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What is a RINO?


This article was first published in The Hill on July 16.

This is all so confusing. Back in the 1990s, everyone sort of understood that a RINO (Republican in name only) was a “liberal”--someone who would have the temerity to favor any kind of tax. “Real” Republicans graphically demonstrated the fate of RINOs in 1992 when they helped to relieve Poppy Bush of a second term for violating his no-new-taxes pledge.

The no-new-tax pledge became Republican orthodoxy when anti-tax activist Grover Norquist descended Capitol Hill clutching a stone slab with the pledge newly inscribed in smoking letters. It was announced throughout the land that no Republican could ever thereafter support a tax increase of any nature. The slightest breach of the pledge was punishable by requiring the offender to forever bear the RINO label, making them ineligible to hold public office or to obtain discounts at Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A.

For the most part, the understanding of RINOhood remained pretty much the same until the Trump era, which has seen a substantial expansion of actions or statements that can trigger application of the label. Earlier this year, Trump called Bill Barr and Mitch McConnell “spineless RINOs” for failing to overturn the 2020 presidential election. This despite the fact that both had been slavishly loyal subjects in every other respect. Trump conferred the title on Representative Liz Cheney for her claim that Joe Biden became President on January 20. Indeed, Trump has labelled countless others as RINOs for any number of non-taxing indiscretions.

As a result of this confusion about the genus of RINO, it seemed advisable to do some research to determine exactly what makes one a member of the disfavored group. Seems the term came into use shortly after the Republican Party was formed in 1864. Starting in 1865 and continuing to the presidency of Teddy Roosevelt, “Republican in name only” was sporadically used for a variety of purposes, some disparaging and others complimentary.

Teddy Roosevelt was often called a RINO by Republicans frustrated with his work to bust trusts and other large concentrations of wealth, something that would certainly cause great consternation in the present GOP. After a lengthy dormant period, the term came roaring back during the Reagan years and has now reached its historic pinnacle.

Since the GOP still calls itself the Party of Lincoln and celebrates his birthday in Lincoln Day events throughout the month of February, Lincoln’s view of the essential tenets of his namesake party is the best yardstick to determine who is a real Republican and who is not. Lincoln’s party was formed to oppose the expansion of slavery. The other major party, the Democrat Party, split in 1860, with the southern Democrats supporting slavery and then seceding from the Union, sparking the Civil War. Lincoln supported freedom and civil rights for the slaves, while the southern Democrats supported insurrection and opposed civil rights for African slaves.

The two parties largely maintained these opposing views on civil rights for African Americans through the 1960s. During the 1970s, they began what turned out to be a fairly complete reversal of positions. Republicans eventually replaced all of the southern Democrats and many in the border or swing states. At present, Democrats support civil rights, including voting rights for people of color, while Republicans are in opposition.

As a young Senate staffer in that period, I watched the end of one era and the beginning of the other. My boss was Len Jordan, a conservative Republican Senator from Idaho. Jordan voted for the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, along with 26 of his Republican colleagues, and joined 29 other Republicans in supporting the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Senate Democrats from secessionist states opposed both bills. Jordan voted against two of President Nixon’s appointees to the Supreme Court, both of whom appeared to be hostile to civil rights. Seventeen Republican Senators opposed Clement Haynesworth and 13 voted against Harrold Carswell. The southern Democrats vigorously supported both candidates.

Before Richard Nixon’s southern strategy flipped the roles of our two major parties, the two issues that defined Lincoln’s Republican Party were (1) the recognition that Americans of African origin were entitled to freedom and civil rights and (2) opposition to insurrection. In 1861, a mob of Democrats unhappy with Lincoln’s election victory sought to break into the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the certification of electoral votes. Unlike January 6 of this year, the mob was unable to breach the Capitol, but the unhappy states then seceded and went to war with the United States. Lincoln could not have more vigorously opposed the insurrection.

Based on this history, a true Republican should be a strong supporter of civil rights and strongly opposed to insurrection. Since most present-day Republicans in Congress and many residents of secessionist states are hostile to civil rights and soft on insurrection, they are the true RINOs. So, Trump was right about Mitch being a RINO, but on different grounds. Authoritative definition established, case closed.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran, an eight-year Republican Attorney General of Idaho, a twelve-year Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, and a former Republican, often mistakenly called a RINO.

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

Our constitutional crisis


Raising the federal debt limit so our government can pay the bills it has already rung up ought to be the political equivalent of an uncontested lay-up in basketball.

Senate Republicans, willing to force the U.S. economy to the brink of insolvency and crater the recovery from a deadly pandemic by filibustering the issue, are forcing Senate Democrats to save the game by effectively making a half-court desperation shot at the buzzer.

If what nihilistic Republicans are doing weren’t so economically irresponsible, indeed potentially catastrophic, it would be cause for a laughable case of hypocritical cynicism. After all, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, the guy orchestrating this bit of potentially fatal political theater, has voted 32 times for a debt ceiling increase during his time in Washington.

There ought to be a Mt. Rushmore for cynics like the Kentucky senator, but no block of granite exists large enough to feature all the worthy cynics. (Any monument would surely have to make room for Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, a world-class enabler of federal debt with repeated votes to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthiest Americans, and one who now refuses to pay the very bills he created.)

Yet, while this cliffhanger dominates the news, underscoring how broken our politics continues to be, an existential crisis of democracy is unfolding in real time. Tragically, this crisis remains out of sight and out of mind for most Americans. Our constitutional crisis is under the daily radar screen for two reasons: Republican officeholders are ignoring it and too many Americans have grown comfortable with the undemocratic, authoritarian, insurrectionist politics of the political right.

Let’s briefly review the path to constitutional crisis:

Months before the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump began to raise doubts among his supporters that the election would be conducted fairly. Unlike any presidential candidate before, Trump said in so many words: if I lose, the election was rigged. He repeated this fable over and over – for months.

As election day drew closer, Trump ramped up the lies about election integrity, advancing bogus arguments about mail in ballots or dead people voting. On election night – trailing in key states – Trump declared victory and began turning up the heat on local election officials to find some way to turn the outcome in his favor. Trump’s pressure on election officials in Georgia is still the subject of criminal review.

Next, and in advance of state-level certification of the election, came the lies about vote counts from Pennsylvania to Arizona. Trump lawyers went to court in several states to try to stop certification, or to advance election fraud claims. In not one single case in a dozen states has any remotely creditable evidence been presented to a court supporting the former president’s case. Nothing has surfaced because there is nothing there.

Still, the lies, aided by the silence, or even worse actively abetted by Republican elected officials, took hold. Public opinion polling indicates a majority of Republicans have now bought the lies, which Trump repeated again this week.

The lies, beyond the clear damage to the legitimacy of American democracy, have had other real consequences. Election officials in numerous states have been on the receiving end of harassment and even death threats. A group of Republican crackpots in Arizona, egged on by their lying leader, convened, as the Arizona Republic reported, their “own group of fake electors who promptly voted to throw Arizona’s vote to Donald Trump? Turns out they weren’t engaged in meaningless wishful thinking or yet another wild PR stunt to play to the base. They were involved in an actual plan to stage a coup.”

We now know that Trump enlisted the help of a conservative lawyer from California to concoct a legal rationale for a coup. The theory held that then-vice president Mike Pence could, on his own motion, reject the Electoral College votes of several states that Trump lost.

The lawyer, John Eastman, met with Trump at the White House on January 5, 2021, the day before Congress was scheduled to certify, as a purely procedural matter, the presidential election.

As a violent mob chanting “hangMike Pence” attacked the Capitol on January 6th, Pence, somewhat amazingly given his fealty to Trump, followed the Constitution.

We also know that General Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, convened a meeting of his top staff in this period to remind them of the military’s duty to the Constitution. Milley also spoke with his Chinese counterpart to ensure him that the U.S. was not about to launch a war. There are other reports that Milley observed that Trump was unstable and capable of precipitating a “wag the dog” type incident to hold on to power.

The incident Trump and supporters planned for and encouraged happened, of course, on January 6th on the steps and inside the United States Capitol.

If this weren’t recent American history staring us square in the face it would be a good plot line for a second rate made for TV movie, and perhaps that is why it’s easy for some to dismiss the lying, scheming and the threats. This kind of crazy, undemocratic action just doesn’t happen in our county. Right.

But dismissal of lies about election fraud, a coup plot and a deadly insurrection is a profoundly dangerous response to this web of treason. The worst is likely yet to come. By 2024, amateurish “Stop the Steal” stunts will be professionalized. Trump will run again. The election will be close. And the reaction – almost certainly chaos and crisis.

As Robert Kagan, no squishy liberal, wrote recently in the Washington Post: “As of this spring, Republicans have proposed or passed measures in at least 16 states that would shift certain election authorities from the purview of the governor, secretary of state or other executive-branch officers to the legislature. An Arizona bill flatly states that the legislature may ‘revoke the secretary of state’s issuance or certification of a presidential elector’s certificate of election’ by a simple majority vote. Some state legislatures seek to impose criminal penalties on local election officials alleged to have committed ‘technical infractions,’ including obstructing the view of poll watchers.”

As Kagan correctly notes, many, many Trump supporters see the web he has woven “as a patriotic defense of the nation,” and therefore “there is every reason to expect more such episodes.”

Europeans all too easily slipped the bonds of democracy less than one hundred years ago to follow charismatic, authoritarian leaders into fascism and dictatorship.

It’s often said: “But, it can’t happen here.” Are you sure about that?

Better yet, what are you doing about it?

By the numbers


We know where Idaho ranks among the states in the per capita number of most cases of Covid-19 (spoiler: above the national average, though a little further from the top than some might expect).

But what about Idaho’s counties? On a per capita basis, so the large counties and small ones are fairly considered (and with a 2020 census conveniently able to help), how do they stack up for most pandemic cases and deaths?

It’s a mixed bag, and reading through lines among the 44 counties isn’t especially easy.

The caveat is this to begin with: Reporting is sometimes delayed, and sometimes more so in scattered areas. How cases are attributed to various counties can be a judgement call; on the daily lists of how many cases each county reports, the numbers sometimes have shifted downward (it happens, but not often) as a case is assigned either to another county or is designated as something non-Covid.

So which county currently has the most cases and deaths per capita?

The same one: Lewis County in north-central Idaho, small and rural, but reporting 696 cases among its population of 3,533 - or 19.7 percent, about a fifth of everyone in the county; and 17 deaths (meaning that just under half a percent of all the people in the county have died from Covid-19).

The numbers for other counties fall from there, but not drastically. The statewide average is 14.1% of all Idahoans reporting a case of Covid-19 so far (260,012 cases). Ten counties in addition to Lewis have per capita rates above the state average, and most of them are the largest counties in the state, such as Ada, Canyon, Kootenai, Bonneville,Twin Falls and Madison. (Twin Falls County ranked third, Canyon sixth, Madison seventh, Kootenai eighth.)

The local jurisdictions in those areas have been all over the map in how they have responded: whether to require masks, how well vaccination has gone, and so forth. The most logical conclusion is that Covid-19 is porous, spreading throughout areas, and spreading fastest and biggest where the population centers contain the most people. In that context, Ada County’s tenth-place ranking … could be worse. Little Lewis County’s high ranking seems a little out of place, and could be accounted for largely via a few super-spreaders.

It also helps explain the counties at the bottom of the list, the ones with the fewest cases. Rural and remote Custer County has the lowest rate in the state, though the 343 cases it has reported means that even there, eight percent of the population has reported catching Covid-19. Just eight counties reported a percentage of infection under 10 percent, and nearly all of those are low-population or far away from metro areas (Camas, Clark, Boise, Lemhi, Bear Lake, Boundary).

The death rates per capita actually do look a little different. Some of the larger counties have death rates lower than state average (Bonneville, Ada, Madison). Among the big-population Idaho counties, Twin Falls has the highest death rate (with 183 deaths, a fifth of a percent of the county’s population); but it ranks tenth highest among all 44 counties. Nez Perce, Bingham, Canyon and Kootenai bunch closely behind, however.

You may wonder whether these rankings looked different some months ago, earlier in the pandemic. They do, to an extent.

In early May, the highest-ranking county per capita for cases was one of Idaho’s larger counties, Madison (though even then it did much better by setting a lower rate on deaths; the younger college student population at Rexburg may have helped in that regard).

But Madison was an odd shifter. Most of the counties ranking high or low last spring still are ranking somewhere around the same place now.

There is also this: The per capita case rate is about twice as high at the top of the list - most-infested counties - as at the bottom. That means there’s a serious difference.

It also underscores what may be the larger point: This pandemic is everywhere, and it spreads quickly and widely. Idaho is not exempt, and neither are any of the parts of it.

A bitter pill


I yelled at the people who run my pharmacy this week. Well, it wasn’t exactly yelling but it was definitely an angry tirade. Staffing shortages have caused them to fall far behind in filling prescriptions — sometimes threatening to deny patients medications they need now. I got angry with several staffers who were doing their level best to serve me but I selfishly overlooked that detail and let loose.

I know, I know. More than once in recent months, I’ve preached patience as we navigate this part of the COVID economy. But I lost my composure and took it out on the harried staff at my pharmacy. I’m only human and I can be a not-so-nice human once in a while.

In my defense, the impetus for the event involved filling a prescription with which I’ve experienced trouble from the pharmacy before, more than once. But one of the longtime pharmacy technicians who I greatly respect took pains to calm me down and I soon realized my horrible behavior was neither appropriate nor deserved. I apologized profusely and sincerely. Most of the staff graciously accepted my remorse.

But the whole experience got me thinking.

I’ve been aware of a region-wide staffing shortage for some time. What restaurants survived the first year of COVID are now having trouble staffing to even a minimum level — many are open sporadic and unpredictable hours, as they are able to meet staffing requirements.

For months, I didn’t really think about it and believed what everyone else believed. I was vaguely convinced these personnel shortages were vestiges of COVID benefits. But when I pondered the issue, I realized many benefits ran out long ago and what’s left will stop soon. I realized the shortage is a far larger issue than unemployment benefits.

Like many people, COVID caused a major reset in my life. I lost my jobs, I lost my income and — much more happily — I lost a great deal of weight. COVID forced me to reexamine my priorities. I know I am not the only one who experienced this COVID-era phenomenon.

After talking to half a dozen people at two different local pharmacies, I discovered the staffing shortages we’re seeing everywhere are largely due to a workforce that’s tired of toiling away for near-minimum wage under the banners of companies that care far more about their shareholders than they do about the people who work the counters, generating the revenue to make the shareholders happy. When a certified pharmacy technician who’s worked for a national pharmacy chain for 15 years earns only $16 an hour — and two of her pay raises were a result of mandatory state increases in the minimum wage — it’s not difficult to imagine why she no longer wishes to work as a pharmacy tech for that employer. When I asked her if she’d ever consider going back, she said the company would have to offer her $22 to $24 per hour just to get her to consider returning. And I would wager she’d end up declining.

To be clear, I’m not spouting the popular “$15-an-hour living wage” line. As much as I like the concept, I recognize there are certain economic factors that affect wages and that it might make sense to exempt certain positions or develop a minimum scale for different parts of the workforce. Nevertheless, when employees routinely qualify for state aid as a result of their low earnings, something is broken. When retail employees cannot afford to live in an unpretentious town like McMinnville, Oregon because rents are out of their reach, perhaps we need to reexamine what we pay our workers. I, for one, could understand paying more for a hamburger, a loaf of bread or even a prescription co-pay if I knew my money supported the people who wait on me every day.

The former employer of the pharmacy tech I mentioned above generated over $6 billion in revenue in the second fiscal quarter of 2021.

My angry tirade was directed at a frazzled pharmacy staff — half the number it should be — and a pharmacist who went from being fresh out of pharmacy school to being the managing pharmacist almost overnight. Prior to the staffing shortage, this pharmacy typically filled between 300 and 500 prescriptions a day. They’re running at around only 300 now. Floor staff are filling the roles of pharmacy technicians because there are no certified technicians willing to work. This costs the pharmacy even more time as non-certified personnel require greater oversight to make sure prescriptions are being filled accurately. My ire should’ve been directed at a company that insists on offering pre-COVID wages even though it’s absolutely clear by now that no one wants to work on those terms in 2021. If you want to argue the point, I suggest you look at my pharmacy which has been running with a neophyte manager and less than half the necessary staff for going on eight months.

The realities of COVID forced a host of people to reexamine their priorities, many of them deciding the endless toil for unappreciative employers just wasn’t worth it. Now, the COVID economy and associated staffing shortages should force pharmacy chains and other large employers to reexamine the way they compensate the front-line people who gather the $6 billion-plus they reap in a quarter.

Every pharmacist and certified pharmacy technician I spoke with this week echoed one overarching complaint: they’re exhausted and they feel utterly unappreciated by their corporate employers. At the risk of sounding like a communist, it may be the American way to let the market determine factors like wages, but conversely, it’s a worker’s right to decline inadequate compensation. In the case of my pharmacy, how many more months must an exhausted skeleton staff endure? How many more months does a patient like me wonder if he can get his refill medications less than two days after he runs out? Do the pharmacy’s truncated operating hours mean anything to corporate headquarters?

At least I know they must be noticing the reduced insurance billings from lower volume — but I don’t hold a lot of hope that company managers will suddenly see the light.

I regret losing my cool at the pharmacy. The weary pharmacist, pharmacy technicians and floor staff are working full-tilt to fill prescriptions accurately in unprecedented conditions. The last thing they needed was my mis-directed rage. But I’m sure not feeling a lot of love for their employer. What will it take to get the company to offer compensation that will actually attract workers?

While we wait and wait and wait for that answer, remember to be patient and kind when you’re dealing with the people who work hard to serve you. Chances are, they’re in need of an appreciative smile.

Souza’s warning


So, you think that Idaho elections are safe and secure? Sen. Mary Souza of Coeur d’Alene disagrees – strongly enough to pursue a political career change.

The four-term Republican senator is running for secretary of state in next year’s GOP primary, and while she does not have the experience of running elections as her two opponents, she has definite thoughts about finding and fixing problems associated with Idaho’s election system.

This race is a good one. It includes Phil McGrane, perhaps the political “establishment” favorite, who is the Ada County clerk and often a media go-to source for information about elections. Chad Houck, the secretary of state’s chief deputy, knows how the office works and is looking to succeed his boss, Lawerence Denney, who is retiring. Souza is a proven conservative and strong communicator who has a message that strikes a nerve with a generous number of Republicans.

Her interest in the secretary of state’s job is not out of the blue. She told Denney about her thoughts about seeking the secretary of state’s job soon after he was re-elected three years ago; his announced retirement this year opened the door. Her skepticism about elections goes back to 2009 when observing a court case over a local election that was decided by five votes.

“I thought at the time that elections were pretty cut and dry and that we could depend on the security of elections, but this is not what came out in this court case,” she said.

And today, Souza does not buy the notion that elections in Idaho, or anywhere else, are squeaky clean. More than a few Idaho Republicans will nod their heads in agreement – especially those who think Donald Trump won the presidential race.

If Souza wins, don’t expect a push for Washington State’s style of vote-by-mail. She’ll also be on the lookout for involvement from “liberal technology companies” in elections.

“As technology changes and cultures change, we need to be update our accessibility and the way we protect our rights,” Souza told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “There are always people in other places in the world and even in our country who want to do things in a less-than-honest way to get their results.”

As for Idaho elections, she said, “We may think that Idaho is invincible when it comes to elections. We are an independent state where people have guns, are conservative and think we are great when it comes to elections.”

But she says there are vulnerabilities, more than some of Idaho’s top election officials will admit.

For instance, “Do you think we have voter ID in Idaho? We do not. If you go to the polls to vote, they will ask you for your photo ID. If you don’t have it, they will give you a piece of paper and have you sign your name, promising that you are who you say you are, and then you cast a ballot. Think of the mischief and how that can be misused … and it could be misused on a large scale,” she said.

“We need to focus attention and effort to make sure that Idaho elections are as safe and honest as they can be,” she said. “None of us knew that elections in 2020 would put this massive spotlight on secretaries of state. But if you look at polls, people are saying that election integrity is their No. 1 issue.”

Souza says there are other bugs in the election system, in addition to the flawed voter ID. Souza serves on a national panel called “Honest Elections Project,” and says she has heard horror stories about elections through swing-state legislators in the group.

“In the wake of last year’s tumultuous election, it’s clear that to preserve voters’ faith and trust in our democratic process, we must safeguard election integrity,” she said in her announcement.

During her years as a senator, Souza said she has been at the center of 13 election-related bills. Policy issues, ultimately, will remain with the Legislature if she wins the office, but she says she will work with legislators – from both houses and both parties – to shore up election laws as needed and ensure that the system is fair for all.

Her opponents may argue that elections are fair for all on the large scale and experience in running elections counts. With Souza in the mix, this campaign will not be boring.

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



A friend died a few days ago at the age of 73. Cause of death was a combination of ills of being a senior.

He was East Indian. Born in Kenya, where his father was posted in India’s diplomatic corps, though he lived much of his life in India and England. He was well-educated and was a successful businessman in England and the States. He and his wife, Nilini, raised two very successful - now adult - offspring who live overseas.

Though we met and started our friendship in Oregon, somehow, we found ourselves in Arizona years later. He, to own and operate a profitable business and me, to retire. Lived about 30 miles apart.

His name was Madhu Patel. In India, the name “Patel” is synonymous with “Smith” or “Jones” in this country. Lots of ‘em. The name originated among farmers and other agrarian folks centuries ago. I have two doctors named Patel and Barb has one. No relation.

Though Madhu was successful in business, he was a shy man. If you got to know him, he had a good sense of humor. He was honest to a fault. I found him to be a good friend. The kind of friend you could not see for months, then, when you got together, you just picked up where you left off.

So, why are we describing a man you probably never heard of? Because he lived. He was not a statistic! He was not just a number in someone’s record keeping of the comings and goings of medically-related outcomes.

Neither are the 680-thousand or so American dead. Victims of COVID. Each one a person. Each had a life that mattered to someone. Each was an individual in his/her own way. They weren’t just another digit on the national rolls of the deceased.

But, as the media reveals COVID-related deaths each day, that’s how it seems. Numbers. Statistics. Not flesh and blood. Not real.

I’d guess each of us knows someone who is/was a COVID victim. Someone who lived an otherwise “normal” life. Someone who mattered. To you. To many others. A Madhu Patel. A singular name with a real life. Someone who made a difference to others. Flesh and blood. Someone who was respected and cared about.

One thing that makes me so damned mad about the list of hundreds of thousands of COVID dead is a sizeable percentage made the list of their own volition, clinging to some excuse - some alleged “patriotism” - a resistance to authority - a loudly proclaimed “individualism.”

A bucketful of verbal B.S.!

Too often, the denier of medical science breakthroughs and qualified medical advice, becomes a statistic. Another number in the national death count. So much for denial. So much for “individualism.”

My friend, Madhu, didn’t want to die. He had family, friends, business success, a beautiful home and eventual retirement to live for. But, with the deepening physical failures caused by age, his death was inevitable. Those of us - family, employees and friends - who knew and loved him - are left to mourn. The man. Not the statistic.

So it has to be for each of the hundreds of thousands of COVID victims. Each had family. Each had friends. Each had a career. Each had aspirations for the future. I suspect none wanted to die.

Which makes the millions of voluntarily unvaccinated a mystery. Surely some have had family members or friends die. Or, knew someone who did. Surely some mourned. Have seen an unvaccinated life snuffed out. Have suffered loss.

Yet, millions of them - voluntarily unprotected - continue to cling to the denial of lifesaving science. Why do they let themselves in for hospital bills and/or burial expenses in the many thousands of dollars? Many may be forced into bankruptcy or lose their homes. And a shot that likely could have avoided all that takes only a few seconds. And it’s free!

Some deaths - like Madhu’s - can’t be avoided. They’re part of the natural cycle of life. We come. We go. And we, left behind, go on.

But, hundreds of thousands of the 690-thousand or so who suffered avoidable deaths - the agony and mourning - the high cost of life-saving medical care - the failure to recognize the dangers of turning their backs on free care that could sustain them in this COVID period - all of that could have been avoided. Except for ego. Except for vanity. Except for belief in some “invulnerable” being. Except for ..................

For Madhu, the father, brother, husband, businessman and friend, we mourn the man. The individual we knew. He didn’t die of COVID, but he'll be remembered as a person - not a number.

A vaccine mandate


“Love thy neighbor” is a bedrock tenet of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Leviticus 19:18 portrays God directly telling Moses, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Building on this theme, when Jesus was asked which of the commandments was greatest, he replied that the first and greatest commandment was an unquestioning love of God and “the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matthew 22:36-39).

Both the Jews and early Christians were periodically subjected to persecution which helped both groups to develop a strong sense of community. Neighbors deserving of love were not just the people next door but the wider community. The concept of love-thy-neighbor was to treat others of the community with love and respect to advance the well-being of everyone.

Modern religions that are prevalent in Idaho and elsewhere across the country strongly embrace this commandment. When the community is under threat, its members pull together to protect themselves and others as an act of love.

What do adherents to the love-thy-neighbor concept do when a rampaging virus is infecting the wider community and filling hospital beds and mortuaries past capacity with unvaccinated friends and neighbors? If there is an easy way to stop the disease, like getting a safe and 95% effective vaccination, the answer is obvious. But, don’t take it from me. What do our distinguished religious leaders say and do?

On the 18th of August, Pope Francis made his thoughts known on how to stop the coronavirus pandemic, calling for the world to get vaccinated. He said, “Thanks to God and to the work of many, we now have vaccines to protect us from Covid-19. The vaccines grant us the hope of ending the pandemic, but only if they are available to all and if we work together.”

The Pope based his support for universal vaccination on the love-thy-neighbor commandment. He proclaimed, “Being vaccinated is an act of love. To ensure the majority of people are vaccinated is an act of love.” He continued, “Vaccination is a simple but profound way of promoting the common good and caring for each other…I pray to God that everyone may contribute their own small grain of sand, their own small gesture of love.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also adheres to the love-thy-neighbor commandment. In his remarks to the 2014 general conference, then-President Thomas S. Monson said, “We cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.” It was no surprise, then, that on August 12, 2021, the Church’s First Presidency urged their global membership to get vaccinated and wear masks in public for the protection of everyone. They said, “we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.” They based their message on their “sincere love and great concern for all of God's children.”

A January Survey by the National Association of Evangelicals disclosed that 95% of evangelical leaders planned to get vaccinated and that 89% intended to encourage others to do likewise. They stated, “a careful look at the science behind the vaccines is convincing and the Christian ethic to love is compelling.”

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board recently announced a vaccine mandate for all of its missionaries and their children ages sixteen and above. Certainly, a matter of love.

While our being part of a society calls upon us to protect other members of the society from serious health threats like the coronavirus, regardless of our faith or lack thereof, the religious tenets of our major faiths require us to take protective steps to comply with the command to love our neighbors. Protecting others from Covid-19 infection, hospitalization or death by getting a simple vaccination is a basic responsibility of citizenship and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Ag sector steady


I attended an economic development Business Plus lunch recently at which a question was asked about the importance of agriculture to the Magic Valley and Southern Idaho economy. I’ll paraphrase the question as “shouldn’t economic development do more to encourage agricultural growth in the region?”

It’s a good point, but if you look around, there’s been a lot of support for agricultural processing across the Magic Valley in recent years. Processing plants for milk and dairy products are common, and our potato processing industry and sugar beet processing continue apace. Additional new startups, such as a hemp manufacturing facility for insulation, are on the horizon. So is a cattle processing facility.

Economic development efforts traditionally focus on manufacturing, tourism, hospitality, sometimes on retail and employment sectors like call centers. These tend to get the most press coverage, because they’re easy to spot and everyone drives by them, even journalists.

Often overlooked are the day-to-day sectors which maintain and drive our local economics. Those trucks out on the highway, combines and corn pickers working the fields, the cattle yards taking in hay and shipping cows to market may not be as visible as the new hotel, but collectively, they carry the bulk of Southern Idaho’s economy.

We’re an agricultural valley, and in many ways that shapes our quality of life and our economy. Economists sometimes referred to concentrations of industries near their sources as a form of “economic geography.” Who would have imagined it, but seafood processing plants are often near oceans, or spring waters for trout as in the Magic Valley. Tourist towns like Ketchum are usually near good recreational amenities including mountains and hiking and skiing.

Here, one of the real pluses of the region is the diversified economic base. We have strong sectors in healthcare, specialized manufacturing, food processing, and an agricultural production sector with many components. It’s an enviable balance that many communities would love to show.

Almost anywhere you look you can see examples of agricultural innovation. This past month, for example, a new intermodal truck-to-rail transfer facility opened Pocatello. This allows Southern and Eastern Idaho products like hay to be loaded onto railcars in containerized volume and shipped to Asia from West Coast ports. So the cows being raised and fed in Korea and China are munching on alfalfa grown throughout the Idaho region. How amazing is that?

Just this past month, a new startup processing plant for industrial hemp was announced for Jerome County. It’s a new product that adds diversity to farm rotations in a new insulating material for construction. This hemp isn’t what you’re thinking. It’s not for smoking. It’s for insulation in homes and other buildings. (TN, 9/22)

Meanwhile, a new agricultural research center is being developed in the dairy sector. The CAFÉ project will have a dairy farm in Minidoka County, a visitor center at Crossroads Ranch in Jerome County, and a university-led research component at the College of Southern Idaho. Funded by private contributions as well as state money, the intent is to lead the next generation of dairy research, in both nutrition and waste management.

The UI announced this past week that the 2,000-cow research dairy is on track to open in 2023 and will utilize a $2 million, 60-cow DeLaval rotary milking platform, with state-of-the art equipment. (UI Ag, 9/22).

Overall, the local agricultural sector with its diversified crop base came through the pandemic party well. Yields were off due to the hot summer, but prices were pretty good and most farmers came through. We agricultural states in the nation and certainly in the West have once again shown resiliency by focusing on the basics: plant, grow, process, sell and transport.

Everybody today knows today how important the dairy sector is to Southern Idaho. The growth of just that one sector over the past 30 years has been truly phenomenal. In 1990, alfalfa was about a $50 million per year crop.

Today, it’s a leading crop with a value of over $1 billion. Most of that due to the demand for alfalfa hay as a dairy food. That in turn has given us the dairy sector with value of over $2 billion, much of which is generated in the region.

And that’s not overlook important sectors like cattle, potatoes, sugar beets, beans, barley, wheat, and aquaculture, each of which adds tens of millions of dollars in production and processing. You’d be hard-pressed to find any region of the country with this diversified agricultural profile.

Sure, razzmatazz visible projects like housing development, hotels, new store openings and so forth always generate headlines, but when was the last time you saw a large headline on Idaho’s wheat production, dairy industry or sugar beet processing?

As William Jennings Bryan once said, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” True enough. True enough.

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