Oct 26 2008

On and off the bus

Published by at 5:39 pm under Idaho

Two different political stories of the bus, from Oregon and Idaho. From Oregon, a story of a triumph of sorts: The Oregon Bus Project, founded in 2001 as a progressive voter registration and education effort, is about to see a kind of culmination (though far from a conclusion) as founder Jefferson Smith, unopposed on the ballot, will be elected to the Oregon House next week.

A rather different bus story in Idaho, where a successful political bus effort came to a halt.

How far back they go may be an issue on which long-run memories can differ, but our suggests that at least as far back as the mid-70s Idaho Republicans were running their election year fall bus tours. The idea was for Republican candidates to spend a large chunk of the last five weeks or so before the election on a bus (usually accompanied by several other vehicles as well) visiting most of the communities in Idaho. Republican candidates, from statewides down to county level, would get on and off the bus as need arose, but major candidates spent a lot of time on. And when the bus hit those smaller communities, that constituted a major community event. The bus may have been one of the levers that moved some of those rural and remote communities (and it sometimes hit dirt roads to reach some of the more obscure) from conservative Democratic over to the Republican side.

Reporters rode on the bus, too, and memories remain clear about the (pre-cell phone) day in 1980 your scribe was attempting to phone in a story back to the home office in Pocatello, missed the departure of the bus, and fortunately caught a ride to the next stop with the parents of then-Senate candidate Steve Symms. The bus rides were real human and sometimes unpredictable trips.

They’ve continued on for years, but not this year. Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman blogs that “There is no statewide bus this year. Four dollar gas prices, the internet and perhaps a changing Republican Party in Idaho have driven this campaign tool off the road and into the ditch.”

Our guess would be that gas prices were not the primary factor. There may have been some thought that Idaho’s population is not as widely dispersed as it used to be: It is much more consolidated now, than it was in the 70s or 80s, in the larger cities and suburbs – a radius of about 50 miles around Boise now takes in not far from half of the people of the state. And you have to wonder too whether the personalities might be a little more combustible now: To stay on the bus with a bunch of other politicians over a long haul, even those of those your own party, requires a fair amount of getting along.

Count the end of the bus as a loss, for Idaho’s political culture anyway. And a suggestion that maybe it be re-upped, as conditions change, later on . . .

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