July 21, 2024

Relocations: Politics far and near

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger died Nov. 29. photo
December 8, 2023

What declassified records reveal about Kissinger’s behavior; and thoughts on efforts to restructure the Jackson County Commission

By Herbert Rothschild

Henry Kissinger redux

Some six months ago, in anticipation of Henry Kissinger’s death, I published a column appraising his diplomatic achievements in tandem with those of former President Jimmy Carter. So now that Kissinger has died, I have no need to recount his blood-soaked and largely unsuccessful attempts to advance what he perceived to be our national interests. All I’ll do now, if you’ve been trying to sort through the many and varying evaluations of his legacy, is point you to an indisputable record of his behavior in office during the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.
Herbert Rothschild

I’ve called your attention before to the National Security Archive at George Washington University in the District of Columbia. It obtains and makes public government documents, often using the Freedom of Information Act to force their release. Just after Kissinger died last week, the archive issued what it titled “Henry Kissinger: The Declassified Obituary.” It is “a small, select dossier of declassified records — memos, memcons, and ‘telcons’ that Kissinger wrote, said and/or read — documenting TOP SECRET deliberations, operations and policies during Kissinger’s time in the White House and Department of State.” The material pertains to the secret bombing campaigns in Cambodia, illegal domestic spying, and support for dictators and dirty wars abroad.

The “telcons” mentioned above are more than 30,000 pages of Kissinger’s phone conversations that he secretly recorded and had his secretaries transcribe. Years before Donald Trump took classified documents to Mar a Lago, Kissinger treated those transcripts as his personal papers and took them when he left office in January 1977. The archive forced the U.S. government to recover these official records by preparing a lawsuit that argued that both the State Department and the National Archives and Records Administration had inappropriately allowed classified U.S. government documentation to be removed from their control.

The National Security Archive says that its declassified obituary also “centralizes links to dozens of previously published collections of documents related to Kissinger’s tenure in government that the archive has identified, pursued, obtained and catalogued over several decades.” Apparently, Kissinger insisted on recording “practically every word he said, either to the presidents he served (without their knowledge that they were being taped) or the diplomats he cajoled.” Tom Blanton, the archive director, notes that “Kissinger’s aides later commented that he needed to keep track of which lie he told to whom.”

Reforming the Jackson County Commission

Both and the Rogue Valley Times ran the same story about the campaign to reform the County Commission when it launched in September. It entails three distinct but closely related ballot initiatives. One would require candidates for commissioner to run without party identification. Another would raise the number of commissioners from three to five. The third would lower the current salaries of commissioners to $75,000, which is about what each would get were their current collective compensation divided by five rather than by three.

Organizers of this campaign must collect 8,351 valid signatures (8% of the votes cast for governor in the previous general election) on each petition, so they’re aiming for 10,000. They passed the halfway point last month.

Those who haven’t yet signed the petitions but wish to can visit the campaign website and open “Sign Petitions” on the menu line across the top of the page. Listed are locations, days and times where signature collectors regularly set up. Among them are two locations in Ashland and one in Talent. Another choice on that menu is to print out the three electronic signature pages, sign them and mail them to the campaign address.

Also on the website are arguments in favor of the three reforms, so there is no need for me to discuss all of them or any of them at length. Very briefly, regarding the first reform: In only nine of Oregon’s 36 counties do commissioners run with party labels, and all our other elected county offices are nonpartisan. Nonaffiliated voters, the largest group of registered voters in Jackson County, have no say in who emerges as candidates from the party primaries. Regarding the second reform, the number of commissioners was set at three in 1857, when Jackson County had about 4,000 residents; now there are 223,000. Regarding the third, the salaries of our commissioners are the highest in Oregon and significantly higher than the governor’s.

These good government arguments strike me as persuasive, but I feel obligated to caution that there is a partisan consideration at work here that is sure to surface if the measures make it onto the ballot. Since 2010, when Dave Gilmour’s tenure ended, no Democrat has been elected to the County Commission. The incumbent commissioners — all Republicans — oppose the reforms. Had they favored them, they had the legal authority to place the measures on the ballot by a simple vote.

So, regrettably, this effort to take partisanship out of the County Commission is bound to become a partisan issue. We’ll see if those who bemoan divisive politics will, when offered an opportunity, walk their talk.

Herbert Rothschild is an unpaid board member. Opinions expressed in columns represent the author’s views and may or may not reflect those of Email Rothschild at

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