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Uncomfortable options

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Idaho Republicans just can’t get comfortable with their primary situation.

And probably never will unless the national primary picture changes.

This month, the Idaho Republican Party said it will change once again its method of participating in the presidential nomination contest by holding a primary election on March 8. Last time, in 2012, the party held caucuses, which is what the Democrats have done for many years. While the Democrats have stuck with the caucuses for a while, largely because that’s a method for safely ensuring the state’s delegates will be accepted at the national convention, Republicans have wrestled with their system like Houdini trying to escape a straitjacket.

But there is no perfect escape available.

A caucus would get the job done, but Dave Johnston, the GOP executive director, reasonably noted that many people cannot participate because of the very specific time and place, and cited his own 2012 example, when he was unable to join in because he was on active duty in the Marine Corps. And he said three to five percent of voters may go to caucuses, but about a quarter will vote in primary elections (the percentages sound generally correct), which unlike caucuses are secret-ballot processes.

Okay, so what’s the problem with a March primary?

Mainly, the cost of holding more than one of them. Idaho traditionally has held its party primaries for state, congressional and local offices (covering both parties, and many other candidates) somewhere around summer, to keep the general election campaign season running into fall down to a reasonable length. For a while some decades ago they were held in August, but mostly in May, which seems to be a satisfactory time for most Idahoans.

The problem is, the presidential nomination contests are effectively all over by then. In 2012, Mitt Romney had become a prohibitive favorite for the nomination by the end of March, and in 2008 John McCain was widely called the “presumptive nominee” by the end of February. And the Republican Party has been trying to “front load” the system to compress the period of serious contests, to give the nominee more time to settle into general election mode. If Idaho Republicans vote for a nominee in the May primary, they’re playing in a game that’s long since over.

Hence the idea of a March primary, which might put the Gem State into the action. But who will pay for it? That’s been a sticking point at the Idaho Legislature for years, especially when the Democrats say they’re not interested. A taxpayer-funded election for the benefit of one party, for presidential but no other candidates, would have an uncomfortable tinge to it.

Last week I was discussing some of this endless circle on a radio program, and the host mentioned a former neighbor of his who had the proposal of setting up several regional primaries around the country. It might rotate from one presidential cycle to the next, and maybe get started later in the year so that all of the presidential year isn’t hard-core campaign season. I’ve heard the idea for years (with ideas of anywhere from four to eight regional primaries in the proposal), and I like it - it would give people outside of Iowa and New Hampshire a shot at playing that crucial early role in the selection. It might solve Idaho’s problem too, by moving the presidential contests to a later point so they could be combined with the regular state primaries.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem likely for the near future. So Idaho Republicans are probably going to be stuck with their discomfort for a while yet.

Idaho on fire

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The InciWeb site (inciweb.nwcg.gov) lists wildfires around the country, and as of late this week it showed 27 of them - or, to be more precise, 27 groups, in Idaho. Depending on how you count the number of Idaho fires probably could be listed well into three digits.

A number of them are listed as being fires in a “complex”, the Lawyer, Clearwater, Motorway, Middle Fork and others being among those. Several national forests, maybe lacking time for listing all the bits and pieces for Inciweb, just list “miscellaneous fires,” of formally zero but almost certainly undetermined acreage.

The biggest of them, the Soda fire in southwest Idaho, was more than 30 miles from Boise but so vast that skillfully shot pictures taken from the Boise foothills showed the fire and the city in one image, as if the city was about to burn. Much of the area burned by the Soda was lightly inhabited desert country, but it did serious damage enough to farm and ranch land and livestock. Fires to the north did cause a series of residential evacuations.

So much fire is going on out there it’s evidently become hard to manage even statistically. Looking down the numbers at a glance, you could see last week wildfires in Idaho covering as much as a half-million acres. And that’s not all that has or will go up in smoke this year.

Is this Idaho’s biggest fire year?

No. Not close.

Only three years ago, 1.75 million acres burned in the state, a level we may not reach this year.

But the biggest was more than a century ago, the great fire of 1910. It was the biggest recorded burn in American history, covering several states and more than three million acres (about three times the size of fires in the comparable region this year), killing at least 86 people, and hitting notably hard in northern Idaho. At least two entire Idaho communities, Falcon and Grand Forks, were wiped from the earth by the blaze. The New York Times writer Timothy Egan devoted an excellent book in 2009 to its causes and after-effects: The Big Burn, Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.

There were big aftereffects, not least at the U.S. Forest Service, whose lands were especially hard hit. Wikipedia summarizes what Egan and others have pointed out: “The Fire of 1910 cemented and shaped the U.S. Forest Service, which at the time was a newly established department on the verge of cancellation. Before the epic event, there were many debates on how to handle forest fires; whether to let them burn because they were a part of nature and were expensive to fight, or to fight them in order to protect the forests. After the devastation of the Big Blowup, it was decided that the U.S. Forest Service was to prevent and battle against every wildfire.”

Since then, debate has risen and grown about how to deal with wildfires - and if the history of recent years is a decent measure, we’re not on the declining side of them. Should they be fought with prescribed burns, a preferred approach for many professionals? Should forests be thinned through logging? Should some fires just be allowed to burn? Are there other approaches that might forestall more years like this one, or keep a future year from turning into another 1910?

After all, it could get even worse.

And will there be more emphasis in addressing these questions in the coming winter than there usually is after snow begins to fall?

If the snow begins to fall.

Women and Trump’s appeal

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Over and over in the last few weeks a cycle has kicked in. Donald Trump will say something, usually about women (a person in particular or more generally) which generates outrage, and comments surface to the effect: Okay, this is it, he's jumped the shark, he's over and done, stick a fork in him. And then polling results comes back showing him either losing no significant amount of support, or maybe even gaining a little.

The latest shot at Fox host Megyn Kelley, for example, on Friday, when - seeking to convey the idea she was being irrational - he referred to "blood coming out of her wherever", evidently a reference to menstruation. (He was a little vague, but if that wasn't the intended reference, I'd like to know what it was.) Lots of response to that, much of it suggesting that no presidential candidate can get away with that. Especially coming on the heels of his regularly recurring comments about women, which are no new thing; those quotes stretch back over years.

How does Trump survive this?

Simple. There's an audience happily glomming on to it. Trump's comments about women specifically are finding an audience for which that's an important statement as a positive qualifier for president. More important, in fact, than whatever he has to say about social policy (which has been, over the years, much more a mixed bag, some of it relatively liberal).

Here's one way we can be sure of this: The reaction to Megyn Kelly in the social media. She has been drawing support, of course, including from many people who have little positive to say ordinarily about Fox News or about her. But there's also a sudden, and large, bump in the social media commentary to and about her which is stunningly pejorative.

An article on the site Vox put some of this together. It presents a chart showing the number of tweets in recent weeks describing Kelly as a "whore" or "bitch" or other perjorative; it took a drastic rise just as the Trump-Kelly battle (which isn't the right word since Kelly, wisely, hasn't much fought back) took off.

Vox writer Max Fisher noted, "Trump, in response to the controversy over his comments, a backlash that has included condemnations from many in the GOP establishment, has not backed down one iota. Rather, he has encouraged the wave of online sexist hatred against Kelly, for example by retweeting this seemingly random twitter user who calls Kelly a "bimbo"."

There's a real streak of hatred against women out there. That much is not especially new. What is, is that it's metastasizing into a political movement, one which is forming a large part of the base for Donald Trump. How large is that movement? Is it now at a floor or a ceiling? Many political stories in the months ahead may turn on that question.

Of another subject

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Nine years ago, the Oregon Supreme Court threw out a 1971 law aiming at limiting advertising along highways that promoted any product not available on the premises. The idea was to allow, for example, a farmer to advertise at roadside his crops for sale, but disallow advertising for a motel or store located far away. The intent of the law was to limit the number of billboards without damaging local businesses.

The court killed the law because, it said, “The state may not enact restrictions that focus on the content of the speech, and this restriction does just that.”

That’s a central thread also running through the U.S. District Court decision last week throwing out the Idaho “ag-gag” law, which seeks to ban video recording of treatment of animals; the new offense was called “interference with agricultural production.” The recorders were compared to “terrorists” and “marauding invaders.” Critics said that the law made the penalty in Idaho higher for exposing evidence of animal abuse than for actually abusing animals.

District Judge B. Lynn Winmill looked at the law more broadly. He started by saying it “seeks to limit and punish those who speak out on topics relating to the agricultural industry, striking at the heart of important First Amendment values.” The law, he suggests, might have barred Upton Sinclair from researching and writing his great novel about the meat-packing industry, The Jungle.

Winmill moved on to this: “A person, such as an employee, would not violate §18-7042 if he or she stood in an agricultural production facility and surreptitiously filmed the agricultural facility owner having a private conversation with his spouse. This same employee, however, could be prosecuted under §18-7042, and face up to a year in jail, and be liable for reputational harm to the owner, if the employee, without the owner’s consent, filmed his fellow workers repeatedly beating, kicking, and jumping on cows, or using a moving tractor to drag a cow on the floor by a chain attached to her neck. In other words, ... law enforcement authorities would need to view suspect video or audiotape to determine whether a particular recording violates the statute. The recording prohibition is therefore a classic example of a content-based restriction.”

There is more: “The recording prohibition gives agricultural facility owners veto power, allowing owners to decide what can and cannot be recorded, effectively turning them into state-backed censors able to silence unfavorable speech about their facilities.”

What the “ag-gag” law seeks to do, at base, is stifle a participant's side of an argument – to say that one side cannot be expressed, but another can. Winmill: “The central problem with § 18-7042 is that it distinguishes between different types of speech, or conduct facilitating speech, based on content. As already discussed in the context of the First Amendment claim, an employee can make an unauthorized recording of an agricultural facility owner’s children visiting the facility without running afoul of § 18-7042, but the same employee could not make an unauthorized recording of workers abusing animals. Likewise, an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at an agricultural production facility so he can publish a laudatory piece about the facility would not violate the statute. But an undercover journalist who misrepresents his identity to secure a job at the same facility seeking to expose illegal, inhumane, or unsafe behavior would violate the statute. The operative distinction is the message the employee or undercover journalist wishes to convey.”

Where else in human history have we seen governments allowing legal free access for one message, while banning its counterpoint? Legislators might do well to consider that when they return to session to take up this issue again.

Tom Boyd

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In 1986, Idaho politics was not frozen in ice as it is today. It was fluid, and no better case for that could be made than Tom Boyd’s election that year to the speakership of the Idaho House.

It was still the Reagan Era in Idaho, but late Reagan Era, and the results of the 1986 election were all over the place. Democrat Cecil Andrus was returned to the governorship, but just barely, and Republicans did well among the rest of the statewide offices. Republicans won a serious U.S. Senate race, but not by a lot, and a Democrat won in the 2nd district U.S. House seat. The election was a true mixed bag: The overall tilt was Republican, but nothing and no one could be taken for granted.

Especially the party thought to be dominant in Idaho, the Republicans. As majority Republican legislators prepared that year to choose their leaders, they had some decisions to make, especially in the House.

There, the speaker for the previous two terms had been Tom Stivers, a conservative with some rough edges – the kind of guy who often generated what we now call “viral” quotes and anecdotes, like the time he replied to an Idaho teacher planning to leave the state over complaints about state funding and treatment of teachers, with the single word: “Goodbye!”

Stivers had been buoyed to some extent by the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide but he opted out in 1986, possibly sensing a shift in moods. Many of the Republican legislators of the incoming 1986 group sensed that change too, not any massive shift to the left but some dissatisfaction with what voters were seeing and hearing from the legislature. And – this part was important – many of them felt a need to respond to that.

Candidates emerged to replace Stivers, all with an easy-going style that contrasted with the outgoing speaker. The two main vote getters were Robert Geddes of Preston, who as assistant majority leader had been a part of Stivers’ leadership team, and Tom Boyd of Genesee, who was considered more moderate, part of a group calling itself the Steelheads, centrists who in the Idaho House could readily compare themselves to the fish that swims upstream.

The contest was a near-tie, and a break from the norm in the Idaho House where the more conservative candidate typically wins the race. Boyd emerged as speaker, and was re-elected twice to the post. Along the way he would turn back a challenge from now-U.S. Representative Mike Simpson.

Tom Boyd, who died July 28, was not a hard-charging politico, and never considered a run for higher office; he was a friendly, sociable, low-key farmer whose run for speaker surprised many people who knew him then, as uncharacteristically ambitious. He proved well up to the job, developing an unexpected toughness but also changing the face of the Idaho House.

He changed it in the direction most of his fellow legislators had wanted, as more open and welcoming to larger groups of people. He by no means shut out conservatives in key House spots; Geddes for one got a key seat on the budget committee (which he later would co-chair), but he expanded the dialogue in a number of ways.

Tom was missed when he left the legislature and will be missed now, as will be the kind of politics he thrived in.

Donald Trump’s Idaho?

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Is Idaho Donald Trump’s kind of place?

We now have a pretty clear idea of who all the major contenders for president will be in 2016: At this point all or nearly all have announced. (The New York Times declared the field unofficially closed after the announcement last week of Ohio Governor John Kasich.)

So who’s the Republican now most likely to pick up support in the Gem State?

The last couple of nomination contests weren’t good normal case studies, because Mitt Romney had unusually strongly connections to the Idaho area, between his ties to Utah and his Mormon religion, which he has in common with about a third of Idahoans, the bulk of that third being Republican.

Romney aside, the hearts of many Idaho Republicans seem traditionally to go toward insurgent and anti-establishment contenders, and candidates who match up with the Idaho self-image.

The biggest share of those Idaho Republicans who didn’t back Romney in the nomination fight in 2012 went for Ron Paul, whose candidacy was an irritant to much of the establishment. In 2000, there wasn’t really an insurgent candidate. George W. Bush got much of the state’s support and was the big favorite nationally from early on, but there was a significant base for Alan Keyes as well. In 1996, Pat Buchanan was the closest thing around to an insurgent anti-establishing candidate, but he never organized substantially in Idaho, and never picked up a lot of national traction.

When Ronald Reagan, still probably as popular in Idaho as he ever was, got his start, he was an insurgent candidate, running from a long-shot mode in 1968 and as a serious but definitely outsider challenger to a sitting president in 1976. And Reagan won that 1976 Idaho primary hugely, with 74.3% of the vote, his best vote anywhere in the country that year. A lot of the affection for him in Idaho built from that time, from his role not as a front runner or incumbent but as a challenger to powers that be.

Also liked: Challenger to powers that be who are dismissed by them. People like Helen Chenoweth and Sarah Palin picked up a lot of traction in Idaho in no small part for that reason. Their backers might call it being unafraid to speak the truth, their critics might call it speaking foolishness, but in Idaho you’ll find enough voters in the first camp to form a significant base.

Does Donald Trump fit into that mold? Or does someone else do so better?

Reagan had been a governor, but many of the people who like Trump say that much of what they like about him is that he’s an outsider, so presumably someone who hasn’t been a governor or a senator might have some particular appeal. They also like the idea that he “can’t be bought,” that he’s independently wealthy enough that he could do as he chooses. These concepts would have some resonance in the Idaho Republican electorate. Across that very large Republican field of candidates, only three, Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, have not been either a governor or a senator. And Carson and Fiorina are not top-rank contenders, at least at present.

And this time there aren’t any Republican candidates who touch the self-identity chords in Idaho the way Reagan, George W. Bush or Mitt Romney did.

Might Idaho be Trump territory? Could be, if The Donald lasts in his campaigning hothouse long enough to get to next year’s Idaho primary.

What’s medically necessary

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Being neither a medical nor a legal professional, I’m wary of stepping too far into this intersection of the two arenas. But there’s a large public policy question here worth your, as well as my, consideration.

On July 7 the Idaho Supreme Court decided Sohar Chavez v. Kevin Stokes, a worker compensation case. Chavez worked as an irrigator for Stokes on a farm near Payette; one day in September 2012 his pinky finger was caught and mangled in a piece of machinery. Stokes wasn’t insured for workers compensation but paid without dispute Chavez’ various medical expenses – except one.

After the accident happened, Chavez drove himself to the home of a Payette area law officer, where paramedics tried to treat him. Someone – apparently a paramedic – made the decision to call for the Life Flight helicopter, which flew him to the St. Alphonsus hospital in Boise. A few days later Life Flight issued a bill for $21,201. Stokes paid all the other expenses, but argued that the Life Flight, or at least its cost, was not necessary or reasonable.

The dispute over this has lasted a long time. About a year after the accident a referee was called in, and sought an independent doctor’s opinion. The doctor said the injury to the finger (which was serious enough that it was amputated at St. Alphonsus) was serious but it “was not in any way, shape or form, life critical. For that reason I do not understand why Life Flight was called or addressed in the first place, and why the case was not taken to Holy Rosary. Indeed, it is extremely reasonable that the patient would be taken physically to Holy Rosary Hospital. Had there been an incident which may in some way benefited from a vascular reconstruction, then the patient could be transferred to St. Alphonsus or St. Luke’s. Indeed, this was in no way necessary.”

The Holy Rosary Medical Center at Ontario is a substantial general-purpose hospital located about four to five miles from Payette, and could have been reached in a few minutes. St. Alphonsus in Boise was about an hour away by car, less by helicopter but still a longer trip even by air than to Holy Rosary. The referee concluded that the medical work could have been done properly at Ontario.

There are specific rules and guidelines in Idaho (as elsewhere) covering when a medical procedure is “reasonable,” and in this case the court applied some of those rules and partly reversed an earlier ruling. Overall, the unanimous court said, “We recognize that the Life Flight transport may be seen as arguably unnecessary with the benefit of hindsight, but the evidence nonetheless supports the Commission’s finding that the Life Flight transport was reasonable medical treatment at the time of Chavez’s injury.”

So, the conclusion was that the $21,201 less-than-an-hour helicopter flight was deemed a legitimate medical expense, and had to be paid by Stokes.

As the court’s language suggests, hindsight is easier than real-time emergency action.

Could the same result have been obtained for $21,201 less? It would seem so.

The answers aren’t completely settled and obvious in this area. The question of what was the right thing to do in this case was answered in different ways by various professionals. But the case of Chavez v. Stokes shines a light on why getting a handle on our medical expenses has been so hard, and on some of the discussions we’re going to have to have if we ever hope to bring them under some rational control.

Another go-round

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People tend to forget now, but Joe Albertson started out working at someone else’s supermarket.

Dropping out of the College of Idaho, he started as a clerk for the Safeway grocery chain. He was successful there, moving into midmanagement in his early 30s, but it wasn’t satisfying. Albertson thought he had a better way to run a grocery – they didn’t call them “supermarkets” then – and wanted to try running one on his own. Merging some of his own savings and some investments from a few other Safeway executives who believed in him, he launched his first Albertson’s at 17tth and State streets in Boise in 1939.

Befitting a store bearing its founder’s name, the Albertsons stores, which expanded quickly to Nampa and Caldwell, had a distinctive approach for the era, emphasizing not only a broad selection of food and other goods but also both self-service and strong customer service. The approach would eventually become standard in the industry, but it was new then, and Albertson’s personal insight and focus, and in many place community involvement, helped make his stores winners. Over the years he ran the company, the stores proliferated into the hundreds in many parts of the country.

Albertson’s company went public in 1959, but its founder kept a close watch until his death in 1986. In the years after that came the mass acquisitions: Seesel’s, Buttry, SuperOne, Bruno, and finally in 1999 swallowed the giant American Stores Company, which operated Jewel-Osco, Sav-on Drugs, Lucky and other stores. Closures and sales of stores followed. The public company, concerned as all public companies are about improving stock prices, began to be, apparently, more about buying and selling properties than it was about creating an innovative and popular supermarket – the basis of Joe Albertson’s successful business.

Financial indigestion was the near-term result, and in 2006 Albertsons was sold to SuperValu, and one of Idaho’s landmark businesses ceased to exist as an independent company. The Albertsons-labeled stores were slips up into various groups, bought and sold and swapped like trading cards.

Then it got a second chance.

Following a series of additional sales and mergers, which remarkably included important involvement by Safeway, Albertsons became a separate, freestanding company again. The Albertsons stores (and some others) were brought together with Safeway and some other store groups, and started operation as Albertsons LLC, still owned by an investor group. It has become again a massive company, running more than 2,200 stores around the country.

Last week, the investor group said it plans to take the company public – to again place Albertsons stock on the public stock exchanges.

What will Albertsons do now?

It could go back to the way it did business in the 90s, and some years down the road go through another round of swallowing and regurgitation.

The suggestion here, though, is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Make that little memorial at 17th and State in Boise to Joe Albertson’s first store something of a touchstone. And remember that while much in the world may have changed since 1939, the basic business sense Albertson displayed back then is, or can be, something more durable.

On the border

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Across the border from Idaho, people are buying, selling and consuming marijuana – legally under state law.

As of July 1, the rules changed in Oregon to more or less throw the doors open, at least within a tax-and-regulate system.

If you think about the way Idahoans interact with their liquor sales system, you could draw a rough comparison, factoring in private businesses (not state stores) that can sell pot and some limitations on how much of it a single person or household can possess, or grow. But balanced out, the sense of the rules is not far from the level of regulation Idaho has for liquor; the Oregon argument called for legalizing, regulating and taxing it. (The Oregon agency charged with overseeing it is its state liquor control agency.)

The activity is likely to be thinner in the areas near Idaho, east of the Cascades, because a new state law made it a little easier for local cities and counties to limit or ban pot-related businesses (though not pot possession or use) locally. The provision applies to counties which opposed legalization, all of which are east of the Cascades. You can expect to see some headlines about whether Ontario and other border communities, for example, will allow pot shops within city limits.

That may soften the borderline effect a little, but it won’t do away with it.

The changes in Oregon mean, adding in the similar system in Washington state, the whole west side of Idaho now faces states where under state law – if not fully federal – the marijuana marketplace is largely open. There’s also Alaska, for good measure. And, of course, one state over, Colorado is the fourth state to approve full legalization. In each of these states, businesses are developing, local societies are adjusting and legal marijuana is becoming a billion-dollar industry.

That’s the recreation pot picture, but bear in mind that most western states now allow for medical uses. West of Texas and the Dakotas, all but three states (Idaho, Utah, Wyoming) have at least partial legalization. Nevada and Montana allow for medical use, and there’s a good chance one or both will move toward full legalization in the next election or two.

Idaho, Utah or Wyoming, of course, seem no more likely today to legalize than they ever have. What’s happening – and the change in Oregon last week emphasized it again – is that those three are becoming an island in the West.

To be clear, of course, that’s not the same thing as being an island in the nation. Across the Great Plains, the old South and the mid-Atlantic states, the rules on marijuana are mostly still unchanged. But the West (and the Northeast, and part of the Great Lakes area) have moved into a new regime, and in sharp contrast to a decade ago, Idaho is becoming part of the aberration.

This is of course just one issue, and most directly it affects only a minority of people – the number of legal pot users in the “legal states” surely will be limited, and the number of illegal users in the prohibition states even smaller. But the effects could be broader, especially if people from the “legal states” – including non-users – start reporting persistent experiences of being stopped and searched across the border.

There’s been some of this already, and the fact that most of the enforcement activity in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming doesn’t seem to have changed in recent years may not matter a lot.

The gaps in laws and permissions between the states long have been significant, but the change in marijuana laws is ratcheting things up significantly.

What the land’s for

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The criticism was on target this spring when word got out that trustees for the College of Western Idaho had bought a large chunk of land near downtown Boise (largely an empty lot at present) with the idea of expanding operations on to it. The critics pointed out that no proper appraisal of the land’s value was done, and the college seems to have greatly overpaid for it.

The board’s chair, Mary Niland, argued afterward that the college didn’t overpay but, “If I had it to do all over again, I would have looked at the tax assessment and would have asked for the appraisal,” the Idaho Statesman quoted her as saying. “All I can tell you is we didn’t think about it. It was a mistake, and we are accountable for that.”

The lack of appraisal was a legitimate complaint, one the institution apparently will have a chance to correct next time around. That may be near-term, since last week came reports the college is planning to buy 32.5 acres north of its campus at Nampa, for $815,000. The deal was supposed to be done by early July.

Prices and process aside, these two land purchases – and the developments apparently slated to follow – suggest something significant that hasn’t gotten a tremendous amount of attention yet: The explosive growth of the College of Western Idaho.

For many years, the Boise metro area was either the largest or one of the largest metro areas in the nation without a general-purpose community college. That absence wasn’t discussed a whole lot, and for a long time there was little push to create one. That’s bearing in mind that what’s now Boise State University effective was a community college for many years before it became a university in 1974. Not for another 30 years would a serious effort (based partly around a push by BSU President Robert Kustra) be made to set up a new community college in Idaho’s population center.

In 2007 voters in Ada and Canyon counties passed a ballot measure setting up a community college district in the area. Probably underestimating the effort involved in establishing a new college, the plan was made to open it just two years later. The first CWI president who oversaw that effort, Dennis Griffin, wrote about it in a book called From Scratch, who told about just how difficult it was to get it up and running in time. Disclosure: I published that book through Ridenbaugh Press.

On opening, the college was expected to enroll 1,700 students. It got 1,208, which led to the inevitable headlines about how it missed its target.

A few years after that, while talking to Griffin (he had retired as president by then), he threw out the idea that CWI might one day have as many as 50,000 students. A third person drinking coffee with us laughed and said he doubted it. I said that I didn’t.

I’ll hold to that view. In the fall of 2013, CWI's enrollment was 19,861 with 9,204 credit students and 10,657 students taking non-credit courses.

The fall 2014 enrollment rose to 20,697, almost evenly divided between credit and non-credit students, about two-thirds part-time. It awarded 1,260 degrees.

These are large and fast-growing numbers and, it turns out, indicative of how much Boise really did need a community college. An enrollment of 50,000 doesn’t seem so far off for one day, considering the rate of growth.

And while the trustees should be adhering to take care and watch the dollars when they buy land and construct buildings, it demonstrates clearing the need to keep doing those things.