Lessons from Close Votes!

Idaho elections this month have underlined the importance of each and every vote.

Who would have dreamt that the Vallivue School District bond election would be so close?  The District was seeking approval for a $65.3 million primarily to fund a third middle school and renovation of the 50-year-old Vallivue Middle School building.

Vallivue’s request got one more vote than the two-thirds needed.

A friend who made it to the polling place within four minutes of closing is sure that she and her husband made the difference.  And I’m sure my daughter and I did–we just moved to the district last year.

The truth is that every “yes” voter made the difference–and hundreds of kids will benefit during future decades.

The Senate also had a close vote on the bill designed to make initiatives impossible in Idaho for any group without pockets deep enough to hire organizers to work simultaneously in counties across the state.

SB 1159 passed 18-17.

As much as it hurt to be on the losing side for such a close vote, I saw a thin silver lining. There are only six Democratic senators; eleven Republicans had voted to keep a system that makes it possible–though difficult–for dedicated Idahoans to get an initiative on the ballot.

And Sen. Jeff Agenbroad of Nampa was one of those no votes. That was surprising; Agenbroad, a banker active in the Chamber of Commerce, has been the kind of Republican that opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants the Federal government to cede public lands to the state.

I would have thought it more likely that Senators Patti Lodge or Todd Lakey would have voted no.

I decided to start a chart tracking Republicans who did support the voters.

Then a Facebook friend, Mike Savelle of Pocatello, suggested a different reality.

He sees the close vote not as a sign of division among Republicans, but as a strategy.  The Senate Republican caucus may have decided which members would vote for and against the bill.

Why? Because killing the initiative is unpopular with voters. If Republicans voted party line, Idahoans statewide could remember and react. So leaders gave a pass to 11 Republicans, especially ones whose seats might seem most in jeopardy, to vote with their constituents.

Savelle admitted that the 18-17 vote was the basis for his theory; if it had been 23-12, he too would have praised Republicans who voted with Idaho citizens.

Still, the thin silver line I’d seen faded–and the work required to evaluate where individual legislators stand expanded.

It’s not just how legislators vote that counts; it’s how willing they are to speak out.

I did find a new silver lining.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, a Republican from the Pocatello area, chided Republican legislators for not honoring the voices of citizens.  He said if legislators wanted more voters to have a say on initiatives, they should lengthen the time period allowed, not shorten it. He also pointed out that some states do require signatures from 10 percent of those voting recently, but none requires signatures from 10 percent of all registered voters.

Republican Sen. Fred Martin, Boise, also came down strongly on the side of voters this week. Facing the possibility that the House would not fund Medicaid expansion without restrictions, he introduced SB 1204 which includes only those conditions that would not delay or limit coverage for those in the gap. Included is a voluntary program to aid recipients return to work, which brought results in Montana.

There are legislators who listen to Idahoans rather than party.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

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