Lessons from Close Votes!

Idaho elections this month have underlined the importance of each and every vote.

Who would have dreamt that the Vallivue School District bond election would be so close?  The District was seeking approval for a $65.3 million primarily to fund a third middle school and renovation of the 50-year-old Vallivue Middle School building.

Vallivue’s request got one more vote than the two-thirds needed.

A friend who made it to the polling place within four minutes of closing is sure that she and her husband made the difference.  And I’m sure my daughter and I did–we just moved to the district last year.

The truth is that every “yes” voter made the difference–and hundreds of kids will benefit during future decades.

The Senate also had a close vote on the bill designed to make initiatives impossible in Idaho for any group without pockets deep enough to hire organizers to work simultaneously in counties across the state.

SB 1159 passed 18-17.

As much as it hurt to be on the losing side for such a close vote, I saw a thin silver lining. There are only six Democratic senators; eleven Republicans had voted to keep a system that makes it possible–though difficult–for dedicated Idahoans to get an initiative on the ballot.

And Sen. Jeff Agenbroad of Nampa was one of those no votes. That was surprising; Agenbroad, a banker active in the Chamber of Commerce, has been the kind of Republican that opposes the Affordable Care Act and wants the Federal government to cede public lands to the state.

I would have thought it more likely that Senators Patti Lodge or Todd Lakey would have voted no.

I decided to start a chart tracking Republicans who did support the voters.

Then a Facebook friend, Mike Savelle of Pocatello, suggested a different reality.

He sees the close vote not as a sign of division among Republicans, but as a strategy.  The Senate Republican caucus may have decided which members would vote for and against the bill.

Why? Because killing the initiative is unpopular with voters. If Republicans voted party line, Idahoans statewide could remember and react. So leaders gave a pass to 11 Republicans, especially ones whose seats might seem most in jeopardy, to vote with their constituents.

Savelle admitted that the 18-17 vote was the basis for his theory; if it had been 23-12, he too would have praised Republicans who voted with Idaho citizens.

Still, the thin silver line I’d seen faded–and the work required to evaluate where individual legislators stand expanded.

It’s not just how legislators vote that counts; it’s how willing they are to speak out.

I did find a new silver lining.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, a Republican from the Pocatello area, chided Republican legislators for not honoring the voices of citizens.  He said if legislators wanted more voters to have a say on initiatives, they should lengthen the time period allowed, not shorten it. He also pointed out that some states do require signatures from 10 percent of those voting recently, but none requires signatures from 10 percent of all registered voters.

Republican Sen. Fred Martin, Boise, also came down strongly on the side of voters this week. Facing the possibility that the House would not fund Medicaid expansion without restrictions, he introduced SB 1204 which includes only those conditions that would not delay or limit coverage for those in the gap. Included is a voluntary program to aid recipients return to work, which brought results in Montana.

There are legislators who listen to Idahoans rather than party.

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

Medicaid expansion & initiative process in peril?

“Voters serious about seeing insurance coverage for the ‘gap’ population would be wise to vote for legislators who agree” (Idaho Press, Oct. 16, 2018).

I wrote it once before the 2018 elections–I now regret not repeating it weekly.

Last November, in the privacy of the voting booth, Idahoans passed Medicaid expansion while electing legislators who opposed it.

We’ve known since then that it’d be a fight to get expansion through the legislature, but a second unexpected fight has erupted.

I feel many voters thought their representatives would, as Gov. Brad Little has, graciously accept the decision of the voters. Unfortunately, plenty are either openly opposing covering more people with insurance or mouthing support while undercutting the implementation of the bill.

Supporters of HB 249 know that Arkansas, the only state with a work requirement underway, found that the requirements added few people to the workforce. Ninety-eight percent of new Medicaid recipients were already meeting work requirements through the SNAP program; thousands of others failed to report and continue to rely on emergency medical services.

These legislators know the Feds have never approved anything like the waiver HB 249 would request that would include the gap population on the insurance exchange with 100 percent of subsidies paid by the Federal government. Just making the request could delay implementation most of a year.

And they know that no funds have been budgeted to cover the $1.5 million a year that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare estimates as the ongoing cost of the bureaucracy HB 249  would require.

In short, some legislators are working to add elements to Medicaid expansion that make  implementation impossible while claiming they are just being responsible and frugal.

Will they succeed in crippling  Medicaid expansion?

That’s the question many Idahoans have been asking since November.

What Proposition 2 supporters weren’t expecting was an attack on the initiative process itself.

Maybe we should have.  After the term limits initiative, the number of signatures needed to get a proposition on the ballot was increased to six percent of registered voters–or roughly 10 percent of those who actually vote.

After the Luna Laws were rescinded, the legislature required the total to include six percent of registered voters from 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts.

Now Sen. C. Scott Grow’s SB 1159 would not only require 10 percent of registered voters in 32 legislative districts, it would cut the time allowed to gather signatures from 18 to six months.

The weekly Inlander quotes Grow as saying, “Running a state government by voter initiative defeats the basic fundamental premise of the Constitution. We elect representatives and trust them with responsibility.”

The Senator can’t be referring to Idaho’s Constitution. It says, “The people reserve to themselves the power to propose laws, and enact the same at the polls independent of the legislature.”

Grow’s bill awakens the fight-or-flight response in me even though I believe it will never take effect. There’s a very real chance that Chair Patti Ann Lodge, district 11, will see it dies in the State Affairs Committee. The two bills to rescind Proposition Two failed in committee in spite of supporters asserting only representatives should have the right to make laws.

Even if the bill did pass both houses, it’s doubtful that Gov. Little would sign it or, if he did, that it would pass a court challenge.

Still, my blood pounds and my neck feels stiff.

We will have many more months of worry about the fate of Medicaid expansion if  HB 249 passes.

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

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.