Vote!–It’s the ‘in’ thing these days

Over 50 million Americans have already voted.  

They have travelled distances and waited in long lines.

They have brought IDs, masks, friends, family–and perseverance.

When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that no county could have more than one mail-ballot drop off location, Texans took this attempt to suppress voting as a challenge–over 5 million voted in the first eight days. Harris County helped things along by tripling its number of early voting sites and extending voting hours.

With a week of early voting to go, over a quarter million Idahoans have voted.

Many, however, enjoy the traditions of going to the polls on election day, entering a booth, and hearing their name called.

One 90-year-old refused my suggestion to apply for an absentee ballot by saying, “Oh, no.  My friends at the polls would all think I was dead.” She then listed her poll workers by name.

But absentee and early voting, especially with extended hours, help many. Some are pushing for a national holiday, but who would get it off? Not doctors or nurses, bus drivers or police, wait persons or store clerks.

I hope today’s students get to vote as much as we did in school. I can’t remember just what our teachers found for us to vote about, but I do remember hands in the air and scribbled jottings on scraps of paper.

Once at a Parent-Teacher Organization meeting a member objected to voting on the prepared ballots by pointing at the person who lost out for chair couldn’t hold any office.  We were about to eliminate one of our best qualified.

The acting chair paused for a moment, then shrugged. “ Please lower your heads and close your eyes.  Raise your right hand to….”

We all laughed–we knew the routine.

Americans vote in many different ways–partisan and non-partisan; by cities, counties, states and zones–dozens of zones. Judgeships always have only one candidate, but primaries are apt to have five.

And we’re constantly tuning the voting process.

Caldwell quickly changed a law last fall so that future council members can win by a plurality, rather than a majority. Run-off elections can be expensive.

The Idaho legislature imposed a new voting law on Boise–and perhaps Nampa–this year. It requires cities with more than 100,000 to elect council members by zone–like school boards. The change will hurt some because some current council members will have to run against one another. Overall, though, it’s a good move.  Zone voting means more diversity and  more interaction with constituents.

A couple of other changes are worth considering. One is “ranked voting” in which voters mark their first, second, and third choices. If their first choice doesn’t make the top three, then it’s dropped, and their vote goes to their second choice. It could save Idaho’s Republicans from fielding candidates that got only 25% of the primary votes.

And I would like to see a system for electing the president where candidates might actually come to Idaho. Red and blue states share the same problem–with a winner-take-all system no votes over 50% count. Four to eight swing states get all the attention.

We don’t have to abolish the electoral college to change that. We just need states to allot  electoral votes according to the popular vote. In every state candidates would be fighting for one more electoral vote, not 4 in Idaho and 38 in Texas.

Make your plan and vote! It’s the ‘in’ thing these days. (And mail your absentee ballot today or see that someone takes it to the Elections Office.)

Elections, vaccine to end this edge-of-our-seats thriller

Elections, vaccine to end this edge-of-our-seats thrillerThese last two weeks before the election seem like the runup to the climax of a thriller movie.  

Will armed bullies take over polling locations?  Will the post office defy the powers that rule it to get the mail out on time?  Will we ever know if Hunter Biden really got millions just for introducing people to his dad?  

And underneath is the pounding rhythm of a pandemic–the elephant in the room that we’re all desperately working to ignore as it rises on its hind legs and prepares to attack. 

I want to believe it’ll be like the Y2 crisis. Remember when many feared that the change from 1999 to 2000 would send all sorts of networks haywire–power, water, phone, dispatch, and banks?  

At some point the fear of a panicking public loomed worse than the fear of computer outages.  About 15% of the country set up to store enough food, water, cash, ammunition and, yes, toilet paper, so they could hole up while hungry hordes roamed the streets and battled for the few bottles of water available. 

And New Years’ came–and went–without incident.

And the history buffs among us could remember those inspiring words of Franklin Roosevelt: ”The only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.” 

Today I can’t help wondering just what Roosevelt would have said if he’d realized the economic collapse of the Great Depression would trigger a war taking 70 million lives.   

Maybe, “Fear can motivate us to be aware and prepare for dangers, but we must control it; terror may divide and destroy us.” 

Somehow seeing lines of voters waiting hours to cast their ballots early made me feel hopeful. They didn’t look like they’d be cowered by a few armed bullies asking questions. And I do think post office workers will do their best to get ballots to the polls on time. And I hope neighbors in Ohio are arranging to take one anothers’ ballots to the one voting box in the county. 

Both Democrats and Republicans fear the outcome of the coming election.  

As a Democrat, I worry about dangers I see increasing day by day.  I fear that we’ll do next to nothing to mitigate climate change and end up with an Idaho in eternal drought. I fear differences in neighborhoods and schools will separate us by class and culture so that we fail as a melting pot. I fear the courts will allow the powerful to take away the rights of common citizens, especially workers. And I fear that we will start caring even less about one another than we apparently do about immigrant toddlers separated from their parents.

 I’m not sure what Republicans fear down deep. Some say it is any change.  Some, the loss of white supremacy.   

A recent questionnaire from the Republican party plays to fears of extremism–”budget-busting” federal spending,” “extreme” climate change policies, “dangerous” abortion policies, “increased” gun control. 

It labels policies as “advanced by Democrats” that few Democrats embrace, e.g. extending voting rights to inmates and those under 16. And when “Universal Income” advocate Charles Murray spoke in Nampa, his audience was Libertarians and Republicans. Only one Democratic presidential candidate in 29 supported it.  

And “open borders for all immigrants” has been denounced by Bernie Sanders as “a Koch brothers proposal” designed to cut wages to “two or three dollars an hour.” If Democrats had their way, the United States would be giving trade advantages to countries who treat workers humanely so fewer would risk their lives to come to the U.S. 

Soon, election results and a vaccine will bring an end to this episode. May it go out peacefully and usher in a time when truth and cooperation thrive. 

Do you and your legislator agree? Part 2

There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect. 

Okay, that is straight out my last column–but there’s more that needs said. 

You see, Medicaid expansion, voter initiatives, local option taxes, and adequate education funding aren’t the only issues where the majority of legislators disagree with the majority of their constituents.  

A survey by Colorado College for Conservation Voters of Idaho indicates 60 to 80% of Idaho voters want something done about issues our legislators ignore: public lands and climate change.    

Access to some public lands has been blocked by wealthy owners of private lands who have closed decades-old roads. After the 2018 legislature passed some serious penalties for trespassing on private land–a third offense could bring a year in jail and a $10,000 fine–families that had gathered for years on lands no longer accessible don’t want to risk charges; they want it made clear that the unauthorized blockages are illegal. The House Committee on Resources and Conversation voted 8-7 to refuse to accept a bill; the Senate committee accepted one but never voted on it.  

 A search indicates that S1317 is the only bill concerning ‘public lands’ printed by the legislature in 2019 or 2020. That may be an improvement over years when legislators were determined that the state take over Federal public lands that there was no way we could maintain, but is no harm the best we ask for?     

 On climate change Colorado College found that over 70% of those polled want the Governor to have a plan to reduce carbon pollution and nearly 60% would like Idaho to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. 

In March 2019 a House committee held Idaho’s first official hearing on climate change.  Representatives from Hewlett Packard and the Idaho National Laboratory said that we have ample clean energy resources and it is essential we act.  BSU faculty shared what’s happening to agricultural yields, water supplies, and fire damage.   

Rep. John Vander Woude expressed disappointment that so little was known about how change would impact Idaho.And House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding introduced a concurrent resolution to create an interim committee to study what Idaho needs to be doing.  

The resolution failed. And climate change did not come up in the 2020 session. 

Idaho has no plan to deal with climate change and no committee working on one.  

I don’t know of other polls, but voters frequently mention other issues they feel the current legislature isn’t handling well.

Property tax reductions. Even with a homeowner’s exemption, property taxes now cost more than a month’s income for many, especially with over $200 million of school supplemental levies added to the mix. The Senate passed SB1417, but the House didn’t vote on it.     

Minimum wage. Idaho has a greater percentage of workers earning less than $12 an hour than any other state. Four of the six states bordering Idaho have minimum wages higher than $7.25 an hour. No bill was introduced in 2020.   

Legalized industrial hemp. There are 1500 licensed hemp growers in Oregon, 2300 in Colorado, and 0 in idaho. Idaho and Mississippi are the only two states where hemp with less than 0.3% THC cannot be legally grown, processed, or transported.  SB1345 was passed by the Senate, but the House did not vote on it.

Republicans hold 80% of the seats in the Idaho legislature. They not only control what gets passed but also what gets discussed. One-party government is not good regardless of what party dominates.  

Do you and your legislators agree?

 There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect.  

Medicaid expansion is a prime example. For seven years our legislators refused to consider it, then the people voted for it by 60%, and the majority of legislators set out to limit who would be covered. If that wasn’t enough, many complained that voters were uninformed (i.e. ignorant) and lectured us on how representatives were to vote according to their judgment, not ours.  

We can find other examples by comparing legislative actions with polling results released last January in Boise State University’s 5th annual Idaho Public Policy Survey

For instance, a total of 80% of those surveyed felt that requiring signatures from 6% of the registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 districts before placing initiatives on a ballot was about right or too difficult.   

Yet, during the 2019 legislative session almost 70% of the legislators voted to make passing an initiative significantly more difficult. Every Canyon County legislator voted for requiring a higher percent gathered in more districts in fewer days. Only Gov. Brad Little’s veto protected Idahoans’ rights to initiate laws.    

Our representatives wanted to make it next to impossible for their constituents to take direct action on issues they refused to address.  

The Policy Survey by BSU also found that over 61% of those surveyed felt that residents should be able to vote on whether a city or county levies a local sales tax for needed improvements. 

Idaho counties and cities rely heavily on property taxes for their revenue. For decades they’ve looked to local option sales taxes as a means to diversify funding sources and to make possible projects that the state doesn’t regard as priorities. 

Idaho law does allow resort cities with populations of less than 10,000  to pass a local sales tax and auditorium districts to pass a local hotel tax. From 2003-2009 the state did allow a half-cent sales tax for building a jail if 2/3rds of the voters approved. But even that option is no longer available for Idaho cities and counties. 

Overall, however, Idaho legislators are denying voters the right to decide.   

The Policy Survey also indicates that voters regard adequately funding schools as more important than cutting taxes. 

Even without the survey, that’s obvious. Voters have approved over $200 million to fund annual supplemental levies for school districts in spite of the fact that property taxes are generally the most hated. The amounts paid from year to year are easily compared, and they continue to increase without regard for anyone’s ability to pay.

Yet in 2019, when anticipating increased revenue from a sales tax on online sales to Idahoans, a majority of our legislators voted to limit the revenue’s use to reducing taxes. They didn’t consider funding schools, much less roads and bridges, prisons or law enforcement.  

And many felt free to grumble about voters thrusting the expenses for Medicaid expansion upon the state while placing this new source of revenue off limits. (Yet, this year the legislature also gave short shrift to any cuts in property taxes.) 

Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia all invest more per student than Idaho does. According to WalletHub, only 13 states take a lower percent of personal income in taxes than Idaho does. 

Idaho is 51st in education funding and 14th in lowest taxes.  

Please consider if your legislators share your priorities before casting your vote this fall. The Idaho Press will distribute candidates’ answers to its survey on Sunday, Oct. 18.      

Presidential candidates debate Tuesday, Sept. 29

The debate between presidential candidates starting at 7 pm tonight will be moderated by Chris Wallace of FOX News.  He’s chosen six topics–the Trump and Biden records, the Supreme Court, COVID-19, the economy, race and violence in our cities, and the integrity of the election.  

These are issues crafted by President Trump’s campaign.  

“Race and violence in our cities.” Between 15 and 26 million people have taken part in Black Lives Matter protests since the videotaped murder of Geoge Floyd. Although 1400 people have been arrested–less than 0.009% of participants–most have been charged with vandalism, not violence. Trump, however, wants voters to believe only he can protect them from raging urban masses.  

“Integrity of the election.” Only now that Trump claims wide-spread voter fraud is a primary danger to his re-election has this topic become important enough for a Presidential debate. Republican voter-suppression–hours-long lines, deleted registrations, and inaccessible polling places–never made the big leagues.

Fitness. Although not on the agenda, fitness may be the big issue. Trump has repeatedly attacked Biden as physically and mentally unfit to be president. 

But Trump’s health is also in question. Many have speculated that mini-strokes were responsible for his unscheduled visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center last November.   

My feeling is that if either candidate has energy enough to demonstrate 90 minutes of mental acuity before a national audience tonight, they’re doing better than most of us could at 50. 

What issues would be featured in a Biden-friendly debate?

Healthcare. Biden feels strongly that the U.S. needs the Affordable Care Act and would like to add a public option to the assortment of available insurance plans. In a retake from 2016, President Trump claims he has a new and better plan that’s top secret until after he’s elected. The Supreme Court won’t be hearing the latest Republican attempt to abolish the Affordable Care Act until a week after the election. Voters won’t learn if millions of Americans lose their healthcare until after all the ballots are cast.   

Workers’ rights and wages. Biden came from a family of workers and understands why they need representation on grievances, including those for the physical dangers they face, rather than the dictates of a company-hired arbitrator. He’s also aware that no one can live on the current minimum wage. President Trump seldom mentions labor except to say he’s added jobs and will do away with the payroll taxes funding Social Security and Medicare. 

The environment and climate change. Long an environmentalist, Biden ranks climate change as one of the major crises facing our country.  His proposals include ending government subsidies to fossil fuel industries, restoring methane regulations, and mandating fuel efficiency.  President Trump, on the other hand, doesn’t believe in climate change and blames poor management for year-after-year increases in wildfire casualties. 

International relations. Biden sees a connection between maintaining good relations and growing international trade. He also believes we need world-wide cooperation to curb climate change. President Trump is strong on “putting America first,” which has somehow translated into alienating our allies and doing favors for Saudi Arabia and Russia.     

These topics may receive more attention in the two following debates. The exchange on Thursday, Oct. 15, will be town-hall style where Florida citizens pose questions and candidates give two-minute replies.  The final debate the following Thursday will have six topics chosen by moderator Kristen Welker of NBC News.

Please join in watching these debates. They are our best chances to view the candidates without the filter of commentators. If you’re busy tonight, check for tapes later.