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Posts published in “Jones”

The abortion bet

During his first year as Idaho Attorney General, Raul Labrador has placed most of his chips on the abortion issue in his quest for higher office. He has been aided and abetted, free of charge, by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a powerful extreme-right legal organization in the nation’s capital that is intent on stamping out any perceived form of abortion across the entire country. ADF played a major role in overturning Roe v. Wade.

Labrador began his term as AG with a March 27 opinion declaring that Idaho’s strictest-in-the-nation abortion laws criminalized Idaho doctors for “providing abortion pills” and “either referring a woman across state lines to access abortion services” or to obtain abortion pills. When the opinion was challenged in court, Labrador withdrew it, but refused to disavow it. Strangely enough, Idaho’s laws are so strict that the opinion was probably correct, even though seriously suspect under the U.S. Constitution.

Since that time, Labrador has opposed a federal rule change that would protect the confidentiality of pregnant women’s medical records from snooping state attorneys general. The rule is designed to protect the privacy of women who travel out of state for pregnancy care. Labrador has also strenuously sought to enforce Idaho’s “abortion trafficking” law.

With free help from ADF, Labrador was able to prevent women with dangerous pregnancy conditions from getting stabilizing medical care in Idaho’s hospital emergency rooms. The only exception is where an abortion is “necessary to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” Women who need care for a much-wanted, but non-viable, pregnancy have been forced out of state in order to get the care they need. The emergency care issue will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in late April.

The Supreme Court will also consider in April whether to place restrictions on the dispensation of an abortion pill, mifepristone, which prevents pregnancy if taken within 10 days. That case, which originated in federal court in Amarillo, Texas, resulted in a ruling supported and cheered by Labrador and ADF last year. The district judge severely restricted use of the drug, but those restrictions were lessened by a federal circuit court and then lifted by the Supreme Court. The Court will rule on the extent of restrictions, if any, that will apply to dispensation of mifepristone.

Labrador has established quite a track record for cracking down on abortions, even when necessary to protect the life and health of women who are desperate to have a child. But nothing can compare to the move he made in that federal court in Amarillo last November. He and two other state AGs asked the court for permission to file a complaint that seeks to totally ban the use of mifepristone and a follow-up drug, misoprostol, throughout the country. Misoprostol is used to induce a miscarriage.

The lengthy complaint, which was likely drafted by ADF and its allies, is chock full of questionable assertions, including preposterous claims that both drugs are dangerous to patients. In the press coverage I’ve seen about the complaint, the request to ban the use of misoprostol has been overlooked. The requested ban is significant because that drug has been used safely and effectively for decades. Yet, right there at page 102, Labrador and the other two AGs ask the judge to order federal agencies “to withdraw mifepristone and misoprostol as FDA-approved chemical abortion drugs.” That is, to ban the use of both drugs throughout the country.

On January 12 the judge granted the motion to file the complaint, so it will presumably proceed on a separate track from the case to be considered by the Supreme Court in April. AFD was lucky to have the three states front for it because it would not have had standing to get the case into court on its own–it’s good to have pliable, accommodating state attorneys general.

If misoprostol is taken off the market, women like Kristin Colson of Boise will face the heart-breaking situation of a wanted, but non-viable pregnancy, made worse by having no medication available to safely manage the miscarriage. Colson had an anembryonic pregnancy and opted for misoprostol, rather than surgery or waiting weeks for her body to pass the tissue. She was surprised when the pharmacist refused to fill the prescription. She was able to get the prescription filled elsewhere but, if Labrador were to prevail in his Texas lawsuit, there would be no legal source for the drug anywhere in the country.

It is unclear whether Labrador is aware of the impact that his extreme actions have on women who want to have viable pregnancies, but can’t, or whether he is simply blinded by his political ambitions. Regardless, it will be interesting to see how Idaho voters react to his all-in gamble on the abortion issue.


It’s about who pays

Every legislative session brings some new “school choice” scheme that is touted as a way to improve elementary and secondary education in Idaho by offering more choices to families. Sometimes the plan is called a voucher, sometimes a stipend, sometimes a grant, sometimes a savings account.

This year the scheme is called a “refundable tax credit.” What every plan has in common is the use of taxpayer money to subsidize private schooling, including religious and home schools. Because of the chronic failure of our legislatures in the last several decades to adequately fund public schools, the cost of such schemes will ultimately end up being forced upon local property taxpayers.

The framers of the Idaho Constitution undoubtedly thought they had definitively dealt with the school choice issue. They placed a high priority on providing a foundational education for every Idaho child. The Constitution states: “The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” The framers gave nary a hint that public monies could ever be used to pay for private education.

Idaho law has always required parents to send their school-age kids to public schools. Parents can get around the compulsory attendance requirement by having their kids educated in a private school. So, Idaho parents have always had a school choice–they can either send their kids to taxpayer funded public schools, or they can pay out-of-pocket for any authorized form of private schooling.

Idaho’s constitutional framers made it an overriding responsibility for the Legislature to properly fund the public school system, both for the instruction of Idaho kids and for the construction and maintenance of school buildings. They undoubtedly believed that future legislatures would honor the constitutional mandate to maintain a “thorough system” of education, primarily funded out of the state treasury. They would be profoundly amazed and saddened to learn that legislators have seriously and consistently violated this sacred duty.

Thanks to the school funding lawsuit filed against the state in 1990, it is well known that Idaho legislators have failed to adequately fund the instructional side of public education during the last three decades. Because of pressure brought to bear by the Reclaim Idaho school funding initiative, the state significantly upped the ante of public funding in the special legislative session in 2022, but there is still a shortfall. Local school districts have been left with the choice of doing without adequate resources or saddling local property taxpayers to make up the difference.

In 2005, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature had flat failed to fulfill its duty to fund the construction and maintenance of school buildings, improperly placing the giant share of that burden upon local property taxpayers. The cost of bringing existing buildings up to just “good” condition is about $1 billion, let alone funding new buildings for a growing population. School districts either have to try to educate kids in substandard, sometimes hazardous buildings, or hit up local property owners with hefty school bonds.

The current “school choice” tax credit boondoggle, House Bill 447, would give private school parents $50 million in tax credits or payments right off of the top of the state budget. Providing a tax credit or deduction of taxes owing under the tax code, is using public monies for a private purpose. And, just who do you think will ultimately end up footing the bill? You got it, those long-suffering local property taxpayers who just don’t seem to have a strong voice in our legislature. The bill sponsors say the $50 million is a ceiling, but experience in other states shows that it is the first step of many on a costly escalator.

We ought to simply follow the choice plan adopted by Idaho’s constitutional framers– finance a high-quality public school system with public money. And allow those who wish to opt for private, religious and home schooling to pay the expenses with their own funds. If they want Idaho taxpayers to fund their private education costs, they should try to change the Constitution instead of defying it.


A moving experience

Many people have literally been moved by the ugly performance of Idaho’s Republican extremists in recent years. That is, significant numbers of teachers, librarians, doctors and others have moved out of the Gem State to escape the false claims and oppressive legislation conjured by the dysfunctional branch of Idaho’s GOP, now presided over by Dorothy Moon.

On the other hand, that same wretched conduct has caused like-minded folk from across the country to move to our state, attracted by headlines that portray Idaho as a sanctuary for political zealots of every stripe.

Extremist legislators have been relentlessly and unjustifiably attacking libraries and librarians since out-of-state dark money groups placed them on the target list a couple of years ago. The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) and its faithful legislative acolytes recognized the vote-getting potential of this fake culture war issue and jumped on the bandwagon. They have been cheered on by Moon and her minions.

False claims that libraries were dishing out filth to young kids resulted in passage last year of a bill imposing a $2,500 bounty for making “available” books deemed “harmful to minors.” The bill had obvious constitutional problems, but that was beside the point. The purpose of the bill was to intimidate libraries into purging their shelves of anything that might be in any way suspect. Governor Little rightfully vetoed the bill, but libraries and librarians are being targeted again this year.

The grief that librarians have faced from the continual sniping has taken its toll. The Idaho Library Association recently disclosed that more than half of Idaho librarians are thinking of leaving library work and many are moving out of state. I’m aware of a couple that just left for library jobs in Pennsylvania.

The radicals have also chased off Idaho teachers with a laundry list of trumped-up charges, including that they are grooming kids, indoctrinating them with critical race theory and exposing them to pornography. When Idaho’s 2023 Teacher of the Year was attacked, she moved to Illinois where people would appreciate her excellent work.

We have all heard of medical doctors, particularly OB-GYNs, leaving Idaho because its toughest-in-the-nation abortion laws have intimidated them out of treating women with troubled pregnancies. Thanks to Attorney General Raul Labrador, a woman cannot receive care for a dangerous pregnancy in a hospital emergency room until she is on death’s doorstep. In the words of the statute, the doctor can only act “ to prevent the death of the pregnant woman.” No wonder Idaho doctors are moving away.

Idahoans, particularly in our northern climes, will have an additional reason to hire a mover if a pending bill is enacted into law. Senate Bill 1220 would essentially gut Idaho’s domestic terror law. That law was passed in 1987 in response to the bombing of Father Bill Wassmuth’s home in Coeur d’Alene by members of the violent white supremacist Aryan Nations group. The law made it a serious felony for those who commit criminal acts that are “dangerous to human life” and intended to “intimidate or coerce” either the general public or governmental policymakers. The law announced to the world that Idaho would not put up with violent political zealots.

The sponsor of SB1220 argued that it would protect the speech rights of groups like Moms of Liberty. Pardon me, but if that group were to engage in violent acts of intimidation, like the terror bombing of a civil rights icon’s home, wouldn’t most decent Idahoans hope the state’s laws could deal with it? Besides, Moms for Liberty has its hands full nowadays, dealing with the admitted three-way sex scandal in Florida among its founder, her husband and another woman.

While these appalling political actions by IFF and the Dorothy Moon enablers have caused many decent Idahoans to move out of the state, the same actions have attracted an inward movement of like-minded extremists into the state. David Neiwert, a distinguish Idaho journalist, has written a must-read article titled “Idaho's traditional Republicans realizing their new far-right transplant overlords are radicals” disclosing that the in-migration of radicals from other states has been happening for years. They will continue to come in droves because out-of-staters are reading the ugly headlines and taking them as a sign that Idaho has put out the welcome mat for practically every brand of political and religious fanatic. At least the moving companies are profiting.


Domestic terrorism

Idaho’s landmark Terrorist Control Act (TCA) will be rendered useless by passage of a bill recently introduced in the Idaho Senate.

Among other things, the TCA makes it a serious felony for two or more people to conspire to threaten or intimidate any citizen in the enjoyment of any constitutional right by the use of violence. Senate Bill 1220 would decriminalize any violent conspiracy that was not done in cooperation with a “foreign terrorist organization.” Violent acts like the bombings carried out by the Aryan Nations hate group in northern Idaho in 1986 could no longer be prosecuted under the TCA.

Aryan Nations members exploded a pipe bomb at Father Bill Wassmuth’s home in Coeur d’Alene on September 15, 1986, and set off three other bombs a few days later. Father Bill was shaken, but not physically injured, and there were no injuries sustained in the other blasts. The bombs were designed to intimidate and silence those like Father Bill who were exercising their constitutional right to speak out against the dangerous white supremacist group. Because the bombs did not result in bodily injury to Father Bill or others, Idaho law could not adequately punish the bombers for their violent actions.

It was clear that Idaho needed to take action against violent domestic terrorists. As Idaho’s Attorney General, I proposed tough legislation in 1987, which failed in the House due to opposition from the National Rifle Association. I worked with the NRA and we were able to agree on strong language for the TCA, which remains on our law books today. The NRA proposed adding language from the federal Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, which primarily targeted violent conspiracies by KKK members to prevent freed slaves from voting, speaking out, holding office and exercising other constitutional rights. The KKK Act language significantly improved and strengthened the TCA.

The sponsor of SB1220 is a level-headed legislator who seems to have the misconception that the TCA, as written, could be used to prosecute school patrons. It simply would not happen, unless the patrons engaged in a violent conspiracy to deprive others of their constitutional rights. The KKK Act has been on the federal books since 1871 and I’m unaware of any case where non-intimidating, non-conspiring, non-violent school patrons have faced federal charges under that law. No inappropriate charges have been filed in Idaho under the TCA. In fact, the entire purpose of the TCA is to protect the constitutional rights of all Idahoans from violent conspiracists. That purpose is repeated throughout the present law.

The problem with SB 1220 is that it would require a prosecutor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, even in an egregious situation like the Aryan Nation bombings in 1986, that the violent acts were “done in cooperation with any foreign terrorist organization.” Without that proof, the conspirators could not be held to account. The U.S. currently lists about 70 foreign terrorist organizations, including Hamas,  al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Boko Haram and ISIS-Mozambique. The chances that any of those groups would team up with conspirators in Idaho to commit violent acts is almost nil. The foreign cooperation requirement essentially guts the Terrorist Control Act.

On the other hand, domestic terrorist incidents have increased dramatically in the United States in recent years. The Government Accountability Office reported last year that domestic terrorism-related cases increased 357% from 2013 to 2021. These are not cases involving foreign terrorist organizations.

The 1986 Coeur d’Alene bombings finally awakened the entire state to the serious threat the Aryans posed to the safety of those in the area and to the image of the Gem State as a whole. Out of concern for the economic impact on commerce, the Idaho business community rose up in opposition to the group and its poisonous agenda. The TCA was enacted in response. With the growing threat of domestic terrorism in the U.S. and the consequent endangerment to the constitutional rights of Idaho citizens, this is not the time to neuter the TCA. That law was passed to rid our beautiful state of violent white supremacists. Let’s not put out the welcome mat for them.


Pay peanuts, attract monkeys

Judges are the heart of the American system of justice. Faith in our court system depends upon having judges who are competent and impartial. That, in turn, requires thorough vetting of judicial candidates to put the best qualified people on the bench. For over 50 years, Idaho has had procedures in place to ensure the appointment of highly qualified judges at every level of the court system.

Magistrate judges, who handle misdemeanors and a wide range of specialty cases, are vetted and appointed by regional magistrate commissions. District and appellate judges are thoroughly vetted by the non-political Idaho Judicial Council. The Council sends a list of up to 4 candidates for each position to the Governor for selection of the finalist.

The system has worked well. Former Governor Butch Otter, who appointed over 55 district and appellate judges during his 12 years in office, regularly received praise from other governors across the country for the high quality of Idaho’s judiciary. During his 8 years as Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court, Roger Burdick received similar compliments from his high court colleagues from other states.

While the appointment process is vitally important to a quality judiciary, it is critical that the state offer a compensation and retirement package that is attractive enough to bring in a significant number of judicial candidates. The package must be sufficient to ensure a decent standard of living for candidates who are making at least twice as much in private practice. That is where Idaho’s selection process has begun to fail. District court positions are the hardest to recruit for because of long hours, high stress and early burnout. Candidates must have 10 years of experience and most of those lawyers are getting close to their peak earning capacity. They are the highly qualified candidates we want and need to preside over our toughest, most challenging civil and criminal cases.

Starting in 2021, the Judicial Council has averaged less than five applicants for the 16 district court openings. Previously, it was not unusual to get twice as many applicants for a vacancy. Part of the problem is that district court judges must stand for a possibly-contested election in the low turn-out primary every four years. Magistrates run every four years in a no-contest retention election. Magistrate openings, which pay $12,000 less than district court, generally get more than twice as many applicants.

But compensation is the big problem with recruitment for district and appellate court positions. Idaho’s judicial salaries rank 49th in the nation. Last year we lost a  talented Supreme Court Justice and a highly-regarded Magistrate Judge in Bonneville County because of the low pay. The pay for high court justices equates to $79 per hour, for district judges it is $72 per hour and for magistrate judges it is $69 per hour. In contrast, the Legislature often hires counsel to represent it in court for more than $470 per hour.

In the last two years the Legislature has considered legislation to give a partisan slant to the Judicial Council process and to chip away at the retirement package that has previously attracted candidates to apply for district and appellate positions. They have never expected great wealth, but they have expected certainty as to the extent of the sacrifice they make in compensation in order to perform public service.

To add insult to injury, judges were the only public employees who did not receive a 7% cost-of-living increase in 2022. Last January, Rep. Bruce Skaug, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, proclaimed that judges “were robbed” for the slight. Unfortunately, the Legislature failed to provide restitution for the robbery. A good case could be made that the theft violated a provision of the Idaho Constitution prohibiting the reduction of judge’s compensation during their term of office, but that is for a later column.

The fact is that we risk getting enough qualified candidates for judicial positions unless there is an immediate and substantial pay raise for all judges. It makes no sense to have judges deciding complicated cases that vitally affect the lives and fortunes of litigants where lawyers for the parties may well be receiving many times the $69 to $79 per hour that the judges are being paid. A ten percent (10%) across-the-board increase for judges, in addition to any cost-of-living increase that other state employees might receive, is essential to get more highly-qualified lawyers to apply. And the Legislature should cease its tinkering with judicial election and retirement laws. As per the old saying, if we continue to pay peanuts to our judges, the judicial selection process may well be swamped by unqualified monkeys.


Russ and Russia

Representative Russ Fulcher has failed to grasp that his repeated failure to support Ukraine in defending against Russia’s genocidal war is extremely harmful to America’s national security interests. Ukraine’s valiant fighters are shedding their blood to protect the freedom of the Ukrainian people. But their dogged defense has the side effect of bleeding and degrading Vladimir Putin’s war machine, reducing its threat against the United States and our allies. If the Ukrainians win, we won’t face the possibility of future hostilities with Russia. If they lose, we are in for continued conflict with Putin’s regime.

Make no mistake, Putin is allying with China, North Korea and other totalitarian regimes to try to take down America and its allies. Russia began using North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine in December and more are in the pipeline. But this is not the first dangerous flirtation between the two countries that has endangered the United States. North Korea would not have a nuclear arsenal to threaten the U.S. and its Asian allies without the help of Russian scientists.

Putin’s alliance with China and North Korea, called the Trilateral Imperialist Partnership, combines Russia’s nuclear arsenal, China’s economic and military power and North Korea’s lunacy into an extremely dangerous threat. A Russian win against Ukraine, would provide rocket fuel for this malevolent alliance. The stakes are exceedingly high.

Perhaps a short refresher course would be helpful for Rep. Fulcher. After the Second World War, Russia gobbled up practically every country on its borders and conglomerated them into a totalitarian state called the Soviet Union. It was our mortal enemy for decades. During the Vietnam War, where I served in 1968-69, the Soviets supplied weapons to the communists that killed thousands of U.S. troops. President Reagan correctly called it the “Evil Empire.” The Soviet empire fell apart in 1991 and its citizens had a brief respite from state terror. In 2005, Putin lamented the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. He began working feverishly to recreate it, to seize former satellite countries, to enslave his people and do everything possible to break up America’s alliances and power around the world. Putin began hostilities against Ukraine in 2014, leading to the present barbarous war.

Ukraine desperately needs massive military assistance from the U.S. and our NATO allies. We have a vital national interest in preventing Putin from winning his war of conquest. If he and his partners succeed, our NATO allies will be next in his sights and we will be obligated by treaty and our own vital security interests to join the war on their side. If Ukraine survives, it will provide a future NATO shield against Putin’s forces.

Russ Fulcher does not seem to grasp the fact that aiding Ukraine is essential to America’s safety and security. In a December interview with columnist Chuck Malloy, Fulcher gave a rather garbled answer as to whether he would vote for further aid for Ukraine. He seemed to say that unless the President clarifies the Ukraine mission and addresses our southern border, it is “a deal-breaker” and “show-stopper” for him. It’s kind of like Congress telling FDR that no funding for the Normandy Invasion would be forthcoming unless the President clarified the mission and addressed some unrelated domestic problems. That’s really not the best way to protect our national security.

If Fulcher needs clarity on the mission, he can bring up hundreds of news reports in which the President has outlined the mission and the drastic need for aid to achieve it by simply Googling “Biden calls for strong support for Ukraine.” Mention was made of the subject in two State of the Union speeches, which I assume Fulcher heard. Or, he could consult with Senator Jim Risch, who clearly understands the urgent need to help Ukraine, and protect the United States, in this critical moment.

Risch told Malloy, “Putin is not going to stop with Ukraine if he wins the war. If we end up in war with Russia, what we’re spending here is a drop in the bucket by comparison. If we abandon Ukraine…there will be major consequences…I believe it would set up the largest arms race that the planet has ever seen.” I’m hoping that with such high stakes, Fulcher can see the drastic need to support the American side of this ugly war.

Out of state lawyers

Prior to 2023, Idaho’s Attorneys General handled the State’s legal business without outside entanglements. During his first year in office, Raul Labrador has changed that non-interference policy. He has intertwined his chosen political priorities with out-of-state legal partners that have their own ideological axes to grind. One partner is a dark-money-funded group, Alliance Defending Freedom, that gives Idaho “free” legal representation. Another partner is a high-priced Washington law firm, Cooper & Kirk, that is currently charging Idaho taxpayers a rate of $495 per hour.

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is a Christian nationalist group that advances the most extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ positions. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which took down the Aryan Nations and its Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Kootenai County in 2000, has listed ADF as a hate group. ADF and Labrador have teamed up in three separate cases, so far. They are defending Idaho’s law criminalizing emergency room medical care for pregnant women, defending the Legislature’s transgender bathroom law and have meddled in a Washington State abortion pill case.

Labrador has signed rather one-sided agreements with ADF to obtain their free legal help. If the State and ADF must pay the other side’s attorney fees, ADF is off the hook and the Idaho pays. If the other side must pay, the attorney fees are divided between the State and ADF. The State must consult with ADF in communicating with the media and is obligated to put out favorable publicity for ADF. Labrador is effectively giving Idaho’s stamp of approval to this extreme-right legal behemoth, which has 100 staff attorneys, about 5,000 lawyers in its network and nearly $100 million in revenues.

One other item of interest is that Lincoln Wilson, who served in Labrador’s office until October, is now ADF’s representative in Idaho. Another lawyer, Theo Wold, who served as Labrador’s much ballyhooed Solicitor General, also left the office in October. Wold campaigned hard for Labrador’s election in 2022 and was one of his first hires. A former official in the Trump White House, Wold is a Christian nationalist and supporter of the Great Replacement conspiracy. Although he is gone from Labrador's office, he will not soon be forgotten. His wife, Megan, is a member of the Washington law firm that is getting Idaho tax dollars to advance Labrador’s personal political agenda.

Ms. Wold’s firm, Cooper & Kirk (C&K), is the go-to firm for extremist dark-money-funded clients. The firm has partnered with Labrador on at least two cases, so far. On July 11, Lincoln Wilson signed a contract with the firm to help in defending the new law criminalizing medical care for transgender youth. State taxpayers will be paying Wold’s firm an hourly rate of $495 per hour for lawyers and $80 for non-lawyers. Now that Wilson has left the AG’s office, ADF and C&K will be doing the kind of work that previous Idaho Attorneys General handled with staff attorneys.

The federal district court in Idaho found on December 26 that the transgender ban violated the U.S. Constitution and that the State would likely lose the case at trial. That means the case will go to trial, ensuring more fees for C&K. Many of us predicted this outcome and one wonders why Labrador, who claimed he would give the Legislature the best legal advice so as to avoid losing cases, did not see this result coming. Needless to say, Labrador blamed the judge, not bad lawyering, for his loss.

C&K contracted again with Labrador in November to look over a motion to the U.S. Supreme Court that seeks to allow Idaho to enforce the strict prohibition against emergency maternal care, after he lost in the federal circuit court. C&K will get $10,000 for just reviewing his motion. The Wolds are doing well at the expense of Idaho taxpayers.

Idaho should not allow its good name to be used for advancing the political or financial interests of out-of-state lawyers. Past practice in the Attorney General’s office is not to mix political agendas with the state’s legal business. The partnerships Labrador has formed with ADL and C&K lead one to wonder whose agenda is being served. All of these contracts seek to place documentation beyond the reach of Idaho’s public records law, so it may be tough to discover that important information.


A salute to the clerks

We sometimes hear Idaho’s County Clerks spoken of dismissively as mere clerks– low-level functionaries just there to carry out the orders of county commissioners. Those dismissive individuals might be surprised to learn that elected Clerks are the heart and soul of most counties in the Gem State. Idaho law says they serve as clerk of the courts in their county, as well as ex officio auditor, recorder and county commission clerk.

When I started practicing law in Jerome in 1973, it did not take long to learn how much influence the Clerk had over county business. The Clerk, Virginia Ricketts, was the institutional memory for the commission board, helping it to avoid legal pitfalls while guiding it to efficiently perform important county functions. In addition, she oversaw the maintenance of county records, recording of property documents, auditing of county records and operating the courts in the county.

Virginia’s staff was invaluable in providing copies of public documents that a young lawyer could use as a guide in drafting papers for clients–something law schools did not teach. Other Magic Valley Clerks were similarly helpful, both to lawyers and the general public. And, so it is today in Idaho’s 44 counties.

Another important responsibility of the elected Clerks is to oversee elections in the county. When I took office as Attorney General in 1983, I learned that Idaho’s elected Clerks were doing an outstanding job of administering elections. They still do so to this very day–running elections efficiently and honestly. Indeed, the Clerk who ran the largest county voting operation, Phil McGrane, was recognized for the excellent job he did by being elected as Idaho Secretary of State in 2022. He had the support of hundreds of county officials who were familiar with the high quality of his work.

During the Secretary of State campaign, one of Phil’s opponents in the GOP primary, Dorothy Moon, made a raft of unfounded claims regarding the integrity of Idaho elections. In 2021 she had given credibility to claims of fraud peddled by an out-of-state pillow merchant. Those claims were quickly debunked by grownups. Moon’s claims of election fraud in Idaho fell flat, except with her committed base of election deniers. When she was unable to show any instances of election irregularities, she made the preposterous claim that Canadians were trooping over the border to vote in Idaho.

Moon’s election denial and false fraud claims helped her to lose the primary race for Secretary of State, although she came frighteningly close (43.07% to 41.41%) because of a three-way race. Extremist Republicans rewarded Moon by making her head of the State GOP. Who said losers never prosper?

Moon’s incredible misconduct has cast an undeserved shadow over Idaho’s competent, largely non-political County Clerks. Most Idahoans can see through her unfounded claims of fraud, but some of the mud from an accomplished mudslinger always sticks.

Now the GOP boss is slinging mud at the Open Primaries Initiative, which will open up Idaho’s elections to allow all voters to participate. The initiative is a direct threat to the stranglehold that Moon and her acolytes have gained over access to legislative positions in Idaho. Extremists can win primaries against reasonable, traditional Republican candidates with as little as 8.8% of the registered voters in a legislative district. The party bosses know the initiative will destroy their monopoly of power.

Among other false claims, Moon contends that election officials, our County Clerks, will not be capable of running efficient, fraud-free elections under the ranked-choice system. She knowingly slanders the ability of these dedicated public servants. In the words of Chris Rich, who served 13 years as Chief Deputy to the Ada County Clerk and then 8 more years as elected Clerk, “Idaho election officials will be able to honestly and accurately tabulate the election results under the initiative. Given the appropriate tools, the Clerks can manage most any election. We are every bit as capable as the election officials in Alaska and Maine, both of which have ranked-choice voting.” Idaho’s elected Clerks are completely capable of performing this work, just like every other task they are called upon to perform. Ignorant slurs will not stand in the way. Give them your respect.



Dancing to the tune

Dorothy Moon’s branch of the Republican Party is so entwined with the inaptly named Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) that it is hard to know who is calling the shots.

Both are extremely far to the right. Both have sought to divide Idahoans by stoking fear and outrage over fake culture war issues. Neither has shown much interest in working on actual problems facing the state, such as water policy, adequate funding for pre-K through higher education, property taxes, infrastructure and important social programs. The IFF has established a strong grip over many GOP legislators since it came on the scene in 2009. The closing of the GOP primary in 2012 supercharged its efforts to populate the Legislature with extremists and control their votes.

Both Moon and the IFF have ties to the white nationalists who have gained a foothold in the Gem State in recent years. Moon has a history of associating with nationalist individuals and groups. It was recently disclosed that the IFF hired an alt-right propagandist, Dave Reilly, to shape its messaging. Brent Regan, IFF’s board chair, who also controls the Kootenai County Republican Party, has a friendly history with those who have fled progressive states to live in the Nationalist Redoubt in North Idaho, where Christian Nationalists will make their last stand against multicultural hoards.

Because there is so much cross membership between the IFF and Moon’s GOP, it is not easy to determine which group has the ultimate say-so. A recent chapter in the GOP’s effort to squelch individual thinking in its ranks provides an answer.

For those who don’t closely follow their antics, Moon and her minions have implemented a program to force GOP legislators to vote in lockstep with party dictates. Moon publicly claims that the program is to make sure legislators do not stray from the requirements of the Republican Party Platform. But close inspection shows that the required voting pattern is actually set by the IFF. So, this dark money group sets the Moon agenda?

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the GOP disciplinary proceedings against several eastern Idaho legislators, particularly Stephanie Mickelsen. The 51-page draft “confidential” indictment against Rep. Mickelsen contained numerous claims that she voted contrary to positions dictated by the IFF. Most of those votes were not clear-cut violations of the GOP platform. It took a lot of manipulation to try to make it appear that they were. Several of Mickelsen’s votes, like her vote for the higher education funding bill, were in keeping with the platform. The alleged platform violations were bogus.

When the final indictment was issued against her, there was not a single mention of the IFF, even though every charge leveled against Mickelsen was still explicitly based on a vote she cast against the IFF’s voting instructions. She was censured for violating the platform by her legislative district chairman, Doyle Beck, a Republican extremist who also serves on the IFF board of directors. Some might see this as a conflict of interest. The truth is that Mickelsen was targeted because she failed to be a toady for the IFF. Beck tried to conceal that crucial fact in his censure statement.

Columnist Chuck Malloy characterizes these disciplinary proceedings as “kangaroo courts,” although I tend to think of them as akin to the Soviet Politburo proceedings to purge those accused of failing to toe the Soviet line. Evidence to back up a charge was not particularly necessary. The only good thing is that Commissar Beck cannot send Mickelsen to a gulag (forced labor camp) for failing to comply with IFF’s dictates.

Idaho politics have been brought low by the IFF’s malign influence, which was made possible by our closed GOP primary. Butch and Lori Otter say the Open Primaries Initiative will restore civility, common sense, reason and pragmatism to governing in the Gem State. The choice is stark–either keep the closed GOP primary and perpetuate the nasty, dysfunctional politics we now have, or adopt an open primary system that will allow the people to elect reasonable, problem-solving candidates to serve them.