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Posts published in June 2012

Passion dies

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.

Klamath too

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.

In the Briefings this week

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

Different places, different economies

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.

Burner v. Koster?

The first poll is out for the ever-fascinating Washington District 1 contest, with a whole cadre of presumably strong Democratic contenders and just one major Republican, John Koster.

Most of these Democrats are well-financed and have run major races before, are comparably well known, have decent campaigning skills and they're not (evidently) terribly far apart on issues. That has made th business of trying to figure out a front runner a complex matter.

No longer.

The poll shows two-time District 8 Democratic nominee Darcy Burner ahead whether you measure all likely voters (19%) or just Democrats (45%). Next, but well behind, two other veterans of major-office races: Laura Ruderman (6%/13%) and Suzan DelBene (4%/11%).

In the top two runoff, then, if this poll is accurately reflective of the landscape, looks like it's Koster v. Burner.

The poll (KING5/SurveyUSA) also tested several of the Democrats against Koster. Koster led all of them, but Burner at nine points behind (48%-39%) came closer than any of the others. (A presumption: Those numbers tighten post-primary, a typical development in campaign cycles.)

The race begins to take more shape.

Washington legislature runs close, but a turnover?

No major arguments here with the Washington legislative races overview just out from Chris Vance (a former state Republican chair) in the Crosscut.

He figures the contest for control of the Washington legislature - both houses now are in Democratic control - is close, but leans Democratic. The Senate currently is 27 to 22, and the House 56-42. That sounds like a slightly stronger Democratic lead than it really is, especially in the Senate; a three-seat turnover there would reverse control of the chamber, and Democrats seem to have nearly conceded one of their current (admittedly difficult to hold) seats, in Pierce County. The House is a little more a stretch, since an eight-seat turnover would be needed.

Since in Washington at least the year is likely to benefit Democrats a little more on the presidential level, and since that filters down to the legislative level, their odds of retention are helped a bit. But there are a number of vulnerable seats on both sides. This isn't a legislative contest either side can simply assume will wind up in their favor, as Democrats have generally been able to do the last couple of cycles - and Republicans are not without hope of majorities. (They seem to be moving assertively enough that they evidently understand that.) The once-big Democratic majorities have been whittled, and there's not as much room for error as there was.