Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in July 2020



When I came to Boise in the mid-70s and needed a camera, for personal use and in my newspaper work, I knew where to go: the downtown Idaho Camera store.

I bought a camera there, but that was not all. The staff helped me choose the right one and also helped me learn how to use it properly. I often had film - remember film? - processed there too, so the interaction was an ongoing process. I learned a bit about photography that way. My wife recalls doing much the same thing at Idaho Camera. So do a lot of other people.

The owners of Idaho Camera recently announced the business, which was founded in 1946 and expanded to several outlets around southwest Idaho, will be closing its last store, on the Boise bench, soon. I’m sorry to see another long-time Idaho business close, but the closure also led me to think about some social trends beyond cameras.

The idea of a camera store even surviving these days may seem a little counter-intuitive. I still have a couple of discrete cameras, but they sit on a shelf; like most people, I have for some years taken nearly all the pictures I snap with my smartphone, which has capabilities equal to or better than any stand-alone camera I ever had. (And it doesn’t need film.) Odds are that if you have a telephone, you also have all the camera you need. The phone store is now your camera store too.

And there’s been an explosion of picture-taking, and video-making. People took pictures two and three generations ago, of course, but doing it was more difficult and costly, and people tended to take fewer pictures than they do now. Even if they had taken them, where would they have put them all? Instagram and Facebook and Twitter, by contrast, seem to have almost inexhaustible storage space. But the use of a small smartphone as a camera also means you probably have it with you most of the time; old-style cameras, by contrast, were usually too bulky to carry around much unless you were a tourist or a professional photographer.

Along with the purely personal uses of picture-making, there are social benefits. Think back on the news stories of this year and ponder how many of them were prompted, or even reliant on, the ability of someone to take a key picture at the right moment. We understand things we simply might not have before. We sometimes forget now just how new that is.

As we gain some things, we lose some things.

We lose, for example, the guy at the counter who helps you intelligently use this new piece of equipment.

It’s like the case, some years ago, when desktop publishing and website design software came on the scene. It meant that a lot more people could do these things, more or less. It did not mean most people could do them well. We’ve all seen the often unfortunate results.

And it can take a lot of effort to do something well. About the time I bought my first Idaho Camera camera, I went to work as a reporter at the newspaper in Caldwell (are you old enough to remember it?) and there got to work alongside a professional photographer, who knew not only how to shoot pictures, but also how to do it well and professionally. I’ve picked up a few tips from him and other skilled and trained photographers over the years, and my own efforts got a little better as a result, but I never have mistaken myself as a photographer on their level.

There is such a thing as professionalism and expertise.

Many of us forget that. We are given handy pieces of equipment with which, for example, we can communicate with the world. How well, how intelligently, do we?

Our wisdom and our ability doesn’t necessarily improve because the tools do.

The Idaho Camera approach helped with the former as well as the latter. That’s what we really should miss with their passing.

Taxes, not death


As the Covid cases climb around us, the ICU capacities max out, businesses struggle and many are touched by this illness, our legislative leaders have decided we must do something “structural” about property tax. At least that’s what Idaho State Senator Jim Rice, co-chair of the interim committee on property tax reform suggests. I guess the “death and taxes” certainty is not lost on them.

Many are more bothered by their property taxes than they are by wearing a mask. So, I guess our leaders are listening to some of us at least. And it is true, in many parts of our state, the property tax bills have climbed almost as steep as the Covid case curve.

But the cause of this painful property tax pandemic lies in the legislatures lap, so it’s appropriate that they should wring their hands over it. If Covid is the “China Flu”, our property tax suffering is the “Boise boondoggle”.

For those paying more in their property tax bill, a careful autopsy is required to show the cause. Counties are legally limited from increasing their budgets, even if they experience rapid growth. Most rural counties population is pretty stagnant, but Ada, Canyon and Twin Falls are booming. And where there’s growth, property values usually go up. Tax rates may not change, but property valuation sure can, so if your tax bill bumped, odds are it’s because the land you live on is worth more. When your property is worth more, your property tax bill goes up (even if the bank owns the majority of your appreciated asset).

Further, the legislature decided to cap the homestead exemption a few years back. This shifted more property taxes to homeowners and off commercial properties.

Moreover, the legislature’s support plan for low income, high property tax residents, the Circuit Breaker support is not widely used. Only about half those eligible apply and get the benefit. Nor has it been adjusted for inflation for 14 years. It takes general fund money from schools and pays part of low-income folks’ county property tax bills.

Finally, back in a one-day special session in 2006, the legislature, voted to remove the “Maintenance and Operations” perpetual levy and “replace it” with a sales tax increase. The “replacement” was about $30M short when sales were good. When the 2008 recession hit, sales taxes tanked and school districts all over the state ran supplemental levies to keep schools open.

It is worth noting that the Republican legislature has twice made property tax breaks for commercial owners over residential ones. The Homeowners exemption cap and the 2006 M&O removal both favored commercial property owners.

So, the autopsy results on your death by property tax could be as multiple as a death by Covid. Some people with the virus might die from infected lungs or blood clots or multiple organ failure. Property tax victims might have passed a local school levy, capped their homeowner exemption, or seen their valuation skyrocket.

Pandemics deserve careful consideration of public health to be contained. Taxes are managed by the laws our elected representatives write. It looks to me like our legislature wants to make it easier on people who own business property and harder on people who live in their homes.

Research and data should drive public health. Likewise, the Idaho Constitution should give some direction to lawmakers.

Taxes fund public institutions. The Idaho Constitution is crystal clear about funding public education:

The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. (My emphasis)

Given the legislature’s history of undermining school funding, maybe the interim committee should propose a structural change to the Idaho Constitution. That way they can continue to ignore this mandate with a clear conscience.

Mid-winter form in summertime


During this month, the Hallmark channel has been showing sappy Christmas movies, giving people a dose of feel-good television viewing during these difficult times. Christmas in July is a little strange, but it’s a nice touch.

Not to be outdone, Idaho lawmakers are giving us the Legislature in July – complete with the political posturing and partisan wrangling that we normally see during the winter months. There is nothing “feel good” about what they are doing.

A group of 15 Republicans kicked off things early this summer with what can be described as a “Legislators Lives Matter” rally on the House floor, with participants calling out Gov. Brad Little for his handling (or bumbling) of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Democrats held a news conference outlining an ambitious legislative agenda – a ritual that usually comes on the session’s opening day in January.

What’s going on around here?

As House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel of Boise explains, Democrats are putting their ideas on the table just in case there is a full-blown special session at some point this summer. She’s seeing “working groups” operating aggressively – almost as if the Legislature was in session. So in Rubel’s view, it’s timely for Democrats to take stands on various issues, while taking some shots at the Legislature’s Republican majority.

As you might expect, the reception from Republicans was as frosty as a Gem State winter blast.

“Accusing us of not doing our duty and ignoring issues is not true. We can’t take action if the Legislature is not in session,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise. “I think the Legislature is doing what it can without our working groups and interim committees, and the governor has done a good job managing the financial side.”

On education, he said, “We’re just trying to figure out how to get through this, and in a responsible way – helping kids learn and protecting everyone’s health and safety. To say that nothing is being done is disingenuous.”

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, was surprised that Democrats presented their agenda on a day when the state affairs working group had one central focus – election laws, and whether Idaho should have exclusive absentee voting in the fall election.

“Democrats are part of this working group and they participate in the discussions, as they do in regular committee meetings. There are other working groups focused on education, tax policy and rules – with Democrats and Republicans,” Souza said. “They are trying to imply that Republicans are not addressing these issues, and of course we are. This is not the time to bicker, point fingers or make the other side look bad. We need to come together as a whole Legislature and move forward in the best way for the people of Idaho – and not play the divisive game.”

According to Rubel, Democrats had no say in the planning of these summer meetings But they have plenty of ideas on issues and harsh assessments about the state of education. Rubel and Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett of Ketchum agree that a $100 million cut to public schools is unacceptable.

Idaho has a rainy-day fund to cover for emergencies, “and it’s raining,” says Rubel. “When it’s needed, then use it. It shouldn’t be hoarded until the end of time. There is nearly $600 million in the rainy-day fund, so we do not have to cut education.”

Rubel says the fact that Idaho is ranked dead last among the 50 states and District of Columbia in per-pupil spending illustrates the urgency to take care of education.
“There is this perception that we have no choice, times are tough, we all have to tighten our belts and there is no alternative,” Rubel said. “We all want to change that narrative and point out there are a lot of things that can be done.”

And it appears that Idaho’s “part-time” legislators are preparing to use the summer months, and perhaps beyond, exploring options. As for the rest of us, maybe we should put away the backyard grill, dig through the attic for yuletide decorations and check out a few of those sappy Christmas movies as an escape from the politics.
Anyone up for building a snowman?

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

American Corona pariahs


America is being treated as an international coronavirus pariah by much of the developed world. We can’t travel to Europe because of our raging Covid-19 infections. We are not allowed into Canada and many local governments in Mexico do not want U.S. visitors. Why is our country being treated like a leper colony?

For months, the U.S. has had the most reported coronavirus infections of any nation on Earth. No other country even comes close. On July 19, we reported 65,279 new Covid-19 cases among our 331 million people. That same day, 273 cases were reported in Germany, 218 in Italy, 726 in the UK, 339 across the border in Canada and 7,615 in Mexico. The European Union, with a population near 445 million, has been reporting around 6,000 cases per day for several weeks. All told, the U.S. had almost 30% of the reported world infections on July 19.

How could the U.S. be such a Covid basket case? As I pointed out in an April 24 column, Donald Trump’s plan for the coronavirus was to dump that job on the nation’s governors so that he could avoid any blame if things went badly. He refused to develop a coordinated strategy for handling this serious national threat, claiming it was the governors’ job to conduct the necessary testing, tracing, staffing, equipping and preventive measures to stop the virus.

When I wrote that column, infections were out of hand in northeastern states. However, infections were then low in many other states, including Texas, Florida, Arizona, California and South Carolina. Now, the virus has abated in New York but is ravaging southern and western states. On July 19, Florida, Texas and California reported a combined total of 29,203 cases, each state’s cases exceeding those of the entire European Union.

The problem is that the coronavirus does not recognize state boundary lines. Americans travel around the country, carrying the virus with them. The Trump plan of foisting his responsibility onto the states has resulted in a whack-a-mole game of individual governors struggling to control the virus in their state just as it pops up in another.

If Trump had taken the reins right at the start, implemented a nationwide strategy and followed the advice of the scientists, we could have brought the virus under control like the nations of the European Union. Trump’s Covid-19 response is the worst of any world leader. With Trump’s mole-whacking approach, we have about one-fourth of world deaths, a struggling economy that will take years to right itself, and damage to our national image that will haunt us long into the future. The U.S. is no longer admired as the can-do country.

It will not get any better during the remainder of Trump's tenure. He has taken to undercutting Dr. Tony Fauci and the other epidemiologists, falsely claiming that the virus will magically disappear, forcing premature state openings, and dithering about the use of masks and other protective measures. Many more people will needlessly die, there will be turmoil about when and how to open schools, and the economy will suffer additional catastrophic damage. The American people have it in their hands to stop this losing mole-whacking approach in November. Enough is enough!

Time bomb – ticking


No, it’s not the sinking numbers in presidential polling. Nor is it the next “insider” book from someone’s former White House days. And, it’s not Trump’s probable loss at the polls in November.

No, none of those. The ticking you hear is coming from the jail cell wherein resides one Ghislane Maxwell. Alleged procurer of teenage girls for the late Jeffrey Epstein. Friend of Donald Trump, a fellow that “wishes her well” in her upcoming trial on charges of twice lying to grand juries a few years ago, sex trafficking of children and enticement of minors. A friend.

Ms. Maxwell and the late Jeffery go back a long way. And, according to many published photos, she, he and DJT also have a years-long relationship. There are even a few pics that include Melania. Just one happy foursome of old “friends.”

Maxwell is the only person - or group of persons - to get well-wishes from Trump. Not storm-bashed Puerto Ricans. Not some Gold Star family or even thousands of Gold Star families. Not surviving relatives of the dead and dying because of our COVID-19 pandemic. Not even the thousands of doctors, nurses and other health care workers who are laboring - and dying - on the front lines of the Coronavirus catastrophe.

No, our president, while acknowledging he knows Ms. Maxwell, has saved his “well-wishes” just for her. Ghislane. A suspected accomplice in rounding up teenage girls for sexual abuse and rape who are then discarded with a hundred dollar bill and, sometimes, even a “thank you.”

Given all that background, all that tragic despoiling of innocent youth, the suicide (maybe) of Epstein in his jail cell, why would Trump look into the TV cameras and well-wish someone he knows - and someone who is charged with such heinous crimes? Why would he do that? To her alone? In nearly four years.

Ah, therein lies the evidence of what I call the “time bomb.”

As she sits in her cell, Ghislane has got to be thinking of ways to reduce what could be a jail term longer than her normal life expectancy. She’s got to be looking at the blue sky through the crossbars on her cell window and wondering just what her options are and how she might lessen the number of years of that same view.

“Aha,” she thinks. “I know people. Important people. I’ve even got pictures and (possibly) some videos from the Epstein mansion and elsewhere. I’ve got contemporary accounts. I may just have some bargaining chips.”

While those are my speculative words, I’d bet the farm they come pretty close to her thoughts. Because, aside from the Trump family, she knows who, where, how many times, with whom, with how many teenage “whoms” and how the enticement schemes worked. She knows the users. And the used.

Trump and Epstein go back a long way. There are published pictures from the ‘80's. Even one of Trump holding Epstein in a bear hug and kissing the side of his head. There are videos of the three - Epstein, DJT and Ghislane at Mar-a-Lago and elsewhere. There’s just too much public evidence of the relationship. Whatever it was. And she knows it. And HE knows it!

Bargaining down her likely long hoosegow penalty is not uncommon. Especially when the unmentionables could help her by becoming mentionable and result in her more quickly becoming a free person again .

It’s hard not to believe she’s talking to prosecutors about a “deal.” And that’s got to be weighing heavily on DJT’s mind.

In six months, he’s going to be a past-president. A civilian again. Unless he, too, decides to bargain with say, the Justice Department - under Bill Barr’s successor - or the folks from the Department’s Southern District of New York or the Eastern District of New York or the Northern District of Virginia or the New York Attorney General or the Manhattan DA, he could be looking at time in somebody’s crossbar hotel. All those entities are believed to have some actionable files relating to #45, the Kushner’s, Rudy, Stone and others in the misbegotten world of Trump. And don’t forget the taxes. Ah, the tax filings. No more “under audit” excuses.

Then, of course, there are those 23 pesky women who’ve filed charges of sex abuse and other crimes. While the statute of limitations probably has reduced the number of active cases, we know some still linger. He knows that, too.

But, then there’s Ms. Maxwell. Ghislane. Wasting away in a Manhattan jail cell. What if she makes her own deal? First.

If I were in her place - in that cell - I’d try for a deal in (please forgive me) a New York minute! She’s got the goods. She knows the players and the played. She’s got pictures, records, probably some contemporary notes. I’d bet she’s got enough of something to get someone’s attention before her upcoming trial.

And that, Virginia, is a time bomb. A ticking time bomb. In the White House master bedroom at, oh say, two or three in the early morning, a ticking that can wake the dead.

Just saying. . . . . . . . . .

Fear and loathing


The symmetry is as awful as it was expected.

In the same week that saw the death of the man with the last, most obvious connection to the non-violent protests that eventually ushered in the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the 1960s, Donald Trump’s personal federal police force tear gassed protesting moms in Portland, Oregon.

The two events are connected in a tableau that perfectly illustrates the perilous state of American democracy.

The praise for Georgia Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and moral consciousness of the often-amoral American political process, was near universal, with earnest commemoration even from many conservative Republicans. For the most part these Republicans never voted with Lewis, but they knew – at least for public consumption – that his righteousness grounded in his personal commitment to decency and in his religious faith transcended partisanship.

The fleeting praise rings deeply hollow, however, when you consider that Lewis’s great cause – voting rights – has been under persistent attack from Republicans, most distressingly by the conservative majority in the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in the Shelby County case, which gutted key provisions of the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act. That’s the law John Lewis was peacefully marching to support when he was nearly beaten to death in Selma, Alabama.

“The decision in Shelby County opened the floodgates to laws restricting voting throughout the United States,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks voting rights issues nationally. “The effects were immediate,” Brennan says. “Within 24 hours of the ruling, Texas announced that it would implement a strict photo ID law. Two other states, Mississippi and Alabama, also began to enforce photo ID laws that had previously been barred because of federal preclearance.”

When the court’s decision was announced, Lewis immediately understood the import. The court, he said, “put a dagger in the very heart of the Voting Rights Act.” And the political murder continues.

From Republican-led gerrymandering in Wisconsin and North Carolina to blatantly partisan efforts in Georgia and elsewhere to suppress the vote to Donald Trump’s attacks on voting by mail – the type of voting Trump has regularly done himself – the GOP assault on voting has been broad and deep. Moreover, repeated efforts to restore the safeguards removed in the Shelby case have been stonewalled by congressional Republicans, even though most of them, including a unanimous Senate in 2006, supported extending the law for 25 years.

Republicans, now cozy in Trump’s party that celebrates white nationalism and increasing authoritarianism, can’t abide more Americans voting, or voting more easily. The country’s changing demographics spell doom for a party built on aging white voters, so for Republicans clinging to power means making sure Americans outside the GOP demographic are marginalized. And what better way to weaken their commitment to democracy than by making voting harder, or even impossible.

All this will come home to roost in November amid an out of control pandemic when GOP efforts to delegitimize voting by mail and limit polling places collides with a deeply polarized electorate fearful for its health, wealth and security. That Trump explicitly refuses to say he’ll accept the election outcome should chill every American spine. The Civil War, after all, began over one section of the nation refusing to accept the outcome of a presidential election in a country where millions were denied not only the vote, but citizenship.

Meanwhile, desperate to redirect the gnat-like attention span of too many Americans away from his disastrous response to the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump has sent his own special paramilitary force on to the streets of Portland, Oregon, allegedly to protect federal buildings. Yet, in the incompetent and improvisational way that characterizes the president’s every action, the overwhelmingly peaceful anti-racism protests in Portland, now headed nightly by hundreds of women in yellow t-shirts, have only grown amid the federal presence; a presence strongly condemned by local officials.

And well it should be condemned. America has no national police force, even if Trump hopes to turn the Department of Homeland Security into one. It is the very definition of un-American to dispatch unidentified federal agents to an American city to spirit protesters off the streets and hustle them away in unmarked vans. This is the nightmare of Pinochet’s Chile or Putin’s Russia.

And presidents don’t unilaterally insert federal agents into communities without the consent and advice of authorities on the ground. As The Atlantic’s David Graham wrote recently, “Trump appears to be trying to do something novel in this country: establishing a force like interior ministries in other countries.”

One of the few Republicans willing to condemn what Oregon Senator Ron Wyden calls Trump’s “jackboot goons” is the first secretary of Homeland Security, former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge. “The department was established to protect America from the ever-present threat of global terrorism,” Ridge told a radio interviewer. “It was not established to be the president’s personal militia.”

I’m old enough to remember when every Republicans would have been appalled by Trump’s Portland stunt, which is so far out of the mainstream of what was once considered the conservative understanding of the role of the federal government as to boggle the mind.

One can almost hear one-time Idaho congresswoman Helen Chenoweth rage against “armed agency officials and helicopters,” who she was convinced were violating the Constitution to enforce the Endangered Species Act in the 1990s. Helen was wrong about her “black helicopters,” but she did articulate the once widely shared conservative view that turning federal agencies into paramilitary forces was a really bad idea.

Trump’s motives, of course, both for trying to suppress the vote and for staging a photo op in Portland, is to stimulate fear, to stoke division and hope that he can eek out a second term from the outrage smoldering in his shrinking political base. It’s a strategy as transparent as his spray on tan and as cynical as his instant pivot to a message that wearing a mask is now OK by him.

“My question,” Oregon’s Wyden said this week, “[is] where are the Senate Republicans who preach state rights and freedoms as Trump sends paramilitary forces into cities uninvited and tramples on the Constitution? Are they so cowardly that they too will try to convince the country that ‘walls of moms’ are threats?”

Turns out they are cowards, senator. They really are.

Black vehicles, updated


In January 1995, a calf was found dead, apparently mauled to death, in a ranching area in Lemhi County. Days after, a wolf was found - by the rancher who had owned the calf - shot to death not far away, and he reported it. No one reported having made the kill or under what circumstances, however, and the wolf’s death was presumed to be illegal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service then obtained a search warrant, and three armed agents showed up to investigate. That set off a response chain. The Lemhi County sheriff complained. Then-Senator Larry Craig said that, "wildlife agencies are trying to usurp local law enforcement, rather than simply managing natural resources," and proposed barring federal land management agents from carrying arms.

By May, newly-minted Representative Helen Chenoweth held a hearing in Boise about what she described as federal black helicopters in “control of the New World Order.” (The helicopters she apparently referenced were actually state Fish and Game choppers scouting for poachers.) Less noted but more significantly, she also proposed legislation that would have required federal agencies, before conducting any sort of law enforcement activity (including executing an already-obtained search warrant) to get an okay from county law enforcement before proceeding. She said flatly they should be unarmed “unless they are deputized by the local sheriff.” A large number of Republican House members from western states signed on.

One of the concerns just about everyone agreed on was that the kind of earlier conflicts at Ruby Ridge in Idaho, and in Waco, Texas, which did involve larger federal forces, should never be repeated.

That’s a slice from conservative Republicanism back during the Clinton Administration. Today in the Trump Administration - notably in the Northwest - it has a different flavor.

Urban Portland in recent weeks has seen many and persistent protests, largely over Black Lives Matter issues, in a city where police violence has been a hot topic for a generation. Protests arose through much of the city; nearly all were small in size, and saw no violence or destruction, except for those recurring nightly in several blocks in the downtown area. There, in addition to protesters, smaller groups of extremists - on both sides, maybe multiple sides - congregated. There, graffiti was sprayed and some small-scale property damage was reported. The tenor was more emotional than violent, but tense.

Over a period of weeks, as journalist Robert Evans wrote in an excellent and detailed description, police and protesters developed a kind of rhythm, a balance of actions that seemed to allow for a scale-down of riotous activity. The activity was shifting in the direction of a peaceful dissolution.

Then came the federal agents. They came dressed in camo, looking as if they’d stepped off the streets of Fallujah, but lacking any kind of agency identification. They acted as if they were in Iraq too, unleashing damaging force - upping the level of violence and hazard - grabbing people off the street and throwing them into black - no, not helicopters - vans, often without charge and for little apparent reason. When the Department of Homeland Security, from which the troops came (without any training in urban protest management), issued a press release on the event, it mentioned 72 times the presence of “violent anarchists” but backed up the specific need for paramilitary action by describing graffiti.

Within days, Evans wrote, “State and Federal law enforcement are at war with the people of Portland.”

The Oregon governor and Portland mayor demanded the federal troops’ removal. So did the area’s congressional delegation, which said, “These actions represent a complete abuse of power.”

So. At the time a quarter-century ago when we heard the Chenoweth warnings, we saw armed federal agents in small numbers who identified themselves and their agency, and obtained a search warrant for a single specific investigation, and did not engage in violence. Then, with the memory of Waco and Ruby Ridge still recent, the warnings concerned what might happen if a large, heavily armed and randomly roaming federal paramilitary force was unleashed on the Northwest.

Now, we have armed federal agents in large numbers roaming the streets who do not offer any identification and no rationale, do engage in violence - including potentially lethal violence, indiscriminately against the violent and the peaceful.

What would Helen Chenoweth, or those who shared her perspective, think of Portland today? Or, is it okay to do this sort of thing in Portland but not in Lemhi County?

Online signature


I don’t get a reminder from the State of Idaho that I need to renew my drivers license. I guess they expect me to be mature and responsible and figure those things out on my own. Yeah, right.

Well, I did just renew my drivers license, since it’s due to expire in a few weeks. I forgot one time, and I showed up in their office with a really expired license. They made me take the test and get a new picture. That must have taught me the lesson, because I didn’t forget this time.

And guess what? I could renew my driver’s license ON LINE! It was pretty easy, really. I had to give them some identifying information and confirm I was indeed who I claimed to be, and click on a box that said if I was lying I could go to jail. Oh, yeah, they took my money too. But overall, it was pretty slick. Idaho must trust the process. I do.

Now this process won’t work for the Star Card. That’s the Patriot Act universal identification the federal government passed after 9/11. Believe it or not the Idaho legislature voted unanimously (all Dems, all Repubs) to tell the federal government to stick it on that one. So now we have the option of giving the feds our information in person (like they don’t have it already); then we’d get the Star Card. We could use to get on an airplane. If we get the regular old Idaho license TSA won’t recognize it. I went with the Idaho one.

So, since Idaho has entered the digital age in drivers licensing, am puzzled why our governor believes collecting initiative signatures on line would be a problem.

I have collected a lot of initiative signatures, in the rain, the snow and the sun. I never checked someone’s identification. I always reminded them they needed to put down their address where they were registered to vote on the piece of paper. I also reminded them of the penalty for signing the petition multiple times. Kind of like the online license pages checked my address and information, and warned me about jail time.

Once the paper petitions are filled out, I had to get them notarized, then I had to turn them in to the local county clerk. This is where the signatures were validated.

Don’t get me started on the hurdles, the many different legislative districts required. But, I guess if the legislature wants to change those laws, they can. They have tried. I bet they’ll try again. But that’s fine, laws are made to be changed.

The way it is now, the Idaho Constitution says citizens have a fundamental right to pass and repeal laws. That can be changed too, but it’s a lot harder.

Why is there a need for online initiative signatures?

This problem came about because Reclaim Idaho started collecting signatures for their school funding initiative. They were chugging along, ahead of their pace for the Medicaid Expansion Initiative which they got on the ballot in 2018. But then there was that Governor Little “Stay at Home” order. Reclaim suspended their process and the timeline ran out. Reclaim argues, give us the time now to collect online signatures. Little says no. He wants to take it to the Supreme Court, now that a federal judge has told him to let Reclaim proceed.

If the state trusts me to renew my driver’s license on my laptop, why wouldn’t they trust me to sign an initiative petition?

Reclaim has begun collecting online signatures, even though the outcome is still up in the air. If you are interested, you can go to their website and read about it. Now, why this initiative makes sense is another story.

Fulcher and the Trump race


So, you think this year’s presidential election is between President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher sees it in a different way.

“It’s Trump vs. Trump – the pro-Trump vs. the anti-Trump vote,” Fulcher says. “This election is Trump’s to win and Trump’s to lose, because he can defeat himself.”
Fulcher makes an interesting point.

Make no mistake about it, Trump still has a huge fan club in Idaho. I play golf with a few people who put Trump right up there with the greatest presidents ever. But if the national polls are anywhere close to being accurate, the president is doing a good job of beating himself – and his approval ratings especially drop with his overall handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no question about where Fulcher and other congressional Republicans (not named Mitt Romney) stand. While they may disagree with some of the president’s tactics, they are Trump supporters all the way.

“If Biden wins, the question is, who will become president? Biden doesn’t have capacity for the job right now,” Fulcher says. “Maybe there will be a switch on the ticket after he selects a vice presidential candidate, I don’t know.”

That probably won’t happen. But there has been speculation that Biden, at age 77, has lost a brick or two mentally. The same has been said of Trump, who is just three years younger. We can hope that debates between the two don’t come off as “drooling banjos.”

Fulcher has other reasons for wanting Trump to win, beyond the obvious GOP ties. Mark Meadows, the president’s chief of staff, is Fulcher’s friend and former House colleague. Having Meadows’ cell phone number on speed dial might come in handy at some point.

Another race that Fulcher is watching is for speaker of the House. If Democrats retain control of the House, and Nancy Pelosi stays on as speaker, Fulcher thinks little will change in the House – and especially if Trump wins re-election. Fulcher says progress in the House has been slowed to a crawl, largely due to Pelosi’s dislike of Trump (and vice-versa).

“It has been a raucous couple of years to say the least,” Fulcher said of his freshman term. “In politics, I’ve always tried to act – opposed to reacting to events. But in the last two years, it has been pretty much impossible to do forward thinking. We’ve been through everything from impeachment, to a health pandemic to massive social unrest and protests that haven’t been seen since the Vietnam era. Then, there were some Supreme Court rulings that rocked a few people’s worlds.”
On the legislative front, Fulcher doesn’t have much to show for his first two years. He has put his name to about 100 bills, and almost all essentially were dead on arrival in the Democrat-controlled House.

“I think only two have any movement,” he said. “For the most part, Congress has been shut down. The speaker has taken on the position of micromanaging every committee, and nothing is getting done.”

So, Fulcher won’t be talking about “bringing home the bacon” for Idaho in his re-election campaign against Democrat Rudy Soto. Instead, Fulcher will have to settle for building a strong working relationship with Second District Congressman Mike Simpson, who as a senior member of House Appropriations brings home more bacon than Oscar Meyer. Before Fulcher’s arrival, Simpson went more than a decade without an effective working partner from the First District.

“There was a wedge between the first and second districts for a long time, and I knew that was a gap that needed to close,” Fulcher said. “We don’t always agree, but we work well together.”

A working partnership with Simpson, by itself, creates a promising start for Fulcher in his congressional career.

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