"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Thomas Jefferson (appears in the Jefferson Memorial)

When a fellow office-holder – especially a fellow member of a legislature or of Congress – gets into messy personal trouble, at least of the reaction from their colleagues of the same party has to be: Please go away. Just quit. Soon. It’s colleagues of the other party that would be happier to have them stick around.

Finessing this is never easy. Idaho senators had to deal with this in the case, last year and this, of (now-former) Senator John McGee of Caldwell, who last year had a strange drunken incident and this year was accused of sexual harassment. Under pressure from fellow Republican colleagues, he resigned before this year’s legislative session was done.

Now Oregon House Republicans have a Matt Wingard problem, and it too isn’t going to go away very quickly or easily – if, that is, Wingard stays in office.

The full story was reported by Willamette Week and won’t be recited in detail here. The core of it – not disputed by Wingard – is that he met the woman at a Christmas party in 2009; she joked he should hire her (as a legislative aide), and he did. Not long after, her legal allegation says, he began pressuring her to drink beer (she was 20, underage for alcohol), and they eventually had a sexual relationship. He says that was fully consensual, she says he pressured her into it. She eventually stopped coming to work, she said, but Wingard continued to pay her for some time anyway. (Wingard at least partly disputes that latter point.)

Regardless, the undisputed elements include delivering alcohol to someone underage, misusing the hiring function of a legislative office, and entering into an employer-subordinate sexual relationship. Wingard’s response in part included the line, “I believe that what two consenting adults do is their own business” – but the law recognizes that when one person in a relationship has power (such as hiring and firing) over another, there’s a real question about the nature of consent.

Wingard has been in Republican House leadership, and he simplified matters for his colleagues by relinquishing that job. But as long as he’s a legislator, this isn’t going away. In an election year in which Republicans and Democrats each hold 30 House seats, every one is precious. Including Wingard’s.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

With his closely cropped hair resembling a military buzz cut one would think Denton Darrington was a former U.S. Marine. He’s not, but he is the living personification of the Marine motto – semper fi (Always faithful) — with his fidelity to family, friends, LDS faith, his state and country, the Idaho Legislature and the teaching profession.

After a record 30 years of service in the State Senate, Denton is leaving and returning to his farm full-time since he also retired from the classroom, having been an educator for 33 years. The people of Idaho in general and supporters of education in particular owe him a solid vote of gratitude for a job well done.

Rather than run against good friend State Senator Dean Cameron (R-Rupert), chair of the powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, when redistricting combined their districts, Darrington, true to his genuine modesty, chose to retire.

A walking encyclopedia of Idaho political history and an excellent practitioner of the art of politics, one wishes the veteran state senator was not so humble about his God-given skills. Urged by many friends to run for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2006, Darrington took a pass on grounds he believed he was not qualified.

Instead, the state ended up with the truly unqualified Tom Luna who has alienated most teachers and been the spear point for Republican attacks on the Idaho Education Association over issues like collective bargaining, merit pay, and on-line education.

Many believe Idaho education would not be at the nadir it has fallen to if someone like Darrington, with actual classroom experience and a working knowledge of politics, had been leading the SPI office during these perilous times.

The senator’s farm is outside of Declo, a small farming community a few miles east of Burley at the crossroads of State Highways 81 and 77. Early one morning I recently caught up with him before he jumped on his tractor.

I was following up on a request he’d made when we bumped into each other in Boise this winter. He wanted to provide me with the “rest of the story” on an item in my recent book on Governor Andrus which recounted an incident when I was working for the Idaho State Journal in 1970 and was the only reporter at a hearing on the SPI office budget.

Using hyperbolic language I’d described the hearing as a “kangaroo court” being conducted by two “red-neck” State Senators out to “lynch” then State Superintendent Del Engelking.

Darrington knew I was referring to a predecessor, Joe Preston.

At one time, Preston was a rising star in southern Idaho politics. Elected to the State House in 1964, he became good friends with another rising star, a young state senator from Idaho Falls, Terry Crapo, who through his leadership position was able to help Preston become in his second term the chair of the House Revenue and Taxation committee, the second most powerful position after Speaker, in the House.

In 1968 the district’s incumbent state senator, Don Loveland, vacated the seat for an abortive run for the GOP nomination to be the Second congressional district’s representative (He lost in the primary to Idaho Falls State Senator Orval Hansen).

Denton’s father, like Denton, a teacher and a farmer, and active in Republican politics, decided to run for the Senate seat. Much to his surprise, his neighbor and friend, Joe Preston, called him to say he had decided to run also.

Fair enough except Preston then ran a classic smear campaign against the senior Darrington that maligned both he and his wife, who also taught, for being a part of the state’s new PERSI retirement program, alleging the pair would be “ripping off” the taxpayers and conveniently skipping over facts like their own contributions.

Preston framed the race as a choice between “rip-off” teachers or good ole’ hard-workin’ Joe. Preston’s whole campaign was extremely anti-education. His tactics succeeded as he won, but it was a pyrrhic victory. In the process he so alienated many Republicans that he served only one term and was defeated in 1970 by Democrat radio station owner Bob Saxvik, who held the seat for three terms.

In 1976 Saxvik was in turn defeated by the GOP’s Dean Van Engelen, who held the seat for six years before vacating in 1982 for an abortive run for the GOP nomination for State Auditor (he lost to Nolan Young).

That opened the door for then Cassia County GOP chairman Denton Darrington who won the seat that he should have inherited from his father and held it for 30 years. Interestingly, he defeated then Democrat Bruce Newcombe, a future Republican House Speaker. And that’s the rest of the story.

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Carlson Idaho

A vigorous debate this afternoon in Spokane (watchable on TVW) between the two main candidates (almost certainly the two who will face each other post-primary) for Washington governor, Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee.

They were not greatly imbalanced. McKenna talked faster, whipped through bullet points with crisp precision, probably got in more effective digs at Inslee than Inslee did of him, and scored more points in a formal debate sense. He also seemed a little cold and off-putting, even a little technocratic. Inslee was a little slower-paced, made fewer specific points and sometimes fuzzed those, but conveyed more of a sense of an overarching sensibility. He seemed a little warmer and more approachable. Both came across as smart and knowledgeable.

The debate was cordial, but both were careful to draw distinctions between them on almost everything. Toward the end McKenna remarked that “It’s good to have a strong contrast; we clearly have that here” (and they did) on the two-thirds voting requirement for legislative imposition of taxes. Attorney General McKenna supported it as policy, not just as a legal case, saying the voters were right to build a higher wall to passage of a tax after the state had raised a number of them over the years. Inslee’s response was that “It is a principle of democracy that we have one person, one vote.” The two-thirds requirement gives more clout to a person one one side of an issue.

The debate focused on the economy, education and budget matters. Asked about charter schools – there’s a prospective ballot issue to allow for some of them in Washington, overturning the current ban – McKenna said he would vote aye, while Inslee was in opposition.

These points could be among the keynotes of the campaigns to come, along with a couple of other comments each made. McKenna’s closing included the comment that “In Olympia, all we hear are excuses.” That almost sounds like a counterpoint to a comment Inslee made earlier, about concerns of a “my way or the highway” approach to governance – a reference he made directly to Republicans in Congress but which might also be applied to states like Wisconsin.

More debates to come. Watch them develop.

UPDATE: WHO WON? Self-selecting polls are never to be trusted too much, as they’re subject to gaming. But presumably since both sides may have had a crack at it, here’s the Seattle Times‘ online poll (self-selecting) at midday Wednesday on who won: McKenna 48.2%, Inslee 47.2%. A wash.

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Oregon Fish & Wildlife employees scrub a dock of creatures clinging to it on a long trip from Japan. (Photo/Department of Fish & Wildlife)

Last week, a dock from Japan, unmoored when that nation suffered a tsunami earlier this year, washed up on a beach new Newport. Signatures were turned in at the Washington Secretary of State’s office for a referendum to overturn the state’s new same-sex marriage laws.

Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction Susan Castillo announced her resignation, turning over that job to Governor John Kitzhaber. Long-time public Idahoans Perry Swisher died at Boise.

A grazing act proposed by Representative Raul Labrador clears a key committee. The number of adults in Washington getting pertussis vaccination is on a sharp rise. Oregon state officials have block a plan to allow liquor licenses at some Portland food carts.

All this and a lot more in this week’s Briefings. For more, write us at [email protected]

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The Idaho Press Tribune in Nampa has become the third newspaper home, starting today, of our weekly Idaho column.

Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook has up a piece describing the column and my background in Canyon County.

A bit more about the background:

In 1976, Canyon County had two newspapers, the Nampa Idaho Free Press and the Caldwell News-Tribune, jointly owned and with the larger share of the operations (and the press) in Nampa. At the time I was on summer break from the University of Idaho, and stopped by at Caldwell with a story proposal, which I dropped off. The story wasn’t accepted (for good reason – it was out of date), but the editor called me in for an interview, and hired me. I stayed there about a year and three-quarters.

It was a good experience. The Caldwell office was in effect a substantial bureau, but staffed lightly enough that everyone has a hand in reporting all sorts of things. My main area was the Canyon County courthouse and the local school district, but I worked on police and courts reporting (picking up court records was part of the daily routine) and whatever else needed to be done.

By comparison with just a few years later, it was low tech. Computers hadn’t quite arrived (they would before long, but after I left), so I was among the last cadre of journalists still to work on manual typewriters and edit stories by gluing the parts of them together.

Another era. But one full of lessons nonetheless.

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Idaho website

Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Perry Swisher died the other day at the age of 88. Older Idaho media and political types have been publically reminiscing about that otherwise obscure event for the last few days. Since I knew him for more than 40 of his years, guess I’ll join the chorus.

To most of you, the name Perry Swisher won’t mean anything. But, to some of us who knew him, he’s been a constant – or a constant irritant – in all our lives. For better or worse. Read on and you’ll know why.
Swish was the most curious son-of-a-bitch I ever knew! Bar none! This description of the man purloined from the Lewiston Tribune by Ridenbaugh Proprietor Randy Stapilus tells you why I say that. “As a journalist, legislator, gardener, guru, crusader, advisor to the mighty and the molested, critic, bard, counselor wondrous, administrator, confessor, orator, pundit laureate and consummate pain in the posterior…” Well, you get the idea.

If something – anything – caught his attention that he was unfamiliar with, the next time you saw him, he’d know more about it than you. It might be a radical new scientific theory or a new species of bug in his garden or anything in between. People with that kind of personality trait are rare. You can’t teach it. You got it or you ain’t. He had it in abundance.

It’s hard to say if the man was your friend. Or you were his. It was a word he almost never used and he didn’t act like one much of the time. In the traditional sense. Drunk or sober, he’d jump all over you during one encounter, then support your point at the next. He had no patience with people he thought were fools and – when alone defending some arcane “fact” – he thought most around him fit that description on occasion.

In the 60′s, he’d often come into a Pocatello watering hole late in the evening, followed by a couple of local sycophants, take up his station in a corner booth and hold court till closing. Local politicians or media types wandering through the place during his “office” hours would almost always stop. For the uninitiated, that scene could give you the wrong idea of what the guy was all about.

He ran for office as a “D” and an “R” and an “I” with various success. He served in both houses of the Idaho Legislature and ran for governor. That run for governor as an “I” was one of the few mistakes in his political life but he did it because – at the time of his decision – neither major party candidate would support a sales tax referendum he and others had worked for several years to get before voters.

When the Democrat candidate was killed late in the 1966 campaign, his chosen replacement had also labored to get the tax issue on the ballot. A real believer. Swisher was asked to withdraw lest he split the vote and cause the Democrat to lose. But by then, Swish would not back down. Commitment? Maybe. Ego? Maybe. Swish lost. The Dem lost. But the sales tax won.

That moment seemed to be a turning point in his life. Though he later served another term in the legislature, he seemed to pay more attention to his journalistic career than being active in politics though he wrote many political columns and editorials, served as a political appointee and kept his lifelong interest in all things political.

Swish had the most permanently unchanging personality of anyone I’ve ever known. If you knew him as I did – from his 40′s through his 80′s – his frontal attack on issues and the passion of his views never changed. If he DID go from one side of an issue to another, he’d defend the new view with the same outspoken zeal. Whatever the subject – whatever the point – he was into it 110%.
Perry Swisher was one of those few people you run across who left an impression on everyone. Good or bad. No shades of gray. In my experience, he seldom sought out anyone to associate with. But many of us sought him out. We did so because we always learned something. He was brusk and sometimes rude. He was short-tempered and could be riled over something simple. He could – and often did – say things others might have thought but also thought better than to say. He could wither someone with profanity-laced anger if he thought you were a fool.

But, especially in his later years, he could teach. The man could teach. If you wanted to learn – really wanted to learn – I never saw anyone more anxious to keep pushing a person to learn. A new skill. A new experience. A new viewpoint.

Whether we said so – whether we even admitted to ourselves it was so – many of us looked to Swisher for help in understanding more about the world around us.
I think he’d be proud if we added the word “teacher” to that list of adjectives used to describe him some 30 years ago. And that’s a pretty good legacy.

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Idaho Rainey

Perry Swisher

News reports have proffered a shorthand description of Perry Swisher, who died Wednesday, as a legislator, utilities commissioner and newspaperman, which is accurate. But nowhere near explanatory.

The closest anyone has come to explaining Swisher in a single sentence may be this, from a profile of him in the Lewiston Tribune upon his departure from that paper:

“As a journalist, legislator, gardener, publisher, guru, crusader, advisor to the mighty and the molested, critic, bard, counselor wondrous, administrator, confessor, orator, pundit laureate and consummate pain in the posterior – to place the adjective ‘former’ in front of those titles is not to know the man – Perry Swisher has been handing down observations and decrees ever since he presided over his Owyhee County birth 55 years ago.”

He was 88 when he died, and the description still fit. And still leaves out so much.

Swisher made his mark at Pocatello, as a reporter, political activist and candidate (not mutually exclusive then). He became a businessman, running a bookstore and a weekly newspaper. That paper, the Intermountain, covered regional and state politics, with other subjects, and Swisher wrote nearly all of it for more than a decade. His range was tremendous, from detailed commentary on government to “Madame Fifi,” an Ann Landers parody. (Great reading about the time and place even now.)

(One correspondent wrote today to remember: “One of my best recollections of Swish was when he was still knocking out the Idaho Intermountain weekly, even though it consistently operated in the red. It was kind of like Public television. Very few people actually bought it, financially supported it, or admitted that they saw it. However, somehow everyone seemed to know what was in it.”)

The only business he ran that made money, he once said, was a restaurant – nicely located across the street from a movie theatre, toward which the fans’ exhaust was directed.

But his sense of public service was strong enough that he won legislative office regularly as a Republican in Democratic Bannock County. In 1966, after more than two decades of intense political and governmental work, he threw away his livelihood and his standing in his political party to mount a hopeless run for governor as an Indpendent because, he felt, someone had to be out there supporting the newly-enacted sales tax, which the the voters were about to either sustain or reject. (They voted aye. Swisher is one of the main reasons Idaho has a sales tax.) In the next decade, he returned to the legislature for one term as a Democrat, but this was no usual conversion: He could be as harsh about his new party as his old one.

He was an unpredictable speaker because he never stopped thinking and learning. A cup of coffee with Swisher was a journey on a switchback trail through first one topic (say, low-head hydro), across to another seemingly unrelated (the rate of worker comp insurance) to yet another (maybe a local election in Burley) and on and on – it was to see the connections and causal relationships, different angles of lighting, otherwise not obvious at all. This journalist was always a wonderful interview, partly because of his absolute blunt candor with a twist. He described Lewiston as “caught in a time warp,” a place where the mayor should be Rod Serling and all the cars should have tailfins. On appointment to the utilities commission Swisher, who strongly favored utility regulation, said he wasn’t a “consumer advocate” because he didn’t approve of heedless consumption. He was a font of ideas, and of thinking them through to reach practical conclusions.

Swisher was unique. His legacy in thought and practice that will influence Idaho for a long time.

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Idaho Idaho column

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

As the school year draws to a close Idaho’s teachers face a challenge: do they spend their summer recreating and holding down a summer job somewhere as many have to do; or, do they get actively involved in the campaign to repeal the Otter/Luna reform that further eviscerates Idaho’s already weakened commitment to public education?

Their future as well as the economic growth of the state depends on their response. Bottom line is people, especially those with children in public schools, trust teachers to know what’s best when it comes to learning.

Voters know teachers are more credible on educational matters than are
administrators or politicians like Governor C.L. “Butch Otter” or State Superintendent Tom Luna when it comes to knowing and convincingly talking about “students come first.”

It should be a no brainer that teachers would man the ramparts and lead the charge for the three ballot repeals but it is not that simple. Teachers in some districts are faced with a classic short term gain vs. longer term gain if they sacrifice. What voters do not realize is the insidious genius in the financial gamesmanship that was orchestrated during the last session of the Legislature.

To over-simplify, some school districts are withholding the $3000 pay increase (a combination of the new merit pay if it is not repealed plus replacing a previously withheld pay boost) that teachers on average will receive IF the repeals are defeated. If the repeals are passed then the new pay will not be distributed, especially the “merit pay” portion. It is a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The net effect is some teachers are incentivized to at least stay neutral. Whoever thought this up is a malevolent genius (my candidate is Luna’s right hand, Jason Hancock).

So, not only do all teachers have to get actively involved in campaigning as those most in tune with what is truly best for students, some have to do so while sacrificing a short term pay boost for their longer term goals of reasserting that they know best and they are repelling this assault on their collective bargaining rights.

Additionally, teachers have to advocate “preemptively” for more financial support for their endeavors. Not only is Idaho lagging badly in per pupil support for education, the system continues to operate in large part ignoring a judicial mandate to improve significantly the physical structures where education is conducted by underpaid teachers.

Those interested in the facts should carefully review former Budget officer Mike Ferguson’s outstanding report which also documented the precipitous decline in support for public education as a percentage of personal income.

In these economically stressed times teachers cannot think they can simply ask for more from the general fund without their critics saying this would require a tax increase. It behooves them to identify new sources of revenue other than new taxes. Fortunately, there are several excellent “targets of opportunity”:

1) Sell the state-owned leases or truly up to fair market value the properties on Payette and Priest Lakes.
2) Charge the State Tax Commission to get on with a program systematically reducing the numerous sales tax exemptions granted over the years as was recommended by a bi-partisan interim committee several years back that had as one of its members Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill (R-Rexburg).
3) Enforce the annual 5% of net gaming proceeds due the State Treasury from ALL gaming tribes, especially the Sho-Bans (levy for back taxes owed?) who have ignored the initiative mandating the 5% giveback on the grounds that their compact trumps the initiative. It does not and some legislator ought to ask the Attorney General to opine.

Those three steps could bring millions in new revenue to the state to be reallocated to strengthening support for public education and teachers. More importantly it not only would comply with the state constitutional mandate it would be an investment in Idaho’s future all should be willing to make.

An apology: I owe Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter an apology. Sometimes, to make a point one engages in too much hyperbole and crosses a line, as I did in my column seconding Governor Cecil Andrus’ warning about possible changes to the 1995 Nuclear Waste Agreement negotiated by Governor Batt.

While I do not trust the Department of Energy at all, Governor Otter reiterated his unequivocal commitment to standing by the agreement. Butch Otter is a man of his word. It was simply wrong for me to indicate he would betray this state he loves as much as anyone. My bad, my wrong and my shame. I disagree with much of what Butch advocates but I do apologize for impugning his integrity and his honesty. We’re both Mass-going, bead-carrying Roman Catholics. I was correctly admonished by our mutual good friend, Father Tim Ritchey, who often talks also about forgiveness.

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There will be more commentary along various other lines of analysis, but here’s one related to the Wisconsin gubernatorial non-recall that bears direct consideration in Idaho:

A year-plus ago in the Gem State, the Idaho Legislature, on request of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, passed three sweeping education laws that riled a lot of people, including most of the state’s teachers. A referendum was developed for a voter decision on the measures, and at the time – a year ago – the passion against those three new laws was running very high. Advocates of repeal had little trouble getting them on the ballot. The vote comes in November.

Based on the Wisconsin experience, the odds are: Those referenda have almost no chance of passage.

Why? Well, in Wisconsin the passion against Governor Scott Walker, when he pushed through the legislation and other actions that so outraged his critics, was running very high. In 2011, polling month after month consistently showed he was all but dead politically, easy picking for a recall. Pro-recallers easily collected a million signatures against him. Polling was consistent that he would lose to the man who he beat in 2010.

This year, the polling reversed. Walker hasn’t become hugely popular, but his face came up from underwater. By election day, he was able to survive – in the rematch against the man who nearly beat him in 2010, and very likely would have last year.

Conclusion? Keeping that heat on for a long period of time is very, very hard. People in Idaho don’t talk so much about the “Luna laws” the way they did a year ago. And that will make it vastly harder to do them in at the polls. As Wisconsin demonstrated.

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While more of the county-budget-nightmare attention has been focused on the southwestern counties – Josephine, Coos, Jackson, Curry – there’s another fierce storm broiling to their east in Klamath County.

A rundown in the Sunday Herald and News calls it a “perfect storm,” and this one almost seems to fit the overused description.

Let’s see: We can start with the personnel issues, like sexual harassment claims against a former treasurer; accusation of a former assessor that he sent e-mails variously racist and including porn; a state review of the mental health agency (and resignation of its head). Three legal actions by whistleblowers. The end of federal timber payments (which is what’s bedeviling the counties to the west). And a review by the state finding the county’s bookkeeping in a “general state of disarray.”

Time, maybe, for some soul-searching – not least on the part of the voters.

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Tobacco seized from prison inmates in Idaho. (Photo/Idaho Department of Corrections)

Last week, Washington state’s initiative requiring a legislative supermajority to pass tax and fee increases was struck down by a court. Former New York and Miami school chief Rudy Crew was named to head Oregon’s education reorganization efforts. Ada County has denied a major property tax exemption for the Idaho Youth Ranch.

An Oregon state audit looked into the overally financial condition of the state’s 36 counties, finding most of them in acceptable shape but several (mainly in the southwest) serious troubled. Idaho’s first wildfires of the season have cropped up. King County is taking a closer look at the sports arena plan proposed by the county executive and Seattle’s mayor. Washington has set up I-5 from Canada to Vancouver for electric car recharges. Multnomah County has set its new annual budget.

A Boise State University study said that global warming could impair the region’s aquifers. Representative Peter DeFazio is asking White House help to look into gas prices on the West Coast. A federal sea lion policy allowing for killing of sea lions is allowed to stand.

All this and a lot more in this week’s Briefings. For more, write us at [email protected]

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As you hear politicians talk about the economy this season, and next, bear in mind this question: Which economy?

Idaho’s statewide unemployment rates, for example, get substantial notice in news reports when they come out each month, but county jobless rates often are a little more obscure. (We’ll bypass for the moment the many questions associated with what those statistics include, and don’t.)

As of March, for example, the statewide unemployment rate was 7.9%. (It fell by two-tenths of a point the next month; March is the most recent month for which all county statistics are available.) But it was not the same everywhere. In Adams County, it was 18.6%, while in Owyhee County – in the same region of the state, also a rural area and barely an hour’s drive away – it was 4.9%. If all of Idaho were at 4.9%, it would not be said to have a significant unemployment problem at all; at 18.6%, Idaho would have slipped into serious depression.

This broad range isn’t unusual. Go back pre-slump to March 2007, when the statewide rate was 2.8%, and you’ll find numbers much smaller but also highly variable. Then, Clearwater County was at 7.2% (Adams was second), while the lowest jobless rate was 1.3% in Teton County. (The growth of high-end resort areas slowed during the slump.)

In the last few years, the same set of counties have bunched together at the high and low ends. Adams, Clearwater, Benewah, Valley (since collapse of the Tamarack resort development) and Shoshone have been high-jobless, consistently, often in close to that order. The low-jobless counties much of the time since the slump has begun have included Owyhee, Oneida, Franklin and Bear Lake.

This seems to belie the usual talk of an urban-rural split, wherein most jobs and money migrating to urban areas (which tend to rank toward the middle among Idaho’s 44 in jobless rates) and leaving rural counties, especially counties where population has been stagnant or has even declined. But “slow-population” described most counties both at high and low on the jobless list. And all of them rely a lot on resource industries of some sort.

Why the gap? Kathryn Tacke, an analyst with the state Department of Labor, pointed to the difference between the timber economy and the farm economy. In timber areas (Adams, Clearwater, Benewah, Shoshone, and several other high-jobless counties fit), recovery has been sporadic, as the national construction industry has been slow to return. But, she noted, with good prices for commodities like wheat and cattle, “it’s actually been a pretty good time for farmers. And farmers have been spending money.” That helps tamp down unemployment in rural southern counties like Franklin and Owyhee.

The splits run more ways, too. Ada and Canyon counties are seamlessly united in one dense population area, but Ada’s unemployment rate in March was 7.2%, while Canyon’s was 10.1%. The specific mix of industry patterns, and probably government employment, likely to have a lot to do with it.

This is all a lot more specific than you might think from the politicial rhetoric floating around and getting ever thicker.

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