Tag Archives: Idaho

The Kids Are All Right!

I have several friends who have stopped watching/reading the news. They find the daily assault just too depressing.

But along with the deluge of dispiriting news they’re avoiding are some very encouraging stories. I recently came across one.

THE NATIONWIDE CAMPAIGN to stifle discussions of race and gender in public schools through misinformation and bullying suffered a reversal in Idaho on Monday, when a high school senior vocally opposed to book bans and smears against LGBTQ+ youth took a seat on the Boise school board.

The student, Shiva Rajbhandari, was elected to the position by voters in Idaho’s capital last week, defeating an incumbent board member who had refused to reject an endorsement from a local extremist group that has harassed students and pushed to censor local libraries.

Rajbhandari turned 18 only a few days before the election, but evidently he was already well-known in the school district as a student organizer on climate, environmental, voting rights, and gun control issues.

Pretty impressive for a 17-year-old.

If your reaction to a high school senior on a school board is less than enthusiastic, that’s  understandable. But the difference between Rajbhandari and his opponent was stark.

In the closing days of the campaign, his opponent, Steve Schmidt, was endorsed by the far-right Idaho Liberty Dogs, which in response helped Rajbhandari win the endorsement of Boise’s leading newspaper, the Idaho Statesman.

Rajbhandari, a third-generation Idahoan whose father is from Nepal, was elected to a two-year term with 56 percent of the vote.

Rajbhandari insisted that he’d wanted people to vote for him rather than against his opponent, but acknowledged that he had been shocked that Schmidt wouldn’t reject the far-right group’s endorsement.

The Idaho Liberty Dogs, which attacked Rajbhandari on Facebook for being “Pro Masks/Vaccines” and leading protests “which created traffic jams and costed [sic] tax payers money,” spent the summer agitating to have books removed from public libraries in Nampa and Meridian, two cities in the Boise metro area

Rajbhandari had started leading Extinction Rebellion climate protests in Boise when he was only 15 years old, and it was through that activism that he became familiar with Liberty Dogs and its tactics.

“We used to have climate strikes, like back in ninth grade, and they would come with AR-15s,” he said, bringing rifles to intimidate “a bunch of kids protesting for a livable future.”

When he was 16, Rajbhandari had publicly confronted Idaho’s then- far-right lieutenant governor, who had set up a task force to “Examine Indoctrination in Idaho Education.” He accused her of investigating an entirely imaginary threat and endorsing baseless conspiracy theories to generate support for her candidacy.

When Idaho’s Liberty Dogs endorsed Schmidt along with a slate of other candidates for the school board (all of whom, fortunately, ended up losing), Rajbhandari texted his rival to say, “You need to immediately disavow this.”

“This is a hate group,” Rajbhandari says he told Schmidt. “They intimidate teachers, they are a stain on our schools, and their involvement in this election is a stain on your candidacy.” Schmidt, however, refused to clearly reject the group, even after the Idaho Liberty Dogs lashed out at a local rabbi who criticized the endorsement by comparing the rabbi to Hitler and claiming that he harbored “an unrelenting hatred for white Christians.”

We old folks repeatedly hear –and repeatedly repeat!–accusations about the apathy of the younger generation. The following paragraphs of the linked article give the lie to that lazy characterization.

The initial impetus for Rajbhandari’s run for office was a feeling of frustration that the Boise school board was simply ignoring pleas from student climate activists to make a clean energy commitment. Two years ago, he said, a group of high school and junior high students tried everything they could think of to urge the board to make a commitment to renewable energy. “We sent emails; we did a postcard drive and wrote like 300 postcards; we met with our local power company; we had a petition, we delivered the largest petition ever to our school district,” Rajbhandari said, but the board never responded. “Last year, I wrote a letter to our school board president, just asking for a meeting … and I never got anything back. But I know that he read my letter because about a week later, I was called to the principal’s office.”

“That’s when I knew I was going to run” for a seat on the board, Rajbhandari recalled. “Because that is indicative of a problem. Students are the primary stakeholders in our education, right? And yet our board wasn’t seeing us as constituents, and they weren’t willing to meet with us, and they weren’t taking our ideas seriously,” he said.

The kids are okay. We “elders” just need to get out of their way…


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.





Assaulting Democracy

The warning signs are everywhere.

Governing Magazine has added to the evidence that America is losing even the pretense of democracy.

In the first several years after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) helped states make more low-income people eligible for Medicaid, it was only Democratic-led states that took the federal government up on its offer. Republicans have since warmed to the idea — but only on their own terms, and sometimes even if it means going against voters’ wishes…..

While some Republicans in Georgia, Oklahoma and Wyoming are exploring the possibility of Medicaid expansion in their states, Idaho and Utah are undoing ballot measures that voters passed in November to expand Medicaid.

In Utah, the Republican governor responded to the success of a ballot initiative expanding Medicaid by signing a bill that would only cover people earning up to the federal poverty line; it would also cap enrollment if costs exceed what’s expected.

But the terms of the ballot measure, which passed with 53 percent of the vote, were to expand Medicaid eligibility to people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line.

Utah has to get federal approval of this law, and similar measures were not approved during the Obama administration. The Trump Administration, of course, is hostile to pretty much everything the federal government does, so it might very well allow what is a clear repudiation of the will of the voters in Utah.

It isn’t only Utah.

Idaho is also eyeing a rollback of its citizen-led Medicaid expansion ballot measure. The initiative won handily, with 61 percent of the vote….But legislation to void the initiative is currently making its way through the Idaho statehouse.

And many of you will recall that in 2016, Maine voters approved Medicaid expansion, but the state’s certifiable nut-case then-governor, Paul LePage, prevented it from taking effect.

Whatever one’s position on Medicaid expansion, these are truly breathtaking examples of legislative and administrative chutzpah. The citizens of these states voted on an issue before them; in essence, they gave instructions to the people who are presumably in office to represent them. And those people simply ignored them.

This is not unlike Trump’s decision to declare an “emergency” that would allow him to defy a Congressional vote. Even if a member of Congress believes the wall should be built, he or she should be appalled by a Presidential action that strikes at the very heart of the Constitution’s separation of powers. It ignores as irrelevant the constitutional provision that vests decisions about spending in Congress, a provision that–before now–has constrained lawmakers and administrators alike.

Congress said no. That should have been the end of it. The President’s “emergency” is not only bogus, it ignores the clear division of authority mandated by the nation’s charter.

Yet every single Indiana Republican Representative voted against the House Resolution to reverse that dangerous attack on a fundamental element of American governance, placing the interests of their political party above both the good of the country and fidelity to their oaths of office.

Without the rule of law–without lawmakers and public officials who are willing to accept the decisions of voters whether they like those decisions or not; without lawmakers who are willing to insist upon compliance with the Constitution even when it is their party that is breaking the rules–we don’t have a democracy or a republic or even a legitimate government.

We have a banana republic.

Speaking of Crazy…..

There have always been paranoid people running around, but when did we start electing so many people who are, as they say, “lightly tethered to reality”?

Case in point: a few days ago, Talking Points Memo reported on a fiasco in Idaho, where a routine bill to bring the state into compliance with federal rules governing child support collections–needed in order to avoid losing $46 million dollars in federal money–failed because conservative legislators said it would have subjected the state to Sharia law.

State Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, a Republican from the small northern community of Cottonwood, raised the objection during the House Judiciary and Rules Committee hearing. She testified that the federal law Idaho was adjusting to incorporated provisions of an international agreement regarding cross-border recovery of child-support payments, the Hague Convention on International Recovery of Child Support and Family Maintenance.

None of the nearly 80 countries involved in the treaty — which the U.S. entered in 2007 — are under Sharia law. But Nuxoll and other skeptics said their concerns were valid because some nations in treaty informally recognize such courts. They added that the provisions of the deal wouldn’t leave Idaho with the authority to challenge another nation’s judgment, particularly if it were under hard-line Islamic law.

Idaho uses federal programs to process in-state and out-of-state child support payments, and compliance with the federal rules is required in order to continue doing so.  Without access to the federal tools, parents who are owed child-support payments will have no way to get those payments.

Apparently, Senator Nuxoll and her “black helicopter” colleagues consider hungry children a small price to pay for averting the imminent threat of a “Sharia law” which they couldn’t define if their lives depended on it.

Just shoot me now.


Emerging from a Different Kind of Prison?

There are the prisons we all recognize–utilitarian buildings constructed to hold lawbreakers–and then there are prisons of a less recognizable sort: rigid beliefs, the sorts of ideological commitments impervious to evidence.

Yesterday’s post referenced the copious academic literature analyzing one such ideological commitment.

As I noted in that post, for the past thirty-odd years, devotion to contracting-out (mis-labeled “privatization”) has been an article of faith with a lot of public managers and political science theorists, not to mention substantial numbers of folks in the business community that have profited from such contracts and the even higher percentage of nonprofit enterprises that have come to depend upon government funding.

This belief in the benefits of privatization has persisted despite significant amounts of research painting a considerably more nuanced picture.

Sometimes, however, reality really does bite. So I was interested in an article from the Idaho Statesman, reporting that the state will resume control of a prison that has been run by CCA, one of the largest private prison companies in the country.

An Associated Press report last year raised questions about how the Nashville, Tenn.,-based company was staffing the prison, and the state’s move is part of a larger debate over whether prison privatization works.

Over the past several decades, contractors have been brought in to run prisons, federal lockups and even county-level jails. The number of inmates housed in the facilities grew from 85,500 in 2000 to more than 128,000 in 2012, according to federal statistics.

Private prison operators have been repeatedly sued, amid allegations of rampant violence, understaffing, gang activity and contract fraud.
The Idaho Statesman article quoted University of North Florida criminal justice professor Michael Hallett, who has written a book on prison privatization. Hallett said the problems in Idaho reflect those seen nationwide.

“A private prison corporation operates just like an old-fashioned HMO, where the less they spend, the more they make,” Hallett said. “ … There’s lots of ways to game the system, through contract violations and even just legal contracts to house easier inmates.”

Idaho’s governor has been a longtime supporter of privatization, but the problems became too obvious for him to ignore. The situation is reminiscent of then-Governor Daniels’ belated admission that Indiana’s costly experiment with welfare privatization was a disaster.

The lesson today and yesterday isn’t that government should never contract out. The lesson is: the decision to contract for public services is more complicated than ideologues want to make it. Sometimes contracting is a good idea; often, it isn’t.

We deserve public managers who can tell the difference.