Writings and observations

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After describing in a recent column annoying cell phone service gaps in the Idaho Statehouse, the Lewiston Tribune’s William Spence remarked how that serves as a metaphor for this:

“I can’t count the number of hearings I’ve attended where the testimony is skewed entirely one way or the other and the committee votes the opposite way.”

In my days covering the legislature years ago, that happened seldom. If the testimony was strongly weighted in one direction, that ordinarily was how the committee would vote. Apparently not so much these days.

I crowdsourced the question of whether Spence was right. The crowd told me that he was.

The legislative examples cited most were guns on campus, Medicaid expansion and “add the words.” Large crowds showed in support of the the latter two and against the first; few people countered; the committees involved wasted little time siding with the few. (They did at least, it should be said, hear out the public first.)

Holli Woodings, a former state representative, offered: “Guns on campus. I listened to an entire day of testimony against it, and still was in the committee minority voting nay. There were two, maybe three folks who testified in favor, and dozens against, including law enforcement, educators, students, administration, and others who actually had a stake.” The proposal won approval.

Activist Donna Yule: “Happens all the time in the Idaho statehouse. It’s extremely frustrating to all the people who take the time to testify. I’ve come to the conclusion that most of the GOP Chairs of the committees already have their minds made up, and they care more about their base voters than the people of Idaho. But I still think the testimony matters. Even though they ignore the people testifying, it still makes them uncomfortable, and maybe eventually the people will get angry enough to rise up against them and vote in some new people who WILL listen.”

Do your representatives listen? Actually listen, or just sit there with minds made up?

Idaho’s United States senators have been barraged with comments and protesters in recent weeks, but there’s been little response from them.

After Senator Mike Crapo’s office rebuffed media requests to find out how Idahoans calling in on Education Secretary-designate Betsy DeVos stood, a staffer let slip to the Payette County commissioners: “DeVos is the one we’re hearing the most about … and I think 95 percent are against her.” Crapo, and fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, voted for DeVos’ confirmation, and said little or nothing about what they were hearing from back home.

Okay. It’s possible not every protesting call or visit came from a constituent (though I’d bet the great bulk of them did). It isn’t the job of a representative to vote in the popular direction every time. Yes, it’s those in opposition who usually are most motivated to step up, more than those in support. Sometimes the majority is wrong; it happens.

But when this kind of dissonance happens as often as it seems to (and yes, Idaho is not alone in this), something is wrong.

In saying this, I’m looking most directly at the voters. Are you not being listened to? Are your concerns not being met? Are your representatives not doing what you want them to do?

If you think so, then: Are you getting organized and out to the polls? That’s the message that will be heard without a doubt.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A century ago, Idaho was a legislative leader in passing a law that would be adopted not long after by almost half the states: The criminal syndicalism act. It’s a slice of history worth reviewing.

The background is this: In the teens the activist and relatively radical edge of the labor movement was the Industrial Workers of the World (members were called “wobblies”). Its success and scope was actually limited, but it was well known regionally and nationally: Anti-union forces talked them up a great deal in fearful tones. In Idaho they mostly were active in the northern lumber camps, and organizers appeared in southern Idaho farms. Their main tool was the strike (in some places, mostly outside Idaho, things sometimes went further), though they were accused of much more. Their demands were for such workers’ protections as an eight-hour day and more worker safety, but their rhetoric was strident enough that they conflicted with other union groups as much as they did businesses.

There was a genuine radical connection, and some IWW leaders really were close to then-emergent Communist Party organizations. As World War I approached, the organization was also accused of being in league with the kaiser. (You know, whoever was handy.) Most of the people in the field were simply active union members, but across much of the state, panic of the unknown and fear of the group was exploding. One academic study of the period noted that “the economic and social problem became an … IWW problem and led to an attack on unpopular doctrines and groups.”

With memories of Silver Valley mine worker violence then not quite a generation in the past, Idaho’s leaders were quick to line up against the wobblies. And in March 1917 the legislature passed a law intended to get at them. This was the syndicalism act, which sought to ban “the doctrine which advocates crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.”

You’ll notice how un-specific the language is. That was considered a feature, not a bug, because the broad-brush accusations could easily be thrown around, and were. The point here is that purpose of the law had little to do with concerns about overthrowing the government (which already was covered by laws against treason, sedition and the like); that was the fig leaf. The real point was in suppressing the IWW. (The organization, much smaller and less active than it once was, still exists and is based in Chicago.)

The cover came off a few years later when Idaho legislators passed anti-union legislation criminalizing such acts as “work done in an improper manner, slack work, waste of property, and loitering at work.” And the anti-syndicalism law was eventually weakened by court decisions and later legislation. But in 1917 the measure passed because a relatively small group that actually affected Idaho at the edges was blown up into a terrible threat to decent society. It was made to seem so terrible that freedom of speech took a battering. (That battering would get much worse on a national level at the nation went to war.) For its part, the IWW declined in the twenties for its own organizational reasons, and never recovered.

Doesn’t take much for us to react badly; people are more easily manipulated than they would ever like to believe.

That’s no less true today than it was a century ago. It’s as simple as this: When someone points a finger and blames “them” for our problems, ask first what agendas are really involved. In the politics of today no less than back then, it’s a critical piece of intelligent self-government.

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It may come as a shock to Idaho (and many other state) legislators, but their purview is limited to the borders carved out at statehood. They have a great deal of authority inside, and very little out.

You can pick up the nature of some of these limits, and the narrow ways they can be expanded, in two new House bills, 59 and 65.

HB 65, from Representative Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins, got the bigger headline splash, because its reach would be so broad if it passes (wouldn’t bet against it) and survives a legal challenge (extremely unlikely).

Here’s the key language: “The Idaho Legislature hereby declares that the state of Idaho, on behalf of its citizens, is the final arbiter of whether an act of Congress, a federal regulation or a court decision is unconstitutional and may declare that the federal laws, regulations or court decisions are not authorized by the Constitution of the United States and violate its meaning and intent, and further, are null, void and of no effect regarding any Idaho citizen residing within the borders of the state of Idaho.”

The shorthand for this is “nullification” – a unilateral declaration by the state that if we here (well, actually, if the legislature here) don’t like it, it doesn’t apply to us. That’s just a half-step away from secession from the union, a question pretty much resolved a century and a half ago.

A brand new legislator, Representative Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, inquired in the meeting where the bill was presented: “Do we have that right as legislators or as citizens, to be able to declare something unconstitutional? Isn’t that the area judges are supposed to rule on? How do we earn the position to declare something constitutional or unconstitutional?” Well, there you are. We do have courts whose job it is to rule on constitutionality; that’s a court function, not legislative. The courts also get to parse when federal rulings apply to the states (mostly, but not always). A legislature can declare it has super-powers, but they won’t last long in a real challenge.

Is the legislature completely confined to state boundaries in its impact? Not necessarily.

House Bill 59, proposed by Representatives Ilana Rubel and John McCrostie, both D-Boise, would have Idaho join an interstate compact in which – if all 50 joined – each state would commit that their electoral college representatives would vote for whoever won the national popular vote. Such a proposal coming in this season after last year’s presidential carries a partisan tinge, but the idea has been around for many years, has been adopted by some states and others are considering it this year. (You can see more about it at http://www.nationalpopularvote.com/). Both red and blue states have entered into it.

The odds for passage in Idaho are not good, and we can’t completely be sure what a court will make of the idea. But there’s a good case for why it may be upheld. The federal constitution (in Article II) says “Each state shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof shall direct, a number of Electors,” and generally leaves the process in the hands of the legislatures. It would effect a change in an area where states seem to have full discretion to act.

For both bills, as a movie star once suggested, it’s a matter of knowing your limits.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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When President Trump went on one of his periodic anti-media tirades last week, he let out a phrase (well, actually, a lot of them but I’ll focus on one here) that merits a closer look.

The quote was, “Much of the media — not all of it — is very, very dishonest. Honestly, it’s fake news. Fake. They make things up.”

Coming from someone who personally makes up a whole lot of things, that merits some consideration. A lot of people probably wonder who and what they can trust in the ever-expanding media universe.

“Much of the media – not all of it.” There are a lot of media, and many elements of it often are in conflict. Well, which is which?

Let me offer one simple way to consider this. There are others too but this seems a good place to start.

The “media,” like “the government” (or almost any other large component of our society) consists of a whole lot of pieces and players. It consists not only of news publications but many other kinds as well – entertainment operations, trade magazines, academic journals, many more. But all of these can be divided roughly into two categories, “mass market” and “niche.”

This is not just a matter of size, though that’s important. The more critical component is in who they are trying to reach.

Newspaper history offers an example, since the standard mass-market daily newspaper has at different times operated in both spheres. In the 19th century, most newspapers were in effect niche publications. Cities of any size tended to have several newspapers; big cities might have a dozen or more. These newspapers did not try to write for everybody; they were trying to appeal to specific segments of their local markets, and many of them were overtly political. Newspapers typically identified themselves on their front page as the Republican paper, or the Democratic, or Independent, or maybe something else. People who wanted a broad picture often subscribed to several of them.

That was when newspapers were funded mainly through subscriptions. Somewhat over a century ago there was a strong move toward another business model, much more based around advertising, and it swept the industry. When it did, newspaper publishers and editors found that advertisers wanted to reach a whole community, not just a piece of it.

Here are two things that happened in response. A lot of newspapers consolidated: The number of newspapers in the United States dropped sharply in the early 20th century. The other thing that happened was that, to appeal to not just a segment of a city or region but rather the whole thing, the entire presentation of news had to change. And it did, into something many people probably thought was blander but also something that presented information in a more even handed, and less partisan, way. Editorial pages remained as opinionated as ever, but news columns became more centrist, aimed at reaching everyone. An institutional standard for this was developed, partly by the wire services (the Associated Press and several others over the decades). These services had to feed news reports to many hundreds of newspapers, whose owners and editors had all kinds of different opinions, so they developed a news language and reporting standards that would work broadly. That’s the news language and reporting approach we still have today at most daily and many weekly newspapers. It grew out of economic necessity. And while journalists are as fallible as anyone else, it also meant the news reports were mostly, generally, reliable.

That’s the dynamic mass media have to work with. They’re trying to reach a broad general audience, so the making a practice of slanting reports ideologically works poorly. Mass media will give you, most of the time and allowing for slippage here or there, reliable news, with relatively little slant. They’re not perfect, they mess up sometimes, but slantless news is what they aim for.

Niche media is everything else. A niche is something like the old newspapers were: Aimed at one kind of audience and only one, and therefore devoted to pleasing that audience. This leads to all kinds of results. On the positive side, it can yield insights and specialized reporting the mass media never get around to; there are good niche news providers out there. The down side is that the eagerness to produce appealing stuff can mean a slippage of standards, and quite a few niche organizations let go standards of accuracy and fairness in the interest of exciting the base – or simply telling the base what it wants to hear.

I think especially of ideologically-based news organizations. There are, for one example, “market-based” news outlets whose editorial stance is critical of government and taxes and cheers on the free market. Stories that fit within that framework abound, and they may even contain good information and may even be fair and accurate. But don’t expect to see much there that undercuts the party line.

This doesn’t mean all niche media should be disregarded. I don’t by any means intend that they all be lumped in as “fake”; many report with rigor. but it does mean the care and caution given to its pronouncements needs to be higher than for the mass media. It has, simply, fewer incentives to stick to accuracy and fairness.

Who can you trust? No, it’s quite as simple as this. But I’ve found the mass/niche dividing line a useful tool for navigating an ever murkier environment. What probably isn’t what the president had in mind.

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Right now, before the Idaho Legislature gets too deep into working through what will be considered, passed or rejected this session, time seems right for a review of the policy preferences of the people of Idaho.

When we do, we’ll have a benchmark for the end of the session: How closely did the Legislature’s decisions, and the subjects it addressed, match the views of Idahoans?

Strictly, of course, the people of Idaho collectively don’t get to deliver a State of the State address, or something similar. But you can derive a rough equivalent, in priorities and preferences, from the Idaho Public Policy Survey.

This is the annual poll of 1,000 Idaho adults conducted toward the end of each year. (The whole thing can be found at sps.boisestate.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Official-2017-State-Survey-Report.pdf.) Polls aren’t perfect, of course, but Boise State University has deep experience in running these, and the results tend to match from year to year. It seems at least roughly realistic.

The top agenda item for Idahoans, according to the poll, was the same as in Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State: Public schools.

“For the second consecutive year, Idahoans identify education as the most important issue facing the state, with 26.5% saying that it is the most pressing issue (compared to 28.2% in 2016),” the report said. No great surprise there, though there was also this about a related area often ignored by the legislature: “Another source of educational opportunities – the state’s public libraries – received high marks, however. 82.8% agree that the libraries in their communities create educational opportunities for people of all ages, while 81.7% consider the library in their community a good resource for access to information and other technological resources. These figures are consistent across all groups, with respondents in northern Idaho the most favorably disposed toward public libraries.”

The second biggest concern, well ahead of anything else: “The results … indicate that the issue area with greatest increase in public concern is health care policy. 70.5% of Idahoans scored health care at least an 8 when asked how important it was, on a scale of 1-10, for the state legislature to address, an 11.2% increase from last year. The number of respondents giving health care a 10 (i,e., the highest level of importance possible) increased by 12.7% from 2016, further underscoring the fact that the public views health care as an area deserving of the state legislature’s attention.”

In recent years, the legislature’s biggest health concern seems to have been an obsession with not doing anything proposed by the federal government. We’ll see if its interest expands at all this session.

Transportation has been a topic of contention in several recent sessions. The public’s take? “Transportation also saw some change as there was a slight increase (+3.7%) in those who felt addressing transportation issues was moderately important (i.e., 4-7) and a significant decrease (-7.9%) in those stating addressing transportation was not very important.”

On another subject of much discussion, the poll asked Idahoans what they thought of resettling refugees in Idaho. The result: “Idahoans are divided in their support of resettling refugees in Idaho; a slim majority (51.1%) favor this program, while a sizeable minority (43.8%) of citizens oppose it. However, although more citizens of Idaho favor this program, those who oppose refugee resettlement appear to feel very strongly about the matter.”

The Legislature won’t necessarily take much action on refugees, but if it does, who will it listen to?

And beyond that, how closely will the Legislature match the views of Idahoans? Watch and see.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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The allegations by Idaho state Representative Heather Scott that female legislators get ahead at the Statehouse by exchange of sexual favors has continued to go viral. Last week, the speed may have slowed with her apology to the House.

Scott in any event was wrong: Her contention has never been the path to advancement for female legislators in Idaho, or I suspect many other legislatures. I’ve never heard evidence of a specific Idaho case or even a rumor of one. Affairs between legislators? That’s nothing new (though the headlines about it are a new wrinkle). Back in the 70s the reporter corps would occasionally snicker at lawmaker couples who thought they were undiscovered but weren’t. But those activities usually have held legislators back more than advanced them.

There’s also been talk that the pulling of committee assignments from Scott had to do with her ideology.

Nonsense. Ideology hasn’t been a blocking point for legislators past, or present.

Asked about moving on up, Representative Stephen Hartgen said, “I’ve been here almost 10 years. People get ahead here on the basis of merit, in my humble opinion. I’ve never seen anything that would cause me to question that premise.”

Well … Sometimes legislators do become influential on specific subjects (say, the budget, or health care, or water law) when they have a strong expertise in it. But influence at the legislature usually comes down to other things. In this cynical era, when the darkest possible explanation often is the most easily believed, a quick look at what does yield Idaho legislative influence seems in order.

Seniority, probably foremost. Most committee chairs (which generally are important posts) usually go to the senior member of the majority party who doesn’t already have another chairmanship or leadership post, or (sometimes) isn’t on the budget committee. Seniority weighs heavily on the committees.

Personality does matter, and so do personal relationships. The legislature is a little “in-a-bubble” society. Legislators learn who they can trust and who they can’t, who will come through in a tough spot and who might cave, and who is essentially decent and fair-minded and who could use a little more of those qualities. There are plenty of personal friendships in the legislature, and that can affect a lot of votes. Legislators who develop strong friendships easily can be important in the legislature, whatever their other qualities. A vote for someone to lead the caucus often comes down to those kind of personality factors: Who am I comfortable with, and who can I trust?

Sometimes the flip side can apply as well: Committee spots and other goodies sometimes have been said to be horse-traded in return for leadership votes. So a skillful deal-maker can advance as well.

What kind of group are you in? Is it large enough to have decisive influence? Democratic legislators are, in their two caucuses, part of small groups, and so often have little influence. If the majority Republicans are split, however, the Democrats’ unified caucuses can matter. The same goes for the various factions within the Republican caucuses, some of them based on personalities or backgrounds (veteran watchers still recall “Sirloin row” in the Senate) and some based around issues or ideology.

Many a veteran legislator has remarked on how the legislature is a study in people. If someone rises toward the top, or is slapped down, look there first for the explanation.

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Not often, but sometimes, the old line “if you build it, they will come,” actually does pan out.

It did at the College of Western Idaho. CWI became a reality over the objections of a significant number of skeptics.

Boise was, before then, either the largest or at least one of the largest metro areas in the United States without a community college. But then, people asked, why did it need one? It already had Boise State University, which had been growing at weed levels for a quarter-century. On the private side, the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene College (now University) were nearby.

What was missed was the large number of people who wanted a community college, who would attend if one were available. BSU and the private colleges have needed roles, but they are relatively expensive and, for people looking for occupational training rather than a full liberal arts education, a little forbidding. There’s a big chunk of the Idaho population that hasn’t and won’t make the direct transition from high school to college.

These people had no strong political voice; they weren’t much heard from in the halls of the Statehouse. But over time the business people who lacked a force of trained workers were heard. For decades the idea of a community college floated, bobbed along, but never reached shore.

About a decade ago sufficient gravitational mass in favor of it – financial, organizational, political – pushed it ahead. (The campaign in favor featured pictures of prospective students and used the advertising tag line, “Give us a chance.”) The vote to create a new taxing district to support the college needed a two-thirds vote, and it barely passed, even with help from influential people in the area including Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Back then, the thinking was that CWI would be a small institution, serving maybe a few thousand students. If it didn’t flop. Initial enrollment in 2009 was 1,100. Last year, seven years later, it hit 24,265. Don’t be surprised if that figure eventually doubles.

Okay, that’s the past. Cast your eyes now to Idaho Falls.

That eastern Idaho city does already have a college, Eastern Idaho Technical College. It’s a useful institution too, with low costs, but limited in its size and scope. Its enrollment is fewer now than CWI’s was when it opened. It needs the breadth a community college, like CWI or North Idaho College or the College of Southern Idaho, all of which have much larger enrollments (and in the latter two cases, in smaller cities), could bring.

The push to transition EITC to a community college (the College of Eastern Idaho, to round out the compass points) has been underway for a while. But now it may have gotten that added bit of momentum.

A governor’s statement that something ought to happen is by no means always enough, as any governor could tell you. But in this case it could be important. In his state of the state address last week, Otter linked the CWI experience to the push for an eastern community college in what could be a strong kickstart.

The legislature already threw in $5 million in seed money (which it did in advance of CWI, too).

Then Otter added, “Now the people of Bonneville County must decide at the polls in May whether to invest in their own future by advancing plans to provide better opportunities for students and families, for those looking to improve their career readiness, and for businesses looking to locate or expand. After seeing the difference that the College of Western Idaho has made here in the Treasure Valley, after seeing how quickly CWI has grown to meet pent-up demand for new educational opportunities, and after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from employers, the College of Eastern Idaho campaign has my full and enthusiastic support.”

That may help push some wary voters over the line.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A new ballot petition being circulated around Idaho would put directly a question many people uneasily dance around:

Is abortion murder?

It comes from a group called Abolish Abortion Idaho (website http://www.abolishabortionid.com), based at Hayden. It calls for not repealing the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, but defying it. There’s the possibility coming changes at the court could lead to a repeal anyway, but the effort here is no gray-area endeavor. It’s a frontal challenge based around the group’s core principles and, it has to be said, those of a lot of Idaho’s elected officials.

The web site argues: “Idaho Code already says that abortion is murder but that it may not be prosecuted. [This appears to be accurate.] This petition will establish equal justice for the preborn by prosecuting all who would murder them. The initiative is about equal protection under the law for preborn babies, and it eliminates the ability of a special class of people to commit a serious crime without the fear of prosecution.”

To that end the proposal would set state policy that abortion, any abortion at any stage of development, be prosecuted the same as any heinous serial killer murder you can recall. The proponents add, “There will be no exceptions for rape and incest, since the baby should never pay for the crimes of the fathers. The traditional exceptions for abortion when the life or health of the mother are threatened have been eliminated as well.”

AAI is rigorously consistent here. If you do believe abortion is murder, as so many Idaho political figures have said so clearly for so many years, then why should each provable case not be prosecuted as such? No crime, after all, is ordinarily more rigorously prosecuted than murder.

To be clear: I’m not, in this column, arguing the merits of that determination of abortion as murder. But in Idaho and around the country many politicians who have made the “abortion is murder” argument, have spent decades tinkering with the laws (to make abortion more difficult, inconvenient and expensive), while knowing that Roe v. Wade means their beliefs will never be put to the test.

The nature of the test is alluded to by AAI, but in a way you might generously call over-optimistic: “The goal of the initiative is not to punish mothers, but it is to abolish abortion. Once abortion is illegal with a severe associated penalty, we expect that very few women will ever be prosecuted under this new law.”

There are two ways to take this. If the group means to suggest little prosecution because prosecutors would rarely bring the cases, that suggests the change in law would have no teeth, and be pointless.

But if they’re suggesting the law’s intended punishment – ranging from a very long prison sentence to the death penalty – would be an effective deterrent, they’re fooling themselves. Murders of the type prosecuted now haven’t stopped, and won’t, because deep penalties are attached to them. Neither do many other heavily-punished crimes.

And if the goal “is not to punish mothers,” why not, if they’ve committed murder? You could go after doctors and nurses too (as some anti-abortion activists have in other ways). But if the law drove abortion activity away from doctors’ offices and toward other means, including self-performed abortions, how can you be rigorously in favor of legally stopping abortion without going after mothers?

This ballot issue would put the core of the question right out there. If it gets on the ballot we’ll get a chance to see what Idahoans really think about abortion – and about the consequences of following through on what has been to now mostly rhetoric.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

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A year ago, looking to 2016, I had more questions about the prospects than I did any flat predictions.

Now, at the edge of 2017, that’s even more true.

A new administration is about to take office in Washington, but anyone certain about what exactly that will mean – other than something a lot different from the last eight years – is kidding themselves. Think instead in terms of a range of possibilities, many possible things that might happen. Be surprised by none of what actually does.

Focusing more locally, and revisiting some thoughts from a year ago, here are some ideas to keep watch for in the next 365.

The Trump reaction. When Idaho Republicans were given the presidential primary election choice, they went decisively not for Donald Trump but for Texas Senator Ted Cruz. In the general election, of course, they went for the nominee, but how will they react to whatever it is that Trump does – recognizing that we really have no way of knowing what he will do. In some scenarios, Idaho Republicans may happily jump on board with a familiar Republican presence. In others, Trump may be something very different.

Boise downtown development. 2017 is supposed to be the big year Boise’s downtown redevelopment all comes together. Some pieces, like the JUMP center, already are done or nearly done. But large elements of work remain, and it was only in September that ground broke on the largest single piece of up-graded downtown property. Not everything will be finished then, of course. A new hotel will await, and Boise activity won’t come to a standstill. But 2017 should mark the point when Idaho gets to see what the capitol city’s downtown looks like for some time to come.

Less-wild fires? Idaho has been the scene of some massive, powerfully destructive wildfires in recent years. 2016 turned out to be a relative reprieve from those. (There were fires of course, but the biggest of them were generally fewer and smaller.) A year ago I suggested there would be some reason for hope because of a strong snowpack developing around the state by New Year’s. The snowpack now on average is looking not too different from a year ago. Call it a hopeful sign.

More of the same at the Legislature. Whatever you thought of the 2016 legislative session, you probably can bank on 2017 being similar but maybe more so. Returning issues probably will return, but if they got little traction last session, they’ll have trouble picking up speed in the next.

Even fewer Democrats. Nationally, Democrats found silver linings in congressional or state contests; in Idaho, you’d need a microscope to find them. The number of Democrats in the legislature actually fell, to the point that Idaho from north of Boise to Canada now has just one Democratic legislator. Democrats had a few serious shots in 2016 at making inroads in Ada County, with a county commission race and a District 15 House race, both involving strong, intensive campaigns. Both fell short. Where do Idaho Democrats go now?

Health care prospects dim. Efforts to try to push a Medicaid expansion through the Legislature next session now seem evaporated, and health care and insurance for a large number of Idahoans will be at increased risk this coming year. No realistic Idaho solutions are in sight.

In all, don’t expect any startling changes.

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The Blaine County School District split deeply – the board’s vote was 3-2 – when it came to deciding whether to hire a lobbyist to represent it at the next state legislative session in Boise.

The vote went in the “yea” direction, with the support of the superintendent, who noted that such vital matters as the school funding formula, which determines how state money will be apportioned to the districts, already have been under discussion. The person hired was Phil Homer, who has been a lobbyist before, working for the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

Blaine is so far the only individual school district to take this step, and there’s been some commentary about whether it should. (There are also questions about whether various other governmental organizations, local and state, should hire lobbyists. But it wouldn’t be a surprise to see other school districts consider it. A lot of lobbyists prowl the Statehouse in-season, more of them than there are legislators. And they represent some fairly unexpected interests and organizations.

You can see the most current list for yourself (dated November 16) on the secretary of state’s website at https://www.sos.idaho.gov/elect/lobbyist/2016/emplob.pdf. As you look at it, remind yourself that this is the Idaho Legislature, not Congress.

Plenty of local Idaho organizations are represented on the list, of course: The list includes the Associated General Contractors of Idaho and the Association of Idaho Cities, the Boise Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic Charities of Idaho (yes, charities hire lobbyists too), the College of Western Idaho, the Flying B Ranch, Idaho Power Company and the J.R. Simplot Company, the Fremont-Madison Irrigation District, Micron Technology and Melaleuca Inc., St. Luke’s Health System, the Idaho Farm Bureau and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Nearly every organization of substantial size in the Gem State has someone at the Statehouse looking out for them.

But they’re not alone. Remember, a number of these and other organizations also are connected to national counterpart organizations. Some of them designate staffers as lobbyists, and others hire contract lobbyists; the mix changes periodically.

None of these should come as a surprise. But you may be interested in some of the national names that seem to find it worthwhile to spend money on Idaho lobbying.

There’s Wilks Ranch Idaho LLC, for instance, based out of Cisco, Texas, but recently a big landowner in Idaho.

There are many more, large and not so large. Wal-Mart has a designated lobbyist for Idaho. So does Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, United Parcel Service, Uber Technologies (of San Francisco), Johnson & Johnson, Two Jinn Inc. (Aladdin Bail Bonds), Chevron USA, K12 (an education company), the Humane Society of the United States, Scion Dental, Pfizer Inc. (on of the world’s biggest pharma companies), MillerCoots LLC, Bayer Corporation and even the Bank of New York Mellon.

And many more.

What have they all to do with Idaho? What do they want, or not want, in or from the Gem State? And how might that relate to you?

Good questions, and not just for the Blaine County School District.

Lobbyists often get tagged as nefarious actors and that’s generally unfair. We all have a right to seek redress of grievances, whether directly or through someone paid to help us. And bear in mind that lobbyists are not a monolith; they often do battle with each other. Will their work benefit the rest of us, or not? The answer to that will depend on where you sit.

The next session begins in a couple of weeks.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus