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Posts published in April 2017

Idaho Briefing – April 17

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for April 17. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on April 11 vetoed legislature which sought to exempt grocery purchases from the state sales tax. He also allowed to become law, without his signature, a measure substantially expanding spending on state highways. The grocery sales tax measure had cleared the Senate on a vote of 25-10 and the House by 51-19.

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Daniel T. Eismann (pictured) said last week that he plans to retire from the court on August 31.

Idaho Republican Party Chairman Steve Yates said on April 10 that he intends to step down as State Party Chairman effective April 24.

Reservoirs are filling across southern Idaho, and fisheries managers are looking forward to the benefits that big water brings.

Idaho Power Company is asking state regulators to approve an average 1.3 percent increase in an annual rate adjustment mechanism that allows the utility to recover its fixed costs of delivering energy when energy sales decline due to reduced consumption.

Canyon County voters in six precincts will have new polling places beginning with the May 16 election.

Grocery and other taxes

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The question is, who is taxed?

We’ll circle back around to that, as we review the last hot topic of the Idaho legislative session, the grocery tax.

Or, to be more precise, the sales tax as it applies to groceries, which in Idaho it does. In nearly all of the 45 states that impose a statewide sales tax, groceries are exempt from the tax, or in some cases their sales carry a reduced rate. Idaho’s in the minority on this one.

The idea of exempting groceries from the Idaho tax has been around for decades, and it has had backers from both political parties. (Shall we mention that Idaho’s current sales tax was pushed through half a century ago by a Republican governor and legislature?) In an era of tax cutting among anti-tax legislators, the grocery sales tax cut hasn’t engendered really strong support for a long time. But backing for it energized this year, picking up support from various wings of the Republican legislative caucuses and among Democrats as well. The vote margins were strong enough that a veto likely would have been overridden if the legislature were still in session.

All that said, the veto by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who proudly has pointed to many tax cuts in recent years, but also criticized the repealer bill, did not come as a shock.

This section of his veto message did, though: “The advice from Utah was simple and straightforward: Don’t do it. The ramifications of lifting the sales tax from food had made budgeting much more difficult with the loss of what indisputably was their most stable and consistent source of revenue for essential government operations. Taxpayers benefited almost imperceptibly while lawmakers found themselves dealing with the peaks and valleys of income tax and other financial supports that are far more susceptible to economic fluctuations. Everyone benefits from some kind of government service. Everyone eats.”

There’s a real logic to this, a reasonable case. What’s a little shocking is that Otter, he of such libertarian background and inclinations, would be the one making it. You could make similar arguments for any number of the tax cuts enacted over his governorship, which have been estimated at a billion dollars worth, but Otter never did before this. Otter making the case for a veto that a benefit to taxpayers would be “imperceptible” while legislators would have to struggle? Imagine what he might say if a Democratic governor ever had the temerity to use that line of logic.

We don’t much have to guess, since the response from other Republicans has been mostly angry. On Facebook, legislator Marv Hagedorn (a contender for lieutenant governor) declared himself “Very disappointed. This repeal would not have affected the next year’s budget, so we would have had next year’s session to tweak it as needed. There is no way to know how much sales taxes come in for food alone as the state has no method of garnering that information, nor do we know how much sales taxes are being lost due to Idahoans shopping across state lines where there are no taxes on food.”

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, one of Otter’s closest allies, took the unusual step before the announcement of publicly urging Otter not to veto, setting himself up to take the contrary point of view in the race for governor. In that developing and crowded race, he won’t be alone; at least two of his fellow candidates also favor repeal.

What constituents might be pressing for, at least as much in the coming debate though, is an answer to another question.

In a legislature so eager to cut taxes, why has this one - one of the most regressive taxes on the books - had so much more trouble making a way to passage over the course of so many years, than so many other tax cuts? Not only Governor Otter should be the recipient of that question.

Extraction, waste, no jobs

trahant

A couple of years ago a tribal leader showed me an abandoned lumber mill. The company promised jobs. And, for a time, for a couple of decades, there were those jobs. But after the resource was consumed, the mill closed, the company disappeared, and the shell of the enterprise remains today.

This same story could be told in tribal communities across North America. Sometimes the resource was timber. Other times gas and oil. Or coal.

The lucky communities were left with a small toxic dump site. More often there was major cleanup work required after (plus a few more jobs). And in the worst case scenario, a Superfund site was left behind requiring government supervision and a major cleanup.

But all along, and in each case, the accompanying idea was that jobs would be a part of the deal.

There would be construction jobs to build the mine, pipeline, or processing plant. Then there would be truck driving jobs moving materials. A few executive jobs (especially in public and community relations) and, of course, the eventual supervision of the cleanup (especially if the tribal government had its own environmental protection agency.)

That was the deal. But it’s one that is no longer true. Now the resource is extracted, pipelines are built, and toxic waste is left behind … while the promised jobs are limited to the initial construction jobs.

The renewed effort to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a classic example of this shift. When President Donald J. Trump signed the executive order to approve the project he promised “thousands of jobs.” That’s true enough for the construction phase, but only 35 employees would be needed to operate the pipeline, according to the State Department report.

Keystone, at least, is prospective jobs. New ones. But the bigger challenge for the Navajo Nation, the Crow Nation and some thirty tribes with coal reserves or power plants is that new deal for resource-based plants and extraction does not create as many jobs.

The numbers are stark.

The U.S. Energy and Employment Outlook 2017 shows that electricity from coal declined 53 percent between 2006 and 2016. Over that same period, electricity from natural gas increased by 33 percent and from solar by 5,000 percent.

Coal is still a major source of energy. But it's in decline. Coal and natural now gas add up to two-thirds of all electricity generation in the U.S. And that’s expected to remain so until at least 2040 when the market share declines to a little more than half.

But because it's a market that's going down it means that tribes that develop coal will not share in the rewards of either major profits or in a spike in jobs.

The only hope for this shrinking industry is to export the coal to other countries (something that will be extremely difficult because so many other nations have already agreed to the Paris climate targets). As Clark Williams-Derry has reported for the Sightline Institute:

“Robust, sustainable Asian coal markets were never a realistic hope for US coal exporters: the transportation costs were too high, the competition too fierce, and the demand too unstable. So the coal industry’s PR flacks may continue to spin tales about endless riches in the Asian coal market, the financials are telling a much more sobering story: that the coal export pipe dream continues to fade away, leaving a bad hangover on the coal industry’s balance sheets and a lingering bad taste in the mouths of coal investors and executives alike.”

On top of all that, Derry-Williams points out that China’s coal consumption has fallen for three consecutive years.

And the international context is that coal is the most polluting of the three types of fossil fuels. More than 80 percent of the world's known coal reserves need to stay in the ground to meet global warming targets.

There are jobs in the energy field, but, as the Department of Energy report puts it: “Employment in electric power generation now totals 860,869 … (and) the number of jobs is projected to grow by another 7 percent but the majority will be in construction to build and install new renewable energy capacity.”

The green economy is taking over. (Trump or no Trump.)

The extractive economy (like the farm economy a generation ago) reached its peak, probably back in 2014. Oil and gas employed 514,000 people year. Today it’s 388,000. Coal and extraction related jobs peaked at 90,000 and now that number is about 53,000.

Then Indian Country’s development of coal (or not) has been the story so far in the Trump era.

Last month Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a memorandum lifting restrictions on federal coal leasing. He said the “war on coal is over.” Then he quoted Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote saying, “there are no jobs like coal jobs.”

A day later the Northern Cheyenne Tribe filed suit. The tribe said the Interior Department did not consult it prior to lifting the restrictions. “It is alarming and unacceptable for the United States, which has a solemn obligation as the Northern Cheyenne’s trustee, to sign up for many decades of harmful coal mining near and around our homeland without first consulting with our Nation or evaluating the impacts to our Reservation and our residents,” Northern Cheyenne Tribe president L. Jace Killsback said in a news release. There are 426 million tons of coal located near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation at the Decker and Spring Creek mines.

Meanwhile in Alaska, another coal project was put to rest in a tribal community. The village of Tyonek has been opposed to the Chuitna Coal Project. (Previously: Mother of the Earth returns to Tyonek) After a decade of planning, PacRim Coal suspended the project last month because an investor backed out. The project could be brought back to life. But that's not likely. Because coal is a losing bet for any investor.

According to Alaska Public Media that meant a joyful celebration in Tyonek. The president of the village Native Council, Arthur Stanifer said, “What it means for us is our fish will continue to be here for future generations, also our wildlife, like the bears and the moose and the other animals will be secure and they’ll be here. They’ll have a safe place to be.”

But what of the jobs? That’s the hard part. The prospects for extraction-related jobs are about to be hit by even more disruptive forces. For example in the oil fields of North Dakota one of the great paying jobs is truck driving. Moving material back and forth. But already in Europe companies are experimenting and will soon begin the shift to self-driving vehicles. It’s only a matter of time before that trend takes over because it fits the model of efficient capitalism. Self-driving trucks don’t need rest breaks, consume less fuel, and fewer accidents. That same disruption of automation is occurring across the employment spectrum. Jobs that can be done by machines, will be.

So if jobs are no longer part of the equation, does natural resource extraction benefit tribal communities?

The answer ought to include a plan where the United States government and tribes to work together to replace these jobs: Retrain workers and invest in the energy sector that’s growing, renewable fuels. But that’s not likely to happen in Trump Era.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

A real governor’s race

carlson

A few years from now political scientists and historians may look back on Idaho’s 2018 gubernatorial election as one of the most significant, game-changing elections since Cecil Andrus knocked off
Republican incumbent Governor Don Samuelson in 1970.

It will mark 24 years of the Republican hold on the governor’s chair following the 24 years before that of Democratic hegemony under Cecil Andrus, John Evans and Andrus again. Andrus’ first election, incidentally, ended another 24 year period of Republican rule.

Might there be a pattern emerging here?

For now, though, virtually all political pundits in Idaho already concede whoever wins the GOP primary will be the next governor of Idaho. The primary promises to be one of the more spirited contests in years.

Making it especially interesting is the expected entry of Tea Party darling and Freedom Caucus conservative member of Congress, Raul Labrador, who represents Idaho’s first congressional district. He is expected to announce around June 1st and may be crowned as the “favorite” because of name id and his affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS).

Incidentally, conventional wisdom speculates that former state senator Russ Fulcher, who gave Governor C. L.“Butch” Otter such a tough run for his money before narrowly losing in the 2014 primary, is just a place-holder for Labrador. Think otherwise. Fulcher ran a smart 2014 campaign, has learned from his loss and is no placeholder for anyone.

Labrador will be surrendering his safe seat to whomever wins the GOP primary here also, with conventional wisdom establishing former Idaho
Attorney General and Lt. Governor David Leroy as the early favorite.

The other complicating factor is the entry of developer Dr. Tommy Ahlquist. A multi-millionaire with friends on both sides of the political aisle, he is traveling around the state attending Lincoln Day dinners and calling the political influentials in each county to introduce himself and make his pitch.

He has one of those rare political gifts, much like Cecil Andrus has and George Hansen had - the ability to listen carefully to what a constituent is saying and do so in a manner that leaves the constituent feeling at that moment he or she is the most important person in the world. There’s no looking over the constituent’s shoulder to see if there is someone more important in the room.

Add to that his piercing blue eyes and the message is clear - he’s smart, hard-working and wealthy. He also does his homework. His “elevator speech” is short and sweet. He is campaigning on job creation, tax reform and the state taking the lead on health care reform.

Asked about the sale of federal public lands a month ago he confessed he had not yet studied the issue but promised he would. Last week a Republican lobbyist told friends they’d heard the good doc discuss the issue and thought it was as knowledgeable and thoughtful as anything he’d heard.

So where does this leave Lt. Governor Brad Little? A year ago many had already bestowed the crown on his head. Today, many are revisiting that prediction. Writing off Little would be terribly premature, however. He has traipsed all over Idaho introducing
himself, displaying his thoughtfulness on the issues and his understanding of the state. It’s Idaho retail politics at its best.

Little knows he has to differentiate himself from Otter and start talking about his vision for Idaho’s future - and he must do so without appearing to be an ingrate. He also knows he has a solid base of support that will stick with him during the primary and he will be able to raise plenty of money to finance a first-rate campaign.

Common political sense says he ought to be urging four-term Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to get into the race, also, which in theory would take away more from his challengers than from him.

Predictions months ahead of the 2018 G OP primary are always risky especially when there are more than three candidates in a race. Right now, though, I’d still bet that when the smoke clears Brad Little will be the GOP nominee.

Hawks take charge

mckee

Dozens of civilians, including more than 20 small children, living in the rebel held Idlib province of northern Syria, were killed by poisonous gasses – perhaps sarin – claimed to have been delivered in a Syrian air strike on the command of Bashar al Assad. The entire world is appalled, with a groundswell of outrage erupting from all quarters.

The immediate reaction of the President of the United States was to blame Barack Obama. Secretary of State Tillerson answered press inquiries with a terse “No Comment.” The only adult response came from former governor Nikki Haley, now U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Haley, whom many thought was in way over her head, took to the floor of the General Assembly to assail the perpetrators of the heinous act, to lambaste the Russians for their probable roll in it, and to demand a full international investigation. There was a plausible if improbable claim by Russia, Iran and Syria that the gas was in rebel storehouses, set off accidently by the conventional air attack. A draft resolution, joined by Britain and France, called for a full investigation by the Organization of the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the proper United Nations body charged with responsibility for such outrages.

However, without waiting for any action by the U.N., without conferring or consulting with any of our allies, without conferring with any Congressional leaders, and without any confirming evidence on the facts surrounding the tragedy to make sure we had it right, President Trump did an abrupt U-turn from an unbroken chain of campaign promises and previously declared statements of policy, and ordered a retaliatory airstrike on a Syrian airbase near Damascus. It is reported that he staffed the mission with General McMasters and Secretary Mattis but not Secretary Tillerson, indicating that consideration was given only to a military response; a diplomatic solution was not even considered.

That the attack might violate international law, be contrary to the United Nations Charter to which we are a signatory, was without authorization of Congress, and was contrary to the repeated promises made during his campaign and the first three months of his term, apparently were of no concern to the White House and its cabal of advisers.

Cost of the attack to the U.S. is close to $94 million. The unit cost of firing a Tomahawk missile from a naval resource is $1.59 million a pop, and we deployed two Navy destroyers into the Eastern Mediterranean to deliver 59 of them into Syria. Reported results include some aircraft shelters and military fortifications blown up, 17 aircraft destroyed, and some reparable damage to runways and tarmac. The airbase was back in operation within hours.

Five soldiers on the base were killed, including perhaps one Russian. Two stray missiles struck villages near the airbase, killing nine and wounding thirteen civilians, including women and at least four children.

When the news was announced, we started by exchanging high-fives and congratulating ourselves for a “proportionate” response. By Sunday morning, as the full extent of the action and the beginnings of the consequences that are going to flow started to sink in, more sobering thoughts began to surface.

Russia has cut the communications link with us in Syria that allowed the two countries to coordinate ground and air operations to avoid firing upon each other. Future operations in country will be immeasurably more dangerous until and unless this communications link is restored. No one knows yet what reaction our soldiers in Syria will encounter from individual Syrian soldiers for the U.S. airstrike – if any. The irony of the death of innocent children being included in as part of an appropriate response to the death of innocent children cannot be explained – so it is simply being overlooked; it is not being mentioned. It is uncertain what Trump’s policy is now – was this strike a one-off, not to be repeated, or the start of a new policy to be put into place in the Middle East? Secretary Tillerson says it’s nothing new, but Trump talks about “being flexible.” It is not clear what this means.

One thing is certain: our foreign policy position worldwide, our relations with Russia, our standing the Middle East, and our position with our allies will not be the same. Obama’s developing policy of cooperation and conciliation has gone out the window. There is no question that the sudden attack on Syria sent a strong message around the world to our allies and foes alike – but it is not at all certain exactly what that message was. A prominent Senator on a morning talk show characterized it as a loud “Bleep you!” to anybody who opposes us.

The hawks are back in charge and are serving notice that the U.S. is once again the world’s top cop. And judge. And jury. And executioner.

How could it get any better?

Theft of a nation

rainey

“That’s all I can stands.
I can stands no more.”

Popeye, Philosopher

For several weeks, I’ve avoided the “elephant in the room.” I’ve tried to opine about - and have fun with - a number of subjects without referring directly or indirectly to our interim President. With his name and likeness everywhere, and with his massively covered, lying bombast filling the media, it’s been difficult.

But, as in the words of the spinach eating philosopher cited above - and with precisely that feeling - “I can stands no more.”

For some weeks following the 2016 election, I tried to put a best face on the situation. I kidded myself that, sooner or later, wise and responsible heads would exercise both wisdom and responsibility to straighten out the mess and return the troll to his rightful place under the nearest bridge. They haven’t. And kidding myself is no longer providing effective mental relief.

Following the election, for many political watchers, conventional wisdom was a fear that someone in the Oval Office, with not a day of political experience, would screw up working the machinery of the job. That was quickly followed by a second widely held belief he would commit a series of major mistakes which would draw some of the Republican pros to his side to help him get a handle on things.

Neither has happened.

In the first instance, with rare exception, nearly every Trump decision made and action taken were previewed in the presidential campaign. What he’s done, most often, is what he said he’d do. Clumsy though he may be. But the executive orders, what few policy decisions there have been, appointments made and actions taken - most were foretold. The feared ignorance has been, for the most part, actions of someone with absolute determination to have his own way, regardless of both laws to the contrary and unintended outcomes. Not ignorance.

In the second instance, GOPers who could bail him out have shunned the opportunity. Some have even tried to use his ignorance and elephant-sized ego for their own ends. Evidence of that was the near unanimous and speedy Republican confirmation of his cabinet full of misfits, crooks and self-serving billionaires. The most unfit bunch ever appointed to top positions of government authority in our national history.

Additional proof of using Trump for Republican self-service came when Mitch McConnell blew aside 240 years of bipartisanship, history and tradition to put Judge Gorsuch on the U.S. Supreme Court. There was nothing so important in the Gorsuch nomination that it required the rupture of the system of judicial - and other - appointments in the conduct of the U.S. Senate. Nothing. Feeding his own oversized sense of self-worth, McConnell has fundamentally changed how our legislative system will function for all time if not corrected.

Being four score years for the first time, I’m not sure how much of my thinking these days is due to age or other factors like predisposition. But I’ve recently had this desperate feeling we’re losing our country. That factors which seem out of anyone’s control are destroying values and traditions we grew up with and have traditionally lived by.

Advancing technology, increased scientific knowledge, new experiences, changing climate and geographic variables combine to alter conditions around us all the time. But it feels like more than that. Foundations on which this nation has stood for 250 years seem in flux - seem in danger of decay or disillusion. Traditionally unchanging factors of national pride, loyalty, fidelity, trust, sympathy, citizenship, accomplishment seem less valued and often ignored in the relationship between individuals and our current governance.

In fact, our system of government actually seems to have changed from representative to authoritarian. The idea that we elect others to represent us in matters of the conduct of state seems to have devolved into us becoming something to be ignored and “represented” only the second Tuesday in November.

This is not a time when we can afford a megalomaniac in the front office as the Syrian bombing proves. We do not want - and can’t afford - sycophants who enable an egomaniacal leader to carry out his own fantasies without defiance.

It’s been 100 days, give or take. We’re already launching missiles against another country without Constitutional authority, actively treating climate change - which can end civilization - as though it were a parlor game, denying food and shelter to millions in our nation deemed unworthy of care, threatening the quality of air, water and other resources necessary for life on this planet, denying rights of citizenship to minorities guaranteed those benefits, rewriting tax policies to reward billionaires for simply being rich, threatening the foundation of our nation’s public education system, denying national entry to diverse peoples whose ancestors built this country, using the taxpayer as a family’s personal piggy bank and more.

This is not the country I grew up in. It’s becoming one I don’t know and am growing increasingly uncomfortable living in. And those who have the power to change it seem to have no interest in doing so.

Idaho Briefing – April 10

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for March 20. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

With the legislature over, it’s time for bill signings and vetoes – some of each – and, usually, spring. That last is taking its time, as people in some places wait for flood waters to abate.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter last week plowed through the paperwork following completion of this year’s legislative session, signing dozens of bills and vetoing a few.

In an unusual public statement on April 3, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little asked Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter to sign rather than veto a bill which cleared the legislature, repealing the state’s sales tax on groceries.

Boise Mayor David Bieter and Garden City Mayor John Evans on April 6 ordered the closure of most of the Greenbelt bike and pedestrian path due to dangerous flood conditions on the Boise River. The announcement comes on the heels of yesterday’s announcement of the pathway’s closure in the City of Eagle.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is approving an Idaho Power Company application to slightly reduce the rider customers pay to fund demand-side management (DSM) programs from the current 4 percent of monthly billed amounts to 3.75 percent. The company asked for an effective date of June 1, but the commission made the increase effective April 1.

PHOTO Senator Jim Risch prepares to discuss Syria on camera. (photo/Office of Senator Risch)

Water Digest – April 10

Water rights weekly report for March 20. For much more news, links and detail, see the National Water Rights Digest.

A group of water users in Idaho’s Wood River Valley want the state to more tightly regulate junior groundwater users in their area, saying their surface water rights may be impacted.

The city of Thiruvananthapuram in India has responded to weakening water leels at the Peppara dam, a key source of supply, by moving to curtail water use in the city.

Alamosa city in Colorado has for years obtained much of its water supply through groundwater, via a series of wells in the Rio Grande Basin. New regulations from state Colorado state engineer, however, may restrict the city’s activities in that area, in the wake of water court decisions indicating that the city and other groundwater users have had an effect on many surface wastger rights holders. In response, Alamosa is in the market for buying water rights from other parries.

Several dozen protesters collected on April 2 near Crestline in southern California to argue against water draws by Nestlé Waters North America of mountain water supplies.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s April 2017 Total Water Supply Available (TWSA) forecast for the Yakima Basin indicates that the water supply will fully satisfy senior and junior water rights this irrigation season.

Second place heat

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Surely, candidates for lieutenant governor of Idaho have never, ever, materialized this early.

Rarely have there been so many of them. And there could be more. Probably will be.

And there are larger, structural, even physics reasons.

The last time the office was seriously competitive was in 2002, not long after state Senator Jack Riggs had been appointed to it (upon the departure of a predecessor named C.L. “Butch Otter, who had gone off to the U.S. House). There were competitive primaries in both parties, but the Republican was notably crowded, including not only the incumbent but two state legislators, Celia Gould and Jim Risch, and former gubernatorial candidate Larry Eastland, plus two other little-knowns. The contest was unpredictable enough that the winner, Risch (getting his effective start here toward the Senate), won with just 34.6 percent of the vote.

Before that, although you could point to several reasonably competitive general elections back in the 70s and 80s, you have to go back generations to find the last really competitive primary for the job, or a really large field of contestants.

But so far this year - with the filing deadline close to a year away - we’ve seen entries (apparently at least) into the race from state Senator Marv Hagedorn of Meridian and state Representative Kelley Packer of McCammon and former legislator Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls. State Republican Party chair Steve Yates may also be in.

Why all the heavy interest?

The big reason is that “light guv” is an open seat this time, since incumbent Brad Little is running for governor (in another multi-contender battle). Incumbents are notoriously hard to take out - few have in recent decades in Idaho - open positions offer the best path upward.

And there’s another reason for the interest: Ambitions (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense) get bottled up in places like Idaho, where one party dominates the offices and the office-holders decide to stay around for long periods of time. In Congress, Senator Mike Crapo has been there since 1998, Senator Risch since 2008, Representative Mike Simpson since 1998 and youngster Raul Labrador since 2010. Governor Otter is wrapping up 12 years in the job; by the time of the 2018 election, Little will have been at his post for just under a decade.

If you’re looking to move up, where do you go? Mostly, you wait for the rare opportunity of an opening.

Then too, the track record for upward mobility among lieutenants governor has been improving. Until the last couple of decades, most LGs topped out in that office (the main exception being John Evans, who succeeded to the governorship; Phil Batt went on to election as governor but only years after departing as lieutenant.) More recently the picture has changed. Incumbent Little is now a strong contender for governor. His predecessor, Risch, wound up in both the governor’s office and the Senate. The last LG before him, Otter, wound up in the U.S. House and the governorship.

Looking ahead to the contest, columnist Chuck Malloy was inclined to suggest, “With Yates in, it’s game over. He wins.” Personally, I wouldn’t throw any betting money down just yet. Multi-candidate races can get awfully unpredictable, especially over the course of long campaigns. And the high pressure surrounding those few open seats can add to the number of open questions.

Never underestimate the power of bottled energy when just enough heat is applied.