"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.


What’s indisputable about the shooting incident north of Council is the assessment by Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, that, “It’s an absolute tragedy.”

Try to get a lot more specific than that, and you rapidly find questions outnumbering answers – and that is a problem. We only know part of what happened that night.

Little told the Idaho Statesman, “The issue is the attorneys for the Yantis family are going out and painting a picture, and the sheriff’s deputies, the sheriff, the Attorney General’s Office, the State Police have got protocols that they’ve got to follow. And nature abhors a vacuum.”

The clear part of the case is that in the evening of November 1 a motorist collided on Highway 95 north of Council with a large bull. Neither emerged well; the humans were taken to a hospital, and the bull’s leg was shattered. Two Adams County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the scene, and the bull’s owner, Jack Yantis, was asked to come by to put the bull down. Not long after he and family members arrived, he was shot to death. His wife had a heart attack and also was hospitalized.

The Yantis family, through an attorney, has as Little noted provided a description of the missing pieces of the story.

On Tuesday night Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman spoke to a crowd of about 300 (that’s more than a third of Council’s population), but said he himself lacked answers to many of the questions, since the investigation is being run mainly through the Idaho State Police.

He didn’t name the two deputies involved (figuring out who they are probably wouldn’t be hard in such a small county anyway) but did say both were experienced, one with five years in law enforcement, the other with 15. So much for the “couple of wet-behind-the-ears rookies” theory.

Body cameras have been issued to officers in the county, which raises the hope that the incident may have been fully captured – exactly the kind of incident where cameras could help establish just what did happen. But Zollman said he didn’t know if the officers were wearing them.

They keynote comment, though, the one explaining why 300 people in such a small town showed up and felt the way they did, may have come from the member of the audience who said this:

“If you’re so committed to the safety of the community, then why am I so scared?”

The tragic nature of what happened is obvious, and there are good reasons for questioning what the deputies did and why they did it. That’s one argument for the Idaho State Police and others investigating to share with the public as much information as they can, as soon as they can.

Because there’s also this: The news media has been full of reports in recent months about law enforcement shootings and violence around the country, and Council is one of those places where the message goes forth on a very regular basis, from media, organizations and politicians, that government isn’t to be trusted.

The Council shooting probably is more an aberration of some kind than part of a pattern. If that’s the case, and state officials want to make that point, they should waste no time releasing the results of their investigation.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


In 1985 one of Boise’s most significant mayors, Richard Eardley, was wrapping up a record 12 years in office, his third term, and mulling whether to run for a fourth. He didn’t.

Those were the days of the downtown mall wars, and Eardley had been through the wringer. He was no doubt getting tired of the conflict and the stress, and his long-held vision for developing Boise was being overturned. But there was also this: He probably wouldn’t have won, and he likely knew that. In that year’s mayoral election, a city councilman allied with Eardley lost decisively to a first-time candidate named Dirk Kempthorne, who was aligned with an opposition group.

Last week, Boise did what it never has done before in electing a mayor to a fourth four-year term. (Long-ago Mayor James A. Pinney won five terms, but those lasted just two years each.) David Bieter, first elected in 2003, not only won for a fourth time (breaking Eardley’s record for tenure) but won big, with more than two-thirds of the vote, against an experienced opponent who herself had won local elective office several times.

What accounts for Bieter’s track record?

It isn’t that all of his proposals or policies have been popular, though some have. Mention “downtown streetcar” and even many of Bieter’s friends will back away. But many of his efforts have been popular enough. The Boise foothills levy, also on the ballot Tuesday, won almost three-fourths of the vote.

Bieter seldom has gotten very far away from what most of the voters in Boise find acceptable. He has been a likable and presentable face for the city. And while he has accumulated some complainers over time, they have never amounted to numbers large enough to take him out. He may make proposals, but he doesn’t go on crusades; he has been active in office, but nothing seems to have worn him down, or out. And while he has never been a great orator, Bieter does have solid political and campaigning skills.

Next door to Boise, in Meridian – Idaho’s third-largest city – Mayor Tammy de Weerd was re-elected, by a margin even greater than Bieter’s (though her opposition was slighter). She too was first elected in 2003, and last week won a fourth term. She too has been an active mayor – could hardly be otherwise in a city growing as fast as Meridian has – but rarely has been very controversial.

Is a fourth term the limit? Is a still longer run realistic?

In many smaller cities, where the bench of prospective candidates may be smaller, mayors sometimes serve for several decades. In larger cities, shorter runs are the norm, if only because many more people may be interested in the job.

Still, cast your eyes a few miles over, to Caldwell, where Garret Nancolas is now in the middle of his fifth term as mayor, having won that term two years ago with 65 percent of the vote.

A dozen years would seem to be plenty to hold such an office, much less 16. But in the end, it’s up to the voters, and to candidates who continue to find ways of appealing to them.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


The campaign finance reports that tend to get most attention are those for the big offices, for governor or for Congress (not to mention president). That’s understandable.

But you can find the reports for many Idaho cities too, and sometimes they show you information useful in deciding where your vote should go.

Cities weren’t included when the state’s voters passed the Sunshine Initiative in 1974, but in 1982 the legislature added elective offices – mayor and council – for cities over 16,000 in population to the requirements. In 2004, more cities were added: Those with a population over 5,000.

That means it covers 32 Idaho cities, the smallest of those being Preston; Weiser and Rupert are the next largest to be included. Fruitland, Shelley and American Falls just missed the cutoff.

The details of reporting have been changed, by the legislature, over the years. This year, for example, House Bill 112 changed the rule covering late contributions. It (according to a Secretary of State’s report) “requires all political committees to report within 48 hours all contributions of $1,000 or more received after the 16 th day before, but more than 48 hours before Election Day (as is currently required for candidates). The bill takes effect July 1, 2015.”

Many of the cities post the campaign contribution reports online, which means easy access for voters.

Boise’s Mayor David Bieter, who’s running for a fourth term, has his most current one (the seven-day pre-general report) at http://cityclerk.cityofboise.org/media/310646/bieter7daypregeneral.pdf. It shows substantial contributions indeed, more than $180,000. You could find a lot to look at there. His main opponent, Judy Peavey-Derr, showed contributions of a little more than $15,000. Among other things, this may give you some idea how the race is likely to shape up on election night.

Fine. But does all this tell you anything useful, assuming you’re one of the minority of eligible voters planning to cast a ballot?

It can. On Friday, for example, the Idaho Press-Tribune at Nampa reported that, “The largest contributions to this year’s city council elections in Nampa and Caldwell have come from real estate, construction and development groups.” It proceeded to tell who received how much from who.

That’s of interest and meaningful, especially in growing communities like Nampa and Caldwell. Who are these contributors, what sort of work would they like to do in these cities, and what kind of relationships might they be trying to build? What might that mean for the kind of cities Nampa and Caldwell may become a few years from now?

You don’t have to assume corruption or foul play in asking these questions: The answers could be good ones, depending on your point of view. But they are likely to matter, and could influence your voting choices – in fact, the reporting laws were designed with that in mind. Substantial contributions to city candidates from businesses or other organizations with concerns before a city government tend not to materialize simply because a candidate seems to be a nice guy.

There are implications here, maybe good, maybe bad, which voters taking their job responsibly ought to try to understand.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Is testing becoming less central to Idaho education policy?

Not so long ago, at least in Idaho political circles and very often at the legislature, all the discussion about schools seemed to center around making them “accountable.” In a general sense, of course, they have been accountable for many decades, with records of many kinds kept: Graduation rates, SAT scores, attendance records, grades and much, much more. You won’t easily come up with a major institution in our society much more accountable than schools traditionally have been. But what was really meant, in this discussion from, say, a decade ago, was aggressively scheduled and high-stakes testing.

The exact structure of testing on the table has changed some over the years, from “no child left behind” (ironically named, since the way it was structured it did leave behind whole schools that didn’t score well enough) to Common Core. Budgets and salaries were on the line when students put pencils to paper.

The idea that parents and taxpayers, not to mention citizens in our society who need an educated public as a broader matter of social good, should have an idea of how well schools are doing their job seemed reasonable. It still does, but those of us outside schools and setting policy (as voters or in some more direct capacity) never figured out the metrics – another way of way of saying we haven’t been clear about what we want schools to accomplish. I’ve long thought, for example, that serious civics education should be a core part of the public school experience. But we generally have never had discussions about things like that, political discussions since this is a logical subject for our politics. We’ve wound up with basic-level testing on math and English, teaching to the test, and a compression of what students learn (goodbye arts, for example) and what we emphasize in class.

Over-emphasis on this kind of accountability can and does short-change students.

Gradually, some shaking up seems to be underway.

Last week, the Idaho Board of Education said it would waive two key requirements for a big Common Core test that was tried this spring but whose results have proven hard to compile, even five months later. The test has been administered in many states, but criticism of it has grown, and some Idahoans even have filed a federal lawsuit to quash it. The lawsuit has an iffy states-rights basis, but it may cause a number of Idaho political people to take second and third looks at the testing regime.

And nationally, the number of states running the tests has dropped from 18 to 15, according to Idaho Ed News.

And IEN points out that the Boise School District board last month “unanimously approved a resolution calling for working alongside the Idaho School Boards Association, the Idaho Legislature and the State Department of Education to “consider adopting other testing measures in lieu of the SBAC that will have the primary goal of improving instruction without overburdening Idaho classrooms.” If Boise’s proposal gains momentum, it could serve as the catalyst to a major policy and testing debate during the 2016 legislative session.”

The dialogue is changing. Testing won’t go away, nor should it, but its role at the center of education policy may get some adjustment in years to come.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Much of the politics in Idaho’s Panhandle is driven by a collection of groups of activist extremists, successful enough to dominate most Republican primary contests and many general elections.

Despite their splinters into competing factions (Tea Party Patriots, Reagan Republicans, species of Pachyderms and others) they are dominant – you can look at the roster of state legislators from the area for initial evidence – but are they a majority of the public at large? Does this segment of the Republican Party (again, I’m not talking about the party generally, just this segment of it) really speak for a majority of the people of the area?

I posed that question to a number of Panhandle people while in the area last week, and the answer uniformly and unequivocally came back: No. (An admission: None of those people were from the extremist groups, but they did represent a variety of viewpoints and experiences.)

Second question: How, then, do they win so many elections?

In answer to that, I heard mainly: They vote. And they got themselves organized. They did it the old-fashioned and proper way. And their opposition – outside of some recent strong organizing work on several elections inside the city of Coeur d’Alene – didn’t do those things nearly as well.

This isn’t the whole story. Immigrants from California and other places have tended very conservative, and many have been receptive to relatively extreme messages. The demographics have changed somewhat.

Still, there’s external evidence the extreme groups are not a majority. Polling done over the years broken down by region has consistently shown more moderately conservative positions on a range of issues, from the social to the fiscal, have more support than more narrow, extremist views.

You start to wonder what would happen, and what Idaho elections would look like, if everyone voted.

Idaho has somewhere around 1.2 million people eligible to vote; that number may be edging toward 1.3 million.

In November 2014, about two-thirds of those eligibles were registered to vote, and barely a third of the eligibles actually voted; about 800,000 did not. The elected officials Idaho has got there on the basis of winning a majority of that third. What does the other two-thirds think of the result?

More people turn out in presidential years, of course, but the point here still holds. In November 2012, about three-fourths of the eligibles were registered, and a little over half voted. The views, whatever they were, of about 600,000 Idahoans were not reflected.

Who are these people who are not voting?

One national study from about five years ago said that “approximately 51 million eligible Americans are still not registered to vote. This represents almost one in four eligible persons, disproportionately low-income voters, people of color, and younger Americans.”

In Idaho’s case then, considering that study and the polling showing overall attitudes on ideas and issues, there’s some reason to believe that the large mass of non-voters is more moderate generally than the voters have been, at least in recent years.

An exclamation point: Don’t read too much into this. I don’t at all mean to suggest that Idaho would suddenly go Democratic or liberal if all the eligibles turned up in the polls; I don’t think that would happen. But there’s some reason to think the state’s politics would moderate a bit if they did.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


Last week’s column on Muslim refugees coming to Idaho drew enough response that a follow seems warranted.

One respondent opined (in an attachment), “the bottom line is that the [College of Southern Idaho] refugee program must be terminated to prevent potential Islamic jihad terrorism and immigration jihad with increasing numbers of muslims.”

Another more measured reader: “You’ll notice most of the fear is fear of people from countries that are Islamic states. If Europe and America are going to bring in hundreds of thousands of people – many young men – from countries like Syria that are being overrun by ISIS (a Muslim terrorist group), don’t you think there’s a chance some of those ISIS fighters could enter our country along with the thousands of Syrians who don’t pose a threat? As we saw on 9-11, it only takes a few to cause a lot of chaos.”

Okay. A few thoughts then for your consideration.

First, because it’s so oft-forgotten and not irrelevant: The United States is militarily impregnable. Our military is nearly as powerful as the rest of the world’s put together. Ain’t nobody from any other country, or from the United Nations, imposing their will on us. America is going to continue to be run by Americans. If anyone suggests otherwise to you, they’re conning you.

The best way America can avoid attracting the attention of the violence-prone of the Middle East would be to lighten our footprint there.

Coming in with a group of refugees would be the dumbest way for a terrorist to enter. Every real refugee in the group would have extremely strong incentive to turn in a would-be bomber to the authorities.

Obviously, there are Muslim extremists. But obsessing on them gives them a lot more power and credibility than they warrant. They aren’t that numerous – and before you point out the more than billion adherents to Islam around the globe, bear in mind that they consist of many segments, people who have many ways of interpreting Islam and the Quran, just as the vast number of Christians do. Mostly, they have found ways to peacefully coexist with each other and the rest of the world; if that were not the case, the world would be one vast war-pit. (Which, the lunacies of cable TV news notwithstanding, it is not.) If you still doubt the many variations within Islam, look at the various segments of Christianity (say, Unitarians, Church of Christ and the LDS Church, and dare I add the old Aryan Nations church from northern Idaho) and try saying with a straight face that they’re all the same, that they all see their theology alike and that they interpret and focus on the Bible identically.

With one obvious exception, there have been few actual instances of Muslin-based terrorism in the United States. On those few occasions, the perpetrators have been either U.S. citizens or in the country on visas. They’ve had no trouble getting in through conventional means. Not only that, the borders of the United States are vast and, as we know from long experience, porous. If someone really wants to enter the United States bad enough, he or she can find a place and a way to do it.

I write this while monitoring a terrorism-related incident that has become personal and close to home. My sister, a professor at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, was teaching class Thursday afternoon in a building next to where a crazed gunman was opening fire on students and a teacher, killing 10 people and injuring seven more. The shooter has described himself as “conservative”, a supporter of the Irish Republican Army and “not religious but spiritual”. That incident was the 294th person killed in a mass shooting in the United States in the 274 days to that point this year. As in almost all of those other incidents, the perp in this case was not Muslim.

Would I be okay with Syrian refugees living in a house on my block? Yep.

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Idaho column Stapilus

A few more comments about “A place of refuge.”

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You may have noticed about a week ago reports about two polls of presidential preferences among Idaho Republicans, in separate stories. If you put them together in one story, you can see the results of the two appear to conflict.

But there’s a straight line through them that says something about who supports who.

First, Dan Brown & Associates, from Utah, released a poll of 508 Idaho adults. Among Republicans, businessman Donald Trump took 28% of the vote for the lead. Physician Ben Carson came in second with 15%. Former front-runner Jeb Bush was down in single digits at eight percent; others were in single digits. This was fairly reflective of most of the recent national polls of Republicans (or what you could see in their placement in last week’s presidential debate).

A few days later Republican organizations in Bannock and Jefferson counties tried their own local straw polls, and the results there were a little different. Both counties placed Carson in a strong first place, with about 30% of the vote in each county. In Bannock, Trump was second at 22%, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio came in third at 20%. In Jefferson, Trump was far down the list, as second place went to Senator Ted Cruz (15%), and Senator Rand Paul followed him.

These are distinctly different results, even accounting for the more local polling from the counties. What should we make of these differences?

Here’s some speculation (and if someone from Bannock or Jefferson counties has an alternative explanation, send me a note).

The Brown poll, which was scientifically conducted, probably covered a broad range of Idahoans (other parts of the poll included results among Democratic contenders), and in such a poll party leaders, foot soldiers and activists would account for only a minute portion of the total. It was a “general population” poll.

The straw polls would have been informal, with no specific attempt, as in scientific polls, to account for various percentage portions of the population: The votes they get usually come from whoever happens by. That doesn’t mean these polls are garbage. Years ago as a reporter at the Idaho State Journal I worked with straw polls the newspaper ran at local grocery stores, and when it came to local voting a few days before elections they tended to be surprisingly accurate.

But local people active in the county Republican parties easily could have been over-represented in these two new straw polls.

And that leads to this suggestion:

Among the less-organized, out-in-the-fields Republicans (or Republican-inclined voters) around the state, Trump is highly popular.

Among the more organized Republicans, he may be much less so, with candidates like Carson, Cruz and Rubio finding more appeal. Based on the polls, Bush seems for now to be losing steam in Idaho as he has been nationally.

At least, that looks like a reasonable view from September 2015. Now we can wait a few months and see what it looks like around the holidays.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus


The Stuck Pendulum page

The book Paradox Politics was written in 1987 and 1988, and published in that latter year – which, as this is written, was 27 years ago. Considering that it was intended as a current, up to the minute, review of Idaho politics and how it had gotten that way, that makes it heavily out of date now.

It’s been out a long time, but it’s not entirely forgotten. While most of its sales came in the 80s, it has sold copies ever since; Amazon has moved copies this year. That’s nice to see. What’s less easy to contemplate is that some of those people may think that Idaho politics in this new century is anything like what it was in the last one, and that would be a problem, because it isn’t. I think, generally, it holds up as a good review of the subject as of the time it was written. And I think it may have helped prompt a spate of Idaho political memoirs and biographies that cropped up in the years following.

But since then, much has changed.

Hence, The Stuck Pendulum. It’s a standalone book that also functions as an afterword – even a coda – for that earlier one, intended to bring up to date people who may have relied on Paradox for a look at Idaho politics. It doesn’t unearth a lot of secrets and not much in it will come a a big surprise to people who have followed Idaho politics in the last quarter-century or so. But for those new to the subject, or who may have wondered what has happened since 1988, I think it can be useful.

I have gotten requests from time to time for a sequel for Paradox, and it’s not just the passage of time that has increasingly made the point compelling. As the title suggests, Idaho politics, which once wandered across the political spectrum, driven by an electorate often willing to take a flyer on something different and didn’t trust anyone too damn much, has changed, locked in place, adjusting if at all only to whatever seems to be the hardest right alternative at hand.

How it got there, and especially after how it changed so drastically right after the best Idaho Democratic election year in a generation (1990), is much of the subject of The Stuck Pendulum. But there are overviews of more, of the Larry Craig incident, the fierce battles in the first congressional district and the recent splinters in the Republican Party.

For the moment, it’s priced for free, so get your copy if this sounds like your area of interest. We’ll attach a price (not a hefty one, though) a little later.

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While I was reviewing old columns for inclusion in a book collection a few of them from years ago jumped out at me as especially relevant right now, and worth pondering even more now than then. This one (edited a little for length from a longer web-only original) dates from almost exactly nine years ago (about a year before the headlines that eventually ended Larry Craig’s Senate career), but it has resonance considering the issues in front of the presidential campaign now underway . . .

Senator Larry Craig and his staff – and they wouldn’t be alone – must still be wondering about just what the hell happened at their town hall meeting Tuesday night in Coeur d’Alene. They’d have good reason to, because a significant issue rides on it: To what extent did it reflect a substantial strain, or just fluke fissure, in the community?

Craig has taken heat for a few years now from parts of the conservative community – which for most of his years in Congress has given him unqualified support – for his stand on immigration and illegal aliens, a stance bearing some resemblance to that of President George W. Bush. Yes, there are a lot of people in this country who aren’t supposed to be here, and that fact – and border security – needs to be dealt with more effectively, Craig has suggested. But he also suggests that there’s no reason for a panic reaction, either.

As he was quoted by the Coeur d’Alene Press: “You can’t go door to door and force between 8 million and 10 million people to leave at gunpoint. For 20 years, immigration laws have failed. We know there’s a problem and we’re working on it. The first step is securing the border and we’re doing that.”

That seems hard to argue, reflecting a general reality we’ve managed to live with for a long time, and yet the reaction has suggested it’s an edgy statement. The reaction at – and yes, this is where it was – the Human Rights Education Institute at Coeur d’Alene, was something else again.

The Press said that “of nearly 60 people in attendance, many wanted action, including immediate deportation. They said it was a crisis that was going to bankrupt the country and cited numerous examples of problems in Southern California, including drugs, rape, and gangs. Some went so far as to say he wasn’t doing his job to uphold and protect the Constitution and has failed the citizens of Idaho.” Robert Vasquez, a Canyon County commissioner and recent congressional candidate, has for some years been saying the same thing; this year his message has expanded across more territory.

The spearhead of the protest or at least the loudest protester apparently was Stan Hess, a candidate for office, opposing Denny Hague for a seat on the North Idaho College Board of Trustees. The Press said he “erupted with anger over the immigration issue. He screamed at Craig and the citizens, who tried to boo him down. Then Hess confronted a woman and yelled at her only a few inches away from her face. Several people stood up to diffuse the confrontation. Craig’s handlers said they were moments away from calling the police. Hess, who also blasted NIC professor and longtime Human Rights advocate Tony Stewart, stormed out of the meeting.”

It may be, as Spokesman Review writer David Oliveria suggests, that Hess’ performance at the Craig town hall provided ample information about who not to vote for in the NIC trustee election. Additionally, though, it – and the not-so-divergent views of others in the audience – shows that razing an Aryan Nations encampment has not yet erased some ugly strains in northern Idaho.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus