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Posts published in “Stapilus”

Census, prisons, redistricting

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The point has been made, for many purposes, that the original draft of the United States Constitution required that every person in the country be counted in a once-every-ten-years census.

It did exempt “Indians not taxed” and provided a numerical discount - “three fifths of all other Persons,” for slaves. The point generally however was that the census was intended to count everyone, even then. It did not exempt non-citizens, and didn’t exclude people who were incarcerated.

That point underlies a Nampa story (in the Idaho Press) last week sure to interest political strategists looking a step ahead beyond 2020, when Idaho like other states redistricts its congressional and legislative districts to account for changes in population.

The census already is gearing up (have you seen the employment notices sprouting all over?) but details about the numbers and processes of the effort are moving ahead of even that. One of the most eye-catching reports concerns the Idaho prison complex in southern Ada County.

More than half of Idaho’s state prisoners, about 5,600 of them, are housed there. They are non-voters, but they are counted in the census as residents of that location rather than wherever their previous home might have been. Their location is in the bounds of legislative district 22, which takes in Kuna and most of southern and southwestern Ada County, and they make up about 12 percent of the residents of the district.

You can turn that around and look at it this way: Fewer votes are needed to elect a member of the legislature from District 22. This is not much of a partisan matter; this area long has been heavily Republican and the margins between the parties (whenever a Democrat does run here) aren’t close. But the fact that fewer voters are needed to elect here means that voters here are more powerful than in, say, a district based in Meridian or Eagle.

You can say some of the same in congressional terms. The prison complex is in Idaho’s first congressional district, meaning that voters there are incrementally more powerful than those in the second district.

The Idaho Press story added that, “the phenomenon became known as ‘prison-based gerrymandering.’ The Census Bureau has faced criticism for this, and has so far stood its ground. It announced it will not change the way it counts prisoners in 2020.”

Census doesn’t really deserve the hashing, though, even if some of the results seem a little locally odd. The idea of the census is a little like that of an opinion poll: It’s intended to be a snapshot in time rather than a three- or four-dimensional image. It’s intended to take a picture of where we are at a given moment rather than in some deeper sense. Are you and I “from” the place where we will be spending tonight? Maybe, maybe not. But we’ll never get a clear overall picture if we start making exceptions.

The census rules actually do seem to approach exceptions territory at times. As one description (by Pew Research Center) put it, people are supposed to be counted at a specific location if they, “Live or stay at the residence most of the time; OR stayed there on April 1, 2010 and had no permanent place to live; OR stay at the residence more time than any other place they might live or stay.” There’s a little room for ambiguity in this, in the case, for example, of some college students.

But the prisoners are stuck in place.

That means this is going to lead to some warping of the system in places. But we can hope that the little warps in the counting will, for the most part, cancel each other out around the country. It’s not a perfect system, but we should be able to live with it.

Impeachment commentary

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A few thoughts about a couple of comments from the Idaho congressional delegation on the prospective impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Note first the fact that this delegation has said as much as it has, which though it isn’t a lot, still makes it one of the more vocal Republican state delegations around the country.

Representative Mike Simpson issued this on September 25: “Democrats have been threatening to impeach President Trump before he was sworn into office. To date, I have seen nothing that warrants impeachment, and there have certainly been ample opportunities to analyze their many accusations during their countless investigations. However, they have their constitutional right to proceed in their relentless endeavor. I, for one, believe the American people deserve more from their elected officials. Our country faces real issues including immigration reform, cyber-security, and funding the federal government for fiscal year 2020 which starts next week, and we should be focused on those things.”

We’ll come back to the substance of the charges, but for now think a second about the “real issues” - which, yes, are real issues - the representative urges Congress to focus on. What he leaves unsaid is: Why can’t Congress go ahead and do those things?

Of course it can, if it chooses. The impeachment-inquiry activity, central a topic of discussion as it may be, is preoccupying the actual work of only a small portion of the House of Representatives - mainly one committee, and peripherally a couple of others - and most of the work of the chamber can and does go on. In the last couple of weeks the Idaho congressional delegation has issued a bunch of press releases outlining its progress and activity on a variety of fronts, from rural lands payments to anti-Semitism, having nothing to do with impeachment. I just attended a town hall meeting held (in another state) by a member of Congress, and impeachment occupied no more than three or four minutes of the hour-long session. If impeachment brings congressional things to a slower grind than usual, that’s not because it has to.

Of course, you have to wonder how much progress the Congress this term would make on many really significant subjects anyway, even if the prospect of impeachment were nowhere in sight.

Simpson naturally is entitled to his read of what does or doesn’t constitute reasonable grounds for impeachment; odds are he (and Representative Russ Fulcher) will get their turn at voting and speaking on that subject sometime in the weeks ahead.

As for addressing the substance, Senator Jim Risch had an excellent suggestion.

In a recent Boise radio interview, he said, “Let me give some advice to your listeners, this is really simple. The Democrats are saying this is terrible, the president is a traitor, and we Republicans say, ‘Get outta here, there’s nothing there there.’ So, look: Don’t take my word for it, I’m a partisan. Don’t take the Democrats’ word for it, they’re partisans. Certainly don’t take the national media’s word for it, they are really partisan, they’re full of hate and vitriol for this guy. Read it yourself. … It’s online, every word. … It’s really easy to read, it’s not legalese or diplomatese. It’s just two people talking. And you can understand it crystal clear and can make up your own mind.”

Spot on. The core of what you need to see is right there in the official documents which are neither long nor hard to read and, as the senator suggested, easy to find with your nearest search engine. Such as the request from the American president saying, “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great” - the request in essence that a foreign government conduct oppo research on one of the American president’s political opponents.

Of course, we could add to the must-read list a few must-views that also make up original source material, such as the Thursday press conference President Trump held in which he publicly asked the government of China, with which he and this country have a troubled relationship, to do the same as he asks of Ukraine, or his press event with the leader of Finland.

Checking out the original source materials on all this is my preferred approach, and I recommend it over whatever the talking heads have to say. Senator Risch was exactly right about that.

We can all multi-task. And we should.
 

The Idaho commerce roadblock

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Idaho state officials like to declare how their state is open for business, and in many respects it is. But in some areas it is fiercely stubborn -- to the point of blocking interstate commerce.

Such as commerce in hemp.

Late last year a new federal farm bill passed legalizing on a national level commerce and transport of hemp, a plant product genetically similar to marijuana (both are considered forms of cannabis) but without its psychotropic capabilities. Hemp, remarkable versatile, is used in construction, for clothing and other cloth goods, paper, foods, medications and other uses. That follows legalization in states around the country, including most states around the west . . . but not Idaho. In Idaho, unlike many other states, no legal distinction is made between hemp and marijuana, which also is illegal in Idaho (though not in most of its neighboring states). There have been attempts throughout this millennium to change the hemp law in Idaho, including one in last year’s legislature, but it hasn’t happened yet.

One hemp industry website pointed out, “Hemp entrepreneurs say that hemp transportation has been an elusive promise of nationwide legalization. The Farm Bill promised protection for hemp transportation but left states with no uniform way to test THC content. So, cannabis plants that may go on a truck as legal hemp in one state can fail a THC test in another state and be seized as illegal marijuana.”

Last year, in one widely-publicized case, Idaho officials seized a truckload of industrial hemp from Oregon bound for Colorado, and criminally charged the truck driver. The case has been partly resolved, but the hemp remains seized.

The federal Department of Agriculture said in one memo, “States and Indian tribes also may not prohibit the interstate transportation or shipment of hemp lawfully produced under the 2014 Farm Bill.” But Idaho officials seem to have made clear they intend to do just that. (As the feds gradually release clarifying regulations over time, some of that trouble may ease. Then again, given the attitudes at stake, maybe not.)

Drawing your attention now to the states west of Idaho: Washington and Oregon, where the hemp industry is thriving.

In Oregon, where hemp growing has been legal since 2015, the expansion has been rapid. In year one of legalization the state had 13 growers operating on 105 acres of land; this year the growers number about 2,000, operating on about 62,000 acres. Roll down your car window in many rural parts of Oregon and you can smell the new industry. (Side note: Not everyone loves the odor.)

Since Washington and California to Oregon’s north and south also are substantial hemp growers, many Oregon producers look toward shipping east - which means through Idaho. But what they’re seeing is a big, bad road block to their commercial efforts.

That may mean a psychology is starting to develop in some places about how commercially to avoid Idaho. Like other states, Idaho pulls in substantial money, in public revenues and in the private economy, from trucking businesses. But what may be developing is a line of thinking that sends trucks south, over remote and lightly populated highways, through Nevada instead, on their way to other states.

States other than Idaho.

People in most states like to maintain their distinctiveness from others in various ways; just as there’s an Idaho Way of doing things, people in Oregon and Washington and Nevada and Montana and other states like to proclaim their own ways too. Fine.

But when some of those distinctive ways start shutting down economic and other communication with their neighbors, they might be worth reviewing.
 

The impeachment route

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One of the few certainties about war is its unpredictability: You can never be sure what you'll wind up with, and that's if you win. Impeachment, especially of a president, is the political equivalent.

A few thoughts, then, as the U.S. House of Representatives takes its initial steps in what looks like a probable impeachment of President Donald Trump.

Uncertainty is a central consideration. It might not happen in the House; at this writing (Tuesday afternoon) there's not a clear majority in favor. (That could change.) We don't know what an inquiry might turn up; it might make the case against the president stronger, or it might not. The Senate widely is assumed to be a lock for acquittal, since much of the Republican caucus would have to go along with conviction for that to happen; but even that is not necessarily a certainty. Republican consultant Mike Murphy made a compelling case today for the flipping of a number of Republican votes: "My Democratic friends assume the worst, seeing most elected Republicans as little more than a corrupt cartel of Trump bitter-enders. I think they underestimate the character of many of the men and women I know well who serve the Republican Party."

Many analysts have pointed out that polling consistently for more than a year has shown more Americans opposing than supporting impeachment (something close to 55% to 37% has been a norm). Will that remain stable? It might not if congressional Democrats unite in favor of impeachment, since up to now only about 60% of Democrats on average have favored impeachment (and somewhat under half of independents). Many may have reflected the division on the subject they've seen in the Democratic congressional caucuses, and the numbers could rise considerably if Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents) coalesce around it.

The other consideration is the new Ukraine scandal: The president apparently using the threat of withholding congressionally-approved United States funds from Ukraine to pressure a Ukraine investigation of his leading political rival. This is a clear-cut situation, little of importance about it is disputed, and it implicates both American national security and the willingness of the president to use the power of the presidency - and that of foreign governments - to interfere with the 2020 elections. The case is easy enough to understand; you can put it on a bumper sticker.

The one poll I've seen on impeachment that factors in Ukraine asked, "If President Donald Trump suspended military aid to Ukraine in order to incentivize the country’s officials to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, would you support or oppose impeachment?” The result: 55% favor impeachment (44% "strongly"), and just 26% were opposed. The numbers on impeachment had more than flipped.

Of course, once these trains start, they take on a life of their own. The House Democrats, and their Senate counterparts, could make a hash of things, which wouldn't be the first time. How might they not?

Stats specialist Nate Silver had a few thoughts about this, and three merit repetition.

First, "Be narrow and specific, perhaps with a near-exclusive focus on Ukraine." The list of possible impeachable offenses is quite long, stretching out past the horizon. Democrats may see some temptation to throw in the kitchen sink; if they do, they'd just be lowering fog into the proceedings, something Trump surely would welcome. Forget about Russia; stick to Ukraine.

Second, point out why this action has merit even only a year ahead of an election when voters can make their own decision on Trump: Because that election is only a year away. If the president did what he's being accused of - and in large part has admitted - then he has displayed a willingness to use the vast powers of the presidency to go so far as to steal the next national election. That would put the future of the United States as a nation governed by its people at direct risk. Many Americans could get the point that this is an extreme enough situation to merit an extreme action, which impeachment is.

The other key point Silver makes: Do it quickly. The core facts are out there, and many of the rest (those available in any event in near future) should be available soon. (Take note of the prospect of congressional testimony this week of the still-unknown whistleblower who raised the whole situation.)

Even done with optimum skill, this won't be easy for anyone to navigate. And there haven't been a lot of impeachments through American history to draw from. But some paths toward impeachment clearly are smoother than others.
 

One city or two?

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About a century ago a bunch of cities were located in northern Bannock County, in the area of Pocatello. There was Pocatello and Chubbuck and, among others, on the northwest side of the larger community, Fairview and North Pocatello.

The Pocatello area was growing as a railroad, manufacturing and later education center, and all those small communities started bumping up against each other. In 1924 the villages of Fairview and North Pocatello decided to merge, and became the city of Alameda. The new city’s population was about 1,800 then. It continued to grow, and by 1960 it was more than 10,000. The city was then led by an ambitious political figure, George Hansen (later a U.S. representative), who did the unusual thing of arguing that his job ought to vanish: He supported a merger of Alameda with Pocatello. That merger happened, after people in the cities voted approval, in 1962.

Here’s the echo of today from all that: Alameda wasn’t the only city considering a merger with Pocatello in 1962. The municipality of Chubbuck, on the north side of Pocatello, was voting too, and its voters rejected the proposal. The two cities are separate to this day.

So far.

A group of Pocatello city officials, including long-time council member Jim Johnston, are supporting a new plan to merge the two cities. In another echo of the past, there’s sharp opposition from much of the leadership of Chubbuck. That difference in local leadership attitudes may have been one of the reasons for the 1962 vote happening as it did.

Some aspects of the current plan may draw some quick opposition around the area. There’s talk, for example, of renaming the merged jurisdiction Gate City, which probably would never fly. (Pocatello is among other things already a distinctive and reasonably well-known name; why re-brand from scratch?)

Chubbuck officials will tell you - at least they have for years told anyone listening - that the two cities really are quite different in character, and that’s more right than wrong. They also have a realistic, though possibly rebuttable, case about how finances would work (to Chubbuck’s detriment) if the cities united.

But the Pocatello advocates have some good arguments for a merger.

Johnston (who said he plans to make the case for unification as a key part of his upcoming council campaign) argued that, “If we could eliminate duplication of services, we would save huge dollars and be able to reduce the tax burden.” Maybe; merger proposals do not always deliver as clear savings as seem evident in advance.

But they usually do result in efficiencies and more cooperative work. A local area split into a number of jurisdictions has more obstacles to overcome when it tries to accomplish something region-wide. (The Ada and Canyon areas are experiencing the same thing, and while merger talk isn’t in the wind, many of the issues surrounding it are.) Pocatello and Chubbuck are distinct entities, but then parts of Pocatello (and to a lesser extent Chubbuck too) are sharply different from each other. And if the merger brought together a wider range of points of view and perspective, and forced people who think differently to interact with each other, some useful results probably would come from that.

There would even be a matter of civic pride and economic development, which could work together. If the cities were united, the urban population base would seem to increase. Pocatello’s population recently has been counted at 56,266 and Chubbuck’s 15,315; united, they would form a city of 71,581. That would make it clearly the biggest city in Idaho east of Boise or outside the Ada-Canyon area. It would gain some cachet, and also more attention as businesses consider optimal locations. The difference would be artificial, true, but first impressions do sometimes count.

Pocatello voters will get a chance to mull some of this during the council campaigns this fall. So will the residents of Chubbuck since, after all, they won’t have far to hear to the advocates over in Pocatello.
 

The crowd in Boise

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Boise’s long-time mayor, David Bieter, has faced light opposition since he first was elected to the job in 2003. This year, in contrast, he faces a crowd. And, likely, a tougher contest.

In some ways, that larger crowd might work to his advantage. But there’s a real chance the shape of this year’s contest could cost him the job in this year’s elections.

Begin with this: The criticism of and opposition to Bieter, who at this point is the longest-serving mayor in Boise’s history, is greater this time around than it has been before. That includes voting sectors that traditionally have been his base, and this is a more recent development. Across issues ranging from development to construction of a new library building, a common thread running through the complaints is that City Hall has stopped listening to the citizens, and rams its agenda through without broad enough consideration, and Bieter has been the focus of those complaints. I won’t try to litigate the pros or cons of that complaint here, but the criticism is more broadly-based than it was in earlier election years.

And it has helped generate anger at city hall, maybe enough to lead to some upsets this time around.

Bieter, who has coasted to re-elections before, drew opposition early this time. His chief opponent appears to be Lauren McLean, a member of the city council and well-connected around town; she has been campaigning hard for months, and her campaign has gotten some good reviews. But there are other contenders too: Adriel Martinez, Cortney Nielsen, Wayne Richey - and two more of note, former Mayor Brent Coles, and Rebecca Arnold, president of the Ada County Highway District. Coles resigned amid scandal, and his entry drew plenty of surprised head shakes. Both Coles and Arnold took direct shots at Bieter, and Arnold warned that McLean would be more of the same kind of administration as Bieter has run. The case for how Coles or Arnold might win the mayorly seems . . . obscure. But the two of them could add to the incoming fire Bieter has to deal with.

The usual political science 101 take on crowded campaigns is that when an incumbent is running for re-election, the campaign is mostly about that incumbent. This means the opposition tends to split the anti-incumbent vote, which tends to help the incumbent prevail.

Boise, however, is one of those cities with a runoff: If no candidate draws more than half of the overall vote in the general election, the top two contenders go into a runoff election.

This year’s election could be different. While the splitting of the opposition field among many more candidates might help Bieter to win at least a plurality of the vote, it won’t necessarily help him win a majority. While re-election contests usually are more about the incumbent than the challenger, those challengers do tend to bring in some personal support, additional votes, of their own. They also can change the content of the debate in unpredictable ways.

If Bieter’s support in town still is strong enough that he can win the first contest outright - with more than 50 percent of the vote - then that’s that. But the larger number of candidates in the field likely makes that more rather than less difficult.

And incumbents who are forced into a runoff tend to lose more often than they win, because the opposition vote, which earlier was split among many candidates, usually consolidates behind the one challenger who remains.

That 2003 contest Bieter won - which didn’t include an incumbent - was relatively simple in its dynamics. This one is much more complex, and more treacherous for an incumbent to navigate.

Mark this as a race to watch in Idaho this fall.

(note: The column was edited to remove a reference to the 2003 election.)
 

Details under the surface

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In his memoir, former Governor Phil Batt recalled when, in 1996, he had to decide whether to allow or block execution of a convicted killer.

The killing was horrendous, and the convict, Donald Paradis, was connected to it - he admitted to helping with transport of the body - but he maintained consistently that he was not the killer.

Batt was a death penalty supporter. He was no fan of Paradis or his fellow “group of unsavory characters,” nor even of his attorney (Bill Mauk, who was a Democratic Party leader and candidate in Idaho around that time). On the question of whether to sustain a Pardons and Parole Board decision to stop an already-ordered execution, Batt admitted, “I went into my deliberations with a skeptical attitude.”

But also a careful, investigative and thoughtful one. He cleared his calendar for day after day as he reviewed the record, weighed the physical evidence, and even talked with the mother of the victim. He struggled with it. His final conclusion: There was enough doubt as to Paradis’ guilt that he should not be executed.

That was not a universally praised decision - the governor just kept a killer from getting what he deserved, right? - but Batt’s instinct was sound. Five years later, after new evidence came to light, Paradis’ conviction was vacated. (He was convicted instead of being an accessory after the fact.) It took a lot of careful sifting of details to come up with the right answer.

The Batt-Paradis incident comes to mind in the new case of Adree Edmo, also an Idaho state prisoner but one whose decision point is different: He, a state prisoner born male who identifies as a woman, is asking the state of Idaho to pay for sex-reassignment surgery.

Edmo has been behind bars after conviction of child sexual abuse. In a statement, Governor Brad Little notes that, “Edmo would have been eligible for parole by now but has chosen not to follow the prison’s rules of conduct. There are numerous instances of Edmo engaging in violence and other prohibited conduct while incarcerated, eliminating the opportunity for parole. … Edmo’s doctors and mental health professionals … universally agreed gender reassignment surgery is neither medically necessary nor safe given Edmo’s mental state and incarceration.”

These are all relevant points and worth bearing in mind. But in dismissing the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision imposing the responsibility for surgery on the state as simply another case of “activist federal judges [who] overstepped yet again,” and warning that the state could be on the hook for big medical payouts in this and other cases like it, he focused on urging opposition to the decision in the name of “what is reasonable and right.”

After all, who wants their hard-earned tax money being used to pay for a sex abuser’s sex-change surgery? It just seems a matter of common sense, right?

But is it that clear-cut?

Two news stories last week, both from the Idaho Press at Nampa, throw some shades of gray on the question.

One took the trouble to ask: How much might the state actually have to pay? The answer seemed to be: Maybe not much, maybe nothing at all. It said, “the state’s contract with its prison health care provider, Corizon Health, includes the cost of appropriate treatment for gender dysphoria, meaning the cost for the inmate’s surgery could be covered by the existing contract.”

The other story stopped to ask what has happened, in recent years, to other prisoners in the Idaho pen system who have had gender issues that went unaddressed behind bars. The answer wasn’t comforting. Their ranks included suicides of at least “three Idaho inmates - two who had gender dysphoria and one who was living with sexual identification issues.”

Bear in mind that, whatever these people did and whatever we may think of them, the people of Idaho are responsible for their well-being as long as they’re in state custody.

This is not an argument that Little and the state are wrong; the facts may be with them. But as Phil Batt found, first impressions can mislead and you often have to do some digging to be sure. In considering questions like this, beware of bumper-sticker simplicity.
 

The pot initiative

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Was it only two years ago that seemingly quixotic ballot issue effort was underway to expand Medicaid health insurance in Idaho?

It seemed like an improbable thing. Nearly all of the elected officials in Idaho who had anything to say about the Affordable Care Act, of which Medicaid expansion was a critical piece, were heaping abuse on it at every opportunity. The intensity of the opposition among the state’s political leadership at least was overwhelming, which should have been an indicator that expansion just wasn’t likely to happen, even at the voter level, right?

But it didn’t work out that way. Medicaid expansion not only passed among the Idaho voters, it passed in a landslide. And while the legislature fought back, a modified version of it is now going on the books and coming into place.

Legalized medical marijuana, the subject of an intensive petition drive, must seem about as improbable now as Medicaid did then. But the state’s Medicaid experience now tells us this: Don’t write off the prospects that it will go on the Idaho books.

While the Affordable Care Act never polled massively well in Idaho (probably it does better now than it did six or eight years ago), Medicaid expansion in recent years at least consistently polled well. While complete marijuana legalization still does not poll well in Idaho, medical marijuana does,; well enough to suggest that the narrowly-crafted measure to legalize and regulate it would have a decent chance of passage if it reaches the ballot in November next year.

Will it reach the ballot? The effort already has cleared several bars, and the petition signature process is underway; it will continue until next spring. The Medicaid expansion campaign was unusually well organized and did a terrific job; it will not be easy to replicate. But it also created a template, a specific set of steps and plan of attack that other ballot issue campaigns could use in the future. Such as medical marijuana, this year.

Backers need to collect more than 55,000 signatures, distributed around the state in specific ways. That makes the effort more difficult, but - and this was a lesson coming out of Medicaid expansion - it also means that if organizers develop a powerful and thorough enough campaign to get that done, they also have developed a strong enough campaign to sell the case affirmatively to the voters.

The case also has another advantage: Earlier adoption by neighboring states. By the time Idaho voters got to decide on Medicaid expansion, they could look around and see a number of nearby states that already had taken action on that front, and found no great negatives accruing. In the case of medical marijuana, most of the states bordering Idaho already have taken the legalize-and-regulate route (which resembles what Idaho does with alcohol), and the skies have not fallen in on them. In southwest Idaho, residents are seeing regular visits between the Boise metro area and the city onf Ontario, less than an hour away, as Idahoans buy what they want and can’t buy (legally) at home. The same thing happens in other border areas. None of this is going unnoticed by Idaho voters.

If the measure does make the ballot and does pass, many legislators would not doubt want to take an ax to it at the next legislative session. But they might have cause to hesitate. The effort by legislators this year to undermine the will of a landslide portion of Idaho voters, followed by an effort to virtually kill off the initiative process in Idaho, has led to some backlash. If on top of that a majority of Idaho voters choose to legalize medical marijuana, and legislators move to repeal it, what might be the political impact of that?

Imagine opposition to a marijuana liberalization law as the basis for a serious political threat to Idaho legislators. As unlikely as it sounds, the pieces for that could be coming together.

That’s down the road, of course. The legalization advocates have a long way to go before all that could happen.

But as the Medicaid expansion activists would tell you, never write off an effort backed by enough people.
 

Opioids, microscopically

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The last time opioids were this big a deal in Idaho was almost a century and a half ago, when they made their way into Boise and beyond through trade routes on the west coast. Opium became a big enough commodity that - in part because Chinese immigrants were implicated - the territorial legislature clamped down, and raids and prosections ensued. The opium market was not eliminated but was largely quashed.

All these years later, opioids have found Idaho again.

The stereotype of an opioid problem area might bring to mind Appalachia or the troubled industrial areas of the northeast, or maybe parts of the rural south. Surely not places like Idaho.

But it’s been no mistake that the state of Idaho (through the attorney general’s office) and a growing bunch of local jurisdictions (Twin Falls just joined the list) have joined into a national lawsuit over opioids - especially their marketing.

Idaho, it turns out, is one of those places in the country harder-hit than most by this new epidemic.

And unlike most contagious diseases and unlike most problems with drug abuse - methamphetamines, say - the opioid drug abuse problem has many of its roots in “legitimate” society, with licensed physicians who got their patients hooked, and with corporate manufacturers of patented products. Filing a lawsuit against a meth dealer would be ludicrous (such an actor would simply be locked up), but that’s not so in the case of opioids, where the road to addiction so often has started with legal prescriptions.

On May 3, the Idaho Falls Post Register reported, “If you live in eastern Idaho, you don’t need anyone telling you about the ravages of the opioid epidemic. Bonneville and Bannock counties have the highest percentage of drug-overdose deaths in the state. Bonneville, along with Elmore, Owyhee and nine other Idaho counties got so fed up with the opioid epidemic they joined a federal lawsuit last year against the makers of OxyContin, Lortab and other opioids.”

And yet the worst of the opioid problem in Idaho seems to be further north. The Centers for Disease Control has broken out prescription rates for opioids by county, and the hottest area in the region - in either Idaho or Washington state - turns out to be the Lewiston-Clarkston area, with adjacent Lewis County (on a per capita basis) coming in slightly higher still. For many recent years, little Lewis County had the highest prescription rates of any county in the western United States.

The Lewiston Tribune’s detailed August 18 story on the problem locally quotes veteran Moscow physician Dan Schmidt, who works around the region - and doesn’t seem especially surprised at the high rates. He notes that Lewiston and Clarkston, with their large stores, may rate high because people from smaller nearby counties shop (and get their drugs) there. He also suggested that the medical community has failed to regulate itself - the profession “dropped the ball.” He recalled, the story said, “drug company sales representatives showing up at his clinic with free food, three times a week.” When Schmidt declined to buy, their visits stopped. But, as he seems to indicate, not all physicians in the area may have reacted the same way.

And he thought the large number of people on disability or who live on very small incomes have a strong incentive to sell legal opioids they get through the local pharmacy.

Legal opioids, of course, often have led to heroin and other illegal opioid addictions; the problems are closely related.

The reports we’re seeing seem to show that the problems are systemic as well as personal. Any attempt to solve the problem will have to consider the systems of medical and pain treatment as well as control over the substances.