Republican legislators want fewer initiatives and fewer voters

Sixteen thousand Idahoans signed a petition asking Governor Brad Little to veto SB 1110, which would make getting measures on Idaho ballots harder. He vetoed a similar bill in 2019.  Will he veto this one? 

Actually, the answer is unlikely to make a difference–SB1110 passed both legislative houses with enough votes to override a veto. Republicans split 26-2 in the Senate and 51-6 in the Senate. All Ada and Canyon County Republican representatives voted ‘aye” except Vanderwoude, who was absent. 

Republican legislators have to be quite aware that they are taking rights from those who’ve voted for them. We couldn’t have 60% of voters supporting Medicaid Expansion and 60% supporting Republican candidates without considerable overlap. 

 In December 2019 BSU polled voters on this issue and found that 68% of Republicans believed the difficulty of getting an initiative on the ballot here was about right. Only 10% of all those polled supported making the process harder. 

I suspect there would have been a 2020 bill to make initiatives more difficult if Republicans hadn’t feared that we’d remember in November.   

In the eight years since the requirements were last increased, only two out of 15 initiative attempts have succeeded in getting a measure on the ballot.  

Nationally, Republican legislatures have been making news by supporting measures that will lead to fewer people voting in general elections.

Recent developments undercut their argument that the problem is voter fraud. Responding to a lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems, the defense team for Sydney Powell–a major lawyer supporting President Trump’s claims of voter fraud–claimed that “no reasonable person could conclude that [her] statements were truly statements of fact.” 

That’s quite an insult to all those who had trusted her.

And when Georgia passed its law on voter restrictions, nearly 200 companies joined in  a brief statement calling on elected leaders “to work across the aisle and ensure that every eligible American has the freedom to easily cast their ballot and participate fully in our democracy.” 

I think most Americans could support that, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flipped out, warning companies to “stay out of politics” and  threatening “serious consequences.” 

And it’s not just Republican state legislators pointing out that not everyone should vote. This week National Review, a leading conservative magazine, published an article entitled, “Why not fewer voters?”  Think tank scholar Kevin Williamson says, “There would be more voters if we made it easier to vote, and there would be more doctors if we didn’t require a license to practice medicine.”

Clear enough?  Later he adds, “It is easy to think of critical moments in American history when giving the majority its way would have produced horrifying results. If we’d had a fair and open national plebiscite about slavery on December 6, 1865, slavery would have won in a landslide.” 

This makes little sense since, at the end of the Civil War,  the North outnumbered the South, 22 million to 9 million, but his point is clear. 

Williamson follows up with,  “The entire notion of representative government assumes that the actual business of governing requires fewer decision-makers rather than more.”

I don’t know that we can prevent our legislature from making initiatives nearly impossible, but I do know we must try. Contact your legislators (see https://legislature.idaho.gov/legislators/whosmylegislator/) Tell them if you voted for them and if you can continue to support them if they vote against your rights. 

And mention Reclaim Idaho, https://www.reclaimidaho.org/. If new restrictions are passed, that team will work to have a vote to reinstate the current initiative requirements.  

Our legislature must decide whether to meet Idaho’s needs 

Can you believe the legislature is back in session this week? My door is open, birds are singing, and the pale green of new leaves fills the horizon. Trays of seeds are sprouting; summer is coming.     

Usually, the legislature has adjourned by early April, but now members are returning to an outsized load of unfinished business.  A record number of bills for April–200–have passed one house and not the other.  

And there’s talk of allowing introduction of a new bill to fund all-day kindergarten. New bills are a rule-breaker at this time, but many are rooting for this one. First grade teachers face a large gap between their highest and lowest students and cannot hope to meet the needs of them all. Kids who start first grade knowing how to hold scissors and recognize letters have a better school experience and develop higher expectations for themselves. 

This bill’s proof that some legislators care about Idaho. Too bad bills to increase the homeowners’ property tax exemption and to end the sales tax on groceries don’t have a chance.

Instead we have HB 322, a bill to lower income taxes by 0.125% for the lowest bracket and up to 0.425% for the highest, with a first-year bonus of $50 or 9% of state taxes paid in 2019, whichever is higher. 

After I attacked that bill costing $390 million–$780 million with a Federal take-back–a reader asked if taxpayers who paid in more than was spent didn’t deserve their money back.   

My answer–I’ll never consider Idaho as having a surplus as long as we’re last in the nation in funding education. We should be demanding we’re above the bottom 10. Our kids need–and deserve–that.  

I once had a brittle wall screen that was mended with duct tape. A student went to pull it down for me, and the bottom tore off in his hand; the screen rolled up with such force that it jumped from the nails, and the heavy metal housing fell on him. And when the district couldn’t afford to replace my bent room key, a janitor had to come open and lock my room each day–and I couldn’t leave for lunch.      

And then, in 2009-2010, the legislature cut the education budget 20% more. 

We’ve become conditioned to accept oversized classes. Only Michigan has a higher average for the number in elementary classrooms. Idaho’s average is six students larger than those in Georgia, Maine, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Vermont–and nearly 10 students larger than our own average for secondary classes. 

Teaching requires listening–if you don’t know why a student doesn’t understand, you can’t help them. More students means less knowledge of each one. And more students means fewer activities and more “sit and face forward’.      

A friend’s recent post on Facebook made it clear that the schools aren’t alone in being neglected.  

“There are critical shortages of staff at the Department of Health and Welfare in child protection.

“There’s a critical increase in abuse cases and severity of cases.

“There’s an increase of abuse resulting in ICU and hospital stays.

 “There’s a lack of beds for substance abuse treatment.  

“There’s a critical shortage of mental health care for adults and children.

“There’s a shortage of social workers and mental health workers in schools.

“There’s a critical shortage of professionals who serve children with disabilities. I assume the same is true for adults with disabilities.”

Federal Covid-19 funds can’t be used for ongoing expenses, but our surplus can. Why aren’t more people angry that Idaho legislators underfund schools and services so they can cut income taxes for the weathy again?      

Congress, legislatures mull voting laws 

Whether the country needs a national act spelling out voting rights is a big question before U.S. Senators this week.  The House passed the For the People Act to protect voting, end gerrymandering, and keep dark money out of elections on a straight party-line vote–Democrats in favor and Republicans against. 

Republicans are taking credit for the 253 bills in state legislatures aimed at suppressing votes. They’re out to fight voter fraud and don’t buy the idea that voting should be easy.  

Georgia legislators have taken the lead by ramming a 95-page omnibus bill through last week. It’s got about every restriction considered by any state plus a few that are distinctly Georgia. 

You’d think that a state that had voters in long lines–some claim eight hour waits–would pass some regulations about the number of polling stations per precinct.  

Not Georgia. Instead, they made it a crime to provide food or water to voters in line.

Seriously?  

The state is also closing ballot drop boxes three days before the elections so those that don’t get their absentee ballots mailed in early have no way to return them. 

Worse, the legislature has made a major power grab.  The secretary of state, once chair of the board overlooking elections, is being replaced by a member chosen by the legislature. Legislators will have three of the board’s five votes; the secretary of state, elected by voters statewide to supervise elections, will have none.  

This new board will have the power to remove county election superintendents and appoint temporary replacements. 

Swing states that will be electing a senator in 2022 are getting the worst changes. Among those are Georgia, Arizona, Texas and Iowa.

Overall, changes are not so bad. We are hearing a lot more about the 253 bills the Brennan Center lists as restricting voter access than about the 704 identified as improving it. Some states are enacting changes–like no-reason absentee voting–made because of the pandemic. For example, one of the two election-related bills that have passed a house of the Idaho legislature would allow early processing of absentee ballots. (The other would require election offices to notify those voting absentee if their signatures have been rejected.) More restrictive bills have died in committee. 

Many states want to replace signatures on the envelopes of absentee ballots with affidavits. Most would ask for the number on a voter’s driver’s license or state ID; others, for photocopies. There are problems with the signatures, but this could be difficult for nondrivers, especially the poor or elderly. (Do residents in other counties have to wait four hours at the DMV like those of us in Canyon?) 

Some restrictions make sense. For instance, since 2007 Arizona has allowed voters to sign up to get absentee ballots for life. Today, ballots are being mailed to the addresses of  people who haven’t voted in years. A bill would require election offices to write those who haven’t voted in four years and ask if they wish to continue receiving ballots.

Even Iowa’s new law to forbid counties from mailing absentee ballots to people who haven’t requested them is reasonable. That might have made sense during an emergency, but Idaho acted early enough to send requests for absentee ballots, rather than ballots themselves. 

The Federal law shouldn’t interfere with those changes. It would, however, give other voters some of the rights that benefit Idahoans–same day registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and reasonable lines at the polls. It would also ensure that we can keep our non-partisan redistricting commission. 

Three extra weeks to stop bad bills

Is anyone else fantasizing about the legislature simply calling it quits for the year?  

Members have already passed 144 bills, and most of the 200 bills still alive one week before their planned adjournment would have died anyway.    

It can’t happen of course. There are over 20 appropriations bills to be passed.  And the House really needs to accept the $6 million federal grant for reading readiness programs for preschoolers. (Personal note–those who think 4-year-olds can be indoctrinated need to spend more time with one.)

But for every bill that should be passed, there’s another one that could harm Idaho. Some are petty, like requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature to change the name of Cleveland Blvd. to Caldwell Blvd. or forbidding a school board to mention in a ballot description whether It’s asking more or less money than in the previous year. 

But some bills could cause great harm. 

SB1110 would interfere with voters’ rights under the Idaho Constitution by making Idaho’s requirements for getting an initiative or referendum impossible without major outside funding.  

And why? The only initiative or referendum passed here in the past eight years was Medicare Expansion, which has not only saved lives, but saved the state millions of dollars during this pandemic. 

If legislators cared about Idahoans, they would be making initiatives easier, not more difficult.    

And another bill will ensure that Idaho can’t increase spending on education, infrastructure, or services for years. HB 332 was introduced late and passed by the House two days later on a straight party line. Some call it Idaho’s biggest tax cut ever. It will cost $780 million–$390 million in income tax cuts and a second $390 million cut in Federal COVID relief funds. For every dollar going to an Idahoan, another will go out-of-state.   

And HB 322 is a good example why the Feds are forbidding using their money for income tax cuts–such cuts don’t get money circulating locally and quickly.  Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, calculates that, after year one, a family of four with $25,000 in income would get $13 from the tax cut and one with $1 million in income would get over $10,000. Much of the latter would go into savings.  

HB 322 would cut Income tax rates by 0.125% for the lowest bracket and up to 0.425% for the highest. In addition, the first year each Idahoan would receive a one-time payment of $50 or 9% of state taxes paid in 2019, whichever is higher.  

Reminder–only seven states have lower tax rates than Idaho. Forty-nine states spend more on education. 

A majority of our legislature seems determined to underfund public schools. During the past five years we Idahoans have taxed ourselves over $2 billion in bonds and levies to subsidize the state funding for schools–and some legislators want to stop that. Now, figuring they have an extra $780 million, they’re ready to send half of it back to the federal government? 

Our legislators apparently don’t understand that employers planning to pay good wages seek out areas with schools that employees will want for their kids.  Idaho’s chosen instead to advertise its low taxes and cheap wages. And today, Idaho still has both the worst funded schools and the most workers making minimum wage.  

We’ve got three weeks to tell legislators that we want schools funded well enough that districts don’t have to add to our property taxes. We should also ask for an increase in the homeowners’ exemption so inflated housing prices don’t force people out of their homes. 

And do remind them that they represent us.     

Our representatives should represent us

Sincere thanks to all of you who turned out for levy elections last week. It’s great to be reminded that most Idahoans want good public schools, but it’s especially heartening this year while public schools are under attack. 

Too many legislators claim that, as members of a republic not a democracy, our representatives are not chosen to do what we want done, but what they know is best for us.  

The majority of us may want everyone to have health insurance, but our legislators believe people who aren’t responsible for their own needs deserve to suffer, even during catastrophes. We may want great public schools that meet every kids’ needs, but they are wary of government indoctrination. And we may want the power of initiative and referendum, but they see dictatorship by the majority as a danger.

Yet, my dictionary defines democracy as “a system of government by…all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” It regards a republic as a form of democracy, and the people we elect are expected to represent us–like attorneys, real estate agents,and doctors who explain our options and then carry out our decisions.  Or resign.    

The Idaho Constitution supports this view.  “All political power is inherent in the people. Government is instituted for their equal protection and benefit, and they have the right to alter, reform or abolish the same whenever they may deem it necessary.” 

It doesn’t say that the people are to be talked down to and corrected; it says the people have the power. This is why current and former attorney generals oppose SB 1110, which would make getting initiatives on the ballot so difficult as to be impossible.  

In 2012 Idaho voters challenged the Luna Laws, which silenced teacher voices and gave the state millions for school technology. Legislators responded by making it harder to get initiatives on the ballot. In the eight years since, we’ve passed one initiative–the one expanding Medicaid coverage. 

Now all but two of our Republican state senators have voted to make it even harder to get an issue before the voters. 

Meanwhile, legislators are working to divert public school funds to private schools, to guarantee charter school building funds cannot be cut when other public school funds are, to do away with collective bargaining, and and to allow schools to award teaching certificates to any college graduate who will work cheap.       

These legislators do not support local control.  The Idaho House has voted that no government entity should be able to rename any building, street, or statue with an historical name unless two-thirds of the legislature approves. It’s voted to void any school levy if the legal description reveals whether this levy is higher or lower than the last one.  And it’s voted to give school boards no say in whether faculty and staff carry guns while in school.  

These Republican legislators are not fiscally responsible. The House has voted to allow all state agencies to hire their own lawyers at costs of three to eight times as much as it would cost working with the Attorney General’s office. The Senate has voted to add $4 million for the legislature to fight lawsuits–they’ll need it for the fight over initiative and referendum bill, among others. And not only are they proposing to spend $5 million annually to oversee $10 million in expenditures through the Strong Students Grant Program/Scholarship Program, they are requesting an additional $30 million to initiate the program. 

Many of our rightwing legislators don’t follow the very principles that identify the Republican party.