Making Sure It Gets Better in Idaho

Many times in my life i have struggled to promise young people that their lives will get better. All these decades later as so many still face school bullying, harassment and even violence, I know I am not the only one who feels the growing weight of obligation to make sure that the lives of young people actually do get better. Not someday, but now.

FIRST: Idaho's anti-bullying law doesn't even mention gay kids.

SECOND: Tragically Idaho has the third highest suicide rate in the nation.  Nationally 1/3 of teen suicides has to do with young people's struggles coping with issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. Too many American kids do not feel safe at school, welcome at church or accepted in their own homes.

THIRD: Suicide is not the only tragedy to come from rejection, fear and a lack of legal protection. Too many young people find themselves more vulnerable to drug addiction and depression as they face these issues alone in rural communities or in silence in our cities.

FORTH: Anti-gay bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying in schools. Here still some teachers fear addressing anti-gay harassment in classrooms because at times teachers have faced disciplinary measures simply for mentioning the word gay. And because Idaho's anti-bullying law doesn't mention any specific kinds of bullying, it leaves open for some students, teachers and parents to believe that gay kids might be an exception to the anti-bullying rule.

If we are going to plead with Idaho's young people not to despair or ever consider self destructive acts like suicide, then we have an obligation; That obligation is to be sure that we change Idaho law so that gay kids are clearly safe and protected.

We must do all we can to make sure it gets better now– not years from now, but now.


Saturday, January 29th will be a statewide day of vigils, rallies and events to support safe schools and fair employment legislation to protect gay Idahoans from job discrimination and Idaho kids from anti-gay bullying. If you are a business person, straight ally, young person or anyone who wants to help organize an event, large or small in your community, let us know. I will pass your information to Lindsey Matson who will work to connect you with other people in your community or area who also want to help.

See photos and more from events in 11 towns across Idaho on Jan 29 and get involved in passing legislation this year.


Bake Sale Schools

Rock to Read gathered fabulous and quirky musicians and song writers in a spot-light lit room full of books, authors, teachers, parents, kids and auction items. The benefit was to try to buy books for school libraries since state budgets eliminated library fuding last year.

Hard to believe something as basic as books have to be bought through benefits and bake sales. But that's what we've come to. Many kids are going without some of the key tools they need to succeed.

And yet now, as bad as this current year has been for crowded classrooms, cuts in teacher pay and loss of student class time, we're looking at an even deeper crisis in the year ahead. Just to keep school budgets at the level of cuts we had last year, we'd have to raise taxes (temporarily for a year or two until the economy recovers) by more than $300 million dollars. (That's like taxing business and professional services with a sales tax for the first time or like a penny and a half increase in sales tax or a percent and a half more in income tax for a year.) If we don't raise taxes (since we won't get another federal stimulus like the ones that saved us the past two years) then we have to cut schools yet deeper.

Can you imagine struggling kids after another year of even deeper cuts and even larger classes and less teacher time? Can you imagine not funding schools to hire the 200 new teachers we need just to guide class rooms filled with the 5000 new students who showed up in the state this year?

Is there not a finite limit to the number of bake sales and benefits a school can hold?

This is the poem I read at Rock to Read Benefit Friday night.


I dream of Idaho on fire.

I don’t mean the incendiary flame of combustion

I mean the simple spark of some saintly prayer that our schools will fly.


I sleep blocks from the capitol, that marble palace

with wings that could have lifted classrooms, libraries, teachers and minds

from survival to spiral orbits of aspiration

where children would dance with spirogyra

microscopes would raise mitochondria and mitosis to the heavens of the known

where English would flow with French, Russian and Chinese from the red lips of scholars

where numbers would glow in galaxies of geometric gem stones

where formulas and proofs would speak like poetry


When I sleep under the huge white pine in the turn-of-the-century Victorian that creaks

in the wind and with the whisper of tectonic secrets

our schools do spark and fly

lawmakers plot to proliferate brilliance, invention and art.

We’d fund mock courts and student Senates

celebrating teen poets and novel writers, making heroes of young physicists

and the teachers

who inspire it all again

and again

and again.


But I sleep still

strange slumber of frightful dreams where a marble building sinks deep in a mire

political pandering screams

and teachers cry over stacks of papers in the wee hours of the night

where there through the fogged glass students wait with hands raised

in row after row of desks.


But I stand here

for in waking I swear I dream for more

just as you dream.

We imagine Idaho on fire

minds sparked to lift a marble dome from the depths, high up over the trees to the sky.

With you I'll not rest as long as books must be bought by benefits

and marble wings and shiny new highways stretch to each horizon.

I will dream.

I will dream in the marble building.

There I will beg others to dream.

Leadership in Flux

Legislative Council has assembled around the big wooden table in the Senate Republican Caucus room in the top of the statehouse. The showing is sparse. Missing are the members leaving us whose terms end a month from now. In December we will be sworn in again and joined by six new senators and twelve newly elected house members. That is not unprecedented change. Compared to other states, Idaho simply stayed its red self. Interestingly we stand now at the same numbers we had six years ago when I was first elected to the house.

Legislative Council is an ongoing committee made up of Democratic and Republican leadership plus members elected by their caucus to serve in overseeing policy, procedure and the general workings of both houses. We discuss everything from whether the dining room will welcome the public, to whether committee secretaries will be detailed or vague in writing up the minutes of legislative committee meetings.

This is my fourth year on Legislative Council. I've looked around in the past and realized that the committee has been used at times as a consolation prize for members not elected to leadership positions in their respective caucuses.

And it's that time again. Leadership elections. Speaker in the House, Pro-Tem in the Senate, in both houses a Majority Leader, Assistant Majority Leader, Caucus Chair, Minority Leader, Assistant Minority Leader & Minority Caucus Chair.

Already the Pro Tem is telling people to save Friday morning after our one day December organizational session and swearing in just in case leadership races get drawn out. This year with the surge of far right or tea party Republicans one can expect some leadership challenges within the two Republican Caucuses. Never mind that, in the House, Majority Leader Mike Moyle is rumored to be taking on Speaker Denny.

Last time we had a serious Speaker's race, after Bruce Newcomb retired as Speaker of the House, committee chairships changed, new people were given JFAC seats and the tone and feel of the legislature turned from a moderate and congenial place to an often far more difficult and contentious one.

I am holding my breath about the Senate. Some say that with the final numbers there will be enough relative moderates to keep the Senate from radical change.

This year, for Democrats, members of leadership retired in both the House and Senate. New leaders will be elected from among those not serving on the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. In the Senate in our tiny seven member Democratic caucus with two JFAC members and three leadership positions, our choices are a bit less wide ranging than in the House. We have some pretty wide ranging personalities though.

Sunday, across the state, we legislators will pack our bags for the Northern Idaho Legislative Tour which always follows on the heels of the election. We will travel and mingle for three days getting to know new members and discussing legislative ideas. Both parties will hold caucuses to begin to brooch the topic of leadership races. We will know then who will run and begin to contemplate the temperaments, the strengths, weaknesses and personalities that will shape our lives and policy in the next two sessions and possibly in many more to come.

Thirty Percent

Last night as all unfolded here in Idaho, I had to breathe in, look around the old ballroom decorated to feel cheery and know in my gut that I represent a tough state. Candidates who poured their lives into races hoping to make a difference in protecting their schools or creating jobs or public transportation, go home now to surreally quiet homes.

Idaho. We Democrats serve in politics here knowing we are the minority. Democracy doesn't work if someone isn't up to the challenge of representing the 30% of the state that clearly prefers not to have public schools decimated by budget cuts. The 30% that will willingly pay taxes so that neighbors don't go without food, housing or medical care. The 30% that worry how expensive it is to lives and budgets when we cut mental health and substance abuse treatment, driving people and their families into desperation and cirsis.

To the other 70% of the state, I say this: what is invisible to you, the bridges, the police cars, the prison walls, the detox rooms, the teachers reading essays into the late dark of night, the prison guards, the parole officers, the social workers making sure someone takes their medication, the program that pays an 88 year old woman's electric bill, the agency that inspects day care centers: these things break down when you starve state government, when you cut it again and again and again.

Idaho, I will always see the best in you. I still hope we will pull together in crisis, look inside classrooms at the beauty and loss there, see our neighbors as people and rise above this as a state.