Idaho’s legislature won’t change if we don’t make it happen 

I breathed easier this week knowing that the legislature can’t do any more damage–for a while..But it’s not time to rest easy. Idaho has an ultra-right legislative majority that plans on keeping our state too poor to pay for roads, schools, and needed services.

And nothing is going to change if we don’t make it happen.   

Some states do have it worse. Missouri Governor Mike Parson recently withdrew the state’s plan for expanding Medicaid. Voters had passed a constitutional amendment requiring insurance benefits for the 275,000 Missourians making between 100% and 138% of the poverty level. The MIssouri legislature, however, refused to fund the plan. Lawsuits are starting.

Idaho has dodged that bullet–for the time being.  At hearings in early February, the JFAC committee learned that new enrollees during the pandemic had increased Idaho’s share of costs for Medicaid expansion during the current fiscal year by nearly $23 million. 

Enter HB 216. It appropriated the money necessary and accepted $56 million in Federal funds from the Families First program. Although both Federal and dedicated funds increased, the bill actually decreased the general funds needed by five percent.

This bill wasn’t funding for next year or the one after. Money would go to Idaho medical providers for services being provided currently. It was too late to make cuts in who or what was covered. 

Responsible governing requires that we pay bills incurred under current regulations. Yet, 31 out of the 58 House Republicans voted nay. 

There were enough Democratic votes to pass the bill so it received little attention. It did, however, reveal that the far-right now controlled the Republican House caucus. These legislators repeatedly turned their backs on Idaho’s needs in order to further a world view promoted by the Heritage Foundation, ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council), and the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Why did moderates lose control of the Idaho House?  A March 31st item in the Idaho Statesman blamed it on the Republican closed primary that has kept independents from having a voice since 2011. That makes sense, but the number voting in the Republican primary fell only10% between 2010 and 2012. 

Greater energy and enthusiasm among the ultra-right must be a factor. Fewer Republicans do show up for primaries than general elections–about 200,000 compared to 550,000 in 2020.

But it may be the energy of candidates that makes the difference. Although we talk about elections being decided in Republican primaries, there was no Republican contest in 60% of the 2020 legislative primaries. Democrats failed to file for 50 of the 105 seats. Altogether, 27 seats were decided by the filing deadline in March. 

Obviously, showing up at the polls ready to vote for the best candidate won’t be enough to restore a legislature that responds to Idaho’s needs.

Why don’t more moderates run? Among Democrats the usual answers are that they have taken on too many obligations already, a family member needs extra care right now, or they hate fundraising. Some, however, say outright that they don’t want to subject their family to constant attack. 

I imagine Republicans recruiting candidates hear the same arguments. 

Yet,we must have moderate candidates who are energetic and persuasive enough–and brave enough–or see Idaho families continue to suffer.

What can you do now?  

The first thing is to find legislators that you’re willing to work to replace. Check how legislators voted at https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/.  Start with HB 216 (Medicaid funding), HB 226 (federal funds for preschool programs), SB1088 (disclosure of rental fees), and SB1110 (requirements for initiatives).  

When you’re done, note whether you’re angry.   

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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