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Posts published in “Stapilus”

Degrees of proof

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“If these allegations are true, he must step aside.” So said Senate Majority Leader of Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, thereby creating one of the great political trap doors of recent days. [Note: McConnell has since expanded his statement to say that Moore should drop out of the race.] What, after all, does it take to establish the predicate, that "these allegations are true"?

McConnell didn't say. That makes it easy, later on, to say the condition either had been met or had not, depending on how the story develops. This might be called an unusually flexible form of moral relativism.

Mitt Romney, the former presidential candidate who himself might be a contender (again, and in another state) for the Senate, had another take on the Moore situation. His was much blunter, and include no weaselly back doors: "Innocent until proven guilty is for criminal convictions, not elections. I believe Leigh Corfman. Her account is too serious to ignore. Moore is unfit for office and should step aside."

Among other things (such as making a good deal of ethical and logical sense), this is a formulation an attorney, or a judge, might appreciate and even expand upon.

In their world, consideration has to be given to evidentiary standards and burdens of proof - and you will notice the plurals. In a court setting, different standards apply in different instances. In civil cases, certain types of cases and proceedings turn on a Preponderance of the Evidence, or on Clear and Convincing Evidence or on Substantial Evidence. In many criminal cases, the extremely rigorous Beyond a Reasonable Doubt applies, but some court-approved actions can happen with Probable Cause or with Reasonable Belief and Reasonable Suspicion or even just Credible Evidence.

So what about a case like Moore's?

He has not been charged (in this case at least) with a criminal charge, and he's not even being sued civilly (though it's hard to rule that out for the future). The question here is whether he ought to be considered for one of the most important jobs in our government, which ought to mean that the standard of evidence needed to establish, let's say, a serious problem, should not be especially high.

Is he guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? That's probably not been clearly established, but no newspaper report alone reasonably could establish that.

Do we have something on the order of Substantial Evidence or Probable Cause? Clearly.

We have a number of people, on the record, who have argued that sexual harassment, of themselves as teenagers, did occur; and a great deal of corroborating evidence and testimony has been established alongside that. Moore has responded, and none of his responses have done anything to diminish the weight of that evidence against him.

There's not enough to convict Moore of a crime in a court of law. In the court of public opinion, with its lower standard of proof, among people willing to honestly weigh the evidence? Oh yeah.

Which is not a prediction, in today's political climate, that this is likely to happen.
 

Not much definition

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The Tuesday elections nationally were a wonderland for analysts trying to draw Large Conclusions and Sweeping Messages. (And some of them even may have been warranted, alongside the proper notes that every election is its own specific kind of animal.)

In Idaho, there wasn’t a lot to see apart from local concerns. In this off-year election, dominated by municipal contests, all politics really was local, and not a lot of larger conclusions really are available.

It helps in saying that to point out nothing partisan was on the ballot in Idaho: “Republican” and “Democratic” labels were nowhere to be seen on the ballot. City elections in Idaho are nonpartisan - though, as news watchers know, that isn’t the case in every state, and thought in a few places (Boise most notably) there was a partisan underlay to the campaigns.

For the most part, voters made their decisions based mainly on people as individuals, conditions in local communities and the merits of various ballot issues, mainly financial. And they reached widely varying conclusions, mostly undramatic.

For the most part, for example, Idaho incumbents did okay. Pocatello’s mayor was easily re-elected, and so were Caldwell’s and Moscow’s; none of those were surprises, though the Moscow contest was lively. Similarly expected: The snoozefest at Coeur d’Alene, with lots of unopposed incumbents (a true rarity in the Lake City) including the mayor, all of whom stayed undisturbed on election day. The one council incumbent on the ballot in Boise won easily, and the other two seats went to well-established community leaders (one of them a former legislator). Only one of those Boise seats featured a reasonably close contest.

But just enough exceptions cropped up to disturb the narrative.

Idaho Falls Mayor Rebecca Casper easily out-distanced state legislator Jeff Thompson, who for a while had the look of a close contender, but she wound up short of an outright win, and now faces a runoff against another candidate. Voters in Burley chose a new mayor by the lopsided vote of 616 to 155.

Then there were the ballot issues.

The two premier ballot questions on Tuesday were based geographically close to each other, a massive $110 million school bond issue (for high school renovation) at Idaho Falls, and a proposal in Bingham County that it join the new eastern Idaho community college district. Both failed decisively. (The Idaho Falls district likely will see a trailer ballot measure coming up in a few months.) The Bingham rejection was a little unexpected; a good deal of community support to join the community college district, just created next door by a big voter margin, seemed substantial. But not substantial enough.

The concerns about those seemed to revolve, respectively, around the school renovation plans more than the money, and about the prospects for a tax increase. IdahoEdNews suggested, “District officials said the plan grew out of months of meetings with patrons, and would give the taxpayers the best value for their money. Critics said they didn’t want to see the district gut Idaho Falls high — which sits in the heart of an older section of the city — and said the district misled voters by saying the bond issue would not trigger a tax increase.”

But the whole dynamic in each case will have to be sorted out in weeks to come.

On the other side of southern Idaho, however, a number of school issues did pass -- and statewide, according to IdahoEdNews, $92.7 million in school finance issues won sufficient voter approval. Those included big levies in Caldwell and Nampa.

So in all, not a lot of takeaways here for the next round of elections … a whole year away.
 

Git ‘er done

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There is something to be said for, even in politics and maybe especially in politics, getting something useful done.

Maybe that's the through line of LBJ, the latest movie about Lyndon Johnson (the last being the HBO play translating starring Bryan Cranston). This one, now in theaters - albeit not that many, and maybe not for long - stars Woody Harrelson as a reasonably convincing but still somewhat kinder and gentler LBJ than the one many people have known, or written of. If you miss it in theater, catch it on streaming.

The movie, well made and well acted (Jeffrey Donovan's John Kennedy was a nice turn), covers the period from just before the 1960 election, when Johnson was still Senate majority leader, to his first few months as president.

The time span covers the same run as the last volume in Robert Caro's many-volume biography of Johnson. As Caro has pointed out, the books put on display different threads, some light and some dark, of Johnson's life. The great book centered on the 1948 Senate election, for example, showed Johnson at his least sympathetic; the most current (The Passage of Power) is one of the brightest, showing him effectively and usefully taking and and using presidential power. It showed him assuming leadership at a moment of crisis, and using his newfound clout to push through important civil rights legislation that had eluded earlier presidents, including Kennedy. It was not a story of Vietnam; Johnson would mire himself in that soon enough, but not quite yet.

This new movie tells much the same story as the last Caro book, and gets most of the basics right. It misses here and there. It overstates the degree to which civil rights legislation was a central goal (at that time) for the Kennedys. (It also turn Bobby Kennedy into a spoiled brat, which in spite of his own rough edges he never was; and it understates Johnson's own role in their often-bitter relationship.) It misses a chance to more clearly show the legislative power of the South by depicting Senator Richard Russell, the leader that contingent, as rawer and rougher than the smooth and courtly man (albeit staunchly segregationist) actually was.

But the movie's through line is sound. From early on, it made the point that Johnson, rough though he was, understood politics and power and getting things done in a way the Kennedys did not. The Kennedys were far more presentable. But Johnson got things done.

The whole of the Johnson story is immensely complex, which is why Caro has taken so many big books to tell it (and isn't done yet). But this part of it, even recognizing Johnson's other flaws, should not be forgotten. Good can come out of politics. It should not be a dirty word.

Will the small town survive?

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I happen to live in a small town, population about 2,000; one which is not gentrifying - in the way a Ketchum or a Driggs has - but is prospering.

That puts it in a minority position.

A century ago, about three out of five Americans lived in rural places; now about one of five does. Agriculture that provided work for about half of Americans back then now employs around one in fifty. Back then, basic service businesses from drug stores and hardware shops to movie theaters were out of reach if they were 10 miles away; now they’re a short or moderate drive at two or three times that distance. And economies of scale allow for lower prices and faster and more specialized service in larger rather than smaller population centers.

The state Department of Labor population report from May found that 30 of Idaho’s 200 cities lost population in the last decade and 20 more were unchanged. These communities are relatively small and rural.

Anyone who’s been around a small town in Idaho probably can recall when businesses like those I just described, and a bunch of others, were right there on Main Street. Now, in many small towns, not a lot is left beyond a small grocery, a service station and a few other service businesses.

No one really wants it that way. But is there an alternative?

A great article just out from High Country News (at http://www.hcn.org/articles/state-of-change-why-save-the-small-town) tackles that question, focusing on the rural town of Questa, New Mexico, where nearly all the mining jobs that once sustained the town are gone, and nothing seems to be moving in to replace them. The question becoming: What’s next for Questa, a future as a ghost town … or something else?

The article quoted Bruce Weber, director of the Rural Studies Program at Oregon State University, as saying, “Some of the smaller towns will disappear, because they aren’t needed anymore. Cities will continue to grow faster than rural places because there are economic advantages to being in places that are densely populated.”

But the situation is not hopeless.

The HCN article also points out, for example, “Simply put, the argument goes like this: This country will always need food and energy. As long as rural places supply the land where food grows and energy is produced, communities will need to exist to support the people working there. In other words, even if some agricultural or energy communities shrink, they can’t all go away.”

There’s that, but other options may be available too. Those enhanced communications and transportation capabilities that pulled economic life blood out of many small towns could replenish them. Affordable housing is another small-town advantage; cities like Boise increasingly are reporting a serious lack of housing for lower income levels. My little town has internet links as good a those of most metro areas, which means I need not be in the middle of a metro to stay in touch. (The work I do every day now could not have been done in this town a generation ago.)

Those improved transportation links can also cut in both directions: People in rural areas don’t have to be far away, in a meaningful sense, from top-level goods and services.

Solutions sometimes can be found on the flip side of a problem. So it may be for small communities.

Open doors

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The raft of sexual harassment charges lately has mattered but it also has been hamstrung, in some ways, by a lack of specifics.

Not that most of us would want to wallow in them. But it's hard to judge what happened, case by case, without knowing more than, in most cases, we do.

Does sexual harassment - at least, as we've defined it (roughly) in recent years - exist? Absolutely. Is it common? It is certainly, at least, not rare. We've seen or heard of enough specifics recently in enough cases to establish that much conclusively. A good number of these cases would be considered harassment or worse by nearly anyone in modern society, and shouldn't be tolerated, and repercussions should be serious.

There's a catch, though: They're not all exactly the same. Is a violent rape exactly the same as a leering come-on - sans any follow-up physical activity - in a hotel room? Both could be considered harassment, neither (in the kinds of contexts we've been hearing about lately, where there's a power imbalance between the people involved) should be tolerated, but the degrees surely are different. How do we address that?

I have no easy or immediate answer. It does however become a pressing matter when action has to be taken.

One answer though in many cases probably is to redress, at least to a degree, the power imbalance that creates many of the problems. Often the real underlying problem (as in the hotel scenario) is the fact that one of the people in the room has a big hammer over the head of the other. Were that not the case, the problem in some cases might be lessened, or (in the absence of an actual physical attack) might go away.

The Weinstein Company did that to its namesake Harvey by removing him from all power positions in the organization and then firing him. That's one way to handle it.

Then there's the case of Jeff Kruse, the Oregon state senator (R-Roseburg) who has been accused of "ongoing workplace issues."

This one is a little more complicated. Kruse was quoted as saying, "I have never done anything that I believe anybody could portray as being sexual. And it's never been my intention and never will be."

That's countered by state Senator Sara Gelser, "another female senator and one other woman who works at the Capitol [who] have reported to legislative officials that Kruse touched them inappropriately. But the exact nature of those three women's complaints has been kept confidential. Gelser said she should not have to spell out exactly what she says transpired in order to be believed."

No, of course she shouldn't have to spell out anatomical detail to be believed. But what is it exactly that Kruse is said to have done, other than that it was "inappropriate"? Where on the scale does it fall? What does that indicate about an appropriate response, or penalty? It's a little difficult for most of us to know how to assess the situation knowing no more than that.

Presumably, Senate President Peter Courtney does have more specific information; he would know at least what legislative staffers have found, likely in detail. And his actions were definitive. He took away Kruse's committee assignments (which as any legislator in Oregon or elsewhere will tell you, is taking away most of their ability to influence legislation). And he did something else of both symbolic and practical effect: He had the door to Kruse's office removed (see the picture), leaving the office permanently open.

That does have the effect of reducing power imbalanced and of diminishing hidden corners where unfortunate incidents may occur. It may in fact, as he suggested, support the idea of keeping the legislature as a safe working space.

It gives us an indicator as to the seriousness of what's happening. But it's still hard to know without knowing more.

Why Ahlquist might win

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Last week, I ran through some of the reasons businessman Tommy Ahlquist, one of three major candidates for the Republican nomination for Idaho governor, might come in third when the votes are cast. They’re pretty good reasons.

But so fluid is this race that those points tell only part of the story. Ahlquist, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Representative Raul Labrador each plausibly could come in first, second, or third. Let’s look now at why Ahlquist might win - reasons that shed light on some important factors in the race.

If you have three strong candidates (we’ll assume that none of them drastically flame out), little more than a third of the total vote may be needed to win. Move on to the probability (not certain but likely) that the 2018 primary may be a relatively low-turnout event.

Right now, Little and Labrador have clear and substantial bases of support - to over-simplify, many well-established organization and rank-and-file Republicans for Little, and many of the activist and erstwhile Tea Party backers for Labrador.

But large segments, some overlapping, remain unaccounted for.

The Latter Day Saint or Mormon vote, accounting for maybe half of the Republican primary vote, often sticks mostly together in races like this, and its inclinations are not clear yet. It probably will not back Little, although it might: Support for the establishment might have appeal. Labrador, as a brother in the faith, would have some appeal too. But he has several issues: He’s based over in the first district, his mode is more that of a firebrand (not a match for Mormon sensibilities) and he’s been a critic of the Idaho National Laboratory, a problem for voters in the Upper Snake.

Ahlquist, also LDS by faith, is another matter. He is a businessman, which suits well, and his language seems a match for the Mormon community. His relatively recent arrival in Idaho wouldn’t hurt him in the eastern Idaho LDS community either, because he has background in the Salt Lake City area - the second capital for many people in that area. (I may have overstated that and understated his Idaho background last week; no doubt the subject will continue to be discussed.) Quite a few Mormons in the east have been known to take cues from Idaho Falls businessman Frank Vandersloot, Idaho’s wealthiest resident. Vandersloot hasn’t stated a clear preference in the primary yet, and maybe he won’t. But it wouldn’t be hard at all to see him give the nod to Ahlquist. Backing from Utahn Mitt Romney doesn’t hurt either.

The second important up-for-grabs constituency is the strongly pro-Donald Trump contingent. Surely Labrador will appeal to a significant part of it. But much of the Trump appeal has to do with the perception of outsider status, and Labrador - while a rebel of sorts within the U.S. House - will nonetheless have been a member of the despised Congress for eight years when these voters vote. Ahlquist can run more obviously and simply as an outsider. And parts of his advertising and rhetoric sound clearly designed to appeal to these voters. Smart strategy.

Third, in parts of the central Boise area, Ahlquist may have pull simply because he actually has been a successful developer there, and on that basis if nothing else has impressed plenty of people.

There’s also the factor of too much familiarity. Enthusiasm matters enormously in low-turnout primaries, and newcomers have an easier time generating it than veteran candidates (see: many of our recent presidential elections). Ahlquist has an advantage if he can get himself well enough known, which he is in the process of doing.

All this easily could add up to enough votes to win a seriously contested primary.

You could run comparable scenarios for the other two candidates as well (if you’re a supporter of one of them, you may have done that while reading this). Point is: This is a seriously competitive race that right now could go any which way.

Why Ahlquist might lose

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I’ve taken to describing the already long-running Idaho Republican primary for governor as “fluid,” meaning that it’s yet to be won, that campaigning will matter, and a number of important constituencies are not nailed down.

With three major candidates in the race - Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, Representative Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist - there are nine plausible outcomes, as each of the three realistically could come in first, second or third. The dynamics are intriguing to watch, though maybe agonizing to be a part of.

To highlight some of the pieces in play, I thought I’d direct this column, and the next one, to two alternative prospects, about one of the candidates - whose fortunes seem the least predictable of the three - and consider what might result in his top-ranked win or last-place loss.

That candidate would be Ahlquist, the Boise downtown and metro developer, a newcomer to Idaho - after background as a physician in Salt Lake City - and at present a highly active campaigner. The next paragraphs consider why he might come in third; wait a week for why he might come in first.

He could lose partly for reasons so many businessman candidates for higher office - who have little or no experience running for or serving in office - do. Politics can look easy; he’s been a success in complex business (and other) spheres, so running for office should be a piece of cake, right? In fact, the skill sets for candidates and for many other things, including business leaders and physicians, are distinct. In some people they overlap, but often they don’t. Cecil Andrus was a highly effective campaigner and governor, but he didn’t light the world afire as a businessman. The skill sets were different. Sometimes the stronger the skill set is in one area, the less well they transfer to a different arena.

Compared to many gubernatorial candidates, Ahlquist is not a long-timer in Idaho. He has been civicly active in recent years, but his ties are recent. Little and Labrador have connections and networks built over decades (in Little’s case, over many generations). Both have been able to draw on extensive campaign structures, fundraising, community help, volunteers and much more, created over a long time; Ahlquist had to start from scratch.

Ahlquist is less well known around Idaho than his competitors, and generally has polled well behind them. That can be a solvable problem; name identification can be built in the way he has been developing it, through ads, news reports, campaigning and so on. But there are other problems associated with being a newcomer.

Little and Labrador have established identities. Those don’t work completely in their favor, but they do carry the advantage amounting to a known quantity: A level of trust in knowing who this guy is. (Some aspects of that problem, such as Ahlquist’s past support for some Democratic candidates, already have emerged.) Ahlquist has yet to be fully defined. He’s working on it, but much of that kind of definition is (as ever) not fully within his control. And, as Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff probably could tell you, too much advertising will wear on people over time; it can start to grate, even if it’s well done.

Ahlquist has supporters around Idaho, but he’s overwhelmingly identified with Boise - not necessarily the best place in the state to be overwhelmingly identified with.

And who or what is Ahlquist’s base? Little has the establishment Republican base (which, remember, did extremely well in the 2014 Republican primaries), and may be augmented by crossover independents and Democrats. Labrador has a well-established, and substantial, activist base, notably in the first congressional district. Where is Ahlquist coming from? Is he seeking out the Donald Trump-oriented support? Or something else? Remember, in the 2016 presidential, Ahlquist was a backer of Marco Rubio, not Donald Trump. We haven’t heard the last of that.

And there’s more. But there’s also a flip side: Ahlquist could win this primary. Next week I’ll get into why that might happen.

Hells shoe

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Circle October 11 on your calendar. It may be a critical date in Idaho’s economic future, because that is when Idaho Power Company’s Hells Canyon Dam relicensure settlement conference is scheduled at the Idaho Public Utilities Commission.

It may not seem notably critical at first. The three Idaho Power dams on the Idaho-Oregon border, in Hells Canyon, have been operating and supplying an immense amount of power for a very long time, almost unnoticed (out of sight, out of mind) for many Idahoans. They were the subject of fierce controversy back in the 50s, but since have been recognized as one of the big drivers of Idaho Power’s tremendous growth in the mid-twentieth century, and through it a lot of the explosive growth of the Boise area. The dams have kept electric power reliable and cheap, no small factor in business development over the years.

When the dams were first built they were constructed under a 50-year license, which expired a dozen years ago. Today they’re running on what amounts to extensions of extensions (no one wants to shut the dams down), and work on formal relicensure continues.

That’s not a comfortable position for Idaho Power or for a lot of regional power users. But this is a matter as much of dilemma as of frustration. Idaho Power remains an independent local power company, based in Boise (albeit that its stock is publicly traded). It long has provided some of the lowest power rates in the country.

While lots of other utilities in recent decades have been gobbled by bigger corporate fish, Idaho Power has not. And evidently, one of the big reasons is that renewal of the licenses has remained unsettled. Much could change in southern Idaho if Idaho Power is bought. Usually in such cases low power rates tend to be jacked up after a purchase - sometimes jacked up a great deal.

There’s not one single reason the relicensure has stalled, but one seems to be a disagreement between the states of Idaho and Oregon, both of which have to sign off for major dam activity, over fish runs in the area.

An Associated Press story on the situation summarized, “Oregon officials are refusing to agree to the re-licensing until salmon and steelhead can access four Oregon tributaries that feed into the Hells Canyon Complex, as required by Oregon law for the re-licensing. But Idaho lawmakers have prohibited moving federally protected salmon and steelhead upstream of the dams, which could force restoration work on Idaho’s environmentally degraded middle section of the Snake River.”

This seems to be the primary relicensure hangup right now.

If Oregon’s requests are agreed to, significant changes could be required, and ratepayers might be stuck with paying another $220 million for the work. On top of other possible increases. On top of, if the company were taken over, higher rates otherwise down the road.

When I’ve been asked what economic risks Idaho faces in upcoming years, I’ve generally mentioned the Hells Canyon dams situation as one of two or three to watch out for.

On October 11, the Idaho Public Utilities Commission will hold a conference on what do next. What it does could be among the most important decisions the PUC has made in a generation.

Rebuilding the right way

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The hurricane disaster in Puerto Rico, leaving most of the island with wreckage all over and electricity and running water in too few places, is an unqualified catastrophe.

That still doesn't mean something useful can't come from it.

One of the questions sure to arise there, as happened in New Orleans after the Katrina storm (and more recently in Houston and elsewhere) is: Why rebuild? The recent storm was surely not the last. Why reconstruct what will surely be knocked down sometime to come?

Somehow or another, of course, we have to rebuild. In the case of Puerto Rico, for example, what's the alternative: To tell three and a half million people to go,leave, for somewhere, and leave home behind? There have to be some better answers.

And there probably are. One of them comes courtesy of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who is suggesting (among other things) using renewable energy technology to work around the hazards of tropical storms.

The framework he outlines is this: “America’s energy grid is in need of an upgrade. These bills will promote a more flexible electricity grid that can respond to power disruptions from natural disasters and ensure reliable, low-cost electricity for consumers now and in the future. They will lower costs for energy storage technologies that make renewable energy more reliable and cost-effective, boost funding for cutting-edge research and reward state and private sector innovations.”

To that end he suggested a batch of bills, backed by a number of utility industry organizations. One of them would "create competitive, cost-share grant programs for new small-scale, grid-connected projects such as rooftop solar panels, hot water heaters, electric vehicles and modernized utility pricing technologies."

Another would "provide funding to the Department of Energy to research and develop ways to lower the cost of energy storage technologies, which make it possible for renewable energy to be used on a more reliable and affordable basis." And a third would help shift job training toward renewable energy methods.

The big advantage of renewables, in a storm context, is that many of those resources can be protected in case of disasters, and a loss in one places doesn't necessarily mean a mass outage. Solar is a great example; an island reliant mainly on solar energy would see significant damage, but not nearly enough to bring the whole area to a standstill.

And if you used that kind of technology to help rebuild Puerto Rico, you could take the lessons learned (and the economies of scale developed) onto the mainland, with back advantages accruing back in the States. It would truly be an investment that could logically pay off in a big way.

In the current Congress, the proposal may not go far. But if the idea gets some attention, it could wind up doing a lot of good down the road. Not that Puerto Rico couldn't benefit from it ... right now.

Borah, Church and Risch?

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William Borah, Frank Church and Jim Risch?

As matters stand, Senator Risch of Idaho, who was in his early days in the Idaho legislature when Church became chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may become the next head of that sometimes powerful panel.

That wasn’t a closely-considered proposition, at least not widely, until this last week. That was when the current chair, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, declared himself out of the Senate when his current term ends after next year. (Washington Post headline: “The Most Interesting Part of Corker’s Retirement Isn’t What You Think It Is.”)

Chair successions are not automatic, but usually the next most senior committee member moves up, and - if Republicans still control the Senate after next year’s elections - that would be Risch.

Next up after Risch is a senator much better known nationally, Marco Rubio of Florida, and he surely would like that gavel, especially if he’s looking at a 2020 presidential run. But in the Senate, the process rules. Risch was quoted as saying about the chairmanship, “We have a long, clear history of how these things are resolved in the Senate. We will follow that route when we get there.” Sounds a little cryptic, but I translate this way: I’m next in line.

Whether or not Risch had advance warning for Corker’s departure, groundwork for it is in place.

In Risch’s first term he was a nearly invisible senator - in news and other media and even in press releases. In his second term that has changed. He has become a frequent talking head on news programs, and when there, seems to discuss foreign affairs more often than other subjects. While many senators avoid (as Corker did) talking about re-election prospects more than two years out, Risch has made his re-election plans for 2020 quite clear. Whether or not Risch had a sense of the chair opening, he does seem to have prepared for the possibility.

What he might do with it is another matter.

Idahoans Borah, who chaired it from 1924 to 1933, and Church, from 1978 to 1981, were among the most prominent political figures of their day, and not only because both ran for president. Both had strong commentaries on foreign affairs, both were willing to buck presidents - of both parties - and both were skeptical of involvement overseas, in Borah’s case to the point of isolationism. Their perspectives were clear and sometimes ran against the grain, but stood aside from political considerations. (Both probably paid a political price for their views on foreign policy.)

How would Risch compare? During the Obama Administration, Risch was active on the foreign relations committee but did not mark out very distinctive territory. He delivered one of the best analyses anywhere of the prospects for American involvement in Syria, but it was not a clear-cut stance (take that as praise), and his views on foreign relations overall seem hard to summarize easily.

During the Trump Administration, Risch has been a Trump loyalist; he has come to the president’s defense on several occasions. (The statistics web site “538” puts Risch at voting 91.8 percent in line with Trump.) There’s little reason to think he’d be leading a charge to review or investigate Trump relations with other countries.

But a change of chair is months away. In the meantime, watch Risch’s comments, which can sometimes run toward the cryptic, to see where he comes out - a Trump loyalist or someone more like a Borah or Church.