• Andrus and Carlson

"I've long thought that Governor Andrus has never been given the full credit he deserved for the critical role he played in leading the way to passage of the greatest single piece of conservation legislation in American history. So I set out to make sure the history books properly reflect this excellent piece of his legacy." - Chris Carlson

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This past year may well go down in political history as one of the more wacky and weird ever. The emergence of Donald Trump as a genuine possible Republican nominee for president has clearly surprised the “chattering class” of journalists, commentators, the “inside the beltway” crowd, the self-styled political cognoscenti.

Trump has tapped into that vein of anger with the way things are, the shrinking middle class beset by too many obligations and too few resources, overwhelmed by a sense of unfairness, totally distrustful of a federal government that has earned the distrust through a series of lies to the American public, a government made up of folks who don’t realize the growing burden of oppressive rules and regulations.

Trump’s ability to dominate the race through seemingly outrageous and politically incorrect statements, his ability to generate television ratings, and to use the media he in part is campaigning against to deliver his messsage has been stunning.

So what will 2016 bring? Here are some even wackier predictions on both the national and state level that while admittedly unlikely might, never the less provoke thought on a reader’s part.

On a national level: Trump arrives at the Republican Convention with the most pledged delegates but not enough to win the nomination. Republican pooh-bahs still see disaster if he is the nominee and must deny him the nomination without having him leave and form a third party. What’s the solution?

RNC meets with House and Senate Republican caucuses and propose Speaker Paul Ryan resign to be replaced by Donald Trump. That’s correct, folks. The Constitution permits Congress to name anyone to the Speakership. Trump seizes the deal reognizing he still has a major platform, that after the Vice President he is next in line, and he does not run the risk of rejection at the polls or spending some of his billions.

What’s in it for Ryan, you ask? Paul Ryan becomes the Republican nominee for president.

On the Democratic side things become equally weird. Keep in mind the Obamas’ have never been close to the Clintons’ and that President Obama privately is not happy at the prospect of Hillary as his successor. Thus, when his Justice Department recommends he appoint a “Special Counsel” to oversee a review of the investigation of Hillary’s inexcusable use of an unsecured server for discussion of some critical official secrets, as well as other “unspecified” activities, Hillary reads the tea leaves corretly and with draws from the race in order to defend her good name.

The Democratic National Convention then by acclimation names Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presidential nominee, in part because the the major unions pledge $1 billion to underwrite Biden’s campaign. Obama immediatedly endorses Biden, obviously more pleased with Joe as his successor. In November, Ryan wins.

On the state level, things get wackier also. First Disrrict congressman Raul Labrador, at the last possible moment, stuns Idahoans and senior U.S. Senator Mike Crapo by entering the Republican primary aganst Crapo. His declaration of candidacy nails Crapo as a faux conservtive, cites his 2012 drinking incident as inexcusable conduct, and charges Crapo with violating his Grover Norquist pledge never to support a tax increase.

Labrador, despite an ego growing like topsy ever since claiming to have forced Speaker John Boehner to leave office, and his alienation of many voters in eastern Idaho due to a perception of non-support for the Idaho National Lab, nonethe less defeats Crapo and coasts into the Senate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s ranch, there has been a whole lot of scheming. Otter in November began quietly raising money for his personal PSC, ostensibly to support good Republican candidates for the Legislature.

The truth however is Butch has acquiesed to his wife Lori’s desire to be governor. Torn between his wife and loyalty to his long-time loyal lieutenant governor, Brad Little, Otter opts for his wife. Little immediately declares his canidacy for governor even though the election is 2 years away.

With Labrador going for the Senate rather than governor, as many had expected, former State Senator Russ Fulcher declares his candidacy and works to sew up the Tea Party vote. Crapo, still hearing the call for public service and angry with a right-wing he had tilted towards to no avail, seeks revewnge by also entering the 2018 governor’s race. Thus, the GOP primary in May, 2018, sees a free-for-all between Lori Otter, Brad Little, Russ Fulcher and Mike Crapo. Little wins.

In the 2016 race to succeed Labrador in the House, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmeyer is a surprise winner for the GOP nomination, defeating State Senators Bob Nonini and Mary Souza, as well as Rep. Luke Malek. Widmeyer defeats Democratic State Rep. Paulette Jordan in the general election.

And the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 is Boise Mayor Dave Bieter who turns back a surprisingly strong challenge in the primary from Moscow State Senator Dr. Dan Schmidt. Little still wins in November 2018.

Admittedly my crystal ball is cloudy. These are all far-fetched speculation, but when politics gets this wacky, anything is possible. This coming year should be interesting. Happy New Year!

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The Mass in Hell took place on April 6, 2008. Officiating priest was Father Steve Dublinski, then the vicar general for administration in the Spokane diocese, rector of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Lourdes in downtown Spokane, my pastor, friend and one hell ‘uv a fine fly fisherman.

I had introduced him to the sacred rites of the most exclusive fraternity a few years earlier, but Father Steve quickly passed me in knowledge and skill. In no way could I claim to be his mentor, nor did I. Largely self-taught, Father Steve approached the challenge with the kind of diligence one more easily might associate with a medieval monk who had just stumbled across a major remnant of one of the lost Gnostic gospels.

Before six months had elapsed he was tying his own flies. Nonetheless, I felt rewarded for being the mid-wife to this new holy alliance Father Steve had embraced so easily for it led to many a wonderful Wednesday in which Father Steve and I would stalk the wily westslope cutthroat up and down the reaches of the nearby St. Joe River or the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene.

Wednesday was Father Steve’s day off and it quickly became the day of the week verboten for anyone to schedule anything on my calendar. I also introduced Father Steve to some of the fine literature about his new hobby. His favorite was A River Runs Through It by the Montana born and raised professor of English at the University of Chicago, Norman Maclean.

Father Steve was a Chicago native himself, having been born there on June 26th. While still an infant the family moved to Walla Walla. There Dublinski attended St. Patrick’s Parish and received his early education at the Catholic high school, DeSales. Though more noted for its phenomenally successful football and baseball programs (At one point DeSales had captured ten small school state baseball championships), Dublinski, a tall and lean 6 feet four inches, was a key starter on the school’s basketball team.

Even in high school, though, it was clear to fellow students that this Dublinski (Father Steve had five other siblings) was a cut above others in terms of intellect and interest in philosophy and religion. From DeSales he attended and received his B.A. from Spokane’s Gonzaga University.

While attending Gonzaga he decided to enter the priesthood, a path which required six more years of education four of which he spent studying in Rome. While there Father Steve discovered and to this day loves Italian food.

This led to a second treat besides the Sunday Mass – we all were introduced the night before to Father Steve’s culinary talent and his specialty, pasta carbanara.

That particular weekend the weather in the Hells Canyon of the Snake River that borders Idaho and Oregon for almost 100 miles was a typical blustery and ever-changing April. There had been few sunbreaks during the day and a cool wind was blowing down river as we lit the fire in the grate on the camp site we had established in the old horse pasure adjacent to the Jordan Ranch on Kirkwood Bar.

For a number of years our family’s first hiking/camping outing of the season was into Hells Canyon in part because spring always “sprung”two to three weeks earlier there. This particular year we had invited Father Steve to join us along with our old neighbors from Bainbridge Island, the Rick Richards family. We had taken a jet boat operated by Beamer’s out of Lewiston the 90 miles up the Snake to the Jordan Ranch where we established base camp and took day hikes from there.

That Father Steve was able to make an extraordinary and tasty pasta carbonara with the temperature dropping into the low 40’s and a light rain falling was considered a minor miracle.

On Sunday morning, however, we arose the sounds of chukars clucking in the hills, blue sky, warm sunshine and no breeze. It felt like another Easter morning with the promise of spring and summer overwhelming the senses. At 8:30 a.m. Father Steve laid out a vestment made in Italy and a chalice made in Mexico. A large rock in the corner of the pasure served as the altar in this cathedral of the great outdoors and seven people took part in the most sacred ritual of all—the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. During the prayers of the faithful I thanked the Lord for all the wonderful blessings mine and me enjoy but a special thanks for that day and those there.

It seemed to me that only in Idaho could such a special event like a Mass in Hell occur.

As Christmas in the year of our Lord, 2015, draws ever closer, may each and every one reading this remember what this season is all about: may you find the peace that passeth understanding and obtain the more abundant life that is promised. Merry Christmas from our home to you and all yours.

(Editor’s Note: This column was taken from the introduction to the forthcoming book by the author on Hells Canyon due out next summer.)

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Every Idahoan who cares about this state and how it came to be should read two relatively obscure books and be grateful the authors lived and worked here.

Through their writings and teaching these two left an indelible imprint on Idaho. Though they labored in obscurity, the political cognoscenti in Idaho know them well. Though they are fading into the mist of history, their contributions should be remembered. Any Idaho history is incomplete if it does not acknowledge their roles in shaping modern Idaho.

One book is a delightful novel, a murder mystery in fact, but chock full of the author’s knowledge of Idaho government, politics and public affairs. The other is a wonderful history of the major environmental issues that transformed and dominated much of Idaho’s political debate for fifty years, from the late 1930’s to the late 1980’s.

The novel, The Unlikely Candidate, is by the late Syd Duncombe who for 27 years taught government and political science courses at the University of Idaho. He was an inspiring influence to an entire generation of Idaho’s political leadership. Among those influenced directly by taking a class or indirectly by being drawn into out of class discussions prompted by his teachings were future U.S. senators and/or governors like Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch, Larry Craig and Steve Symms or future attorney generals like David Leroy. Then there are the “behind the scenes” political practitioners also influenced by Duncombe’s passion for politics, people like Phil Reberger, Robie Russell, Marty Peterson and Roy Eiguren.

Many of his former students could recall how he brought politics to life by brinigng different hats to class and then switching hats as he switched roles in the lessons he was bringing to life. His knowledge of politics was not just academic either. Before coming to Idaho he had worked in state government in New York and had been Superintendent of the Budget in Ohio.

He cultivated political office holders on both sides of the aisle. One of his great fans was Cecil Andrus who made Duncombe his Acting Director of the Budget Office upon his first election as governor in 1970. Duncombe put together Andrus’ first budget and Andrus always acknowledged his debt for Syd showing how a governor could truly shape policy if he understood how to put together a budget.

The novel’s hero is, surprise, a retired state budget director. Duncombe, however, wove into the text the kind of authentic details and knowledge that rings true with any who have been drawn into politics.

Syd had been working on the novel for several years. His beloved wife, Mary, died in 1997 but before doing so insisted Syd finish the book which he did in 1998. His passages on cancer are poignant as his writing was obviously one way of dealing with his grief.

He died at the age of 78 in Idaho Falls in late September of 2004. His legacy should live on beyond the life span of the hearts that were directly touched by his zest for life and politics.

The second book, Defending Idaho’s Natural History, is by former journalist and nine-term State Representative Ken Robison. He was born in Nampa in 1936, received his B.A. degree from Idaho State in 1957 and began a 30 year career in Journalism in 1959 as a copy editor at the Idaho Statesman. He was both a reporter and editor for the Statesman and from 1977 until his election to the Idaho Legislature in 1986 from Boise’s 19th Legislative District was the editorial page editor.

When it came to handing out charisma Ken missed the session. He always came across as a thoughtful but calm, dispassionate and objective – the journalistic version of Joe Friday – “just the facts, Ma’m” To the surprise of many though he turned into an outstanding legislator, one who always did his homework and when he spoke people listened.

He loved the Legislature, so he was one of those bulldog campaigners – knocking on every door in his district every year. Not surprisingly, his diligence and had work was rewarded by re-election eight times.

Robison brings this same diligence to his history of Idaho’s major environmental battles. He recognizes the truth in the old expression “success has a thousand fathers and mothers; failure is an orphan.”
He knows too that it is “citizen-activists” who bring change about and the parade of the involved changes inasmuch as some battles are decades long.

He does justice though to the many key folks who put forth time, talent and treasure. His account of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering is fascinating, and he exhaustively documents his sources. From the battles to restore salmon and steelhead runs, to the fight to protect the White Clouds, Hells Canyon and the Sawtooths to the creation of the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway/Bitteroot Wilderness its all there.

Robison has done an invaluable service in documenting the fight and the fighters.

Like Duncombe he too has labored in obscurity, but all Idahoans owe them both a tremendous vote of thanks.

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