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Posts published in April 2008

Oh, it adjourned?

Capital annexThe Idaho Legislature is out, sine die'd for the year, with no especially massive waves in its wake. As with so many legislative sessions (especially in Idaho) in recent years, you have to ask - how much difference did it really make? Some, sure. The state's budget was managed. Details were dealt with, and some smaller issues handled: Small businesses will be happy at the $100,000 exemption on the personal property tax, adopted at the very end; and they could point to a small (and it was small) advance on the grocery sales tax credit. But Idaho will not be much changed because these 105 legislators met. Which is what you'd expect.

There wasn't a lot of easy agreement, apparently. Legislators butted heads repeatedly with Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, and often with each other. Transportation was a no-brainer issue, or so it would have seemed; but the once-light and increasingly serious traffic jams in western Ada County are due to get a lot worse soon. Any proposal that suggested the state or local governments do much of anything that isn't already on their plates started life with a major handicap - which is something of an issue itself, since that's at best a problematic way to deal with the kind of growth and other changes Southwest Idaho has been experiencing.

The best immediate food for thought on some of this is a column out today by the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey. It gets into a "whatever happened to" question, in this case - whatever happened to that prospectively serious primary challenge to House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, from former Eagle Mayor Nancy Merrill? And then, after she pulled out, former highway commissioner Chuck Winder? (He is now opposed only by Democrats, which in his district means virtually re-elected.)

Moyle is one of the central leaders in the Idaho Legislature; whether you like what this legislature does or don't like it, he's as good a single spot as any to point to and say, well, there you are. Merrill and Winder are Republicans, but unlike Moyle - whose sensibility seems more closely akin to the vast eastern Idaho plains than to the fast-growing Eagle area he represents - they are in favor of infrastructure development, mass transit and other needs of a growing metro region. Moyle stands in opposition, and a good many Republicans (as well as others) aren't happy with him. A significant number would like to see him gone and replaced by someone like a Merrill or Winder.

Both apparently considered the race seriously (Merrill even envisioned the billboards: "You'd put his face on I-84 and the billboard would say, 'Sitting in traffic? Emissions terrible? Can't breathe? Blame him!") and both wound up passing. Popkey on Merrill's reasons: "Merrill said the folks she expected to help, including other elected officials and lobbyists, said they couldn't publicly back her because Moyle is simply too powerful." Winder's reasons were apparently related.

This rings entirely true. The "connected" people in Idaho have gotten increasingly gutless in recent years, ever fewer of them willing to stuck their heads up or necks out to challenge people and decisions they disagree with; and this is a huge and little-acknowledged factor in why Idaho politics has remained so frozen in place for so many years. (This description obviously excludes the Democrats, a number of whom do try, but who aren't among the connected.) You can't really blame the Merrills and Winders for declining to run a race which likely wouldn't succeed without serious visible help. But you can't really sympathize either with the Idahoans who could get up on their hind legs and work for what they think is right, rather than cave, as so many do, over and over.

Done with the '08 session. Yawn. Wait out the calendar, and '09 will be another just like it . . . and the one after that . . .

The new book

Outlaw TalesAmoment here to draw a little attention to the book just added on the right-hand column of this page: Outlaw Tales of Idaho, written by your scribe and published by the Globe-Pequot Press. The precise date of "publication" isn't entirely clear, but the actual sample books have arrived by UPS and the book is up on the G-P site as well as on

It consists of stories about some of the dirty deeds (mostly though not entirely non-political) in Idaho history, up to about Prohibition. The stories were fun to put together - a variety of topics ranging from death in the wilderness by bushwhacker, to a Civil War-era political argument that got way out of hand, to the state's foremost mass murderer (of the kind known as black widows). The good people at the Idaho Historical Society, and others who had worked there or frequented the place, were greatly helpful in collecting data and pictures.

So, it'll be over there on the right-hand column for a while to come. Just in case you were wondering.

Merkley and the Beltway

Jeff Merkley

Senate candidate Jeff Merkley with staffer Carla Axtman, at campaign office/Stapilus

One of the first real issues engagements in the Oregon Senate race has emerged on an unlikely subject - the decision of who will build new tanker aircraft.

There is some Oregon backdrop to this, since Boeing - which didn't get the contract, a point of heated dispute - does some work in Oregon. And since Arizona Senator John McCain, a close ally of Republican Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, has been crosswise with Boeing for some time. That generated a shot from state House Speaker Jeff Merkley, one of the Democrats running to oppose Smith in the general election. (His primary opponents are Steve Novick of Portland, Candy Neville of Eugene, David Loera of Salem, Pavel Goberman of Portland and Roger Obrist of Damascus.) After some quick back-and-forth, the Smith force withdrew, possibly recognizing they were giving Merkley a higher in-primary standing by engaging with him directly.

There was implicit in some of what Smith had to say a couple of cross-currents, one questioning Merkley's expertise but another pointing to a New York Times op-ed from 1989 which Merkley - then still most of a decade away from entry into elective politics - had written urging cancellation of work on the stealth bomber. The idea of Merkley as a national defense expert pulling space on the Times' op-ed (albeit that the Paper of Record managed to misspell his name) almost two decades ago may come as a little surprising; why he would have written the article at all may seem a little puzzling.

It requires some explanation.

Merkley is best known in Oregon now (to the extent is well known) as a state House speaker, identified with local and state issues and politics. What's less well known is his background in international relations and defense policy, a subject almost glossed over on his campaign's own website. We sat down with Merkley last week to hear a little more about that background, which - especially if he becomes the Democratic nominee and winds up battling with Smith over iraq and other subjects this fall - could be highly pertinent.

Here's how Merkley outlines his background on foreign relations - in all a good deal more extensive, it should be said, than we'd realized. (Warning: This is a long post.) (more…)