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Posts published in “Stapilus”

An actual pivot?

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In primary season, elections in this or that state often are called "pivotal." Far fewer really are. We won't know for sure (you never do) for a while, but in the Democratic race for president Michigan may have been an actual pivot.

There is of course the point that, had the polling been correct and Hillary Clinton won Michigan decisively (as she overwhelmingly won Mississippi the same day), Sanders would have been on the ropes. Even as matters stand, he's presently far behind - by about 200 - in the delegate count. And he won Michigan only by a modest margin.

But, well, polling was not correct, and to a degree that will go down in political lore. Harry Enten at the FiveThirtyEight site reflected, "Bernie Sanders made folks like me eat a stack of humble pie on Tuesday night. He won the Michigan primary over Hillary Clinton, 50 percent to 48 percent, when not a single poll taken over the last month had Clinton leading by less than 5 percentage points. In fact, many had her lead at 20 percentage points or higher. Sanders’s win in Michigan was one of the greatest upsets in modern political history."

That means, as people cast their ballots, they may pay a little less attention to the polling and to who's ahead. (And yes, those expectation factors really do drive votes.)

The Democratic race had been getting less attention in the last couple of weeks than the Republican, which hurts Sanders. The Michigan result provides a compelling argument for increasing attention given to the Democrats.

And, while Mississippi is a lot like many of the southern states which have been voting (strongly) for Clinton, those states are all gone now - all voted. The big votes ahead, in states like Ohio, Illinois, New York, California, will be much more like Michigan than like those southern states. Is something going on there that Sanders may be tapping into?

None of this is a prediction for a Sanders win. But the presidential abruptly looks different than it did yesterday.

Idaho’s choice

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In this season so uncomfortable for many Republicans a new question may soon arise: What’s most important, party or philosophy?

On Tuesday, and then again possibly in November, we’ll get hard numbers on that, because what’s on the ballot will give Idaho’s Republicans, and their elected leaders, a choice.

Not in many, many years has a leading Republican candidate for president run so distant from what Idaho Republicans have for generations accepted as gospel: Less government, lower taxes, support business, oppose abortion, and so on. Reflection Reaganism, if you’re a Republican, and you’re golden.

In much of Idaho, there’s been a significant related factor: The close alliance between most members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, who account for about a third of the vote in Idaho and a much higher percentage of Republican voters, and orthodox Republicans. (The church itself takes no formal position on presidential or other political races.)

Enter now Donald Trump, the most probable Republican nominee for president and most significant Republican breaker of the mold since before Reagan.

He is not a reciter of the GOP mantra, not even close. He doesn’t see public policy through the small-government/lower-taxes lens. The main philosophy of Donald Trump’s campaign is Donald Trump, and even that changes from week to week. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee who had overwhelming support in Idaho, remarked on Thursday, “There's plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake. Mr. Trump has changed his positions not just over the years, but over the course of the campaign, and on the Ku Klux Klan, daily for three days in a row.”

He also attached Trump to “the very brand of anger that has led other nations into the abyss”.
In saying so, Romney probably did not run afoul of many of his fellow churchgoers.

On Tuesday, Christopher Cunningham, the content director of LDS.net (a website not affiliated with the church but closely supportive of it) made what may be a powerful argument for church members. (You can read it at http://lds.net/blog/buzz/lds-news/donald-trump-opinion-on-mormons/) He described a 2014 interview of Trump by McKay Coppins: “Trump insisted that Mitt Romney lost because his faith was ‘alien.’ But as Trump’s thoughts on the Church turned negative, Coppins interrupted explaining that he was Mormon. Trump then changed his tune saying, ‘People don’t understand the Mormon thing. I do. I get it.’”

Cunningham also quoted a Trump spokesman, who was defending the candidate’s proposals to investigate and possibly close mosques, as adding (approvingly), “It’s no different than a Mormon Church. You’ve had the DOJ investigate Mormon Churches and shut them down.”

In all, Cunningham said, “the uncorrected hostility between Donald Trump and Mormons is unprecedented in modern presidential politics. You may have to go back to Grover Cleveland in 1889 to find similar anti-Mormon sentiment from a presidential campaign.”

Few well-known Idaho political figures have signed on with Trump and offered a favorable counter-message. One who has is Skip Brandt, an Idaho County commissioner (and former legislator), who wrote in a letter to the editor: “The stakes could not be higher. The politically correct socialists are about to destroy our country. Donald Trump is the common-sense conservative who can change Washington, D.C. Donald Trump has the establishment (Democrats and Republicans alike) scared to death. Why? Because Trump is a private sector businessman that is used to saying ‘You’re fired.’”

So what message will Idahoans back on Tuesday? Polling has shown Trump running strong in the Gem State, well positioned to win as he has in many other deeply red states.

To the extent he does, Idaho’s political analysts will have their work cut out parsing an Idaho electorate that maybe didn’t care – all along – about many of the things its political leaders have assumed it does. And then the follow-up question: What about November?

From a podcast

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You can follow what’s going on at the Idaho Legislature in many ways besides the conventional news media and digital streaming. One of them is through the reports released by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Another, it turns out, is through podcasts – such as one released last week by state Representative Kelly Packer, a Republican from McCammon, on the subject of the IFF.

The IFF, which is run by Wayne Hoffman, has been a major presence at the Statehouse for some years. It has generated news-type reports on legislative activity, and also made clear its support or opposition to various pieces of legislation, which Hoffman is careful to say does not constitute lobbying. (Not everyone agrees with that.) Its most impactful activity, though, may be its regular scoring of legislators on a “freedom index,” which is derived from support or opposition to various pieces of legislation. The scores informally are used to describe Republicans as relatively conservative or not. Those ranking low may be attacked as RINOS (Republican in Name Only), which can be hazardous in a Republican primary.

(Ironically, all this matters far less to the Democrats, who’d face sharper questions if they scored well.)

This week, in response, legislator Packer said that. “I just had finally had enough. I wanted to push back.”

She said this on her regular podcast, available online to her constituents and others. (The web address for this one is https://soundcloud.com/kelley-packer/week-6-rep-kelley-packer-2016-idaho-legislative-report.) Packer is no RINO, as her overall comments and past work as a Republican county chair make clear. But in her latest podcast (at about th 6:20 mark), she had some sharp words for IFF.

“It’s more concerted this session than it has been in the past,” she said. Packer said she was at one time supportive of the group: “I was looking forward to having someone that would provide an honest conservative view as well.” Now, she said, “They don’t like me,” and the feeling seems to be mutual.

“There are just a lot of ironies and hypocrisies that I see in place” she said. “With a 501(c)3 those people that donate to them get a full tax deduction, but the offset to that is that they’re not supposed to be able to lobby, and yet they do. And in fact in the campaign season for 2014, I believe, they put up billboards smearing good conservatives . . . another hypocrisy is they’re very un-transparent even though they ask everyone else to be transparent.”

Her immediate concerns run inside the statehouse: “I watch people selling their votes in order to get a certain score, and that is worrisome to me. When you put on blinders and you simply follow any organization and you just do what they want you to do, then how can you really be saying you’re representing your district or the people that put you here; how can you say in good conscience you’re doing your due diligence ad understanding the issues well enough to do the right thing every time? You’re not. You’re turning your power and vote over to that organization ...”

For several years, the IFF report card has been an influential medium within the Idaho Legislature. But as Packer’s podcasts show, there’s growing potential for other new media to counter and compete with it, which may come as a relief to a number of legislators and to many of their constituents.

Overlapping campaigns

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Thursday night, Boise Democrats had two schedule-overlapping political events to choose from, both with reverberations in presidential politics.

One was the campaign kick off, at a downtown eatery, for TJ Thomson who is running for Ada County commissioner. Thomson’s political task is difficult (while Boise leans Democratic, Ada overall leans Republican), but not impossible for a well-organized candidate. And Thomson, a young and energetic candidate, will be nothing if not organized. For evidence, consider the 2008 primary (not general) campaign in Idaho for Barack Obama. It was extremely well organized – Obama won – and Thomson was one of its main leaders. A year later he was elected to the Boise City Council, where he still serves.

The other event was a campaign organizing event held at the home of former Representative Larry La Rocco, for a Democratic presidential contender of 2008 and today: Hillary Clinton. Some Democrats tried to scramble from one event to another.

I’m not suggesting here that these activities neatly split Clinton Democrats from those backing Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; that didn’t seem to be the case. Based on what I heard from a bunch of Idaho Democrats this week, however, the race between the two in Idaho appears to be highly competitive. It is, in other words, a lot different from 2008 battle when one candidate, Obama, swept Idaho so decisively that Idaho became one of his best nomination wins anywhere in the country.

This time, in contrast, no one seemed entirely confident in predicting who will prevail when Idaho Democrats caucus on March 22.

Anecdotes I heard seem to suggest Idaho Democrats are splitting much like many of their counterparts elsewhere. Younger party members are said to be trending toward Sanders, their elders – and especially many people in party or elective positions – more toward Clinton. The differences didn’t appear to break much on policy or idea grounds. Sanders’ newness to the party and his Socialist tag were concerns on one side; fatigue, dynastic and trust issues linked to Clinton were problems cited on the other. Those disabilities were mentioned more than the assets the two candidates bring, which may have something to do simply with being a Democrat in blood-red Idaho.

There’s not much new in any of this for a close watcher of the national political contest, which seems to be tightening and becoming ever more competitive, and is getting ever more closely parsed. If Sanders does well in Nevada (an election still in the future as this was written), the nomination battle may become extremely close.

In a carefully-calculated chart labeled “Where Bernie Sanders needs to win,” polling analyst Nate Silver last week isolated states where Sanders and Clinton should, based on polling, demographic and other factors, do relatively well or badly. That chart suggested Sanders ought to do better than average in Idaho, winning in the Gem State by 11 percentage points if Clinton is ahead nationally by 12 points; and Sanders winning Idaho by a blowout 23 points if the two are tied nationally.

At least, that’s what a statistical analysis says. Clinton will have a large chunk of the Idaho Democratic leadership and a party base, and her campaign apparently has had staffers on the ground in Idaho, already at work organizing.

If the race is still competitive a month from now, which looks at least possible, Idaho really could become a Democratic battleground.

Travel week

I'm on the road around southern Idaho this week - visiting Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Boise, Nampa and other assorted locations. The occasion is showing (and giving away some free copies) of the book Crossing the Snake, which is a compilation of my Idaho columns.

Part of the idea too is setting down in places where newspapers are running the column, giving readers a chanc to converse. And me a chance to listen.

Reports from the road will be forthcoming. - rs

Idaho for Trump, Cruz or?

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The New Hampshire presidential primary seems to have set the shape of the Republican contest for some time to come, bringing into focus some questions awaiting Idaho’s Republicans. And for Idaho’s many establishment Republicans, those may be eerie questions.

This year’s Republican nomination battle is far more splintered in Idaho than it has been for many years. Four years ago, the establishment was solidly behind Mitt Romney, and until he dropped out in 2008 he had strong backing then as well. George W. Bush had the Idaho establishment firmly in his corner the two elections before that.

Idaho’s three-term governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter, and its longest-serving members of Congress, Senator Mike Crapo and Representative Mike Simpson, seem to have stayed out of the fracas so far. Maybe they were uncertain how the field would play out and how Idaho would react. Or they may have observed what happened to other endorsees. Senator Rand Paul, backed by Representative Raul Labrador, has dropped out. And Senator Marco Rubio, backed by Senator Jim Risch, Controller Brandon Woolf and Idaho Falls businessman Frank VanderSloot (a veteran of the Romney campaigns), only days ago seemed ascendant but had the daylights kicked out of him in New Hampshire, and his campaign’s future is highly uncertain.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, backed by former Idaho Governor and Senator Dirk Kempthone, lives to fight another day, but right now seems a long shot for the nomination. Ohio Governor John Kasich, backed by Idaho legislators Marv Hagedorn and Robert Anderst, did well taking second place in New Hampshire (after barely registering in Iowa), but he invested almost everything he had – time, money, people – into that state, and has scarcely any campaign organization or built-in support in the states yet to vote.

Just two Republican candidates actually seem well positioned for the race to come: Texas Senator Ted Cruz and businessman Donald Trump. Cruz has a couple of fairly well-known Idaho Republicans backing him, Treasurer Ron Crane and former state Republican Chair Norm Semanko, but if there’s wider support it isn’t yet very visible. As for Trump, I’m not sure who his highest-profile Idaho backers would be. There’s a Facebook page called “Idaho for Donald Trump 2016” with 860 likes, but hardly any local content – almost all of it is reposts of national material. And yet statistically, Trump probably has a significant number of Gem State supporters.

Who will Idaho Republicans support for president, assuming – and this is looking actually more likely than not right now – the race is still competitive by the time Idahoans get to vote on it?

I read a fascinating analysis (wish I could recall where I saw it) drawing a structural distinction between the Trump and Cruz campaigns, and implicitly the difference between those two and a “conventional mainstream” campaign (like a Bush or Rubio, assuming one of them survives to the later stages). It goes something like this:

Trump supporters are mainly individualists, drawn to the campaign person by person or family by family, and are numerous but for the most part not well organized into groups. Cruz’ people by contrast tend to be organized, some in ideologically-based organizations (like the various conservative groups that have splintered the Kootenai County Republican factions), others tied to evangelical or other churches, still others linked to other kinds of organizations – groups with strong ideological or religious drives which have not been satisfied with the national Republican Party (which Cruz calls the “cartel”). Cruz has carefully reached out to these groups around the country, and won support from many of them. Then there’s the mainstreamers, who would be those most traditionally tied to Republican party organizations and officials.

What makes the Idaho analysis so hard is this: The first two groups, which clearly exist in substantial ways in Idaho, have not in the past played a large role in selecting the state’s presidential nomination choices. This year, those individualized dissidents and the dissatisfied small groups, who in the past often seem to have taken their lead from the party organization, appear much less likely to do that, and may go their own way – which might translate to substantial votes for Trump and Cruz, as in many other states.

Right now, the Idaho Republican establishment may have reason to be as spooked as the national Republican establishment is.

A death a day

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The story of how and why Jenny Steinke died last summer might be the kind of story that would goad a legislature into action. That’s because, had the legislature voted differently at any point over the last few sessions, she might be alive today.

Jenny Steinke, 36, of Idaho Falls, had for some years endured asthma, but generally managed it with the use of inhalers. In late August, her condition got worse, but she and her husband Jason put off medical treatment until insurance at Jason’s new job started on September 1. For a long time up to then they had been uninsured, since their employers hadn’t provided health insurance as part of the employment package. A serious brush with the medical profession, not to mention an actual useful health insurance policy, was financially either out of reach or a disastrous proposition.

The Steinkes were not a rare fluke case in their lack of health insurance. State officials have estimated 78,000 Idahoans are similarly caught in a gap, outside the provisions for a state health insurance exchange policy, or for Medicaid coverage. In many other states, as part of the Obamacare effort, Medicaid was extended to cover people like the Steinkes. Idaho is one of the states where it hasn’t been; while several task forces have recommended the expansion, the legislature has been resistant.

With medical assistance, asthma usually isn’t life-threatening. But Jenny Steinke’s case got worse quickly, unexpectedly fast, and hit a crisis. By the time she got to an emergency room, she was in a desperate condition. About three days later, she died.

On Tuesday Jenny Steinke’s physician, Kenneth Krell, the critical care director at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center, reflected on her case as he spoke to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee about the possibility of Medicaid expansion.

Krell told how the Steinke case, and others not so different, and their implications haunted him: “I kept asking myself, how could this be? How could, in a state like Idaho where we care about each other, could I be seeing deaths and really damaging illness on a nearly daily basis as a result of failure to expand Medicaid that cost tangible lives? It’s difficult to understand.”

He added, “Nearly one patient per day dies in this state as a result of not having Medicaid expansion. And that’s a direct result of that failure to obtain care at a stage when the disease process could be treated effectively and not only death, but hospitalization and illness prevented.”

That adds up, as the headlines around the state noted, to around 1,000 Idahoans who have died over the last three years because the legislature chose not to expand the reach of Medicaid.

After the hearing, no vote on Medicaid expansion was taken by the committee. The chairman did not, however, rule out a vote at some later time.

If Jenny Steinke were the only person who died because of that decision, the moral case involved here would be clear enough. But hundreds of Idahoans dying every year?

All legislative decisions involve weighing the good and the bad, and sometimes those decisions are close and difficult. (This is not, I should note, a case of inadequate resources; the state would actually save money with Medicaid expansion.)

Here, you have a lot of lives on one side of the equation, and on the other side – well, what, exactly, is it in this decision that is worth more than saving a life every day?

Keeping records

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This digital age makes it possible to preserve much more than people ever could preserve before, including some of our basic public records.

Just because we can does not of course mean we will. Ask the people at the state historical society about trying to preserve, record and make available the masses of records about Idaho’s history. In the context of overall state budgets, the amount spent on that effort is a drop in an ocean, and not nearly enough to do the job comprehensively. But you never know when those efforts can turn out to be critical. Or at least useful.

Here and there, individual efforts are made, and one announced last week by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is worth some attention – and credit.

Ever since statehood, the obligations of the attorney general have included publishing each year the office’s collected opinions, case activity and related documents. These reports get almost no news attention (they’re a formal compendium of things that have already happened, after all) and probably few people outside the legal system, and only some within it, are even aware of them. But they can be a vital resource for tracing the state’s legal history, and its history overall.

Finding recent copies has usually been easy enough, and sometimes they’ve even been elegantly bound. Law libraries often have copies. But even the state law library doesn’t have all of them. In fact, no one does.

Wasden’s office said their own internal collection starts with the 1891-92 report – the first – and runs to this year. But, “The missing volumes are scattered across the decades and include: the biennial report for 1895-96; the annual report for 1953; the period covering January through June 1954; the period for July through December 1973; and the 1974 report.”

Wasden said, “We searched my office, the historical society, the state law library and even former Attorneys General for these missing publications. It’s unfortunate the set is incomplete, but I’m hoping with public help we can recover these missing volumes.”

Those they do have have been posted online, at http://www.ag.idaho.gov/publications/op-guide-cert/annualReports/historicAnnualReportIndex.html. They’re scanned in as images, so they aren’t always easy to search by text.

Some of them actually make for lively reading, maybe the first one especially.

AG George Roberts wrote an overview that seemed to betray some exasperation with the job. At that time the state had local district attorneys, and Roberts seems to have been disgusted with many of them. “I requested one of the District Attorneys in this State to attend the preliminary examination of a person charged with a peculiarly aggravated and brutal assault upon a woman with a deadly weapon,” he wrote. “He replied by challenging me to show him the section of the law which made it his duty to do so. I admitted that the law did not compel him to, but that a sense of public duty should impel him to do so . . .” The resulting trial, he said, was “a travesty.”

Roberts indicated he was hammered for those local foulups: “This office has been perpetually harassed by questions affecting the performance of public duty, not only by Boards of County Commissioners, but by Precinct and County officers, and School District officers as well.”

A candid review. Maybe attorneys general of today could follow in those candid footsteps. You wonder what they might say.

The release of these past records might even give them some encouragement.

Different sessions

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In theory, there isn’t much difference in Idaho between the first session of a legislative term, and the second one – like the one just started.

The differences are not exactly subtle but, if informal, they are real, and they can affect the laws the state lives with for years to come.

Many states differentiate clearly between the “odd-year” session, the one (like 2015) right after election year, and the “even-year” session held early within an election year. Washington, for example, has a 105-day limit (a limit often violated anyway) on its odd-year sessions, but just 60 days on its even-year. Until recently Oregon had regular legislative sessions only in odd years; now it allows 160 days in the odd year and 35 in the even. (Idaho has no formal limit on its session length.) There are also some differences in what is routinely considered in those sessions, and what isn’t.

The length difference you notice between those sessions reflects the idea that most of the subject areas that need to be addressed need not be addressed twice in a two-year period. The bar is set relatively low in Washington and Oregon for introducing legislation in the odd year, but only financial matters and higher priorities typically make the cut in the even.

For people in Idaho who wonder if efficiencies can be found in the time legislators spend in session, those examples might suggest one. Idaho could run a longer session in the odds, and a shorter money-oriented session in the even.

It’s not hard to figure out why this approach has happened, and it has to do with elections. In the odd years, legislators are new in their terms, hot off the campaign trail, and want to pursue some of the ideas they talked or heard about. In even years, a primary election is just around the corner, and most legislators would rather get back home early if they can.

Idaho, which went to biennial session in the ate 60s, does not formally differentiate between the two regular sessions – legislation can be considered in one as well as the other. Sometimes advocates of failed legislation in an odd year come back in the even to give it another try, before the same group of legislators. Occasionally it works; more often it doesn’t.

There’s an attempt being made this year, for one example, with the “add the words” legislation, on civil rights. A bill was proposed last year, given several days of committee hearings, then rejected at the committee level on a party-line vote. Democratic Senators Grant Burgoyne and Cherie Buckner-Webb have brought it back, with some amendment reflecting concerns expressed in testimony from a year ago. Its future is unclear. Will Republican legislators be willing to give it another hearing after last year’s marathon, much less send it to a chamber floor? Maybe, but Burgoyne and Buckner-Webb will have a tough job convincing them.

If they do, the reason would be that a number of members, reflecting on last year’s session and the arguments they’ve heard then and sense, may simply have reconsidered their views.

If you think, as many people do (and as Washington and Oregon do) that a second session should be limited and fiscal-oriented so time isn’t spent on retread issues, you may have a point. It works pretty well in a number of states.

But a full-on session in the even years does have its benefits: The chance to reconsider decisions made the year before, sometimes in haste or under pressure. We’ll see soon enough how this session does with this year’s version of decision-making.