Bob Sojka

As 2017 ends I’ll share some thoughts on potentially important political developments likely in 2018.

Individual states have challenged federal classification and regulation of cannabis products. Nine states and the District of Columbia (32 percent of the U.S. population) have legalized cannabis for recreational and medical use. Twenty additional states (another 41 percent) allow medical dispensing of marijuana. More states will likely further decriminalize recreational and/or medical marijuana use before 2020.

Because of the devastating financial effect that criminalization has on individuals and families of casual users, especially among the poor and ethnic minorities, further resistance to decriminalization may affect support (+ or -) for candidates. Idaho is largely surrounded by states (and Canada) more accepting of cannabis. Given the social, political and economic tide of this issue, Idaho will be forced eventually to have a more robust public consideration of cannabis.

Women’s political participation is expanding rapidly. In 2017’s controversial off-season elections, women were crucial in deciding outcomes, particularly minority women. That’s no surprise. Women’s concerns rose to prominence in 2016-17 politics. Powerful women’s issues include wages, access to equitable health coverage, reproductive rights, daycare access for their children and pushback against personal objectification and harassment to the point of misogyny by some politicians. The increase in college-educated women is outpacing that of men. Women are taking prominent roles in the military and other formerly male-dominated professions.

Women voters are increasingly unlikely to continue sublimating their long-repressed priorities to further prop up the male world view that many blame for their plight. Fair warning to aspiring candidates: There are only 96.7 men per 100 women in America. Only 10 states have more men than women, and they are among the least populous states with the fewest electoral votes and congressional seats.

The nearly tribal unity of fundamentalist Christian denominations is showing signs of weakening. The rise of uncharitable, morally distasteful, uncivil and even violently hateful rhetoric and behavior among politicians formally supported by evangelicals and fundamentalists has initiated soul searching and re-evaluation. Many Christians feel they were used and betrayed in the last election cycle. The Rev. David Gushee opined that this may induce an especially significant shift in political leaning among younger Christians, particularly within the LDS community.

Climate change denial may finally (however late) be waning. Storm intensities and frequencies in recent years have risen markedly. Scientists recently reported that not only are greenhouse gases heating Earth, but soot from range and forest fires, volcanism and fossil fuel combustion is darkening glacial snows, thereby accelerating melting — a mechanism not previously given adequate consideration in climate models.

It’s currently estimated that sea levels will rise 1 1/2 to 4 feet by 2100. The rise coupled with storm surges will devastate many of America’s populous coastal cities. New data documenting acceleration of Antarctica’s Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers is especially alarming. Together they could result in rise much sooner than previously predicted.

Unconscionably a major “what if” was ignored in consideration of recent Republican tax cuts. Recall the devastating economic effect of the second Iraq War, waged on the heels of an enormous tax cut and with no effort to pay for it. The promised trickle-down stimulus didn’t happen; actually quite the opposite. What if President Trump’s unguarded bellicosity toward North Korea and/or incendiary Middle East policies commit our armed forces to new wars that further empty the coffers of our treasury? Remember: The major holder of America’s debt is China, a strong ally of North Korea. Our economy could suddenly be a target of war rather than “mere” collateral damage.

The Supreme Court is currently considering Whitford v. Gill, a landmark case that could forever end or exacerbate partisan gerrymandering. The case comes largely as an unforeseen discriminatory effect of the Thornburg v. Gingles ruling of 1986. That case upheld a 1965 amendment to the Voting Rights Act which disallowed dilution of racial minorities among voting districts, thereby preventing minorities from being elected.

However, concentrating racial minorities into racially defined districts inadvertently spawned another discriminatory effect. Partisan power, which arguably has equal or larger entitlement to representative electoral outcome, was skewed by the racial composition of political parties. District political makeup lost parity with statewide political party composition.

At the federal level, for a significant number of election cycles, this has resulted in state legislatures and U.S. congressional seats being delivered to Republicans when the statewide popular vote significantly favored Democrats. If political gerrymandering is struck down and district political registrations are required to reflect statewide registration composition (and hence most popular vote outcomes), the future course of state legislatures and particularly the U.S. House of Representatives will strongly tack to the left. The case will likely be decided before the 2018 midterms. If the Supreme Court orders immediate compliance to achieve parity, it could intensify an expected Democratic tsunami in November 2018 driven by both general dissatisfaction with Republican policies and Trump antipathy.

Indicators of a wave election favoring progressives are compelling. Nonetheless, given the distribution of vulnerable seats, Democratic takeover of both houses is unpredictable. It is certain that the outcome will ride on quality of candidates, intensity of party activism and voter turnout.

Russia will be a key factor in the U.S. midterms and 2018 international politics. Further revelations about Russian attempts to influence American voters and directly insert themselves into the Trump campaign could prove decisive. Overseas, as Russian financial entanglements are investigated, there will almost certainly be incriminating financial and political tentacles identified elsewhere across the globe. It is now obvious that Russia is bent on catalyzing a destabilization of the EU and a re-balkanization of Europe.

Americans can almost certainly expect more gun violence in 2018 and continued inaction on comprehensive immigration reform. Politicians lack the political courage to find reasonable solutions to either issue.

I can only hope I am overly pessimistic. Time will tell. Meanwhile, register, donate, volunteer, and VOTE.

Bob Sojka is the communications officer for the Twin Falls County Democratic Party and a former county chairman.

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