You didn’t read about it in the newspapers or see it on television, but Democrats and Republicans packed the Lincoln County Courthouse last week in Shoshone. We didn’t duke it out in the courtroom, it wasn’t that kind of gathering. There were no plaintiffs or defendants to speak of — just concerned citizens and government officials. We did not address a judge, we addressed each other. Our cause was a common one: to help save a small Idaho town.
Along with us was Rep. Steven Miller, two Lincoln County commissioners, including Rebecca Wood who coordinated the meeting, Shoshone’s police chief, school officials, a member of Shoshone’s city council and other regional state officials. At stake was the future of the Idaho Transportation Department District Four headquarters in Shoshone. Our goal: to keep it there. It’s not often that the status of a 50-year-old building warrants this kind of attention, but there was a larger issue at play. Idaho’s rural small towns are in jeopardy and Shoshone was in the crosshairs that day.
By now you’ve heard the story. The ITD building in Shoshone is well past its prime. Rather than renovate the current structure the ITD determined it would be cheaper to simply move the District Four headquarters to a new location. The lowest cost option would be to move it somewhere else in Shoshone. However, the board is also considering moving it to the Twin Falls/Jerome area. The ITD employs about 60 people in Shoshone. For a town of 1,500 people, that’s a lot. If the ITD moves its district headquarters out of Shoshone, the estimated annual economic impact on the city and Lincoln County is $300,000 — every year.
Despite what you may read or hear, Idaho Democrats and Republicans get along pretty well, especially that day. We were there for the local farmers and ranchers who gathered for coffee that morning in the Manhattan Cafe and the Phillips 66 to talk about feed prices; for the young school children who gathered to get their pictures taken in front of the “Welcome to Shoshone” mural in downtown; and for the dozens of people who go to work every day at the ITD in Shoshone. While those who live in the region’s larger cities may find these scenes a little hokey, there is nothing hokey about the people who make their lives in Idaho’s small towns — many of which are literally fighting for survival.
The ITD board meeting room was packed that afternoon. It was probably the biggest crowd for such a meeting in recent memory. We each took our turn at the podium making the case for keeping the ITD in Shoshone. At one point, a board member asked Rep. Miller where he lived. “Fairfield,” Miller responded. “Just up the creek from Sally (Toone).” Rep. Toone lives in the comparatively “large” town of Gooding, population 3,500. You’re welcome to plug in “Fairfield” and “Gooding” into your GPS, but I doubt your phone will tell you they’re “just up the creek” from one another. Still, the people of Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties know exactly what Rep. Miller was talking about. Small-town folks don’t need a GPS to find their neighbor, no matter what political party they belong to.
Speaker after speaker made their case for Shoshone. While the fate of a building was the specific topic at issue, each presenter evoked a larger, more meaningful theme. This board meeting was about much more than some 50-year-old structure. It was about a community. The message seemed to get across to at least a couple of the board members who expressed empathy for Shoshone’s plight. In the end though, the board approved a resolution that indicates the ITD is prepared to pack its bags for a bigger city. A final decision is expected as early as October.
At its root, politics is about people. Literally. The word “politics” is derived, in part, from the Greek words “polites” which means citizen and “polis” which means city or community. As politicians, we lose sight of that sometimes. But that day we fought for the citizens of a small Idaho community that may lose 60 jobs. If that happens, “up the creek” may take on a new meaning in the city of Shoshone.
If you feel the same way, call 208-886-7800 and tell ITD to do its part for Idaho’s small towns before it’s too late.