I’m still here

It's true, I'm no longer sitting in that seat on the floor of the Idaho Senate or House. I'm not rising to speak when something needs to be said, but my voice is still out here and in the Capitol each year, and though I'm often invisible, I will be in the big marble building gathering others and working quietly until gay and transgender people are finally safe here, our jobs and livelihoods and families are no longer at risk –whether we are exercising our constitutional right to marry or just simply trying to shop at a store or eat dinner in a restaurant. It is 2016. We should be safe and not have to fear that our state by its silence endorses violence against us. We should not have to fear being turned away from businesses.

In my heart I know our state is better than the policy it allows to be printed in its books of code.

I'm going nowhere until the laws change and good people are included in our state anti-discrimination statutes. I am going nowhere until hard working neighbors and friends are afforded the dignity of having recourse when they face discrimination, violence and acts of cruelty. For Idaho, it will get better. To the young I say remember the love of all of us out here and know that people can be better and braver and kinder than our laws.

It's 2016. Be brave. Let's make it so Idaho. 

…nicole

Former Idaho Senator Nicole LeFavour

I write a column every other week called From the Far Margin. I write on many topics. You might like: Three Red Lights, In Favor of Pitchforks, Walls of Ice, The Beauty of Dream

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What to Celebrate

Nicole-field-good-crop-smEight months ago, standing in the statehouse considering whether to run for Congress, I figured I could run a good
campaign. What's amazing is that, together with thousands of you, my team ran the best campaign many have
ever seen run in Idaho. Stronger, better organized, more tech savvy, more deeply rooted in communities and more issue-focused than I could have imagined.

NUMBERS

Thirty-five percent of the vote. While that sounds dismal, it still means more than 110,000 voters chose me over Mike Simpson on Tuesday. I think that's ten thousand more votes in the east half of the state than any democrat in any congressional or statewide race has ever gotten. And in spite of how LDS enthusiasm for Mitt Romney made this one of the most difficult possible years to run as a Democrat in Idaho, it appears that our campaign brought in about 25,000 new voters to participate in this election. That's an impressive twenty-five thousand people who did not vote in the 2008 presidential race.

We engaged Idaho's powerful Hispanic community and worked so hard that Mike Simpson gained fewer than 2,000 votes from the Romney tide. In fact thousands of LDS men and women and more than 10,000 Republicans and Independents voted for me. That was the work we all did on the phones and the doors –and it mattered.

CHANGING THE DEBATE

More than anything, you all allowed me to finally have the resources to use TV and direct mail to push back on issues we so rarely get to re-define here in Idaho. I'm proud we exposed the attitudes that have led to Idaho's grim record on fair pay for women and the kind of cowardice that allowed passage of the Luna laws. We also changed the debate on budget cuts by focusing on job loss, and
explained who the job creators really are in the economy and why.

And last but not least, we've put to rest the question of whether Idahoans will actually vote for a gay person.

GRATITUDE

I feel profoundly grateful to you all. From the unemployed carpenter who gave me four dollars, to the Republican mothers,
fathers and working people who've crossed streets and sent email to tell me they
voted for me. From the long hours and tremendous heart, hard work and intelligence of my staff and volunteers, to the sense that so many of you gave your time and money because this work is something you believe in.

This has been the most amazing experience of my life. We've made history. Idaho needs us all to keep talking to neighbors over picket fences in our communities, volunteering to organize other volunteers, raising money or using phone calls to change minds on the issues we care about — perhaps to strengthen political organizations and non-profits, to run campaigns or, for many of you, to run for office yourselves.

WHAT'S NEXT

I have no idea what I'm doing next but I love this state. Sadly, Idaho has failed so many families who've faced hardship these past years, those who've lost jobs and homes or small businesses; those who've waited so long for respect and dignity or legal status; those who strive for simple security or the tools for independence; those who struggle to pay for a college degree or just to put a meal on the table.

The work is not over. What you all have done is so beautiful. Many of you came to this because you care and believe Idaho and its policy makers can do better. Lives depend on all of us using our skills to motivate friends to challenge our Idaho Congressmen, state lawmakers and local officials when policies become cruel or disrespectful.

For the lives and futures of people we care about, let's carry with us what we did this year and make this congressional campaign not an end, but a beginning.

 

Congressional Budget Cuts Decimating Jobs

Nicole 2 smile 1823As a member of the House Budget Committee today voting to oppose a
continuing resolution to keep

from shutting every federal agency and
service down, Rep. Mike Simpson does little to offer solutions to the
current budget stalemate.

As a state lawmaker who has served for four
years balancing Idaho budgets and dealing with fiscal crises, it seems
clear to me that those offering a "cuts only" approach to eliminating
the deficit and passing a budget, have created not only this impasse but
in part also created our nation's continuing economic crisis.

Over the course of the past five years federal budget cuts have
eliminated more than 600,000 American jobs. Congress still pays
unemployment benefits to a great number of these workers. We have to
ask, if job creation is the most critical key to economic recovery, why
has congress not restored these jobs so those families again have full
income to support their community's small businesses, American
manufacturers and our nation's economy?

Like many, I fear Congress these past two years has delayed addressing
real economic issues in the interest of keeping the economy down until
after the November election. Essentially they have played politics with
American lives. This sort of partisanship has decimated jobs, families,
security and the values of cooperation and compassion which made this
country great.

It is time for Congressman Simpson to do the real work of proposing a
budget that takes into account that the problem with our deficit goes
beyond simple government spending and has an equal amount to do with
fighting two wars and refusing to roll back eight years of tax cuts that
have benefited the nation's most wealthy, obviously with no positive
economic affect.

Rep. Simpson has voted more than once in favor of the Ryan Budget which
further decimates jobs while cutting and essentially privatizing social
security and Medicare for future generations of American seniors. Paul
Ryan's budget is no solution to our nation's economic problems and is
not a proposal any thinking policy maker would seriously consider as a
compromise to resolve the current budget impasse.

Yes, it is time for Congress to get to work and to take seriously the
affect that repeated cuts have on the economy. It is time for them to
look all of us in the eye and ensure for once they are not decimating
jobs more quickly than America's private sector can create them.

 

Senator Nicole LeFavour grew up on a ranch in rural Custer County in Central Idaho. She’s well-known across the state as a hard working legislator, respected advocate and teacher. In her eight years in the Idaho legislature, Senator LeFavour built strong relationships with Democratic and Republican colleagues from across the political spectrum. She earned bi-partisan support on her legislation year after year and has been formally recognized for her leadership by local and national organizations.

 

DONATIONS: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/go-nicole

VOLUNTEER: http://4idaho.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=29&Itemid=31

INFO: http://4idaho.org

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.

Only Cosmetic Changes

After three days of intense and powerful testimony it is clear how vast the concerns are with Tom Luna’s education proposals. Today Tom Luna pulled back the two bills 1068 & 1068 and brought us virtually identical proposals in the form of three bills with the pay for performance legislation separated from the other two bills we had previously considered. Make no mistake these bills still eliminate funding for 770 teaching positions and will force districts to lay off experienced teachers in a desperate move to save money by hiring new, less costly teachers. Tom Luna now calls the increased class sizes "optional" for districts, but there is nothing optional about eliminating the money for 770 teachers.

I consider the changes no more than cosmetic and it astounds me that the Superintendent would so completely fail to hear the thousands of people who have spoken to and written to us as policy makers strongly opposing these misguided proposals.

How to Tank a State Economy

Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

Many Idahoans wonder when their state will begin to feel the national economic recovery.  They worry as January's Idaho jobless numbers showed the state's economic crisis deepening rather than improving. Yet today the state faces a third year of dire fiscal crisis with budget cuts now exceeding half a billion. Below are real strategies that Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction and / or members of the Idaho Legislature is currently contemplating, has proposed or has actually legislated during the 2010 and 2011 sessions.

How to Tank a State Economy: Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

1. Destroy Jobs

A. Lay off as many state employees as possible

• Tom Luna's proposal to eliminate 770 teaching jobs is particularly effective since these are people with benefits that hundreds of families rely on. Losing health insurance effectively makes these families more economically fragile.

• The thousands of "vacant positions" in state government guarantees increases in unemployment and reductions in consumer spending in every sector of the economy. This helps weaken struggling restaurants, shops and producers of consumer goods who rely on local spending.

B. Reduce wages

• Any legislation which offers economic incentives to school districts to lay off more experienced teachers in a budget crunch is highly effective at reducing wages and the quality of education and can half the annual salaries going to 20% of teaching families in any given community in a single budget year. This pulls hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from local economies, small businesses and consumer spending.

• Low levels of educational attainment, high drop out rates and high cost education all decrease the wage earning, consumer spending and tax paying potential of a state's residents.

• Furloughs while less effective at harming an economy in the short term, when carried out over multiple years can ensure that family savings dwindle, can reduce discretionary spending and may produce out migration and loss of population which is one of the most effective ways to ensure economic decline. The cost of retraining workers who leave government jobs is very effective at increasing net costs to government and accomplishing goal 3 below.

• Eliminate Unions or anything that resembles an organization that would help raise wages, monitor working conditions and the quality or its members work.

C. Be sure that businesses doing contract work for the state go bankrupt

• Using a strategy that claims a state budget is balanced but which relies on not paying bills owed to private businesses is effective politically and in terms of creating an unstable environment for businesses that have agreed to contracts with the state.

• Lowering reimbursement rates not just for a single year but for multiple years to economically squeeze mental health, medical, residential and out patient care providers is an additional effective strategy.

• Long term freezes in state purchasing and construction are ideal strategies for reducing economic activity and driving many segments of the economy into decline.

D. Repel Businesses Seeking to Move into Your State

• Be sure your public schools rank last in the nation for per pupil spending, class size and adequacy of school facilities, course offerings, text books, lab supplies and equipment and materials essential to teaching.

• Create an environment of political extremism to clearly establish that the majority of those who might choose to re-locate businesses or families into the state would feel unwelcome or unrepresented.

• Ensure that premiums charged by insurance carriers are unregulated and that affordable health coverage for small business is unavailable.

• Underfund your regulatory agencies so that getting permits and compliance assistance with basic health, safety and water quality standards takes a long, long time.

• Provide no anti-discrimination job protections for gay people. Technology companies are full of gay employees. Even if a company provides its own job protections, a state needs to project a hostile enough atmosphere to guarantee that other family members seeking jobs or educational opportunities will face discrimination in employment, housing and education in any given town across the state. Companies avoid states like these and high wage workers or business owners will often leave such states in search of safer places to live and do business.

• Ensure state leaders talk as much as possible about large predatory animals decimating wildlife populations and killing domestic animals.

• Even if you can not pass such a law, at least claim you will enact Arizona-style immigration policies so that employees and business owners with darker skin or names like Martinez or Perez will fear eminent racial profiling, detainment or arrest. The out migration of skilled agricultural labor, small business owners and families will assist in achieving objective 1C above.

2. Increase Costs to Families

A. Force Families into Crisis

• Increase class sizes so struggling students fail to get help and those facing depression and suicide are less likely to interact with a teacher who has the time to notice their struggles.

• Reduce access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment. Long treatment waiting lists are helpful but eliminating the waiting lists and just failing to provide treatment is also effective and creating crises.

• Reduce services and in-home supports for seniors and people with disabilities. Independence is less costly than dependence. Children without adequate therapeutic interventions will be far more costly to families and state taxpayers.

• Fail to fund or develop a network of low cost health clinics. The fewer options families have, the more likely they are to fail to access preventative care and fall into costly medical crisis and personal bankruptcy.

• Stop funding water quality monitoring, refuse to extensively regulate day care facilities and provide as few counseling services as possible in local schools to ensure an adequate supply of physical and mental health crises statewide.

• Ensure that parole officers and health and welfare case workers carry case loads far exceeding national standards so that minimal supervision and assistance is provided to Idaho individuals and families. The added stress on the case workers themselves can create additional pressures to achieve this goal.

B. Make Education More Expensive

• Eliminate public Kindergarten. Make sure your state's children start out behind the rest of the nation.

• Fail to provide text books, paper, pencils, field trips, lab supplies, transportation and other basic materials in public schools.

• Force parents to pay fees before their children can attend certain public school classes or participate in sports, arts, field trips or other enrichment opportunities. Ensuring poorer children never participate is helpful in ensuring a state continues to have a high poverty rate, a high rate of need for public services, a greater level of of need for crisis medical care and higher need for tax increases.

• Increase class sizes to increase failure rates, decrease social and emotional support for students and increase alienation and drop out rates in upper grades. The cost to families of addressing remediation, tutoring and juvenile corrections court costs and incarceration can effectively weaken the economic stability of tens of thousands of families.

• Require public schools students take on-line classes in order to graduate. Decreased teacher interaction and the lack of support for those who struggle can be highly effective at wasting years of college tuition as students fail classes or need extensive remedial coursework. The impact on families of students with disabilities can be impressive as those with certain learning styles have higher failure rates and are more likely to fall into cycles of dependence later in life should support in these early years be inadequate.

• Fail to fund higher education so that college tuition and fees continue to increase. Making a college degree too expensive for most college graduates also helps achieve goal 1B above.

C. Remain Dependent on Fossil Fuels

• Deny local communities the ability to fund public transportation. In urban areas this guarantees tax dollars are sucked rapidly into perpetual freeway widening projects which produce few jobs but expend state revenues on raw materials. A lack of public transportation also directly increases costs to families who struggle with with car maintenance or gas prices or for those commuters who waste time in traffic during their commute.

• Make sure not to create state level car fuel efficiency standards or electric utility renewable portfolio standards. Being vulnerable to high oil prices or out of state coal generated electricity ensures that business and residential consumers pay high prices and remain vulnerable to world political strife.

D. Increase User Fees for Everything

• After all these are not taxes. Increasing costs to families and businesses through fees works just as well to fund the costly crisis care that is sure to follow a lack of adequate tax payer funded preventative care services.

• Get creative. Fees on prisoners or parents of those in the Juvenile Justice system work really at creating additional stressors for families already in crisis. Asking the general population to help fund government by paying taxes will only give those leaving prisons a chance at economic stability and ruin an opportunity to push them into a lifetime of crime and costly incarceration.

• Ensuring failure of your public school system can help bring on privatization and a stratification of the quality of educational opportunity available to families of differing incomes. User fees in education are not a new concept. They are a bridge to stratification and ensure that some kids will not be able to reach the same levels of academic attainment that the more wealthy do. This perpetuates poverty and assists in achieving goals 1B and 2A above.

3. Keep State Government in Perpetual Fiscal Crisis

A. Turn away federal matching funds or any form of money paid to the federal government by taxpayers in your state.

• Cut medicaid and with each $3 million reduction in state spending, presto $7 million in federal dollars will also be lost.

• Violate federal laws so that your state faces sanctions. Refusing to enact federal health care reform for example may well result in the state losing all federal funds for medicaid –meaning a loss to health providers, businesses and families of nearly a billion in federal dollars.

B. No matter how well the national economy is recovering, predict doom for your own state.

• Keep revenue projections artificially low so you can cut government services across the board again and again.

• Call any revenues over the low projections a "surplus" and use those to fund tax breaks for large corporations and the most wealthy. (Do not restore funding for jobs, purchasing, construction or to fund schools, classrooms, mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention or disability services.)

C. Create Political Strife.

• Make sure the super majority of your Republican party fights with itself so any moderates who happen to be re-elected in any given year will be forced to live in fear of actually voting as moderates and thus will ensure the perpetuation of your disaster.

D. No Matter How Much Things Fall Apart, Don't Raise Taxes.

• Don't think about what Jesus would do. Not raising taxes ensures that all of the above policies seem like necessary if not critical budget cutting measures.

• Raising taxes might ease the conscience in the short term as the morale of state workers improves; schools again begin to meet the needs of more fragile students; seniors, the poor and those with disabilities stop losing their homes, entering institutions and dying of preventable disease or untreated mental and physical aliments. But, in fact, raising taxes creates an expectation within a state population that government can do positive things.

• And we all know that's silly.

 4. Reduce The State's Population

A. Nothing says economic disaster like death and out migration. (See above.)

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.

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