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Posts published in “Idaho column”

The crowd in Boise

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Boise’s long-time mayor, David Bieter, has faced light opposition since he first was elected to the job in 2003. This year, in contrast, he faces a crowd. And, likely, a tougher contest.

In some ways, that larger crowd might work to his advantage. But there’s a real chance the shape of this year’s contest could cost him the job in this year’s elections.

Begin with this: The criticism of and opposition to Bieter, who at this point is the longest-serving mayor in Boise’s history, is greater this time around than it has been before. That includes voting sectors that traditionally have been his base, and this is a more recent development. Across issues ranging from development to construction of a new library building, a common thread running through the complaints is that City Hall has stopped listening to the citizens, and rams its agenda through without broad enough consideration, and Bieter has been the focus of those complaints. I won’t try to litigate the pros or cons of that complaint here, but the criticism is more broadly-based than it was in earlier election years.

And it has helped generate anger at city hall, maybe enough to lead to some upsets this time around.

Bieter, who has coasted to re-elections before, drew opposition early this time. His chief opponent appears to be Lauren McLean, a member of the city council and well-connected around town; she has been campaigning hard for months, and her campaign has gotten some good reviews. But there are other contenders too: Adriel Martinez, Cortney Nielsen, Wayne Richey - and two more of note, former Mayor Brent Coles, and Rebecca Arnold, president of the Ada County Highway District. Coles resigned amid scandal, and his entry drew plenty of surprised head shakes. Both Coles and Arnold took direct shots at Bieter, and Arnold warned that McLean would be more of the same kind of administration as Bieter has run. The case for how Coles or Arnold might win the mayorly seems . . . obscure. But the two of them could add to the incoming fire Bieter has to deal with.

The usual political science 101 take on crowded campaigns is that when an incumbent is running for re-election, the campaign is mostly about that incumbent. This means the opposition tends to split the anti-incumbent vote, which tends to help the incumbent prevail.

Boise, however, is one of those cities with a runoff: If no candidate draws more than half of the overall vote in the general election, the top two contenders go into a runoff election.

This year’s election could be different. While the splitting of the opposition field among many more candidates might help Bieter to win at least a plurality of the vote, it won’t necessarily help him win a majority. While re-election contests usually are more about the incumbent than the challenger, those challengers do tend to bring in some personal support, additional votes, of their own. They also can change the content of the debate in unpredictable ways.

If Bieter’s support in town still is strong enough that he can win the first contest outright - with more than 50 percent of the vote - then that’s that. But the larger number of candidates in the field likely makes that more rather than less difficult.

And incumbents who are forced into a runoff tend to lose more often than they win, because the opposition vote, which earlier was split among many candidates, usually consolidates behind the one challenger who remains.

That 2003 contest Bieter won - which didn’t include an incumbent - was relatively simple in its dynamics. This one is much more complex, and more treacherous for an incumbent to navigate.

Mark this as a race to watch in Idaho this fall.

(note: The column was edited to remove a reference to the 2003 election.)
 

Details under the surface

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In his memoir, former Governor Phil Batt recalled when, in 1996, he had to decide whether to allow or block execution of a convicted killer.

The killing was horrendous, and the convict, Donald Paradis, was connected to it - he admitted to helping with transport of the body - but he maintained consistently that he was not the killer.

Batt was a death penalty supporter. He was no fan of Paradis or his fellow “group of unsavory characters,” nor even of his attorney (Bill Mauk, who was a Democratic Party leader and candidate in Idaho around that time). On the question of whether to sustain a Pardons and Parole Board decision to stop an already-ordered execution, Batt admitted, “I went into my deliberations with a skeptical attitude.”

But also a careful, investigative and thoughtful one. He cleared his calendar for day after day as he reviewed the record, weighed the physical evidence, and even talked with the mother of the victim. He struggled with it. His final conclusion: There was enough doubt as to Paradis’ guilt that he should not be executed.

That was not a universally praised decision - the governor just kept a killer from getting what he deserved, right? - but Batt’s instinct was sound. Five years later, after new evidence came to light, Paradis’ conviction was vacated. (He was convicted instead of being an accessory after the fact.) It took a lot of careful sifting of details to come up with the right answer.

The Batt-Paradis incident comes to mind in the new case of Adree Edmo, also an Idaho state prisoner but one whose decision point is different: He, a state prisoner born male who identifies as a woman, is asking the state of Idaho to pay for sex-reassignment surgery.

Edmo has been behind bars after conviction of child sexual abuse. In a statement, Governor Brad Little notes that, “Edmo would have been eligible for parole by now but has chosen not to follow the prison’s rules of conduct. There are numerous instances of Edmo engaging in violence and other prohibited conduct while incarcerated, eliminating the opportunity for parole. … Edmo’s doctors and mental health professionals … universally agreed gender reassignment surgery is neither medically necessary nor safe given Edmo’s mental state and incarceration.”

These are all relevant points and worth bearing in mind. But in dismissing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision imposing the responsibility for surgery on the state as simply another case of “activist federal judges [who] overstepped yet again,” and warning that the state could be on the hook for big medical payouts in this and other cases like it, he focused on urging opposition to the decision in the name of “what is reasonable and right.”

After all, who wants their hard-earned tax money being used to pay for a sex abuser’s sex-change surgery? It just seems a matter of common sense, right?

But is it that clear-cut?

Two news stories last week, both from the Idaho Press at Nampa, throw some shades of gray on the question.

One took the trouble to ask: How much might the state actually have to pay? The answer seemed to be: Maybe not much, maybe nothing at all. It said, “the state’s contract with its prison health care provider, Corizon Health, includes the cost of appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria, meaning the cost for the inmate’s surgery could be covered by the existing contract.”

The other story stopped to ask what has happened, in recent years, to other prisoners in the Idaho pen system who have had gender issues that went unaddressed behind bars. The answer wasn’t comforting. Their ranks included suicides of at least “three Idaho inmates - two who had gender dysphoria and one who was living with sexual identification issues.”

Bear in mind that, whatever these people did and whatever we may think of them, the people of Idaho are responsible for their well-being as long as they’re in state custody.

This is not an argument that Little and the state are wrong; the facts may be with them. But as Phil Batt found, first impressions can mislead and you often have to do some digging to be sure. In considering questions like this, beware of bumper-sticker simplicity.
 

The pot initiative

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Was it only two years ago that seemingly quixotic ballot issue effort was underway to expand Medicaid health insurance in Idaho?

It seemed like an improbable thing. Nearly all of the elected officials in Idaho who had anything to say about the Affordable Care Act, of which Medicaid expansion was a critical piece, were heaping abuse on it at every opportunity. The intensity of the opposition among the state’s political leadership at least was overwhelming, which should have been an indicator that expansion just wasn’t likely to happen, even at the voter level, right?

But it didn’t work out that way. Medicaid expansion not only passed among the Idaho voters, it passed in a landslide. And while the legislature fought back, a modified version of it is now going on the books and coming into place.

Legalized medical marijuana, the subject of an intensive petition drive, must seem about as improbable now as Medicaid did then. But the state’s Medicaid experience now tells us this: Don’t write off the prospects that it will go on the Idaho books.

While the Affordable Care Act never polled massively well in Idaho (probably it does better now than it did six or eight years ago), Medicaid expansion in recent years at least consistently polled well. While complete marijuana legalization still does not poll well in Idaho, medical marijuana does,; well enough to suggest that the narrowly-crafted measure to legalize and regulate it would have a decent chance of passage if it reaches the ballot in November next year.

Will it reach the ballot? The effort already has cleared several bars, and the petition signature process is underway; it will continue until next spring. The Medicaid expansion campaign was unusually well organized and did a terrific job; it will not be easy to replicate. But it also created a template, a specific set of steps and plan of attack that other ballot issue campaigns could use in the future. Such as medical marijuana, this year.

Backers need to collect more than 55,000 signatures, distributed around the state in specific ways. That makes the effort more difficult, but - and this was a lesson coming out of Medicaid expansion - it also means that if organizers develop a powerful and thorough enough campaign to get that done, they also have developed a strong enough campaign to sell the case affirmatively to the voters.

The case also has another advantage: Earlier adoption by neighboring states. By the time Idaho voters got to decide on Medicaid expansion, they could look around and see a number of nearby states that already had taken action on that front, and found no great negatives accruing. In the case of medical marijuana, most of the states bordering Idaho already have taken the legalize-and-regulate route (which resembles what Idaho does with alcohol), and the skies have not fallen in on them. In southwest Idaho, residents are seeing regular visits between the Boise metro area and the city onf Ontario, less than an hour away, as Idahoans buy what they want and can’t buy (legally) at home. The same thing happens in other border areas. None of this is going unnoticed by Idaho voters.

If the measure does make the ballot and does pass, many legislators would not doubt want to take an ax to it at the next legislative session. But they might have cause to hesitate. The effort by legislators this year to undermine the will of a landslide portion of Idaho voters, followed by an effort to virtually kill off the initiative process in Idaho, has led to some backlash. If on top of that a majority of Idaho voters choose to legalize medical marijuana, and legislators move to repeal it, what might be the political impact of that?

Imagine opposition to a marijuana liberalization law as the basis for a serious political threat to Idaho legislators. As unlikely as it sounds, the pieces for that could be coming together.

That’s down the road, of course. The legalization advocates have a long way to go before all that could happen.

But as the Medicaid expansion activists would tell you, never write off an effort backed by enough people.
 

Opioids, microscopically

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The last time opioids were this big a deal in Idaho was almost a century and a half ago, when they made their way into Boise and beyond through trade routes on the west coast. Opium became a big enough commodity that - in part because Chinese immigrants were implicated - the territorial legislature clamped down, and raids and prosections ensued. The opium market was not eliminated but was largely quashed.

All these years later, opioids have found Idaho again.

The stereotype of an opioid problem area might bring to mind Appalachia or the troubled industrial areas of the northeast, or maybe parts of the rural south. Surely not places like Idaho.

But it’s been no mistake that the state of Idaho (through the attorney general’s office) and a growing bunch of local jurisdictions (Twin Falls just joined the list) have joined into a national lawsuit over opioids - especially their marketing.

Idaho, it turns out, is one of those places in the country harder-hit than most by this new epidemic.

And unlike most contagious diseases and unlike most problems with drug abuse - methamphetamines, say - the opioid drug abuse problem has many of its roots in “legitimate” society, with licensed physicians who got their patients hooked, and with corporate manufacturers of patented products. Filing a lawsuit against a meth dealer would be ludicrous (such an actor would simply be locked up), but that’s not so in the case of opioids, where the road to addiction so often has started with legal prescriptions.

On May 3, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported, “If you live in eastern Idaho, you don’t need anyone telling you about the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Bonneville and Bannock counties have the highest percentage of drug-overdose deaths in the state. Bonneville, along with Elmore, Owyhee and nine other Idaho counties got so fed up with the opioid epidemic they joined a federal lawsuit last year against the makers of OxyContin, Lortab and other opioids.”

And yet the worst of the opioid problem in Idaho seems to be further north. The Centers for Disease Control has broken out prescription rates for opioids by county, and the hottest area in the region - in either Idaho or Washington state - turns out to be the Lewiston-Clarkston area, with adjacent Lewis County (on a per capita basis) coming in slightly higher still. For many recent years, little Lewis County had the highest prescription rates of any county in the western United States.

The Lewiston Tribune’s detailed August 18 story on the problem locally quotes veteran Moscow physician Dan Schmidt, who works around the region - and doesn’t seem especially surprised at the high rates. He notes that Lewiston and Clarkston, with their large stores, may rate high because people from smaller nearby counties shop (and get their drugs) there. He also suggested that the medical community has failed to regulate itself - the profession “dropped the ball.” He recalled, the story said, “drug company sales representatives showing up at his clinic with free food, three times a week.” When Schmidt declined to buy, their visits stopped. But, as he seems to indicate, not all physicians in the area may have reacted the same way.

And he thought the large number of people on disability or who live on very small incomes have a strong incentive to sell legal opioids they get through the local pharmacy.

Legal opioids, of course, often have led to heroin and other illegal opioid addictions; the problems are closely related.

The reports we’re seeing seem to show that the problems are systemic as well as personal. Any attempt to solve the problem will have to consider the systems of medical and pain treatment as well as control over the substances.
 

Centennial road

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Idaho is amid an anniversary that may get no public acclaim but should: Really, it marks the unification of Idaho, one century ago, and a generation after statehood.

The project involved was completed 99 years ago. But it was well underway before that, and one of the key developments that allowed it to happen at all came in 1919.

It was the building of the Whitebird Hill grade, built that is, to motor vehicle roadway conditions, which in turn allowed for a road system that for the first time provided a practical link between northern and southern Idaho.

Up to then, the advocates arguing for breaking off northern Idaho and attaching it to Washington or Montana had an excellent point: There was no good way for people to travel, even by the rugged and uncomfortable standards of the time, between the northern and southern parts of Idaho. The area between the Camas Prairie (the northern one, in Idaho County) and the Meadows area seemed all but impassible. A rough trail had been cut through, and horseback riders could make their way over the hill; in the best weather narrow carts could roll, with great care taken, slowly and sometimes accumulating damage. But the old Magruder corridor, which despite use since the early 1860s never has been made into a real road, was probably easier to navigate than the area south of Grangeville.

Major rivers - the Snake, the Salmon, the Clearwater - run through the region, but none of them allow for any substantial transport between north and south. The one case that looks good on a map, the northern-running Snake River, has been a popular recreational path for many years, but wasn’t much good for long-distance transport then (or now).

Building a road over White Bird Pass would be a formidable challenge, but it was the key to creating a north-south roadway. The earliest work on it started in the mid-teens a century ago, but proceeded slowly at first. Local efforts needed a stronger push from the state.

In 1919, as part of a state government reorganization, a Bureau of Highways was created, and both governor (D.W. Davis at the time) and the legislature made clear that the roads needed to be improved. That was the final piece in what had been pushed for by people in the region for some time.

A November 1918 article in the Lewiston Tribune talked about the prospective project from the mouth of White Bird Creek to Grangeville, and the problem it addressed: “The only means of travel between these two points at the present time is over a narrow, precipitous mountain road of heavy grades - some pitches as steep as 25 percent - and sharp, dangerous turns. Though it is a very important mail route, supplying all the Salmon River country to a distance of 90 miles to New Meadows, it is practically no more than a poor trail and almost impassible to auto traffic except under the most favorable conditions.”

Those of us who remember the “old” White Bird grade - the switchback-laden white-knuckle road that held you to 25 miles an hour (if you didn't have a death wish) - may think that not much had changed. But a lot did. The pre-1920 trail was really not accessible at all to motor vehicles, which was not so big a deal a decade earlier but, as the car-driven 1920s were about to arrive, became a very big deal.

The grade we use now, in place at this point for more than 40 years, is a sleek, high-speed modern highway, far ahead of what came before. But that earlier version, which you can still see snaking its way up the mountain from the town of White Bird, was the predicate.

Look a century past and you’ll see that, yes, we can make progress.
 

Push and pull

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This has been quite a summer for diversity in Idaho, even leaving aside the squabble over legislator criticism of ethnic and other types of organizations and programs at Boise State University, and various other associated public protests or outbursts.

Micron Technology at Boise, which long has had a diversity program, raised its visibility and support for that effort a notch by naming the program’s leader as a corporate vice president.

Top officers at the Idaho National Laboratory at Idaho Falls issued a statement strongly supporting diversity at the big center. Laboratory Director Mark Peters said in explanation, “Our employees come from roughly 130 countries. I can tell you that without question, a diverse working group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future. At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it.”

The University of Idaho named a new athletic director, the first to hold the position since the contentious departure of a predecessor who was enmeshed in sexual harassment issues. The new director is Terry Gawlik, the first woman ever to hold the job at the UI.

News reports about all those events emerged last week, days after the report about another woman, Cristal Brown, who was appointed to lead athletics at Idaho State University, the first ever to do so there. Two of Idaho’s three state universities now have athletics programs directed by women. That unquestionably will come as a shock to some of the state’s socially conservative athletic boosters. (Both appointments also involved the state Board of Education, which was enmeshed in the BSU diversity debate.)

These things did not all happen as a response to the Idaho legislators (and their supporters) who took aim at the diversity programs at Boise State University. But they don’t feel entirely coincidental either; they have happened in an environment where the whole idea of diversity, the question of what our culture is and should be about, is under dispute and debate.

If the anti-diversity forces thought they could redefine Idaho as a monotone kind of place, they’re not making a lot of progress. The BSU diversity programs (and is it a coincidence that the uproar over that happened just after the appointment of a woman as the new president of the institution?) picked up a good deal of support after a group of legislators criticizing it sent out their letter on the subject. The legislators who attacked it seemed to wind up on the defensive, and at least one backed off his initial support of the letter.

At the same time, don’t imagine these new summer stories will go without some kind of pushback.

Much of politics and society is Newtonian, in that for every action there’s an opposing reaction. This spray of diversity-related stories this summer will certainly lead to a reaction of some kind. It may come soon, or it may simmer until the 2020 legislative session. In fact, the likelihood of legislative controversy in this area - in some form or another - is so probable I’d almost advise you to bet on it … if you could find anyone to take the other side.

The growing number of diversity topics and stories, in an election year in which Donald Trump will appear on the top of the Idaho election ballot, seems sure to make the subject one of the hottest topics in Idaho (not to mention elsewhere) during 2020.

It will take some careful discussion, if it’s not to degenerate into pure emotionalism, which does seem the most likely outcome.

But one way or another, it’s coming.
 

The insurgency succession

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A week after the last of the full candidate events - debates of a sort, maybe - for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the real sifting begins, the contender topping the polls will head to of all places Idaho. The reason for that is at least understandable reason: fundraising.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will visit homes at Ketchum and Boise, and raise money, primarily from people with long-standing connections to Democrtic politics; and yes, Idaho does have some people like that, lightly visible though they often are in state politics.

No particular news there. But the events of last week and this week do start to open the question of where Idaho’s Democratic support will go in their party’s nomination battle. And that’s worth considering, because while the odds are overwhelming that the state will stay red in next year’s general election, the battle over the Democratic nomination may be up for grabs, in Idaho as well as nationally. And right now there’s little certainty about how that will play out.

And that support can move in some interesting directions. Idaho Democrats looking toward the national picture increasingly have moved toward the more activist, outsider-ish and non-establishment contenders among presidential prospects. In 2016, they preferred Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton; in 2008 they went for Barack Obama over Clinton.

What does that portend for this cycle?

It might mean that if part of Biden’s strategy involves reeling in delegate votes from smaller states like Idaho - and that was an important part of Obama’s nomination strategy in 2008 - he has his work cut out. Biden is the closest thing to an establishment contender in the race, and he’s the sort of candidate who recently has had the hardest time getting traction among majority of caucus-going Idaho Democrats. Biden has a large enough base of support that he likely will be in the race as the calendar flips to 2020, something you can say with less certainty of most of the other contenders. But will he be hanging on in the face of a strong challenge, or consolidating support? If the race is competitive then, Idaho may be one of the kinds of places where he has to hustle.

Of course, we have little clarity of exactly what the field will look like by the new year. We can be reasonably certain it will narrow. The 20-plus field of candidates of July is likely to be cut in half by mid-fall; for many candidates the inability to make the next debate stage in September will be a fatal blow.

Odds are, though, that most of these candidates will be around for a while: Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Maybe in the next few months another candidate or two catches fire, but these candidates and Biden seem most likely to be those scrambling for market share.

Who might generate some appeal in Idaho? Who might get the Idaho insurgency vote that seems not to have coalesced yet?

Sanders, as noted, did last time, and maybe he could again; he has a base of support in the Gem State. But his kind of insurgency seldom maintains the same sort of emotional drive for very long.

The Idaho Democrats conducted a small-scale straw poll after last week’s debates, and that showed Warren in first place, Buttigieg second, Harris third, Booker fourth, Sanders fifth. (Geography isn’t all, since Washington Governor Jay Inslee was down in the cellar.) But that was a small sample.

My best guess for a 2010 Idaho Democratic insurgency would be Warren or Booker, depending on how they present themselves and pick up support - or fail to - nationally in the next three to four months. There will be significant support for Biden among Idaho Democrats, but at the moment I’d guess he will occupy something closer to the Hillary Clinton spot.

But that’s guesswork. Crunch time for sifting through the Democratic contenders is only just beginning, and we all might wind up with a surprise short list half a year from now.
 

Growth factors

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Here’s a place where long-range thinking and interests bump up against short-term.

The long range in the Idaho Magic Valley looks partly like this: Two centuries ago animal life in the south-central Idaho desert was sparse; big animals were few, and humans, not large in number, passed through rather than stay for long. About a century and a quarter ago, humans figured out how to effectively redirect water, mainly from the Snake River, and use it to grow crops at scale, changing much of the region from desert to cropland - the “magic” of the regional name.

As the water was limited, so was the ability to keep on expanding. Other less thirsty uses of water were expanded to enhance use of the territory, and one of those was cattle production. To a point, the cattle activity like the crops largely could go across the region without diminishing the area’s ability to replenish itself. But there are limits.

Cattle were grazed in the valley a century and more ago, but in small numbers. They grew gradually, and by the mid-1980s the population of the cattle - about 75,000 then - began to approach the number of people in the area.

Concerns began to be raised, as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) ballooned.

A dozen years ago, when the valley’s cattle population was estimated at 341,000, the Twin Falls Times News wrote about it: “Last week at a Jerome County commissioners’ meeting concerning an application for an 18,555-cow feedlot, small-dairy owner Blaine Miller asked commissioners to consider a moratorium on new dairies in the county. In Cassia County earlier this year, a group of small-operation farmers joined forces to fight a permit application for a large dairy.”

But the growth continued.

Today the Magic Valley is home to about 417,000 head of cattle, more than twice the number of people in the area, each of which not only consume water but also leave their waste product on, and seeping into, the ground. Those cattle produce much more manure than is produced by the vastly larger human population of New York City.

This came back to attention last week with release of a report by the Idaho Conservation League (you can read it at https://www.idahoconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ICL_GroundWaterReport-07082019-FINAL-Web-1.pdf) warning that the groundwater in the area - mainly meaning the Snake River Plain Aquifer, a source of drinking water for 300,000 people in Idaho - is becoming contaminated with nitrate and phosphorus pollution. The problem is not extreme yet, but the trend lines aren’t favorable.

The report notes, “The available groundwater quality data, while limited, clearly indicates that nitrate and phosphorus concentrations are well above natural background levels in certain portions of the ESPA.

“These elevated concentrations are directly linked to human activities on the Snake River Plain – specifically, waste generated by large concentrated animal feeding operations and overapplication of fertilizer on agricultural fields. These concentrations are projected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future with likely worsening human health risks.”

The ICL added, “These water quality issues will increasingly have more severe implications for Idaho’s ability to meet water quality standards, manage population growth and protect the health of Idahoans.”

The difficulty is in large part economic, because those cattle and the industries they’re linked to increasingly have become the economic engine of south-central Idaho, even more than all those magic plant crops. Two generations ago dairy was a big industry in that part of Idaho, but now it’s enormous. Cheese producers are increasingly important in the area. A yogurt producer has become Twin Falls’ flagship business. A major diminishment of cattle operations in the Magic Valley now would be a huge economic blow to the region.

Dealing with this would create serious short-term economic problems. Deferring the situation, or letting it continue on the trajectory of the last few decades, would create bigger issues down the road. This is one of those situations where the people of a region decide what they’re about, and what they plan to leave behind.
 

The Idaho Way of Inclusiveness

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That recent high-profile legislative letter about university inclusiveness used this as a sort of moral cornerstone:

“As Governor Brad Little has stated on numerous occasions: We need to do things the ‘Idaho way!’”

So what is the Idaho Way when it comes to welcoming people - that is, people who may not look, sound or believe the same as a majority of Idahoans do?

Back in the days when the Aryan Nations planted their overtly racist headquarters in the Idaho panhandle, the Way seemed to refer to what state officials and other leading Idahoans made certain to tell whoever would listen: We welcome people here, whoever they may be; the Aryans’ attitudes are nothing like ours.

Fast forward ...

The July 9 letter from Representative Barbara Dee Erhardt of Idaho Falls, co-signed by 27 fellow House Republicans (notice for clarity: Little was not among the signatories), bore a thin fig leaf but in practice made clear that many Idahoans, some in the Statehouse, who really don’t want people who aren’t like those in the Idaho majority to come here. Those words weren’t on the surface, but you don’t have to dig hard to get there.

The letter was directed to the new president of Boise State University, its subject the institution’s programs on inclusiveness: “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students. These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now - and that BSU should redress these grievances.” It goes on to suggest that money spent on inclusiveness-related programs could be better spent on keeping down the ever-higher cost of tuition for students.

Those rationales aren’t even good window dressing. None of the programs referenced either separate or segregate students (not legal in any event). Nor is their cost more than a sliver of university spending; if they all ended tomorrow students wouldn’t see any improvement in their cost structure. If the legislators were serious about helping with tuition costs they could start with better funding the state colleges and universities, which badly need it; but then, these same legislators have built careers out of keeping university budgets as paltry as possible.

No sale: This letter was simply an Idaho entry in the national culture wars, a softer regional version of the Donald Trump call for four members of Congress, whose races and politics were other than his, to be sent somewhere else (never minding that three of them were born in the United States, and the fourth also is a citizen), reflected in his crowds’ chant, “Send her back!”

In recent years BSU has touted itself, reasonably, as a metropolitan research institution, and its growth is linked to that identity. A “metropolitan research” university, anywhere, gets that way by bringing in and fostering learning and research among a wide range of people, not just within a state or even the nation, but worldwide.

Learning tends to take off when you put together people with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, knowledge and perspectives. It’s why congresses and legislatures were intended to include scores of people, not just three or four - the hope being that a wide range of view and perspective will bring a deeper understanding. (Of course, the Idaho Legislature isn’t exactly broad in scope ...) Such universities, and the United States has many, are a big piece of the reason this country has grown, learned, advanced and prospered in the last century. Locally, BSU has for years developed large, and growing, economic and social impact.

It may be easy for people in homogenous communities, as many around Idaho are, to forget, but there is a difference and there are challenges for people coming into new places where there aren’t many people like you; the ability to connect with people like yourself, and see some reflection of yourself, can be reassuring and even necessary. Too, people who are a little different from the majority sometimes face maltreatment, and effort often is needed to remediate that.

Here’s the core of the BSU Statement of Diversity and Inclusivity from February 2017: “We recognize that our success is dependent on how well we value, engage, include, and utilize the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We believe that prejudice, oppression, and discrimination are detrimental to human dignity, and that a vibrant and diverse campus community enhances the learning environment of the populations that we serve.”

So in this context, what is the “Idaho Way”? As debate over that goes on, students at a university in Idaho, some a little different in background than the majority of Idahoans, continue to learn and teach and research and hope the state’s politics doesn’t sometime soon come crashing down on their heads.