With the political party lineups complete, it is time to think ahead to Idaho’s November general election.
Overall, Idaho’s economy is strong, real estate prices are rising, population is surging and employment numbers are solid. That will help Republican Brad Little make the argument that Idaho’s overall direction is correct and that he can continue the momentum as the new governor.
But, there are soft spots. Idaho wages are, overall, still low and Idaho education spending still ranks towards the bottom end. Those will be themes pushed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paulette Jordan.
Donald Trump will loom over everything -- his erratic behavior, his conservative policy direction – and that will be a crosswind for every candidate.
The part that needs more attention is the role of the ballot initiatives likely to get on the ballot. An initiative needs 56,192 valid signatures and must have good ones from 6% of the voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.
The initiative to expand Medicaid for those in the gap apparently has met the overall signature requirements for raw numbers statewide. The outstanding question is whether enough verified signatures have been gathered in the 18 legislative districts.
Likewise, horse racing interests, after expending enormous sums, are likely to have an initiative in November to legalize gambling using machines that use past races (they look a lot like slot machines). Both measures will create cross-pressures on candidates for governor and those down ballot.
Idaho Democrats have their fingers crossed that Medicaid expansion will pull to the polls a wave of favorable new voters. They are heartened by polling showing big majorities backing expansion.
Jordan has unabashedly embraced the measure. Republicans are sending contrary messages. Little has stated that he’ll follow the decision of the voters. But, some GOP legislators and legislative candidates have echoed Raul Labrador’s suggestion that they might block Medicaid expansion even if it passes. Expect a push by Republican leaders to tamp down that sentiment.
What is unknown at this point is whether any group will be formed to oppose expansion.
The measure that has been flying under the radar is the horse gambling (or, if you are a supporter, betting on historic horse racing) measure. Supporters turned in nearly double the number of signatures necessary. It is unclear how many are valid and if they are from enough legislative districts. But, the general assumption is it will make the ballot.
Supporters are owners of racetracks and facilities that installed betting machines and were closed down by the Idaho Legislature a few years ago. On the opposite side are Idaho Native American tribes who benefit from their current monopoly on Idaho gaming. Both groups are likely to spend big bucks trying to sway voters to vote for and against the measure.
But, others will join the fray. Expect opponents of gambling to raise their voices and organize, particularly in East Idaho with its heavy LDS population.
This issue creates all kinds of pressure on the candidates. 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?
Hovering over all of this is the Idaho Attorney General’s opinion that the horse initiative likely violates the Idaho Constitution.
The challenge for legislative candidates will be do they back the pari-mutuel industry, the tribes, or gambling opponents?