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Posts published in “Stapilus”

State and district


On his Facebook stream, first district congressional candidate Russ Fulcher, of Meridian, has posted an item noting he has always lived in that district. And: “Fun Fact: Russ Fulcher’s family has lived in what is now Idaho’s first Congressional District since 1886, four years before Idaho became a state.”

He is making more than a biographical point. His chief opponent, former attorney general and lieutenant governor David Leroy, currently lives outside the district. Leroy is not far from it; he lives in Boise, just not the portion now carved into the first. He has lived in the first before, and has said he plans to maintain a residence inside the first.

But from Fulcher’s implicit point - I’m a resident of the district, and he isn’t - two ideas emerge.

The first is, you don’t have to live in the CD to represent it. You do have to live in the same state. The U.S. Constitution, which sets only a few requirements for serving in the House (at least 25 years old and a United States citizen for seven years) does require a person to “be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.” State yes, but being in the same district, no.

The issue came up this spring in the high-profile House race for an open seat in Georgia, where Democrat Jon Ossoff famously lived several miles outside his suburban Atlanta district. No one charged he couldn’t legally serve, but the point about his living elsewhere was hammered around persistently through the campaign.

Several months ago, the Washington Post researched congressional residences and found 20 incumbent members of Congress who live outside their districts. In some cases a member originally elected from a district where he was a resident, saw the district boundaries shifting away, and opted not to run in the district which now included his house. In some cases it becomes no big issue, and in others candidates have lost races at least partly because of it. Specifics matter.

The newest member of the House from Washington state, Pramila Jayapal, lived about two miles outside the district she was running to represent when she was elected; it wasn’t a big issue there. Then there was Oregon’s Delia Lopez, a resident of the small rural community of Oakland, about 150 miles south of Portland. She was running to represent Oregon’s third district, which mostly is central urban Portland, about two hours by freeway from her house. She lost overwhelmingly, though the fact that she was a Republican in a district even more Democratic than Idaho is Republican, also had a lot to do with it.

Lopez’ case was like, in Idaho terms, someone living in Arco running for the first district, which runs along the west side of the state from Canada to Nevada. There’s not much connection.

Leroy’s case is a little different. Boise, in whole or in part, has been within the Idaho first congressional district for half a century. Boiseans are legally divided between the districts but as a more practical matter they have a foot in each of them. Leroy’s first district credentials are in reasonable order: He grew up in Lewiston, attended the University of Idaho at Moscow and has lived in the 1st at various points through his decades of residence in Boise. And he ran for the 1st district seat once before, in 1994 (when he lost the Republican nomination to Helen Chenoweth).

Of course, in a thinly divided and closely contested contest, as this one is shaping up to be, every issue matters. Including the matter of ten or fifteen minutes travel time.

Reasons for rejection


The voter-elected official relationship is just another kind of relationship. And a lot of the same rules apply to it as to others. They're useful in considering questions like those emerging in recent days about what to do about people like Roy Moore (elect him? expel him?) or Al Franken (presumably, various options).

Consider romantic relationships. When dating, participants consider regularly whether this is something to continue or drop, and (cf. Seinfeld, for example) sometimes do that for very slight reasons. Once married, there's a tendency to cut a little more slack; promises for better and for worse were, after all, made, and the reality is that no one is perfect.

This actually relates to the Moore and Franken (and other) cases.

In the Alabama Senate election, Republican Moore has run into a swarm of charges related to his involvement with much younger women and girls; you've doubtless seen the reports so they won't be reiterated here. In this case, voters in a very Republican state are deciding between Moore and Democrat Doug Jones; the race is considered competitive in large part because of the recent charges.

Should they be a consideration? Of course they should. They relate to what kind of person this is who wants to represent a state in the United States Senate and become one of the highest-level elected officials in the country. (And to be clear, the accusations which are quite serious are more than just credible, and the news reports about them have been thoroughly sourced, and no meaningful rebuttal from the candidate or anyone else has appeared.) Is it the only reasonable consideration? Of course not. The consequences of such elections range far beyond the personal quirks and foibles of any one candidate - things like tax policy and health care, among many others, are in the balance - and the confliction of conservative Republican Alabamans is not in that sense unreasonable. (All of that is putting aside the merits of the policy and philosophical arguments involved, which is another story. In my view, on those grounds, the case against Moore was ironclad long before "the women" even were heard from.)

Suppose Moore is elected. Should he be expelled from the Senate, as some Republican senators have suggested? Sitting here now, I'd have to say no.

If the voters decide to elect a person, well informed of the case at stake, the Senate had better have an extremely high bar if it wants to overrule them. It had better have either important - shattering - evidence against Moore newly developed since the election, or else reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate, of which there's been no indication so far. After all, every Senator ever expelled in the nation's history, one in 1797 and the others in the Civil War, were ousted because of treason or rebellion against the nation. Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an excellent piece on the significance of expelling - and the dangers of opening the doors to it under any but the most extreme cases. The Moore case would be distasteful, ugly and politically embarrassing (and maybe harmful) for Republicans, but it doesn't seem likely to rise to the status of emergency.

In other words, once elected, an elected official has passed dating and gotten hitched. The standards for dissolution need to be a lot higher.

What to do about Franken, now involved in a sexual harassment case as well, then becomes a little clearer. It is true that the voters of Minnesota did not have the specifics of the newly-related harassment case, for which Franken has apologized, in front of them when they twice elected him to the Senate. But they had an ample opportunity to gauge what sort of person he was, and their choice should be given a good deal of deference.

But beyond that, Franken is - as Moore would be if elected - a member of the Senate, in effect "married", and the bar for a dissolution ought to be pretty high. In other words, as I said about Moore: Reason to believe the national or at least Capitol security would be put at serious risk if he stayed in the Senate. Of which there's no such evidence at hand.

That doesn't mean the Senate ethics panel shouldn't look into the case, or or decide that a reprimand of some kind shouldn't be handed out; maybe it should. But if (and I'd say this bearing in mind both Moore and Franken) that if we get into a practice of expelling or driving out of Congress every member who ever had a tawdry piece of their past exposed, we might soon be left with few members, and few really good members of the public who'd want to run for the job. Which already is something of a problem.

Yes, it'd worth knowing these things about our elected officials, and people who would become one of them. They're worth factoring into our decision-making. But as attention-getting as they are, and as character-insightful as they sometimes can be, they shouldn't overwhelm all else.

The Idaho presidents


A few years ago when I put together a list of the 100 most influential Idahoans, Boise State University President Robert Kustra ranked at number eight. Some people thought that was a little high; but others might have edged him higher yet.

University of Idaho President Chuck Staben and Idaho State University President Arthur Vailas made the list too, and some other higher ed leaders (like Tony Fernandez at Lewis-Clark State College) were contenders.

Why are they such critical figures in the state, and so influential? That has partly to do with them as individuals (especially in Kustra’s case) but more the impact of these institutions, not just involving the thousands of people they employ and who are students there, but the sweeping outreach they have across the state. The University of Idaho, for example, has programs and activities all over Idaho, not just in Moscow (or Boise). The others are far-flung too, and so are the state’s community colleges. The leader of one of these organizations can create major ripple effects, of one sort or another, all over the state.

That’s worth some reflection now, with the news that BSU’s Kustra has announced his retirement next summer, after 15 years in charge.

He has been a big factor in Idaho. Part of the reason is Boise State as such, since it is an urban university in a rapidly-growing area, with a fast-expanding student base.

But some of it is personal. He has deep political skills and experience (he is a former lieutenant governor of Illinois) and a strong sense of public relations and community visibility, together with ambition for his institution: It has grown explosively, and the Kustra years will be remembered too as glory years for Bronco football. The growth of BSU in recent years surely is attributable to some degree to Kustra. The specifics surrounding a university president can matter.

So it matters that this is a time of transition in that regard. Kustra is not the only one on the move.

ISU’s Vailas said in August that he will retire next year (within a few days, it turns out, of Kustra’s departure). The UI’s Staben, the newcomer of the three with his arrival in 2014, caused a stir a few weeks ago when word came that he was a finalist for president of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. (It didn’t pan out.) The stir was all the louder because Stabem had said when he arrived at Moscow that he hoped to spend 10 to 15 years there, and appeared to view it as his last career stop. (UI had five presidents in the 10 years before Staben’s hiring.)

And at LCSC, Fernandez is retiring next year too, on the same day as Vailas.

Idaho’s higher education may be going through some changes in the next few years. (Remember, it’ll soon be dealing with a new governor as well.)

I’ve argued for some years that the extensive recruitment process and the levels of compensation for university presidents both are overdone. (More institutions could probably gain more of the stability they look for, and all the competence they need, by promoting from within.)

But that doesn’t mean a change in university presidents doesn’t matter. Someone like Kustra, to name just one, can show easily how significant the choice can be.

Note: A reader notes that in addition to the Idaho higher education presidents noted here, "Marv Henberg retired earlier this year from the presidency at the College of Idaho as well. He taught at the University of Idaho before coming to Linfield and advancing up the ranks to dean of faculty."

Degrees of proof


“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


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


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?


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 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


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


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


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.