Writings and observations

One more quick tea party note: The congressional candidates.

In District 1, where two Republicans are competing for the nomination, just Representative Raul Labrador, R-Eagle, was present to deliver to the group. Front-runner apparent Vaughn Ward was, his campaign tells us, in northern Idaho.

Of larger interest, maybe, was the contrast between the two primary challengers to Republican Representative Mike Simpson, in District 2, both seeking to position themselves to his right. One was state Representative Russ Matthews, R-Idaho Falls, who delivered the usual message but looked and sounded like a state legislator. Our sense was that the biggest single response for any speaker at the event was for the other District 2 contender there, Chick Heileson, a first-time candidate.

He highlighted up front his lack of a formal title – the crowd responded lustily to that – and delivered a speech both raw and energetic, overwhelmed by rapid and repeated use of the two words “God” and “constitution,” urging that both be followed, and offering nothing much more specific than that. The crowd seemed to love it. If either of the District 2 challengers actually gains serious traction on Simpson (which does, at this point, still seem unlikely), our guess would be that the juice is with Heileson.

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Tea party at the Idaho Statehouse, Monday/Stapilus

We’ve been speculating that the white heat of last summer’s tea bag events has been cooling, gradually. We decided to put that to the test: The big winter teabag event in Idaho, on the steps of the Idaho Statehouse – which by rights ought to be the Teapot Dome – was held this morning, and it seemed a reasonable barometer.

The verdict: Nothing like the big crowds of last summer. The emotion wasn’t all gone, but its scale was diminished. Only about 150 people showed up to this one, which featured a batch of speeches over the course of an hour, mostly from conservative Republican legislators. A substantial chunk of the crowd was made up of conservative Republican legislators; quite a few of them showed up. And across the street were about a dozen counter-protesters.

Maybe the legislators’ presence was part of why this wasn’t a bigger deal. An emcee (oops, almost wrote “moderator”) told the group that the idea now is to move beyond complaining: “Today, in partnership with the legislature, we offer solutions.” Did the teabaggers of last summer really want solution? They seemed more interested in venting.

Some of that was going on. There were some of the signs you’d expect, like “Liar’s Club” (Preceding a list of elected Democrats), one that said “You ram it down our throats and we will shove it up your ass” (no speculation here on the mindset generating that one) and one that depicted President Obama as Alfred E. Neumann. There was a fair amount of talk about how the feds are enslaving us all.

But mostly what the crowd got was speeches of two types: Legislators hyping their pet legislation, and candidates for Congress doing their campaign thing.

The legislation was a real mixed bag. The longest speech at the event had to do with regulation of midwives. Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, touted his bill to create “sound money” in the state of Idaho; Representative Lenore Hardy Barrett, R-Challis, had a competing proposal. The 2nd amendment made its appearance too, of course, along with lots of state sovereignty talk.

But was this what the teabaggers came to clamor for, or against?

One other note of interest: The event apparently was closely tied in with the Idaho Freedom Foundation. About which, more in another post before long.

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Idaho Senate, 2010/Stapilus

The Idaho Statehouse almost looks like a newborn, even has that “new house” scent to it. If you’re used to the old version, before the rehabilitation which has taken the last couple of years, it looks better – brighter, more open, roomier (and not just in the new underground add-ons). It rates a clear thumbs up.

Walk onto the old ground floor and it feels clean but barren: No artwork or much else down there. Yet. It may be coming.

The third and fourth floors, the main legislative area with the chamber floors, has been changed most dramatically. The hallway around the four-floor overlook of the House chamber now is glassed-in, instead of dark-walled off; the effect is one of openness and light. (And maybe fewer dark corners for lobbyists and legislators to do their thing.) The new curtains in the Senate, reminiscent of those from many years ago, look classy. The new elements of the design strike a fine balance between traditional and modern.

room

Committee room/Stapilus

The biggest specific asset to the public is the new meeting rooms, for committees and other activities, on under underground level. You had to have seen the old statehouse to appreciate how large an improvement this is. Those old meeting rooms were tiny, cramming in too many people and not allowing many in at all. The new rooms have space for large audiences and are audio- and video-wired as well. They compare respectably with the facilities in Washington and Oregon. And a good deed by omission: The designers seem not to have closed off public access to areas of the statehouse, something they probably got some pressure to do.

There are of course downsides. Legislators have individual offices now, scattered all over the building; your favorite (or least) lawmaker will be harder to find now. (One reporter I bumped into this morning bemoaned exactly this.) Keep on the floor, at their desks right there, where we can keep an eye on ’em.

But the few criticisms feel like niggling. This is being taken by the habitues as a fine improvement, and for good reason. The cost was high (well over the $100 million this scribe was once excoriated for predicting), but the end result will be a site Idahoans have good reason to be happy with.

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