• 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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Last week attendees at the Association of Idaho Cities heard a presentation about a Boise-specific project that could have impacts throughout the state: The effort to designate Gowen Field at Boise as a training mission site for the F-35 Air Force aircraft.

The state’s national guard unit at Gowen would supply manpower for the effort. While Gowen is located at Boise, Mayor David Bieter and a state Department of Commerce spokesman pointed out the economic effects of the added mission at the airfield, which would run to many millions of dollars and added employment, could ripple throughout southern Idaho.

The contest to house the F-35 mission is not over; five cities are in the running (the others are Jacksonville, Florida; Detroit, Michigan; Madison, Wisconsin; and Montgomery, Alabama), and two will be chosen. They would replace the A-10 Warthogs, at least some of which are going away. There is some concern about what might happen if Boise misses out; Gowen employs 1,300 people and facilities associated with it employ more. There’s a lot at stake here, since the worst-case scenario might include a shutdown if no new Air Force mission is assigned. An F-35 assignment, on the other hand, might lead to significant expansions. The final decision will be made by the secretary of the Air Force in Washington.

So the Boise and state of Idaho interest in the F-35 is understandable.

The presentation to the cities officials covered these points and others, but it seemed to elide one aspect of the discussion around the proposal: The mixed reaction to it locally. The pitch at the meeting took the basic approach that support for the expansion is stronger than many people think. But that hints at the fact of significant opposition out there. And it is significant.

Some of the most visible comes from David Frazier, whose website Boise Guardian has been tracking the city’s press for the assignment – critically. Noise (the two sides hotly dispute the amount and quality of it), economic impact and other issues are factors, but Frazier’s biggest complaint may be that the city hasn’t much engaged those Boiseans who are in opposition.

Last week a Guardian article said that, “With more than 200 residents attending a Tuesday meeting, it’s fair to say opposition to the F-35 being based at Gowen Field is growing. Citizens packed the public meeting room at the Main Library to hear speakers discuss the ramifications of basing the F-35 at Gowen Field. Although invited by the sponsoring, ‘Citizens For A Livable Boise’ group, no one from the city of Boise or the Idaho Air National Guard attended.”

He and some others in opposition say that while the city and state have promoted the F-35 project to any number of associations, from cities to realtors, Boiseans irritated about it have had trouble getting the city’s ear.

This could be an issue for the advocates since – as was pointed out at the cities association – local support for the expansion is a factor the Air Force considers when making its assignments.

The point here is not to take a side on whether the F-35s should come to Boise. But it is to suggest that if advocates want to improve their odds of attracting it, a little more community outreach to the opposition might be helpful.

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Numbers are different from ideology in this way: They are specific, and they can have inescapably concrete meanings.

Two Idaho examples from last week.

The campaign of Tommy Ahlquist, the Republican gubernatorial candidate and businessman heavily involved in Boise downtown redevelopment, mentioned the number 100 a couple of times. On Wednesday he released a video ad saying he has “a blueprint to cut $100 million dollars in wasteful government spending in his first 100 days” as (presumably) governor. To be precise, it says he has a “blueprint” to do that, but didn’t actually promise he would accomplish it. As to what the blueprint contains, we’re given no clues.

Put aside for a moment the whole question of exactly where all this waste is located, and how the new governor would expect to root it out so fast. Although we can reasonably guess where the idea came from: The last presidential campaign featured comparable sorts of extravagant promises that turned out to be not easy to deliver in the real world.

I’d suggest instead constituents asking their Republican legislators: Is there really that much actual waste in the state budget? You’ve been voting for years to pass state budgets: Are you being that wasteful? What do you think of this accusation – from a possible top standard bearer for your party next year – that you have been?

Some notable Q and A might result. And we might get some specifics: Where exactly is this massive amount of waste? One person’s waste, after all, can be another person’s important priority, and since actually listing the cuts is likely to aggravate a lot of people, that often doesn’t happen in the course of campaigns.

Another set of numbers also emerged last week, far from anyone’s Idaho campaign ad. (And yes, it is stunning to think that the TV ads for the 2018 Idaho gubernatorial campaign have already begun. Prepare yourselves to be inundated for months to come.)

The second set of numbers comes in part from Idaho: That would be $7.25. This is the level of the Idaho minimum wage.

The Idaho Business Review pointed out last week a comparative, that minimum wages are on the rise in neighboring states. By 2020, Washington’s will boost from $11 to $13.50, Oregon’s from $9.75 to $11.25, Nevada’s from $8.37 to $8.96 in 2020, and Montana’s from $8.16 an hour to $8.75 in 2020.

This will have consequences too. Many Idaho employers have reported some difficulty in the last year or two finding employees. (Obviously, some employers can and do pay higher wages, but local competitive pressures can discourage that.) If you’re looking for a job, or even if you already have one, in the minimum wage pay range, why would you want one on the Idaho side of the border? For people in or near border areas, the answer is clear enough, and it could apply as well to people willing to pull up stakes.

Of course, there’s the argument that higher minimum wages may depress employment. But the business environments in the higher-minimum-wage states around Idaho are faring fine. And the largest increases in Idaho employment in the last few years have tended to come in sectors like construction, where wages mostly are notably above the minimum wage.

Comes down to numbers. And what they represent about quality of life.

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A simple decision about running for one office as opposed to another one has upended the calculus for both, and maybe for much more of Idaho Republican politics.

The candidate in question, of course, is former state Senator Russ Fulcher, who for a long time has been a candidate for governor, then on Thursday shifted his aim over to the first congressional district, to run for the U.S. House seat now held by Raul Labrador.

It’s doubtless a rational end result of working through the political calculus. But just as Labrador’s own announcement – to run for governor rather than for re-election – shifted the nature of the 2018 contest for both offices some weeks ago, so this one may have spinoff effects.

The result, for now, looks like improved odds for election for both Fulcher and Labrador.

On Fulcher’s part, he’s entering a race with a better chance of winning.

David Leroy, the former Ada County prosecutor, attorney general and lieutenant governor who held Cecil Andrus nearly to a draw in the 1986 governor’s race, is already in, and he will be no pushover. He hasn’t run for major office for a long time, and when he ran for the first district seat in 1994, in a race he originally was expected to win, he lost to lesser-known Helen Chenoweth. But his campaigning skills seem unimpaired, he arrives with broad-based good will and a relatively blank slate as far as recent relationships and issues stances are concerned, and much of the establishment of the Idaho Republican Party may easily coalesce around him.

Despite all that, Fulcher would stand to be the insurgent in the race and one with a well-established campaign organization, and those are powerful factors. Leroy is having to begin the effort nearly from scratch; starting early helps, but he’ll be running against someone who’s been in the field much earlier, since 2013. And Fulcher’s base of support statewide is strongest in Canyon and western Ada counties; a first district run demographically plays to his strengths.

Fulcher’s departure from the governor’s race, meanwhile, helps Labrador. In that race, Lieutenant Governor Brad Little will share a support base with Leroy, while Labrador, Fulcher and to some extent businessman Tommy Ahlquist were splitting the non-establishment side of the party. One less cut of that part of the pie means a bigger slice for Labrador and maybe Ahlquist, but especially, probably, Labrador. Ahlquist will be going after (not entirely but to a great extent) the people who like the idea of a non-politician in the governor’s race, and both Labrador and Fulcher are established politicians. (No offense intended: They simply have run for office, between them, quite a few times at this point.) Labrador’s new candidacy was impaired, to some degree, by Fulcher’s competition.

Which raises a question about the first district. Since both Leroy and Fulcher are established political figures, might we see a newcomer – someone playing something like the Donald Trump role – entering that race, to pick up the same kind of support Ahlquist may be seeking in the gubernatorial?

It’s early enough in the process that we shouldn’t be surprised if someone does.

In 2014 the Idaho Republican Party split cleanly, in its primary contests, between the inside, established, candidates, and the outside insurgents – it was two slates just short of official in nature. Will we see a reprise of that in 2018 – or might we see, this time, a three-way split?

The Fulcher shift brings such questions into much clearer focus.

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This may be a good moment for the opening of Idaho’s newest staffed visitor center, in one of the not especially scenic areas of the state.

And one of the historically ugliest.

The site is the Minidoka War Relocation Center east of Jerome, which has been a designated federal historical site for a while and has allowed visitors in, but only now is staffing up so managers can show visitors around. Self-guided tours have been available for awhile, but only now is the site properly being staffed.

There’ll be plenty to talk about, and a lot of it is sadly pertinent today.

In 1942, shortly after the United States entered World War II, many Americans of Japanese ancestry, half of them children, a large majority American citizens, were uprooted from their homes and businesses and forced into “relocation camps.” (Americans of German descent were not similarly relocated.) A number of these camps were located around the western part of the country, and they were all primitive, degrading places. The camps remained in operation throughout the war. At Minidoka (or what’s more often been called the Hunt Camp) about 13,000 people were effectively imprisoned.

In his book, Idaho for the Curious, writer Cort Conley quoted a former Denver Post editor, Bill Hosokawa, who was among those held at Minidoka: “It’s important to remember this chapter in American history. There are so many people completely unaware of what happened. We can set down the story of what happened, not out of bitterness, but to remind us, and to make damn sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Evidently, we need the reminder.

Last month the Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial was vandalized, not once but repeatedly, with ugly, hateful graffiti. Boise Police Chief Bill Bones was quoted as saying, “There’s an obligation to call this what it is. It’s a cowardly act. It’s a criminal act. The words that they wrote are obviously attacks against people that live in this community simply based on the religion they practice or the color of their skin.”

All true. The same and more could be said of the recent killings on a Portland train attributed to a Portland white supremacist who, at his court appearance, shouted out, “You’ve got no safe place!” and “Death to the enemies of America!”

He was in practice providing cheer for anyone who wishes ill for America.

Our real problem is the people who would turn us all against each other. If you want to consider who serves the interests of people who wish disaster on America, that’s an excellent place to start.

A number of Idaho public officials, including Senator Mike Crapo and Boise Mayor David Bieter, did speak at a ceremony to protest that Anne Frank attacks, and that was helpful. These kinds of strikes at decency and community should not go unrebutted.

But the understanding that all Americans ought to be free from attacks and fear, something most of us probably would take as a given, appears to need much more persistent effort if we don’t want to travel down a road to a new set of relocation camps.

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