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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: Farewell, one of the few

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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.

Carlson: More like Simpson

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Second District Congressman Mike Simpson continues to make a case to be Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives some day. He believes in solving problems and making government work. We need more like him.

He recently spoke candidly to the Idaho Conservation Leagues’ annual retreat at Redfish Lake. What he said was a breath of fresh air to those who are beginning to wonder if either political party will figure out that real solutions to the nation’s challenges will require compromise and bipartisanship.

Simpson not only figured it out a long-time ago, he has taken steps to form a working coalition of like-minded Republicans and Democrats. His frustration is that outside of the “Gang of Six” in the Senate he sees little else that gives any hope that the Senate, which has failed to pass a budget for three straight years, will be of similar mind.

In what some would consider heresy, Simpson repeated his endorsement of the castor oil but comprehensive approach worked out by the Erskine Bowles/Allan Simpson Commission. It arrived at a combination of entitlement reform, spending cuts and revenue enhancements that would be a path forward out of the debt wilderness would folks, including the President who formed the Commission, get behind it.

Asked about the unholy hold “take the no taxes pledge or else" Grover Norquist seems to have over most Republicans, Simpson said he’d signed the oath once and had refused to do since. He pointed out the illogic of closing loopholes and supporting tax reform being translated into further tax increases by Norquist.

A line that brought applause was a statement that he no longer signed any pledges or requests by any interest groups, that the only oath or pledge any member should take is the oath of office that pledges to defend the Constitution.

Other statements by Simpson included: (more…)

Carlson: 30 pieces?

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Some may recall an ad for a brokerage firm a few years back. Folks would be talking and suddenly everything would go silent as everyone strained to hear what the man from E.F. Hutton was saying. The message was simple: when E.F. Hutton speaks, everyone listens.

Former four term Governor Cecil D. Andrus spoke this past weekend to the Idaho Conservation League’s annual retreat at Redfish Lake. He had two very pointed messages not just for the ICL, but for all the Idahoans as well as the states’ elected leadership.

Everyone should stop everything they are doing and listen. Nothing less than the future of Idaho as a viable, economically growing state is at stake.

Cece is 80 now, still sharp as a tack, but hard of hearing, has vision impairment in one eye (Not his shooting eye he’s quick to tell one), and manages other ailments that come with age. Gifted with energy as he is, inevitably the old clock starts to slow down, but his devotion to a state he loves and led during 14 years as governor compels him to speak out.

His first message was typically blunt. He told his friends at the ICL and Congressman Mike Simpson, who also spoke later, that it was time to quit fiddling around with trying to please everyone regarding the need to provide additional protection for the high peak areas of the Boulders and White Clouds to the east of Redfish Lake.

Andrus called on the ICL and Simpson to write President Barack Obama that just as Jimmy Carter had to do in Alaska, President Obama had to declare the Boulder/White Clouds a National Monument. Both Simpson and the ICL, who have worked so hard for so many years to obtain compromise wilderness legislation, had to support this step as the only way to overcome Senator Jim Risch’s “hold” on Simpson’s wilderness bill and galvanize the Congress into acting.

While complimentary of Simpson’s extraordinary efforts to achieve reasonable compromise, Andrus was critical of Senator Risch for bowing to the single issue interests of those who simply desire to take their snowmobile or ATV anywhere they want on public lands, damn the consequences. (more…)

Carlson: Fading away

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The late former Idaho Senator, Frank Forrester Church III, is rapidly fading from public memory not only in Idaho, but nationally. Church served Idaho honorably for 24 years (1957-1981), the only Democrat senator ever re-elected (three times) in Idaho history.

Except for those that love to recreate in “The Frank,” the vast 2.3 million acre wilderness in central Idaho named after the author of the 1964 Wilderness Act (The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness), few folks recall Idaho’s most famous Democratic senator and second only to William E. Borah as Idaho’s most famous in the first 125 years of statehood.

Thousands of Idahoans and hundreds of thousands of Americans owe a special debt of gratitude to the Senator, who was unique in pursuing an issue we all come to care about but few senators ever take up as a cause.

Frank had an abiding concern about how elderly are cared for especially as death approached. He was an early supporter of hospice and the dignity of dying at home with loved one’s around and professional caregivers available to assist.

It took him eight years to get it done, but eventually something we all take for granted today, became a reality - the ability to have hospice costs covered by Medicare.

The next time a hospice nurse drops by to assist you in caring for a dying loved one, say a brief prayer of thanks for the Senator.

He was keenly aware of the fragility of life, having beaten testicular cancer as a young man at Stanford following his work in World War II as an intelligence officer. Having faced down death once he was virtually fearless. The cancer returned when he was 59 and he died relatively quickly on April 7, 1984. Some say it was just as well he had been defeated in 1980 by Congressman Steve Symms.

I’m not one of those; all I see is lost opportunity. He did so much good and in three years could have done more. From the creation of the Sawtooth and Hells Canyon National Recreation Areas, to care for elderly, to the defense of American values by holding hearings exposing the rogue activities of the CIA and international corporations, Frank Church did it all, with grace and honor. (more…)

Carlson: Hubris at EPA

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Ed Moreen, a project manger for EPA, working on the clean-up of the Silver Valley, is a nice guy. So is Terry Harwood, an employee of the Idaho Department of Ecology.

Sincerity oozes as they explain what government is doing to protect human health within a mammoth basin-wide Superfund site.

Both men, however, reflect the arrogance so many bureaucrats display - that smugness that comes from feeling they have the facts and all the answers.

The ancient Greeks called it “hubris.” It was on full display last week at an informational meeting at the Medimont Grange Hall. Twenty of my neighbors and I showed up to listen and ask questions.

Like all the “chain lakes” that lie on either side of the Coeur d’Alene River between Cataldo and Harrison, nearby Cave and Medicine were swollen with water from the spring mountain run-off and unusually heavy rains.

Therein lies the problem. Each year this seasonal flow brings new amounts of lead and zinc from historic waste dumps throughout one of the most mineralized and mined areas in the nation.

Funding this effort is $750 million extracted from mining companies who contributed to the creation of the waste. By law the money can only be expended for clean-up in the basin.

But how clean is clean? And how much sense does it make remediate areas in the floodplain that are flooded again with contaminated water? How thorough are studies on human health impacts as opposed to studies about the swans several of which die each year from ingesting excessive zinc and lead.

Most work so far has been done in the 21 square mile “box” surrounding the old Bunker Hill site in Kellogg. Now attention is turning to the lower basin and there are significant differences EPA should note.

EPA is forming “collaboratives” of interested parties. They claim these advisory groups will have real input into their “adaptive management” approach.

People are skeptical. What they see is an agency hell bent on spending $750 million whether it is justified or not. Despite having been in the Silver Valley 20 years, the agency has no real time-line nor any real cost numbers for its plans in the lower basin. (more…)

Carlson: The dangling conversation

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson has written a wonderful, colorful, interesting and entertaining personal memoir, entitled Poetic Justice, that is a welcome addition to all those interested in Idaho history.

He tells a good, though incomplete, story about his youth, his years at Harvard and Harvard Law, his practicing law in Boise for many years, and an abortive run for the U.S. Senate in 1972. He also provides some remarkably candid insights into the operation of Idaho’s State Supreme Court.

All this candor made it all the more remarkable that he skipped over the mid-50’s hysteria that gripped Boise over an alleged homosexual ring scheme later captured in the classic The Boys of Boise. Except for citing the book’s reference to his opposition views on capital punishment there is nary a mention.

There was much I could identify with and some uncanny similarities.

Shortly after joining Governor Andrus’ staff in late 1972, I would hustle down to the YMCA to play noon-time basketball. Among the regulars besides the future Justice Johnson, were Jim Bruce, the chairman and CEO of Idaho Power, and a young state representative from Caldwell who had sharp elbows and wasn’t afraid to throw them by the name of Butch Otter. A guy named Mike Gwartney from Salmon kept feeding Otter the ball---some things don’t change. A couple of other fine attorneys, Howard Humphrey and Mike Southcombe, and a young state employee the Governor ended up tapping to help with his Idaho’s Tomorrow program, Dave Alvord, from Twin Falls, rounded out the regulars.

Other similarities include a love of politics, a joy in frequent backpacking trips with family and friends, mountain climbing, much pleasure in cross-country skiing, and a burning desire to make a difference. We both also accepted scholarships to and matriculated from Ivy League schools, he at Harvard, and me at Columbia.

We both constantly ask lots of questions and are not afraid to challenge our beliefs. We both love literature, history and poetry as well as enjoy writing. We both have had fascinating perspectives and involvement in helping make Idaho history in our own respective ways. (more…)

Carlson: Cry, Beloved Idaho

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Occasionally politics gives rise to an all-encompassing phrase that means more than the words themselves. During the mid-1950’s Senate hearings on the excesses of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red-baiting rhetoric the committee counsel asked a memorable question: “Have you no decency, Senator?

It was and remains a classic rhetorical question, one which answers itself.

In the wake of a recent report people who care about this state and its future should be asking Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter the same question. More pointedly, they should be asking the governor, as well as State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, whether each honestly believes he is upholding their oath of office.

For those that do care about Idaho’s future - its children and their education, the evidence is overwhelmingly clear a convincing case can be made both could be charged with “dereliction of duty” and violation of their oaths.

Idaho’s Constitution is unequivocally clear that the primary duty of the state is to maintain a uniform and thorough system of public and free schools. No less an authority than the state’s former chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who ably served five Idaho governors and has an impeccable reputation for objectivity and honesty, has through the center he operates (The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy) issued a report that says the state is not fulfilling its constitutional mandate.

Dear Governor and State Superintendent, answer these questions honestly and preface each with an “Are you proud. . . .”: (more…)

Carlson: First test

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The real test of a president is how well they make difficult decisions. Wisdom, insight, perspective, a sense of political necessity and public acceptability, are all critical factors.

The first insight one gets into the mind of the person seeking public endorsement for their pursuit of the highest office in the land is their choice of a running mate.

The simple fact is all too often the vice president has ascended to the presidency upon the death of the president. Sometimes the nation has benefitted as the vice president turns out to be surprisingly competent at holding and exercising judiciously the powers of the Office of the President.

For example, in the 20th century most presidential historians agree that Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Baines Johnson all turned in credible performances when called to center stage by the death of a president. Candidly, though, all four of those selections were based upon what were deemed at the time to be over-riding political concerns.

President William McKinley’s political mentor, Ohio Senator Mark Hanna, thought he and other GOP party bosses were putting the overly “progressive” Teddy out to pasture and out of the public mind. Imagine their shock when the young, ambitious, vain but brilliant Teddy inherited the Presidency upon the death of McKinley?

Twenty-two years later, “Silent Cal” became president upon the death of Warren G. Harding. The former governor of Massachusetts was considered by these same historians to have been a considerable improvement over the man he succeeded.

Truman of course surprised many by his ability to rise to the demands of the job. And LBJ, at last having reached his long-time goal, ushered through the Congress his “Great Society” legislation including the truly historic Civil Rights Act of 1964. Each of these men won the office in their own right in the subsequent election.

Contrast those four with the four who succeeded to the presidency in the 19th century none of whom went on to be elected. Three of the four are viewed by presidential historians as “weak leaders,” the exception being John Tyler who set the correct precedents for a veep to succeed to and be able to exercise all the powers of the presidency. (more…)