A jetliner explodes off the coast of New York, then violent death interrupts the Olympics.
A presidential race pits an incumbent some don’t trust against a challenger others can’t fathom.
Fear of crime grows and the gap widens between the wealthy and the wanting.
Escalating violence. Plummeting social values. The quest for cash.
During a recent weeklong sweep of Idaho’s 1st Congressional District, Spokesman-Review reporters found an electorate with lots on its mind.
A similar exploration four months ago found voters overwhelmingly focused on getting and keeping decent-paying jobs.
This time, as Republicans prepare to gather in San Diego and Democrats flock to Chicago for their respective national conventions, Idaho residents appear united only in uncertainty.
Some express bitter disillusionment with a system they see as poisoned. Others appear pleasantly preoccupied with family and pursuing the American Dream.
Those in population centers generally are more confident and hopeful. Some rural residents fear the country literally is moments from collapse.
Jay Turkovsky, an electronics consultant in Athol, said mounting random violence and an increasingly estranged lower class drag the nation toward revolution.
“Maybe that’s not all bad,” he said. “Look at what the last one built.”
But Rathdrum’s Alan Washburn said times couldn’t be better. The 33-year-old truck mechanic with a new home said even his property taxes “seem fair.”
“I tell my son that if he works hard - puts in an honest day’s work - he’ll get where he wants to be.”
The chance to talk about the moral decline of the nation brings the Rev. Dion Unruh to his feet on the North Idaho College beach.
“The worst downturn was when Jimmy Carter was in office and allowed mixed (men and women) crews on battleships,” says Unruh, a disabled Navy vet and independent preacher who works for the Child Evangelism Fellowship.
Then Bill Clinton opened the door to gays in the military, he complained.
Unruh also is tired of illegal aliens getting better treatment than military veterans, the country going soft on criminals and public schools that don’t match his standards.
Unruh is angry at politicians and “the fact that they can give themselves a pay raise and we are struggling to make minimum wage,” he said.
Out on the east edge of town, Tom Sullivan rescues a falling pizza with a fast spatula as he serves the early lunch customers at Tubbs Coffee House. He’s not apolitical, just busy getting by.
“I’m thinking less about politics and more about business, about the baby that’s due in December, about getting the hot tubs up and running.”
On the Centennial Trail, math teacher Jan Johnson - out for her daily bicycle ride - talks of trying to teach teenagers from dysfunctional families. She worries about children of single parents and kids who wander the street after midnight.
She has more to say about local politics than most. She opposes hydroplane races on Lake Coeur d’Alene, wants more law enforcement and longs for someone with a better environmental outlook than U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth.
“That’s what I screen politicians for,” Johnson says. “If we don’t have an environment, we don’t have human life.”
One hand on a garden hose, the other jammed in a pocket, Vietnam veteran Bobby Johnston, 49, alternately waters his plants and sprays off scampering grandchildren.
He’s annoyed that after 18 years in the same Rathdrum home - under the same lights - local officials want to tax him. For street lights.
“I can’t even get my road paved,” he says, exasperated.
Johnston made headlines in 1982 when he held three people hostage at gunpoint in Spokane’s Veterans Hospital, demanding treatment for an ailing kidney. No one was injured. Psychiatrists attributed his actions to delayed stress from the war, during which a bullet shattered his jaw and a mine mangled his leg.
After 10 years of probation and lots of psychiatric care, government still infuriates Johnston. “The VA gives me leg braces and I keep telling them they don’t work and they keep giving them to me,” he says. “That’s your taxes paying for that.”
He frets over presidential choices - “a draft dodger and an old man who doesn’t know what he wants.”
A few miles west, native Idahoan Kay Stairs unleashes frustration over growth in the Panhandle. No agency appears to maintain area boat ramps, she said. Traffic is unbearable.
When will the state put crossing lights at a dangerous nearby railroad crossing? Can she and her husband raise enough cash to buy a house?
Alan Washburn, meanwhile, has a happy marriage and few complaints.
The Rathdrum man is uneasy with America’s turn to the right, but can’t decide if he’ll support Clinton or Dole. He opposes defense budget cuts and opening wilderness to industry, but wants only limited restrictions on logging.
“There has to be more happy mediums,” he says.
Jay Turkovsky predicts the evolution of capitalism will bring down the country. Too many folks make too much money too easily.
Profits grow for bankers and Wall Streeters. Big business buys politicians and bypasses regulation. The poor get poorer.
It’s fueling an uprising, he says.
“Why is it we can build a new highway, but we can’t maintain an old one?” Turkovsky asks. “Because the system is broken.”
Benewah and Shoshone counties
At Yoke’s grocery store in Kellogg, Kris Pillen’s two daughters chase an ant across the floor.
“I’d like to see them have the freedom and choices I had when I was a kid,” Pillen says.
But the mother of six is pessimistic.
“I’d like to be able to say I expect it to be bright and cheery,” Pillen says quietly, “but I don’t. There’s so much crime and AIDS and drugs. It gets real complicated.”
On the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River, A.J. Folts stands behind the counter of his country store and looks out at the water.
He sells beef jerky, earthworms, beer, pickled eggs. He is considering adding an espresso machine. To discourage trouble, he keeps a blue-steel revolver in sight behind the counter.
In February, Cataldo flooded, and the store was 20 inches deep in water. He’d like to see the river dredged, but doubts it’ll happen.
“It used to be you could do pretty much whatever you want,” he says. “Now there’s too much environmentalism involved. It’s just gotten out of hand.”
The waters of the river run south, past Rose Lake to Medimont where Patti Scholz empties her trash.
“I’d like to see a little bit of balance between conservation and industry. Something sensible,” she says. “You can’t say no more logging in North Idaho and the Northwest.”
She, too, is pessimistic but figures it’s probably all moot. “I’m a Christian, and I think the Lord’s coming back really soon.”
That view is shared by two women at St. Maries’ Two Rivers Glass shop.
“The future depends on whether you’re a Christian or not,” says one. “The Christian knows what the future is.”
Still, both plan to vote in November.
“For whatever time that we do have, we want it to be pleasant,” the other woman says.
Across the street, Betty Roberts is headed for the bookstore. A button on her blouse reads “Hillary, the village is with you.”
Roberts is appalled by the country’s conservative swing. It’s hurt the environment and efforts to keep children from falling into cycles of poverty, she says.
“We can’t cave in to the right wing,” she says. “I think we’re going way too far to the right. They’re too pro-business.”
Bonner and Boundary counties
With his dog Maxi leading the way, Bill Kehrle strolls around a quiet Sandpoint neighborhood. The 66-year-old former New Jersey state trooper moved here three years ago to retire and ski.
Kehrle wonders how long he can survive in a tourist town on his pension and Social Security check.
“Right now I’m just keeping my head above water. The tax rates in town keep going up and up and up. I’m hoping I don’t have to go back to work.”
Taxes also weigh on Arnold Rains’ mind. He owns a gas station and convenience store in Kootenai, a small town east of Sandpoint.
A county assessor recently paid a visit to Rains’ home. He didn’t let her in, but he’s sure the assessed value of his home is going up next time he gets his tax bill.
“What we need in Idaho is something like Proposition 13 in California,” Rains says. “The value of your house should be what you pay for it, not what you can sell it for.”
The welfare system irks Melinda Propp, 39. “I see the wrong people, those on welfare and the uneducated, having too many children these days,” says Propp, a physical therapist’s assistant.
She knows a few young girls who got pregnant so the welfare system would pay for their education.
“It bothers me because really I am the one paying for it. This mentality of ‘We deserve this and the government owes us’ has got to change.”
Ray Castellon moved from California to Boise to get away from crime and crowds, but so far, he’s not optimistic.
“I don’t feel people have the same hopes and dreams of fulfilling the American dream as they did 50 years ago,” says Castellon, 32. “It’s not possible for me. That’s why our young people are turning to drugs and violence.”
Politics seem irrelevant, and he probably won’t vote.
“I think the greed in politics has clouded a lot of people’s priorities, the selfishness,” he says. “The issues they promote are backed by big business, big industry.”
Jock Holmes, 31, feels similar alienation, but always votes, usually Democratic.
The ideal member of Congress would be bringing communities together and “watching out for big corporate misuse of land and water,” he says.
Some in southern Idaho are distrustful of growth, because it seems like a shiny bubble that soon will pop. Karen Pratley, 46, sees $300,000 houses going in near her Meridian home, and wonders how anyone can afford to buy them.
The fundamentalist Christian supports Chenoweth, but finds few others she can enthusiastically endorse.
‘The way I look at things is from a moral standpoint,” she says. “I really think they ought to be role models, and they’re not.”
Salesman Dan Clark of Caldwell voted for Chenoweth, but, “now from what I’ve seen, I almost wish I wouldn’t have.”
Clark, 42, says he had hoped Chenoweth would bring fresh ideas to Congress, where he sees most members as “cookie-cutter types.” He includes Sen. Larry Craig in that definition.
“I can’t hardly stand to listen to the guy when he talks, he’s just so canned.”
Clark’s not sure he’ll vote. “I don’t believe these people get much done. I don’t have much faith in it.”
Neither does Richard Riener, 46, a Fruitland paving company manager.
“Rather than read the paper or watch TV and the news, I’d rather go fishing.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 8 Color photos
The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Craig Welch Staff writer Staff writers Ken Olsen, Kevin Keating, Rich Roesler and Betsy Russell contributed to this report.