Month: April 2016


There’s irony in new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s selection of April 15th, normally considered to be “Tax Day” in the United States, to introduce a physician assisted suicide bill, but only for Canadians participating in Canada’s “single payer” healthcare system.

It’s as if he subtly wanted to remind folks of life’s two certainties – death and taxes. He has added a new wrinkle, though. Now a portion of a Canadian’s tax dollar is actually going to be expended ensuring a Canadian knows he can count on State support if he has been diagnosed with a fatal disease and desires to end his life.

Trudeau had little choice. Canada’s Supreme Court ordered physician assisted suicide be included in the healthcare law and legislation be brought before Parliament. Trudeau, citing the last painful days of his father’s life, endorsed the law.

The question Canadians as well as Americans should be asking is why? Is there really a need for legislation in such an intensely personal, and really private matter? Isn’t there a larger issue concerning whether government should be involved in the first place?

The old Hemlock Society, recast as “Compassion and Choices” (In Canada the group is known as “Dying with Dignity Canada”) has done an excellent job convincing the public the debate is about choice, and a law is needed to ensure a non-Constitutional right to die. It’s a classic straw dog argument that masks what the focus should be on: 1) Should the state be involved at all? 2) Should health care providers be involved, and possibly even compelled to participate despite conscientious objection? 3) Is society sending a mixed message about the sanctity and value of life?

Few in North America recognize suicide is the second leading cause of non-natural death annually. A recent Cable News Network (CNN) telecast listed suicides in the United States at approximately 42,000 a year, second only to drug overdose-induced deaths at 44,000. Suicide ran ahead of car accident deaths at 36,000 annually and gunshot deaths, at 32,000 annually.

Think of the millions spent annually promoting safe driving, seat belts and highway safety. Think of the millions spent on drug education and prevention programs, not to mention gun safety.

Think too about millions spent on teen suicide prevention programs such as suicide hotlines wherein teens are urged not to give up hope, not to take the path from which there is no return. Teen suicides are especially high in proportion to population among Native Americans and Alaskan Natives. It is a mixed message to say the least.

Buried among that number are the approximately 250 people annually who in Oregon and Washington avail themselves of the law. The accuracy of the number is difficult to calculate largely because the law mandates the physician signing the death certificate must list the underlying disease as the cause of death, not the lethal dose of drugs consumed in completing the suicide.

A Department of Health study of those that actually completed their suicide (About twice as many folks start the paperwork) was revealing:

Almost all were white, well to-do and well educated.

There were few minorities.

Virtually none were fully disabled.

Pain management was not an issue, rather it was a matter of wanting to control their exit.

The picture seems pretty clear. Once again an unnecessary law is being proposed in Canada and will eventually be on the ballot in states which do not yet sanction physician- assisted suicide, to benefit the rich and powerful.

They come from the top one-tenth of one percent, the same group Senator Bernie Sanders has been railing against. They brag about not paying any taxes, and they know their money will buy them an extra ten years of life followed by an easy exit. They seem not to dread that “something after death/ The undiscovered Country from whose bourn/ No traveler returns/” Nor does it “puzzle the will/ And makes us fear those ills we have/ Than fly to others we know not of?”

(Editor’s note: full disclosure. Chris Carlson’s father committed suicide in 1961; in 2008 Chris chaired the losing campaign in Washington state against Initiative 1000 which allows physician assisted suicide.)



Robyn Brody is from Rupert. Sergio Gutierrez is from Nampa. Curt Mckenzie and Clive Strong are from Boise. Only a handful of Idahoans recognize the names, yet in little more than three weeks the election of one of these will lead to a new Chief Justice being selected to head Idaho’s third branch of government—the Idaho Supreme Court.

If one garners more than the 50 per cent plus one number in the May 17th primary, the election is over. When Chief Justice Jim Jones,, who is retiring, leaves the bench at the end of the year the new justice and the hold-over four justices will choose a new Chief Justice.

With four people in the race, getting over the 50% mark will be difficult. There is a high probability there will be a run-off in November for the top two finishers.

Supreme Court races are supposedly non-partisan, but in recent years Republicans across the nation have been systematically turning them into partisan elections. It’s a major theme in their continuing denunciation of “un-elected,” liberal judges who make extra-legal rulings inconsistent with their view of the Constitution and prevailing secular society norms.

Just as the U.S. Supreme Court is viewed as partisan depending on where its Chief Justice, John Roberts, lands on an issue and which president appointed them, so are State judges viewed more for their
collegiality and amity with an administration than for independence.

Races in states where judges are elected are seeing campaign costs soar. Since judges are loath to ask for money, a personal surrogate for them who does not mind “dialing for dollars” is a critical component for any campaign.

Democrats in Idaho point their fingers at Republicans for turning judicial races into partisan events and in particular point to the 2000 election in which Owyhee county native, Daniel Eismann, defeated Cathy Silak, the first female justice appointed to the Supreme Court. It was a nasty, testy fight but Republicans successfully tagged Judge Silak as a closet liberal and a partisan Democrat.

Silak lost to Eismann, who is still a justice, by a 58.6% to 41.4 %. It was the first time since 1944 (when Bert Miller defeated Ben Dunlap) that a sitting justice was knocked off. Ironically, Silak had turned back a stiff challenge from former attorney general Wayne Kidwell in 1994, defeating Kidwell by a 57.7% to a 42.3% margin.

Kidwell was later elected to the Court. He owes the fact that he was still electable to a compassionate action in 1975 by then Governor Cecil D. Andrus. In a State Land Board meeting then Attorney General Kidwell was on the losing end of a vote. He started to fume, then became increasingly angry, and finally truly began to lose it. All of this was taking place in front of reporters from AP, UPI and the Idaho Statesman.

Andrus easily could have sat there and let Kidwell lose it completely, which would have ended Kidwell’s political career. Instead, Andrus gaveled the meeting into a 15-minute recess, grabbed Kidwell by the arm, led him into his office, sat him down and told him to get control of himself or he would hold the board over to finishing business the next day. Kidwell did regain his control and the meeting resumed.

All four of this years’ candidates appear to be qualified. Early odds appear to favor McKenzie. As a Republican state senator he has a strong base of support and presumably will emerge with a solid majority of the vote in his district. A downside is that McKenzie appears to be the favored candidate of Idaho Power.

One could easily argue that Court of Appeals Judge Sergio Guiterrez has an equally solid base of support in Canyon county and within the state’s relatively large Hispanic community. He has a fine reputation and pockets of support across the state from people like former First Congressional District candidate and former Moscow City Council member Linda Pall who are working hard for him.

The only female candidate, Rupert attorney Robyn Brody, may do well just because women voters are more likely to vote for the only female on the list of males. Ms. Brody must be taken seriously because she has reportedly hired the savvy, politically well connected and smart Republican operative, Jason Lehosit, to run her campaign.

The best suited to take Jones’ place, though, and the one I peronally intend to vote for is Clive Strong. He has served well and with distinction the State ande started fretH every Attorney General (Jim Jones, Larry Echohawk, Alan Lance and Lawrence Wasden) he has worked for as the Deputy Attorney General for Natural Resources since 1983.

A third generation Idahoan, he grew up in the Magic Valley and obtained his law degree from the University of Idaho in 1978 and a Masters degree in natural resource law from Michigan in 1983. He is nationally known for his expertise in water law. He oversaw the state’s role in obtaining the historic Swan Falls Agreement and was the state’s lead attorney in the Snake River Adjudication process.

They don’t come any harder or smarter, nor does anyone work harder. Trust me: You can’t go wrong with Clive Strong.



Call it “The Francis Way” or the “Way of Francis.” Know that it is different. It belongs neither to the right nor to the left. It is neither liberal nor conservative, socialistic or capitalistic, Democrat or Republican, Vandal or Bronco.

Instead, it is firmly grounded in words directly attributable to Jesus in two commandents 1) You shall love your neighbor as yourself; and 2) Judge not lest ye be judged.

Pope Francis clearly lets the two commandments guide him, the result of which is a Catholic Church that is becoming more compassionate as this Pope teaches the clergy and laity alike to be more tolerant.

In a remarkable 256-page apostolic exhortation on “Family Life,” the Pope admits the obvious—the “family unit” across the world is changing and one cannot promulgate a one-size-fits-all definition. The traditional family unit we baby boomers thought the norm was Cleaver’s in the mid-50s television show, Leave It to Beaver: a father, a mother (who vacumed the rugs in a dress and pearls), married and two children both their biological progeny.

The “family,” however¸ has changed dramatically in 60 years. The Cleaver “family” comprises less than 20 percent of the population in many parts of the United States. There are more couples living together before they marry, if they marry at all. There are more single-parent housesholds, more grandparents raising their grandchildren, more same sex couples than ever before. There are more divorced people who are practicing Catholics and in good conscience still take communion despite the Church forbidding it, if they have remarried, until the first marriage is annulled.

Pope Francis also appears to understand the American Constitution better than his “conservative” critics. He gets what separation of Church and State truly means.

Take the subject of gay marriages. Within the Catholic Church marriage is a sacrament and a sacred, mystical union between a man and a woman the purpose of which is to bind the couple even closer through the intimacy of sex and propagate the species.

The Church will never change that position. However, this Pope understands that in secular society the State strives for equality and equal distribution of rights to all. Therefore, one can speculate that the “Francis Way” understands secular society has recognized that two people of the same gender can cohabit, can have visitation rights and inheritence rights. This would fall under the render unto Caesar solution proposed by Christ.

Call it a civil union, call it gay marriage, call it whatever but recognize the individuals involved are largely decent people seeking love in this lonely old world who can and do undertake vows to each other which they in good conscience believe to be every bit as binding as a Catholic’s sacramental marriage.

So long as the State does not try to dictate to the Church what its sacraments are, they can co-exist. The “Francis Way” is pushing decision making down to the diocesan and parish level. He is saying to bishops and priests, embrace those divorced Catholics, the single parents, the gays and lesbians, the transgendered and make them feel welcomed. You can accept the individual without embracing the philosophy, just like in the old days when Democrats and Republicans could be friends and still not agree.

Leave judgment to God. The “Francis Way” is to recognize Christ in everybody. One premise is an absolute verity: We are all sinners. We must love sinners but not our sins.

Today, almost every couple, whether heterosexual or homosexual, has had sex before marriage and many have cohabited. A sizable majority are guilty of fornication. For Catholics that is a major sin. For secular society, it is a simple fact of life and rightly decriminalized.

The “Francis Way” is to teach individuals that sex before marriage damages the chances of a couple’s union, regardless of gender, succeeding. We all pay for the consequences of the dissolution of marriages or unions. Pope Francis reminds us those most victimized by these failures are children.

What many miss is this Pope reiterating the primacy of an individual’s conscience. Buried within the 256-page exhortation is this wonderful statement: “We form consciences; we don’t make them.”

The “Way of Francis” is an expression of confidence that if one understands Catholic teachings on most issues, this educated conscience will make correct choices that mirror what Jesus would do under similar circumstances. The bottom line though is to recognize that Jesus underscored mercy and compassion towards all and avoidance of intolerant judgments. Francis recognizes at the end of the day most folks act in accordance with that formed conscience.

This “middle way,” this path of Francis, is also premised on positing our trust in the Almighty. Pope Francis would urge us to trust God always and in all ways.

(Editor’s note: Besides serving as press secretary to former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, Chris Carlson is a self-described “bead-carrying Roman Catholic” and he is on the board of Catholic Charities of Idaho.)



She was smaller, or tinier, than I had imagined she would be. But actors and actresses almost always are. On celluloid they are always “larger than life.” In person initially they appear to be pretty much like everyone else and thus inevitably one hides the disappointment that someone they had looked up to was indeed a mere, normal mortal.

Even though just four foot and eleven inches, Anna Pearce was clearly different. Her eyes danced. Her smile was genuine. Her questions incisive. Even if one had not read her painfully honest autobiography, Call Me Anna, one could tell that “Patty Duke” was a survivor, a person at last at peace with herself, comfortable in her personna, full of energy.

The cliché, dynamite comes in small packages, immediately came to mind. Several things surprised me, though. She had a wide-ranging intelligence that reflected being well read and she had a deep sense of compassion for her fellow man. One could tell that because of her own struggles she had an innate ability to empathize with those she met because she knew we all have our own demons and struggle to various degrees with the consequences of poor decisions, bad choices, or serious health challenges.

So, just what had brought Anna Pearce to the Spokane office of The Gallatin Group, a public affairs and strategic planning firm I had founded in 1989?

The immediate catalyst was her nephew, Mike Kennedy, a fellow traveler of mine in the world of Idaho Democratic politics. He had convinced his aunt to meet to discuss an assessment of her running for public office.

Mrs. Pearce was brutally candid about Hollywood having few roles for aging actresses. A Paul Newman or a Robert Redford can have a starring role no matter how many wrinkles they have, but how many starring roles are there for aging actresses? With the possible exception of Susan Sarandon, there were damn few, Mrs. Pearce opined.

Then in her 50’s, she wanted to know whether political office would be a viable way for her to continue to serve her community or her adopted state. She wasn’t seeking a new ego-gratifying role. To the contrary, she knew she had much to offer and there was a genuine desire to want to know if it would be viewed that way by Idahoans.

Some may scoff at the thought of Patty Duke running for any office in Idaho, whether local or statewide, as fantasy, especially as a Democrat. However, the least bit of research would quickly show she had been a successful president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, the over-arching union that represents all the various guilds in negotiations with the studios.

The post requires intelligence, toughness, political and negotiating skills not to mention the support of a vast number of narcissistic actors and actresses. By all accounts Anna Pearce did an excellent job.

The post had also been the springboard into elective politics for another SAG president, a fellow by the name of Ronald Reagan.

To her credit, she wanted a candid assessment of perceived strengths and weaknesses. To that end she invited us into her home to meet husband Mike and other family members. She and her nephew also flew to Boise for a private dinner at the Arid Club with Governor Andrus. During several meetings we discussed her views on various Idaho issues as well as what she could bring to various political offices.

We also examined a variety of potential posts from Kootenai County commisssioner to the office of governor. After several weeks, we met to discuss my conclusion that despite the considerable assets she could bring to any office, she should not run.

She could have easily handled any issue relating to her past struggles. She would have been taken seriously becaue of name recognition alone. Her command of the issues of the day would have been obvious. Her genuine compassion would have come across.

The downside she could not surmount though would have been her identification as a Democrat. In the few short years since Cecil Andrus had turned the governorship over to Phil Batt the Democratic party had moved away from the lunch-bucket carrrying, fiscally conservative but socially compassionate party of Andrus and had evolved into the wine and cheese liberal party painted by Republicans.

It would have been too easy to turn Anna Pearce into a caricature of Patty Duke. It would not have been fair, but politics, like life is especially unfair.

Given the opportunity she would have been a successful governor or county commissioner, but we’ll never know. Anna passed away peacefully last week, at age 69, after receiving the Last Rites from a priest of her native Catholic faith.

She had been ill for a few days. Nonetheless she and her husband left their home the evening of March 22nd because she wanted to do her civic duty and participate in the Democratic caucus like thousands of other Idahoans. It was her last appearance.

I drew one other conclusion: Anna Pearce really was larger than life and much more than just Patty Duke.

Idaho lost one of its best.