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Posts published in “Day: May 24, 2018”

Primary’s over: What a relief


It is sooo good to close the door on this year’s primary election. The advertising in the Republican gubernatorial race was wretched. Tommy Ahlquist started early with negative ads and it did not take too long for the contest to degenerate into a mud-slinging match. I don’t recall primary elections being as ugly as this one when Idaho had the open primary system.

The ads did contain some statements of the candidates’ shared visions for Idaho’s future--each candidate claimed he would be more supportive of the President than the others, that he would cut more taxes, that he would cut more spending, that he would provide Idahoans better medical care, and that he would better educate our children.

I’m wondering whether the closed primary on the Republican side may have contributed to the bare-knuckles campaign. When candidates do not have to appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, they tend to tout similar stands on the issues that resonate with their limited slice of the voters. The way to stand out from the others is to go hammer and tongs for the opponents’ jugulars, or to try to sound more extreme than the others.

The popular wisdom among Republican office-holders has been that you might risk a challenge from the right in the closed primary if you don’t follow the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s dictates. The fear of being “primaried” has tended to shift the Legislature further to the right in recent years.

I don’t know that open primaries were ever detrimental to the interests of the Republican Party. There was always some cross-over vote but it was never a massive amount. In fact, when I ran against George Hansen for Congress in the Republican primary in 1978 and 1980, I will admit having courted Democrat votes but they did not cross over in droves.

Independent voters obviously have an interest in who gets a party’s nomination for an important public office but they are excluded from participating in the primary of the Republican Party, whose candidates have a decided edge in the general election. Independents, or Idaho Democrats, can change their registration before the primary comes around but it is an imposition to make them declare for a party they do not wish to voluntarily join. Idahoans are independent-minded folks and should not be forced into any party in order to participate in selecting our leaders.

The closed primary is a particular problem for Idaho judges. Under Idaho law they are supposed to be non-partisan. Judicial ethics restrain them from partisanship. Yet, judges are interested in public affairs and want to be involved in selecting elected officials in the other two branches of government. When Idaho had the open primary system, judges could simply ask for the ballot of their choice on election day without violating the restraints on political involvement. Now, if they wish to participate in the party primary where the ultimate selection is often made, they must risk violating their ethical restraints by registering themselves as Republicans.

I say, let’s go back to the good old tried and true open primary system where all Idahoans of good faith could participate in selecting our leaders. That would be one way to help make Idaho great again.

Bill Hall


Veteran Idaho journalist Bill Hall, for many years editorial page editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, died at Lewiston on May 21. I wrote this column (from December 17, 2016) about him, when he opted to end his long-running column in that and other papers. Our sympathies to his family and to his friends, who are legion.

Please pardon the reminiscing, but the time of year encourages it, as did a newspaper column I read a few days ago.

The column from last weekend was by Bill Hall, whose writing base for about six decades has been the Lewiston Tribune. Its message was, that column would be his last.

By the time I arrived at the University of Idaho back in 1974, Hall already was renowned around Idaho for his editorials and columns at the Tribune. Soon after that he departed, for about a year and a half, to work for Senator Frank Church, and there wasn’t a certainty he’d be coming back. But Church lost his presidential bid in 1976, Hall wrote a book about it (“Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” from Washington State University Press, a great read on all three topics) and soon returned to Lewiston.

His departure and his return was much noted and not just in Lewiston, where Hall’s blistering, biting and often funny editorials so often launched political conversation in the mornings. It was a big deal statewide, even in the far reaches of the state, and even in the pre-Internet era. Politically-interested people considered it necessary to get hold of what Hall was saying.

One of the Tribune writers who worked closely with Hall, Jay Shelledy (now a journalism professor at Louisiana State University), was quoted in one article about Hall, “There are not many papers in the United States where the best-read page is the editorial page. Without question, Hall is the best-known journalist in the state's history.”

He learned about Idaho in the three corners of the state, growing up in Canyon County, then attending college and starting his newspaper career in Pocatello. By the time in 1965 he left for Lewiston, he already was well-schooled in Idaho politics. When I arrived at the Idaho State Journal newspaper a decade-plus after he’d left, I often prowled through his writings about local and state politics, using them to fill in gaps in what I was learning elsewhere.

By then I knew where to look because of Hall’s editorials, which I’d read at college and afterward. They were a lethal combination: Well informed and witty, and up for taking on just about anyone. Even Idaho hunters, as he wrote when the idea arose of a wildlife council picking Fish & Game Commission members: “That could be a two-edged sword because it might tend to give a disproportionate voice to those chronic whiners who want to blame state biologists every time they get too drunk, inept, or unlucky to kill an elk.”

Many newspapers shrink from editorial heat, but the Tribune never has. Hall’s view as I heard it was that he was good business: People might yell at the newspaper but they sure kept reading it.

Part of what allowed this to work was the unusual atmosphere at the Tribune, which issued punchy editorials before Hall’s tenure and has continued to since, under the local control of the Alford family. But Hall’s humor has been a critical individual part of the mix. Since his mid-70s hiatus his columns have been humorous, personal, often gentle – different to an almost drastic degree from the sometimes fiery editorialist. But the two sides could never be separated entirely, and a serious sensibility underlies even many of his more recent columns, since he retired from editorial writing in 2002.

No more Hall columns. Hardly seems like Idaho.