Writings and observations

peterson MARTIN

Idaho’s territorial sesquicentennial celebration will present many opportunities to reflect on our state’s history. At the kick-off ceremony on Boise’s capitol steps on March 4 there was a considerable focus on the role of Abraham Lincoln in Idaho’s territorial history. Considering that he was president when Idaho Territory was created and that he appointed all of our initial territorial officials, the attention paid to him is appropriate.

But was he the most important president with respect to Idaho? There are several presidents who, for varying reasons, could be considered for that distinction. Lincoln is clearly one. Others might suggest Jefferson for his role in initiating the Louisiana Purchase and dispatching Lewis and Clark’s Corp of Discovery. Another possibility is Benjamin Harrison, who signed the legislation creating the state of Idaho.

And then there is the interesting, but little known, role of Grover Cleveland. During Cleveland’s presidency legislation was approved by both the House and Senate to divide Idaho Territory, attaching northern Idaho to Washington and southern Idaho to Nevada. This legislation would have actually eliminated Idaho. But by the time the bill reached President Cleveland for his consideration, Congress had adjourned. He declined to sign it, which effectively vetoed it.

Even though each of these presidents played significant roles in the creation of Idaho, I would suggest that none of them deservers the title of Idaho’s most important president. Rather, I think that distinction should go to our country’s eleventh president, James Polk. If you aren’t familiar with him, consider yourself to be part of the majority. But without him there would not have been either the territory or state of Idaho.

James Polk was from Tennessee and a protégé of Andrew Jackson. His first elective office was to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he eventually was elected Speaker of the House. He also served as Governor of Tennessee. Elected president in 1844 as a dark horse candidate, he pledged to only serve a single term. Polk was a Democrat and the Democratic Party was badly divided, especially by the issue of slavery. The leadership of the party was also filled with
wannabe presidents, including Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, John C. Cahoun and others, all having individual agendas to help promote their own political interests. Polk had a difficult, but highly successful, four years, as president.

The highest item on Polk’s presidential agenda was territorial expansion. At the time, the western border of the U.S. was defined by the Louisiana Purchase. When Polk took office in 1845, the United States consisted of 1.7 million square miles of land.

Texas was annexed by the U.S. and became a state in late 1845.

The Oregon country was jointly occupied by the U.S. and Great Britain. Although Great Britain wanted title to the Columbia River, Polk stood firm on establishing the U.S. border at the 49th parallel and, in 1846 signed a treaty with Great Britain which turned all of the land south of the 49th parallel over to the U.S., creating Oregon Territory. From that territory would come the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, and parts of the states of Montana and Wyoming.

Polk next turned his attention to areas of land that were part of Mexico. He was rebuffed by Mexico in an effort to purchase the lands and promptly began looking for an excuse to go to war with Mexico and simply take the lands away from them. He found his excuse when Mexican
troops crossed the Rio Grande into Texas and killed eleven U.S. soldiers. Declaring war on Mexico, the U.S. scored a series of military victories and in 1848 the two countries signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, adding territory that would become California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona and parts of New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.

The total of Polk’s land acquisitions was 1.2 million square miles. Without those lands, the U.S. would have no Pacific coast and today’s western border states would be considerably smaller versions of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. And, most importantly for Idaho, there would be no Idaho. It was James Polk who made possible the later Idaho related actions of Lincoln, Harrison and Cleveland. That is why I think that he was the president of greatest importance to Idaho. But, aside from streets named after him in a handful of Idaho cities, Polk’s name is little known and uncelebrated in Idaho.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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rainey BARRETT


Something’s happening here in our little Burg in the Oregon forest. Something distressing and disappointing. A damn shame. I’d bet it’s happening where you are, too.

Our little Rotary club is slowly disappearing. More people going out the back door than coming in the front. The other two local Rotary clubs are in the same trouble. So, too, are the Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, VFW and other business and social organizations. Our problem’s not unique. It’s an international issue. Times have changed. We – and they – have not.

Take Rotary. Founded in Chicago over 100 years ago by business leaders to share business news, gossip and professional tips while doing good works, it’s been a highly successful civic group in many a community, eventually going international. To its everlasting credit, Rotary has nearly wiped out polio in the world. If that’s all it ever did, Rotary would have earned everlasting honor in world social and medical history. Great job!

But times have changed and too many organizations have not. For instance, take those “business news, gossip and professional tips” reasons for Rotary’s creation. In too many local clubs, heads of business no longer participate on a regular basis. Most people who belong now can’t write a company check or commit corporate resources to a given community project. Many members have been “appointed” to Rotary or other civic groups by an employer rather than joining voluntarily out of a personal commitment to local volunteerism. Others are there because they genuinely want to do the “good works” but they don’t bring the resources – financial and corporate – that traditionally made clubs viable. And valuable.

As for “business, news and gossip,” small “tips” clubs have sprung up in every city and town. They’re designed to share member news for the benefit of others. A commonality. They meet – share – and go to work. They don’t usually undertake community projects as service clubs have done historically. They’re linked electronically. For their own welfare. It’s a “network” by definition. Business oriented. Not community service.

Lions, Kiwanis, Elks, Masons, Eagles, Moose, The Grange and other business and fraternal groups – like Rotary – have done similar good works and are important parts of the fabric from which this nation was crafted. And – like Rotary – they’re suffering membership losses because – in too many cases – they’ve not changed with the times. Some are already gone.

Just as we aren’t driving the vehicles we did 50-60 years ago – aren’t flying airliners with propellers – aren’t tied to the mail for written communication – aren’t driving state-to-state on two-lane highways – we aren’t conducting business and social affairs the same ways. If we haven’t kept up with the times and adopted the new things that come along, we’re out of business.

I don’t know the long term answers to save these valuable community resources. But it’s patently obvious they must change. In our little Burg, for example, the VFW recently closed two of its three struggling Posts and combined resources into one viable group. Returning military vets from Iraq and Afghanistan wars aren’t joining the VFW in large numbers. They’re founding new relationships in newly-created organizations based on common – and current – experiences to work for their special needs. The VFW has memberships of 70 and 80-year-olds. The new vet organizations memberships are 20-30-40-somethings with much different needs and interests. Which clubs are relevant? Which will grow?

Three local mainline churches – faced with declining memberships and older congregations – have combined three struggling youth groups into a single and more well-attended program. Just reality of the “marketplace.”

Our little community of roughly 20,000 doesn’t need three Rotary Clubs with declining membership. It needs one viable Rotary Club with today’s community service as the basis for membership. As the basis for existence. Same is true for Lions, Kiwanis, Elks and others who used to be valuable community resources. It’s not that they’re no longer appropriate. It’s not that they can’t be important resources for today. And the future. But – just as all of us have done to cope with change – they can’t continue to be important without reshaping their reasons for existence to today’s needs.

What roles they should play must be determined by each. There are still needs and there are still good people willing to serve. But needs changed as communities changed. More important, the business we do – and how we do it – is dramatically different. Not over the last 100 years of Rotary. Just the last decade or two.

Without change – no matter how drastic – some of these groups won’t be around. In a decade or two. And that would be a shame.

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ridenbaugh Northwest

Those red light cameras popping up around the Northwest have aroused a lot of discussion and even at least one initiative attempt (another Tim Eyman special in Washington).

Here’s an extensive report on the subject, posted on the Insurance Quotes site, with what looks like plenty of useful background in considering the issue.

Among the notable tidbits, chew on this: “Although red light cameras can be effective in some cities, when asked, citizens tend not to vote for red light cameras. When put up to vote, residents of Houston, Cincinnati, Anaheim, and Albuquerque all expressed their displeasure against red light cameras and voted to either stop initiatives or shut down projects entirely. But, there is national support for the cameras: a 2009 survey of voters found that 69% of Americans support the use of red light cameras at dangerous intersections.”

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carlson CHRIS


Former Idaho Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor David Leroy is garnering deserved accolades for his efforts to educate Idahoans regarding the state’s historical role under the guidance of President Abraham Lincoln in thwarting southern efforts to bring slavery into the territories west of the Mississippi.

A successful attorney and a dedicated Abraham Lincoln historical buff, he has traveled Idaho with a refined presentation on Lincoln’s role in the formation of the Idaho territory 150 years ago. He and his wife, Nancy, have also collected numerous Lincoln memorabilia which they intend to donate to the State‘s historical museum.

He also fills in the background against which one can measure a mistaken view promulgated by his party’s Tea Party types regarding “nullification.” Leroy’s presentation reminds audiences this nation fought a Civil War led by a beloved President who was saying to hell with this nonsense about a state being able to nullify laws passed by Congress they don’t like.

For Lincoln and Leroy, the operative phrase is “one nation, under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for all,” as we all recite in the Pledge of Allegiance. The Civil War settled the issue of nullification.

Leroy is quintessentially political to his core. He has disarming charm, an ability to tell good stories and to laugh at himself. He also is one of the most calculating, Machiavellian, shrewd, insightful and instinctive politicians to move across the Idaho stage in years.

A rising GOP star in his youth, there seemed no limit to his potential. A Republican version of Minnesota Senator and Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he was the “happy warrior” exuding energy and joy as he went about fulfilling expectations as a competent attorney general and then lieutenant governor.

When I returned in 1981 to Idaho from four years of exile serving with former Governor Cecil Andrus at the Department of the Interior, Leroy and I became good friends. We often jogged daily and talked politics as we ran.

Then the attorney general, it was clear he aimed to be governor and then a senator someday. A fan of former Governor and Senator Len Jordan, and his wife, Grace, Leroy and his first spouse, Helen, named their daughter Jordan after his hero. He delivered an eloquent and moving eulogy on the occasion of Grace’s passing.

Candidly, I told Leroy if he wanted to be governor he had best contest Phil Batt for the 1982 Republican nomination to challenge Andrus successor John Evans. I thought he could defeat Batt and would have a 50/50 shot at beating Evans who one had to concede was doing a solid job in the governor’s chair.

Leroy felt he should defer to Batt and that 1986 would be a better year for him as he expected Evans to go after Senator Steve Symms. I told him if he waited until 1986 there was a better than even chance he would be up against the heavy-weight champ, that Andrus would reclaim the office he had left to be Interior secretary.

Leroy did not seem deterred by that prospect. Indeed, he seemed to relish the thought that his credential could only be burnished by defeating Andrus. The rest is history. He lost by 3357 votes, one of the closest governor races in Idaho history.

To his credit he did not contest the outcome and drag the process out.

He then entered into his period in the wilderness going through both personal and political changes that saw a divorce and a half hearted race for Congress.

Now in his early 60’s, with a distinguished head of white hair, success in the private sector that has brought rewards like a summer place in France, and a wife that shares his interests, Leroy is basking in the justifiable thanks of his fellow citizens for his Lincoln bequest.

He may also be a modern day version of the mythical phoenix. If Raul Labrador decides to run for governor, David Leroy will be a candidate to succeed him as Idaho’s First District congressman. And if he does, this time he will win. There are indeed successful second and third acts in politics.

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Carlson Idaho

rainey BARRETT


I’ve long believed fear drives most of our politics on the right. But it’s been more an unsupported belief than a provable fact. Until I came across some interesting work by Dr. Rose McDermott of Brown University, that seems to show there really is a direct connection. She and several colleagues published their research in the American Journal of Political Science.

Using a large sample of related individuals, researchers first assessed their propensity for fear using lengthy, standardized, clinically administered interviews and tests. In subjects who were related, Dr. McDermott and her crew identified influences such as environment and personal experience and discovered some had a genetic propensity for a higher level of baseline fear. In fact, they experienced fear at even lower levels of threat or provocation than the rest of us.

The primary research finding? “It’s not that conservative people are more fearful; it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

In one area, there was a strong correlation between social fear and anti-immigration and pro-segregation attitudes. Individuals with higher levels of social fear exhibited the strongest negative attitudes to those two subjects. And there were others.

“People who’re scared of novelty, uncertainty – people they don’t know and things they don’t understand,” McDermott said, “these people are more supportive of politics that provide them with a sense of surety and security.”

The team also found direct links to how political campaigns can be designed to manipulate some people more than others. To make a sizeable group more fearful. Deliberately.

One of the most predictable political certainties of the far right is – and has always been – that it will always frustrate its own efforts. Step on its own feet. It always goes just so long before it splits into smaller factions. Birch Society, Liberty Lobby, Americans For Freedom – you name it. Their origins were with people who were frightened, distrustful – fearful – of conditions at the time. But soon, something in the new group sparked new fears and new distrust. And, amoeba-like, there was a split. Pick a fringe group – research its history – you’ll find a breakup. Maybe two or three. Or more. Time after time after time.

The other factor always found in that scared societal segment – certain people will step up to manipulate the fear. As McDermott’s research pointed out, “political campaigns … designed to manipulate.” I give you Karl Rove, Dick Armey, Rick Santorum, Michelle Bachman, Ron and Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Wayne LaPierre. And the most skilled master of political manipulation based on fear – the shameless self-promoter – Newt Gingrich.

Take just Rove as an example to prove the point. What’s happening in his foxhole world right now? A new split, of course! Capitalizing on more moderate Republican fears of losing even more political clout than was lost in November, 2012, Rove has split himself and his billionaire backers into yet another fringe group. The motivating factor again? Fear! Fear the Republican Party will be even less a factor in coming elections than it was in November. Fear there will be fewer Republican faces in Congress to carry out what the Kochs and Adelsons and other billionaires with deep pockets want done. Fear – on Rove’s part – his oversized income will be cut off. Fear! Fear! Fear!

As for Congress, McDermott added, “We get frustrated at Congress for being paralyzed if we apply rational perspectives. But we have to recognize what’s driving paralysis and disagreement has to do with emotional factors not necessarily amenable to or easily shifted by rational arguments.” Fear.

Conversely, what keeps more of us from joining Rove and his minions out there at the end of the limb far to the right? The simple answer is – we’re not the fearful. We may be unhappy. We may be frustrated with our government. We may even want to kick a few asses along the Potomac. Unhappy? Yes. Frustrated? Yes. Want to kick some ass? Yes. Alright, more than a few. But not because we’re afraid. Not because we fear.

“It’s not that conservative people are more fearful – it’s that fearful people are more conservative.”

They fear government. They fear our monetary system. They fear people of color. They fear loss of majority status. They fear fluoride. They fear change. They fear any issue they believe they can’t control.
The rest of us may be angry with them. But we don’t have to fear them. Because – in the end – they will fear each other more than us.

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JEWELL AT SENATE: Interior Secretary-designate Sally Jewell speaks before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee in Washington. The committee, which includes Washington Senate Maria Cantwell, was holding a hearing on her confirmation. (image/Office of Senator Cantwell)


In Washington, couple of seemingly counter headlines, about an unemployment rate that remains the same, but overall improvement (albeit modest) in the state economic picture. The two are reconciled to some degree by the additional statistic that the overall number of jobs rose during January, meaning that the rate reflected more people in the labor force.

In Idaho, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee last week drafted a public school budget that seems likely to gain clearance (since there was not a lot of dissension surrounding it). Odds are that will translate to a relatively quick legislative session, possibly ending by the close of this month.

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INTIMIDATION Seems here that it’s a crime to threaten or intimidate lawmakers. In any event, a light needs to be trained on this, as the Oregonian‘s Steve Duin does in his column today: Gun advocates going a little over the line against legislators with whom they have a difference of opinion on gun regulation. Among other examples Duin cites are several aimed just at one lawmakers, Mitch Greenlick, a Portland Democrat. One describes him “as a “disgusting jew parasite.” Another features, in two compact paragraphs, three anti-Semitic slurs and five of the seven words George Carlin once claimed you could never say on television. A third warns Greenlick, “You have made a grave error” in sponsoring House Bill 3200, and suggests he withdraw his support: “Good choices are the foundation for long and healthy life.””

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idaho RANDY
The Idaho

The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and much else, much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 (and yes, I’ll say that even with the legislature in session). Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke.

Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho’s first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff, to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms. Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver. When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn’t yet known as Idaho) he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke’s thirst for more was still acute.

Enter another group of newcomers from settlements in the north and in Montana, who had been closely allied with the infamous Henry Plummer – the region’s earliest example of an organized crime boss, briefly an Idahoans but who in Montana entered law enforcement and enriched himself and a circle of friends in the process. These friends of Plummer told Updyke they’d stake him and get him the sheriff’s job, provided he used it as Plummer had.

That is how Ada County’s first sheriff became an organized crime ringleader. His most notable crimes included a series of big-money stage robberies (using inside information from the stage operators, and used it to conduct the robberies). But there was also plenty of general murder and extortion as well.

Ada County was growing fast enough to short circuit all that. A band of vigilantes based at Payette and led by William McConnell (decades later an Idaho state governor), confronted Updyke and nearly killed him. In August 1865, only five months after Updyke was first elected, the Ada County commissioners were persuaded to hold another election for sheriff. Updyke was ousted. Soon after, he was on the run, and the following winter another group of vigilantes tracked him to the mining town of Rocky Bar, and hanged him.

Nowadays, Idaho has 44 sheriffs at a time, and none in living memory have much resembled David Updyke. Celebrate that.

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Idaho Idaho column

Oregon Republicans convened for three days starting March 8 at Seaside, for their annual Dorchester conference. (photo/Randy Stapilus)


cascades RANDY
West of
the Cascades

In his opening remarks at the 49th Dorchester conference, the organization’s president remarked that, since former Governor Vic Atiyeh was unable to attend this year’s event, it marked the first time in at least three decades that no current or former governor of Oregon had attended the signature Republican event.

That was as useful a factoid as any to underscore the point and usefulness of the conference: Trying to figure out what the future of the Oregon Republican Party ought to be, and how to make it successful. That was much of the point in 1965, when future Senator Robert Packwood helped organize the first one. It has taken on some urgency now, with Republicans out of power in the legislature and holding but one major office (the 2nd U.S. House seat) in the whole state.

Dorchester is known for blunt talk, a willingness to face up to the problems. So it was on the main event on opening night Friday, when Kerry Tymchuk, formerly of Senator Gordon Smith’s staff and now of the state historical society, moderated and posed questions to a panel of three, selected in part by differing ages, a college student at Portland State University (Tymchuk quipped that her role with the college Republicans would be like heading up college Democrats at Brigham Young University), an ex-urbanite father living in rural Washington County, and a veteran of Oregon Republican politics with background in the 60s of leftist radicalism.

If they didn’t come up with definitive answers on a path forward, they did illuminate some of the obstacles and at least a number of ideas.

Asked why they were Republicans, the answers emerged unsurprisingly: It was the party of personal responsibility, work ethics and limited government and non-reliance on handouts. It did not apologize for the country, they said; one remarked, “it’s the patriotic party, not the pity party.”

Asked what was, in their view, the major issue of the day, “fiscal responsibility” was the prevailing choice. The former 60s radical remarked that “I’m not so much worried about protecting my social security as protecting my freedom,” and she warned, “Communists are out there.”

Following up on some of that, the college student suggested, “If we fall, the world falls.”

Tymchuck asked for some cross-generational commentary, and he got some. The exurban father said of the millennials that they seem not to have a sense of where the money is coming from the pay for all the enormous bills (college costs, presumably, among them) that are being run up. And there was a comment about some younger voters being “brainwashed.”

But the college student had some suggestions too: Older generations, she suggested, are sometimes “obsessed” with social issues (not spelled out, but presumably including abortion and gay rights) that are turning into big electoral losers for the Republican Party.

“I’m so sick of losing,” she said. (Tymchuck pointed out that Oregon hasn’t had a Republican governor since before she was born.)

That led to a Tymchuk question about whether compromise was, or ought to be, a dirty word among Republicans.

The responses were uneasy and actually somewhat nuanced. There was some acknowledgement that Republicans are increasingly being tagged as uncompromising, and that they’re increasingly getting nothing rather than the half a loaf they otherwise might get. But the 60’s veteran drew cheers from the crowd when she said, “I don’t personally want to compromise with the Democrats … They’re liars.”

Added up, there was certainly recognition that the Oregon Republican Party has some big problems. Solutions? Well, they had the rest of the weekend to continue searching for those.

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Oregon West of the Cascades


TEACHER CONTRACTS The Idaho Legislature seems about to cast aside the message on public school policy sent by the voters in November. A bill has cleared the House Education Committee (which seems like schools mostly in the private, home or charter forms) that would reinstate the killed-off policy allowing school boards to cut off teacher negotiations if they haven’t completed by June 10, and then impose their own terms. That gives the boards an absolute hammer, of course, since all they have to do to get whatever they want, is to run out the clock. Expect the bill to pass the House; the larger test may come in the Senate.

WYDEN’S REVOLT There is something sort of bipartisan going on, you suppose, when Oregon Democratic Senator Ron Wyden lend support to a filibuster – the actual vocal kind – by Kentucky Republican Rand Paul. Both of them wanted to draw attention to Obama administration policy on drones and other military activities, policy for which has been kept quite secret. Bright light can be a useful lock pick, however.

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First Take