Perspective on Idaho politics: After a 40-year career Chris Carlson dishes on the LDS influence, dwindling salmon runs and more in new book

Chris Carlson
Chris Carlson

In Idaho politics, there are things nobody wants to talk about. In his new book “Medimont Reflections,” Chris Carlson calls the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the state’s 800-pound gorilla.

Maybe it’s the old saw that religion and politics aren’t to be discussed in polite company, Carlson says, or maybe it’s a fear of being called a bigot — whatever the case, people avoid the topic.

Carlson draws stories from 40 years in Idaho’s political trenches to illustrate some of the “1001 ways the LDS church exerts perceived and actual influence over the daily lives of Idahoans,” from education to the recent presidential race.

“If anything, the message of the chapter is that you need to understand that it’s quite an influence,” says the author in a phone interview from his home in Medimont, Idaho, a tiny town on The Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes bicycle trail.

Carlson served nine years as a press secretary and top aide to Gov. Cecil Andrus, following him to Washington, D.C., when President Jimmy Carter appointed Andrus interior secretary. It was a heady time for Idaho Democrats. Their party would hold the governor’s office for a total of 24 years.

Carlson’s book looks behind the scenes at that era, but also slaps the present with observations on the state’s current political climate. His Idaho book tour will stop in Moscow, Lewiston and White Bird this weekend.

“Medimont Reflections” contains untold stories, including Paul Newman’s visit to Idaho while Andrus worked to get protected status for Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area. Carlson covers abortion, nuclear waste and gun control, along with taking a chapter to ponder the most powerful women in Idaho politics.

Digging into the past leads to controversies yet to be resolved — such as salmon restoration. Carlson was one of the first members of the Northwest Power Planning Council. He calls for the council to be abolished and restructured because of its failure to revive fish populations. He writes that wild runs of non-hatchery salmon and steelhead have continued to steadily decline despite the council approving and Bonneville Power Administration spending more than $7.32 billion on various fish and wildlife efforts between 2002 and 2012.

“When you look at that Bonneville number, the money spent in the first decade, $7.32 billion is a staggering number. I don’t see how anyone can sit there in the council and look at that amount of money and know that nothing has really changed,” Carlson says.

Positions on the council have become well-paid retirement posts awarded to governor loyalists, he says.

Carlson advocates for dam breaching, and believes the Port of Lewiston doesn’t make economic sense because of the costs of dredging and other factors.

“Portland is no longer the primary export point for wheat. More and more wheat is shipped through Tacoma, and it’s shipped by train,” Carlson says. “I think the economics are increasingly going to force people to recognize that you’re not really going to be able to have a viable port operation there in Lewiston. I also think that the people of Lewiston should be concerned that these 10-year flood studies show a 10-year flood event, not a 100-year flood event. A 10-year flood can sweep water into the town, and you don’t have the ability to pump it out fast enough. To me, I don’t see many rewards.”

Carlson, 66, was born in Kellogg and was in newspapers before working with Andrus and then becoming a founding partner of the Gallatin Group, a public affairs advisory firm in Boise. He found out in 1999 that he has Parkinson’s disease and was diagnosed with a stage 4 rare cancer in 2005, which led him to retire. He writes a newspaper opinion column and previously published “Cecil Andrus: Idaho’s Greatest Governor.”

Initially, Carlson said he thought the book would appeal to political junkies. Upon further reflection he thinks it covers a gamut of issues affecting lay people.

“I want people to look at a particular chapter and say, ‘That’s something I didn’t know, or that’s something I should factor into my thinking,’ and then they should probably remember I love the line H.L. Mencken uttered many years ago, ‘He felt his role was to comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.’ ”

“Medimont Reflections” is available through Ridenbaugh Press at

if you go

Who: Chris Carlson, author of “Medimont Reflections” and Randy Stapilus, author of “Idaho 100” When: • Book signing: Noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, Hastings, 2230 W. Pullman Road, Moscow • Talks and Q&A: 5 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History, 415 Main St., Lewiston • Signing and reception: 3 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, the home of Jimmy and Arlene Coulson, 3170 Old Highway 95, White Bird

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