Idaho House Jumps the Rails

Last week the Idaho House jumped the rails and headed into brambles. 

This might be the historic moment when the extremists wrench power away from the mainstream Republicans–or not.  A similar peevishness upset three appropriation bills last year. 

What happened?  Well, usually bills pass in two ways.  Sometimes almost everyone is in favor of them–like the bills paying persons unjustly imprisoned and using COVID relief funds to help with utility and rent payments.  

Other times Republicans and Democrats are on opposite sides–like bills putting untrained teachers into classrooms and making it virtually impossible to get an initiative on the ballot.  

With Republicans holding 80% of the seats in the legislature, close votes are worth noting.

On Feb. 25 a bill from the Republican-led Health and Welfare Committee to fund Medicaid for the rest of this fiscal year came before the House. With layoffs due to COVID-19, more people have qualified for free or subsidized funding, and the amount budgeted last session isn’t going to be enough.

The 12 Democrats had no trouble supporting the funding. New enrollees had been accepted and promises made, the Federal government had upped its contribution, and surplus funds were available. 

But some Republicans simply don’t like Medicaid.     

The bill did pass, 37-31-2. But if three more Republicans had voted no, Idaho wouldn’t be paying Medicaid bills for months. 

The naysayers were close to victory–and they recruited.    

On March 2 the House voted 34-36 to refuse a Federal grant for early childhood education. This grant was awarded by the Trump administration and supported by Idaho’s U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, Gov. Brad Little, and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. 

Yet only 22 Republicans voted for the bill; thirty-six did not. They didn’t want three- to five-year-olds indoctrinated with a ‘social justice agenda’ or mothers rushing out to get jobs because their children were at the library or preschool for three hours. 

On March 3 the same coalition defeated a bill to fund the Catastrophic Health Fund for the remainder of this fiscal year. As SB 1081’s sponsor, Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, pointed out, the $6 million appropriation was for bills “due and payable” under current law. Four senators opposed it–and 35 representatives. 

Then, on March 5 the House voted down the appropriation for the Attorney General’s office (HB 271). 

This office does tell legislators when bills they propose are unconstitutional; right now it opposes SB 1110 making it virtually impossible to get initiatives on the ballot. The House had already voted 54-15-1 to allow all state agencies to hire their own lawyers at three to eight times the cost of going through the Attorney General’s office (HB101).

Still, an attorney general is required by our constitution and elected by popular vote, just like the governor and secretary of state. There must be a budget or legislators can’t go home.  

Do the extremists now outnumber the mainstream Republicans? 

Well, representatives killed the attorney general’s budget last year simply because they wanted it cut two percent. It was more a bargaining ploy than a real rebellion.  

And the naysayers include Mike Moyle, majority leader of the House for 15 years. Does Moyle have a plan or is he just protecting his position by siding with the new majority?

Fifteen of the 35 naysayers are from Ada and Canyon counties. Those from Ada are DeMordant, Ferch, Harris, Holtzclaw, Monks, Moyle, Palmer and Vander Woude. Those from Canyon districts are Adams, Boyle, Crane, Kerby, Nichols, Skaug, and Yamamoto. 

Perhaps you can ask them what’s going on?   

Politics has its own March Madness 

March Madness isn’t restricted to basketball–clearly not in an election year..

Just over a week ago Democrats had six strong contenders for

president–four men and two women, four old and two young, four moderate and two progressive.

In a matter of days, four contenders dropped out. Now, many Democrats are trying to work up enthusiasm for Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, even as they mourn what ‘might have been’ with Pete or Amy or Michael or Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, the coronavirus continues to spread, particularly in western Washington. Fortunately, Congress has rushed through fundin

g which includes $4 million for Idaho programs. Bring on the experts–please.  

 And the legislature is on a roller coaster going from wise to foolish and back again.

Wise. Tuesday House Democrats joined with moderate Republicans to defeat a bill which would have limited who may be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to report child abuse.

Where does such a bill come from? Has anyone complained that too many people are being charged?

Foolish. But Democrats couldn’t stop the House from passing HB

 525 blocking all state agencies from funding any services from Planned Parenthood–cancer tests, birth control, counselling, whatever. (Three gutsy Republicans did vote against the bill._  

Wise. Then Thursday the House passed a bill sponsored by Ilana Ruble requiring landlords to give tenants at least 30 days notice before raising the rent or not renewing a lease.

Foolish. The House defeated a second bill that would have required landlords to give tenants a list of charges made against their security deposit. Apparently, repairmen of all stripes may itemize for over half a dozen customers a day, but such transparency is too onerous for landlords.

And the House Education Committee came up with a double whammy.  Firs

t, it sent a letter to the Department of Education detailing the changes they want in curriculum standards, e.g. more ‘uplifting’ literature and more pros about fossil fuel consumption. I don’t think they’ll be happy until standards of the 1950s are revived.

Worse, the committee submitted–and the House passed– a bill to allow nonpublic colleges and universities to offer minimal teacher preparation programs. HB599 would force the Department of Education to grant teaching certifications to graduates of any nonpublic education program requiring a bachelor’s degree and ‘content and pedagogical’ training, whatever that entails.

Former legislatures have passed bills allowing charter schools to use non-certified teachers and college graduates with only six-weeks as a teacher’s aid to be treated as the equivalent of educators with master’s degr
ees. Now HB 599 will allow Ricks College to graduate certified teachers even if its program doesn’t measure up to that required of Boise State. (I don’t think NNU or the C of I have asked for changes.)
And the madness isn’t over.
 Next week the Senate will hold hearings on HB 487 which would require a ‘negotiated rulemaking process’ to set penalties for misuse of pesticides and ‘chemigation.’ Who is to negotiate is unclear, but the Marsing Agricultural Labor Sponsoring Committee sounds certain that workers aren’t being included.

“If this bill passes, we are shouting to our work force that we do not care about them as human beings.  We must do everything possible to make sure Idaho agriculture is safe for everyone involved.”

Now that we’re using faster-acting chemicals than ever, we’ll regulate them less?


 This is the final week of filing for legislative seats. By Saturday every incumbent will know if he or she will be challenged from the right or the left–and the pace of legislative voting will speed up.

A Republican’s Republican needs replaced

I imagine President expected praise for getting 1,000 American troops out of the way of a Turkish attack into Syria. It looked so good, he didn’t ask generals–or Republican leaders–what they thought.   

He seemed unaware that he’d agreed to a Turkish massacre of the Kurds the U.S. was counting on to guard 11,000 ISIS prisoners–and that Russians were waiting to occupy our major military bases.  

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told the President he strongly disagreed with his actions; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called it the worst decision of Trump’s presidency. 

And 129 Republicans in the U.S. House, including Idaho’s Mike Simpson, voted for a joint resolution opposing the troop pullback and asking the White House for a plan for “an enduring defeat” of ISIS.

Idaho’s First District Congressman Russ Fulcher voted no.  At a town hall in Lewiston, he said he felt “angst” over the situation, but agreed with the President’s decision to get out.  

I hadn’t paid much attention to Rep. Fulcher. I imagined that, like other Republicans representing Idaho’s First District, he was a standard cookie-cutter party man. 

Fulcher’s website seems to bear this out. It cites the deficit as a major danger, but calls for more tax cuts. “The deficit is caused by a spending problem, not a problem of taxing too little.”  

It claims 10 “patient-centric alternatives” will provide better health insurance than the Affordable Care Act.  Yet, many are items, like Health Savings Accounts and wellness programs, which are already available.

And, of course, it mentions that he is against gun regulation and abortion.  

According to Politico, Fulcher has voted with Republican leadership 92.9 Elephant, Cartoon, Sittingpercent of the time. He voted with them to oppose the Violence against Women and the Paycheck Fairness acts. He voted against them mainly when they supported increasing the debt ceiling. (That’s not uncommon when a Republican is president. 

But Fulcher had made headlines by opposing leadership during his first month in Congress.

With the President hinting at abandoning NATO, the House passed a resolution stating that the U.S. should remain a “member in good standing” of NATO. It passed 357-22. 

Fulcher cast the first no vote. He felt that pledging to pay our dues would limit the President’s options.

Fulcher is definitely a Republican’s Republican.  

Yet, there are times when he goes a step farther and insults the intelligence of Idaho voters  

Recently, Fulcher told a Lewiston audience that China provides the lead in their pencils. But the “lead” in pencils is actually carbon. Besides, the U.S. meets much of its lead needs through recycling–plus we’re the world’s third largest lead producer.  

 Fulcher has repeatedly stated that individual health insurance premiums in Idaho were $1,915 “prior to Obamacare” and have since reached $5,267.

A quick check reveals that in 1999, more than 10 years “prior to Obamacare,” the average U.S. premium was nearly $2,200.  It was $5,500 in 2010 when Congress passed Obamacare.  

Now,some may believe Idaho is “behind the times,” but 70 percent cheaper?   

And Fulcher has pleaded for repeal of the estate tax because family farms can’t pay it and survive.  But the tax only applies to estates over $11 million and “family farms” incorporate long before becoming worth that. 

Three Democrats have announced they’re running in Idaho’s  2020 Senate election. Would someone please step to run in our First Congressional District?  

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.