A dozen years ago, Statesman editors told retired Idaho Supreme Court Justice Byron Johnson that he'd have to translate to prose a poem he's submitted as a letter to the editor if he wanted it published. Poems are generally not allowed on the editorial pages. Last week, I had lunch with Johnson, whose memoir was the topic of my May 31 column.
Thanks to the miracle of electronic media and this blog, I believe it's time to revisit the question. Johnson hadn't forgotten what he considers a snub to a perfectly good art form. He'd declined the offer to turn poem to prose, but brought a copy of his poem to lunch.
Bear with me, this takes some set-up.
On May 7, 2000, Johnson wrote to endorse his former colleague, Justice Cathy Silak for re-election to the court over Dan Eismann. (She lost and Eismann remains on the five-member court).
Johnson's letter was titled, "Silak a good jurist," and said this:
"On May 23, 2000, the voters of Idaho will have the opportunity to vote for Supreme Court justice. My vote will be to reelect Justice Cathy Silak.
"During my almost 11 years as a member of the Idaho Supreme Court, I had the opportunity to serve six years with Justice Silak. From this experience I learned that Justice Silak is not only very intelligent and well-trained to be a judge of Idaho's highest court, but that she also is very hard working and conscientious in fulfilling her duties.
"Having worked with her on hundreds of cases, I can tell you that she is impartial and makes decisions based on the merits of the case, not on personal preferences. A vote for Justice Silak will ensure that the Supreme Court will continue to be a place where justice is done according to law, not according to someone's political agenda.
Byron Johnson, Idaho City"
That brought a quick response from Brian Rippy of Boise, whose letter was published May 16, under the headline, "Vote for Eismann."
"When they have to trot out old, tired liberals like Byron Johnson to take a not so subtle swipe at Judge Daniel Eismann, it tells me Eismann must be making some headway in his quest to defeat Justice Cathy Silak.
"The real political agenda belongs to Silak. When a judge can rule that Idaho's water belongs to the federal government when the law doesn't say that, Congress never intended that, nor did the federal government ever ask for the water, you know something is wrong.
We have a rare opportunity to put a stop to judicial activism. I urge you to vote in the May 23 primary for Eismann.
Brian Rippy, Boise"
Now, here's the poem Johnson wrote in response, titled "Tired Old Liberal."
That's what the letter to the editor
says I am.
I wondered why the writer
needed to put me down.
So maybe I am old
but tired, no!
and liberal, maybe.
Is it liberal to believe
To want justice
To honor all people
To stand up for those
who need help?
To give time and money
to those less fortunate?
To want peace
at home and everywhere?
To love and support
If so, I'm a liberal
not tired, and not old enough
To believe in lies
To want injustice
To discriminate against some people
To abandon those who need help
To keep my time and money for myself
To want war, and
To fail my family.