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Posts published in May 2021

A happy ending story


A cable news story on May 14 caught my attention because it involved a woman in Florida who had just been allowed to re-enter the U.S. after having been deported several years earlier. Alejandro Juarez was reunited with her husband and two daughters over the Mother’s Day weekend. I recalled writing about her plight just before she was forced to return to Mexico in August 2018.

Alejandro was undocumented when she married Cuauhtemoc “Temo” Juarez in 2000. Temo was born in Mexico, served in the U.S. Marines from 1995 to 1999, and had become a naturalized citizen in 2002 before serving a sixteen-month deployment in Iraq with the Florida National Guard. They had two daughters, who are both U.S. citizens. The family had established firm roots in their Florida community and local church.

Alejando’s immigration status came to light in 2013 but she was allowed to stay in the country under a “parole in place” policy. Unfortunately, the policy was later replaced with a no-tolerance policy that applied to military families, resulting in her deportation order.

Veterans for New Americans (VNA), an organization that advocates for immigrants in the military, veterans and their families, asked if I’d write an op-ed in support of the family. It was a privilege to do so and VNA got the article placed in the August 3, 2018 issue of USA Today. The paper chose to run it with this catchy headline: “It’s time for America to stop thanking veterans for serving, then deporting their wives.” That was pretty much the gist of the article. Unfortunately, strong support from her church and community, veteran groups, and 17 members of Congress was insufficient to keep the immigration authorities from breaking this military family apart.

That was not the end of the story. The local Congressman, Darren Sota, worked in Congress and with the Administration to help the Juarez family, as well as similarly situated military families. Netflix featured Alejandro’s situation in a documentary series “Living Undocumented” in October 2019. Her daughters, particularly now-11-year-old Estela, worked as cheerleaders to bring their mom back home. Estela read a letter at last year’s Democratic National Convention, calling for Alejandro’s return. It all was effective in bringing the family back together for a Mother’s Day celebration.

Alejandro is just one of many military/veteran family members who have been separated or live in threat of separation. American Families United, an advocacy group, has estimated that almost 12,000 active duty personnel had a spouse vulnerable to deportation. Several bills are pending in Congress to provide these people relief. It’s much easier to prevent future injustice, than trying to cure a past injustice. Passage of legislation is necessary to provide Alejandro permanent status in the U.S.

Those safeguarding our national security should not have to worry that their families will be broken apart by an outdated, unjust immigration system. Knowing that their family members are secure and that, if deployed, they can count on supportive family members to be present upon their return, will allow service members to focus on keeping America safe.

Oh, and by the way, Estela Juarez is documenting her family’s story in a book titled, “Until Someone Listens.” Perhaps it would be well to listen to what this young American has to say.

Sick of it


I am sick — really sick — of writing bad things about police officers. My father wears a badge. So does my cousin. My uncle served as longtime chaplain to a police department. All three are good men — men of honor. Whenever I write commentary disparaging law enforcement, I feel as if I am betraying these men. But worse than feeling sick, worse than feeling like a traitor, I am disgusted that other sworn police officers keep providing fuel for the fires of my outrage.

Law enforcement is probably the most difficult, thankless job on the planet right now. Cops are jeered, attacked, criticized, spat upon, mocked, assaulted and constantly second-guessed — often, they can do very little in return, forced to exercise an inhuman level of self-control. People like me write bad things about some of them yet they have to be polite to us. Unfortunately, much of the public disfavor directed at the police has been earned by certain members of the profession — too many members of the profession. This shame is self-inflicted. While I am willing to say the majority of police officers are good men and women, I do not believe it’s “just a few bad apples” giving the profession a bad name — it’s more than a few. Far too many egregious examples of misconduct continue to happen, every day, often followed by cover-up actions. It’s time to take out the trash.

The argument that police officers are just humans who make mistakes doesn’t wash with me. Not when you’re a cop. When you carry a gun and wield lawful power of life and death over your fellow citizens, you must be committed to a no-fail mission. When the counter attendant at McDonald’s messes up your order, maybe you get annoyed but no one dies. When I make a mistake in my commentary, I might anger someone or embarrass myself but no one dies. When police officers make mistakes, too often people die. When you carry a tool designed to kill people, you must be held to a higher standard than a counter attendant, a store clerk, a bus driver or even a writer.

“But if only he’d just complied!” people lament. Sure, you and I know we should comply with any order given by a cop — we know we can, at least in theory, ask questions later. But when you’re a member of a community of color with a long and storied history of mistrust of the overbearing authority of mostly white law enforcement organizations, you don’t always think with a clear head. When the officer is shrieking obscenities at you, his or her sidearm thrust at your chest over some violation as stupid as an air freshener, you might be justified in your panic. When you’re a Black male, you know you’re viewed as a violent thug, even if you have a college degree and you wear commissioned officer’s bars on the collar of your U.S. military uniform. A Black man does not deserve the indignity of an automatic felony-level stop just because he’s not white. A Black man does not deserve to die over an alleged fake $20 bill, a bad check or a burned-out tail light.

Black lives matter. That is a sentence, not a reference to an organization. It is a simple statement, a reminder for those who need reminding.

But in Forest Grove, that statement was evidently a trigger for one drunk and immature man with self-control problems.

Just up the highway from McMinnville lies the town of Forest Grove. A suburb of Portland, Forest Grove is part small town, part metropolitan bedroom community. So close to a major city, you’d think the police department in a town like Forest Grove might have somewhat higher standards than a little hick town in the middle of nowhere. But you’d be wrong.

Just after midnight last year on October 31, Forest Grove officers responded to a report of a man terrorizing the residents of a private home. The man had reportedly entered the victim’s driveway, setting off a vehicle alarm and attacking a Black lives matter flag displayed on the house. According to court documents, homeowner Mirella Castaneda and her young son sat cowering in the home, terrified, as the raging suspect attempted to kick the front door down, challenging them to fight, in a drunken rage that Castaneda dared display a Black lives matter banner.

When officers arrived, they discovered the alleged attacker was, in fact, one of their colleagues. But so great was Officer Steven Teets’ drunken stupor, he didn’t recognize Officer Bradley Schuetz and Officer Amber Daniels, two of Forest Grove’s finest, people he worked with every day.

Since he was off duty at the time of this incident, Teets was free to get as drunk as he wished — but he was not free to try to attack private citizens because he despises their simple Black lives matter sign.

Is it just me or is an immature man with anger and self-control issues coupled with bigotry and an unbelievable appetite for alcohol a totally inappropriate candidate for a police force? Is it really possible in 2021 to be clueless that you work with a guy who has a litany of character faults that should exclude him from wearing a badge and carrying a gun? Wake up, American police administrators: losers like Teets are a big part of the public’s disgust with law enforcement. Can you not see that?

Worse maybe, I can’t help wondering if, like most other off-duty cops, Teets was packing a sidearm during his drunken attack. I bet I know the answer.

If the embarrassment of Teets’ alleged rampage wasn’t bad enough, Officer Schuetz decided Teets hadn’t really done anything all that awful — Teets just needed to go home and sleep it off.

Seriously? Police officers have killed Black men for far, far less than Teets’ violent episode. And Schuetz apparently didn’t believe Teets warranted even a smack on the wrist so what did Schuetz do? He drove Teets home.

If that’s not a violation of the public’s trust, I don’t know what is.

To make a long and sordid story short but no less sordid, the Forest Grove P.D.’s desire to keep the story quiet was shot down when Castaneda filed a tort claim notice. “The officers who investigated Ms. Castaneda’s 911 call worked in concert, either intentionally, or subconsciously due to implicit bias, to deprive Ms. Castaneda of her Constitutional rights in various ways and in substantial part because of her support for Black Lives Matter,” says the notice. Castaneda’s attorney claims investigating officers did not search Teets for weapons, intentionally omitted the Black lives matter component from their reports even though that’s what set Teets off in the first place and did not activate their body cameras which would have shown the flag — another clear breach of the public’s trust. Unless he’s completely dense, Forest Grove Interim Chief of Police Henry Reimann must be aware his officers’ shameful conduct is why many people have lost all patience for corrupt and inept law enforcement.

When former Forest Grove Chief of Police Janie Schutz abruptly retired in January 2020, she alleged widespread misogyny and misconduct throughout her department, including failure to investigate potential felony-level crimes. Six months later, she testified before a legislative committee, saying Forest Grove City Hall resisted her efforts to address the problems. She told committee members the city ultimately forced her to retire.

Schutz testified: “My reward for doing the right thing was for the city manager to place me under investigation for an alleged violation of city handbook policy, which to this day, I deny all allegations.” It seems Chief Schutz was right in the end, if Officers Scheutz and Teets’ conduct is any indication.

Teets has been charged with second-degree criminal mischief and second-degree disorderly conduct. He has been placed on administrative desk duty as he awaits trial. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office investigated, arresting Teets back in November.

After Beaverton P.D. took over the investigation into Forest Grove’s handling of the incident, Schuetz was arrested this week and charged with first-degree official misconduct, a Class A misdemeanor. A grand jury indicted Schuetz on May 6. He has been placed on paid administrative leave.

How can we weed out these totally inappropriate people from consideration as law enforcement candidates? Immaturity, anger-control issues, self-control problems, hatred of Black people, intolerance of those with opposing political views, alcohol gluttony — all of these should be red flag warnings to those making hiring decisions. Is there no way to screen for these character flaws?

What about corruption? When your drunken buddy gets a pass because he wears a badge when he can actually stand on his own, that’s corruption. When police officers believe they can pick and choose which laws apply to which people, that’s corruption. When Black men die over air fresheners, expired tags or bad checks but white cops go free after orgies of drunken violence, that’s not only corruption, but also moral poverty.

I am sick of saying bad things about cops. But I’m even sicker of bad cops killing Black people.

Closed primaries, mixed blessing


By closing its primary a decade ago, the Idaho Republican Party achieved its intended purpose of killing off Democrats’ efforts to manipulate the results of Republican contests. But in doing so, it has unleashed a wave of hyper-partisanship previously unseen in Idaho and not of always positive results.

The law which allows political parties to define their own primaries (Title 34-904A IC) ironically was allowed by a Democrat federal judge, Lynn Winmill, who ruled that parties could conduct their own primary selection process to screen out non-party members. That’s what was then done; to vote in the GOP primary since 2011, you have to be either a declared Republican or an Independent. Democrats could no longer vote in the GOP primary as “cross overs.”

I was in the Idaho House of Representatives at the time and voted for the bill in the 2011 (HB 351) legislative session. At the time, it was evident that cross-over voting was widespread. Democrats were open and indeed proud about how they had infiltrated the process to nominate Republican candidates more to their liking. I, like many other Republican legislators, thought this manipulation was deceitful and that modifying the law for a closed primary was the best solution.

Today, Idaho’s GOP primary process remains “closed.” Democrats allow anyone to vote in their own primary, but except in a few isolated locations, they don’t have the votes to win the subsequent general election contests. They are thus left in a “dead end alley,” since the state is now so heavily Republican overall.

So how is that not a good thing, Republicans might ask? What’s wrong with crimping down sneak-in Democrat voters and send their few office holders “packing” as some Republicans avow?

The obvious result has been a sharp change in the profiles of elected public officials, who are now, as a body, more conservative politically and ideologically than a decade ago. Back then, there were a few hard-right individuals in the Idaho House; today, it’s more like a dozen who often vote “no” `as a block on many issues.

More significantly, they seem to approach most issues from an ideological perspective; if a proposed legislation doesn’t square with their interpretations, it gets an automatic turn-down. Practical needs outside of their world-view aren’t given even a listen, much less a nod.

Over time, the closed primary has resulted in more such linear thinking among many, particularly in the House. With Democrats all but eliminated (only 12 of 70 House seats, 7 of 35 Senate), what were once Party versus Party disputes have move almost wholly to internal power contests within Republican ranks. This, as is readily predictable, puts the closed primary as the major “clash point.”

We can see this emerging split now in the raft of declarations of people deciding to run or not. The governor’s race already has three arch-conservatives vying to challenge Gov. Brad Little. Not a single Democrat has yet declared. Other arch-conservatives have declared for other positions, setting up next May’s GOP primary as a watershed one, all down the GOP ticket.

The splitting apart of political factions is evident all around the country, within both the GOP and the Democratic Parties. It’s part of the modern political profile of the nation; in state after state, we see various factions vying for power. This faction splitting was recognized as early as the first years of the republic. Then, James Madison (Federalist #10) sketches the dangers clearly of how excessive partisanship would hinder our common heritage and future of the nation. Time has clearly proven him correct, with the Civil War and today’s culture war as prime examples.

But that hasn’t lessened the bickering, insults, put-downs and now doxing. Citizens routinely say want elected officials to work for the common good, but there isn’t agreement as to what that means in day-to-day governance. Thus, fueled by special interest groups and the so-called Idaho Freedom Foundation and its fat-cat outsiders, every issue becomes an arena of dispute.

The overall result is less progress on practical matters, less civility in personal relationships and an angry, strident tone to many debates, mostly from the rightists who contest and argue incessantly. This is then spread across the state by a contentious and partisan media which feeds off every dispute as if it were a battle royal.

It’s unrealistic to expect the closed primary law would be reversed, certainly not in the near future. There are other ways of conducting elections, such as rank-tiered voting, but there’s not been much discussion of that for Idaho. The closed primary is the “elephant in the room” which we all know is there.

Rightists like the closed primary as it benefits their candidates in the split primary contests. They can win a primary contest sometimes with less than 30 percent of the vote, as Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin did in 2018, thus vaulting narrow and strident candidates into office who lack even basic qualifications, Democrats decry it, but are powerless to stop it, so they live within the closed primary system they ironically created.

The only immediate corrective would be to defeat or retire the most tin-hatted obstructionists, or to squeeze them out of the GOP and legislative caucus into an Anarchist Party of their own, as that is who they really are. In the meantime, we reap what we have sown.

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

Our existential moment


A terrifying thing about democracy facing existential crisis is that it’s entirely possible – perhaps even natural – to miss the flashing red warning lights.

We have arrived at such a moment.

There are many and varied reasons for the American decline into tribalism, nationalism, embrace of conspiracy and profound distrust of public institutions. The important thing is that it has happened.

A non-profit called “More in Common” has released a new report that should send shivers down the spine of every American. The organization is dedicated to battling political polarization, but it’s pushing a huge rock up a very steep hill as it attempts to make progress.

“Every democracy,” the group said in its report, “depends on a threshold level of trust among its citizens and in its key institutions of government, business, and civil society. Currently however, the United States falls short of that ideal.” According to the group’s research “less than one in four Americans believe the federal government, American corporations, and national media to be honest. This distrust is not limited to institutions either: fewer than two in five Americans feel ‘most people can be trusted.’”

So, we not only distrust government, business and the media, we distrust one another. The center is not holding and the evidence, if you care to see it, is all about.

As this is written it seems almost certain that the U.S. Senate will refuse to undertake a bipartisan investigation of the deadly attack on the Congress on January 6. A proposal to form a 9-11-type commission to investigate the insurrection was approved on a bipartisan basis in the House of Representatives after a senior member of the Republican Party negotiated the details with his Democratic counterpart. This is normal. What is not normal is blocking the investigation for purely partisan reasons, which is happening in the Senate.

The legislation that passed the House with 35 Republican votes is modeled on the commission that examined the 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The leaders of that commission, Republican Tom Kean and Democrat Lee Hamilton, support of the proposal that seems destined to die in the Senate.

“The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was one of the darkest days in the history of our country. Americans deserve an objective and an accurate account of what happened,” Kean and Hamilton said.

Senate GOP Mitch McConnell’s stand in opposition has the moral equivalence of saying December 7, 1941 was no big deal, or that the politically motivated break in at the Watergate complex in 1972 was merely “a third-rate burglary.” Congress, of course, conducted extensive investigations of both events, not to mention that congressional Republicans investigated the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi for months. Why wouldn’t we want to get at the instigators of those who chanted “hang Mike Pence” on that horrible day?

The Senate vote to investigate Watergate was 77-0.

Failure to act today in light of January 6th is simply incitement to more political violence.

Meanwhile the steady drumbeat of conspiracy mongering about a stolen election continues unabated. Conservative legislators in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and a dozen other states are restricting voting rights. As Myrna Perez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Right program says, “Rather than competing for voters, they are trying to fence some voters out and make it harder for them to vote.”

This is a breakdown of democracy.

In a number of states, including Idaho and Montana, lawmakers are recklessly flaunting the rule of law in pushing flagrantly unconstitutional legislation and then squandering taxpayer money trying to defend their indefensible work in front of judges who are increasingly criticized for following the law.

This is trashing the rule of law.

A year after a white police officer murdered George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis many state legislators want to prohibit teaching about racism. There were twelve mass shootings last weekend in the United States, and another earlier this week.

This is a country in crisis yet is unwilling to deal with that crisis.

Columnist Stuart Rothenberg correctly says that those of us who thought the fever of blind partisanship, insane fakery and grievance politics would end after a decisive presidential election were flat out wrong. In fact, Rothenberg says, things have gotten worse. “Instead of laying the ground for a more thoughtful, less partisan discussion of the challenges facing this country, the past six months have raised additional questions about our country’s future and the rule of law.”

This is a flashing red-light moment for everyone who loves the idea of American democracy, and an especially fraught moment for people not in politics but still in positions of influence.

Businesses, for example, need to shut off the flow of campaign cash to every single politician in both parties who won’t abide by the normal and long-established rules of political behavior. If they are spinning fantasies to keep or gain power or won’t accept election results, cut them off.

Journalism, real journalism, in all its forms is under assault, many times from bad faith actors, but also from those who want to make a quick buck trafficking in anger and grievance. Not surprisingly, reporters and editors struggle to navigate a world where a former president still has most of his supporters believing the biggest lie ever told in American politics. The one thing journalists must do in this fact-free word is to go to work every day determined to protect democracy and speak truth to power, especially to those who repeat lies that only divide.

Still, even as we are plagued with profoundly inadequate political leadership from the Potomac to Portland, we need the principled leaders we have to recognize and then address a nation at war with itself. This is a moment to double down on respect for the rule of law, protect democratic institutions and embrace civility.

“Nothing is free, not even disillusionment,” Robert Stone wrote in an essay more than 35 years ago that he entitled “Does America Still Exist?” “God doesn’t manifest himself in history; men do,” Stone said, as he argued for Americans to live up to its ideals or admit that if we fail to do so we will have betrayed “the noblest vision of civil order and probity that this imperfect world, and the cautious optimism of Western man, will ever be capable of producing.”

It is our existential moment. Which way do we turn?

(photo/Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Following up on BSU


Too many people in politics today count on a lack of follow-up: The people who lob poorly-founded charges like hand grenades out the back of a truck hurtling down the highway, depend on people never cottoning to the fact that they’re fake.

One of the instances this week (yes, there are more than just the one) in Idaho involves the social justice indoctrination underway at Boise State University … supposedly.

The subject of the complaint concerned a group of courses under the umbrella of University Foundations 200, which does concern an array of social issues. The (badly misnamed) Idaho Freedom Foundation alleged in March “Boise State students are speaking out about how they are silenced and demoralized by activists on campus. The university's response raises a question: How extensive is the social justice rot? … This ideology asserts that all whites and especially males as oppressors, and that racial minorities are permanent victims. Social Justice institutions like Boise State then construct an environment that seeks to shame and vent hatred on the oppressors and elevate and insulate the oppressed from any kind of criticism.”

The basis of this was a complaint from one person (not a BSU student or employee) who claims to have seen a video on someone else’s cell phone, the source of which is unknown and which hasn’t been seen since, and which has been confirmed by no one and nothing. On the basis of that, a large chunk of the Idaho legislature declared war on higher education in the state.

In the current legislature they had enough pull to cut into state university budgets, and threaten much more damage to come. The next session, after all, is only seven months away. (Or maybe just a few weeks, if the House majority sees fit.)

BSU administration, faced with all that, asked for an independent investigation of whether the charges were true. That inquiry was done by Hawley Troxell, for generations one of Idaho’s top law firms and among its most respected. Its final report was delivered on May 19.

It clarified where the allegations came from: “Specifically, on March 15, 2021, BSU was contacted by a concerned community leader (the ‘Complainant’) who is not a student at BSU. The Complainant reported having viewed a video from a friend’s phone in which a Caucasian student was singled out by an instructor in a BSU class and was mistreated and demeaned.”

Hawley Troxell interviewed the complainant, 30 students (after soliciting comments and complaints from hundreds) and many instructors and other people besides. It found:

“After conducting a thorough and independent investigation, we were unable to substantiate the alleged instance of a student being mistreated in a UF 200 course as described by the Complainant. No students reported being forced to apologize for the color of their skin. Nor did any student report being personally singled out based on skin color or being subjected to taunts, name-calling, or other degrading behavior from an instructor or other students based on skin color, beliefs, or ideas.”

Nor, generally, did they “uncover any evidence of conduct on the part of a BSU instructor that would, in our opinion, constitute a violation of BSU’s Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment policy or that would otherwise constitute mistreatment of a student.”

So far, we’ve heard crickets from the legislators so quick to condemn Boise State that they were willing to cut its budget on the basis of an unsubstantiated rumor. (The “Freedom Foundation” replied that still more investigations are needed, the better to keep the pot stirred.)

What ought to be obvious here is that none of this had much of anything to do with any actual wrongdoing by instructors at BSU. It has to do with ginning up controversy, getting people angry, finding a new outrage of the week to stoke the culture wars.

That’s the nature of our politics these days.

We should - as our system in criminal law is supposed to do - pay less attention to the charge and more to the findings.

What Idaho has now is little more than a prescription for accelerating anger and chaos.



Back in the stone age when I went to medical school, the “complete physical” was a full course in first year. We were taught where to poke, push, prod, palpate and percuss. We practiced looking at fingernails, eardrums, nipples and the back of your eyeball. Then the stethoscope came out and we auscultated (doctor for “listened”) to every sound your body might offer. I never heard any farts in the exam room, though I imagine they could tell me something.

In our second and third and fourth years we were sent off to the wards to be the fifth or sixth person to examine a tired and sick patient. We were supposed to find things. So, if we had little mercy and were as worried about our grades as they wanted us to be, we prodded and probed the poor wretch with our inexperienced fingers. I always appreciated the patients’ patience, for their generosity gave me experience, a wonderful gift.

As I watched the more experienced physicians, I noticed their physical exams were often very abbreviated. I was listening to a sweating man’s heart in residency when the attending came in and said, “Get him up to the cath lab!” without even getting his name or saying hello. The EKG told the story. The expediency probably added some years to the man’s life. Time can save tissue when it’s dying.

But then I go into the office and see patients every day and wonder, just what do people expect when they schedule an “annual physical”?

Do they know that no study has ever shown that such “annuals” are cost effective? We add some screening blood tests, consider some other tests, but the true value of seeing the doctor comes in developing a relationship. It is so I, or your doctor, can know your values, so when the tough times come, we can help you decide on a course of action that will support you and your values.

Five times in my medical career, with the patient undressed I noticed a mole that I thought suspicious that turned out to be stage 1 melanoma. A few times I have felt lumps that didn’t seem right. But of the thousands of physical exams I have done, most were on very healthy people. But that teaches you something too.

I decided to quit the medical group I had been in for the last 17 years, so I was surprised to see a “complete physical” on my schedule the last week I was scheduled to work. Our office had shifted to an electronic record about five years before and this 50-year-old man had no entries in the electronic chart. “Why is he scheduled with me?” I asked my nurse. She shrugged.

So, I went into the exam room. “Hello, I’m Dr. Schmidt. Who is your regular physician?”

He looked up at me and smiled. “You are!” he said.

I’m puzzled because I don’t recognize him. Indeed, he looks well, taking no medicines, blood pressure, weight all normal.

“I’m sorry,” I stammer. “When did I last see you?”

He grinned. “It was about five years ago. I came in for a physical. You told me to exercise, lose 25 pounds and come back in 5 years. So, I did, and here I am!” Not many patients take my advice. I appreciated that last complete physical.

High school sports physicals were another wonder to me. I came to see them as school districts shifting liability. If a student athlete keeled over, they could say “Doctor cleared him!”

But I came to view this opportunity to examine and visit with a young teenager and their parent as precious, though the form the school required to be filled out, boxes to be checked were pretty silly. More on sports physicals next week.

So go ahead and schedule a physical with your doctor. If you’re planning to stay put, that’s what you should be asking them, because the value is in continuity, not poking or prodding.


At stake


So much for the lieutenant governor’s job being a soft-landing place, and automatic ticket, to a higher political office.

Patience paid off for Butch Otter, Jim Risch and Brad Little to hang around a few years in that low-profile office until essentially being anointed to something better. Otter became a congressman, then governor; Risch took over as governor before going to the U.S. Senate; and Little is the sitting governor.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who in just her first term in office, isn’t waiting around for “her turn” for a higher office. With a healthy part of the right-wing base on her side, she’s doing something that rarely happens in politics – taking on a governor from her own party in next year’s Republican primary election. And she’s pulling no punches in her criticisms of Little.

Ironically, on the day she announced her run for governor, Little’s office issued a news release outlining accomplishments during the recently-completed legislative session. Included on that list were “historic” tax relief, the most conservative budget in years and investments in transportation.

“Despite a lot of noise, distractions, and of course the unfortunate unprecedented duration of this year’s legislative session, we were able to act on the issues that matter most in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve,” Little said. “Years of fiscally conservative leadership and prompt action during the pandemic positioned our state with a record budget surplus while other states face cuts. We’ve proven once again that conservative principles bring opportunity for citizens during the highs and the lows. We’re looking forward, and the future is bright.”

Not conservative enough, in McGeachin’s view. And not nearly compassionate enough in the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She, too, sees brighter days ahead – with Little out of office.

“Idahoans have witnessed some serious, egregious actions over this past year. We saw repeated attacks on our constitutional, republican form of government,” she said during her announcement.

“Last year, the governor declared that some of your businesses and your employees were not essential. …I am here to tell you that every life is essential and every job is essential,” she said. “I refuse to stand by and allow these abuses to go unchallenged. That would be a disservice to our state and a violation of my sworn oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the state of Idaho.”

McGeachin, an avid supporter of former President Trump, says “simply put, the status quo has got to go. …Lobbying groups and special interests exercise too far much power in Boise. Cronyism will have no place in a McGeachin administration.”

Well … there would be a different set of cronies, for sure. The Idaho Freedom Foundation, which over the last decade has been a guiding light for some legislators while being largely dismissed by governors, has developed a solid working relationship with the lieutenant governor. In a McGeachin administration, the freedom foundation could play a big role in budgetary and policy issues. Wayne Hoffman, the IFF president, could become one of the most powerful people in Idaho politics with McGeachin in the governor’s chair.

Rep. Priscilla Giddings of White Bird, a leading House conservative and candidate for lieutenant governor, outlined what’s at stake during a post-session news conference.

“Right now, government is broken. The legislative process is broken,” she said, citing the withholding of more than 185 pieces of legislation that were not allowed to go through the process. “Because of that, we have an executive branch that is just ruling over the people. Over the last year, we’ve had 25 executive orders that are being used to enforce laws, to remove laws and usurping the legislative process. That’s a problem.”

Although more conservatives are getting elected, she said, “no matter how many conservative legislators we have, we need a strong, courageous leader in the executive branch.”

As rocky as this session was for Little, it was nothing compared to what we will see next year. Look for a lot of political posturing from the governor and lieutenant governor, with a host of legislators taking sides on both ends.

To borrow from the late sportscaster Keith Jackson, next year’s legislative session will be a real slobberknocker.

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

About damned time


I came across something this week I’d not heard of but, looking at the group’s website, it may be something more of us should check out.

Twenty-nine members of the U.S. House formed a group called “Problem Solver’s Caucus." A quick look at its website is very enlightening.

Members - from both parties - got together because they were fed up with the continuing battles in Congress and the deep, very deep divide between the two parties. Most members are fairly new to Capitol Hill and, it would seem from the long list of subjects they’ve reached agreement on, they’re on a serious mission to get things done.

Here’s a sampling of their projects: Coronavirus Recovery and Contingency Planning; Criminal Justice Reform; Immigration; Health Care; Infrastructure and more.

All their work is meant to be bi-partisan. For example, when you’re working on Criminal Justice Reform with Van Jones, Grover Norquist, Congressman Hakeen Jeffries and Jared Kushner - yes, that Jared Kushner - you’ve GOT to be “bi-partisan.”

The “Solvers” agreed to support three separate bills on Guns and School Safety. Though more needs to be done on the subject, they were successful in moving the ball. A bit. So far. In addition, funding for mental health programs have been enacted into law. Another “Problem Solvers” effort.

They’ve even reached across Statuary Hall to the Senate to get Susan Collins, Joe Manchin and Bill Cassidy involved with the “Solvers” to get something done to lower prescription drug prices. Like the other issues, the work is ongoing.

All 29 voted, as a bloc, on immigration reform. One of their projects is to “deliver aid to children and families at the border that might otherwise have been delayed due to partisan divides in the House and Senate.” The group also is having “discussions to explore viable solutions building on agreements drafted (in the) last Congress.”

Given we, as a nation, have had to put up with failed efforts by this Congress and others in the past, to get down to work on serious business because of continued wrangling, this “Problem Solver’s Caucus” sounds like a great idea!

Though Congress has suffered from continued GOP “party line” voting on many important issues in recent months, I’ve thought, many times, some of those people must have had to swallow hard on an issue - or two or three or a dozen. Things like voting rights legislation or education funding. Got to be tough to vote “no” on something just because the Party Leader says to when, in your heart, you want to vote “yes. And, you know you’re right.

But, the continuing obstinance by the GOP may be coming a bit unraveled. Last week, 35 of ‘em broke ranks with GOP leaders to support creation of a Congressional Commission to examine the events of the January 6th Capitol Hill riot. Many of the “Problem Solvers” were among the “Yes” votes.

Mitch McConnell wants to “deep six” the bill when it hits the Senate floor. But, there could be some defectors in the ranks. Some members of Congress who had to seek shelter during the attack, may have some deeply personal feelings about the ordeal, such as, maybe, Mitt Romney. So, while court actions and several other legal efforts are underway, there may be Senators who want such a Commission - just because they want to have their say. Like Mitt Romney.

Though I find no such “Problem Solvers” group in the Senate at the moment, who knows? There may eventually be some who make such a “leap of faith.” Surely, there are at least a few on both sides - tired of the fractiousness - wanting to join forces to get things done.

The names of a third of the Senate will be on ballots in the 2022 election. They’ll all have to face we electors. There’ll be some casualties, no doubt.

While it’s too early to make predictions of who’ll be winners and who’ll be on the casualty list, one thing is sure. A lot of us are fed up with the acrimony and party-line voting. We’re tired of seeing good legislation buried because of a few egos.

There was some “house cleaning” in 2020. It’s to be hoped more of the same is in store about 16 months hence. Increasing the ranks of the “Problem Solvers Caucus” and introducing the same concept in the Senate may be ideas who’s time has come.

Yes, Sir! It’s about damned time!

Enraged Forest


In what might be the most pathetic manifestation of mask rage yet, beloved Oregon theme park Enchanted Forest was forced to delay its long-anticipated reopening indefinitely. The reason? Threats of violence were made against park staffers and guests. Who made the threats? People who have allowed their anger at the mask issue to turn them into thugs.

Located on a moss-lined forest hillside just south of Salem, Enchanted Forest opened to the public in 1971 after its creator, Roger Tofte — now in his 90s — devoted years to building the park by hand. The Tofte family still operates the park, boasting three generations involved in the park’s daily operations. Like many families, the Toftes suffered under the constraints of COVID, Enchanted Forest’s severely restricted 2020 season sinking the previously debt-free park into arrears. A successful GoFundMe drive brought immediate relief but the park must reopen if it is to survive. If COVID restrictions weren’t enough, the Tofte family was hit with an unspeakable tragedy in September 2020 when Roger Tofte’s 13-year-old great grandson, Wyatt Tofte, died in the Beachie Creek Fire. The boy is credited with trying to save his maternal grandmother, Peggy Mosso. His mother, Angie Mosso, was badly injured in the blaze.

Like many businesses eager to reopen, Enchanted Forest announced it would follow Oregon Health Authority guidelines when it reopened on Saturday, May 22. Shamefully, this simple announcement enraged some people who are deeply opposed to COVID constraints, even when those guidelines are issued by the state, not the park. The park, like most of us, isn’t trying to make a political statement — the Toftes just want to be responsible, keeping their guests safe, erring on the side of caution.

Now, thanks to people with anger control and maturity problems, the Enchanted Forest reopening has been delayed indefinitely. What an embarrassment. But we’ll get back to this in a moment.

Before I continue, allow me to make two points.

First, if you’re one of the morons who made these threats against Enchanted Forest or if you’re an imbecile who believes such threats are justified, quit reading now — this isn’t for you. However, everyone else — everyone who is appalled by how polarized we’ve become, by how ridiculous we’re acting — please read on, regardless of which side you lean toward.

Second, I am going to make some broad statements here, opinions I’ve formed from research and observation. I believe them to be true but they can be difficult to quantify. These statements will almost certainly annoy (or even anger, since rage is all the rage these days) people of various perspectives but they’re simply my opinions. My opinions may be off, skewed or even wrong. On the other hand, perhaps there is some truth to them. My intent is not to challenge anyone’s deeply-held beliefs, but to simply provide another view. Like most of life, I think the truth usually lies nearer the center than the loudest voices from either side would have us believe. I chose the course of action I felt best suited my circumstances — I tried to err on the side of caution. It will not be productive for me to engage with anyone who wants to argue.

I believe one point on which almost everyone can agree is that this whole COVID year was a mess on nearly every level.

Six or eight weeks into the event, I collected and collated preliminary infection / death figures and ran my own numbers. It was early and, like everyone else, I was pretty much guessing. I wanted to hone my own rough figures as the event went on but just a few weeks after I calculated that first set, I found I couldn’t get anywhere close to accurate counts of anything. And it only got worse. Protocols for reporting varied from state to state and no nationwide standard was ever closely followed.

The COVID event became politicized very quickly, which made matters much worse. Any hope I had for clear guidelines we could all embrace disappeared very early on. Eventually, several polls established that people on the left were significantly overstating COVID’s peril while people on the right significantly understated it.

As a member of at least two at-risk groups, I was compelled to take the recommended COVID precautions seriously. My household effectively quarantined for the year. It’s important to note that, while we took strong measures, I never automatically expected everyone else to follow suit. I knew the precautions people would choose to embrace would run the gamut. However, I read as much professional research and opinion as I could, so we could plot the proper course for the household.

In short, I came to accept that COVID was worse than the flu, that it was an infection worth taking steps to avoid, that people in certain risk groups stood an alarming chance of death if infected, that a very large group of physicians, virologists and infectious disease specialists were taking COVID-19 deadly seriously.

Which brings us to baselines.

In an orderly society, every controversial issue is supported by baselines. Baselines are a set of facts on which all sides agree. Baselines are the collection of dispassionate details that define an issue before any one-sided spin is applied. Baselines are necessary to order — until recently, Americans haven’t had trouble accepting our baselines.

I was a graphic artist, writer and editor for the length of my career. Just as I would expect a scientific researcher to defer to me in editorial matters or details of design — fields in which I possess proven expertise — I must accede to the rulings of credentialed biologists or infectious disease specialists who have experience and expertise in virology when I consider COVID. I have no choice but to accept the declarations and recommendations of those who’ve devoted careers to understanding viruses, even if, for whatever reason, I disagree with them in principle. They’re the experts in this case, not me. And enough of them have reached consensus that I have no sensible choice but to follow their instructions.

The pragmatic part of me likened some of our COVID constraints to sacrifices Americans made during wartime. Gasoline and food were rationed, blackouts were enforced and even some mail was censored. Were we giving up our freedom to make those sacrifices? Maybe a tiny bit. But we looked upon these small sacrifices as necessary for the common good, an act of patriotism and wholly temporary, even if they did last the course of the conflict.

That’s how I saw the hated mask — yes, I don’t like it either. It fogs my glasses, it causes my glasses to fall off, it gets messy, some don’t fit properly. But I saw it as a small step I could take. I have a mask exemption so I could’ve opted out, but I didn’t. I wore the mask. I’m still wearing one when I go out.

A mask mandate is only as good as the discipline with which people follow it. If people use the wrong kind of masks, use soiled masks, wear masks incorrectly, forget them or eschew them altogether, then a mask mandate means little. In a free society, can we force everyone to properly wear a mask? Can we police the type of mask? We already know there are large numbers of people who will refuse. Does that mean those of us who are willing should stop? Absolutely not. But I’m not sure turning store clerks into mask police and accepting fistfights at Walmart are viable options.

What about vaccination? In 1980, smallpox was declared globally eradicated. Polio will likely be eradicated in the next ten years. Both will be the result of worldwide vaccination. If not for vaccines, these diseases would still ravage millions of lives.

But aren’t the COVID vaccines weird or dangerous or untested? I wanted to know so I avoided propaganda and hysteria, instead going back to experts in immunology. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines demonstrated an efficacy of 94 percent to 95 percent in preventing COVID-19–associated illness. Side effects were mostly mild to moderate and more common after the second dose.

What about that weird mRNA thing — isn’t it some untested new thing that changes our DNA? No. Again, it’s important to avoid the rumors, propaganda and hysteria so I looked to Johns Hopkins, one of the world’s top medical research institutions. According to Johns Hopkins, the mRNA technology behind the coronavirus vaccines has been in development for almost 20 years. Vaccine makers created the technology to respond quickly to a new pandemic illness, such as COVID-19. Further, the vaccines are designed to help the body’s immune system fight the coronavirus using messenger RNA. The RNA from Pfizer and Moderna vaccines does enter cells, but not the nucleus of the cells where DNA resides. The mRNA causes the cell to make a protein to stimulate the immune system, and then it quickly breaks down — without affecting DNA.

Addressing two more false rumors, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were not developed using fetal tissue. They do not contain microchips or tracking devices. The Roman Catholic Church has approved both without reservation.

Don’t take my word for it — Johns Hopkins offers excellent science-based, apolitical, propaganda-free, plain-language web resources to dispel the myths around the COVID vaccines.

For what it’s worth, I have always supported a religious exemption to vaccination — I still support it. But we must remember that vaccination requires at least 70 percent participation to provide adequate efficacy throughout our population. Vaccine exemptions and opt-outs must remain less than 30 percent — the alternatives will please no one.

None of us know all the COVID facts for sure — this was demonstrated countless times over the last year when the public was presented with conflicting or constantly-changing information. But uncertainty doesn’t mean we should just wash our hands of the whole thing — on the contrary, uncertainty points to erring on the side of caution. I know there are a lot of angrily passionate people out there on both sides of this issue but I am equally certain there are many more like me who want to do the right thing but are torn in different directions because we don’t have long-term answers. If we’re worried about doing the right thing, we should listen to the people who are experts — researchers who are in the best position to tell us what to expect. In the end, erring on the side of caution might save lives at the reasonble cost of inconvenience.

Speaking to the economic cost, if you ask me, this was a failed experiment from the perspective of commerce. Next time — and there will undoubtedly be a next time — we’ll need to figure out a compromise, a way to preserve public health without killing education and economic endeavors.

Meanwhile, families like the Toftes remain in limbo, unable to reopen because people angry at the state’s guidelines are taking out their wrath on business owners who are just trying to do the right thing.

To the Toftes, following guidelines from the Oregon Health Authority seemed to be the best option to keep guests safe with minimal inconvenience. So the park announced masks would be required except for fully vaccinated guests who could prove vaccination status. Enchanted Forest then received a deluge of social media comments and phone calls. About half of the public feedback was resoundingly positive, according to Roger Tofte’s daughter, Susan Vaslev, who serves as a park manager. But Vaslev told Willamette Week the other half of the feedback was anything but.

“A huge portion of the people were very angry,” said Vaslev. “Angry is very mild — they were outraged.” Vaslev said the park is desperate to reopen but the threats against the park were extensive enough that managers made the decision to cancel the reopening. In its statement, management underscored that “its commitment to being a place where families can spend time together free of unnecessary hate and conflict simply outweighs our strong desire to reopen our business.”

While I understand the chaotic nature of COVID information and mis-information and the passions running high on both sides, I have nothing but scorn for the fools who believe threatening a struggling business with violence is acceptable. And over a stupid mask. What a colossal embarrassment.

Let’s put this in perspective. A private business is asking you to wear a mask if you do not wish to show a vaccination card. Like any U.S. business owner, they may tell you “no shirt, no shoes, no service” only now it might be “no shirt, no shoes, no mask, no service.” This is the right of the business owner. It has always been their right. It’s absolutely ridiculous to threaten a business with violence when the business is simply following state guidelines. And even if they weren’t, private businesses have placed small restrictions on their customers for hundreds of years. It is their right. COVID doesn’t change this.

I hope those who made threats of violence against a struggling family business feel shame. I hope they are embarrassed by their childish but dangerous intimidation. I hope they feel guilty for costing the business a considerable sum at a time when nearly all small businesses are suffering.

And I hope those folks who have been hesitant to get vaccinated or fearful of rumors surrounding the vaccines will look at this incident and realize the caliber of people who are behind the hysteria and false information.