Hard Endings

In these last days, the boxes come out. Empty stacks of them line the halls like flimsy coffins. Senator McKenzie announced this morning we have tied now with the 10th longest session in our 121 year history. By Friday we will tie with the 5th longest. Yet this one with its gut wrenching policies and passionate, even desperate bipartisan debate, seems to have passed like a blurred dream.

–Long evenings pouring over each new version of Tom Luna's long, painful bills to find any change, the implications of each new word or deletion.

–Walking in here from dark streets in the snow or rain or cold. People honking, waving, thumbs up.

–Streams of email like water, where my email box came alive, filling faster than i could read or move to sort or answer.

–The tears of teachers. Many times. Passing words. Me wishing I could say how sorry I am, in my core.

And somehow I expected we would do more than just damage, that there would be a limit to the damage we were willing to do. But, with a few brilliant exceptions, we moderates and Democrats lost every major floor debate: protecting schools; trying to stop the bleeding in Medicaid, mental health and disability services; protecting private end of life and medical decisions; opposing the Republican Party's attempts to strip voters bare, branding party affiliation in waterproof marker on every human chest.

And here I need to say this –say the Republican Party seems broken, bogged down in divisive social and anti-government issues that have been impairing its ability to deal with our state's failure to recover economically; to grow not destroy jobs; protect services which people's lives depend on; stop policy that is already demoralizing and decimating the most important profession in this state, policy which gives millions away to corporations under the guise of reform.

I wish all those moderates out there and in here who have been bashed and bloodied — those who have had enough of all this would join Democrats, help us re-build the Democratic Party back to something powerful enough to check this freight train that is taking our schools and economy downhill before our eyes. What more does it take? What more has to happen? What more can they do to you?

Primary Transgression

On the floor of the Senate in afternoon session. The sun shines down from above through the frosted sky lights and we Democrats are posing a long series of questions to Brent Hill, the Senator charged with carrying the Republican Party's closed primary bill.

The bill gets personal to me. As you dig through the layers you find that not only does it allow Republicans to do as they have long wished to and close their primary races off to Democrats or even independent voters, but in fact it forces counties all over the state to reveal publicly which ballot an independent or unaffiliated voter chooses when they come to vote in any primary election — even a Democratic primary that our party will keep open to anyone.

Even worse, this choice of chosen primary ballot by an unaffiliated or independent voter will become an assigned party affiliation for that voter if they choose to vote in a primary that is closed by a party like the Republican Party. And it will not be easy for voters under this legislation to get your names again unaffiliated and  your selves once again unassociated with a political party if you perhaps don't live and die by political parties and you want instead to vote for the candidate of your choice without having a Political Party listed by your name.

But today the debate is unlike any I've seen. Many Republicans in this room smile at our questions, nod and many even laughed when Diane Bilyeu asked Senator Hill to explain why the Republican Party brought the lawsuit that forced the state to pass legislation changing its primary elections. It was a bold question and Senator Hill answered that he could not explain that.

But Senator Siddoway just now stood, clearly shaken, he broke ranks and debated how the Republican Party has forced its way into the Capitol "into our house" to make him and others pass this legislation. In the gallery, Rod Beck, former Republican Party Chair sat watching. Siddoway concluded his debate against the bill telling Senators to vote yes. Many laughed. His statement obviously adhered to whatever agreement was reached on this bill in the closed Republican caucus meeting held yesterday upstairs in the grand room facing West.

Like Senator Siddoway, I grew up in the small town wilds of rural East central Idaho where privacy is precious. This bill did not have to trample on Idaho's privacy. No court or judge or constitution dictated that it do that — but sadly that is exactly what the Republican Party has chosen that it will do, that the state will do and that we all must suffer with as this bill flies through the statehouse to become law.

Never Personal

This is the annual struggle: not taking the battle personally. For each of us when we must oppose a bill we know we may offend the sponsors. Even though each of us is doing our best to serve democracy, struggling to represent different constituencies, sometimes I know it feels personal. What is hard is not to inpugn the intent of the sponsors. That is hard. I try to focus on the policy but there are times that criticism can stray to something that feels like a question of motivation. This year has been hard for all of us because the lines are drawn with so much at stake and so much pressure because of the magnitude of the impact of the bills. I recognize the pressures on others. My words are far more mild than those I get in letters every day. But I do have a duty to be sure my own words are not personal. This is, for me, what makes a blog often incompatible with policy making. I try to represent the experience here. But to be honest about how I feel sometimes puts my ability to do this work and to pass policy at risk. I've blogged little this year because of that. The balance is hard. I apologize and wish I walked that delicate line better.

Not Rational

In all my seven years in the Idaho legislature, this is the most damage we have ever done. I say "we" because I'm an elected part of the body, like an errant leg or toe. I picture myself reaching for the ground in hopes that the whole thing will come crashing down to face the reality of what we have done, what we have taken from every community, every family with children, every school from Sandpoint to Bear Lake.

And the sadness I feel. How I want to ask everyone to thank their teachers, send a bag of groceries, paper, pens, supplies, gift cards, flowers. Just because I feel the damage about to settle down on them. The bills are cruel. They make a proud and difficult profession into an uncertain one, a nearly impossible one.

And during debate Thursday night Senators sat on the floor in the big chairs taking calls from the Governor. Otter's administration may not be skilled at all things, but strong arming it has mastered. I think it's clear with the vote. And in my mind I remember Dean Cameron pleading with our colleagues to remember who they represent. I know why he said that now.

The debate there in favor of the bills in was surreal. Listening I often felt like the proponents of the bill were reading different legislation or that they live in different world where young people need to spend more, not less time on technology; where the challenges of the twenty first century are actually using a lap top and internet chat to discuss topics rather than learning face to face negotiating skills, mastering fluid persuasive written communication, becoming skilled in debate, collaboration, creative problem solving, invention and leadership.

In the end, like so much of what comes down hard from above, this must be about money. Like raising taxes for roads, eliminating the personal property tax on business equipment or deregulating land line phone service — there are tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to be made by someone.

That is what we get when the state is beset by elusive PACs running millions in campaign ads with no requirement to report their donors. Who will ever know exactly where the money really flowed.

All I know is that this policy won't improve education. Reading the hundred or so pages of legislation, I can't see where it ever will.

Hope and Referendum

I feel my breath in my lungs oddly. Closing debate about to melt into the roll call where one at a time we say "aye" or "nay."  Tom Luna's final bill S1184 YES: 20   NO: 15

I have to whisper "I'm sorry" a thousand times into the air and shift my mind now to those preparing to gather signatures once the legislature adjourns. I remind myself: the 15 of us who voted no are not alone.

NO Votes: Andreason, Bilyeu, Bock, Broadsword, Cameron, Corder, Davis, Darrington, Keough, LeFavour, Malepeai (McWilliams as substitute), Schmidt, Stegner, Stennett, Werk.

Thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands outside this strange marble dome know well what these bills will do to our schools and they are ready to take up a special part of Democracy and work for repeal of all three of Luna's bills by referendum.

We have told teachers a horrible lie in these three bills. We promise "pay for performance" bonuses but we pay for the bonuses by cutting teacher's salaries. Five years from now we will have cut salaries more than we pay out in bonuses. The bonuses are a smoke screen for how radically the bills cut education, how drasically unequal schools will be in their ability to afford to keep teachers employed, expensive experienced teachers who are the anchor of schools, who make education something worthwhile for tens of thousands of Idaho kids. Twenty Republican Senators voted yes.

YES Votes: Bair, Bracket, Fulcher, Goedde, Hammond, Heider, Hill, Lodge, McGee, McKeague, McKenzie, Mortimer, Nuxoll, Pearce, Siddoway, Smyser, Tippets, Toryanski, Vick, Winder.

There will be a narrow window for gathering signatures but as soon as they're gathered an injunction stops implementation and we start working at getting those who care to go to the polls to vote. We have a lot of work to do changing this legislature and electing one with priorities that resemble those I've seen in the past two months in Idaho. Idahoans care about their schools, class sizes and teachers. These bills do not. To think we can stop them in spite of how out of touch this body seems to be.

That gives me hope.


Scroll down and sign up on the email list of Parents and Teachers to find out about volunteering to gather signatures once the Referendum signature gathering begins. http://idahoparentsandteachers.com/

Real Debate

Floor of the senate. So quiet for 35 people sitting still for three hours. We take turns standing one at a time. Debating for. Debating against. The debate against is full of references to the bill. S1184 the third version of the last of Tom Luna's three bills. There is weight in this debate, huge wight. The impacts of this bill set a course for every school and classroom in this state for five years forward. Thousands of teacher's lives hang in this bill as much as in the other two.They give up more of their salaries in this bill than they will ever gain in pay for performance bonuses.

And the bill still steals basic money to keep schools solvent in these very lean times to pay for on-line courses, dual credit, technology and eventually lap tops for every student needed or not.

Never have we seen such powerful opposition to legislation in all my 7 years in here. Yet here we are. Slowly as members debate we realize Toryanski is voting yes, Tippets has changed his opposition. I see Dean Cameron, like me looking into the faces of those we thought might be swing votes, those we'd hoped would grow humble and brave with this powerful debate on the flaws and sinister nature of the math in these 16 pages.

But on the phone we grow somber. This will pass.

But now Hammond is up debating against the bill and with him we would be only two votes shy of defeating this.

In Silence We Risk All

My office lies in an alcove off the long marble hallway that leads from the underground wings into the depths of the Capitol. Two freshmen Republican Senators share this suite with four of us Democrats. Across the bright stone passage, Republican offices circle another suite, and, down the steps behind the committee rooms, a long dark hall lit by skylights hides the offices of the Republican Committee Chairs for nine of the Senate's ten committees.

In the evening, some law makers stay late sorting and answering email, others have given up. The voices flow like bitter sounds that only rarely fall to whisper. The building has riled a sea of discontent. Oddly for all the voices I fear few are listening.

Still, crisis unfolds far away on littered beaches seeming not yet to soften this hard determination of newly elected men to hate the collective expression of America we call government, taxation, regulation and welfare. If compassion is an anthem to some of us, to others it remains a sign of weakness and pitiful need.

It is as if, divided into camps of those who fear and those who hold out a hand in offering, our nation and state have both split themselves into parties, factions, armies of America.

In times of world crisis can we afford these lines we draw? These tendencies to label groups of the unknown into good and evil. Is not the essence of humanity, patriotism, and our constitution that all are created equal and that we exist to express our will with free voices that honor the opinions of the minority whether those voices are ours or those of others, also American, also patriots for expressing an opinion about the nature of their duty in government.

But sacred is the obligation of the majority not to trespass or violate the outnumbered. Serious are the obligations of those who govern to not only hear but to heed those most vulnerable with whom we together constitute our union, our state, our country and nation.

But our nation is none other than an island to which the disparate have come seeking refuge, each of us claiming bits of its land as our home. Yet we should know there's nothing permanent in history but change and the rising and falling of nations, governments, kingdoms, empires and tribes.

If today in our fear of discomfort, our fear of giving up time or troubling with those we don't agree with, if in this fear we fail to rise when others fall, when the strong step hard upon the vulnerable; if too few stand, then all may be lost, not just the perpetuity of our wealth or safety, but eventually the very land and government upon which all order relies.

So, if participation is politics seems inconvenient, think how difficult is the consequence of disengagement. Not always will there be others to stand when we do not. And sadly it is not until it is too late that we will ever know that others did not stand. And then where shall we be but lost in a shaken tide of regret; landless and anchorless without a nation to recognize because, for us, standing up when all might be lost, was more than we were willing to do.

So stand now, in the midst of our state's determination to suffocate its tradition of decency toward those with disabilities, teachers, children and those who may wish never to have to carry a gun. It's not too late to stand now, even though the ground shakes. Single voices make a difference. Single acts of courage and leadership against a tide can turn that tide, bend history toward compassion.

Indeed something must move us to common action in this tiny red corner of our bleeding nation. We are not yet lost as other nations are. Our buildings tower still above our minds. For the sake of those that come after us, we can not let slip the beauty of a better nature, the heart of our uncommon good. We are more than greed, more than soft silent masses.

Where are our voices Americans? What will be left for the generations to come if we don't stand up and speak now?

Letter to Rev & Tax

Anyone who says the state has no options but to cut the budgets for public schools & Meidicad is forgetting a major componenet of a legislature's responsibility to balance the state's budget. Many are asking for an increase in the tobacco tax to fund medicaid. With that in mind I have asked other members of the Senate Education Committe to sign on to the following letter to the only committee in the legislature that can make changes in Idaho's taxes, exemptions, credits and incentives.


March 10, 2011                                                                           DRAFT LETTER


Chairman Lake & Members of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee,

As a committee that has been asked to make recommendations toward building a public education budget for FY2012, we are concerned that the remaining revenue available to the legislature for general fund appropriations leaves Idaho with between $6 million and $31 million less funding for the upcoming budget than we allocated for the FY 2011 budget. That budget saw a reduction of $128 million in state funding.

At the same time, Idaho student populations have increased, creating a need to fund an additional 176 new classrooms or support units at a cost of $27.3 million. Indeed funding the $27.3 million in student growth was the governors recommendation for a total of $1,235,894,000 to public schools. This amount funds all school class rooms at the reduced amount now in use for the FY 2011 budget.

Reductions to education funding on the order of $30 million or more can not occur without consequences. We will again have to consolidate, reduce or eliminate line items for textbooks, transportation, gifted and talented, Limited English Proficiency, Idaho reading initiative, Idaho math initiative, teacher incentive awards, dual credit for early graduates, math and science requirements, college entrance exams, technology, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and more.

We recognize the reluctance to raise taxes at a time when the economy is challenging families and businesses but we feel that much deeper cuts to education will also be devastating to both.

With that in mind we encourage you to be creative and to consider not only delaying advancements in the size of Idaho’s grocery tax credit but making temporary changes to the structure of the credit to reduce its cost to 2007 levels, recovering $27 million or more to fund growth in student enrollment and assist in meeting the most basic needs of Idaho public schools in the year ahead. We would encourage a return to full funding and full structure of the credit following this fiscal year.

Thank you.




Members of the Senate Education Committee 


Legislative Hell

We are the minority.

By definition we don't have the numbers to win unless the majority bothers to care.

Some of those we represent this time will die if the policy in House bill 221 passes.

Some will lose their independent lives and go into institutions.

But we are told there are no options.

Even asking Idahoans to pay $50 more a year is not an option allowed on the table in this debate

To save those lives.

What are lives worth?

Not even $50?

Yet we must stay here and debate as if this were a sane process

A process where rational people act in the best interest of our state.

Are we collectively better as Idahoans, as people, if we willingly let people with disabilities die?

Let families suffer?

People we could have saved with mental health support?

With adequate in home care or therapy that keeps someone independent in their home?


When the crisis you create grows, everything stops.

Even our theory that this will save money.

Hospitals, funerals, prisons and emergency rooms are not cheaper than simply providing care.


Where on earth has our civility, our compassion and humanity gone?



Joint hearings on HB221 begin at 1:30 Tuesday. Are these your values? Let your law makers know.


Not Giving Up

It is a bit sad that it was on Valentines day that Senator McKenzie said he didn't plan to schedule a hearing on S1033 to finally make it so gay people in Idaho can no longer be legally fired from our jobs for no other reason than that we are gay.

But let's be clear, no one I know is giving up. We can't. Next year is an election year, and every year there has been some reason why another year would be better to consider this legislation. Enough of this.

For Idaho law to continue to stay silent is to say that all the cruelty, the violence, the discrimination is acceptable, that it is ok in the state of Idaho.

It is time for a public hearing. That is next to nothing to ask. It is long past time for the legislature to listen to our stories, see what people face, hard working men and women, many of whom love this state and stay though many other states would value our lives more, would ensure our freedom and ensure we can work at a job, keep our houses, go to school and simply live our lives in peace.


The Safe Schools & Fair Employment Working Group is not giving up. Please let law makers know how you feel, lend your name in support using the on line petition or have your business endorse the legislationhttp://4idaho.org/humanrights

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