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The Idafornia shirt

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The operative phrase used to be “don’t Californicate Idaho.”

Now, in the age of the meme, it’s an image, showing Idaho melded to the top of California, the merger called Idafornia.

On a shirt.

An artist from Nampa named Scott Pentzer created it, though the design is so simple almost anyone could have. Pentzer said he drew it in 2014 but didn’t bother putting it on a shirt or trying to sell it until very recently.

When he did, he got reaction. Fox News said on its website, “Within hours the internet lost its mind. After two hours on the Facebook page, the post garnered 200 comments.” More than 500 more were added to that before the post was killed. (Doesn’t take much for the internet to lose its mind.)

The image on it shows a single red fill outlined to the shape of Idaho perched on top of California, with the word “Idahfornia” within.

What’s the point? To note the real link between the states, what with so many Californians moving to Idaho - an estimated 21,000 of them in 2017, presumably as many or more last year. Most say they’ve moved to escape the high prices in California, which mainly means exploding housing prices in the coastal state. Buying a home in many of California’s urban areas has moved beyond middle-class capacity, but houses in Idaho are cheaper - albeit fast becoming more expensive, partly because Californians selling their old digs can afford to pay more. In turn, many Idahoans are being priced out in places like Boise.

Pentzer told the San Francisco Chronicle, "It tapped into a nerve or something. I know [California transplant resentment] is out there a bit, from some of the stories I heard. But I never knew Idahoans hated Californians that much."

There’s long been some California resentment. (And not only in Idaho: An Oregon governor’s famous plea to vacation in Oregon but not stay there was aimed largely at Californians.) And it goes back a long way: Aside from Native Americans and farmers from Utah, most of the early territorial settlers in Idaho, and many of its leading government and business leaders, were former Californians. That fact drew some sharp words even a century ago.

But what are the effects now of this growth driven in significant part by California?

Politically, the analysis on that has shifted over time. In the mid-eighties, when the modern California stream of newcomers got underway, there was for a while some thought that Idaho politics might veer left as a result of more moderate incoming people from the coast. Obviously, it didn’t turn out that way: Idaho seemed to be a magnet mainly for more conservative Californians, politically red people escaping a state getting steadily bluer.

But might some of that be changing now? I got an e-mail inquiry last week from a woman considering moving to Sandpoint but hesitating because she’d been hearing it might be overrun with racists and skinheads. Over time, the conservative flood of the last generation may thin out.

Many moving to the Boise area, meanwhile, seem to be arriving with the idea that it’s simply another modern American metro area - which it is - and the politics hasn’t been a large factor. That suggests a broader mainstream of people may be coming to Idaho, and if it continues it could lead to political moderation as well.

The Fox report quoted one Tweet as opining something reflecting that idea, after a fashion: "What happens when Californians flee their failed state but bring their failed political ideology with them? They transform Idaho into California. Cali used 2 b one of best states in the US, now it's the worst. Won't be long b4 Idaho turns from red to purple, then blue.”

That end result may be overstating things. But it’s a point to ponder.
 

Confronting loyalty

schmidt

It can be hard to confront a colleague with their misbehavior. I’ve done it a time or two and it sure got me to thinking about my loyalties. When I chose to act, it was out of a sense of loyalty to a purpose, a profession, a greater good that deserved my service. There were also times in my life I passed on the confrontation. I have some regrets.

Ronnie was a gifted high school athlete. He hit the goal post upright from forty yards out with a perfect spiral once at the end of a workout. “You lucky dog.” I said. “Bet me.” he said. He did it again 3 out of four times. He went off to a college career. For a while he led the nation in total offense and punting. I was at home for the summer visiting him when he got a call from his coach to come back for summer school to remain academically eligible. He hung up quietly. “You going back?” he shook his head. I wish to this day I’d confronted him, my friend.

Professions and the higher calling they claim can inspire loyalty in some. But confrontations can become messy; when the dirty laundry airs, some splashes on you and soils the profession. As a doctor, those were the hardest things I had to do, confront a colleague on their behavior. But I tried to be true to the ideals of the profession. I believed we all should be serving higher ideals.
In the political sphere confrontations are even more fraught. Loyalty to a greater good may just become loyalty to a party.

I served on an ethics committee as a freshman state Senator. The ethics complaint was lodged by my caucus leadership, Democrats. A Senator had chaired his committee that heard and voted on regulations that actually affected the Senator without revealing this conflict of interest. After days of adversarial testimony, it became clear to me the Senator had indeed violated Senate rules.

But he had not broken any laws and we were not going to be able to prove he had any substantial monetary gain from his actions: thus, no crime. On the third day of testimony I seconded the motion to dismiss the ethics complaint. This was over strong objections of fellow Democrats who wanted the hearings to keep going. I got a sense they saw political benefit in the proceedings. But when I voted to dismiss, I did not want my vote to mean he was not guilty. I said on the record that he had broken Senate rules but more, he had violated the public trust that makes representative government work.

As it turned out, though there was no official Idaho Senate censure or sanction, the Senator was beat in a primary election the coming spring. Maybe there is some wisdom in the voting electorate.

So, I’m wondering about our Idaho Senators, both loyal Republicans, who serve us in Washington. Just what is their loyalty? Does having this partisan conflict that has shuttered our government serve Idaho, our Union? Do you honestly believe spending $5B for a steel wall on our southern border is the proper use of our dear tax dollars?

To my father’s dying day he thought President Nixon had done no wrong and his resignation was a travesty, the fault of an over zealous press. He was a loyal Republican. Me, I was impressed that our Union could survive the scandal, the turmoil and come through; a nation with a loyalty to the rule of law. May we so be.
 

A supermajority session

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One decade ago, following the 2008 general election, something unusual happened at the Oregon Legislative Assembly: One party controlled both chambers with supermajority numbers.

Democrats held 18 of the 30 seats in the Senate, and 36 of the 60 seats in the House of Representatives. The numbers were significant, because since 1996 the Oregon Legislature has been required by the state constitution to obtain three-fifths of each chamber to approve "bills for passing revenue." Until 2009, neither party had controlled enough seats in both chambers to meet that requirement.

The 2009 session was ambitious for the Democrats. Its results included the Healthy Kids Act (for children's health care), major transportation projects (including the Newberg-Dundee bypass) - and significant tax increases to pay for it all, changing income and other tax levels.

In the 2010 election, Democrats lost their supermajority control. In the House, they lost enough seats to result in an even split - meaning joint control - with Republicans.

Now, a decade after all that, Democrats again have supermajorities in both chambers - just barely. They control 38 of the 60 House seats, and 18 of the 30 Senate seats. (One of the Democratic senators has been known to split from the caucus on certain votes from time to time.) A question for legislators this session is: How cautious might they be, considering recent history?

Some early indicators say: Not very. Governor Kate Brown, fresh off a campaign in which her opponent argued that schools have been underfunded, has proposed a $2 billion tax increase, intended mainly to boost public school funding.

One of the critical questions surrounding that will call for quick consideration: Exactly where should expanded funding go? Brown's proposal is aimed mainly at public schools. But higher education advocates point to persistent underfunding of the state's colleges and universities. Several organizations, including the Oregon Student Association (which includes college and university students) are pushing for as much as $2 billion more for higher education.

School funding may be getting a brighter spotlight this session than usual, but it is a perennial issue, and other perennials will sprout as well.

The high cost of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS) will come in for another examination, as in many past sessions. The scaling down of costs urged by its critics won't necessarily get a lot farther than it usually does (which is not very), but some new ideas are being broached. Among them, coming from at least one Democrat: Developing a new system of retirement planning for new public employees along the lines of a 401K system.

Greenhouse gas control, which was a hot topic in the last couple of sessions but did not get far, will be back. A planned "cap and invest" bill has been in development for weeks, and may be one of the hottest debate topics early in the session. Brown's proposed budget could provide some added impetus this year on the subject, since she is proposing creating a new Oregon Climate Authority which would help govern a state carbon marketplace.

The coming months will also, however, see a large collection of new, or at least newer, legislative proposals.

Affordable housing, the subject of the only constitutional amendment approved by voters on last year's general election ballot, will be the focus of several bills. What form the proposals may take is not clear yet, but an evident voter concern about the issue is likely to result in a strong push. One option mentioned by many legislators (and pushed by a group called the Community Alliance of Tenants): A statewide plan to set limits on rent prices.

Other hot-button topics may generate bills which have a rougher ride. Guns will be back for discussion with a proposal to increase penalties for owners who fail to secure their weapons. One bill summary suggests the new law could impose fines of $500 for a simple offense and up to four times as much if a child gains improper access to the gun. Senate President Peter Courtney of Salem is proposing Oregon toughen its driving under the influence legal limit, dropping the allowable level from a blood alcohol level of .08 now to .05. Only Utah has a limit that low.

Senator Floyd Prozanski, who in 2017 proposed an unsucessful measure which might lead to interstate commerce in cannabis, has said he may be back with a similar idea this session. A business group called the Craft Cannabis Alliance is proposing to do something similar. (The trade would apply only, of course, to states which like Oregon have legalized marijuana.)

How to pay for all the many ideas circulating? That's where much of the heat - and the critical nature of a Democratic supermajority - come into play. Plenty of tax proposals have surfaced, ranging from increases in minimum business taxes, to changes in kicker tax rebates, to changes in how property assessments (for tax purposes) are calculated. In most recent years passing these tax plans has been, if not impossible, then very difficult. They may be easier with supermajority Democratic control.

At least up to a point. Some Democrats may hit the caution button along the line, recognizing that Oregonian tolerance for tax increases, especially very many at any one time, is distinctly limited. The latter weeks and months of this year's session may hinge on that calculus of the desire to make improvements and advance services around the state, against the cost of paying for them.

The formal session begins in January 22, and runs to mid-summer. A short organizational session will run from January 14 to 17 and include formal swearing in, committee organization and bill introductions.
 

The people have spoken

jones

The Idaho Constitution flatly declares: “All political power is inherent in the people.” Those people established a government of elected representatives to carry out regular public business. However, they wisely reserved the right to initiate and pass laws when their representatives balk at carrying out the public’s wishes.

We witnessed the people properly taking the law into their own hands last November. For years, public polling indicated that the people wanted to expand the state’s Medicaid program to cover people who earned too much to qualify for coverage, but too little to get assistance under the Affordable Care Act. About 60,000 working folks fall into that gap.

After the Legislature failed year after year to carry out the will of the people, Idaho voters stepped up in record numbers to pass a people’s initiative expanding Medicaid. It is now the law of our state and deserves to be implemented in the form approved by a substantial majority of voters.

Much to his credit, Governor Brad Little has pledged to honor the decision of Idaho voters to expand the Medicaid program. He had promised to do so in his campaign and has just said he will seek implementation of the law in an “Idaho way.” In this case, an Idaho way would be exactly as set out in the measure approved by a 61% vote of Idahoans who went to the polls.

There are those who mean to sabotage the initiated law. The Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) has challenged the law in court, trying to frustrate the will of the people. The Attorney General has pointed out the substantial flaws in their case and the challenge is bound to fail (although I have no inside information as to how the Supreme Court might rule).

The IFF will likely turn to the Legislature in hopes of amending the new law to death. Rep. Fred Wood, an M.D. who chairs the House Health and Welfare Committee, says the law should be implemented just as approved by a landslide vote of the people. After all, the people hold ultimate political power in our fair state. They had a lengthy campaign to hear and consider both sides of the issue and decide how to vote.

There has been talk of adding work reporting requirements to the Medicaid program, even though there does not appear to be a problem with the current recipients, and the people in the gap are obviously working. Medicaid is an efficient medical program that keeps low-income people healthy at a reasonable cost to the public. Why complicate it with bureaucratic regulations?

The work requirements are likely violative of federal law and have been subject to court challenges for that reason in other states. A court challenge in Idaho would probably just result in the state having to shell out attorney fees for another flawed law.

A work requirement has been a headache in Arkansas, resulting in qualified workers being denied benefits because of complicated reporting requirements. The respected Kaiser Family Foundation reported on the merits of the issue in Implications of Work Requirements: What Does the Data Say? For those interested, it can be found at: www.kff.org/medicaid/issue-brief/implications-of-work-requirements-in-medicaid-what-does-the-data-say/.

We should assume that the people of Idaho are smart enough to exercise their ultimate policy-making power with wisdom and compassion. They should not be second-guessed by their elected representatives. Those voters who swarmed to the polls in record numbers voted both for a large Republican majority in the Legislature and a qualification-free Medicaid expansion. Should their decision be challenged on either count? The Legislature’s boss has spoken so it should follow those orders.
 

Dems have the hard road

rainey

The national political air is full of 2020 talk these days. For both parties.

Ohio Governor John Kasich seems ready to formalize his run against Trump. Jump in early, suck up media attention but, more importantly, get into the pockets of Republican fat cats. Wise move. To some extent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is doing the same with Dems.

The GOP field to take on Trump will be small. But, Democrats are coming out of the trees to float their names around. And that’s healthy. Shake out all the contenders, give ‘em their head and see who’s left by convention time. Like Republicans, they’re looking for big bucks because 2020 will be the most expensive fray ever. It’s also guaranteed to be the dirtiest race in our long history of presidential elections.

Several factors are concerning about all this. The first is Trump himself. Short of being in the slammer by then, when the Muller report comes out - and it will despite expected Republicans all-out effort to stop it - Trump’s immediate fate will be an open question.

Those disclosures will damage him. Whether it sinks his political future, we don’t know today. But, even if he escapes the crossbar hotel in the short term, he’ll still be damaged goods. We don’t know how the Muller results will play with Trump’s vaunted base. Safe to say, there’ll likely be some erosion.

The second concern is, if Trump’s in the race, which is nearly certain despite investigations and trials, and the Democrats decide on a woman candidate. The rest of us see nothing wrong with that. But, as he’s proven in the past, Trump will attempt to savage her. His previous attacks on Hillary Clinton and Warren guarantee a name-calling, how-she-looks-and-dresses, character assassination tirade. He doesn’t like or respect talented women professionals. Except Stormy.

Based on his previous treatment of women, a campaign based on issues will be completely overshadowed by sexually bigoted vitriol. Which the media will repeat ad nauseam.

A third danger is one I hear too many Democrats and “talking heads” repeating. Dems need “someone who can win.” Forget qualifications. Ignore the lack of experience and other necessary credentials. “We need someone who can win.”

Remember 2016? Trump ran against about the most qualified and experienced woman on the planet. A sure winner, right? And what did we get? A non-experienced, definitely unqualified male. Determining “who can win” in advance of actual voting has repeatedly been proven very difficult. Oh, there’s the occasional nutcase candidate everyone knows will lose. But, that’s rare.

Many of the names Democrats are bandying about at the moment clearly lack the necessary experience and breadth of knowledge we want to see in the White House. On that list, I’d put Harris, O’Rourke, Booker, Castro, Swalwell, Gabbard, Bloomberg and Inslee. Pick one with firsthand experience in foreign affairs, military, international economics and proven diplomatic skills. Good people but in need of a broader knowledge of - and experience in - such things.

The short list of very qualified Democrats, at least to me, has the names Biden and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. Especially Biden whose long history in the Senate not only includes the above requirements, but also professional - and in some instances - personal relationships with many world figures. In his own long tenure, Brown has had various committee posts that have proven invaluable. He’s also a low-key, soft-spoken thinker - good skills in themselves.

I’m not proposing Biden or Brown be presidential candidates; only pointing out the kind of well-rounded background a suitable nominee ought to have. Biden comes with his own negatives including a case of plagiarizing in the ‘70's which Trump would use as a political club.

The “someone-who-can-win” approach is a dangerous one. All recent presidents have acknowledged it’s not a “learn-on-the-job” situation. And, regardless of previous political background, they’ve also found the actual conditions of being president were much different from what they expected.

!n 2020, Republicans seem stuck with what they have. Democrats face a much harder path. The “who-can-win” argument versus someone with the all-important experience and knowledge necessary in a good president.

Right now it’s all talk and speculation. But, when the bell rings, Democrats had better have the right man. Or woman. Or both.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – January 14

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 7. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

The Idaho Legislature kicked off with a new speaker about the state of the state, Governor Brad Little. In Washington Senate committee assignments were parceled out, and Senator Jim Risch was named chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Idaho Legislature convened in its annual session for 2019 on January 7, and the first major item of business was, as usual, hearing from the governor in his state of the state address. Governor Brad Little is following through on his promises to increase teacher pay, make new investments in public education, eventually eliminate the grocery tax, and fully implement Proposition 2 related to Medicaid expansion during his first State of the State and Budget Address.

Senator Jim Risch on January 8 was elected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for the 116 th Congress. Notably, Risch is the third Idahoan to serve as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, following William Borah’s tenure from 1925-1933 and Frank Church’s two year term from 1979-1980.

As the newly-reelected Chairman of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, Senator Mike Crapo will maintain the bipartisan push he began in the previous Congress into the 116th Congress.

Representatives Mike Simpson and Russ Fulcher introduced legislation that would authorize important but routine maintenance at Smith Gulch on the Salmon River in Idaho. The bill would allow the use of limited maintenance equipment needed to maintain the routine functions and safety of the existing lodge.

Governor Brad Little announced that the Idaho Department of Correction said on January 9 he has appealed a U.S. District Court ruling that orders the State of Idaho to provide gender reassignment surgery to an inmate.

Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have introduced legislation, S.103, to establish an additional federal district judgeship in Idaho for the first time in more than sixty years.

State regulators have approved Rocky Mountain Power’s $8.5 million investment in efficiency programs in 2016 and 2017.

Idaho State University is investigating complaints received by a football player outlining unfair and targeted treatment by coaching staff. On Nov. 14, 2018, ISU received a written complaint from a current football player alleging inappropriate communication from a coach, a lack of playing time, an alleged assault by a coach during an away game, and the student-athlete being incorrectly informed about his eligibility status.

IMAGE The group backing Medicaid expansion in Idaho, Closing the Gap, held a press conference on the subject just after Governor Brad Little’s state of the state address. (photo/Close the Gap)
 

The real crisis

richardson

In his speech from the Oval Office, Trump dwelled on a handful of grisly scenarios, relating in detail violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens by undocumented people.

He did this well-knowing that undocumented individuals commit violent crimes (indeed all crimes) at a per capita rate far lower than that of U.S. citizens. Yet, in his relentless demand for billions of taxpayer dollars to fund his foolish wall the demagogue asked, "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?"

When he posed this question, I had a brief and fleeting thought -- what if he had issued this call for action not in response to a non-existent crisis on our southern border, but in response to the real, tangible, documented epidemic of gun violence?

What if "Congress" doing "its job" meant enacting reasonable and constitutionally sound gun safety legislation supported by the vast majority of Americans, legislation requiring universal background checks, allowing the CDC to conduct research on gun violence, and re-instating the assault weapons ban?
What if "American blood shed" referred to the more than one hundred thousand Americans who are shot each year in murders, assaults, suicides & suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, or by police intervention?

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has the chilling numbers: almost 90,000 Americans are injured and 35,000 Americans die each year from gun violence.

Border security is an important topic and it needs to be responsibly addressed, but there is no border crisis. I want to hear a prime time speech about a real crisis, the need to end the bloodshed resulting from the NRA's toxic policies and the inaction of morally bankrupt politicians in its thrall.

So now I ask: "When it comes to gun violence, how much more American blood must be shed before Congress -- and the president -- do their jobs?"
 

What Little said, and didn’t

johnson

Like many State of the State speeches by Idaho governors, Brad Little’s first speech to a joint session of the Legislature this week was notable for what the new governor said and what he left unsaid.

No one will accuse Little of scaling many oratorical heights, but his compact, workmanlike 35-minute address did help to both establish his agenda and begin to define his governorship as distinct from outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. Little paid tribute to his political partner for the past decade, but then pivoted on a dime and said, “I stand here today not to reminisce about Idaho’s past, but to look to our future.”

The Otter era is over and something new is beginning to unfold.

Little’s rhetoric about the importance of improving education in Idaho was short of aspirational flurries, but the sentiment he expressed about the importance of education seems entirely genuine.

“I know there’s a strong correlation between our education system and the attractiveness of our state to entrepreneurs and businesses,” Little said. “Most importantly, a strong education system helps ensure we keep our best and brightest here in Idaho.”

The challenge to Idaho of keeping the best of the state’s talent at home to gain an education and then land a good job will only increase, and Little seems to instinctively grasp that better schools equal a better economy. His stated determination to keep education at the head of his agenda will serve him well and, I suspect, eventually put him at odds with the skinflints in the Legislature. And that highlights what was left unsaid by the new governor.

There was virtually nothing in Little’s speech to challenge the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature and in fact he took two potentially contentious issues off the Legislature’s plate, at least temporarily.

By finessing the first half-year funding for the Medicaid expansion approved overwhelmingly by voters in November, Little left that fight for next year.

Likewise, while citing uncertainty about state revenue collections, the governor effectively postponed another battle about eliminating the sales tax from grocery purchases, a position he had campaigned on but now acknowledges he lacks the cash to pay for.

In politics, a decision postponed is a decision made and this can was kicked down the road. We’ll see how long the can keeps rolling.

To his credit, the new governor stepped up to assume responsibility for what he called “accountability to Idahoans” for such things as the recent customer service snafus with driver’s licenses. But pointedly Little did not extend the idea of accountability to the ethics of lawmakers or to improvements in campaign and personal financial disclosure, areas where Idaho continues to be very old school and very far from transparent.

Little also declined to challenge legislators with any big plans for really addressing Idaho’s woeful record of high school graduates advancing to further education.

He passed on pushing for meaningful pre-kindergarten education, an initiative broadly supported by the business community and by virtually everyone who understands the importance of giving kids an early educational launching pad. The Legislature has long dithered on such issues and this year at least the new governor seems content to let the dithering continue.

As Boise State University professor Stephanie Witt wisely pointed out, the governor’s speech was also devoid of “fed bashing,” and happily so.

Poking a stick at a federal agency or two has been a standard feature of State of the State speeches in the recent past. Instead, Little struck a cooperative, collaborative tone with talk of working with public land managers. Little’s approach is a welcome change, especially if he sticks with it.

Also missing entirely from Little’s accounting of the State of the State was anything about great and pressing issues that consume Washington, D.C., and threaten the economy.

“Idaho remains a heavily trade-dependent state,” Little said, “with around $2 billion in agricultural exports. When markets are open, agriculture makes the most of those opportunities. When markets are disrupted, we feel it.”

Well, markets are being disrupted, thanks to the simple-minded trade policies of a president who never met a market he didn’t seek to upset. Idaho’s dairy, fruit and potato growers, even the state’s upstart brewing industry, have felt the sting and there was no mention of Idaho’s trade future in China and Mexico, where the state actually has offices to push exports.

One has to assume that pointing out unwise trade policies promulgated by a Republican administration, even when those policies hurt Idaho industries, is apparently too sensitive an issue to raise in a room where 84 of the 105 legislators are Republican.

No single speech, even a new governor’s first State of State, can possibly articulate the full vision of a new administration.

Little may have wisely limited his first year agenda to schools, keeping the economy strong and providing careful stewardship of the state budget. What the governor’s vision lacks in aspiration is balanced by its careful and modest practicality.

Little’s real test will be whether he’s willing to use the full power of the office he now holds to shape legislative outcomes he truly cares about.

His predecessor often seemed reluctant to engage and occasionally confront a Legislature that has rarely in Idaho history cared much about what George H.W. Bush famously called “the vision thing.”

Governors can, if they wish, create a vision and with real leadership push and pull a Legislature to be better than the status quo. Little has all the necessary preparation for the job. His first big speech provided some broad brush hints at what he wants to do.

Check back in April to see if he leads the Legislature or if, more in the style of Otter, he affirms what lawmakers ultimately decide to do.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.
 

Brad speech, Butch speech

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Brad Little now has two major addresses - inaugural and state of the state - under his belt as Idaho governor, and they might have given a focused indication of what he will do.

But not exactly. We’re probably going to have to keep watching to figure that out.

The speeches were capable, professional and appropriate. But they were not revelatory; he almost seemed to be holding back rather than expounding on how he thought things should be.

The inaugural was a hello, a thanks and a pointer to the upcoming state of the state speech, delivered as usual on the first day of the Idaho Legislature regular session.

That speech, at about 4,000 words, was shorter than all but one of predecessor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s speeches (and maybe even shorter than that one, from 2017). But otherwise, beyond a slight difference in tone - attributable to different personalities - Little’s address was a lot like most of Otter’s. Little, of course, was present to watch and learn from his predecessor; he was on the podium just behind Otter while most were delivered.

Some of Otter’s earlier speeches leaned heavy on ideology: free markets, limited government, Washington is awful, etc. The last of those came in 2011, and since then Otter - while of course never leaving his philosophy behind - spent most of his SOS speeches talking about policy specifics.

Senate Democratic leader Michelle Stennett was quoted as saying of the Little speech, “I did a happy dance. Because really, much of what he said is something that as Democrats we have been talking about and trying to pass for 10 years — at least as long as I’ve been here. ... Education, the highlights of his speech, are things that we have been working very hard toward.”

That suggests this speech marked a clear change in direction from the last gubernatorial dozen years (at least). Maybe that will materialize, but the speech provided little evidence.

I asked one veteran observer of these speeches what differences he saw; he cited a higher visibility for the first lady and representatives of the state’s Indian tribes, and no real Washington-bashing. But that was about all.

Consider education, to which Little devoted a large chunk of his speech. He had quite a few specifics on offer and some policy changes, though nothing as prospectively dramatic as Otter’s recent proposal to upend the structure of Idaho higher education. But then, Otter has talked about education quite a bit too. In all of his last half-dozen speeches, at least, he devoted about as much discussion to education as Little did. Education accounted for almost a quarter of his longest address, in 2018. And he put his discussion of it in strong terms, as when he started in 2013 by saying, "Like you, my highest priority remains public schools."

The most-noted specific in Little’s speech: “On election day over 60% of voters approved Medicaid expansion. For months I made it clear I would honor the will of the people. I intend to work with you to implement Medicaid expansion using an Idaho approach. We need spring in our safety net so that there are multiple pathways for the gap population to move off Medicaid and onto private coverage.”

The first part seemed definitive enough, but what did the last part mean? Was he calling for work requirements, and if so what kind, or something else, or would that be a misreading? What are the parameters he would or would not accept? Little’s short statement on the subject was treated almost as a break from Otter, but Otter repeatedly (albeit unsuccessfully) tried various compromise approaches in the Medicaid-expansion area, up to and including 2018. Would Otter have said something much different about the Medicaid initiative if he were still governor today? Not a bad question.

How the Little Administration will differ from the Otter Administration, other than in personnel (locus of many changes) is something we’ll need more time to process.