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Posts published in “Idaho column”

An actual proposition fight

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From since a couple of months past the time the three school propositions – 1, 2 and 3 – aimed at overturning what have been called the “Luna laws” were developed and circulated, they looked like losers. I've written and said as much.

Today, not so much. In Idaho's political climate, you couldn't possibly call them a slam dunk for passage, but the route to repeal does look more realistic than even, say, a month ago.

The laws were passed, at the request of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, in the 2011 legislative session. They were sprung as a massive surprise, unmentioned in the preceding election campaign (Luna had never hinted what was ahead), for legislators as well as people in the state generally. They've become known for greatly reducing teacher collective bargaining ability, merit pay which could link to teaching to tests, and large-scale provision of laptop computers to students.

Jerry Evans, the four-term Republican SPI which retired in 1995 and one of the most knowledgeable Idahoans ever on the mechanics of the state's education system, cited the impacts in a recent column opposing the laws as aimed at reducing the influence of the Idaho Education Association, “in effect trading teachers for computers” and prospectively “the base salary for all teachers may be further reduced.” (Don't try arguing school budgeting with Evans; he knows more about that than you do.)

Still, in Idaho's political climate, there's a “so what's your point?” element to the debate. The passion against the laws seemed to trend downward from the spring of 2011 through this summer, and that kind of passion can be hard to rebuild. The November election looks likely to draw out a lot of Republicans to vote in Idaho, and while not all Republicans supported the laws, most of Idaho's Republican leadership did and does.

But something is afoot. Numbers from by the Associated Press (sourced from the Department of Education, which Luna runs) show that the number of Idaho teachers departing of their own volition, as opposed to layoffs or firings, increased in 2011 by more than 500 compared to the year before, and more than 1,000 more than the year before that – this in a bum economy that logically would have kept teachers hanging on to their jobs. Word of such a large trend may well have circulated around the state.

Have there been other changes on the ground? Based on the purely political evidence, you tend to think so. News stories about the slowness of laptop deliveries may have sunk in. There's been an energetic campaign pushing the referenda which seems to have cohered only since mid-year, but maybe that has something to do with it too.

Debates over the issue, such as one a few weeks back featuring Luna and (in the opposition) state Representative Brian Cronin, have turned unexpectedly testy – an indicator that this isn't a runaway issue. And then there's the recent polling, some by the anti-law group but also from news media, which seems to show the laws failing.

Whether they will is still unclear. A lot depends, as ever, on who turns out to vote, and Idaho's very conservative voters are likely to be there in full force. But in a way that didn't look likely even a couple of months back, this seems to be developing into a real, live, serious battle.

An Idaho gender history

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The most frequent specific reaction to the book Martin Peterson and I just released, Idaho 100: The people who most influenced the Gem State, is this: Only five women out of 100 people? Really?

The same thought occurred to us as we populated the list. Were we, for some reason, just missing a lot of women who really ought to be on the list? We concluded we weren’t, at least not by the criteria we had set for the book. The reasons say something about the actual past and actual present of Idaho.

We weren’t saying women collectively didn’t influence the course of Idaho. Idaho became civilized as the female population increased; in politics, women were the main backers of prohibition, education and temperance, among other things. Many of the men on our list were strongly influenced by women, one way or another, and many women had a lot of specific, individual effect.

But individual leaders among women, especially early in Idaho’s history, are harder to find.

This is the history. Men led the original expeditions into what’s now Idaho. They scouted the trails, started the trading camps, found the precious metals, built the mining camps and boom towns and mapped their locations. In the early agricultural developments, women were more likely to be present, but men (like Charles Rich, Thomas Ricks, William Budge and William McConnell) were the leaders and founders of the early farm communities. Men designated the early roadways, specified boundaries on maps, designed and built the early water and transport systems on which the core of Idaho’s settled civilization was built. Men founded the major businesses – mining, timber, agricultural, communications and transportation – that formed the economic basis of Idaho in its early decades and beyond. The people who did these things account for many of the spots on the 100.

Idaho today has many prominent women in its business community, but that was not always the case, and in the context of two centuries of history, it’s a recent development. You’ll search in vain for the women who founded or controlled major Idaho businesses in the 19th century, or even the early 20th. (This isn’t necessarily true elsewhere, but it was in Idaho.) The first major female entrepreneur in Idaho with major reach and influence was Georgia Davidson, the key founder of Idaho’s television (and to a degree radio) industry, and she is on our list, but her greatest influence didn’t begin until 1940s and 50s.

It’s more stark on the government side. Idaho never has had a female governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general or U.S, senator, and just two representatives in all these years to the U.S. House. Idaho territory elected no women at all (so far as I can tell) to any territory-wide or legislative office. The Idaho state legislature was all-male well into the 20th century; the first female Idaho state senator took office in 1937, and the numbers did not rise substantially for more decades. Idaho did start electing women as superintendent of public instruction in 1898 (with Permeal French, listed in the 100), but decades passed before they reached any other statewide office.

When more recently women have argued that they long have been underrepresented in the state’s support political, economic and social ranks, they have been right – and that has changed, to some degree at least, in recent decades. But what has preceded this last generation or two is much of Idaho’s formative history. We didn’t argue that’s the way it should have been, or should be in the future. But we’d be dishonest to argue it’s not the way it actually was.

The hot chatter over bull—-

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The hot chatter among political people in Boise last week was about bulls---.

It was the underlying and overt topic at a panel discussion before a statewide group of high school teachers, and it was a subject of high interest. And although the incident was minor, there's an aspect to it that may keep it alive for some time to come.

Here's the background. Earlier in the week, a Boise club held a debate forum on the three school-related referenda on the ballot in the general election, to decide if the 2011 school overhaul laws championed by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna should stand or be thrown out. Luna was there arguing for the laws, and Democratic state Representative Brian Cronin, who is also working for an anti-laws group, were debating the subject.

The crowd was apparently civil and well-behaved, generally at least, but things got little intense between Luna and Cronin. After Cronin delivered his opening statement, Luna leaned over and whispered something to him. What it was is in dispute. Luna says he said something critical about Cronin's talking points, but that it was G-rated. Cronin said the language was more, well, intense.

It might have ended there except that the moment was caught on audio, and even has been broadcast. The audio isn't definitive. Reporter Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review wrote that it "is very difficult to make out, because Luna is practically whispering in Cronin's ear while the audience is applauding loudly." There have been attempts at noise reduction, and word circulated that another recorder also caught the exchange, but these aren't definitive either.

None of this is very important as to the merits of the referenda. But there is some significance, because both Luna and Cronin are being mentioned as possible candidates for governor in 2014. Cronin is best known around the state as a critic of the "Luna laws," and Luna himself is much more identified with the legislation than with most anything else. One meaning of this is that political futures could be affected by whether the laws survive the election or not, and another is that Luna's and Cronin's performance in this ballot issue battle cold set a stage for the future campaign.

That's mattering a little more as time goes on, because the dispute is unresolved. If, say, Luna had acknowledged the remark Cronin alleges – whether it was real or not, or maybe some kind of half-mea culpa (“I may have been a little heated there,” or something similar) might have sufficed - he would have had the whole matter behind him; the subject is asked and answered. Representative Raul Labrador did that when his opponent criticized him for missing too many votes in Congress. He offered a partial explanation, but then said that, yes, he had missed more votes than he should have, and he would try to do better in future. That closed the subject (for now anyway).

It's the nagging loose ends that give the story some legs. The comment Luna was said to have delivered wasn't, after all, so terribly extreme even if true. But the did-he or didn't-he aspect may not specifically go away, and it may feed into other narratives down the road.

Battles in the cities

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One of the closest measures, coast to coast, of whether a place is likely to lean Republican or Democratic – now and in recent years – is whether it’s urban or rural. Urban generally goes Democratic, rural Republican.

That’s part of the reason suburban areas, which are a bit in between, have been political battlegrounds, in Idaho and elsewhere. But apart from suburbs, there’s another variation on the theme: Small to mid-sized cities, of which Idaho has a bunch, and which are also sort of in-betweeners.

The largest Idaho city and one true metro center, Boise, has been trending Democratic, running deep blue in its downtown and north area and getting more purple as you move further away, transitioning into bright red in the suburban areas, which have not (yet, or maybe ever) turned into battlegrounds. But what about Idaho’s other cities?

Several of them fit the thesis: Many of the central city areas around Idaho are true battlegrounds or even tint a little blue, especially for legislative seats and sometimes statewide and county offices. Other cities, not so much.

The most Democratic semi-urban area, the Ketchum-Hailey area in the Wood River Valley, of course isn’t a large city but the central areas have a real urban feel, and the same atmosphere of a variety of people, lots of traffic, cultural links to urban areas, and people coming and going. In many ways they fit the pattern and character, as do the small cities of Driggs and Victor in resort-oriented Teton County.

Lewiston and Pocatello are cities with long Democratic histories but which are much more competitive now. The central Lewiston legislative district, or as close to it as exists (it also includes the rest of Nez Perce and Lewis counties), is home to some strongly competitive races this year. The most interesting may be the Senate contest between Republican Dan Johnson and Democrat John Bradbury, a former district judge.

Most of Kootenai County is solidly Republican, but one of the hottest legislative races in Idaho this fall is taking place in the central Coeur d’Alene district. The district 4 House B contest, between Republican Kathy Sims (who has been a legislator) and Democrat Anne Nesse, is reputed to be close, and this is based on more than speculation. In the last decade in a similar predecessor district, Democrats held the two House seats here exactly half the time. This seat is on the short list of realistic Democratic legislative pickup opportunities.

Central Idaho Falls is much less Republican, or more Democratic, than anything around it, but a few terns back it actually elected a Democrat to the House, and that area has seen other close legislative races. It may again, though this year it remains a tough catch for Democrats.

Then there’s Nampa, Caldwell and Twin Falls, which would make a useful political science study. In theory, all three have the components that other, more Democratic or at least more competitive, mid-sized cities have. Democrats have talked in recent years about making inroads into each of them, and there are demographic reasons to think they might shift a bit toward purple. There’s been no significant evidence so far at least that any of them are shifting. Down the road, the possibility remains.

Most of the rest of Idaho? Think of them as non-battleground states in a presidential year.

An Idaho battleground: The suburbs

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Most of Idaho stable politically: For a couple of decades now its Republican/Democratic votes have varied hardly at all. Idaho generally isn’t a likely candidate for very much change in this year’s elections and the next few beyond.

But there are a couple types of areas that bear some watching. The area of Idaho that is, or ought to be, the most interesting politically is – the suburbs.

Washington or Oregon illustrate what I’m talking about. Oregon was mostly Democratic in much of the 80s; in the mid-90s Republicans staged a comeback, which ebbed into Democratic majorities in recent years though as elsewhere they made some pushback in 2010 (and its state House now is tied between the parties). Washington’s story is similar.

Most of those states changed little in these ebbs and flows. Rural areas were Republican and stayed so. The most urban – close in to Seattle and Portland – were Democratic and if anything became more so. What shifted was the suburbs. In Oregon, the long-Republican second-largest county in the state (Washington) changed sides about a decade ago and has since been reliably Democratic. Most of the people there live in Portland suburbs and smaller urban centers in its orbit – not so different from Meridian and Nampa in Idaho. When Republicans gained in 2010, that happened almost exclusively in Washington County and other suburbs around Portland; the central urban and the rural parts of Oregon barely moved. Again, the same dynamic has happened in Washington state.

Could it happen in Idaho? Point one is that there’s no significant evidence that it has – yet at least.

The real suburban areas in Idaho are two: west and north of Boise and north and west of Coeur d’Alene. Depending on how you count, these suburban areas account for six or seven legislative districts out of 35. The Boise suburbs, including places like Meridian, Eagle, Kuna, Middleton and to some extent he city of Nampa as well, have been solidly Republican … always. Since the New Deal era western Ada has elected hardly any Democrats, just two in 1990 to the Senate, lasting one term each. Few general elections in the area since 1990 have even been competitive, even when the Democrat is running a strong campaign. The same has become true in Kootenai County; more than two decades back, areas like Port Falls were politically competitive, but not now.

There are a few tests of these propositions coming up in this year’s election. The biggest are two legislative races in District 15, which includes part of Boise city (on the west side) but long has had a suburban feel. District 15 has been solidly Republican for decades, the last exception being one Senate term held by a Democrat after the 1990 election. This year, Democrats have a pair of strong candidates running strong campaigns, Betty Richardson, the former U.S. Attorney and congressional candidate, for the Senate, and Steve Berch, who ran a strong campaign (which nonetheless was swamped) in the old District 14, for one of the House seats. There are indications one or both might succeed – not a prediction here of who will win, but a suggestion that these may be really competitive races.

Indications, but not much more. They will be significant test cases. As districts closer in to Boise’s core shifted to competitive (16 and 18) or even Democratic (17) in the last decade, 15 shows some signs it may do that as well. If it does, other suburban districts later may as well. We may learn something interesting about Idaho’s suburbs when we see the results in November from those two races.

A down cycle

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This election year, hot nationally, is a down cycle for Idaho.

Politically, that is, in a way that has nothing to do with specific parties or candidates. This is a year when relatively little on the state level is on the ballot - no governor (or other statewides) or senator.

It happens once every 12 years, every third presidential election. The last low cycle was in 2000, before that 1988, before that 1976. Sort of a political Halley's comet effect.

That usually means a subtly lower level of energy, and lower level of attention from outside; national people, political, journalistic and money types, are interested in a state first if it's a presidential battleground (as Idaho clearly is not) and secondly if it has a strong Senate or gubernatorial race up. After that, attention usually shifts to other states. Oregon, which is in a near-down cycle this year (no governor or Senate, but a few statewides) is in a similar position. Washington, with a runaway Senate race but a very hot contest for governor, gets more national interest.

This can matter, because the outside influence has effects on races down below. Contact nationally is diminished a little. Campaigns are sometimes a little smaller and less noisy, budgets sometimes (not always) a little lower. In-state attention to the campaigns often seems to be down, just a little.

Does this translate to a partisan benefit for anyone? Generally, doesn't seem so, at least based on past cycles. And that has been more or less the case in the last few down cycles.

In 2000, Republican dominance established in most of the previous decade was quietly maintained. That year, Republicans gained three legislative seats, which was the average change over the course of the three previous cycles. The first district U.S. House race was interesting because then-Representative Helen Chenoweth-Hage was opting out, and Republicans had an energetic primary contest. But the November general election was an easy win for now-Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter.

In 1988, remembered now as a relatively good Democratic year in Idaho, the numbers actually show something of a holding pattern. There was no partisan legislative seat change at all, and very easy re-elects for both U.S. Representatives, Republican Larry Craig and Democrat Richard Stallings.

In 1976, there was a gain of five Republican legislative seats, which balanced an eight-seat gain by Democrats in 1974 with a 10-seat gain by Republicans in 1972. (Seats tended to shift around a little more in those days.)

This year, there's little expectation in Idaho that the November results will leave very great difference in the state's elective offices, either the U.S. House or legislature, more likely a continuation of existing trend lines.

Of course, the presidential election this year might give down-ballot Republicans some boost. That might be countered, in a few legislative races, by competitive races in districts where Democrats ran reasonably strong but lost in the Republican wave year of 2010.

But if this isn't one of those years when political attention flows Idaho's way, there's some reason for that.

Environmental extremism

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In Idaho politics, the word “environmentalist” is almost always preceded with the adjective “extreme” - in Gem State political verbiage, there seems to be no other kind.

But in the terms of that narrative, consider two of the most significant Idaho news stories from last week, both very much about environmental concerns.

One, a subject of hot Panhandle discussion for many years, is the Coeur d’Alene River Basin cleanup, a federal-based (Environmental Protection Agency) action ongoing since the 80’s. For all the dispute, there’s been little disagreement on the existence of the problem, contamination from decades of mining in the Silver Valley. The EPA describes its effort simply: “The cleanup is part of a continuing effort to reduce risks to people's health and the environment from heavy metals.”

The work has come in phases and parts, and it has been imperfect. For a large area around the Coeur d’Alene River’s south fork and the Bunker Hill mine area, a “record of decision” was released in 2002. There were complaints and comments, a lot of them, about 6,700. These have had effect: “In response to widespread public request, EPA has changed the scope of the RODA. The cleanup’s cost has been reduced by nearly half, to about $635 million. The cleanup’s projected time frame has been reduced to about 30 years. In response to public concern about the cost of the cleanup and technical challenges, EPA removed construction of a river liner from the cleanup plan. This reduced the cost of the plan by nearly $300 million. To address contamination seeping into the river in the Osburn and Kellogg areas, we will instead collect and treat groundwater from those areas. Many public comments asked EPA to reduce the number of mine and mill sites slated for cleanup. EPA agrees that it makes sense to focus on the highest priority sites with the greatest potential impact on water quality. EPA has reduced the number of sites to be cleaned up from 345 to 145.”

For all of the EPA’s local reputation as opaque, unreachable, un-knowable and bureaucratic, it appears to have been moved quite a bit.

The other Idaho environmental news last week concerned a mining operation proposed for the Boise Basin area near Idaho City, an area that has seen plenty of mining over the years.

Mosquito Gold, a mining firm from Canada, has proposed in the CuMo Exploration Project to mine for molybdenum in the area (political junkies may remember the fight over another proposed moly mine in central Idaho 40 years ago), building about 10 miles of roads and sinking hundreds of drill holes around the Boise River headwaters. That would be only the beginning of what might transform a large ad beautiful backwoods area. The Idaho Conservation League described it (in terms similar to those seen elsewhere): “This drilling project is the next step toward constructing what the company hopes will be one of the largest open pit molybdenum mines in the world.” The U.S. Forest Service gave its okay.
Is opposition to a massive open-pit mine necessarily extremist? At least under present terms, Federal District Judge Edward Lodge, no riotous liberal, appeared not to think so. In last week’s decision, he said that the Forest Service’s approval was arbitrary and capricious and that at the least, study and analysis of groundwater in the area is needed.

Maybe some review is needed to consider what’s extreme, and what isn’t.

ID presidential: Result clear, fluctuation not

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The electoral college has narrowed serious campaigning for president to so few states that analysts now talk of no more than a couple of dozen counties, in a third as many states, as being especially crucial. None of those counties, obviously, are in Idaho.

Like every state it borders (debatably excepting Nevada), Idaho’s electorate votes for president are already very nearly locked. The Gem State’s four almost (remember: the voter isn’t over till it’s counted) certainly will go to Republican Mitt Romney. No surprise there. That puts Idaho in line with Montana, Wyoming and Utah, and on the other side from Washington, Oregon and (probably) Nevada.

Presidential years usually are good years in Idaho for Republicans (the reverse applies in most blue states), but that can vary. An especially strong Republican vote for president can carry down the ballot, shifting otherwise races. The number of legislative seats Democrats win this fall, for example, may relate to just how large a majority Romney wins.

This fluctuates more than you might think.

Taking the very long range of history, the highest vote percentage (78.1%) Idaho has ever given to a presidential nominee – Ronald Reagan included – was to a Democrat, though for that you have to go back to 1896, when the nominee was William Jennings Bryan. The last Democrat to win Idaho was Lyndon Johnson in 1964, though he led by only about 5,000 votes over Barry Goldwater, who went down to major crashing defeat nationally.

Since 1968, Republicans have won every time with decisive margins, but less uniformly as you might think. Reagan peaked at a very strong 72.4% in 1984, but his successor George H.W. Bush took just 62.1% - quite a comedown. And in 1992, eight years after Reagan’s smashing win, when Ross Perot won a piece of the vote, Bush got only 42%. (Is that an indication that, under certain circumstances, a portion of those Republican votes can be peeled off?) Four years later Robert Dole again won an outright majority, but only barely, at 52.2%. And the 90’s was when the Idaho Democratic Party already was in collapse, when it was elected near-record low numbers of legislators and county officials.

George W. Bush did considerably better, getting about two-thirds of the Idaho vote in his two races. But in 2008, a year when Idaho Democrats did a little better locally than they often had in presidential years, John McCain was back down to 61.2%. The odds are Romney will do a bit better, but by how much we have yet to see. The Republican presidential norm seems to be in the low sixties.

One other note is about counties. Blaine County is the only Idaho county to have voted Democratic in each of the last five presidential contests, and it was the only one in Idaho to do so in 2000 and 2004. (Before 1992 it had not done so since 1964.) But in 2008 only two other counties, Latah and Teton, joined it, and in 1996 just four counties (Blaine, Latah, Nez Perce and Shoshone) went Democratic. The pattern has shown some shift away from the old Democratic resource counties like Shoshone and Nez Perce, and toward counties with other bases, like resort-oriented Blaine and Teton. What will the pattern show this time?

That may turn a great deal on just how close this presidential contests turns out to be.

Help with water

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Most of the United States – the lower 48 at least – is in drought, has been for many weeks, and various kinds of disaster loom in many places.

Idaho is luckier than most of the country. In this year of water trouble in many places, it has two advantages.

One is the part Idahoans have no control over. The Northwest generally got lucky this year, with decent winter snowpack and adequate spring rain, coupled with mostly (and relatively) moderately temperatures this summer. Most of the country wasn’t so fortunate.

The other part, which Idaho has been able to affect, is water management. And that may come into important play in the next few years if Idaho’s summers start to match more closely with the nation’s.

For all the rustic and rural feel of Idaho’s water system (it doesn’t seem especially high-tech), it is one of the most sophisticated water management systems in the country. It is thoroughly developed, both in close watch of the water supply and in overseeing how the water is used. Aquifers are not unusual underground water systems nationally, but Idaho’s seem to be better managed than most; aquifer recharge, to make up for normal drawdowns, is a significant part of water management in the Gem State. None of this is to suggest that Idaho’s system is perfect or that there aren’t any legitimate criticisms, but an Idahoan familiar with his state’s system would have some cause to look down on what many other states do.

The Snake River Basin Adjudication is a major part of that. The SRBA, now about 25 years old, may seem to many Idahoans an eternally running, neverending court case that achieves little. And they would be wrong. Most western states have adjudications. And generally, they have been running far longer than the SRBA and are nowhere near as close to completion, and that includes adjudications far smaller than the Snake River’s. (The SRBA is the largest water adjudication in the country.) Idaho probably stands as the nationwide leader in this area.

When the SRBA is done, water use for nearly all of Idaho will be codified, and people throughout the basin (which takes in 87 percent of the state) will know where they stand – how much water there is, and who gets to use how much and for what. That’s powerful knowledge.

Just how powerful could easily turn up, before long, in Idaho politics.

Idaho is becoming increasingly urban and especially suburban. Most of the water used in the state is used by irrigators, to water sometimes water-intensive crops in a near-desert climate. Up to this point, there’s been generally enough water to go around – mostly, and most of the time. But recent years have seen a series of water calls (insistence on delivery by senior water right holders) in agricultural areas. What happens when the water supply is stretched thinly enough that urban areas are told: Your junior water rights mean you may be cut off?

Things may not unfold quite that way. But a few more dry years and more urban population growth could put the long-running rural domination of much of Idaho politics to its most severe test.

Tracking the money

Idaho isn’t ground zero for congressional campaign money. Its media markets are relatively small – political advertisers get more for the dollar in the Gem State – and its races aren’t ordinarily high-spending. When they are, spending levels aren’t always indicative of much. In 2010, Democratic 1st District incumbent Walt Minnick outspent Republican challenger Raul Labrador by about three and a half to one, and lost by a large margin. Money isn’t all. Often, though, people place their bets on prospective winners.

This year’s two Idaho U.S. House races offer an occasionally surprising overview of the landscape.

The Federal Elections Commission has a much-improved web site (at fec.gov) listing campaign finance disclosures, but most of what follows comes from the Center for Responsive Politics, at www.opensecrets.org. It is clear and well-organized, and easy to follow.

In Idaho’s first district, Labrador still hasn’t raised as much as he did in his (in the context) modestly funded campaign two years ago; he has (as of June 30, the date reflected in all these amounts) raised $551,568, and spent about two-thirds of it. Democratic challenger Jim Farris has raised $37,388, and has spent about two-thirds of that.

In the second district, Republican incumbent Mike Simpson has raised $955,983 and spent the bulk of it. Democrat Nicole Lefavour has raised $156,016 and disbursed less than a quarter.

Where did the money come from? The pairs of candidates from party rather than from district look most alike. None of the Idaho candidates is “self-financing,” or running the campaign out of personal funds; both are raising what they spend. Close to half of Labrador’s money comes from political action committees – PACs. Nearly all the rest ($271,274), all but a sliver, comes from what OpenSecrets calls “large contributions.” Simpson’s picture is similar – nearly two-thirds ($593,352) coming from PACs, and the bulk of the remainder ($302,128) from “large contributions.” Less than a tenth of donations for either candidate come from “small contributions.”

But the big contributors are different. In Labrador’s case, four gave $10,000 each. One of those is nationally well-known Koch Industries – the well-known Koch brothers Charles and David. (They were not among the top contributors to Simpson, though.) The others were Auld Investments of Boise, the Every Republican is Crucial PAC and LCF Enterprises. Simpson’s $10K-and-up top contributors were different: The increasingly controversial Monsanto Company (his top contributor, at $13,750), the Associated General Contractors, California Dairies, Lockheed Martin, the Potlatch Corporation and – get a load of this – the National Education Association. An eclectic group.

And the Democrats? They’re more reliant on small contributors, but not entirely. Farris got about a fifth of his money from PACs (the International Association of Fire Fighters gave $3,000), and about half of his money overall from “large contributions” (the New England Patriots was among them); the rest were small. LeFavour actually got even less from PACs, only $2,900. Of her funds, 55% was from large contributions (Microsoft Corporate was the largest, at $5,000, and Wells Fargo second at $2,500), and nearly all the rest from small givers.

What does all this tell you? It should give you some insight about who’s friendly with, and has strong relations with, who. And that tells you something about what these people do, or would do, in office.