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Posts published in “Jones”

A Minidoka reminder


I had the privilege of speaking at a ceremony held at the Minidoka Relocation Camp in Jerome County on June 13, recognizing the 80-year anniversary of the start of camp construction. The Camp was one of ten established in the western states in 1942 to imprison Japanese Americans who were uprooted from their homes in Hawaii and the West Coast during the Second World War (WWII). Around 13,000 of them, mostly American citizens, were imprisoned at Minidoka. They posed no threat to their country but were rounded up simply because of their race.

The Camp has been designated as the Minidoka National Historic Site (MNHS). It reminds us of a grave racial injustice brought about by hysteria whipped up by irresponsible news outlets and pandering politicians. President Franklin Roosevelt issued the order to incarcerate our fellow Americans. Former Idaho Governor Chase Clark applauded the move. It found strong support among the Idaho population.

An honor roll at the entry to MNHS lists the names of hundreds of young men from the Camp who heroically served their country in the European Theater of WWII, while their families were imprisoned at home. No instances of disloyalty ever surfaced among the incarcerated Japanese Americans. Yet, those who remained in Idaho after the closure of the Camp in 1945 were subjected to ill treatment and racial slurs during the following decades.

A number of Camp survivors, their children and human rights supporters gathered at the June 13 ceremony to recognize this historic wrong and dedicate themselves to preventing anything like it from being perpetrated against any future group of fellow Americans.

This was not an isolated instance of racial injustice in the history of Idaho. Our history is replete with wrongs committed against racial and ethnic minorities, starting with Native Americans and continuing with Chinese miners, African Americans and Hispanics. I learned of the Battle of Bear River in grade school back in the early 1950s, only to learn many years later that it was not a fierce battle between the U.S. Army and Shoshone warriors in 1863, but a deplorable massacre of men, women and children. It is called the worst slaughter of Native Americans in U.S. history.

Nor were we taught of the massacre of 34 Chinese miners in Hells Canyon in 1887, a crime for which nobody was ever held to account. The 1870 census disclosed that 28.5% of Idaho’s population was Chinese. No wonder that it is only around 1% today.

And, these are not problems confined to the distant past. The Ku Klux Klan was strong in Idaho in the 1920s and white supremacists were on the rise in Kootenai County in the early 1980s. After having practically eliminated them by the early 1990s, they have come back in force in recent years, thanks in part to an influx of extremists flowing to Idaho from progressive states in search of a white “redoubt.”

It is essential that Idahoans be made aware of our racial history to understand that we are not above committing wrongs against vulnerable minority groups. Recognizing our faults is not designed to make anyone feel bad, but to acknowledge our mistakes so we don’t repeat them. Let’s not have any more Minidoka camps or other such affronts to human rights.

The regrettable fact is that racism never really dies. Each time enlightened leaders manage to rally our citizens to beat it back, it merely lurks under the surface, awaiting another charismatic demagogue who will fan the flames of hatred for personal gain.

Champion of the law


We six were predecessors of Lawrence Wasden as Idaho Attorney General from 1971 to 2003. We have had the opportunity to observe his handling of that important legal office during the 20 years of his tenure. It is our collective judgment that Lawrence has faithfully complied with his solemn oath to support the Constitutions of Idaho and the United States. He has served the people with honesty and courage.

Lawrence is Idaho’s longest-serving Attorney General with five elected terms. He is unique in having worked his way through the office ranks, starting as a deputy in 1989, through chief of staff, to the beginning of his 20-year tenure as AG in 2003.

Throughout his career, he has shown himself to be incorruptible and scrupulously honest in providing legal advice to the State. While some would be tempted to shade their counsel for political advantage, Lawrence would have none of that. He characterized his role as honestly “calling the balls and strikes,” even when his umpire-like stance evoked howls of outrage from some legislative spectators and their supporters. Lawrence has been the consummate upholder of the rule of law.

He brought the same dedication to the law in performing his fiduciary duty as a State Land Board member. He insisted on following the constitutional mandate to obtain the maximum long-term return from endowment lands, despite entreaties or threats from land users. He successfully sued the Land Board to require compliance with the law.

He understood that he was ultimately answerable to the people and dedicated himself to serving their legal interests without great fanfare. As he prepares to leave the office he obviously reveres, it is in excellent condition and up to the task of advancing Idaho’s important legal interests.

With our collective 32 years of service in the position, we can recognize an Attorney General who excels. Lawrence Wasden has courageously represented the State of Idaho and its people and will be remembered as one of our very best Attorneys General. Our sincere thanks and congratulations to Lawrence and his wife and partner Tracey for their dedicated service to the Gem State and best wishes for the future.

Tony Park, 1971-1975; Wayne Kidwell, 1975-1979; Dave Leroy, 1979-1983
Jim Jones, 1983-1991; Larry Echo Hawk, 1991-1995; Al Lance, 1995-2003

Terrorism control


The explosion of four bombs in the City of Coeur d’Alene on September 15, 1986, was somewhat of a turning point in the effort to rid Idaho of the malignant influence of the Aryan Nations white supremacist group. The gang had established a foothold in the Idaho Panhandle and was intent on making it a national bastion for supremacists. During the night, members of the group exploded a pipe bomb at the home of human rights icon, Father Bill Wassmuth, and set off three other bombs around town.

The bombings finally awakened the entire State to the serious threat the Aryans posed to the safety of those in the area and to the image of the Gem State as a whole. Out of concern for the economic impact on commerce, the Idaho business community rose up in opposition to the group and its poisonous agenda. That spurred a political response from the Republican political establishment, which had largely sat on the sidelines.

In response to concerned citizens and business leaders across the State, the Legislature got engaged in the effort to stop extremist intimidation and violence. As Attorney General, I proposed tough legislation in 1987, which failed in the House due to opposition from the National Rifle Association. I worked with the NRA and we were able to fashion the Terrorist Control Act (the Act), which remains on our law books today.

The ironic thing is that the NRA proposed the incorporation of provisions from the federal Ku Klux Klan Act, which significantly strengthened the legislation. An NRA willing to act reasonably is certainly a relic of the distant past, but it was helpful in 1987.

Among other things, the Act prohibits two or more people from conspiring to threaten or intimidate any citizen from enjoying any constitutional right by the use of violence. A violation is punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine up to $50,000.

The Act came back to mind when I was reading about a meeting hosted by extremist legislator Heather Scott in Sandpoint on April 28. An attendee sporting the nametag “DeadDog” appeared to mouth all of the elements necessary to constitute a crime under the Act. DeadDog is a member of the Panhandle Patriots Riding Club (the PP Riders), which apparently consists of gun-toting extremists.

DeadDog referred to the “Pride in the Park” (Pride) event scheduled for the Coeur d’Alene City Park on June 11, saying his group intended “to go head-to-head with these people….We say, ‘Damn the repercussions,’ Stand up, take it to the head. Go to the fight.” He mentioned that his group was holding a competing event called “Gun d’Alene.”

Flyers for Gun d’Alene encouraged people to come armed, saying if the Pride participants “want to have a war, let it begin here.”

Comparing this rhetoric with the elements of the Act, DeadDog said he was planning, with others, to intimidate Pride participants from enjoying their constitutional rights to assembly, speech and demonstration by threats of violence. If violence is visited on any of the Pride folks at their event, DeadDog and other of the PP Riders could be facing serious time in an Idaho correctional facility. Other members of his group have tried to downplay or disassociate themselves from his remarks, but that may not be enough to save them if things get ugly at the event.

Idaho was able to rid itself of dangerous extremists in the last two decades of the 20th century, but we now find ourselves in much the same situation today. Idahoans need to once again rise up and make it clear that extremism does not define us: That we are better than the Heather Scotts, PP Riders and other Panhandle extremists would lead the rest of the country to believe. The Terrorist Control Act can play an instrumental part in that essential work, as other events of intimidation and threatened violence will assuredly arise in our State, given the highly charged political atmosphere.

Idaho’s founders on guns


Growing up in Idaho in the 1950s, it was an article of faith that every youngster was going to get the gun responsibility lecture before being turned loose with a firearm–always assume the piece is loaded, never point a gun at anyone, be aware and respectful of everyone around you and so on. It was stressed that safety and responsibility were inherent parts of the use or ownership of a firearm.

Idahoans relied on customs that were fashioned by our forebearers in Territorial Idaho. Those wise heads knew there was a segment of the population that would ignore gun safety, requiring that rules be put in place to protect the public.

Idaho’s Territorial Legislature enacted a statute in February 1889, making it unlawful for any person, other than on-duty law officers and express company employees, “to carry, exhibit or flourish any dirk, dirk-knife, sword, sword-cane, pistol, gun or other deadly weapons, within the limits or confines of any city, town or village or in any public assembly of Idaho Territory.” Many of the territorial legislators who wrote that law also worked on Idaho’s Constitution the very next year, making it clear that our Constitution allows for strong gun safety restrictions.

Imagine the shock of those presently fleeing to Idaho from progressive states to learn that Idahoans have not always gone to bed at night with an arsenal of deadly weapons at their fingertips. Or, that it was not acceptable back in the early days of the Gem State to pack war weapons anywhere you wished–the dry goods store, the State Capitol, the county fair, all sorts of public gatherings.

As late as the 1960s, responsible public officials figured there were proper places for firearms–the great outdoors, hunting, riding herd and the like–but that brandishing them in populated places outside of the home infringed upon the rights and safety of others.

My old boss and mentor, former Idaho Senator Len Jordan, was one of them. He was a rugged individualist, having operated a ranch down in Hells Canyon during the Great Depression. He didn’t need to pack a gun in Washington, D.C., to establish his manhood. When a mugger confronted him with a blackjack in 1969, he punched out the guy’s lights.

Senator Jordan told me he voted for the Gun Control Act of 1968 because, although we didn’t need it in Idaho, there were many urban areas that needed it. He could not be cowed by the gun lobby, even as it exists today. Our present Congressional delegation in Washington is shamefully afraid to get crosswise with the National Rifle Association, even as its agenda gets ever more extreme. Back in Jordan’s days, the NRA was more into teaching gun safety and responsibility. Nowadays, it is basically a mouthpiece for the gun industry, responsible for creating fear among gun owners to increase profits, regardless of the consequent death toll.

Idaho’s Legislature is fully in thrall with the NRA and its companion organizations. Every year it feels obligated to pass at least one law to make it easier to pack heat in more instances with fewer limitations. Two such bills passed in the recent session. As Idaho Attorney General in 1990, I challenged the constitutionality of a concealed weapons law, but did not succeed in the Idaho Supreme Court. A court challenge against some of today’s extreme gun laws may have a better chance of success.

We hear so much about gun rights at this time in our history. It is not like the earlier days of our State when wiser heads understood that with every right there are corresponding responsibilities. The foremost responsibility of today’s gun owners is to safeguard the rights and safety of those who live among them. It will save lives.

Memorial Day


Memorial Day is a time set aside for Americans to honor and mourn U.S. military personnel who died in service to their country. There have been many. America suffered 623,468 deaths in its major conflicts since the beginning of World War One. We owe these dedicated men and women our lasting gratitude for putting their lives on the line to protect and preserve our freedoms.

In the days leading up to Memorial Day, Idaho Public Television aired a program titled, Betrayed: Surviving an American Concentration Camp. It told of the Japanese Americans who were rounded up along the West Coast in 1942 and incarcerated in the Minidoka “Relocation” Camp. I was born that same year and grew up just 6 miles from the Camp.

These people were loyal Americans who just happened to be of Japanese ancestry. Many young men in the Camp volunteered to serve their country, despite the fact that their families were in detention. William Nakamura was one of them. His family had been uprooted from their home in Seattle, arriving in the Camp in 1942. He joined the Army the next year.

On July 4, 1944, while serving in Italy with the 442 Regimental Combat Team, Nakamura died after single-handedly attacking and destroying one German machine gun emplacement and then attacking another. His unit, entirely composed of Japanese Americans, was the most highly decorated in the war. He initially received the Distinguished Service Cross, but 56 years later, upon a review of his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

I often think of the tremendous debt we owe to people like William Nakamura, who gave their all for the benefit of their fellow Americans. What would they think if they could return to see what a mess we are making of the legacy they left us? Instead of working together in common purpose to improve the lives of all Americans, we are at each other’s throats.

The just concluded primary elections saw many hundreds of thousands of dollars going into scurrilous political ads attacking candidates with lies and distortions. Very little was said of what anyone proposed to do to make our State better, to improve infrastructure, to combat the greatest threat to the future of our planet–the increasing temperature of our atmosphere–or anything else. I believe the William Nakamuras of the past would sincerely grieve for the state we are in and wonder whether their sacrifice was worth it.

We should not just mourn our fallen on Memorial Day. We should make sure that the time and opportunity they gave us to make a better country is not wasted. Instead of exploiting differences, we should be building bridges with other Americans. We might just find that we have more in common than we thought.

Instead of placing credence on weird conspiracy theories that show up in some corner of social media, we should build on facts that are in front of our faces in our communities. We should not be living our lives just to “own the libs” or put down the “deplorables.” We are all part of one country and should wake up and act like it. Imagine if our service personnel in wartime all wanted to have their own way all of the time. That would create chaos.

Our soldiers worked together to achieve their objectives. Many did not make it home. Let’s mourn and honor them on Memorial Day and pledge that we will not let their sacrifice be for naught–that we will live up to their expectations by working hard to improve the lot of our fellow Americans, regardless of race, creed, economic status or any other type of demographic difference.

Bark vs. bite


The outcome of the primary election had to be a serious blow to the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). Many of the politicians who have danced to its tune in recent years went down to defeat, including Janice McGeachin, Priscilla Giddings, Marjorie Moon, Branden Durst, Ron Nate, Karey Hanks and Chad Christensen.

The IFF has stoked and thrived upon divisive, confrontational politics in Idaho ever since the Republican Party closed its primary in 2012. Using a suspicious rating system, the organization has sought to establish a reputation as a kingmaker amongst Idaho legislative candidates–score high on IFF’s “Freedom Index” and win, score low and lose. The more extremist IFF legislation a candidate will support, the better the rating. Many legislators were afraid to vote on a bill until learning how IFF scored it.

This election had to be an eye opener for those legislators who believed that IFF’s disapproval was the kiss of death. Several other organizations worked hard during this election cycle to show that candidates could think for themselves and overcome IFF’s scorn at the polls. The one I’m affiliated with, Take Back Idaho (TBI), endorsed a slate of candidates, including most of the statewide offices and 40 legislative positions.

Only one IFF-supported candidate, Raul Labrador, won a statewide office. Its preferred candidates lost for Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction. IFF board member Bryan Smith lost his second bid for Congress.

The candidates endorsed by TBI were just the opposite of those who would blindly follow IFF’s lead. They demonstrated a commitment to responsible, pragmatic representation, rather than inciting and profiting from hateful conflict. Of the 40 candidates TBI endorsed, 27 won and 13 lost. Some of the races were extremely close–Scott Syme, a stellar person, lost to IFF friend Judy Boyle by just 6 votes.

Some of our losses were quite painful. Sen. Jim Woodward, a Navy veteran and excellent legislator, lost in a hate-filled, truth-deprived onslaught from his opponent.

The loss of Lawrence Wasden as Attorney General will be felt by the State for years.

It is likely that IFF’s opposition to Wasden played a part in the outcome, but a number of other dark-money groups targeted him. The Club for Growth spent almost $300,000 on a scurrilous ad campaign against Wasden, falsely claiming he was a RINO (Republican in name only). Wasden’s problem was that he took his oath of office seriously–to support the Idaho and U.S. Constitutions. When he was confronted with a situation where he could either serve his personal political interests by shading his legal opinions or honestly state the law as he was required by his oath to do, the rule of law always won. That takes true courage and dedication to his sacred duty. His detractors distorted his honest stands. In truth, Wasden was among the best AGs this State has had.

TBI intends to take an active part in each and every future primary election until the malevolent grip of extremist groups like IFF and Club for Growth is removed from our great State. Now that legislators and prospective candidates know that IFF’s bark is much worse than its bite, that time may be closer than some think.

A message for independent voters


Article 1, section 19 of the Idaho Constitution boldly proclaims: “No power, civil or military, shall at any time interfere with or prevent the free and lawful exercise of the right of suffrage.” The right to vote is one of the most important tools we citizens have to shape the future of our State for ourselves and our children. All parents want a better life for their kids, but it won’t happen if we sit on our hands on election day.

Today, about 83% of eligible Idaho voters do not participate in our primary election. In a one-party state like Idaho, most elected public officials–Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, members of the Legislature and many others–are chosen in the Republican primary. The May 17 Republican primary is where people must vote, if they hope to influence the future of Idaho.

Why is it then that so few Idahoans vote in the GOP primary, leaving the selection of important public officials to a relatively small number of party loyalists, including a solid base of political extremists? Is it lack of knowledge of the fact that almost every Idaho citizen of voting age can register and vote in the Republican primary through the close of the polls on May 17?

Seriously! Every registered voter, except those now registered with another party and felons whose rights have not been restored, can lawfully take part in the Republican primary. We think of those who have not selected a party as independents but the State calls them “unaffiliated” voters. Idaho Code section 34-411A says an unaffiliated voter may select a political party affiliation on election day “by declaring such political party affiliation to the poll worker.” That is, independents can choose to vote in the Republican primary on election day. Don’t let anyone, even an election worker, tell you otherwise.

Unregistered persons can register for the Republican primary when they arrive at their voting location, which they can find through their county clerk or by going online to They do have to provide proof of residence, such as a driver’s license.

This primary election may well decide the future course of the Gem State for many years to come. There are essentially two slates of candidates–one composed of reasonable, pragmatic community members dedicated to problem-solving government and another consumed by conspiracy theories, manufactured issues and confrontational tactics.

The problem-solving slate includes Governor Little, Speaker Bedke, Attorney General Wasden, Phil McGrane, two reasonable School Superintendent candidates and a supportive cast of responsible legislative candidates.

The disruptive slate includes Janice McGeachin, Priscilla Giddings, Raul Labrador, Dorothy Moon, Branden Durst and a cast of extremist legislative candidates, who have tried their best to make it harder to vote, proposed sending librarians to jail, tried to do away with the initiative and referendum, underfunded and made false allegations against public education and taken every opportunity to turn Idahoans against one another.

It is a stark choice, calling for all eligible voters to weigh in. The Republican primary election is more important to the fate of this State than this year’s November election. We are truly at a Benjamin Franklin moment in Idaho. When that revered gentleman walked out of Independence Hall in 1787, after having completed work on the U.S. Constitution, he was asked whether we had a republic or monarchy. He replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.” We can only keep our reasonable, problem-solving government if everyone exercises their right to vote on May 17.

Don’t be discouraged


We often hear of folks who take advantage of tax breaks that some would view as unfair, but they can’t be faulted if the law specifically provides for the break. Or, say a government program provides a monetary grant or forgivable loan for pandemic relief. It is not dishonest to take the money if you qualify for funding under the law.

The same concept applies in a person’s exercise of the right to vote in an election. If the law specifically allows you to vote in an election, there is no shame in following the law. Yet, some hardline Republicans in Idaho claim independent voters have no right to vote in a Republican primary election. The fact is, they do have that right–it is specifically provided for under the law.

Extremists tried this last legislative session to make it harder for independents to vote in the GOP primary by taking away their right to register for the Republican primary between March 11 and May 17. That effort failed and rightly so. In a one-party state like Idaho, the primary is where officeholders are generally selected. If an independent were prevented from voting for the Republican candidate of their choice, they would have no voice in the electoral process.

And it isn’t as if the Republican Party was paying all the expenses to conduct their primary election. Every taxpayer in the State pays for the GOP primary and everyone should have the right to vote in it.

I was recently invited for an interview on a radio talk show to discuss why independent voters like me should be able to cast my ballot in the GOP primary on May 17. I grew up in the Republican Party but decided to opt out when it was clear that the Bush Administration was dead set on launching the disastrous war in Iraq. I’d volunteered to fight in Vietnam and knew that a war in Iraq was against America’s vital interests.

The interviewers asked why I thought I had the right to cast a vote in a GOP election when I was not a current member of the Party. My answer was that I had volunteered to fight for my country and earned the right to vote in any party primary that the law allowed. Every other Idahoan should have that same right. Otherwise, about half of Idaho voters would be deprived of a voice in the electoral process.

Some of the most belligerent voices against independents voting in the GOP primary are the top brass in the Kootenai and Bonneville County GOP Central Committees–Brent Regan, Doyle Beck and Bryan Smith. They also happen to be board members of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. They regard the GOP as their private playground. However, the three understand the concept of taking advantage of benefits made available under the law. Even though they are dead set against government money being doled out, calling it socialism, they were happy enough to request and spend bunches of the dole money. Smith got $205,200 of pandemic relief funds for his medical debt collection operations, Beck scarfed up $168,200 and Regan pocketed $74,800. All told, IFF fat cats grabbed over $2 million in “socialist” largesse.

If the law permitted these payments, I don’t suppose we can begrudge these folks for taking advantage of the taxpayer money. On the other hand, it is rather hypocritical of them to get all worked up about independents registering in the Republican primary in order to have a meaningful voice in our government, since the law says it is their perfect right to do so.

This is an extremely important election. There are currently two branches of the Republican Party in Idaho–the traditional, pragmatic branch and the new branch composed of culture warriors and other extremists. Every Idahoan eligible to vote must take part in this election to choose the future course of the GOP in Idaho. Voters can register right up until they walk into the polling place on May 17. Guides to the choices can be found on this newspaper’s website or by googling

The serious candidates


Idaho Public Television has once again demonstrated its value by hosting eye-opening debates among candidates for some of Idaho’s statewide elective offices. The debates have allowed voters to see who is serious about serving and who merely wishes to use an office to stoke the culture wars for political gain.

Phil McGrane demonstrated in the latest debate that he clearly understands the Secretary of State’s duties and is best qualified to serve in that office. That is why he has the full support of Ben Ysursa, who served with distinction in that office for 27 years as Chief Deputy to Pete Cenarrusa and then as Secretary of State for 12 years.

I’ve known Phil’s family for decades–his grandfather was highly respected as the financial officer at the Idaho Falls livestock auction and his dad is a friend. Phil comes from strong roots. He has earned the respect of election officials across the state for running clean, efficient elections in Idaho’s most populated county. His election expertise clearly came through during the debate.

Phil’s two opponents spent their debate time obsessing about election fraud, without producing an iota of evidence that it occurs in Idaho. The short answer is that it does not. County clerks told the Legislature as much during this year’s session. Stirring up concern about problems that don’t exist does not speak well for either of Phil’s opponents.

Sherri Ybarra, the incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction, and challenger Debbie Critchfield both came off in the debate as serious candidates for that position. On the other hand, Branden Durst cemented his reputation as a hot-headed conspiracy theorist.

Even though substantial efforts have been made by Durst and his Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) backers to ferret out instances of critical race theory (CRT) in Idaho, they have come up empty. The claim that CRT exists in Idaho is merely an IFF ploy to discredit Idaho’s public schools. If elected to office, Durst would do his level best to sabotage Idaho’s public school system in hopes of replacing it with proprietary private schools, including online schooling. That is one of the IFF’s main agenda items.

When Raul Labrador began his debate pitch asserting that the Attorney General’s job is mainly political, it caught my attention. I had just signed onto an op-ed issued by Idaho’s six living Attorneys General, stating just the opposite. Former Attorneys Tony Park, Wayne Kidwell, Dave Leroy, me, Larry Echo Hawk and Al Lance, who collectively served as Idaho’s AG for 32 years, stated unequivocally in the op-ed that the AG is a legal official, bound by oath to be the State’s non-political legal adviser. The AG’s credibility depends on not being like a political hack.

The wise individuals who drafted the Idaho Constitution in 1889 envisioned the office as the source of sound legal advice to state government. None of the drafters mentioned a political role for the AG. Politically skewed legal advice is not ethical in either private law practice or public practice. It is a good way to mislead a client into serious legal trouble.

The AG’s office argues many more cases to Idaho’s appellate courts than any other litigant in the State. Most are appeals by criminals but there are also heavy-duty civil cases–cases that involve important policy issues or large sums of taxpayers’ dollars. If Idaho courts regard the AG’s office as being infested with political operatives, the State’s interests will suffer. Lawrence Wasden has established a solid record of competence–a record of standing up for the rule of law rather than the rule of politics, as the debate clearly demonstrated.

Thanks to IPTV for performing a valuable public service by hosting the debates. Folks who were not able to watch the live debates can catch them on the IPTV website. Thank goodness that the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its supporters have been unable to deprive IPTV of state funding.