Change the subject

When in politics Topic A becomes too uncomfortable, the solution is ordinarily this: Change the subject.

So consider Idaho state Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, who this year is fortunate in facing only a write-in opponent on the November ballot (albeit one who may be gaining some traction).

Topic A is legal troubles involving obligations and payments that most people accept but Hart has not. Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, who this year has broken a string of stories about Hart’s legal troubles, summarized one wing of them this way: “Hart owes more than $500,000 in back federal and state income taxes, penalties and interest, according to public records and liens; he’s been in a long fight with both the state Tax Commission and the Internal Revenue Service over the debt and has maintained that both federal and state income taxes are unconstitutional.” There is more, such as the recent revelation that in 1996 he took timber from state lands (enough to build his house with) without paying for it; he said last week he’ll pay, but that was only after the situation came to light through another Russell story.

So what should we make of all this? Last Thursday former U.S. Representative Bill Sali, long an ally of Hart’s, sent a letter (disclosed, again, via Russell) on the subject to fellow Republicans. His counsel, after saying in essence that Hart was wrongly accused (though none of the reported facts are in dispute):

“Why has Phil gotten so much media attention? In the legislature Phil has been an effective voice for freedom, less government and lower taxes. Apparently Betsy Russell can’t stand that and she wants to silence his voice.”

How many more politicians snagged in trouble are going to use this kind of dodge – it’s all the freedom-hating media’s fault – and get away with it? We may get some answers to that, in Idaho and far beyond, next week.

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