Monday, August 3, 2015

Ranae Stallings, 1943-2015

If, as Henry James said, the three most important things in life are to be kind, be kind and be kind, Ranae Stallings had life mastered.

There was no kinder soul than Ranae. As a politician's wife she must have greeted thousands of people over the years, some she agreed with, some she didn't, but never did ideology stand in the way of her innate kindness. On the campaign trail with her husband, four-term former Idaho Rep. Richard Stallings, constituents would eagerly tell the story of how Richard helped them get their Social Security checks or nominated them to one of the service academies. As they spoke of his helpfulness, they almost always remarked on the kindness of his wife who also happened to be his scheduling secretary. She is remembered as being as pivotal to the success of their cases as he was.

In Idaho politics there has been no more respected and powerful political partnership than that of Frank and Bethine Church. Behind everything Frank did was his supportive wife who, with her family's political clout and causes of her own, not so quietly pushed him forward. The partnership of Richard and Ranae Stallings may never have been as flashy or memorable as that of Frank and Bethine, but it has been just as admirable. Nearly fifty-two years of marriage, twelve years in Congress, twelve political campaigns, three children and many grandchildren--all extremely respectable for two humble people who met in an LDS Institute class at Weber State College.

While so many people knew Ranae as the quiet supporter of a political husband, the kind handshake and warm smile that accompanied them both everywhere, they don't always know enough to appreciate the sacrifices she made to be by Richard's side. From leaving college so that her young, ambitious other half could complete a graduate degree while teaching high school in Odgen to uprooting her life and the life of her youngest child to follow her newly-elected husband to Washington, D.C., Ranae sacrificed much and never complained. Even during the 2014 campaign when Richard threw himself into a congressional race that was doomed from the start, disagreeing with the decision to run, she still stood beside him and only ever commented on how much easier it was to run a congressional race when they were in their 40s.

There are married couples who, after years together, cannot be thought of separately in the minds of those who know them. As her husband alluded to in his touching tribute to her, this was the case for them as much as it has been for those who know them. Imagining Richard without Ranae is a heartbreaking task left to those of us who loved her and loved the two of them together. It is difficult, yes, but in no way comparable to the struggle of Richard himself as he goes forward in this world without the love of his life by his side.

Each person touched by Ranae will forever remember her kindness, intellect and unwavering support of Richard. And Idaho will remember her for the devotion and sacrifice she offered her state and for the love she gave unconditionally to the man who served us so well.

Ranae Garner Stallings
1943 - 2015

Thursday, July 2, 2015

'Heritage Not Hate' and Other Fallacies

In 1909, my great-great-great grandfather began a journal entry that would outlive him by many generations. At the age of seventy-seven, J.N. Taylor described for his children and theirs his experience in the Civil War as a soldier for the Confederacy. Those experiences included one in particular that took place on the day of April 9, 1865. That event was the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Court House.

Having enlisted in 1861, Taylor served for two years before going on furlough. He would then return to the war and serve until the surrender at war's end. He fought in the Battle of Appomattox Court House on the morning of the surrender. Born and raised in Georgia, the thirty-three year old would walk home following the surrender and the end of what were the most important years of his adult life.

Google Maps approximation
Writing about the walk home, Taylor said: "I walked from Appomattox Courthouse to Milledgeville I road [sic] from there to Stevens Pottery two miles home." Imagine walking 438 miles in tattered clothing, your weapons having been surrendered, no money to your name and no idea what your life would be with the war behind you. Google Maps says that distance would take 145 hours.

That walk home found itself portrayed with as many words, if not more, as the surrender itself. I have often wondered if he had written his memories down nearer to the end of the war if he wouldn't have voiced his disappointment in the outcome. He had fought valiantly for the Confederate States of America and they had been defeated by the the great Union Army, an outcome that would begin the uniting of a fractured country, a uniting that current events proves we are still working toward today.

About the surrender, Taylor wrote:
"In my seeing I saw General Lee surrender at Appomattox I saw him walk a few paces in front of a squad of men took out his sword and stuck it in the ground and walked back and talked to the men whom I thought was General Grant and staff I saw them get on their horses and road [sic] off towards Richmond then after that I saw the end of the war I saw about 500 men a fiting [sic] fist and skull of Yanks and Rebels and after we started for home without a mouthful to eat for about 120 miles we went about 3 or 4 miles and then we came to a mill and we pressed 2 bushels of mint we went into the woods and cooked and don’t  you forget we had something to eat."
Journal entry of J.N. Taylor
What he didn't write in his journal was what, like the paper he put pen to, would outlive him by many generations: A deep-seated prejudice. 

This man, born in 1838, never stepped foot north of the Mason-Dixon line. His kin would not leave Georgia for two more generations. And with them to eastern Idaho they took the prejudice that had been instilled in their ancestor since even before his time of service as a Confederate solider.

In the news cycle centering on the Confederate battle flag, I have often thought of my ancestor and wondered if those who continue to espouse the belief that there is no hatred attached to the flag they proudly fly would extend their so-called right to display it to a northerner like myself who, like them, had an ancestor fighting for the Confederacy. Isn't it my heritage, too? And if so, why do I, and presumably many Americans who likely have some connection in their lineage to southern soldiers, find the sight of that flag so jarring and offensive?

The answer to why I find the flag offensive is complex, perhaps made more complex by my understanding of American history. Sometimes it is visceral. But also, as is the case for many with this issue, it is quite personal. Obviously, I didn't live through the Civil War. I never saw my country attempt to heal as the Reconstruction was rife with hostility and bitterness. I have only read about the African-Americans who had to endure the Klu Klux Klan marching through the streets of their towns and neighborhoods, setting fire to crosses, waving that flag as they terrorized a community and often turned to lynchings. I never saw the menacing red and blue flag carried by children as I marched through Selma and other cities of the former Confederacy. My own life has been blessed with a distance from that level of hatred, but not completely distant. I was a child during the rise of neo-Nazis in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s. My childhood saw a scattering of right-wing domestic terrorism that often cloaked itself in the colors of that flag. That flag was not a relic in a museum as far as I was concerned. It was completely obvious to me what it stood for.

Even as a young child in the vast white population of Idaho, I knew what racism was. My earliest encounters with individual racism (rather than that of hate groups or institutions) could be traced back to the man who wrote in his diary about the day his service in the Confederate army ended. 

Journal entry of J.N. Taylor,
My great-grandmother, the granddaughter of J.N. Taylor, was a racist. I say that without any hesitation because I grew up knowing this to be true. The first time I realized this was as a child, no older than ten. I had been watching boxing with my grandfather fairly often and knew that he got his love of the sport from his mother. What I didn't know until watching it with both of them was why she loved the sport. To paraphrase a disgusting and highly disturbing statement she often made, she loved watching black men beat the hell out of each other. Of course, she didn't offer them the courtesy of calling them black or men. As disturbing as what she had said with my young ears present was that my grandfather didn't admonish her or later take me aside for a teaching moment. 

This wasn't the only time that one of them said something particularly racist in my presence and while words can be overcome, actions often cannot. In addition to speaking her racist beliefs, my great-grandmother lived her life by them. In her later years, she was one of those grandmothers who prided herself on the number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great-great-grandchildren she had. Despite that personal pride, her underlying belief in the supremacy of the white race could not be overcome. My younger brother and I, both adopted, were not included in her tally of great-grandchildren because we were not blood. Not only were we not blood, there was no way to determine what kind of blood we did have. While we were obviously Caucasian, we could have had Asian, Native American or some "other" tainted DNA. Whatever bitterness I might have carried both before and after I understood why I was singled out in this way was at times lessened by knowing she had been as terrible to her own son. Her son married a Hispanic woman, having met her in Mexico, and they had children together. Imagine my great-grandmother's response to that abomination.

To my grandfather's credit, he allowed the influence of his liberal, tolerant wife to curb his own racism. She might have threatened him with his life if he spoke a racist word in front of the grandchildren for all I know, but it worked. In my childhood I can count on one hand the times he voiced something untoward. As it tends to happen, the generation between he and his mother was useful in changing the words he spoke, if not his heart.

Gone With the Wind, 1939
My great-grandmother's ties to Georgia and her husband's ties to North Carolina may not live inside me in the way someone born and raised in the south today might experience. I do not feel attached to southern heritage, despite my lineage. But like a child of the south, I am daily reminded of a period in our history that is now being both romanticized and defended by those who mistakenly believe the rebel flag represents only that time (to further understand why I say mistakenly: see Ta-nehisi Coates). Why? Because of a movie that was released in 1939.

Yes, every day I am reminded of what is one of the most romanticized and yet controversial films in American cinematic history. I was named after the fictional plantation created by writer Margaret Mitchell and brought to life on film by David O. Selznick and Victor Fleming in Gone With the Wind. A fictional plantation that subsisted on the backs of slaves. The film itself is riddled with historical inaccuracies and the bigger issue of romanticizing slavery, the treasonous act that fractured our nation leading us to civil war, and a reverence for Reconstruction and the perseverance of the South. This doesn't even begin to address the horrendous way that black actors were treated during the filming and production of the film decades after the events being depicted.

Did the lineage of my mother lead her to obsession with the film? Of course not. However, the things she must have grown up hearing from the mouth of her own father and grandmother must have made her far less sensitive to the atrocities the film viewed with rose-colored lens. Take a moment to consider this: Mitchell told the story of General Sherman's march to the Atlantic with the humanity of evacuating the white characters prior to brutal scorched earth warfare arriving at the plantation, but left the nearly 100 slaves of the plantation unprotected. They were nothing more than cattle. Facts like this, largely ignored by its fans, continue to be why historians argue about the film today.

I am not willing to ignore the revisionist history in a film any more than I am willing to ignore it in a conversation about a flag that flies tonight over the statehouse in South Carolina. It does not make a difference that my ancestor fought for an ideal attached to that flag. It does not make me romantic about a time in the south simply because of my name, either. Nor should it any other American. If we ever hope to heal the racial wounds of our country, we can't allow the lie of what a flag stood for or what it means today to persist. If we think we can live a non-violent existence in country where a flag is both the latter-day representation of hate toward all non-white groups and the symbol of our proud heritage, we're fooling ourselves.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Comments at TPG

While I realize I am not writing regularly here anymore, not with my side projects and the outlet I've found on Twitter, I acknowledge that people continue to read and leave comments on pieces I have written previously. What I didn't realize was that the comment process here at TPG has been problematic for some time.

Readers commenting on pieces that were 14+ days old were subject to moderation, something I had intended due to the amount of spam that gets attached to long-forgotten posts, but somehow readers commenting on pieces 14+ days weren't actually being placed in the moderation section. For those of you who have commented on older pieces, I apologize if you came back to see if your comment was posted following moderation and then hoped for a response only to find your comment never appeared. I wish I knew for certain where these comments had gone, but I suspect the answer is one of my own doing. What I do know is I have been sporadically deleting all comments awaiting moderation. Assuming they were spam because I wasn't notified to choose whether they could be posted or not, I deleted them all. Every last comment that had been left and never posted was due to my own mistake.

I apologize for this screwup and would like everyone to know that your comments will post now. If you left a comment that you hoped I would see and I didn't, feel free to leave a comment again or you are always welcome to email me at the address attached to my complete profile.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Twenty-Second of November

This anniversary may pass without the national acknowledgement that came with the fiftieth anniversary last year, but it never goes unnoticed in my own life. The Kennedy family prefers that the President be remembered on his birthday in May. Though it is an understandable preference, it's impossible for people to disassociate John F. Kennedy with what happened on this day fifty-one years ago in Dealey Plaza. I've written here many times about the way in which I became interested in Kennedy. This is the first year that I can share the card that was shown to me when I was a kid by my grandmother who remembers precisely where she was when she learned of Kennedy's death and was so upset by the assassination she reached out to another young mother, Jackie Kennedy, and offered her condolences.

I will forever cherish this card on anniversaries like this one and every day that I think of my grandmother and the influence she has had on my life. She was the same age I am now, twenty-nine, with four young children, when she sent her condolences to the First Lady of the United States. I would like to think that I am my grandmother's granddaughter, shaped by her in many ways, and would have done the same had I learned on one November day in 1963 that the leader of the free world had been cut down in Dallas.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Richard Stallings: The Man and the Candidate

When Richard Stallings announced his candidacy for his former seat in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year, I wondered how I might write about his candidacy and how it would feel to watch his campaign play out. Now on the eve of midterm results, I find myself as inarticulate about the man and the candidate as I have ever been.

There is no candidate I know quite like I do the Democratic candidate in Idaho's second congressional district. Richard Stallings is not a new name to Idaho voters and he is far from new to me.

If I had to pinpoint when Stallings came into my political consciousness, it wouldn't be him as much as his 1982 and 1984 opponent. Yes, that opponent. I grew up hearing how George Hansen was railroaded. And I vaguely remember the 1992 election, the victory of Bill Clinton being overshadowed by the defeat of a good congressman who had decided to run for the Senate here at home. He'd run against a young, good-looking mayor who didn't stay long in the seat. Stallings same returned six years later to run for the House seat he'd vacated to run for the Senate. He lost, but his service to his community didn't end there. He went on to serve as U.S. Nuclear Waste Negotiator, appointed by President Clinton, executive director of Pocatello Neighborhood Housing, a non-profit that helps low income Pocatelloans buy their homes, as chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, and councilman for the City of Pocatello.

As thrilled as I was when he threw his hat in the ring this cycle, I knew that the Richard Stallings of 2014 wouldn't be the candidate he was in his previous races. I, perhaps more than most, knew why. A short background of how I came to know Richard and why I can get away with that last sentence:

When I first met Richard in 2004, he was teaching a course on Idaho politics at Idaho State University. I'd never met Richard before, but had that honor at the 2004 Democratic Caucus for Bannock County. I decided to take his course at ISU in the spring of 2005. I would go on to take it several more times, for no other reason than Idaho history and politics became my academic focus and it was the easiest way to have a moment to ask my questions. My questions? Those had to do with the Stallings Congressional Collection at ISU. In 2005, Richard was running for re-election to the city council and I campaigned nonstop for him. It was at that time that I became the "keeper of the papers," as I considered myself then. For four years I spent day in and day out processing, cataloging and preparing for patrons the extensive collection of papers Stallings had compiled while serving four terms in the House. It was there that I became the person, second only to Richard himself, that knew every detail of his congressional career.

What I've come to know about Richard Stallings could fill a book and may one day do exactly that, but what I want to speak today is the man and the candidate and why I think the 2014 version of Stallings is nothing like the candidate of elections past.

If you've paid any attention to the 2nd CD race, you know that the worst charge against Stallings is that he can be a bit brash, honest to a fault. As I said the other night while watching what I presume will be the final political debate of his career, if Richard's biggest fault is being too honest, I would much rather have that than a sly politician who tells you what he thinks you want to hear. Richard Stallings has always been one of those what you see is what you get candidates. As an Idaho Democrat, he was always pro-life with an A-rating from the NRA. If you didn't like those things as a Democrat, too bad. Richard was always going to be what he was and nothing else. He could have compromised on his principles, but that just wouldn't have been Richard. That congressman and that candidate? He is even more honest and principled today. He isn't going to change his mind or his tone. It's refreshing, in my opinion, but isn't necessarily everyone's cup of tea. However, consider his opponent and his wobbly principles. Which would you prefer?

Something I have always appreciated about Stallings is the way he actually wanted to govern rather than looking ahead to whatever possible re-election battle loomed ahead. The nuts and bolts of policy was important, especially to a man who was not only trained as an historian but went on to teach young historians at the university level. His knowledge of the successful and failed policies of the past shaped his work on policies of the present and future. I firmly believe that sort of institutional knowledge would be useful in the House. And unlike his opponent on the ballot today, he would not be looking ahead to the possibility of an eventual chairmanship that may or may not come his way when he makes decisions that affect Idahoans now.

As a candidate and as a congressman, Stallings is principled and honest. As a man, as you can imagine, he is no different. He has been married to his lovely wife Ranae for over fifty years. He has three great children who have supported his many years of public service. He is a man of faith. His compassion and care are what people know him by. In fact, not long goes by in my own life before he checks in to see how I am feeling, how my awful back is doing and what I've been doing lately. He constantly asks if I need anything long before he asks for any favors on his own behalf. This is his way. And as someone who has campaigned for him in the past, gone door-to-door and made numerous calls on his behalf, I can tell you every third house you stop at or third phone number you dial, you will encounter a grateful Idahoan who has a story about how the congressman helped them with this or that. This kind of compassion and devotion to the needs of Idahoans is exactly what we need these days.

My hope is that all of this truly matters to 2nd CD voters. But if it doesn't, if Idahoans don't know or care that Stallings is why returning LDS missionaries are now allowed to accept their 2-year-old appointment to one of the military academies, that the Craters of the Moon National Preserve wouldn't have become a preserve if not for the groundwork laid during Stallings' tenure, or if they live within the Snake River Basin and don't know that Stallings spearheaded the Fort Hall Indian Water Rights Act of 1990 that distributed water rights among the tribe, local and county governments as well as the Department of the Interior--water that we all use in various ways today, then Idahoans are worse off in their ignorance.

Stallings would be a friend to INL without the pressure of his party and the Tea Party to rein in spending. Stallings would fight for Idaho State University and Boise State University, as he has for decades, in their shared mission to be research institutions of the highest caliber. He would be the kind of the congressman who doesn't turn away visiting Idahoans at his D.C. office simply because they aren't CEOs or ambassadors to the biggest companies and financial donors in Idaho and elsewhere. He would be, as he always has been, a man of the people, willing to do their bidding and work for them.

My biggest regret is that today, the first time in my life that I would have had the chance, I don't live in the 2nd congressional district and can't cast my own ballot for my friend and mentor.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Bert Marley for Lieutenant Governor

On election eve, I have been thinking a great deal about the people on the ballot here in Idaho. This year is a year of a strong, determined slate of Democratic candidates who gave endlessly not only of themselves but of their bank accounts to make things happen for the oft-forgotten Democratic Party in Idaho.

From a somewhat outside perspective I have watched with interest the campaign of Holli Woodings, impressed by her respect for the election system that is undoubtedly in danger if Lawerence Denney becomes Secretary of State. I have watched newcomer A.J. Balukoff and have had my hope renewed that Democrats can compete in this state. I've met Nels Mitchell, an intelligent liberal, yes, I said liberal. And I have been reminded of what it is Shirley Ringo possesses that makes her so well liked and respected by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Where I am no outsider or unbiased observer is in the lieutenant governor race and the race for the 2nd congressional district. The first I'll write about here, the other in a separate piece.

I am reminded of when Senator Bert Marley announced on the lawn of the state capitol building in 2006 that he would be seeking the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, he stated that when he began teaching "he went from working everyday for [his] own success to working everyday to ensure the success of [his] students." I continue to attest to the honesty in that statement as his former student. I truly believe that his commitment to his students, his family, his faith are all things that are only rivaled by his commitment to this state. Electing Bert to the office of lieutenant governor would be to the advantage of a state that desperately needs honest, brave leadership.

While, unlike his top of the ticket running mate Butch Otter, Brad Little has done nothing to offend Idaho voters. But he isn't a high profile leader, either.

In 2006, Marley lost to Jana Jones in that superintendent's race. Jones alienated many Democrats and Bert's supporters were crushed on election night. I was no different. It was one of the toughest political heartbreaks of my young life. It stings to this day. However, I never thought I would have the opportunity to vote for him again. Having him on the ballot in 2014 means I have the pleasure of casting my ballot once again for someone I believe has and can still make a mark on the direction of this state.

For those just tuning in,  my reason, as a former student of Senator Marley, for wanting to cast my ballot for him is because I can say without hesitation that my life would be drastically different if it were not for the influence of Bert Marley.

When I was fifteen years old, I was lost in the usual ways that a fifteen-year-old can be. But for me, my life felt fractured in ways that most high school students don't experience. I was frustrated by my inability to do well in all of my classes, failing several my freshman year after what had been a blemish-free academic record up until that point. Had I not been in Bert's classroom that year, I would have dropped out of high school when I was sixteen. It was my only goal--to reach the age where I could.

In elections, in all the debate over the issues, in the nitpicking how realistic the goals the candidates have for the office itself, and the reforms they hope to implement, we seem to overlook the little things that are so important to voters, not just on a political level, but on a human level. The influence Bert Marley as an educator has had in my life is immeasurable and that very x-factor that is far too often overlooked in elections.

Just as I believed six years ago that he would make an exceptional State Superintendent of Public Instruction, in hindsight a decision the voters of Idaho ended up costing the children of this state, I have no doubt that Bert Marley would make a great lieutenant governor.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

New Music Tuesday

New today, "Bulletproof Picasso" by Train. Not the best audio quality in this video, but the videos for the news tracks aren't available yet. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Things We Carry

Monday the fourth marked the tenth anniversary of this blog and yet Monday it was the furthest thing from my mind.

While this blog has been neglected for a year, a space for the random video postings, really, I had considered writing something to mark the occasion on Monday. However, life got in the way.

My grandmother is dying.

Her eightieth birthday is on the twenty-eighth of this month, the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech as part of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the likelihood of her making it that long diminishes with every passing day. That she survived the week is a testament to her strength, perseverance and outright stubbornness. When my mother let me know that things were going downhill quickly, I found myself grateful for the visit I had with my grandmother just over two weeks ago. But, as we all tend to do, I found myself buried in thoughts of 'what if?' What if I had visited her more when I was in college? What if traveling wasn't so difficult and I could be with her right now? What if I had told her this or that?

In all of my questions, I haven't found many answers. The only thing I know for certain this week is that Parkinson's disease is a nasty, unforgiving disease.

As I have written here before ("What My Grandmother Taught Me," on Father's Day, Father's Day again, when my grandfather passed, my rant about Pat Robertson, and "The People Who Shape Our Lives"), my grandparents have had an important role in my life.

On top of the constant worry this week, the waiting for what I thought might be bad news, I found myself dealing with the question of whether or not to continue a traditional physical therapy program or to go forward from here with the option to see a physical therapist only in situations where I either hurt myself doing something specific or find my body out of alignment simply because. This seems a simple question from the outside, but I have spent three and half of the past six years in physical therapy. I thought the last year and a half of physical therapy would result in something quantifiable. It hasn't. Where I go from here is a question mark.

We all carry burdens, worries, the things that take our time and usually we don't even know this about one another. We say hello on the street or on Twitter, we wonder yet never ask how someone is truly doing. I've learned this week that we all struggle in our own way and sometimes those struggles result in a missed anniversary, but all that really means is our struggle is our true priority.

I don't know what the future of this blog is. I had hoped I would know this by the anniversary post I was contemplating in my mind. But life isn't planned, is it? We take it a day at a time and hope that we make the right choices, choose the right paths. We try to tell the people we love how much they mean to us. We try to live without regrets.

While my mind and heart are elsewhere, decisions like what to do with the blog will simply have to wait.

Friday, July 25, 2014

TRMS: 'System Failure'

In the years that I have watched The Rachel Maddow Show, I can't think of a more powerful A-block than what aired last night on the barbarity of the death penalty in the United States. You owe it to yourself to understand what the state does in our name.