What’s the matter with Idaho? Nothing, really. As Eric mentioned, 5 of the 6 state ballot measures on “takings” failed, with 2 thrown out by the courts before the election, and 3 rejected at the polls. But Idaho represented the biggest defeat for the “takings” measures: Proposition 2 didn’t just fail, it was crushed, with a whopping 76 percent of voters lined up against it. From the Boise Weekly:

The clearest, most resounding victor of election day 2006 did not wear a sharp business suit or have a firm handshake. Instead, a diverse coalition of interests brought down what seemed like a moneyed juggernaut: Proposition 2, a property “takings” initiative.

I’m as tickled as anyone about this. But I’m also more than a bit perplexed: how, in rural, conservative Idaho did a “property-rights” initiative get trounced so badly?

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  • Of course, the “property rights” agenda doesn’t seem conservative at all to me, since it’s such a radical departure from tradition and from common law understandings of property. (Edmund Burke would have been appalled.) Still, in today’s blinkered political landscape, it gets labeled as a “conservative” idea, basically because it’s anti-government (which appeals to small-government conservatives) and laissez faire (which appeals to economic conservatives).

    It’s also an ideology with particular appeal in rural areas. In cities and suburbs, you’re so close to your neighbors that it’s simply obvious that what other people do on their property affects how much you can enjoy yours. But in rural areas, those connections aren’t always so apparent, or compelling.

    Which leads to my perplexity about the Idaho result. Arguably, Idaho is both the most conservative state, and the most most rural state, in which a one of these ballot measures ran. The backers of Proposition 2 must have expected a cake-walk.

    But instead, not only was Prop 2 defeated, it was defeated in a landslide. A similar measure in California—politically, far to the left of Idaho—lost in a squeaker. Washington’s I-933, a far more extreme measure than Idaho’s, went down to a double-digit defeat—but still it got nearly 42 percent of the vote, well over 70 percent higher than Prop 2’s vote share.

    So, what happened in Idaho? The conventional wisdom seems to be that Idaho residents resented out-of-staters trying to influence their laws. That analysis is probably right, as far as it goes. It was a legitimate beef—virtually every penny of the Prop 2 campaign’s money came from people who live outside Idaho, most notably Howard Rich, the aptly-named, libertarian-leaning multi-millionaire. Voters were genuinely put off that so little financial support was coming from within Idaho itself.

    But to me, that explanation sort of begs the question; why on earth, in the heart of conservative, rural Idaho, was there so little home-grown support for the “property rights” agenda? Hunting and fishing groups did a lot of the legwork against the law. But there was no countervailing wave of support for Prop 2 from the the state’s conservative establishment. In fact virtually the entire state’s right-leaning leadership—which largely make up the governing structure of the state—lined up in opposition.

    Now, if the sitting governor and former governors (conservatives through and through) thought that Prop 2 was genuinely good public policy, they probably would have supported it, no matter where the money behind it came from. But they didn’t; they opposed Prop 2, forcefully.

    Part of the reason may be that Idaho’s land use laws are already pretty lax—there simply isn’t as much community planning as in California or Washington. And lax laws meant little grassroots backlash—and not much reason for voters or politicians to support a radical property rights agenda.

    But there may be another reason that Idaho Republicans lined up so staunchly against Prop 2. Despite the national electoral shift on Tuesday, Republicans are likely to dominate the Idaho statehouse for some time. Which meant that, if Prop 2 passed, they’d be the ones forced to implement it. And they knew it would have made governing responsibly much more difficult—it would make a host of government actions subject to lawsuits, or possibly big payouts from taxpayers. The actual business of running the government would have become messier and more expensive. And conservative power structure, rightly, didn’t want to be stuck dealing with the consequences.

    In other states, the dynamic was different. Party rule in Washington and California isn’t so monolithic. In those states, property initiatives became a wedge issue, a way for a part of the electorate that felt disempowered to express their politcal leanings, register their dissatisfaction with certain land use laws, and to embarrass the existing power structure. In those states, passing a property initiative would create a mess for the other guys to clean up.

    But in Idaho—which, with a few exceptions, is largely a one-party state—conservatives have a vested interest in effective and well-managed government, and much less to gain from grandstanding and wedge issues. So they felt perfectly justified in opposing a law that would have made their jobs—running the state government—a total mess. Opposing Prop 2 was just a matter of good government—and self preservation.