For the week of February 17, 1999  thru February 23, 1999  

First Lady speaks on Idaho’s child and family issues

Express Staff Writer

"This is a genuine lady. She’s not pretentious--what you see is what you get."

That was the introduction made by Darlene Dramen, president of the Blaine County Republican Women’s Association, as she introduced Idaho’s first lady, Patricia Kempthorne.

Kempthorne gave a luncheon talk to a group of more than 60 at the Valley Club in Hailey on Thursday.

What the group got was a woman who expressed a genuine concern for Idaho’s children and families, as well as Kempthorne’s first public appearance as the wife of Idaho’s governor.

"I want to tell you what I feel and struggle with," she told those in attendance.

She went on to describe the mountains Idaho needs to climb in terms of family- and child-oriented issues and the passes it needs to forge through those figurative mountains.

"I probably have a lot more self confidence than a lot of mothers," she said. "If I can’t get past something, how do they? This makes me realize that we all need to help one another. Even parents who do everything absolutely right have problems."

"I want to spend the next four years dealing with children and families. I want to talk openly and honestly about what children need."

"I understand the feeling of single parenthood," she said of her own singly parented childhood, "and of what it takes to keep a marriage going for 23 years. It’s a lot of work."

She described the Kempthorne administration’s devotion to those issues. Dirk Kempthorne’s campaign claims, expressing devotion to Idaho children and families, were a lot more than good political rhetoric, she said, adding that every issue Idaho will face in the future will be decided by the state’s current children.

"Dirk is committed to the children," she said.

She also made reference to Jim Hawkins, the Kempthorne administration’s director of early childhood and immunizations. Hawkins is extremely motivated by the well-being of children, Kempthorne said, noting that he won’t accept pay for his work but wants the money saved to go to children-oriented programs.

"Our goal here is to create the best quality of life for children in this state, through immunizations, education, quality child care and by educating and informing parents," she said.

She went on to explain that Idaho currently ranks very low on a national scale when it comes to child care and the general well being of children.

"Idaho is 49th in the country for immunizations, either because we don’t immunize or because we don’t keep track very well," she said.

In a separate interview, Kempthorne explained that in an age bracket including children up to two years of age, a 90-percent immunization rate is considered to be good nationally. Idaho is currently tallying a 72 percent average, she said.

She also pointed out that Idaho ranks number one in the country for child abuse, and posts one of the highest adolescent suicide statistics in the country.

"These numbers are probably skewed, however, because of our low population," Kempthorne said. "But it is because of this low population that we can reach out and help."

The Kempthorne administration is working on a program called Parents as Teachers, she said.

"Parents are the first and most important teachers of our (the state’s) children," she said. "I’d like to say that parents are teaching all good stuff, but there is bad stuff,too."

She said that the Parents as Teachers program can hopefully help in this arena.

"It has to be recognized on whatever level it is on," she pointed out concerning the aforementioned Idaho statistics, "that many of these problems are curable. It comes down to awareness in a large part."

In the interview, Kempthorne said she has been deeply involved in child- and family-oriented issues before she became Idaho’s first lady, but that her current position is "a blessing."

"I’ve been out presenting my self as an advocate for children for years," she said. "I have to take this opportunity or couldn’t feel good about my self."

And again addressing the issues Idaho faces, she said, "Idaho is small enough with enough money and resources to get anything accomplished."

And perhaps the artist behind one of the table’s center pieces at the luncheon agreed. A project undertaken by Pioneer Montessori School third, fourth and fifth graders created colorful centerpieces with the message "Help Idaho’s children bloom where they are planted."


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