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The headline on the Idaho Reporter story said, “Idaho lawmakers mandate car dealership hours,” but that’s only one piece of the tale. The remainder is the portion few Idahoans see but accounts for a lot of the much-despised regulation of industry.

This particular instance arrived February 3 before the House Transportation and Defense Committee, which was reviewing new Idaho Transportation Department rules. One of them required a certain number of hours per week car dealerships must keep their doors open to the public, and report their business hours to state regulators. By a thin margin, the committee approved the rule.

Several committee members argued that this was governmental regulatory overreach – a government agency seeking more power than it ought to have.

But the underlying story emerged when Representative Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, said that “We need to support this because people in the industry support it.”

What? The industry supports this added piece of government regulation?

You bet.

The motivations may be several. One car dealer warned of shady operators who might be hard to find if things go wrong during a purchase or later. There could also be some motivation to set the bar to entry in the business a little higher, excluding people who might try to start a small dealership working on weekends. Without trying to read minds here, there may be in all a mix of rationales, both public-serving and self-serving. But these motivations come chiefly from the industry. In the case of the car dealer hours rule, you would not have seen such general support from the industry if that industry wasn’t the basic source of the proposal.

The testimony indicated that the department wrote the rule, but it’s a very safe bet that the push for it came from the auto dealers themselves. Remember the governmental rules regulating banking hours? Recall who was pressing for that? Here’s a hint: It wasn’t either bureaucrats or consumer groups.

Anyone who draws a bright line between government and business poorly understands either. Business lobbyists visit the legislature every year for more laws and rules, but that’s only the proverbial iceberg tip. Many of them, or representatives for them, are a regular presence at agencies too. The savvier associations lobby agencies all year long to alter or adopt rules they see as in their benefit (and maybe the public’s as well). Revolving doors between the regulators and the regulated are commonplace at the federal level but show up in the states too.

Regulation of most of the business and professional organizations that are today regulated, from doctors and lawyers to surveyors and truckers, got started in most cases with requests from those industries that they be regulated. When the doctors first sought regulation, they wanted to weed out the quacks and improve professional quality, and raise the bar to entry to limit the number of doctors. It’s an old story.

Not that this is all bad. Government should be responsive, and it should listen to the regulated as well as the rest of the public. It’s called the right of redress.

And there are sometimes public interests to be considered too; in the auto hours case, several legislators argued that steady hours would be clearly a consumer benefit. Maybe so.

Either way, when you hear about the mass of government rules and regulations bearing down on business and the rest of us, remember: The push for it came from somewhere, and in most cases it probably wasn’t from a bureaucrat looking for more work to do.

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In the spring of 1941 the United States, not yet at war but observing that much of the rest of the world was, was cranking its defense industry to full speed. It hit road bumps, one being a systematic unwillingness by some employers to hire certain workers, often on the basis of race or religion.

To counter this, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802. He declared that, “There is evidence available that needed workers have been barred from industries engaged in defense production solely because of considerations of race, creed, color or national origin, to the detriment of workers’ morale and of national unity.” And he ordered that defense contractors hire and treat employees the same regardless of “race, creed, color, or national origin,” not just as a matter of fairness but also as a matter of national security.

This long preceded the civil rights movement, but if the language sounds familiar, that’s no accident. The move toward equity seeded in World War II later set a kind of bar. In areas far beyond national defense, Congress and state legislatures declared that, in varying ways and for diverse groups of people, large-scale and commonplace discrimination has occurred, and that pushing back against it is in the national or state interest.

The 20-plus hours of testimony last week in Boise over House Bill 2, the now-rejected proposal to “add the words” of sexual orientation and gender identity, was an emotional event on both sides, but questions of broader interest, touching all Idahoans, got little attention.

The experience of other states and Idaho cities that have adopted similar language indicates that actual usage of the law probably would be slight. Since Boise passed a similar ordinance in December 2012, either two complaints or none (depending on your analysis) have been filed, and quietly handled, under it. That would be in line with most of the 20 or so states that have passed similar laws; the few much-noted cases involving cake-bakers and florists are rare enough to serve better as fluke news stories rather than as harbingers of trends.

Discrimination against gay and transsexual people, however, is not rare and not hard to document in substantial numbers, and in many places has mirrored the experience of people originally covered under the “race, creed, color” approach. Not many other social segments mentioned as prospects for “covered” groups (tall people, obese, smokers, others) can claim that scale of negative treatment.

Is there a social problem here, a need for action, as Roosevelt cited in 1941? Departing Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson offered one, saying that communities will be safer with the law in place because people afraid to report violent attacks became more willing to do so after Boise changed its ordinance. “We’ll all enjoy a safer community if we add the words to protect sexual orientation and gender identity in our Human Rights Act,” he said.

Some business owners testified last week they are concerned about the possibility of lawsuits under HB2, but many others have called for the change, in other states and in Idaho; the Boise Chamber of Commerce, for example, endorsed the bill.

There’s a specific state interest as well, of course, in protecting the right of people to exercise their religion. (Though this isn’t the religion-v-gay rights battle some people seem to want to pitch; quite a few in the clergy supported HB2, as others opposed it.) If harassment against people of faith in Idaho does emerge, the legislature should have some work to do. But it seems improbable. In a state with Idaho’s richly-churched demographics, the idea of freedom of religion being at risk, while churchgoing people carry on as they always have in places like Seattle and Portland, seems a little far fetched.

Some of the critics of HB 2 made the useful point that protections in one place can mean a loss somewhere else. That’s not only true, it’s the reality underlying all kinds of legislation (the “ag-gag” law, for example, benefits one group and disadvantages others). In the case of HB2, and eventual future-numbered bills (which will emerge with time), as with other anti-discrimination legislation, any real evaluation has to put these elements in context. Do the people of America get more out of the right to discriminate by race, which advantaged some people, or out of a defense industry where that wasn’t allowed? Do Idaho and the people in it get more out of the current silence on sexual orientation and identity in discrimination law, or out of protections like those in HB 2?

That question won’t go away. It may resolve in the end, as these things often do, more on calculation than on feelings.

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The legislative activities most likely to draw a rolling-eyes reaction, at least in the days when I was a newspaper legislative reporter, was the designation of something as the official Idaho state “something.”

Idaho has a roster of them: 16 including the state song, motto and seal. The official fossil (the Hagerman horse; no jokes please). The official fruit (the huckleberry; no jokes, please). The official raptor (the peregrine falcon; you know the drill) as well as the official state bird (the mountain bluebird).

Most reporters and legislators used to think, at least: Do we really need more? Is there need to spend legislative time on additional designations? Turns out there are some practical reasons to do so.

The first bill introduced in this session, House Bill 1, sought to designate the giant salamander as the state amphibian. It was rejected on January 19 by the House State Affairs Committee.

It’s given me cause for a rethink.

At the hearing, Frank Lundberg of Boise, who is as expert on the subject of reptiles as anyone I know, pointed out that state symbols aren’t just ornamental: “They are a way to promote and enhance understanding of qualities that are unique to the state. Our symbols serve as messengers of what is special about Idaho to other people, states and countries.”

Why a state amphibian? Lundberg: “Amphibians are one piece of the natural heritage of Idaho that makes this state such a wondrous place to live. They have some amazing characteristics, some that could one day help medical research. Salamanders can regenerate lost limbs, some frogs freeze solid in the winter, having no heartbeat, and yet defrost in the spring and hop off. The word ‘amphibian’ means double life, referring to the fact that they are born in water but often live on land. Idaho Giant Salamanders epitomize the name ‘amphibian’ as they are born and live in water with external gills, yet for reasons we don’t quite understand yet, some individuals absorb their gills, grow lungs , and go live on land, only returning to the water to breed. Twenty other states have recognized this uniqueness by including these marvelous creatures in their state symbols.”

And, he pointed out, Idaho is the only place where the Giant Salamander lives.

How would Idaho benefit from this? “It says something good about Idaho. It says we care about the things that are unique to our state, to Idaho. It provides us with yet another symbol, another tool, which we can use to promote the benefits of Idaho to others. While it may be safely stated that not everyone cares if there’s a state amphibian, many in the country do care and will take note of one unique to Idaho. A few more people will visit the state. A few more scientists will study something in Idaho. School students will have another opportunity to learn more about Idaho.”

Practical benefits, then, at no cost.

The bill, proposed by a Boise junior high student, got support from Boise-area Democrats and Republicans, but not nearly enough to clear the committee.

The counter argument seemed to be the default worry at the legislature: That there might be feds under the bed. Rep. Don Cheatham, R-Post Falls: “My whole concern is potential federal overreach. In North Idaho we have the water litigation going. I just am in fear that something could be impacted if it became an endangered species.”

The designation would have nothing whatever to do with an endangered species status. (And the water litigation is aimed not at increasing but at limiting federal ability to pursue water rights.)

Looks as if there’s some room left on the learning curve at the legislature, and not just about salamanders.

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Here’s what public affairs news made the front page of newspapers in the Northwest today, excluding local crime, features and sports stories. (Newspaper names contracted with location)

Hospital taxes continuing even for privates (Boise Statesman)
Mediation entering criminal cases (Boise Statesman)
New political website from Zion Bank (Boise Statesman, Lewiston Tribune)
Boise phosphorus facility in Canyon protested (Nampa Press Tribune)
Large rally at statehouse for ‘add the words’ (Nampa Press Tribune)
Muslims at TF plan mosque expansion (TF Times News)
Checking in on drug court grads (TF Times News)
Looking at a quarter century of the lottery (TF Times News)

Damaged Leaburg Dam impacting fish hatcheries (Eugene Register Guard)
Pot panel goes to work on new rules (Eugene Register Guard)
Wyden town hall held at Klamath Falls (KF Herald & News)
Some scofflaws run up huge parking fees (Portland Oregonian)
Homeless in Portland high numbers than national (Portland Orgonian)
Analyzing widely varied gas prices in Salem (Salem Statesman Journal)

Legislature considers carbon tax idea (Everett Herald)
Longview industrial park going green (Longview News)
Cuts at Lewis-McChord seem highly likely (Tacoma News Tribune, Olympian)
Looking at direct flights to SeaTac (Port Angeles News)
Genetic study finds more about Kennewick Man (Seattle Times)
Clark jail issues emergency body alarms to some (Vancouver Columbian)
Reviewing Yakima’s homeless situation (Yakima Herald Republic)

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Of all the subjects under the purview of Idaho government and politics, few ought to be less controversial than roads and road repair.

There’s no dispute that this is something state government ought to be doing. There’s no disagreement anywhere about the need for good roads, and that we need them for all sorts of reasons. And yet roads – or rather, paying for their upkeep, repair and the occasional expansion – have been in recent years the most difficult subject for Idaho governors and legislatures for reaching common ground.

Roads were the reason for the longest legislative session in Idaho history, in 2003. Roads got then-newbie Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter into big fights with the legislature right from his first session, and in 2009 roads funding was the main driver behind the second-longest legislative session in Idaho history.

And here we may be again. Right on schedule, even.

Otter’s case for road and bridge work was touched on quickly in his State of the State address, but it was compelling. He said, “We know that after education, investing in infrastructure is among the smartest, most cost-effective and frankly essential uses of taxpayers’ dollars to promote the public’s general welfare and sustain economic growth.” He’d probably not get much argument with that from the public – he pointed out surveys showing similar attitudes among Idahoans – or even among most legislators.

“We already have 785 state and local bridges in Idaho that are over 50 years old and considered structurally deficient. That number will grow to almost 900 bridges by 2019 even after completing work on the 68 for which we already have funding.”

And yet . . . it costs money. A lot of money.

Otter on that: “Chairmen Brackett and Palmer, legislative leaders, I am not going to stand here and tell you how to swallow this elephant. That would be contrary to all we have learned about each other and the people we serve in recent years. But we all know it must be done. I welcome financially responsible legislation that addresses steady, ongoing and sustainable transportation infrastructure in Idaho; however, I will NOT entertain proposals aimed at competing for General Fund tax dollars with education and our other required public programs or services.”

Sounds as if, on one hand, Otter is unwilling to trap himself into proposing a specific tax increase (which might fail), but on the other, telling legislators they have to do it, on whatever their own terms may be . . . so long as they’re not cutting other budgets to do it, which is another way of saying a tax increase will be needed. And Otter appeared to be saying he would veto any attempt to violate that proscription.

That would usually indicate a gas tax increase would be in the works. Given the wonderfully low price of gas right now, that may be the case. (The low price of gas also might help with gas tax revenues, since people may be buying more gallons than they were before.)

But the phrases “tax increase” and “Idaho legislature” haven’t gone together easily in recent years. Maybe recognizing that, Otter also proposed a few tax cuts – a sweetener for some legislators? – but at least one of those is likely to balloon over the next few years, slicing into state revenues.

What’s in development is an echo of those bitter road battles over the last dozen or so years. Don’t be too surprised if this shapes up as a longer, rather than a shorter, session.

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It’s an old, old phrase: The governor proposes, the legislature disposes. Seems to go back a century or so at least.

It’s worth considering in the coming week, as Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter makes his pitch at proposing. The question after that will relate to disposition of those ideas by the legislature.

Put another way, the governor’s state of the state speech (which for some years now has been merged with the budget speech) has been the opening shot in something of a wrestling match between the second and third floors of the statehouse. Governors are there year-round, and have a much higher profile and taller platform. But legislators made the decisions about what is and isn’t acceptable, and they are extremely protective of their prerogatives.

In each legislative session, at least in each with topics of real controversy, you’ll find this tension, and it’s certainly not diminished when the legislature and governor are of the same party. Transportation funding was the key reason the 2003 session lasted 118 days, still an Idaho record; the governor mostly got his way that time, but political bridges were torched along the way, and repair work lasted awhile.

There’s no particular reason to think 2015 will go that route; Otter will be delivering a number of specific proposals on Monday but compromise may be in the wind on a several of them.

Many eyes will be looking toward Otter’s call for restoring public school funding to where it was in 2009, before the economic dip wrenched the state. He’s not alone in that call or in expressing the sense it might happen; Senate President pro tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, who ought to be a good indicator, said in a legislative preview article, “There is a good chance that the legislature will completely restore the funding for public schools and approve the largest public education budget in Idaho’s history. Although portions of the funding increases will facilitate further implementation of the twenty recommendations of the education task force, more funds will also be available for the discretion of local school boards.”

Maybe; but there remain no small number of legislators who would prefer another round of tax cuts. We’ll have to get a few weeks into the session to see how that plays out.

Hill also predicted, as Otter has suggested, that the legislature will avoid the black eye it’s gotten in recent years for declining to hold a hearing on “add the words” (on sexual orientation). Odds of that seem to be improving, as legislators around the state have been making similar predictions over the last month or so. But remember that holding a hearing is a far remove from passing a bill.

There’ll be pressure to expand Medicaid provisions, and you can expect a lot of talk around the subject statewide. That may be a big pressure point in Boise, since legislative leaders have suggested the votes aren’t there to pass it.

If these subjects sound familiar . . . well, don’t expect a lot of change in this session. This legislature overall is a lot like the last, and it’s unlikely to act a great deal differently.

The governor as well as the rest of Idaho may be wise to keep that in mind when adjusting expectations, and proposals.

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Austin Overman of LRSU competing in the November 2014 Precision Rifle Series in Idaho. This is the first “for points” match of the 2015 season even though it’s being held in 2014. (November 18)

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I was born in Dixie, meaning the old Confederacy, an hour away from its capitol, and probably – since the occasion was in December – on a frosty morning as well. And long ago enough that in public schools there, we read in the school history books how slaves in the south were mostly well treated, and we sang “Dixie,” though we were never told that the narrator in the song is a former slave, living in the north, who pines to return to his plantation down South.

This was all deeply woven into the local history and culture. Idaho was not much part of the Civil War. Many of its early miners were southerners, but Idaho never was a slave territory. By the time substantial number of settlers arrived slavery was legally banned,and by the time of statehood most Idahoans had come from pro-Union areas like the midwest and northeast. So what would “Dixie” mean to Idaho? What does it mean today?

Those questions matter in the Idaho Court of Appeals case of Idaho v. James D. Kirk aka Snoop. As the alias may lead you to guess, Kirk is black. In August 2012, prosecutors said, he was in Nampa when he encountered four girls (who were white) under age 18, invited them into his motel room, and sexual activity occurred. Kirk admitted to all but the last part, but physical evidence of a sexual encounter was found. Kirk was convicted of two charges (lewd conduct with a minor under 16 and sexual battery of a minor 16 to 17 years of age). His appeal centered not on the evidence but on what the prosecutor said in her rebuttal closing argument:

“Ladies and gentlemen, when I was a kid we used to like to sing songs a lot. I always think of this one song. Some people know it. It’s the Dixie song. Right? Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton. Good times not forgotten. Look away. Look away. Look away. And isn’t that really what you’ve kind of been asked to do? Look away from the two eyewitnesses. Look away from the two victims. Look away from the nurse in her medical opinion. Look away. Look away. Look away.”

Many are the ways a prosecutor could argue that the defense is trying to persuade a jury to ignore the evidence. This one invoked the unofficial song of the Confederacy, in a case involving a black man charged with having illicit sex with white girls. She had to have known the implications of doing that are loaded.

As the Court of Appeals parsed the argument: “nothing in the record suggests that the jurors harbored any racial prejudice or that they were actually influenced by the prosecutor’s recitation of “Dixie,” but the risk of prejudice to a defendant is magnified where the case is as sensitive as this one, involving alleged sexual molestation of minors. In this circumstance, both the constitutional obligation to provide criminal defendants a fundamentally fair trial and the interest of maintaining public confidence in the integrity of judicial proceedings weigh against imposing a stringent standard for a defendant’s demonstration that the error was harmful.”

The case was bumped back downstairs; Kirk will be given a new trial.

Why would a prosecutor in Idaho seize on “Dixie” as a foundational metaphor in a case like this? It hardly seems like a random choice. One thought process that comes to mind goes something like this: Idahoans increasingly are identifying themselves with Dixie, with the states of the old South, not just politically but in other ways as well, and that would be a way to align the prosecution with the people in the jury.

There could be something to that. The repeated rankings of Idaho in recent years amid deep-south Dixie states on education, health, social and other matters has upset some Idahoans but apparently not most people in the state. Idaho as an adjunct to the South? Why not?

Here’s a question for Idaho for the new year: To what extent does Idaho identify with, or want to identify with, Dixie? Thoughts on this will be welcome.

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Over the last month, I’ve been pondering a list of currently influential people in Idaho (about which, more later) and out a way to find them: Start with a list of what are likely to be big stories in Idaho in the coming year.

What follows are a half-dozen that helped put names on the list – or, more important, what may make for a lot of discussion in Idaho next year.

In no particular order . . .

Nuclear waste. In 1995 Governor Phil Batt reached an agreement with federal agencies calling for removal of nuclear waste at the (now) Idaho National Laboratory. There’s been unease since about just how well that’s been going, but toward the end of 2014 holdups in those out-shipments, largely because of issues in other states, have been accelerating. The terms of the agreement may be violated before long, and that will be a very big conflict, probably the biggest IN:L story in 20 years.

Health care consolidation. Health care services in Idaho (and not just Idaho) are becoming consolidated. This trend has its advocates, as at St. Luke’s in Boise, where the argument is that this is the way to get health care costs under control and service rationalized. The counter-argument of course is that this is a matter of power and monopoly. St. Luke’s, based in Boise, is the biggest player, but not the only one; it’s cross-town critic, St. Alphonsus, has been growing at a hefty rate too, both of them not just just in the city but regionally around Idaho. This consolidation began to poke upward in 2014, and it may become more visible in 2015, especially as the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals makes its decision, probably early in the year, on a key St. Luke’s purchase in Nampa.

Boulder-White Clouds. The debate over what should be done in the central Idaho Boulder-White Clouds area goes back a long way (as political historians know, it played a role in Cecil Andrus’ first win as governor). Representative Mike Simpson has been pushing a negotiated compromise proposal for some years, but others argue it’s probably DOA in the coming Congress, and urge President Obama to declare the area, or part of it, as a national monument. This issue may finally be coming to a head, one way or another.

Boise’s downtown core. The central core of Boise’s downtown, a couple of blocks south of the Statehouse, is about to see big-time change, the largest at one time maybe ever. (Or at least since the downtown removal of the late 60s.) The result is supposed to include more residential space, more office and commercial state, a transit center and more. Opinions may vary on what’s around the corner, but it’s a major change for Idaho’s largest city. And it happens as Mayor David Bieter considers whether to run for an unprecedented fourth term; at the end of this term, a year from now, he ties the record for longevity as mayor of Boise.

Shifting education policy. The Tom Luna era is over; the Sherri Ybarra era begins – and no one really has a very clear idea what that means. Idaho will get its first sense of that soon though, since education will be a hot topic generally in the legislature, and Ybarra will have to weigh in.

New adjudications. The Snake River Basin Adjudication is now in the state’s rear-view mirror, or nearly so. Up next: New water adjudications in the Panhandle, and possibly in the Bear River Basin as well. Those may start to come more into focus this year as they move to center stage in the water community.

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In England, when the Guardian newspaper wrote last week about the great Pocatello cow escape, they tagged the breakout bovines the “Slaughterhouse five.”

British newspapers have a gift, don’t they?

But the first of the animals to break out, a heifer, sounded as if she had been inspired instead by the Dana Lyons song “Cows with Guns.” (“We will fight for bovine freedom/And hold our large heads high . . .”)

On December 12 she jumped a six-foot fence at Anderson Custom Pack and roared into a rampage, running through Pocatello’s north end, butting an animal control vehicle and two police cars. Finally, police shot and killed her. She may have been unarmed but, in truth, becoming dangerous and the stakes were high. (Sorry.)

Two days later four other cows, slated for the slaughter, went missing. Anderson spokesmen said they thought someone had let them loose; there’s not yet been an official determination on that one way or the other. However the escape happened, the animals were soon roaming around town. One of them was captured, and one was shot.

The other two evidently, at this writing, remain at large.

Here’s a problem, because a lot of people may be conflicted.

We don’t want cows roaming our streets, even cows that don’t ram motor vehicles. And a lot of us enjoy our beef (I do), even if we don’t try to devote a lot of thought about how it transitions from live animal to our plates. Yes, if we want our beef there will be slaughterhouses.

At the same time, most people love a good escape story. From “The Great Escape” to “Prison Break” most of us root for the people inside to get out, even if (as in “Prison Break”) some of them really are bad guys. And animals too (think about all those movies featuring an animal caged). We root for freedom, not for captivity. It’s hard not to cheer for the cows.

A few days after the second breakout, with two bovines still out there somewhere, the Farm Sanctuary group called in, and offered to find and take the animals back to their 300 acres at Orland, California, where they would be left to graze for the rest of their natural lives.

Farm Sanctuary National Shelter Director Susie Coston said in a statement that, “The processing plant expressed concern for the cows, one of whom is pregnant. It’s cold outside and they’re worried that the animals are tired, hungry and thirsty, so we’re hoping they will work with us to bring them to sanctuary. It would be a happy ending for everyone involved, but especially for the cows, who want nothing more than to simply enjoy the one life they get just like we do.”

Okay: It’s a story by turns strange, comic, a little dangerous and (maybe, depending on what happens next) heart-warming. It might have found a place on the Colbert Report were it still on the air.

But reflect on this: Idaho is home to about 2.2 million cattle, about half again as many head of them as of us.

Better hope they never hear “Cows with Guns.”

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In about three weeks new administrations will take over in two important Idaho offices – superintendent of public instruction and secretary of state. That means, or should mean, the incoming officials in those places will be busy right now getting prepared.

Offered for consideration a little advice, from an observer of transitions, for Idaho’s new statewide officials, SUPI Sherri Ybarra and Secretary Lawerence Denney.

1. Apart from maybe one or two personal advisors, keep the existing staff in place, for a while at least. Yes, you will have authority to replace them wholesale if you choose, and as you eventually find (as you will) people who ought to go, they can be shown the door. But for the moment, remember that they, not you, know how things work in this place, and by that I mean all the little bits and pieces which make these offices tick; both the formal procedures (and requirements) and the informal methods and pathways that help work get handled. In any office, governmental or not, these things take a while to suss out. You’re going to have a learning curve. Accept that and let your staff, which mostly will probably be eager to help inform you, guide you through the early steps.

No one coming in fresh from the outside will understand enough of that at first. But both state offices are empowered and restricted by a mass of laws, rules, legal decisions and more. Former Superintendent Jerry Evans, who probably understood the SUPI world better than anyone in recent decades, had a gift for explaining the inner workings of “the coalition” and “the formula” – central to the office’s operations – in startlingly clear fashion to people like legislators and reporters. But so complex was his subject that many people (such as me) could not maintain comprehension of it for more than a day or so; after that we’d have to go back for a refresher. The details of this stuff are more complex than they look from the outside. Respect that.

2. Spend as much time as you can in the office. Get a sense of the patterns, personalities and rhythms there before you have to run it yourself.

3. Find a few old hands and, if not bring them into the office, turn them into a kitchen cabinet, an advisory group. Collect some expertise you can trust, and some people who aren’t your natural allies so you’re not just entering an echo chamber, telling you what you want to hear. And then make use of what you hear.

4. Reach out to the constituencies. Both newcomers are, for different reasons, making nervous a lot of people who will be dealing with the offices. Best advice: Pro-actively reach out to them and establish a line of communication. That’s most critical probably in the superintendent’s office, where many of the “stakeholders” in Idaho education (yes, in fact should include everyone in the state) aren’t sure what to expect. Keep a regular line of communication going. Institutionalize communications. Go to them, and let them come to you. You don’t have to agree on everything (and the stakeholders may often quarrel with each other), but you will fare best if everyone knows where they stand.

5. Engage the public on your priorities. Do this with the public too – and that means among other things communicating through the news media.

Jobs like secretary and superintendent are in part inherently political (something the new superintendent may be reluctant to accept). That means doing some campaign-type things as part of the job: Communicating with lots of people, building alliances, finding out where the differences are and figuring out how to bridge them.

Done in a useful way, it’s complex work. You’ll need all the help you can get.

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The predominant news out of the just-finished organizational session of the Idaho Legislature didn’t make the front page of most Idaho papers, and that was a reasonable call.

There were a few committee changes, and a few on the lower rungs of leadership. But the top spots in the Senate and House stayed pretty much the same.

In the bigger picture of Idaho legislative history, there actually is some news in this stasis. Until the last decade or a little more, leadership under the rotunda tended to change regularly. In recent years, that’s slowed down.

In the Senate, the top leadership job is president pro tem. (You might think that would be lieutenant governor, since he’s the default presiding officer, but when caucuses are held and decisions are made the lieutenant governor is outside of the room, with the rest of us.) For most of Idaho history, the norm was to hold that job for two or three terms, provided your party was in control. The first ever to keep the job longer was Republican James Ellsworth of Leadore, for four terms from 1968-76.

That record was broken by Robert Geddes of Soda Springs, who was elected to the post in 2000 (mid-session, when Jerry Twiggs, who was in his fourth term as pro tem, died). Geddes held the job for 10 years, and currently holds the record. His replacement, Brent Hill, was elected to it for the third time last week, and there’s no particular reason he won’t reach Geddes’ mark over time.

In the House, no one broke the three-term ceiling until Bruce Newcomb, who was elected speaker in 1998 and stayed until he retired in 2006 – four terms. His successor, Lawerence Denney of Midvale (soon to be secretary of state), then was speaker for three terms but narrowly (apparently) lost a bid for a fourth in 2012. The man who defeated him, Scott Bedke of Oakley, appears like Hill, to be settling in. Neither he nor Hill were opposed for the top leadership positions in the organizational session.

Take a look at the job of majority leader in each chamber. In the Senate, Bart Davis of Idaho Falls has held that job 12 years. In the House, Mike Moyle of Star has been majority leader since 2006, but he was assistant majority leader in 2002 – 14 years so far in one position or the other.

Before you consider this a call for term limits, though, consider that longevity is much less widespread in the overall legislative ranks. Just nine of the 35 senators, for example, are entering their fifth term or better. Despite the fact that nearly all legislative districts are a lock for one political party or the other (mostly for one of them, of course), there’s a good deal of turnover among them.

But not so much in leaders. In fact, Idaho is seeing a good deal of continuity in its upper political leadership ranks. It has a governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, in major office continuously for 28 years. It has two U.S. senators whose entrance to major-level state politics came nearly 30 years ago in one case and 40 in the other. One of the two U.S. representatives came to the Idaho House more than 30 years ago and first entered leadership there not long after.

You could draw several possible conclusions from this, depending on your attitude toward the personnel involved.

But it seems many Idahoans often do seem a lot less determined to rock the boat than their rhetoric would often have you believe.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

How many Idahoans watched President Obama’s speech Thursday about changes in the federal response to immigrants who got here against the law? Was Representative Raul Labrador among them – and did it spark any activist thoughts in his own mind?

Idaho generally has some particular reason to pay attention. A study by the Pew Research Center released last week showed that Idaho is one of just seven states where unauthorized immigration rose between 2009 and 2012. The population declined in 14 states – twice as many. Maybe more notable: Idaho and Nebraska were the only two western states where that segment of the population increased during those years; it fell in Oregon, Nevada, California and others.

Immigration has become so hot an issue that emotions often drown out facts. A lot of the responses to the Obama talk, pro and con, was suffused with emotion. The reaction from Idaho’s politicians was, as you might expect, harshly negative against Obama’s outline. Representative Mike Simpson said Obama’s actions “have the potential to throw us into a Constitutional Crisis,” though he also said “We cannot shut down the government, impeach the President, or allow this issue to impede progress on deficit reduction, tax reform, or other critical priorities for the American people.” Congressional Republicans will have a lot to talk about in the next few days and weeks.

Labrador does have some expertise in the subject, having worked as an immigration attorney in his private practice. After Obama’s speech he declared, “this is illegal,” and suggested in essence that the Senate reject over the next two years any appointments, budget requests or anything else coming its way from the White House.

The Obama policy may activate people on the other side as well, though. Recent national polling on the matter has been split on Obama taking a unilateral action on the subject. But many in the Latino community will be watching closely what happens next, and Republicans who hope to attract many of their votes in 2016 will have to approach the subject with some caution and diplomacy.

When Labrador went to Congress, one of his assets was strong personal knowledge of how the immigration system works (or fails to), the presumption being that he might be in a position to help move things ahead. So far – and not, certainly, to pile all this on him – a measure has passed the Senate, but efforts to come up with a compromise measure in the House have collapsed. Labrador’s stands on the subject, and his shifts in alliances on it, have been far from clear.

For a while, he was a central player in the group of House members working to come up with a House counterpart to a measure that passed the Senate, but then he dropped out of it, and for a year or so has argued against the House passing anything on the subject.

What Obama most clearly has done has been to place the immigration issue on the front burner – and, while taking unilateral action, he specifically asked Congress to come up with something better if it can. It’s a direct political challenge. House Republicans could avoid it by passing nothing, but do they really consider that a better approach? (And after all their disaster-has-struck rhetoric of this week, how would they defend it?)

If Labrador has any interest in playing a major role on this issue, as he is uncommonly well placed to do, this would be the time to act.

With substance, that is, rather than boilerplate.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

When market analysts such as politicians need insight into how people really view something, they often convene a focus group.

Last week I sought out something like that, consisting of party-line Republican Idaho voters. The 19 responses were enough (together with a collection of comments from a range of other sources) to tell me this much: The 220,000 or more (more in a presidential year) who vote down-the-line Republican in Idaho arrive at that result not by any one, but in variety of ways.

First, thanks to all who responded. I’ll honor the requests for anonymity from a number of respondents; I will say that none of them were familiar to me or are well-known public figures. Eight of the 19 didn’t specifically meet the terms of the request: They broke from the Republican ticket once or twice, mostly in the superintendent of public instruction race, but also for governor and secretary of state. The explanations for the vote were usually specific, several about as lengthy as this column.

Detail wasn’t absent from all down-the-line respondents. One said of GOP superintendent candidate Sherri Ybarra: “much more complete in the debates and showed her concern about educating the WHOLE child. She understands the use of money and how best to use in to get the most out of what she is given. She will not just have her hand out. She will fit in with the Republican Legislators and the land board.” Of Lawerence Denny for secretary of state: “This was a tough one for me. Reason, experience and land board.” Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter: “I’ve been disappointed at times. Idaho taking on the Federal mandated Insurance exchange for one. Balukoff ran a one issue race on more money for education without answers.”

Some respondents clearly had followed the campaigns, but there seemed a gap: Was it just coincidence that all their choices went to one party?

Most of the all-R voters, however, focused on the nature of the parties.

One seemed to focus on President Obama: “Considering the Republican tide that swept the country on Nov 4, with Obama stating he wasn’t on the ballot but his policies were; a vote for any Democrat was a vote for Obama’s policies. Idaho voters priorities were in step with the country and were clearly shown. Stop Obama’s policies!!!”

Another: “The ways that I disagree with various Republicans is small compared with the intense disagreement I have with the stances, the behavior and philosophy of the collation of interests groups , known as the Democratic Party. I cringe at the thought of Frank Church, I am surrounded by people who despise Harry Reid, Nancy Polosy(?) and Jesse Jackson. Guilt by association? Yup!”

Another focused on the parties more broadly: “Who are democrats as a party? They support illegal immigration, extend financial aid of all kinds to them, are pro abortion, against right-to-work, do not support our military, and back liberal environmentalism ala climate change. I do not want anyone in public office that holds to these views as are enumerated in the Idaho Democratic Platform. So, even if I have ought with republican candidates, there is no alternative.”

And: “First, I have an inherent distrust in the news media. This includes the local newspaper (Twin Falls Times) as they seem to work overtime pounding on every Republican in sight. What I see is Democrat GOOD, republican BAD. How simplistic! I feel like we are being treated like a bunch of half wits too stupid to understand why we should vote for the democrats. You Sir are in the same camp so don’t act like you are a moderate and continue your line of questioning. Come to think of it, you have the same mentality as the used care salesman we have in the whitehouse. Wake up and smell the roses.”

The last one notwithstanding: Anyone whose rationale wasn’t reflected here (or was), feel free to send me a note. I expect to come back around to this area. I find voters a lot more interesting than politicians.

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Idaho Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Don’t say there was no difference in the received vote between Republican candidates who were noncontroversial and those drowning in negatives in the just-ended campaign. Yes, they all alike won, but the counts varied and even give us some measure of controversial-ness.

Atop the ticket, Senator Jim Risch, whose re-election campaign didn’t draw massive public attention, despite strenuous efforts from his opponent, won about 285,000 votes. (I’m rounding off for simplicity.) Fellow Republicans Lawerence Denney for secretary of state won about 44,000 less, C.L. “Butch” Otter for governor about 50,000 less, and Sherri Ybarra for superintendent of public instruction about 68,000 less (barely avoiding a loss). You likely remember, or can Google, the many issues surrounding them.

This means about 40,000 to 60,000 Republicans did split off from an otherwise Republican ballot when presented with compelling arguments to do so. That’s significant, and I’ll return to them on another occasion. But an operating majority of voters, somewhere around 220,000 of them, were by comparison impervious to the arguments that peeled off other Republicans.

That point is being made not just from the left. Kent Marmon, a sometimes Republican candidate in Canyon County who often critiques the Idaho Republican establishment from the right, said on a Facebook post, “As I watched the election results unfold last night, I couldn’t help but think that if Barack Obama moved to Idaho, joined the Republican Party, and ran for office as a Republican…. he could get elected. Issues apparently don’t matter. Neither does anything else.”

Also on Facebook, a woman from Nampa (a Democrat) sent an open request to Republican friends: “Please name three (3) reasons you voted for Sherri Ybarra. I’m not being snarky. I genuinely want to know why you would pick Ms. Ybarra over Ms. [Jana] Jones. Serious answers only, please.”

She got about 90 replies, but from down the line Republicans . . . nothing.

Of the many apparently non-Republican respondents, a few said the election was “rigged,” which it was not, and others thought gerrymandering was involved, which it could not have been. One said, “I cannot find a Republican that will admit to voting for her.” But, evidently, a whole lot of them did.

Another: “My guess is that people who voted for her didn’t even know what she was running for. They saw the “R” beside her name and colored the circle in. I don’t think you will find an educated Republican who did vote for her.” And: “Based on what I heard said: 1) she’s Republican. 2) there is a black man in the White House (who wants to take my guns). 3) she’s ‘good looking’.”

A variation: “It simply was the ‘obama/bogeyman syndrome’ that many in Idaho believe. It started with the IACI labeling Mr. [A.J.] Balukoff as a “liberal” and using that simplistic tactic in all the races. Ibarra with “D” in front of her name would have gotten less than 10% of the vote (taking into account of really stupid voters who pay absolutely no attention to who their voting for) To hear some of the people on fb and KIDO and KBOI, you would think that AJ was the “antichrist” because of the lies spread about him.”

How close to the truth did these latter comments come? Good question. They’re guesswork from outsiders speculating about the opposition camp.

One writer said she had a number of Tea Party friends who “are very vocal on their own feed. This thread may not feel safe for them. But holy jelly donut – stand up for what you believe in, otherwise it’s just a herd of lemmings talking to themselves in the mirror.”

So I’ll pitch a request here, to party-line Republican voters (others, please hold off): Send me a note, at the email address below, noting the main reason or two why you voted for Ybarra, Denney and Otter. Call it a public service. Idaho will be better off if the whole of the state has a clearer idea why its next round of elected leadership was chosen, and few majority voters are clearly explaining that now.

I’ll follow up next week.

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Idaho Idaho column