• 100 Influential Idahoans 2015
You can find it all here in the Pacific Northwest - much of the nation's most beautiful places, some appallingly trashed-out areas; politics running from just about as far left to just about as far right as anywhere in the country; economies of all sorts from the highly prosperous to the dying. It's all here.
 

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Fictional dramas and thrillers employ conspiracies regularly – they’re a good device – but actual, significant, real and successful conspiracies are a rare thing.

In American history, only a few have managed to achieve their purpose, even a limited purpose, before coming unspun. The Lincoln assassination conspiracy was one; the 9-11 conspiracy was another. Most others you might think of either weren’t really conspiracies, or very significant, or didn’t work out. And the Lincoln conspiracy only halfway succeeded; most of the targets were just injured or hurt not at all.

Conspiracies are hard, because they rely on total secrecy (you know what happens when you start sharing your secrets), a good plan, a short time frame, discipline and a tight organization. And other things. The elements seldom come together, and hardly ever when more than a very few people are involved. Conspiracies involving large groups spun out over a long time hardly ever work. When they’re tried, they usually collapse and fail. If someone tries to sell you such a thing, be highly skeptical.

Turning now to the saga of Alex Jones and Chobani.

Jones is the host of the program Infowars – the title always struck me as an unwitting acknowledgement it is waging war on actual information – which peddles conspiracy theories. Most are national and many explicitly political, but Jones ran into problems when he zeroed in on Twin Falls and one of the food processing companies with operations there, Chobani.

Chobani, which makes yogurt, was founded in New York by businessman Hamdi Ulukaya. The name Chobani descends from Turkish and Persian antecedents. Ulukaya himself is a Turkish immigrant and has spoken out about refugee problems. He has followed up with meaningful action, employing more than 300 refugees as employees. (And he and Chobani have been honored for their efforts.)

For people of a certain persuasion, all this may be enough for a bit of a side-eye.

All this also was, naturally, grist for the conspiracy-minded. In April, Infowars reported: “Idaho Yogurt Maker Caught Importing Migrant Rapists” and said its employees had led to a “500% increase in tuberculosis in Twin Falls.” A big conspiracy was afoot.

And Jones said he would come to Idaho for a reckoning, for reporting that would, “show the Islamists getting off of the planes.” Challenged on all this in a lawsuit filed by Chobani, Jones declared stoutly, “I’m choosing this as a battle. On this I will stand. I will win, or I will die. I’m not backing down. I’m never giving up. I love this.”

Yeah. Well. That was so last month. Here’s what he said, in settling a Chobani defamation lawsuit, this week:

“During the week of April 10, 2017, certain statements were made on the Infowars Twitter feed and YouTube channel regarding Chobani, LLC that I now understand to be wrong. The tweets and video have now been retracted and will not be reposted. On behalf of Infowars, I regret that we mischaracterized Chobani, its employees, and the people of Twin Falls, Idaho, the way we did.”

From what I’ve seen, Ulukaya and the Chobani people have too much class to gloat. At least in public.

So allow me, right here, to do that on their behalf. And offer the reminder that in the real world, actual attempts at conspiracy tend to come undone, in ungainly ways, all on their own, without any help from Alex Jones.

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When it comes to water, you want not too little, and not too much.

Lately, seems as if Idaho is getting stuck with one or the other.

On Wednesday, Acting Governor Brad Little tacked Custer, Elmore, and Gooding counties on to a State Disaster Declaration that already included a majority of Idaho counties. At this point – as this was written, anyway – almost three-fourths of Idaho counties are listed by the state as disaster areas owing to flooding.

You see it in remote parts of Custer County and in the population center at Boise, where part of the greenbelt is shut off from access because of high river water.

The water managers seem to have done an effective job of keeping the conditions from creating more damage, at least to this point. But the challenge continues, and there are limits to what they can do.

The snow precipitation report from the National Resources Conservation Service lists snowpack levels by basin around the western half of the country. In Idaho, the accumulated precipitation so far this year is mostly in the range of 140 to 160 percent of normal, compared to generally around 105 to 95 percent at this point last year.

The Little Wood and the Big Lost are the highest, at 177 percent, but the Boise River and the Snake River above the Palisades Dam are at 159 percent – high levels. The lowest in the state is the Clearwater Basin at 121 percent.

That portends a real possibility of more problems ahead, if the melting doesn’t organize itself just right.

That’s some background for the governmental push and pull over Idaho and its disaster status, one partly approved and partly not.

The procedure is that (often after an initial request from the county level) states make the request for federal help, and the feds – meaning the president or a disaster agency, or both, sign off (which they usually do). In late April, President Donald Trump did sign a state-requested declaration covering Cassia, Franklin, Gooding, Jefferson, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka, Twin Falls and Washington counties for their flooding and related problems in March.

Another declaration covering Bonner, Boundary, Clearwater, Idaho, Kootenai, Latah, Shoshone and Valley counties awaits action.

However, another declaration requested by the state, covering Ada, Canyon, Custer, Payette and Washington counties (for December and January snowstorms) was – unusually – rejected. Federal Emergency Management Agency Acting Administrator Robert Fenton turned down the state request: “After a thorough review of all the information contained in your initial request and appeal, we reaffirm our original findings that the impact from this event is not of the severity and magnitude that warrants a major disaster declaration.”

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said in response that “The window is closed for this particular effort to get federal help addressing snow-related destruction and preventing additional damage statewide. But we have one Presidential Disaster Declaration approved and another pending, so we’re exploring every opportunity to help our communities address their most serious recovery needs.”

The state may need to push hard, since it now may be behind the curve on helping some of these areas with recovery. It raises a question, given how uncommonly such requests are dismissed, whether the new administration is taking a new path on federal assistance.

If it is, Idahoans have all the more cause to watch closely, maybe with some apprehension, the rate of snow melt this spring.

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The political effect of Thursday’s U.S. House vote on health policy – Trumpcare, as we hear – may be enormous, even in Idaho.

Both Idaho representatives, Raul Labrador and Mike Simpson, voted in favor of the Republican bill.

Writing about the raw ammunition this gives Democrats, the liberal site Daily Kos cobbled a quick generic attack ad: “Rep. X voted for tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires while gutting health care for everyone else. Twenty-four million people thrown off Medicaid. Protections for people with pre-existing conditions destroyed. A bill so bad, Republicans wouldn’t even let Americans see it before they voted.”

Actually, the 24 million refers to to the total number who would lose insurance, Medicaid or otherwise, based on earlier versions of the legislation. (Disclosure: I may be one of the 24 or so million.) But that number may rise when the Congressional Budget Office and other organizations have time to carefully review the bill. Not in a very long time has a chamber of Congress voted for such a large bill without any solid research on what its cost or effects will be, and even without any hearings. It was jammed together in rapid-fire closed-door meetings, and even most House members were left in the dark on specifics.

The followup to 20 million people losing health insurance as a result of this legislation, recent academic studies estimated, is that somewhere between 24,000 and 44,000 Americans would die annually as a result. (A side rhetorical question: When Al-Qaeda attacked us in 2001 and killed more than 3,000 Americans, we accurately labeled them terrorists; if members of Congress vote to pass a bill they have been told will cost more than 20,000 Americans their lives, every year, what should we call them? We may get that debate in the months ahead.) It also may weaken health insurance provided by employers, so if you’re insured through your job, don’t think you have no skin in this.

The effect in Idaho would be large. The new bill may destroy many state health insurance exchanges, which more than 100,000 Idahoans rely on for health care. As a starter.

True, the bill as written is unlikely to get far in the Senate. But House members, even if they were acting with that in mind, voted on the bill as written. It’s on their records, and they’re stuck with it.

But surely that doesn’t have anything to do with Idaho? Idaho is, as they say, ruby red. Labrador and Simpson win in landslides every other years. Does it matter what they do?

Don’t be so certain: People could be hurt, frightened, or both, by what may come next. Politics evolves, even in Idaho. The Senate will not act on it swiftly. (Actual hearings are likely there.) The legislation, at least some of the Senate options, will likely not wear well as people figure out their increased risk.

Don’t be surprised if the unruly town hall Labrador held a couple of weeks ago becomes a portent of larger things to come.

Now, a followup note on last week’s column about Raul Labrador’s political future.

It included a passing reference to Senator Jim Risch, who is up for election in 2020, for what would be a third term. Owing maybe in part to considerations of age, there’s been some chatter (including in Republican circles) that Risch may not run again.

That drew a quick phone call from Risch personally. He was unequivocal: Any such contention was wrong; he and his backers already are at work raising money and organizing (even this early in the cycle); he plans and expects to be on the ballot seeking another term.

I heard nothing evasive or cautionary; he made his intentions as clear as he could short of a formal campaign announcement (which would not come until much further along in the cycle).

Noted. Another factor for Labrador to consider, presumably, in evaluating his future.

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Political question of the week in Boise seems to be: Will Raul Labrador run for governor?

There’s been a lot of presumption, even as Labrador has held off declaring one way or the other, that he will. He has expressed interest, and since the seat will be open, 2018 would be a time to move.

He may run for it; the decision, of course, is his exclusively. If he does, he’d certainly be a strong contender. But I sense a majority opinion now of political observers who would be less surprised if he passes than if he runs.

Here’s what I might say if I were offering friendly career political advice.

First, Labrador is relatively young (he’s 49) for positioning for the higher offices; not too young, of course, but young enough that he can and should consider more than just the next election cycle or two.

If he runs for governor, he might lose. Large-population primary contests in low-turnout elections can be highly unpredictable, and he would face a candidate with strong establishment support (Lieutenant Governor Brad Little), one who has been campaigning and developing support since 2013 (Russ Fulcher) and a wild card businessman (Tommy Ahlquist) who already has put a good deal of money into name-I.D. direct mail campaigns. I wouldn’t risk any betting money on a race like this. And you never know: Labrador has shown himself to be a smooth and competent campaigner, but people do make mistakes. Labrador got into the House in large part because a 2010 primary opponent made so many of them. And a loss in a gubernatorial race would cut into his political strength.

Labrador also could win; he would bring a significant base of support, and credibly could take the lead in the primary with it. He might serve as governor four years, or eight (12 is of course possible, as the incumbent shows, but unusual). He’d still have time to do something else in politics after that, but what? If you’re a retired governor in Idaho, your options – if you’re not ready to retire – may not seem that attractive after where you’ve been and what you’ve done. And of course, as governor, Labrador would get nowhere near the national attention he’s gotten up to now as a member of Congress.

Or.

He could be on a glide path to the top rung in politics short of the presidency. Odds are he could stay in the House and be re-elected easily for the next several terms. Word is that Senator Jim Risch is unlikely to run for a third term when his current one is up in 2020, and Senator Mike Crapo may not want to serve much longer. Idaho’s other House member, Mike Simpson, has passed on Senate options before. Labrador could slide right in from the U.S. House to the U.S. Senate, a position of larger impact and of elections only every six years.

Besides which, Labrador has not shown much of an interest in running things. The governorship is an executive job, and it might be a less comfortable fit with the kind of legislative mindset Labrador has developed. He wouldn’t be the first legislator-turned-executive to find that the two are quite different.

None of this is to say conclusively that Labrador won’t run for governor. He alone will decide that, and if that’s what he really wants, if nothing else will do, then he can go for it.

But the long pause in signalling his intentions does seem suggestive of second thoughts.

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Credit Raul Labrador with holding a town hall meeting, and for not hot-footing in and out. The three hours he spent there must have been an endurance challenge; most town halls I have attended over the years have been substantially shorter, usually half as long.

In other respects, compared to other recent town halls around the country, it was not terribly different: Republican representative appears and is jeered by hundreds of people in normally friendly locations. Across the state line in the adjacent eastern Oregon congressional district, Representative Greg Walden encountered much the same in Hood River (his small home town), Bend and elsewhere: A Republican routinely re-elected by supermajorities over two decades faced unusually large and stunningly hostile crowds. It must have been unlike anything he’d seen before.

And in Idaho? Would anyone other than Labrador’s loyal chorus show up?

They did; and, true, some Labrador (and Donald Trump) backers did too. But the fact that this event was held in the Republican heartland of Meridian, and lines formed hours in advance, did not discourage the opposition from showing up and getting loud. The crowd was reported as numbering around 800, an unusually big number for this sort of thing. At town halls, organizers usually have to search out prospective questioners; this time, questioners lined up by the dozens at the available mics.

All that was secondary to the electricity in the air (evident even if you watched the video), and the reason was clear: This was one of the relatively few occasions when the inside and the outside of Idaho politics came face to face.

It doesn’t happen a lot. Mostly in Idaho (with variations happening as well in other states), there’s the Republican infrastructure and its supporters over here, and what’s been dubbing itself the Resistance (Democrats and others in opposition) over there, usually in their highly separated bubbles. Theoretically, actual contact could happen more often at the Idaho Legislature, where it should happen, and it does in a limited way on specific issues. The town hall, though, was a chance to raise ideas and frame them independently. The outsiders here were able to face off directly with their opposition, and hear back in kind.

Along the way Labrador may have heard some things from constituents he might not have heard from them before, or at least not in force, things politicians don’t hear often – and that many Idahoans don’t often hear from each other.

When he said, “I don’t think there’s anything in the law that requires the president to provide his tax returns,” he got boos. Whatever else, this marked a clear expression of different world views bumping against each other.

When he said, “I do not believe that healthcare is a basic right,” much of the crowd roared its disapproval. (Question: What other rights are meaningful without health, or while you’re crushed underneath medical bills?) Labrador did say he thought people should have access to health care. One woman responded, “I have access to buy a Mercedes. The only problem is, I can’t afford a Mercedes. Many people can’t afford decent health care if it is not provided by the government.”

Mostly and traditionally, Idahoans have been polite and gentle-spoken around their elected officials. Contrariness usually isn’t a big part of the picture; the ideas “espoused” by most elected officials (in Idaho, Republicans basically) rarely draw much direct blowback. But on Wednesday in Meridian, they did. Some of it wasn’t polite, as Labrador noted ironically (“I’m super popular tonight”). But he certainly was hearing from more than the hallelujah chorus. And remember: The yelling often comes from pent-up frustration at not being listened to, as it did in the days of Tea.

A side of Idaho that doesn’t usually make itself very visible is doing that now.

In Idaho’s other House district, Representative Mike Simpson has been quoted as saying, “I’ve never been really active in doing town halls. Town hall meetings I have found, generally, disintegrate into yelling efforts.”

Meridian was a demonstration that even if they do, something awfully useful can happen there. Simpson might be well advised to reconsider.

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The question is, who is taxed?

We’ll circle back around to that, as we review the last hot topic of the Idaho legislative session, the grocery tax.

Or, to be more precise, the sales tax as it applies to groceries, which in Idaho it does. In nearly all of the 45 states that impose a statewide sales tax, groceries are exempt from the tax, or in some cases their sales carry a reduced rate. Idaho’s in the minority on this one.

The idea of exempting groceries from the Idaho tax has been around for decades, and it has had backers from both political parties. (Shall we mention that Idaho’s current sales tax was pushed through half a century ago by a Republican governor and legislature?) In an era of tax cutting among anti-tax legislators, the grocery sales tax cut hasn’t engendered really strong support for a long time. But backing for it energized this year, picking up support from various wings of the Republican legislative caucuses and among Democrats as well. The vote margins were strong enough that a veto likely would have been overridden if the legislature were still in session.

All that said, the veto by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, who proudly has pointed to many tax cuts in recent years, but also criticized the repealer bill, did not come as a shock.

This section of his veto message did, though: “The advice from Utah was simple and straightforward: Don’t do it. The ramifications of lifting the sales tax from food had made budgeting much more difficult with the loss of what indisputably was their most stable and consistent source of revenue for essential government operations. Taxpayers benefited almost imperceptibly while lawmakers found themselves dealing with the peaks and valleys of income tax and other financial supports that are far more susceptible to economic fluctuations. Everyone benefits from some kind of government service. Everyone eats.”

There’s a real logic to this, a reasonable case. What’s a little shocking is that Otter, he of such libertarian background and inclinations, would be the one making it. You could make similar arguments for any number of the tax cuts enacted over his governorship, which have been estimated at a billion dollars worth, but Otter never did before this. Otter making the case for a veto that a benefit to taxpayers would be “imperceptible” while legislators would have to struggle? Imagine what he might say if a Democratic governor ever had the temerity to use that line of logic.

We don’t much have to guess, since the response from other Republicans has been mostly angry. On Facebook, legislator Marv Hagedorn (a contender for lieutenant governor) declared himself “Very disappointed. This repeal would not have affected the next year’s budget, so we would have had next year’s session to tweak it as needed. There is no way to know how much sales taxes come in for food alone as the state has no method of garnering that information, nor do we know how much sales taxes are being lost due to Idahoans shopping across state lines where there are no taxes on food.”

Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, one of Otter’s closest allies, took the unusual step before the announcement of publicly urging Otter not to veto, setting himself up to take the contrary point of view in the race for governor. In that developing and crowded race, he won’t be alone; at least two of his fellow candidates also favor repeal.

What constituents might be pressing for, at least as much in the coming debate though, is an answer to another question.

In a legislature so eager to cut taxes, why has this one – one of the most regressive taxes on the books – had so much more trouble making a way to passage over the course of so many years, than so many other tax cuts? Not only Governor Otter should be the recipient of that question.

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Surely, candidates for lieutenant governor of Idaho have never, ever, materialized this early.

Rarely have there been so many of them. And there could be more. Probably will be.

And there are larger, structural, even physics reasons.

The last time the office was seriously competitive was in 2002, not long after state Senator Jack Riggs had been appointed to it (upon the departure of a predecessor named C.L. “Butch Otter, who had gone off to the U.S. House). There were competitive primaries in both parties, but the Republican was notably crowded, including not only the incumbent but two state senators, Celia Gould and Jim Risch, and former gubernatorial candidate Larry Eastland, plus two other little-knowns. The contest was unpredictable enough that the winner, Risch (getting his effective start here toward the Senate), won with just 34.6 percent of the vote.

Before that, although you could point to several reasonably competitive general elections back in the 70s and 80s, you have to go back generations to find the last really competitive primary for the job, or a really large field of contestants.

But so far this year – with the filing deadline close to a year away – we’ve seen entries (apparently at least) into the race from state Senator Marv Hagedorn of Meridian and state Representative Kelley Packer of McCammon and former legislator Janice McGeachin of Idaho Falls. State Republican Party chair Steve Yates may also be in.

Why all the heavy interest?

The big reason is that “light guv” is an open seat this time, since incumbent Brad Little is running for governor (in another multi-contender battle). Incumbents are notoriously hard to take out – few have in recent decades in Idaho – open positions offer the best path upward.

And there’s another reason for the interest: Ambitions (and I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense) get bottled up in places like Idaho, where one party dominates the offices and the office-holders decide to stay around for long periods of time. In Congress, Senator Mike Crapo has been there since 1998, Senator Risch since 2008, Representative Mike Simpson since 1998 and youngster Raul Labrador since 2010. Governor Otter is wrapping up 12 years in the job; by the time of the 2018 election, Little will have been at his post for just under a decade.

If you’re looking to move up, where do you go? Mostly, you wait for the rare opportunity of an opening.

Then too, the track record for upward mobility among lieutenants governor has been improving. Until the last couple of decades, most LGs topped out in that office (the main exception being John Evans, who succeeded to the governorship; Phil Batt went on to election as governor but only years after departing as lieutenant.) More recently the picture has changed. Incumbent Little is now a strong contender for governor. His predecessor, Risch, wound up in both the governor’s office and the Senate. The last LG before him, Otter, wound up in the U.S. House and the governorship.

Looking ahead to the contest, columnist Chuck Malloy was inclined to suggest, “With Yates in, it’s game over. He wins.” Personally, I wouldn’t throw any betting money down just yet. Multi-candidate races can get awfully unpredictable, especially over the course of long campaigns. And the high pressure surrounding those few open seats can add to the number of open questions.

Never underestimate the power of bottled energy when just enough heat is applied.

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Members of the United States House of Representatives like to point to a distinction particular to their chamber: They are the only federal entity, and one of the few anywhere in government, whose members have gotten there exclusively by election. Not a single one, in all these more than 200 years, in any other way.

The vast majority of these representatives has been elected in regular even-year elections, but some got there in special elections when a member resigned or died. Several of these elections are planned around the country (one in Montana, for example) this year on occasion of the representative quitting to take a job in the Trump Administration, a common reason for a vacancy.

Idaho has never had a special election for a U.S. representative. (I refuse the word “congressman.” As a high school teacher of mine, a one-time Capitol Hill staffer, pointed out, there is no such job title.) No House member from Idaho ever has resigned during a term. Just one – ironically, a Democrat named Thomas Coffin, in 1934 – died in office; his seat remained unfilled until the next general election a few months later.

There is a procedure for a special House election in Idaho, however, and a bill aimed at adjusting it has drawn a rare veto from Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter. It also happened to be a bill opposed on the legislative floor only by Democrats, and this is not a coincidence.

The rule has been that special elections for House members were exempt from the general limitations on the number of elections during a year: A governor could call one by proclamation. The new bill would change that to limit the special election to one of the four standard election days during the year, and split it into two elections, a primary and a general. As it is now, the election is a “jungle” election, with the overall top vote-getter prevailing and winning the seat.

Neither approach is particularly sacred; various states handle it in each way. But there are implications, political and otherwise, to these decisions.

Otter (a former U.S. House member himself) said in his veto statement that “while I appreciate the desire to establish an orderly process for conducting a special election for filling a vacancy in one of Idaho’s seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, this legislation unnecessarily sacrifices timeliness for structure. … The governor now has discretion to set such elections, which should be conducted as soon as reasonably possible to ensure that Idaho’s congressional representation is not diminished for any longer than necessary. H197 could leave the state without a way of filling a U.S. House vacancy for six months or longer. That is simply unacceptable.” That’s a reasonable objection.

The current law also has another potential effect that some legislators may have considered, and not liked. Holding a primary election first, to settle on party nominees before sending them to the general election, is a way of resolving things within the party, of making the results somewhat more predictable. With Idaho’s current, single, winner-take-all election a “jungle” contest, things get unpredictable quickly. Imagine an election featuring five Republican candidates and one Democrat: even in Idaho, the Democrat would win. Or you might wind up with a Republican candidate who might not survive later for long. (Remember what happened the last time Idaho had a really big Republican primary for the U.S. House, in 2006, won by one-term Representative Bill Sali.)

Structure makes for political results, too.

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I stopped in for a check-up this week at my doctor’s office and, as I stood in the waiting area, I surveyed the patients and wondered which of them – which of us – will be able to afford a visit a year from now. When I talked with the doctor later, he seemed to wonder too.

In the last few years the portion of uninsured Americans slid to record lows, another way of saying that health care has become available to more of us – many more than a decade ago. The system is not perfect or cheap, but insured care is more affordable. The new bill being wrangled over in the U.S. House, planned for a vote this last week, would put insurance – health care – out of reach for tens of millions of Americans, and weaken or make more expensive coverage for tens of millions more.

This has gotten lots of attention around the country, but less, it seems, in debates and discussions in Congress. How are Idaho’s two House members – participants in the battle underway (as this was written Thursday evening) – framing the talk about it?

In different ways.

Raul Labrador released this (lightly edited here) as his position statement on March 8:

“Six years ago, I promised the people of Idaho that I would do everything I could to fully repeal and replace Obamacare with a healthcare system that focused on people, not programs. One built around successful health outcomes, not the bottom line of insurance companies. … I have spent the last two days studying the American Health Care Act, and unfortunately, it is not that bill. Upon its release, President Trump signaled his willingness to negotiate. I’m eager to take him up on this offer. All good legislative solutions must go through rigorous debate, and I’m willing to work with the leadership in the House, and the President, to find a solution to this critical problem. What I won’t do is break the pledge I made to the people of Idaho who sent me here to fix this. I am hopeful we can have an open and honest debate on this issue. We owe it to the people of Idaho and the nation to get it right.”

What does “get it right” mean? Right for who? What insurance would people have when they get sick? No specifics are on offer.

As of Thursday evening, Labrador said he remained opposed to the new bill, as well as the ACA. What he would rather have is unclear. Others in the “Freedom Caucus” (of which he’s a member) seem to want a simple ACA repeal, or something close to it: a return to 2009 which would, like the current bill, throw tens of millions off insurance, end coverage guarantees and return to higher increases in premiums. Would Labrador go along with that?

Mike Simpson, by profession a dentist before joining Congress, is not clearer. He like Labrador has repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but as to the specifics of what should follow … He’s not released a general statement on the new proposal by House Speaker Paul Ryan as Labrador has, though a spokesman said, “it is impossible to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ because changes are currently being made and we haven’t seen the final bill.” True; the terms of the bill seem continually up for grabs, and a House vote may happen before many of them even are analyzed. But as with Labrador, we haven’t heard much about specifics.

Simpson, who has been close to House leadership for some years, also was quoted by National Public Radio: “One of the reasons I don’t want this bill to fail is I don’t want Paul to fail.”

I doubt that the people in physician waiting rooms in Idaho Falls and Nampa next year will much care about Paul Ryan’s political stature. They’re more likely to be concerned about whether, or not, they can afford the health care they need.

That may be the subject of a lot of questions, for both Labrador and Simpson, in months to come.

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Who would have guessed that the biggest turnout for an Idaho legislative hearing this year would come on the subject of climate change?

It was all the more surprising because there’s no active Idaho legislation specifically on the subject this year — nothing moving through the system.

The closest came last month when legislators voted to pull references to climate change from classroom standards in Idaho schools. At a Senate committee meeting on the subject about two dozen members of the public spoke on the standards rule, all but one in favor of retaining the references to climate change; on a party line vote, the reference was stricken. (The Senate seemed somewhat open to compromise, but the House was firm that the climate change reference must go.)

The Republican leadership and committee chairs aren’t supportive of it as a legislative initiative, so it’s just not a subject of much discussion.

At least, not until last Wednesday’s hearing at the Statehouse.

What happened then wasn’t even a hearing, exactly, not even a formal proceeding of a legislative committee. Instead, after Dell Raybould, the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee chairman, turned down a request by Democratic Representative Ilana Rubel for a committee informational event, he agreed to allow a special meeting which was not connected to the committee, to be held in the Statehouse’s auditorium. Though no supporter of her position on the issue, he personally showed and stayed through the event. Not much of the rest of the committee seems to have appeared.

So this was an event without any official standing, untied to legislation or even any committee or even any specific proposal, and without the opportunity to speak to any governing group of legislators.

Despite all that it drew, by several reporters’ estimates, around 650 people, enough to fill the auditorium and cause building managers to open overflow rooms. It was the biggest crowd for any event in this year’s legislative session. It was among the biggest crowds any Idaho legislative event ever has drawn.

Rubel, who hosted the meeting, was quoted as saying, “This issue is not just about rising ocean levels and polar bears – it’s about crops and jobs in Idaho. Idaho’s leaders must assess the risk ahead and take steps to address it, not hide their heads in the sand.”

The crowd seemed to be mostly unified in its stand, too. To judge at least from the testimony, the push was strong for at least acknowledging the fact of climate change (you won’t find much of that kind of acknowledgement in the Idaho Legislature) and the need to plan ahead for changes that may be coming.

On one hand, the presence of a large turnout hasn’t proven especially persuasive to the Idaho Legislature up to now. As I wrote a few weeks back, large turnout on one side of an issue often has resulted in . . . exactly the opposite reaction from legislators. The “Add the Words” campaign, which has drawn large crowds, is just one example.

But the ability to draw such significant numbers for a single meeting does suggest some untapped political energy out there. Campaigns in legislative races, and ballot initiatives, could be accomplished with smaller numbers and force than that single meeting generated.

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