Since their summer convention in Boise, Idaho Democrats have spread out across the state to start campaigning.
Campaigning saying what?
What they said at their convention is in part a reflection of Republican electoral success: A good deal of the platform is a refutation of 2010 Idaho Republican convention positions. There’s this, for example, from the party’s platform preamble – actually, this is almost half of it:
“We reject closed, private elections and voter intimidation. We demand that we continue direct election of US Senators. We reject unwanted government intrusion into medical decisions. We recognize the need for a modern federal banking system, and reject a return to the gold standard as inconsistent with a 21st century economy. We reject the position that state governments have an arbitrary right to nullify federal laws, a position that was settled nearly 150 years ago through bloody conflict.”
Probably a majority of Idahoans would agree to that point. But as for clearly saying what Idaho Democrats are for, as distinct from Republican expressions of broader policy, that’s an old problem. The Republicans have honed a short-form mantra (One, two: Lower taxes, less gov – hey, you live in Idaho, you know the drill); the Democrats have not. It’s not that the Democrats have no ideas or principles, it’s that they’re less easily compressed.
John Rusche, the Lewiston Democrat who is House minority leader and informally centerpoint for Democratic legislative candidates around the state, acknowledged: “It’s a hard thing to encapsulate on a bumper sticker.”
One highly important issue for candidates, he said, is support for education, in a traditional sense - “The need for improved performance doesn’t mean depriving students of teachers; it requires investment.” Another is economic development, which takes “more than just tax cuts: You have have to have healthy community, education, and capital available. You have to be able to train and retrain the work force. ... There is a public good, and government has a role.”
While Democrats generally, he suggested, are talking about these things, though their overall messages will be influenced by who they are and what their district is like. Another candidate remarked of the convention, “there wasn’t a lot of comparing notes.”
But after talking to a few Democratic candidates (a larger than usual number of Democrats are running for the legislature this year), a couple of philosophical themes are woven through these policy themes.
One is pragmatism, often expressed as a willingness to work with the other party (an obvious necessity in a legislature dominated by the other guys). Senate candidate Betty Richardson at Boise, for example, running in a traditionally Republican district (something like it has only elected one Democrat to the legislature for one term, ever), spoke of intent to cross the aisle and work with Republican legislators. Hard-core baiting is not on her agenda.
The other philosophical is a sense of “the common good.” This tends not be pushed as far as it might, but a sense of some degree of community, which was once a larger part of conservatism than it is now, seems to be working its way into Democratic arguments, even in more conservative and Republican areas. A decade or two ago, that might not have made for much difference from many Republican candidates; now, it could.
As to what messages gain some traction, we may have to wait till fall, or so, to see.