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Sense Of The District Deep-Felt Frustrations Economic Insecurity, Social Decay Leave Region’s Voters Feeling There’s Nowhere To Turn

A one-time Plummer millworker can’t find a job.

A Deary log loader works, but infrequently.

A college-educated Nampa woman finds temporary employment but sees no future.

Little appears to trouble Idaho’s hardscrabble 1st Congressional District more than its economic insecurity.

From Bonners Ferry to Boise and from Moscow to Murray, nothing is more pressing for people than finding - and keeping - good-paying jobs.

While a job may be the greatest concern, it’s certainly not the only one.

During a weeklong sweep of the district this month, Spokesman-Review reporters found people expressing a deepening lack of empowerment and an uneasy conviction that schools and families are being undermined by an ever-more vulgar political culture.

As the election season starts, the frustration runs deep enough that some residents say they’ll vote just to keep politicians off balance.

“We put the Republicans in last time, let’s put the Democrats in next,” Rathdrum’s Kenny Womble, 61, said. “Keep ‘em stirred up.”

Coeur d’Alene, Hayden area

Dried windshield splatters reluctantly give way to William Hendrickson’s elbow grease and polishing rag outside a Coeur d’Alene Laundromat. He is intense. It’s as if cleaning his truck is satisfying because this task, unlike getting a fair shake from government, is within reach.

“I’m a small-business man and they aren’t giving me any tax breaks, they are giving the big corporations tax breaks,” said Hendrickson, a house painter.

Members of Congress, who promised to get government off people’s backs, want to regulate abortion and push school prayer, he reasoned. “Whose prayer are you going to put in schools?” Inside the Laundromat, Leslie Oswald worries her soon-to-be-born son won’t get the education he deserves. “Nobody cares about us; we really don’t have a say anymore.”

At Silver Lake Mall, education - and the need for public school uniforms - was high on the list of concerns for several people.

So was economic insecurity and taxes. Gary Weeks, 48, a draftsman, hasn’t been able to find work for four years and doesn’t expect to because of his age. “Instead of trying to fix a problem, (corporations) lay off people.”

Jennifer Smithson Weeks, a nurse, still works but is constantly threatened by cutbacks. “You used to think you would have a career, retire and draw your Social Security,” she said. “I don’t have a career - I have a job for however long they want me to have a job.”

Richard Marquez would be satisfied with a repeal of right-to-work laws that make it difficult for people to make a living, he said, strolling out of the Hayden Library with books about Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls under his arm.

“Everybody makes minimum wage to $5 an hour and housing prices are going higher and higher,” Marquez said. “Something is going to bust.”

At the new Safeway store in Coeur d’Alene, Timber Turner articulates what others have only been willing to mutter off the record. “I’m not into Pat Buchanan,” the single father said. “But he’s talking some good stuff - about corporations … he gets after the media too.”

Rural Kootenai County

Alone except for a daughter watching television in back, Cindy Murray smoothed out material at her tiny Bayview fabric store.

Business would be better in Hayden, she conceded, but here, just blocks from home, she is mother and breadwinner. Close families are important, she said, but politicians take so much in taxes that she and her husband both must work.

“We’re like drones and they’re like queen bees,” she said. “We’re working so they can make more money and live in big beehives. Our kids are paying for it.”

In a Rathdrum park, Sharon Babcock pushes her youngest child on a swing. The day-care worker sees an uneasy future brought by weak schools and irresponsible parents.

“My husband works 12 to 15 hours a day and he still finds more time for his kids than most people,” she said.

Parents eagerly dump their kids in school, she said. But classes aren’t challenging, government curriculums handicap good teachers and school counselors pin problems on families.

A mile away, barber Don Royse, 61, a soft-spoken widower who cares for an ill adult daughter, sees a culture driven by immediate gratification that has lost its priorities.

“Kids get married, they don’t get their own way, they get divorced,” he said. “We send billions and billions of dollars overseas when we could use the money at home.”

Kenny Womble understands. “Take this welfare reform,” he said from his desk at Rathdrum Feed and Mercantile. “If people can’t find work now, how’re they going to get jobs when we kick them off welfare in two years? Where’s the common sense?”

Southeast of Coeur d’Alene, Ronnita Kraack rifles through merchandise at a convenience store near Black Lake. Her daughter attends North Idaho College and her son-in-law recently left North Idaho for Spokane because he couldn’t find work as a laborer.

“I’m just not sure there’s a future for them here,” she said. “They love it here. All their friends are here. But what about jobs?”

Bonner and Boundary counties

Rick Dinning, 37, stood on the sidewalk under Bonners Ferry’s only stoplight chatting with a friend. He was headed back to his office, where he works for an investment company. It’s a good job but he worries about being able to afford health insurance for his wife and two children.

“I would rather spend the money on something else and think we need a reasonable national health-care program. There are a lot of people out there that just flat can’t afford health care.”

Down the street, Jim Blake, a retired 71-year-old, was getting a trim at the barber shop. He’s uptight about welfare and the millions of dollars doled out to people who should be working.

“I worked 72 hours a week for $4.50 and would go home and give it to my mom. Sometimes she would give me a quarter back and tell me not to spend it all in one place,” Blake barked. “I want some serious welfare reform and an end to the handouts. I would also like to see some honesty in politics, but I gave up on that years ago.”

Carisa Nail, 20, worked on a customer at Linda’s Hair Salon in Bonners Ferry. She worried about the future of this small logging town.

“All of us here are environmentalists but it’s those on the extreme end that make me nervous,” she said. “Logging is being shut down and the environmentalists keep trying to take more and more.”

Nancy Edwards, 52, works in a warehouse. “If you don’t have money when you come here it’s a struggle to make a living,” she said. “Housing is expensive and this is a minimum-wage town, if you are lucky enough to find that. I see people working 12-14 hours a day and they are overstressed and in debt financially.”

Edwards is frustrated by rising taxes and newcomers who push up property values. She doesn’t know what the solution is, but isn’t putting her faith in government.

“People aren’t getting their say-so and have lost trust in the government.”

Benewah and Shoshone counties

To a lot of people, “federal budget cuts” are a fuzzy abstraction.

Not to David Irvine. The 50-year-old Flathead Indian was working full-time in Plummer as a tribal government maintenance man until July, when his job was cut from eight hours a day to three or four hours. He lost half his pay and all his benefits.

“It just doesn’t seem to matter who they run through to get the (national) debt down,” Irvine said. “It’s working people who get hurt, not the rich.”

Irvine got his first job under a Carter administration job-training program. Such programs, he said, put more people to work, resulting in more taxes and a stable economy.

“The ‘60s were the boom times, we just didn’t realize it. They were sawing logs as fast as they could, trucks were hopping, the bars were full,” disabled logger Andy Jolliff, 48, said at the St. Maries’ Elks Lodge.

Now, he said, he watches hillsides of timber dying from disease.

“Mills want lumber, people want to cut. It’s just that bureaucrats won’t let them,” Joliff said.

Bar owner Patricia Judson, 47, was running errands on St. Maries’ Main Avenue. She’s tired of taxes, rising costs and government regulation.

“It’s hard to pinpoint and say this is what’s wrong, and this is what’s right,” she said. “We need to go back to a lot of old standards which worked for us in the past.”

Sweeping the parking lot in front of Everybody’s Pawnshop in Osburn, Rocky Palmer, 42, didn’t know whether he’ll bother to vote.

Last time, he favored Ross Perot. “That’s the first time I ever thought it was worth it,” he said. “He had straight answers. But then he backed out.”

Inside the store, his father, Marlin Palmer, 62, held out a Remington hunting rifle to a potential customer. Marlin Palmer was a lifelong Democrat - until 1992.

Palmer said he’s convinced the federal government is building secret detention camps and United Nations police bases in remote areas.

“I don’t think the Democrats are doing their jobs. What we’ve got running the country are reject attorneys. They used to think the people have a voice,” he said.

Still, he’s going to vote.

“You might have to close your eyes and turn away, but you’ve got to vote,” he said.

North-central Idaho

As a fisheries biologist, Tim Curet, 33, once snorkeled in search of salmonids up Potlatch Creek as it meanders through the flats of Bovill.

Federal cuts cost him his university job. His new employment brought him a substantial pay cut and a free trip back to Bovill. This time, he went to deliver beer.

Driving a truck for Latah Distributors has its pluses, most notably security, he said. That counts for the father of a baby boy.

“I’ve been worried about bringing kids into the world,” he said.

Sheila Loomis, 52, saw her health care costs jump $50 a month last year. This year, they went up $58 more.

“I figure at that rate we’ll be paying about $800 a month by the time we’re 63,” said Loomis, a house cleaner whose husband worked only eight months logging last year.

Karen Anderson may be isolated in Clarkia, but she takes in the political scene via satellite.

“I’m disappointed,” she said, “because I think they all lie and I’m getting tired of it.”

Politicians can’t agree on the budget. They continually vote along party lines. Nothing gets done.

“It’s ‘the Republican Party is the most important party in America’ and ‘the Democratic Party is the most important party in America.’ Instead they ought to get together.”

From where Paul Ward sits, which is in a log loader when there’s work to be had, some people are making too much money.

“When the guy who runs Microsoft can become a billionaire in such a short time, there’s something wrong there,” Ward, 64, said in downtown Deary.

Southern Idaho

Toni Buschine, 35, of Nampa, doesn’t think much about politics. “I’m looking for work right now, so that’s pretty much the only thing I think about.”

With a degree in advertising and experience in desktop publishing, Buschine didn’t think she’d have a problem finding a job in the Boise area after her divorce two years ago. But she’s floated from one part-time job to the next, and now plans to move to the Tacoma area.

“What I’ve found in Boise, you just can’t live on what you make,” she said. “There’s lots of housing, but it’s not really affordable.”

Charles Diaz, 24, worries he’ll end up doing the same. He’s taking a semester off from Boise State University to “try to get some bills taken care of.”

He’s working out of a tiny booth at a downtown parking lot. He wants to graduate and go into the probation and parole field. “I’d really like to stay in Idaho.”

Cynthia Wilcox, 33, previously manager of a sign company, recently started her own business in Boise.

“The big thing that’s on my mind is that I’m horribly overtaxed and also I’m overregulated,” she said.

She has a simple solution: “I would like to see us change Election Day to be the day after tax day, April 16. Then I don’t think we’d need term limits or anything.”

Wilcox said Idaho Rep. Helen Chenoweth is on the right track.

Three retirees who gather over coffee every Tuesday morning agree.

“She’s got the strength of her convictions,” said Bob Bancroft, 69, a retired Dow Chemical account manager. “Not a person like our president, who talks one way one day, another way the next day, depending on who he talks to.”

Better wages, more jobs and better schools are what Idaho needs, said Ron Stewart, 42, a construction worker. “With $5 or $10 an hour, how do you afford to rent?” Adam Nichols, 19, a BSU sophomore, said he eagerly awaited his first chance to vote in a presidential election, but now he’s disappointed in the candidates.

“I kind of feel that our generation’s gypped by the older generation,” he said, “basically taking over a country with so much debt and so many problems.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 3 Color photos Map: Making sense of the district

MEMO: The name of this occasional series was not published with this story.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Compiled by staff writers Craig Welch, Eric Sorensen, Betsy Z. Russell, Ken Olsen, Rich Roesler and Kevin Keating

The name of this occasional series was not published with this story.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Compiled by staff writers Craig Welch, Eric Sorensen, Betsy Z. Russell, Ken Olsen, Rich Roesler and Kevin Keating

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