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Posts published in November 2018

Red, blue and purple


What’s a red state, or county, or city for that matter? What qualifies as blue? What’s purple?

The lines are not as perfectly clear as we sometimes like to think. The point came back to me with an email from a Democrat in Valley County, who took issue with a characterization I made of his county.

Noting that Valley voters backed Proposition 2 (Medicaid expansion) 67.3 percent, I went on to describe the place as “strongly Republican.” My correspondent countered that Valley is not “very red” and “I would say is a purple county.” In support of that, he cited a Democrat elected to the three-member county commission, and that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan received 46.97 percent of the vote in the general election. These might be indications Valley is gradually moving toward a less-red hue.

But consider a few other factors.

Democrat Dave Bingaman did win a commission seat, with 46.2 percent of the vote (an independent got some of the rest, denying anyone a majority). But Bingaman was the only county-level Democrat on the ballot. Assessor, clerk, treasurer, coroner and another commission seat all went to Republicans without a contest. That’s not an indicator of a purple county.

Republican congressional candidate Russ Fulcher won Valley 51.2 percent to 41.7 percent, and with one exception (superintendent of public instruction) Republicans won there for all the statewide offices. And for all three state legislative seats (though in one of them the Republican margin in Valley was held to a thin 52.5 percent). Two years ago in 2016, Republicans won all the county and legislative races, most of them uncontested by Democrats. Donald Trump won Valley County with 54.3 percent of the vote - not a close call.

So, with all respect, I’ll stick with the characterization of Valley as a Republican county.

But, a qualification is called for, even in Valley County’s case.

At what point might we say a county is blue or red turf? I’ll suggest: When it routinely and ordinarily (not necessarily always) votes for candidates of one party. It shades purple when these outcomes get hard to predict regularly.

By that standard, there’s one blue Idaho county: Blaine, because of the deep blue vote based in the Wood River Valley.

A few others are more competitive. Consider Teton County, purplish tingeing toward blue. Trump won there in 2016, but by all of eight votes; Republicans won that year for U.S. Senate and U.S. House as well. This year, however, Democrats swept Teton, winning for all of the contested statewide and most of the county offices. Teton has elected local officials from both parties in contested races in recent years; no one should take it for granted. That’s purple.

What about Ada County? While Boise City is blue - look at the legislative delegation there, and the vote percentages Democrats have been getting there - the rest of the county has been red enough routinely to tip Ada Republican. In 2016 Trump won decisively in Ada, as did three Republicans for congressional offices. The 2018 results were far more competitive: Democrats won for governor, lieutenant governor, superintendent of public instruction and lost for secretary of state and attorney general. They won two county commission seats and coroner, lost for clerk and treasurer. The county’s legislative seats split 13 Republican (pending one recount) and 14 Democratic. The two congressional districts in the county went in opposite directions. On the basis of 2018 Ada looks purple. What will 2020 show?

So, Valley County? The growing parts of the county (like McCall) seem to be moving in a purple direction. Possibly one reason Democrats haven’t fared better there is that they have fielded so few candidates locally. Put up a few more, and that purplish tinge might in fact start to grow. Let’s see what it looks like in another couple of years.

Humbly thankful


The turkey and dressing leftovers may be gone but the time for thankfulness is not over. It’s a blessed day in Idaho when the sun sets westward and we draw comfort that it will rise again.

Such blessings are symbolized annually by the gathering of our elected representatives in the darkest months at our state’s capital. We are comforted that come spring, the trees will bud, grass will sprout, snowmelt will fill the rivers, fawns are born, but most blessed of all, the lawmaking will cease and our elected representatives can return home where they can do us no more harm.

Each season bears its tasks, and meaningful tasks deserve our thanks. Spring for planting, summer the weeding and watering, fall the harvest and winter for bearing up under the burdens of the long dark legislative session. What solution will some yahoo propose to make our children want to learn? He surely knows education best; he won an election! What fiasco will be proposed to make more water available, when most of our senior legislators have trouble making their own water pass? What tax scheme will come forward that enriches the rich and pulverizes the poor, but for sure shrinks government to suit the Idaho Freedom Foundation? We should not spend our winters under such a thankless burden. I suggest instead we pursue more meaningful winter tasks, like taking a long walk and giving thanks for the icy footing and chill wind in our face.

This particular season I give thanks that Idaho citizens had the initiative to tell their lawmakers what to do. We elect these people, but thankfully, sometimes we get to tell them when we think they are getting it wrong. A few years back we were able to signal clearly to the legislature that their Luna Laws were poppycock. The laws were hatched in secret by an arrogant Tom Luna, recently reelected Superintendent of Public Instruction, who made no mention of this idea just months before in his campaign. The legislature passed these education reform laws despite overwhelming public testimony in opposition. Well, the referendum to repeal the laws passed with a wide margin. Governor Otter took the hint and then set up a work group to make recommendations. When arrogance and hubris fail, I guess open and broad discussions around a difficult topic can provide direction. Lesson learned?

This year the electorate sent a clear message to our leaders too: expand Medicaid health insurance eligibility to the working poor in Idaho. This was in the face of many legislator’s strong opposition or more often, silence but definite inaction on the issue for the last 6 years. I am thankful we had the opportunity. I will be even more thankful when the legislature decides to listen.

For what is being thankful if it is not humility? None of us gets everything right all the time. Admitting to being wrong is not a show of weakness or ineptitude. And such an admission is no guarantee one won’t be wrong or inept once again. But not admitting to one’s mistakes, not reflecting humbly on past actions is arrogance. And arrogance is a guarantee for future mistakes.

I hear the legislature has expanded its “civility” training for this year. I hope somewhere in those lessons there might be some time for them to be humbly thankful for the opportunity they have to represent us in state government. It is very tempting, once one is anointed by 50.1% of the voters to think you have all the answers. Be thankful; be humble.

Which Brad Little did Idaho elect?


There was a time when I thought highly of Brad Little, but that was some time ago. In recent years and, especially during the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, Brad disappointed those of us who have long thought of him as Butch with less charisma, but a much better brain.

Most discomforting were his broadsides at "illegals," a term I abhor, and his utter unwillingness to take a stand on the most important issue facing the state - health care, specifically implementation of Prop 2. Moreover, his commercials promoting “traditional marriage” were offensive in their appeal to increasingly obsolete prejudice.

Now, having been elected to the state's top job, Little can step out of Otter's Stetson-topped shadow and be his own person. We will see what he's truly made of. Will he be more open-minded and less ideological like the Little of old, or will he tack to the right and cater to the more extreme elements of his base as he did in the campaign?

In a recent interview, Little suggested that - in looking to fill his cabinet - he might appoint a Democrat or two. If Little isn't just musing aloud and actually follows through, he would be taking a page from an excellent book on statesmanship, one written by former governor Cecil D. Andrus. “Cece” didn’t hesitate to recognize talent outside his own party, and he built bridges with many Republicans that lasted a lifetime.

The governor-elect would do well to follow the Andrus model. I found a ray of hope in Little’s comment: “Last time I checked I’m governor of the whole state of Idaho and even Democrats count.” That statement would read better if he had dropped the "even," but at least there was a glimmer of recognition that members of the minority party are also Idahoans and merit a place at the table.

Little won his party's nomination against two formidable opponents by a relatively small margin. We'll never know how many Democrats registered as Republicans to vote for Little in the GOP primary, but if my facebook news feed is any indication, the answer is “quite a few.”

I was not among these because, for me, registering - however briefly - as a Republican would have been a lie. I couldn't associate myself, even for a nanosecond, with the party of Trump. But I understand the impetus of those who did. They saw Little as by far the most reasonable choice in the GOP field and, assuming (correctly) that the Republican nominee would go on to become governor, opted for the candidate they thought likely to do the least harm.

As Little assembles his transition team and begins the process of naming appointees to key positions in state government, he would do well to reach out to some of those Democrats who helped him win the GOP intramural contest. Idaho has had enough partisanship. Real leadership is inclusive and requires at least some amount of bipartisanship. Here's hoping our new governor rises to the occasion.

Why how you do it matters


For all the many ways Oregon has organized itself governmentally in better and more advanced ways - mail voting, for example - ahead of lots of other states, it remains behind the curve in one important respect: Redistricting.

Legislative and congressional reapportionment is still done in Oregon by the state legislature - the old-fashioned, partisan and messy way. Three of the states around Oregon - California, Idaho and Washington - offloaded the job to redistricting commissions, set up to give the parties balance and avoid the prospect of a gerrymandered map being shoved down the throat of a minority, something that has happened (as we know) in a number of states.

The situation in Oregon has not been quite that unhappy, yet. In 2011 the legislature completed a redistricting map which passed with a strong bipartisan vote. That happened in large part because the districts were drawn so that incumbents of both parties would be relatively protected, so few lawmakers had much basis for personal grievance. It worked, politically, but the map was far from optimal on any basis other than incumbent protection. And it probably was an improvement over a decade earlier when the legislature did not get a map passed into law and the map was drawn by a court.

The commission approach, simply, is better. But how a commission works is important.

One approach, a proposed statewide ballot issue, is being floated by Kevin Mannix, a Republican and a former legislator and candidate for governor. It would set up a redistricting commission made up of 11 members. Fine so far, but there's a catch: The members would be chosen by county commissioners, who would get to fill seats based in part on whether the local commission is partisan or not - and that varies among the counties.

It also would have two other effects. It would give tremendous clout, well in excess of their actual population, to the rural counties, which much outnumber the urban. It also would have a clear effective partisan effect: There are a lot more Republican counties in Oregon than urban; in most elections elections, Democrats win because they sweep a relative handful of the largest counties. The Mannix proposal would turn that situation on its head. (It also would affect only legislative, not congressional, remapping.)

You probably can figure his proposal won't fare well at the polls.

There's another proposal out there too, backed by the League of Women Voters. The one - which the group plans to submit to the legislature for action there - would try creating a relatively neutral commission selection process. They would be, as one news story said, "applicants would be screened for conflicts of interest and randomly selected," and be chosen from a pool of politically uninvolved people.

Hmm. While the idea of redistricting sheltered from political self-dealing has some appeal, so does the idea of redistricting done by a group of people who know what they're doing. Anyone who really has no opinion about how such a map should look may be someone who doesn't know much about the state or state politics, and that's probably not a great place to start either.

Most state redistricting commissions start with the presumption that maps will favor this side or that in various places, but also with the assumption that the advantages can be balanced out if you have a balance of power, a commission split deeply enough between the parties, and maybe with some outside interests thrown in, that the overall result will be roughly fair. That approach has more or less worked in Washington, Idaho and California, which have had experienced political hands from both parties involved in the process but also, under the rules, forced to more or less compromise.

It's not perfect, and can be a little messy and argumentative at times, but it does get the job done in a sensible way that doesn;t put too many people at too much disadvantage.

And that may just be good enough.

Legal vs illegal


“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What in Hell has happened to us? Who and what have we become?

In the two days since the tear gassing of South American asylum-seekers at our southern border, I’ve tried to find the facts and have deliberately listened to people condemning or supporting the act.

The basic facts seem to be these. The asylum-seekers were massed on the Mexican side. Yes, some broke and ran toward the border fencing and some tried to climb the steel walls. Yes, about 30 were nearly successful getting almost on American soil. Yes, there was some rock-throwing and, yes, several border officers -wearing riot gear and carrying large shields - were hit. None were seriously hurt. Several of their vehicles had some rock damage. Fixable.

Tear gas canisters were fired and/or thrown into Mexico, over the fence and the steel wall. Several hundred asylum-seekers fled. Some were burned by the exploding cans. Some fell to the ground with uncontrollable coughing and choking. All got a heavy dose of gas. Including babies in mother’s arms.

While some can quibble about this or that, those seem to be the basic facts. Which prompts these questions. Who, with a severe case of excess testosterone, gave the order to “fire?” What damned fools, equipped with body armor, full shields and many with sidearms, felt so endangered by unarmed civilians they had to indiscriminately launch tear gas? Why weren’t one or two canisters enough? Why nearly a dozen or so? Why couldn’t those canisters have been fired on the ground and not into the crowd - which they were? Why the border patrol over-reaction as if it were a life-or-death situation?

This is not “Tuesday morning quarter-backing.” I’ve covered marches of 200,000 or more unarmed protesters in which dozens of tear gas canisters were used by armed officers. I’ve been run down and gassed by mounted cops while wearing a large orange press tag and carrying a microphone. That tag made a damned good target.

I participated in tear gas training in the military. Got a severe arm burn. My eyes watered and I coughed for days afterward. Had to burn my fatigues. I’m very familiar with the crowd-control “weapon of choice.”

But, back to the border. We fired projectiles into a sovereign nation. Turn the situation on its head. Suppose a large group of unarmed Americans was marching South from San Diego and tried to force its way into Mexico. From their side of the border, Mexican police fired tear gas into the United States. What would be your reaction? Would you be angry? Would you think of it as an attack? I would.

Cops of all varieties are trained. And retrained. Most receive excellent training. They’ve been equipped with required weaponry. They practice everything from shooting accuracy to crowd control to domestic violence calls. They’re allowed to match various levels of force with increased force as a situation escalates. They know what to do. And when.

I listened to a border patrol officer say he was “following orders” after tear gas was indiscriminately fired into a crowd that included women and children. Babies. Some in wheelchairs. Some seniors. All unarmed. “Following orders.” Last time I heard that was at the Nuremberg trials after World War II. We rejected that argument then and have all these years since. No one is forced to follow an unlawful order.

I don’t know who ordered the forceful repelling. But, I do know who put those law enforcement officers into that awful situation. One Donald J. Trump. Maybe the commander on-site didn’t stop to think whether he was following a “lawful order.” Maybe he thought, “If our orders come from the President, they’re to be obeyed.” Who knows?

Our nation of immigrants and asylum-seekers was created by people seeking a better life, fleeing persecution or who had reason to fear for their lives and those of their families. The latter reason is what’s caused this confrontation. Check the on-line English language newspapers of Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras. Look at the conditions there. Learn of dictatorships, military control, the political dangers from which these asylum-seekers are fleeing. See for yourself.

The Geneva Convention, adopted internationally in the late 1940's and to which our nation is a signatory, guarantees the right of asylum-seekers to have their cases heard and adjudged. What Trump has done, by his flagrant ignorance of such issues, is short-circuit the legal rights of the people at our border and denied them asylum hearings. These are not migrants - illegal or otherwise. These are people asking this country to observe international laws and their rights. They are guaranteed entry until a court decides the validity of their claims.

This is not the time to argue legal or illegal immigrants. Pure B.S.. That doesn’t apply here. Trump, national media and right-wing fear-mongers to the contrary. The facts are plain. The laws are clear. Which means, by his sick, habitual, serial lying, Trump has made this nation a violator of international law.

And that means his order to repel that crowd in Mexico is not lawful. It should be ignored. Under the Geneva Convention, we are required to allow safe passage, support the needs of these people until they are given their rightful - and guaranteed - day in court. If their claim is upheld, we need to help them in any humanitarian way possible. If the claim is denied, send them back. If there are illegals, send ‘em home.

If we can’t do that, we might as well take that torch off the statue in New York harbor and send it back to France.

Thanks for those in the Great War


The furor has died down over the President’s failure to attend a ceremony at Belleau Wood on November 10 to honor Americans who fought for us in World War One. But we should know about and never forget those brave souls. The President reportedly blamed his staff for failing to tell him that skipping the ceremony would be a public relations disaster. That’s probably because, like most of us, he did not know the significance of the desperate battle at Belleau Wood.

When the Russians surrendered in March of 1918, the Germans shifted almost 50 divisions to the Western Front in hopes of scoring a knock-out blow against allied forces before American troops were fully deployed. On June 1, the Germans attacked in the vicinity of Belleau Wood, which is about 50 miles northeast of Paris, with the objective of breaking through to the French capital city and winning the war.

A brigade of U.S. Marines stood in their way and after 26 days of savage fighting the Marines expelled the German forces from Belleau Wood, stopping their advance. At the start of the engagement, the Marines were repeatedly urged to withdraw. In refusing to pull back, a Marine commander responded, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”

The Germans deployed massive artillery and machine gun fire against the Marines, as well as plenty of poison gas. The Marines attacked 6 times and held off a number of counter attacks. When it was over there were 9,777 American casualties, including 1,811 dead. Heroism was on common display throughout the battle.

Lieutenant Orlando Petty, a Navy surgeon, earned the Medal of Honor for continuing to care for the wounded even when his dressing station came under heavy fire. When the station was destroyed, he carried a wounded officer to safety.

Gunnery Sergeant Ernest Janson earned two Medals of Honor--one from the Army and another from the Navy--for single-handedly attacking and dispatching 12 enemy soldiers who were trying to set up machine gun emplacements.

Gunnery Sergeant Fred Stockham earned the Medal of Honor for giving his gas mask to a wounded comrade whose mask had been shot away during a poison gas attack. Sergeant Stockham was fully exposed to the poison gas and died of its horrendous effects several days later.

Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Weedon Osborne, a Navy dentist, earned the Medal of Honor for his bravery early in the fight. He died while trying to rescue a wounded officer.

The Battle of Belleau Wood was a big deal. It helped to stop the German advance and bring about an eventual end to the war. It caused our military to rethink battlefield tactics in the face of modern weaponry. It demonstrated the willingness of America’s service personnel to give their last full measure on behalf of their country.

The heroic actions at Belleau Wood were emblematic of the bravery of American forces across the Western Front. A total of 121 Medals of Honor were awarded during WW1—92 for the Army, 21 for the Navy and 8 for the Marines. And, a total of 116,516 U.S. troops died for their fellow citizens in that ghastly war.

As we gather with family and friends on Thanksgiving to celebrate the wonderful blessings bestowed on us by this remarkable country, let’s think of the American service personnel who have made it possible. Use the opportunity to thank and honor America’s finest, including the 2,289 fallen members of the Army and Marines interred in Aisne-Marne Cemetery at Belleau Wood and the many other WW1 veterans who honorably fought to protect our freedoms.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – November 26

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for November 26. 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.

Idaho had a quiet Thanksgiving week as winter began to move in and drop white covering some higher-elevation areas, especially in eastern Idaho. Legislators were preparing for their organizational session coming up early in December.

Tamarack Resort Holdings, a partnership of investors and managers with decades of development and operations experience at premier resort properties across North America, has entered into an agreement to purchase all of the Tamarack Resort operations and key assets in Donnelly.

The Bureau of Reclamation is proposing to perform maintenance on and rehabilitation of components of the spillway at American Falls Dam, which is located in Power County in the town of American Falls.

The Bureau of Land Management Idaho Falls District and Caribou-Targhee National Forest released a draft environmental impact statement on November 23 analyzing different alternatives for the proposed Dairy Syncline Mine, east of Soda Springs.

Senators Mike Crapo, Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jim Risch and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) on November 19 urged federal officials to reauthorize citizen committees that provide key advice for important natural resources work in national forests.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reported that an eastern Idaho woman was sentenced November 16, on a felony count of misusing public moneys.

Several State Board of Education officials have expressed concerns with a software company that appears poised to receive a statewide contract for teacher evaluations. An Idaho Education News review of more than 200 pages of emails and other state public records revealed a series of disagreements between the State Board of Education, the Department of Administration and Governor Butch Otter’s office over a $1 million state earmark to purchase software to assist school districts with teacher evaluations.

A research paper that uses data collected by lidar imaging to better measure snowpacks in Western U.S. mountains by former Idaho State University geosciences graduate student Chris Tennant has received a 2017 Editor’s Choice Award by the journal Water Resources Research.

The Idaho State University Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work Program recently achieved reaffirmation of accreditation from the Council of Social Work Education.

IMAGE Idaho State University researcher Chris Tennant researches snowpack levels around the western states. Here, he is engaged in field work. (image/Idaho State University)

The mythical Saudi ‘special relationship’


On June 9, 1979 Molly Ivins, the brilliant and still widely mourned reporter – she had a rare knack for simultaneously turning a phrase and twisting a knife with her journalism – had a Idaho datelined story in the New York Times.

“Confrontation over Mideast Policies Apparently Taking Shape in Idaho ’80 Race for Senate,” was the headline over Ivins story where she explored the fallout from a speech then-Senator Frank Church had given that was deemed to be highly critical of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Church, then chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, actually had criticized both the Carter Administration and the Saudi’s in his widely reported speech for undercutting efforts for a comprehensive Mideast peace. The U.S. was “pinning our policy to false assumptions,” Church said, much as the U.S. had placed a losing bet on the “a rotting regime” in Iran when for decades presidents of both parties made apologies for the Shah.

Church, predictably, was accused of undermining a vital strategic relationship when he criticized the Saudi regime, which was then as now, an often violent and repressive dictatorship. But the Idahoan did it anyway, taking on both a president of his own party and Idaho economic interests. The Boise-based construction firm Morrison-Knudsen had a huge contract in 1979 to build a new city in Saudi Arabia and Church’s eventual 1980 opponent, Steve Symms, was calling for accommodation with the region’s dictators in the interest of selling both American weapons and Idaho wheat.

Some things never change.

Amid the broad international condemnation of the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a gruesome, barbarous hit almost certainly ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman – MBS to his “friends” – the current president can only focus on what Time magazine calls a “cold financial calculation: Saudi money for U.S.-made weaponry” that results in American jobs. Or as Donald Trump put it recently, “I don’t like the concept of stopping an investment of $110 billion into the United States.”

It is a brutal and cynical calculation and, like so many other “myths” which have long been the foundation of American foreign policy, it will be self-defeating. Frank Church knew that 40 years ago, Trump and his congressional enablers never will.

The Saudi-U.S. relationship is a veritable case study of how money, influence and delusion come together in Washington, D.C. The Washington Post recently outlined how the “sophisticated Saudi influence machine” has lavished millions on lobbyists, consultants, law firms and think tanks in order to prop up the myth that the Saudi dictatorship is a vital U.S. ally. The kingdom spent more than $27 million on such influence buying last year.

Robert Kagan, a veteran of the George W. Bush State Department and now a foreign policy analyst at the Brookings Institution, has argued that America has long harbored a fantasy about “reforming” dictators like MBS. Fanciful as it now seems, some Americans once thought Mussolini or the Shah of Iran would “reform” and we placed naïve bets on such fiction.

“Today, the Saudi crown prince’s U.S. supporters are asking how he could have been so foolish if he, as it appears, ordered the murder of Khashoggi,” Kagan wrote recently. “But who are the fools here? Dictators do what dictators do. We are the ones living in a self-serving fantasy of our own devising, and one that may ultimately come back to bite us.”

Which brings us to the Idaho politician currently in a position to influence U.S. policy toward Saudi Arabia. You might be excused for forgetting that Senator Jim Risch, the Idaho Republican, has such power. But the man who will almost certainly be the next chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee hasn’t, near as I can tell, spoken a syllable about the Saudis. No statement of concern or condemnation over the Khashoggi murder. No thought or threat about sanctions. Risch, who never tired of slamming one aspect or another of Barack Obama’s foreign policy, is now a sphinx as a feckless president makes excuses for the inexcusable.

Some argue, and perhaps Risch believes this too, that American interests are served well enough by the Saudi regime’s effort to create “stability” in the Middle East, while using our weapons and help to churn up more chaos in Syria, Yemen, Egypt and elsewhere.

The real Saudi objective and the overriding objective of every despot – this has been the case since Franklin Roosevelt’s historic tete-a-tete with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud in 1945 – is the preservation of the wealth and power of the ruling monarchy.

When Frank Church called out the Saudis in 1979 he was at the height of his influence and he used his platform to try to redirect U.S. policy. As his biographers LeRoy Ashby and Rod Gramer have noted Church “thought it was time for somebody with some stature in American politics to speak plainly to the Saudis.”

It’s well past time for that to happen again. If only there were a courageous Idahoan in a position of authority in the Senate. But guts and the perspective to take on a woefully ignorant president and a Washington influence machine in the service of a corrupt foreign government is not something you’ll find in Jim Risch.

More jobs, but more pay?


Basic economic supply and demand theory suggests this: When supply of something (potatoes, say) is large, prices per item tend to fall, and when supply is low, demand for the scarcer goods will tend to drive up prices.

That economic theory ought to have the effect, in recent times, of driving wages high in Idaho.

Unemployment is low. A normal level of “full employment” where just about everyone who wants a job can get one, allowing for people in between jobs or who need to reduce their hours for some reason, is at about four percent “unemployment.” (I use the quotes because the word is something of a term of art.) Idaho’s unemployment, or jobless, rate, has crashed through the floor and is down in the cellar. For 14 consecutive months, it has been at or below three percent. Ostensibly this is a good thing. However...

I’m not sure we even understand exactly what that means. We know that Idaho’s work force has not been increasing much (the reasons for that might be interesting to explore further, since so many jobs are available in the state), and there’s some stress among a number of employers in finding enough employees.

Theoretically, that should put workers in a terrific bargaining position, much better than normal. Economic theory says pay should be going up considerably, and since Idaho is one of the leading states for low jobless rates, that ought to be happening a lot in the Gem State.

It isn’t. Here’s a summary from a new report by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy: “While the average American has seen their inflation-adjusted wages increase by more than 21 percent over the last four decades, Idaho wages have gone up only 1.6 percent – representing a potential inflation-adjusted earnings difference of nearly $408,000 over the course of a career. In 1977 the difference between the average American wage and the average wage in Idaho was $4,950 annually and in 2017 the difference was $14,018 - an increase of 283 percent.”

Overall, Idaho does have a lower cost of living than many other states. But it’s unevenly distributed. If you live in a small town well away from any of the urban areas, your cost of, for example, housing may be relatively low. But the often high cost of living in Boise is not so different, in many ways, than the cost of living in many other metro areas around the country.

Why is the Idaho wage lower than those in most states? The ICFP report suggests this: “Idaho’s trailing wages are likely driven by the increasing difference between Idaho’s postsecondary degree attainment and the nation’s. In 1940, the share of Idahoans over 25 years old with a bachelor’s degree was 4.5 percent, compared to 4.6 percent nationally. Last year, the share of Idahoans over 25 with a bachelor’s degree was 26.8 percent, compared to 32 percent nationally.”

Idaho state government has for years had a goal of 60 percent of Idaho young adults (age 25 to 34) holding a college degree, but recent reports have pegged the actual number, for three years in a row, at 42 percent - unchanging.

This does sound like one reasonable suspect, though maybe explaining more the kind of jobs that grow in Idaho than their overall number or wage rate. Probably the reasons behind the slower wage rate increase in Idaho are numerous and complex.

But as Idaho’s next crop of elected officials prepare to take office, they probably should spend a little time considering them.