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Posts published in “Day: November 8, 2018”

Hold on to the reins


By the time this is printed the November 6th election will be over and half the electorate will think the world will end and the other half will think their prayers have been answered. And the half that didn’t vote will point to the outcome as justification for their laziness.

If this representative government is going to work, we can’t expect our elected representatives to be smarter, work harder, or care more about our lives than we do. Don’t ever expect you can let loose of the reins if you know where you want to go.

From sewer district commissioner to governor, we ask our elected representatives to do the work we don’t have time for in our busy lives. But representation, by its nature, is a deeply flawed process; we give our voice to someone who votes, acts for us. Who would want to do this work for us? Can we find someone, anyone? It’s not always easy.

In my first elected position, county coroner, I was asked to fill the office when the previous elected coroner resigned. In our county, the new doctor in town was always expected to serve as coroner, and I was the newest. I was appointed. Then, in two years I stood for election, repeating that every four years. Sometimes an opponent filed. I always wondered if the voters actually knew what the coroner did. To be honest, when first appointed, I didn’t have a full picture of all the duties of the county coroner. But I worked at it for 15 years.

I was amazed that every new doctor coming to town refused the position. I started to feel like a bit of a sucker.

County Coroner is a partisan position, but I ran and served as an “Unaffiliated”. If I had been partisan, the local party might have tried to recruit a replacement. Instead, there were 2 or 3 last-minute write-in candidates in the primaries. And it turned out just fine. At that time, I had little faith in the value of party politics, but searching for, seeking people to serve in public office is a valuable function. But partisan loyalty may be their measure of qualification. Do you want to hand the reins of choosing representation over to a party organization?

In my second elected position, state senator, I was asked again to consider running. I chose to, I worked hard and got elected, then reelected twice before getting unelected in 2016. But I’d learned that I needed to start recruiting candidates, encouraging people to consider public service. After every election, I did my best to thank every candidate that ran for office, win or lose, commend them for their interest, and encourage their effort. I met with many people in the district and talked to them about their situations, their interest in public service and encourage their participation in this representative experiment.

If you are exhausted, frustrated, elated or depressed about this election, I want you to think about just where you think this wagon is going, and who might best serve in our communities. If you are thankful for your representation, let them know, and tell your neighbors. If you think the wagon is off the path, start looking around. But don’t think you can let loose. The common good is not served by dangling reins.

An inflammatory call


When I was taking over as Idaho’s Attorney General in January of 1983, the Aryan Nations group was on the rise in northern Idaho. The Aryans were attracting dangerous white nationalists to their Hayden Lake compound from around the nation. A number of them were ex-convicts. The situation was becoming explosive.

Marilyn Shuler, a real champion of human rights, asked for my help in getting malicious harassment legislation through the Idaho Legislature to counter the hate mongers. NRA objections had stalled the bill. We were able to work out a good bill that is still on the books. Thanks to Marilyn’s encouragement, I became committed to the human rights campaign against the nationalist bigots.

My major concern was not so much that the leaders themselves would commit overt criminal acts but that their overheated rhetoric would spark criminal acts by impressionable followers. I could picture the nationalists sitting around a campfire, raging about minority Americans and boasting of the violent actions they would like to take against those people. Such talk could well provide the spark needed for a weak-minded wingnut to commit a horrendous act.

That may well be what caused three of the Aryans to plant four pipe bombs around the City of Coeur d’Alene the evening of September 16, 1986, including one that blew up at the residence of Father Bill Wassmuth, an Idaho human rights legend. The three would-be murderers were convicted for the bombing spree and their dastardly act helped in no small part to expose the danger of that nationalist group and lead to its demise.

Now, we see an impressionable Floridian, apparently fueled by inflammatory nationalist rhetoric, following the same path to pipe-bomb villainy. More tragically, we have witnessed the horrific slaughter of our fellow Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a hate-filled anti-Semite.

Nobody would contend that Cesar Sayoc, the suspect who is alleged to have sent package bombs to at least 14 targets of the President’s ire, was directed by anyone to do so. Nor that Robert Bowers was told by anyone to murder our Jewish brothers and sisters at their place of worship. He appears to have been motivated in part by animus toward the outstanding refugee settlement program operated by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Just before his heinous act Sayoc raged, “HIAS likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” He appears to actually have swallowed incendiary claims that Americans were under attack by murderous invaders.

Words do matter — they can spark horrible acts by some who are marginalized on the fringes of society, particularly if those words are shouted by a person of great power and authority. Just like the Aryan bombers, weak-minded people without a strong moral compass can hear a call to do horrific things in the heated words of forceful leaders.

The Aryan nationalists wore out their welcome in Idaho after people of good faith from around the State stood up to their hateful, racist message. It took a lot of hard work by citizens from across the political spectrum. Those in leadership positions stood up and let both the Aryans and the general citizenry know that hateful words and actions were not acceptable in our good State.

It is time for those in positions of governmental and moral leadership in our nation to step up and proclaim that divisive, nationalist and racist words are not in keeping with America’s basic values. We are the “United” States, not the divided states. We were tested mightily during the Civil War and those who stood for division and racial injustice lost the fight.

We have become a strong and respected nation by working together, but we will not endure unless we respect and protect one another. As Abraham Lincoln, one of our nation’s greatest political and moral leaders, said (obviously harkening to Mark 3:25), “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at