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Posts tagged as “Idaho politics”

Matters of relative importance


You can tell campaign season is kicking in by the flurry of data points arriving. Here are two sets from the forthcoming Idaho campaigns - one that might be over-rated in importance, and one under-rated.

First up is the latest poll, covering the races in Idaho’s two U.S. House districts, from Dan Jones & Associates. Those polls have been the subject of criticism from some Idaho political people, but they’re among the few regularly conducted in Idaho, so we’ll put that aside for the moment and just look at their bottom lines. They show these levels of support: In the first district, Republican Russ Fulcher at 35 percent and Democrat Christina McNeil 27 percent, and in the second district Republican (incumbent) Mike Simpson at 59 percent, with Democrat Aaron Swisher at 23 percent.

One way to look at this would be big news: If the margins between the candidates in the second district (more than two to one) is about right, maybe that indicates a much closer race than expected in the first district, where polling is showing the two candidates running tightly. There might be some temptation to attribute some of this to a Democratic year and an appealing female candidate (who did unusually well in the primary), and possibly those are factors to consider. A little.

The problem is that the races in the districts aren’t really comparable. Simpson, representative in the Idaho 2nd for coming up on 20 years, is about as well known locally as a member of Congress could be. Fulcher has been on the ballot for major office twice, but only in primary elections. He isn’t nearly as well known in the first district as Simpson is in the second. That will change somewhat in the ramp-up to election day, and - bearing in mind that he’s run a capable and uncontroversial campaign so far - you’ll likely see his numbers rise significantly over the next couple of months, as Republicans come home.

If you assume the Jones numbers are an accurate snapshot of recent weeks, that doesn’t mean the end results will look the same way they do now. The dynamic is fluid. The percentages will change.

Item two is an endorsement from a seemingly off-the-wall source that could prove important.

Endorsements in political campaigns usually don’t matter much. Many of them are mildly helpful just by way of showing the person or group involved isn’t opposed to the endorsee. Rarely do they actually change people’s minds or cause them to look at an issue or person in a different way.

Here’s one that could be an exception to the rule.

The Idaho Sheriffs’ Association has voted to endorse Proposition 2, the measure that would expand Medicaid access in Idaho. Chris Goetz, the sheriff in Clearwater County Sheriff and chair of the group’s government affairs group, remarked that “The vote for this wasn’t even close. Sheriffs voted overwhelmingly to support Proposition 2 to save taxpayers money, to keep people out of the jails, and to keep people out of the emergency room. By expanding coverage to low-income people with health issues or mental health issues, they’re more likely to contribute to society and less likely to end up back in the system.”

The ISA endorsement comes not from one of the “usual suspects” - people and groups you might expect to be supportive - but from a group that usually wouldn’t be anticipated to weigh in at all. The reasons they give for doing so, relating to public safety, could cause a number of Idahoans to think about Medicaid expansion in a different way than they have in the past.

Remember too that 40 out of the 44 Idaho sheriffs are elected Republicans. This is no gaggle of liberal activists, and no one is likely to mistake them as such. And they’re spread all over the state, not concentrated in the urban centers where most of the expansion support likely has been focused up to now.

If the vote winds up being close, this one might be an actual game-changer.

The Stuck Pendulum

We've made a few low-key mentions about it, but now we're running it out formally - our new eBook, The Stuck Pendulum, about Idaho's political history over the last quarter-century.

And it's free, as you can see from this visual. Best place to immediately grab a copy for your e-reader - pretty much any e-reader - is at It'll be up on too, soon, but Smashwords allows access to all readers. And the book is, for now at least, free.

A quick notes about what it is and isn't. Although it works as a standalone book, it's aimed mainly at readers of Paradox Politics by Randy Stapilus, a book about Idaho politics published in 1988 and covering several decades of history leading up to that point. Things have changed a lot since, and copies of Paradox continue to sell, so this book was intended to bring the story up to present. It isn't hugely detailed or a source for a whole lot of new information for people who have been tracking the state closely in the last couple of decades; for those who have, much of what's here will be familiar. For those who haven't, but are interested in the subject, we think it may be helpful.

And it is, after all, free. At least for a while.

Tom Boyd


In 1986, Idaho politics was not frozen in ice as it is today. It was fluid, and no better case for that could be made than Tom Boyd’s election that year to the speakership of the Idaho House.

It was still the Reagan Era in Idaho, but late Reagan Era, and the results of the 1986 election were all over the place. Democrat Cecil Andrus was returned to the governorship, but just barely, and Republicans did well among the rest of the statewide offices. Republicans won a serious U.S. Senate race, but not by a lot, and a Democrat won in the 2nd district U.S. House seat. The election was a true mixed bag: The overall tilt was Republican, but nothing and no one could be taken for granted.

Especially the party thought to be dominant in Idaho, the Republicans. As majority Republican legislators prepared that year to choose their leaders, they had some decisions to make, especially in the House.

There, the speaker for the previous two terms had been Tom Stivers, a conservative with some rough edges – the kind of guy who often generated what we now call “viral” quotes and anecdotes, like the time he replied to an Idaho teacher planning to leave the state over complaints about state funding and treatment of teachers, with the single word: “Goodbye!”

Stivers had been buoyed to some extent by the 1984 Ronald Reagan landslide but he opted out in 1986, possibly sensing a shift in moods. Many of the Republican legislators of the incoming 1986 group sensed that change too, not any massive shift to the left but some dissatisfaction with what voters were seeing and hearing from the legislature. And – this part was important – many of them felt a need to respond to that.

Candidates emerged to replace Stivers, all with an easy-going style that contrasted with the outgoing speaker. The two main vote getters were Robert Geddes of Preston, who as assistant majority leader had been a part of Stivers’ leadership team, and Tom Boyd of Genesee, who was considered more moderate, part of a group calling itself the Steelheads, centrists who in the Idaho House could readily compare themselves to the fish that swims upstream.

The contest was a near-tie, and a break from the norm in the Idaho House where the more conservative candidate typically wins the race. Boyd emerged as speaker, and was re-elected twice to the post. Along the way he would turn back a challenge from now-U.S. Representative Mike Simpson.

Tom Boyd, who died July 28, was not a hard-charging politico, and never considered a run for higher office; he was a friendly, sociable, low-key farmer whose run for speaker surprised many people who knew him then, as uncharacteristically ambitious. He proved well up to the job, developing an unexpected toughness but also changing the face of the Idaho House.

He changed it in the direction most of his fellow legislators had wanted, as more open and welcoming to larger groups of people. He by no means shut out conservatives in key House spots; Geddes for one got a key seat on the budget committee (which he later would co-chair), but he expanded the dialogue in a number of ways.

Tom was missed when he left the legislature and will be missed now, as will be the kind of politics he thrived in.

Early picks, fluid field


It says something about the declining interest in politics as well as the media’s declining interest in substance, prefering entertainment instead, that the still presumptive Republican nominee, Jeb Bush, could fly into Boise in late April, meet with 35 prominent Republican activists, depart and not one media outlet was aware of the visit.

The long-time alpha wolf of the Idaho press corps, the Idaho Statesman’s John Corlett, must have rolled over in his grave.

The April 20 visit was confirmed by Emily Baker, a product of the Bush 43 White House and Nampa native who returned home and today is the Boise managing partner of Gallatin Public Affairs (Full disclosure: I am the founder of Gallatin but no longer have any ties to the firm). Ms. Baker helped put the event together on a volunteer basis, but she is squarely in the camp of largely mainstream, moderate Republicans who support the Bush candidacy.

She described the event as a meet, greet and learn session with the former Florida governor answering any and all questions. Jeb Bush can deliver information in a straight talking manner without engaging in the bombast and exaggerated but simplified rhetoric that has made businessman Donald Trump attractive to some.

Ms. Baker said they did not seek media but would, as she was now doing, have responded to questions about the event. She said it was not a fundraiser nor was it a pressure event telling people to get on early or they’d miss the train leaving the station.

At this early stage in the marathon Idaho Republicans, according to a Dan Jones poll done in June for Zions National Bank mirror the nation. The poll was conducted before Trump made his gaffes questioning whether Arizona Senator John McCain was really a hero because heroes don’t get captured, his insulting reference to Holy Communion and his admission he’d never asked God for forgiveness. Paradoxically, those gaffes sparked a temporary spike in his popularity.

In June, according to Jones, 17% of likely Idaho Republican voters favored Bush, 11% liked Trump and 11% favored Florida Senator Marco Rubio who had been in Idaho Falls just prior to Bush’s visit. Despite the low-key nature of the Bush visit it did generate some controversy behind the scenes in part because some long-time Bush loyalists were not invited. In addition, there was a charge made that some of Mitt Romney's supporters “hijacked” the event. Prominent Romney supporter, Melaleuca billionaire Frank
VanderSloot, however, did not attend the Bush event nor did his political and governmental vice president, Damon Watkins.

In talking on background with two long-time veteran Republican consultants, one pointed out that Travis Hawks, a Boise-based political hired gun, had been retained to put together the visit by Senator Rubio as well as working on the invite list for the Bush event.

Both operatives described the political ground as fluid in Idaho as well as the nation. Both thought Trump was more than likely to self-destruct. Both though acknowledged the media’s entertainment fixation was feeding Trump’s rise while serious candidates were literally gasping for air time due to Trump’s ability to suck all the oxygen out of a room. One cited what he termed today’s “low information voter” as the source of the decline in substance interest. He believes these voters are no more than 20% of the Idaho Republican base and mistake bromides for real thought, and pop-offs for substance.

While neither consultant was surprised by Congressman Labrador’s early endorsement of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, they were surprised given his father’s popularity that the Senator was only drawing 6% support in Idaho. Neither were they surprised that Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter was keeping his powder dry as are the other members of the delegation. Both expect Otter ultimately to endorse a current or former governor for the nomination. One said folks should keep an eye on Ohio Governor John Kasich. “No Republican wins the presidency without taking Ohio,” he pointed out. The other described Kasich as a “Republican version of former Idaho Governor Cecil Andrus.”

Both operatives believe immigration reform will be a major divisive issue for Idaho Republicans, “There is no one Idaho solution,” said one, which the next day was confirmed by a report in the Idaho Statesman regarding the differing views across the Idaho business community about immigration reform.

Thus, while it is still early, lines are forming, choices are being made. If the field is still muddled at convention time next year neither Republican operative discounted the possibility that Mitt Romney might emerge again as the nominee. There are more than a few in Idaho that would be happy to see that. Still the logic of a Jeb Bush/John Kasich ticket sounds compelling also.