Writings and observations

stapilus RANDY
STAPILUS

 
The View
from Here

A few words here about the Idaho Statesman‘s new editorial page editor, Robert Ehlert.

Some correspondents have had some snark to point his way; they surely aren’t alone, so let’s put it out there. Ehlert has had a few years since working for news media (including several metro-level newspapers), during which time he first worked in the office of a congressional office – a natably partisan, conservative and ambitious Californian named Dan Lundgren – and then as head of Robert Ehlert Associates, the nature of whose consulting work remains a little hazy. The argument goes like this: Ehlert was hired by the Statesman to make nice with the state’s conservative Republican political and business establishment and serve as its apologist.

I mention this not to join in that line of argument but, for time being at least, quite the opposite.

It could be true. Or not; the evidence of what Ehlert will do with the editorial page will be visible soon enough, starting with a column in today’s paper (which doesn’t really mark out a direction). Assessments can be based on that clearly enough, in the weeks and months to come.

In his introductory column, Ehlert writes, “I do not regret one moment swimming in the channels and tides of policy and debate, because the experience was like getting an advanced degree in How Things Work And Occasionally Get Done In Government – Or Not.” That’s totally fair, and many journalists who cover government and politics might be better at it with some hands on experience.

When I came to Idaho and started in journalism school, probably the most highly regarded reporter in Idaho was Jay Shelledy of the Lewiston Morning Tribune, aggressive and (in some quarters) even feared. At the time, he was less than two years out from work on as press secretary on a Senate campaign. He surely learned a lot in the experience.

A little over a decade ago, I was campaign manager on two statewide campaigns in Idaho. Afterward, I returned to writing about politics, and I think I was able to approach it with a little more understanding than I had before.

Perry Swisher, the veteran and (by many) revered Idaho public figure who died last year, was in and out of both politics and journalism over a period of decades, and maintained strongly that both endeavors were enhanced by the joint experience, and scowled at journalists who tried to hold themselves rigidly apart from the rest of society.

At this point, Ehlert begins with a clean slate. Now let’s see what he writes on it.

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Idaho

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

In Idaho, one election cycle out of every three qualifies as a big campaign year for Idaho – highlighted by races for both governor and senator – and 2014 will be one of them.

Those aren’t the presidential election cycles. General election presidential campaigning in blood-red Idaho just doesn’t happen anymore, although it does see some occasional some pre-nomination stumping, which Idaho did get in 2012. And election of all the statewide state offices are on the off-cycles, the mid-terms, away from presidential years. But only some of those have elections for the U.S. Senate; 2010, 2004 and 2002 did, but 2006 and 2000 did not. 2014 will feature one of those double headers.

That year Idaho gets a senate race, a governor’s race, the rest of the statewides and the regular two-year offices (mainly legislature). In some years that’s been enough to grab all kinds of attention around the state.

It might nonetheless be a snoozer. But for some of the same reasons it might be dull and almost ignorable, it could turn into a lively scrap at the primary level.

Last week Senator Jim Risch said specifically he plans to run for re-election next year. Risch knows the value of early announcements; that part of how now-Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter got the jump on the Republican nomination for the office, despite initial interest from Risch, in 2006. By announcing early, odds are that Risch has cleared the field of serious opposition. If, say, Representative Raul Labrador had been interested, the time for a push would have been before a Risch announcement. Now the state’s Republican organizations and alliances will have time to coalesce around him, leaving few scraps for any in-party opposition.

It’s possible something similar may happen with Otter; he too has recently said more conclusively that yes, he plans to run for a third term (though his age and the question of what he would want to do with it remain). If he had any plans for opting out, he presumably would have moved to help better position Lieutenant Governor Brad Little for the job.

The closest thing to a wild card among major offices seems to be Superintendent of Public Instruction, mainly because incumbent Tom Luna endured a big crashing ballot issue defeat last year on school overhaul, the centerpiece of his two terms in office.

But here’s the asterisk: What happens if outsider activists, whether Tea Party-affiliated or otherwise, decide to crash the soiree and run against long-time insiders?

They may have some motivation. Risch and Otter both have been in Idaho politics a very long time; each was first sworn into an elective office more than 40 years ago. They have had two of the longest and most successful political careers in Idaho history. But exactly that could be an irritant to people agitated at the idea of business as usual. Age could be symbolic: Completing a second term in the Senate, Risch would be 77; completing his third as governor, Otter would be 76.

That’s the question as we approach the enter-or-not phase of this term’s campaign cycle.

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