I for one take note that what may be the most important thing to happen in Idaho this year - ballot placement and voter passage of the initiative to expand Medicaid access in the state - wasn’t even mentioned in the looking-ahead column I wrote a year ago.
Why not? The initiative effort was active and rolling by the end of 2017; the ballot effort was filed and the campaign in place; the advocates were at work. But it looked then like a long shot. Getting any initiative to Idaho ballot status has been, in recent years, a daunting task completed by few. And what would be the odds of Idaho voters backing one of the key components of Obamacare, which so many of their elected officials have described for years like the work of the devil?
But here we are, with the measure passed (and under challenge in court, though - prognostication alert - the challenge probably will fail). Goes to show how many of the most important developments in the course of a year also are the most surprising.
Last year I couched much of the look-ahead column in the form of questions, such as: “Should we shut the door on Democratic prospects in Idaho? And even if major offices prove elusive, might Democrats see substantial gains in the legislature or in the courthouses?”
These remained fair questions through much of the year, though the answer on election day seemed close to what had been broadly expected: Democrats did a little better in 2018 than usual, both in filling key ballot slots and in the final vote, but not by a lot. Republicans remain solidly in control. Makes you wonder now if the Medicaid expansion measure had an effect on that.
Another question I raised then turned out to be relevant, though not in the way anticipated: “There are candidates from the establishment Republican world (Brad Little for governor and David Leroy for Congress), and from the outside-activist wing (Raul Labrador and Russell Fulcher, respectively), and candidates a little harder to easily classify. Will we see a consistent thread running between them? Will this year’s Republican primary turn into a battle between slates of candidates the way 2014 did? Will it lead to bitter conflicts the way that one did, or settle out more easily?”
The inside and outside question was on point. But unlike in 2014, when the two sides split cleanly into de facto slates, the races in 2018 did not cohere so simply. The governor’s race featured three significant candidates, enough to splinter the vote and alter the conversation - and alliances - in important ways. Republicans up and down the ballot were not lumped together in groups as they had been four years earlier, maybe reflecting the complex governor’s race. Republicans came out of this year’s election no doubt with some hard feelings (tough primaries almost always generate at least some, and did on the Democratic side too), but of nowhere near the depth or scope that the party had to deal with after 2014.
I did say that “2018 stands to be a lively political year,” and it was, with several hard-to-predict primaries (the Democratic gubernatorial primary result was a surprise to a lot of people) and a heated general election contest. But the end result in most of the major races, and in overall control of the state legislature, were never much in question. 2018 did not change the basic political equation in Idaho except for the Medicaid expansion (and a subtle but maybe significant voting shift in western Ada County).
2019 won’t feature a major election in Idaho (at least, not that we can foresee right now). But the after-effects of 2018 will be in evidence. I’ll get to that next week.