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Posts published in “Idaho”

Cattle kingdom: from growth to split

cows
More cows than people in the Magic Valley/morguefile

Besides the talk about the urban growth in parts of Idaho, there ought to be another round of discussion about the fastest-growing population in the state. Not of people: Of milk cows.

And that growth is finally have an effect on the people who work with them.

Over the last 20 years, the population of milk cows in the state has increased about two and a half times, from 174,000 to 473,000. As with people, the increase in milk cows (which is to say, the number and size of dairies), as with people, has not been evenly spread. Some places, like Franklin County, that had substantial or even major dairy activity in the mid-80s have declined (in Franklin's case, from 14,000 to 11,500 head).

The growth has been concentrated in the Magic Valley, and to a lesser degree in southwest Idaho, in a band from Owyhee, Ada, Canyon and Payette counties. (Today, Ada has 22,000 head and Canyon 30,000 head, in each case not quite double where they were 20 years - all alongside the massive new human development in those counties.)

The Magic Valley had 75,000 milk cows in 1986, well under half the state's total. Today it has more than four and a half times as many, 341,000, well over three-fourths of the state total. And within the Magic Valley, they're concentrated. Few are in Blaine, Camas or Minidoka counties; Gooding, Twin Falls, Jerome and Cassia, and a fair population in Lincoln, account for the largest portion.

Nor is that all. If a set of applications now on file in the eastern valley, in Cassia and Minidoka, are approved, another 100,000 dairy cows could call the area home.

Gooding County has more than 139,000 - more than twice any other county, well over a fourth of all the dairy cows in the state, and far more dairy cows (which do not account for all of the cattle by any means) in that county than there are people in any Idaho city but Boise. That's 190 cows per square mile in Gooding County.

It is also more than in the entire state of Oregon - 121,000; the biggest dairy county there is Tillamook, with 28,600 head. Washington has 237,000 head in all; geographically large Yakima County with 70,000 head and coastal Whatcom County with 52,000 account for much of it. Neither Oregon nor Washington has a regional dairy concentration resembling the Magic Valley.

You would think this would cause some stress and conflict. You would be right.

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Mini(cassia)-boom

Taking note of a non-urban area that's lately adding a bunch of jobs - the Burley area, in the eastern Magic Valley in Idaho.

Almost abruptly, about 500 jobs have been added there, not from high-flying employers but from basic manufacturers like Renova Energy and Pacific Ethanol.

They must be doing something right; a lot of community areas that size, and that far away from a substantial urban area, are having some difficulty consistently attracting new businesses these days.

Romney pulling Idaho’s GOP

With the latest news that Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig is becoming one of the two Senate "liaisons" (Utah Senator Bob Bennett is the other) for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, you get the sense that most of Idaho's top-tier Republicans are headed into the Romney camp.

We've thought that likely for a while. Locally, Romney has been talked up more than any of the other contenders. And there's the Utah connection (through Romney's work on the Olympics several years back) and as a member of the LDS church, to which something like a third of Idahoans also belong. His personal style is probable more appealing, too, than that of his two leading competitors, John McCain (whose sometimes a "maverick," sometimes not manner may not sit well) and Rudy Giuliani (who among other things may simply be too New York for Idaho tastes).

Not that all Idaho Republicans will necessarily fall into line. We'd not be surprised if Representative Bill Sali signed on with the longshot campaign of Tom Tancredo; that association runs deep into the early part of Sali's campaign last year, if not earlier. But in the main, for now, Romney seems to have the main Idaho track.

Wasn’t just Crow

Alot of attention focused in the last few years, among those tracking the Idaho Legislature, on (now former) Representative Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, who for years chaired the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, from which tax bills originate. She, it was said or implied, was the bottleneck that kept a lot of wide-desired legislation from making its way through the process.

She was without doubt an impactful legislator, but the story was never that simple. The evidence has come in the record of the committee this year, as it has rejected various tax proposals, some of them backed by the libertarian-conservative governor, Butch Otter. On Wednesday, the committee rejected a proposal to reduce form 66.6% to 60% the vote needed to establish a community college district, something loads of advocates in the Ada-Canyon area have been pushing for. Rev-Tax has, in other words, behaved this year, under its new Chair Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, not very differently than it did under Crow. (Albeit that Lake is a much smoother, less abrasive and more numbers-comfortable chair)

Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert has delivered two highly pertinent posts, both worth reading, about this on his new blog, after watching the committee in action for a while.

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Out on the edge

The Red State Rebels blog (proprietor, Julie Fanselow) has nominated state Representative Steven Thayn as the best choice, for the moment, as "the most extreme legislator" in Idaho. The farthest out to the edge, that is, on his side of the philosophical divide, which probably would mean the farthest out (on his side of the face) among the northwest's 347 state legislators.

She has good evidence. Her assessment seems the sounder when you add to the material she already provides.

Which starts with a snippet of committee debate quoted in today's Idaho Statesman, suggesting taxpayer money could be saved if school hours were cut to four hours a day.

She goes on to a nice find, a website apparently set up for Thayn (nicely designed by a Nampa web company, Impact Design Studios). The Committees of Correspondence site (with the quite different url http://www.reclaimidaho.com/) suggests a larger organization, but Thayn is the only person mentioned. If there's more to it than the web site, that's not made clear; and most parts of the web site are empty, apart from several pages of philosophizing and a plea for $25 contributions. A newsletter is on offer, but samples are not. Red State Rebels has links to a number of quotes from it.

To that, we have some additions.

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Romney gains one

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney

The Northwest has not jumped early or hard into the presidential contest, in either major party, though all indications are that anyone who waits significantly longer to enter (with the theoretical exception of Al Gore, among the Democrat) will probably be shut out. For all that, not many major political figures in the Northwest have hopped anyone's train as yet.

Idaho Representative Mike Simpson just has, with his endorsement of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. (He may be the first major Idaho political figure to endorse. ) In an e-mail sent out today under his campaign logo (sorry, no direct links as yet. Romney's campaign blog lists Simpson on his "congressional whip team" in a campaign blog post today); he is the only northwesterner among its 22 members.

Simpson: “Mitt Romney has the clear momentum among Republicans and I hope to help him expand his base in the Pacific Northwest. I’m convinced he is our Party’s best candidate and is ideally equipped to be our nation’s next President.”

Romney seems to be developing clear support in Idaho and Oregon; Washington seems a little less clear at the moment.

The job gap, ’07

Northwest Job Gap studyTime again to draw attention to one of the Northwest's (not that we're alone) most powerful indicators, found in the annual job gap study by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations. And it has quite a bit to say about family values.

In the report, the group does two things. First, it works out in four Northwest states (Washington, Oregon, Idaho plus Montana) what a "living wage" is, bearing in mind the number of people to be supported by it - a single adult, a single adult or couple with a child, or with children. Then it determines how many jobs - and especially, how many jobs of those coming open - will support people at or above that level.

The group's reports in recent years have not been encouraging, and neither is this one.

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Please lock me away

prisoner image from old bookIdaho Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, was a little startled by the factoid, and he surely wasn't alone: In 2006, some 88 prisoners in the Idaho system said they weren't interested in parole, and would rather stay behind bars.

The item came up Thursday at the budget hearing for the Pardons & Parole Commission, as long-time Director Olivia Craven was delivering the facts and figure about her agency. As the Spokesman-Review's Betsy Russell quotes, Cameron, seemed a little baffled: “Explain that to me . . . Are they just enjoying their life in prison so much?”

We followed up and today asked Craven about the refusniks, and she had but limited explanations for what sounds a little odd. She said that over the next year, she plans to pull together more detailed information about this subgroup. But a rough early conclusion or two might be hazarded.

A little background here.

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When the levee breaks

We tend to think of levees in the context of Louisiana and the gulf states, barriers for low-lying land against high-rising water. But the western states have a lot of levees, and there are even a bunch of them in the Northwest. And it turns out that a bunch of them are in trouble.

Reaction to a Freedom of Information Act request from several news organizations, the Army Corps of Engineers has released a list of 122 levees around the country that fail in its maintnance ratings. More specifically, that means "An unacceptable maintenance rating means a levee has one or more deficient conditions that can reasonably be foreseen to prevent the project from functioning as designed. Examples of maintenance deficiencies include: animal burrows, erosion, tree growth, movement of floodwalls or faulty culvert conditions."

Overwhelmingly, they're in western states. California accounts for the single largest share. But Washington has a long list, concentrated between the Seattle/Bellevue area to the west and the Cascades to the east. From the looks of the Corps report, this is a serious hazard for parts of that country . . . parts of that fast-growing country.

As though that region didn't have enough infrastructure worries.

The levee issues in Oregon and Idaho, by contrast, are much lighter. But they should give a little pause to people in the Astoria area; several waterways are noted as endangered in that area.

LIST On the list below, the two names are for the overall Corps project, and the specific segment within it.

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The hurdles

The difficulties faced these days by Republicans in Washington and Oregon, and Democrats in Idaho, are underscored by a study released today by the Gallup Poll.

The study as a whole concerned how people identify themselves in terms of political party - Democratic or Republican, leaning to one or the other, or independent. It has been conducting the polls for some years. Nationally, it found that 34% called themselves Democrats or leaned that way, 30% Republicans or leaned that way, and 34% independents.

How do the numbers stack in the Northwest?

In Washington, which the poll again suggests is the most Democratic of the three, the Democrats accounted for 54%, Republican 36% and independents 10%. If that's an accurate measure, Republicans in Washington have some serious work cut out, with an 18% gap to make up.

In Oregon, things are closer but not really close: Democrats 49%, Republicans 41%, independents 12%. (Oregon has one of the higher independent percentages in the country.)

In Idaho, as you might expect, things are reversed - very much so. Washington is the 12th most Democratic state (in this survey) among the 50, and Oregon ranks 24th - smack in the middle. But Idaho is the second most Republican state in the union, behind only Utah. In the Gem State, 54% call themselves Republicans, 35% Democrats and 11% independent - an almost perfect mirror image of Washington.

If Washington is becoming a mirror image of Idaho . . . well, we'll go there another time. But if true, then the current Democratic domination of the legislature, for one thing, may not be a short-term phenomenon.

(See also the analysis of the polling on the MyDD site.)