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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

Idaho Dems’ day could be coming

The Spokesman-Review

Usually, you spell Democrat in Idaho political campaigns R-O-A-D-K-I-L-L.

Alan Blinken, the 2002 Democratic candidate for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s seat, is a perfect case in point.

As a former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, a Wall Street banker and a major fund-raiser for presidential candidate Al Gore, Blinken was qualified to represent Idaho in the U.S. Senate. During the campaign, he pounded on a theme that should have resonated in Idaho – the need to attract better-paying jobs – and spent $380,000 of his own money. When the final count was in, however, Blinken had won only 33 percent of the vote.

Yet, gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brady, congressional candidate Betty Richardson and Blinken served a greater purpose that year. They legitimized the top of the Democratic ticket, inspired the base and helped the Democrats almost double their representation in the Legislature. Importantly, the Democratic ticket forced Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, Congressman Butch Otter and Craig to address issues rather than help other Republicans up and down the ticket.

After an off year in 2004, Idaho Democrats can expect more of the same next year as a result of this week’s announcement by Brady, former owner of the Idaho Falls Post Register, that he will run for governor again. In 2002, the Democrat won Ada County and 42 percent of the vote after challenging Kempthorne on jobs and his decision to cut education funding for the first time in Idaho history.

“We’ve had pretty much lock-step leadership of one-party control,” Brady told the Associated Press prior to announcing his candidacy. “There’s very little balance. The state worked very well when it had a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature, and I’d like to restore that.”

The state also worked well under moderate governor Phil Batt, who won the respect of Idaho’s Indian tribes by dealing with them in good faith and who forced reluctant legislators to extend worker’s compensation coverage to farm workers. Now, with the state’s relationship with the tribes strained as a result of overreaching legislation, Batt and other Republicans admit a few more Democrats are needed in Boise to balance discussion and to check Republican excess.

By starting 20 months early, Brady should be able to hold supermajority Republicans accountable for refusing to address the field burning issue in North Idaho, for failing to properly fund education at all levels, and for continuing to conduct important public business behind closed doors.

With a high-profile head on the Democratic ticket, such as Brady or possibly state Sen. Clint Stinnett of Ketchum, new party Chairman Richard Stallings should be able to recruit quality candidates to challenge for statewide and legislative offices. Two years ago, Democrats took a major step backward by not fielding good candidates to face either Otter or U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo. In the process, they lost three legislative seats.

It’s too early to advocate for any candidate. But it isn’t too early to long for balance and clear, credible choices on the ballot.

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