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The end of the Bovill Run

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Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Idaho kind of selection?

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Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can watch it on the Idaho Public Television web site. Go ahead. You won't be bored. (more…)

A slate phenomenon

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Idaho

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a number of subtleties and implications to this.

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

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

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

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

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.” (more…)

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.

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). (more…)

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.

Pick a theory

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Idaho

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.

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. (more…)