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Posts tagged as “Idaho”

The day the border closed

johnson

Thirty years ago this month, then-Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus willfully and with malice aforethought sparked one of the most consequential confrontations of the nuclear age. The Idaho governor, a rangy, bald-headed one-time lumberjack from Orofino, took on the federal government in a way few, if any, Idaho politicians ever had before or has since.

I have many vivid memories of working for Andrus those long years ago, but no memory remains more evocative than when the governor of Idaho called the bluff of the Department of Energy over nuclear waste. We are still feeling the ripples of that encounter and Idaho, thanks to dozens of subsequent actions, including a landmark agreement negotiated by Andrus' successor, Republican Gov. Phil Batt, has gotten rid of a good part of its nuclear waste stockpile. If current state leaders are half as smart as Andrus and Batt, they will fight to retain the leverage Idaho has to get rid of the rest.

On a crisp fall day in 1988, Andrus and I flew to Carlsbad, N. M., a town in the southeastern corner of the state at the time better known for its caverns than for its starring role in a governmental showdown. Carlsbad was once the potash capital of the country and had long been a place where extracting value from the earth dominated the economy. When potash ceased to be an economic driver for the region, the powers to be in Eddy County went looking for a future. They found some level of economic salvation in nuclear waste.

Andrus was there to help realize their expectations and, in the process, help Idaho.

Years earlier, as secretary of the interior, Andrus had become a Carlsbad favorite for his attention to local issues - Carlsbad Caverns National Park in the domain of the Interior Department is nearby - and because of the respect he enjoyed, the locals made him an honorary member of the Eddy County Sheriff's Posse.

As a member of the august group, Andrus was able to sport the outfit's signature Stetson, a big hat hard to miss in a crowd. The Stetson was a scintillating shade of turquoise.

Wearing his colorful headgear, Andrus arrived in Carlsbad 30 years ago to "tour" the then-unfinished Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, a massive cavern carved out of the deep salt formations under southeastern New Mexico. Years earlier the DOE, then as now the single most incompetent bureaucracy in the federal government, had determined that the salt formations would be the ideal place to permanently dispose of certain types of extremely long-lived radioactive waste.

Encased thousands of feet below ground in salt that had existed for hundreds if not millions of years and never touched by water, the waste would be safe. The science was sound even if DOE's execution of a plan to prepare the facility for waste was deeply flawed.

Andrus' WIPP inspection left him convinced that the only way to move DOE's bureaucracy was to manufacture a crisis. His motive, of course, was to shine a light on DOE management failures, but also advancing the day when nuclear waste that had been sitting in Idaho for years would be permanently removed to New Mexico.

He returned to Idaho and closed the state's borders to any more waste, declaring, "I'm not in the garbage business any more."

I remember asking Andrus if he really had the legal authority to take an action that seemed sure to end up in court. He smiled and said, " I may not have the legal authority, but I have the moral authority. Let them try to stop me."

The audacious action had precisely the effect Idaho's governor intended. The nation's decades of failures managing its massive stockpile of nuclear waste became, at least for a while, a national issue.

The New York Times printed a photo of an Idaho state trooper standing guard over a rail car of waste on a siding near Blackfoot. DOE blinked and eventually took that shipment back to Colorado.

A now retired senior DOE official recently told me Andrus' action was the catalyst to get the New Mexico facility operational. His gutsy leadership also highlighted the political reality that Idaho's rebellion against the feds might easily spread.

Subsequent litigation, various agreements and better DOE focus, at least temporarily, led to the opening of the WIPP site in 1999 and some of the waste stored in Idaho began moving south.

With the perfect hindsight of 30 years, it is also clear that Idaho's willingness to take on the federal government did not, as many of the state's Republicans claimed at the time, hurt the Idaho National Laboratory.

Batt's 1995 agreement, which Andrus zealously defended up until his death last year, continues to provide Idaho with the best roadmap any state has for cleaning up and properly disposing of waste. Idaho would be foolish to squander any of the leverage it has thanks to the work Andrus and Batt did to hold the federal government accountable.

But, of course, some Idahoans continue to talk about waste accommodation with DOE, even as deadlines for more removal and clean up are missed and the DOE behemoth stumbles forward.

A former Texas governor who once advocated eliminating the agency now heads DOE. As Michael Lewis demonstrates in his scary new book "The Fifth Risk," DOE Secretary Rick Perry is little more than a figurehead acting out a role that is both "ceremonial and bizarre." According to Lewis's telling, Perry didn't even bother to ask for a briefing on any DOE program when he arrived.

Meanwhile Perry's boss recently announced in Nevada, a state where waste is about as popular as a busted flush, that he's opposed to eventually opening the Yucca Mountain site as a permanent repository for very high-level nuclear waste.

President Donald Trump made that statement even as his own budget contains millions of our dollars to work on opening the very facility.

Federal government incoherence obviously continues. Cece Andrus confronted it 30 years ago. He was right then and we can still learn from his leadership.

Johnson was press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.

Searching for the argument against

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When it comes to ballot issues, the voter calculus ought to involve these questions:

What, at core, is the argument supporting?

And what, at core, is the argument against?

Maybe there’s a third as well: Are any of the core arguments something that would be better decided by the courts than by the voters?

In the case of Proposition 1 (you can find it at https://sos.idaho.gov/elect/inits/2018/init04.html), the historical horse racing initiative, the sides seem to be asymmetrical. I’m having a hard time locating the compelling argument against.

First, a political note: In a time when practically everything seems to have split along party lines, this one has not. Prominent Republicans and Democrats can be found on both sides.

Prop 1 would allow the return of historical horse racing (or “instant racing”) terminals at places where live horse racing takes place. They were legalized in Idaho in 2013, but the Idaho Legislature banned them again in 2015 after being persuaded they were too much like slot machines. The central benefits to the state noted are an increase in jobs at horse tracks - the Les Bois in Ada County shut down after the 2015 ban - and some additional revenue (probably a modest amount) going to the state school fund. The benefits are small in scale, but they are definable.

So that’s the pro side. And the argument against?

The anti group Idaho United Against Prop 1 (their site is at http://idunitedagainstprop1.com/) said that “Proposition 1 is all about gambling machines, not horses. The text of Prop 1 will allow historical horse racing machines to be permitted anywhere that live racing or simulcast horse racing occurs – but machines are permitted to remain on 24/7 even if no racing is taking place. Casino-style gambling could be expanded to every corner of Idaho unless voters say NO this November.” That (along with the point that revenue to schools would not be large) is evidently the core of the argument.

The Idaho Racing Commission lists active horse racing locations in Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Rupert, Jerome, Malad, Burley and Blackfoot. But in 2018, the commission said, none operated more than six race days during the year. The initiative wouldn’t allow the instant machines in any place that didn’t run races at least eight days a year. Presumably, that would entail a revival of the Les Bois operation, or something similar. But it doesn’t sound like a prescription for an Idaho overrun with gambling machines.

A second argument is that these historical racing machines are a lot like slot machines, and that’s a question I have raised in this space in the past. But if true (and it’s at least debatable) that seems more like a question for the courts (where this doubtless will go if the initiative passes) than it does for the voters.

The other criticism is about how the finances are structured and how much schools actually would receive. There’s no real debate, though, that the schools and the state would receive something, more at least than they do now. And if the amount funneled off to the state does strike people as too small, the legislature could adjust it.

So what’s left is a modest but real argument in favor, and a vaporous argument in opposition.

Unless someone has something more concrete to offer ...
 

What should we talk about?

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On Tuesday, the two main candidates for governor - Republican Brad Little and Democrat Paulette Jordan - will meet for their first face-off, at the College of Idaho at Caldwell.

What should they talk about?

Here are a few topics they, and the panel of questioners, might consider.

The cost of housing: The sheer ability to get housing - in the parts of Idaho that are growing - has become something close to a crisis. This is a regional, not just a local, issue. What can and should the state do?

As the housing problem suggests, the parts of Idaho are growing, or slipping, in different ways. How can the growth in some parts of Idaho be harnessed to avoid the troubles of boomtowns, but help and boost the parts of Idaho that are stagnant or in decline?

Should the Medicaid expansion ballot issue pass? (Jordan has endorsed it, Little has declined to state a position.) If it does, what will you do to make it work in a frequently hostile political climate? If it doesn’t, what will you do to help solve the problems that have led to its placement on the ballot?

This year’s Idaho Republican convention called for punishing businesses that employ undocumented workers. What do you think the state should do about that?

Pause for a look at the big picture on taxes: Is Idaho’s tax structure taken as a whole fair? How can it be improved?

How do you plan to communicate with the public? Please explain how that relates to your, or your party’s, relationship with the news media in Idaho.

Tell me something - one specific thing, a law, a rule, a process, a program or whatever - that another state does that Idaho would be wise to emulate; and other specific thing from another state Idaho would do well to avoid.

A one-off for Jordan: You’ve accumulated a long and growing list of campaign missteps, from uncertainty about keeping your legislative seat, to involvement with outside issues, to campaign administration problems, to (this isn’t too strong a description) attacks on news reporting, and beyond. If all this doesn’t suggest a lack of preparation for the top elective administrative job in Idaho, what does it say?

A one-off for Little: How are you and your prospective governorship anything other than the Otter Administration Mark IV? Granting some successes (and a strong Idaho economy, attributable only in part to state government), plenty of Idahoans, including plenty of Republicans, would like to see something else after 12 years. Will there be anything substantial other than new names on the doors? And if so, what is that?

And: What do you think is the biggest piece of unfinished business the Otter Administration is leaving behind, and how would you deal with it? How as a practical political matter would you get it done - and why hasn’t it been done yet?

For that last question, at least, there are more than a few reasonable answers. Maybe allow an extra minute on that one.
 

Sinking the partisan ship

jones

In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned the nation of the dangers of partisanship in an elective government like ours. He advised that “the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it in the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.”

Partisanship is tearing this country apart. One of the strong proponents of working across the aisle, the late Senator John McCain, was just laid to rest. This would be a good time to reflect on things we can do in our good state to discourage and restrain partisanship.

Earlier this year, long-time political writer Randy Stapilus observed that most of Idaho’s statewide elective offices were not or should not be partisan in nature. The same could be said of local government administrative offices. Why not remove the party labels from essentially non-political offices and focus on the qualifications of candidates to carry out the laws that govern their work?

The Secretary of State oversees elections and maintains business and commercial records. It is not clear why party affiliation should matter in that position. The same goes for the State Treasurer and State Controller, both of whom are charged with performing administrative duties, not setting state policy.

The Attorney General does have some ability to make or influence policy through rule making and court proceedings, but must also maintain independence from the Governor and Legislature. Based on my eight years of experience in that office, it is not uncommon for officeholders of your own party to expect favoritism--a favorable legal opinion on a policy issue, favorable treatment of a constituent crosswise with the law, or urging that you file a lawsuit of questionable merit.

The Attorney General represents the State and the people, not fellow party members. An AG who remains true to the law will often make fellow party members unhappy.

Running on a non-partisan ticket like judges do might clarify the responsibilities of the office and reduce the pestering an AG gets to carry water for the party.

It should be said that the current Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, has done a good job of advising the Legislature and Governor about the requirements of the law. When his advice has been ignored, he is usually found by the courts to have been correct. Removing that office from partisan influences would be a good step.

One of the most important offices in state government is that of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is an administrative position but has a vitally important advocacy component. Political affiliation won’t result in better-educated children. The way to foster student achievement is to work tirelessly with stakeholders to develop and implement strategies for teaching, learning, and school safety.

The Superintendent position should go to the person who demonstrates a willingness to dig in and improve our school system by hard work and advocacy, regardless of party membership. We should take this office out of the political arena and focus on who will work the hardest and smartest to educate and protect our kids. I believe George Washington would agree.
 

Pocatello council pulls the plug

mendiola

I was saddened, but not entirely surprised to learn that the Pocatello City Council indeed has decided to completely cut funding for the city's public access cable television programming, effectively pulling the plug on it and blacking it out after the pioneering channel has been on the air for many decades. For years, it was known as Pocatello Vision 12.

If it is not the longest continuously running cable access station in the nation, it definitely is one of the oldest. In fact, Hank Gonzalez' bilingual “La Voz Latina” holds the distinction as the longest airing cable access television program in the United States!

It obviously was a foregone conclusion or fait accompli for some council members to terminate the channel, but go through the motions to make it appear they were still open to resuscitating it.

The prospect that an entire city department could be arbitrarily eliminated in one fell swoop despite its historic reputation was not well-publicized. Some council members apparently hoped they could obliterate the cable access channel with minimal flak or adverse public reaction by conducting their fatal strike under the radar like stealth bombers.

Pocatello private citizens of all backgrounds have been allowed for more than 40 years to produce and host their own television programs, giving them a voice and allowing them to exercise their freedom of speech unlike most anywhere else in the country. “Transparency” was a refreshing byword exercised in the Gate City for many years.

While some council members have decided to ax community access programming by Sept. 28 or the end of the fiscal year, they have opted to continue government access programming that features meetings prominently attended by elected officials and politicians. Hmmmm … Could priorities be askew? If expenses were an issue, why not cut it, too?

Vision 12 has touched the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people in Bannock County over the years, binding the community together. It's too bad such a priceless treasure can be flippantly tossed onto the ash heap with little regard to its legacy.

I've had the privilege and pleasure of producing and hosting a program called “Business Dynamics” since December 2000, interviewing top government, business, agriculture and education leaders, covering economic development, energy, transportation, manufacturing and a host of other issues pertaining to business.

When I ran into Rick Eike at Fred Meyer some 18 years ago, he broached the idea that I do my own cable access program like he did. At first, I dismissed his suggestion, but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. In-depth local news coverage of economic issues of interest to me and no doubt others was sorely lacking, and this could fill a void.

I would like to thank the scores of guests who gave of their time to appear on “Business Dynamics” and share their expertise, observations and opinions. I learned a great deal from each of them and hope viewers also found their appearances enlightening and informative.

I also would be remiss to not thank Kathy Oborn, Ken Wilson, John Hahn and other studio employees for their professionalism and assistance over the years. Their hard work behind the scenes ensured that Pocatello's cable access station ranked at the very top of its class and gave outsiders a positive view of the community's many amenities – a window into the Gate City from a distinct vantage point.

It's been a great run, a great ride, a great experience for me to be part of such a truly unique operation like Pocatello's cable access television service. Unlike Tom Bodett of Motel 6, some Pocatello City Council members have decided to not leave the light on for us. Signing off …

(Photo: Former U.S. Interior Secretary and Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne appears a few years ago on 'Business Dynamic,' a longtime Pocatello cable access television program in Pocatello. Host Mark Mendiola is on the left.)

Idaho Weekly Briefing – August 6

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for August 6. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

With the arrival of August, preliminaries begin in the fall general election campaign season. An early activity was a debate between the candidates for superintendents of public instruction; more faceoffs are expected soon. Menwhile, smoke gathered over the skies of southern Idaho as one wildfire after another popped up.

New projections from the Idaho Department of Labor forecast that the state will add just over 105,000 jobs by 2026, bringing total statewide employment to approximately 841,000. In 2016, statewide employment was 735,000. This new projection indicates expected growth of 14.4 percent for the 10-year period from 2016 to 2026, for an annual growth rate of 1.4 percent.

Senator Jim Risch, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the lead senate committee investigating Russia’s attempted interference in our 2016 elections, on August 1 participated in a hearing on foreign influence in our election process through social media.

The U.S. Department of Energy has announced 22 new Energy Frontier Research Centers, including one that will be led by Idaho National Laboratory. This is the second time INL has won the opportunity to lead an EFRC.

The Idaho Department of Insurance has posted on its website, proposed health insurance premium rates and the requested increases for plans sold starting January 2019.

The state superintendent’s race kicked off Thursday as Republican incumbent Sherri Ybarra and Democratic challenger Cindy Wilson squared off in front of hundreds of educators in Boise.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has released the latest annual report from his office’s Consumer Protection Division. The summary represents a detailed look at the division’s work between July 1, 2017, and June 30, 2018.

Close the Gap Idaho, a health care network of over 300 organizations and individuals statewide, has released a health care questionnaire for candidates for elected office in Idaho. The questionnaire covers a multitude of subjects, ranging from Medicaid, the benefits of health care coverage and gaps in Idaho’s behavioral health care system. The questionnaire is being distributed to the media, organizations hosting candidate forums and the public.

IMAGE Giant propellers stand above a farm field west of Burley, generating increasingly substantial amounts of electric power in the region. (photo/Randy Stapilus)
 

Summer legislating

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You may think of state lawmaking - the work most visibly done by legislators in their formal sessions, which in Idaho mostly run in January through March - as a winter time activity.

But that’s not all, by a long shot. Lawmaking is going on now, even without factoring in initiatives like the Medicaid expansion measure just approved for the ballot.

There is also state administrative rulemaking, which goes on around the year, mostly when legislators aren’t in session. Summer is a relatively busy time.

State Representative Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, mentioned this in a recent constituent email. She wrote, “Remember that administrative rules are developed by bureaucrats and lobbyists on a monthly basis throughout the year and are required by law to take into consideration all public input and comments received. Citizens can even request public hearings in their communities to get additional information.”

She went on to sound a bit alarmist about some of it, noting that the state rules often incorporate language from federal or other sources outside Idaho. (That’s done so that Idaho can coordinate and cooperate with other states in commerce and other ways.) But she’s correct that rulemaking is substantial in scale, and in urging citizens to get more involved. Most are neither aware nor active enough about it.

Generally, state law (which legislators mostly work on) is intended to state a policy and general guidelines, but administrative rules fill in the gaps, provide the details the legislators didn’t address. Often new state laws specifically instruct state agencies to develop rules to carry out the law. The agency rules can become extremely detailed; the state administrative code, covering rules for most agencies, is many thousands of pages long.

Fortunately, it is available online (at adminrules.idaho.gov), and updates appear in a regular place, the Idaho Administrative Bulletin, which is published toward the beginning of each month. The updates can be significant all by themselves; July’s is more than 200 pages long, which is not unusual for this time of year. (It goes relatively quiet while the legislature is meeting.)

Scott listed in her email some of the items covered in the most recent one, from the rules covering accountants, electrical inspections, pharmacist licensing, school math test requirements, examinations for professional engineers, small employer health reinsurance programs, sales tax provisions covering out of state sellers, sales tax refunds, permit fee prices at the Department of Parks and Recreation . . .

. . . temporary vehicle permits, government license plates, changing the funding rules for career technical schools, water quality standards in certain areas, property tax exemptions during construction, exemptions involving research and development at the Idaho National Laboratory, library grant requirements, commercial filming in state parks . . .

And a good deal more.

All of this is wide open to public comment and participation. Few people from the public actually do get involved. Scott is correct in noting that state agencies and interest groups (often represented by lobbyists) are most active and tend to determine how the rules are written. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

This may seem like dry stuff. But look through the rules and bulletin sometime. You may find some that affect you, and then it’ll seem dry no longer.
 

Idaho Weekly Briefing – July 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for July 9. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

Wildfires have started to gain traction in the summer heat, as smoke from central Washington began to drift over parts of northern Idaho. Elsewhere, reports on Medicaid and schools may have potential to affect debates on those subjects; this was the week the Medicaid expansion proposal formally qualified (at the secretary of state’s office) for the November ballot.

During a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on minerals in the United States that are critical to our economy and national security, Senator Jim Risch spoke about Idaho’s significant contributions to mining and the faults in our current permitting process that need reform. President and CEO of Midas Gold Idaho, Laurel Sayer, was a witness at the hearing and answered questions from the Senate panel on her experience with the Stibnite Gold Project in Valley County.

The office of Secretary of State Lawrence Denney on July 17 officially certified the petition signatures submitted by Idahoans for Healthcare to qualify Medicaid expansion as a ballot measure this November. If passed, expanding Medicaid will provide healthcare for the 62,000 Idahoans who fall into the state’s healthcare coverage gap.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained at 2.9 percent in June, continuing at or below 3 percent for the 10th consecutive month. The state’s labor force – the total number of people 16 years of age and older working or looking for work – continued to increase, gaining 971 people from May to June for a total of 851,599.

A federal grand jury indicted thirteen members and associates of the Aryan Knights and Severely Violent Criminals gangs for crimes including drug distribution, conspiracy, and unlawful possession of firearms, U.S. Attorney Bart M. Davis announced. The charges stem from an investigation by the Treasure Valley Metro Violent Crimes Task Force.

The Idaho Department of Lands will be offering most of its remaining residential lake lots for auction in the next six years, along with some new unleased lots on Cougar Island and Pilgrim Cove at Payette Lake.

A technical hearing regarding the proposed merger of Avista and Hydro One has been postponed.

The U.S. Senate has passed a bill introduced by Senators Jim Risch and Gary Peters (D-MI) to help small businesses protect their intellectual property by improving education on obtaining and protecting patents.

IMAGE A string of fires erupted in south-central Idaho last week, much of it on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Here BLM workers are shutting down of the after effects of one of the burns in the Magic Valley. (photo/Bureau of Land Management)
 

Where the numbers went

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Not so many weeks ago, more than a few Idaho Democrats and democratic sympathizers, observing the developing contested primary for governor within their party, were heard to wonder: How many Democrats will be left to vote in it?

The logic went like this: The race for governor likely would be settled in the Republican primary, and among Democrats there was a clear preference among the major GOP candidates: Lieutenant Governor Brad Little was considered much the most acceptable, and Representative Raul Labrador the worst option. (The third major candidate, Tommy Ahlquist, got less visceral reactions.) So quite a few Idaho Democrats, at least anecdotally, said they would cross over and vote for Little. Presumably that would leave, among other things, a smaller Democratic contingent to decide their own party’s race between second-time candidate A.J. Balukoff and former legislator Paulette Jordan.

Not a few Republicans also thought the scenario might play out that way.

So how did it work out?

The shift of Democratic voters across the aisle to the Republican side is hard to measure. We can’t know for sure how many there were. The number of voters (that is, ballots cast) in the Republican contest for governor was up compared to 2014 by about 25 percent; if you factor in population growth and the greater interest in a race with three major candidates, that’s not a tremendous difference. Were there enough Democratic crossovers to give Little his 9,000-or-so vote win over Labrador? Best guess is that those voters didn’t account for all of it, maybe only half or less. The presence of Ahlquist in the race may have been a larger factor.

Bear in mind that Little received 72,518 votes, which is less than his close ally and current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter received in 2014 (79,779 votes). His vote could be accounted for if just most of the Otter voters stuck with him (as they most logically would have), allowing for some falloff.

One reason for thinking so is in looking at the vote in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Only about a third as many people voted on the Democratic side as on the Republican, but four years ago the difference was six to one, not three to one. Turnout in the Democratic primary increased by about 150 percent, a massive increase especially when bearing in mind the much higher-visibility Republican campaign.

Across the board, Democratic primary votes increased far more from 2014 than did the Republican (though theirs grew too). Scan down through the other major office races and though the state legislative primaries, and the same holds true. Of course, most people once stuck with one or the other party’s ballot will continue to vote for a number of offices

But the Democratic ballot increase really is remarkable. The number of votes cast in the Democratic primary for governor is the largest ever cast in that party for that office. What was about 25,000 Democratic primary voters (for governor) in 2014 grew by about 40,000 this year.

Was it a coincidence that the recently-completed petitions for the Medicaid initiative activated similar numbers of voters? Might that have helped generate some of the participation?

On Tuesday, voters in Georgia held their primary election, and Democrats there chose (in a hot contest) a nominee for governor who among other things has based the strategy of her campaign not on the goal of reaching out to Republican and centrist voters, but of activating what she maintains is a large corps of non-voters who (she figures) would vote mostly Democratic if they participate.

How many of them actually are out there, or whether they can with certainty be brought into the voting base, no one yet knows for sure.

But the numbers in the week-old Idaho primary election suggest that significant numbers of them actually are out there. Maybe not enough to win general elections. But significant nonetheless.