Marketing, Martin Luther King, Uncategorized

Recall

Throwing Them Out Isn’t Easy

The guy in the photo is Lynn J. Frazier. He was the first public official in the country removed from office by recall. It happened in 1921 in North Dakota.

Frazier had been elected governor three different times on the Non-Partisan League ticket, but his radical brand of progressive politics eventually got him crosswise with the state’s voters. Ironically, he advocated that the recall provision be added to the state constitution and almost immediately it was used against him.

The recall of a governor has happened only one other time. Gray Davis suffered Lynn Frazier’s fate in California in 2003. All this by way of saying, recalling an elected official, as has now been proposed in Idaho (and in Wisconsin), isn’t easy.

The Idahoans who say they want to recall State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna have a big hill to climb. First, they need to collect just north of 158,000 valid signatures (meaning they probably need to gather thousands more) and have only two and a half months to get the job done. That is a lot of standing around in Walmart parking lots and PTA meetings and it will require hundreds if not thousands of volunteers. Such efforts normally dictate paid signature gathering, but if this effort is, as it seems to be, truly grassroots, then the money won’t be readily available to finance the signature production.

Still, the group has a Facebook page up with (as of late yesterday) more than 4,000 friends and they has generated a good deal of media attention. Meanwhile, the Idaho State Journal reports that an American Falls high school senior has launched a “Stand with Luna” website to support the state superintendent.

Other than a handful of local election officials, Idahoans have been reluctant to resort to the recall. Two Idaho Falls state legislators were recalled in 1971. Efforts to recall two Boise legislators are also underway, resembling in some respects the widespread legislative recall efforts underway in Wisconsin.

A fellow often referred to at the time as “a St. Maries dog catcher” mounted a recall effort against Sen. Frank Church in 1967 until it dawned on everyone that there is no provision in the U.S. Constitution to recall federal officials. The dog catcher – he had some links to the John Birch Society – and his recall quickly faded away.

Nationally only 13 legislators, including the two in Idaho, have been recalled since 1913. Seven of the 13 recalls took place in Oregon and California.

The most obvious thing about these numbers, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political writer Craig Gilbert points out, “is how seldom the recall has been used successfully. Only 18 states give their citizens the power to remove their state legislators by recall, and in only five has it actually happened.  No one knows how many recalls have been attempted, but only 20 have succeeded in gathering enough valid signatures to force a recall election, and only 13 have succeeded in removing a legislator from office.”

Like I said, it’s a big hill to climb and it should be. As a general rule we have elections to get rid of politicians who fall out of favor. Still, as Gilbert notes, recalls tend to form around a not particularly partisan issue and tend to draw energy from the right of the political spectrum. Of the 13 recalled state legislators, 9 have been Republicans and some of them were recalled because they fell out of favor with their own party.

Essentially that’s what happened to Davis in California in 2003. Davis became enormously unpopular due to the state’s terrible fiscal condition and an energy crisis. The long-time Democrat, governor of an  overwhelmingly blue state, saw his approval numbers go deeply in the ditch with constituents across the board, including Democrats. Enter the Governator.

Successful recalls seem to require a cause and passion, or perhaps anger. Interestingly the very conservative Americans for Limited Government is touting expansion of the recall as a way to get at politicians who aren’t tough enough on spending, an issue that increasingly cuts across all political demographics.

Considering that Luna won re-election last November with just over 60% of the vote – more than 268,000 total votes – the cause he represents – his package of education reform bills – will have to be extremely unpopular for the recall to get real legs. To date, I know of no public polling on how Luna’s education policies are playing with Idaho voters, but  public comments in the media, on newspaper websites and in legislative hearings seem to trend pretty strongly against. Across the state local school boards are scrambling to implement changes, consider more layoffs and four day school weeks and deal with another year of declining budgets.

But it’s an open question as to whether this all adds up to the type of cause that typically drives a recall and whether the passion is deep enough to propel a grassroots signature campaign that results in an election. Having said that, education has often been a mobilizing issue in Idaho. Many voters may not care much about the big policy debates in Boise during a long legislative session, but they do care about the local schoolhouse and they have opinions about whether the students they most care about are getting the right kind of education.

Bottom line: the Luna recall will have to catch fire very fast and burn very hot to have a chance to succeed.

As a curious footnote to recall history, North Dakota’s booted Gov. Lynn Frazier wasn’t out of office for long. About a year after being recalled, Frazier ran for the U.S. Senate and won. He served in the Senate for 18 years until losing a Republican primary in 1940. Further proof, perhaps, that recalls are fueled by the passions of the moment and passion can cool quickly.

Marketing, Uncategorized

Pass/Fail

Tough Session Draws Tough Reviews

Idaho Democrats have called the just completed legislative session “the worst in memory.” Republicans, who overwhelmingly dominate in Idaho, say just a minute, it wasn’t all that bad.

Idaho’s editorial pages are weighing in with generally very tough judgements about a session that stripped collective bargaining rights for teachers, “reformed” education to move policy strongly in the direction of more on-line learning, fewer classroom teachers, “pay for performance” and less money.

The Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa gave letter grades ranging from three A’s to two F’s and one D. Grading on the curve, the IPT comes down with an overall “B,” while praising lawmakers for meeting their Constitutional obligation to balance the budget and for cutting education spending by only $50 million.

The Twin Falls Times-News compares this year’s session to Gov. Len Jordan’s first session in 1951 when the newly elected Jordan called for, among other things, the closure of state colleges in Lewiston and Albion. The paper says that ’51 session has long been viewed as one of the worst with long-standing consequences, but then suggests the just ended session may have been worse.

“The first session of the 61st Legislature adjourned Thursday with a state bitterly divided over Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s education reform proposal,” the paper’s Sunday editorial said. “Lawmakers slashed state support for Medicaid by $35 million, public school funding by $47 million and higher education dollars by $8 million.

“Legislators passed a bill restricting abortion that’s probably unconstitutional, changed the Republican primary so that only party faithful may be able to vote, authorized the governor to declare a “wolf emergency,” made dairies’ nutrient management plans trade secrets, and rewrote Idaho’s Right to Farm law so broadly that it might limit counties’ ability to regulate the expansion of slaughterhouses, potato-processing operations and cheese factories.”

The Idaho Statesman’s Sunday edit was headlined “Difficult and Damaging” and concludes that history may not judge the 88 day session very kindly.

“A session to be proud of? Not even close,” the Statesman said.

Marty Trillhaase, writing on the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page Sunday, said: “The men and women who sat out the winter under the Capitol dome have delivered a government that is radically different: Lawmakers become lawgivers — Time was, if lawmakers wanted to pass a sales tax or shift schools from local to state support, they asked you. They coaxed you. They won your support. And they took their time.

“Today’s lawgivers descend from Mount Heyburn and inform the rest of us how life is going to be.”

Meanwhile, a referendum effort has been launched to take State School Superintendent Tom Luna’s reforms to the voters and backers of a recall Luna campaign say they are ready to gather signatures.

A couple of weeks, as astute political observers say, is a life-time in politics. The heartburn over this session my fade fast, as fast as these newspaper editorials hit the recycle bin or line the bird cage. But, then again, if those who felt they got the short end of a long stick from this year’s legislature can keep the image alive that has been almost universally depicted by the editorial writers then this session may have lasting political, as well as policy implications.

Stay tuned.

Uncategorized

Dewey Defeats Truman

trumanObama’s Model – Not 1994, but 1948

November 2nd will be long remembered for “the shellacking,” as Barack Obama put it, that he and Democrats took in the mid-term elections. It was a near historic rout often compared to the thumping Bill Clinton and Democrats took in 1994. But the election Obama ought to be studying for clues to his comeback in two years time is not ’94, but Harry Truman’s spectacular return from political death on another November 2nd in 1948.

Like Obama after last week’s election, Truman seemed like a dead man walking after the 1946 mid-terms. Republicans captured both houses of Congress, gaining 55 seats in the House and a dozen in the Senate, including the election of very conservative Republicans like Joseph McCarthy in Wisconsin, Zales Ecton in Montana and Henry Dworshak in Idaho. No question, 1946 was a banner year for the GOP. The big Republican win came with, and in part as a result of, Truman’s popularity being in the ditch. By election time, the President’s approval rating had slumped to 32%.

As Truman’s best biographer David McCullough has written: “According to one of the latest Washington jokes in the autumn of 1946, Truman was late for a Cabinet meeting because he woke up stiff in the joints from trying to put his foot in his mouth.”

Another line held that “to err is Truman.”

The Democratic defeat was so massive in 1946 and Truman’s role in bringing it about so obvious, that first -term Arkansas Sen. J. William Fulbright actually suggested that Truman, with no vice president to replace him, should resign the presidency after appointing respected Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg Secretary of State. Vandenberg would then become President and would be able to avoid what Fulbright saw as the fearsome prospect of divided government presided over by a hugely unpopular chief executive. Truman responded by forever referring to Fulbright as “Halfbright” and instead he came out fighting.

The seeds of Obama’s resurrection from the shellacking of the 2010 mid-terms may reside in Truman’s response 64 years ago. Truman doubled down on the Republicans, challenged them to enact their plans; plans strikingly similar to today – spending reductions, dismantling various social programs and opposition to national health care reform. No one – except Harry Truman – thought he could win in 1948, but he did and convincingly. Truman delighted in the fact that the very conservative Chicago Tribune got the election outcome wrong in its famous headline – Dewey Defeats Truman.

As Frank Rich noted in the New York Times Sunday, Obama can make a virtue, if he will, of the obvious and soon to grow splits in Republican ranks. In other words, he needs to shift the focus from his agenda to the new Republican agenda.

If the darlings of the Tea Party – Michelle Bachmann and Jim DeMint – really want, as Bachmann says, “to wean the country off Social Security and Medicare,” perhaps Obama should challenge them to bring forth the legislation. John Boehner and Mitch McConnell say they want to repeal the health care legislation and the President should welcome the discussion as the best chance he’ll have to reframe the national debate to make the case, in personal terms, that he has yet to make for the controversial legislation.

Obama needs to get out a Glenn Beck-style blackboard in the Roosevelt Room and explain how the GOP wants to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans by borrowing the money from China in order to keep putting the cash in Donald Trump’s or Michael Bloomberg’s pockets.

Every Tea Partier and Congressional Republican, and most Democrats, want to cut spending. OK, where and when do we start? The first qualifier when the talk turns to spending cuts is usually to take defense, homeland security and entitlements off the budget chopping block. That leaves about 15 cents of every dollar the federal government spends eligible for cuts. Obama should ask, where do we start? Student loans? The National Parks? Maybe raising the retirement age to 70 or eliminating the Department of Education? Maybe we ditch the new generation of littoral fighting ships the Navy desperately wants. That would save a cool $8 billion. Let’s really have the debate.

In his re-election in 1948 after his disastrous shellacking two years earlier, Harry Truman called the GOP bluff. As he suspected, the Republican’s ability to enact their program was much more limited than their ability to criticize Truman’s performance. Specifics and a lack of performance by the GOP eventually won out over hyperbole.

There is at least one other reason why Barack Obama should engage the new crowd in Congress directly on their ideas: the country desperately needs an adult conversation about priorities, spending, the deficit, the defense budget and entitlements. What better time to have it?

For two years, Obama’s operated his presidency in an often detached and dispassionate way. His White House seems to be all tactics, no overarching vision. Unless he provides that vision – and one way he can begin is to aggressively engage the Michelle Bachmann’s, Jim DeMint’s and Rand Paul’s of the new Congress – he will be a one-term president and, even worse, the great and serious debate the country needs about its priorities will disintegrate into a black swamp of politics as usual played out in dueling soundbites on Fox and MSNBC.

In David McCullough’s Truman, the superb Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the fighter from Missouri, the chapter on the 1948 election concludes with the analysis of Clark Clifford, Truman’s chief aide and strategist during that historic election.

“He was a good politician,” Clifford said of Truman, “a sensible politician…But that wasn’t why he was elected President…it was the remarkable courage in the man – his refusal to be discouraged, his willingness to go through the suffering of that campaign, the fatigue, the will to fight every step of the way, the will to win…

“It wasn’t Harry Truman the politician who won, it was Harry Truman the man.”

Uncategorized

70 Years Ago…

DunkirkTheir Finest Hour

Seven decades ago, western civilization teetered on the brink on a sandy spit of land in the French coast at a little town called Dunkirk.

Over the last few days of May and the first few days of June 1940, 340,000 British troops and thousands more French were evacuated from northern France in what was at the same time a remarkable save and a stunning defeat. Dunkirk, that is all that need be said, to conjure up the image of England literally standing alone against what appeared to be the total superiority of the Nazi war machine. The 70th anniversary of the Miracle of Dunkirk is being remembered in England this weekend.

One veteran who was taken off that bloody beach all those long years ago told the Guardian that the memory is “on my mind all day every day.”

It is hard to make great history – or great speeches – from abject defeat, but when England and the world needed it most, that most remarkable Englishman, Winston Churchill, rose to the occasion. His “finest hour” speech still stands as a superb historical document and as close as any politician can ever come to turning political rhetoric into lasting literature.

The last three paragraphs of the speech Churchill delivered in the House of Commons on June 18, 1940 begin:

“What (French) General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.”

Churchill did many remarkable things with his speech after the Dunkirk disaster, not least being that he leveled with his country about its almost unbelievably dire circumstances. We take it for granted today that Britain would survive, that the United States would enter the war, that Hitler would be defeated. It wasn’t so clear in that long ago spring.

Read Winston’s words and put yourself in that place 70 years ago:

“Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”

Churchill later said that the British people had displayed the heart of a lion in standing up to Hitler. He had the honor to supply, as he said, “the roar.”

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

We celebrate Memorial Day weekend with cookouts, baseball games, a few hours in the garden perhaps, and, I hope, with a few moments of pause to remember. Western civilization did hang in the balance 70 years ago.

It is history worth knowing and appreciating. Happy Memorial Day.

Footnote: There is a remarkable new wartime biography of Churchill – Winston’s War – by the acclaimed British World War II historian Max Hastings. It’s a terrific book. Hastings shows Churchill to be all that he was – brilliant, petulant, difficult, charming, a cigar smoking, champagne swilling leader and orator of the first order.

Uncategorized

Remembering Bruce Sweeney

In the best tradition…

This is the way I’ll remember long-time Idaho state legislator Bruce Sweeney – smiling, never meeting a stranger, always trying to find a way to move the political ball down the field.

Sweeney, who represented Nez Perce County in the Idaho House and Senate for 20 years, died yesterday after a long battle with bone cancer. Following his senate career, Sweeney served on the Idaho Transportation Board for more than 10 years.

I will also remember Sweeney as one of a trio of Nez Perce County state senators who helped define the Idaho Democratic Party for more than 30 years. Bruce replaced Mike Mitchell in the state senate in 1982 and Mike replaced Cecil D. Andrus when he won the governorship in 1970.

Bruce Sweeney was also a tremendous track and field athlete. The University of Idaho proudly notes on Sweeney’s web page that the Vandal sprinter/hurdler was “never beaten by a Washington State” hurdler. Sweeney was a finalist in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1956.

Bruce was a good pilot, too. During many years of observing and participating in Idaho politics, you accumulate a great many memories. I have a sharp memory of flying into the small airport at Caldwell in 1986, Bruce Sweeney in the left hand seat, Cece Andrus in the right. The Andrus campaign road show had missed a connection necessary to get us to the next political event, so the senator from Nez Perce loaded up the candidate and the press secretary and off we went into a dramatic Idaho summer morning.

That story is a good summary of Bruce Sweeney – do what is necessary to get the job done. His political and public service career is in the finest tradition of Idaho citizen-lawmakers.

He will be missed.

Little Bighorn, Uncategorized

This is Work?

Idaho Judge Pinch Hits in Yosemite Idaho Judge Pinch Hits in Yosemite

Interesting story in the New York Times earlier this week about Idaho federal Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle.

Who’d a thunk it, but the majestic national park at Yosemite in northern California has a federal courthouse. When the previous federal judge, who typically hears misdemeanor cases – guns, drugs and alcohol in the park – was forced to resign for health reasons, Judge Boyle offered to sub until a permanent replacement could be named. The judge and Beverly Boyle recently finished a two-week stint dispensing justice in what His Honor calls “the Garden of Eden”

Boyle was an eastern Idaho District Judge and a member of the Idaho Supreme Court before his appointment as a federal magistrate in 1992.

Little Bighorn, Uncategorized

August in Wisconsin

WisconsinThe Land of Cheese…and Other Things

Random notes from the north of Wisconsin.

The signs of the dog days of summer are everywhere you look in Wisconsin right now.

The Wisconsin State Fair – one of the big ones in the Midwest – is going on this week in Milwaukee. Chocolate covered bacon is the new food sensation this year. More on that later. The lovely, sweet cherries are just about perfect in Door County in the north of the state hard by Lake Michigan.

And, of course, the Packer training camp is up and running. (I buried the lead, based upon what really dominates the news here.) The general manager of the storied Green Bay franchise caused a bit of a stir among the green and gold faithful by suggesting that the dog fighter Michael Vick might, just might, be a suitable heir to Brett Farve or Bart Starr.

A Rich Political History
Wisconsin politics, like its food and football, have never been dull and are frequently fascinating. The state’s colorful political history boasts many characters. Going way back, the State Fair proudly notes that a prospective candidate for president visited in 1859. Abraham Lincoln knew a battle ground state when he saw one.

More recently, the Congressman representing northern Wisconsin, Rep. Steve Kagen a Democrat from Appleton, had two of his town hall meetings on health care reform disrupted this week by very noisy protesters. Apparently this type of engagement is now standard, part of a national effort to make life miserable for members of Congress on August recess.

Kagen seemed to handle the hubbub pretty well. At least he used the right analogy in talking to the press. “There was a significant amount of anger there,” he told the Green Bay Press-Gazette, “as if the referee made the wrong call in a Packer game.”

This alleged “battle ground state” – maybe in name only – hasn’t gone for a Republican since Ronald Reagan’s second term. Barack Obama rolled up 56% of the vote in Wisconsin in 2008, exactly the margin for that other untested Illinois politician in 1860.

Arguably the greatest political figure Wisconsin has produced – and one the most independent -was Fighting Bob La Follette, a early progressive of the western type, who served as governor and then as one of the most influential United States Senators. La Follette was once hung in effigy for opposing U.S. involvement in World War I, but still managed to spawn a Midwestern political dynasty.

La Follette, a nominal Republican, bolted his party in 1924 – he wasn’t a Coolidge fan – and gathered in more than 16% of the popular vote running as an independent presidential candidate. His running mate on the Progressive Party ticket was another “radical” and a nominal Democrat from Butte, Montana – Senator Burton K. Wheeler. The La Follette-Wheeler ticket carried only Wisconsin in 1924, but the Progressives – anti-monopoly, anti-interventionist in foreign affairs and anti-Ku Klux Klan – ran far ahead of the Democratic ticket most everywhere in the Northwest, including Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington.

Over many years, Wisconsin’s has had its share of “radicals” of both the left and the right. Gaylord Nelson founded Earth Day and made common cause over his Senate career with Frank Church of Idaho on many environmental issues, including the landmark 1964 Wilderness Act. Both Nelson and Church lost re-election in the Reagan landslide of 1980.

One other Northwest-Wisconsin connection of particular note was the close friendship between Senator Herman Welker, a one-term Payette, Idaho Republican, and Joe McCarthy, a favorite son of Appleton, Wisconsin. Often described as McCarthy’s “best friend in the Senate” or “little Joe from Idaho,” Welker never abandoned his Wisconsin Republican colleague even when being McCarthy’s friend became a liability. Welker served as McCarthy’s chief defender when the Wisconsin senator was censured in 1954 for his increasingly reckless behavior in attacking those he suspected of Communist sympathies.

Cheese and brats…a growing issue
Wisconsinites, by all appearances, are not making the mistake of spending too many lovely August days worrying about health care reform or cash for clunkers. These are days for cheese, beer, brats and cream puffs, after all, the four main food groups. As a result the expanding Wisconsin waste line seems to be – sorry – a growing issue.

A columnist in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel set aside the usual polite Midwestern reserve this week to challenge fellow cheeseheads to admit the obvious: “Half of us are fat; a quarter, really fat. If bands don’t play ‘Too Fat Polka’ at weddings around the state anymore, they should. Make it our song until we can tie shoes without gasping for air between the left and the right.”

To sum this up: one more political connection.

Another of Wisconsin’s true political radicals was Senator William Proxmire, a gadfly, skinflint and physical fitness nut who served 32 years in the U.S. Senate. Proxmie replaced McCarthy in the Senate and never spent more than a few hundred buck on a re-election. He also created the Golden Fleece Award to spotlight wasteful government spending and was known to run to work in the Senate – ten miles a day.

As the New York Times noted after his death in 2005, “Tall, thin and bald as a young man, Mr. Proxmire was unusually vain about his looks. He had a series of hair transplants and a face lift, and in 1973, he published a book about staying in shape: ‘You Can Do It: Senator Proxmire’s Exercise, Diet and Relaxation Plan.'”

I’m betting the State Fair’s new chocolate covered bacon would never have caught on with ol’ Bill Proxmire.