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Posts published in September 2022

Gag order


I can think of three realistic reasons for the University of Idaho’s recent memo about abortion.

Maybe all these reasons played a role in the decision-making, in some relative mix. You decide.

This memo, prompted by the change in Idaho’s strict anti-abortion law, quickly turned into international news, throwing the university into the brightest spotlight it may ever have seen. That probably wasn’t the intent: The spotlight isn’t flattering. It’s a little hard to imagine many people being encouraged to study or teach at the university after reading about it.

It’s been less noted but also true that other Idaho institutions have been moving in the same direction; the UI will not be an outlier.

The September 23 memo said staffers cannot (at least while on duty) do anything to provide or promote abortion, or speak or write in favor of it, or provide a referral, or direct students to sources of information about it outside the university, or provide training for someone to provide the procedure, or contract with anyone who does provide abortions. (Say: Is the medical education exchange at risk?)

Because the law refers to “prevention of conception” the memo said the subject of whether all forms of birth control should be avoided “is unclear and untested in the courts. Since violation is considered a felony, we are advising a conservative approach here, that the university not provide standard birth control itself.” (How long before attorneys and insurers of pharmacies all over Idaho reach the same conclusion?)

Condoms apparently are still okay for distribution as long as they’re used for protection against sexually transmitted disease and not for birth control. (Yes, they actually said this.)

The situation is serious, the memo noted, as consequences that could result from violations include felony conviction (“with imprisonment and fines”), loss of employment and bar on future employment with the state … and who knows what else.

I’m not arguing their analysis is wrong, especially with the comment, “The language of this statute is not a model of clarity.” No kidding.

So why might top university officials (this must have had the awareness, at least, of the president) do this? I can think of three reasons.

First, as a genuine warning about legal liability. This is legitimate enough, as a UI spokesman said, “Employees engaging in their course of work in a manner that favors abortion could be deemed as promoting abortion. While abortion can be discussed as a policy issue in the classroom, we highly recommend employees in charge of the classroom remain neutral or risk violating this law. We support our students and employees, as well as academic freedom, but understand the need to work within the laws set out by our state.”

Second, as a move to placate the anti-abortion and right wing culture crowd, which has a heavy representation in the Idaho Legislature. The memo may generate some (very mildly) warm feelings in the majority caucuses next session. Those, of course, won't get the university far.

So also maybe, third, arriving as this memo does about a month before the November election, there was some incentive to kick into higher visibility the state of abortion-related law in Idaho - maybe encouraging voters to react against it.

Abortion may be a major political factor this fall. Even the Biden White House weighed in: “...nothing under Idaho law justifies the university’s decision to deny students access to contraception. [Editor’s note: That’s debatable.] But the situation in Idaho speaks to the unacceptable consequences of extreme abortion bans. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to birth control, as well as the right to abortion, without government interference.”

The White House would not have delivered such a strong comment about an internal memo from a remote mid-sized state university, in a small and non-battleground state, unless it saw serious political advantage to be gained.

Idaho Democrats may notice that too.


Comrade Moyle


I wasn’t all that opposed to the “payback” law imposed on Idaho state-sponsored medical students. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle proposed this law that had been rumored for years. It passed this last session. Now Idaho state sponsored medical school graduates (University of Utah and WWAMI) will need to work for four years within our borders to repay our state the investment taxpayers have made.

I remember my second year as a WAMI student in Seattle. Nowadays, Idaho WWAMIs (with the addition of Wyoming to the consortium we have an extra “W”) do almost all their training in Idaho. But back in my day we had to go to Seattle for our second year.

I asked the Medical School librarian to help me answer the question: What is the best way to train healthcare providers to serve a rural population? This was before Google. I thought I knew the answer. Move to a “mid-level” model, that is quickly train nurse practitioners and physician assistants. But her search responses came up with a lot of citations about Cuba. I read them. It was fascinating.

After Castro took power, he wanted to bring health care to “the masses”. With total state control, he could design any system he wanted. His advisors liked the “doctor” model. He instituted a system that cranked out physicians. Today, the communist Cuban health care system scores better than ours in many measurements of public health.

I got an opportunity in the late Clinton presidency to visit Cuba. I got to look at their issues. I spent a day with a young resident in a Havana suburb as he staffed a community clinic. He saw every patient on his list who wanted an appointment. He listened to their everyday complaints and offered what little he had to comfort their suffering.

If he found a problem that he could not comprehend from his four years of medical training, he scheduled an appointment with a consultant. He went with the patient to visit the consultant. He watched the consultant and learned how that specialist considered this problem.

At the end of the day, I asked the young man his aspirations. He told me he wanted to go into plastic surgery and hoped to have a lucrative practice someday, probably in Brazil.

So, Comrade Moyle may be onto something. Having medical school graduates come back to Idaho might motivate them to go out and make the most money they can. Trickle down tells us that will enrich us all, right? I can just see Mike and Fidel sharing a cigar. Except Fidel is dead, and I doubt Representative Moyle smokes cigars, though I don’t really know.

I learned something else on that Cuba trip. I heard the head of the Cuban medical education system asked just how he had accomplished the incredible turnaround in Cuban public health. How had the proliferation of doctors he had engineered in this still poor country made such strides? His answer was telling.

“You look at the doctors and think our medical training deserves credit. But you must look further. Back in the 1950’s when our infant mortality was worse than Africa, and our maternal mortality was horrible, the average education of an expectant mother was second grade. Most were illiterate. Now days, when our infant mortality and maternal mortality is better than the United States, the average level of education for expectant mothers is high school or better. None are illiterate. We have greatly improved our education, and that has improved our health.”

So, I don’t know if Comrade Moyle was actually thinking of the communist Cuban system when he proposed indentured servitude for medical graduates. But if what he wants is a healthier Idaho, he should be thinking about a better education system.



Fulcher on the mid-terms


First District Congressman Russ Fulcher has spent his first two terms in office in unfamiliar territory as a member of the minority party – a drastic culture change from his years in the Idaho Senate, where Republicans controlled the agenda.

If the political sages are correct, and Republicans gain a majority the House, Fulcher’s congressional career will take another twist. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi will be gone as speaker of the House and Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy will likely take over. Rep. Jim Jordan, one of the staples of the House Freedom Caucus, will be the new lead figure on the Judiciary Committee.

Obviously, the days of House investigations of Donald Trump will be over. Those are welcome changes in Fulcher’s eyes.

“The ongoing climate change/green new deal type agenda that is on the current docket will change,” Fulcher says. “Not to say that it will be ignored, but it will not have priority one, two and three all the time. The approach taken with climate change, for example, is not just going to be on the United States. There must be participation from the biggest offenders of carbon emissions. Whatever approach is taken will be different, which is a hugely good thing.”

What’s encouraging is that Republicans, such as Fulcher, are at least acknowledging that climate change is more than a left-wing conspiracy theory.

But Fulcher says that isn’t the only thing we’ll see when the new speaker takes the gavel.

“There is the power of the purse,” he said. “I do believe there’s a strong chance that the 87,000 new IRS agents will be defunded, or at least there will be greatly reduced funding. We don’t have the horsepower to change the law, but we will certainly have the power of the purse and a lot can be controlled with that. I use the IRS agents as an example, because that’s the most egregious that seems to offend almost everybody but the hardcore Democrats.”

In summary, he says, the House will be a much better place with Republicans in charge. But expect some glitches, and plenty of controversy, along the way. After all, we are talking about, until further notice, the party of Donald Trump.

“It will appear to be dysfunctional, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” the congressman said. “This thing called the Constitution was never meant to be smooth sailing. It was meant to have debate and for members to put their thoughts in the arena and see what prevails. We’re going to fight, and you’re going to see the same kind of conflicts that occurred when Republicans were in control.”

Ah, yes, those were the days – when the Freedom Caucus, the Western Caucus and the GOP conference were at loggerheads.

“As harsh as it sounds, that’s the way it’s supposed to be,” Fulcher says. “It forces debates to happen and ideas to be placed on the table. I think that’s a good thing.”

But to much of the public, outside of the Washington Beltway, folks don’t really care about what party controls the House. People are more concerned about the rising cost of groceries, filling their gas tanks and keeping a roof over their heads. And Fulcher is hearing plenty about those frustrations that cut across party lines.

“I think Idahoans have been hit harder than most. We still have gas prices that are 50 cents over the national average, and I don’t understand why. But inflation is the No. 1 thing on people’s minds,” Fulcher said.

If President Biden and the Democrats created the mess, it will be up to Republicans – and the likes of Fulcher -- to provide the remedy.
“Another thing that people are unhappy with is corruption. There’s a big distrust with Congress and government, period,” Fulcher says.

So, we could be seeing a “throw the bums out” mentality in these midterms. But probably not in Idaho. Republicans generally win big in the Gem State and Fulcher seems to be a safe bet to secure re-election in one of the nation’s most conservative congressional districts.

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


Are you ready


There’s a lot of cud-chewing going on in media and political circles these days about whether D.J. Trump should be charged with a crime. Any crime. Pick a crime.

One side of the argument is charging him - if evidence warrants - would bring violence in the streets and bloodshed. Militias, Proud Boys et al. would rise up and raise Holy Hell in the country. Maybe.

The other side of the conversation believes Trump deserves no better or no worse treatment and, if evidence is solid enough, he should face the music just as any other citizen would.

As citizens, we all “have a dog in this fight” which means we all need to pay attention. Based on my local itinerant conversations and eavesdropping, not everybody is. More folks should because, if there are actions in the streets, they’re gonna be involved, like it or not.

Nobody - even his supporters - can claim Trump has not done significant damage to this country already. The only discussion point can be just how much. It’s hard to imagine any part of civil society he’s not damaged in one way or the other. That’s just a fact.

Even if he soon “Exits, Stage Right,” it’ll take years to fix what’s broken and get things back to normal.

So the only real question on the table should be “Charge or not to charge?”

“We are a nation of laws,” the old saying goes. And, we’re told from birth, “no one is above the law.” I believe both statements. I’ve lived a life in accordance with those beliefs. So, it would seem, the answer is easy.

If the evidence is there - and I believe it is - charge him and try him. Let a jury of his peers sort it out.

Some people say “No American President has ever been charged with a crime.” That may be. It’s also NOT to say a couple of them shouldn’t have been, though they weren’t.

That argument doesn’t hold up. Yes, it would be precedent-setting. So what? Trump, himself, was a “precedent.” Guy with no elective office experience walks in off the street and BOOM - he’s a president.

Proponents of the “no charge” side of things also worry there’ll be violence in our streets if he’s arraigned. So?

This country has seen violence in our streets before. And, we’re still here. The union movement in the first half of the last century was filled with violence. And death. We also had soldiers in the streets and violence that brought them there during the Great Depression. Remember Pershing and the army charging through “Hooverville?”

I was wrapped up in violence in our streets during those anti-war demonstrations in Washington D.C. in the sixties. In similar, but smaller marches across the country, we had violence aplenty. National Guard killing unarmed students at Kent State. And, none of this speaks to those killed in Revolutionary times. Or our Civil War of the 1860's.

Violence - even death - in our streets is nothing new. We can be certain it will happen again - with or without Trump.

It seems the larger crime would be not to charge if the evidence warrants. What, then, happens to those precepts of this nation being one of laws and no one is exempt? Do we let the guilty walk, while saying to ourselves, “Well, not this time - maybe next time?”

None of us should be “asking” for violence. But, none of us should look the other way if violence there be. We’ve got police, national guard and the military if things get that bad. No one really wants violence. But, we are as well prepared for it as can be. If a bunch of militia folks want to take on all of the professionals, I say “Have at it.”

There’s also this reality. Juries and other legal bodies are reviewing evidence of Trump-linked crimes in three states, the District of Columbia, Congress and DOJ. One of those institutions - maybe more than one - will most certainly hand down some indictments. The only questions are what charges and where? It’s gonna happen.

Again, those who haven’t given this much thought really should. It’s an issue of being a citizen of this country that’s new. And, a bit frightening. The trial - one place or another - of a former U.S. President. Possibly a criminal trial. If found guilty, the imprisonment of a former U.S. President.

From all indications, Trump’s realizing the likelihood. The rest of us should, too.


Labrador’s funny money


One of the most important responsibilities of Idaho’s Attorney General is to protect consumers from con artists and other operators that cause harm to Idahoans. When I took over the AG office in 1983, the consumer protection division, which had been started by Tony Park and Wayne Kidwell, no longer existed. It took a great deal of time and effort to get it back up and running.

From that time to the present, the AG’s office has collected hundreds of millions of dollars for the State and its consumers from those who cheat Idahoans or cause public harm. That successful effort was largely due to the unrelenting action of Lawrence Wasden against tobacco, vaping and opioid companies.

Over the years, businesses that violate laws to protect the public have tried to curry favor with state AGs across the country, hoping to avoid being brought to justice. Campaign contributions are a favorite tool of these operators. In order to avoid improper entanglements and conflicts of interest, AG candidates must be on the lookout for suspect contributions and refuse to accept them. The AG is Idaho’s chief lawyer and must set the example for acting in an ethical manner.

It has been surprising to see some of the contributions that have been pocketed by Attorney General candidate Raul Labrador. They are from suspect organizations that pose a real conflict of interest for the AG’s office. Accepting contributions from them conjures the truism in the old German proverb, “whose bread I eat, his song I sing.”

Labrador has banked money from two payday loan businesses that charge grossly inflated interest and have a history of mistreating borrowers. Advance Financial Administrators LLC, of Nashville, Tennessee, donated $2,000 to Labrador on August 31. This payday lender has charged a top annual percentage rate of 360% in some of the states where it operates. The Better Business Bureau in Nashville has a long list of complaints against the company on its website. A review posted on the Consumer Affairs website by a Wisconsin couple complains they “pay over $1000 per month for a $4000 loan and with each statement the balance increases.”

Another payday lender, RS, LLC, of Red Rock, Oklahoma, contributed $2,500 to Labrador on August 31. It is linked to the Otoe-Missouria Tribe of Oklahoma. The organization has engaged in a scheme to misuse the Tribe’s sovereign immunity to shield payday lenders from prosecution for abusive lending practices, including interest rates that have ranged as high as 560%. One lending entity fronted by the group, American Web Loan, had to disgorge $141 million in a class action settlement.

Another troubling contribution to the Labrador campaign was a $5,000 payment received from the Philadelphia-based Cozen O'Connor law firm on July 31. The firm specializes in defending businesses against lawsuits brought by state Attorneys General to protect their citizens from consumer fraud and other unsavory business practices. The firm makes it a practice to cultivate gullible state AGs so as to gain influence and favored treatment, which does not serve the interests of the consuming public.

Labrador may not understand that these contributors are trying to curry favor. He should immediately return these gifts because they create a clear conflict of interest. The AG must give undivided loyalty to the people of Idaho and shun the support of out-of-state interests that would victimize Idaho consumers or endanger public health with hazardous products like tobacco, opioids and the like.



Ranked choice in Oregon


With three serious gubernatorial candidates on the ballot in November and the theoretical possibility of a new governor elected with 34% of the vote, Oregon might consider an election tool that recently got a lot of attention in Alaska and seems ripe for consideration here: ranked choice voting.

The probability – at least, if polling so far is anywhere near accurate – is that none of the candidates for Oregon governor will reach 50% of the total vote. If so, the winner will be whoever pulls in the strongest plurality.

But would happen in the case of ranked voting?

This is a different kind of election approach, related to but different from the top-two approach used widely in Washington and California. In ranked choice, a voter first marks their preferred choice for an office, but then – depending on how many candidates are on the ballot – can also choose a second-place preference if the first falls short, and maybe a third or fourth as well. These alternative choices come into play whenever no candidate receives at least 50% of the vote or a majority.

That’s how it worked in the recent election in Alaska. In the nationally watched special election race for the U.S. House (Alaska has only one seat), three well-known? candidates were competing: Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich and Democrat Mary Peltola. The first stage involved the counting of top-choice votes, and if one of them had reached 50%, that would have marked a win. Instead, after the votes were counted, all three fell short, Peltola came in first, Palin second and Begich third. Begich was dropped from consideration, and the second-place choice votes from his contingent were distributed and counted. Some of his voters opted for no one, but the others were split between Peltola and Palin. Peltola got just enough of them to prevail.

Other places around the country have work with ranked choice, notably the state of Maine.

This makes me wonder what would happen in Oregon’s three-cornered governor race if such a system were in place. It could mean a governor with voter support from more than half of the electorate.

Oregon doesn’t have this system on a statewide level, but the state could be moving slowly toward ranked choice voting down the road.

Ranked choice is a factor in the proposal for a change in Portland city’s form of government. Oregon Capital Chronicle columnist Tim Nesbitt recently wrote, “I was surprised to learn that the commission thinks its most popular reform will be the shift to ranked choice voting in city elections, where voters get to vote for more than one candidate in order of preference. Apparently, that sounds cool to Portlanders.”

As he also noted, though, that the Portland proposal would be a much looser system that wouldn’t necessarily require 50% to win, and might not be well understood by Portlanders.

A closer fit to the normal ranked voting approach can be found in Benton County.

There, a group of activists including state Rep. Dan Rayfield, D-Corvallis, persuaded voters in 2016 to pass Measure 2-100 (on a 54.2% to 44.8% vote) which provided for a ranked voting plan, on a limited basis: As it was structured, only county commissioners would be elected under it, and it would be used only in general elections. The measure went into effect in 2020.

It hasn’t gotten a full test yet. In 2020, voters were able to make first and second choices for the two commission seats on the ballot, but in both cases the Democratic candidates won on the first round with more than half the vote (Xan Augerot with 58.7% and Nancy Wyse with 63.6%), so no second round was needed.

And this year, only two candidates, a Democrat and a Republican, are competing for the one open commission seat, so voters won’t even need to make a second choice.

Ranked choice voting may not have gotten much of a workout yet, but that could change.

It’s gotten some serious promotion at the Oregon Legislature. In the 2021 session, Senate Bill 791, which “establishes ranked-choice voting for all nonpartisan statewide and local government offices, and for (the) winner of (a) nomination by major political parties for federal and state political offices, beginning after January 1, 2023,” was backed by Sens. Senators Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, Jeff Golden, D-Ashland, and Rayfield. It fell short of passage, dying in committee, but had a substantial hearing.

Oregon likely hasn’t heard the last of ranked voting. Especially with one of its most veteran backers, Rayfield, now in the House speakership. Especially with this year’s gubernatorial election providing such a compelling case study.

This article originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle. (photo: Ron Cooprt/Oregon Capital Chronicle)


Younger voters


Here’s a political statistic about Idaho I wouldn’t have guessed. Which doesn’t mean you can’t suss out what accounts for it.

It comes from the Tufts University (in Massachusetts) Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, which has made a specialty of researching voting and other civic engagement by young people of voting age. In one study, the center (it’s acronym is the cutesy CIRCLE) looked into “Ages 18-19: Youth Voter Registration in September 2022 Compared to November 2018 - The difference (%) in the number of young people, ages 18-19, who were registered to vote in each state in September 2022 vs. in November 2018.”

There was some focus on the state of Kansas, where the Center noted, “Kansas is also one of only nine states where registrations among 18- and 19-year-olds have already surpassed November 2018: they are three percent higher. That represents a major increase from June, before the primary and the abortion vote [on whether to remove the state constitutional protection of an abortion right], when youth voter registrations among this age group in Kansas were 43 percent lower than in November 2018.”

Not hard to understand, given the very pro-choice result in the Kansas election.

That was striking. But guess what other states were included among the nine that already have surpassed their 2018 young voter registrations: a mixed bag of Alabama, Michigan, California, Illinois, Nevada … and Idaho.

But not only that. Idaho’s rate of increase was higher than any other state, not by a little but by a lot. Second-place Michigan, where (as was the case in Kansas) another abortion measure is on the ballot in November, chalked up an increase of 20 percent. But Idaho left everyone else in the dust: Its increase, good for a national first place, was rated at a 66 percent increase a few weeks ago compared to election day in 2018. Tufts called it “remarkable.” (An apples to apples increase in the election schedule, obviously, would show an increase even higher.)

The ranking of states is a little bit skewed, because in many states massive numbers of younger voters were registered in 2018 and 2020, which means fewer are available to register freshly this time. (Washington and Oregon, for example, probably rank lower in the list mostly for this reason.) Still, if the Tufts information is even ballpark correct, something interesting is happening in Idaho.

You imagine what some of the incentives might be.

The Supreme Court's Dobbs decision on abortion created a political shock wave nationally, but some of the larger impacts may have happened in some of the states which quickly have moved to restrict abortion in its wake. Idaho would be a prime example of that, and many people still remember what happened in 1990 when the Idaho Legislature moved to make a sharp, drastic restriction on abortion. This isn't 1990, but the immediate effects then - including a string of Democratic wins, which were followed by Republican silence on abortion for several years after - were clear and dramatic.

The education and culture wars, which have put colleges and universities and libraries on the defensive in Idaho, may be about due for a backlash, and a cadre of younger voters would be a likely place to see the reaction materialize - if it does.

We can't really know that for sure, not until the election happens. But there was another important indicator here:

"CIRCLE data has shown that young people without a voting history are less likely to be contacted by campaigns. The fact that most states are behind in registering youth in this age group highlights that outreach is still lacking, and that there’s a need for organizations, schools, and campaigns to redouble their efforts to register the youngest potential voters," the report said.

That means we might not know what the real impact is … until November.




One of the things that makes Idaho politics so cheap to buy is that the stakes are so small. You get what you pay for and so you really don’t have to pay all that much. Isn’t the marketplace wonderful?

Idaho citizens passed our “Sunshine Laws” by initiative back in 1974 when a thousand dollars wasn’t chump change. The law limited what a candidate could accept from any individual donor in each campaign cycle to $1K. And the law required any donation over $50 to be public. I loved the $49 dollar donations I got from Republicans in my district. I would have preferred a yard sign, or a public handshake. But I took what I could get.

The idea was to promote transparency in the election process. Who is spending money to support this guy?

This week a report comes out that an Idaho citizen decided to go after some Republican State Senators in their primaries. So, he, and his wife and all of his many businesses sent the maximum, $1K, to their opponents. It looks like everybody reported everything appropriately, so we can tell just who he wanted to take out.

And indeed, most these incumbents got beat in their closed Republican primaries. Some had very small margins. But our elections are not fraudulent, are they? Sorry for that digression.

Here’s the kicker. The Idaho Freedom Foundation also opposed these incumbents. And they might have spent some money in that election also. But we can’t know what they spent. Their political arm is a 501.C4 entity and those guys don’t contribute directly to candidates. They do “independent expenditures”.

Full disclosure, after I got elected to the Idaho Senate I got introduced to independent expenditures. I became the treasurer for the IDLCC, a 501.C4 that worked to get more Democratic legislators into the statehouse. Some thought having my name listed publicly was a mistake, but I thought it would add transparency. Boy, that didn’t work out.

And I am now on the Board of CVI, another 501.C4 that raises money and spends it (independently from candidates’ campaigns) to get the folks we want elected. But Idaho’s Sunshine Laws only regulate direct contributions to candidates, not independent investments. Back in 1974, political action committees (PACs) weren’t protected by our Supreme Court, so they didn’t really play. Nowadays, they are where the most money goes.

Back to this citizen who wanted to put his thumb on the weak scales of the closed Idaho Republican primary. And he sent too much money to his favored candidates. He will receive no sanction since the law only requires candidates to comply. And they will receive no sanction. The current Idaho Secretary of State who is in charge of policing campaign contributions will just notify them of the “issue”. Lawrence Denney is looking forward to retirement. Don’t expect much enforcement from his second-floor Capitol office.

No, our votes are for sale here in Idaho. The smaller the pool of voters we need to influence, the cheaper the price.

Back to the kicker, the IFF and their PAC. What if this donor guy (wrongly) sent $30K around the state to the candidates he wanted, and they took it (wrongly) and nobody gets sanctioned? He could have sent $500K to the IFF PAC and nobody would know. Maybe he did.

So, buying an elected seat in Idaho is cheap for those with too much money. This is reflected in the Idaho Republican Party Platform. Make our primary as small and selective as we can. That way we are cheap to buy.

Further, make the United States Senators selected not by popular vote, but by the legislature. Us politicians are all for sale here. Let the bidding war begin.


Risch on the next Senate


Idaho Sen. Jim Risch has every reason to hope that Republicans gain control of the Senate after November’s midterm elections.

That would mean he would be back as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a lofty position he held during the Trump administration, and that fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo would lead the Senate Finance Committee – assuming that he is re-elected.

But whether Republicans can take back the Senate … that’s another question. “It’s a 50/50 deal, which is a general way of saying I don’t know,” Risch told me.

He is more certain about the GOP’s prospects in the House.

“Republicans will take the House,” he said. “As long as you have one of the two bodies, you have at least partial ball control. If you don’t have either one, they could ride over the top of you. But we are going to take the House, so that makes it less important to have control of the Senate.”

Two years ago, when Senate control was hanging in the balance, Risch offered some gloomy predictions if Democrats were to gain a majority. He thought the party would move to end the filibuster (the 60-vote requirement for getting most bills passed), grant statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and add more seats to the U.S. Supreme Court to negate the court’s conservative majority.

None of those things happened. Moderate forces in the Democratic Party decided, wisely, that ending the filibuster and packing the Supreme Court would not be a good idea. Those things wouldn’t work nearly as well with Republicans in the majority. And for some reason, statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. – which probably would keep Democrats in the majority in the foreseeable future – has not been discussed much.

So the Senate sits with a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking tie votes. Technically, that gives Democrats a majority. But that can all change on a dime with the midterm elections and several tight races hanging in the balance.

In some ways, these midterms are a sequel to the 2020 presidential election – although neither President Biden nor Trump are on the ballot. Those denying the validity of the last election are out in force on the Republican side, and Biden has labeled Trump supporters as a threat to democracy.

We’ll see whether Trump, or Biden, are assets to their party.
“It depends on the state,” Risch says. “If it’s Massachusetts, then not so much. If it’s Idaho, then (Trump’s) greatly helpful.” For Biden, folks love him in Delaware, but he gets no traction in red states such as Idaho.

It remains to be seen how the abortion issue plays out. Again, it depends on the state.

“The polling I’ve seen suggests that the Supreme Court decision has not moved the needle at all as far as pushing people one way or the other on the issue,” Risch says. “Polling suggests that it has raised the enthusiasm on both sides for single-issue voters. I’m not sure that at the end of the day it makes a lot of difference. People who are pro-life will vote pro-life and those who are pro-choice will vote pro-choice.”

One thing that Risch is certain about are the prospects for Crapo.

“I have a bold prediction,” he said, chuckling. Sen. Crapo is going to win by a landslide.”

Who can argue? A Democrat has not held the U.S. Senate seat in Idaho since Frank Church, and that was back in 1980.

“When Mike talks, people listen,” Risch says. “Republicans have lunch together on Tuesdays Wednesdays and Thursdays and we discuss a lot of things. Mike seldom talks at those meetings, but when he does people are very much tuned into listening to him – especially on financial matters. Mike does not get angry. He’s very pragmatic and he is interested in problem solving, I could not ask for a better working partner.”

It's a partnership that likely will continue for at least another four years, when Risch will be up for re-election. He’ll be 83 by then, so we’ll see what the distant future holds.

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