In Camas County this month, voters are being asked by one of the local districts to increase tax rates by about seven-fold.
That’s not quite as dramatic as it might first seem. It’s a barely-there jurisdiction: The cemetery district, where the taxes are small in scale; the management argues that needed upgrades and repairs have been put off for years and really shouldn’t wait longer. And the district says the increase, or at least most of it, isn’t intended to last for long, only until certain projects are done. But they do also acknowledge: Right now, in the midst of an economic collapse, is a hard time to ask voters for a tax increase, even a small one.
The vote - which in the very small-population county will be cast by people who probably are mostly familiar with the cemetery situation - may actually be worth a watch from beyond. How willing are people right now to spend money on longer-range projects, even those they’re close to?
That’s one of the perspectives that we can measure in the primary election, which thanks to the mail system already is underway in Idaho.
If cemetery repairs are among the low-visibility issues at hand, the statewide “stay at home” orders during the Covid-19 rise are on the other side of the scale. (You wonder if an initiative on the subject might have made the ballot, if legal deadlines allowed.) A number of candidates, not exclusively but mainly in the Republican primary, have raised the subject of shut-in behavior, and it could be pivotal in some places.
Covid-19 was the prime subject in a Twin Falls Times News article about the primary challenge to County Commissioner Brent Reinke by David Hansen, a small business owner. The paper said, “Last week, Hansen began visiting local restaurants for lunch or dinner to support local businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic in a daily event he calls ‘Social Distance with Dave.’” If that sounds as if he might be sympathetic with the statewide anti-Covid steps, guess again: Hansen has placed himself at “100%” in opposition to sheltering in place orders.
Stay-at-home is likely to factor in a number of Republican legislative primaries too, even as Governor Brad Little loosens the rules somewhat.
It will surely be a consideration, for example, in what may be the premier Republican legislative primary in the state, between incumbent Representative Chad Christensen of Ammon and Dave Radford, a Bonneville County commissioner and long-time Republican Party worker. Christensen said in a legislative newsletter, “I do not agree with the Governor’s announcement to extend the stay-at-home order. I will be attempting, with other legislators, to push for a special legislative session.” The relatively Little-aligned Radford, in contrast, has supported the governor’s order.
Covid could play into this cycle’s from-the-right primary challenge to federal Representative Mike Simpson; this one from Kevin Rhoades of Boise. Rhoades, who ran two years ago for the state House (unsuccessfully) in a central Boise district, got more attention back then for allegations of making anti-Islamic remarks aimed at a fellow “pro cage fighter.” This year, his web site wraps up his list of "conservative values" with "pro MAGA" - in case you were wondering where he's coming from - which would likely include anti-shutdown arguments. (Or presumably: What’s the White House saying today?)
Another kind of health angle may play out in the Idaho Falls House Republican race pitting incumbent Bryan Zollinger against challenger Marco Erickson. The East Idaho News reported, "Erickson said he decided to run for the seat because of Zollinger’s relationship with a debt collection company (MRS) that hires Zollinger as an attorney to collect on medical debts. Erickson believes Zollinger and MRS are ‘preying on a vulnerable population’.” Might this subject emerge in other races too?
All races are, of course, their own beast, and sometimes the tendency of analysts to look for through lines between them can extend a little further than the facts realistically allow. And this year’s Idaho primaries overall seem to be on the quieter side of the spectrum. But don’t be surprised if a few broader lessons emerge anyway.