County Fair & Candidates

After working at the Democratic booth at the Canyon County Fair last week, I thought I’d look over earlier writings about the fair and share the ups and downs over the years. .

Searching, I found thank yous to volunteers and summaries of data gathered, but nothing about the amazing moments that make great memories.

So I’ll settle for capturing a bit of this year’s experience.

This was the first year we had a straw pool for 20 Democratic presidential candidates.

Now we had a straw poll in 2008, but only eight candidates. Democrats stopping by the booth asked questions about the one or two they didn’t know–and I finally learned pronounce “Kucinich.”

This year people were more apt to stare at the pictures of lesser known candidates–perhaps trying to call up a memory–and finally shrug.

What they wanted to talk about was who they liked and who they thought had the best chance of winning–and they were seldom the same.

 Most obviously felt under pressure to do it right this time. A progressive will draw more Democrats to the poll; a middle-of-the-roader, more independents. Or not?

And don’t we need someone with experience?

 The straw poll gave volunteers an opening to invite people to watch the televised debates with other Democrats at 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday 30 July) and Wednesday.  (Tonight’s is at 111 N. 11th Ave in Caldwell; tomorrow’s, #204 inside Nampa’s First Street Marketplace, 1224 1st St.)

 The big draw at our booth, however, was the petition calling for a minimum wage question on a future ballot.

 Even people who started their working lives making $1 an hour stated it’d be hard to live on $12 an hour these days, much less the current minimum wage of $7.25. One man mentioned that 50 years ago he earned enough to pay his way through the College of Idaho; that’s impossible today. A woman spoke of her twin granddaughters’ struggles to afford a place to live.

Not everyone, however, supported an increase. One business owner seemed determined to see us take down the sign.  She said she couldn’t stay in business and pay her help $15 an hour. (The current initiative asks for $12 an hour during the fourth year.)  I could sympathize with her–some months my husband’s shop manager took home more than he did.

One volunteer’s answer was to ask when we should have stopped raising the minimum wage.  Would $6 be better? Four-fifty?

One woman on social security feared that prices would rise if workers earned more. She refused to believe studies indicated higher wages were more apt to bring greater business volume than higher prices

And a man who bid on nine homes before finally getting to the rise in Idaho’s home prices were caused by Washington’s minimum wage increase, Somehow, I doubt that the poorest Washington wage earners getting an extra dollar or two an hour–still not enough to afford an apartment–has pushed the price of Idaho houses up $40,000.

More likely, we’re seeing millionaires, finding stocks overpriced, grasping for profitable places to put their new tax refunds. I hope someone is doing a study.

Most Republicans ignores us, but some wanted to talk. This year a young man asked, “Why do people choose to be poor?”

They what?

Does anyone choose to be ill or lose a spouse or to raise their grandkids?

Some make obviously bad decisions, but I don’t know their thoughts. Were they choosing to be poor? To escape pain? Or did they never believe they could be addicted?

Thanks to all who stopped to talk–it’s good to know people are thinking.

Note this editorial by Judy Ferro published by Idaho Press – 2019

Politics: ALEC limits Idaho legislators

by Judy Ferro

At the recent District 10 town hall, an attendee asked the three legislators if they had accepted funds from ALEC, an organization commonly regarded as “the voice of corporate special interests.”

All three answered no (though Sen. Jim Rice did defend ALEC).

That would be significant if ALEC donated to candidates, but it doesn’t.  ALEC doesn’t reveal who it supports any more than it reveals its corporate members or the bills it writes.

It might be better if ALEC did operate that way; Idaho law would limit the organization’s donations to $2,000 per candidate per election.

But it’s ALEC’s 300 corporate members who donate.  A legislator who pushes ALEC bills through may get the nod that leads to donations and backing for higher office.

Indicators of an ALEC bills are it a) deals with issues few Idahoans care about, b) benefits corporations, c) is identical to bills in several states, or d) contains the clause “[insert name of state here].” (The latter did happen in another state.)

That bill to prevent Idaho cities from banning plastic bags and foam containers?  Utah has one just like it.  And aren’t those bags made from oil?  Probably an ALEC bill.

And the bills to support religious schools with taxpayer money and to allow charter schools to ignore teacher contract standards? ALEC bills to weaken public schools and teacher unions show up every session in states across the country.

Idahoans generally accept that our Republican legislators won’t increase the minimum wage or expand Medicaid during an election year.  Many assume they fear angrying voters.

            Yet, both a minimum wage increase and Medicaid expansion are backed by a majority of Idahoans, even the majority of Idaho Republicans.  You’d expect legislators to trumpet their support.

            Think about it—incumbents, who have a built-in advantage in elections—are shying away from bills popular with the voters.

Legislators’ refusal to take action makes sense, however, if they fear super corporations throwing megabucks into getting out the vote for a primary opponent.

Because of a leak five years ago, we know ALEC bills have included legislation a) allowing people to shoot those they fear (rather than the former rule—people that a reasonable person would fear), b) undermining unions and keeping wages low, c) suppressing the popular vote, d) controlling education, and e) siphoning taxpayer money off to their friends by privatizing services.

Privatizing is big. Idaho had troubles with a private prison that cut corners, lied about staffing, and mistreated prisoners, but, reportedly, things are far worse elsewhere.

Charter schools, once pushed as a means for masterful teachers to control teaching conditions, now rely on expensive canned materials and back laws to undercut teachers.

In some states, private companies have taken over highways, pocketed tolls until the roads deteriorated, and then dumped them back on the state.

And ALEC stands with insurance companies in opposing Medicaid expansion and insurance exchanges.

Idaho legislators know that the failure to expand Medicaid means that Idahoans will continue to die from treatable illnesses at the rate of one per day.  They know expansion is supported by a passionate public.  And they know expanding would save taxpayer money.

Does anyone really believe they accept Medicaid for those on welfare, but won’t cover workers because they fear the Feds will run out of money?

It’s easier to believe that legislators fear being replaced by amoral corporate puppets. It’s happened in states like Kansas, and the results have not helped anyone.

Idaho legislature: Minimum wage, Medicaid expansion Drama Continues

by Judy Ferro

I may seek the screenplay rights to the suspenseful drama now unfolding in the legislature.

It’s got comic relief. After voting to prohibit cities and counties from limiting the use of plastic bags and Styrofoam containers, Republicans were hopping to reconcile the proposed state dictate with their much-vaunted, though often ignored, support of local control.

Hey, States have pre-empted local control for decades—look at water quality and tax policies.

And —if we let cities make rules, we’ll have patchwork of policies.

(So Republicans are only pro-local control when it’s traditional and results in uniformity?)

A minor subplot adds both confusion and anguish. A bill to establish a maximum homeowner’s exemption and end the existing tie to the rise and fall of the average home price brought cries from assessors and realtors.

It will ultimately be a tax shift to the homeowners…

We didn’t even know this was coming. We’ve been blindsided.

But the focus then narrows to the life and death stuff—literally. Wednesday a crowd flooded four meeting rooms as a privileged dozen got to address extending Medicaid to 78,000 low income-Idahoans.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter spoke: “I think every Idahoan believes that when we see suffering, we have a moral obligation to do what we can to eliminate that.”

Jim Baugh of Disability Rights Idaho pleaded: “People with severe and persistent mental illness need more than primary care. They need specialty care, hospitalization, and they need coordinated care.”

Dr. Ted Epperly of Family Medicine Residency of Idaho confirmed: “This plan represents a tremendous opportunity to save Idaho taxpayer dollars…not to mention the greater reason to do this, which is saving and improving Idaho lives, [lives of those]…who fall into the coverage gap and, because of this, live sicker and die younger.”

Then a new hero takes center stage: Idaho Falls physician Kenneth Kress, director of critical care at Easter Idaho Regional Medical Center.

Speaking of Jenny Steinke’s death from asthma complications, Kress said, “I kept asking myself, how could this be? How…could I be seeing deaths and really damaging illness on a nearly daily basis as a result of failure to expand Medicaid…?”

“I could only come to one inescapable conclusion: that the Idaho Legislature is unfortunately responsible for those deaths. Our intransigence in failing to pass Medicaid expansion for the last three years has probably resulted in over 1,000 deaths in this state.”

He rejected the claim that Idahoans don’t want a federally-funded plan. “If that were true, I don’t think that we would see many in the Legislature accepting federal dollars for federal farm subsidies.” (A May 2011 article by Dustin Hurst revealed that Idaho legislators had received more than $4.3 million over 15 years.)

But the suspense does not end. Committee Chair Lee Heider said he would not call for a vote until the committee heard Gov. Otter’s healthcare proposal—which has yet to be submitted.

And, finally, an unexpected twist heightens the conflict. Rep. Mat Erpelding’s minimum wage proposal, last seen suffocating in Sen. Curt McKenzie’s desk, is alive and well as House Bill 400.

Yes, the House Ways and Means Committee, in spite of or because of McKenzie’s action, authorized printing of the minimum wage bill. Now another Nampan—Rep. Christie Perry—will decide whether this proposal, supported by 70% of Idahoans, will get a hearing.

Two bills, both supported by a majority of Idahoans, await high noon. Will either survive? The conclusion is yet to come.

Legislature: Minimum Wage Proposal Dead

by Judy Ferro

A proposal to increase the minimum wage in Idaho was introduced—and shot down—last week.

According to the Spokesman Review, Sen. Maryanne Jordan and Rep. Mat Erpelding, both Boise Democrats, proposed raising Idaho’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour on July 1, 2016, and to $9.75 a year later. “The minimum wage for tipped workers would rise from the current $3.30 an hour to $3.80 an hour…After that, both would be adjusted annually based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.”

Nampan Curt McKenzie, chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, blocked the printing of the bill. “I didn’t see any indication that this is an issue the governor’s office supports. I don’t believe that there are the votes in the Senate State Affairs Committee or in the full Senate or House, if it got there. I don’t think it’s supported by my constituents.”

Note “the constituents” did get a mention after the governor’s office and the legislature, but that’s subject to interpretation.

McKenzie admitted he didn’t actually know how his constituents felt, but “I don’t see this as an issue that my party, the Republican Party, general advances. My district has been consistently Republican…for a long time.”

So when McKenzie says “constituents” he doesn’t include the Democrats and independents in his district, he means “Republican Party” or, more accurately, the “Republican Party Establishment.”

I wouldn’t say that if McKenzie hadn’t dismissed a reporter’s reminder that the Republican rank-and-file support increasing the minimum wage. A Dan Jones & Associates poll last spring found that 56% of Idaho Republicans—and 70% of all Idahoans–favored a $10-an-hour minimum wage. Somehow, support by grassroots Republicans doesn’t carry much weight with McKenzie.

To understand just what a serious insult this is, consider that three proposals by Bonner County Republican Heather Scott. Republican members of the House Resources Committee found the bills baffling and amusing. Noting that one proposal would authorize fish and game check stations only to stop “licensed hunters and fishermen,” the committee chair questioned how anyone could tell if a car had licensed hunters inside. A fellow asked if this meant that poachers need not stop. A third said, “I’m not sure yet that I quite understand completely what it’s trying to communicate there.”

All three proposals are now printed bills. No one seemed concerned whether the Governor, a majority of the legislature, or the Republican Party Establishment supported them.

In sharp contrast to McKenzie’s actions, Lee Heider, chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, has scheduled a hearing tomorrow on Democratic senator Dan Schmidt’s proposals to expand Medicaid.

Medicaid reform is a dangerous “third rail” for many Idaho Republicans. Ultra-conservatives attacks on moderate Republicans who supported an Idaho insurance exchange under Obamacare indicate supporting Obama proposal could weaken the party’s moderates.

Yet, legislators recognize that something needs to be done. Rep. John Rusche said estimates are that we “have allowed (caused?) more than 350 preventable deaths in our low income population in the [last] 24 months.”

Gov. Otter is concerned enough that he is asking for $30 million to cover primary doctor visits for Idaho’s 78,000 uninsured members of working families. Medication, hospitalization, and specialists, e.g. eye doctors or orthopedists, would not be covered. Would this save 100 lives? Fifty? None? It’s anyone’s guess.

So kudos to Lee Heider for supporting discussion of Schmidt’s bills. It is a step in the right direction.

And, if you want to let Sen. McKenzie know how you feel about the minimum wage, you can call his office (208) 344-4379 or email him through http://legislature.idaho.gov/about/contactbyname.cfm.

Economy: Higher Minimum Wage Means More Jobs

by Judy Ferro

True or False: Increasing the minimum wage destroys jobs.

If you answered false, you have 600 economists agreeing with you.  That many joined in signing a letter saying it isn’t so and advising the Federal government to increase the minimum wage.

About 17 states have banked on the economists being right and have adopted higher minimum wages.  The Center for Economic and Policy Research studied the 13 states who raised the minimum wage in January 2014 and found each had higher employment growth.  Some of the highest growth was in Massachusetts, Vermont, Hawaii, Maryland, and Connecticut—all of which are phasing in increases putting their minimum wages over $10 an hour.

Washington State’s job growth has been above average for years as its minimum wage increased with the cost of living.  Last year the State had the nation’s highest increase in small business jobs.  That’s right.  Small businesses there are thriving even though they have to pay employees more.

Some argue that increasing the minimum wage makes it harder for teenagers to get a job.  Actually, that’s probably true for teenagers in our neighboring states who have to compete with all the Idahoans crossing the border to work. Montana’s minimum wage is $7.80; Nevada’s, $8.25; Oregon’s, $9.10; and Washington’s, $9.32.

Idaho, however, has long “protected” teen employment by allowing a lower minimum wage for them.  Right now, employers can pay those under 20 as little as $4.25 an hour during their first 90 days of employment.  There is no minimum wage for those under 16 who work part-time. Others that employers don’t have to pay $7.25 an hour include outside sales people, some farm workers, and some seasonal employees.

Restaurant wait persons receive just $3.35 an hour though the fine print says the employer has to pay more if tips don’t bring the wage to $7.25.

The proposed Idaho law would raise wages to $8.25 later this year and $9.25 in 2016.  An increase in 2017 would be based on the change in the consumer price index.

A higher wage not only means more money circulating in the community, it usually leads to less turnover and better morale.  That’s a great combination for business.  You have heard that Wal-Mart plans to raise the wages of 47% of their employees to $9 or more an hour this year?  Could they have noticed all the how great Costco and Winco are doing while paying good wages?  Gap and Ikea have raised starting wages; T.J. Maxx plans to follow suit.

Of course, it is not just minimum wage that needs raised in Idaho.  News last week indicated that our neighboring state to the southeast will be hiring a lot more engineers.  According to the Utah Technology Council, a survey of just 40 high tech companies showed “an immediate need” for 500 engineers. “By next year, those same 40 companies anticipate nearly 2,000 job openings.”

And our northwest neighbor is desperate for teachers.  Washington has instituted full-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes through the third grade, and new graduation requirements in science, world languages, and social studies.  The Spokane District alone plans on hiring 300 new teachers by next fall.

Can raising the minimum wage help us raise teacher salaries?  It should.  First, Idaho wouldn’t have to pay as much for various aid programs and for earned income tax credits.  Second, tax revenues should grow as the economy expands.

A higher minimum wage would even help more students graduate from college and keep Utah from draining all our engineers.