Archive for the 'Idaho column' Category

Jun 14 2014

Something for Democrats to talk about

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Next week Idaho Democrats will follow Idaho Republicans in holding their convention at Moscow. There’s much they could usefully talk about – but probably won’t.

The party has nominees in place for most major offices and a passable number below, and the convention will discuss their virtues. Also, the shortcomings, especially recent ones, of the Republicans who have been in near-total control of the state government for the last two decades. And the policy differences between the parties.

That is what Idaho Democrats, like Republicans, have done every two years during these last 20.

And here’s the record from 1994 to now. Democrats have lost the last five gubernatorial elections, getting a peak percentage of the vote in 2006 (44.1%) – in other words, not close. That’s better than the Senate races during that time, when they peaked at 34.1% (in 2008).

The most telling statistic may be legislative. In 1994 Republicans won the state Senate 27-8, and the House 57-13. After the 2012 election, they won the Senate 28-7, and the House 57-13. Through the years in between, those numbers have hardly changed. Good candidates, bad candidates, better or worse campaigns and funding, varied message strategies – little of it seems to have mattered.

In two decades of Idaho politics, we have seen successive presidencies, economic ups and downs, people coming and going, this candidate and then that arising, periodic scandals and mishaps, changes in content and intensity of ideology, demographic changes, terrific candidates, fringe candidates, issues dominating discussion then fading and then replaced by others. Through it all, Idaho partisan politics has not budged. The needle has not moved.

The politics of Idaho seem frozen, glacier-like, except for moving even slower than that.

But what about the major-office wins by Democrats for superintendent of public instruction (1998, 2002) and the U.S. House (1st district, 2008)? Those openings happened on occasion of major Republican mess-ups – in other words, when Republicans errantly left the door wide open. That doesn’t happen a lot.

Depending on who you are, this may be okay. Many Idahoans regularly vote for Republicans, and – even putting aside what the candidates say or don’t say in campaigns – what those Republican candidates deliver cannot come as much of a surprise, good or bad, after all this time.

If you’re a Democrat, or an independent simply not on board with the agenda of the last 20 years, the frustration has to be great. Democrats run candidates both good (sometimes very good) and less so, run campaigns well and less so, have surprisingly often raised enough money to get their message out, and in many instances done what conventional wisdom says candidates and parties ought to do. Earlier in Idaho history that might have resulted in a middling number of wins. Not in the last 20 years. Continue Reading »

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Jun 07 2014

Rarely so simple

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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. Continue Reading »

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May 31 2014

If it worked once

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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. Continue Reading »

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May 25 2014

Idaho’s slate regions

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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. Continue Reading »

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May 20 2014

Incumbent resiliency

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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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May 17 2014

The end of the Bovill Run

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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. Continue Reading »

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May 16 2014

An Idaho kind of selection?

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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. Continue Reading »

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May 10 2014

A slate phenomenon

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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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May 03 2014

Limits on sovereignty

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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.” Continue Reading »

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Apr 27 2014

Suburban Idaho

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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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Apr 19 2014

Supremely intense

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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). Continue Reading »

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Apr 12 2014

Primary’s bigger picture

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What’s it all about, this big Idaho primary pitched battle between two neatly-lined up sides, incumbents and challengers? The most striking, original and daring take on that, the quote of the season so far, comes from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Unexpectedly independent-minded, willing to act against the preferences of much of the state’s Republican leadership, Wasden came on very differently after his first election from his previous role as a quiet, little-known, behind-the-scenes chief of staff in the office. But those differences mainly extended just to legal opinions, his expression of what the law was (as opposed to what some people would have preferred it to be). He certainly has been no kind of ideological flamethrower, and has been low-key in manner.

Last week he may not have been throwing flame but, speaking with the Lewiston Tribune, he was uncommonly blunt. In talking about this year’s primary contests, which includes his first primary contest since 2002, Wasden cast it in large-scale terms as “a fight, really, for the heart and soul of the Republican Party.” And the terms of the fight? Simply, “Are you out there on that far edge, or are you rational? I certainly hope that the rational message comes forward.”

He just called a large portion of his party’s base irrational, living in the world of fantasy rather than reality, and set the terms of the debate he proposes to have. Truly powerful stuff, and it has the potential to recast the terms of the debate, and the campaign.

That it is a stick of dynamite ready to explode is easy to see. One would expect that the cohorts on Wasden’s side of the divide – Governor C.L. “Butch Otter, Representative Mike Simpson, Lt. Governor Brad Little and others, including legislative candidates – would quickly be asked about the comment. That would mean they either would have to risk infuriating much of the base, or breaking with Wasden and splitting (and making unclear) their side’s messaging.

There’s an upside to their seizing on it, though: It would bring some clarity to characterizing the insurgency.

State Senator Russ Fulcher, running against Otter, has seized foremost on Otter’s support of a state-run health insurance exchange. Otter could point out that the opposition is simply unrealistic, that (as he has said, repeatedly) Idaho would be getting an exchange regardless, the only difference being how directly involved the state would be. He could even argue that sheer opposition to Obamacare has become beside the point; it’s the law of the land, like it or not. That’s reality.

Congressional candidate Bryan Smith has been describing (in his ads at least) Simpson as a “liberal.” Second-district voters have observed Simpson in Congress since 1998, and probably only a few would use the word to describe him; Simpson could use Wasden-like language in blasting back.

Retorts structured in these ways would have the advantage of cohering, working together, in coloring the opposition.

For the incumbent candidates, their messaging needs to do something like that. Simply defeating the insurgents, or most of them (a result that seems broadly expected), isn’t really good enough, because the insurgent voting base still would be seething, and that could have consequences down the road. The best way to defang it would be to de-legitimize it. Wasden may have seized on one potentially effective way to do that.

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Apr 06 2014

Pick a theory

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The day after election day – any election day – people publicly and privately will offer up their theory as to why the results happened as they did. Usually, in truth, there’s no one single reason, but the dominant theory gives people some comfort: An easy explanation.

The Idaho secretary of state Republican primary is an especially juicy theory-fest. At this point, six weeks or so ahead of election day, the outcome is not at all clear, to the point you can make a credible argument for any of the four candidates to win. Usually an incumbent would be the likely winner, but here incumbent Ben Ysursa, holder of the job since 2002, is retiring. The Republican winner will oppose Democrat Holli Woodings in November.

The four: former house speaker and current representative Lawerence Denney; former state senators Evan Frasure and Mitch Toryanski; and Phil McGrane, deputy Ada County clerk.

Read the theories below and reflect that one, but only one, of them will look prescient on election day.

Denney is the best-known (by election day all will become better known), though many of his headlines have been negative. (Will voters remember those headlines, or just the name?) He does have a strong base of support, however, and many Tea Party members and allies may rally to him. His recent Duck Dynasty fundraiser will raise his visibility and identification with this sector. In a four-way primary, that could be enough for a win. And though he lost his bid for a fourth term as speaker in December 2012, he retains plenty of allies in the legislature and elsewhere.

Frasure is the only one of the four who has run statewide before – he lost the Republican primary for this same office in 2002 to Ysursa. Before that he was in the legislature quite a while, experienced in campaigning in difficult territory (Denney, though a long-time legislator, has been opposed only sporadically), and he is one of the best campaign organizers and strategists Idaho has seen in the last generation. He has played a big role in legislative redistricting for three decades now, and few people know the intricacies of Idaho voting patterns better. He is the only candidate from east of Boise, and more than 40 percent of Republican primary votes are cast in that region. (The other three contenders all come from southwest Idaho.)

Toryanski, a former deputy attorney general, has a base in Boise and has been thought likely to generate strong support from business interests and some of the mainstream Republican Party organizers, a core of backing that shouldn’t be lightly dismissed. Like Frasure, Toryanski has campaigned in difficult territory (southeast Boise), winning once and losing once, both fairly narrowly, and he did both in the last few election cycles.

Unlike the others, McGrane never has been elected to office, but he does have experience helping run the office – Ada County Clerk – that most resembles the secretary of state’s office. He also has an endorsement, nicely timed for delivery last week, from Ysursa. Most endorsements carry little weight, but this one may be more significant given Ysursa’s sterling reputation in the job not just since 2002 but also for decades before that as chief deputy secretary of state. He also, of course, has a strong endorsement from his current boss, Ada County Clerk Chris Rich, whose Republican activism goes back several decades, and on top of that one from former Governor Phil Batt.

What’s the winning theory for secretary of state? Take your pick: They’re all pretty good.

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Mar 29 2014

No simple moves

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Idaho

The Obama Administration’s budget proposal will not be adopted as is by Congress; that much you can take to the bank. Many of the bits and pieces may survive though, and other parts may be adopted in some future year if not right away.

Given that, Idahoans have some reason to think about the possibility of moving its Air National Guard (ANG) from Boise to Mountain Home.

That’s separate from the proposal to eliminate A-10 warthog planes – the kind flown by the Idaho guard, a basic unit in the military’s air operations, but now the Department of Defense says should be superseded by more up to date models. (There’s a heated debate over this.) Apart from that, DOD suggests the Idaho air operations could be more usefully meshed with the substantial Air Force base at Mountain Home.

Long-time Guard spokesman Colonel Tim Marsano was quoted as saying, “We’re looking at the possibility of things happening where we would actually take some of our folks and move to Mountain Home and learn how to operate and maintain the F-15E Strike Eagle. And we know we would be welcomed there with open arms, should that happen.”

The idea may survive because there’s a logic to it. It also will not happen easily, because there are reasons for pushback.

Mountain Home, far from other communities in a large flat high Idaho desert, is a good spot for running military aircraft, one reason the base has survived since World War II. And there have been periodic complaints in Boise about military aircraft there, which are based on the south fringes of town near the municipal airport, and the noise they produce. A merging of aircraft training and other operations in one large site might have some efficiencies and lead to technical advances.

A lot of jobs – maybe 1,000 – could be involved in the transfer. But the Mountain Home AFB is only about 45 minutes in a straight shot on Interstate 84 from Boise, so commuting certainly is possible. (Many Mountain Home residents commute now.). And while the Boise economy might feel a ding, which in broad terms could amount to $100 million, Mountain Home’s might be greatly advantaged. Continue Reading »

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Mar 23 2014

The outsider run

Published by under Idaho,Idaho column

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
Idaho

Last week a veteran of Idaho Republican politics pitched to me a simple case for a big reason the outsider candidates – insurgent or Tea Party-aligned by other verbiage – are unlikely to do well in the May primary elections.

The idea is that many pro-Republican voters do not self-identify as Republicans.

They may consider themselves “conservative” (a slippery term these days, but employed in self-definition) and may vote for Republicans, but they don’t really consider themselves part of the party. These people are individualists and by inclination not joiners. Many of them may decline to sign a paper identifying themselves as Republicans.

And that could impair the base of support for the insurgency campaigns, such as for Russ Fulcher for governor and Bryan Smith for Congress. The self-identified Republicans may be more establishment in temperament, may be more willing to sign the paper (as may some Democrats who become “primary Republicans”) which may help people like current Governor C.L .”Butch” Otter and Representative Mike Simpson toward re-election.

There’s certainly good reason for taking this line of argument, which seems to be accepted wisdom among many Idaho Republican leaders, quite seriously, as at least some people associated with the insurgency campaigns certainly do.

One reason is that in 2012, when the Republican primary was closed to declared party members only, insurgent candidates (mainly for the legislature) did poorly at the polls.

Another, more subjective reason but evidently quite real, is the description of the insurgent base by other Republicans as “a herd of cats” – the standard description, and often spoken in frustration. It makes sense. These are, after all, people who don’t like to organize, aren’t big on strong commitments to groups (their most in-common complaint, after all, is against government and regulation generally) and aren’t notably trusting of political types. Continue Reading »

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