Donna Nelson
Chuck Winder

Most likely a number of Idaho Democrats are at this point discussion the idea of a legislative race that, a month ago, probably wasn’t much on the radar – a challenge to Republican Senator Chuck Winder of Boise. When candidate filing ended, Winder was among the minority of incumbents without a challenger in either primary or general, understandable since his vote-getting record was solid and he’s in a very Republican district.

Not that he was, or is now, an easy target. But conditions have changed, and even if Winder doesn’t turn out to be beatable, a number of Democrats might be considering if a challenge to him would in fact be worth some extra effort. In Idaho, a candidate can mount a write-in campaign at the primary by declaring intention in advance, and then will get ballot status in the fall if they get enough votes at the primary election.

That’s a little more work than the norm. But Winder has made of himself a major target – a national-level target. Stories about not just his sponsorship of the Idaho abortion/ultrasound bill but also his comments about it have gone national and viral. One of the biggest web stories on ABC news today is about Winder.

It started with some of his closing debate comments (just ahead of the Senate’s 23-12 vote to pass the bill, which now is in the House). Winder: “Rape and incest was used as a reason to oppose this. I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape. I assume that’s part of the counseling that goes on.”

That was a little convoluted, and you could read it several different ways. A Planning Parenthood spokesman, saying her office had fielded lots of calls about the statement, said “I hope that he did not mean to say that some people use rape as an excuse to receive abortion care.”

Probably he didn’t, but his winding and twisting explanations of whatever he did mean didn’t help. Such as: “I used a married woman, the idea being that as a woman or a couple, whether they be married or unmarried at the time, would want to find out if the pregnancy occurred as the product of the rape, or whether the pregnancy was unknown at the time. There was never any intention on my part to question the honesty of a woman in cases of rape.”

Huh? Teasing a clear meaning from that one would not be easy.

Those ready to launch a new political gender battle have in Winder, at this point, an ideal target and symbol. It’s hard to imagine Idaho Democrats will pass up the opportunity to challenge him in this cycle, something they still have the opportunity to do.

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Idaho

Senate Bill 1387, the Idaho ultrasound bill, passed 23-12.

Likely result: Passage in the House by a larger margin a few days from now, and signature by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter some days after that. And this likely will be the piece of legislation for which this session is most remembered. Don’t be surprised if a number of legislative campaigns center around it.

Of the debates, the strongest may have been that of Senator Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who is apt to be in the political whirlwind surrounding this – “my primary opponent has made it her number one issue.”

She said that “I keep in my focus the unborn and the right to life,” but noted that the senators (with one exception) aren’t physicians. A state requiring a mandate like this, she said, “that is not a civil society in my mind. What about the mother who got pegnant by rape? Do we as a government double the pain on that crime by inserting ourselves in that room with that doctor and that patient? That’s really in my mind not our place to be.” It is, she said, “misguided legislation.”

Her primary race will be one to watch.

Senator Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle (and who isn’t running again this year), went further, saying the bill is there because some senators are pushing “their own personal ideology and their own personal agenda.”

Sponsor Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said that a transvaginal ultrasound was not needed to comply with the bill; but the one physician in the chamber, Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said that in many cases, other ultrasounds wouldn’t be effective. Make no mistake: This is a transvaginal ultrqsound bill, and it will be debated outside the Statehouse on that basis.

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Idaho

Another round of federal approval to go after sea lions, which have been going after fish (as is their wont), has gotten federal approval, and we’re more likely to see stepped up activity along that front in Washington and Oregon.

In Washington and Idaho, meanwhile, legislatures continue on. Budget battles are the big issue in Washington, as a coalition of Senate Republicans plus a few Democrats have began to face off against the larger-majority House Democrats. (Will they use up the rest of their special session time on this?) In Idaho, budget issues are mostly resolved, but others still abound as legislators hope for adjournment soon – from the ultrasound bill in the Senate to the ethics issues involving Senator Monty Pearce.

More on all this and more in this week’s Washington, Oregon and Idaho’s weekly briefings. Write us ([email protected]) for more information or a sample.

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Digests

Because leaders in the Idaho Senate opted on Friday to adjourn for the day, so some members could get going back home for the weekend, they ran out of time for voting on one of the most contentious bills of the session – a bill requiring an ultrasound before a woman, including victims of rape and incest, could terminate her pregnancy. That means the Senate floor vote, on the measure sponsored by Senator Chuck Winder, R-Boise, likely will happen this week, after members have had a chance to hear about it from constituents.

They are likely getting an earful.

Similar measures have popped up in legislatures around the country, and a lot of them are stalling or being walked back after infuriated reaction has set in – a lot of it, though by no means all of it, from women. And by no means all in liberal areas. The Twin Falls Times News has a poll up on its site asking readers whether they support the bill. With about 1,400 responses in (as of Sunday evening), the vote was 68% no, 32% yes. The Times News is not based in a liberal part of Idaho.

And we’d probably not be reading too much into noting that Winder’s legislative blog, which this session has been kept regularly up to date with fresh posts, has been silent since March 9 – just before the ultrasound measure surfaced. Winder’s campaign page on Facebook has been swamped by critical comments over the last week.

All of this has been bringing back to mind the session of 1990, the bitter legislative session when lawmakers passed, and then-Governor Cecil Andrus vetoed, what would have been the nation’s most restrictive abortion law. For years after that legislators stepped gently in the area of abortion, because of what happened in the elections in Idaho later that year: A batch of legislators who were key backers were defeated or nearly lost for re-election, in some of Idaho’s most conservative precincts. The bill’s main Senate sponsor, Roger Madsen, who represented one of the most conservative Republican legislative districts in Ada County, was defeated that year by a Democrat. The abortion debate wasn’t, probably, the whole reason for the results that year, but clearly it was a key factor.

Could something like that happen this year? We can’t really know for quite a while; the elections are a ways off yet. But we can say this: The legislative setup for such a perfect storm, the prerequisite, is certainly in place. The anger over the requirement set up in the bill is larger and getting larger, rapidly. And we can also say this: The candidate field for legislative offices this year is unusually large.

Something interesting might be happening.

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Idaho

Material from a White House press release – about Idaho – seems worth quoting at some length, as a usually unspoken counterpoint to a pounded and re-pounded political point within the state.

There’s little counter-article in Idaho to the idea that the Affordable Care Act – “Obamacare” in political-speak – is a tyrannical horror. Few specifics about the horrors are ever offered.

The White House press release does have some specifics about the counter point of view. (It’d be interesting to hear how these specifics constitute freedom-robbing terrors.) From it:

Health reform is already making a difference for the people of Idaho by:

Providing new coverage options for young adults. Health plans are now required to allow parents to keep their children under age 26 without job-based coverage on their family’s coverage, and, thanks to this provision, 2.5 million young people have gained coverage nationwide. As of June 2011, 11,736 young adults in Idaho gained insurance coverage as a result of the new health care law.

Making prescription drugs affordable for seniors. Thanks to the new health care law, 16,559 people with Medicare in Idaho received a $250 rebate to help cover the cost of their prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole in 2010. In 2011, 14,963 people with Medicare received a 50 percent discount on their covered brand-name prescription drugs when they hit the donut hole. This discount resulted in an average savings of $579 per person, and a total savings of $8,665,605 in Idaho. By 2020, the law will close the donut hole.

Covering preventive services with no deductible or co-pay. In 2011, 153,007 people with Medicare in Idaho received free preventive services – such as mammograms and colonoscopies – or a free annual wellness visit with their doctor. And 54 million Americans with private health insurance gained preventive service coverage with no cost-sharing, including 283,000 in Idaho.

Providing better value for your premium dollar through the 80/20 Rule. Under the new health care law, insurance companies must provide consumers greater value by spending generally at least 80 percent of premium dollars on health care and quality improvements instead of overhead, executive salaries or marketing. If they don’t, they must provide consumers a rebate or reduce premiums. This means that 463,000 Idaho residents with private insurance coverage will receive greater value for their premium dollars.

Removing lifetime limits on health benefits. The law bans insurance companies from imposing lifetime dollar limits on health benefits – freeing cancer patients and individuals suffering from other chronic diseases from having to worry about going without treatment because of their lifetime limits. Already, 566,000 residents, including 198,000 women and 173,000 children, are free from worrying about lifetime limits on coverage. The law also restricts the use of annual limits and bans them completely in 2014.

Creating new coverage options for individuals with pre-existing conditions. As of the end of 2011, 316 previously uninsured residents of Idaho who were locked out of the coverage system because of a pre-existing condition are now insured through a new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan that was created under the new health reform law. To learn more about the plan available in Idaho, check here.

Supporting Idaho’s work on Affordable Insurance Exchanges. Idaho has received $21.3 million in grants for research, planning, information technology development, and implementation of Affordable Insurance Exchanges.

$1 million in Planning Grants: This grant provides Idaho the resources needed to conduct the research and planning necessary to build a better health insurance marketplace and determine how its exchange will be operated and governed. Learn how the funds are being used in Idaho here. $20.3 million in Exchange Establishment Grants: These grants are helping States continue their work to implement key provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Learn how the funds are being used in Idaho here.

Preventing illness and promoting health. Since 2010, Idaho has received $4.6 million in grants from the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the Affordable Care Act. This new fund was created to support effective policies in Idaho, its communities, and nationwide so that all Americans can lead longer, more productive lives.

Increasing support for community health centers. The Affordable Care Act increases the funding available to community health centers in all 50 states, including the 62 existing community health centers in Idaho. Health centers in Idaho have received $25.5 million to create new health center sites in medically underserved areas, enable health centers to increase the number of patients served, expand preventive and primary health care services, and support major construction and renovation projects.

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Washington has three open – meaning no incumbent running – U.S. House seats this year. (Could be more, theoretically, but probably not.) In one, the 1st district north and east of Seattle to Canada, lively primaries seem to be developing in both parties for what looks like a competitive congressional district.

In the other two, early indications are that one contender in each, Derek Kilmer in the sixth district and Denny Heck in the new 10th, both Democrats, may become slam dunks and start rehearsing their swearing-ins.

Businessman and TVW co-founder Heck, ironically, was defeated in 2010 running in the third district, an Olympia Democrat running in a districts where the political weight was in Clark County to the south. This year, Heck is running in a new district weighted around Olympia, a district so favorable for him he could almost have drawn it himself.

The new sixth district is not so terribly different from the old one as to be a preclusive lock for a candidate. But Kilmer, a state senator with a solid electoral track record in a marginal legislative district, seems to be emerging as the one major candidate to replace retiring Democrat Norm Dicks, the northwest’s most senior member of Congress. And many cycles have passed since Dicks has been seriously challenged.

Tacoma News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan, while not criticizing Kilmer at all, put some finer points on this in today’s column. He points out that since 1932, when the district was created, it has been “open” just twice, most recently 36 years ago. On that occasion, he writes, “Democrats picked from six candidates and Republicans from three. The fixers probably see that primary as a case study for what not to do because voters, not insiders, made the choice. But that’s the kind of thinking that has left Washington voters with an uninspiring primary this year. So far we have an open state governor race with no primary on either side and an open state attorney general race with no primary on the Democrat side and a marginal one on the Republican side.”

Sometimes even open seats aren’t really all that open.

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carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

A few years back the marketing folks at the Idaho Department of Commerce came up with the slogan “Idaho Is What America Was.” The idea was to capitalize on the notion Idaho had not yet been polluted/corrupted/spoiled by uncontrolled development, that we still had pure air, clean water, beautiful vistas and good, hard-working people who believed they could still achieve the American dream.

Mercifully, the slogan died a quiet death for it did not meet the basic test of verisimilitude – it did not resemble the truth. Rather it reflected the natural penchant folks have for creating myths and rhapsodizing about a time that never was.

Rather than looking back at a mythic place and time that never was, one might as well project ahead and ask if Idaho has become what a small demographically declining slice of the nation would like America to be: narrow-minded, self-centered, almost all white, intolerant, homophobic, anti-intellectual, litmus testing, teacher deprecating, anti-union, tax-dodging, flag-waving, anti-immigrant, head-in-the-sand, gun-toting, allegedly Christian believing but anti-Christian acting, paranoid, fear-mongering, hate-the government, pro-unregulated business, survival of the fittest, subsidize the rich because it trickles down, my way or the highway strict Constitutional constructionists most of whom call themselves Republicans?

From the standpoint of natural beauty and recreation Idaho is second to none. All those who love to fish, hunt, hike, backpack, float rivers, bike, bird, ski or take pictures realize how blessed we are. It is also filled with many good and decent people who without hesitation give the shirt off their back to anyone they see in need.

In the last 20 years, though, Idaho, from a political standpoint, started to get off track. Since the end of Phil Batt’s one fine term as governor the Gem state has headed in a downhill direction at an increasingly rapid rate.

It’s enough to make anyone despair for the wrong path after awhile looks almost impossible to turn around and away from. This is where perspective is needed.

Thankfully, from a demographic standpoint Idaho does not come close to being a microcosm of the nation. The narrow-minded, libertarian, government hating types say “good,” they don’t want to be like the rest. The challenge for sensible people living here is that we take this heavily Republican dominated state as the way the rest of the nation is not realizing how out of step Idaho is with what is really happening.

America is changing so fast and so dynamically it soon will be obvious to the most ardent Tea Party nut this state has been left in the dust. For Governor Butch Otter to say Idaho is the “new near normal” and what Idaho is should be what the rest of America wants to be is laughable on its face if it weren’t so sad that he and many others believe that balderdash.

Exacerbating this distorted sense of reality is the national media’s fascination with the Republican race for the presidential nomination, and Idaho, being such a Republican state, is awash in media hype compounded of course by Mitt Romney being the first serious Latter-Day Saint to have a plausible chance at being nominated and maybe even elected.

So let’s keep it all in perspective. Here are a few facts for perspective:

The nation is 63.7 percent white; Idaho is 86 percent white.

Self-identified Republicans are 45 percent of Idaho’s electorate, nationally, 32 percent.

A slight majority of the nation now supports same sex marriage while a majority in Idaho opposes it.

Idaho is one of the more church-going states, most of the nation and a clear majority is much more sporadic in actually attending church.

By a 66 percent to 26 percent margin the electorate supports the Federal requirement that private health care plans cover the full cost of birth control for female patients. A majority of Idahoans, especially Idaho women, agree.

Despite anti-government rhetoric, 16 percent of employed Idahoans work for some level of government.

Idaho still receives more from the Federal government than it pays in: $1.21 back for every $1 it pays according to latest Tax Foundation data.

No prominent Idaho Democrat has accepted a ride on Melaleuca chairman Frank VanderSloot’s private jet, while Governor Mitt Romney, Governor Butch Otter and Senator James Risch have.

And while at it, let’s keep the entire horse-race hullabaloo for the GOP presidential nomination in perspective also. The New York Times fine columnist, Tim Egan (a Spokane native) recently pointed out what a small fraction of America was engaged in that process. Those trying to pick the nominee he wrote are predominantly “old, white, uniformly Christian and unrepresentative of the nation at large.”

Bottom line is this: Idaho never was an America that never existed and what it is today never will be what America will become. Thank the good Lord.

CHRIS CARLSON is a former journalist who served as press secretary to Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives at Medimont.

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Idaho, which overall has a moderate set of tax rates and has been tightly-stretched on its budgets, had placed before it a proposed increase on the cigarette tax. Idaho’s cigarette tax, at 57 cents per pack, is well below nearby states – a small fraction of what it is in Washington and Oregon – and one of the lowest in the country.

The proposal was put before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee with the support of Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot. The committee this morning voted 11-5 to not even hold a hearing on it.

From the Associated Press report on the meeting: “Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, doubted that smoking was really that harmful to people’s health, citing how his own mother smoked for about 82 years. “Just because you smoke doesn’t mean you are going to be ill,” Harwood said.”

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Idaho

26

By my count, Idaho Democrats have not (yet – there’s still primary opportunity to fill spots) filed candidates for all but 26 out of the 105 legislative seats.

That’s a goodly number, but it’s actually a good deal better than in the last couple of cycles – not much more than half as many free rides for Republicans as was the case two years ago, or two years before that. More seats have more Democrats running in them than usual. The Idaho Democrats did much better with candidate recruitment than usual.

Idaho candidate filing wrapped today, and there seems to be more candidates filing for the legislature than usual – in both parties. Not sure what that portends.

But take this as a reminder: In Oregon two years ago, the minority House Republicans filed for more seats than they historically had done, and wound up winning more seats than anyone had originally expected. Worth bearing in mind.

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We’ve just been going through the new Oregon voter registration stats (by party, for legislative districts – nearly complete numbers have just become available through the Secretary of State’s office), and noticed something of interest: The over-performance of Republicans in the last general election based on voter registration.

Republicans hold 14 of the 30 seats in the Oregon Senate, and 30 of 60 in the Oregon County – very nearly half across the board. Not consider this: Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in just 10 of the 30 Senate districts, and in 23 of the 60 House districts. If voters voted strictly on party lines, Republicans would not be hitting close to half.

The state Democratic Party put it this way: “Democrats are poised to take back the House, with excellent candidates set to run against vulnerable Republicans in key districts. There are eight current Republican-held seats in which Democrats have a voter registration advantage, versus zero in the reverse.”

On Blue Oregon, Kari Chisholm wrote, “And voter turnout will be on our side, too. As I wrote way back in 2006, Democrats almost always win Oregon House seats in presidential years (one in ’88; none in ’92; two in ’96, ’00, ’04; and five in ’08.) Republicans are claiming that their slate of small business owners can pick up seats, but I’m not buying it.”

Although Republicans seem to have done a good job again on candidate recruitment, the Democrats seem to have the initial edge as both parties scramble for that one-plus seat needed to re-grasp control of the chamber.

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Two years ago about this time, not many people outside the Oregon Republican Party strategic circles would have thought very likely that Republicans would pick up enough state House seats to bring that party to 30-30 parity with the Democrats. There was a foreshadowing of it, though, on the Friday night speech session at the Dorchester conference. There, Republican leaders asked the candidates for the House to stand – and announced that they represented candidacies for all but three (or was it four?) of the 60 House seats.

That statistic was a hell of a marker, and what became clearer through the campaign season is that a lot of those candidates were, in addition, solid candidates, quality contenders and no mere placeholders. Republicans last cycle had the advantage of a favorable year in 2010, but their strong recruitment effort put them in position to take advantage.

This time? Now that we have the filings before us, we know that Oregon Republicans are giving free rides to Democrats in only four of the 60 House seats – a performance, based on the statistic at least, that could put them in good shape for the fall. Oregon Democrats, on the other hand, are giving Republicans free rides in eight seats.

Starting at a 30-30 tie, such things matter.

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Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney did very well in last night’s Idaho caucuses. Unlike a bunch of other states that were close contests between him and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, Idaho delivered big for its preferred candidate. Romney won 31 of Idaho’s 44 county caucuses. Santorum won seven and Representative Ron Paul six. Romney will get all of Idaho’s 32 delegates.

It was a big win far different from what happened in most other states on the same night, where Romney won some and Santorum won some, but neither, generally, by huge margins.

This brought to mind the Idaho caucus contest of 2008 – the Democratic (Idaho Republicans then, remember, voted in the primary). In that case, the contest nationally at the time was a fairly close battle between Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Idaho gave Obama one of his biggest state wins anywhere en route to the nomination: 79.5%, winning 44 of the 45 county caucuses (Ada was split), and 15 of the state’s 18 delegates.

Does this say something about Idaho?

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