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Posts published in “Idaho column”

In the cities

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Idaho

With candidate filing for Idaho cities now done, it's time to take a look at which races might carry some useful lessons come November.

The largest Idaho city with a mayoral contest, Nampa, shouldn't be much of a firefight; Tom Dale, mayor for three terms, seems likely to move into his fourth (over three opponents). But one is a city council member, there's a dispute over taxes, and this could turn into a fight over tax levels. If Dale runs into trouble, that may be why.

The next largest city, Pocatello, could be more interesting, though probably not. The 2009 mayoral came up with a surprise when veteran Mayor and former legislator Roger Chase lost to a little-known challenger, Brian Blad. Blad has not exactly been a major force in the Gate City, but he hasn't stirred great controversy either. Chase has filed for a re-match, which could mean a hot contest for November. But Chase is said to have not to be getting a lot of traction. And there's this: Incumbents on the ballot usually are helped by multiple opposing candidates – in the Pocatello mayoral, there are three. So it wouldn't be a shock to see Blad get 50 percent of the vote, and avoid a runoff. If Chase does force him into a runoff, no bets will be accepted.

Idaho Falls and Coeur d'Alene are the largest cities with open mayoral seats – incumbents in each not seeking re-election – but they're likely to be very different situations.

Idaho Falls city politics traditionally is low-key, involving long-time city hall people. The first election of current mayor Jared Fuhriman in 2005 was a surprise because he was relatively little-known and his opponent was a veteran and well-known county commissioner. Four candidates are running this time, one (Sharon Parry) a council member. Will an outsider prevail again?

If Idaho Falls is likely to be quiet and civil, Coeur d'Alene may rock and roll. Mayor Sandi Bloem is wrapping up her third term, the longest-serving mayor in Coeur d'Alene history – an indicator of the rapid rotation in the Lake City (a contrast from, say, Idaho Falls). She has played an outsized role in the city over the last decade, so the contest to replace her may be outsized. (more…)

Polite power

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Idaho

On the one occasion when Louise Shadduck ran for office, this being for the U.S. House in 1956, she lost, and later dismissed the experience as “a fit of temporary madness.”

On that this insightful and politically skilled woman was wrong.

Elective office – and running for it – would have suited her well had she tried again, and she likely would have handled it expertly.
Read the new book Lioness of Idaho: Louise Shadduck and the Power of Polite, by Mike Bullard (who for some years was her pastor at Coeur d'Alene) and you get both a sense of what politics ought to be, and what kind of attributes you should look for as you consider who ought to be elected to represent you in office.

Louise Shadduck had a whole lot of those qualities.

The Bullard book, you should know, isn't a hard-edged inquiry or tough investigation; it was written more in appreciation. But the appreciation is understandable. Louise Shadduck was one of the most productive people in Idaho public affairs, notably around the 1950s and 60s, heading up the state's economic development efforts during a a critical period and becoming involved in a wide range of governmental activities. She was a solidly loyal lifelong Republican (though she grew up in the Coeur d'Alene area back when it was strongly Democratic), and worked on Republican campaigns for decades, apart from her own run for office.

That one campaign didn't sit well with her, and when she said “never again,” she meant it. The irony was that she had all the qualities you'd want in a candidate. She was one of the best networkers in the state, long before the term was invented. She took the time to understand the state and its people and their needs and concerns; she understood the “issues” quite well. She favored cooperation and working toward solutions that would be broadly acceptable; building coalitions was a big part of what she did. She listened to people, and she didn't pigeonhole them; for her, Democrats were people on the other side of elections, and with whom she might agree less than with her fellow Republicans, but people nonetheless who she easily worked with. The Bullard book's subtitle, “The Power of Polite,” is totally apt in her case. (more…)

An opening door

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Idaho

Since Washington and Colorado voters last year chose to create a legal marketplace for marijuana, and other nearby states like Idaho watched closely – or, like Oregon, positioned themselves to follow suit – the big question has been: What will the federal government do?

Marijuana is still banned under federal law, and nothing in the law stops federal officials and agents from swooping into Washington and Colorado (and any followup states) allowing for legal consumption, and imprisoning, at least in theory, a whole lot of people for doing something their states have okayed.

There's also this, however: Law enforcement officials, and prosecutors, always have made choices about which laws to enforce, and how. There are far too many laws on the books, too many infractions, misdemeanors, and even felonies to even consider trying to enforce them all with equal force. (I once asked a veteran Idaho legislative staffer how many felony offenses are on the books in Idaho, and he had no idea.) Talk privately to a cop or a prosecutor, and they'll probably acknowledge a kind of triage: usually, they enforce strenuously laws aimed at protecting people from some kind of specific harm. Murder and other violent crime, for example, are very high priority, which seems to make sense.

When Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday issued his department's policy on marijuana in the age of state legalization, he seemed to bear that concept in mind. As an operating principle, he said, the department would let Washington and Colorado (and other states) do their thing on “marijuana-related conduct” – but he also provided a collection of eight red flags that might draw in federal responses.

Those “enforcement priorities”, listed in a “memorandum for all United States attorneys”, include keeping pot from being distributed to minors; keeping money from marijuana sales out of the hands of criminal elements; keeping pot from seeping out of smoking states to non-smoking states; keeping legal market activity from being used as a cover for illegal activity; preventing violence or use of firearms in cultivation and distribution; preventing drugged driving; avoiding grows on public lands; and barring marijuana use on federal lands.

In deciding whether the feds should jump in, the memo said, “The primary question in all cases – and in all jurisdictions – should be whether the conduct at issue implicates one or more of the enforcement priorities listed above.”

The point might be made, though it wasn't explicitly by the department, that all these things already have been happening under prohibition, and that a legal market regime might be best judged not by absolute compliance but by improvement.

Still, while the new federal rule is a long way from an open free-for-all – a totally free marketplace? - it has set down for the first time a set of rules under which states could legalize without risk of federal pre-emption. That may be important.

It's likely, for example, to increase the odds (already favorable) that Oregon will vote for legalization next year, since the terms of federal cooperation now are a lot clearer.

And for Idaho, the question will arise: How can Washington (and maybe Oregon, and conceivably Nevada too) draw the line at their border so that legal pot doesn't cross to the Gem State? Does the border at Idaho, totally porous without any slowdowns to the west now, start to sprout checkpoints and enhanced law enforcement?

Sometimes the aftermath is subtle

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Idaho

If you've traveled much of the West, you've seen the aftermath of wildfire. It's easy to spot, even long after the ground has turned from black to brown and then sprouts new green.

Many of the effects are less obvious, and we could see some of those in the months and years ahead in the parts of Idaho hard hit by this season's fires.

The biggest – not the only – may be the Beaver Creek fire, around the Wood River Valley, an area where thousands of people were told to evacuate. Some may have snarked at the news reports of wealthy homeowners shouting bitterly at sheriff's deputies from their Lexuses, but the wealthy weren't the only people affected.

August is usually a busy time at the stores and restaurants of Ketchum and Hailey, but not last week. Many businesses remained open, but traffic was light at best. A public radio news report last week quoted Sarah Hedrick, owner of Iconoclast Books at Ketchum, who said she hasn't yet paid off a large disaster loan from 2007, and now watches business drop. She said, “If I lose my bookstores – and I don't mean to a fire, I felt very confident my store was going to be safe – I then lose my house, I then lose my livelihood, and I have four children to support. You know, the reality of a fire has a completely different impact.”

And that's in the case of a fire stopped before it gets to town. Idaho hasn't for decades seen a wildfire actually destroy all or even a significant part of a town, but this season is showing it could happen. Some Beaver Creek fire fighters said this is the first time they have seen a fire come so close to a substantial-sized town.
A year ago the University of Oregon released a study from the Joint Fire Science Program finding that overall, the economic effect of wildfires is – surprise – mixed.

Cassandra Moseley, who worked on the project, said, "The increased spending on services related to fire suppression efforts certainly does not undo the social and economic damage caused by a wildfire. But that initial burst of money does offset some of the immediate economic damage. How the Forest Service spends its suppression money greatly influences how a community experiences a fire.”

A summary also suggested that, “...employment and wages in a county tend to increase during large wildfires. But those same fires often lead to longer-term instability in local labor markets, by amplifying seasonal “ups and downs” in employment over the subsequent year. Among the sectors most affected in the months following a fire are tourism and natural resources, which are often vital to the well-being of rural communities.”

It said that, “Local capture of suppression spending is important because it helps mediate labor market impacts. For every $1 million spent in the county, local employment increased 1 percent during the quarter of the fire.” The catch: Many counties, especially those small and rural, often lack the kinds of businesses that would “capture” the spending and cycle the money back into the local economy.

Of course, all of that is a separate issue from the loss of tourism in places that look not quite as pretty as they did before. Not to mention homes and businesses that are actually, you know, burned, or people injured or killed. All of which has to be factored in as Idaho plans ahead in a time of fire.

The movement, not the candidate

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Idaho

The last time an Idaho governor faced a serious primary re-election challenge, he won easily, but not because of massive across-the-board popularity: He proceeded to lose the general election. The last time it happened before that, the same man successfully defeated the then-incumbent governor, who had been elected three times before.

A lot depends on the mood of the party.

This bit of history involves Sandpoint rock dealer Don Samuelson, the conservative Republican who in 1966 beat three-term Governor Robert Smylie in the Republican primary, and won the office in that year's general election. In 1970 he was challenged, fairly seriously, by former Board of Education member Dick Smith, but easily won the primary. However, he lost in the fall to Democrat Cecil Andrus. He lost in part because some Republicans had become disaffected: The tenor of the party had shifted in ways that made them feel unwelcome and they voted across party lines.

That bit of history came to mind last week when Representative Raul Labrador, who has been much discussed as a possible gubernatorial candidate, said he would run for re-election to Congress instead.

The decision to stay put surely was the safer move. Ask politically connected Idahoans how they think a primary race between Labrador and incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter would play out, and you get a widely scattered opinions. Party registration for Republican primaries would have been a boon to Labrador, and he would have had a corps of enthusiastic backers, including much of the party structure – an unusual case when a two-term governor is talking about a third term. Labrador would have been a strong contender.

At the same time, Otter has a well-established network, a campaign structure in place, all the financing he could want, and eight years of identification with the office. Those are strong advantages, but they're also the kinds of advantages Robert Smylie had. (more…)

Down the highway

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Idaho

U.S. Highway 12 begins in downtown Detroit and from there runs 2,491 miles generally northwest largely along the old Yellowstone Trail, ending at its intersection with U.S. 101 in the port and industrial town of Aberdeen, Washington. Those two ends, and pieces of what lie between, reflect one of the reasons for building the road: To move not only passengers but also industrial commerce.

The Idaho portion from Lewiston to the Lolo Pass at the Montana line, was the last of this road to be built, and the last major highway project in Idaho in the early 60s, reflecting how challenging a piece of road this is. Drive it – if you haven't, you really should – and you'll see some of Idaho's most spectacular country, twisting along the banks of the Clearwater River, then by the Lochsa River as the road spirals upward into the rugged Bitterroot Mountains. It is truly one of Idaho's great rides.

But drive it carefully and defensively. This is not like most highways in southern Idaho, and not even much like U.S. 95 running north and south in Idaho. There are few straight lines on U.S. 12, and it is not a wide road. Accidents are common. Even drivers of small cars may find it challenging; wrecks involving larger trucks are the stuff of periodic local lore.

Tension between commercial and industrial elements of the road's purpose, alongside its driving qualities and environmental concerns, drives the megaload conflict.

Which is accelerating. The current round started after the Hillsboro, Oregon firm Omega Morgan applied for permits to move up the rpad a massive water purification unit, destined for Alberta's oil fields. It is a road-occupier, 21 feet wide, weighing about 644,000 pounds. Area residents are concerned about damage to the road and environment, about road blockage (if an emergency vehicle had to get past?), and more. And not just about this load: In recent years, there's been talk of possibly hundreds of megaloads coming through; Omega Morgan suggestd it wants to make 10 such shipments down Highway 12 before 2014. Protesters include a group called The Rural People of Highway 12 Fighting Goliath, the Nez Perce Tribe and possibly the Forest Service. (more…)

A splintering off?

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Idaho

Idaho and Montana, said Chuck Baldwin, co-author of the book "To Keep or Not to Keep: Why Christians Should not Give up their guns", are “the tip of the spear of the freedom fight” because that is where you find lots of “liberty loving, constitutionally oriented people."

Quite a few self-described conservatives would be nodding their heads to that. Where, in Baldwin's half-hour discussion following that statement, they might stop nodding and start shaking their heads, is a matter for serious consideration and could be a story of things to come in Idaho.

Baldwin is a Montana minister, chaplain of the group called Oathkeepers, and he was a main speaker at last week's “Self Reliance” rally sponsored by that organization, held at Farragut State Park in northern Idaho. The event reasonably could be called a survivalist gathering, and it attracted a significant number of people, hundreds at least or possibly several thousand, depending on whose numbers you accept. They are more than a tiny fringe, though, as measured by the elected officials present, including Idaho state Representative Vito Barbieri (one of the speakers).

Much of the weekend was basic survivalist fare, talk of stocking up food and ammunition for the coming apocalypse, self-defense, and such favorite topics as the long-discredited Agenda 21 conspiracy. And there were the usual frequent references to “patriots” and "supporters of the constitution," both of which were meant to include, of course, only people who agree with the speakers' interpretations. (They didn't quite go so far as to call everyone else “traitors”, but the implication seemed in the air.)

Baldwin's speech, available on YouTube, exemplified some of this, but it also featured a challenge aimed more at other stripes of conservative than at liberals.

"It'll come as a shock to many of you," he said, that “government is not God.” Lots and lots of people maintain that it is, he said. (Specifics, naturally, were lacking.) That point in place, he then took aim at fellow pastors, a whole lot of whom, he argued, may be well-meaning but tell their congregations that government should be strictly obeyed “no matter what.” (Again, no names were specified.) He told the audience they need to “find a patriot pastor who will tell you the truth.” He helpfully pointed to an online list. (more…)

The driver

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The Idaho
Column

Here's the perceptive, precise and unexpectedly wonkish line that caught my eye in last week's squabble over the long-term contract for Idaho's school wi-fi system:

“Something doesn’t smell right to me. This is the problem when you let the budget drive policy instead of policy driving the budget.”

Let's unpack what that bureaucratic-sounding quote, from state Representative Brent Crane of Nampa (in the Idaho Press-Tribune) meant in practice last week.

First, here's what no one really seems to object to: Installing Internet wireless broadband access into Idaho schools. On Wednesday Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna signed a contract, with a private firm, to do that. To that extent, Luna seemed to be tracking with accepted policy, as well as with budget.

But there were issues.

One was that the contract was supposed to run for five years (at $2.11 million per year), and legislators, who operate state budgeting on a one-year-at-a-time basis, complained Luna had no authority to commit so far into the future – including, possibly, a successor in his office. (Two five-year re-ups also are contemplated but not locked in.) Criticism among legislators popped up around the state, and budget committee co-Chair Senator Dean Cameron was quoted as describing the deal as “perhaps borderline on a lack of honesty.” In the context, that's fierce language.
Luna didn't run the contract through the state purchasing office, which handles most substantial state contracts. He doesn't have to do that, as a state elected official, but as Senate Education Chair John Goedde remarked, “It would have been cleaner.”

These items would seem minor, though, but for the third: The closeness between Luna, the contractor, and the personal and other linkages involved.

Three firms competed for the contract. The Tennessee-based winner, Education Networks of America, beat out two Idaho companies, one of which received the top review score among the three from an interviewing committee. (That top-ranking firm, Ednetics at Post Falls, is a fast-growing and evidently successful company with operations in the Seattle and Portland areas and experience in Internet connectivity in various schools around the Northwest.) Those two Idaho firms had no evident financial or personnel connection to Luna, but ENA did. It has been a substantial contributor to Luna's campaigns ($6,000, reports the Spokesman-Review, from 2009 to 2012). The lead ENA employee in Idaho, Garry Lough, is a former employee of Luna's. (more…)

An opportunity for a small ripple

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The Idaho
Column

An Idaho legislative interim committee meeting next month could make a splash – by keeping its ripples on the small side.

That might mean shifting its assigned mission, but also accomplishment rather than flailing.

The panel is the federal lands interim committee, meeting August 9, co-chaired by Senator Chuck Winder and Representative Lawerence Denney. House Concurrent Resolution 21 asked it to assemble research “before the Idaho Legislature can properly address the issue of the management and control of public lands now controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho should title to those public lands be transferred to the State of Idaho …" Context: HCR 22, which also passed, "demand[ed] that the federal government extinguish title to Idaho's public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho."

Pre-meeting, attorney Michael Bogert was asked to collect background materials, and he assembled a 274-page report. As he noted, it covered many of the issues involved, but it could have been even larger: I've watched similar efforts flail and fail over the last 40 years.

The states active on this, like Utah and Arizona, hit a brick wall: The lands are owned by the whole country and that's unlikely to change. Bogert's compendium included a paper from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, offering reasons states should not get the lands, such as, "the Legislature has indicated that some of these lands would be sold outright to the highest bidder while others would be kept in state ownership but opened to oil and gas drilling, off-road vehicle use and extractive industries." Conservatives too have expressed reservations. In May 2012 Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed its version of HCR 22, which she said “does not identify an enforceable cause of action to force federal lands to be transferred to the state. Moreover, as a staunch advocate for state sovereignty, we still must be mindful and respectful of our federal system."

Many state officials, in Idaho as elsewhere, argue that state lands are better managed than federal lands. There's debate over this. An analysis from the conservative Cato Institute (number 276, in July 1997 – and in the Bogert report)) said "that most state natural resource agencies cost state taxpayers far more than they return to state general funds. The key to the profitability of state trusts is not that they are state but that they are trusts." The argument that the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, which manage upwards of 60 percent of Idaho's land, are “absentee landlords” runs into the many Idaho communities where the biggest employers of Idahoans are the Forest Service and the BLM. (more…)