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Inside Politics: Idaho is growing, but are our politicians prepared?

The Times-News and several other Idaho newspapers have run stories in the last week contemplating the implications of Sam Wolkenhauer’s recent population projections for Idaho. Wolkenhauer, a Department of Labor regional economist, models population growth trends. Sources of data for the analysis include the US Census Bureau and US Bureau of Economic Analysis. To the great joy, or great consternation of Idahoans (depending on who is commenting) our population growth rate is projected to be triple the national average through 2025.

We’ve all had conversations with fellow Idahoans about the way we view the impacts of population growth. Those who associate benefit from strong population growth tend to be happy about growth. Those nostalgic for the fading rural agrarian character of Idaho will likely be less enthusiastic about growth and lament the predictions.

A high rate of population increase benefits many economic sectors. Developers and retailers see a rise in demand and potential sales. Manufacturers see potential increases in work force size. If the state maintains or improves its ratio of public service careerists to population (educators, social workers, law enforcement, firefighters, etc.,) those professions represent opportunities for employment. Similarly retail work forces and manufacturing jobs will potentially increase as enterprises take advantage of the potential growth in work force.

However, a high rate of population increase can also both distort cultural norms and stress local, state and national governmental capacities and budgets to adequately respond to the concomitant needs for infrastructure, personnel and service expansion. Since growth is expected to be significantly greater in urban and suburban areas, it will also potentially require reformulation and creation of innovative new facets of institutional interface with the public to match the changes in its societal character.

Higher population and higher population density puts greater stress on existing infrastructure. It will both demand infrastructure expansion and more frequent infrastructure maintenance schedules. Both mean increased costs, and likely disproportionately higher per capita costs than in previous decades. That is a bitter pill to swallow in a state that has adhered to an absolute minimalist philosophy regarding state “investment” in infrastructure and services.

Idaho’s population will have nearly doubled between 1980 and 2020 (two generations). The fabric of Idaho society has vastly changed. Urban areas have mushroomed and currently represent our most concentrated areas of increasing real gross domestic product, according to the US BEA. Many small communities are stagnating or losing population. Where small communities are growing, that growth is well below the rate of metropolitan areas.

While small-town residents are likely gratified that their physical communities have been only minimally morphed, even the most bucolic and remote Idaho communities are nonetheless affected by inescapable inroads of technology, bureaucracy and even visitation by “the outside world.” Rural Idahoans, especially middle aged and older folks, may suffer from a kind of social schizophrenia. They cherish the comfortable parochial, pastoral, cultural and social norms of the past, but simultaneously don’t want to be deprived of the internet, cable TV, cellphones and rapid access to emergency medical care, etc. Furthermore, reality is that everywhere is now in reach of a Sunday drive by anyone from anywhere to “tour” the Idaho outback. And some sightseers wind up buying idle property on a whim.

The times they are a changin’ says the song. And burgeoning populations are one of the strongest agents of change. But the change is not uniform across regions or demographic groups.

To keep up, Idaho needs better targeted and more robust commitment to the varied needs of individual age groups and locales. Expansion of educational opportunity and resources at all levels is perhaps the top priority — one that has suffered egregiously from both lack of vision and commitment by GOP legislators who still gauge their “success” by finally meeting pre-recession funding.

Wokenhauer projects that the over-65 population will increase from 14.7 percent to 17.3 percent by 2025. This demographic typically has greater health care needs, assisted living needs, and a range of expensive social service needs. It is also more often financially incapable of meeting its overall financial needs, resulting in bankruptcy or near decimation of their accumulated monetary worth. That scenario can impose severe financial burdens on their children or grandchildren. Idaho has consistently failed to adequately meet the overall health care needs of her general population. If these growth projections come true, and if Idaho remains one of the lowest median income states in the Union, this demographic shift could prove highly problematic, if not catastrophic, to Idaho extended families.

Idaho’s statewide population is projected to grow by over 202,000 between now and 2025. In south-central Idaho alone an increase of nearly 16,000 is expected.

Idaho population is growing at three times the national rate. However, I don’t think our current leaders are demonstrating anything like three times the national vision to deal with that challenge. If anything, most days it feels more like one-third the vision and resources are being devoted to this tsunami of needs compared to the national average. The same-old, same-old of generous tax breaks for the rich, crossed fingers for tinkle down to the working class and turned backs to the future isn’t likely to cut it.

Eight years is a short time. Most of us are still licking our wounds from the recession of 2009. Are you really confident that leaders still infatuated with the 1950s will meet the challenges of 2025?

Other View: Nationalism helps world confront climate change

President Donald Trump has been defending his plan to withdraw from the Paris climate-change accord on nationalist grounds. Announcing the decision last week, he said he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.” Vice President Mike Pence, in Iowa, said that Trump had shown he is “more concerned with Des Moines than Denmark.” (Someone on his team should have told him there’s a Denmark, Iowa.)

Administration officials sometimes go even further. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has suggested that the accord was intentionally designed to handicap our economy. There is very little evidence for that view. If Trump believes it, why has he said that he wants to renegotiate the deal with the countries behind the plot?

There’s a stronger case for leaving the accord — even a stronger nationalist case. The costs of restricting energy use, as I wrote when Trump made the announcement, are likely to exceed the benefits of mitigating global warming. Climate change is expected to reduce global GDP by up to 4 percent by 2100. That’s a significant cost. Given that the world is also expected to be much wealthier by then, it makes more sense to devote resources to researching how to mitigate and adapt to the effects of warming than to discourage energy use. Paris-style solutions are therefore not in our national interest.

The fact that almost all the other governments of the world favor the accord should not keep us from pursuing our interests. We should factor their views into our decision, because we have an interest in good relations with other countries. But sometimes our interests will counsel breaking with the rest of the world.

There are better and worse ways to do that. Withdrawal from the Paris accord is being taken as a sign of contempt for our European allies and of reflexive hostility to international cooperation, not of our resolution to make hard-headed judgments about our country’s welfare. The decision might be leaving a different impression if Trump had not repeatedly treated NATO in cavalier fashion or mused about leaving the World Trade Organization. Leaving the accord would still be intensely controversial, but it would not fit into the same pattern.

A foreign policy based on the national interest also need not entail a public rhetoric that refers exclusively and narrowly to the national interest. The costs of energy restriction are likely to exceed the benefits for the whole world. That’s what most opponents of the accord actually believe. We think it’s not in Pittsburgh’s interest, in other words, but it’s not in Paris’s, either.

Criticism of Trump often dwells on matters of tone at the expense of substance. But sometimes, and especially in foreign policy, tone is substance. What the administration has been unable to teach, because it has yet to learn, is that nationalism does not have to be bumptious.

Other View: Trump's tweets are here to stay; the GOP must deal with it

Republican leadership and political figures everywhere need to accept the reality that President Donald Trump, as a communicator, cannot be disciplined. So, here is the deal: Sometimes Trump will help the cause, and sometimes he will hurt the cause. Everybody wishes things were different, but here we are.

Republicans must try to create a communications strategy that keeps everyone informed and on the same page. Replacing staff and reorganizing planning groups will not fix the problem, but establishing a unified front on messaging and media management could help this administration and its allies nationwide advance Republican priorities.

By now, Republicans should realize that White House staff and connected GOP operatives are doing the best they can with the cards they have been dealt. But, because of the president’s seemingly insatiable need to tweet, they are spending too much time reacting to unforced errors. The media managers need to rethink their strategy and the value of a rapid response. These are not normal episodes, so the usual tactics won’t work.

Trump’s tweets seem to set off a panicked rush for surrogates to get on camera. And that is exactly what the media want the White House to do: get onto their turf so they can elevate and expand the story. Perhaps a “less is more” strategy will serve the president better than the hasty, convoluted defenses his surrogates offer up. Everyone can brace for disruptive tweets, but there is no reason the entire Republican agenda should be sidetracked because of them.

Since Trump’s inauguration, time has been the Republicans’ enemy, and now, every day matters. Looking at the calendar ahead, Republicans only have about 83 days until the Thanksgiving recess—and before that, we will break for the Fourth of July and August recesses—to push priority legislation through Congress.

So, as Republicans continue to work on everything from health care and infrastructure to tax reform and trade, we will have to try something different to avoid days such as yesterday when the entire Republican apparatus was derailed following a few of Trump’s inexplicable, out-of-the-blue, non sequitur tweets.

By any measure, Monday’s infrastructure announcement was noteworthy and deserved serious media coverage. The president’s announcement received some attention, but not what it would have if there had been a broader, more coordinated plan without the figurative hand grenades tossed from the Oval Office. What dominated the headlines were stories such as “Trump’s Off-the-Cuff Tweets Strain Foreign Ties” and “Trump tweets create new outrage.”

And, when the people who know Trump best are asked if he will stop tweeting, they say it will never happen. Sigh.

Clearly, the media are not interested in doing Trump any favors. They are beyond desperate to portray him as a loose cannon and they are eager to seize and pounce on any distraction the president will give them. Their unabashed disdain for all things Trump could not be more pronounced. MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts even went so far as to suggest twice on air that Trump’s tweets following the recent tragedy in London were meant “to provoke a domestic terrorist attack.”

This reality requires Republicans to maintain course and not overreact when the president is off in his own universe, railing away on Twitter. We need to stop hoping that the president will have a sudden epiphany and renounce Twitter, and instead we need to learn to live in a world where a Twitter lighting strike could happen at any moment.

The White House’s most valuable commodities are the president’s time and his words. But the president’s reckless expenditure of one consumes the other. Still, White House staff and Republican operatives aligned with the administration can try to craft a strategy to keep everyone in Washington on the same page regardless of the outbursts from the Oval Office. This probably means the White House should have fewer daily briefings. And fewer North Lawn television segments on any network except Fox are probably in order.

If nothing changes and Republicans fail to advance the GOP agenda, we risk ushering in a Democratic Congress in 2018. But human history is rife with examples of humans overcoming any number of afflictions. And in the age of Trump, Republicans will have to learn to deal with the president’s corrosive tweets, making them sting more like BBs than kill like bullets.