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Posts published in November 2020

Give thanks …


A strange air of normality returned to American politics last Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware: Joe Biden went to Mass.

The “protective pool” of reporters whose job it is to shadow the president-elect wherever he goes complained that Biden’s staff hadn’t given them an adequate heads up as to the late Saturday afternoon movements of the next president of the United States. An Associated Press reporter actually complained on Twitter that the whole business was “unacceptable,” since the American people have a right to know about all activities of the president-elect.

On the one hand, I agree. On the other hand, given the chaos of Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat not to mention his four shambolic and corrupting years, how quaint that reporters were complaining that they didn’t have adequate notice that Joe Biden was, wait for it – going to Saturday Mass.

Biden will be, of course, only the second Catholic president and it should be obvious to even the most casual observer of his political and personal life that his faith is very much at the center of who he is.

“I’m as much a cultural Catholic as I am a theological Catholic,” Biden wrote in his 2007 memoir. “My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It’s not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It’s the culture.”

In that same book Biden wrote, as many Catholics will recognize, about the cultural traditions of the church. “My attendance was not optional,” Biden said of his childhood as an Irish-Catholic kid. “The entire Finnegan clan (Biden’s mother’s family) rode over to Saint Paul’s Catholic Church together, and the church felt like an extension of home.”

As an adult convert to the faith, I had none of Biden’s childhood immersion in the ways of the Catholic Church, but like him – and like many fellow Catholics I suspect – I was draw to the church’s message of social justice.

In an article in The Christian Post just before the election Biden wrote: “My Catholic faith drilled into me a core truth – that every person on earth is equal in rights and dignity, because we are all beloved children of God. We are all created ‘imago Dei’ – beautifully, uniquely, in the image of God, with inherent worth. It is the same creed that is at the core of our American experiment and written into our founding documents – that we are all created equal and endowed by our creator with inalienable rights.”

Donald Trump won election in 2016, in part, on the strength of his support from Catholic voters and evangelical Christians. He failed to win re-election in 2020, in part, because significant numbers of those voters rejected him. Trump still won large majorities among evangelicals, but where Hillary Clinton won 14 percent of Michigan evangelicals in 2016, Biden won 29 percent of those voters this year. Biden tripled Clinton’s share of the white evangelical vote in Georgia. One could argue that these voters elected him president.

Perhaps, just perhaps, some of these voters realized they were taken in by a thrice married reality television performer who promised to protect religious freedom but ended up trashing basic Christian values: vilifying Muslims, separating refugee children from their parents and not knowing Corinthians from Colonel Sanders. Maybe some of them realized walking the faith is a lot different than talking it.

When Jimmy Carter, a born-again Southern Baptist who still teaches Sunday school and builds houses for people who need them, was elected president in 1976, the enjoyed wide support from evangelicals. Those same voters, some heavily influenced by a New Right social agenda articulated by a very conservative Catholic like Paul Weyrich and an extremely conservative Baptist like the Reverend Jerry Falwell, abandoned Carter for Ronald Reagan in 1980. In many ways, this evangelical pivot was opportunistic. Carter’s faith didn’t change, but conservative politics did after 1980 and many Christians went along for the ride.

In one famous incident, Falwell, whose son Jerry, Jr., a major Trump supporter, was recently forced to step down from heading the college his father founded amid allegations of, as one publication noted, “sexual games and self-dealing,” fabricated an elaborate story about Carter in 1980.

The senior Falwell, eager to buttress his position with the emerging New Right, “lied,” as Carter confided to his diary, about a private meeting that never happened between the two men in the Oval Office. Falwell told supporters that Carter told him he supported a homosexual agenda and was committed to having homosexuals on his White House staff. “I’ve never had a private meeting with him,” Carter said, “he’s never been in the Oval Office, and I’ve never had any conversation.” It was a calculated lie for purely political purposes.

Immediately after the 1980 election, then-Idaho Senator Frank Church confronted Falwell about the widespread claim in that year’s Senate election – Church lost to Republican Steve Symms – that the four-term, pro-life Democrat was “a baby killer.” Falwell denied – lied through his teeth more correctly – that his group and those affiliated with it had used such language. But anyone in Idaho at the time remembers the church parking lots leafleted with the vile smear. Religion and what passed for Christian values increasingly became just an ugly extension of politics.

Few Americans, even Trump supporters, can honestly deny that the current president profoundly coarsened our politics over the last four years; slinging insults, aggressively pitting one faction against another, appealing not to better angels, but to worst instincts. Joe Biden, his life defined by the personal loss he has suffered – the early death of his wife, a daughter and a son – and by his Catholic faith, offers America a reset.

“If we look to politics to find reasons to be offended, we’ll never come up empty-handed,” says Michael Wear, an evangelic who worked on faith-based initiatives in the Obama Administration. “But this is not only an unproductive way to think about politics, but a destructive one. People of faith should be at the very center of making our politics about the common good, about service. I hope we take that opportunity.”

Or put another way, you don’t have to embrace all of Joe Biden’s policies, but you may want to give his “equal in rights and dignity” approach a chance. It is, after all, the season of thanksgiving. Be thankful for a renewed commitment to decency.

I’m again able to grab a bit of optimism about the near-term American future, and I’m hoping even my fellow citizens who don’t like the outcome of the presidential election will think about the upside of a Mass going, cultural Catholic who easily quotes Ecclesiastes and carries his late son’s Rosary in his pocket moving into the White House in a few weeks.

Elections foul and fair


Perry Swisher, the long-time Idaho politician and analyst (and much else), long ago told me three stories about the dark underside he’d once seen in Idaho politics.

One had to do with what was for generations one of the state’s most hard-core Democratic counties, Shoshone in Idaho’s northern mining country. “When [conservative Republican] Henry Dworshak first ran for the Senate [in 1954], he carried Shoshone County,” he said. “Shoshone was available. It required striking a deal with the mine owners and the old mine and smelters coalition. The mine metals and smelters' workers union had some of the most sophisticated political leadership in the state ... It was absolutely cold-blooded.”

Swisher’s own first race for the legislature in Bannock County a few years earlier, in 1946, had … peculiarities. “We had a precinct, Alameda No. 3, that had over a thousand votes in it in the 1944 election, in spite of the law that said that you divide precincts [that large]. So Kenny [Roebuck, Swisher's political mentor], warned me to get that precinct divided up, and he said if you don't - but I was younger and I had more important things to do, and I didn't get that precinct split. On election night I was 100-and-some votes ahead. And then …” He lost by 23.

Swisher said, “Of course, I wanted to sue and I wanted to jump up and down. But [Roebuck] said, ‘No, you're a Republican running in a Democratic county, and I told you what to do and you didn't listen. And you lost. Could have won. But if you turn into a crybaby your first trip out, there won't be much you can do. So just shut up’." And Swisher did, and later would go on to win.

Then there was the case of the 1956 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate between Frank Church (who went on to win the seat) and former Senator Glen Taylor, about which Swisher also had his suspicions. The candidates were within a couple of hundred votes of each other, and Taylor was highly dubious of the vote in Elmore County, where he long had done well, and especially Precinct 3, where the numbers seemed off. He railed about what he was sure was fraud, but was never able to nail down the details, and Church was declared the winner.

John Corlett, a long-time Idaho political reporter who followed the case at the time and considered it for years, recalled, “I just couldn't see how it deliberately could have been done. The whole scheme of a statewide primary, how this one little precinct could have been the one that told the whole story - I couldn't see it. But you couldn't convince Taylor.”

That Church-Taylor incident is the most recent seriously contested - in terms of possible election-stealing - I’ve heard of in Idaho. Have elections been stolen, in Idaho or elsewhere in the country? Yes. (The best book I know of about such a case: Means of Ascent, the brilliant Robert Caro account of how Lyndon Johnson stole barely enough votes to prevail in a 1948 Texas Senate election. You’ll be up with it till late at night.)

But not much in recent years, hardly at all in fact, in Idaho or elsewhere, for several reasons.

One is that elections staffs have gotten more professional and better overseen and more transparent. Idaho, for example, has had a string of secretaries of state, going back more than half a century, who have managed the process with care and fairness, and much the same seems true as well in most other states (I know that to be the case around the Pacific Northwest). County elections offices have gotten better with time as well.

Another reason is that the kind of mass vote grabs like the one Swisher described in long-ago Shoshone County (and that Johnson relied on in Texas) were open secrets; the corruption in certain places was so well known they came as no surprise, and were widely accepted as facts of life. They were too big, too overt, to be kept secret. You won’t realistically find many counterparts in the United States today.

A third issue is that, for most attempts at election-stealing to work, the vote has to be really close, so that it comes down to a single community - or better, a single precinct. (In the case of Johnson’s 1948 statewide Texas race, the battle wound up centering on a single ballot box in Precinct 13 in tiny Jim Wells County.) Get past more than a few hundred votes, and there’s almost no way to make it work: The attempt at a theft becomes too massively complicated, involving too many people, too many places where a conspiracy could fall apart.

And there’s this more general point: Conspiracies are uncommon. Successful conspiracies are rare. Massive successful conspiracies are scarce to the point of being nearly nonexistent.

Bear these factors in mind when you read about the count, and the hollering about it, in the current presidential election.

Give thanks


It’s been a while since I’ve driven down to Boise, but that passage along the Salmon River is one of the reasons I love this state. As I head south and the river winds north I think of the big not-so-empty middle it drains. All those little creeks draining draws, rushing down steep canyons, gathering the snowmelt, the runoff to finally head west and meet the sea. We, the lucky few, get to live in this wondrous state. I am thankful.

I think of the remaining native salmon and steelhead who traverse those waters, still heeding their call. They too are a blessing. I am thankful.

It’s hard not to imagine, as you round the turns and see the steep hills above, the people who lived here for the thousands of years before any roads made this trip so comfortable. Their subsistence, their culture, their trade, and their persistence give me pause for gratitude, and humility. We must not forget to give thanks.

To be traveling along in a warm car at a mile a minute where wagons or horses or your own two feet might have carried you a mere hundred and thirty years ago is a reason to be thankful too. But all comfort has some cost, and only with gratitude can the costs be carefully balanced. We pay the price for comfort, but give thanks and show gratitude.

The small towns you pass, the lights on the prairie or in the canyon from farmsteads and homes makes me thankful that folks can call this place home. They are our neighbors, our fellow Idahoans. Though we may not know their names we share this land, this state and we want the best for ourselves and for this place. We can be thankful for each other.

As I climb the narrow Little Salmon River Canyon I think of my own family roots a bit off to the south and west. I am thankful they shared their character, their lives with me. A sense of place doesn’t always have to have family roots, but history, knowing the lives and struggles of those who went before gives depth to one’s place. We all have such depth, though it may be in a foreign land, or a different state; we can all be thankful for our forefathers and mothers.

That steep and twisty Little Salmon canyon is just a hint of the big wilderness to the east of there. Miles and miles of ridges, timber and creeks, hillsides and canyons, mountain meadows and mountaintops are the heart of this state, even if the Treasure Valley is the destination for this drive. It isn’t empty. It’s very full, but just not with people. And for that I too give thanks.

Memories of my own times long ago on this path are a treasure too, for which I am thankful. That trip from McCall to Moscow in my little 1972 Toyota truck, right after our wedding over forty years ago, snow floor and slick; I pulled over just North of Riggins to consider putting on chains. Instead I watched river otters slide down the snowy banks into the Salmon, then pushed on, going slow. It was a gift, as was arriving safe and sound on the Palouse to my new bride.

We have much to be grateful for in this world, and living in this state is just one of many blessings. I’m sure there are potholes and rocks on all of our roads of travel, but what is a trip if not an adventure?

I wish you all the best in this fall season. Be thankful.

Fulcher stands by Trump


Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher, who has not yet recognized Joe Biden as the president-elect, will take care of that order of business in time. And, assuming that Biden is the president who takes the oath of office on Jan. 20, Fulcher is talking about putting extra effort into building a working relationship with Vice President Kamala Harris.

“She’ll be the one running things,” Fulcher says.

He’s joking … well, not totally. Harris may end up in charge at some point, but there’s not much chance of Fulcher making inroads with a Biden administration. Before anything occurs, Fulcher says there’s more business to tend to regarding this year’s election – one in which Republicans fared well overall, especially in House races.

“It was a Republican election,” Fulcher says. He’s convinced there was fraud in this election and that President Trump has a legitimate case. The question is whether there was enough fraud to change the outcome.

“I doubt it,” Fulcher says. “Nobody is going to tell Donald Trump what to do, and I will not be getting a phone call from him for counsel. But if I were in that position, I’d be saying, ‘stand up for yourself, keep the legal challenges out there and bring as much of this to light as possible.’ Shining a light should not hurt anybody. There is not a downside to exposing fraud.”

It won’t be resolved by Jan. 20, but in Fulcher’s view there are legitimate long-term issues that should be open for discussion. The president has a different objective – overturning the results of the election and using his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to argue that case. The Trump team has claimed widespread fraud on multiple fronts and has taken aim on a Dominion software company with alleged ties to former Venezuela dictator Hugo Chavez and the left-wing movement, Antifa.

On the flip side, Chris Krebs – the fired Homeland Security cyber chief – proclaimed this election was the most secure in American history. Fulcher says the media reports might not be entirely correct.

“I met with him, and that’s not the impression I got,” Fulcher says. “I think he was referring to outside interference, in which case I think he was right. But I don’t think he was talking about internally.”

Fulcher doesn’t need to go far to hear stories about internal problems. His Meridian office is located in city hall, where early voting was conducted. Along the way, people told his staff about receiving mailed ballots from old addresses in other states.

“I also found out that Joe Frazier (the legendary boxing champion) cast his ballot. He’s been dead for nine years,” Fulcher says. “So, I know for a fact that fraud is happening. The point that Republican leadership is making is that we have to flag as many of these flaws as we can. If the system isn’t changed, then there is not going to be another Republican elected as president for a long time.”

The target for Republicans is vote-by-mail. My sisters in Washington State, both Republicans, love vote-by-mail because of the convenience. But Republicans contend that vote-by-mail gives a distinct advantage to Democrats while opening the door for fraud.

“People such as Sens. (Marco) Rubio, (Tim) Scott and (Ted) Cruz – who want to do this job at some point (president) know that if the system doesn’t change, the chance of them doing that job are very low,” Fulcher says. “I have no problem with absentee voting, but mailing ballots to anybody and everybody is an invitation for corruption.”

Only so much can be done within the next couple of months, short of the U.S. Supreme Court voiding the election and giving Trump four more years in the White House. In the meantime, Fulcher says, it’s worth having the conversation about vote-by-mail and other election issues.

“This thing called politics is an ongoing struggle that never ends. There is not a goal line as there are in other professions,” Fulcher said. “In the end, we all our struggling for a more perfect union and a better system. I don’t think it is broken. It’s flawed, but it has always been flawed.”

If Trump happens to win out, then it would be safe to say that our election system is broken – perhaps beyond repair.

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

Killing ourselves


As you read this, COVID-19 is killing one American every minute each 24-hours. One death each minute, 24/7.

Now, you may have known that already and didn’t need my reminder. In fact, you may not want to hear another word about COVID-19 and just want to tune out the whole damned thing. Not one more word!

Well, read on. Because I’m going to give you some more words. Words not from me but from Judi Doering, R.N., Woonsocket, South Dakota. An emergency room nurse for whom “tuning out” is impossible.

"I have a night off from the hospital. As I’m on my couch with my dog, I can’t help but think of the Covid patients the last few days. The ones that stick out are those who don’t believe the virus is real. The ones who scream at you for a magic medicine and that Joe Biden is going to ruin the U.S.A.. All while gasping for breath on 100% Vapotherm. They tell you there must be another reason (why) they’re sick. They call you names and ask why you have to wear all that ‘stuff’ because they don’t have COVID because it’s not real. Yes. This really happens. And I can’t stop thinking about it. These people really think this isn’t going to happen to them. And then they stop yelling at you when they get intubated. It’s like a f*****g horror movie that never ends. There’s no credits that roll. You just go back and do it all over again. Which is what I’ll do for the next three nights. But, tonight, it’s me and Cliff and Oreo ice cream. And how ironic I have on my ‘home’ hoodie. The South Dakota I love seems far away right now.”

Judi Doering, R.N., of Woonsocket, South Dakota. Her words.

Unlike you and I, Nurse Deoring can’t stop hearing the words. Night after night after hellish night, she not only hears the words, she lives them. And she lives with the crazy lies from the deathly sick who have bought into a world of other lies spun by politicians. Starting with the President of the United States. And her governor. And the governors on two sides of her beloved South Dakota.

And, if those words, and all the other words shouted from scared, sick patients don’t force her to quit her post for one not directly associated with COVID, she’ll keep hearing them, night after night after unworldly night in her ‘horror movie that never ends’.”

There are no masking requirements in South Dakota. North Dakota. Also Wyoming and Nebraska. Nor are there restrictions on church attendance, gatherings or a night on the town. Social distancing? No. That either.

I discovered something by accident the other day. Lay a map with the outlines of Trump voting states in our struggling country on your desk. Now, lay one the same size over that showing red states with the highest numbers of Coronavirus cases. See anything? If the maps are of the same approximate size, they nearly match up.

And, you’ll note on rereading Nurse Doering’s words, the reference to Joe Biden and how he’s “going to ruin the U.S.A..” Sounds like a Trumper, right?

I’d bet nurses in hospitals in the states named above read Ms. Doering’s words and found them similar to their own experiences. Our “cheerleader-perpetrator-of-lies-and-conspiracies” president has likely had the same effect on others who wind up on a gurney in intensive care wards.

Trump has blood on his hands. The blood of Americans dying even as he was being told in January of the deadly consequences of the virus and he chose to do nothing. Absolutely nothing! And, for months thereafter, while more citizens died, he pooh-poohed the deadly virus as little more than the “common flu.” But, he KNEW! He KNEW!

This month’s national election showed Trump got some 70-million votes. I believe it would be inaccurate to say all who voted for him were truly Trumpers. Many could have not liked Biden - some were probably stuck on the Republican brand - others may have been more influenced by our growing economy and didn’t want anything to change that.

Whatever the case, most of the states he won are at, or near, the top of charts of the deadly COVID numbers. Given the refusal of Trump, or the respective Republican governors in those states, to implement protective procedures, those are the places where we’re killing ourselves the most. With no leadership - or bad leadership - too many citizens are being exposed to the deadly nature of the disease. Some, like the Biden hater, have bought into Trump’s totally dangerous lies and are still in love with the great “orange leader.”

Yes, death rates have slowed when compared with total numbers of virus cases. That would seem to indicate health professionals have developed some effective protocols to deal with many situations. That’s the good news. That’s about the only good news in all this.

Still, Nurse Doering of Woonsocket, South Dakota, and all the other
“Nurse Doerings” in all the other “Woonsocket” ER’s, are still hearing the cries of anguish and fear, being called names and being belittled for the life-saving work they do.

You may not want to hear any more about the virus. But, THEY can’t stop hearing about it. Day after day after day after horrific day.

Could Trump yet win?


Even before the presidential election, there was speculation as to whether Donald Trump could win the election, even if he did not receive at least 270 electoral votes. In a 2019 law review article, Edward Foley, an Ohio State University law professor, suggested that Trump might be able to win in a close and disputed election, either through the Electoral College or the House of Representatives. The Trump campaign has reportedly embraced the idea and is counting on it as a last gasp hope for victory.

Could it possibly work? The short answer is no. Nevertheless, let’s consider the longer answer, which arrives at the same result.

The election is really not that close. Biden has 306 electoral votes, while Trump has 232. Say that Trump was somehow able to flip Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes to his advantage, he would still need to flip either Michigan or Georgia to even make it a tie.

Trump’s theory seems to be that Republican-controlled legislatures of some states that went for Biden could save the day. That is, they could declare their state’s vote count to be fraudulent and send their own Trump slate of electors to the Electoral College. His campaign is looking primarily to Pennsylvania in this regard. It won’t work.

First, the campaign has produced no credible evidence of vote fraud. Second, Pennsylvania law requires the state to send electors supporting the winner of the popular vote in the state. Biden won the popular vote by 67,346 votes. Third, Republican legislative leadership in Pennsylvania has let it be known that the GOP will not be sending a Trump slate to the Electoral College. Fourth, a federal statute, the Electoral Count Act, specifies that the electors certified by the “executive of the State,” the governor, are the ones who count. The Pennsylvania governor is a Democrat.

Republican legislative leaders in Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin have also stated they will not be sending a Trump slate to the Electoral College. Their state laws also require that the electors representing the candidate with the majority of votes be sent to the Electoral College. Biden won in all of those states.

Furthermore, there is no evidence of notable fraud in any of the close states. The Republican Attorney General of Arizona says there was no fraud in his state. The Republican Secretary of State of Georgia says the same for his state. Indeed, the U.S. government entity responsible for election security called the election “the most secure in American history.”

All told, there is no legal basis for declaring the election fraudulent or irregular in any of the states in which the Trump campaign has been litigating. Without evidence of massive fraud, significant enough to change any state’s outcome, there is no legal basis for an alternate slate of Trump electors in the Electoral College and no grounds for having Congressional involvement in picking the President.

Nor can I see any reason for the U.S. Supreme Court to get involved. The absence of evidence establishing fraud to the extent of changing the outcome in two or three states provides no basis for Supreme Court intervention.

So, the longer answer to the question is that there is no conceivable path to re-election for Donald Trump.

A lot to be thankful for? You bet


(A variation of this column was first published in the Times-News on Sept. 30, 2019.)

Seems like every news account these days begins with “We all know how stressful a year this has been.” Yep, for sure. Coronavirus. Presidential election. Cooped up in the house. Can’t go to town or to a restaurant. Can’t see the grandkids, nor friends.

In some places, you’re not even supposed to go to church. How can expressions of faith not be “essential?”

And yet we have much to be thankful for, not the least of which is this bountiful sun-lit valley on a cold November morning, the fog settled in the canyons, ducks and geese circling. It is indeed a glorious Creation.

For the past seven years, since 2013, I’ve walked with the help of a cane, the result of a viral infection which has affected my balance and limited my mobility, but not my mind.

I don’t think of myself as disabled or impaired in any way. People who know me joke that I only use the cane to keep me from leaning too far to the political right. Yea, well maybe.

I’ve lived in Southern Idaho almost forty years now, and while not a perfect place, the Magic Valley has mostly been a delight. The physical landscape is immense and the people mostly kind, generous and hard-working. It reflects the way America generally was two generations ago before the country was overrun by near-constant discord of political correctness and identity politics.

Here, we’re still a valley of families, faith, farms, ranches, quiet towns and a shared base of conservative cultural values. How rare and special is that?
I have two new books out on the culture of Southern Idaho life, and am working on yet another. This valley doesn’t get written about very much, so I’m doing what I can to correct that.

But none of this is as important as family, place and remembrance, living here in this magnificent rural valley, a land of freedom, energy and progress. Linda and I have five children between us and a passel of grandkids as well, rambunctious, curious, verbal, loving, all out to make something of themselves in this world. There’s plenty to be thankful for just in that.

In my spare time, such as it is, I love to read American history. I particularly favor accounts of the American West, it’s rich legends and vigorous settlement, the courage and determination of its people in this vast and enduring landscape.
It is the Magic Valley story which is a major theme of my books, as well as the Idaho story and the American story of this great country. How can we not be thankful for that?

No one knows when we may be summoned to a distant trout stream, when one’s spirit returns unto God, who gave it. In any case, I have many blessings and almost no regrets. Looking back, I have been given much for which to be grateful:
A childhood of delightful memories in a safe and warm place on the edge of a deep, natural forest, a lens through which I have seen the world in most every circumstance;

Loving parents whose own efforts made the world a better place for those around them, a mother who helped others with sympathy and grace and a father who in his own art and teaching, opened people’s eyes to the world of beauty and human ennoblement;
An education at schools better than I had any right to attend and from which I was able to extract some, if not all, of what they had to offer, sometimes in counterpoint;

A life of the mind developed from an early age, nurtured by parents and then by myself in quiet hours and moments, overcoming each day’s hustings;

A long search in a career and then a settling in what seems “God’s country” of the West in the presence of daily beauty, the flow of crystalline water, the crisp green of spring farms and high summer range.

The blessing to live in the best region, of the best state, of the best nation on the planet, in freedom and opportunity, where love of country abounds. These traits are not incidental; they stem from our heritage, our community, faiths, family structure and community. All of these have been denigrated in modern life and we are the poorer for it.

A flowering of family warmth and love and a spouse whose dedication to the “us” of our marriage and to faith grows as we age.

A renewal in my sixties and now seventies of public service and involvement, through both public office and appreciation of my community to help our valley, state and nation be a better place for generations ahead.

Reasonably good health, despite setbacks and conditions. Yes, I have chronic ailments, but so do many others. So what? Scripture tells us to be constantly ready, as we cannot know the hour of the calling. That’s good advice.

But sometimes, we forget how thankful we should be for what we have been given. This is a good week to be thankful for all those blessings.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at

The fraud charge is the fraud


On November 4, 1986, Cecil D. Andrus won a third term as Idaho’s governor. It turned out to be one of the closest gubernatorial elections in the state’s history with the outcome in doubt far into the morning after election day. Andrus eventually won by 3,635 votes; more than 387,000 votes were cast. His victory margin was less than one percent.

When Andrus went to a Boise hotel around 10 o’clock election night to speak to supporters – I remember it well, I was the campaign press secretary – the race was an absolute dead heat. In fact, just as we walked into the packed ballroom one local television station updated its vote count and as the numbers flashed on the screen it showed then-Republican Lt. Governor David H. Leroy and Andrus with exactly the same number of votes.

Andrus made his way to the podium, thanked his supporters, said the counting would continue and advised them to go home and go to bed, which is exactly what he did.

I stayed up and went back to the campaign office. By 2:00 am we knew Andrus had a narrow lead with a handful of precincts in far flung locations – Sandpoint, Salmon, Aberdeen, Weiser – not yet reporting numbers. I rousted a state senator out of bed in Power County and asked him to check on the status of uncounted ballots there. He called back a few minutes later saying they were safely locked up in the courthouse, counted but just not yet reported. A similar check in other locations produced similar reports.

If someone had wanted to mess with those ballots they could have tried, but they would have had to enlist dozens of local election officials in the conspiracy, a degree of fraud and undemocratic behavior that in my 40-plus years’ experience is unthinkable, indeed impossible. Additionally, the long-time Republican secretary of state at the time, Pete Cenarrusa, a guy who could be a tough partisan, ran an absolutely squeaky clean, scrupulously non-partisan election operation. His deputy, Ben Ysursa, who later succeeded Cenarrusa, was simply the fairest election administrator I’ve ever dealt with.

Now, in the wake of a decisive presidential election victory by President-elect Joe Biden, the sad sack loser in the White House is hunkered down in denial, advancing hourly conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud. The allegations are absolutely absurd as everyone from the lawyers who handled the contested Florida election in 2000 to countless Republican election officials in key states have attested.

What is nearly as absurd as the president’s fraud charge is that a vast majority of Republican office holders remain unwilling to defend the thousands of local election officials and volunteers who, in the words of the now sacked election cyber security head, ran the most secure American election in history. These Republicans seem willing to accept the lies of a well-documented liar over the reality of thousands of dedicated election officials who have nothing to gain by doing their jobs except ensuring the continuation of American democracy.

Millions of Donald Trump’s brainwashed followers who apparently believe his election fraud nonsense are living in the fantasy land a life-long con man has created. Imagine for a moment what it would take to rig a national election in a half dozen states. Hundreds, if not thousands of local election officials would have to be in on the scam. Most of these people – Republicans, Democrats and independents – have devoted careers to the proposition that election security is essential to American democracy. You’d have to convince them to do the most dishonest thing they could imagine in a free society: rig the vote.

The logistics of rigging an election on a nationwide scale would require exquisite timing, all conducted in absolute secrecy. Stealing the election would mean coopting Republican secretaries of state in states Biden won, Nevada and Georgia for example. The top election officials in both states have aggressively dismissed Trump’s fiction. And if you’re going to steal the White House why not steal the Senate, too and hang on to all those House seats Democrats lost? Conspiracy theories don’t need to make sense they just have to further a grievance.

Meanwhile, Trump’s legal challenges have crumbled, while his unprincipled lackeys – read Rudy Giuliani – have beclowned themselves in front of judges and election officials from Philadelphia to Carson City.

And speaking of election fraud, Giuliani, who until two weeks ago, was peddling a mendacious conspiracy theory about the president-elect’s son, was admonished by one incredulous Pennsylvania judge who said, “At bottom, you’re asking this court to invalidate some 6.8 million votes thereby disenfranchising every single voter in the commonwealth.” The judge refused.

The election wasn’t stolen. Donald Trump lost it – decisively. Yet, the totally specious Trump allegations have planted the notion among his most fevered followers, those apparently with an election security diploma from Facebook University, that the entire election system is as corrupt as he is. To say that believing his nonsense is corrosive to the very essence of democracy is an understatement.

Those Republican elected officials who have allowed two weeks to pass while tolerating Trump’s efforts to further erode standards of democratic behavior are not merely indulging a weak, pathetic con man they are now part of the active fraud he’s peddling.


Back to that hard fought 1986 Idaho governor’s race. Andrus, an astute reader of election returns, claimed victory at 10:00 am the morning after the voting. A short time later Dave Leroy gracefully conceded. I can only imagine that it hurt losing an election that effectively marked the end of a career that at the time looked to be long and promising. “There must be a time when the vote is final,” Leroy said at the time, “and we should go forward with the people’s business.”

As the Associated Press noted, the narrow margin in the Idaho governor’s race 34 years ago could have “been grounds for a recount at state expense, but Leroy said he wouldn’t ask for one.” Allegations of voting irregularity were just that – allegations, and the defeated candidate said he wouldn’t pursue them.

Such attitudes are what mark honorable foes in politics. Sometimes your side wins. Sometimes the other side wins. Being willing to accept that fundamental reality separates democracy from where Donald Trump and too much of his increasingly corrupt Republican Party would gladly take us.

Under the state stats


Nearby states almost always go out of their way to maintain cordial relations; sharp criticism is unusual. So the words hit when, at a press briefing, Washington Governor Jay Inslee had this to say:

“I have urged the Idaho leaders to show some leadership. One of the reasons we have such jammed up hospitals in Spokane is because Idaho, frankly, has not done some of the things we’ve found successful.”

This blast had factual basis. You can see some of the core of it in three numbers.

At this writing, in an ordered list of Covid-19 cases per capita, Washington ranks (among the 50 states plus District of Columbia) 46th, and Oregon ranks 47th. Compared to almost all of the rest of the country, they’re doing well, albeit they’re also seeing cases rise and feeling medical system stress.

Idaho ranks 7th highest in cases per capita, behind only the Dakotas, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Utah. These differences between Idaho and its western neighbors are not minor. Idaho has reported more than 25,000 more cases than Oregon, which has almost two and a half times Idaho’s population.

If you’re sitting west of the Idaho line, you’re looking east and seeing a landscape of contagion.

It’s not theoretical. Inslee’s outburst was prompted by those “jammed up hospitals in Spokane” which have gotten jammed up because of traffic inbound from Kootenai County, where medical facilities have become crowded because of Covid-19 growth. (At this writing, Kootenai is just about to hit 6,000 cases all by itself, and the rest of the Panhandle is keeping pace.)

As for Oregon, care to guess where the highest per-capita case rate among its 36 counties would be? That’s right: Malheur County (the Ontario area), the main Idaho entryway into Oregon and the only one with substantial communities on both sides of the border. And it’s not higher than the rest of Oregon by just a little. The Malheur rate is 6,830 per 100,000 people, half-again the rate of the next highest-rate counties, which also are in eastern Oregon. The rate in Multnomah County (Portland) is 1,598 per 100,000 population, less than a quarter that in Malheur, and even Multnomah’s rate is higher than it is in most of western Oregon.

None of this has gone unnoticed in the Pacific corridor. The Oregon state Covid website reports, “To fight the rapid spread of COVID-19, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and California Governor Gavin Newsom issued travel advisories urging visitors entering their states or returning home from travel outside these states to self-quarantine. The travel advisories urge against non-essential out-of-state travel, ask people to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country, and encourage residents to stay local.”

In other words, people from east of their states have become high-risk.

Instead of simply feeling irked by someone pointing out these simple facts, Idahoans might usefully ask themselves why their state is seeing such higher disease numbers.

No doubt Idaho Governor Brad Little has been thinking about this quite a lot, and has acknowledged, “We've come to the profound conclusion that what we've been doing hasn't been working." At the risk of engaging in mind-reading, I suspect his inclination would be to do more - as rapidly-growing numbers of his fellow Republican governors have been or have started doing - but he feels constrained by the massive and fierce resistance from within his own state’s party.

Wyoming’s governor, Mark Gordon, sadly commented, “We've relied on people to be responsible, and they're being irresponsible.” Little might not want to say that, and he could point out accurately the many Idahoans who have been (sometimes fielding heat from other people) taking the right steps to combat the pandemic; but he probably could find some accord with his Wyoming counterpart.

Inslee’s criticism was incomplete: What’s happening in Idaho has not only to do with leadership, but also in many places followership - and citizenship, and a willingness to look out for each other. That’s a deeper problem.