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Posts published in “Carlson”

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

carlson
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…)

Carlson: Farewell, one of the few

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With his closely cropped hair resembling a military buzz cut one would think Denton Darrington was a former U.S. Marine. He’s not, but he is the living personification of the Marine motto - semper fi (Always faithful) — with his fidelity to family, friends, LDS faith, his state and country, the Idaho Legislature and the teaching profession.

After a record 30 years of service in the State Senate, Denton is leaving and returning to his farm full-time since he also retired from the classroom, having been an educator for 33 years. The people of Idaho in general and supporters of education in particular owe him a solid vote of gratitude for a job well done.

Rather than run against good friend State Senator Dean Cameron (R-Rupert), chair of the powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, when redistricting combined their districts, Darrington, true to his genuine modesty, chose to retire.

A walking encyclopedia of Idaho political history and an excellent practitioner of the art of politics, one wishes the veteran state senator was not so humble about his God-given skills. Urged by many friends to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2006, Darrington took a pass on grounds he believed he was not qualified.

Instead, the state ended up with the truly unqualified Tom Luna who has alienated most teachers and been the spear point for Republican attacks on the Idaho Education Association over issues like collective bargaining, merit pay, and on-line education.

Many believe Idaho education would not be at the nadir it has fallen to if someone like Darrington, with actual classroom experience and a working knowledge of politics, had been leading the SPI office during these perilous times. (more…)

Carlson: Teacher messaging/apology

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the school year draws to a close Idaho’s teachers face a challenge: do they spend their summer recreating and holding down a summer job somewhere as many have to do; or, do they get actively involved in the campaign to repeal the Otter/Luna reform that further eviscerates Idaho’s already weakened commitment to public education?

Their future as well as the economic growth of the state depends on their response. Bottom line is people, especially those with children in public schools, trust teachers to know what’s best when it comes to learning.

Voters know teachers are more credible on educational matters than are
administrators or politicians like Governor C.L. “Butch Otter” or State Superintendent Tom Luna when it comes to knowing and convincingly talking about “students come first.”

It should be a no brainer that teachers would man the ramparts and lead the charge for the three ballot repeals but it is not that simple. Teachers in some districts are faced with a classic short term gain vs. longer term gain if they sacrifice. What voters do not realize is the insidious genius in the financial gamesmanship that was orchestrated during the last session of the Legislature.

To over-simplify, some school districts are withholding the $3000 pay increase (a combination of the new merit pay if it is not repealed plus replacing a previously withheld pay boost) that teachers on average will receive IF the repeals are defeated. If the repeals are passed then the new pay will not be distributed, especially the “merit pay” portion. It is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The net effect is some teachers are incentivized to at least stay neutral. Whoever thought this up is a malevolent genius (my candidate is Luna’s right hand, Jason Hancock).

So, not only do all teachers have to get actively involved in campaigning as those most in tune with what is truly best for students, some have to do so while sacrificing a short term pay boost for their longer term goals of reasserting that they know best and they are repelling this assault on their collective bargaining rights.

Additionally, teachers have to advocate “preemptively” for more financial support for their endeavors. Not only is Idaho lagging badly in per pupil support for education, the system continues to operate in large part ignoring a judicial mandate to improve significantly the physical structures where education is conducted by underpaid teachers.

Those interested in the facts should carefully review former Budget officer Mike Ferguson’s outstanding report which also documented the precipitous decline in support for public education as a percentage of personal income.

In these economically stressed times teachers cannot think they can simply ask for more from the general fund without their critics saying this would require a tax increase. It behooves them to identify new sources of revenue other than new taxes. Fortunately, there are several excellent “targets of opportunity”:

1) Sell the state-owned leases or truly up to fair market value the properties on Payette and Priest Lakes.
2) Charge the State Tax Commission to get on with a program systematically reducing the numerous sales tax exemptions granted over the years as was recommended by a bi-partisan interim committee several years back that had as one of its members Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg).
3) Enforce the annual 5% of net gaming proceeds due the State Treasury from ALL gaming tribes, especially the Sho-Bans (levy for back taxes owed?) who have ignored the initiative mandating the 5% giveback on the grounds that their compact trumps the initiative. It does not and some legislator ought to ask the Attorney General to opine.

Those three steps could bring millions in new revenue to the state to be reallocated to strengthening support for public education and teachers. More importantly it not only would comply with the state constitutional mandate it would be an investment in Idaho’s future all should be willing to make.
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An apology: I owe Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter an apology. Sometimes, to make a point one engages in too much hyperbole and crosses a line, as I did in my column seconding Governor Cecil Andrus’ warning about possible changes to the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement negotiated by Governor Batt.

While I do not trust the Department of Energy at all, Governor Otter reiterated his unequivocal commitment to standing by the agreement. Butch Otter is a man of his word. It was simply wrong for me to indicate he would betray this state he loves as much as anyone. My bad, my wrong and my shame. I disagree with much of what Butch advocates but I do apologize for impugning his integrity and his honesty. We’re both Mass-going, bead-carrying Roman Catholics. I was correctly admonished by our mutual good friend, Father Tim Ritchey, who often talks also about forgiveness.