2016 should be one heck of a national election year, if the evidence of 2015 is any indicator.
But what sort of year is it likely to be in Idaho?
Here, as we transition from one to the other, let’s pause to consider what sorts of subjects may be defining the four seasons ahead of us, in the Gem State.
Idaho’s Republican choice. Who will Idaho support out of the large field of candidates seeking the Republican nomination for president? Polls have offered various answers (Ben Carson, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz have at various points done well.) Idaho’s elected officials, unusually, aren’t united on the question. The primary is set for March 8, which could come at a pivotal period in the selection process. Idaho could become a serious stomping ground a couple of months from now.
Few Idaho choices. Things could change, but Idaho’s Republicans seem not to be gearing up for the kind of party-rending internal battle they had in 2014, when competing slates of candidates went to war over almost every significant office. How will Idaho’s many Republican insurgents react to that situation this year – and what sort of inspiration might they get from the presidential contest?
More fires? 2015 was a rough wildfire year for Idaho, though in truth many recent years have been. (Wildfires have been around the top of end-of-year news story lists for some time now.) This winter so far has been encouraging for keeping those fires down in 2016, somewhat at least. Will Idaho get a reprieve next year, and maybe use the opening for more extensive rehabilitation in places like the massive Soda Fire burnout? Or will 2016 be yet another hot spell?
JUMP and urban renewal. 2015 could be an important year for Idaho cities, at and near the legislature. Nearby, the opening of the massive JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place) center, which held an opening in December, will start to kick in, amid a batch of other downtown development projects. At the statehouse, meanwhile, legislators will be considering major overhauls – and maybe major limitations – in Idaho’s urban renewal laws, a situation that has city officials far from Boise highly concerned. City issues may be front and center this year.
Central wilderness. 2016 will be the year when the development of the Central Idaho wilderness really hits the road too. The idea of wilderness may be of an area that people don’t change, but in fact they do and so do their uses over time. A lot of how the wilderness in Idaho’s center develops will become more settled in this coming year.
Medicaid expansion. The expansion of Medicaid that was contemplated in the Affordable Care Act started mostly with some blue states, but has been expanding apace to include many of the reds as well. In Idaho, that would mean bringing coverage to about 78,000 people.
Boise minister Jon Brown noted in a newspaper guest opinion, “In a nutshell, we are leaving $178 million of federal money on the table, and pay out state money for inadequate health care for the distressed. And who pays for this? You and me in poorly directed tax money, and part of our federal taxes. But the low-income, poorly educated, and especially the 6,700 white Idaho citizens, pay with their lives.” The legislature has been resistant so far; whether they hold out again in 2016 may be one of the big fights of the session.
One more quick note. A year ago I highlighted a half-dozen topics as prospective important stories for 2015. Most of them were – Boulder-White Clouds, health care consolidation, developments in Boise’s downtown core, changes in education policy and battles over storage of nuclear waste. (The sixth I highlighted as “new adjudications,” which weren’t a big story, though water and water rights certainly were.)
Note here how many of those stories will still bleed into 2016. How many of those 2016 stories will carry over into the year after that?