On July 3rd some Idahoans celebrated the state’s 125th year since admittance to the union of states. Idaho’s star was the 43rd added to the flag. With each passing year though it seems fewer folks even know or care about this great state’s past or its future.
This is partly due to the incredible mobility of today’s society and the ability, often the necessity, of moving to where meaningful, decent-paying work can be found. Because of its relatively inexpensive cost-of-living, Idaho continues to attract in-migration from California, and many are retirees.
In little more than a decade these newcomers changed the political demographics of northern Idaho from staunchly lunch-bucket Democrats to staunchly conservative Republicans.
One used to be able to tell a native Idahoan from non-native. The native could tell what county a car was from by looking at the license plate.
Native Idahoans had memorized the alphabetical order of Idaho’s 44 counties, ten of which start with the letter B, when first exposed to state history in the 4th grade. They also learned the state song, and not just the chorus. In later life, if one were a member of a Rotary Club, following the pledge of allegiance, everyone remained standing and sang the state song.
Since returning to my native state five years ago I’ve been a guest speaker at five different Rotary Clubs. Only one, the Twin Falls Rotary, sang the state song. These are small things but they serve to unite the people of this state and establish a common identity.
I admit being a state chauvinist; Idaho hands down is the best state in the union, with unmatched beauty and a diverse mix of people who work hard for their pay, play hard in the state’s mountains and forest, and on her lakes and rivers, acknowledge their Creator, and care about their fellow citizens.
As Idaho grows increasingly urban, however, it won’t be long until over half the voters will reside in the two counties of Ada and Canyon. When Cecil Andrus was first elected governor in 1970 he captured only 14 of Idaho’s 44 counties, but those 14 represented a solid majority of the electorate and included a couple of north Idaho counties, Kootenai and Nez Perce.
Today, Nampa and Meridian compete to be second to Boise in population. For years it was Pocatello competing against Idaho Falls.
Andrus was the last governor to come out of north Idaho and he defeated an incumbent Republican governor, Don Samuelson, from Bonner County. That was the last time Idahoans had a choice for governor between two north Idahoans. In modern times besides Andrus and Samuelson, there has been only two other governors to call north Idaho home: C.A. “Doc” Robins, the first governor from north Idaho, was elected in 1946 and was from St. Maries. His successor, Len B. Jordan, came from Grangeville where he moved to after spending almost ten years raising sheep in Hells Canyon,.
Today not one statewide elected official nor any member of the congressional delegation comes from the ten northern counties.
Another characteristic of Idaho’s major office-holders is almost all have deep roots in the state. It used to be voters wanted to know that the candidate knew the state and many of its prominent citizens. Additionally, voters expected to and often did meet in person their elected representatives. They could size them up and with unfailing accuracy could spot the phonies. Today this kind of interactive sizing up is much tougher to do when an offficeholder can only be judged through the television medium.
Idaho voters in the past also felt better about voting for someone for higher office if they’d already been vetted by the voters for some lesser office—usually the State Legislature. All the members of Idaho’s congressional delegation today cut their teeth in the Idaho Legislature: Senators Crapo and Risch were in the State Senate and were in leadership; Congressmen Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador were in the House where Simpson rose to the Speakership.
Three of the four know Idaho and her people well. They have built and nurtured relationships all across the state for years.
The exception is Labrador, who just may be the tip of the spear in the “Californication” of Idaho politics. There’s no question he is a talented , telegenic, articulate, ethical and a colorful member of Congress. However, he is relatively new to Idaho, was not viewed by fellow Republicans as much of a team player while here, and simply hasn’t had the time to get to know his own district well let alone the entire state.
There is speculation he may run for governor in 2018 which would set up a donnybrrok of a primary between he and Lt. Gov. Brad Little. If that happens, bet on Brad. He’s built his stock the traditional Idaho way traveling the state extensively and shaking hands. It is basic retail politics and it still beats wholesale, at least for a few more years.
When they debate, if challenged to name all 44 counties or sing all the state song, bet on Brad doing it easily while Raul struggles.