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Posts published in “Idaho column”

Numbers of consequence

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Numbers are different from ideology in this way: They are specific, and they can have inescapably concrete meanings.

Two Idaho examples from last week.

The campaign of Tommy Ahlquist, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman heavily involved in Boise downtown redevelopment, mentioned the number 100 a couple of times. On Wednesday he released a video ad saying he has “a blueprint to cut $100 million dollars in wasteful government spending in his first 100 days” as (presumably) governor. To be precise, it says he has a “blueprint” to do that, but didn’t actually promise he would accomplish it. As to what the blueprint contains, we’re given no clues.

Put aside for a moment the whole question of exactly where all this waste is located, and how the new governor would expect to root it out so fast. Although we can reasonably guess where the idea came from: The last presidential campaign featured comparable sorts of extravagant promises that turned out to be not easy to deliver in the real world.

I’d suggest instead constituents asking their Republican legislators: Is there really that much actual waste in the state budget? You’ve been voting for years to pass state budgets: Are you being that wasteful? What do you think of this accusation - from a possible top standard bearer for your party next year - that you have been?

Some notable Q and A might result. And we might get some specifics: Where exactly is this massive amount of waste? One person’s waste, after all, can be another person’s important priority, and since actually listing the cuts is likely to aggravate a lot of people, that often doesn’t happen in the course of campaigns.

Another set of numbers also emerged last week, far from anyone’s Idaho campaign ad. (And yes, it is stunning to think that the TV ads for the 2018 Idaho gubernatorial campaign have already begun. Prepare yourselves to be inundated for months to come.)

The second set of numbers comes in part from Idaho: That would be $7.25. This is the level of the Idaho minimum wage.

The Idaho Business Review pointed out last week a comparative, that minimum wages are on the rise in neighboring states. By 2020, Washington’s will boost from $11 to $13.50, Oregon’s from $9.75 to $11.25, Nevada’s from $8.37 to $8.96 in 2020, and Montana’s from $8.16 an hour to $8.75 in 2020.

This will have consequences too. Many Idaho employers have reported some difficulty in the last year or two finding employees. (Obviously, some employers can and do pay higher wages, but local competitive pressures can discourage that.) If you’re looking for a job, or even if you already have one, in the minimum wage pay range, why would you want one on the Idaho side of the border? For people in or near border areas, the answer is clear enough, and it could apply as well to people willing to pull up stakes.

Of course, there’s the argument that higher minimum wages may depress employment. But the business environments in the higher-minimum-wage states around Idaho are faring fine. And the largest increases in Idaho employment in the last few years have tended to come in sectors like construction, where wages mostly are notably above the minimum wage.

Comes down to numbers. And what they represent about quality of life.

The Fulcher shift

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A simple decision about running for one office as opposed to another one has upended the calculus for both, and maybe for much more of Idaho Republican politics.

The candidate in question, of course, is former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who for a long time has been a candidate for governor, then on Thursday shifted his aim over to the first congressional district, to run for the U.S. House seat now held by Raul Labrador.

It’s doubtless a rational end result of working through the political calculus. But just as Labrador’s own announcement - to run for governor rather than for re-election - shifted the nature of the 2018 contest for both offices some weeks ago, so this one may have spinoff effects.

The result, for now, looks like improved odds for election for both Fulcher and Labrador.

On Fulcher’s part, he’s entering a race with a better chance of winning.

David Leroy, the former Ada County prosecutor, attorney general and lieutenant governor who held Cecil Andrus nearly to a draw in the 1986 governor’s race, is already in, and he will be no pushover. He hasn’t run for major office for a long time, and when he ran for the first district seat in 1994, in a race he originally was expected to win, he lost to lesser-known Helen Chenoweth. But his campaigning skills seem unimpaired, he arrives with broad-based good will and a relatively blank slate as far as recent relationships and issues stances are concerned, and much of the establishment of the Idaho Republican Party may easily coalesce around him.

Despite all that, Fulcher would stand to be the insurgent in the race and one with a well-established campaign organization, and those are powerful factors. Leroy is having to begin the effort nearly from scratch; starting early helps, but he’ll be running against someone who’s been in the field much earlier, since 2013. And Fulcher’s base of support statewide is strongest in Canyon and western Ada counties; a first district run demographically plays to his strengths.

Fulcher’s departure from the governor’s race, meanwhile, helps Labrador. In that race, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will share a support base with Leroy, while Labrador, Fulcher and to some extent businessman Tommy Ahlquist were splitting the non-establishment side of the party. One less cut of that part of the pie means a bigger slice for Labrador and maybe Ahlquist, but especially, probably, Labrador. Ahlquist will be going after (not entirely but to a great extent) the people who like the idea of a non-politician in the governor’s race, and both Labrador and Fulcher are established politicians. (No offense intended: They simply have run for office, between them, quite a few times at this point.) Labrador’s new candidacy was impaired, to some degree, by Fulcher’s competition.

Which raises a question about the first district. Since both Leroy and Fulcher are established political figures, might we see a newcomer - someone playing something like the Donald Trump role - entering that race, to pick up the same kind of support Ahlquist may be seeking in the gubernatorial?

It’s early enough in the process that we shouldn’t be surprised if someone does.

In 2014 the Idaho Republican Party split cleanly, in its primary contests, between the inside, established, candidates, and the outside insurgents - it was two slates just short of official in nature. Will we see a reprise of that in 2018 - or might we see, this time, a three-way split?

The Fulcher shift brings such questions into much clearer focus.

Who wants to be regulated

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Probably it had a direct connection to the upcoming gubernatorial campaign, but the May 19 governor’s order to review occupational licensing in Idaho is a useful idea.

As long as everyone is prepared for some unpredictability.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little issued the order calling for a review of the licenses during one of the (ever-increasing) days when he was serving as acting governor. The idea is to take a fresh look at all those licenses Idaho, like other states, requires of people in many occupations, from doctors to electricians to cosmetologists. These licenses are set up by the legislature, generally to be governed by specific boards - usually made up mostly of licensees - and only rarely come up for an existential discussion. Never hurts to take a good review and find out where these licensing requirements are still needed, or not, or may need some adjustment.

Those inclined toward a simplistic philosophy might take these licenses, individually or as a group, as a sign of ever-expanding government. But that’s not quite the way these things usually happen.

Consider medical licenses, among the oldest of the group. In the United States, the earliest licenses did not come from any government entity, and weren’t government-enforced; they came from associations of relatively well-educated physicians who would issue “licenses” as a kind of seal of approval. That was still the case for years after the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Formal licensing, at the state level - required licensing that permitted you to practice medicine - happened at the state level later, after strong lobbying from the physicians and their organizations. It did not happen overnight; California, for example, set up its state licensing process in 1901. In Texas, an early effort started in 1837, was killed off a decade later, then sort of revived in 1873.

These changes were accompanied by battles between those who wanted to be regulated (often, those with better credentials and reputations) and those who didn’t want to be (often characterized as, though not always, quacks). The battle was not a libertarian-type battle, but a struggle within a profession, over such issues as public safety, bars to entry (fewer licensees can mean a more favorable business position), standards of conduct and more.

Aspects of these issues have surfaced in a whole lot of the calls for licensing, practically all of which have been initiated by people in the profession or occupation being licensed.

(If you want to check out who’s licensed in Idaho, you can get a start by going to https://ibol.idaho.gov/IBOL/, the website of the Idaho Bureau of Occupational Licenses, which is devoted to helping many of the boards do their work. A number of licensing offices are located in other places around the web.)

Little noted in his call for a review, “It’s been nearly four decades since government has taken a look at many of these licenses, and with advancements in technology it’s time for us to ask: Is it needed? Can we modernize? How can the state provide better customer service? Can government get out of the way and still protect the common good? I don’t see this as a knock on government but rather as an opportunity for government to work with citizens, to roll back unneeded regulation, and make our processes more user-friendly.”

Those are all fair questions, but don’t imagine that the in-professional arguments have all gone away. That said, there may be some usefulness in resurfacing some of them.

Tours of past and present

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This may be a good moment for the opening of Idaho’s newest staffed visitor center, in one of the not especially scenic areas of the state.

And one of the historically ugliest.

The site is the Minidoka War Relocation Center east of Jerome, which has been a designated federal historical site for a while and has allowed visitors in, but only now is staffing up so managers can show visitors around. Self-guided tours have been available for awhile, but only now is the site properly being staffed.

There’ll be plenty to talk about, and a lot of it is sadly pertinent today.

In 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, many Americans of Japanese ancestry, half of them children, a large majority American citizens, were uprooted from their homes and businesses and forced into “relocation camps.” (Americans of German descent were not similarly relocated.) A number of these camps were located around the western part of the country, and they were all primitive, degrading places. The camps remained in operation throughout the war. At Minidoka (or what’s more often been called the Hunt Camp) about 13,000 people were effectively imprisoned.

In his book, Idaho for the Curious, writer Cort Conley quoted a former Denver Post editor, Bill Hosokawa, who was among those held at Minidoka: “It’s important to remember this chapter in American history. There are so many people completely unaware of what happened. We can set down the story of what happened, not out of bitterness, but to remind us, and to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Evidently, we need the reminder.

Last month the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was vandalized, not once but repeatedly, with ugly, hateful graffiti. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones was quoted as saying, “There’s an obligation to call this what it is. It’s a cowardly act. It’s a criminal act. The words that they wrote are obviously attacks against people that live in this community simply based on the religion they practice or the color of their skin.”

All true. The same and more could be said of the recent killings on a Portland train attributed to a Portland white supremacist who, at his court appearance, shouted out, "You've got no safe place!" and "Death to the enemies of America!"

He was in practice providing cheer for anyone who wishes ill for America.

Our real problem is the people who would turn us all against each other. If you want to consider who serves the interests of people who wish disaster on America, that’s an excellent place to start.

A number of Idaho public officials, including Senator Mike Crapo and Boise Mayor David Bieter, did speak at a ceremony to protest that Anne Frank attacks, and that was helpful. These kinds of strikes at decency and community should not go unrebutted.

But the understanding that all Americans ought to be free from attacks and fear, something most of us probably would take as a given, appears to need much more persistent effort if we don’t want to travel down a road to a new set of relocation camps.

Who votes, and what that means

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The regular election day of mid-May passed barely noticed across most of Idaho, as it often does. And low attention often means low turnouts.

And what do low turnouts mean for election results? What’s the difference, in other words, between that and higher turnout elections?

One particular result from May 16 deserves a close look for just this point. It is the ballot issue in Bonneville County over whether to create a community college taxing district, the prerequisite to creating a new community college at Idaho Falls. (There’s currently an Eastern Idaho Technical College, but it’s much more limited in scope; it will be supplanted by the new community college.)

The issue was hotly debated locally, though the debate was not really partisan. It did sharply split local Republicans. The Bonneville Republican committee took a stance against it, and threw in campaign money as well. But a Republican women’s organization argued in favor, and a number of local Republican officials, along with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, supported the measure.

The ballot issue passed with 71.4 percent of the vote; a two-thirds vote had been needed. The two-thirds mark often is a tough barrier to overcome. Are there any clues to tell us more specifically how it was done?

The college issue was prominent in the area, and it drew a significant voter turnout - significant, at least, by comparison with the norm. A year ago, in a presidential election year, the May election pulled only 19 percent of the electorate. This year (again, in Bonneville) it drew 28 percent; a significant increase.

The turnout was not uniform across all precincts. But some voting patterns did stick out.

Turnout was higher than 25 percent in eight precincts; in all but one of them, the college proposal won by more than two-thirds. Turnout was generally strong on the southern and western sides of Idaho Falls, and that is where the college proposal was strongest.

As you might expect with such a lopsided result, just a few precincts outright opposed the district - three out of 51 - and in two of those the turnout was well below average. (It was 22.9 percent and 20.9 percent in precincts 41 and 44, respectively.)

The Idaho Falls Post Register noted, “Of the 14 precincts with over 33.3 percent opposition to the creation of the community college, just one had a turnout over 25 percent – Precinct 54, generally speaking, the Ririe area.” That Ririe precinct opposed the district by a close vote, 86-80, and it’s worth recalling that this precinct in November voted 81.3 percent for Donald Trump. If you translated that percentage to the Ririe vote in May, it would have an anti-district vote of 134-32.

The top turnout precinct was 56 (at 45 percent), but that was an aberration since it was the mail-in “precinct”. (Take that as another argument in favor of mail-in voting.) Of the next four high-turnout regular precincts, three (the exception being Ririe) passed the district not just by the county-wide average of a little more than two to one, but by more than three to one.

As the Post Register added, “clearly just getting voters to the polls is what matters.”

Voting counts.

The conspiracy problem

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Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly - they’re a good device - but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars - the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information - which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

From drought to flood

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When it comes to water, you want not too little, and not too much.

Lately, seems as if Idaho is getting stuck with one or the other.

On Wednesday, Acting Governor Brad Little tacked Custer, Elmore, and Gooding counties on to a State Disaster Declaration that already included a majority of Idaho counties. At this point - as this was written, anyway - almost three-fourths of Idaho counties are listed by the state as disaster areas owing to flooding.

You see it in remote parts of Custer County and in the population center at Boise, where part of the greenbelt is shut off from access because of high river water.

The water managers seem to have done an effective job of keeping the conditions from creating more damage, at least to this point. But the challenge continues, and there are limits to what they can do.

The snow precipitation report from the National Resources Conservation Service lists snowpack levels by basin around the western half of the country. In Idaho, the accumulated precipitation so far this year is mostly in the range of 140 to 160 percent of normal, compared to generally around 105 to 95 percent at this point last year.

The Little Wood and the Big Lost are the highest, at 177 percent, but the Boise River and the Snake River above the Palisades Dam are at 159 percent - high levels. The lowest in the state is the Clearwater Basin at 121 percent.

That portends a real possibility of more problems ahead, if the melting doesn’t organize itself just right.

That’s some background for the governmental push and pull over Idaho and its disaster status, one partly approved and partly not.

The procedure is that (often after an initial request from the county level) states make the request for federal help, and the feds - meaning the president or a disaster agency, or both, sign off (which they usually do). In late April, President Donald Trump did sign a state-requested declaration covering Cassia, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls and Washington counties for their flooding and related problems in March.

Another declaration covering Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Shoshone and Valley counties awaits action.

However, another declaration requested by the state, covering Ada, Canyon, Custer, Payette and Washington counties (for December and January snowstorms) was - unusually - rejected. Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Administrator Robert Fenton turned down the state request: “After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the impact from this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said in response that “The window is closed for this particular effort to get federal help addressing snow-related destruction and preventing additional damage statewide. But we have one Presidential Disaster Declaration approved and another pending, so we’re exploring every opportunity to help our communities address their most serious recovery needs.”

The state may need to push hard, since it now may be behind the curve on helping some of these areas with recovery. It raises a question, given how uncommonly such requests are dismissed, whether the new administration is taking a new path on federal assistance.

If it is, Idahoans have all the more cause to watch closely, maybe with some apprehension, the rate of snow melt this spring.

Trumpcare, Idaho and beyond

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The political effect of Thursday’s U.S. House vote on health policy - Trumpcare, as we hear - may be enormous, even in Idaho.

Both Idaho representatives, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, voted in favor of the Republican bill.

Writing about the raw ammunition this gives Democrats, the liberal site Daily Kos cobbled a quick generic attack ad: "Rep. X voted for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while gutting health care for everyone else. Twenty-four million people thrown off Medicaid. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions destroyed. A bill so bad, Republicans wouldn't even let Americans see it before they voted."

Actually, the 24 million refers to to the total number who would lose insurance, Medicaid or otherwise, based on earlier versions of the legislation. (Disclosure: I may be one of the 24 or so million.) But that number may rise when the Congressional Budget Office and other organizations have time to carefully review the bill. Not in a very long time has a chamber of Congress voted for such a large bill without any solid research on what its cost or effects will be, and even without any hearings. It was jammed together in rapid-fire closed-door meetings, and even most House members were left in the dark on specifics.

The followup to 20 million people losing health insurance as a result of this legislation, recent academic studies estimated, is that somewhere between 24,000 and 44,000 Americans would die annually as a result. (A side rhetorical question: When Al-Qaeda attacked us in 2001 and killed more than 3,000 Americans, we accurately labeled them terrorists; if members of Congress vote to pass a bill they have been told will cost more than 20,000 Americans their lives, every year, what should we call them? We may get that debate in the months ahead.) It also may weaken health insurance provided by employers, so if you’re insured through your job, don’t think you have no skin in this.

The effect in Idaho would be large. The new bill may destroy many state health insurance exchanges, which more than 100,000 Idahoans rely on for health care. As a starter.

True, the bill as written is unlikely to get far in the Senate. But House members, even if they were acting with that in mind, voted on the bill as written. It’s on their records, and they’re stuck with it.

But surely that doesn’t have anything to do with Idaho? Idaho is, as they say, ruby red. Labrador and Simpson win in landslides every other years. Does it matter what they do?

Don’t be so certain: People could be hurt, frightened, or both, by what may come next. Politics evolves, even in Idaho. The Senate will not act on it swiftly. (Actual hearings are likely there.) The legislation, at least some of the Senate options, will likely not wear well as people figure out their increased risk.

Don’t be surprised if the unruly town hall Labrador held a couple of weeks ago becomes a portent of larger things to come.

Now, a followup note on last week’s column about Raul Labrador’s political future.

It included a passing reference to Senator Jim Risch, who is up for election in 2020, for what would be a third term. Owing maybe in part to considerations of age, there’s been some chatter (including in Republican circles) that Risch may not run again.

That drew a quick phone call from Risch personally. He was unequivocal: Any such contention was wrong; he and his backers already are at work raising money and organizing (even this early in the cycle); he plans and expects to be on the ballot seeking another term.

I heard nothing evasive or cautionary; he made his intentions as clear as he could short of a formal campaign announcement (which would not come until much further along in the cycle).

Noted. Another factor for Labrador to consider, presumably, in evaluating his future.

Does he run?

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Political question of the week in Boise seems to be: Will Raul Labrador run for governor?

There’s been a lot of presumption, even as Labrador has held off declaring one way or the other, that he will. He has expressed interest, and since the seat will be open, 2018 would be a time to move.

He may run for it; the decision, of course, is his exclusively. If he does, he’d certainly be a strong contender. But I sense a majority opinion now of political observers who would be less surprised if he passes than if he runs.

Here’s what I might say if I were offering friendly career political advice.

First, Labrador is relatively young (he’s 49) for positioning for the higher offices; not too young, of course, but young enough that he can and should consider more than just the next election cycle or two.

If he runs for governor, he might lose. Large-population primary contests in low-turnout elections can be highly unpredictable, and he would face a candidate with strong establishment support (Lieutenant Governor Brad Little), one who has been campaigning and developing support since 2013 (Russ Fulcher) and a wild card businessman (Tommy Ahlquist) who already has put a good deal of money into name-I.D. direct mail campaigns. I wouldn’t risk any betting money on a race like this. And you never know: Labrador has shown himself to be a smooth and competent campaigner, but people do make mistakes. Labrador got into the House in large part because a 2010 primary opponent made so many of them. And a loss in a gubernatorial race would cut into his political strength.

Labrador also could win; he would bring a significant base of support, and credibly could take the lead in the primary with it. He might serve as governor four years, or eight (12 is of course possible, as the incumbent shows, but unusual). He’d still have time to do something else in politics after that, but what? If you’re a retired governor in Idaho, your options - if you’re not ready to retire - may not seem that attractive after where you’ve been and what you’ve done. And of course, as governor, Labrador would get nowhere near the national attention he’s gotten up to now as a member of Congress.

Or.

He could be on a glide path to the top rung in politics short of the presidency. Odds are he could stay in the House and be re-elected easily for the next several terms. Word is that Senator Jim Risch is unlikely to run for a third term when his current one is up in 2020, and Senator Mike Crapo may not want to serve much longer. Idaho’s other House member, Mike Simpson, has passed on Senate options before. Labrador could slide right in from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate, a position of larger impact and of elections only every six years.

Besides which, Labrador has not shown much of an interest in running things. The governorship is an executive job, and it might be a less comfortable fit with the kind of legislative mindset Labrador has developed. He wouldn’t be the first legislator-turned-executive to find that the two are quite different.

None of this is to say conclusively that Labrador won’t run for governor. He alone will decide that, and if that’s what he really wants, if nothing else will do, then he can go for it.

But the long pause in signalling his intentions does seem suggestive of second thoughts.

Ins meet the outs

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Credit Raul Labrador with holding a town hall meeting, and for not hot-footing in and out. The three hours he spent there must have been an endurance challenge; most town halls I have attended over the years have been substantially shorter, usually half as long.

In other respects, compared to other recent town halls around the country, it was not terribly different: Republican representative appears and is jeered by hundreds of people in normally friendly locations. Across the state line in the adjacent eastern Oregon congressional district, Representative Greg Walden encountered much the same in Hood River (his small home town), Bend and elsewhere: A Republican routinely re-elected by supermajorities over two decades faced unusually large and stunningly hostile crowds. It must have been unlike anything he’d seen before.

And in Idaho? Would anyone other than Labrador’s loyal chorus show up?

They did; and, true, some Labrador (and Donald Trump) backers did too. But the fact that this event was held in the Republican heartland of Meridian, and lines formed hours in advance, did not discourage the opposition from showing up and getting loud. The crowd was reported as numbering around 800, an unusually big number for this sort of thing. At town halls, organizers usually have to search out prospective questioners; this time, questioners lined up by the dozens at the available mics.

All that was secondary to the electricity in the air (evident even if you watched the video), and the reason was clear: This was one of the relatively few occasions when the inside and the outside of Idaho politics came face to face.

It doesn’t happen a lot. Mostly in Idaho (with variations happening as well in other states), there’s the Republican infrastructure and its supporters over here, and what’s been dubbing itself the Resistance (Democrats and others in opposition) over there, usually in their highly separated bubbles. Theoretically, actual contact could happen more often at the Idaho Legislature, where it should happen, and it does in a limited way on specific issues. The town hall, though, was a chance to raise ideas and frame them independently. The outsiders here were able to face off directly with their opposition, and hear back in kind.

Along the way Labrador may have heard some things from constituents he might not have heard from them before, or at least not in force, things politicians don’t hear often - and that many Idahoans don’t often hear from each other.

When he said, “I don’t think there’s anything in the law that requires the president to provide his tax returns,” he got boos. Whatever else, this marked a clear expression of different world views bumping against each other.

When he said, “I do not believe that healthcare is a basic right,” much of the crowd roared its disapproval. (Question: What other rights are meaningful without health, or while you’re crushed underneath medical bills?) Labrador did say he thought people should have access to health care. One woman responded, “I have access to buy a Mercedes. The only problem is, I can’t afford a Mercedes. Many people can’t afford decent health care if it is not provided by the government.”

Mostly and traditionally, Idahoans have been polite and gentle-spoken around their elected officials. Contrariness usually isn’t a big part of the picture; the ideas “espoused” by most elected officials (in Idaho, Republicans basically) rarely draw much direct blowback. But on Wednesday in Meridian, they did. Some of it wasn’t polite, as Labrador noted ironically (“I’m super popular tonight”). But he certainly was hearing from more than the hallelujah chorus. And remember: The yelling often comes from pent-up frustration at not being listened to, as it did in the days of Tea.

A side of Idaho that doesn’t usually make itself very visible is doing that now.

In Idaho’s other House district, Representative Mike Simpson has been quoted as saying, “I’ve never been really active in doing town halls. Town hall meetings I have found, generally, disintegrate into yelling efforts.”

Meridian was a demonstration that even if they do, something awfully useful can happen there. Simpson might be well advised to reconsider.