• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
You can find it all here in the Pacific Northwest - much of the nation's most beautiful places, some appallingly trashed-out areas; politics running from just about as far left to just about as far right as anywhere in the country; economies of all sorts from the highly prosperous to the dying. It's all here.
 

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For those a long time around Idaho, losing Cecil Andrus is like losing a member of the family.

When I first arrived in Idaho in 1973, his was one of the few Gem State names I’d ever heard. He was then well into his first term as governor, following his second run for the office. At his death this week he had been a well-known Idahoan and a representative leader of the state for longer than just about anyone I can think of; statistically at least, he was governor longer than anyone else, and never was he a mere caretaker.

But it was a while before this point about him came clear to me: He didn’t get there by dint of deep Idaho roots; he didn’t, in a phrase I’ve heard elsewhere, live on a road named for his grandparents. At the time he first ran for governor, in 1996, he’d been in the state little more than a decade, moving to Orofino from Oregon in the spring of 1955 as a logger. He was elected to the state Senate only half a decade after his Idaho arrival. (Barely a decade after that, he was United State Secretary of the Interior.)

That alone speaks to something unusual about his capabilities in politics. Too often the word “politician” is used as a derogatory; it ought to be a term of praise, and as a natural politician Andrus stands as a good demonstration of why.

Those reasons weren’t immediately obvious back then, and have little to do with his charismatic presence, though Andrus was one of those people whose presence in a room is immediately felt. His urbane surface with well-chosen words and that smart you-know-and-I-know wink developed over time, and his entry into politics famously was said to come in a fit of anger. (A local Republican apparently taunted him that it was a good thing he didn’t run for the legislature, because he would have been clobbered; Andrus took the bait and defeated the Republican incumbent.)

But his instincts about how to run for office and about how to act and govern once there seemed to come from somewhere deeper; seem almost to have been there all along. They seemed rooted where they should, in an understanding of human nature stronger than most people have.

He also had a deep understanding of Idaho, and in turn he helped change the way Idahoans thought about themselves.

When Martin Peterson and I some years back published a list of the most influential Idahoans in state history, we ranked Andrus at 16, and the main argument about that was the contention he should have ranked higher. We did rank him higher than any other governor, and his long-time associate and columnist Chris Carlson built a book about him around the title, “Idaho’s Greatest Governor.” His effects on education, environmental protection and economic development in the state have been enormous.

Peterson and I suggested, “One of Andrus’ greatest impacts may be psychological: He added in 1970 a new dimension to the way Idahoans think about their state, when he campaigned in part on ‘quality of life’ as an important ideological consideration.” It had not much been part of the way Idahoans thought about their state before then, but it has been ever since.

Andrus left the governorship in 1995, and has not sought or held office since. But he has been visible through the years, taking a role on issues, mentoring people and helping candidates, building community activities such as the foundation started under his name.

That’s his role in the family. He carried it superbly.

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It was a striking headline in the business news site Bloomberg on August 18 that should have garnered more attention than it did in the Gem State:

“Trump-Friendly Idaho Doesn’t Put America First.”

That does need some explanation. It doesn’t refer to patriotism as such, but rather Idaho’s business practices: Idaho’s economy is doing well, ranking high among strong state economies, because “its largest employers sell the bulk of their products overseas, count the world’s biggest multinational companies among their customers and suppliers, and make most of their money from the technology driving globalization.”

That was Bloomberg’s core conclusion, supported by a raft of data. I found this nugget an interesting contrast: “… the economy of Idaho’s southeastern neighbor, Wyoming, is driven more by domestic industries like metals and mining, which provided 20 percent of its gross domestic product. It was the worst U.S. economy during the 12 months ended March 31, with the largest job and tax-revenue losses and second-worst stock market and mortgage delinquencies.”

Idaho’s international focus should come as no surprise. Governor for the last decade, C.L. “Butch” Otter, has made his international business trips, many to Asia and Europe, highlights of his years in office, understandably since international business relationships have been a big part of what he did professionally back to his days at the J.R. Simplot Company.

Over the last 15 years or so, international exports from Idaho have more than doubled – a remarkable expansion many Idahoans may not even have noticed – according to the Idaho Department of Commerce. Many of Idaho’s larger businesses are involved in export.

None of this is really stunning news; even decades ago, international business was important to Idaho business. Nor is it an outlier nationally; a new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs said that “for the first time since the think tank first asked the question in 2004, more than half of Americans — 57 percent — also agreed that trade is good for creating U.S. jobs.” But about half of Republicans nationally say that trade deals mostly benefit other countries, not ours. The issue becomes of bigger import these days because of attitudes toward trade in the Trump Administration, which voters in Idaho helped put into office.

Consider these headlines over the last month from a range of publications internationally: “Trump is ‘hostile to trade’, says American advising UK”; “Trump may be about to wallop global trade as we know it”; “Trump’s Stalled Trade Agenda Leaves Industries in the Lurch”; “Trump’s Trade Agenda Divides the Nation’s Cities”; “China: Trump trade probe violates international rules”; “NDP trade critic calls Trump’s comments about terminating NAFTA ‘disconcerting’.” Among many more.

The details of trade agreements are where you find the good-or-bad; specific provisions can be beneficial or not. The talk coming out of the White House, though, has emphasized how “we are going to make some very big changes” (as the president said of the NAFTA this spring).

That’s making a lot of businesses nervous. And regardless who got the votes for the presidency last year, it ought to make Idaho economic developers nervous as well.

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Some years back we toured the Statehouse at Mississippi and got a courteous tour of the place from one of its legislators. He asked where we were from and, told Idaho, replied that he knew little about the state other than references to its famous potatoes and famous neo-Nazis.

A week ago, Charlottesville, Virginia took the spotlight on the neo-Nazi front, but Idaho is not out of the racial extremist picture. The 24/7 WallSt. website compiled data on hate groups from the Southern Poverty Law Center – which for decades has been tracking such organizations – and found Idaho has the second largest number of such groups in the nation, per resident. (Montana was first, but it has a smaller population; Mississippi was in third place.)

Back when the Mississippi legislator offered his perspective, I felt obliged to clarify something. The neo-Nazis he (and so many other Americans) had heard of did exist, and then still had their compound in Kootenai County. But never were there more than a few hundred there, and usually no more than a few dozen. They were never popular in the state. On the few occasions when someone associated with them ran for public office, they always lost by overwhelming margins.

It would be more comforting to stop there and suggest that there may be a few bad eggs in every basket, but it’s only a very, very few.

Still. Reputations can feed on themselves; prophecies can self-fulfill.

Idaho, especially (not exclusively) northern Idaho, became known as a place where white supremacists or separatists or nationalists might feel comfortable.

That isn’t entirely about attitudes. Idaho is relatively remote from big population centers. As a matter of demographics, it is more homogenous than most of the country: Low percentages of minorities, ethnic, religious and otherwise.

It evolved in a certain cultural mythology as part of a region where people uncomfortable with multi-cultural environments could go to withdraw from the rest of the country.

According to 24/7 WallSt., we get to this: “There are 7.1 hate groups for every 1 million people in Idaho, nearly the greatest concentration of any state considered. One of the least diverse states in the country, some 91.5% of the state’s population identifies as white, nearly the largest share of any U.S. state. Despite the state’s relative racial homogeneity, or perhaps because of it, one of the dozen hate groups operating in Idaho is a KKK chapter based in Hayden.”

Listen to state Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, talking about Charlottesville: “The way the media has set this up, the mention of white nationalist, which is no more than a Caucasian who (sic) for the Constitution and making America great again, and confusing it with term, ‘white supremacist’ which is extreme racism. Therefore, if one is ‘guilty’ of being white, one is clearly racist. And if one is white AND loves America, they are a white supremacist capable of carrying out violent acts against nonwhites.”

The terminology may be slippery, but the attitudes, and stances, are not. The message gets out. Idaho’s top elected leaders, including many of those in current posts, have for many years denounced racism in the state. Idaho has its Anne Frank memorial and plenty of leaders who fight racism in the state.

But the lower-level, sometimes underground, message often is more welcoming – to white race-based groups, and often not so much to everyone else.

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A line of argument in politics in recent years, as in the great Lyndon Johnson books by Robert Caro, has held that the old saying is a little off: Power doesn’t so much corrupt, as it reveals. Power can make the doing of things easier and with less consequence, so we can see more clearly what lies underneath.

It turns out that a solar eclipse can do the same thing.

Friends of ours, who live in the upcoming eclipse totality zone, are hosting a couple of out of state eclipse-interested friends. (Our house, six miles away, is merely in 99.8 percent totality.) They’re not charging their friends any rent or room fee. As matters sit today, I call that a passed character test.

The eclipse, to be sure, is an understandable business opportunity, and there’s no harm and nothing immoral in taking some advantage of it. But at some point, somewhere along the line, it turns into greed, and totality areas all over the country have seen some ugly behavior and sad exposures of character.

There was, for example, the news story about a woman formerly from Idaho, now living near Washington, D.C., who booked an Idaho Falls hotel room back in October 2013. They had an agreement (for a fairly high room rate based on normal Idaho Falls levels). Some months ago the hotel said it wanted to raise the rate by $60; the couple reluctantly agreed. Then, earlier this month: “[The manager] started questioning us and telling us that our rate was way too low for this event and he wanted to raise our rates. My husband said, well you have already raised our rates once and we have a contract with you.”

That hotel in the news story now reportedly has rooms listed at $700 during the eclipse period. If you’re familiar with Idaho Falls lodging, you know this is not just a slight price increase. It is not even an outlier increase, or among the highest. Quite a few establishments regionally have been shooting far over $1,000 a night for rooms that ordinarily would rent for a tenth as much. (The Idaho attorney general’s office has fielded a number of complaints about room rentals.)

Okay: Room rates are, as a normal and reasonable matter, marketplace-flexible. They vary with seasons and holidays and location popularity, and they can sometimes be negotiated by late arrivals (at places with plenty of empty rooms that same night) or by third-party deals. There’s nothing holy about a particular rate.

But when rates rise abruptly, even during times of high popularity, by factors of seven or ten or more, you have to think something in the system, and in people’s willingness to simply take advantage of others and throw conventional rule books out the window, is wrong. There are human consequences. Good luck if you need to travel then for business, or visit a relative. Good luck if you’re not wealthy.

I don’t mean here to focus over-heavily on the lodging industry; lots of private homeowners are renting out their houses for a couple of days for almost unbelievable amounts. And I don’t mean to focus either just on rental rooms; the urge to suck up stray bucks seems to have become notably intense with this particular phase of the moon. (Airbnb reports an explosion of both requests for homes, and homes on offer.)

Consider what this kind of grasping reveals not only about our willingness to take advantage of others.

There are people in the totality zone who should, in bright light, take a good look in the mirror.

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John T. Wood, in his later years, might have fit right into today’s Kootenai County Republican Party.

Almost.

He was a respected professional man, a physician who among other things was the founder of Coeur d’Alene’s first hospital, and served as mayor. But by 1950, when he was 72 and elected to the U.S. House, his interests ran in other directions – turning to dark conspiratorial theories. He was convinced the United States was about to become a “foul fascist state” about to be split into seven administrative units governed by dictatorial boards.

But much of his effort in Congress concerned the United Nations which, he believed, was tring to take over the world. The U.N. Charter “was designed as an instrument of force,” he said, modeled on Soviet governing documents, and the organization itself (as one book summarized his statements in the Congressional Record) “was ground zero of a broader ‘conspiracy’ to use its own ‘self-granted powers’ to form a ‘one-world government, dominant over the Constitution, and over the laws of every state in the Union’.” And so on. He served in the House but one term, losing in 1952 to Democrat Gracie Pfost.

If I sound dismissive it’s because Wood’s dystopian theories have not, let’s say, proven out. But I don’t dismiss him entirely, because a succession of sorts to his world view is alive and well in Kootenai County.

Last month the Kootenai County Republican Party blasted Idaho’s two senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch – Republicans both – for their support of sanctions against Russia.

Crapo, in fact, was one of the Senate leaders supporting the measure. He said of it, “This legislation signals to the world the United States’ unflagging commitment to the sanctity of territorial integrity, human rights, and good governance. It also demonstrates our resolve in responding to cyber-attacks against American citizens and entities and against our allies. The Crapo-Brown-Corker-Cardin bill will result in some very powerful, new sanctions against Russia.” Nearly every member of Congress, in both parties in both chambers, voted in favor.

Didn’t convince up in the Panhandle. The party in Kootenai passed its own measure warning of “the emergence of a globalist ‘Davos Culture’ [that being this decade’s preferred name for the international conspiracy] comprised of progressive political elites around the world that is distinct from Traditional Western Civilization.” Kootenai contended that “Russia has become a nationalistic country that is resisting this progressive globalist agenda.” And: “globalists have recently been agitating against good relations with Russia because they see it as one of the last holdouts against a progressive globalist agenda.”

In tone, it sounds a lot like something John T. Wood might have gotten behind.

Except that Wood did get that Russia – or, then, the Soviet Union – was a hostile power, run as a militaristic dictatorship, was a suppressor of speech, press and religion, active in expanding its hegemony at the expense of the United States and its influence, and … well, on and on. In many ways, it is like that today.

Wood did at least get, more or less, who our friends are in the world, and who aren’t.

It’s a strange thing to say, but John T. Wood from the early 1950s, thrown out of Congress back then by Idaho voters who largely seemed to consider him too extreme, might be a little too mainstream for today’s Kootenai County.

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