Press "Enter" to skip to content

Don’t count on Congress

Round and round we go, and we all know where this stops. It’s Nov. 17, when Congress will face another chapter of tired talks about a government-shutdown.

There’s no telling who will be speaker of the House by then since House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (who was booted from his job) dared to rely on Democrats to push through a 45-day stop-gap measure to keep the government operating. The drama with the speakership, along with Hunter Biden and the possible impeachment of President Biden will provide enough distractions from the job that Congress should be doing with appropriations.

In theory, the stop-gap bill gives Congress time to work out differences with the budget. In practice with a divided government, there’s a greater chance that nothing will be done. If we’re lucky, we’ll get another stop-gap measure on Nov. 17 that will keep the government running for another month or two.

It’s a shame that it comes down to this. What’s amazing is there are those in Congress who think that shutting down the government is sound policy, as if all problems will be solved by refusing to sign off on a dozen appropriations bills. A lot of people get hurt by government shutdowns, but not members of Congress. They get paid regardless.

Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, favors a more sensible approach. As he wrote in a recent commentary, “letting the government shut down is neither good policy or good politics.”

He’s entirely correct – although that attitude will never land him an invite to join the House Freedom Caucus (he’s not interested anyway). Fellow Idaho Congressman Russ Fulcher, who is part of the Freedom Caucus, predictably voted against the stop-gap bill. Given the nature of his district, there’s no question that his job would be on the line if he voted otherwise.

Through this entire process, I have supported efforts to keep the government funded, control spending and end chaos at the Southern border,” Fulcher said. “Unfortunately, the most recent continuing resolution does not address these pressing matters my constituents want addressed.”

House conservatives do have a point. Spending is out of control and has been for a long time. The national debt is more than $33 trillion with no signs of slowing down, and it continues to grow no matter what party controls the White House.

But in these shutdown debates, detractors are nibbling at the edges. The focus is on discretionary spending, the 25-30 percent of the budget that Congress can control. If all discretionary spending were eliminated, including national defense, we’d still be drowning with the deficit. The problem is the 70-75 percent of the budget that Congress cannot touch – the so-called “entitlement” spending, which includes Social Security and Medicare. The fiscal crisis will never be resolved until Congress approves relevant reforms for the next generations. It’s as simple as that.

Ah, but there’s so much juicy political theater that goes with these shutdown talks. Members of Congress can draw lines in the sand, point fingers, puff out their chests and show all their constituents back home how they are trying to bring spending under control. Who cares about the millions of people who get hurt in the process, such as military men and women, border agents and air-traffic controllers.

These political games have very real consequences for your friends and neighbors,” Simpson wrote. “To Idaho, a government shutdown means thousands of furloughs for government workers and contractors, no new vouchers to homeless veterans through the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a halt to U.S. Small Business Administration loans, and the closure of our national parks, just to name a few impacts.”

Simpson isn’t the only one in Idaho’s delegation who holds a dim view of government shutdowns. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch voted for the temporary resolution and issued a joint statement.

Government shutdowns hurt taxpayers. This legislation will keep the government’s lights on while ensuring our troops and border agents receive the pay they have earned. During this time, we will continue to advocate for a long-term funding solution that saves taxpayer dollars and serves the needs of Idahoans.”

Good luck with that. Government operations are safe until Nov. 17, and there are no guarantees after that. Keep your expectations low as far as the ability of Congress to find a long-lasting solution to this fiscal mess.

After all, these are the “honorable” men who helped give us this $33 trillion debt in the first place.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at


New blood

What the Hell is wrong with Republicans in the U.S. House?

Speaking as someone who’s lived a long life and, one who has a penchant for following this country’s political affairs, I hasten to ask, “What the Hell is going on?”

House Republicans have been a pain in the ass for several years. But, the current crop has simply gone bananas.

An impeachment committee, looking for evidence it can’t find, trying to embarrass a sitting President whose done nothing impeachable. A President who could conduct a graduate-level course in politics that most of them couldn’t pass. A “special” committee trying to find “evidence” that doesn’t exist? Really?

There are 221 GOP’ers in the House. Most are sane. Most are there to do the people’s work. Most have a sense of the importance of the positions they hold. The history. The responsibility.


About 40 of those folks have no understanding of their roles in our democracy. They don’t understand the real work that must be done. They offer nothing in the way of responsible legislation. They produce nothing constructive. They make noises and clutter the atmosphere with baseless charges and personal antics that should be embarrassing. At least to them. ‘Cause they’re certainly embarrassing to the rest of us.

If those cretins were workers at a business in the private sector, it’s doubtful they’d be long-employed, given their disgraceful antics.
Facing the 2024 national election, you have to wonder if the folks at home will send these miscreants back for another term.

I know. I know. Your good guy is my bad guy and my good guy is your bad guy. Heard it all before.

But, Boebert? Taylor-Green? Gaetz? Biggs? Really?

All of this is getting out of hand. What’s needed is a Speaker of the House who will “crack the whip” and get things quickly straightened out. Gonna happen? Ya think?

The current Speaker is not up to the job. He’s proven time and time again he really doesn’t understand all the details. Kevin McCarthy, busy trying to hang onto that job, sold his soul to “the devil” to get it and, given ample evidence of his ego, he now must dance to the “devil’s” tune to keep it. Right now, he’s on very shaky ground. The situation is so bad Kevin can’t even introduce Senate-passed bills.

And, the next one introduced may be one to vote Kevin out of his job.

The U.S. House appears to be very close to being ungovernable. There are so many caucuses of this and that. Little groups of 10 to 40 that vote as a block. In close votes, one or more can make a difference.

The Senate, while splintered in philosophy as well, seems to be able to get its work done. How long that will last is anyone’s guess.

Looking down the political road to the election of 2024, that one is going to be absolutely critical. If there is any chance to weed out the miscreants and replace the wrong-doers with new, younger folks to get things back on track, November 4th, 2024 is the ‘drop dead’ date.

This time around, we can’t keep voting for the same old names. What’s needed now is ‘new blood.’ Fresh faces. Ages between 40 and 60. Either party. Younger people, some with legislative experience at home.

‘New blood’


In the public service

Some folks have a hard time understanding why people would devote an entire career to serving the public when private employment generally pays more. You might have to put yourself in the shoes of a career public servant to gain an understanding of what motivates them. I had that privilege when I began 8 years as Idaho Attorney General in January 1983. What caused me to reflect was a recent obituary of such a person.

Stephen Goddard passed away on August 30, doing what he loved–bird hunting in the mountains. He spent 24 years working as a Deputy Attorney General (DAG) at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. His job was to act as legal counsel for the Department–to represent and advise its employees in official legal matters.

Just a few weeks after I took office, the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled a March argument in a case filed against Oregon and Washington by former AG Wayne Kidwell for their overfishing of our salmon and steelhead runs. I spent two weeks ahead of time in Washington with Steve, a fish biologist and about 20 banker boxes of case records to prepare. Thanks to Steve’s expertise, I was well prepared for the argument.

Steve’s enthusiasm for these magnificent fish rubbed off on me and made clear the need to do everything possible to prevent their extinction. By the time of the argument, it was obvious to me that they would never be safe so long as the four dams on the lower Snake River remained intact.

As fate would have it, Steve’s wife, Leslie, was also deeply involved in another issue that would greatly influence my future years. Leslie was a DAG working with the Idaho Human Rights Commission. The Commission Chair, Marilyn Shuler, asked for my help in getting a malicious harassment bill passed to combat the Aryan Nations hate group in Kootenai County, and human rights became embedded in my heart. I worked with the Commission and Leslie on human rights issues from that time. Leslie was dedicated to the issue during her 17 years as DAG and then ten more years as Commission chair.

A third issue that came to define my tenure as AG was pending when I walked in the door–the Snake River water rights struggle with Idaho Power Company, known as the Swan Falls water fight. It essentially boiled down to whether the State or Idaho Power would control Snake River flows. I won’t go into the details, but it was one of Idaho’s major water rights controversies since statehood. Anyone interested can check out a book entitled, A Little Dam Problem-How Idaho almost lost control of the Snake River.

The State eventually reached a favorable settlement with the power company, but it could not have happened without close cooperation between my office and that of former Democratic Governor John Evans, as well as the extraordinary legal talents of Clive Strong, who I hired to lead my side of the effort. Clive served 34 years with the office and became known across the U. S. as a water and natural resources expert.

During most of my tenure as AG, the person responsible for ensuring high quality work throughout the office was my Chief Deputy, Jack McMahon. I never asked employees their political or policy preferences. It was not relevant to the work in any respect. These were lawyers, not politicians. There were certain political functions that I needed to attend as an elected official, but my staff had no business being involved. The AG’s office is the state’s largest law firm and must act strictly as a legal office, not a political operation. I must admit that I was aware that Jack was a Democrat–it was widely known–but that was beside the point in my view. He was a darn good lawyer and administrator. That’s what counted.

When we hear that someone is “just” a state lawyer or other employee, we should remember that most of these people are in those positions because they enjoy serving the public. They believe that their work is important to the functioning of society. Most put a higher priority on satisfaction with their work than the salary level for their job. Next time you encounter one, thank them for their service.


Oregon 5 and 6 lean differently

Oregon’s neighboring 5th and 6th Congressional districts are, politically, a lot more different than they may have seemed last November.

In the days following the November 2022 election, they were in a similar position: Both featured races so close that days would pass before the winner became clear.

The final result showed the 5th District going to Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer, leading her Democratic opponent by 2.1% of the vote, and the 6th to Democrat Andrea Salinas, who prevailed by 2.4%. DeRemer faced a stronger opponent than Salinas did.

Both will be competitive districts in the 2024 races, and both are expected to feature the incumbents. Opposition from the losing party in 2022 already has surfaced in both cases, and both may be targeted by national parties. Both incumbents have been doing what incumbents in close-margin districts ought to do: Staying close to home, visiting lots of organizations and activities. Their status is similar enough that the two of them, from different parties, have coordinated on many activities and policy ideas – likely to their mutual benefit.

But there are underlying differences. The Cook Index, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate Oregon’s 5th, centered in Clackamas and Deschutes counties, as a “toss up” district. District 6, centered in Marion, Yamhill and southeastern Washington counties, is rated as “lean Democratic” by the first two and “likely Democratic” by Sabato.

The national analysts, whatever the data behind their choices, got their calls right last year.

While both districts lean Democratic, at least somewhat in the case of the 5th, it’s nowhere close to the Democratic-lock in the 1st and 3rd districts or the Republican hold on the 2nd. The Cook Political Report has developed partisan indexes based on voting records and party registration, and calculates that the 5th District has a lean toward Democrats of 2%, while the 6th has a lean of 4% – enough to matter when races get close.

The bigger factor, however, is this: DeRemer is swimming upstream in her district, running as a Republican in a Democratic district. Salinas is swimming with the current as a Democrat in a Democratic district.

The districts are changing. The biggest growth area in the 5th is Bend, which now has a population over 100,000 and has been trending steadily more Democratic as it grows.

Both candidates have some advantage in their roles as the first Latina members of Congress from Oregon. Salinas may have the bigger advantage there; the Hispanic population in the 6th District is about 20% compared with about 10% in the 5th.

At the same time, competition to run against the incumbents is stronger so far in the 5th District. DeRemer DeRemer’s three leading opponentsJamie McLeod-Skinner, Janelle Bynum and Lynn Peterson – have distinct strengths and weaknesses, but all look to be formidable opponents. All have a regional profile and strong organizational and fundraising networks. Two have strong experience as successful candidates – one of them, Bynum, actually defeated DeRemer in two legislative races a few years ago. The third contender, McLeod-Skinner, nearly defeated DeRemer last year.

Salinas has two Republican opponents so far, Denyc Boles and David Russ.

Russ, who has served for several terms as mayor at Dundee, was a candidate in the Republican primary in the 6th District in the 2022 election, but left little impression: He came in 6th in the primary, pulling just 3.8% of the vote.

The more likely Republican nominee at this point is Boles, who has a more extensive political track record in the area, but not one likely to give Salinas night terrors. She has served in the state House in two separate runs and in the Senate once, but arrived each time in those offices by appointment rather than election. (That would indicate strong connections within Salem-area Republican circles, but not necessarily in the voting public.) She won a general election once for a strongly Republican House district, running at the time as an incumbent, and as an incumbent lost once – in a Senate district that had long been Republican-held. Still, her experience and links to the area’s Republican leaders may be strong enough to hold off other prospective primary entrants.

To be clear, the 6th District is not a runaway Democratic district like Oregon’s 1st or 3rd, which are much more based in the Portland area. The margins here are still close enough that a strong Republican candidate and campaign, or a notably flawed Democratic one, could flip the district.

But the chances of that happening are stronger in the 5th.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.


Who’s this ‘we’?

The Idaho quote of last week: Idaho Falls attorney and Republican state party official Bryan Smith saying, “If Idaho gets ranked choice voting, we’re finished. It’s that simple.”

That could be true, depending on how you define “we.”

Smith could be referring to the Idaho Republican Party, but that won’t work. Idaho simply has too many Republicans, and Republican-leaning voters, for any tactics like ranked choice or even gerrymandering to much change the picture.

But it could change which Republicans are in charge.

Let’s game this out.

The system of primary elections, as Idaho has known it, would go away. Instead, in the primary (in the sense of “first”) election, all candidates for a given office - specifically, U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, state legislature, statewide office, and county elective offices - would appear on the ballot, and voters could pick one candidate for each of them. If only four or fewer people have filed for a specific office, they proceed to the November election directly; if more than four file, then the four top vote-getters continue to the general election.

Then in November, when voters select from among those (up to) four people, they get to make a nuanced choice: They pick a first preference, then a second (in case the first choice falls short of winning), and a third. If no candidate gets an outright majority among top-choice votes, then the second-place votes come into play, and maybe the third, until someone winds up with a majority of the vote. That would eliminate the idea of someone winning one of those offices with, say, 23% of the vote. Every winner will have had to get some level of support from a majority of voters.

In most contests, the decision would be made the way it always has: In any race with only two candidates, one always gets an outright majority. This change would only affect races with three or more candidates.

Where will this make a difference? Mainly in two places.

One is where two major-party candidates are in a competitive contest, and an independent or third-party candidate, or more than one, also is on the ballot. We do see a number of these for top-of-ballot offices like governor (less often locally, though it happens), and if the major party contenders are close, the minors can make a difference. (Consider Ralph Nader and the Florida election results in 2000.) Ranked choice would change that by asking people to mark their second choice, resulting in a more-acceptable result to a majority of voters.

The second place it matters is when a major, especially dominant, political party has a split between factions. In California, Alaska and Washington state, which have variations of this election system in place, some districts are so strongly Democratic or Republican that the top two choices in November sometimes belong to just one party.

And that works. Imagine a legislative district fairly typical in Idaho: strongly Republican, with three candidates filing for a seat: A traditional conservative Republican, a Republican in the mold of the more extreme state party leadership, and a Democrat. All three would pass through the primary to November. Then, if the district is strongly Republican - as most in Idaho are - the two Republicans probably would wind up in first and second place, possibly with neither getting a majority. The Democratic voters would then be able to weigh in on one of the Republicans as a second choice.

That might - might - throw the election to the mainstream Republican, and that precisely is what has state party leaders like Smith and Chair Dorothy Moon so concerned. But consider what it also means: All of the voters will get to have a meaningful voice in who is elected to represent them, which is far from the situation now. All of the candidates would have an open shot at persuading the voters to elect them. What would matter is what the voters choose.

It would allow voters to choose the elected officials, not the other way around. If some party leaders disapprove of that, pause a moment to consider why.



If you do electrical stuff, you know continuity means you have a connection from one end of the wire to the other. I want to talk about continuity in healthcare. It’s related.

I’m sure you’ve all experienced it. You call for an appointment with your provider about a health problem you’ve put off for too long. The next available appointment with your usual is months off, so you take what they offer. You are now getting to share your intimacies with someone new.

A lot of caring for people is about trust. Trust develops, or it doesn’t, over time.

That first interaction with someone is often about getting to know and trust that person.

I always thought I gave better care to the patients I knew. I have spent a lot of time working in ER’s and urgent care, where continuity cannot be expected. I still thought I gave pretty good care in acute situations. But some things need a broader perspective.

Some people don’t need that kind of sustained continuity. Healthy people without chronic problems don’t need “annual physicals”. If your insurance company or doctor offers you this as some sort of perk, beware. Such a practice has never been shown to improve population health.

I had some patients insist on it, along with regular blood tests. I tried to discourage them, citing the evidence for the wastefulness, and the little value I might add to their general health. After a few of my admonitions, they probably sought care with a doctor who sold such.

There are some occasional screenings that the general population should receive, especially as we get older, but an annual physical for a healthy forty-year-old just pads somebody’s pocket.

But people with chronic health problems should have consistent care, and that consistent care should come from a regular provider they know and trust.

The clinic where I work now has a pharmacy attached and refills get reviewed. I got sent a refill request for a patient with diabetes. I didn’t know them. They hadn’t seen a provider in our clinic for a couple years. A doc had left suddenly and there were some balls dropped, but I only authorized a month’s worth of this person’s meds and insisted they come in for an appointment. They finally came in to be seen after three months of one-month refills, then finally I said two weeks at a time.

They were pretty mad with me. “You just want my money! Just give me the meds!”

“Do you check your blood sugars?” I asked.

“That’s none of your business! I got a buddy I fish with, and he tells me how to handle my diabetes.”

“Then he should be prescribing these medicines for you. Because right now, I am responsible for these prescriptions. And I will not be if we don’t have a relationship.” And we didn’t after that, not prescribing, nor trusting, nor therapeutic. I hope they get the care they need. But I need some limits.

Providers can promote continuity or inhibit it. Patients have acute needs, unscheduled. If providers don’t keep openings in their schedules for such “walk in” needs, then they get pushed off to the new guy with openings, or the urgent care or the ER. The biggest time investment for me in the ER was understanding the patients’ medical history, since that was usually unavailable.

Back to the wire. The current can flow, one end to the other. That’s continuity. Health care should provide care from one end to the other, cradle to grave. That’s why I wanted to be a Family Physician. I wanted that kind of continuity.

Last week I saw a young mother in the clinic, whose mother I had cared for and whom I had delivered. She was well. It felt good.


Necessity of gadflies

From my deskside Merriam-Webster:

GADFLY: "a person who stimulates or annoys other people."

Many, many moons ago, I had a friend in city government in Idaho. Two term councilman, one term mayor. Then, more terms as councilman. Asked why he went back to a council seat, he said "As mayor, I couldn't vote unless there was a tie, wasn't allowed (by rule) to debate issues and had almost no voice and little room in which to operate. But, sitting in the chair on the end of the dais as a councilman again, I could be the gadfly." And, he was an excellent gadfly!

I've found government, at all levels, to be more responsive and more effective, when there was an active, well-grounded gadfly - or two - stirring conventional thinking.

Consider our current, feckless, ineffective U.S. Senate. No active, responsible gadflies in the GOP majority. None. Eunuchs, mostly. What few there be are Democrats. The two most prominent "irritant" voices on issues needing attention are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Because of their continued prodding of the body politic, they've had a few successes: Warren in banking issues and consumer legislation; Sanders on veteran's affairs and health care.

If Democrats take the next Senate with a solid majority, they'll need Sanders and Warren right where they are. Sanders long history of working for national health care and proven knowledge of veteran's issues will be even more valuable. So, too, will Warren's passion for consumer financial protections in the marketplace. They're positioned to be the real "wheel horses" - and gadflies - for necessary changes in those important areas.

The popularity of both Senators seems, at least to me, more based on celebrity and personality than the "heavy" experience necessary for an effective, long-term presidency. Both have hardcore constituents, of course. But, the depth of their support seems confined to just each Senator.

To retake the presidency, the successful candidate will need not only that core of support, but party unity. Sanders and Warren appear to have mostly diehard backers that, in the past, have shown a deliberate unwillingness to get behind anyone else. Might talk to Hillary about that.

While the continued congressional service of both to the Democrat Party is highly desirable, their long-term value seems even more important leaving them right where they are. Their tendency to be gadflies, irritating inattentive cohorts to action, has proven effective in years past.

Good gadflies need freedom to operate effectively. Freedom to be successful. An old friend from Pocatello would vouch for that.


A battle for the soul

Those who keep abreast of Idaho politics are aware that there are presently two major factions of Idaho’s Republican Party. There are the traditionalists, who have a conservative outlook but believe in reasonable, problem-solving government. Then there are the upstarts, who seem to believe that government is inherently bad, unless it is serving their narrow interests. A struggle for control of the GOP has been going on since the turn of the century and may finally be decided in the 2024 general election.

The traditionalist faction held sway over the party until 2008, when the upstart faction deposed the party chair and began tightening its grip over party machinery. The GOP primary election was closed to all but registered Republicans. The party took a hard right turn with strong support from dark-money, right-wing groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF).

The upstarts have yet to take over the governorship, but it is not for lack of trying. Their candidate came within five percentage points of winning the GOP primary contest for Governor in 2018. They have had much better luck in legislative races and now command majorities in both houses of that body. Their candidates have a tremendous advantage in primary races because they control the party structure. In this one-party state, a win in the GOP primary almost ensures a win in the general election.

The traditionalist faction has gotten behind a voting system that will break the upstart control over the GOP and allow traditional Republicans to compete in open elections. The Open Primaries Initiative, which has the support of a wide swath of traditional Republicans, will likely be approved by Idaho voters next year. It will break the stranglehold of the upstarts over who gets elected to public office.

The upstarts, under the leadership of GOP chair Dorothy Moon, have been lambasting the initiative with increasingly outlandish claims. They proclaim that it will result in Democratic control of Idaho, ignoring the fact that their claim is mathematically impossible. The current voter registration figures tell the tale–12.7% Democrat, 58.2% Republican and 27.5% unaffiliated. Moon has not explained how the Dems can take control of the state with their tiny minority of registered voters. She knows that the real threat to her control of the GOP is from Republicans like Butch and Lori Otter and the wide array of traditional Republicans who have had their fill of her and her cadre of culture warriors. They support the initiative to restore responsible governing in Idaho.

Moon may not realize that she and her IFF-supported legislators will be a major factor in voter approval of the initiative. She has twisted party rules in what has been characterized as a “systematic conspiracy” to control local party leadership, most recently in Bingham County. She has stuffed the state party ranks with loyalists, excluding any factions that do not fall in line, most recently women and young people. Former First Lady Lori Otter pointed to Moon’s misconduct in this regard as a reason for supporting the initiative, saying, “shame on Dorothy Moon.”

Misbehavior by Moon’s followers in the 2024 legislative session will also drive voter support for the initiative. Being an election year, they will be unable to resist following their usual agenda of creating a maximum amount of fear, outrage and chaos in the Legislature. Meaningless culture war issues will remind voters of those good old times when traditional Republicans worked with Democrats to actually get something done to address real problems, like fixing dilapidated schools, rebuilding infrastructure, providing meaningful property tax relief and shoring up Idaho’s struggling child care system.

In the meantime, the Take Back Idaho organization will swing back into action in next year's GOP primary to support traditional Republicans and oppose the upstarts who are just committed to stirring up trouble. That will be an interim measure to reinstate some responsibility and pragmatism into the governing process, but the Open Primaries Initiative will be the decisive blow to the troublemaking upstarts.


A split might yield more civic connection

An upcoming government change could make Portlanders feel more connected to City Hall.

A Portland commission just adopted a map specifying council wards, something new for the city where council members in the past have been elected at large. The new system tracks the change in role for council members, since they will no longer oversee specific city agencies but rather will have a more legislative role. All of that is just part of the overhaul of Portland city government approved by voters last year.

In Portland, as in many cities, economic and social networks, often located in a few areas in town, and often representing a wealthy establishment, have tended to dominate council membership. The requirement for broader distribution of council membership may bring more city attention to large stretches of the city long overlooked by City Hall. It also may affect who runs for the council and who can be elected.

And it might make some Portlanders a little happier with their city.

In a 2003 study of city wards in Oregon, John Rehfuss, a former professor of public management, found at least 22 cities with ward systems. (Those were all the cases Rehfss said he could find.) A respondent from one of those cities, Salem, said, “We believe the ward system, in combination with our neighborhood associations, allows for more responsiveness to the concerns of a smaller area and population. Salem is too large and diverse to be knowledgeable about every local concern.”

In some places, wards that are supposed to be nonpartisan – like cities in Oregon – can still be partisan.

A good example is in Boise, Idaho, which overall is a blue city in a statewide sea of red. State legislators taking aim at Boise in 2020 required that cities with 100,000 people or more would henceforth be required to elect council members by district, or wards, as they often are called at the municipal level. Although in Idaho, as in Oregon, city officials all are officially nonpartisan, also as in Oregon their personal leanings are seldom a secret. The Boise council consisted entirely of Democratic leaners in the at-large years. A new district system brought one Republican into the mix.

You can find a similar trend in many of the Oregon cities which have council districts, and a surprising number of them do.

Oregon’s second and third largest cities, Eugene and Salem, each have eight council districts. Both cities have clear internal partisan geographic splits, and those are reflected in the districts. Council members running, for example, near Eugene’s university area and downtown are more likely to be liberal and Democratic than those running toward the north and western sides of the city.

Others among Oregon’s largest cities have council wards too: Hillsboro (three wards), Medford (four wards), Springfield (six wards) and Corvallis (nine wards). There’s a long list of smaller Oregon ward cities, too, including Grants Pass, Albany, McMinnville, Klamath Falls, Lebanon, Astoria, Lincoln City, Central Point and Cottage Grove. One small town respondent to the 2003 survey said, “In smaller towns, it can be difficult to find individuals willing and qualified to fill positions.”

Portland’s council is unlikely to see much serious ideological or partisan divide. Almost every precinct in Portland voted 75% or more for Democrat Joe Biden for president; there are really no significant purple patches, much less red spots, in the city.

That doesn’t mean the new districts – each of which will elect three council members – won’t result in actual policy differences, at least in very broad strokes.

Number 1, to the east and across from Gresham, is a relatively working class district where residents have long complained of being ignored by City Hall. Number 2, in the northwest of the city and facing the Columbia River, has a more industrial background with a gentrifying aspect. Number 3, in the center of the city on the east side of the Willamette, is what many people think of as stereotypically Portlandia. Number 4, mostly in the downtown and leafy and hilly areas west of the Willamette, has its own perspective.

On issues like infrastructure, zoning, homelessness and law enforcement, the arrival of districts is likely to give each part of town someone to stand up for their area and fight against it becoming a service desert or a dumping ground.

And that could make for a big difference in the governing of Portland. It might even lead to a little more civic satisfaction.

This column originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.