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Posts published in “Idaho”


The Idaho Legislature likely will adjourn this week (shouldn't take longer to work through the remaining veto and other matters that remain), which means the question soon will be discuss: Was anything of value accomplished this year? Surely, the session has been more notable for the many ideas, a number of them worthy, rejected, than for the ideas pushed through to fruition. But that doesn't mean the pluses were altogether absent.

Let's point here to something of possible substantial benefit: Senate Bill 1067.

Floor sponsored by the top Senate Republican (Robert Geddes of Soda Springs) and the top House Democrat (Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum), it has to do with school district consolidation. To make the point: As in many other states, Idaho has many more school districts than it needs, and many public schools could run more efficiently (and save some bucks) with some consolidation. The bill's statement of purpose says, "This is especially true in areas where multiple districts, in close geographic proximity, serve small student populations. In these cases, money is spent duplicating administrative functions that could otherwise be spent in the classroom." True enough.

External attempts at persuasion or pressure usually have resulted in blowback. The current total of 114 school districts has been almost exactly static for decades.

So 1067 does this:


Breakdowns by party

The new Pew Research Center report on social and political attitudes has gotten considerable national blog attention for its take on Republican and Democratic trend lines. But for this Northwest blog, we were most intrigued by one chart tucked away inside.

It reported on a survey on the components of self-identified Republican and Republican-leaning registered voters, the categories being white evangelical Protestant conservatives, other conservatives, and the moderate/liberal cohort. What got our attention was that this rundown, unlike most others in the report, was broken down by state. Here are a few of those results:

State Evangelical other conservative mod/lib # surveyed
Idaho 23 47 28 148
Oregon 26 37 34 285
Washington 28 33 37 477
National 26 35 37 22,054
Utah 1 62 32 270
California 19 39 40 1,896
Montana 27 36 36 112

The Oregon and Washington numbers match closely, as you might expect, and both are a close match for the breakdowns nationally.

Idaho is a more complex case. On the surface, you notice the somewhat lower number of moderate/liberal Republicans than in other states (compare it, say, to California). And on the surface, the evangelical percentage seems not especially high. But glance down to Utah, and you'll quickly realize that the Mormon component of Republican support is included under "other conservatives" (or maybe, rarely, under moderate/liberal), and not under "evangelical".
If you included the conservative LDS vote with the evangelical vote, you'd likely see half or so, maybe more, of Idaho's Republican vote belonging as well to those two groups. Given that, the 23% evangelical vote the survey noted seems larger than might have been expected - an enormous factor in Gem State politics, maybe bigger than most people there have realized.

And the Democrats?


Matters of control and capability

Here are three disparate pieces of Idaho legislation, all House measures, that between them say something about the way Idaho legislators look at government and at themselves. Two are law; the third is awaiting action by the governor (and that action might go either way).

The first, House Bill 54, fixes a law that falls into the category of something that might have made sense a century ago but these days is a train wreck coming. It bars agencies issuing drivers licenses from giving them any who is a “habitual drunkard” or “addicted to the use of narcotic drugs”.

Wisely enough, the state transportation department proposed striking the language because, it noted, "If left unchanged, the statute creates a concern about Department liability for acts of such persons. The Department has no way of identifying these persons." Never really did, of course, but in these days when the only time you'll probably ever see your license issuer is at the counter, less than ever. It is, obviously, a law that hasn't been enforced - hasn't been followed by the state - for decades at least, if ever.

Which leads you to wonder about whether the law to be fixed by House Bill 126 was followed either.


By the numbers

NW population changes
Top NW counties for gaining population (green) and losing population (tan)

Census estimate releases are always good cause for some spreadsheet runs, and since the mid-2006 census estimates by county came out today, we decided to take a regional overview. (Stories about the state views are in most newspapers; if you know of anyone else doing a northwest-wide view, let us know.)

The region's 119 counties are a varied lot, from King's estimated 1,826,732 people (still many more than live in all of Idaho, and nearly half of Oregon's total population) down to Idaho's Clark (not to be confused with Washington's Clark) with 920 people, now the only county in the region under 1,000 people.

All of the most populous counties in the region have been growing. In percentage since 2000, the fastest growing has been Washington's Clark, at 18.8% since 2000 (adding 53,694 people since then, more than any regional county but King, which added 71,401).

Idaho's Ada County, now at 359,035 people, grew fastest among big counties in the last year, but since 2000 ranks sixth for total population added (46,127), behind five counties all larger in population regionally (King, Snohomish, Pierce and Clark in Washington, and Washington County in Oregon).

To find mass runaway growth among Northwest counties, skip a little further down the list. Canyon County (Nampa-Caldwell), Idaho, the 17th most populous, grew by about 30.2% the first six years of this decade, and Deschutes County (Bend-Redmond), Oregon, ranking 19th, by about 27.9%.

In fact, of the top 19 counties for raw number addition, all have estimated populations of 130,000 or more, except one surprise: Franklin County, Washington (its county seat is Pasco), which added 15,707 of its estimated current 66,570 people in the last six years. The Tri-Cities should be getting a lot more attention as a growth spot; its larger neighbor Benton County (now at 159,463; the biggest city is Kennewick) added 15,707 people during the period too.

But the fastest percentage growth county in the region over the last year is not one of the largest, and one few outside southwest Idaho might have guessed: Valley County, the McCall-Donnelly-Cascade area, adding about a 1,000 people its small cohort, driven largely by the growth around the Tamarack ski area. (It was followed by Franklin County, Washington, and then Deschutes.)

This isn't a rural vs. urban thing - or even broadly geographical. On the map, see how the big population gainers and losers often jostle next door to each other.


Cloning at Simplot

No particular comment on this, yet at least, but we do think it should be noted that Idaho turns out to be a leader in animal cloning not only at the University of Idaho (where one of its leading researchers recently left) but also at the Boise-based J.R. Simplot Company.

cowA recent Business Week article focusing on Scott Simplot, now the chair of the company, points out how he is promoting cloning as a core part of the Simplot cattle-related business. The business already has at its operations the offspring of cloned cattle.

From the article: "This is the beginning of a grand experiment at the Boise-based J.R. Simplot Co., a producer of food, fertilizer, and livestock that was founded by Scott's father in 1923 and has become one of the largest privately owned companies in the U.S. Simplot is one of the first large beef-producing companies anywhere to clone cattle and then breed them on a commercial scale. Neither clones nor their offspring are in the food distribution system now. But if the Food & Drug Administration gives its approval as expected, Simplot plans to bring beef from the offspring of clones to market by next year. No other company has been nearly as aggressive in the controversial effort to clone animals for supermarket shelves."

Age and perception

We've long thought that much of what makes legislatures potentially powerfully useful - we're talking potential here, not always reality - is the number of varied viewpoints that can be brought to bear in the process of legislating. Not simply the fact that we have a hundred or so people rather than two or three: If that crowd thinks alike, then they may as well be two or three, or one.

(We explored that a bit recently on a personal level. Your scribe was asked to join the board of a local arts organization, and agreed, partly on grounds that his background would be distinctive from most other members, and therefore possibly useful in bringing fresh perspective to the table. One hopes.)

That point cuts a variety of ways, but today's post has to do with age: Of these hundred or so people in a state legislature (10 less in Oregon, five more in Idaho, 47 more in Washington), how varied is the experience these people bring to the game? Thanks to an analysis by the Scripps Howard newspapers, we have statistics to examine. (The take of that effort focused on the arrival of the baby-boomers; our look here is more cross-generational.) Based on those numbers, here's a chart of the birth-years of the legislators in several states, with percentages of membership noted.

State 1906-24 1925-45 1946-64 1965-83
Idaho 5 55 39 2
Oregon 0 30 62 9
Washington 1 38 52 10
Montana 1 32 57 10
Utah 3 27 63 7
California 3 33 58 6
Nevada 3 27 58 12
Texas 1 28 60 11
Florida 0 24 59 17
New York 3 30 60 7
Ohio 1 19 62 18

The first thing we should note is that, when all ages are factored in, Idaho's legislature is on average the oldest in the country, while Oregon's and Washington's are relatively unremarkable middlings.


Protection of some interests

It has been a few years, but we have in the past signed non-compete agreements, one employment-based preliminary to a short stint in television news, one of the places where such contracts are commmonplace. So we were a bit confused at first by the sudden emergence and somewhat surprising Senate floor defeat (narrowly, 16-18) of Senate Bill 1203, which on its face provides a specific state policy supporting the use of such contracts.

The catch is that non-competes are and have been enforceable as contracts; the headlines about the bill providing for their enforceability seemed a little off-kilter. What exactly did this bill do that caused such concern?

File this under one of those cases where a little research into the law helps with clarity.

As a core matter, non-competes are clearly a reasonable device in some business environments. In television news, for example, a station may spent a great deal of money and other effort promoting some of its on-air personnel, a real investment in that employee. If the employee walked out from station A one day and turned up that evening on station B, there's no question station A would have been damaged; you could almost consider that its investment was stolen. (We wouldn't go quite that far but we would understand the principle.) And in a variety of other businesses, comparable cases could be fairly developed.

But there are limits. To say that a person leaving an employer cannot practice his profession for an unduly long time, for example, is simply punitive - it turns the employee into a reasonably-paid indentured servant.

Like most other states, Idaho long has allowed legally for non-competes; also like many other states, the courts have been moving toward balancing the interests of employers and employees in deciding the validity of non-competes. The core purpose of 1203, which was proposed by the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry, is to end that balance and swing the weight down solidly on the employers' side.

To read SB 1203 reasonably, you need to look back at a 2001 Idaho Supreme Court case.


The cow that is a cow

We expressed somewhat similar thoughts 9though less fully developed) a while back about the mega-luxury box development at Bronco Stadium, but Quane Kenyon's take on the subject, a guest opinion in today's Idaho Statesman, should not be missed.

Kenyon is retired from a career at the Associated Press in Boise, so he knows something of how state government works. This is one of the most pungent and incisive pieces on what talks and what walks in Boise these days, that we've seen in a while.

Clear Channel to Peak

It may be a ripple in the corporate context of Clear Channel, but it's a big deal in radio Idaho: Selloff of a half-dozen Boise radio channels, including some of the leading stations, to Peak Broadcasting of Fresno, California.

The most notable of the stations from a public point of view may be KIDO-AM, which has been home for much of the local talk radio in the Boise area (and beyond). Others include KCIX-FM (hot adult contemporary), KSAS-FM (contemporary hits), KFXD-AM and KTMY-FM (country) and KXLT-FM (adult contemporary).

Peak is a much smaller outfit, and new, and private (with prospective more flexibility in its options); the Boise stations are only its second substantial buy, the first being a smaller group of stations at Fresno. The deal becomes final in April.

The good folks at the Idaho Radio blog have been discussing this, and the prospect of it, for several days. A number of useful points emerge from the extensive comments you'll find there.

One is the reason for the selloff - "The sale is part of Clear Channel’s ongoing effort to take the company private. The company announced it would shed all radio clusters outside the top 100 markets - with Boise being the largest group up for sale." Clear enough.

There was much debate over the stations may change, if at all. Unresolved, for now.

The shrinking connection

Connecting IdahoThe mega-highway project was touted, a couple of years back, as Connecting Idaho - an ambitious proposal (by then-Governor Dirk Kempthorne) to develop and improve the highway system around the state so that its myriad needs could be largely met, in one swoop.

Opinions about it varied widely, but it seemed here like a noble attempt to fix a transportation network badly in need of it.

Since then, Kempthorne has gone on to other things in Washington, and the wheel have begun peeling off "Connecting Idaho". There was always some financial risk involved, of course, and always the question of who would financially benefit when so much money was being flung around so dramatically. Quite a few legislators had objections, and many of those objections made sense. It was never a perfect proposal; it was an attempt at a grand gesture, at thinking about transportation in a different way in a state where getting around involves limited options.

The project has been whittled down considerably over the last couple of years. Here's what the legislative budget leaders did about it today: They "backed selling $246 million in bonds for the "Connecting Idaho" highway plan in the year starting July 1, with more than half to be spent on Interstate 84 near Boise, Nampa and Caldwell."

Maybe in the next generation . . .