1) In Idaho the controversial effort by top GOP leaders to “reform” education received an old-fashioned whipping – a historic whipping – at the polls.
Not since 1982 – when then-Democratic state Rep. Ken Robison, almost by himself, pushed a ballot measure to cut property taxes for homeowners – has an initiative or referendum broadly backed by Idaho ”progressives” been successful. The progressive side in the education reform debate simply crushed the so-called Luna Laws. The “no” side prevailed in 37 of Idaho’s 44 counties, and two of the measures went down in every county.
As my friend and a great number cruncher Andy Brunelle points out, since that successful 1982 effort, the progressive/liberal-backed ballot failures in Idaho “include removing sales tax on food (1984), repealing right-to-work (1986), the nuclear waste initiative and the anti-bear baiting initiative (1996), and the sales tax increase for schools (2006). The ancient history for progressive interests in Idaho included the Sunshine Law on election and lobbyist disclosure (1974), stopping large-scale dredge mining in major rivers (1954), and establishing a nonpolitical or more professional Idaho Department of Fish and Game (1938).”
Backers of the Luna Laws will undoubtedly blame the demise of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 on out-of-state money from the hated “teacher’s union,” but an equally plausible explanation may be that education, broadly defined, is still the one big issue that can unite Idahoans across the political spectrum. Clearly Idahoans didn’t like the vision of education that the political establishment served up two years ago, and they have sent the authors back to the drawing board.
If Idaho teachers are smart, they will now push their own serious reform agenda. Yesterday’s election, rejecting a top-down approach to improving education, may just indicate that Idahoans are ready for a serious discussion of education improvements that includes, and perhaps is led, by teachers.
2) Demographics matter in politics. Nationally, Republicans bet the farm on a belief that Barack Obama could not reassemble the coalition that elected the first black president in 2008. With all of his problems as an incumbent with a bad economy, Obama’s campaign doubled down on its coalition of minority, women and younger voters. In the grey dawn of defeat for the national GOP, the party would be well advised to recall the efforts of its last successful national leader – the out-of-sight, out-of-mind George W. Bush – and begin, as a first order of business, to address its problems with Hispanic voters. A national party that concedes minorities, women and young people isn’t likely to be very successful as the nation’s demographics continue to steadily move in a way that helps Democrats.
3) Demographics are also the way back to relevance for Idaho Democrats, but without the kind of thoughtful, community-based strategy that Obama’s campaign manager – Jim Messina, the guy with Idaho ties – devised for the re-elected president, Idaho Democrats will continue to flounder at the margins of the state’s politics.
4) Idaho’s two senior members of Congress, Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson, are now poised to be real players in the coming fiscal and budget debate in Washington. Crapo has supported the idea of a “grand compromise” on the order of the Bowles-Simpson recommendations, and Simpson, an always sensible, decent guy, said Nov. 6 that Obama and the GOP must come together. He’s right, and he and Crapo can be leaders in getting it done. I suspect they will find that such leadership will be good for the country and for their own political standing at home and in D.C.
5) Idaho is now balanced on its own cliff, but this cliff involves health insurance rather than fiscal issues. After rejecting industry and business calls to get going on a state-based health insurance exchange and hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court and then that a President Romney would dump Obamacare, Idaho opponents of an insurance exchange now face the very real possibility of the worst possible outcome – a federally created exchange that would be imposed on the state.
Elections are endlessly fascinating, and this one will be hashed over for years. A truly historic day and lots to contemplate.
Marc Johnson is a partner at the Boise-based Gallatin Group. He led the firm’s Boise office for 18 years and served as company president for five years. Prior to joining Gallatin, he served as press secretary and chief of staff to Cecil D. Andrus, Idaho’s only four-term governor. Marc blogs at www.manythingsconsidered.com.