Values: Democrats support Christian values

Judy Ferro     [Published in the Idaho Press-Tribune on July 28, 2014]

At a Democratic Open House last week, Leif Skyving, a candidate for the House in District 10, told me he’d talked with a woman who felt she couldn’t vote for a Democrat because she was a Christian and supported family values.

I’ve worked with Leif long enough to know that he doesn’t easily talk about his religion. .  (Disclosure: I am treasurer for Leif’s campaign.)   When faced with a major decision, he will privately say, “Let me pray about this,” but his public statements are apt to be about fairness and investment in the future.

Leif’s experience reminded me of an anecdote my sister Joy once told about her Southern Baptist minister.  While money was short, the man took a night job as janitor at a Nampa elementary school. One afternoon a young girl, a new student, didn’t make it home.  Teachers volunteered to sit at the school all night in case she found her way back and then met for prayer before classes the next morning.

The minister was surprised that Christians taught in our public schools. Somewhere along the way, he had accepted that separation of church and state was rooted in rejection of Christianity rather than in respect for a public that represents 40 different Christian denominations as well as other religions.

Democrats support separation of church and state, as well as other basic American values: fairness, community, compassion, and the rights of the individual, including religious freedom.  They believe in treating others as they would like to be treated.  Many Christians are drawn to the party because of these values.

And I’ve known too many good people who are Republicans to suggest Democrats have a monopoly on these values.

In the 2004 campaigns, however, some Republicans worked hard to claim ownership of the Christian vote.  Afterward, a flood of books appeared to rebut one party’s claim to have a corner on God.  My two favorites were Our Endangered Values by Jimmy Carter and a little-known book Jesus Rode a Donkey by Quaker theologian Linda Seger.

Both books emphasize the New Testament’s admonitions to care for one another.  Carter points out that one-tenth of Gospel verses are about compassion for others or rejection of wealth.  Seger takes care to stress that, when the Hebrews were independent, the prophets urged that their government, as well as individuals, to support widows and the handicapped.

And both books see caring for the environment as a Christian duty.  Seger asks how anyone can see the beauty which the Lord created and not understand that He cares deeply about our earth.  She points out that we are the stewards of God’s world, not its owners.

In a very different vein, Jeff Sharlet’s 2009 book The Family, outlines the development of an aberrant form of Christianity that masquerades as a type of Fundamentalism.  Sharlet claims that a group started in opposition to FDR’s policies and the growing power of unions has developed into a worldwide mesh of “Christian” prayer cells that teach that God bestows wealth and power as a sign of his favor.  Moreover, God’s chosen need not follow the teachings of scripture like the rest of mankind; it is enough that they pray to be guided by Jesus. Many indulge their vices, lie and mislead, even torture, while claiming divine guidance.

Speaking publicly of one’s Christianity is not always a sign of one who shares your beliefs.  Some that do may embrace a religion that is anything but “Christ like” while some sincere Christians may be quiet out of respect for the separation of church and state and reluctance to parade their faith for political advantage.

Voting wisely is not a simple matter.

Idaho politics: Voters support Dems on issues

Judy Ferro     [Published by the Idaho Press-Tribune June 30, 2014]

Enough.  We’ve heard the message.  Political pundits in four states have echoed it.  “The Idaho Republicans may be at war with one another, but the Democrats can’t win.”   Sometimes they add, “because of Idaho’s demographics.”

Predicting Republican victories at this point tends to suppress voter turnout.  Why bother learning about the candidates if my vote will make no difference?  Three decades of Republican victories probably explains why nearly half the county’s adults are not registered.

And no pundit explains what demographics they mean.  Perhaps all the young people leaving the state?   Or all the people working for minimum wage?   Or maybe just the fact there are more registered Republicans?

Over half the voters in Canyon County have locked themselves out of the Republican primaries by registering as “unaffiliated.”  Now, some of these are Democrats who don’t want to be hasseled over their politics.  Still, independents—those who vote for the man/woman, not the party—are by far the largest voting bloc in the county.

So why have Republicans consistently won?

Thinking it was issues, Idaho Democrats once tried a slate of “Republican-lite” candidates.  Some, like Walt Minnick, were liberal on social issues and conservative on economic ones.  Others were conservative on social issues and middle-of-the-road on economic ones.  Walt did win—once.  Overall, though, the tactic undercut Democratic support without attracting many Independents.

And why should it?  There is every reason to believe that voters, even Idaho voters, agree with the Democrats on their defining issues.

A recent Russell Sage Foundation study of polls found that 90% of Americans do not want to see social security cut.

Over 80% want the government to fund schools well and to protect the jobs of American workers.

Nearly 80% want the minimum wage high enough so that one full-time worker worker can keep a family above the poverty level.  About the same number want college to be affordable for everyone.

Nearly 70% are against cutting domestic programs like Medicare, education and highways in order to lower the Federal deficit.

Even federal health care is supported by 60%.

These are the defining Democratic issues.  If they were what really counted with voters, Democrats would be winning handily.

What about the emotional “wedge issues?”  Nationally, voters are more evenly divided on these issues.  Yet, polls indicate 80% of Americans want background checks on all gun purchases and 55% support limiting gun clips to 10 bullets.    Amazingly, only 20% oppose abortions in all circumstances (even though 50% believe they are morally wrong).   Support for gay marriage runs about 55%.

Idaho Democrats are divided on these issues; Republicans are not.  At a meeting of Canyon County’s Republicans prior to the primaries, each candidate stood and recited a mantra—I am pro-life, pro-second amendment, and pro-traditional marriage—before stating his or her other qualifications.  So it’s no surprise that people who care more about guns than schools vote Republican.  But it’s hard to believe that includes a majority of Canyon County.

There are many other explanations for continued Republican victories.  Loyalty, for one.  Many who recognize that the Republican Party has lost its balance choose to work to moderate the party.  Others simply like to identify with the winning side: a Boise district that was all-Republican for many years is now so Democratic that no Republicans are even running there this year.

Whatever the reason, it is not the quality of Idaho’s Democratic candidates.  Democrats run here because they care about people and want to strengthen jobs, schools, families, and communities.  It’s not an easy road to power; they don’t “inherit” victory from predecessors or fathers.  They are heroes in a battle for balance and democracy in Idaho.