LGBT: Acceptance in Idaho

by Judy Ferro

 

Judge Candy Dale’s decision in favor of LGBT marriage in Idaho brought a sadness that I hadn’t anticipated.

I remembered how naïve I was about gays in high school—and the three closeted friends that were among the first to die from Aids. They had teased me about being a Mormon who just didn’t know it, shared jokes when I felt down, and shared dreams of becoming missionaries in South America.

I had known about gays—Caldwell’s debate coach was arrested while we were at state tournament in Pocatello—but I hadn’t known much.

Now I remember families I’ve seen torn apart by failure to accept a gay member. One friend’s parents were supportive only until he found a partner; they had assumed he had chosen abstinance. A friend in Nampa has been with her partner for 22 years and yet her siblings are still angry.

I don’t understand the depth of hate involved. At home I was raised to respect people’s differences and at church I learned of a loving God who directed that we love our neighbors and restrain from judging others.

I mourn the wasted energy as people try to help our country by doing and saying hateful things about gays and lesbians –as though democracy can survive only with people who think exactly as they do. If we all thought alike, any government would be fine—it’s our differences that make democracy the blessing that it is.

Fortunately, some memories make me feel good.

Down-to-earth Idaho families simply ignored a former student and her girlfriend holding hands across a table in the Sunday morning crush at Say You, Say Me restaurant. No one seemed to see their happiness as a threat.

And a devout Christian, who had warned me that he was anti-gay when I recruited him as a candidate in 2008, has since become a supporter of gay marriage. Working on projects with couples who’ve been together 20 and 30 years has that affect on people.

Back in the 1970s, Carol and Ron Blakley, upon learning their son was gay, worked to start a LGBT-friendly congregation in Boise.   It was hard enough, Carol told me, to accept their son being gay. If he’d rejected their religious beliefs, it would have hurt much too much.

And I smile remembering when my good friend Lane Thomas came out as gay. Lane had been the children’s teacher for Snake Basin Drama and taught our girls to juggle so young that managing one ball was a struggle.   Soon my husband Bill was helping SBD with lights and sound—and even acting. We met several of Lane’s girlfriends and, occasionally, double-dated.

Later, Lane started a graphic design business in Caldwell that was quite successful.   My husband Bill was at Lane’s office in 1996 or so when a Press-Tribune photographer came to his picture.

The Idaho legislature had been debating a bill that would forbid schools and libraries from purchasing any materials that encouraged acceptance of the gay lifestyle. In a letter-to-the-editor in opposition, Lane had revealed he was gay. The paper wanted an interview.

When Lane’s picture ran across the front page the next day, Bill and I were worried for his personal safety as well as for his business.

Soon, Newsweek contacted Lane hoping to do a story on what he’d gone through. Lane mentioned that friends had sent balloons and candy, but, no, he hadn’t gotten hate mail or phone calls.   The magazine ended up doing a story about a lesbian couple in the South instead.

It didn’t even mention Lane’s acceptance in Idaho.

I was so proud of my state then. I still am.

Taxes: Cutting Too Much

by Judy Ferro

You know if you cut down calories and exercise a little bit, you can lose weight.   But you should also know that if you cut calories and exercise a whole lot, you can mess your whole system up.

For 30 years Republicans have said that the best way—maybe the only way—for the government to create jobs and prosperity is to cut taxes. At first, Republicans—including both Reagan and Bush the First—sought to find the proper balance by following major tax cuts with needed tax increases.

But in the years since cutting taxes has become more than a means to a healthy economy, but a goal in itself. Vote for me. I’ll cut taxes. My opponent says he’ll but taxes? Well, I’ll cut more.

When Republican leaders find the economy sluggish and government faltering after one tax cut, they seek to fix things with another tax cut.

Late in 2012 Republicans in Kansas—home of the Koch brothers—cut taxes 25% for most of the state’s citizens.   Nothing halfway for Kansas. So schools and state pensions are underfunded. We obviously need the biggest, baddest tax cut ever.

Forbes magazine praised Kansas Republicans for their boldness and predicted massive job growth.   As recently as March 10, Governor Brownback was on FOX news telling the nation about the wonders taking place in Kansas

Then the May 1 report from the Kansas Department of Revenue revealed that tax income was down 45% from a year earlier. The state is on track to collect $1.3 billion less this fiscal year. That’s right—tax revenue down a whole lot more than the 25% cut. The economy is slowing.

Moody’s cut Kansas’s credit rating. Governor Brownback went on FOX news to explain that it was Obama’s fault. Then the legislature got to work—debating another tax cut. After all, it’s an election year.

And neighboring Missouri, faced with the prospect of all their businesses racing to take advantage of lower taxes in Kansas, passed their own tax cut over Governor Nixon’s veto. Republicans there will go into the campaign season claiming their cut—moderate compared to Kansas–will only lower revenues $420 million a year.

If it didn’t mean kids packed like sardines into classrooms, drivers facing hazardous road conditions, and the mentally and physically disabled citizens being dumped in the streets, it’d be a laugh. Abbott and Costello go to Kansas.

A recent Idaho poll indicated that voters believe Republicans are better at managing the economy.

That really hurts.

Idaho has a median income just half of what’s considered a living wage. It has more people using payday loans even though interest rates here can be up to 400%. It has the second highest number of people working for minimum wage, and 75% of our citizens qualify for subsidized health care.

Idaho has one of the lowest tax rates in the nation.

A new report out this week indicates that there is no correlation between average wages and tax rates. But researchers found a direct correlation between the percent of a state’s workers with college degrees and average wages.

Idaho has been shorting higher education for years and only four states made higher cuts after 2008.

What a surprise. Higher education and higher wages go hand-in-hand. The economy must be a liberal.

If we want more good-wage jobs, we should postpone cutting taxes and take care of our schools.

 

Politics: Idaho Republicans split

by Judy Ferro

There’s an old saying among Democrats—and perhaps among Republicans also—that when the opposition shoots itself in the foot, it’s best to stay out of range.   So, generally, I’ve had little to say about Republican primary elections.

This presents a problem for a liberal columnist:  The Democratic primaries lack drama.   Sure, we have a contested seats–some guy from New York is again seeking nomination for an Idaho U.S. Senate seat—but most of the contests are between people who’ve been in public service and political activities for years and someone I’ve never heard of.  Only in the race for Boise’s District 16, seat A, do we have two hardworking Democrats with active supporters battling it out—John McCrostie, a leader of the battle against the Luna Laws, and Jimmy Farris, the impressive and capable former Congressional candidate—and I haven’t heard any disagreement on issues in that race.

On the other hand, Republican primaries throughout Canyon County offer sturm and drang.

The turmoil over the Republican nomination for House Seat 10B has been an interesting diversion, but now it’s clear that Republican primary voters may vote for Greg Chaney, who has stated his intent to withdraw, or the two write-in candidates, Brian Bishop and Kent Marmon, but their votes aren’t likely to decide the matter.  District 10 precinct captains will select a replacement for Chaney.

No, the real contests are between Conservative and uber-Conservative candidates.

As an outsider looking in, I see two issues identifying these opposing forces—the Idaho insurance exchange and public lands.

Uber-Conservative candidates regard Obamacare as contaminating anyone who came within an arms length of supporting an Idaho insurance exchange.  So what if, as Sen. John Rusche estimates, the nearly 50,000 Idahoans enrolled through the exchange are paying a total $2.4 million less than if we’d had only the Federal exchange?   Uber-conservatives would prefer that all 50,000 were left uninsured—along with those with pre-existing conditions and kids over 18 who are now included on their parents’ policies.  (Liberals like myself, who like to see people make use of preventive care, are unhappy with Conservative legislators for failing to help insure the 80,000 Idahoans who qualified for extended Medicaid.)

The differences on the public land issue are more subtle.  Uber-Conservatives believe that getting possession of lands now held by the Federal government is the panacea for all of Idaho’s economic woes.  It may cost the Federal government millions to fight fires in our forests, but Idaho won’t have all that expense once we get all those trees logged.  Conservatives, on the other hand, support the Republican platform plank stating that Idaho forests should be used for “livestock grazing, timber, wildlife, improved air quality, recreation, mining and all other beneficial forest uses.” Fracking on public lands seems okay with both.

Apparently, the difference is that uber-Conservatives believe Idaho can regain ownership of the land while mainstream Conservatives will settle for exploitation of the natural resources.

So registered Republicans will soon be allowed to decide between bad and badder managers of our health insurance and our public lands.

No, I’m happy not voting in the Republican primary.  Of course, those of us in Districts 10 and 12 have a full slate of Democratic legislative candidates to support.  (Heidi Knittel has filed as a Democratic write-in for District 12 Senate.)  Those in Districts 11 and 13, however, will see their representatives chosen in primaries that are closed to many.

Voters now registered as “unaffiliated” may change their party affiliation at the polls.  The deadline for those registered with the Democratic or Constitutional or Libertarian parties to change passed weeks ago.  We’ve got to make our voices count in November.

 

 

Politics: No excuse for candidates not voting

by Judy Ferro

Just for the record, Jana Jones, Democratic candidate for Superintendent of Schools, voted absentee in 2012.

I bring that up because I’ve been mulling over Jennifer Swindell’s article on the 2012 voting by the four Republican candidates vying to head Idaho’s schools.  (See Thursday’s page 1).  Apparently, two of the candidates—Sherri Ybarra of Mountain Home and Randy Jensen of American Falls—were unaffiliated in  in 2012 and didn’t register as Republicans until this year.  Ybarra didn’t even vote in the 2012 general election that decided the fate of Propositions 1, 2, and 3.

Just what does it mean if a person doesn’t vote regularly?

A lot of people don’t vote.  Canyon County has nearly 160,000 people over 18 years old.   Less than 75,000 are registered voters.  It sounds good to hear our turnout in 2012 was over 80%, but—unless we have a lot of disenfranchised adults—that’s closer to 40% of the eligible citizens.

That seems crazy because Idaho has some good laws to make voting accessible.

On-line registration forms—There was a time one had to visit a qualified registrar, usually available only from 9-to-5 weekdays.  Now anyone can download forms at www.idahovotes.gov and mail them in.

Absentee ballots—Anyone can also download a request for an absentee ballot or call the elections office and ask to have one mailed.  You no longer have to verify that you are handicapped or going to be out-of-town.  I suspect that Jana voted absentee so she’d be free to help voters get to the polls on Election Day.

Small precincts—No six-hour waits anywhere in Canyon County.  There are lines at 8 a.m. during presidential election years, but later you can usually be in and out in twenty minutes or less.

Same day registration—Since the elections office needs a couple weeks to print out the lists of registered voters for every precinct, mail-in registration closes a couple weeks before each election.  You can, however, register and vote at the same time at the elections office or at any precinct on Election Day.

Automatic restoration of rights—Idaho doesn’t bar convicted felons from ever voting or require applications to get their rights restored.  Here, when your sentence (including probation) is up, you are again a full citizen.

Affidavits—And, as much as some poll workers don’t like it, people who fail to arrive at the polls with their ID can still vote by signing an affidavit stating their identity.

So why didn’t future candidates vote?

I remember when my daughter, then a 4th grader, complained that she couldn’t sleep because she was too excited about tomorrow’s election.

It was a school board election.

What kid gets that excited about a school board election?  One who’d helped canvass voters for her Uncle Ed.

So I’m willing to say that neither Ybarra nor Jensen had relatives or friends on the ballot in 2012.  They haven’t been involved in party politics.  That’s bad in the sense that they don’t have connections around the state or experience in organizing campaigns.

But what does it say about their overall character and civic involvement?

I’m not sure.  I have a hard time judging someone who works with our kids day after day for decades, who brings their work home and never gets caught up.  They are contributing a great deal to the health of our communities.

Still, it’s hard is to imagine how someone could not care about any of the races.

Health: Obamacare improving lives

by Judy Ferro

Obamacare.

`               The national Republican leadership has staked the future of their party on people hating it.

They have flooded the airwaves with horror stories. Obamacare would crowd doctors’ offices with so many people that you couldn’t get in.   It would destroy Medicare.  It would create “death panels” to deny health care.

They have magnified the failure of an Internet program—written and managed by a private firm—into the “failure” of Obamacare.

They have used their control of the House of Representatives to vote fifty times to repeal it.  Fifty times.

They have repeatedly challenged Obamacare in the courts.  Republican governors, including our own, managed to kill the provision requiring states to expand Medicaid.  The Feds won in the fight to require everyone to get insurance.  Corporations are still battling over their right to exclude birth control from their policies.

And a faction of Idaho Republicans are counting on voters’ hatred of Obamacare to oust incumbents who supported establishing an Idaho insurance exchange to sweep them to victories in May and November.

It is the ultimate test of the big-lie’s subversion of democracy.   What does having a vote mean if the mega-rich control a gigantic propaganda machine?

And propaganda has had its victories.  One of the liberal talk shows sent a team out to ask which people liked best—Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act.   They found plenty of people who hated Obamacare and liked the Affordable Care Act.  They were nice people who were adorably cute upon learning that Obamacare is just a nickname for the Affordable Care Act.

And plenty of people are circulating e-mail petitions demanding that Congress not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act.  It isn’t.  A major part of the act requires that people who can afford health insurance, have it.  Members of Congress have health insurance.  They are in compliance.

While all the hoopla has been going on, Obamacare has been steadily improving people’s lives.

Insurance companies are required to pay out 80% of peoples’ premiums on healthcare.  Their overhead had averaged about 40%.  Medicare’s overhead is 3%.

Women no longer pay more for health insurance than men do.

Preventive care is included.  Check-ups and lab tests cost patients little or nothing.

Children between the ages of 18 and 26 are getting coverage under their parents’ policies.

People born with diseases like muscular dystrophy and cystic fibrosis are getting coverage.  People who once had cancer are getting coverage.  Even those who, like my husband, once received ultrasound for a charley horse are no longer being denied coverage for spinal injuries.

More than 46,000 Idahoans recently purchased health insurance under the exchange—nearly 50% more than the expected 32,000.  Some, like my friend Dennis, are now insured for the first time since becoming self-employed.  Others signed up for better coverage with a lower deductible than their previous policies.

What will happen if Idahoans repeal the exchange?  Those covered will have a window of time to transfer to the national exchange and Idahoans will probably have to repay the $20 million that the Feds granted toward start-up costs.

Zero benefit really.  But that’s not the point, is it?  Principle counts—but what is the principle here?  People have the right to hate?  The uber-rich have the right to control elections?

I trust the majority of Idahoans will disregard the propaganda machine and base their vote on their own experience and compassion.   I may be wrong.

I’ve been wrong before.