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Book review: Carlson talks Idaho politics in ‘Medimont Reflections’

Chris Carlson can say pretty much anything he wants, and he does, in his new memoir on Idaho politics, “Medimont Reflections.”

After a 40-year career as a reporter, press secretary, political operative and public relations man, Carlson was told eight years ago that he had just six months to live, due to his cancer diagnosis; he already suffered from Parkinson’s disease. Instead, he’s defied the odds, and continues to share his curmudgeonly observations of Idaho from his perch in Medimont, in southern Kootenai County. In Carlson’s second book – his first was “Cecil Andrus, Idaho’s Greatest Governor” – he tells stories, profiles Idaho characters, and airs his views in no uncertain terms on everything from Idaho elections to dam-breaching to religion.

“It is not an absolute requirement candidates for governor and lieutenant governor in Idaho be able to ride a horse and look good doing so, but it sure helps,” he writes. Then he backs it up: “At some fairs, they would be asked to bring the colors in with the color guard at the start of the fair’s rodeo.” In 1974, he writes, all four candidates for the two offices pulled it off.

Idaho’s political history through Carlson’s eyes is a potent brew of bare-knuckle politics, good guys and bad guys, principled bravery and intrigue. The late state Rep. Vern Ravenscroft of Tuttle, a Democrat turned Republican, is labeled the “Tuttle turncoat.” Former U.S. Sen. Steve Symms “was known as a rogue and a skirt-chaser.”

Here’s how Carlson describes current U.S. Sen. Jim Risch’s opposition to Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill, which he says Risch “torpedoed” as a newly elected Idaho senator: Risch, Carlson writes, “toadied up to the coalition of ATV riders and snowmobilers opposed to any set-asides.”

Carlson credits longtime Idaho Sen. Frank Church with getting Medicare and Medicaid to start covering hospice care. “It is an incredible legacy of Frank Church, one of which few are aware today.”

Carlson was the first appointee to the four-state Northwest Power Planning Council, and in his book, he calls for abolishing the council and its multibillion-dollar effort to save Northwest fish runs, “a boondoggle of epic proportions and an absolute waste of ratepayer funds,” he writes.

With the council spending an average $677 million a year “with little, if any, progress made in enhancing and protecting the wild runs,” Carlson argues the region would be “billions ahead” if it just shut the council down and breached the four lower Snake River dams instead.

He backs that up with stories of how the agency was set up at its outset, partly at his urging, with a “Cadillac” operation including high salaries – for him as well as others – and padded staffing.

The reader who joins Carlson on this ride through Idaho political history will meet striking characters, learn little-known tidbits, and be regaled with stories – some told before, some not – that shine new light on Idaho issues and politics. The tales aren’t all old; Carlson hits topics as current as Sen. Mike Crapo’s recent troubles and current questions about the Port of Lewiston.

Some of Carlson’s observations will offend, some will entertain. The book contains 13 essays, and for the true political junkies, appendices including a complete list of Power Council members and full results of Idaho’s 1972 and 1974 elections.

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