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Review: Video Game of the Year

When I read a new non-fiction book, I hope that it will tell me something I didn't know already (not an unusual occurrence). Even better, I hope it will open for a whole new world I hadn't been aware, or barely aware, existed - but which matters.

I hadn't expected the book Video Game of the Year (Abrams Image, 2023), written by Jordan Minor, to do more than the first. But it did: I came away with a whole new perspective on a big part of our American culture in the last half-century.

It may be less strikingly new to you, if you're a video gamer and especially a gamer of longstanding. I'm not, because of no great desire to spend the time and effort needed to become accomplished at the games (or even learn much about them), not because of any animus toward them. My personal involvement with video games started with Pong and ended with either Space Invaders or Pac-Man (all three are profiled in this book), and after that the games, and the environment around them, became too much effort to attract much of my interest.

That doesn't mean they didn't attract lots of other people, of course; over the years I've known quite a few people who play them, to one degree or another. Some of the most popular games have sold immense numbers of copies, into the hundreds of millions, and some of them (Pokemon go is an example) have burst into the general cultural fabric. (Some years ago we often spotted PG players at a residential intersection near our house, deeply engrossed.) But what effect do they games have? Where did they come from? How have their evolved, and where might they be going? I didn't have much of a handle on any of this.

Minor has neatly filled this gap, for me and probably a lot of other people, through the device of naming a game of the year for (almost) every year since Pong arrived in the late 70s. The selections seem carefully chosen to throw light on the development of video games, not least their variety. If like me you're aware of these games only on the periphery - spotting the occasional ad or box in a store or news story that relates to one of them, often in a negative way - there's a lot to miss.

The variety of the games, for example. I'm tended to associate video games in the last couple of decades with hard-core shoot-em-up (or blow-em-away) violence, but while that is a key part of the picture, there's also much more. Some are gentle and artistic. Some are educational; I'd almost forgotten about Sin City, and had never been aware of many of the spinoffs it generated.

And more generally: What are some of the factors that have made some games immensely popular, while others fall flat? Some useful lessons in consumer preference and economic activity emerge from this. Not to mention some useful dissection of what goes into designing a game, an absorbing subject I'd never much considered.

Then there's the sources of the games. I hadn't realized how dominant, for so many years, developers from Japan were in the field; the corporate field seems to have spread more widely in recent years. I hadn't had much appreciation for the differences in, say, Nintendo and other providers, or how Playstation and XBox fit into the mix. The underlying corporate histories are worth knowing too, given how large some of those organizations have become.

Minor is enough of a good enthusiast to refrain from whitewashing the downsides, which gives me some confidence in his overall perspective. A tip of the hat to his easily-absorbed history, which opened a part of the modern world brand new to me. And maybe you too.



The insulin key

You can imagine the anguish that people face every month – deciding whether to shell out $500 a month (or more) for insulin, or buying groceries … or making that rent payment.

Of course, members of Congress don’t face those choices with their top-grade insurance plans. And even without insurance, affordability for medications is not an issue for members of Congress. We don’t hear stories about senators or congressmen being homeless, or scrambling for medications needed to stay alive.

But the American Diabetes Association hears from a much different segment of the population – and those stories are gut-wrenching.

“One in four people with diabetes have reported rationing their insulin due to high costs,” said Stephen Habbe, vice president (state government affairs) with the ADA.

That’s scary. It doesn’t take a medical background to realize that bad things happen when diabetes patients ration insulin, or quit taking it entirely. Complications can ensue, such as heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, or death. Yes, these are the kinds of stories that those with the American Diabetes Association hear every day. The thing is, there is no logical reason why insulin costs should be so outrageous. Insulin has been on the market for more than 100 years, and the ingredients have not changed dramatically – especially in recent decades.

“Although insulin was developed over 100 years ago, it’s still far too expensive and out of reach for many Americans living with diabetes,” Habbe said.

He’s right about that. So, it comes down to this. Insulin affordability is not an issue if you’re rich, have a top-grade private insurance plan, or on Medicare. Everyone else is out of luck.

President Trump – the political figure that many people love to hate – broke ground on the issue in a positive way, with ADA officials at his side. He created the Medicare Part D Senior Savings Pilot, which offered insulin at $35 under participating plans. But President Biden rescinded that and a string of other Trump executive orders, and eventually got around to calling for a $35 cap for everyone who needs it. However, that provision was kicked out of Biden’s landmark legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, and Republicans – such as Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo – are not eager to bring it back.

Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has opposed capping insulin costs, saying that price fixing doesn’t work. He has proposed a GOP-based plan that, realistically, will go nowhere unless Republicans take control of the Senate and Crapo becomes the committee chairman. Crapo may be right about price fixing, but a system that allows costs for a life-saving drug to skyrocket, for no apparent reason, doesn’t work well either.

But the ADA, and states, are not waiting for the Washington politicians to act. According to Habbe, 24 states and Washington, D.C. have passed caps on state-regulated commercial health insurance plans. And the ADA is working to add more states to the list, including Idaho.

State Sen. Julie VanOrden of Pingree, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, says she’s been studying the issue and is interested in seeing a bill. Her willingness to listen and learn about the issue doesn’t guarantee passage through the Idaho Legislature, but the odds become better for a fair committee hearing on the matter.

For Idaho lawmakers, who resist relying on the federal government, there’s an opportunity that might be too good to pass up. Idaho could do what the feds or Congress can’t do (or won’t do). As Habbe sees it, the statehouses are a good place to stage this battle.

“States served as laboratories of change, encouraging federal legislators to take this issue up, which ultimately led to the inclusion of the insulin cost-savings measures – including the $35 cap on insulin in Medicare in the Inflation Reduction Act,” he said. “We’ve seen bipartisan support for this legislation in states across the country and both the U.S. Senate and House have introduced bipartisan bills capping out-of-pocket costs for insulin.”

The issue is going to be kicked around more in statehouses and the halls of Congress. Politicians should keep in mind that those who depend on insulin don’t care what party gets credit for reducing the costs.

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




Fulcher about Trump


That’s the extent of what we have heard from the three senior members of Idaho’s congressional delegation immediately following the indictment of President Trump. While Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Mike Simpson were sending out press releases on other matters, other Republicans were expressing disgust over Trump being the first American president to face criminal charges.

In Idaho, Attorney General Raul Labrador and State Republican Party Chair Dorothy Moon were quick to issue statements, blasting Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg for going after Trump. Labrador said the actions “serve to further erode the trust our citizens have in the nation’s justice system.” Moon said Democrats “are willing to throw the rule of law aside in order to further their quest for power.”

One member of Idaho’s delegation who has spoken up about the former president’s indictment is First District Congressman Russ Fulcher. As he sees it, the indictment makes Trump the clear frontrunner for the Republican presidential race next year – if not seals the nomination.

“I’ll say yes – at least for now,” Fulcher told me. “It’s an eternity between now and the primaries. But without question, at a time when the congressional dialogue is on issues such as energy, Ukraine and the budget, the dialogue has changed overnight with the Bragg stuff. Across the Republican Party, and with some Democrats, this is seen as a bridge too far.”

And that’s not good news for anyone thinking about challenging Trump for the GOP nomination next year.

“I think where’s he’s going with this is that he wants to protect you, the American people, from what has happened to him,” Fulcher said. “I think that’s exactly what you’re going to see.”

Trump may have other indictments – from Georgia, the Jan. 6 investigation and the classified documents found at his Florida home – but those could serve to strengthen his campaign while galvanizing supporters.

“This one is on the system,” Fulcher says. “There’s tax evasion, Ukraine, the Ukranian phone call, Russian collusion, business fraud, his kids’ business fraud, the Stormy Daniels thing, campaign finances, treason and – by the way – the guy has been out of office for a while. We all know that Donald Trump is not a choir boy, but at the same time, there isn’t anyone else on the planet who is going to get that kind of attention.”

The latest chapter, Fulcher says, comes from a prosecutor who is struggling to keep violent crimes down in his home district. “It’s obvious that it’s political,” Fulcher says.

“And what Trump is going through is an example of what happens by going crossways with the system,” Fulcher says. “Remember how they got Al Capone … with a tax charge. If you have a corrupt enough system, and you are creative enough for long enough, you’ll find something. If everything is lined up, and the fix is in, don’t be shocked if there’s jail time (for Trump).”

The merits of the indictment are not the crucial issue, Fulcher says. “The end game is to find a charge. The deep state and swamp is real. The objection to Trump is not his policies, or Stomy Daniels for crying out loud. The blowback is that he threatens their existence.”

But not all is bleak – at least for prospective Republican presidential candidates, Fulcher says. “There’s Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley and Asa Hutchinson … these are legit folks and worthy candidates. On the Democratic side, there’s a president who’s not all there – that’s not a criticism, but an observation – and a governor who has destroyed the largest state in the country (California). They are in a jam.”

Fulcher said he has not given much thought to who he will support on the Republican side. But unless Trump ends up in prison, Fulcher sees the former president having a clear path to the GOP nomination.

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



The ghost of Aberdeen

A guest opinion from William Jorgensen.

The 30-year anniversary of rock legend Kurt Cobain’s death is just under a year away.

That sad occasion could provide a tremendous opportunity for his home town of Aberdeen, Washington, to attract tourists from among the millions of Cobain’s fans worldwide, spanning multiple generations.

What is the coastal town of around 17,000 doing to prepare for it? Absolutely nothing.

I took a recent trip there on the 29th anniversary of the Nirvana singer and songwriter’s untimely demise. This pilgrimage of sorts is about the only reason I would ever have to deliberately go to Aberdeen.

At this point, I’m a professional in my early 40s with children. But like many, I was a teenager in the early 90s when Nirvana and its classic album Nevermind forever changed the course of pop culture.

Cobain had already long since left Aberdeen by then, moving 50 miles to Olympia to achieve his dreams of eventual rock n roll immortality.

Now, all this time later, Aberdeen doesn’t seem to be faring well.

There is no shortage of vacant storefronts. Many of those spaces, oddly enough, would actually make great concert venues. Some even have enviable natural acoustics inside.

Signs of life are present, though. Boomtown Records serves as the Kurt Cobain Memorabilia and Info Center. Right across the street is Nirvana Coffee Co., with pictures on its walls of the band and its members. Customers can even order a “Heart-Shaped Box” drink, named after one of Cobain’s most popular songs. Kurt Cobain Landing stands as a modest park not too far from the house where he grew up.

Those who cling to his memory talk about ways to turn his connection with Aberdeen into a potential draw. But there also seems to be some resistance to that idea.

Cobain didn’t exactly speak highly of his experience in Aberdeen after being catapulted to international fame literally overnight. All indications are that the feeling is mutual among the town’s fathers.

They associate him with his admitted drug use and the heroin addiction that helped bring about his subsequent suicide.

What they’re overlooking is that, despite his many human flaws, Kurt Cobain was and is an inspiration. Someone from Aberdeen made an impact that will be felt far into the future. He wrote songs that are still played on radio stations every minute of every day in every city everywhere. He brought joy and happiness to countless people whose lives he touched, who his songs helped get through hard times. They provided soundtracks to memories both good and bad, and this won’t stop any time soon.

Maybe part of Aberdeen wants to pretend that none of it ever happened. And that’s too bad, because all indications are that the town could really use a boost.

They have just under a year to figure out ways to capitalize on the sustained popularity of its greatest asset, the Ghost of Aberdeen, who put it on the map in the minds of many.

Or maybe they won’t, and the chance will just pass the city by.

Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.


Attacking our libraries

The claim that Idaho librarians are dispensing pornography and other harmful materials to kids fell flat last year, but extremist GOP legislators are attacking once again. Nobody has been able to provide evidence that our  librarians are handing out smut to kids, but that is beside the point. The issue has been popular amongst culture warriors across the country, so it should be good for some political mileage in Idaho.

Idaho’s public and school libraries are overseen by locally elected boards that are charged with applying local community standards. They have safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate materials from getting into the hands of minors. If people believe the boards are not performing property, they should produce real evidence and petition for change. Failing that, they can exercise their right to make a change at the ballot box.

People in some Idaho communities have taken the fabricated claims of the national culture warriors at face value and launched protests against their local libraries. Some protesters have produced lists of books they want removed from the shelves, but often have not read them or can’t show they’ve been checked out to minors.

Despite failing to show that specific libraries or librarians are dispensing smut to kids, the legislative extremists are back with another bill to address this imaginary problem.

House Bill 139 allows people to sue libraries for permitting their kids to “obtain” material “harmful to minors” and collect $10,000, plus “actual damages” and attorney fees for each instance. Interestingly, the bill would also apply to private school libraries.

So, if your kid goes to the library to “obtain” a naughty book, you could really clean up at ten thousand a pop. That is, if the kid could find a book with a “depiction of covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state" or something similar. The statute book itself, with that kind of naughty wording, might qualify for the $10,000 reward.

I’m guessing the bill is designed, primarily, to intimidate libraries and librarians. One supporter of the bill suggested it was intended to drive up the insurance premiums of libraries, causing them to self censor.

What might make the legislation less obnoxious would be to make the remedy reciprocal. That is, if a person brought suit against a library and lost, the library would get its attorney fees for defending the suit. That would discourage meritless lawsuits.

The folks unhappy with pornography are attacking the wrong target. Libraries don’t traffic in pornography. That is the job of the internet. Studies show that from three-quarters to 90% of teenagers have seen pornography online. A person can find explicit sex on streaming services any time of day, any day of the year.

There is too little parental responsibility in protecting kids from smut. Why should parents not place controls on what their kids are exposed to online? If they are concerned about what they are checking out in the library, go with them. Meridian City Council member Liz Strader was right on when she said, “adults need to take control, and they need to help [kids] select their books. It is about personal responsibility.”

My daughter and her two kids, a teen and pre-teen, love to go to their Boise branch library to explore together. They bond by getting books, games, movies and videos from friendly, helpful and dedicated librarians. It is a wholesome atmosphere and I’m proud of my daughter for opening up the world to the kids in that little library.

I must say that I respect and admire the valiant librarians around the state who continue to give great service to the public despite the undeserved scorn heaped upon them by folks who have little knowledge of what is going on in these institutions of learning. The librarians at the Meridian Library District deserve particular praise for their dedicated public service.  By standing up for the rights of their patrons, young and old, they are heroes to me. Please join me in thanking them for their commitment to enlightening the next generation and telling the extremists in the Legislature to leave our libraries alone.


A template

The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has already shown us how to drive a storied community college to the brink of ruin. IFF board chair Brent Regan and his wrecking crew have just about finished off North Idaho College (NIC). Now IFF is demonstrating its plan to discredit and dismantle Idaho’s public schools, starting with West Bonner County School District (WBCSD) centered in Priest River.

IFF helped to get far-right candidates Keith Rutledge and Susan Brown elected to the school board in November of 2021, making a three-trustee majority that has been creating havoc ever since. The majority refused to support a $4.7 million two-year levy that was intended to cover about a third of WBCSD’s annual operating budget. Thanks to a good deal of misinformation leading up to the May 15 vote, the levy failed by just over 100 votes, putting the district in an extreme financial bind. The blame for the failure falls upon the IFF-supported majority.

Now, the board majority has voted to install an unqualified IFF employee as superintendent of WBCSD. After a three-ring circus of missteps, the majority voted on June 28 to hire Branden Durst, a problematic person to say the least, as the person in charge of running the district. Judging from his track record, he certainly is capable of running the school district into the ground. That would be in keeping with the IFF’s avowed goal of getting the government out of the business of educating our children.

The tragedy is that the interim superintendent, Susan Luckey, a 2018 Distinguished National Principal who has spent nearly four decades in the district as a teacher and principal, was readily available for the position. Many long-time residents of Priest River were greatly distressed about the hiring debacle, pointing to the IFF’s track record of fighting against adequate funding for public schools. WBCSD patron Nicole Gunning-Butler expressed fears of IFF’s, “relentless attempts to dismantle rural school districts and advance their extreme political and religious agenda.” She and her husband, who graduated from Priest River High School and served in the U.S. Navy, have two children attending schools in the district.

School district patrons are concerned about the appearance of backroom dealing by the board majority in arriving at the hiring decision. The Idaho Education News has highlighted what appear to be violations of Idaho’s Open Meeting Law by the IFF-supported board, as well as the board’s refusal to respond to public record requests.

WBCSD patrons are not taking these shenanigans lying down, however. Rather, they are showing that concerned citizens around the state can fight back against those who would subvert our public school system. Local folks got busy organizing petition drives to recall Rutledge and Brown. They turned in their petitions at the end of June with more than enough signatures to recall both of the troublesome trustees. They gathered 337 signatures to recall Rutledge, although only 243 were necessary to schedule an election. Brown received 243 recall signatures, while only 180 were needed. If the two do not voluntarily step down, an election will be held on August 29.

Durst does not have the credentials to serve as superintendent and must receive provisional certification from the Idaho Board of Education in order to act in that role.

That is where the rest of us can lend a hand in order to protect WBCSD from further disaster. Idahoans concerned about persons hostile to public schools being given important education positions should make their concerns known to members of the Idaho Board of Education, as well as Governor Brad Little. If the board majority tries to keep Durst without the certification, a patron lawsuit could send him packing.

The IFF is trying to commandeer other rural school district boards across the state. The WBCSD experience shows that IFF can fail, but it depends upon concerned citizens rising up to protect their schools.


The Blue Dog test


The Blue Dog Democrats in Congress for years have attached themselves to a piece of hard political logic: If you run toward the center, instead of toward the left, you’ll pick up more votes in districts considered competitive between Republicans and Democrats.

That idea, accepted and rejected with equal fervor in various parts of American politics, soon will receive an almost perfect field test in Oregon, in the revised fifth congressional district.

The Oregon fifth, which in its old iterations - it was redistricted last year for the coming decade - elected Democrat Kurt Schrader to the U.S. House seven times, has been a politically marginal district. It has leaned Democratic throughout that time, but only barely; a Republican win there never has been out of the question, and Democrats cannot take it for granted.

The largest single population center of both the old and new fifth is Clackamas County, which itself is a political battleground. While the other two big counties of the Portland metro area (Multnomah and Washington) are solidly Democratic, Clackamas edges a little blue but wanders all over the partisan map. It voted for Democrats for president and the U.S. Senate consistently over the last decade, but while supporting Schrader each time, voters denied support several times to fellow Democrat Earl Blumenauer in the slice of the county that was in District 3. And remember that Clackamas voted Republican for governor in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Its state legislative delegation is split too. Currently, it has four Democratic and five Republican state senators, and nine Democratic and three Republican state representatives.

Schrader, whose base in Clackamas reaches back to his state legislative days, has done consistently well there. While losing overall this season’s district five Democratic primary contest to Jamie McLeod-Skinner, he still retained Clackamas (52.6 percent to 46.8 percent).

He had other advantages, including not only the usual boost from incumbency and an endorsement from President Joe Biden, but raised more than three times as much money as McLeod-Skinner.

His loss could be attributed partly to the redistricting change in the district, which sliced off most of his old territory to the west (the Salem-Keizer area and Polk, Lincoln and Tillamook counties) and added lands east of the Cascades, in the Bend-Redmond area, where he hadn’t run before and where his opponent already had a political base.

But the in-party revolt in the Democratic base was primarily against Schrader’s positioning as a blue dog - a relatively conservative Democrat. (This is not just an ideological label but also a formal caucus group in the U.S. House.) The irritation grew with Schrader votes on pandemic policy, regulation of drugs and several fiscal bills, and his description of the second impeachment of Donald Trump as “a lynching” (though later he voted in favor); it was exemplified after the primary with his vote against a gun control measure passed by the U.S. House.

All of this hurt Schrader in the primary, but might it have positioned him better than McLeod-Skinner in the general election?

That upcoming contest, between McLeod-Skinner and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, looks competitive. The national Cook Political Report, which earlier estimated the race as “leans Democratic,” has been shifted to “toss-up.”

For now, “leans Democratic” - a small advantage in that direction - actually seems the clearest evaluation.

The new district 5 has a small built-in Democratic tilt. The much-used Dave’s Redistricting site estimates the Democratic vote in the district at six percent higher, over the last three general elections, than Republican (50.6 percent to 44.6 percent). The large Deschutes County vote, strongly Republican a couple of decades ago, now tilts Democratic, and McLeod-Skinner has been building her base effectively there; her big win in the Bend area gave her the margin she needed to beat Schrader. (She lives in rural Jefferson County.) Her campaign probably has a burst of energy from the upset in the primary.

If she has an edge, though, it’s not large. Chevez-DeRemer is an experienced candidate too, a candidate for the Oregon House in 2018 (she lost to Democrat Janelle Bynum) and served as mayor of Happy Valley city from 2010 to 2015. She too had a competitive primary and won it convincingly. Her campaign will be well funded. But she also has a string of stances and connections - on abortion, health care and the 2020 presidential election among others - that Democrats already have signaled they can hit.

This fall’s election in the fifth, then, will pit a Democrat and a Republican each from what roughly passes for the center of gravity in their parties. That will amount to a direct choice between two ways of representing the new Oregon fifth, and a serious fight lies ahead.


Little’s new budget


Gov. Brad Little gave a preview of some items likely to be included in his proposed budget for next year, and he focused on two areas which have long needed attention in Idaho: childcare and housing.

The governor is not the only one who’s raised these issues in recent months. Business leaders and economic development people have long associated both issues with the need to grow the state economy.

Without childcare, working parents and particularly single moms, can’t afford to enter the workforce or to return to work. And without affordable housing, lower income folks are priced out at ever owning a home, a major step in the development of a viable middle-class.
To some extent both problems will be solved in the private sector. As wages rise, childcare becomes more affordable, but if it’s out of reach, it’s hard to make it work financially.
The childcare industry is a relatively low margin one. Childcare providers struggle to find good help by raising wages, but just as prices rise, more people can no longer afford it. And with wages in Idaho being relatively low, potential workers today can do better in other fields. A continuing labor shortage has thus heightened the issue.

On the housing front, low-income housing, particularly in carefully selected areas, would enhance community downtowns and fill in what are now often vacant lots.

Developers can’t afford to build this low-income housing if they can’t make it work financially. So they focus on higher-end properties, such as single dwelling homes in subdivisions where the margins are better and there are usually fewer restrictions on zoning, etc. That’s an area where local governments can help by reducing or eliminating red tape and superficial zoning restrictions.

Both issues are on the radar county governments, to whom Little outlined his thoughts at the end of September. He didn’t put any numbers out there nor did he prioritize these goals with others. But it was clear from his remarks at the Idaho Association of Counties annual meeting that he wants to give both topics more attention.

Of course, the usual anti-Little naysayers in the House will object to both ideas. Taking their orders from the Idaho Slavery Foundation, they’ll spout the usual we- can’t-do-that line. That’s their line if any idea comes from Little.

When it comes to child care, this group is stuck in the past in which mothers stayed home with their children and didn’t need to work. It’s a picture from the past. As we all know that’s no longer the case.

When it comes to housing, they’ll oppose it too if for no other reason than it’s Little’s and thus will be framed as another government intrusion into what should be private sector decisions in every case. They will not put it quite this way, but what they’re really saying is that people should not have government assistance in these areas. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, a modern version of social Darwinism. Can’t afford housing or pay for child care? Get a better job or don’t have kids.

Oddly, the loudest opponents in the House are a handful of angry, strident women who wrap many issues in so-called “family” terms. Their extremist ideology puts them against a government role in just about everything.

But these malcontents shouldn’t deter Little from raising both issues. The legislature in its budget setting and policy process should give both ideas consideration. They should tell the Slavery Foundation that they shape policy, not the tiny group of noisy, big-money oligarchs from out of state and their candidate puppets.

This of course will require political courage. It’s an election year and no one wants to be thrown into the maw of Wayne Hoffman’s insidious attacks. But it’s time for legislators and the public to send Hoffman and his ilk to the trash heap of Idaho political history.

On childcare, Little said he envisions support for more training for childcare workers in positions that are notoriously hard to fill. One idea he mentioned was to incentivize small businesses to work in small groups to provide quality daycare to attract young people as employees.

Again, he didn’t throw out any specifics. Those will come later as he prepares the states proposed budget for the Legislature in January.

It’s not unusual for governors to float trial balloons ideas in advance of legislative sessions, and that’s what Little is doing here. There have been other attempts to look at both issues and with the state now sitting on a solid economic future and a large surplus, it would seem the time is right to address both childcare and low-income housing.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at

I just shot him


“Oh, shit! I just shot him!”

Do you get it now? All of you who badmouth and mock the people who believe Black lives matter, do you understand why Black people are no longer staying silent and taking it on the chin? No, probably not. I don’t expect even the events of this week could move you to take a stand for Black lives.

Because I know many of you like to add an “only,” thereby completely and selfishly changing the message to one of twisted superiority, allow me to point out the statement “Black lives matter” is simply a reminder to those who need to hear it. Sadly, there are there a lot of you. So if you must add a word, please make it “too.” As in “Black lives matter, too.”

I’m not talking about an organization. When I say “Black lives matter,” I refer to what should be a universal element of human relationship — we’re all human beings so why should our worth be tied to the color of our skin? It shouldn’t, but I am ashamed so many of you retreat into that defensive white preservation posture the moment you hear someone proclaim that Black lives matter. You know what? Black lives do matter.

This week painted what may be the most vivid picture yet of exactly why some of us must take a specific stand for Black lives. When a young Black man can be “accidentally” killed by “very senior” training officer Kimberly A. Potter who is unable to tell the difference between her service weapon and her Taser, people like me get angry. The video demonstrating the panicked incompetence of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota law enforcement personnel as they fumbled about trying to arrest 20-year-old Daunte Wright was almost unbelievable, considering it took place just minutes from the courthouse holding the trial for the infamous murder of another unarmed Black man. When the world’s attention is focused on your area as it conducts the trial for the murder of George Floyd, you’d think police would be on their most professionally restrained behavior.


Was it worth it, Brooklyn Center police? Reportedly, you stopped Wright for an expired tag or the air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror but then you discovered he had a misdemeanor warrant so you decided to try to arrest him. Unfortunately, three fully-kitted Brooklyn Center police officers were unable to subdue an evidently sober, unarmed man who looked like he weighed about a hundred pounds. And when he panicked and tried to flee, you panicked and killed him.

Over a misdemeanor and an expired tag or a stupid air freshener.

I guess “law enforcement” is taken with a particularly deadly gravity in Brooklyn Center. Jaywalkers get five-to-ten, right? I know, I know, it was just an accident. Anybody could’ve done it. Sorry, but it’s not just an accident when you are given the power of life and death and you misuse that power. When I screw something up, no one dies.

If the bumbling incompetence of Minnesota’s finest hadn’t resulted in the death of yet another young Black man, it would’ve been eclipsed by the dull-witted screaming of the rubes who play police officer in Windsor, Virginia. This time, the unarmed Black man they assaulted and humiliated was as innocent as innocent gets.

Actually, innocent doesn’t do U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario justice. Nazario, who is Black and Latin, was returning from drill duties with the medical corps when Windsor police officer Joe Gutierrez and an unidentified officer had trouble seeing the temporary license paper legally and appropriately taped in the rear window of his new Chevrolet Tahoe. As a Black man who has abundant reason to be leery of law enforcement, Nazario turned on his four-way flashers and slowly drove to the closest well-lighted area, which happened to be beneath the canopy of a nearby gas station.

This caution apparently infuriated Gutierrez, who escalated a simple traffic stop — a stop initiated over no violation — into a guns-drawn felony-level stop, exactly the sort of situation Nazario was trying to avoid. Screaming at Nazario, the police officers seemed utterly out of control, a state contrasted by the very careful calm of Nazario. When a Black man who happens to be a commissioned officer in the U.S. military is treated like an animal by enraged redneck cops, it is almost physically painful to watch. That these bumpkins with guns and badges are allowed the authority of life and death over honorable men like Nazario is sickening.

“I’m honestly afraid to get out of the car,” Nazario said, his hands held up in supplication.

“Yeah,” Gutierrez shot back. “You should be.” What a professional.

“I’m serving this country and this is how I’m treated?” asked Nazario calmly. “What’s going on?”

“What’s going on is you’re fixing to ride the lightning, son,” Gutierrez screamed back.

It got worse when the out-of-control Gutierrez pepper-sprayed Nazario. I was disgusted to see these two cops acting like, well, pigs. Yes, they behaved like pigs. The calm man in the car being detained should never be the one carefully asking the police to calm down. Gutierrez and his partner unnecessarily escalated this situation to one that could easily have ended like the ones in Minnesota.

Maybe the worst part came at the end when things had calmed down and Gutierrez seemed to be having second thoughts about his awful conduct. Then, Gutierrez the pot-bellied hick had the chutzpah to lecture Nazario the dignified soldier. In a sane world, the erudite army lieutenant would’ve been lecturing the doofus cop.

The Windsor incident occurred in December 2020 but didn’t receive widespread media attention until Nazario filed suit against both officers on April 2 in U.S. District Court. Of course, Virginia’s attorney general jumped aboard the bandwagon on Monday when he announced an investigation into patterns or practices of unlawful conduct at Windsor P.D.

Like clockwork, the resignations and firings in both incidents began.

Brooklyn Center’s Potter and Chief of Police Tim Gannon have resigned. Windsor’s Gutierrez was fired but the unidentified officer with him and Chief of Police Rodney Daniel Riddle remain — many are calling for their termination. But aside from these appropriate firings and resignations, why are we hiring these people in the first place? Why aren’t we considering measures that would minimize the risk of hiring morons and, failing that, making sure they didn’t get re-hired by another jurisdiction after a previous for-cause firing?

People close to me wear badges — I am no stranger to the difficulties facing law enforcement today. It is probably the most difficult, thankless job on the planet at the moment. But I’d be naive to believe that much of law enforcement’s difficulties weren’t self-inflicted when police agencies emphasized arming over training, control over de-escalation, a sense of power over a sense of community. More broadly, waiting for the powder keg to explode before listening to the concerns of the Black community might have been the worst blunder of all.

No young Black male can be criticized for being afraid of a simple traffic stop. Not when kids can be shot for an expired tag, when a dad can be asphyxiated for a crappy misdemeanor, or a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army can be treated worse than a dog. I could list dozens of other examples.

So I ask again: do you get it now? Do you understand why Black people are angry? Do you understand why Black mothers are worried sick about their sons? No, I didn’t think so.