Robert Ehlert: Hello, Idaho: I'm ready to listen

rehlert@idahostatesman.comApril 21, 2013 

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Robert Ehlert

KATHERINE JONES — kjones@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

Hello, Idaho: My name is Robert Ehlert and I am delighted to assume my duties as the new editorial page editor here at the Idaho Statesman.

As I write this, I have been in the state for less than a week. Already I have had the pleasure of brief encounters with Lt. Gov. Brad Little at the Arid Club and Edwina Martin, the waitress at The Original Pancake House near Fairview and Curtis in Boise.

The lieutenant governor was glad to see me because he said he missed the regularity and intensity of the debate generated by my esteemed predecessor, Kevin Richert. Edwina the waitress was glad to see me because her brand of customer relations works best with a sleepy straight-man she can jolt with her java and jaw-bone with her early-morning banter: "You awake? You need coffee! Coming right up!"

It is my nature, and now my mission, to live and swerve between such coordinates of politics and opportunities to converse over coffee. Yes, I intend to write "Our View" opinion pieces and tend to harvesting the bumper crop of letters to the editor the Statesman is fortunate to receive.

But I am here to do more than that. I am here to engage you on as many platforms as we can find a way to connect: in print, online, via social media and especially in person - that last connection being one of the most important to me and, I hope, to you.

Born and raised on the east coast of Iowa along the Mississippi, I am a career journalist who bolted twice from classic newspapering. Once to dabble in magazines at Meredith Corporation - publishers of Better Homes and Gardens - and then, most recently, to navigate the U.S. House of Representatives as a district communications specialist to a congressman.

U.S. Rep. Dan Lungren was a California Republican, now retired, who served the urban and rural areas around Sacramento from 2005 to 2013. Before that, he held office as California attorney general (1991-1998) and as a member of Congress representing Long Beach (1979-1989). In service to him and his constituents, I learned much about serving constituents and electeds who don't often agree on everything - especially at town halls populated with passionate citizens. I learned to find the high ground of civility in the midst of debate.

My most recent departure from journalism to work in the House is important to note for disclosure reasons, but also because it inspired me to pursue this position. Even before Lungren lost his re-election in November 2012, I pondered re-entering journalism. After 3 1/2 years working with local, county, state and federal officials and agencies, I realized I could live without congressional politics - but I could not live without doing something meaningful.

So, I approach this position with the equal parts of the humility, hope and middle-child good humor bestowed upon me at birth.

I do not regret one moment swimming in the channels and tides of policy and debate, because the experience was like getting an advanced degree in How Things Work And Occasionally Get Done In Government - Or Not.

Starting now, I am embarking on a never-ending campaign to meet and listen to as many Idahoans as I can. When you weigh-in with your views and opinions, Idaho, I promise to compile and communicate them to the stakeholders charged with educating, protecting and governing us here in the Gem State.

You will hear me ask one question over and over again of the people in charge: If you are not making progress, then what are you making? You will see me champion those who work to create better jobs and attract new ones, because I believe the entrepreneurial elixir cures a multitude of maladies.

Tuesday evening I was privileged to attend the Boise Rotary Century Scholars Program at Boise State University where 100 high-achieving high school students, their parents and some influential teachers/mentors were honored. It was touching to hear how the slightest encouragement or injection of humor or confidence had so profoundly affected so many.

Though these pages and posts will not deny the problems facing Idaho, I intend to focus on the promise I saw in those young faces and families.

Call me. Email me. Tweet me or meet me for coffee. Edwina the waitress promises she will find a nice booth or backroom where we can chat.

Robert Ehlert: 377-6437, rehlert@idahostatesman.com, @IDS_HelloIdaho

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