Writings and observations

Soon enough we’ll get to the general election implications of Bill Sali’s win of the Republican primary for the 1st U.S. House district. Those, and what it says about the first district itself.

For the moment, though, let’s reflect on the primary results as such, and for both Republicans and Democrats some prevailing trends suggest themselves.

Bill SaliGenerally speaking, this primary was good for hard-line social conservatives. Sali was Exhibit A: He posited the race explicitly as himself – defined as a sort of purist conservative – against Sheila Sorensen, loosely defined as a moderate or liberal or something equally unsavory. His final appeal is that the winner will be him or her, and true conservatives would know what to do. The religious conservative front certainly did, from the appeals on the anti-abortion front to the Alan Keys event in Kootenai County last weekend. Sali’s win was part of an organized effort, and it should be no surprise that the effort bore fruit elsewhere too. Our suspicion (voiced in this space) was that just such support would allow Sali to outrun the indicators of polls.

There were other exhibits of this too, on Tuesday night. Phil Hart, hardcorne on the tax and social front in the Panhandle was challenged by the veteran legislator, Wayne Meyer, he beat two years ago; the win then seemed almost a fluke, attendant in part to Meyer’s not paying enough attention. Hart’s smackdown of Meyer this time shows that nothing fluky was involved. In Gem County, Kathy Skippen’s loss to Steven Thayne was another takedown of a relative centrist in the House Republican caucus by a candidate far to the right.

True, some races ran the other way. In Canyon County’s District 10, Robert Ring’s holdoff of front-the-right challenger Rob Oates probably reflected some built-up personal appeal by Ring. In district 14, Stan Bastian has a long history around Eagle and a solid personal constituency, and his from-the-right challenge, Rod Beck, has run and lost a little too often; once a strong vote-getter in the region, he may be considered just a perennial candidate now. And the District 16 Senate contest between John Andreason and Dennis Mansfield was an unusual case; Mansfield is on a journey of discovery, and he isn’t quite as easily pigeon-holed as he once seemed to be. What may have seemed like philosophical blurriness – not to us, but possibly to some voters – may have hurt him.

Then there’s the very interesting case of the nomination for superintendent of public instruction, about which the prevailing wisdom was that Tom Luna, who campaigned for this office hard to the right in 2002 and softened his stand this year, would probably win. State Representative Steve Smylie was thought not to be “conservative” enough to win the primary vote, and Coeur d’Alene principal Steve Casey was an unknown to the party. Casey wound up in a fairly predictable third place, but the curiousity is that Smylie and Luna wound up in a nailbiter. At this writing, Smylie was leading by one percentage point, but about half of the precincts still out were in Canyon County, where in early counts Luna was ahead. So we don’t consider this race callable yet.

What happened? Three items that we suspect contributed: Smylie seemed to project a more conservative tone in the primary; meanwhile, Luna seemed to shift toward the center, possibly in a long-range bid for general election votes; and (we just have the suspicion) in this season of high immigrant awareness, there may have been some pulling of support for Luna, who is Hispanic, in the Republican primary.

The Republicans seems to be edging, this season, gently to the right.

And the Democrats? There’s less to go by, mainly two races, for lieutenant governor and superintendent. LG went to Larry La Rocco, who may have seemed a safe choice since he is certainly an experienced candidate. That wasn’t a surprise. The choice of Department of Education administrator Jana Jones over eastern Idaho state Senator Bert Marley, though, was: Marley would seem, on the surface at least, to be the more electable in November. But maybe the logic ran this way: Jones can be presented as a continuation of the Marilyn Howard Administration, since Howard is the only suriving statewide Democrat. And, before her election, Howard had never won elective office either.

Comments and notions regarding any of this are more than welcome . . .

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At the Huckleberries blog out of the Spokesman Review, Dave Oliveria has written – twice – that if state Representative Bill Sali hits the north with something close to a majority, he will probably win, because the population base in that area will head his direction.

He’s likely right, and now just that appears to be happening. With just over half of the 1st congressional district precincts counted, Sali is ahead at 26.7% of the vote (by seven percentage points and about a 2,500 raw vote lead) over Sheila Sorensen, who is barely ahead of third-place Keith Johnson.

The problem Sorensen and Johnson both have right now is: What should be their best pools of votes are largely tapped. Where do they go from here to catch up? If Sali hasn’t got it wrapped up yet, he’s very close.

Stay tuned.

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The Associated Press vote tallies as run through the Idaho Statesman web site are coming in much faster than the numbers from the Secretary of State’s office; unfortunate, since the SoS numbers have more county detail. Still, there’s some grist here, finally.

Among the 1st District Republicans, state Representative Bill Sali has maintained a steady lead all evening – not a big lead, but to this point a definitive one. Former Senator Sheila Sorensen and Controller Keith Johnson have been swapping second place, about five points back. The other three are trailing – the race pretty clearly now seems to be between those three. (Your scribe was quoted accurarely earlier today in the Congressional Quarterly web site as saying, “All I can point out are winners that would surprise me more versus winners who would surprise me less. … Sali and Sorenson would be the least surprising, with maybe Johnson as a dark horse.” Well, here we are . . . so far . . .

Highly interesting in the so-far returns: The very close Republican superintendent of public instruction contest between state Representative Steve Smylie and former nominee Tom Luna; the weight of opinion (including ours) had been that Luna would be a clear winner. It’s not so clear at the moment.

Back shortly.

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Well this is taking its time. At two hours past polls closed, just 117 of 917 precincts are in, and most of those are from eastern Idaho. Not a lot to work with yet in the premier race, the Republican nomination for the 1st congressional district.

Based on early results, the big gubernatorial primary win by C.L. “Butch” Otter looks about on track, at 69% (wouldn’t be surprised to see it bump a little higher as the night goes on). On the Democratic side for lieutenant governor, former congressman Larry La Rocco appears to be piling up a substantial win over Dan Romero – there had been some question about that. The early numbers also seem to suggest a win by Tom Luna for a second Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, and – a surprise if it holds, which it may not – a lead by Jana Jones over state Senator Bert Marley on the Democratic side.

And in the 1st? Bill Sali, Keith Johnson and Sheila Sorensen bunched together at the top, with Sali in a narrow lead. Will it hold? The next couple of hours ought to tell the story . . . if the pace picks up . . .

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Toward the beginning of U.S. District Judge William Redden’s decision Tuesday in American Rivers v. NOAA Fisheries, there was a sentence with a striking word in it.

The sentence was, “This opinion addresses the latest in a series of biological opinions issued by the federal government that have ostensibly attempted to stem the decline of threatened and endangered Columbia and Snake River Basin salmon while preserving tribal fishing rights, and protecting the region’s economic and political interest in cheap hydropower, agricultural irrigation, and commercial/recreational fishing.”

Did you catch the “ostensibly”?

Redden’s decisions over the last few years have built a portrait of the judge as a persistent and accelerating critic of federal environmental policies, and an ally of environmental groups (even if, in this decision, he technically gave American Rivers only a partial win). He can’t force congressional policy, and so he remains simply at loggerheads with his critics . . .

Unless, that is, this latest decision upends a key section of the federal-state-Nez Perce Tribe agreement, so carefully worked out over a period of years, in the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

That may not be the case, and for the moment it isn’t – necessarily. For one thing many of the key points were not actually decided but remanded for more evaluation. Redden’s key conclusion read like this: “I conclude that the 2005upperSnakeBiOp is arbitrary and capricious, and invalid under the ESA because it relies on the same flawed comparative jeopardy analysis used in the 2004BiOp for the down-river dams. The 2005upperSnakeBiOp will be
remanded with further instructions to NOAA and BOR to correct its flaws. I conclude that NOAA and BOR may continue to segment the upper Snake water projects from the down-river FCRPS operations in the upcoming consultations during the remand period for both biological opinions.”

The segmentation approach for the river is critical in this; if the river can be amanged only in a unitary way, the Nez Perce agreement may not be managable.

So. The Idaho congressional delegation started their response by saying “Not only does this ruling jeopardize the careful and long collaboration process between the federal, state, and local governments and the Tribes, but it also jeopardizes the potential for a long-term solution.” But it added: “We do note that the judge put the remand of the Upper Snake and Federal Columbia River Power System Biops on the same schedule and agreed they should remain segmented. With these objectives in mind, we will watch very carefully the way that the region responds to the judge’s ruling, particularly with regard to the way the remand order is implemented.”

It doesn’t endanger the SRBA or the Nez Perce agreement yet. But Redden is unlikely to hold much sacred, and you almost start to wonder whether he’s just found the two-by-four that gets the attention of a whole bunch of regional elected officials.

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And so much of it comes down to this. We’ll be right here, of course, well through the evening and tracking the results. We’ll pass on what we have, and analysis of it . . . but we don’t guarantee how far we’ll hang in there into the early ones Wednesday morning. (It could be that kind of election.)

Additional places to check for results info start with the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, which had a good and often-updated report in the November 2004 election night. Election night posting at the Idaho Statesman has varied in quality over the years, but you’ll likely want to check it out this time. The freshest TV election returns usually are those of KTVB-TV (Channel 7).

A growing number of counties are doing real-time on-line returns. Ada County has been running them reliably for a couple of cycles. Canyon County, Kootenai County, Bonneville County, Bannock County, Twin Falls County, Nez Perce County, Bingham County, Bonner County (note that it has a pop-up screen), Madison County (note that it’s on a PDF linked to the main page) and Idaho County.

Have fun. And send in your ideas, analysis, thoughts, facts, plaints, whatever, as the night progresses.

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