In Coeur d'Alene, Aryan Nations' leader Richard "I hate you" Butler and his merry band of racists make plans for a "One Hundred Man March" through the city, while the mayor wrings his hands and wonders what he should do.
Kootenai County commissioners declare the county an English-only
territory, then wonder why its citizens object. Commissioner Ron
Rankin says the critics are "a nonentity, a paranoid clack."
The same commission says that too much is made
of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
In Oldtown, a
Bonner County councilman puts up an Idaho Militia sign along
Highway 41. The same county's commissioners abolished the planning
Mississippi in the 1950s? A bad
novel about Louisiana? No, business as usual in Idaho at the
You might think I'm too harsh on the
Gem State. After all, Idaho is a leader.
leads the nation in child abuse incidents and deaths, and if it
weren't for South Dakota, Idaho would lead the nation in the least
amount of money spent per capita for child welfare in 1996
Idaho is a leader in not immunizing its
children against whooping cough, an ailment that should have gone
the way of polio.
Idaho also leads in the
highest number of dumb statements by its congressional delegation
led by Rep. Helen Chenoweth, who said last year that Hispanics and
African-Americans were not interested in moving to northern Idaho
because, "The warm-climate community just hasn't found the colder
climate that attractive."
For 15 years I've
pondered why Idaho lags the country in creativity, diversity and
innovation. Why 60 percent of its fourth-graders read at a
third-grade level or lower. Why the state's governmental leaders
don't make life so unbearable for the Aryan Nations, Bo Gritz and
the militia that they choose to live elsewhere - like Mars. Why
Randy Weaver was canonized in Idaho for using his family as a body
shield. Why the business leaders don't tell us the truth about all
the income and jobs lost because the state has a national image as
a haven for racists. Why it's against the law to libel Idaho
Aside from all that, there is
something plainly dysfunctional about this place, but something
hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it's the isolation and difficulty of
creating networks in an area that is so hard to travel in: not
enough traffic with new ideas moving through. That isolation has
led to xenophobia, a fear of strangers or, perhaps more precisely,
a fear of anyone not white.
Certainly, in the
Legislature and in the congressional delegation the problem is
easier to define: a paucity of new blood and ideas. And to think
Frank Church was once our senator.
America with an exciting cultural vibrancy is leaving Idaho behind,
a trend the state cultivates with slogans like, "Idaho is what
America used to be," and "Welcome to Idaho. Now Go Home!" The first
slogan is true when you consider America used to be more sexist,
racist, xenophobic and environmentally unaware.
A recent article in The New Yorker touted the amazing comeback of
the California economy in the last half decade. In Silicon Valley,
where a large part of the heart of this economic engine beats, one
out of every four employees is foreign-born, and the average annual
household income of Santa Clara County is more than $100,000. Ten
new firms are incorporated every day and there are no laws limiting
language to English only.
Diversity is a major
contributor to California's bright economy. Forty percent of the
population is Hispanic, and one out of every three foreign-born
Latinos can now be considered middle class with an annual income
that exceeds $35,000 and/or home ownership. What percentage of
white Idahoans can claim a similar income?
people in Idaho complain that the state's sorry national image is
unfair and undeserved. The same people will tell you they don't
care anyway. That's why they moved here, by God! But many of us
with out-of-state relatives have to answer questions such as,
"What's going on up there?" "What's up with those Nazis?"
How do we answer? How do we defend the
When I moved to Idaho in 1983, I
came for the mountains and rivers. Now, 15 years later, I see those
same peaks as impenetrable boundaries of isolation, and the
reflection I see in the rivers is of a man who longs to return home
Stephen J. Lyons
recently moved to Washington