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Posts published in March 2023

Phil Batt

There’s a standard - a standard courtesy, maybe - that when people are mentioned in public accounts after their death, what’s said are almost entirely good things, however controversial the person may have been in life.

The commentary on Phil Batt, a public Idahoan of many decades’ standing who died on March 4, was not much different. The former governor, lieutenant governor, legislator, state party chair and more was widely praised. But what may have been less obvious to many people, at this late date, is that much the same was said during his lifetime, many years ago.

Most Idahoans. Not necessarily all.

When I first heard of him, in the mid-70s, everyone from conservative Republicans to liberal Democrats seemed to agree that this was a smart, ethical, public-spirited guy with an interest in both economy and fairness. And he was only a decade into his years of service back then, which in hindsight was remarkable since learning this about him could take a little time and observation. He wasn’t the world’s best self-promoter. Though for a time also a newspaper columnist, he never was more profligate with words than with money; the quotes in his column are about as loquacious as he got.

Back in 2012, Martin Peterson and I included Batt in our book about (in our opinion) the 100 most influential Idahoans in the state’s history. Here’s part of what we wrote:

“Batt had a long history in Idaho politics from his first election to the Idaho House in 1964 until he departed the governor’s office after 1998. He was a legislator for many of those years, a lieutenant governor and chair of the state Republican Party, which he helped put back together after its disastrous 1990 election (the most recent bad one that party has had).

“Partly because his credentials in all those areas are so unquestioned, and partly because he chooses his moments carefully, Batt is listened to closely when he does speak.

“One of those occasions in 2014 came after state legislative leaders declined to consider ‘add the words’ legislation on gay rights. Batt responded with an impassioned newspaper column which concluded, ‘I would like to have somebody explain to me who is going to be harmed by adding the words to our civil rights statutes prohibiting discrimination in housing and job opportunities for homosexuals. Oh, I forgot, that might hurt the feelings of the gay bashers’.”

“The column generated a lot of discussion.”

Batt went where the facts and humanity of a situation took him. That might mean questioning the guilt of a murder convict (as he did as governor in one memorable case) or supporting rights for farm workers, both times putting him at odds with his natural political allies. And those cases were not unique.

He was a partisan - you don’t get to be chair of a statewide major party if you’re not, and Batt was an unusually successful chair - but while Batt never broke from the Republican Party (and his views on public affairs were not greatly different from decades ago), he seemed distinctly uneasy with some of the more recent trends and currents in it.

And some Republican factions, in a party which has changed a lot over the last few decades, became uneasy with him.

In an interview with Rod Gramer for the book Lucky, Batt spoke of that: “I have been a Republican all my life. I have done a lot of work for Republicans because I believe that they have the best theories toward addressing the needs of national, state and local questions for the benefit of the citizens. I’ve been called a RINO, and I’m not particularly offended by that. But I plead not guilty.”

It depends, presumably, on what “Republican” means. What it meant for Batt involved public service, efficiency, effectiveness, fairness and other virtues. They’re enough for a lot of Idahoans of widespread political persuasions to call him their own, and to wonder where the next generation of people like Phil Batt will come from.



I am struggling with a plumbing problem. No, it’s not my prostate, though you’d be forgiven for assuming such, given my age and decrepitude. It’s a 350# cast iron bathtub. I asked the plumbers if they could install it. They winced and asked if this summer would work. So, I cut the holes and bought the fittings, but the darn thing just won’t hook up. Tomorrow I’m calling the plumbers. I’ll bring them cookies.

Getting professional help should not be shameful. That’s what the Office of Performance Evaluation does for the Idaho legislature and us citizens. We should all read their reports before turning to Netflix. Or maybe late at night when sleep won’t come.

The reports don’t read like romance novels, but they sure captivated me when I first got elected to the legislature. They had a trove of evaluations and recommendations for fixing our state. So, it bothers me that the Idaho Republican legislature is planning to politicize this independent, nonpartisan, award-winning office. They are working just fine. What are they trying to fix? And for what purpose? This move is unwise.

It shouldn’t surprise me. OPE has provided no studies on pornography in libraries or gender reassignment surgery or the deadly MRNA vaccines. These are the issues our Republican legislature wants to pass laws about. Fixing EMS funding, evaluating Medicaid payments and reducing prison recidivism just aren’t red meat.

The proposal is to dismantle the balanced bipartisan Oversight Committee that directs the proposals and instead leave the direction to the Majority run Legislative council. Representative Blanksma successfully got this change through the House. There were only two Republican votes against it. Her arguments were that the Majority legislative leadership can be as unbiased as a balanced bipartisan committee. Sorry, I just don’t believe it. Democrats, if they were in the majority can be just as biased as Republicans. Be careful how you build things.

However, I am pleased to compliment Representative Blanksma for addressing maternal and child health. Her proposal would expand Medicaid health insurance coverage for children up to 205% of the federal poverty level. We are currently one of two states (Idaho and North Dakota) that doesn’t cover kids at this level.

Her proposal also recommends maternal Medicaid coverage be expanded to 12 months after delivery. It currently shuts off at 60 days. We are with 13 other states with such weak support for our moms. Of course, there is a price tag for this. So I can imagine some strong Freedom Foundation opposition.

Blanksma’s bill is sitting in House Health and Welfare Committee, awaiting a public hearing.

Getting advice or recommendations from independent people who study issues in our state is not always welcome nor heeded by our esteemed legislators.

Maybe that’s why the independent Maternal Mortality Review Committee is looking at the axe. This body was established in 2019, with a sunset date of July 2023. The bill to remove the sunset date is also sitting in the House H&W committee.

It’s no wonder they might sunset. They may have delivered some unwelcome news. Maternal deaths have doubled in Idaho since the MMRC was established. Their recommendations were to expand Medicaid coverage for moms to 12 months after delivery. So, Blanksma’s Maternal Child Medicaid Expansion coverage is addressing this recommendation. Good for her. I hope she has as much success getting this health bill through the House as she did with the OPE restructuring.

I know there’s a certain unpopularity about listening to experts. It has been openly expressed in our Idaho legislature. But don’t wait for a cast iron bathtub to convince you. Experience and knowledge are valuable. Wise people don’t shun such advice.


Taking the bows

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson should be sending thank you notes to Democrats and President Biden, for they have given him a wealth of material for press releases.

Since the first of the year, Simpson has sent out more than a dozen news releases about how he has “secured” funding through the Fiscal Year 2023 Omnibus spending package for a variety of projects in the Second District, and it’s a good bet that there will be more to come.

These are nice political trophies, for sure. But Simpson is taking credit for something he didn’t do. He voted against the Omnibus bill, slamming Democrats for passage of the $1.7 trillion bill – describing the action as “one final reckless, inflationary spending binge in the waning hours of their House majority.”

That’s gratitude for you. The Democrats saved the day for the Second District by approving that “reckless” spending bill, and President Biden promptly sealed the deal with his signature. Simpson should have been standing with the president during the signing, and shaking hands with Democrats who voted for the package.

Politically, Simpson made the right call by voting against the bill. Republican leadership, including now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, were solidly against the spending package. Simpson, being the team player that he has been over more than 24 years in Congress, wasn’t going to buck leadership on this one. He has been around long enough to know that rebels seldom win, and he wasn’t about to commit political suicide. If Simpson huffed and puffed too much, and went against the leadership’s wishes, he could have lost his lofty seat on the Appropriations Committee – the position that has kept him in power for so long.

But if there’s justification for his vote against the bill, it’s fair to shoot a few darts his way for taking credit for something he didn’t do.

Simpson had his fingerprints all over the Omnibus bill, at least in the drafting stage. The package included almost $37 million for Idaho projects that the congressman wrote into the bill. But when it came to the final vote, Simpson left it to Democrats and President Biden to do the heavy lifting.

Simpson explained his actions in his releases.

Through my time in Congress, I have continually pushed to limit the growth of the federal budget and fought back against Democrats’ efforts to freely increase spending with no consideration for the long-term health of our nation. But congressionally directed spending is not more spending. Congressionally directed spending (once called “earmarks” before it became a four-letter word to Republicans) gives Idahoans an important voice in determining where the budgeted funding goes. No bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., knows Idahoans the way you and I do, which is why I will always fight to bring tax dollars back home to Idaho, rather than leaving the decision to federal agencies to distribute in other states.”

Simpson is correct. If Idaho doesn’t go after its fair share of federal money, then it will go to other states – which is part of the reason why we’re sitting with a national debt of more than $31 trillion. Simpson comes from the old school of congressional politics, where members seek out federal dollars like they are panning for gold.

Simpson, as a senior member of Appropriations, is better than most in terms of bringing federal money to his district. He finds ways to get funding for agriculture research in Kimberly, a Pocatello infrastructure project, a McCammon fire station and a long list of other projects. It’s possible that he could have secured funding through “congressionally directed spending,” or other channels, if the Omnibus measure had failed. But thanks to the Democrats, the Omnibus bill passed and there was no need for Simpson to seek out other mechanisms.

What’s mystifying is why Simpson feels a need to take credit for something he didn’t do. Maybe he’s just reminding his constituents who their sugar daddy is, and that he – and only he as a senior member of Appropriations – can provide for their needs. Or, maybe he’s sending a signal that he plans to be there for life.

If bringing home the bacon is the benchmark for a successful congressional career, then Simpson has been a splendid representative for Idaho’s Second District. But through his shameless hypocrisy, Simpson shows that he’s doing an even better job representing himself.

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


How long, oh Lord

How long are we - the majority - going to continue being confronted by a loud, discordant, foul minority?  By an often times loud, discordant and IGNORANT minority?  How long are we going to continue being "kicked around" by the too-often unknowing?
Think about it.  
Example: There are 435 members of the House of Representatives.  Many of them - NO - most of them seem to be honest, straight-forward, good people working in the bowels of government with the best of intentions.  Most.
So, who do we hear about?  Marjorie Taylor-Greene, Andy Biggs, Matt Gaetz, George Santos.  Type the word "George" into your Google browser and see what name comes up first - without even a last name.  Santos.
Liars.  Loud mouths.  Cretins.  A handful of idiots in an otherwise necessary institution of our government.
Speaking of the House.  What about those 21 Republicans - another minority - signing onto a piece of hate mail directed to the inbox of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg?  They jumped all over him with blame for the derailing of a train carrying burning tank cars filled with dangerous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.  Demanded he get "his" National Transportation Board of its butt and get to the bottom of the calamity.  Many of them even went to their local media to cast blame and disrespect on Secretary Pete.
Problem: Ol' Pete has no authority over the NTSB.  It's a stand-alone, federal agency with no ties to the Dept. Of Transportation.
So you've got 21 Republicans - members of Congress - who have no idea what the hell they're doing.  Ignorance personified.  Seems a class or two in political science would be a good requirement - make that an absolute requirement - to run for any federal office.   Another vocal, ignorant minority.  In writing, yet.
Or, the folks at Faux Neus - yet another foul, lying minority.  
Seems their talking heads knew from the git-go that Trump lost the 2020 presidential election.  So, what did this cretin bunch do with that knowledge of facts?  Right.  They went on and on for months saying Trump won- that Joe Biden was not elected by the majority of us - that the entire election was fraught with cheating.  
Now, thanks to a court filing of documents by Dominion Voting Systems in a billion-dollar lawsuit - whom the Faux Neus folk loudly claimed were responsible for the "fraudulent" election - we have their admissions of duplicity.  In the words of Mr. Rupert Murdoch himself, who sits atop of their lying "food chain."  And the emails and texts of his lying minions.  All of it.  Black and white.
The problem with the Faux Neus deal is that faithful watchers of the bilge-water espousing liars won't get the facts because they're still tuned into Faux neus.  Still continuing to be fed a diet of B.S..
Or, all these Republican-dominated legislatures - all 21 of 'em - hell-bent on ridding their states of drag shows.  Drag shows?  Yep, while real issues of legislative import go begging, GOP state after GOP state is going after local drag queens.  Another minority band of loud, idiotic cretins in Republican drag - er - dress.
Every day - day after day - we in the majority are doused with crap about another "loud, vocal minority" up to no-good.   While millions of us - hundreds of millions - live lives trying to do our best, it's the vacuous, strident clamor of idiots - a minority to be sure - idiots we hear the most about.  
This nation has state-of-the-art communications capabilities.  Envy of the world.  But, far too often, what's being communicated isn't worth the time to read or listen to it.  Too often , it's mental garbage being propounded by a minority of fools aided by a willing media constantly running after ratings.  
While our nation's founders created a great, living document in the Constitution, subsequent generations found it necessary to make specific amendments as the time changed.  It's no coincidence the first add-on created covered freedom of speech.  
Too bad those who found the necessity to protect speech didn't use some qualifying limitations.  But, they never heard the names Santos or MTG.  I quietly envy them.

Attacking our libraries

The claim that Idaho librarians are dispensing pornography and other harmful materials to kids fell flat last year, but extremist GOP legislators are attacking once again. Nobody has been able to provide evidence that our  librarians are handing out smut to kids, but that is beside the point. The issue has been popular amongst culture warriors across the country, so it should be good for some political mileage in Idaho.

Idaho’s public and school libraries are overseen by locally elected boards that are charged with applying local community standards. They have safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate materials from getting into the hands of minors. If people believe the boards are not performing property, they should produce real evidence and petition for change. Failing that, they can exercise their right to make a change at the ballot box.

People in some Idaho communities have taken the fabricated claims of the national culture warriors at face value and launched protests against their local libraries. Some protesters have produced lists of books they want removed from the shelves, but often have not read them or can’t show they’ve been checked out to minors.

Despite failing to show that specific libraries or librarians are dispensing smut to kids, the legislative extremists are back with another bill to address this imaginary problem.

House Bill 139 allows people to sue libraries for permitting their kids to “obtain” material “harmful to minors” and collect $10,000, plus “actual damages” and attorney fees for each instance. Interestingly, the bill would also apply to private school libraries.

So, if your kid goes to the library to “obtain” a naughty book, you could really clean up at ten thousand a pop. That is, if the kid could find a book with a “depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state" or something similar. The statute book itself, with that kind of naughty wording, might qualify for the $10,000 reward.

I’m guessing the bill is designed, primarily, to intimidate libraries and librarians. One supporter of the bill suggested it was intended to drive up the insurance premiums of libraries, causing them to self censor.

What might make the legislation less obnoxious would be to make the remedy reciprocal. That is, if a person brought suit against a library and lost, the library would get its attorney fees for defending the suit. That would discourage meritless lawsuits.

The folks unhappy with pornography are attacking the wrong target. Libraries don’t traffic in pornography. That is the job of the internet. Studies show that from three-quarters to 90% of teenagers have seen pornography online. A person can find explicit sex on streaming services any time of day, any day of the year.

There is too little parental responsibility in protecting kids from smut. Why should parents not place controls on what their kids are exposed to online? If they are concerned about what they are checking out in the library, go with them. Meridian City Council member Liz Strader was right on when she said, “adults need to take control, and they need to help [kids] select their books. It is about personal responsibility.”

My daughter and her two kids, a teen and pre-teen, love to go to their Boise branch library to explore together. They bond by getting books, games, movies and videos from friendly, helpful and dedicated librarians. It is a wholesome atmosphere and I’m proud of my daughter for opening up the world to the kids in that little library.

I must say that I respect and admire the valiant librarians around the state who continue to give great service to the public despite the undeserved scorn heaped upon them by folks who have little knowledge of what is going on in these institutions of learning. The librarians at the Meridian Library District deserve particular praise for their dedicated public service.  By standing up for the rights of their patrons, young and old, they are heroes to me. Please join me in thanking them for their commitment to enlightening the next generation and telling the extremists in the Legislature to leave our libraries alone.


When facts change

Sometimes the job of legislating involves weighing not just one interest or two but a whole group of them, all competing against each other - even when the core issue seems simple.

For example, Senate Bill 554.

The background is that technology used in criminal forensics has been changing dramatically (think, for example, of advances in DNA identification) in the last few decades, and in a significant number of cases has resulted in the exoneration of people convicted of crimes up to and including murder. No argument has surfaced against the idea of clearing the records of people who actually did not do the crime for which they were convicted.

Oregon legislators haven’t been inactive in this area. The legislature updated in 2019 the law regarding DNA evidence, and in 2021 expanded the law allowing for reconsideration of convictions (in cases where a DA and the defendant are in agreement). Despite the limitations, Oregon as of last month had 500 active post-conviction relief cases.

Still, Oregon law, like that in most states, hasn’t fully kept up with changes in technology, and 554 is an attempt to do that. It adds a specific legal procedure (a new pathway for “post-conviction relief”) in which a convict can challenge the evidence used in their case if advances in science since the conviction throw a new light on it, maybe reversing the story it seemed to tell.

The new measure carries the positive of moving toward justice (even if belated). Developed through the Forensic Justice Project and Innocence Project, its legislative sponsors are thoroughly bipartisan, including both the Democratic chair and Republican vice-chair of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.

At the committee’s hearing on February 6, most of the testimony ran in favor, and was plenty compelling.

Oregon wouldn’t be the first state to try this approach. Texas - usually never shy about throwing the book at the accused - passed a similar measure in 2013, and reports from there have sounded positive. To those concerned about a wave of inmate lawsuits, Texans can cite just 25 petitions for relief under the new law. Other states including California have reported similar results.

The Innocence Project pointed out a variety of types of forensic evidence which used in improper ways - as, it suggested, often has been the case - could yield the wrong conclusion, such as bullet lead analysis and microscopic hair review. It said the National Fire Protection Association has concluded that “many of the physical artifacts previously thought to occur only in intentional fires—such as ‘alligatoring’ of wood, crazed glass, and sagged furniture springs—could actually occur in accidental fires” - and such revised opinions were not widely adopted until many years after the conclusions were reached.

The strongest opposition to the new bill, as you might expect, comes from the Oregon District Attorneys Association. Oregon already has, it said, a “Post-Conviction Hearing Act, which generally only allows for relief when a defendant’s conviction was the result of a constitutional violation or entered by a court lacking jurisdiction to do so. SB 554 would require relitigating convictions when no constitutional violation is even alleged.” That suggests part of the problem its advocates want addressed: Correctives are often available only when constitutional or procedural issues but not the actual facts and evidence are a basis for revisiting the conviction. The DAs did not argue that some path to addressing evidence change shouldn’t be developed, but cautioned about the specifics in this bill.

The bar for filing under the law would be low; a convict wouldn’t even have to assert he or she actually is innocent, and when the convict actually pleaded guilty. The counter, of course, is the guilty pleas sometimes come after plea bargaining when a reluctant accused person formally admits to guilt as the best roll of the dice.

There are other, simpler arguments harder to swiftly rebut.

Such as those of limitless consequences. There’s no deadline in the bill for filing for relief (other than that you’re still alive). There is no financial cost cap on re-examining the science involved, nor a super-clear definition of what scientific changes may be allowable under the statute. And for any number of crimes, there may be no final closure: A murder committed 30 years ago, and for which a person was convicted, might still be in effect an open case. Victims or the people around them may have some concern with the idea that there may never be closure.

And the question of an open checkbook. Advocates argued that, “Our rights should not have a price tag,” but still: Any trial lawyer can tell you that obtaining expert testimony or research can be highly expensive. How expensive it might be and who would pay for it are questions left open in the legislation.

Getting to the right and wrong of legislation intended simply to apply truth and facts should not seem to be so complex. But there are times legislators are better off with time to ponder the appropriate line of justice, maybe over a span of several months rather than weeks.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.


The cost of vaccination freedom

A guest opinion by Lisa McCracken.

I like numbers.

When it seems like nearly every question is answered only with a subjectivity of dubious veracity, I find the reliability of numbers comforting.

Numbers are dispassionate. Numbers are honest. Numbers are neither Republican nor Democrat — they do not lie. Numbers simply are: you either have the correct answer or you don't.

Numbers are not subjective. You can disagree with a correct number until the cows come home but, at the end of the day, you're still wrong. Numbers do not care what you or I believe. They do not care what we feel. Numbers do not give a whit about petty politics.

I had to be comfortable with numbers during my service in the U.S. Navy. Responsible for choreographing the enormously complex logistics of maintaining an air squadron's readiness for war, I knew I had only one chance to get it right. But I knew I could rely on numbers. I knew that, as long as I culled and collated correct data, I could perform my duties properly. The numbers, after all, do not lie.

Let's talk about some numbers that affect all of us.

In the first few days of boot camp in the U.S. military, servicemembers receive a number of mandatory vaccines.

Servicemembers receive a vaccine for the highly contagious adenovirus, types 4 and 7 at a cost of $150 per dose.

Members receive vaccines for influenza at $70 per dose along with MMR (measles, mumps and rubella, infection linked to sterility) at $87 per dose.

Next is the shot for the deadly and crippling polio at $200 per dose, followed by the lethal tetanus-diphtheria at $60 per dose.

Vaccines for the deadly bacterial meningitis/meningoccal disease costs $128 per dose and varicella or chicken pox, which is debilitating and potentially deadly for adults at $170 per dose. This is a newer vaccine and I did not receive it when I entered Navy boot camp in 1999.

Then there is the "peanut butter injection" also known as bicillin, a hardcore antibiotic for serious diseases like the deadly syphilis. I received this $200-per-dose injection twice when I was exposed to deadly strep. This exposure proved fatal to a fellow recruit in the first month of training.

Servicemembers also receive(d) the vaccine for COVID-19 at a cost of $120 per dose.

Altogether, taxpayers foot the bill for roughly $1,200 worth of vaccines to prevent deadly and crippling diseases in each servicemember.

Depending on risk, occupation and area of responsibility, servicemembers might also receive protection from anthrax, cholera, haemophilus influenza type B, Japanese encephalitis, pneumococcal, rabies, smallpox, typhoid fever and yellow fever.

On Jan. 11, 2023, the Pentagon officially rescinded the requirement for our troops in the U.S. to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, giving commanders some discretion for deployment purposes.

What does this mean for the health of the U.S. military?

Will recruits and fleet servicemembers refuse other mandatory vaccines in the future? Will opting out affect their state of readiness? If our enemies become aware of military members refusing vaccines, won't this make our troops vulnerable?

What about the cost to the taxpayers for service-connected disability when members are able to bully their way out of other mandatory vaccines?

Measles and mumps cause sterility. If an individual contracts either while on active duty and suffers sterility, the monthly price tag is upwards of $1000 per month for life. Then add roughly $200 a month for what the military calls "special monthly compensation due to loss of a reproductive organ.

If the servicemember dies from a disease while on active duty, his or her dependents will receive death benefits including a monthly pension. They'll also get medical care for children and college for all dependents.

All of this falls on the taxpayer — all of it could have been avoided with a single $120 vaccine.

What if a servicemember chooses to decline a vaccination for mumps? A member without the long-proven and safe protection from mumps could suffer natural infection with the following complications: inflammation of the testicles (orchitis); this may lead to a decrease in testicular size (testicular atrophy); inflammation of the ovaries (oophoritis) and/or breast tissue (mastitis); inflammation in the pancreas (pancreatitis); inflammation of the brain (encephalitis); inflammation of the tissue covering the brain and spinal cord (meningitis); deafness.

If an active service member contracts mumps and is afflicted with moderate chronic pancreatitis at a 30 percent disability rating and a dependent spouse receives $568.05 every month. Yearly, that cost is $6,816.60 and for the next 50 years of life is $340,830 for one disability claim.

If 200 people refuse the MMR vaccine and suffer chronic pancreatitis, the price tag is over $68 million in their lifetimes.

If 2,000 servicemembers — a conservative number — decline the COVID vaccine and suffer permanent effects, do the math. The figures are staggering.

We all know freedom has a price. But the cost of choosing to decline a simple vaccination is immense. And it's a cost borne not just by those who choose to shun it, but by all U.S. taxpayers — even those who made the responsible choice to receive the vaccine.

All avoidable with a $120 shot.

The numbers do not lie.

Lisa McCracken served eight years in the U.S. Navy, where she managed the complex logistics required to maintain top readiness and safety status for both fixed- and rotary-wing air squadrons. McCracken's administrative skills as a data analyst were underscored by her service commendations and duty evaluations. A political moderate and cancer survivor, McCracken ran unsuccessfully for McMinnville City Council in 2020.


A gat in the hand

I keep recalling the immortal line Humphrey Bogart delivered in the 1946 movie The Big Sleep: “Such a lot of guns around town and so few brains. You're the second guy I've met today that seems to think a gat in the hand means the world by the tail,” just before - or was it just after? - disarming him.

The cause for remembrance is - you knew this was coming - a bill in the Idaho legislature. This one is Senate Bill 1056, which would repeal the long-standing (for most of a century) state law which has prohibited private militia groups from “associating and parading in public with firearms” - presumably, that is, loaded firearms. The bill is at this writing set for a vote on the Senate floor.

The sponsor, Senator Dan Foreman, represents the city of Moscow, a place where public safety is more or less Topic A these days. He offers the rationale that, “we cannot deny people their Second Amendment rights out of fear.”

It is a fig leaf only, for two reasons. One is that the long-standing Idaho law is almost certainly constitutional. Idaho legislators have in hand a letter from Mary McCord, legal director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown Law and former U.S. assistant attorney general for national security, saying flatly, “Idaho’s prohibition against unauthorized paramilitary organizations is fully consistent with the First and Second Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and with the Idaho Constitution.” The Supreme Court has specifically decided as much.

In a radio interview, McCord also pointed out this: “all 50 states have some provision in their state law, whether it's their state constitution or their state statutes, that prohibits private militia, private paramilitary activity.”

The second reason is that the way people challenge denial of their rights under the constitution in this country  is by taking the issue to court, not legislating the answer. This is not about protecting someone’s rights; this is about reshaping Idaho law to create something new.

What is this about? With the usual caveat about avoiding mind reading, the only plausible explanation seems to be broad support of extreme right wing militia activity - and the intimidation factor some of their backers seem to want to encourage.

Some legislators have said this out loud. Senator James Ruchti of Pocatello, for one, said, “We are sending a message to militias: free rein, have at it, start training. We’re sending a message to hate groups to show up in our communities and share your message with us under arms. Bring your weapons.”

There’s that, and more.

One problem is a blurring of who actually has law enforcement authority; another is the pursuit of flat-out illegal acts (the attempted kidnapping and murder of the governor of Michigan, for example).

More broadly, one police organization summarized this way; “The normalization of the gathering of these groups in public and the possible appearance of these groups’ alignment with police agencies presents unique challenges to public and officer safety. During 2020, unauthorized armed groups protested public health lockdowns, opposed racial justice protestors, conspired to abduct state governors and kill law enforcement officers, and in an event indelibly imprinted on the country, participated in the siege of the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, during which five people died.”

I would add one more problem: The appearance of armed gangs (which is what they are) around polling places and other election activities disrupts our voting processes - as, apparently, they are intended to do (and seems to have been tried in some states). There is here a specific agenda to attack our right to govern ourselves - or to vote for anyone unapproved of by the gang.

In the end, this kind of thing will fail, because as Bogart reminded us so long ago, a gat in the hand does not mean the world by the tail.

But if some Idaho legislators get their way, we’ll have a lot more painful experiences, and threats to our common rights to govern ourselves, before we come to a broad-enough acceptance of that truth.


For libraries

A commentary from Michael Strickland, who teaches at Boise State University and studies at Idaho State University.

"The only thing that you absolutely have to know," said Albert Einstein, "is the location of the library." Today's library goes far beyond books. In Idaho, especially in small and/or rural areas, the library can be the only place in town to hold a meeting, access reliable, high-speed internet, conduct a private telehealth appointment, or serve as the safe afterschool space.

Based on the needs of their local communities, public libraries loan a variety of items, including board games, learning kits, fishing poles, and musical instruments, and offer an array of support and services, such as help with an employment application or class assignment, resources for changing jobs or starting a business, health and nutrition assistance, and even being a local passport center.

Libraries are funded on the local level, and in Idaho, that funding varies dramatically. For example, in fiscal year 2021, the Prairie District Library had only $80 to spend on new materials for their collection. And almost 28% of Idaho elementary schools have between zero and $100 allocated each year from their school district for the purchase of books for the school library.

Local libraries and school libraries elect trustees who are responsible for approving collection development policies. If any resident wants to challenge a book in a library, that issue is handled at the local level.

The Idaho Commission for Libraries (ICfL) is a state agency that assists the more than 850 public, school, academic, and special libraries in Idaho to best serve their communities through: statewide programming and resources, like Read to Me and Libraries Linking Idaho (LiLI); consulting; continuing education; partnerships; and aid to underserved populations, such as the visually impaired through the Idaho Talking Book Service.

The ICfL also supports digital inclusion, through which libraries in the Gem State help Idahoans have access to information and communication technology vital for life in the 21st century. The ICfL facilitates state and federal broadband funding for public libraries, can provide needed technology, particularly to small libraries, and offers information and consulting support. In addition, the Commission offers the e-branch service to public libraries, which enables them to have a web presence, provides a digital skills website, and is lead on the formation of the Digital Access for All Idahoans Plan.

The ICfL provides continuing education grants and professional development opportunities for Idaho library staff. Through the Idaho Digital E-Book Alliance (IDEA), the ICfL makes more than 24,000 e-book and e-audio titles available at no cost to Idaho's public and school libraries. In addition, the ICfL fosters a number of early literacy initiatives, including Jump Start Kindergarten and My First Books, through which, more than 535,000 books have been distributed to children in Idaho since the program began in 1997.

The ICfL also manages federal funding for library projects in Idaho, such as those through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), which is funding of up to $1,250,000, and the recent American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding of $1.8 million that was granted to 48 Idaho libraries. The ARPA funding provided a significant boost to libraries as they helped to keep students learning and adults earning during the pandemic and beyond. Another source of federal funding the ICfL hopes will be supported during the 2023 legislative session is through the Library Facilities Project. The more than $3.5 million could be utilized by Idaho libraries to address critical infrastructure needs. This type of federal funding that is allowed to be used for library construction/infrastructure is rare.

The Idaho Commission for Libraries works to help Idaho's libraries meet -- and exceed -- the ever-evolving needs of their communities. For more on the ICfL, visit