Hartgen: Candidate Filings Show GOP Strengths, Dems Weakness
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Hartgen: Candidate Filings Show GOP Strengths, Dems Weakness

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Overlooked mostly by the coronavirus pandemic and legislators wrapping up the 2020 session, candidate filings for state legislative offices show a sharp drop in the Democratic Party competition statewide and an upswing in contested races in the May primary for Republicans.

Across the state, Dems failed to even find candidates for many seats in the House and Senate. Except for current pockets of Democratic voters (Boise North End, Blaine County), Dems couldn’t muster even sacrificial lambs for the mostly GOP feast.

It’s a far cry from the glory days of the 1990s, when Dems held half the Idaho Senate, were more or less competitive in the House and held both the governor’s office in Cecil Andrus and the attorney general, Larry Echo Hawk. But with Andrus’ retirement and Echo Hawk’s defeat in 1994 to Republican Phil Batt, Democratic strength quickly ebbed. The candidate filings for 2020, more than a quarter-century later, reflect the wipeout that’s occurred in a political generation.

Across the state this spring, Republicans have fielded candidates for 34 of 35 Senate seats and for 67 of the 70 House seats. Democrats filed for only 16 of the 35 Senate seats and only 40 of the House 70 seats, some 20 percent fewer than in 2018.

In Southern Idaho, for example, only two Democrats filed in District 23, and none did in districts 24, 25 or 27, thus leaving a wide swatch of Southern Idaho counties in solid Republican hands. (GOP compilations, 3/16; Sec. of State, candidate filings.)

The same pattern can be seen up North and in Eastern Idaho. Outside of Democratic pockets in Moscow and Pocatello, GOP filing dominance continued everywhere beyond Boise city and Blaine County. In an unstated quid-pro-quo, Dems in Idaho going forward won’t have enough seats to affect policy issues, except to help block arch-right proposals, as they did often this winter.

That may be a useful turn of the times. Governance in Idaho once relied on common ground; the stridency of either the left or the rightists was not traditionally strong. Sure, there were the outliers like Rep. Phil Hart, who mumbled on about North Idaho secession, the evils of the IRS, whatever.

Although Hart remains an example of extremism, coalition-building has also long been a feature of Idaho politics; now, common-sense may make even more of a comeback.

If Dems are fading, politics finds a way to fill a competing vacuum. So we see some ultra-right candidates emerge. The good news is that centrist, common-sense Republicans have also lined up to run against arch-right, ideological ones. It’s an opportunity for voters to reject the strident, “monkey wrench gang” of malcontents.

As a “common sense” conservative in my five terms in the House, (2008-2018) I frequently witnessed many instances in which the good of the state was argued against by arch-rights advocating bills so Draconian they would have seemed to fit well in the Iranian Parliament, and doing so under the guise of personal liberty.

With the primary season coming up, party ayatollahs are once again demanding ideological litmus tests for ideological purity, demanding that candidates identify which planks of the party platform they may disagree with. These results will surely be blasted out on social media (“So and so doesn’t support this or that”) against those who “fail to comply, Comrade” with this latest “diktat.”

The party platform, by the way, isn’t Holy Writ. It’s now been reduced to a frequently-changed sheaf of polemics, hardly on the level of our state and federal constitutions. Yet, some now want all candidates to adhere to its rightist, shifting wording. It’s changed regularly by rightists who pack the state GOP convention and then select the most extreme ideologues as “leaders.”

These “alts” and their oligarch allies in the so-called Idaho Freedom Foundation, have done the state enormous harm, both internally and in Idaho’s reputation beyond our borders. As different as they are, INL, Clif Bar, Chobani, Micron and HP all have warned about the effects of strident extremism on Idaho’s reputation and longterm economic prospects. (Idaho Press, 3/19.)

If they pay attention, voters in various districts won’t have any difficulty identifying who the candidates are and where they line up. This “shadow government” in Idaho has helped no one except those who prey on the rest.

Getting legislation done is mostly the art of finding common ground, in language and concepts. Extremism on either the right or left usually isn’t very productive for the good of the state, or the nation. That’s why lefty Dems are now an endangered species in Idaho politics; right-wing extremists should be the next rejected, warring tribe.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” This column was first published in www.idahopoliticsweekly.com. He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com

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Idaho’s structure of electing governors and LG’s completely separately — different from many states which bind them together — allows for the office holders to come from different points of view.

For future historians and artists who'll chronicle today's health and economic crisis, one humble item will stand out as the chief cultural emblem of the times: wearing a mask. Or not.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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