, so highly?

To put the answer in medical terms, he wrote needed prescriptions that are still bearing results 60 years after his single four-year term (1946-1950) that governors were then allowed. Many of the advances and reforms he pushed came out of his first legislative session as governor in 1947, a session that long-time Idaho political player and observer Perry Swisher ranks along with the 1965 session as the most accomplished in Idaho’s history.

For openers, take his solid support for public education where he achieved comprehensive reforms, unlike several of his Republican successors, including current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. Governor Robins found Idaho bursting with 1,118 school districts in 1946. With the help of the Legislature, hundreds of small school districts were consolidated into less than 200, saving property taxpayers money in unnecessary overhead costs.

In 1947 he also obtained a significant increase in pay for teachers, appalled that Idaho’s teachers were then the poorest paid in the nation. (Some things, though, don’t change, with Idaho teachers again being ranked near the nation’s bottom in base pay.)

He was a major driving force for the transformation of the University of Idaho-Southern Branch into a stand alone Idaho State College independent of the University of Idaho. That set the precedent for the emergence of Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston and the stage for the transformation of Boise Junior College in the early 60’s into Boise State College.

One could argue that with 20/20 hindsight Idaho would have been better off to have stayed with a one university system structure, but that opportunity is long gone.

The politically savvy governor obviously had a great bedside manner. Having been the Senate president during his third legislative term from Benewah County, he knew how to work constructively with lawmakers to achieve passage of needed legislation. He was elected to a fourth term and surely would have been returned to the Senate presidency but resigned before the session commenced rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor. The other doctor in town had left during the time between his election to a fourth term and the beginning of the session in January of 1945.

As Idaho’s governor, he was the force behind the creation of the Department of Labor, the State Tax Commission, the first State Building program, and reformed and modernized the worker’s compensation system. He also abolished the Board of Pardons and replaced it with the three-member Board of Corrections with the purpose of providing more professional management of corrections. (more…)

Carlson: An indecent proposal?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s engage in one of those exercises where one speculates history taking a different course. Let’s imagine that for one day you could be any one of the 30 men who have been Idaho’s governor. Who would you choose and what would you do?

To no one’s surprise this scribe would choose four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus.

What I would have done, though, may surprise. But it would have been in the best interests of the taxpayers, higher education and the city of Pocatello. The date of this action would have been sometime in the week following the November 1994 election of Phil Batt as my successor.

In utmost secrecy, I would have loaded the state plane with Governor-elect Batt, his defeated rival for the governorship, Attorney General Larry Echohawk, then Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson, and then Senate President Jerry Twiggs, and flown to Salt Lake City.

There we would have met with the appropriate authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and negotiated the sale of Idaho State University to the Church.

Under this scenario, ISU would have become BYU-Idaho, and RicksCollege in Rexburg would have remained a two-year feeder college for BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

About to leave me? Stop a minute and think about how much better the entities involved would have been. There would be no losers in this deal.

What we have today is a major state university in an under-funded higher education system with declining enrollment – a trend that will continue as the converted Ricks College continues to grow at the expense of ISU. BYU-Idaho already has exceeded ISU in enrollment.

At the beginning of 2011 at BYU-Idaho total enrollment (full-time and part-time students) was 14,100 students, up from the previous year’s total of 13,375. At ISU, it was 12,595 down from the previous year’s number of 14,209.

One could easily look over the horizon 15 years ago and see this coming. Ricks was undergoing phenomenal growth as many LDS “returned missionaries” were either starting or resuming their education following conclusion of their two-year callings. It is no coincidence that the Rexburg Journal and Standard contained an unusually high number of engagement notices and marriage announcements.

Some contend many college-bound Mormon young women being more intent on obtaining their “MRS” instead of their “BS” degree in a culture that encourages young women to find eligible husbands among the ranks of those having returned from missions. Regardless, Ricks was clearly growing by leaps and bounds.

In the meantime, on the other side of Idaho, Boise State was rapidly expanding, as well. With the University of Idaho ensconced as the state’s leading research university and “flagship” school of the system, internecine fighting for state dollars was on the rise.

Despite a supposed unified State Board of Education overseeing all of Idaho’s universities and colleges, the political realities were clear. Boise State inevitably would receive more and more of the state allocation and it would come at the expense primarily of ISU as the legislative supporters of the booming Treasure Valley and the established north Idaho took care of the “home” schools first.

For its part Boise State, embarked on a path of cultivating athletic success rather than scholastic excellence (“A football team in search of a university,” as one colleague put it), and has been rewarded with far more alumni donations and private corporate contributions than ISU could ever hope to match.

Assume LDS Church authorities in Salt Lake would have seen the logic in having an already built up institution negating plans to expand in a smaller almost out-of-the-way community. What would they have paid for ISU? Probably in the range of $100 million at the time.

How much further Idaho would be ahead today, as well as the renamed ISU and Pocatello itself, if that had occurred? As the Church’s primary higher education institution in Idaho, ISU would be more financially secure, larger and off the taxpayers’ back. Even President Arthur C. Vailas’ dream of having a medical school would be more achievable.

There would be more state dollars to divide among the remaining institutions. And there would have been $100 million to put into the State Building Fund, earmarked for future higher education needs.

Such an unprecedented move would have had some difficult hurdles to overcome, not the least of which would be legalities involving contracts negotiated between a public institution and its various employees being turned over to a private entity. All would have been surmountable.

All, that is, except the political realities. Somewhere, someone would have filed a lawsuit and another perfectly rational idea in the public interest would have foundered on the altar of one group’s self-interest. Sound familiar?

Carlson: Remembering Doc Robins

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

“Benewah County has an opportunity which may never come this way again.” - St. Maries Gazette Record, June 6, 1946

The above item was the last point in a campaign ad for C.A. “Doc” Robins, a former three-term Benewah County State Senator running for the 1946 Republican gubernatorial nomination.

The 61-year-old Robins easily defeated former two-term Idaho Governor C.A. “Bott” Bottolfsen in the primary and went on to defeat incumbent Governor Arnold Williams by a landslide in November.

Robins was the first governor of Idaho from the northern part of the state in more than 50 years and surely will be, as the ad suggests, the only governor with ties to Benewah County ever.

Ask people on the streets of St. Maries today who “Doc” Robins was and the vast majority don’t have a clue. There is no sign as one enters St. Maries that it used to be the hometown of arguably one of the most influential people in Idaho’s political history. Nor is there any notice erected anywhere in the county.

And that’s a shame.

Robins, a physician, was not only a fine governor, by all accounts he also was a warm, wonderful human being who cared deeply about his patients, was always approachable and certainly possessed an exceptional bedside manner. He delivered most of the babies born in the county for many years.

His fellow state senators elected him that body’s president for the 1943 session of the Idaho Legislature. Re-elected to a fourth consecutive term in 1944, he surely would have been elected its president again. But he resigned from the Senate rather than leave St. Maries without any doctor, which would have been the case had he attended the 1945 legislative session.

Politically, 1946 was an incredibly important year with electoral outcomes heavily influencing the future of the state and its politics. The epoch-changing events began with the death of Republican U.S. Senator John Thomas on Nov. 10, 1945.

On Nov. 17 Democratic Governor Charles Gossett resigned as governor, an act which elevated his Lieutenant Governor, Arnold Williams, to the governorship. Williams then appointed Gossett to the vacant Senate seat. The gamesmanship did not set well with the voters in part because Williams became Idaho’s first Mormon governor at a time when there was still a bias against members of the LDS church, particularly among north Idahoans. (more…)

Carlson: Filling in the forms

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Indulge me in a rant about interest group questionnaires and the absurd length contained therein to ensure a candidate is a purist before he or she can receive the group’s nod, its mailing list and a donation from its PAC.

Were we not taught in civics classes that we are a republic with the people electing representatives “hired” to use their intelligence and commonsense to weigh complicated matters most of us don’t have time to study and then decide what the greatest good is for the greatest number?

Instead, many interest groups only want an automaton, a robot that will vote their way on issues of import to their agenda 100 percent of the time. Use your own judgment? Heaven forbid. Our representative is supposed to be bought and paid for, according to various interests across the spectrum, and stay bought and paid for.

A friend running for a municipal office in the state of Washington recently sent me the questionnaire from Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, the political action committee that doles out contributions to those it views sympathetic to its women’s health and reproductive rights, including the right to an abortion.

Instructions made it clear every question had to be answered, that “yes” or “no” had to be circled on every question, and incomplete responses would be interpreted as “refused to respond.” Where do these people (I’m referring to all such groups) come off thinking that intensely personal, private issues influenced by one’s value system and beliefs can be reduced down to black and white “yes” or “no?”

The late baseball commissioner, Barlett Giamatti (a former president of Yale), said it best: “There are many who lust for the simple answers of doctrine or decree. They are on the left and right. They are not confined to a single part of society. They are terrorists of the mind.”

He points out many people have a hard time dealing with the tough ragged edges of life, the many gray areas that confront one. But that’s the real world, and he is politely saying “deal with reality.” Don’t take refuge in ideology and demagoguery.

Interest group zealots also are fond of falling into what Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard called the “fallacy of the either/or,” as in you are either “with us or against us,” most recently spouted by President George W. Bush in telling the rest of the world his view regarding the war on terrorism.

How hard is it to understand and gird ourselves against taking refuge in such simplicities? Because our mind boggles at the increasing complexity of daily living, we begin to imagine a simpler time, to yearn to make life, which increases in complexity each day at screeching hyperbolic rate, into simpler fare we think we can handle. So we categorize and pigeon-hole with generalizing labels that miss the nuances that are part of this challenging world.

Interest group questionnaires are one such manifestation of this. For example, what does one’s position on President Obama’s health care reform law have to do with running for mayor or city council? What does running for a municipal office have to do with whether one supports or opposes sex education in public schools? Isn’t that a matter for parents and/or school boards?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney deserves an “atta boy” from all for refusing recently to sign a gay-bashing group’s pledge asking for undying support for marriage as between one man and one woman. As a devout member of the LDS Church that, of course, is his belief, but he refused to sign the Tea Party led pledge because of its intemperate language, which he correctly said was beneath the dignity of the office he seeks.

The “Tea Party” zealots of the Republican party, especially as it's reshaping Republican politics in eastern Idaho, are spearheading a new, even kookier form of “the Pledge” which demands that any candidate for any office in Idaho promise absolute and complete fealty to every plank in the party’s platform. (more…)

Carlson: “To be, or not to be …”

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The latest national Gallup poll on social attitudes reports a new number one issue that most divides the American public. For years the issue has been abortion. Today it is physician assisted suicide (PAS).

While 48 percent of the respondents said the matter was “morally objectionable all the time,” some 45 percent said it could be morally acceptable.

The issue has gained sufficient attention that the nation’s Catholic bishops finally issued a policy statement deploring its increased public acceptance at their annual summer meeting in June in Bellevue, Washington.

It is an eloquent statement, worth reading. It provides effective counter-arguments to those made by PAS supporters that the issue is a matter of “choice” and “compassion.” Sadly, it fails to grasp that one cannot effectively counter an emotional appeal rooted in the fear many have of dying with rational appeals. The challenge is to find an emotional appeal that resonates more forcefully with the public, regardless of whether one believes in God and an Afterlife, and one rooted in hope rather than despair.

Opponents of abortion on demand finally figured this out and began to turn the tide when they started running ads featuring the child at 20 weeks in the womb, with a beating heart and already human form. Those ads made an emotional connection that underscored their message. Consequently, it put abortion supporters on the defensive by casting would-be mothers who use abortion as a contraceptive or simply don’t want to accept the responsibility for a consensual act of sex that produces a third life as being selfish and willing to sacrifice the life of a child because of inconvenience.

Physician assisted suicide is an equally complex issue, which most folks instinctively see purely in their own context. Many can see themselves taking a premature departure if they feel they are being made to suffer unendurable pain, or have become a burden on their families. (more…)

Carlson: Indian wars today

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Those who think the days of Native American tribes fighting other Native American tribes are long gone, best think again. The advent of and phenomenal growth in Indian gaming has created a division of haves - the tribes with revenue producing and political powerful casinos - and the have nots.

Gaming tribes in Idaho, the Coeur d’Alenes, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshone/Bannock, appear to have natural markets where there is no real competition. They appear at peace with neighboring tribes.

You see the Coeur d’Alenes unveiling a new $100 million dollar upgrade in their hotel and casino in May, the Nez Perce moving into a lovely new wooden structure instead of operating out of the huge circus tent that was the prior base, and the ShoBans unveiling their new facility.

Where the warfare begins is when two tribes relatively near to each other decide to co-locate casinos. It becomes especially vicious if one tribe perceives the other as encroaching and there is a belief that the market cannot sustain two enterprises.

The best example of this is the not so subtle contest between the Kalispells and the Spokanes in eastern Washington. The Kalispells built and operate the fabulously successful Northern Quest Casino in Airway Heights, just outside of Spokane. A small tribe with a land base of just a few square miles, the Kalispells petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the Washington governor’s office for permission in the 1990’s to buy some off-reservation land and to have it declared Indian trust territory and part of their reservation.

Once that was completed, they found investors, struck up an arrangement with a Las Vegas gaming management outfit and built their casino which is now in the midst of a several hundred million dollar expansion.

From their much larger reservation, the Spokanes looked on with envy. They had earlier constructed a smaller casino at Two Rivers (where the Spokane flows into the Columbia at the reservoir behind the Grand Coulee Dam). Two Rivers was reportedly successful, but once Northern Quest was up and going, revenue rapidly diminished and eventually the casino operated on a reduced schedule.

Using the old principle of what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, the Spokanes decided to travel the same path as the Kalispells. The Spokanes, of course, were hoping the Kalispells would see competition as healthy and beneficial for both.

Wishful thinking. (more…)

Carlson: It’s the water, stupid

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With apologies to political consultant James Carville, who famously coined the expression “it’s all about the economy, stupid,” the future in the west is all about water, its allocation, cost and rapid depletion.

Scientists, naturalists, writers, farmers, ranchers, and politicians are all too aware of its scarcity beyond the 100th Meridian, as duly noted and popularized in the late 19th century by John Wesley Powell, famed explorer of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River and first head of the U.S. Geological Survey.

Lay on the issue of global warming and many scientists believe the arid west will become hotter and drier, accelerating the desertification process. Cities that had neither right nor common sense in their expansion, such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, are requiring ever increasing amounts of water. They willingly pay farmers and ranchers princely sums to surrender their water rights to pipelines hundreds of miles in length to slake their thirst.

This growing need for potable water has fueled the drive for more impoundments to store winter run-off and rain. The coming conflict between agricultural use versus culinary and human use is clear. Determining highest and best use will be the marketplace, not board rooms of large corporations nor the committee meeting rooms of state legislatures.

Nor does it take rocket science to predict two major aspects regarding water and the future:

1) Those that have an abundance of water, ground water or a sizable underground aquifer, are going to prosper and those that don’t are going to flounder. Thus, 100 years from now Spokane, with the vast and so far unmapped and unplumbed Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, will be a thriving city with manufacturing transplanted from California. And Las Vegas may be a mere shadow of its glory days.

2) Congress will repeal the so-called Winters Doctrine of 1908. Why? Because Congress will conclude the Supreme Court vested too much power in indigenous Native American tribes by placing their water rights “first in time” and therefore “first in right.” (more…)

Carlson: On Andrus and I

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

For readers who have been entertained or, hopefully, intellectually stimulated by my musings for more than a year, I have some news: Idaho’s oldest publishing house, Caxton Press of Caldwell, will be publishing a book by me.

Entitled “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor,” the book recounts an insider’s view of events that happened in the 10 years I worked for the “good, great former governor.” Elected to four terms covering 14 years with a 10-year break between the first six years and the second eight years, Andrus is without question the longest serving, most influential political practitioner to ever hold Idaho’s reins.

He is the standard against which all previous and subsequent governors will be measured. His total tenure will never be exceeded, nor will his margin of victory in the 1974 election (73 percent) ever be topped. He is considered by many to be one of the five best persons to ever serve as Secretary of the Interior.

The book describes the governor’s early years on the family farm outside Hood River, Oregon, where he was born on August 25, 1931. It also describes his teenage years, early marriage (he was 18), and service in the Navy on board a P2V Neptune patrol bomber and intel gathering aircraft during the Korean War. Few know, for example, he survived a potentially disastrous air crash.

His years as a gypo logger in northern Idaho and his election in 1960 to the Idaho State Senate from Clearwater County at the age of 29 (then the youngest person elected to the Legislature) and his years serving in the Senate also are recounted. Little has been written about these formative years and experiences.

Throughout the book I recount anecdotes from our years working together when he was governor and then Interior secretary, as well as during our business relationship at the Gallatin Group in his post-political office years. I try to help the reader understand how such an extraordinary politician emerged from such ordinary circumstances.

When a reader is finished with this book, I can only hope those that know him will say “Yup, that’s Cece.” Those that don’t at least will feel they have met and gotten better acquainted with him. Even 16 years after leaving office, according to almost all polls, Andrus remains the most popular and best known hunter/ fisherman in the state. Many believe he could easily win the governor’s chair again. (more…)