The Right Coast

August 19, 2005
Bush's trip to Idaho
By Tom Smith

The Gem State (which sounds so much better than "the Potato State") is all atwitter about W's scheduled trip to Idaho this coming Monday. By coincidence, I just returned from the mountainous, lakey area where he is heading to recreate. I cannot confirm rumors that I was there on a secret mission for the White House. It's way too secret for that.

The politics of this are interesting. Bush is supposed to be going to a new resort being built on Lake Cascade, about 90 miles or so north of Boise. The resort, called Tamarack, is the first destination resort to be built in the West in twenty-five years (they say). A large French development company tried for ten years to develop a ski resort in the area, naively supposing that the U.S. Forest Service would eventually give them the required permission for the ski resort. Finally, the French surrendered, perhaps unable to grasp that the Forest Service was never going to help them. American developers took over the project, and hit upon the elegant solution of moving the whole resort north (I think, either that or south) a few miles, taking it off federal and onto state land. The State of Idaho issued its permits, and almost immediately ground was broken and brochures were printed. Home prices in the area shot up in a speculative frenzy. Perfectly modest homes on the lake are now selling for over a million, and on nearby (and more picturesque) Payette Lake, there are houses selling for close to $5 million, which is nuts in the view of many locals.

Idaho has two well established destination resort areas, Lake Coeur d'Alene and Sun Valley. Why isn't Bush going to one of these spots, which have much more in the way of infrastructure than Tamarack, which is still largely a gleam in speculators' eyes? I'm guessing several reasons. Both established resorts are heavily Democratic, especially old money and Hollywood frequented Sun Valley, where you may recall John Kerry has one of his palatial homes. (And where he reportedly stood up the gathering of supporters who worked on his visits to Sun Valley during the campaign.) But also, cynic that I am, I wonder whether there is not some serious Texas money behind the new resort. W's trip creates millions of dollars worth of publicity for the fledgling resort. It would be interesting to know everyone who wins by that. Whether or not friends of W are in on the deal, however, it is a very nice thank you to the folks at Sun Valley, who have got to be eating their hearts out at the prospect of Marine One touching down among the pines and mountains, but a hundred miles or so northwest of them. It is a gesture that has Karl Rove written all over it. But Sun Valley should take heart. They can look forward to visits from Sir and Lady John for many years to come. Just remember to stay out of his way.