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Scattered filings

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A few observations in parsing the lists of candidates for the May primary election, and beyond . . .

Lots of Republicans, in grand total, running for governor and in the first U.S. House district. Several of them have little realistic chance of winning, of course (welcome back for the nth time, Harley Brown!), but while the nominations in those races are not sewn up, they might have some effect. For example, the governor’s race is likely to be dominated by (and won by) Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador or businessman Tommy Ahlquist, but there is a possibility that the vote totals for the three of them are not far apart. Four other lesser-known candidates also are slated for the ballot. Here’s the point: If each of them gets, say, one to three percentage points, what effect might that have on the numbers for the top three? Hard to say, making this race all the harder to predict.

Both of those same offices also feature Democratic contested primaries, three contenders for each. These contests are not especially predictable either. In the governor’s race, either A.J. Balukoff - because he was the party’s nominee for the office four years ago - or Paulette Jordan - an incumbent legislator who has picked up a lot of attention in recent weeks - seems likely to win. But that race too does not seem settled yet.

Even lieutenant governor, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction drew Democratic primary contests this time. Party leaders may wish the contenders had been spread out among a few more offices. Still, all these contests taken together, even if none look now to be particularly high profile, may keep a few more Democratic voters home voting in their own elections rather than crossing over to vote on the Republican side.

Democrats weren’t especially heavily represented, however, among the legislative contests. There, the numbers seem not especially different from filings in most recent years, with exceptions in some places.

More action did show up in District 2, one of the most rock-ribbed right-leaning sectors of Idaho, and one of the House seats there actually has a competitive Democratic primary. This is a district Democrats often have let go in recent cycles, so the results will be worth watching, despite the big challenge they face.

Once again, the purplish District 15 in western Ada County, which has voted consistently Republican through the decade but by ever-shrinking margins, will be worth a watch. Once again, Democrat Steve Berch is back to take another crack at a House seat in the area; he has lost a string of elections, but he keeps edging closer.

A surface reading of the filings suggests that not a lot will change in the makeup of the Idaho Legislature next term. There are notable retirements, such as that of the two co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. But the group photo, and overall partisan makeup, of the legislature next time may not be a lot different from what it is today.

Unless it so happens that the voters decide otherwise, which they could do. But bear in mind that 44 of the 105 seats effectively have been conceded to Republicans - those are seats with only Republican or minor-party candidates filing - unless someone runs a write-in campaign at the primary election. (Three seats currently have no Republican candidates.)

In another area, in the “surprising by its quiet” category, there’s just one judicial contest in the whole state this year, and that for filling a judicial vacancy. 5th District Judge Randy Stoker died in January, and four candidates have filed to replace him.

Below the top of the ballot, and whatever the interest level nationally, this may be not by an especially noisy election year in Idaho.
 

Something different

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Politics in West Virginia has been stunned this season by a congressional candidate, Richard Ojeda, a one-term legislator and former Army paratrooper. A Democrat, he is running for Congress in a strongly Republican U.S. House district (open this year, as the Republican incumbent is running for the Senate), and his candidacy is the talk of the state. Where he goes, crowds develop, and they chant his name.

One description called him “JFK with tattoos and branch press,” but a lot of his appeal is this: He’s fierce. He was a key spark behind the recent West Virginia teachers’ strike - the strikers love him - and he generates reports like this in Politico: “Ojeda uncorked a nearly unbroken, 13-minute tirade in which he called lobbyists ‘the absolute scum of the earth,’ said they should have to wear body cameras in the Capitol, said they shouldn’t even be allowed ‘in the damn Capitol’.” Not what you might think of as a stereotypical coastal Democrat.

He won’t necessarily win. Then again, he might.

Some of this came to mind when I heard from Jim Fabe, a newly-filed Democratic candidate for Idaho lieutenant governor in Idaho (one of two as this is written). He said in an e-mail that he has been “a licensed dentist in Idaho since 1979, in addition to a stockbroker, insurance agent, major in the US Army and a farmer.”

He has an unusual and complicated background. For example: “In 2006 I was recruited to serve using my degrees of DDS and MBA in the United States Army. I entered as a major because of my background, experience and foreign language skills. I helped with computer based human identification, which is creating a data base of dental x-rays; panoramic (jaw) x-rays and DNA to identify soldiers. My role was to supervise the entry of the dental x-rays and the panoramic x-rays that was made by technicians, enlisted service members, lieutenants and captains.” That’s a little different.

What is he concerned about? He cites climate change (from a farmer’s perspective), managing growth in Idaho (something not many candidates have discussed), health care (with a position unlike any I’ve heard elsewhere, across the spectrum) and addressing credit interest rates.

One of his immediate prompts to run was: “I want to answer to my 16 year old son: which adults created a safer environment for our children. I believe that the right to life for school age children is more important than the civilian use of military weapons.”

But before you pigeon-hole him on guns, consider what else he has to say on the second amendment: “Create a well regulated militia of ages 30-59. All able bodied/able minded citizens will be required from age 30 to 59 to train and be proficient with handguns and rifles. Eliminate guns for ages less than 30, and 60 and over, to reduce school shootings and suicides. Elimination of assault weapons for civilian use. Distinguish between militia and army use of weapons.”

That should make for an interesting discussion.

Don’t consider any of this an endorsement of the Fabe platform; I’d just say here it’s an interesting mix. But that’s the point.

Candidates like Fabe, and Ojeda, are outside the mold, and shouldn’t be treated as cookie-cutter candidates. More than a party label ought to be in the mix as voters make their choices.
 

Paratrooper candidate

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Richard Ojeda, a former Army paratrooper and now a Democratic candidate for the U.S. House in West Virginia, oftens hears crowds chanting this as he campaigns around his district:

“Oh-jed-ah! Oh-jed-ah!”

His district, by the by, voted in 2016 for Donald Trump by a 49-point margin.

In a season that has generated a lot of unusual candidates, Ojeda has to rank as one of the most distinctive. He is unmistakably an Army vet, a former paratrooper with a hard-core approach. A Politico article that is the best profile of him so far (better may yet come) calls him "JFK With Tattoos and a Bench Press", and that's not bad shorthand.

There's nothing remotely weepy or whiny or sob-story about him. He was one of the prime pushers behind the remarkable West Virginia teachers strike - the tens of thousands of people involved in that seem to love him - and his message to them goes something like this: “You keep making that noise, ladies and gentlemen! This is what union is right here! Hey! Shoulder to shoulder! Don’t take a step back! Y’all deserve it!”

He has a number of things in common with many other Democrats - that's clearly the party for him. Socially conservative in some ways, he is also pro-choice, pro-Dreamer and has backed a measure moving toward marijuana legalization.

But that's far from the whole story.

Ojeda apparently gets along well enough with West Virginia's one major remaining Democrat, Senator Joe Manchin, b8ut they are nothing alike. Manchin has been described, fairly (and he wouldn't want to argue) as maybe the most conservative Democrat in the Senate. Ojeda is quite different, openly and delightedly at war with - for example - the energy companies who run so much of the state. Here's a quote from him about the coal industry: "We are on the next Saudi Arabia! They’ve said that — the energy people said that! So, if we’re on the next Saudi Arabia, obviously they want it to be just like Saudi Arabia, where you have about 10 people driving around in Lamborghinis and everybody else eatin’ sand sandwiches! That’s what they want. Guess what? No!"

Manchin may have personal loyalty built up over many years, and that may be enough to see him through to re-election this year. Or it may not. But his style of getting along with the powers that be is hardly energizing West Virginians, and Ojeda's approach is.

That shouldn't come as a surprise, even in the heart of Trump country - in fact, especially in the heart of Trump country. Ojeda is talking revolt. That's talking the language of a lot of people in an area like this.

People in places far from West Virginia, but sharing some of the points of view so widespread there, might be wise to pay attention.

 

Too much ain’t enough

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Idaho isn’t on the list of states afflicted by partisan gerrymandering, and never has been. That could change, and it could affect who gets elected to the Idaho Legislature.

Back in the day when Idaho legislators did the redrawing of district maps, there was some caution about going very far in pressing party advantage; partisanship was less hyper then, and the split between the two major parties was not so great. And after frustrating attempts to do the job in the 1990s, the legislature and then voters in 1994 passed a constitutional amendment turning redistricting over to a commission. It has been a genuinely bipartisan commission, with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, and it has functioned not always easily but generally well ever since.

It might be bipartisan no more if a new proposed constitutional amendment clears the legislature and the voters. It would keep the commission but increase the number of members from six to nine, and the odd - presumably decisive - member would be picked by the legislative council. Since 1960, and into the foreseeable future, that council has been Republican-controlled, so strongly partisan mapmaking, of the Pennsylvania or North Carolina variety, could at least be on the table.

The Senate State Affairs Committee has cleared the measure on (surprise!) party-line vote.

So what difference might it make?

One reason Idaho has had little by way of gerrymandering may be the overall disparity between the parties in the state. In many of the most-gerrymandered states, such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the two parties are much closer in overall voting support. Idaho, of course, is not like that.

I’ve examined Idaho legislative and congressional maps over several decades, and one obvious conclusion is that there isn’t much way - even if a highly partisan Democrat could unilaterally impose whatever map he drew - to significantly reduce the number of Republican districts, congressional or state, in favor of Democratic. An interactive map on the website fivethirtyeight.com has an option for showing the congressional districts’ lines in each state that, for example, most favor Republicans and most favor Democrats (based on past votes). For Idaho, those maps look different, but in both cases Republicans still are overwhelmingly favored in both districts.

The state legislative situation is a little different.

The reason is partly that there are so many Republican voters overall, and partly that so many of Idaho’s Democrats are clumped into small geographic places.

Scattered Democrats can be found all over, even in the rural east and rural north, but numbers substantial enough to win even local district elections can be found in only a few places. Boise city is much the largest; other groupings can be found in the centers of most of the larger cities and in a few other places such as the Wood River and Teton valleys.

Here’s what redistricting could do: Break up those few Democratic outposts by diluting them with surrounding Republican territory, and nearly eliminate Democrats from Idaho Legislature.

Four legislative districts in Boise lean strongly toward Democrats. Those districts are surrounded by Republican territory. It wouldn’t be especially hard to wipe out at least a couple, maybe three, of those districts by slicing the city and the surrounding parts of Ada County as well.

There’s one Democratic legislator left in northern Idaho, elected largely on the strength of a Democratic base at Moscow. Slice Moscow into two districts, central Coeur d’Alene as well, and no more Democrats. You could do the same thing to the Wood River Valley, which now anchors a district represented by two Democratic legislators. Split the valley and they’re gone.

What would be the practical effect? Instead of 17 Democrats, maybe a half-dozen would be left. If that. Out of 105.

If the current level of Republican domination in Idaho isn’t enough for you, the Idaho Legislature may send you your answer this fall.
 

Don’t get lost in Idaho

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Last week, the Idaho Legislature, a decade or so behind several of its neighbors, moved toward banning use of hand-held cell phones by motor vehicle drivers.

Not all the members of the committee reviewing the bill agreed. Senator Mark Harris, a Republican of Soda Springs, said that “I get the safety thing, OK? I do.” But he said that sometimes getting on the phone with his wife could help on “a lonely stretch of road.” He could, of course, still use a speaker phone or bluetooth.

Harris’ key point, though, was (as one news report said) summed up by his description of a conversation with some people visiting in Boise from California where “they’d had it with regulation, they’d had it with laws, they’d had it with rules. And they were up here looking for a house because Idaho doesn’t have laws, rules and regulations like California does. And that’s where I see this bill headed is more law, rules and regulation. I can’t support it.”

More rules, more regulation. That’s probably the underlying reason Idaho hasn’t joined the hands-free states so far. Got it.

Now let’s move our gaze to House Bill 536, which like the cell phone bill gets support from conservative Republicans on philosophical grounds, and which was proposed by Senator Harris along with Representative July Boyle, Republican of Midvale, with support from a number of farm groups. Testimony went on for hours at the House Agricultural Affairs Committee, which ultimately passed it to the floor 14-1. (It was awaiting House floor consideration as this was written.)

The 15-page bill does a number of things. One is to eliminate the requirement that, if you want people to be legally liable for trespassing on your property, you have to put up a readily visible warning sign to that effect. The signs are currently supposed to be spaced at no more than 660 feet apart so as to be visible. The new bill would drastically cut back on the warnings.

It also will create new felony and misdemeanor crimes of criminal trespass; the felony version can mean a state prison lockup for up to a year. And life would be more complicated for hunters, fishers and trappers who venture on to privately-owned land.

Boyle said that “It is going to now be on the person who wants to be on private property to know where they are at and go ask permission. … makes a higher standard for people to know where they are.”

Recognize for a moment just how serious a felony is. Felons are marked for life. They are barred from all kinds of employment, financial help and many kinds of social activity - even if the felony in question, like this one, is non-violent. A felony conviction is thoroughly life-changing.

Representative Randy Armstrong, an Inkom Republican (who went on to recommend passage of the bill), said, “It seems like a felony is a pretty serious charge for trespassing. It changes your life once you become a felon — you can’t carry a gun, can’t vote for a certain number of years. I think everybody in this room has been guilty of trespass in some way or another in their life. Is that a penalty that we want to make for trespassing?”

Boyle: “As a property owner, I think that is exactly what we need to teach them a lesson.”

Well, gee. Makes me feel more free already. Be sure to share that sentiment with any of those Californians in Boise who get lost, or get snagged by an unmarked property line, on their trip to the Gem State. Or better yet, warn them to stay away. The law can get dangerous here, a point that might be put on the signs at the state border.
 

Beware the boom

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The last few months have seen headlines about the possibility of another oil renewal in the Bakken Formation, the massive oil shale field in western North Dakota and eastern Montana (extending across the border into Canada). Oil development there, which boomed a decade ago, crashed with lower oil prices about three years ago. Now it might be coming back.

A lot of people in that area are praying it happens. The better advice would be: Be careful what you wish for.

The area has had fluctuations of oil development, wavelets of varying sizes and intensities, for more than a century. Long-timers in the area, those who are left, have come to know the drill, and some are wary of it. But probably more common is the attitude reflected on a popular t-shirt in the area a few years ago: "Please, God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away."

Problem is, it' always pissed away. There have been no exceptions. For a short time, the money flows like flood water. Overwhelmingly, it is wasted, and lives, communities and landscapes are wrecked beyond recognition in the process.

If that sounds a tad theoretical, I refer you to the recent book The New Wild West by Blaire Briody, Who spent many months around the Williston, North Dakota area during the last great (and to date, greatest) oil boom in the area. With fine-grain detail, focusing on the lives of many of the people who came to participate in or were caught up in the development, Briody fills in a clear sense of what actual life is like in such a place.

It is a hell hole. At best, it can mean significant money; a relative handful of people from and around the area do emerge as millionaires, and some others - oil field workers, a significant number of them - do earn incomes in the low six figures. That's pretty the extent of the upside. The bulk of the 300 pages of careful description of western North Dakota during the boom, however, runs through the other side of the story: Wreckage of all kinds of lives - in personal, medical, social, educational and even business aspects - organizations and environments. The human society of the area is trashed - the ability of people to basically get along. Almost every negative indicator you can think of shoots through the roof. Very little positive results, and that includes economic results for most people. The great bulk of the immense number of dollars flowing through the area winds up in very few hands.

I've heard some people pointing to an economic boom and low unemployment in North Dakota as representing an example to emulate. I have a book I want them to read.
 

Dennis and Sheila Olsen

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About the same time I started reporting on Idaho politics back in the seventies, in Pocatello, the Idaho Republican Party chose a new chairman, an attorney from nearby Idaho Falls named Dennis Olsen.

He was tough-minded (smooth diplomacy was not his strongest suit), a fine organizer and a careful watcher of the party’s money - all of which he wanted spent on the campaigns, not left over for anything other than electing Republicans. He was a Reagan Republican when Ronald Reagan was president, and he was there at Idaho Falls when candidate Reagan made his 1980 Idaho appearance.

Dennis Olson died in March 1985, shoveling snow at his house. He had prepared a succession plan for the party organization - a fellow Idaho Falls attorney named Blake Hall would take over - but the ripple effects of his work started closer to home: The deep and long-lasting civic engagement of his wife, Sheila.

Sheila Olsen, who recently died at 79 in Idaho Falls, was at least as important a Republican leader as her husband had been. She too would happily have called herself a Reagan Republican. But she was a different kind of leader, with a different sort of legacy.

She was active in the Idaho Republican Party, less as an office holder and more as a lodestar; the kind of person others looked to for good counsel and guidance. For candidates, her support was eagerly sought; her perspective carried weight. She was an electoral college elector, a post which reflected less personal work or decision-making on her part (or that of any other electors), but rather the esteem she held across the Republican Party. A lot of Democrats and independents held her in high regard too.

She was as active as you could be in the realm of civic pushups. Far from being a partisan obsessive, Sheila Olsen was active in the community in a wide range of roles. She served on the Idaho Human Rights Commission for many years, on the Governor’s Work Force Development Council, the state reapportionment commission, the state Employment Security Advisory Council, and other organizations, including a long list at Idaho Falls, as well. She was highly active in her church too.

What the many people who knew her also knew was something else that might have sidelined many others: For about half a century, she had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which bore down on her as the years went on. But as one of her children said, “She was a glass-half-full girl. It didn’t matter how hard it was for her to get places or do things — she just still did them without complaining.”

There were various good reasons she was looked up to, but that last point highlights one of the most important: She was a supporter, not a denigrator, a backer, not a demolition activist. She would provide endorsements where she thought them merited, but if you were looking for bombs to throw, you’d need to look somewhere else.

Sheila Olsen came into Idaho politics in a day when partisan issues were clear enough, and loyalties were evident, but when the demonizing that has become so commonplace today had not yet taken hold. It didn’t take hold of her.

Her example would be worth some reflection for us now.
 

The winter coast

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Truth is, I wouldn't choose to live on the Oregon coast in the winter.

But that's only as a matter of calculation, not immediate impressions. I sure am glad to live close by (an hour or less, traffic willing, in my case).

The Oregonian has posted a good reminder of reasons why the coast has such appeal in the winter.

This can seem counter-intuitive. In the winter, the coast is typically not terribly icy or snowy, but the mountains that abut it often are, and roadways inland can become a little tricky. Goods and services are sometimes limited on the coast - people I've known have remarked about the number of times they've had to go to larger cities over the mountains for what they need - despite the large number and broad variety of retailers there. The wind is almost always always a reality, and often roars. The skies usually are overcast. The beaches can be treacherous; the waves often run high.

You don't spend a lot of time out of doors, as a rule, in the winter out on the coast.

But it can be a delightful place. We've often headed there for two or three days (many a New Year's holiday) to hang out at some oceanfront spot. The atmosphere is wonderful.

And that's what the Oregonian piece focuses on. When the weather is relatively good, walks and hikes are available in all sorts of places, minus the crowds of summer. There are rainforests in easy reach (where "a drizzly day on the coast can be magical"). The rainy months can be great for exploring many of the area's waterfalls. Many tourist draws, like aquariums, are as good in the winter. Chowder seems especially tasty in the winter.

And you get to beat the crowds, which are the biggest problem with going there in summer. The tourist town of Seaside, for example, draws the reaction, "come winter, the town is practically empty, allowing for peaceful walks on the promenade, quiet evenings in the local restaurants and less competition at the Fascination tables."

Seems like time to cross the mountains again . . .

ALSO Columnist Barrett Rainey, who until recently did live on the Oregon coast, argues that I insufficiently pointed out the downsides of doing so: "You, Sir, have not lived full time on the Oregon Coast. It may be wonderful to come over for a day or two of storms. But try it daily for a year. Or three. Not so much fun. Your planting areas washed out. Your trees uprooted. Repainting the South and West walls every 2-3 years. Asphalt shingles to replace - maybe annually - maybe monthly. The bridge on 101 between you and the next town disappears. Near daily reminders that the "big one" is coming. Bear and cougar pop up in the damndest places - like your backyard."
 

Who’s been in charge?

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The context for the major campaign statement - a sweeping recital of policy and perspective - that Raul Labrador released on January 30, is this:

Republicans have been in control of Idaho state government for the last two dozen years, about a generation. Whatever has happened, whether you like it or dislike it, they’re the ones who made it happen. Aside from a few terms when Democrats were state controller or superintendent of public instruction, they’ve held all of the state executive offices since 1994. And since then, they’ve consistently held more than three-fourths of the state legislative seats.

So bear in mind who Labrador, one of three main contenders for the Republican nomination for governor (the other two being Brad Little and Tommy Ahlquist), is talking about in his call to “Dismantle the power and perks of establishment politicians.”

One of his proposals is small bore, has only slight impact and will be obscure to most Idahoans - “The law governing the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho allows special interest groups to participate in this state-sponsored retirement program that was intended for public employees. Special interest groups that lobby the Legislature shouldn’t receive a benefit reserved for state and local government employees.”

The other points he made have sweeping import.

He said, “In Idaho government, political connections sometimes impact how policies are developed and contracts are awarded. Sweetheart deals and special favors have become both costly and normal.” That’s what Republican governing of the state has wrought?

He said, “Term limits allow fresh ideas and innovations to rise to the surface, and can help stop corruption and cronyism from taking root. Conversely, concentrating power into the hands of people who have been in office for too long can lead to cronyism and, at minimum, a belief that political favoritism is behind policy decisions.”

Aside from the significant number of long-serving legislators, Idaho has a governor and lieutenant governor in their third terms and U.S. senators - and a representative, in the second district - with elective office background going back about as many years as the average Idahoan has been alive. (That latter number is 34.6 years.)

Then: “Idahoans are often asked to just trust that their elected officials aren’t personally benefiting from a government contract or policy change. It shouldn’t be this way. An elected official can have private financial interests, but when those interests are factored into public matters, that’s called corruption. Even the appearance of corruption can erode public confidence in government. It’s well past time for Idaho to require a thorough disclosure of potential conflicts of interest.”

That sounds a lot like the disclosure bill recently shot down at the legislature.

And, “part-time legislators who transition into full-time Idaho government employment after their elected service are rewarded with an extremely valuable perk that’s available to no one else, full-time PERSI credit for part-time work. This loophole can be used to turn a pension worth a few hundred dollars a month into one worth thousands of dollars. This isn’t right.”

That would include, presumably, the current secretary of state, and a number of top officials in the Otter Administration.

There’s merit to many of the points Labrador is making here.

In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad starting point for this year’s Idaho Democratic platform.

But I do wonder how a lot of Republicans, who have been happy at being in charge in Idaho, will react.
 

The fork already taken

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This column originally appeared in the News-Register of McMinnville, Oregon, on February 2.

This year’s Oregon legislative session, which begins today, took its biggest fork in the road well before it even convened, on January 23.

That was when voters across the state passed, by a landslide, Measure 101, upholding the taxes approved last year which helped underwrite a big chunk of Oregon Medicaid costs. The measure was a tax increase, of .7 percent on large hospitals and 1.5 percent on most health insurance policies. This plan was supported by the health industry in the state, which recognized that the income from matching federal payments would amount to more than would be paid in taxes (much of which could be passed on to consumers).

If the measure had lost, a huge revenue gap would have opened, along with the risk of health insurance loss for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, and dealing with that immediately would have become the major and almost only topic for the short session. As it is, an opening for more subjects has appeared. [[referred portions of the law account for between $210 million and $320 million in state revenue, the loss of which could have resulted in possible reduction of federal funds by between $630 million and $960 million. ]]

Not that the cost of health care will vanish from the lawmaking scene. Complaints about last year’s Medicaid funding bill focused more on the tax structure than the need to pay, so adjustments to the formula might still be proposed. Voters almost surely were expressing more a desire to keep the insurance system alive than they were the specific tax plan.

And House Minority Leader Mike McLane said in a statement after the vote, “We must now shift our focus to improving efficiencies within the Oregon Health Authority and in the administration of the Oregon Health Plan. I hope legislators on both sides of the aisle will make it a priority to safeguard and protect the investment in our state government that Oregon taxpayers have affirmed.” That will likely become a subject for discussion.

As will the next Medicaid-related shortfall, which is expected in another couple of years, and many legislators may want to begin planning for that this year.

Short sessions usually have a lot to do with budget numbers, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, was quoted as saying, “Our budget focus must now shift to the February forecast and the effects federal tax changes will have on state revenue.”

Some participants in the session may try to take another crack at long-running budget issues. Mark Johnson, until last year a state representative and now the new president of the Oregon Business and Industry group, noted in one commentary that, “the costs associated with funding the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS) will continue to consume ever-larger chunks of the state budget until action is taken, and that means less money for classrooms and vital services.” He indicated that may be a focus for his group, though it has proven a stubborn issue for years on end, including in longer sessions.

More than budgeting will come up this session.

A good bet for the top non-budget issue, which already has lots of lobbying to back it up, is talk about a state “cap and trade” (or “cap and invest”) system.

Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, already have been prepared and released as “legislative concepts”. The whole of the system is complex, but the core of it would involve a limit on greenhouse gas emissions with mandates that large producers buy “allowances” - in a sense, a kind of greenhouse gas marketplace. Payments would be involved, and those would be used to cover efficiencies, help with consumer costs and shore up communities hit by global warming. The hope is that over the years, emissions would be reduced gradually through a system of incentives.

The concept at least has backing from Governor Kate Brown and House Speaker Tina Kotek.

A good deal of money could be at stake, so the basis for intense lobbying is clear. And strongly-worded arguments on both sides already are shaping the debate.

There will be more. Affordable housing has become an increasingly heated subject, especially in the Portland area but elsewhere too, and some effort to deal with it may come up.

In education several legislators (including Democratic Representatives Brian Clem of Salem and Margaret Doherty of Tigard) are suggesting requiring that class sizes be included in labor contract negotiations.

One lobbyist noted that as coordinated care organizations (for regional health care) look ahead to negotiating new service contracts, they may look to the legislature for adjustments in how they are financed.

The recent federal action on solar panel tariffs could lead to some state response on that subject, in a state where solar energy has become increasingly important.

All of this will be happening in a context of something institutionalized - by calendar - and something unusual:

The normal and unavoidable part is that the 2018 session will happen quickly - it will last only about a month - and in an election year. That normally is a prescription for dealing with necessities and emergencies, mainly of a financial nature, and not a lot else.

And there’s an unusual factor: the large number of new people involved, or people who have been around the statehouse but are moving to new positions. An especially large number of legislative personnel changes happened in recent months, including a new Senate minority leader and a new Senate chair on budget.

On top of that, the legislature’s revenue officer, who has held the job for two decades, retired last year.

Sometimes those personnel shifts kick loose legislation that doesn’t ordinarily see the light of day. The odds are this will be a mostly quiet session, with one or two big policy subjects. But then, 2018 may be an unusual political year.