And welcome to 2024.
We're planning to add a few features this year. So keep checking in.
And welcome to 2024.
We're planning to add a few features this year. So keep checking in.
This is a guest opinion from Mary Souza, who served in the Idaho Senate for 8 years, retiring last year. If you are concerned about outside influences controlling your legislators, please share this column with friends. Email: MarySouzaUnfiltered@gmail.com Free Newsletter sign up go to Facebook @ MarySouza-Uncanceled and Unfiltered
During my 8 years serving in the Idaho Senate, I was incredibly impressed with the respectful nature of the Senate’s legislative process. Decades of tradition insured thoughtful decorum so ideas could be debated, often vigorously, but without personal attacks. After coming from the “blood sport” politics of North Idaho back then, I was relieved to find such rational behavior among my peers in the Senate and appreciated it throughout my time representing CdA.
But now with the new batch of legislators, the whole atmosphere in our state’s capitol has degraded. Some seasoned legislators call it “the death of decorum”, and others tell me they are suffering from PTSD after just one session with some of the new crew.
Many of the problematic newbies are close associates of Idaho Freedom Foundation, Citizen’s Alliance of Idaho, and some of the rogue central committees like ours here in Kootenai County. Are they purposefully trying to break our system of governance?
I’m very aware that Brent Regan, chair of the KCRCC, and others in his power group, are students of Saul Alinsky, the 1940s community organizer idolized by both Obama and Hillary. One of Alinsky’s most potent lessons is “disrupt the system." To demonstrate this lesson, he famously considered giving a group of low income volunteers big bowls of beans to eat before paying their way into an elite symphony concert. You can imagine what would have happened. Yes, they would have disrupted the system.
Is that what the IFF/KCRCC new legislators are trying to do? I hope not because our system was very good. Everyone could feel safe expressing the views of their district on any bill. We have 35 districts in Idaho and each has its own priorities. It is essential to maintain a level of respect and decorum so ideas and information from all parts of our state can be shared openly.
Last month, the ProTem of the Senate, who is “The Boss”, finally ran out of patience. He sent letters to three of the new Senators: Scott Herndon from Bonner County, Brian Lenny from Nampa, and Glenneda Zulderveld from Twin Falls. They were warned about their behavior and Lenney and Zulderveld were removed as Vice Chairs of committees, although they were all allowed to stay as members of the committees. (Herndon was not a Vice Chair)
I have a copy of all the letters. The Pro Tem wrote to Sen. Lenney: “It has been brought to my attention that on countless occasions you have aggressively attacked, disparaged, and degraded fellow members of the Senate, members of Senate leadership, and members of the general public. Further, you have continually disrespected and harmed the legislative process by violating the rules governing decorum. Although we expect Senators to advocate zealously on behalf of their constituents, Senators must do so in a manner that protects the integrity of the process and ensures the people’s business may be done in an efficient and effective manner.”
Senator Zulderveld’s letter was very similar, also stating “…you recently posted an article written by you that openly attacked the integrity of your fellow members of the Idaho Senate…degrading and disrespectful of our colleagues.”
And Senator Herndon’s letter said, “…you posted an article degrading and disparaging every Senate member serving on JFAC…Members of JFAC are tasked with setting the budget for the entire state, which requires countless hours…Your statements are unnecessary and inexcusable.”The Pro Tem also questioned Herndon’s work ethic and the very few budgets he had worked in committee. On the FreedomBros podcast (below), Herndon was outraged by this. He brags that he “carried” 5 budgets on the Senate floor, which does not mean he actually worked on them. Don’t be fooled. I served on JFAC, there are a huge number of budgets to review line by line, with working lunches and early mornings. It’s exhausting. Herndon didn’t do much, and presenting 5 budgets on the floor of the Senate is embarrassingly low.
So, upon receiving these letters, what did the Senators in question do? They went on social media and attacked the Pro Tem. I forced myself to watch a podcast called “Freedom Bros”hosted by Dustin Hurst, former IFF staff. All three of the Senators were there, and after a great deal of personal chit chat, they finally got to the issue of the letters. Herndon and Lenney were the most outraged. They claimed the Pro Tem of the Senate does NOT have the right to discipline them or remove them from their Vice Chair positions.
They are wrong.
It is true that every Senator is elected by the voters of their districts. But during the organizational session before the legislature starts, all of the members of the Senate, including the Democrats, vote to elect a Pro Tem, and also vote to adopt the Rules of the Senate (that’s Rule 5), I’m looking at my copy of those rules right now. In Rule 19 it says the committee assignments shall be made under the direction of the Pro Tem. Further, Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure, which rules most legislatures in our country including ours, states on page 394, “A legislative body has the right to regulate the conduct of its members and may discipline a member as it deems appropriate, including reprimand, censure or expulsion.”
So, good readers, there’s a wise saying about behavior that perhaps our rogue Senators should keep in mind: “Disrespect will close doors that apologies cannot open.”
I know that you, as voters, expect our Idaho government to operate in an organized, effective manner to make sure YOUR priorities are respectfully, thoughtfully, debated and passed into law if approved. You deserve it, so don’t be fooled by bluster of those demeaning others then posing for the spotlight. Please vote carefully.
The day to give thanks has arrived once again. Have a good day as the holiday season begins.
A guest essay from Nelia Omelchenko, a 16-year-old exchange student from Sumy, Ukraine, just across the border from Russia. She arrived in Oregon in August to spend a year at Polk County’s Kings Valley Charter School. In her native land, her life has been disrupted the last two years by a full-scale Russian invasion, marked by missile and drone attacks. A budding journalist, she drew on a wartime diary she’s been keeping for this article. This article (and some of the above paragraph) first appeared in the McMinnville (Oregon) News-Register on October 6.
Nights with air raids, days with power cuts. Classes in basements, soldiers in the street.
Those were just some of the changes we felt in Ukraine, amid the sorrow and destruction of a full-scale Russian invasion that engulfed us in war.
I’m Nelia, a 16-year-old FLEX exchange student from Ukraine, who came here in August for a year-long stay arranged through ASSE International. And I’d like to describe for you how our typical day was running back home.
Mornings usually start with checking to see whether you have electricity.
Last winter, we suffered massive power cuts in Ukraine. For a certain period of time, we only had about two hours of electricity per day in my home Sumy region.
Our last power cut came in the spring, as everything has now been repaired. But the habit of making sure to turn off the light on time still persists for the majority of us.
Upon waking up, we were having to count how many hours we needed to cook, clean and study, versus things that are possible, at least theoretically, without electricity.
That kind of time management is tough. Hopefully, we won’t need to do that from now on.
Just as people all around the world learned to keep masks in every pocket during the pandemic, Ukrainians have learned to carry flashlights with them, and sometimes have extra generators at home.
Then it’s time to go to school. There’s a high possibility of meeting many defenders.
The city that I describe is Sumy. It lies in the northeastern part of the country, which shares 350 miles of border with Russia.
Sumy is not a battlefield itself, though proximity to Russia makes its outskirts prone to frequent attacks.
Badly injured soldiers and destroyed civilian buildings never fail to remind us of what is going on. But their reconstruction, through prosthetics in the one case and bricks and mortar in the other, imbue us with a strong belief that we will overcome this dark period of our history.
Classes at school are still productive. Teachers do their best to continue to instruct at a high level. But classes are punctuated by sporadic air raids.
Maks Pasko, a 16-year-old classmate of mine, has learned to predict local air raid sirens five minutes in advance.
A student of politics, statistics and analysis, he follows the pattern of air raid alerts on an online map. That way, he can see when our turn is coming.
That way, everyone has five more minutes to get down to the basement. Without any sense of fear, everyone in the school heads to the shelter.
Kids aren’t afraid of the danger posed by the missiles anymore. They just go downstairs to study, socialize or play together until it passes.
Some classes pay attention to managing stress, coping with mental issues and giving first aid to injured people.
NATO’s acronym MARCH is known now by the majority of students. It directs students to check for life-threatening conditions in an injured person in a specific order.
M stands for massive bleeding, A for airways, R for respiration, C for circulation, H for head injuries and hypothermia
Moreover, students have developed one more after-school activity. Some of them are staying after class to make camouflage net for the army under the direction of teachers.
Then it’s time to come back home, the streets are still crowded with busy people, as if it were peacetime. However, the billboards they pass now show them how to contribute to charities or help the army, and restored cafes play a warfare genre of music.
There’s no need to imagine these melodies as tragic or full of sorrow, though.
The majority of the wartime music is dynamic and positive. Its main aim is to emphasize Ukrainian military milestones and maintain the spirit of future victory throughout the society.
One of the most popular songs is “Pes Patron.” It tells of a little Jack Russell terrier named Patron, which means “cartridge” in Ukrainian.
With his light weight and keen sense of smell, this dog can detect explosives safely. One of his first assignments was locating Russian mines in the city of Chernihiv, lying in the north, which was liberated on April 2, 2022.
Owing to the hard work of this tiny dog, more than 250 mines were neutralized. Now Patron has his own bullet-proof vest, national recognition and a song commemorating his role in the war.
As you might expect, even very young kids know the lyrics. They are keen on repeating: “Who’s in charge of this region? Patron the Dog, Patron the Dog!” The song was written in Ukrainian, of course, but that’s a word-for-word translation.
Human civilians are also doing their bit.
Karina Bereznets, a 14-year-old, spends her free time selling hand-made patriotic accessories. She has been doing that for more than a year, and her contribution to the Ukrainian Army recently passed the $3,000 mark.
“I’m not supporting certain people,” she said. “We try to help everyone. I do it because I want to do my bit; I want Ukraine to live.
“We attempt to supply soldiers with whatever they need. Mostly it’s special equipment or medicine.”
Evenings still see families gather together, as in the past.
Some of the chairs may be empty, though, as some relatives may have already given their lives for the peaceful life of future generations. That helps us not to give up, to fight and to defend what we believe in.
Warm evening conversations have changed to news updates on military progress of the day.
Skill at making “trench candles” has marked my personal contribution.
A trench candle is a metal box or can filled with rolled paper and a mixture of wax and paraffin. Soldiers use them to warm up, heat their food or serve as a source of light.
They are popular with our defenders, as they can be re-lit repeatedly for a long period of time. Civilians are highly encouraged to create them, which serves as just one more thing shifting our reality.
It’s necessary for us to talk about the war, as it’s been dominating our lives for two years now. We appreciate it when nothing and nobody is forgotten.
Despite escalating sound of air raids sirens, time to sleep eventually comes.
Will the night bring drone or missile attacks? We are getting used to differentiating.
If the news channel warns about drone attacks, the biggest concern is the quantity. If the warning is about missiles, that’s not the case, as just one can wipe out your whole house.
Either way, the chain of actions is the same. You either head to the basement or go downstairs and follow the “two-walls rule.”
You need to make sure there are two reliable walls between you and outside locations. You also want to avoid windows or other sources of glass.
We spend so many nights sleeping in cold shelters and narrow corridors. Tomorrow may be a new day, but it will feature the same wartime routine.
We Ukrainians recognize and highly appreciate all the support we get around the world.
Peaceful protests, warm words of support, little blue-and-yellow accessories and stickers, donations and army supplies. It’s all noticed. It all makes a difference.
I want to convey our infinite gratitude to everyone who believes in and works for Ukrainian victory!
This is an essay from Fuji Kreider, secretary/treasurer of the Stop B2H Coalition, which is opposed to the development of the Beardman to Hemingway transmission line.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) has ruled in favor of the Boardman to Hemingway (B2H) transmission line, declaring it a public necessity and granting Idaho Power a “certificate of public convenience and necessity” (CPCN). This decision allows them to invoke eminent domain over hundreds of miles of land belonging to the peoples of Eastern Oregon.
Eminent domain should only be used as a last resort, when there are no other viable alternatives to achieve a public good. However, our OPUC and the Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE) have failed us in this regard. The OPUC will allow condemnation of land before the ODOE has completed the required environmental and cultural survey work. These surveys are essential for finalizing the numerous mitigation plans and determining their value and ultimate costs.
Neither of our state agencies accept responsibility. The OPUC claims that mitigation and land condemnation costs are beyond their jurisdiction to regulate; stating it is ODOE’s job. Yet, ODOE states that the budget falls outside their purview; it’s the OPUC’s jurisdiction. Meanwhile, the well-financed utilities with their army of attorneys have weakened and manipulated Oregon’s administrative rules for decades, a regulatory capture that hamstrings and fragments big-picture decision making by our regulating agencies. This leaves us, the people, caught in a revolving churn of "it’s not in our jurisdiction;" and the only ones connecting-the-regulatory-dots are the utilities, with enormous profits to be made on ratepayers’ backs!
The B2H project is exorbitantly expensive, and ratepayers will bear the burden for 50+ years. Astonishingly, the actual price tag remains unknown, currently estimated at $1.4 billion. Here are some of the costs that are still looming:
Moreover, the company continues to fiddle with reducing contingency funds and a lack of realistic inflationary increases. It is disheartening to witness such disregard for accountability. It is worth noting that Idaho Power and PacifiCorp (same partners as B2H) are also constructing Gateway West, a massive transmission infrastructure project to Wyoming, further burdening ratepayers. Our electric cooperatives (such as OTEC and Umatilla) purchase electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which will also experience rate increases due to transmission wheeling charges (aka tariffs).
The decision to proceed with B2H is primarily based on the utilities' own self-serving data and their claims that the "least-cost/least-risk” option is a high-voltage, long-distance transmission line over other feasible energy alternatives, and other routing alternatives. The OPUC and ODOE have issued permits and certificates without complete information and without full knowledge of the project's true costs.
Our investments should prioritize the upgrade, digitization, and fire-hardening of our existing regional transmission system. Federal infrastructure funds are flowing for such upgrades, but the B2H project does not qualify for these funds because it was considered “shovel ready” in 2011. By neglecting these necessary upgrades, we are missing out on opportunities to enhance capacity on the existing transmission lines connecting our regions, wildfire protection, and cost savings. Additionally, we should not overlook the potential of having to bear the cost of PacifiCorp's liability in the 2020 wildfires.
It’s the OPUC's responsibility to safeguard the interests of ratepayers by carefully evaluating project costs and considering alternative options for maintaining reliable power. In this case, the costs associated with B2H are imprudent, especially when there are federal funds available to invest in distributed energy resources in the Pacific Northwest, which would create more jobs and propel us towards energy independence.
I urge our state regulators and public officials to reevaluate their decisions and act in the best interests of the Eastern Oregon communities. It is high time they prioritize transparency, accountability, and their stated mission of protecting ratepayers. Let us not be the victims of shortsightedness, greenwashing, and overwhelming corporate influence. Together, we must demand a responsible and sustainable energy future for our state; one where people control more of their energy future, and are less dependent on these centralized, monopoly utilities that prioritize their shareholders over the ratepayers and our environment.
What you're seeing here isn't a column. It's an excerpt from the Almanac of American Politics, a large chunk of the section included in that book about Oregon.
The Almanac has been around since 1972, tracking politics in great detail (mainly at the congressional and statewide level)for all 50 states. In July, the Almanac will be publishing its 2024 edition, with some 2,200 pages offering fully updated chapters on all 435 House members and their districts, all 100 senators, all 50 states and governors, and much more. I still have many of the editions published since then, and over the last couple of decades I've been in the group of people to whom sections related to specific states have been asked to review and suggest changes. (I've not had many to suggest.) Lou Jacobson, who has worked on these chapters for some years, has worked for PolitiFact, Sabato's Crystal Ball and U.S. News and World Report and is a veteran national political handicapper.
Readers can receive a 15 percent discount if they purchase the 2024 edition through the Almanac’s website -- https://www.thealmanacofamericanpolitics.com/ -- and apply the code RSOregon15 at checkout. The offer is good through August.
Here's some what the Almanac has to say about Oregon (an Idaho excerpt appeared yesterday):
Oregon is a blue state, even though its rural areas are as Republican as other portions of the American West. That's because almost half of the state's population—47 percent—lives in the counties in and around Portland.
Oregon is an experimental commonwealth, a laboratory of reform, a maker of national trends—with varying results. Bike trails now exist throughout the country. You can find light rail trams in many central cities across the nation, but not as many solar energy-powered, plug-in stations for electric cars as in Portland. Oregon produces (or has manufactured in China) Nike sneakers and Pendleton shirts, but its handcrafted ales don't travel far from the Oregon Brewers Festival. For all its modern advances, however, you can still see much of the same Oregon that Lewis and Clark saw in 1805, when they came down the Columbia River gorge, past the Willamette River to the Pacific Ocean. A few years later, in 1811, John Jacob Astor set up his fur trading post at Astoria. But few Americans came overland until the 1840s, when New England Yankees and Missouri farmers drove wagons along the Oregon Trail and floated down the Columbia to the well-watered Willamette Valley.
In this remote spot, nearly 2,000 miles from the Mississippi River frontier and 700 miles from the small Mexican settlements in California, they built an orderly, productive society—a kind of western New England. It grew steadily, with a few booms: in the early 1900s as timber harvesting surged; during World War II, when Kaiser shipyards in Portland and Vancouver churned out "Liberty" and "Victory" ships; and then again in the 1970s, when homebuilding skyrocketed and Oregon's natural environment began to be widely appreciated. Missionaries and settlers brought town-meeting attitudes to Oregon. This was the second state after South Dakota to give people direct decision-making via the initiative and referendum, an innovation widely copied elsewhere. Oregon pioneered the election of senators by popular vote and, with Michigan in 1908, the recall of elected officials. It was the first state to institute Labor Day. It was first to sanction assisted suicide and to adopt mail-in ballot elections.
Oregon has a darker strain of history, too. When the state's constitution was written, it included a provision that barred the relocation of any African American to the state, and another that precluded Black ownership of real estate. The Klan had a significant presence in the state in the early 20th century, and communities of skinheads flourished in the 1980s. It took until 1959 for Oregon to ratify the post-Civil War 15th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote. During the winter of 2016, a breakaway group of armed protesters occupied the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the state's rural, southeastern corner, decrying federal encroachment on private lands and prompting a 41-day standoff that led to one death and more than a dozen guilty pleas for conspiracy and trespassing. In 2017, a man screamed anti-Muslim insults on a commuter train and proceeded to stab two men to death and injure a third.
While the image of "kombucha-swilling, artisan knot-loving, bicycle-riding haven" (as the Oregonian newspaper has put it) is based in reality—and was lovingly satirized by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in the television comedy series Portlandia—the city has more recently been known as the location of violent clashes between far-right groups and farleft "antifa," or anti-fascists. In 2020, after the death of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd at the hands of police, Portland became a hub of street protests, even though it is the nation's whitest city with a population of at least 500,000. The clashes' reality was often more complicated than the popular image: The biggest protests were peaceful and diverse. But others included anarchists with even more radical aims than Black Lives Matter protesters; they battled with police and sometimes with right-wing groups, setting fires and vandalizing the federal courthouse and police headquarters. President Donald Trump seized on the conflict as he was running for reelection. In July, Trump sent federal personnel into Portland to protect federal property, but without the support of local officials. Gov. Kate Brown, who had tolerated the "occupation" of large swaths of the city, called it "political theater" and a "blatant abuse of power." The administration was put on the defensive when reports emerged of more than 100 unidentified federal personnel snatching protesters off the streets without normal judicial processes. Eventually, negotiations between Brown and Vice President Mike Pence brokered an agreement for the federal forces to leave; while some clashes continued, the unrest ratcheted down.
Oregon grew much faster than the national average in the 1940s, when war industries brought thousands of people to the West Coast, and again in the 1970s, when the pleasant environment attracted so many young people that the state's population shot up 26 percent. Containing growth became the hot local issue. "Come and visit us again and again," Republican Gov. Tom McCall told outsiders. "But for heaven's sake don't come here to live." At his prodding, the legislature in 1973 passed a law that limited development, and in the 1990s, the Portland metropolitan area sharply restricted growth and sprawl. These measures were also popular in the university towns of Eugene and Corvallis and to a lesser extent in the suburbs. Oregon is still attempting to find the right mix for development. In 2019, Brown signed the nation's first statewide rent control law as well as a separate measure requiring cities of at least 10,000 residents to permit duplexes in areas of single family-homes, and even quadruplexes in the Portland area. Meanwhile, employment in the lumber industry has been shrinking amid tighter federal and state regulation and greater automation. The state has also grappled with one of the downsides of its verdant surroundings: In 2020, Oregon saw more than 1,400 square miles burned in just three days, double the usual amount for a whole year. The following year, the Bootleg Fire scorched an area bigger than New York City, making it the third-largest fire in Oregon since 1900.
In Portland and the university towns, newcomers helped build the state's new economy. The growth of high-tech companies around Portland was such that the area became known as Silicon Forest, where Intel, the largest tech employer in the state, is expanding its already considerable footprint in the Portland suburbs. The chipmaker shares the stage with homegrown firms like Mentor Graphics (now owned by Siemens), FEI Co., Rentrak Corp., Open Sesame, and Twistlock (now owned by Palo Alto Networks). Oregon is also a top exporter; semiconductors and electronic components are the biggest, totaling about $9 billion, thanks largely to Intel. The port of Portland ships $4.6 billion in products every year, led by motor vehicles and agricultural crops. Befitting Oregon's location on the Pacific Rim, the state's top trading partners save Canada are all in Asia: China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan. In 2022, Oregon rose 17 spots in CNBC's Top States for Business rankings, on the strength of its workforce; it has the eighth-highest concentration of science, technology, engineering and math workers and one of the strongest inflows of college graduates in the nation. (One quirk: Oregon is the only state other than New Jersey where you can't pump your own gas, although Oregon, unlike New Jersey, allowed self-service in small rural counties starting in 2018.)
While Oregon's population growth rate has fallen from its earlier peaks, the state is still expanding at a healthy clip, up 10.7 percent since 2010, enough for an additional seat in the House. Its three biggest counties—Multnomah, Washington and Clackamas, each in the Portland metro area —have each grown between 9 and 14 percent since 2010, though Multnomah's population has sagged a bit in the past few years. Further south, Deschutes County has grown a stunning 29.8 percent since 2010, driven by a boom in Bend, a onetime blue-collar locale that has recently become a destination for scenic tourism and families looking to relocate in pleasant surroundings. (Bend is home to the planet's only remaining Blockbuster Video store.) Oregon's rural population is a rapidly diminishing proportion of the state, contributing to its resentment of metro Portland. Oregon's population is just 2.3 percent Black, 14 percent Hispanic and 5 percent Asian. Washington County in suburban Portland is increasingly diverse—12 percent Asian and 18 percent Hispanic. The state capital of Salem and farming counties east of the Cascades also have relatively high Hispanic percentages.
Though Oregon was largely founded by missionaries, the religiously unaffiliated form the core constituency for some of the state's policy innovations over the last two generations. Oregon legalized most abortions prior to the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, and it decriminalized medical marijuana and legalized assisted suicide in referendums in 1994 and 1997. In 2007, the Democratic-controlled legislature banned discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and mandated recycling of discarded electronics. Running counter to the anything-goes atmosphere, it has also imposed strict limits on smoking. In 2022, the state became the first in the nation to enable children to be kept continuously on Medicaid through the age of 6. Meanwhile, the state has some of the oldest sanctuary policies for undocumented immigrants, and in 2018, voters rejected a ballot measure that would have overturned those protections. Oregon was also among the most active states in filing lawsuits opposing the Trump administration's immigration policies. But Oregonians are beginning to rein in their tolerance for homelessness; in 2022, more than two dozen mayors urged the state to provide an additional $123 million directly to cities to tackle the issue, which has become severe in the state's high-cost cities. Tina Kotek, the Democrat who won the 2022 governor's race, promised to build more housing, to boost the number of people who work with the unhoused, and to expand mental health services.
Legalized recreational marijuana, approved by voters in 2014, is flourishing. (Unlike most products for sale in the state, marijuana is taxed at 17 percent.) Then, in 2020, voters approved a move to the next frontier—the regulated medical use of psilocybin, a hallucinogen sometimes called "magic mushrooms." It passed by double-digit margins. However, rural portions of southwestern Oregon near the California border have struggled with some 1,000 to 2,000 illegal cannabis-growing operations, some suspected to be run by foreign cartels; their presence, officials say, is due less to in-state demand, which is largely satisfied by legal production, than to customers in far-away states that do not allow legal weed or that set the price too high. In their 2023 session, legislators looked at increasing the penalties for unlawful growth. Oregon is a leader in other substances as well; it "boasts more craft distilleries than Kentucky and is second only to California in the number of wineries," the New York Times reported.
There are no polls open on Election Day—with mail ballots accepted by the date of the election, there really is no Election Day in Oregon. Voting has produced huge margins for progressive candidates and positions in Portland and the university towns of Eugene and Corvallis and huge conservative margins in counties east of the Cascades and in much of southwestern Oregon, where discontent over the policies that decimated the logging industry has lingered. Some rural Oregonians have been pushing an effort to join a conservative "greater Idaho." While moderate Republicans dominated the party through the 1990s, the remnants of the party have shifted too far to the right to be competitive statewide. Weeks before the Jan. 6, 2021, storming of the U.S. Capitol, a GOP state representative let rioters into the state capitol, for which he was expelled and later pleaded guilty to one count of official misconduct. And in March 2022, state Sen. Dallas Heard stepped down as state GOP chair, saying, "My physical and spiritual health can no longer survive exposure to the toxicity that can be found in this community."
Oregon has not been a presidential battleground in recent elections; it voted for Hillary Clinton by 11 points in 2016 and Joe Biden by 16 points in 2020. In early 2019, the only Republican to win statewide in years, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, died of brain cancer; in 2020, a Democrat won the office. In 2022, Kotek won a three-way contest against Republican Christine Drazan and Independent Betsy Johnson, 47% to 44% to 9%. Under a new map, three House districts proved highly competitive in 2022, with the Democrats winning the 4th and 6th and the Republicans winning the 5th. Meanwhile, voters approved a landmark gun control ballot initiative, though only by about one percentage point. The new law, which requires a permit and safety training to buy a firearm and would prohibit magazines larger than 10 rounds, was challenged in court.
Democrat Tina Kotek, who was elected Oregon House speaker in 2013, won the governorship in 2022 after an unusual three-way contest. Kotek won despite the albatross of having to succeed fellow Democrat Kate Brown, one of the nation's most unpopular governors during her final years in office, due to public concern over such issues as crime and homelessness. Kotek was one of two lesbian candidates elected governor in November 2022, along with Massachusetts' Maura Healey; they became the nation's first lesbian governors. (Brown is bisexual.)
Kotek was raised in York Pennsylvania. Her father worked for a company that built air conditioners; her mother was a homemaker who once lobbied the state to lift its sales tax on sewing patterns she used to make clothes. "Kotek would become an amalgamation of her parents: a policy geek plunging neck-deep into details, and an advocate known for grinding down opponents," Dirk VanderHart wrote for Oregon Public Broadcasting. Kotek was a top student and a star in high school track and basketball. She was accepted to Georgetown University, but she dropped out after less than two years—she told the Oregonian that she "didn't fit in" because "everybody wanted to be a lawyer"—and relocated to the Northwest in 1987. "I fell in love with the beauty of the state and the openness of the people," Kotek has written. Kotek earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from the University of Oregon and a master's in international studies from the University of Washington. She came out as gay in her early 20s; when she was there, the University of Washington didn't allow same-sex couples in campus housing, but Kotek pushed successfully to change that in 1997.
Kotek polished her policy chops while working for the Oregon Food Bank and Children First of Oregon, lobbying the legislature on such issues as the minimum wage, housing affordability, and health insurance. After making an unsuccessful bid for the House, Kotek won a seat in 2006, eventually rising to leadership and serving as speaker from 2013 to 2022; she resigned to run for governor. "In nine years, almost no one has guided the trundling pioneer wagon of Oregon governance as powerfully as Kotek," VanderHart wrote. "She has collected progressive victories like pelts, showing a flair for muscling through bold bills and cobbling together unlikely coalitions." At times, Kotek played hardball. In the run-up to the most recent round of redistricting, she cut a deal with Republicans, giving them equal representation on the map-drawing committee in exchange for GOP legislators agreeing not to stonewall legislation by leaving the capitol to block a quorum, a tactic they had used on multiple occasions. Then, after passing key Democratic bills, Kotek backed off her promise to the GOP by meddling with the committee structure; the Democrats got to draw maps they preferred, after all.
The race in 2022 was the first Oregon gubernatorial election in 20 years with neither an incumbent nor a former governor running. Brown's unpopularity weighed heavily; during her tenure, she'd had to grapple with anarchist protests in Portland, the coronavirus pandemic, and widespread wildfires. Kotek, who had worked closely with the governor on legislation, tried to distance herself from Brown during the campaign. In the Democratic primary, her main opponent was state Treasurer Tobias Read. Nick Kristof, a longtime New York Times correspondent and columnist and an Oregon native, tried to run, but he had to leave the race after the state Supreme Court deemed his residency credentials to be insufficient. Kotek defeated Read, 56%-32%.
The GOP contest was wide open; former state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan ended up winning the nomination with just 22.5% of the vote, with six other candidates receiving between 7 percent and 18 percent of the vote. But Kotek and Drazan didn't have the race to themselves: Former state Sen. Betsy Johnson, a rural Democrat and timber heir with a pro-business platform, got into the race as an independent. Analysts suggested that Johnson might be able to draw voters from either party, especially given voters' foul mood about the status quo. In one ad, Johnson positioned herself by saying, "Oregonians are distrustful of the radical right. And they are terrified of the progressive left." Drazan hit Johnson and Kotek for being career politicians, while Johnson attacked Drazan and Kotek as being overly partisan. Kotek tagged Johnson over her friendliness to guns, Johnson attacked Drazan over her opposition to abortion rights, and Johnson and Drazan attacked Kotek as anti-police. Johnson's campaign, meanwhile, was fueled by financial support from Nike's billionaire founder, Phil Knight—at least until Knight switched his allegiance and largesse from Johnson to Drazan. Kotek benefited from visits by President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren; Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin stumped for Drazan.
In the end, the state's blue instincts held: Kotek defeated Drazan, 47%-44%, with Johnson taking almost 9 percent—only a bit narrower than Brown's 50%-44% victory over Republican Knute Buehler in 2018. Between 2018 and 2022, no county flipped from one party to the other; Johnson did best in areas northwest of Portland that she had long represented in the state Senate, winning 18% to 23% of the vote in Columbia County (St. Helens), Clatsop County (Astoria), and Tillamook County (Tillamook). Kotek's victory was one of 12 by women in 2022 gubernatorial races, easily a record, according to the Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics.
After taking office, Kotek signed a series of executive orders seeking to ease homelessness and address housing affordability. She also made progress with Republicans on a $130 million package for homelessness and housing.
What you're seeing here isn't a column. It's an excerpt from the Almanac of American Politics, a large chunk of the section included in that book about Idaho.
The Almanac has been around since 1972, tracking politics in great detail (mainly at the congressional and statewide level)for all 60 states. In July, the Almanac will be publishing its 2024 edition, with some 2,200 pages offering fully updated chapters on all 435 House members and their districts, all 100 senators, all 50 states and governors, and much more. I still have many of the editions published since then, and over the last couple of decades I've been in the group of people to whom sections related to specific states have been asked to review and suggest changes. (I've not had many to suggest.) Lou Jacobson, who has worked on these chapters for some years, has worked for PolitiFact, Sabato's Crystal Ball and U.S. News and World Report and is a veteran national political handicapper.
Readers can receive a 15 percent discount if they purchase the 2024 edition through the Almanac’s website -- https://www.thealmanacofamericanpolitics.com/ -- and apply the code RSIdaho15 at checkout. The offer is good through August.
Here's some what the Almanac has to say about Idaho (an Oregon excerpt will appear tomorrow):
Tucked near the northwest edge of the continental United States, far from any major metro area, Idaho has seen its population nearly double since 1990. But the migration of newcomers to both livable Boise and resort areas like Sun Valley hasn't added many Democrats: Idaho has remained solidly Republican for more than a half-century, although the GOP is increasingly divided between an establishment wing and the far right.
Idaho was the last North American area on which European fur traders set eyes. Then in the 1840s, New England Yankees led by ministers made their way west on the Oregon Trail through southern Idaho. The state's northern panhandle, an extension of Washington's Columbia River Valley, was first settled by miners seeking gold and silver, then by loggers seeking timber. Mormons moving north from Utah settled in the eastern part of the state, while Basque immigrants and their descendants made a significant impact on Idaho and its politics. Federal water reclamation projects first authorized in 1894 attracted the most settlers; inexpensive hydroelectric power has historically supplied between 60 percent and 80 percent of the state's electricity needs. Idaho Power has said it will use fully clean sources of energy by 2045, thanks in part to its 17 Snake River hydroelectric plants. Wind power currently accounts for about 16 percent of the state's electricity generation.
This infrastructure transformed the barren Snake River Valley into some of the nation's best volcanic, soil-enriched farmland, which along with warm days and cool nights proved ideal for the Burbank russet potato and, more recently, for a fledgling wine industry. The number of wineries in the state has increased from 40 to 70 in just over a decade, and the website Vine Pair reported that Idahoans consume twice as much wine per capita as Californians do. Today, Idaho ranks fifth in the nation for the percentage of state gross domestic product coming from agriculture, and even adjusting for inflation, total receipts from Idaho farms have grown by 57 percent since 1997, compared with 35 percent for the nation as a whole. Idaho ranks first nationally in potatoes and barley and second in sugar beets and hops, the latter contributing to a thriving microbrewery industry. Today, sales by the state's dairy industry are more than three times as large as that for potatoes; Chobani has a large yogurt plant in Twin Falls that has been a major driver of economic growth in south-central Idaho.
The state is big: The town of Montpelier in the southeast is closer to Farmington, New Mexico, than to Bonners Ferry in the northern panhandle. And the wilderness is never far away. Towering over the state capitol in Boise is the vast peak of Shafer Butte. Not far away are the sharp peaks and broad valleys of the Sawtooth range; the impassable mountains of the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the largest U.S. wilderness area outside Alaska; and the 425 miles of the Salmon River. Having so much wilderness comes with a downside; according to the EPA, nearly 1 percent of the land in Idaho on average has burned annually since 1984, a pattern that is projected to worsen in the coming years. Wildfires have contributed to poor air quality. In 2022, three Idaho areas—Boise, plus the regions in Idaho adjoining Logan Utah, and Spokane Washington—ranked in the American Lung Association's list of top 25 nationally for short-term particle pollution. Meanwhile, a drought in 2021 led to a national shortage of potatoes the following year. In 1953, an eighth-grade dropout named J.R. Simplot perfected the process of freezing French fries; with a handshake, he sealed a contract with a little restaurant chain called McDonald's and was on his way to becoming the biggest potato processor in the world, and a billionaire. In the 1970s, Simplot was the primary financier of a startup called Micron Technology, which, along with Hewlett-Packard, spawned a booming high-tech sector in the state. In recent years, Idaho has been at or near the top of state rankings for patents per capita. It's a tradition that reaches back into the early years of the 20th century, when a Mormon farm boy from Rigby named Philo T. Farnsworth came up with many of the concepts that laid the basis for the invention of television. The value of Idaho's electronic-component exports now exceeds the value of its potato exports, trading one type of chip for another. The Idaho National Laboratory in the eastern part of the state is one of the nation's major hubs for nuclear, cyber security and critical infrastructure research.
The combination of technology jobs and natural beauty has driven the state's population growth. Idaho led the country in the percentage of population growth for each of the five years ending in 2021, falling to No. 2 behind Florida in 2022. If such growth continues, Idaho could gain a third House seat after the 2030 Census, an increase it hasn't seen in over a century. Today, 42 percent of Idahoans live in the Treasure Valley around Boise; Ada County, which includes Boise, grew by 30 percent between 2010 and 2021, fueled by such amenities as the 200-mile-long Ridge to Rivers trail system. Between 2020 and 2021, three suburbs of Boise -- Meridian, Caldwell, and Nampa -- ranked among the country's top 15 fastest-growing cities or towns. Other areas have grown too, especially those attracting a wealthy clientele: Blaine County, which includes the resort of Sun Valley, has grown by 16 percent since 2010, and Teton County, a bedroom community for pricey Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has grown by 21 percent over the same period. In fast-growing areas, traffic and high housing prices have followed the brewpubs and farm-to-table restaurants. But most of Idaho's counties have seen little population change in the past half-century. "All that massive growth you've heard about in Idaho has happened in the space of only a few hundred square miles, a tiny sliver of the state," longtime political observer Randy Stapilus has noted. The number of Hispanic residents in Idaho grew by 47 percent between 2010 and 2022, about double the rate of growth for the state overall. Idaho has welcomed not only Americans from other states but those from abroad, including refugees. The state has absorbed more than 20,000 refugees since the 1970s, mostly in Boise and Twin Falls—first Vietnamese and Cambodians, then Bosnians, and more recently refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Congo, Eritrea, Nepal and Iran. In Twin Falls, just 17 miles from a World War II internment camp for Japanese Americans, this has periodically spawned controversy. But an anti-refugee ballot measure proposal in 2016 failed to secure enough signatures, despite fake Russiancontrolled Facebook accounts trying to stir up an anti-refugee rally. The Mormon population may be a reason for the state's tolerant streak, due to its international missionary outreach: Idaho has the second highest percentage of Mormons of any state.
In its early years as a silver-producing state, Idaho backed populism and opposed the gold standard; from statehood up to 1990, the state cycled between periods of Republican dominance and partisan competitiveness. It elected prominent national Democrats such as Sen. Frank Church, an intelligence watchdog and 1976 presidential candidate, and Gov. Cecil Andrus, Jimmy Carter's Interior secretary. But since 1990, Idaho has become staunchly Republican: Since 1964, no Democratic presidential nominee has won more than 37 percent of the vote. Idahoans like to see themselves as pioneering entrepreneurs who, rather than seek federal help, want to get a bloated, bossy federal government off their backs. The U.S. government owns 63 percent of Idaho's land, and many Idahoans strongly oppose federal policies that limit road building and grazing on public lands, and they don't like the idea of breaching Snake River dams to protect salmon (in the process, depriving potato farmers of water). Idaho has elected only Republicans to the governorship since 1994 and to the Senate since 1978. With one exception in 2008, the GOP has won every election for Idaho's two House seats since 1994.
Despite facing continued attacks from the right wing of his party against his pragmatic approach as governor, Brad Little won a hotly contested Republican primary in 2022, followed by an overwhelming victory in November, securing a second term.
Little is a third-generation Idahoan whose grandfather emigrated from Scotland in 1894 and established a sheep operation that spanned much of southwest Idaho; he became "Idaho's Sheep King," and it wasn't an exaggeration. His son carried on the business, and his grandson worked on the ranch while growing up and after graduating from the University of Idaho in 1977. Little served as president of the Idaho Wool Growers Association, chaired two committees of the American Sheep Industry Association, and chaired the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. But the family eventually sold the sheep operation and moved into the cattle business. They also opened some of their land as an off-road vehicle park.
The family's second business was politics. Little's father served in the state legislature and was a Republican National Committee member; as a youngster, Little helped his father campaign for Barry Goldwater in 1964. Four years later, he sat next to Ronald Reagan at the Republican National Convention. In 1972, Little became a delegate himself. In 2001, GOP Gov. Dirk Kempthorne appointed Little to a vacant state Senate seat, and he proceeded to win election four times. Then, in 2009, Little was appointed to the vacant lieutenant governorship and won the seat on his own in 2010 and 2014. When three-term Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter announced he would not be running again, Little jumped in and received Otter's endorsement.
Little was the establishment favorite, focusing on traditional Republican priorities such as low taxes and limited spending, but he faced two other major candidates in the freespending, attack-ad-saturated 2018 primary: Rep. Raul Labrador, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, and Tommy Ahlquist, a developer running as an outsider. Little got 38 percent, followed by Labrador with 33 percent and Ahlquist with 27 percent. Meanwhile, Idaho Democrats had a competitive primary between Paulette Jordan, a former state House member and former Coeur d'Alene Tribal Council official, and A.J. Balukoff, a businessman, Boise school board member and former gubernatorial candidate. Most Democratic officials backed Balukoff, a moderate, but Jordan ran an insurgent campaign—and a progressive one —that attracted attention and small-dollar donations from across the country. When the dust settled, Jordan defeated Balukoff, 58%-40%. Little ran a largely orthodox Republican campaign, though he supported teacher pay raises and Idaho's version of the Common Core curriculum, while opposing efforts to implement school choice. While Little had been critical of the Affordable Care Act, he said during
the campaign that he would respect the results of a ballot measure to implement Medicaid expansion under that law; the ballot measure passed with greater than 60 percent of the vote. Despite the energy behind Jordan's gubernatorial bid in some quarters, some moderate Democratic voters abandoned her for Little. The Republican won, 60%-38%.
In his first year in office, Little expressed discomfort with some of the provisions of legislation to implement the Medicaid expansion, including a work requirement, but he ultimately signed them into law. Little signed a bill expanding concealed carry to 18- to 20-year-olds in cities. Liberals were pleased by Little's renewal of the state's commitment to accept refugees, acknowledgement that climate change needed to be addressed, and recognition of Indigenous People's Day on what had been Columbus Day. And in 2020, Little signed legislation to raise starting pay for teachers. But Little spurned opposition from major Idaho employers—including Chobani, Clif Bar, HP and Micron—when he signed one bill that would ban transgender girls and women from female sports teams in the state, and another that would effectively prevent residents from changing their gender on birth certificates. Within months, a federal court voided the birth certificate bill.
After the coronavirus hit, Little imposed a variety of restrictions on public gatherings. In April 2021, the legislature failed to override Little's veto of a bill that would have curbed the emergency powers he had used during the pandemic. His actions put him on a collision course
with the most conservative Idahoans, including Ammon Bundy, who had once taken over a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon for 41 days, and Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who was elected separately. In May 2021, McGeachin claimed her own authority to reshape policy when Little left the state, issuing in his absence an executive order that banned mask mandates. Little rescinded the order on his return, but McGeachin tried again in October with orders barring mandatory vaccination and coronavirus testing. He rescinded these as well. Such efforts fed McGeachin's primary challenge, which received former President Donald Trump's imprimatur
in November 2021, when he called her "a true supporter of MAGA since the very beginning."
As Little looked ahead to his reelection, his agenda was plenty conservative. He signed the state's largest-ever tax cut, as well as both an abortion ban "trigger" law, in the event that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and a separate bill modeled on one enacted in Texas by which ordinary citizens could sue to enforce a ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The trigger law took effect when the Supreme Court issued its Dobbs decision in the summer of 2022, though it faced continuing legal challenges. Chobani, a major employer in the state, responded by saying it would reimburse employees who travel out of state for an abortion (or for a wide range of treatments, such as cancer or organ transplants). Little also signed a bill that allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and he vetoed a measure that would have banned businesses from requiring coronavirus vaccines, citing "government overreach into the private sector." The legislature failed to override his veto.
The primary drew national attention. In addition to receiving the Trump endorsement, McGeachin established a task force to "examine indoctrination in Idaho education" and mingled with members of the Three Percenter militia. But Little easily outraised her, and not
even the Idaho GOP primary electorate was prepared to select her vision over Little's more pragmatic conservatism: He won almost 53 percent of the vote, well ahead of McGeachin's 32 percent and smaller totals from a few other candidates. Little notched an even more impressive victory in the three-way general election, taking almost 61 percent to 20 percent for Democrat Stephen Heidt and 17 percent for Bundy, who was running as an independent. After losing four counties in his 2018 run, Little lost only one in 2022 -- Blaine County (Sun Valley), which accounted for less than 2 percent of the statewide vote. Between 2018 and 2022, the number of Democratic votes for governor plunged from 231,081 to 120,160. In all, the outcome ratified both Idaho's continued status as a Republican state and Little's more mainstream approach.
In April 2023, Little signed a bill that banned gender-affirming care to transgender minors and another bill that banned minors from traveling out of state for abortions without parental consent and that also criminalized adults helping procure an abortion-inducing drug without parental consent.
A guest opinion from William Jorgensen.
The 30-year anniversary of rock legend Kurt Cobain’s death is just under a year away.
That sad occasion could provide a tremendous opportunity for his home town of Aberdeen, Washington, to attract tourists from among the millions of Cobain’s fans worldwide, spanning multiple generations.
What is the coastal town of around 17,000 doing to prepare for it? Absolutely nothing.
I took a recent trip there on the 29th anniversary of the Nirvana singer and songwriter’s untimely demise. This pilgrimage of sorts is about the only reason I would ever have to deliberately go to Aberdeen.
At this point, I’m a professional in my early 40s with children. But like many, I was a teenager in the early 90s when Nirvana and its classic album Nevermind forever changed the course of pop culture.
Cobain had already long since left Aberdeen by then, moving 50 miles to Olympia to achieve his dreams of eventual rock n roll immortality.
Now, all this time later, Aberdeen doesn’t seem to be faring well.
There is no shortage of vacant storefronts. Many of those spaces, oddly enough, would actually make great concert venues. Some even have enviable natural acoustics inside.
Signs of life are present, though. Boomtown Records serves as the Kurt Cobain Memorabilia and Info Center. Right across the street is Nirvana Coffee Co., with pictures on its walls of the band and its members. Customers can even order a “Heart-Shaped Box” drink, named after one of Cobain’s most popular songs. Kurt Cobain Landing stands as a modest park not too far from the house where he grew up.
Those who cling to his memory talk about ways to turn his connection with Aberdeen into a potential draw. But there also seems to be some resistance to that idea.
Cobain didn’t exactly speak highly of his experience in Aberdeen after being catapulted to international fame literally overnight. All indications are that the feeling is mutual among the town’s fathers.
They associate him with his admitted drug use and the heroin addiction that helped bring about his subsequent suicide.
What they’re overlooking is that, despite his many human flaws, Kurt Cobain was and is an inspiration. Someone from Aberdeen made an impact that will be felt far into the future. He wrote songs that are still played on radio stations every minute of every day in every city everywhere. He brought joy and happiness to countless people whose lives he touched, who his songs helped get through hard times. They provided soundtracks to memories both good and bad, and this won’t stop any time soon.
Maybe part of Aberdeen wants to pretend that none of it ever happened. And that’s too bad, because all indications are that the town could really use a boost.
They have just under a year to figure out ways to capitalize on the sustained popularity of its greatest asset, the Ghost of Aberdeen, who put it on the map in the minds of many.
Or maybe they won’t, and the chance will just pass the city by.
Oh well. Whatever. Nevermind.