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Locking out Idaho

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In 2017, nearly 335,000 Idahoans owned a hunting and/or fishing license. The Idaho sportsman’s “caucus,” while hardly ever speaking with one voice on anything, arguably represents the largest special interest group in the state. All those hunters and fisher people should be increasingly up in arms about a trend that portends ill for public access to increasingly large swaths of Idaho and the West.

The brewing controversy has come into sharp relief with gates that have gone up at a long open public road just north of the Bogus Basin ski area and east of Horseshoe Bend in Boise County. The road, apparently built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, has long provided public access for hunting and hiking on property once owned by Boise Cascade Corp., and Potlatch. As the Idaho Statesman reported recently, “The gated stretch of road has been privately owned but publicly accessible for decades. It provides access to neighboring public lands and a network of secondary roads.”

The current owners, the hard-right billionaire Wilks brothers of Cisco, Texas, put up the gates a while back and dug trenches to prevent bypassing the closure. The U.S. Forest Service, which has long maintained the road, has received plenty of complaints. Similar activity took place in Adams County last year and only stopped after the Forest Service pushed back.

The Texans are notoriously tight-lipped about what they’re really up to, but a safe guess would be that they intend to monetize their Western holdings by selling multimillion dollar “ranches” and private hunting compounds. The weekend hunter, the family camping trip and good neighborly Idaho values will be the losers.

The Wilks’ ownership is now close to 200,000 acres in Idaho, much of it in southern Idaho and it’s land with a contentious history. One-time Idaho governor and eventually assassinated martyr Frank Steunenberg controversially bought up some of this same land in the early 1900s to create the Barber Lumber Company, a predecessor of Boise Cascade. Steunenberg received help in that endeavor from a crafty lawyer by the name of William Borah, who was eventually acquitted of charges that he had abetted fraud in the timber acquisition.

When Boise Cascade later acquired the same land, the big timber company managed it well for the most part and, understanding Idaho custom and culture, facilitated public access. Texans apparently have a different ethic.

Idaho law prevents the kind of road closures the Wilks have precipitated in Boise County, but the law offers only a criminal penalty, which means Boise County — a big county with a tiny population where they change prosecuting attorneys like the rest of us change socks — will have to find the resources to challenge the closure. Don’t hold your breath. The county will need specific and aggressive state help.

“Counties are strapped for resources, especially rural counties where these violations are happening,” says Brian Brooks, the executive director of the Idaho Wildlife Federation. Brooks’ group discovered the deed that documents that the Boise Ridge Road should remain open in perpetuity. But his group can’t sue because there is no civil penalty in Idaho law.

“Choosing to derail county budgets to prosecute billionaires over access issues, while burdened with more heinous crimes, is not financially practical,” Brooks says. “It’s time we give citizens legal recourse to enforce public access.”

Or how about this: Soon-to-be Gov. Brad Little, who knows the Boise front like the inside of the Statehouse, could order his Fish and Game Department to aid the county and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden could put some staff on the issue. They would be on the right side of Idaho sportsmen and women, and would send a big message to rich out-of-staters who represent a growing threat to public access across the West.

Since selling their fracking and oil field services company to the government of Singapore in 2011, the Wilks brothers, huge contributors to Republican causes in Texas, have been buying up the West. According to Forbes magazine, the brothers have bought more than 672,000 acres of land in five different states, including Idaho.

The Wilks boys, according to the Dallas Morning News, are big supporters of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and have spent at least $6 million on Texas political races in the past two election cycles. They are also very involved, according to the Texas Tribune, in a host of Tea Party, anti-abortion and anti-gay rights efforts. There is no clear evidence that they’ve been playing financially in Idaho races, but stay tuned.

In Montana, where the brothers own nearly 360,000 acres, they have been trying to engineer a huge land swap with the Bureau of Land Management, have been in protracted fights with longtime ranchers over water rights, have sparked squabbles over hunting access and have spent heavily in support of Republican candidates. Earlier this year, the Wilks brothers were part of a not-very-transparent group that engineered a controversial re-write of Idaho’s trespass law, a sloppy and rushed process that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter complicated when he wimped out and allowed the legislation to become law without his signature.

The Montana situation is politically instructive. The Wilks’ oil leases with Republican U.S. Senate candidate Matt Rosendale became an issue in Rosendale’s race this year against Democrat Jon Tester, as did the Republican’s shifting stands on access issues. By contrast, Tester is co-chairman of the Congressional Sportsman Caucus and has made access to hunting and fishing a cornerstone of his Montana message. Tester won his recent Senate election in a state that President Donald Trump carried by more than 20 points. Montana, like Idaho, is a very conservative state, but also a place where public access to hunt and fish is a very big deal.

The politics of resisting billionaire private landowners shutting off historic public access should be a no-brainer, even for conservative Idaho Republicans. Forcing a couple of high rolling Texans to take down a gate in Boise County would be a good place for Idaho’s political leaders to start to draw their own line.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

Truth decays under Trump

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In his famous Harper's magazine essay about American politics, the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Richard Hofstadter wrote: "One of the most valuable things about history is that it teaches us how things do not happen."

Hofstadter wrote about what he called "the paranoid style of American politics" in 1964 when another Republican, Barry Goldwater, was threatening to destroy his party with fanciful notions about winning nuclear wars and staging for adoring crowds at his rallies what the journalist Richard Rovere called "great carnivals of white supremacy."

The politically paranoid, the eminent historian argued, is a victim of his own lack of awareness where aversion to facts and his circumstances and experiences "deprive him of exposure to events that might enlighten him - and in any case he resists enlightenment."

A week ago, while many Americans were still in a turkey- and dressing-induced post-Thanksgiving food coma (or perhaps shopping at a big-box store on Black Friday), 13 agencies of the federal government released a 1,600-page report on our changing climate. The first sentence of the report stated its most important conclusion in clear and unusually stark terms: "Earth's climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities."

The report was purposely released on a holiday Friday in order to minimize the exposure of facts like this one: "Since the first National Climate Assessment was released (in 2000), the United States has endured 16 of the 17 warmest years on record, and the latest assessment paints a bleak picture of the future."

President Donald Trump, of course, dismissed the careful, factual work of scientists in four words. "I don't believe it," he said.

Such idiocy led Trevor Noah, the host of television's Comedy Central, to ask: "How can one man possess all the stupidity of mankind. It's like they edited his genes to give him superhuman stupidity."

In order to agree with our scientist-in-chief, you need to consciously discount the serious, detailed, principled work of 300 government and university scientists who drew upon the work of thousands of other scientists who have studied, analyzed and calculated what is happening to the climate.

This group includes two scientists I talked with this week who wrote chapters of the National Climate Assessment dealing with the Pacific Northwest. Philip Mote is the director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute and a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Washington. Another author is Scott Lowe, the associate dean of the graduate school at Boise State University, a professor of environmental studies and a researcher on resource economics. He has his Ph.D. from the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Both scientists told me a key takeaway from the new climate report - the fourth such effort since 2000 - is that Pacific Northwest resource industries, including particularly timber, agricultural and fisheries, best get ready for an unpredictable new era of climate variability: more variability in stream flows, more low snowpack conditions, reduction in irrigation capability and more variability in growing seasons.

Here are just three sentences from the report on climate impacts in the Northwest:

"Forests in the interior Northwest are changing rapidly because of increasing wildfire and insect and disease damage, attributed largely to a changing climate."

"Impacts to the quality and quantity of forage will also likely impact farmers' economic viability as they may need to buy additional feed or wait longer for their livestock to put on weight, which affects the total price they receive per animal."

"Decreases in low- and mid-elevation snowpack and accompanying decreases in summer streamflow are projected to impact snow- and water-based recreation, such as downhill and cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, boating, rafting and fishing."

Mote, the Oregon State climate scientist, told me he recently went back and looked at the first national climate assessment. He described that effort as "educated speculation," but now he says we know in detail what has been happening to the climate over the past two decades and the conclusions to be drawn are more certain and more emphatic. As the report says, "observational evidence does not support any credible natural explanations" for the amount of warming taking place. "Instead, the evidence consistently points to human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse or heat-trapping gases as the dominant cause."

Trump is not alone, of course, in his denial of evidence starring us in the face. And while the dismissal of decades of science is an insult to the very notion of truth - Mote calls it a "raw denial of knowledge" - it is also flat out dangerous. The scientists stress that we do have the ability to adapt and deal with much of the impact of climate change, but denying the existence of what is happening - the dangerous part - paralyzes any meaningful action and the longer we wait the less likely we'll adapt well or at all.

Lowe, the Boise State researcher, says the rejection of fact-based science is frequently tied up with weird notions of a conspiracy theory that university and government scientists "have an agenda that is funded by someone." This is pure nonsense. They are scientists seeking facts. They volunteer their expertise.

In the Trump era, the very idea of truth is taking a beating, "truth decay" one recent report called it. Meanwhile, debasing expertise and knowledge gets us an administration stocked with a knucklehead who blames California wildfires on "radical environmentalists" and puts the president's son-in-law, a trust fund baby and New York real estate developer, in charge of crafting a Middle East peace plan.

Such folks not only seek no enlightenment; they are supremely comfortable in their ignorance.

As you shift the competing "truth" about climate change, ask yourself a simple question: Who are you going to believe - a bunch of scientists who have been studying an issue for decades and have their work double- and triple-checked by other scientists or a guy who bankrupted his casino?

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

The mythical Saudi ‘special relationship’

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On June 9, 1979 Molly Ivins, the brilliant and still widely mourned reporter – she had a rare knack for simultaneously turning a phrase and twisting a knife with her journalism – had a Idaho datelined story in the New York Times.

“Confrontation over Mideast Policies Apparently Taking Shape in Idaho ’80 Race for Senate,” was the headline over Ivins story where she explored the fallout from a speech then-Senator Frank Church had given that was deemed to be highly critical of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Church, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, actually had criticized both the Carter Administration and the Saudi’s in his widely reported speech for undercutting efforts for a comprehensive Mideast peace. The U.S. was “pinning our policy to false assumptions,” Church said, much as the U.S. had placed a losing bet on the “a rotting regime” in Iran when for decades presidents of both parties made apologies for the Shah.

Church, predictably, was accused of undermining a vital strategic relationship when he criticized the Saudi regime, which was then as now, an often violent and repressive dictatorship. But the Idahoan did it anyway, taking on both a president of his own party and Idaho economic interests. The Boise-based construction firm Morrison-Knudsen had a huge contract in 1979 to build a new city in Saudi Arabia and Church’s eventual 1980 opponent, Steve Symms, was calling for accommodation with the region’s dictators in the interest of selling both American weapons and Idaho wheat.

Some things never change.

Amid the broad international condemnation of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a gruesome, barbarous hit almost certainly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – MBS to his “friends” – the current president can only focus on what Time magazine calls a “cold financial calculation: Saudi money for U.S.-made weaponry” that results in American jobs. Or as Donald Trump put it recently, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

It is a brutal and cynical calculation and, like so many other “myths” which have long been the foundation of American foreign policy, it will be self-defeating. Frank Church knew that 40 years ago, Trump and his congressional enablers never will.

The Saudi-U.S. relationship is a veritable case study of how money, influence and delusion come together in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post recently outlined how the “sophisticated Saudi influence machine” has lavished millions on lobbyists, consultants, law firms and think tanks in order to prop up the myth that the Saudi dictatorship is a vital U.S. ally. The kingdom spent more than $27 million on such influence buying last year.

Robert Kagan, a veteran of the George W. Bush State Department and now a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, has argued that America has long harbored a fantasy about “reforming” dictators like MBS. Fanciful as it now seems, some Americans once thought Mussolini or the Shah of Iran would “reform” and we placed naïve bets on such fiction.

“Today, the Saudi crown prince’s U.S. supporters are asking how he could have been so foolish if he, as it appears, ordered the murder of Khashoggi,” Kagan wrote recently. “But who are the fools here? Dictators do what dictators do. We are the ones living in a self-serving fantasy of our own devising, and one that may ultimately come back to bite us.”

Which brings us to the Idaho politician currently in a position to influence U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. You might be excused for forgetting that Senator Jim Risch, the Idaho Republican, has such power. But the man who will almost certainly be the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee hasn’t, near as I can tell, spoken a syllable about the Saudis. No statement of concern or condemnation over the Khashoggi murder. No thought or threat about sanctions. Risch, who never tired of slamming one aspect or another of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, is now a sphinx as a feckless president makes excuses for the inexcusable.

Some argue, and perhaps Risch believes this too, that American interests are served well enough by the Saudi regime’s effort to create “stability” in the Middle East, while using our weapons and help to churn up more chaos in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere.

The real Saudi objective and the overriding objective of every despot – this has been the case since Franklin Roosevelt’s historic tete-a-tete with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in 1945 – is the preservation of the wealth and power of the ruling monarchy.

When Frank Church called out the Saudis in 1979 he was at the height of his influence and he used his platform to try to redirect U.S. policy. As his biographers LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer have noted Church “thought it was time for somebody with some stature in American politics to speak plainly to the Saudis.”

It’s well past time for that to happen again. If only there were a courageous Idahoan in a position of authority in the Senate. But guts and the perspective to take on a woefully ignorant president and a Washington influence machine in the service of a corrupt foreign government is not something you’ll find in Jim Risch.
 

Little needs his own team

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Idaho Gov.-elect Brad Little has some big decisions to make. In the next few weeks, he'll need to put his stamp on a state budget that will spell out how he proposes to implement the Medicaid expansion initiative supported overwhelmingly by the state's voters last week.

Presumably he'll want to, at least at the margins, differentiate his proposals for education funding from those of his longtime boss, retiring Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. Maybe he'll propose a grocery tax repeal and a way to pay for it. Additionally a major challenge for the governor-elect is the perception, and remember perception is reality in politics, that he is simply gearing up to preside over Otter's fourth term.

There is a way to immediately change that perception and it involves how Little will stock the leadership ranks of state agencies. The new governor has two choices: He can tinker at the margins or he can clean house. He should clean house. Not doing so would be a big mistake for one simple reason.

Every governor, whether one that is succeeding a member of his party as Little will be, or taking over from the other party, has one clear moment when he (or we can hope someday soon she) can place a dramatic imprint on state agencies. This is such a moment for Little, a guy who has long prided himself on being a student of government, a kind of cowboy boot-wearing policy wonk steeped in the details of governing in a way that Otter never was.

Idaho has, all things considered, a relatively weak governor model. The governor doesn't directly appoint some of the most important state agency heads. A governor can have influence, but has no direct appointment authority over the departments of Transportation, Correction, Fish and Game, Lands or Parks and Recreation. Nevertheless what he can control is very important: the state Commerce Department, Health and Welfare, the departments of Administration, Labor, Insurance and Finance, the state personnel chief and the critical job of state budget director.

One can only imagine that Little, still basking in his decisive win on Election Day, has discovered just how many new best friends he now has. Half the GOP members of the Legislature - a conservative estimate - lust after an appointment to a state job, even if the outrageous perk of receiving a big jump in state retirement benefits may soon go away. For many legislators, snagging the good salary and benefits that go with being an agency director has to look pretty good.

Many of the current occupants of these state jobs - all appointed by Otter - will be working overtime to hang on to their positions. The natural tendency for most new governors would be to take the path of least resistance and keep a bunch of the Otter crowd. They're loyal Republicans, after all, and many contributed to Little's campaign. They'll pledge their fidelity and most will want Little to succeed. But Little can't - or won't - shape a new version, his vision, without new people, his people, in key positions.

My old boss, Cecil D. Andrus, lived this lesson in 1986 when he was preparing to succeed fellow Democrat John V. Evans in the governor's office. Evans, a good man and still an underrated governor, had assembled a good team and many of them wanted to stay on into a new Democratic administration. Andrus knew better. He imposed a rule during his campaign that he would accept no contributions from staffers in the Evans administration. He wanted no implied understanding that someone from the outgoing regime might curry favor with the new crowd, while hoping for a job. Andrus angered more than a few people, fellow Democrats mostly, when he made it clear that he was cleaning house. With only a couple of exceptions, he brought in an entirely new cast of state government leaders, people loyal to him, people sharing his vision, people understanding his priorities, people who knew he was the boss.

Little's immediate staff - a chief of staff, a press secretary, counselors on key issues - will constitute a critical part of his team. He should pick them wisely from among people he knows, trusts and is confident will serve him - and Idaho citizens - with diligence, energy and, as Franklin Roosevelt famously insisted, a "passion for anonymity."

Beyond his immediate staff, Little would be well advised to put his own person in charge of economic development at the Commerce Department. He should install a seasoned administrator at the Department of Administration, an incredibly important agency that handles everything from computers to risk management, and a place where more than one governor has been tripped up. Most of society's problems land daily on the desk of the director of the Department of Health and Welfare and the director there best be a person the new governor can both trust and personally hold accountable.

It's no knock on the Otter crowd that a new governor should want and is entitled to his own team. There are lots of names on doors in state government, but only one name on the ballot. Gov. Little will send a signal about how he'll run state government by the personnel decisions he makes between now and Christmas. If he's smart he'll make a clean sweep. He'll start fresh and from day one be in a position to hold his own people accountable. He'll never have a second chance for a new beginning. He'll never have a second chance to have his own first term rather than Otter's fourth term.

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

GOP sweeps Idaho – again

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A few takeaways from the midterms.

The State of the Union - divided. The red gets redder and the blue gets bluer. The story of the 2018 midterms will be that the deep political divisions in the dysfunctional American family are destined to only get deeper. Rural America - and rural Idaho - will continue to embrace a remarkably divisive president who articulated a blatant election appeal based on racial and class division that would have made George Wallace blush.

There is something for every partisan to celebrate in the results. Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and repaired some of the party's recent damage in the Midwest. Democratic control of the House will return some level of balance, if not bipartisanship to national politics.

Republicans can celebrate the pick up of several Senate seats and, as a result, Senate Republicans will be even less inclined - which is saying something - to police administration actions. Given the abject lack of Senate oversight of President Donald Trump's foreign policy - Idaho's Jim Risch will now likely become an even more shameless Trump apologist as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee - look for the president's incoherent approach to the world to become more erratic, less predictable and more dangerous.

Bottom line: Trump has further consolidated his control over a Republican Party that now completely owns his ballooning deficits, serial lying, a fear and loathing message of racial division, disdain for the most basic level of ethics and in the pre-election period a politicization of the American military to deal with the phony issue of "a caravan." Nationally the party has shredded any appeal to suburban women, younger voters and those with a college education. Republican voters actually re-elected two members of the House who are under indictment and in Nevada a dead man who owned a brothel - he was regularly referred to as "a pimp" - won a legislative seat. This is not the party of Ronald Reagan.

Meanwhile, national Democrats have room to grow a diverse coalition but lack a natural leader, which may be the best news of all from the election for Donald J. Trump.

Simpson's new world - 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson is adjusting to a new reality. Simpson, the most accomplished Idaho federal lawmaker since the late Sen. Jim McClure, is a legislator of uncommon common sense. Now he will have to learn new tricks as an appropriator in the minority. Had Republicans held on to the House of Representatives, Simpson had an outside shot at chairing the immensely important House Appropriations Committee. At least Simpson would have remained chairman of an important subcommittee. Now the man, who brings home the bacon of the Idaho National Lab and regularly attends to home state issues, will need to apply all his skill as a bipartisan deal-maker to continue to wield influence in a Democratic House. Simpson will, on the surface at least, have a better relationship with new 1st District Congressman Russ Fulcher than he ever had with Raul Labrador. While Fulcher will join a House where his natural allies - Labrador's old "Freedom Caucus" - will be severely neutered and where he will labor in the least attractive position in politics: a rookie in the minority.

Idaho Republicans sweep - again: Gov.-elect Brad Little ran a textbook Idaho GOP campaign and crushed Paulette Jordan, his badly overmatched Democratic opponent. Jordan, with little to show for her vacuous, personality driven campaign other than a scrapbook of national news clippings, did nothing to change the trajectory of Idaho's beleaguered Democratic Party. In fact, Jordan may have retarded the progress of rebuilding a credible minority by blowing what might have been a historic opportunity. Republicans have held the governor's office for 24 years and, as prolonged, uncontested power inevitably does, they have accumulated a litany of scandals minor and otherwise. Little was effectively running for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's fourth term - never an advantageous political position - and in a year when women candidates nationally made major strides.

But Jordan never put together a real campaign, never had a compelling message and never succeeded in turning the lanky rancher's white Stetson black.

Jordan's anemic showing did no favors for the one statewide Democrat, superintendent of public instruction candidate Cindy Wilson, who seemed to have a path to victory and even in defeat ran well ahead of the top of the Democratic ticket.

Rural red Idaho did Wilson in, however, while old-time Democrats, now mostly gone and forgotten, in places such as Nez Perce and Shoshone counties, are spinning in their graves.

The scope of Little's win - and Jordan's loss - is illustrated by one telling election statistic. Jordan spent more than $1 million to collect 38 percent of the vote, barely 3 percent more than the Democrat who put his name on the ballot for attorney general, never campaigned and didn't raise a cent.

A tiny, but not insignificant glimmer of hope for Idaho's Democrats was a pick-up of a handful of legislative seats, a growing lock on the state's largest county - Democrats won two county commission seats in Ada County for the first time since 1976 - and the example of the ballot proposition that expanded Medicaid coverage to some of the most vulnerable Idahoans.

That well-funded, well-organized, well-messaged campaign was both historic and provides a template for a future statewide Democrat.

If any Idaho Democrat ever wins again, it will happen because that candidate has a compelling message that reaches voters where they live and builds a new organization at the grassroots that brings new participants, particularly millennial and Latino voters, into the political process.

If the national GOP's deep problem with suburban women has any, even minor, corollary in Idaho, it is in the Great State of Ada. A young and appealing generation of women officeholders now populates the Boise city council and the county commission.

The party has to start rebuilding someplace and Ada County is as good as it gets for Idaho Democrats.

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

Purposely skirting the law

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It is now clear that the campaign of Idaho Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan purposefully worked to establish a “shell” company in Wyoming, channel at least $20,000 through that company and kept the connections, including who has actually benefited from the campaign’s largess, secret. The convoluted effort was undertaken, the Jordan campaign acknowledges, in order to disguise the ultimate recipients of the campaign’s money. The campaign says the money went to anti-Brad Little Republican operatives who have to remain anonymous to avoid getting crossways with “their Republican patrons.”

Unpacking this subterfuge and the Jordan campaign’s shifting explanation of these shenanigans leads to a couple of obvious questions.

One question: If Jordan has been truly seeking Republican support in her underdog campaign against the GOP Lt. Governor, support she needs to win, why not do the hard work of forming a genuine “Republicans for Paulette” group? For a long time Democrats, particularly former Governor Cecil Andrus, made such efforts a lynch pin of their campaigns. I remember then-Republican Senator Steve Symms walking into my office in the Idaho Statehouse years ago and looking at a framed copy on the wall of a full-page ad featuring prominent Republicans that Andrus’s campaign had utilized during the hard fought 1986 campaign. The ad featured photos of Washington U.S. Senator Dan Evans and Idaho business titan Harry Magnuson, among others. Symms simply said, “That ad elected him.”

Rather than such a transparent, and I would argue effective, tactic, Jordan’s campaign embraced s shadowy scheme to allegedly employ disenchanted GOP operatives to dish dirt on her opponent.

A second question: Is Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law really so toothless that it permits a campaign to set up what in essence is a secret company (out of state), route money through that company and keep the ultimate recipients of the cash secret? We don’t really know for sure what the company – Roughneck Steering, Inc. – did for the campaign. We don’t know who did whatever was done and we can’t contact the firm because it’s really only a mail drop in Sheridan, Wyoming with a “registered agent” who won’t return a phone call.

When I inquired a couple of weeks ago the Jordan campaign told me that Roughneck’s agents (whomever they are) had made “polling calls” approximately “8,270 calls (in August), in September the calls were made to 9,023 Idahoans.”

But the story shifted when Jordan’s campaign manager Nate Kelly later spoke to reporter Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press. “They ended up doing a bunch of not polling, but push-polling,” Kelly said.

For those not versed in the terminology of sleazy campaign practices, a “push poll” is designed to persuade, or more often misinform, voters under the guise of being a legitimate public opinion survey. Typically a heap of entirely negative material is shared with the person getting a call in hopes of planting the notion that a certain candidate is a scoundrel. The practice is held in such low regard that it violates the code of ethics of most real pollsters.

Kelly also told Russell that Jordan’s previous campaign manager, Michael Rosenow, who resigned in September apparently to protest the campaign’s involvement with a federal political action committee, established the Wyoming shell company. Of course we can’t ask Rosenow about that because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Jordan’s campaign.

If, as the Jordan campaign says, there are “anti-Little” forces determined to damage Little’s candidacy that would be some news and would certainly underscore the deep fault lines – or perhaps just bitter animosity – that continues to exist in the Idaho GOP after Little won a tough primary in May. Of course, because the Jordan campaign won’t tell us we can’t even be sure there are mysterious GOP operatives hoping to sabotage their party’s nominee. My own checking turned up suspects, but no evidence.

Kelly rejects any suggestion that the Jordan campaign has engaged in subterfuge in order to obscure the final dispensation of campaign funds. He called Roughneck “a contracting firm” that merely processed payments to individuals who had done the actual work for the campaign. He contends such arrangements are typical in the corporate world. Kelly, a California attorney, is also the owner of another Wyoming company that has received several payments from the Jordan campaign.

Despite his role in shielding the names of those really behind Roughneck Steering, Kelly recently told the Associated Press that Jordan’s campaign was all “about transparency.” And he added, “We want to be an open book and not be distracted. Everything is on the up and up.” That statement is Donald Trump-like in its credulity.

The effort by the Jordan campaign to obscure where campaign money has been spent adds to a litany of questions – non-disclosure agreements, two major campaign shakeups, the circumstances surrounding the federal PAC – that bear directly on the candidate’s transparency, not to mention credibility. The effort to conceal the final destination of campaign payments may also violate Idaho’s campaign finance disclosure law.

Deputy Idaho Secretary of State Tim Hurst points out that the purpose of Idaho’s voter approved campaign disclosure law is pretty simple and the intent is not to hide information from voters about how money is raised or spent by candidates. Hurst referenced the stated purpose of the law: “To promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns and those promoting or opposing legislation or attempting to influence executive or administrative actions for compensation at the state level.”

Another section of the Idaho law says: “No contribution shall be made and no expenditure shall be incurred, directly or indirectly, in a fictitious name, anonymously, or by one (1) person through an agent, relative or other person in such a manner as to conceal the identity of the source of the contribution.”

If the state of Idaho can’t enforce the law in the face of the Jordan campaign’s obvious efforts to skirt real disclosure then the state’s “sunshine law” isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.
 

The day the border closed

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Thirty years ago this month, then-Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus willfully and with malice aforethought sparked one of the most consequential confrontations of the nuclear age. The Idaho governor, a rangy, bald-headed one-time lumberjack from Orofino, took on the federal government in a way few, if any, Idaho politicians ever had before or has since.

I have many vivid memories of working for Andrus those long years ago, but no memory remains more evocative than when the governor of Idaho called the bluff of the Department of Energy over nuclear waste. We are still feeling the ripples of that encounter and Idaho, thanks to dozens of subsequent actions, including a landmark agreement negotiated by Andrus' successor, Republican Gov. Phil Batt, has gotten rid of a good part of its nuclear waste stockpile. If current state leaders are half as smart as Andrus and Batt, they will fight to retain the leverage Idaho has to get rid of the rest.

On a crisp fall day in 1988, Andrus and I flew to Carlsbad, N. M., a town in the southeastern corner of the state at the time better known for its caverns than for its starring role in a governmental showdown. Carlsbad was once the potash capital of the country and had long been a place where extracting value from the earth dominated the economy. When potash ceased to be an economic driver for the region, the powers to be in Eddy County went looking for a future. They found some level of economic salvation in nuclear waste.

Andrus was there to help realize their expectations and, in the process, help Idaho.

Years earlier, as secretary of the interior, Andrus had become a Carlsbad favorite for his attention to local issues - Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the domain of the Interior Department is nearby - and because of the respect he enjoyed, the locals made him an honorary member of the Eddy County Sheriff's Posse.

As a member of the august group, Andrus was able to sport the outfit's signature Stetson, a big hat hard to miss in a crowd. The Stetson was a scintillating shade of turquoise.

Wearing his colorful headgear, Andrus arrived in Carlsbad 30 years ago to "tour" the then-unfinished Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a massive cavern carved out of the deep salt formations under southeastern New Mexico. Years earlier the DOE, then as now the single most incompetent bureaucracy in the federal government, had determined that the salt formations would be the ideal place to permanently dispose of certain types of extremely long-lived radioactive waste.

Encased thousands of feet below ground in salt that had existed for hundreds if not millions of years and never touched by water, the waste would be safe. The science was sound even if DOE's execution of a plan to prepare the facility for waste was deeply flawed.

Andrus' WIPP inspection left him convinced that the only way to move DOE's bureaucracy was to manufacture a crisis. His motive, of course, was to shine a light on DOE management failures, but also advancing the day when nuclear waste that had been sitting in Idaho for years would be permanently removed to New Mexico.

He returned to Idaho and closed the state's borders to any more waste, declaring, "I'm not in the garbage business any more."

I remember asking Andrus if he really had the legal authority to take an action that seemed sure to end up in court. He smiled and said, " I may not have the legal authority, but I have the moral authority. Let them try to stop me."

The audacious action had precisely the effect Idaho's governor intended. The nation's decades of failures managing its massive stockpile of nuclear waste became, at least for a while, a national issue.

The New York Times printed a photo of an Idaho state trooper standing guard over a rail car of waste on a siding near Blackfoot. DOE blinked and eventually took that shipment back to Colorado.

A now retired senior DOE official recently told me Andrus' action was the catalyst to get the New Mexico facility operational. His gutsy leadership also highlighted the political reality that Idaho's rebellion against the feds might easily spread.

Subsequent litigation, various agreements and better DOE focus, at least temporarily, led to the opening of the WIPP site in 1999 and some of the waste stored in Idaho began moving south.

With the perfect hindsight of 30 years, it is also clear that Idaho's willingness to take on the federal government did not, as many of the state's Republicans claimed at the time, hurt the Idaho National Laboratory.

Batt's 1995 agreement, which Andrus zealously defended up until his death last year, continues to provide Idaho with the best roadmap any state has for cleaning up and properly disposing of waste. Idaho would be foolish to squander any of the leverage it has thanks to the work Andrus and Batt did to hold the federal government accountable.

But, of course, some Idahoans continue to talk about waste accommodation with DOE, even as deadlines for more removal and clean up are missed and the DOE behemoth stumbles forward.

A former Texas governor who once advocated eliminating the agency now heads DOE. As Michael Lewis demonstrates in his scary new book "The Fifth Risk," DOE Secretary Rick Perry is little more than a figurehead acting out a role that is both "ceremonial and bizarre." According to Lewis's telling, Perry didn't even bother to ask for a briefing on any DOE program when he arrived.

Meanwhile Perry's boss recently announced in Nevada, a state where waste is about as popular as a busted flush, that he's opposed to eventually opening the Yucca Mountain site as a permanent repository for very high-level nuclear waste.

President Donald Trump made that statement even as his own budget contains millions of our dollars to work on opening the very facility.

Federal government incoherence obviously continues. Cece Andrus confronted it 30 years ago. He was right then and we can still learn from his leadership.

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.

Where’d the money go?

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Paulette Jordan, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has created in a way rarely seen in the state's recent political history a small donor fundraising juggernaut. Jordan has tapped into thousands of small donors in Idaho and across the country. From Clinton, N.Y., to Longview, Wash., from Aiken, S.C., to Denver, Colo., people have been sending her money and in the process she has raised more than $1 million, a respectable figure for an underdog Democrat in Idaho

A substantial percentage of Jordan's fundraising haul has come from small, individual contributions, some as small as $5 and many less than $100. And many donors have given to her campaign multiple times. It is the kind of broad-based fundraising that candidates dream about.

Jordan's contribution profile differs dramatically from her opponent, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has mostly relied on the standard sources of GOP campaign cash - industry PACs, businesses, lobbyists and well-heeled supporters from across the state.

As a result Little has out-raised the Democrat by a lot and in the home stretch has held on to more cash for a final push.

Yet there is a confounding mystery at the heart of Jordan's campaign: Little of her cash seems to have made its way into what you might call a real campaign - direct mail, billboards, TV, radio, newspapers and social media.

Rather, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on out-of-state consultants and, as the Idaho Statesman's Cynthia Sewell documented recently, on food, travel and lodging - much of it out of state - by the candidate.

Jordan's pre-election campaign finance disclosure report is simply one of the most unusual - which is to say - unprecedented documents of its type since Idaho voters mandated campaign finance disclosure in 1974.

To say the least, the report raises more questions than it answers, while the campaign refuses to provide answers to basic questions about how and why it has spent its money.

Consider a just few questionable details from Jordan's Oct. 10 report:

The campaign has paid at least four out-of-state companies in Wyoming, Vermont and Minnesota nearly $50,000 for what it says are various consulting services. Yet the companies appear to be "shells" with no actual place of business, only a mailing address and a contact listed as a "registered agent." One company is identified by the campaign as a Limited Liability Company with a Post Office box in Peru, Vt., but the Vermont secretary of state has no record of the company existing. Another company that has received payments from Jordan's campaign lists its address as an apartment in Minneapolis.

One company with a Cheyenne, Wyo., address, lists Jordan's campaign manager, Nathanial Kelly, as its president, secretary, treasurer and only director. Kelly is the same guy who recently tried to explain away why the campaign required its staffers to sign nondisclosure agreements. Kelly's Wyoming firm only became active in August, just about the time Kelly has said he was helping the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, with Jordan's encouragement, to establish a federal super PAC.

A second Wyoming firm that received two $10,000 payments from Jordan since August is registered at the same Sheridan, Wyo., address as the federal PAC. This firm has not filed more complete information, including the names of incorporators, with the state of Wyoming because it isn't required to do so until a year after it is formally registered. Meanwhile, the campaign insists that none of its resources have gone to helping establish the federal PAC, which Jordan has refused to discuss beyond criticizing the reporting that disclosed its existence.

The Jordan campaign has employed two different digital fundraising firms, both located in Washington, D.C., and paid them more than $110,000. One firm started work after Jordan won the May primary. The campaign also reports payments to two separate campaign reporting and compliance firms, with one firm joining post-primary. The campaign, which has had two high profile staff shake ups since May and declined to provide information on how many different employees it has paid - it appears upwards of a dozen - has also utilized two different payroll services firms, but has also paid staff directly.

These set-ups raise the question: Why are two firms doing what appears essentially to be the same job?

The campaign also reported a $1,000 "contribution" to a California entity that lists the same Novato, Calif., address as one of the reporting and compliance firms. When I asked who received the contribution, I was told the money went to "an elected official who is consulting for the campaign as well."

A spokeswoman at the Idaho Secretary of State's office said failure to disclose the recipient of a contribution from an Idaho campaign committee is a violation of Idaho law.

That obviously is a problem for Jordan's campaign, but her small dollar donors might also be justified in asking: Why would an Idaho campaign scraping for every dollar make any contribution to a candidate in California?

Campaigns, we all know, cost money. Personnel, technology, advertising and travel require money, the kind of money Jordan has been raising.

But the real question for the candidate - and her thousands of small donors - is why so little of the more than $1 million she has raised has been spent in a way that might actually reach, inform and motivate Idaho voters?

The campaign has talked about the importance of transparency and accountability in state government, but that clearly doesn't extend to her campaign.

Jordan's latest campaign finance report is a black box of questions, contradictions and head-scratching inconsistencies. It all raises another question: Where has all the money gone and why?

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

When Idaho Democrats win

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This year’s race for Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction will test one of my long held theories about the state’s politics. It will be news to some voters, but Democrats have occasionally won elections in Idaho, but generally only when Republicans screw up and put forward a candidate broadly seen as unfit or ill prepared. When that happens a competent Democrat can win and often stay in office for a while.

Frank Church won the first of his four terms in the Senate in 1956 because he faced a flawed GOP incumbent, Herman Welker, who had distinguished himself as Joe McCarthy’s best friend in the Senate. Welker was likely also suffering from a brain tumor, which may have contributed to an erratic personality that offended many voters, including Republicans. Unacceptable GOP candidate equals Democratic win.

Cecil Andrus used to joke that had there not been a Don Samuelson, another bumbling GOP incumbent, he would never have won the first of his four terms as governor. Democrat John Evans beat the hapless Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen Larsen in 1978 only after Larsen, an awful candidate, told live-and-let-live Idahoans that he thought it was possible to legislate morality. That’s why you don’t remember Governor Larsen. Richard Stallings was elected to Congress because the GOP incumbent George Hansen was a serial crook. One judge, obviously giving Big George the benefit of the doubt, said Hansen’s failure to comply with campaign finance law was not necessarily “evil” but “stupid, surely.” Hansen later served time for defrauding a bank.

Which brings us to Cindy Wilson, the earnest, experienced, energetic and personable Democratic candidate for state superintendent of public instruction. Wilson, based on her resume and grasp of issues, should, even in red Idaho, be a serious candidate. She’s taught for 33 years in schools in Orofino, Pierce, Shelley, Boise and Meridian. She’s won awards for her classroom success and Governor Butch Otter appointed her to the state board of corrections, giving Wilson a view of how educational failure contributes to exploding prison populations. That Wilson has a chance to win, however, says as much about the underwhelming incumbent as it does about the challenger.

Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra is, as one astute observer told me, really “an accidental candidate.” Ybarra, a total political unknown with a shallow resume, came from nowhere to win the GOP nomination four years ago. That was enough for a Republican “fresh face” to win a general election. Since then Ybarra’s often erratic performance has raised persistent questions about her competence and even her interest in the job.

For a politician who is supposed to be an advocate for Idaho’s 300,000 public school students, Ybarra frequently seems to have forgotten to do her homework. Ybarra has been late with her campaign finance reports and has never fully explained why she had to amend disclosure reports going back to 2017 to justify why she paid herself back for a loan to her campaign that she had never disclosed as a loan in the first place.

Ybarra has stressed support for rural schools, but her policy proposals have been thin to the point of non-existence. Gubernatorial candidate Brad Little, by contrast, recently put some specific meat on the bones of how rural districts might actually combine certain services. It is the kind of thing a chief school officer might do rather than a candidate for governor.

Ybarra has touted a school safety initiative – KISS, Keep Idaho Students Safe – but did nothing to coordinate her very expensive proposal with the office state lawmakers specifically established to deal with that issue. As Idaho Education News reported recently the head of the Idaho Office of School Safety and Security was dumbfounded to learn that Ybarra had gone off on her own, ignoring the expertise in his office. “We didn’t even know she was looking at doing any kind of safety initiative until she announced it to the general public,” said school safety program manager Brian Armes.

Challenger Wilson might have simplified her entire campaign by adopting an easily understood slogan: “I’ll show up for work.” Ybarra has frequently missed state board of education meetings, including a meeting this summer that conflicted with her professed need to pack for a vacation. Lately she has been stiffing joint appearances with Wilson, including in the last few days an Idaho Falls City Club event and an educational forum at Boise State University.

Ybarra ducked the Idaho Falls appearance in favor of a fundraiser at a pub in Eagle owned by a former colleague who lost his educational credentials after being accused of multiple counts of sexual harassment. “He was punished for that, and he’s still a friend of mine,” Ybarra told reporter Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News. “We’re not around kids right now, we’re at a fundraiser.” That statement will be remembered as the definition of tone deaf, or perhaps worse.

The last time Idaho had a bumbler in the state superintendent’s office voters overwhelmingly rejected his “education reforms” at the ballot box. And before that an incompetent Republican state superintendent lost re-election to Democrat Marilyn Howard, who went on to serve two terms, carrying on a tradition of professional, competent management of the office that dates back to Jerry Evans and Roy Truby in the 1970s and 1980s.

Having the big R behind your name is often all it takes to win in Idaho, but if voters are paying attention and really want competence in a job critical to kids and parents and the economy, the incumbent state superintendent will be looking for a new job in January.