Something for Democrats to talk about

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Next week Idaho Democrats will follow Idaho Republicans in holding their convention at Moscow. There’s much they could usefully talk about – but probably won’t.

The party has nominees in place for most major offices and a passable number below, and the convention will discuss their virtues. Also, the shortcomings, especially recent ones, of the Republicans who have been in near-total control of the state government for the last two decades. And the policy differences between the parties.

That is what Idaho Democrats, like Republicans, have done every two years during these last 20.

And here’s the record from 1994 to now. Democrats have lost the last five gubernatorial elections, getting a peak percentage of the vote in 2006 (44.1%) – in other words, not close. That’s better than the Senate races during that time, when they peaked at 34.1% (in 2008).

The most telling statistic may be legislative. In 1994 Republicans won the state Senate 27-8, and the House 57-13. After the 2012 election, they won the Senate 28-7, and the House 57-13. Through the years in between, those numbers have hardly changed. Good candidates, bad candidates, better or worse campaigns and funding, varied message strategies – little of it seems to have mattered.

In two decades of Idaho politics, we have seen successive presidencies, economic ups and downs, people coming and going, this candidate and then that arising, periodic scandals and mishaps, changes in content and intensity of ideology, demographic changes, terrific candidates, fringe candidates, issues dominating discussion then fading and then replaced by others. Through it all, Idaho partisan politics has not budged. The needle has not moved.

The politics of Idaho seem frozen, glacier-like, except for moving even slower than that.

But what about the major-office wins by Democrats for superintendent of public instruction (1998, 2002) and the U.S. House (1st district, 2008)? Those openings happened on occasion of major Republican mess-ups – in other words, when Republicans errantly left the door wide open. That doesn’t happen a lot.

Depending on who you are, this may be okay. Many Idahoans regularly vote for Republicans, and – even putting aside what the candidates say or don’t say in campaigns – what those Republican candidates deliver cannot come as much of a surprise, good or bad, after all this time.

If you’re a Democrat, or an independent simply not on board with the agenda of the last 20 years, the frustration has to be great. Democrats run candidates both good (sometimes very good) and less so, run campaigns well and less so, have surprisingly often raised enough money to get their message out, and in many instances done what conventional wisdom says candidates and parties ought to do. Earlier in Idaho history that might have resulted in a middling number of wins. Not in the last 20 years.

The problem for Idaho Democrats lies outside the names of their candidates and even the skill and energy of their campaigns. It relates to broader attitudes and conditions in Idaho. Their problem is solvable if Idahoans aren’t as satisfied with their government as their voting patterns seem to suggest, which as a proposition doesn’t seem a reach.

Idaho Democrats meeting at Moscow need to talk about what’s holding them back – what keeps a large segment of Idaho voters from crossing over and giving their stronger candidates a chance (as once was the case), and what’s keeping many prospective voters for Democrats from participating at all (which demonstrably seems to be the case).

A bigger subject than what their candidates do in the next four months.

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