Friday, February 8, 2008

Does Obama phenom mean big change for Idaho?

Modern Idaho political history has not seen anything like it. Thousands of spirited voters bursting with almost hysterical enthusiasm to lead the reddest of all red states into an astonishing caucus victory for black American Barack Obama.

Sen. Obama's triumph here is almost parallel to the surge of the Republican "Silent Majority" that swept the GOP to power a generation ago.

But Democratic Party officials want to know whether this phenomenon will have a lasting effect and influence on Idaho politics—that is, will there be any significant shift away from the ruling Republican Party's heavy-handed power and an increase in Democratic state lawmakers as well as in Congress?

For any momentous realignment, at least two essentials are involved.

First, the vibrant surge caused by Obama on Super Tuesday must be kept alive until the November elections.

Second, Idahoans who support Republicans who've held back the state in so many ways must muster the independence to vote for the best interests of Idaho, not preserving the Republican status quo that uses government to shortchange the state's needs.

Voters who've been led to believe that Republican conservatism has kept government costs low, has enhanced "family values" and has kept homes secure have been sold a fairy tale.

State governmnt's so-called "low costs" have been at the expenses of, for example, public schools. Idaho courts have repeatedly ruled the Republican state Legislature is obliged by law to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring classroom facilities up to standard. Yet GOP lawmakers continue to resist as a way of creating the artificial image of a fiscally sound government. Roads are a mess. Meth addiction, according to the state, has created a crisis among Idaho teens.

This also is the same state government that has legalized more than $1.6 billion—repeat, billion—in tax breaks that lead ultimately to Mom and Pop picking up the slack or simply enduring more substandard state services.

While other Western states have joined in united pro-environment attacks on Bush administration indifference, Idaho still is stuck in the past, opposing aggressive global warming remedies.

GOP cronyism also rides high at the Capitol. Gov. Butch Otter put a lobbyist pal for Idaho Power Co. on a state commission to determine pay of legislators. When the smell of that appointment and its obvious conflicts spread, Otter's man quit.

Republicans also showed their tin ear for the public mood by naming the disgraced Sen. Larry Craig's press secretary to head the state GOP.

The 2008 political theme is "change." Will Idahoans now grab the chance in November?

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