Idaho: Good to remember a great governor

by Judy Ferro

When the weather is so nice, it’s time to think about camping and fishing, not politics–though, at my age, it’s more about barbecues and wading pools.

I don’t want to hear that, for the third week in a row, there is a new story about mismanagement in Treasurer Ron Crane’s office.  First, Christopher Priest filed a claim that Crane fired him last November for revealing waste of public funds.  A week later, Travis Schaat revealed he had been fired after he refused to alter minutes of the investment advisory board for political reasons.  And this week the “Blue Review” at Boise State University revealed that Crane’s secret 2012 agreement absolving Key Bank may have cost Idahoans millions.  Apparently, banks across the nation have paid high settlements for investing customer money in securities known to be high risk.

I really am ready for a cold drink on the patio.  Who cares that Governor Otter is supporting a lawsuit filed by ten states against the federal guidelines for treatment of transgender students?  Though I wonder why the Governor didn’t say anything last year when the Idaho School Boards Association adopted rules.  I suppose one gets more points for fighting Feds?

And this is certainly no time to discuss presidential contest.  Don’t even mention the lawsuits saying that Trump University not only defrauded hardworking people of thousands of dollars, but taught students illegal and immoral ways to defraud others.

I think stories like those are what drove Betsy Russell, political reporter for the Spokesman Review, to write a feature on Governor Cecil Andrus last week.

The Andrus years were better days.

Russell quotes Andrus as saying, “There wasn’t that bitterness and rancor of partisanship that you see that prevails today.”

Yet, if anyone could find a way around bitterness and rancor, Gov. Andrus would.  He had a mellow way of chuckling at himself and getting others to chuckle at themselves also.  He seemed to say, “We’re just folks here—folks working together to take care of this problem.”  He did have a temper though and used both wit and brawn to deal with those who crossed him.

Yeah, a true Idahoan.

Andrus focused on two major issues—education and conservation—and spoke heart-to-heart with everyone he met.

According to Russell, “Andrus attributes his victory to traveling the state widely and making the case that Idaho had enough revenue, but it wasn’t putting enough into education.  ‘They kept wanting to give it away (through tax cuts), just like they are today.’”

Over the years, the Governor worked to increase school funding and, after five sessions, managed to convince the legislature to fund kindergarten in Idaho.  He said, “If you want good teachers, you’ve got to compete.”

Too bad he wasn’t in charge in 2009; legislators would not have got away with cutting education support by 20%.

Andrus’s greatest environmental fight, one he and Gov. Phil Batt still pursue, is to prevent Idaho from becoming a permanent nuclear waste dump.  He’s concerned that four 50-year-old single-wall stainless steel tanks containing radioactive liquid waste still threaten the Snake River aquifer.

His work while governor ranged from stopping Idaho Power from building a coal-powered plant within 30 miles of Boise to helping Senator Jim McClure establish the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.

That’s all the politics I can handle these days—thoughts of Idaho leaders who’ve loved our state.

Idaho’s Past: I Wouldn’t Go Back

by Judy Ferro

When a politician—or anyone else for that matter—says they wished we could go back to the America of 50 years ago, I’m never sure what they mean.

I have some great memories of that world.

As teens, driving was the main form of recreation. Carloads of us drove the Boulevard and dragged the Curbs night after night. Everyone chipped in on gas.

A lot of family time was spent gardening and canning. It took an assembly line of five or six to put up fruit cocktail. Fast food was a twice-a-year treat.

Fabric and patterns were cheap and saying an outfit looked store-bought was a great compliment. People saved coffee cans all year to have enough for Memorial Day.

Today, finished products are as cheap—or cheaper—than raw materials. Kids and adults work together less. “Crafting” is for those with time and money.

Yeah, there are aspects of that life I’d love to go back to. But that’s far from the whole picture.

A second cousin was beaten with a belt regularly. When he tried to run away, he was chained to his bed. School wouldn’t consider him truant as long as his dad knew where he was.

Several skinny girls at my school had “potato bellies”—stomachs distended by carbs without nourishment. One had rickets. Farmers often opened their fields for “gleaning” after the money crop was harvested.

By 7th grade our classes were large—32 and up. In spite of regular paddling (boys only) and hour-long detentions for the whole class, we behaved terribly. We gave kudos to any kid who made a teacher cry. We got much better after boys who’d been held back a couple years turned 14 and dropped out.

The book Why Johnny Can’t Read was a best-seller. Many were confident TV would make school obsolete.

There were no special education classes or accommodations for the blind or deaf. If a kid had a long-term ailment—heart, lung, whatever—parents could get help with healthcare only by signing custody over to the State. Some were allowed to visit their child once a week; others weren’t. The State decided.

Cancer was a death sentence, and many believed it was contagious. Mother died before any treatment was available in Idaho. Her dad later died of radiation poisoning.

A lot more women worked than history acknowledges. The hours and pay of those that worked in family farms or businesses were never recorded. Nor was the pay of those that worked at home baby sitting, typing, or keeping books. A lot of women, however, worked at Simplot’s, the Phone Company, and local stores.

Businesses regularly advertised jobs for men only. Often women were called upon to train inexperienced bosses who then made three times their pay. State employment agencies kept cards with jobs for men and women in different boxes.   If a woman with a college degree showed up, her agent could try to beg a few cards from the boxes for men.

And that was the world of privileged whites.

My friend Carol had a black boy in her second grade class; for a few years, a Mexican girl showed up for three months. Going to town on Saturdays, I would see kids of color and wonder where they were all week. Taverns posted “No Mexicans allowed” signs and only whites worked in stores and restaurants. Television showed police with cattle prods keeping young Black kids from schools; adults were killed for helping others register to vote.

I have great memories from the ‘50s and ‘60s, but, no, I would never go back.

Economy: Women’s place in Idaho

“Idaho is heading for an employment crisis” is the opening line of a recent Idaho Press-Tribune article by Torrie Cope and Kelcie Moseley.  The pair reported that Idaho needs 100,000 jobs filled by 2018, with two-thirds requiring post-secondary training.  The hardest positions to fill will require bachelor’s degrees in computer science and technology, business and economics, engineering, health science, or communications.

I hope the article encourages young people to go onto college.  For me, it opened an old wound.  You see, about 20 years ago my younger child moved back to Idaho with a brand new engineering degree and an EIT certification—the engineering version of the accountants’ CPA.  Trus-Joist and Morrison-Knudsen offered interviews for positions in Colorado and Saudi Arabia, but no company offered a position in Idaho.  Many were dismissive and rude.  One Caldwell employer said that the California version of the EIT must be a lot easier than Idaho’s.

Hard to believe?

Maybe easier if you know that this bright young engineer was my daughter?

When I worked for a Seattle company in the 1970s, a woman civil engineer submitted a resume.  The managers handed the papers around like they were a clever joke, marveled that this day had come, and never considered actually interviewing the woman.

As equal rights became an issue, some companies felt pressured to hire women in higher positions.  A friend job-hunting with an electrical engineering degree found companies interviewing women engineers for jobs—like inventorying wires—that had formerly been done by clerks.

Finding that things were no better in Idaho 20 years later depressed me.  What had we accomplished if my daughters didn’t have more opportunities than women of my generation?  Well, in the long run Toni did, but not in Idaho, She became a project manager for Intel in Oregon.

Will my four granddaughters have better opportunities here?  The Cope-Moseley article suggests they will.  Other indicators are not so positive.

For one thing, the middle class as a whole is shrinking.  A recent study indicates that the number of Idaho households earning less than $25,000 will increase by 2019 while those earning over $50,000 will actually shrink.

For another, women may face open harassment at whatever level they work.  This last week a blogger who exposed video games that showed women abused and raped went into hiding after repeated death threats against her and her family.  And a U.S. Senator from Maine revealed comments that indicate even senators purposely put women down or are clueless on how to relate to them.  “Don’t lose too much weight.  I like my women pudgy.”

Two-thirds of today’s minimum wage earners are women.  A number of major organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, continue to fight against the equal pay act.

A recent study by the financial website WalletHub indicates that the United States as a whole has fallen to 23rd place in fairness and equality for women.

And Idaho ranks 48th among the states.  (Mississippi is 35th).  We rank 49th in “workplace environment” and “education and health,” but rise to 48th in “executive positions gap.”

Surprisingly, Idaho is 28th in “political empowerment” because one out of four of our Congressional and legislative delegations is a woman.  Yes, with a rate just half of what equal representation would be, Idaho ranks better than 22 other states.  That’s not  exactly good news.

Soon my younger daughter will be clutching another tech degree—this one a doctorate.  I’d love for her to get hired here in Idaho, but I’m not holding my breath.