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Posts published in June 2020

Sub-mega MAGA


Generally you won't find here much praise for or reference to the Drudge Report, but credit where due: It had an accurate and concise headline covering the Tulsa rally for the Donald Trump presidential campaign:

"MAGA less mega."

Anyone watching it on C-SPAN, as we did, couldn't help but notice the empty spaces at and around the Bank of Oklahoma Center. That was stunning.

It was stunning because the Trump campaign's earlier predictions of a massive turnout seemed entirely plausible.

I've seen large turnouts for political events. In Portland, back in 2004, I remember close to 50,000 people there for John Kerry; larger turnouts have been reported by various candidates over the years. In the 2016 campaign, Trump periodically drew large numbers to his events.

And the circumstances for a large turnout for this one seemed just about right. Oklahoma almost certainly will be one of Trump's best states this November, as it was in 2016; its population is not much smaller than Oregon's, and most of it is a short drive from Tulsa, where the metro area has about a million people. Tulsa is not a far distance from Dallas-Forth Worth, Kansas City and Wichita, and people who showed up at the Saturday event reported traveling from places as distant at Denver, and maybe further. This was the first Trump rally in months, which should have led to some pent-up demand among the Trump faithful (as well as, presumably, pent-up frustration from Trump as well). Conditions for a really large turnout looked ideal.

And the campaign reported receiving about a million requests for tickets. Under the circumstances, that too sounded plausible. Trump spoke of an anticipated crowd of 40,000 just in the outside overflow area, outdoors of the 19,000-capacity BOK Center. With that in mind, outdoor speeches from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were planned.

Even recognizing that many of those people wouldn't show up, campaign staffers were happily analyzing all that fresh new supporter data.

On top of that, the free media effectively advertising the event was viral, even international. The Tulsa rally was the number one news story in the country for a week before the event. Few campaign events in recent years aside from the national conventions have been more thoroughly promoted. No serious Trump backer in the country could have been unaware of it.

On the day of ...

Hardly anyone (reportedly a few dozen people at most) was in overflow, so the outside speeches were abandoned and the stage quickly dismantled. The eventual turnout inside the center was estimated by fire department officials at 6,200 (at least they would have been happy that fire safety standards were easily met) - a third of capacity.

Some massive portion of the online ticket requesters, it turned out, came from "Hundreds of teenage TikTok users and K-pop fans" who organized and flooded the Trump campaign with fake requests.

None of that, of course, would have stopped any Trump supporters who wanted to come. The campaign's first response notwithstanding, neither did the anti-Trump protesters, who were also fewer in number than expected and did not block entrances; besides which, security in the area was more than ample. Any MAGA enthusiast who wanted in could have gotten in ... would have been more than cheerfully welcomed in. (A couple of hours before the event started, the campaign sent out messages telling supporters that space was available for them if they wanted in.)

So the real question is why only 6,200 people showed up?

That group was supportive, certainly, though the video of the event before Trump's performance (it wasn't exactly a speech) showed a mostly-subdued group. But the small numbers, which could have fit comfortably into many high school gyms, were the real striking event.

From the CNN review of the event: "By the time he strode out to the strains of Lee Greenwood on Saturday evening into a partially-full Bank of Oklahoma Center, the event had devolved from a triumphant return to the campaign trail after a 110-day pandemic-forced absence into something else altogether. The launch of a new assault on former Vice President Joe Biden fizzled, replaced by recycled grievances and race-baiting. The sparse crowd was a reminder that many Americans, even Trump's supporters, remain cautious of a pandemic that continues to rage in places like Oklahoma, where cases are spiking, even if Trump is ready to move on. Aides were anxiously awaiting his response to a less-than-stellar turnout, aware he has threatened to fire officials in the past when his rallies ended in disappointment."

The Tulsa rally was supposed to provide a visual demonstration of massive crowd support for Trump. Instead it seemed to show the opposite, and maybe there's some actual reflection of the political environment in that.

And maybe the health environment too. While many of the people who did show up said they weren't worried about Covid-19 spread, maybe many others were, and decided to pass for that reason.

Now the question could be: Was the turnout small enough to avoid a mass spread of the illness? Reports of at least six campaign workers who tested positive shortly before the rally wouldn't have been cause for optimism on that front.

Check back on that in another week or so ...

Rename the bases


On November 30, 1864 the Civil War in what was considered the western theater effectively ended. After the bloody battle at Franklin, Tennessee, Confederate General John Bell Hood’s Army of Tennessee literally ceased to exist as a fighting force.

Bell, a Kentuckian and West Point graduate, wrecked his rebel army by smashing it against the breastworks of the army of the United States against which he was in rebellion. The frontal assaults ordered by Hood, who was by all accounts himself a very brave man, severely wounded in earlier battles, left the field strewn with southern dead.

“Never in any single-day battle during the entire war had that many Confederates soldiers been slain,” the historian and novelist Winston Groom has written of the Battle of Franklin. “In fact, Hood’s losses were double those of George Pickett’s famed charge at the height of the Gettysburg campaign. To add to the misery quotient, on no single-day battlefield of the war had so many generals been killed.”

And yet this is the soldier – a traitor to his nation, a brave but thoroughly reckless man when it came to the lives of his soldiers – that our country celebrates by putting his name on the largest military base in the country for training armored units of the U.S. Army.

By general agreement among Civil War historians Confederate General Braxton Bragg, a North Carolinian, was among the very worst generals on either side. As historian Peter Cozzens has written, “Even Bragg’s staunchest supporters admonished him for his quick temper, general irritability, and tendency to wound innocent men with barbs thrown during his frequent fits of anger.” In short Bragg was a disaster as a military leader, not to mention a traitor to his country.

Yet this man was honored in 1918 when his name was attached to what is now Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps of which the legendary 82nd Airborne Division is a part.

Fort Benning in Georgia is named for Henry Lewis Benning, a mediocre Civil War general, but a world class racist even by the standards of his time. As the New York Times noted recently, “Benning warned…that the abolition of slavery would one day lead to the horror of ‘black governors, black legislatures, black juries, black everything.’”

Fort Polk in Louisiana is named for a West Point graduate, Leonidas Polk, who resigned his commission to become an Episcopal priest. His political connections, particularly his friendship with Confederate president Jefferson Davis, led to a general’s commission during the Civil War. Deficient as a battlefield commander, Polk also made an awful priest. He made it his task to use religion to justify owning his slaves. Polk’s military service is perhaps best remembered for his bitter quarrels with Bragg. The two hated each other and richly deserved each other.

All told ten different U.S. Army bases are named for Confederates who not only took up arms against their country thereby violating their Constitutional oath as officers, but who also fought to preserve slavery.

The American Civil War, at least until the Trump presidency, was our great national tragedy, but the losers of the conflict succeeded in remarkable ways in writing the narrative of the tragedy. The United Daughters of the Confederacy helped perpetuated the myth of The Lost Cause, the fiction that the Confederate cause was noble and its leaders chivalrous, by erecting in the early 20th Century most of the statutes and monuments that lately have been coming down.

Georgia born Margaret Mitchell cemented The Lost Cause myth in American culture with the publication of Gone With the Wind in 1936. The book remains an all-time best seller, but neither it nor the movie with its sanitized portrayal of a fight to preserve slavery, are history. Mitchell, as the novelist Pat Conroy wrote, “was a partisan of the first rank and there never has been a defense of the plantation South so implacable in its cold righteousness or its resolute belief that the wrong side had surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse.”

The myth making, including the Confederate monuments and the misnamed military bases, has never been more under attack than it is right now. And it’s about time. As historian Gary Gallagher, one of the great exposers of the myths of the Civil War, often notes, the terrible conflict wasn’t about some abstract notion of state’s rights or preserving a “southern way of life.” Our Civil War was fundamentally about the “peculiar institution” of human slavery. “One of the things that scared Confederates the most,” Gallagher says, “was that defeat would mean the loss of slavery and thus their control of black people.”

The president of the United States, of course, doesn’t read history and understands it not at all. So, he declares “Our history as the Greatest Nation in the World will not be tampered with. Respect our Military!,” and thereby rejects the removal of names of treasonous racists from ten U.S. military bases. But Donald Trump and all who cling to the gauzy legends are choosing not to reflect the reality of American history, but to revere the myths of it.

“We cannot be afraid of our truth,” then New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu said in 2015 when he declared that his city’s legacy of reverence for the traitor class that sought to destroy the United States was over. It has never been more important to confront our truth.

And while we’re at it how about Fort Gavin to replace Fort Bragg in honor of General James Gavin who jumped with his 82nd Airborne into Normandy in 1944 and later became a critic of American policy in Southeast Asia. Gavin’s wartime decorations included the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Cross and the Purple Heart. A true American hero. There are many others vastly more deserving than Hood or Benning or Polk.

Michelle Alexander, who wrote a searching book about civil rights and our history called The New Jim Crow, says “It’s not enough to learn the broad outlines of this history. Only by pausing long enough to study the cycles of oppression and resistance does it become clear that simply being a good person or not wishing black people any harm is not sufficient.”

A start at greater sufficiency at this moment of reckoning over history and racism would be white folks acknowledging that the symbols of oppression and the names of those that oppressed should not be glorified.

A political ice age


Before getting much further into this year’s political season, Idahoans might take a moment to reflect on a slice of their political history, a 30-year stretch unlike any other comparable period in Idaho … ever.

That would be the last 30 years, from 1990 to 2020. In the stretch between general election day in November of 1990, and extending almost surely beyond November this year, Idaho will have been dominated overwhelmingly politically by one party: the Republican.

There are no indicators that will change any time soon. For now, so far, we can safely say that stretch has run for three decades.

At this point back in the summer of 1990, that isn’t what many people watching Idaho politics closely would have predicted, and it definitely would not have been a common prediction even after November 1990.

That year as a whole had its struggles and rises and falls, but when the books were closed on 1990 Idaho politics, what had happened was that the state was as close to tipping toward Democratic control as it had gotten since 1958. Democrat Cecil Andrus won a fourth term in a landslide, and the party held two other statewide offices. Both of the U.S. House seats went to Democrats, one of those in a landslide. The state Senate was evenly split in a tie. Democrats picked up seats at the state House and at the county level as well.

That was the picture 30 years (minus a few months) ago. Idaho politics has looked nothing like that since. After that election in 1990 Democrats became a rarity above the legislative level and sparse even there. Democrats won election to congressional seats in Idaho just twice in all that time, and not much more often to lower-level statewide offices. Many were wiped out in 1992, even more in 1994, and by 1996 their levels were sliced roughly to the mini-minorities where they have resided ever since.

It’s been three decades of overwhelming dominance by Republicans.

My point here is to note how unusual this is. That is much the longest period either party has had sweeping control in the state.

Idaho Territory started out as Democratic turf (beginning with all those miners from the Confederacy), but that lasted only about a dozen years before the parties became competitive. By the time of statehood in 1890 Republicans had an edge in the state, controlling most major and lesser offices and the legislature. But that control didn’t last long; in 1896 they were swept out by Democrats, Populists and breakaway Silver Republicans who together dominated the state for another half-dozen years.

From then to 1920 the parties seesawed and ran a series of close-fought elections, and the legislature switched hands periodically. Idaho like most of the rest of the nation went strongly Republican in the 1920s (owing not wholly but partly to a split between Democratic and populist groups). Then in the 1930s Democrats dominated again in the New Deal years, nearly the whole decade. The 1940s saw another series of close contests and split wins between the parties. The early 1950s were mostly Republican, but toward the end of the decade the Democrats shot to a brief period of strong dominance.

Note the numbers of years through all this: Significant partisan changes often happened every half-dozen to a dozen years.

Then things slowed.

In 1960 the Republicans recovered, and over the next 30 years, up to 1990, the two parties engaged in serious competition, with Republicans prevailing most often but by no means always. From 1960 to 1990, Democrats never controlled either chamber of the legislature but they elected at least one member of Congress for every election cycle but one, and they held the governorship for 20 of those 30 years. Idaho was not a purple state but it often was competitive.

And then, after 1990, it stopped.

The reasons are many and complicated, too many and too much to get into here.

But at this junction, looking at the historical patterns and what may (or not) lie ahead, the question begs itself: How many more years before Idaho politics comes unfrozen? And under what circumstances might that happen?

False positives


The lab in the basement of the Idaho Freedom Foundation was abuzz. The tests were looking good.

“When can we roll this out?” the Lab Director Ben wanted to know.

“It’s ready for beta testing.” Lab Tech Jerry beamed.

“Explain it to me again, like I’m a five-year-old this time. No more of that technical jargon.” The Lab Director knew he’d need to explain this to the Board.

Jerry paused. “Well you see sir, this Covid 19 hoax has gotten everybody aware of the validity of testing, you know, false positives and false negatives.”

“Simpler” Ben interrupted.

Jerry frowned and tapped his lower lip. “Ok sir, how about this? Imagine if we could have a way to know if someone was really a conservative of not. We finally have a test that can prove it.”

“Go on.” Ben smiled a little.

“We’ve had our Freedom Index for years, and it has worked, sort of.” Jerry continued. “We have taken the votes legislators make, multiplied that by the Freedom value of the bill and then scored each legislator.”

“Don’t get too technical about the formula. We just focus on the score, right?”

“Yes, but the scoring has given us some false positives.”

“So, this test is better you say.”

Jerry beamed. “Very much. In the past, legislators would look at the bill score and vote to pad their scores. We were getting a lot of false conservatives mixed in with our true conservatives. This test is much more accurate.”

Ben nodded. He didn’t quite smile. He was thinking of the Power Point he’d have to create to sell this to the board. “OK, Jerry. Now explain how we do this test. Again, keep it simple.”

“Yes sir!” He walked over to the desk top, strewn with screwdrivers and pliers, pieces of wire and rolls of tape, and pulled the sheet off his pride and joy. “Here we have the Con37 analyzer.”

It looked like a modified microwave oven with pair of old rabbit ear antenna sticking on the top. It had wires running to other modules and machines around it on the floor and adjacent tables.

Jerry smiled with pride and patted his creation. “The Con37 analyzes a sample and determines the conservative value with a 98% accuracy.”

Ben frowned again. “Sample?”

Jerry nodded. “It can analyze audio signals, digital, even tissue. Here let me show you.” He flipped a switch and lights came on. There was an irritating buzz that went away when he slapped the side. “First we’ll try the audio spectal analyzer.” He twisted the rabbit ears so they were perpendicular to the Director. “Go ahead, say something. We’ll take a reading.”

Ben looked at the glowing dial on the face of the old microwave. He thought long and hard for something conservative, maybe liberal to test this new-fangled device. Jerry nodded at him with excitement. Ben cleared his throat. “We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, insure domestic tranquility…” He watched the dial barely register as he finished the Preamble.

He frowned.

Jerry said, “Boy, that’s a low score. Try something simpler. Just say ‘Freedom’.”

“Freedom” Ben echoed. The meter pegged. He tried “Liberty”; another high score. “So, it likes simple phrases.”

Jerry nodded with excitement. “Yes, it knows conservatism in its programming. Let me show you how it analyzes digital content.” He showed how the dials climbed when Rush Limbaugh came through the speakers and dipped when he tuned to NPR. Ben nodded, knowing how this would go with the board.

“How will we analyze candidates for endorsement?”

Jerry got excited. “I would recommend a full spectrum evaluation. We could enter recordings of their speeches, take digital content from their websites, but for the best accuracy we should use the tissue analyzer.”
“Tissue?” Ben asked.

“Yes, we have found conservatives have special tissue markers. We just need a biopsy, just a small piece, then we put it in here.” Jerry swung the oven door open. “We’ve found the accuracy goes way up when the biopsy is more painful.”

Putin’s winning streak


Donald Trump undoubtedly warmed the cold heart of Russian President Vladimir Putin with news that he intends to remove about one third of the 34,500 U.S. troops stationed in Germany. A “senior U.S. official” disclosed the plan on June 5, the day before the 76th anniversary of D-Day. Germany was on the short end of the Normandy invasion, but has since become a critical strategic partner of the United States. Putin has worked hard to break that partnership.

News of the withdrawal plan came out a week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined Trump’s invitation to a G-7 meeting in the U.S. In what was described as a testy exchange, Merkel cited the pandemic as her reason for not wishing to attend, apparently inflaming Trump.

As with a number of Trump’s other foreign policy decisions that have just materialized out of thin air, the troop withdrawal surprised top officials in both countries. Germany had not been consulted or warned of the plan, and it blindsided senior U.S. security officials. Experts on both sides of the Atlantic view the plan, if actually implemented, as a serious threat to NATO and the national security of both Germany and America.

Since Europe rose from the ashes of World War II, the NATO alliance and our strong relationship with Germany have been the foundation of America’s national security. Hundreds of thousands of American troops have trained and served in Germany. It has provided forward operating bases that project American power throughout Europe and into Asia and Africa. Even if Germany did not pay a thin dime for maintenance of the American troop presence, the use of its soil for those bases would be an indispensable asset to the security of our country.

A former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, Ivo Daalder, got it right, saying: “We are in NATO not as a favor to our allies but to assure our own security. We deploy troops to Germany and elsewhere to prevent wars so we do not have to fight them.”

Putin, a former KGB officer, who still dreams of resurrecting the Soviet Union, has tried his absolute best to break up NATO and the U.S. relationship with European countries. He has done so by using Russian energy as a weapon and, more spectacularly, by cyber warfare to spread discord and influence elections in Atlantic alliance countries.

Since becoming U.S. President, Donald Trump has had an inexplicable relationship with Putin. Had the U.S. Congress not intervened to prevent it, Trump would likely have lifted a variety of sanctions imposed against Russia for annexing Crimea, invading Ukraine, and interfering in American elections. Trump has openly admitted placing higher reliance on Putin’s word than that of U.S. intelligence agencies.

There can be no doubt that Russia intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump. The bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee found that to be a fact. The U.S. intelligence community has determined that Russia is weighing in to help Trump win re-election.

Putin’s gamble on Trump in 2016 has paid off in spades. Trump has treated our European allies with scorn, much to Putin’s delight. Vladimir’s latest jackpot is the intended troop withdrawal from Germany, although Trump may be talked out of it if there is anyone left in the White House who understands national security. Either way, it is a propaganda victory for Putin. For him, Trump is a gift that keeps on giving.



Someone, somewhere has been the spark for one of the dumbest, most dangerous ideas around. Dumb because it’s wrong-headed and diverts attention from the core message of “Black Lives Matter.” Dangerous for the type of society it would create.

“Defund the police.” Do you mean “Abolish the police?”

That’s it. Just three words. But, it’s become one of the rallying cries from crowds in the streets. From coast-to-coast. “Defund the police.”

Yes, I know about “police brutality.” I know from first-hand experience. I know about police raids gone wrong when an innocent person is injured or killed. And, I know about statistics showing the disparity between how black and white Americans are treated during interactions with the police. And, yes, there are bad cops.

Many, many years ago, I was the reporter assigned to the law enforcement beat at a TV/Radio outfit in Boise. And in Omaha. Yes, Virginia, there really was a time when reporters didn’t just sit around, breathlessly awaiting the next “news release” from some police agency. We actually engaged in what was called “beat reporting.”

I mostly worked the 2-11pm shift. Many nights, after the late newscast, I’d do a “ride-along” with local police or sheriff’s deputies. I hung out at the “cop shop” and really got to see things from a different perspective. I experienced what police life was like. At that time.

Forward to Washington D.C. during much of the anti-Viet Nam and equal rights marches. As a street reporter, I experienced police over-reaction and mounted police charges into otherwise peaceful and lawful demonstrations with participants in the thousands.

So, with some first-hand experiences over 40 years or so, I’ve seen the many “faces” of police work, police training and police duties from both sides. The good. The bad. The ugly.

Defunding (abolishing) the police will not - and should not - ever happen. Nor should we grant law enforcement more authority - more power - than it already has. But, there are areas where we can focus.

Hiring is one. Create a “hiring panel” composed of senior officers and civilians with appropriate backgrounds. If the hiring agency deals with mixed-race communities, put leaders of those communities on the panel. Experienced applicant or new hire, do a rigorous and in-depth background check plus an extended interview process with that panel. Do a psych eval. Make sure the new hire is qualified - “inside and out.” Catch the bad guys there.

Continually check your officers. The cop who put his knee to the neck of George Floyd had 17 - 17 - prior write-ups for bad behavior. Although he was already on the force, why was he allowed to stay given that record? Why wasn’t he fired after five write-ups? Ten write-ups? Improve periodic reviews of what’s going on and find where you’ve got personnel problems. Continually.

If not already a practice, go back to neighborhood patrols. Get out of the cars. Meet people. Know the ins-and-outs of the area. And “who’s who.” Determine the local leadership. Go back to doing “community policing. It works. One of the biggest problems with police interactions today is the cops don’t know the territory.

Next, get rid of the military equipment. Give those damned M-Raps with machine guns back to the feds. The AK-47's, too. Get ‘em off the streets. Giving local cops the look of heavily-armed military invaders can also add “heat” to a bad situation and make it worse.

Abolish police unions. I support most unions. But, where police are concerned, unions have become places to hide bad cops. They make it almost impossible to fire ‘em. Unions have their rightful place. But, not in “cop shops.” Not when life or death decisions are made.

Night after night, we’ve watched cops charge into marchers. Trump’s bible photo-op was one example. They just raised shields and batons and launched into what were obviously peaceful protestors. Faced with that, and some teargas canisters for good measure, unarmed marchers suddenly became targets of brutality instead of people - individuals - trying peacefully to make their point(s). One of those points being police brutality.

No matter who ordered that charge (Bill Barr has confessed) it was wrong on so many levels. But, it perfectly captured and made clear to millions watching, one of the major issues in this country is the widening gap between authority wrongfully used and marchers expressing their frustrations in a lawful manner under the First Amendment to our Constitution.

Fair to say, not all marchers are always solely intent on delivering the message of the moment. Looters and vandals often use good people for cover. Absolutely. But, sooner or later, they always break away to do their evil deeds. Cops need to go after the evildoers while keeping in mind those miscreants have nothing to do with crowds legally and peacefully in the streets. The obviously separate events require a change of focus, and a change in police attitude towards innocent folks.
Yes, it’s easy to sit here in the cheap seats and pontificate. Political writers do a lot of that. But, with extensive life experiences and some gray hair, watching the problem unfold night after night in our living rooms, there is a certain clarity to (a) see the problem and (b) recognize some of the answers.

“Defund the police.” No! “Abolish the police?” No!

Instead, recognize the need to have strict, in-depth hiring policies. Constantly review, and where necessary, update training to match the communities - and individuals - served. Renew efforts to get out among the people so a relationship is developed face-to-face. Make the use of force - in any situation - the last, very last, step to take.

Crowds come and go. Cops are here to stay. And should always be.

The proxy vote


Imagine what the level of outrage would be if the conservative-based House Freedom Caucus – of which Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher is a member – were to declare solidarity and seek proxy voting on floor issues to spare its members the burden of making House votes in person.

The 40-or-so Republican members seem to talk and think alike, so they might as well vote alike. Right?

But open efforts to create such a voting block would make the Freedom Caucus the butt of jokes on Capitol Hill. If Fulcher, a freshman congressman, presented the idea on his own, he’d be laughed out of the Longworth House Office Building.

Or, more likely, “I would have been led out of there by police escort,” he said.
For sure, the idea of proxy voting on the House floor is unheard of, even by Washington standards. But that was before COVID-19 became a household term.

Now, proxy voting on the House floor is part of standard procedure, thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic friends. Technically, Fulcher and fellow Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson could do their business in the Gem State without stepping foot in their Washington offices. They could plug into committee meetings online and find friendly colleagues from other states to do their voting for them on the House floor.

Nice gig, if you can find it.

Don’t worry folks, it isn’t going to happen. They will continue casting their votes the old-fashioned way – in person. If it means that Simpson drives from Idaho to Washington to cast a vote – as he did for a pandemic relief bill – then make sure he starts the trip with a full tank of gas.

Simpson and Fulcher are among the Republicans who are suing Pelosi for proxy voting, saying the action is unconstitutional. Democrats argue that House members can set the rules as they see fit and courts have no right to interfere. Get ready for a long partisan battle.
The Idaho representatives offer pointed views on the issue.

“I was elected by Idahoans to represent their voices in Congress. Tying my vote to another member as proxy would not only be abandoning my responsibility to the people of Idaho, but it is sending the wrong message to America,” Simpson said. “We are asking health care professionals on the front lines to risk their lives during these trying times. We are asking our farmers and food producers to continue working so we can eat. I firmly believe that Congress needs to get to work looking for solutions to combat the impacts of COVID-19 to our health and our economy.”

Says Fulcher: “The definition of a representative government is quite clear. It’s not Russ Fulcher allowing Nancy Pelosi to vote for him on the House floor. The people in Idaho did not elect her, they elected me.”

Since April, leaders from both parties have talked about finding ways to allow House members to work safely through the health crisis. Then, out of the blue, Democrats came up with the plan for proxy voting – with the blessing of House doctors.

Fulcher, for one, isn’t buying what Democrats are selling.

“The stated reason is complete and utter poppycock. I can assure you that Nancy is not concerned about my health,” he says. “Things get wiped down every few minutes, for crying out loud. Most people are wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. When we vote, only a few people are on the floor at a certain time. There is no significant danger, and no justifiable cause, to keep the Congress of the United States non-functional.”

When the House went through its first round of proxy voting in late May, not all of the absent members were huddled in their home districts. “There were 74 Democrats in Florida watching the space launch. That was an exciting event, but it was not an emergency,” Fulcher says.
He speculates the “real reason” has little to do with safety.

“The most egregious thing is nothing is being done,” he said. “If nothing gets done in a time of national emergency, there is a good chance that the economy is not going to dramatically recover. And if the economy does not dramatically recover by November, (Pelosi’s) interests have a much better chance of succeeding.”

One of her chief interests, of course, is seeing President Trump out of the White House.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at

Romney alone


Three moments involving three older white guys serve to highlight the incredible events that have placed racism, inequality and the essential soullessness of Donald Trump’s Republican Party in the middle of American life.

The first moment occurred in Buffalo, New York a few days ago when a 75-year-old man, Martin Gugino, was violently knocked to the ground by local police officers during a peaceful protest against racism. Gugino’s head banged off the sidewalk and he immediately began bleeding. He was eventually transported to a hospital and spent several days in serious condition in intensive care. The video of the incident is difficult to watch, not least because one of the officers seemed to move to help Gugino but was prevented from doing so by a colleague as several other officers walked pass the elderly man as he lay motionless, blood around his head.

The second event occurred last weekend on the streets of Washington, D.C. when the most prominent political member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints marched in a Black Lives Matter protest. Mitt Romney, the Republican senator from Utah, wearing a face mask with shirt sleeves rolled up, was asked by a reporter why had joined the protests that have spread to all 50 states. “We need to stand up and say that black lives matter,” Romney responded. Romney’s march was clearly motivated by his father, Michigan governor George Romney’s strong support for civil rights in the 1960s.

The third event was the reaction to the first two. Reasonable, decent people – even many who opposed Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 – praised his physical and verbal statement that was nothing less than an expression of solidarity with millions across the country who have been appalled by American racism and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Yet, virtually all the praise came from civil rights activists and Democrats. Romney’s fellow Republicans were silent. Except for one.

“Tremendous sincerity, what a guy,” Donald Trump tweeted while cranking his caustic meter to hate speed. “Hard to believe,” the president said of Romney, “with this kind of political talent, his numbers would ‘tank’ so badly in Utah!” As with most of what the demented demagogue in the White House says his tweet was all projection and lies.

Romney’s “numbers” are actually substantially better in Utah than Trump’s, even accounting for his controversial, albeit historically correct vote to remove Trump from office earlier this year. An early June poll in Utah pegged Romney’s favorable rating at 56, his unfavorable at 42. By contrast Utah’s other senator, Republican Mike Lee, stood at 46 favorable, 47 unfavorable.

Another Utah poll earlier this year found that 54% of the state’s voters, among the most conservative in the county, would “probably or definitely not vote to re-elect the president in 2020.” The same number of voters say they approve of Romney standing up to Trump. A late May poll had Trump up by only 3% on prospective Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

It is worth recalling that Mitt Romney once stood atop the Republican Party and the Idaho GOP loved him. Romney received 64% of the Idaho vote in 2012 and the state’s GOP leadership salivated at the thought of him in the White House. Jim Risch campaigned for Romney in Iowa and Colorado. Raul Labrador traveled with Romney’s Spanish speaking son to events in Hispanic communities in Colorado and Nevada. Butch Otter also stumped for Romney in Nevada and lavished praise on the GOP nominee, presenting him with a Boise State football. That was then. Trump is now and not a word utters from these morally bankrupt flunkies who have so debased themselves that they dare not speak no matter how ugly the deprivations of their leader.

Yet the true depth of the depravity of the wholly owned Trump Republican Party goes even lower than the president accusing Mitt Romney of insincerity for calling out racism. The current low point of Trump wickedness came when the president peddled the ludicrous conspiracy theory that 75-year-old Martin Gugino was some kind of antifa radical trying to set up the cops who might well have killed him.

Gugino is actually a retired guy, a devoted Catholic, a peace activist who is well-known in his community for his quiet work on behalf of social justice, including repeatedly driving several hours in order to help prepare and serve meals at a facility whose mission is “follow(ing) Jesus in seeking justice for the poor.” A friend said of Gugino what can never be said of the president of the United States: “I have never heard him use a vile or angry word against anybody.”

Romney condemned Trump’s slander. Few other Republicans did.

[Idaho Senator James Risch was asked about the incident after this column went to press. He bobbed and weaved his way through a remarkably mendacious interview with Fox News host Neil Cavuto, never coming close to condemning Trump’s disgusting slander and astoundingly ended up giving the comment credence.]

Still, there is a glimmer of sunshine amid the toxic clouds of lying, hatefulness, incompetence and political perversion that has overcome most elected Republicans in the age of Trump. Some conservatives are turning against the absurdity of it all.

The stunts and gimmicks of the Republican reality television show have grown tired and worn and Trump’s ugliness is about all that remains. In those Utah polls cited earlier, LDS women are leading the turn. By a substantial percentage they approve of Romney’s brand of conservatism and reject Trump’s. Perhaps these moms and grandmothers realize, as Romney clearly does, that a fraud has been perpetrated on the country and they are sick of the hate and exhausted by the moral corruption.

Trump defenders, including those in high office in Idaho, have shown they will accept policies and pronouncements, incompetence and idiocy and once would have been unthinkable to them had it come from a Democrat. In various ways back in 2016 they all labeled candidate Trump unfit. Back then you could almost hear them say: “how could we go from Mitt to this clown?”

But now like Rich Lowry, the editor of the old Bill Buckley journal National Review, a magazine that once devoted an entire issue to Trump’s unfitness, they have embraced their compromised morality.

“There is no doubt that Trump’s periodic blustery assertions of having total authority are gross, would freak out Republicans if a Democrat made them, and deserve to be condemned,” Lowry wrote this week. But then Lowry immediately dismissed it all as a silly side show, saying “The president loves strength and is drawn to theatrical demonstrations of his own power.”

Four years ago Lowry’s magazine saw something else. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.” Mitt Romney flirted briefly with the corrupt bargain that is Donald Trump. He had guts enough to reject the bargain. Were that Idaho’s boneless wonders more like him.

(photo/Gage Skidmore)

The meh primary


Among the analyses following last week’s primary election (can’t really say “May primary,” this time) was one contending that the results likely will translate to a “more conservative” state House.

Maybe, though what exactly that would translate to is hard to say. I’d be more inclined to address that concept if someone can come up with a coherent and broadly acceptable definition of “conservatism,” either generally or Idaho-specific, circa 2020.

That question aside, did the May primary election in Idaho demonstrate much of anything at all?

Probably, without too far a reach, we can find some odds and ends. (Before hitting the numbers, a quick word about the process: absentee/mail election overall worked pretty well in Idaho. That shouldn't go unnoted.)

You can, for example, use the election’s numbers to demonstrate just how dominant Idaho Republicans still are. That comes as a shock, I know, but the numbers bear it out. More than twice as many people voted for the Republican tickets (you see the numbers most clearly at the top of the ballot) as did in the Democratic. That’s influenced to some extent, no doubt, by the larger number of contests (and seriously-contested contests) among Republicans at the legislative and courthouse levels; the few higher offices on the ballot did see actual contests on both sides, lopsided though most of the results were. And some people voting in those Republican races weren’t Republicans, though the crossover impact - often overestimated anyway - probably was muted this time.

Still, the numbers do establish some of the ongoing difficulty Democrats have statewide; how great the partisan gap is outside a handful of spots around the state. It’s worth pointing out that in places where Democrats generally do win - across the city of Boise, for example - their primary ballot numbers do outpace Republicans. So some correlation between primary participation and general election results does seem to exist, and it seems less elastic than tended to be the case several decades ago.

You can also draw a few more current conclusions too, though they won’t bear a lot of weight.

Concerns about the statewide pandemic shutdowns became an issue in several races, mainly at the legislative and county level, around the state. How did that go? Well, in a Twin Falls County commissioner primary race, incumbent Brent Reinke supported Governor Brad Little’s shelter-in-place orders, while challenger David Hansen strongly opposed them. Reinke prevailed about 2-1. That result could relate to Reinke’s overall general popularity, and usually being an incumbent doesn’t hurt. But it also seems to suggest the shutdown protests haven’t gained a lot of traction.

You might counter that with the numbers in the House B seat in District 32, where incumbent Chad Christensen, who was anti-shutdown, prevailed over his challenger, Bonneville County Commissioner Dave Radford, a backer of the governor, by about 60 percent to 40 percent. But that may have been a more complex race; Christensen is a high-profile and highly controversial legislator, and a whole batch of issues may have played into the results there.

One of the results most worth parsing was a case of an incumbent narrowly losing to a challenger: Idaho Falls Representative Bryan Zollinger (48.6 percent) losing to Marco Erickson (51.4 percent). The big issue there may have been medical debt collection; Zollinger has been in that business, and he was directly in opposition to, among others, the area’s top business leader, Frank VanderSloot, who has backed legislation and other efforts to help medical debtors. That issue almost had to have been a big factor, but the arguments and cross-currents of support were too complex for simple conclusions.

Zollinger was not the only incumbent to lose - there were a couple of others in eastern Idaho who lost to ideological activists and one in Canyon County who lost his legislative seat after recent election to city office - but incumbents overwhelmingly won; the number of oysters was not large. There were hardly any results you could seriously count as surprising.

The voters in Idaho did not look to be in much of a revolutionary mood. It seemed more like a meh election.