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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of Nov 28 - Dec 4, 2001

  Opinion Columns

‘Terrorism’ fears trump real Idaho problems

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

As the capital city’s fearless duo, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Attorney General Alan Lance, work to put Idaho on a war footing with a bunkered state Capitol and extraordinary executive powers (such as tapping telephones without a judge’s authority), matters they may consider trifling but for which they were elected and paid to minister remain unsolved.

Although there’s no evidence that international terrorists threaten the state, Idahoans are upset about outrageously high gasoline prices that inexplicably afflict them. Lance made some gestures of concern months ago, but apparently now is preoccupied with Osama bin Laden rather than profiteering oil companies.

Then there’s the long-standing order of Fourth District Judge Deborah Bail to bring public schools up to standards. Instead of using their offices to persuade the Legislature to comply with Judge Bail in behalf of Idaho children, Gov. Kempthorne and his attorney general presumably will use their time with lawmakers to plead for "wartime" powers to deal with imagined terrorists.

Parenthetically, Idaho now ranks sixth in the nation in ninth to 12th grade dropouts with a rate of 7.2 percent, behind only Louisiana (11.6 percent); Nevada (10.2); Arizona (10); Georgia (8.2), and New Mexico (7.5), according to latest data of the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2001/digest/dt103.html).

If the state Legislature makes the mistake of giving Kempthorne and Lance extraordinary powers to throw around their weight in the name of "national security" for a state unlikely to be any terrorist’s target, some of Lance’s staff is prepared.

Two of Lance’s deputies rode roughshod over rights of prison inmates and violated their own codes by intercepting confidential communications with lawyers. A judge and an appeals court denounced the state lawyers for unethical behavior and fined them. They’re still on Lance’s payroll available to peek into mail or eavesdrop.

Not all Republicans who consider themselves genuinely "conservative" in their politics are playing lapdog to the U.S. attorney general’s astonishing grasp for power in the name of national security.

Two of the most outspoken self-styled conservatives attacking Ashcroft are Rep. Bob Barr, the Georgia Republican congressman who established himself as a fierce critic of President Clinton and his attorney general, Janet Reno, and former Nixon speech writer William Safire, now a New York Times columnist.

Both accuse Ashcroft of trampling the Constitution, even reaching for dictatorial powers.

Safire, especially, has been unrelenting and searing in his attacks on Ashcroft, calling him the "try-’em-fry-’em" attorney general as well as "panic-stricken."

This poses a sticky problem for Ashcroft: he can hardly dismiss Barr and Safire as liberals doing the devil’s work for Democrats.

Salmon are not the only Idaho trademark creatures having a tough time surviving.

Idaho sheep, too, are endangered.

From a high of some 2.7 million sheep more than a half century ago, Idaho’s sheep population during spring and summer grazing is reportedly around 245,000.

At their annual meeting in Sun Valley a couple weeks back, members of the Idaho Wool Growers Association were delivered this glum fact: Australian and New Zealand lamb now accounts for 34 percent of U.S. consumption, up from only about 8 percent a decade ago.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.