Idaho Politics: The Week with Everything–legislature, primary, filing and rally!

by Judy Ferro

The political season is in full swing this week.  The Idaho legislature, now approaching its  50th day, is awash with issues, major and minor.  Tomorrow, Idahoans who support the Republican or Constitution parties will vote for their presidential candidate.  Candidates for legislative and county positions must file for the May primary by closing time Friday.  And Saturday, Idahoans will get an indication of how serious “the Bern” has hit the state.

I know some don’t see the importance—or the fun—of all this, but others are working long hours to advance issues and candidates they care about.

More than 425 bills have been accepted for printing this legislative session.  About 30 have become law; five have failed.  That leaves about 390 bills bouncing around the legislature.

According to Lewiston Tribune columnist Bill Spence, 23 more bills have been sent to the Ways and Means Committee to die. Nineteen of these bills were sponsored by Democrats, including the Hire Idaho Act that would give Idaho businesses a 5% advantage on state and local contracts; Rep. Sue Chew’s bill to ease ‘Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility requirements in Idaho, which are the second-most restrictive in the nation”; and a bill to create an inspector general’s office to “investigate complaints of government fraud, waste, and abuse.”

Still, nearly 370 bills are alive and kicking.  Many get little attention while a few provoke heated debate and headlines, e.g. the bills to permit teachers to use the Bible as a reference book and to require doctors to give women seeking abortions a state-prepared list of places to get ultrasounds. (Both laws are largely symbolic and will probably change even less than the minuscule income tax cut sought this year.)

No doubt, Tuesday’s presidential primary for the Republican and Constitution parties will garner more public interest than the legislature.  Will Idaho Republicans choose Donald Trump or reject his racism and narcissism?  School bond issues are at stake in some parts of the state, but not in Canyon County.  Wisely, districts have held votes during elections which drew Democrats and Independents, as well as Republicans.

Candidate filing is equally—or perhaps more—important in shaping Idaho’s political future. Soon after the Secretary of State’s office closes Friday, legislators will know who will run against them in May and November.  There is a slim chance that the right combination of legislators will be without far-right opposition in May and step up to support Medicaid expansion.

I can’t blame legislators for letting the competition determine their actions.  Who gains if a compassionate representative sticks his neck out and gets guillotined?  Not only does the representative lose, but others become even warier about sticking their necks out.  A legislator that postpones acting may be able to convince a few others to support the bill next year when an election isn’t looming.

Knowing this, though, doesn’t keep me from being impatient, even angry, at legislators who know the right thing to do, yet fail to support a program that will save hundreds of lives and millions of dollars. We can still hope that enough legislators will find the courage this year to do the right thing in spite of the Governor’s hesitancy.

And this Saturday, Idahoans supporting Bernie Sanders for president will gather at the Capitol Building in Boise at 10 a.m.  Sanders is the presidential candidate who dares suggest that corporations pay their full share of taxes, that Medicare-like insurance cover all citizens, and public colleges be tuition free.  It’ll be interesting to get an indication of the breadth of his Idaho support.

All in all, this week will be an interesting and important one for Idaho politics.  Enjoy!

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