Writings and observations

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Idaho

For a while after he became governor in 1977, John V. Evans became known among some Idaho political writers as the Rodney Dangerfield of governors: He couldn’t get no respect – and that was the headline of a column at the time.

Anecdotes flew around. He was the lieutenant governor who put gas in his car tank, forgot his wallet at home, and promised the attendant he would run right back and get it and pay. Not good enough: The lieutenant governor had to leave his watch as collateral. (Evans had a good enough sense of humor that none of this seemed to bother him.)

As governor, there was an optics issue too. He took the office not by election but by elevation, after the charismatic Cecil Andrus had been named interior secretary. Evans had a lot to live up to, and he lacked Andrus’ magnetism.

But by the time of Evans’ passing this week, perspectives changed – a lot. He gets a good deal of respect now and for good reason.

John Evans held office during one of Idaho’s tougher economic periods, and when much of the bigger picture of Idaho politics, on partisan, social and philosophical levels, was turning against him. He still won election to the job twice, the second time over a man (Phil Batt) who more than a decade later did become governor; he came very close to winning a race for the U.S. Senate. (All that followed a closely contested run for lieutenant governor in 1974.)

Evans could fairly be considered one of Idaho’s strongest governors. He was a highly skilled politician (first elected to the state Senate in the Republican year of 1952 from Republican Oneida County), a far better campaigner than many people credited him for, and he could be a partisan leader when occasion arose. Republicans long remembered how many previous governors would simply sign a veto of legislation, but Evans brought out a big red veto stamp to make his point.

My memories of his time in office come from another angle: Alongside the self-confidence (which any successful politician must have) was an evidently genuine humility and kindness. Few major public offices I have ever seen were as open as his; the door of his office was nearly always open, allowing for inquiring reporters or anyone else to see exactly what the governor was up to at any given moment.

One day I asked to spend a day with the governor, from breakfast until he got home from work. That sort of story isn’t totally unique, but what was unusual was this: I wasn’t kicked out of anything, any meetings or deliberations at all, all day. That was not the kind of openness you saw in just about anyone else’s administration.

When he left the governor’s office, he did something else unusual. He didn’t retire or work as a lobbyist or do many of the things you usually expect ex-governors to do. Instead, he moved to Burley and took over the family business – the D.L. Evans Bank – and over the years exploded it from a small, reasonably successful business to Idaho’s largest locally-owned bank, with rapid growth year over year. It grew even more just a week ago when it swallowed another Idaho banking operation. After years as one of Idaho’s most successful political leaders, he worked his way up to become one of its top business leaders as well.

One more word, speaking as a publisher: John Evans is the only governor in the long reach from Len Jordan to Phil Batt whose story hasn’t been told in biography or memoir. Someone should get about it, soon. It would make a good story.

Randy Stapilus is a former Idaho newspaper reporter and editor, author of The Idaho Political Field Guide, edits the Idaho Weekly Briefing, and blogs at www.ridenbaugh.com. He can be reached at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
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Idaho

This deep red state would not exist but for a Democratic president and a Democratic Idaho governor.
It might have been shaped like a square or a rectangle, the way most other western states are, or nearly are; in fact when Idaho Territory was first created in 1863, it was: It then included what is now Montana and most of Wyoming, which sounds ridiculously large but still is only a little larger than Texas. Montana and Wyoming were sloughed off after about a year.

What was left of Idaho did not look like promising state material. In some ways, the Nevada experience soured many people on remote, oddly-shaped and lightly populated states. Nevada had been admitted in a rush during the Civil War, after which its mining industry went crash and the state largely depopulated; it was so poorly run as to be called a “rotten borough.” Idaho as a territory was a little better than that after its first decade or so, but still more a collection of pieces than a logically coherent entity. The mountains in the center seemed to bar direct transportation and communication across its farther reaches, and even the relatively flat desert in the south was forbidding for travelers between its growing eastern and western reaches, where farming was taking hold. (The hospitable Magic Valley was still in the future.)
And the northern part of the state, which never got over losing the territorial capital, felt little connection to the south. Economically, socially, politically, the pieces were distinct.

So plans for splitting Idaho into pieces started early, and continued up to the advent of statehood.

It almost happened. The closest call came in the 1880s.

Nevada was still struggling, and among the ideas circulating there was a territorial expansion. It had few options. California and Oregon already were states, and unlikely to give up territory. Utah to the east was nearing statehood itself, but the Mormon identity of the area was holding it back in Congress; Nevada would never get approval for that annexation. But southwest Idaho was gaining in population and developing a stable economy. From Nevada’s point of view, it looked scrumptious.
Washington territory was nearing statehood as well, and like other territories found that larger population bases always helped the case in Congress. Northern Idaho once had been part of Washington Territory, and even then Spokane was something a regional economic base. Why not a reunion?
And if those pieces were gone, the chances for Utah statehood would be improved if it gobbled eastern Idaho.

Does this sound implausible? Here’s some history: A bill to split Idaho among its neighbors in just this way (with Nevada getting most or all of southern Idaho) actually passed Congress in 1887 (when Republicans controlled the Senate, and Democrats the House), and only the signature of Democratic President Grover Cleveland was needed to redraw the map and eliminate Idaho.

There’s some evidence Cleveland was leaning toward signing the (bipartisan) bill. He was dissuaded by the man he had appointed as Idaho’s territorial governor, Edward Stevenson, who like Cleveland hailed from New York and was a member of its leading political families. (He was a relative of two-time Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson.) Cleveland pocket-vetoed the bill.

Idaho unionists counterattacked by trying (unsuccessfully) to annex western Montana.

Three years later Idaho was admitted as a state.

History does take its twists, a point to ponder as Idaho this month reaches its 124th year as a state.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Several weeks ago Marc Johnson, who has been a Boise consultant, press secretary and journalist, wrote a piece of a blog post that has been sticking in my mind these last couple of weeks. It may stick in yours.

The key sentence in it says this: “The near total history of Democratic success in Idaho, dating back to at least Frank Church’s first election in 1956, has its foundation in Republican mistakes.”

He went on to cite a few examples, but many more are available. Let’s recap, starting with Church, the highly capable campaigner who likely would not have won his first Senate race in 1956 but for the weaknesses of incumbent Republican Herman Welker. Welker had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s closest Senate ally, and McCarthy was by 1956 in national disgrace. Coupled with that, Idahoans were seeing Welker had some kind of serious but unacknowledged physical problem that was causing him to behave erratically; it was widely assumed to be alcoholism but was in fact a brain tumor, which killed him not long after the election.

In 1960, Democrat Ralph Harding was able to beat Republican Representative Hamer Budge after Budge had become too enamored of his committee assignments and lost track of his district.

A decade later, Democrat Cecil Andrus thinly beat incumbent Republican Governor Don Samuelson after a long series of small but embarrassing glitches and an overall weak governorship.

In 1984, it took a string of felony convictions to narrowly remove Republican Representative George Hansen in favor of Democrat Richard Stallings.

In 1990, Republican legislators pushed too far for the state’s preference (at the time at least) on abortion legislation, and Democrats did uncommonly well that year, the last time to date that’s been true. That also happened to be the last time Republicans were as internally divided as they are now, though the emotions didn’t run nearly so hot then.

In 1998, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Anne Fox was the subject of long strings of negative headlines and criticism, and she lost to Democrat Marilyn Howard, who ran as a capable and low key alternative.

A string of mistakes too in the following decade happened in the single term of Representative Bill Sali, who lost in 2008 to Democrat Walt Minnick.

Taken together, these instances pretty much account for substantial Democratic Idaho wins in the last few decades. A common denominator has been a serious flaw, or flaws, on the Republican side – and a Democratic alternative in place to take advantage when those emerged. (The smooth, functional and harmonious Democratic convention last week at the least gives the impression of a batch of candidates who plausibly could take such advantage.)

Which brings us up to this year, and the question of the moment: Do the Idaho Republicans’ ongoing round of internal battles, some of which have resulted in internationally embarrassing viral moments, have the potential to knock out Republican candidates in this year’s general election? And if so, which?

From here, the jury’s still out.

But I suspect Johnson might agree that the question has become worth asking.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

The Idaho Republican convention’s closing hours in Moscow last weekend were so unusual and so conflicted that they’ve taken on a character of their own – a poison pill of sorts for Idaho’s dominant political party, an event so embarrassing that, in some views, it might cost the party control of state offices.

Let’s step back just a bit.

Will the chaos convention in and of itself change much in Idaho politics? Probably not. Even amid all the headlines, most Idaho voters likely are only vaguely aware that a convention was held, and far fewer could explain to you just what happened there. So what if they failed to elect (in the normal way at least) a chair or adopt a platform? Outside of people really active in Idaho politics, who would notice? When’s the last time either of those things elicited a lot of discussion two weeks after the event?

Short term, the party has a mess in front of it – disagreement even about whether it has a chair and officers in place. Meetings last week didn’t seem to go much better than the convention did. Some of that may be resolved in the next few weeks in meetings various party people are trying to set up; or those efforts could collapse as well.

Still, as a one-shot event, this and the botched convention was not a big deal in the broad reach of Idaho politics. It will pass.

That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

It (and the ongoing conflict) could turn off some party workers and volunteers who, out of anger or disgust, won’t be going out there and working the way they usually do. That could hurt the party in the case of races which are otherwise close.

But there’s also something bigger.

Much of modern politics is driven by a narrative – a story of people, parties and issues, what they mean and how they fit into the story of individual lives. In the news, aberrations from those established narratives tend to fade. When news erupts that reinforces a narrative, it tends to strengthen the power of the story. It makes it more believable and harder to dismiss.

Earlier this year, we saw an unusual and maybe unprecedented split of Idaho Republicans into two distinct sides – slates of candidates competing ferociously in the primary election. The rhetoric was often strong, sometimes hyperbolic, well beyond what you usually hear from intra-party fights.

Toward the end of that campaign, Idaho got national attention for its Republican gubernatorial debate which featured two fringe candidates who got much more attention than the two mainstream candidates; and who spoke (in effect) of being on a mission from God and the like.

Now, the same party’s state convention falls apart because anger and disputes flourish, compromise vanishes, and party leaders cannot cooperate well enough to conduct basic organizational business.

These are only three recent examples – if you’ve been watching, you can come up with many more – of a long-building narrative about who and what Idaho Republicans are all about, and what is the meaning of Republican governance in Idaho. Each day with another tale of anger and non-cooperation will add to the list.

Take these pieces together, and what sort of a narrative about Idaho Republicans are voters constructing as they consider politics in their state? What does this narrative tell us about who and what they are?

This is how political narratives are made. And elections really do rise and fall on the basis of them.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Next week Idaho Democrats will follow Idaho Republicans in holding their convention at Moscow. There’s much they could usefully talk about – but probably won’t.

The party has nominees in place for most major offices and a passable number below, and the convention will discuss their virtues. Also, the shortcomings, especially recent ones, of the Republicans who have been in near-total control of the state government for the last two decades. And the policy differences between the parties.

That is what Idaho Democrats, like Republicans, have done every two years during these last 20.

And here’s the record from 1994 to now. Democrats have lost the last five gubernatorial elections, getting a peak percentage of the vote in 2006 (44.1%) – in other words, not close. That’s better than the Senate races during that time, when they peaked at 34.1% (in 2008).

The most telling statistic may be legislative. In 1994 Republicans won the state Senate 27-8, and the House 57-13. After the 2012 election, they won the Senate 28-7, and the House 57-13. Through the years in between, those numbers have hardly changed. Good candidates, bad candidates, better or worse campaigns and funding, varied message strategies – little of it seems to have mattered.

In two decades of Idaho politics, we have seen successive presidencies, economic ups and downs, people coming and going, this candidate and then that arising, periodic scandals and mishaps, changes in content and intensity of ideology, demographic changes, terrific candidates, fringe candidates, issues dominating discussion then fading and then replaced by others. Through it all, Idaho partisan politics has not budged. The needle has not moved.

The politics of Idaho seem frozen, glacier-like, except for moving even slower than that.

But what about the major-office wins by Democrats for superintendent of public instruction (1998, 2002) and the U.S. House (1st district, 2008)? Those openings happened on occasion of major Republican mess-ups – in other words, when Republicans errantly left the door wide open. That doesn’t happen a lot.

Depending on who you are, this may be okay. Many Idahoans regularly vote for Republicans, and – even putting aside what the candidates say or don’t say in campaigns – what those Republican candidates deliver cannot come as much of a surprise, good or bad, after all this time.

If you’re a Democrat, or an independent simply not on board with the agenda of the last 20 years, the frustration has to be great. Democrats run candidates both good (sometimes very good) and less so, run campaigns well and less so, have surprisingly often raised enough money to get their message out, and in many instances done what conventional wisdom says candidates and parties ought to do. Earlier in Idaho history that might have resulted in a middling number of wins. Not in the last 20 years.

The problem for Idaho Democrats lies outside the names of their candidates and even the skill and energy of their campaigns. It relates to broader attitudes and conditions in Idaho. Their problem is solvable if Idahoans aren’t as satisfied with their government as their voting patterns seem to suggest, which as a proposition doesn’t seem a reach.

Idaho Democrats meeting at Moscow need to talk about what’s holding them back – what keeps a large segment of Idaho voters from crossing over and giving their stronger candidates a chance (as once was the case), and what’s keeping many prospective voters for Democrats from participating at all (which demonstrably seems to be the case).

A bigger subject than what their candidates do in the next four months.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

We hate unresolved questions. And we hate not knowing for sure what to think about something. Good? Bad? We want to know where to slot it.

The Bergdahl case probably will gnaw at a lot of people for quite a while. We aren’t completely sure what to make of him, or what we should have done – or should do now – about him. War, messy and unpredictable beast it is, has a way of producing irritating loose ends like Bergdahl.

Go back a year, and what did we know? That U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whose home town was Hailey, had been held by the Taliban for four years. On June 20 last year, Idaho’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement on the possibility of a prisoner exchange: “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Bowe Bergdahl and his family. His safe return has always been of the utmost importance to us, and his well-being is something we raise with senior administration officials whenever possible.”

Why would the delegation have said anything much different than that “his safe return had always been of the utmost importance to us”? He and his family were, among other things, United States citizens and constituents.

Such quotes have been a constant from the beginning. In July 2009: “With the Pentagon now confirming his identity, we add our thoughts and prayers with others for his reunion with family, friends and Army colleagues. Private Bergdahl represents Idaho and his nation courageously.”

On April 8 this year, Senator Mike Crapo, in an interview with KBOI-TV, reported on a trip to Afghanistan: “And with every one of those meetings at highest levels, I raised the issue of Bowe Bergdahl. I’m pleased to report that not only had they heard of him, they were co-ordinating among themselves. It is a priority for them.” But he also suggested, based on what he’d heard, the idea of extracting him forcibly, rather than negotiating a release, was not realistic.

These recitations aren’t gotchas; to the contrary, they’re what most people would expect any congressional delegation to say. That’s true even with this: Reports that Bergdahl may have walked away from his post, may have deserted, have surfaced and flown around the Internet for a long time. (“May” is a key word here: This is a subject hotly debated, not yet resolved.) Anyone who has followed the Bergdahl case even peripherally has not been surprised to see them surface again now.

And the idea of trading Bergdahl rather than obtaining him in some other way, as the statements from Crapo and others make clear, is nothing new either.

The Idaho delegation, having visited all this over the years, may be more sensitized to the gray areas than most people, walking a line involving party loyalty but also other considerations. Compared to many in Congress and certainly to the cable news blatherers, they have couched their language cautiously and tamped rhetorical fireworks.

Representative Raul Labrador on KBOI radio last week, for example: “I’m a little bit disturbed by some of the Republicans out there who keep saying this has never happened before. That is not entirely true. If you look historically, at the end of any conflict, you have a swap of prisoners, and that happens. Usually our side will release people that are less than desirable in order to get some of our people back in these swaps. So I would suggest that anybody who’s being hyper-critical about this, they should look at the history. This has happened before.”

We have been here before, all right, in this discomfort zone, where messes get sorted out one deliberate step at a time. Welcome to one of the realities of war.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

If it worked the first time . . .

You can understand what probably is the temptation facing Sherri Ybarra right now: It worked once, so it should work again.

During the just-finished Republican primary campaign, she raised scarcely any of the money serious statewide candidates usually do (just $2,850), and apart from debates and forums campaigned, hardly at all. She won her race for the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, leading a field of four. And she could look across at a bunch of hard-working, exhaustively-campaigning, solidly fundraising candidates, for her office and for others, who on election night went down to defeat.
The quote from Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost a run for governor after campaigning solidly for months, probably spoke for quite a few of his counterparts: “Holy cow. Ybarra for superintendent? I was on this campaign trail start to finish. And she might be a fine person, but she was not engaged. She was not engaged heavily in this campaign.”

It’s easy to conclude in the circumstances that you’ve just got the right stuff to go all the way.
Anyhow, why mess with what worked once?

In military terms, such thinking is called fighting the last war: Usually a prescription for losing the next one.

Her primary circumstances were unusual. Explanations about her win flowered after election day. She was presented as a teacher, while the others in the race were administrators. (Not entirely true anyway; and administration, not teaching, is what the superintendent’s job is all about.) She had a Basque name, which seems not to hurt in Idaho elections.

Maybe a bigger factor: Voters working their way down the Republican ballot encountered no women at all until they got to her – and she was running for an office many voters are accustomed to seeing go to women. Also, she was the only woman among the four candidates, none of whom were well known statewide. Some combination of these things probably account for much of her vote. And remember, she won by just 28.5% – barely more than she would have gotten if the four candidates had split the vote evenly. This was no sweeping mandate.

Since the primary, instead of using the surprise to her political advantage, she seems to have avoided the spotlight and retreated.

Her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones, is quite a contrast. She ran for the office before, in 2006, and only barely lost to Republican Tom Luna, who himself has been a capable and energetic campaigner. Jones has raised more money as of this point in the cycle than any candidate for this office (Luna included) ever has. Jones has direct campaign help from Luna’s predecessor, Democrat Marilyn Howard, who won the office twice, in 1998 and 2002. (In the last two decades, Democrats have fared better with the superintendent’s office than any other in the upper rungs of Idaho politics.) She was Howard’s top deputy for several years, so she knows the office well. And she has been campaigning strenuously for several months.

Jones, of course, has a D behind her name, which in anything like a battle between two equally-equipped candidates that is a severe disadvantage. But as of today, these candidates are not evenly matched.

Ybarra is not yet too far behind the curve to get up to speed. The period just after winning a primary is good for fundraising and roping in campaign organization around the state. Some intensive study about the politics of the office (which is unavoidable) would help. Name familiarity can be purchased and expanded through energetic campaigning.
There’s still plenty of time to campaign around the state.

Doing all of that, though, will mean running in a way drastically different from the way she did it in the primary.

Because there’s this: What worked for Ybarra in the primary is very unlikely to work in the general.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

With the most recent election results, a new regional political map of Idaho has emerged.

The higher-level offices contested in Idaho’s Republican primary election last week were fought over primarily by two clearly competing slates of candidates, those you might call the establishment candidates (who mainly were incumbents) and the insurgents, who challenged them.

Apart from the fact that the establishment won those major offices nearly across the board – losing only for secretary of state (where former House Speaker Lawerence Denney won) – the results varied quite a bit among the candidates. In the controller’s race, Todd Hatfield came within about a percentage point of unseating incumbent Brandon Woolf (who had the disadvantage of never having been on the ballot before). Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter scored only a modest win (51.4%) against state Senator Russ Fulcher. Meanwhile, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden scored a near-landslide over attorney Chris Troupis, and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little won smashingly (66.8%) over county commissioner Jim Chemelik. In the four-way superintendent of public instruction race, insurgent candidate John Eynon came in third.

But these races, as varied as their statewide totals may be, look surprisingly similar on county maps.

Fulcher, Chmelik, Denney, Hatfield, Troupis and Eynon, so varied in their statewide results, all won in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho and Kootenai counties, and either won or nearly won in Latah, Boundary, Bonner, Shoshone and Latah and Nez Perce – in other words, all of northern Idaho. In no southern Idaho county did the insurgency fare nearly so consistently well.

And this relates to all of the north, however it tends to vote in the fall. Latah and Nez Perce counties are fairly competitive between Republicans and Democrats, in contrast to such others as Kootenai and Bonner, but in the primary all fell sharply into the insurgent camp.

And some of those northern wins were really striking. While losing clearly statewide, for example, Fulcher won Benewah County about three to one – and so did Troupis, even while he was losing by a big margin in the state overall.

In the governor’s race, Fulcher did win three counties outside the north: Idaho’s two largest, Ada and Canyon, plus Oneida County. (For whatever reason, Oneida County is the southern Idaho county that came closest to matching the north’s voting pattern.) There’s a case to be made about the growing political difference between Idaho’s first congressional district (north and west) and its second (east and south). But the southern part of the first district, including counties like Valley, Washington and Payette voted a lot like their counterparts to the east, over in the second district. The governor’s race aside, so did Ada and Canyon counties (which is chiefly what made the difference in the controller’s race).

There’s another piece of information to confirm the differences in the north. Legislative candidates who were not aligned with the insurgents, including a number of incumbents, lost almost across the board in the north; incumbent examples include Senator John Goedde and Representatives George Eskridge and Ed Morse. In the south, the reverse was generally true, the big incumbent example being Senator Monty Pearce.

Travelers around Idaho through primary season, watching signage and picking up on locally-produced political literature, sometimes remarked about how different the north seemed to be from the south. Those observations have been borne out.

The biggest divide in Idaho politics today lies along the line between the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Idaho had two clear slates of candidates running for major offices (and some legislative as well) within the Republican primary. Conventional wisdom had it that the incumbency would probably prevail.

The CW was essentially right.

At this writing, about half of Idaho’s precincts are reporting, enough for clear calls in all but the closer races. It shows Representative Mike Simpson, after a sometimes fierce challenge, prevailing in a landslide. It shows Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter winning as well, though by a much narrower margin. Lieutenant Governor Bred Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden – also clearly in the winners column.

The two major races more difficult to call, yet, are the four-ways where no incumbent is running, for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. In those races, Lawrence Denney (for secretary of state) was running ahead, but at least yet not definitely; he was the anti-incumbent slate choice. But John Eynon, that slate’s superintendent choice, was running last in his four-way.

All the sound and fury up rising against the incumbency seems, at this point, to have come to very little.

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Idaho

When I attended the University of Idaho back in the 70s, one of the semi-illicit student activities was something called the Bovill Run.

It was a typically stupid college-kid drinking challenge. The idea was that a carload of kids would cruise east to Troy, consume drinks at a local drinking establishment, head further east and stop at Deary and Helmer, and northeast to Bovill, rinsing and repeating at each location, then on northerly to Princeton and Potlatch, and any other alcohol purveyors in eastern Latah County, on the way back to Moscow. Left unclear was whether continued drinking at Moscow establishments constituted part of the challenge but, supposedly, the number of drinking places visited numbered around twenty.

I’ve been told that the Bovill Run was abandoned some years back. That certainly would have been a good thing.

There may be a dark echo to that in the closure of many of the small-town businesses – bars among them – in many of these small resource-industry communities. Not, of course, that the “run” was any sort of significant economic driver, but in the fact that the economy in these communities has fallen to the point that the escapade isn’t even doable now.

The thought was prompted by a story last week in the Lewiston Tribune about the Idaho Foodbank’s mobile pantry, which includes Bovill among its stops. It operates out of a central office at Lewiston.
Most people in larger communities wouldn’t spend much thought on the arrival of a pickup truck hauling a trailer containing food. In Bovill, it’s a big deal. The last of the long-vaunted bars in the small timber community closed six months ago, and that had been the last place in Bovill where residents could buy basic foods and supplies.

The pastor at the local Presbyterian Church was quoted as saying, “I don’t think you can over-estimate the importance of the mobile pantry coming to this community.”

Once a hot timber town with a fine hotel and even an opera house, Bovill became so lively a century ago that its namesake Hugh Bovill reportedly quit it with his family for quieter environs. The decades since have not been kind. Bovill is a lot like many small towns in Idaho, and beyond. Its population estimated at 305 at the century’s turn was down to 265 in 2010.

The trend line is not good. Nor has it been good for many of the other small rural communities in the area.

Maybe a new sort of regional connection, one geared toward building social and economic ties between regional centers like Moscow and the smaller communities in the area is needed. As essential as the Foodbank’s mobile pantry has been, the answers toward large-scale help for the area may come from other directions, something to bring prosperity to the area.

Idaho’s rural places have, in so many areas, the great advantage of beauty and reasonably easy access. Bovill, in far eastern Latah County, is only about a half-hour from Moscow, close enough to forge connections. Costs would be low and opportunities considerable for people who might like to work in more remote places.

If it’s not to be the end of the run for Bovill, maybe we need a new kind of Bovill Run.

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Idaho Idaho column