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A tougher job

Mike Moyle, the new Idaho House speaker, provoked a subject worth considering early in this session when he proposed the legislature change the way it approves, internally, state budgets.

For more than half a century, the process has worked like this: From the beginning of each session, the 10 members of each of the two budget committees - Senate Finance and House Appropriations - convene together nearly every day the legislature is in session. (Together, it is called the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, or JFAC as Statehouse people usually call it.) It has by far the most physical building space of any committee, and it long has had a substantial year-round professional staff.

At first committee members get budget and revenue overviews, then hear public requests and proposals from state agencies (that’s where they are right now in this session). Then they pause to catch their breath, and start negotiating and voting on the dollar amounts. Those budgets, mostly agency by agency, are sent in bill form to the Senate and House floors - they’re split between them, with first one then the other chamber voting. Usually they pass the bills as written by JFAC and send them on to the governor for signature.

Occasionally there’s a controversy in the process, and JFAC sometimes has been known to rewrite a budget after a floor rejection, but mostly it has for decades worked like a factory process.

Not every state does it this way. Some split the budget-writing between two committees that have little to do with each other (and often then have to negotiate later), or simply divide the voting rather than have a single joint committee do the job at once.

The latter approach seems to be what the speaker is aiming toward. There’s political logic to it: Actually, more rationales than just one. Moyle pointed out, accurately, that in recent sessions House Republicans (the caucus as a whole) have had divided reactions to budget bills coming from the joint committee, and a bill which has pre-approval from a majority of the House members on the committee (since it would be possible for a bill to progress with a majority of the senators but a minority of House members) might have more traction on the House floor.

Of course, that wouldn’t address some of the inevitable discrepancy. The JFAC members, exposed to extensive testimony and detailed budget analysis from staff and other people, simply have deeper grounding in the fine grain of the budget than most other Senate or House members do.

Getting the Senate and House committees to vote separately might do something else too: Weaken JFAC, which usually is considered by far the most powerful legislative committee. The Senate and House members there traditionally work closely together and the budgets they develop are challenged on the floor only uncommonly: Those 20 legislators ordinarily set the terms of state government as much as all the rest put together.

The down side is the complexity of the process. Which side, House or Senate, develops a budget proposal first? If the other side rejects it, what sort of process would they go through to come to an agreement? Eventually, House and Senate committees both still would have to come to terms on numbers. A broken-up vote process would make that much more complex.

It’s not hard to imagine it adding two or three weeks to a legislative session - unless, of course, the members quietly met to hash out behind-closed-doors deals on what would get majority votes on both sides. And considering the many times that quiet negotiations among JFACers have determined important budget bills in the past, you can imagine that as more likely in the future rather than less. A good deal less of the sometimes frustrating work of budget crafting might take place in public.

Of course, as noted, various states use a range of procedures in building their budgets at the legislative level, and none are perfect. In Idaho, after half a century and more of one procedure, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at alternatives.

As legislators do consider the options, though, they may be wise to consider whether they’re looking at taking a step forward, or back.

 

Constitution changes by the dozen

Lawmakers face 38 proposed changes to the state constitution this session.

Few will pass. Massive and drastic change is something to be wary of when it comes to altering the state’ core governing document, though the voters do approve changes from time to time.

But the proposals do carry messages, including of Republican frustrations in Oregon.

Constitutional amendments are introduced as joint resolutions (a form also used to create interim committees and take some other actions) which, unlike bills, require no action by the governor for passage.

There are two bipartisan proposals. Senate Joint Resolution 10 would shift control of the legislative and congressional redistricting process from the Legislature to a new Citizens Redistricting Commission, along the lines of those in the states bordering Oregon. Early in the decade-long cycle before the next remapping effort would be the optimal time for passage. And the sponsors, Sens. Suzanne Weber, R-Tillamook; Jeff Golden, D-Ashland; Bill Hansell, R-Athena; and Reps. John Lively, D-Springfield; and Greg Smith, R-Heppner; are split between the parties.

Two alternative Republican proposals, SJR 9 from Republican Sen.  Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, and SJR 25 from Sen.  Fred Girod of Stayton, have a similar goal.

Another bipartisan proposal, House Joint Resolution 8, lists seven Republican sponsors and one Democrat (Sen. Lew Frederick of Portland), and is aimed at requiring citizenship for voting.

Democrats contributed three amendment proposals. Secretary of State Shemia Fagan asked to allow same-day voter registration (HJR 4). Sen. Chris Gorsek of Troutdale asked for expanded uses for motor vehicle tax revenues (SJR 2). Rep. David Gomberg of Otis proposed a simple word change (HJR 14), replacing “declaration of emergency” in referring to bills intended to be effective quickly, replacing that with “early implementation date.” Only Fagan’s measure seems likely to generate much discussion.

All the other ideas were  proposed by Republican legislators, and one of their biggest concerns is the Legislature itself. Some Republicans have not made peace with the relatively recent addition of regular, short legislative sessions in even-numbered years. Sens. Art Robinson of Cave Junction (SJR 4) and Fred Girod of Stayton (SJR 24) proposed amendments to eliminate them.

Other legislation-limiting proposals were suggested. Two (SJR 16 and SJR 20) would require two-thirds vote for passage of certain bills in even-numbered sessions.

Rep. Werner Reschke, R-Klamath Falls, urged in HJR 6 that the supermajority or three-fifths requirement on revenue-raising bills cover more subjects, and Sen. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, proposed SJR 1,  which would raise the 60% supermajority to two-thirds. Measures deemed an emergency would need a two-thirds vote under an amendment (HJR 11) from Reps. Kevin Mannix, R-Salem, and Lily Morgan, R-Grants Pass, and another (SJR 5) from Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer.

The executive branch, under Democratic control yet again, has come in for attention in ways large and small. Proposals would allow the Legislature to overturn administrative rules by resolution (SJR 18), skirting a gubernatorial veto, or go further in requiring legislative approval before any rule could take effect (SJR 21).

A budgeting proposal from Girod (SJR 22) would “limit increase in state governmental appropriations for general governmental purposes in biennium to least of percentage increase in projected personal income, percentage increase in projected population growth plus inflation or percentage increase in projected gross domestic product of Oregon for biennium.”

Some are more specific, requiring legislative approval for some specific spending decisions (SJR 15), road tolling (SJR 19) or even Senate signoff on gubernatorial pardons (HJR 10 and SJR 11).

The state’s pandemic experience led to a proposed amendment “to place durational and other limitations on declarations of emergency by governor” (SJR 14 and HJR 9), the latter drawing 10 Republican legislative sponsors, the most of any proposed amendment. Yet another is more specific (HJR 7), prohibiting Oregon’s executive branch from “requiring medical procedure or vaccine or type of vaccine to be administered to any individual or class of individuals, unless legislative assembly has enacted law that expressly identifies medical procedure, vaccine or type of vaccine and individuals or classes of individuals for which medical procedure or vaccine administration is required.”

Oregon is the only state that doesn’t provide for impeachment of elected officials, and Senate Republican leader Tim Knopp of Bend offered a corrective (SJR 13) to provide that “officials could have been impeached for malfeasance in office, corruption, neglect of duty or other high crimes or misdemeanors.”

Substance as well as process has turned up as some of the more intriguing ideas. Some are simply constitutional versions of normal Republican legislative ideas, such as carrying concealed firearms (SJR 3 by Robinson), enacting a Right to Work labor law (HJR 15), legal provisions concerning aggravated murder (HJR 3), and property tax help for owners who live in their residences (SJR 6, SJR 17, and SJR 8, the latter aimed at seniors).

Another would establish a right to hunt and fish (HJR 5), but does allow for legal restrictions, which raises the question of what its effect would actually be. Even more explanation might be useful for SJR 7 from Sen. Cedric Hayden of Roseburg, who proposed a “constitutional right to subsist,” which would include a “right to save and exchange seeds and grow, raise, harvest and consume food of one’s own choosing.” Depending on what this might mean on a concrete level, it might get either a lot of support at the Legislature, or very little.

Good thing the Legislature has about half a year to work: Lots of paperwork has piled up already.

This article first appeared in the Oregon Capitol Chronicle.

 

Just the text, ma’am

As I sat down to write this, a total of 12 House bills and nine Senate bills have been introduced in the Idaho legislature.

As is normal, some of them are housecleaning measures designed to clear up details, errors or obsolete language in state law.

What follows is the statements of purpose, and in a couple cases, clarifying quotes from the bill text, of all of the other pieces of legislation - everything really substantive - introduced so far in 2023. Judge for yourself what they say about the state of Idaho.

House Bill 1 “Ensuring that post-election audits of paper ballots are conducted using a hand count of those paper ballots.” (Rep. Julianne Young)

HB 2 “The new section adds 18-8709 to provide for withholding of sales and use tax revenues from local government entities that issue proclamations, or take similar actions, to defy state law and refuse to investigate or enforce Idaho criminal abortion statutes. Said funds may be released to an offending local government if compliance occurs within a certain time. Should the local government entity not comply, said funds shall be forfeited and deposited in the state general fund.” (Rep. Bruce Skaug)

Senate Bill 1002 ("criminal abortion") This legislation amends Idaho's criminal abortion law, section 18-622, to change the definition of abortion. The key effect is to put the focus on whether a living human child is being killed, and this legislation offers clarity on medical intervention in the case of ectopic pregnancy and other medical situations. (Senators Scott Herndon, Daniel Foreman)

SB 1003 “This legislation amends section 67-2802A regarding segregation requirements for the public works contracts of Idaho's political subdivisions.” (Herndon)

Since that’s unclear, here’s the relevant change in the bill, adding this to state law: "Unless specifically required pursuant to applicable federal law or regulation, a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall not be required to provide access to a multiple-occupancy restroom, a multiple-occupancy shower facility, or a multiple-occupancy changing room on any basis other than biological sex. For purposes of this subsection, ‘biological sex’ means the physical condition of being male or female as stated on a person's birth certificate. A bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall have standing to challenge a violation of the provisions of this subsection, and such party shall be awarded costs and attorney's fees in the event that such challenge prevails."

SB1004 “The purpose of this legislation is to enhance Idaho's Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. This legislation protects an individual if they merely threaten the use of force in a lawful self-defense situation, and it offers a person who uses lawful force a legal opportunity in the courts to claim self-defense immunity. The legislation also provides opportunities for the recovery of costs in certain prosecutions.” (Herndon)

SB 1005 “This legislation requires licensed daycare facilities to notify parents or guardians of their right to vaccine exemptions anytime the licensed daycare facilities communicate with parents regarding vaccination requirements.” (Herndon)

SB 1006 “... to provide for the enforcement of federal immigration law, and provides procedures for the Idaho Attorney General to seek equitable relief from a government entity found in violation of Title 19, Idaho Code, to include the denial of sales tax distribution funds.” (Foreman)

SB 1007 “This legislation repeals Section 46-802, Idaho Code, that prohibits members of organizations other than the National Guard, unorganized militia, or select other groups from associating and parading in public with firearms. This legislation supports the Second Amendment Rights afforded to Idahoans under the U.S. Constitution.” (Foreman)

SB 1008 “This legislation amends Chapter 33, Title 18, Idaho Code, to prohibit the administrations of public colleges and universities from placing limitations on the possession, carrying, or transporting of concealed weapons or ammunition on campus grounds.” (Foreman)

SB 1009 This section establishes health rights under the law for medical patients, their family members, and legal guardians. (Foreman)

The measure says Idaho governments cannot “Order Idaho residents in general to remain in their homes, close their businesses, social distance, or wear masks or other facial coverings because of an emergency, extreme emergency, or medical emergency,  whether declared or undeclared; or Advertise via any medium, electronic or otherwise, for the recommended public use of any vaccine, drug, or medication classified as experimental by competent medical authority (and related similar language) …. Visitation by a patient's family members or legal guardians shall be allowed unless the patient refuses visitation or visitation is expressly denied by the attending physician for sound medical reasons in the best interest of the patient. General denial of visitation by family members or legal guardians shall not be instituted as a matter of administrative policy.”

Comment on most of this would be superfluous. Or should be.

(image: Legislation by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free)

 

Decriminalizing effects, or not

This makes for a simple and compelling storyline: Since Oregon has loosened its marijuana and other drug laws – through ballot measures in 2014 and 2020 – law enforcement agencies have been reporting massive seizures in the state of illegal pot and large-scale illegal operations in rural parts of the state. The implicit message is that drug abuse is exploding.

Some of the seizures are massive, amounting to more than 105 tons in the state so far this year, much more than just three years ago.

Beyond those headlines, however, the connections aren’t so simple, and some perspective is needed.

One way to approach this is through the organization that is the source of the 105-ton figure; it is especially useful because of the way the group is set up: a little counter-intuitively. This is the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, a little odd as an integral unit both for geographic reasons and because Oregon and Idaho have such different drug regimes and issues. The contrast is also useful, because the differences between the two help shed a little light on the challenges each of the states face.

The task force focuses its efforts on 16 counties (a dozen in Oregon) and four Indian reservations (two in each state). Most of these house local-regional “initiatives.” Statewide, Oregon reported a drop in arrests over drug offenses from 10,684 in 2020 to 4,892 in 2021; the report suggested the passage of Measure 110, which decriminalized some personal possession of illegal drugs, may have been a reason. While not a strict comparison, Idaho reported that of more than 8,000 inmates in its correction system, the largest portion (34.7%) was behind bars for drug crimes, a contrasting picture.

Although the legal scene was very different, the task force’s Drug Threat Assessment sounded very much the same for both states when it came to specific problem areas.

“Fentanyl and methamphetamine were the most significant threats to Oregon and Idaho during 2021 based on drug seizures, drug related death data, initiative interviews, and surveys conducted in early 2022. The 18 Oregon-Idaho HIDTA enforcement initiatives based their survey responses on a criterion of drug availability, impact on caseload and community impact,” the report said.

That message coincides with recent reports from other regions showing shifts of trafficking in rural areas.

It went on: “One-third of HIDTA initiatives listed methamphetamine as their single greatest drug threat, while one third stated fentanyl alone as their greatest threat. However, three task forces stated that fentanyl and methamphetamine pose an equal threat in their jurisdictions. Sixteen initiatives identified methamphetamine as being the most available substance in their jurisdiction – either individually or in combination with other drugs.”

Those substances were reported by far as the largest problem area across both states, and both seem to be less affected by the law changes in Oregon than a number of substances illegal in one state but not, or less so, in the other. The report said that fentanyl trafficking into Oregon increased massively in 2021.

There was also this: “The Oregon State Police (OSP) forensic laboratory statistics for 2021 showed 50.7% of the samples submitted for analysis were methamphetamine. Heroin made up another 17.6% of submitted samples. Fentanyl accounted for 8.9% of samples. Cocaine and cannabis/THC each were roughly 3% of submitted samples. Another 2% of samples contained multiple drugs. Finally, all other drug types represented 13% of samples.” In Idaho, “methamphetamine represented 43% of samples analyzed in 2021, while marijuana was 23.5%. Heroin accounted for 8.8% of samples and fentanyl or fentanyl analogues were 5%.”

As for marijuana, law enforcement in both states this year continue to report significant amounts of illegal marijuana and cannabis extracts, though just a quarter of enforcement officers surveyed indicate “a rise in prevalence.” Prices for the illicit goods continue to fall, they said, especially in southern Oregon, where some of the largest illegal grow operations have been reported.

What to make of this?

No doubt more effort is going to be needed to go after illegal marijuana operations. (Is there some temptation to grow in a state where, the theory may be, the illegal product can be hidden among the legal?) Still, the ability of law enforcement to focus on the big traffickers rather than individual users may account in part for their success in cracking some of the large operations.

The task force’s report may in effect be a call to think carefully about where the most serious problems are, and how we measure them – hopefully, in context.

This column first appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

(image/Getty)

Legislative smashup

The Idaho Legislature, back in regular session this last week, is about to be yanked in two radically different directions on one of its core subject areas: education.

That split was apparent in two vivid events on the same day, the first day of the session.

The first event was the state of the state speech by Governor Brad Little, which had a strong standout section aimed at sharply changing the trajectory of Idaho public education.

Following on the big surplus-driven cash infusion from last fall, he proposed a string of funding efforts from scholarships to raising teacher pay and an emphasis on bolstering public schools. “Our commitment to public schools is both our constitutional obligation and it is our moral obligation,” he said. “When I started this job four years ago, Idaho was 41st in the country for starting teacher pay. In four short years, we will have catapulted starting teacher pay in Idaho from the bottom 10 to the top 10. We’re also going to grow the salaries of all teachers, including the most experienced ones, to ensure students have the classroom support they need.” Nor was that all; he outlined support for other aspects of public schools as well.

It was the kind of ambitious push many governors even in blue states would have been happy to give, and Idaho can (with its ongoing strong revenue) readily afford it. Little will have all or nearly all of the education community in the state in his corner as budgets and education policy are set this session.

But will that be enough?

Little’s agenda was, within the world of Idaho Republicans, highly controversial, and a big question arises about just how many votes he will get when bills are proposed in the Idaho Legislature.

You can get a look at what’s coming from a statement shortly after the State of the State from the Idaho Republican chair, Dorothy Moon: “While the Governor is right to emphasize education as a pathway to economic prosperity, his embrace of teacher’s union policy objectives — including a vast increase in spending without increased accountability metrics — is deeply disappointing. Idaho is not Colorado. And yet, the Governor’s vision for the next four years sounded no different than the vision offered by Colorado’s incumbent progressive Democrat governor. These policies do not benefit students. Much like the failed remote schooling policies pursued during the COVID-19 pandemic, the policies that Governor Little is advocating exist to benefit unions, not to educate students. Unsurprisingly, then, the State Legislature’s leading Democrats have all publicly acclaimed the Governor’s address and offered their full support for his agenda.

“Some might dismiss these concerns as an unnecessary rebuke. But our concern is not about being seen to rebuke Idaho’s Republican Governor but rather to stand with the people of Idaho, who have made it clear that they want policies consistent with conservative principle.”

This was the state Republican chair speaking about the Republican governor. (For the historically minded, it brings to mind the period around 1965.)

With that in mind, your attention is drawn to a local school board meeting held about six hours later and 25 miles west of the Statehouse, in Caldwell. The board was considering a new policy on gender and sexual identity, and as will happen these days it drew a shouting crowd.

The pivotal speaker was a new Republican senator from Caldwell, Chris Trakel, who effectively yelled that the proposed policy would damage children and added, "You will face litigation ... You call that a threat, I'm telling you that is what will happen. It's already happened in several states and there's already been rulings on it. So, before you waste taxpayer money, before you put a kid in harm's way, you better throw this policy out."

He knew his audience, apparently: Only the torches and pitchforks were missing.

Don’t think the state budget proposal was necessarily the central story of that opening legislative day, and the Caldwell meeting a sideshow, or that they’re about two different things. They're both about the future of Idaho schools.

Collision is dead ahead.

 

Setup for 2023

This year, the state will learn what how the decisions made in 2022 will look like in practice.This is likely to be most obvious in the political and governmental sphere. Oregon elected a new governor and three new members of Congress in November, but that is the beginning of the story, not the end.Starting this month, Oregonians will compare incoming  Gov. Tina Kotek with her predecessor, Gov. Kate Brown, and assess her  new management of state government (and even much of local government).

In December, Kotek launched a series of listening stops, starting in Yamhill and Douglas counties, in partial fulfillment of her promise to keep in closer touch with the far-flung parts of Oregon. But there will be questions about the extent of communications – who is invited, for example, to the small groups she’ll meet? – and what results come of it.

Kotek presented herself as a stronger manager of state government, determined to push through not so much policy changes as more effective management of them. There are no lack of management issues, from fulfilling Measure 110 drug assistance to helping with renter issues and homelessness to better funding of the public defender system. Illicit drug operations are also a problem. All were challenging for the last administration, and Kotek said she would improve the state’s performance. These are long-term issues, but we should have a sense within a few months of how she will tackle them.

We’ll also see how the slightly less Democratic Legislature does as well, when lawmakers  arrive later this month, and how Kotek relates to it in her new capacity. Governors with legislative experience have been known (not only in Oregon) to flounder in that area after making the transition. A bellwether was suggested by a headline from last campaign season:  “Democrat Tina Kotek pledged Monday to make capping campaign contributions one of her top priorities if she’s elected governor.” Watch this touchy topic closely.

Legislative leadership will be newer than it has been in more than in a decade. (Kotek has been around the statehouse a long time but she’s there now in a new capacity; it’s worth remembering that all three major governor candidates last fall had been prominent legislators and resigned their seats earlier in the year to run statewide, so none are back.) In 2023, Oregonians can decide how this version of Democratic control compares to the last.

Are Oregon Democrats shrinking their philosophical tent? Last year’s primary ouster of Kurt Schrader, a Blue Dog Democrat in Congress, opened the question of what the governing party will look like, broad (with serious reach to the center) or narrow. The departure of former Democrat Betsy Johnson speaks to this, too. This year may give us some clues about how the party in Oregon is currently defining itself.

Republicans face questions of a similar nature. Many Oregon Republican nominees in 2022 were from the mainstream of the party (“normies” in the lingo of some Donald Trump backers) but a significant number of nominees and other candidates were not. For the second election cycle in a row, the party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, Jo Rae Perkins, was a perennial candidate with personal issues and close alignment with QAnon, yet she easily won the party’s nomination, and more than 40% of the general election vote. Republicans in Oregon have serious structural problems looking ahead to 2023.

They also face some immediate questions. Here’s one: Will Republicans try to challenge the terms of the new constitutional amendment penalizing long-term absences from the session? Will they risk it? Will they be defanged?

How effective will Oregon’s two least-known brand new members of Congress be? Both Democrat Andrea Salinas in the 6th Congressional District and Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer in the 5th were elected with slim margins this year, and both can expect to be targeted by the opposing parties next time. In the coming year, will they be caught up in controversies? Will  they build broad connections to their constituencies? What sort of issues or debates will  they be associated with?

This year will be more than just about politics, of course. The farmworker overtime bill signed into law last April will come more fully into bloom this year. A proposed ballot issue to legalize sex work was short-circuited last year partly because of its descriptive language, and it may be back this year. Abortion laws could toughen even more in nearby states like Idaho, and Oregon will see ongoing pressure there. The appearance this winter of the “triple-demic” of COVID-19, the flu and the respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, either might fade or become an important driver this year with many hospital beds in the Northwest taken.

But in all of these cases, we might not need terrific insight to see what’s ahead. The signs were set in place last year. Now we begin the road ahead.

(column and image originally appeared in the Oregon Capital Chronicle)

A lot to swallow

Last year, according to the census, Idaho was the second fastest growing state in the nation, its population climbing close to two million, booming ahead faster than any state but Florida.

Idaho loves growth, any and all, the more the better. The powers that be in the state seldom have seen a developer they didn’t like, or at least didn’t want to encourage.

Let’s stipulate: Some growth is almost always a good thing. The next ratchet down, no growth at all, leads to a loss of energy and interest and eventually a depression of both attitude and economics. I’ve seen places stuck in a no-growth mode, and they’re seldom happy. Places in actual decline are worse off.

But unleashed, madhouse booms are rarely helpful either and often worse, and people who live in the west - home to many a boom town back in the day - should know that better than most. (Idaho’s old mining communities present many useful examples.)

Growth in the last couple of decades in the Ada-Canyon area has been stunning, and at times starts to show off the problems of boom town societies, which consist of a growth beyond what an area, and the people in it, can readily absorb. It’s like the diner in a restaurant whose eyes are bigger than their stomach … and winds up with a stomach ache the next day.

Among several cases for concern, take a look at Avimor.

The Avimor development (“not just a subdivision it's a community”) off Highway 55 north of the Boise-Eagle area got its start a couple of decades ago, approved by Ada County regulators. It has been, it should be said, a generally attractive residential development with some commercial activity, located well into the rural foothills on the road to Horseshoe Bend. About 700 houses, where more than 2,000 people (about three times as many as in Horseshoe Bend) live, have been built there.

These would be a tiny slice of the total if plans now roaring ahead come to fruition.

The current plans call for a much more urban development in the area. The Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled on January 17 to hear about the Avimor plan to build 8,761 new houses. The estimate is that the total population at Avimore would be more than 22,000, although given the number of houses and changes in residential patterns (increasing numbers of people in houses these days), that seems low.

Since there’s no practical way to manage a concentrated urban area of that scope without city services and administration, the plan is to annex that area to the city of Eagle. The annexation could come close to doubling the size of Eagle, making its population comparable to that of Pocatello or Caldwell.

It was just 30 years ago when Eagle’s population was significantly south of 4,000.

In fairness, too, this proposal was not dreamed overnight. Its general manager said last year that “Avimor has been working with Eagle since 2008, when we spent the time and money to get included in the city’s comprehensive plan.” This has been a long-range effort.

But some people in Eagle are worried about the effects. A story in the Idaho Statesman said, “Many Eagle residents say annexing Avimor into their city would be a mistake, costing existing residents more in taxes for local-government services in the long run than the development would generate in tax revenue.”

Those are fair concerns, and there are many others as well, from the increased traffic on 55 (which sometimes has a hard time with what it already has) to infrastructure pressures.

And it has had significant effects already on the governing of Eagle, as the Statesman also noted: “The fight over annexation was pivotal in the 2019 city election, when Mayor Stan Ridgeway, who opposed annexation, was defeated by Jason Pierce, who received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the McLeod family, which owns the property, and its developers.”

Given the political imperatives, the development may go through. But like the diner who overate at the restaurant, people in Eagle may wake up the next morning wondering what they did the night before.

(image)

Year after year

As I wrote this I hadn’t yet seen the list of top ten news stories from around the state, which is just as well, since although this is a top ten list that’s not its purpose.

The top news stories inevitably will include, for example - and may be topped by - the student murders at Moscow, which was a big and tragic story. But it says little about the development of Idaho, about the coming year and what Idahoans ought to be paying attention to.

What follows are interrelated items which say something about where we were in the last dozen months and where we may go in the next dozen.

One is the inquiry into the retired Boise police captain, a 24-year veteran, who in November was slated to speak to a national white supremacist group’s meeting. City officials have responded usefully, launching an investigation into how far such attitudes may have penetrated the organization. (It’s hard to believe someone with his job history would have been a complete loner.) But this isn’t about Boise only: What about law enforcement elsewhere around Idaho (and beyond)? Watch for developments.

Look for more followups on the feature story about political real estate. Stories from March focused on real estate operations in the Panhandle marketing to an extremist and survivalist base, employing terms like “American Redoubt,” “Strategic relocation,” and “bunkers – saferooms.” The area is becoming so well known for that atmosphere, and so socially and politically hardened, that you can watch for the appeal to spread across a wide range of businesses and other organizations.

Political extremism, with culture wars at their center, have spread all over. The efforts at book bans in the Nampa School District, which went along, and the Meridian Library District, which has been resisting, are merely partway in their development.

Along those lines, watch closely the demolition of North Idaho College, proceeding rapidly since Kootenai County voters in November returned control of the governing board to an extremist core (supported by the local county Republican Party organization) apparently bent on destroying the place. On that same election day, governing boards at other community colleges around Idaho remained relatively steady, but an attempt at going the NIC route was tried at the College of Western Idaho, and may be tried again there and elsewhere. These governing boards are hardly liberal, but they have been - so far - dedicated to keeping their local institutions afloat and operational. Will they stay so?

Most top-ballot elections in Idaho this year gave wins to mainstream Republicans, but the organizational energy seems to be with the more extreme MAGA-oriented sectors - as indicated by the results of last year’s Republican Party leadership elections, when the hard right swept the field. The Idaho Legislature, which is largely split between the two sides, will be ground zero for that struggle in the first part of the coming year. (Another question: Thanks to the ballot issue passed last year, how many special sessions might we expect this year?)

With that in mind, one of the big stories of last year - the overturning of the national  Roe v. Wade decision - may be a growing point for activism in Idaho in the coming year. Last year, with elections around the corner, a piece of Idaho’s abortion law was stayed, and some anti-abortion activists may have wanted to hold back on taking additional steps in the area. Any hesitation will likely be gone once the legislature hits town.

That arrival may expose something else: The reasons behind the special session of last fall and abrupt infusion of money into public schools. The money may soon be yanked from the schools, but a fight over school funding seems almost inevitable.

Anything essentially non-political in these polarized days? There are some new economic developments, including possible expansion at Micron Technology (along with possible layoffs) and decisions about to be made around the specifics of a data center at Kuna. But I’m watching most the work on cobalt mining at Salmon, where - if trend lines hold - a central part of Idaho could see some big changes before long. If that’s the case, 2023 may be the year it takes hold.

Of course, 2023 may yet launch some fresh new stories of its own.

 

Ever narrower control

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The idea that Republicans are in charge in Idaho is nothing new. That’s the completely consistent history in Idaho ever since the last closely contested Idaho election in 1990.

So when the state’s Republican central committee - the party’s main governing board - acts to limit who can participate in selection of Republican nominees for office, there are two implications: one, that it is limiting who in effect can serve in office (not as a matter of law but of effect), and second, that it is setting narrower and narrower definitions of who is a Republican.

That second implication is moving ever closer to the center of political debate in Idaho, to where a break point may be coming.

The evolving definition of who gets to qualify as a Republican - both generally and for voting purposes - comes out of a couple of concerns expressed by some party activists. One is that people who do not really identify as Republicans (and of course some do specifically identify as Democrats or with some other group) have been participating in Republican primary elections, essentially because that is the only practical expression of their political preferences available to them in Idaho. While such crossover does happen, the numbers are far smaller than many of the party activists have alleged.

The other concern, more subtle but a more sensitive point for the party, is about who or what is a “RINO” - Republican in name only. Since anyone is allowed to join the Republican Party (or any other) - no one can tell you that you can’t - then what does it mean to say that you’re “Republican enough”?

The issue isn’t a new one. Many long-time Republicans in Idaho have been expressing just such concerns for a long time about many of the people now in charge of much of the party’s machinery. But now the people in that machinery - those, for example, excited by the invitation of Representative Marjorie Taylor Green to speak at an upcoming Kootenai Republicans event - are getting serious about trying to oust, or minimize the clout of effectiveness of more mainstream Republicans.

Those mainstreamers seem to be forming a larger and more vocal opposition. You could get a sense of that from the swelling numbers of career-long Republicans who earlier this year broke with the party’s nominee for attorney general and backed the Democratic nominee instead. Do you give up your right to identify or vote as a Republican if you ever support or vote for someone who isn’t? That was never the case traditionally, but the new agitators are pushing that standard.

Blowback at the January state central committee meeting may come partly when it considers whether to adopt a proposal raised at the last state party convention to restrict many people from voting in the Republican primary. One report described the banned as including anyone who is “Affiliated [with the GOP] less than 12 months before the next primary election held in an even-numbered year (so, a voter registering in June 2023 could not vote in the 2024 primary); disaffiliated with the Republican Party at any time in the previous 25 months; financially supported more than one candidate of a different political party for office, or financially supported a different political party, less than 25 months before the primary; affiliated with any other political party less than 25 months before the primary; voted in a primary or caucus for any other political party less than 25 months before the primary.”

You wonder who exactly is going to police all of this - or how to deal with violators. (In case you forgot, we’re talking here about the small-government party.)

Nor is that all. Another newer proposal would drop the Idaho Young Republicans, the College Republicans and the Idaho Republican Women’s Federation from membership on the state party’s executive board. That plan has raised alarms within those groups, which have been key to the party’s strong organization but don’t always align with the more extreme parts of party leadership.

The real question here is, who is still being allowed to participate in Idaho’s government-by-the-people?

Ever-fewer people, apparently.