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Opinion Column
For the week of February 28 through March 6, 2001

Politicians can throw childish fits, too

Commentary by Pat Murphy


This much is certain: state Rep. Max Mortensen’s heart is in the right place for wanting Idaho school students to receive a heavy dose of instruction in George Washington’s virtues.

What’s not as certain, however, is whether Mortensen, R-St. Anthony, will see any measurable long-range influence on students if such studies are introduced.

I say this not as a cynic, but as an ordinary observer of the human condition.

As ageless as George Washington’s virtues and ethics are, many young people don’t relate to him.

Those whom Mortensen wants to reach with Washington’s virtues are more apt to idolize rap and rock singers with abominable morals; champion race car drivers who live for fame and thrills; pro athletes with criminal records; multimillionaires who made quick fortunes with clever investments.

Of course, there are other students who’re way ahead of the pack ¾ students excelling in science projects, polishing speech skills on debate teams, working on family farms, devoting time to wildlife and environmental programs and the like, volunteering for charitable causes, perfecting music skills for college scholarships.

So, the mystery: how come students whom Rep. Mortensen believes need exposure to George Washington’s values shrink from achievement while others are well on their way to exemplary lives without special infusion of Washington’s qualities?

One explanation may be in how parents motivate their children by insisting they spend their time usefully and use their minds.

Perhaps it’s parents who need immersion in George Washington’s virtues.

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Tantrums usually are found in children. But not always. Politicians can also throw childish fits, too.

Such as Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb.

According to news accounts out of Boise, Newcomb is sputtering with rage over last week’s protests about farm worker wages by a few Boise State University students at the Capitol.

Fuming with suspicions that maybe faculty were involved in planning the protest, Newcomb literally is holding up funding until an investigation of Boise State University is conducted.

How utterly silly.

This sort of pettiness is unfitting for the House speaker, whose behavior can only invite questions about his temperament for his job.

This comes very near to repeating last year’s performance of a handful of legislators who threatened to remove state funding from Idaho Public Television because they disliked some of IPTV’s programming.

That sorry escapade is now over. IPTV has its funding. Legislators who stirred the fuss in the first place and wasted valuable time of lawmakers have brought no honor or glory to themselves.

Until House Speaker Newcomb gets over his sour disposition, Boise State University presumably faces an inquisition reminiscent of the Caine Mutiny’s Captain Queeg and his search for missing strawberries.

In the end, what course will Rep. Newcomb take once he finds out why a handful of Idaho students exercised their First Amendment rights in an ill-mannered way in a public building on a public issue?

Will he demand a suspension of First Amendment rights at Boise State and a mandatory course in manners for students?

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