As I wrote this I hadn’t yet seen the list of top ten news stories from around the state, which is just as well, since although this is a top ten list that’s not its purpose.
The top news stories inevitably will include, for example - and may be topped by - the student murders at Moscow, which was a big and tragic story. But it says little about the development of Idaho, about the coming year and what Idahoans ought to be paying attention to.
What follows are interrelated items which say something about where we were in the last dozen months and where we may go in the next dozen.
One is the inquiry into the retired Boise police captain, a 24-year veteran, who in November was slated to speak to a national white supremacist group’s meeting. City officials have responded usefully, launching an investigation into how far such attitudes may have penetrated the organization. (It’s hard to believe someone with his job history would have been a complete loner.) But this isn’t about Boise only: What about law enforcement elsewhere around Idaho (and beyond)? Watch for developments.
Look for more followups on the feature story about political real estate. Stories from March focused on real estate operations in the Panhandle marketing to an extremist and survivalist base, employing terms like “American Redoubt,” “Strategic relocation,” and “bunkers – saferooms.” The area is becoming so well known for that atmosphere, and so socially and politically hardened, that you can watch for the appeal to spread across a wide range of businesses and other organizations.
Political extremism, with culture wars at their center, have spread all over. The efforts at book bans in the Nampa School District, which went along, and the Meridian Library District, which has been resisting, are merely partway in their development.
Along those lines, watch closely the demolition of North Idaho College, proceeding rapidly since Kootenai County voters in November returned control of the governing board to an extremist core (supported by the local county Republican Party organization) apparently bent on destroying the place. On that same election day, governing boards at other community colleges around Idaho remained relatively steady, but an attempt at going the NIC route was tried at the College of Western Idaho, and may be tried again there and elsewhere. These governing boards are hardly liberal, but they have been - so far - dedicated to keeping their local institutions afloat and operational. Will they stay so?
Most top-ballot elections in Idaho this year gave wins to mainstream Republicans, but the organizational energy seems to be with the more extreme MAGA-oriented sectors - as indicated by the results of last year’s Republican Party leadership elections, when the hard right swept the field. The Idaho Legislature, which is largely split between the two sides, will be ground zero for that struggle in the first part of the coming year. (Another question: Thanks to the ballot issue passed last year, how many special sessions might we expect this year?)
With that in mind, one of the big stories of last year - the overturning of the national Roe v. Wade decision - may be a growing point for activism in Idaho in the coming year. Last year, with elections around the corner, a piece of Idaho’s abortion law was stayed, and some anti-abortion activists may have wanted to hold back on taking additional steps in the area. Any hesitation will likely be gone once the legislature hits town.
That arrival may expose something else: The reasons behind the special session of last fall and abrupt infusion of money into public schools. The money may soon be yanked from the schools, but a fight over school funding seems almost inevitable.
Anything essentially non-political in these polarized days? There are some new economic developments, including possible expansion at Micron Technology (along with possible layoffs) and decisions about to be made around the specifics of a data center at Kuna. But I’m watching most the work on cobalt mining at Salmon, where - if trend lines hold - a central part of Idaho could see some big changes before long. If that’s the case, 2023 may be the year it takes hold.
Of course, 2023 may yet launch some fresh new stories of its own.