On March 4, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill establishing the Idaho Territory. At that time, the Territory included large portions of Montana and Wyoming. By 1868, the Territory had been whittled down to its present somewhat awkward shape.
On March 4, 2014, just 151 years later, Governor Otter signed a bill proposed by former Rep. Linden Bateman, designating March 4 (or the 5th, if the 4th is a Sunday) as Idaho Day. The day was intended for Idahoans to “celebrate the rich history, cultural diversity, unique beauty and boundless resources of the State of Idaho and thereby gain a renewed sense of courage and confidence for the future.” We need that more than ever now.
What are those boundless resources that tie us together as Idahoans? Some are fairly obvious. Ever since territorial days, our economy has been primarily fueled by our natural resources. The greatest of those is the Snake River, which enters the State through Palisades Reservoir, runs the entire width of Idaho, meanders north along our boundary with Oregon and flows into Washington at Lewiston. That river ties us together in many ways--economically, politically and socially.
But, there is an even more important resource that binds us together--the people of this State. Despite our differences, Idahoans have always come together when the chips are down. Our citizens have always stepped to the front when their country needs them.
The theme of Idaho Day this year, “Idaho Remembers,” commemorates the 1918 armistice ending the First World War. An Idaho serviceman, Thomas Neibaur of Sugar City, earned a Congressional Medal of Honor in that war for his heroism in France. He has lots of distinguished company.
Since the establishment of Idaho Territory, 35 servicemen with strong connections to Idaho have received that high honor, starting with four from the Civil War. They were from every corner of the State and include Bernie Fisher of Kuna (Vietnam), Vernon Baker of St. Maries ( WWII), Gurdon Barter of Moscow/Viola (Civil War), David Bleak from Shelly (Korea), and William Nakamura from the Minidoka internment camp (WWII).
Every time the country has called, Idaho men and women have stepped forward to serve. They have been supported by their families, friends and neighbors. Those who returned were treated with respect and appreciation. Those who did not have been treated with honor and dignity. All of them have been a most valuable resource of this great State.
Idahoans should use Idaho Day as a time to reflect on how we can appreciate our fellow citizens and gain confidence to meet the future. We have gotten overly contentious and need to be respectful of those whose opinions differ from ours. Issues should be discussed on their merits, not on the perceived failings of their proponent. Leaders should lead, rather than going along to get along. People should not regard reasonable compromise as dirty business because it is what has made our state and country successful over the many years.
One of my favorite political sayings is attributed to President Lyndon Johnson--”Don’t spit in the soup, we all gotta eat.” We Idahoans are all in this life together and need to work together for the common good. Let’s rely on our strengths as one people and overcome our weaknesses. Have a wonderful and productive Idaho Day!
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Jim Jones is former Chief Justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and a frequent contributor to the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Press.