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Veterans Day


Veterans Day, November 11, is a time for Americans to honor and thank those who have stepped forward to serve this great country. It is also appropriate to consider what veterans might hope to be the common good resulting from their service. Although I would not pretend to speak for all veterans, I believe that most would like to think their service helped to bring the nation together in fellowship and common purpose.

Although I was just three years old when the Second World War ended, I have fond memories of those post-war years. The people of the country had worked together as one to defeat the Axis Powers and save the world from tyranny. Throughout the 1950s, I remember having great pride in the country and thinking there was nothing the United States of America could not do. The idea of being part of a unified, winning team was exhilarating and gave promise of a bright future.

The Korean War was just a blip on the radar for most of us, but for those who served in that war it was close to the definition of hell--vicious cold, savage combat, human wave assaults. The veterans of that conflict never got their due from their countrymen, partly because people had a difficult time understanding what it was all about and partly because of its stalemated ending. Even though the public only gave it tepid support, it was not all that divisive on the home front.

Vietnam was an altogether different story, eventually causing divisions across the country rivaling or exceeding those of the present day. When I entered service in November 1967, the country was generally supportive of the war. The surprising Tet Offensive in early 1968 changed that, because its scope did not line up with rosy assessments coming from the government.

I arrived in South Vietnam in July 1968 just as the national consensus was starting to unravel. When I arrived home at the end of August 1969, conflict over the war was at fever pitch and it only got worse during the next three years. I worked for Idaho’s former Senator Len Jordan during those years and had a front row seat as his point man on Vietnam--the one who met with the thousands of mostly young people roaming Capitol Hill in hopes of influencing Vietnam policy.

The war ended in February 1973, but the social unrest and distrust of government it caused lived on for many years. Because of that, plus economic and racial strife resulting from our failure to address inequalities in our society, we have never achieved the consensus and common purpose that came with the conclusion of WWII. We came close for a while following the 9-11 attacks, but that did not last long. At this time in our history, we are more divided than at any time since WWII, with the possible exception of Vietnam.

From the standpoint of one of the millions who have served in the nation’s armed forces, what I would most like to see is a nation at peace with itself, much like the nation that returning WWII veterans found. If those who serve the country can work together in common purpose to fight an enemy on foreign soil, can’t veterans expect their countrymen to work harder to achieve unity on the home front?

Please have a thoughtful day of reflection this Veterans Day and be sure to thank our veterans for their service.

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran.

Oregon’s measure maps


Those partisan maps we see after election day - showing who prevailed in which jurisdiction (usually state or county) - mesmerizing, and useful - to a point. But seeing several of them in sequence often tells us much more than a single one will.

For example, the map atop this column shows the Oregon results in the presidential race this year. You won't have to strain to quickly grasp that the gray counties were those won by Democrat Joe Biden, who took 56.5% of the vote, and the reddish counties went to Republican Donald Trump. There were no great shocks here and few even modest surprises (the pattern is very similar to recent elections), though someone unfamiliar with Oregon's population patterns might be struck by Biden winning the state decisively but just a quarter of the state's counties. The clued-in would know that the bulk of the state's population lives in those counties.

(Of particular note: The strong Biden vote in Deschutes County - Bend - which has a long-standing Republican tradition but has been shifting blue in recent cycles; it may be completing that transition.)

The pattern is very similar to that for Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley, who won a similar percentage of the vote but a few more counties. All of those county town halls may have given him a little stronger base in some smaller competitive counties.

But let's move over to the ballot issues, where things look a little different.

They look a lot different in the case of Measure 107, a constitutional amendment aimed at tightening Oregon's awfully loose rules on campaign finance contributions and reporting. It passed overwhelmingly, with 78.3% of the vote, but strikingly also classed in every Oregon county. Nowhere was the vote even close. Apparently we can agree on some things.

Three measures on the ballot concerned the legal status and tax revenues on controlled substances: 108 increased (considerably cigarette taxes and imposed restrictions on vaping; 109 allows medically supervised use of psilocybin ("magic mushrooms"); and 110 greatly reduced penalties for small-quantity possession of most still-illegal drugs (including heroin and meth) and redirection much of the marijuana tax revenue toward drug addiction treatment. All were appeared to be highly controversial and none seemed guaranteed of passage. But all of them did, by decisive margins (a landslide in the case of 108).

On a county level, the votes for the latter two drug measures tracked fairly closely the presidential vote; most of the Biden counties also voted for those measures. But some interesting additions also appeared. Curry County in the far southwest, now a Republican county which went for Trump, voted for all three of the ballot issues. And so did two politically marginal counties - Jackson (Medford) and Wasco (The Dalles) which this time voted narrowly for Trump. These are counties on the borderline.

The comparisons are noteworthy. And then we can get into the precincts ...

Moo … moo … that strange noise …


This is a guest opinion from 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 is the author of two new books on Southern Idaho, "Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” and “Spirit of Place: Southern Idaho Values Across Generations.” He can be reached at

Don’t have a fit, Idahoans. Oregon counties aren’t going to join Idaho any time soon. And keep in mind, we don’t have to take ‘em. So don’t worry about being overrun with ANTIFAs or BLM rioters from Portland, or tree-huggers from Eugene or identity-correct politicos from Salem.

Still, the voters in two Oregon counties last week said they are at least open to a discussion about joining Idaho.

One is Union County, of which La Grande is the county seat. It’s just one county West of the Oregon-Idaho border. Jefferson County, north of Bend, is further away from Idaho. Two other counties, Wallowa and Douglas, turned down similar proposals, but the margins weren’t great. (Oregonian, 11/4). Wallowa County’s vote was just under 50 percent.

Both counties approving the “Join Idaho” debate are rural. Union County has about 27,000 population, half of which is in La Grande, where Eastern Oregon University is located. Jefferson County, (pop. 25,000 est.) is in the central part of the state, with Madras the county seat. As with the others, its economy is heavily reliant on agricultural, although its proximity to nearby Bend has brought in more recreation and tourism.

Both counties are heavily Republican. On Nov. 3, Donald Trump won 60 percent in Jefferson County, and 69 percent in Union County. (Oregon Sec. of State, 2020.) Both counties are also on the “Eastern” side of the state, which leaves them disadvantaged on many points of Oregon liberal/Democratic politics, but more in tune with Idaho’s. That appears to be at least one consideration in the “Join Idaho” vote.

But before we welcome them, it’s still a long shot, with lots of considerations ahead. The Oregon “Join Idaho” group is planning its petition drive in 11 additional counties for 2021. These pulse-takings advisory votes are good as they’ll show whether the idea has any legs politically.

Were they to pass at the county level, subsequent formal efforts in both states’ legislatures would be needed, as well as in the US Congress. Republicans seem most likely in favor, in this era of contested presidential elections. Democrats, not so much.

The last time a state separated was in1863 during the Civil War when North-leaning West Virginia left tidewater, pro-South Virginia, which had already joined the Confederacy.

Then there’s the question as to what a newly-configured “Greater Idaho” would look like. The “Join Idaho” group envisions a large swath of Eastern and Southern Oregon to join Idaho, which would add some ocean-front counties and communities like Coos Bay, but avoids the Portland area, Eugene and Salem. The proposed maps show 22 Oregon Counties which constitute a good deal of the state’s agricultural and forest lands. The total population would be at least several hundred thousand new “Idaho” residents.

That, in turn, would affect Idaho’s current governmental structure, plus a wide range of Idaho state services, including funding, educational institutions. on and on. For example, would Eastern Oregon University become Idaho’s fifth four-year public university, and what’s the impact on Idaho universities, such as Idaho State University in Pocatello? Idaho isn’t exactly flush with cash for higher education; adding more institutions won’t likely be met with universal approval.

The same question could be asked of the Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, which already has an outreach center in Caldwell. How would TVCC be integrated into Idaho’s community college system, which includes the College of Southern Idaho?

And those are the easy questions. What about state public lands, federally-managed BLM land and national forests? Or taxes? Idaho is generally more conservative, more prudent on spending and generally more so on social issues.

At least the good folks in Union and Jefferson Counties have seen cows before.

A recent survey found a third of young people across America (33%) had never seen a cow. Think about that. Never seen a cow? One-third of young people in the country have never seen one. They must be talking about Portlandians. (Fox, 11/7).

An appreciation of rural America is a prevalent feature in the two counties. That’s surely a plus. and that’s what behind the “Join Idaho” movement. That’s led to public discussion of an idea that isn’t as bizarre as it may have once sounded.

America is changing in many ways and polarization across the nation is evident in many aspects of life. Urban folks often don’t know much about life in rural America. But at least Idaho young people can identify creatures which go Mooo…mooo.

Joe and Jill


“Today marks the beginning of the post-Trump era in American politics. To the extent that he still has political currency, it dwindles every day as Jan. 20, 2021 draws closer. Members of his own party are already suggesting his time is up. His staff is looking for new jobs. Markets are looking up, and analysts say it’s because of the expected calm in U.S. politics. In the U.K., government officials are now saying the Trump era was not good for them, and they vow to forge a good relationship with Joe Biden.”

“Around the world and at home, Trump has been written off.”

Many political consultants, journalists, students of how campaigns win and lose – political junkies in other words – consider the late Richard Ben Cramer’s book What It Takes: The Way to the White House to be the very best single book about the meat grinder we put people through who aspire to the highest office in the land.

Cramer’s celebrated volume – I’ve written about it before – is a doorstop of a book, ringing in at 1,047 pages even without an index and footnotes. It’s a classic of what was once called “the new journalism,” the kind of reporting that gets to the granular detail of candidates and campaigns. The book still inspires writers of political history.

Cramer’s focus was on six men who ran for president in 1988: two Republicans, Bob Dole and George H.W. Bush and four Democrats, Richard Gephardt, Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis and, yes, Joe Biden.

I took down my well-thumbed copy of What It Takes on Saturday night shortly after Biden made the speech he’s been hoping to make since at least 1988. I wanted to revisit Cramer’s insights into Biden, and particularly a concise little section of the book that deals with the Biden marriage. It seemed especially relevant given what Biden said in his “victory” speech about his wife Jill.

“Folks, as I said many times before, I’m Jill’s husband,” Biden said to the raucous crowd assembled in Wilmington, Delaware on November 7. “And I would not be here without the love and tireless support of Jill and my son Hunter and Ashley, my daughter, and all our grandchildren and their spouses and all our family. They’re my heart. Jill’s a mom, a military mom, an educator.

“And she has dedicated her life to education, but teaching isn’t just what she does. It’s who she is. For American educators, this is a great day for y’all. You’re gonna have one of your own in the White House. And Jill’s gonna make a great first lady. I’m so proud of her.”

Most everyone who has been paying attention knows that just before Christmas 1972 Biden’s first wife, Neilia, died in an automobile accident along with the couple’s daughter, Naomi. The two Biden sons were seriously injured but survived. Biden had just been elected to the United States Senate and, not surprisingly, the tragedy, as he would say years later, altered his world forever.

Whatever your politics, I defy you to read the chapter in Richard Ben Cramer’s book – he titled it simply “Jill” – and not get a little misty. It starts on page 712 and ends on 714. The punctuation is unusual, signaling pauses and reflection, more like someone speaking than writing, which is perhaps why Cramer’s descriptions ring so true.

“It was a couple of years after Neilia died,” Cramer wrote, “before Joe ever got himself back. Not that he was a basket case. Thirty-two years old, a Senator, rising star in the Party…that was fine.” But, as Cramer put it, there was “a hole in his life.”

People encouraged him to go out, meet other people, but Biden insisted on being a father first…and last. Being a politician was just his day job.

“He tried to go out, tentatively…it was hard. In Washington, he felt…well he had to go home. In Delaware, it was almost too close. Everybody knew, or thought they knew. Not to mention, all those eager …well, Mrs. Johnson thought her daughter would make a perfect match for a Senator…”

Meeting Jill Jacobs – she was 24 years old teacher – was a serendipitous thing. Joe saw a photo of her – “she was blond, young, smiling…she was gorgeous.” Biden’s brother “knew someone who knew her” and got Joe her number. He called her. She broke a date to see him for dinner. Biden showed up in a suit, bought dinner and afterward escorted her to the door and they shook hands.

“She hadn’t gone out with a guy in a suit for – probably since high school.” And Jill told her Mom: “My God, I think I finally met a gentleman.”

After the second date, “he called and told her he didn’t think they should date anyone else…after two dates! Then he wanted to bring the boys. Then he wanted to take her out with the family, the brothers, Val [Biden’s sister], his folks…that’s where Jill held back. She didn’t want to get involved with the family, to feel she was under inspection. Only later she figured out: Joe didn’t want an inspection. It wasn’t any special trip for here to meet the family. The family was how ‘we Bidens’ lived.”

Cramer’s description of Jill Biden: “She could talk with anyone. Not that she believed everyone. No, she believed what she believed. She had backbone. She was private – Joe liked that, her cool way of hiding the girl inside, and the old hurts…he could see that. She had that way of looking at you, to make sure you meant what she thought was so funny…and then that quick shy smile, half-doubting – she could sniff out bullshit. She’d tell him, too – especially when it was his bullshit – she’d tell him straight. Very soft of manner was Jill, but smart: she knew who she liked.”

Cramer goes on: “She could do it…he could see it…and when that started, well, he could see things falling into place. If he could put that back together, if he knew they’d have their home, their family…then he could reach outward again. It wasn’t just the schedule – he could travel, he could speak. It was more like the center was in place…so he could lift his eyes. That’s how Joe talked about it – his words.

“What Jill did…she was the one who let me dream again.”


A lot of ink will be spilled over the next weeks and months analyzing why Joe Biden won and Donald Trump lost the presidential election of 2020. Clearly, the president of the United States tried to employ the same fundamental strategy he used against his Republican opponents in 2016 and then against Hillary Clinton.

It wasn’t subtle. He sought to demonize Joe Biden. But it didn’t work. And the election, as it should have been, became largely a referendum on Donald Trump’s chaotic, shambolic, demagogic four years in office.

I think the demonizing strategy didn’t work because Joe Biden, even with his penchant for verbal gaffes, his occasional odd turn of phrase, his 47 years in public life, is fundamentally what you see: a very decent guy who loves his wife, adores his family and really cares about the country. Is he perfect? Of course not. We don’t get perfect in politics or anything for that matter, but we can choose character and experience. And we did.

It’s odd to me, as the political scientist Larry Sabato says, that politics in the only place in our society where we disparage experience. If we ever have needed someone who displays fundamental competence, we need it now. If we ever need someone who can summon our better angels and who can comfortably quote scripture because he actually believes it, we need it now.

Are there big challenges ahead? Of course. Biden will assume the most impossible job in the world saddled with the most difficult problems encountered by any American president since at least 1932. But, you know, America is a lucky place. We usually get what we deserve.

The United States took a wild and dangerous four-year swing in an anti-democratic direction, embracing a man almost wholly lacking in character, self-reflection, decency and competence. We self-corrected. In the process we may well have gotten the one person who has a chance to lead us to better days.

Jill Biden made the right call all those years ago. Millions of Americans affirmed her decision on November 3rd.

A story in the numbers


The canvass isn’t done and numbers still are being tallied, in Idaho as almost everywhere else in the country, but this much is clear: Voter turnout was up in last week’s general election compared to four years ago.

There are also other comparisons worth pointing out before we leave the details behind.

To begin, the most current estimate of Idaho votes - in the presidential race; it was lower (as usual) in some others - was 867,250 for this year. Four years ago, the total was 690,655 - an increase of 25.6 percent, considerably more than population increase would have accounted for. In this, Idaho generally was in line with the national trend.

You can also compare the vote received then and now by Republican Donald Trump: 409,055 in 2016, and 554,018 this year, an increase of 35.5 percent, which indicates he overperformed. That may be a reasonable way to look at it; but if you look at it as a matter of Republican support, a reasonable approach might be to enter in the votes cast in 2016 for Evan McMullin, an independent but generally Republican candidate; his share of the vote plus Trump’s was 65.9 percent, while the Trump vote (with no McMullin to contend with) was 63.9 percent this year.

A correspondent also pointed out a small change in the gap between Trump and his Democratic opponents, 31.7 percent last time, and 30.7 percent this time.

He also pointed out a few other subtle aspects to the presidential vote in Ada County, noting that Democrat Joe Biden “closed the gap in Ada County by a very significant margin: Trump won by 9.2% in 2016, and only 3.9% in 2020. The vote in Ada became more Democratic: 38.7% in 2016 and 46.4% in 2020. Biden also grew his vote more than Trump (and by a large margin). Statewide, Trump increased his vote by 34.1% and Biden by 51.2%. This was even more pronounced in Ada where Trump’s vote grew by 39.4% and Biden by 59%.”

This is a difference only at the margins, of course, and doesn’t provide a trajectory line away from a Republican Idaho win in 2024. Idaho has gone Republican in every presidential election since 1964; the end of that streak is not immediately in sight, and a political earthquake would be needed to upend that.

That doesn’t mean these numbers are irrelevant, though.

In Ada County, the presidential results in 2016 were Trump 47.9 percent and Democrat Hillary Clinton 38.7 percent; this year, that went to Trump 50.3 percent and Biden 46.4 percent; considering the absence of a McMullin factor, that shows more growth on the Democratic side.

One of the most notable Idaho contests this cycle - maybe the most notable - was the Ada County District 1 commission race between incumbent Democrat Diana Lachiondo and Republican Ryan Davidson; Davidson won, narrowly, 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent. It was a close race, and the big increase in turnout doubtless had some effect on it.

But about this, my correspondent also suggests, “Lachiondo got more votes than Biden, and Davidson got less votes than Trump. 9,616 didn’t cast a vote in the race (but did vote for President). This exceeded the margin in the race. It looks to me that there were many new voters coming out for Biden, but they weren’t necessarily informed about down ballot races (or didn’t feel motivated to vote in local races).”

Of course, not everyone who failed to vote for commissioner but did vote for president would necessarily have voted Democratic.

But a close look at the voting does suggest some fluidity at the margins of Idaho’s voting patterns - not everywhere, but in some places, and notably in Ada County.

It’s not all carved in stone.

Ben and Jim say Trump won’t win


This column was co-written with former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.

It is unclear why Donald Trump is claiming he will win another term as President of the United States. What is crystal clear is that he has zero chance of being re-elected. It is all a matter of simple math. It would be nigh unto impossible for Trump to flip any one of the critical states. To win, he would have to flip more than one state.

Trump has variously identified Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona, Nevada, Wisconsin and Michigan as states that could go his way. As of November 14, Joe Biden led in all of those states by virtually unflippable margins: Pennsylvania—53,139 votes; Georgia--14,057 votes; Arizona—11,635 votes; Nevada--36,870 votes; Wisconsin--20,540 votes; and Michigan--146,123 votes.

Trump is certainly entitled to seek a recount under the rules of any of those states and, in fact, a hand recount has been ordered in Georgia. However, the outcome in each of those states is extremely unlikely to change in an election recount.

The two of us have had experience in recounts in Idaho for a number of years. The Attorney General’s office oversees a recount with the assistance of the Secretary of State’s office. Our experience is that only a handful of votes will change in a recount. The vote margins in each of the states identified by Trump are simply too large to flip (although there are still some votes to count in Arizona and the margin there might shrink some more).

Neither is litigation likely to cause a change in the outcome of any of the six states. There would have to be competent evidence presented to a court to disqualify enough votes to change the state outcome. Thus far, no such evidence has been identified by the Trump forces. Rather, a survey of state election officials indicates that the election was properly conducted across the country and virtually free of problems or legitimate concerns. As a nation, we should thank the election officials and workers who carried out such a monumental undertaking under risky circumstances.

Assume for the sake of argument that irregularities of great magnitude could be proven in one of the states. That would not change the outcome of the election. There would have to be convincing evidence of substantial irregularities in other states in order to change the election outcome. That is because Biden has several routes to the presidency.

Say that 50,000 or so votes in Pennsylvania could be disqualified by convincing evidence in court proceedings, Biden would still have enough Electoral College votes to win. It could be a combination of any two of Georgia, Arizona and Nevada. Trump would have to disqualify sufficient votes in at least one more state in order to change the election outcome. This is not a case like Bush v. Gore 20 years ago where the winner of the race was decided on an extremely close vote in just one state.

In light of the impossibility of proving irregularities sufficient to flip the election, Trump should accept the time-honored tradition of transitioning the government to the winning candidate. Instead of pouting and fuming in the White House, Trump should be trying to address critical problems in the country, like doing something, anything, to try to tamp down the Covid-19 pandemic, which has spun out of control on his watch.

Our adversaries are watching the dysfunction of our government and may well be tempted to take advantage. The winning team has expressed a desire to come together for the well-being of the country and it is time for the losing team to get on board. Meritless election posturing only hurts the country.

Jim Jones served as Idaho Attorney General from 1983 to 1991. Ben Ysursa served as Idaho Secretary of State from 2003 to 2015. He previously served as Chief Deputy in the office from 1976 to 2003.

Fix it


When one of my old trucks start to fail, I always have to decide, is it worth fixing? Sometimes it is; sometimes it just ought to be junked. I tend to be a fixer, but I have junked one. The rust won. It was the right thing to do.

We are about there with the ACA. President-elect Biden campaigned on fixing it, not buying a brand-new model (Medicare for all). Trump campaigned on everybody having the kind of insurance and treatment he got for his Covid infection. Oops, he never said that. Actually, there has been little proposed on health care from the National Republican Party, except: “Repeal Obamacare!”

Tuesday, November 10th, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about junking the ACA. Some states and the Federal Government want it declared unconstitutional. Some states are defending it.

The arguments are long and complicated, and the path to this situation has been tortuous. The ACA passed congress without a single Republican vote. It was upheld by SCOTUS as constitutional (5-4) at the first lawsuit in 2012. The individual mandate was called a “tax”, thus within congresses power to levy.

Then, after Trump got elected and the Republicans had control of the Senate and the House they tried to pass a replacement, but couldn’t. Instead they zeroed out the individual mandate “tax”. This gave room for states to sue that the law was now unconstitutional. Since the Trump administration supports the repeal it couldn’t get done in congress, they have joined the states in the lawsuit. The Federal Government is asking the court to repeal a law it couldn’t do through legislation. Isn’t this the kind of thing “originalists” don’t want from court decisions?

I’m on the fence with this one. It’s like both the transmission and engine are bad, but I can’t afford a brand new one.

The ACA tried to work within our current health care insurance model. It tried to make companies offer comparable plans, establish a floor for minimum coverage, not exclude people for preexisting conditions, get young people enrolled on their parents plans and a thousand other things. But each of these market manipulations required attention. If the individual marketplaces (exchanges) weren’t working right, they needed tweaking. If the costs of policies rose to be unaffordable, the supports to the insurance providers needed to increase. And for over ten years now there has been no attention to maintenance. No point putting in a new engine if you don’t plan to change the oil.

All these complicated rules, and more: the plan as originally passed was supposed to be cost neutral. But since it’s passage, most of the tax increases (medical device, Cadillac plans) that helped pay for the savings have been repealed.

If we had a functioning congress, one where both parties accepted that this is a problem to solve, not use for political gain, there might be hope. I thought when Romney got the Republican nomination he would change the conversation, since the model for the ACA is based on the program he got passed in Massachusetts when he was governor. But no, he couldn’t talk about healthcare either. Have we poisoned this issue?

So now we will have a Supreme Court with three justices nominated by this administration deciding whether to keep the engine, replace the transmission, or in fact tow it to the junkyard. Heck, they could just wash and wax and call it good. Who knows? It’s just amazing to me, that as an engaged electorate, we have let this happen.

Most who look at this pending case agree that if the whole law is found unconstitutional, the effect will be very broad and profound. The health insurance market will be scrambling, people will lose health insurance, and the disruption will be explosive. Maybe then we will be able to talk about a solution. But we need to fix it or junk it.

More action, less rancor


Just what we need in 2020, a disputed presidential election that pushed an already-angry nation to the brink of frustration in the days after the election. And with legal challenges mounting, it’s far from being settled.
Joe Biden is the president-elect, winning the electoral and popular votes, yet President Trump and his team of lawyers will claim that the election was stolen. And there is no shortage of Idahoans who will agree that the election was rigged in favor of the former vice president. Hundreds of Trump supporters gathered in Boise for a “stop the steal” rally moments after Biden was declared the winner.

Just when you thought nothing else could possibly go wrong in 2020 …
But while Election Day presented mass confusion, there was some clarity on the congressional side. Democrats will retain its majority in the House of Representatives and chances are reasonably good that Republicans will hold onto the Senate. So, brace yourselves for more partisan fights between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell – two tired old faces who look as though they should be spending their time playing dominos at a senior center instead of managing congressional gridlock.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, fresh from winning election to a 12th term, would like to see some attitudes change in Washington – starting with less partisanship.

“If you are talking about what the public wants, then yeah. The public would like to see us do our jobs in a less partisan way,” Simpson says. “There are extremes on both sides. The Democratic Party has pulled Speaker Pelosi and its conference so far to the left that it is almost unrecognizable. It’s the same thing that happened to Republicans several years ago when the tea party became very active. They pulled Republicans so far to the right that it made it difficult for us to win elections. We need to get back to working together. That’s how you get things done. Anything that has been passed and sustained has been done on a bipartisan basis.”

Simpson has expertise in that area. He has championed the Great American Outdoors Act and the Boulder White Clouds bill that produced new wilderness areas for Idaho – two tough measures for any Republican to tackle. His next big venture could be salmon recovery, an issue that has long separated Republicans and Democrats. Simpson would be a lead player in finding a middle ground, the kind of role he relishes.

He is a senior member of Appropriations, one of the least partisan committees on Capitol Hill. Priorities vary, depending on party control, but minority wishes are not ignored.

“We work pretty well across the board,” Simpson says. “It broke down the last session when we had drafted all our bills and were ready to put them through to the full committee. Speaker Pelosi came in and added hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending in each bill and never told Republicans. But that was the speaker directing it, and not members of the committee. Hopefully, it gets back to more of a bipartisan effort.”

Simpson’s immediate plans include working with administration officials for continued growth at the Idaho National Laboratory and the Interior secretary to ensure that the outdoors act is implemented as intended. On those issues, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the Oval Office.

It’s tough to feel good about things politically, given the nation’s unsettled climate. But in talking with Simpson, maybe there is a ray of hope.

“I am optimistic regardless of who is president,” he said. “It’s obvious that the country is divided and it’s reflected in Congress. In spite of that, the American people want us to work together. Hopefully, the leadership will allow us to work together – not as Republicans and Democrats, but as representatives of this country trying to solve problems.”

Those are good thoughts, for sure. Now, all that’s needed is to convince Pelosi and McConnell to leave politics and take up dominos.

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

So …


O.K. We have a new president. What now?

A long, bruising, nasty campaign. An over-long “birthing” process to name the winner. Now, that winner can walk down the street, knowing nearly every other person he passes voted against him. A terrible feeling, I’d guess. It also sets the stage for a continuance of the animosities we’ve been living with.

I’m not sure we’ve won a lot. Yes, we ended the reign of a corrupt immoral, evil man. He now faces the likelihood of years of legal problems with a very real possibility of prison somewhere along the way. Unlike you or I, his future is not his to control. For the first time in his misbegotten life.

If we’ve “won” anything, it’s that we’ve pulled the nation back from the brink of institutional collapse. No president in our long history has done so much to sow distrust, hate, sorrow and division as the guy about to exit, stage right. The wreckage he leaves behind is a once-proud nation that’s been divided into political and economic communities, each with little seeming regard for the other.

Our new chief executive faces an almost certain future of stalemate, distrust, animosity in a terribly divided Congress. Though he’s known as an achiever, getting disagreeing factions to work together, he faces a Senate Majority Leader who may be the most intransigent politician in modern time.

Given his age, Mitch McConnell’s re-election this month will certainly be his last “hurrah.” So, he settles into his accustomed role with nothing to lose. On the personal side, he’s a multi-millionaire. In his legislative role, his power is reliable and certain. He can push the legislative envelope on all sides without personal or political repercussion. And, I’ll bet he does.

If there is any sunlight in the expected undertaking to rebuild trust and reliance in our nation’s governance, it may boil down to this. The president and his party control two-thirds of the legislative machinery. With that power in his pocket, the new president, known for his “working-across-the-aisle” abilities, may have to deal only with the Senate Majority Leader. If they can generate a relationship of comity, of trust, of acknowledgment of their long histories in politics, it may be possible to achieve a balance of power.

Such an understanding is absolutely necessary if there’s to be achievement in the next four years. Without it, we face stalemate, division, continuing mistrust and a “no man’s land” where nothing is done, charges and counter-charges being the norm and the needs of the people go unmet.

A relationship of trust. between just those two men, may make possible a regeneration of confidence and solidarity this nation so badly needs. We’ll see.

And our new vice president? What of her? What’s to be her role?

This new president comes to the office with impeccable credentials in foreign relations, which is, after all, the primary role of any president. Because his predecessor had no such skills, there’s a lot of building and fence-mending to be done with other nations. The new guy has unimpeachable personal knowledge of nearly all of his counterparts and can call many of them by their first names. This is his “long suit.”

So, it would seem the primary job description for the new lady down the hall would largely encompass legislative relations. She, too, knows the majority leader very well. She, too, is something of a peacemaker. She, too, has the political chops and a record of being a negotiator, albeit a tough one who has the necessary teeth to get a job done.

If she, also, can develop a relationship of trust and respect with the majority leader, provide the necessary give-and-take required of successful politicians, the chances of stalemate and division are much, much less. Her importance in that role can not be overstated.

While the nation is deeply divided, as shown in the election, there are many who want healing - want to end disagreement and discord. We have, among us, peacemakers. People of all stripes who want cohesion and peace. Blessed is their tribe and may their numbers increase.

Significant change may not be ours in the short term. Much work has to be done to clear away the wreckage to restore normalcy.

But, a year or so down the road, when naysayers see a Democrat in the White House doesn’t automatically mean vast socialism, doesn’t mean lawlessness or pose challenges to individual rights, I’d guess things will settle down a bit.

Many folks who voted for the loser did so out of fright, frustration and believing a faithless, totally dishonest political derelict. His presence - his scent - must be overcome. Quickly.

A lie - often a single lie - can destroy a previously trusting relationship. It will take some time to rebuild faith. Time to reach out. Time to welcome. Time to bring us together.

Some will refuse to participate - to rejoin - to reunite. They will continue the old ways of listening to false prophets - following false paths - stoking their anger. They’ll always be there.

But, for the rest of us, there is reason to hope again - to belong again - to enlarge the community of the willing. And to trust.