Archive for the 'Idaho column' Category

Aug 30 2014

Lessons from the SRBA

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Why did it work in Idaho?

It’s really improbable, the idea that this massive governmental-legal project called the Snake River Basin Adjudication would be an Idaho effort demonstrably more successful than any others of its kind anywhere in the country.

On Monday, when panels discussed and the final decree was signed, there was that cause for wonderment, of how it happened. In the new oral history book of the SRBA “Through the Waters” (disclosure: I published and helped edit it) this was a recurring theme. In their interviews, judges, attorneys, administrators and water users took a stab at how Idaho succeeded in this thing when other states have done less well or failed outright.

The answer boils down to trust, cooperation, and luck.

The trust and cooperation go together, of course. One recurring point (in interviews, federal attorneys especially told me this repeatedly) has been Idaho’s collection of adjudication parties and attorneys who were willing to cooperate and trust each other enough not to challenge the process in fundamental ways that might have ground it to a halt or shut it down. Just that sort of thing has happened in other states. In Idaho, the need to accomplish the adjudication was taken as a given. The cooperation extended to the legislature, which kept the adjudication funded well enough to keep it rolling without interruption.

The principle applied in legal ways too. When the adjudication launched, the state Department of Water Resources was a party to the case just like each of the water users, which meant it was adversary to the people for whom it was filing records and conducting field investigations. It also was limited in how it could communicate with the court. In the mid-90s the department was removed (by the legislature) as a party, which meant it could work with the court in exchanging critical information, and work with the water claimants on a friendly basis. Most people in the middle of the SRBA today say that change was a turning point.

Luck was a piece of this too. Continue Reading »

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Aug 23 2014

An adjudicated peace

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Thirty years ago Idaho was locked in a political civil war. The stakes could not have been higher: Water, and who got to control Idaho’s.

I remember the politics of that season, when what mattered was less budget and taxes, or even whether you were a Republican or Democrat. The big deal was about whether you were for or against subordination.

This now obscure debate, which had to do with the water rights held by Idaho Power Company, is still pertinent. It is so much so that it can be said to be drawing to a conclusion, for the time being at least, only this month, with the August 25 celebration of the conclusion of the Snake River Basin Adjudication. The SRBA is the massive yet surgically precise instrument by which that battle over a few specific water rights got hammered into shape, through the settling of everybody’s.

For many decades, the water flowing down the Snake River has been heavily used. Much of it has been used by irrigators, and Idaho Power Company long has had hydropower rights which entail not diversion of water from the river but rather an assurance that a certain amount will flow down the river past its various dams, especially the oldest, Swan Falls, south of Boise. This could conflict with the water used by irrigators and others, but most people in Idaho thought that Idaho Power had long ago given up its first-in-time priority so that irrigators had first call on it. A 1982 Idaho Supreme Court decision on the rights at Swan Falls said that in fact Idaho Power had the senior rights. Soon after, Idaho Power sued about 7,500 farm water users, demanding they quit using water Idaho Power claimed to power its dams. The war was on.

As everyone quickly realized, there was no sensible winner-take-all answer to this. If Idaho Power prevailed absolutely (as it mostly did in the short run), massive reaches of Idaho agriculture, and large chunks of Idaho’s economy, could be ruined. But Idaho Power couldn’t simply give in, either; it had responsibilities to stockholders, and a need to supply the state with cheap power. A wrecked Idaho Power was not in the state’s interest either.

Still, Idahoans swiftly picked sides. A majority seemed to favor “subordination” – that is, a legal determination that Idaho Power’s rights would be secondary to those of many of the irrigators.
But Idaho Power had its defenders, too, and long-standing deep political clout in the state. The state’s politicians in both parties were deeply split. Attorney General Jim Jones, one of the leading subordinationists, recruited Republican primary election challengers to several of the key pro-Idaho Power legislators, and knocked out a couple of them. Continue Reading »

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Aug 16 2014

George Hansen

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Idaho has seen no retail political campaigners better than George Hansen, the former member of Congress who died last week. A few may have been as capable, but none better.

In campaigning mode, he was tireless and fearless of going anywhere and talking to anyone. At the handshake he was charming and just a bit self-effacing; that touch of humility was the key added ingredient. I remember following him one day in one of his campaigns for the U.S. House – it may have been 1978 – culminating for me as he relentlessly worked the late afternoon shift change at the Pocatello Simplot and FMC plants. The plants were having a bad air day and the air was full of gunk which rained down on us. Hansen was oblivious to it. A lot of those workers were old-line Democrats, but Hansen’s manner was impossible to dislike.

Afterward, I went home and showered. And rested. Hansen, if memory serves, was just getting started. Late at night, he’d work the bowling alleys and anything else still open through midnight hours. And his campaigns worked. He won seven races for the U.S. House. He also won the job of mayor of Alameda, a city which merged with Pocatello – with Hansen’s support, though it eliminated his mayoralty.

Hansen started his adult life as a salesman (of insurance), and built on those skills. His problem may have been that he internalized his political pitch too much; while his manner one on one could be humble, he tried to build around him a kind of sense of historic destiny. His 1984 campaign (his last) featured a comic book called “George the dragon slayer!” in which Hansen was depicted as the courageous knight doing battle with the IRS and OSHA.

He was the personification of the growing anti-government attitude in Idaho, the crusader against big and evil government. His campaigns mark the point where demonization of government began to take hold in the state. (His contemporary, Steve Symms, made the case in a lighter, breezier way.)
A certain amount of self-confidence is needed for running for higher office. Hansen went from the Pocatello City Council to the U.S. House in 1964. Four years later he ran for the Senate, against the advice of many. But it eluded him that year and again in 1972, when he lost the Republican nomination to James McClure. Hansen went public with accusations that a Boise big business cabal had lined up against him. Whatever the truth of that, the Senate runs left him financially strapped, and financial problems would dog him for years. Continue Reading »

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Aug 09 2014

A recess itinerary

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Here’s where members of Congress tend to get a bad rap: When congressional recesses are described as vacations, weeks when the officials can head off to the Caribbean and laze around. At times like the current congressional recess, which this year like most includes the month of August.

A few of them do treat it as time off, but most – while maybe taking a break here or there – use much of the time to do work, sometimes in Washington but often spending time back in the home state or district.

What exactly they do varies according to the person, and their priorities.

Last week Senator Mike Crapo released his recess schedule, and it shows that from August 11 to 28, which takes in most of the recess period, he will be visiting places and groups all over Idaho. On August 11 he will appear at two awards ceremonies and speak at the Financial Industry Authority Investor Forum. At McCall two days later he “discusses issues with Valley County Commissioners, Payette National Forest Supervisor’s Office” and in the afternoon “Tours Schweitzer Engineering Laboratory’s recent facility expansion” at Lewiston. The next day he goes to Orofino to speak with the county commissioners and the chamber of commerce; the day after, he’s back in Lewiston for a groundbreaking on a water project.

And so on. On the 27th he has two events in Twin Falls, both meeting with veterans groups, and on the 28th two in Pocatello, presenting an award to a veteran and addressing an economic symposium.

That’s a lot better than just vacationing during a recess, certainly, and not too different from what Idaho’s congressional delegation often does. But it is a little limiting. If you’re a economic developer or an executive of a prosperous business, or a veteran, or a local government official, your chances of getting face time with the senator aren’t bad. It’s not a bad thing that they get the opportunity. The point is, not many other Idahoans do.

Let me digress, for a moment, over to Oregon’s 4th congressional district (the southwest part of the state), where veteran Representative Peter DeFazio is preparing for his recess. And he really needs some preparation.

Like other members of Congress, he’ll be meeting with bunches of people and groups back home during the recess. But the core of his time will be spent at town halls, open meetings where people in the community are invited to ask questions of the representative, or give him a piece of their mind. (As they sometimes do; political opponents periodically show up and get involved.) Usually these run around an hour and a half each.

He will hold town hall meetings in Reedsport, Bandon, Gold Beach, Brookings, and Port Orford.

And then in Coos Bay, North Bend (this one mainly on veterans), Springfield, Cottage Grove, and Grants Pass.

And after that in Myrtle Creek, Roseburg, Lebanon, and Albany (the latter mainly on veterans).

And, in his last few days before the recess ends, in Corvallis, Florence, Veneta and two in Eugene.

DeFazio isn’t the only member of Congress to run this kind of regime on their time away from D.C. But he certainly does get exposure to a wide range of his constituents.

The practice could use some expansion in places such as Idaho.

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Aug 02 2014

Three statewides

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Draw no wild predictions of massive upsets into this, but three statewide offices below the top level – which would mean governor and Congress – have developed some new dynamics this year. They’re different enough that, three months out from the general election, there’s at least some sense of unpredictability about them.

The default prediction in Idaho when an office has a partisan label (as federal, state and county offices mostly do) is, simply, the Republican wins. It’s a reasonable standard-issue answer in not all but most cases.

Noted here, three that don’t necessarily reverse that, but ought to give prognosticators pause.

One, the most easily explained, is superintendent of public instruction, held for the last two terms by Republican Tom Luna. The two terms before that, however, it was held by Democrat Marilyn Howard, the Democrat most recently (12 years ago) elected statewide. When she retired in 2006, after having beaten Luna four years earlier, the Democratic nominee was Jana Jones, who was Howard’s chief deputy. Jones nearly beat Luna, in one of the closer elections in Idaho that year. This year, she is running again, and is well-funded and highly active.

Her Republican opponent, Sherri Ybarra, has appeal and good classroom cred, but she was a surprise winner in a deeply split primary, and to date still hasn’t been very visible or (visibly) organized. She contrasts with the highly-organized and campaign-honed Luna of 2006. This may change, and if as is possible she runs a solid campaign, the Republican label could carry her through. Right now, it’s hard to know, and Jones is not badly positioned.

State Treasurer Ron Crane has had a series of bad headlines this season about his management of the office (and the finances it generates), the sort of thing elected officials usually find . . . unhelpful. He has a strongly aggressive Democratic opponent in Deborah Silver, a Twin Falls CPA who has been working hard and doing just about everything she can to keep those headlines in view and discuss them in detail. Continue Reading »

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Jul 25 2014

Big news

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Annually, newspapers around the country list the top local and regional news stories of the year, lists often begging the difference between “big news” and “actually important.” Sometimes the two overlap; often, they don’t.

The Idaho Statesman at Boise, on occasion of its 150th anniversary since its first edition, has this year run a series of articles about the top stories in its pages during that century and a half. They’ve been good reading, useful for anyone who wants to understand a little more about the sweep of Idaho history. They only occasionally reflect what was perceived as big news at the time.

Mostly, you can’t blame the paper for that. One article for example was about the opening of the first store Joe Albertson launched, at Boise, in 1939. Back in the day it made the paper in a brief notice on page 21 (about what the opening of a new grocery store might, were it lucky, get today). Who could have known what would blossom, decades later, from that one little store?

It’s an example of why newspapers offer just a first draft of history; time makes many events look different in hindsight.

Or sometimes not, at least to many people. Last week the Statesman was promoting selections, made by its readers (not the editors), of choices for the biggest story in Idaho’s (or, the Statesman’s) history, and released the identity of the final four.

One, dating to 1890, is understandable both as an event and as a matter of significance: The achievement of statehood. Not a terrible choice; if you bundle that in with adoption of the state constitution (though I wouldn’t), it was both a big deal at the time, much debated and much written about, and still significant with the passage of time.

Here are the other three:

The Teton Dam collapse in 1976.

The opening of the Boise Latter Day Saints temple in 1984.

Boise State University’s win in the 2007 Fiesta bowl.

Really? True, they all generated big Statesman headlines at the time. But did any of them fundamentally change Idaho? The Teton Dam did great local damage, but repairs happened quickly, and the reverberations have been subtle. The opening of the Boise LDS temple was personally significant to the local church faithful, but it had little effect on others. And a Boise State football victory? Really? Continue Reading »

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Jul 20 2014

An irreducible minimum

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No community in Idaho would relish the loss of 21 jobs. Boise would not; Nampa would not. The east side of Seattle just lost more than 1,300 jobs at Microsoft, and certainly didn’t welcome that.

But Boise, Nampa and Seattle weather these losses, however unpleasant. The loss of just 21 jobs is more critical in some places than in others, as the people of Dubois could say emphatically.

Dubois is like one of those places the writer Dayton Duncan wrote of in his book Miles from Nowhere (1993), which was about the remote and small-population places of western America. Among Idaho communities, he happened to focus on Stanley and Yellow Pine.

His most striking instance, in a chapter called “Below the Irreducible Minimum,” was Loving County, Texas, population 107, and its one community, the seat of Mentone. It raises a question: When does a community become too small to remain a functioning community?

Clark, with a reported 867 residents (down from 1,022 in 2000), is Idaho’s least-populated county, and the 30th least-populated county in the United States. It’s a rugged place; many residents here head south in the winter. Among the country’s lowest-populated counties, it has the highest percentage of residents born in a foreign country – presumably, many reliant on agricultural work. The Census reports that Clark has 18 non-farm businesses employing 83 people.

Aside from farm employment ad local government, the largest employer in the county may be the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station, located a few miles north of Dubois but managing operations scattered around the Clark County area. Its job, simply, is to research sheep: Its website lists one goal as “an understanding of the interactions between sheep and the environments in which they are produced that can be used to improve sheep production systems and ensure the sustainability of grazing land ecosystems.” Continue Reading »

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Jul 09 2014

John Evans

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For a while after he became governor in 1977, John V. Evans became known among some Idaho political writers as the Rodney Dangerfield of governors: He couldn’t get no respect – and that was the headline of a column at the time.

Anecdotes flew around. He was the lieutenant governor who put gas in his car tank, forgot his wallet at home, and promised the attendant he would run right back and get it and pay. Not good enough: The lieutenant governor had to leave his watch as collateral. (Evans had a good enough sense of humor that none of this seemed to bother him.)

As governor, there was an optics issue too. He took the office not by election but by elevation, after the charismatic Cecil Andrus had been named interior secretary. Evans had a lot to live up to, and he lacked Andrus’ magnetism.

But by the time of Evans’ passing this week, perspectives changed – a lot. He gets a good deal of respect now and for good reason.

John Evans held office during one of Idaho’s tougher economic periods, and when much of the bigger picture of Idaho politics, on partisan, social and philosophical levels, was turning against him. He still won election to the job twice, the second time over a man (Phil Batt) who more than a decade later did become governor; he came very close to winning a race for the U.S. Senate. (All that followed a closely contested run for lieutenant governor in 1974.)

Evans could fairly be considered one of Idaho’s strongest governors. He was a highly skilled politician (first elected to the state Senate in the Republican year of 1952 from Republican Oneida County), a far better campaigner than many people credited him for, and he could be a partisan leader when occasion arose. Republicans long remembered how many previous governors would simply sign a veto of legislation, but Evans brought out a big red veto stamp to make his point.

My memories of his time in office come from another angle: Alongside the self-confidence (which any successful politician must have) was an evidently genuine humility and kindness. Few major public offices I have ever seen were as open as his; the door of his office was nearly always open, allowing for inquiring reporters or anyone else to see exactly what the governor was up to at any given moment.

One day I asked to spend a day with the governor, from breakfast until he got home from work. That sort of story isn’t totally unique, but what was unusual was this: I wasn’t kicked out of anything, any meetings or deliberations at all, all day. That was not the kind of openness you saw in just about anyone else’s administration. Continue Reading »

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Jul 06 2014

An unlikely state

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This deep red state would not exist but for a Democratic president and a Democratic Idaho governor.
It might have been shaped like a square or a rectangle, the way most other western states are, or nearly are; in fact when Idaho Territory was first created in 1863, it was: It then included what is now Montana and most of Wyoming, which sounds ridiculously large but still is only a little larger than Texas. Montana and Wyoming were sloughed off after about a year.

What was left of Idaho did not look like promising state material. In some ways, the Nevada experience soured many people on remote, oddly-shaped and lightly populated states. Nevada had been admitted in a rush during the Civil War, after which its mining industry went crash and the state largely depopulated; it was so poorly run as to be called a “rotten borough.” Idaho as a territory was a little better than that after its first decade or so, but still more a collection of pieces than a logically coherent entity. The mountains in the center seemed to bar direct transportation and communication across its farther reaches, and even the relatively flat desert in the south was forbidding for travelers between its growing eastern and western reaches, where farming was taking hold. (The hospitable Magic Valley was still in the future.)
And the northern part of the state, which never got over losing the territorial capital, felt little connection to the south. Economically, socially, politically, the pieces were distinct.

So plans for splitting Idaho into pieces started early, and continued up to the advent of statehood.

It almost happened. The closest call came in the 1880s.

Nevada was still struggling, and among the ideas circulating there was a territorial expansion. It had few options. California and Oregon already were states, and unlikely to give up territory. Utah to the east was nearing statehood itself, but the Mormon identity of the area was holding it back in Congress; Nevada would never get approval for that annexation. But southwest Idaho was gaining in population and developing a stable economy. From Nevada’s point of view, it looked scrumptious.
Washington territory was nearing statehood as well, and like other territories found that larger population bases always helped the case in Congress. Northern Idaho once had been part of Washington Territory, and even then Spokane was something a regional economic base. Why not a reunion?
And if those pieces were gone, the chances for Utah statehood would be improved if it gobbled eastern Idaho. Continue Reading »

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Jun 29 2014

When Republicans collapse

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Several weeks ago Marc Johnson, who has been a Boise consultant, press secretary and journalist, wrote a piece of a blog post that has been sticking in my mind these last couple of weeks. It may stick in yours.

The key sentence in it says this: “The near total history of Democratic success in Idaho, dating back to at least Frank Church’s first election in 1956, has its foundation in Republican mistakes.”

He went on to cite a few examples, but many more are available. Let’s recap, starting with Church, the highly capable campaigner who likely would not have won his first Senate race in 1956 but for the weaknesses of incumbent Republican Herman Welker. Welker had been Senator Joe McCarthy’s closest Senate ally, and McCarthy was by 1956 in national disgrace. Coupled with that, Idahoans were seeing Welker had some kind of serious but unacknowledged physical problem that was causing him to behave erratically; it was widely assumed to be alcoholism but was in fact a brain tumor, which killed him not long after the election.

In 1960, Democrat Ralph Harding was able to beat Republican Representative Hamer Budge after Budge had become too enamored of his committee assignments and lost track of his district.

A decade later, Democrat Cecil Andrus thinly beat incumbent Republican Governor Don Samuelson after a long series of small but embarrassing glitches and an overall weak governorship.

In 1984, it took a string of felony convictions to narrowly remove Republican Representative George Hansen in favor of Democrat Richard Stallings.

In 1990, Republican legislators pushed too far for the state’s preference (at the time at least) on abortion legislation, and Democrats did uncommonly well that year, the last time to date that’s been true. That also happened to be the last time Republicans were as internally divided as they are now, though the emotions didn’t run nearly so hot then. Continue Reading »

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Jun 21 2014

Putting the convention in its place

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The Idaho Republican convention’s closing hours in Moscow last weekend were so unusual and so conflicted that they’ve taken on a character of their own – a poison pill of sorts for Idaho’s dominant political party, an event so embarrassing that, in some views, it might cost the party control of state offices.

Let’s step back just a bit.

Will the chaos convention in and of itself change much in Idaho politics? Probably not. Even amid all the headlines, most Idaho voters likely are only vaguely aware that a convention was held, and far fewer could explain to you just what happened there. So what if they failed to elect (in the normal way at least) a chair or adopt a platform? Outside of people really active in Idaho politics, who would notice? When’s the last time either of those things elicited a lot of discussion two weeks after the event?

Short term, the party has a mess in front of it – disagreement even about whether it has a chair and officers in place. Meetings last week didn’t seem to go much better than the convention did. Some of that may be resolved in the next few weeks in meetings various party people are trying to set up; or those efforts could collapse as well.

Still, as a one-shot event, this and the botched convention was not a big deal in the broad reach of Idaho politics. It will pass.

That doesn’t mean it’s insignificant.

It (and the ongoing conflict) could turn off some party workers and volunteers who, out of anger or disgust, won’t be going out there and working the way they usually do. That could hurt the party in the case of races which are otherwise close.

But there’s also something bigger. Continue Reading »

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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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Many critics said it could not be done - and it often almost came undone. Now the Snake River Basin Adjudication is done, and that improbable story is told here by three dozen of the people most centrally involved with it - judges, attorneys, legislators, engineers, water managers, water users and others in the room when the decisions were made.
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One Flaming Hour: A memoir of Jerry Blackbird. by Mike Blackbird; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 220 pages. Softcover. $15.95.
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Back in Print! Frank Church was one of the leading figures in Idaho history, and one of the most important U.S. senators of the last century. From wilderness to Vietnam to investigating the CIA, Church led on a host of difficult issues. This, the one serious biography of Church originally published in 1994, is back in print by Ridenbaugh Press.
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The personal story of the well-known editor, publisher and state legislator's travel west from Maine to Idaho. A well-written account for anyone interested in Idaho, journalism or politics.
JOURNEY WEST: A memoir of journalism and politics, by Stephen Hartgen; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. $15.95, here or at Amazon.com (softcover)

 

 

NEW EDITIONS is the story of the Northwest's 226 general-circulation newspapers and where your newspaper is headed.
New Editions: The Northwest's Newspapers as They Were, Are and Will Be. Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus; Ridenbaugh Press, Carlton, Oregon. 324 pages. Softcover. (e-book ahead). $16.95.
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THE OREGON POLITICAL
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The Field Guide is the reference for the year on Oregon politics - the people, the districts, the votes, the issues. Compiled by a long-time Northwest political writer and a Salem Statesman-Journal political reporter.
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The Old West saw few murder trials more spectacular or misunderstood than of "Diamondfield" Jack Davis. After years of brushes with the noose, Davis was pardoned - though many continued to believe him guilty. Max Black has spent years researching the Diamondfield saga and found startling new evidence never before uncovered - including the weapon and one of the bullets involved in the crime, and important documents - and now sets out the definitive story. Here too is Black's story - how he found key elements, presumed lost forever, of a fabulous Old West story.
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Medimont Reflections Chris Carlson's Medimont Reflections is a followup on his biography of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus. This one expands the view, bringing in Carlson's take on Idaho politics, the Northwest energy planning council, environmental issues and much more. The Idaho Statesman: "a pull-back-the-curtain account of his 40 years as a player in public life in Idaho." Available here: $15.95 plus shipping.
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