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.