Inauguration Photos

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On Saturday DC was cold and the mall was empty, expectant.

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Endless rows of clean porta-potties flanked the monuments.

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The Sunday concert had Bruce Springstein, John Melencamp, James Taylor and the Obama family grinning and dancing and singing with the millions of us.

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People were so polite and kind.

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We were close enough to hear the horns and the choirs above the loud speakers sometimes.

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The day before.

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With fabulous Twin Falls folks.

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Richard speaks to Walt.

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 Kassie’s cake. Happy birthday Martin Luther King Jr. as well.

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On inauguration day at 6 AM we headed for the capitol with our tickets tucked under layers and layers of clothes. We didn’t drink anything for fear we’d never find a free porta potty.

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Being polite people we followed directions of those in line and went to the end, deep in the 3rd St. tunnel.

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We met wonderful people, started a wave down the crowd but at 11 am still had not made it outside again. The ceremony was supposed to start.

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At the gate we were very lucky to make it in. Our friends Ted and Rebecca were right near us. We lost them and they never made it in. We ran down an empty street to where the crowds waited, hoping we had not missed the swearing in.

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With others we watched from the sides of the monument to peace, as, after almost two years of work, Barack Obama, became our president.

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With the millions we cried and laughed, listened to Aretha sing and the 21 cannons boom.

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We waved good bye.

From the Field

For many days we heard that the proposed cuts to public schools budgets were going to mean cuts to number of teachers across the state. Fewer teachers for already over-full classrooms, jobs lost, kids sitting in desks, raising their hands, teachers running from one to the other, hoping to get to them all.

Each day in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (know as JFAC, the budget writing committee) a different part of state government stands before us to tell us what they do with your tax dollars. They describe how many employees they have, which Idahoans they serve and under what conditions. They tell us if cost are increasing or needs are. They answer our questions, which are sometimes pointed. Democrats, Republicans, Conservatives, Moderates, all probing to find out if there is money sloshing around in this part of the budget, hunting for funds that might be used for something else or asking leading questions to help the presenters convince the committee that the budget is appropriate or even that the cuts the Governor has proposed will hurt real people or cause us more costs in the long run.

The Superintendent of Public Instruction was in the committee yesterday. He is in charge of representing the hundred and something public school districts, all the teachers in their classrooms in the snow of the mountains or the dry flats of the desert a long days drive from the capitol here.

I'm glad to say he must have heard the groan of parents, the long sighs of kids at desks, the frustration of principals — because, though he proposed many cuts, those cuts were not to the number of teachers given to Idaho public schools.

Let me just say one more time, Idaho already has some of the largest class sizes in the nation. I have taught kids from kindergarten to college age, and, in public school classrooms, from sixth to tenth grade. I can't speak for all teachers in this, but I do want to explain something.

You can put me out in a field with my 20 or so students. Out there in the weeds, with little physical support, it is not ideal, but for awhile I'm just fine. I can still teach and, with pencils and paper and a spot in the shade, my kids will learn just fine. However, leave me in that high-tech classroom with every possible book, every bit of technology and other amenity and then double my class sizes, and it is much, much harder, much slower and more frustrating for me and especiallyy for the kids. Given a choice, I'd give up all the technology and choose the smaller class, teaching them out there in the weeds of the field.

Dirty Water

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It is photo day. The photographers come in and set up shop on the Senate floor. They call Senator Davis "Bart" and move us around like Barbie Dolls. It is humbling and fabulous, even as we set our silly faces in fixer for the very serious rows of photos that will next year again grace the Capitol building walls. Formidable, goofy, haggard, odd. We stare down, mostly in black and white, white face after white face, year after year since Statehood.

Some days amaze me. I sit in committee and I feel a bit shameless. We are debating in all seriousness the idea of drawing an arbitrary line where laws protecting our state's water do not apply… not just for a little while, until someone cleans it up… but potentially forever. Lead and mercury and copper and phosphates… and in a voice vote we set precedent. We say OK, for perpetuity we draw a line, law applies out here on this side but not here inside the circle.

And an hour later we are voting to let sewage leach into lakes and streams and not taking into account the cost in human health of hepatitis and Giardia or the cost to taxpayers of cleaning up polluted groundwater and drinking water under towns and lake communities. But we sit and listen to the passionate and the ones who have to make the most obvious payments on legislative change. The man who can't build on the lake because his lot is too small for the new rules. So we reject the rules. Those who pay in health or taxes, down the line, years from now, they won't be here to testify today. We get just a snapshot in time. We get now. And if we can not as thinking beings think ahead, that is all we will ever have to base our vote on. Now.

Missing the House

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I'm wearing my plastic encased sardine today. Really it is a pin made from a dead sardine set in clear plastic resin. It is kinda pretty from a distance. When you get up close its silvery skin is clearly that, real sliver fish skin in all its glory.

I'm missing the House. I miss the packed chaos and camaraderie of the balcony, 20 of us like matches at shotgun desks, fifty below, things flying, Brent Crane's candy dish, the committee meetings where any member might go off and take up ten minutes with a childhood story or burst into song or start debating in rhyme. Those things are not likely to happen in the Senate, no skits, no food, no coffee or tea allowed, not even water on the floor. Most have offices so we do not work side by side on the floor as much.

With the exception of Bart Davis who is so formidable and cracks jokes no one notices all the time, we are austere, dead serious and so far sedate. These are serious times and I don't know how we will get through it without some ability to laugh at ourselves. Dean Cameron tries in Committee. He has a way of making compassionate humor. But the social strata is more marked in the Senate. I have not gotten to mix with the chairs or leadership now that I am part of the body. It may be that I've yet to find the jovial crowd in the rank and file or be invited to lunch with them. I do miss the occasional lunches with Republican colleagues in the House.

Being in search of the lighter side of the Senate as we plow through these horrible decisions day after day, I'm thinking I might need to make a bit more effort. So I'm wearing the sardine pin today and maybe, just maybe I'll grab a hard boiled duck egg and wander back to the House balcony to leave it in Brent Crane's candy bowl.

Triage

The ringer on my phone is broken. It buzzes on the table or in my pocket, but I seem to miss a constant stream of messages. I look down and again, someone has called and I missed it. Of course sometimes I can not pick up. In committee we get in trouble if our phones ring, like in school we are supposed to pretend we don't have phones, much less whole e-mail, texting and web browsing systems right there in the palms of our hands.

The amount of paper we get in a single day, the envelopes and folders we open, the words addressed to and handed to each of us as legislators in a single day is staggering. We get more paper each day at home. Then of course there is the e-mail. My legislative e-mail in box is so active that on a week day in the course of answering a single e-mail I may get five more. I try to answer all the e-mail addressed to me personally. It is getting harder so I get up earlier or stay up later. Still I miss e-mails. In years past interns have tucked them in folders to keep me organized, folders i didn't know existed. I find letters there, speaking to the dark inside of a server, never read, never heard.

I say all this calmly because I have to. Panic doesn't fix the stream of information that comes at you in a day. It still comes.

Like standing in an anxious crowd of people so large it does not end and you can not imagine each of you reaching your destination on time or perhaps at all. You stand shoulder to shoulder smiling in the cold air, slowly shuffling together along. I might try to learn the name of every person passing, hear the end of every story they start, let all of those more worthy pass through the gate ahead of me again and again. But I can't. I do the best I can, trying to get somewhere, anywhere productive, trying to laugh with those I can, picking up a glove off the sidewalk, offering a bit of my pocket full of food to someone on a street corner, knowing that panic does nothing for any of us at all.

Surreal

It is hard to describe this day. It has four main parts. I will try to explain it.

The first was about cutting millions out of budgets for the next six months. Those are the "holdbacks." They take money away from what we budgeted last year for January to June or the second half of "fiscal year 09."  I voted "no" on one of them, the one that took huge chunks out of several different parts of our "medicaid" health care and welfare budgets…

The second part of the day was a rally on the temporary statehouse steps where I climbed down through signs and bundled bodies to find hundreds of people with disabilities and their families gathered to protest huge pending cuts to the therapy services many depend on. They are concerned that without support and help that many there would never have had the chance to become as independent as they are. They are concerned that parents will have to ask taxpayers to foot the larger bill to put their kids in expensive homes and institutions; that they won't be able to work and care for their kids; that a traditional day care won't take them or if they do that their children will just be warehoused, not taught skills, independence and self esteem.

One man in a wheel chair who works with kids with developmental disabilities spoke slowly and, in his nervousness, almost incomprehensibly into the hand held microphone. Someone re-read his eloquent speech. In another time he might never have had a chance to use a computer to write that speech. He might have been assumed to have no intellect, no voice.

The third part of the day was where we sat and listened to Mike
Ferguson from the Governor's budget office try to talk our committee down
from the ledge. It seems we on the Revenue Outlook Committee (I sit on this and the budget committee, JFAC) are far less optimistic about the economy than the Governor. Each of us on the committee was supposed to
guess how much in sales and income tax Idahoans will earn and spend and thus pay this year based
on what economists and industry lobbyists themselves are predicting.

My number or revenue estimate was the
smallest. and even the committee "median" or middle number was $101 million
smaller than the Governor's. Again, it was $101 million smaller. This would mean that even the Governor's deep cuts will have to be deepened. We decided to go with the median. That is now what we on JFAC, the Joint Finace and Appropriations Committee, will have to spend as we set budgets this year. Hundreds of millions less than we had last year.

My number was very low. To some extent we discussed it and how low things really might go. I looked at my number and at the very low committee median and thought what another $101 million of shortfall will mean to people all over Idaho. I can only hope I am very wrong, that a year from now we can all laugh at my doom. I have never wanted to be wrong so much in my whole life.

The final part of the day was a meeting with the people from Medicaid. The gate keepers. Someone once called them the bean counters. I don't think the name was chosen by someone who thinks well of counting beans. These men and women have the dreadful job of deciding who gets help with medical care and who does not, how much, at what cost, and what will not be covered and under what circumstances. I suppose if you continually give people like this less money and fewer people to work with at lower and lower wages, what happens is they get a bit cold and hard. They learn to hate the waste and ugliness in things rather than seeing the beauty and the value.

The bean counters have to work with a system of private providers, some of who are in it because they have a passion for improving the lives of people with disabilities. Some are in it because there is money to be made. If i was ever not a fan of privatization, I really am not now. If it does not open up the most vulnerable of our society to exploitation, then at least it makes us fear that everyone providing the services is trying to exploit the system, even if they are not.

It is like the way some of my legislative colleagues have described people with disabilities, or their parents, as being able to do nothing for themselves. In this fourth and final part of the day, one person in the room said that the families who wrote to him, the very same as those families on the steps, expected the state to do everything for them.

As someone who benefited from special education as a child and who worked as a personal care attendant through part of college, I never in my life expected to hear words like those out of the mouth of someone I know and care about.

How hard is it to describe living with a single desire just to be able to do EVERYTHING for yourself. Not to need people to open doors for you, not to have more time on tests, not to need an adaptive device or to be able to afford one and have it always work. How do you describe a family that needs to pay the rent like any other but where for her entire life their daughter can not be left alone. How do you describe how hard people work just to be allowed to hold jobs or finish a sentence just explaining how they feel.

Too High to See Their Eyes

Home by the wood stove. The weight of tomorrow's first vote on budgets hangs there as I walk out of the brown marble halls and home through the fog and frost. What might look like numbers on a page are jobs, things not bought from Idaho businesses, smaller pay checks. Lives.

We had Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) school today. Five of us are new on the twenty member committee. Jim Patrick and three of us Democrats sat like children at the feet of Cathy Holland Smith, JFAC director, patient teacher and former wizard of prison and health budgets. She speaks slowly, smiles a lot and tucks gems into budget writing stories and seeming off-hand bits of advice.

This morning in committee we went through maybe 20 pages solid with numbers. If you drift for a second, whole parts of a page are lost and figuring it out means that you miss what comes next. And every number has something to do with someone's life. Do I grasp and picture what every number means fully? I don't think anyone knows all the lands where the parks are to be built, the people who say they need new ballistics vests, the people who have survived a bit of life because they could check in to Franklin House rather than facing a break down alone, in a cold hospital or in the very home situation that helped them to the brink? I try.

As a member of this committee we are given a book that is six inches thick, and, front to back in numbers says how more than two billion dollars in sales and income taxes flow out over the state, to hospitals, fire crews, social workers, judges, women who teach high school courses to men in one of the State Prisons.

Scott Bedke, long time budget writer, poked his head into our little class room. He is one of the brightest and is now a member of house leadership. There was a time, when I was a freshman years ago when he spoke kindly of me, said I had potential or smarts. He used numbers to say it. Now he steers clear more. I've challenged House leadership in more ways than I can count. I know it tarnishes how sweet I might have seemed and makes me into something more sinister than a young law maker who is OK with numbers. I'm graying and serving in the Senate and he is in charge of the House Republican caucus now.

Scott's advice to our little JFAC class was that we pull back to an altitude, 40,000 ft, to vote on budgets. Others have said this as well and today I know why. If you are too low you have to look into everyone's eyes as you vote.

We have to cut hundreds of millions out of next year's budget soon. How can you look in that many eyes? I think you try. You ask for understanding and you work to protect the most vulnerable. That is so relative. The most vulnerable. You might agree not build a park in order that more people can get medical care. Still the cement company owner may close down and the man who hoped to get a job there will have none. But these are the choices we make. How many people can we feed with one park?

From 40,000 feet the food line stretches pretty far and the park sits gated and empty and waits until later. The cement truck owner joins the food line. And we look out over the mountains and hope everyone is willing to step up and make a little sacrifice of their own. I will. I have a list because I know now how much others are giving up. When I come down from 40,000 feet I look into their eyes.

Asking More Than Grit

On the first day of the legislative session, the gavel falls on the wooden disk and we answer roll call, one by one, in thirty five different voices. We don't press a button on our computers as we did in the House. We pledge allegiance and then are expected to pray in the name of Christ before breaking for lunch and then loading buses to BSU for the Governor's state of the state address.

We waited in on of the Spec Center's Green Rooms like badly dressed, super boring rock stars and then filed into the auditorium in order of seniority. Unlike the house, we filed in in seniority that ignores party affiliation. To my surprise on my first day in the Senate I had three Democrats and four Republicans behind me in line.

The Governor seemed a bit off in my mind. Perhaps he was choking on his own proposal to raise taxes and increase budgets for roads of all things, while, in the same breath, proposing to cut budgets for schools. Odd priorities in my mind. Not many words of hope or sympathy for all those sitting at home on weekdays or out shopping resumes after decades at jobs or after moving families recently to Idaho hoping to call our mountains and rivers and sage brush deserts home.

I knocked on a lot of doors in Ada County, all over Ada County this past year and I know people were struggling to pay bills before the economy began to falter for real. I can not imagine the decisions being made in small businesses and over kitchen tables tonight. If we as a state are not careful, there will be no soon end to this time. We need to do more than ask for grace in girt. Idahoans have more to give than grace. We have generosity and sweat to lend to others, we have unpaid hours we are already giving at work. Some are giving up hours that make health insurance for the family possible, hours that make the mortgage payment, that were counted on to pay for a child's college education, heating bills, food.

For those of us who make more than enough to pay for basics, I think the governor, and we as a legislature, can ask for more. For those living close to the bone we have to be careful. Many are one step away form needing public assistance now and our actions could leave them desperate or needing our help in ways that will cost taxpayers and businesses more than the saving we intend. Keeping Idahoans employed, and Idaho-owned businesses working, keeping the most vulnerable families fed and strong was not a note the Governor hit. It is however a tone you will hear from me and from many others in here.

Raising taxes for roads but cutting schools, schools that already struggle to keep kids from getting lost in the crowds, the tests and the growing crises at home. Those are not the order of my priorities. I am sorry to see that they are the Governor's.

Eliptical

Normally I run in the Boise foothills to clear my head. My dog runs ahead and we wind our was along the ridge tops for 40 minutes, no headphones, just the wind and sound of feet on the trail and the dog's collar jangling. While my feet pound, my mind plays and I think a lot of strategy. It seems to be one of the rare times I do one simple thing uninterrupted, no multi tasking or talking or typing for more than 40 minutes at a time. So yes, my mind just plays. I run through issue debate, letters to constituents, ways to use legislation to solve problems, how to fix electrical wiring in the house or the best way to have a conversation with a colleague.

Like a million other Idahoans, I can't easily run right now. The trails are alternating between treacherously icy, deep slushy and simply muddy. So I've tagged along with my partner Carol to the gym. There in the gym I've found the eliptical. I cover the lights and dials and control panel with a shirt or towel, put on fast dance music and run uphill for thirty minutes until I can't run more. I go no where. It feel though like I travel through the time of the songs, the lyrics or style or beat. But my mind doesn't play. I am stuck in place with my feet spinning, sweating and working hard, but I get no where.

The legislature convenes tomorrow morning. It will be my first day serving in the 35 member Senate with my new Republican and Democratic colleagues. I am struck this year by how many of the issues (aside from the over whelming issue of the economy) are the same issues we have struggled over the last four years I've served in the legislature.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry is trying again to get Idaho families to pay its taxes. Mike Moyle is again refusing to give local people to power to vote to tax themselves to fund better bus service, trolleys, light rail or other services to solve local problems. Republicans in the House are again lining up to oppose standards to ensure that day care centers around the state are safe and have solid educational content so kids are not just parked in front of a TV, left alone or confined to one crowded room all day, week after week.  

The process and its two year election cycle doesn't seem to produce much thinking ahead. It doesn't produce much cooperative planning or strategy to solve problems, just a lot of gut reaction timed to play out in elections. It feels sometimes a little like, as a legislature, ours has turned into an extreme body that runs in place year after year, sweating but getting no where.

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