Do you and your legislator agree? Part 2

There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect. 

Okay, that is straight out my last column–but there’s more that needs said. 

You see, Medicaid expansion, voter initiatives, local option taxes, and adequate education funding aren’t the only issues where the majority of legislators disagree with the majority of their constituents.  

A survey by Colorado College for Conservation Voters of Idaho indicates 60 to 80% of Idaho voters want something done about issues our legislators ignore: public lands and climate change.    

Access to some public lands has been blocked by wealthy owners of private lands who have closed decades-old roads. After the 2018 legislature passed some serious penalties for trespassing on private land–a third offense could bring a year in jail and a $10,000 fine–families that had gathered for years on lands no longer accessible don’t want to risk charges; they want it made clear that the unauthorized blockages are illegal. The House Committee on Resources and Conversation voted 8-7 to refuse to accept a bill; the Senate committee accepted one but never voted on it.  

 A search indicates that S1317 is the only bill concerning ‘public lands’ printed by the legislature in 2019 or 2020. That may be an improvement over years when legislators were determined that the state take over Federal public lands that there was no way we could maintain, but is no harm the best we ask for?     

 On climate change Colorado College found that over 70% of those polled want the Governor to have a plan to reduce carbon pollution and nearly 60% would like Idaho to transition to 100% clean energy by 2050. 

In March 2019 a House committee held Idaho’s first official hearing on climate change.  Representatives from Hewlett Packard and the Idaho National Laboratory said that we have ample clean energy resources and it is essential we act.  BSU faculty shared what’s happening to agricultural yields, water supplies, and fire damage.   

Rep. John Vander Woude expressed disappointment that so little was known about how change would impact Idaho.And House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding introduced a concurrent resolution to create an interim committee to study what Idaho needs to be doing.  

The resolution failed. And climate change did not come up in the 2020 session. 

Idaho has no plan to deal with climate change and no committee working on one.  

I don’t know of other polls, but voters frequently mention other issues they feel the current legislature isn’t handling well.

Property tax reductions. Even with a homeowner’s exemption, property taxes now cost more than a month’s income for many, especially with over $200 million of school supplemental levies added to the mix. The Senate passed SB1417, but the House didn’t vote on it.     

Minimum wage. Idaho has a greater percentage of workers earning less than $12 an hour than any other state. Four of the six states bordering Idaho have minimum wages higher than $7.25 an hour. No bill was introduced in 2020.   

Legalized industrial hemp. There are 1500 licensed hemp growers in Oregon, 2300 in Colorado, and 0 in idaho. Idaho and Mississippi are the only two states where hemp with less than 0.3% THC cannot be legally grown, processed, or transported.  SB1345 was passed by the Senate, but the House did not vote on it.

Republicans hold 80% of the seats in the Idaho legislature. They not only control what gets passed but also what gets discussed. One-party government is not good regardless of what party dominates.  

Public Lands: Keep them public

Judy Ferro    [Published by the Idaho-Press-Tribune on Aug. 11, 2014]

August is wildfire season, and this year is no exception. A recent AP article states “some 30 large fires are burning their way through federal and state forests in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.”  Drought-stricken California is suffering the worst with 209 square miles burned so far, 44 percent higher than usual for early August.

Budgeted firefighting funds will run out by the end of the month.  Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack is asking for another $615,000 for this year and next. Some are suggesting that wildfires be funded through federal agencies that deal with floods and hurricanes.

Perhaps that’s why advocates for taking over Federal lands have been quiet all week. .

Not that wildfires deter them.  They claim Idaho would act so responsibly that wildfires would no longer be a problem. I’ve heard one zealous advocate say, “Once we cut the trees, the fires will go away.”  The movement’s leaders, however, stick to the vaguer language of Article X of the Idaho Republican platform:  “The Idaho Republican Party believes…we need to limit and reduce the amount of land owned or administered by the federal government. We believe Idaho should manage and administer all state and federal lands.

Right now the Feds give counties $58 million each year to compensate for timber cutting, an amount that nearly equals the estimated $50 to $75 million made from the sales.  They spend another $390 million or so annually managing lands within Idaho’s borders.

So Idaho’s Republican leadership wants to rid the Federal government of this burden and rely on “better management” to fund management.  By early July the legislature’s Federal Land Task Force, headed by Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep, Lawerence Denney, had spent $41,726 for a lawyer to search for grounds to sue for Federal government lands, grounds which our Attorney General’s office has concluded do not exist.

And House Speaker Scott Bedke is spearheading a drive to combine the efforts of seven western states in wresting lands from the Feds.

I’m surprised ranchers aren’t speaking out on this issue.  In 2013 the Federal rate was about $1.35 per animal unit month; Idaho charged $15.50.

I’d expect to hear more, also, from those who benefit directly from the $6.3 billion in sales generated by outdoor recreation in Idaho.  Speaker Bedke has bluntly stated that we will not be selling state lands.  The position of other Republicans, however, is less clear.  While serving in the U.S. House, Butch Otter co-sponsored a bill to sell Federal lands to pay for New Orleans hurricane relief.

Otter’s position is close to that of the sample legislation from the corporate-financed American Legislative Exchange Council:  BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, to the extent that the Public Lands Commission determines through a public process that any such land should be sold to private owners, that…5% of the net proceeds shall be paid to the Permanent Fund for the public schools and 95% of the net proceeds should be paid to the national government to pay down the national debt.

 That’s right, 95% of funds to the Federal government.  The concern here is not so much that the lands benefit the state, but that they are privatized.

The Cato Institute, another Koch brothers’ creation, calls for selling surface, water and mining rights separately. The surface rights could be sold to a coalition of private citizens planning to camp and fish there, while the water rights go to a coalition of ranchers, and the mining rights to a corporation.

The single poll I have seen say over 70% of Idahoans oppose the land transfer.  Apparently, that isn’t deterring Republican political leaders.  They are convinced that two-thirds of Idahoans will continue to vote for them.

Elections: Woodings can save us

Judy Ferro    [Rejected for publication]

Holli Woodings may not look like the Lone Ranger, but that’s the role she’s been called upon to play this year. You know the scenario: the cattle baron and his ranch hands run roughshod over the citizens and drive out one, two, three challengers. Things look bleak. Then the music stills, and a silent hero, calm and fearless, rides into the fray.

            Over nine legislative terms, including three as Speaker of the House, Lawerence Denney has developed major political clout.  In May he defeated three other candidates for the Republican nomination for Speaker of the House, including Phil McGrane.  McGrane, a law school graduate who has worked with Ada County elections for years, shares Ben Ysursa’s philosophy: Never forget who you work for – the people; and that transparent, fair, and efficient elections have no room for partisanship.” 
            Now the fate of Idaho elections depends on Woodings. As a principle in a family business, a Democratic legislator, and a mother of two, Woodings didn’t really need new challenges.  Yet, she foresaw the danger of a Denney victory and rode to challenge him.            
            What is so bad about Denney? 
            Two things:  he will sell public lands to wealthy investors, and he values partisan gain over the democratic process.
            Admittedly, no Idaho Republican has ever said they fight to control our national forests so they could sell them.  No, they claim the millions to be made from selling timber would spark our economy.  But the numbers don’t add up.   For one thing, the $58 million the Feds now give counties to compensate for timber cutting nearly equals the estimated $50 to $75 million to be made timber sales.  The Feds also spend about $392 million managing lands within Idaho’s borders.  In fact, some U.S. Representatives are arguing that states should HAVE to take over public lands within their borders. 
            So Denney and allies are either figuring Idaho has $350-$400 million lying around to spend on managing former Federal lands or they plan on selling the land.    
            As co-chair of the legislature’s committee on federal lands, Denney and co-chair Dick Winder hired a private attorney to work on the Federal land issue at a cost to Idaho taxpayers of at least $41,000.  Other committee members were not informed of the action, much less asked to approve it.
            And Denney has two black marks concerning elections.  While founder and sole director of Victory Fund, he raised funds from Republican legislators which were used to fund their uber-conservative challengers.  Denney claimed he’d given the funds to the Gun PAC and was totally unaware who would receive the money.  Other Republicans, however, rejected his argument and defeated him as Speaker of the House.
            Denney was also active in the fight to close Republican primaries.  Thanks to him, independents are barred from voting in the primaries and each voter’s party affiliation is announced at the polls.  The number of primary voters is lower than ever.      
            For the 45 years Pete Cenarrusa and Ben Ysursa have served Idaho’s State Department, Idahoans have benefitted from competent administration dedicated to fair elections. Now, with Denney in the running, there is already talk of ending same-day registration and early voting. 
            And I can’t imagine Denney successfully handling the 2012 primaries where new district and precinct lines were still being just before absentee voting started.  For all his experience shaping public policy, Denney has very little practical experience in administration.
            So, hold your breath while the music stills and the challenger rides to battle. 

Politics: Idaho Republicans split

by Judy Ferro

There’s an old saying among Democrats—and perhaps among Republicans also—that when the opposition shoots itself in the foot, it’s best to stay out of range.   So, generally, I’ve had little to say about Republican primary elections.

This presents a problem for a liberal columnist:  The Democratic primaries lack drama.   Sure, we have a contested seats–some guy from New York is again seeking nomination for an Idaho U.S. Senate seat—but most of the contests are between people who’ve been in public service and political activities for years and someone I’ve never heard of.  Only in the race for Boise’s District 16, seat A, do we have two hardworking Democrats with active supporters battling it out—John McCrostie, a leader of the battle against the Luna Laws, and Jimmy Farris, the impressive and capable former Congressional candidate—and I haven’t heard any disagreement on issues in that race.

On the other hand, Republican primaries throughout Canyon County offer sturm and drang.

The turmoil over the Republican nomination for House Seat 10B has been an interesting diversion, but now it’s clear that Republican primary voters may vote for Greg Chaney, who has stated his intent to withdraw, or the two write-in candidates, Brian Bishop and Kent Marmon, but their votes aren’t likely to decide the matter.  District 10 precinct captains will select a replacement for Chaney.

No, the real contests are between Conservative and uber-Conservative candidates.

As an outsider looking in, I see two issues identifying these opposing forces—the Idaho insurance exchange and public lands.

Uber-Conservative candidates regard Obamacare as contaminating anyone who came within an arms length of supporting an Idaho insurance exchange.  So what if, as Sen. John Rusche estimates, the nearly 50,000 Idahoans enrolled through the exchange are paying a total $2.4 million less than if we’d had only the Federal exchange?   Uber-conservatives would prefer that all 50,000 were left uninsured—along with those with pre-existing conditions and kids over 18 who are now included on their parents’ policies.  (Liberals like myself, who like to see people make use of preventive care, are unhappy with Conservative legislators for failing to help insure the 80,000 Idahoans who qualified for extended Medicaid.)

The differences on the public land issue are more subtle.  Uber-Conservatives believe that getting possession of lands now held by the Federal government is the panacea for all of Idaho’s economic woes.  It may cost the Federal government millions to fight fires in our forests, but Idaho won’t have all that expense once we get all those trees logged.  Conservatives, on the other hand, support the Republican platform plank stating that Idaho forests should be used for “livestock grazing, timber, wildlife, improved air quality, recreation, mining and all other beneficial forest uses.” Fracking on public lands seems okay with both.

Apparently, the difference is that uber-Conservatives believe Idaho can regain ownership of the land while mainstream Conservatives will settle for exploitation of the natural resources.

So registered Republicans will soon be allowed to decide between bad and badder managers of our health insurance and our public lands.

No, I’m happy not voting in the Republican primary.  Of course, those of us in Districts 10 and 12 have a full slate of Democratic legislative candidates to support.  (Heidi Knittel has filed as a Democratic write-in for District 12 Senate.)  Those in Districts 11 and 13, however, will see their representatives chosen in primaries that are closed to many.

Voters now registered as “unaffiliated” may change their party affiliation at the polls.  The deadline for those registered with the Democratic or Constitutional or Libertarian parties to change passed weeks ago.  We’ve got to make our voices count in November.