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Posts published in June 2021

A political career change


House Speaker Scott Bedke of Oakley, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, easily checks off the boxes for that office.

He would have no trouble presiding over the Senate during legislative sessions and he could serve as acting governor – without political drama – when the boss is out of town.

As for the rest of his job, Bedke’s role would depend on who is sitting in the governor’s chair. He’d be an outstanding partner (and welcome relief) to Gov. Brad Little, with his deep background on policy issues. If Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin becomes governor, Bedke would have plenty of time to tend to his family’s ranch or sharpen his golf game when the Legislature is not in session. There would not be much for him to do at the Statehouse.

Bedke says he’s not certain if he will take an active role in the governor’s race. My thought is that unless he likes the idea of playing computer solitaire at his desk in the lieutenant governor’s office, he should take a stand in the gubernatorial campaign. If it causes him to lose, then at least he’d have the satisfaction of telling voters what’s at stake in Idaho’s top two races.

In 2018, Little declined to say who he favored for lieutenant governor in the primary campaign and paid the price. He ended up getting stuck with McGeachin, who has gone rogue more times than Sarah Palin. This time, Little has two candidates he could easily work with – Bedke and former Rep. Luke Malek of Coeur d’Alene, who are battling for the “establishment” vote. Rep. Priscilla Giddings of White Bird would cause more headaches in a Little administration – but would work marvelously well with McGeachin.

Bedke offers a long list of selling points for the lieutenant governor’s job. He has served 11 terms in the Legislature and the last five as House speaker.

“I have been in the middle of every major decision in the state – whether it’s economic policy, transportation policy, education policy, tax policy or natural resources.”

Bedke knows all about budgeting and how state government works and has some thoughts about the future.

“I don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and wonder where did our Idaho go,” he said. “We’re the fastest growing state in the union, and with that growth comes growing pains. It will come in the form of education, transportation, roads, the court system, prisons and natural resources.”

The lieutenant governor’s office does not make policy, but Bedke could provide a sound voice on a host of issues – again, depending on who is governor.

“I have a track record of bringing people together and crafting solutions,” he said. “That’s not easy, but I think I’m pretty good at it.”

Bedke won’t talk about how McGeachin has handled the job, other than to say, “I will be completely different. I’ll be one who will be looking for solutions and trying to conduct business cordially and with civility and respect.”

How’s that for making “no comment” about McGeachin?

Over the years, lieutenant governor has been a nice “waiting area” for those with higher political ambitions. Phil Batt eventually became governor … Butch Otter went to Congress, and later governor … Jim Risch became a U.S. senator … and Little is the sitting governor. So, where is Bedke looking?

As House Speaker, Bedke already is one of the most powerful figures in Idaho politics, but officially it’s a part-time position. He could do well as a congressman or U.S. senator, but it doesn’t appear that members of Idaho’s delegation will be leaving anytime soon. Being a lieutenant governor could put him in line for governor, assuming that Little wins re-election and would serve no more than two terms.

Bedke’s priority at the moment is winning the lieutenant governor’s race and at least one candidate (Giddings) isn’t going to make it easy.

“I welcome Scott Bedke to the race,” Giddings said after Bedke announced. “As House speaker, he has single-handedly kept the grocery tax alive. With his departure from the House, Idahoans may finally get grocery tax relief. Sadly, both Speaker Bedke and lawyer Luke Malek have a long track record of championing policies which harm small businesses, damage our schools, and which can hurt real people.”

The fireworks are under way, just in time for the Fourth of July.

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

Rest of the story


Barb was in Portland last weekend. She’d taken a 10-day swing to the coast to see friends and take a break from the 100+ degree heat of our “beloved” desert home.

She made reservations for flights and rental cars along her two-state route way in advance. She’s an inveterate traveler. Knows the best travel sites and how to create a well-planned itinerary. Which, in this case, she did.

So, last weekend, she was in the City of Roses visiting an old friend. (Sorry about the ‘old,’ Princess). Good restaurants and good conversation.

She got a surprise text Sunday morning. It was someone from American Airlines, texting her the Sunday afternoon flight home to Phoenix had been canceled and she was rescheduled - without her knowledge or permission - for a flight of the same number two-days later.

After the text, her natural instinct kicked in. She (and her friend) did a little research about American Airlines and found a story about national flight cancellations on CNN. American and other carriers were mentioned.

My guess - being the weekend and newsrooms were staffed by less than the first team - folks just used the handout as a basis for reporting and “went with it.”

The “story” was that more than two-million weekend flying folks across the country were subject to dozens and dozens of flight cancellations. In addition, last Sunday marked the fifth day of that week that the volume of passengers per-day totaled more than two-million. So, some folks needless, to say, were left stranded. Barb had the good fortune to be staying with her friend. But, for thousands of others, it was back to the credit card, paying for a couple more nights on the road.

The “story” said all the furor was because of a” lack of pilots and crews.” Seems, after massive layoffs due to Covid - including pilots - many of those pilots had been put into retraining programs for other aircraft. So, they weren’t available for all the previously scheduled 727 routes.

There was also some gobble-de-gook about “unprecedented weather problems” affecting flights, causing delays and crew problems.

That part of the “story” about weather is somewhat believable. At Sky Harbor in Phoenix, we’ve had some of that “unprecedented” weather with consistent, very high temperatures. Last week broke some records with daily 115-117 temps. The higher the readings, the less air “lift” there is for planes to get airborne. So, that means fewer passengers and less cargo. And we can’t have that, can we? But, it happens here. Every year.

The crux of the” story,” seems to me, to be about problems the airlines created for themselves. Of course, they won’t admit it. But, evidence of “self-inflicted” wounds is pretty strong.

Last Spring, when Covid-19 was wreaking havoc on this nation, airlines scooped up billions of federal dollars to help them stay in business. Which they did - at full strength - for about 90 days. Then, they started laying off personnel - including pilots - by the thousands and moth-balling aircaft here in the desert and at other sites in California, Texas and Nevada.

One of those sites is about 40 miles from my keyboard. Check the location by satellite and you’ll see row after row of planes, all ready to be reactivated at a moment’s notice. Ready for flight status. That was the whole idea. Reactivate quickly as needed. Which, apparently, hasn’t happened or there wouldn’t have been millions of stranded flyers.

The nation’s airlines took billions in handouts to keep going, which they did for three months. Then, they fired thousands (“layoffs” they said), to be recalled in better times.

Well, these are “better times.” At least “better” then they were in the depths of the pandemic. Conditions have improved for most of us. Certainly for nearly all businesses. Including airlines.

So, seeing daily increases in passenger numbers, more people scheduling and actually traveling for the last 90 days or so, why the cancellations? Why are the airlines saying these problems will last into “mid-July?” Why are those planes still sitting on the ground? Why haven’t we seen flight crews reactivated or rehired?

Dollars! Pure and simple. If you can keep all passenger seats filled, the dollars roll in. If you can operate with “skeleton” crews, less people on the payroll, fewer crews to pay. Dollars. If you can realign flight routes from point-to-point, lower operating costs. Dollars!

Why is it, every time big business has a problem, we consumers take it in the shorts? Why do we - by the millions - have our lives upset and have to pick up the costs? Why can’t airlines deal with their internal problems without adding difficulties for millions of flyers who have to cough up more dollars and suffer the delays? Dollars!

I sincerely wish the media - all of ‘em - would read the handout, then do some research - as reporters are supposed to do - before passing on half-baked “information” as gospel. I don’t give a damn if it’s the weekend crew or Wolf Blitzer. A few minutes doing a little digging around can’t be all that hard to do. Even on Saturday and Sunday. Some Google time just looking at Southeast California, Southern Arizona, Southern Nevada and West Texas from a satellite can be very informative.

You’ll learn a lot more than what’s in that damned handout.

Our Afghan friends


With each day that ticks by until September 11, the deadline for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the danger of death will increase for Afghans who supported the American presence in their country. Much has been said of late about the debt we owe these endangered souls, but now is the time for quick, decisive action to save them. Otherwise, they will likely fall victim to Taliban assassins.

The first order of business must be to energize two special immigrant visa (SIV) programs for Afghans who put themselves at risk for helping Americans--one specifically for interpreters and one for Afghans who were employed by the U.S. Many of those Afghans, and their families, have been marked for death by the Taliban.

The SIV programs have languished, bogged down by bureaucratic red tape. There are 12,000 authorized, but unused, slots for the last two years and an inexcusable backlog of nearly 19,000 SIV applicants and 50,000 family members. This is a travesty. To his credit, President Biden has called for a speed-up in processing SIV applications and a review of SIV programs, with a report due in six months. The speed-up is long overdue but the six-month review is completely unacceptable. Taliban killings are on the increase and many SIV applicants and their family members will be murdered during the delay.

Many, if not most, SIV application files contain adequate information upon which to make a determination. The main criterion should be whether an American soldier or employer has furnished credible verification of an applicant’s fidelity to the U.S. and Afghan governments. I lived and served with South Vietnamese soldiers and translators for over six months in a combat setting and got to know over a dozen well enough to have vouched for them. The decision on an application can and should be done in weeks, not years.

If the Administration or Congress considers it absolutely essential to conduct more vetting, the applicants and family members should be extracted from Afghanistan so that further processing can be conducted in a safe environment. Many thousands of refugees from Southeast Asia were successfully processed at U.S. military bases in the late 1980s. The International Refugee Assistance Project has suggested a mass evacuation of at-risk Afghans to Guam for processing.

Congress needs to substantially increase the number of slots available for SIV applicants and their families. There simply aren’t enough now and it is likely the demand will increase significantly as September 11 approaches.

The U.S. should also provide for resettlement of a wide range of Afghans who do not qualify for the SIV programs, but who are likely targets of Taliban reprisal--uncorrupted government and military officials, women’s rights advocates, reporters, educators and the like.

Military personnel like Major Naiem Asadi, a legendary Afghan pilot who is credited with saving American lives, certainly deserves sanctuary in the U.S. He was granted approval, but then had the approval revoked. Because of numerous death threats, he and his family were forced to go into hiding. He has reapplied for admission and clearly has earned it.

Journalists like Farahnaz Forotan, who learned last November that she was on a Taliban death list, should also be granted sanctuary. There are thousands more like these two--good people who placed their trust in ill-considered U.S. promises of democracy and peace in Afghanistan.

There is one more critical problem that gets little coverage in the media--the wretched condition of America’s refugee infrastructure. In order to resettle any number of these immigrants in the U.S., massive and immediate investment must be made to beef up the capability of resettlement agencies.

The last four years saw a precipitous drop in refugee admissions, which has had a devastating effect on resettlement agencies. The agencies have been gutted and will have to be restored to health quickly in order to handle an influx of Afghan immigrants. It will take a significant infusion of federal dollars to get the job done.

Many Vietnam veterans were devastated when South Vietnam fell in April of 1975. I am still haunted by the horrific fate that befell my South Vietnamese friends--my interpreter and many soldiers who trusted ill-advised U.S. promises to bring peace and freedom to their country. We did not make a concerted effort to extract our South Vietnamese friends from harm’s way, to our great dishonor. Let’s not shame our country again. We have a short amount of time to save our Afghan friends who risked their lives to help our troops, but speed is essential. The Administration and Congress must act now!

Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran, who served as Idaho Attorney General for 8 years and as a Justice on the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years (2005-2017).

The theft that never happened


I swore I wasn’t going to do it but enough is enough. I can gripe about them, I can point out their error, I can even mock them but I’m not going to out them, that’s what I told myself. I don’t know what changed — I suspect it’s the disillusion anyone would feel when losing a significant amount of respect for a parent. I mean, the man has luxury homes in three states, he’s been successful in his professional life. He was a good father who provided for his kids and set a solid moral example. But he’s embraced perhaps the worst of all false lost causes.

Over six months after Joe Biden’s inauguration, my dad is still firmly and angrily tied to his golden calf, Donald Trump. I thought my father would renounce this and the corresponding Qanon(sense) stuff once it all became so obviously false as to be cartoonish but that cartooning happened long ago and all he’s done is double-down. Sorry, dad, your emperor isn’t riding back into town to claim the mantle of president, speaker of the house, princess royal, bishop of Bayonne, M.D., B.S., V.C., D.S.O., O.B.E., L.M.T., G.E.D. — or whatever absurd tin-pot string of self-awarded titles and credentials your oracle says Trump will claim.

And what’s with that, anyway? Didn’t your mysterious fortune teller pack up tent and sneak away in the darkness of winter?

A while back, I asked a number of my conservative friends to send me the evidence they had for the massive corruption they claim has taken over the land and stolen an election. There is so much evidence, they told me, incontrovertible proof, they said. These are people I care about, people I respect — surely they can prove the veracity of their claims. At first, all they sent was links to sermons and hundreds of hours of taped interviews, broadcasts and podcasts.

Since I can process written material much faster than video, I prefer materials claiming “absolute proof” of anything to be arranged succinctly, much like any academician would arrange a paper. Maybe start off with your claim as title, then a brief synopsis, then clear bullet points linked to supporting documents and evidence. (Please note: I am using the term “evidence” much like a court or a scientific research facility would use it — just so we’re clear, I am NOT equating “evidence” with “opinion,” “suspicion” or “strong feelings.”) When I am shackled to video without transcripts, I am at the mercy of slow-talkers, slow-thinkers and producers who are more interested in filling time slots than making sure their material is well-collated and succinct.

After wading through a lot of long files, several of these people began sending me the daily emails they’re getting from what passes as conservative news sources these days. And I do use the term “news sources” very loosely.

What the Trump Republicans did was brilliant in an odd way — brilliant because it worked spectacularly but odd because, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why they fail to see the damage it has caused the Republican party and is causing the nation. What they did was declare all information produced or released by academia, media or government suspect and, therefore, unreliable. In one fell swoop, they swept aside the traditional sources humans use to establish baseline consensus for any issue humanity faces.

Why is this important?

Establishing a baseline consensus built on demonstrable evidence and accumulated knowledge is the first step in any public discourse. Essentially, a baseline consensus is a set of facts or data that all sides of an issue can stipulate is correct prior to beginning debate or discussion. Basically, it’s the crucial first step to getting public business done.

Dismissing the baseline consensus got the Trump Republicans two things. First, it enabled them to accept or reject any facts, data or opinion they wanted with no input from any other side. Second and worse, when you no longer have a baseline consensus and maintain your own set of information, you don’t need to discuss the issue with anyone but those who agree with the facts you, yourself, stipulate. Ultimately, what this accomplishes is giving the Trump Republicans the best possible reason to not engage: the moral high ground. In effect, if you’ve rejected all data but your own as false, unreliable, biased or skewed, you believe you’re now the only side using good information and, hence, you refuse to engage with any other side because they do not subscribe to your stipulated facts, the only good data. By your new (non-)standard, their data is corrupt. No sense arguing with people who use false facts, right?

Apart from the unbelievable irony, there’s one enormous problem.

The Trump Republicans rejected all of the traditional sources for establishing factual information but they didn’t replace those sources with new ones. Or more accurately, they didn’t replace them with new sources that met any accepted standard of academic rigor or professional discipline — but that’s the joy of the New Right Way! All those old standards are meaningless now. Standards? Trump Republicans don’t need no stinking standards! The New Right Way is embarrassingly Wrong.

So back to my conservative friends sending me stuff. Every day, I had this weird anticipation as I waited to see what they’d send. I never had any idea what to expect but I knew it’d be laugh-out-loud good. Most of their “absolute proof” was desperately short on proof but long talk — more time-share-style-sales-seminars, drawn-out snow jobs brimming with invective and speculation but nothing approaching proof.

My favorite of the bunch was a doozy! Harkening back to the Pearlas Sanborn Microsoft hoaxes of the 1990s (Google it), this one was so outrageously riddled with cartoonishly false information, I couldn’t believe the person who sent it actually believed it. (My dad’s wife, to her dubious credit, started adding a disclaimer that “some of it might not be totally accurate” since I started point-by-point refuting her best material.) But as much as the gallows humorist in me wanted to guffaw, I knew I should be truly alarmed that she and millions like her believe every absurd statement in this email.

Statements like this one, complete with spelling and grammatic errors and so much more:

“Trump just declassified all the Washington scandals. He is hiding at a military base. The attack at the capitol was antifa and BLM, mostly. This is not in any of the news or social media. This is why they are censoring everyone. They just DECLASSIFIED everything! Share it far & wide. Here we go! Wikileaks just dumped all of their files online. Everything from Hillary Clinton’s emails, McCain’s being guilty, Vegas shooting, Steve Jobs HIV letter, PedoPodesta, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Bilderberg, CIA agents arrested for rape, WHO pandemic. Happy Digging! Here you go, please read and pass it on...”

Then the overwrought message provides links to Wikileaks files that have been released probably 10 times in as many years. It breathlessly instructs the Trump supporters to spread the message because:

“IT’S HAPPENING! Military takedowns and arrests begin this wknd and will continue forward for the next 13 days/nights. Some international raids have already started. Italy has also been found complicit in our election fraud. Everyone will be getting emergency alerts on their phones, tv’s, radios & internet. It will override all other broadcasts and could last for several hours at a time. Do not to be scared of what’s coming as it is for the safety of our nation for this to unfold. DO NOT travel to any large cities (especially Philadelphia) for the rest of the month. Military operations will be taking place in many of the major corrupt cities. People will start rioting once this intel breaks thinking Trump is a military dictator. He only has 13 days to put this dog down.”

The message goes on to describe riots and National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps troops being mobilized as the Insurrection Act of 1807 is implemented. It scoffs mightily at the notion that Donald Trump is a dictator just before it tells its acolytes that the “smooth transition” Trump promised was that of he and his new military vice president seizing office along with his new cabinet. I assume Biden will be imprisoned.

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. And they believe it, hook, line and sinker.

While it causes people like me great dismay, this newfound freedom from constraint must feel invigorating to Trump Republicans. Trumpists have declared that nothing is trustworthy but they, themselves; everything is corrupt but they, themselves. Hence, they, themselves become both the source of truth and the arbiter of truth. No traditional fact-checking, no consensus, none of the former checks and balances, no need to rely on traditional professional disciplines or academic rigor. Free from the repression of traditional constraints, it’s ridiculously easy for opinion to assume the role of fact. Opinion becomes truth when all constraints of traditional human discipline are removed — when you’re the arbiter of your own truth, no one can tell you what’s false.

And then they send out emails like the one above.

An entire movement can say whatever it wants — anything, the sky is the limit! Opinion becomes truth, rule, policy. Then that truth, rule and policy is disseminated in an echo chamber where no one objects, no one corrects, no one restrains. There are no boundaries. They say whatever they feel in the moment, they parrot each other, stating opinion and conjecture as incontrovertible fact — they need no evidence because everything is corrupt and nothing is trustworthy. Traditional evidence is worthless. All that’s left is opinion — all that matters now is opinion. Indeed, the only thing to be trusted is opinion.

When facts are firmly rejected and replaced by opinion, the untethering from traditional restraint must feel indescribably exhilarating — maybe even enough to make that amateur invasion of the U.S. Capitol look like a good idea at the time.

The optimistic side of me wants to believe this insanity is temporary, that things will go back to right once COVID subsides and the world returns to a semblance of normal. I have hope many of these conservative Trump supporters I care about will look back a few years from now and realize how their beliefs transitioned from plausible to preposterous when they discarded the only tools we fallible humans have to keep our worst imaginative selves in check — how we all have a legitimate need to keep our wildest conjecture in the realm of fiction and prevent it from overwriting fact.

Either that or they’re right and I’m the one who will live to eat my words and admit how blind I was. Yeah, right. While the sun is shining and most of us are looking ahead optimistically, they’re still holed up in their walled echo chambers, bitterly decrying a theft that never happened.

On a roll


In case you missed it recently, Idaho’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3.0 percent, close to half that of the national economy. And that’s on top of a state revenue report projecting another year of budget surplus, over $800 million. (DFM, 6/21)

Gov. Brad Little hailed the revenue figure and said he would ask the Legislature to pass another round of income tax reductions when it convenes in January, as well as further investment in education. (IdahoPress, 6/9). Those are solid moves and represent basic conservative principles of fiscally responsibly tax measures, and investment in education, both spelled out in Idaho’s Constitution.

Both are positive developments as the budget year ends this week and should help “seal the deal” with primary voters next spring, choosing Little’s pro-Idaho prosperity and growth over challenger Janice McGeachin’s shrill “drain the swamp” rhetoric of nullification and gun-toting Bible thumping. People will put up with charlatans just so long and McGeachin has already proven to be the worst Idaho lieutenant governor in many decades, maybe ever.

By contrast, Little’s measured, steady hand is one reason Idaho is in the top group in virtually every category of growth, economic development, entrepreneurship, personal freedom and overall quality of life. Here are some of the recent numbers:

The 11-month revenue figures show an Idaho economy recovering from the COVID pandemic in better shape than most other states. Of the revenue sources, income withholdings, sales tax receipts and corporate taxes all jumped higher year-over-year. Income taxes went from $1.425b to $2.300b; sales tax collections from $1.538b to $1.812b, and corporate tax payments from $177m to $293m. Note this last item on corporate taxes, showing a $166m increase in corporate income taxes paid, over 65 percent higher; so much for the liberals’ argument that Idaho businesses are shirking taxes.

In comments June 9, Little correctly identified how Idaho’s rosy economic picture has come about. “Years of fiscal conservatism, swift action during the pandemic, few COVID restrictions, responsible allocation of federal relief dollars, and our relentless focus on cutting red tape are the reasons Idaho’s economy is catapulting ahead of other states right now,” Little said. (IdahoPress, 6/9).

Little’s budget director, Alex Adams, told state agency directors to prepare budget requests to include 4% merit raises for state employees, the largest pay boost since 2008. In the last 13 years, state employees got zero raises four times, in fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Idaho state workers get merit-based increases, not run-away automatic raises as in many public employee union states, another example of Idaho’s fiscally responsible policies of public funds.

I chaired the House Commerce & Human Resources Committee from 2012-2018 and frequently reviewed state worker compensation trends and patterns. Idaho is blessed with a high-quality public workforce and in these improving economic times, it seems appropriate to reward them more for their continuous and dedicated work.

“Significant” education investments are also on the governor’s list as the “top priority” for general funds appropriations. The details aren’t out yet, but Little did well in the current year’s budget, restoring holdbacks and continuing teacher pay enhancements. Idaho’s commitment to public education is enshrined in the state constitution, and will remain, despite the so-called Freedom Foundation’s goal of eliminating public schools and slashing universities. On the budget writing committee, JFAC, the only “no” votes were from Reps. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg and Priscilla Giddings, White Bird, both arch-opponents of public education.

Rightists, led by McGeachin and the Freedom Foundation, may wish it wasn’t so, but a new budget will keep Idaho apace with state overall and student population growth. We’re not going back to the “outhouse” days which she and others seem to glamourize.

In another snapshot, the Idaho Department of Labor showed the non-farm work force at 874,000, an increase of 8.1 percent from 2020. Idahoans have been steadily returning to work as the pandemic fades and business expansion takes hold. “Help Wanted” signs are up all across the state; labor shortages are being reported in many industries and “job jumping” is returning as employers boost wages and benefits to attract and hold employees.

The Magic Valley unemployment rate dropped to 3.2 percent, and overall non-farm employment passed its pre-pandemic level, adding some 1,300 jobs to the local labor market. The Southeast Idaho region also had a 3.0 percent unemployment rate and showed a jump in its workforce, from 85,000 to over 88,000. (Dept of Labor, 6/21)

And then there’s the underlying population increase; Idaho added more than 265,000 residents in the past ten years census, many of them from places that have witnessed deteriorating quality of life. Here, those arrivals find work, opportunity, futures for themselves and their families. They look around and except for the shrill babblings from the rightists, things seem pretty darn good in Idaho on the leadership front. That’s the Idaho way.

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

Nothing eternal but change


In June of 1964 – 57 years ago – the United States Senate came face-to-face with the nation’s future. And a strange thing happened, it least in the context of today’s politics, bipartisanship broke out.

A catalyst for one of the most important legislative accomplishments of the 20th Century was an unconventional politician from the heartland who was also a conventional conservative.

When Everett Dirksen of Illinois took the Senate floor on June 10, 1964, he was at the apex of his influence, considered by many the most powerful man in the Senate. He was the minority leader.

“Years ago,” Dirksen told a Senate paralyzed as a result of a filibuster over civil right legislation, “a professor who thought he had developed an incontrovertible scientific premise submitted it to his faculty associates. Quickly they picked it apart. In agony he cried out, ‘Is nothing eternal?’ To this one of his associates replied, ‘Nothing is eternal except change.’”

Dirksen was a flamboyant figure. As a young man he aspired to a career before the footlights, and he wrote many plays. The Senate eventually became his stage. With a glorious voice – “like honey dripping on metal tiles” one contemporary explained – an expressive face and a mane of unmanageable grey hair, Dirksen was a true political celebrity. Think Mitch McConnell without the meanness, obstruction and undemocratic instincts.

Dirksen could be a committed partisan, but he knew when to compromise in the national interest. Dirksen’s speech in June 1964 helped break the back of a southern led filibuster against the Civil Rights Act. “America grows. America changes,” Dirksen said. “And on the civil rights issue we must rise with the occasion. That calls for cloture and for the enactment of a civil rights bill.”

Quoting Victor Hugo – imagine McConnell doing so today – Dirksen said, “Stronger than all the armies is an idea whose time has come.” The filibuster ended, the Senate passed the historic Civil Rights Act – a simple idea, Dirksen said, to take a big step toward equality for every American – with a bipartisan majority of 71-29.

Among other provisions, as the Senate historian has written, the Civil Rights Act “contained sections relating to discrimination in education, in voting, and in public accommodations such as restaurants, theaters, hotels and motels; it also strengthened the Civil Rights Commission and established an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.” Change had come to America, slowly but unmistakably.

I recount this history, in part, to celebrate Dirksen’s role in creating this landmark legislation, a conservative Republican working with Democratic liberals like Hubert Humphrey to pass a bill opposed by people in both parties, but also because this history is missing from our troubled moment.

The recent jumbled, often silly Senate fulminations – there was no real debate – over efforts to protect and expand voting rights was mostly a fact-free zone where the history of making voting easier and more widely available had no place. Democrats lacked an effective strategy to protect voting, which played directly into the hands of Republicans who fell back, as is increasingly common, on absurd bad faith arguments.

Wyoming Republican John Barasso, a leader of the Senate’s bad faith caucus, claimed that voter protection efforts were “designed to make it easier for Democrats to cheat so that they would never lose an election again.”

The senator actually said that as the Brennan Center Justice documented that 22 of the 24 laws that restrict voter’s rights, introduced and passed in state legislatures so far this year, were entirely the work of Republicans. On the very day Senate Republicans to a person opposed even debating protections for voting by mail and same day registration, the GOP governor of Texas summoned a special session of the legislature to pass new voting restrictions.

If you are confused by what’s been transpiring remember this: The Republican filibuster in the Senate utilized a tactic to protect minority rights, in order to infringe on minority rights. It’s what southern Democrats were doing in 1964.

Or as Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, an African American whose election last November gave his party control of the Senate, put it: “What could be more hypocritical and cynical than invoking minority rights in the Senate as a pretext for preventing debate about how to preserve minority rights in society.”

Georgia, of course, elected two Democrats to the Senate last year, both because of high levels of electoral participation by minority voters. Republicans who control the legislature there have responded with new voting restrictions.

This is part of a larger, obvious pattern. Republicans lose elections because they fail to appeal to minority voters, so they find ways to make it harder for minority voters to vote. It is a hypocritical and cynical approach, but very effective.

The current national debate about teaching about racism and exploring the nation’s often troubled history is a neat compliment to the GOP voter restriction strategy. The fable that the last presidential election was not fairly won is also part of this narrative.

It was the great novelist and essayist Gore Vidal who said, “We learn nothing because we remember nothing.” History ignored, distorted or forgotten is history not applied.

When Republican Ev Dirksen helped pass the Civil Rights Act in 1964 it was hailed as “a second Reconstruction,” making good on a 100-year-old promise to, among others, descendants of slaves. That legislation was followed a year later by a powerful Voting Rights Act, finally making good the words of the 15th Amendment that became effective in 1870. Dirksen and many fellow Republicans were again a driving force to get that legislation passed.

The Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of the 1960’s were fiercely debated. Amendments – dozens of them – were considered. And compromise in tribute to a fundamental principle – the right to be treated equally and to vote – was arrived at. American democracy was strengthened. Now it’s being weakened.

The Supreme Court sharply reduced the effectiveness of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, gutting the section of the law that would have made restrictions like Georgia’s more difficult. Congress, with Republicans refusing to budge, has been unwilling to respond. Now conservatives won’t even debate many of the issues fundamental to voting.

The partisan political shenanigans around voting in America, with one party trying to protect and expand this fundamental democratic right and another doing everything possible to limit it, confirms that we learn nothing because we remember nothing.

Nothing is eternal except change. The change underway in America is sadly about taking us back.

The Bundy position


Have you seen Ammon Bundy’s campaign website?

Check it out before you dismiss his chances in an already-complex 2022 race for governor.

And plenty of people do dismiss him, as a political figure at least. You can start with Tom Luna, chair of the Idaho Republican Party:

“First, Mr. Bundy is currently not registered to vote in Idaho, and he is not even registered as a Republican. Furthermore, we do not support his antics or his chaotic political theater. That is not the Idaho Republican Party, and we will not turn a blind eye to his behaviors. To be clear, I was elected Chairman of the Idaho Republican Party to unite all Republicans to share and celebrate conservative values and preserve our traditional way of life. Conversely, Ammon Bundy wishes to divide our party, openly supports defunding the police, and has known alliances with the radical factions of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. Republicans are the party of law and order, and Ammon Bundy is not suited to call himself an Idaho Republican let alone run for Governor of our great state.”

There’s that, and you can go on from there, taking in the standoffs at the Malheur wildlife refuge, the invasions of the Idaho statehouse (I use that verb because police wound up arresting him and hauling him out), his battles against efforts to protect public health during a pandemic, and more. If you pay attention to the news reports around the Northwest, you know the story.

He is seeking to be the chief executive of Idaho’s government without any kind of experience in working with or even dealing with government in any way other than protesting it. (Remember that every Idaho governor in the last 80 years, of both parties, had significant state or federal elective office experience before becoming governor.) That absence of practical experience coupled with Luna’s legitimate political complaint, not even to mention his periodic brushes with the law, should logically wipe Bundy from any kind of serious consideration. Yes, outsiders have tried for the office before, some in recent years, but none have come particularly close.

And yet … this is a Trumpian time, very much so in Idaho, and it’s not hard to see an Ammon Bundy generating a big, powerful charge from the many, many Trump supporters in Idaho. On a gut level, the raw appeal is much the same.

And - if that’s not enough to convince you to take him seriously, as it might not be - look at his website. Really.

It is one of the most polished, professional (whoever crafted it deserves an award for web design) political campaign websites I've seen, matching up well with presidential-level operations. It has well-edited essays (not saying I agree with them, but well-written) on not only his platform but also rebuttals to much of what’s being or been said about him, including most of the points in the preceding paragraphs. It is so well fleshed out that there’s even a campaign song with a music video ready to play. (I’ll refrain from quoting it since you may be eating breakfast as you read this.) I intend no irony here about the quality of Bundy’s website; it’s top notch. There’s both money and skill, on a serious level, behind it. (I do wonder about the source of all that.)

So I and many other people may have been fooled by Bundy’s initial bungled-appearing announcement of his run, which I now think may have been intended to convey the impression of a low key and poorly-run campaign. His much more formal announcement in Meridian before a large crowd was far more effective, and it may be a better indicator of what’s to come.

Keep an eye on the Bundy campaign.

Perilous times ahead


Most who are or used to be considered Republicans believe in a degree of fiscal conservatism: that taxes should be exclusively used to raise money to run the government and not as tools of social change, that federal programs run from Washington D.C. are not the answer to every problem of our society, and that our involvement in foreign relations should be limited to matters of national interest.

They favor a free market economy, but not the unregulated pipe dream advocated by the extreme right. John Maynard Keynes correctly teaches that the government should influence monetary policy, especially in precarious times. Adam Smith warned that the middle classes had to have protection from the capitalists’ greed. The last 40 years has provided convincing evidence that “trickle down economics” does not trickle down. No qualified economist has ever accepted the premises of “supply-side” economics. A degree of governmental regulation is necessary.

The Republican party used to be a big tent with moderate views associated with the more conservative wing of the party. The conservative wing spoke of the same policies as the moderate voices, but in stronger tones and in terms of absolutes. The farthest right would totally eliminate federalism, do away with taxation, and isolate the country from international affairs completely.

The politicians elected to office used to be a practical group, recognizing that the country presented a broad spectrum of political thought extending from the outer left reaches of socialism, through the liberal to moderate wings of the Democratic Party, then the moderate to conservative wings of the Republicans, to the extreme nuts of anarchy on the far right. They recognized that the actual government of the country, regardless of which party was in power, should exist from the middle, and they were content that the compromises worked out between the parties would fall somewhere within the 40% of policies bracketing the middle, satisfied that such results truly represented the will of the majority.

These views are no longer sustained by the Republican party, which has shifted so far to the right that its origins can no longer be seen. Worse, the party has taken conscious steps to drive out the respected moderate or middle-of-the-road members. Right-leaning middle-of-the-roaders are derisively termed RINOs -- Republicans In Name Only – and are being driven out of participation in any party affairs – the most recent example being Liz Cheney ousted from leadership for daring to express a view most consider to be only slightly towards the center.

Today’s Republican must support the utterly nonsensical contention that any opposition to a hard-right Republican position is nothing short of treason; that Democrats are not just of a different political party but are anti-Americans and are intentionally planning on destroying America. To this inane hard line has recently been added the equally nonsensical and inane requirement – being unquestioned, demonstrable support and loyalty to Donald Trump.

The introduction of Trump into this fray has been disastrous. Through a series of circumstances that no one expected then or yet understands to this day, Trump became President in 2016. History has never witnessed a more divisive political leader. His demand of subservient personal loyalty is out of mediaeval times and is a degree of fealty seen today only in the most severe autocratic regimes. Through vicious personal attacks delivered without edit or oversight via social media and in demagogic rallies, and with a complete disregard for the truth, in his four short years of office Trump personally managed to tear down or significantly weaken essentially every historical institution and perceptions of freedom that have been considered pillars of our democracy.

Because of Trump, our once widely respected free press is no longer trusted, the integrity of the FBI has been compromised, the NIH, our world class behemoth of medical research, has been weakened by charges of malpractice and incompetence, results from our independent judiciary are thought to be consciously political, the notion that no man is above the law is now open to question, and the motives of our prosecutors are examined for political purity. His actions have dispelled the notion that a congressmen’s and senators’ primary duties is to the country and Constitution, insisting instead that they remain tribal to the cause of the party. And in a most amazing display of petulant narcissism, he has convinced a huge number of us that our national election process – managed independently by the 50 states, and further independently within each state by the thousands of separate precincts and voting districts - was silently and secretly corrupted by a massive conspiracy which deprived Trump of a win and thereby invalidated the 2020 election.

One result of all this is today’s completely dysfunctional Congress. Congressional Republicans are refusing to compromise and refusing to consider any proposal they have not originated. The stand prepared to bring the country to a halt if their goals cannot be met. Under the present rules of the senate, the Republican minority is able to maintain a complete gridlock on legislative process.

It should be abundantly obvious that this philosophy of governance is absolutely destined to fail. As divided as our country is, there is no way it can continue if every decision has to be exclusively within the parameters dictated by those on the extreme right edge of one party. The only way we can thrive is if decisions are within the brackets of a comfortable 40% of middle -- with the extreme wings of both sides accepting these results as the will of the majority and the only practical reality that can be achieved in a democratic society.

Until the massive insurrection at the nation’s capitol, instigated by Trump, most believed that no matter what the political machinations were, the country itself was safe. Now, as we listen to the baseless and reckless accusations coming from the right fringe and watch the streaming videos of the senseless beatings and physical destruction they administered in the halls of our capitol, the future of our country is no longer a certainty. There are already discussions underway in several major political regions about secession or alternatives.

The immediate question is how long will the country bumble along if the Republicans do not act quickly and awaken to the necessity of reorganizing themselves. This means there is a real question whether Republican party will succumb to reality in time and either disappear or reinvent itself. Under present Republican leadership, and given their unexplainable devotion to Trump, the future for the party does not look good. But the situation is dire and the consequences will be disastrous if change does not come soon.

The country may well come apart first.

(photo/Dee Brausch)

Risch, liberated


Sen. Jim Risch’s political life was much more fun with Donald Trump as president and Republicans had control of the Senate. But perhaps there is something liberating with President Biden in the White House.

For one, Risch got to write an op-ed for the Washington Post in advance of Biden’s summit with Russian strongman Vladmir Putin. Afterward, the senator released a statement expressing his disappointment with the outcome of the high-level meeting.

Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, remains fairly measured in his criticisms of Biden, but he’s not shy about speaking up when he finds flaws with the administration’s actions.

That wasn’t the case when Trump was president and Risch was the committee chairman. During those days, Risch would not dare to pen op-eds or circulate press releases criticizing Trump. Risch has said that any disagreements with Trump were discussed privately. He did not test Trump’s volcanic temper.

Of course, Risch was part of Trump’s inner circle – a confidant on foreign policy issues. Risch remains as one of the Senate’s foremost experts on foreign policy, but he is not part of a Democratic president’s inner circle. So, Risch can say what he wants about Biden and there’s a wide audience that will listen to what he has to say.

That must feel liberating. And it’s all done in the name of congressional oversight.

In his op-ed with the Washington Post, Risch discussed Biden’s objective to put the relationship with Russia on a stable and predictable path. “Yet, despite repeated statements from the Kremlin that it is open to normalization, progress on arms control and cooperation on issues of mutual interest, it has yet to take a single step that would demonstrate any commitment to these goals. In fact, Putin thrives on chaos,” Risch wrote.

The senator dinged Biden for heading into the summit without a clear agenda or defined strategic goals.

Not surprisingly, Risch came out with a list of “disappointments” with the outcome of the Biden-Putin meeting. “I’m disappointed Biden made no efforts to address Russia’s Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty violations, while the Biden administration unilaterally disarms,” Risch said. “Summits are about delivering results … so to learn there was no tangible progress made with Russia on any issues is both unfortunate and disappointing.”

During Putin’s 20-year rule, Risch said, “the West has failed to meet his aggressive conduct with any response that has generated lasting change. I am disappointed by issues that remain unresolved following President Biden’s meeting with Vladimir Putin.”

Without saying so directly, Risch was taking a swipe at Trump – who was president for four of those 20 years. As far as dealing effectively with Russia, Risch is saying in effect that both presidents failed.

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, had a decidedly different perspective than Risch. The Democratic chairman was far from disappointed about the outcome.

“President Biden did his job and stood up for the American people by making it clear that the United States will respond to Kremlin aggression where and when it happens,” Menendez said. “This was a necessary reality check for Putin and a welcome departure from the past four years of Trump’s coddling of the Kremlin. President Biden made it clear his administration understands the critical principle that we have to engage with Russia on arms control issues to ensure a nuclear war never happens.”

We can pray that a nuclear war between two giants never happens. Politically, it’s understandable that Menendez and Risch offer praise and criticisms of the president. But if things go terribly sideways in our country’s relationship with Russia, those two senators could play leading roles in putting this on the right course.

And if that national emergency were to occur, it would be nice to think that the senators would be non-partisan in their approach to solving the problem.

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