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State of the campaign

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Usually something - a new idea, a major policy initiative, an area of interest - jumps out when a governor delivers a state of the state address.
In Idaho Governor Brad Little’s state of the state address last Monday it was this: The most overtly campaign-oriented SOS I’ve ever heard.

Little does have a serious campaign challenge coming up in the next few months, and not only for himself but also for his political allies who will be waging a possibly bitter battle against serious opposition in the Republican primary.

In his speech to the legislature and to the state, Little seemed more than aware of this: That reality seemed to dominate him. He was almost two-thirds of the way through the speech before he began to deliver what sounds like the heart of a normal SOS. And that was in a relatively brief speech, by far his shortest SOS, and only about two-thirds as long as last year’s. (Brevity ordinarily is a virtue, but you do need to get the job done.)

Why do I say this? You can start with the references to the Biden Administration. Throwing a quick hit of shade in the direction of a presidency of the other party isn’t something new; governors of both parties routinely do a bit of it. But ordinarily, it’s just a quick side jaunt. The subject at hand, after all, is supposed to be the state of the state.

But Little went much further than the norm in the first two-thirds of his speech, over and over and over: “While President Biden divides Americans in his attempts to elevate the role of government in citizens’ lives … Biden’s polarizing vaccine mandates … as Bidenflation surges … while President Biden continues to dismiss the catastrophe at the U.S.-Mexico border … President Biden’s flawed border policies … Biden’s inaction as inflation swells under Biden’s watch … With Bidenflation exploding.”

And there were the traditional “DC is awful” remarks, but again more of those than usual: “While D.C. is digging the country into a $29 trillion hole … While D.C. continues to crank out onerous new regulations … While D.C. wants to raise taxes on all citizens.”

All of which would have fit in well enough at a Republican Lincoln Day dinner (which circuit is just getting underway), but a state of the state is supposed to be a report about the condition of the state and recommendations for the future, a slice of governing, not campaigning. Little got to some of that, but at the tail end of the speech.

There was another element to this speech that seemed unusual for its obviousness.

These speeches almost always have an element of self-congratulation, reports of conditions going well and efforts by the speaker that paid off. Usually governors go out of their way to throw some praise at the legislature as well; this speech contained not much of that. (Nor did it get around to a lot of significant problems in Idaho - from housing affordability to the notably high Covid-19 death rate to widespread attacks on education - but many governors ignore such things in their SOS.)

Little’s self-praise included some larger elements (economic and regulatory, mainly) but keyed off a statement in which he cited people he knew who influenced him, and then this:

“Leaders give people confidence and show the way through humble strength. Leaders go through life with a spirit of service. Leaders listen. The voice of a leader is effective, not just loud. Every day I endeavor to live up to the example of my mentors. That is what the people of Idaho deserve from their Governor, and it is what they deserve from all those elected to public office.”

So in putting a label on his legislative proposals, and making the linkage unavoidable, he said, “My plan is called LEADING IDAHO.” (The caps are his.)

It was a speech underwritten and delivered on behalf of Idaho’s taxpayers - who do include non-Republicans as well as party members - suitable for framing at the next Lincoln Day dinner.

The campaign is on.

(photo/Idaho Ed News)
 

Rendered redundant?

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In Idaho, general elections have been rendered nearly irrelevant for most offices because enough Idaho voters reflexively vote Republican (or in a few neighborhoods reflexively Democratic) , whoever the nominee and whatever the nature of the opposition. With rare exceptions you can say the decision was made half a year earlier, in the primary election.

There is now an effort afoot to render the primary election meaningless as well. Who then, if this happens, would effectively appoint Idaho’s public officials, instead of the voters?

That would be a collection of several hundred Republican Party functionaries - members of local and regional central committees, which in many places have become increasingly extremist.

This weekend, the state Republican Party will hold a winter meeting and consider a rule change intended to allow candidates to appear on the Republican primary election ballot only if they receive sufficient support from their Republican central committee.

The idea, being promoted most strongly through the Bonneville County GOP group, is legally iffy, and former state justice and attorney general Jim Jones said that if the party approves it, his advocacy group would “take a serious look at going after it in court.”

But it’s already prompted a fierce internal debate.

On New Year’s Day, Trent Clark, a former Idaho Republican chair (and currently a party regional vice-chair) compared the proposal to something that would fit neatly into the structure of the Communist Party in China (citing a rule change made there last fall). “Just as in China, this gives a handful of party insiders a veto over which names can be printed on the ballot,” he said on a Facebook post.

He went on: “Changing how candidates get onto ballots serves only one purpose: Pod-people don’t trust Republican primary voters. Fearing they cannot sell their candidates to the thousands who vote in Republican primaries, they hope to claim power by winning a few dozen votes on a county or legislative district central committee. It is tempting for Democrats to watch this disaster with grim delight. And, yes, such a power grab by central committees would inevitably cause a GOP implosion. But not overnight and not without significant damage to both public trust and representative government.”

That post drew a heavy and passionate response on both sides.

Here’s one of the critical responses (in his version this was in capital letters): “Im ashamed of the idaho ruling class ...we no longer enjoy a representative form of government in Idaho. When a select handful of rinos or, to be blunt communist sympathizers control all legislative proposals, your tax dollars, money without audits, we the people are in deep trouble folks. Only a small handful of our legislature are constitutional conservatives.”

Apparently, according to many of Clark’s critics, the Idaho Republican ballot, and its officials including the majority caucuses in the Idaho Legislature, have been infiltrated and overrun by Democrats - and extremist socialists at that. Another respondent: “We currently have several republican representatives with voting records left of Bernie Sanders and this is not ok.” (Their names were not noted.)

Who knew Idaho was such a liberal state politically?

Few states in the nation are as dominated politically by extremely rightist political officials and organizations as is Idaho, which leads you to wonder if some new dynamic is taking place: The farther right you go, and the more thorough your power dominance, the more your advocates come to think they’re losing control to the (nearly non-existent in Idaho) forces on the far left. (From my observation in Portland and Seattle, there doesn’t seem to be a counterpart dynamic on the left wing in those places.)

This isn’t about “liberal” or “conservative,” whatever those words mean any more. This is about power, And concentrating it ever more narrowly in the hands of a small group of ideological activists.

All other Idahoans need not be consulted.

Watch carefully what the Republican Party officials do, or don’t, with this.
 

Wavering in ’22

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As we stand at the top of another year-long ski run (snow at last!), we can portend a few things.

Such as better - fingers crossed - snowpacks and water levels than last year. Maybe. It's iffy. A month ago the indicators were pointing toward a parched 2022, and a wet couple of weeks isn’t enough to change the picture entirely. Still, the snowpack levels consistently across Idaho’s basins, as mostly they are across the west, are holding up decently, for now.

You'll notice a lot of weasel words in that forecast. More will follow as we hike across more political terrain. (Count them if you like, but as the Idaho State Police would say, don’t make a drinking game out of it.)

We do know positively that 2022 will be an election year, probably one of larger-than-average significance for Idaho: It could see the upending of a long-dominant Republican establishment.

Or not, or maybe there’s a mixed result. We’ll get an answer to that in May, before the year is half-done. In the meantime, what direction the state will take is not, as matters sit now, locked in place.

That means it could be affected by things that happen between here and there. Let’s review.

First comes the Idaho Legislature, which convenes in about another week. We have a good idea of what to expect there, partly since the membership is mostly unchanged from last year, and partly because many of the members told us in the oddball session just a month ago just what they wanted to do. They largely got the reply then that most of their proposals could wait until the regular session, so we should not be surprised to see those ideas return then. Whether those ideas, or how many of them, will pass is something we don’t yet know. (Also, how much ink does the governor have in his veto stamp?)

What do these legislators want to do? First, limit or combat any steps by either governments or other organizations, businesses included, to oppose the ongoing spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. The odds are not many of them will succeed, but some probably will, and they will stand in stark contrast to the absence of traction of any measures that would try to fight the disease that so far has killed more than 4,200 Idahoans and sickened more than 320,000.

On that subject, in the months ahead we can expect to see Idaho, and other like-minded states, again becoming a national pandemic hotspot. The higher vaccine resistance in Idaho, than in states to its west and south, is likely to be reflected in more pandemic headlines like those of the last two years.

What else might the legislature do? Don’t be surprised if abortion returns as a major topic, coming just ahead of a major U.S. Supreme Court decision affecting Roe v. Wade. As with the pandemic, numerous ideas - on the abortion-restricting side, of course not on the pro-choice side - are likely to surface.

The legislature will be in the happy position of having stronger than expected tax revenues available. It could use some of that money to expand funding for areas - infrastructure, education, health and others - that have been shorted in the past. It probably won’t. Mega tax cut proposals are likeliest to make out well. Property taxes, which have been rising and where specific calls for adjustment really have been called for at local levels, are the subject of many complaints at the local level, but since local governments rather than the state tend to get more of the blame for those, legislative traction sometimes is hard to grasp.

Also worth watching: After last year’s near-perpetual session, will the legislature hold a normal-length session this year? If there’s an attempt to keep the session going past the primary, will that have an effect on the primary? Will it affect the primary results? (Doubtful, but some challenging candidates may take creative use of the opportunity.)

We’ll see, by mid-year, a few other things too. We may also get a sense of how the wildfire season will affect Idaho this time. Idaho has been relatively lucky in recent years in having mostly smaller and scattered fires, but conditions remain ripe for something much bigger and more destructive. We may see whether Idaho housing prices, which exploded in recent years, start to stall, and whether the economic growth, selective inflation and extremely low jobless rates persist.

It may not even take until this time next year to know. Or not.
 

And another year

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When a year ago the realization came that the year 2020 was done, over, celebration swept all over: We were, we said, finally past that rotten patch.

We were making an assumption that things would be a lot better in 2021.

They are, some of them, to a point. But our biggest problem remains unchanged. Here’s a piece of what I wrote a year ago:

“When former legislator Luke Malek (who said he plans to run for lieutenant governor in 2022), said he wants to ‘work together to solve problems rather than divide people.’ Such a quote only a few years ago would have seemed so anodyne as not even meriting mention; wouldn’t everyone think that? But in 2020, that Malek quote, coming in a time when anger, suspicion and division have become overt political strategy in some places, almost seems like a daring reach.

“As we arrive at 2021, we have had a year in which division - physical division, social distancing - has become a common fact of life, and something nearly all of us want to change and at least greatly reduce in the year ahead. As we do that, as we see each other face to face a little more once again, might that mean we reconsider some of our divisions? Might we be a little more willing to listen, a little less determined to find dark motives, conspiracies and even evil in people who are simply different from us?”

A year later, too many of us still are not. (Malek, by the way, has ended his race.) Socially, many of us are stuck on an anger- and ignorance-driven hamster wheel, mindlessly building up energy to be used for nothing good.

The dominant social story of our lives has been Covid-19, as prominent on front pages and in newscasts as it was the last time we hit this point in our solar orbit.

A year ago we were taking deep breaths after a bitter campaign season. The new year brought riot and insurrection at the national capitol, with ongoing defenses (as well as prosecution) of that and of the debunked idea that the presidential election was somehow stolen.

In Idaho, the case for a better 2022 runs thin. Idaho’s key quote this year was “When do we get to use the guns?” - meaning specifically, against fellow citizens. And that was just a leading indicator. 2021 was the year factions of legislators decided, well, that’s a long story and a sad one. It was the year I wrote this: “How do you progress in Idaho politics today? Trash everyone and everything around you, claim you’re being conspired against at every turn, act with supreme arrogance and contempt for the law and even common courtesy, and cash the checks and welcome the supporters.”

After 2020 and 2021, is there reason to hope we will become a more responsible citizenry, and our elected officials as a whole more concerned with our well being than with the outrage of the day?
Not much. But it doesn't have to be that way.

A few months ago I ran across a half-century old flyer promoting a “Code of Fair Campaign Practices.” The page asked candidates to pledge they would talk about issues and candidate records “with sincerity and frankness,” to “condemn the use of personal vilification, character defamation” and tactics to spread them, appeals “to prejudice based on race, sex, creed or national origin” and false information; and repudiate support from anyone who does those things.

Not that campaigns and candidates back in those days were beacons of innocence. But candidates and backers who did act this way often paid a price, sometimes the price of defeat. The price was imposed by us, the voters and citizens who expected a decent standard of their representatives.
That could happen again, if we crank down our anger and cynicism.

It’s not out of our control. It’s up to us. That’s the message for 2022.
 

Tectonic shift

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Don’t let anyone tell you Idaho politics is forever unchangeable. One of the biggest changes in its politics in the last generation is happening as we speak, and not very many people have even noticed.

It is a change within the state’s dominant Republican Party, and its implications will become unavoidably clear in the coming year.

A quarter-century ago, you’d get a consistent answer about who ran Idaho politics: “IACI.”

That was simplistic. The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry did not run everything. But between it and its members - most of Idaho’s biggest businesses then as now were members - their coordinated influence was unmistakable and vast. Part of it was that the state’s Republican Party was thoroughly aligned with that community, its leaders tight with the state’s business executives; jointly, they formed the core of the state’s establishment. The last two governors, C.L. “Butch” Otter and Brad Little, have been exemplars, just slightly clearer than their recent predecessors. The state GOP broadly was there too, top to bottom. This was so clear it seldom needed to be spelled out.

Today the situation is far more complex and conflicted, a transition which has been in motion for more than a decade, now coming to a head, the fissures inescapable. The energy and activism in today’s Idaho Republican Party is in the insurgent wing of the party, the volatile, explosive sector for which angry Trumpism is only barely satisfying. They aren’t an establishment, and don’t want to be an establishment - because they don’t seek to build or manage anything (a key difference from Idaho Democrats) - but would rather raze whatever they encounter, especially the establishment, corporate or otherwise. Including the Republican establishment.

Consider the just-announced group called Take Back Idaho, “aiming to restore reason and responsibility to the Idaho Legislature.” Members include former Supreme Court Chief Justice Jim Jones (disclosure: his blog posts appear on my website), former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, former Senate President pro tem Robert Geddes, and former Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. The chair of the group, Jennifer Ellis, is a former president of the Idaho Cattle Association. They’re all state Republican organization veterans.

Their analysis of where the Idaho Republican Party is now: “Three factors seem to account for the sad state of affairs of that once-admired party. First, the party adopted a closed primary election in 2011, which ensures that the most extreme and disruptive candidates end up on the general election ballot in this essentially one-party state. Second, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, which draws substantial support and direction from out-of-state interests, has managed to gain a stronghold over a sizable minority of Republican legislators. Third, the national political environment in the United States has taken a drastic turn for the worse in the last five years.”

The insurgents have not taken over Idaho politics yet, but they’re close. They’re approaching parity in the Idaho House (and could gain effective control there when a new speaker is chosen), have a significant base in the Senate, and the office of lieutenant governor. In 2022, they’re mounting a strong challenger to take over offices from governor on down. Their progress has been impressive.

Years ago, statements from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry reflected a smooth support for the GOP-led government. This last year, they have been full of warnings and criticism. IACI has released polls showing that proposed insurgent legislative efforts were unpopular. It pressed legislators not to do what many insurgent Republicans wanted to do about vaccine policy (to ban businesses from imposing mandates). In line with top state businesses, it has supported education efforts many insurgents deeply oppose.

Last month, state Representative Chad Christensen (very much an insurgent) sent a social media message to IACI’s president, Alex LeBeau, that “Alex, I don’t want to see your face at the Capitol Building. You should stay away. At least stay in the Governor’s office.” (This was later pulled, for whatever that’s worth.)

That message would have been inconceivable at the turn of the century.

In Idaho, business interests have become disconnected from the activist wing of the Republican Party.

The world is changing before our eyes.
 

The college wreckers

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So a group of extremists got themselves elected to a local governing board.

Is it really a big deal? What’s the worst that could happen?

Welcome to North Idaho College, where since its founding in 1933 many thousands have gotten a useful education. Here, three culture war zealots have become the majority on the elected governing board, and NIC is in chaos, its leadership all but wiped out and the institution on the brink of losing its accreditation.

Tony Stewart, a prominent professor there for almost 40 years, was quoted, “The college is going through, really, a crisis state. What lies ahead is it's a very, very difficult time at North Idaho College.”

This didn’t come out of nowhere. Kootenai County has become an almost off-the-charts extremist place politically, and an accusation that someone or something is “politically correct” or “woke” is enough to launch an explosive response. Some level of controversy at NIC is not new.

One of the now-majority,Todd Banducci, has been on the board for a while, but until recently mostly limited to arguing (as he once did to a student) that he was contending with the “NIC ‘deep state’ on an ‘almost daily basis’.” In November 2020, however, as Banducci was running for re-election unopposed, another (moderate) incumbent was beaten by Banducci ally Gregory McKenzie (anti-masking was key in his campaign), and an open seat was won in a contest by Michael Barnes. (Both newcomers defeated long-time educators for the board seats.) All three winners for the legally non-partisan seats had been endorsed by the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

Once the new majority was in, things changed. The Chronicle of Higher Education said the college president, Rick MacLennan, early this year wrote an email to the board about “a pattern of ‘aggressive and intimidating’ behavior by Banducci, including, he wrote, disparaging MacLennan’s wife for supposedly being a Hillary Clinton supporter, and telling the president that they’d be meeting more frequently so that Banducci could give him his ‘marching orders.’ That, plus Banducci’s latest messages, indicated to MacLennan that the trustee intended to ‘inappropriately direct me without full board involvement and knowledge.’ The board, MacLennan wrote, needed to do something.”

The board did. In September, it (which is to say, three of the five members) fired MacLennan, a five year president at NIC, without cause. (He has since filed a lawsuit over the firing. Since then, the board majority, displeased with advice from the college’s attorney, has moved to hire its own. Sound familiar?) Most of the top-level executives at the college, including all three vice presidents, followed MacLennan out the door. The overall chaos, not only on personnel but on other matters as well, has led talk in Coeur d’Alene about the “destruction” of the college.

That isn’t just a political reaction. There is also an inquiry by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which accredits NIC, into what’s going on at the college.

This is serious, as the Idaho State Board of Education affirms. The state board president, Kurt Liebich, on December 3 sent a letter to the NIC board “to express deep concern about the current trajectory of North Idaho College … As duly elected fiduciaries and stewards of the College, it is imperative that you recognize the consequences of being sanctioned by NWCCU, many of which are numerous and severe.”

Not least: “If accreditation is lost, the value of a degree from NIC will be significantly reduced, or even negated entirely, for all students.”

Advocates for the board’s majority have taken to calling them “reform” candidates, but this is one of those cases where “reform” is redefined to mean “raze to the ground.”

Reviewing the situation, the Coeur d’Alene Press editorialized, “For anyone wondering what happens when unqualified, politically motivated candidates take over the governing board of a public entity, see the rapid and far-reaching destruction being wrought at North Idaho College.”

There is one piece of hopefulness: It doesn’t have to be this way. All that has to happen to avoid this kind of chaos is for enough voters to exercise enough wisdom to not elect human wrecking balls to their local governments.
 

Next year’s crop

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Last Wednesday’s oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court on, in effect, the future of Roe v. Wade left little doubt the long-standing court decision (mostly) legalizing abortion nationwide will be eliminated either formally or as a matter of practice.

That will of course have many impacts around the country, and people in Idaho may start to consider the effects in the Gem State. Because there will be some.

It’s true that what we have now are only the spoken arguments from the parties and questions and comments from justices, in the case concerning the constitutionality of a Mississippi state law banning abortions after 15 weeks, a point at which many pregnant women aren’t yet aware they’re pregnant. Roe bars states from banning abortion, generally, in the first trimester. The new state law clearly runs afoul of Roe and the standards for interpreting it that the Supreme Court has earlier upheld. The law can be declared constitutional only if Roe either is re-interpreted to the point of becoming an empty shell, or if it is tossed entirely. A majority of the court seems determined to do one or the other.

We may not know for some months exactly what the court will do. But when the Idaho Legislature returns in another month, it will be eager to jump in. Few legislatures in the country have been more consistently or eagerly anti-abortion than Idaho’s. The presence of Roe on the books hasn’t stopped Idaho legislators from tackling the subject repeatedly over the decades.

Pre-Roe, Idaho had on its books a law criminalizing both abortion and even attempting to obtain one. Roe essentially quashed that law, but within a few years the pro-life movement developed a whole long string of proposed pieces of legislation aimed at undermining Row bit by bit. These measures came in small pieces, some killed by legal challenges but others surviving or going unchallenged.

The effect over time was to make abortion highly difficult to obtain in Idaho.

As of the start of 2021, according to the Guttmacher Institute, Idaho imposes among other things these regulations: “Health plans offered in the state’s health exchange under the Affordable Care Act can only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, or in cases of rape or incest…. A patient must receive state-directed counseling that includes information designed to discourage the patient from having an abortion, and then wait 24 hours before the procedure is provided…. Private insurance policies cover abortion only in cases of life endangerment, unless individuals purchase an optional rider at an additional cost. … The parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided. … Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest. … An abortion may be performed after viability only if the patient's life is endangered.”

As recently as April, the legislature passed (in echo of legislation elsewhere) a “heartbeat ban,” prohibiting abortions as soon as a heartbeat can be detected.

And, of course, there’s a state law banning abortion outright if Roe is reversed.

The specifics of what that would mean aren’t all settled. In recent years there’s been a proposal to require that abortions be treated in the law - and must be prosecuted as - criminal homicides, typically as murder. That one hasn’t gotten through the legislature, but will 2022 be the year?

Almost certainly someone at the Idaho Statehouse will be proposing Texas-style bounty hunter legislation, so get ready for that.

These may be only the beginning.

There’s one other abortion precedent that shouldn’t be forgotten, however.

In 1990, at a point when legislative activism against abortion was far quieter than in the last couple of decades, the Idaho legislature passed a bill widely described (at the time) as the strictest anti-abortion measure anywhere in the country.

It was a sweeping bill, seeking to change the abortion picture not in droplets here or there but at a big, fell swoop. After clearing the legislature, it was vetoed by Governor Cecil Andrus.

No one knew for sure what the political impact would be. Andrus was up for election that year. And abortion was a centerprice issue that election, all right.

Andrus won in a landslide. Democrats had their best election since 1968, or in the years since, and several key advocates of the bill were defeated.

Times have changed. How much, we may soon learn.
 

Not if, but when

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I’ve seen enough, as the political catch phrase goes, to call the quote of the year in Idaho, and maybe nationally.

It didn’t come from a politician, or even a public figure; we don’t even know the guy’s name. We do know it was real, captured on video and heard clearly.

The occasion was October 26 at a Nampa gathering for the national conservative student group Turning Point USA; the event was moderated by the group’s founder, Charlie Kirk.

Kirk was taking questions, and one of them came from someone identified only as an audience member. After he offered a short introduction, he said:

“At this point, we're living under corporate and medical fascism. This is tyranny. When do we get to use the guns? No, and I'm not — that's not a joke. I'm not saying it like that. I mean, literally, where's the line? How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

Quote of the year: “When do we get to use the guns?”

Followed by the clarification that he wasn’t joking. (In the past, people often would follow statements like this with, “but it was only a joke …” No longer.)

That statement reverberated not just around the state but around the nation and even around the world. For good reason.

Here’s the man’s statement rephrased only slightly: “When can we start using these precious high-powered firearms we’ve been stockpiling (as our preferred media outlets have been steadily counseling), load them and hit the streets to mow down anyone we suspect doesn’t think the way we do?”

Kirk seemed a little taken aback, but there were two layers to his response. His first words appropriately seemed to catch the lunacy, the madness: “Now, I'm going to denounce that and I'm going to tell you why.”

Okay. Then, seemingly, as he had a few seconds to digest what he might say that on one hand wouldn’t encourage people to hit the streets with their AK-47s and starting mass murders, but also that wouldn’t turn off his otherwise enthusiastic audience, he explained his why: “Because you're playing into all their plans and they're trying to make you do this. ... They are trying to provoke you and everyone here. They are trying to make you do something that will be violent that will justify a takeover of your freedoms and liberties, the likes of which we have never seen.”

In other words: yeah, you’re right, it’s all a conspiracy against you, you’re right to hate them as much as you do, just be careful about it so our side isn’t damaged politically. Your paranoia is right on.

He did reference things audience members could do that are peaceful and legitimate parts of how our society works, such as winning elections. (Some oddball and impractical but nonviolent stuff was mixed in.) But all of that seemed anti-climactic and beside the point.

The quote from the anonymous audience member would have seemed just a spooky outlier a few years ago. The times are making it something else, notably in places like Idaho.

A series of surveys are making the point. A report from the University of Chicago settled on the figure of 21 million Americans who think the “use of force is justified” to re-install Donald Trump in the White House. And polling by the conservative American Enterprise Institute said that 39 percent of Republicans agree that “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.”

It’s a safe bet the percentage of people who think that way is higher in Idaho than nationally.

So it’s not that one guy said something outrageous. It’s that a lot of people - a lot of Idahoans - likely agree with him.

The frame for his question seems grimly appropriate: Not if, but when.

(image)
 

Not a gerrymander, actually

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Classify this among the expected dogs that didn’t bark in the night-time: You can’t fairly call Idaho’s new legislative and congressional redistricting plans a gerrymander.

A gerrymander is “a practice intended to establish an arguably unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts.” It’s been happening in a bunch of states around the country, but it has to be said that Idaho isn’t one of them. Credit the Idaho redistricting commission system, and its current round of commissioners, at least in part for that.

You can complain about the new districts, as some people have and will. But they were not designed for specific, overt political gain by much of anybody.

The complaints come from the people swept up into legislative districts that are different or connect them to people with whom they feel little connection. You can feel some sympathy for people in Idaho’s far southeast, where the small-population counties of Bear Lake, Franklin and Oneida, all bumped up against each other, each now will be linked to (respectively) Driggs, American Falls and Burley, among other places, in each case far removed socially and over many real and metaphorical mountains. And there’s a district meandering through Idaho’s panhandle and north-central areas that is thinly at best connected by roads or communities of interest.

And yet there isn’t much way around it. Rural Idaho’s population is dropping in some places and not gaining in others, and the larger metros are booming, giving them more and geographically smaller districts.

And much as Idaho is Republican-dominated, Democrats actually have little to complain about here.

No set of maps would magically transform the Democratic Party into Idaho’s majority, but these new maps did them little damage.

The new congressional map resembles the old one in splitting Ada County between the two congressional districts, but the new one moves the line west far enough that just about all of Boise will be in the second district. That gives Democrats a better base to operate from in District 2, albeit still in a clear minority position, should that district ever move toward a more purple hue. (No, I’m not holding my breath, but you never know.)

Democrats also did about as well as they could reasonably have expected in the legislative districts.

The overall structure of the Boise districts, the largest base they have in the Idaho Legislature, isn’t enormously changed, and should result in a local delegation not too different from the last decade’s. It could have been otherwise; a really aggressive Republican gerrymander could have wiped out all but a couple of those now-blue districts.

Central-city districts remain in Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, which haven’t produced many Democratic winners in recent elections, but have the potential. And it’s a close call, but I’d say the Moscow-centered district, swapping Benewah County for Lewis and part of Nez Perce counties, could benefit Democrats there slightly.

The new map will likely make life harder for the Wood River Valley Democrats, who have relied on Blaine County’s population being large enough to swing district elections in a region otherwise strongly Republican. But the basic growth patterns in the area were catching up with the area anyway; Democratic win percentages have been dropping there in recent elections.

A number of individual legislators will be complaining because of the way their districts were stretched or reconfigured, or because they were thrown in with other incumbents and someone will have to lose their seat as a result. (Happens every ten years.)

Taken as a whole, though, this imperfect map (as they all are) works. It’s roughly realistic and fair. Good enough.

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