Writings and observations

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

The consensus seems to be that June was a disaster for first district Congressman Raul Labrador. First he presided over what most people are saying was the worst and least productive Republic state convention in Idaho’s history. Then he ran for House Majority Leader and appears to have been soundly trounced.

If his long-range plans call for building a career as an influential member of Congress, or for running for higher office, then the month was largely a disaster. But what if his long-range plans have goals unrelated to remaining in elective office?

The truth is, Labrador hasn’t seemed to be strongly driven by the need to deliver measurable results to his district, other than occasionally jumping on the bandwagon in support of legislation being sponsored by other members of Idaho’s delegation. Certainly not the way that former senators Jim McClure, Frank Church and Larry Craig were driven to address constituent needs. Nor the way that his second district counterpart Mike Simpson has been able to focus on strengthening the Idaho National Laboratory or trying to address issues related to wilderness.

Rather, most of his focus has been on pushing for a Congress that is philosophically true to the most conservative political dogma of the day. And he has been unflinching in this, with few exceptions. So unflinching that it has endeared him to many of the most conservative elements of our country. This unbending support of the far right philosophy and his natural ability to communicate in a calm and pleasant way has made him a favorite of the media.

Given all of this, why might June have been a great month for him? As chair of the state Republican convention, he was able to effectively work with the tea party group to keep the “regular” Republicans from controlling any element of the convention and actually keeping the delegations from two of Idaho’s largest counties, Ada and Bannock, from being seated. He was also able to assist in bringing far right standard bearers Rand Paul and Mike Huckabee to address the convention. While the convention accomplished absolutely nothing, the party gave no ground to those representing centrist Republican thought, even though tea party challengers were defeated by centrists in all but one statewide primary race.

The race for House Majority Leader was also an opportunity for Labrador to demonstrate that he is true to the interests of the far right. He was unafraid to take on the existing House leadership, along with most of the rest of the House, to voice his concerns about the need for the party and the House to shift much farther to the right, even though it likely further marginalized him as an effective House member.

So, given all of that, how does Labrador come out a winner?

He comes out a winner if, at some point, he contemplates leaving elective office and pursuing a career more financially lucrative than being either a Congressman or an Idaho immigration attorney. Former Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina followed this course, leaving his $174,000 a year Senate seat and becoming head of the Heritage Foundation earning over $1 million a year. According to reports filed with the IRS, leaders of seven prominent conservative groups average salaries well in excess of $500,000 a year.

The billionaire Koch brothers pump hundreds of millions of dollars into such organizations, including, in addition to the Freedom Foundation, Freedom Works, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity and Freedom Partners. The Koch brothers probably see little to disagree with in Congressman Labrador. In fact Freedom Works supported his candidacy for House Majority Leader.

Labrador is comfortable before both the camera and microphone and has become something of a national media favorite when it comes to the far right. He has appeared on most of the major national news programs and has made repeat performances on some Sunday talk shows, such as Meet the Press. In fact, during his brief campaign for Majority Leader, he indicated that one the strengths he had over his opponent, Congressman Kevin McCarthy, was his ability to work effectively with the news media.

So another financially lucrative path that could be open to the Congressman is would to join the ranks of former elected officials such as former Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Joe Walsh, and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee who have become highly paid broadcast personalities. In fact, in late March, Congressman Mike Rogers, chair of the powerful House Intelligence Committee, announced that he was resigning both his chairmanship and his House seat to become a radio talk show host.

Although Glenn Beck, another talk show host, has never held elective office, he and Labrador are cut from much the same cloth and appeal to similar audiences. According to journalist Zev Chafets, Beck’s annual income “is greater than the combined salaries of the entire U.S. Senate – and you can toss in a few dozen congressman and cabinet secretaries for good measure.”

Labrador’s wife and five children have remained in Idaho, perhaps largely because of the expense of housing and living in the Washington, DC area. If at some point he decides to leave the House and accept a high paying job with one of the options I have suggested, June 2014 will probably be viewed as a great month that helped make it all possible.

Marty Peterson is a native of the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Following the recent Idaho gubernatorial debate, I made a quick check on the internet to see whether Dick Tuck had moved to Idaho. Tuck was the legendary political prankster who plagued Richard Nixon through much of his career. For example, when Nixon ran for California governor, he did a whistle-stop trip through the state on a train. At one stop when he was speaking to a large crowd from the rear car, the train departed in mid speech. About the same time, Tuck was spotted wearing a train conductor’s uniform and cap.

Tuck is 90 years old and now lives in Arizona. And he is the kind of person who would have gladly shelled out the $300 per person filing fee for Walt Bayes and Harley Brown to make them part of the 2014 primary debate for Republican gubernatorial candidates. The debate looked as though it had been infiltrated by a combination of Duck Dynasty and Z.Z. Top.

For those who view Idaho politics as something of a joke, the debate was a huge success. So successful that it was featured on the Tonight Show, the Today Show, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, as well as overseas on German, Australian and British television.

However, for those of who have serious concerns about the present and future of Idaho, it was a disaster. Idaho once again came off looking to the rest of the world like a backwater state occupied by a bunch of know-nothing bumpkins. Certainly, Otter and Fulcher did fine, but they weren’t the focus of attention. The focus was on Bayes and Brown. For $300 each, they achieved Andy Warhol’s benchmark of fifteen minutes of fame.

There has been a lot of finger pointing trying to lay the blame for this fiasco. Some are blaming Governor Otter for insisting that Bayes and Brown be included in the debate. Others fault the media for allowing the Governor to dictate some debate rules. I’m not willing to point fingers at anyone, but I am willing to make some suggestions to ensure that we don’t see future repeats of this fiasco.

First and foremost, Idaho needs to change its filing laws for statewide office to better ensure the legitimacy of candidates who appear on the ballot. Present law allows anyone who is at least thirty years old and has lived in Idaho for two years to pay a $300 filing fee and sign a declaration of candidacy. Or, in lieu of the $300, you can submit a petition signed by 1,000 eligible Idaho voters. Why not amend the law and require both the payment and the petition, perhaps with some sort of statewide spread of signers similar to what is required for initiatives?

I also think that Idaho needs some sort of formal commission on debates for statewide office. Not a governmental entity, but a commission with representatives of the state media, the two major political parties and the voting public. This commission should, well in advance of elections, set specific dates and locations for debates and adopt fixed rules for the debates that aren’t subject to change by individual candidates. They should also set some sort of threshold to determine who constitutes a legitimate candidate. One such means would be to use the results of polling by professional polling firms and include only those candidates with something like 10% or greater support in the polls.

Without changes such as these, I expect to see Idaho becoming fair game for the Dick Tucks of the world. In fact it might become something of a national sport to see who can put together the wackiest and most attention getting Idaho candidates with the possibility that every four years programs such as the Tonight Show would spotlight the Idaho debates and invite some of the candidates onto national television to let the nation know how they, as Idahoans, propose to serve our state, the nation and the world. Not a bad return for a $300 investment. Especially if you don’t care how crude Idaho appears to the rest of the world.

Marty Peterson is a native of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I spent 36 legislative sessions wearing a variety of hats. During that time I got to know scores and scores of legislators. But when I look back at them, there is one who stands above the rest. He was Steve Antone, a farmer from Rupert who served in the Idaho House from 1969 until 1996.

He had a number of skills that would prove beneficial in his legislative work. He was intelligent, generally soft spoken, had a good sense of humor and the ability to get along with just about everyone.

For twelve years he chaired the important House Revenue and Taxation Committee. Most tax legislation in Idaho originates in that committee and, as a result, the chairmanship can be a powerful position. The twelve years Steve Antone chaired the committee were perhaps the most challenging from a budgeting and taxation standpoint that Idaho has ever seen.

In 1978, Idaho voters approved the 1% Initiative. Although well intended by its proponents, the initiative was incredibly flawed from a constitutional standpoint and unworkable from an administrative standpoint. Under Antone’s chairmanship, supporters and opponents of the measure, legislators and lobbyists alike, were able to come up with major revisions that provided limitations on the levying of property taxes by local governments, while still meeting various requirements of the state’s constitution and statutes.

I was executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities at this time and approached Antone about the possibility of his committee conducting a field hearing at the Association’s annual convention to receive input for city officials. No legislative committee had ever conducted a hearing outside of Boise. Antone gave it some thought, liked the idea, and took the committee to Coeur d’Alene that summer.

In the early 80s, Idaho’s natural resource based economy collapsed. Low prices for farm commodities, timber and minerals all combined to knock the bottom out of the state’s tax revenues. It was the worst fiscal situation the state had seen since the great depression. The solutions to the state budget problems had to be met with a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

It fell to Antone and his committee to approve the series of tax increases.

In some instances such as with the sales tax, it was simply a matter of increasing the rate. In other instances, such as with the insurance premium tax, it involved significantly re-writing portions of the law to broaden out the application of the tax. It is also important to recognize that Antone, a moderate, had some of the most conservative members of the House on his committee. For three legislative sessions Antone and his colleagues wrestled with the problems of the recession and, in the end, while some essential services were reduced, none were eliminated and the state went on to both recover and economically prosper for a couple of decades.

I was state budget director at that time and in that role was the Governor’s chief tax advisor. I was in the midst of that activity and can attest that without Antone’s leadership, Idaho could have ended up being a far different place.

Antone’s legislative district included the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley. While the legislature had made it clear that it did not support local option taxation, Antone felt that Ketchum and Sun Valley were a special case because much of the burden for local services was being brought about by tourists who didn’t pay local taxes. He embarked on an effort to provide for a special local option tax for resort cities. Resort cities being cities where tourism constituted the major portion of their economy.

The local option sales taxes now in place in 13 Idaho cities and Nez Perce county are all a result of Antone’s early success with the tax for Ketchum and Sun Valley.

Although these were all difficult situations, Antone’s leadership style made the difference in each case. Always level headed, he also had a good sense of humor that helped get things done. On one occasion four members of his committee were absent, which helped a bill to pass that might not have otherwise. After the vote, Antone announced that the vote had been a four gone conclusion.

Steve Antone was perhaps the most effective committee chair the Legislature has ever seen and certainly one of our all-time finest legislators. He was a true Idaho giant.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

In the spring of 1968, shortly before graduating from the University of Idaho, I drove down to Lewiston to hear Senator Frank Church speak at the old Lewis Clark Hotel. It was a standing room only crowd and I had managed to squeeze into the rear of the room. As I was leaving, I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I turned around and there was a lady I had never seen before with a wall-to-wall smile who said, “I saw you standing back here and I don’t believe that we have met. I’m Bethine Church.”
Little did either of us know that by year’s end, I would be in Washington, D.C., living in the Church’s guest room and joining Frank Church’s senate staff.

My initial meeting with her was vintage Bethine Church. She was the consummate politician, just as one would expect someone to be who had grown up in the midst of Idaho’s greatest political dynasty, the Clark family. Her father, Chase Clark, had been mayor of Idaho Falls, Governor of Idaho, and was appointed to a federal judgeship by President Roosevelt. Others in her family tree were governors, senators, federal and state judges. One was even Nancy Reagan’s press secretary.

When Chase Clark became Governor, Bethine moved to Boise and enrolled at Boise High School. There she quickly became friends with a group of students that included Frank Church, whom she later married. When Church eventually ran for the Senate in 1956, Chase Clark, Bethine Church and Frank Church’s best friend from high school, Carl Burke, formed the brain trust that helped Church unseat a Republican incumbent and win election to the Senate at age 32.

Joe Miller, a major political power broker in the latter half of the last century, came to Boise to advise the 1956 campaign. He had had a number of notable successes around the country and felt that the key to winning in a state like Idaho was political billboards. He laid out his strategy in a meeting at Judge Clark’s home that included Judge Clark, Frank and Bethine. Bethine blatantly told him that in Idaho his strategy wouldn’t work. An argument ensued, and Judge Clark told Bethine to go to the kitchen to help her mother. It was the last time that Bethine was placed in the back seat of a political campaign.

Her political instincts were excellent, her memory for faces and names was as good as it gets, and her knowledge of Idaho was remarkable. You could be driving down the road with her in a remote part of the state and she would suddenly tell you to turn right at the next country road. Then, a couple of miles down the road, she would tell you to pull into a farm yard where she would get out and go knock on the road. There would be delighted surprise on the face of the elderly woman who answered the door. And, before the day was over, she would have called each of her seven children and her six brothers and sisters – all Idaho voters – to tell them about the wonderful surprise visit she had had from Bethine Church.

Bethine Church had a better understanding of Idaho politics than most people, including her husband. In fact, had she ever entered into a primary election against him, the odds would have been in her favor.

In 1974, when Church was up for re-election, I was no longer on his staff and was living back in Idaho. It seemed to me that Frank Church was not as engaged in seeking re-election as he should be and that he could well be vulnerable to defeat. I took my concern to Bethine. We spent a couple of hours together and I laid out the reasons for my concern. I don’t know how much of an impact my concerns had, but in short order Frank Church became the kind of engaged candidate that I had first witnessed in the 1968 campaign. I have no doubt that Bethine was the driving force that activated him.
Bethine once told me that the Senator had told her that the thing that he most wanted from her was to have a comfortable home and a family he could be proud of. For those of who were fortunate enough to spend time in the Church home, they had succeeded on both counts.

When Frank Church passed away, Bethine had to decide how she was going to spend the rest of her life. I can remember visiting with her and both of us agreeing that there were few things sadder in Washington, D.C., than the widows of once important people trying to continue to live in a little bit of the spotlight they had once enjoyed. She knew better than that and decided to move back to Idaho, where she could continue to be a big fish in a little bowl. Next to marrying Frank Church, it was the best decision she ever made.

When I retired last year, Bethine shared the stage with Governor and Mrs. Otter and other dignitaries I had had the good fortune to work with over the years. Physically, she was just a shadow of her former self, confined to a wheel chair and engulfed in a fur coat. But she took the microphone and her remarks were, for me, the highlight of the program. In her ninth decade, her body might have failed her, but her mind was a good as it had ever been.

Bethine Church was a remarkable person in every way. Together with Frank Church, they constituted one of the most effective power couples Idaho is ever likely to see. What a wonderful Christmas gift to each of them that they are once again back together.

Marty Peterson is tiered and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

This month the airwaves and the print media have been flooded with every sort of story marking the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination. So why should I be the exception?

I had the privilege of seeing John F. Kennedy in person twice. The first time was on D Street in Lewiston when he was still a senator campaigning for the presidency. I don’t recall if it was in 1959 or 60. He arrived at the Lewiston airport and was driven in a motorcade to the Lewis Clark Hotel, where he was to deliver a speech. I was standing on D Street when they drove by.

In the spring of 1963, when I was attending Columbia Basin College, he came to the Tri Cities to dedicate a new reactor at Hanford. I had the good fortune to be there for his speech. Three giants of their time, President Kennedy, Senator Warren Magnuson and Senator Scoop Jackson were on the stage together. For me, it was an unforgettable afternoon.

I first heard of his assassination as I was walking across the parking lot at CBC getting ready to go to Lewiston for a weekend National Guard drill. Later that weekend, someone brought a TV set to the armory and we witnessed Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald. It was a remarkable chain of events.

I never met President Kennedy, but I’ve had a handful of interesting Kennedy related occurrences over the years. I have known a couple of people who served on Kennedy’s White House staff. One of them, Dan Fenn, had a home in suburban Maryland with a pool which was a great place to cool off on hot summer days when I was living in Washington, DC. Dan became the first director of the Kennedy Library. His son, Peter, was on Frank Church’s staff for many years. In 1984 I had the opportunity to attend summer school a Harvard where Dan was one of my faculty members. It was wonderful to renew that friendship. Today, at age 90, he continues as an active member of the Harvard faculty. This week he will be in Washington for a reunion of the few remaining members of the Kennedy staff.

Although I never met President Kennedy, I did meet his brother Ted and daughter Caroline. Caroline Kennedy and her mother before her have been strong supporters of the Ernest Hemingway Collection project at the Kennedy Library. As a sometimes Hemingway scholar I have spent many pleasant hours doing research at the library. In 1999, I did the planning outline for the Kennedy Library’s Hemingway Centennial dinner featuring a group of Nobel Prize winning authors and hosted by Caroline Kennedy. Although my planning efforts brought great praise, I ended up being stuck in the University of Washington Medical Center having major surgery the night of the dinner.

But I also had one episode related to President Kennedy that, in my mind, borders on the bizarre.

In 1971 I was asked to co-host an exchange visit by a group of young political leaders from the USSR. When you do one of these exchanges, gifts for the visitors are almost mandatory. So I had a discussion with the State Department to determine what would be appropriate. They told me not to worry about it. They would take care of the gifts and bring them to a reception we were hosting.

True to their word, they showed up with several heavy boxes containing the gifts. When I finished making my welcoming remarks, I turned to the State Department person for the gifts we were to present. Out of the boxes came hardbound copies, in Russian, of the Warren Commission Report. There was something of a stunned silence. But I did have my wits well enough in control that I managed to make off with one of the books. It is still have in my library.

If for no other reason, I wanted to have actual proof that this had happened and I wasn’t simply making it up.

Perhaps the reasoning was that they wanted these young political leaders to be able to read the report and see that we weren’t blaming the assassination on the Russians. Or maybe it was just an insensitive blunder. Who knows?

Marty Peterson is a native of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I first arrived in Washington, D.C. near the end of 1968 as a newly hired member of Senator Frank Church’s staff. I soon became friends with several members of Congressman Tom Foley’s staff and was invited to begin joining them for after hours gatherings in Foley’s office.

Sometimes events of the day on the Hill were discussed. Other times Foley would use his encyclopedic knowledge of U.S. history and government to explain how the founding fathers intended government to work.

Foley was first elected to the House in 1964. Before that he had served for several years on Senator Henry M. Jackson’s staff. Because of that staff experience, I think he felt a special kinship to congressional staffers. Others have suggested that because he and his wife Heather had no children, these sessions were in fact gatherings of the Foley family. Regardless of the reason, Foley took me under his wing and until I left Washington in 1971, we maintained a close relationship.

One time I was co-hosting a group of young political leaders from the Soviet Union as part of an exchange program. They arrived in Washington in the midst of a major anti-war protest with accordion wire and armed military personnel in wide use. Kennedy Stadium had been converted into an open air jail. I asked Foley if he would host a luncheon in the Capitol for the group and try to explain to them that the U.S. wasn’t trying to emulate to Soviet Union in controlling its citizenry. He did a terrific job of working his way through a difficult situation. Years later it came as no surprise to me that he became U.S. ambassador to Japan.

After Cecil Andrus was elected Governor in 1970, I asked Foley if he would join Frank Church in co-hosting a reception honoring Andrus at the Capitol. He did and the result was a reception filled with many of the best known Senators and Congressmen of the era.

In 1971 I decided to leave Washington and return to Idaho. On my last day in the office, I received a midafternoon phone call. Picking up the phone, a voice said, “Marty, this is Tom. You aren’t really planning on leaving Washington without getting together for a couple of beers are you.” So I spent the rest of my last day as a Senate staff member drinking beer with Tom Foley.

A former Foley staffer, Todd Woodard, was quoted in the Spokesman Review as saying that “He taught us that public service really was a higher calling and an honorable profession.” I would certainly second that.

Foley was a remarkable individual in many ways. My relationship with him was not unlike the relationships he had with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. He rose through the leadership ranks without ever having another member compete against him.

When he was elected Speaker, he understood that the Speaker of the House was the speaker of all of the house, not just of the Democrats. That is certainly an attitude that was never seemed to have been shared by his successors, Gingrich, Hastert, Pelosi or Boehner.

Foley was dignified, always being careful to wear a suit and tie in public. He was also caring, highly intelligent, and had a great sense of humor. In fact some of the best jokes I ever heard from Foley were jokes that he told on himself. And his major focus, in spite of his various national leadership roles, was always to make sure that his home constituency in eastern Washington was served in the best way possible.

Two recent books talk about the era when Tom Foley was a member of the House: “The Last Great Senate: Courage and Statesmanship in Times of Crisis” by Ira Shapiro; and “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked” by Chris Matthews. These books should be required reading for all current members of the House and Senate. Congress has worked in the past and did have as its focus doing whatever it deemed best for the American public, rather than whatever it takes to get re-elected.

Given the current state of Congress, I am grateful that I had an opportunity to learn much of what I know about the way that government should work from a teacher like Tom Foley. I’ve never been one to think that we should return to the “good old days.” But perhaps there are some other Tom Foleys out there somewhere on the horizon who will be able to help get the Congress and the country back on track.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

My wife, Barb, and I were in Lewiston this week for the NAIA World Series. In my mind, even though I live in the land of the Blue Turf, it’s the best sporting event in Idaho. It’s also an annual reminder of the great baseball heritage of the Lewis-Clark valley, as well as the rest of Idaho.

Several years ago, when our current governor was a member of congress, he and I were spending an evening out on the town in Washington, D.C. During the evening we ran into Congressman Mary Bono and had a drink with her and her then boyfriend. He told me that he had lived in Idaho at one time. The, correcting himself, said that he had actually lived across the border in Washington. It turned out that he had played baseball at LCSC and lived in Clarkston.

The University once had a great tradition of baseball, fielding teams from 1890 until 1980.

Some of the greats coming out of that program included Bob Dillinger, who played for the Browns, Athletics, Pirates and White Sox, and Frank Reberger, who played for the Cubs, Padres and Giants. Bill Stoneman, another former Vandal, spent eight years as general manager of the Los Angeles Angels and was the most successful general manager in the team’s history.

Certainly the two best baseball players with Idaho roots were Walter Johnson and Harmon Killebrew. Johnson played for the Weiser Kids in 1906-07 and went on to become one of the first five members elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Killebrew grew up in Payette and also ended up in the Hall of Fame.

A number of well-known players came through Lewiston playing for the Lewis-Clark Broncs. I can remember getting to know Rick Monday when he was renting the basement apartment in a friend’s home in Clarkston.

Probably the best known product of the Broncs was Reggie Jackson. He wrote about his time in Lewiston in his memoir, “Reggie,” and got most of it wrong, apparently mistaking his time in Lewiston for his time in Birmingham, Alabama. But he did have fond memories about spending time at Bojacks.

After his retirement from baseball, Jackson would team up with commentators Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell doing commentary on ABC sports. Keith Jackson was another sports personality who got this start in Lewiston. But his start was as a disk jockey working for KLER.

Another valley connection to Reggie Jackson was the late Mike Miltenberger from Clarkston.

Mike had a terrific arm and pitched in Single A ball for two seasons. When he was playing for Fresno in the California League, he pitched against Reggie Jackson twice. Jackson was playing for Modesto. Mike wasn’t one to brag about his accomplishments, but he did once tell me, with a big grin on his face, that he had a perfect record of striking Jackson out every time he pitched against him.

One of this year’s blockbuster movies is “42” the story of Jackie Robinson, Branch Rickey and the integration of major league baseball. The little known Idaho connection with this story is with Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, who recruited and signed Robinson in 1947.

In 1911, Rickey graduated from law school at the University of Michigan. He and two of his classmates looked around for a place to settle and make their fortune. They decided that Idaho’s best attorney was probably William E. Borah and with Borah in the Senate, his former clients just might be available. They moved to Boise and opened shop. But by 1913, with few clients, Rickey left Boise, joined the front office staff of the St. Louis Browns, and went on to make history.

Baseball is, and always will be, America’s sport, and it’s great to know that Idaho has played a significant role in that baseball tradition.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Ronald Reagan was a staunch conservative and Tip O’Neill was an equally staunch liberal. But both were old school and also believed in the art of political compromise. As a result, Reagan and O’Neill worked together on a series of successful compromises that included revisions in Social Security, working with Margaret Thatcher on establishing the Anglo-Irish Accord for peace in North Ireland, and beginning the thaw in the Cold War after O’Neill delivered a message to Mikhail Gorbachev from Reagan.

Unfortunately, in recent years there have been few major national issues that have been successfully addressed through political compromise. The end game today is playing for media sound bites and maneuvering for imagined political advantage in the next election cycle.

Now the U.S. Senate has taken a page from the playbook used earlier times when bipartisan coalitions were the norm for dealing with major issues. The issue is immigration reform and it now appears that as many as 70 Senators from both sides of the aisle may be prepared to support the bill developed by the bipartisan Gang of Eight, although the coalition probably won’t include either of Idaho’s senators.

Earlier this week I was moderator for a Boise City Club forum featuring Grover Norquist, arguably the most influential conservative voice in Washington, D.C. His subject was “Why Conservatives Should Support Immigration Reform.” He is supportive of the Senate bill for a number of reasons, but primarily because he believes that it will benefit the nation’s economy.

He is also a political pragmatist who sees the handwriting on the wall for the Republican party if they continue to offend the growing number of Hispanic voters by opposing immigration reform.

The national issue that eclipses immigration is federal deficit reduction. It is another issue that will only be successfully dealt with by forming bipartisan coalitions willing to make some compromises on issues such as entitlements, taxes and defense spending.

One of the biggest obstacles to bi-partisan compromise solutions on deficit reduction is none other than Grover Norquist, the champion of bi-partisan compromises on immigration reform. Norquist, through his organization Americans for Tax Reform, has gotten nearly every Republican in Congress to sign his pledge to not raise taxes of any sort. If a member has signed and continues to honor the pledge, he or she will only support deficit reduction efforts that focus on spending cuts.

But a growing number of Republicans who have signed that pledge have determined that it has grown irrelevant as they seek ways to reduce the deficit. Two of those individuals are Idaho’s Senator Mike Crapo and Congressman Mike Simpson. Both have indicated that everything, including revenue increases, has to be on the table as the President and Congress deal with the deficit.

Peter King, a Republican Congressman from New York, said it best several months ago on “Meet the Press.” “A pledge you signed 20 years ago, 18 years ago, is for that Congress,” King said. “For instance, if I were in Congress in 1941, I would have signed a declaration of war against Japan. I’m not going to attack Japan today. The world has changed. And the economic situation is different.”

If Congress succeeds in dealing with the immigration issue on a bi-partisan compromise basis, perhaps the gates will have opened to similar efforts to deal with other major issues such as deficit reduction.

It would be good to have the shrill voices of no-compromise special interests on both side of the aisle grow increasingly irrelevant and have the real interests of the American people once again take center stage in Washington. Making Congress a respected and productive part of American society, as it once was, is in everyone’s best interest.

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

I have always been extremely optimistic about Idaho and its future. Several years ago an Idaho journalist wrote a piece about being so depressed about living in Idaho that he was moving to another state. I was incensed and wrote a strong rebuttal that was picked up by several papers and brought me an offer from a news syndicate to begin writing for them. An offer which I declined.

But now I am seeing some disturbing statistics that are leaving me wondering if my optimism is really justifiable.

The fact that we lead the nation in the percentage of workers receiving the minimum wage is troubling. In 2011 5% of all of our workers were in minimum wage jobs. By 2012 the number had grown to 7.7%. By way of comparison, the rate for Montana is 1.5%, Oregon 1.1% and Washington 1.7%.

In Idaho we make it more attractive for recruiting employers that pay the minimum wage by keeping our minimum wage well below that of our neighboring states. Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Montana is $7.80, Oregon, $8.95, Nevada $8.25 and Washington $9.19.

Idaho’s median wage – half earn more and half earn less – is $18.48, which is 84 percent of the national average. Our statewide average wage places us in 45th place nationally.

Idaho’s population has grown significantly in recent decades. Much of that has come from people migrating to Idaho in search of better jobs and, for some, an improved quality of life.

But now we are seeing some rather startling new statistics concerning outmigration in Idaho.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, in 2012 57,270 members of Idaho’s work force left the state. Nearly every age group under 55 experienced a decline, with those in the 25 to 29 year age category declining both as part of the labor force and part of the overall population.

In 2008, Idaho had 10,500 people with doctoral degrees. Since then, 700 of those have left, followed by 2,400 with master’s degrees, 10,300 with bachelor’s degrees and 3,600 with associate degrees. These are 27,500 of Idaho’s best educated citizens who are leaving at a time when the State Board of Education has announced its intent to have 60% of Idahoans aged 25-34 hold a college degree or post-secondary certificate within the next seven years. Only three states have a lower percentage of their high school graduates going on to college than Idaho. A cynic might note that with fewer Idahoans aged 25-34 it might be easier to meet that goal.

A major concern for Idaho, with the high number of young educated people leaving the state, needs to be whether that trend extends to Idaho’s best and brightest high school graduates also leaving the state to attend college. Attracting businesses to Idaho that require a skilled workforce and that pay relatively high wages could prove to be a challenge under these circumstances.

However, there are job opportunities out there. Just consider two recent Idaho job fairs. Eight Idaho businesses recently grouped together to hold a job fair in Boise. That is the good news. These businesses are hiring. The other part of the story is that the eight businesses run call centers paying wages well below even Idaho’s median wage.

And then there was the recent job fair in Idaho Falls to recruit employees for jobs paying $64,000 a year with health insurance, a 401(k) retirement account, three weeks paid vacation and profit sharing. The job fair was in Idaho Falls, but the jobs were all in North Dakota.

Idaho is in the midst of some challenging times. Unfortunately, I’m currently having some difficulty seeing the silver lining. Minimum wage jobs and an unskilled workforce are a poor mix when it comes to preparing for a prosperous future.

Marty Peterson is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Peterson

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

One of the great traditions of the Idaho Legislature is the day they set aside each session to memorialize former members who passed away during the previous year. With the relatively high turnover of members, most of those who are memorialized are unknown to the current members. But it is a time for the departed former members to have one last day in the legislative sun. Families of those being memorialized are invited to sit in the visitors’ gallery while one of the current members recalls the years of service and accomplishments of the former member.

And, in those instances where the legislator doing the memorial actually knew the deceased, there are anecdotes, often humorous, about the individual.

I have always felt it unfortunate that once a person leaves the Legislature they are usually so quickly forgotten. But, with the exception of the highest ranking elected officials, such as governors and U.S. senators, once you leave office, all of the effort you made and your occasional accomplishments, no matter how significant, are forgotten. Well, the accomplishments may well be remembered, but not the fact that you were responsible for them. The same is even more true with elected local officials with cities, counties and school districts.

All of this brings to mind the passing, forty years ago this week, of one of Idaho’s most dedicated public officials, Edward V. Williams. For many who recall the name, it will most likely be associated with the Edward V. Williams Conference Center at Lewis Clark State College. For those who don’t recall Ed and his many years of dedicated service to the people of Lewiston and the state of Idaho, let me take this opportunity to bring him back, even if briefly, into the public spotlight.

I first met Ed Williams in April 1960. I was a seventeen year old junior at Clarkston High School and had received my parents’ approval to join the Idaho National Guard. Ed Williams, or Captain Ed, as he was known in the Guard, was battery commander of Headquarters Battery of the 148th Field Artillery. The night I joined the National Guard, he administered the oath. It was the beginning of a great friendship.

Ed was also an educator with the Lewiston School District and was extremely dedicated to his profession. Between his activities with students, teachers and administrators, and his service with the National Guard, he was a well-known and highly respected member of the community.

So much so that in 1963 he was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives. Ed was a popular legislator and was elected House Minority Leader by his Democratic colleagues. This is the same position that nearly fifty years later is now occupied by Rep. John Rusche of Lewiston.

Ed pushed the cause of education and also was a strong proponent of all things beneficial to his home district. It is no coincidence that, in his first year in the Legislature, legislation was approved making Lewis Clark Normal School an independent four-year college. Prior to that it had been operating for several years as a branch of the University of Idaho. He also became close friends with another area legislator, State Senator Cecil Andrus. When Andrus became governor in 1971, he tapped Ed to be his chief of staff. In 1972, Ed was the Democratic candidate for congress in Idaho’s first congressional district. He ran on a platform of
improving public education and government support for economic development. His opponent, Steve Symms, ran on a platform of “taking a bite out of government.” Symms won.

Ed then turned his efforts to working with a federally funded project to improve Idaho’s economy. As always, he had a great interest in making Idaho a better place for all of its citizens.

In mid-April 1973, I joined five friends on a spring backpacking trip through Hells Canyon. The group consisted of Jean and Sam Taylor, Darrell and Rochelle Manning, and Barbara Dodson, a recent University of Idaho graduate I had just begun dating and have now been married to for 38 years. Jean Taylor, Darrell Manning and I all had positions in the Andrus administration. When Ed Williams heard we were going to make that trip, he said that he and his cousin, Jack Bowman, would pick us up in a boat at Pittsburgh Landing, and take us 72 miles back to Lewiston. That was vintage Ed Williams, offering to take a 140 mile boat trip so we wouldn’t have to worry about shuttling vehicles between Hells Canyon Dam, where we began our trip, and Pittsburgh Landing, where it was to conclude.

The Snake was running extremely high when we boarded the boat. The boat swamped in the Imnaha Rapids and we were forced to abandon it. Both Ed Williams and Jack Bowman lost their lives.

Ed died doing what he did best – helping others. It’s been forty years since he passed away, but it is important to remind people that his isn’t just a name on a building on a college campus. His name is on that building because of the work he did to benefit the college, the citizens of Lewiston and all of Idaho. God bless you, Ed Williams.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Peterson