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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: The third piece of a strategy


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


There is a path out of the wilderness of despair surrounding the deplorable state of Idaho’s public school education and higher education. The pieces are falling into place; the ingredients are at hand.

The recipe includes the state’s teachers, many of whom have been passive observers as Republican governors and legislators have gutted public education during the last couple of sessions; the parents, finally being stirred from their lethargy as they realize Idaho’s support per pupil is the lowest in the nation; and test scores showing our children falling further behind.

Additionally, businesses are stumbling to the realization that the educated workforce required to be competitive in a world-wide market place is not coming from our woefully underfunded system.

Top that off with an ineffective state Board of Education that hasn’t a clue about how to provide leadership.

The path forward has been laid out in part by two fine writers and public affairs analysts: the editorial page editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, Marty Trillhaase, and Marc Johnson, the Boise office managing partner for Gallatin Public Affairs for which I used to work.

Trilhaase recently pointed out we should not waste their time trying to recall State Superintendent of Public “Destruction” Tom Luna. The threshold for necessary signatures is impossibly high and the timeframe too short. Assuming a group organized and galvanized sufficient backing for a ballot recall, to win one would require 275,000 votes, or one more than the number he received in his last election.

In an off year election that is unrealistic.

Instead, Trillhaase counseled those justifiably upset with the Luna agenda need to get only 47,000 signatures in 90 days after the Legislature adjourns to place the package on the ballot for an up or down vote. There is precedence for this course.

This path was utilized in 1966 when the Legislature passed the state’s fist sales tax with the proceeds ironically designated primarily for education. The measure was on the November ballot. In that instance, the sales tax was upheld.

Marc Johnson’s blog of March 9 provided a strategy developed from a self-examination and an admittance that the Idaho Education Association had brought its waning influence upon itself for its failure to engage in meaningful dialogue with administrators, parents, local school boards and legislative representatives on the changing face of education.

Johnson also faulted the IEA for its failure to build a base of support through the development of local candidates for local legislative offices. Instead, the IEA brass focused on big-ticket races. Johnson’s message to teachers and their leadership was they had forgotten the first rule of politics---organize, organize, organize and then organize some more.

The chance to demonstrate new organization and revitalize itself is presented by the Trilhaase proposal to go the referendum route.

What is missing is someone to lead this effort. There’s an old newspaper saying that people would much rather read about other people than about ideas, lofty thoughts or brilliant strategies. The message is find someone who is interesting, who can articulate the message and put a human face on that message.

The waning days of this Legislative session has produced the obvious leader: Boise State Representative Brian Cronin. Read his comments on the House floor during the debate on the Luna package. They were articulate, to the point, incisive and respectful of those with whom he disagreed. His ability to disagree without being disagreeable is remarkable.

Trilhaase has identified the vehicle, Johnson has laid out some critical elements to a successful repositioning strategy, and I am left to nominate the leader.

Once you have led the repeal of the so-called Luna Reform package, keep that organization together. Launch a broad-based run for governor, Brian, with a specific targeting of the state’s 10 largest counties where education remains the top priority. Make education renewal your campaign theme.

Run, Brian, run!

Carlson: United Idahoans Stand


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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. (more…)

Carlson: Decline and fall


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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. (more…)

Carlson: Remembering Jim McClure


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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. (more…)

Carlson: Review and clarify


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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. (more…)

Carlson: The Last Bastion?


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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. (more…)

Carlson: A Mormon primary?


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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. (more…)

Carlson: Eye on the rabbit


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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.

Carlson: “A thing that money could buy”


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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. (more…)

Carlson: Good stewardship?


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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