Archive for Sunday, May 31, 1998


May 31, 1998


One of my friends sent me an article about my old home state, Idaho. The article wasn't fun to read, especially because we're planning to drive to Idaho in July. We don't want to wind up in jail for throwing an orange peel out of the car window.

Idaho brags that it has little crime. It has little crime because you can get slapped into jail for minor offenses. Idaho believes in prisons. Boy, does Idaho believe in prisons!

I used to have a T-shirt that read ``IDAHO IS WHAT AMERICA WAS.'' I don't think America was as bad as Idaho seems to be today. But when it comes to scenic grandeur the boasters may be on target.

The state doesn't have much use for welfare. It doesn't much care to go after abusers of children. It hates taxes even more than Kansas Republicans hate them.

The welfare rolls have been cut by 77 percent. The state leads the nation in neglected children. The prisons are so full they're sending people out of state where there are cells. One authority says it's the worst state in the nation if you're poor.

There's only one statewide officer who isn't a Republican. The state legislature has only 16 Democrats among the 105. A Boise editor calls the state a monarchy. I'd call it a despotism.

People have been flocking into Idaho the way they flock into other western and southwestern states. My brother says the invading Californians are there because California is too liberal, too open-minded.

You wouldn't know Idaho was like this just by driving through. You'd find Boise and Idaho Falls, especially, pleasant, pretty towns. The Mormon Church is dominant in what I think of as my part of the state, the southeast. I remember in being in my home town, Preston, at carnival time a few years ago and seeing anti-semitic signs for sale, like the Bobby Kennedy targets we saw in San Antonio the day before Kennedy was shot down in 1968.

It's big gun country out there, pickups with rifles on them. A lot of hunters. You pull into a little gas station and see some types quite like some I knew in my boyhood, good church members who came into town on Saturday night to get drunk.

Do we really want to go out there this summer? We thought that after the Pickett family reunion in Lava Hot Springs we'd head north, up to Salmon and Stanley and Sun Valley, seeing some mountains and forests and waterfalls, maybe some wild flowers. We've never been in that part of Idaho. The state has some beautiful places, though when I was a boy we were oriented toward Salt Lake City and saw little of Idaho. Few of us gave thought to attending the university at Moscow, far in the north. Even Pocatello wasn't close enough.

What's happened out there? Once there was a senator named Frank Church from Idaho. No Frank Churches today; the Idaho senators are neanderthal men, two of the worst in Congress. I even look back with good thoughts to a hero of my boyhood, William Borah, one of those who helped defeat the League of Nations. He was mainly progressive compared to the troglodytes of today.

I don't think the people I knew in Franklin County, when I was a printer's devil on a weekly paper, were of the awful ilk I read about today. But there could have been a sign at the city limits that read `DEMOCRATS KEEP OUT.'' But the Democrats took the county in 1938, and how we wailed on our paper, the Citizen, because we lost all the legal notices.

The article I read said that the Mormon Church still takes care of the needy if the needy are Mormons. I don't quite remember it that way, but the only non-Mormons I knew in Preston were well-off. I think the church would have helped anyone in need.

Why has the old home state (I still think of it that way) become such a horror? That pronounced strain of independence, of anti-government feeling that produces the nut cases, the survivalists, out there? As I read the article I kept saying to myself, ``Hang in, folks! Kansas could become another Idaho if some of the people trying to dominate could seize power here.''

-- Calder Pickett is a professor emeritus of journalism at Kansas University. His columns appear Sundays in the Journal-World.

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