Politics: A Dem State-of-the-State

In a few hours Gov. Otter will unveil his agenda for Idaho’s 2015 legislative session. Most of us will be pleased by some items and upset by others. Last year’s refusal to recommend needed educational funding still rankles me. Fortunately, the legislature gave education more than lip service.

I generally hope for the best possible agenda from a conservative governor who faces fierce opposition from the right wing of his party.

Down deep, however, I yearn for actions that would truly be the best for the people of Idaho. Here is what I’d like to hear the Governor say.

We may take four major steps to save taxpayers’ money and stimulate the economy.

First, we will stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits for purely political purposes. The Supreme Court will rule on same sex marriage based on lawsuits brought by individuals in Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana without Idaho’s help. Our task force rightfully concluded that Idaho can’t afford to manage these federal lands because, unlike in Utah, our lands don’t have oil reserves to exploit. And Obama’s executive order on immigration doesn’t differ enough from dozens of similar orders by previous presidents to expect the courts to change it. That’s up to Congress.

Second, we will save taxpayer money by staffing the Tax Commission enough to ensure adequate enforcement of tax laws and by expanding Medicaid to cover those who don’t make enough to benefit from the Affordable Care Act. The latter will not only save lives, but will reward, rather than punish, people for being employed. In addition, we will work to get Federal approval of a school broadband contract that is not biased toward my campaign donors.

Third, now that nearly half the states have raised their minimum wage above $7.25 an hour without economic catastrophe, Idaho will plan for annual increments that will allow one person with a full-time job to pay for basic food, rent and transportation for two people. Idaho taxpayers must stop subsidizing the labor costs of profitable businesses.

Fourth, we will heed the opinion of over 70% of Idahoans and “add the words” to extend basic rights to housing and employment in spite of sexual orientation and gender identity.

There are also four areas in which we must invest money for the future: education, infrastructure, jobs, and justice.

We must bring our public school funding per student up to pre-recession levels before we concern ourselves with major changes. We want schools to remain focused on education young people rather than on filing reports. We will continue to listen to parents and educations as we work to prioritize the Educational Task Force recommendations.

We must find the $300 million necessary to maintain our roads and bridges. We will recommend increases in gasoline taxes, vehicle license fees, and use of general funds in order to spread the burden. Remember, this measure will add jobs that stimulate the economy as well as protecting the state from lawsuits resulting from continued negligence.

We must work with private companies to provide the workforce development and technical education to make hiring here more attractive. We will also invest in university laboratories and research; they are business incubators. We will encourage continued expansion of wind and solar power generation.

We must continue to improve our justice system by providing an effective public defender system and providing basic treatment for substance abuse and mental illness.

And, finally, we must find a way to give state employees a 3 percent pay increase.

Join with me in working toward a more prosperous Idaho.

Elections: Liberal initiatives and conservative victors

The more I review 2014, the more confused I am about the Idaho voter.

I could never plan a future campaign; I can’t even make sense of past ones.

America’s 50 states have different issues, different economies, different personalities involved, and different election laws. You’d think analysts could study the effects of different variables and come up with workable theories concerning cause and effect.

One established theory is that a bad economy is bad news for the incumbent party. That could, however, be the party controlling the presidency, the Congress, or the statehouse. And economy could mean prices, jobs, wages, the stock market and more. So Idahoans might look at their nearly last place ranking in wages and per capita income and vote for a new team to deal with the state economy. Or they might look at nationwide improvements in employment numbers and consumer confidence and vote with the national administration.

Voters in Idaho did neither. So, rather than dismiss the theory, pundits posit that voters compared family incomes with the higher ones in 2001 and voted against the national administration. But wouldn’t it have made more sense to compare incomes with the lower ones in 2009?

Another theory is that negative campaigning works even though everyone says they dislike it. . If it does nothing else, it keeps some would-be supporters from showing up at the polls. Well, something is discouraging potential voters, but I can’t point to an Idaho election where negative campaigning determined the outcome.

And issues don’t seem to be a deciding factor either. This month’s Hightower Lowdown points out that 2014 voters often supported progressive Democratic issues while voting for Republican candidates.

Four states—Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—voted for a higher minimum wage and elected Republican senators who opposed it. Arkansas passed a proposal for an $8.50 minimum wage by 65% while rejecting a Democratic incumbent senator in favor of a “right-wing, Koch brothers’ Republican.”

Alaskans not only voted for a higher minimum wage, but also to prohibit future mining projects that would endanger wild salmon habitat and for full-legalization of marijuana. Still, they elected Republicans to the U.S. Senate and House.   Their new governor is NA (non-affiliated); no Democrat ran for that position.

Floridians voted overwhelmingly to dedicate about $1 billion a year in real estate taxes to the protection of water in the Everglades and other areas and 58% of them supported medical marijuana. They still re-elected Gov. Rick Scott, who opposed both measures.

In Wisconsin “Koch-financed governor” Scott Walker pulled off a re-election victory even as 12 local elections approved measures stating that corporations did not have constitutional rights and money is not speech.

It’d be easy to conclude that voters are confused, but few things in politics are that simple. People may actually be progressive on environmental issues, libertarian on moral ones, and vote Republican to protect their gun rights.

Idaho Democrats tend to recruit and nominate centrist candidates that represent the broad moderate bases of both parties. We endorse progressive initiatives dealing with education, but avoid more controversial ones. Supporters of a minimum wage increase couldn’t get the needed signatures.  Only Republicans and Libertarians have come out in support of medical marijuana. Initiatives opposing anonymous corporate money in politics or promoting conservation issues are seldom discussed.

Nominating centrists and avoiding divisive issues may be the best route, but it hasn’t brought Idaho Democrats a lot of victories. The Hightower analysis suggests that strong advocacy of progressive issues doesn’t work for candidates either.

Maybe the voters aren’t confused, but I definitely am.

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.

Economy: Higher Minimum Wage Raises All Ships

by Judy Ferro

Higher minimum wage means more jobs?

Does raising the minimum wage result in fewer jobs?

Intuitively, it’d seem simple math that a business that could afford to pay $30 an hour in wages could hire four people at $7.50 an hour, but only three at $10 an hour.

The economy, however, has a lot more variables than this simple math.  A wage increase puts more money in circulation and brings in more business which makes it possible to increase the amount spent on wages and results in more hiring.

More hiring?

That’s what two recent reports indicate.

Washington has the highest state minimum wage in the country at $9.32 an hour and average job growth 60% above the national average over the last decade.

That’s $9.32 an hour for both regular and tipped employees.  Idaho’s minimum wage is $7.25 for most, but only $3.35 for tipped workers.  Yet, there’s a McDonald’s twenty feet from Idaho’s border.  An upscale restaurant that failed to get an exemption from Washington’s minimum wage made a big show of spurning Spokane—and built there two years later.

A study of counties along the Idaho-Washington border found that job growth was as high or higher on the Washington side.

But many suspected Washington was a special case.

Until San Jose released its statistics.

San Jose adopted a $10 minimum wage, about a $2 raise, in March 2013.  By December, unemployment had dropped from 7.6 percent to 5.8 percent.

The number of businesses in the city grew from 75,000 to 84,000 in spite of the fact that one locating just a few miles away could pay workers $2 an hour less.

Unemployment decreased.  The number of businesses grew.  About $100 million was added to the economy.

Now political leaders all over California—Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Berkeley, Davis, Richmond, and others—are considering raising their city’s minimum wages.  San Francisco already has, as have Albuquerque and Santa Fe in New Mexico and Federal Way in Washington.

Connecticut has just passed a bill that will raise its minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by 2017.

Unfortunately, Idaho’s leaders prefer to stick with simple math.  They don’t understand increasing demand as an economic tooll.

Their answer to an economic slowdown–cut wages.

During the recession, Idaho made some of the deepest payroll cuts in the country.  When a little money was first available, it went to tax decreases.  We now have one of the lowest combined tax rates of any state.

And the second highest percent of workers earning minimum wage.  (Tennessee just knocked us out of first place.)

We’ve succeeded in attracting cheap businesses that can survive only because tax dollars subsidize their workers with food stamps, Medicaid, free school lunches, etc.

Idahoans should consider a higher minimum wage.  Montana’s minimum wage for both hourly and tipped employees is $7.80; Nevada’s, $8.25; and Oregon’s $9.10.

Those laws didn’t just drop from the sky.  Workers agitated for change.  They backed politicians that believed in a living wage, or they passed initiatives.  They actually regarded a living wage as important to families and communities.

Idaho’s current initiative to raise the minimum wage will likely die April 15 for lack of signatures.  (See www.raiseidaho.com.)

We could start a new initiative.  We could work for legislative candidates committed to a higher minimum wage.

Or we could just cross our fingers and hope.

Your choice.