Numbers are different from ideology in this way: They are specific, and they can have inescapably concrete meanings.
Two Idaho examples from last week.
The campaign of Tommy Ahlquist, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman heavily involved in Boise downtown redevelopment, mentioned the number 100 a couple of times. On Wednesday he released a video ad saying he has “a blueprint to cut $100 million dollars in wasteful government spending in his first 100 days” as (presumably) governor. To be precise, it says he has a “blueprint” to do that, but didn’t actually promise he would accomplish it. As to what the blueprint contains, we’re given no clues.
Put aside for a moment the whole question of exactly where all this waste is located, and how the new governor would expect to root it out so fast. Although we can reasonably guess where the idea came from: The last presidential campaign featured comparable sorts of extravagant promises that turned out to be not easy to deliver in the real world.
I’d suggest instead constituents asking their Republican legislators: Is there really that much actual waste in the state budget? You’ve been voting for years to pass state budgets: Are you being that wasteful? What do you think of this accusation - from a possible top standard bearer for your party next year - that you have been?
Some notable Q and A might result. And we might get some specifics: Where exactly is this massive amount of waste? One person’s waste, after all, can be another person’s important priority, and since actually listing the cuts is likely to aggravate a lot of people, that often doesn’t happen in the course of campaigns.
Another set of numbers also emerged last week, far from anyone’s Idaho campaign ad. (And yes, it is stunning to think that the TV ads for the 2018 Idaho gubernatorial campaign have already begun. Prepare yourselves to be inundated for months to come.)
The second set of numbers comes in part from Idaho: That would be $7.25. This is the level of the Idaho minimum wage.
The Idaho Business Review pointed out last week a comparative, that minimum wages are on the rise in neighboring states. By 2020, Washington’s will boost from $11 to $13.50, Oregon’s from $9.75 to $11.25, Nevada’s from $8.37 to $8.96 in 2020, and Montana’s from $8.16 an hour to $8.75 in 2020.
This will have consequences too. Many Idaho employers have reported some difficulty in the last year or two finding employees. (Obviously, some employers can and do pay higher wages, but local competitive pressures can discourage that.) If you’re looking for a job, or even if you already have one, in the minimum wage pay range, why would you want one on the Idaho side of the border? For people in or near border areas, the answer is clear enough, and it could apply as well to people willing to pull up stakes.
Of course, there’s the argument that higher minimum wages may depress employment. But the business environments in the higher-minimum-wage states around Idaho are faring fine. And the largest increases in Idaho employment in the last few years have tended to come in sectors like construction, where wages mostly are notably above the minimum wage.
Comes down to numbers. And what they represent about quality of life.