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Posts published in March 2023

Back to the source

So you’ve been hearing a lot about the Idaho Legislature this year - or at least, if you’re an Idahoan, you should have.

You may not like much of what you’ve heard, or maybe you do. But maybe you’d like to decide for yourself: Cut out the middleman.

Fair enough. I’m here to help. One incontrovertibly good thing we should agree on when it comes to the Idaho Legislature is this: They have made it easy to learn what they’re doing and what their members are saying. Behind the scenes lobbying and negotiating remains hard to get at, true (though lobbying reports and campaign finance documents, online at the Secretary of State’s office, are an underused resource). But a lot of useful material is available for those who want to use it.

It’s easy to track down the basics about how legislation passes through the session, who sponsors it, what it is purported to be about and what it actually says, and - critically - exactly what legislators have said about it, as well as how they voted.

All the pieces of legislation introduced this session are included in something called the “minidata” (named for a daily-produced pamphlet traditionally printed on a folded sheet of paper) located online at

Let’s run down the list and grab one: House Bill 124, which concerns voter identification. Here you can see the text of the bill (it’s not terribly hard to follow), and a statement of purpose, along with a note identifying the sponsor (in this case, a House member and a senator).  Also important, it notes the chronology of the bill’s progress: Where it started, what committees and chamber floors it reaches and on what day, and how the members voted (and when) on the floor.

Those dates are important if you want to check out what legislators actually said and did beyond their floor votes. This matters because the legislature, on its website, stores video of much of its action going back to 2013, for not only floor sessions but also many committee meetings. You don’t have to be at the Statehouse to see exactly how all the debate and activity unfolded: It was captured on video, which you can watch at home.

Let’s follow HB 124, the voter ID bill. We know from the bill’s link in the minidata that it was introduced on February 13; since the bill’s author is listed as “by the State Affairs Committee,” you know it was introduced by that panel on that day. If you go to the “media archive” page on the legislature’s site, you can navigate to the committee you need (or the House or Senate floor) and find not only the agenda and the minutes for that meeting, but also downloadable video from it. You can do this for every session in the last decade.

If there was further debate on the bill in the committee, that probably would have happened on February 16, and you can look up that meeting too. (If you don’t want to watch the whole meeting, you can check where the bill in question was handled in either the agenda or the minutes, and go to that point in the meeting.)

Floor votes often are good places - at least in the case of relatively controversial bills - for pulling out the flow of arguments about specific legislation, spotlighting what specific legislators said (in context), and watching the video of those debates (in the case of our bill, that would mean the House floor action on February 20) is a good place to do that. (A personal note: I developed most of last week’s column, on a different bill, by doing exactly this.)

You can follow the process through the opposing chamber (if the legislation gets that far, as this one did).

If you want the whole, unfiltered story, it’s available, courtesy of the legislature.

I’ve long wondered: What would happen in Idaho legislative elections if large numbers of voters actually followed through and watched their legislators in action? How many would survive?


Everybody knows

When a majority can pass a law that says broad and powerful things, then ignore those noble sentiments, everybody knows the deck is stacked. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

Our Idaho legislature has done such. I ask you to read their noble words. Then ask yourself, was the fight fixed?

Read our laws:

It is hereby declared that the public policy of the state of Idaho, consistent with our constitutionally recognized and inalienable rights of liberty, is that every person within the state of Idaho is and shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty by the federal government of the United States of America. 39.9003(2)

Our majority legislature has nobly stated this freedom of healthcare. But I guess it doesn’t apply to those they don’t consider deserving. Maybe it’s just a law they and we can ignore. The poor stay poor, and the rich get rich, that’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

The trans youth or their parents, the young woman, and her pregnancy, through further laws they want to pass, cannot have these freedoms. That’s how it goes.

This law was put into our Idaho Code when Republicans were feeling assaulted by the Affordable Health Care Act, way back in 2010. They needed to defend us from the assault of federal laws, and our Idaho freedoms needed defense. They declared every person shall be free to choose or decline any mode of…health care services. But the health care service of addressing gender or pregnancy, in their eyes, should be the decision they choose, the state legislature. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

This law was crafted to combat the Affordable Healthcare Act. Back in 2010, when we had a black Democratic President. The ACA was an assault on our Idaho freedom. So, these noble words were adopted into our code. But maybe not taken to heart. So, it goes. Everybody knows.

Wyoming went too far. They took this American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) template too much to heart and adopted this freedom into their state constitution. Their citizens joined the anti ACA mob. The Wyoming Constitution was amended.

Idaho was less enthusiastic and only made it a law. So maybe it can be more easily ignored. Ain’t that how it goes?

This last month a judge in Wyoming cited their state Constitutional language and blocked Wyoming’s abortion ban. That’s how it goes.

But here in Idaho, we have the law on our books, designed to protect us from Obamacare, but no such constitutional mandate. The Idaho legislature has made it secure that you will be protected from any federal restriction on your healthcare choice, but not the decisions of our legislators. If this state chooses to enforce their laws on you, a health care provider, you can go to jail. That’s how it goes. Everybody knows.

This right, so nobly stated in our law: every person shall be free to choose or decline to choose any mode of securing health care services without penalty or threat of penalty…does not apply to you.

If you are a young person struggling with your gender identity.

That’s how it goes.

If you have an early pregnancy you fear, whatever your reasons, you must submit to the will of the old men and women in the Capitol.

That’s how it goes.

I watch the Idaho legislature make its statements of purpose, its “intents”, in so many bills it passes and then puts into our thick book of Idaho code and wonder, do they really mean what they say?

Healthcare freedom should be in our Constitution.

But maybe they just mean the freedom they think you should have, not the freedom you want for yourself.

Everybody knows it’s coming apart.

Take one look at this Sacred Heart

Before it blows

Everybody knows.

Thank you, Leonard Cohen.


Don’t bail

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis didn’t win many friends in Congress when he dismissed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “territorial conflict,” but may well be the toast of the Kremlin and Russian strongman Vladmir Putin.

Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has not commented about DeSantis specifically. But the politicians who are speaking out against Ukraine are getting plenty of attention … in the wrong direction.

“If somebody says ‘I’m against that,’ it not only makes news here, but the statement will go across Putin’s desk,” Risch told me.

Overall, Risch says, support for Ukraine is strong. “Those who had doubts are the same ones who had doubts from the beginning and that is not increasing from what I’ve seen. What has happened is that those who have doubts are speaking up, and they are getting lots of media attention.”

So, don’t look for Risch to be making headlines in Moscow – unless it’s in Idaho. The U.S. commitments to Ukraine have been in place for almost 30 years. The pact was put together a few years after the fall of the Soviet empire.

“An offer was made – you (Ukraine) get rid of your nuclear weapons and we will defend you. Ukraine gave up their nuclear weapons, so we assured them of border security,” Risch said. “So, we have a choice to make. We can keep the agreement we made, or turn our backs and walk away. If we walk away, our standing as the leader of the free world would be diminished, if not evaporated.”

The U.S. is still reeling over the way troops departed from Afghanistan. “Everybody wanted to get out, but not like that. If you add Ukraine to that, the party’s over,” Risch says.

Aid to Ukraine is not a blank check. Risch says he’s had some frank discussions with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, about that country’s reputation for corruption.

“I told him that if you want to see support from the U.S. evaporate, all you have to do is get caught with corruption and it will be the end,” Risch said. “He was not offended, and acknowledged they had a reputation for corruption. He assured me he would take every step to stop that. But to make sure, he’s also aware that we have an army of auditors who track weapons and money, and they are watching everything that is sent to Ukraine. So far, there is no evidence of corruption. Money and weapons are going where they should be going.”

Risch makes no predictions about when the war will end, but he says it’s one that Putin cannot win. Military experts were convinced that the war would last a few weeks, at the most – that is, until they saw how Ukranian troops were willing to fight to the death to keep from being taken over from Russia.

“The performance on the battlefield has been embarrassing for the Russians,” Risch says. “That great and powerful Russian army is not there. They have been beaten by a country that by comparison has sticks and stones.”

Risch gives the Biden administration props for saying and doing the right things, “although it’s not as fast as I’d like to see. I’d like to see the rhetoric ramped up a bit in regard to escalation. I want Putin to wake up in the morning wondering what he would do if there was an escalation on our part. Of course, that’s not what we need to be talking about. We need to arm the Ukranians to the point where they can win this war.”

As Risch sees it, losing is not an option. “Putin will do his best to put the old USSR together again – he’s not living in the 21st century, that’s for sure. Who would start a war in the 21st century, especially in Europe. But that’s what he has done.”

One policy is clear, Risch says. “We will not be putting U.S. troops on the ground, and Ukranians are fine with that.”

However, if Putin decides to attack a NATO country, then all bets are off. Risch doesn’t see Putin going that far. If Russian troops can’t whip Ukraine, they won’t fare any better against the collective forces of the NATO countries.

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


Majority rule

When it comes to making community decisions - elections, political candidates, etc - most of us were brought up with the dictum "majority rules."

Nowadays, it seems that no longer applies every time.  We're seeing "tail-wag-the-dog" ruling in some cases.  A minority - often small in number - trying to dictate to the majority.  And, often successfully.

Case in point: The Meridian Library District in Idaho.

Meridian is a community of some 126-thousand souls.  It resides next to Boise - population 240-thousand more or less.  In daily life, there's little to tell them apart since the two sit cheek-by-jowl to each other and, in nearly all ways - business, socially, economically - it's hard to tell where one starts and the other leaves off.

At the moment, the Meridian Library District - a creature supported in many ways by both Meridian and Boise - is under attack.  A few folks - and we're talking a distinct few here in relation to total population - are at the heart of the problem - waging "war" on the District.

Seems the Meridian Library District is a purveyor of "indecent" books - especially for young folks.  And the small group of strident voices is trying to get the Library District - supported by thousands in the majority - dissolved.  Not recalled.  Dissolved!

There are two problems at play here.  The first: what is your definition of "indecent?"  The second: where is it written a small group of folks can dictate to a total population of some 350-thousand? So far, the whole brouhaha is still in the talking stages.

Somebody, somehow, somewhere in Idaho came up with what is referred to as the "official definition" for obscene material.  To wit: "anything the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, when considered as a whole, appeals to excessive sexual interest."  I guess you're on your own to come up with those "contemporary community standards" and "excessive."

Library District Board Chair, Megan Larsen, says nothing in the Meridian District libraries fits that "official" description.  Nothing!  Period!  And library staff has taken the half-dozen book titles presented by the group and shown how each is not "indecent" under that standard and where each fits into appropriate school curriculum.

But, the screeching minority isn't buying the response.  So, the whole mishmash is in the lap of the Board.  Decision expected shortly.

This is just one example in our world today that shows the extent of some minority group trying to exercise itself at the expense of a majority.  Not thousands of Meridian District patrons demanding change.  Just this handful.  And, they're wrong.

Also, Boise.  The Idaho capitol city has enjoyed long and consistent growth.  It's well-underpinned by a sound economy, a stable though growing population and room to add citizenry as needed.

But it wasn't always so.  For more than 25-years, in the '60's and '70's, a loud, vocal minority of a few hundred folk, put up roadblocks on the "highway" of the vast majority.  Downtown urban renewal was the subject at hand.  Even after the documents were signed, agreements all around by elected boards and commissions and construction started.  Still they hollared.

Now, in our little Oregon 'burb, a similar thing.  A few folks are up in arms over a permit to demolish three very old buildings and replace the resultant hole-in-the-ground with a new five-story hotel.

Owners of the three hundred-year-old buildings have proven, conclusively, the structures can't be economically remodeled or rehabilitated.  A wise architect once told me anything built by man has a certain "life expectancy" just as our own bodies do.  Electrical.  Plumbing.  Structurally.  Heart.  Veins.  Arteries.  Sooner or later, it all wears out.

Though vocally discordant, it's not likely the minority will win this one, either.  But, it's resulting in a lot of unnecessary expense and wasted time for the local hotel people who've already jumped through many city hoops and gone to much extra effort.  And expense.

We see this minority disruption in many ways.  A few folks try to turn the tide of the majority by belligerence and, in some cases, by erecting legal hurdles.

My thinking: once the majority has proven its case - once the minority has been given a proper hearing - once the questions (new hotel, an absence of obscene books) have been answered by professionals - once the an election has been decided - game over.  Everybody go home.

But, in too many instances, its not working out that way.  Though small and destined to fail, these little groups of dissidents keep up the noise and disruption.  Even after decisions have been made.

"Majority rule?"  Well, not always.

Medical debt collector protection

Even in these politically contentious times, people with different political outlooks can come together to accomplish a shared goal. I had that experience with Frank VanderSloot, the founder and CEO of the Melaleuca company. Despite differences on some issues over the years, we viewed the issue of abusive collection practices against medical debtors through the exact same lens.

When Mr. VanderSloot learned of abusive medical debt collection practices being used by an Idaho Falls law firm against one of his employees, he stepped forward to help. He learned other medical debtors were being mistreated by the same law firm and set up a fund to assist them in defending collection suits. He then used his considerable influence to get the Idaho Patient Act (IPA) passed in 2020 to stop abusive medical debt collection practices.

I came at the issue from a different standpoint. During my service on the Idaho Supreme Court, we dealt with a number of medical debt collection cases brought by the law firm, Smith, Driscoll & Assoc., on behalf of a collection agency it operated, Medical Recovery Services. They charged exorbitant attorney fees against debtors who often were unable to afford an attorney. The cases were shocking. That prompted me to testify in favor of the IPA after I retired from the Court.

The Smith in the law firm is Bryan Smith, an ultra-right politician, who serves as Vice Chair of the Idaho Freedom Foundation and who has twice unsuccessfully challenged Congressman Mike Simpson. Smith challenged Medicaid expansion in the Idaho Supreme Court in 2019, but suffered a decisive loss. Medicaid expansion was obviously bad for his collection business—the more bills Medicaid paid, the fewer collection targets his firm had.

Last year, Mr. Smith challenged the constitutionality of the IPA in what Mr. VanderSloot characterized as a collusive lawsuit. The case certainly raises some eyebrows. A former employee of Smith ran up a $777 medical debt and refused to pay. Smith brought suit in Idaho Falls to collect. A Boise lawyer defended on the ground that Smith did not comply with the collection requirements of the IPA. Smith then claimed the IPA was unconstitutional, filing a voluminous brief to overturn the law. The Boise lawyer did not seem to break much of a sweat defending the IPA and the judge found a couple of what he thought were constitutional problems in the law.

When Former Attorney General Lawrence Wasden learned of the ruling, he determined that the IPA was constitutional and sought to intervene in the case. Wasden advised the court that Smith had failed to comply with a law requiring the AG to be notified if a constitutional challenge was made against a state statute. Smith opposed the intervention, as did the Boise lawyer representing the debtor. His opposition to the help was quite puzzling. When the AG wants to use the resources of the state to help your client, almost any lawyer would welcome the help with open arms

Wanting to make sure the judge was made aware of legal grounds to support the constitutionality of the IPA, Mr. VanderSloot spent a good deal of money to obtain a

first-rate legal analysis of the law and furnished it to the AG’s office in December. I’ve read it and found it to be a solid piece of legal work. It should help to uphold the IPA.

Attorney General Labrador has inherited the case. There was fear that he might allow Smith, a political friend, to win the case. But his office has filed a fairly good brief supporting the request to intervene. That is an encouraging sign. Labrador is scheduled to file a brief in the case by March 31. If that brief gives strong support for the constitutionality of the IPA, it will reflect well upon him. He will have stood up against abusive medical debt collection practices by Smith and others of his ilk.


A plan for industrial land

This year marks a half-century since Oregon Gov. Tom McCall signed into law Senate Bill 100 requiring comprehensive planning, which warned “uncoordinated use of lands in this state threaten the orderly development, the environment of this state and the health, safety, order, convenience, prosperity and welfare of the people of this state.”

Back then, the concern was about urban sprawl and haphazard development that would scar the state and disrupt traditional farm and timber economies, and make Oregon a less livable and manageable place. Addressing the Legislature, McCall blasted “sagebrush subdivisions, coastal condomania, and the ravenous rampages of suburbia.” In many ways that law (and others passed over the years) did its job and continues to do so.

Oregon is a big state, geographically the ninth-largest in the country, but the uses available for much of it are sharply limited. Time and circumstances have moved on, and legislators now would be well advised to pay attention to other problems as well in the state’s land-use picture. One, which was the subject of plenty of discussion during last year’s political campaigns, was the need for more space for residential housing, of which there’s a dire lack.

Another problem, and another lack, would have been counter-intuitive back in 1973: The lack of land available for industrial and manufacturing purposes. And if the goal of Oregon’s land-use planning is to address the full range of needs, use of land for industry and manufacturing is going to have to be addressed more effectively than it has been.

A new survey of Oregon communities, from the Oregon Business Council, the Oregon Economic Development Association and the League of Oregon Cities brings that into relief.

(A disclosure: My wife is the mayor of Carlton, which did participate in the survey but did not report any losses of economic opportunity due to lack of industry-ready property.)

The immediate trigger for it was concerns about making land available for the semiconductor industry, but the implications are far broader. The survey pulled responses from 66 Oregon communities ranging in size from Salem to Shaniko. (A few are not incorporated cities.) The survey said “57.5% indicated they have missed opportunities due to a lack of development ready industrial land.”

Those “missed opportunity” cities included Albany, Bend, Coburg, Eugene, Forest Grove, Grants Pass, Gresham, Happy Valley, Hermiston, Independence, Lebanon, McMinnville, Sherwood, Sisters, St. Helens, The Dalles, Tualatin and Wilsonville.

There is a subtlety here: It’s not just the raw amount of land, it’s also the evolution of infrastructure on the land. The communities said they had 9,746 acres of land zoned for industrial uses, but only about a fifth of that is ready for development: Much of it lacks utility access or road or other transport access and some are designated as polluted brownfields.

That theoretically available acreage is not evenly distributed. The Port of Tillamook Bay alone accounted for 1,100 acres, and the cities of Albany, Bend, Happy Valley, Lebanon, Ontario and Redmond almost half of the rest. The numbers are small in many communities, like Gresham (70), Lincoln City (12)  and Lake Oswego (just one), and none at all in some (King City, Durham, Ukiah).

If there’s some incentive to apply a gas pedal to changing elements of the landuse regime, there’s also pressure to brake.

Speaking at the statehouse earlier this year, Metro Council President Lynn Peterson, for one, said that her agency would be opposed to any drastic changes in land-use laws and to breaking any past promises to farmers and environmental interests. And, she said, “the biggest barrier … to new industrial development in our region is not land supply, but whether the land is actually ready for development.”

That does suggest several elements need to be brought into play, including upgrades to infrastructure which many Oregon communities struggle with more broadly.

But absolute acreage matters too, especially when the amounts are small.

Metro has proven willing to be somewhat flexible. On Feb. 2, the Metro Council decided, for example, to okay a Tigard city urban growth boundary change to allow for new housing in the area, part of a larger effort to encourage more affordable housing.

A general strategic plan to open and prepare reasonable amounts of land for commercial and industrial uses could keep Oregon’s economy in balance. It would not try to dictate specific answers for each community, but might offer more flexibility for cities and other jurisdictions as they try to cope with the growth and development Oregon laws and plans already, even if loosely, do project for the coming decades.

True believers

Maybe the best guide to understanding what has become of the modern conservative movement is a modest little book first published in 1951.

The enduring truths contained in Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements simply could not be more relevant to America in the 21st Century.

Dwight Eisenhower thought enough of Hoffer’s book to recommend it to a wounded World War II veteran. Ronald Reagan presented Hoffer with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983.

Eric Hoffer, a San Francisco longshoreman by trade and a self-taught philosopher by avocation, might never have predicted that the United States, a country built on at least the language of fidelity to the rule of law, would one day find itself in a situation where one political party would fundamentally reject the authority and seriousness of the American legal system in service to a demagogue.

In fairness, Hoffer likely couldn’t imagine a Donald Trump, at least not 70 years ago amid fresh memories of what authoritarians are capable of. Yet here we are in a nation dominated by the blind idolization of the “base” of the Republican Party for a former president who is about to become the subject of serial indictments ranging from hush money payments to a porn actress to illegally secreting away classified documents to inciting a deadly insurrection.

Long before Trump, Hoffer was able to understand the characteristics of mass movements that propelled charismatic, manipulative, law ignoring charlatans to power in the Europe of the 1920s and 1930s.

The leader of a mass movement, Hoffer wrote, need not be particularly smart or a person of character. In fact, those attributes matter hardly at all. The “main requirements,” for the mass leader, Hoffer concluded, involve “audacity and a joy in defiance, an iron will, a fanatical conviction that he is in possession of the one and only truth.” The successful leader of a mass movement has “a capacity for passionate hatred; contempt for the present; a cunning estimate of human nature; a delight in symbols (spectacles and ceremonials); (and) unbounded brazenness which finds expression in a disregard of consistency and fairness.”

Most of all the leader depends on – this should conjure up an image of a Kevin McCarthy, a Steve Bannon or any number of other alleged modern conservatives who have sold their souls and backbones to a twice impeached serial liar – “a capacity for winning and holding the upmost loyalty of the group of able lieutenants.”

These true believing enablers typically display a certain level of competence – McCarthy found a way to get elected Speaker of the House, after all – and are certainly aware of what they have bought into, but awareness matters little compared to a willingness, as Hoffer put it, to “submit wholly to the will of the leader.”

And what does submitting “wholly” to the leader look like as we gaze on America’s mass movement?

Republican after Republican this week, members of the party that once considered nothing more important than “law and order,” attacked the prosecutor who appears poise to indict the movement’s leader on the advice of a grand jury comprised of American citizens. Meanwhile, the man at the center of this unprecedented situation did what all leaders of mass movements do, he called forth his followers, urging them to protest – for him.

McCarthy, who long ago wholly submitted, called the pending Trump indictment “pure politics” and attacked the elected prosecutor for being soft on crime, a curious position for one defending a person alleged to have committed a crime. Other former “law and order” conservatives attacked Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Black man, calling him a “George Soros-backed” prosecutor, a nifty twofer insult that involves both race and anti-Semitism.

A credible reaction from any elected official to the potential indictment of a prominent political figure would be to say that “the justice system needs to be allowed to work.” They could have said the burden of proof is with the prosecution and we need to wait and see what a judge and jury make of the allegations. They could have said “no comment.” Instead, they submitted wholly to the will of the leader who has devoted most of his adult life to skirting the kind of legal and ethical accountability the rest of us take for granted.

There is nothing – nothing – normal about this Republican reaction to alleged criminal conduct by a former officeholder. To normalize attacks on prosecutors is to expand dangerously Trump’s own assaults on judges, law enforcement officials and courts, the bedrock American institutions that still remain, thankfully, as a shaky bulwark against his life-long penchant for criminality.

I find myself in agreement with The Atlantic’s Tom Nichols, a Never Trump conservative, who wrote this week that the porn star hush money case is certainly not the strongest case Trump will confront, but if Al Capone, a man like the former president guilty of many crimes, could be brought down by a tax evasion conviction, why not pursue the illegality of Trump’s payoffs to Stormy Daniels?

Yet the bigger issue, as Nichols noted, is that Trump again summoned the mob to do his bidding.

Trump “is warning all of us, point-blank,” Nichols wrote, “that he will violate the law if he wants to, and if you don’t like it, you can take it up with the mob that he can summon at will. This is pure authoritarianism, the flex of a would-be American caudillo who is betting that our fear of his goons is greater than our commitment to the rule of law. Once someone like Trump issues that kind of challenge, it doesn’t matter if the indictment is for murder, campaign-finance violations, or mopery with intent to gawk: The issue is whether our legal institutions can be bullied into paralysis.”

That’s what is happening here, the wholesale submission of a class of political leaders to the leader of a mass movement who, at his whim, can call on his followers to help him break the law.

How pervasive is the threat? How deep does this rot go? Look no farther than at the conduct of the senior most Republican on the once prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the junior senator from Idaho, James E. Risch.

When the Trump mob attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 at the call of the president of the United States, an event utterly unprecedented in all of American history, and resulting – so far – in charges against more than a thousand rioters and the convictions of more than 400, Risch’s very private hideaway office in the Capitol was trashed by the mob.

The video of the ransacking, as broadcast by NBC, “shows a rioter – who has pleaded guilty to driving a stun gun into a police officer’s neck, nearly killing him – smashing out Risch’s window overlooking the Washington Monument and the national mall in an attempt to let more rioters into the building. Additional video … shows Risch’s trashed desk, including what looks like a framed campaign image bearing his last name.”

NBC noted that the leader of our mass movement is very popular in Risch’s home state, making it therefore necessary for the senator to wholly submit to the will of the leader. Risch, of course, said nothing at the time about the rioters in his office. He said nothing when confronted with the video evidence.

The true believing senator did what followers do, even when they themselves are the victims of evil. He stayed loyal. He submitted.


The quiet part

Elected officials usually express deference toward the people who put them into office, and why not? Those who hire can fire.

A number - many - of Idaho legislators this year have conveyed very much the opposite, and why not? They probably figure - and may be right - their prospects of getting the boot are remote.

The hook for this thought last week was the lengthy House floor debate of House Bill 339, which was one of the more notable - albeit not heavily headlined - measures of the year.

It called for a ballot issue, “to allow Idaho voters the opportunity to indicate their support or opposition to the question: Should the State of Idaho, the Idaho Legislature, or any state agency direct or appropriate public tax dollars to private K-12 schools, including private religious schools, and for-profit schools? The advisory vote would take place during the November 2024 statewide general election.”

The bill failed 27-43, and I won’t take sides on that. I was drawn into this not by the virtues of the bill but by an argument among legislators related to it.

The sponsor, Lewiston Republican Lori McCann, said the school funding question has come up repeatedly at the legislature, and she (and other bill backers) advised “taking the temperature” of the Idaho electorate about it.

Some opponents to the bill seemed to think, wrongly, McCann was a proposing an initiative that would bypass the legislature. But the idea that legislators should even know or care about the people’s attitude was what drew the strongest response.

Oakley Representative Douglas Pickett spoke glowingly of the wonders of debate in the Statehouse, but “this bill would rob anybody of any opportunity to have the benefit of that conversation.” Pickett expressed direct concern about thinly informed constituents, though he did not indicate that was a problem in voting for legislators. (Of course, in his part of Idaho actual contested races are scarce.)

An ideological gloss was put on this as well. “We are a republic,” Representative Vito Barbieri said: “We’re not a democracy but we're moving in that direction, and that blows my mind.” (Okay.) Remember: The United States and its states are a democracy in a republican form; in the United States these are not separate ideas. A republic not based in democracy is something like, say, Cuba (officially, the Republic of Cuba) or China (the People's Republic of China). Maybe many Idaho legislators would prefer something along those lines.

Is constituent involvement what these legislators really didn't want? With that in mind, this quote (video of which went viral on Twitter) from Idaho Falls Representative Barbara Erhardt jumped out:

“The very first thing I’d submit is that which has very well been crafted [referring to earlier debate], which is, this leads us directly into democracy. And I am opposed to that.”

Some of the Twitter response to this showed what some Idahans might think in response: “We already knew she is opposed to democracy, but I didn't ever think she'd say it out loud so directly.” “Probably the only honest thing she’s said all session. Maybe ever.” “Opposed to Democracy. Just unbelievable.”

Not unbelievable: This is the same group that has voted to virtually eliminate initiatives and curtail voting. It’s of a piece. Whoever they think should be running Idaho, it’s sure not “the people” of the state. Idaho legislators - not all but more than a few - are saying that the public will be emotional and irrational and subject to simplistic argument, while legislators listen to all points of view carefully and soberly and deliver unbiased nuanced decisions. (If you have any familiarity with the sausage-making that is legislating, even in the best of statehouses, I apologize for prompting a gag reflex.)

McCann said in her closing remarks, “I just want to know what is the will of the people of Idaho and I feel like people [in this chamber] are afraid to actually hear what the people want. … I believe strongly in the will of the people.”

Be it noted: She’s not completely alone but definitely in the minority in the Idaho House - and her suggestion of motivation was surely spot on. The question remains: How many more years will the voters of the state put up with it?




It was always a question for me when the House would have the guts to actually kill the Medicaid budget. Every year it would sneak though by 5-10 votes. This year, they actually killed it.

Lead by their wise Speaker, Mike Moyle, just over half the House Representatives wished away health insurance for Idahoans in poverty. It’s like spanking your stepson. What is your point? Other than to demonstrate your authority, or maybe your lack of generosity, or maybe your fealty to the Freedom Foundation?

Make no mistake, Medicaid is a Federal/State health insurance program for low-income people. The trouble is, Wayne Hoffman and most Idaho Republicans think these low-income folks don’t deserve health insurance. I can just see their bluster.

“I have health insurance because I work for it!” They thump their proud, inflated chest. Yeah, you have a ¼ time, taxpayer funded job with full medical coverage, also at the taxpayer’s expense. This stepson sees some hypocrisy.

“I voted against the Medicaid budget because we must control the costs!” comes the other cry of outrage. Well, addressing that problem will take more than a simple no vote. Does the average Idaho Republican legislator know that Medicaid annually costs the taxpayer less per enrollee than their plush state health insurance benefit? Does even the best-informed Idaho Republican legislator know the main mechanism used to control Medicaid costs is to pay hospitals and doctors less? When you take your sick legislative runny nose to your doctor, the state Insurance pays that doctor about three times what the poor person’s Medicaid pays. Do you like that method of cost control? Then I can see why you might think a “no” vote would control Medicaid costs.

Controlling health insurance costs is more complicated than motivating a sullen teenage stepson. Slapping either won’t help. It takes a lot more work than that.

Make no mistake, what we are really talking about here is poverty. I can hear Wayne, and his “vote no” minions scream, “No, it’s about preserving the American Way! People should work for what they get!”

I ask you, Wayne, and House “No” voters, do you know anybody on Medicaid? Do they work? If they don’t, I’ll bet it’s because they are a child, pregnant, a young mother, or taking care of someone. All the Medicaid patients I see are working. But, unlike my three elected Representatives, Medicaid workers don’t get Blue Cross health insurance with their part-time or low pay full-time work. Not all employers are as generous as your voters are.

Don’t complain that they are wasting your taxpayer dollars with their ER visits for runny noses. Doctors’ offices refuse to see Medicaid, where the care would be a third of the cost. Medicaid patients often have the ER as their only choice for care. Doctor’s offices refuse because you, fully insured legislator, have budgeted to pay doctors at a third of the price of what your Blue Cross Special plan pays them.

So, the House finally pulled the trigger and killed the multi-billion-dollar Medicaid budget. And what fiscally responsible substitute solution did they then come up with? The new budget looks a lot cheaper for this year, but there will be a $150M supplemental next year. Kick it down the road.

Nothing wrong with a little posturing, I guess. Maybe that’s all it’s about. Stepsons know posturing when they see it.

I’m going to relent here. There is a plan in the works to study “managed care” as a plan for controlling Medicaid costs. If anybody had been paying attention, they’d have seen the weak results many other states have had with this. I give the legislature a C- for the effort. It’s a mystery to me why Medicaid gets the slapped face, when private insurance costs have beat inflation year over year. Who’s driving this bus?

It's pretty clear the Idaho Legislature doesn’t have their hands on the wheel.