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Polling goodness

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The U.S. Senate election in Alabama on Tuesday settled not only the identity of that state’s new senator but also some open-ended questions about polls.

There’s Idaho resonance in that, since polling results lately have become a topic of discussion in the Gem state as they are elsewhere.

Several writers, including me, have been contacted about the results of a recent poll on the Republican nomination contest for Idaho governor. That poll showed the three-way race fairly close, with a high level of undecideds. (The latter point was the main focus of my column.)

The poll has been criticized since by one of the campaigns. I’ll not get into the weeds on that here (and circle around as to why), but it is good reason to talk a little about political polls . . . since we’ll surely be hearing more rather than less about them, locally and beyond, in the coming year.

Polls can be highly useful political tools, a good way to tell any candidate where they are and, especially, what they need to do, mainly in the case of well-run and highly detailed polls. Those pollsters who keep you on the phone for a longer time with more questions are likely to produce polls of more value to somebody.

But there are all kinds of somebodies, and of pollsters, and differentiating between them isn’t always easy. My website has a simple one-question opt-in poll which is fun to watch, but I make no pretensions about its scientific accuracy. When I worked for the newspaper in Pocatello, it used an informal supermarket poll - people who came by the store could “vote a ballot” - and we’d report the results. For local elections, it often proved remarkably accurate, though it would have passed no tests for professional standards.

Mainly, what you see are independent and candidate polls. Independent polls often are run by news media (though much less often than they once were) and sometimes other organizations, including interest groups. Candidate polls are, as you might expect, run for the use of candidates, who sometimes figure they have reason to release them, or release part of them, to the public.

Both kinds of polls can have issues. Usually, I tend to pay more attention to independent polls for two reasons. The more obvious is that campaigns tend to release results that are beneficial to themselves, and only those. The less obvious is that some pollsters will provide feel-good results to candidates whose business they would like to have; it’s not a common-place marketing tactic and many professional pollsters are careful not to do it, but it does happen: I’ve seen it. Independent polls can be subject to their own problems. Since money often is an object, some independent polls (not all) can wind up with cost-cutting that reduces their accuracy.

And any of these polls can vary by the way they’re conducted. Do they rely on telephone contacts or opt-in online surveys? Do they account for the change to cells phones, and if so, how? These elements and many more matter a lot.

Those are some of the reasons one independent poll in the Alabama race showed one candidate ahead by about nine points in one poll, and another poll showed the other ahead by 10. Many polls also weigh their results to match demographic (gender, race and other elements) of a population. One pollster showed how, in that Alabama race, you could shift those assumptions, each time in a plausible way, and drastically shift the poll’s bottom line outcome. It took the same polling data and applied a different filter to give of the two Senate candidates a big lead, depending on which assumptions were adopted.

So what to do? Best thing to do is to balance or average out the results from a bunch of polls, and recent history shows this tends to yield closely accurate results.

The catch in Idaho, of course, is that polling is sparse. There are neither a lot of polls nor a lot of providers. That creates a problem in depending on them. It’s why I was willing to use just one poll in writing that earlier column: There’s not a lot else available. But I’d be a lot more comfortable talking about Idaho poll results if there were.
 

What a difference a year makes

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Just over a year ago, Republican Donald Trump won the vote in the state of Alabama. To no one's surprise, it was nowhere near close: He won with 62.1% of the total, leading Democrat Hillary Clinton by about 600,000 votes.

A little more than a year after that, today to be exact, the state held a Senate election, and this time the Republican, Roy Moore, lost to Democrat Doug Jones. The margin was tiny, and it was a close election. But the fact that it was even close is astounding. That he won is more than that.

Before the November elections in Virginia (and elsewhere) it would have been possible (not convincing) to argue that the Democratic wins for numerous lower-level offices were simply a normal readjustment after a couple of strongly Republican national elections. Or that they didn't necessarily mean much on a national level, since congressional offices didn't change.

Then in Virginia came wins by Democrats so sweeping they put three or four Republican congressional seats in the state instantly at high risk for next year. (At least one of them probably is a lost cause for Republicans already.)

And now we have the results for a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, one of the most Republican states in the country. Only five states gave Trump higher percentages last year, and even there not much much. Alabama voted harder for Trump than Idaho.

And now it has elected a left-of-center, up front and no apologies about it, Democratic senator.

The immediate analysis in national quarters was that Republican control of the Senate post-2018 is abruptly a lot shakier than it was just a short time ago. (Democrats will now need two seats to flip to gain the majority, and Nevada, the Flake seat in Arizona and the Corker seat in Tennessee are all strong prospects.) And that's true.

But the implications of this are much bigger. You may have noticed Democratic candidates for office emerging, in large crowds. After seeing how Doug Jones went from a long-shot to a newly-minted senator, just watch what happens next.

This isn't 2016 any more. The United States is changing ground, fast.
 

How we grow

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When we talk about how to make our communities grow - and the state, and the nation - we often get fuzzy. Ideology tends to take over, and it seldom teaches us much.

We learn a good deal from hard, concrete data, and in Idaho’s case there’s a load of it in a new multi-volume history book project just out from the Association of Idaho Cities, edited and partly written by former legislator Hal Bunderson. (Disclosure: I am the publisher.) The books in the series called Idaho’s 200 Cities - one each for the north, swouthwest and east regions of the state, plus three books of trivia questions and answers - include about 1,600 pages of fine grain detail about the founding and development of each of Idaho’s cities, from Boise to barely-there Warm River.

The sections that most grabbed my attention were those in each city’s chapter called “turning points.” In these, each city outlined what development, for good or ill, most contributed to developing the city in the direction it ultimately went, especially those that founded it and set it on its course. These sections were contributed by the cities themselves.

The most influential simple development by far, to judge from the number of times it was listed as the top or second turning point, was the arrival or departure of the railroad. We look at railroads now and tend not to see them as especially basic elements of most communities. But they once were.

Some Idaho communities are well known even today as railroad towns, such as Nampa, Pocatello and Shoshone. We don’t often associate any more most small and rural communities with an important rail presence. But places like Spencer and Leadore, Donnelly, Arimo, Parma,Troy, New Meadows, Ferdinand, Homedale, Kooskia, Glenns Ferry, Fruitland, Stites, Acequia, Cambridge, Tensed, Oldtown, Moyie Springs, Midvale, Mountain Home, Huetter, Bliss, Rathdrum all said the railroad’s arrival was central to their existence. Blackfoot “owes its origins to the Utah and Northern Railroad.” Clark Fork “had its origins as a railroad town.” Caldwell “had its origins as a railroad town.” And on and on.

Sun Valley too, and not just because of the Harriman family connection in founding the resort there.

Even in places like Moscow, where the University of Idaho was soon to be a major shifting point, railroad was listed as the initial turning point,

What was in a distant second place after the railroad? Acts of Congress, mainly the Desert Land Act, the Homestead Act, the Dawes Severalty Act and (especially in the Magic Valley and the Carey Act, for expanding irrigation. Many of the Magic Valley and southwestern Idaho communities called these pivotal, even above the railroads.

State laws relating to alcohol and gambling were the specific reasons a number of cities, including Chubbuck, Garden City and Island Park, were created. Forts were the main reason Boise and Coeur d’Alene grew where they did. For the 43 cities which are county seats (little Murphy in Owyhee County is unincorporated), those government offices were highly important too.

Developing resource industries were critical components too, of course. Mining was the pivot for a number of mainly mountain communities (Salmon, Bellevue, Hailey, Pierce, Idaho City and the Silver Valley communities among them). And similarly, sawmills were the seed for a number of others, such as McCall, Elk River, East Hope, Winchester and Cascade.

But most of Idaho’s cities, like many cities elsewhere, were planted or designated by outside forces, a national railroad or federal government, as much or more as they were by local people. An uneasy reality, but worth pondering as Idahoans plan for their communities in the generations to come.
 

Notes . . .

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Ascribing specific motives where they're not entirely clear is an uncertain proposition, and I won't here make a pronouncement on President Trump's announcement about (eventually) relocating the American embassy to Jerusalem.

I can't read the president's mind. But some speculation does seem warranted.

His rationale for the move is foggy at best: “This is nothing more or less than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It’s something that has to be done.” It is one of the thinnest presidential rationales for a significant action I can recall.

Is there a more substantive reason? An Atlantic article by Peter Beinart suggests there might be:

For Donald Trump, Muslim barbarism is a political strategy. It inspires the fear and hatred that binds him to his base. Muslim barbarism is so politically useful, in fact, that, when necessary, Trump creates it.

The hours after his announcement saw uproar among Muslims around the world and especially in the Middle East. That was completely predictable, and predicted. Meanwhile, any actual embassy move would not happen for years at the earliest, possibly three to four years. But the outrage has been stoked, and will boil over soon enough. It will deepen the despair - Beinart's word, and others too - in the Palestinian community, and essentially trash any attempt to reach a settlement between the Israeli and Palestinian communities.

Why would this be something Trump (or anyone) would want?

Beinart concludes this way: "Religious conflicts, like racial and ethnic ones, are critical to Trump’s appeal. He needs Mexican-Americans to rape and murder white girls. He needs African-American athletes to “disrespect the flag.” And he needs Muslims to explode bombs and burn American flags. The more threatening non-white, non-Christians appear, both at home and abroad, the more his supporters rely on him to keep the barbarians down and out. If Trump has to invent these dangers, he will. In the case of Jerusalem, however, he can go further: He can help create them."

If there's a better explanation for Trump's action, I'm waiting to hear it. - rs
 

To bake a cake

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In the hotly-contested Colorado wedding cake case - in which the issue is whether a baker should be constitutionally allowed to discriminate and not create a cake for a same-sex wedding - the Supreme Court may be arguing toward a useful dividing line.

It has just heard oral arguments in the case, which probably is months off from a decision. But the justices' questions were, as often, indicative of where their thinking was heading.

The New York Times reported on it, "The more liberal justices probed whether all sorts of artisans — tailors, hair stylists, makeup artists, chefs — could refuse to supply goods and services for same-sex weddings. Conservative justices considered whether artists can be required to convey messages with which they profoundly disagree."

Justice Stephen Breyer asked, “Where is the line? That is what everyone is trying to get at.”

Let's take a stab at it.

The anti-discrimination provisions in the law are intended to keep people from being shut out of society - especially the commercial side. Suppose it were legal for an electric company to deny service to some category of people its chief executive didn't like? That alone would make a mockery of the idea of all of us living together in a cooperative society. That instance may be a made-up-case, but the Jim Crow years in this country, and not just in the South, did lead to bars to blacks and other citizens across a range of businesses where ordinary convenience and even health and safety were at stake. If you had the wrong skin color (or was in an otherwise disliked category), you could forget about eating at many restaurants, staying at many motels, getting served in a grocery or some other stores or even finding a rest room or a place to get a drink of water. That's what the non-discrimination laws in "public accommodations" - in services generally open to the people - were intended to address.

Those kinds of goods and services, though, were not distinctive (or didn't have to be) according to some category of person. Whether you were black or white, a motel room is a motel room, and a burger is a burger. If a business supplied you such things, you were being supplied the same kind of goods or services as everyone else gets. In other words, you weren't asking for something particularized or unique, just a standard good or service.

Now on to the wedding cake.

The bakers involved is open to and says it serves the public. It may be a less-essential "accommodation" than a motel or restaurant but it seems to, at least loosely, fit the standard; members of the public ought to be able to expect to receive general relevant services there if they're willing to pay for them.

Presumably, the shop offers various kinds of wedding cakes. Some may be relatively standard-issue, usable at almost any ceremony. Others may be special in design or in written message, particular to a specific ceremony and its participants.

One of the bakers said in the case that "he should not be forced to use his talents to convey a message of support for same-sex marriage." There's a point here: Should a person in effect be compelled under law to present and make attractive a message with which one disagrees?

But: What about simply agreeing to sell a cake, a generally usable wedding cake, while reserving the right to agree, or not agree, to contribute any specialized design or message - so that the baker would not be in a position of being forced to create a design or statement that he would not agree with?

There may be, in other words, room for a compromise here. It often happens in a society where everyone has rights that people don't get everything they want. But the Supreme Court probably could, in a case like this, give the parties involved - and other cases to come - what they need.
 

The don’t knows

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If I were managing the campaign of one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates - or of those in the first congressional district - I’d be heavily concerned about what the polls aren’t showing.

Which is to say, the people who haven’t yet decided.

Start with how long these campaigns have been going on already: A long time.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little announced a year and a half ago, in June 2016. Developer Tommy Ahlquist announced in February of this year - about 10 months ago. Representative Raul Labrador announced in May, about half a year ago, but he was widely thought likely to run well before that, and long considered kind of a candidate-in-waiting alongside the others.

Over most of this year, the candidates have been campaigning as if election day were two weeks away. Between town meetings, candidate forums, advertising and more, this is a lot like the kind of campaigning you’d expect to see just before the season is winding up (instead of still half a year yet to go). And not only that: They have had the field to themselves. These candidates haven’t had to compete with attention for candidates for president or Congress. All the political oxygen has gone to them.

Point being, these candidates have had an ideal opportunity to soak up as much support as possible in these last few months. If politically-interested Idahoans haven’t made up their minds about them by now … well, just what are they waiting for?

That’s the leadup to the new poll from Idaho Politics Weekly (of Zions Bank) which shows Little getting 21 percent support, Labrador 17 percent and Ahlquist 14 percent. Those numbers taken by themselves simply indicate a competitive race. But all three are far behind the top-runner: Don’t Know, which pulls 36 percent support.

If I were campaign manager for any of these candidates, I’d be devoting a lot of thought to answering the question of what exactly these people need to know to let loose of their support.

The situation in the first congressional district, where Labrador is leaving an open seat and room for a pile of candidates, is a little different but similar enough to draw some related conclusions.

There, former Lieutenant Governor David Leroy announced in May (about as soon as Labrador shifted to the governor’s race), and former legislator Russell Fulcher entered the next month, but after having spent the months since August 2016 running for governor. Legislator Luke Malek joined the contest in August, and others have been in for a while too. Idahoans certainly have had plenty of opportunity by now, in December, to figure out who these guys are.

In a mid-October poll (also from Idaho Politics Weekly), though, few had. The number broke at 17 percent for Leroy, nine percent for Fulcher and seven percent for Malek - but that meant more than two-thirds were undecided. (Could that have influenced the recent entry of Canyon County legislator Christy Perry?)

What does this mass of undecideds translate to? Might it be as simple as: “Ain’t time yet to vote, so don’t bother me”? Unexcitement about the candidates? Actual lack of needed information?

That last doesn’t seem likely. But figuring out the answer to who wins the primary may co0me out of figuring out the right cause of all those undecideds.

Patterns under the surface

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We went shopping for a new TV today, armed with a little online research and several brands and models that looked like they might be in range of what we wanted. (Cyber Monday was at hand, so it seemed like the thing to do.)

They were substantial brands available online - if you wanted to wait and buy without seeing them in action first personally - with a week's shipping, or so. But we wanted to buy in store, so we went to some of the stores where those models seems likely to be found - big boxes, the Wal-Marts and Fred Meyers and Targets.

Here is what we found:

A bunch of television sets for sale, none the particular make or model we were seeking. That's understandable; you can see why there might be a little less variety in the brick and mortar than in the cyber.

What was really striking was this: They were basically the same - mostly the same selection - in each of the big box department stores we visited.

Eventually, we went to a specialty store (in our case - and hey, why not a plug? - Video Only) which did have a variety of makes and models on the floor. We took a set from that store home with us.

The point here again isn't the lesser variety in the broad-based stores; what's what you usually should expect in most categories of goods. It makes sense even in a really big box.

What was a little disconcerting was the lack of difference between the stores. If didn't find it at Wal-Mart, you probably weren't going to find it at Target or Fred Meyer, or the other way around. And the prices weren't very different either.

In more casual observation, this seemed to be roughly true for a bunch of other goods, too.

Usually, in past years, stores - even sprawling chains - tend to do things, offer things, or offer terms or prices, very different from competitors, as a way of differentiating from one another. Now, they seem to be converging, becoming ever less alike. They're no longer a hamburger place and a chicken place and a taco place; they're all burger places.

Or so it seemed today on the television hunt.

If that's the ongoing case, the future doesn't seem too wonderful for a variety of retailers out there, or for meaningful competition.

It gave the feeling of subterranean patterns. An uneasy feeling.
 

State and district

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On his Facebook stream, first district congressional candidate Russ Fulcher, of Meridian, has posted an item noting he has always lived in that district. And: “Fun Fact: Russ Fulcher’s family has lived in what is now Idaho’s first Congressional District since 1886, four years before Idaho became a state.”

He is making more than a biographical point. His chief opponent, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy, currently lives outside the district. Leroy is not far from it; he lives in Boise, just not the portion now carved into the first. He has lived in the first before, and has said he plans to maintain a residence inside the first.

But from Fulcher’s implicit point - I’m a resident of the district, and he isn’t - two ideas emerge.

The first is, you don’t have to live in the CD to represent it. You do have to live in the same state. The U.S. Constitution, which sets only a few requirements for serving in the House (at least 25 years old and a United States citizen for seven years) does require a person to “be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” State yes, but being in the same district, no.

The issue came up this spring in the high-profile House race for an open seat in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff famously lived several miles outside his suburban Atlanta district. No one charged he couldn’t legally serve, but the point about his living elsewhere was hammered around persistently through the campaign.

Several months ago, the Washington Post researched congressional residences and found 20 incumbent members of Congress who live outside their districts. In some cases a member originally elected from a district where he was a resident, saw the district boundaries shifting away, and opted not to run in the district which now included his house. In some cases it becomes no big issue, and in others candidates have lost races at least partly because of it. Specifics matter.

The newest member of the House from Washington state, Pramila Jayapal, lived about two miles outside the district she was running to represent when she was elected; it wasn’t a big issue there. Then there was Oregon’s Delia Lopez, a resident of the small rural community of Oakland, about 150 miles south of Portland. She was running to represent Oregon’s third district, which mostly is central urban Portland, about two hours by freeway from her house. She lost overwhelmingly, though the fact that she was a Republican in a district even more Democratic than Idaho is Republican, also had a lot to do with it.

Lopez’ case was like, in Idaho terms, someone living in Arco running for the first district, which runs along the west side of the state from Canada to Nevada. There’s not much connection.

Leroy’s case is a little different. Boise, in whole or in part, has been within the Idaho first congressional district for half a century. Boiseans are legally divided between the districts but as a more practical matter they have a foot in each of them. Leroy’s first district credentials are in reasonable order: He grew up in Lewiston, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow and has lived in the 1st at various points through his decades of residence in Boise. And he ran for the 1st district seat once before, in 1994 (when he lost the Republican nomination to Helen Chenoweth).

Of course, in a thinly divided and closely contested contest, as this one is shaping up to be, every issue matters. Including the matter of ten or fifteen minutes travel time.

Reasons for rejection

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The voter-elected official relationship is just another kind of relationship. And a lot of the same rules apply to it as to others. They're useful in considering questions like those emerging in recent days about what to do about people like Roy Moore (elect him? expel him?) or Al Franken (presumably, various options).

Consider romantic relationships. When dating, participants consider regularly whether this is something to continue or drop, and (cf. Seinfeld, for example) sometimes do that for very slight reasons. Once married, there's a tendency to cut a little more slack; promises for better and for worse were, after all, made, and the reality is that no one is perfect.

This actually relates to the Moore and Franken (and other) cases.

In the Alabama Senate election, Republican Moore has run into a swarm of charges related to his involvement with much younger women and girls; you've doubtless seen the reports so they won't be reiterated here. In this case, voters in a very Republican state are deciding between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones; the race is considered competitive in large part because of the recent charges.

Should they be a consideration? Of course they should. They relate to what kind of person this is who wants to represent a state in the United States Senate and become one of the highest-level elected officials in the country. (And to be clear, the accusations which are quite serious are more than just credible, and the news reports about them have been thoroughly sourced, and no meaningful rebuttal from the candidate or anyone else has appeared.) Is it the only reasonable consideration? Of course not. The consequences of such elections range far beyond the personal quirks and foibles of any one candidate - things like tax policy and health care, among many others, are in the balance - and the confliction of conservative Republican Alabamans is not in that sense unreasonable. (All of that is putting aside the merits of the policy and philosophical arguments involved, which is another story. In my view, on those grounds, the case against Moore was ironclad long before "the women" even were heard from.)

Suppose Moore is elected. Should he be expelled from the Senate, as some Republican senators have suggested? Sitting here now, I'd have to say no.

If the voters decide to elect a person, well informed of the case at stake, the Senate had better have an extremely high bar if it wants to overrule them. It had better have either important - shattering - evidence against Moore newly developed since the election, or else reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate, of which there's been no indication so far. After all, every Senator ever expelled in the nation's history, one in 1797 and the others in the Civil War, were ousted because of treason or rebellion against the nation. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an excellent piece on the significance of expelling - and the dangers of opening the doors to it under any but the most extreme cases. The Moore case would be distasteful, ugly and politically embarrassing (and maybe harmful) for Republicans, but it doesn't seem likely to rise to the status of emergency.

In other words, once elected, an elected official has passed dating and gotten hitched. The standards for dissolution need to be a lot higher.

What to do about Franken, now involved in a sexual harassment case as well, then becomes a little clearer. It is true that the voters of Minnesota did not have the specifics of the newly-related harassment case, for which Franken has apologized, in front of them when they twice elected him to the Senate. But they had an ample opportunity to gauge what sort of person he was, and their choice should be given a good deal of deference.

But beyond that, Franken is - as Moore would be if elected - a member of the Senate, in effect "married", and the bar for a dissolution ought to be pretty high. In other words, as I said about Moore: Reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate. Of which there's no such evidence at hand.

That doesn't mean the Senate ethics panel shouldn't look into the case, or or decide that a reprimand of some kind shouldn't be handed out; maybe it should. But if (and I'd say this bearing in mind both Moore and Franken) that if we get into a practice of expelling or driving out of Congress every member who ever had a tawdry piece of their past exposed, we might soon be left with few members, and few really good members of the public who'd want to run for the job. Which already is something of a problem.

Yes, it'd worth knowing these things about our elected officials, and people who would become one of them. They're worth factoring into our decision-making. But as attention-getting as they are, and as character-insightful as they sometimes can be, they shouldn't overwhelm all else.
 

The Idaho presidents

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A few years ago when I put together a list of the 100 most influential Idahoans, Boise State University President Robert Kustra ranked at number eight. Some people thought that was a little high; but others might have edged him higher yet.

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben and Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas made the list too, and some other higher ed leaders (like Tony Fernandez at Lewis-Clark State College) were contenders.

Why are they such critical figures in the state, and so influential? That has partly to do with them as individuals (especially in Kustra’s case) but more the impact of these institutions, not just involving the thousands of people they employ and who are students there, but the sweeping outreach they have across the state. The University of Idaho, for example, has programs and activities all over Idaho, not just in Moscow (or Boise). The others are far-flung too, and so are the state’s community colleges. The leader of one of these organizations can create major ripple effects, of one sort or another, all over the state.

That’s worth some reflection now, with the news that BSU’s Kustra has announced his retirement next summer, after 15 years in charge.

He has been a big factor in Idaho. Part of the reason is Boise State as such, since it is an urban university in a rapidly-growing area, with a fast-expanding student base.

But some of it is personal. He has deep political skills and experience (he is a former lieutenant governor of Illinois) and a strong sense of public relations and community visibility, together with ambition for his institution: It has grown explosively, and the Kustra years will be remembered too as glory years for Bronco football. The growth of BSU in recent years surely is attributable to some degree to Kustra. The specifics surrounding a university president can matter.

So it matters that this is a time of transition in that regard. Kustra is not the only one on the move.

ISU’s Vailas said in August that he will retire next year (within a few days, it turns out, of Kustra’s departure). The UI’s Staben, the newcomer of the three with his arrival in 2014, caused a stir a few weeks ago when word came that he was a finalist for president of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. (It didn’t pan out.) The stir was all the louder because Stabem had said when he arrived at Moscow that he hoped to spend 10 to 15 years there, and appeared to view it as his last career stop. (UI had five presidents in the 10 years before Staben’s hiring.)

And at LCSC, Fernandez is retiring next year too, on the same day as Vailas.

Idaho’s higher education may be going through some changes in the next few years. (Remember, it’ll soon be dealing with a new governor as well.)

I’ve argued for some years that the extensive recruitment process and the levels of compensation for university presidents both are overdone. (More institutions could probably gain more of the stability they look for, and all the competence they need, by promoting from within.)

But that doesn’t mean a change in university presidents doesn’t matter. Someone like Kustra, to name just one, can show easily how significant the choice can be.

Note: A reader notes that in addition to the Idaho higher education presidents noted here, "Marv Henberg retired earlier this year from the presidency at the College of Idaho as well. He taught at the University of Idaho before coming to Linfield and advancing up the ranks to dean of faculty."