One messed-up Idaho quarter might be a fluke.
Back in 2007, the U.S. Mint issued its Idaho quarter, part of a series that recognized when the individual states joined the union. Idaho was 43rd in line.
There were any number of faces Idaho could have shown to the nation.
The Sawtooth Mountain Range.
Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Lake Pend Oreille.
The Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Instead, the Mint gave us the bird.
It placed on the quarter’s reverse side the image of a peregrine falcon.
Now granted, it is the state raptor.
Sure, Idaho conservationists at the Peregrine Fund brought the bird back from the brink of extinction.
Yes, Idaho is home to the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.
But it left Idahoans underwhelmed. A Boise television station’s poll found three-quarters of people didn’t like the design. They immediately began second-guessing former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who picked the peregrine over a mountain scene or the outline of the state with the state flower, the syringa.
But at least the peregrine was suitably depicted.
That’s more than you can say for the Mint’s latest endeavor to portray Idaho.
Due for release in November is a quarter commemorating the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in central Idaho.
There’s just one big problem.
Somehow, Church’s name has been omitted.
Fact is, Idaho would not have this wilderness were it not for Church.
The four-term Idaho Democrat was not one to play it safe politically, whether it was challenging Democratic President Lyndon Johnson’s conduct of the Vietnam War, or protecting some of Idaho’s most iconic backcountry from exploitation.
By the time he was passing the massive 2.3-million acre Central Idaho Wilderness Act of 1980, Church had helped pass the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Hells Canyon Recreation Area in 1975, and the Gospel Hump Wilderness in 1978.
Facing a tough reelection campaign that he would ultimately lose, Church was the only member of the Idaho congressional delegation — the other three were Republicans — to vote for the final bill.
Four years later, as Church was dying of cancer, U.S. Sen. Jim McClure, R-Idaho, sponsored a bill to rename the River of No Return in Church’s honor. President Ronald Reagan signed it into law.
It was a proud bipartisan moment for the state.
Today, people call it “the Frank” without knowing the background story behind it.
So why is Church’s name missing from the quarter?
As the Idaho Statesman’s Cynthia Sewell noted, the Mint refers to the proper name in its news releases and other descriptions of the product. But space on the quarter itself was limited.
Of course, there are ways around that.
How about “the Frank Wilderness”?
Or how about “Frank Church” at the coin’s top and “Wilderness” at the side?
Space limitations led to similar choices.
A new quarter showcasing Lowell National Historical Park in Massachusetts has the word “Lowell” printed across the top and “Massachusetts” on the left border.
Another quarter portraying the American Memorial Park in the Northern Mariana Islands manages to put “American Memorial Park” across the coin’s top with “N. Mariana Islands” on the left border.
And a third in the current series presents the War in the Pacific National Historical Park in Guam by presenting “War in the Pacific” across the top rim with “Guam” listed on the left side.
All of this caught Idaho’s congressional delegation by surprise when Sewell asked for an explanation. When the Mint presented a description, it used the Idaho wilderness’ full name.
Intentional or not, however, it’s being taken as a snub of Idaho’s last Democratic senator. Fueling that suspicion is some recent history: It wasn’t that long ago that Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, was willing to block a $1.3 trillion budget bill to stop the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus’ name from being added to the White Clouds Wilderness area.
In any event, U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, ought to be in a position to help. He’s chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. If he can’t get the quarter fixed, then Crapo should have it pulled. Better no quarter at all than one that insults the memory of a fine man. — M.T.