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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

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For the week of April 10 - 16 , 2002

  Opinion Columns

Aiming at 
the wrong target

Commentary by PAT MURPHY

This may fall under the heading of a "so what!" dustup for most Idaho voters: does Democrat Jerry Brady have a conflict of interest by not resigning his job as publisher of the Post Register newspaper in Idaho Falls while running for governor?

The Idaho Statesman’s editorial page believes so, although its reasoning seems far-fetched and illogical.

By only taking a leave of absence rather than resigning, Brady (so the Statesman argues) somehow has stealth control over the newspaper’s reporting and editorials that will grease the way into the governor’s office.

That’s a real stretch.

However, what should trouble the Statesman editors, if they want to wade into these murky waters, are the real rather than illusory conflicts of state legislators of both parties who routinely vote on bills that directly affect their private occupations and businesses.

Just leaf through profiles of legislators in the Idaho Blue Book, a compendium of everything you need and don’t need to know about the state, and tote up the number of farmers, ranchers, insurance agents, lawyers and others whose businesses are touched by bills they routinely sponsor and/or vote on.

But so long as our political system of elective office is the backbone of government, there’s no alternative that comes to mind. The public is at the mercy of the honesty of lawmakers ¾ either to abstain from voting on laws that benefit their businesses or announce the benefits of a law before they vote.

Moreover, the public trust can really be protected by daily newspapers such as the Statesman if their reporters rigorously monitor and report votes of legislators that might represent conflicts of interest.

This serves the dual purpose of putting lawmakers on notice to avoid wheeling and dealing as well as giving voters perspective of who is using the public trust to benefit themselves.

One person’s benefit can be another’s burden.

Idaho now can boast of having more than 70 different vehicle license plates, according to the Idaho Department of Transportation.

Yep, in fact, the number may be 77, many of them variations of a theme plate (such as the wildlife plate).

Some plates have been authorized to honor special groups ¾ Medal of Honor recipients, Purple Heart awardees, former prisoners of war, Pearl Harbor survivor, disabled veterans, etc.

But others have been authorized to raise funds through special fees for programs and groups ¾ such as for wildlife and the environment.

But pity police officers on patrol that must check plates of vehicles they’ve stopped for traffic violations.

It used to be simple ¾ just rattle off a number.

But with plates that combine numbers and special interest group icons, it means a batch of separate data bases need to be checked.

With a flourish, Homeland Security director Tom Ridge last month unveiled the national alert system that ranks threats by colors, starting with green as the lowest, followed by blue, yellow, orange and red as dangers intensify. Ridge announced a "yellow" alert status, and it’s remained there, as far as anyone knows.

Just try to find out if the color code has changed. Certainly not on the Office of Homeland Security’s Internet site, which features biographies of President Bush and others, speeches by Ridge, and heaven knows what other trivia ¾ but no news about current threats or alert status.

And even when the "yellow" alert was issued, as usual there was no information from Ridge on whether the alert applied to all 50 U.S. states and not an inkling of what Americans needed to be on the alert about.

With such skimpy information, cynics can be excused if they suspect that the Office of Homeland Security is becoming another costly, officious federal bureaucracy looking for reasons to justify its existence.


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.