Writings and observations

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I first met Cecil Andrus in 1966, when I was13. My dad introduced us, and I was impressed. Andrus had kind eyes, took time for everyone, and conveyed real interest in each person he met. Four years later, along with a dozen other Lewiston High School teenagers, I spent a summer knocking on doors working to secure Andrus the Democratic nomination for governor. 18-year-olds had not yet won the right to vote, but we were determined to make a difference.

In those days, state primaries were held in late summer. So it was on a hot August night in a store front headquarters on the low-rent end of Main Street that we celebrated his nomination. Three months later, the “north came in” (which it did back then) and at the ripe age of 39, Cece Andrus was elected governor. When the legislature convened in 1971, I was a page sitting in the House chamber proudly watching our new governor deliver his first state of the state address.

Andrus often quoted from Proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” No one listening to that state of the state speech could doubt that Cece Andrus had both insight and foresight. His vision for the state was manifest – excellent public schools, including kindergartens; a healthy and sustainable natural environment, with clean air and clear water; and a vibrant business environment where labor, no less than capital, received its due.

Being well-acquainted with a fair number of politicians, I know that the public persona often differs from the private individual. But Cece Andrus was authentic. Comfortable in his own skin, he was consistent – wise, tough-minded, loyal, and kind.

When our son Jason was just 5 years old, and a year before being elected to his third term as governor, Andrus was the guest of honor at a political event at our home. Jason was thrilled to meet the governor and, afterwards, using his best printing, wrote him a letter: “Dear Governor Andrus, Thank you for coming to our home. I think you are a wonderful governor. Love, Jason – Age 5.”

A few days later, Jason opened our mailbox to find a hand-printed letter addressed to him. It read: “Dear Jason, Thank you for your letter. I think you are a wonderful boy. Love, Cecil – Age 48.”

That kind of personal care and concern was a hallmark of the governor’s interactions with his fellow Idahoans. Many years later, when my dad was in the winter of his life, Cece dropped by the hospital after visiting hours and talked the staff into bending the rules so he could say hello to his “old friend Fred.”

In 1990, in his last run for governor, Cece asked Pete and me to co-chair his re-election effort in Ada County. The governor announced his candidacy at the grade school his granddaughter attended. I was in charge of the logistics and wanted everything to go smoothly. The day was sunny but windy and the podium, flanked by Idaho and American flags, was buffeted by gusts of wind.

As the governor stepped to the podium to speak, the wind picked up and the American flag rapidly unfurled, draping the governor. I was mortified thinking I should have thought to secure it in advance. But Andrus didn’t miss a beat. “You’ve heard of politicians wrapping themselves in the flag,” he said. “But this may be the first time the flag has wrapped itself around a politician!” The crowd roared its approval.

This week, Governor Andrus will again be draped in the American flag. The man may have passed, but his vision endures. I think if he could give us marching orders from the great beyond, it would come in a hand-written note, reading something like this: “Dear friends, Thanks for remembering me. Now get to work and realize our vision. Love, Cecil.”

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For those a long time around Idaho, losing Cecil Andrus is like losing a member of the family.

When I first arrived in Idaho in 1973, his was one of the few Gem State names I’d ever heard. He was then well into his first term as governor, following his second run for the office. At his death this week he had been a well-known Idahoan and a representative leader of the state for longer than just about anyone I can think of; statistically at least, he was governor longer than anyone else, and never was he a mere caretaker.

But it was a while before this point about him came clear to me: He didn’t get there by dint of deep Idaho roots; he didn’t, in a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere, live on a road named for his grandparents. At the time he first ran for governor, in 1966, he’d been in the state little more than a decade, moving to Orofino from Oregon in the spring of 1955 as a logger. He was elected to the state Senate only half a decade after his Idaho arrival. (Barely a decade after that, he was United State Secretary of the Interior.)

That alone speaks to something unusual about his capabilities in politics. Too often the word “politician” is used as a derogatory; it ought to be a term of praise, and as a natural politician Andrus stands as a good demonstration of why.

Those reasons weren’t immediately obvious back then, and have little to do with his charismatic presence, though Andrus was one of those people whose presence in a room is immediately felt. His urbane surface with well-chosen words and that smart you-know-and-I-know wink developed over time, and his entry into politics famously was said to come in a fit of anger. (A local Republican apparently taunted him that it was a good thing he didn’t run for the legislature, because he would have been clobbered; Andrus took the bait and defeated the Republican incumbent.)

But his instincts about how to run for office and about how to act and govern once there seemed to come from somewhere deeper; seem almost to have been there all along. They seemed rooted where they should, in an understanding of human nature stronger than most people have.

He also had a deep understanding of Idaho, and in turn he helped change the way Idahoans thought about themselves.

When Martin Peterson and I some years back published a list of the most influential Idahoans in state history, we ranked Andrus at 16, and the main argument about that was the contention he should have ranked higher. We did rank him higher than any other governor, and his long-time associate and columnist Chris Carlson built a book about him around the title, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor.” His effects on education, environmental protection and economic development in the state have been enormous.

Peterson and I suggested, “One of Andrus’ greatest impacts may be psychological: He added in 1970 a new dimension to the way Idahoans think about their state, when he campaigned in part on ‘quality of life’ as an important ideological consideration.” It had not much been part of the way Idahoans thought about their state before then, but it has been ever since.

Andrus left the governorship in 1995, and has not sought or held office since. But he has been visible through the years, taking a role on issues, mentoring people and helping candidates, building community activities such as the foundation started under his name.

That’s his role in the family. He carried it superbly.

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Water rights weekly report for July 3. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

For years, Oregon water activists have proposed a set of serious studies to better understand how the state’s groundwater system works.
The latest attempt, a serious push at the state legislature this year, has collapsed at the Statehouse.

IC Potash on June 12 said that ICP and Intercontinental Potash Corp. (USA) have received a formal offer from the company H20 of Lea County to purchase ICPUSA’s Capitan Reef Complex Aquifer water. H20 is committed to building the required infrastructure and providing the equipment costing approximately USD$2M at no cost to ICPUSA. The potential annual revenue for ICPUSA is USD$4M to USD$6M under the proposed offer by H20.

The regionally well-known Stanley Ranch, located not far from Hawthorne, Nevada, will pass into the hands of the Walker River Pauite Tribe – together with its water rights. Long privately-owned, the ranch in recent years has been held by the Walker Basin Conservancy (which was founded at about the same time).

A water priority call in the Idaho Wood River Valley was dismissed on June 7 by state Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman. The rejection does not necessarily mean the request by senior water right holders lacks validity. Instead, the petition from the Big Wood and Little Wood Water Users Association was turned down on what Spackman said was a lack of standing – the association did not itself constitute an affected party.

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Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly – they’re a good device – but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars – the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information – which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

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Despite the fact that the number of persons incarcerated in federal prisons is at a ten-year low, in February U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department policy of phasing out the government’s use of private prisons.

Sessions claimed the use of for-profit prisons was necessary “to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” This was news to the law enforcement community because the federal prison population has been on the decline since 2013. There are presently about 189,000 federal prisoners, of which around 21,000 are in private prisons.

Federal experience with private prisons has been much like that experienced by Idaho. That is,for-profit facilities have had more safety and security problems than government facilities. Let’s not forget the “gladiator school” scandal at the Idaho prison formerly operated by Corrections Corporation of America (now, CoreCivic, which is one of the federal contractors). The Idaho prison was understaffed and time-keeping records were substantially inflated. However, the company did not scrimp on campaign contributions. In sum, the private prison was a bad experience for our good state.

Perhaps Sessions’ rationale for embracing privately run prisons comes into better focus in light of his May 12 directive to federal prosecutors to throw the book at criminal defendants. His view is that mandatory minimum sentences should be levied against even low-level, nonviolent drug offenders, a policy that has been discredited in Idaho and a majority of other states. It resulted in ballooning prison populations and expenditures, without making communities safer.

I have to admit that I supported mandatory minimum sentences for drug kingpins during my tenure as Idaho Attorney General in the 1980s.

However, Idaho and other states have come to realize that long mandatory sentences are not appropriate for every offender. They tie the hands of judges who are best positioned to tailor the appropriate punishment for the crimes committed by a particular defendant. And, while they do not reduce recidivism, they do needlessly inflict damage on the families of low-risk offenders. In 2014, Idaho adopted the Justice Reinvestment Act to provide for earlier release of low-level offenders, to provide greater supervision of those individuals to ensure their success, to reduce the number of repeat offenders, and to reduce the cost of Idaho’s prison program. The legislation had broad-based support and holds out great promise for success.

During the last Congress, bipartisan support was developing to implement similar sentencing reform on the federal level until then-Senator Sessions helped to derail the effort. Even our own Congressman Raul Labrador spoke in favor of reform. Now, it appears that AG Sessions intends to take us back to the bad old days of mass incarceration.

This may be a boon to the private prison companies but it will be no favor to taxpayers. The new federal policy will not affect Idaho’s prison system directly but it may plant the idea that states need to follow the federal leader back to discredited incarceration practices.

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Water rights weekly report for May 1. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

The National Park Service is putting its water shortage action plan into effect, following the state’s call to cease withdrawing water from Annie Creek. Crater Lake National Park staff are asking all visitors and employees to use water wisely during the water supply shortage.

The San Luis Obispo Coastkeepers and Los Padres ForestWatch, two central-coastal California environmental groups, on May 5 sued the Santa Maria Water Conservation District to demand a different schedule on water be released to help with preservaton of the Southern California steelhead trout.

A First Nations geographer, a legal historian and a global expert on water access and sustainability will be asking — and answering — big questions about water at the Calgary Institute for Humanities (CIH) 37th annual community forum, May 12. The forum, Water in the West: Rights to Water/Rights of Water, will explore environmental concerns about water and First Nations’ perspectives on the precious resource. “First Nations are tremendously impacted by water issues, from access to clean water to resource development. And of course there’s also a spiritual dimension to water in almost every culture,” says Jim Ellis, a professor of English and director of the CIH, whose mission is to support and promote the values of humanities-based research.

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Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow.

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Ask a Donald Trump supporter about the developer’s appeal as a candidate and you’ll likely hear – at least in the early days – about how, since he was so rich, no one could buy him. For many, it was an article of faith that the guy would simply underwrite his campaign.

It sounded plausible, on the surface: If a man worth $10 billion, as Trump liked to proclaim he was, really wanted to run for president, surely he could come up with a tenth of that to fund a campaign.

It didn’t work out that way, of course. Trump is surely worth less than $10 billion – how much less is unclear – but he is evidently unable to get his hands on more than a few million at a time. He has spent some money on the race (some of which has been recycled through his businesses), but he most certainly has taken campaign contributions.

At one point last summer, NBC TV reported the Trump campaign was planning to fundraise enough that the candidate can be repaid for his own “contributions” to the campaign.

Trump has been raising contributions.

A lot of contributions, in fact.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Trump’s campaign has raised $218.8 million. About $92 million have come from individuals, but a sizable chunk of that comes from big contributors.

Beholden? He’s plenty beholden. – rs

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A president who aims to look out for this country has to think of its well-being in terms of something more than talking points, and look at it in terms broader than for himself alone.

Donald Trump’s campaign has given us repeated examples to the contrary, enough that several allied points can be drawn from them.

But focus here for a moment on one in particular – the largest catastrophe the United States has faced in at least the last decade.

That was the 2008 crash of the housing market and finance system, a crash foreseen, to one size or another, by a good many people (though not nearly enough of those in a position to do something about it in advance).

Two years before it happened, developer Trump said he doubted a crash would happen. You could ding him to some extent for a lack of foresight, but he was hardly alone on that count.

Where he was unusual, if not totally alone, was on this: He hoped such a crash would happen.

Never mind the terrible effects on millions of people, the collapse of huge businesses, the devastating effect on the United States.

Trump said this:

“I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said in a 2006 audiobook from Trump University, answering a question about “gloomy predictions that the real estate market is heading for a spectacular crash.”

As CNN reported, “The U.S. housing bubble burst two years later, triggering the stock market crash of 2008 that plunged the U.S. economy into a deep recession, leaving millions of Americans unemployed. Trump was speaking with Jon Ward, a marketing consultant who “masterminded all the initial education programs for Trump University,” according to his website. The audiobook is available on iTunes.”

Trump continued: “If there is a bubble burst, as they call it, you know you can make a lot of money,” Trump said in the 2006 audio book, “How to Build a Fortune.” “If you’re in a good cash position – which I’m in a good cash position today – then people like me would go in and buy like crazy.”

Don’t count on him to help the United States avert the next crash. – rs

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A good look at how Donald Trump uses the language – the method behind the madness.

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