Writings and observations

As Idaho legislators push through (it’s already cleared one committee) legislation to deal with the new closed-primary regime after the Republican court case, they deal necessarily with some airy concepts. Some of them need grounding.

Part of the idea behind the lawsuit, initiated by state Republican Party leaders (not elected officials, many of whom were opposed to it), was that by allowing only registered Republicans to vote in that party’s primary, the legal change would result in an election reflecting the views of loyal Republicans only.

Senator Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, was quoted this way in committee discussion on a section of the bill requiring that people declare a party preference well before the primary: “If you are previously affiliated with a party, hopefully by mid-March you know whether you want to continue to be affiliated with that party. … By doing it this way, you keep individuals who are known political operatives from participating in the primary of another party if that party chooses to exclude them.”

Well, no: You don’t necessarily keep them out at all.

Under the terms of the legislature’s bill – in fact, under party registration rules in any state that has registration (Oregon, for one) – anyone can register as a Republican. How about Larry Grant, the new chair of the Idaho Democratic Party? Would anything in the bill stop him from registering to vote as a Republican? Or Democratic former Governor Cecil Andrus, or current House Democratic leader John Rusche? Not a thing, so far as we can tell: The bill says that voters must either choose an affiliation or be described (by default) as non-affiliated, but it says nothing about qualifications, about who is allowed to register as a Republican (or a Democrat). Nor does it say that you can’t switch your registration back and forth, up to the cutoff date.

In fact, this sort of thing occasionally happens in Oregon, people who switch their party registration just before a primary, then switch it back again. It’s legal, as it would be in Idaho. Happens most often, so far as we can tell, among some of the people who are the most politically active – the “known political operatives” Davis was talking about.

The only way you could stop it would be to … well, are we really going down the road of legally binding political party/ideology oaths? Challenges of the right to vote from … whoever? Someone in particular? These would be about the only thing that would really stop the kind of crossover Davis is talking about.

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Idaho

Danny Westneat has a provocative column out today, declaring that Seattle’s mayor, Mike McGinn, is the Tim Eyman of the left.

Put aside the matter of political philosophy; the two obviously have little in common there. Eyman has made a second career of promoting (mostly) conservative ballot issues, mainly of the anti-tax and cut-budget kind, but isn’t a candidate or elected official. McGinn is mayor of Seattle, liberal and environmentalist in orientation, though even in Seattle he’s been pushed to the outside, to the point that many state and other officials make a point of dealing more directly with the city council than with him.

Westneat’s point: “I think the two do share a sense that our current system of representative democracy has failed, though. That politicians are too chummy with special interests. That populist ideas — be it no-new-freeways in McGinn’s world view or no-new-taxes in Eyman’s — are smothered by the power structure. So modern leadership means, by definition, going around the broken system. Straight to the people. I’m not sure how that works when [as in McGinn’s case] you’re also the one in charge of the system.”

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Washington


carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles


There is a path out of the wilderness of despair surrounding the deplorable state of Idaho’s public school education and higher education. The pieces are falling into place; the ingredients are at hand.

The recipe includes the state’s teachers, many of whom have been passive observers as Republican governors and legislators have gutted public education during the last couple of sessions; the parents, finally being stirred from their lethargy as they realize Idaho’s support per pupil is the lowest in the nation; and test scores showing our children falling further behind.

Additionally, businesses are stumbling to the realization that the educated workforce required to be competitive in a world-wide market place is not coming from our woefully underfunded system.

Top that off with an ineffective state Board of Education that hasn’t a clue about how to provide leadership.

The path forward has been laid out in part by two fine writers and public affairs analysts: the editorial page editor of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, Marty Trillhaase, and Marc Johnson, the Boise office managing partner for Gallatin Public Affairs for which I used to work.

Trilhaase recently pointed out we should not waste their time trying to recall State Superintendent of Public “Destruction” Tom Luna. The threshold for necessary signatures is impossibly high and the timeframe too short. Assuming a group organized and galvanized sufficient backing for a ballot recall, to win one would require 275,000 votes, or one more than the number he received in his last election.

In an off year election that is unrealistic.

Instead, Trillhaase counseled those justifiably upset with the Luna agenda need to get only 47,000 signatures in 90 days after the Legislature adjourns to place the package on the ballot for an up or down vote. There is precedence for this course.

This path was utilized in 1966 when the Legislature passed the state’s fist sales tax with the proceeds ironically designated primarily for education. The measure was on the November ballot. In that instance, the sales tax was upheld.

Marc Johnson’s blog of March 9 provided a strategy developed from a self-examination and an admittance that the Idaho Education Association had brought its waning influence upon itself for its failure to engage in meaningful dialogue with administrators, parents, local school boards and legislative representatives on the changing face of education.

Johnson also faulted the IEA for its failure to build a base of support through the development of local candidates for local legislative offices. Instead, the IEA brass focused on big-ticket races. Johnson’s message to teachers and their leadership was they had forgotten the first rule of politics—organize, organize, organize and then organize some more.

The chance to demonstrate new organization and revitalize itself is presented by the Trilhaase proposal to go the referendum route.

What is missing is someone to lead this effort. There’s an old newspaper saying that people would much rather read about other people than about ideas, lofty thoughts or brilliant strategies. The message is find someone who is interesting, who can articulate the message and put a human face on that message.

The waning days of this Legislative session has produced the obvious leader: Boise State Representative Brian Cronin. Read his comments on the House floor during the debate on the Luna package. They were articulate, to the point, incisive and respectful of those with whom he disagreed. His ability to disagree without being disagreeable is remarkable.

Trilhaase has identified the vehicle, Johnson has laid out some critical elements to a successful repositioning strategy, and I am left to nominate the leader.

Once you have led the repeal of the so-called Luna Reform package, keep that organization together. Launch a broad-based run for governor, Brian, with a specific targeting of the state’s 10 largest counties where education remains the top priority. Make education renewal your campaign theme.

Run, Brian, run!

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Carlson