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Donald Trump’s Idaho?

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Is Idaho Donald Trump’s kind of place?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s medically necessary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another go-round

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

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

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

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

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

Then it got a second chance.

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

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

What will Albertsons do now?

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

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

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

On the border

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the land’s for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unwinding the unwinding

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This summer in Idaho is featuring some unfortunate health headlines ranging from the plague among rodents to e. coli on the beach (at Lucky Peak park near Boise).

But the really messy story is neither of these: It concerns the Saltzer Medical Group and its relationship with St. Luke’s hospitals, and the slippery state of how modern medicine deals with big money.

The story goes back a few years and iterations. Saltzer is a consortium of physicians at Nampa – the state’s second-largest city, remember – which had a large base of customers who regularly needed hospital facilities. St. Luke’s Health System, the largest hospital organization in Idaho and based at Boise – with major facilities scattered around the metro area – bought Saltzer in 2012, in a friendly takeover. Part of the justification was that if the organizations worked more tightly together, they might be able to hold down costs.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden warned that the deal might be illegal, violating federal anti-competitiveness laws. St. Luke’s and Saltzer said the merger could be readily “unwound” if need be. That’s now being put to the test. Two levels of federal courts ordered the merger reversed, agreeing with the state (and several St. Luke’s competitors) that the mashup was anti-competitive. Now, in speaking of the un-wind, St. Luke’s attorneys were quoted as saying that what “seemed like a simple, straightforward process ... has proven not to be so.”

Is everyone properly shocked . . . ?

For one thing, Saltzer isn’t now what it was: A group of what was 50 or so doctors is down in number by about a quarter, some of those departing evidently wary of getting snared in legal issues. Several specialties important to the overall group now have no practitioners. The group reached an agreement with St. Luke’s to provide those services, which has made things even more complex.

And there have been efforts afoot to sell off part or all of Saltzer to some other party.

How does all of that comport with the court’s order to, more or less, return St. Luke’s and Saltzer to where they were before their merger?

No one really knows.

There’s some talk about a court-appointed master who would have some direct authority over the situation. This might work, in theory, somewhat comparably to a trustee in a bankruptcy case. But this may be a lot more difficult for such an official to handle than would be a bankrupcty; in this case, the businesses are alive and fully functioning. Part of what has happened involved physicians quitting one employer and moving to another, or setting up independent shop. How could a master force someone to, say, continue working at Saltzer if they didn’t want to? (Not that such an effort would likely be made anyway.) Both Saltzer and St. Luke’s are active – in St. Luke’s case, you might almost say hyperactive – businesses, doing many things and making many decisions every day. Planting a special master in the middle of that could be nightmarish for everyone involved, prospectively including patients.

The legal-financial complex U.S. medicine is in may be headed for a series of smashups. Look at St Luke's and Saltzer as a harbinger of things to come.

New chair

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A miracle of sorts is developing among Idaho’s Democrats: A three-way contest for the position of party chair.

Call that a small but real mark in the plus column for the Democrats, along with the fact that, unlike the last state Republican chair contest, this one has foregone bitterness or battles. But then, this isn’t a job most people would want. It doesn’t pay, but it can be time consuming and intensely absorbing. The end results of those efforts are likely to be – however adept and hard-working the chair may be – crushing defeat and blame, generally undeserved.

The Idaho Democratic chair has attracted some highly skilled political people over the years, but it has limited authority and is commonly thought to be something much closer to “powerful” than it actually is. (Same goes for the Republicans.)

Still, the chair can influence politics in the state to a degree. This is written before the vote electing the new chair, so I don’t know who it will be, but the advice that follows would apply to any.

Party chairs (any party) have two basic useful functions: Building and strengthening the organization, and serving as its spokesman to the public. (They sometimes play a role too in candidate recruitment, which Democrats in recent cycles have done relatively well.) With that in mind, three ideas suggest themselves for the incoming Democratic leader.

1. The top organizational priority should be filling precinct spots. Form a special task force and chair it, with the specific goal of filling as many of those precinct vacancies as possible around the state. And then give those precinct people some specific and visible work to do.

With focused attention, more can be done in this area than most Idaho political people think. In the 2014 election the Republican candidate for governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, won by a big margin. Care to guess in how many out of about 1,000 precincts his Democratic opponent, A.J. Balukoff, got no votes at all? I counted only three. There were lonely Democrats casting their defiant votes in very nearly every precinct and in every county in Idaho. The chair should be setting out finding those scattered seeds, carefully planting and watering them.

2. Use such bully pulpit as you have first and foremost to describe what the Democrats are about. Not, that is, about what this or that individual Democrat is proposing: Your job should involve defining the party and what it wants, as distinct from the Republicans, and spreading the word. A whole lot of Idahoans have been given to think Democrats are the spawn of Satan, and that’s not much exaggerated. Democrats in Idaho will continue to lose until this starts to change.

3. Use your position to talk about the Republican Party and what (in your view) it’s all about. Not just the latest bum headline, not just this office holder or that one, but the party itself. And not the fact that it controls all the political levers in Idaho – that just sounds whiny. And certainly not that “we need two parties.” (That offers no help about why anyone should choose yours.) Talk about why you think Democrats are right and Republicans are wrong. And you should be just that blunt.

Whoever you, the next chair, turns out to be, you’ll probably get more blame than you deserve whatever you do. But there is some potential for at least making the job count.

JFAC stability

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The co-leadership of Idaho’s JFAC is closely watched in the statehouse and little noticed elsewhere, partly because it gets fewer headlines than its role would warrant.

One reason for that is that it has been a relative rock of stability: It hasn’t turned over a great deal. Now, this year, it will turn over, partly, though overall it probably will stay stable.

JFAC is the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the 20-member (as it long has been) panel that drafts the state budget. It uses data provides by the governor, the agencies and sometimes others, and its decisions aren’t final until they’re passed (ratified, really) by the floors of the House and Senate, and signed by the governor. But the budgets written in JFAC are only rarely altered afterward.

It is led by two people, co-chairs, one each for the House and Senate, who almost always have risen through the ranks by seniority. These leadership spots are as important as any in the legislature, including floor leaders, and an active co-chair (and sometimes, the vice-chairs as well) does a lot to shape the way the state spends its money. When I wrote a book some months ago about the most influential people in the state, both co-chairs were in the group.

Since 2001, the same two people have led JFAC – Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Representative Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. For a decade they represented the same Magic Valley district, too, though in this new decade. Spend that much time on the budget panel and you tend become something of a budget expert, and – it happens to most – temperamentally an advocate for stability.

Last week came the announcement that Cameron will resign from the legislature to lead the state Department of Insurance. (Cameron is an insurance agent in private life.) By seniority, his successor as JFAC Senate co-chair should be vice-chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who has been closely aligned with Camerons’s work on the committee. Her likely move up (the decision will be made by Senate Republican leaders) would place two women at the top of JFAC, for the first time.

The general continuation of stability – Keough has been a vice-chair since 2005, which is a couple of years before C.L. “Butch” Otter first became governor) – may be the more significant point. And that would be a continuation of the way JFAC has long been run.

Cameron’s predecessor on the Senate side was Atwell Parry, R-Melba, from 1987 to 2000, another long stretch. Bell’s House predecessor, Robert Geddes, was in the chair just four years, though he spent 24 years in the Idaho House. But before him, Representative Kathleen “Kitty” Gurnsey, R-Boise, was the House budget leader for eight terms, from 1981 to 1996. This is known as slow turnover.

Gurnsey died last week at Boise, well remembered by people who spent time around the legislature in her years there, which prompted a number of thoughts about the changes, and non-changes at the committee over the years. She was the first woman to co-chair the budget panel, but her strong hand on the budget process was most memorable. She served across from three Senate co-chairs, and was at least as decisive as any of them in directing the committee. (The relationships between the two co-chairs generally has been amicable, but there’s no requirement that it has to be.)

She was also something of a political centrist among the Senate Republicans of the time, at least of the time when she became chair. As the Idaho Legislature, and JFAC with it, moved toward the right over the years to come, their chairs did as well. During the short period when Gurnsey and Cameron overlapped on JFAC, she would generally have been considered the more moderate of the two. Today, Cameron is one of the more centrist Republican in the Senate caucus.

So we wait for word on the chair succession, and see if the long tendency on this important committee will continue a few more years.

‘Sovereignty’ in 1890

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As the seemingly endless chatter about how “sovereign” Idaho is continues, and another anniversary of statehood approaches, let’s look back on how it looked leading up to the moment of statehood.

You could say that Territorial Delegate Fred T. Dubois’ wire back to Boise, upon approval, to “Turn the Eagle loose!”, was more emblematic of his emotions than of what he had experienced along the way.

Idaho territory had already gone through, and narrowly evaded, a number of proposals to break it up and combine it with other jurisdictions. Idaho activists wanted to establish some legitimacy for their request, so they called for a constitutional convention to write a state constitution – which met, and drafted the constitution (albeit amended) Idaho still has. The convention had no legal authority to meet,not only because - unlike the four previous states to be admitted – Congress had not approved any such convention but also because the territorial legislature hadn’t done so either.

The convention did take care to say, in the third section of the first article, that “The state of Idaho is an inseparable part of the American Union, and the Constitution of the United States is the supreme law of the land.”

The legitimacy of the convention was only a minor problem in Congress, where a resolution approving statehood had to pass both the House and Senate. Democrats, though in the minority, were not eager to admit Idaho, since that would mean yet another Republican state (as everyone knew Idaho would be), especially after recently admitting the Republican Dakotas, Montana and Washington (as it was then).

The Idaho bills – more than one of them – reached consideration point early in 1890, at a critical juncture. Congress’ action was sure to turn on a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Davis v. Beason. Samuel Davis was a Mormon who had voted after taking the “test oath” - a territorial law requirement that the voter not adhere to certain principles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – and was charged and convicted of perjury. Davis’ case before the Supreme Court was based on the idea that the test oath was unconstitutional.

Dubois, the Idaho territorial delegation who spearheaded the statehood effort, wrote to an ally in Idaho that “If their decision is adverse, of course we are done . . . I shall not ask for statehood unless we can keep the Mormons out of our politics.”

When the Supreme Court ruled against Davis, in favor of the Test Oath, the bills began to move through Congress, but amid raucous debate, a lot of it having to do with Mormons. Then a fierce debate erupted over “free silver” (a coinage question that would become much more intense in the coming decade). After anti-climactic floor votes, the admission bill was signed by President Benjamin Harrison on July 3.

Conditions were attached. For example, 3.5 million acres of the new state specifically were set aside to be used as an education endowment, and the use of them was closely regulated. The subject of how to use those Idaho lands has been back in Congress from time to time, notably in 1998 when then-Representative Mike Crapo proposed a loosening of the rules.

If it’s an immaculate sovereign conception anyone is looking for, Idaho’s isn’t it.

Season of discontent

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Try drawing a straight line through the results in the school-related election results from this week, and where it seems to land is on a season of education discontent in Idaho.

You might run into trouble trying to get a lot more specific than that – the discontent appears to bounce in several directions. But indicators of discontent were all over in last Tuesday’s elections.

As usual this time of year, a bunch of levy and bond issues were on the ballot, and as usual a good many (a lot of those supplemental levies that just maintain existing operations) passed.

But voter turnout was low (it seemed generally lower than last year) and overall support for incumbent positions seemed down. Even, for that matter, some proposals for money-saving improvements.

This year the biggest proposal, a $56.1 million bond at Idaho Falls failed, though barely. That amount alone was triple the total amount of all the school issues that passed.

A batch of school board elections wound up with striking sometimes unconventional results. In the largest school district in Idaho, West Ada, two of the three seats up for election went to outsiders. Julie Madsen, a physician, took out a board member who had served 13 years. And maybe the most interesting winner of the night was the other newcomer there, Russell Joki, a former Nampa school superintendent (and failed 2013 Meridian City Council candidate) who for years pursued a legal case against school districts charging fees to students. “School districts should not be charging fees for any part of the locally approved, endorsed, or sanctioned educational experience offered to students,” he wrote in a 2013 opinion piece. What will he do about that now as a board member?

In Caldwell, where all three board seats were decided by extremely small margins, a local tempest developed when a challenger, former Democratic legislative candidate Travis Manning, defeated an incumbent. Some area conservatives argued he should be disqualified: He’s a teacher in a neighboring school district, and associated with the teacher’s union. But Manning’s politics may have a lot to do with it too, and the dynamics of the Caldwell board may change a bit with his arrival.

Then there was the case in southeast Idaho of two small districts, North Gem and Grace (in Caribou County), which were proposed for consolidation. It would seem to make perfect sense. The districts have small populations and school attendance and a limited tax base. On top of that building renovations (especially a century-old school at Bancroft) and other costs have been pressuring taxpayers, something a merger might ease. But the voters, after seeing a good deal of local divisiveness on the question, rejected it, which means they’ll soon be faced with several difficult and expensive bond issues.

The Idaho Legislature’s actions on schools this year may have been a side factor in some of this. The legislature funded schools a little more amply than in most recent years, and that could have affected some attitudes locally.

But the common thread, in so many places, of boat-rocking is hard to miss. A fair number of voters seems to have decided they’re not happy; what they haven’t yet concluded, evidently, is what to do about it.