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Posts published in October 2018

Death tax


“Economists tend to see the estate tax as one of the most economically harmful taxes per dollar of revenue raised. By raising the estate tax threshold and ultimately repealing the estate tax outright, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act would remove an impediment to economic growth.” - Jared Walczak, senior policy analyst, Tax Foundation

We support the total abolition of inheritance taxes. - Idaho Republican Party platform

Frank Luntz, in his book Words that Matter: “Sure, some object that the term ‘death tax’ is inflammatory, but think about it. What was the event that triggered its collection? You pay a sales tax when you are involved with a sale. You pay an income tax when you earn income. And when you die – if you’ve been financially successful – and forgotten to hire really smart and expensive accountants – you may also pay a tax. So what else would you call that, if not a death tax?”

The short answer is, an “inheritance tax” or an “estate tax,” because that is what is actually taxed. Death is not taxed, nor do 99 American deaths (or more) out of 100. Luntz’ statement here ranks high among the most dishonest pieces of political gobbledygook ever - quite an achievement.

“Death tax” suggests that a tax will be imposed on anyone who dies. It does not.
That’s true most simply because the dead person isn’t around anymore to pay it – the heirs do.

This is also dishonest because it is actually so limited in scope.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out that “Only the estates of the wealthiest 0.2 percent of Americans — roughly 2 out of every 1,000 people who die — owe any estate tax.” And it’s not as though all of that inheritance is seized: “Among the few estates nationwide that owe any estate tax in 2017, the effective tax rate — that is, the share of the estate’s value paid in taxes — is less than 17 percent, on average, according to the Tax Policy Center.”

Luntz makes a passing feint at this with his reference to “financially successful,” but the fact is that if you’re not inheriting about $5.5 million, you don’t pay this tax at all. Are you not a millionaire? This tax does not apply to you. It applies only to the wealthy.

And even then, only in some cases. Note another of Luntz’ passing phases the one about “eally smart and expensive accountants.” Many people who would quality for paying the tax do not because they’ve apportioned their wealth in creative enough ways to avoiding it – and the tax code is larded with such loopholes.

The argument is often made about small businesses and especially farms that family members would like to pass on to children. Decades of desperate searches by anti-estate tax advocates have come up dry in finding instances. But then, these are areas where political compromises and levels can be had. The $5.5 million cutoff level, for example, is somewhat arbitrary, and efforts have already been made in the law to allow for keeping family businesses in the family. If need be, more can be done.

Some apologists for the tax like Walczak try to make the argument that the tax somehow constrains the economy. What it does is concentrate wealth into ever fewer hands, and concentrate it in the ranks of those who did nothing to generate it: The heirs are not business founders or economy expanders. There’s no social interest in pouring ever more money into their ranks. There’s a considerable social benefit to restraining it.

Is ticket splitting a mortal sin?


Back in the early 1960s, when I was studying political science at the University of Oregon, I first encountered the term “Yellow Dog Democrat.” These were southern Democrats who would vote for a yellow dog rather than a Republican. Since that time the parties in the south have switched positions, but my point is that the southern Democrats of yore were straight-ticket voters.

Although I voted pretty much along party lines during the seventies and eighties, I often saw candidates from the other party who had much more to offer than those from my own party. George Washington’s warnings against partisan politics started to make sense. I understood why my Mom, Eunice Jones, always said she voted for the person, not the party.

There are good people in both parties. That is certainly the case in the current election cycle. Lawrence Wasden, a Republican, is clearly the best choice for Attorney General, while Cindy Wilson, a Democrat, is absolutely tops for State Superintendent of Public Instruction. I voted early for both of them.

Lawrence has done an excellent job as Attorney General. He has given sound advice to the Governor and Legislature, but has withstood a great deal of criticism for not telling his party leaders what they wanted to hear on some legal issues. When his advice was disregarded, he was usually proven right by the courts.

He has stood up to the federal government on nuclear waste issues, insisting on nuclear waste being removed from Idaho as the Feds had promised and agreed in 1995. Without his steadfast leadership, the Nuclear Waste Settlement Agreement would likely have been set aside. Lawrence has exhibited courage and common sense in protecting the interests of our State and has merited another term of office.

Having grown up in the Republican Party and having carried its banner in five elections from 1978 to 1990, it feels a bit odd to be publicly announcing my vote for Cindy Wilson. But, I know that voting for her was the right thing to do for Idaho kids. She will be an enthusiastic advocate for our children and will make sure to prepare them for success in their future.

I was captivated by Cindy’s life story at a ceremony where she was recognized by Boise’s Concordia Law School as a State Leader in Education. I learned that it was just one of many honors she has received for her dedicated work in improving Idaho schools.

When I accepted Cindy’s invitation to speak to her six government classes at Capital High School, I understood why she is so highly regarded in the education community. The kids were aware of current issues, expressed views from all sides of the spectrum, and were enthused about the prospect of working together to tackle the difficult problems that we have dumped in their laps. It gave me renewed hope for the future.

Cindy is the kind of person we need to reinvigorate our schools and give our children the best chance of succeeding in life. I felt good about giving her my vote, thinking my mother was absolutely right about voting for the best person and not just the party.

Jim’s previous columns can be found at

It won’t be over


Historically, elections are supposed to settle things. Winners celebrate and get on with life. Losers pay the bills and put away their signs. Until next time. But, this one’s different.

This country has not experienced an election like this in my long lifetime. When it’s over, it won’t be over. Bitterness, tribalism, deep racial and social divisions will continue. In Congress and in our individual lives.

Trump’s not on the ballot, they say. But he is. The continual chaos he’s caused in our national governance is present in nearly every race. His gross, demeaning and lying conduct of his tenure can be found in all manner of places.

The most obvious, of course, will be the new balance of power in the Congress. A reconstituted Congress that’s bowed to his will for two years may - may - find a raised voice of authority with many new members. Still, we’ll see further divisions. Democrats seem headed to the majority in the House. But, the Senate will probably continue Republican dominance, though only by a vote or two. Gridlock.

Appropriations legislation, for instance, must start in the House. So, a Democrat majority will muscle through its figures and a GOP majority in the Senate will bury ‘em. Impeaching of the President, if such occurs, must start in the House. If such a move is successful, the Senate is where the subsequent trial takes place. Can you see McConnell allowing that to happen?

Also, in the House, win or lose, Speaker Ryan will be gone. If Republicans keep the majority, tell me who the next Speaker will be. No one can answer that. And GOP party leadership? There are no obvious candidates and the screwed up “Freedom Caucus” will fight anyone of moderate stripe. It’ll be a bloodbath whether the GOP is dominant or not.

Current Democrat leaders, Nancy Pelosi and Check Schumer, are sure to be challenged. Splits in the party which, heretofore have been lightly plastered over, will become deeper and more public. The present Dem caucus is fairly centrist. But, the left is likely to make some electoral gains which could shift the balance. There will be more women in the mix. New voices for change.

In state races, again, the presence of Trump and divisions are in both parties from coast-to-coast. The current Independent
Party governor of Alaska, for example, has quit his campaign, endorsing the Democrat saying the Republican is too extreme and his election would not be in the state’s “best interests.”

In several federal and states races, current officeholders - some charged with felonies or even convicted of felonies - are on ballots trying to get back to the public trough. Even some awaiting trial!

Arizona’s Senate race is a catfight and, whomever wins, the state loses. The qualifications bar has been set so low you’ve got to dig to find it. One says the other is “guilty of treason” and the other says her opponent “lies about everything.” Some choice.

Republicans in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, North Dakota and South Carolina are disenfranchising minority voters - literally - by the busload. Hundreds of thousands. Should their despicable efforts prevail, all residents of those states will pay millions of tax dollars in sure-to-come court challenges. Political and racial divisions will further divide and weaken state and local governments.

It’s fair to say that many national and state divisions existed pre-Trump. Some for generations. Even he can’t be blamed for every woe. But, it’s also fair to say he’s used sledgehammers - verbal, political and otherwise - to divide, split, inflame, vilify and reap chaos on this nation. The effects of his manic presidency can be found on the ballots in state after state.

Barring full impeachment, Trump will be around for two more years. He’ll continue to assault public institutions, relentlessly campaign for adoring crowds who haven’t discovered his inevitable self-destructive and amoral ways. He’ll continue his efforts to undermine the entire Federal judicial system. There’ll be more threats against people who oppose him. His ignorance of politics, history and governance won’t change. His in-your-face profiteering from his high office will continue.

No, this election won’t be over when it’s over. Voters may make some much-needed changes in the makeup of Congress. They may have their voices more clearly heard by a Congress that’s turned its back on overwhelming public choices on issues. We might even see a few converts among the re-elected miscreants.

Regardless of voter feelings and demands, November 7, 2018, will likely look a whole lot like November 5th. The only sense of satisfaction we may get from voting is that we tried to make ourselves heard and were successful in a few places.

But, it will be far from over.

Simple and beneficial

This is a guest opinion by Boise attorney David Leroy, responding to a recent column by Jim Jones about Idaho's Proposition 1.

As a former Idaho Attorney General and Lt. Governor, I am truly surprised at the misdirection and confusion which is being offered to oppose the Historical Horse Racing Initiative (Proposition One). For me, it is an easy "yes" vote.

The law would do nothing more than restart the process of allowing betting machines at live horse racing venues and a single, non-operational track that meet specific criteria, just as we had during the years 2014-2015, when a collapse of civilization did not take place.

A former Justice recently predicted that the Idaho Supreme Court could follow the logic of a Wyoming court to rule the initiative unconstitutional. The Wyoming decision is a moot point, because HHR terminals are legally operating in that state currently and the machines themselves are substantially different than when that court examined them. Furthermore, that now irrelevant conclusion ignores our own Idaho Constitution, specifically the language in Article III, Section 20, which allows "pari-mutuel betting if conducted in accordance with enabling legislation.” Already existing statutes permit any "exhibition" of horse racing at a location "where the pari-mutuel system of wagering is used."

Of course, a lawsuit may well be filed by one of the contending parties after the fact, but both the legislative history of the original act and a 2012 Idaho Attorney General's letter opinion predict that the track-based use of these pari-mutuel machines is likely to be held constitutional by the Idaho Supreme Court. Indeed, like many other states and courts, this week a Kentucky circuit court ruled once again that historical horse racing terminals were, in fact, pari-mutuel wagering based on the outcome of horse races, and thus constitutional, despite any appearances of a casino game.

Unfortunately, some newspaper’s editorials have not been as clear or instructive as their readers should expect about this "political" issue. For example, one editorial board last week suggested that citizens cast a "no" vote, because the measure is allegedly "complex and confusing." It is neither.

Simply put, Proposition One does the following:

1) Reestablishes the use of previously used and now familiar historical horse racing terminals, which are pari-mutuel in nature, meaning that bettors bet against other bettors in the pool, not against “The House.”

2) Co-locates the machines at horse racing tracks, and only at tracks, where they offer the potential to revive that industry and its related economics and employment,

3) If they remain as popular with the public as they once were, allows the devices to generate significant funding over time for Idaho schools,

4) Will not put any of ldaho's tribal casinos out of business, nor is it even likely to negatively affect their profit margins.

Politics in this day and age can be plenty confusing and conflicted. Almost every new, even well-intended public policy has trade-offs and unanticipated consequences. Historical horse racing for Idaho, however, is neither novel nor confusing. If voters pass the initiative, we will simply reauthorize a form of gaming which has been field tested without adverse consequences.

Certainly, many Idahoans may oppose gambling in any form and accordingly vote "no." That, too, is an honorable position, if taken on principle, for moral reasons or with a valid factual basis. But Idahoans should not be misled by the many untrue allegations or wild legal speculations swirling around Proposition One. As to me, for both history and horses, "YES" on Prop 1 makes sense.

David Leroy has previously served as Idaho’s Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor and currently practices law in Boise.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – October 29

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for October 22. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

We're at work trying to make the Briefing a free-access publication through contributions. See our donation site at IndieGogo.

As the trees turn around Idaho, and higher elevations prepare for consistent cooler weather, political candidates begin making their final pitches to voters. And Republicans hop on their biennial bus and travel around the state.

The Idaho Falls Residential Fiber Pilot Program is set to begin with a public meeting scheduled for October 23 at 6 p.m. at Taylorview Junior High School. Residents whose neighborhoods have been selected to participate in the pilot program have been identified and have received a letter from Idaho Falls Power and the Idaho Falls Fiber Network advising them of the date and time of the meeting.

State regulators have approved a rate adjustment that will lower natural gas rates for Avista customers. The change to the Fixed Cost Adjustment will decrease residential rates by 4.2 percent when it takes effect Nov. 1.

The Bureau of Reclamation and the Idaho Water Resource Board will host an open house on November 8,, to share early-stage information about a feasibility study for increasing water storage capacity within the Boise River system, particularly at Anderson Ranch Dam.

The Idaho Water Resource Board toured two fish-conservation projects in the Lemhi River Basin that restored water flows to Bohannon Creek and Big Timber Creek to allow Chinook salmon, steelhead and bull trout to spawn in those streams for the first time in nearly a century.

Boise State University’s overall fall enrollment has reached another new record of 25,540 students, an increase of 5.7 percent over last year.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the largest in the nation with jurisdiction over nine states and two territorial courts. With the State of Idaho as part of that circuit, its judges have influence over Western issues that affect Idahoans. Senator Mike Crapo, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on October 24 chaired a hearing on a slate of nominees, including two selected to serve as judges on the Ninth Circuit.

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little released the results of the Licensing Freedom Act— Executive Order 2017-06— which required state agencies who administer occupational licenses to provide reports to the Offices of Lt. Governor and Governor no later than July 1.

IMAGE High school students, their parents and college transfer students check out health science programs at the ISU-Meridian Health Science Experience Night and Pharmacy Open House Oct. 23. (photo/Idaho State University)

The day the border closed


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.

Medicaid adjustment


Last week I had coffee with an Idaho Democrat who ran for the legislature eight years ago. He recalled that back then, soon after passage of the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - he was warned by his party’s advisors not to raise the subject when out campaigning.

And that was good campaign advice, he said, finding that attitudes on the new law in many places were so harshly negative that he wouldn’t get a hearing.

Skip forward to 2018 and what is in many ways the top item - the one that will surely receive most national attention whatever the result - on the Idaho ballot: Proposition 2, the initiative to expand Medicaid.

There are no election results out yet. But this measure, which would bring in Idaho a key element of Obamacare which has been stoutly and steadily blocked by the state’s majority-elected officials for eight years, looks poised for passage.

Given Idaho’s history with the ACA, and that of the officials its voters have routinely re-elected over these years, the fact that the initiative even reached the ballot is remarkable. Idaho’s insurance marketplace (which has worked effectively) came into place only after a lot of angst. Skeptics had to wonder, when the activists started their extensive qualification efforts, whether they even would come close to a vote, not just because Idaho’s ballot-access rules have been ratcheted so tight but also because the state just seemed so reflexively anti-ACA.

But ballot status was gained, with a lot of effort but also as advocates found a lot of local support. Polling has shown strong support for the measure. Endorsements have come from some startling places. (Most interesting to me still is the sheriffs’ association, but notable backing has continued to emerge even last week.) The pro side financially has vastly outraised and outspent the opposition. People who a few years ago would have taken care to avoid the whole subject now sound confident it will pass, and pass easily.

In theory, this measure could have been proposed for the ballot in 2010 or 2012, but it wasn’t, and probably few people then would have expected it either could reach the ballot or pass if it did.

What changed?

There’s a significant question, because something evidently has. If voters do decisively reject Proposition 2 next month, that maybe a sign that not much is new. But if voters in Idaho (and possibly Nebraska and Utah as well, both similarly red states) approve it, then time has come for some serious thinking.

Maybe part of it was watching the Idaho insurance marketplace come into being and discovering that the health care world hadn’t collapsed, and did improve for a lot of people. Taken as individual pieces, the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as helping people with pre-existing conditions, mostly have been highly popular across most of the country. (The main consistent exception was the insurance purchase mandate.)

Another aspect may be the experience of other states where the reaction to Medicaid expansion has been positive. Except for Wyoming, every state surrounding both Idaho and Utah (nearly all of the western states) have approved the expansion, and none are reporting any big problems.

The costs of not expanding Medicaid have become ever clearer too. The support Idaho sheriffs have delivered for the proposal should be a powerful message, and in many smaller counties it may be. So may the message that expanding Medicaid could be just the financial tonic needed to keep many small rural hospitals, many of them struggling, afloat.

The results in another week or so will tell a lot. But Idahoans do seem to be looking at health care differently than they did only a few years ago, and that may carry a load of meaning in years to come.

Health care needs a backbone


I watched Brad Little and Paulette Jordan debate on a Boise TV channel. You could catch it online. It was clear to me Brad knows healthcare issues, but I’m detecting some bad symptoms in his approach. It’s a big issue, Idaho healthcare, and Brad will need some backbone, heck we all will, if we are going to get to work on it.

Here’s the first symptom: Brad can’t even say whether he thinks Prop 2, expanding Medicaid insurance is good or bad, just that he will “respect the will of the people”. That’s a sign of a politician wanting cover for doing something that might make some of his constituents unhappy. Expanding Medicaid coverage as Prop 2 will do is just one small step of many steps that will need to be taken. I have diagnosed a weak backbone. And I’m not a chiropractor.

But Brad does understand that the individual market on the Idaho Exchange is not functioning. He points to solutions to reduce premiums for young healthy small business people. His solutions carve up the marketplace, so people not expecting to get sick can pay less. Well, when they get really sick, they won’t have coverage. Brad’s OK turning the marketplace back into a roulette game by abandoning the requirement for “essential benefits”. If we (Idaho voters) aren’t all in this together, his plan will have us playing Russian roulette, not just the spinning casino wheel game.

Little has also embraced the plan to move really sick people with expensive diseases (advanced cancer, organ failure, systemic disease) out of the individual market and onto Medicaid. 90% of health care costs come from only 5% of the population. This sort of cost segregation in the health care pool has long been known to be an effective method to reduce costs. For private insurance companies, after they couldn’t exclude pre-existing conditions, the problems came in the numbers and the geography. If the model is to pool these high-cost folks from different insurance companies onto a government plan, managing more with more leverage, maybe there could be some savings.

Do you trust that the government will fund this program, good times or bad? Diseases don’t fluctuate with tax revenues. That sort of public commitment will take a very healthy backbone. Can Brad’s get stronger?

This last proposal clearly leads one to think of a single payer plan, so I’m surprised Brad Little and Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron are suggesting it. Maybe they think we won’t see the logical progression. If their goal is just to segregate the very sick, and they expect this model to hold fiscal water without a clear public commitment, they are being either short sighted or cruel. Knowing both these men well, I’m diagnosing nearsighted.

Brad Little’s nearsightedness and weak-spine on Idaho healthcare are correctable. What about his opponent, Paulette Jordan? She displays no understanding of the complex issues and is just trying to ride the populist wave of Prop 2. I’d much rather deal with a patient who wants to understand and work on their problems, than one that is oblivious of them.

Gaming initiative all over again


In the immortal words of that baseball great, Yogi Berra, the historical horse-racing initiative, Proposition One, is “deja vu all over again” for me.

In 1986, Idaho voters approved an initiative in the general election to establish a state lottery. As Idaho Attorney General, I had warned earlier in the year that a state lottery might violate Idaho’s constitutional prohibition against gambling.

A lawsuit was commenced by anti-gaming forces to invalidate the voter-approved lottery. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the Idaho Constitution’s strong prohibition against gambling did, indeed, prohibit a lottery and that legislation initiated by the voters could not amend the Constitution. So, the lottery failed.

However, lottery supporters were able to convince the Legislature to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the 1988 general election ballot to permit a state-run lottery. That amendment passed and resulted in the establishment of our present state lottery.

However, the strict prohibition against most other games of chance remains in the Constitution to this day. The Constitution “strictly” prohibits casino gambling, specifically including slot machines and “any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.”

This year, voters will have the opportunity to vote on Proposition One, which would approve a form of gaming on “historical horse race terminals.” Proponents contend that this is merely “pari-mutuel betting” which is permitted by the Constitution. Opponents say that the terminals are prohibited slot machines because no real horses are involved and there are no other attributes of traditional horse racing.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reviewed the initiative and pointed out that the Wyoming Supreme Court struck down a similar horse-racing scheme in 2006. In doing so, that Court said, “we are dealing with a slot machine that attempts to mimic traditional pari-mutuel wagering. Although it may be a good try, we are not so easily beguiled.” The Wyoming Legislature passed legislation in 2013 permitting this kind of gaming, provided that the “outcome is not completely controlled by chance alone,” and it is currently being conducted there. That does not necessarily detract from the reasoning in the Wyoming Supreme Court’s decision.

In his review, Attorney General Wasden did not render a hard-and-fast opinion as to the constitutionality of Proposition One under Idaho law. He did indicate that it would likely face a legal challenge if approved by the voters. Opponents of the initiative have vowed a court challenge if it is approved, just as the lottery opponents did in 1986.

Although I have absolutely no inside information as to how our present Supreme Court would rule on the constitutionality of the historical horse-racing plan, I think the smart money would be on a holding similar to the Wyoming Supreme Court. Idaho courts have generally taken a strict approach toward gaming activities.

Where the action is confined to a machine and there are no horses, no turf, no jockeys, no betting pool for each race and none of the other things that make a horse race exciting, it is likely that the plan will fade in the stretch just like those nags I occasionally bet upon in the distant past. An unfavorable court ruling would put everyone back on square one.

Jim Jones’ past columns can be found at