Archive for July, 2012

Jul 15 2012

Democrats campaigning on

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idahocolumnn

Since their summer convention in Boise, Idaho Democrats have spread out across the state to start campaigning.
Campaigning saying what?

What they said at their convention is in part a reflection of Republican electoral success: A good deal of the platform is a refutation of 2010 Idaho Republican convention positions. There’s this, for example, from the party’s platform preamble – actually, this is almost half of it:

“We reject closed, private elections and voter intimidation. We demand that we continue direct election of US Senators. We reject unwanted government intrusion into medical decisions. We recognize the need for a modern federal banking system, and reject a return to the gold standard as inconsistent with a 21st century economy. We reject the position that state governments have an arbitrary right to nullify federal laws, a position that was settled nearly 150 years ago through bloody conflict.”

Probably a majority of Idahoans would agree to that point. But as for clearly saying what Idaho Democrats are for, as distinct from Republican expressions of broader policy, that’s an old problem. The Republicans have honed a short-form mantra (One, two: Lower taxes, less gov – hey, you live in Idaho, you know the drill); the Democrats have not. It’s not that the Democrats have no ideas or principles, it’s that they’re less easily compressed.

John Rusche, the Lewiston Democrat who is House minority leader and informally centerpoint for Democratic legislative candidates around the state, acknowledged: “It’s a hard thing to encapsulate on a bumper sticker.”

One highly important issue for candidates, he said, is support for education, in a traditional sense – “The need for improved performance doesn’t mean depriving students of teachers; it requires investment.” Another is economic development, which takes “more than just tax cuts: You have have to have healthy community, education, and capital available. You have to be able to train and retrain the work force. … There is a public good, and government has a role.”

While Democrats generally, he suggested, are talking about these things, though their overall messages will be influenced by who they are and what their district is like. Another candidate remarked of the convention, “there wasn’t a lot of comparing notes.”

But after talking to a few Democratic candidates (a larger than usual number of Democrats are running for the legislature this year), a couple of philosophical themes are woven through these policy themes.

One is pragmatism, often expressed as a willingness to work with the other party (an obvious necessity in a legislature dominated by the other guys). Senate candidate Betty Richardson at Boise, for example, running in a traditionally Republican district (something like it has only elected one Democrat to the legislature for one term, ever), spoke of intent to cross the aisle and work with Republican legislators. Hard-core baiting is not on her agenda.

The other philosophical is a sense of “the common good.” This tends not be pushed as far as it might, but a sense of some degree of community, which was once a larger part of conservatism than it is now, seems to be working its way into Democratic arguments, even in more conservative and Republican areas. A decade or two ago, that might not have made for much difference from many Republican candidates; now, it could.

As to what messages gain some traction, we may have to wait till fall, or so, to see.

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Jul 12 2012

Chilling (on) anonymity?

Published by under Washington

The Spokane Spokesman-Review has become a national symbol – in journalistic and web circles anyway – in the discussion on anonymity on the web … a subject a lot of journalists feel some real angst about.

On one hand, there’s little doubt that anonymous sources can be highly useful, not just to reporters but to readers and to the public. I’ve seen several such cases at fairly close range (though I’ve never had to rely much on them myself).

Supplying data on the q.t., as a whistle-blowing maneuver, is one thing. But the kind of crud that infests so many comment sections of so many web sites surely are something else. Have you read the garbage people wrote about Andy Griffith after his death on news sites? Andy Griffith?

So we were coming here: An anonymous commenter on the (excellent) Huckleberries blog, run by the Spokesman-Review, made unsubstantiated allegations of illegality against a Kootenai County Republican official, and the office sued the paper for the names of three anonymous commenters involved. A judge ruled that there was no need to release two of them, since what they said clearly wasn’t libelous, but that one statement may in fact have been – and the name has to be released. The paper hasn’t yet responded. The case has the potential to become something of a landmark.

Standing up for the anonymity of participants in news discussions has long been a firm tenet among news people. But there’s clearly angst.

It’s worth quoting this blog post from Shawn Vestal, of the Spokesman, who notes first the journalistic tradition, then:

But what has emerged in the era of online commenting is, about three-quarters of the time, a sewer of stupidity and insults and shallowness. The visions of a digital public square, with less gatekeeping and more democratic forums for discourse, seem quaint and comical in the light of what has actually come to pass.

I have mostly stopped reading the comment threads on the newspaper’s website, because it is almost always infuriating and pointless. It is especially so when I have persuaded someone to share their story – only to see them mocked for their painful experiences or physical appearance. Which is common.

The idea that the newspaper has to spend time and treasure defending this nonsense – not protecting a whistleblower; not battling the government for access to public records – is repulsive.

He makes a strong point.

When I worked on daily newspaper editorial pages, one absolute requirement of letters to the editor was that they be signed, and that those signatures be verified. (I know this: I often had to make those phone calls to verify identity.) That rule generally still applies, at many papers. Why then should comments be so anonymous?

(Don’t talk to me about unsigned editorials, either; the people in charge at the paper, most usually and principally the publisher, can reasonably be attached to those.)

This site, by the way, still allows anonymous commenting. For now. But that could change, as many other sites have, in recent years, changed. It’s just that the anonymity hasn’t been a big problem for us. Yet.

This may be something newspapers, and a lot of other organizations, soon have to confront.

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Jul 12 2012

Carlson: Idiocy

Published by under Carlson,Idaho

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

I saw the other day where Idaho’s illustrious Superintendent for Public Instruction, the Honorable Tom Luna, said it did not bother him in the least that Idaho ranked 48th or 49th in state support for public education.

That statement alone makes him a certifiable idiot. That his PR flacks try to portray his rationalizations for Idaho’s pecuniary as cutting edge innovation is laughable. That he is supposedly a key advisor on educational policy to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney is appalling.

Luna, along with every state legislator and every member of Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s administration ought to read an article in the latest Atlantic Monthly by Chrystia Freeland entitled “The Triumph of the Family Farm.”

The article describes the transformation of farming due to technological innovation and global integration which, along with the growth of a middle class that has become an increasingly demanding market for better food, has led to impressive financial success for family farms.

Yup, despite what you might read about their demise and the rise of corporate farms the fact is in 2010, of all the farms with at least $1 million in revenues, 88 percent were family farms.

Buried within the article though is an absolute diamond.

Calling it one of the great forgotten triumphs of American society and government she points out how smoothly farmers negotiated the creative destruction (the loss of farm jobs due to modernization) of the early 20th century. She quotes esteemed labor economist and Harvard professor Lawrence Katz regarding how the farming community adapted.

Luna will be stunned by this, but the key according to Katz, was heavy investment in education. “Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, California – those were the leaders in the high school movement,” Katz stated. It was a deliberate response to rapid technological change in both farming and manufacturing.

They built more schools and invested more money as a deliberate strategic response so that their children would be better equipped to deal with and adapt to rapid change. The strategy worked. It made for better farmers for those who stayed on the farm and more adaptive workers for those that migrated to urban areas.

Today’s challenge is the same, only a high school education is no longer sufficient. Students today know they need a college education with an emphasis on analytic skills. Katz, though, points out the obvious: the Luna’s of the world are not making an equivalent investment in the future by even adequately funding basic and higher education today.

Instead they hide behind a mantra about not throwing more money at the challenge, trying to sell bilge-water to the public that Idaho can do more with less. Instead of being ashamed regarding the declining support for public education they try to make a virtue out of disgraceful conduct. What’s that saying about putting lip stick on a pig? Continue Reading »

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Jul 10 2012

Not yet foreclosed

Published by under Oregon

An example of how life can change depending on what the laws in your area are. Here’s one about to start in Oregon (notification from the attorney general’s office):

With Senate Bill 1552 taking effect tomorrow, homeowners threatened with foreclosure now have the right to meet with their mortgage servicer face-to-face in mediation before final foreclosure decisions are made. The new law also addresses a common complaint known as “dual-tracking.” Mortgage servicers will no longer be permitted to foreclose while negotiations are ongoing for loan modifications or other foreclosure avoidance measures. …

Beginning on July 11, homeowners who receive a notice of default will receive information on free foreclosure counseling and low-cost mediation services. Mediation services will be provided to homeowners at a subsidized rate of no more than $200. Funding for the program comes from mortgage servicers and from funds allocated by the Legislature from a national settlement with five large banks. Homeowners who are at-risk of foreclosure, but not in default, can also schedule mediation. During mediation sessions homeowners will be able to explore alternatives to foreclosure including loan modifications, refinancing, short sales and other options …

Which seems like a logical way to go, compared to the counterproductive foreclosures that too often happen. (Don’t get us started: A neighbor who had lived with his family in a house next to ours for more than 15 years lost work for a couple of months due to an injury, got behind on the mortgage but then caught up, but too late – the bank foreclosed before they had time even to respond, and kicked the family out. And really don’t get us started on what’s happened to the property since then.)

Not all states have such a system in place. But now, Oregon does.

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Jul 08 2012

Idaho, now and at birth

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idahocolumnn

Imagine an Idaho with no government at all.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine – we’re coming up on its anniversary. 2013 marks 150 years since Idaho Territory was established, and the date will be celebrated – efforts are already underway – as the Idaho Territorial Sesquicentennial (century-and-a-half). The centennial was celebrated in 1963; a special “territorial centennial edition” Idaho almanac sits on my bookshelf.

The key celebration date probably will be March 4, when Abraham Lincoln signed the organic act formally setting up the territory. But as a practical matter, there was no territory until a governor was sworn in, and that happened the following July 10, which was 149 years ago this week.

In between, and for a while afterward, government in Idaho was more theoretical than real. The first towns – Lewiston, Orofino, Franklin – were only a year or two old, a little more primitive than the first season of the TV program “Deadwood.” Idaho was split from Washington Territory partly because officials at Olympia realized they could not practically administer the newly-developing mining communities. The job proved, at first, about as difficult from the new territorial capital of Lewiston.

The first governor was a friend of Lincoln’s, former Illinois attorney William Wallace, then Washington territorial delegate to Congress. Figuring he might lose the next territorial election, he accepted the Idaho governorship. But that was even more problematic. When he got to the territory in July and declared Lewiston as the capital (as he had authority to do), he immediately enraged southern Idaho, whose population in the Idaho City and Boise area already was outnumbering the north. Not only that, Idaho Territory was then heavily Democratic, populated with ex-southerners: Not fans of Lincoln.

A judge, John R. McBride, declared that because the territory’s organic act hadn’t specified what laws would go into effect in Idaho, that it had no laws at all, until the territorial legislature (which hadn’t been elected yet) adopted some. When southern Idaho Democrats tried to elect county officials, Wallace declared those elections were illegal, and appointed all-new Republicans to the posts.

You think we’ve got partisan rancor today? The centennial Idaho courts history Justice for the Times told of “a territorial judge who tried to hold a term of court in Florence (a now-vanished mining town) in 1862. The grand jury which convened promptly indicted Lincoln, his Cabinet, various Union Army officers and the judge himself – all for high treason. Whereupon the judge promptly adjourned court and left town. When he reached Walla Walla he resigned.”

Wallace himself promptly stood for election as Idaho’s first territorial delegate to Congress and, in one of the most bitter and fraudulent elections Idaho has had, won. The territory had no government to speak of until two governors later.

What was Idaho like then? Dangerous, above all – dominated by the most violent, with little help for anyone else. Property was what you could defend with a gun or a knife. Good and services were what you could get if you could arrive at terms of exchange. Few women were interested in moving there.

Later, Idaho settled down. Communities were build, laws crafted and enforced, society structured. But in these days when the utility of government is so much at question, a harder look at Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial might have more than usual usefulness.

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Jul 05 2012

“Personhood” misses Oregon ballot

Published by under Oregon

Maybe not so many years ago, Initiative Petitions 22 and 25 might have made the Oregon ballot. But not now, and it evidently wasn’t close.

The effort to put these measures – both anti-abortion, one declaring “personhood” for unfertilized eggs and the other sharply limited abortion coverage – on the November 2012 ballot started more than a year ago. A lot of petition signatures (116,284) were needed by July 6 (tomorrow) to achieve ballot status, but then they would have needed many more than that to pass.

A description from a draft ballot title: “Measure guarantees right to life for persons, embryos and fetuses, beginning at fertilization, excluding any person sentenced to death for aggravated murder. Measure prohibits abortion without exception for the woman’s health or safety, and certain birth control methods; restricts withdrawal of life support, stem cell research.” It would have amended the state constitution, if passed. A description from Planned Parenthood of 22: “This extreme measure could have resulted in outlawing birth control, in vitro fertilization and abortion even in the case of rape and incest.”)

This is part of the same national Personhood effort that lost in Mississippi, and has had trouble gaining traction elsewhere.

The curiosity is why the attempt in Oregon. Several other nearby states might yet be more fertile ground.

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Jul 05 2012

Rainey: For us, the election’s over

Published by under Rainey

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Sitting here in the shady Southwest Oregon forest, something has recently been pushing its way into my consciousness that seemed implausible at first – if not downright impossible. It’s this: for Oregon, the Northwest and about 40 of the 50 states – the presidential election of 2012 is over. Finished. Kaput.

Many factors point to that conclusion. Presidential candidate polling in our multi-state neighborhood is one indicator. The numbers haven’t changed much in recent months. Not since Romney became the Republican nominee-apparent. Things move a point or two depending on who had a good week – or a bad one. But overall, pretty static.

Another factor has been all those fancy computer projections showing where the races will be won or lost nationally. Oregon and its neighbors have been put into the “red” group or the “blue” group, meaning statistical sampling has shown each state is in the column where polling and past voter trends have put us and the “experts” don’t expect enough of us to change our minds between now and November to be reassigned. I hate that! Though it’s often pretty accurate.

Then there’s the fact the whole shebang will be decided in about eight states where none of us live. And where it’s still up for grabs. That makes us supporting players. We’re irrelevant. So, again, the election is really over for us. Nobody will care when our fat lady sings.

Fourth, seems to me last week’s U.S. Supreme Court upholding the new federal health care law sort of put a cap on it. For those who think that law is a good thing, they’ll line up behind B. Obama ‘cause they don’t want to take a chance of anyone screwing with it. For those opposed, they’ll likely go with M. Romney who has promised to repeal it. He can’t. But that’s what he’s promising.

Finally – and most distressing personally – most Republicans and Democrats seem “locked in” regardless of the real issues beyond health care or, like a lot of Independents, they’re mad at one or the other of the major candidates and seem destined to vote against one by voting for the other. Useless and a poor way to run a democracy. But I’m picking up a lot of that.
Now, you may disagree with all this. After all, that’s your right under the Ridenbaugh Press Reader Contract Agreement. Says it clearly, right there in digital black and white. But, before exercising that option, let’s take this theory of mine one step further. Continue Reading »

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Jul 05 2012

Original intent

Published by under Uncategorized

What did the founders intend for the Constitution to do – what did they intend for it to accomplish?

We don’t have to guess. They told us, right at the beginning, in words that should trump any narrow or extreme interpretation of the specific provisions in what followed:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

That’s what they had in mind. That’s what they intended our government do.

As we move on from Independence Day, ask: How are we doing?

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Jul 04 2012

Substitutions

Published by under Idaho

Residents of a good many other states (Washington and Oregon among them) may find startling the way Idaho elected officials can be temporarily replaced – with those temporary unelected replacements holding all the authority of the person actually chosen by the voters to the job. Permanent replacements, on occasion for instance of death or resignation, is standard in most elective settings (Congress too), but temporary fill-ins are unusual.

They could be subject to abuse: Want to give a prominent (or wealthy) supporter a thrill, and let them cast some votes on legislation? It could be arranged, through nomination by the legislator (and a typical rubber stamp by the governor) …

No accusations here that it has happened, at least not in that way. Usually when substitutes are brought in, they’re for legislators during part of a three-month legislative session, most often in case of an elected official’s illness – though sometimes other reasons for absence crop up. And sometimes they’ve come into question. There’s been at least one instance, some years back, of an elected legislator who fell ill shortly after election, and his unelected brother served nearly his entire term for him.

This comes up because the legislature is almost always where substitutes are named, but it actually happened this week (for the first time in decades) in the case of a statewide office.

It’s a clear-cut instance, and all the elements seem reasonable enough. Donna Jones is the state controller. On May 25 she was in a motor vehicle rollover near Rupert, and seriously injured. She’s recovering, but it’s taking substantial time and therapy, and it may be a while before she can get back to the office on a regular basis. So she asked Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to name her chief deputy, Brandon Woolf, as substitute controller, which would give him authority to keep the wheels turning at the office and provide a vote on the land board, until she’s well enough to get back to work. And Otter did that this week.

This approach seems, at least done in this way, a reasonable method of keeping operations afloat. Is it something other states might consider – and if so, under what conditions?

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Jul 04 2012

Carlson: Guns and the 4th

Published by under Carlson

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

The election earlier this month of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford’s former aide, Ron Barber, (who was also wounded in the tragic shooting) to her seat in Congress undoubtedly spawned another round of editorials calling for tougher gun control laws. Most, one suspects, will draw the incorrect conclusion about her tragic shooting during a town hall listening session outside a Tucson supermarket in which six people died.

Some no doubt will cite recent FBI generated data which purports to show approximately 1.5 million Americans (This number seems high.) acquired handguns in December 2011.

Then will come the litany of senseless gun deaths this past year. No one can or should ignore recent gun crimes throughout the region – from the park ranger’s death in Mt. Rainier National Park, to the University of Idaho professor’s shooting of a student, to police officer shootings in Utah and Spokane.

Too many editorialists insinuate, though, that increased gun ownership statistics indicate a failing of the system here in America. They wrongly conclude more guns in the hands of more people is a given “bad thing” in light of the acts of a few obviously mentally unstable individuals. It is a classic false syllogism.

It is also disingenuous to imply increased handgun ownership correlates with an increase annually in gun violence. Such pundits ignore the overwhelmingly positive statistic that can also be extrapolated from that FBI data – there are 1.5 million new handguns acquired by responsible individuals who did not use them for violence or mayhem.

Personal responsibility and the right to defend oneself aren’t sexy stories, however. In the wake of violent crime in which a firearm is used, it is easier for some to bemoan gun violence and call for increased gun control. The media’s group think attack on the Florida “Stand Your Ground” law has been sad to watch given how unbalanced the reporting has been.

Others also complain about the National Rifle Association’s influence at the legislative level while ignoring the fact that the NRA and its legislative arm, the NRA-ILA (Institute for Legislative Action), are hugely well-funded primarily because responsible gun-owners feel this organization is their only hope for the strict legislative defense of the individual’s right to keep and bear arms. Continue Reading »

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Jul 01 2012

In Idaho, the health fight begins

Published by under Idaho

idahocolumnn

Probably no state in the union than Idaho has been more officially aligned against the Affordable Care Act. Now it is going to have to decide what it will do about its terms.

The court challenge, turned aside (in general) by the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday, likely means the law’s provisions mostly will stand. The one major unpopular part of the law, the insurance mandate, will be defended to the death by the insurance lobby. And most of the the other pieces, such as such as the ban on pre-existing condition denials, payments in the donut hole and extensions of parental policies to twenty-something children, among others, separately will be be politically hard to reverse.

Thursday’s decision, widely unexpected (the online inTrade site ran at 73% predicting a mandate overturn minutes before the decision was announced), is a real head-snapper in Idaho, where officials like Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, the congressional delegation and legislative leaders have routinely described it and the whole law as unconstitutional. Otter’s official website even has a whole page with numerous links headlined “Fighting Obamacare,” wherein labeled “unconstitutional.” (Will that be edited?) Idaho is in a category distinct from many other states, including Washington and Oregon, where officials have moved to establish health insurance exchanges and take other actions.

Idaho may even lead its pack. In 2010 the Idaho Legislature was first in the nation to vote for a lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act. Soon after, legislators gave serious consideration to what amounted to nullification (Idaho was among about a dozen states where that idea was pursued seriously) – an effort blocked by a narrow vote of a Senate committee (one of whose opposition Republicans, John McGee, won’t be back). Legislators held off partly on the theory that the law would be thrown out by the Supreme Court. In April 2010 Otter issued an executive order which, his news release said, “directs State agencies not to establish new programs, promulgate rules or accept federal funding to implement Obamacare. It also bars State agencies from assisting federal agencies in implementing the law.”

And now?

Get ready for battle. The two top state Senate Republican leaders, President pro tem Brent Hill and Majority Leader Bart Davis, were among the critics of the nullification legislation; don’t be surprised if both are challenged. Nullification legislation will be back, whoever is in the White House next January.

While the Supreme Court said that states can opt out of the law’s Medicaid expansion without costing them all Medicaid payments, it still allowed substantial penalty in new funds. Will the Idaho Legislature write it off?

There is an aspect to the law Otter did support (in a different fashion) putting in place: The exchange of private health insurance plans. That was derailed by the legislature; now, budget committee Co-Chair Dean Cameron said after the decision, “Unfortunately, if (Republicans) do not win the presidential election or are able to take over Congress – both the House and Senate – it leaves Idaho completely behind the eight-ball.”
One of the biggest questions remaining: Will the 19 percent of Idahoans, about 294,000 of the state’s citizens, along with the many hundreds of thousands of others left behind in the health care system America has had, be forgotten in the battle over ideology?

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