In the fading twilight of Friday afternoon – March 30, 1990 – then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus walked across State Street, the avenue running behind the Idaho Capitol building in Boise, and entered a conference room in the glass-sided state office building that houses the Department of Commerce and other state agencies.
Normally the Democratic governor would make public announcements from his own office on the second floor of the Statehouse, but this announcement was different. A large room was necessary to accommodate the dozens of out-of-state reporters and television crews on hand to hear what Andrus would say. Many seats in the room were occupied by activists and advocates on both sides of what may have been the most contentious single political and cultural issue in modern Idaho history – abortion.
When Cecil Andrus vetoed anti-abortion legislation in 1990, a strong majority of Idahoans exhaled with relief. The state wouldn’t be swept into a protracted and incredibly expensive effort to overturn the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe V. Wade, that had been the law of the land since 1973. And Idaho would not forever be identified with legislation so punitive to women who had been raped or victims of incest as to be, as Andrus said, lacking in all compassion.
As one who worked for Andrus, I simply could not envision how Idaho’s politics would unfold after that veto. Andrus, whose own views held that abortion was tolerable only in extreme cases, was vilified by all-or-nothing anti-abortion forces. He was accosted by protesters at nearly every campaign appearance during that election year, some demonstrators even showing up in a cold, damp potato field in eastern Idaho to try to get the attention of a network TV crew airing a segment on the state’s signature product.
Yet, when all the shouting subsided Andrus won a fourth term in a runaway – nearly 70 percent – against an opponent who accused him of being a “baby killer.” Two Democrats were elected to Congress in 1990, the first time that had happened since the 1960’s. A brilliant young lawyer and member of the Pawnee Nation, Larry Echo Hawk, was elected attorney general, the first Democrat in that post since the early 1970’s. Democrats commanded a majority on the state land board, and Democrats won enough seats in the state senate to share power with Republicans.
Nothing with politics lasts forever, of course, and with the perfect hindsight of 32 years and, while looking at the state’s disordered, increasingly authoritarian and dangerously militant politics, it is easy to see that Idaho’s flirtation with bipartisanship was as fleeting as a spring snowstorm.
Three decades after what appeared to be a Democratic breakthrough in 1990, Idaho is defined increasingly as a haven for white supremists, an intolerant sanctuary for book banners – one Idaho school district this week voted to “forever” ban 22 books from a high school library, including titles by Margaret Atwood, Sherman Alexie and Toni Morrison – and a place, as a friend once observed, where you must be born, while you’re alive no one is going to help you and if you screw up, they kill you.
The radical Republican candidate for attorney general was, while in Congress, a ringleader of the Freedom Caucus that has done so much to poison national politics. Wait until he becomes the state’s top law enforcement officer and takes his marching orders directly from Texas, or indirectly from the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Two of the Republican candidates for secretary of state are election deniers who would, if elected, finally destroy the Idaho tradition of non-partisan election administration. Meanwhile, vast amounts of out-of-state campaign money floods the state, surely coming from national groups determined to cement Idaho’s reputation as an easy laboratory for more radical right experimentation.
In this mess of rightwing rot also sits the incumbent governor, Brad Little, a man seeking a second term who was once celebrated as a policy wonk and a non-crazy conservative. But the tidal wave of stupidity that has pushed the Idaho GOP to the brink of insanity has fully swept Little along. The state’s new Democratic Party chair, Boise state representative Lauren Necochea, perfectly captured the state of radical politics in Idaho when she told The Guardian recently: “The difference between Little and McGeachin is really more style than substance. She personifies the far-right extremism while he panders to it.”
Little’s pandering has never been more on display than when he signed the state’s latest anti-abortion legislation even while speculating out loud that the proposal to allow a rapist to collect a cash bounty when a victim seeks an abortion was likely unconstitutional. Little was man enough to worry that the legislation just might have “unintended consequences” for “victims of sexual assault,” but still servile enough to the radicals to put his name on garbage.
Ironically, whether he intended to or not, Little used almost exactly the same language in signing a draconian abortion bill in 2022 that Cecil Andrus used to veto one in 1990. One big difference: Andrus had the guts to do the right thing for Idaho despite what might have been serious personal political fallout, while Little did what he hopes will be the right thing for his re-election.
And that neatly sums up the modern Republican Party in Idaho and across the country. These folks stand for little, pardon the pun, beyond staying in power. The governor’s policy agenda is confined exclusively to cutting taxes and eliminating regulation. Idaho is sitting on a bulging budget surplus but gives no thought to urgently needed investments in public and higher education, or affordable housing or a dozen other needs. The policy is simply to pander to the extremes.
When Andrus vetoed that awful abortion bill in 1990, he famously said that outside forces believed Idaho could be a convenient patsy in their plan to overturn Roe. But Idaho was “no patsy,” Andrus said, in a quote that was published around the country. Three decades on Idaho has indeed become precisely the kind of patsy Andrus sought to prevent – a breeding ground for rightwing radical politics that have already warped the state in ways that will require years of recovery, if indeed recovery is remotely possible.
“Nato’s return to the spotlight has been accompanied by a renewed debate about its history. Every interested party has a different story to tell. For Moscow, Nato has long been a project to subjugate Russia and reduce its influence to a memory. For Washington, Nato began as a way of protecting western Europeans from themselves and from the Soviet Union, but in the 90s it became a forward operating vehicle for democracy, human rights and capital. For eastern Europeans, Nato is the sacred pledge to keep Russian tanks at bay. For most western European states, Nato has provided a bargain-price American nuclear umbrella that allowed them to fund social welfare rather than armies, when they were not using their Nato obligations to justify austerity. For the rest of the world, Nato was once an Atlantic-based, defensive alliance that quickly transformed into an ever-farther-afield, offensive one.”
The Southwest is on fire, with iconic deserts and towns at risk
New Mexico and Arizona are facing a dangerously early fire season. It has left neighborhoods in ashes and is having such devastating effects that President Joe Biden issued a disaster declaration for New Mexico. Over 600 fires had broken out in the two states by early May, and large wildfires had burned through hundreds of homes near Ruidoso and Las Vegas, New Mexico, and Flagstaff, Arizona.
An excerpt from what looks to be a fascinating new book about Lady Bird Johnson.
“November 22, 1963, the day in Dallas that, as Bird described it in her first diary entry, ‘all began so beautifully,’ had ended with a flight back to Washington with Lady Bird, the surrogate, now the new First Lady, Lyndon the president, Jack in a coffin, and Jackie a widow.”
When a former gypo logger from Clearwater County, Idaho was sworn in as Secretary of the Interior 45 years ago this week, history was made. Cecil Andrus was the first Idahoan ever in the Cabinet, a singular accomplishment for a guy who never completed college, but who, with grace and grit, distinguished himself as one of the great conservationists of the 20th Century.
For obvious reasons – I worked for Andrus for nine years and enjoyed an association with him for nearly 25 more years – I infrequently invoke his story. I am certainly not an objective analyst of the man who served longer as Idaho governor than any other, even as the basics of his career, without need for embellishment, speak to a giant of the state’s and nation’s politics.
The occasion of Andrus’s arrival in the Cabinet on January 23, 1977, does seem worth remembering, if only because there are so few like him any longer, a statement thousands of his former constituents would readily make without fear of contradiction.
“Your policies leave an indelible mark on our state,” John Evans said of the man he replaced as governor. “Your style and warmth have brought a new dimension to the governor’s office.” Indeed, that was a true statement.
President Jimmy Carter said of all his Cabinet selections, Andrus, whose tenure as governor overlapped with Carter’s time as governor of Georgia, “was closest to me in the past, the only Cabinet member I never had to hesitate on.”
The list of Andrus gubernatorial accomplishments is long, and arguably not matched by any successor, including: the creation of kindergartens, the state land use planning law, successful opposition to indefinite nuclear waste disposal in Idaho, champion of salmon recovery, cheerleader for a diverse and robust economy and a decently funded education system. Andrus signed the bill creating Boise State University, appointed the first women to the state’s highest courts and famously – and uncomfortably for his press secretary – dubbed the National Rifle Association “the guns nuts of the world.”
Andrus was tough. He remembered an insult and an enemy but also had a big soft spot for the underdog and the under-represented. I distinctly remember a meeting in a Moscow, Idaho hotel room with north Idaho bigwig Duane Hagadone who sought to float a golf green out on the surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The meeting didn’t last long, but the message was clear – the people of Idaho owned that lake, not some rich hotel developer.
The guy could deliver a zinger with a smile. When Washington Democratic congressman Norm Dicks objected to an Andrus nuclear waste embargo – spent nuclear fuel was accumulating in Dicks’ district as a result – Andrus quipped that the congressman, a former University of Washington football player, “had played too many games without a helmet.”
When people asked about the Andrus victory in 1970 over incumbent Republican governor Don Samuelson, a guy who could mangle the simplest sentence, Andrus would quickly stop any negative comment about Big Don. “Don’t say anything bad about Don Samuelson,” Andrus would say. “If there hadn’t been a Samuelson there never would have been an Andrus.”
Despite his disdain for the gun lobby – the NRA had given Andrus a failing grade in 1986 because he saw no need for armor piercing ammunition or assault rifles – he was likely the most committed hunter who ever served in public office in Idaho. After retiring from public life, Andrus came into my office one afternoon carrying a new shotgun. “I need to stash this with you for a while,” he said. “I can’t take it home while Carol is in the house, or she’ll know I bought a new gun.”
Many who remember Andrus remember his recall for names, as well as his sense of humor. After riding horseback in the big, raucous fair parade in eastern Idaho, I noted that the reception afforded the governor was pretty good. He smiled and said, “Yeah, some of those guys were waving with all five fingers.”
Joe Biden caused an unnecessary two-day distraction recently when he – correctly – labeled a Fox News reporter “a dumb SOB.” Andrus would have shared the sentiment but would have handled the reporter much differently. I know. I saw him do it many times. He would have fixed his gaze on the silly questioner and said something like: “You know, I’ve heard some stupid questions in my time and that is just the latest.”
Andrus frequently said being governor was his dream job in politics, a bully pulpit from which to set public expectations and above all solve problems. He saw himself, as he often said, “as a glorified problem solver.” He took the same attitude to Washington where he skillfully managed the sprawling Interior Department for four years. Knowing that his time in that office was limited, and with many problems sure to compete for attention, Andrus made a list of priority items. He kept that limited list, only about a half dozen items, on a yellow legal pad in his top desk drawer.
High on the list was resolution of the years-old fight over what lands to protect in Alaska, the nation’s “last frontier.” Andrus worked the issue with relentless precision, using all his skill as a strategist and negotiator to finally produce – during a lame duck session of Congress in 1980 – the greatest piece of conservation legislation in American history. The national parks, recreation areas, monuments and wildlife preserves in Alaska are his legacy to generations unborn.
It’s all too apparent that Idaho’s Andrus was a product of a different political era, a time when character and accomplishment counted for more than party or puffery. Andrus was a stickler for the rules of politics but reduced the rules for those who worked for him to a short list: no surprises, don’t cheat – on an expense account or in a political campaign – don’t drink at lunch, be on time, or better yet be ten minutes early, and remember that you work for the public.
When Andrus was sworn in for his third term in 1987, his Republican lieutenant governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, later governor in his own right, described the guy pretty well. “His focus has been on working together to solve problems,” Otter said.
Not a bad legacy.
My recommendations for the weekend…
How to kill a god: the myth of Captain Cook shows how the heroes of empire will fall
I’ve long been fascinated by the Cook story. This piece from The Guardian is terrific – myths, history, colonialism…Hawaii.
“On 17 January, the Resolution cast anchor at last in a black-sand bay and a crowd of 10,000 gathered to await it. Five hundred canoes, laden with sugar cane, breadfruit and pigs, glided up to the ship. Histories narrate that for the people of Hawaii, the arrival of Cook was no less than an epiphany. ‘The men hurried to the ship to see the god with their own eyes,’ wrote the 19th-century Hawaiian historian Samuel Kamakau. “There they saw a fair man with bright eyes, a high-bridged nose, light hair and handsome features. Good-looking gods they were!” An elderly, emaciated priest went on board the Resolution and led the deities ashore. Thousands fell to their knees as Cook passed by. The priest led the captain to a thatched temple, wrapped Cook in a red cloth and sacrificed a small pig to him, as the people recited lines from the Hawaii epic Kumulipo, a creation myth.”
INSIDE JERRY FALWELL JR.’S UNLIKELY RISE AND PRECIPITOUS FALL AT LIBERTY UNIVERSITY
Gabriel Sherman in Vanity Fair on the sleazy, fascinating and I would say ultimately disgusting story of Jerry Falwell, Jr.
“Jerry not only endorsed Trump, he lavished him with cringeworthy praise. ‘Trump reminds me so much of my father,’ Jerry told Fox News in December 2015. ‘In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught,’ Jerry said when he introduced Trump onstage at Liberty shortly before the Iowa caucuses. (Trump then mangled a Bible verse, citing ‘Two Corinthians’ instead of ‘Second Corinthians.’) Jerry even defended Trump when almost no one else would. After the Access Hollywood tape leaked, in October 2016, Jerry told a radio interviewer: ‘We’re never going to have a perfect candidate unless Jesus Christ is on the ballot.’ It provided cover for evangelicals to excuse Trump’s utter lack of decency or morals. ‘After that, Steve Bannon called me and said, ‘You won the election for us,’ Jerry recalled.”
This week marks what would have been both the 90th birthday of former Idaho governor and secretary of the interior Cecil D. Andrus, and the fourth anniversary of his death in 2017.
For more than 30 years, Andrus stood astride the state’s politics like a colossus, a bigger than life character to many Idahoans, and arguably both the best pure politician the state has ever produced and the most successful. It’s hard to believe now, given the wacky worm hole of incompetent craziness that has sucked the life and seriousness out of Idaho’s dominant Republican party, that Andrus once consistently won elections and legislative victories against real conservatives. He even occasionally brought them along for real progress. No other Idahoan has been elected governor four times, let alone a Democrat. It was no accident.
Andrus is remembered, by those old enough to remember, for his sharp wit and his sharp elbows. He was a champion of political give and take. He picked his enemies as carefully as he picked his friends, and while he certainly had an ego – and a record to justify it – he rarely took himself too seriously.
He delighted in telling stories that poked fun at himself. A favorite he appropriated from his friend Arizona Congressman Mo Udall and used often. Andrus would say to a political crowd, usually in an election year, that he had been campaigning in some Idaho community where his popularity was in doubt – say Twin Falls or Rexburg – and had gone into a barber shop to secure the vote of the town barber. In and of itself that was a funny set up, since Andrus had been follically challenged from his 20’s.
Andrus would then recount his conversation with barber. “Hi, I’m Cece Andrus and I’m running for governor,” Andrus would say. Then he’d relate the barber’s response: “Yup, we were just laughing about that this morning.”
It takes style, humor and confidence to tell a joke on yourself, but it also takes one thing that Andrus had an abundance of that is so sorely missing among so many of today’s political empty suits: seriousness. Andrus would often follow his “laughing about that” story with the substance of why he loved being governor – he wanted to do things. He consistently championed a better Idaho education system. He stood up for schoolteachers. He was elected the first time on a pledge to improve Idaho’s north-south highway and protect Castle Peak in central Idaho, and he did.
He stood up to the Department of Energy on the fed’s plan to dump nuclear waste in Idaho and stopped them cold. He passed the first land use and stream channel protection laws. He created kindergartens. He appointed the first women to the state’s highest courts and when the closet bigots sought to deny a holiday celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrus made it a priority.
That is political substance, what seriousness of purpose looks like. Pause a moment and think of a current politician and then try to remember what they have done to move their community, their state, their nation forward. In most cases you’ll find a pretty empty frame. Political substance is as endangered as Northwest salmon.
While I could easily make the case that the political substance problem is asymmetrical – a lot more Republican inanity that Democratic – I’ll give in to whataboutism and make this bipartisan.
Seth Moulton, a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, spent a few hours in Kabul this week, engaged in what can only be described as a political stunt. (Moulton took a Republican with him just to make the pointless stunt transparently bipartisan.) The trip only complicated security in the chaos of the American withdrawal. It had no point beyond generating attention. Will Moulton’s visit change the arc of the story line in Afghanistan? Of course not. He was engaged only in political theatre. No substance, period.
And there’s New York’s now former governor Andrew Cuomo, a disgraced serial sexual harasser who was forced to resign to avoid being impeached. Cuomo, a Democrat once considered a contender for things beyond Albany, went down whining. Cuomo could have chosen to just leave, but he left as he governed: boorish, defiant, boastful. No real apology. No self-awareness. No substance just a brooding, angry white guy whose only real purpose in politics was to wield power.
Columnist Paul Waldman recently noted that for some politicians “pandering comes naturally.” He cited the reprehensible, substance free Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who, Waldman wrote “couldn’t tell you what time it is without sounding creepily insincere.”
All true, but you have to go some distance to top the insincere political pandering of Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance in Ohio. Most of us who read Vance’s memoir – Hillbilly Elegy – gave the young man the benefit of the doubt about what appeared to be his genuine effort to understand the despair and disillusion of so many folks in rural America. Vance initially rejected Trumpish nationalism, immigrant blaming and boastful bluster in favor of a real effort to address the opioid epidemic and the economic hollowing out of middle America. That was then.
Now Vance is a candidate, a Fox New hero, an immigrant basher – particularly Afghans – and he cleaned up his social media feed to purge evidence of his once and never again anti-Trumpism. Vance is the perfect candidate for our substance free politics. Do anything, say anything and hope the rubes won’t notice your vacuousness.
And then there is Jim Jordan. You’ve no doubt seen the bloviating Ohio congressman on cable TV, shouting at a congressional hearing or egging on the January 6 insurrectionists. “Jordan’s impact on broadcast and social media is extraordinary,” the website Just Security reported recently, where he has never – not once – peddled substance. Jordan is a serial fabulist who exists in national politics not because of his intelligence or accomplishment, but because he is a loud and skilled purveyor of garbage, conspiracy theories and misinformation. For Jordan substance is as lacking as the suit jacket he refuses to wear.
In a more serious country with more serious politics, these clowns and charlatans, and countless others like them, would be relegated to political purgatory, hooted out of office – or never elected in the first place – for the same reason you couldn’t stand the guy in high school who cared about nothing but himself. They are empty vessels. When the country cries out for the kind of principled, pragmatic leadership a Cece Andrus once provided, we get pygmies and pretenders.
We can do better. We have done better. But it won’t get better unless we demand it.
Some items that I think you might find of interest…
The Rolling Stone profile of Stanley McChrystal that changed history
Amid the chaos – and tragedy – of the U.S. endgame in Afghanistan, this Rolling Stone piece from 2010 by Michael Hastings popped into my timeline. It is worth re-reading how the cashiering of a top general forecast so much about where we find ourselves.
“Last fall, with his top general calling for more troops, Obama launched a three-month review to re-evaluate the strategy in Afghanistan. ‘I found that time painful,’ McChrystal tells me in one of several lengthy interviews. ‘I was selling an unsellable position.’ For the general, it was a crash course in Beltway politics – a battle that pitted him against experienced Washington insiders like Vice President Biden, who argued that a prolonged counterinsurgency campaign in Afghanistan would plunge America into a military quagmire without weakening international terrorist networks. ‘The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people,’ says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. ‘The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense.'”
Shipwrecked: A Shocking Tale of Love, Loss, and Survival in the Deep Blue Sea
A harrowing tale of death, sharks and rescue in the Atlantic.
“After a while, the storm settled into a predictable pattern: The boat would ride up a wave, tilt slightly to port-side and then ride down the wave, and right itself for a moment of stillness and quiet, sheltered from the wind in the valley between mountains of water. Cavanagh began to relax, but then the boat rose over another wave, tilted hard, and never righted itself. Watching the dark waters of the Atlantic approach with terrifying speed through the window in front of him, Cavanagh braced for impact. An instant later, water shattered the window and began rushing into the boat.”
The incredible story of Ray Caldwell, the MLB pitcher who survived a lightning strike to finish a game
And for something completely different. A wild baseball story.
“Five seconds after the bolt hits the ground, everybody looks around. The eight Indians position players are OK, but their newest teammate is not. Caldwell is on his back, arms spread wide, out cold on the mound. The lightning strike had hit him directly.
“Players rush to Caldwell, but the first man who touches him leaps in the air, saying he’d been zapped by Caldwell’s prone body.
“So everybody steps back and just stares. Caldwell’s chest is smoldering from where the bolt burned it. They’re terrified to touch him, and nobody does.
Thirty years ago last month then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus stood at the front of a crowded hotel ballroom in Boise to warn the Northwest’s industrial and energy interests that the Endangered Species Act (ESA) was coming for them, and that the demise of the region’s salmon populations would eventually force them to change.
“We have to tell the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the Corps of Engineers that they’ve had a microchip in their head on how to run the river,” Andrus said at his “Salmon Summit” in 1991. “That should be removed and replaced with a new chip, in which you say, ‘You will maintain this river for the fish, as well as power generation.”’
Later that year, the first endangered species salmon listing was handed down setting off three decades of litigation and involving massive – and largely ineffective – spending on fish and wildlife. And yet the iconic fish struggled on.
Andrus, rarely a pessimist, eventually came to believe the region’s only salmon strategy was simply to stall until the last of the fish were gone leaving nothing left to fight over.
Nevertheless, the region’s Native American tribes and fish advocates fought for salmon, often winning repeat victories in court and slowly bending public opinion against the traditions and influence of BPA, the often-clueless Corps, the inattention of administrations of both parties and deeply invested special interests ranging from irrigators to port commissioners.
Now, in what must be one of the great political ironies of our age, this long, litigious battle over fish, power and river operations finds a most unlikely champion, a former dentist from eastern Idaho, a conservative Republican politician more at home on a golf course than in a drift boat.
This week, Mike Simpson, the one-time Trump loathing congressman from Blackfoot who discovered Trumpian religion just in time to avoid any challenge to his 22-years in the House, rolled out a plan for the region’s grandest social engineering project since Franklin Roosevelt envisioned a Grand Coulee Dam in the 1930’s that would turn the Northwest’s “darkness to dawn.”
And like the very transactional Roosevelt – Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler said FDR rewarded the region’s senators with a dam in exchange for political support – Simpson’s audacious, $33.5 billion plan is all about the lubricating influence of a billion here and billion there. There is money and projects in his plan to compensate every affected interest when, as Simpson envisions, the four fish killing dams on the lower Snake River in eastern Washington are breeched in the next decade.
Economic development cash and energy research. Waterfront restoration for port towns. More rail options. Money for water quality enhancements. Big checks for irrigators and tourism. And a truly massive enhancement for tribal interests in management of fishery resources.
Pat Ford, who has fought the good fight for Northwest salmon for as long as there has been a fight, told me this week what Simpson “is a true believer in restoring the fish.” And then marveling at the reality, Ford stated the obvious: “The most committed politician in the region to restoring salmon stocks is a conservative Idaho Republican.”
The harsh political reality for salmon and for the Idaho congressman is that this fight, like all our political fights, is less about solving seemingly intractable problems than prevailing over “the other side.” Truth be told those four lower Snake River dams, condemned almost from their inception as expensive dinosaurs that would eventually destroy the fishery, are more important for what they represent than what they offer.
In reality the dams are political symbols, concrete proxies in the continuing western mythology that real men exist to remake rivers, tame Mother Nature and vanquish environmentalists. After spending years insisting dammed rivers can co-exist with migrating fish why admit it was always a lie?
Even as Simpson’s plan offers the promise of billions in goodies and the end of endless litigation, the grassroots forces who have defended the dams with religious vigor, while hating those who advocate for the fish, will find a “come, let us reason together” argument no more attractive than brackish slack water.
Eastern Washington congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers is the epitome of how this mythology works. She immediately blasted fellow Republican Simpson’s plan with a line that had the precision of a fearful focus group. “These dams are the beating heart of Eastern Washington,” McMorris Rogers said, knowing just how to connect the culture of concrete with the grievance of 21st Century conservative politics.
Will southeastern Washington Republican Jamie Herrera Beutler, one of the few House members to buck her party on impeachment and under fire for it, really pick another fight with her conservative base by getting on board with Simpson? What prevents the calculating, do nothing Jim Risch, who has done it before, from kneecap Simpson’s plans by quietly stoking the ready opposition?
Simpson’s calculation is that he has, at best, a two-year window of opportunity to sell his idea.
If American politics were more like 1980 when Henry Jackson and Frank Church and Mark Hatfield attempted the region’s last grand design to head off the end of salmon – the Northwest Power Act – Simpson’s billions of dollars in carrots without a stick might have a chance, and the fish might have a future. But today there is no Scoop Jackson, and no Mark Hatfield and region’s once proud bipartisan altruism is long out of fashion.
The Idaho congressman has taken this intriguing kickoff to his own 20-yard line. He’ll need the kind of regional offense not seen in decades to cover the next 80 yards to the end zone. The clock is running, and it benefits the same old group that wants to do nothing.
A few suggestions for additional reading this weekend…
The Secret History of the Shadow Campaign That Saved the 2020 Election
Time magazine journalist Molly Ball with a sobering look at just how close the United States came to failing at democracy.
“This is the inside story of the conspiracy to save the 2020 election, based on access to the group’s inner workings, never-before-seen documents and interviews with dozens of those involved from across the political spectrum. It is the story of an unprecedented, creative and determined campaign whose success also reveals how close the nation came to disaster. ‘Every attempt to interfere with the proper outcome of the election was defeated,’ says Ian Bassin, co-founder of Protect Democracy, a nonpartisan rule-of-law advocacy group. ‘But it’s massively important for the country to understand that it didn’t happen accidentally. The system didn’t work magically. Democracy is not self-executing.’”
“The big tech platform debates about online censorship and content moderation? Those are ultimately debates about amplification and attention. Same with the crisis of disinformation. It’s impossible to understand the rise of Donald Trump and the MAGA wing of the far right or, really, modern American politics without understanding attention hijacking and how it is used to wield power. Even the recent GameStop stock rally and the Reddit social media fallout share this theme, illustrating a universal truth about the attention economy: Those who can collectively commandeer enough attention can accumulate a staggering amount of power quickly. And it’s never been easier to do than it is right now.”
The writer, a restaurant worker in D.C., dishes on the habits of the former administration.
“The restaurant adapted to the Trump era. We introduced a $45 three-course early bird special, which I recall was still too pricey for Wilbur Ross, though the unusual influx of right-wing tourists who visited appreciated it. Betsy DeVos became a regular, and unlike the others she was a paragon of superficial graciousness, even if she didn’t tip quite enough to compensate for two or three tables that would ask to move if she was seated near them.”
Moe Tkacik writes of the Trumpers, “they were exhausting, impossible, stingy, and cruel, just like at their day jobs.”
And this delightful essay from Rose Henrie about, well, “talking to a man about a horse.”
“It is remarkable to think that each of us spends roughly three years of our life going to the toilet. And that’s not to mention the reading, watching, and maybe for some — though it’s still an etiquette grey area — talking on the phone. Potty training is a child’s first step to becoming a functioning member of society. Along with learning to communicate, this is phase one of proto-personhood: say please and thank you, and try not to wee on the floor. For those of us who are fortunate, this is the start of a lifelong lack of thinking about using the loo. It is something we take for granted. An accessible, clean space is often available, whether it’s in the home or out and about. When nature calls, we know exactly how to answer and can do so, for the most part, comfortably.”
On November 4, 1986, Cecil D. Andrus won a third term as Idaho’s governor. It turned out to be one of the closest gubernatorial elections in the state’s history with the outcome in doubt far into the morning after election day. Andrus eventually won by 3,635 votes; more than 387,000 votes were cast. His victory margin was less than one percent.
When Andrus went to a Boise hotel around 10 o’clock election night to speak to supporters – I remember it well, I was the campaign press secretary – the race was an absolute dead heat. In fact, just as we walked into the packed ballroom one local television station updated its vote count and as the numbers flashed on the screen it showed then-Republican Lt. Governor David H. Leroy and Andrus with exactly the same number of votes.
Andrus made his way to the podium, thanked his supporters, said the counting would continue and advised them to go home and go to bed, which is exactly what he did.
I stayed up and went back to the campaign office. By 2:00 am we knew Andrus had a narrow lead with a handful of precincts in far flung locations – Sandpoint, Salmon, Aberdeen, Weiser – not yet reporting numbers. I rousted a state senator out of bed in Power County and asked him to check on the status of uncounted ballots there. He called back a few minutes later saying they were safely locked up in the courthouse, counted but just not yet reported. A similar check in other locations produced similar reports.
If someone had wanted to mess with those ballots they could have tried, but they would have had to enlist dozens of local election officials in the conspiracy, a degree of fraud and undemocratic behavior that in my 40-plus years’ experience is unthinkable, indeed impossible. Additionally, the long-time Republican secretary of state at the time, Pete Cenarrusa, a guy who could be a tough partisan, ran an absolutely squeaky clean, scrupulously non-partisan election operation. His deputy, Ben Ysursa, who later succeeded Cenarrusa, was simply the fairest election administrator I’ve ever dealt with.
Now, in the wake of a decisive presidential election victory by President-elect Joe Biden, the sad sack loser in the White House is hunkered down in denial, advancing hourly conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud. The allegations are absolutely absurd as everyone from the lawyers who handled the contested Florida election in 2000 to countless Republican election officials in key states have attested.
What is nearly as absurd as the president’s fraud charge is that a vast majority of Republican office holders remain unwilling to defend the thousands of local election officials and volunteers who, in the words of the now sacked election cyber security head, ran the most secure American election in history. These Republicans seem willing to accept the lies of a well-documented liar over the reality of thousands of dedicated election officials who have nothing to gain by doing their jobs except ensuring the continuation of American democracy.
Millions of Donald Trump’s brainwashed followers who apparently believe his election fraud nonsense are living in the fantasy land a life-long con man has created. Imagine for a moment what it would take to rig a national election in a half dozen states. Hundreds, if not thousands of local election officials would have to be in on the scam. Most of these people – Republicans, Democrats and independents – have devoted careers to the proposition that election security is essential to American democracy. You’d have to convince them to do the most dishonest thing they could imagine in a free society: rig the vote.
The logistics of rigging an election on a nationwide scale would require exquisite timing, all conducted in absolute secrecy. Stealing the election would mean coopting Republican secretaries of state in states Biden won, Nevada and Georgia for example. The top election officials in both states have aggressively dismissed Trump’s fiction. And if you’re going to steal the White House why not steal the Senate, too and hang on to all those House seats Democrats lost? Conspiracy theories don’t need to make sense they just have to further a grievance.
Meanwhile, Trump’s legal challenges have crumbled, while his unprincipled lackeys – read Rudy Giuliani – have beclowned themselves in front of judges and election officials from Philadelphia to Carson City.
And speaking of election fraud, Giuliani, who until two weeks ago, was peddling a mendacious conspiracy theory about the president-elect’s son, was admonished by one incredulous Pennsylvania judge who said, “At bottom, you’re asking this court to invalidate some 6.8 million votes thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth.” The judge refused.
The election wasn’t stolen. Donald Trump lost it – decisively. Yet, the totally specious Trump allegations have planted the notion among his most fevered followers, those apparently with an election security diploma from Facebook University, that the entire election system is as corrupt as he is. To say that believing his nonsense is corrosive to the very essence of democracy is an understatement.
Those Republican elected officials who have allowed two weeks to pass while tolerating Trump’s efforts to further erode standards of democratic behavior are not merely indulging a weak, pathetic con man they are now part of the active fraud he’s peddling.
Back to that hard fought 1986 Idaho governor’s race. Andrus, an astute reader of election returns, claimed victory at 10:00 am the morning after the voting. A short time later Dave Leroy gracefully conceded. I can only imagine that it hurt losing an election that effectively marked the end of a career that at the time looked to be long and promising. “There must be a time when the vote is final,” Leroy said at the time, “and we should go forward with the people’s business.”
As the Associated Press noted, the narrow margin in the Idaho governor’s race 34 years ago could have “been grounds for a recount at state expense, but Leroy said he wouldn’t ask for one.” Allegations of voting irregularity were just that – allegations, and the defeated candidate said he wouldn’t pursue them.
Such attitudes are what mark honorable foes in politics. Sometimes your side wins. Sometimes the other side wins. Being willing to accept that fundamental reality separates democracy from where Donald Trump and too much of his increasingly corrupt Republican Party would gladly take us.
Some stories I found interesting this week…
Rebecca Solnit: On Not Meeting Nazis Halfway
As I’ve said before, she is a brilliant thinker and writer.
“Appeasement didn’t work in the 1930s and it won’t work now. That doesn’t mean that people have to be angry or hate back or hostile, but it does mean they have to stand on principle and defend what’s under attack. There are situations in which there is no common ground worth standing on, let alone hiking over to. If Nazis wanted to reach out and find common ground and understand us, they probably would not have had that tiki-torch parade full of white men bellowing “Jews will not replace us” and, also, they would not be Nazis. Being Nazis, white supremacists, misogynists, transphobes is all part of a project of refusing to understand as part of refusing to respect. It is a minority position but by granting it deference we give it, over and over, the power of a majority position.”
Ben Terris in The Washington Post has a funny – or disgusting – look at the oddballs, grifters, crooks and did I say oddballs that have surrounded Donald J. Trump.
Need I say it: this is not normal.
“Anthony Scaramucci, the New York finance guy who lasted less than two weeks as a senior administration official before he was fired after being too candid about his machinations with a reporter, has embraced his Trump White House alumnus status, fashioning himself as a dial-a-quote for reporters looking for insight on the president’s behavior. Former ‘Apprentice’ contestant and White House adviser Omarosa Manigault-Newman, too, has gone the route of Trump apologist-turned-Trumpologist. Sean Spicer, a longtime Republican hand who launched his brief tenure as press secretary by yelling at journalists for accurately reporting on the modest crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, had a cameo at the 2017 Emmys and competed on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ doing salsa to the Spice Girls in a shirt that resembled a gigantic piece of neon kelp.”
The Transition: Lyndon Johnson and the events in Dallas.
Lyndon Johnson biographer Robert Caro wrote this piece for The New Yorker some years ago. It’s a fascinating minute-by-minute account of when Johnson, amid unbelievable tragedy, became president.
“She was still wearing the same suit, with the same bloodstains. Her eyes were ‘cast down,’ in Judge Hughes’s phrase. She had apparently tried to comb her hair, but it fell down across the left side of her face. On her face was a glazed look, and she appeared to be crying, although no tears could be seen. Johnson placed her on his left side. The Judge held out the missal. He put his left hand on it—the hand, mottled and veined, was so large that it all but covered the little book—and raised his right hand, as the Judge said, ‘I do solemnly swear . . .’
“Valenti, watching those hands, saw that they were ‘absolutely steady,’ and Lyndon Johnson’s voice was steady, too—low and firm—as he spoke the words he had been waiting to speak all his life. At the back of the room, crowded against a wall, Marie Fehmer wasn’t watching the ceremony, because she was reading the oath to make sure it was given correctly.
“The oath was over. His hand came down. ‘Now let’s get airborne,’ Lyndon Johnson said.”
In my earliest broadcasting days I hosted a radio show were I often played music from the Big Band Era. I love this song, Glenn Miller’s theme.
“Miller and his American Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces had been making appearances in England since early July. Now military authorities wanted the orchestra to entertain troops on the Continent. Determined to fly ahead and finalize tour arrangements, Miller told his brother in a December 12 letter that ‘barring a nosedive into the Channel, I’ll be in Paris in a few days.’”
I worked for many years for a politician of the old school. Former Idaho governor and U.S. secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus practiced what is now clearly an old-fashioned version of politics.
Andrus could be, and often was, a tough partisan, yet as a Democrat who served more than 14 years as governor during four terms spread over three decades Andrus never once had a Democratic majority in the state legislature. He had to practice the art of the possible and that almost always involved give and take and compromise. It is an old school notion to believe that it’s not a political disaster when you have to settle for half a loaf.
Andrus had political adversaries, but few enemies. He counted among his closest political friends an old golfing pal and frequent partisan adversary Phil Batt, the conversative Republican who followed Andrus into the governor’s office in 1995. A long-time Republican state senator from Boise, H. Dean Summers, was on Andrus’s speed dial. Back in the day when Democrats had greater numbers in the legislature, if never a majority, Summers often helped Andrus pass his priority legislation. They were friends who could also make a deal.
In 1974, when Andrus was trying to get a controversial nominee confirmed to the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC), a project requiring a handful of Republicans votes, Summers convinced his friend the governor that another Boise Republican, Lyle Cobbs, might be persuaded to support the controversial Democratic candidate, but only if the conditions were right. The condition that became persuasive for Cobbs involved his enthusiastic backing of legislation to make then-Boise State College a university.
As luck would have it, or perhaps it was a matter of exquisite timing, a bill to rename the college was sitting on the governor’s desk when the PUC nomination came to the floor of the state senate. During the debate, Andrus, on a signal from his friend Senator Summers, placed a call to Senator Cobbs’ desk and reminded the Republican that his important Boise State legislation was awaiting executive action. Andrus hardly needed to say he was watching how Cobbs voted on his PUC candidate.
Later, after Bob Lenaghan took his seat on the PUC and while Andrus was signing the legislation to create Boise State University, Cobb jokingly asked: “You wouldn’t have vetoed this bill would you, governor?” Andrus smiled and said, “You’ll never know will you, Lyle?”
The two politicians had effectively made a bargain. Andrus got what he wanted; Cobbs got what he needed. They trusted each other.
For a politician like Cece Andrus there was no higher compliment to be paid to a fellow pol than to say, “his word is good.” I heard him say it a thousand times. It was one of many reasons he got along so well with Phil Batt. They could trust each other to stay “hitched,” as Andrus would say. You make a commitment to do something you do it. You shake hands on a deal and then you never renege. You give your word and stick with it. Even if it becomes uncomfortable.
I’ve thought a lot about this old school approach to politics as I’ve watched Senate Republicans this week literally twist themselves into partisan pretzels in order to go back on commitments they made in 2016 not to consider, let alone vote, on Barack Obama’s Supreme Court candidate in that election year.
No matter how they try to spin it, from Lindsey Graham to Mike Crapo, from Lamar Alexander to Mike Lee they simply aren’t keeping their word. Every Senate Republican save two has now said the principle they staked out then when a Democrat was in the White House doesn’t apply when their party controls who gets nominated to the high court. All are being accused of hypocrisy, but that word hardly does justice to the lack of character that allows politicians to do one thing when they want to prevent something from happening and the exact opposite when that position become convenient in order to arrive at a desired outcome.
Graham, the slippery South Carolinian, will become the poster boy for the current Republican double-dealing. He is actually on tape on at least two occasions saying that the pledge he made not to consider Obama’s appointee in 2016 would apply to a Republican in exactly the same circumstances. “You can use my words against me,” Graham said. And then he went back on his word.
Crapo and Graham and so many others have done the same. You’d be right to wonder if you could ever again trust their word on anything.
Some years ago, I wrote a remembrance of Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield, still the longest tenured majority leader in Senate history. I’d heard a story that Mansfield had once helped a freshman Republican, Ted Stevens of Alaska, as tough a partisan as ever prowled the Senate floor, get a fair shake on a piece of legislation. I wanted to confirm the story and arranged to speak to Stevens.
In a nutshell, Stevens had been promised by a senior Democrat that an amendment he wanted to offer to legislation particularly important to Alaska would be considered. But Stevens was busy in a committee meeting when the time came to offer his amendment and the courtesy of informing him was ignored. In short, a bond had been broken.
Stevens, a man with a hair trigger temper, confronted the majority leader complaining – justifiably – that he’d been purposely snookered. As Stevens told me, Mansfield asked for a copy of the amendment the Alaskan had intended to offer, got recognized by the chair, interrupted the roll call and offered Stevens’ amendment as his own. It was adopted. Mike Mansfield, one of the most respected men to ever serve in the Senate, was not going to let a colleague down. The substance of the issue was entirely unimportant, but the principle that your word is your bond was absolutely sacrosanct.
Ask yourself: Would you buy a used car from these guys whose word is so fungible? Would you trust a handshake deal with a Lindsey Graham or a Mike Crapo? When your word is worth so little your character is worth even less.
Some additional reading you may find of interest…
Thomas Mallon has a wonderful piece in the latest New Yorker, a look back at a presidential campaign exactly 100 years ago. The election took the country from Woodrow Wilson to Warren Harding. Voters were confronted with the political fatigue of the post-World War I period and a global pandemic and Wilson’s months of incapacity.
“When considered against the electoral circumstances that exchanged Wilson, a Democrat, for Harding, a Republican, some of the tumults of 2020 appear to be a centennial reiteration, or inversion, of the calamities and longings of the 1920 campaign. Then the country—recently riven by disease, inflamed with racial violence and anxious about immigration, torn between isolation and globalism—yearned for what the winning candidate somewhat malapropically promised would be a return to ‘normalcy.'”
Some months before she went on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the commencement speech at the Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland and she shared the assignment with her attorney husband, Marty.
Maxine Bernstein had a delightful piece recently in The Oregonian on how it went.
“Martin D. Ginsburg followed his wife. He shared how he started working as a tax lawyer at a New York law firm, then gave up the practice to teach tax law. He said he learned in both the practice of law and in teaching to use humor to help make messages stick, and he emphasized the importance of a lawyer’s professional responsibility.
“He shared how a senior litigation partner once called him into his office and shared a quote he lived his professional life by: ‘If someone goes to jail, be sure it’s the client.'”
I guess it’s a good thing we always fight over history, after all there is no one settled way of looking at events in the past. History is, or should be, based on verifiable facts, documents, first hand accounts and much more. It is not a political exercise unless partisan people try to make history partisan.
Pivot to the recent White House conference on American history. A distinguished historian, Ron Radosh – he taught at CUNY and has written extensively about American history – deconstructed the “conference.” It is a fascinating read.
“There are some important questions that deserve to be asked about the teaching of history and its contribution to creating a sense of citizenship, and the ways in which those two can be in tension with one another. But such questions went unasked at last week’s conference. The White House Conference on American History was anything but what the title of the forum announced. It was a publicity stunt, and the participants, including the two historians, were played by Donald Trump and his administration.”
“Gingrich had little interest in ethics, except as a cudgel. His own conduct, personal and political, was far from exemplary. But as Zelizer writes, he had ‘a central insight: the transformational changes of the Watergate era . . . could be used to fundamentally destabilize the entire political establishment.’ Post-Watergate reforms, designed to open up the closed doors of the Capitol and let the sunlight in, gave Gingrich an arsenal of weapons. Public hearings were an opportunity to drag reputations through the mud. Ethics investigations were a means to portray legislative dealmaking as a venal, vaguely criminal act. C-SPAN, a product of the reform movement, became a forum for character assassination, unfiltered, in prime time.”
Amid the hourly chaos that is the Trump government it is possible to lose sight of the truly significant, while focusing on the merely crazy or simply incompetent.
So it was with the appointment – without Senate confirmation – of the acting director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the announced intention of the administration to effectively gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The two events – a hardly a coincidence – occurred a few days apart.
The appointment of William Perry Pendley, a hard rightwing lawyer who has repeatedly voiced support for selling public lands, is in keeping with the administration’s appointments of Ryan Zinke, the ethically challenged former Secretary of the Interior, and current Secretary David Bernhardt, a former coal industry lobbyist.
These guys don’t care about public access to public lands for western hunters and fishermen, backpackers and sightseers; they’re all about lessening protections and being cozy with the west’s extractive industries. You’d be naïve not to think that they will, as one-time Secretary Cecil D. Andrus said, cater to “the rape, ruin and run” crowd.
Pendley has a particularly pernicious reputation. As High Country News noted recently: “The Wyoming native has extreme anti-government views. He despises the Endangered Species Act, once writing the bedrock conservation law seeks ‘to kill or prevent anybody from making a living on federal land.’ He has sued the federal government numerous times in the last three decades, including over ESA listings and national monument designations. He’s called the science of climate change ‘junk science’ and blasted the Obama administration for waging a perceived ‘war on coal.’”
In a January 2016 article in the National Review, Pendley, who styles himself as one of the original “Sagebrush Rebels,” boldly asserted that, “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.” In that article Pendley championed Illinois as a model all western states should aspire to. Ninety-eight percent of the land in Illinois is owned privately. Try finding a place to hunt on public land in the Land of Lincoln.
Pendley, a supporter of the anti-government, anti-public lands Bundy crowd, also traffics in the old myth that the 1980s “Sagebrush Rebellion” was a spontaneous reaction to policies advanced by the Carter Administration when Andrus was running the Interior Department. It’s nonsense. Big money interests and corporate exploiters have been lusting over your land for generations. They always wait for an attractive political moment to pounce and they now have a willing accomplice in the White House.
In 1980, the Interior Department did a study of the various efforts to liquidate the west’s vast public acreage and, to no great surprise, found the “Sagebrush Rebellion” was as old as the hills. To quote from that report:
In 1832 the Public Land Committee of the U.S. Senate claimed that state sovereignty was threatened by federal land ownership. The rest of Congress, however, maintained its discretionary authority to manage such land without limitation and rejected the complaint.
In 1930 the Hoover Commission proposed to cede much of the public domain to the states. The recommendation was opposed by both the eastern Congressional majority and by the Western states, who having already acquired the most productive land, wanted no responsibility for the “waste lands” remaining.
In the 1940s Senator Pat McCarran (D., Nevada) conducted a series of investigations into the Grazing Service (one of BLM’s predecessors) and the Forest Service, both of whom were trying to bring livestock grazing under control. In 1946 Senator Edward Robertson of Wyoming sponsored a bill to convey all unreserved and unappropriated lands to their respective states. BLM was formed the same year.
In 1956 Senator Russell Long (D., Louisiana) proposed similar legislation.
The new “acting” head of the BLM is just the latest in a long line of hucksters who want to limit your ownership of national forests and rangelands. They’re driven by an ultra-conservative mindset that don’t just devalue public land, but considers it valueless.
The decision to gut much of the enforcement mechanism of the ESA was, of course, immediately endorsed by Idaho’s anti-conservation Senate delegation and Rep. Russ Fulcher, and it represents an even more blatant attack on the environment. Fulcher, parroting talking points that could have been produced by the “rape, ruin and run” crowd, congratulated Trump and company for “increasing transparency and continuing to fix this broken law.”
Richard Nixon signed this “broken law.” It has saved bald eagles and grizzly bears and countless other species. Leave it to Trump, a guy whose idea of roughing it is a resort bathroom without gold fixtures, to shred the last bit of credibility Republicans had on the environment.
The legacy of America’s public lands is one sure thing we can hand off to our grandchildren. No other country on earth has as much abundance of the open and accessible public lands, as well as the wildlife diversity that literally defines the American west. The land doesn’t belong to a president, or a blinkered rightwing lawyer or a coal company. It belongs to all of us, and our kids.
I’ll believe Republicans like Jim Risch and Mike Crapo value public lands when I see them insist on putting the acting BLM director through a Senate confirmation vote. I’ll believe Fulcher cares about your kid’s western legacy when he speaks, even once, about the value of the wide-open west without sounding like a lobbyist for an oil company.
The folks who regular devalue the idea of America’s public lands often talk about “balance,” which is vitally important in a region where many people make a living off the land. But they rarely talk about stewardship or how to harmonize the needs of resource industries with the legitimate values of conservation.
“When the West fully learns,” the great writer Wallace Stegner once said, “that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”
We learned with certainty this week what the more discriminating among us have known for a long, long time – the National Rifle Association (NRA) is a fraud. The Wall Street Journal, not anyone’s definition of the liberal press, produced the documents that prove how the NRA’s chief mouthpiece, Wayne LaPierre, and a handful of other top executives have scammed the nation’s gullible gun owners out of millions and millions of dollars.
LaPierre has perfected the gift of the grift. The Journal reported that he submitted bills for $39,000 worth of clothing during one – just one – visit to a Beverly Hills “boutique.” As writer Jonathan V. Last noted, it is possible, I guess, to pay $500 or $600 for a pair of pants, but at LaPierre’s rate of spending “that leaves you with close to 80 pairs of pants.” The documents obtained by the newspaper seem to indicate LaPierre, who usually seems more focused on bullet proof vests than Italian suits, somehow racked up clothing bills approaching $275,000, all billed to the Second Amendment loving deer hunters who send checks to the NRA.
And then there’s the gun lobby’s lobbyist’s taste in travel, also amazingly spendy, $40,000 for a one-way flight from Washington to the Bahamas and $1,096 for “Airport Assistance” in Frankfurt, Germany.
The NRA booked legal expenses over the last year of $18.5 million with just one law firm. That is a lot of billable hours, in fact more than $100,000 per day over the course of a full year. LaPierre also billed nearly $14,000 for three months rent for “a summer intern” who reportedly worked at the NRA. That is some rental. Some intern.
Oliver North, the sleazy former Iran-Contra operative, served briefly as president of the NRA before being deposed a couple of weeks ago. He reportedly had a cushy contract worth millions annually. It’s difficult to tell from the organization’s 990 form what if any perks NRA board members receive, but former senator Larry Craig, a dependable shill for the NRA in Congress, is a long-time board member and at a minimum he owns a piece of the current scandal.
LaPierre, living the pampered life style of the “elite” beltway hypocrite, is, of course, the guy who regularly keeps his cash register humming with bombast like this: “It’s up to us to speak out against the three most dangerous voices in America: academic elites, political elites and media elites. These are America’s greatest domestic threats.”
There is more, pricy travel, expensive perks, insider sweetheart deals, but you get the point. Expenses incurred by the NRA brass that aren’t “just extravagant and wasteful,” as Jonathan Last wrote, “but … so insane that you can’t even really figure out how they were actually incurred.” An entirely different set of questionable activities has prompted an investigation into the NRA’s tax-exempt status.
The NRA’s fraud – conservative columnist Max Boot describes it as a big part of the larger “racket” that American conservatism has become – dates back a long way. My personal NRA inflection point came in the early morning hours of November 1, 1986, three days before the gubernatorial election that year. The NRA was all over the Idaho airwaves that weekend smearing Cecil D. Andrus.
“Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” – Eric Hoffer
Andrus had, audaciously it turns out, honestly responded to one of the NRA’s “candidate surveys.” A big issue then was whether to outlaw so called “cop killer” bullets, Teflon coated rounds specifically designed to penetrate a bulletproof vest. Andrus said he had no problem banning the bullet since he’d never seen an elk wearing a bulletproof vest. The once and future governor also said he had no issue with bans on military-like assault weapons, the kind that have become the weapon of choice for our regularly occurring school massacres.
The NRA gave Andrus a D-rating in 1986 and put up commercials calling him a threat to Idaho sportsman. The hunter-governor who never met a shotgun or elk camp he didn’t love just wasn’t pure enough for Wayne LaPierre. The gun lobby endorsed Republican David Leroy in 1986, a fellow who knew his way around a Boise courtroom, but a guy no one expected to occupy a hunting camp.
To understand how amazing – or outrageous – those NRA smears of Andrus were you need to know about Andrus the hunter and gun owner. In early October of that election year, Andrus quietly left the campaign trail for three days so as not to miss his annual elk hunt. As his press secretary I was deathly afraid some enterprising reporter would ask me where the candidate was and why he wasn’t shaking hands and seeking votes? In retrospect I should have put out a news release – “Andrus Pursues Mighty Wapiti Rather Than Votes.” He got his elk, by the way.
Andrus once stashed a new 12-gauge shotgun in my office while waiting for the opportunity to secret the firearm into his home. He said if he could get the gun home without Carol noticing she would never know he had purchased another firearm. He had so many guns that one more would fade unnoticed into the gun cabinet.
The four-term governor was the kind of politician the NRA can’t abide, a passionate hunter and gun owner who thought the organization was off its rocker when it came to legitimate restrictions on the kinds of weapons that now regularly kill innocent people in churches, synagogues, schools and on street corners. Thirty years ago he correctly saw that the NRA, faking concern for sportsmen, while serving as stalking horse for firearms manufacturers, had just become one more radical ancillary of the Republican Party. Unlike most politicians he had the courage to say that the leaders of the gun lobby really built their political influence in order to facilitate their own financial enrichment.
For decades the NRA has been the biggest fundraising cash register on the hard right of American politics, whipping up outrage, constantly stoking fear and always depositing the checks. The fraud is finally coming home to roost.
(This piece originally appeared in the Lewiston, Idaho Tribune on May 17, 2019)
Thirty years ago this month then-Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus willfully and with malice aforethought sparked one of the most consequential confrontations of the nuclear age. The Idaho governor, a rangy, bald-headed one-time lumberjack from Orofino, took on the federal government in a way few, if any, Idaho politicians ever had before, or has since.
I have many vivid memories of working for Andrus those long years ago, but no memory remains more evocative than when the governor of Idaho called the bluff of the Department of Energy over nuclear waste. We are still feeling the ripples of that encounter and Idaho, thanks to dozens of subsequent actions, including a landmark agreement negotiated by Andrus’s successor Phil Batt, has gotten rid of a good part of its nuclear waste stockpile. If current state leaders are half as smart as Andrus and Batt they will fight to retain the leverage Idaho has to get rid of the rest.
On a crisp fall day in 1988 Andrus and I flew to Carlsbad, New Mexico, a town in the southeastern corner of the state at the time better known for its caverns than for its starring role in a governmental showdown. Carlsbad was once the potash capitol of the country and had long been a place where extracting value from the earth dominated the economy. When potash ceased to be an economic driver for the region the powers to be in Eddy County went looking for a future. They found some level of economic salvation in nuclear waste. Andrus was there to help realize their expectations and in the process help Idaho.
Years earlier, as Secretary of the Interior, Andrus had become a Carlsbad favorite for his attention to local issues – Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the domain of the Interior Department is nearby – and because of the respect he enjoyed the locals made him an honorary member of the Eddy County Sheriff’s Posse. As a member of the august group Andrus was able to sport the outfit’s signature Stetson, a big hat hard to miss in a crowd. The Stetson was a scintillating shade of turquoise.
Wearing his colorful headgear, Andrus arrived in Carlsbad thirty years ago to “tour” the then-unfinished Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), a massive cavern carved out of the deep salt formations under southeastern New Mexico. Years earlier the Department of Energy (DOE), then as now the single most incompetent bureaucracy in the federal government, had determined that the salt formations would be the ideal place to permanently dispose of certain types of extremely long-lived radioactive waste. Encased thousands of feet below ground in salt that had existed for hundreds if not millions of years and never touched by water, the waste would be safe. The science was sound even if DOE’s execution of a plan to prepare the facility for waste was deeply flawed.
Andrus’s WIPP inspection left him convinced that the only way to move DOE’s bureaucracy was to manufacture a crisis. His motive, of course, was to shine a light on DOE management failures, but also advancing the day when nuclear waste that had been sitting in Idaho for years would be permanently removed to New Mexico. He returned to Idaho and closed the state’s borders to any more waste, declaring, “I’m not in the garbage business any more.”
I remember asking Andrus if he really had the legal authority to take an action that seemed sure to end up in court. He smiled and said, “ I may not have the legal authority, but I have the moral authority. Let them try to stop me.”
The audacious action had precisely the effect Idaho’s governor intended. The nation’s decades of failures managing its massive stockpile of nuclear waste became, at least for a while, a national issue. The New York Times printed a photo of an Idaho state trooper standing guard over a rail car of waste on a siding near Blackfoot. DOE blinked and eventually took that shipment back to Colorado.
A now retired senior DOE official recently told me Andrus’s action was the catalyst to get the New Mexico facility operational. His gutsy leadership also highlighted the political reality that Idaho’s rebellion against the feds might easily spread. Subsequent litigation, various agreements and better DOE focus, at least temporarily, lead to the opening of the WIPP site in 1999 and some of the waste stored in Idaho began moving south.
With the perfect hindsight of thirty years it is also clear that Idaho’s willingness to take on the federal government did not, as many of the state’s Republicans claimed at the time, hurt the Idaho National Laboratory. Republican Governor Phil Batt’s 1995 agreement, which Andrus zealously defended up until his death last year, continues to provide Idaho with the best roadmap any state has for cleaning up and properly disposing of waste. Idaho would be foolish to squander any of the leverage it has thanks to the work Andrus and Batt did to hold the federal government accountable.
But, of course, some Idahoans continue to talk about waste accommodation with DOE, even as deadlines for more removal and clean up are missed and the DOE behemoth stumbles forward. A former Texas governor who once advocated eliminating the agency now heads DOE. As Michael Lewis demonstrates in his scary new book The Fifth Risk, DOE Secretary Rick Perry is little more than a figurehead acting out a role that is both “ceremonial and bizarre.” According to Lewis’s telling, Perry didn’t even bother to ask for a briefing on any DOE program when he arrived.
Meanwhile Perry’s boss recently announced in Nevada, a state where waste is about as popular as a busted flush, that he’s opposed to eventually opening the Yucca Mountain site as a permanent repository for very high-level nuclear waste. Donald Trump made that statement even as his own budget contains millions of our dollars to work on opening the very facility.
Federal government incoherence obviously continues. Cece Andrus confronted it thirty years ago. He was right then and we can still learn from his leadership.
Former Idaho Governor and Secretary of the Interior Cecil D. Andrus died on August 24, 2017 in Boise. He was a day short of his 86th birthday. I was lucky enough to meet him in the mid-1970s and even more fortunate to work with him from 1986 on.
He was simply the best and greatest man I have ever known. I was honored and humbled to offer a remembrance for a packed house of family and friends at a memorial service in Boise last week. Below is what I said about a personal and political giant.
Cecil Andrus had, in almost every respect, a quintessentially American kind of life rising from the most modest beginnings to the far heights of political and personal accomplishment, and frequently his many and varied victories came in the face of the longest of odds.
Reflect for a moment on those humble begins in rural Oregon: The governor told of learning, as a youngster along with brother Steve, how to hunt and fish, and not merely for enjoyment, but because a successful hunting or fishing expedition put food on the family table. You can understand the seeds there of a life long love of hunting, fishing and the outdoors. He would joke in his retirement that with an elk in the freezer he and Carol could make it through the winter.
These early Oregon days were before there was a Bonneville Power Administration or the REA, electricity was scarce in the rural west. He vividly recalled his dad using the car battery to power the family radio set so that everyone could listen to Franklin Roosevelt’s Fire Side Chats. And he embraced throughout his political life the lessons of FDR’s New Deal, as well as the buck-stops-here pragmatism of Harry Truman. Politics, he thought, should be an honorable calling since it should always be about improving the lives of people. And government was the tool to make the improvements.
He never forgot where he came from.
Years after working long days in the woods, after serving in the Cabinet, after meeting the Pope, and presidents, and titans of industry, and after conserving vast swaths of America’s last frontier, he could still walk the walk and talk the talk of a gyppo logger from north Idaho. Some wise guy once conceived of a campaign commercial where the governor donned a hardhat and cork boots and wielded a chain saw to cut down the biggest dang Ponderosa pine you can imagine.
This was 1986, and probably 20 years after his last logging job, and he dropped that tree right where it was supposed to be.
He never forgot where he came from.
To those who had the honor to work for him – with him – he was role model, mentor, inspiration and surrogate father. He was simply a wonderful guy to work with. It was fun, demanding and important work, and, in my case, his taking a flier on me and bringing me into his orbit absolutely changed my life – and all for the good. I even adopted his hairstyle.
A Political Accident…
All of you know the broad outline of his story, but permit me for a moment to draw the big picture that, I think, helps us understand what will be his enduring legacy. He was elected at age 29 to the state senate from Clearwater County by defeating an incumbent Republican. He had never before held political office. Elected governor at age 39 in 1970, he became the first Democratic governor in Idaho in sixteen years. He defeated an incumbent Republican that year by gaining 52 percent of the vote. Four years later, he won re-election in a crushing landslide – 71 percent of the vote.
His political and personal skills and his first-rate intellect next took him to the president’s Cabinet – the first Idahoan to ever serve there.
Following service in the Carter Administration he returned to Idaho, in and of itself a remarkable fact since “Potomac Fever” is a powerful affliction, but it never settled on Cece Andrus.
In 1986, he was trying again to win what he often called “the best political job in the world,” and he won a very close election for governor with just under 50 percent of the vote. Four years later, he won an unprecedented fourth term in another landslide – more than 68 percent of the vote.
I like to say he was elected four times in three different decades, a Democrat in one of the most Republican states in the nation, a conservationist in a state where timber, mining and agriculture were paramount. He built a record of remarkable legislative accomplishment that occurred while his party never once controlled either house of the state legislature.
I remember going to Marsing during that 1986 campaign and seeing a pick-up truck with an Andrus sticker on the left rear bumper and a Steve Symms sticker on the right rear bumper. That is the definition of bipartisan appeal. He never would have won all those elections without having remarkable appeal all across the political spectrum.
And there was a discernible pattern in his political life, and his victories were no flukes. He would win an election narrowly, as in 1970 and again 1986, and then, after showing voters how well he led and how much he cared – in other words the more the voters saw him in action the better they liked him – he won the two greatest victories in modern Idaho gubernatorial history. You need to go all the way back to 1896 and Frank Steunenberg to find another gubernatorial election won by a larger margin that Cece Andrus’ margins in 1974 and 1990.
And after he won he led, and he governed. Permit the editorial opinion that we could use a little bit more of that formula in our politics today.
Historians will sort this out, but I think it is fair to argue that no politician in the history of Idaho had a bigger impact for good for more people for a longer period of time than Cece Andrus.
He was, to appropriate the title from Bernard Malamud’s great novel, he was indeed The Natural. He believed, as Churchill said, that you had to be an optimist – it simply wasn’t much use to be anything else.
I have rarely met another person, let alone a politician, so completely comfortable in his own skin as was Cece Andrus. He was the very definition of the old saying: What you see is what you get. No pretense. No artifice. No overstuffed self-importance. Cece Andrus never met a stranger and never had to master the politician’s trick of faking sincerity.
He liked being Cece Andrus – and who wouldn’t?
What you saw is what he was: confident, decisive, almost always the smartest guy in the room, but never one to believe it of himself. He rarely – as in never – seemed to have a bad day. He had an amazing capacity for work and analysis, but also a remarkable ability to make a tough decision and never second-guess that decision. He also displayed, more than any other quality, a genuine regard for people, which I would submit was the secret sauce of his astounding political success and why he remains, nearly a quarter century after leaving public office, the most popular Idaho politician of the modern era. He really liked people. And they liked him precisely because he was – to use a phrase political consults employ today – he was authentic.
To Carol, Tana, Tracy, Kelly, Monica, Morgan, Andrew and great granddaughter Casey and all the extended Andrus family: At this difficult time and while still coming to grips with such a great loss please know we hold all of you in our hearts and in our prayers. While we gather today to celebrate the governor’s remarkable life and legacy we are all too aware that no words can really ease the hurt you feel.
Still, it would be our collective hope that the sentiments, the images, the music and the outpouring of love and affection from all gathered here, as well as the collective memory of what he has meant to all of us, will begin to bring some degree of peace.
We confront today, each of us, the realization that no matter how large the hurt, no matter how awful the loss, we can – and we should – take profound inspiration from Cece Andrus’ life. He would tell us, I think, that when faced with adversity we have only one choice – to move ahead, to step confidently, as he would, toward the bright sunshine on the next high hill, to envision and work for a better future, and to never indulge in the darkness of despair.
He once said, in reflecting on his long career, that when things change we need to change to meet the new circumstances. He was nothing if not an agent of change, and he was always – always – focused on the future.
And we remember that great sense of humor, those flashing eyes, and the perfectly delivered self-deprecating joke. We all have a Cece story.
Here is a favorite of mine: it was August 1986, and he was locked in a tough campaign for a third term as governor. As well known as Cece Andrus was at that time, he had been off the ballot for a dozen years, away from the state for four years and he was a blank slate for a significant number of Idahoans. Practicing the best kind of politics – the retail, handshaking and visiting kind of politics – we were trying to get him in personal contact with as many voters are possible. But on this particular hot August day we didn’t have a blessed thing scheduled – no Rotary Club speech, no parade, nothing. Not one to waste a campaign day, he had his tiny paid campaign staff – Larry Meierotto, the campaign manager, Clareene Wharry (of course) and me gather at his office on Bannock Street downtown. He wanted to know what we could do that day to meet some voters.
Larry shuffled through some papers in his lap and said: Well, the Owyhee County Fair starts today. We could drive out to Homedale – as you all know a Democratic stronghold – and work the fairground. Strategy decided we took off mid-afternoon for Homedale. As we arrived at the fairgrounds something just didn’t seem quite right. For one thing no one was around. The fairgrounds were deserted. Armed with a handful of Andrus brochures, the governor set off to find some voters, any voters, and we finally spotted four guys sitting in the shade drinking Coors out of can and smoking cigarettes. He introduced himself and asked these guys where they were from. Nevada, they answered. They were the “carnies” setting up the carnival rides for the Owyhee County Fair that would start – the next day. We went to the fair on the wrong day.
For the rest of my life in the wonderful orbit of Cecil Andrus the Owyhee County Fair became shorthand for anything that didn’t turn out quite right. All he had to do to make a point about a lack of planning or execution was to say those words – “Owyhee County Fair.” And he would frequently add, twinkle in his eye: “That was a real high point of the campaign, talking to four guys in Homedale, all from Nevada who couldn’t vote for me.”
When his hunting mule Ruthie delivered a serious blow to his head during an elk hunting expedition and he was helicoptered off a mountain up above Lowman, I went sprinting down to the emergency department at St. Luke’s not knowing how seriously he had been hurt. About the first person I saw was the National Guard helicopter pilot who had delivered him to the hospital. “How is he doing,” I asked. “I think he’s going to be fine,” the pilot said, “the first thing he asked me when we got him strapped in was whether there was any chance we had a cold beer on board the helicopter.”
He was not the kind of leader who expected perfection, but rather competence. He wasn’t in any way a harsh taskmaster, but he did demand honesty, hard work and really insisted that you harbor a sense of the awe that he felt in having the privilege and responsibility of working for the people of Idaho.
He wasn’t a memo writer and he rarely issued orders, but he did expect everyone who worked for him to be on his or her A-game all the time. And he had standards: Tell the truth; no surprises – if you had a problem you’d better let him know, he didn’t want to read about it in the newspaper – no funny business with expense reimbursements – if you cheated on the small stuff, you’d cheat on the big things, he said – and no drinking at lunch. Think of the problems those simple rules avoided.
When things went wrong, he took responsibility. When things went well, he shared the praise. Ask anyone who ever worked for him and you’ll find that he inspired incredible loyalty. You wanted to work for the guy and no one ever wanted to disappoint the boss.
He led the best way – by example. A good way to measure the character of a politician is to see how people who worked for an elected official regard their experience. I believe I can speak for the so-called “Andrus Mafia” in saying that working for Cece Andrus was the absolute pinnacle of our professional lives.
The Andrus Legacy…
He loved to hunt and fish. And the outdoors, in addition to Carol, his daughters, grandchildren, and great granddaughter, were his great personal passions. He also had, I think, three great political passions. Perhaps above all he valued education. He admired and cared for students and teachers. I’ve always thought one reason he placed such great stock in education was due to the fact that he did not have the chance to complete his own college education. Lord knows that never hampered him, but he always knew that education was the way ahead in the world. He believed every single youngster deserved a first-rate education and he was determined as a legislator and as a governor to do everything he could to emphasize and improve education. It is one of the Three E’s of the Andrus Legacy.
His second E was the economy. First you must make a living, he said, and then he acted on that idea. He promoted Idaho products – like the spuds in those great commercials – and he courted those, like Hewlett-Packard and Micron, who would bring about a diversification of the Idaho economy. But he was also a shrewd and pragmatic dealmaker. He told David Packard that Idaho would be glad to have a big technology company like H-P locate here, but to not expect a bunch of tax giveaways since that wouldn’t be fair to companies already here. H-P came.
Micron needed engineering education in Boise. He found a way to get it done.
He had an astute sense of leadership that helped him navigate domains as different as the Albertson’s boardroom, the White House Cabinet Room, a Land Board meeting or an elk camp. Only after I observed him in action for a while did I conclude, without a doubt, that this guy could have literally done anything in business or in politics. He inspired people to be better than they were and they followed him – the very essence of a great leader.
We have heard a good deal lately about certain people who know the art of the deal. Most of them don’t. Cece Andrus did. Since we are here today on the Boise State University campus I want to relate one of my favorite stories about Andrus the dealmaker. Back in 1974 – long before Bob Kustra – Boise State College was the poor stepsister of Idaho higher education, but even then the Broncos had big aspirations, aspirations shared by the largely Republican delegation from Ada County…and by Cece Andrus.
Here is the art of the Andrus Deal.
The legislation to create Boise State University – rename it from a college – was sitting on Governor Andrus’ desk in 1974 at the precise moment the state senate was considering whether to confirm the nomination to the Public Utilities Commission of a crusty former labor leader from Pocatello by the name of Bob Lenaghan. To say the least, Bob Lenaghan was not a GOP favorite, and Andrus knew he would need a handful of Republican votes to get him confirmed. A potential yes vote rested with a Republican state senator from Ada County by the name of Lyle Cobbs, who just happened to be the sponsor of the legislation to create Boise State University. You may see where this is going.
Literally while the roll call to confirm – or not confirm Bob Lenaghan’s PUC appointment – was proceeding on the senate floor the governor of Idaho dialed the phone and it rang on Senator Cobbs’ desk.
“Lyle, this is the governor…anxious to know how you intend to vote on the PUC appointment.” Long, silent pause on the other end of the line. “Lyle, just so you know, I have your BSU legislation sitting right here on my desk awaiting action…”
The vote to confirm Bob Lenaghan was 18 in favor, 17 opposed. Senator Cobbs cast the deciding vote in favor. At the signing ceremony for the BSU legislation – by the way there is a great photo on the BSU website of the occasion with a rather anxious Lyle Cobbs looking on – the senator quietly asked the governor: “You wouldn’t really have vetoed that bill would you?” Andrus, smiling, said: “Lyle, you’ll never know will you?” The governor got his PUC commissioner, and he helped launch a fine university in one fell swoop.
The third E in the Andrus Legacy is, of course, the environment. He championed the environmental long before it was popular and long after some attempted to make conservation a purely partisan issue. Alaska is the greatest piece of his conservation legacy, but we should remember as well smaller, but no less important victories.
He shamed a timber company in northern Idaho into changing its forest practices when he personally took photographs of a logging job that had messed up a stream.
He told Jack Simplot to clean up the effluent from his potato processing plant on the Snake River or the state would shut it down. Simplot complied.
And all the while he was also a pragmatist. You could have it both ways, he believed, you could build and sustain a strong and vibrant economy, but you could also protect public lands for his generation, for mine and for our kids and grandkids. “First you must make a living,” he said, “but you must have a living that is worthwhile.”
I suspect at one time or another all of us have pondered a fundamental question of human existence: can one individual really make a difference? Can one person in a big and very complicated world make a lasting mark? Cece Andrus’ life is all the proof any of us need that one person can make a difference. If you take nothing else away from this occasion today, please take that lesson from his long and impactful life – one person can have a profound influence for good.
And he showed us how to do it by: Pushing for kindergartens, putting the first women on the Idaho Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, unflinching support for Marilyn Shuler and human rights, the courage to confront the DOE, one of the earliest to question the excesses of the National Rifle Association, one of history’s great crusaders for conservation.
The words repeated over the last few days – Giant, Icon, Legendary – are all true. And Cece Andrus will be remembered for many things not least for his courage and his humanity, not least for the fact that indeed his life did make a huge and lasting difference.
The Best of Us…
Cece Andrus was our North Star – our beacon – inspiring us to be a little better, to think a little bigger, to act a bit more boldly. He was the ultimate people person – big-hearted, generous, fair, and the most loyal of loyal friends. He made us want to walk toward that sunshine on the next high hill.
John Kennedy had inspired him in 1960 at the beginning of his political life, and Barack Obama did much the same nearer the end. Reflecting on the improbably of a black man in the White House, Cece Andrus said, “I can still be inspired. I can still hope.” In turn, he always gave us hope, which is after all along with the love of our family and friends, about all we can surely count on in this world.
His optimism and his sense of hope, his personal decency and his rock solid integrity, and of course his caring is why we loved him, and followed him, and believed in him, and it is why we mourn him. Long after all of us go on to our own just rewards they will still be talking about Cece Andrus.
And, of course, we will continue to admire him and miss him in the days and years to come and we should all try to give him the best possible tribute and live out his example.
We will never, ever forget what he did for his country, his state and for each of us.