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More to remember on Memorial Day

Beginning with the Revolutionary War, almost 1.4 million Americans have died in our nation’s wars, including about 667,000 killed in combat. We remember, honor and mourn those gallant souls every year on Memorial Day–May 29 this year. Those Americans who have served in or near war zones carry their memories throughout the year. It should not be just a once-a-year observance for everyone else.

The country’s more recent conflicts, starting with Vietnam, have seen a blurring of the battle lines, where American service personnel have teamed up with local forces to fight a common enemy. For those who have worked hand-in-hand with local forces–South Vietnamese, Iraqis or Afghans–it is hard to forget those local troops who died in the common cause. Although our Memorial Day is for commemoration of our war dead, I think it would also be appropriate to honor those foreign partners on this special day.

For most of my tour in Vietnam, I lived and worked beside South Vietnamese soldiers (ARVNs), mostly Roman Catholics or members of the Cao Dai Church. As human beings, they had the same hopes and aspirations as most Americans. I trusted them with my life and I believe most of them felt the same. I can’t think of America’s fallen without thinking of them. Almost 300,000 ARVNs died in the war and we left many more of them to a horrible fate. They deserve remembrance and respect. I know that many Americans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan feel the same about their foreign partners. When you form trusting bonds in wartime, it is hard to break them.

Although our bonds with the people of Ukraine are at a different level, where we are mostly non-combat partners providing moral support and weaponry from the sidelines, I have that same feeling about those valiant humans. The Ukrainians are fighting and dying in a war that serves the vital national interests of the United States and NATO, as well as our allies on the other side of the planet. Ukraine is the proverbial point of the spear that protects freedom and democracy from the despotic regimes in Russia, China and Iran.

If we allow Russia to prevail, it will give great encouragement to the autocrats, quite possibly leading to a spread of hostilities to Taiwan and any number of Asian, African and South American nations currently in the sights of Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping.

Although I rarely find issues upon which I totally agree with Senator Jim Risch, Ukraine is one such issue–an exceedingly important one. The Senator realizes that it is essential to America’s strategic interests that Ukraine prevail in Putin’s genocidal war. I agree with his view that the U.S. needs to increase and expedite the supply of war materiel to Ukraine. Senator Risch has observed that “the Ukrainians are fighting today for what our founding fathers fought for in 1776.”

Incidentally, that observation was made when the Senator recently recalled his meeting in Ukraine with a former Green Beret from Boise, Nick Maimer, who had been volunteering to train Ukrainian civilians in how to defend their country. Maimer was reported to have been killed by Russian artillery fire earlier this month. God rest his soul. He joins thousands of Ukrainians who have died in the fight.

Ukraine has reportedly suffered 124,500-131,000 total casualties, including 15,500-17,500 killed in action and 109,000-113,500 wounded. Because their fight is largely our fight, it would be most appropriate to remember and mourn them, along with our war dead and our foreign partners who died in supporting American troops. On Memorial Day, I’ll be remembering my 58,220 brothers and sisters who died serving their country in Vietnam. I’ll also be thinking of Lieutenants Dinh and Tanh, Captain Thanh and interpreter Tom, who were with us all the way until we abandoned them to their ugly fate in 1975.



An honest man

On the Sunday before Idaho’s four term United States senator Frank Church lost re-election more than 40 years ago – the date was November 2, 1980 – it was clear that Church, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, early opponent of the Vietnam War, champion of the Wilderness Act and investigator of the vast abuses of the nation’s intelligence community might well lose to a glib darling of the New Right.

The Twin Falls Times-News reported on that long ago Sunday – the reporter on the story was a guy named Marty Trillhaase, now the editorial page editor of The Lewiston Tribune – that the campaign between Democrat Church and Republican Steve Symms amounted to “Idaho’s civil war,” not a fight between north and south but “left versus right.”

The hard right won that war and Frank Church lost in one of the closest Senate elections in Idaho history. Decades on its easy to see that the lies and distortions heaped on Church in 1980, much of it coming from a network of conservative ideologues determined to bend the Republican Party in new and destructive ways, was a preview of the politics we live with today.

To the extent Church is remembered in his native state today – he died of cancer in 1984 at the young age of 59 – it is for the majestic Idaho wilderness area that appropriately carries his name. Most who know the largest wilderness in the lower 48 states call it simply “the Frank.” It’s a fitting legacy for a man who understood that not every place, including the land along the spectacular Middle Fork of the Salmon River, need be cut and dug and despoiled. Church risked his political skin to convince his constituents of that truism.

Some may be old enough to remember that Church was among the very first to oppose the country’s ultimately disastrous escalation of a jungle war in southeast Asia. Before it became acceptable to decry the deadly sacrifice of more than 50,000 Americans, Church knew the rationale for making a Vietnamese fight an American fight was fatally flawed. He told Lyndon Johnson, the president of his own party, that the president was wrong. Cranks and Birch Society crackpots tried to recall Church in the 1960s. He was re-elected anyway in 1968 and ultimately helped force an end to that tragic war. This, too, is a fitting legacy.

Back in the days when politicians answered their mail, met their constituents, and sat for interviews, Frank Church had a brilliant staff of people around him who served him and the state with great professionalism and considerable pride. He inspired loyalty and insisted on competence. Not a great retail politician, that was wife Bethine’s great forte, Church became the chairman of the most prestigious committee in the Senate, but he could still find his way to the Burley Rotary Club. He knew how to press the flesh in Grangeville and campaign in Greencreek.

Church was fundamentally a bookish, shy, brainy man, not the normal pedigree of a modern politician. He read widely and wrote eloquently. He had a sense of humor and a sense of history. In an age when such attributes count for much less than a snarky Tweet, being welll-informed, intelligent and curious is a fitting Church legacy, as well.

Without question Frank Church was – and remains – the most accomplished federal legislator Idaho has ever produced, head and big shoulders above any of the inconsequential seat warmers there today. No one else comes close to Church’s legislative record, yet the state that elected him four times over three decades has taken such a precipitous turn to the hard right that the monuments and memorials to his accomplishments are few and far between. The far right, beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the coordinated national attacks on him in 1980, systematically denigrated Frank Church to such a degree as to tarnish the image of a man who deserves much better.

Church’s important legacy and place in Idaho and American history has, thankfully, been resurrected by an important new book that places Idaho’s greatest senator at the center of the history of his own times – and ours.

Prize-winning reporter and historian James Risen arrives at this particularly fraught moment in American history with The Last Honest Man, a compelling and persuasive assessment of Church’s career that ends up focusing on what Risen argues is Church’s great legacy – his massive, and massively consequential investigation of the American intelligence community.

Many have now forgotten the substance of Church’s investigation, or perversely embrace the partisan mythology – thanks to Dick Cheney, among others – around the “Church Committee.” The reality is both relatively simple and still profoundly shocking.

The CIA engineered assassination attempts against foreign leaders, even enlisting the Mafia to try and kill Fidel Castro. Every president from Eisenhower to Nixon was culpable in these clearly un-American and illegal activities. We know this because of Frank Church.

The National Security Agency opened the mail of thousands of Americans and wiretapped countless others. We know this because of Frank Church.

The FBI spied on anti-war activists, wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and tried to blackmail him. We know this because of Frank Church.

Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger plotted to overthrow the sovereign foreign government of Chile, and to this day both have blood on their hands for the deaths of Chile’s president, Salvador Allende, in a military coup d’état, as well as murders of the head of Chile’s armed forces and a senior Chilean diplomat who was brazenly assassinated on the streets of Washington, DC. We know this because of Frank Church.

Church’s diligent and profoundly important work to make actions taken in our names by the American intelligence community resulted in major reforms and a continuing commitment to congressional oversight that simply did not exist before Church’s investigation.

Church, like all great men, had his flaws. At times he came off as haughty or too sure of himself.

Risen repeatedly accuses him of being overly “ambitious,” an accurate but hardly surprising trait for a politician elected to the Senate at age 32, and then re-elected three times as a liberal Democrat in a very conservative state. Church hungered for the presidency and considering most who have made it to that spot in recent times it’s easy to believe he was more than qualified and likely would have been successful.

Risen owes much to an outstanding earlier Church biography – Fighting the Odds – by Washington State University historian LeRoy Ashby and long-time Idaho journalist Rod Gramer, but he also substantially adds to the historical record with many interviews and new evidence of Church’s significance. Taken together the books reveal an incredibly important and accomplished American central to the history of the 20th Century.

As legal scholar Russell A. Miller noted of Church’s work in his study of the American intelligence community: “Of greater consequence than the resulting intelligence oversight and reform, the Church Committee stands as a historic monument to faith in constitutional governance. As a congressional body investigating the most secret realm on the presidential empire, the Church Committee represented a stubborn commitment to the Founding Fathers’ vision of limited government as secured by checks and balances, even in the face of America’s most vexing national trials.”

And that is the real legacy of Frank Church.


The what-ifs of an inquiry

The name of Idaho’s former Senator Frank Church has re-emerged this year and last in a connection useful mainly for comparison purposes. But it also opens some lines of thought about the presidency, what it takes to get there, and what might have been.

The new impetus for this is a just-released book, The Last Honest Man, by James Risen. It almost functions as a biography, though not quite: Its essential subject is what’s been called the Church Committee (formally the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities), which investigated wrongdoing by American intelligence agencies. The Risen book is shaped to report both what that committee did and to provide context for it and how Church came to lead it.

Bottom line on the book (a note here: I talked with the author in the final stages of his research): It’s a fine read with lots of new and contextual detail. It gave me much better insight into the committee’s work, and specifically why it was so useful. (Secondary disclosure: I’m publisher of the major general-view biography of Church, Fighting the Odds, by LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer, which was referenced in Risen’s narrative.)

Church, who was ambitious and planning a run for the presidency at the time, did ponder the possible campaigning benefits of leading the committee. He earlier had chaired another subcommittee looking into corruption by multinational corporations, and in the shadow of Watergate a reformer with Church’s street cred looked to have a good shot for the presidency, especially if he were investigating something with even larger implications.

For the candidate, it didn’t work out that way.

In recent years, Church’s committee has had a positive enough reputation that even some current Republicans have used it as an example of what they’d like to do in their investigations. (The last surviving member of Church’s committee, former Senator Gary Hart, has blasted the comparison.) But that was not always so. Church’s panel was often attacked, usually but not exclusively from the right, back in the day, and it probably was a factor in his failed bid for a fifth Senate term in 1980.

Through part of the Risen book, a sub-issue about an alternate history possibility recurs.

Church almost wasn’t chosen to chair the intelligence committee; Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield instead wanted Senator Phil Hart to do it, and Hart passed on it only due to illness. Suppose Church had not chaired the committee?

He then would have been free to launch his presidential campaign almost a year before he actually did, and that could have mattered. Church promised in taking the chairmanship that he would not run for president until (at least) its work was done, and generally held to that commitment. He entered the race in March 1976, running a “late-late” campaign by which time former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter was an almost prohibitive favorite.

But in, say, late summer 1975, the picture would have been different. Carter was then a near-unknown, and Church had a much higher national profile. The other major contenders in the Democratic primary then included Alabama Governor George Wallace, Representative Mo Udall and Washington Senator Henry Jackson. Church had the profile, campaign skills and available resources to match and maybe surpass any of them.

He also probably would have dominated the liberal side of the contest and with the campaigning groundwork he could have put in, likely would have scored well in the early New England primaries. When he did actually enter the campaign - late - Church fared well in most of the late primaries he entered.

We’ll never know now, of course, but the odds of Church actually winning the presidency in 1976 seem highly realistic in hindsight, had he launched in 1975. Which leads to other unknowables, such as what kind of president Church would have made.

And what kind of world we might now be living in.


This woke rant will probably mean as much to you as it would have to the Idaho Constitution drafters back in that hot summer of 1889. I specify Article X Section 1:

STATE TO ESTABLISH AND SUPPORT INSTITUTIONS. Educational, reformatory, and penal institutions, and those for the benefit of the insane, blind, deaf and dumb, and such other institutions as the public good may require, shall be established and supported by the state in such manner as may be prescribed by law.

Our state founders wrote constitutional sections delineating how mines could appropriate private property to dump their tailings, but the “insane, blind, deaf and dumb” got a cursory “shall be established”. And our legislature has continued this short shrift.

I must admit, the legislature has not totally ignored this edict. We have a Department of Corrections. We have a School for the Blind. Indeed, the largest state department, the most employees and the highest budget is for the Department of Health and Welfare.

So why this woke rant? It’s because we are doing this job so poorly. We can do better.

You only need to read this piece in the Idaho Capitol Sun about a mentally ill man in our prison because we have no other place to put him. He is not charged with crimes, no convictions. He’s just not safe to keep in our weak state mental facilities.

Everyone familiar with this sees the problem. But then, we’re probably just woke. Maybe you have some solution. Firing squad?

Our Governor saw this problem. Indeed, the previous director of Idaho Department of H&W told me of this need. We need a place to care for the dangerous, severely mental ill.

Brad’s budget request for this year proposed building a facility to care for these afflicted people. His budget request got ignored by the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. So, I guess our 21st century legislature has the same flippant attitude as our 19th century founders.

Go to the old penitentiary: sandstone blocks with guard towers in the desert east of Boise. Idaho has not welcomed woke.

Let me tell you why I rant. It’s because I see and care for many of these people in my practice.

I see a patient released from State Hospital North. Two weeks after discharge, they are doing okay on the meds, and they have some group housing. But they don’t want to keep taking their medications. I prescribe the pills and tell them to come back in two weeks. They stop taking them. They miss their next appointment. I check the online county jail roster. My patient is now in custody.

Do we, citizens of Idaho, want the mental health care of our severely ill fellow citizens to be managed by jails?

I can tell you, the jailers, the sheriffs deputies, don’t want this job. And I can tell you, they aren’t woke. They know, and you should too, that caring for severely mentally ill people takes a lot of work. But maybe it’s not something our legislature “shall” do, even though our State Constitution directs it.

I’m sorry if this woke rant burdens you. But I live in a town where severely mentally ill people have taken up arms and killed people.

I can’t say that Brad’s $24M facility would have prevented any of these deaths. But I can say that when Republicans respond to mass murders with calls for mental health considerations, not woke gun control appeals, then vote down a small effort, it’s a bit crazy.

But woke and crazy may actually be two sides of the same coin. Maybe we should talk about it.


The debt ceiling

It’s not often when the band of conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are in concert with their more liberal counterparts, Main Street Republicans. But the two factions are in lockstep on the debate over the debt ceiling and are united behind the GOP efforts to cut spending.

Republicans have outright rejected President Biden’s idea of raising the debt ceiling with no strings attached. And since Republicans hold a slim majority in the House, they are playing a pivotal role in deciding whether government operations continue after June 1.

Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher says the GOP’s resolve is firm.

“When the House digs in, and the House has dug in on this issue, it’s similar to the state Legislature,” said Fulcher, a former state senator. “When the House buckles down on something, we’re going to get it, or something close to it.”

It’s hard to imagine Biden and Democrats going for the Limit, Save, Grow Act – the House-backed plan that Republicans brought to the table in the debt-ceiling negotiations with the president. But as Republicans will say, it beats allowing the government to default on its financial obligations, and potentially sending the country into fiscal chaos – which no one on either side of the aisle seriously wants, aside from former President Trump.

“We did our job and came up with a plan. There has been nothing put on the table by the White House and nothing by the Senate; we’ve done it,” Fulcher said. “We have the leverage on this issue.”

Fulcher says if the end result is a temporary shutdown of some government operations, then so be it. But he agrees with fellow Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson that a default is not an attractive option.

“The government would be unable to pay its bills – including military salaries, retirement benefits, and wages earned by federal employees. Actually, defaulting would cause massive damage to our recovering economy and plunge the world into a financial crisis,” Simpson wrote in a recent op-ed.

But Simpson, while promoting the Limit, Save and Grow Act, added that it would be irresponsible to raise the debt ceiling without spending reductions. “The bill saves approximately $50-$60 billion, not by cutting critical programs, but by rescinding unspent COVID-19 emergency funding. The Biden administration used the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to spend $1.9 trillion through the American Rescue Plan, even though we still had $1 trillion in unspent emergency funds available at the time.”

Fulcher says there is pushback on the Republican plan, which includes adding work requirements for government-relief programs. But at least members of Congress are giving more thought about their spending practices.

“If we held to this plan, we will cut the debt level by $4.8 trillion in 10 years. It doesn’t sound like a lot, and some will say it’s not nearly enough, but it’s a paradigm shift in thinking,” Fulcher says. “We are on the fiscal highway to hell, and the president needs to realize it.”

Don’t take Fulcher’s word for it. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the national debt, which is more than $31 trillion today, will go to more than $52 trillion in 10 years, drawing pointed comments from Rep. Joey Arrington, chairman of the House Budget Committee.

“President Biden’s reckless spending and failed economic policies – like excessive taxes, burdensome regulations, dependency perpetuating welfare without work, and costly assault on U.S. energy – have led to record inflation, soaring interest rates and a shrinking and weaker economy,” Arrington said in a letter to his Republican colleagues.

Arrington’s letter, along with the gloomy CBO report about budget deficits, was distributed to House Republicans and is fresh on their minds as the debt-ceiling debate continues. As Fulcher observes, it’s one more reason why Republicans will not go along with the president’s “no-strings-attached” approach.

On the Senate side, Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have made it clear that they will not support raising the debt ceiling without spending cuts or reforms to the budget process.

Don’t hold your breath for a solution that will make everybody happy. One thing for certain is that it will be a long summer if things don’t get worked out soon.

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

You can almost smell it

There's a whiff of something in the air.  Just a whiff.  Not fully smoke yet.  Just a whiff.
(NOTE: For purposes of this column, the term "progressive" is used to convey someone (or more than one someone's) open to change, willing to accept new ideas/concepts and is generally someone on the positive side of things.  But, not necessarily a Democrat.)
Now, back to "whiffing." Watching elections from school boards to governorships across the country, in recent weeks, there's a whiff of change in the air.  Not monumental.  Not sweeping.  Just a whiff.
Progressives appear to be slowly coming back into favor with voters.  
In our little Oregon burg, for example, last week's school board elections saw all local incumbents - progressives in nature - returned for new terms.  In a county usually described as "conservative" politically.  Similar outcomes in elections in other Oregon locales.
Higher up the political food chain, voters in Jacksonville, FL, elected a woman in the mayoralty race.  A registered Democrat.  First woman in history.  First Dem in a long, long time.  Ousted a Republican incumbent.
While hopeful, there's not enough evidence yet to indicate a trend.  But, it's - well - hopeful.  Just a whiff.
Our little school board contest, for example.  Yep.  The "good guys" won - the more "progressives."  The slate of three "bad guys" was defeated.  Challengers appeared to have some outside dollars behind them.  Professional advertising and full color campaign materials. 
Considerable spending.  But, to no avail.  Turns out voters weren't "buying" what the three were "selling."
If you've been paying attention nationally, over the last several months, progressives have been getting their noses under the right wing's tent.  Just a bit.  Here and there.
Those of us with gray hair - and long memories - harken back to the early to mid-fifties.  Conservatism was in the air.  Republicans were "in the saddle" most places and - while rejecting Barry Goldwater for President  - the GOP was pretty much in charge.
Then, something happened.  At a time when the ship-of-state was listing to the right, a guy named John Kennedy arrived on the scene.  In fact, a whole bunch of Kennedys were making news.  
And, with them, the nation began tilting to port.  (Left, for you landlubbers.)  
Things loosened considerably.  Make that, a whole lot!  The 60's were upon us.  Woodstock, "joints," "free" love and tie-died shirts.  Hippies were making news.  And, America was having a real good time.  Voters were saying, "Barry who?"
The nation we call our "homeland" has always tipped this way and that.  Over the long haul, our progress has usually been more "steady-by-jerks" than smooth sailing.  From our revolutionary beginnings to the 21st Century, we've always been shifting.
In our politics, we've slid from John-Birch-right to the Obama-left.  And, back again.  But always, over the long haul, we've rejected most national extremes, to find more comfort in the middle.
Now, elective offices in our country are under attack from the far right.  At the moment, having given up on taking control of the nation from the top down, the hard right is trying to make inroads from the bottom up.  They're attempting to get a foothold locally to begin a political climb to power.
But, it's not working in a lot of places.
Take Southwest Idaho, for example.  Meridian-Caldwell-Nampa.  From the western outskirts of Boise to the Oregon line, it's very conservative country.  Very.  
But, in those same communities, local governance is a lot more progressive than you might think.  Conservative to progressive-lite more aptly describes the local office-holders rather than Republican or Democrat.  While there are hard-right folks in some slots, there's also a progressive or two.  Maybe even three or more.
As I said, it's a "whiff" at the moment.  Not real "smoke."  But, something's afoot.  
Keep your nose in the air.  And, as Radar used to say, "Wait for it."

Traditional values

Former U.S. Senator Len Jordan served Idaho with distinction from 1962 through 1972. He was a conservative Republican who brought courage and individualism to the Senate. He differed with Idaho’s other Senator, Frank Church, on a number of issues, but they worked together in harmony on issues affecting Idaho. Both were dedicated to safeguarding democracy They had a relationship of mutual trust and respect.

I worked for Jordan the summers of 1965 and 1966 and then served as his legislative assistant for his last three years in office. He was in the mainstream of a Republican Party that had members ranging from conservative to liberal. His Republican values were fashioned after those of the party founder, Abraham Lincoln.

Like Lincoln, Jordan stood up for the equality and dignity of all Americans. He supported the Civil Right Act of 1964 to require equal rights in employment, education and public accommodations. He supported the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. We now see so-called Republicans in red states trying to chip away at these protections.

Senator Jordan was a leader, not a follower. When President Nixon nominated Clement Haynsworth and  Harrold Carswell to the U.S. Supreme Court, Jordan voted against both because of their poor civil rights records. Most current GOP Senators would vote for any living and breathing human nominated by their party’s president.

Jordan voted for the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1972, which removed immigration barriers to a wide range of people across the world. Until recent years, the GOP recognized that America grew great and powerful by welcoming immigrants.

Recognizing that guns were becoming a danger in many areas of the country, Jordan supported the Gun Control Act of 1968 and voted in 1972 to ban cheap, dangerous handguns called “Saturday Night Specials.” He told me we did not need gun controls in Idaho but that the legislation was necessary in other parts of the country.

Jordan was not a fan of excessive taxation. He told me Congress needed to decide what services the government should provide and then provide the money to pay for them. He believed in a balanced budget and that voting for necessary tax increases was an essential part of achieving balance. Jordan pointed out that America became the most prosperous nation on the planet after World War Two, despite a graduated income tax placing hefty tax rates on the rich. We all know about GOP pledges nowadays to never vote for a tax increase for any purpose.

That brings us to the current fight over increasing the debt limit. Presidents of both parties have contributed about equally to our national debt. Trump added over $8 trillion to the national debt during his four years. Republicans always accommodate their presidents by gladly increasing the debt limit to allow additional borrowing to cover deficits. When Democratic presidents request an increase in the limit, the GOP has threatened to let the country default on its debt.

I first learned of the debt limit when President Nixon asked Congress to increase the Treasury’s borrowing authority from $377 billion to $395 billion in June of 1970. When I told Jordan we were getting lots of mail from home opposing the increase, he said in no uncertain terms that he would vote for it. He said the country had no alternative–the debt had already been incurred and we had to pay the bills. The only way to do that was to borrow the money by issuing government securities. Jordan said those who opposed increasing the debt limit were just posturing and should know better.

Jordan would be horrified to see what passes as the official Idaho Republican Party today. The extremists have commandeered the party, but there are still many reasonable Republicans who hope to remake the party to reflect Jordan’s traditional values. Getting rid of the closed GOP primary would accomplish that.


Warning signals

The political signage telling you everything you needed to know about the McMinnville School District election this season came in the form of multiple yard and field signs, clearly expensive and featuring soft pastel designs with attractive candidate portraits – all visibly from the same sources.

And the signs were only the most obvious part of a heavily funded school campaign different from those in McMinnville’s past, with a lot of campaign money poured into a de facto slate of conservative? candidates aiming at a takeover of the McMinnville school board.

Observers in western Yamhill County watched this closely, some with alarm, because they’ve already seen a similar kind of takeover in the neighboring Newberg School District. Voters may have been watching Newberg, too, and not just in McMinnville. What has happened in Newberg over the last couple of years may have affected some of the school board results in Hillsboro, North Clackamas and other communities where conservatives appeared to have lost?

That unusual ripple effect would at first seem unlikely, except that for many months the Newberg story has bounced around the state and even the nation.

Two years ago, control of the Newberg board shifted from a centrism board to an activist conservative slate of trustees, running as supportive of parental rights. It quickly fired its superintendent Joe Morelock (who was as quickly tapped as superintendent in the Woodburn School District and then this year on May 8 to lead the Willamette Education Service District).

His firing was without cause, coming after he refused to issue directives he said were illegal. The board’s choice for a replacement was on paid leave pending investigation – into what hasn’t been made public – at the Jewell school district, where he landed after a forced resignation at Beaverton in 2018 “after retweeting an offensive remark about undocumented immigrants.”

The board drew a lawsuit from the Newberg Education Association after a decision banning all political signage, one among many controversial actions. In the last year, the district has seen a heavy exodus of administrators, teachers and students, which has cost the district state funding.

Recall attempts were tried in early 2022 against the board chair and vice chair, but those fell short, after the board members benefitted from well-funded anti-recall campaigns.

Much of this and more has been reflected in news stories across Oregon and far beyond.

At McMinnville this month, four school board seats were up for election, sought by two veteran centrist incumbents seeking reelection, who were joined by two allied newcomers. They faced a slate of candidates –  whose faces were on those expensive signs– backed by many of the same people and organizations who have supported the board in Newberg.

Those challengers appeared poised to take the district in the same direction.

In a May 8 article, the McMinnville News Register showed how local races for school districts, and some other local governments, that normally attract little campaign money are becoming dominated by a few large contributors, notably the George family of Newberg. The article said that family alone has spent more than $35,000 on the May elections in Yamhill County, a highly unusual amount for those contests.

That support has led some local observers to wonder whether a Newberg-style activist slate might prevail in McMinnville. It didn’t. When the votes were counted, the two incumbents won in landslides, and their allies won decisively. The Newberg style didn’t sell in McMinnville.

This isn’t the story of just one county, however.

Three school board candidates in Canby who ran as parental right proponents and who supported book banning efforts there lost decisively. In the North Clackamas School District, a slate backed by Basic Right Oregon, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, easily prevailed over more conservative opponents. Wilsonville expanded its board’s left of center majority. Hillsboro saw social conservative groups, including Communities for Sensible Schools and Oregon Right to Life, raise more than $80,000 this year for local races, fall short too.

The most striking result of election night, though, was back in Newberg. Five board seats were up for election, three held by conservative activist incumbents and two open seats sought by allies of theirs; as of late Wednesday, all five were losing their bids to moderate challengers, who were backed by the group Oregon CARES, which had support from the Oregon Education Association. The board will shift effective control.

Every election is different, each campaign has its own logic, and some of these races may be reverberations of some national political trends or in a few cases individual campaigns. And among the school board races statewide there were some right-leaning exceptions – Crook County School District being one of the clearest.

But the Newberg case overall, and some of its counterparts in other places, seems to have generated lessons absorbed by voters across the region.


A not-too-early start

When should a challenger to an Idaho legislator, or an outsider seeking to overcome the odds in running for a major office in the state, start their campaign?

It’s an easy answer: Yesterday.

By which I mean, a lot earlier than most candidates tend to get started. In the case of a legislative candidate, there’s a case to be made for waiting to go public until after the off-year legislative session is complete. Since that session is done for the year (well, maybe not, but at least so far as we know) there’s no reason not to get a campaign in order.

For statewide office, the time frame for an effective outsider campaign should be much longer. Much.

The work of a challenger – that mostly means Democrats in Idaho, of course, but also to a degree Republican primary challengers – is more vast and difficult, if the serious objective is to win, than most candidates imagine at first. Lots of time is needed to research the political situation (in microscopic detail), to develop local support and organizations and through all that, funding and external support. There is such a thing as local and grass roots support and campaigning, but people who lack the advantages of fame and money need a lot of what else can make that happen: Time.

Which is why some note ought to be given to a gubernatorial candidate who did launch her campaign, in a formal sense at least, this month. For governor. In the election to be held in 2026.

If that sounds wildly premature, reread the above paragraphs.

The candidate in question is Terri Pickens, who was the Democratic nominee for Idaho lieutenant governor in 2022. An attorney (and you pick up her professional demeanor quickly), she was born and raised in Pocatello, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow, and has practiced law in Lewiston and Boise. Running for lieutenant governor last year, she was unopposed in the Democratic primary but lost the general election to Republican Scott Bedke, taking 30.5% of the vote.

In the long tale of Idaho general election contests, none of that is especially remarkable.

What she’s done now, starting with filing paperwork to run in an election three and a half years out, is unusual. So is her ambitious plan to start work on building that campaign right away, and through the next three years: She has said the filing is not just a statement of intent to run, but the beginning of a campaign to be built out over the next thousand days or so.

She has a statement of intent that sounds strong enough to represent a starting point and call to action: “This year, we saw some of the meanest, most extreme, cruel laws proposed and enacted in Idaho. Lawmakers are dead set on taking away our freedoms. I am taking time to see how much support is out there for a governor candidate who understands that freedom isn't just a word on a flag. With enough support to give me a credible shot at winning, I will run for governor and I will win.”

Of course, the unknowns for that far out are considerable. There’s no certainty, for example, who the Republican nominee will be. Will incumbent Brad Little run - and if he does can he hold off Attorney General Raul Labrador, who’s widely presumed to be a candidate then? Or might someone else materialize? We’re talking about years into the future, after all. A lot of water will pass under bridges between here and there.

None of this is a prediction that Pickens will win: Democrats have lost eight straight elections for governor of Idaho since their last win, and none were even very close. There’s not a lot of recent history to back up a favorable prediction.

But trend lines never last forever. And if someone eventually is going to break this one, then this is how you do it: Starting far earlier and campaigning overwhelmingly. Keep a watch on this.