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Posts published in May 2018

Foreign policy by Larry, Curly and Moe


It was never certain that Kim Jong-un was going to make any meaningful concessions in the ill-fated nuclear negotiations. What was clear to any reasonably-informed observer was that Kim was not going to give up his nuclear weapons. He would have been an absolute fool to do so. Kim may be a lot of loathsome things but he does not appear to be a fool.

People may recall that President George W. Bush labeled North Korea as part of the Axis of Evil in January of 2002, along with Iran and Iraq. The following year, Iraq was invaded and Saddam Hussein was deposed on the pretext that he had a nuclear weapons program. He had no such program, but his demise seems to have spurred the other two members of the evil trio to shift their nuclear programs into high gear. One could not fault them for thinking they might be safe from regime change if they actually possessed a working atomic bomb. Saddam’s fate had to be a stark warning to Kim’s daddy.

If one studies the Kim family you learn that they are tyrannical cut-throats. More importantly, they rarely keep their word. Over the years, American Presidents have negotiated deals with them that the Kims had no intention of keeping. Even with that history, our current President characterized young Kim as a good person who could be trusted, giving him credibility and stature on the world stage.

When Kim suggested a summit to talk about resolving the nuclear issue, our President jumped at the bait without giving it a second thought. Going head-to-head at a summit with the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth was a long-cherished dream of the Kim family. They had finally made the big time and got it without having to give a thing in return.

With the President’s head filled with visions of a Nobel Peace Prize, Kim knew he had him where he wanted him. The President openly displayed how much he wanted a deal, prompting Kim to suggest that denuclearization did not actually mean he would give up his beloved weapons.

Enter John Bolton who knew that the U.S. would have to pry Kim’s nukes out of his cold, dead hands. Wanting either to scotch the deal for his own reasons or to get the President off of the limb he had climbed onto, Bolton publicly suggested the deal with Kim would be based on the “Libya model,” which ended badly for the tyrant. Bolton was fully aware this would launch Kim into orbit, which it did. Kim suggested the summit might be called off. The President’s scuttling of the Iran deal, even though Iran was complying with it, may have added to Kim’s discomfort.

Seeing the Nobel Prize fading into the distance, the President implored Kim to stay at the table, claiming any deal would make him “very, very happy.” Bolton may then have convinced the President that he was way over his skis and had gotten painted into a corner that would require him to take any deal, just to have something to show for his wheeling and dealing.

So, it was decided to send out faithful Mike Pence to put a bullet in the head of the summit. The VP reiterated the Libya model, knowing full well that it would relaunch the Rocket Man and likely kill the deal. It certainly got a reaction but not quite enough to fully sink the deal. The President was able to seize on Kim’s fulmination, however, to strangle the life out of the summit and save his personal bacon.

If we try another adventure of this critical magnitude, could it be suggested that someone do some basic homework, make careful preparations and for heck sakes not negotiate by the seat of our pants. This deal was not at all artful and made our dear country somewhat of a laughingstock around the globe.

Two roads


It is truly one of life’s mysteries that the choices one makes as they move down life’s road can effect and alter the lives of others including people they have never met. Such is the case with Wilbert D. “Bill” Hall and me.

Hall, whom I consider to be Idaho’s finest political columnist and editorial writer died last week 81 years young still enjoying his evening wine as he contemplated a rich and full life.

I owe my first big journalism job break to Hall His decision to leave the Idaho State Journal to move across state to take up the political and education beat at the Lewiston Tribune created a vacancy that I serendipitously was able to fill.

Hall had barely left town when there I stood dressed in my “zoot suit - $5 special from the Salvation Army) before Lyle Olson desperately needing a job. Olson bit and I was on my way. Doubtful if I’d ever have gone down that road otherwise.

I met Hall about a year later when I stopped off in Lewiston to review a performance of Hall’s play, “Gifford Eaton,” for the Journal.

Hall had a wonderful dry wit and droll sense of humor, but he could slice and dice one in a nano-second if he thought he was being lied to or someone was abusing their office.

Thus office holders will often describe a love/hate relationship. Elected officials often critical of Hall included almost anybody who was somebody in the GOP from Larry Craig to Steve Symms to George Hansen.

Even Cecil Andrus was wary around Hall reminding me Bill was a reporter always on duty. Cece liked and respected Hall, but he felt the sting of more than a few bites. “if he compliments you one day give it a week and he’ll bite you. It’s like he kept a scorebook and always tried to keep it even,” Andrus once said.

Hall was smart, did his homework and knew the issues. He relished playing the H.L. Mencken role: My goal is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Most political journalists after a few years begin to have a yin to see a campaign from the inside. They want to see it from the other side and so they cross-over. In the old days that was it, you’d made a choice and you didn’t cross back. Hall decided to accept an offer to come to D.C. and join the staff of Idaho Senator Frank Church as press secretary. Times have changed as today in D.C. it is a revolving door.

Many of Hall’s friends warned him that he’d be captivated at first but rapidly grow tired of the power seekers, the con artists, the blatantly dishonest, all those on the make. Hall did decide to switch jobs, though, becoming the Church Presidential campaign’s spokesperson. That experience was not all struggle and strife but close to it.

He wrote a somewhat self-deprecating book covering the “highlights”
Entitled “Frank Church, D.C.and Me.” It's well worth reading.

It is doubtful he would ever again cross to the darkside.

No column on Wilbert D. would be complete without mentioning his longtime friendship with Don and Ann Watkins. With Hall serving as Watkin’s biggest fan, Watkins (who worked for State Superintendent Del Engelking) commanded the attention of reporters and journalists, both young and old, all across Idaho. Watkins, a former journalist himself, hosted many an Idaho journalist at the fine table Ann set at their home in Boise. When Hall was in town he was always the prime catch.

Bill Hall was the best Idaho ever produced. With his departure Idaho loses a tremendous amount of institutional history. Rest in Peace!

Dear Brad Little:


Congratulations on winning the Republican nomination for governor. After begging Democratic voters to register as Republicans to help you defeat Raul Labrador – and getting quite a few takers – you hustled so far to the right that you became a pathetic echo of your opponents.

One of your most repugnant commercials, an ad attacking Raul Labrador, repeatedly referred to undocumented immigrants as “illegals.” You claimed Labrador had voted for welfare for “illegals,” defended criminal “illegals,” and supported amnesty for “illegals.” By my count, you used the term “illegals,” six times in a 30 second ad.

Your incessant use of this pejorative and divisive term was unconscionable. When you refer to people as “illegals,” you use the term as a noun, implying that the person’s very existence – as opposed to their actions – is criminal. Writing for the Huffington Post, Robert Stribley observed that “[t]he term seems especially egregious when the undocumented immigrants are typically coming here because American businesses are actively courting them.”

During the run-up to the primary election, it often appeared that you and Raul and Tommy couldn’t cozy up close enough to Trump; your ad might have been taken straight from Trump’s playbook of innuendo and slurs. Earlier this week, the president ranted, “We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them. You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals . . . “

A day after making this sweeping comment, Trump “clarified” that his remark was meant to be directed at members of MS-13, an especially vicious and brutal gang. But that’s not what he said. Unmistakably, his initial statement conflated MS-13 gang members with all immigrants, implying they were less than human.

Where have we heard this before – this crass characterization of a group of people as something less than human, as “animals?” Of course, you know the answer. We heard it from Adolph Hitler who said, “Jews are not people; they are animals.” It is so much easier to exterminate people when one does not see them as human. Calling them “animals” serves that purpose. So does labeling them “illegals.” It’s a slippery slope.

The language we use in our public discourse matters. Other law-breakers are not referred to as “illegals.” So why apply this polarizing and demeaning term to people unlawfully in the country? One need not condone illegal immigration to treat others with dignity. One need not approve of open borders to refrain from dehumanizing others.

You won your party’s nomination, Brad, and you won it, in part, with this despicable ad. Now grow up and start acting like a thoughtful, decent human being. And remember – in the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel – “No human being is illegal.”

Suffer the children


Trying to write about our national political activities these days is getting much harder to do. Used to be you could take the usual issue and the politicians involved in it and opine this way and that in reasonable commentary.

No more. The amount of misogyny, cruelty, idiocy and just plain B.S. being passed of as political “discussion” these days has made it tough even to consider some of the elected cretins fit to hold the offices they do much less quote them.

The following two despicable examples appeared on “news” pages within three hours a few days ago.

Rep. Dana Rhorabacher is known for saying alarming, ignorant and quite stupid things on a regular basis. His latest? He told a convention of Realtors in D.C. last week home sellers “shouldn’t have to sell to people who offend their personal beliefs.” Meaning buyers who are Black, gay, lesbian, atheist, Muslim, etc.. Next day, to their credit, the Realtors cut him off their endorsement list and, more important, from their PAC.

Then, the always - always - moronic Rep. Louis Ghomert. His latest? He told an interviewer Special Prosecutor Mueller had “spent his entire career defending Muslim terrorists.” Even followed up with a national news release.

Of course, there’s the House “Freedom Caucus” writing the Nobel Committee to formally push for the next Peace Prize to be given to Donny Trump for his work with North Korea. Can you even imagine the reaction within the Nobel Committee when that hit the mailbox?

But, here’s one entirely sadistic political story that didn’t just reach the bottom of the barrel. It broke through to new mud and took the current GOP “administration” to a new, much lower cesspool.

This mighty nation - this “shining beacon on the hill” - this nation made up entirely of immigrants - this proud country - has begun stripping babies and children from their families at our borders. Tearing apart families whose only “crime” has been to cross our borders, seeking their own liberties in this “bastion of freedom.”

Now, we’re told, in addition to that cruellest of acts, our “government” has lost nearly 1,500 hundred of those kids - 1,500! Authorities - or what passes for “authorities”- have no idea where they went, who has them, whether some are being sold into sexual slavery or other human bondage and, if so, by whom! Trump’s hardline Chief of Staff said they’d be “placed in foster care - or whatever.” “WHATEVER?!”

John Kelly is also trying to “justify” this inhumane family destruction by saying maybe more people “will be deterred” from trying to cross our borders if they know what awaits And our Attorney General mumbled much the same thing!

What the Hell kind of people are these?

And now our “government” claims it’s “not legally responsible.”


I cannot even imagine the sadistic political “minds” that ordered these crimes-against-humanity. Much less the actual government employees doing it - reaching out to grab crying children and stripping them from their parent’s hands. Whose “government?”

As I said, it’s much harder these days to even comprehend some of the political goings, much less write something cogent about them. The Rhorabacher’s and Ghomert’s and some of their Cretin kin are hard enough to deal with. Maybe - just maybe - a couple elections will send them back to their loyal “bases” and they can enjoy their full taxpayer paid retirements in well-deserved anonymity.

But, I’m sitting here, trying to comprehend what’s happening in our beloved country. My mind wonders how far we’ve strayed from being a welcoming nation with a compassionate populace. I’m trying to find the words to describe the cruelty, anger and rank idiocy so prevalent in our nation’s politics. Wondering if we’ll ever rid ourselves of the mindless, sadistic, lying and corrupt “leadership” currently driving this country further into a huge ditch.

As I search for words, the ones that repeatedly flash in my head are “...suffer the little children....” Biblically, the word “suffer” meant “let the little children...” or “do not impede the little children...”

Trump, Sessions, their minions and a Congress that stands idly by are using the word “suffer” in its worst application.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – May 28

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for May 28. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

The shifts in university leadership go on, as the state Board of Education – even while continuing to struggle with finding a new president for Boise State University – reaches a “mutual agreement” with University of Idaho President Chuck Staben that he will move on after this coming academic year. Could the changes portend some change in structure such as those Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has suggested?

The State Board of Education and President Chuck Staben, have mutually agreed that the 2018-19 academic year will be Staben’s last as president of the University of Idaho. The state board is developing a Request for Proposal for a firm to lead the search to find new presidents both at the University of Idaho and at Boise State University.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment of veteran Second District Judge John Stegner of Moscow to fill the Idaho Supreme Court vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Warren Jones.

Idaho Water Resource Board officials estimate they will reach a new record of 524,000 acre-feet of water flowing into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) by the end of the winter 2017-18 recharge season – more than double the annual recharge goal of 250,000 acre-feet.

Community banks and credit unions across the country will soon see regulatory changes from Senator Mike Crapo’s Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act (S. 2155), which was signed into law on May 25. As Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Senator Crapo worked with his colleagues in the Senate, House, and outside groups and stakeholders to craft and usher this bipartisan banking legislation through Congress and to the President’s desk.

Idaho Fish and Game Southwest Region staff will soon have a different business address thanks to the efforts of the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation which is funding construction of a new office building just off the Garrity Exit of Interstate 84.

Two legislative provisions authored by Senator Mike Crapo were included in the May 23 Senate passage of S. 2372, the John S. McCain III, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson Department of Veterans Affairs Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks (MISSION) Act.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper on May 24 named Rick Cloutier to fill the position of Airport Director at the Idaho Falls Regional Airport. The hiring was approved by the city council.

PHOTO A view at Craters of the Moon National Monument, at the Visit Idaho web site, promoting tourism to the site. (photo/Visit Idaho)

Jordan and a changing Idaho


Can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? The New York Times (and so many others) have already answered that question with an almost certain, nope.

“In a state that Donald J. Trump won by more than 30 percentage points and has not elected a Democratic governor since 1990, the Republican primary is almost certainly where Mr. Otter’s successor will be chosen,” The Times said.

The Times is not alone. That’s the conventional wisdom. Idaho is, after all, one of the most Republican states in the country. There is not a single Democrat who has been elected to any statewide office in the past couple of decades. And a Native woman, a young woman at that? Nah. Case closed.

But Jordan is not a conventional candidate. And this is not a routine election year. And Idaho has a history of sharply reversing course (ok … you have to go back a century for that one).

Let’s look at the numbers. Nearly 195,000 voters picked a Republican in the primary election and only some 66,000 voted for any Democrat. That seems daunting at roughly 3 to 1. But it will be closer than that in the general election. A lot closer. Four years ago the margin was 15 percentage points, 54 percent for the Republican to 39 percent for the Democrat. So the issue is how to get from 39 percent to 50 percent, plus one. To do that Jordan will need to win over at least 70,000 voters.

The most important thing for Jordan to do, she’s already doing. And that is to make Idaho cool and smart. (This is where the national attention helps.) On election night the music of Drake singing “God’s Plan” filled the room. Later supporters posted a video of Jordan dancing. Cool.

“The video of her speech to supporters in the Boise bar is revealing,” writes Dean Miller. “That is a very savvy, very disciplined Gen X politician, singing along to hip-hop lyrics, greeting workers with attention, holding weirdos at arm’s length with generous caution and immediately reaching out to all Idahoans. Her skills and instincts are top-notch.” Miller is the former editor of the Idaho Falls Post-Register and a longtime observer of politics in the Gem State.

Jordan also has the ideal message for the voters who are new to Idaho politics, especially those who have moved to Boise from other cities across the West. More than 75,000 people alone moved to Idaho last year (that includes families, but it’s still a huge number).

Idaho is increasingly a technology state. Consider this bit: “In one year Idaho saw a 44.9 percent increase in job postings related to emerging technologies, including the Internet of Things, smart cities, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality, and blockchain. “While these positions accounted for a small percentage of total tech job postings, it indicates where organizations are headed with the technology investments,” reported Cyberstates in 2018.

Idaho’s tech sector is already responsible for some $6.1 billion in the state’s economy, the report said.Tech’s impact on the Idaho economy ranks third behind manufacturing and government. (Bigger than agriculture.) There are some 51,900 tech workers in the state with an average wage of $87,740. (Compared to the state’s average annual private sector wage of $40,290.)

The tech world has no use for the old school — and that includes politicians. It’s about inventing the future, not repeating routine slogans about social issues, border walls, or even extractive energy development.

This gives a reason for people who are Republicans to vote for a Democrat. Jordan speaks the language.

Jordan can also sell the technology industry to rural Idaho and Indian Country. Most of the technology jobs are in Boise. Jordan can make the case for creating jobs in northern Idaho, tribal communities, and telecommuting and other jobs that would work in rural Idaho.

Another reason why Jordan could be competitive is that she is exciting. People want to be around her. That is especially important for attracting new voters to the process. Four years ago less than 60 percent of the voting age population cast a ballot. The higher than number, the better Jordan’s chances.

This is challenging in a mid-term election. Idaho young people, like those across the country, are more likely to vote in a presidential election year. Two years ago the share of voters under 29 years of age was nearly 15 percent of the electorate. But four years ago, during the last governor’s election, the share of young voters was only 8.2 percent. Again, the higher the number, the better Jordan’s chances.

A new national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds by Harvard’s Institute of Politics shows a marked increase in the number of young Americans who indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting’ in the upcoming midterm elections.

“The big picture: 37 percent of Americans under 30 indicate that they will ‘definitely be voting,’ compared to 23 percent who said the same in 2014,” the study found. “Young Democrats are driving nearly all of the increase in enthusiasm; a majority (51 percent) report that they will ‘definitely’ vote in November, which represents a 9-percentage point increase since November 2017 and is significantly larger than the 36 percent of Republicans who say the same.”

Indian Country is important in this regard too. Native American voters are only about one percent of the population, but among young voters, the number climbs to 3.3 percent. That might seem small, but it could be a good reflection of voter engagement.

Support from Indian Country is essential for Jordan to raise enough money. It’s how she gets her message out to voters. So far Jordan has collected more than $367,000 in contributions. Some of her largest contributors have been tribes, including her own, Coeur d’Alene, as well as other tribal nations in Idaho, Shoshone-Bannock, Nez Perce and Kootenai. She also received support from tribes from across the country.

One potential pool of voters for Jordan is foreign-born citizens. A study by the Partnership for the New Economy said Idaho was home to almost 34,000 foreign-born residents who were eligible to vote in 2014, including an estimated 14,000 foreign-born residents who had formally registered.

“Those numbers are unlikely to sway a presidential election in this relatively safe Republican state, where Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney won by roughly 208,000 votes in 2012. Still, it can make a difference in closer statewide contests and primaries,” the report said.

The challenge for Jordan is to reach these new groups and serve the core Democratic constituency. But that’s what election coalition building is all about. She has to make sure to reach union workers, make inroads into Mormon counties (most likely by finding strong surrogates who are LDS) and basically round up every Democrat, independent, and enough Republicans to put her over the top.

Once again, the higher the turnout number, the better Jordan’s chances. And there is a flip side to that idea: Republican turnout could be down across the country. If the country senses a landslide for the Democrats in the House, a lot of regular GOP voters might not show up. This is particularly acute in North Idaho because it’s on the Pacific time zone and TV viewers will have already seen the wave while they are still voting.

So can Paulette Jordan win the governor’s race in Idaho? Yes there is a path. And now she can run against The New York Times who has already told her she can’t win. Conservatives will love that. Idaho has a history of defying the odds. Frank Church, a liberal Democrat, won a Senate seat when he was only 32 years old. And Democrat Cecil Andrus won the governor’s chair four different times. Church’s strength was his intellect. Andrus was a great storyteller. And Jordan owns cool.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter @TrahantReports (Crossposted at Indian Country Today.)

Where the numbers went


Not so many weeks ago, more than a few Idaho Democrats and democratic sympathizers, observing the developing contested primary for governor within their party, were heard to wonder: How many Democrats will be left to vote in it?

The logic went like this: The race for governor likely would be settled in the Republican primary, and among Democrats there was a clear preference among the major GOP candidates: Lieutenant Governor Brad Little was considered much the most acceptable, and Representative Raul Labrador the worst option. (The third major candidate, Tommy Ahlquist, got less visceral reactions.) So quite a few Idaho Democrats, at least anecdotally, said they would cross over and vote for Little. Presumably that would leave, among other things, a smaller Democratic contingent to decide their own party’s race between second-time candidate A.J. Balukoff and former legislator Paulette Jordan.

Not a few Republicans also thought the scenario might play out that way.

So how did it work out?

The shift of Democratic voters across the aisle to the Republican side is hard to measure. We can’t know for sure how many there were. The number of voters (that is, ballots cast) in the Republican contest for governor was up compared to 2014 by about 25 percent; if you factor in population growth and the greater interest in a race with three major candidates, that’s not a tremendous difference. Were there enough Democratic crossovers to give Little his 9,000-or-so vote win over Labrador? Best guess is that those voters didn’t account for all of it, maybe only half or less. The presence of Ahlquist in the race may have been a larger factor.

Bear in mind that Little received 72,518 votes, which is less than his close ally and current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter received in 2014 (79,779 votes). His vote could be accounted for if just most of the Otter voters stuck with him (as they most logically would have), allowing for some falloff.

One reason for thinking so is in looking at the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Only about a third as many people voted on the Democratic side as on the Republican, but four years ago the difference was six to one, not three to one. Turnout in the Democratic primary increased by about 150 percent, a massive increase especially when bearing in mind the much higher-visibility Republican campaign.

Across the board, Democratic primary votes increased far more from 2014 than did the Republican (though theirs grew too). Scan down through the other major office races and though the state legislative primaries, and the same holds true. Of course, most people once stuck with one or the other party’s ballot will continue to vote for a number of offices

But the Democratic ballot increase really is remarkable. The number of votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor is the largest ever cast in that party for that office. What was about 25,000 Democratic primary voters (for governor) in 2014 grew by about 40,000 this year.

Was it a coincidence that the recently-completed petitions for the Medicaid initiative activated similar numbers of voters? Might that have helped generate some of the participation?

On Tuesday, voters in Georgia held their primary election, and Democrats there chose (in a hot contest) a nominee for governor who among other things has based the strategy of her campaign not on the goal of reaching out to Republican and centrist voters, but of activating what she maintains is a large corps of non-voters who (she figures) would vote mostly Democratic if they participate.

How many of them actually are out there, or whether they can with certainty be brought into the voting base, no one yet knows for sure.

But the numbers in the week-old Idaho primary election suggest that significant numbers of them actually are out there. Maybe not enough to win general elections. But significant nonetheless.

Primary’s over: What a relief


It is sooo good to close the door on this year’s primary election. The advertising in the Republican gubernatorial race was wretched. Tommy Ahlquist started early with negative ads and it did not take too long for the contest to degenerate into a mud-slinging match. I don’t recall primary elections being as ugly as this one when Idaho had the open primary system.

The ads did contain some statements of the candidates’ shared visions for Idaho’s future--each candidate claimed he would be more supportive of the President than the others, that he would cut more taxes, that he would cut more spending, that he would provide Idahoans better medical care, and that he would better educate our children.

I’m wondering whether the closed primary on the Republican side may have contributed to the bare-knuckles campaign. When candidates do not have to appeal to a broad cross-section of the electorate, they tend to tout similar stands on the issues that resonate with their limited slice of the voters. The way to stand out from the others is to go hammer and tongs for the opponents’ jugulars, or to try to sound more extreme than the others.

The popular wisdom among Republican office-holders has been that you might risk a challenge from the right in the closed primary if you don’t follow the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s dictates. The fear of being “primaried” has tended to shift the Legislature further to the right in recent years.

I don’t know that open primaries were ever detrimental to the interests of the Republican Party. There was always some cross-over vote but it was never a massive amount. In fact, when I ran against George Hansen for Congress in the Republican primary in 1978 and 1980, I will admit having courted Democrat votes but they did not cross over in droves.

Independent voters obviously have an interest in who gets a party’s nomination for an important public office but they are excluded from participating in the primary of the Republican Party, whose candidates have a decided edge in the general election. Independents, or Idaho Democrats, can change their registration before the primary comes around but it is an imposition to make them declare for a party they do not wish to voluntarily join. Idahoans are independent-minded folks and should not be forced into any party in order to participate in selecting our leaders.

The closed primary is a particular problem for Idaho judges. Under Idaho law they are supposed to be non-partisan. Judicial ethics restrain them from partisanship. Yet, judges are interested in public affairs and want to be involved in selecting elected officials in the other two branches of government. When Idaho had the open primary system, judges could simply ask for the ballot of their choice on election day without violating the restraints on political involvement. Now, if they wish to participate in the party primary where the ultimate selection is often made, they must risk violating their ethical restraints by registering themselves as Republicans.

I say, let’s go back to the good old tried and true open primary system where all Idahoans of good faith could participate in selecting our leaders. That would be one way to help make Idaho great again.

Bill Hall


Veteran Idaho journalist Bill Hall, for many years editorial page editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, died at Lewiston on May 21. I wrote this column (from December 17, 2016) about him, when he opted to end his long-running column in that and other papers. Our sympathies to his family and to his friends, who are legion.

Please pardon the reminiscing, but the time of year encourages it, as did a newspaper column I read a few days ago.

The column from last weekend was by Bill Hall, whose writing base for about six decades has been the Lewiston Tribune. Its message was, that column would be his last.

By the time I arrived at the University of Idaho back in 1974, Hall already was renowned around Idaho for his editorials and columns at the Tribune. Soon after that he departed, for about a year and a half, to work for Senator Frank Church, and there wasn’t a certainty he’d be coming back. But Church lost his presidential bid in 1976, Hall wrote a book about it (“Frank Church, D.C. and Me,” from Washington State University Press, a great read on all three topics) and soon returned to Lewiston.

His departure and his return was much noted and not just in Lewiston, where Hall’s blistering, biting and often funny editorials so often launched political conversation in the mornings. It was a big deal statewide, even in the far reaches of the state, and even in the pre-Internet era. Politically-interested people considered it necessary to get hold of what Hall was saying.

One of the Tribune writers who worked closely with Hall, Jay Shelledy (now a journalism professor at Louisiana State University), was quoted in one article about Hall, “There are not many papers in the United States where the best-read page is the editorial page. Without question, Hall is the best-known journalist in the state's history.”

He learned about Idaho in the three corners of the state, growing up in Canyon County, then attending college and starting his newspaper career in Pocatello. By the time in 1965 he left for Lewiston, he already was well-schooled in Idaho politics. When I arrived at the Idaho State Journal newspaper a decade-plus after he’d left, I often prowled through his writings about local and state politics, using them to fill in gaps in what I was learning elsewhere.

By then I knew where to look because of Hall’s editorials, which I’d read at college and afterward. They were a lethal combination: Well informed and witty, and up for taking on just about anyone. Even Idaho hunters, as he wrote when the idea arose of a wildlife council picking Fish & Game Commission members: “That could be a two-edged sword because it might tend to give a disproportionate voice to those chronic whiners who want to blame state biologists every time they get too drunk, inept, or unlucky to kill an elk.”

Many newspapers shrink from editorial heat, but the Tribune never has. Hall’s view as I heard it was that he was good business: People might yell at the newspaper but they sure kept reading it.

Part of what allowed this to work was the unusual atmosphere at the Tribune, which issued punchy editorials before Hall’s tenure and has continued to since, under the local control of the Alford family. But Hall’s humor has been a critical individual part of the mix. Since his mid-70s hiatus his columns have been humorous, personal, often gentle – different to an almost drastic degree from the sometimes fiery editorialist. But the two sides could never be separated entirely, and a serious sensibility underlies even many of his more recent columns, since he retired from editorial writing in 2002.

No more Hall columns. Hardly seems like Idaho.