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Tuesday, June 2, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Train travel could be moving south

By Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – The nation’s passenger rail service now serves only one city in Idaho – Sandpoint. The entire southern portion of the state has been without Amtrak service ever since the elimination of the Pioneer Route in 1997.

But under new legislation approved by Congress, at the urging of Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, Amtrak will start looking into the possibility of restoring service to Southern Idaho.

Congress has approved – though not yet funded – a major reauthorization of Amtrak that steps up safety requirements in an effort to prevent crashes like the recent one that killed two dozen people in Los Angeles; authorizes studies of high-speed rail corridors around the country; and holds the potential for major expansion of the rail service that’s languished for years in the federal budget arena.

Crapo wrote an amendment to the bill requiring a study of restoring the Pioneer line, which once ran through such southern Idaho cities as Nampa, Shoshone and Pocatello. He’s been pushing for such a study since he came to the Senate in 1999.

“Funding shortfalls caused us to put the study on the shelf then, but we never gave up on the idea,” Crapo said. “Now, Amtrak ridership is up by 12 percent to 13 percent around the country. If Idahoans get the opportunity to ride the rails again, I’m confident we can see similar increases in ridership. Let’s hope we can rekindle the interest and follow through on these commitments from Amtrak to make passenger service to Idaho cities a reality again.”

Rhapsody on the blue

First there’s the blue turf. Now a blue piano, tinkling with the azure stylings of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” and all in the midst of a football game? That’s the plan.

Boise State University is launching a push to raise money to purchase 56 new Steinway pianos for its music department, which would make BSU one of 63 “all-Steinway” schools in the country and the only one in Idaho, joining such national musical collegiate luminaries as Juilliard School, the Curtis Institute of Music and the Eastman School of Music. It’s the brainchild of Jim Ogle, special assistant to the president at BSU and conductor emeritus of the Boise Philharmonic.

To kick off the effort, a unique dark-blue, sparkling Steinway grand piano will be wheeled onto the blue turf at the 50-yard line during the BSU game against Hawaii on Oct. 17, and BSU music department chairman Mark Hansen will perform “Rhapsody in Blue.” Ogle said the event “could only happen in Boise.” The special blue piano is on loan to BSU through early November.

‘Voting is your right and it’s free’

Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and Secretary of State Ben Ysursa are warning Idahoans about fee-based offers that claim to be providing voter registration. Among them: The commercial Web site offers voter registration to citizens at a cost of $9.95. However, free voter registration assistance is available through the Secretary of State’s office by going to, and Wasden expressed concerns about the commercial site’s requests for personal information.

“You should always be suspicious when someone wants you to pay for something that you can do for free,” Wasden said. “No one should ever have to pay to exercise their right to vote.” Said Ysursa, “My office provides voter information and services at no cost through the state Web site. Voter registration forms are available online at our site or from any county clerk’s office. Eligible voters can also register at the polls on election day with proper photo ID and proof of residence in their precinct.”

Two polls, two different results

This must be how we know we have a hot race in Idaho for the 1st Congressional District: Two new polls are out, showing opposite results.

One, conducted by Greg Smith & Associates Sept. 25-30 of 200 likely Idaho voters, showed incumbent Rep. Bill Sali leading Democratic challenger Walt Minnick, 51 percent to 39 percent. The other, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research Inc. Sept. 25-28 of 400 registered Idaho voters, showed Minnick leading Sali, 44 percent to 38 percent.

The Greg Smith poll was commissioned by the Idaho Republican Party, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 7 percent. The Harstad poll was commissioned by the Minnick campaign and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent. Smith said his poll shows that “Bill Sali is ahead – he is ahead, period.” Harstad said its poll, which also showed Sali with 38 percent favorability ratings to 41 percent unfavorable, “reveals Sali’s unique vulnerability.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or For more news from Boise go to boise.

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