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Posts published in “Day: May 23, 2008”

At the precinct level

The current battle over open vs. closed primaries in Idaho is a party structure battle - a conflict between people active in the state's Republican Party. That in-party set-to is having effect: It could change the way primary voters in the state, vote. Put another way, control of a party's structure can have real effect, in the type and personality of candidates, the way they express themselves, the structure of elections. And eventually, even on the laws we live by.

This is by way of saying that one of the key set of races on the ballot in Idaho on Tuesday will be those hardly noticed outside the party structure, the contests for precinct committee chair. (College of Idaho professor Jasper LiCalzi is one of the few in Idaho recently to reference it.)

Most often, parties struggle most just to get someone to serve in all those spots, and often fail to get them all filled. For those reasons among others, Idaho Democrats aren't facing many conflicts on the precinct level. But in some parts of Idaho, the Republicans have significant contests going on. Who fills those precinct spots, voted on precinct by precinct, will affect county parties, which in turn will affect the state party and state convention. And among Republicans, at least a couple of things are happening. There's a struggle over the primary status, between the more establishment group and those for whom closed primary advocate Rod Beck has been a spokesman. At the same time, there's an insurgency out there (probably small, but maybe larger than we think) for presidential contender Ron Paul.

In Ada County, we count 40 Republican precinct contests, meaning in more than a quarter of all the county's precincts. Beck himself is in one of those precinct contests (precinct 28). Some of these Ada contests have drawn three or four candidates in a since precinct. There are, we should note, far fewer in Canyon County, only about five contests there.

At a time when the Republican Party nationally is at something of a crossroads, the Idaho Republican Party could be on the edge of remarking itself too. One way or another.

Selective information

Jim Risch

Jim Risch

The trick in evaluating statements - from print ads and TV spots to brochures - from political campaigns isn't in searching out the lies. Candidates, at least the smarter ones, don't do a lot of that: Lies are too easily uncovered. What happens a lot more often (and you hear it daily in the political radio talk shows) is selective release of information, telling you just part of the story.

So Democratic Senate candidate Larry LaRocco isn't right in saying, as he does of probable Republican nominee Jim Risch's new tax-focused video spot, that "It's a lie." But it isn't entirely honest, either.

In 2006 Risch served as governor and called a special legislative session to address taxes, especially rising property taxes. Against some odds, and with considerable skill, he persuaded legislators to pass a bill addressing that. His video spot says that "As governor, I delivered the largest tax cut in the state's history," on property taxes, and this year supported a grocery tax cut as well. (Check out the spot; it's neatly made.)

This is accurate, even if the largest-in-state-history part is debatable, depending on what sort of metric you use.

What he doesn't say, and what you have to know to evaluate this properly, is that the tax cut was effectively paid for with a sales tax increase - the reason Idahoans now pay six cents on the dollar instead of five.

Even that doesn't perfectly explain the situation, because after accounting for both tax changes, a cut of somewhere around $30 million probably resulted. (The chief state economist, Mike Ferguson, was quoted in the Idaho Statesman: "In general, looking at overarching policy, [tax shift] is probably closer to the truth.") Except - here's round four - that some tax deductions for property taxes probably were lost in the shift, so the actual number is probably less than that. And - round five - that the tax change hit different people very differently: Some people wind up paying more taxes, and some less, depending on their income, spending and the value of the property they own.

We have no idea how you properly incorporate all that into a 30-second spot. One more reason not to settle for what you learn from the spots spun out by a candidate, any candidate.