Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Governing Couched in Frustration
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Remember when Republican Gov. Butch Otter took part in a Clint Stennett Social with Sen. Michelle Stennett in 2013 to raise scholarship money in the late senator’s name?
   
Tuesday, May 25, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

The Idaho Senate officially adjoined last week after the longest Idaho legislative session in history passed 122 days. The House has not officially adjourned because leaders want to keep the door ajar should they think they need to call both houses back later this year.

Blaine County’s three representatives in the legislature openly shared their frustration with the session, which fixated on stripping executive powers from the governor that allow him to get federal aid in times of disaster, withholding federal money from education in an effort to keep Moms at home and passing legislation making it nearly impossible to get citizen initiatives on the ballot.

Sen. Michelle Stennett told those attending the Blaine County Democrats’ annual Clint Stennett Social on Zoom that the tenor was discouraging this year.

“This is my 12th session. Ordinarily, 80 percent of what we do policy wise we do across both houses without much difficulty. About 20 percent is the big fight—abortion, all the things you hear about,” she said. “You’re always going to have a certain percentage of things you’re not going to see eye to eye with your colleagues. But this year there was no adherence to our own rules.”

The Senate, for instance, set a record for writing new bills, writing 83 of them after the date they were  supposed to stop making new policies. The House broke its record, writing 200 new bills after they were supposed to stop creating policies.

Policies pushing property tax relief, good health care, early learning and full-time kindergarten didn’t go anywhere, Stennett said. The House walked away from $70 million of educational resources and grants to the detriment of education in the state.

Legislators ignored the fact that housing prices have increased by 350 percent while Idaho wages have increased 14 percent—an unsustainable situation, Stennett said. Instead, the legislature passed a “very paltry” version of the homeowner’s exemption or property tax circuit breaker for seniors.

“Then you’d get all this nonsense that was purely power grabbing, political posturing. There was campaigning--completely unethical behavior.”

Stennett added that she got hateful and blasphemous emails, the likes of which she’d never seen before.

“I’m not sure how to turn that around. The only thing is be respectful. Be firm about bullying. If you don’t come down hard, the people creating the problems feel emboldened to do more,” she said.

Rep. Muffy Davis concurred, saying that since being elected two years ago, it seems to get crazier and crazier.

Davis noted how the legislative session started for her with having to sue the House Speaker to ask for accommodations to be safe, given medical conditions that put her at greater risk for COVID. While she was still fighting for safety protocols, she was able to get vaccinated, which gave her assurance of safety. The legislature eventually had to take time off when lax adherence to COVID protocols led to several legislators getting the virus.

Davis described the legislative session as a hard one and a punitive one with attacks on the governor and teachers and all Idahoans in general.

“It felt like we had attacks coming from every angle,” she said.

Rep. Sally Toone, a former teacher, said this year’s legislature was very anti-people and anti-family. Legislators’ pushback against education was often heartbreaking, she added.

“Time and time again they said we don’t teach the right curriculum. We left millions of dollars on the table as a result,” she said. “They were mad about the way COVID was handled. And it was very punitive for the people of Idaho.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a guest at the virtual social, said the looming Infrastructure bill in Congress is not just about fixing crumbling roads and bridges, he said. It also includes addressing affordable house and broadband.

“If the pandemic reinforced anything, it’s how essential broadband is to American life,” he said.

He also exhorted Democrats in Idaho to keep the faith, even though they’re small in number.

“I’m reminded of how Democrats took back the Oregon legislature,” he said. “Change does happen and it happens because you carry forth vision and principles. Engagement matters in a Republic.”

Fred Cornforth, the newly elected Idaho Democratic Party chair, praised Blaine County for being a bright light in a state “that has a few dark corners.” And he noted that there is a glimmer of hope in some areas of the state that may have long been written off.

Take Idaho Falls, for instance: Three of the six City Council members there are Democrats. There are Council members in Wendell that are Democrats.

“There are bright lights everywhere and the lights are getting stronger. I’m convinced our best days are ahead.”

Blaine County Commission Chair Dick Fosbury said he was stunned to see how hard the county worked to exempt its hunting units from wolf trapping only to have the governor sign a bill that could decimate 90 percent of Idaho’s wolf population. The county may work with others to take federal action to mitigate the damage the state has done, he added.

Fosbury also noted that the State of Idaho has an affordable housing trust fund that has never been funded.

“We’re going to work on that because we need help,” he added, noting that every house in Blaine County is occupied and there are no rentals available. “This is not a political position; it’s a human need. Fortunately, there are some housing projects that will come on line but they’re still not affordable for the working class given cost of living increases.”


 

 

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