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Posts published in January 2021

It was a deadly stunt

johnson

When it comes to outstanding members of Congress Idaho’s sprawling 1st District isn’t known for them. Over the last half century, the district has frequently been represented by a collection of non-entities, clowns and down right embarrassments. The sanity of an occasional member like Jim McClure or Larry LaRocco hardly makes up for the cranks, mountebanks and conspiracists like Helen Chenoweth, Bill Sali and Raul Labrador.

Chenoweth, who long ago flirted with the kind of malevolent criminal militia-types who attacked Congress last week, was an early adherent to the nutty fiction that “the deep state” employed black helicopters “filled with United Nations-sponsored storm troopers eager to swoop into the broken-down ranches of the rural West and impose international law.”

Sali argued that there was a direct link between abortion and breast cancer and Labrador, as ambitious as slimy Texas Senator Ted Cruz but without the charm, held firmly when he lied that “nobody dies because they don’t have access to health care.”

Yet, even considering this gallery of forgettables, has any Idaho member of Congress ever so completely debased themselves in the service of political ambition and crackpot conspiracy theories as the 1st District’s current piece of furniture, Representative Russ Fulcher?

For a virtually unknown backbencher, January 6, 2021 began with heady stuff for Fulcher, who one suspects most of his 434 colleagues couldn’t pick out of a lineup. Up early and primed for sedition, Fulcher was booked, in the language of the Beltway, for “a hit” on Fox News where he was introduced as a participant in “the final challenge to the 2020 election.”

The Fox interviewer announced that aw shucks Russ would explain his objections “to the Electoral College result.” And so, he did.

How will this go down, Fulcher was asked? Well, “there will be at least four states – Arizona, Pennsylvania, Georgia,” and then no kidding he couldn’t remember the fourth state, “that will be challenged.”

“This is going to be a monumental day in American history,” Fulcher said, “make no mistake about it, especially if the trend continues in the state of Georgia you will see the stakes go monumentally higher.” It’s hard to tell what Fulcher meant by that, which is not surprising considering the source. Was it a reference to the two U.S. Senate seats that by the time of his interview were slipping away from Republicans to give Democrats control of the Senate? Or was he suggesting – or lying – as the president he has slavishly served has repeatedly lied, that Georgia’s presidential election results were somehow tainted.

Those results weren’t tainted in any way, just for the record, a fact confirmed again for the umpteenth time this week by a newly installed U.S. attorney in Georgia. The previous guy in that job left abruptly when Donald Trump determined that he wasn’t working hard enough to steal the election. But back to Fulcher’s monumental day and his Fox interview.

Why did you decide to challenge the election result, the gentleman from Idaho was asked?

“Because,” Fulcher responded, “the fact that there were multiple states, the ones that get cued up today and challenged today simply broke their own laws.” He went on to spin a word salad of alleged election law violations devoid of a single specific example of law breaking before ending with the assurance that somehow the mere allegation of impropriety “in and of itself pulls into question the results of those elections.”

Then the coup d’ grace: “There are tens of millions of people who want to see some action on this, and they are absolutely convinced there is election fraud.” Or put another way, despite Trumpist legal failure in dozens of vacuous lawsuits, despite the gross and now deadly lying about a stolen election, despite the statements of a bipartisan collection of state election officials, the attorney general of the United States and the Supreme Court that there is absolutely nothing to “see some action on,” Fulcher embraced warmly the biggest lie ever told in presidential politics.

Shortly after his Fox hit, Fulcher posted, with obvious satisfaction, a photo of himself on Twitter with the line: “Formal objections filed.” He was effectively documenting his own sedition. By midafternoon, after Fulcher had joined with 146 other House Republicans in an attempt to throw out presidential votes in Arizona, he was lamenting “the violence seen today.”

But, of course, it was not merely violence, but deadly insurrection aimed squarely at the Congress where Fulcher serves, propagated in an effort to prevent the constitutionally required certification of state electoral votes. Not then and not since has Fulcher offered even a hint that the violence that claimed a half dozen lives, trashed the Capitol and saw thugs insisting that they would “hang Mike Pence” was incited by lies, including his own. He has, of course, offered no condemnation of Trump’s incendiary speech minutes before the assault on Congress.

In subsequent interviews, including with Bill Spence of the Lewiston Tribune, Fulcher insisted he was just trying to get to the facts about the election and not overturn the result. But that’s another lie. You can’t say, as Fulcher has, that states need to run their own elections and report their own Electoral College results and at the same time lie about Congress having a role in policing what states do.

So, what was Fulcher’s end game in this fiasco? Had the objections he lodged been sustained – he also rejected Pennsylvania’s vote and did so after the Capitol mayhem had claimed lives – a Joe Biden victory would still not have been voided. If Fulcher supported an extra-constitutional “commission” to investigate the election as Cruz sought, he never said so. So, what he was really doing was a political performance, just a stunt.

A stunt that magnified a gross lie. A stunt demanding something be done to get the “facts” that have never once been disputed by state election officials or any court. A stunt to gin up the rightwing militia types, the Q-Anon conspiracists, the Fox News addicted groupies, the fact free Trump base. A stunt that spawned insurrection, got people killed and shook the very foundation of democracy.

Fulcher’s “monumental day in American history” should mark the end of his short, hideously incoherent and disgraced career in Congress.

It takes real effort to be the most disreputable person to have ever served the 1st District of Idaho, but Fulcher clearly owns that distinction.
 

Present and accounted for

stapiluslogo1

There is no pleasing everyone at state legislatures this year, or rather, especially this year.

The question is, how best to accommodate the differences.

In Washington state, one news report said, “lawmakers plan to conduct most of their 105-day session remotely, holding hearings on legislation and even voting via web conferencing. But first, they need to convene in person so they can adopt new rules allowing that to happen.” Nor was that all they had to worry about, since on the days of the U.S. Capitol insurrection, “Armed protesters breached the gate of Washington’s Governor’s Mansion the same day, with some in the crowd urging protesters to return for the first day of the legislative session.”

Oregon was a little more peaceful, but only a little, after a state legislator was caught letting protesters into locked-down space in the state capital. This was not appreciated; there have been calls for his resignation or expulsion, for putting other lawmakers, and other people, at risk of illness or injury.

One (other) Republican lawmaker wrote to his constituents, “A great part of it will be virtual - meaning the Capitol building will remain closed to the public, while the legislature meets remotely and then in person from time to time to debate legislation. This is antithetical to the legislative process set up in the Oregon Constitution.” No one is happy about it, but the protesters have little to say about keeping people from getting sick and spreading illness.

And then there’s Idaho, where legislative leaders have taken a different approach, trying to hold the session under relatively normal processes. It won’t be that simple. Some lawmakers already have filed suit to allow them to work remotely because their health would be endangered - as clearly, it would be - if they tried to work in the crowded statehouse. So have some groups who argue their members would be put in danger because of the relatively open policy in place at the Statehouse.

Even so, there’s some expectation that we’ll see more protest at the Statehouse, as the Idaho State Police statement on Statehouse etiquette seems to suggest: “During these extraordinary times, the letter is a reminder for those wishing to participate in the legislative process that rules of decorum at the State Capitol are intended to maintain public order and ensure a balance between public participation and public health and safety.” The ISP probably wouldn’t have issued such a statement if it wasn’t thought to be necessary; which it likely is.

There’s good reason for frustration. Legislative sessions, like other government meetings, can be made to work at a functional level through online technology and at a distance, but few people would call it ideal. In-person activities are something we should be aiming to get back to.

But for right now, that would be dangerous.

This shouldn’t be so hard a circle to square. You could start by putting an emphasis on the timeline.

We’ve all been living in a Covid-19 world for so long it’s easy to fall into a pattern of thinking that the way things are now, are the way they will be permanently. But that’s not the case. As I write this the pandemic continues to rage, but the probability is that its force will start to decline as vaccines become more widely available and as an already warm winter opens out into spring. Safety procedures that do make sense now can be scaled back.

We may see some changes in the way we do things that go on for a long time, but much of what we’ve had to put up with - the masking, the building closures and much more - probably will be much less widespread. We accept temporary limitations in access when buildings are under construction or repair; this could be regarded as something similar.

By the end of the Idaho and Washington legislative sessions, in fact, there may be some opportunity to open things up; that probably will be the case in Oregon, where the legislative session will run to mid-summer.

This isn’t forever. It’s for long enough to avoid making more people sick.
 

Demonstration

schmidt

We had two powerful demonstrations in our nation last week. One was lawful, orderly, tedious and impressive. The other was destructive, unlawful, with no clear purpose.

The first was the US Senate runoff election in Georgia. In case you missed it, two Democrats got elected to the Senate in a state that has only elected Republican Senators for the last twenty years.

How did this happen? Pretty simple, really, but awfully hard to accomplish: turnout. Almost as many Georgians voted in the runoff as in the general election in November. Twice as many voted as in the last runoff election in 2008. Georgians showed up at the polls, cast their ballots, actively participated in this representative government.

The state of Georgia ran this runoff election according to their rules; they followed their laws. About half the people’s candidates lost; about half had their guy win. I’m sure there’s disappointment and elation. But the outcome should be seen as a win for us all, if we have any hope for our Republic.

I don’t find this encouraging because “my side” won. It’s really not about whose side wins, it’s about this Republic working for our citizens.

The effort was incredible. Getting people interested in voting, aware of the choice before them, then getting them to the polls or to fill in their absentee ballot is hard work. It takes a lot of organizing, a lot of effort. The effort was made, and the results rewarded the effort.

Yes, the margins were slim, but the outcome was clear.

Doesn’t a turnout like that just thrill you? Doesn’t such voter engagement restore your faith in our Republic?

If not, then maybe you found the second demonstration more meaningful.

For weeks right wing Trump supporters have talked about “occupy the Capitol” on unregulated, fringe social media sites. President Trump even set the date, January 6th in a tweet he sent out December 6th calling for a “big demonstration” in the Capitol. He knew then, and his followers figured out soon enough, that this date would be when the Electoral College Votes would be certified by Congress.

I’m sure the crowd was encouraged by the actions of many, our President in particular. I can’t help but think that the wave of Republican elected officials who tried to support one state (Texas) suing other states about how they ran their elections also egged the crowd on.

For elected Republicans to abandon one of their fundamental beliefs, state’s rights, to support a demagogue surely signaled that the crowd was correct in their adulation. Heck, even Idaho elected officials jumped on board: Governor Little, both Congressmen, many legislators suddenly needed to follow the roar of a crowd.

State Attorney General Lawrence Wasden was a man with integrity in the face of this furor. He refused to add Idaho’s official imprimatur to this blasphemous document. Boy, did he catch it. But if you’re not making somebody mad, you’re not really standing for something, are you?
Can you imagine Idaho being sued by Oregon on how we run our elections?

As the crowd formed on Pennsylvania Avenue, our President, Donald Trump, called for them to march up to the Capitol. “I’ll be with you”, he promised.

You’ve all seen the videos of the Trump, Confederate, Gadsden (even Idaho) flag waving crowd .as they pushed into the US Capitol building. You’ve seen the pictures of the posturing, pissing and selfie-taking mob.

So, you need to be thinking right now how these two demonstrations touched your heart. If the boring slog of talking to neighbors, or strangers about the importance of their vote doesn’t touch you, then I must say, I fear for our Republic. If instead you were roused and supportive of the riot trying to disrupt our legal processes, maybe this Constitutional form of government just doesn’t suit you. We need to be deciding, each of us.
 

No help to Biden

malloy

Just when the Democrats have Donald Trump where they want him – a broken president sitting in the White House with a suspended twitter account and losing traction with his own party by the minute ...

Just when Sen. Lindsey Graham, Trump’s favorite lap dog over the last four years, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announce their divorce from the Trump administration …

And just when the likes of Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher look like town fools for daring to object to the presidential election results …

Democrats throw it all away, keeping focus on an outgoing president and giving Republicans a fresh set of talking points.

Top Democrats should be looking forward to everything that will happen with Joe Biden as president and Democrats holding control of the Senate ($2,000 stimulus checks, here we come).

They should be working behind the scenes to make all of the GOP nightmares come true – such as ending the filibuster in the Senate, packing the Supreme Court with liberal judges, turning over congressional budgeting to the likes of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and otherwise pushing ahead with the party’s progressive agenda. They should be rubbing their hands over the prospect of giving statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which could keep Democrats in control of the Senate for the next hundred years.

Instead, the Dems are fixated with last-ditch efforts to remove Trump from office before Jan. 20, through whatever means are necessary. By pursing impeachment and keeping Trump on the center stage, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi & Co. would only hamstring a new president’s effort to unite the country.

Fulcher, a conservative Republican, probably is the last person Pelosi would look to for advice, but he offers a useful reality check.

“Biden already is compromised,” says Fulcher. “He already has some 70 million people who think he’s there fraudulently in the first place. He’s got to know that.”

But do Pelosi and other top Democrats care?

“I don’t think they are that stupid (to push for impeachment), but if so, that will be one of their un-doings. It will set off unrest like we haven’t seen. It would be a bad idea,” Fulcher says. “The direction is set. There will be a new president on the 20th, so let’s transfer and go. What I’ve seen during my lifetime is that when Democrats are in charge, they overplay their hand. I think they are going to overplay it again and we’ll take over in two years.”

And it will be an ugly two years in Fulcher’s view.

“We’re going to have to be obstructionists on the Republican side, because there is no other check. The only thing we have is the ability to slow things down. We’re going to see a lot of junk over the next two years, but I wholly believe we will flip it back, partly because of actions Democrats are taking now.”

In a few days, Democrats and Republican critics will not have Trump to kick around anymore.

There is plenty of outrage from both sides over his role in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, which was too much to handle even for Education Secretary and Trump loyalist Betsy DeVos. Then, there was the president’s disgusting call to Georgia election officials urging them to “find” almost 12,000 votes that would give him a victory in the peach state. Both actions are grounds for firing in most lines of work – and perhaps impeachment there was more than a few days left in Trump’s administration.

Fulcher praises Trump for cutting taxes and regulations and otherwise standing up for the “little guy.” But the Idaho congressman sees the other side of Trump as well. “He has been arrogant enough, bullheaded enough and rich enough that he could go into an environment like D.C. and act and talk like he doesn’t give a rip about what they say and that has resonated immensely on a broad scale.”

While outrage over Trump is justified, at some point calmer voices must prevail in the interest of giving a new president a chance to get off to a positive start. In football terms, Democrats already are in the “victory” formation. All they need to do is take a knee and run out the clock.

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

Wither thou

rainey

O.K.

So, we’ve had an act of sedition or insurrection, vandalism, a death being investigated as homicide, a cop killed, members of Congress being forced to flee or hide-in-place - some seen wearing gas hoods as they ran - theft of significant government property, an undermanned police force overrun and what could accurately be described as an act of attempted government-overthrow underwritten by our President.

Just another chapter in the life of one Donald James Trump? Or, possibly, a forced end to his four-year-term and unrelenting acts of Napoleon-like activities of his presidency?

Hardly! And, a day after the attack, we have a national poll showing some 48% of the Republican Party supports what happened. (IPSOS/MSNBC.) Can you believe that? Nearly half of a long-established, national political party is O.K. with acts described above.

Much has been said/written about all that. More will be. I’ll let the national folks sort it all out. They’ve got larger budgets.

But, here are a few thoughts on all the above. Quite possibly, you can add the end of some young political careers. You’ve got a Senator from Missouri, for example - one Josh Hawley - who’s attached his fortunes to a series of bad decisions by leading the charge to throw out some legitimately cast votes of a few - if not all - states.

On the day after the riot, it was interesting to hear the words of his political mentor - former Senator John Danforth of Missouri - who ran interference for Hawley in the 2018 Republican primaries and helped him beat former Senator Claire McCaskill in the general. Said Danforth, 24-hours after the Capitol attack, about his decision to mentor Hawley, “That was the worst decision of my life.”

You can also add the widely-circulated description of Hawley by another Republican - Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. Just two words: “dumb ass.” Words not heard much in public by one member of “the world’s greatest deliberative body” to describe a peer. But, “dumb ass” it is. Imagine those words from a Frank Church or a Len Jordan.

But, let’s lift our eyes to the horizon and consider this. The 261 Republicans in Congress are at a dangerous point in their political careers - danger they’ve spent years courting and building. Do they continue to support Trump unquestioningly as they did last year during the impeachment hearings? Or, will they have a “come-to-Jesus-moment” after which they take a hard turn toward the middle of the political landscape?

Our last national vote had some 70-million - more-or-less - Republican souls backing Trump. In other words, listing to the far right. But, subtract those voting “no” on Biden, and those who may be heart-sick, if not downright outraged, by the Capitol attack. And, maybe a few million more who looked at the stock market and didn’t want to upset anything.

My guess is, if that same national election were held today, the outcome might be significantly different. We Americans don’t have much empowerment over the daily activities of our members of Congress. So, we sort of “accept” whatever happens over a two-and-four-year political stretch and use our vote - our legally permitted hammer - to make ourselves heard via the ballot box.

Given Trump’s comments and tweets since the Capitol attack about “staying active” and being “supportive” of those who hew to his crazed line of thought, he’s not going away. For now.

Which creates a problem for the national media. After leaving office in disgrace - to nearly everyone but him - how much coverage does the media give Trump in the future? Like it or not, he’s not going anywhere. He’ll just be getting his mail at a different address. Remember, the media bears some responsibility for DJT’s public persona, giving him, at times, a larger-than-life character status.

So, as he starts bloviating from Mar-A-Lago or Trump Tower, as a former President of these United States, how many minutes does he get nightly on the tube or inches of type in the papers? Aside from the certain legal problems he’ll have, will there be viewer and reader interest in his “comings-and-goings?” Some hard choices ahead for producers/editors concerned with ratings and circulation.

As for the rioters, will those arrested be treated with “kid gloves” as has been the case for decades after D.C. protests? Or will judges, there and around the country, use maximum sentences as the various laws allow? Will the courts send a message to those sick souls that national patience is at an end? One can only hope.

It’s not just politicians who’ve reached a time of political decision-making. Each of us is at that same moment, as well. What kind of governance do we want? How do we want to deal with miscreants who chose violence? What about Hannity/Limbaugh/Beck/Ingraham/Proud Boys/Qanon/Deep State and all the rest?

How will WE deal with them? That’s where you and I come in.
 

12 senators and a wild goose

jones

What better way to cap off a tumultuous political year than by launching a chase to catch the elusive wild goose of election impropriety? Just because Trump supporters had failed to come forward with competent evidence of election fraud or misconduct in over 60 lawsuits does not mean that fraud did not occur somewhere, somehow. The Chosen One proclaimed there was fraud in practically every state he lost and, therefore, it must be so.

The chase was begun by a lean and hungry Senator from Missouri, Josh Hawley, who lusts after the worshippers of the Chosen One, presumably to inherent their support. Just after Christmas, with visions of future presidenthood dancing through his head, Hawley announced he would challenge Joe Biden’s election in Senate proceedings on January 6. Hawley apparently felt it was his duty to call Pennsylvania officials to account for failing to follow the state’s election laws, even though his former boss, Chief Justice John Roberts, and the rest of the conservative Supreme Court majority, had declined to do so. Hawley obviously knew better than the Supreme Court, being a self-proclaimed “constitutional lawyer.”

Not to be outdone, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who also envisions himself as the righteous heir to the Trump base, gathered up 10 other like-minded GOP Senators and joined the chase for that slippery goose. Cruz was mightily concerned that Biden’s convincing win, both in actual and electoral votes, should not be certified without examining those voter fraud claims which judges of all political backgrounds had refused to entertain.

In support of his pursuit, Cruz pointed out that 40% of the respondents in a public opinion poll believed the election was rigged. One might wonder where they might have gotten that impression. Could it be the result of the leader of the free world loudly proclaiming fraud from every rooftop in the country for the better part of 2020? The situation is akin to a person loudly yelling “fire” in a crowded theater and then demanding an investigation into the cause of the ensuing stampede.

The intrepid goose hunters seem to believe that fraud was involved in just those states where Joe Biden won a majority of the vote. It is of interest that they are the very same states which were subjected to such close examination by the courts without turning up a hint of impropriety. Then again, courts require competent evidence and a sound legal basis for claims of wrongdoing, while some GOP Senators obviously do not.

The 12 fraud hunters might have better luck in examining the voting practices of states where Biden did not get a majority vote, rather than the heavily scrutinized states that he won. Texas, for instance, where mail-in balloting was heavily restricted, even in the midst of a pandemic, and where only one ballot drop box was permitted in each county without regard to the size of its population, has a bit of a voter-suppression stench. If Ted Cruz was really concerned about rooting out election impropriety, his home state would be a more productive hunting ground.

The chances of bagging the wild goose are nil, as the chasers well know. It is merely a publicity stunt aimed at attacking the sanctity of our election process, while showing Trump and his diehard followers the continued fealty the challengers pay to the Chosen One. Why should these self-servicing politicians care that their scandalous antics are giving the American system of government a black eye across the country and around the world? After all, it is a given in Trumpworld that service to self always eclipses service to country.
 

Strength, with challenges

hartgen

To hear the naysayers and malcontents tell it, Idaho is on the road to destruction, badly led by a weak governor and a passive, do-nothing Legislature dominated by RINOs and Democrats. They say the state needs to “see the light” of more ideology and rightist leadership.

This is pure horsepucky. If Idaho is so poorly led, why have we had a 16 percent population growth in the decade, one of the best in the nation? Why is Idaho in the top group nationally in coming out of the CVOVID recession with better than a 10 percent state revenue growth?

Don’t all those new Idaho residents (up almost 260,000 from 2010 to 2020, US Census, 12/22) know how awful Idaho is, going to hell in a handbasket if you listen to the baying ideological GOP rightists or the shrunken Democratic Party.

The new session of the Idaho Legislature starts tomorrow and there will be plenty of issues, from taxes to executive power, school funding to Medicaid costs, infrastructure to prisons, COVID to food-stamp benefits.

That’s the nature of the body, to take ideas from many perspectives and guide the state year by year. That takes wisdom and yes, willingness to listen, which are often in short supply on both the far right and the far left.

But in the midst of the debates, we should look at two points in the big picture:

First, population growth. Idaho has had robust population growth going back 30 years or more. The state population is estimated in 2020 at 1.826 million, up 16 percent in a decade and almost doubled in 30 years. (US Census, Idaho) Put another way, almost one in two Idahoans today is new to the state over the past three decades.

This is happening while the nation’s population growth has been flattening; it has barely moved in the past decade. New Census estimates say the nation’s growth has been the slowest in more than a century. Some states, such as New York, Illinois and now California are losing population.

For Idaho, it’s hard to overestimate the impact of population growth and demographic change. Growth, particularly in our larger communities, drives virtually all of our public policy debates, from schools to highways. An expanding population brings issues to the fore, but they’re ones of positive management, not decline. How many cities and states do you know which would love to have Idaho’s numbers?

Second, we’ve come through the worst of the COVID pandemic with one of the best financial pictures of any state in the nation. Idaho state revenues year date (July through November) are up more than 16 percent, one of the best states nationally, $1.512b to $1.763b through five months. (DFM report, 11/2020). Better yet, our state debt-to-revenue ratio is also in the top group at less than 4 percent. (Rich States, Poor States, 2020 report.) We’re not incurring debt to fix past overspending, as some states are having to do.

Why is that? The answer is in the prudent, fiscally-responsible way Idaho budgets are set. I served on House Revenue & Taxation Committee while in the Legislature where a common question often was “how will this be paid for?” We’re neither “spend it all” advocates as in many liberal states, nor are we skinflints on the far-right, where some want to eliminate state pensions and school funding. Last month, Idaho was ranked third in the country in economic opportunity, just behind Utah and Wyoming (Rich States 2020 report).

Critics from the right or left rarely acknowledge these positive reports. Leftists want you to focus on so-called “social justice” issues like race and economic inequality. They want you to pour out more money from your pockets. They want to continue and expand handouts. Their allies in government, media and the Democratic Party are almost all of this spend-tax-spend persuasion. They rarely look at the cost side of proposals and the evident monetary concerns.

Critics on the right have other motives. They want the state to embrace a ruthless form of Darwinian survivalism by eliminating state-paid employee pensions and eliminating public school funding – all of it. They also oppose state Medicaid expansion, saying individuals should pay it themselves or let charities do it. They favor legalizing drugs and changing laws to let high-rollers manipulate currency trading. They opposed 2020 reforms which limited lawyer price gauging of indigents in court cases. They support transparency in public records, except when it comes to their own donors and out-of-state oligarchs.

Wisely, the Legislature has steered a path between these extremes and a growing economy has given us a brighter future than extremists on either side can see. We should look for legislative proposals which builds on the Idaho strengths.

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 Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.
 

The death of the GOP

johnson

It was always predictable – even inevitable – that it would end this way: defeat, disgrace, disgust and decay. After all, the whole enormous con was built on only one thing, an absolute mountain of bull excrement.

It was predictable – even inevitable – that the fetid smell would spawn a disease that would finally stain everyone close to its source, while everyone inhaling the vapors would be left sickened and stunned.

Lying, and not merely the garden variety truth shading that has always been a feature of politics, will be the lasting take away of the last four years. That so many people, the once principled, the merely ambitious, as well as the graspers of conspiracy and the enablers of fraud, would accept it – even revel in it – will remain a mystery as the Grand Old Party splits along seams that can no longer be reconciled.

Built on lies and ended with lies. Where the Republican Party finds itself in January of 2021 recalls nothing more clearly than Horace Greeley’s mournful lament of the last and fatal victory of the dissolving Whig Party in 1848 when an unprincipled, incompetent political outsider – Zachery Taylor – fueled that party’s destruction. Trump Republicans, like the ancient Whigs, were, in Greeley’s phrase “at once triumphant and undone.”

Each of the provable lies, the evidence of deadly incompetence and the profound corruption of the cult king must be reckoned with even as the leader’s end game – recorded on tape attempting an electoral coup by threatening fellow Republican elected officials – will leave a putrid stain on our body politic for a long, long time to come.

That so many elected officials would willingly embrace the absurdity that a presidential election was stolen; embrace that fiction against absolutely all evidence, in opposition to five dozen unsuccessful court challenges and in the stark face of common sense, is the maximal proof of the intellectual and moral rot that has hollowed out the modern Republican Party.

The repercussions and recriminations will be vicious and ongoing. Such it is when a coup fails. And the harshest rebukes will come from conservatives mourning the death of character and ideals in which they once found salvation and hope.

“No one who has participated in this poisonous buffoonery should ever hold office again,” says the conservative columnist Kevin Williamson in the National Review. “There was a time when there was a plausible if sometimes self-serving rationale for working for the Trump administration — that the president is a clueless poseur surrounded by crackpots and frauds, and that he desperately needs good counsel from responsible adults. But the Trump administration is not currently under the guiding influence of any such responsible adults — and there simply is no defending what it is up to. This cannot be excused or explained away.”

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said of one of the most odious bootlickers, Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson: “He has violated his oath of office and in doing so, Johnson has forfeited his right to represent the people of Wisconsin.” Close to half of Congressional Republicans fit the same description.

When the president of the United States told his Washington rally audience on Wednesday: “your leadership has led you down the tubes” he spoke for him rare truth. His sycophantic vice president, whatever reputation Mike Pence once had is now as repulsive as a wad of gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe, will be the fall guy for the enormous lie. And everyone eventually touched by this rot will forever be diminished.

More in sorrow than anger, Utah Senator Mitt Romney told journalist McKay Coppins this week, “A huge portion of the American public has been misled by the president about the outcome of the election.” Romney, who will forever be remembered for having the courage to acknowledge that the president should be impeached for attempting to force a foreign leader to interfere in an American election, is the rare conservative officeholder speaking truth about the scams. “The president was right that there was an effort to corrupt the election,” Romney said, “but it was not by Joe Biden. It was by President Trump.”

Pick your outrage of the last four years: the inexplicable embrace of Putin, the scandalous pardons of murderers and crooks, often only to serve the cult king, the stoking of racial and anti-immigrant hatred, refugee children separated from their parents, claims that a deadly disease that has claimed 360,000 American lives was “a hoax,” a stolen election.

It has all been a lie, a con, an unprincipled embrace of authoritarianism unprecedented in our history. To ignore this, to tolerate it, to act in its service is the most fundamental debasement of democracy.

What should have ended – ended before all this carnage came – with a videotaped confession that this cult leader was so depraved as to not only abuse women, but boast about it, ended in deprave insurrection in the halls of the U.S. Capitol, a monumental outrage incited by a lying poseur unfit for jury duty let alone the Oval Office.

This dark and demented man, as writer Neal Gabler observed recently, “has stripped away the vestiges of morality, enthroned self-interest — particularly his own — over common good, inverted our values, and ripped the needle off the moral compass, leaving us aimless at best, cruel at worst. It is important to emphasize that our democracy has never been protected by constitutional guardrails, which are altogether too fragile. It has always been protected by something stronger: our moral underpinnings.”

And now Republicans have demolished their moral underpinnings in service to what, a man who promised his fevered followers “so much winning,” but who in fact has presided over a party putting forth such a stream of craziness that Republicans lost the House, the Senate, the presidency and its soul on his watch.

“The Republicans are not debating big ideas: economic policy, national security, the role of government,” journalist David Corn wrote this week. “The debate is whether to join Trump’s clownish but dangerous attempt at a political coup. There is nothing noble here. Do you accept Trump’s democracy-defying cult of personality or not? For Trump and his followers, this is now what makes a Republican.”

This is the death of reason. The demise of responsibility. And one suspects there is no turning back from this level of madness. Once you embrace sedition, as so many Republicans did this week, what is the end game?

How appropriate, since Republicans have floated all the way down to the bottom with their mad leader, that loudspeakers at the “Overturn the Election” rally on the Ellipse in our capitol earlier this week were playing the theme from the motion picture Titanic.

Then they stormed your government and he said he loved them.
 

Insurrection near and far

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Flung out at cross-currents, the word “coup” often has been abused in recent years, as the fact-checking site Politifact concluded of many of its uses, by left and right.

But, after Wednesday’s invasion of the United States capitol, it said this: “A good case can be made that the storming of the Capitol qualifies as a coup. It’s especially so because the rioters entered at precisely the moment when the incumbent’s loss was to be formally sealed, and they succeeded in stopping the count. The storming of the Capitol also would seem to qualify as sedition, which is the use of ‘force to prevent, hinder, or delay the execution of any law of the United States’ or the authority of the U.S. government.”

Much of what we’ve seen in recent years by way of protest activity has been legitimate political speech within our system. Violence has happened but it’s been uncommon, and people mostly have used the events to speak out for or against something - the kind of opinion speech the first amendment most specifically is there to protect.

The Wednesday storming, break-in and vandalizing of the Capitol prompted by a president desperate to cling to his office, was something else. It was an attack on our government, but not only that: It is an attack on the United States, and on us. Work being done on our behalf - choosing our next president - was stopped, and the leaders of our country were forced on the run and into hiding.

Many of these thugs like to call themselves “patriots,” but that’s the sickest of jokes. They are not defending our nation: They are attacking it and us.

Keep that in mind as attention in Idaho turns, as it does every year about this time, to the Idaho Statehouse, and the arrival of the 2021 legislature.

If many Idahoans watching with unease-to-horror the Wednesday break-in at the nation’s house felt a twinge of recognition, that may be because not long ago - to be exact, on August 24 of last year - a smaller but in many respects similar group likewise smashed through doors and windows and defied law enforcement security, attempting to intimidate our elected officials, during a special legislative session at the Idaho Statehouse. The photo images looked similar.

As in Washington, the domestic terrorists wound up being treated with relative kid gloves, with few arrests and little official pushback. Why, we can only guess, without the ability to read minds; but none of the explanations are good.

Based on the exhibited behavior so far by the insurrectionists, we can conclude a few things.

In Boise, the riot wasn’t about the presidential election (its overt subject was the state’s pandemic requirements), but the crowd was strikingly similar: Look at pictures of the mobs at Boise and at Washington and you’d not easily tell the difference. The overlap with MAGA and conspiracy theory and militia and Q-Anon enthusiasm was obvious in both places.

And something else: A complete lack of regard, really a shocking contempt, for their fellow citizens. Both mob actions were fueled by a mix of full fury and recreational fun; it was an emotional carnival for the rioters. (Look closely at the pictures of the mob leaders in both places.) At our expense, they got a high they’re not going to want to abandon now.

The Idaho State Police, which takes the lead in protecting the Idaho Statehouse, is not ignorant of any of this. The agency several days ago released a statement setting out reasonable standards (under the circumstances) for access and proper behavior around the Idaho Statehouse.

But their planning will have to go (maybe it already has, internally) much further than the public statement suggests. Likely during this session, and possibly on repeated occasions, defenders of the Statehouse - and the state - may be confronted with a mob hopped up on high emotion, a complete inability to act rationally, a disregard of rules major and minor and a willingness to become violent. They cannot be reasoned with. They are dangerous to peaceful Idahoans: Some of last summer’s Statehouse invaders packed high-powered firearms. Under these conditions, with a mob like that, people can be hurt or killed, as some were in Washington.

The hopeful view, in the days after the U.S. Capital insurrection, was that it may have let some of the hot air out of the balloon. We can hope that will be the case. But we’d better not count on it.