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Posts published in October 2021

Better times ahead


Lo and behold, the Idaho economy isn’t going anywhere except up and to the bank. Whiners and complainers want you to think all we need to do is “drain the swamp” in Boise and things will be sunrise and roses.

But the real numbers show Idaho is already doing fine on the economic front. Almost $170 million in taxpayer rebates have gone out to Idaho taxpayers this year.

In a recent report to the Legislature’s joint finance and appropriations committee, Alex Adams from the division of financial management summarize the numbers in public testimony. Checks went out to nearly 645,000 Idaho income taxpayers this year, rebates based on income taxes paid in 2020. Last session, the Legislature added another $220 million in one-time income tax rebates and $163 million in ongoing income savings. (IdahoPress, 10, 22). And this is on top of an earlier tax rebate.

These tax reductions helped Idaho achieve back-to-back tax returns in consecutive years, as well as provide ongoing rate drops. These may not seem to be a lot, but over time, they’re substantial.

The take of the malcontents is that Idaho is struggling on every front, that the economy is in the tank and that there’s no progress anywhere. This is patent BS, designed to lead you into thinking things terrible when they’re not.

This line is pushed by these economic Medievalists who think it’s ok for you and your children to live in poverty while they reap the rewards of connections to out-of-state money and influence peddlers. It is truly amazing that common-sense people in Idaho would fall for such horse-pucky.

Why is Idaho done so well in coming out of the pandemic and leading the nation in economic growth? One reason certainly is the population increase. We’re up more than 250,000 people in 10 years, second only to Utah’s growth. More people in Idaho translate into more jobs, higher paychecks, and more state withholding. For the current financial year which began on July1, state revenue is up yet again. If Gov. Brad Little asks the Legislature for the third round of tax reductions, that would cement Idaho’s national rankings in income growth.

Even in a pandemic, people buy food and household goods and these sales also push up state receipts. That’s given additional weight with the shift to online sales and the keeping of the tax on out-of-state purchases as well as convenience store stop-and-goes.

If you sit half an hour at a local truck-stop or convenience store, you’ll quickly see out-of-state plates on vehicles as their drivers come out with all range of snacks and travel drinks. These account for substantial portion of the so-called “grocery tax.” Without such seemingly small purchases, our sales tax receipts would be considerably less.

It used to be that Idaho, an agricultural state with great scenery and natural resources, was somehow stuck in a traditional industries past. But everywhere you look today you see startups, expansions, services, tourism and other sectors beyond extensive food processing. Now, we are really coming-of-age with a mixed economy in a broad mix of sectors.

To be sure, the state has some distance to go. Our educational system needs to turn out more and better-trained workers. But many states would do well to look at Idaho’s ability to slash income tax rates and still grow the economy almost everywhere.

That was the real message in Adams’ presentation to the legislators. He is saying in effect, that what we’re doing is working. We are taking care of state needs but we’re not spending beyond what we have. That gives us a nice surplus state budget of close to $1.5 billion.

It would be wise not to fritter that away but rather to spend money carefully and cautiously on things with lasting shelf-life, such as infrastructure, roads and bridges, community water and sewer systems and broadband deliverability.

Gov. Little in his various talks this fall constantly mentions his vision for the state as a robust participant in the Northwest and American economy.

Some of his critics want more red tape to put people under more extensive government control. Others want to reduce services to bare minimums or eliminate them entirely.

These Dead-Enders would lead us to exactly that, a dead-end of economic retraction. We see that in other states where natural resources languish despite proximity to markets.

If that’s the kind of place we want Idaho to be, it’s easy to achieve by either just doing nothing or by spending money we don’t have. Wisely, we’ve picked a middle ground of cautious and prudent spending and strategic investment. That’s the Idaho way. People will know this spring which path we chose. So will our children, grandchildren and generations yet to come.

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

How far we’ve fallen


I’ve been around politics all my life. I’ve know some great ones and a few scoundrels. I’m enough of a realist to know that all politicians – like all of us – have feet of clay.

Yet, what worries me about our political moment – and I worry a lot – is the willingness of people who I know know better to give into rank political opportunism, even at the risk of undermining democracy.

I also know it’s tough – and some find it impossible – to go against your party or your tribe. It can be lonely being an independent, even if you really truly what to be principled and honest with yourself.

Yet, once you’ve made the accommodation with what you know to be wrong and tried to explain it away, the next accommodation, and the next become easier. You convince yourself that it’s more important to go with the flow, stay in office, and not upset your supporters than it is to do the right thing.

What really worries me is that so many good people in the modern conservative movement have made this calculation. Even if they really, truly know better.

I’ve known one of them for years.


The question before the U.S. House of Representatives wasn’t complicated or partisan. It was a question of whether Congress, in service to its need to investigate in order to legislate, could enforce a lawful subpoena.

What made the issue controversial was the nearly total opposition of House Republicans. These Republicans attempted to stop a resolution referring to the Justice Department for possible prosecution one Steve Bannon, a figure widely implicated in the planning and execution of the pro-Trump January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Bannon invoked a nonsensical reason for refusing to produce for Congress documents and his own testimony. He claimed he was subject to a declaration of “executive privilege” by the former president, even though Bannon is a private citizen who hasn’t worked in the White House since Donald Trump fired him in August of 2017.

The special House committee investigating January 6 said, in essence, wait a minute. It doesn’t work that way. A congressional subpoena is just as valid, just as lawful as any summons any citizen might receive to produce records or appear in court.

Yet, Idaho’s two members of Congress – along with 200 fellow cowards – ignored these facts and in essence said Steve Bannon could break the law. In a way, the vote of Representative Russ Fulcher was to be expected. He actively participated in the plot to reject legally certified Electoral College votes from several states. Fulcher even bragged about his role in the insurrection the very morning the mob stormed the Capitol chanting “hang Mike Pence.”

The vote to let Bannon flaunt a congressional subpoena that is hard to square – actually hard to stomach – is the vote of Representative Mike Simpson. He knows better. It least he once did. The simple truth is Simpson gave in to cowardliness. He’s afraid of Donald Trump. He even more afraid of his constituents.

Simpson violated – Fulcher did, too – his oath of office to defend the laws and Constitution of the United States. And he did it for the smallest, most selfish reason – to protect his job, which has clearly become more important to him than anything else.

That may seem a harsh verdict on a politician who has done some good for Idaho in his long career, but sadly it’s the truth. Simpson has become a metaphor for what has happened to the modern, Trump-infected Republican Party. Consider the congressman’s evolution.

After the “Access Hollywood” tape, Simpson called Trump “unfit.”

The Idaho congressman was more prescient than he could have possibly known when he said as the Trump-Russian investigation continued, “What I’m worried about is, in the early 1970s, politicians like me were standing around saying, ‘Nixon’s okay, he didn’t do anything,’ and look what it led to,” Simpson said. “And every day there is something that adds on to it.”

As Trump railed in the summer of 2017 about Republican failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), but also repeatedly failed to offer an alternative, Simpson grew exasperated with a president who displayed no ability to grow into the job. “I don’t even pay any attention to what is going on with the administration because I don’t care,” Simpson told one interviewer. “They’re a distraction. The family is a distraction, the president is a distraction.”

Explaining his frustrations, Simpson said, “At first, it was ‘Well yeah, this is the guy we elected. He’ll learn, he’ll learn.’ And you just don’t see that happening.”

When Trump threatened to declare an emergency and divert funds from military construction projects to build his border wall, Simpson pushed back gently. “It’s not the way to do it. I can understand why they’re looking at it,” Simpson told the Washington Post. “I don’t like the idea of pulling money out of defense and military construction and the Army Corps of Engineers. That’s not a good option.”

But when Trump went ahead and declared a national emergency Simpson went along. “I’ll be real honest,” Simpson said, “if Obama had done this, Republicans would be going nuts. That’s just the reality.” Simpson justified his about face on the dubious grounds, particularly coming from a senior House appropriator, that Trump had the authority to usurp the Congressional power of the purse.

On several occasions during the first 18 months of the former guy’s presidency, Simpson seemed to be on the verge of breaking with Trump, yet the break never came and as the 2020 election approached and Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, nationally and in Idaho, grew even stronger, Simpson never again deviated, even a bit, from the Trump line.

That line has now led to Simpson’s vote to give Steve Bannon, a guy who continues to spread lies, encourage violence and who predicted the anarchy of January 6, a pass.

Simpson’s explanation of his vote for Bannon certainly must rank as one of the most disingenuous statements ever penned by an Idaho politician. He might have used the moment to educate and inform about the compelling need to understand who was behind the plot that nearly resulted in an American coup. He might have upheld the rule of law. He did the opposite.

“Pelosi’s Jan 6 Commission has become the partisan circus I wanted to avoid,” Simpson tweeted. “Congress doesn’t get to play law enforcement when it’s politically convenient for the Dems just to score political points.”

Partisan circus? Political points?

What does the congressman think happened on January 6th while he and his colleagues hid from the mob that came for them?

When a Capitol Police officer, Brian Sicknick, died after began assaulted on January 6, Simpson said:

“His family deserves our prayers and his perpetrators deserve prosecution to the fullest extent.”

Congress and the American people are entitled to find out if Steve Bannon was one of those “perpetrators.” If he was involved, he almost certainly has information that leads back directly to the former president.

Mike Simpson, the guy who once saw straight through the rot pervading his party, has, with his Bannon vote – and his refusal to condemn the kooks, insurrectionists and law evaders in his own party – thrown all in with the effort to ignore the attempted coup he lived through. Now he’s helping rewrite the history of what happened.

Simpson’s political calculation was simple, if cynical. If he voted against Steve Bannon, Trump would turn on him. Mike Simpson voted to ignore Steve Bannon’s law breaking to save his political career. He folded.

The pre-Trump Mike Simpson I once knew would be appalled by the post-January 6 version. That this once principled, independent politician now fits so well in the modern GOP tell us how low we’ve fallen.

Lots of quitters


You’ve heard about the high rates of workers nationally who in recent months have been quitting their jobs are simply declining work in many places.

But that’s not happening equally everywhere. Turns out, according to recent Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, that Idaho is one of the top states in the nation for workers quitting their jobs: It has the third highest rate nationally, behind Kentucky and Georgia. (The numbers shift a little depending on what is counted.)

In some ways this seems counter-intuitive against some of the most visible statistics. Idaho has an unusually low unemployment rate; it’s hovered around 2.9 percent, nearly as low as it ever has been.

Nationally, too, there are plenty of jobs; while some problems - supply chains, inflation - persist, the economy as a whole is firing reasonably well. Covid-19 hasn’t greatly reduced the overall size of the labor force, despite the deaths and disabilities it is leaving us.

What’s happening with the large number of worker quits - and, partly as a result, the large number of job openings - seems to involve a number of reasons.

One is simply demographic: As an article in the Atlantic noted, “America’s prime-age population stopped growing more than a decade ago, and because of declining fertility rates, it’s unlikely to recover through natural growth alone.” For people nearing retirement or changing their mode of living, the pandemic may simply have provided a useful point of demarcation.

But all of that is a national trend (and Idaho doesn't greatly deviate from it). Why is Idaho near the top of the quit list?

If government action could reverse the trend, you might think Governor Brad Little’s early action in cutting back extra unemployment benefits months ago would have made a difference toward clinging to job. But it didn’t, statistically; and other states that similarly reduced benefits also have, for the most part, also seen high rates of quitting.

Every person and job has their own story; you may find a thousand reasons why people “separate” (to use the preferred government erm). But there are a few realistic reasons Idaho’s rates are on the high side.

One is that Idaho’s attack on pandemic spread - through shutdown, masking, distancing and so on - has been weaker than most other states (though not so different as a whole from Georgia or Kentucky, or many other high-quit states), and it was hit harder by the pandemic spread than other nearby states (see Oregon and especially Washington, which has a low job quit rate). If you’re concerned about getting sick on the job, or of spreading it to other people, that could provide an added incentive to depart.

Many of the anecdotes about job quits relate to wages and conditions, which in some places may have been made worse by the pandemic. It’s another tipping point.

In some states - mainly with low quit rates - unions and other worker organizations are stronger. Idaho, like most of the high quit-rate states, is a right to work state, where many unions are severely undercut. When workers sense, as many will without some kind of organizational backup, that they have only their departure as leverage against poor wages or conditions, then that’s the leverage they’ll use. It’s a kind of nuclear blast not greatly beneficial either to workers or employers, but it will be used as a last resort.

And there’s this: Idaho’s especially low unemployment rate, so low it almost becomes noise in the analytical big picture, means that if you quit one job, there’s probably another one down the road. As one news article suggested, “when you have a crappy job, for crappy wages, and a crappy employer who doesn't value you at all, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a labor market situation that actually encourages you to look for work elsewhere--what do you think is going to happen?”

Economic news, as any Wall Street trader could tell you, is rarely all good or bad; it just depends on where your positions are. Idaho is getting a look at what some of the shifts look like.


Election of heroes


The top of the ticket seems to drive our political conversations, indeed, our political manners, when it really shouldn’t. Politics really is, despite what Facebook or Fox News tries to sell us, local. And the local folks we elect are heroes.

Those elections are coming up soon enough. Maybe you have already voted. Good for you.

Those who represents us in our city, our county, our school, or highway district deserves our attention come election time. We are asking them to do the difficult work of representing us, let us honor their task with an informed vote. And then, we should be paying attention to the work they are doing. They deserve our attention.

I am very happy with the number of folks who have turned up asking for my vote locally. That’s a good sign this representative government experiment might work. I looked through some of the other city and school board races in this North Idaho neck of the woods, and we shouldn’t be griping about a lack of choices.

I am just happy folks are willing to do this work, given the animosity addressed their way these days. I thought County Coroner was a pretty thankless position, but school board members are getting threatened, screamed at, called names. But that’s what the top of the ticket “leaders” we elect emulate, so it’s acceptable behavior for some, I guess.

I can’t imagine those parents would tolerate such behavior around the dinner table.
Don’t think this running for office thing is easy. There’s a lot of forms to fill out about the money you raise, who gives it to you and how you spend it. The legislature decided this was important public information back in 2015, so anybody running for school board in a district with more than 500 students must file such reports. Let me know if you find any dirty politics.

But even if the legislature has made it a little harder for folks to run for school board, after you get elected, our leaders in Boise haven’t made serving any easier either. The funds sent out from their overfull coffers are meager, so school boards across the state have to decide whether to run supplemental levies.

Most district do go, hat in hand, and ask their neighbors to pony up so the teachers can be paid, and the heat stays on. The legislature is proud they have pushed this job downstream. They like to keep politics local.

And our governor and legislature don’t want to make any Covid decisions easier for the locals either. No direction about masks or shots from Boise, you guys decide. Those wily legislators and Boise Bureaucrats know who can take getting yelled at. I guess local yelling is better in their mind.

City councilors might have it easier that school board members. They get all the glory of raising sewer rates or passing a bond when the treatment plant fails. But God forbid they try to institute any restrictive measures about this pandemic. Those mad-as-a-hornet Freedom anti-maskers know where they live.

For representative government to work well, it’s best if the representative is approachable, knowable. If you live in a town of 1000 and you have 4 city council members, that’s a 250:1 ratio. Odds are, you would know one of those councilpersons.

Same with school boards, it’s a similar ratio. You could, at any time you chose, make a phone call, and get an answer to your question. Or you could instead go to their home about dinner time with a tiki torch and burn them in effigy. Each of us has different methods of dealing with our elected representatives.

These representatives we elect are heroes, folks. Sure, they don’t always make decisions we agree with, but neither do our spouses. But please, don’t burn any effigies of the old man on your front porch.

Fulcher on Biden


There’s nothing unusual about Republicans or Democrats in Congress disagreeing with presidents from opposing parties.

But these days, GOP members are taking their criticisms of President Biden to a different level, hinting that the old man in the White House may not be up for the job. Recently, Sen. Jim Risch nibbled at the edges when grilling Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently about the use of microphone mute buttons to silence the president.

Talking the other day with Congressman Russ Fulcher, he’s taking a more direct approach.
“I personally believe that the president is struggling with some form of dementia,” Fulcher says. “He goes in, and he goes out. The decisions he makes simply don’t have the depth to show there is significant depth of thought.”

Fulcher points to Afghanistan – moving troops out before people – as Exhibit A. A second piece of evidence is “his intent to appease this noisy progressive, socialist, Democrat leadership and (Sen.) Bernie Sanders’ approach. He’s simply overlooking common sense.”

Hold on a minute … let’s not suggest that the entire Democratic Party is afflicted with dementia. Vice President Kamala Harris, who is 20 years younger than Biden, backs the same policies. No one (including Fulcher) will suggest she is losing her marbles. But when a president is knocking on the door of 80, as Biden is, and has the look (and walk) of someone ready for assisted living, little things come into focus – and Republicans are ready to pounce.

“Jim (Risch) was very appropriate in asking those questions,” Fulcher said. “It’s sad on a personal level, because we’re talking about the president of the United States. He simply, I don’t think, has the capacity to do this job on the level that it needs to be done. As we see with some of the people we know and love, there are times when he seems to be OK – just enough to throw you off.”

And, according to Fulcher, it’s not just Republicans who think the president’s mind is slipping.

“Behind the scenes, I see Democratic colleagues rolling their eyes,” Fulcher says. “They know. You can tell by their body language and conversations. It’s there.”

Of course, Republicans had a similar kind of “body language” at times during the Trump presidency. Outwardly, they defended even the most egregious actions by Trump – including that pep talk to rioters before storming the Capitol on Jan. 6. Fulcher, a strong Trump supporter, acknowledges that Republicans had more than a few eye-rolling moments during his administration.

Such are the perils that go with people in their mid-to-late 70s serving in the nation’s highest office. It’s not a job for fading minds and bodies. In this case, Fulcher says, Biden is not inspiring confidence in leadership.

Bad policies, labor and supply shortages are part of what’s happening, he says.
“Democrats are self-destructing and doing a tremendous amount of damage in the process. They are re-defining what infrastructure is. It used to be a debate about roads, bridges and airports. Now it’s things like free day care, free college and amnesty,” the congressman said.

“Democrats know they are going to lose power, at least in Congress in 2022. So, it’s now or never for them. They are not able to recruit Republicans or independents to their party, so they are going to do something else. Give people free stuff and make them addicted to the programs. Build loyalty that way.”

As I see it, the Democrats’ strategy might work … if Republicans refuse to move on from Donald Trump in 2024. Replacing one old coot with another will not restore the public’s confidence in the White House.

In the meantime, Democrats are likely to get much of what they want – a fat infrastructure bill to go along with an even fatter bill for social spending (price tag to be determined). And Republicans such as Fulcher can’t do much about it, beyond writing letters to the president that go to the shredder, sending out press releases that are ignored and drawing attention to the president’s age.

Republicans in Washington are like Democrats in the Idaho Legislature. They simply don’t have the votes to do more.

From the pew


Barb and I attend a local church that’s going through the trials and tribulations associated with our COVID pandemic. In our case, we’re talking about United Church of Sun City, AZ.

For several months, the sanctuary was closed, with services - such as they were - recorded and put online. For we elderly, not born with a keyboard to reach out to our electronic world, such a transition was a poor substitute for the real thing. But, with so many “substitutes” in nearly all normal life activities these days in a COVID world, we made do.

Now, UC of Sun City is dealing with the same problems most churches across the nation face in this time of declining congregants in what we hope will soon become the “post-COVID” era.

For example, masks or no masks? Make masks mandatory for entrance or leave it to individual choice? Remove masks when seated or leave them in place for the entire service? Have masks at the door or turn people without coverings away? No masks? Limit the number of worshipers?

In reopening the sanctuary, what new - and distanced - seating arrangements are necessary? Open every other pew? Rope off half of each pew? How best to create a welcoming service environment without making congregants feel uncomfortable while observing the added recommended spacing requirements of the CDC?

Then, there’s the choir. Normally, we have 30 or so singing in the Chancel area. Singing in close proximity to others has been confirmed as an excellent disease spreader. Reduce the number of singers? Space them out on both sides of the Chancel? Sopranos over here - tenors over there? No choir at all?

Hymn singing. Keep hymnals in the pews or remove to keep the best sanitary conditions. The pew Bibles? Keep ‘em? No, out with both.

And communion. Worshipers stay seated and elements brought to them as usual? Worshipers come forward for communion by intinction? Worshipers bring their own elements? Our church opted for the last choice with congregants asked to bring a grape and a cracker. That’s what we did. As you’d expect, it just wasn’t the same. But, we were together.

How about coffee hour following worship? Keep the convivial process going? How about those ubiquitous homemade cookies? Keep ‘em coming? And the social chatting and “catching up” time. Keep it up?

In our case, we decided to stop the coffee hour. Not a popular decision but a necessary one. For some of us seniors, used to the conviviality of coffee hour, that may be the biggest change. When the preacher says his last “Amen,” what’s a guy supposed to do? No coffee hour!

And the office. Do you keep it open the normal hours? Do you make it a “No Visitors” area? What about those endless committee meetings? For some, a time of catching up with others over the ever-present coffee.

As with most other churches, we’ve come up with reasonable answers for all the necessary changes. Took some time, but we did it. Actually, we’re still doing it.

The Cathedrals and mega-churches around probably faced many of the same issues. Maybe more. But, the backbone of Christianity today is most likely the small church - the neighborhood church like UC of Sun City. Close to the congregants. Nearby to provide all the services expected. Nearby to keep lines of communication open and people connected.

There was a time when being a Christian could mean imprisonment or even death. There was a time of gladiators. And lions. And whips and chains. And stake burnings. Those who stayed true to their beliefs - stayed with the church despite the dangers - found their reward in an open door - in a gathering of like souls - in the certain redemption of Jesus Christ.

So it is today. In our time, it’s a pandemic that’s killed millions around the world. It’s the invisible presence of a potentially life-taking virus called COVID. A disease that cares not if you’re a Moslem or a Jew or a Hindu. Or, a Christian.

UC of Sun City, AZ, and all the other churches and denominations, have been wrestling with questions of how to keep members - neighbors and friends - safe from today’s enemy. From today’s scourge. Little by little, leaders have begun the process of returning to “normal” - if normal there be. Small steps to accommodate the threat but to do so in a new and safer environment. Small steps. Steps to lead us back to where we’ve always been.

Your church has been doing the same things. Taking many of the similar steps. Working to welcome you back just as we have.

Sundays at 10am. It feels better already.

Devil’s in the details


On the other side of Oregon, in a small coastal town, a deceptively important vote is taking place tonight.

The COVID age has brought out the best and the worst in people. As I’ve described countless times, I live in an unusually generous town, McMinnville, a city united in its commitment to helping others. Here, churches spanning the spectrum from conservative to progressive host numerous ministries offering clothing, firewood, pantry items, meals and more to anyone in need. When I moved to McMinnville over 25 years ago, I noted the community’s generosity right away. It’s evident everywhere.

For over a decade, I have been involved in the feeding ministry my own church sponsors. Five days a week, the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas provides hot, healthy and delicious meals to anyone who is hungry, no questions asked. For over 30 years, the soup kitchen has fed the hungry of Yamhill County. The soup kitchen ordinarily serves restaurant-style but COVID has temporarily required the ministry to switch to a carry-out-only format.

Being closely involved in a feeding ministry means I am familiar with the issues that accompany such an endeavor. While people frequently associate a soup kitchen with homelessness, it’s important to note that most of the guests served at St. Barnabas are not homeless — they’re working families or individuals. A few guests come for fellowship as much as food. Of course, local homeless folks also come but they’re neither the focus of nor the major part of the ministry.

Unfortunately, many people assume the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas is a ministry for the homeless. This incorrect assumption leads to a series of additional assumptions in which the ministry takes on a false front — then people start to see “evidence” of menace and even criminal behavior, usually greatly exaggerated from what’s actually occurring.

This is not to say there is no impact from living near a feeding ministry — I should know — in addition to being involved in the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas, I live next door to it. I’ve lived adjacent for over 25 years so you could probably consider me an expert on living next door to a popular and very heavily-used ministry to feed the hungry.

This is why I am distressed to see the city of Brookings, Oregon considering legislation that could hobble their local feeding ministries.

St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church hosts a ministry very much like the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas. In fact, St. Timothy’s and St. Barnabas are both part of the same diocese, subject to the same oversight. Complaints by neighbors of St. Tim’s seemed to reach a head when COVID forced the closure of every feeding ministry in town except St. Tim’s. Last June, Fr. Bernie Lindley, rector at St. Timothy, asked other churches to step up — two did. Currently, three Brookings churches provide free meals.

The Episcopal Bishop of Oregon, the Rt. Rev. Diana D. Akiyama, is worried enough she paid a visit to St. Timothy last week. She described the feeding ministry as “highly organized, well-staffed, and attentive to detail.” Akiyama said the volunteers at St. Timothy serve with a heartfelt commitment to those in need.

“From the nurses giving vaccines, to the folks cooking in the kitchen, to volunteers swabbing for COVID tests,” said Akiyama. “Each and every person is clearly serving because they want to participate in the way in which Christ’s body is being made known to the community.” Akiyama said volunteers care about helping others because many were once on the receiving end of the same services. “Their gratitude is an endless source of fuel to become part of the love extended in feeding, vaccinating, and testing,” she said.

The Brookings City Planning Commission has voted to recommend that the city council pass an ordinance requiring churches to obtain a “benevolent meal” permit in order to continue serving meals to the hungry and homeless. The city council will vote on the ordinance tonight.

The benevolent meal permit is effectively a conditional use permit, costing $3,014 each. The city is discussing waiving all or part of the fee for the churches.

But as with so many things, the devil is in the details. The ordinance also limits each church to serving a maximum of two days per week — currently, the need is such that St. Tim’s is serving seven days per week. Additionally, the ordinance requires churches to essentially meet restaurant standards of service which, if commercial-grade kitchens are mandated, will be prohibitively expensive.

Further, off-street parking with adequate noise screening will be required, along with other undefined measures to combat undefined impacts. The measure requires buildings to meet all structural and fire codes which is likely the least impactful part since, as houses of worship, the buildings probably already are in compliance.

Finally, each church will be required to organize under the 501(c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code. Added to all the other mandates, this creates an onerous burden for churches that just want to feed hungry people.

Seriously, constraining meal service to just two days effectively hobbles St. Timothy’s efforts to feed the hungry. Akiyama is urging the faithful to pray today. “Let’s all remind St. Timothy’s, the city of Brookings and each other of the wondrous work revealed when we awaken to the truth that what we ‘do to the least of these, you do to me,’” she said.

Having been closely involved with the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas and having lived next door to it for 25 years, as I said, I am intimately familiar with the impact a feeding ministry has on neighbors. Given that McMinnville has a population over five times that of Brookings — 34,000 versus 6,700 — I can’t help but think St. Timothy’s neighbors are suffering from a bad case of NIMBY (not in my backyard). Sure, there are a handful of minor annoyances from time to time but the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas accomplishes so much good — the benefits outweigh the tiny inconveniences by far.

Worse, I’m guessing neighbors have adopted the demonstrably false position that hordes of homeless people are descending on Brookings just to take advantage of all the free food. I would wager the vast bulk of guests served at St. Tim’s are local working families and individuals whose income is tight. I would bet most of them — even the actual homeless guests — are local folks, not expats from far off cities.

The efforts underway in Brookings are decidedly uncharitable, in my opinion. The Rev. Betty McWhorter, rector at St. Barnabas in McMinnville, agrees. She asked her parishioners to pray for the council vote in Brookings tonight. “We’re deeply concerned about the situation in Brookings,” said McWhorter. “It’s difficult to imagine St. Timothy being able to feed the hungry in Curry County if the constraints proposed in Brookings are suddenly imposed.”

The Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas beat its own COVID record for meals served last Friday — the need is real in these trying times.

It’s unfortunate neighbors of St. Timothy chose to take their case to the city council instead of conducting a vigorous and honest effort to work out their differences with the ministry. I know what goes on when your house sits next to a soup kitchen — I know with certainty the problems could’ve been worked out with effort and patience as opposed to oppressive legislation.

I am grateful for my generous community. I am thankful the Soup Kitchen at St. Barnabas gets along well with its neighbors. I am worried about the hungry in Brookings. I am worried an uncharitable group in another city might find inspiration in Brookings’ lead and enact crippling mandates on feeding ministries.

Like I said before, the COVID age seems to bring out the best and the worst in people.

Lieutenant troubles


Idaho made headlines across the country when wanna-be governor Janice McGeachin signed an executive order on October 5 to prohibit mandatory Covid-19 testing in our schools. Although nobody was advocating such mandatory tests, McGeachin could not resist the opportunity to try to score some political points by usurping gubernatorial power. She claimed she has the right to rule our State whenever Governor Little steps across the state line. It just ain’t so.

The Idaho Constitution could be more explicit on the issue, but common sense tells us the Governor does not lose the power to govern every time his foot crosses the border. The Constitution says that the Lt. Governor can take over if the Governor dies, resigns, gets impeached, is convicted of “treason, felony, or other infamous crime,” or in case of his “absence from the state.”

At first glance, a court would wonder how such a trivial matter as leaving the state for a short period of time could equate with the other serious conditions that would switch governmental control to the second chair. The Constitution then says that power goes back to the Governor when the “disability shall cease.” The constitutional framers back in 1889 obviously meant that “absence from the state” would have to be coupled with a “disability” to govern before the second banana could take over.

That interpretation makes sense when you think of the framers’ experience at the time they were drafting the Constitution. During the twenty-seven years that Idaho was a territory, sixteen men were appointed as Territorial Governor by the President. Four of them never took office, six stayed for less than a year, only eight served for more than a year. One grabbed forty-one thousand dollars from the treasury and skedaddled to Hong Kong and Paris.

Even if a Territorial Governor actually stayed around to perform the job, an absence to conduct business in Washington could take them out of state for weeks and, because of poor communications, they would have been unable to govern. That is likely why the framers coupled an inability to govern with the conditions that would place governmental power in the Lt. Governor’s hands. With instantaneous communications today, our Governor could even run the State from Elon Musk’s rocket ship.

Governor Little says that McGreachin did not have the authority to issue her pointless ban on Covid testing, or her earlier and equally-meaningless order prohibiting mandatory masking, because he was not “effectively” absent from the State. That is, he was physically outside of Idaho but was not in any way disabled from governing. The Missouri Supreme Court has interpreted a clause similar to Idaho’s to require a Governor’s “effective absence” from the state before the Lt. Governor can run amok. It is clearly the most legally sound interpretation of the language.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden recently released a scholarly analysis of the issue, pointing out the arguments on both sides. As usual, Lawrence approached the question in a dispassionate manner, like competent lawyers must do. He concluded that a reviewing court could determine that Governor Little’s position is correct.

It is not likely that the issue will be litigated in Idaho because the Governor can simply undo whatever McGeachin does while he’s gone, much like a patient parent disciplining an impetuous child upon returning home from work. Should McGeachin do something that cannot easily be undone, like appointing one of her radical supporters to a public office or spending public funds for an unauthorized purpose, the issue will be brought to court. She can rest assured of that. It is more than likely that she will conclusively lose the argument in a court of law.

McGeachin’s unfitness


That whooshing sound you hear is the air going out of the McGeachin campaign balloon for governor, evident by her ham-handed interchange with the national news network CNN, the resulting deflation in Idaho and new questions about her basic knowledge of state government.

McGeachin calls attention to herself on many occasions. Her picture with two armed militant thugs at her office door immediately following her 2018 election was a clear indication of who she would listen to. And she has.

She followed that with hiring a known law-enforcement hater as a security staffer. The individual, Parish Miller, is the cop critic behind the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s rankings of legislative measures. He had a post in which he effectively said it was okay for citizens to murder police. (DailyBeast, 7/25/2021)

But that was just as her campaign was getting going last spring. These days, she headed a do-nothing, self-created task force find examples of critical race theory, social engineering and the evils of communism allegedly being taught in Idaho schools. It turned up nothing.

Then there was her ignorant exchange with the CNN reporter who asked a simple question about her issuing executive orders while the governor is out-of-state on official business. When the reporter pressed her for her logic, she called him an activist and declared the interview at an end, turned on her heels and stomped out. She came across as a disgruntled child, defensive and shaken, a witch of the first order. (CNN, 10/10)

We’re no particular fan of media-in-your-face confrontations, but in this case McGeachin brought the result on herself. The painted lady is already swimming in an ocean of sharks. If you can’t say why you issued a particular executive order, why should people think you would exercise good judgment otherwise?

Just last week, McGeachin raised more questions about her competence when she admitted she didn’t have records showing the actual costs of the $50,000 alleged expenses of so-called legal fees she wants the taxpayers to foot.

McGeachin has a long track record of trying to extract more money from the state to fund her office. Perhaps the legal records don’t really exist. Are they just another McGeachin ploy to sweep up state money? Just asking. Members of the legislature’s Joint Finance & Appropriations Committee are already asking for more records from her office, as is the state Division of Financial Management. (CapitalSun, 10/18).By Wednesday, the records if they exist, had not been turned over.

And that’s where you can feel the air going out of the McGeachin campaign balloon. No one came to her defense, not even the crazies with whom she associates in the House or the John Birchers, whose members believe that President Dwight Eisenhower was a communist plant in American government.

McGeachin uses words like sovereignty, traditional values and freedom as “platform” points, but she seems to have no real understanding of any of these traditional Republican principles except as slogans. When asked about her, former Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones referred to her as the only Lieutenant Governor which Idaho has ever had who qualifies as an “idiot.”

Only slightly less generous was a recent column by political observer Chuck Malloy who up to now has treated her as a legitimate challenger to Gov. Brad Little. But in his column (CapitalSun, 10/12), Malloy relates how McGechin changed following her time in the House (2008-2012) where she was a competent if not leading legislator.

So what happened? It appears McGeachin went back to Idaho Falls to run a bar and began participating in local rightist politics, emerging in 2018 primary election in which she got less than 29% of the vote in a five-way contest. But that was enough. Since then, she has had one gaffe after another and has demonstrated repeatedly that she’s not ready, and may never be ready, for higher office.

The rightists in the House may not agree that she’s an idiot, but they’re not going to stand up time after time with her as she makes a fool of herself on national television and within her own state, with what Malloy calls “showboating” and a “stunt.”

They know intuitively that with an election coming, Janice McGeachin is drawing only small groups of ardent followers. A recent “freedom” rally in Twin Falls brought fewer than 80 people, probably half of whom were her handlers, law enforcement or media.
You can feel it in the political air as alternatives to McGeachin to challenge Little are suddenly getting “second looks.” These down-ticket also-rans are now fighting to gain visibility, media time, and contributions.

Little stretches his fundraising lead to nearly $400,000 over McGeachin ($500,000 to $100,000) and she’s fallen to third place in fundraising. Not a good sign if you’re trying to be the established candidate of the angry unestablished.

In today’s rough-and-tumble media and politics world, candidates need to demonstrate basic media competence. Her CNN pouty walk-off shows just the opposite. Wise political candidates and officeholders know the power of the media, and CNN, no friend of right-wingers or even Republicans, has opened the door for people to see what McGeachin is really like.

She had a great opportunity on CNN to enhance her viability as a candidate for Idaho’s governor, but she muffed it. Lots of folks saw it live on television and she doesn’t come across well. It’s football season, so we’ll call it what it is, a missed clutch kick to the far right.

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