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Posts published in “Carlson”

Carlson: Knowing Basques

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Father Tim Ritchey (The St. Maries priest who also serves Harrison) and I were talking after Mass following “Good Shepherd” Sunday recently about how few northern Idaho residents have the opportunity, as many in southern Idaho do, to be exposed to the unique Basque culture.

It is one’s loss not to know a “Basco” or to have worked with one. The hardest working, most ethical, most loyal, most friendly people we know, we agreed were Basques. As Father Tim put it, “If a Basque gives you his word and shakes your hand, you can take it to the bank.”

Historically residents from time immemorial of several provinces along the border between Spain and France, many Basques immigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th century.

In particular, Basques took positions as sheepherders, an awfully lonely task trailing bands of sheep across high mountain country as the sheep wandered looking for grazing. The sheepherder’s job included protecting his band from the predation of wolves and grizzly bears, not to mention magpies that pluck out the eyes of recently born lambs during the lambing season.

Idaho has the largest concentration of people of Basque heritage outside of Spain, and many have contributed to the political, business and social fabric that make Idaho what it is today.

Among Idaho’s outstanding Basque-Americans are Ben Ysursa, the current Idaho Secretary of State, and Pete Cenarrusa, the former speaker of the Idaho house and long-time secretary of state. Across Idaho’s border with Nevada resided for many years a former governor and United States Senator, Paul Laxalt, probably President Ronald Reagan’s closest friend.

Father Ritchey and I discussed the many other fine Basques we know, folks with last names like Etchart, Eiguren, or Ubarragua, and always there was a story of perseverance. We agreed that to have a well-rounded life you must attend a Basque picnic, witness their contests, drink wine from a bota bag and revel in Basque warmth and friendliness.

I was reminded of all this during a recent trip to eastern Montana to attend a water conference sponsored by the Wheeler Center at Montana State University. The conference included a tour of the massive Fort Peck Dam, which, at the time it was built (1933 to 1940) was the largest earthen dam in the world. To think that President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched this project with the stroke of a pen, and almost simultaneously also authorized the construction of the Bonneville and Grand Coulee Dams was simply mind-boggling. (more…)

Carlson: Governor Patty Duke?

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Approximately eight years ago, Coeur d’Alene city councilman Mike Kennedy approached friends to assess whether his aunt, Anna Pearce, also known by her stage name as Patty Duke, could develop a second career as a successful public officeholder in her adopted state of Idaho.

One’s initial reaction might have been to wonder if he were serious? He was and with reason.

His aunt is not only a talented member of the nation’s acting community, who achieved stardom at an early age with her unforgettable role in “The Miracle Worker,” she also has long cared about public policy matters, is intelligent and can carry on an articulate conversation on almost any political subject.

Duke already had held the most challenging “political” office in Hollywood, that of president of the Screen Actor’s Guild. One of her predecessors, a B-grade actor by the name of Ronald Reagan, used the post as his springboard into public office. By all accounts Duke carried out her role as a union president successfully and, indeed, it had whetted her political appetite.

Her nephew, Mike Kennedy, is not the only member of the family bitten by the political bug. Her son, Sean Astin, star of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, is up to his eyeballs in a friend’s race for a congressional seat in California. Politics runs in the family.

While still in the process of becoming one of the few widely acknowledged talented members of Idaho’s declining Democratic Party, Kennedy did not want bias for his aunt to color his assessment. He also felt it was imperative he offer his aunt a process for evaluating her prospects without diminishing her acting career or exposing her interest prematurely.

For several weeks, Kennedy and friends discussed the challenge. Had his aunt been a conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, the decision would have been much easier. Duke made it clear that if she were to run for any office it would be in her adopted state of Idaho, a state with which she and her husband have become deeply taken.

Anna Pearce (a.k.a, Patty Duke), though, is fundamentally a Democrat. She cares passionately about protecting the environment, and about the state fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role to fully support public education. Idaho, however, was well into its rightward drift at the time. (more…)

Carlson: Over the Horizon

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Cece Andrus’ uncanny ability to look over the horizon is one of the hallmarks that make him such a unique political figure. A reminder of this occurred recently in a reflection piece on a Fairbanks trial by Alaskan writer Craig Medred.

A cantankerous, iconoclastic “outback” figure was on trial for not following the regulations within the boundaries of one of the National Parks created by landmark Andrus led “set aside” legislation that doubled the size of the National Park system when signed by President Carter in December of 1980.

Trial testimony revealed a classic over-reaction by the Park Service as a SWAT-team descended to arrest and haul the guy off to jail. The image of NPS police holding a shotgun to his head said it all.

Medred was one of a contingent of national and Alaskan reporters taking part in a tour put together at the behest of the then Interior Secretary during the summer of 1979 to showcase the many “crown jewels” in Alaska being proposed for permanent protection. The ten-day tour was designed to educate a national audience to what was at stake for all Americans in perpetuity in these unique public lands.

The tour was successful with hundreds of news stories and tv clips appearing in major cities across the nation. Alaska’s senior senator, crusty Ted Stevens of course charged Andrus with lobbying with public funds but there was little he could do but fume.

During the tour time was scheduled for reporters to hike and fish as well as watch birds or, at a distance, Alaskan caribou and grizzly. On such a break the Secretary and Medred wandered off to do a little fly fishing.

Medred recalled that while casting Andrus opined one of the reservations he had about creating new additions to the nation’s various protection systems was turning over the most scenic tracts to management by the National Park Service. Andrus opined it would be better for all if the lands were declared part of the wilderness system managed by the Forest Service.

His concern was legitimate and prescient as anyone visiting Alaska today knows. The National Park Service, much as Andrus feared, has ham-handedly lost the respect of Alaskans living adjacent to the vast, protected tracts. The parks are viewed as play grounds for the rich from the lower 48 who trek to Alaska during the two months of the year when the weather is nice, there’s almost 20 hours of daylight, and they can ride tour busses or, fully clad in recent purchases from an Orvis Fly Shop, descend upon streams to flail away.

So how did Andrus come to know that this was something to be worried about? (more…)

Carlson: Transparency for Thee, Not for Me


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


In politics there are sometimes coincidences that are not all that coincidental. But whether a coincidence rises to the level of a “conspiracy” is debatable. Most institutions, because flawed and fallible humans are involved, are just not capable of pulling off conspiracies. This is especially true of the federal government. Incompetence, ineptitude and ignorance can create the appearance that a conspiracy is underway, but an appearance is usually all it is.

Recent events in Idaho, though, are causing me to question this “conspiracy” premise.

Exhibit A: Lobbyist and activist Wayne Hoffman. Hoffman, a former newspaper reporter and Bill Sali mouthpiece, masquerades as a journalist and runs a so-called independent news bureau. In truth, this “news bureau” is nothing more than a front for Hoffman’s advocacy organization that, in all probability, is funded by libertarian billionaires David and Charles Koch. They own Koch Industries, an incredible conglomerate operating out of Wichita, Kansas.

And Hoffman’s actions and influence certainly raise questions about who he is working for, not to mention who is paying his bills.

Hoffman’s claim to run a real news organization is disputed by the Capitol Correspondent’s Association, the group that accredits legitimate reporters, and which refuses to characterize either he or his three researchers as reporters.

Secondly, one uses the word “probable” regarding his sugar daddy because Hoffman refuses to divulge all donors to the Freedom Foundation that pays his salary and those of his support staff. True journalists (and most registered lobbyists) have either an ethical or legal requirement for transparency. The public has a right to know who is paying for lobbying and advocacy. Such disclosure permits individuals to draw their own conclusions as to why a particular group is trying to influence the legislature or the governor.

Wayne Hoffman thumbs his nose at this thought, despite touting transparency and the public’s right to know in a post-legislative report. He says some of his donors prefer anonymity, and under our tax code they have that right. Touting transparency for government, but refusing to be transparent as you work to influence government is simple hypocrisy. Hoffman’s activities belie any claim to his being a journalist. He is a lobbyist and an advocate of right-wing, libertarian causes funded by someone with deep pockets and without the courage of their convictions. Hoffman and his foundation were up to their eyeballs this legislative session, pushing for the discredited and bizarre notions of a supposed right of a state to nullify federal law a state does not agree with. (The Civil War settled that one.)

This is a quintessential example for how to waste time and resources. In a recent column Hoffman tries to turn a lemon into lemonade (and shame on the thinking voter if he gets away with it). First, Hoffman takes credit for getting a bill passed forbidding any state employee or agency to engage in any activity that might end up assisting the implementation of so-called “Obama-Care” in Idaho. He brags about leading an effort to “nullify” the federal legislation. (more…)

Carlson: Welcoming Simpson


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


Idaho’s Second District congressman, Republican Representative Mike Simpson, is visiting northern Idaho over the next few days and people of all political persuasions ought welcome him.

On April 28 the seven-term House of Representatives member had planned to tour Shoshone County to observe why so many residents are justifiably concerned about the Environmental Protection Agency’s $1.2 billion, 100-year Phase II clean-up plan. Residents wanted him to see firsthand the excessive intrusion of federal bureaucrats, who in their zeal to eradicate the last small increment of historical pollution, are threatening the ability of the region’s rebounding mining industry to survive.

Out of deference to the family of the miner killed in the accident at Mullan’s Lucky Friday Mine he understandably postponed that portion of his north Idaho visit.

The visit of the former Blackfoot dentist and Speaker of the Idaho House is important because he now chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee which oversees the purse strings for the Department of the Interior and for the Environmental Protection Agency.

From that position alone, he exerts influence, already signaling to EPA that there is a new sheriff in town who will stand up to an agency that many believe is out of control and oblivious to the damage it does to legitimate businesses, small and large.

Many consider Simpson to be the single-most effective member of the House this state ever sent to Washington because he knows how to get things done legislatively, knows he is elected to solve problems, and knows that compromise is not a dirty word.

He is a fiscal conservative, but not an ideologue who believes it is his way or the highway. He is not someone who votes “no” simply to take a blindly stupid stand to create a temporary headline somewhere.

He is what the late Arizona congressman, Mo Udall, would have called a workhorse, not a showhorse. The two of them would have gotten along well because just as Udall worked well with the late Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona for their constituents, so Simpson works well with Democrats.

Exhibit A is the pain-staking, 10-year process to come up with a compromise that will provide Idaho’s majestic White Clouds and Boulder Mountains with the wilderness designation they merit. In leading the effort, Simpson gained respect from environmentalists and conservatives alike for the even-handed way in which he worked with all interest groups to devise balanced solutions. (more…)

Carlson: Who’s he trying to kid?


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


What’s that old saying about facts and folks tendency to believe what they say even though it just ain’t so? Or that other expression: “denial is not just a river in Egypt.”

Both phrases should come to mind as any thinking person reads Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s recent post-session comments. He gave the just concluded session of the Idaho Legislature a letter grade of A. Seriously, Governor? Can you be that far removed from reality?

Many Idahoans like the Governor. His ability to discharge the duties of the office, however, is deplorable. He is doing serious long-term damage to the state and its citizenry. Most thoughtful Idahoans never dreamed it could be this bad. I sure didn’t. Where to begin?

How about the incredible insult to all Idahoans by signing the bill that paid the Republican Party $100,000 of your tax dollars to cover the Republican Party’s legal fees to overturn the state’s primary law and deny independents, as well as other mug-wumps sitting on the political fence the chance to vote in the GOP primary?

If the Democratic Party had brought such a suit and won, he would have gone stratospheric. He knows it. You know it. Apparently he doesn’t subscribe to the axiom about what’s good for the goose is good for the gander?

Or how about his lame reasoning on signing the legislation that added “emergency clauses” to the educational reform bills State Schools Superintendent Tom Luna and he pushed through the Legislature? These “leaders” of the people believe citizens shouldn’t be given 60 days to get signatures on petitions to establish a referendum that aims to overturn their questionable “reforms.”

Thus, the self-described penny-pinching Republicans once again will have wasted precious state dollars, but who’s watching and who cares? They are the super-majority and believe they can do as they please because they are never wrong.

The biggest canard the Governor uttered though, was saying his proudest achievement was balancing the budget without raising taxes. Seriously, Governor? You well know that one of the fallouts of your draconian, fear-based budgeting is that most school districts around the state will seek over-ride levies to make up for funding losses.

That’s a tax increase, pure and simple. You are responsible for that, and you ought to be man enough to own up to it. Your actions are going to result in more money being taken out of most every taxpayer’s pockets for a service the Constitution mandates be the priority for the state. Don’t play games. Don’t parse words like a Bill Clinton. You fool no one but yourself -- and maybe not even that. (more…)

Carlson: Beware your friends


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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


One of many political verities in politics is that it is always your friends who get you in trouble. Jimmy Carter had his Bert Lance, Bill Clinton his Webb Hubbell and George W. Bush his Karl Rove.

From one’s enemies a public officeholder expects animosity and treachery. From one’s friends, though, there is an assumption of loyalty and that loyalty should preclude stupidity and/or treachery. More often than not, however, when controversy arises, an officeholder has let his or her reverse loyalty blind them to the folly a friend is exhibiting. And when the smoke has cleared, it is the friend that has been the cause of the downfall.

The Idaho Statesman’s political editor, Dan Popkey, prompted this reflection after reading his excellent March 22 column regarding Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s recent pattern of dodging the press and minimizing contact now that he no longer has to face re-election. After 28 years in the public eye, Butch apparently will be taking off the spurs and not be on the ballot in 2014.

Popkey ends his column deploring this turn of events and the attitude that undergirds it by pointing out that the Governor, while not available for the media, can and does make time for his lobbyist friends. He references the photo that appeared recently on their business website.

The picture is worth the proverbial thousand words, and one need look no further than that to know the Governor has received only encouragement from those three to diss the media and disregard their existence. If the idea did not originate with one of those three, it certainly has been reinforced by them.

Of the three, Phil Reberger, an ex-officer in the military and the former chief of staff to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Steve Symms, is a likely candidate for either originating or encouraging the idea of cutting off the media’s access to the Governor. After all, that’s pretty much what he did when his horse was governor.

Not even Kempthorne, though, was foolish enough to bypass the annual invitation to address the “Headliner” luncheon of the Idaho Press Club. After all, the media is both an interest group and a power center. Like all “influentials” it expects to be courted, considered and respected.

Popkey correctly recalls the traditional annual appearances by a Governor started with then-Gov. Cecil D. Andrus in the early 1970’s. To be more precise, it was 1973 and Andrus addressed an issue near and dear to the hearts of the media: whether Idaho needed a “Shield Law” to provide further protection for the media from law enforcement demands that in some instances sources had to be revealed and notebooks turned over.

There were strong and conflicting views within the media on this subject, with some reporters and editors holding the view that the Constitutional guarantee under the free speech amendment was sufficient protection. Showing his deft touch for sticky wickets, Andrus took the position that the media should answer the question and give him a consensus view. If they wanted it, he would sign it. If they didn’t either he would work to see that it didn’t come before him or veto it as unnecessary if it did. (more…)

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…)