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Posts published in “Idaho column”

Opioids, microscopically

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The last time opioids were this big a deal in Idaho was almost a century and a half ago, when they made their way into Boise and beyond through trade routes on the west coast. Opium became a big enough commodity that - in part because Chinese immigrants were implicated - the territorial legislature clamped down, and raids and prosections ensued. The opium market was not eliminated but was largely quashed.

All these years later, opioids have found Idaho again.

The stereotype of an opioid problem area might bring to mind Appalachia or the troubled industrial areas of the northeast, or maybe parts of the rural south. Surely not places like Idaho.

But it’s been no mistake that the state of Idaho (through the attorney general’s office) and a growing bunch of local jurisdictions (Twin Falls just joined the list) have joined into a national lawsuit over opioids - especially their marketing.

Idaho, it turns out, is one of those places in the country harder-hit than most by this new epidemic.

And unlike most contagious diseases and unlike most problems with drug abuse - methamphetamines, say - the opioid drug abuse problem has many of its roots in “legitimate” society, with licensed physicians who got their patients hooked, and with corporate manufacturers of patented products. Filing a lawsuit against a meth dealer would be ludicrous (such an actor would simply be locked up), but that’s not so in the case of opioids, where the road to addiction so often has started with legal prescriptions.

On May 3, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported, “If you live in eastern Idaho, you don’t need anyone telling you about the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Bonneville and Bannock counties have the highest percentage of drug-overdose deaths in the state. Bonneville, along with Elmore, Owyhee and nine other Idaho counties got so fed up with the opioid epidemic they joined a federal lawsuit last year against the makers of OxyContin, Lortab and other opioids.”

And yet the worst of the opioid problem in Idaho seems to be further north. The Centers for Disease Control has broken out prescription rates for opioids by county, and the hottest area in the region - in either Idaho or Washington state - turns out to be the Lewiston-Clarkston area, with adjacent Lewis County (on a per capita basis) coming in slightly higher still. For many recent years, little Lewis County had the highest prescription rates of any county in the western United States.

The Lewiston Tribune’s detailed August 18 story on the problem locally quotes veteran Moscow physician Dan Schmidt, who works around the region - and doesn’t seem especially surprised at the high rates. He notes that Lewiston and Clarkston, with their large stores, may rate high because people from smaller nearby counties shop (and get their drugs) there. He also suggested that the medical community has failed to regulate itself - the profession “dropped the ball.” He recalled, the story said, “drug company sales representatives showing up at his clinic with free food, three times a week.” When Schmidt declined to buy, their visits stopped. But, as he seems to indicate, not all physicians in the area may have reacted the same way.

And he thought the large number of people on disability or who live on very small incomes have a strong incentive to sell legal opioids they get through the local pharmacy.

Legal opioids, of course, often have led to heroin and other illegal opioid addictions; the problems are closely related.

The reports we’re seeing seem to show that the problems are systemic as well as personal. Any attempt to solve the problem will have to consider the systems of medical and pain treatment as well as control over the substances.
 

Centennial road

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Idaho is amid an anniversary that may get no public acclaim but should: Really, it marks the unification of Idaho, one century ago, and a generation after statehood.

The project involved was completed 99 years ago. But it was well underway before that, and one of the key developments that allowed it to happen at all came in 1919.

It was the building of the Whitebird Hill grade, built that is, to motor vehicle roadway conditions, which in turn allowed for a road system that for the first time provided a practical link between northern and southern Idaho.

Up to then, the advocates arguing for breaking off northern Idaho and attaching it to Washington or Montana had an excellent point: There was no good way for people to travel, even by the rugged and uncomfortable standards of the time, between the northern and southern parts of Idaho. The area between the Camas Prairie (the northern one, in Idaho County) and the Meadows area seemed all but impassible. A rough trail had been cut through, and horseback riders could make their way over the hill; in the best weather narrow carts could roll, with great care taken, slowly and sometimes accumulating damage. But the old Magruder corridor, which despite use since the early 1860s never has been made into a real road, was probably easier to navigate than the area south of Grangeville.

Major rivers - the Snake, the Salmon, the Clearwater - run through the region, but none of them allow for any substantial transport between north and south. The one case that looks good on a map, the northern-running Snake River, has been a popular recreational path for many years, but wasn’t much good for long-distance transport then (or now).

Building a road over White Bird Pass would be a formidable challenge, but it was the key to creating a north-south roadway. The earliest work on it started in the mid-teens a century ago, but proceeded slowly at first. Local efforts needed a stronger push from the state.

In 1919, as part of a state government reorganization, a Bureau of Highways was created, and both governor (D.W. Davis at the time) and the legislature made clear that the roads needed to be improved. That was the final piece in what had been pushed for by people in the region for some time.

A November 1918 article in the Lewiston Tribune talked about the prospective project from the mouth of White Bird Creek to Grangeville, and the problem it addressed: “The only means of travel between these two points at the present time is over a narrow, precipitous mountain road of heavy grades - some pitches as steep as 25 percent - and sharp, dangerous turns. Though it is a very important mail route, supplying all the Salmon River country to a distance of 90 miles to New Meadows, it is practically no more than a poor trail and almost impassible to auto traffic except under the most favorable conditions.”

Those of us who remember the “old” White Bird grade - the switchback-laden white-knuckle road that held you to 25 miles an hour (if you didn't have a death wish) - may think that not much had changed. But a lot did. The pre-1920 trail was really not accessible at all to motor vehicles, which was not so big a deal a decade earlier but, as the car-driven 1920s were about to arrive, became a very big deal.

The grade we use now, in place at this point for more than 40 years, is a sleek, high-speed modern highway, far ahead of what came before. But that earlier version, which you can still see snaking its way up the mountain from the town of White Bird, was the predicate.

Look a century past and you’ll see that, yes, we can make progress.
 

Push and pull

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This has been quite a summer for diversity in Idaho, even leaving aside the squabble over legislator criticism of ethnic and other types of organizations and programs at Boise State University, and various other associated public protests or outbursts.

Micron Technology at Boise, which long has had a diversity program, raised its visibility and support for that effort a notch by naming the program’s leader as a corporate vice president.

Top officers at the Idaho National Laboratory at Idaho Falls issued a statement strongly supporting diversity at the big center. Laboratory Director Mark Peters said in explanation, “Our employees come from roughly 130 countries. I can tell you that without question, a diverse working group, working together, is the best tool we have to ensure a prosperous and secure future. At INL, we don’t just value inclusive diversity, we need it.”

The University of Idaho named a new athletic director, the first to hold the position since the contentious departure of a predecessor who was enmeshed in sexual harassment issues. The new director is Terry Gawlik, the first woman ever to hold the job at the UI.

News reports about all those events emerged last week, days after the report about another woman, Cristal Brown, who was appointed to lead athletics at Idaho State University, the first ever to do so there. Two of Idaho’s three state universities now have athletics programs directed by women. That unquestionably will come as a shock to some of the state’s socially conservative athletic boosters. (Both appointments also involved the state Board of Education, which was enmeshed in the BSU diversity debate.)

These things did not all happen as a response to the Idaho legislators (and their supporters) who took aim at the diversity programs at Boise State University. But they don’t feel entirely coincidental either; they have happened in an environment where the whole idea of diversity, the question of what our culture is and should be about, is under dispute and debate.

If the anti-diversity forces thought they could redefine Idaho as a monotone kind of place, they’re not making a lot of progress. The BSU diversity programs (and is it a coincidence that the uproar over that happened just after the appointment of a woman as the new president of the institution?) picked up a good deal of support after a group of legislators criticizing it sent out their letter on the subject. The legislators who attacked it seemed to wind up on the defensive, and at least one backed off his initial support of the letter.

At the same time, don’t imagine these new summer stories will go without some kind of pushback.

Much of politics and society is Newtonian, in that for every action there’s an opposing reaction. This spray of diversity-related stories this summer will certainly lead to a reaction of some kind. It may come soon, or it may simmer until the 2020 legislative session. In fact, the likelihood of legislative controversy in this area - in some form or another - is so probable I’d almost advise you to bet on it … if you could find anyone to take the other side.

The growing number of diversity topics and stories, in an election year in which Donald Trump will appear on the top of the Idaho election ballot, seems sure to make the subject one of the hottest topics in Idaho (not to mention elsewhere) during 2020.

It will take some careful discussion, if it’s not to degenerate into pure emotionalism, which does seem the most likely outcome.

But one way or another, it’s coming.
 

The insurgency succession

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A week after the last of the full candidate events - debates of a sort, maybe - for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the real sifting begins, the contender topping the polls will head to of all places Idaho. The reason for that is at least understandable reason: fundraising.

Former Vice President Joe Biden will visit homes at Ketchum and Boise, and raise money, primarily from people with long-standing connections to Democrtic politics; and yes, Idaho does have some people like that, lightly visible though they often are in state politics.

No particular news there. But the events of last week and this week do start to open the question of where Idaho’s Democratic support will go in their party’s nomination battle. And that’s worth considering, because while the odds are overwhelming that the state will stay red in next year’s general election, the battle over the Democratic nomination may be up for grabs, in Idaho as well as nationally. And right now there’s little certainty about how that will play out.

And that support can move in some interesting directions. Idaho Democrats looking toward the national picture increasingly have moved toward the more activist, outsider-ish and non-establishment contenders among presidential prospects. In 2016, they preferred Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton; in 2008 they went for Barack Obama over Clinton.

What does that portend for this cycle?

It might mean that if part of Biden’s strategy involves reeling in delegate votes from smaller states like Idaho - and that was an important part of Obama’s nomination strategy in 2008 - he has his work cut out. Biden is the closest thing to an establishment contender in the race, and he’s the sort of candidate who recently has had the hardest time getting traction among majority of caucus-going Idaho Democrats. Biden has a large enough base of support that he likely will be in the race as the calendar flips to 2020, something you can say with less certainty of most of the other contenders. But will he be hanging on in the face of a strong challenge, or consolidating support? If the race is competitive then, Idaho may be one of the kinds of places where he has to hustle.

Of course, we have little clarity of exactly what the field will look like by the new year. We can be reasonably certain it will narrow. The 20-plus field of candidates of July is likely to be cut in half by mid-fall; for many candidates the inability to make the next debate stage in September will be a fatal blow.

Odds are, though, that most of these candidates will be around for a while: Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, California Senator Kamala Harris, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, South Bend (Indiana) Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Maybe in the next few months another candidate or two catches fire, but these candidates and Biden seem most likely to be those scrambling for market share.

Who might generate some appeal in Idaho? Who might get the Idaho insurgency vote that seems not to have coalesced yet?

Sanders, as noted, did last time, and maybe he could again; he has a base of support in the Gem State. But his kind of insurgency seldom maintains the same sort of emotional drive for very long.

The Idaho Democrats conducted a small-scale straw poll after last week’s debates, and that showed Warren in first place, Buttigieg second, Harris third, Booker fourth, Sanders fifth. (Geography isn’t all, since Washington Governor Jay Inslee was down in the cellar.) But that was a small sample.

My best guess for a 2010 Idaho Democratic insurgency would be Warren or Booker, depending on how they present themselves and pick up support - or fail to - nationally in the next three to four months. There will be significant support for Biden among Idaho Democrats, but at the moment I’d guess he will occupy something closer to the Hillary Clinton spot.

But that’s guesswork. Crunch time for sifting through the Democratic contenders is only just beginning, and we all might wind up with a surprise short list half a year from now.
 

Growth factors

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Here’s a place where long-range thinking and interests bump up against short-term.

The long range in the Idaho Magic Valley looks partly like this: Two centuries ago animal life in the south-central Idaho desert was sparse; big animals were few, and humans, not large in number, passed through rather than stay for long. About a century and a quarter ago, humans figured out how to effectively redirect water, mainly from the Snake River, and use it to grow crops at scale, changing much of the region from desert to cropland - the “magic” of the regional name.

As the water was limited, so was the ability to keep on expanding. Other less thirsty uses of water were expanded to enhance use of the territory, and one of those was cattle production. To a point, the cattle activity like the crops largely could go across the region without diminishing the area’s ability to replenish itself. But there are limits.

Cattle were grazed in the valley a century and more ago, but in small numbers. They grew gradually, and by the mid-1980s the population of the cattle - about 75,000 then - began to approach the number of people in the area.

Concerns began to be raised, as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) ballooned.

A dozen years ago, when the valley’s cattle population was estimated at 341,000, the Twin Falls Times News wrote about it: “Last week at a Jerome County commissioners’ meeting concerning an application for an 18,555-cow feedlot, small-dairy owner Blaine Miller asked commissioners to consider a moratorium on new dairies in the county. In Cassia County earlier this year, a group of small-operation farmers joined forces to fight a permit application for a large dairy.”

But the growth continued.

Today the Magic Valley is home to about 417,000 head of cattle, more than twice the number of people in the area, each of which not only consume water but also leave their waste product on, and seeping into, the ground. Those cattle produce much more manure than is produced by the vastly larger human population of New York City.

This came back to attention last week with release of a report by the Idaho Conservation League (you can read it at https://www.idahoconservation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/ICL_GroundWaterReport-07082019-FINAL-Web-1.pdf) warning that the groundwater in the area - mainly meaning the Snake River Plain Aquifer, a source of drinking water for 300,000 people in Idaho - is becoming contaminated with nitrate and phosphorus pollution. The problem is not extreme yet, but the trend lines aren’t favorable.

The report notes, “The available groundwater quality data, while limited, clearly indicates that nitrate and phosphorus concentrations are well above natural background levels in certain portions of the ESPA.

“These elevated concentrations are directly linked to human activities on the Snake River Plain – specifically, waste generated by large concentrated animal feeding operations and overapplication of fertilizer on agricultural fields. These concentrations are projected to continue to rise for the foreseeable future with likely worsening human health risks.”

The ICL added, “These water quality issues will increasingly have more severe implications for Idaho’s ability to meet water quality standards, manage population growth and protect the health of Idahoans.”

The difficulty is in large part economic, because those cattle and the industries they’re linked to increasingly have become the economic engine of south-central Idaho, even more than all those magic plant crops. Two generations ago dairy was a big industry in that part of Idaho, but now it’s enormous. Cheese producers are increasingly important in the area. A yogurt producer has become Twin Falls’ flagship business. A major diminishment of cattle operations in the Magic Valley now would be a huge economic blow to the region.

Dealing with this would create serious short-term economic problems. Deferring the situation, or letting it continue on the trajectory of the last few decades, would create bigger issues down the road. This is one of those situations where the people of a region decide what they’re about, and what they plan to leave behind.
 

The Idaho Way of Inclusiveness

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That recent high-profile legislative letter about university inclusiveness used this as a sort of moral cornerstone:

“As Governor Brad Little has stated on numerous occasions: We need to do things the ‘Idaho way!’”

So what is the Idaho Way when it comes to welcoming people - that is, people who may not look, sound or believe the same as a majority of Idahoans do?

Back in the days when the Aryan Nations planted their overtly racist headquarters in the Idaho panhandle, the Way seemed to refer to what state officials and other leading Idahoans made certain to tell whoever would listen: We welcome people here, whoever they may be; the Aryans’ attitudes are nothing like ours.

Fast forward ...

The July 9 letter from Representative Barbara Dee Erhardt of Idaho Falls, co-signed by 27 fellow House Republicans (notice for clarity: Little was not among the signatories), bore a thin fig leaf but in practice made clear that many Idahoans, some in the Statehouse, who really don’t want people who aren’t like those in the Idaho majority to come here. Those words weren’t on the surface, but you don’t have to dig hard to get there.

The letter was directed to the new president of Boise State University, its subject the institution’s programs on inclusiveness: “This drive to create a diversified and inclusive culture becomes divisive and exclusionary because it separates and segregates students. These initiatives by nature highlight differences and suggest that certain groups are treated unequally now - and that BSU should redress these grievances.” It goes on to suggest that money spent on inclusiveness-related programs could be better spent on keeping down the ever-higher cost of tuition for students.

Those rationales aren’t even good window dressing. None of the programs referenced either separate or segregate students (not legal in any event). Nor is their cost more than a sliver of university spending; if they all ended tomorrow students wouldn’t see any improvement in their cost structure. If the legislators were serious about helping with tuition costs they could start with better funding the state colleges and universities, which badly need it; but then, these same legislators have built careers out of keeping university budgets as paltry as possible.

No sale: This letter was simply an Idaho entry in the national culture wars, a softer regional version of the Donald Trump call for four members of Congress, whose races and politics were other than his, to be sent somewhere else (never minding that three of them were born in the United States, and the fourth also is a citizen), reflected in his crowds’ chant, “Send her back!”

In recent years BSU has touted itself, reasonably, as a metropolitan research institution, and its growth is linked to that identity. A “metropolitan research” university, anywhere, gets that way by bringing in and fostering learning and research among a wide range of people, not just within a state or even the nation, but worldwide.

Learning tends to take off when you put together people with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, knowledge and perspectives. It’s why congresses and legislatures were intended to include scores of people, not just three or four - the hope being that a wide range of view and perspective will bring a deeper understanding. (Of course, the Idaho Legislature isn’t exactly broad in scope ...) Such universities, and the United States has many, are a big piece of the reason this country has grown, learned, advanced and prospered in the last century. Locally, BSU has for years developed large, and growing, economic and social impact.

It may be easy for people in homogenous communities, as many around Idaho are, to forget, but there is a difference and there are challenges for people coming into new places where there aren’t many people like you; the ability to connect with people like yourself, and see some reflection of yourself, can be reassuring and even necessary. Too, people who are a little different from the majority sometimes face maltreatment, and effort often is needed to remediate that.

Here’s the core of the BSU Statement of Diversity and Inclusivity from February 2017: “We recognize that our success is dependent on how well we value, engage, include, and utilize the rich diversity of our faculty, staff, students, and alumni. We believe that prejudice, oppression, and discrimination are detrimental to human dignity, and that a vibrant and diverse campus community enhances the learning environment of the populations that we serve.”

So in this context, what is the “Idaho Way”? As debate over that goes on, students at a university in Idaho, some a little different in background than the majority of Idahoans, continue to learn and teach and research and hope the state’s politics doesn’t sometime soon come crashing down on their heads.
 

Bill Roden

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Bill Roden’s obituary told a story about him I can’t recall ever having heard, certainly not from him, and it may explain a lot about who he was and why he had the effect on people he did.

During World War II, internment camps were set up around the American west to hold large numbers of Japanese-Americans. Roden’s parents, then federal employees, were among those assigned to manage the camps - first one in Topaz, Utah, then at Hunt in Idaho - and their young boy came with them. Roden’s parents were deeply opposed to the internment, and in protest they moved in with the Japanese while working there, bringing their son with them. That was how Roden spent part of his childhood: Absorbing what happens when we treat people so abominably.

He didn’t forget. A quarter-century later, as a state senator in Idaho, he wrote and pushed through the state’s first civil rights law.

Roden, who died on July 8 at 90, has been known in more recent years for other things, such as being the most influential Idaho lobbyist of the last half-century. But to chat and drink coffee with him, as I have over the years, is to see the two aspects of the man as one.

Back in the 80s and early 90s I occasionally cobbled together lists of the most influential lobbyists, usually based on recommendations from legislators. The lists were always interesting to compile, but not because of any curiosity about whose name would be on top of the list. That was always Bill Roden. And it wasn’t because of his client roster or his deep contacts at the Statehouse; it had more to do with the sense you got of the integrity and decency of the man. The irony is that although he once was an elected official - a state senator, the last one elected by all of Ada County when it was a single legislative district - and a highly capable one at that, it’s what he did in the decades after that made him such a major figure in Idaho.

When Martin Peterson and I wrote a book about the 100 most influential Idahoans in the state’s history, he made that list too, at number 83 - one of the few people still living we allowed on the list. Roden would be on that list today, though no longer among the living.

Here’s some of what we wrote about him in 2012:

“How to assess the influence of a lobbyist, who pursues not so much an individual, personal agenda, but rather that of an employer; and whose influence is filtered through that of the people he tries to influence? How to do it, moreover, when much of what that lobbyist does is far from visible, when his actions leave only subtle traces? There’s no perfect answer.”

But we argued that Bill Roden, a Boise attorney, and central figure in Idaho government and politics for half a century and more, clearly had enormous impact: “When it comes to persuading the Idaho legislature to do something, Roden has for decades been considered the top pick by far. That surely translates to placement on this list.”

Roden set the pattern and mold for lobbying in Idaho’s capital, which - owing in no small part to his influence - tends to be a good deal more straightforward and honorable than many Idahoans might suspect. But he also quietly advocated for many things and served in all kinds of civic roles. He was one of those people who helped to keep the peace when politics would get a little too ugly and intense.

We need more Bill Rodens around these days. We really need them.
 

Little at six months

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Last week a national political reporter asked me what how I thought Idaho’s new governor, Brad Little, was doing. Was he he thriving? Was he managing okay? Was his struggling?

It seemed like a good time to pause and consider the new governor, for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s a six-month mark, and time enough has passed to get a sense of what this new administration is like; the effective date of many new laws has just passed, and that seems like a fair official marker.

There’s an unofficial one too, with the election last weekend of Raul Labrador as state Republican Party chair. Last year Little and Labrador were competitors for the Republican nomination for governor, and the fight turned fierce at times, involving both hammer and tongs. Political tradition has it that a governor more or less gets to choose, or at least have some say over, the choice of their party’s chair. That hasn’t been the case in Idaho for more than a decade, but the sight of a former - maybe future? - harsh critic of the party’s governor is highly unusual. It may also say something about the real distinction between Little and large parts of the party’s structure.

So as Little is, and will be, watched, what is there to see?

In some ways, not a tremendous lot has changed. You start running out fast when you try compiling a list of individual things Little has done that his predecessor (and the man who set him on the road to the job), C.L. “Butch” Otter, absolutely wouldn’t have done - that is, anything that’s a real reversal of the former policy. You probably can scratch out a few items, and there have been a lot of personnel changes, but nothing very large or sweeping comes to mind. And he has retained or renewed many of the visible devices of the Otter years, like Capital for a Day and the education task force (both of which were useful ideas then and now).

In spite of the limited direction change, the Little Administration so far is far different from the Otter Administration.

It is much more active. In its energy level it resembles the brief administration of Jim Risch, who served as governor for a few months in 2006 and seemed to cram the work of most of a full term into that time.

The governor himself seems to be popping up at events and meetings all over the state, meeting with lots of people, at a faster pace than Idaho is accustomed to. His office often has been launching new ideas, task forces and proposals two and three a week, becoming far more active than it had been in many years.

Early times for a governor often are measured by relationships with the state legislature. Little’s has been the most effective and productive in a very long time. He did not issue many vetoes - though he showed he was willing to, and did in an extreme case - but then his office’s work with the legislature was more behind the scenes than on-stage. Legislators, including Democratic legislators, talked about how closely the governor’s office now was reviewing legislation and talking directly with lawmakers about it, at the staff level and even personally by the governor, in ways they had not experienced before. That doesn’t mean everyone always reached agreement, but it does mean communication channels were open and active.

Much of this may not be especially visible to most Idahoans who encounter the governor’s office through statements and news items that often don’t look a lot different from other governors over the last quarter century. But the difference is there,and it may develop into some policy differences down the line.

So in response to the reporter’s question about the governor, I replied that the new Idaho governor appeared to be thriving. That could change. But it looks that way at the six-month mark.
 

Those Oregonians in Idaho

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State lines can make quite a difference, which is one reason a gaggle of Oregon Republican legislators are - as this was written - hiding out in Idaho.

They might re-cross the state line soon, but the reasons they’re in Idaho and why the timing matters reflect several differences between the states - procedural, more than philosophical.

Not to mention the substantive issue that got it started.

That issue is climate change, not - the say the least - a high priority at the Idaho Legislature. At the Oregon legislature, where Democrats control both houses, climate change is a bigger deal. Democrats there have been trying for some years to pass a strict “cap and trade” bill, with some tax increases included, with climate change in mind. For years those efforts fell short because in Oregon unlike Idaho - for many fiscal bills, a three-fifths majority vote is needed in each chamber to pass. Idaho has no such requirement. (Even if it did, the minority Democrats wouldn’t have enough votes to stop a measure by themselves.) For many years in Oregon, up until 2018, Republicans held more than two-fifths of each chamber, so they were able to (and often did) block a number of bills Democrats proposed.

In 2018 Oregon Democrats won supermajorities - meaning 60 percent of the seats - in both chambers, so they were freed to push harder. They did, finally teeing up a cap and trade bill for passage.

That was the prompt that caused Senate Republicans to walk out. Disagreement on a single bill - is the sole reason they gave for walking out and declining to participate at all in legislating.

Since the Senate Republicans occupy just 11 out of 30 seats, that would seem to give them little room to stop the bill. In Idaho, they wouldn’t have any room at all. In Idaho, a legislative chamber’s quorum - the number of members who must be present for business, any business, to be transacted, is any number over half. In Oregon, it takes two-thirds. With 11 senators out, everything ground to a halt.

The senators, you may have heard, have fled the state and some of them at least are said to be holed up at an undisclosed location, or more than one, in Idaho.

They probably are watching the calendar, too, because here’s another difference between the states: Oregon legislative sessions are required to end by a specific date. Idaho’s can in theory go on and on, and a few have gone past 100 days though most last about three months or so. Typically, Oregon has one session lasting about five months in odd-numbered years and one little more than a month long in even years. But unlike in Idaho, they do have deadlines. For this year, the state constitution requires adjournment by June 30.

At the time the Senate Republicans walked out, a bunch of key pieces of legislation, including the state budget, were still not yet passed. Most of these things were not especially controversial, but they do have to be done, and can’t be while a quorum is lacking. Maybe they’ll return because the Senate Democrats have agreed to take the cap and trade legislation off the table.

There are workarounds. A special session to get the budgets passed, for example, could be called, and there are other approaches too.

But at some point, Oregon legislators, especially those who didn’t take an Idaho vacation this year, might take a look across the state line at some of the procedural handcuffs that aren’t in place in Idaho, and start thinking about whether a few changes in their own procedures might be helpful. The idea that a third of one half of the legislature could hijack the overall work of the state probably isn’t something most Oregonians or Idahoans would see as a good idea.