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Posts published in November 2020

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.

New communications


You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. - Buckminster Fuller

When Linda Watkins ran for mayor of our city of Carlton, Oregon, one of her top issues - as it was because it was a top issue for so many people in town - was communications, and the need to improve on it locally.

It was not only her perception; people in town brought it up on their own: They weren't getting the word about what was going on in city hall, and they were concerned people in city hall too often didn't hear from them - and they were right. Linda pledged a change in that, to open lines of communication. There were a number of reasons she won her race, but that call for openness was undoubtedly an important part of it.

In the case of Carlton, the diagnosis and prescription of the problem was actually clear. But the problem is regional and national too, and while the assessment of the problem may be easy enough to assemble - although it would be an extensive project - the solution will require some real innovation.

We have the dire need to invent a new world of communication if we are going to continue to govern ourselves.

In the case of Carlton, the biggest problem, albeit not the only one, was a lack of communication, a shortage of information flow. Rumor and misinformation has been in the mix, but not in a big way; those things haven't been debilitating locally.

To a much greater extent regionally, and to a vastly greater extent nationally, it has been.

Regionally, in our states and in-state regions, we've seen the wholesale destruction of news media and other sources that for generations kept us apprised of what's going on, what our public (and private) decision makers are doing, and what are the impact of their actions or lack of them. Those sources have been falling away. Newspapers, long the best sources of information, are shadows of their former selves. To too great a degree now, people rely on social media, which often is little better than the gossip mill.

Nationally, the problem is that we're drowning in data, some of it superb but too much of it false and destructive - and too many of us have seemingly no ability to tell the useful from the useless or dangerous.

The quote from Bucky Fuller, which I ran across in a book of otherwise marginal worth, seemed precisely on point here: We need to invent something new that makes the old obsolete. We need an equivalent of a cell phone that made our old "telephones" obsolete.

And we need it soon. Our ability to run our own society is beginning to depend on it.

Georgia on everyone’s mind


Idaho GOP Chairman Tom Luna has issued to his party’s faithful a call to arms to help with something that Republicans can control – the Georgia Senate runoff elections that will decide the party majority in the upper chamber.

Luna also is promoting the wild-goose chase to keep President Trump in office for a second term (more on that later). But the Senate races in Georgia will decide whether a President Biden has checks and balances on the legislative end.

If Republicans retain control, Biden will have to work with party leaders – which is something that Biden promised to do. If Democrats take the Senate and end the filibuster – as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others are promoting – there would be no reason for Biden to give Republicans the time of day.

Luna is asking Idaho Republicans to help with the cause. “It is imperative that Republicans hold the U.S. Senate,” he wrote. “Republicans must do everything we can to support GOP victory in Georgia.”

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, for one, thinks the odds are with Republicans for winning in Georgia. All Republicans need is to win one of those two races to retain a Senate majority, and the party is highly motivated to win both.

“Of course, anything can happen in an election,” Risch says.

If it goes the other way, then Democrats will control both chambers in Congress.

That, mixed with a Biden presidency and abolishing the filibuster rule in the Senate – which would allow for bills to be passed by simple majority instead of the current 60-vote requirement – could open doors wide for Democratic progressives. We could see the biggest surge of liberal bills since the Great Society era.

Risch has outlined other possibilities if Democrats win, including statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico and packing the Supreme Court with liberal justices to counter today’s conservative majority. Statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico could lock up a Democratic majority for a long time.

Those are the sort of things that can happen when one party has total control. Democratic Party dictatorships are no better, or less evil, than the GOP variety.

So, there’s more than peaches at stake in those Georgia Senate races. Yet, Republicans seem to be more obsessed with keeping Trump in power even though he clearly lost the election.

Talking with Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, the chances of the president prevailing are next to none. Denney is a staunch Republican, for sure, but his priority as secretary of state is to ensure fair elections in the Gem State. Over the years, he has attended numerous conferences and developed working relationships with other top election officials (from both parties) who share the same goals.

“From the secretary level, I think my counterparts in all states are good honest people,” he said. “From a personal perspective, the system is a lot better than how it is portrayed. I don’t know of a better system – if we follow the rules.”

Denney says he sees no evidence suggesting that rules are not being followed. There are isolated instances in any election, such as people trying to vote twice, and appropriate actions taken to handle those situations. But as Denney says, those irregularities – while concerning – don’t change the outcome of an election.

“For there to be massive fraud, there also would have to be massive collusion,” Denney says. “Elections are the foundation of this country. If you find massive fraud and massive collusion, then somebody needs to answer for that.”

Denney is no fan of vote-by-mail, in which ballots are automatically sent to all registered voters. But that is his personal view. He does not question the integrity of elections in Washington, Oregon or other states that employ vote-by-mail.

“My counterparts are happy with it, and there are safeguards for that system,” Denney says.

Denney says he will not acknowledge a winner in the presidential race until legal challenges are resolved. If it all works in favor of Biden, “then he will be declared the winner and he will be my president, too.”

If nearly half the nation and most Republicans in Congress think that Trump is president after Jan. 20, then our country is in serious trouble. Maybe half the country could be called the United Republican States of America – and Trump can be president for life.

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



Not an ordinary word that. Certainly not one you’d usually find in a headline. But, it can perfectly describe your mental state when considering Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

Since the start of the Trump “era,” the men and women of the GOP in that body have been door mats for the demon in the White House. They’ve laid there on the floor while Trump’s walked all over ‘em.

With Mitch McConnell’s able assistance, using the whip hand of his majority numbers, the 53 remaining Republicans have been silent servants to Trump’s “bull-in-the-china-shop” rants and actions over the past four years. To a man. To a woman.

Let’s just consider one of that body: Jim Elroy Risch of Idaho.

I’ve known Risch for more than 50 years. First covered him in the Idaho Legislature in the ‘70's. Risch has had the reputation of being a tough guy, a political climber, a pusher, a guy who’d run over resistance like a tank on the battlefield. Behind his back - most often - he was called “the little Nazi.” Not quite an apt description of his operating style. But close.

Earlier this month, Risch was re-elected to the U.S. Senate. A new voter-approved contract that was never in doubt. He’s been there since 2009. Now, he’s got six more years of assured employment at the federal trough. Given his age- he’d be around 83 six years hence - this trip is likely his “last hurrah.” One can hope.

Risch hasn’t garnered much publicity during his elevated service. Which is sort of odd since he’s been chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for awhile. Previous holders of that select office - Frank Church (D-ID) - J. William Fulbright (D-AR) and others - have had more notoriety. But, Risch has laid pretty low.

Which is strange given our bottomless military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, given Trump’s blustering and B.S. in foreign affairs by breaking treaties and pulling out of world organizations. You’d think the Senate’s appropriate committee head would have something to say or possibly undertake take some actions either supporting or decrying the President’s blunderbuss ways.

But, no. Not the case. Risch, like his 52 counterparts, has been a willing enabler for just about all things Trump.

Which raises the question in my mind, why? Why have Idaho’s Risch and the others been so subservient? So obsequious? Why haven’t some of them spoken up occasionally when the “Trump train” was leaving the rails on some issue or another?

During the Senate impeachment trial, some Republicans - if not all- knew Trump was guilty of one or more of the six charges. Yet they could muster nary a guilty vote to convict. Not one. Why?

During the past four years, Trump has given practitioners of the GOP brand many reasons to say “no” or to take a political or personal position opposing him. But they haven’t. Why?

I’m sick of hearing members of Congress are “afraid” of Trump. Afraid they’ll be ”primaried” or directly threatened by him. Risch, for one, has routinely been characterized as someone with backbone - a stiff spine, someone not afraid of much, politically speaking. But, he’s rolled over to have his tummy scratched just like the rest. Even with the certainty of being re-elected. There he was. On the floor. Tummy up. Why?

It’s certain, there are other Senators known for stiff spines - for not allowing themselves to be rolled over. After all, the Senate is as very exclusive club. The word “Senator” is not taken lightly. With the lengthy history of a life spent in political office - like Risch - members of the Senate know how to “wheel-and-deal.” And to do so even when faced with resistance. Yet Trump walks in and everybody is on the floor, tummy up.

There is, in my mind at least, no real “one-size-fits-all” answer to the question: why. I suspect there are 53 individual responses - responses we’ll never know. Toeing the party line is one thing - being an “easy, cheap date” is quite something else.

There have been times in the last four years I’ve wanted to lean out the window and shout “C’mon, people, put on your big boy pants and do something for the folks that sent ya there. DO SOMETHING!”

Alas, all I’d do is irritate the neighbors.

One way or the other, Trump will be shown the door January 20. A Democrat will take up Oval Office occupancy at noon. After he cleans up the wreckage, there’ll be new legislation sent to the Hill for consideration. Legislation with a different political party name on it. What will be the Republican response? Rollovers? Tummy scratching? No resistance? Risch?

Not hardly. You can bet the farm. Democrats may have the House. They may have the Oval Office. But, those 54 hardy GOP folks will not be in a mood to get along. Progress will be slow in coming. Such progress, as there may eventually be, will be the result of some well-known backroom discussions, some wheeling-and-dealing, lots and lots of negotiations, maybe some Kentucky bourbon and branch water. It’s going to be some tough political slogging.

No tummy’s up then. Not one. Not even Idaho’s Sen. Risch.

Veterans Day


Veterans Day, November 11, is a time for Americans to honor and thank those who have stepped forward to serve this great country. It is also appropriate to consider what veterans might hope to be the common good resulting from their service. Although I would not pretend to speak for all veterans, I believe that most would like to think their service helped to bring the nation together in fellowship and common purpose.

Although I was just three years old when the Second World War ended, I have fond memories of those post-war years. The people of the country had worked together as one to defeat the Axis Powers and save the world from tyranny. Throughout the 1950s, I remember having great pride in the country and thinking there was nothing the United States of America could not do. The idea of being part of a unified, winning team was exhilarating and gave promise of a bright future.

The Korean War was just a blip on the radar for most of us, but for those who served in that war it was close to the definition of hell--vicious cold, savage combat, human wave assaults. The veterans of that conflict never got their due from their countrymen, partly because people had a difficult time understanding what it was all about and partly because of its stalemated ending. Even though the public only gave it tepid support, it was not all that divisive on the home front.

Vietnam was an altogether different story, eventually causing divisions across the country rivaling or exceeding those of the present day. When I entered service in November 1967, the country was generally supportive of the war. The surprising Tet Offensive in early 1968 changed that, because its scope did not line up with rosy assessments coming from the government.

I arrived in South Vietnam in July 1968 just as the national consensus was starting to unravel. When I arrived home at the end of August 1969, conflict over the war was at fever pitch and it only got worse during the next three years. I worked for Idaho’s former Senator Len Jordan during those years and had a front row seat as his point man on Vietnam--the one who met with the thousands of mostly young people roaming Capitol Hill in hopes of influencing Vietnam policy.

The war ended in February 1973, but the social unrest and distrust of government it caused lived on for many years. Because of that, plus economic and racial strife resulting from our failure to address inequalities in our society, we have never achieved the consensus and common purpose that came with the conclusion of WWII. We came close for a while following the 9-11 attacks, but that did not last long. At this time in our history, we are more divided than at any time since WWII, with the possible exception of Vietnam.

From the standpoint of one of the millions who have served in the nation’s armed forces, what I would most like to see is a nation at peace with itself, much like the nation that returning WWII veterans found. If those who serve the country can work together in common purpose to fight an enemy on foreign soil, can’t veterans expect their countrymen to work harder to achieve unity on the home front?

Please have a thoughtful day of reflection this Veterans Day and be sure to thank our veterans for their service.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran.

Oregon’s measure maps


Those partisan maps we see after election day - showing who prevailed in which jurisdiction (usually state or county) - mesmerizing, and useful - to a point. But seeing several of them in sequence often tells us much more than a single one will.

For example, the map atop this column shows the Oregon results in the presidential race this year. You won't have to strain to quickly grasp that the gray counties were those won by Democrat Joe Biden, who took 56.5% of the vote, and the reddish counties went to Republican Donald Trump. There were no great shocks here and few even modest surprises (the pattern is very similar to recent elections), though someone unfamiliar with Oregon's population patterns might be struck by Biden winning the state decisively but just a quarter of the state's counties. The clued-in would know that the bulk of the state's population lives in those counties.

(Of particular note: The strong Biden vote in Deschutes County - Bend - which has a long-standing Republican tradition but has been shifting blue in recent cycles; it may be completing that transition.)

The pattern is very similar to that for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who won a similar percentage of the vote but a few more counties. All of those county town halls may have given him a little stronger base in some smaller competitive counties.

But let's move over to the ballot issues, where things look a little different.

They look a lot different in the case of Measure 107, a constitutional amendment aimed at tightening Oregon's awfully loose rules on campaign finance contributions and reporting. It passed overwhelmingly, with 78.3% of the vote, but strikingly also classed in every Oregon county. Nowhere was the vote even close. Apparently we can agree on some things.

Three measures on the ballot concerned the legal status and tax revenues on controlled substances: 108 increased (considerably cigarette taxes and imposed restrictions on vaping; 109 allows medically supervised use of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"); and 110 greatly reduced penalties for small-quantity possession of most still-illegal drugs (including heroin and meth) and redirection much of the marijuana tax revenue toward drug addiction treatment. All were appeared to be highly controversial and none seemed guaranteed of passage. But all of them did, by decisive margins (a landslide in the case of 108).

On a county level, the votes for the latter two drug measures tracked fairly closely the presidential vote; most of the Biden counties also voted for those measures. But some interesting additions also appeared. Curry County in the far southwest, now a Republican county which went for Trump, voted for all three of the ballot issues. And so did two politically marginal counties - Jackson (Medford) and Wasco (The Dalles) which this time voted narrowly for Trump. These are counties on the borderline.

The comparisons are noteworthy. And then we can get into the precincts ...

Moo … moo … that strange noise …


This is a guest opinion from 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

Don’t have a fit, Idahoans. Oregon counties aren’t going to join Idaho any time soon. And keep in mind, we don’t have to take ‘em. So don’t worry about being overrun with ANTIFAs or BLM rioters from Portland, or tree-huggers from Eugene or identity-correct politicos from Salem.

Still, the voters in two Oregon counties last week said they are at least open to a discussion about joining Idaho.

One is Union County, of which La Grande is the county seat. It’s just one county West of the Oregon-Idaho border. Jefferson County, north of Bend, is further away from Idaho. Two other counties, Wallowa and Douglas, turned down similar proposals, but the margins weren’t great. (Oregonian, 11/4). Wallowa County’s vote was just under 50 percent.

Both counties approving the “Join Idaho” debate are rural. Union County has about 27,000 population, half of which is in La Grande, where Eastern Oregon University is located. Jefferson County, (pop. 25,000 est.) is in the central part of the state, with Madras the county seat. As with the others, its economy is heavily reliant on agricultural, although its proximity to nearby Bend has brought in more recreation and tourism.

Both counties are heavily Republican. On Nov. 3, Donald Trump won 60 percent in Jefferson County, and 69 percent in Union County. (Oregon Sec. of State, 2020.) Both counties are also on the “Eastern” side of the state, which leaves them disadvantaged on many points of Oregon liberal/Democratic politics, but more in tune with Idaho’s. That appears to be at least one consideration in the “Join Idaho” vote.

But before we welcome them, it’s still a long shot, with lots of considerations ahead. The Oregon “Join Idaho” group is planning its petition drive in 11 additional counties for 2021. These pulse-takings advisory votes are good as they’ll show whether the idea has any legs politically.

Were they to pass at the county level, subsequent formal efforts in both states’ legislatures would be needed, as well as in the US Congress. Republicans seem most likely in favor, in this era of contested presidential elections. Democrats, not so much.

The last time a state separated was in1863 during the Civil War when North-leaning West Virginia left tidewater, pro-South Virginia, which had already joined the Confederacy.

Then there’s the question as to what a newly-configured “Greater Idaho” would look like. The “Join Idaho” group envisions a large swath of Eastern and Southern Oregon to join Idaho, which would add some ocean-front counties and communities like Coos Bay, but avoids the Portland area, Eugene and Salem. The proposed maps show 22 Oregon Counties which constitute a good deal of the state’s agricultural and forest lands. The total population would be at least several hundred thousand new “Idaho” residents.

That, in turn, would affect Idaho’s current governmental structure, plus a wide range of Idaho state services, including funding, educational institutions. on and on. For example, would Eastern Oregon University become Idaho’s fifth four-year public university, and what’s the impact on Idaho universities, such as Idaho State University in Pocatello? Idaho isn’t exactly flush with cash for higher education; adding more institutions won’t likely be met with universal approval.

The same question could be asked of the Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, which already has an outreach center in Caldwell. How would TVCC be integrated into Idaho’s community college system, which includes the College of Southern Idaho?

And those are the easy questions. What about state public lands, federally-managed BLM land and national forests? Or taxes? Idaho is generally more conservative, more prudent on spending and generally more so on social issues.

At least the good folks in Union and Jefferson Counties have seen cows before.

A recent survey found a third of young people across America (33%) had never seen a cow. Think about that. Never seen a cow? One-third of young people in the country have never seen one. They must be talking about Portlandians. (Fox, 11/7).

An appreciation of rural America is a prevalent feature in the two counties. That’s surely a plus. and that’s what behind the “Join Idaho” movement. That’s led to public discussion of an idea that isn’t as bizarre as it may have once sounded.

America is changing in many ways and polarization across the nation is evident in many aspects of life. Urban folks often don’t know much about life in rural America. But at least Idaho young people can identify creatures which go Mooo…mooo.