It is often the common refrain of the disenfranchised minority to argue they are purposely excluded from the political process. In many cases this just turns out to be whining (Democrats under Bush) but in other cases it can turn out to be accurate (Affirmative Action being reverse discrimination). Prior I wrote a piece trying to explain Boise’s differing partisan orientation from the rest of the state. This post is a return to this thought process with an addition attempting to answer some of my cuddly, liberal friend’s complaints about Idaho government relating to Boise: Boise is purposely disenfranchised from the process.
I do not want to burst my liberal friend’s complaints all at once but Boise’s relationship with the state has been shaped far more by past history than the events of recent memory. Keep in mind before 2006 Boise’s legislative districts (16, 17, 18 and 19) had majority GOP representation.
Today, Boise’s current partisan/ideological orientation is a combination of demographic, regional and national factors. Boise is the state’s largest metropolitan area and I dare anybody to find me a large metropolitan area in a red or blue state that does not lean blue. Of the Democrat’s 20 members in the legislature (105 seats total), 12 of them (4 senators, 8 state reps) represent metro or inner suburban Boise. In a red state like Utah or even Wyoming a solid majority of state elected Democratic lawmakers come from the state’s metropolitan enclaves (Salt lake and Cheyenne).
Indeed, a recent piece from Politico I found enlightening using election statistics from the 1996-2012 Presidential elections finds metro areas have been trending bluer as have inner suburbs (suburbs right next to the metro area). Meanwhile, middle suburbs are the swing areas in many states while outer suburban/exurban areas are strongly Republican. This geographic divide is on perfect display here in Boise.
Democrats compose the entire state legislative delegation for the 18th and 19th legislative districts, inner suburban Boise districts anchored in the foothills and Southeast Boise and they border the metro area. Districts 16 and 17 largely compose the city’s core and are as blue delegation-wise as 18 and 19. Move beyond these areas though and you find a district like 15 that though is Republican is less so than areas outside Boise. Move beyond this and you hit the suburban/exurban districts anchored by cities like Meridian, Eagle, Kuna, Star, Nampa and Caldwell. They are all solidly Republican.
This phenomenon composes elements of geographic and national divides on a host of issues. But it also employs demographic factors. Many of the suburban/exurban areas that are Republican are old but trending younger, yet they are largely white. The growing Hispanic population in some of these districts might bode well for Democrats in the future. Meanwhile, downtown and inner suburban Boise is a hodgepodge of young and old, multiple races and ethnicities and boasts a majority university-meaning a loyal voting bloc of professional educators for Democratic candidates. Democrats at all levels do better in these places nationwide than districts with the demographic composition of places like Eagle and Star.
This means Boise’s representation will already have a different flavor than the rest of the state. Democrats simply care more about different issues than Republicans and on the same issues the parties make a living on having divergent viewpoints. But the claim remains that Boise is purposely excluded from the political process in the state.
To be fair this claim is not literally saying the city’s elected lawmakers are barred from entering the Capitol or such actions that define a true democracy from a fake one (I am looking at you Russia). Rather, it focuses more on policy related issues such as transportation, revenue sharing and economic development. Low funding per student for Boise State also enters into the equation (student govt loves this talking point).
Idaho could learn a thing or two about collaboration between state and municipal governments from neighboring Utah. The state has a strong tradition of state/local and state/municipality partnerships. The state has sponsored major economic growth in Salt Lake with tax incentives, pitching in for economic development and prioritizing revitalizing downtown Salt Lake. It does help the city is a major hub for air travel from East to West and vice-versa.
That said, Idaho has followed a different path. Idaho’s development as a state has been fairly conservative. The state does not allow public entities to go into debt (a 2012 Constitutional amendment allowed airports and hospitals to do so). The state also has never fostered nor supported a strong revenue sharing agreement with the cities. Furthermore, the state has set a high bar for cities who try to finance longer than two years in duration (a 2/3rds majority supporting). Boise recently learned the hard that 61% and 60% do not constitute enough support under Idaho code to support a 25 year debt project.
I would hope this is what Boiseans and my liberal friends mean when they argue Boise is disenfranchised. The fact Idaho is predominately Republican while Boise is blue simply does not necessarily translate to the city being written off by the state. The Salt Lake example above is a perfect counterpoint. Another might be Wyoming with one metropolitan area and a strong statewide GOP tradition. Wyoming has followed a path much similar to Utah’s and fostered cooperation at different levels of governance.
Besides this, the state has not exactly made it impossible for cities to develop. If this was the case we would not have CCDC, the urban renewal agency of Boise, that could not have survived without legislation in 87 and 88. Likewise, state funding for the ACHD is likely to lead to downtown roads in Boise being dramatically redeveloped and made larger and more accommodating for a bevy of interests.
I understand the frustration my friends state/show when they infer the state does not help Boise enough. I even agree the state should more equitably share funding per student for all of Idaho’s major universities and work to promote Boise’s attractiveness to job applicants and businesses.
I grew up in a small town in rural WA state-not exactly known for its conservatism. Unsurprisingly, the interests of my conservative town were ignored compared to the interests of the largest nearest cities, Spokane (a mixed bag politically) and the Tri-Cities (Republican leaning). The Democratic anchor in the state was Seattle and since Democrats held the reins of power at both the legislative and executive level those interests were represented over mine. Fine, I understand that is how our system works. To some extent the same dynamic is at play here in Idaho. It is natural to politics.
I do not begrudge people their opinions or in some cases complaints about the state of politics and process here in Idaho. I could say the same of WA-State until 2011 (gotta love that conservative Democratic-Republican caucus in the state senate). But I think they need to look further than skin deep to find why Idaho is the way it is and why the state and the legislature’s relationship with the city of Boise is the way it is today. It involves far more than just red/blue.