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Posts published in “Malloy”

The certain superintendent change

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Two things are certain to come from this year’s race for superintendent of public instruction. One, a woman will occupy one of Idaho’s constitutional offices since Donna Jones was elected controller in 2006. Secondly, Tom Luna will ride out of office after eight years – which is good news to a lot of “professional” educators.

The bad news is that Idaho will be losing one of its most aggressive advocates for public schools since Jerry Evans held the office. Luna and Evans disagreed sharply on viewpoints and approaches, but both took strong stands on education issues without worrying much about political fallouts.

Luna came into office promising to shake things up in education and he delivered with a series of “Students Come First” proposals – commonly known as “Luna Laws.” Many of the criticisms were justified. He didn’t bring up these proposals until after he won re-election and the process wasn’t as inclusive as it could have been. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter gave his full backing to these proposals and the Legislature voted them into law, which speaks well for Luna’s ability to navigate the political system. Voters had different ideas, sending the Luna Laws to a resounding defeat in 2012.

One thing that was positive in my mind was, at least Luna was trying to do something about an education system that has not fundamentally changed in 50 years.
Luna, a former member of the Nampa School Board, was not a professional educator. But he had something that few candidates running for the position ever had – the ability to communicate and articulate his vision about where he wanted to go and how to get there. Regardless of the audience – and even with editorial boards -- he came across as confident, strong and under control.

I don’t see any of those communication qualities in the two candidates running, Democrat Jana Jones and Republican Sherri Ybarra, both of whom have a stronger education resume than Luna. Neither candidate talks about grand ideas beyond supporting the governor’s education task force and Common Core.

Jones has more experience with office, having working with three superintendents and as chief deputy under Marilyn Howard, who was a capable educator but a horrible communicator. Jones thinks a Democrat can be effective in the superintendent’s office.

“Students don’t come to school with Ds and Rs on their foreheads,” Jones said in a debate in Twin Falls, covered by Idaho Education News. “We use politics to be elected, but once there, you need to put politics aside.”

Unfortunately, legislators do care about Ds and Rs and the reality is Republicans don’t pay attention to Democrats on big-ticket issues. If Jones talks about promoting an Internet sales tax, it will give Republicans even more reason to shoot it down.

Ybarra has a better chance of working with Republican lawmakers. But she also has stated repeatedly that she is not a politician, which is a terrible quality for a state superintendent. It takes a lot of political moxie to present budget proposals to the governor’s office and make a convincing case to the Legislature. Part of the job means sitting on the State Board of Education is not for the faint of heart, or non-politicians. She’s also not much for media interviews, as Jennifer Swindell of Idaho Education News discovered early on in a profile of Ybarra in May. (more…)

Bujak’s role in the race

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

John Bujak, the Libertarian Party candidate for governor, is making the effort to pull off the biggest political upset since Jesse “The Body” Ventura went from the wrestling ring to governor of Minnesota. But if he doesn’t win, he’d be fine if Democrat A.J. Balukoff did.

As Bujak sees it, four years of gridlock from a Democratic administration would be preferable to electing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to a third term in office. Bujak says eight years is long enough; 12 years invites more corruption.

“I’ve voted for Otter in the past and there are times that I’ve thought he was doing a good job,” said Bujak, a former Canyon County prosecutor. “But after so many years, being in government for so long and now running for a third term, he’s simply out of touch. And he has turned a blind eye to the corruption going on in his administration.”

Bujak says the controversies surrounding broadband contracts and the botched operation of a private prison system are examples of “cronyism and corruption” that have been part of Otter’s administration.

Although Bujak prefers Balukoff over Otter, that’s hardly an endorsement for the Democratic candidate. Bujak offers himself as a “conservative alternative” to Otter and a choice for disgruntled Republicans who can’t stomach voting for a Democrat. He’s also trying to appeal to independents that are fed up with the two major parties.

Bujak looks to Ventura’s campaign in 1998 as a “how to” guide for a third-party candidate to win a governor’s race. Bujak doesn’t have the flamboyance of the former star of the wildly popular World Wrestling Entertainment. But he has some of “the Body’s” flare in the courtroom and on the political stump. Bujak lashes out at the both parties that “serve special interests and … a party platform that is bigger than the state of Idaho.”

Televised debates were the “game changer” for Ventura’s campaign in 1998 and Bujak thinks the same thing could happen in Idaho this year. “He had about 10 percent (support) before the debates and ended up winning,” Bujak said.

Although he’s running on the Libertarian ticket, he doesn’t go “too far” down that party line. You won’t hear him talking about extreme positions of libertarians, such as closing public schools and opening the door for gambling, prostitution and legalization of marijuana. His views on issues are a mirror image of Sen. Russ Fulcher, who received almost 44 percent of the vote in his unsuccessful run for governor. Bujak says “no” to Common Core, wolves, Obamacare in any form, federal control of public lands and Medicaid expansion. Bujak calls those more traditional Republican stands, with a libertarian twist.

“If you like Fulcher on the issues, then you’d like me. I would not be running if he had won,” Bujak said. The difference is in personality. “I don’t know if Russ is as much of a fighter as I am.” (more…)

A Denney evaluation

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

I like Lawerence Denney.

I worked four sessions as communication adviser with the House GOP caucus when Denney was speaker of the House and found him to be fair and supportive. “Boss Denney,” – a description often used by the Lewiston Tribune and Post Register – didn’t fit this soft-spoken man.

In morning leadership meetings, he was anything but a “boss” or “bully.” Scott Bedke and Mike Moyle, the top leaders of the House today, were the strongest personalities in the room and often drove the discussions. Denney, with his friendly laid-back style, was the kind of guy who would lend you a ladder or a wrench if he were your next-door neighbor.

That’s the side of Denney that I have known for seven years. But because of his actions as House speaker, I can’t dismiss the harsh comments from the Tribune, Post Register and other sources. He’ll probably win the secretary of state’s office, because Democrats don’t stand much of a chance in this state. But many of the criticisms are justified and the editorial writers have a right to question his fitness for office.

Holli Woodings, Denney’s Democratic opponent, describes the basis of her campaign. “What this comes down to for me is who can best continue this legacy of fairness we have had in the secretary of state’s office for decades,” she said, referring to retiring Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Pete Cenarrusa before that.

During his six years as speaker, Denney “fairness” was a one-way street. He was the leader of the Republican Party, especially the more conservative side of his party, and part of his purpose was to help GOP conservatives keep the upper hand. He earned the nickname “Boss Denney” after advising one organization to fire its legislative lobbyist and hire a friend and former state representative, Julie Ellsworth, to the position. He fired committee chairmen who didn’t follow the conservative path and fired one of the most conservative legislators ever to serve, former Rep. Delores Crow, from the redistricting commission, for apparently not being conservative enough and lack of communication. He spearheaded passage of closed primaries, which gave conservative Republicans an even greater advantage and served to make a bad election system worse.

In Denney’s world, “moderate” Republicans were no better than Democrats. It’s no mystery why former Rep. Leon Smith of Twin Falls, one of the committee chairmen who was fired by Denney, has endorsed Woodings.

So, if Denney wins the secretary of state’s race, he will have to transform himself from a partisan politician to an ambassador of fairness. That won’t be easy. (more…)

Eyes on District 15

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Sen. Fred Martin of Boise belongs to an exclusive club.

He is the only Republican senator living in the Boise city limits, which is surprising considering Idaho’s status as one of the reddest of the red states.

So while Idaho is decidedly Republican, Boise is ruled by Democrats. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, a former Democratic legislator, has been in office since 2003. More recently, Brian Cronin – another former Democratic legislator – easily won election to the Boise School Board. The only areas where Democrats may have a stronger foothold are Districts 26 (which includes the Sun Valley area) and 29 (Bannock County).

It didn’t used to be that way. “Twenty years ago, there were three elected legislative Democrats in Ada County; six years ago there were six and now there are 12,” Martin said.

Granted, there are more legislative districts in Ada County than in years past. But there’s no question that Democrats have made some impressive gains over the years, and especially in Boise. Nine seats in three Boise districts (16, 17 and 18) all were held by Republicans years ago. Now, all seats are held by Democrats. District 17, once considered a “swing” district, has no Republicans challenging the Democratic incumbents.

The legislative makeup in Boise has significant implications statewide – and they can be viewed positively or negatively, depending on your political outlook. Democrats, working with moderate Republicans, help turn back calls for the repeal of Obamacare and secure the vote for an Idaho-operated state health exchange. The coalition keeps alive concepts such as Common Core education standards and opens the possibility for Medicare expansion, which has been endorsed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Democrats help keep the pressure on more funding for education and draw greater attention to a sagging economy and low wages.

If those nine legislative seats in Boise were held by conservative Republicans, Rep. Scott Bedke of Oakley probably would not be the speaker of the House and Gov. Butch Otter would be without his best (if not his only) ally in House leadership. (more…)

“All the way with Vernon K”

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

That was a campaign slogan for Democrat Vernon K. Smith in the 1962 governor’s race and the rallying cry that I heard a few times that year in my hometown of Osburn. My dad, especially, thought Gov. Robert Smylie had been in office long enough and it was time for a change. Smith’s pro-gambling platform was an attraction to the Silver Valley, where backroom betting was a way of life in the mining community.

Things were a little gloomy in our house when we found out that Smylie had won election to a third term. My dad explained that politics is controlled by those in the southern part of the state and it didn’t matter what people in Shoshone County wanted.
During my professional career, I lived in Idaho Falls for six years and I have been living in Boise for the past 15 – long enough to know that Idahoans in the south are good people who do not carry pitchforks and have horns growing out of their heads. But in politics, they generally get what they want. And at the moment, there seems to be a conspiracy to prevent Silver Valley people from getting the kind of legislators they want in the Statehouse.

In recent years, the Silver Valley has been represented by Democrats with a conservative bent, such as Marti Calabretta, Larry Watson and Mary Lou Shepherd. Today, the Silver Valley delegation consists of two conservative lawmakers from far away – Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll of Cottonwood and Rep. Paul Shepherd of Riggins. The third legislator, Rep. Shannon McMillan, lives in Silverton, but wins by big margins without carrying Shoshone County. Her close ties with Nuxoll and Shepherd give her a lot of votes in the south, making it nearly impossible to beat her in District 7.

A longtime friend of mine who helped draw up the legislative district map understands why people in Shoshone County don’t like the geographic makeup of District 7, but says there was no other way for the independent commission to come up with a plan that meets judicial approval. To people in Shoshone County, District 7 looks, feels and smells like gerrymandering to help the most conservative members of the GOP caucus.

“It’s next to impossible for a Democrat to win,” said Casey Drews, who is opposing Nuxoll but has been more focused on preparing for her bar exam. “They have created the largest district in the state, which already has the largest county in the state – Idaho County, which covers 9,000 square miles. That’s bigger than multiple states in the nation. It’s impossible to campaign there effectively.”

Shepherd and Nuxoll are fine with the arrangement, because they live there. For McMillan, there’s hardly a need to go there. (more…)

Running against Elvis

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

People in Meridian don’t attend city council meetings and only 10 percent of school district voters bothered to cast ballots in the last bond election. But when Congressman Raul Labrador comes in for a town hall meeting, a standing-room-only crowd waits for him at city hall – which poses a big problem for State Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, Labrador’s Democratic opponent for the 1st District congressional seat.

She is running against a political rock star.
He’s a Puerto Rican version of John F. Kennedy. He has a quick wit and his humor often is self-depreciating, which is a big hit with the audience. He asks the crowd not to boo questions they might not like, “but if you don’t like my answer, then you can boo me – as long as it’s with love and kindness.”

He talks about President Obama being an ideologue and gives praise to former President Clinton for being a “pragmatic politician” who was smart enough to take credit for Republican accomplishments – such as creating a government surplus. He has charts illustrating how the nation is heading down the tubes if it doesn’t get spending under control and warns that Social Security for him (at 46) and people younger will not look the same as it does today. Changes need to be made.

Not all his criticism is directed at Obama and liberal Democrats. Republicans, he says, will go nowhere unless they do a better job identifying what they are for – rather than what they are against.

Labrador doesn’t always let facts get in the way of good political rhetoric. One questioner asked why he has not cosponsored legislation that would help revive the U.S. Postal Service. He said the postal employees helped create the mess by signing off on a retirement plan that would help employees not even born yet. Actually, it was Congress that created the plan in 2006, bringing the Postal Service to the brink of bankruptcy.

But his explanation sounded good and his analysis of the federal deficit, and other issues, made sense. He promises to continue to “fight for less government, less spending, more accountability and … to fight for the people of Idaho.” (more…)

On supporting higher education

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

I am a University of Idaho alum who enjoys following Boise State sports. My golf clubs have “Vandal” headcovers and occasionally I’ll wear a “Bronco” shirt on the course – just to mess with people’s minds and give myself a mental edge. Of course, when I hit a series of errant shots and missed putts, the edge is gone and I become this crazy old guy with a Bronco shirt and Vandal headcovers.

The point I try to make is there is no rivalry. The football rivalry was cooking pretty well for three decades, but ended when Boise State decided to go big time. So, let’s realize that Idaho needs both schools – the land grant university in Moscow and the urban-based university in Boise – to go anywhere with higher education. Idaho also needs strong systems at Idaho State and Lewis-Clark State College to provide higher education opportunities to Idahoans.

As Mike Rush, the executive director of the State Board of Education, tells me – and he’s absolutely correct – we need more opportunities for higher education, not fewer. A strong higher education system is crucial for pulling Idaho out of the dumps in terms of wages.

Now, if Rush can only convince the politicians. Higher education should be a bellwether issue in political campaigns, but it isn’t. Candidates for state offices will talk plenty about the public schools, because Idaho has a constitutional requirement to provide a public education for children. But there is no such requirement for higher education.

“That, combined with the fact that higher education has other sources of funding, has made higher education across the nation a tempting target for balancing the budget,” Rush said.

The decrease in state support for higher education has caused sharp increases in fee and tuition costs. And while higher education is still a bargain in Idaho, compared to other states, it has priced many Idahoans out of the market – to the detriment of the economy.

“We can’t keep going in this direction,” Rush said. “If we keep withdrawing support, our higher education system simply will not be able to deliver the punch that we need to drive our economy for the next 30 years.”

Rush says numerous studies about the relationship between post-secondary education and economic prosperity are clear. “You’ve got to get more people with post-secondary experience,” he said. “That may be a four-year degree, or that may be a two-year degree. Or, maybe it’s an industry certificate that proves additional and specific skills.”

The bottom line is more years of a post-secondary education equal higher salaries. The quality of a higher education system so often is a make-it, or break-it factor for providing businesses and industries that pay higher salaries. Boise State, for example, has upgraded its computer science offerings at the request of high-tech industries. The College of Southern Idaho played an instrumental role in providing a workforce for the Chobani Yogurt Factory in Twin Falls.

Community colleges are designed to provide a relatively quick source of training while higher education focuses more on the long-term needs. “I think higher education gets it, although it can always be better,” Rush said.

Working four years as communications adviser with Idaho House Republicans, I did not sense an appreciation of the value for higher education. Some of the questions I heard asked: Why do we need three universities and, especially, a four-year school in Lewiston? Why do we need four presidents and four layers of administration? Could the state save money by closing down one or two universities? (more…)

Finishing the debate

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter, the longtime “Happy Warrior” of Idaho politics, who prides himself on running “positive campaigns,” has taken on a far different approach against his Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff. And Otter is going against political scripture in the process.

Republicans are supposed to cater to the rich while Democrats promote class warfare. What we’re seeing here is a wealthy Republican governor attacking his challenger, a successful businessman, for having too much money and spending large sums to finance his campaign.

“Help us beat our multi-million dollar Democratic opponent,” Otter says in a fund-raising appeal. “(Balukoff) has already started radio and television ads spending roughly $625,000 in the month of August. We need to stop him from buying this election with his self-funding campaign.”

Otter raises much of his campaign funds the old fashioned way – through lobbyists. Otter’s head cheerleader is the powerful Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which bills itself as non-partisan and usually caters to rich businessmen like Balukoff. But in this campaign, IACI has opened a website (LiberalAJ.com) that lashes Balukoff for standing with President Obama and liberal Democrats.

There’s one big flaw with the premise. Balukoff says he supported Mitt Romney in the last presidential election and contributed generously to his campaign. That hardly makes sense for Idaho’s leading Democratic torch carrier at the moment, but as Balukoff says, he doesn’t care much for partisan politics.

A few things brought up by the Otter campaign are true. Balukoff is a multi-millionaire who plans to spend “what it takes” to get his name and message out statewide. If it takes more than $1 million out of pocket, then so be it.

“I am in this campaign to win,” he said.

Balukoff is taking the right path in this political environment in which money means everything. He cannot rely on the “free media” to run his press releases or cover town hall meetings – as Sen. Russ Fulcher found out in his unsuccessful challenge to Otter in the GOP primary. Balukoff is making many of the same points as Fulcher did regarding the economy and lack of leadership. The difference is Fulcher didn’t have the money to flood the airwaves with his message; Balukoff does.

It’s odd that IACI is putting so much effort into this race, because Balukoff is on the organization’s side on several issues – even more than Otter in some cases. Balukoff says he supports IACI’s positions on a constitutional amendment to reduce the two-thirds voter approval for passage of school board levies, Medicaid expansion and the state health exchange. He stands with IACI in support of Congressman Mike Simpson’s proposal for the Boulder White Clouds wilderness. Otter, by contrast, firmly stands with IACI on only one of those issues – the state health exchange. (more…)

Stallings’ problem

malloy CHUCK
MALLOY

 
In Idaho

The other day in Twin Falls, former 2nd District Congressman Richard Stallings approached a 24-year-old waitress and talked about this year’s congressional campaign. As any good politician, he saw an opportunity to win over a potential voter. What she saw was a man who was old enough to be her great-grandfather, which presents a problem for Stallings.

His mind is sharp, he has good health overall, but the 73-year-old Stallings looks every bit of his age – which does little to attract 20-somethings who already are detached from politics. The waitress was just more than a year old when Stallings left Congress in 1993. There’s a whole generation of new voters who were not even born when Stallings served in Congress.

He has other challenges that are even more daunting. Rep. Mike Simpson, seeking his ninth term, is fresh off a resounding victory over tea party candidate Byron Smith in the primary election – proving the 2nd District is not the bastion for conservatism as it was during George Hansen’s heyday in Congress. Simpson’s membership on the Appropriations Committee gives him clout and access to hefty campaign donations. Stallings has little more than a past history and around $17,000 in the bank.

“I have no illusions,” Stallings said. “When I ran before (1984) and was running against someone who had four felony convictions and I barely won. That is not the case now.”

But Stallings says he sees a “path to victory” by pushing for raising the federal minimum wage and immigration reform – issues that tend to attract women and Latinos. He welcomes support from disgruntled conservatives who are bruised from the primary campaign. As for everybody else, Stallings has two major platforms:

1. Throw the bums out.

2. All Republicans are bums – especially House Speaker John Boehner and Simpson, who is one of Boehner’s leading lieutenants. Stallings thinks any Democrat, including California’s Nancy Pelosi, could do a better job leading the House.

“I tell people that if you like Congress – and only about 12 percent of the people do – then stay with Simpson, because he will give you two more years of nothing,” Stallings said. “I am running against the worst Congress in the nation’s history. Simpson is one of the leaders of that Congress and he should be held accountable.” (more…)