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Posts published by “Ridenbaugh Press”

They’ve given up


Often in American politics, politicians are defined, retained or defeated on the basis of how well they handle a crisis.

By the verdict of history, John Kennedy handled the crisis of Soviet missiles in Cuba in 1962 brilliantly, preventing the very real possibility of an unwinnable nuclear exchange and insuring that the offending missiles were removed.

George W. Bush so bungled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a giant storm that claimed 1,200 lives, that the photo of Bush flying high above the devastation in Air Force One became one of the signature images of his presidency. It didn’t help that Bush praised his incompetent FEMA director – “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of job” – when everyone knew that Michael Brown was doing an awful job. Brown resigned ten days after Bush praised his efforts.

Governors are no less graded on crisis response. So, imagine for a moment what any governor in any state in the nation would do when faced with a crisis, say a catastrophic wildfire situation. Assume the fire was raging out of control, threatening to engulf a city of significant size, and sure to threaten lives. What would any governor do?

The response would be something like this:

Declare an emergency. Mobilize the National Guard and all available state resources. Call on the White House for federal emergency assistance. Synchronize public communication with all levels of government, making sure citizens received regular, reliable, actionable information. A governor might establish a 24-hour command post and issue regular updates on efforts to control the crisis. The governor would be hands on, all day every day.

A governor would empower local officials to make immediate, life-saving decisions. A governor would back those local officials and praise their willingness to make tough decisions to save lives.

A governor would visit frontline first responders on a daily basis, extolling their bravery and sacrifice and highlighting their heroic efforts to contain and end the disaster. And, of course, the TV cameras would be there to document the effort, showing political leadership and showcasing the responders. Would the governor tolerate criticism of first responders? No way.

Would a governor lay down the law about why and how the entire state must respond to the crisis? Of course, including making the moral case that every individual’s actions can contribute to the greater good of the community. A governor might say, “If we don’t behave like we are all in this together our community will suffer huge and unacceptable losses. Every citizen simply must do their duty.”

Would a governor order the use of chemical retardant, or permit a stand of private timber to be bulldozed to construct a fire line to contain the crisis? Without hesitation.

Almost certainly a governor would order an mandatory evacuation of citizens from their homes in order to protect lives, and then enforce an evacuation order, if necessary, with law enforcement intervention. Assume someone in the affected area objected to being ordered out of their home, it would be an affront to their freedom after all. Would a governor concerned about saving lives broker such an argument? Not a chance.

Would a governor worry that a politician who wanted his job was using the disaster to attempt to position to challenge him in the next election? A governor responding this kind of crisis would say: “I’ve had more than enough of my opponent’s nonsense and denial of the extent of this crisis. If you are listening to her, you are simply denying what you can see with your own eyes. Ignore the deniers. Protect yourself, your family, your community.”

And a governor would repeat that message over and over again. And a governor would take the heat from those who criticized and would not try to deflect responsibility for the response to the disaster. “The buck stops here,” a governor might say. “I’m the responsible officer of the government,” a leader might say.

Political leadership at this intense level in a catastrophic wildfire situation would hardly be remarkable. Indeed, it would be standard. Expected. Failure would not be an option.

Yet, in Republican states from Mississippi to Idaho governors have given up – or in most cases never really started – fighting against a natural disaster that has now headed toward claiming 700,000 American lives. Why?

GOP governors have made a simple calculation. They can’t reason with their followers about vaccines and preventive message, so they don’t try. They early on lost – or never tried to claim – the narrative about what they and their constituents faced as we edge toward the second year of COVID. They cut and ran from pushing back on efforts that have largely been successful to delegitimize local health officials. They let the lies and crass political calculations get in the way of saving lives.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves recently couldn’t – or wouldn’t – answer the question as to why school children in his state had to be vaccinated for a host of diseases in order to go to school, but he opposes requiring vaccinations against COVID for teachers. His state is in crisis, with more deaths per capita than any place in the world with the exception of Peru.

Idaho’s Governor Brad Little, a re-election looming, is apparently willing to go to court to oppose a federal plan to vaccinate workers at large businesses, even though many businesses support a mandate. He ought to be embracing vaccine mandates, but Little has made his political calculation: he’s given up on efforts to fight pandemic misinformation and quietly decided that the COVID-infected unvaccinated are expendable in his quest for a second term.

Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has muzzled local health officials, refused to impose any sensible controls and now faces a cratering hospital system. The largest hospital in Billings is at 160% of its ICU capacity and is using hallways to care for COVID patients, almost all unvaccinated. “The problem is,” said Brad Von Bergen, the Billing Clinic’s ER manager, “we are running out of hallways.”

In the face of hospital systems in collapse and bodies stacking like cord wood, GOP governors have made the morally reprehensible decision to play politics to try to ensure their own future political viability rather than do what is required to save lives. It is a response of craven indifference, unlike any other in anyone’s lifetime. “It’s like we’re seeing the de-evolution of humanity, right in front of our eyes,” said Chris Roth, the CEO of Idaho’s St. Luke’s Health System told the Idaho Capitol Sun, as he surveyed the wreckage attendant to operating under crisis care standards. Roth is right.

The question for Republican governors is as simple as their callousness is obvious: amid so much death and suffering how do they manage to live with themselves?

Home at last


The just released book Peril, written by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa about the last months of the Trump Administration, contains a fleeting reference to … Idaho. It’s worth pondering for a moment.

The mention comes in a story about Adam Smith, a Washington state Democratic House member who was flying home from D.C. two days after the January 6 riot at the capitol.

Once seated, he discovered he was on an unusually (at the time) crowded flight - crowded mostly with MAGA-hatted Trump supporters, about a hundred he estimated, most also on their way home, also fresh from the events at the capitol.

Smith adjusted his mask and kept quiet, but listened carefully.

He heard, amid some racist and anti-semitic talk, an almost profound sense of not just disappointment but of bitter despair, with lots of talk about the nation falling into collapse. One young man, dejected about the way things were going, said he was thinking about moving to South Korea. (His reason was that it’s 90 percent Christian; the actual percentage is about a third of that.)

Another passenger said that no, he shouldn’t leave the country. Instead, she said, “You should move to Idaho.”

The man replied, apparently rejecting that idea: “I just don’t think they have decent seafood in Idaho.”

Okay. Hold it right there.

I will attest as a fact that you can get decent seafood in Idaho, even much better than decent if you shop carefully and choose your restaurants well. I’ve done that on any number of occasions. So let’s put that one to rest right now.

But what about the idea that Idaho is the kind of place for that disillusioned MAGA crowd on the flight Adam Smith shared?

That particular question was not taken up in Peril, but given the state of Idaho politics today, you’d have to say the woman offering the suggestion wasn’t far off track.

Trump last year lost his race for re-election (yes he did - period) nationally, but he did win in Idaho by a landslide, with nearly 64 percent of the vote. Over the last four years, Trump gained political ground in Idaho, quite a bit. Outside of Boise and a few scattered small communities, MAGA support remains easy to find.

But what about the attitude - the sense of dejection, that all is lost?

Yes, that too sounds a lot like a lot of Idaho today.

Listen to the activist political forces, the ones generating legislative action and protests, shouting and yelling. If you listen to what they say, there’s remarkably little upbeat or optimistic there, little in favor of much of anything (except Trump, but not always even him); the prevailing attitude is that America and American society are all going to hell. There are no happy warriors here.

And for all the protests and proposed legislation, there’s really nothing on offer as a real option to try to stem the tide or actually make improvements in the state. There’s legislation relating to masking requirements and critical race theory and so on, but these are not really presented as an answer to anything, as something that will improve Idaho’s government or society. They’re presented mainly as a weapon with which they “own the libs.” They’re gestures.

This is very different from the Idaho of a generation or two ago: The mood then was highly upbeat, including across much of Idaho politics. And it is true that even now many of Idaho’s top political leaders (Governor Brad Little for one, and a significant number of others) do try to stay on the sunny side where they can.

But the activist side of Idaho politics, the social force increasingly driving the agenda?

That mopey guy on the cross country plane flight probably would have found a copacetic place if he’d taken the advice and parachuted out over Idaho.



When Idaho extended “crisis standards of care” to all of our hospitals in this state, there quickly arose the social media meme that all patients in hospitals were being declared “Do Not Resuscitate” =DNR. I guess that got some folks attention. It sure didn’t push for a big wave of folks asking for Covid vaccinations. But we have outrage to spare nowadays.

While some of that meme is a bit true, most of it isn’t. The “Crisis Standards” mean that the institution can use its resources how it believes would best serve the community. So, if a patient with metastatic cancer had not signed a DNR suddenly stopped breathing, the hospital was not obligated to intubate and ventilate this terminal patient, whereas, without the standards in place it had such an obligation.

Why do we do such wasteful, violent, and destructive things in healthcare? Chest compressions break ribs. But they can save a life; I have done so. When a fifty-year-old man walks into my ER from his bowling night, sweaty and clutching his chest, then collapses as we are hooking him up to oxygen and putting the monitor leads on his chubby chest, we start chest compressions. And when he gripes to me a week later about how his chest still hurts from the broken ribs, I apologize and smile.

Why would a patient with a terminal illness want such treatment? I have come to understand it is because we medical professionals are so lousy at communicating. We often just talk amongst ourselves and don’t fully listen to our patients.

When the question of resuscitation is presented, it can be a brief, almost perfunctory conversation. It can be left to the admitting clerk who talks to the elderly patient or a family member when she is brought from the nursing home to the ER at midnight. “Do you want us to do everything?” Who wouldn’t want that for their loved one?

But an 89-year-old with pneumonia, Covid or bacterial, will most likely die with that tube down their throat and the machine pushing air into their drowned lungs, should it come to that. The question that should have been asked, one that takes time and sensitivity and care could or should have been, “How do you want us to care for you?”

Because that is what we should be asking from our medical industrial complex: care.

It seems like we go to the hospital or the doctor in this adversarial culture with the chip on our shoulder, I gotta get what’s owed me. Instead, we should be expecting care.

Maybe we just aren’t caring about ourselves or each other much these days.

For to care about a person in their final, special days is to honor the values they have built their lives around. Many have led dignified, independent lives and to be connected to machines, unable to hold their daughter’s hand or whisper their love to their family is the ultimate indignity. We, my fellow healthcare colleagues need to see this and honor this. Signing a paper form about DNR is not a way to honor a life, or to honor their death. We need to be present and open to the values of those we care for.

But patients, citizens need to see this too. If the choice one makes in life is to be uncaring, unthoughtful, inconsiderate to one’s neighbors, what kind of death should we be expecting? It could be brutal and lonely, not unlike the life we have lived.

This “crisis standards” that Idaho hospitals now have should be an opportunity for us to look in the mirror. Those of us on the “caring” side need to resolve to do better as we listen to the values and lives of those in our care. The folks who come to us for care need to understand that their values are not always clear. Work to make them so.

Gunfight at the N.Y. Corral


It might seem strange for an Idaho congressman to get involved with gun laws in New York. But it’s not surprising when that congressman is Russ Fulcher, who will dive into almost anything when he thinks that Second Amendment rights are at stake.

Fulcher has joined a host of House Republicans who, along with the New York Rifle and Pistol Association, are challenging the state’s restrictive licensing regulations.

“It is deeply upsetting to hear about how New York, and not just New York but many other states as well, have begun to chip away at one of our most fundamental rights – the right to defend ourselves and our families,” Fulcher says.

The domino theory comes into play here as far as gun advocates are concerned. Any number of states could follow what New York does with gun laws.

But the situation with the licensing laws (pardon the pun) is “small potatoes” compared to what’s happening with the National Rifle Association in New York.

Attorney General Letitia James was elected in 2018 on the promise to bring down the NRA and she’s made life uncomfortable for the powerful lobbying organization. She has challenged (among other things) the NRA’s non-profit status and the NRA has responded with a slew of measures to ensure its house is in order. But court activity is a long way from being over.

According to Andrew Arulanandam, a longtime spokesman for the lobbying organization, there are other forces working against the NRA – including President Biden and the Democrats who control both houses of Congress.

“We’re not under siege because we did anything wrong … we have done everything right,” said Arulanandam. “Over the years, a very powerful political force has tried to bring us down. It includes Michael Bloomberg who embarked on a gun-control crusade. He has spent billions of dollars trying to bring us down and defeat us at the congressional level, the state level and in the courts. And we have prevailed through all of that.”

Arulanandam is no stranger to Idaho politics. He’s a Boise State University graduate and worked on the staffs and campaigns for former Sen. (and Gov.) Dirk Kempthorne. He has been with the NRA for more than 20 years.

The NRA bills itself as a non-partisan organization, but in realistic terms, it’s attractive only to Republicans. The NRA is in the center of controversy, and often viewed as a scapegoat, whenever a mass shooting occurs. What follows those events are the usual calls for more laws, along with the NRA’s well-worn response that law-abiding citizens are not to blame.

Former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, who has been on the NRA’s board of directors since 1982, has seen dramatic changes at the board level. The “Blue Dog” Democrats from the south, who were supporters of the NRA, have been replaced by Republicans and the Democrats of today are nowhere to be found within in the NRA ranks.

“Over the years, the Democratic Party found guns to be a winning issue for them,” Craig said. Today, if you are endorsing the Democratic platform, then you’ve got to be anti-gun. Has the NRA changed during that time? No. What I like to say is that we are the largest civil rights organization out there – standing up for the rights guaranteed in our constitution.”

The New York politicos have a quite different view. Arulanandam says that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for one, has made it clear that those who do business with the NRA, will not do business with the state of New York.

“People started dropping us, even though it was a clear violation of the First Amendment,” Arulanandam said. “That’s what Cuomo did, and he was applauded by the media. So, we are up against the New York political machine. Added to that, there’s a Biden administration that is extremely hostile toward guns. That’s cause for concern for gun owners across the country and in Idaho.”

Arulanandam says the NRA is fighting back, with the help of supporters. “We have strength in numbers – about five-million dues-paying members and more than 100-million gun owners.”

Craig sees New York’s case against the NRA weakening and, eventually, the organization will settle into a friendlier home in Texas. “The attack in New York should be seen for what it is. It’s a political stunt.”

And it’s a “stunt” that could lead James to the governorship if the stars line up right.

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

Get the damned shot


This B.S. has got to stop!

Get the damned shot! Now!

The cretins who keep refusing the best medicine to end our pandemic are not only exposing the rest of us. They’re also running up the already extremely high costs of care.

Consider this. According to the Medicare folks who crunch the numbers, providers get up to $150.00 to fully vaccinate beneficiaries with both doses. Two shots. No matter who holds the needle.

For the unvaccinated, the average hospital stay is $17,400! That’s 116 times the amount for two shots!!! One-hundred 16 times!

And, if the unvaccinated cretin in the bed needs a ventilator, the charge is $49,441 over about 17 days. That’s 330 times the cost of administering the vaccines! Three-hundred-thirty times!

Our Medicare/Medicaid system was never meant to pay all the costs associated with any pandemic. Never. But, everyone who refuses to get the shots is dramatically driving up the charges. You and I foot the bill for their miserable excuses. And, if the unvaccinated have no health insurance, welcome to the big time, idiot!

There are about 102,000 Covid patients in intensive care beds. The vast majority - needlessly. Just imagine the costs. CDC says about 98% are sans shot(s).

According to the Centers for Disease Control, just over half of us are fully vaccinated. But, 27-percent - 12 and older - are NOT. Totals of vaccine shots administered per day dropped 18-percent last week from a week earlier and 20-percent from a month earlier.

So, we’ve got just over a quarter of the population walking among us, many “carriers” of Covid and Delta variants, exposing the rest of us. And they’re putting our hospitals on “overload,” forcing them to triage who gets care and who doesn’t.

There is no known major religion prohibiting congregants from being vaccinated. Short of some anecdotal medical case, there’s no medical reason not to procure the vaccine.

Most interviews of the holdouts I’ve seen or heard can be summed up something like this. “Ain’t no damned government telling me what to do.” “First amendment.” “Liberty.” Yadda-yadda-yadda.

It was Trump who made the vaccination issue political rather than medical. It was Trump who knowingly disregarded initial warnings of the pandemic, choosing to do nothing. It was Trump who shuttered the governmental office deliberately created to deal with national medical emergencies. It was Trump who tried to make Covid nothing more than the common cold and came up with all the idiotic “treatments” for a serious - make that deadly - disease.

It was Trump who opened the door to his followers to rant, rave and bitch about “personal freedoms,” not trusting government, “liberty or death” deniers. The bastard took what should have been a quick, national medical effort to head-off an explosion of sickness and death and made it his personal political issue. Then, he was vaccinated, quietly and secretly. Hypocrisy in all capital letters!

Now, we’ve got a full blown pandemic, exploding health care costs for each of us. And, we’ve got millions of Americans making every excuse in the book for not doing what is absolutely necessary: getting the shots.

We’ve also got a medical situation that will continue for generations simply because shot-deniers are making it so. Those are not my words. Dr. Anthony Fauci is already talking of annual booster shots for Covid as well as the other flu vaccinations we’ve known for years.

Many of us have dropped out of normal activities simply because of the exposure risks of the unvaccinated. At our house, Barb has stopped going to her usual arts and craft clubs because so many attendees won’t wear masks or get the shots. Our church, with a sanctuary built for several hundred, limits attendance to 76 congregants on Sunday. Distanced. A few masked.

President Biden has made it abundantly clear he’s fed up with those who continue to resist the best medical advice - who would rather be Covid carriers with the likelihood of infecting others. He’s begun a crackdown to force large companies and government to require vaccinations for employees. And, we’re beginning to see results.

We’ve all had changes in our lives because of the disease. None of us is untouched. Our lives and our activities are much different that a couple of years ago. And, things will never be the same. Face masks and distancing will be our “watch words” for what could be the rest of our lives along with those unnecessary higher medical costs.

For much of that, you can blame your unvaccinated neighbor.

Get the damned shot!

“Egregious and tyrannical”


A convergence of three unsettling headlines appeared for my morning reading the day before the nation observed the 20-year commemoration of the tragic deaths of almost 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001. The very day of the remembrance ceremonies, the 7-day average for loss of American lives to the on-going Covid-19 catastrophe was 1,666, as we rapidly approached a death toll of 660,000 Americans. Ninety-eight percent of the Covid deaths since the first of the year could have been prevented by a free and effective vaccine.

The converging headlines read: “Covid-19 hospitalizations in Idaho reach a record level;” “Idaho Gov. Brad Little ‘exploring’ lawsuit against President Biden’s vaccine mandate;” and “Unvaccinated people were 11 times more likely to die of Covid-19, CDC report says.” Putting the stories together, Idaho’s Covid hospitalizations have skyrocketed for lack of adequate state preventive measures, our Governor is thinking of joining a number of other GOP governors in suing the President for trying to increase our vaccination rate, and unvaccinated people are 11 times more likely to die of Covid than those who have their shots.

Idaho’s Covid crisis came about because too many Idahoans simply won’t perform their civic duty of protecting themselves and others by getting a life-saving vaccination. That undemanding act would let everyone get back to work, school and regular life. Federal and state leaders have urged, begged and cajoled people to do their part in bringing the pandemic under control but too many of us refuse to do it, endangering us all. The State of Idaho and many other Republican-led states refuse to require either vaccinations or, the second-best preventive measure, mandatory masking.

Should the federal government throw up its hands and just let the unvaccinated Covid patients pile up in the hospitals and mortuaries? That would be just as irresponsible as the state GOP governors who refuse to implement effective measures to get people masked and vaccinated. The hospitals need to be freed up for patients with other life-threatening conditions, and unvaccinated people need to be prevented from continuing to be virus spawning grounds.

The President’s idea of using the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) to make workplaces of 100 or more employees safe for workers is reasonable and lawful. That will also protect the customers of those businesses and give the public confidence that something effective is finally being done in many Republican-controlled states to bring the pandemic under control. The economic and health benefits will be significant. We won’t have to spend every waking minute fretting that our kids and grandkids will be exposed and infected at schools or businesses.

Republican Party Chairman Tom Luna called Biden’s vaccination plan “one of the most egregious and tyrannical violations” of the U.S. Constitution. The legal basis for Biden’s action was laid on December 29, 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed the OSHA bill into law. Every Republican Senator, except the former segregationist Democrat and Dixiecrat, Strom Thurmond, voted for the law. I was working for Republican Senator Len Jordan at the time and he looked at it as a way to keep workers safe on the job.

OSHA is designed to protect workers from serious health and safety threats at work and is tailor-made for the Covid-19 virus. The mandate for employees to be vaccinated for the protection of everyone in the workplace is much like the mandate for school kids to get vaccinated against a whole raft of dread diseases as a condition of going to school.

Some of those GOP governors who are running around like Chicken Little, claiming that the sky is falling because of Biden’s vaccination mandate, may actually find some secret benefit in it. Biden’s actions promise to bring the pandemic under control, whereas the inaction of the governors has only exacerbated it. The governors can now score political points for railing against the mandate, while their voters are blessed by the lives saved as a result of the President’s action.

PERSI’s income stability


Although it may not be well-known outside of government circles, the Idaho Public Employees Retirement System of Idaho (PERSI) is an important current and future revenue stream for 115,000 Idaho public workers, and another 50,000 retirees.

Without this model pension plan, ranked among the best in the country, many Idaho workers in schools, law enforcement, corrections, water resources, and many other state and local entities would be less well-off than they are today.

Unlike many other states, Idaho takes a conservative approach to pension obligations in the public sector. Many states have poured benefits into pension plans only to find themselves overextended when the economy shifts in the paying entity. No one wants to tell employees they can’t have a new benefit or an expanded one and this mentality is common elsewhere.

Idaho’s pension approach is to limit obligations and to secure revenue in various ways. For example, the state maintains a low ratio of obligations to income; many states have raised their obligations to unrealistic goals which can’t be met with declining income.

Also, Idaho’s investments are a broadly-based mix of stocks, bonds and other income-producing revenue. There are no hog belly or orange juice futures in Idaho’s portfolio. This is a tortoise investment approach, not a rabbit one. It’s a meat-and-potatoes plan which has served the state well for decades.

The fund’s overall financial manager, Bob Maynard, will retire next year but the basic plan is likely to remain pretty much the same. It now has assets of over $23.5 billion, and is more than 105% funded above obligations. That puts it in stellar company with only a few other public plans nationally.

The fund’s growth last year was nearly 28%; it invests in conservative stocks, bonds and other secure revenue streams. There’s nothing fancy about this. It’s just another example of how Idaho’s pay-as-you-go, don’t overspend, don’t commit money we don’t have approach to public finance. (IdahoPress, 8/30).

Independent groups also notice Idaho’s PERSI stability and returns. A recent report placed PERSI in the top seven states on pension benefits to teachers. Idaho school officials say the PERSI retirement plan helps make teaching in Idaho competitive to other states despite lower base salaries. (IdahoEdNews, 9/7).

Unions and other lefties sometimes complain that the program does not provide enough. These Biden-ista, spend-it-all liberals want the government to fund cradle-to-grave benefits, give money to those who won’t work, and worm government into yet another aspect of American life.

Regular cost-of-living increases, usually annually, keep PERSI benefits to retirees more or less competitive. Could Idaho spend more? Sure. But that would mean either higher tax obligations and the costs would then fall back on all citizens.

On the right, critics would like to see workers left on their own at the end of their working careers. These critics, including the Idaho Slavery Foundation and House hothead rightists, are really advocating a form of social Darwinism. It’s a robber baron system in which workers don’t deserve more than the paychecks they receive week by week. This is the message of the McGeachin-ites who disdain public responsibilities and want “freedom” only for themselves.

PERSI’s board is appointed by the governor, and it’s hard to imagine McGeachin doing anything except appointing far-right cronies like Wayne Hoffman to such key positions. It’s a hidden danger in the coming primary election.

If we want stability in state government, we have to vote for it. There are plenty of charlatans out there who want to take Idaho into extreme ideologies. The PERSI appointments are as important as any in the state. Getting this wrong by tin-hat nominations would make Idaho more like the governmental cesspools of Illinois, New York, New Jersey or California, or cities like Detroit. Who wants that? If that’s your choice, go live there.

You don’t have to listen to many public employees or retirees in Idaho today to hear the importance of the PERSI plan to their financial security. Statewide, the plan pays out close to a billion dollars annually into communities large and small. Tens of millions of dollars go to Twin Falls and Bannock Counties alone. That’s money that people then use for all kinds of consumer goods and to invest in themselves. (

Maynard and PERSI’s Executive Director Don Drum have done an excellent job in managing this critical state retirement pool. Legislative oversight also plays an important role; the commerce committees in the House and Senate hear presentations every year on the fund’s progress.

As chairman of the House committee for several years, I saw the numbers up close. People should not worry that the fund won’t be there. It will, thanks to its solid leadership, good gubernatorial appointments and a conservative, meat-and-potatoes approach to investing. That’s the Idaho way.

Here, as with other aspects of Idaho governance, ideological-driven rants from the Idaho Slavery Foundation and their candidate-puppets would immensely damage the state.

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

Anatomy of a conspiracy


During a career devoted to little more than climbing the political ladder, Idaho Senator James E. Risch has been defined by a handful of moments when his outrageous behavior made news.

Risch’s greatest hits include the time he sprinted around the gallery of the Idaho state senate ordering state police officers to arrest demonstrators who had the audacity to object to something the then legislative leader was involved in.

Risch brought the U.S. Senate to a prolonged late-night halt in 2018 when he objected to a provision in a spending bill to name a central Idaho wilderness after a political rival, former governor Cecil D. Andrus. Risch threw a “temper tantrum” during which the Idaho Statesman editorial board called “a petty and embarrassing episode.” Andrus, who disliked few people made an exception for Risch, and the former governor had been dead for months when Risch displayed his pique.

The Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune ran a classic headline about the scene: “Risch picks fight with dead man, loses.”

When the Senate debated whether to impeach Donald Trump for his shakedown of the Ukrainian president, Risch fell asleep. A sketch artist captured the diminutive ultra conservative napping, head in hands. Spokesman Review columnist Shawn Vestal noted, correctly: “Nothing so clearly represents the nothing-matters, say-anything nature of the GOP response to impeachment, the collective, cynical shrug in the face of a slam-dunk case, as Sleeping Beauty Risch.

In contrast to his embarrassments, Risch’s accomplishments rarely make news for the simple reason he doesn’t do politics that way. He’s a partisan striver, always touching the right conservative talking points, always on the attack, but never doing the hard work of actually addressing an issue that might be important to his constituents. But that MO is good enough anymore to get a replacement level Republican elected and re-elected in Idaho. And Risch has been elected time and again – with one notable exception – since the 1970’s.

Look up “career politician” in the dictionary and you’ll find a photo of Jim Risch.

Risch has clearly reached the zenith of his political career. After a short run as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Risch is now the ranking Republican on what once was considered the most prestigious committee in the Senate. This week the junior senator from Idaho used that position to advance a right-wing conspiracy theory growing faster than Pinocchio’s nose.

For weeks there has been a constant drumbeat of conspiracy to the effect that President Joe Biden is a tottering idiot, not in command of the government let alone himself. You can see this lie promoted daily on Fox, OANN, at Breitbart, and the Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post. Trump himself suggested this week that former president Barack Obama “is probably running the government now anyway, according to many.”

Many people are saying this is head slapping, crazy-town nonsense, but Risch fanned this silliness during a Senate hearing this week, repeatedly asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken about a “mute” button that some unnamed official in the White House allegedly uses to cut off Biden, presumably to keep him from blurting out, like Risch, something silly. Blinken said, repeatedly, it was nonsense.

As reporter Amber Phillips noted: “The senator’s line of questioning seemed derived from conservative media. Fox News commentators were questioning the same thing that same morning, noted Daily Best media report Justin Baragona.”

Assessing Risch’s descent down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole Dana Milbank wrote, “The episode is worth unpacking because it shows, in miniature, how misinformation infects the Republican Party, rapidly spreads through partisan media and contaminates elected GOP leaders — who amplify and defend the falsehood, even when it’s shown to be wrong. This is how lies are born.”

Short story: when Biden was in Boise early in the week he met with Idaho’s governor and wildland fire officials at the National Interagency Fire Center. As is typical with the White House – any White House – a press “pool” is allowed to “spray” the gathering and then is ushered out. This is what happened in Boise. Biden’s mic wasn’t cut. The pool coverage of the event ended. It’s routine. It’s not a conspiracy.

(Some Idaho reporters were miffed that they had limited access to Biden, which I understand, but that is a separate issue. The White House – any White House – typically tightly controls this kind of access. Maybe they shouldn’t, but they do.)

Risch took this little non-issue, subsequently amplified by a Republican National Committee social media posting and a New York Post article and made a federal case of it. More importantly, Risch used almost half his time during a hearing where Blinken was on the hot seat about the clearly badly handled U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan talking about a make-believe White House “mute” button. None of his questions were designed to illicit real information. It was all a performance for the cameras.

If there is a better example of how unserious American politics on the political right has become, I don’t want to see it. But Risch’s motivation was as clear as his questions were crazy. He was angling to land on Fox News, and of course he did the obligatory “hit” with Bret Baier.

Risch is, by the way, 78-years old, the same age as the president he attacks for being too old for the job.

But one suspects there is even more to Risch’s motivation for raising his phony issue with the secretary of state, and in the process channeling a Trumpish conspiracy. There are no coincidences in politics and often cause and effect.

Less than a month ago, conservative Idaho firebrand Bryan Smith excoriated Risch in a newspaper op-ed for his vote in favor of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure proposal. Smith, a leading figure in the ongoing effort to push the Idaho GOP to the rightwing edge of the earth, said Risch’s vote – and Senator Mike Crapo’s – was proof that the Republican senators have been in office too long.

“The fact is that the longer Risch and Crapo serve in Washington, the more they become like the liberal swamp they claim they are fighting against,” Smith wrote, attempting to make the case that Idaho’s senators are closet liberals.

Risch has always been a purely transactional politician, so what better way to shut down attacks from the flat earth right than to embrace a favorite conspiracy theory of the flat earth right. You can’t reason with them, might as well fully join them.

It would be tempting to treat Jim Risch’s latest embarrassment as just another example in the long history of his blatantly ill-natured partisanship, a part of his life-long effort to protect his hard right flank, but unfortunately it is more than that. Risch’s performance is now the Republican brand: conspiracy, conceit and contempt for truth.

Idaho voters should have muted him a long, long time ago.

Together again, eventually


The first redistricting kerfluffle in Idaho emerged last week over a proposal that almost certainly will not come to fruition in the next ten years, but very likely will after that.

So it wasn’t a bad idea to raise, just to get people accustomed.

It emerged out of the meetings of Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission, which from all appearances so far seems to be operating as a cooperative and professional group. (Yes, it actually can happen.) As part of the early stages of the process, they’re developing a bunch of plans and throwing them out there, not with the idea that any one of them necessarily is under serious consideration, but simply to make all the options visible.

They’re working on plans for Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and its two congressional districts.

One of those congressional district plans generated headlines about “Ada and Canyon - together at last!” And that’s sort of what would happen.

Idaho has had two congressional districts since shortly after the 1910 census, and from that decade up to 1966, Ada County was placed in the second congressional district - along with eastern Idaho - and Canyon County was in the first - along with points north. The district lines hardly changed during all that time, mostly a reflection of how inexact reapportionment was in all those years.

A 1962 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr, slammed down on the many states (Idaho being one of many) that weren’t reapportioning properly, and in 1966 Idaho came up with new maps both on the legislative and congressional levels - really, the first proper reapportionment in the state’s history. In that new map, Ada County was bumped from the second to the first congressional district, which had an immediate political impact. Ada was more Republican then than it is now, and the first district went from Democratic to Republican control. (That was the real jump start for James McClure’s long congressional career.)

Redistricting soon got more precise. After the 1970 census, mappers concluded that Ada County should be split between the two districts, with part of eastern Ada County and Boise carved off for the second. It’s been that way ever since, the congressional district line shifting only slightly through the middle of Boise to account for variances in the population to the east and north. There’s been no serious attempt since to place all of Ada in one district again.

It’s possible, though, as the new options map shows. The population of Ada and Canyon now is such that you could place a string of counties including those two from the Oregon line east through Twin Falls, and that would have enough people for a congressional district. It would be compact and, on its own terms, could make sense. It would have a unifying strip along Interstate 84, and there’d be some community of interest.

The problem would be the remaining district, which would link northern Idaho with eastern Idaho - or, to put it another way, Bonners Ferry with Montpelier. The two big pieces of that district would have almost no practical road connection or community of interest (even if their politics these days are similar). Such a district would lead to understandable outrage through the east and north.

So that map is not going to happen this time.

However. When the 2030 census comes around, there’s a good chance Idaho will have just enough population for three congressional districts, for the first time ever.

When that happens, much of the population increase probably will be driven by the Ada-Canyon area, and a district based around southwestern Idaho will become very likely, alongside much bigger (geographically) districts to the north and east.

So drafting that Ada-Canyon map this time around may serve a purpose: It may get people ready for what a three-district Idaho may look like in another decade.