• 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

carlson

Last week Avista Utility, headquarted in Spokane, surprised many observers by announcing they were being acquired by a Canadian utility, Hydro One of Toronto, for $5.3 billion dollars. After operating independently for 128 years, they were giving up that independence.

There are two questions that immediately cry out for answers. Why now? Secondly, what’s in it for Idaho and the current customer base of 129,000 northern Idaho customers supplied with juice from Avista? The sale has to be reviewed and approved by the public utility commissions of several states and federal entities, but both parties hope the deal closes by next fall.

Here are ten key questions one hopes will be asked and explored by regulators:

1) $5.3 billion in U.S. dollars presumably?

Answer: At closing Hydro One will pay $3.4 billion in US dollars and will assume Avista debt of $1.9 billion. Currency fluctuation risk is taken by Hydro One but it is thought they are trying to fix the rate of .53 cents Canadian to every $1 US. Currently the Canadian dollar is .64 cents to the U.S.dollar.

2) What is the debt to equity ratio for financing the purchase and has Hyrdo One undertaken a subscription sale and if so did it fill rapidly or is it still being offered?

Answer: The ratio is going to be 83% debt and 17% equity. Yes, there was a subscription offering and it filled in one hour. Avista’s stock rose 24 % once the market learned of the intended purchase and is now trading at $53 a share.

3) Are there any tax advantages or write-offs for either company from the purchase or the sale?

Answer: It does not appear so, but that question may require additioanl research.
4) Does Avista chairman and ceo Scott Morris receive any additional compensation or bonus for engineering this sale?

Answer: Yes. A required filing showed that he would receive three times his average compensation in previous years which translates to approximately a $15 million dollar bonus. An additional $15 million is being set aside as a pool of money to keep key employees.

5) Avista claims communities will benefit from Avista’s commitment to philanthropy and economic development, but it offers no specifics on just what economic development it would support and as to philanthropy it claims Hydro One will double the current Avista commitment of $1 million annually to $2 million. Records indicate though that last year Avista donated $600,000. Other acquisitions of northwest utilities recently have seen philanthropy zeroed out.

Answer: The $600,000 is what the Foundation donated. Corporate giving was approximately $2 million and Hydro One has pledged to double that. In addition, Hydro One is making a one-time donation of $7 million to the Avista Foundation and has pledged to donate annually another $2 million to the Foundation.

6) Hydro One is heavily unionized. Surely both entities recognize historic differences towards unions. Is there a strategy to address this?

Answer: Both are aware and it is a work in progress.

7) Hydro One buys some electricity from government owned and operated nuclear plants. Do they have any exposure regarding disposal of wastes and storage of spent fuel rods? Do they carry any special liability coverage if something goes wrong with a nuke plant even though they are just a customer?

Answer: That is a question best directed at Hydro One. Suffice it to say Avista fully anticipates that as part of any mandated settlement a PUC will require “ring fencing” to prevent such transfers of risk or cost.

8) Hydro One will have to enter negotiations with Washington and Idaho’s public utility commissions. Given universal concern regarding global warming being exacerbated by coal burning power plants is Hydro One prepared to negotiate a phase out of the 10% of Avista’s load that comes from Colstrp? Two of the four units at Colstrip were just modernized at a cost of hundred’s of millions.

Answer: The question is not unexpected and the answer is to be determined by the negotiations. We don’t engage in speculation.

9) Does Hydro One/Avista really believe the Idaho PUC will consider its latest request for a 7.2% rate increase separate and apart from its review of this sale? Wouldn’t it be smarter to acknowledge the obvious and withdraw the request? Isn’t it a bit disingenuous in your ads to claim there will be no rate increases “as a result of this transaction?”

Answer: We believe they are totally separate items but recognize that the Idaho PUC could combine the dockets if it want to do so.

10) Does Avista still participate in the exchange of power with BPA allowed by the Northwest Power Planning Act? And will this sale have any impact on the current renegotiations with Canada on the Columbia River Coordination agreement?

Answer: Yes, and as long as the exchange is available Avista will participate.and no.

In all candor there is little specificity that answers convincingly the why now question. However, ¸there has been much activity in the market regarding utilities.The bottom line is probably a simple one in which Scott Morris and the board decided it was better to pick a partner rather than be picked off.. It is easy to predict rough sailing and tough selling ahead.but I wouldn’t bet against Scott Morris.

Column

carlson

Every state has a handful of elected officials who are the glue that hold the government together. They are the folks who see public servce as a noble calling to serve others. They labor often in anonymity. They do not seek the limelight. They treat all voters, regardless of party with respect.

They do not subject themselves to the slings and arrows of outraged constituents who all too often do not have their facts straight for the pay which is often laughably parsimonious, nor any alleged glory. They patiently listen because that is part of the job, and then they respectfully correct and educate.

They understand that politics involves compromise, that the voters expect they will be part of the solution to challenges not part of the problem. They seldom raise their voice, but when they do speak others listen. They command respect because they do their homework and speak knowledgeably.

Sometimes they are in leadership, sometimes they are not. Lobbyists and media who cover government know who these “go to” folks are.

For the past 20 years Idaho’s State Senate has been blessed with two of these indispensable individuals, Senator and Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, and Senator and Joint Finance co-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. This past week brought the news that both will be leaving the Legislature, Davis to become U.S. attorney for Idaho, and Keough to return to private life to resume full-time her position as executive director of the Idaho Logging Contractor’s Association.

Of the two Keough is the least known which suits her just fine. She quietly labored in obscurity on the Joint Finance and Appropriations committee, the Legislature’s most powerful committee (it sets the budget) for a number of years, finally ascending to the Senate co-chair post in her tenth term.

She has navigated the shoals and reefs on a number of issues, not the least of which has been consistently strong support for fully funding k-12 education that often found her out of step with a governor and colleagues who in past years seriously underfunded public education.

Her moderation coupled with compassionate constitutional conservatism nonetheless made her a target for the Tea Party faction of the GOP, the hard right wing nuts who demand ideological purity and adherence to downright absurd views such as abolishing the 17th amendment that provides for direct election of U.S.senators.

Her decency and competency as well as solid constituent service along with a steely discipline inside her velvet gloves enabled her to beat back viciously personal primary challenges orchestrated primarily by State Rep. Heather Scott and her surrogates.

Despite personal threats she fearlessly showed up at most campaign forums during her last three elections and, despite the vitriol, her “here are the facts style” often quieted the zealots.

Over the years she has personified the best a citizen legislator can be. She and her husband, Mike, successfully raised two children, one a Vandal, the other a Bronco, and walked the talk of family values that so few political figures actually practice.

Though petite and soft spoken she could play hardball when she had to do so. When Avista’s lobbyist, Neil Colwell, took part in an ill-conceived move by Keough’s Republican Senate colleague from Coeur d’Alene, State Senator Bob Nonini, and sponsored four Republican primary challengers to incumbent Republican state senators, she banned Colwell from her office.

Recognizing the stupid error, Avista chair Scott Morris drove to Sandpoint to apologize in person for the almost incomprehensible move. For his part Senator Nonini later apologized personally and made amends. Demonstrating a graciousness hard to fathom, Keough reportedly forgave Nonini’s egregious breach of protocal.

For someone born in New Jersey and raised in Ohio, Keough, who migrated to Idaho when she was 19, has become a true Idahoan – intelligent, independent, compassionate, conservative, a person of her word, the personification of honor, decency and competency. Idaho’s citizens are all better off because people like Bart Davis and Shawn Keough chose to answer the call of public service. They will be truly missed. When you next see either be sure and thank them for that service.

Column

carlson

Largely due to my Parkinson’s disease I have unusually vivid dreams. I don’t sleep walk, but I do sing, recite poetry, give speeches, get into fights and occasionally cut loose with a profanity.

When I awake I can recall in detail just what the dream was about.

For example, I was awaken from a dream the other night by a sense that the house was moving and I was in an earthquake. There are earthquakes, and then there are earthquakes.

Turns out my dream processing was not all fantasy, that I was indeed experiencing a modest earthquake whose epicenter was only about 70 miles distant near Lincoln, Montana. Around 11:35 p.m. I snapped awake in time to see the entire house move slightly. To say the least it was surprising. As quakes go, this one was relatively weak and short (5.2 on the Richter scale and only about 15 seconds).

The dream I was having had a current context to it. Psychologists tell us we often “work on and process” challenges and problems confronting us while we sleep and dream. In my dream I was trying to work out what a probable solution could be to the debacle that Donald Trump, our 46th president, is presenting.

I’ve seen enough, heard enough and watched enough that I believe he will ultimately be impeached, and if he does not resign he will be convicted and removed as provided by the Constitution. That he lies constantly is incontestable. That he is deliberately trying to stomp on the media’s first amendment rights is undeniable.

That he has neither the historical sense nor the moral context to make decisions that could see literally millions of people die should frighten the bejesus out of any thinking person. That he is a misogynist with no respect for women has been demonstrated all too frequently.

The one due I will grant this inept and unqualified to be president individual is the obvious: he is one hell ‘uv a marketeer. He knows how to sell the Trump brand and operates on the thesis that as long as they spell his name correctly there is no such thing as bad news.

The exception though is he can’t take criticism – he can dish it out but he can’t take it.

So what’s the answer? In my dream I found the solution, but of course the cold face of reality will never see a scenario like my fantasy unfold. In the interest of promoting readers to come up with their own legal solution here is the fantasy interrupted by a real earthquake.

Take it as a given that Russian President Vlad Putin has some sort of grip on Trump. It is the classical Faustian bargain with the devil. Keep in mind that Arizona Senator John McCain characterizes Putin as a cold-blooded KGB-trained killer.

What’s the nature of the “hold?” Your guess is as good as mine. It ranges from provable material regarding campaign collusion at the very top to Putin possibly possessing film of Trump cavorting with Russian prostitutes during an early days visit to Moscow, to incriminating acceptance of Russian generated funds diverted into Trump’s campaign.

By whatever means – Putin orchestrates a leak, or the Post or New York Times uncovers “smoking gun”evidence – it all becomes public and Trump, facing impeachment, conviction and certain removal, resigns the presidency.

Vice President Mike Pence then in my fantasy becomes president just long enough to pardon Trump. Pence then resigns which means the line of succession now leads to House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Ryan, however, recognizes that he, like Pence, is too tainted by Trump to try to bring people together. So he resigns the Speakership (but not his congressional seat). Now hear is where my fantasy gets “creative.”

The Founding Fathers placed in the Constitution one little known concession to the Parliamentary form of government. Believe it or not, the Speaker does not have to be a current member of the House. The House can elect any person they want as long as they meet the age and natural birth requirement.

This allows for the representatives to choose a man or a woman for the times, someone who stands out as particularly well placed to become the next leader.

It allows the Liberal Party in Canada, for example, to elect as the party leader a Justin Trudeau, give him a safe riding to represent and be elected from, and then, if his party has a majority in a national election to become the new prime minister.

So, who in my dream did I see as the successor to Trump to be the answer to the prayers of most sane people? The answer is Ohio Governor John Kasich, the only major Republican with enough guts to refuse to endorse Trump.

Now there would be a real political earthquake well worth waking up to and hope it becomes a reality.

Column

carlson

Have to give the twin devils of President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions their proper due for their nomination of State Senator Bart Davis (R-Idaho Falls) to be the next U.S. Attorney for Idaho.

With Davis they can’t go wrong. The ten term Idaho Falls State Senator and current Senate Majority Leader is one of Idaho’s outstanding legislators and one of the few true “super lawyers.” He is admired on both sides of the aisle for his probity, his sense of fairness, his courtliness as well as considerable intelligence and just plain decency.

He is a true compassionate conservative who lives and walks the talk of the Golden Rule. A few years back he and his wife showed up at a release hearing for an individual who had murdered their son. As heart-breaking as their son’s death was, they knew there were others who cared just as deeply for the perpetrator and was a case of another gone astray.

They intuitively recognized the truth contained in a statement by the great Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard who once wrote that “as great as God creating something out of nothing is, the even greater miracle is God creating saints out of sinners!” Rather than wallowing in grief, anger and a desire for retribution they followed the progress the perpetrator had made while imprisoned.

In an extraordinary gesture of true forgiveness they showed up at the release hearing and testified that the assailant be released and on probation. This incident is hard to imagine, but it speaks to the incredible humanity of Senator Davis and his spouse, Marion.

As U.S. Attorney Senator Davis will be called upon to exercise superb judgment on whether and when to bring lawsuits or convene grand jury panels. Solid, good judgment he has in abundance though and he will judiciously utilize it.

It should not be lost on folks that the U.S. Attorney has had a central role
in several high profile cases in the last 40 years. Recall for example the stand-off between Randy Weaver and the FBI at Ruby Ridge in northern Boundary County; or, that of Claude Dallas, and the murder of two Fish and Game employees in Owyhee County.

In the Weaver case his attorney, “Gunning for Justice” Jerry Spence danced circles around the U.S. Attorney and the prosecution team. It is a safe bet no one will dance circles around Bart Davis.

To his great credit Davis is not a knee-jerk ideologue. He thinks through issues and takes stands based on principle, not political expediency. It is another safe bet he will conduct himself and see that his office performs in an entirely non-partisan manner.

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to sit next to Senator Davis on a panel on politics being held at Idaho State University and sponsored by the Idaho State Journal. Davis’ thoughtful, cant-free responses were refreshing to say the least. I couldn’t help being impressed.

Here clearly was a legislator at the top of his game who knew what he was talking about, said what he thought and meant what he said. When the event was over with I’ll never forget his leaning over and saying he had to return to Idaho Falls to face four censure resolutions because Doyle Beck and the Bonneville County Republican Central committee felt the good senator had not reflected their views on several issues.

Have legislators who think for themselves? Heavens no—do people think this is a Republic rather than a Democracy? Beck and his ilk are saying they don’t want a Bart Davis to be a representative who studies and thinks, they want an automaton who does what they demand.

To his credit Bart Davis stayed on the correct path he has always walked. He has to have welcomed the opportunity though to walk away while at the top of his game and to put all that game-playing, partisan crap behind him.

Have no doubts – his selection is a breath of fresh air and a well deserved honor for one of the state’s fine public servants. Hats off to the President and his Attorney General on this one.

Davis’ departure will of course set off a scramble to name his successor as Majority Leader and there’ll be an abundance of candidates. Early names being bandied about include Assistant Majority Leader and State Senator Chuck Winder from Boise; Majority Caucus Chair State Senator Todd Lakey, from Nampa, and State Senator Marv Hagedorn from Meridian. A darkhorse surprise might be State Senator Carl Crabtree from Grangeville.

Column