Idaho Reports: Welcome to 2013, the year of the political do-over

First, a quick note -- the Idaho Statesman and Idaho Public Television are working together to bring my news and analysis to a new home. I'm Greg Hahn, host of Idaho Reports on Idaho Public Television, and former Statesman reporter and editor.

My blog will be hosted here at the Statesman, and also published our show's own homepage.

I'll share videos, thoughts, bits of news and try to connect the dots when I can. You can also follow me on Twitter - @IdahoReports - and on Facebook.

I apologize to anyone who has already seen this, but I thought I would start with a post I wrote on Facebook on New Year's Eve, as I looked ahead to next year's big issues, realizing that they all seemed pretty darn familiar...

2013: The Year of the Do-Over

We all played games as kids, right? Board games, sports, word games – and the best of all, those made-up ideas created to fill one of those then-untenable, never-ending afternoons (what wouldn’t you give for one of those today!).

A key ingredient in any childhood game is, of course, the “do-over.” They’re never written hard and fast in the rules, but you get one or two, fewer as you get older. They can let you try something spectacular, without any real consequences of failure. Sometimes they help cover up an unexpected blunder on a routine play. It seems like you rarely get them in real life, but I think they’re common than we realize. (I know I don’t often get everything right the first time.)

I’ve been thinking about the “do-over” a lot these past few weeks and days, as I prepare for next year’s Idaho Reports – itself a do-over of sorts, for me, because I get the chance to make the show even better than last year. But it’s on my mind also because this could be pretty much what we’re covering the whole year: do-overs.

Here are the eight great do-overs of 2013.

1) The big education do-over. Idaho voters rejected all three components of the Students Come First education reform plan, while electing the party that created to another overwhelming majority. I think some people voted against it to protect teachers. Others balked at the costs of the technology in the classroom. Some maybe wanted to preserve their own hands-on education memories for their children and grandchildren. Clearly too many points of view were not taken into consideration, and that’s what Gov. Butch Otter has vowed to rectify with a year-long task force.

2) The health care do-over. The 2012 Idaho Legislature bucked Otter’s recommendation to create a state-run health insurance exchange, as mandated under President Barack Obama’s reform acts, in hopes that either the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn it (it did not) or the voters would reject Obama’s re-election bid (they did not). Now, Otter is in the same place he was a year ago – and so is the Legislature.

3) The business property tax do-over. This was arguably decided years ago – to roll away the “personal property tax” paid by businesses on the value of equipment and machinery. But it hinged on the economy growing fast enough to replace the cuts (now estimated at around $150 million, distributed to cities, counties and other local taxing districts). The economy hasn’t grown, and local taxing districts haven’t realized the same cuts as the state, and that (and a general desire to boost the state’s business climate) has fueled a push to reconsider how to eliminate this tax. Some cities and counties rely greatly on this tax, but the state isn’t looking at enough of a surplus from its sales and income tax coffers to just replace the money (as it’s done in previous property tax cuts). My early money has this being the “going-home” issue of the 2013 session.

4) The Boise streetcar do-over. I want to be sure to include all levels of government in this list, because all levels are facing a little déjà vu in 2013. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter and his team spend a lot of time in the past few years working on the one piece of the Valley-wide public transportation puzzle the city has full control over: a Downtown streetcar. The problem was that the doable route, back and forth across Downtown, didn’t really solve anyone’s transportation needs. A visit by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in 2012, though, showed that the idea is still alive in City Hall, and according to the Boise Weekly, the city plans to spend about $500,000 before the end of 2013 to reassess a better route (perhaps encompassing Boise State and the Statehouse).

5) The four-year Obama do-over. Yes, the incumbent Democrat won, pretty handily in the end. But even in Democratic circles, it’s hard to find anyone totally pleased with his four years. Civil libertarians are upset he has kept Bush-era presidential powers, expanded drone attacks and maintained some level of domestic wire-tapping. Liberals wish he had gone farther with health care reform, was more aggressive on environmental rules and less aggressive in deporting undocumented workers. Moderates have never seen the across-the-aisle leadership and unity he promised. Conservatives aren’t going to be happy with him – but starting tomorrow, he has four more years to leave his mark.

6) The grand old do-over. No one is more in need of a do-over than the national Republican Party, which didn’t just lose the presidential election and a chance to retake the Senate. The party lost without realizing how and how badly it was going to lose – that’s a whole different ballgame. I am not of the belief, though, that this means the party will make a move back to the center. If anyone thinks that Paul Ryan woke up Nov. 8 with the thought, ‘If only I had been more moderate, we could have won,” then I don’t think they understand Paul Ryan. The conservatives lost their chance to make a run at the presidency when Mitt Romney won the primary, not when he lost the presidency. But this does leave two competing pressures: from the doctrinaires who believe the ideas themselves will sway the public, if only the party would truly embrace the ideas; and the pragmatics who believe the party infrastructure needs to be updated from the ground up.

7) Sen. Mike Crapo’s do-over. I was as shocked as anyone when news came of the Mormon senator’s DUI, but we all have seen plenty of politicians and other public figures survive such a transgression. Still, that doesn’t mean the action doesn’t come with consequences. Sen. Crapo has spent 20 years in Congress and 8 years in the Legislature building his public image – far longer doing the same as an active and respected member of his church. Now, in a lot of ways, he must start all over again.

But he and the rest of Washington, D.C., will quickly get their chance – and that brings me to my eighth and final do-over:

8) The fiscal do-over. As I write this on the morning of New Year’s Eve, the up-to-the-minute headlines have shifted a little to the positive, stuff like, “Progress seem in last-minute ‘fiscal cliff’ talks.” But I’m going to go ahead and hazard the prediction that whatever happens, be it something or nothing, the next Congress is going to come in and pick up the pieces. The serious long-term decisions that need to be made about spending and taxes aren’t going to be resolved in a last-second deal.

It is good to have you back, even as a courtesy.


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