Guest Editorials: Views of Other Democrats

Critical thinking on life-support

Steven Berch 06/08/2021

When I was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives in 2018, I requested, and was assigned to the Education committee. Given the challenges facing education, such as endless school bonds and levies, a teacher attrition crisis and childhood illiteracy, I was eager to start working toward the goal of solving these problems.

After three years on the committee, my goal now is to prevent the dismantling of public and higher education. Many of the bills and laws being passed are politicizing education. A high school debate coach would cringe at arguments put forth during committee hearings. Meanwhile, the real problems are being ignored.

Critical thinking is on life support in the House Education committee. Here’s just a small sampling of actions by the majority party, which controls education policy priorities:

One member led a state-wide effort to teach children how to burn masks at public rallies while Idahoans were dying from a pandemic. This committee member is helping rewrite Idaho’s science standards.

One member claimed we do not have co-equal branches of government, asserting that the legislature is most important because “there are more people in it.” This member wants to re-write standards, which includes teaching government and civics.

One member suggested that students with social emotional learning problems should be “taken behind the woodshed.”

One member justified their opposition to Idaho’s education standards because their grandchild lost interest in science.

One member sponsored a bill that takes money away from public schools if they didn’t keep classrooms open during a future pandemic, even if the mortality rate was 50%. The committee approved it.

One member sponsored a bill that would take 90% of the education budget and convert it into vouchers used to pay for private and religious school tuition. The committee approved it.

One member introduced a bill that would allow anyone above the age of 18 with only a bachelor’s degree in any non-education field to teach your children. The committee approved it.

One member sponsored a bill that reduced the educational qualifications of a charter school administrator to be less than that of the teachers they hire. The committee approved it.

A Republican Party official running for governor was permitted to film himself introducing a bill he wrote that would allow teachers to be sued and take money away from schools if topics he didn’t like were discussed in any classroom. The committee approved this bill and the act of political theater surrounding it.

Perhaps most disturbing was observing a group of majority party committee members repeatedly meet with an organization that virulently opposes public education. These meetings were held in a conference room inside my office suite. This same organization attacked a committee member who didn’t fall in line.  The result: the committee voted to abolish every K-12 education standard in Idaho and replace them with . . . nothing. The committee member under attack lost his primary election two months later.

How do we restore critical thinking when setting education policy in Idaho? It starts with electing legislators who reject extremism and the politicizing of education. Voters must dismiss the manufactured fear and misinformation being used to control their child’s education – and reject candidates who embrace these tactics. One place to start is by watching for extremist rhetoric, the bills candidates support, and how they vote.

In the end, the vote that matters most is yours. Next November, vote for the person, not just a letter in the alphabet or a color in the rainbow. Your child’s education – and the state’s future – is at stake.

Steven Berch is in his second term representing Legislative District 15.

Legislature does not represent all Idahoans

Ilana Rubel and Fred Cornforth, June 9, 2021

The ballot initiative is Idahoans’ voice. It’s the only mechanism for the people to enact laws when legislators won’t listen. This session, ballot initiative rights were put on the chopping block, and GOP politicians swung the axe. Despite overwhelming citizen opposition (out of 5,000 calls and emails from voters, 98% opposed the added restrictions), almost every GOP legislator voted to effectively shut down future citizen-driven ballot initiatives by doubling the difficulty of signature collection.

You should be asking why. GOP politicians hold every statewide office in Idaho, control the entire federal delegation, and 82% of the legislature. If they truly are in fundamental policy agreement with most Idahoans, why work relentlessly to end the only mechanism whereby voters can directly pass a law?

The answer is: the GOP-dominated legislature does NOT represent the majority of Idahoans — not even close. Most Idahoans want a stable government that provides useful programs and services, but they can no longer count on GOP legislators to deliver that. Did you know that a majority of House Republicans voted against funding Idaho Public Television, Parks and Recreation, the Domestic Violence Council, Commission on Hispanic Affairs, Commission on the Arts, Developmental Disability Council, and Medicaid? All of these vital programs were saved — barely — by the votes of Democratic legislators.

The agenda of the GOP politicians now running the state may mirror certain lobbyists’ wish lists, but does not serve most Idahoans regardless of party:

  • According to polling, 77% of Idahoans support early childhood education. After blocking a vote on pre-K for 8 years, House GOP members rejected a $6 million federal grant to develop early childhood education programs.
  • 61% of Idahoans wanted Medicaid expansion, but GOP legislators blocked it for 7 years, and most House GOP members voted this session to defund it.
  • 72% of Idahoans support medical cannabis for seriously ill Idahoans, but a majority of GOP legislators tried to amend Idaho’s Constitution to thwart any future legalization of medical cannabis.
  • 74.5% of Idahoans say education is top priority. But GOP leadership has put Idaho last in America in education funding. This session they spent our budget surplus on massive tax cuts for the wealthy while refusing to consider full-day kindergarten, and cutting higher education budgets.

No wonder GOP legislators want to end ballot initiatives, which uncomfortably expose the total disconnect between what Idahoans want and what they get from their special-interest-driven legislature.

To all the mainstream Republicans and Independents out there: If you support public education at all levels, healthcare access, and property tax relief that doesn’t gut local services, this is for you. Idaho Democrats want to advance your agenda. We had a slate of (often bipartisan) bills this past session targeted at the real problems facing our state — insufficient funding for education and skyrocketing property taxes, to start. It’s hard to make progress, though, when the GOP leadership running the Statehouse won’t allow hearings or votes on these bills.

Every year, elements of the majority party become more and more radicalized, widening the disconnect between GOP legislators and the will of citizens. As long as the disregard of Idahoans’ desires is rewarded with reelection, the problem will only get worse, and will be almost unfixable once they’ve dismantled ballot initiative rights. Our ask of you is simple. Free yourself from party affiliation and vote for candidates who will actually stand up for your rights and priorities, which often means voting for the Democrat in a race.

Remember next November. GOP politicians silenced your voice when they effectively ended ballot initiative rights. If they don’t want your voice, do they deserve your vote?

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel holds House Seat A in District 18 of Boise. Fred Cornforth is the Democratic Party chairman.

2021 Legislators seek power and attack education

by Michelle Stennett, Sally Toone, and Muffy Davis, legislators from District 26

Idaho is sitting on over a billion dollars of revenue that constitutionally should benefit the health and welfare of Idahoans, like transportation infrastructure, broadband, healthcare, and public education. 

Listening to Idahoans, several of us have been negotiating furiously to make critical investments in education, infrastructure, healthcare, and give meaningful property tax relief, but we have been blocked by the Idaho House.

The main theme for this session has been the legislature trying to increase its own power. Both the House and the Senate have passed bills to allow the legislature to call itself back into session; this will now come to you, the voters, as it requires an amendment to the Idaho Constitution.  Many state legislatures do have this authority; however, the current proposal to do this is not crafted narrowly enough to prevent frivolous special sessions and ensure that Idaho’s legislature remains a part-time body.

 The legislature also focused, again, on trying to make it so difficult for the people to get initiatives on the ballot that it might become impossible to exercise that Constitutional right.

Around twenty bills have attacked public education with the House Republicans outright refusing to fund education, turning their backs on over $70 million during an immensely difficult time. It seems budgets are being used to punish students. In addition, we were not able to get a vote on optional full-day kindergarten or an early childhood grant. Instead, there were attempts to remove the qualifications for teacher certification and provide millions in state funds for private schools.

Idaho is no longer a low cost of living state. Instead, many Idahoans struggle to stay in their homes and earn a living wage. We drafted several pieces of legislation that would have provided direct property tax relief and update the circuit breaker that would help our seniors and those on fixed incomes.

 Legislative tax breaks shift the tax load more heavily onto the shoulders of more modest income Idahoans. This persistent unwillingness to ameliorate the lives of the majority of our citizens is demonstrated in the latest bill that gives 60% of Idahoans only $14-15 per month in tax relief.

BOISE — There once was a time when Democrats had power — real power — in Idaho. That time was not so long ago. For years until 1960, Idaho Democrats controlled the Legislature. From 1971 to 1995, Idaho had Democratic governors. The last great year for the Idaho Democratic Party was 1991 when the Senate was split 21-21. The House had 56 Republicans and 28 Democrats. In those days, the two parties were forced to talk and work together on issues.

“When we had the tied Senate, almost all legislation was based on compromise. I think it was to the benefit of education and to the benefit of the people. And I think that’s the way politics should be. It shouldn’t be that just because you’re in power, you power through. What you (should) do is try to represent everybody. And that requires compromise on the big issues. It just doesn’t happen anymore,” said Bruce Newcomb, a Republican who served for eight years as Idaho House speaker.

But the Idaho Democratic Party’s newest chairman hopes those days may soon be here again. Fred Cornforth was selected in March by the state central committee for the party’s highest position. He was able to convince the committee that he has big plans. And maybe, just maybe, he can make them happen.

“It’s not romantic. It’s not from a super-secret playbook. It’s not a code you read with a magnifying glass from a box of Cracker Jacks. It’s not ‘Oh, Tom Cruise just texted me, and we’ve got the clue now to turn Idaho blue.’ It really has to do with just sitting down and talking to people. Listening to them and asking questions,” Cornforth said.

But he’s taking the task seriously. Cornforth has dubbed 2021 “The Year of 10,000 Conversations,” a term he’s borrowed from West Virginia Democrats. He wants the Idaho Democratic Party to begin talking to anyone and everyone.

“It’s about starting at the most base level; getting as close as we can to the voters. … It’s a lot of phone calls. It’s door knocking. It’s Zoom calls. It’s lunches, breakfasts, those kinds of things,” Cornforth said. “Being available to talk is probably the most powerful thing. I’m probably going to be doing a lot of listening.”

This summer Cornforth will tour the state doing just that: holding events in towns across Idaho to have conversations with voters. Pat Tucker, chairwoman of the Bonneville County Democrats, said that will include a big Idaho Falls event.

Part of the intention of those conversations will be to identify party leaders and potential future candidates.

“In those conversations, we’ll be looking for people who are more moderate who can see the issues with great clarity, that don’t get caught up in all the rhetoric or words, that are action-oriented. We’ll be trying to find them,” Cornforth said.

The new intensity he hopes to bring will include eastern Idaho.

“We are planning to work very intensely in our neighborhood to get our precinct captains in place, to get those precinct captains responsive to our neighborhoods. We are using efforts to get underrepresented populations registered to vote. Well be doing that more intensely,” Tucker said.

Another reason for talking to people is to raise money and identify donors. The Idaho Democrat Party has already raised around 30% more donations than it did the previous year. That funding will go to staff and campaigns. The party has long been understaffed with everybody “trying to ride nine bicycles,” according to Cornforth.

“We will have an increased level of support from the Idaho Democratic Party. From that standpoint, it is a shift. Fred is doing a really good job with fundraising so that he can support the various regions in Idaho,” Tucker said.

Tucker has been assured she’ll be seeing an increase in funding from the state party to assist with local efforts, which will include a new field captain for the Idaho Falls area.

“The future of the party is brighter than we’ve seen in several years. … Fred has promised to help us turn the Idaho Legislature blue. We hope to do that at some point. No one knows when we can, but we need to make incremental strides, and we think 2022 is a year where we will begin to see voters changing,” Tucker said.

The pendulum

Another reason many Democrats are hopeful for change is the most recent legislative session. It’s been a particularly disastrous year; full of in-fighting, COVID-19 outbreaks, debates on unexpected topics like critical race theory and annexing part of Oregon, holding budgets hostage and, most recently, an ethics investigation into the alleged rape of a 19-year-old intern by a Republican representative.

“I’ve heard it described everywhere as the worst session in history. (Republicans) really did not put a good face forward on why this state should remain in supermajority hands,” House Majority leader Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said.

Some Republicans too have been left shaking their heads over the happenings in the Capitol Building the past several months.

“When you look at what’s happening this session, we have a record surplus. We have more than $600 million in surplus. We have another $600 million in the rainy day funds. We’re receiving billions in federal funds. And we have a Legislature that is still leaving us with the worst-funded schools in America, that is refusing to even accept ‘free money’ from federal dollars for (pre-school). They are cutting funding to universities. They are refusing to even consider property tax bills. On all of the issues that are important to the people of Idaho, it’s actually the Idaho Democrats who want to deliver on those items.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

Pendulums always swing: Democrats hope to regain power in Idaho

“I probably shouldn’t say anything, but I’m more critical of the Republican Party than I am of the Democrat Party at this point,” Newcomb said. “It seems to me like the Republican Party has moved to far-right extremes. They’re talking about cancel culture and racial education, and (the Republican) Party, it’s just gone off to a place it never used to be.”

Democratic leaders say the far-right wing of Idaho’s Republican party does not represent the majority of Idahoans. They hope there will be a pendulum effect that will convince more moderate Republicans to turn to the Democratic Party. Soon, they hope, the balance will begin to swing their way.

Rubel believes the Idaho Democratic Party correlates more with the policy interests of most Idahoans than their elected Republican legislators do.

“When you look at what’s happening this session, we have a record surplus. We have more than $600 million in surplus. We have another $600 million in the rainy day funds. We’re receiving billions in federal funds. And we have a Legislature that is still leaving us with the worst-funded schools in America, that is refusing to even accept ‘free money’ from federal dollars for (pre-school). They are cutting funding to universities. They are refusing to even consider property tax bills,” Rubel said. “On all of the issues that are important to the people of Idaho, it’s actually the Idaho Democrats who want to deliver on those items.”

The party is also wary of that pendulum. All are careful to ensure they don’t come across as swinging too far to the left. The Idaho Democratic Party, insists Rubel, should not be confused with the National Democratic Party.

“I’m really excited about the prospects of the Democratic Party going forward,” said. “We now have leadership in place that is really interested in getting our message out and conveying that we’re a fairly centrist bunch who are interested in good governance. We are not interested in huge ideological battles and culture wars.”

The platforms

The issues that Idaho Democratic Party leaders continually bring up include more education funding, higher salaries for teachers, property taxes, better roads, the state worker shortage, environmental issues and health care.

“We’re not interested in screaming all day every day about guns and abortion,” Rubel said.

This moderate Democratic approach is especially evident when talking with the new chairman. Cornforth’s biggest focus is on equal opportunity. He’s got roots in eastern Idaho. His father’s side of the family is four generations deep in Aberdeen and, though his family moved to Boise soon after, he was born in Blackfoot.

Growing up most of his life with a single mother, his family was on food stamps. He never received dental care until the age of 22 when he needed emergency operations done to prevent him from losing most of his teeth. A religious man, Cornforth spent years as a pastor and still considers himself an “active member of the Cloverdale Adventist church in Boise.” He has since become a successful businessman and real estate developer. He owns Community Development Incorporated, “a private nonprofit organization specializing in real estate and community development.”

Cornforth said he wants to see Idaho return to a place where everyone can succeed, no matter their background. His great-grandfather was a potato farmer in eastern Idaho. His great-great-grandfather on the other side had the first lumber mill in Idaho near Boise’s Barber Park. They were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Days Saints and the Catholic Church.

“Both of them were groups that were put down by others, discriminated against. And if you were Irish, that made things even worse. But somehow Idaho provided an environment where everybody was able to be engaged and get what they wanted. I think at the base of what Idaho wants is for individuals to be self-directive. And you want that person to be educated. You want them to be thoughtful,” Cornforth said.

He said there’s a “misunderstanding about what Democrats stand for.”

“Everybody should have equal access to education. Everybody should have the ability to start their own companies or (get the job) they want. Everybody should have equal access to education. Everybody should be able to buy a home. Everybody should have health care. Everybody should have equal access to our public lands. That’s what Idaho is about,” Cornforth said.

And that, according to Cornforth, is also what Democrats are about.

Inside the Capitol

Yet for anyone who’s spent time at the Capitol this legislative session, Cornforth’s sentiments can come across as idealistic; overly optimistic at best.

When Pocatello’s Sen. Mark Nye, in his seventh year at the Legislature, decided to move from the House of Representatives to instead run as a senator, it was not easy to find a Democrat willing to run for his place in the House.

Sen. Mark Nye

“I went to 31 people before finding one who would step up,” Nye said. “There’s reluctance to put yourself out there and be criticized.”

Newcomb has seen the same thing among moderate Republicans who he’d like to see run.

“Politics is so ugly right now. Decent people don’t want to subject themselves to the angst that comes with it,” Newcomb said.

Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, agreed it’s not easy being a Democrat in a Republican supermajority state. Bills brought forward by those in his party are often denied a hearing. On the floor, he’s often left with the unenviable task of debating a bill he knows will come down to a party-line vote. But Nelson thinks it’s important that there are Democrats to do it anyway.

”We feel pretty passionate that the public, and our Republican colleagues have to hear the other side on what we’re pushing for. We can’t just pass something bad and silently oppose it,” Nelson said.

It’s that difficulty finding leadership that leads Newcomb to be skeptical about the Democratic Party’s ability to regain power in any sort of meaningful way, though he doesn’t think it’s impossible.

“I think the Democrat Party has lost any ability to affect a balance. Hopefully, there will be some corrections in the future. The central committees of the Republican Party have moved to the far, far right,” Newcomb said. “But moving the needle from the far right to the center is a difficult process and then moving it to where it goes farther to pick up the Democrats is a bigger challenge in this state. I don’t see anyone in leadership who could bring about the change needed.”

But, with new leadership and big plans, most within the Idaho Democratic Party are hopeful. Even those like Nye, who have spent years in the Legislature, think there’s a chance.

“Things go back and forth in our country and in our state,” Nye said. “… It’s a pendulum. Pendulums always swing.”

The Super Teacher Idea

by Education 208

At the turn of the century, an idea came into education that teacher quality, and that alone, is almost the singular determinant of what will happen in a classroom full of teachers and kids. I call it the “Super Teacher” idea, and it runs something like this: In the presence of a great teacher, all kids’ learning will skyrocket, and if all of our teachers are great, it fixes nearly all problems in education. 

This idea has taken powerful hold among many policy makers and is illustrated in the 2010 film Waiting For Superman. The basic premise of the film was that the education of our children is in the hands of mostly mediocre teachers who are protected by powerful teachers unions. If someone could just be strong enough to defeat the unions, fire the mediocre teachers and replace them with truly good teachers, we’ll ascend to some kind of plateau of great instruction and excellent academics. This idea has inspired a lot of educational ‘reform’ throughout the nation and the many teacher accountability measures one sees in educational laws were all born from the super teacher idea. 

Former educator Michelle Rhee, featured in the film, is an excellent example of this idea. Rhee taught from 1994 to 1997, and according to her, caused 90% of her students to score better than the 90th percentile on a national standardized exam. In 1997, Ms. Rhee quit teaching and founded a nonprofit dedicated to teacher reform. In 2007, despite her only having 3 years of teaching experience, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty made Rhee the ‘Chancellor’ of the DC school district where she served for the next 3 years. By 2010, Ms Rhee fired 241 ‘nonperforming’ teachers and put 737 additional educators on notice, including many administrators. After several years of chaos and turmoil in DC schools, the 2010 Mayoral election in DC revolved around 1 issue: Firing Rhee or keeping her on as Chancellor of Schools. When Rhee’s supporter was soundly defeated in the primary, she resigned after a 15 minute conversation with his opponent who had run on removing her. 

I call educators like Rhee “antichrist administrators”: people who buy into the idea that test scores are the solitary indicators of school success and are willing to fire anyone who cannot or will not raise these scores. Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System tells the story of several of these antichrist administrators and they all follow the same pattern: The administrator is brought into a school district on a political tide of willpower to ‘do something about our failing schools’, they quickly begin to fire teachers and administrators based on the test performance at their schools, and eventually parents and community members retake the school board for the sole purpose of removing the antichrist administrator because of all the chaos and turmoil they’ve caused. 

Does the Super Teacher idea improve schools though? Rhee’s claims of her own success as a teacher turned out to be greatly exaggerated. In DC, test scores did go up moderately under Rhee. Cheating on the standardized tests also went up, and in the end, parents and community members weighed moderate test score increases against hundreds of teacher terminations, school closures, students being forced to go to different schools, and ultimately judged that it wasn’t worth it. Antichrist administrators represent the extreme conclusion of this idea, but policymakers throughout the states have bought into this notion to lesser degree and you can find evidence of this in all of the teacher accountability measures throughout the land. In order to assess the effectiveness of the Super Teacher idea, let’s look at some real educational problems in our state. 

To me, the greatest problem in our education system is the reality that 95% of our schools don’t have books. This reduces engagement-the amount of time and energy students spend with a subject-because teachers cannot assign homework and must pace their classrooms to the slowest students in the room. Does having great teachers overcome this problem? The greatest teachers in the world won’t and can’t fix this problem simply because it’s not teachers that decide whether schools will have textbooks or not. Principals don’t make that decision either. The decision of what material resources are found at the classroom level rests with district superintendents and/or the State Boards of Education and the Legislature. 

Another big issue is that both teachers and administrators are held accountable for tests that they’ve never seen and that mostly cover subjects they don’t teach. My school typically offers about 146 courses in a term (about normal I think), and the standards of only 36 of these courses are covered on the ISAT. This means that my high school’s ‘definitive’ ISAT score does not measure 78% of the courses my students take and only 30% of my teachers can even try to prepare students for the ISAT. And if they do, they must prepare students for exams that no teacher is allowed to see with zero study materials. No matter how good our teachers are, they can’t fix this issue because they don’t make the exams and don’t pick which subjects will be tested or not and what study materials will be released. Neither do building and district administrators. These choices, again, rest with the State Board of Education and the State Legislature. 

I could go on here, but here’s the point: teachers are not the only thing (or educators even) that affect the outcome of student education. Education is a complex industry with several levels (classroom, school, district, state) and several players like teachers, counselors, administrators, legislators and policy makers. All of us involved in education play different roles that ultimately influence the outcome of this, and sound education policy understands that. 

There’s another side of this too: teachers are the frontline workers in the trenches of this system. Blaming teachers for all woes in our system cannot fix these issues that teachers aren’t responsible for but does have the effect of demoralizing those teachers and their students. This is why I believe this idea has been such a cancer to our system since it began: the Super Teacher idea fixes nothing at the price of destroying teacher morale and causing good folks to leave the profession. 

Democrats can be capitalists

By Erik Berg, chair of the Ada County Democrats

Almost 10 years ago, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in economics. I love the science because the solution to many of the world’s great challenges can be found in economics. One of the most impactful lessons I learned was that capitalism has three pillars: free markets, competition and innovation, and the voluntary exchange of goods. The three pillars stimulate success in many parts of our society. The three pillars are also the reason that I am a Democrat.

Under capitalism, private companies should have to compete and not depend on government handouts to survive. Growth and development is a private sector affair and must pay for itself. Ada County taxpayers should not be subsidizing companies that want to use the general public’s money to increase their bottom line. Commissioners Lachiondo and Kenyon are doing great work to ensure growth pays for itself, and abolish policies passed by former Republican commissioners that allowed companies to exploit taxpayer dollars for profit. I hope our newly elected commissioners will continue fighting private companies that try to reach into the pockets of Ada County taxpayers.

Everyone should have the ability to compete in the marketplace. The only way to prevent monopolies and anti-competitive market behavior that undermines capitalism is by giving everyone equal opportunity to participate in markets. The foundation of empowering every Idahoan to compete in our economy is through quality education. Idaho Republicans have refused to support and invest in a quality education system. As a result, Idaho is one of the worst states for students to receive an education. Idaho Republicans have harmed Idaho kids’ ability to compete, start their own businesses, and rise to their ability and potential. The lack of education funding at the state level has forced local areas to pass bonds and levies to make up the difference. Idaho Republicans claim to reduce your taxes, but you’ll be paying more taxes in the long run to put Band-Aids on a crumbling education system. Meanwhile, the Idaho legislature will be holding onto your hard-earned money for their own special projects.

Capitalism works best when there are limited barriers to entry for people to compete in markets. Idaho Democrats have torn down the barriers that the Idaho Republicans continue to put up. When Idaho Republicans passed non-compete legislation, Democrats led the fight in repealing it. The Idaho Republicans shifted incredible amounts of the property tax burden onto homeowners and away from commercial property. Idaho homeowners can barely keep up with their property tax payments, let alone start a business, invest in innovation, or compete in a niche market. The homeowner’s tax burden has stymied Idahoans’ entrepreneurship while rewarding already entrenched, largely out-of-state businesses by enacting barriers of entry into the market.

I’m a dyed in the wool capitalist because when everyone has the ability to compete in a free market, we all benefit. I am a Democrat because I understand and support the three pillars of capitalism: free markets, competition, and voluntary exchange. I am proud to be a Democrat and a capitalist. And, I am proud to support Idaho Democrats in state and local elections because I know they will use their office to build a better Idaho based on these principles.

Erik Berg is the founder and owner of Bald Eagle Ropeway Group. He serves as chair of the Idaho Democratic Business Council and chair of the Ada County Democrats.

Supermajority GOP failings continue

by Rebecca Hanson, chair, Canyon County Democrats

Idaho’s 82% GOP supermajority legislature is on a power “high”. First, reduce the power of the Governor during a pandemic. Second, give themselves power to call special sessions. Third, private offices for 3 months of session.

Thursday, GOP members who control the Interim Committee on Property Taxes patted themselves on the back for kicking actual property tax relief down the road yet again. They ignored earlier proposals which actually address the circuit breaker credit set in 2006 for seniors on fixed incomes or the homeowner’s exemption fixed at a maximum of $100K in 2016. Neither tax law has a provision for adjustment based on inflation, a relatively easy fix and one high on the wish list of voters.

Instead the Property Tax Committee focus will be a mandate to cap local government budgets, restrict local city, county, and other taxing districts, and add a “transparency program”, another layer of state government bureaucracy costing $3million.

How does this fit with the GOP platform “that government is best that governs least”? Why do they want to micro-manage local community budgets? Why is it their job to dictate to local governments how much to save (max 3 months operating expense), how much for a “rainy day fund” (max one month’s operating expense), and how much for property tax relief (any amounts above that)? They also want to limit local ability to take “forgone” tax increases in later years. Will these same rules apply to the huge state budget surplus the legislature currently oversees?

Committee co-chairs Senator Jim Rice (R-Caldwell), Representative Jim Addis (R-Coeur d’Alene) with Senator Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon) successfully campaigned on fixing unfair property taxes. How quickly they and the rest of the GOP, who unanimously approved these proposals for next session, have forgotten their promise to voters.

Becky Hanson, Caldwell

Idahoans should demand better

  • By Idaho House and Senate Democrats
  • Aug 3, 2020

Republican politicians have had supermajority control of the Legislature and every statewide office for decades. Under their governance, Idaho has sunk to 51st place in education investment (and, remarkably, now they want to cut another $99 million from our education budget). For seven years they refused to even allow a vote on Medicaid expansion, leaving many thousands of Idahoans to suffer and sometimes die without health care. They have eroded public lands access and allowed air and water quality to dramatically decline. They have stonewalled measures to reduce homeowner property taxes and left our infrastructure to dangerously deteriorate. Faced with this record, it’s not surprising that they prefer name-calling and misdirection to a real conversation about issues.

Tom Luna, the new Idaho GOP chairman, recently previewed his plan for attacking Democratic candidates this election year:

Step One: Harp nonstop on a report generated for the city of Boise by a nonpartisan team of volunteers and falsely attribute it to Idaho Democrats, who in fact never wrote, endorsed or implemented it. The report compiled some citizens’ suggestions and is not and never has been Democratic policy or platform.×

Step Two: Call Democratic legislators “socialists,” ignoring the fact that we are not only capitalists who embrace the importance of businesses large and small, but many of us are business owners ourselves.

Step Three: Hope that voters will settle for name-calling and distortion, and won’t probe into actual positions or records.

This brazen misdirection by the GOP Chairman belies a fear that if Idaho voters really understand Democrats’ positions and the GOP’s dismal single-party governance record, the Republican super-majority would be in jeopardy.

Voters deserve to know where Democrats actually stand. Here is our legislative agenda, plain and simple:

A strong economy. Idaho has lost business opportunities due to inadequate infrastructure, an insufficiently skilled workforce and a lack of affordable housing. We want to correct these deficiencies. Let’s be honest — there’s a lot of crony capitalism in this state masquerading as real capitalism. We’ll do a lot better without a one-party government whose focus is on well-connected insiders rather than making sure everyone has economic opportunity.

Education. The success of our communities starts with our schools. Teacher pay must be sufficient to recruit and retain quality educators. Lack of funding shouldn’t force schools into four-day weeks and sub-par education programs. Education should be adequately funded by the state as mandated by our Constitution — property taxpayers shouldn’t have to pass levies to keep schools operational. We should be generating a skilled workforce that draws high-wage employers to Idaho, not underfunding higher education, forcing tuition hikes that make a degree unaffordable.

Fair taxes. We oppose the GOP’s giant tax cuts and exemptions to those at the top that leave the rest of us with overblown property taxes and underfunded schools and infrastructure. The 2018 Republican income tax cut cost the state over $200 million annually in revenue, gave over $5,000 a year in cuts to the wealthiest, but only $12 a year to earners in the bottom 20 percent, while leaving schools underfunded and giving nothing to those needing it most. The indexed homeowner exemption should be restored and we must increase property tax assistance for seniors and veterans. Millions of dollars a year in internet sales taxes are currently held hostage by the majority party’s infighting. These funds should be used to fund education, repair infrastructure and reduce property taxes. And the Legislature should examine the $2.5 billion a year in lost revenue from sales tax exemptions.

Public lands. Democrats always fight to protect public lands and your right to access and use them, as well as your right to enjoy clean air and clean water.

Strong families. Idahoans should not have to work three jobs to support a family. We support gradual increases to the minimum wage and affordable, safe childcare.

Public safety. We support our first responders. We back adequate funding for training and equipment, including ensuring proper standards for use of force.

Infrastructure. Idaho has 187 structurally deficient bridges, and 898 bridges that are past their expected structural life. You deserve roads and bridges that are strong enough for the needs of business and your family’s safety.

Health care. We support affordable, quality health care, so we and 61 percent of Idahoans who agreed with us made Medicaid expansion a reality.

Idaho Democrats are fighting for a more balanced Legislature that addresses constituents’ needs. After thousands of conversations with voters, we have found broad public support for our platform as described above, and the GOP is rightly concerned that a debate on real issues will not play out to their advantage.

In 90 days, you’ll have the chance to correct the harmful imbalance in our legislature. We hope that you’ll join us in paving a better road for Idaho’s future.

This column was written by Democratic Reps. Ilana Rubel, John McCrostie, Elaine Smith, Brooke Green, Melissa Wintrow, Lauren Necochea, Rob Mason, Jake Ellis, Steve Berch, John Gannon, Sally Toone, Muffy Davis, Chris Abernathy and Sue Chew and Democratic Sens. Michelle Stennett, Cherie Buckner-Webb, Maryanne Jordan, Grant Burgoyne, Janie Ward-Engelking, David Nelson and Mark Nye.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s attack on farmers’ right to repair

  • By TRAVIS OLER | Jul 31, 2020
Travis Oler

Many Idahoans will remember that the Idaho Freedom Foundation opposed protecting Idahoans from large attorneys’ fees that were being added on top of small medical debts. Frank VanderSloot supported House Bill 515 this year to end this predatory collection scheme, and the Idaho Freedom Foundation and their pet politicians (called “wingnuts” by VanderSloot) fought HB 515 until it was eventually passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Little.

Similarly, the Idaho Freedom Foundation opposed HB 452, the farmers’ Right to Repair bill, which was designed to help Idaho farmers get their tractors, grain combines, and other critical equipment fixed in a timely and cost-effective manner. Idaho drivers enjoy the right to take their vehicles to the repair place of their choice, but under current laws, Idaho farmers sometimes do not have the same rights. Sometimes Idaho farmers are forced to repair their farm equipment only at the manufacturer’s dealership.

Idaho farmers are sometimes not even allowed the ability to access the error codes and must sometimes wait for days until a dealer sends out a technician to read the codes. These delays can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages, especially during the critical planting and harvest seasons.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation has received large donations from out-of-state special interests who want laws and regulations that benefit them instead of Idaho consumers and farmers. Therefore, the Idaho Freedom Foundation gave the farmers’ Right to Repair bill a minus 6 rating, one of the worst of the 2020 legislative session.

Was the Right to Repair bill perfect? No, which was why Rep. Rod Furniss made a motion to send the bill to general orders fix it and then get it passed. Immediately after Furniss made this motion, Idaho Freedom Foundation pet politician Rep. Heather Scott made a substitute motion to kill the farmers’ Right to Repair bill by holding it in committee. My opponent in Bingham County, Rep. Julianne Young, and four other Republican legislators voted with Scott to kill the bill, while six other Republicans (including four current or retired farmers and ranchers) voted against the motion to hold the bill in committee.

Ultimately, the farmers’ Right to Repair bill was sent to general orders, where it got stuck under sustained opposition by the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Simply put, Republican leadership in the Idaho House was too scared of the Idaho Freedom Foundation to fix the bill and vote on it as Idaho farmers requested.

Since when did it become OK for Idaho Republican legislators to abandon Idaho’s farmers? If elected in November, I promise to fight tooth and nail to get the farmers’ Right to Repair bill fixed and passed. It’s what’s fair for farmers and what will also help grow Idaho’s economy.

Travis Oler is a U.S. Army veteran and fifth generation member of an Idaho farm family. He is the Democratic candidate for the Idaho House of Representatives in Bingham County.

Democrats Proposed Slate of Solutions for Idaho

Press release from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, July 20, 2020

On Monday, the Idaho Democratic leadership held a press conference to propose a slate of Democratic solutions that would address the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic and set the state on the path to a better future. Senate Democratic Leader Michelle Stennett/(D-Ketchum) and House Democratic Leader Representative Ilana Rubel/(D-Boise) outlined actions that should be taken at the state level to improve the lives of everyday Idahoans.

The press conference was held during the lunch break of the State Affairs Working Group. The Democratic leaders delivered their thoughts on the importance of making tangible changes that will positively impact Idaho communities.

“The pandemic has caused financial, educational, health, and mental distress on Idaho families,” said Senator Stennett. “No one was prepared for this, but it is up to all of us to do our piece towards recovery. The Legislature has a duty to find solutions to protect public health and safety and provide economic security. There is no excuse for inaction or political posturing.”

“The legislature’s foremost responsibility is to keep Idahoans safe.” Rep. Rubel stated. “The Democratic caucus has put together a slate of solutions that should be implemented as soon as possible. The coronavirus pandemic has had dire financial, health, and educational impacts on Idaho families, and there are numerous steps that can and should be taken to meaningfully alleviate the risk and suffering facing our people. We hope our Republican colleagues will join us in pressing forward with these plans.”

The Democratic caucus compiled a list of solutions that can be accomplished through state action, as follows:

1) Education. A $100 million cut to our education budget, as has been imposed by the Governor, is not acceptable.

Kids are being sent back to schools in a month. The state is asking already underpaid teachers to take on unprecedented new risks and responsibilities. Teachers and other school personnel are expected to enter into substantial personal danger, to ensure social distancing for students, to enforce masking in many places and to ensure other precautions are maintained. Teachers are being forced to innovate and learn new methods of instruction for remote learners, and in return for all of this they are getting a pay cut, and losing salary increases they fought for years to obtain.

Idaho already faced a teacher recruitment and retention crisis heading into this pandemic, and this cut is a recipe for disaster.  The Democratic caucus believes the following is necessary:

  • Ensure that all safety measures, such as personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, plexiglass as appropriate, and increased cleaning costs are in place and funded;
  • Ensure that distance learning options are in place and are funded for families that do not feel safe sending children to schools for in-person instruction. This includes ensuring adequate broadband access and device access for students who need them.
  • Restore teacher salaries and pay all leadership premiums to which teachers are entitled. We cannot expect teachers to do more work in more dangerous conditions for less pay. In fact, hazard pay should be strongly considered for teachers and other school personnel. State revenues are actually above projections, we have hundreds of millions of dollars in the rainy day fund, and there are untapped internet sales tax revenues. This is the rainy day we’ve been saving for; a cut of this magnitude to school funding and teacher pay at a time like this is unnecessary and unacceptable.

2) Tax policy.

  • The Idaho Legislature has never allowed internet sales tax to be used to fund education as other sales tax is. Even before this pandemic, this was creating a problem as consumer purchases have for years been shifting from brick and mortar stores (where the tax is used to fund schools) to online purchases (where the sales tax is withheld from the state General Fund). This shift accelerated dramatically during COVID, and we can no longer afford to have this growing pool of revenue held back from our schools – certainly not when our government is cutting $100M from the education budget. Should there be a special session, the Democratic caucus asks that legislation be passed to allow usage of internet sales tax revenue to reverse the draconian cuts to education.
  • We further call for an update to the circuit breaker to assist seniors and our most vulnerable citizens in paying property taxes. This was introduced in the Senate last session and had strong support with the public at large, but was blocked by the House Committee Chair. Seniors have seen their retirement funds drop significantly in value and need help in dealing with property taxes.

3) Voting access.

  • Whether or not in-person voting is available this fall, Idahoans must have easy, safe access to voting by mail. We appreciate that the Secretary of State enabled ballot requests to be made online for the May primary election, a step that led to record turnout. The Democratic caucus believes that access should be made permanent.
  • The Secretary of State has broad emergency powers to alter voting procedures that can either make voting more accessible or suppress voter participation. As these powers are used more and expanded during the pandemic, we question whether it is appropriate for an officer who is beholden to one political party to make material changes to electoral machinery that could significantly favor one party. Accordingly, we propose a Constitutional amendment to make the Secretary of State’s office non-partisan.

4) Health & Welfare.

  • We were surprised and disappointed that no Health and Welfare working group was established during this health crisis. Addressing health concerns should be the principal goal of the state government during the coronavirus pandemic. We have two priorities in the health and welfare area:
    • Testing – Idahoans need more available testing with faster results. Idaho has been identified by the White House as one of America’s hot spots and has skyrocketing infection numbers. Yet Idahoans must wait days both to get tested and to get their results. The only way we are going to beat this virus and get our economy back up to speed is by knowing who is infected and preventing further spread. The state should be making much more meaningful investments in testing and contact tracing.
    • Child care – Child care options in Idaho were already extremely limited, and coronavirus has closed many facilities. If action is not taken soon, the majority of Idaho childcare providers will be out of business and parents will not have safe, reliable childcare options. This would have grave consequences for the health and safety of our children and for the future of our business community as a whole. Idahoans need safe, reliable childcare in order to return to work. The CARES Act has earmarked funds for childcare in Idaho, but the bulk of it has not been released by the Department of Health and Welfare. We call for the release of CARES money to childcare facilities so they can remain safe and operational.

COVID 19Gerrymandering / Redistricting / ElectioneeringHealth CarePress ReleaseProperty TaxesPublic Education

Levi Cavenener: Changes needed for safe schools in 2020

Here is what I would like to see for school come fall in 2 categories: things that don’t cost money, and things that do followed by high risk activities we need to have a serious conversation about.

Doesn’t cost money:

-A and B days with half of the students attending each day. If we don’t do this, it will be impossible to have social distance in a class of 40 kiddos, not to mention on the bus.

-Face coverings for secondary students and staff unless there is some sort of medical exemption for that student. Added bonus-maybe we won’t have to police so much PDA.

-Staggered lunch. There is no reason why we should be packing a cafeteria with hundreds of kiddos at a time. This will take some scheduling ingenuity.

-Temperature screens prior to entering the building, and a designated area for students who have a temperature or symptoms while waiting for transport home.

-Homeroom/advisory each day collaborating with students on how to prevent transmission /unsafe trends the building has identified.

-Lessons for each day posted online, and families would be given the flexibility for the kiddos to attend in person or virtually to further limit number of students in class and increase ability to socially distance.

Does cost money:

-Disposable face coverings for students who forget theirs at home in each classroom.

-Hand sanitizer stations in each classroom and in “hotspot” areas like the cafeteria, locker rooms, etc.

-Full time school nurse in each building.

-Wireless hotspot devices for low income families in the event school goes back to distance learning.

-Stipend for cleaning supplies for teachers. Clorox wipes aren’t cheap, and having Kleenex in a classroom should not be based on what teachers purchases it out of their own pocket.

High Risk items we need to discuss:

-Choir. I know, it literally is half of our students favorite class. But consider 75-100 students standing side by side shouting. In my opinion, if there is an outbreak in school this is the most likely location. How do we offer music in a safe way?

-PE, especially come winter when students will be inside. Brainstorming activities that allow students to keep distance is a must.

-Sports. This won’t be a popular opinion ,but it needs to be said. Not all sports are equal. Throwing a softball around on a field where everyone is spread apart seems solid. Wrestlers climbing, breathing, and sweating all over each other and the mat everyone else will be working around on not so much.

-Events. Do we want a packed gym? Will patrons be required to wear masks? Do we limit the number of admissions?

-An outbreak response plan: Do we shut down school if even one student or staff tests positive? It might not be in the hands of admin if contact tracers tell all the potential staff they need to quarantine for 14 days…there won’t be enough subs.

-Speaking of subs, we are going to need a lot. If staff has so much as the sniffles, they should stay home. What’s the plan for the current sub shortage we had pre-pandemic?

-Absence policies. We want students to stay home if they have any illness. What’s the plan to address credit denial for exceeding absences if students do what we want by staying home when in the past they would have come.

-Mental health counseling. Between the isolation, anxiety, fear, and unfortunate likelihood of a friend or loved one being seriously impacted, we have a ticking mental health disaster on our doorstep. Do we have enough support, and do students know who to go to, how to ask, and feel safe to seek help.

-Remediation. If we thought the “summer-slide” in academic skills was a dozy, we are in for quite the shock. How do we get a grasp on where the students are performing in the fall, and then adjust accordingly.

-Standardized tests. For real, a total waste of time this year. Just please no.

I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing, but the point is that we CAN and SHOULD do everything in our power to protect our students, staff, and community.

We SHOULD be modeling behaviors we want our students to mirror. That means wearing a face covering and social distancing to the best of our ability.

If the first day of school looks more or less like the first day of school last year, we are doing something seriously wrong.

Schools WILL BE sources of outbreak cluster. But, if we do these things we can make sure those inevitable outbreaks are small. If we ignore all these practical prevention measures we will have outbreaks of hundreds instead of handfuls.

Oh yeah, and support your schools when they inevitably make tough decisions. Literally, the first goal of school is to keep our students safe. If we feel like we cannot realistically keep students safe given an unfortunate but likely inevitable outbreak, we are going to have to make some tough decisions to keep students, staff, and our community safe.

Finally, WEAR A FRICKING MASK!

The journey from canvasser to candidate

Jason Kutchma

Until a few years ago, my civic engagement amounted to an hour every four years, an hour spent exercising my right to vote in a presidential election. That’s about seven hours for my life’s total participation in our political process.

In 2017 I opted for a change. I resolved to learn about and be a part of a democracy I sadly long took for granted. I read through my state’s party platforms. I found the one to which I most connected, the Democratic Party. I found the county website then attended a monthly business meeting.

For about a year, I dedicated an hour a month going to those meetings, sitting in the back of the room, learning about fundraising and outreach. After that initial year of learning, I started a social hour at a local brewery, a time to get together in a more informal setting. Occasionally there’s a speaker, a state representative, a congressional candidate. Most of the time, we just talk and blow off steam or brainstorm. The hour or two each month for business and social time is a modest effort but like any beginning venture, it’s perhaps more important the effort is sustained.

I learned about the organizational structure of political parties in the US. Every state is organized by counties. Every county is divided into districts. Every district is subdivided into precincts. The land area of each precinct varies on population density but it usually contains between 1500 to 2500 total voters. I became a precinct chairperson, a grassroots position acting as a liaison between the party and the voters in my precinct. I don’t know the last time my precinct had a precinct chair. Maybe a decade. Maybe decades.

For those of you that have followed my music or travels, my precinct number is, weirdly, 76.

In the fall of 2018, a few weeks before that year’s midterms, I made a list of Democrats in my precinct. I knocked on about 200 doors. I talked with mostly Democrats, some Independents and a few Republicans. People were generally nice, regardless of party. I let them know when and where to vote. I talked about our party’s candidates. Initially the conversations were awkward but my nerves got a little better as the weeks went on, as the fall days shortened and darkened, closing in on Election Day.

“Hey there, you!”

A woman in her early 30’s stopped raking the leaves in the front lawn across the street. She stared at me standing on her neighbor’s porch, knocking on her neighbor’s door.

“Yeah, you!”

“Yes?”

My knock faded to a slow light tap.

“They’re not home. They’re away.”

“Oh? Okay. Thank you.”

I tucked a flyer in the neighbor’s door handle, stepped off the neighbor’s porch, and started walking to my car.

“Hey! Hey you!”

“Yeah?”

“What’re ya doing?”

“I’m, ah, dropping off flyers.”

“For what?”

“For the, uh, um, the election. The election coming up.”

“Oh yeah? Who’re ya working for?”

I was nervous, fairly new to politickin’, a very small blue dot in a very large red state. I crossed the street and walked to the concrete steps leading up to her and her chin on her rake propping up her suspicious glare.

“Who’re ya working for?”

“What’s that?”

“Who. Are. You. Working. For.”

I squinted and noticed a sign near the foot of her front door step. A political sign.

“Oh, I uh see you’re um supporting one of our uh candidates.”

“Cindy? Cindy Wilson? For Superintendent of Public Schools? Oh yeah. She’s great.”

“Glad you’re supporting her.”

“Oh sure I support her. I’m a teacher. And I vote straight Democratic Party every election.”

Our bodies loosened.

“You typically vote Democrat?”

“Always.”

I gave her a flyer. While she scanned through it, I frantically flipped through the dozens of pages on my clipboard, “I have a list of all the registered Democrats in Precinct 76 and you’re not on the list.”

“Oh I’m not a registered Democrat.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I’m a registered Republican.”

“Why?”

“In this county, I learned years ago that for local and regional races, whoever wins the Republican primary in May, automatically wins the November general election.”

“But…why?”

“Because there’s never any Democratic opponent.”

“Never?”

She shook her head, “How long have you been in Idaho? I register as a Republican so I can have my voice heard in the primary in May and vote for the most sane, least bat shit crazy candidate. Otherwise, it’s a waste to even show up. And in a country like ours, I think that’s a shame.”

I shook her hand and thanked her for her work as a teacher. She nodded then continued to rake the leaves, spreading them out for a future xeriscaping project. I walked to my car and drove away. She waved her so long.

I drove home and wondered about the phone calls to elected officials I’ve made in the past few years. When a citizen voices concerns about an issue, why would any consistently unchallenged elected official bother to listen to someone outside of their party? Because it’s their job? A job they’ll theoretically never lose? What use are my efforts in get-out-the-vote if there’s no one to get-out-to-vote for? What good is a democracy if there’s only one candidate? What good is freedom if there’s only one choice?

Might as well go back to kings and queens.

Over the decades, when a politician acted in their own self-interest or at the behest of a powerful few, I’d silently scream “We the People!!!” to the universe, then I’d press the Angry Button or furiously press my keyboard letters with passionate missives, the beaten and worn Exclamation Point Key praying for the rare merciful day of good news. From my cubicle or my living room or my seat on the bus, I made sure my opinion was heard loud and clear in the virtual world. And yet sadly but not unexpectedly, as the years plowed on, it appeared my virtual participations did little to alter the republic’s course. I became disheartened. All of the banging and the knocking became slow light taps that eventually became nothing at all.

This February, I opted for a change. I filled out my paperwork, had it notarized, then paid the filing fee. A few weeks ago, Idaho had its primary. I am now the Democratic candidate for Idaho State Representative – District 13 Seat A. The first in eight years, the second of the past fourteen.

The three words “We the People” implicitly includes “I the Person” to hopefully seek some participatory role within “Us the Country”. Ours is a country dependent on the number of people who show up to lend their time and talent. Don’t you ever doubt that there are good people out there looking to make a difference, good people who, for whatever reason, are still optimistic at a time when family and friends are not, in an age when the headlines, the news feeds, and the comment sections suggest a drastically different world that aches in the heart, that begs for the perseverance needed to bring words written two hundred and forty some odd years ago on stiff parchment into real world practice.

I believe a healthy self-government is rooted in the work we as individuals do the other three hundred and sixty four days in between elections. I hope you find an hour or two a month, some modest yet sustained effort to see where you might find yourself within those three words of “We the People”. I hope you seek and meet others in your town or district or county that still hear some faint echo promising what this country could be. I hope you answer that echo with your own call.

I don’t plan on fundraising. The constituent base in my district is small enough in number that I can go about this with phone calls or some door knocking.

I am nervous, sure. The days will now darken earlier than the day before, closing in on Election Day. But the nerves seem to get a little bit better with each day, with each call, with each knock. And it seems the more I reach out, the more people reach back.

Time to get to work.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 14, 2020

Kevin Richert 05/14/2020

Idaho’s schools were already in an “extremely precarious” position before the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday, and budget cuts will only make matters worse.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stennett-620x413.jpg
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

Democratic leaders: Little’s budget cuts would worsen ‘disruption’ in education

In a joint statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel urged Gov. Brad Little to rethink his proposal to cut $99 million from next year’s K-12 budget.

“Idaho’s children have already experienced a serious disruption to their education over the past two months, but those learning setbacks will be worsened dramatically, with long-term consequences, if the proposed education cuts become a reality,” Stennett, of Ketchum, and Rubel, of Boise, said in a news release.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Rubel-620x413.jpg
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

They urged Little to consider several options: using the state’s budget reserves to spare education from cuts; using tax proceeds from Internet sales, now siphoned into a separate fund to bankroll future tax cuts; and reexamining the state’s $2 billion of sales tax exemptions.

Little last week outlined his plans to cut K-12 spending. He has ordered all state agencies to plan for possible budget cuts of 5 percent next year, as tax collections wither in the wake of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, state Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, urged Little to reverse the K-12 cuts, also citing Internet taxes and the rainy-day accounts as an alternative to spending reductions. “It certainly is a rainy day and this turmoil should not be used as an excuse once again hurt public education.”

The Idaho Education Association and local teachers’ union representatives have also criticized the proposed cuts.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett Shares Sources of Help During COVID-19 Crisis

March 31, 2020

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”  — Franklin D. Roosevelt


Financial Assistance Offered from State/Federal Programs

Senator Risch outlines some of the federal resources at these links:

https://www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=covid-19-outbreak


https://www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/information-on-upcoming-direct-financial-help-for-the-american-people-during-covid-19


And Sun Valley Economic Development has information here:

https://myemail.constantcontact.com/SVED-Insider-Special-Newsletter–5.html?soid=1110847617477&aid=tkh0pIyrQwQ



Medicaid
 
IDHW is reducing /removing barriers to the provision and receipt of medical care.
 
WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAPP (Food Stamp) Benefits
 
IDHW is relaxing inventory requirements that grocery stores must normally meet.


 
Unemployment Insurance
 


–Will bring at least $1.25 billion to Idaho to help businesses and individuals.
Rescue Package will direct distribution of $1,200/ individual (up to $75,000/year income), $2,400/joint returns, $500/child delivered (in 3 weeks if direct deposit, longer if check is mailed).
Unemployment benefits are $250-$800/week, depending on state.
–Unemployment benefits will be increased an extra $600 per week for up to 4 months, and benefits will run for 39 weeks.
–Lending fund for businesses, educational stabilization money for schools and universities.
–Unemployment benefits will be paid for the first week of an unemployment insurance claim (referred to as a “waiting week” because benefits are not normally paid for the first week of a claim). Waiving one week waiting period for those eligible makes it easier to seek. An additional 14 days to appeal claims/decisions will be added to the existing 14 days.
–Unemployment claimants will be considered “job attached,” meaning they are assumed to be able to return to their old jobs when the crisis has passed and will not be required to look for alternative work.
–The Cares Act will also relieve employers from having to pay higher unemployment insurance taxes because of benefits paid to their employees.
Businesses who pay a quarterly employment tax, will not be charged when their employees will be laid off due to the virus. Again, an addition 14 days to appeal is added to the current 14-day time period.
These provisions are in effect beginning March 8, 2020.
 
Business Dislocation Response

Small businesses and their owners as they generally do not have access to unemployment insurance benefits, and their business resources are often very limited.  Certain small business services are “essential” in terms of the 21-day stay at home order.
 
Small Business Administration loans: website up, funds online.
–CARES Act has a Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness provision, $350 billion
–For 100% federally guaranteed loans for 8 weeks of assistance to small businesses, 501c3, and 501c19 non-profit veteran organizations.
Disaster loans have a 3.75% interest for a business loan and 2.75% interest on a non-profit loan. SBA has 30-year amortization loans to keep payments low.
–Proprietors, independent contractors, self-employed individuals are also eligible for these loans.
–These loans can be forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent and utilities.
–SBA and non-SBA lenders will be authorized to make these loans, alleviating a lot of bottleneck, including their online portal. This will be expedited and most of the lenders in Idaho are SBA lenders.
If you are going online to apply for a disaster loan, right now you can receive up to $2 million of disaster relief, an economic entry disaster loan.
 
Site www.sba.gov/disaster to apply on online portal website http://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/. Once submitted, can track your application at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. SBA questions can be directed to regional office 208-334-9004 in Boise, Small Business Development Center at 208-426-3875, Treasure Valley Chapter 208-334-1696, Women’s Business Center 208-996-1572.

Resources are free. Beware of scammers. If anyone is charging for services, should be reported to SBA as scammers. Can find information on www.sba.gov/updates and the Idaho Department of Labor website.

New State Income Tax Filing Deadline: June 15, 2020

The Governor would have liked to extend the Idaho income tax filing deadline to the new federal income tax filing deadline of July 15th, but Idaho’s current budget year must be in balance on the fiscal year end of June 30th.  This necessitates receiving income tax payments that remain due before the end of the budget period.


Plus $39.3 million is being transferred from the State Tax Relief Fund to the Disaster Emergency account, the maximum under law, for critical needs PPE, test kits, lab supplies, hospital beds, to build extra facilities, and for critical childcare.
 
Renter Evictions
 
The Administration has found reaching out to large apartment complex owners fairly easy, but smaller operators are more difficult to identify and reach.  The large operators will have access to government loans.  The Governor noted that eviction cases are not a high priority for the courts now, that his Administration has been working with utilities, including cable companies, to keep services in place and that appeals have been made to small and large apartment owners not to evict for nonpayment of rent. The Governor noted that it doesn’t make sense to evict right now because it is unlikely an apartment can be re-rented to someone else who can pay rent. 
 
 
2020 Census

It is especially important during this difficult time to participate in the 2020 Census, everyone. An incredible amount of services and infrastructure rely on the Census data which impacts the quality of all our lives. The easiest way to be counted is online at 2020census.gov.




Sincerely,
Michelle

The Lack of Dollars and ‘Sense’ in Idaho Schools

by Levi Cavener, Invest in Idaho organizer for Canyon County (published 2/05/2020 by Idaho Education News)

The National Education Association (NEA) has finished compiling their annual analysis of our country’s state-by-state education spending. The results show that for all the talk of increasing education spending in Idaho, we are just barely keeping pace with inflation.

It has nothing to do with the dollars and cents spent on education in comparison to the country as a whole. Rather, it is because Idaho has fallen so far behind our regional peers that is akin to be handed the baton in a race for the last relay when all the other teams have already crossed the finished line.

Some numbers: Idaho’s average teaching salary is $49,225. In dollars and cents, that doesn’t sound so bad. But keep in mind that Idaho must compete with our neighboring states to attract and retain teachers, particularly in communities where crossing the state line is as simple as adding a few more minutes to the daily commute.

This is why Idaho’s average teaching salary is stuck on the track while all the other teams have crossed over the finish line. The numbers for some of our neighboring states: Oregon, $63,061; Washington, $55,693; Wyoming, $58,352. In fact, Idaho’s average salary is lower than every single one of the states surrounding our borders.

It is no wonder why it is so hard for Idaho to attract and retain teachers. Our regional peers are lapping us on the track. It would be comical if the consequences of our lack of competitive pay didn’t have such real world implications.

It gets worse. According the the study, Idaho’s per pupil spending is now dead last in America. The Gem State spends just $6,809 per student. Utah, which had this dubious honor last year, has now passed us. If the goal in this race is first to be last, we sure are doing a good job of it.

And it’s not that Idaho needs to spend as much as the rest of the country does on their own education expenditures. It is that Idaho needs to at least be competitive with our regional neighbors. Nevada commits about a third more with $9,548. Montana spends almost double us with $11,540 per student. Wyoming spends $16,529. We should be embarrassed and equally ashamed.

And our young people should be angry. They should be upset that despite our state’s constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and uniform education, their educational opportunities are defined by the zip code they live inside.

They should be furious that the sin of being born into a district that cannot pass a levy dictates having opportunities to career technical training, advanced placement courses, and STEM opportunities such as coding and robotics.

And Idaho’s property owners should be equally outraged. They are being fleeced in the form of permanent “supplemental” levies used to pay for “supplemental” items like paying the electric bill. Just ask Kamiah School District. When their small $500,000 levy failed, the district literally had to shutter their middle school. Levies are no longer supplemental when we must close down schools if they do not pass.

The fact is, the state failing to provide adequate dollars to our schools, and property owners are picking up the tab. Reclaim Idaho is supporting a ballot initiative to put the onus back on the state to adequately fund our public schools. Sign the petition today at ReclaimIdaho.Org.

America should be the “shining city on the hill”

by Tom Sullivan, former candidate for U.S. Senate, Idaho

I’m completely disgusted and repulsed by our politics. Our political process is completely broken! We have a president who is a serial liar. Trump is admittedly colluding with foreign strongman leaders and the entire lot of spineless sycophant republican senators won’t even allow a fair trial.

What don’t I love? The Supreme Court, which was delegitimized with the stolen seat of Merrick Garland, just voted 5-4 to allow wealth testing to be a determining factor for immigration. I don’t love the fact that we are participating and financing two genocides right now in both Palestine and Syria. I don’t love the fact that we’ve decided to promote Cristian prayer in schools while preventing freedom of the same for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. I don’t love the fact that corporations and coal companies are once again allowed to poison and pollute our rivers and waterways. I’m immensely saddened that we are the lone member of developed countries to not participate in the battle against global warming.

I want an America where we lift up those that need help rather than insult them and call them weak. I want an America that leads the world in science and art and protecting the planet for future generations. I want an America that recognizes that we created millions of climate refugees that need our help and protection rather than just slamming our doors while we rob them of all their natural resources. I want an America that values the truth above conspiracy. I want an America that is willing, at least to acknowledge the past and present wrongs it has inflicted on millions of Americans through racism.

America is supposed to be the “Shining city on the hill”, with morality, compassion, fairness, equal opportunity, leadership and love. America, right now has abandoned all of these qualities under the stewardship of the most profoundly arrogant and hate filled and ignorant child our country has ever seen as a president. I do not believe our America can withstand another four years of Trump and I believe if you love America, as I do, you have to get involved. It is not possible to look the other way and hope that the problem corrects itself. DO ONE THING, to make a difference. If you volunteer one day, give one donation, go to one political event, just do one thing, you can make a difference. And, no matter where you live, even if your vote doesn’t count, VOTE!

Idaho Dems must stay vigilant

Van Beechler, Chair, ISD

Jan 21, 2020

As we head into the 2020 legislative session, my message to Idaho Democrats is simple: stay vigilant.

During the 2019 session, we saw many victories for hardworking Idahoans. The Republicans introduced a bill to destroy our Democracy and do away with the bipartisan redistricting commission paving the way for a gerrymandered Idaho. Idaho Democrats stood up and forced the bill back to committee and had it killed.

We celebrated.

After hundreds of thousands of Idahoans voted to expand Medicaid in 2018, the Republicans passed a bill to put their foot on the throats of voters and take away their voice and our initiative process. After thousands of Idahoans and Idaho Democrats made their voices heard, Gov. Brad Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159.

We celebrated some more.

Idaho Democrats passed some great legislation, ranging from mandating nearly all sexual assault kits be tested to requiring insurance companies to cover hearing aid costs for Idaho’s children, to name a couple.

We celebrated even more. Now, it’s time to get back to work.

As Idaho Democrats, it is our responsibility to stop harmful Republican legislation from making its way into Idaho’s statutes. This is a tough job, but when we come together, we succeed.

As I was listening to Governor Little’s State of the State address, I was pleased to hear him repeating what Idaho Democrats have spent decades fighting for, like properly funding public education, preserving our public lands, and expanding broadband access to our rural communities.

While I appreciate him highlighting successes of Idaho’s public schools, our state still has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to literacy. In my home city of Caldwell— which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state— only 51 percent of public school students finished the year at grade level, falling behind other large districts in the state, according to the 2018-19 Idaho Reading Indicator scores. It’s time our legislature truly prioritized education and made it available for every Idaho kid regardless of their zip code.

As we’ve learned from previous sessions, just because a bill dies doesn’t mean it won’t come back to life. We will likely see the return of an effort to gerrymander and to put restrictions on our ballot initiative process this session, both of which would have devastating impacts on Idaho’s democracy.

Any progress we make in the legislature or the senate can be taken away in the blink of an eye if we get too comfortable. When we stop paying attention, stop calling our representatives, and stop being informed, that’s when we lose all the progress we’ve made.

I am determined to stay vigilant and tireless when it comes to making positive changes in our state. We can’t assume someone else will do the work, we can’t let up when we think the fight is over. It’s 2020, and there are no more excuses. I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you this year.

Van Beechler is the chair of the Idaho Democratic Party.

Income tax cuts hurt Idaho

by Idaho State Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, Minority Leader of the Idaho House, Nov. 2019

When the Legislature orders counties to carry out state functions but fails to provide the money to do so, local property taxpayers pay the price. As a result, residential property taxes are sky-high in many counties, and citizens are demanding relief.

The inability of the state to pay these costs stems from its long history of cutting state income taxes to primarily benefit the wealthy. In depriving the state of revenue to pay its bills, they’ve forced costs on to local governments and school districts and increased property taxes on all of us. Although some state politicians like to talk about their cuts coming to a billion dollars over the years, they don’t seem to acknowledge their role in increasing our property taxes.

For example, the 2018 income tax cut is costing the state at least $129 million in revenue each year. Such cuts have prevented the state from properly funding the schools and have resulted in property tax override levies that will total $214 million this year.

Income tax cuts also deprive the state of the revenue it needs to house a significant number of its prisoners. Instead, a good number are in county jails, with Ada County now having about 326 of them. The Ada County jail has become so crowded it is in violation of mandatory jail accreditation standards, with some prisoners sleeping on the floor. Although a state prisoner costs the average county $86.55 per day, a state prisoner costs some counties as much $112 per day and Ada County about $102 per day. The state only pays $55 per day for the prisoner’s first seven days and $75 per day thereafter. Consequently, Ada County is forced to subsidize the state prison system by $1.6 to $1.8 million per year, and that doesn’t even consider that the state should, but doesn’t, pay a proportionate share of the cost to build and expand the jail. One wonders if Canyon County might have been able to solve its continuing jail crowding problem many years ago if the state had simply paid the full cost of housing its prisoners.

And jails are just one of the state’s unpaid bills. The Legislature’s total unfunded county mandates are in the many millions of dollars per year. For example, county property taxpayers subsidize each sheriff issued driver’s license by $3; and counties must spend $12 million a year on indigent health care, $8 million a year on involuntary mental health commitments and $32 million a year on public defenders. The list of unfunded state mandates goes on and on.

Another reason residential property taxes are sky-rocketing is that the Legislature significantly reduced the homestead exemption in 2016, thereby shifting a significant amount of the property tax burden from business to residential property. Unfortunately, efforts to repeal this shift were blocked in the Idaho House last session.

Rather than repeal the property tax shift and require the state to pay its own bills, some inside and outside the Legislature say local governments have caused the property tax crisis by spending too much. They want to lower local government budget caps still further by barring any budget growth based on new construction. New construction is, however, a factor the law expressly allows to cover budget costs stemming from population and economic growth. That growth must pay for itself. Pretending it isn’t there, and that it doesn’t impose significant costs on local communities, won’t make it so. Arbitrarily lowering budget caps will either force cuts in public safety and other services or force overrides, which will mean no real property tax relief.

When it comes to property tax relief, the Legislature’s priorities should be to pay the state’s bills and repeal the property tax shift, not cut vital local services.

What Risch didn’t say

by Betty Hansen Richardson, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho, November 8, 2019

A few days ago, I posted that I had received an invitation to participate in Sen. Jim Risch’s tele-town hall to be held from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday November 7. I was told I would receive a call from the Senator’s office, and all I needed to do to participate was to stay on the line. The call is now history, and I thought those of you who missed it might like to know a little about it.

This was the second Risch “tele-town hall,” in which I’ve participated. The script was much the same. The senator began the call touting his work on the Women’s Business Center, agricultural issues and energy-related issues involving the Idaho National Laboratory. Then a pleasant voiced person named Marty, who facilitated the call, asked the senator to talk about impeachment.

In response, the senator gave his listeners a self-styled history lesson on impeachment. That was all well and good; however, he dropped any charade of objectivity by whining about the party-line vote in the House of Representatives and complaining that the House was “operating in secret chambers.”

Risch did not acknowledge that Republicans who sit on the germane committees were allowed to fully participate in the proceedings. He did not mention that the transcripts of the depositions are being made public, and he did not mention that public hearings will begin next week. He concluded by griping that “impeachment is truly sucking the oxygen out of the air. We have a lot to do and there are matters on the back burner.”

Of course he made no mention of the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to consider a couple hundred bills passed by the House. I would posit that it is McConnell who is “truly sucking the oxygen out” of the legislative air.

Then it was time for the first call.

Imagine my surprise when the first caller to ask a question was one of the same people who got to ask a question on the last call. What are the chances that the same Idahoan would get picked twice by the Risch staff to ask his question?

The caller asked whether and when the Keystone Pipeline would be built. Risch assured the caller that the pipeline was happening. He then touted the fact that the U.S. is now the largest oil producing nation in the world. He did not acknowledge the impact that fossil fuels have on our environment nor did he say one word about alternative energy development.

The next caller asked about the senator’s view on tariffs. After calling himself a “free-trader,” Risch lauded the president’s “re-negotiation” of NAFTA and his determination to hold “China’s feet to the fire.” On both counts, Risch said he and some of his colleagues at first “cringed” when they heard of the president’s actions but — by golly — it turns out the president was right. The president, it seems, likes bi-lateral agreements better than multi-lateral agreements, and Risch is just fine with that.

The next caller asked about the Colombia River Treaty. Risch said that the treaty was intended to address two concerns — flood control and generating electricity. He did not want the treaty to address salmon.

The next caller asked about cyber-security. Risch acknowledged the growing threat of cyber attacks and noted that a lot of money had been allocated to fight such attacks. He did not mention the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to vote on House passed legislation to protect our 2020 elections.

The next call came from someone who expressed concern about the national debt. Risch gave what he called a “mini-tutorial” on spending, complaining that three-fourths of our spending goes to what Risch called “entitlements” — things like Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits. He told his listeners that these programs are causing the problem and that “spending has to be reformed.” I believe that translates to a desire to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits, but the term “reformed,” obscures that intent.

Risch did not mention that, since passage of the president’s tax relief act for the wealthy and corporations, the deficit had ballooned, there were few signs of investment but plenty of stock buy-backs, special interest breaks and loopholes. He also did not mention that factories and jobs are more likely to go overseas.

The next caller asked the senator to give his views on “sanctuary cities.” Risch declared he was a “hawk” when it comes to border security, that a nation can’t have control of its sovereignty unless it has control of its borders. He supports the president in all things border-related. He did not mention the president’s family separation policy or the practice of housing children in cages.

I had to take another call so I wasn’t able to listen to the last 10 minutes of the Risch call. I doubt I missed much. It seems I learned more about Risch’s stands on the issues by considering what he avoided discussing than what he chose to talk about.

November 6, 2019: Rural teachers need debt relief

by Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, District 26, and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D- Boise,  District 18

The average teacher graduating with their bachelor’s degree is taking on over $26,000 in student loan debt. If a teacher decides that they want to go on to pursue a master’s degree, there is significantly more debt. With those levels of student debt, a brand-new Idaho teacher looks at payments between $200-$400 a month. On a salary of around $40,000 a year, Idaho’s educators are often working 2 or 3 jobs just to make loan payments on time. It’s no surprise that teachers leave Idaho for better opportunities in other states.
 

Unfortunately, our rural school districts are feeling the impact the most. Rural schools make up about 75% of all Idaho’s districts and most of them are struggling to fill teaching positions. Rural districts have to get creative to make sure that students have a teacher in the classroom by doing things like allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom. Parents in rural districts have no choice but to send their kids to schools with teachers who are not certified to teach and may be lacking necessary credentials.

 

For the last several sessions, Idaho Democrats have introduced legislation that would give student loan relief to rural teachers. It hasn’t made it to the desk of the Governor because the legislature has refused to make this necessary investment in Idaho’s teachers. We are committed to bringing this legislation back again this year because our rural schools need this option.

Public schools are the cornerstone of Idaho’s rural communities, but they have been left behind by the legislature. It’s unreasonable and shortsighted to keep asking highly educated individuals to work in rural schools when the best we have to offer is the need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Many of our teachers have been willing to take this deal because they are so dedicated to educating Idaho’s youth, but it is not sustainable. Every year, we lose more and more teachers to states that are willing to show educators the appreciation that they deserve.
 

We cannot have an educated workforce, a thriving economy, or a successful state if we do not provide our students a quality education. Idaho’s teachers and students are our most valuable asset. Our rural communities are counting on us.

 
 

 

Democratic leaders: Little’s budget cuts would worsen ‘disruption’ in education

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 14, 2020

I

Kevin Richert 05/14/2020

Idaho’s schools were already in an “extremely precarious” position before the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday, and budget cuts will only make matters worse.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

In a joint statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel urged Gov. Brad Little to rethink his proposal to cut $99 million from next year’s K-12 budget.

“Idaho’s children have already experienced a serious disruption to their education over the past two months, but those learning setbacks will be worsened dramatically, with long-term consequences, if the proposed education cuts become a reality,” Stennett, of Ketchum, and Rubel, of Boise, said in a news release.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

They urged Little to consider several options: using the state’s budget reserves to spare education from cuts; using tax proceeds from Internet sales, now siphoned into a separate fund to bankroll future tax cuts; and reexamining the state’s $2 billion of sales tax exemptions.

Little last week outlined his plans to cut K-12 spending. He has ordered all state agencies to plan for possible budget cuts of 5 percent next year, as tax collections wither in the wake of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, state Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, urged Little to reverse the K-12 cuts, also citing Internet taxes and the rainy-day accounts as an alternative to spending reductions. “It certainly is a rainy day and this turmoil should not be used as an excuse once again hurt public education.”

The Idaho Education Association and local teachers’ union representatives have also criticized the proposed cuts.