Do Dems have the drive to win more seats in November?

 Finally, we have come to the last day of the wackiest Idaho primary election ever. 2020 will be legendary for Idaho county clerks from this day forth–envelope shortages, mis-mailed ballots, crashing online sites, unsigned envelopes, court orders and all. 

The time for mailing ballots is past.  Still, hundreds of ballots may be slipped into slots at election offices today. Clerks will be busy checking signatures, opening envelopes, working creases out of the sheets, and running stacks through the counting machine. 

We might have results tonight–but some races may be so tight we’ll have to wait until every ballot is processed.    

Many voters were disappointed to see few contested races on their ballots.  Unless there was a local levy, Independents voted only for judges. Democrats had two contested races–House and Senate–at the top of their ticket, but only Boise Democrats saw contested legislative races.

There were Republican against Republican challenges in 28 of Idaho’s 35 districts.  

Democrats filed for only one-third of the county offices up for election and less than one-half of the legislative seats. Essentially, nearly 100 Republicans will be elected today.

Chances are that most were supported by only 15% of those eligible to vote in November.   

That might sound like business as usual, but Stephen Hartgen, a former five-term Republican legislator, noted that we are seeing a “sharp drop in Democratic Party competition statewide…some 20 percent fewer [legislative candidates] than in 2018.” 

A quick check found that Hartgen was right. 

In 2016 Democrats filed for 64 of 105 legislative seats; in 2018, 72; and this year, 56.

One might think that Idaho’s blue wave rippled and died, but it’s the vote in November that will count. 

Democrats now hold 20 legislative seats, up from 16 two years ago. 

Fifty-six candidates still give them lots of possibilities for gain.  

And if voters have been paying attention, Democrats will gain.  

For the Medicaid Expansion initiative to pass by 60% in 2018, one-third of Republican voters had to support it. Many Republican legislators didn’t care that the majority of their constituents supported expansion. They knew that the majority of those that voted for them hadn’t. They flaunted their opposition, passing a number of waivers to limit participation and complaining about paying 10% of the cost to insure thousands.  

They also passed a bill–later vetoed by Gov. Brad Little–to require future initiative petitions to get more signatures in more counties in half the time. 

In addition, they voted to prevent use of the millions in revenue from the new sales tax on online purchases for education or healthcare or infrastructure. They dedicated the money to tax relief–then failed to cut the sales tax on groceries or increase the homeowner’s exemption for property taxes.  

Certainly, some voters will remember in November. Will it be enough to make a difference?

That may depend on why Democrats have fewer candidates. 

If the number dropped because fewer activists were willing to invest time and effort, Democrats are in trouble. 

But it’s a different story if fewer Democratic candidates stepped forward because activists saw initiative petitions as offering more significant returns. We’d need to replace 20 or more incumbents to get the legislature to consider bills that would raise the minimum wage, improve school funding, or legalize medical mariuana. 

Successful bipartisan initiatives could bring those changes in little more than a year.

And might have–if the coronavirus shutdown hadn’t killed the petition drives. 

Now, I doubt these activists will choose to sit on their hands during this election–and they could make a huge difference in spreading candidates’ messages. 

We’ll see.  

Idahoans pressing on, but legislative hurdles persist

Coronavirus changed our world this week. Gatherings from children’s school concerts to national basketball finals were cancelled, toilet paper and hand sanitizers became precious commodities, and a deepening plunge in the stock market seemed a footnote compared to the tragedies we anticipate.

And, yet, people pressed on, doing what they felt needed done.  

On March 10 over 225,000 Idaho voters went to the polls to support their preferred presidential candidates. They passed 39 of the 41 school levies up for a vote, authorizing over $170 million in taxes including a whopping 10-year levy for more than $80 million for Pocatello-Chubbuck. Only Middleton and Swan Valley saw levies fail.  

And by the cutoff time last Friday, 219 candidates had filed for Idaho’s 105 legislative positions. 

Legislative races require a thick skin, hundreds of hours, and thousands of dollars, especially for challengers. Running is an act of bravery. 

Over 40 seats will see primaries among Republicans, but none will top Nampa’s six-way race for House Seat 13B.

Fifty-eight seats in 26 districts have both Democratic and Republican challengers.  Forty-seven seats have no Democratic contenders.    

And the legislature moved into high gear; more bills were enacted on March 9 and 10 than in the previous nine weeks.  With Idaho’s first coronavirus patient just across town and primary challenges just nine week away, members were motivated to adjourn.   

Some disputes were settled.          

The Senate State Affairs committee voted to let school districts continue to decide whether employees should carry guns. Members voted down SB 1384 which would have allowed employees with enhanced concealed carry permits to carry guns in schools. The majority felt that the permits were too easy to get, and untrained individuals with guns were dangerous.   

Some weren’t.   

The House Health and Welfare committee killed a bill to claim $8.5 million that counties previously paid for medical indigency and Catastrophic Health Care programs to help pay for Medicaid expansion. Members worried that changes to the law would mean some coronavirus victims would not get treatment. Within hours, however, a new bill was introduced that would take $12 million from the counties.  

And other disputes heated up.  

Both the House and Senate want to do something to relieve property taxes; the House favors freezing rates and requiring counties to cut their budgets; the Senate wants to increase the exemption for homeowners from $100,000 to $125,000. They’ve been engaging in parliamentary one-up-manship rather than compromise. 

And the House has recently killed four JFAC-approved budget bills.

Odds are that members rejected the Treasurer’s budget because Treasurer Julie Ellsworth has refused to move her department’s offices from the main floor of the Capitol Building so House members can have more office space. 

Budgets for the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, and higher education all exceeded the Governor’s recommendations.   

The higher education budget got additional criticism from those opposing inclusion and diversity programs at Boise State University.

According to Idaho Education News, Rep. Vito Barbieri said the House must “send the message that we do have a say on what is taught and we do have a say on who they are hiring, and for what purposes they are hiring.” (Barbieri has a Republican primary challenger, but no Democratic one this year.)  

Apparently, the paradigm of colleges and universities as diverse communities of  scholars is under challenge. Will Idahoans readily accept institutions of state-controlled indoctrination? 

Will we see four new budget bills drafted, pass through committees, and be accepted by a majority of members of both houses this week?

It’s possible–but we’ll see. 

Wow! Republicans worried about 2C Dem candidate!

As a Democrat, I was happy that some voters found a 30-year law that indicated there should be a runoff election for a city council seat if no candidate got a majority of the votes.  

Evangeline Beechler, chair of the Idaho State Democrats, was getting a second chance. 

What wasn’t there to like?

Then, came the postcards attacking Beechler for being a (gasp, ugh) DEMOCRAT. 

Attacks are like packing tape. Logic and facts may peel the tape off, but the adhesive that remains tarnishes the target and attracts dirt.   

  I’ve seen statewide candidates attacked, but, locally, the public voice of the Republicans has been civil. Sure, some vandals have slashed tires and made death threats,but the leaders have been courteous. 

Evangeline Beechler shaking hands with President Obama.
Republicans mailed this photo of Evangeline Beechler shaking hands with President Obama to thousands of voters.

Democrats who got the first postcards were confused–so Beechler was a friend of Obama and shared their support for the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. Very informative.    

But postcards that followed were worse, claiming Democrats had a “radical platform” and a threatening “secret agenda.”    

It wasn’t until the fourth postcard I grasped why Republicans were bringing the party’s weaponized national issues–immigration, abortion, and guns–to a city election.   

Republicans are treating a Canyon County Democrat as a serious rival for the first time during my time as an activist.  .

They are scared. 

For 30 years Caldwell has been safe territory for Republicans in partisan elections. Now, the histories of these two candidates–John McGee, once the Republican’s golden boy, against the Democrats’ state chair–made party loyalties an issue. 

Parties don’t have ready arguments dealing with issues like city services and recreation programs. 

But the Republicans have a backup plan. Nationally, the party has spent billions demonizing Democrats, aka liberals and progressives, through the years.   

It’s paid off in Idaho. Thousands of Idahoans who support public education and Medicaid Expansion continue to vote for Republicans who don’t. 

While Democrats are known for dithering, Republicans have found that repeating arguments forcefully over time, gains them a sense of authority that many accept, even it they are not in full agreement. 

So they attacked via postcard. 

 Yes,the ACLU is a liberal organization.  Ironically, its fight to prevent government infringement on individuals’ civil rights mirrors that of the NRA, only ACLU supports rights for a wide range of people, including minorities, women, the LGBT community and prisoners.  

 During the past two years, the ACLU has led the fight to stop the government from caging immigrant children and separating even toddlers and babies still breastfeeding from their parents.   

 That “radical platform” of the Idaho State Democrats supporting “abortion on demand” reads like this:  “We respect personal decisions that are private, including medical and reproductive decisions, religious practices, and political views,” and “we uphold an individual’s right to choose and their access to reproductive medical care.”

Democracy only makes sense if we trust people to make important decisions. 

And the Second Amendment Alliance suggested that since Beechler is a Democrat, she has a “hidden agenda” that threatens your guns.  

Both Caldwell and Nampa city councils have had Democratic members through the years and a bevy of Democrats govern Boise. Has anyone lost their guns?   

That “radical platform” of the Idaho Democrats asks only for scientific research on gun violence, universal background checks, and keeping guns out of the hands of convicted domestic abusers.  

Democrats share Idaho values.  

I don’t accuse all Republicans of wanting capital punishment for mothers who have miscarriages just because some Republican idiots in Kansas support it. Please stop claiming the most extreme Democrats represent all of us. 

Or do Republicans feel you can’t win without scary bogeyman issues?

Republican legislature fails Idaho voters

KTVB reported Friday that nearly 40,000 Idahoans signed up for Medicaid expansion in the first two weeks of enrollment. 

On January 1 they–and thousands still to sign up–will have assistance in meeting healthcare expenses.

For five years Idahoans who care pressed legislators to expand Medicaid coverage to the working poor. Then they got an initiative on the ballot and saw 61 percent of Idaho voters support expansion last November.  

Then, Republican legislators who never saw unnecessary deaths as a reason to act, passed limits to coverage–which have not yet been approved by Federal administrators–and made initiatives harder to pass–which Gov. Brad Little vetoed.

They did make it clear, however, that they don’t respect the voters’ opinions.  

Right now, Idaho citizens who care are gathering signatures for initiatives to raise the minimum wage, to increase school funding, and to legalize medical marijuana. 

And every petition, every knocked door, every signature, cries out that legislators are failing us. 

It’s been 10 years since Congress set the minimum wage at $7.25 an hour.  Since then, 31 states have adopted higher rates. Equivalent wage today would be $8.70 an hour (CPI Inflation Calculator). 

A 2015 poll by the Dan Jones’ firm found that 70 percent of Idahoans supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour. 

Yet, a bill cosponsored by Idaho’s Democratic legislators in 2017 died without discussion or hearings.  

The current initiative, circulated by Idahoans for a Fair Wage, would raise the wage to $8.75 on June 1, 2021 and, with annual increases, to $12 in 2024. 

The group makes a simple argument: the living wage in Idaho is almost $15 an hour, yet 40 percent of Idahoans earn less than $12 an hour.  

 Idaho Sen. Jim Rice (R-10) dismisses that reasoning. “It’s poor economic policy to do minimum wages. It’s a type of price control.”

Price control–like Idaho exerts on electricity, natural gas, and water companies (and the Federal government fails to exert on insulin)–is bad.  No need to rethink because Idaho workers are stuck in poverty.

Reclaim Idaho decided not to dismantle its organization of volunteers after getting Medicaid expansion enacted, but choose a new goal–adequate funding of education.   

In 2010, after the Great Recession hit, Idaho Republicans made the most drastic cuts in education funding in the nation so they could lower business taxes significantly. In recent years, some have approved additional funding, but not enough to keep class sizes reasonable or retain qualified teachers.

Reclaim Idaho is asking voters to increase the corporate tax to eight percent and put a surtax on earnings over $250,000 in order to send school districts an additional $600 per student. 

Similarly, Republican leaders and Idahoans are at odds over medical marijuana. 

 Idaho is one of only three states where CBD oil or hemp containing any amount of THC is illegal. Yet a poll by Idaho Politics Weekly indicated that 73 percent of Idahoans support legalizing medical marijuana. 

So now the Idaho Cannabis Coalition  is circulating a 27-page petition detailing the establishment of a registry of patients, caregivers, growers and agents who could use or possess medical marijuana.  

Each of the three initiative petitions requires that signatures of 55,057 legally registered voters–including six percent of the voters in 18 legislative districts–be submitted to Idaho Elections by May 1.  

If each volunteer got 100 signatures–and 85 of those were valid–the task would require over 2,000 volunteers.  

May all 2,000 then turn their efforts into defeating legislators who don’t listen and don’t care.

Idaho legislature: Perennial issues up front

by Judy Ferro

I’ve heard no Idaho legislature really gets to work until the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee presents a budget. Some make it sound like we could send everyone else home for three weeks.

Others point out each committee is now honing possible legislation and deciding whether to have public hearings before bringing bills to the floor.

Whatever, the news coming out of the legislature right now isn’t focused on the major legislation voters will remember at sessions’ end. Instead, some perennial themes are getting media attention.

Infighting between Republican centrists and extremists. Heather Scott’s slur against women in the Idaho legislature added some color to this year’s brouhaha—as did the description of her standing on her desk prying suspicious wires off the ceiling.

Calls for tax cuts. Idaho has the tenth lowest tax rate in the nation—and the potholes to prove it—but that doesn’t stop diehards from asking for massive cuts. Idaho Freedom Foundation put the bar at $200 million—a full $70 million more than the projected surplus. Legislators have talked of $45 million.

Kooky personal bills. This year’s winner for crazy abortion bill calls for criminal charges against every women who has an abortion. I imagine a prosecuting attorney’s nightmare would be arguing a case against a mother of three whose husband was just diagnosed with epilepsy or something equally career-maiming.

Perennial causes. Supporters of Add the Words Idaho earn the longevity award hands down.  The group is initiating its 11th campaign to get legislators to recognize that LGBT individuals deserve the same protections as other Idaho minorities.

The life-or-death award goes to those fighting for Medicaid coverage for the 78,000 Idahoans who don’t currently qualify because they have jobs, but don’t earn enough for subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Failure to cover them costs lives, drags down our economy, and costs the state and counties millions of dollars.

Adjournment date. Everyone know that March 24th is the predicted date? That’s can be important to those participating in office pools.

Meanwhile, two unknowns at the Federal level haunt those considering bills yet to be introduced.

One, will a Republican Congress now abolish the Affordable Care Act?

The Republican platform leaves no wiggle room: “To that end, a Republican president, on the first day in office, will use legitimate waiver authority under the law to halt its (ACA’s) advance and then, with the unanimous support of Congressional Republicans, will sign its repeal.”

The stage is set, but members of Congress are hearing from thousands of constituents who do not want to lose health care coverage.

Moreover, many counties and states can’t cover the skyrocketing hospital bills for indigent care if 18 million people lose their health insurance. Idaho’s Butch Otter was among nine governors who cautioned Congressional leaders last week about the economic calamities of full repeal.

Complicating matters more, President Trump has recently promised to give everyone better coverage at lower premiums. Republican Congressional leaders have been advocating personal responsibility and free choice, not better coverage.

The second unknown is the future Supreme Court. What difference will Trump’s nominee make? Certainly some legislators are sponsoring bills that clearly violate current interpretations of the Constitution and Federal law. They must be dreaming of appearances on national shows after the Supreme Court decides to decide challenges to “their” law.

Meanwhile, we can hope—and insist—that our legislators work for the best compromise they can under existing law.  If later changes require a special session, so be it