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Posts published in “Day: August 1, 2011”

ID redistricting: What they have in common

The most remarkable thing about both the Republican and Democratic Idaho legislative redistricting plans is this: Both of them are willing to throw a lot of current legislators overboard, and by no means just those of the opposing party.

By that, you have to mean - since every Idahoan, and every legislator, will continue to live in a district - that a number of districts will have as residents more legislators than there will be seats to accommodate them. The Republican plan would put 41 legislators (of 105 total) in districts with too many fellow incumbents and not enough seats; the Democratic would do that to 32. In the Republican plan, 32 Republicans would be be put in that position, and in the Democratic, six Democrats. (There are, remember, a lot more Republicans than Democrats in the Idaho Legislature.)

Compare that to past Idaho redistricting efforts, when the number of bumped legislators could usually be counted on your fingers. Or to the new Oregon redistricting plan, that created this kind of discomfort for no legislators at all.

The Idaho commission appears to have taken seriously the injunction to not use redistricting to protect legislators.

Beyond that, a few other notes about the two proposals.

The Republican plan (L34) has some real aesthetic appeal. Often, Idaho has had legislative districts stretching north to south from north-central Idaho - from the edge of Shoshone County - all the way to the outskirts of Boise. The Republican plan, remarkably given the light population in the region, avoids that, and to a greater degree than at present keeps the state's natural regions intact.

There are two major exceptions. The smaller is the union of Elmore County east through Gooding County to Twin Falls County. That one looks odd on the map, and seems counter-intuitive given Elmore's usual identification with southwest Idaho rather than the Magic Valley. But Elmore is really a transitional county, on the margins of the Magic Valley. And most of the population of those three counties runs near Interstate 84, which would pass right through the heart of the district. It would be a new kind of creation as a district, but there's some real logic to it.

More debatable is the realignment of the central Idaho mountain counties, breaking Custer, Butte, Clark and Lemhi from their traditional tie to Jefferson County. Instead, they would be united with Blaine, Camas and Lincoln. You can see some Republican appeal here: This realignment would end the solidly Democratic Blaine-centered district, turning it possibly competitive or possibly to a Republican lean. The sheer immense size of the district, though - running over remote mountains and obscure highways from not far from Yellowstone to not far from Boise - might work against it. It would unite two distant parts of two distinct Idaho regions, the northern Magic Valley and the northeastern East Idaho.

The Democratic plan also does something different with the central mountain region, and it seems even harder to defend. It retains the core of the current Blaine-centered district (probably continuing Democratic control there), but uniting in one district a string of counties running from the Wyoming/Montana border, through Salmon and Challis west to Mountain Home, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend - literally a few miles north of Boise, close to southern Idaho's Oregon border. Representing it would be like representing a congressional district (like one of Idaho's). It also effectively continues in place the district that is now Idaho's most unfortunate, stretching from the southeast corner of the state though uninhabited territory up to Bonneville County.

And then there's the matter of District 2, which would run from west of Sandpoint through lightly-populated areas to south of Riggins. It too would be a monster to represent.

Do you get the sense that the commission is not quite done with their work yet?

Carlson: An indecent proposal?

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s engage in one of those exercises where one speculates history taking a different course. Let’s imagine that for one day you could be any one of the 30 men who have been Idaho’s governor. Who would you choose and what would you do?

To no one’s surprise this scribe would choose four-term Governor Cecil D. Andrus.

What I would have done, though, may surprise. But it would have been in the best interests of the taxpayers, higher education and the city of Pocatello. The date of this action would have been sometime in the week following the November 1994 election of Phil Batt as my successor.

In utmost secrecy, I would have loaded the state plane with Governor-elect Batt, his defeated rival for the governorship, Attorney General Larry Echohawk, then Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson, and then Senate President Jerry Twiggs, and flown to Salt Lake City.

There we would have met with the appropriate authorities of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and negotiated the sale of Idaho State University to the Church.

Under this scenario, ISU would have become BYU-Idaho, and RicksCollege in Rexburg would have remained a two-year feeder college for BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho.

About to leave me? Stop a minute and think about how much better the entities involved would have been. There would be no losers in this deal.

What we have today is a major state university in an under-funded higher education system with declining enrollment – a trend that will continue as the converted Ricks College continues to grow at the expense of ISU. BYU-Idaho already has exceeded ISU in enrollment.

At the beginning of 2011 at BYU-Idaho total enrollment (full-time and part-time students) was 14,100 students, up from the previous year’s total of 13,375. At ISU, it was 12,595 down from the previous year’s number of 14,209.

One could easily look over the horizon 15 years ago and see this coming. Ricks was undergoing phenomenal growth as many LDS “returned missionaries” were either starting or resuming their education following conclusion of their two-year callings. It is no coincidence that the Rexburg Journal and Standard contained an unusually high number of engagement notices and marriage announcements.

Some contend many college-bound Mormon young women being more intent on obtaining their “MRS” instead of their “BS” degree in a culture that encourages young women to find eligible husbands among the ranks of those having returned from missions. Regardless, Ricks was clearly growing by leaps and bounds.

In the meantime, on the other side of Idaho, Boise State was rapidly expanding, as well. With the University of Idaho ensconced as the state’s leading research university and “flagship” school of the system, internecine fighting for state dollars was on the rise.

Despite a supposed unified State Board of Education overseeing all of Idaho’s universities and colleges, the political realities were clear. Boise State inevitably would receive more and more of the state allocation and it would come at the expense primarily of ISU as the legislative supporters of the booming Treasure Valley and the established north Idaho took care of the “home” schools first.

For its part Boise State, embarked on a path of cultivating athletic success rather than scholastic excellence (“A football team in search of a university,” as one colleague put it), and has been rewarded with far more alumni donations and private corporate contributions than ISU could ever hope to match.

Assume LDS Church authorities in Salt Lake would have seen the logic in having an already built up institution negating plans to expand in a smaller almost out-of-the-way community. What would they have paid for ISU? Probably in the range of $100 million at the time.

How much further Idaho would be ahead today, as well as the renamed ISU and Pocatello itself, if that had occurred? As the Church’s primary higher education institution in Idaho, ISU would be more financially secure, larger and off the taxpayers’ back. Even President Arthur C. Vailas’ dream of having a medical school would be more achievable.

There would be more state dollars to divide among the remaining institutions. And there would have been $100 million to put into the State Building Fund, earmarked for future higher education needs.

Such an unprecedented move would have had some difficult hurdles to overcome, not the least of which would be legalities involving contracts negotiated between a public institution and its various employees being turned over to a private entity. All would have been surmountable.

All, that is, except the political realities. Somewhere, someone would have filed a lawsuit and another perfectly rational idea in the public interest would have foundered on the altar of one group’s self-interest. Sound familiar?