For the week of January 20, 1999   thru January 26, 1999  

Idaho capitol needs better security

Idaho’s capitol needs better security.

It’s time for lawmakers to acknowledge that the world has changed and that Idaho may not be the blessed island of civility and safety it once was.

Many private homes have more security than Idaho’s capitol.

Visitors can enter one of eight doors. There are no metal detectors. There are no bag checks. There is no security check of anything carried into or out of the building. There is no video monitoring. Visitors are free to wander the halls, enter the House or Senate galleries, or go directly to the offices of state officials.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne got legislators talking when he included $483,700 for security at the state capitol in his proposed budget. The money would pay to close two entrances, to wall off wings on the second floor and for three state troopers to patrol the capitol, It also includes metal detectors.

Critics point out that former Gov. Phil Batt and Gov. Cecil Andrus refused overt security measures.

They say security measures in the halls of Idaho government would forever alter the relationship between Idahoans and their elected representatives.

They extol the beauty of the unpatrolled marble halls of the capitol and the open relationship between lawmakers and the public.

Critics say the governor’s proposal was inspired by shootings in the Capitol in Washington, D.C., that took the lives of two police officers. They assert that Kempthorne brought Washington, D.C.-level paranoia back from his stint in the U.S. Senate.

All the critics are right, but so is the governor. Idaho’s capitol needs security.

Idaho has changed. It is not the same state it was just 10 years ago. It’s one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Its population has increased by 22 percent, from about a million people to 1,228,684.

Boise has been transformed. What was once a sleepy, dusty excuse for a capital city has become lively and congested. It also possesses most standard city ills.

The amazing thing is that Idaho has been able to keep the halls of government so open and so safe for so long. New residents are always surprised to find that when they call a state legislator about proposed laws, they will get a call back.

Idaho’s openness contrasts sharply with government in larger states in which political access comes with large campaign donations, not with a phone call.

It’s foolish to take the safety of Idaho’s capitol and its lawmakers for granted. The world is sometimes a dangerous place.

Common sense demands security precautions the capitol to discourage violence before it happens.


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