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Posts published in “Day: July 18, 2021”

Political disease


I have wondered why it took so long for Idaho health care employers to require their workers to be immunized against Covid 19. Maybe they were anticipating the political reaction. Three large employers did just that this last week, and of course, they got the predictable reaction: umbrage, outrage, bluster and brouhaha.

When I got matched as a resident to work in Spokane hospitals, back when dinosaurs still roamed the Northwest, my first week of orientation included a bunch of blood tests, skin tests, and shots. They wanted to know if I had HIV, or tuberculosis. They checked that I was immune to Hepatitis A & B, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox.

Every different employer I have had over these long years has had similar requirements, now Hepatitis C is added to the list.

Hepatitis B and C and HIV are transmitted through body fluids, not aerosol. But the ER and the OR and labor and delivery have sharp things and lots of blood. The risk of me getting the disease from others was real, and so was the patients’ risk if I happened to be a carrier. So, such a mandate by these employers made common sense. I’ll admit to feeling some initial hesitation, kind of like I feel every year when I have to renew my medical license. But it’s about making tradeoffs in this crowded world, and some pondering and reflection eased my hesitancy.

But Covid is now a political disease, not an infectious virus. Where you stand on the political spectrum, what news you listen to, what flag you fly from your Trump pole will lend more influence than half a million or more excess deaths.
Here’s how many died in 2019 from some of those other diseases we have screened health care workers for since dinosaur days:

Viral Hepatitis: 4,285
HIV:15,815 (total deaths from all causes in HIV infected people, most not directly from HIV)
Tuberculosis: 542
Measles: 0

Half a million Covid deaths seems like a big deal when stacked up to this list.
There is no doubt there is immunization hesitancy out there. I work in a clinic that offered free shots to all employees and about a quarter are still un-immunized. Masks are required, and if you don’t want to wear one you can look for work elsewhere.

I had to put on a fluorescent vest and a plastic hardhat just to tour a lumbermill in Laclede. They also had me sign a waiver their lawyers had written up. I’m still a free man.

And that’s an employer’s choice in Idaho and in most states. Some workplaces have mandatory drug testing. Does that infringe on “freedoms”?

So, when Janice McGeachin, my Lieutenant Governor calls this “medical tyranny”, I have to laugh. You know, and I know exactly what she’s doing. But I’m old and can’t hear dog whistles anymore. But I can see when they are being blown.
If her posturing and misguided pose appeals to you, then I can predict what flag you fly. I’m sorry, but I wish there was a flag for the “Common Sense Militia”.

We’d meet every week and have coffee. We’d laugh at each other’s mistakes and tell stories about ourselves and our silly neighbors. Somebody might bring up politics, but that would get boring real fast. We’d probably talk amongst ourselves about whether we had gotten “the shots” or were taking ivermectin.

Some guys might even wear a side arm, but long guns in a coffee shop aren’t common sense. They belong out in the pickup.

I hope this virus hasn’t robbed us of our common sense. With all the problems we have, we sure need it.

Dawn of an orderly era


We’ve seen short water times before in Idaho, but this year’s extended drought has put into sharp relief the decades-long Idaho water adjudication process playing out in the Bellevue Triangle just South of Ketchum/Sun Valley/Hailey/Bellevue.

Mostly, it’s been an orderly and legally-reliant curtailment, driven by clear prior court rulings and sound legislation which has established Idaho’s water law over more than 30 years.

It wasn’t always that way. It was Mark Twain who reportedly once said whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting. Even if he didn’t say it, the phrase has the ring of truth when it comes to Idaho water disputes. In the early days, water was thought to be abundant enough for every use. But groundwater pumping beginning in the 1960s quickly showed a declining Snake River Plain Aquifer. That led to various water “calls” by senior users.

It took a couple of decades for this to play out, through the Swan Falls Agreement, (1984) clarifying legislation and a series of court rulings establishing the “First in Tine, First in Right” principle of prioritization firmly in Idaho water law.

There were many participants who worked out the details on water prioritization, but one important step was the creation of a Snake River Basin Adjudication court within the Idaho judiciary. The court’s role was to review and establish, claim by claim, the priority rights of senior and junior water users. By 2014, it was estimated that nearly 40,000 claims had been heard, as well as some 36 Idaho Supreme Court rulings. (Jones, A Little Dam Problem, 2016).

Which brings us to the Bellevue water case. Shrinking aquifer resources led the Department of Water Resources to issue a curtailment order in early July for the Bellevue Triangle area, affirming prioritization of downstream senior users over junior groundwater pumping. There was no fight over this; the process went smoothly forward without undue dispute. No court battles.

The order was lifted a week later following negotiations between user groups led by the DWR and the office of Gov. Brad Little, as well as Speaker of the House Scott Bedke (TN, 7/9) who has been a leader in state water negotiations for years.

That’s called cooperative leadership but without it, not much can be accomplished, as we witness daily in Washington, D.C. On the court side, adjudication judges have applied the evolving law fairly and evenly for more than 30 years, beginning with Dan Hurlbutt and continuing with Roger Burdick, Barry Wood, John Melanson and Eric Wildman, the current water adjudication judge. Interested parties weighed in, included Clear Springs Foods, the Surface Water Coalition and canal companies up and down Idaho’s irrigate farmlands.
It was all these parties, working together, which led to today’s water resolution framework. When disputes arose, the parties looked for solutions, unlike the my-way-or-the-highway vindictiveness of far rightists and other narrowly-focused interests.

“This settlement is an important first step and sets the stage for a long-term solution in the Wood River area.” Little said of the agreement. “I appreciate the efforts by the surface and ground water users to come to a resolution that protects senior water rights while allowing some groundwater pumpers the ability to provide valuable crops,” he said. “I would also like to thank Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman and his team for their expertise and genuine desire to reach a meaningful resolution. This kind of coming together to face our challenges head on – especially during an extreme drought year – is what Idahoans do.” (IdahoPress, 7/9).

That led to a solution this year to provide water for some 140 Triangle growers covering about 23,000 acres. That’s a tiny percent of Idaho’s 3.3 million acres of irrigated farmland, but the fact that it was accomplished without rancor or delay speaks well of what we can do in the state when there’s common sense and the willingness to find solutions rather than to obstruct.

Again, it was Bedke whose leadership and solutions-oriented focus led the parties to agreement. (Statesman, 7/10) After two decades in the Legislature, ten years of which he’s been Speaker, Bedke is running for Lieutenant Governor, where his expertise and even temperament will be an enormous asset.

"We live in the arid West,” Bedke said, “and we're fast-growing, and these will always be problems. And so these agreements, these solutions that last way into the future, will continue to serve us." (IdahoPress, 7/9). Amen to that.

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