The new year has come, full of promise and hope. We will see if that survives after the Idaho Legislature comes to town Jan. 11. I jest, sort of. It’s easy to pick on politicians. But since this is a presidential election year, let’s start with the politicians as we look into Rocky Barker’s rocking New Year’s Day crystal ball:
▪ Education vs. rattling chains: Legislators should have enough money to stay on track with commitments to education. But it’s an election year, so we can expect them to rattle chains about gun rights, abortion and maybe even placer mining in Idaho rivers.
▪ Health care: It would surprise everyone if legislators addressed the tens of thousands of Idahoans who don’t make enough to qualify for health insurance subsidies or tax-deducted health insurance.
▪ Trump card? The election comes up fast in Idaho since Republicans, spending our tax dollars, are hosting a presidential primary March 8. The chaos in the Republican field may settle at least a little by then, but I expect we’ll see a few national candidates campaign in the state before then. Can you imagine Donald Trump in Hayden Lake?
▪ Bern on the Blue? Idaho’s March 22 Democratic caucus would have to go a long way to match its impact in 2008. That year, former Gov. Cecil Andrus introduced Barack Obama to a crowd of 15,000 inside and out of Taco Bell Arena on the Boise State University campus. The impact was felt far beyond Idaho, from the hundreds of times news shows rebroadcast the news as proof that Obama could generate support in Red State America.
Bernie Sanders might take note. Will BSU feel the Bern?
▪ Testing the speaker: Idaho lawmakers will want to get done and adjourn early because their primary election is May 17. Expect a few Republican challenges this year as insurgents seek to win enough seats to knock off conservative House Speaker Scott Bedke because he is not pure enough for some of the House Republicans.
▪ A year for parks: The National Park Service has been sponsoring a popular campaign, Find Your Park, leading up to this year’s 100th anniversary of the service. For Idahoans, this often has been a tough exercise. Even though Calvin Coolidge established Craters of the Moon National Monument in 1924, calling it Idaho’s national park, Congress has never followed up with the next step: official park status. If Butte, Blaine and Custer county officials get their way, this would be the year — potentially bringing in tens of thousands of new visitors and millions into the economy.
▪ Go wild in Idaho: If you agree with me that Idaho is the Wildness State, then President Obama has developed quite a relationship with Idaho. In addition to visiting a year ago, he signed Congressman Mike Simpson’s Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill into law. It was his second: He signed Sen. Mike Crapo’s 2009 bill that protected 500,000 acres as wilderness in Owyhee County. Will 2016 be his year to sign a Scotchman’s Peak wilderness bill for the area straddling the Montana state line near Lake Pend Oreille?
▪ Booming Boise: Downtown continues to grow and thrive with the upcoming opening of JUMP (Jack’s Urban Meeting Place) and the Simplot Co.’s new headquarters. Add Gardner Co.’s bus terminal, the Clearwater Analytics building, and the Boise Centre and Grove Plaza makeovers, and Boise will stay a hot ticket for work and play.
▪ Speaking of hot ... It’s a good gamble we can expect some big fires in Idaho this summer. In 2015, even the asbestos forests of North Idaho burned — in a way they hadn’t since 1910. There’s a lot more fuel where that came from. Still, fires burn every year and they aren’t all bad. We need to keep learning to live with them and adapt to climate change.
▪ Barker’s best bet: You’ll have a happy and prosperous new year. You live in Idaho, right? I can’t think of a better start on a great year.