Month: November 2015


The voice on the other end of the telephone belonged to a nice lady who hailed from Wisconsin. She and her husband, who she described as an outdoor enthusiast, had moved to Wallace 14 years ago.

Wisconsin is a state with two strong political parties, and while in recent years the Democrats and their union allies have been outmaneuvered by Governor Scott Walker to the point where critics feel Wisconsin Democrats are somewhat moribund, their organization looks postively dynamic compared to Idaho’s.

The caller wanted to know whether I could come speak to a discussion group of about 25 mostly Democrats and would I be willing to share thoughts on whether there would ever be a Democratic resurrection. Here’s the gist of what I said.

The Democrats can once again be the majority choice of Idaho voters, but it is going to take time, hard work, a major reframing of the issues they focus on and the mother’s milk—money.

Here’s what has to happen: the new State Chair, former State Senator Bert Marley from Pocatello, has to visit all 44 Idaho counties. While there he must interview the county chair and emphasize the paramount obligation to find qualified Democrats to contest for every office on the local ballot. Additionally, they must fill every precinct committee slot.

If the county chair cannot do that Marley should replace them with someone who can get the job done.

Conversely, Marley owes it to these county chairs to find qualified candidates to contest every statewide and federal office. The bottom line is a party cannot start up the comeback trail without contesting every position on a ballot. One cannot win an election with nobody on the ballot, as is the case all too often.

Secondly, Democrats have to thrust forward the kind of talent that has put time in grade developing the personal relationships still critical to winning elections. Butch Otter has won three terms as governor not because of his do-nothing, risk nothing policies. He has won because he spent 14 years as Lt. Governor traveling the state building the kinds of personal relationships with donors, party workers and constituent interest groups essential to achieving ballot success.

Nothing against Steve Allred or A.J. Balukoff, the D’s last two gubernatorial nominees. Both are fine individuals but neither had spent the time in-grade developing the necessary political relationships, nor had they served in other partisan offices.

Next, the Idaho Democratic Party has to attract back the lunch-bucket carrying Democrat—the hard-working, tax-paying dirt under the finger-nails miner, or logger or farmer who started migrating to the Republican party after they felt deserted by the left-leaning, super liberal element of the party.

Others call these folks Andrus Democrats. Whatever one terms them, they along with many independents and Republicans (Andrus received as high as 30% of the Republican vote) voters carried Andrus to victory four times with two of those gubernatorial races providing the highest winning margins in Idaho history.

The Andrus formula falls under the umbrella of what he calls the three “E’s:” the Economy, Education and the Environment. He authored the phrase, “First one has to make a living; then, they have to have a living worthwhile.” In other words one has to have a job.

Consequently, he focused on policies which enhanced job creation and expanded the economic pie—but not at the expense of erxisting businesses. New business had to pay its on way. He did not believe nor did he offer incentives that in actuality were subsidies at the expense of existing business.

Secondly, he knew how important quality educational offerings were to business leaders looking to relocate their business and their families. His steadfast support for education including better pay for teachers was steadfast and constant.

Third, he knew how important Idaho’s quality of life was to the numerous citizens who enjoyed all forms of outdoor recreation. For that reason he was as supportive of wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers as he was of national recreation areas and multiple uses on Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands.

Andrus saw these as issues around which people could unite. He avoided trumpeting the numerous social issues that divide people, and which made it all too easy for Republicans to define Democrats.

His advice today would be don’t let your opponents define you, reframe your messages, get back to basics, avoid fear-mongering, and be for the three “E’s.” When Idaho Democrats start listening and acting on the advice of their most successful office-holder ever, the comeback will start.



It was a scene worthy of description by a Shakespeare. Even through the medium of television the viewer could sense a spirit of joy and a genuine sense of hope that the nation’s two major political parties really could come together for the common good and discern the greatest good for the greatest number.

It was an all too rare moment in our nation’s capital. There in the well of the people’s house all 435 members of Congress were united in conveying heartfelt thanks to outgoing Speaker John Boehner for his distinquished service, as well as appreciation for the accession of Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to the Speakership.

Even the most cynical within a beltway bulging with cynics and critics had to concede the slate had been swept clean, that a transformational new beginning might be underway. Congressman Ryan is the right person in the right place at the right time with the right message.

Ryan gets the fundamental desire echoing from the constituencies of all members: collaborative, cooperative government can occur when members recognize they are sent Washington, D.C. to solve problems. They are not, as Speaker Ryan noted, to be the problem.

For a full hour animosities were set aside, respect and camaraderie prevailed. The only other time in recent memory an approximation of this coming together occurred was when Spokane’s Tom Foley, the first Speaker ever from west of the 100th meridian, succeeded the ethically challenged and disgraced Speaker Jim Wright from Texas.

Ironically, on the same day former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert was standing before a Federal Judge to be sentenced following his admission of guilt for accepting bribes in the millions of dollars. House Democrats, well aware of their own past disgraced Speaker, wisely refrained from making any partisan comments about the parallels.

The new Speaker quickly eschewed any Presidential aspirations, telling CNN that this would have been the time to run if he had a hankering to be president. In his acceptence remarks he tossed a couple of “political bones” to the Freedom Forum/Tea Party of which Idaho First District Congressman Raul Labrador is a prominent member.

Ryan said the prominence of the committee system would be restored, which means Leadership will not dictate when bills move. Additionally, backbenchers will be able to contribute especially if they have a particular expertise.

Ryan, like Boehner, is the quintessential American success story. He’s the first major political figure to have worked at a McDonald’s to help his widowed mother with expenses. He took the job when his father passed away when he was 16.

He worked his way through college, incurring debt from loans but also receiving Pell grants. He first came to D.C. as an intern in a Congressional office. Happily married, he is devoted to his wife and children, and only accepted the Speakership on condition he be able to continue his practice of flying home every weekend.

There’s irony in Ryan’s accession, especially for Congressman Labrador (Who voted for conservative colleague Rep. Daniel Webster of Florida in the Republican caucus; the next day he voted for Ryan in the House vote) and the Freedom Forum. Ryan becoming Speaker is a perfect example of the “Law of Unintended Consequences.” Labrador and his fellow travelers started over a year ago to undermine and drive out of office Speaker Boehner.

Little did they realize the outcome would be a no nonsense, practical, results-oriented Speaker who is not afraid of compromise. Indeed, he walked the talk 18 months earlier when negotiating a budget deal with Washington’s senior sernator, Patty Murray.

Nor could they have had any idea that Speaker Boehner would, in his words, “clean the barn” before leaving. This cleaning included an $80 billion increase in spending and a kicking the can of voting on increasing the debt ceiling down the road for almost two years.

So my friends, if you happen to see the First District congressman any time soon, be sure and thank him.