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Karma Metzler Fitzgerald Want to Take History of Getting Things Done to the Legislature
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Tuesday, November 1, 2022
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Karma Metzler Fitzgerald is all about the color purple. Though running as a Democrat, she has bathed her campaign material in purple believing that she offers a middle ground between the Democrat blue and Republican red.

“We’re supposed to be Idahoans first. Purple is where the red and blue comes together makes things happen,” she said. “We are constantly told we’re a divided country, but I believe we have far more in common than we don’t. We all want good schools, clean air and water and an economy that supports our families.” she said.

Fitzgerald is running for State Representative in District 26B on Nov. 8. She threw in her hat after Rep. Sally Toone of Gooding elected not to run.

“Sally had watched the work I’d done in Lincoln County during the pandemic. She had me follow her around the legislature, and I took over for her when her husband had surgery,” said Fitzgerald. “The legislature is like a drug—long, horrible hours and all this information coming at you. But I love it.”

Fitzgerald can bridge both rural and urban Idaho, having grown up in Buhl and Boise where she graduated from Borah High School. She studied communications with a focus on broadcast journalism at the University of Idaho where, she says, she was involved in every club you can imagine.

She worked for Boise State Public Radio, KBCI, KIVI and KMVT TV stations before marrying a dairy farmer in Shoshone. She worked freelance for the Northside News and Twin Falls Times-News while raising her children who range in age from 20 to 25.

“I love cows—they’re one-ton dogs,” she said. “I was the Idaho Dairy ambassador for a while, advocating on behalf of dairy farms. I did PR for dairy farmers while raising my family. We also hosted interns from Ireland who came here to study dairy farming.”

Just before the pandemic shuttered things, Fitzgerald and Salli Hubbs found themselves lamenting the lack of community connection that they remembered from their youth. They began hosting morning coffee talks at Salli’s Back Porch Fabric, complete with fresh baked goods, inviting people to stop, say hello and talk about what they wanted in their community.

When the pandemic hit, Fitzgerald and three others started the nonprofit Lincoln County Legacy Project, making 5,000 face masks and isolation gowns for nursing home residents and others and cookie baskets for front line workers.

“People needed help and we tried to find ways to help them,” she recounted.

As the county began to emerge from the pandemic, she and others began converting an abandoned church that was for sale in Richfield into a youth center.

“There’s nothing for kids who aren’t involved in sports or 4H,” she said.

They developed a three-year plan, putting together a team of moms and grandmothers, raised $1.3 million to purchase the church and get the program going and opened the youth center within a year. The center uses play-based learning to teach science and technology and a greenhouse and garden to teach agricultural principles year-round. It is averaging 75 children a day from preschool through middle school.

“It’s a safe place for kids to go when there’s no one at home because parents are working long hours to make ends meet,” said Fitzgerald, who is chairman of the Lincoln County Youth Commission. “They get fed, meet others students and they learn.”

Fitzgerald also secured a grant from the Idaho Department of Transportation for four commuter vans to transport youngsters to the center and adults to doctor’s appointments and job training in Twin Falls. And she got a $50,000 grant to start the Ledge Business Incubator to teach youth to start and run their own business.

“I’m all about community service, serving Idaho,” said Fitzgerald, who serves as director of the Lincoln County Connections and the Lincoln Country Transportation Commission. “I worked for Governor Andrus during the 1990s answering letters for Health and Welfare and I loved that job. I was also on a fire commission, and if you want to see how democracy is supposed to work you look to small organizations like that.”

As a legislator, Fitzgerald said she would push for more funding for early childhood education, as creating a good foundation creates a path for children to go anywhere. She’d also push for better transportation.

“That project we did in Lincoln County has changed lives,” she said. “Rural communities deserve to have access to transportation.”

The state has to provide better mental health care in rural communities as the suicide rate among farmers is unbelievably high, she said. Farmers are 3.5 percent as likely to die from suicide as members of the general population, according to a December 2021 Ag Report.

“If your farm has been in your family for a hundred years, and you’re the one who loses it, it’s a big deal,” said Fitzgerald. “We need broadband in all areas of the state so those in rural areas can get ahold of counselors and not have to leave the farm to do it. Our farmers feed the world and we need to help them do that.”

Personal care givers need better pay, she added. “If you get $15 an hour to change someone’s diapers and put up with their erratic behavior and they pay $20 an hour at McDonald’s, where are you going to go? Lack of home health care givers is forcing people to put loved ones in institutions, and that ends up costing society more.”

Fitzgerald says she would look for ways to bring all parties together to forge compromise.

“I was impressed with the way they brought all the parties together in the Bellevue Triangle to work on water. And I love what they’re doing on Baldy with Sun Valley Company, the Forest Service and others coming together to improve the forest health. Water and soil are everybody’s responsibility--everybody uses those things. How people in Ketchum water their lawns impacts how families eat in Richfield. We’re connected by highway and by water, and everyone needs to be represented.”

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