Writings and observations

idaho RANDY

If it worked the first time . . .

You can understand what probably is the temptation facing Sherri Ybarra right now: It worked once, so it should work again.

During the just-finished Republican primary campaign, she raised scarcely any of the money serious statewide candidates usually do (just $2,850), and apart from debates and forums campaigned, hardly at all. She won her race for the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, leading a field of four. And she could look across at a bunch of hard-working, exhaustively-campaigning, solidly fundraising candidates, for her office and for others, who on election night went down to defeat.
The quote from Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost a run for governor after campaigning solidly for months, probably spoke for quite a few of his counterparts: “Holy cow. Ybarra for superintendent? I was on this campaign trail start to finish. And she might be a fine person, but she was not engaged. She was not engaged heavily in this campaign.”

It’s easy to conclude in the circumstances that you’ve just got the right stuff to go all the way.
Anyhow, why mess with what worked once?

In military terms, such thinking is called fighting the last war: Usually a prescription for losing the next one.

Her primary circumstances were unusual. Explanations about her win flowered after election day. She was presented as a teacher, while the others in the race were administrators. (Not entirely true anyway; and administration, not teaching, is what the superintendent’s job is all about.) She had a Basque name, which seems not to hurt in Idaho elections.

Maybe a bigger factor: Voters working their way down the Republican ballot encountered no women at all until they got to her – and she was running for an office many voters are accustomed to seeing go to women. Also, she was the only woman among the four candidates, none of whom were well known statewide. Some combination of these things probably account for much of her vote. And remember, she won by just 28.5% – barely more than she would have gotten if the four candidates had split the vote evenly. This was no sweeping mandate.

Since the primary, instead of using the surprise to her political advantage, she seems to have avoided the spotlight and retreated.

Her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones, is quite a contrast. She ran for the office before, in 2006, and only barely lost to Republican Tom Luna, who himself has been a capable and energetic campaigner. Jones has raised more money as of this point in the cycle than any candidate for this office (Luna included) ever has. Jones has direct campaign help from Luna’s predecessor, Democrat Marilyn Howard, who won the office twice, in 1998 and 2002. (In the last two decades, Democrats have fared better with the superintendent’s office than any other in the upper rungs of Idaho politics.) She was Howard’s top deputy for several years, so she knows the office well. And she has been campaigning strenuously for several months.

Jones, of course, has a D behind her name, which in anything like a battle between two equally-equipped candidates that is a severe disadvantage. But as of today, these candidates are not evenly matched.

Ybarra is not yet too far behind the curve to get up to speed. The period just after winning a primary is good for fundraising and roping in campaign organization around the state. Some intensive study about the politics of the office (which is unavoidable) would help. Name familiarity can be purchased and expanded through energetic campaigning.
There’s still plenty of time to campaign around the state.

Doing all of that, though, will mean running in a way drastically different from the way she did it in the primary.

Because there’s this: What worked for Ybarra in the primary is very unlikely to work in the general.

Share on Facebook

Idaho Idaho column

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

The popular notion is that public schools, which receive just over $1.3 billion, is the largest item in the state’s budget.

But there’s one other item that eats up $1.7 billion, and it does nothing to help schools, roads and state services. That’s the amount it takes to maintain the 80 or so sales tax exemptions, many of which have been in place since the sales tax was implemented almost 50 years ago.

It’s the elephant in the room that politicians don’t want to talk about. Several lawmakers have tried to tackle the issue over the years and all have failed. Sales tax exemptions should be an issue in this year’s election campaign, but it’s more likely that they won’t in the interest of political self-preservation.

Imagine what could be done with another $1.7 billion. Idaho could double what it spends for the public schools and have money left over. It could be enough to take Idaho out the race for the bottom in just about every funding category for education. Maybe some of that money could be used to take our universities off the road to mediocrity. Or maybe the quality of lives of Idahoans could be better with improved roads and social services.

Of course, the odds of winning the lottery probably are better than eliminating the sales tax exemptions. There is a strong constituency for every one of those exemptions. And there are lobbyists lined up to protect all of them. It would be easier to push for increases in the income and sales taxes than ending the exemptions.

Eliminating exemptions would be tax increase on the business world and business operators don’t like higher taxes any more than Republican legislators. Given the choice between improving state services and company profits, business operators will favor the bottom line. That doesn’t make business operators the bad guys. In some cases, a sales tax exemption could make the difference between a business surviving, or going under.

But the fact is that Idaho needs revenue – especially in education – and the state cannot expect to grow its way into prosperity. Idaho’s $1.3 billion budget for public schools is not enough. Every year, swarms of school districts pass supplemental levies to help compensate for what the state does not give to public schools. Those levy increases, as with sales tax exemptions, are tax increases.

The Legislature doesn’t have the expertise, or the will, to objectively evaluate the exemptions. But there is plenty of expertise within the State Tax Commission. Two of its members, Ken Roberts and David Langhorst, are former legislative leaders; Roberts is a Republican and Langhorst is a Democrat. But neither one is pushing for the assignment, and they can’t do it on their own. Their job is to enforce tax policy, not make it. The commissioners would need a directive from the governor or the Legislature and more resources.

Offhand, I can think of 1.7 billion reasons why putting this issue in the hands of the commissioners would be a good investment for Idaho.

Share on Facebook



Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

St Luke’s says expansion would help efficiency (Boise Statesman)
Geothermal water will heat Boise natatorium (Boise Statesman)
What are the Snake River black globs? (IF Post Register)
New cleanup project manager at INL (IF Post Register)
New Lewiston gun manufacturing plant open (Lewiston Tribune)
Whitman Co financial report in (Moscow News)
GOP establishment gaining more party control (Nampa Press Tribune)
Canyon Co asks for jail review input (Nampa Press Tribune)
Megaloads still pursued at Bonner (Sandpoint Bee)
High school graduations (TF Times News)

North Bend school budget reshuffled (Coos Bay World)
Gazette Times slows move, a little (Corvallis Gazette Times)
500 Lane ballots still under review (Eugene Register Guard)
Kingsley Field will expand, 84 more people (KF Herald & News)
DFW biologist gets KF support (KF Herald & News)
Mt Ashland ski area could expand, but no money (Medford Tribune, Ashland Tidings)
Rogue Ales co-founder died (Ashland Tidings)
High school graduations (Ashland Tidings)
Fire season starting early (Medford Tribune)
Umatilla port, city at odds on zoning (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Morrow Pacific project delayed again (Pendleton E Oregonian)
Law enforcement staff falls in rural area (Portland Oregonian)
Dispute over Portland zoo analysis (Portland Oregonian)
Court orders change to liquor ballot title (Salem Statesman Journal)

Granite Falls saves summer lunch program (Everett Herald)
Hwy 530 reopens today (Everett Herald)
Rainier HS sees battle over bullying (Longview News)
Smith talks about Benghazi committee (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Heavy construction on 520 bridge (Seattle Times)
Ballmer buys LA Clippers; fallout (Seattle Times)
Tacoma spends $300k on new strategic plan (Tacoma News Tribune)
Did Clark commission violate meeting law? (Vancouver Columbian)
Yakima prosecutor accused of bias (Yakima Herald Republic)
Yakima will open new pot testing lab (Yakima Herald Republic)

Share on Facebook

First Take