Cope: The Machine Rolls On 

And the toe jam rolls with it

Rep. George Hansen, recently deceased, was one of the first in a line of right-wing birds who have soiled Idaho politics for the past 40 years. What he will undoubtedly be remembered for most vividly are his prison terms, the longest for fraud in an investment scheme he perpetrated after he was out of office.

However, he did one thing that should still be reverberating in the awareness of Idaho citizens. In 1972, Hansen went chasing after a Senate seat for the second time and found himself in a four-way primary with James McClure, ex-Gov. Robert Smylie, and another guy. McClure won that August primary. After his loss, Hansen, in what might be interpreted as either an episode of ethical conscience or of sour grapes, told a California reporter doing a story on Idaho politics that a year earlier, he and McClure had been called to a meeting with representatives from the four horsemen of Idaho's mid-century corporate economy: Boise Cascade, Morrison-Knudsen, Simplot and Idaho Power.

According to Hansen, that quartet of heavy hitters were worried that if McClure and Hansen split the hard conservative vote, then it was likely the moderate Smylie would win the primary. That wouldn't do. As popular as Smylie was with other Idahoans, he was anathema to those feverish Republicans who, then as now, could tolerate no moderate behavior. It also seems that even then, right-wing extremists were more sympathetic to the best interests of corporate Godzillas than they have ever been to the people on the ground being crushed underfoot.

The deal they proposed was that Hansen should drop out of the race, allowing McClure a probable victory, and that as a reward, they would support him in a bid for governor two years later. Hansen declined the offer.

Keep in mind, these revelations of Hansen's were made public in October 1972, after the primary, indicating that they resulted more from the "sour grapes" option than any "ethical conscience." After all, if he was really as outraged by this election rigging as he claimed to be, he might have said something to the press about it months earlier.

Still, he told the reporter that he resented "a powerful few making it their business to arrange the political climate in Idaho." Had it not been for the (then) finest weekly paper in Idaho, The Intermountain Observer, the story might never have been heard in Idaho. The Observer reprinted it two weeks before the general election, and I happened to have read it at the time. I was certain such a revelation would turn Idaho voters against this sort of political puppeteering, but I was wrong. McClure won the general election and went on to represent Idaho--or the corporate board rooms of Idaho, at any rate--for 18 years. It seems the folks on the ground getting crushed underfoot didn't mind it as much as I was convinced they would.

•••

I bring it up now, six days before the election, because it all came back to me this past summer, when the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) announced it would be endorsing Butch Otter in his race against A.J. Balukoff. Of course, it wouldn't do to explain simply that the reason they liked Otter was because, for the past four decades--throughout his remarkably undistinguished terms as state legislator, U.S. congressman and governor--he has been on their leash, fetching whatever they wanted fetched, as obedient to the company whistle as any lap dog could possibly be.

No, just commending Otter as their good little puppy wasn't enough. They felt they had to make Mr. Balukoff out as Barack Obama in whiteface, a dastardly liberal bent on raising taxes and spreading evil health care around like jam on toast. Worse yet, they have damned Balukoff as a "typical politician"--ironic indeed, when their hand-licker-of-choice has never worked a job in his adult life that didn't come from either being voted into it or marrying into it.

Are Idahoans dumb enough to swallow this same-old, same-old slop that has left Idaho shoveling up the droppings in the American parade?... we'll find out Tuesday, Nov. 4. Better question might be: Do Idahoans really know what this IACI bunch expects out of their pet politicians, especially since, behind the façade of respectability, it's nothing but another lobbying racket that refuses to make public who funds it?

The list of corporate powerhouses in Idaho has grown considerably since George Hansen's day, and we must suspect that is due in large part to the fact that Idahoans have shown repeatedly they will work for less, don't seem to care what shoddiness the future holds for their children, and can be easily distracted by things like shiny new guns and phantom feds. Essentially, IACI is nothing more than what those four secretive king-making corporations were back in '72--a cabal of big money that works tirelessly to get homeowners, grocery shoppers and wage earners to foot the bill for giving them a comfortable environment to make even bigger money.

I'd like to end by saying Idahoans deserve better, but frankly, as long they keep choosing leaders whose only purpose is to keep them fooled and underfoot, I'm not convinced they do.

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