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Posts published in January 2021

Managing Rock Creek


The Twin Falls City Council recently toured a potential site in Rock Creek Canyon for a city amphitheater, but it then made a wise decision to take a harder look at this ambitious idea before jumping in. If anything, the outdoor theater concept may not go far enough.

Today, Rock Creek Canyon shows a mix of uses. There are some fishery-related raceways, a CSI fishery research facility, plus occasional private parcels and small ranches, as well as a modestly-developed county park and walking path.

But mostly, the creek area has been a convenient dump for unwanted goods and trash over the decades. Much of the area is inaccessible, a tangle of Russian Olive, teasel and weeds, little visited and mostly ignored.
Eric Smallwood’s idea of using one parcel for an outdoor concert and performance venue is one which would add to Twin Falls’ amenities. But it also would come with significant costs, including parking, concession and maintenance facilities, lighting, access for the disabled, and emergency vehicles, as well as ongoing staffing, police and fire management and continual upgrades and refurbishing.

None of that is cheap and would fall mostly on city taxpayers at a time when the city is already looking at how to upgrade fire stations and improve downtown.

Prioritizing “wants” versus “needs” is an ongoing challenge and a common one in Idaho where many communities are struggling with rising taxes and other growth pressures. There are lots of amenities we would all like to see, but not every one is affordable.

The basic issue here is that Twin Falls has treated Rock Creek Canyon as an “out of sight, out of mind” place. We’ve had neither the resources nor the inclination to do otherwise. Traditionally, we’ve turned our backs on Rock Creek while the city has grown to the North, East and West.

But the area has real potential, if we look at it closely. Many other communities have flowing water and/or small reservoirs and have turned these into community resources with long term planning and incremental development.

Boise’s Greenbelt is good example, as is Idaho Falls, with walking paths, office facilities, attractive venues which face the flowing waters and enhance the whole community.

It may seem a stretch, but similar ideas could make sense for Rock Creek. In short, we should look at how to bring the water up to the level of the town.

One or more small impoundments on Rock Creek would open further recreational and economic uses. Low-head hydro, such as being used by Twin Falls Canal Company, would add to Idaho’s “green” energy profile., as well as providing power for an expanding economy. The tailrace outflows would be “Class A” fishing waters. As well as adding rafting and canoeing.

The impoundment waters could add to the city’s lawn sprinkling systems, help with flood control and reduce agricultural runoff into the Snake River downstream. Parks and numerous “venue” sites would become available for amenities like concert theaters and regular events like Boise’s Shakespeare Festival or the “ponds” along Boise’s Park Center Blvd.
And, in this high-desert place, additional storage of water is always a decided plus for community beneficial use. Now, that water is simply running past the city to the Snake River.

Next to these impoundments would be ideal housing, commercial, restaurant, office and multiple sites for work and play, as has been done successfully on Boise’s Park Center Blvd, Pocatello’s Portneuf River drainage, or as in Idaho Falls or such inviting city zones as Austin, Texas’ River Walk or Coeur d’Alene’s. Beach front parks and development, just a block or two from downtown.

Those ideas “worked” in those locations because the water is close by and was made accessible. That should be the goal for Rock Creek.

Over time, now “lost” or under-utilized property near the new water bodies would increase in value, thus adding to the area’s economic base. As property ownership changes, so would opportunity, as has been shown in downtown Twin Falls and elsewhere.

People love being near water, and we’re well positioned here to bring something like this about over time,. It might take decades to complete.
Indeed, the potential for Rock Creek was the topic of an informal meeting several years ago, attended by city and county officials and others. A similar “task force” approach would draw in multiple perspectives.

The timing wasn’t right then, but may be now. The council made a good call by stepping back a bit and taking a more comprehensive look at Rock Creek’s future. And potential. It should now “think big” and long term.

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 Across Generations.” He can be reached at

Officially joining the Tinfoil Hat Brigade


Oregon Republicans want to you do know that former President Donald Trump did not foment insurrection against the United States government with inflammatory rhetoric.

Nonetheless, they apparently think fomenting insurrection against the United States government with inflammatory rhetoric might be a damn fine idea.

The Oregon Republican Party released a resolution Jan. 19 that insists Democrats and a handful of turncoat Republicans want to establish "a dictatorship void of all cherished freedoms and liberties." President Joe Biden apparently plans to help by clamping down on all political political opposition by labeling conservative groups as terrorist organizations and rounding up critics without due process.

"The entire way of life and the entire economic future of Oregon and America is under attack," reads the resolution.

So now is clearly not the time to convict the former president of incitement to insurrection. Surrounded by enemies and traitors out to stomp us all under their Stalinist heel with their wild accusations of inciting people to insurrection, this is a time to listen to reason and calm down.

This whole idea that a conservative mob was whipped into an hysterical frenzy by Trump or anyone else is pure hogwash. Conservatives are famously sober-minded, peaceful and rational folk not given to fits of emotion. Told that Democrats want to take away all their cherished freedoms and liberties, they would stay home and reserve judgment -- at least until after the "Best of Alex Jones" marathon.

There must be another explanation. And there is. Strap yourself in. It's a corker.

"There is growing evidence that the violence at the Capitol was a 'false flag' operation designed to discredit President Trump, his supporters and all conservative Republicans," according to last week's resolution. (By "growing evidence," by the way, they mean as reported by such nefariously objective news outlets as the Epoch Times.)

You know, for a bunch of "libtards," those Democrats and their co-conspirators really are tricky devils.

Trump apparently played right into their hands, Even before he was elected in 2016, he said over and over the only way he could lose was if the election was rigged. He did his best to keep the electoral process on the up and up, going so far as to extort the president of Ukraine for dirt on Biden.

As the 2020 election loomed, he pre-emptively blamed mail-in ballots and tried to hobble the postal service. When that failed, and he lost to Biden anyway, he insisted the election was stolen -- in defiance of all the facts. He launched some 86 lawsuits to overturn the results, all but one of which failed. He asked, surreptitiously he thought, Georgia election officials to give him the votes he needed to take back the state.

Before Congress met to certify the election results, he told his supporters to come to D.C. for a rally he promised would be "wild." During the rally, he exhorted the crowd to march on the Capitol to overturn the election. Then those evil Democrats unleashed their master plan.

They replaced hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the original crowd and violently attacked the Capitol. This is where it gets truly cunning. They managed to convince hundreds of genuinely conservative seditionists caught on camera to admit to their crimes.

Of course, Oregon Republicans are not advocating armed insurrection against the legally established government. And neither did former President Trump. They just want you to know that you and everything you hold dear is about to be plunged into a merciless dictatorship, and you will likely be rounded up without charges and separated from your family -- like some sort of Latinx refugee under the previous administration. But they don't expect you to do anything about it.

Fortunately, you don't have to. None of this is going to happen. It's all caca. Even if the guy you supported didn't win, this is still America with our cherished freedoms and liberties firmly intact. No one is going to persecute you for your political beliefs -- unless you are one of the 10 Republican senators who voted for impeachment.

Then Oregon Republicans will call you out by name and liken you to Benedict Arnold.

Again, this is just the Oregon GOP defending their Glorious Leader from charges of inciting the insurrection by reliving every paranoid fever dream that incited the insurrection.

The truly sad part of all this is that the Oregon Republican Party once boasted the likes of Mark Hatfield, Tom McCall, Wayne Morris, Vic Atiyeh and Dave Frohnmayer.

Now they might as well call themselves the Tinfoil Hat Brigade. Of course, now is not the time to sow such division. Our nation needs to heal. Republicans can start by getting some serious psychiatric help and heavy medication.

P.S. Since this piece was filed, all 23 Oregon House Republicans issued a statement Jan. 27 against the party's resolution, saying that "there is no credible evidence to support false flag claims."

The statement continued, "Oregon is in crisis. Vaccines are not going to our most vulnerable, our students are still not in a safe classroom setting, main street businesses are in a tailspin, our health data is a mess and here we are, talking about a political party resolution."

Sorry, folks, this is still your dance. And these the ones what brung ya.

The unbearable lightness of mediocrity


Thomas S. Foley, the former Democratic congressman and one-time speaker of the House from Spokane, often said that if he didn’t take at least one vote every year or so that was unpopular with his generally conservative constituents he figured he probably wasn’t doing his job.

“The most important thing,” Foley said, about votes taken and the positions espoused in politics, “is when you consider them at election time you’re able to say with some satisfaction that you can still vote for yourself.”

Making a tough vote, Foley said, merely meant you needed to try and explain yourself to voters who might disagree. Level with them. Tell them the truth.

When Foley lost re-election in 1994 in the Republican wave that made Newt Gingrich speaker of the House, as much as any event in the last 25 years a catalyst for the pollution of American politics, he was philosophical. “It’s not a disgrace to lose,” Foley said, “it’s part of the process.”

Eastern Washington voters finally decided Foley’s work on behalf of farmers and free trade and his position atop the House was less important that his opponent’s characterization that the erudite, Jesuit-educated lawyer was “a liberal” who had grown too big for his Spokane britches.

I’ve been thinking about Foley’s rule – a vote every once in a while that cuts against the grain of what most voters think they believe – because such votes have never been scarcer than they are right now. Fifty Republican members of the United States Senate, including the two passionately obtuse backbenchers from Idaho, will confront such a vote in the next few days. Most of them, and certainly Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, are going to take the gentle path of least resistance.

They’ll vote to acquit Donald Trump on charges that he incited the insurrectionist mob attack on Congress on January 6, even though both senators were targets of and witnesses to the attack. They’ll twist themselves once again into a position of pro-Trump denial, a helix of political contortion more dexterous than you’d normally think possible for two guys aged 69 and 77.

Both senators voted this week to not even proceed with a Senate trial of Trump on grounds, not supported by most legal experts by the way, that it is somehow unconstitutional to consider punishing a former president for conduct that was clearly designed to disrupt the work of Congress and ended with the Capitol damaged, scores injured and five dead.

Other Republicans – the slippery Marco Rubio for one – have said a Trump trial is “stupid” since it would further divide the country, a division that Trump, of course, set out to accomplish. The illogic is numbing since Rubio’s rationale, as the conservative columnist Charlie Sykes noted, “insists that holding Trump accountable is more polarizing than Trump’s actual behavior.”

This GOP line of resistance will almost certainly prevail, and Trump will survive impeachment for a second time even as by the hour evidence grows that Trump summoned the mob, used his campaign funds to organize it and then set them off to sack the Capitol. Even the chants of “hang Mike Pence” aren’t enough to convince a Crapo or a Risch that the person they fear most should be held to account for the most serious assault on our government ever incited by an American president.

Crapo, who must be the least known and most minimally accomplished senior member of the Senate of his generation, worries that should he suddenly discover a backbone the same kind of mob Trump incited earlier this month will come for him during his re-election next year. Crapo voted to both impeach and then remove Bill Clinton for lying about a consensual sex act, but now the oath he swore to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution” doesn’t extend to sanctioning presidentially inspired insurrection.

Even Kentucky’s senior political weathervane, Mitch McConnell, who a week ago was saying “the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people,” voted at first opportunity to let Trump skate.

In the more than three weeks since the mob came after Congress, neither of Idaho’s senators has uttered a syllable of concern about Trump’s election lies or his incendiary rhetoric on the day the Capitol was stormed. Not one word. No statement. No interview. No tweet. Nothing.

Each did praise Capitol police officers who risked lives to protect them so they could live to exonerate the guilty. They gladly celebrated the hundreds of Idaho National Guard troops dispatched to Washington to ensure “the peaceful transfer of power,” but neither Crapo or Risch bothered to connect the presence of the troops or the attacks on the cops to the president who caused it to happen.

The see no evil twins of Idaho’s Senate delegation watched quietly while the arsonist Donald Trump laid the fire, said nothing while he spread the gasoline and went silent when the blaze ignited. Then, as if by magic, they watched the criminal responsible slink off to Palm Beach while celebrating the fire fighters standing around in the cold outside the Capitol.

The belief that a true conservative party, one not dominated by Proud Boys, white supremacists, QAnon conspiracists and guys perpetually decked out in animal skins and Hawaiian shirts, would ever reckon with the disaster that is Trump is as dead as Ronald Reagan. What’s left is a bunch of cowering non-entities like Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, complicit in supporting a level of criminal conduct that will forever be at the center of their mediocre careers.

At the end of the day, you have to wonder what these guys are afraid of? Are these comfortable, secure Republicans afraid that Trump will sic the racist mob on them? Are they betting that the country is ready to move on from a president they lock step condoned even as he tried to steal an election and when that failed tried to prevent Congress from certifying the real winner? Are they simply betting on national amnesia about the first attack on the Capitol since 1814?

Crapo and Risch will never make the kind of tough vote a Tom Foley envisioned as being more important than sacrificing your integrity in order to win an election. But then again, it’s not possible to sacrifice something you’ve never had.

Impeach who?


Impeachment is in the air again so - or at least some in the Idaho Legislature seem to say - why not at Boise too?

The impeachment activity in Washington, of course, concerns former President Donald Trump. In Boise, there’s rumbling about impeaching the local chief executive.

Impeachment is one of the two ways an incumbent statewide elected official in Idaho can be ousted before the end of a term. The other way, recall, was tried last summer and failed. Pretty badly.

Impeachment never has been used in Idaho, either for governor or other positions; if it were actively tried this time (more on that later) it would be a first. But there have been other examples.

Illinois Democrat Rod Blagojevich was impeached and convicted in 2009 after being charged with a number of felony offenses, including trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Arizona Republican Evan Mecham was impeached and convicted after he was found guilty of six finance-related felony offenses. Those are by far the most recent major cases involving both impeachment (charging with offenses) and conviction, but there are many others going further back, and other relatively recent cases (such as Republican Fife Symington in Arizona and Democrat Jim Guy Tucker in Arkansas, where governors got sideways with the criminal justice system and resigned ahead of the legislature forcing them out.

All or nearly every gubernatorial impeachment, ever, involves deep-seated corruption and the filing of formal criminal charges, often a boatload of them. Impeachment in those cases was almost superfluous, since, if a criminal conviction happens, the official can no longer serve anyway. (The Idaho Legislature did have a parallel case in its own membership last year, when a member of the Idaho House was convicted of a felony and, as a result, promptly expelled.)

Idaho simply hasn’t experienced anything like this. Idaho’s governors, up to and including the incumbent, Brad Little, have operated cleanly, within the scope of the law.

That has not stopped the ever-edgy Representative Chad Christensen of Ammon from touting an impeachment plan.

The background, of course, is Little’s actions over the last year aimed at limiting public activity with the goal of containing the Covid-19 pandemic. While (albeit limited) polling indicates most of Idaho has supported Little’s actions - and many would have preferred a stronger response - the criticism has been fierce in the anti-masking segment, which is very well represented at the Idaho Legislature. The legislature has been striking back at Little’s gubernatorial emergency authority, finally prompting the ordinarily mild Little to fire back an angry retort a week ago.

Which in turn didn’t go over well with some legislators, including Christensen: “After Friday’s tantrum from Governor Brad Little, I’m now committed to moving forward to impeaching him. I have entertained it before, now I am all in.”

How far can he get with it? Christensen seemed to acknowledge to one reporter that he hasn’t collected a lot of support for the impeachment effort.

But consider the consequences if he did. If the trigger for impeachment of a governor is simply disagreement on policy, or criticism of the legislature, then not a lot of governors would long survive. None of the Democrats would, of course. But recent Republican governors would not either. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Dirk Kempthorne (whose veto-strewn 2003 standoff with legislators resulted in a 118-day session) both got into protracted battles with the Republican Idaho Legislature, in each case over policy differences. Should that have been cause for impeachment?

No one then suggested it, presumably with the realization that the idea would be not only outlandish but dangerous.

These days, of course, the ethic seems to have changed: A difference of opinion (or a difference in loyalty to a specific political personality) means not a debate but a political knife-fight to the death.

That’s a dangerous enough precedent that smart voters ought consider seriously who ought to be tossed out of office, at the next election, if not sooner.

Disappearing act


The Idaho legislature is back at work, so we ought to be paying attention to where our leaders want to take us.

The first thing to note, is they, the House and the Senate both seem to be mad at the Governor. We are early in the session, so maybe they will make up, but so far there have been more bills, resolutions, constitutional amendments proposed about the Governor than any other topic. Mainly, they want to limit his power to make them wear masks, stay at home. It seems they aren’t right sure about how to do this.

To quote Speaker Scott Bedke: “We’re telling the governor we’re going to keep flipping switches until we get this right.” Boy, that gives me confidence.

And this from the House leader who supports a proposed Constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to call itself into session whenever they choose.

The Governor shot back, that the legislature is “playing politics”. It turns out that a couple of the bills proposed (switches threatened to be flipped) would indeed end the emergency declaration, but would have no effect on stay at home orders or mask mandates. It would just send away tens of millions in Federal aid the Governor has been happily spending.
Playing politics, Brad? C’mon, they are politicians after all.

But honestly, given the Idaho legislature’s history with getting its way with the Idaho Constitution, this idea of calling themselves into session whenever they choose might make some sense. Let’s examine their track record.

You all might not remember, but the legislature recently got its shorts in a twist about reviewing administrative rules. As a reminder, the legislature passes laws like, “No bad dogs”. Then the administration has to clearly define a bad dog so you and I and the enforcement folks would know one when we saw one. For years the Idaho legislature has spent the first month of dark and chilly January in Boise reviewing and approving these rules. Only a few of the thousands reviewed would get rejected. The rejected ones mainly had to do with what schools could teach and how. Remember, our legislators know what’s best for us.

Anyway, this rules review is tippy-toeing close to a Constitutional line. Separate but equal branches of government and all. The legislature writes the law, but then tells the Administrative branch how they should enforce the law.

So, the legislature, in its wisdom, thought if we get this authority in the Constitution, they’d be golden. Their first run failed. The second time they got money and support from the Freedom Foundation and the Farm Bureau, and we voters passed this arcane Constitutional Amendment.

Golden, right? What happened the two years after they got their clear authority? The Idaho legislature failed to approve any administrative rules. This was even after spending months in tedious meetings. So, we put this authority for them to review administrative rules in the Idaho Constitution, and then they don’t do it.

Governor Little declared victory and rewrote all the rules, making lemonade by winnowing out about a quarter of the thousands of pages. Brad can put a positive spin on most things. I’m surprised he’s mad about “playing politics”.

Back to the proposed Constitutional amendment for the legislature to call itself into session at their own choosing. If it’s anything like their rules amendment they got passed, we might all be in luck. Let’s say they get this proposed amendment through the House with 2/3rds, and the Senate with 2/3rds as required, it goes on the ballot and the majority of voters approve it. If the legislature stays true to form, soon as we give them what they want, they’ll stop doing it.

Imagine, an Idaho without 105 Representatives and Senators meeting in Boise 4 months each year. Just give them their request and they’ll go away. Could it be that simple?

Little and the legislature


Pop quiz: How many legislators does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: In Idaho, it’s 105 and it typically takes 70 days or longer to complete the task. Of course, the governor could change the bulb in a matter of seconds, giving quick response to the emergency at hand – replacing that darn burned-out light.

The bottom line is, when it comes to dealing with a once-a-century emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic, you don’t want the Legislature calling the shots. Ask 105 lawmakers what to do and you’re bound to get that many thoughts on what should be done. We’ve already heard a slew of opinions, ranging from a statewide mandate to going on with business as if a pandemic didn’t exist – both of which would have disastrous effects.

If left to legislators, they could spend months discussing those, and a few other bad ideas, and quite possibly come up with nothing.

The Legislature, by design, is a deliberative body that does most of its work through an elaborate process. The Legislature does take quick action on occasion, usually in the waning days in the session, but slap-dash solutions are not the answer with something such as the coronavirus.

The governor, by contrast, can and does respond to emergencies and Gov. Brad Little has made decisions based on science along with consultations with health experts, federal officials and other governors. And he has not been consumed with winning political popularity contests. While Little huddles with his task force and answers questions from citizens during his weekly AARP conferences, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin – a potential opponent for Little in next year’s primary -- is doing just about everything during this session except wearing campaign buttons and handing out brochures.

McGeachin has plenty of support from legislators. Rep. Heather Scott, a Blanchard Republican who has compared Little to a tyrant, opened the session with a resolution ending the state of emergency in Idaho. Other measures have been proposed, including taking away the governor’s ability to extend emergency orders. The Idaho House has given its nod to a constitutional amendment that would give legislators the authority to call for special sessions, a duty that has been vested with the governor.

By the end of last week, Little – who normally is a picture of calm – had heard all the nonsense he could stand. As he rightly pointed out, pulling the plug on emergency declarations could cost Idahoans millions of dollars in federal assistance while potentially slowing down the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine.

“Some members of the Idaho Legislature are seeking political gain by perpetuating misinformation about emergency declarations. They are playing politics, and unfortunately, the loser in this shameful game will be you – the citizens of Idaho,” Little wrote.

“I want the people of Idaho to know that I have explained to legislators for months the importance of the emergency declaration and the reasoning behind all of the decisions related to the pandemic response. I have sought their input and applied their advice to the state’s response,” he said.

“As I have stated over and over, the ‘no action’ alternative has never been an option. Pretending there is no COVID-19 emergency – as some in the Idaho Legislature are doing right now – will have devastating impacts on lives, our healthcare heroes who are protecting families and our economy.”

If the Legislature, as a co-equal branch of government, wants to be on equal footing with the governor and have the same access to resources, then it should take another step. Create a full-time Legislature and put professional politicians in charge.

With a full-time Legislature, each of the 105 lawmakers (making six-figure salaries) could have a chief of staff, a couple of legislative aides and maybe a press secretary to tell the home folks what a wonderful job their representatives are doing. With the Legislature at his beckon call, the governor would have a working partner for things like pandemic management and emergency orders.

That kind of partnership works well for the president and Congress, doesn’t it?

I’m not sure if Idahoans would be ready for a full-time Legislature, but politicians in this state don’t always keep public sentiment in mind when it comes to exercising power and massaging egos.

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

Big events


So, we’ve had a big week!

A new President sworn in. I got my first COVID shot.

These several days later, I’m still wrestling with which was the bigger event. I suppose, for the sake of unity - “unity” being our new national watchword - I suppose for the sake of “unity,” the interests of the nation are more important than my tender left shoulder.

The Biden day in our lives was most certainly a keeper. Make that KEEPER. We’ve never seen an inaugural done quite that way. Instead of a hundred thousand or two filling the Capitol Mall, we, the nation - Covid wary and weary - were electronically treated to a show unlike any previous presidential inaugural. A show of necessarily limited “Pomp and Circumstance” stolen by a 22-year-old young woman, wise beyond her tender years, who spoke critical truths.

President Biden’s speech - uncharacteristically short for the former Senator - didn’t ring with new, soaring words. Word like “Ask not what you can do for your country...” It was a pretty plain old speech with words of few syllables so more of us could understand without running to our favorite dictionary.

But, that’s just what we wanted and needed. Plainly written. And plainly spoken. No “pie-in-the-sky” promises. No challenges to a “new and better land.” No “Mission to Mars” in our lifetimes. Just sleeves-rolled-up, “here’s what we’re gonna do.”

The line that spoke to me was, “We must stop this uncivil war.” Good play on words because it’s a fact and because we must.

I’m sure most of us believe Biden’s a good man. He is. But, he got to the Oval Office with about 70-million or so Americans voting the other way. Why they voted the other way will keep historians and barflies busy for years.

Bottom line is, many of those folks are going to fume for a long time, making many in their families angry at upcoming Thanksgiving dinners and other family events. They’ll keep their right-wing peace until 2023. By then, they’ll have - in the words of a treasured friend - found another “Great Pumpkin” to rally around. And the rest of us will, again, be treated to their venom, ridicule and lies.

But, that’s the hard core. Seems to me, those looking for a new leader may be more in number than it presently appears. Politically “squishier” than the core believers. They may just watch Biden and crew to see how things pan out. Some could even be Democrat voters by that time. Much depends on what Biden gets done and some of their issues getting resolved.

There’s also a large pool of voters - some undecided, some disaffected, from both national parties - some looking for something new who could be tapped if things calm down. If they see a return to normalcy in their lives. And some better financial conditions for us regular guys.

Time Magazine has a beautiful cover page this week. Shows Biden quietly looking out an Oval Office window. Behind him, a telephone receiver thrown on the floor - piles and piles and piles of bundled paper stacked everywhere. Even a desecrated gold curtain. More than any other examples I’ve seen, it summed up the size of the mess Biden and his crew have to clean up before they can seriously get down to work. Of course, some of the folks at Faux Neus were pissed. Made fun of their former White House “correspondent” they say.

Those who expect Biden to do this or that quickly have to realize, before dealing with the future, he’s got to clean up - or clean out - the toxic mess of work that hasn’t been done for at least four years. And, at the same time, he’s got to start building those new political relationships he talked of during the campaign. Without those, as we’re already seeing, nothing’s gonna happen.

Now, back to my tender shoulder. It was a tough online experience to get that shot. Someone on Facebook said her “81-year-old father would never have figured it out.” Well, I”m 84 and I did. But, it wasn’t easy. Arizona’s Department of Health, etc. put up a horrendous website with “triggers” going every direction. Most were dead ends. Emails came back promising phone calls or other personal contact to answer questions. Nothing of the sort happened.

We have a shot site a mile from us. But, we had to drive 23 miles to be served. And the site of the vaccination was just as bad. Serpentines to drive everywhere with more than one going nowhere. Nurses were pleasant enough and the shot was just a little sting. But, the whole damned thing - online to shot line - was Rube Goldberg personified.

It’s my fervent prayer someone with a little organizational expertise takes charge and reduces the wasted motion and energy by the time my second shot is due two weeks hence. Then, we have to do the same for Barbara when it’s her turn. Twice.

But, wherever you are, PLEASE get yours as soon as your age group is called. Do the paperwork in advance and get it filed out for your appointment. The only way - THE ONLY WAY- we’re gonna kill this Covid animal is getting those shots. Both of ‘em. And I don’t want to hear any of this “anti-vaxer” B.S..

Do it as soon as you can. ‘Course, it won’t give you that special two-major-event-week I had. A presidential inaugural and my Covid shot. Some people just have all the luck.

This session’s big winner


Just as the threat of the coronavirus is growing, the Idaho Legislature seems to be hell-bent on undermining the Governor’s ability to deal with it. Republicans in both the Senate and House are peddling measures to hamper Governor Little’s authority to rein in the spread of the virus. The Governor has correctly called them to account for endangering the health and safety of Idahoans.

The Governor has in no way overstepped his bounds. If anything, he has failed to take one action that could have saved lives--imposing a statewide mask mandate. Local governments in many areas of the state have been intimidated out of requiring people to take the simple, considerate, life-saving act of wearing a face mask to impede the spread of the coronavirus. The Governor is in a position to do so and he should.

Epidemiologists have told us for months that the easiest and least expensive way to keep the virus from spreading is to filter our breath through a mask. That is because the virus is carried in the exhaled breath of an infected person. By wearing a mask and keeping our distance, we can protect others from getting infected. This is a matter of basic common sense, rather than a complicated scientific mystery. Wouldn’t any public-minded citizen of this great State have the decency to take the simple precaution of covering his or her mouth to keep from infecting and possibly killing innocent others?

The actions Governor Little has taken are essential to keep the virus from spreading and killing. Measures being brought forward in the Legislature--allowing “from one to infinity individuals” to meet together, in the words of Representative Brent Crane; keeping any business from being closed, as advocated by Representative Jason Monks; repealing or placing limits on the Governor’s authority to declare an emergency in a pandemic--are a great favor to the coronavirus. Legislative cancellation of the Governor’s emergency declaration would jeopardize substantial federal funding needed to fight the virus, while hamstringing the Governor’s ability to corral it. If any of these misguided measures is approved, the coronavirus will be the clear winner.

Many in the Legislature seem to be on the side of the virus. Many refuse to wear masks, which plays into the false narrative that the virus is a mere nuisance, much like the common flu. They have made it a political matter, rather than a public health emergency. If they successfully sabotage Idaho’s virus response, many Idahoans will needlessly die.

Already, more than 160,000 Idahoans have been infected with Covid-19 and 1,700 have died. Experts predict that the worst is yet to come. The British variant of the virus is predicted to become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. It is about 50% more transmissible than the strain currently in the State. Epidemiologists say that this highly contagious variety makes it even more important to follow the common-sense recommendations to mask, distance, avoid crowds and wash hands.

Kudos to the Governor for calling out those who contend that the Legislature should be able to mismanage the State’s defense against this deadly virus. It is incumbent upon the business community, medical providers, first responders, educators, contributors to legislative races, concerned citizens who would rather not contract the virus from uncaring individuals and just about everyone else, to let legislators know they are putting us all in danger with their misguided pandemic proposals. If they succeed, the coronavirus will be the big winner in the legislative session.

A good mix


When, it comes to Idaho budgeting, the Governor presents, but it’s the Legislature which sets the final numbers. Governors propose, Legislatures dispose.

So the new state budget for the 2022 year (beginning July 1) will be parsed in the workings of the Legislature’s finance and taxation committees, where there will certainly be tweaks to the budget outlined by Gov. Brad Little earlier this month.

But Little’s broad outline, with significant tax reductions and strategic investment in key areas, is a good start on both points. Let’s start with taxes, which Little proposes to lower.

Little’s proposed budget calls for some $300 million in one-time tax cuts, and another $160 million in permanent reductions. Howe can Idaho afford to do this? Simple, really. We’re sitting on an estimated $600 million in state funding surplus, due to prudent fiscal practices and the simpler adherence to a “pay as you go” philosophy, also known as “live within your means.”

We’d prefer to see permanent rate reductions on incomes, as that’s where much of the surplus is showing. (DFM report, 1/21) Many studies show the single best step which states can take to boost their economies is to reduce tax rates on income. States as diverse as Texas, New Hampshire and Florida all show this truism.

Idaho’s income tax rates are too high and should be reduced. This then would leave more money in people’s pockets and foster job creation, business expansion and both move-ins and business startups. (Rich States, Poor States, 2020). In effect, it would promote Idaho as an entrepreneurial state of opportunity. Our tax structure should reflect that worthy objective.

Some argue that the state should end the grocery tax, which stands at 6 percent, as part of the state’s general sales tax rate. But removing it entirely would allow purchases like soft drinks (about 9 percent of the grocery sales tax revenue) to escape this reasonable charge.

Removing that tax would also be giving beverage and food purchasers a “free ride” and shift taxes to others. A fair system of sales taxes should not exempt a significant portion of Idaho’s population, as all citizens benefit from having shared “skin in the game.” Giving one group a pass is unfair and poor public policy.

Property tax reduction has long been a goal of many legislators, but local entities of government keep piling on more and more local property taxes. Long experience shows the best antidote to this pattern is to restrict local government spending.

Cities and counties consistently ask for more money and the Legislature should curtail this trend and not “open the spigot” further. Local “wants” are often dressed up as “needs,” but wise citizens see the impacts in their local property taxes much more than the spendy projects and resultant growth of government usually warrant.

another place where Little’s budget proposal is on-target is in reinvestment in infrastructure, chiefly roads and bridges. Idaho’s road network needs more funding to meet the growing population (up nearly 260,000 in ten years) and a solid further investment is warranted. Little proposes abut $126 million for infrastructure maintenance and refurbishing and another $80 million for new projects. (, 1/11)

There is always “do good” pressure to boost funding for “social justice” programs, and there are many on the Left who make this their first priority. But money spent this way is often pork-heavy and the results aren’t always clear or direct.

Everyone knows how important roads and bridges are, but there are always Legislative tussles over where the work it is most needed, and at what costs. Idaho is a huge state with conditions varying from mountains to flatlands; road and bridge maintenance can quickly fall behind.

Transportation systems aren’t fancy; highway safety measures don’t get the press attention of the latest social cause. But the lifeblood of a state economy rides on transportation nonetheless. Little’s proposed budget is an important step in this critical arena.

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 oss Generations.” He can be reached at