I’m a news junkie. I consume newspapers, radio, television, the Internet, blogs and more like some folks consume cans of Coke or bags of salted peanuts. I’m addicted to news.
My much better half once clipped a Charles Schultz “Peanuts” cartoon from the Sunday paper and had it framed for me. In the cartoon Snoopy is seen with a significant number of papers under his arm (leg?) and Charlie Brown remarks that he’s always buying all the out of town papers. That’s me.
So, as a year-end wish, I’d like to put on my green eye shade for a moment, the kind an old-time editor might have worn, and suggest ten stories I’d like to see someone write.
1. Who has survived the housing bubble? I keep hearing stories about the massive inventory of built housing in Ada and Canyon Counties in Idaho, but I wonder how the developers, builders, architects, etc. manage to hang on? Is the housing situation improving? How much inventory is there? Who has weathered this awful story…and who hasn’t?
2. What’s happening to the Idaho timber industry? Twenty or more years ago every Idaho politician spoke of the staples of the Idaho economy as being timber, agriculture and mining. Political battles were fought over allowable harvest levels in Idaho’s national forests. Potlatch and Boise Cascade carried real economic and political clout. Additional formal wilderness designation was held hostage to the need for access to new raw materials. Agriculture is still big, mining – particularly gold exploration is booming – but what about the timber industry? The industry’s once-powerful trade group disbanded last year. What has happened to jobs, companies and how big (or small) is the once mighty industry?
3. Speaking of wilderness, that is where the Idaho Democratic Party has wandered for the last 15 years. With the exception of a one-term congressman and a superintendent of public instruction, the party that once held the governorship for 24 straight years seems a political afterthought. Does any Democratic leader have a plan to help the party return to relevance? Who might be a serious candidate for a serious office in 2014? Or, has Idaho become what Alabama was in the 1930’s – a one-party state for as far as the mind can see?
4. Speaking of politics, I’d be curious – and other Idaho news consumers would be, as well, I think – as to what the state’s all-GOP congressional delegation thinks of the current state of presidential politics. Several of the state’s Republican leaders have endorsed Mitt Romney, but I don’t see anything about what they make of the current campaign. I know these guys, serious politicians all, are following the debates and watching the polls. I’d like to know what they think about the campaign.
5. Idaho undertook massive changes in public education over the last two years, including for the first time actual year over year reductions in spending. School districts have downsized staff, changed schedules and eliminated programs. Who has been hurt? How many teachers have left the state and why?
6. Another education money story I’d like to see fleshed out is what the impact of legislative action on public school spending has been for local property taxpayers. There have been levy elections designed to raise money from property taxpayers to replace money – sales and income tax dollars – that has shrunk at the state level. The Boise district will ask voters to approve a levy in March. Some numbers reporting on what has happened could be enlightening.
7. One of the expected big battles of the 2012 Idaho legislature will center on whether the state will create a state-based health insurance exchange” as required by the unpopular Affordable Care Act– Obamacare in the parlance of those who most dislike the law. Idaho legislators voted against the exchange idea last year, but Gov. Butch Otter finally used an executive order to facilitate work on the exchange in the interim. Soon, the legislature will be asked to authorize the creation of an exchange and spend money on setting it up. Here’s a comparison I’d like to see: Utah, a state every bit as conservative as Idaho, already has an exchange in place. How did that happen? What is different in Utah as opposed to Idaho? Conservative Republicans run both states, but have come to apparently very different conclusions on this important issue. [Full disclosure: I serve on the board of a health insurance company that supports – as I do – creating a state-based exchange.]
8. The most vocal opposition to creating an Idaho exchange comes from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a conservative, free-market think tank, and its director, a former reporter and GOP staffer, Wayne Hoffman. Hoffman is a very effective advocate. Many legislators listen when he speaks. Good for him. What lawmakers, the public and the media don’t know is who bankrolls his efforts. It continues to be a valid question and a potentially important story with impacts for Idaho’s public policy and politics.
9. Washington State voters recently voted – with healthy encouragement from Costco, the big retailer – to get the state out of the liquor business. States where liquor is controlled, purchased by the state and sold in state-owned and operated liquor stores, is a relic of the country’s post-Prohibition days in the 1930’s. Given Idaho’s historic inclination, when given a choice, to favor the private sector over the public, just how does the state maintaining a liquor monopoly fit? It is often argued that the status quo helps discourage consumption. But is that true? Would a change cost the state money or make it money? An enterprising reporter ought to be able to figure that out? Right next door Washington will be testing many of the assumptions long-held in Idaho.
10. And…I’m curious about the impact on the state’s unemployment rate over the last 18 months or so of the downsizing local and state governments have engaged in. Just how many positions have been eliminated in the tough budget environment? What has been the impact on both those people and public services? Maybe it’s good, maybe not. It’s an important story that hasn’t been much reported.
There you have it…ten stories I’d love to read in 2012.