Monday, September 28, 2009
Eloquence in Politics and Religion Forrest Church, who died last week at 61, could, with his writings and sermons, be both strikingly eloquent and stunningly insightful. In that regard, he was clearly his father's son. It is a rare thing in public life these days to read the words or hear the voice of a truly eloquent thinker and writer. The late Idaho Senator - Frank Church - was that rare breed and so was his Unitarian minister son. Back in January 1984, with his father dying of cancer, Forrest spoke to his Church of All Souls congregation in New York City about death and life. He said that day that naturally all of us are afraid of death because "death is the ultimate mystery. But there is a way to counter this fear. We can live in such a way that our lives will prove to be worth dying for. It lies in our courage to love. Our courage to risk. Our courage to lose. Many people have said it in many different ways. The opposite of love is not hate. It is fear." Forrest Church was a man of religion and, importantly, a thinker about theology and all its mystery and uncertainty. He sought to make people think, not just believe. Forrest was also a skilled historian whose books on the basics of the American system, including freedom of speech, civil liberties and religion should be required reading for anyone who wants to struggle to undersand where we came from and where we might be going. A good collection of his writings can be found here. In an Easter sermon in 2008, while battling his own cancer, Church said: "We all are children of God. We all are sinners. We all can be forgiven if we will refrain from harsh judgment. Love casts out fear. God is love. And only love remains. Only the love we give away." Both father - the Senator was 59 - and son died much too young, but what lives they lived.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
One Election Does Not "Change" the Country Barack Obama has taken some grief, particularly among liberal Democrats, for making the observation (and repeating it) that Ronald Reagan's two terms in the White House fundamentally "changed the trajectory" of the country in ways that Bill Clinton's two terms, for example, did not. Candidate Obama got into one of those pointless (but totally consuming, made for the media) debates with Hillary Clinton last year when he said that Reagan, "put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it." Clinton charged Obama with "admiring Reagan" and wondered how any self respecting Democrat could possibly say something even halfway flattering about the GOP's favorite icon. Obama's obviously accurate analysis - Reagan did change the country - reminds me of the old line that in Washington, D.C. the definition of a gaffe is when a politician speaks the truth. Writer and historian Matthew Dallek (a former Dick Gephardt speech writer and son of presidential historian Robert Dallek) has a great take at Politico on Obama's own challenge in "changing the trajectory" of the country and rolling back "the culture of Reaganism" that he sees as "a remarkably resilient political force in late 2009." Matthew Dallek is a perceptive and not uncritical student of Reagan. He has written a fine book about Reagan's first election victory - the California governorship in 1966. There has long been - and remains - a healthy skepticism in America about government and about the whole notion of "change." Even the great presidents, widely admired as agents of change - Lincoln, Jackson, FDR, to name three - didn't find the job to be easy and all encountered tremendous resistence. So it goes with the current occupant of the White House.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
A (Random) Round-Up... W. Horace Carter was hardly a household name. He should have been, at least for journalists and civil libertarians. Carter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 for his crusading, small-town newspaper editorials against the Ku Klux Klan. He wrote more than 100 stories and editorials about the Klan and his reporting lead to countless arrests and convictions for violations of civil rights. Gutsy stuff in Tabor City, North Carolina when Jim Crow still ruled the south. Carter's recent obit in the New York Times is a fitting testament to the power of the press in the hands of a person determined to shine a bright light on injustice. Packwood the Candid Back in the day, Oregon Senator Bob Packwood held enormous regional and national power. The Northwest delegation at one time - Jackson and Magnuson of Washington, Church and McClure from Idaho, Hatfield and Packwood or Oregon - were as influential a half dozen as existed in the U.S. Senate. Packwood's fall - he resigned amid scandal in 1995 - was dramatic, but he re-invented himself as a very successful lobbyist (all those years on the Finance Committee) and recently gave a fascinating interview to Willamette Week. Must reading for any political junkie. Tweeting to Sacramento Still not convinced that the "new media" is changing politics? Check out this posting from the L.A. Times "Top of the Ticket" blog. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, one of many candidates for governor, has a million followers. Ironically, another Sacramento hopefull, eBay founder Meg Whitman, is hardly in the game. Light Rail - the Phoenix Story I confess to not understanding the reluctance of some folks, in the west particularly, to embrace the need for rail (and light rail) transportation alternatives. The rail debate has raged in Phoenix for years, but now with a 20 mile line connecting Tempe and downtown Phoenix the ridership is exceeding expectations and seems to be helping the desert capitol of the southwest with economic development. Elsewhere in the west, Salt Lake City and Portland are clearly ahead of the game when it comes to rail transit. The rest of the west is waiting - for what? Lower gas prices? And Finally... In one of the great dissents in Supreme Court history, Justice Louis Brandeis objected to warrantless wiretapping by the government. The case was decided in 1928, proving - if nothing else - that nothing ever seems to change. In his dissent, the great justice penned one of the memorable lines in American jurisprudence. “The greatest dangers to liberty,” Brandeis wrote, “lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” Melvin Urofsky, the editor of Brandeis' papers, has produced a new and timely biography of the fascinating judge and he makes the case that, “no justice of the 20th century had a greater impact on American constitutional jurisprudence.” Good reading. Good history.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Lava Lake Land and Livestock Claims Andrus Award Former Idaho Governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus has devoted his life of public service to finding the delicate sweet spot between a robust economy that produces good jobs and the conservation of the land, air and water that make so much of the western United States such a special place. Fifteen years ago, Andrus, fresh from his last of four terms as Idaho governor, had a major hand in helping launch Sustainable Northwest, a regional non-profit dedicated to helping nurture local collaboration aimed at sustainable economic development that fits with a conservation ethic. It is a terrific organization that has done much good work. This Thursday night in Portland, Sustainable Northwest presents its annual awards - named after Andrus - to, among others, Hailey, Idaho's Lava Lake Land and Livestock. Lava Lake produces - I'm biased, but I know my my lamb chops - the best grass-fed, organic lamb you can find anywhere. The ranch is the foothills of Idaho's Pioneer Mountains just southeast of Sun Valley. The ranch will be honored for its national leadership in sustainable agriculture and landscape scale conservation. Worthy recipients, great product, good for the economy and the environment.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Food Stamp Usage, Crisis Assistance Stretch Providers; Families Try to Cope Boise State Radio, the NPR station covering much of southern Idaho, has produced a remarkable series of stories this week focused on how the nation's economic trials have impacted Idahoans. It is the kind of journalism we sadly see too little of these days - no shrill political debate, none of the simple slogans that often tend to simplify an issue to the point of distortion. The station's news staff has touched a raw nerve with this material - a young woman talking about not wanting to use food stamps, but having no choice and homeless families out of work and nearly out of hope. The series - That Could Be Me - is available on line, at a website that lists a number of resources for those folks who often get attention only when unemployment numbers or food stamps usage is reported. [Full disclosure: the station asked me to moderate a roundtable discussion with various providers and others who are trying to offer services and make sense of the enormous increase in poverty over the last year. The roundtable discussion airs several times over the next few days. It was a sobering experience to begin to understand the impact of what is happening.] The 149,000 Idahoans using food stamps right now - that's a 40% increase - aren't welfare queens or shirkers, they are parents who have lost a job and in many cases have had to seek assistance for the first time in their lives. At the same time, public sector assistance has been stretched to the point of breaking and great organizations like the Salvation Army and Genesis World Mission lack the resources to fill the growing gap, much as they try. For those of us who have it pretty good in this awful economy - a job with benefits, a comfortable safe place to live, never a wonder about where the next meal will come from - BSU Radio's series is an uncomfortable wake up call. Thousands and thousands of our neighbors are really hurting. They need to be brought into the sunlight of public attention, not left in the often forgotten shadows of grinding poverty. This reporting does just that. BSU Radio News Director Elizabeth Duncan and her team have given us all the evidence we need to realize that we all have a responsibility in this time of national trial. All of the panelists who participated in the roundtable agreed, all of us need to know more about what living with poverty means, how it can impact an entire generation of children, how government budgets are woefully inadequate, how the very fabric of a community is frayed. This series is a good start. It will sober you up to the reality of a life of poverty in Idaho.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Jody Powell...Advisor and Spokesman The death this week of Carter Administration press secretary Jody Powell got me thinking about how he (and Jimmy Carter) fashioned the all important White House job. Say what you will about the Carter Administration (I believe history will treat the one-term Georgian better than many contemporaries) Powell played the high profile role of press secretary just about right, I think. He was the rare press secretary who successfully mixed the duties of trusted advisor to the president with the ringmaster role of daily care and feeding of the White House press corps. Franklin Roosevelt and his "secretary" Steve Early, invented the modern White House press operation and Powell played very much the same role in working with his president as Early did with FDR. (By the way, there is a fine recent book about Early and the key role he played - virtually deputy president to FDR - called The Making of FDR : The Story of Stephen T. Early, America’s First Modern Press Secretary.) Current White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs seems to have the same portfolio - advisor and spokesman. It is a much different approach, and a better approach I think, than either of the Presidents Bush used or than Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton employed. In the Steve Early, Jody Powell, Robert Gibbs model, the press secretary serves as advisor first, presidential flack second. The Clinton and Bush models seemed at times to be designed to make certain the press secretary knew as little as possible in the interest of never being able to really speak with authority for the president. My long-time friend and business partner, Chris Carlson, knew and worked with Jody Powell during the Carter presidency. Chris ran the public affairs shop at the Department of the Interior for then-Secretary Cecil Andrus. I asked him for a couple of anecdotes about Powell, the irreverent Georgia boy who with Hamilton Jordan, helped engineer Carter's improbable presidential campaign in 1976. "Yes, they had an irreverent attitude towards the ways of D.C., as did my then boss the incoming administration's new Interior Secretary. Like Secretary Andrus, both Jordan and Jody actually placed their own phone calls rather than play the D.C. game of having a secretary place the call and see whose boss acknowledged the pecking order by getting on the phone first. "Powell had little time for such games, and though he had a temper he also had a great sense of humor, could laugh at himself, the pretensions of the press and the absurdities of power politics. In the four years of the Carter Presidency he somehow managed to keep that sense of humor and he also recognized and respected what an asset Governor Andrus was to the President. "When one of the most critical decisions involving Interior's future had to be made, and Secretary Andrus had to go meet with the president and the inner circle of advisors - the Georgia mafia - to tell them the president's long cherished goal of creating a new Department of Natural Resources had to be abandoned for lack of key political support, it was Jody Powell who weighed in first behind the secretary's political judgment and helped to persuade a dubious president to see the wisdom of cutting his losses. "Bottom line, Jody Powell was that rarity of rarities in D.C., a self-effacing, decent person who radiated intelligence and integrity, did a difficult job well and succeeded in part because of his basic decency and humanity. There aren't many like him." As the New York Times noted in his obituary: "Mr. Powell had honed his style years before, when Mr. Carter was governor. Responding to a critic who accused his boss of “communistic” tactics against opponents of the busing used to desegregate schools, Mr. Powell wrote that one of a governor’s burdens was having to read 'barely legible letters from morons.' “'I respectfully suggest that you take two running jumps and go straight to hell,' he continued." I can assure you that is something every press secretary has wanted to say.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
New Survey Shows Decline in Public Confidence The Pew Center is out with a new survey that may help explain some of the demise of the so called "main stream" media. As the chart illustrates, the percentage of Americans who believe the media generally gets the facts straight has declined from 55% in 1985 to 29% this year. From the Pew report: "Similarly, only about a quarter (26%) now say that news organizations are careful that their reporting is not politically biased, compared with 60% who say news organizations are politically biased. And the percentages saying that news organizations are independent of powerful people and organizations (20%) or are willing to admit their mistakes (21%) now also match all-time lows." A piece at Forbes on-line comes to a different conclusion, saying Pew failed to define its terms properly by lumping the wild hodgepodge of "media" in with your local TV newscast and daily fish wrapper. "In other words, if you consider Glenn Beck's tirades journalism, or get your news from posts on Hamsterdance.com, they were lumped in with your opinions about The New York Times." Fair enough - maybe. The facts are that traditional sources of news - local and national papers and network evening news programs, for example - are not nearly as relied upon as information sources as they were just a few years ago. Part of the reason, I suspect, is confidence and perhaps even more importantly relevance. Here's a fearless prediction: in a bid to survive, more and more newspapers will follow the direction of the cable channels and offer up a "news product" with a distinct point of view. The business model will be to further fragment the market in the interest of talking to the audience that wants its "news" to reaffirm its perspective rather than challenge any assumptions. Look for the confidence numbers to continue to decline.
Friday, September 11, 2009
There is a Reason it is the FIRST Amendment At one time or another, most great books - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Catch 22, The Grapes of Wrath to name three - have been banned somewhere. Book banning still happens with alarming frequency. The American Library Association, with the ACLU and others helps, highlight the issue with the annual "banned book week" scheduled this year for September 26 - October 3. Many libraries have special events and displays of "banned books" planned during the week. In Boise, the Library! has an October 1st event scheduled. In Ketchum, the Community Library has a screening of an HBO documentary on free speech issues planned for September 30. Check out other library websites for other events and join librarians - I love librarians - in celebrating the American ideal of freedom of expression. Here's to books - good, bad, indifferent - but most of all here's to ideas. Books, after all, are merely a means to transmit ideas, the ideas we agree with and even the ideas we abhor. I've always liked this quote from one of Idaho's own: "If the press is not free, if speech is not independent and untrammeled, if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen." - William E. Borah - U.S. Senate 1907-1940.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
A Guest Blog - P.R. and Marketing My Gallatin Public Affairs colleague Sydney Sallabanks has a guest post today. She offers thoughts on public relations and marketing - flips sides of the same coin really - and stresses that effective advocacy in a cluttered marketplace still requires the basics: clarity and honesty.
"'Public Relations vs. Marketing'? Isn't that a bit like 'patriotism vs. love of country'?" questioned a friend of mine about the presentation that David Cook and I gave last week at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Yes — that's the point that Cook, creative director of Boise agency Stoltz Marketing Group, and I hope we made to the audience of about 30 small business owners, non-profit executives and entrepreneurs assembled for the workshop, aptly titled "Public Relations vs. Marketing."
After working on a few projects with Cook, not only did I learn that his "awkward phase" spans from 1969 to the present, I also discovered that we share similar notions of our respective fields. Public relations and marketing are flip sides of the same coin — Advocacy. When well planned and implemented, they serve to reinforce one another. With some savvy, small businesses have the power to market their goods and services, control their exposure and customize it to mirror their corporate climate.
This may be accomplished with a happy, if not blissful marriage of marketing and public relations. The point is to send the right message to the right audience using the right mode of delivery. We help our clients tell their story and start the conversation.
A principal nuance, however, is that public relations can be harder to control than marketing, "You can never guarantee full control of what is being said about you or your company with PR, unlike marketing, including paid advertising," said Cook.
While social media is often a valuable piece of the marketing and PR mix, starting with the customer experience is critical, according to Cook. "Isn't Facebook scheduled to replace television next week?" he joked, advising the audience against abandoning traditional marketing and PR altogether in favor of social media tactics. "These new tools are not a replacement for traditional media; they are an addition to it." Cook advises to strike a nerve and keep the message simple to cut through the clutter, whatever the delivery.
I advise a similar practice on the PR front. There is no substitute for clear and honest communication. Our firm specializes in developing campaigns for complex issues, often involving multi-member partnerships between the public and private sectors — which means clarity and candor is key.
And like all worthwhile things in life, relationships do matter. In my experience, they are the most rewarding part of the job.
As the Public Relations Society of America notes:
"Public relations is much more than endorsements and what many of the media, bloggers and the public have defined as 'spin.' The practice of public relations has and will always be the art and science of building relationships, connecting people and measuring how these relationships with various publics lead to long-term value for on entity or organization (whether it's in regard to government, investor, analyst, media, community or employee relations)."
Any worthwhile relationship requires time and attention, including the working relationship between public relations professional and the media. As newsrooms continue to shrink, journalists are being pushed harder. But there are ways to make life easier on both sides: Do your homework, be accessible and respect the deadline driven nature of a reporter's world.
Think truth and action, avoid jargon and spin. The Onion recently profiled a fictional, laid-off PR exec and quoted him: "I wasn't fired so much as my job was one of the positions phased out through the outsourcing of certain activities and the restructured insourcing of others."
A good rule of thumb: If your campaign or marketing initiative can't pass a simple "straight face test," including a basic question -"is what I'm doing serving a broad public interest?" - then you might consider going back to the drawing board, or risk getting ink in The Onion.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Obama's School Speech - A Made for Cable TV Story I've often thought that if the occasional Michael Jackson funeral or Mark Sanford hike on the Appalachian Trail didn't materialize to help fill the "news hole", the "main stream media" - particularly cable news - would literally need to invent such stories in order to sustain the 24 hour news cycle. The President's post-Labor Day speech to American school children was such a story. The "controversy" generated by the mere thought of the Obama speech - the allegation was that he would use the speech to spread liberal (or worse) political propaganda to impressionable students - absolutely dominated the Labor Day weekend news. News organizations spanning the spectrum from Fox to NPR reported the speech controversy as if it were on par with Iranian nuclear weapons development or the worsening situation in Afghanistan. The story kept feeding the cable beast over the long weekend. And the speech itself? Well, when all was said and done, Idaho's conservative Republican State School Superintendent Tom Luna pronounced it, according to the always reliable Betsy Russell of the Spokesman Review, as "appropriate and timely" and Laura Bush and Newt Gingrich weighed in with an actual endorsement of the president's talk. Turns out the speech wasn't about socialism after all, but more like the talk my dad used to deliver on the first day of school - "work hard, don't get discouraged, be responsible, school is important." If you missed the talk here is the full text. On the other hand, if you miss the next (or the last) 24 hours of cable news will you have missed anything at all? Debatable. Here is a general rule: if an instant political controversy seems just a little to contrived, a little too "made for television," it probably is. The "editorial function" - independent judgment applied by journalists to verifiable facts - used to operate to reduce the impact and intensity of contrived controversy. No more. These days we frequently need to be our own editors.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Oregon's Kitzhaber Starts the Comeback "There are no second acts in American lives," may be one of the most quoted - and most incorrect - things F. Scott Fitzgerald ever said. There most certainly are second acts in American lives and even in American political lives. Ted Kennedy had one. Newt Gingrich is trying to have one. Richard Nixon had one and lost it. John Kitzhaber, Oregon's governor from 1995-2003, said recently he will try for his own second act. Most everyone concedes the M.D. turned governor starts as the favorite, but as the Oregonian's Jeff Mapes points out, a political heavyweight like Kitzhaber ignites as well as inflames and it is a long way until November 2010. Kitzhaber's announcement got me thinking about other second acts. The one I'm most familiar with, of course, is Idaho's Cecil Andrus. After two gubernatorial election victories in the 1970's, Andrus went to Washington to run the Interior Department under Jimmy Carter, returned to Idaho in 1981 and ran again for governor when the seat opened up in 1986. (I served as press secretary during that hard fought campaign.) Andrus had been away from the Idaho ballot for 12 years when he made his comeback and, as I remember the research, even as a two-term former governor and Interior Secretary, fully a third of the potential voters had never heard of him. Bill Clinton had a second act in Arkansas and a third act in the White House. Clinton lost re-election in 1980 and came back, seeking forgiveness for raising automobile registration fees, to win again in 1982. Michael Dukakis' second act followed his loss in the Democratic primary in Massachusetts in 1978. In the Northwest, back in the 1930's, Idaho very popular New Deal-era Governor C. Ben Ross won three straight races for governor, lost a U.S. Senate race and lost again trying to regain the governor's office. Robert Smylie also won the Idaho governor's office three times in the 1950's and '60's then lost in a primary and tried and failed to earn a second act in the U.S. Senate. Oregon's maverick governor, Tom McCall, failed in his 1978 comeback attempt after two terms. Maverick Oregon Senator Wayne Morse had many political lives, but no real second act after losing his seat in 1968. There have been some very successful second acts in American politics, but they are never a sure thing. When Cece Andrus was trying out for his second act in Idaho in 1986, he often appropriated a great line from the late Arizona Congressman Morris Udall. Udall, a great wit, used to joke that while campaigning for president in 1976 in advance of the Iowa caucus he strolled into a barber shop and announced to the assembled, "I'm Mo Udall and I'm running for president." "Yea, we know," the barber deadpanned, "we were just laughing about that this morning."
Monday, September 7, 2009
Not Particularly Important News... This pint of stout will soon make sense. Trust me. But before we turn to the Irish drink, a random, regional round-up of some not very important news (including nothing whatsoever on health care reform) on the last weekend of the summer. From Oregon: Let us acknowledge that Oregon was the first state in the nation to officially declare the first Monday in September as Labor Day. It happened, according to the Department of Labor, in 1887. Good idea, Oregon. From Idaho: A San Diego Examiner travel writer, Gary Robinson, writes this weekend about the tiny southeastern Idaho community of Franklin, Idaho (population 673) where he grew up. Robinson notes that since the beginning of the Idaho Lottery in 1989, Franklin has been a steaming hot bed of ticket sales. The Utah state line is just beyond the southern city limits, making Franklin the "home of the Utah lottery" and the Beehive State a chief supporter of school and public building construction in Idaho. We need the help. From Washington: The good news here is that the day after Labor Day will see the re-opening of the fabulous Seattle Public Library. Like most cities, Seattle has been struggling to close a budget gap and one tactic was to shut down the city's libraries for a week. Budget sense, perhaps, but for bookish Seattle not an altogether popular move. As the Associated Press reported: "'I think it's a very sad day — week — for the city of Seattle that they can't access their local library, which is one of the most heavily used libraries in the country," said Nancy Pearl, the city's ex-librarian superstar and the author of 'Book Lust,' a best-selling tribute to the joy of reading.'" If you get to Seattle, visit the downtown library. It's almost always open. And...From Montana: Another closing - the M&M Bar in Butte - made headlines all across the Big Sky state. The ancient Butte watering hole once claimed it never closed, but a dispute over a power bill had thirsty patrons looking for another venue, temporarily we can hope, at which to raise a glass. I have a feeling those in need of a pint this weekend in Butte found an acceptable alternative. There are always options in Butte. Which brings me to that pint of Guinness. The venerable Irish Times (a great website, by the way) had as the top story on Sunday Kilkinny's fourth consecutive All-Ireland Hurling Championship. (Click here if you feel you need the details of the game or just want to be able to drop "hurling" details into your next cocktail chat.) Delving a bit further into the Times reveals the "news" that the country's health service is claiming that Irish adults consume "550 pints per year." (No statistics readily available to compare those numbers to heavily Irish Butte.) The Irish "strategic task force on alcohol" is quoted as saying that the 550 number "is a conservative figure given that abstainers are not excluded and represent about 20% of the adult population.” What can you possibly say after that? The only thing I can think of: Guinness - it's good for you! True in Dublin, in Butte, Seattle, Portland, Boise...even Salt Lake City. If you're looking for something to celebrate on Labor Day, you might celebrate all those you know who work hard, those out of staters who spend a buck on a lottery ticket once in a while, those readers who are concerned when the local library is closed and those who sip (in moderation, of course) an occasional pint. It is a great country, even without hurling. Happy Labor Day.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Boise State University's football program has earned its way into the elite ranks of the nation's college programs. For the most part, it seems, the program has done it all the old fashioned way - hard work, determination and integrity. Still, you wonder if there isn't always some price to pay for running with the big dogs. It is a thought that hovers over the fiercely fought, if not terribly well played Boise State - Oregon game this week. The Broncos, behind a powerhouse defense, won the game - a very big win, indeed, for the hometown heroes. Still, the lasting image of that victory will surely be the few seconds of video, played over and over, of an Oregon player landing a heavy punch on the jaw of a BSU player. The Duck running back has been suspended for the season, while the BSU player will be disciplined "internally," whatever that means. No judgements here on the punishments, but rather questions about what the incident says about our culture of sport and, in particular, college football. Google BSU-Oregon football this morning and you'll find 2,381 news articles. The YouTube video of the punch has been seen more than 314,000 times (about equal to the number of times it has aired on ESPN) and, of course, the video is rated 5 stars. The pundits weigh in: The New York Times suggested today that the punch seen 'round the world was just the latest of a whole series of tawdry incidents blacking the eyes of college sports. The Los Angeles Times headline: "Let's be blunt that Oregon-Boise finish was a fiasco." Writing at Oregon Live.Com, Bob Rickert, applauds the Oregon suspension, but wonders about accountability all around. One suspects we haven't heard the last of the punch. There will be NCAA and PAC-10 Conference reviews and lots of Monday morning quarterbacking. I couldn't help thinking, as the Oregon - Boise State game dominated the attention of Idaho's Capitol City over the last couple of weeks and the punch dominated the morning after, of Boise State President Bob Kustra's State of the University speech a few days ago. Kustra made headlines with criticism of health insurance cost increases for part-time university employees. The Idaho Statesman praised his courage in raising the issue. About those higher insurance costs facing part-time university employees, Kustra said, as the Statesman reported: "I just think it's so ironic in this world in which we live that these folks who make these decisions dress up in blue and orange and come to seven football games a year and spend two and three months asking me as I travel down the street, 'How's things going with the team? Are we going to beat Oregon?' I wish just once somebody would say, 'How's the lab technician going to handle the 40 percent increase? How is the custodian going to handle the 40 percent increase?'" Almost every college president would argue that a successful intercollegiate sports program is a huge marketing and alumni asset to a college or university that is primarily dedicated to providing academic excellence, but at the same time even the most erstwhile fan - or president - would have to admit that the priorities can get pretty fuzzy from time to time. Stay tuned, there will be more. When you're talking college football, the Big Time means many things - good, bad and occasionally ugly.
Friday, September 4, 2009
Governors Who Appointed Themselves Continuing the theme of how certain Senators came to be Senators. Two Northwest governors exercised what just might be the height of political power - appointing themselves to the United States Senate. In both cases, the voters took, well, a dim view of that particular path to power. Charles Gossett (on the left above) and John Erickson both had relatively successful careers before being accused of crafting the backroom "deals" that got them to the senate. Erickson served as a judge and is the only Montana governor elected three times. Charlie Gossett was a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, was elected twice as Lt. Governor, and in 1944 won the governorship. Both Erickson and Gossett were Democrats. Erickson, a fairly conservative Democrat, was first elected in 1925. In an era when the Anaconda Mining Company dominated Montana, Erickson made peace with powerful economic interests, built a generally progressive record and cultivated an image as "Honest John." When the great Montana Senator Tom Walsh died in 1933, Erickson was besieged by Democrats who wanted appointment to Walsh's Senate seat. Erickson finally settled the controversy by resigning as governor with the assurance that Lt. Governor Frank Cooney would then appoint him to the senate. There was an 11 minute interval between the signing of Erickson's resignation as governor and his appointment to the federal position. Critics immediately alleged that a "crooked deal" had been engineered. Erickson tried to hold on to the Senate seat, but lost the Democratic primary in 1934 to Jim Murray who went on to a long and distinguished career. It didn't help Erickson's political career that TIME magazine reported that he had nodded off while presiding over a senate session. Governor Cooney died in office in 1935 before having to again face Montana voters. In Idaho, Gossett was also a relatively conservative Democrat. He championed fiscal responsibility and harmony with the legislature. As historian Bob Sims has written, "by far the most controversial event of Gossett's tenure as governor was the ending of it, which came in November 1945, ten and a half months after it began. When Senator John Thomas died, Gossett resigned and the new Governor, former Lt. Governor Arnold Williams, appointed Gossett to fill the Senate seat. Cries of outrage attended those events." Gossett went on to lose the Democratic primary in 1946 and never regained elective office. Williams served out the remainder of Gossett's term and lost a bid to retain the office. Gossett, by the way, is one of only two Idahoans, current Senator Jim Risch being the other, who served as Lt. Governor, Governor and U.S. Senator. There is a lesson here. When a political deal looks like a political deal, the voters generally smell a very big rat and they use the first opportunity to punish the deal makers. Memo to Governors: In event of a vacancy, don't even think about finding a way to appoint yourself to the U.S. Senate. It is a sure path to political oblivion.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Of Course, Dear, Whatever You Want The old joke asks: "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" Answer: "Practice, practice, practice." How do you get to the United States Senate? Twice in history it helped to be the First Lady, married to a southern Governor. Consider the case of Dixie Bibb Graves (pictured here). Senator Graves represented Alabama in the Senate for less than five months in 1937 and 1938. Dixie could thank her husband for that distinction. David Bibb Graves was Governor of Alabama (also Dixie's first cousin) and when Franklin Roosevelt tapped Senator Hugo Black for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, the Governor tapped his roommate to fill the Senate vacancy. Governor Graves said he appointed his politically active wife to avoid giving an advantage to any of the other Alabama Democrats who aspired to run for the seat in a special election. Not everyone was convinced that his motives were so fair minded. As the Encyclopedia of Alabama points out, some "denounced the appointment as a political move by the governor to control events not only in the capitol building and the state legislature, but also the U.S. Senate." Thirty-five years later, another southern governor, Edwin Edwards of Louisiana, appointed his wife to fill a Senate seat that fell vacant as the result of Senator Allen Ellender's death. Elaine Edwards served only three and a half months, a lot less time than her husband has served in jail. Former Governor Edwards - he famously said the only way he would ever lose an election in Cajun County was "to be caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy" - continues to serve out a ten year sentence for a host of corruption charges. Governor Edwards and Senator Edwards divorced in 1989. Tomorrow, a final post in this series will feature two Northwest Governors who appointed themselves to the Senate. You can guess how well that turned out.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Filling the Vacancy with the Spouse It didn't take long for the suggestion to surface that Ted Kennedy's widow - Victoria Reggie Kennedy - would be a suitable replacement for her husband in the United States Senate. There is a long and rich tradition of just that kind of political move. Among the more celebrated examples of "wife replaces husband in the Senate" were Hattie Caraway of Arkansas (widow of Senator Thaddeus) and Rose McConnell Long of Louisiana (widow of the assassinated Kingfish - Huey Long). Hattie Caraway went on to become the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932. Huey Long brought his campaign smarts north to Arkansas and barnstormed the state with the diminutive Senator Caraway to help her secure a full term in the Senate. Their rollicking, nine-day tour of Arkansas spawned a good little political book by David Malone called Hattie and Huey: An Arkansas Tour. Huey Long's widow replaced him in 1936, and then Rose Long won her own special election and served until 1938 when she did not seek re-election. Senator Caraway won re-election again in 1938, but lost the Democratic primary in 1944 to the young J. William Fulbright who, of course, went on to fame as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he became outspoken opponent of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Muriel Humphrey served less than a year in 1978 after the death of Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey. Maryon Allen of Alabama also served for a few months in 1978 after her husband Senator James B. Allen died. Vera Bushfield (now there's a household name) replaced her South Dakota Senator husband Harlan following his death in 1948 and Joceyln Burdick served a few months in 1992 after the death of her husband, long-time North Dakota Senator Quentin Burdick. My favorite Senate wife who became a Senator is Oregon's impressive Maurine Neuberger. She was elected in a special election in 1960 to replace her husband, Richard Neuberger, who had died. Senator Neuberger also won election to her own term and served until 1967. Most speculation has Mrs. Kennedy passing on any chance to replace her famous husband, but if it were to come to pass she would be in some good and interesting historical company. Tomorrow: Two Governors actually appointed their wives to fill Senate vacancies. Talk about keeping it all in the family.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Cece Andrus: Developing Region's Biomass Will Take Time and Transparency A couple of months ago, the former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary offered his take on increasing utilization of biomass for energy. The assessment came in a major speech to a conference of U.S. Forest Service managers in Boise. While not a pessimistic assessment of biomass as a greater source of energy, the speech was a typically Andrus-like accounting of opportunities and challenges. Andrus was particularly pointed in warning the foresters that meeting policy objectives for the National Forests, including increased energy production and encouraging local economic development, while still protecting the environment, will require a lot of transparency and many trade-offs. The former four-term governor also challenged the forest managers to be clear about whether and how they are managing the public's land based on the reality of climate change. You can find the full speech here. Here is a key section: "We do not like making trade-offs and we do not like having to choose. For years the Forest Service has been caught in this struggle. We continue to debate what exactly the purposes of the national forests are, and how we approach an agreement around that question. "One Idahoan would tell you the national forests exist to produce wood fiber. Another would tell you they exist to provide hunting and fishing opportunities. Another would tell you the forests help drive the economy of the state, particularly rural communities. This Idahoan would tell you that there is a measure of truth in each of those answers. "So what you do, and what policy makers must do, is find the delicate balance that creates an equilibrium and gives the American public the opportunity to have it all; an increase of energy from biomass, a stronger economy and the hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation we so enjoy in Idaho and the West."