Do Dems have the drive to win more seats in November?

 Finally, we have come to the last day of the wackiest Idaho primary election ever. 2020 will be legendary for Idaho county clerks from this day forth–envelope shortages, mis-mailed ballots, crashing online sites, unsigned envelopes, court orders and all. 

The time for mailing ballots is past.  Still, hundreds of ballots may be slipped into slots at election offices today. Clerks will be busy checking signatures, opening envelopes, working creases out of the sheets, and running stacks through the counting machine. 

We might have results tonight–but some races may be so tight we’ll have to wait until every ballot is processed.    

Many voters were disappointed to see few contested races on their ballots.  Unless there was a local levy, Independents voted only for judges. Democrats had two contested races–House and Senate–at the top of their ticket, but only Boise Democrats saw contested legislative races.

There were Republican against Republican challenges in 28 of Idaho’s 35 districts.  

Democrats filed for only one-third of the county offices up for election and less than one-half of the legislative seats. Essentially, nearly 100 Republicans will be elected today.

Chances are that most were supported by only 15% of those eligible to vote in November.   

That might sound like business as usual, but Stephen Hartgen, a former five-term Republican legislator, noted that we are seeing a “sharp drop in Democratic Party competition statewide…some 20 percent fewer [legislative candidates] than in 2018.” 

A quick check found that Hartgen was right. 

In 2016 Democrats filed for 64 of 105 legislative seats; in 2018, 72; and this year, 56.

One might think that Idaho’s blue wave rippled and died, but it’s the vote in November that will count. 

Democrats now hold 20 legislative seats, up from 16 two years ago. 

Fifty-six candidates still give them lots of possibilities for gain.  

And if voters have been paying attention, Democrats will gain.  

For the Medicaid Expansion initiative to pass by 60% in 2018, one-third of Republican voters had to support it. Many Republican legislators didn’t care that the majority of their constituents supported expansion. They knew that the majority of those that voted for them hadn’t. They flaunted their opposition, passing a number of waivers to limit participation and complaining about paying 10% of the cost to insure thousands.  

They also passed a bill–later vetoed by Gov. Brad Little–to require future initiative petitions to get more signatures in more counties in half the time. 

In addition, they voted to prevent use of the millions in revenue from the new sales tax on online purchases for education or healthcare or infrastructure. They dedicated the money to tax relief–then failed to cut the sales tax on groceries or increase the homeowner’s exemption for property taxes.  

Certainly, some voters will remember in November. Will it be enough to make a difference?

That may depend on why Democrats have fewer candidates. 

If the number dropped because fewer activists were willing to invest time and effort, Democrats are in trouble. 

But it’s a different story if fewer Democratic candidates stepped forward because activists saw initiative petitions as offering more significant returns. We’d need to replace 20 or more incumbents to get the legislature to consider bills that would raise the minimum wage, improve school funding, or legalize medical mariuana. 

Successful bipartisan initiatives could bring those changes in little more than a year.

And might have–if the coronavirus shutdown hadn’t killed the petition drives. 

Now, I doubt these activists will choose to sit on their hands during this election–and they could make a huge difference in spreading candidates’ messages. 

We’ll see.  

Coronavirus crisis may benefit future voters

The year 1816 is known as the Year without a Summer.  Snowfall and freezing temperatures in June, July and August destroyed crops in much of the Northern Hemisphere. Corn, wheat, vegetables as well as meat, butter and milk, were in short supply. Thousands starved, and cholera raged among the malnourished. 

Then it was over. In time family stories faded away.  .  

Yet, generations totally unaware of that year’s casualties continue to benefit from some of its results–the bicycle, heightened migration into the American west, mineral fertilizers, and, possibly, a more centralized anti-slavery movement.

Hopefully, our coronavirus crisis may also be soon over and sometime forgotten, but leave adaptations benefitting many.   

I love that planners for the St. Luke’s FitOne race are envisioning runners at different times on tracks across the state. Will the planners create something as uplifting as being part of the traditional crowd of runners with shared goals and concern for community? Or will we be left simply with memories of making the best of hard times?  

 The big shakeup in state elections, however, seems destined to bring some permanent changes. 

I know some people don’t like that Idaho is voting all-absentee during this primary. They’re not afraid to walk into a polling place, show their ID, and complete their ballot.

And all it would take to make that possible is a crew of six or eight people–most of them over 60–putting in 14-hour days and handling hundreds of IDs. 

Voters aren’t the only ones we need to consider. 

Idaho is doing the right thing. Officials explored options, mailed out absentee ballot requests, and are tackling problems as they arise.   

  The 17 states that still require voters to give a reason for needing an absentee ballot have had a harder time. Eleven of those states have announced they are accepting fear of coronavirus as qualifying at least for the primary ballot (Ballotpedia.org). 

True the Vote is suing three of these states–Virginia, Nevada, and New Mexico–and claiming that people are committing a felony by stating they are ill when they aren’t–and that many will be disenfranchised when ballots are lost in the mail or miscounted. 

The irony, obviously, is that without the right to an absentee ballot 100% of persons who fear coronavirus enough to avoid the polls will be disenfranchised.     

  Colorado, Oregon, and Washington vote entirely by mail. Hawaii mails everyone ballots but has ‘voter service centers’ for those who prefer to vote in person.  Utah is just putting a vote-by-mail system into effect.  And two states–California and North Dakota–allow counties to choose whether to vote entirely absentee or not. 

Apparently, it’s possible to process thousands of absentee ballots.

President Trump singled out Michigan and Nevada in a rant against vote by mail last week. Michigan, like Idaho, mailed out absentee ballot applications for both the primary and the general election. Nevada, also like Idaho, is holding an all-mail primary.

The President claims balloting by mail favors Democrats and encourages voter fraud. 

Most Republicans support absentee balloting. The majority of the elderly who support Republicans are the ones most likely to vote by absentee ballot     

And experience indicates there is less danger with fraud from mail-in ballots than with voting machines.

There are areas, however, where Republicans restrict access to stay in power. Some officials have cut the number of polling places up to 60%, located them out of town and beyond public transit, and denied bathroom access to people waiting in lines for up to six hours.  

 Just having easy access to a ballot may be a good change for some Americans.

What changes will the pandemic cause?

We’re in the midst of a great social experiment. How will living month after month with a disease that causes no symptoms in many and yet kills and maims at a high rate change people? And what are the long-term effects of designating 20% of the workforce as non-essential and sending them home–some with money and others without?

There are too many variables for serious research, but we do need answers.  

Why does anyone become angry enough to shoot people over being required to wear a face mask or being refused sit-down dining? Would these people have resorted to violence over petty issues in different circumstances or is a change in privileges and routine that unsettling for some?  

In March gun sales were up 85% from the previous year–and a significant number were handgun purchases by first-time gun buyers. Will these buyers continue to fear others when people aren’t getting so ill?  Will more guns mean even more suicides and accidental killings?  

Will people become more upset at homelessness–or at the homeless? Protesters in San Francisco are angry that the city has managed to house only 1,000 of the 8,000 homeless, yet many will oppose a continued drain on the city’s coffers. Sprawling Los Angeles county has spent heavily to house 14,000 street people while leaving another 45,000 homeless.   

And will the nation resume the former rate of shopping and eating out and attending concerts and sports events when the pandemic is over?  Or will businesses close as many permanently adapt to a more stay-at-home lifestyle? 

 Will people newly accustomed to doing business via skype and zoom continue to prefer meetings where no one knows if they’re wearing shorts and flip-flops? Or will the instant boom for these companies be followed by a major bust?

Meanwhile disputes over how to vote continue in many states that have previously limited absentee voting to people with significant reasons for their request. Some see voting from home as benefitting Democrats more than Republicans–possibly because many Democrats work longer hours, have less access to transportation, and face long lines or bullying at the polls.

Absentee voting has been open to all Idaho voters for decades. Still, voting only by absentee is a significant change.  

There’s some indication more people may vote–by last Friday, nearly 250,000 Idahoans had requested absentee ballots.  Only 176,806 voted in the 2016 primaries. In Canyon County the numbers were over 24,000 ballot requests for 2020 and 13,651 votes in May 2016.

Of course, having an extra two weeks for voting will affect the results. May 19 is the deadline for requesting an absentee ballot and June 2 for voting.

Perhaps the most important question is will this pandemic help or hurt the status of science in this country? Obama appointed five Nobel prizewinners and 25 members of the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine during his administration. Trump issued orders silencing scientists early in his administration and has steadily replaced many with career politicians and business executives. The man recently appointed to head the fight against the coronavirus previously managed Dallas Labradoodles. 

Have the scientists been right in recommending measures to stop Covid-19? Or would it have been wiser to have let people die without ventilators while the disease ran its course?  

Scientists have overcome much of the opposition to previous findings about smog, tobacco, DDT, asbestos, sugar, and saturated fats.They have gained wide acceptance, but not victory, for theories about evolution and global warming.

Will their current fight help or hurt their future influence?  

Just how different will our new normal be? 

Idaho hopes for normalcy ahead

During the 20th century, May 1 evolved from a large celebration known for dancing children plaiting streamers around poles to solitary children stealthily depositing spring flowers on neighbor’s doorsteps to overblown displays of military might. 

This midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice was chosen by early unions as International Workers’ Day, by U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars as Loyalty Day, and by the American Bar Association as Law Day.  

On May Day 2006 Latinos held the Great American Boycott calling for immigrant rights; in 2008, longshoremen protested against the Iraqi War; in 2012, Occupy Wall Street supporters protested economic inequality.

May Day 2020, however, won’t be remembered for celebrations or protests, but as the heroic–or foolish–starting point of the great American effort to re-establish normalcy.   

With polls indicating that 60% of the American people don’t feel the coronavirus danger is over, more than 30 states are easing social distancing restrictions. In an attempt to allay the fears of many, President Trump said it was possible that reopening would result in fewer than 100,000 deaths.  

Should we or shouldn’t we, that is the question. 

Idaho, fortunately, is more ready than most of the nation.  

Thirty-four states had more people die from coronavirus on May 2  than the 63 fatalities that Idaho has totaled over eight weeks. 

It sounds extreme for Michigan to ban motor boats, jet skis and travel to second homes. Yet, Michigan suffered 154 coronavirus deaths Saturday. That brought the state’s total to 4,020, a rate of 404 persons per million. Idaho’s rate is 37.

The U.S. average rate is 203 coronavirus deaths per million.  Twenty-two states have rates under 60.  Four states–Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York–have rates over 500 (https://www.wordometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/).   

Some states are definitely reopening too soon. Iowa opened 77 out of 99 counties the same day its total cases jumped nearly 10%. Georgia, one of the first state’s to reopen, saw its cases jump over 10.5% in three days. 

And, disappointingly, the initial test on remdesivir, the drug that caused a brief stock market surge, shows it decreases symptoms, but not deaths.

Why the pressure to reopen? Protestors would like to think it’s caused by a refusal to accept restrictions on our Constitutional right to assemble. Those who believe in following the money point to states faced with bankruptcy by the costs of unemployment payments for 18.6% of America’s workforce.

People who refuse to return to work because of the COVID-19 danger will not be eligible for state benefits or the extra $600 a week from the Federal government.  Finances will force many to take the same risks for which we’ve honored health care workers and other ‘essential’ employees.

And President Trump has offered some factories government help with any ‘liability,’ i.e. lawsuits resulting from worker deaths, rather than aid for frequent testing and personal protective equipment.

But Idaho is in pretty good shape. The rate of new cases has halved. And coronavirus deaths have been reported in only nine counties; three out of four deaths took place in just four–Ada, Nez Perce, Twin Falls and Blaine. 

Well done, Idaho. May our caution continue to pay off as we reopen step by step, health region by health region.  

I’m ready to don a mask my niece made and take some bold baby steps–having both my eyes (glaucoma) and my teeth checked. 

May all of you who’re returning to work face conditions as safe as possible amid responsible customers and co-workers.       

Some good stuff happening–really  

Okay, enough about Americans being angry at one another. Enough about two months  of U.S. COVID-19 deaths approaching the number of U.S. soldiers killed during 20 years of war in Vietnam (58,220). And absolutely no more about forcing states to go bankrupt so they won’t have to pay employee pensions.   

I set out to find some good news this week, and not just Congress appropriating nearly a half trillion more for small businesses, hospitals and coronavirus testing–though, at least, members did agree to check where the $2.2 trillion in the last bill went. 

My hunt paid off quickly with a gem I overlooked last week.  U.S. Health and Welfare will allow Idaho to include treatment for mental illness and substance abuse disorder under Medicaid. This will not save the state money so much as make it possible to expand treatment to more Idahoans. Expect healthier families and better employees.    

As Betsy Z. Russell said in an April 17 article this Medicaid Expansion waiver was the only one to draw support from all sides–”lawmakers, medical care providers, advocates and more.”      

And, this week we got more good news when the Supreme Court ruled in support of clean water.   

Polluters must now “get permits for indirect water contamination that’s the ‘functional equivalent’ of a direct discharge into federal waterways” (Bloomberg Law, April 23). 

That is, a company must have a permit or pay a fine for pumping four million gallons of treated sewage a day into injection wells a half-mile from the Pacific Ocean IF any of the waste pollutes the ocean. 

This reversed an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) policy adopted last year.  

It’s a compromise. The Federal government still claims no authority to stop pollution of groundwater and a permit still exists that allows some entities to pollute Federal waters.  

On the other hand, companies will be held responsible for knowing where the waste will go and how fast before building a discharge system. And there’s a chance that the ruling could apply to surface pollution–oil spills, coal ash impoundments, and wastewater lagoons–that leak into groundwater.   

I’m confident that most Americans see a ruling that lowers the amount of water pollution as good news. And two conservatives–Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Brett Kavanaugh–joined the Court’s ‘liberal bloc’–in crafting the compromise.  . 

Similarly, after studying intelligence reports on Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections, Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee agreed the evidence was clear: Russia had made a serious attack on our democratic institutions.   

Again, I’d rather they’d introduced a bill to fund countermeasures during the 2020 elections, but baby steps are better than nothing. .  

There’s another issue coming up that will call for serious compromise. A Federal court has ruled that drafting men and not women is sexual discrimination. Now bills in Congress present two options: authorize the drafting of women or end the draft altogether.  

The U.S. called up the National Guard of several states instead of drafting during the Iraq War.  It was a quicker way to get trained personnel, and it affected only those who, at some point, had volunteered.  

Could the National Guard provide enough troops for conflicts that range wider or last longer? The Iraq War was only army against army for a short time before becoming a policing operation against terrorists.

Expect serious discussion on options concerning universal military training, forms of alternative service, and criteria on when to use the draft. 

Only by working together can we hope to maintain our democracy. 

To do it we must fight efforts to divide us.