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Posts published in July 2012

The impact of an arts center

ISU
Dr. Kent Tingey, Idaho State University's vice president for university advancement, stands outside ISU's Stephens Performing Arts Center in Pocatello.

 

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

One of the nation’s most prestigious performing arts centers attracting top musicians and artists from throughout the world can be found in Pocatello – of all places.

Not many people would consider Idaho a cultural mecca, but Idaho State University’s $35 million L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center ranks among the best venues for concerts and performances anywhere.

The majestic Stephens Center prominently occupies nearly 17 acres atop Bartz Hill overlooking the ISU campus and the Portneuf Valley. Many Idahoans consider the Stephens Center one of the Gem State’s many crown cultural jewels.

“It’s made an unbelievable impact on the community and the state,” said Dr. Kent Tingey, ISU’s vice president for university advancement, estimating that economic impact in multi millions of dollars.

In 1998, Thelma Stephens, widow of L.E. Stephens, a potato industry pioneer, gave ISU $10 million as seed money for the project. The Stephenses were close friends of former ISU athletics director Milton “Dubby” Holt after whom ISU’s Holt Arena is named. She died in September 2006 at the age of 98. (more…)

Cutting both ways

There's been a chorus among conservatives - not least in the Wall Street Journal - about the federal interest in Idaho Falls' Frank Vandersloot and the business he operates, Melaleuca.

Vandersloot is one of the bigger financial figures in the Mitt Romney presidential campaign. So when last month Vandersloot found that two federal agencies, the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor - both operating in the executive branch led by Barack Obama - were making regulatory inquiries (an audit of Vandersloot's taxes and a check on several foreign temporary workers at a ranch), you can understand wondering about a possible connection between that and his political activity - his active support of the man trying to unseat Obama.

The timing is, as someone looking at the situation noted, "curious."

Or it could be that this is routine agency business. Taxpayer audits and foreign labor checks are normal parts of what those agencies do. It happens.

Lacking smoking-gun evidence, we won't draw any conclusions about that here. And we'd suggest that anyone eager to jump to that conclusion - that politics drives agency actions all the time - consider something else from this month, too.

When the state-level Idaho Economic Advisory Council met in Pocatello on July 11, it had money to distribute - close to a million dollars in block grant funds. (More will be spent later.) As Mark Mendiola reported from that meeting, "council members unanimously endorsed providing $399,000 to Bonneville County for a Melaleuca lift station to develop 6,600 acres of prime commercial land."

That payout may very well have been a normal part of operations, and Vandersloot's close relationship with most of Idaho's top elected officials might have had nothing to do with it.

You wonder what Vandersloot's supporters, so quick on the draw when it comes to federal agency action, would think about that.

An edit hard to take seriously

The Oregonian is weighing in, after a fashion, on the upcoming pot legalization ballot issue (Measure 80), with not one but two opinion page pieces on Sunday. Both seem extremely determined to miss the point.

The editorial starts, and includes a bit of, the on-the-one-hand kind of approach, acknowledging the arguments for legalization. Then it goes on to this: "But the choice before Oregonians doesn't involve the expansion of a farcical medical marijuana program into a thoughtfully constructed legalization program. Instead, we're being asked to swap one farce for another."

The new farce, it argues, is the board which would regulate cannabis in the state, which under terms of the ballot would first be simply appointed by the governor, then include a majority of members (five of seven) which would come from the pot grower industry.

To be sure, that wouldn't be a good idea. It also wouldn't survive long; the legislature could rejigger the numbers and composition, and almost certainly would. The measure also includes a provision saying the new council would be assigned to do promotion of the product - not an unusual task for commodity commissions, but one you'd surely want on a leash. A leash which again, the legislature undoubtedly would provide. (In a case like this, it's really not much of a stretch of argue that the legislature would act.)

That's basically the sum of the editorial's argument against the measure.

Like many ballot issues, Measure 80 includes a section which includes some justification for itself, a series of statements either demonstrably true or at least as arguable as statements on many another ballot issue. With this one, though columnist Susan Nielson takes issue, not by way of disagreeing with the specifics (which might be hard to do) but making argument that sounds just this side of paranoid: "It appears eager to indoctrinate the next generation into thinking of marijuana use as no big deal and cannabis cultivation as downright patriotic."

Really? Pro-pot indoctrination?

Both articles carefully keep their arguments some distance from the real point of the ballot issue. The reality, as the pot advocates are well aware, is not that changing state law on the subject will immediately change reality on the ground. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and if the measure passes in November it will remain so. The only real point of the measure is as an expression of opinion, of whether the current regime should stay in place, or some form of legalization should replace it. It's almost a vast, formalized opinion poll intended to be part of a national shake-up on the subject; that's why activists in a half-dozen states are trying to do something similar, to make a statement that might (if successful) be large enough to reverberate.

And you can argue legitimately about whether the country should move in that direction. But arguments like those in Sunday's Oregonian simply miss the point.

Chances of change

idahocolumnn

A long-held principle in electoral politics: Until the votes are counted, there are no absolutes – no 100 percent chance of winning, no zero percent chance of losing. Even in a race that looks like a slam dunk, there’s a little room for long-shot possibility.

So the newly-posted Facebook page from 2nd district Democratic challenger Nicole LeFavour, “Why Nicole can win,” makes for provocative reading. Widespread wisdom is that six-term Republican incumbent Mike Simpson is solidly positioned for a seventh term; is there an argument to the contrary? (Bearing in mind, it would be political malpractice for her not to pitch one.)

To start: Idaho’s congressional districts change this year, and the second now includes more of Boise than before, including nearly all its Democratic-leaning voters. “Some consider this district stronger for Democrats than Idaho’s first congressional district was when Walt Minnick was elected to U.S. Congress in 2008.” Maybe. But Minnick won in unusual conditions, and lost two years later.

Second, “Mike Simpson simply has never faced a democratic opponent who is both well funded and well organized. He has grown comfortable without a challenger for so many years and has spent much of his time out of state, his responses to constituent letters growing less and less personal.” The second point is a matter of perspective, but as to the first, Simpson has had serious opponents. He was held to 52% in his first 1998 run against former Representative Richard Stallings, and Simpson’s weakest re-elect in the last decade, 62%, was against former legislator and ace organizer Jim Hansen.

“Few people realize the level of name recognition and support Nicole has in Eastern Idaho where her work leading efforts to stop Tom Luna's efforts to replace teachers with lap tops made her a familiar face and leader for thousands of teachers and parents.” She may get some help there, but remember: Luna won the district in a landslide in 2010, and the region has many legislators who backed his school change efforts.

LaFavour is a good fundraiser, at “almost $160,000 so far.” But: Simpson’s cash intake, as of June 30, was $955,982. Much of that has been spent, but he easily could raise more. She is a hard-working and strong campaigner, better than most – but not all – of her predecessor challengers.

The page rousts the elephant in the room: “For those who ask, can a gay person win, especially in eastern Idaho? Remember LDS families have gay kids too. ... While there may remain dwindling tension over the issue of marriage, animosity toward gay people generally is quickly vanishing.” This is a wild card, but there are factors in play before you even get to it. LeFavour is a relatively liberal, north Boise Democrat campaigning in a district where most voters routinely support very different candidates. Presidential years in Idaho usually help Republicans. There’s literally nothing in the last two decades of Idaho voting history in the second district to argue for an upset.

Suggesting though – leaving aside the horse race – some real utility in her run. Instead of encountering a Democrat running as Republican-lite, or quickly forgettable, eastern Idahoans will be getting some world-view expansion. LeFavour is working hard introducing herself to people who rarely see or hear from anyone like her. In parts of Idaho where cultural norms and demographics are tightly limited, she could create a small revolution – an awareness of more than one way to look at things poliltically. Which may be a radical concept in some parts of the Gem State.

The return of the Citizens Guide

Idaho Citizens Guide
Sample pages from the Citizens Guide 





 

The timing seems right, in a new political era when there's too often not agreement about facts - a time when, as we may hold varying opinions as a matter of judgment, we no longer seem to be drawing from the same well of common information. This book, in the case of Idaho at least, is an attempt at pulling together a common well of information - data, at least, and some reasonably well informed perspective.

Three of us - Mark Stubbs, James Weatherby and myself - wrote the Idaho Citizens Guide in 1999 (it has been in preparation for a while before that), and we had no trouble agreeing on the facts of the matter, the matter being Idaho government, politics, special interests, civic involvement and related subjects. Stubbs, now practicing law in Utah, was a conservative Republican state representative from Twin Falls, just off the campaign trail running for the Republican nomination to a U.S. House seat. Weatherby was a professor of public affairs at Boise State University, and previously a lobbyist and executive director of the state's cities association. I had been a newspaper reporter and editor, and was publishing books and periodicals on Northwest government and politics.

We had three very distinctive world views (still do), and our value judgments differed. But as to the facts of how Idaho government, politics and society generally actually in fact operated, we complemented each other but disagreed virtually not at all. We drew from the same well of information.

The result was a book that, we thought, would be useful to anyone thinking about (or already) active in Idaho's civic life. It offered a guide to what all the pieces were, what the terminology was, how things happened.

We got some solid backing, from ex-governors from both political parties. Cecil Andrus: “You can’t read the Idaho Citizens Guide without increasing your knowledge enormously … I anticipate that it will become a standard reference volume in the libraries of every school, community, government office, elected official and campaign headquarters.” Phil Batt: “As a long-time Idaho businessman, I also appreciate the need of citizens to be able to understand their government and how to get things done. The Citizens Guide can help.”

It ran somewhat over 350 pages. We sold some copies, and then it dropped from sight, and has been effectively out of print for about a decade.

That is what we're reissuing now - well, to be available next week. With a few minor alterations (the original included some maps of the Statehouse that would only confuse since the recent remodeling there), we've returned the book to publication as it was then.

There are a few pieces out of date. Some government agencies, not many, have been reorganized, for example. But in reading through it, what you find is that the well of facts now is very much like the well of facts then.

If you're thinking of getting active in Idaho in some way, even to the point of voting, the Citizens Guide would be a good place to start to get yourself well informed.

Shouldn’t be as important as it is

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

Many citizens of this country – in my mind far too many – have little to no
idea how it operates, don’t understand how the institutions of government function or relate, don’t apply daily news stories to their own lives, find politics boring/distasteful and go about their own business thinking someone else will handle it. Until something goes wrong or adversely affects them. Then they holler.

While that sounds a bit arrogant, I don’t mean it to be. Evidence supporting that thesis is all around us. Even in Congress. Maybe especially in Congress. Just a few days ago, I was involved in another example of this too-large civic vacuum on my Facebook page. Someone is linked to that page; someone I don’t know but it appears we have a mutual friend or two. I don’t like that feature because that immediately makes your “friends” my “friends” and, in life, that’s not always the case.

But back to the Facebook evidence. This person seemed honestly motivated to start a discussion by asking if Mitt Romney should produce more tax returns than the one he already has and the one he’s promised to. I thought the answer was pretty obvious – he must – but the several dozen answers that came in over the next few hours showed how little some people really know about the important issues implicit in that question.

For the record, most of the respondents clearly had some good education judging by spelling, sentence structure and coherent thought. They seemed interested in saying their “piece” and – whether you agreed/disagreed with their position – did so with some apparent conviction. Problem was, some of those convictions just didn’t square with knowledge of the subject. (more…)

Local power

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

It is often said “power corrupts,” and “absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

There are exceptions to that rule and one exists in Benewah County.

For almost 40 years one person has worn lightly with grace and humility the crown of absolute political power in this north Idaho county: County Commissioner Jack Buell.

Now 76 years young he has served the public interest well, won many friends along the way, and most would admit made some enemies also. Jack wears his heart on his sleeve. He personifies the old adage, “show me a man with no enemies and I’ll show you a man with no character. If you stand for anything in this world you make enemies.”

By this definition Jack may have lots of character. Two entities that have felt the lash of his tongue and done little to endear themselves to him over the years are the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and the Idaho State Police.

Jack is also what a fan of his, former Governor Cecil D. Andrus, would call a “lunch bucket” Democrat - a person who cares about jobs and people having decent-paying jobs where they make an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s labor so they can provide for their children’s education while also enjoying Idaho’s quality of life on weekends.

Given that both Cece and Jack come out of the “slab, sliver and knothole” business it is no coincidence there is a casual mutually respectable affinity between the two.

As the founder of Jack A. Buell Trucking he has provided jobs for many folks in and around Benewah County for many years. His unique “Jack Buell green” (reportedly a registered color) trucks which started by hauling logs but now also haul chips are a familiar sight on the roads and highways of north Idaho.

What few know is that Jack understands loyalty and believes in investing in people. He is especially loyal to his employees and their families and he knows too that it is a two-way street. During economically challenging times he strives to keep as many workers employed as he can and loathes laying anyone off.

People don’t forget that kind of loyalty.

For years now anyone who holds any statewide public office, or aspires to hold such offices, make it a point to trek to St. Maries, the county seat, to court and cultivate Jack. A shrewd judge of people and character, his recommendations about who to support and why he was voting for or against someone becomes an implied command for the many who respect him. (more…)

Out of doors and world view

idahocolumnn

Idaho’s glory is its outdoors and the living things in it. The ways Idahoans relate to that world have long helped drive its politics, and over time in various ways. Those ways could be the process of changing again.

One big change occurred in the sixties and seventies with the rise of environmental activism, which had an effect on how people could use the open lands, and drew some sharp, and changing, political lines. For a time those trends helped elect conservation-minded officials (think Cecil Andrus in 1970), later fueling the Sagebrush Rebellion. Those changes happened at a time when Idaho was more rural, and more oriented around resource industries, than it is now.

And more oriented around hunting and fishing, which like much public land use is tightly regulated.

Look over the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s licensing numbers for the last couple of decades, and you’ll see some distinct patterns. First, bear this in mind: From 1990 to 2010, Idaho’s population went from just over one million, to nearly 1.6 million. If hunting and fishing are as proportionately large a part of Idaho life now as then, you’d expect license increases of 50 percent or more.

Instead, total resident licenses went from 333,700 in 1993 (the earliest year in the currently-maintained statistics), to 362,567 in 2011.

But that raw number is a little misleading, partly reflecting the changes in the kinds of licenses that have been issued. Many of the individual specific licenses show different patterns. The popular residential combination license, for example, went from 110,954 (in 1993) upward to 113,241 (in 1996), but has fallen consistently since, hitting 88,058 in 2011. Residential fishing licenses have grown modestly (from 102,733 in 1993 to 118,967 last year), but residential hunting licenses have declined from 58,349 in 1993, to 40,539 last year. Per-year sales of deer and elk tags fell during that time.

Among over-the-years comparable categories, one has grown big: The senior resident combo license, which sold 12,895 in 1993, and nearly tripled to 36,461. Seniors have been keeping up with hunting and fishing big time. Juniors have not. Sales for the junior combo licenses fell (these numbers compare 1993 and 2011) from 10,267 to 8,854; fishing dropped slightly, from 12,697 to 12,081; and hunting from 15,484 to 13,405. There’s a generational shift here, and the likelihood is for continued drops in hunting and fishing as the younger cohort makes up more of the population.

None of this is any kind of judgment against hunting or fishing, and the decline in numbers could become a problem not only because of state revenue loss but also in the wildlife management law-abiding hunters help provide. And Idaho isn’t unique in this; Oregon and many other states report similar licensing declines, probably for similar reasons.

It’s not hard to see why this would happen. As Idaho becomes more suburban (as overall it is), the more rural-based hunting and fishing traditions soften. At the same time, other outdoors activities remain as popular, or pick up steam. Camping remains a hot activity, and wildlife photography and birding are becoming increasingly active areas.

All these things are likely to have an effect on the way people see their out of doors, the way our policies should deal with them, and the politics that result.

WA Gov: Close, close

Our sense of the Washington governor's race for, well, quite a few months, has been that it's so close as to be a wash. And the polling continues to reinforce that.

Poll out today, from KING 5, gives Republican Rob McKenna 42%, and Democrat Jay Inslee 41% - essentially an even split.

The details below suggest no major hidden areas of support, or trouble, for either. McKenna has a somewhat more enthusiastic base of support, but that would be expected of a serious candidate for a party with few major holds in the state. On the other hand, he might have been expected to take a hit in this state for his backing of the lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act, but the poll suggests no advantage or damage in that area.

And the attorney general's race looks like a wash, too.

Burner v. DelBene?

First place in the upcoming primary election in Washington's 1st will clearly go to Republican John Koster, he being the only Republican running a substantial race. The race for the other spot in the contest to go on to November is being fought out among a bunch of Democrats, most principally, it now seems, Darcy Burner and Suzan DelBene.

There are two decently-funded male candidates in the race too, but they seem to be behind in polling and fundraising. Three women, all veterans of major office races (in two cases previously for Congress), seem to have the major push.

The third is Laura Ruderman, a former legislator who has run for statewide office and is a tough campaigner. She has an unusual role here: Her mother is helping finance a PAC that's been on the attack against DelBene, and that may not help her. She has on the other hand been campaigning strongly and raised money comparable to Burner; both have raised, at the end of June, close to a half million dollars. She got the endorsement of the Seattle Stranger.

Burner, who has run for the House twice before, has led in polling, and leads slightly in a new Strategies 360 poll - but in this one, by just one point, over DelBene.

DelBene, who has also run for Congress, has raised about as much money from other people as Burner and Ruderman but also has self-funded to the tune of a million dollars. In a race in which none of the Democratic candidates is especially well known (Koster, because of his various runs and sometimes wins on the ballot in the area in past years, must be better known in the new district than any of the Democrats), that money can matter, if it's well spent.

More polling surely awaits.