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Posts published in December 2022

Year after year

As I wrote this I hadn’t yet seen the list of top ten news stories from around the state, which is just as well, since although this is a top ten list that’s not its purpose.

The top news stories inevitably will include, for example - and may be topped by - the student murders at Moscow, which was a big and tragic story. But it says little about the development of Idaho, about the coming year and what Idahoans ought to be paying attention to.

What follows are interrelated items which say something about where we were in the last dozen months and where we may go in the next dozen.

One is the inquiry into the retired Boise police captain, a 24-year veteran, who in November was slated to speak to a national white supremacist group’s meeting. City officials have responded usefully, launching an investigation into how far such attitudes may have penetrated the organization. (It’s hard to believe someone with his job history would have been a complete loner.) But this isn’t about Boise only: What about law enforcement elsewhere around Idaho (and beyond)? Watch for developments.

Look for more followups on the feature story about political real estate. Stories from March focused on real estate operations in the Panhandle marketing to an extremist and survivalist base, employing terms like “American Redoubt,” “Strategic relocation,” and “bunkers – saferooms.” The area is becoming so well known for that atmosphere, and so socially and politically hardened, that you can watch for the appeal to spread across a wide range of businesses and other organizations.

Political extremism, with culture wars at their center, have spread all over. The efforts at book bans in the Nampa School District, which went along, and the Meridian Library District, which has been resisting, are merely partway in their development.

Along those lines, watch closely the demolition of North Idaho College, proceeding rapidly since Kootenai County voters in November returned control of the governing board to an extremist core (supported by the local county Republican Party organization) apparently bent on destroying the place. On that same election day, governing boards at other community colleges around Idaho remained relatively steady, but an attempt at going the NIC route was tried at the College of Western Idaho, and may be tried again there and elsewhere. These governing boards are hardly liberal, but they have been - so far - dedicated to keeping their local institutions afloat and operational. Will they stay so?

Most top-ballot elections in Idaho this year gave wins to mainstream Republicans, but the organizational energy seems to be with the more extreme MAGA-oriented sectors - as indicated by the results of last year’s Republican Party leadership elections, when the hard right swept the field. The Idaho Legislature, which is largely split between the two sides, will be ground zero for that struggle in the first part of the coming year. (Another question: Thanks to the ballot issue passed last year, how many special sessions might we expect this year?)

With that in mind, one of the big stories of last year - the overturning of the national  Roe v. Wade decision - may be a growing point for activism in Idaho in the coming year. Last year, with elections around the corner, a piece of Idaho’s abortion law was stayed, and some anti-abortion activists may have wanted to hold back on taking additional steps in the area. Any hesitation will likely be gone once the legislature hits town.

That arrival may expose something else: The reasons behind the special session of last fall and abrupt infusion of money into public schools. The money may soon be yanked from the schools, but a fight over school funding seems almost inevitable.

Anything essentially non-political in these polarized days? There are some new economic developments, including possible expansion at Micron Technology (along with possible layoffs) and decisions about to be made around the specifics of a data center at Kuna. But I’m watching most the work on cobalt mining at Salmon, where - if trend lines hold - a central part of Idaho could see some big changes before long. If that’s the case, 2023 may be the year it takes hold.

Of course, 2023 may yet launch some fresh new stories of its own.




Just as Speaker Mike Moyle has established, partisan power has its benefits. As his doubtful idol, Barack Obama said, “Elections have consequences.” Speaker Mike decided to reduce the number of House seats for the minority party on the Budget Committee, JFAC. Why should he stop there?

Idaho law gives the Governor power to appoint members of boards and commissions that are empowered to direct state agencies. This is a process that is supposed to enfranchise the public in the government they elect.

The Idaho Constitution limits the number of departments to twenty. And Idaho law defines just who can serve on these boards. Back in the 1960-70’s, when Idaho had a Democratic governor, but the legislature was mainly Republican (a bit less so than now), the legislature enacted laws requiring the partisan membership of these boards and commissions be somewhat balanced.

For instance, the Public Utilities Commission, the folks who regulate the power company this state was named after, Idaho Power, has three members. It may not have more than two members of the same political party. Why? I guess back when we had a more balanced state, the need for balance on these governing bodies was thought to be valuable.

Maybe Speaker Mike has other ideas. He needs to start drafting a lot of bills.

This was floated by Representative Brent Crane a few years or so back about the Redistricting Commission. His point was, we are a republican state, why do we need balance on that Commission? He quieted down when he realized redistricting appointments were mandated to be balanced in the Idaho Constitution. But boards for Education, Transportation, Commerce, Corrections, etc. are in statute. Statute is the legislature's sandbox. They can make the game however they choose. Start drafting.

To be honest, I’m not sure why this matters. Maybe at some time it did. Maybe being a commissioner was a steppingstone to higher office. I know that has been the case for some legislators. No Idaho Democrats that I can think of, but quite a few Republicans. It should be a place to learn about governance and serving the public good. And then to move from there to legislating for the public good makes good sense.

So maybe the balance our current laws require on these Idaho Boards and Commissions will change. Maybe Speaker Mike and the Idaho legislature Republican supermajority will see the folly of such partisan affiliation and decide to strike such requirements from our laws. After all, most statewide votes are 60/40 republican/democrat. Why should we even be considering a commissioner’s partisan affiliation? Shouldn’t we just be considering their fitness to serve? To the victor the spoils, right?

I guess it gets back to just how you see this government serving us. Many see government as a vending machine. You put in your money, and you should get back what you want without having to kick it or shake it too much. Republicans think you should get Coke, Democrats, Pepsi. So, if Democrats win the election, all you can get is Pepsi, no Coke in the machine. And the versa if Republicans win.

What a dismal picture of the common good.

I don’t see government as a vending machine. Government serves us all. But if you want beer in the vending machine, that will need some review by a commission or a board and maybe some reference to the laws and maybe the Constitution.

Serving us all is a tough job. Serving all our constituents is indeed very tough, I can say as an unelected legislative representative. I must not have been doing a good enough job. The voters told me so.

But did they know my work? Or were they just responding to the partisan label? Maybe that partisan label has little value. It sure has power.


Simpson’s no vote


Critics may say that Congressman Mike Simpson, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, “caved” to Republican leadership in his vote against the $1.7 trillion omnibus appropriations package that both houses of Congress approved … while selling out his Idaho constituents in the process.

It’s probably more like this: Simpson did what he had to do politically and, since the bill passed, everything he wrote in the budget bill for Idaho is there. Yes, Washington politics is messy.

But consider what Simpson was up against. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who appears on the verge of being the next House speaker, has made clear his opposition to the package. Nine Republicans voted for the measure, and only two of those are returning to the new Congress that convenes on Jan. 3. So, Simpson didn’t have much choice but to oppose.

Simpson, a former Idaho House speaker, knows how political power works. You don’t run crossways with the speaker of the House, whether it’s the Idaho Legislature or Congress. In this case, Simpson supports McCarthy and his leadership team. Simpson is in a lofty position, and there’s no need for him to create misery for himself for the next two years.

Typically, Simpson votes for the budget resolutions and offers detailed (and convincing) arguments for how Idaho benefits from those omnibus packages. It’s hard to imagine Simpson in a new normal – working as hard as he does to take care of his home state, then bailing out on the budget vote. But this time, bucking House leadership would not work to his advantage.

Simpson, of course, didn’t bring up the sticky political situation in his short news release announcing his opposition to the appropriations package.

“While there are plenty of individual provisions of this bill that I support, the positives did not outweigh the tremendous cost of the total package and the irresponsible 11th-hour gimmicks thrown in by Democrats to hide the true cost of the package,” Simpson said in his news release. “I applaud the inclusion of more than $36.8 million for the worthy Idaho projects that I submitted, a rider to prevent sage grouse ESA listing, and the funding of critical defense provisions in the NDAA. However, the final package fails to address Americans’ most urgent needs and instead indulges Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats on one final reckless, inflation spending binge in the waning hours of their House majority.”

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch also issued statements reflecting their opposition to the $1.7 trillion bill, which was in line with how they usually vote on those packages. As with Simpson, Crapo sees some positives from the measure – including bipartisan initiatives he has championed -- but does not support the “all-or-nothing” approach.

“Instead of moving forward with individual spending bills to allow members of Congress to separate good policy from bad, we are once again having to vote on a single bill that will unfortunately add to our unsustainable debt crisis,” Crapo said. “Unrestrained federal spending over the past two years has led to one of the most expensive holiday seasons in history. It is past time to rein in reckless unnecessary government spending and get our fiscal house in order.”

Risch says Congress needs to rein in government spending, abandon earmarks and treat taxpayer dollars with respect.

“This omnibus dramatically missed that mark,” Risch said. “At a time when Idahoans are facing the highest prices in decades, it is insulting for Congress to spend another $1.7 trillion that will add fuel to the inflationary fire. The 4,155 pages of this monstrous bill include billions for liberal priorities and pet project giveaways.”

Runaway spending in Congress is not new, which is why our national debt is more than $31 trillion and climbing every second. The question is whether members of Congress will do anything about it, aside from voting against multi-trillion-dollar omnibus appropriations packages that pop up.

Maybe things will be better with Republicans holding a slim majority in the House of Representatives, but don’t count on it.

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


Prayer time


All right.

If 2022 has been the year of investigation, 2023 should be the year of charging, adjudication to separate the guilty from the innocent and confining the guilty.

For the last three years, we've been inundated with investigations. There aren't many rocks that haven't been overturned and examined. We've found plenty of wrong-doers. We know who they are and what they've done.

Evidence of that wrong-doing by a former President and his minions is overwhelming. Boxes and boxes and boxes have been filled with the findings of this, that and the other investigations. We've got paperwork, final reports, video and audio of incriminating acts and other evidence. Enough for several trials.

Let 'em commence.

The new Congress to be sworn in in a week's time is not likely to be one that gets things done. Just like the last several.


Unless some of the older, wiser and honorable folk can agree - or disagree - on the legitimate issues and take on the tasks of governing to which they've sworn. Define whatever common ground of governance there be and get to it!

We've been expensively - and poorly - served by several congressional gatherings. In too many instances, the "tail" has "wagged the dog" and many of the tasks to be undertaken have fallen through the large cracks that seem to be everywhere on Capitol Hill.

Yes, we've got Marjorie Taylor-Green, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs and several dozen other "crazies" to deal with. And, we've got a totally unqualified and overly self-serving persona in Kevin McCarthy, camped out at the door of the House Speaker's office. Yes, we've got "crazies" in both Houses.


At last count, there are far more serious heads existing than the small band of political "terrorists." If those of the larger, wiser group can put aside the issues dividing them, get together and undertake the job of governing, we will see progress.

Statistically, the aforementioned, obnoxious voices can be muzzled and ignored. There are legislative rules that can - if used in the proper way - dispatch them to the "children's table," out-of-sight and out-of-earshot so the adults in the room can do the work before them. Can govern.

Governing is possible if the wiser heads exert the kind of leadership we used to see with the Bob Dole's, Sam Nunn's, Hubert Humphrey's, Sam Irvin's, and Everett Dirksen's of the world. Different parties. Different views of the same issues. Different ways of contributing to the whole. But, they did! They made their cases, debated long into the night, voted and resumed governing.

It can still be done. If. If. If those current, wiser heads of both major parties want to do it. It can be done.

And, another thing. This idea of job preservation has got to be overcome. Positions are taken and votes cast based on protecting one's employment rather than the proper consideration of issues. Some, like Idaho's Risch and Crapo, don't have to worry about that. Too many mindless constituents concerned only with the "R" on the ballot have assured them of continued income.

But, there are others - many others in both Party's - who vote self-interest rather than casting a vote the folks at home might not like.

I used to have a friend who said, the only way he'd run for the Idaho Legislature, is if he could take the floor on the first day and proclaim his intention to vote on every issue on its worth and not what one anonymous voter would think about any singular vote in the next election.

Works for me.

This new Congress will be plagued by the Taylor-Green's and Boebert's of the world. They'll continue to rant and rave in their ignorance. They'll cling to whatever the newest phony issue is among their far-right sycophants and continue to act as hideous side shows to the work of Congress.


But, they can be shut down and ignored by a larger, smarter majority in both parties. If there is a will to do it. If there are enough wiser heads that want to do the people's work. If there are enough wiser heads who want to live up to their oaths. Enough who are willing to say "Enough!"

Brothers and Sisters, let us pray.


Remarkable people


As we enjoy the company of our friends and families during the holidays, fond thoughts turn to special people who have departed during 2022. We all have memories of remarkable people who were important to us during our life journey. There are three memorable people, dear friends all, who played a significant role in my journey.

Donna Jones, who served as Idaho State Controller from January 2007 to October 2012, was a special person and dedicated public servant. She was the first woman to hold that position. A resident of Payette, she previously served in the Idaho House of Representatives from 1987 to 1998 in three different Payette County legislative districts. Donna was twice appointed by Governor Cecil Andrus to fill vacancies in two of those districts. In the interim between her legislative service and election as Controller, she served as Executive Director of the Idaho Real Estate Commission.

I became acquainted with Donna in 1982 when I was running for Attorney General. She and her Payette friend, Mary Hartung, were early supporters, who helped put me in office. I was happy to return the favor by encouraging her to run for Controller in 2002, when she came close to winning, and again in 2006, when Idahoans recognized her as the best candidate. She proved the voters to be correct by a remarkable record of service until serious injuries she received in an auto accident caused her to step out of office. Donna passed away on July 8, leaving a rich legacy of service to the Gem State.

Glen Black, who left us on March 21, was not a household name in Idaho and that was just fine with him. However, people throughout the State witnessed the fruits of the labors of Glen and his dear wife, Peggy. They built up the largest Idaho-based hotel brand, AmeriTel Inns, starting in the early 1990s. Glen began his business career as owner of a service station in Battle Mountain, Nevada. He built some residential rental units in Battle Mountain, then acquired hotels in California, Nebraska and Nevada and then moved to Boise where he built the AmeriTel chain.

Glen hired me as his attorney after building his first AmeriTel Inn in Elko. His business plan was to build high quality, moderately priced hotels in cities where the competition was rather time worn. It was wildly successful, resulting in AmeriTels in Twin Falls, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Coeur d’Alene and Boise. He later expanded to Utah and Washington.

Glen was a dream client–he followed my legal advice and was always thankful. But, more than being one of my best clients, he was a great friend. Even though he achieved marvelous success, he remained a humble, thoughtful person. He treated his staff well and made rooms free of charge to people who were in town with a child in the hospital. When he turned the business over to his children, they decided to affiliate the hotels with national chains so the AmeriTel name disappeared from cities across the State.

Nevertheless, Glen Black was a graphic demonstration of the American dream, deserving some of the recognition that he sought to avoid during his successful life.

A lawyer friend from my Jerome days, Eugene Fredericksen, passed away on December 3. When I started my law practice in 1973, Gene was kind enough to help me orient myself to small town law practice. He was the elected county prosecutor, but also maintained a private practice. Law school teaches what the law is but does not tell you how to practice it. He was a tremendous help.

When I decided to run for Congress against George Hansen in 1978, Gene served as my campaign treasurer. When that venture did not succeed, he served in that same role when I made a second unsuccessful attempt in 1980. Gene served as treasurer once again when I ran for Attorney General in 1982 and won the office. His help with other county prosecutors was essential to that victory. I never quite figured out whether he was that patient or whether he just wanted to get me out of town. Regardless, he was a great friend. His son, Eric, now serves as State Appellate Public Defender.

I’ll be remembering Donna, Glen and Gene during this holiday season. I would urge others to embrace their special friends and family, but do it while they are still with us.


No coincidence


For two generations the unshakable base of the Republican Party has been white voters without a college degree.

In 2019, the Gallup Poll found that “54% of whites without college degrees identified as Republicans or were Republican-leaning independents, compared with 34% who were Democrats or Democratic leaners.”

Turns out that Donald Trump and those politicians who follow him didn’t need to attract these voters as much as mobilize them. Little wonder Trump actually said in 2016 that he “loved the poorly educated,” who he called smart and loyal.

A recent Brookings analysis of the 2022 midterm election noted that “In addition to the outsized Democratic support among young people, white women with a college degree increased their Democratic support in 2022 compared to the 2020 presidential election. At the same time, white men without college degrees showed increased Republican support, even more so than in the 2020 election.” This block of GOP voters, Brookings says, “anchored Republican support in several Senate and gubernatorial elections.”

For a long time, I wondered why a political party would base a great deal of strategy on an appeal to people who either hadn’t been interested or able to access more education. Was the approach crassly cynical, strategically calculating or just stupid, or some combination of all three?

Then I remember the rule of no coincidence.

If you observe politics closely for long enough you realize there really are no coincidences. This old rule explains much of why Republicans from Ron DeSantis in Florida to the Kootenai County central committee in northern Idaho are engaged in a war on education. Republicans, at least many of them, are feeding the rightwing base. It’s a cynical, calculating and one hopes ultimately stupid strategy, but in many places attacking teachers, undermining schools and diminishing education in a variety of ways is a core belief system of the GOP.

Public school advocates in Idaho are bracing for another huge legislative assault on public education. A very conservative legislature seems sure during the coming legislative session to try and take money from already underfunded public schools and re-direct those resources to private and religious schools. Their talking point is that stripping resources from your neighborhood school improves student performance. It doesn’t.

There is vast evidence from many states, including Wisconsin, Indiana and Louisiana who have headed down this “school choice” path that student outcomes not only don’t improve when vouchers and similar schemes are introduced, but actually decline.

The school wars involve nonsense about how American history is taught and which books ought to be allowed in school libraries. The battlefield commanders in these wars decry student “indoctrination,” but welcome using public money to allow a religiously affiliated school to practice the very “indoctrination” they say they oppose.

The right’s unrelenting assault on education also targets the teaching profession. Poor pay for teachers and crushing workloads resulting from a widespread teacher shortages are driving educators from the classroom even as conservative politicians bemoan poor student outcomes.

A concerted national strategy to ideologically transform local school boards is moving ahead full steam, and is nowhere better illustrated than in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho where a radical right majority on the local community college board, with the support of radical local party leaders, have brought the school to the brink of losing its accreditation.

For decades North Idaho College was considered an educational gem in a community that lived for every positive development as their local community college grew and prospered. Republican and Democratic legislators from northern Idaho jockeyed to see who could do the most for NIC and its now 6,500 students. Local property taxpayers have long supported the school, displaying both community pride in the college and its obvious importance to the local economy. A 2020 analysis by the University of Idaho, to cite just one data point, calculated a $4.5 billion annual economic impact from higher education in Idaho and support for nearly 75,000 jobs.

A school like North Idaho College is simply the goose that keeps laying golden eggs, yet the radicals now running the school have suspended the well-regarded president who is suing in response. The board engaged in widespread violations of public meeting law and hired an unqualified right wing real estate lawyer and failed attorney general candidate as the board legal counsel (the prior counsel resigned amid the chaos after 23 years on the job). The radicals have meddled profusely in academic affairs, engendered a no confidence vote from the faculty and students and the board now faces a potentially extreme sanction from the regional higher education accreditation body. All this has happened since the radicals fired the previous president who left with a $250,000 settlement.

If the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities now yanks the school’s accreditation the fallout will be stunning – student credits won’t count, transfers will be impossible, the economic fallout will be massive, including private contributions disappearing. The school’s former legal counsel warns of “cataclysmic damage to the institution.”

You have to wonder: what’s the end game for these anti-education radicals? Do they hope to create such chaos that they can force privatization of the public college? Is the aim to stock the faculty and administration with fellow right wing zealots? Or is chaos empowered by incompetence the only real goal?

Here’s a possible clue. The local Republican establishment, arguably as extreme a local party as you’ll find anywhere in the Pacific Northwest, is noticeably mum, evidencing no interest in redirecting this runaway train of cataclysmic damage. Republican governor Brad Little has called the situation “unfortunate,” but he’s busying himself with the coming legislative session, undoubtedly plotting a way to not get splattered by the crap that will hit the political fan when his party tries to defund public schools by instituting vouchers. Imagine being a student or the parent of a student in the middle of this senseless storm of right wing chaos.

If Governor Little were treating northern Idaho’s four alarm educational fire with seriousness, he’d be pushing his own state board of education to intervene. The board could invoke the state law that spells out its duties, which reads in part that the state board shall “have general supervision, through its executive departments and offices, of all entities of public education supported in whole or in part by state funds …”

They should declare an emergency, which this is and take over management of the college. Let the kooks sue, while sanity saves the college.

But real intervention to prevent a catastrophic of loss of certification would require genuine leadership. And since there is no such thing as a coincidence, that would require a very public commitment to public education, and that is not in keeping with the Republican appeal to the poorly educated.

Standing by while chaos occurs is the most unconservative thing imaginable.

Ever narrower control


The idea that Republicans are in charge in Idaho is nothing new. That’s the completely consistent history in Idaho ever since the last closely contested Idaho election in 1990.

So when the state’s Republican central committee - the party’s main governing board - acts to limit who can participate in selection of Republican nominees for office, there are two implications: one, that it is limiting who in effect can serve in office (not as a matter of law but of effect), and second, that it is setting narrower and narrower definitions of who is a Republican.

That second implication is moving ever closer to the center of political debate in Idaho, to where a break point may be coming.

The evolving definition of who gets to qualify as a Republican - both generally and for voting purposes - comes out of a couple of concerns expressed by some party activists. One is that people who do not really identify as Republicans (and of course some do specifically identify as Democrats or with some other group) have been participating in Republican primary elections, essentially because that is the only practical expression of their political preferences available to them in Idaho. While such crossover does happen, the numbers are far smaller than many of the party activists have alleged.

The other concern, more subtle but a more sensitive point for the party, is about who or what is a “RINO” - Republican in name only. Since anyone is allowed to join the Republican Party (or any other) - no one can tell you that you can’t - then what does it mean to say that you’re “Republican enough”?

The issue isn’t a new one. Many long-time Republicans in Idaho have been expressing just such concerns for a long time about many of the people now in charge of much of the party’s machinery. But now the people in that machinery - those, for example, excited by the invitation of Representative Marjorie Taylor Green to speak at an upcoming Kootenai Republicans event - are getting serious about trying to oust, or minimize the clout of effectiveness of more mainstream Republicans.

Those mainstreamers seem to be forming a larger and more vocal opposition. You could get a sense of that from the swelling numbers of career-long Republicans who earlier this year broke with the party’s nominee for attorney general and backed the Democratic nominee instead. Do you give up your right to identify or vote as a Republican if you ever support or vote for someone who isn’t? That was never the case traditionally, but the new agitators are pushing that standard.

Blowback at the January state central committee meeting may come partly when it considers whether to adopt a proposal raised at the last state party convention to restrict many people from voting in the Republican primary. One report described the banned as including anyone who is “Affiliated [with the GOP] less than 12 months before the next primary election held in an even-numbered year (so, a voter registering in June 2023 could not vote in the 2024 primary); disaffiliated with the Republican Party at any time in the previous 25 months; financially supported more than one candidate of a different political party for office, or financially supported a different political party, less than 25 months before the primary; affiliated with any other political party less than 25 months before the primary; voted in a primary or caucus for any other political party less than 25 months before the primary.”

You wonder who exactly is going to police all of this - or how to deal with violators. (In case you forgot, we’re talking here about the small-government party.)

Nor is that all. Another newer proposal would drop the Idaho Young Republicans, the College Republicans and the Idaho Republican Women’s Federation from membership on the state party’s executive board. That plan has raised alarms within those groups, which have been key to the party’s strong organization but don’t always align with the more extreme parts of party leadership.

The real question here is, who is still being allowed to participate in Idaho’s government-by-the-people?

Ever-fewer people, apparently.


Merry Christmas


Have you wrapped all the presents? Have you looked under the tree? Are the stockings hung with the hope of St. Nick? I hope so. Idaho rural hospitals will be offered a stocking stuffer this year from our federal government that might leave them asking, “Where’s the pony?”

This policy shift comes in last years budget bill. That’s where most things happen in Washington DC nowadays. No committee hearings on boring budget items or policy decisions. It seems the only public hearings and debates are about things that have plenty of partisan opportunities for sound bites and teeth gnashing. Small town hospitals? Yawn. Unless you live or work there.

This gift is pony droppings.

There has been no doubt some small town hospitals are stressed. A study found over 600 are at risk of closing in the next ten years. Over 180 have closed in the last 17. So, the budget proposal offers a “fix”.

If a rural hospital promises to not keep patients longer than a day, they will get $3.2M in federal dollars annually. You shift your small hospital from providing inpatient care to being an urgent care facility with a helipad, you get a boost. What are they thinking?

Is inpatient care cheaper at big city hospitals? Is it better? We don’t know the answer to these questions, but we really do know what happens to small towns where the hospitals close. One in 12 jobs in small towns are supported by their small hospitals. After hospitals close small-town populations shrink.

What does the landscape look like here in Idaho? Honestly, not as bad as in many states. If you look at the maps for closures and at-risk rural hospitals, you might as well overlay the map for states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage. We did that. But it took the Idaho voters, not the governor or the legislature to get that done.

Idaho currently has 30 rural hospitals. None had closed in the last 20 years and only two are considered at risk. That is the lowest rate of any state with a substantial rural population. What makes Idaho special? I would argue, good local governance.

If our federal delegation wanted to do something that would substantively help our rural communities instead of gelding their hospital services, there are many choices, many solutions. Private insurance companies pay less to rural providers than urban ones for the same services. And rural hospitals have a higher percentage of private insurance patients than urban hospitals do. You can blame Medicare and Medicaid all you want, but there’s good evidence that changing the way rural hospitals are compensated mainly by private insurers, would avoid this problem.

This choking out of rural healthcare has been a long time coming. When the pandemic hit and DC sloshed cash outwards, the rural hospitals got some boost. That dries up on New Years Eve. This “solution” is supposed to forestall some closures by making the local hospitals walk-in urgent care clinics.

I don’t envy the small hospital board members considering this. Should they accept the “gift” their congressmen have offered and close their facility to inpatients? That would mean grandpa’s pneumonia gets him a helicopter ride to the big city. And Billie Jean won’t be having her baby where she was born. No, you can’t make sure babies come out in less than 24 hours.

I see this “solution” as just another example of how we Americans don’t want to face our problems. I’m glad we have these volunteer hospital board members in our communities who understand and want to serve their neighbors. Congress is offering them money to stab their neighbors in the back.

Thank your local hospital board member and wish them a Merry Christmas. They deserve it.