Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Is the Gem State simply ungovernable?

Nov. 18

The Lewiston Tribune

Faced with a third wave of COVID-19, Gov. Brad Little on Friday sounded like someone who believes Idaho is ungovernable.

Could you blame him?

The news is getting worse. Johns Hopkins University says Idaho has the fifth highest rate of positive COVID-19 test results in the country. With a 42 percent positivity rate, Idaho falls behind Kansas at 43.8 percent, Iowa at 51.7 percent, South Dakota at 57.5 percent and Wyoming at 62.9 percent. Of the five, only Kansas has a mask mandate. But according to AARP, a state law stripped Gov. Laura Kelly of the power to enforce her July 2 order.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Idaho has the 16th highest seven-day average of new cases per 100,000. At 74.3 per 100,000, Idaho’s rate is three times that of Washington state (24.6 per 100,000) and Oregon (22.1 per 100,000), where Govs. Jay Inlsee and Kate Brown, respectively, have imposed tougher restrictions that include a requirement that people cover their faces in public.

Hospitals may not have enough equipment or medical staff to handle the surge in COVID-19 cases. The State of Idaho Disaster Medical Advisory Committee has warned the governor that it may have to implement plans to ration lifesaving care based on such factors as a patient’s age and his prospects for survival.

Idaho is the outlier. Except for Wyoming, all of its neighbors have been under statewide face mask orders.

Yet, community after community refuses to adhere to health care professionals’ pleas. In Twin Falls, a crowd of COVID-19 deniers browbeat the city council into submission last week. Six of the seven councilors tabled a face mask ordinance.

Lewiston abandoned a so-called “advisory” face mask order, although the issue is up for discussion at a special meeting on Thursday.

After being shamed by Inslee — whose hospitals are accepting Idaho patients — the Panhandle Health District has not reversed its decision last month to rescind a face mask rule.

Even in communities that have required citizens to don a mask in public, there’s not much backing it up. When the Idaho Statesman took a look last week, it found that the Ada County Sheriff’s Office and the Boise Police Department had issued not even one citation. Members of the Christ Church in Moscow openly flouted that community’s face mask mandate right in front of city hall. Lack of enforcement explains why a face mask mandate has not protected Madison County from becoming a hot spot of infection.

Every step Little takes is met with political reprisals, whether it’s from chaos agent Ammon Bundy, Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin — or the hundreds of coronavirus-deniers who protest on their behalf.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, seem to be at a loss for an answer — other than to trim back the governor’s emergency powers at the earliest opportunity.

So Little has resorted to gestures.

He mobilized about 100 members of the Idaho National Guard to assist medical facilities. But unless those National Guard members are critical care physicians, intensive care unit nurses or respiratory therapists, it’s questionable how much they can relieve the strain on health care staff.

Little moved the state back to Stage 2 of its Idaho Rebounds reopening plan. This time, however, bars and restaurants will remain open. Limiting crowd sizes to 10 people won’t apply to religious or political events. No business will be closed.

And when it came to masks, the governor threw up his hands because he doubted an order would make any difference.

“Half of Idaho’s population is under a local ordinance requiring masks, but we are seeing noncompliance with those local orders. Or, people are wearing their masks in public but then take them off in social settings where the virus is more likely to spread,” Little said. “Law enforcement can cite individuals for violating local ordinances, but law enforcement cannot be everywhere all the time. That is why I maintain this comes down to personal responsibility. Please, wear a mask whenever you’re around another person who is not in your household so we can protect lives, preserve health care access for all of us and continue our economic rebound.”

What is it that makes Idaho so ungovernable?

Is it because the state is made up of ornery people who can’t see the difference between cooperation and coercion?

Or could it simply be a governor who has chosen not to govern?

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Idaho Gov. Little’s lack of action a failure of leadership, failure in public safety

Nov. 18

Idaho Statesman

With coronavirus cases spiking in Idaho, death rates rising and Idaho’s health care capacity reaching its breaking point in some areas, one would think that Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s press conference Friday was going to be used to announce drastic measures in response to the crisis.

That wasn’t the case.

Little, himself, set the stage for what seemed like a more urgent, much-needed response from his office.

“Alarmingly our hospitals are telling us it is only a matter of weeks at the current rate of spread before they must start rationing care,” Little said. “This means they will have to turn away people from the ER, or they will be unable to provide the best care for patients with COVID, heart attacks, strokes and other health issues. This is unacceptable, and more must be done.”

But then he didn’t really do more.

Little announced that about 100 members of the Idaho National Guard were going to help hospitals screen patients and disinfect buildings.

He announced that Idaho was moving back to Stage 2 (sort of) in the reopening plan, but with exceptions allowing all businesses to remain open, including bars and nightclubs, which had to be closed in the original Stage 2.

Most disappointing was what he didn’t do.

He didn’t issue a statewide mask mandate, as many were hoping for, even though “education” and “personal responsibility” admittedly aren’t doing the trick.

“What we’ve been pleading every two weeks obviously hasn’t been working as well as we like to see it,” the governor said.

To help his case, Little introduced Amelia Cortez, a recovering COVID-19 patient, and Rachel Thain, a St. Luke’s respiratory therapist, who gave heartfelt and emotional testimony about the seriousness of the disease.

“And both of them were very credible and very sincere, and we’re hopeful that that will have a bigger impact,” Little said.

But if there is any indication of how little effect that likely will have on some Idahoans, one need look no further than the sickening comments on Facebook that scrolled past during Little’s press conference.

Commenters continued their misguided chants of tyranny and communism, spread disinformation and conspiracy theories, questioned the truthfulness of health officials and even shot insults at Cortez and Thain.

It’s still shocking how some Idahoans could listen to these stories and not feel some sort of empathy.

Unfortunately, those commenters have some of our state politicians as role models, including members of Little’s own party, such as Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and many Republican legislators, who are undermining public health by resisting mask mandates and criticizing many of Little’s emergency orders.

And here, again, Little failed to demonstrate the leadership Idaho needs in this crucial moment.

“They are all independently elected, and they can do what they do, and I do what I do,” Little said.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just a failure in leadership. It’s a failure in protecting public health, which is one of the highest callings of the government.

We’ve used this analogy before, but if the far right of Little’s party suddenly decided that driving on the right side of the road were an infringement on citizens’ inalienable right to drive on the left side of the road, we wouldn’t suddenly simply “ask” people to drive on the right side of the road.

Wearing a mask during a pandemic is important in protecting public safety. It should be required. It’s not an infringement on anyone’s right any more than requiring people to drive on the right side of the road.

At one point, in noting that half of Idaho’s population is under some sort of local mask mandate, Little conceded, “But we are seeing noncompliance with these local orders, or people are wearing their masks in public but then taking them off in social settings, such as parties and other gatherings with friends, where the virus is more likely to spread.”

But then he contradicted himself just moments later: “I continue to have great confidence in the people of Idaho to do the right thing to protect themselves and their loved ones during this challenging time of our history.”

That confidence appears to be misplaced.

Little stressed how important it is to keep children in school, and he noted that the risk of spread within the schools is less than spread outside the schools.

Unfortunately, without stronger measures to slow community spread, this is just going to get worse, and more cases, especially among our teachers, administrators and substitutes, means that schools will be forced to close even if spread is not occurring there.

As Little pointed out, closing schools means doctors and nurses might have to stay home with their children and not report for work, further burdening our health care system, which affects everyone, whether it’s COVID-19, a heart attack or a car crash.

Protecting public health is a proper role of government, and the governor still has an opportunity to take stronger measures and fulfill his duty.

In short, what we’ve been doing isn’t working. A watered-down version of Stage 2 and another round of begging people to wear a mask isn’t going to cut it.

A failure of leadership is also a failure to keep the public safe.

Online: Idaho Statesman

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Drop the curtain on political scams

Nov. 18

Idaho Mountain Express

Joseph R. Biden won the 2020 presidential election. That fact is incontrovertible. So why do millions of Americans doubt the veracity of this result, especially while accepting all the other results on the same ballots?

Operatives pushing their own often financial agendas are responsible for the lie. It’s time to raise the curtain on their grift and drop it on the damage being done as a result.

Conservative political consultant Roger Stone is the poster child for this particular brand of chicanery. In 2019, he was convicted on seven felony counts, including witness tampering and lying to investigators, then pardoned in 2020 by President Donald Trump.

Stone has been spreading outlandish fabrications in the name of conservative principles since the Nixon administration. CNN reported last week that Stone’s scams are at the heart of much of the current chaos around the election process.

Rather than reflecting the grassroots sentiments of a certain segment of voters, “Stop the Steal” rallies last weekend were the result of an intentional orchestrated process started by Stone during Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

Stone used his own political action committee to launch the website StopTheSteal.org. He filled it with unsubstantiated claims of election rigging. He also asked for donations to help fight the hyped threat.

Stop the Steal reappeared in 2018 and again beginning in early 2020. CNN reporter Drew Griffin nailed it: Stop the Steal is a business, he noted.

Stone and his ilk in the political universe do not run for office. They are not named to appointed positions. They don’t support themselves as lobbyists or experts in any field.

Stone and the other influencers who have come to personify the far right of American politics make their living by fundraising off their outrage. Their collection box, thanks to Supreme Court rulings like Citizens United, are political action committees and online and cable influencing gigs.

Stop the Steal is only one example of the emotionally charged falsehoods that are metastasizing in America’s body politic. Doubts about the election layer onto doubts about masks and social distancing. Climate change denial layers onto denial of other truths and facts.

Enough! Falsehoods are not spin, they are lies. Unregulated PACs can fleece donors with impunity.

Voters should turn their backs on people who exploit voters for personal financial gain. Starving them of the oxygen of publicity is the best way to drop the curtain on this kind of political scam.

Online: Idaho Mountain Express