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Posts published in April 2021

Damn it, Dems


Came across a comment the other day from Economist Robert Reich, a Democrat to the soles of his little feet. Former Labor Secretary for Clinton.

Here’s what he had to say. “Bipartisanship is not a goal. Goals are raising the minimum wage, securing voting rights, ending police brutality, getting universal health care and saving the planet. If these can’t be done in a bipartisanship way, the Hell with bipartisanship.”
In other words, to Democrats, if Republicans are going to sit on their asses while continuing to deny Americans access to health care, a living wage, creating roadblocks to voting in state after state, continue trying to make the writings of Dr. Seuss a national campaign issue and passing more tax breaks for the very, very wealthy, effectively use the votes you have, Democrats. DROP THE HAMMER!

And another thing: the filibuster. Fix it. Operating from minority strength, the GOP has stopped Senate action repeatedly. Under the current rules, one or more members of the Senate can tie up/delay everything. And, it takes 60 votes to override and get back to work. Passing the huge Covid relief bill out was a squeaker. Other, lesser legislation has not been so successful. Now, some voting rights bills and one on gun control, already out of the House, are being sent to the Senate where they’ll be DOA. Filibustered.

I’m on the side of those who’d “kill” the ‘buster. But, there’s talk in both cloak rooms of reform - of making it a “talking” filibuster. In today’s 50-50 situation, Republicans would have to rise and talk. And talk and talk. Imagine Jimmy Stewart in “Mister Smith Goes To Washington.” A Republican would have to talk continually about his/her objections until they either gave up or Democrats pulled the bill. Might work. If it doesn’t, axe the damned thing and get going!

Democrats will not always control the Congress and the Presidency. Now, they do. Odds are they’ll continue that majority for at least four more years. Maybe six or even eight. It’s “now or never,” folks. All that talk of getting this-that-and-the-other done needs to be turned to using that unique situation to produce and pass legislation fulfilling those promises.

Biden’s big bill means, for most of us, a $1,400 support check, more Covid vaccine, extended jobless benefits, child tax credits, big help for schools and a lot more. Democrats did all that without a S-I-N-G-L-E Republican vote! Not one. GOOD JOB! But, there’s more to do. Lots more!

The next big task MUST BE voting rights. Republicans - with a major boost from SCOTUS - are continuing a state-by-state attack on the Constitutionally guaranteed rights of all of us to vote, including minorities. Reduced polling places, reduced voting times, unnecessary identification paperwork, cutting down dates for voting and all sorts of B.S..

Here in Arizona, where mail-in voting has been conduced successfully for many years, we must now send copies of our driver’s licenses or some other photo ID with our completed 2022 ballots. Totally unnecessary! But, a legislature, heavily dominated by Republicans, has made it so. Other states are erecting more barriers voters must conquer. It’s got to stop!

How do GOP politicians, by unanimous votes against the interests of citizens, go home and campaign for re-election? How do they do that? How do you vote a unanimous “NO” to health care and health insurance, voting rights, unemployment benefits, child care, added voting restrictions, attacks on Constitutionally guaranteed rights and face the people? Long on guts - short on smarts. But, uneducated voters buy it! Year after year.

A Louisiana Republican who voted “no” on the stimulus package had - within an hour of the vote - an email on the way to constituents telling of all the good stuff in the legislation. No smarts. Just guts.

Democrats need to go to those same voters - with proof - and educate ‘em. We know many Republican voters have had enough and many Independents are looking for a home.

Now - right now - is the time Democrats should be telling voters what’s going on, showing people what’s been done, offering evidence of Democrat Party leadership and extending a welcoming hand. Right now! Stop talking to each other about how bad conditions are and get to work. You’ve already good Democrat Party accomplishments to share. Right now!

And more. The Republican Party is in tatters. For reasons thinking people can’t understand, some 30-40-million lost souls will follow Trump into oblivion. That portion of the GOP will stand for nothing - produce nothing - accomplish nothing. And they’ll complain about everything. They’ll only be a threat on the ballot if Democrats don’t fill all open races. What’s left of the Grand Old Party will flounder and, similarly, produce nothing.

More than at any time in my knowledge, now is the time for Democrats to create a movement to educate - inform - recruit. In less than three months, Democrats have accomplished a lot. Republicans have accomplished nothing. And they’ll continue to accomplish nothing. I can’t think of a single GOP-authored proposal in the past 90 days. The past year.

There are still Republicans in Congress who know better, know Trump is a fraud and likely headed to jail. Some still talk of “party loyalty” when the truth is there’s no party. Trump wants all future donations made to his PAC rather than the RNC. How long can the RNC be financially viable if donors do what Trump wants? “Party loyalty” to what?

The 2022 campaign has already begun. Republicans are out there beating the bushes, looking for money and volunteer support. All they’ve got, in the words of Andy Griffith in the movie “No Time For Sergeants” is “a handful of gimmie and a mouthful of ‘much obliged.’” They can’t produce any Republican programs or legislative successes. They’ve got nothing! Nada!

The future is wide open for Democrats in Congress and the White House. Republicans will continue to produce opposition and obstruction. If - IF - Dems hold together, both can be overcome.

But, more than that, they’ve got to sell. Sell, sell, sell! With evidence of major successes in less than 90 days, there are already plenty of accomplishments to take to the streets for recruiting.

Go get ‘em!

Denial won’t stop racism


Long-time political observer Betsy Russell recently wrote of some Idaho legislators’ efforts to stamp out the study of “racist concepts” in Idaho education. The problem is that there were elements of racism in Idaho from the very birth of the Idaho Territory in 1863 and some racist ideas still live with us to this very day. We must recognize and discuss racism, if we hope to eradicate it.

When Abraham Lincoln signed Idaho Territory into being on March 3, 1863, there were a large number of Confederate sympathizers within its borders. More came to settle after the Civil War ended. Since then, many Idahoans have bought into the mistaken concept that the Civil War was merely a fight over states’ rights and economics. In truth, it was primarily over the right of slave owners to continue profiting from the free labor of men and women forcibly brought to the country from Africa.

The states’ rights argument was afoot in our State when the Ku Klux Klan rose to respectable prominence in Idaho politics in the 1920s. A group of 350 KKK members paraded through downtown Boise on September 9, 1924. White supremacists set up in Hayden in the late 1970s and others burned crosses near Jerome in the early 1980s. The hate is still alive today. I have heard and seen it myself since the 1950s.

Those who made this land their home long before Columbus arrived have felt the sting of racism--broken treaties, forced migrations and massacres disguised as battles, such as the Bear River Massacre that killed over 270 members of the Shoshone Tribe in 1863. Even to this day, Native Americans face discriminatory treatment in parts of our State.

Asian Americans have also been subjected to hateful treatment from territorial days. Chinese immigrants made up almost 30% of Idaho’s population in 1870, but most left the State after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Idaho government officials supported the incarceration of many thousands of loyal Japanese Americans in 1942, including the Minidoka Camp just 6 miles from where I grew up. One of the young men from that camp, William Nakamura, died fighting for his country in Italy in 1944. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor 56 years later.

Many in the growing Hispanic population of Idaho have been subject to abuse for as long as I can remember. People who came to Idaho to do the backbreaking work of keeping our farms and dairies running, and whose kids have gone on to jobs in non-farm sectors, have not been given the thanks and respect they deserve for powering our economy.

Folks in each of these groups, and others, have all contributed to the marvelous patchwork of our State. They want the same things that motivate the rest of us--security for their families, the chance to give their kids a better life, harmony with their neighbors. They have not always gotten what they strive for, partly because of prejudicial attitudes of fellow Idahoans.

If we hope to have an atmosphere where all people in our State can enjoy the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is essential that we acknowledge where we, as a society, have fallen short. If we simply ignore grievous injustices to some of our people as a result of discriminatory treatment, we won’t have a basis to correct the wrongful conduct and move forward together for a better tomorrow. The effects of racism, either outright or unintentional, will not go away if we try to sweep it under the rug or if we hide it from our children.

That tyranny talk


Anyone notice the irony here? Malcontents and the arch-rightist, “Get Little” crowd are still trying to clip Gov. Brad Little’s emergency powers and will take more pokes at the governor this week when the Legislature comes back from a two-week COVID recess.

But again, they’re a day late. They call for extreme legislative action just as the real viral COVID emergency fades. Legislative hysterians moan about state mandates, restrictions, Little’s “tyranny.” Except here are the big-picture facts:

COVID infections are dropping state wide, as they are nationally. Health districts and others are loosening restrictions, while still advising people to exercise cautions, but not mandated actions.

A state appointments online program has almost 100,000 signups in its first few weeks. (IdahoPress, 3/25) There was never a state mandate to wear a mask. So much for Little’s alleged “tyranny.”

So now what do average Idaho citizens think? If the rising vaccinations are any indication, hundreds of thousands of Idaho citizens have already been vaccinated and are implicitly rejecting the rightists’ hysteria.

People are voting their choice by rolling up their sleeves for the preventive shots. In a recent poll of 1,000 Idaho Republicans, two-thirds (67%) said they thought Gov. Little was handling the pandemic just about right. And that’s among regular Republicans. How do the Legislature’s extremists explain that? They can’t, so they ignore it.

Here are the real numbers. As of a week ago, nearly 700,000 Idahoans had received at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, with close to 300,000 fully vaccinated. (Statesman, 3/30). Tens of thousands more have signed up or are waiting for appointments. About a third of Idaho adults had received at least one shot, with the rollout continuing apace week by week. Among seniors, two-thirds of Idahoans over 65 are now vaccinated, as are one-third of those 55-64. (Associated Press, 3/25).

Little said that by tomorrow, the day before the Legislature reconvenes, Idaho would expand availability of vaccines statewide to anyone over age 16, as some health districts have already done. (Pos-Register, 3/25). Again, where’s Little’s “tyranny” in that?

Sure, there are some who won’t take vaccine shots, ever, for anything. They’re mostly “anti-vaxxers” (IdahoPress, 3/24), a noisy, small group that is beyond trying to convince. If they had their way, we’d all be back in the medical Dark Ages with people dying of smallpox and polio. We take for granted too much of medical advances; perhaps these nay-sayers should migrate to the many such places in the world with contaminated water and poor public health.

They see national and even international conspiracies in every public health measure, as if a vaccination program somehow pushes Idaho toward a world-wide, globalist order. To them, Bill Gates and other “globalists” are devils incarnate. Medical professionals, to their way of thinking, are just pawns in this vast conspiracy. Idaho’s “sovereignty” is at stake. Got that?

They hold Governor Little in the same low regard for multiple reasons, only a few of which have anything to do with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mostly, they’re sour and bruised that Little defeated their rightist candidate, Raul Labrador, in the 2018 Republican primary.

Since that loss, they’ve vowed to make Little a “one-term” governor. They’ve already settled on their candidate, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who has spent her time in office coddling up to rightist, militia toy-soldiers and even put one of her anti-police adherents, Parrish Miller, on the state’s payroll in her office. (IdahoPress, 3/2; 3/16).

These extremists attempt to thwart Little at every turn. In the Legislature, they intimidate others by fear of bill “rankings,” which Miller gathers for his Rasputin overlords at the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a secretive rightist Idaho group with ties and money from oligarchs both and outside Idaho. (IdahoPress, 1/20; Post-Register, 5/20/2020)

Little, much to his credit, has mostly ignored these ankle-biting Pomeranians. He’s got a state to run; they just carp, whine, complain and Bible-thump about how world is going to hell in a handbasket. But Little’s nobody’s patsy. He’s learned that if he turns the other cheek to these malcontents, he just gets slapped again. Sometimes you have to quit trying to find common ground. You just get run over. That’s the way it is with fanatics.

So Little just keeps on doing what he was elected to do, that is to take measured, appropriate actions on behalf of all Idahoans. Again, no tyranny in that.

The COVID-19 pandemic is beginning to fade in Idaho’s mirror, and perhaps with it, we’ll see a decline in the extremism Little has had to face. It would have been better if he had a working partner in the Lieutenant Governor’s office across the Capitol hallway, on issues like economic development and transportation. Instead, he has the opposite today in McGeachin who cow-tows to kooks and other destroyers of civil order.

So Little has had to turn to others for support and has found it among reasonable, common-sense Republicans, state-wide leaders in all walks of life and average citizens. He may not get the credit he deserves for defeating COVID-19, but he and Idaho’s medical and public health community and legions of common-sense Republicans have done so nonetheless. That’s called leadership. Average Idahoans won’t turn him out to be replaced by ideological fanatics and charlatans.

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 can be reached at

A statement for our times


Everett McKinley Dirksen of Illinois was a towering figure on the American political stage in the 1950’s and 60’s, a man who said his overarching principle as Senate minority leader, a position he held for ten years prior to his death in 1969, was “flexibility.”

Dirksen, dubbed among other things “the wizard of Ooze” owing to his florid speaking style – he had hoped to be an actor as a young man, and had a voice that one admirer said reminded him of “honey dripping on metal tiles” – was a marvel at changing a position, something he did repeatedly.

Dirksen embraced the historic Civil Rights Act in 1964 after initially voicing doubts. He flat our rejected a nuclear test ban treaty with the Soviet Union when John Kennedy first proposed an agreement only to later lead the Senate effort to ratify what became the foundation of all subsequent efforts to limit nuclear weapons.

“Life is not a static thing,” the conservative Dirksen said in 1965. “I try to be a realist and appreciative of what you have to do in the world in light of changing conditions.”

One might think that the last year would have provided a level of realism and appreciation for “changing conditions,” and might have prompted some serious rethinking of old assumptions, particularly on the conservative right. But for a significant segment of the American population continuing to defy public health advice is now just one more political hill to die on, literally.

Ignoring the shocking pandemic numbers in her state, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, a favorite in Trump world and a would-be presidential contender, boasts that her’s “is the only state in America that never ordered a single business or church to close. We never instituted a shelter in place order. We never mandated that people wear masks.”

All true, but oh the cost.

South Dakota’s spread-out population numbers 885,000 souls, a total, as of earlier this week, diminished by 1,935 victims of COVID in the last year. As a point of comparison, consider Oregon’s population of 4.2 million and the state’s 2,390 virus deaths. Oregon has imposed strict lockdown procedures and mandated masks. And, surprise, the number of Oregon deaths, while tragic, is remarkably lower as a percent of total population than wide open South Dakota.

And there is vaccine hesitancy, or denial.

New polling from the NPR/PBS/Marist survey indicated that 49% of Republican men are, so far at least, refusing COVID-19 vaccines, a vastly higher percentage than any other demographic. Only 6% of men who identify as Democrats said they would forgo the shots.

“We’ve never seen an epidemic that was polarized politically before,” Robert J. Blendon, a health policy scholar at Harvard, told Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. Politics and partisanship explains a lot about tragedy.

There has been an unrelenting logic to pandemic since it came fully into our lives in March of last year. While there is much we still do not know about the disease there is no mystery to its exponential march. When public and personal efforts to control the spread are ignored in places like South Dakota – and it a large degree in Idaho and many other conservative states – the numbers of infections, hospitalizations and deaths roll from one wave to the next. The fourth wave is upon us.

More than 95 million Americans have had one dose of the vaccine and more than 50 million have been fully vaccinated but getting the last ten percent treated in order to make the country safe for everyone may prove a daunting, even impossible, challenge.

The former guy, tucked up in south Florida, kind of urged his followers to take the vaccine recently, but he didn’t have the moral courage – big surprise – to actually make a production out of getting his own shot. He makes a production of everything, but takes a pass when lives, even the lives of his supporters, are at stake.

In Iowa, another conservative state where politicians have declined to lead, while caving under a deluge of misinformation and conspiracy theorizing, a local GOP official who recovered from COVID said recently, “I’m not a rebel by any means. I know this stuff is real. I’ve lived it, but I also believe strongly in personal choice.” Still she said she would make no effort to communicate with fellow Republicans that the vaccine is a very good thing.

The conservative mantra of “personal choice” has become for many conservatives just another way to be irresponsible.

Now, brace yourselves for the coming fight on the right over “vaccine passports,” some method to allow those who have been vaccinated to show proof of that fact. Journalist Kevin Drum sensibly said the passport issue, which could make it easier to screen airline or cruise line passengers or deem a warehouse crew disease free, should be left to the private sector to figure out. That would, after all, be a conservative value, but oh no.

The U.S. House of Representative’s wackadoodle caucus immediately moved to add proof of vaccine to “cancel culture,” insurrection denial and the vast threat to the Republic from transgender girls playing basketball to the list of its defining issues of our time.

Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (Republican – Lalaland), a politician as historically ignorant as she is conspiracy crazed, equated a private business requiring proof of vaccination to “corporate communism,” thereby proving she doesn’t comprehend either word.

It is clear we are headed into another very rough patch where the unrelenting logic of this horrible disease that has claimed 550,000 American lives will again prove to all that you can deny it, but you can’t avoid it. Cases are increasing again everywhere. The inevitable rise in hospitalizations will follow in a couple of weeks and then the death rates will increase. Again.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results, we’ve moved to an advanced stage. One suspects that the old pragmatic midwestern conservative Ev Dirksen would have been astounded.

“The only people who do not change their minds,” Dirksen said, “are incompetents in asylums, who can’t, and those in cemeteries.” Now, there’s a statement for our times.

The new news


Four decades ago at this time of year, the Idaho Legislature was, as it is now, nearing its close. It was a different legislature then, and a different corps of news reporters covered it.

My legislative directory from the 1981 session (yes, I’ve kept it after all these years) included, as the directories have before and since, lists of the news organizations accredited to cover the legislature. The 1981 list included two wire services, nine newspapers (Moscow, Idaho Falls, Nampa, Pocatello, Lewiston, Twin Falls, Meridian and two from Boise), four television stations from the Boise area (including Idaho Public Television) and four radio stations.

The directory from this year’s session includes fewer in each of these categories (except television stations, which are organized and affiliated differently). Fewer reporters from these organizations are full-time at the Statehouse, and overall probably spend fewer reporting hours there.

Except . . . I left something out of that newer listing that wasn’t in the old one, a new type of news organization: The non-profit.

The Idaho Statehouse for some years has seen energetic work from the Idaho Education News, a web-only news service which specifically covers education issues in the state but also keeps a close eye on legislative activities. A nonprofit organization staffed by experienced journalists, it has done a highly creditable job. Skeptics at the start noted that major funding came from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation, which had an interest in a number of education issues. But the IEN operation has proven itself as reliable, independent and a highly useful information source. (Disclosure: I make use of some of its reports for one of my publications.)

It offers some precedential hope, for people interested in seeing more public affairs reporting in Idaho, and for another non-profit news organization that started just last week, in time to catch the tail end of the current legislative session: The Idaho Capital Sun.

Allied with a group of nonprofit state-level news organizations around the country, the Sun describes itself as Idaho’s “newest nonprofit news organization delivering accountability journalism on state politics, health care, tax policy, the environment and more.” Its editor is Christina Lords, who until not long ago edited the Idaho Statesman daily newspaper, and others on staff also have newspaper backgrounds. Lords described the organization as “a small — but mighty — team of experienced Idaho journalists interested in diving into these issues and more as Idaho’s newest nonprofit online journalism outlet. We’re a part of our parent organization, States Newsroom, which has outlets in 20 other states, including our neighbors Montana and Nevada.”

This Idaho development is part of an under-reported national trend. Non-profit news gathering is growing, while for-profit news gathering has been shrinking in size (notwithstanding recent expansions in some places, like the Adams newspapers in southern Idaho). That carries pluses and minuses, but the differences can be subtle. Both are reliant on their income sources - chiefly donors for one, advertisers for the other - and could be subject to external influences.

But the new organizations also come with a lot of potential. The Sun, for example, gives as its purpose “relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans.” That’s specifically what the people who set it up and lead it expect of it, which is much more ambitious than most of Idaho’s (or other) traditional news organizations can say.

A lot will depend now on how many people read it and contribute to it. The Sun and its kin have a significant challenge.

The press corps is changing, but some of the changes may help make up in years to come for some of what we’ve lost. At least, we have some improving grounds for thinking so.

Health care sharing ministries


I listen to the radio when I’m working on that garage I’m building down the hill. Can’t hear it above the saw but it keeps me company. When I heard the ad for a “Health Care Sharing Ministry” I listened carefully, because I know what they are; and what they are not. But the ad sure didn’t help me know that.

Most HCSMs allow membership if applicants share the same religious beliefs. Some only ask that you have a “healthy lifestyle”. You are expected to pay a monthly fee, then when you have a medical cost, you apply for reimbursement.

I got my introduction to these when a fellow State Senator brought a bill before my committee back in the anti-Obamacare days. I’d never heard of them before. It turns out the ACA included an exception for these; folks so enrolled didn’t have to pay the Individual Mandate penalty. But the Obama compromise also limited these entities to ones in place before the year 2000. And that individual mandate penalty is now $0.

Back when the ACA compromises were being handed out, there were only about 100,000 people enrolled in these. Small potatoes to the insurance industry, and Obama, the great compromiser, thought this was a practice worth defending, so folks who participated got written out of the requirement for the Individual Mandate.

The bill before us that got me studying “just wanted to make sure” Idaho didn’t treat these entities like insurance. And they aren’t. But that radio ad I heard last week sure made them sound like it.

“Health insurance unaffordable? Try us!” was basically what it said.
Nowadays, HCSMs have over a million participants nationwide. And I guess radio ads are part of their marketing plan.

Remember, we (that is, Congress) have been doing nothing for the last ten years to keep health insurance affordable. I can see why folks are looking for a low-cost alternative. But HCSMs are not insurance.

Health insurance companies are regulated, both at the federal and state level. Health insurance companies cannot exclude you for a preexisting condition (thanks to the ACA). HCSMs can. Health insurance companies cannot kick you off for getting sick (expensive), also thanks to the ACA. HCSMs can. Health insurance companies must spend 80% of their revenue paying for health care (thanks ACA). And they get audited. HCSMs have no such obligation for transparency.

When I first heard about these long ago in committee, I thought they sounded like an informal mutual aid society, with a scriptural inspiration. The Apostle Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thus fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians, Chapter 2 Verse 6. Why not let like-minded folks pool their resources and care for each other? My question is, why do they need to advertise on the radio?

It seems that some Idaho legislators might listen to these radio ads in their neck of the woods too. A bill was attempted to be introduced back in February to put some regulations on these actors. It was interesting to me that a Republican legislator carried it, and the committee rejected it. Now, as an Idaho Democrat, that’s familiar territory, but a Republican sponsor, and a member of the committee? He must have had a real stinker.

Oh, that’s right, it had to do with regulations. We don’t need no regulations.

But another bill was introduced and printed, so we can read the suggestions. It is in a chairman’s drawer.

The bill proposes HCSMs have an annual audit that is made public, not exclude anyone based on their health risk, and not misrepresent itself as insurance.

I doubt the Idaho legislature will want to support such brazen regulations. We all just need to be careful when we are buying stuff, don’t we? We’re on our own here folks.