Writings and observations

malloy CHUCK

In Idaho

Sen. Fred Martin of Boise belongs to an exclusive club.

He is the only Republican senator living in the Boise city limits, which is surprising considering Idaho’s status as one of the reddest of the red states.

So while Idaho is decidedly Republican, Boise is ruled by Democrats. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, a former Democratic legislator, has been in office since 2003. More recently, Brian Cronin – another former Democratic legislator – easily won election to the Boise School Board. The only areas where Democrats may have a stronger foothold are Districts 26 (which includes the Sun Valley area) and 29 (Bannock County).

It didn’t used to be that way. “Twenty years ago, there were three elected legislative Democrats in Ada County; six years ago there were six and now there are 12,” Martin said.

Granted, there are more legislative districts in Ada County than in years past. But there’s no question that Democrats have made some impressive gains over the years, and especially in Boise. Nine seats in three Boise districts (16, 17 and 18) all were held by Republicans years ago. Now, all seats are held by Democrats. District 17, once considered a “swing” district, has no Republicans challenging the Democratic incumbents.

The legislative makeup in Boise has significant implications statewide – and they can be viewed positively or negatively, depending on your political outlook. Democrats, working with moderate Republicans, help turn back calls for the repeal of Obamacare and secure the vote for an Idaho-operated state health exchange. The coalition keeps alive concepts such as Common Core education standards and opens the possibility for Medicare expansion, which has been endorsed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Democrats help keep the pressure on more funding for education and draw greater attention to a sagging economy and low wages.

If those nine legislative seats in Boise were held by conservative Republicans, Rep. Scott Bedke of Oakley probably would not be the speaker of the House and Gov. Butch Otter would be without his best (if not his only) ally in House leadership.

All that’s standing in the way of Boise being wall-to-wall with Democrats is District 15, but that could change in November. Democrat Steve Berch, making his third run for the Legislature, has the best shot at winning one of the two House seats. He is mounting an aggressive door-to-door campaign against Rep. Lynn Luker.

“It’s very humbling and gratifying knocking on doors and talking with people,” Berch said. “Nowhere – and I mean nowhere – on the list of priorities is making sure that a baker doesn’t have to bake a cake for a gay couple.”

Berch is taking a dig at Luker’s controversial religious freedom bills, which either can vault him to re-election or cost him his legislative career. Luker is betting that a turn to the right will help him with the influx of Republicans that came to District 15 after redistricting.

A lot of eyes are on District 15, because it is on the water’s edge. Idaho gets more conservative heading to the west and south. Two Democrats (Berch and Betty Richardson, who ran against Martin) came close two years ago.

Republicans, even in their heyday in Boise, were far more moderate than their counterparts in rural areas. Boise sent to the Legislature people such as Sheila Sorensen, Kitty Gurnsey, Ruby Stone and Chuck Pomeroy. In District 15, Max Black and John Andreason – two moderate Republicans – held onto their seats for two decades.

Martin is consistent with the profile of Boise Republicans who served for so many years. Luker, who boasts about being near the top of the Idaho Freedom Foundation index, does not fit the mold. Mark Patterson, a firebrand conservative who defeated Berch two years ago and resigned before finishing one term, took advantage of the district’s new Republican voters. He was replaced by Pat McDonald, who is politically closer to Martin.

Republicans are a long way from becoming a minority party even if Democrats manage to capture all seats in District 15. But holding all 12 seats in Boise would provide the Dems with significant numbers while turning up the volume on the party’s message.
“Idaho is last in the nation in average wages,” says Berch. “We’re first in the nation in percentage of minimum wage. We’re now ranked below Alabama and Mississippi in education investment. … Electing the same people does not work.”

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biggs bridge

The US 97 Biggs Rapids-Sam Hill Bridge, though only 51 years old, is starting to show its age in the form of peeling paint and rust. Starting in summer 2014, we’ll clean and paint the structure to preserve it for the years ahead. (photo/Department of Transportation)


You would think this will be a big issue in the legislative races, which really are where the action is in Washington politics this year: The Washington Supreme Court holding the legislature in contempt on education spending. Democrats and Republicans hold distinctly different responses to this, and it ought to be a useful subject for voters to consider. Maybe for that reason, much of the response on the legislative side so far has been, well, a little muted.

Wildfires are not yet done; Oregon was the only Northwest state still listed by the National Interagency Fire Center as having large wildfires unresolved as of the end of last week. More will be coming next week.

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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)

Dog training sought for cops (Boise Statesman)
Caldwell starts rebrnading program (Nampa Press Tribune)
Environmental groups may sue over wolves (Nampa Press Tribune)
Idaho increasing faster on obesity (Nampa Press Tribune)
Reviewing Magic Valley’s missing persons (TF Times News)
After 26 yrs, Kelly’s Restaurant closes (TF Times News)
Balukoff staffing accounting draws fiire (TF Times News)

Medford looks to its NE, SE as growth areas (Medford Tribune)
Medford looks to clean up Bear Creek (Medford Tribune)
Lloyd Center ice rink may be scale back (Portland Oregonian)
Major wildfire near Estacada (Portland Oregonian)
Salem considers restricting outdoor smoking (Salem Statesman Journal)
Legislative days this week at statehouse (Salem Statesman Journal)

Bremerton leaders oppose new casino (Bremerton Sun)
Kilmer goes after VA health issues (Bremerton Sun)
State sales tax hurts on inequality (Longview News)
I-5 traffic jam doesn’t happpen (Olympian)
Port Angeles considering city utility rates (Port Angeles News)
WA businesses concerned about Im-Ex funding (Seattle Times)
Fewer hospital charity cases unde Obamacare (Seattle Times)
I-90 freeway lighting replaced near Spokane (Spokane Spokesman)
502, linking I-5 and Battle Ground, progresses (Vancouver Columbian)
Conflict over gun initiative at local level (Vancouver Columbian)

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First Take