It Can Be Done

Americans can be forgiven for feeling dispirited–okay, monumentally depressed–when reading headlines and listening to news. The Senate is unlikely to do anything meaningful about the daily gun massacres; Republican misuse of the filibuster has kept that august body from doing anything  meaningful; we hear daily about court decisions that confirm the success of the decades-long effort to pack the federal courts with rightwing ideologues…

I could go on and on, and so can most of you reading this.

There are, however, “nuggets” of news suggesting the possibility of emerging from this  period of extended stalemate.

One of those stories is emerging from Idaho, of all places. As the linked article begins,

Idaho is one of the most conservative, rural, and Republican-dominated states in the nation. It’s also on track to enact the sort of progressive economic policies that continue to elude Democrats in Washington, DC.

Earlier this month, grassroots organizers submitted what should be far more than enough petition signatures necessary to qualify a proposal called the Quality Education Act for the November ballot. The initiative, if passed, would raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy in order to fund the state’s beleaguered public K-12 school system.

A wealth tax. To support public education. In Idaho, a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 4:1 margin and Donald Trump crushed Joe Biden by 30 points. How is this happening?

The organization behind this seemingly impossible scenario is called Reclaim Idaho. Its webpage eschews the usual appeals to ideology and political identity/tribalism in favor of a simple statement focusing on the policy issue at hand, and offering “a solution to a broadly acknowledged problem.”

The current campaign follows the organization’s first success, achieved In 2018.  That year, organizers and committed volunteers drove around the state in a 1977 RV painted bright green, and talked–door to door–in favor of a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid.  The initiative passed with more than 60% of the vote.

With its success, Reclaim Idaho pried open access to government-sponsored health care to more than 60,000 economically challenged Idahoans and rattled the state’s political establishment. As a feel-good documentary chronicling the unlikely underdog story swept up awards at film festivals, the Republican supermajority in the Idaho legislature sought to kill future initiatives by making ballot qualification far more onerous.

Reclaim Idaho sued the state over Senate Bill 1100, which was ultimately struck down in a state Supreme Court decision that affirmed direct democracy as a “fundamental right.” The year-long legal battle cast the organization as a nonpartisan champion of democracy, which Mayville says helped generate the sort of coverage that won them a wave of new supporters and volunteers.

Reclaim Idaho builds on the belief that ballot initiatives are an important aspect of democracy, and a pathway to better policies and politics. In Idaho, support for  tightly targeted initiatives are also building a long-term political infrastructure –one that doesn’t rely on  corporate donors.

“We have a long-term goal of making the Idaho government more responsive to the needs of everyone and not just those with the most wealth and political influence,” Mayville explains. “To do that, we believe it’s necessary to build a constituency of voters who are going to put bread and butter issues like education funding and health care first. Initiatives get people in the habit of voting directly on these issues.”

As I have previously noted, Indiana lacks anything that could reasonably be considered home rule, and the state doesn’t have an initiative mechanism either–although some local government units do. As Ballotpedia reports,

No initiative and referendum process of any kind is available in Indiana local governments for local ballot measures.

This article sets out the laws governing local ballot measures in Indiana. It explains:

Which local units of government make the initiative process available to residents.
How and whether local units of government, including school districts, can refer local ballot measures (such as school bond propositions) to the ballot.

As a result, in Indiana and similar states, citizens cannot exercise “habits of voting directly on these issues,” and the legislature can–and routinely does–ignore public opinion.

There are certainly downsides to initiatives and referenda. (See California…where numerous ballot measures clog election ballots and offer multiple ways for well-funded campaigns to mislead voters and stir up mischief.)

I used to believe that we should leave the determination of policy to the presumably sincere and thoughtful people we elect to legislative bodies. In Indiana these days, anyone characterizing the super-majority in our legislature as “sincere and thoughtful” probably needs a mental health evaluation.

Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learned from Idaho, and an important one is to focus political campaigns on specific issues salient to the voters of the relevant political subdivision–a tactic that’s also likely to help get out the vote.


  1. Idaho is .9 % black.

    Indiana is 9.1%

    Possibly the explanation of why Idaho can do it and Indiana won’t ?

  2. Thanks for the good news. Good people succeeding dong good work. YAYYYYYYYYY

  3. Terry for the win. Besides, Representative Herr Behning would NEVER allow K-12 public policy or law to be determine by popular vote. Public education is his and his alone to destroy.

  4. Idaho is also the home of several most-militant “militias” that have only one purpose: Destroy the American government and the Constitution. Replacement? “Oh. Uh. We haven’t thought that far ahead. We just wanna kill them damned liberals.”

    So, good luck with overcoming all that body armor that shields brains from anything rational.

    A former colleague of mine lives outside Boise, and he sees the political landscape there VERY differently than this feel-good essay and referred article. The concept of taxing those with the money so we can educate our children simply doesn’t appear on conservative (backward) radar. Their understanding of socialism simply cannot bridge the intellectual gap between funding our military (Complete socialism) and providing services for the entire population (Partial socialism with capitalistic necessities).

  5. At first glance, I’d say the Idahoan Republicans appear to be the socialist alternatives catching on fire out West and on the East Coast.

    We’ll need those kinds of initiatives to overcome the tsunami of shit heading our way. The social and cultural wars will take a back seat to economic pain from climate change, energy policies, and inflation. Add in food scarcity.

    Sadly, the dimwitted parties in Washington will spend all their energy blaming each other so we’ll need to make quick decisions locally. I don’t see Indianapolis being much help either because they’ve been getting their orders from the Koch network for decades. Thinking on the fly is not their strong suit.

  6. While we know all of the traditional political propaganda behind the tribe that likes to be called the “right” versus the tribe that prefers “left”, one of the human traits that seem to lead to membership in either tribe in this time and place is the kind of entertainment they choose to live in immersed in by pervasive, persuasive media.

    The “right” sees government as a problem and gets pleasure out of the political game of avoiding accountability for the failure of government and instead leveling blame on opponents. It makes a sort of sport out of politics.

    The “left” sees government as a problem solving means working towards achieving the goals of liberal democracy as defined by the US Constitution which, put as briefly as possible, is a government that represents all citizens equally, and serves all of them just as equally moving ever towards equality of opportunity considering all of the factors that stand in the way.

    Of course, considering all of that, joining the right is easy and entertaining, and joining the left is much harder and requires lifelong effort.

    Let’s start just being honest about our tribal choice and stop hiding behind misleading information and/or misinformation and simply live publically what we are.

  7. The only comparable tale I can think of is from here in NC. We pioneered the “bathroom bill” requiring kids to use the bathroom of their birth gender. What followed? Cancellation of multiple NCAA tournaments, loss of several thousand jobs from companies who were going to move here, refusal by some states to allow their officials to come here for meetings…

    Two years later (and a new governor), a much softened bill was passed and no more repercussions.

    Sadly, change happens when…money talks….

  8. This country isn’t as divided as we think. Large majorities support the policy positions of the Democrats. The Dems would do well to trim their message to sound bites and get away from ponderous pronouncements. Get mad. Get loud. Keep it simple, stupid!

  9. Lester is on to something – money. It even gets wedding cakes for same-sex marriages. Greed drives attitudes, or at least pretended attitudes. Show me the money!

    Politics also drives attitudes or pretended attitudes. We will see how that works out in Florida with Herr DeSantis’s fascism and Yankee tourism. Sun and sand has its limitations. After retiring and living and voting in Naples, Florida for some thirty years, I left there over two years ago, haven’t been back, and recently put my lakeside house up for sale – all for one reason, Herr DeSantis. I spent some time long ago fighting fascism and will not subsidize it with my presence in such a venue, a sort of “Show me the money” in reverse. Indiana with its legislative supermajority is bad enough, but I haven’t yet designated its governor as “Herr.” Not yet. . .

    The blending of the libertarian Koch and hard right Republicans and Trumpian yahoos makes for a formidable opposition to liberal democracy, but we Democrats are in a substantial majority and can win the midterms and in ’24 IF WE SHOW UP AND VOTE since, when stripped of the angst and anger undergirding statehouse voter suppression tactics and cries of “socialism” etc., the ultimate prize (the consent of the governed aka the power to rule) comes down to arithmetic (gerrymandering and claims of fraud notwithstanding).

    It’s called turnout, without which it matters not that our party is in the majority. We have to show up for the vote. Our continuing democracy, tattered though it may be, will depend upon
    such arithmetic. Bring a Democratic friend or two to the polls who would ordinarily be doing couch time. It could make the difference between fascism and democracy. VOTE!

  10. Peggy – RIGHT ON – two easy examples:

    – “No fly, no buy” – if you are on the FBI’s suspected terrorist list “no fly” and try to buy a gun, not allowed. 70% of NRA members agree!

    – “Dreamers” deserve a path to citizenship – 70% of GOPers agree!

    Incremental change still is change…

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