Tilting at Winmills

By Michael H. O’Donnell

It has been a value-packed week where I witnessed a plethora of accusations about worthiness. They came from the usual suspects — like ultra-conservative groups and frightened townsfolk who fear a Muslim uprising in Pocatello. These folks provided a dizzying array of alarms about elitists, liberals, terrorists and gays.
But Gov. Butch Otter calling Senior U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill “someone who might not share Idaho values” came as a shocker as well as a disappointment. Butch took his shot at Winmill’s values during a Capital for a Day soiree in North Idaho.
And I took it personally. Lynn Winmill’s mom used to be my neighbor.
Carol Winmill is gone from this world now and our good governor is lucky that’s the case. She would have boxed Butch’s ears.
When I look out on the hillside next to my property I can still picture Carol wearing her garden hat and gloves. The woman planted more shrubs, flowers and trees along the edge of that property than someone half her age would have been able to do. The woman always blended her determination with a smile.
She was a good neighbor.
That worked to my advantage when her son Lynn received word that he had been appointed as a federal judge. The graduate of Snake River High School had already distinguished himself as student body president of Idaho State University and a graduate of Harvard Law School. He had practiced law with Pocatello’s Don Burnett, who is now interim president of the University of Idaho and dean of its law school. And Lynn had become a Sixth District judge in Pocatello.
Selection to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton was a major event and it deserved a feature story. The problem was Lynn was not someone comfortable with media exposure. As the managing editor of The Morning News in Blackfoot at the time, I needed that story so I talked to his mom.
She paved the way for a personal interview with Lynn himself.
Even today, I remember that opportunity to talk one-on-one with Judge Winmill. Little things like the family picture with his wife, Judy, and their four children on his desk remain clear.
He talked about his farm family upbringing in Bingham County and good teachers that helped pave the way for his college success and ultimate acceptance into Harvard Law School. He sang praises of ISU and admitted that he had to take his academic abilities to the next level to compete at Harvard.
“Everyone at Harvard was brilliant and very determined,” Winmill told me. “It’s easier to be a big fish in a small pond.”
As both a state district and federal judge, Winmill has demonstrated his strong understanding of the law and dedication to intellect and fairness. And he’s managed to help build a strong family with 40 years of marriage, four children and membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
So what value system is Gov. Otter addressing?
Later in his statement made in Craigmont, Idaho, the governor admonished voters to be on the lookout for judges who don’t meet his level of “enthusiasm for the marketplace and freedom.”
It’s the same kind twisted litmus test a group was hawking at a local recruitment meeting last week. Precious few meet the rigorous standard for their brand of constitutional devotion. Republicans Mike Simpson, John McCain and even Eric Cantor are not conservative enough to deserve their support.
“To save this country, true patriots have to be elected at all levels of government.” is their pitch. And they will decide who is truly patriotic and has the “correct principles.”
One day later some very outspoken community members stood before a large group of Muslims gathered inside Pocatello City Hall. The followers of Islam were there to secure a zoning variance for a mosque but instead were lectured by the non-Muslims in attendance about the dangers of Islam and the hatred contained in the Qur’an — the Muslim bible.
My mind couldn’t help but wonder how a group of LDS bishops would feel if a non-Mormon stood in front of them with a Book of Mormon in his hand and explained their faith to them. For good measure, he might remind them of how dangerous and evil their beliefs are.
Just like the good governor, people like this can justify their remarks because of a zero tolerance policy for those who don’t share “their values.”
Since these values include xenophobia, homophobia and conspiracies built on prejudice and fear, I’m not interested in sharing them.
I’ll throw my lot in with folks like Judge Winmill.

Michael H. O’Donnell is the assistant managing editor of the Idaho State Journal.