• 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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The elections of 1992 were mostly good for Democrats around the country but overall excellent for Republicans in Idaho – in spite of a drastic drop in the GOP vote for president.

There’s a thought here worth unpacking during this campaign of 2016.

In the last half-century Idaho’s electoral votes for president not only haven’t been in doubt, but have been in landslide territory for Republicans nearly every cycle. If you consider the 1976 vote for Gerald Ford among the landslides (and at 59.9%, it’d be churlish not to), then only two elections in all those years stand out: To a lesser degree 1996, when Robert Dole won 52.2% (to 33.6% for Bill Clinton) and to a greater degree in 1992, when George H.W. Bush won Idaho with 42% (to Clinton’s 28.4%).

That 42% was the lowest percentage a Republican has gotten for president in Idaho – even though it was enough to win the state’s electoral votes – since 1936.

That also was the big year, of course, for independent Ross Perot, who caught the attention and support of a lot of Idahoans. Perot’s support, in Idaho at least, came mostly out of the Republican side, and drove down Bush’s percentage. (The same thing happened to a lesser degree four years later to Dole.)

To be clear here: The decline in Republican percentage in Idaho did not result in an uptick on the Democratic side. Clinton’s percentage in Idaho also was unusually low even for a Democrat. And Republicans did very well that year down the ballot, though the legislature and courthouses.

But Perot surely was not the only reason Bush’s numbers cratered in Idaho that year. It also had to do with the relative level of actual enthusiastic support. And the early 90s was a period when a kind of predecessor to today’s in-GOP insurgency was beginning to become active in Idaho, not to today’s extent but enough to shake up thinking and alignments among a lot of Republicans.

There was some subtlety to it. Idaho’s Republican establishment was solidly behind Bush; there was little visible Idaho activity in support of his in-party critics like Pat Buchanan. The Perot activism was genuinely grass roots; it seemed to grow in part from Republicans who were interested in sending a message to Bush, and to the Republican establishment.

If some of this is starting to sound a little familiar, there’s a reason: Those factors from back then may be a lot stronger now.

The dissatisfaction among Republicans with Bush (over the broken “no new taxes” pledge, for example) was real but low-level, not much surfacing. The dissatisfaction among a lot of Republicans this year with Donald Trump is much greater. In various ways he was all but ignored at the state Republican convention, an unheard-of slight, drastically different from past presidential elections.

A Dan Jones & Associates poll of Idaho voters released in the last few days shows Trump at 49% to 32% for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Clinton number isn’t far from what you might expect, but the Trump number is unusually low for what you’d think a Republican nominee would pull.

Is there an opening for some third candidate (such as the Libertarian Party ticket, which has two unusually strong contenders running) to do what Perot did 24 years ago? We may see.

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Dogs that don’t bark in the night-time tend not to get as much attention as those that do.

Same with political conventions.

The 2014 Idaho Republican convention got plenty of media splash, and for reasons that made party leaders grimace. That was a convention that ran on ground so bitter that much of its basic, normal work could not be done, and it adjourned in chaos. And led to lawsuits and worse, even a dispute about who was or wasn’t the state party chair.

This year’s convention, held in Nampa a week ago, saw none of that. It ran quietly and smoothly, saw the approval of party leaders – re-election without dispute of those in place – and of party platform and resolutions, with only the mildest of argument. It was closer to the way conventions were run 20 or 30 years ago, apart from the lack of enthusiasm for the presidential nominee.

Not that it was entirely an era of good feelings; new ideas were largely blocked and the platform was simply that of 2012. But it still ran far smoother than 2014.

Some of that may have to do with care and effort on the part of some of the party leaders. But some other factors were almost surely involved too.

One was the relative lack of a big rift within the party. Obviously, the Idaho Republican Party was home to plenty of legislative primary battles, concluded only a few weeks ago. But these were local and generally small in scale, and in many cases specific personalities were key to the battles involved. While both U.S. House members had in-party challenges, they didn’t come to much, and many voters probably were surprised even to see the extra names on the ballot. Almost all of the real conflict was at the legislative level, and these conflicts didn’t much spill over from district to district, or around the state.

If you were a delegate from, say, Pocatello, the recent intense battles in several legislative races up in the Panhandle would have little resonance for you. There were no big sweeping bases for opposition.

In 2014, the Idaho Republican Party seemed to contain two parties in one – the insurgents and the establishment. it involved not just local races, but many of the statewide and even congressional races, and the rhetoric involved in those contests periodically ran hot. And when the establishment won the primary, the insurgents were left fuming, and had no outlet for their anger, until the convention met. Little wonder the convention that followed a battle ground.

I have to wonder if there was another aberrational factor this year, too, by the name of Donald Trump.

Trump surely had supporters in Idaho; in the presidential primary earlier this year he came in second and won a bunch of counties in the center of the state. But Idaho’s Republican establishment hasn’t exactly attached itself to him.

One story in the Spokane Spokesman-Review noted that at the convention, “When delegates were urged to rally behind Trump at the close of their morning floor session on Saturday, only a few waved signs and the cheers were noticeably muted.”

When Representative Raul Labrador was asked for his thoughts about Trump, he responded, “It’s a beautiful day in Idaho, isn’t it?”

At this year’s Idaho convention, there was plenty of willingness to get along with one’s neighbors. Maybe they were encouraged in that process by the sounds of unexpected and fearsome creatures outside the doors.

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This is the first of two posts on the changing audiobook landscape.

No part of book publishing has grown faster in the last few years than audiobooks. The numbers of books published, of copies sold, and of audio formats, have been increasing dramatically, opening new opportunities for indie authors.

The growth in audio reflects changes both in how the books are produced and in how listeners use them. Audiobooks have become easier and more convenient for listeners to obtain and listen to, and at the same time have become easier to create.

Audiobook makers have their own trade association (the Audio Publishers Association), magazines and websites, sources and providers for reviews, and the Deyan Institute, “the world’s first school for teaching the art and technology of audiobook production.” There are even independent audiobook awards, the “audies.” Some of these have been around for a few years (the APA dates to 2001), but all have been growing.

The traditional publishers who long have produced audiobooks have begun to invest more fully in audio, which suggests indie authors should take a close look too.

THE KEY CHANGES

Karen Commins, a veteran narrator active in the APA, recalled in a recent article how “In 2003, when I narrated my first commercial book, most audiobook productions occurred in pricey New York or Los Angeles studios. The finished products were packaged, shipped and sold on cassette or CD. Due to high production, warehousing and distribution costs, audiobooks were almost exclusively the domain of the biggest print publishers and reserved only for the bestselling authors and highest-profile titles. As a result, only about five percent of all books published were made into audiobooks.”

Special audiobook players were needed or recommended for many of these audiobooks, which often were produced in proprietary formats. You may remember the long-departed Sony Discman, which was designed for books on compact disc. There have been many others as well, including the Playaway and the Daisy Player.

Many of the old limitations are gone. Audio now can be recorded in a vast number of local studios (many narrators work at least partly from home studios), and equipment requirements for professional results are specific but not necessarily expensive. Professional narrators can be found around the country; audio work can be a form of telecommuting.

Audiobooks traditionally were recorded onto cassette tapes or compact discs (or before that, on phonograph records). Now most audiobooks are sold as audio files (often in the common MP3 format), which can be sent or downloaded online. They can be heard through a range of commonly-used devices, from laptop computers to phones to tablets.

NUMBERS INCREASING

The audiobook industry is objectively large: Worldwide, this year it has been estimated in value at about $2.8 billion. The APA said a July 2015 study showed audio sales in the year before “totaled more than $1.47 billion, up 13.5% over 2013. Unit sales were also up 19.5%, nearly five times the increase of the overall book trade industry.” In 2015, the APA said sales increased again by about 20%, to $1.77 billion.

Part of that increase was driven by the number of titles offered to buyers. In 2010, the APA said that 6,200 audiobook titles were published. Last year the comparable number reached 35,572, according to the APA.

That’s still far fewer than the hundreds of thousands of new print and eBooks being published each year, but a big increase from just a few years ago.

Some categories of books seem to fare better in audio. Research has shown that fiction accounts for more than three-fourths of all audio sales, and adult fiction overwhelmingly dominates audio sales and number of titles.

Downloaded files have become far more popular than other audio formats (such as tape or CD), and a bunch of apps for smartphones and other devices have been developed for listening to those files. Baker & Taylor’s Acoustik is one example of a widely-used app.

Audio seems to be one area of tech advancement in publishing that appeals more to an older rather than younger audience. Still, the APA said that 36% of its survey respondents reported listening to children’s or young adult audiobooks.

Abridged audio versions of a number of books are available, but unabridged versions heavily dominate sales, surveys indicated. New audio variations, with music, sound effects, multiple voices, non-music sound beds, are being tried, but their future is unclear.

FINDING AUDIOBOOKS

How do readers find their audiobooks?

The book news and review site Bookriot in 2014 asked that question of its readers, and got some clear results.

Libraries, often in connection with the audio-providing service called Overdrive, accounted for 687 responses—much the largest group finding their books from one type of source, but split among a vast number of libraries.

Audible, the Amazon.com-affiliated audiobook site, accounted for another 494, becoming the largest single-location go-to source. Audible is a subscription service ($14.95 a month) which lets people download audiobooks.

The next largest single category—53 responses—is brick and mortar bookstores, which still sell various formats of audiobooks. (Other responses covered everything from iTunes to YouTube to illegal downloads.)

Readers can find book descriptions in many of these places, but many readers also rely on reviewers, who discuss not only the text of the book but also the sound and narration quality and other factors. These audiobook reviews have been increasing in number as well. Audio reviews can be found on the AudioFile Magazine as well as many broader sites like Bookriot.

Readers can be approached in other creative ways. The site Tryaudiobooks approaches listeners according to what else they’re doing while absorbing a new book: “Do you listen to audiobooks during your commute? Or do you prefer listening while working out or crafting? Whatever your activity, we have the perfect listening suggestion for you. Audiobooks are a great companion for activities such as cooking, gardening, coloring, running, and many more! You choose your activity and we’ll provide the entertainment.”

Next: Is an audiobook right for you?

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Idaho voters over the years have had a hand in reshaping or founding several important state agencies, from the Department of Water Resources to the reapportionment commission. But the Department of Fish & Game may be the most voter-impacted of all.

The dispute ongoing now, involving two Fish & Game commissioners – Mark Doerr of Kimberly and Will Naillon of Challis – who were not reappointed by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, makes for a direct reflection on some of that.

Idaho has had fishing and hunting rules since its early territorial days; the first were set in 1864, banning big game hunting for a period from February to July. But those rules were on the honor system. No one enforced fish or game law until after statehood, when in 1899 the Fish & Game Department was first created and a game warden was hired. (Maybe there’s an indicator here: Idaho is among the states referring to “game” in its agency name, while most other nearby states, such as Washington, Oregon, California, Montana and Utah, refer to “wildlife”.)

That early agency was under direct political control, meaning that governors appointed the executives and oversaw the staff, and legislatures directly set much of the policy. Not many years passed before complaints began to surface. As early as 1911 the state Game Warden, Frank Kendall, advised “placing the fish and game department of Idaho on a scientific basis and in order to do so we must have men who have made this a study and are familiar with the needs and requirement of this line of work, regardless of political affiliations, and to this end I would recommend … we place the men who are directly in the fish and game department under a civil service ruling and retain them as long as they do good work.”

Sportsmen’s groups started calling for the same thing, pressing the legislature to upgrade the state fish and game efforts. Lobbying over a span of 25 years by Idaho’s many hunters and fishers got them nowhere.

In 1938 they mobilized to place on the ballot their proposal, placing fish and game under control of a commission and requiring that officers hold and keep their jobs based on merit. At a time when suspicion of government expansion was not so different from now across much of Idaho, the initiative passed with 76 percent of the vote. That measure set the framework for the Department of Fish & Game still in place today.

Nothing in government can ever truly be “taken out of politics,” and in the broad sense shouldn’t be – that would mean the public has no input, no control. And there’s often some tension between what various people in the public, and sometimes their elected officials, want and what the fish and game department and commission do. But the measure of independence usually has been seen as a plus.

In 1995, new Governor Phil Batt asked for letters of resignation of the commissioners; he had wanted the departure of the then-director, Jerry Conley, and a number of policy changes. A statewide eruption ensued, and Batt dropped his request for the resignations.

He later told Idaho Public Television, “I found out that was a mistake, I apologized for it, and since that time I have never tried to influence any decision of the Fish and Game Commission. I don’t think that I should. I do think that we all have to work together for the good of the State of Idaho, I’ve impressed that on them many a time, but I’ve never tried to tell them what they have to do or what they can’t do.”

The tension is always there. Doerr and Naillon could tell you about that.

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