Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Save the Sentiment

As someone who has visited the Idaho State Historical Society dozens of times to look at more collections than I can probably count, a majority of them being gubernatorial records, I have for some time found the problems associated with former Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne's papers intriguing. That said, it should come as no surprise that Dan Popkey's interview of Kempthorne running in the Idaho Statesman today caught my attention.

First and foremost, it should be noted that I am thrilled that Kempthorne's papers finally made their way to the state history center. Having kept an eye on the status of his papers for several years (writing about it here, here, and here), I have heard nearly every excuse Kempthorne has offered as to why his papers weren't immediately transferred to the state archives as required by the law and one hundred years of precedent. All of those excuses were head-scratchers to be certain, but his comments today in the Statesman are a little bizarre in their own right:
Kempthorne said he chose the Historical Society [to house his papers] for its focus on gubernatorial records and the passion throughout the agency, starting with Director Janet Gallimore and running to volunteers like Julianne Ruby, who helps index his collection.

"I love history, and they have made this a priority," Kempthorne said. "It's humbling to know you're a part of this, but it is the story of many Idahoans. It's the story of citizenship and what was accomplished together."

Really, Dirk? I have a hard time believing that Governor Kempthorne has any respect for state history based on his withholding of the papers initially. Never mind the fiasco with the state quarter that resulted in it portraying none of our state history and culture, Kempthorne had to know that leaving his papers in storage, unattended, and without any restriction to staffers and who knows who else that may have waded into the papers in search of one item with no respect for the rest of the materials therein.

Instead of donating his papers immediately upon leaving office so that whomever he donated them could begin the tedious task of processing them, he continued to drag his feet. Even Popkey's article addresses the condition and status of the papers up until their donation:
"[The papers] had been hastily stored in space off the tunnels under the Capitol Mall. Mixed in with Kempthorne's stuff was a misplaced box from the Andrus years and 24 boxes from former Gov. Phil Batt."
Not only was he keeping government documents and materials of an historic nature from the public, the public who paid for their creation, he was unknowingly keeping papers from two other administrations from the public. The entire situation is unfortunate.

As to how Governor Kempthorne feels about his materials being housed in the state archives and that bit of sentiment he expressed to Popkey, I don't believe it. The problem isn't that Governor Kempthorne may have had anything to hide, the problem is that elected Republicans in this state don't have a very good track record when it comes to transparency and public consumption of their papers. Governor Batt's papers, by no fault of the Idaho State Historical Society where they are housed, are a complete mess and offer very little insight into his administration; It will be interesting to see what becomes of the twenty-four Batt boxes found with Kempthorne's papers. Senator Symms' papers at the College of Idaho remain in the Symms' apple boxes they were donated in and much of those materials are restricted to the public by Symms. And there's no telling what will happen with former Senator Craig's papers, but my guess is that he will donate them to the University of Idaho in his home district, contingent upon restrictions protecting case files (if he chooses to donate them) and legal matters stemming from his arrest in Minnesota. It is my understanding that both Orval and George Hansen's papers are also housed at the state archives, though I am not aware of their status or accessibility. Whatever happened to the papers of Helen Chenoweth remains a mystery. One collection, that of Senator McClure housed in Moscow at U of I, has been processed and is available with some usage restrictions until 2016.

Clearly, records related to the governance of this state over several decades with Republicans at the helm have not been a priority to the Republican party or its leaders. In contrast, Democrats who have served in statewide and federal positions in the past few decades have made their papers available, even at times when those papers have not been completely processed. The papers of former Governor Evans are housed at the state archives and available for research, though the processing is not entirely complete. Andrus' papers are available at Boise State, it was his prerogative to have them housed there instead of the state archive, and have been processed and arranged in a way advantageous to researchers. LaRocco's papers are also housed at BSU, completely processed and available for research. The papers of former Senator Church are available at BSU and are a remarkable testament to Frank Church and his contributions to this state. And despite the continued processing taking place on the papers of former Congressman Stallings, his papers are available at ISU and have been available to the public for some time now. In this realm, the obstructionist label could only be applied to the GOP.

What I had forgotten and was reminded of by Popkey's article is that Kempthorne's senatorial papers are housed at the University of Idaho. The fact that papers from one part of his career are available at one institution or repository and another part of his career available elsewhere creates accessibility problems for researchers, especially in this state so regionally divided. I have found that collections that are split between institutions as the Kempthorne papers are, prove to be the most frustrating and difficult for research purposes.

If Kempthorne does in fact hold any amount of sentiment in regard to the housing of his papers at the state archives, that doesn't rid him of blame for denying the people he once served access to those papers in a reasonable time frame.

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