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for people who care about the West

Idaho can be whatever you are willing to make it

  Dear HCN:

Writer Stephen J. Lyons failed in his attempt to accurately quote the slogan "Idaho is what America was," just as he also failed in his attempt to accurately portray the state of Idaho (HCN, 3/16/98).

I know. I'm the guy who coined the phrase in 1978. I've also lived in the state for a lot of years and know its places and people better than most, and during much of that time I've served on the staffs of people that Mr. Lyons possibly felt fairly comfortable with - Sen. Frank Church and Govs. Cecil Andrus and John Evans.

Don't confuse the political conservatism that prevails in Idaho with the outright political wackiness of Butler and Gritz and their ilk. Your average Idahoan is no more comfortable with those folks than is Mr. Lyons.

Mr. Lyons doesn't know how to answer people who ask, "What's up with those Nazis?" One can only assume that he must have spent his stay here with his head buried in our mountains or rivers. Otherwise he might have talked about the 35,000 who attended the Anne Frank exhibit in Boise. Or Gov. Phil Batt's championing of fairer treatment for farm workers. Or that the first Jew to be elected governor of any state was Moses Alexander of Idaho. Or the outstanding work of the Kootenai County Human Rights Task Force. Or the University of Idaho's Lionel Hampton School of Music and the 13,000 young people who come to campus each February for the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. Or the extensive programs honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. each year at Boise State University. Or the pride that we take in Idahoan Vernon Baker being the nation's only living black winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor. There is a lot to be proud of in Idaho, if you only look for it.

It is curious that Mr. Lyons blasts Idaho for so many things and then holds up California as the example of a state that seems to be doing things right in the area of diversity. This morning's news says the number of black and Hispanic applicants for next fall has dropped 36 percent at UCLA and 55 percent at UC Berkeley. We may be slow in diversifying in Idaho, but at least, unlike California, we are headed in the right direction.

Some people recognize the need for change and do what they can to influence it. Others simply move from place to place seeking a paradise that others have already labored to create. My heroes are the ones who stay around and work for what they profess to believe in.

Martin L. Peterson

Boise, Idaho