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(Primary) election night

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Tonight, a short running updated blog on the elections. My intent is to keep at it until we get resolution of the key races ... as long as that's tonight ...

11:24p It's mostly wrapped up now; the closest question mark seems to be the lieutenant governor's race. More comments on various of these contests coming soon ...

9:55p Numbers are still incomplete, of course, but returns now indicating a long string of Idaho Republican legislators, a few in the north and a nch in the east, may be lose their primaries. The numbers currently so indicate for Reps. Heather Scott, Jeff Thompson, Julie VanOrden, Tom Loertscher, Ron Nate.

9:25p Waiting on votes from northern Idaho, maybe especially significant in the Republican governor's race, where Raul Labrador has fallen, for now at least, into third place. The north might energize his numbers a bit.

On the Democratic side, the Jordan lead seems to be holding steady.

9:15p Be it noted that there was a special election in Pennsylvania for a state House seat, and it flipped from Republican to Democratic. Pretty much everything else on the ballot today was of an intra-party nature; this was nearly the only thing to amount to a true party contest.

8:55p Ah, the New York Times has faster data.

The Democratic contest foe governor is quite the spectacular. With 17% of precincts in, Paulette Jordan is way ahead, 58% to A.J. Balukoff's 39%, and has been ahead consistently. Blaine County is a big facotr in this - it's nearly all in - but the biggest chunk of the reported vote so far is in Ada County, a third of which has reported, and which theoretically ought to be Balukoff's base. A long way to go, but this could be a significant upset in the making.

On the Republican side, things have been steadier all evening, with a not-massive but steady lead by Brad Little. Of the 17 counties reporting so far, Raul Labrador is leading just two two (Canyon and Jefferson), while Tommy Ahlquist leads in four - leaving Little ahead in 11 of 17. Many numbers yet to come in, but Little has a good, solid start.

And Republican lieutenant governor is still close, and the 1st House district (with Fulcher way ahead) still is not.

8:51p On the Oregon gubernatorial, Buehler seems to have the nomination locked down. But he's getting less than half of the vote, after spending many months (until quite recently) commonly considered the obvious nominee. There seems to be a significant part of the party's electorate unwilling to embrace him. In truth, he's been bipartisan enough that it's not hard to understand. But he's not likely to attract many votes from the other side of the fence, either, in the fall.

Statewide Idaho vote is coming in a little sluggishly, at least on the state website.

8:45p On a local level, have to say I'm surprised that our city's public safety bond - a small one, to build a new and much-needed police building - looks to be failing, and decisively, about 60-40. It seemed to have lots of support, with more than 150 yard signs posted (this in a town of 2,000 people) and lots of positive reaction, only limited negative. (Disclosure: We did some volunteer work for the campaign.) But goes to show you never can take these local tax measures to granted, not that the advocates did - they ran a sound and energetic campaign. But the subject is going to have to be addressed again.

8:29p Early numbers now in both Idaho and Oregon; nothing decisive yet, though. Maybe.

In the Oregon Republican gubernatorial, Bend legislator Knute Buehler is off to a good start with close to half of the overall vote (in a large field); if that holds for a while longer, he may have the nomination sewn up. So far, he's showing leads in all of the populous western and central counties, and his closest competition, San Carpenter, has leads mainly in the low-population rural eastern counties. The theory that a split opposition leads to a Buehler win seems to be holding up. (On the Democratic side, a lightly opposed incumbent Kate Brown has well over 80% of the vote.)

In Idaho, far fewer votes are counted as yet (49 of 961 precincts). The early numbers give a big lead in the 1st House district to Russ Fulcher, with David Leroy in a distant second, and all others bunched far behind; this is looking like what it long seemed to be, which was a Fulcher-Leroy contest (with the edge to Fulcher). The early numbers also are showing a modest but real lead in the Republican gubernatorial for Brad Little, with Raul Labrador in second place and Tommy Ahlquist in a not too-distant third (the percentages early on were about 40-30-25). Some clue about the meaning of that may come in the Democratic primary, where in the early voting Paulette Jordan was running far ahead - about 2 to 1 - of A.J. Balukoff. The large-field lieutenant governor's race looked to be a tight three-way battle between Marv Hagedorn, Janice McGeachin and Steve Yates, and this one is far from settled.

7:48p Most of the PA and NE races, in truth, are not high-stakes in the larger picture. One or two of the PA House races could matter, in terms of whether a party will be well-enough candidate-armed come the fall. That may be true as well in NE-2. And certainly Pennsylvania could be pivotal in deciding whether the House flips. But the individual races tonight, mostly at least, do not seem very determinative. Oregon and Idaho, at least locally, promise to be more so.

7:31p A good chunk of the Nebraska vote is in, enough to discern one of the hotter primaries of the evening so far. Nebraska 2 is the one realistically competitive congressional district there, and it's looking like a close call between Brad Ashford (very narrowly in the lead) and Kara Eastman. Eastman is the outsider, Ashland the legislative veteran. (The winner will face Republican Don Bacon, the uncontested incumbent.)

7:20p A lot of the Pennsylvania numbers are coming in, though it's a little difficult at this point to work out the meaning of many of them. The catch is partly that some of the numbers - including sometimes-pivotal Bucks County - look a little odds, in terms of totals and amounts. For example, in one Republican contest, " A moment ago, 13% of the vote was reporting statewide in Pennsylvania, and Lou Barletta had just a 53-47 lead on Jim Christiana. Now, with 14% reporting—in other words, a fairly small increase in the total vote—Barletta’s leapt out to a 66-34 advantage." Will keep a watch.
 

Choosing the partisans

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Primary elections, one which Idaho holds this week, are in a sense first or preliminary elections - hence the name - but for many people they take on another meaning.

These are the elections in which major party - Republican and Democratic - nominees are chosen. But that’s not all they are. Non-partisan ballots will be filled out by people who do not choose to take part in those party contests - maybe because, well, they don’t consider themselves party members - and other choices remain to be made.

Judgeships in Idaho are non-partisan. That hasn’t always been true; Supreme Court justices were elected as Democrats or Republicans up through the thirties. And most local government offices - including city, school district, highway district and other offices - have long been nonpartisan. (Of the ten largest cities in the country, seven have non-partisan mayors, but New York, Houston and Philadelphia do choose by party.)

This seems like a reasonable point, in this time of party nominee selection, to consider whether all of Idaho’s partisan offices should be.

Some seem to make good sense that way. Legislative offices are logically partisan (only Nebraska runs counter to that) partly because of the organizing and issue development options it offers. Governors and lieutenant governors make sense as partisan offices, because the appointment powers and the need for overt political leadership.

The partisan need for some other offices is less clear, though in many cases the partisan leanings of candidates and office holders emerge anyway. All statewide executive branch offices in Idaho are partisan, but there are exceptions in other states. In Oregon, the commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries (there’s no real equivalent for this in Idaho) is non-partisan, technically, though most recent elections have boiled down to candidates who clearly amount to party favorites. In Washington state, the superintendent of public instruction (similar to Idaho’s) is nonpartisan, though here again the party stance of the office holder usually isn’t a great mystery. In Utah, three offices - the commissioners of labor, insurance and agriculture and food - are non-partisan. In Nevada, the commissioners of insurance and labor are. In California, it’s the state auditor and the secretary for natural resources.

The distinctions between partisan and non-partisan offices often relate to how much a political philosophy plays - or should play - into the handling of the job. For a governor or legislator or member of Congress, that’s obviously going to be considerable. If you’re managing a more technical office where the job mainly consists of properly following the rules, where the input from political philosophy is more limited, maybe partisan considerations should be minor. And maybe the office shouldn’t be partisan.

In Idaho (as in a number of other states), county coroners are elected as partisan office holders. But what’s the difference between how a Republican or Democrat would handle the office? Yes, I can hear the jokes coming, but really: There shouldn’t be any difference.

Ask the same question, then, of a state or county treasurer, for example. Those are the kind of offices usually quietly humming along when they work well; is there a good reason for a party label for their administrators?

How about secretary of state, or county clerk, offices where the administrator has to properly handle the election contests of one party in opposition to another. True, as in other states, those offices have been handled generally quite well by partisan office holders. (Idaho long has been fortunate in that regard, and most other states have too.) But is there any reason they should be partisan? Might voter confidence be a little higher if they were non-partisan?

In a time of low confidence, it might be question worth asking.
 

A pattern for the ballot

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For the elected officials in Boise who just wanted to pass laws as they saw fit and be done with it, the initiative had become a nuisance.

Now, there is the potential for it to become more than that - as a result of the best efforts to hack it away.

The initiative, a process that gained popularity nationally a little more than a century ago, is a way for voters to pass a state law, one with the same standing as a law passed by the legislature. It’s intended to be a way for the voters to get what they want when the legislature refuses to do it. Initiatives are allowed by 24 states, each of which have different rules for getting an initiative on the ballot.

In Idaho, where 14 initiatives have passed since the process was authorized in 1912, initiative access rules have changed over time. The success of ballot measures has been a factor. The last big ballot measures contravening legislative will came in 2012, when three referenda - another type of ballot measure, aimed at rejecting (or sustaining) a legislative-passed law - killed three new laws relating to public schools. When legislators got back to Boise the next year, they passed Senate Bill 1108, which made ballot access for initiative proposals a lot harder. It made access so hard, in fact, that there have been no initiatives on the Idaho ballot since.

The rules had set the bar for ballot entry high already. Before 2013, advocates had to get petition signatures - valid ones, complying with a series of rules - from six percent of all registered voters. Since that allowed for a concentration of votes from the bigger urban areas as enough to pass, the 2013 rules added a provision that the six percent mark had to be reached in more than half of the state’s 36 legislative districts (that is, 18 of them). And they had to do it within a narrow time frame.

So initiative backers this year needed to collect at least 56,192 signatures, and certain portions of them had to come from within certain legislative districts - not just any Idaho voter signatures would do.

The frustration that needed to develop before organizers were able to pull together the volunteer effort needed to accomplish this must have been awe-inspiring. And it appears to be enough. The final checks are still ongoing, but there’s a good chance that the signatures turned in by the May 1 deadline will be enough to ensure a Medicaid expansion measure reaches the statewide ballot in Idaho in November.

That may make for a significant change in state law. (We’ll see: A legislature and governor still have the power to repeal it.)

But more than that, it could serve as a template for political organization.

Think about what those petition signatures - the total number of names could amount to 62,000 or so - could mean. These are people who have in effect become part of an organization, a political organization, one dedicated to changing the law and politics in Idaho. Suppose, as a result of the high level of energy and skill developed, and the contacts and reach engendered, through this ballot effort, the work is turned into future ballot issues. And beyond that: Suppose it becomes the backbone of a new political organization around the state.

For a couple of decades I’ve suggested that one of the best organizing tools Idaho Democrats (or, really, any outsider group with a still-large base of support) could use is ballot issues, partly as an indicator of what the group is for, and partly as a tool for helping it organize.

To make that work, to make it matter, an easy process for achieving ballot status would do little good, since there would be no need for a really strong and large organization.

But the harder that task is, the stronger the organization must be to get the job done.

The Medicaid expansion organization has proven itself highly capable of making a difference. The question its leaders should be asking now is: What should we do next?
 

Primary-speak

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There was a moment in the Idaho Public Television debate last week between the three main Republican gubernatorial candidates when one of them started to talk about something that wasn’t a political cliche.

A little more than halfway through, businessman and physician Tommy Ahlquist was discussing health care policy. A former emergency room physician himself, he talked for a minute or a little more about his observations of the way health care costs have risen, about the lack of transparency in costs and methods, and other problems he observed. He spoke of a meeting in Twin Falls where he asked other physicians how much a particular procedure would cost - and none of them had any idea. (That rings absolutely true: I’ve heard about similar questions and replies in other states.) The subject was compelling and would have been enlightening for a lot of viewers, had he pursued it.

But this was, after all, a debate among the three candidates for the Republican nomination for governor of Idaho, so Ahlquist caught himself and veered into support for “reform” of Medicaid (which he didn’t clearly define, but which at the national level tends to mean moves toward defunding it).

Ahlquist was on stage with fellow contenders Brad Little, the lieutenant governor demonstrating the most specific knowledge about state government, and Raul Labrador, the U.S. representative who spoke most clearly and articulately. All three were fluent in GOP primary-speak - as they should be, having become deeply experienced in the world of candidate forums over the last year - and based on their performance the differences between them at this point seemed to relate more to personality and style than to questions of governance.

All three made sure to use the word “conservative” every couple of sentences or so, as if it were a gulp of air when underwater, or fairy dust or a magic potion sprinkled to brighten the picture or ward off opposition. The word also is never clearly defined, of course; to define it would rob it of its all-purpose use. The only point to be made is that, “I have more of it than you do.”

Asked about President Donald Trump, the basic response from all three was to quibble about his “style” (the word seized on by all three, also left undefined) but to express general approval of what he has done, or hasn’t, substantively. “I see great advancement,” Little said; the others more or less concurred.

The attempts by all three to differentiate themselves - as any good marketer would - seemed especially facile this go-round. Labrador talked, “the courage to make the tough decisions”, Little about how, “Idaho is the envy” of other states (a reference to his larger experience in state government, a resume point he didn’t push too hard), Ahlquist about how, “we need to change the status quo.” Every so often someone would offer a specific data point in support, but those were widely scattered and not effectively linked.

After a year of candidate events, you’d imagine that all of them would be prepared for just about any inquiry at this point, but all three had weak moments. The most jarring may have come when Ahlquist was asked about the proposal to impose criminal punishments for abortion, specifically whether he would sign a recently-proposed bill to that effect. Ahlquist’s weave and dodge wasn’t even artful. Labrador and Little both said they would not sign it. When Labrador then suggested Ahlquist’s non-answer should disqualify him from the governorship, and Ahlquist was given the opportunity to reply, his response was to blast Labrador rather than directly answer.

So. There are lots of data points to use to choosing among the candidates for the Republican nomination, which you could mine from news reports, official statements and other places over a period of years. But on the evidence of their statements and performance in the main debate from last week:

If your concern in deciding who to support or oppose is about who is the “conservative” (however you personally might define that), or if you’re a Democrat or a non-conservative Republican, I have no idea what to tell you. Flip a three-sided coin.
 

A Meridian milestone

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This seems too significant a milestone in Idaho history to go unheralded - and noted for what Idaho is becoming.

From the Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS), on Tuesday:

“In 1990, the City of Meridian had a population of less than 10,000. Today we estimate a population of 106,410 – a leap of more than 10-fold in 28 years, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.”

That’s not exactly an official number, since it isn’t a U.S. Census statistic, but it’s probably pretty close. Likely it means that after the 2020 census, Meridian will be reported with a population well over 100,000, and Nampa, which will be in third place among Idaho cities, has a good chance of clearing 100,000 as well. (Below that the numbers will fall steeply, down to Idaho Falls at probably about 65,000.)

The city on top, Boise, now is estimated at 232,300 people.

This means those three largest cities, all within a few miles of each other, between them will be home to nearly a half-million people. But even that understates the picture, since COMPASS also estimates the current overall population of Ada and Canyon counties at 688,110. At the current growth rate, if that number is a good estimate, then those two counties may account for close to 750,000 people by the time of the next census.

Idaho’s total population is now estimated at 1.75 million by the Census. If COMPASS is right, then Ada and Canyon alone now account for 39.3 percent of the state’s population. In, say, 1980, that percentage was 27.1 percent.

Put another way, Ada and Canyon together are becoming a much bigger piece of the Idaho population. A generation ago, it accounted for about a quarter of the Idaho population; not many years from now, it may account for half. This is a long-term trend, and it will change Idaho.

What does the future of Idaho look like?

Look at Meridian. When I came to Idaho in the early 70s, Meridian’s population was under 6,000 people; now, you have to add 100,000 to that. They live mostly in a vast expanse of subdivisions and other housing developments.

What has generated that development? At core, it isn’t business or government growth. Lots of businesses and government (and educational and health facilities) have sprouted, but they’re mostly there to service the people who moved to the area. These people moved to a sprawling field of suburbia, a relatively affordable place with lots of new housing and new services. It is a bedroom community, serving the nearby area and its own internal growth.

Don’t expect this to end soon. In the new book (put together by the Association of Idaho Cities and which - disclosure here - I published) called Idaho’s 200 Cities, Meridian saw its future this way: “By 2050 Meridian’s population will more than double with many of its boundaries abutting those of neighboring cities.” That does not sound like an unreasonable projection from where we are now.

The smaller-population areas of Idaho that also have been growing quickly - around Twin Falls and Coeur d’Alene, for example - are similar: Suburbs that look a lot like Meridian.

The people of Idaho were once, in large part, cowboys, farmers, miners and loggers. Some still are, but increasingly they are suburbanites. Look upon Meridian, and see Idaho’s future.
 

The Democratic contest?

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Will Idaho Democrats get a seriously contested race for the gubernatorial nomination this year?

The apparent answer is yes …

The party often has had contested primaries, in the strict sense of more than one person on the ballot. But the last time a Democrat won the nomination for governor with less than an outright landslide was 20 years ago (Robert Huntley, with 54.3%), though even that was a runaway win in a four-person field. The last close contest for the party’s Democratic nomination for governor was in 1970, when Cecil Andrus won over Vern Ravenscroft, with a plurality of the vote.

Could the contest this year between A.J. Balukoff and Paulette Jordan come close?

Balukoff has some major advantages which might lead him to a decisive win. Democratic voters know him from having run statewide for the same office four years ago so he is positioned to pick up from where he left off in organizing and contacts, and an already-prepared message. And, of course, money; he has a good deal of that, and demonstrated last time he’s quite willing to spend it. He has also been very civically active, on the Boise School Board and elsewhere.

In 2014 he seemed to display ambiguity about just how much of a Democrat he was (in common with the Democratic governor nominee before him, Keith Allred), but appears more aligned with the party now. On the other hand, some Republicans and some Democrats each point out that as a Boise business community kind of guy, he has been close to the Boise business Republican community; current Republican governor candidate Tommy Ahlquist donated $5,000 to Balukoff four years ago, as many in both parties well remember.

That gets into the internal Democratic argument against him: That he might seem more like another (failed) attempt to appeal to Republicans, instead of someone who might excite Democrats.

The idea of exciting that Democratic base, modest as it might be in Idaho, is a lot of what undergirds Paulette Jordan’s bid. Jordan is a now-former state representative, the last legislator (at this writing) elected in Idaho between Boise and the Canada border. She has presence (and by many accounts, some charisma), a history of actually being elected as a Democrat (in highly contested elections), legislative background (meaning experience in state government) and a life story that can hook many people’s attention. She is a member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and has won election to the tribal council.

Some party people, though, have questions about her preparation for the candidacy and the job. Her accomplishment report card as a legislator gets mixed marks depending on who you talk to. There was the confusion last legislative session, for example, about whether she would resign or not, and seeming lack of think-through about the implications of quitting or staying.

Her core stances on state issues resemble Balukoff’s, but the approach and tone is different. Some politics watchers suggest that many 2016 Bernie Sanders supporters may break for Jordan, hearing from her something closer to their sensibility. Sanders did well in the Idaho caucuses in 2016, though that’s a smaller group, and a different type of voter, than primary election voters.

Again, how many voters will the Democratic primary attract next month, when so many hot races are underway on the Republican side? If the number is small, who does that help? You can argue either way.

The answers may come down to what Democrats are looking for: A standard-bearer to charge with their message, or a more centrist-appealing candidate who might pick up the pieces if the Republican primary end game goes sour.

Look in the answer to that question for the likely result of the Democratic primary. Which might indeed be closely contested.
 

What was local TV news

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What Sinclair Broadcasting is doing feels personal to me. It should feel personal to you.

When I came to Idaho 44 years ago, Boise’s Channel 2 station, which was KBOI (later KBCI, then KBOI again), had been a landmark in Idaho journalism, renowned among reporters and producing a crop of the best, not least among them a news director who had just become Boise’s new mayor.

In 1990 I worked there for a time, and while television journalism wasn’t by then quite what it had been a couple of decades earlier, there were still fine journalists doing good work at that station.

And still are today. But nowadays, I have to extend my sympathy to them. They face challenges I and their other predecessors never did.

Channel 2 now is owned by the Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting group; KLEW television is Lewiston is owned by Sinclair as well, as are stations in Seattle, Portland, Salt Lake City and many others - 172 around the country, with probable expansion to 233 before long. Like most local television (and radio) stations these days, Idaho’s stations mostly are owned by large national corporations.

That isn’t new. The news is what Sinclair is doing to its local stations.

The concerns many of us in local news a generation or two ago had with far-away corporate ownership, tended to involve budgets or internal structural issues. We seldom (and this was true at newspapers as well as broadcast) heard even echoes of specific takes on news coverage, and rarer still encountered anything “must-run” from corporate, much less any direction toward a political preference. The news reports you saw in the local news were, for better or worse, developed by the local staff. I know; back in the day, for a short stretch, I wrote some of them myself.

This is what’s new with Sinclair.

Watch the video posted at https://theconcourse.deadspin.com/, under the headline, “How America's Largest Local TV Owner Turned Its News Anchors Into Soldiers In Trump's War On The Media.” It compiles clips from dozens of Sinclair stations - KBOI is one of them - showing anchors robotically reciting, word for word, a script handed down from Sinclair corporate, in essence advising viewers to believe nothing of what they see or hear from any other news source (Sinclair’s presumably exempted).

Cable host John Oliver nailed it: “Nothing says ‘we value independent media’ like dozens of reporters forced to repeat the same message over and over again like members of a brainwashed cult.”

There’s power, and danger, in the image of these local people, with established local reputations, doing this, which is why Sinclair’s executives are going to the trouble.

“Must-run” sequences, strewn in among (diminishing) local news, have become regular, witness the "Bottom Line With Boris" clips, the “Terrorism Alert Desk” - anything to ratchet up fear. On March 21 viewers saw former Trump staffer Sebastian Gorka on the "Deep State." And much more.

Not everyone nationally has gone along. Complaints have leaked; at least one on-air person reported feeling “like a POW” delivering the ordered anti-journalism message. A station in Madison, Wisconsin tweeted that it "did not air the Sinclair promotional announcement … we stayed true to our commitment to provide our Madison area viewers local news, weather and sports of interest to them." Will they still have their jobs in a couple of weeks? Some at other stations already have quit.

(What do the local stations say about this? From a leaked internal memo at Sinclair’s KATU in Portland: "Please DO NOT answer any questions or get into any discussion with callers, as they try to navigate to someone internally. … Most certainly don't talk to the press about the issue.” Got it.)

The must-read Sinclair script parroted by local anchors ends with the words, “this is extremely dangerous to our democracy.” That part, they got right. Here’s hoping no other corporate masters try pulling the same thing on the rest of local TV news.
 

Housing tidal wave

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In Canyon County, where population and economic growth ordinarily is not just approved of but eagerly sought, organizations like the Canyon County Agricultural Planning Area Committee usually start with an easily accepted point of view: Mo’ growth, mo’ better.

But not so much at their last meeting in Caldwell.

The group, which will be advising the county on zoning and its comprehensive plan, was considering the question of the use of land for farming as opposed to land for housing.

A report in the Idaho Press Tribune said that “Some attendees expressed concern about Meridian development spilling over into the farmland in North Nampa. One Nampa farmer told staff that development was happening in his area quicker than he had ever seen.” One spoke of a “wall of houses” encroaching from Ada County into Canyon.

Another farmer replied, “It’s not a wall of houses. It’s a tidal wave.”

Also last week, a group of mostly Canyon Countians spoke similarly at the new, small city of Star, where a local comprehensive plan change might lead to turning 5,000 rural acres into medium or low-density housing. Star is in Ada County, in what has long been an agricultural northwest corner of it, but it’s close by Canyon, and the spillover effects were concerning for a crowd of 300 people - larger than the norm for a planning commission meeting in a small town.

These kind of developments have been happening at increasing speed, and seem likely to accelerate as long as growth does in the Ada-Canyon area.

The reasons go beyond developer pressure to be allowed to do more business. The fact that demand is so high is a large part of the reason for this tidal wave of houses.

A day after touring some of the huge fields of new houses in western Ada County, the big new crop in that area, I had coffee with an old friend who lived for many years on the east coast, a former Idahoan moving back to his old home area.

But not exactly into his old town of Boise; he had to settle for several miles away from it. He intended moving back there. But it didn’t work out, because he could find no houses (at least, suitable) in Boise for near what he could pay - and that’s after selling his comparable place in an eastern state metro area. Houses with a price tag under $200,000 are rare birds now in Boise, and hard to find nearby. If you’re an average income homebuyer, and your income is below the executive level, you’re going to have a hard time finding a place there.

One reason is that there isn’t enough residential space available to meet the need.

What we’re seeing now may be another housing bubble; in fact, probably it is. But for now, housing is in too limited supply in the Boise region, and in other regions around Idaho - in Kootenai County, in Twin Falls and elsewhere. If you can afford high-end digs, you have ample choices. If you can’t, you’re probably in a difficult market.

This is something Idaho officials are going to have to come to grips with. Want to both preserve farmland and house the people of the Gem State? Some better answers are going to have to be found.
 

A built-in disadvantage

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I'd be hesitant to pick up a challenge offered on election stats by Dave Wasserman, and just as well I didn't waste my time on the Wisconsin offer. And he was offering $7,000, in personal payment, to anyone who could do it.

You have to know there's a reason no one could. And in that reason lies a significant reality of congressional politics circa 2018, a reason why Democrats have to work harder to accomplish as much as Republicans, and there's nothing shady about it.

Wasserman is an election stats analyst for Cook Political Report and Five Thirty Eight, two of the best analysis sites around, so the guy knows political numbers. (I watch his Twitter feed closely on election nights.) Yesterday, he pointed out that Wisconsin has a partisanship index - meaning the normal advantage of Republican versus Democratic candidates - of zero, which means in turn that in a statewide race, a candidate of either party starts out with theoretically even odds of winning.

That might logically lead to another conclusion: Since Wisconsin has eight U.S. House districts, each party might logically win four of the seats. The current delegation (which includes House Speaker Paul Ryan) has five Republicans and three Democrats, not drastically far off. But by choosing which voters to include, you can draw districts that advantage one party or the other.

Wasserman was able to draw a U.S. House map for Wisconsin that clearly favored Republicans in six out of the eight districts (a "GOP gerrymander" map). His challenge to his readers, with an award of $7,000, was to draw counterpart "Dem gerrymander" map, with a clear seven-point advantage for Democrats in six of eight districts. That would, in other words, do for the Democrats what he had just done for the Republicans.

He got a bunch of nerdy replies, with some close efforts. One replied (with a map attached), "Okay, so I don't think it's possible to create 6 districts that are exactly D+7, but I was able to create 6 districts that are at least D+6.5, which rounds up to 7, if that counts for anything."

But apparently, no one was able to develop six districts for Wisconsin that were as favorable for Democrats, as Wasserman was able to for Republicans.

Finally, Wasserman fessed up: "Answer: It's easy to draw the GOP gerrymander, but the inverse Dem gerrymander isn't just hard - it's mathematically *impossible.* Despite WI's even partisanship, there is such a thing as a partisan bias in spatial distribution."

Impossible? Yeah, it is, because so many Democrats are bunched together in tight urban areas (in that state, Milwaukee and Madison primarily) while Republicans are spread out, that creating a winning Democratic map becomes far harder. And not just in Wisconsin. The point is true all over the country.

In Oregon, for example, the addition of a sixth congressional district, which looks probable for 2020, may mean the Democratic infrastructure in the state accepting that the new district will be Republican. It may be too hard to design the districts so the state goes 5/1 Democratic, the way it's now 4/1.

This just relates to where you you live, or, where Republicans and Democrats live. It's not gerrymandering; it;'s just the result of normal mapmaking.
 

A couple months out

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In conversations with a range of politically-interested Idahoans this week, I heard more often than anything else comments about The Commercial.

I should say that I haven’t seen it, and haven’t been able to find it online. I’m told its source is not the Tommy Ahlquist campaign for Idaho governor, but rather an independent committee in support of him. It is said to be running mostly on cable television, and is described (maybe the key thing about it is how it is described) like this:

Much of the ad shows Ahlquist’s two main opponents for the Republican nomination, Representative Raul Labrador and Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, on a split screen. It describes each of them (speaking generally here) as career politicians, or at least making the point that both have been in elective office a number of years. It attaches to each complaints about various policy decisions (such as taxes), suggesting those as evidence of inadequate conservatism. Little and Labrador, then, are meant to be considered as part of a failed status quo, and Ahlquist the fresh broom seeking to sweep clean. (Ahlquist apparently does not appear in the commercial.)

(photo/Ahlquist, left, and Little; by Mark Mendiola)

Okay. As a political tactic, something like that makes sense, and it may be effective. It probably is effective, in fact, since it seems to be generating a lot of discussion. (Much of the discussion I happened to hear wasn’t positive, exactly, but that’s beside the point.)

Call it another bolt of uncertainty in a year-long race for the nomination that looks no more settled today than it did six months ago.

Asking for opinions about who is likely to win, the most common response I get is, “Labrador.” The main argument for that is his substantial and highly loyal voter base, which is surely there. But there’s a question about exactly how large the base is, how far around the state it extends, and whether the mainstream Republican segment exemplified by Little might still be large enough to prevail. After a minute’s reflection, the amended reply tends to be, “You know, I really don’t know who’s likely to win.”

On Monday, the pollster Dan Jones and Associates released a poll showing the three candidates bunched closely together - not much outside the margin of error - with a still-large percentage reported as undecided. (Yes, yes: Some questions have been raised about the Jones polls, but we don’t have much other public polling available.) It’s a reasonable match to what Jones has reported before, but, especially given the large number of undecideds, doesn’t on its own give much support to any particular prediction.

One other thought was the suggestion that a low voter turnout probably would help Labrador most, while a high turnout might help Little. That sounds about correct, roughly. The turnout numbers eventually will be worth parsing, but it’s hard to know now what they’ll look like. They might trend high because of the large number of contested primaries at the top of the ballot. Or, in common with a number of other states, Republican turnout may be a little down in this year compared to four or eight years ago. Hard to know.

And then there’s The Commercial, which might shift some attitudes among voters, maybe enough to affect an outcome in a close race. But in what direction?

A year of campaigning, and we still wind up remarkably close to where we all started ...