Lesson 1: Watch What You Wish For

From May 2016, six months before the surprise presidential victory of Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton, Bloomberg Television presented this adaptation of the now-famous HBO “Newsroom” series segment with Jeff Daniels as CAN’s anchorman “Will McAvoy,” responding to the question of the hour. (Produced by Matt Negrin and Griffin Hammond for Bloomberg Politics/YouTube)

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Ideological Adjustment

How We Got Here

The 2016 presidential election demonstrated (although it seems many have not yet gotten the message) that voting to “shake things up,” or to elect candidates because they “tell it like it is” may not yield the desired result. Never in American history had voters been handed two such widely disliked candidates. Given that choice, in fact, nearly 100 million people – roughly 43 percent of Americans who would have been eligible to vote -- didn’t even bother to go to the polls. As we approach the 2018 midterm, and with the 2020 presidential not looming, we cling to the hope voters will be not only more  careful, but more plentiful.  

Americans have long voted more or less along party lines; perhaps following parents or friends, or because of general agreement with assumed ideological affinities. In short, it used to be that if your parents voted Republican or Democrat, you would likely vote Republican or Democrat, too. It wasn’t necessary to do a huge amount of research on individual candidates, because Republicans were perceived to be the more conservative bunch, holding that government should be no bigger than necessary to provide for the basic shared things like a military to defend the nation, some kind of transportation infrastructure, and some standards of interchange to address international diplomatic and trade relations. That thinking prevailed in 1952, when Dwight D. Eisenhower carried the Republican banner (despite a campaign finance scandal that swirled around Richard M. Nixon, his running mate). Democrats were the “progressive” people of the “New Deal,” (think Franklin D. Roosevelt), who wanted to help the less fortunate have at least the basics of health, education, and living standards, and who were more likely to help the less fortunate.

Before our nation was founded, even before we had political parties, we’ve had a division of opinion on whether we should be a republic or a democracy, or a combination of the two .(Some pundits say we’ve become a kleptocracy, but that’s another essay. )


Ideological Adjustment

Times have changed.  

Political parties have adjusted their ideologies – and their names – almost from the nation’s founding, when Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr, his political rival, debated differing political philosophies to the point of a famous duel in 1854. (Hamilton lost.) Founding President George Washington disliked the very idea of political parties, and even warned people against becoming involved with them. But the eventual outcome of the duel was the formation of two dominant groups with different notions of how the country should be governed. Hamilton’s followers formed what was called the Federalist Party. Their rivals were known as the Democratic-Republican Party.

Basically, the early Federalists, before becoming the nation’s first political party, supported a strong central government. By 1790, when Hamilton rose to prominence, the distinctions broadened almost along “class” differences, with the Federalists backed by the wealthy “upper class,” and the Democratic-Republicans supported largely by working class “commoners.” The Federalists followed Hamilton’s support for the notion that “whatever is not forbidden is permitted. The Democratic-Republicans insisted on strict interpretation of the Constitution, which came down to insisting that without a constitutional delegation of power to Congress to do something, it couldn’t happen.


The Rich and The Rest

The Federalists had support from wealthy people and from the upper class. The Democratic-Republicans were supported largely by commoners and the middle class. The Federalists had a loose interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Alexander Hamilton stated that whatever is not forbidden in the Constitution, can be done. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, stipulated that the Constitution is to be strictly interpreted, meaning the Government must only do things that are stated in the Constitution. Unless the Constitution gives power to Congress to do something, it can’t be executed at all. 

It’s beginning to sound familiar, isn’t it?

While the names of our parties have changed over time, and there are other parties, Republicans or Democrats have won every presidential election since 1852 and have controlled the United States Congress to some degree since at least 1856. The Civil War (aka “War Between the States”), underscored a major philosophical distinction – whether or not slavery should be permitted – and, in addition to being the nation’s most divisive, most deadly war, marked the first of many identity shifts the two parties would go through. 

 Even now, historians and political analysts disagree about the significance and degree of these changes, involving platform planks, party leaders, factions, and voter demographics. The Democratic Party was originally favored in the rural south and had a “small government” platform (which southern social conservatives embraced), and the Republican party was the more urban, more liberal party. Now, in many respects, the poles have shifted, essentially flipping between 1896 and 2000.  Today it is the opposite in many respects. And, although subject to interpretation and debate, the demographics of the nation have changed, and the changes have been reflected in the control of Congress, which makes our laws. Look at the distinctions in economic factors, population changes, and other demographic factors over time, and consider how they are reflected in the difference in control of government from the 71st Congress, under Herbert Hoover (1929-1931), and the 115th, under Donald Trump (Since 2017). Fast-forward to the present, and consider how things have changed even in the decade or so since the Great Recession.


A more detailed explanation of how the parties have evolved is presented in an insightful online essay by Thomas DeMichelle, lead author and content strategist for Factmyth.com.

Pre-Twitter political feuds could be bloody, as when Alexander Hamilton (left) bested Aaron Burr.

Pre-Twitter political feuds could be bloody, as when Alexander Hamilton (left) bested Aaron Burr.

North vs. South in Politics

Live Science/YouTube

Republicans used to dominate the northern states and orchestrated expansions of federal power, while Democrats, who dominated the South, opposed these measures. This video helps explain what happened.

The Alphabet of Party Affiliation

CNN/YouTube

As onetime Democrat President Donald J. Trump explains in this 2015 interview with CNN's Don Lemon, it is not unusual for politicians to switch between Republican and Democrat.

The party label is increasingly less reliable amid shifting ideologies.

Look Beyond the Label

In addition to the philosophical changes between and within political parties, consider how politicians have also shifted their positions and their party associations, too. Ronald Reagan was a Democrat before he switched in 1962. Hillary Clinton was a Republican before she switched in 1969.  As CNN’s Don Lemon learned in the 2015 interview above, Donald Trump also switched from Democrat to Republican. And since then, the political identities of many well-known figures in both parties have shifted with the emergence of influence from the conservative, somewhat libertarian Tea Party upon the GOP, and the more recent introduction of broadly socialist positions embraced by younger, more diverse activists aligning with the Democrats.


Reading Between the Lines

It is becoming increasingly difficult to parse the political stance of almost any politician based solely upon whether their name on the ballot is followed by an R or a D. And it is even more tricky to weigh whether a candidate’s position on issues is reflected in relation to official party platforms, or platform differences at the local, state, or national levels. While we should know by now that politicians can be economical with the truth in their campaign rhetoric (on both sides), it’s even more difficult to determine whether what they say while campaigning and what they do upon taking office.

Perhaps the most stark – or most egregious -- example of that can be seen in the campaign and tenure, so far, of Donald J. Trump as president. In the running assessment of Trump’s campaign statements in relation to what he has or has not achieved since taking office in January 2017, Pulitzer-winning Politifact is among the research-oriented media organizations that find his record is, at best, not very good. To be sure, most of his performance has been a work in progress. But many of the most significant promises he made have either been broken, reversed, or stalled by court actions or Congress. Similarly disappointing assessments have come from research by the Washington Post, NPR, ABC News, and the BBC, among others.

The disconnect between Trump’s public statements and Twitter rants and reality and demonstrable, documented fact is so vast, it is difficult to understand why or how down-ticket candidates self-identifying as Republicans claim to “stand with President Trump,” especially after Idaho voters in the 2016 presidential primary preferred Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas by 45.4 percent of the vote, against 28.1 percent who voted for Trump. Trump went on to draw nearly 60 percent of the Idaho vote in the fall of 2016. By March this year, ahead of the May primary, as Trump was sinking in most nationwide polls, Idaho gave him a 52 percent rating, according to the results of a 50-state poll by Morning Consult

In a TV ad during the Idaho gubernatorial primary campaign, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who proclaimed proudly his support for Trump, and who admitted voting for him in 2016,  emerged victorious from the expensive, three-way contest against Tommy Ahlquist and Raul Labrador, had declared, "Tommy Ahlquist is so liberal he wouldn't even vote for Donald Trump over Hillary." (Ahlquist had declared his unwillingness to endorse Trump following disclosure of the infamous Access Hollywood “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape.)  In any case, although Idaho is widely regarded as a “red state,” having voted heavily and predictably Republican since 1990, voters say Idaho’s concerns are often not shared at the federal level. They tend to declare a distance between Gem State politics and Washington, D.C., politics, and many from across the spectrum of very conservative to very liberal say they agree on the need for a change from the status-quo of repeatedly electing “old, white males” to public office.

Given the disconnect between truth and verifiable fact in current national political discourse, and considering the sharp increase in use of social media especially Facebook and Twitter, it is even more difficult to determine the degree of influence TV ads have in voter decisions. Still, candidates at all levels and in both parties (although the Republicans invariably outspend the Democrats) seem willing to use them, and willing to spend more than ever in the process, according to data compiled by independent political watchdog Open Secrets.


Idaho and the Trump Train

The point of all this is the futility of selecting candidates based upon whether their names are followed by an R or a D. Since Trump’s inauguration, with many of his campaign promises stalled, shot down in Congress, or broken by Trump himself, it has also become increasingly less clear how White House or even majority Republican policy positions will play out in the Nov. 6 election. Idaho voters, while predominantly electing Republicans to state and national offices for two decades, reject the notion they vote in lockstep with the GOP establishment. While Trump’s “Donald Trump in 2020” pep rally tour has made more than a dozen whistle stops so far this year, the overtly pro-Trump element in Idaho politics has generally been muted since the May primary. 

State-level political platforms of the two parties are as different as apples and oranges. That said, however, for voters hoping to understand what the parties say they stand for, they are at least revealing, if not informative.

The Idaho Republican Party platform is here.


The Idaho Democratic Party platform is here.

Idaho is the nation’s fastest-growing state, having picked up more than 10,000 new residents and grown nearly 1 percentage point a year for each of the past five years. Census data also show the ethnic diversity, gender spread, and age ranges have shifted to result in fewer white, elder males. How these factors may bear on voter opinions about such issues as gender equality, income disparity, education quality, and access to affordable healthcare for the first time since the early 1990s. It is clear that the dynamic demographics in Idaho will be reflected at the polls in November. Among signs of the changing political mood since 2016 was the dramatic increase in voter registrations ahead of the state’s May primary, and an accompanying increase in the number of votes in the Democratic primary, even with registered Republican voters outnumbering Democrats by nearly four-to-one.

In the past decade, the two political parties have struggled to define themselves, at the state level as well as nationally. For Republicans, the Trump presidency places the party at the tender mercies of a man whose background, temperament, and personality have been at odds with some of the most fundamental tenets of what GOP stalwarts long claimed to value most. Factored into the platform challenge for Republicans has been the effort to accommodate at least some of the principles of the Tea Party, the quasi-libertarian element that has been most outspoken against such things as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, public education, and even equal pay for women or retention of the Postal Service.

For Democrats, the definition effort has been a crudely overt attempt to draw in some of the more traditional Republicans by soft-pedaling efforts to advance social welfare and central government oversight, while facing an increasingly restive challenge from younger, more diverse voters demanding a stronger social safety net, including a national healthcare program, free or at least subsidized education and job-training, stronger social justice support for LGBTQ people and a broader, more welcome attitude toward immigrants. A groundswell of support for Vermont’s outspoken Social Democrat Sen. Bernie Sanders has helped push the central Democrat structure away from what looked like an increasingly centrist agenda to one that might even go for such once-radical notions as legalized marijuana or universal single-payer health insurance. 

The Trump presidency’s hollow “Make America Great Again” slogan seems to evoke some vague, “Ozzie and Harriet” cliché notion of America that probably never existed at all, and certainly not in this century. 

Idaho’s Democrats and Republicans have distinctive party platforms that list things they support. The GOP platform is the longer of the two, with 18 articles that describe in sometimes contradictory terms views on a range of things from making all able-bodied prisoners work (While this hasn’t been settled by the Supreme Court, the limitations on requiring prisoners to work while incarcerated seem fairly clear in the 13th Amendment.) to limiting legal marriage to weddings between a man and a woman (This conveniently overlooks the reality of the Supreme Court’s 2015 recognition of same-sex marriage ,as set out in the 14th Amendment, in Obergefell v. Hodges.). However, in light of the party’s failure to agree on any platform at all in 2014, when First District Congressman Raul Labrador headed the GOP convention, perhaps voters should be thankful for what they got this year. 

Idaho’s contemporary Republican platform begins with a lengthy preamble addressing statements of belief, more like a religious credo than a set of positions on actual political issues. For example: “We believe the strength of our nation lies with our faith and reliance on God our Creator, the individual, and the traditional family.” As the First Amendment sets out, government does not make laws for or against religious beliefs. As we all should know by now, there is no uniform definition of “God” among the world’s religions, and the question of what citizens may or may not believe, in terms of religious faith, is a personal issue, most certainly not a political one. Similarly, the phrase “traditional family,” as noted above, is not only outdated and naïve, but all but meaningless in modern American society. For a variety of reasons, about half of all U.S. marriages end in divorce. And Idaho, even with a low population density, a low unemployment rate, and a relatively high (13th in the nation) marriage rate of marriage of 15.8 per 1,000, has the nation’s second-highest divorce rate

The hypocrisy is almost palpable in the GOP platform’s declaration that “We believe in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or disability.” Idaho’s Add the Words campaign, to include the phrases “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in the state’s 1969 Human Rights Act under way since at least 2010, has been rejected by Republican leadership in every session of the State Legislature. Incumbent Gov. The state spent nearly $650,000 in court costs and legal fees in 2016 that resulted from a failed attempt to defend an unconstitutional state law banning same-sex marriage.

HBO/YouTube


This outtake from the opening season of HBO's "Nework" series underscores the danger of arguing politics on the basis of a false premise: "What makes America the greatest country in the world?" (Written by Aaron Sorkin)

Decisions, Decisions

Before Idaho Votes Nov. 6

Deciding which candidate to vote for is one of the most important, yet most challenging choices we make as citizens in a democracy.

Choosing a supermarket or an automobile, are far less complicated. We shop at the store that is most convenient, with the best variety, quality, and prices. We pick the car that has the best curb appeal, and by such data-driven factors as fuel efficiency, accessories, warranty terms, and price. Candidates don’t come with buyer-satisfaction insurance, return policies, or mileage and emissions test stickers. If you don’t like it, you’re pretty much stuck with it at least until the next election cycle. Fortunately, there are some tools voters can use that make the candidate-selection process a little less daunting.

Before shopping for the best candidate, consider the responsibilities of the office being contested. At the top of the Idaho state races is the governor’s office. The duties of that office are outlined here.  While the governor’s office is, in effect, the executive branch of our state government, the governor’s ability to control policy outcomes is constrained by the legislative branch, and limits on veto power. Governors traditionally present a policy roadmap at the start of each legislative session, in an address known as the "State of the State," aiming to guide legislative priorities. Lawmakers, however, tend to go their own way.

In November, Three-term incumbent Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s seat is being contested by Lt. Gov. Brad Little, the Republican candidate, and Rep. Paulette Jordan (5A-Plummer), the Democrat candidate (Otter has endorsed Little. Jordan resigned her seat in the Legislature in February to run for governor). 

It is most useful to see these two candidates for governor compare, side by side, in terms of such valid “sales points” as relevant personal and professional experience, education, performance record, and stated positions on issues. While things like “curb appeal” and more difficult to quantify, factors such as values and ethics may be useful, running for governor is not (or shouldn’t be) a beauty pageant or a popularity contest. These considerations are also valid for most other down-ticket candidates.

Keep in mind that, while interesting tidbits invariably emerge during a campaign (Little was reported to have personal assets valued between $12 million and $24 million. Jordan, who is 6 feet tall, declined a basketball scholarship at Washington State University.), these snippets are very rarely pertinent to the candidates’ qualifications for office.  In this race, there are some exceptional factors. For example, Idaho's population of about 1.7 million people, about evenly divided among women and men, with about 1.7 percent of them Native American, and an average age range in the mid-30s,  Amid rapidly shifting demographics, Idaho’s 20-year habit of electing older white men with some political experience to the governor’s office approaches the November poll with a candidate who is a woman, and a Native American, citizen of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and former member of its Tribal Council, and former officer in the National Indian Gaming Association.

Political analysts, who generally pay less attention to off-year elections that usually draw fewer voters than presidential campaigns, are watching 2018 races more closely. In Idaho, too, where voters have chosen Republican-dominated candidates by hefty margins since 1990, this year could be different. In addition to their experience in Idaho state government, both candidates were born in the Gem State, both have solid backgrounds in farming and agriculture, both own guns, and both ride horses.

Their education (Little received his BS in agribusiness from the University of Idaho in 1971. Jordan received a BA in communications, comparative literature, and Indian Studies from Washington State University in 2003, a 2015 Executive Certificate in Energy Policy Planning and Development from the University of Idaho, and a postgraduate certificate in strategic negotiations and conflict resolution in 2016 from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government) and respective backgrounds in farming and ranching and business management can be regarded as pertinent, since a significant portion of Idaho’s economy is related to agriculture and food products, and because local business growth is an increasingly important factor in the state’s continued growth.

Both candidates are parents (Little has five children and Jordan has two), which could be relevant, especially in relation to their views about education in Idaho, which ranks 48th in the nation in quality and dead last in per-pupil spending, especially on such factors as teacher salaries and retention incentives, and how the state’s sparsely populated rural school districts finance public education overall.

Little, 64, from Emmett, owns Little Enterprises, Inc., a farming and cattle operation, and former chairman of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. He is also a director of Boise-based Home Federal Bank, and the Boise-based office products maker Performance Design Inc. He has been active in organizations promoting sheep  and cattle raising, real estate, and agriculture. Before becoming lieutenant-governor, Little was a state senator from District 11 from May 2001 to 2009. He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1976 with a bachelor's degree in agribusiness.  

Jordan, 38, is a citizen of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, a past officer in the Tribal Council, and an active participant in tribal policy and Native American issues. Native Americans account for more than 21,400 of Idaho’s white-dominated 1.7 million population. Having grown up on a bluegrass farm near the small town of Hayden, in a part of the state where about 40 percent of the population lives at or below the poverty line, she is intimately familiar with factors that affect family income stability and economic issues, such as tax policy and job training. Her background in business consulting for entrepreneurship is relevant to policies involving small business.

Of the two ballot referendum questions  (Proposition 1, the “Authorize Betting on Historical Horse Races Initiative,” and Proposition 2, the “Medicaid Expansion Initiative.” The candidates have been clearest about the medicaid expansion issue. In May, when proponents of both issues were soliciting signatures to get the propositions on the ballot, Idaho Politics Weekly characterized the Medicaid expansion positions as. “Jordan has unabashedly embraced the measure. … Little has stated that he’ll follow the decision of the voters.” On the horserace gambling issue, the publication reported, “Brad Little has indicated he favors the initiative. But, Little needs to do well in East Idaho. LDS legislators from the area, such as Sen. Brett Hill and former Sen. Bart Davis, were drivers of the bill to ban. If he is too vocal on the issue, he may turn off the Mormon Republicans who gave their votes to Tommy Ahlquist in the primary. Ironically, Ahlquist had the same position as Little on the issue. Paulette Jordan voted to ban horse gambling in 2015. She’ll certainly feel the pressure from the tribes on the issue. Might she want to use the issue as reach-out to Idaho’s conservative voters?” 

The official statewide ballot

The official statewide ballot

Not Just Another Horserace

This CNN Politics segment by  Kyung Lah from “Erin Burnette’s Out Front” program looks at the mood approaching the Idaho gubernatorial race. GOP Candidate Brad Little’s campaign was invited to be interviewed for the segment, but declined, claiming the candidate was “too busy.”

Paulette Jordan

The Breakout Candidate

Paulette Jordan is the Democrat candidate for governor. New polling shows her moving closer in the race. Information she provides about herself is on her campaign Website at

https://www.jordanforgovernor.com/

The site includes links to her campaign’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.

Jordan’s Ballotpedia profile page is here.

Jordan’s positions are outlined here.

Jordan’s Vote Smart political summary is here.

Jordan’s Wikipedia page is here.

Jordan’s LinkedIn profile page is here.

Brad Little

The Predictable Candidate

  

Brad Little is the Republican candidate for governor. This year, being a lieutenant-governor is less of a factor. Information he provides about himself is on his campaign Website at https://www.bradlittleforidaho.com/ The site includes links to his campaign’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

Little’s Ballotpedia profile page is here.

Little’s positions are outlined here.

Little’s Vote Smart political summary is here.

Little’s Wikipedia page is here.

Little’s LinkdIn profile page is here.