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Posts published in June 2021

Erasing history


The Republican attorney general of Montana last week issued a binding opinion about “critical race theory,” or put another way Austin Knudsen stirred the simmering pot of history erasure.

In Tennessee, the governor, Bill Lee, a mechanical engineer by training who clearly missed taking any history electives in college, signed legislation that, as the Associated Press reported, bans “teachers from teaching certain concepts of race and racism in public schools, where teachers risk losing valuable state funding if they violate the new measure.”

Idaho, Oklahoma and Iowa have also passed this senseless legislation – a dozen other states entertained proposals of one kind or another – that is really aimed at keeping the culture war at a rolling boil. The controversy has literally nothing to do with American history and everything to do with the pursuit of grievance and anger that drives the overwhelmingly white, nativist wing of the Republican Party.

Idaho’s embrace of this assault on history and free inquiry resulted in outright elimination of funding “to support social justice ideology student activities, clubs, events and organizations on campus.” The would-be governor of Idaho, Janice McGeachin, has now added her own Joe McCarthy twist to the saga with an “indoctrination task force” aimed at rooting out “teachings on social justice, critical race theory, socialism, communism, (and) Marxism.”

In the Montana case, the small thinking conservatives in charge of state government were immediately slammed by human rights activists, teachers, the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of others. Travis McAdams, with the Montana Human Rights Network, said the attorney general’s opinion “creates unnecessary confusion around racism and how it impacts people in Montana.” Montana’s top legal officer and the state school superintendent, who asked for the opinion, McAdams said “are implying that discussions about real-life examples of discrimination, bias, and privilege are somehow racist, and that is completely false.”

The folks behind these proposals, and one suspects most of them really couldn’t define what precisely they want to ban, have actually selected an auspicious moment in which to roll out a national discussion of racism and white privilege. They are casting a spotlight on how the overwhelmingly white advocates of these moves seek to re-write history.

How inconvenient for the Idaho lieutenant governor and the Montana attorney general that their crusade just happens to coincide with the remembrance of the worst race riot in American history, a radical bit of white supremacist mayhem and murder visited on the African American residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31 and June 1, 1921.

Few atrocities in American history have been so completely covered up, denied and re-written as what happened in the prosperous, black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa one hundred years ago. Historian Scott Ellsworth, a Tulsa native, has written one of several new books about the horrible history.

As the New York Times said in its review: “Among white Tulsans, Ellsworth encountered a mix of shame and defiance. Photographs and official records had disappeared. Someone had even cut out relevant parts of The Tulsa Tribune before the newspaper was committed to microfilm. Black Tulsans, too, had their own reasons not to revisit what happened. What they had lived through was horrific — Ellsworth himself has likened it to an American Kristallnacht. Many of those who had survived didn’t want to burden their children with such trauma.”

It should be noted that at least 300 Tulsa African Americans died in the riot, a number that almost certainly understates the death toll, and millions of dollars of property was destroyed. No one was ever charged, insurance claims were disallowed, no reparations have been paid, and until lately no comprehensive accounting has been attempted. This is what erasing history looks like.

Karlos Hill, a historian at the University of Oklahoma, has published a photographic history of the Tulsa Race Massacre. “An extensive race massacre photo archive exists,” Hill has written, “because so many white participants desired to visually represent and share with other whites their role in the violent destruction of the Greenwood District. White Tulsans’ eagerness to photograph the community’s devastation was reflective of turn-of-the century lynching culture, in which photography was central.”

Tulsa in 1921 is just one example, one horrible example, of how our nation’s history of racism and white supremacy has been systematically ignored. Perpetuating the myths that these things didn’t happen or weren’t all that important distracts from the continuing struggle to bring about greater racial and class reconciliation.

Without confronting the past we cannot confront the present. It’s really just that simple.

Dana Thompson Dorsey, an education professor at the University of South Florida, told the Iowa Capitol Dispatch recently: “If you’re going to say that racism can’t be discussed, or critical race theory cannot be in civics or any type of history courses, you’re saying that racism did not exist in America and does not exist in America. That’s not true.”

“You’re going to be mis-educating students, un-educating students and not allowing them to learn the real history of the United States of America.” Dorsey stresses that real teaching about racism utilizes primary sources, the documents that detail the history.

Do we really want to put the writings of a Fredrick Douglass or a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., or the story of courage and struggle of a Chief Joseph off limits in American classrooms? It’s clear that this wave of punitive legislation and teacher intimidation is aimed squarely at such an outcome.

The United States is a great, diverse, complicated country. Our collective past exhibits both glory and grief, heroism and heresy. We should not shy from grappling with the full measure of that history.

The Constitution speaks of forming “a more perfect union.” It does not say it is already perfect.

We study history in all its messy, contradictory, troubling, ennobling and confusing complexity because history helps us understand where we are going as people, as a society, as a country. We won’t ever get better – more perfect – by denying our past.

Role model


Many of us complain a lot about many of the people populating American politics, but in doing so we often miss half of the equation. We see what we don’t like, but we don’t stop to consider the qualities we should be seeking out.

Here’s someone in whom you can find a great many of those positive qualities: Phil Batt, former governor and legislator and still an Idahoan concerned about the way things are going.

When I first encountered him long ago, via phone interview as a college newspaper reporter, Batt already had been around state politics for a decade and was then state Senate majority leader. He also had, already, developed a reputation in those circles as smart, trustworthy, a natural leader other people turned to, hard-working and, despite all that, not too full of himself. He was confident while stopping short of arrogance. And he could be fun to talk to. (When occasionally, back then, he’d send me a short hand-written note, it was always signed with a scrawled drawing of a bat.)

You can encounter Phil Batt in a new book called Lucky: The Wit and Wisdom of Governor Phil Batt, just published by Caxton Books. It is based around a series of interviews with Rod Gramer, who was a journalist in Idaho for many years, and includes essays from about a half-dozen people who got to know Batt. (Disclaimer: I was one of them.)

After those earlier years I alluded to, Batt went on to become lieutenant governor and, a dozen years after that, governor of Idaho. He served one term in each office, and generally made a practice of serving no more than a half-dozen or so years at a stretch in the legislature. Serving the people wasn’t about himself, he reasoned; it had more to do with staying close to those people, and not losing their perspective.

There is something to be said for accumulating experience in office, too, and I continue to think that the state missed out from not having a second Batt term; he was just hitting his full stride as his first came to an end. At a recent University of Idaho panel about this book, I made that point and was seconded by a person who in a way should have an incentive to the contrary: Dirk Kempthorne, the former senator and interior secretary who replaced Batt (who likely would have won easily) as governor instead. He recalled that at the time, he tried to talk Batt into running again.

Phil Batt remains a solid Republican - the former chair of the Idaho Republican Party (which he rebuilt in a bleak period for the organization) could hardly do otherwise.

But how many Republican leaders today would say something like this, as Batt did in a newspaper column from 1975: “Of all mankind’s baser modes of behavior, I believe that racism is the worst. It is the prime cause of a majority of wars. It causes fist fights, murder and fear. Perhaps worse, it causes millions of people to live in degradation and hopelessness.” That was no aberration, either; human rights have been a driving force throughout his public life.

What, you might ask, does Batt think about the current state of politics?

Here he was a little more guarded in his remarks. At one point, asked about Donald Trump, he replied - uncharacteristically - “Got to be careful of what I say,” and more or less walked around the subject.

He was more bluntly concerned with the anger and bitterness in politics these days. “The current political climate is a shameful thing,” he said in the book’s interview. “I don’t have an answer for it, but it has damaged our country worldwide and can get a lot worse.” His usual political optimism seems more muted here.

But I do have an answer for it. We can elect people who approach their public responsibilities - and we can act as responsible citizens - in many of the ways Phil Batt has. That would mark a definite improvement over a lot of what we have now.

Who are they?


A commentary from Darrell Kerby, from Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

Who are these people? Where did they come from?  

Now, most of our new citizens that have immigrated to our beautiful North Idaho are not the subject of this writing. Only a few of them who believe and have self-anointed themselves as our saviors are being discussed here.
When did they decide to take advantage of our friendly accepting nature to exploit and take over and politically control where we were born and live, our beautiful North Idaho? North Idaho’s accepting nature has been turned against us by these new people who have run for political office as Republicans, were voted into office because of our own complacency of either not voting or not taking the time to learn who they were.

Today these recently minted elected officials now believe they have garnered enough power to begin to expel locally grown and raised Republicans from our party by calling them names like non-Republicans or RINOs (Republicans in name only). Well, it’s high time those of us who have buried loved ones for generations in the hallowed soil of our home ground to stand up and make our statement that enough is enough.

Recently a group of these newly minted radicals who are trying to co-opt our party have come out to smear one of our own locally home grown veteran heroes who we elected as our state senator, Jim Woodward. His alleged crime? Using his brain when he votes. He actually doesn’t listen to the organization that is being used as a shadow government known as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a Boise-based lobbying organization that has set itself up as judge and jury for anyone who has the audacity to vote against their radical will.

Our Republican Party has never been against public education, has never been about preventing efficiency in emergency response to wide-spread disasters in our state. Our Republican Party has never been racist, or tolerant of radical white supremacy groups, or individuals who advocate violence against our state and nation. It’s time to call them out for who they are.

Let’s look at who Jim Woodward really is. A decorated veteran who was born and raised in Bonners Ferry. He attended and graduated from the University of Idaho, willingly put his life on the line to protect our freedoms by serving in our Armed forces and due to his high IQ and intellectual intelligence raised to the level of being entrusted with the most powerful weapon that has ever existed, a Trident submarine. Jim literally was trusted with the keys to launching nuclear weapons. Today, he started and owns a successful construction business home based in Bonner County where he also is raising his family. Jim’s ability to reason and understand complex issues has placed him as one of Idaho’s most respected leaders.
His personal adherence to our local North Idaho moral values and his proven strength of functioning under extreme stress has allowed him to stand up to the bullying tactics used by the “Idaho Freedom Foundation.“

It is time for all of us who value the lifestyle and freedoms that we all grew up with here in North Idaho to reject the agenda of these radical newcomers. While we are naturally accepting and willing to provide people a lot of slack when they arrive, we are also willing to tighten that slack when we see it clearly abused.

Darrell Kerby is a former mayor of Bonners Ferry.



Wars kill, and somehow that death in battle is more hallowed than another. Service should be honored. The ones who live through a war might have lost something vital too. As we remember the wartime fallen this Memorial Day, let us also remember the harm we cause when we pursue mortal conflict.

My father was no flag waving patriot, though he was a Republican. World War II found him nearing the end of his college time at Oregon State. He paid for his tuition bussing tables at a frat house and spinning ropes to entertain dudes in Sun Valley. He enlisted because he knew otherwise, he’d be drafted, and maybe through enlistment he could become an officer. Their pay was better.

But he wouldn’t tell me about it. I was a third grader, drawing pictures of tanks and bombers, reading American Heritage books about every war I could. I even asked him about the medals I heard he’d gotten.

“Dad, what’s a Purple Heart for?”

He pulled on his Pall Mall and shook his head.

“How did you get yours?”

He looked away and held a long pause. “Shrapnel in my butt. Million-dollar wound they called it.” I had seen the divot in his buttock when he got out of the bath.

“How about the Bronze Star? What was that for?”

Here he shook his head even stronger and looked up and away. “They gave those to everybody.”

I tried many times to ask him about war, fighting, getting shot at or shooting at others. He would tell me nothing.

Maybe I just didn’t know how to ask my old man in a way he could relate to. Maybe it was my distance from him he felt, his only son. Maybe he was born with too much shame.

His birth was in a tent out by the creek because his dad’s family wouldn’t allow the woman/girl his father married six months before his birth into their respectable house.

Or maybe the war had damaged him, and he just couldn’t share that pain. I will never know.

Maybe it was the shame I felt, when the teacher asked, “What does your father do?” and I answered as I had been told, “He’s self-employed.” Because I couldn’t say he played poker for money and didn’t pay taxes on his winnings. He didn’t know anything about Libertarians, but Republican was as close as he could get fifty years ago.

I grew into my teen age years and my disrespect grew. Mark Twain talked about how the teenage son sees his father for a fool. Twain says the son marvels that the old man can learn so much as the son matures. But it was much later I grew to respect him; too late.

I was arguing with a friend about inherited intelligence. “Look at our family. My two sisters were valedictorians in high school classes for 400+, and I was salutatorian in a class of 500+, and my parents were pretty average.”

He smirked. “Are you sure?”

I can’t be.

Dad was very complex, even though he was a Republican.

Maybe it was when he beat me time and again in Scrabble that I saw him differently. Maybe it was when he was so tender with my daughters, and I didn’t remember that tenderness that my sight changed. I don’t know.

His drinking faded. His business failures did not burden me though I believe he carried them. And the war experience might have explained how we had to be so careful waking him up. Mom would say, “Dinners ready, go wake your dad.” And I, the youngest would have to.

“Dad!” I would call from the doorway. If I had to touch him, I knew to step back because he would lash out violently.

Wars kill. Wars main. Wars harm. Let us remember.

Dear Senator Manchin


An open letter.

I am writing to respectfully ask you to vote to substantially reform, end, or suspend the filibuster.

I understand your impetus to work with Republicans and to do everything possible to achieve bipartisan consensus. At other times in our nation’s history, that laudable goal might have been achievable. Today it is not only illusive, but unattainable.

I believe you are honorably motivated, but there are times when, despite one’s personal good intentions, one must confront the reality that others are not similarly motivated. The sad truth is that, in today’s GOP, there are not ten senators who are willing to join with Democrats in voting for any significant piece of legislation – no matter how critical that legislation might be to the survival of our republic. For proof of that certainty, we need look no further than the vote on the legislation to create a bipartisan independent commission to investigate the January 6, 2021 assault on the capitol building and on Congress itself.

Prior to the vote on the bipartisan independent commission legislation, you said, “I’m not ready to destroy our government. I think a bill will come together. You have to have faith.” To our sorrow, we learned that all the optimism in the world will not move those who are not acting in good faith. Not for the first time Mitch McConnell failed to act in good faith and there is no reason to expect that he ever will.

Recently, 100 scholars of democracy signed a public statement making clear that nothing less that the future of democracy is at stake. Their crucial point is this: our democracy’s long-term viability depends on whether Democrats do what is necessary in order to pass national voting and election administration standards set forth in the For the People Act, which has passed the House and is now before the Senate. Significantly, the scholars note that the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, which would restore some protections removed by the Supreme Court, would not be sufficient to protect our democracy.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has announced that the For the People Act will be voted on this month. If the filibuster remains in place, the GOP will kill the bill. In so doing, it is they who will destroy our government. You can stop this. You can be a profile in courage, and stand up to the obstruction and destruction.

I urge you as strongly as I possibly can to vote to end, or substantially reform, the filibuster, or – at a minimum – suspend it for this singular vote on the For the People Act. Please do not continue to maintain unwarranted faith in Republicans who opt to do personal favors for Mitch McConnell at the expense of our republic. If you vote to end, substantially reform, or suspend the filibuster, you will not destroy our government. You will save it.

Partisanship roadblocks


During his heyday as governor, Cecil Andrus – a Democrat – had an uncanny way of appealing to even the most partisan of Republicans.

He’d talk about things that all Idahoans could agree with – such as quality schools, good roads and safe communities. And while Andrus constantly would get his share of pushback from Republicans in the political arena, Idaho voters solidly supported his agenda.

Arguably, Andrus was the most popular and accomplished governor in the Gem State’s history, and it’s no secret why. He was a master politician and nobody played the game better.

President Biden could learn a lot from old Cece. Instead of the president getting something done, as Andrus did, there seems to be gridlock as usual in the nation’s capital.

Biden talked a good game about unifying the country after four stormy years of Donald Trump and working with Republicans. He has not had much to do with the GOP, beyond inviting Sen. Mike Crapo and a group of Republican senators to the White House to discuss his infrastructure plan. We’ll see if the meeting amounted to anything more than a photo-op.

As Crapo described, with some political grace, “I am encouraged by the productive meeting I had with President Biden and some of my Republican Senate colleagues about the need to modernize and expand our transportation system and broadband network in a bipartisan manner.”

If the president had stuck to that framework, he would have hit a home run with Republicans. Crapo, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, is all for improving roads and bridges, transit, rail, airports, drinking water and waste-water infrastructure, port and inland waterways, water storage and broadband infrastructure.

Those things would cost in the range of $570 billion and the president could have that bill in his hands within weeks. Crapo might even be willing to co-sponsor a bill with that price tag. He might well go along with the GOP’s counter plan, which calls for spending $1 trillion for traditional infrastructure projects – which is a giant leap forward for Republicans.

“There is bipartisan support for finding long-term funding and financing solutions for transportation infrastructure, as well as increasing access to broadband connections, particularly in rural America,” Crapo told his committee colleagues. “Let’s get to work in a bipartisan way to maintain, modernize and expand America’s infrastructure.”

Hear! Hear!

But, no. Democrats want more. They want to spend at least $1.7 trillion (down from $2.3 trillion), with much of the money going for things that have nothing to do with roads, bridges and traditional infrastructure. And they want to pay for it by taxing the longtime enemy of Democrats – the rich people.

As Crapo told the committee, “Consideration of offsetting the cost of infrastructure with a corporate tax rate increase or increases in international taxes, especially coming out of the largest negative shock to the economy on record, is counterproductive and a non-starter on my side of the aisle.”

The senator says there are other options for funding infrastructure needs. “There is no silver bullet for how to pay for transportation infrastructure, but historically it has been paid for by user fees, which makes sense.”

Apparently, that’s a non-starter for the president and progressive-minded Democrats. So, that leaves us in a political stalemate, with a good chance of coming out with nothing. Unless, of course, Democrats find a way to ram through their agenda through reconciliation – which would leave Republicans out of the picture. Those power plays tend to catch up with majority parties in mid-term elections.

If Biden were to look more at the big picture – as the late Cecil Andrus did during his time as governor – the president could walk away as a hero and the nation could start the work on repairing a crumbling infrastructure. Who knows what could happen from there? Bipartisanship could end up being a fashion statement in Washington politics, instead of the exception. If Democrats played it smart, as they rarely do, they could hold onto power well beyond the mid-term elections.

But don’t count on that happening. Unfortunately, President Biden is showing that he is no Cecil Andrus.

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



I’ve recently had two questions rolling around in my head with no answers. Let’s lay them out here and see if you can help.

Question #1: Is the current Republican Party worth saving?

Question #2. Can a Conservative, viable Republican Party - a la pre-Donald Trump - be created?

Here’s my take so far: question #1, No. Question #2, Yes. Maybe.

Let’s deal with question one. Trump has turned what was, once, a respected political party into a cult. Some sane Republicans remain but their ranks are fewer. The followers - most of whom were probably Republicans or unaffiliated - seem to swallow whatever “wisdom” he throws their way as “gospel truth.” His “big lie” has become their mantra.

Despite the dishonesty, thievery and absurdities, Trump is - and will continue to be - a force to be reckoned with. What affect the likely indictment(s), for one crime or another, will have on his followers is an open question. I’d guess his impact will lessen.

What passes as the Republican Party, at the moment, seems captive to him. I’m certain there are many sane, responsible members of the GOP who want nothing to do with what’s called “the Trump wing” of the Republican Party. But, he IS the Republican Party.

The problem is, those folks who want to see change don’t seem able to wrest what’s left of the Party from his control. They have no alternative “core” or voice to rally around. Even the Chair of the Party is a Trumper, So, Trump’s voice is the only one heard. His behind-the-scenes influence goes unchecked. At the moment, the GOP seems to be the “Trump GOP.”

If we agree with this evidence - and much more - the answer to question #1 is probably “no.”

So, question two. “Can a viable Republican Party be created?” Possibly. But, to create it, it seems there would have to be a “Republican Two” or “Republican Lite” or - well, you come up with a new moniker.

Whatever it is, the second GOP would have to have a new core, a set of values more nearly aligned with the original. Someone - several someone’s - must come forward with a message acceptable to disaffected Republicans. A sound platform of issues around which others could join must be created. A rebirth of “Republicanism” seems necessary to save the Party from itself.

At the moment, I don’t know who has the gravitas to make a clear, clarion call. Some folks want former Secretary of State Colin Powell to step forward. Great. But Powell is 84-years-old. The likelihood he’d give up a well-earned retirement at that age is pretty slim.

There’s Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania who may lose his Senate seat in 2021, also several other GOP leaders who have national notoriety, but I can’t name very many. And, certainly, none who’ve remained active in leadership of the Party since Trump.

So, it would seem the answer to question two is “Maybe.”

We’re about 16 months away from the 2021 election. Not a lot of time to create the kind of second “GOP” necessary, with a viable core and new candidates with new messages. Not much time at all.

Give those two questions some thought. And, if you come up with some different ideas, I’d like to hear from you. We - you and I - are where the answers to these questions have to come from. It’s worth some time to give them some serious thought.