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Eye on Boise: Historical murals some think offensive will get new review

Renewed debate is emerging over two historical murals inside the former Ada County Courthouse that depict the lynching of a Native American man.

The building will reopen later this summer and will be home to the University of Idaho College of Law, the state law library and some functions of the Idaho Supreme Court.

Preservation Idaho, the state’s leading historic preservation group, sent a letter to UI officials asking that the murals not be covered, and all sides are calling for more dialogue on the murals’ future.

While some say the murals are offensive, others argue they are an important, if ugly, part of state history that shouldn’t be covered up.

Stefany Bales, university spokeswoman, said the use of the building, which will be called the Idaho Law & Justice Learning Center, has shifted. In 2008 and 2009, the Idaho Legislature held its sessions there while the state Capitol was being renovated; after a year of negotiations, the state agreed to keep the murals on display, with interpretive plaques prepared by the state Historical Society and approved by the state’s Indian tribes.

“It seems to us that it’s time to have another conversation about what to do with that mural, whether to leave it visible or not,” Bales said. “And that’s a conversation that has to happen with a group of stakeholders that I would suspect would look very much like the last group that came together to talk about it.”

In the meantime, she said, banners will be draped over the two offending murals.

“Idahoans have not destroyed the sites of the Bear River Massacre, the Minidoka Internment Camp, or Massacre Rocks State Park,” Paula Benson, Preservation Idaho president, said in her letter. “We deplore what happened at the sites but we acknowledge them so that we may reflect and learn from past mistakes.”

Janet Gallimore, director of the state Historical Society, said she’s glad there will be more discussion about the murals, which are part of a 1930s-era series that fills the central, open stairwell and lobby areas of the building.

“They are an important part of American history, they are an important part of Idaho history,” she said. “I believe it’s one of the most intact and significant bodies of its kind in the West.”

“History gives us context,” she said. “It gives us the opportunity to think and learn and to not necessarily repeat the mistakes of the past, so to the extent that we can use these murals as an educational opportunity and an opportunity for dialogue, that’s a good thing.”

Bob Geddes, the new director of the state Department of Administration, is familiar with the controversy. He was the president pro-tem of the Idaho Senate in 2007 and participated in the talks about the murals then.

“I guess we may have to do that process yet one more time,” he said. The Department of Administration owns the building on behalf of the state and is leasing it to the UI College of Law and the Idaho Supreme Court as tenants.

“Certainly we can’t destroy those murals. There’s value in those murals, and that was established,” he said. “We’ve given them the go-ahead if they want to drape those with something, but they should not destroy them or take away the plaques.”

Risch predicts ‘lone wolf’ attack

Idaho U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, who serves on the Senate intelligence and foreign relations committees, went on CNN last week and said he expects a “lone wolf” terrorist attack – like the one in Tunisia last month in which a gunman killed 38 people in an attack on sunbathing tourists at a beach resort – to happen here in the United States.

“I don’t think there’s any question about that,” Risch said.

“Look, these guys work really hard, our intelligence communities are very, very good. They’ve got to be right every day, 100 percent of the time,” Risch said. “The bad guys only have to be right once. If they do it enough, chances are they’re going to break through.”

Federal judge replacement …

A week after U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge took senior status on July 3, there’s still no word on a possible replacement. But the word in legal circles is that GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have submitted four names for consideration to the White House, and separately, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s office confirms that Bieter has submitted three names for consideration. As the mayor of the state’s largest city, Bieter is among Idaho’s highest-ranking elected officials who is of the same party as the president, a Democrat, who will select the nominee. It’s then up to the Senate to confirm the appointee.

The process is being closely watched in Idaho, in part because Idaho is one of just three states with only two full-time U.S. district judges. With Lodge’s retirement, it has just one, Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The state hasn’t gotten an additional judgeship in 60 years, though its caseloads have soared.

Crapo and Risch have been conducting a secret screening process since last fall for possible nominees to recommend, and have said little about it. Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s press secretary, said in an email, “The process is proceeding properly, but we are not at liberty to release details at this point.”

Political reporter Betsy Z. Russell writes theEye on Boise blog at www.spokesman.com/ boise.