• 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.
 

stapiluslogo1

The regular election day of mid-May passed barely noticed across most of Idaho, as it often does. And low attention often means low turnouts.

And what do low turnouts mean for election results? What’s the difference, in other words, between that and higher turnout elections?

One particular result from May 16 deserves a close look for just this point. It is the ballot issue in Bonneville County over whether to create a community college taxing district, the prerequisite to creating a new community college at Idaho Falls. (There’s currently an Eastern Idaho Technical College, but it’s much more limited in scope; it will be supplanted by the new community college.)

The issue was hotly debated locally, though the debate was not really partisan. It did sharply split local Republicans. The Bonneville Republican committee took a stance against it, and threw in campaign money as well. But a Republican women’s organization argued in favor, and a number of local Republican officials, along with Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, supported the measure.

The ballot issue passed with 71.4 percent of the vote; a two-thirds vote had been needed. The two-thirds mark often is a tough barrier to overcome. Are there any clues to tell us more specifically how it was done?

The college issue was prominent in the area, and it drew a significant voter turnout – significant, at least, by comparison with the norm. A year ago, in a presidential election year, the May election pulled only 19 percent of the electorate. This year (again, in Bonneville) it drew 28 percent; a significant increase.

The turnout was not uniform across all precincts. But some voting patterns did stick out.

Turnout was higher than 25 percent in eight precincts; in all but one of them, the college proposal won by more than two-thirds. Turnout was generally strong on the southern and western sides of Idaho Falls, and that is where the college proposal was strongest.

As you might expect with such a lopsided result, just a few precincts outright opposed the district – three out of 51 – and in two of those the turnout was well below average. (It was 22.9 percent and 20.9 percent in precincts 41 and 44, respectively.)

The Idaho Falls Post Register noted, “Of the 14 precincts with over 33.3 percent opposition to the creation of the community college, just one had a turnout over 25 percent – Precinct 54, generally speaking, the Ririe area.” That Ririe precinct opposed the district by a close vote, 86-80, and it’s worth recalling that this precinct in November voted 81.3 percent for Donald Trump. If you translated that percentage to the Ririe vote in May, it would have an anti-district vote of 134-32.

The top turnout precinct was 56 (at 45 percent), but that was an aberration since it was the mail-in “precinct”. (Take that as another argument in favor of mail-in voting.) Of the next four high-turnout regular precincts, three (the exception being Ririe) passed the district not just by the county-wide average of a little more than two to one, but by more than three to one.

As the Post Register added, “clearly just getting voters to the polls is what matters.”

Voting counts.

columns

stapiluslogo1

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.

columns

stapiluslogo1

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.

columns

stapiluslogo1

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.

columns