Writings and observations

ridenbaugh Northwest

This has been a real transitional year for Ridenbaugh Press, unlike any before in our quarter-century or so. Our small publishing operation has published considerably more books in the last year, and by more different authors, than we ever have before, and we’ve been selling more of them.

More of this is coming. We have a pile of projects just ahead in 2014, and we’ll be publishing books in January and in pretty rapid fire for months to come.

2013 was the first year, for example, when because of the number of titles we’ve produced, the idea of a list of Top 10 bestselling books actually made some sense. So here at the very end of the year, is our list of Ridenbaugh Press bestsellers for 2013.

1 – Medimont Reflections, by Chris Carlson. This collection of essays about the author’s take on Idaho and public affairs over the last half-century or so was enlightening and entertaining, and a fine followup to his biography of Cecil Andrus.

2 – Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis, by Max Black. This has to be one of the most remarkable regional history books of the year. Black not only researched what has been written before about the infamous Diamondfield Jack murder case, he found new troves of files and written records never touched by previous historians, and even found the (previously uncertain) spot where the event occurred, and a gun and buried bullet missing for more than a century. It’s a great read as history and as detective story.

3 – Without Compromise, by Kelly Kast. 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of the Idaho State Police, and Kelly Kast did its history proud with this thoroughly researched story of the force, from its early days barely able to move around the state, to the achievements and controversies of modern times. It’s lively and informative.

4 – Idaho 100 – by Randy Stapilus and Martin Peterson. Published in September 2012, this refractured history of Idaho, ranking the 100 people who most influenced its direction from distant past to the present day, continued to sell well in 2013. If you want to know what makes Idaho tick, this book may be your best first read.

5 – New Editions – by Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus. Published this last October, this is the book that tells you about the Northwest’s newspapers – where they came from, how they developed, and what’s happening to them now.

6 – The Intermediary: William Craig Among the Nez Perce – by Lin Tull Cannell. Published in the fall of 2010, this stunning and meticulously researched history of the early Inland Northwest continues to sell well as it reaches more readers. If you’re interested at all in the pre-territorial days of the Pacific Northwest, this book will throw a light for you on a lot of history you never suspected.

7 – Transition – by W. Scott Jorgensen. What’s it like to be a young professional adult caught up in the economic crunch of recent years? Jorgensen takes an unsparing look at the difficulties, but also at the possibilities that lie beyond.

8 – Idaho Briefing Yearbook 2012 – edited by Randy Stapilus. Drawing from Ridenbaugh’s weekly Briefing reports, this takes a thorough look at the year in Idaho you may not have known.

9 – From Scratch – by Dennis Griffin. This 2011 book recounts the story of the founding of the College of Western Idaho at Boise and Nampa, telling how a college could and did get from concept to classroom within two years. and told by someone who should know: Its first president.

10 – The Idaho Political Field Guide – by Randy Stapilus. The statistics and the background you need to get a handle on politics in the Gem State, circa 2012. A new edition will be coming within a few weeks.

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carlson CHRIS


“We’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that now we can do almost anything with next to nothing.” – ISP Colonel Rich Humpherys

If ever a saying captured the essence of an organization the above expression is it. The quote is taken from Kelly Kast’s recently published history of the first 75 years of the Idaho State Police entitled Without Compromise. It is a fascinating read well worth the time and price.

Anyone who travels much along Idaho’s highways and byways sooner or later has a close encounter of a personal kind with an ISP trooper. Idaho is geographically large with vast distances between its cities and towns. When driving on a long journey most have a lead foot which leads to getting personally acquainted with law enforcement.

These encounters can be if not pleasant at least proper, professional and respectful. Some are not (truck haulers in particular complain), but in almost all those cases the erring motorist cops an attitude with the officer and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Over the 14 years Cecil Andrus was governor he developed a unique bond with the ISP. The reasons were many. For example, Andrus has always possessed an uncanny memory, and thus easily mastered the plate numbers of the various troopers.

As we traveled the state we often had the police radio on scan mode. The governor might hear a report from a trooper with plate number 411 reporting in on something. The governor would jump on saying “411 this is Car 1. What the heck are you doing, Jerry, chasing down some poor elderly driver?”

Little things like that make a difference just as the governor ordering future auto purchases include air conditioning in the “black and whites.”

A previous administration, in an absurd penny-pinching mode, had ordered auto purchases exclude air conditioning.

Andrus put it this way: “It is wrong for some bureaucrat sitting in an air conditioned office in Boise to decide a trooper doesn’t need a car with air conditioning. The car is that trooper’s office on wheels and he more than deserves the same comfort the bureaucrat sitting in Boise does.”

Both times Andrus became governor he abolished the personal security detail, saying that the state’s highways needed more troopers chasing tail lights and those on the detail should be reassigned to traffic enforcement.

Over his terms he always took a strong personal interest in selecting the director of law enforcement and in the selection of the Superintendent of the State Police. He knew many of the troopers by name as well as the command structure. Andrus’ support for more troopers, more funding and better training was always applauded.

In particular, Andrus was proud to have elevated people like Dick Cade to the directorship following his public sacking of Cade’s predecessor, Mack Richardson, who the governor felt lied to him about promulgating a policy of special treatment for legislators and a select list of other V.I.P.’s.

Andrus was adamant that no one in his administrations would receive “special treatment” from the ISP. His instructions to staff and cabinet heads were crystal clear: if stopped for any reason we were to take the ticket without comment. If he heard of anyone trying to “big time” an ISP trooper it was a firing offense. He rightly said the public expected all to be treated the same.

When rumors surfaced claiming there was an unwritten special treatment policy, he personally flew to several districts and privately met with troopers without their supervisors to establish the “ground truth.” The subsequent firing of Richardson spoke volumes to the public and to the ISP.

One of Andrus’ favorite stories was the time he ordered the state’s borders closed to the importation of any nuclear waste from Rocky Flats, Colorado. He called Dick Cade personally and requested that one of the ISP’s big, burley troopers take his “black and white” and park it across the train tracks near Blackfoot where the spur line to the Idaho National Lab split off of the main line

The ensuing photograph made the front page of the New York Times and was worth the proverbial thousand words as the Department of Energy quickly recognized they had better negotiate.

Appropriately, Kast devotes several poignant pages describing the circumstances surrounding the deaths of five troopers who over the 75 years gave the last full measure of service. Idahoans everywhere owe a debt of deep gratitude to these five: Linda Huff (6/17/98); Douglas Deen (8/5/79); Walter Cox (3/6/70); Benjamin Newman (3/3/62); and, Fontaine Cooper (11/25/35).

Order a copy from Ridenbaugh Press. You’ll be glad you did. And the next time you encounter an ISP trooper, thank them for their service.

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Carlson Idaho

trahant MARK


What is “The Canon of Indian Country?”

Those stories that are recited in schools, the ones most young people know by heart, tales of valor, excellence and an optimistic future.

We do have great modern stories to tell.

How leaders like Joe Garry or Lucy Covington out maneuvered Congress and put an end to the nonsense called termination. Or how Taos leaders patiently pressed the United States for the return of the sacred Blue Lake, even though that effort that took nearly seven decades. Or how a summer program in New Mexico helped create an entire generation of American Indian and Alaska Native lawyers.

But there is no canon. So important stories drift about in individual memory, forgotten far too easily, instead of being told again and again.

The story of Forrest Joseph Gerard is one that ought to be required in any Indian Country canon. He died on December 28, 2013, in Albuquerque.

Forrest Gerard was born on Montana’s Blackfeet Reservation on January 15, 1925, on a ranch near the Middle Fork of the Milk River. He told me that his “childhood I had there would have been the envy of any young boy in the United States. We had a horse of our own. We could walk maybe 15 or 20 yards have some of the best trout fishing in northern Montana. We had loving parents. We had love, support and discipline. And this was my universe, this was a world I knew.”

That world he knew changed many times in his early life. During the Great Depression his family moved into the “city” of Browning so his father could take a job. After his high school graduation, Gerard was eager to join the military and enter World War II. He was only 19 on his first bombing mission on a B-24 with the 15th Air Force. “We were forced to face life and death, bravery and fear at a relatively young age. That instilled a little bit of maturity into us that we might not under normal circumstances,” Gerard recalled. The military also opened up access to the G.I. Bill of Rights and a college education, the first in his family to have that opportunity.

After college, Gerard worked at jobs that built his personal portfolio at agencies in Montana and Wyoming until moving to Washington, D.C., in 1957 to work for the newly-created Indian Health Service. Over the next decade or so Gerard took a variety of posts, including a coveted Congressional Fellowship, a post at the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Health and Human Services.

But our story picks up in 1971 when Gerard is hired by Senator Henry Jackson, chairman of the Interior and Insular Affairs, as a professional staff member for Indian affairs. Jackson had long been an advocate for termination and his staff assistant, James Gamble, had carried out that policy with a sense of mission. By hiring Gerard, Jackson was reversing course. (He did not fire Gamble, but moved him on other legislative issues, such as parks.)

To send a signal to Indian Country. Jackson issued a statement calling for a Senate resolution reversing House Concurrent Resolution 108 — the termination proclamation — and the message was delivered to Yakama Chairman Robert Jim while he was on the Hill. “He rushed out of the building, jumped in a cab, went over to where the NTCA was meeting, burst into the room, interrupted who ever was speaking, and told them Jackson was introducing legislation to reverse House Con. 108,” Gerard said. “In that one fell swoop, we did more to reverse Jackson’s image in Indian Country.”

The next step was more substantial. Turning Richard Nixon’s July 1970 message into legislation. That next step was the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, eventually signed into law on April 3, 1974.

But the legislative train was running. The self-determination act was followed by the Menominee Restoration Act, the Indian Finance Act, and, what Gerard considered his legislative capstone, the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

It’s hard, even today, to imagine a string of legislative victories such as what happened during the partnership of Gerard and Jackson. The record speaks for itself.

After leaving the Senate, Gerard worked on Capitol Hill representing tribes until President Jimmy Carter nominated him as the first Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs in the Interior Department. In that post, he set the standard for the job itself, making certain that policy included voices from Indian Country.

Gerard wrapped up his career in the private sector, again representing tribes in Washington.

So why should Forrest Gerard’s story be in The Canon? Simply this: He traveled from the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana and built a professional career. He was prepared for that moment in time where he was offered a job with enormous potential, shepherding legislation that not only ended termination as a policy, but promoted tribal self-determination as an alternative. Sure, there had been other American Indians working on Capitol Hill, probably just two or three before Gerard, but none were given the authority to act in the name of a full committee chairman and craft law. This was new — and huge.

After he left the committee, Sen. Jackson asked Gerard if he thought the self-determination process would happen all at once, if tribes would contract for the BIA and IHS? “No,” Gerard answered. “There would be steady progress.”

Nearly forty years later that progress continues. Today more money is spent on tribally-operated health care than on Indian Health Service operations. It’s the same at the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Steady progress by tribal governments. And a story to add to The Canon.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. The story of Forrest Gerard is told in the book, The Last Great Battle of the Indian Wars. Comment on Facebook at:

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rainey BARRETT


“The Sheriff’s Office regretfully advises that, if you know you are in a potentially volatile situation – for example, you are a protected person in a restraining order you believe the respondent may violate – you may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services.”

Put another way, if someone is about to harm you – or even kill you – move!

Where you live, that statement may not sound very significant. But – in Grants Pass or Merlin or Cave Junction, Oregon – that message appeared on the official website of Josephine County Sheriff Gil Gilbertson. If you’re a woman with three small children – it’s 3 a.m. – your drunken ex is hammering on the door with the butt of his shotgun while shouting he’s “gonna kill you” – the significance is impossible to overstate.

The New York Times recently did a piece on the Josephine mess with the rhetorical question “The first clue to how dangerous it is to live on Oregon’s Josephine County? When no one answers the phone at the sheriff’s office.”

Yet this is life today in Josephine County. And it may soon be how things are in Curry and possibly Jackson Counties. It’s one thing when counties have to cut some clerks or some road workers or a planner or two. But it’s entirely another – a very life-threatening “another” – when jails are closed, violators are arrested and immediately released, prosecutor’s office staffs are cut in half or more, citizens arm themselves and start armed patrols.

It’s reliably estimated there are more than 100 such armed “peace keeper” amateurs out there. Just people like you and me with no official authority and certainly no official backing. Except they believe they’re “deputies” of a sort who are driving up and down the roads looking out for violators. With no training. No government support. No orders. No official oversight. And not a shred of legal protection if they shoot someone. Much less kill someone. Would you stop for some guy flashing his headlights in an unmarked pickup 10 miles from nowhere at midnight? What would he do if you didn’t? If you keep on driving, what’s he going to do?

In Josephine County, the armed imposters call themselves “North Valley Community Watch.” Leaders make the totally unsupported claim they can act as “a deterrent to crime.” Oh ya? When you had a full complement of lawmen – city and county – local people were still robbing banks, beating their spouses, driving drunk and killing their neighbors. So how are 100 or more guys without any law enforcement training or authority going to be a “deterrent” to the drunken wife-beater down the street?

The civil liability issue here is huge. Which is why Sheriff John Bishop in neighboring Curry County – in just as bad financial times – has put the kabosh on similar armed citizen wannabes. So far. He wonders aloud how civilians – lacking the trained split-second decision making skill of a real deputy – can do the right thing at the right second. What if the phony cop shoots an innocent person? Or even a guilty one? Who sues who?

Fact is, Curry County is in a bit worse shape top to bottom than Josephine or Jackson. The most recent two bond issues to raise money to take care of the worst situations were soundly killed. One by a margin of six out of 10 shouting “NO!” County and city officers are quitting. Recruiting good replacements is impossible. Though the state constitution requires an operating jail, even that is on the block. Along with emergency communications.

These three counties are in this mess largely because of poor political decisions by several past county commissions. More than a dozen counties have been receiving large annual payments of federal bucks tied to logging and/or payment-in-lieu of taxes for hundreds of thousands of acres of federal timber land. It’s been going on for years. Until recently. But the well is dry. For years, many past commissioners simply spent the federal “gravy” as it came in rather than raise taxes to keep up with changing times. A few other, smarter local commissioners put some of the largesse into “rainy day” savings accounts and are now budgeting with those dollars to offset the loss. But even that is coming to an end.

Oregon’s congressional delegation has been pushing legislative bills up the hill like so many peanuts. But – given the do-less-than-nothing nature of the situation along the Potomac – no substantial relief has been forthcoming. Oh, a bill passes here but dies over there. Or, one gets to committee and disappears into the swamp water. The fact is the federal spigot has not been turned on again. And the coffers of many Oregon countries are empty. As in Josephine. Or, damned near it as in Curry.

When your innocent life may be in danger and the best advice you can get from local law enforcement is to move out of town, the wise will take heed, rent a truck and go.

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idaho RANDY

One of the biggest events any Idaho political campaign is likely to schedule for 2014 already is on the calendar. It was announced early in December to be held March 29 at the Idaho Center at Nampa, by the campaign of Lawerence Denney, Republican candidate for secretary of state, and it is called, “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty.”

At that announcement, the Dynasty – the Robertson clan, of Louisiana – were a popular attraction on A&E, especially though not exclusively in conservative circles. “They’re good family values people and we’re happy to have them coming,” Denney was quoted then.

Since, of course, the Dynasty has gotten new attention, and Phil Robertson specifically has become a cultural flashpoint. Many conservatives have rallied behind him; others have blasted him. His comments on gay people and on race, in GQ magazine and expanding elsewhere, are well enough known not to need a repeat here.

So far as I can tell (and please let me know if you find any other instances), Denney’s is the only political event in the country the Robertsons have scheduled for 2014. In a really unusual way, Denney and the Dynasty are wrapped tightly together. (First question: How is it that Denney, alone or nearly so among American politicians, got the Robertson’s singular attention? There’s a story, of some kind, in that.)

Whether Denney knew about or anticipated all this is unclear. The announcement of the Idaho event came in early December, so the the agreement to do it probably happened not far in advance of the recent blowup. And remember that GQ, like other magazines, works with its material for months in advance: The Robertson story was in development long before it went public earlier this month.

And then this about the Robertsons, their producers and other associates: Whatever else they are, they’ve proven themselves masters of self-promotion. There’s speculation that Phil Robertson’s quotables were carefully planned to blow up the Dynasty into a new level of cultural prominence. That’s not to say Robertson didn’t believe what he was saying, only that he may have been using it strategically – as smart media figures often do.

When you set off an explosion, however, the results can be unpredictable. Three months from now, the Dynasty may be bigger than ever. Or cut off at the knees, discredited in many quarters. Or there could be some other result. It’s hard to say.

Denney is now in the middle of whatever that turns out to be. He’s in essence backed them – “They do reflect my Christian values,” he said of the GQ quotes – and said he had heard ticket sales to the Nampa event had risen after the controversy. (No doubt true, and no surprise.)

But where is this train to which Denney has hitched himself – which he has – going? A week after the GQ comments came out, Robertson was quoted as doubling down on them. Where does he and the rest of the clan go from here?

Where do their relations with the A&E network go? No one really knows how that will pan out. In today’s media and streaming environment, there’s no question a popular act like the Dynasty can connect one way or another, on TV or through a stream or something else, with a receptive audience. But sometimes the delicate balance that made an initial hit work can be upended with big changes.

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Idaho Idaho column

carlson CHRIS


There are two prominent governors who are potential standard bearers of their party’s nomination for President in 2016 and are modern reincarnations of the 15th century Italian Renaissance writer’s model “Prince.”

Both are of Italian descent, coincidentally, and both are savvy enough not to claim Machiavelli’s rather brief primer on how to govern and the attributes a prince should have as their bedside reading. Their actions, however, speak loudly that Machiavelli is a mentor.

The Republican is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. After a landslide re-election in November, he is already thought to be seeking the Republican nomination.

He bears an uncanny resemblance to the late James Gandolfino, the lead actor who played the head of a Mafia family in HBO’s smashingly successful television series, The Sopranos.

If for some reason former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decides not to seek the Presidency in 2016, some observers expect the Democrats will entice New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to pursue the nomination rather than risk losing with Vice President Joe Biden.

Christie vs. Cuomo would be a donny-brook for many reasons, but consider the similarities through the lens of Machiavelli’s political primer.

Both understand that a leader is to be feared more than loved. Both have tempers and can cut loose in the face of bureaucratic ineptitude or political incompetence. Both no doubt subscribe to the “no surprises” rule. A department head or a staff member best deliver bad news quickly before the governor sees it in a newspaper or is surprised by a media “ambush” question.

Both know the importance of an imperial appearance. When they enter a room one knows it because they sweep in with a phalanx of staff and surrounding security ready to respond to their every whim. Governor Christie recently appeared at a fund-raiser in Coeur d’Alene for Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

People in the resort lobby easily contrasted the entrances of each. Christie burst through the entrance surrounded by a dozen aides and security all reflecting the subliminal message that they were part of the big man’s entourage. Folks better take notice and get out of the way.

Five minutes later Governor Otter strolled in with First Lady Lori, both waving at the many folks they recognized, shaking a hand here and there as they proceeded through. Campaign manager Jayson Ronk was walking ten feet behind and the governor’s one-man security detail was another ten feet back.

Governors Christie and Cuomo also understand that friends are not always allies, and allies are not always friends. To expect friends to always support your position is to invite betrayal as self-interest always drives alliances of convenience.

Both understand that those who betray them by lying have to be swiftly and decisively punished, and placed on an enemies list never to be trusted again.

Each governor strongly subscribes to the injunction of the late President Ronald Reagan: trust but verify.

Both prize loyalty as the highest political virtue. Loyalty manifests itself in many ways from raising money for “the horse” to publicly defending the horse and his positions, to proselytizing family and friends.

Both recognize that governors are elected to solve problems and to provide leadership. Christie was criticized by some Tea Party Republicans for embracing President Barack Obama after the President responded promptly to Christie’s request for tons of immediate federal support. His response to his critics was he did what his constituents needed and was not about to let politics enter into and detract from service.

Both governors also are at their best speaking when challenged by someone, especially in the media. Their eyes flash, the scowl on their face is unmistakable, and they launch into a defense or a rebuttal with obvious passion.

While it is nice to be popular both governors prefer respect over adoration.

Both governors no doubt also know that in politics the best interests of the Republic have to be served by less than perfectly legal and or ethical means.

Like Machiavelli’s Prince, they know one can never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Sometimes one has to dance on the edges of the end result justifying the means. Politics is full of ambiguities; there are few blacks and whites.

Both governors reflect much of what Machiavelli outlined as the attributes of a successful Prince. They are living practitioners of the political art and either could be a successful president, far more so than President Obama who increasingly appears clueless. Someone should send him a copy of The Prince.

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trahant MARK


Monday was a key deadline for the Affordable Care Act. In order to begin insurance coverage on January 1, 2014, people were supposed to sign up by December 23, 2013, for that shiny new policy.

(On Monday the White House announced the deadline is extended a stay. That’s a good thing for people trying to navigate the web site at the last minute.)

How many American Indians and Alaska Natives signed up for this new program? Who knows? But you’d think that something this important would have so much information posted about that it would almost be annoying. There should be posters, flyers, signup fairs, reminders and banners. This should be a big deal.

Instead this deadline whizzed by, hardly making a sound in Indian Country.

So this is why the deadline, and health insurance, matters.

From this point forward every American Indian and Alaska Native who signs up for some form of insurance, through a tribe or an employer, via Medicaid, or through these new Marketplace Exchanges, adds real money to the Indian health system.

How much funding? Healthcare reform expert Ed Fox estimates the total could exceed $2 billion. But what makes that $2 billion even more important is that it does not need to be appropriated by Congress.

Most of that funding stream will come from the expansion of Medicaid, the primary mechanism for expanding coverage under the Affordable Care Act. This is a particularly thorny problem for Indian Country because only about half of the states with significant American Indian and Alaska Native populations have expanded Medicaid. That’s why it so important for Indian Country to keep pressing for this critical funding source.

But even without the Medicaid expansion, many in Indian Country are eligible for special considerations through the Marketplace exchanges. Most people won’t have to pay out-of-pocket costs like deductibles, copayments, and coinsurance depending on income. And American Indians and Alaska Natives have a sort of permanent open enrollment period, so the signup can occur anytime.

But, as Dr. Fox writes, “Unfortunately, fewer than 10% of those American Indians / Alaska Natives eligible for subsidies will purchase qualified health plans, even fewer American Indians / Alaska Natives likely if they currently receive services at an IHS-funded health program.”

So the problem remains that as long as one-in-three (non-elderly) American Indians and Alaska Natives are uninsured, there will not be enough money to pay for quality healthcare.

But the Affordable Care Act is an alternative. This is the deal: The Indian health system has never been fully funded. And that is not likely to change in our lifetime. No Congress or president in the history of this country has ever presented a budget that meets the health care needs of Indian Country.

But the Affordable Care Act opens up a new way of tapping money, exchanging complexity and paperwork for more money that does not have to go through Congress. Money that can go directly and automatically into the Indian health system. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, nine in ten American Indians and Alaska Natives qualify for some sort of assistance to get coverage.

The Affordable Care Act’s potential revenue stream is particularly important right now because the appropriations process in Congress is so completely broken.

But. Wait! American Indians and Alaska Natives have a treaty right to health care. There is no need to do anything, right?

Then I was re-reading my tribe’s treaty with the United States, the Fort Bridger Treaty of 1868. Article 10 says: “The United States hereby agrees to furnish annually to the Indians the physician, teachers, carpenter, miller, engineer, farmer, and blacksmith, as herein contemplated, and that such appropriations shall be made, from time to time, on the estimates of the Secretary of the Interior, as will be sufficient to employ such persons.”

And there is that word: “appropriations.” The process that Congress uses to spend money; a framework that has never even once considered full funding for Indian health.

I hear from many folks who say this is all too much. Let’s repeal the law and start over. Ok, then what? Repealing the law is not going to change the dismal funding of the Indian health system. Congress cannot even agree on regular spending, let alone something like that. But for all the complications, for all the confusion about web sites and paperwork, the Affordable Care Act opens up a check book with a couple billion dollars. We can watch deadlines whiz by. or, we can say, there it is. Take it.

Mark Trahant is the 20th Atwood Chair at the University of Alaska Anchorage. He is a journalist, speaker and Twitter poet and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. Comment on Facebook at:

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peterson MARTIN

In the spring of 1968, shortly before graduating from the University of Idaho, I drove down to Lewiston to hear Senator Frank Church speak at the old Lewis Clark Hotel. It was a standing room only crowd and I had managed to squeeze into the rear of the room. As I was leaving, I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I turned around and there was a lady I had never seen before with a wall-to-wall smile who said, “I saw you standing back here and I don’t believe that we have met. I’m Bethine Church.”
Little did either of us know that by year’s end, I would be in Washington, D.C., living in the Church’s guest room and joining Frank Church’s senate staff.

My initial meeting with her was vintage Bethine Church. She was the consummate politician, just as one would expect someone to be who had grown up in the midst of Idaho’s greatest political dynasty, the Clark family. Her father, Chase Clark, had been mayor of Idaho Falls, Governor of Idaho, and was appointed to a federal judgeship by President Roosevelt. Others in her family tree were governors, senators, federal and state judges. One was even Nancy Reagan’s press secretary.

When Chase Clark became Governor, Bethine moved to Boise and enrolled at Boise High School. There she quickly became friends with a group of students that included Frank Church, whom she later married. When Church eventually ran for the Senate in 1956, Chase Clark, Bethine Church and Frank Church’s best friend from high school, Carl Burke, formed the brain trust that helped Church unseat a Republican incumbent and win election to the Senate at age 32.

Joe Miller, a major political power broker in the latter half of the last century, came to Boise to advise the 1956 campaign. He had had a number of notable successes around the country and felt that the key to winning in a state like Idaho was political billboards. He laid out his strategy in a meeting at Judge Clark’s home that included Judge Clark, Frank and Bethine. Bethine blatantly told him that in Idaho his strategy wouldn’t work. An argument ensued, and Judge Clark told Bethine to go to the kitchen to help her mother. It was the last time that Bethine was placed in the back seat of a political campaign.

Her political instincts were excellent, her memory for faces and names was as good as it gets, and her knowledge of Idaho was remarkable. You could be driving down the road with her in a remote part of the state and she would suddenly tell you to turn right at the next country road. Then, a couple of miles down the road, she would tell you to pull into a farm yard where she would get out and go knock on the road. There would be delighted surprise on the face of the elderly woman who answered the door. And, before the day was over, she would have called each of her seven children and her six brothers and sisters – all Idaho voters – to tell them about the wonderful surprise visit she had had from Bethine Church.

Bethine Church had a better understanding of Idaho politics than most people, including her husband. In fact, had she ever entered into a primary election against him, the odds would have been in her favor.

In 1974, when Church was up for re-election, I was no longer on his staff and was living back in Idaho. It seemed to me that Frank Church was not as engaged in seeking re-election as he should be and that he could well be vulnerable to defeat. I took my concern to Bethine. We spent a couple of hours together and I laid out the reasons for my concern. I don’t know how much of an impact my concerns had, but in short order Frank Church became the kind of engaged candidate that I had first witnessed in the 1968 campaign. I have no doubt that Bethine was the driving force that activated him.
Bethine once told me that the Senator had told her that the thing that he most wanted from her was to have a comfortable home and a family he could be proud of. For those of who were fortunate enough to spend time in the Church home, they had succeeded on both counts.

When Frank Church passed away, Bethine had to decide how she was going to spend the rest of her life. I can remember visiting with her and both of us agreeing that there were few things sadder in Washington, D.C., than the widows of once important people trying to continue to live in a little bit of the spotlight they had once enjoyed. She knew better than that and decided to move back to Idaho, where she could continue to be a big fish in a little bowl. Next to marrying Frank Church, it was the best decision she ever made.

When I retired last year, Bethine shared the stage with Governor and Mrs. Otter and other dignitaries I had had the good fortune to work with over the years. Physically, she was just a shadow of her former self, confined to a wheel chair and engulfed in a fur coat. But she took the microphone and her remarks were, for me, the highlight of the program. In her ninth decade, her body might have failed her, but her mind was a good as it had ever been.

Bethine Church was a remarkable person in every way. Together with Frank Church, they constituted one of the most effective power couples Idaho is ever likely to see. What a wonderful Christmas gift to each of them that they are once again back together.

Marty Peterson is tiered and lives in Boise.

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carlson CHRIS


Her pet name for the longest serving Democratic U.S. Senator from Idaho was “Frosty.” They almost always traveled together during their frequent trips to Idaho, both during campaign season and the few non-election years when they could pare back a bit.

The daughter of one Idaho governor, and the niece of another Idaho governor as well as a U.S. Senator, Bethine Church, who passed away on December 21st at the age of 90, was a skilled politician in her own right. Along with Frank Church’s long-time administrative assistant, Verda Barnes, she was the Senator’s top advisor on most matters, especially those that pertained to the politics of the home state.

Most folks in Idaho, and within the D.C. Beltway, recognized her as the third Senator from Idaho. She possessed and exercised with humility real influence not only behind the scenes with the Senator, but also in the more public roles she played inside the Beltway. She was a force to be dealt with, and other senators as well as staff and the folks “downtown” (the bureaucrats and cabinet members) accorded her the same respect they accorded her spouse.

During appearances at receptions and fund-raisers, especially if they were in Idaho or had mostly Idahoans present, Bethine would be the first in the room with Frosty following. She had the phenomenal memory for names (only Cecil Andrus was better in my experience), and would smoothly say “Frank, you remember Floyd Jensen, our good friend from Preston.” Senator Church would say, “Well of course I do, Floyd, how you doing?”

More often than not the Senator did need the reminder. They thus worked as a team, and they were probably the best true teammates the Senate has ever seen, whether campaigning or going over legislation together or reviewing the Senator’s carefully crafted speeches.

A favorite picture taken by the Lewiston Tribune’s Barry Kough is that of the Senator speaking during a re-election campaign at a typical small-town north Idaho café in a place like Troy or Kendrick or Potlatch. If one carefully looks in the background they’ll see Bethine sitting in a booth carefully listening to the Senator answer a question.

She is clearly critiquing the answer the Senator is giving and one senses that if there was a part of it she thought not well-stated or just plain wrong the Senator would hear about shortly after they jumped in the car and headed for the next stop.

Idahoans owe Bethine a special thanks for it was she who undoubtedly introduced the Senator to the wonderful wilds and vast wilderness area in central Idaho, a significant portion of which is now named after the Senator because of his authorship of the precedent-setting 1964 Wilderness Act.

She accomplished this by insisting they spend time during some of the congressional recesses early in the Senator’s career restoring the batteries at the family-owned Robinson Bar Ranch. They sold the ranch in 1964 before the Wilderness Act was passed, the Senator not wanting to have even the slim appearance of a possible conflict of interest. Her own love of the wilds led her to be one of the co-founders of the Sawtooth Society.

While in many respects she led a charmed life, it was not without its setbacks and its fair amount of sadness. Among the great disappointments had to be the Senator’s narrow defeat at the hands of Congressman Steve Symms in 1980 and the Senator’s failure to secure the Democratic presidential nomination in 1976.

Losing the Senator to the cancer that returned in 1984, followed by son Forrest’s death also from cancer left holes in her heart that time would never completely heal. She kept herself busy, though, staying active in Democratic Party affairs, working for causes like the Sawtooth Society, enjoying the company of her grandchildren, writing a fine book about her life with Frosty, and doing what she could to help preserve the legacy of the good, great Senator.

His legacy, whether it be preserving the wilderness values of “the Frank,” putting restraints on the excesses of the CIA, or securing Medicare funding for hospice care, and much, much more, is as much hers as it is his. She was truly an extraordinary person. May her memory be cherished by Idahoans forever.

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Carlson Idaho

idaho RANDY

CLARIFICATION: The current megaload shipment across Oregon and Idaho originated in Portland, not in Asia. Other megaload shipments sent across Idaho earlier this year did originate in Asia.

Now that Idaho’s Highway 12 seems to have been closed off to megaload traffic, shipments have begun moving in other directions. And that changes the nature of the megaload debate.

Highway 12 was an unusual case. For a U.S. highway, that mountainous riverside stretch is challenging for even drivers of standard passenger cars, and highly challenging for drivers of semis and the like. The idea of an enormous 900,000­pound megaload, carrying huge pieces of equipment shipped from Asia and destined for the tar fields of Alberta traveling that road seemed, simply, like madness. As the joke would have it: What could go wrong? Well, plenty.

But now we have new routes for the megaloads, and they bring different kinds of questions.

Permits under review at the Idaho Transportation Department would allow for megaloads to run from Lewiston up Highway 95 to its intersection with I­90, on which it would run deep into Montana. Assuming the bridge issue can be finessed (the loads are so large they cannot fit underneath bridges), that might be a better alternative, since that stretch of U.S. 95 is now a better road than it once was for larger vehicles, and interstates are built with the idea of handling large loads.

Somewhere in between that and U.S. 12 is the peculiar shipment now underway, slowly, slowly, from the Port of Unatilla in eastern Oregon, to the Idaho border near Homedale, around Mountain Home, over to Arco, north to Salmon, and over the Lost Trail Pass on U.S. 93 into Montana.

Those of us who have driven these roads know them mostly – the bulk of their miles – as long, flat and straight. The desert countryside on much of the way can be spectacular, but most of the route is easy driving and relatively low risk. In most places drivers may be able to make their way around the megaload, something impractical almost anywhere along Highway 12. There are some exceptions, such as the road leading up to Lost Trail Pass and the stretch north of Mountain Home leading up into the Camas Prairie. These still are easier drives than Highway 12.

Other questions still remain, though, aside from the safety factor. One is the wear on the road.

Megaloads do come with special fees and conditions reflecting their unusual size, but how much do we really know about their wear on the road? How well have emergency and safety considerations really be thought through?

There’s one other, too, people in the region ought to consider.

One of the key principles about international trade long has been the idea that you should always try to export finished products rather than raw goods, so you can employ your own people locally in the manufacture, rather than shipping those jobs overseas. Here, the immense pieces of equipment being sent to the oil fields are being fully manufactured on the other side of the Pacific.

Might we not want to set tax and regulatory incentives to encourage their manufacture on this continent? The whole shipment issue would be moot if the production of the equipment was located closer to the oil fields, and it might mean more good­paying jobs as well.

That idea hasn’t come up for consideration much. But when legislatures and Congress resume their work in January, it ought to be something to think about.

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