idahocolumnn

One of the closest measures, coast to coast, of whether a place is likely to lean Republican or Democratic – now and in recent years – is whether it’s urban or rural. Urban generally goes Democratic, rural Republican.

That’s part of the reason suburban areas, which are a bit in between, have been political battlegrounds, in Idaho and elsewhere. But apart from suburbs, there’s another variation on the theme: Small to mid-sized cities, of which Idaho has a bunch, and which are also sort of in-betweeners.

The largest Idaho city and one true metro center, Boise, has been trending Democratic, running deep blue in its downtown and north area and getting more purple as you move further away, transitioning into bright red in the suburban areas, which have not (yet, or maybe ever) turned into battlegrounds. But what about Idaho’s other cities?

Several of them fit the thesis: Many of the central city areas around Idaho are true battlegrounds or even tint a little blue, especially for legislative seats and sometimes statewide and county offices. Other cities, not so much.

The most Democratic semi-urban area, the Ketchum-Hailey area in the Wood River Valley, of course isn’t a large city but the central areas have a real urban feel, and the same atmosphere of a variety of people, lots of traffic, cultural links to urban areas, and people coming and going. In many ways they fit the pattern and character, as do the small cities of Driggs and Victor in resort-oriented Teton County.

Lewiston and Pocatello are cities with long Democratic histories but which are much more competitive now. The central Lewiston legislative district, or as close to it as exists (it also includes the rest of Nez Perce and Lewis counties), is home to some strongly competitive races this year. The most interesting may be the Senate contest between Republican Dan Johnson and Democrat John Bradbury, a former district judge.

Most of Kootenai County is solidly Republican, but one of the hottest legislative races in Idaho this fall is taking place in the central Coeur d’Alene district. The district 4 House B contest, between Republican Kathy Sims (who has been a legislator) and Democrat Anne Nesse, is reputed to be close, and this is based on more than speculation. In the last decade in a similar predecessor district, Democrats held the two House seats here exactly half the time. This seat is on the short list of realistic Democratic legislative pickup opportunities.

Central Idaho Falls is much less Republican, or more Democratic, than anything around it, but a few terns back it actually elected a Democrat to the House, and that area has seen other close legislative races. It may again, though this year it remains a tough catch for Democrats.

Then there’s Nampa, Caldwell and Twin Falls, which would make a useful political science study. In theory, all three have the components that other, more Democratic or at least more competitive, mid-sized cities have. Democrats have talked in recent years about making inroads into each of them, and there are demographic reasons to think they might shift a bit toward purple. There’s been no significant evidence so far at least that any of them are shifting. Down the road, the possibility remains.

Most of the rest of Idaho? Think of them as non-battleground states in a presidential year.

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Idaho Idaho column

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

A dramatic drop in legislative funding for public education has forced a steep rise in the number of Idaho’s 115 school districts resorting to supplemental override levies to breach the gulf in their money needs.

Idaho’s total public school expenditures as a percent of all expenditures fell from a high of about 35 percent in 1982 to slightly more than 26 percent in 2013. Idaho public school total fund expenditures as a percent of Idaho personal income fell from about 4.7 percent in 1992 to about 3.4 percent in 2013.

Addressing the City Club of Idaho Falls on Sept. 21, Michael Ferguson questioned whether the Idaho Legislature is short changing the state’s school districts and violating the Idaho Constitution, which requires it to “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.”

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy’s director – who served as chief economist for six Idaho governors from 1984 to July 2011 – also asked if the Legislature was complying with the constitution’s mandate that “all taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects within the territorial limits of the authority levying the tax.”

Ferguson said, “What this basically says is that for purposes of the property tax, a taxing entity can’t levy different rates on different taxpayers.” The property tax component of school funding has changed quite a bit in recent years in Idaho, he noted. There was a swap for sales tax done in 2006 that took away an equalized management and operations (M&O) levy.

““With the elimination of the equalized M&O levy, we’re now in a situation where all property tax dollars that are used to fund public school M&O are non-equalized,” Ferguson said.

“Since then, we’ve seen a pretty dramatic increase in the use of unequalized property tax levies. Since education is a state duty, a state responsibility, I would question whether using unequalized property taxes really fulfills the intent of having uniform property taxes.”

Public education funding is “probably one of the most important fiscal policy issues facing the state of Idaho,” he said. Ferguson has focused since the second half of 2011 on the consequences of the “Great Recession” on education funding in the state.

Michael Ferguson, left, director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, converses with City Club of Idaho Falls members. (Photo/mark Mendiola)

Ferguson said the data he discovered was startling and “like a kick in the gut.” It points out serious issues of which most people are unaware, but need public discussion. “So, basically what we have is strong support for eliminating business personal property tax and a pretty difficult budget situation.”

At the end of the 2012 legislative session, the state’s ending budget balance for Fiscal 2013 was estimated at $4.5 million. As of Aug. 12, that was increased to $35.2 million with a new revenue forecast and actual Fiscal 2012 results. “Sounds like things got better,” he said.

Yet, under the Fiscal 2013 structural balance as of the end of August, ongoing revenue totals $2.666 billion with $5 million one-time revenue while ongoing spending totals $2.695 billion. The difference or “structural balance” is negative $29 million.

“So, basically what that means is that for the current fiscal year, even though we have a positive ending balance projected … from a one-time standpoint, it’s negative when you look at it from an ongoing perspective,” Ferguson said. “So, we don’t have a lot of slack in terms of the budget as it stands now.”

House Bill 563, enacted last session, removed $36 million out of the revenue stream by cutting the top personal income tax rate from 7.8 to 7.4, he explained. Had that not been included, the structural balance would have been positive $7 million.

During the 1980s, there was a spike in the number of districts running supplemental levies, but that gradually declined to the end of the 1990s. By 1999, 41 Idaho school districts used supplemental override levies as budget tools to enhance their revenues. By 2011, 83 districts were using them, dipping to 81 in 2012. Preliminary data indicates a record 84 districts will be employing the override levies in 2013.

Dollars associated with supplemental overrides increased at a dramatic rate and leveled out by the end of the ’90s into the early 2000s, when they totaled about $50 million. The total dollar amounts since have been going up dramatically until stabilizing at $136 million to $139 million between 2011 and 2012.

“The preliminary data for 2013 with those 84 districts that will be running supplementals is it will go up to about $171 million,” Ferguson said. “So, there’s yet another pretty steep rise in the use of these unequalized supplemental levies.”

The taxable value per student in the McCall-Donnelly School District is $4.7 million, but the state’s lowest values in the Blackfoot and Snake River districts are $160,877 and $153,437, respectively. “The cost of running remote rural districts is a lot greater than it is with a large district,” Ferguson said. “So, those numbers are going to vary quite a bit.”

Superintendents have told Ferguson the disparity between wealthy and poor districts can create civil war.

“With similar levies, you don’t get nearly the amount of revenue. One of the problems is when you’re in a poor district, it doesn’t really get you very far to run a property tax supplemental levy. You don’t get much in the way of additional funding.”

Many poor districts don’t run supplemental override levies and work strictly off what the state provides. The number of Idaho school districts going with four-day weeks has increased in tandem with declines in legislative education funding the past dozen years. There were 15 such districts in the 2009-2010 school year; 22 districts in 2010-2011, and 34 districts in 2011-2012.

“So, there are consequences from having the lower levels of funding and not having property tax available either because you didn’t have the market value or you didn’t have the voters that were willing to approve it,” Ferguson said, noting property tax has a lot of disparity in terms of what it will provide for funding schools.

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Idaho Mendiola

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

In the 1960 presidential election, John Kennedy received 49.72% of the popular vote; Richard Nixon 49.55%. Kennedy’s actual “win” came in the electoral college. Still, even in victory, he had to walk down the street knowing one of every two people he passed voted against him. Not a comfortable situation. Nor one that makes for effective governing.

Members of Congress knew that, too. Which was why his administration got off to a difficult legislative start. When half – or nearly half – the people vote for someone other than the winner, opposition in Congress tends to be stiffer because members know – statistically and politically – half the folks at home won’t be unhappy about their opposition.

Which is yet another sterling piece of evidence that Mitt Romney – the guy who wants be “Chairman of the Board” rather than a serving president – just doesn’t understand the office and hasn’t a clue about White House and congressional relationships.

One of Romney’s most used stump speech lines – public and private – is he doesn’t need to win by a large margin; “only 50.1%.” It’s his mantra. The phrase “50.1%” is never far from his lips. And it’s usually said with a smile as if he’s just pointed out something only he knows. Well, he may know the number, but has no idea what it means. ‘Cause it ain’t good.

Bill Clinton – the Lazurus of American politics – knows that. He knows, too, 50.1% wouldn’t be enough in this year’s poisonous politics to break the congressional stalemate. Democrats have more than 50.1% of the Senate already and it’s done them no good.

If – as I suspect – the makeup of the House and Senate won’t be much different in 2013 from what it is today, a president who doesn’t receive a mandate from the voters will have no more chance to break the logjam than Obama had these last four years. It’ll be more of the same.

So what would be a mandate? Hard to say. I’d put it at 54-57% at least. A percentage high enough that the president could go over the heads of members of Congress and make his case with the people directly on any given issue. High enough that his support and popularity would be greater than most members of Congress so he could pose a threat to their continued residence along the Potomac in 2014.

Romney is playing grade school logic here. If he were elected with just 50.1%, he couldn’t do any more with Congress than Obama. Many members, likely to get a higher percentage in their campaigns, would be emboldened with their own popularity to stop him at every turn. And remember- it’s not just Democrats a President Romney would have to contend with. It’s those pesky TP-GOP kooks as well. His 50.1% would buy him nothing.

Lazurus -er Clinton – believes if the next president doesn’t get a mandate, the other thing that could shake up the mess in Washington would be what he terms “an action-forcing event.” During Clinton’s presidency, Newt Gingrich and that over-hyped “Class of 94″ elected to Congress, forced a government shutdown. Closed ‘er right up for a couple of weeks. The backlash from voters in both parties was nasty enough Gingrich and his “pirates” were forced to back off. “After that,” Clinton said, “we worked together and had five good years together.” That overlooks an impeachment but you get his drift.

Some moderate members in both parties think letting the government “go off the cliff” in January isn’t such a bad idea. I think so, too. Let sequestration have its head. Let the budget slashes hit. Let the Bush tax cuts expire on everyone. Let those who voted for that idiotic “sequestration” rather than do their jobs twist in the wind a bit.

Then, first day of the new session of Congress, Senate Democrats – who will likely still have a majority – could immediately introduce a bill to restore tax cuts for everyone making less than $250,000 a year. Odds are some Republicans looking for cover would vote for that. A few have already said so. That could be the “action-forcing” event Clinton talks about.

As for budget cuts, once the tax business is out of the way, the coalition formed to pass that could become the bi-partisan working base necessary to take up the budget issues. The necessary cutting could be done then with no artificial deadline – more carefully selected reductions where they would do the least harm. I think it’s worth a try. Especially if the composition of Congress remains essentially unchanged in 2013.

These are the kinds of things a president can sponsor and work for – if he has a mandate. If he goes into the new year with some voter strength that comes from a 54% or greater election. Romney’s repeated “50.1%” simply shows he’s talking only of winning – not governing.

I hate to be the one out here in the Oregon woods to break it to you, Sir, but your idea of winning would be a national loss. Yours, too. It’s the governing you should be worry about.
Well, given the new polling, maybe you’d just be worrying needlessly.

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Rainey

carlson
NW Reading

When you’re talking about digital information, the line between using public resources for official and unofficial purposes can get awfully blurry. A note out today from the Washington Legislative Ethics Board:

If you have a personal smart hone, tablet, iPad or similar device commoni referred to as a PDA, and you use your PDA to connect both to the legislative e-mail system and non-legislative e-mail, please pay attention to this message.

Recently, some legislators have inadvertently sent carnpaign­related or personal messages from their PDA, only to learn later that the message was sent from their “leg.Wa.gov” address. Use of the legislative network to assist a campaign, to support or oppose a ballot measure, or for most non-legislative purposes is a violation ofthe Ethics in Public Service Act. How do you avoid this? in this situation you must pay careful attention to which e-mail address mail is being sent from and you must use a campaign or personal e-mail address for campaign-related business. To be safe, you should probably set the campaign or personal e-mail account, not the legislative account, as the default or account for sending of e-mail. That Will help avoid inadvertent use of the legislative e-mail address and servers’.

The Legislative Service Center (LSC 360.786.7000) will assist legislators with setting up legislative on a PDA and establishing appropriate default settings, but it is each individual’s responsibility to not use legislative facilities for campaign or inappropriate personal purposes.

In addition, if you are using a PDA that was purchased with public resources, it is treated the same as your legislative computer, laptop, phone, etc. – it is a violation ofthe Ethics Act to use any public resource for political campaigns.

The use of the internet as a communications medium can have unintended consequences. Whether through a YouTube video, a tweet on Twitter, or a Facebook posting, such communications can reach audiences While posted and also have a potentially unlimited life. Literally anyone in the World With access to the Internet can access such communications long after the time they were intended to be available.

In a recent case, a legislator asked for his YouTube video to be removed upon learning there Were ethical concerns about his use of public resources in the production of the video. However, materials on the Internet are generally cached and, are diflicult if not impossible to eliminate completely. Although the video in question should never have involved the use ofpublic resources in the Hrst place, its placement on YouTube prolonged the life of the Clear, visual representation ofthe use of public resources for campaign purposes and may, far into the future, reHect upon the ethics of the Legislature as a whole.

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Reading Uncategorized

carlson
Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Forget about reading the pro and con statements in the Voter’s Guide regarding the three referendums on the November ballot to repeal the Otter/Luna Educational Reforms. Ignore the million dollar campaigns both sides will mount with slickly designed emotional appeals that will tug at your heart strings.

Answer one fundamental question: who do you most trust your children and grandchildren’s future to, the teachers who are with them in the classroom 180 days a year, or a governor and a school superintendent hell bent on rationalizing investing less dollars in education and are dictating reforms from the top down?
This really does boil down to “who do you trust?”

What Governor Otter and Superintendent Luna don’t get is that trust is at the heart of the people sanctioning government to provide services and to divine the greatest good for the greatest number.

Trust, like virtue, once lost can never be regained. From the get-go the Governor and the SPI forfeited that trust by the dishonest and deceptive way they went about ramming their idea of reform down the public’s throat.

Rather than put together a committee or a task force that represented all the key stakeholders, they said nary a word while campaigning for re-election in 2010. Eight weeks after the election they sprang their “reforms” on a quiescent Legislature knowing they would go along simply because it initially meant spending less on education than before.

That Otter and Luna now sit back and profess amazement that anyone would dare question their sincerity is disingenuous at best. They violated the public trust by not trusting the public and the impacted interest groups to recognize the need for some reasonable changes and to design consensus based effective reforms.
They engaged in pure top down dictates rather than ground up consensus yet they claim they are Republicans.

When talking about the state government’s primary constitutionally mandated responsibility the process of reform is critical and has to be inclusive.

Butch Otter and Tom Luna just don’t get that.

As Election Day approaches they are now desperately trying to backfill telling people they are restoring funding that was cut and will be giving teachers more base pay as well as the “new” merit pay, but fundamentally they are engaging in a shell game where they keep changing the base from which they make their phony calculations.

It’s interesting too that supposedly anti-regulatory, anti-bureaucratic Republicans would write so much specificity into how and to whom school boards can determine and distribute the “new” merit pay. Read the long ballot title (Not the short) and long at the incredible array of personnel deemed eligible for additional merit pay.

Could the Coeur d’Alene District School board give the Vikings fine football coach a taxpayer supplied bonus (amount to be determined) if he wins a third straight 5A football championship? Melissa McGrath, Luna’s communications director says, no, that bonuses have to go to a class of teachers and extra-curricular instruction doesn’t count.

A former long-time school board member though told this writer that he reads the law as allowing the board the discretion to do so as long as it is not just the head coach but all the football coaches. He says winning a third title reflects incredibly good teaching, and it does, but should the patrons of Eagle, or Capital, or Highland, whoever loses to Coeur d’Alene in the finals, be expected to indirectly contribute to the winning opponent’s coach’s bonus?

McGrath is probably correct but again, if one touts the supposed autonomy of a local school board is the SPI really going to step in and stop the board? It is doubtful.

These reforms were conceived in secret, not well vetted and deserve to be tossed in the round file. Maybe then the governor and the SPI will get the message to start over and approach some needed changes in educational matters by including, not excluding, the people and the all the major interests.

They can start by listening to the many fine teachers across the state who overwhelmingly want to see these “reforms” repealed.
Listen to the teachers and posit your trust with them, not two politicians who by their conduct have forfeited the public trust.

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Carlson Idaho

westcascades

Really striking how the two major newspapers in the Northwest, the Seattle Times and the Portland Oregonian, have landed on flatly opposite sides on the marijuana legalization initiatives in their respective states – the Times in favor (with four editorials, no less), the Oregonian against.

The Oregonian editorial staff would be quick to note (and accurately) that the two measures are not the same. Washington’s could be considered cleaner, a more direct and conventional legalize, regulate and tax approach, while Oregon’s goes further – almost wrapping pot in the flag and founding fathers (it is true that George Washington and others of the time grew hemp), and putting regulation in the hands of a board dominated by the newly legal industry.

Talk about having the economic advantages baked in.

What the Times writers seemed to get, though, that the Oregonian’s did, is this: The details aren’t what’s important. These initiatives aren’t important in the usual way, the way initiatives on taxes and so many other things are important. In those cases, details are important because those measures if passed will go into effect as is.

Not so in the case of these initiatives. Growing, selling and possessing marijuana is illegal under federal law, and that won’t change even if both initiatives (and those in other states) pass. Voters in a state can’t overturn federal law by initiative, or any other way.

The initiatives are important, rather, as indicators of popular decision-making. If they crash and burn, elected officials who by rote have been for decades imposing fierce penalties on marijuana-related activities will get the message that their approach is acceptable to the voters. A defeat for the initiatives would be a vote for the status quo – which, if you like it, would be the way to go. If you think pot law ought to be shake up, maybe moved toward a legalize/regulate/tax regime, then a yes vote will tend to move things in that direction.

Imagine the reaction in Congress and in the new presidential administration if on one hand all the marijuana initiatives failed? Or if they passed? There would be some rattling effect either way. If they pass, there’s a good chance similar measures would pass in more states in another couple of years, and possibly more a couple of years after that. Changes in the federal law, a brick wall at present, would start to crack severely after that.

That’s what this is about. These initiatives are a form of message-sending more than they’re anything else. If Oregon actually tried, for example, to implement its new initiative, with a free open market in marijuana, the feds would be unlikely to stand by. The details of the initiative – the industry-dominated regulatory board and much of the rest of it – would either never see the light of day, or never see daylight more than once.

The Times seems clearer about that than the Oregonian, which in its editorials seems to have been dancing around the core question of whether legalization is the way to go. It’s a fair policy question. It’s also the one that makes more sense to address than the phantoms which are never likely to become real.

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Northwest

carlson
NW Reading

An interesting report on what happens when the underground economy meets the regulators.

Construction compliance inspectors with the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) swept through Pierce County this past weekend, citing more than a dozen contractors for working without being registered, an infraction which carries a $1,000 fine for a first-time offense.

“We want to show people we’re out there, even on the weekends, and that we take the underground economy seriously,” said Dean Simpson, manager of L&I’s construction compliance program. “We want unregistered contractors to know we will find them, and for honest contractors and consumers to know we’re not ignoring this problem.”

In all, the inspectors visited 77 work sites and cited 15 contractors for being unregistered, making note of another four whose status will need more work to determine if they are properly registered. In addition, several contractors were referred to other programs within L&I for possible audits or collections of unpaid premiums.

It is the latest such sweep to target the underground economy. A similar effort was held by inspectors in Spokane on Aug. 24 and 25. That team visited 68 work sites and cited 13 contractors for being unregistered, with five whose status was undetermined.

Unregistered contractors or those who don’t pay workers’ compensation premiums for their employees can underbid their competition and gain an unfair advantage. They also place consumers who hire them at risk. In Washington, all contractors must be registered with L&I, carry a bond and insurance.

For the Tacoma area sweep, the eight inspectors worked in pairs and focused on sites where tips suggested unregistered contractors were working. The teams focused on commercial construction sites on Friday, then hit residential worksites on Saturday.

“For some, it was a real surprise to see us, especially on Saturday,” said Reed Despain, supervisor for the team. “We stopped a few registered contractors, but just explained we were out there to level the playing field.”

Working as a contractor without registration, even advertising to do so, can result in a minimum $1,000 penalty for a first offense. Penalties climb with each resulting citation. Inspectors typically issue seven such infractions in an average month.

L&I’s contractor compliance program has 21 inspectors around the state. Working both from tips and random site visits, the inspectors make sure contractors are properly registered, whether the person is a painter, tree trimmer, carpenter, concrete worker, fence installer or a handyman.

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Reading Washington

rainey
Barrett Rainey
Second Thoughts

By July, 2050 – just about 38 years from today – 132.8 million Hispanics will be living in the good old U.S. of A. at which time they’ll make up more than 30% of the entire population. You can embrace that or – in some cases – fear that. But the Bureau of the Census says ‘twill be so.

In Northwest states – Idaho, Oregon, Washington – Hispanics are already the largest single minority group. That’s also the case in 22 other states from coast to coast. Each of the 50 saw major growth in the numbers from the 2000 census through 2010. In fact, at 52 million, Hispanics are the largest minority in the country. Period.
Couple these figures with growth in all other minorities and you’ll find we are living on the cusp of the largest racial and ethnic changes in our history – unless you count when the Pilgrims started pushing local Indians back from the Atlantic shore.

In fact, given officially projected growth in all minorities, the white, Anglo Saxon majority of today will no longer hold that distinction after 2050. We’ll be a nation of minorities with no single majority. Some minorities will be larger than others. But no single majority.

That’s never happened before. And you can already see signs this inevitable sea change of skin color and backgrounds is making some people fearful. Academics and others who study our national culture have been writing of this fear for some time. A few have posited that, because this nation has its first mixed-race president, racial appearance – and the too-often resulting prejudice – has contributed to the unreasonable hatred directed at him by some in our society.
It’s a fear, they say, fed by two major things. One is a feeling – true or not – that a white majority is being replaced in positions of authority. That some – used to being in the majority race and identifying with controlling events – are fearful of losing that power.

The other most cited factor deals with what people look like. Basically, their racial appearance. For example, until most immigrants to this country from Europe start to talk, no one usually considers that person to be in the minority he/she really is. They don’t look – well, different. But Asian or Black or Hispanic – that’s a difference that can be seen. And a difference that can often make some people uncomfortable.

Still, facts are facts. And the inevitability of this country not having a single racial majority in the near future is not open to question.

Let’s go back to the Hispanics. In 1968, President Johnson proclaimed National Hispanic Heritage Week starting September 15th and Congress extended the observance to month-long in 1988. Doubtful many non-Hispanics gave it much thought at that time. Unless they had roots in Spain, Mexico and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

But now Hispanics make up about 19% of the total U.S. population. Their number increased by 43% from the 2000 census to the 2010 recount. California, alone, has an estimated 14.4 million Hispanics. More than 50% of all Hispanics live in just three states: California, Florida and Texas. And in South Carolina, the Hispanic population increased 147.9% in the years between those census takings. 147.9%!
There are lots of other rather startling findings by the Census Bureau folks. But the point is, how is this nation going to adjust to this remake of our society as we lose a single majority to become a nation of combined minorities? What affects will this new mash of cultures have on business, lifestyles, education, health care, entertainment, agriculture and on and on and on? What sorts of changes are we all going to have to make – or undergo – to accommodate the new realities? All of us? Each of us?

Maybe I don’t fully grasp the life-changing significance of all this because – to me – this is an exciting time to be right in the middle of this ethnic redesign of our country. Being someone with a Heinz 57 racial makeup, I’ve always admired those who have a more simple – more direct – ethnic heritage. One with its own music and history and dress and even language.

We have East Indian friends, for example, who have shared their culture, food and history with us. It’s been a fascinating experience. Years ago, I sponsored a Panamanian friend for U.S. citizenship and learned firsthand of his native language and national history. Beautiful! One of my daughters was married in a Buddhist ceremony and, again, we learned of another minority culture here in our midst.

They’d been near us for years but we gave it little or no thought until our family was drawn into their lives.

Exciting time? Fearful time? This new reality is going to affect each of us. I pray the experience will be more the former and less the latter.

And, one more thing. Living in this country at the moment are 1.2 million Hispanics or Latinos who are veterans of our military. Seems they didn’t have much fear of putting themselves on the line for their adopted country. We need to consider that, too.

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Rainey

idahocolumnn

Most of Idaho stable politically: For a couple of decades now its Republican/Democratic votes have varied hardly at all. Idaho generally isn’t a likely candidate for very much change in this year’s elections and the next few beyond.

But there are a couple types of areas that bear some watching. The area of Idaho that is, or ought to be, the most interesting politically is – the suburbs.

Washington or Oregon illustrate what I’m talking about. Oregon was mostly Democratic in much of the 80s; in the mid-90s Republicans staged a comeback, which ebbed into Democratic majorities in recent years though as elsewhere they made some pushback in 2010 (and its state House now is tied between the parties). Washington’s story is similar.

Most of those states changed little in these ebbs and flows. Rural areas were Republican and stayed so. The most urban – close in to Seattle and Portland – were Democratic and if anything became more so. What shifted was the suburbs. In Oregon, the long-Republican second-largest county in the state (Washington) changed sides about a decade ago and has since been reliably Democratic. Most of the people there live in Portland suburbs and smaller urban centers in its orbit – not so different from Meridian and Nampa in Idaho. When Republicans gained in 2010, that happened almost exclusively in Washington County and other suburbs around Portland; the central urban and the rural parts of Oregon barely moved. Again, the same dynamic has happened in Washington state.

Could it happen in Idaho? Point one is that there’s no significant evidence that it has – yet at least.

The real suburban areas in Idaho are two: west and north of Boise and north and west of Coeur d’Alene. Depending on how you count, these suburban areas account for six or seven legislative districts out of 35. The Boise suburbs, including places like Meridian, Eagle, Kuna, Middleton and to some extent he city of Nampa as well, have been solidly Republican … always. Since the New Deal era western Ada has elected hardly any Democrats, just two in 1990 to the Senate, lasting one term each. Few general elections in the area since 1990 have even been competitive, even when the Democrat is running a strong campaign. The same has become true in Kootenai County; more than two decades back, areas like Port Falls were politically competitive, but not now.

There are a few tests of these propositions coming up in this year’s election. The biggest are two legislative races in District 15, which includes part of Boise city (on the west side) but long has had a suburban feel. District 15 has been solidly Republican for decades, the last exception being one Senate term held by a Democrat after the 1990 election. This year, Democrats have a pair of strong candidates running strong campaigns, Betty Richardson, the former U.S. Attorney and congressional candidate, for the Senate, and Steve Berch, who ran a strong campaign (which nonetheless was swamped) in the old District 14, for one of the House seats. There are indications one or both might succeed – not a prediction here of who will win, but a suggestion that these may be really competitive races.

Indications, but not much more. They will be significant test cases. As districts closer in to Boise’s core shifted to competitive (16 and 18) or even Democratic (17) in the last decade, 15 shows some signs it may do that as well. If it does, other suburban districts later may as well. We may learn something interesting about Idaho’s suburbs when we see the results in November from those two races.

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Idaho Idaho column

mendiola
Mark Mendiola
Eastern Idaho

Donald Zebe’s name isn’t exactly a household word in Bannock County, but it’s safe to say no single individual has done more to transform Pocatello’s previously lackluster retail market into a much more competitive, enticing place to shop by attracting large, well-recognized chain stores and restaurants to town.

Zebe – a Coldwell Banker retail leasing and commercial land specialist – was the driving force behind Pocatello Town Square, a 67-acre development southeast of Interstate 86’s Chubbuck interchange that boasts Lowe’s Home Improvement, Staples, Texas Roadhouse, Ross Dress for Less, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Ashley Furniture, Buffalo Wild Wings and Bed, Bath & Beyond as major occupants.

Another company, which Zebe declined to identify, has signed a letter of intent to open a restaurant next to Buffalo Wild Wings.

Zebe was involved to a lesser degree in getting Costco to locate its $17.5 million mega discount warehouse in the Gate City, working with Costco officials as early as 2003 to put it at Pocatello Town Square, but there wasn’t enough land there to suit their needs. He anticipates another Costco locating in the Idaho Falls/Rexburg area.

Among the many smaller ventures that he has succeeded in securing for the Pocatello/Chubbuck area are Ruby Tuesday, D.L. Evans Bank, Pita Pit, Jack in the Box, Walgreens, Del Taco, AT&T/Edge Wireless, Pizza Pie Cafe and Batteries Plus.

His latest ambitious project is Yellowstone Commons, another 67-acre retail development northwest of the Chubbuck interchange where Sherwin Williams has opened a large new paint store and Idaho Central Credit Union is constructing a new branch office along Yellowstone Avenue. Its size is large enough to potentially contain the likes of Target, Kohl’s, Best Buy and even a Wal-Mart.

Donald Zebe at the Sherwin-Williams store. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

A traffic light system soon will be installed near Yellowstone Commons to better regulate Yellowstone Avenue’s heavy traffic through Chubbuck. A 95-foot-wide road will be extended from Yellowstone Avenue to Hawthorne Road, where another traffic signal will be located.

Zebe estimates Pocatello Town Square and Yellowstone Commons each are “north of $50 million” in development costs. Pocatello Square has helped stanch the flow of shoppers from Pocatello to Idaho Falls, where a vibrant retail/restaurant climate prevails. The Idaho National Laboratory and related high tech businesses drive that city’s higher disposable income rate.

Zebe hopes Yellowstone Commons will further curtail the retail leakage from Bannock County to Bonneville County. Some Pocatello shoppers also are traveling to Salt Lake City, Twin Falls and Boise.

Famous Footwear last November closed its Pocatello Town Square store because its sales were down significantly as opposed to its Idaho Falls store. The Idaho Falls retail trade area is estimated at 230,000 people while Pocatello’s retail trade area is reckoned at 160,000 people. Pocatello’s annual per household expenditures are about $10,000 less than those of Idaho Falls and its annual per capita income averages about $7,000 less than I.F.

“That’s why retailers go to Idaho Falls first,” Zebe says, noting the Pocatello area still is considered a blue collar community based on statistical data. “Many companies consider Pocatello/Chubbuck less educated than others” – despite Idaho State University’s presence.

That perception has discouraged book stores like Hastings and Barnes & Noble from opening outlets in Pocatello, but WinCo’s construction of a new 92,000-square-foot grocery store – three times the size of its existing local store – could change that equation. That project has dramatically changed the corner of Yellowstone and Alameda, one of the city’s busiest intersections – a vacated Fred Meyer/Albertsons site that for years has been a blighted eyesore.

“We do find people will shop at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Staples at Idaho Falls because they already are shopping there,” Zebe says, mentioning while T.J. Maxx has a great store in Pocatello, the chain’s volume in Idaho Falls is higher than here.

The nation’s economic downtown has made it more difficult to market the Pocatello area to national retailers. Zebe says if local residents do not e-mail the CEOs of their favorite stores and restaurants about locating here, the community will not be on their radar. It’s not unusual for company executives to be clueless about the Pocatello/Chubbuck region’s location, he notes.

Former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase persuaded Costco’s chief executive officer, a professional baseball fan, to locate his company’s super store in the Gate City by sending him an autographed major league baseball, Zebe mentions, emphasizing the importance of personal contacts.

If a community does not meet national spending averages, companies will hold off locating there, Zebe says, adding Olive Garden is not considering Pocatello despite persistent rumors. While some in Pocatello continue to do well financially, others are struggling and not going out to eat as much.

The volume of business at Pocatello area restaurants is lower than the national average. For instance, Texas Roadhouses nationwide average $90,000 a week in revenues, but Pocatello’s restaurant ranges from $50,000 to $62,000 weekly, Zebe notes.

Unlike Pocatello, which is in a valley squeezed by surrounding hills, Idaho Falls’ sprawling flat terrain allows uninhibited commercial expansion. Idaho Falls’ two Wal-Marts each earn from $1.4 million to $1.5 million in weekly sales while Chubbuck’s Wal-Mart averages $2.4 million to $2.6 million in sales each week, Zebe says.

Most of Pocatello/Chubbuck’s retail business is clustered around the Pine Ridge Mall, which will see Herberger’s open its first Idaho department store there in October, filling a void left by the departure of Gottschalks, Dillard’s and Macy’s from the Pocatello/Chubbuck market.

Zebe says he doesn’t expect a real surge in the Pocatello area’s retail market until transactions under negotiation are sealed by 2014-2015. Virtually all companies that could expand are booked for the rest of 2012, all of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

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Idaho Mendiola

Stuff like this gets so strange you’d say, in the turn of phrase, you couldn’t make it up. Except that someone, somewhere has.

This instance: The start of a rumor that President Obama has contracted with a company in Spain to count American votes there.

Where does this come from? It’s so far from planet earth as to almost, but not quite, defy imagination.

The federal government doesn’t count votes: Local entities, mainly counties, do. States over see. The feds may get involved in allegations of corruption, but that would be after the fact.

There is an amusing sidelight to this in Idaho, though. There, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, asked about it by a reporter: “I just chuckled and said, ‘Well, the Basques have been counting ’em for years — ever since Pete came in.'” A reference of course to the fact that Ysursa and his predecessor Pete Cenarrusa, who between them have held the secretary of state’s office (which oversees but does not conduct elections) since 1967.

All you can do is laugh it off.

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Idaho

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NW Reading

Here’s an example of why looking at a single economic statistic doesn’t often tell the whole story. From the Idaho Department of Labor:

Fewer people seeking available jobs was enough to nudge Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate down a tenth of a percentage point to 7.4 percent in August.

The loss of 2,600 workers from the state’s labor force – the first July-August decline since 1980 – offset an increase in hiring by Idaho employers at a rate just above their recession-era average,

August’s jobless rate was the lowest in over three years, but it was also the third straight month Idaho’s labor force has contracted. The loss of more than 5,500 from the workforce through the summer – the largest three-month exodus of workers on record – left the labor force at its lowest level since January.

Nearly 1,100 fewer people were working in August than July, the second straight month employment has dropped after rising steadily for the previous year, and almost 1,600 more workers left the ranks of the jobless, dropping the number of officially unemployed Idaho workers to just over 57,000.

Although the national unemployment rate dropped two-tenths of a point to 8.1 percent, Idaho’s one-tenth reduction keeps the state rate below the national rate for 11 years.

Nonfarm jobs, which account for over 90 percent of Idaho’s employment, continued to run 1.1 percent ahead of a year earlier and were up a third of a percentage point from July to August, reflecting the persisting, albeit slow, recovery from the recession. While the state’s service sector is approaching pre-recession job levels, the production side of Idaho’s economy remains at 1993 levels. More than 1,000 manufacturing workers were idled in primarily seasonal food processing layoffs during the month.

Still, there were 17,000 more people working in Idaho in August than a year earlier and 11,000 fewer unemployed. In the past 13 months, the jobless rate has dropped from a recession high of 8.9 percent to 7.4 percent. Only five other states – Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Mississippi – have posted greater declines.

The state’s declining labor force has played a role in driving Idaho’s jobless rate lower in recent months, but employers may be picking up their hiring. Businesses report hiring 18,400 workers in August – most to replace workers who retired, were fired, found other jobs or left for some other reason – matching the average August new hires during the economic expansion from 2003 through 2007.

For the second month in a row, the Conference Board, a Washington, D.C. business think tank, estimated fewer than five unemployed workers for every two job openings posted in Idaho, the lowest ratio since late 2008. At the peak of the recession in late 2009, there were nine unemployed workers for every two job openings posted in the state.

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