Writings and observations

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Idaho

About a dozen years ago, Martin Peterson and I started work on a book project. Peterson, who had spent a career and then some in the core of Idaho state government, is an Idaho history obsessive, and we had latched onto the idea of writing a book about the 100 most influential drivers of Idaho history.

We had a lot of ideas about who should populate the list and how to rank them, but we wanted to run those ideas (and our understanding of the facts and context) past an unimpeachable authority who knew enough about Idaho history to be able to tell us, conclusively, if we were somewhere running off the rails.

Exactly one name came to us both: Judy Austin. And from the beginning of the project until shortly before it went to print, she looked over our lists, provided sage background and suggestions, and kept us on track. At least, as much as anyone could have.

This week, Austin is receiving the annual Idaho Humanities Council Outstanding Achievement in the Humanities award for her work on Idaho history. That work, which has been ongoing since 1967 and continues at full speed today, is so wide-ranging as to defy any further definition. The center of it, probably, is her more than two decades as editor of Idaho Yesterdays history magazine, up until its closure in 2002. (That closure by state officials, depriving the state of its only major historical publication, was and is a travesty.) Along the way, as the IHC noted, she “became a mentor, writer, bibliographer, co-author, consultant, and general encourager to countless researchers, young and old, engaged in exploring the history of Idaho and the American West.”

Those range from national bestselling author Anthony Lukas, whose magisterial Big Trouble (about the Haywood murder conspiracy trial) benefited greatly from Austin’s help, to Lin Tull Cannell, an amateur historian at Orofino who turned her interest in the pioneer William Craig into a book (which – disclosure here – I published) called The Intermediary. And, among many others over the years and on other efforts besides the 100, me.

When she arrived in Boise in 1967, she went to work for the Idaho historian who more or less founded the field, Merle Wells. During the two decades they worked together and into his retirement, a foundation was set for research and publication of Idaho history. It was institutionalized, with strong staffing and steadily improving collections and public service.

The Idaho State Historical Society has better quarters these days, near the old Idaho Penitentiary on the eastern edge of Boise, than it did then. But budgets have been cut, and the hard-working and skillful staff there is increasingly stretched thin. Preservation and research into Idaho history has not been a state budget priority, especially not in the last decade. A lot of the institutional building, developing the field of Idaho history that made such progress in the mid-to-latter 20th century has been chopped away in the 21st.

These have been difficult times for many history programs around the country, and Idaho’s has been hit especially hard. A state that ties itself to tradition the way Idaho does – you hear it in state political campaigns every cycle – could benefit especially from a very strong understanding and recording of the facts instead of the myth.

Judy Austin richly deserves her award this week, not least for her work keeping the facts and the myths in their relative places.

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Idaho Idaho column

news

Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Nursing shortage in Idaho still persistent (Boise Statesman)
Dredging near Lewiston nears finish for year (Lewiston Tribune)
Idaho House at odds over transport funding (Nampa Press Tribune, Lewiston Tribune)
West coast ports reach tentative settlement (Lewiston Tribune)
Deer Flat management proposal released (Nampa Press Tribune)

UO planning to inoculate 22k people there (Eugene Register Guard)
Motor voter bill progresses on party line (Portland Oregonian, Eugene Register Guard)
Brown plans continuation of death penalty halt (Eugene Register Guard, Medford Tribune, KF Herald & News, Pendleton E Oregonian)
Klamath fair may sue county on room tax issue (KF Herald & News)
Agreement reached in ports labor battle (Portland Oregonian, Medford Tribune)
$51.6m water fund remains in Brown budget plan (Pendleton E Oregonian)
More progress with English as second language (Portland Oregonian)
Brown considers secretary state appointment (Salem Statesman Journal)

Bremerton port offers incentive to keep business (Bremerton Sun)
Agreement reached in coast ports battle (Seattle Times, Spokane Spokesman, Tacoma News Tribune, Yakima Herald Republic, Bremerton Sun, Olympian, Longview News)
Olympia rally backs Boeing (Everett Herald)
Analysis suggests Longview area safe from tsunami (Longview News)
Tommy Chong promotes pot at Seattle (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
State revenues rise a little, assist budget (Vancouver Columbian, Olympian)
Looking at bonuses for Boeing executives (Seattle Times)
New Spokane plan would limit nearly-nake baristas (Spokane Spokesman)
Options for state transport funding reviewed (Vancouver Columbian)
Clark clerk mail registration cards to voters (Vancouver Columbian)
Yakima council continues to mull redistricting (Yakima Herald Republic)
Richland florist still in discrimination fight (Yakima Herald Republic)

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First Take



 
Some thoughts from legislators on what may happen with Idaho’s school broadband program.

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Idaho