Writings and observations

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Idaho

We hate unresolved questions. And we hate not knowing for sure what to think about something. Good? Bad? We want to know where to slot it.

The Bergdahl case probably will gnaw at a lot of people for quite a while. We aren’t completely sure what to make of him, or what we should have done – or should do now – about him. War, messy and unpredictable beast it is, has a way of producing irritating loose ends like Bergdahl.

Go back a year, and what did we know? That U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, whose home town was Hailey, had been held by the Taliban for four years. On June 20 last year, Idaho’s congressional delegation issued a joint statement on the possibility of a prisoner exchange: “Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Bowe Bergdahl and his family. His safe return has always been of the utmost importance to us, and his well-being is something we raise with senior administration officials whenever possible.”

Why would the delegation have said anything much different than that “his safe return had always been of the utmost importance to us”? He and his family were, among other things, United States citizens and constituents.

Such quotes have been a constant from the beginning. In July 2009: “With the Pentagon now confirming his identity, we add our thoughts and prayers with others for his reunion with family, friends and Army colleagues. Private Bergdahl represents Idaho and his nation courageously.”

On April 8 this year, Senator Mike Crapo, in an interview with KBOI-TV, reported on a trip to Afghanistan: “And with every one of those meetings at highest levels, I raised the issue of Bowe Bergdahl. I’m pleased to report that not only had they heard of him, they were co-ordinating among themselves. It is a priority for them.” But he also suggested, based on what he’d heard, the idea of extracting him forcibly, rather than negotiating a release, was not realistic.

These recitations aren’t gotchas; to the contrary, they’re what most people would expect any congressional delegation to say. That’s true even with this: Reports that Bergdahl may have walked away from his post, may have deserted, have surfaced and flown around the Internet for a long time. (“May” is a key word here: This is a subject hotly debated, not yet resolved.) Anyone who has followed the Bergdahl case even peripherally has not been surprised to see them surface again now.

And the idea of trading Bergdahl rather than obtaining him in some other way, as the statements from Crapo and others make clear, is nothing new either.

The Idaho delegation, having visited all this over the years, may be more sensitized to the gray areas than most people, walking a line involving party loyalty but also other considerations. Compared to many in Congress and certainly to the cable news blatherers, they have couched their language cautiously and tamped rhetorical fireworks.

Representative Raul Labrador on KBOI radio last week, for example: “I’m a little bit disturbed by some of the Republicans out there who keep saying this has never happened before. That is not entirely true. If you look historically, at the end of any conflict, you have a swap of prisoners, and that happens. Usually our side will release people that are less than desirable in order to get some of our people back in these swaps. So I would suggest that anybody who’s being hyper-critical about this, they should look at the history. This has happened before.”

We have been here before, all right, in this discomfort zone, where messes get sorted out one deliberate step at a time. Welcome to one of the realities of war.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

If it worked the first time . . .

You can understand what probably is the temptation facing Sherri Ybarra right now: It worked once, so it should work again.

During the just-finished Republican primary campaign, she raised scarcely any of the money serious statewide candidates usually do (just $2,850), and apart from debates and forums campaigned, hardly at all. She won her race for the Republican nomination for superintendent of public instruction, leading a field of four. And she could look across at a bunch of hard-working, exhaustively-campaigning, solidly fundraising candidates, for her office and for others, who on election night went down to defeat.
The quote from Senator Russ Fulcher, who lost a run for governor after campaigning solidly for months, probably spoke for quite a few of his counterparts: “Holy cow. Ybarra for superintendent? I was on this campaign trail start to finish. And she might be a fine person, but she was not engaged. She was not engaged heavily in this campaign.”

It’s easy to conclude in the circumstances that you’ve just got the right stuff to go all the way.
Anyhow, why mess with what worked once?

In military terms, such thinking is called fighting the last war: Usually a prescription for losing the next one.

Her primary circumstances were unusual. Explanations about her win flowered after election day. She was presented as a teacher, while the others in the race were administrators. (Not entirely true anyway; and administration, not teaching, is what the superintendent’s job is all about.) She had a Basque name, which seems not to hurt in Idaho elections.

Maybe a bigger factor: Voters working their way down the Republican ballot encountered no women at all until they got to her – and she was running for an office many voters are accustomed to seeing go to women. Also, she was the only woman among the four candidates, none of whom were well known statewide. Some combination of these things probably account for much of her vote. And remember, she won by just 28.5% – barely more than she would have gotten if the four candidates had split the vote evenly. This was no sweeping mandate.

Since the primary, instead of using the surprise to her political advantage, she seems to have avoided the spotlight and retreated.

Her Democratic opponent, Jana Jones, is quite a contrast. She ran for the office before, in 2006, and only barely lost to Republican Tom Luna, who himself has been a capable and energetic campaigner. Jones has raised more money as of this point in the cycle than any candidate for this office (Luna included) ever has. Jones has direct campaign help from Luna’s predecessor, Democrat Marilyn Howard, who won the office twice, in 1998 and 2002. (In the last two decades, Democrats have fared better with the superintendent’s office than any other in the upper rungs of Idaho politics.) She was Howard’s top deputy for several years, so she knows the office well. And she has been campaigning strenuously for several months.

Jones, of course, has a D behind her name, which in anything like a battle between two equally-equipped candidates that is a severe disadvantage. But as of today, these candidates are not evenly matched.

Ybarra is not yet too far behind the curve to get up to speed. The period just after winning a primary is good for fundraising and roping in campaign organization around the state. Some intensive study about the politics of the office (which is unavoidable) would help. Name familiarity can be purchased and expanded through energetic campaigning.
There’s still plenty of time to campaign around the state.

Doing all of that, though, will mean running in a way drastically different from the way she did it in the primary.

Because there’s this: What worked for Ybarra in the primary is very unlikely to work in the general.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

With the most recent election results, a new regional political map of Idaho has emerged.

The higher-level offices contested in Idaho’s Republican primary election last week were fought over primarily by two clearly competing slates of candidates, those you might call the establishment candidates (who mainly were incumbents) and the insurgents, who challenged them.

Apart from the fact that the establishment won those major offices nearly across the board – losing only for secretary of state (where former House Speaker Lawerence Denney won) – the results varied quite a bit among the candidates. In the controller’s race, Todd Hatfield came within about a percentage point of unseating incumbent Brandon Woolf (who had the disadvantage of never having been on the ballot before). Incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter scored only a modest win (51.4%) against state Senator Russ Fulcher. Meanwhile, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden scored a near-landslide over attorney Chris Troupis, and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little won smashingly (66.8%) over county commissioner Jim Chemelik. In the four-way superintendent of public instruction race, insurgent candidate John Eynon came in third.

But these races, as varied as their statewide totals may be, look surprisingly similar on county maps.

Fulcher, Chmelik, Denney, Hatfield, Troupis and Eynon, so varied in their statewide results, all won in Benewah, Clearwater, Idaho and Kootenai counties, and either won or nearly won in Latah, Boundary, Bonner, Shoshone and Latah and Nez Perce – in other words, all of northern Idaho. In no southern Idaho county did the insurgency fare nearly so consistently well.

And this relates to all of the north, however it tends to vote in the fall. Latah and Nez Perce counties are fairly competitive between Republicans and Democrats, in contrast to such others as Kootenai and Bonner, but in the primary all fell sharply into the insurgent camp.

And some of those northern wins were really striking. While losing clearly statewide, for example, Fulcher won Benewah County about three to one – and so did Troupis, even while he was losing by a big margin in the state overall.

In the governor’s race, Fulcher did win three counties outside the north: Idaho’s two largest, Ada and Canyon, plus Oneida County. (For whatever reason, Oneida County is the southern Idaho county that came closest to matching the north’s voting pattern.) There’s a case to be made about the growing political difference between Idaho’s first congressional district (north and west) and its second (east and south). But the southern part of the first district, including counties like Valley, Washington and Payette voted a lot like their counterparts to the east, over in the second district. The governor’s race aside, so did Ada and Canyon counties (which is chiefly what made the difference in the controller’s race).

There’s another piece of information to confirm the differences in the north. Legislative candidates who were not aligned with the insurgents, including a number of incumbents, lost almost across the board in the north; incumbent examples include Senator John Goedde and Representatives George Eskridge and Ed Morse. In the south, the reverse was generally true, the big incumbent example being Senator Monty Pearce.

Travelers around Idaho through primary season, watching signage and picking up on locally-produced political literature, sometimes remarked about how different the north seemed to be from the south. Those observations have been borne out.

The biggest divide in Idaho politics today lies along the line between the Mountain and Pacific time zones.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Idaho had two clear slates of candidates running for major offices (and some legislative as well) within the Republican primary. Conventional wisdom had it that the incumbency would probably prevail.

The CW was essentially right.

At this writing, about half of Idaho’s precincts are reporting, enough for clear calls in all but the closer races. It shows Representative Mike Simpson, after a sometimes fierce challenge, prevailing in a landslide. It shows Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter winning as well, though by a much narrower margin. Lieutenant Governor Bred Little, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden – also clearly in the winners column.

The two major races more difficult to call, yet, are the four-ways where no incumbent is running, for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. In those races, Lawrence Denney (for secretary of state) was running ahead, but at least yet not definitely; he was the anti-incumbent slate choice. But John Eynon, that slate’s superintendent choice, was running last in his four-way.

All the sound and fury up rising against the incumbency seems, at this point, to have come to very little.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

When I attended the University of Idaho back in the 70s, one of the semi-illicit student activities was something called the Bovill Run.

It was a typically stupid college-kid drinking challenge. The idea was that a carload of kids would cruise east to Troy, consume drinks at a local drinking establishment, head further east and stop at Deary and Helmer, and northeast to Bovill, rinsing and repeating at each location, then on northerly to Princeton and Potlatch, and any other alcohol purveyors in eastern Latah County, on the way back to Moscow. Left unclear was whether continued drinking at Moscow establishments constituted part of the challenge but, supposedly, the number of drinking places visited numbered around twenty.

I’ve been told that the Bovill Run was abandoned some years back. That certainly would have been a good thing.

There may be a dark echo to that in the closure of many of the small-town businesses – bars among them – in many of these small resource-industry communities. Not, of course, that the “run” was any sort of significant economic driver, but in the fact that the economy in these communities has fallen to the point that the escapade isn’t even doable now.

The thought was prompted by a story last week in the Lewiston Tribune about the Idaho Foodbank’s mobile pantry, which includes Bovill among its stops. It operates out of a central office at Lewiston.
Most people in larger communities wouldn’t spend much thought on the arrival of a pickup truck hauling a trailer containing food. In Bovill, it’s a big deal. The last of the long-vaunted bars in the small timber community closed six months ago, and that had been the last place in Bovill where residents could buy basic foods and supplies.

The pastor at the local Presbyterian Church was quoted as saying, “I don’t think you can over-estimate the importance of the mobile pantry coming to this community.”

Once a hot timber town with a fine hotel and even an opera house, Bovill became so lively a century ago that its namesake Hugh Bovill reportedly quit it with his family for quieter environs. The decades since have not been kind. Bovill is a lot like many small towns in Idaho, and beyond. Its population estimated at 305 at the century’s turn was down to 265 in 2010.

The trend line is not good. Nor has it been good for many of the other small rural communities in the area.

Maybe a new sort of regional connection, one geared toward building social and economic ties between regional centers like Moscow and the smaller communities in the area is needed. As essential as the Foodbank’s mobile pantry has been, the answers toward large-scale help for the area may come from other directions, something to bring prosperity to the area.

Idaho’s rural places have, in so many areas, the great advantage of beauty and reasonably easy access. Bovill, in far eastern Latah County, is only about a half-hour from Moscow, close enough to forge connections. Costs would be low and opportunities considerable for people who might like to work in more remote places.

If it’s not to be the end of the run for Bovill, maybe we need a new kind of Bovill Run.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Toward the end of the Idaho Republican gubernatorial debate Wednesday, candidate Harley Brown remarked, “You have your choice, folks: A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy. Take your pick…”

Were those candidates for governor of Idaho or the Village People?

Alternatively, there’s a more philosophical description at the delighted liberal website Daily Kos: “There’s Anarchist-Leaning Tea Party Guy, there’s Old West Sovereign Citizenish Guy, there’s Ideological Party Purist Peeved At Establishment Guy and there’s Establishment Guy Peeved At Ideological Guy. In Republican Party races we call that the sampler pack.”

That might not be as most people perceived it, though. Few paid much attention to the two guys – incumbent C.L. “Butch” Otter and challenger Russ Fulcher – who have an actual chance to win. The many, many, many collections of video clips on the web in the hours and days after the debate overwhelmingly focused on the other two, Harley Brown and Walt Bayes.

They were great television. The debate played like a massive and slow-mo car wreck, your eyes drawn repeatedly to Brown, the biker-garbed equal opportunity offender with visions (and tattoo) of the presidency, and Bayes, the Bible-quoting mountain man given to declarations of divine (and nuclear) retribution who might have been a distant relation to the Duck Dynasty. Otter and Fulcher who?

So. Huffington Post: “10 lessons we learned from Idaho’s incredibly dysfunctional GOP candidates.” The Portland Oregonian: “Leather-clad biker steals the show.” Gawker: “I can’t stop watching this bizarre Idaho GOP governor debate.” Fox News: “Eccentric candidates make for strange Idaho gubernatorial debate.” Raw Story: The debate “is so bonkers …” PBS: “In Idaho, a debate like you’ve never seen before.” Cybercast News Service: “Fringe contenders send Idaho governor debate viral.” It was the liberal Kos site which called the event “a thing of beauty.”

You can watch it on the Idaho Public Television web site. Go ahead. You won’t be bored.

Afterward, you might reflect on how little the debate had to do with the decision that voters in the Republican primary on May 20 will be making, which as a practical matter will be between Otter and Fulcher, either of whom might win. Brown will not. He is a perennial sliver candidate, running for U.S. House in 2010 (he got 3.9% of the vote) and 2000 (1.1%, losing to Otter) and Boise mayor in 2001 (3%) among a string of other offices. Bayes will not either: He ran, highly unsuccessfully, for governor in 2010 (3%) and 2006 (3.2%) and 2002 (4.7%).

They have every right to run. (Just watch: For Brown, president may well be next.) That doesn’t obligate debate organizers to give them a megaphone, or half of the air time in the lone exchange between the candidates who really may be running Idaho government for the next four years.

Otter’s campaign noted that he has called for inclusion of the minor candidates in past debates, and Otter was quoted as saying, “A statewide debate that excludes candidates is an exercise in elitism.”

Fulcher was aggravated. Noting Otter’s insistence on Bayes’ and Brown’s inclusion as a condition for participating, he said, “As a result, the ‘debate’ turned from a serious discussion regarding the position for Idaho’s Chief Executive, to a mockery of the Republican Party and of Idaho. Clearly, the governor wanted to take time away from me and minimize exposure to his failed record as governor. Apparently, Governor Otter is content to have Idaho be a laughing stock so long as it improves his chance of winning an election.”

As he suggests, Idaho now has a new reputational issue to deal with. Many viewers around the country seem to have thought, incorrectly, that all four of these candidates were equally vetted and presented as sound representatives of Idaho Republicans – that, as Otter seemed to suggest, the inclusion of Brown and Bayes was simply avoidance of elitism. That poses question for the future: Are they right, that the four debaters really are a fair representation of Idaho Republicans? If – in that construct – Otter and Fulcher are the “elites,” then are Brown and Bayes fairly representative of the mass of Idaho Republicans?

They can have their pick.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

In the last few days of April, two Republican organizations announced their endorsements in the May primary elections. They were entirely different.

The North Idaho Political Action Committee, based at Coeur d’Alene, led by a group of long-time Republican activists and elected officials, offered this group of choices for statewide offices: Governor: C. L. “Butch” Otter; Lieutenant Governor: Brad Little; Secretary of State: Phil McGrane; Attorney General: Lawrence Wasden; Controller: Brandon Woolf.

The Republican Liberty Caucus, a more statewide group but also including some active Republican names, had a list of endorsees too. They were: Governor: Russ Fulcher; Lieutenant Governor: Jim Chmelik; Attorney General: Chris Troupis; Secretary of State: Lawerence Denney; Controller:Todd Hatfield; Superintendent of Public Instruction: John Eynon.

No overlap at all. And it’s not just a matter of these two groups; the split among Republicans is large and deep and runs through and between many organizations.

From time to time, groups of nonpartisan candidates – candidates for elective office in a city, for example – might run in a slate. But this is the first time in decades at least, and maybe ever, that one of Idaho’s parties has been largely split by slate contests, two groups of candidates facing off against each other.

Those two lists of endorsements cover most of the competitive races for major offices; the other is the 2nd U.S. House district, incumbent Mike Simpson (who would align with the NIPAC group) and challenger Bryan Smith (with the Liberty Caucus). A number of legislative candidates fall on either side of the canyon as well. The candidates mostly have not formally endorsed each other (though Little did endorse McGrane last week – is that a precursor to more?), but the alignment is clear.

There are a number of subtleties and implications to this.

One subtlety is the two races with four relatively well-balanced candidates, the races for secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. NIPAC didn’t endorse in the latter, making unclear who their side would prefer (though it likely wouldn’t by Eynon); and though both sides did endorse for secretary of state, the two non-endorsed candidates may get enough votes that the battle of the slates could be scrambled.

Beyond that, you might realistically expect that most of the wins on election day will be bunched on one side or the other. People are likely to vote Otter-Little-Wasden-Simpson, or Fulcher-Chmelik-Troupis-Smith, not (for example) Fulcher-Little-Wasden-Smith. The lines are being drawn clearly.
That also may mean these candidates are becoming interdependent: A really smart move, or a serious blunder, by one candidate could impact their allies, causing some voters to jump from one side to the other.

That kind of thing often happens in clearly-defined slates at other levels. On the city level, slates often rise or fall in unity. (I remember vividly the big win of a well-organized city slate in Boise in 1985, that upended city hall and brought Dirk Kempthorne to the mayor’s office.)

But then, this is an unusual phenomenon. Idaho history hasn’t seen slate campaigns in party primaries before. Shortly, the voters will be setting some precedents.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Idaho’s much-vaunted “sovereignty” is limited in more ways than many Idahoans would like to contemplate. Ambre Energy, much to its consternation, probably could tell you something about that.

Amber (see ambreenergy.com) is into coal, in a big way. Its web site notes that it “has a diverse portfolio of interests in coal mining, infrastructure and marketing. In the United States Pacific Northwest, we are linking our interests to build a US coal export business to Asian markets.” It has mines in Montana, Wyoming and Utah, and works with other mining companies in that region. It produces a lot of coal.

As it notes, the plan is to ship a lot of that coal across the Pacific, to Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. The early stages of that shipping process would run the coal through Idaho, across the Panhandle in the case of the Montana and some of the Wyoming mines, and across southern Idaho for the more southerly mines. Idaho does not seem to be an obstacle to that effort.

The next destinations west, Oregon and Washington, are, and coal transport in recent weeks has become one of the hottest issues in those states. It has meshed there with concernes about crude-oil trains and the shipping of liquified natural gas (which in Oregon has been a flashpoint issue in some places for a decade and more). Coal operators have proposed shipping at Longview and Bellingham, and have looked at other locations as well. To be clear: We’re talking here about energy exports, not use of the resource in the United States.

Oregon has put up some notable red flags. After the Port of Morrow (near Boardman) leased some land to Ambre for its shipping efforts, activists got busy. Governor John Kitzhaber on April 19 said flatly, “It is time to once and for all say NO to coal exports from the Pacific Northwest. It is time to say YES to national and state energy policies that will transform our economy and our communities into a future that can sustain the next generation.”

Washington’s new Governor Jay Inslee has been moving along similar directions in overseeing state approvals at ports there.

While megaloads carrying mechanical equipment have been a heated subject in Idaho, these fuel (and fuel resource – some have to be refined before overseas transport) shipping debates have only lightly hit the radar yet. In Idaho, the arguments for shipping the coal may have some of the same appeal that the Keystone pipeline (which also is aimed at energy resource exports, not domestic use) seems to have in the state.

Consider this another notch in the ramping-up of different approaches between Idaho and its western neighbors, and another example of how those ideas may get in the way of each other. Legalized pot and same-sex marriage are but two examples of the differences which have been smaller-bore in the past, but may get larger as time goes on, as the reds and blues in different jurisdictions get ever deeper.

Turns out that sovereignty – meaning, in one dictionary, “a country’s independent authority and the right to govern itself,” is distinctly limited.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

For all that a lot of people in Idaho like to see themselves as rural, outdoorsy folk, and for all that their governor likes to present himself as a cowboy out of the old West, the face of the people of Idaho is becoming something rather different.
What that is was brought home by a statistic about the city of Meridian that even some of the people of Meridian didn’t at first believe.

Meridian’s mayor, Tammy de Weerd, wrote an article describing her city as the second largest in Idaho. The local newspaper, thinking she must have erred, deleted the reference. That couldn’t be right – could it? I remember driving through Meridian back in the mid-70s when it was a little dairy town of 4,000 or so people. It’s still hard for me to wrap around the idea of the mellow-yellow-water-tower-town as a dynamo with 20 times as many people. It’s probably hard for a lot of long-time residents to grasp. But so it is.

Then the newspaper double-checked, and it found her seemingly odd factoid actually had solid support: The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho, which among other things develops a good deal of demographic and economic planning data in the area, has estimated Meridian’s population for this year at 85,240, for the first time pulling ahead of Nampa (84,840) and trailing only Boise (217,730) in the region – and for that matter, in Idaho. The next largest cities (Idaho Falls and Pocatello) are tens of thousands of people smaller.

The Ada-Canyon population now is estimated by COMPASS at 620,080, almost 40,000 more than at the last, 2010, census. To put that in perspective: The average population size of a U.S. House district is a little over 700,000, so Ada-Canyon is coming nearly large enough to form one by itself. If it keeps growing as it has, by 2020 it might be about large enough.

Farms and ranches still can be found in the Ada-Canyon area (as the governor, living on one, would be quick to point out), but the area no longer is defined by or, broadly, has much connection with them. The Boise-Eagle-Meridian-Nampa-Caldwell area is defined these days by suburbs, tracts a lot like what you’d see in most of Phoenix or Provo or Bend or Lancaster. Probably a half-million of the people in Ada-Canyon live in what could be at least loosely described as a suburban area.

That’s close to a third of the population of Idaho; and it is far from all of the state’s suburbanites. You’ll find another large congregation of them in Kootenai county, especially west and north of Coeur d’Alene. Kootenai’s population now is upwards of 142,000 people, and close to 100,000 of those people live outside the city of Coeur d’Alene, most of them in the massive suburban areas around Post Falls and Rathdrum and Hayden.

Idaho has a lot of other, smaller, suburban-type areas too; you can find them around nearly all of the state’s larger population centers.

The effect of this is that more than half of all Idahoans are, for practical purposes, suburbanites. Increasingly, that is where the people are, and that forms the central definition of their physical world. And it is to suburban people, not rural people, that Idaho politicians increasingly are going to have to appeal.

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Idaho Idaho column

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Idaho

Idaho these days may be more likely to have a truly competitive contest for its Supreme Court than for its major partisan offices – a complete reversal from a generation ago.

It had a competitive race in 2008 won by Joel Horton, and in 2010 won by Roger Burdick. The challenger in both of those, John Bradbury, now is in a competitive 2nd district judgeship race. The 2008 Horton race, which he won by a sliver – 50.1% – was the closest Idaho Supreme Court race since at least the 1940s.

Horton is up for re-election this year, and this time the challenger is a well-known and long-time Boise attorney, Breck Seiniger. Mostly, these Supreme Court races have been calm and magisterial, even when they’ve sometimes featured energetic personalities. But this one has become a knock-down, and even drawn other candidates into the fray.

Seiniger has unleashed several blasts in the direction of the court, but this one (posted on his campaign web site) aimed directly at Horton got the most response: “Since Justice Horton has chosen to make impartiality an issue in this race, let me share with you Greg Obendorf’s story. In 2008, Idaho Supreme Court Justice Joel Horton was in another very tight race for re-election. . . . During this time, the Idaho Supreme Court deliberated on an appeal filed by J.R. Simplot, Co. to overturn a Canyon County jury’s $2,435,906 verdict in favor of a group of Idaho farmers, including Mr. Obendorf, and against Simplot.

“While the Obendorf case was under deliberation Justice Horton appointed one of Simplot’s in-house attorneys as his political treasurer. After doing so, not only did Justice Horton fully participate in the Idaho Supreme Court deliberations on this case, he wrote the opinion which resulted in all of the damages awarded by the jury were taken away, and the case being sent back for re-trial. Justice Horton’s opinion in favor of Simplot was issued on May 1, 2008 and Justice Horton was re-elected on May 20, 2008.” (He placed his supporting information online at www.seinigerforisc.com/simplot).

It’s not hard to see how that would get some attention. It led to an April 9 letter signed by Lieutenant Governor Brad Little in Horton’s defense, which said Seiniger “is mischaracterizing a Justice Horton opinion that received the unanimous agreement of the Idaho Supreme Court. This failure to objectively review the matter before the Supreme Court showed his opponent is not qualified for the position.”

In a reply letter sent to the Idaho Statesman but eventually spread afield, Seiniger responded, “The fact that the decision in question was unanimous is beside the point. The point is that a judge is to identify a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict and recuse himself before writing the opinion or participating in deliberations. Mr. Horton failed to do this and the public deserves to know it and draw their own conclusions. I have no intention of backing down on this, but my voice may be drowned out by heavy weights willing to condemn me for exposing the facts.”

That the Horton-Seiniger conflict has gotten so heated seems a little odd. Horton has no controversial demeanor or background: A Nampa native, he was a deputy prosecutor in Ada and Twin Falls counties, a deputy attorney general, a magistrate and a district judge before his appointment to the high court, made without controversy, in 2007. He didn’t generate a lot of headlines anywhere along the way. His campaign co-chairs this year are Denton Darrington, the former Republican senator (a long-time judiciary committee chair), and Keith Roark, the former state Democratic chair. And Seiniger didn’t seem to have targeted Horton in his run for the court; news stories from early March said he was considering filing for either of the high court seats that were up.

But when they say politics is war by other means, there may be this to consider too: Once you open a political battle, as in the case of a military one, you never know for sure where it might lead.

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Idaho Idaho column