Writings and observations

The strands of neo-Nazi activity running around in the Northwest have become well-known, famous even, mainly because of parades and a long shut-down Aryan Nations compound in the Idaho Panhandle. Probably less well known are the many linkage and contacts, formal and informal, they had around the region and around the country.

These days, the anti-immigrant nativist extremes may be the best place to look for a counterpart. It is less visible in the Northwest than the white supremacists once were, but it’s there.

The Orcinus blog (writer, Dave Neiwert) at Seattle today provides a fascinating runthrough of how some of this works, detailing many of the ties and links between anti-immigrant activity in the Northwest and some chilling crimes further south.

From the post: “the recent arrest of Minuteman offshoot leader Shawna Forde for the murder of an Arizona man and his 9-year-old daughter — part of a broader plan to rob drug dealers and use the money to finance their Minuteman operations – has ripped the veneer off the fake walls these nativists use to pretend that they have nothing to do with the racists who seem to swell their ranks as though they belonged there naturally.” The Northwest connections include a Yakima meeting (caught on video) featuring Forde. There are even links running back to the Aryan Nations.

Useful reading.

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No doubt to the relief of the Idaho Fry Company’s people, and to their customers (they produce some good eats), that firm has reached a settlement with the Idaho Potato Commission over the disputed use of the business’ name. It will henceforth be the Boise Fry Company; the IPC evidently will underwrite the name change. (For more, see our post on June 6.) Presumably, the growers and processors of the Gem State’s tubers are now safe.

Considering the hailstorm that descended on the commission after word about its challenge to the small restaurant’s name got out, the commission is probably just as relieved. Doubtless its people never intended to be, or saw themselves as, legal bullies. They have the (legitimate) job of protecting Idaho potato growers’ investment in their good name, and that’s what they thought they were doing.

But then, what we see as the key point here really isn’t about the potato commission: It is about a series of interpretations of trademark and related law, from coast to coast, that amounts to a real threat to several types of liberty in this country, and that’s a point we’ve come back to in a variety of past posts and doubtless will again. When that last post made the point that, under the commission’s logic, the Idaho Statesman newspaper might run afoul of it (and maybe have to remove the Idaho from its name) if potato chips are sold in its vending machines, the point wasn’t simple sarcasm: It had to do with a reach of the law run completely amok.

Settlements or not in this case, that serious point remains, with a reach well beyond the Idaho Potato Commission.

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Melissa Sue Robinson

Provocation – getting right in your face – seems to be the point of one particular municipal candidacy in Idaho this year. Not so much city policies, the qualities of an incumbent, or anything so mundane. From the announcement of a just-declared Nampa mayoral candidate:

My name is Melissa Sue Robinson and I am a Male to Female post-op transgendered person who is hereby announcing my intentions to run for Mayor of Nampa, in the November general election. I am running because I am progressive and I feel that Nampa is a City that needs progressive people in City government. I am the founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Transgendered Persons (NAATP), a transgendered civil rights organization which was founded in Lansing, MI. in 2000. The organization was put on hold due to Michigan’s poor economic climate, my change of careers, and my relocation to Seattle in Jan. 07. I have not only restarted the NAATP, but have also founded a new organization (Equality Idaho), which will also focus on LGBT rights. If elected Nampa Mayor or not I intend to push for a LGBT rights ordinance in both Nampa and Boise in the near future. I am a 58 years old telecommunications worker, and a former owner of Design Masters Construction Co, Inc. (a 25 employee small business) in which I was President for 10 years.

Provocation rather than substantial candidacy, because only one sentence out of seven had anything to do with a rationale for leading the city of Nampa.

She’s not been active in civic life in Nampa, hasn’t been in the city long enough to get to know it, evidently lacks relevant experience at Nampa city hall . . . there aren’t any real qualifications for the job here, and Nampa is a substantial city of more than 80,000 people which needs a leader with some measurable experience. (Incumbent Tom Dale, who was a city council member before his election in 2001, has gotten generally positive remarks for his two terms on the job.) She isn’t a viable serious contender.

But watch the reaction of people in town – and this is what Robinson’s candidacy seems aimed toward. How will they react? What response will there be?

A side note. Consider Stu Rasmussen, the newly-elected (as of last November) mayor of Silverton, Oregon, a rural city of about 8,500 a city much smaller than Nampa. He is transgender – wears women’s clothes and on the same path as Robinson – and was elected with 52% in a field of three candidates, and was open about his personal transition. But there is also this: He has a long history in town, has run a local business for many years, was on the city council when he was elected last year, and in the 90s served two terms as mayor. Not everyone in town is happy with him, but the place overall doesn’t seem especially shaken up.

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Idaho Oregon

Ken Roberts

Ken Roberts

Vaughn Ward

Vaughn Ward

In announcing as he did today in Canyon County that he will run for the U.S. House, state Representative Ken Roberts has to be hoping he’ll be the next Ron Crane.

Crane, the state treasurer, was an earlier Republican prospect for the first district congressional seat now improbably held by Democrat Walt Minnick. But he was also more than that; he was the Republican strategic approach to a difficult problem.

The problem is that, to consider the district’s core leanings, it should be about as close as any in the country to a Republican slam dunk, except that it isn’t. Depending on how you count, Democrats hold around four to seven of the 50 or so state legislative seats here – a useful indicator; the courthouses reflect margins not far from that. It was a very strong McCain district last year. It was lost to Republicans last time in large part because of the weak candidacy of incumbent Bill Sali.

And yet, the Idaho Republicans we’ve talked with aren’t exactly overwhelmed with confidence about winning it back: Possible, they argue, but not easy. Credit that in largest part to Minnick, who’s made no self-destructive moves (and quite a few that work neatly strategically) while in office, routinely is described as conservative even by Republicans (!) and has managed to develop a strong and highly visible cooperative relationship with the three Republicans in the delegation. Those three Republicans will ultimately line up behind the Republican nominee, of course, but they may be restrained in how hard they go after the guy who has been working with them so closely.

On the Republican side, there’s also this: For all the many Republicans in the first district, nailing down the logical candidate to run against Minnick isn’t easy: There’s no self-evidently obvious heir. That in itself creates a problem, which you might call the 2006 Problem: A potential primary with a bunch of candidates, each getting a sliver of the vote, with the possibility one of the weaker contenders winning.

Crane was supposed to be the solution to all that. A statewide elected official, well-liked in Republican circles, source of hardly any negative headlines over his years (at least, his years as treasurer) and linked to all of the key constituencies without coming across as as an extreme member of any of them – Crane seemed to hit the sweet spot.

And he seemed interested, and apparently had the whole upper-end Republican hierarchy ready to sign on for him the way they did last round for Jim Risch for the U.S Senate. Until Crane pulled the plug – he seems to like being treasurer, and the office is up for election next year and he’d have to give it up – and the establishment plan went to pieces. And hasn’t been replaced by anything else since.

One candidate is already in the field: Vaughn Ward, a Marine and former staffer for Senator Dirk Kempthorne, who (because of being little-known) seemed at first a splinter candidate, but has begun to pick up support around the Republican organization, and a decent treasury as well. He’s not exactly the establishment’s great hope, though. Ward has never run for office before, and taking out Minnick will be a tough task even for an experienced hand. And the experienced hands haven’t been clamoring for the opportunity. Two such – Sali and 2006 House candidate Robert Vasquez – might still enter, but they would hardly be establishment picks, either.

Roberts, the state House majority caucus chair, is the closest to such an experienced hand to emerge so far. Only but so close, though, which will lead the state Republican establishment to consider with some care: Is this the guy who can clear the rest of the Republican field and take out Minnick?

There are downsides they will have to consider. Unlike Minnick, he cannot self-fund; the collapse of the Valley County economy in the wake of the Tamarack Resort’s closure has hurt Roberts, a Donnelly businessman, economically. He is known publicly only in his district, which is far from the 1st media centers (Boise, Lewiston/Moscow, Coeur d’Alene). And his electoral record even in this rural region has been variable; in a legislative district he ought to sweep, he did well in 2008 but less well in 2006 (53%) and 2004 (57%).

He was among the House members this session critical of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter‘s road tax proposals, which might be helpful. But might also not; he could be an uncomfortable fault line among Idaho Republicans.

There is also this: Roberts doesn’t seem like the kind of Republican field-clearer Crane did. His entry won’t necessarily discourage others from getting in, and that could be a problem. Unless, maybe, the state establishment jumped in with him, hard and quickly.

A lot of careful calculation probably is going on at this point. Is Roberts the guy? Or do Republicans still want to continue shopping?

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