Tag Archives: Idaho

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.


I don’t really like the word “tolerance.” Toleration suggests putting up with something that is substandard or otherwise unfortunate in the interests of civil peace. I prefer something more along the lines of “live and let live.” You do your thing, I do mine. Neither of us may approve of the other’s choices, but we respect our mutual right to differ.

My distaste for the word aside, I found it fascinating that The Heritage Foundation–that once-respectable, currently rabid source of right-wing “policy” positions–has announced its approval of a recent proposal out of Idaho, citing it as an example of “tolerance.”

Rep. Raúl Labrador of Idaho has proposed a new bill that would protect “religious liberty” by issuing licenses to discriminate against gay people. (I know that’s bizarre, but work with me here, people!)  The “logic” of this measure is simple, if daft. Because evidently not being able to discriminate against gay people does discriminate against Christians, the bill provides that there would be no adverse consequences for any organization, business or individual who refuses to recognize same-sex marriage. The text reads as follows:

“The Federal Government shall not take an adverse action against a person, on the basis that such person acts in accordance with a religious belief that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.”

Under that language, businesses could refuse benefits to same-sex partners, hospitals could refuse visitation rights, landlords could refuse to rent to gay couples, and pretty much anyone at all could refuse services to LGBT people. Note too that this language isn’t intended to reinforce already robust Free Exercise protections that exempt churches and many religious organizations from compliance with civil rights laws. This language is far broader.

Why do I think that if they could get away with it, these proponents of “religious liberty” would grant a similar “license” to people whose religious beliefs included a distaste for Jews or blacks or Muslims?

In this profoundly upside-down view, after all, any and all anti-discrimination laws can be seen as invasions of my civil liberties. How dare the government tell me I can’t pick on people my religion tells me to dislike?

In what alternate universe is official government approval of  discrimination “tolerance”?