Writings and observations

malloy CHUCK

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.”

Of course, most of Fulcher’s fights have been within the relatively tame confines of the Legislature. Bujak has had to fight corruption charges from his time as prosecuting attorney, and he worked aggressively to convince a jury to clear him of those charges. On his website, he offers a lengthy description of “what happened” in Canyon County.

“I learned a lot about our government through my experiences,” he said. “Government is in the business of serving itself and the special interest groups that support politics as usual. The regular citizen does not matter to the government and as long as it remains politics as usual, the regular citizen will not have a voice.”

Along the way, he said he learned “that government is manipulated by a group of ‘Good Old Boys, consisting of career politicians, lobbyists and insiders who gained special benefits and favors from keeping the right people in power.”

Ventura used similar lines in his run for governor 16 years ago, and he caught fire during the campaign’s stretch run. Political experts, who viewed Ventura as a fringe candidate without a chance, stopped laughing as his following grew larger.

I’m not sure what kind of impact Bujak will have on this election, but at the moment he appears to be Balukoff’s best friend – and Otter’s worst nightmare.

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malloy CHUCK

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.

Recently, the Idaho Republican Party raised questions about whether Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate A.J. Balukoff violated campaign finance laws with his payroll and bookkeeping procedures. Tim Hurst, the chief deputy for the secretary of state’s office, said there was no violation and the GOP dropped its complaint. I’m not sure if Denney would have reached the same conclusion, or if he ever would side with a Democrat or moderate Republican on anything.

His record as speaker and his campaign rhetoric suggests he would not. On his website, Denney says he offers “Proven Conservative Leadership.” That’s a nice slogan for a race for the Legislature, or House speaker, but it’s a rotten message for a secretary of state who is supposed to offer fairness for all.

A couple of weeks ago, Woodings issued a news release saying she would retain the secretary of state’s staff if she were elected and Denney followed suit with a similar statement. With Denney, it might not be so easy to keep the staff if political strategists hold the top positions.

If Denney wins, my hope is he would be more like the person I have known and “Boss Denney” will be a nickname from the past. My hope is that he relies on his professional staff instead of the political advisers who were so instrumental during his time as speaker. His heart and head need to be in the right place if he is going to be successful as secretary of state.

So with Denney, there are a lot of questions. Woodings thinks she has some answers.

If voters elect her, she says, “you won’t have to worry about it.”

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malloy CHUCK

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.

All that’s standing in the way of Boise being wall-to-wall with Democrats is District 15, but that could change in November. Democrat Steve Berch, making his third run for the Legislature, has the best shot at winning one of the two House seats. He is mounting an aggressive door-to-door campaign against Rep. Lynn Luker.

“It’s very humbling and gratifying knocking on doors and talking with people,” Berch said. “Nowhere – and I mean nowhere – on the list of priorities is making sure that a baker doesn’t have to bake a cake for a gay couple.”

Berch is taking a dig at Luker’s controversial religious freedom bills, which either can vault him to re-election or cost him his legislative career. Luker is betting that a turn to the right will help him with the influx of Republicans that came to District 15 after redistricting.

A lot of eyes are on District 15, because it is on the water’s edge. Idaho gets more conservative heading to the west and south. Two Democrats (Berch and Betty Richardson, who ran against Martin) came close two years ago.

Republicans, even in their heyday in Boise, were far more moderate than their counterparts in rural areas. Boise sent to the Legislature people such as Sheila Sorensen, Kitty Gurnsey, Ruby Stone and Chuck Pomeroy. In District 15, Max Black and John Andreason – two moderate Republicans – held onto their seats for two decades.

Martin is consistent with the profile of Boise Republicans who served for so many years. Luker, who boasts about being near the top of the Idaho Freedom Foundation index, does not fit the mold. Mark Patterson, a firebrand conservative who defeated Berch two years ago and resigned before finishing one term, took advantage of the district’s new Republican voters. He was replaced by Pat McDonald, who is politically closer to Martin.

Republicans are a long way from becoming a minority party even if Democrats manage to capture all seats in District 15. But holding all 12 seats in Boise would provide the Dems with significant numbers while turning up the volume on the party’s message.
“Idaho is last in the nation in average wages,” says Berch. “We’re first in the nation in percentage of minimum wage. We’re now ranked below Alabama and Mississippi in education investment. … Electing the same people does not work.”

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malloy CHUCK

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.

Shepherd is one of the most sincere and genuine people in the Legislature. But he seems to view issues such as Obamacare, Common Core and Medicaid expansion as communist plots. Nuxoll is known as much for off-the-wall statements than legislative accomplishments. She gained a lot of attention comparing Obamacare to the Holocaust. McMillan, in profile interviews with the Shoshone News-Press, refuses to say how long she has lived in the Silver Valley. But none of that matters where most of the votes are.

Three Democrats are giving it a try, with varying degrees of effort. Drews, who lost to McMillan two years ago, and Ken Meyers of Sagle are opposing Shepherd. Sagle is a small sliver near Sandpoint, and apparently the redistricting commission didn’t know what to do with it. So they put it in in District 7. Drews and Meyers are presenting themselves as alternatives for Democratic voters, but they are not actively campaigning.

Jessica Chilcott of Sagle is running against McMillan and making more of an effort. She has gone to fairs in Cottonwood and Grangeville and visited many of the smaller communities.

Chilcott has a good chance to carry Shoshone County, but little chance of winning the office – which is like living in 1962 all over again. Shoshone County is, has been and always will be Idaho’s political punching bag.

Maybe Montana could offer a better deal . . .

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malloy CHUCK

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.”

In Labrador’s world – and I got a first-hand look a couple of weeks ago — fighting for Idahoans means casting a lot of “no” votes, even for governmental entities working to save lives. In March, I was in Washington, D.C., as part of a “lobbying day” sponsored by the American Diabetes Association. The ADA was asking for about $2 billion for continued research to find a cure for diabetes and programs to promote prevention. Sen. Jim Risch, who is at least as conservative as Labrador, embraces the cause, but it’s not on Labrador’s radar.

Five months after my visit to Washington, Labrador sent me a letter by email saying, “There needs to be a balance between the needs of our people and the nation’s economic responsibilities. During hard economic times like these, sacrifices must be taken on the part of all to ensure that the United States is, and will continue to be, in a position of economic prosperity. Measures need to be taken on the part of the individual, and personal responsibility must be exercised to improve the economic and physical health of our nation.”

Of course, not all diabetes is self-imposed. And the ultimate “sacrifices” include blindness, amputations, kidney failure and death. By 2050, it is projected that one-third of the American population will have diabetes – which is anything but a path to economic prosperity. But Labrador is consistent with his views on federal spending. The answer is “no” for diabetes research, or almost any other form of discretionary federal spending.

“That’s a shortsighted view and not what you’d expect from your congressional representative,” Ringo told me later. “The cost of not dealing with this in a proactive way will be extremely high. This is systematic of the one-dimensional approach he’s taking, without considering the long-term effects.

She has a tough way to go, given the conservative nature of the 1st District. She has a lot of thoughts about how she would represent the district differently from Labrador. All she has to do is figure out how to pack ’em in like Elvis.

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malloy CHUCK

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?

“I see no good argument that suggests we have too much capacity in higher education,” Rush said. “I think it’s clear we don’t have enough capacity.”
At 42 percent, Idaho is among the lowest in the nation as far as high school students going on to college. Rush would like to see the percentage closer to 60 percent to fit today’s needs. By 2018, the percentage needs to be 68 percent.

But the numbers won’t go up if costs for students continue to rise and state support continues to fall. And the state support will not increase significantly until the governor and Legislature make it a priority.

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malloy CHUCK

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.

IACI’s website, Balukoff says, “reminds me of second graders on a playground saying, ‘A.J. is a liberal, A.J. is a liberal.’

As for Otter, he has never had to go negative against an opponent. Of course, he has never had an opponent with a serious chance of winning. Education and the economy are Balukoff’s two biggest issues, and on those Otter’s record reads like Jimmy Carter’s Greatest Hits.

Before Otter took office seven years ago, eight states were below Idaho in per capita income. Today, only Mississippi has a lower per capita income.
Idaho has one of the highest, if not the highest, percentage of people making the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.

The rates of high school graduates going onto college has dropped dramatically over the years as tuition rises and financial commitment from the Legislature decreases.

Idaho is dead last in per-pupil spending under Otter’s watch.

Then, there was that disgusting televised primary debate in which Otter insisted on the inclusion of two political circus clowns, which prevented Otter’s chief opponent (Fulcher) from making serious headway. Otter, in setting his own rules, turned Idaho into a national laughingstock, which in itself is a firing offense in the business world. As time goes, Balukoff probably will bring up other issues – including the Corrections Corporation of America’s handling of the prison system – and he has a fat bank account to make sure Idahoans hear about all of them.

Otter and IACI may have started the fight, but Balukoff is prepared to finish it.

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malloy CHUCK

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.”

Stallings is running on the premise that people are tired of gridlock – and that’s just within the Republican Party. He also says people also are tired of partisan politics and government shutdowns.

“I have said that Simpson is the strongest member of the delegation, but that isn’t setting the bar too high,” Stallings said. “Idaho has the worst delegation in Congress.”

Stallings says he offers an alternative.

“People remember me pretty fondly,” he said. “I served with dignity before, represented the people well and it’s time to get back with that kind of representation.”

As Stallings sees it, Simpson is hitching himself to an ineffective House speaker and one part of a fractured Republican Party.

“Simpson is a coward who does not have the backbone to stand up for what’s right,” Stallings said. “He’s afraid of the tea party, and I have no such fear.”
Getting businesses behind raising the minimum wage is an uphill battle for Stallings. But he thinks he can find plenty of support elsewhere.

“The thought that raising the minimum wage would hurt business is hogwash,” he said. “If you give people $5,000 more per year, they would have buying power. You’d stimulate the economy and it would raise 176,000 Idahoans out of poverty while saving the government tons of money in food stamps and subsidies. It would be an easy answer to a crisis that is hurting people. How Simpson and his colleagues can sit back and enjoy the fat-cat life of a congressman while deliberately hurting people is outrageous.”

Give Stallings credit. He’s putting his name out there and making plenty of noise about the political mess in Washington, D.C. He may not raise a lot of money and the odds of defeating an entrenched incumbent are against him. But being a former four-term congressman, by itself, makes him a formidable challenger.

Now, if he can only convince that waitress and others of her age that he’s more than a great-grandfather figure …

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malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

Don’t look at me to handicap the Miss America Pageant in September. I do a lousy enough job picking winners of sporting events and political elections and I can’t remember the last time I saw a Miss America Pageant.

I will make an exception this year and make a point to watch the competition on television on Sept. 14. And I will go out on a limb and say that Miss Idaho, Sierra Anne Sandison of Twin Falls, has a decent shot at winning. No, she does not hail from the South, or Midwest, which produce long lines of past winners. A Miss Idaho has never won. But Sierra has something that few others have – a compelling story. And all she had to do was walk on stage during the swimsuit competition of the Miss Idaho Pageant with an insulin pump attached to her side.

BOOM! The social media exploded with a photo of this gorgeous 20-year-old woman confidently walking with her beautiful smile and perfect body. Her insulin pump suddenly became a fashion statement and she has encouraged others to “Show Your Pump.” Sierra has become an inspiration to 26 million people living in the United States who have diabetes and the nearly 80 million people who have pre-diabetes. She is proof that diabetes can be managed, the harmful effects can be reversed and diabetes does not stop people from living their dreams. The late Ron Santo, a Hall of Fame baseball player, had the disease and Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler has it.

I, too, am living proof that diabetes is manageable – although I’m no match to Sierra in terms of beauty, grace and charm. Better management has allowed me to overcome blindness and open-heart surgery and keep a mild case of kidney disease in check. I’m 64 years old and never felt better. 
I enjoy hearing stories about people overcoming obstacles such as diabetes, so I was bowled over by Sierra’s story about winning the Miss Idaho Pageant and I’m sure many other people were, too.

Sierra, no doubt, will get some great coaching on her way to the Miss America competition. One of her supporters is Nicole Johnson, who knows a thing or two about winning pageants. She was Miss America in 1999 and won while wearing an insulin pump. Johnson has continued to stay involved with the American Diabetes Association and on the front lines of the war against this “silent killer.” Johnson’s story made Sierra realize it was OK to wear an insulin pump in competition and Sierra has inspired others, including 12-year-old McCall Salinas, Miss Idaho’s Outstanding Preteen. McCall, who has diabetes, was backstage during the Miss Idaho pageant, cheering on Sierra. After the event, McCall told her mom she was ready to get an insulin pump to better manage the disease.

“It brought me to tears,” Sierra wrote.

Seeing the photo of her walking the stage in the Miss Idaho contest doesn’t tell the story of the heartaches and challenges that came from being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – which means her pancreas cannot produce insulin. She tells it well in her official Miss Idaho blog.

“My world was flipped upside down by my diabetes diagnosis,” she wrote. For a while, I pretended that I didn’t have diabetes, hoping it would go away. That led to crazy blood sugars, of course, and a very sick, grumpy and discouraged Sierra.”

In her case, denial led to acceptance, which opened the door for this young woman to be the inspiration she is.

So, does she have a chance to win? Let’s review the criteria: “Miss America represents the highest ideals. She is a combination of beauty, grace and intelligence, artistic and refined. She is the type which the American girl might well emulate.”

If this is the standard, then give her the crown now and play a clip of old Bert Parks belting out the tune, “Here she is …” No one could possibly argue that she isn’t “America’s ideal.”

But remember this if those stuffy judges give it to someone else. Sierra doesn’t need another crown to prove that she’s a winner in life.

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malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley will be doing more than watching the Election Day results in November. He’ll be keeping an eye on Republican winners, because his job depends on it.

Perhaps even more than the governor’s race, the state’s direction hinges on the outcome of the legislative races. Bedke, who won by a narrow margin in 2012, is no lock to win re-election. Critics – and there are plenty of them within the conservative wing of the GOP caucus – say he hasn’t done enough to bring opponents to his side.

“He’s leading with the D’s, and that’s no way to lead,” said one Republican House member.

For certain, Bedke could not have gotten through the implementation of a state-run health exchange without the help of Democrats.

“A majority of the Republican caucus voted against the exchange and the only way it passed was with the help of Democrats,” said Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens (Kootenai County). “That would not have happened under the previous speaker.”

Barbieri also opposes Bedke on Common Core education standards and fears that the speaker could push for Medicaid expansion. Barbieri isn’t alone with in his complaints about Bedke’s leadership. Earlier this month, the Idaho Statesman’s Dan Popkey wrote an excellent piece, talking to two of Bedke’s leading critics from the conservative side – Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa and Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude of rural Ada County.

But complaints against Bedke and the more moderate “Otter” Republicans are empty without a viable conservative alternative, and that’s a problem. The bench is thin. Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star has the resume, but he has told others that he is not interested in the speaker’s job because it would signify the beginning of the end of his legislative career. Rep. Tom Loertscher of Bone, the longtime chairman of the State Affairs Committee, also has the qualification. The question is whether he wants to stay on for another term or two. In Popkey’s article, Crane offered himself as a potential candidate for speaker. The question is whether he is ready for such an assignment. My guess is he is not.

Bedke, in many ways, has done a good job leading the House and a divided GOP caucus. He’s highly intelligent, engaged in the issues and has superior knowledge about budgeting. He’s also a superb communicator with the media, a trait not often found with Republicans.

Conservative members have a different view, as Popkey’s article outlined. Crane says that Bedke’s style has made the GOP divisions worse.

“It’s about divide and conquer, and that’s not leadership,” Crane told Popkey. “Leadership provides direction, provides a vision, provides a mission of where we’re going and gets people united. It’s not about dividing people so you can manipulate the process.”

Others within the caucus are less kind. He often is described as “mean,” “vindictive,” “dictatorial” and “condescending.”

Bedke is more likely to get favorable reviews from Democrats than conservative members of his caucus. House Democrat Leader John Rusche of Nez Perce gives Bedke high marks for fairness and sensible approaches to some issues, but says some fellow Democrats see him as condescending.

Criticism of House speakers is nothing new. In some respects, Bedke reminds me of the late Tom Stivers, who ruled with an iron fist in the 1980s. Critics also accused him of being “mean” and “vindictive.” I also see in Bedke some of the qualities of now-Congressman Mike Simpson in terms of intelligence, decisiveness and savvy with the media.

Bedke could do better for himself by taking some of the qualities of his friend and former speaker, Bruce Newcomb. Newcomb often alienated some of the more conservative members of his caucus, but he had a way of bringing people back to the fold – often with his friendly nature and sense of humor.
Bedke’s style of humor does not always hit home with legislators as Popkey’s article illustrated. As Crane was discussing the need for party unity, Bedke reportedly came back with, “What do you want, Crane, more ice cream socials?”

Those who heard the conversation were laughing like schoolyard bullies, but it was hardly funny to Crane – and hardly a way for Bedke to bring conservative members to his side.

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