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Posts published in “Idaho”

Blogging ID18

The Northwest blogging world is starting to see entries from state legislators - something new in the region. There have, of course, been public officials who have blogged for some time now, notably Portland council member Randy Leonard, who's been prominent on Blue Oregon since its inception. Now we're seeing elected officials with their own independent blogs, and with some attitude.

It may be that legislators who find themselves on the losing side of things have much more interesting posts to blog.

Washington Representative Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, may have the most remarkably detailed job-related blogging of any public official in the region. (You get a remarkably detailed insight into the daily routine of a legislator from reading it.) Some of the best reading there comes when Upthegrove is in the minority, which is not usually since Democrats overwhelmingly control the Washington House.

But it happens, as in this case: "There was one bill today where I was the only legislator to vote no...the vote was 97-1. I know there were other legislators who opposed the bill, but they just wussed out. It was a bill to ban the sale or use of devices that vaporize alcohol. Apparently, some people like to get drunk faster by putting their booze in a humidifier-like thing and inhaling it. It sounds like a stupid & awful thing to do, but there have been no incidents of problems with this in Washington. And, fundamentally, adults in a free society should be allowed to make stupid decisions about what they choose to put into their bodies. Crack down on drunk driving? Yes. Take steps to keep this kind of stuff away from kids? Absolutely. Make it illegal for adults to use a particular device to consume a legal product?.....two words for you: nanny state."

Then there's the new blog by one of the newly-elected Democrats in the Idaho House, Branden Durst, of Boise, which may be starting to include debate by other means . . . not a bad use of a blog.

He became a center of attention on the House floor last week when, trying to get reduced from two-thirds to 60% the voting percentage needed to fund a community college district, he tried to amend a bill touching on that subject by adding in provisions from a bill already shot down in the House Revenue & Taxation Committee. That earned him one hand-slapping (and a vote down on the House floor). Then all hell broke loose when, responding to a comment about upholding the committee system, he replied that the legislator "said we had a committee system that works. I would say that’s false.” Which, on a couple of grounds, probably was a violation of House rules on debate.

Blogging, Burst wrote: "I have found in my life those in control never like the idea of change. That doesn't mean it is not worth seeking out, however. To that end, I honestly don't believe I was voted in to office to maintain the status quo. The residents of District 18 that I met, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), demanded a fresh start. I am giving them that."

A judge, confirmed

Randy Smith
Randy Smith

In a way, you wouldn't think this would have to be so difficult: Nominate judges who carry no big controversial baggage, and reasonable senators will confirm them. It takes both sides; sometimes, too often, we seem to have had neither.

But both apparently have been on the job in the case of the nomination, and Senate confirmation today, of Randy Smith to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. He was the first circuit court nominee to make it through the system in the new Congress.

Smith, who is now an Idaho 6th district judge based at Pocatello, has drawn across the board praise. He is a former Idaho Republican Party chair who, as a judge, was described as fair and impartial by Democrats no less than Republicans.

If the eventual confirmation was something of an encouragement that the system can work, there is also this: He was first nominated to the court in December 2004. That nomination was held up because Californians wanted the circuit seat and maintained it was properly "theirs"; last month, he was re-nominated, this time for an undisputed "Idaho" seat.

Who eventually will fill the "other Idaho" seat is completely unknown, as is whether the needle can be threaded as well as in the case of Randy Smith.

What’re they doing here?

One of our correspondents wrote about this: "More news from a legislature and governor trapped in the 1950's." Noteworthy, in other words, that it comes not from the general public, but from within the legislature.

An item from today's Idaho Statesman: "Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, said Monday that panel member Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, had told him he was concerned that BSU was spending state money on liberal speakers. 'I'm only aware of the couple of very liberal speakers they've had recently,' said Goedde, referring to Gore and Jackson. 'On a long-term scale, I can't say whether there is balance or not.'''

While the Statesman obligingly referred to "a recent string of left-leaning speakers," there have been in practice only two of major note, former Vice President Al Gore and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. And the article did go on to note recent conservative speakers at Boise State as well, including last fall the leader of the national Cato Institute and upcoming talk from Utah Senator Orrin Hatch. BSU spokesmen said no tax money has underwritten any of these appearances.

The line of rhetoric notwithstanding, the "concern" clearly isn't over balance (it certainly wasn't prompted by Hatch's upcoming event), it's over the appearance - speaking at a state institution, a state institution under control of conservative Republicans - of people who help populate conservative Republicans' worst nightmares. And who, horrors, drew large local crowds.

On that level, at least, you can understand the concern.

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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