Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

As good as it is, Simpson’s plan isn’t enough

Feb. 9

The Lewiston Tribune

Congressman Mike Simpson has released his commendable blueprint to save endangered salmon and steelhead by breaching four dams on the lower Snake River.

Acting alone, however, Simpson is little more than a single member of Congress in the minority.

To succeed, he has to offer something more to the people of the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley — a vision of a vastly improved, more prosperous way of life. If they are to lose their 20th century navigation system, replace it with a 21st century Interstate highway.

Simpson has courageously framed the question: It’s fish or dams.

The 2nd District Republican makes no pretense of guaranteeing that breaching the dams — and restoring a natural river current — will save the fish. But after 30 years of trying everything else and spending $17 billion in the process, the status quo is a certain path to extinction.

A package more than two years in the making, the $33 billion Simpson proposal would attach itself to President Joe Biden’s anticipated infrastructure bill later this year. Following the logic of asking “what if” the dams were removed, the southern Idaho Republican offers a series of trade-offs.

For instance, operators of the remaining Columbia River dams would operate free from fear of environmental lawsuits for 35 years. Billions would go toward replacing lost hydropower, providing farmers with rail transportation, restoring waterfronts and providing economic development — as well as a $1.25 billion Snake River Center for Advanced Energy Storage. Placing a $275 million campus in Lewiston would plug the community into the global search for clean energy.

Simpson’s strategy bears more than a striking resemblance to his successful decade-long drive to create the Boulder-White Clouds wilderness.

Then Simpson served as an honest broker of information — drawing out support from diverse interests such as ranchers, motorized recreationists, conservationists and local government officials.

Now, the stars may be aligning in his favor. After stalling out during the Trump administration, a massive infrastructure bill may gain traction — serving as the umbrella for Simpson’s package.

Many of the people who could help implement Simpson’s vision hail from the Pacific Northwest.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is chairman of the Finance Committee.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is chairwoman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is No. 3 in Democratic leadership and serves on the energy and water subcommittee of Appropriations. Also serving on that panel is Sen. Jeff Merkley, D- Ore.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

But here’s a key difference:

When Simpson pursued the Boulder-White Clouds package, he had leverage. As much as the various sides bristled at the compromises the congressman was crafting, the alternative — an Obama administration declaration creating a larger national monument area — was worse.

This time, however, Simpson’s plan is all carrot and no stick.

Not only must he persuade people such as Wyden and Murray to become champions, he’ll have to come up with a way to persuade fellow Republicans — such as Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo as well as Reps. Russ Fulcher of Idaho, Dan Newhouse and Cathy McMorris Rodgers, both of Washington, to at least remain neutral.

Simpson, they can ignore.

Their own constituents? That’s entirely different.

While this region bet its future on navigation nearly a half-century ago, just about every other community in Idaho with an entrance and exit ramp to an Interstate highway expanded far more. Lewiston has remained comparatively stagnant, overshadowed not only by the Treasure Valley, but Coeur d’Alene, Twin Falls and eastern Idaho.

Just imagine where north central Idaho and eastern Washington might be today were the distance between Lewiston and I-90 reduced to an 80-minute drive on a four-lane, divided highway with no impediments.

Wouldn’t goods and services flow more freely?

Wouldn’t the reduced drive time attract more interest and more investment here?

If you’re talking infrastructure investments, what could generate the best return?

Just the prospect of an interstate link could change the conservation. Why talk about mitigating the losses from dam breaching when you could provide the ordinary people who live and work in this area with hope for something fundamentally better?

What could be more universal than the desire for economic renewal and freedom of movement? Offer that and it could transform itself into a wave of public support that no Idaho or Washington politician could ignore.

Simpson’s plan may be the last chance for the fish. But it’s also a real opportunity for the people of north central Idaho to get the modern highway system they need and deserve.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Lack of leadership in vaccine effort has failed Idahoans

Feb. 7

Idaho Press

When it comes to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine, our leaders have failed us from the top down.

It started with a lack of planning at the federal level to get vaccines to states. Idaho’s congressional delegations failed us next, by not using their bully pulpit to publicly pressure for more vaccines in Idaho.

Gov. Brad Little seems, yet again, to be deferring to the local level for big decisions and creating unnecessary chaos.

The legislature is sitting on $900 million in funding that could help Idahoans. Monuments and lemonade stands are apparently much more pressing, dire issues, compared to Idahoans being able to buy food and pay bills.

Leaders across every level are failing Idahoans — especially health care workers and those who need a COVID-19 vaccine most.

Idaho is not getting nearly enough vaccines to work quickly toward herd immunity. That’s where our elected officials at the national level come in; they should be yelling at the top of their lungs that we need more vaccines.

But even if we could even get an increase in vaccine stock, our state still has no discernible plan or idea for distribution. The Department of Health and Welfare released an interim vaccine plan last updated in October — before the vaccine had even been approved. Just last week, state officials said they were making a plan to shuffle around 100,000-plus doses that did arrive in the state but were still unused. If we had a more comprehensive distribution model from the start, perhaps we could have avoided that.

Little’s “leave it to the locals” approach was chaotic when it came to mask mandates — but it’s a whole new level of uncertainty concerning vaccines.

When health districts are vaccinating different groups at different times, with an unpredictable number of doses coming in, this confusion breeds and frustration. Those emotions often bubble up and are hurled at health care workers who have no control over when vaccines arrive. On that point, please treat health care workers with kindness and respect — even if they do have to break the bad news that your appointment was canceled because the expected shipment didn’t come in on time. They are doing difficult and important work amid a lot of uncertainty, and they deserve our support.

Our health systems are ready to vaccinate as many Idahoans as possible. Health care workers want more than anyone to be done with COVID-19. Right now, we’re asking them to not only manage a deadly pandemic, but also complete difficult logistics work in a rural state. When it comes to circulating vaccines throughout the state, the natural fit to manage this task is the state government.

Leadership is looking over the horizon and preparing for what’s ahead; vaccines have been on the horizon for a while. We understand there are factors out of the state’s control — manufacturing holdups and reduced shipments from the federal government — but we’re discouraged by how disjointed Idaho’s vaccine rollout here has been.

There are golden opportunities for a public/private partnership to solve this: in South Carolina, a vaccine drive-thru clinic was horribly backlogged, and a local Chik-fil-A manager was able to reduce the hours-long wait to about 15 minutes. If you’ve ever driven by Chik-fil-A in The Village during the lunch rush, it’s undeniable the drive-thru is an impeccably managed operation. Other states have used National Guard troops, another group well trained in logistics.

Each health district also has a Medical Reserve Corp, which is a group of volunteers to be deployed in emergency situations. A corp member doesn’t need a medical background, volunteers are all trained before becoming part of the group. We urge officials to publicize this volunteer opportunity for those who want to help, and encourage the use of these valuable volunteers in distributing the vaccine.

Odds are, some of these people would be willing to deliver vaccine shipments across the state by air or car. In Alaska, health care workers have been moving shots across the vast state by boat, six-seat planes and dog sled — it’s basically modern-day Balto.

If a state as sparsely populated as Alaska can figure out how to vaccinate the highest percentage of its population, 13%, then surely Idaho shouldn’t be too difficult. Yet, in Idaho we have the lowest rate of residents vaccinated against the virus.

The private sector is already stepping up. Crush the Curve Idaho, which filled a testing void early in the pandemic, has created an online one-stop-shop for Idahoans to learn when and where they can be vaccinated.

We ask — no, beg — our state and national leaders to get their act together. Advocate for Idahoans, and if that doesn’t work, at least make it easy on health care workers to poke as many arms as possible.

Online: Idaho Press

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Elected officials shouldn’t have to fear one another

Feb. 10

Idaho Mountain Express

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—AOC for short—is an outspoken Democrat from New York City.

She is the most recognizable face among the young, left-leaning members of Congress. She also receives more death threats than any other member.

Last week, she described hiding in a colleague’s bathroom in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 when she heard someone shouting “Where is she?”

Given that an anti-government mob was rampaging through the building at the time, she should be believed when she said that she thought she would die that day.

The voices turned out to be those of Capitol police officers. The fear is real, however, because vitriol has crossed the line from protected political speech to verbal assaults.

A majority of the U.S. House of Representatives, almost all Democrats, last week took the unprecedented step of stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of her committee assignments because she crossed that line.

The freshman representative has a history of advocating the use of violence against Democratic politicians. In a 2020 campaign poster, she holds a military-style rifle amid images of three Democratic women, including AOC. Words say she will be “The Squad’s worst nightmare.”

Greene has not disavowed those sentiments. Last week, she doubled down, attacking the press and claiming to be a victim of censorship, all while standing in front of a microphone in a broadcast to the world.

Greene is being called a problem for the Republican Party. She, and those like her who practice a particularly toxic brand of confrontation politics, are actually a problem for the entire nation.

Politics is a rough business. Harsh words are often thrown around in the heat of policy debates and election campaigns. Comparing that kind of hyperbole to the violent words and images used by extremists is a false equivalency.

When politicians are demonized as enemies or imminent dangers and when claims are made that such dangers must be resisted by any means, including arms, it is no wonder that violent mob actions are the result. The language is just as dangerous as crackpot conspiracy theories.

Greene should apologize for her calls for violence. Republicans should have backed her removal from House committees.

The Democrats’ nullification of her committee assignments was the appropriate response. No representative should ever have to worry about how far another’s supporters might go.

“Our View” represents the opinion of the newspaper editorial board, which is made up of members of its board of directors. Remarks may be directed to editorialboard@mtexpress.com.

Online: Idaho Mountain Express